It had all started when Sasori and Deidara had dropped off Atsuko at their house for the evening.
Kisame hadn't missed the way Itachi had lit up when 4 year old Atsuko had run in, her denim jumper flapping around her knees. Sure, Deidara probably missed it while she was yelling at Itachi to keep away from her baby, and Sasori had missed it trying to calm his nearly-nine-month pregnant wife down. But she hadn't. She saw the smile playing about his lips, and felt her heart plummet.
Itachi loved kids. No matter how stoic he acted, he had a soft spot for children. Kisame had seen the photos of Itachi with Sasuke from when they were much was younger. That smile... she only ever saw it when he was with a child. It never made her jealous. She didn't mind.
Hell, she liked kids too. Whenever they weren't making fun of her skin, or crying because she looked scary. Admittedly, that wasn't very often. Atsuko Akasuna was a different case. Kisame had known the kid from birth, and Atsuko had never been afraid of her. Well, the kid wasn't afraid of much, having grown up with Deidara for a parent... Konan's kids were a different story. Kiyoko loved to mock Kisame openly, while Kiyoshi would be reduced to tears within a few minutes of being in the same room with her.
She liked kids, she really did. But lately, she had started to feel... insecure? Itachi was more animated on the odd occasion when they had to baby-sit, and afterwards, more playful. She loved it. Stoic Itachi Uchiha was never playful and loving, but the kids brought out a side of him she adored. Then he would start talking.
"Kisame... we've been living together for five years now..." He would start, turning on his side to look at her as they lay in bed (or on the couch, in the swimming pool... they weren't picky) together.
"Yeah?" She'd hope every time against hope that he wouldn't bring up the dreaded topic. "And?"
"Have you ever thought about... starting a family?"
"Itachi," she'd splutter, exasperated. "We aren't even married."
"We could get married." And then came the dreaded words. "We'd have the cutest children, you know."
No, she didn't know. At about that point, she would shut him up with more sex, but it would nag at her for days and days afterwards. Why all of a sudden would he bring it up? Hell, they hadn't even gone public (his version of public) until about two years ago, though they had been living together since school had ended. Kids had never been an issue with him before. "Rebuilding the clan" had always been his little brother Sasuke's thing, not Itachi's. And for him to bring it up now, when they were already both settled and comfortable was....
"Auntie Kisame!" Atsuko squealed, throwing herself at Kisame's leg in glee. Kisame grinned and reached down to pluck the kid off the floor.
"Hey, kid." She lifted Atsuko high, enjoying her joyful screeching. "You been good?"
"Sorry to impose on you guys so last minute. Apparently Atsuko is banned from staying at Pein's after an incident with Kiyoko got a bit out of hand... Kiyoshi had to go on special medication because of it, apparently... So you guys can watch her for a few days?" Sasori was saying, handing Itachi a rather large duffle bag.
"We packed for five days, but it shouldn't take nearly that long." He glanced at Deidara, who was frowning down at her enlarged stomach. "The doctors said given her previous history, she could go into labor at any time, so they want her over there until the birth on b-e-d-r-e-s-t."
"Danna. I can spell, you know."
"That wasn't for you, Brat. But thanks for letting me know, much appreciated." Sasori smirked. "Anyway, she shouldn't be too much of a handful, but still, I'd keep her away from the sucrose-loaded foods."
Now Deidara's brow furrowed. "Sucrose?"
"S-u-g-a-r, Deidara. Honestly.... well, you have my number, Itachi, so we'd better go. Call me if anything comes up. Bye, Atsuko!"
"Eh?" Atsuko twisted around in Kisame's arms. "Ah! Down, down!" As soon as her feet touched the ground, she raced towards her parents, almost knocking Deidara over with the force of her hug. "Don't go!" She hugged Deidara's leg tightly.
"Atsuko, you know when we come back, you'll have a new sister, right?" Sasori said, a rare smile on his face for his little girl.
"I told you it's a boy, Danna."
"Nonsense. You ate even less with this one than with Atsuko. She'll be a girl."
"We are not having this argument right now, Danna un. Mommy will miss you, Atsuko." Deidara couldn't bend much, but she managed to rest her hand on Atsuko's head, ruffling her hair. "We'll try to call every day un. You have fun with Auntie Kisame, okay?"
"Be a big girl, Atsuko," Sasori chimed in. "Behave for Itachi and Kisame, okay?"
Atsuko sniffed and stepped back.
"Bye..." Her voice was wavering, but she held her tears in until after the car had driven away. Then the dam broke, and Itachi was immediately cooing over her. Kisame didn't really know what to do, so she stood by awkwardly, watching Itachi comfort Atsuko until the wails were little more than hiccups.
"Let's go watch something on TV, okay, Atsuko?"
"Um... um..." Atsuko bit her lip. "Toy Story?"
"That used to be one of Sasuke's favorites when he was little." Itachi looked a bit wistful. "I think I still have the original VHS still upstairs. Kisame, pop some popcorn?"
"Okay, let's go, Atsuko. You want to help me?"
Atsuko shook her head. "I want to sit on the couch."
"Okay, suit yourself...." Kisame went into the kitchen and rummaged around for a bag of popcorn and some bowls. She accidentally bumped into the fridge, sending a sheaf of papers showering down.
"Crap..." She muttered, getting down on her knees to pick them up. They were all things Itachi had put up on the fridge, long before she had come to live with him. She glanced at them. Most were just printouts of business things, some were the programs from the concerts he had conducted...
Her eye caught a flash of color, and she pulled the paper towards her. It was a child's drawing, stick figures of four people, and something that looked like a dinosaur. She smiled despite herself. How cute, a family drawing... had Itachi drawn this? No.... the artist has signed his name at the bottom, in scrawling black crayon. Sasuke.
Itachi had been abroad at college and hadn't learned until he had returned that Sasuke had run away. The first time was at age thirteen, after getting into a huge fight with a friend. The rumor was that he was with Orochimaru, in Oto but... he'd returned shortly afterwards. No one had suspected anything was wrong. Then, at the age of sixteen he had returned and challenged Itachi to a fight to the death. And then he'd run off again. That was the last time anyone had seen him. Two years later, they found Orochimaru's body rotting in an abandoned apartment in Oto. He'd been dead for over two years by the time they'd found him. And Sasuke was still MIA.
Itachi refused to talk about it, but he missed Sasuke fiercely. She knew when he'd seen Atsuko running into their house, his mind had subbed in a memory of Sasuke, age five, running to greet the then-thirteen-year-old Itachi after a long morning of cram-school. His overly-affection ate way with children was compensation for what he thought he hadn't given Sasuke when they were growing up.
She glanced up from the mess, startled. Itachi was leaning in the doorway, staring down at her.
"Yeah?" She answered, gathering up the fallen papers hastily. She felt her cheeks color as she clipped the papers together with the magnetic clip.
"Oh, right..." Kisame walked into the pantry, returning with the popcorn bags. She frowned. "One or two?"
"One, I'm not in the mood. Unless you are?"
"Nah, I'm not really hungry right now." Kisame popped the bag in the microwave and started it up. "Where are the bowls?"
As she went back into the pantry to look again, the papers on the fridge cascaded down again. She cursed colorfully and bent to re-gather them. Suddenly, a pale hand was covering her own.
"Leave it." She looked up into Itachi's black eyes. "Kisame..."
"Y-yeah?" She coughed to clear her throat. Not that that did much for her already gravely voice. "Yeah?"
"Why don't you want children?"
And suddenly the elephant was in the room. Kisame paled.
"I-is this really the time for that question, 'Totchi?" She stared down at their hands, his pale, feminine hand against her ruddy, manly hand. "Atsuko is going to wonder where we are-"
"No, she won't. You've been holed up in here for nearly thirty minutes. I already started the movie for her."
"So you can answer my question."
Kisame bit her lip. "I really don't want to talk about it..."
"Well, it's either now, or now." If she hadn't been so upset, she might have laughed at Itachi's attempt at humor. "If it's about your looks, I told you it won't matter. Our kids-"
"Our kids would be the cutest in the world, I know," Kisame repeated, bringing her eyes up to meet his. "That's not it. Itachi, I-"
"Uncle Itachi! Auntie Kisame! Come here, come here. It's the scary part!" Atsuko shrieked from the living room. Itachi gave Kisame a look at then got to his feet, walking quickly out to the living room.
Kisame sighed, getting to her feet shakily. Crisis adverted. Just then, the popcorn beeped, and she got a bowl and took it out to them.
The papers lay on the floor forgotten, Sasuke's drawing on top.
~ ~ ~
And now they were fighting. Passive-aggressively, of course, but still fighting.
"Nice day today, isn't it, Itachi?" Kisame asked cheerfully. They were at the park, sitting on the bench while Atsuko ran wild on the playground. Currently, she was pushing a fat kid off of the monkey bars. Her caretakers, of course, ignored the behavior. It wasn't like she was their kid, anyway.
"I'm still waiting for an answer, Kisame."
Kisame stiffened. Busted. She'd ignored him this morning, which hadn't been hard to do, with Atsuko insisting on talking to them nonstop about everything under the sun while trying to eat cereal. They'd learned that Atsuko was not a good multi-tasker, after having to clean up all the spilt milk and corn flakes. Kisame had thought that maybe he had forgotten their conversation, or given up. She'd guessed wrong.
"Well...." She tried to avoid the question. "Look at that fat kid over there. Do you want to be the father of that kid, who can't even defend himself from a little girl half his size?"
"Kisame." Itachi's voice had a warning tone to it.
Kisame sighed and searched for the words to explain to him the secret fear that had gnawed at her every day, every time she looked in the mirror.
"Itachi..." She began slowly, trying to phrase her thoughts correctly. "I don't think I could be a mother."
"Nonsense, Kisame. Atsuko likes you."
Kisame sighed angrily. "Itachi, you know as well as I do that what little time we spend with her can't be considered parenting-"
"Kisame." And now it was Itachi's turn to be angry. His eyes flashed. "Take it back."
A grimace passed over Kisame's face. Shit, that was right, Itachi was using Atsuko as a reason to make up for losing Sasuke. Any attack on his parenting skills with Atsuko was an attack on how he'd raised Sasuke...
"Itachi, look, I didn't mean-"
"We have Atsuko for the rest of the week, so consider this a trial. If you really think at the end of this that you can't be a parent... we'll talk some more about it."
Kisame knew Itachi wasn't going to let her walk out of this one easy. They both knew that he'd have the final say in this. Itachi always got his way. But, Kisame thought sadly, not this time.
Not this time.
"Oh hey, look, the fat kid is bleeding. I think his mother is coming over," Kisame said, finding the first excuse to take Itachi's attention away from their feud.
Itachi sighed and stood up. "I'll take care of that."
Kisame watched him walk over and smooth-talk the mother of the fat kid out of pressing charges against Atsuko, who was still pelting the kid with wood chips even though his mother was right there. And she saw the way he pretended to scold Atsuko, but when they were out of sight of the mother and the boy, he gave her a high five.
Yeah, Itachi would be a great parent.
~ ~ ~
"Can we go swimming, Auntie Kisame?" Atsuko chirped while nibbling at her jelly sandwich. Kisame looked up from the sink, where she was doing dishes. Itachi had had to go in for an afternoon practice at the symphony hall, leaving the girls home alone.
It had been a few days since their argument at the park, and Itachi had barely spoken to Kisame. Kisame knew she had crossed a line, but damn it, so had he. Didn't she have any say over what happened to her body? It wasn't like HE was going to carry the kid, at any rate. Not that that would be any less possible than her becoming a mother.
"No, sweetie, I haven't cleaned the pool out, not since..." She stopped and blushed. Oops. Was it still too early to give Atsuko the talk? ...Yeah, she was not telling a four year old that story. "A-anyway, what else do you like to do, Atsuko? Watch TV, color, play video games?"
"Well..." The little girl began, thoughtfully smearing the remains of her sandwich around her face. "Daddy sometimes lets me play on his instruments, and then Mommy lets me play with clay, but Daddy doesn't like that. And Mommy doesn't like it when he lets me play with wood. I like both though," she said, crushing her crusts into a ball. "I really do."
Kisame frowned, and dried her hands on a towel. "I don't think we have any clay, but there might be a piano upstairs..."
"Really?" Atsuko squealed. "Yay!"
"We'd have to check... some of the rooms here I don't have keys to."
"We should call Uncle Itachi!"
"After we wash you off, Kiddo. Itachi would hate to see jam hand prints all over his heirloom piano. That thing has been passed down in the Uchiha clan for-"
"Auntie Kisame? Isn't it your clan too? Since you and Uncle Itachi are married and all..."
"Well, kiddo, actually we're not married. And even if we were, that's not how clans in Konoha work..."
"Oh... so... there isn't an Akasuwa clan?"
"Akasuna, kid. And no, there isn't. Or an Iwa clan, before you ask." Kisame sighed. "Or a Hoshigaki clan. There's just me."
"... that's so sad." Atsuko frowned. "Auntie Kisame?"
"Let's have our own clan."
Kisame smiled despite herself. "All right kid, what are we going to call this clan?"
"Mmm..." Atsuko bit her lip. "How about... the Atsuko Clan? Cause I'm the leader, of course."
Kisame laughed. "All right, kid. The Atsuko Clan it is. Now, for our first order of business, why don't we-"
The ringing of the phone cut her off. Atsuko squealed loudly and hopped off her chair, racing for the wall phone. She tugged the chord so that it fell down to the ground, and then picked it up, cradling it to her ear.
"Hello? This is Atsuko Akasuwa speaking, who is this?" A pause, and then she grinned. "Uncle Itachi! Auntie Kisame was just going to call you! Is there a piawo here?" A silence, and then a nod. "Uchiwa complex? What? Oh, you want to speak to Auntie Kisame?" She turned and waved the phone, already sticky with jam, at Kisame. "Auntie Kisame, phone for you!"
Kisame took the phone gingerly, avoiding the mess Atsuko had left.
"The piano is at the old complex. You'd have to drive over there with her and go into the main house, I have a key in my old study. I'll meet you guys there after work. Should I pick up anything?"
"Atsuko, what do you want Uncle Itachi to bring for dinner?"
"Dino nuggets!" Atsuko chirped, dancing from foot to foot. "Please!"
The line went dead with a click. Kisame stared at the phone. He hadn't even said goodbye. He always said goodbye. She frowned and slammed the phone back into it's receiver. Screw him and his stupid baby plan. He could take his stupid clan revival plan and shove it up his ass! She was having none of it.
"... Auntie Kisame? Why did you smash that phone?"
Kisame turned slowly to face her audience. She laughed sheepishly.
"Oh, nothing... it just... slipped. Come on, Atsuko, let's go have a bath and then we'll go down to the Uchiha complex and go play that piano."
Fucking stupid, damned attractive, conniving snooty Uchiha!
~ ~ ~
While Atsuko splashed around in her bubble bath (where DID Itachi keep all of the kid stuff that was surfacing, anyway?), Kisame went to the old study to get the key. When Itachi had said old, he had meant OLD. The small corridor leading to the study was dark and musty, and old cobwebs were everywhere.
The doorknob wouldn't give, though Kisame knew it wasn't the type that locked. Well. If she didn't get in there and get the key, they'd have a pissy Atsuko on their hands for the rest of the evening. On the other hand, if she went in her way, Itachi would probably be madder than he already was...
Kisame body slammed the door, smiling with grim satisfaction when it splintered and gave beneath her weight. She stepped through the hole and fumbled for a light switch.
The room was eerily clean, which was weird considering the door was jammed until she broke it down. Huh. Maybe it wasn't a weird thing to think that Itachi was a ninja...
The key was dangling off the corner of an old photo album, which was slightly dusty. Kisame picked it up and blew off the dirt, pocketing the key. Weird. She'd thought that all the old albums were at the main house, not here... She flipped open the cover and began pouring through it.
The pictures were all of Itachi's family, the last main family of the Uchiha clan. There were pictures from Itachi's parents' wedding, all the way through Sasuke's graduation from the kindergarten level of the Academy, the premier school for Konoha's best families. Sasori was always going on about it, saying it was the only school in Konoha he would consider letting Atsuko go to. And it did look pretty fancy.
The photos of Sasuke's graduation had the same clear focus as the other photos, except that they were taken on a Polaroid camera. Itachi had taken these. His parents had been too busy to go to the ceremony, so Itachi had skipped cram school to attend. He'd been the only member of the Uchiha family to attend, and he'd bravely endured the beating his father had given him for skipping school just to see the smile on Sasuke's face when he'd gotten his scroll.
Yeah, Itachi would make a great parent. She could see Pein scolding him for skipping a big concert just so he could see his little girl grad-
No, no. There would be no little girl. Not with her. Not now, not ever. She flipped back to the earlier photos, distracting herself with pictures of baby Itachi. The lines on his face, which she had attributed to stress in middle school, turned out to have been on his face since birth. Birth lines. Weird.
But little Itachi was really cute, even though he had never really smiled even back then. There were one or two shots of him smiling with his mother, but those photos stopped after the age of three. Except...
There was one picture where Sasuke, Itachi, and their mother were gathered around a piano. Mikoto Uchiha was playing and singing, and a two year old Sasuke was perched on the seat next to her, reaching towards the keys to join in the song. Itachi, about age ten, was leaning on the piano, listening to the song with a faint smile on his face. The father was nowhere in sight, so Kisame assumed he'd taken it. But no; the photographer had signed his name in the corner of the page. Madara Uchiha.
Huh. An uncle? She'd never heard him mention that name before...
"Auntie Kisame! The water's COLD!"
Right, she'd almost forgotten the kid. Reason number 257 that she'd never be a good parent. She really should write all of this down. Document the proof for Itachi that she would be the wrong woman to settle down with.
~ ~ ~
The piano was in tune, surprisingly, even after years of neglect, and Atsuko was having a blast trying to bang out something she'd heard her father play. It was well out of her skill level, and she sounded awful, but Kisame let her have her fun. No doubt she'd learn to play that song in a few years, if Sasori had anything to say about it. The man was convinced that any child that sprang from his loins would be a bonafied prodigy. Kisame felt bad for Atsuko and the unborn baby. That was a lot for a kid to carry on their shoulders.
Although, in Atsuko's case, Sasori may have been right. For as soon as Kisame had left the room to explore the rest of the house, the song changed to a rather fancy rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Impressive for a little girl who could barely reach the keys.
Most of the doors were locked, and the ones that weren't didn't yield much information. Kisame wasn't sure what she was looking for. This was a major invasion of privacy on her part. There was a reason Itachi had never invited her here before... and yet, to please a child, he'd allow her entrance to the scene of his darkest nightmare...
How old had he been when the massacre had happened? Thirteen? And thanks to the prodding of his father, already a junior in high school. A prodigy. A real prodigy who didn't get a chance to enjoy his childhood, or even his adulthood, busy as he was taking care of Sasuke. Why would parents wish such a fate on their child? Itachi was little more than a shell of a person by the time he and Kisame had met.
No kid of hers would be like that. Not that there would be any kids, of course.
No. No there would certainly not be any of those.
So he was here already. Kisame quickly walked back to the main room. Itachi fixed her with a questioning stare over Atsuko's head. She shrugged.
He nodded and then turned his attention back to Atsuko.
"Hey, so I heard from your dad that you can play really well, Atsuko."
The little girl lit up. "Yeah, you wanna hear me?" She wiggled out of his arms and over to the piano. "Auntie Kisame, lift me up!"
Kisame sighed and walked over, a forced smile on her face as she lifted Atsuko up and onto the bench. He hadn't said a word to her. Damn him...
"Very good, Atsuko. Keep playing, Auntie Kisame and I are going to go set the table for dinner."
Itachi motioned Kisame over to his side and they left through the main hall, entering a large dining area through a sliding paper door. Unlike the Japanese-style building it was housed in, the dining room was western-styled, with a tall table and chairs.
Itachi handed Kisame a plastic bag and then pulled paper plates and utensils out of another bag.
"Don't you want to get some real ones out of the kitchen? I know where it is-"
"Leave it Kisame." Itachi's voice was strained. "That room was where she..." He trailed off, focusing on setting the table. But his hands were shaking.
Oh, shit, Kisame thought. That was where his mother had died. Shit, now she felt bad.
"Kisame, wait." Itachi sighed. "I have something to say."
"I do too, It's just-"
"I'm sorry- wait what?" Kisame frowned. "For what?"
"I've been a douche all week. It's not your fault if you don't want kids. I should respect that..."
"No, really, I'm sorry." Kisame fumbled in the plastic bag she was holding, pulling out the styrofoam containers of food. "I should have given you the real reason first."
Itachi knew he should probably leave it at that, but curiosity got the better of him.
"What is it, Kisame?"
"... Itachi, I- I don't think I can have children." Kisame laughed harshly. "I mean look at me."
"Kisame, looks have nothing to do with parenting ability. Atsuko loves you-"
"That's not what I mean, Itachi. Look, just shut up and listen. I know I'm ugly- I know you don't think so, but I am. This isn't about that- I mean, most of us coming out of Kiri have some sort of birth defect but this. This is not natural."
She held up her hands, stroked one finger against the rough patches on her face, one finger tracing over the scars on her neck that almost resembled gills. "I am not natural. And anything this unnatural cannot do something as natural as having children. I'm almost 100% sure that I can't have children."
Itachi was speechless.
Kisame coughed. "Goddamn, but that was a lot to get off my chest."
Itachi frowned. "Was that what all of this was about?"
"What the hell are you asking me for, I just told you everything. What, you want my whole pedigree now?"
"Calm down. I was just going to say, there are ways we could still have children. Science-"
"Science-schmience, Itachi. Remember, I went to school too? I'm not- I refuse to be some lab rat. I refuse to have a test tube baby. Do you even care about how I feel? Itachi, I'm scared. I'm scared and I won't-"
"Kisame, shut up!"
When had Itachi moved? Suddenly he was at her side, holding her large wrist with his delicate hands.
"Let me just repeat again, in case you didn't hear me the first time, Jaws-"
Wow, but it had been forever since he had called her that. Years, actually, not since college...
"Science could help. But I'm not going to do anything you don't want to. You don't think I haven't thought about the risks of this myself? With the pollution of my own gene pool? There were- coming from a clan as inbred as my own... we were all practically test tube. Only the best survived infancy. I have heard horror stories. My own best friend's sister was-" He paused. "Well, that's not the point."
"What is the point then, Itachi?" Kisame pulled her hand away, placed her hands on her hips. "Well, I'm waiting."
"Kisame, let's adopt."
"I mean it. The legacy of my stupid clan... forget it. I don't care about it. I just want to start a family. With you."
Kisame was speechless. She could feel the color rising to her rudy cheeks.
"Why bring another kid with problems into the world, when there are already so many who already exist and aren't loved?" Itachi smirked. "Besides, do we really need any of my spawn running around?"
"Auntie Kisame! Uncle Itachi! I'm Huuunnngry!" Atsuko burst through the door behind them, blue eyes flashing angrily under her red bangs. "Feed me!"
Kisame was still bowled over, so Itachi diverted Atsuko's attention with the promised dino nuggets. Then he gently guided her to her seat.
"Uncle Itachi? What's wrong with Auntie Kisame?"
"Oh, nothing. I just brought her her favorite dish." He placed a covered bowl in front of Kisame. "Shark Fin soup."
He pulled the lid off, and the warm aroma wafted up, snapping Kisame out of her stupor. This dish... they only ate it on special occasions, like anniversaries. He had planned to apologize tonight, no matter what. He really cared for her...
"Can I try some?" Atsuko was standing up in her chair, leaning forward precariously to look into the bowl. "Is that a fish?"
"No, Atsuko," Itachi said, walking over to settle the little girl back in her seat. "I'm sure your daddy wouldn't like it." He paused, fishing into his pocket. "Speaking of which..." He pulled out his vibrating phone, flipping it open.
"Hello? What's the news? She proved you wrong again, huh? So much for the ex-Doctor. Well, congrats. Yeah, we'll bring her right over. Give us an hour, okay?" He hung up.
"Who was that?" Kisame asked, looking up from her soup.
"Sasori. Atsuko, guess what?" Itachi was smiling, for real. Kisame knew most people would probably find that smile terrifying, but she adored it. "You're a big sister."
~ ~ ~
And suddenly everything was a blur of movement, Atsuko jumping up and down, screeching with joy, the rush to finish eating and get down to the car, the drive down to the hospital.
A boy. The baby was a boy, named Daisuke. A spitting image of Sasori, except for the eyes, which were Deidara's. Of course, Atsuko had looked like that at that age too.
As soon as Atsuko had seen her dad, she had rushed from Itachi and Kisame's side. Kisame was surprised to find she felt a pang of sadness. Well, Atsuko wasn't theirs. And yet... for four days, she had felt like she was theirs.
She glanced down at Itachi, who was a bit misty-eyed. He shook his head once, and looked back at her, a smile on his lips. His hand found hers and squeezed.
Yeah. She could see herself starting a family with this man.