"I don't need help," Sasuke said, "I can do it myself." That was perfectly fair, Itachi supposed. His baby brother was a big man now, after all -- a whole eight years old, and top of his class at Ninja Academy. So, he stopped trying to pick his brother up and let him climb onto the chair on his own. One leg up on the middle rung and a solid pull on the counter later, Sasuke was sitting properly enough and flashing him a smile big enough to break his heart. Itachi had to wonder if his baby brother was just as proud of getting himself into an ice cream counter's high chair as he was of getting perfect marks on his kunai exams.
"Good job, Sasuke."
He'd gotten home from his mission just before dawn this morning and found the midterm report lying out on the kitchen table. It had been left there for him to find, of course. Curled up in Itachi's own bed, the little brat, Sasuke had been playing at being asleep. It had been easy enough to tell from his breathing that it was just an act. 'Hey, Sasuke,' he'd called out in a whisper, and sure enough one non-sleeping eye had opened. 'Come here.' His brother had run over, right into the fingers Itachi had poked at his forehead. Fell for it every time. 'Congratulations on your midterms. Number one, huh?' Itachi had stopped short of saying, 'Exactly what I'd expect of my brother,' the first thing on his tongue. Some things, he just didn't want to say -- not just because as a son who'd destroyed his own family in the rebellion, he didn't want any legacy from his father. More than that, he didn't want to make Sasuke think about everything they'd given up for the peace and happiness they shared with the rest of Konoha. 'That's my Sasuke,' he'd finished at last. 'Now run along. You've got your own bed, haven't you?'
It would have been nice to have been there when Sasuke had come home from school with his scores. It would have been nice to have more time with his baby brother in general, being all each other had as they were, but the life of an ANBU captain wasn't one he'd describe as 'nice' exactly. A duty he was proud to be able to serve, but not nice. Days like this, when he had no missions and Sasuke had the day off from school -- these made every other day worth the struggle. The two of them always went out for ice cream when it was nice outside and they had the time. You couldn't study all day, every day. Not even Sasuke could -- or should, at any rate.
"So, what'll it be?" the man behind the counter asked.
"I'll have one scoop of squid ink and one of fried eggplant, with sprinkles," Itachi answered, then looked over to where Sasuke was wrinkling up his nose in distaste.
"Two scoops of chocolate, please."
"Coming right up!"
Just as the server turned around to get their orders together, a loud fuss started around the corner. "Hey! Stop right there!" a man yelled, followed by a loud crash. "Naruto!"
Sasuke scoffed, turning his nose up at the ruckus. "That Naruto's getting up to something again. Maybe if he weren't always goofing off, he wouldn't fail every test."
"That's someone in your class?" Itachi asked, brightening a little. Sasuke didn't usually talk about the other kids. He always seemed to be alone at school.
"I guess," his baby brother replied with a shrug.
Naruto, Naruto... where have I heard that name?
Well, besides the occasional yelling from chuunin trying to catch him in the streets. He was sure there was something...
Was that... Uzumaki Naruto?
Then, suddenly, a tiny blond child sprinted around the corner with a grin on his face and a paint bucket in his hand, running as fast as his legs could go. Except for the marks like whiskers on his cheeks, he was the spitting image of the Fourth Hokage in miniature size.
That had to be him -- Uzumaki Naruto, the Kyuubi boy.
What was the Fourth Hokage's son doing running down the street with a paint bucket?
Curiosity getting the better of him, Itachi stuck out his foot and tripped the boy as he was running by. He fell without spilling a drop of paint, so he couldn't have been that poor of a ninja-in-training no matter how bad his test scores were. Before Naruto could get up on his own, Itachi picked him up by the back of his dusty white t-shirt and set him down in the chair next to Sasuke's. His baby brother recoiled, looking back and forth between Itachi and the dirt-streaked blond child suddenly sitting between them. Naruto wiped the dust from the ground off his nose and then made a few swipes at his shirt before giving up. Apparently quite satisfied with himself, Naruto's gaze darted around to look at the scenery before he settled a slightly confused expression on Itachi.
"I'm Uchiha Itachi, Sasuke's brother. You must be the Naruto of whom I've heard so much." The boy's eyes were a bright blue, just like Minato-san's, and when he smiled that giant smile again, they actually seemed to shine. "You know," Itachi said, "you look just like your father, but you definitely have your mother's smile."
Naruto's expression dropped suddenly into something more dumbfounded.
Oh, I suppose no one told him. Is that forbidden, like mentioning Kyuubi? I'll have to ask the Third Hokage.
"You knew my father?" Naruto asked.
"He was a hero who gave his best for the village." He could probably say that much without the Hokage's permission. After all, you could say the same to any of Konoha's orphans. Itachi smiled at the little boy blinking in shock. "You should be proud." It wasn't very different from what he'd told his brother that night -- a little over a year ago, after he'd ended the Uchiha rebellion -- when Sasuke had asked 'Were Dad and Mom bad?' Itachi had wanted to make sure he knew that being an Uchiha was nothing to be ashamed of. Even though he'd had to explain exactly what had happened through a seven-year-old's tears, he wanted Sasuke to remember their parents without too much pain.
This kid... He'd never even gotten to know his parents' faces, had he?
Itachi had been in the thick of the fight when the Fourth Hokage had sealed Kyuubi inside his own newborn son, giving up his life in the process. Minato-san was a hero he'd personally never forget, even beyond the legend of the Fourth Hokage that the whole village remembered. That day, Sasuke himself had been only a few months old, and both he and Naruto had been lucky enough to grow up without a war raging on their borders. Both of them unlucky enough now to be living without the parents who'd died for that peace.
"Did he come this way?" another voice yelled from around the corner.
Two chuunin ran onto the street, looking around, and Naruto ducked onto the ground behind his stool, covering himself with an absolutely terrible camouflage sheet he'd whipped out of nowhere. Itachi worked a genjutsu to make the boy's hiding place rather less obvious just in time for the chuunin to show up at the counter.
"Did you see a blond boy run by here, about this tall, wearing a white shirt?" the first one to approach asked, gesturing with his hand to show Naruto's height off the ground. "He was painting on some of the signs on the next street over. If it's not one thing with him, it's another..."
Itachi smiled. He quite enjoyed the terrified and nervous expression most of the adults in the village wore whenever he smiled at them. Well, he supposed that -- from their perspectives -- he was the Uchiha who had killed his own parents when they'd come after the Hokage, then cut down the rest of the clan in the streets outside. A little fear was to be expected. "There is no blond boy here," he told them. "You should look elsewhere."
They nodded quietly and went on their way.
"You can come out now, Naruto," Itachi said to the sheet-covered lump on the ground. The server, meanwhile, returned with their orders and looked after the departing chuunin with some concern as he set the ice cream down.
A shock of bright yellow hair peeked out, followed by two blue eyes darting around, looking for trouble. What he found was the death glare Sasuke had aimed at him, which he met with a smile. It wasn't quite like his earlier grins. It was just as broad, but somehow sad. "Yo, Sasuke."
"Hmph." Sasuke dismissed the greeting from his classmate, turning to his ice cream and taking the spoon. His little brother was adorable, even when he was being a haughty brat.
Itachi sat down in the next chair over, leaving a space between him and Sasuke. "Take a seat, kiddo." That sure got his baby brother's attention. He shot a betrayed expression first at the chair, then at Naruto, which Itachi couldn't help but find amusing. Naruto had just barely gotten his hands up on the seat when Sasuke stepped from the rung of his own chair to the one Naruto was trying to claim. He pushed along the counter as fast as he could and sat on the blond boy's hands while grabbing a handful of Itachi's sleeve. Naruto stepped to the side, pulling back his hands, and the two boys stuck out their tongues at each other. Itachi knew that he was probably supposed to stop them from fighting, but he was too happy seeing his ever-serious brother having fun with a classmate to give it a thought.
He nodded Naruto toward the chair that Sasuke had just vacated and watched as the blond clambered up on the seat. The kid pushed up on the seat with his hands first, struggling to get his knees up and under himself -- tottering precariously the whole time -- until he finally managed one leg onto the chair. Sasuke kept a wary eye on the whole process but let go of Itachi's arm, seemingly convinced that there was no more danger of being separated from his brother. Chuckling silently, Itachi poked his baby brother in the back of the head. That'd show him for being a possessive brat.
What he hadn't expected was for Naruto to lose his balance at just that moment and pitch forward suddenly -- catching himself on the counter, but not before his head ran into Sasuke's.
Oh dear. Apparently, not before his lips ran into Sasuke's. Itachi somehow stifled a laugh as both boys pulled back sharply, covering their mouths with their hands and sharing a horrified yell in chorus. Grabbing his ice cream from in front of Naruto, Sasuke muttered something out his mouth tasting like fishcake and ate a spoonful of melting chocolate with an embarrassed blush burning across his cheeks. Following his lead, Naruto took the ice cream from in front of Sasuke, and Itachi was feeling far to amused to stop him.
The blond made a strange choking cough and looked at the cup in terror. "What is that?"
"That's mine," Itachi answered, reaching across both boys to retrieve it. "Order whatever you like. It's on me."
The two blue eyes went wide. "Anything?! Really?"
The server came back over, but before he could even open his mouth to ask what the boy might want, Naruto started in. "Thank you, Itachi-san! Hey, mister! Can I have a banana split!? With ten scoops of chocolate, vanilla," he said, counting off on his fingers, "and green tea, and red bean, and strawberry?"
"Ten scoops?" he asked with some surprise. "So, two of each?"
"No," Naruto answered, holding up both hands with all his fingers spread wide and smiling a huge smile. "Ten of each. And hot fudge and butterscotch and extra whipped cream please!"
The man behind the counter turned to Itachi, scratching his head and waiting for the okay. Itachi nodded. He had said 'anything', after all. Two seats down, the blond was leaning onto the counter, beaming at his baby brother. "Man, Sasuke... Your brother's the best!"
"Of course he is," Sasuke said without blinking an eyelash or meeting Naruto's eyes.
He couldn't believe he'd never realized Minato-san's little boy would be in Sasuke's class. And they even knew each other. This was wonderful.
"So, Naruto," Itachi began. "If you finish cleaning up the mess on the other street today, you'll be free tomorrow after school, right?"
"Huh?" the blond asked, blinking confusedly.
"What?!" Sasuke asked at exactly the same time.
Ignoring both reactions, Itachi went on. "Because I was thinking, if you were free, you should join me and Sasuke for training."
"Really?!" both of them asked -- Naruto looking excited and Sasuke looking horrified in equal measure.
"Really. We're doing kunai practice tomorrow. If you're not busy, you should come along."
"Woo hoo!" His baby brother looked aghast at the blond, who had thrown both his hands in the air.
"But..." Sasuke objected. "But he's the worst at everything!"
"All the more reason to practice," Itachi said with a shrug.
Naruto let out a loud laugh. "Just watch! I'll be the best someday, and everyone'll know it! I'm gonna be Hokage -- just wait and see!"
"You can say that after you beat me, moron," Sasuke told him, twisting one of Naruto's arms behind the kid's back in a fairly effective-looking lock. The two of them fell off their chairs and started scuffling on the ground. Completely unheeded, Sasuke's half-eaten cup of ice cream melted on the counter, and the server brought over a huge mixing bowl filled with an ice cream sundae that looked twice as big as the little squirt who was planning to eat it.
"Thanks," Itachi said to the server, who peeked at the brawl below before leaving to mind his own business.
Sasuke had twisted Naruto's limbs up into a pretzel, and looked more energetic than Itachi had seen him acting in a year.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!!" Naruto called out, slapping the ground with his free hand.
"Okay, you two. Get up here and eat your ice cream before it melts."
They scrambled back into their chairs, now both covered from head to toe in dirt, and started shoveling ice cream into their mouths like there was no tomorrow, stopping only to glare at each other from time to time. Itachi smiled at the pair of them.
He'd found Sasuke a friend.
Best. Day. Ever.