When Mikoto asked her to babysit her four-year-old, Kushina had thought it would be more… well, fun.
As it turns out, little Itachi Uchiha is no fun.
The things she’s learned in the past ten minutes are these:
Itachi does not like to be tickled. (When she’d tried that, he’d made a pained squeaking noise that was definitely not laughter. The way his eyes widened and eyebrows furrowed, he’d looked like an angry little gremlin, and it had taken all her willpower not to burst out laughing.)
He does not like to be touched. (He’d gone rigid as a board when Kushina scooped him up to play “airplane” before using all his strength to wiggle his way out of her arms.)
He does not like to talk. (She’s received mostly short answers thus far to all the questions she’s tried to ask him, and so far, he hasn't initiated any conversations.)
He’s the cutest thing she’s ever seen, but Kushina has no idea what to do with him.
She’s pretty sure he’s still mad at her for the tickling, because he’s sulking on the couch playing with the hem of his shirt and refusing to look at her.
“Hey, Ita-chan,” she coaxes, making her way over to sit next to him, hoping to form a truce. “I’m sorry for tickling you, and picking you up without asking. I won’t do it again. Without your permission,” she adds with a wink. “Can you forgive me?”
He looks over at her, before shyly turning away again. “Yes.”
"Aw, thanks, kid." She grins. “Forgiveness fist-bump?”
Itachi gives an apprehensive look towards her extended fist. Slowly, he curls his little fingers into a ball and gives her knuckles a soft tap.
“Right on!” Kushina says. Suddenly feeling devious and determined to cheer him up, she gets an idea. "Hey. Ita-chan. I'll give you some candy if you don't tell your mom."
His face brightens immediately, but he schools himself quickly, as if he’s embarrassed.
"Like... a secret?" Itachi asks.
"Yeah, a secret!" Kushina confirms, nodding. "Are you good at keeping secrets?"
Kushina fetches from the kitchen a bowl of individually wrapped chewy sweets of different colors and flavors. She holds it out to let him pick one. He studies the contents for a few moments before choosing an orange one, leaving Kushina to wonder how he'd made his selection.
Itachi unwraps the candy quietly, and begins eating with a small smile. He's taking tiny bites instead of popping the whole thing in his mouth, and Kushina is impressed.
"Was it yummy?" she asks when he's finished.
“I like your hair,” Kushina says suddenly, pointing to the ends of Itachi’s little bob that barely reaches his chin.
“Thank you,” he says, looking at his hands. He pauses for a moment before saying, “I want it to be like my mom’s. But she says it will take a long time for it to grow.”
Kushina can hardly contain the swelling in her chest, and she bites her lip to stop from squealing in adoration.
“I’m sure it will look lovely long,” she says, grinning.
Itachi shifts, looking like he wants to say something.
“What’s up, kid?” Kushina asks.
He hesitates, and then says, "Can I… have another candy?"
Kushina howls and slaps her leg. "Of course, Ita-chan! You can have as many as you want! As long as ya’ don't get sick."
She holds out the bowl again and says, "Take two this time!"
Itachi picks green and purple.
“Sure thing, kid.”
Kushina is surprised how weird the ensuing silence feels. She’s a grown woman, sitting next to a four-year-old child; surely she shouldn’t feel such a strange need to make conversation?
"So," Kushina says, as Itachi carefully eats his candies, attempting casual small-talk but instead feeling like she's beginning some kind of interview, "you got a favorite animal?"
"Birds," Itachi says immediately.
"Oh, birds, huh?" Kushina says. "What kind?"
"Wanna tell me some of 'em?" she prompts.
"Crows. Chickens. Robins. Ducks," he lists. "I like them all." He takes a tiny bite of candy.
Suddenly, Kushina has another idea. "Stay here, I'll be right back!"
She returns from her bedroom with a box of coloring sticks and some paper. Drawing is a nice, quiet activity, so Itachi should like that, right?
She sets the materials in front of him.
"Do you want to show me what some of those birds look like? You can color with my art stuff."
He scrunches his brows in a question. "You don't know what birds look like?"
"I—" She holds back a snort. "No, I do. But I'd like to see your renditions!"
"Oh. Alright." Itachi glances at the art supplies. "Yes, I would like to do that. Thank you."
Fortunately, coloring seems to have been the perfect choice of activity for Itachi.
She'd given him the option of working on the floor or at the kitchen table, and Itachi had chosen the table. He'd lain out all of the colors and several papers and gotten right to work.
Unfortunately, Kushina is bored.
Itachi’s been at it for about forty-five minutes, having produced a stack of twelve drawings so far. Kushina drew her own pictures alongside him for the first twenty minutes or so (some family portraits of herself and Minato, a bowl of ramen, a forest with some woodland animals) until she started getting restless.
Now she’s watching Itachi, who is fully in the zone, with his chin-length hair tucked behind one ear, drawing a family of ducks.
“Maybe Minato should be your babysitter instead of me, huh?” she absently wonders aloud, thinking of how her husband’s softer demeanor and affinity for quiet activities might mesh better with the child in front of her. Kushina’s eyes are on his drawing, which is really coming along. Itachi is currently working on the bill of the mother duck.
“Does Minato-san like to color?”
“Y’know, I’m not sure!” Kushina admits. “When he gets home, we’ll have to ask him. That should be in about…” She checks the clock, surprised to find that it’s almost five. “...fifteen minutes!”
Minato actually arrives in ten minutes, and after hanging his Yondaime coat by the door, he greets Kushina with a kiss on the cheek and their guest with an enthusiastic, “Well, hello, Itachi-kun!”
Itachi, who had seemingly forgotten that Minato was the Hokage until he caught a glance of his red and white coat, is now on his feet in a deep bow.
Instead of getting flustered at the absurd formalness coming from this practically-toddler, Minato takes it in stride. “You’re very kind, Itachi-kun. But you can just call me Minato-san while I’m at home!”
Minato gives a warm smile. Itachi blushes and nods.
He quickly returns to his coloring. Kushina is surprised when Itachi continues speaking, completely unprompted.
“I think I would like to be Hokage someday, too,” he says. “So I can help people, and make it so no one has to fight anymore."
The quiet determination in his voice makes Kushina feel reverent; such a declaration coming from someone so small is pretty stilling.
She looks over at a smiling Minato, who says, “I think that’s a wonderful goal. You’re pretty smart, huh, Itachi-kun?” As he reaches out and ruffles Itachi’s hair, the boy flinches.
“Ah, ah, ah, babe,” Kushina scolds at Minato, wagging a finger. “We’ve gotta ask before we touch. Right, Ita-chan?”
Itachi’s cheeks redden slightly once more, as Minato exclaims, “Oh!” and bows his head low. “Itachi-kun, I am so sorry! Please forgive me.”
(Kushina smiles as she remembers witnessing a similar interaction between Minato and Kakashi when they were all first getting to know each other; Kakashi had swatted away Minato’s well-intended hand on the top of his head, and Minato had profusely apologized, promising not to do it again. Showing love to the silver-headed prodigy, who is also not fond of being touched, was an adjustment for Minato and Kushina, who are admittedly both touchy and cuddly showers of affection; but over the years, the three of them have fallen into a comfortable groove of brief shoulder squeezes and encouraging words.)
“‘S’okay,” Itachi says, and continues drawing quietly, adding little details to the feathers on his ducks with a yellow pencil.
Minato mouths, He is so cute.
I know, right? Kushina mouths back.
Minato’s eyes go to the stack of drawings on the table. “Can I look at these?” he asks Itachi.
“Sure,” the boy says, without looking up.
Minato leafs through the pictures with a smile that keeps growing wider. “Do you like birds, Itachi-kun?”
“These are awesome,” he says. In his flipping through of the drawings, Minato gets to the one of Itachi holding a chicken in his arms, and Kushina can tell by the way Minato’s lips thin that he’s biting back a physical reaction to its cuteness.
“Do you have a favorite kind of bird?” Minato takes a seat next to Itachi at the table, so the boy is now in between him and Kushina.
“Probably crows,” Itachi says thoughtfully. “I feed them, and they are nice to me.” He adds the finishing touches to his duck family drawing, and then reaches for another sheet of blank paper. “But I like all birds. I don’t want any to feel left out.”
“That’s very kind of you, Itachi-kun,” Minato says, a smile in his voice.
“Do you like to color, Minato-san?”
Minato bites his lip and discreetly leans back to look at Kushina with the biggest pouty eyes. Kushina mouths, I know.
“Yes, I do like to color,” Minato says, once he’s gotten his face under control, reaching for his own paper. Whether or not that’s actually true, Kushina doesn’t know, but she can tell Minato is very eager to keep spending time with this adorably polite little bird boy. (She knew Minato would just fall in love with him.)
Kushina watches fondly as her husband helps Itachi make a portrait of the boy wearing the red Hokage hat. All at once, she is overwhelmed with the image of Minato as a father. It momentarily steals her breath, the thought of Minato, her husband, as the father of a future child the two of them may have together someday. Her heart swells with so much affection that she thinks she might burst.
I want this, she thinks. I want a family.
She reaches an arm behind little Itachi to put a hand on Minato's shoulder. She squeezes, and he looks at her with an oblivious smile. (Oh, how she loves him.)
During the past few years of mothering and loving on Minato’s genin team like her own kids, her lifelong desire to be a parent has only grown. Between having spa nights with Rin, tucking Kakashi into bed when he spends the night at their house, and laughing with Obito until their ribs threaten to crack, she’s always known that she would want a house full of rambunctious kids of her own to feed and hug and kiss.
This is the first moment that the word now has floated into her mind. She thinks she wants to be a mother now.
Of course, if her kids turn out to be more like Itachi than Obito she’ll have her work cut out for her, but she knows she would love and adore them all the same.
She grabs a piece of paper and a colored pencil, and joins Minato and Itachi in their coloring.
When Mikoto comes to collect Itachi, it’s nearly six in the evening. Itachi showcases to his mother his impressive portfolio of nineteen drawings, and Kushina feels a twinge of something that might be longing (jealousy?).
“These are lovely, baby,” Mikoto says fondly, planting a kiss on top of her son’s hair. “We’ll hang them all up on the fridge, alright? Did you have fun with Aunt Kushina and Uncle Minato?”
Kushina feels a hint of pride bubble up inside her. (Itachi had fun! Yes!)
“I hope Kushina didn’t feed you too many sweets,” she says, with a playful side eye towards her friend.
Itachi does not move or answer, undoubtedly remembering his secret and deciding if he should lie or tell the truth. Kushina swoops in to save him, saying, “Not enough to spoil his dinner! Right, Ita-chan?”
The boy relaxes, nodding shyly, and Mikoto laughs. (Itachi is clutching Mikoto’s shirt, and Kushina’s strange feeling of longing longing longing is stronger than ever.)
“We’ll see you next time, okay?” Kushina says. Next time, she will be much better prepared, perhaps with some puzzles or some books or a planned trip to the duck pond.
Itachi nods again, and Mikoto thanks Kushina and Minato, promising to invite the two of them over for dinner soon. Itachi waves goodbye with a tiny hand, and then they’re gone.
Once Kushina and Minato have finished fawning over the tiny Uchiha and his adorable drawings (“Did you see the one with the baby chicks hatching out of their eggs? Did you see it?!”), the two of them sit at the dinner table in a comfortable silence.
“I want to have a baby,” Kushina says suddenly.
She half expects Minato to choke on his spit at the unexpected confession. Instead, he turns to her, grabs her hand, and with stars in his eyes says, “Me, too. So much.”
Kushina’s heart soars.