Itachi Uchiha zeroes in on his niece’s hair with the same unwavering attention he would a live bomb. Messing it up would have about the same result.
Carefully, he winds the three separated parts together in a neat braid, and then uses the pink spangled elastic to fasten the tail.
“How’s this?” he asks, holding a small mirror to show her the back of her head in her mother’s vanity mirror.
Sarada cocks her head to one side, in a movement that is pure Sakura; the way her eyes narrow judgementally, though, is all Sasuke. Then she nods and says solemnly, “It will do.”
Itachi feels oddly judged. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she says. “It’s just not as good as Mama does it.” Instantly Itachi wants to redo the entire thing, but she hurriedly says, “But it’s better than when Papa does it, so maybe next time you’ll get it right.”
She pats him on the hand in consolation and then skips off, green dinosaur in hand. Itachi never knew a six-year-old’s words could cut so sharply to the quick. Before he can dwell too much on that, the phone rings and he spends several seconds trying to find the damn thing in the mess of clothes and bath towels that Sarada left on the floor.
(Another Sakura-ism; Sasuke was always anal retentive about neatness.)
Itachi answers on the sixth ring, and barely manages a greeting, before his sister-in-law’s voice rings across the line.
“Hello!” she gushes in her usual joyous manner. “We just go to the hotel. Are we catching you at a bad time?”
“Not at all,” he replies, hanging up the towels on the back of the bathroom door. “In fact, you may have just saved me from contemplating seppuku.”
“What, did you match the wrong sweater and dress set?”
“Worse. I failed to execute a hairstyle to the lauded Mama-standard.”
“Oh, the humanity!”
“My saving grace was that apparently I managed better than my brother.”
“Bullshit!” he hears Sasuke say in the background. “She’s probably just trying to make him feel better.”
“Of course, dear,” Sakura simpers with the air of one who doesn’t actually believe what she’s saying. “Now change your tie, it doesn’t match the rest of your suit.”
“You have him wearing a suit?” Itachi snorts. “In Hawaii?”
“It’s a black-tie event, and it’s air-conditioned. I’m not about to have him show up in a skin-tight onesie.”
“I would pay money to see that.”
“Shut up, Itachi!”
The older Uchiha smirks at the frustration in his brother’s voice. Sasuke is clearly stuck between complaining about attending a formal social event and cursing out his older brother, both of which might land him on the receiving end of his wife’s temper. Since there’s a reason to remain in her good graces—a week of uninterrupted adult time including but not limited to sex—Itachi imagines Sasuke is making the effort to be civil.
Best not to piss off your benefactor, little brother. Sakura’s invitation is the only reason you’re at a five-star all-inclusive right now instead of finishing menial chores…
It’s not unheard of for Sakura Uchiha to be nominated for some kind of medical award—she is an expert in her field. This year, one of her award ceremonies is taking place in Hawaii, and it coincided with Sasuke’s time off at the precinct. They’ve taken advantage of the rare opportunity to vacation together, while Itachi keeps an eye on their daughter.
Literally, at the moment, he adds as he enters the living room where Sarada is carefully arranging her toys around a plastic kid’s table. It has been set with a tiny China tea service, and each toy—from her dinosaur to a well-loved Anne of Green Gables doll—are wearing homemade paper crowns.
“Sarada,” he says, and she glances up from a conversation she’s having with a plushie R2-D2 (Sasuke bought her that after the premiere of the latest movie). “Someone’s on the phone for you.”
Her face lights up. “Is it Tony Stark?”
Ever since she saw the third Iron Man movie, there is no power in the universe that can convince her that a) Tony Stark is a fictional character and b) that most genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropists don’t contact members of the general population to help save the world from evil.
If they did, Itachi is pretty sure they’d have contacted him by now.
“Better than Tony Stark,” he tells her, and hands her the phone; the squeal of delight she emits is only a decibel off what he imagines she would sound like if Robert Downey Jr. walked into the room. Not that he would necessarily be able to stop himself from doing the same. The actor is on Itachi’s celebrity freebie list. And Shisui can’t even judge him for it, because he’s got Robert Carlisle on his.
After Sarada exchanges the requisite greetings and assurances of sound mind and body with her mother, Itachi gently takes the phone and sets it on speaker.
“What are you guys up to tonight?” Sakura wants to know.
“Oh, the usual,” Itachi replies, offering Sarada a slight smile. “Playing with matches. Running with scissors. Taking candy from some man. I’m not sure of his name.”
Sarada giggles behind her hands and Itachi imagines his sister-in-law rolling her eyes, while Sasuke growls, “Itachi.”
He is absurdly protective when it comes to his daughter’s safety, to the point of sometimes losing his already strongly-repressed sense of humour.
“Tell my foolish little brother to calm down and go drink something with a lot of alcohol in it,” Itachi tells Sakura.
“You realise if I do that, he’ll be passed out for the rest of the evening and I won’t get any use out of him, right?” she snorts.
“Please, Sakura, there are children present.”
“Mama’s dirty,” Sarada agrees in a sage tone, which is followed by the sound of both her parents making choking noises.
Itachi’s clever comments about that are put off when the doorbell rings.
“That’s probably Shisui,” Itachi says. “We’re going to go out for dinner.”
“Why?” Sakura wants to know. “I made food for you guys and froze it before we left!”
“Yes, and I don’t intend to spend the weekend getting my stomach pumped,” Itachi replies crisply. He hears the sound of his brother’s snort of laughter, and then a wheezing as if something, presumably Sakura’s elbow, hits him in the chest. “Anyhow, we’ll speak to you again later.”
“If the event ends early, we can Skype,” Sakura agrees.
“And I can show you the princess tiara Uncle Itachi bought me!” Sarada cheers.
Itachi winces, and he hears Sakura groan. “Itachi, you didn’t…”
“Talk to you soon,” he says quickly and hangs up. He frowns at Sarada. “That was supposed to stay our secret until they got home.”
“You didn’t get it in writing,” she quips, and he sighs.
“You are hanging out with Kakashi too much.” The older man has been a friend of the family for decades and taught law to Itachi and Sasuke at the police academy. He’s also notorious for his use of legal loopholes, which is why he’s already tenured and on track to retire at forty.
“He painted my nails with glitter polish.”
“Ah.” Itachi knows he’s been beat, because there is nothing that can make him go anywhere near sparkles or glitter. He has no intention to succumbing to the herpes of the art world.
The doorbell rings again, two impatient trills, and he follows Sarada as she charges down the hallway and throws open the door.
Shisui stands outside the door, holding a pizza box in one hand and a bulky cloth bag in the other.
“Uncle Shisui!” Sarada squeals and hugs him across the knees.
“Hey, kid—whoa, careful! You’re going to make me drop dinner!”
Shisui is comically uncomfortable, not being used to children showing him overt affection, let alone one as exuberant and friendly as Sarada. Itachi’s son is as reserved as he and Sasuke were as children and isn’t one for physical displays of affection. Itaru and Shisui had only just become comfortable around each other when he was introduced to the rest of his family. Itachi suspects Shisui wasn’t expecting the energetic welcome that sister-in-law and niece offered him almost from their first meeting, being more used to the reserved approval of Itachi’s parents and brother.
“What did you bring?” Sarada wants to know.
“Only the best in Italian junk food. Check it out: they put cheese on round bread. It’s gonna be big.”
Sarada beams, and then suddenly becomes suspicious. “Is there pineapple on it?”
“Please, do I look like this uncultured swine?” Shisui snorts, jerking his head toward Itachi, who chooses not to comment on the slur. He’ll get vengeance on his lover later, in a not so subtle way.
“Why don’t you go put the food in the kitchen and set out the plates?” he suggests to his niece. “And be careful not to drop it on the way.”
Sarada rolls her eyes at him in a very Sasuke-esque way and flounces off.
Itachi lets Shisui into the house and raises an eyebrow. “We were supposed to go out. What prompted this change of plans?”
“What, a guy can’t show up at the door with food without an ulterior motive?”
“You can’t,” Itachi retorts. “Did you shoot someone? Again?”
“Wow, you really went there, didn’t you?”
“It has happened before.”
“Not off the books it hasn’t,” Shisui grumbles, and then brightens up. “Oh, hey, I also brought games!”
He holds up Uno, Twister and Monopoly.
“Did you raid a nineties game store for that?” Itachi asks, mouth curling in amusement.
“Shut up! It’s not like I’m used to babysitting without parents around to distract their offspring!”
“You watch Itaru all the time.”
“That’s different. He’s a boy. And all he does is read anyway. I have no idea what girls like to do, other than playing with dolls and makeup.”
“You’ll find that the juvenile female of the human species also shares the same interests as the male,” Itachi replies dryly as Shisui put down the bag and removes his shoes. “They watch the action movie, they eat of the beef and they enjoy to play at sports. Twenty years pretending to be straight, and you didn’t learn anything about women?”
“You know my parents weren’t as accepting as yours. If I even looked at a bottle of mascara growing up, my father would have…” Shisui trails off, and though the tone is meant to be light-hearted, there’s a hint of a still healing injury there.
Itachi’s eyes soften.
His lover’s pain is two-front: the lingering ache of a childhood spent striving for his parents’ acceptance, and the guilt that their sudden deaths in a car accident allowed him to finally embrace who he was.
Itachi understands, to an extent, what that is like. He, too, spent his life according to what his father wanted for him—school, police academy, marriage, fatherhood—although there was a small part of him that wanted it too. But like Shisui, the sudden loss of a loved one was what gave him the opportunity to explore his own predilections.
“It’s what they call observational skills,” Itachi tells the other man, reaching over and tapping him affectionately on the forehead. Though his tone is joking, the gesture is anything but.
Shisui’s cheeks darken at the significance the caress holds for both of them, and he catches hold of Itachi’s wrist as he begins to pull away. Using the captured limb to draw him forward, Shisui brings up his left hand to cradle Itachi’s jaw.
There’s an instant where they gaze at each other, considering, and then Shisui leans in.
Even though he knows it’s coming, Itachi is always surprised the moment their lips touch. Before Shisui, he had never imagined a man’s kiss could be gentle, but Shisui always seems worried in the first few moments that he might break him. It’s almost funny, since Itachi is widely recognised as the deadliest man in the precinct, his list of injuries and near-deaths rivalled only by his little brother. That Shisui could find anything about him delicate is a quirk that Itachi cherishes.
He’s not used to being someone to be protected.
The kiss, despite it’s innocent beginning as just the brush of their mouths, takes a new turn; Shisui, hesitant at first, is quick to adopt a more aggressive tactic when it’s obvious his advances are welcome. Before Itachi can really remember himself or their surroundings, he finds himself pressed up against the hallway wall, and his tongue being drawn into the other man’s mouth.
His half-hearted mumble of protest trails off as one of Shisui’s hands find their way to his backside, squeezing him so close that his own hands fly up in response, tangling in Shisui’s curls.
A tiny, delicate cough brings him back to reality, and instantly he and Shisui are three feet apart, staring guilty at the source of the sound. Sarada stands in the middle of the hallway, cheeks puffed out and arms crossed in a portrait of utter exasperation.
“Uncle’s dirty, too,” she tells Itachi judgementally, as if he was the only one instigating the impromptu make-out session in her hallway.
He clears his throat, embarrassed, at a loss for what to say. He’s saved from coming up with anything when Sarada wanders over to Shisui, and tugs at his shirt lapels.
Shisui swallows roughly, as if expecting the six-year-old to give him a threatening speech or something, but all she only peers up at him sweetly and says, “Uncle Shisui, if my soldier man is cold, can I put him in the microwave to get warm?”
He’s obviously a little off-balance the question; Itachi admits he wasn’t expecting that either. He begins to wonder how many times Sarada has walked in on her parents making-out (or more) to be so unbothered.
“Uh…” Shisui trails off. “I guess so?”
Sarada’s question breaks through Itachi’s mystification.
“Shisui, no!” he hisses, and then fixes Sarada with a serious expression. “Sarada, that would be a mistake.”
Shisui chuckles apologetically, rubbing the back of his head, and Itachi thinks that it’s one of the universe’s small mercies that his lover has chosen to never reproduce.
“I made a mistake.”
The smell of burning plastic permeates the air.
After rescuing the poor misshapen action figure from the microwave, and a gentle lecture that still ends in Itachi promising to bring Sarada’s soldier man to the “toy hospital” to get fixed (or rather, tracking down whatever store sells the same action figure and replacing it), they sit down to eat.
Itachi picks the pepperoni and mushrooms of his slice of pizza, earning good-natured teasing from Shisui and Sarada. Everyone always mocks him for his preference for plain cheese pizza, but he’s secure in his decision not to eat fake meat or fungus, so he tolerates the constant references to “broken pizza” because it makes his niece laugh.
It’s a decidedly more relaxed dinner than Itachi ever had growing up, for which he is grateful.
“What are we going to do now?” Sarada asks. Like most six-year-olds, she has a proper sense of schedule and order, as well as the need to have every minute of her day accounted for.
“Well, we can play some of the games Shisui brought, and then you’re going to bed,” Itachi tells her.
“I get to stay up until nine,” she tells him immediately.
“Nice try,” he answers without skipping a beat. “Your mother said in bed by eight, but I can read you a story.”
Itachi smiles at the negotiation. “Alright. Two stories.”
Shisui makes a less-than-discreet whip-crack noise, which goes over Sarada’s head but not over Itachi’s, and then hurries off to grab his bag of games.
They play a few rounds of Twister at Shisui’s insistence—an insistence of someone who has never actually played Twister and who doesn’t realise the facility with which one can break their ankle or wrist joints. He soon learns this, however, since Sarada somehow ends up holding the spinner, delighting in tangling her uncles up in the most convoluted arrangements she can. Itachi suspects she might not even be using the spinner properly, just yelling out whatever colour brings them both close to toppling over on each other.
Afterward, they play Uno, a pastime that has no rival when it comes to sending family members into such bloodthirsty betrayal so as to put the third season of Game of Thrones to shame. Finally, they round the evening off with Monopoly. Itachi doubts they’ll play the whole thing, since Shisui insists on playing with the absurd non-rule of Free Parking money, and Sarada’s eyes are beginning to droop.
Itachi mistakenly takes this as her winding down, and so he is not on his guard when she asks him a seemingly innocent question.
“Uncle Itachi, why don’t you have kids?”
“You know I do. Your cousin Itaru.”
His son is visiting Izumi’s mother this weekend, the way he has every other weekend since she passed. As usual, Itachi feels the familiar pang at the thought of his late wife; her death was sudden and unexpected, a cerebral haemorrhage caused by a stroke. He’ll never not be haunted by the future that could have been.
He feels fingers brush the back of his wrist beneath the table. Shisui smiles softly at him, as usual able to tell the direction of his thoughts.
If not for him, Itachi worries he might not have roused himself from his grief to be a good father and uncle.
Sarada doesn’t notice his lapse, still focussed on her question with dogged interest. “No, not you and Auntie Izumi. You and Uncle Shisui. Isn’t he your new wife?”
Shisui chokes at this, and Itachi fights off a smile he knows he’ll pay for if it’s seen.
“No, Shisui is not my wife. We’re not married.”
“And I’m a guy,” Shisui adds. “Guys are husbands. Girls are wives.”
“So, you’re his new husband then?” she asks.
“Then why do you kiss like Mama and Papa do?” Sarada wants to know. “Don’t you have to be married to do that?”
“No, Sarada, people don’t have to be married to show each other affection, or to kiss and hug.”
“I know that,” she insists, wrinkling her nose. “I meant they have to be married to kiss with tongues.” She sounds mildly disturbed. “Mama and Papa do that when they don’t know I’m there, and I saw you two in the hallway before.”
Shisui is turning a rather lovely shade of plum right now.
“Spying on people isn’t very polite,” Itachi tells his niece in a mild tone, once more revisiting his suspicion that she’s seen more than her share of her parents’ overt displays of affection. Perhaps he and Sasuke should have a little chat…
“It’s not spying if you’re doing it right in front of me,” she protests, and he has to admit she has a point. Then again, he wasn’t exactly expecting Shisui to throw him against a wall and kiss him breathless, either.
He offers his lover a minor frown of reprimand, and then considers his niece. He has to be careful here, not wanting whatever he says to come back to bite him in the ass later.
“When two people reach a certain age, one which a lot older than you are now, and they come to care for each other, sometimes they choose to show affection to each other…more than kissing and hugging.”
“With tongues,” Sarada makes a face.
“…Yes. Sometimes,” Itachi allows, his cheeks turning warm despite his best efforts to remain calm. “Some of those people choose to get married, like your parents, and some don’t, like Shisui and myself.”
Sarada looks confused, and Itachi sighs inwardly when Shisui leers at him, as if to say, see what you’ve gotten yourself into?
“Many reasons. Some people find it to be unnecessary stress. And it costs a lot of money,” Itachi explains. “And then there are some people that get upset when two men or two women get married. So even if Shisui and I were the type to want to get married, we wouldn’t be able to.”
“Not in Japan, anyway,” Shisui adds. “Legally.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that the government—”
“Like Uncle Naruto?” Sarada interrupts.
“Not exactly. Naruto works for the government, but he isn’t the government. A government is a bunch of people who get together and decide on rules that everyone should follow. They do that to be the fairest they possibly can.”
“In theory,” Shisui mumbles.
“But this government doesn’t think it’s a good idea for two men or two women to be considered married,” Itachi concludes. “They don’t mind them living together, but they think being married should only be between a man and a woman.”
“I still don’t know the answer to that,” Itachi sighs. “But it mostly comes down to people being afraid of matters they don’t encounter every day, or which they don’t believe to be normal.” He decides not to get into the topic of religious bigotry just then, and instead takes notice of the empty pizza remains. “It’s as if you were to say that, because you think pineapple on pizza is disgusting, I’m not allowed to eat it.”
“But that’s not fair!” Sarada insists, offended. “You can eat whatever you want. I just don’t want to eat it.”
“Exactly my point.”
“And if you love each other, you should be able to get married.”
“Well…” Shisui ruminates, tilting his head to one side in thought. “It all depends on what you decide marriage is. There’s the wedding and there’s the marriage, which are two different things. One’s a big party, and the other is making a promise to stay with someone that you love and respect. It doesn’t have to be legal to be considered real.”
“You two are already together like that,” Sarada observes, mulling this over. Then she blinks as something occurs to her and says, “Does that mean you two had a…a not-legal wedding?”
“No, we haven’t.”
“But you can, right? You can have a big party just because you want to, because you’re grown-ups.”
“We can definitely do that,” Shisui agrees. “No one can stop that.”
Sarada claps her hands. “So will you?”
Shisui stares at Itachi in dumfounded terror, having not realised where his mouth was leading him this time. Neither of them has ever broached the subject of marriage before. Their families are tolerant enough of their relationship in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of way, but remain traditional enough that even a civil ceremony might ruffle feathers. Besides, Itachi didn’t even really want to get married the first time; he and Izumi could have happily cohabitated indefinitely if their mothers hadn’t gotten involved.
Shisui laughs it off and says, “Well, if would depend on your uncle and if he could make a romantic enough proposal.”
“Like when Han Solo won a planet and brought Princess Leia there to ask her to marry him?”
Shisui shoots him an utterly confused look.
“Sasuke’s been reading her the Star Wars Expanded Universe for months now,” Itachi explains. “He says she needs to know how everything really happened before Disney retconned the series.”
“Your brother has really weird obsessions.”
“You play fantasy football. People in glasses houses.”
“Why would anyone live in a glass house?” Sarada wonders. “Wouldn’t it break?”
“It would have to be bulletproof glass,” Shisui replies cheerfully, and proceeds to side-track Sarada into an exercise of coming up with fancier and fancier wedding proposals. Itachi starts to gather up the forgotten Monopoly game while they concoct more and more ridiculous notions. Eventually, they mutually agree on a team of unicorns pulling a miniature Firefly-class transport while the Green Bay Packers serenade Shisui with Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life.
“You’re both ridiculous,” Itachi informs them as he herds Sarada toward her room.
“And you’re no fun,” Sarada complains, sharing a conspiratorial fist-bump with Shisui; it seems he’s overcome whatever worries he had about getting along with a little girl.
“Yeah, Itachi—no fun.”
Itachi smirks at him, because the joke’s on Shisui. Sarada’s eyes have that stubborn gleam, one which suggests she’s deadly serious about the whole thing. It’s why Itachi has to play the role of the villain and say very clearly, “All of this is moot because we’re not getting married.”
Sarada is not deterred; in fact, he realises that she never forgot about her question from earlier, when she asks, “Okay, but if you don’t have to get married to have babies, how do you get one? You’re both boys. You don’t have a uterus.” She pronounces the word carefully, as if it’s a just recently learned concept. “Mama says that’s where babies come from, but if you don’t have uteruses, how can you have a baby?”
“Uteri,” Itachi corrects mildly. “The plural of uterus is uteri. It’s from the Latin.”
“Seriously, that’s what you took away from that?” Shisui squeaks at him.
Itachi waves him away. “Obviously we can’t have babies together because, as you said, we’re both men. And we have Itaru. But if we did decide together that we wanted a baby, there are many children that have been left without parents due to bad circumstances. Accidents or sickness, or maybe their parents couldn’t care for them. And they might need parents like us to take care of them.”
“Will you do that, then?” Sarada asks.
“I think it’s too early to be thinking of that,” Itachi responds delicately, not wanting to go into the fact that legally, gay couples can’t actually adopt children in Japan.
“Oh. Okay.” Sarada goes quiet, thinking on that for a bit, and Itachi thinks he might have finally quelled some of her curiosity for the day. But then she says, “There’s still one thing that doesn’t make sense.”
“Just the one?”
“How does the baby get into the Mama’s uterus?”
Utter silence reigns once more.
Itachi’s mind goes utterly and unpredictably blank at this, because…well.
Maybe he imagined the question?
But no, she’s staring up at him expectantly, still hugging her pyjamas to her chest as she waits for her genius uncle to come up with a response.
“Well…” is all he can manage at first.
Meanwhile, Shisui is freaking out, muttering curses under his breath—about Sasuke’s hellspawn and Sasuke for marrying a doctor and this is what happens when you educate women!—while Itachi considers the conundrum with forced calm.
There’s no harm in explaining the mechanics of reproduction, and Sarada is very intelligent. On the other hand, he never imagined he would be the one having this conversation with her. It’s supposed to be Sakura’s purview.
In fact, he didn’t expect to be having this conversation for another five years at least. His own son hasn’t even started asking this sort of thing.
He has half a mind to agree with Shisui that the bizarre and dangerous combination of Sasuke and Sakura’s intelligence has created the precocious, adorable monster before him, and her uncomfortable line of inquiry.
“That’s a very good question,” Itachi says slowly. “We should ask your father about that when he gets home. Since he’s married to a woman, he would know the answer better than I would.” Sarada thinks about his response and then seems to deem it acceptable (mercifully, she has forgotten that Itachi was also married to a woman once!. Still, to cover all his bases, he adds, “And your mother. She’s a doctor. Doctors know all about that.”
“I guess so,” Sarada agrees, nodding to herself. Then she leans over and tugs at Shisui’s shirt again. “Uncle Shisui, are you coming over tomorrow? Uncle Itachi says he’ll take me roller-skating, and you can come too.”
“Uh…thanks,” Shisui says, clearly taken off guard by the abrupt subject-change.
“It’s about time for bed, Sarada. Why don’t you go get ready and then we’ll come back to read you a story?” Itachi suggests.
“Two stories,” she reminds him, already getting up from the table.
“Right. Two stories.”
He and Shisui retreat from her room, and then the latter begins to laugh.
“‘Ask your father’,” he chortles. “I sometimes forget how sadistic you can be. You realise that if Sasuke doesn’t kill you, Sarada’s going to look back on this ten years from now and be utterly mortified?”
“We all have our childhood traumas,” Itachi remark innocently. “At least it will make for good speech material if she ever gets married.”