What this story is about:
Essentially, Uchiha Mikoto, a character with about five minutes of screen time, and what would happen if there was a real person under the blank smile and the apron. I realize it may be a tough sell for some, since thirty-five-year-old housewives don't figure prominently in Naruto's core demographic.
If you're the sort of person who enjoys complex characters, cutthroat politics, and female ninjas who do things besides heal people, cry, and stand around being useless and screaming 'Naruto' over and over until you want to punch them...it may be the story for you. I will give you fair warning that this fic (1) has way more talky than fighty, dealing as it does with twisty Uchiha political intrigue rather than blowing stuff up, and (2) our favorite fox boy is a significant supporting character, but not a main character.
It was nearing the end of Sasuke's first full day at the Academy, and the sun of the fading summer shone down on Mikoto as she strolled leisurely back to the school to walk her son home. She didn't have to do this...she was the Lady Uchiha, and could have delegated the task to her maid, if she'd wished, and no one would have thought it was odd. But Mikoto always felt it was better she complete the mundane tasks of keeping house, in addition to her duties as the wife of the Clan Head. She was expected to be the elegant hostess, the oil that kept the cogs of clan politics running smoothly, conspicuous only in her absence. Doing the dishes, or picking her son up from school, didn't technically fall under this purview, but Mikoto did them anyway. She felt it kept her grounded.
The thought that she was casting for excuses to be near Sasuke fluttered across her mind like a fallen leaf, and disappeared. It had been too quiet in the house today. She thought it would be a relief not to have the curious six-year-old underfoot for a while, but, despite its benign cause, the silence in the large house was unsettling. Taking a long, uninterrupted bath (when was the last time she'd had one of those?) turned out only to make it worse. After toweling off, she'd embarked on an epic cleaning mission to the cellars instead, to distract herself from the amorphous loneliness. It had worked, mostly, until she found a box of old photo albums in the back labeled 'Itachi', and had to stop. At first, she'd flipped through them idly, intermittently chuckling to herself at the memories they brought into sharper focus. Then she noticed that past the age of eight he wasn't smiling in a single photograph.
Her eldest son had been promoted to jōnin earlier this year, and ever since the simple ceremony he'd gone from cool to unreachably distant. He was the youngest in Konoha to ever attain that rank, save Hatake Kakashi, who'd beaten the Uchiha prodigy by all of two months. The whole clan was terribly proud of him, his father most of all, but his reaction to the praise had been to flinch from it as if they were words of rebuke. He did his duty, and did it well, but he never seemed to take the same pride in his accomplishments as his family and his peers. If Mikoto didn't know better, she would have thought he was ashamed of his skills. He had always been a reserved child, and, as an active-duty jōnin, she'd expect him to conduct himself with more maturity than was usual for his thirteen years on this earth, but this...this worried her deeply. When he was still a genin, he did have his unguarded moments, with her and especially with a toddling Sasuke, when a peaceful smile could be seen cracking through the hardening shinobi mask, and blossoming on his lips.
After Itachi shut her out of his life, she'd turned to Sasuke, who was as loving a boy as a mother could wish for. He was proud to be an Uchiha, without too much of the arrogance that afflicted so many of their clan—her husband's stern face flashed in her mind's eye—and his childlike determination to become Chief of Police, and beloved protector of Konoha, never failed to lift her heart. Sending him to the Academy was the first step toward his dream.
A tiny part of her, that she shushed without mercy, was afraid it might also be the first step towards making him another Itachi. A boy made a soldier when he was so small she could still balance him on one hip, a killer before his ninth birthday, a hardened assassin by his thirteenth. A child with barely a childhood.
She shook those dark thoughts from her mind as her steps carried her to the scruffy gardens, and training fields, surrounding the Academy. The youngest students, and a few of their parents, were milling around the playground, the older ones wandering home in uneven clumps. From the far side of the lot, she picked out the head of bluish, and perpetually unkempt, hair, and waved. She'd brushed it flat this morning, but, unlike the rest of him, Sasuke's hair could never seem to behave itself.
"Hi, Mom!" he warbled from his perch on the seesaw, where a skinny blond boy was bouncing him up and down with gusto.
She noted, with a sniff of superiority, that the Hyūga had sent some Branch House member to pick up their precious, pearl-eyed princess from her first day of school. Hyūga-sama apparently couldn't be bothered. His late wife had been a sweet woman, if a bit on the timid side. It was a pity none of her loving nature had rubbed off on her husband.
Among her son's other classmates, she recognized a few students from other prominent clans as well: an Aburame in a hooded sweatshirt despite the heat; an Inuzuka, with very sharp teeth and a fang motif imprinted below each eye; a self-assured Yamanaka, with hair so blonde it was almost white; and a Nara and an Akimichi snacking together in the grass, judging from the bottle-brush black ponytail and very round tattooed cheeks, respectively.
She greeted the assistant teacher supervising the playground on her way over, a rather nervous-looking young man with a scar across the bridge of his nose. He didn't look older than mid-teens himself, and Mikoto realized this was probably his first day of school too, albeit on the other side of the lectern. His brown eyes wandered over the pattern of red and white fans adorning the breast of her kimono, and he bowed very deeply.
"Sasuke-kun helped me demonstrate the first taijutsu forms today. I didn't expect him to be so far ahead of the rest of his class with those, Uchiha-sama," he said, opened his mouth, and then shut it again very quickly. "I mean, of course he's very skilled," he added, and cleared his throat anxiously. "I just didn't know how skilled. Just like Itachi-san, I've been told. Amazing, really."
Mikoto politely stifled a chuckle at his obvious discomfort. Since his father was so often working late at the police headquarters, and his brother gone on missions, she'd done a lot of Sasuke's preliminary training herself. He was very good for his age, but not that good. She was guilty of spoiling him a bit, and never pushed him as hard as her husband had pushed a younger Itachi.
For a shinobi, the teacher wasn't very adept at hiding his body language, and what it was saying was quite clearly: 'Oh crap, oh crap, I just told the clan head's wife I didn't expect much out of their kid. I just got this job, please don't get me fired.'
On one level, he did have a reason to be worried. The Uchiha were notoriously easy to insult, and they tended to hold grudges, too. It was a characteristic of her clan Mikoto didn't much share, and she smiled encouragingly at the young teacher. "I'm glad to hear he's doing so well. But don't be afraid to nudge him toward more practice if you think he needs it, especially in endurance training. A shinobi can only get so far on pure talent."
"I'll keep that in mind," he replied, absently smoothing down his hair in relief. He obviously hadn't expected her to accept his authority as an instructor gracefully, and so Mikoto made a conscious point of doing so. The prissy behavior of some of her friends in the clan towards their children's teachers was frankly embarrassing. A lot of being a good shinobi was plain hard work, no matter what kind of incredible kekkei genkai one had been graced with, and shortcuts and favoritism in their student days were like as not to see her friends' sons injured or killed once they faced their first real challenges in the field.
"Good luck with your new class," she said to him, moving again toward Sasuke. He thanked her quickly before turning to greet the next parent.
Her son was still laughing and see-sawing away, although he wasn't doing much of the work—the other boy was a fountain of energy, and was still pushing off full strength with nary a hitch in his breath.
"Did you make a new friend today?" she asked, strolling over to them.
"Mmm-hmm...His name is—" he began, as the blond boy finally paused in his bouncing, and grinned at her.
Mikoto felt the sun-kissed air and sound of children's voices fall away, replaced with cold autumn rain and the screams of the injured and the dying. She didn't hear Sasuke speak his name. She already knew. The Kyūbi. The demon fox. No one knew how deep its influence on its prison went, but the whisker marks imprinted on the flesh of his cheeks were frighteningly telling. She grabbed Sasuke roughly by the arm, and pulled him from his seat, tipping the other side of the seesaw against the ground with a thunk and a pained grunt from his partner.
"Let's go, Sasuke," she said shortly, turning away from the abomination. Her son resisted, pulling her back in the direction of the other boy. She refused to meet his eyes again, afraid of the unearthly malice she might find there, if her gaze lingered. She had lost so much to that beast. Its arrival pulled her away from a retirement she'd finally made her peace with, away from a months-old baby. Nursing mothers, the old, the crippled, the children...everyone who could walk and owned a hitai-ate was thrust into service in the aftermath of that terrible day. Since so many of the Uchiha were stationed permanently in Konoha as members of the Military Police, their losses were staggering, the greatest in proportion to their numbers of all the major ninja clans.
Mikoto herself had survived largely unscathed, but the same was not true of her family. Her mother and maternal grandparents were killed when one of the emergency shelters was reduced to rubble by an errant thrash of its tails. Her two older brothers, fraternal twins, were among the first to engage the demon, and paid dearly for that selfless courage. Koichi was crushed into an unrecognizable smear of blood and viscera, and Kojiro suffered extensive chakra burns across his face and chest that resisted every medic's attempt to heal them. He survived the battle, but completely blinded and in horrific pain. The day he was lucid enough to understand what had happened to his twin, Mikoto came in to change his bandages, and found him facedown on the blood-soaked mattress with his naked tantō in his hand.
"Whyyyyy?" Sasuke whined, wriggling against her fingers, and breaking the grip of the horrible memory. Mikoto snapped back to the sunny day and the pleasant bubbling of children's laughter with a sharp intake of breath. "You told me this morning I should make lots of friends! Why can't Naruto be my friend? He's funny, and he didn't start crying like a baby when I hit him in taijutsu class. Not like that stupid girl with pink hair."
"I told you, we're leaving. Itachi is coming home from his mission tonight, and I need to start dinner."
Sasuke screwed up his face, and frowned at her. "He's not going to eat it anyway. He always grabs something with his team if he gets home late, and he always gets home late. Can't we stay for a little bit more?"
Mikoto sighed in exasperation. The perceptiveness of shinobi children wasn't always a blessing. Against her better judgement, she looked back to the fox brat. His grin had faded into an expression of vexation, and he was lamely pushing himself up and down on the seesaw, as if he couldn't care less he was now playing alone. He made no move to follow Sasuke, like he'd experience this strange reaction many times before, and knew better than to try his luck.
Now that she looked at him a second time, she noticed how thin he really was. Not growth-spurt thin, either. Underfed thin. His cheeks weren't nearly as round as they could have been, and the stained t-shirt hung far too loosely from his bony shoulders. Konoha was prosperous. No child should be going without good meals, especially the son of a kage, whether or not his parentage was common knowledge. There was something desperately wrong here.
A shinobi's thirst for vengeance, and a mother's compassion for a hungry child, intermingled in Mikoto's heart. He tried, hesitantly, smiling at her again. Aside from the scrawniness and the whisker marks, it was like looking at a portrait of the Yondaime. But that smile didn't make her think of his father. It made her think of his mother, and some of the last words they had spoken to each other.
He'll be the same age as Sasuke, so I hope they'll be friends.
She released her hold on her son, and her hand dropped slowly back to her thigh. Sasuke giggled in triumph, and trotted back to Naruto's side. She let her eyes drift out of focus, and back into memory, while the boys resumed their games. Who did she think she was, to deny the last wish of one of her dearest friends? She hated the Kyūbi like she hated no other living thing, but Naruto was something else besides the Kyūbi. He was the only son of Uzumaki Kushina.
Six years ago, she had felt the demon's killing intent sweep over her, a primal terror so intense it had taken every scrap of her willpower not to jam her own kunai into her throat, just to make the feeling stop. If she let go her assumptions, and looked with an analytical eye, she could see none of that malevolence emanating from the boy in front of her.
She was familiar with the theory behind fuinjutsu, if not the practice, and knew objectively that it was possible to seal a bijū within a human being while retaining the vessel's humanity. Although she hadn't know the secret until after her untimely death, Kushina herself was proof of that. No one had confirmed nor denied anything, not to Mikoto, but she laid the pieces out, and assembled them into a perfect picture. She had been a very good student of history. She knew the Shodai Hokage possessed the ability to control the tailed beasts. She knew Uchiha Madara, the traitorous, fallen lord of the Uchiha, had used the Kyūbi against him in their final confrontation at the Valley of the End. She knew that the Shodai's wife, Uzumaki Mito (Uzumaki!), had joined the battle to aid her dying husband, finally tipping it in the Senju's favor with her mastery of seals. Suddenly there was no more Kyūbi, the Shodai was taken back to Konoha and healed, and everyone except Madara lived happily ever after. Mito outlived her husband by a ridiculous interval, finally passing in her sleep at over a hundred and twenty years old, the same year Kushina had come to live in Konoha. Her textbooks never specified what happened to it, but considering how reluctant Iwa had been to attack Konoha itself during the Third Great War, she was willing to bet it was fear of the Kyūbi that kept them from storming the walls.
Looking back, it was hard to imagine the relentlessly cheerful, impulsive, free-spirited Kushina inspiring that kind of fear. She was everything the younger Mikoto hadn't been, raised in the stifling confines of expectation and tradition, and Mikoto loved her for it. She was the 'bad influence' who taught the clan heir's fiancée how to swear like a mercenary captain, to stumble home giggling drunk, to look the old clan head right in the eye, and refuse when he demanded she retire, and marry, before she made jōnin. She was what kept Mikoto sane during the first rocky years of her marriage to Fugaku, before they'd made their compromises and uneasy truce.
There was no way around it. She owed Kushina.
"You're right, Sasuke," she said, forcing an easiness into her tone she didn't feel. "I don't know where my brain is today. Come to think of it, your father said he'd be working overtime today too. We can eat late. Do you want to get a snack in the meantime?"
"Yeah!" he said, with enthusiasm. "How about the onigiri place? It's on the way home. Sort of...ish."
"I don't know...that's pretty far out of the way..." she said, slipping into mother mode before she could stop herself.
"Pleeeease? It's my first day really learning how to be a shinobi! Iruka-sensei said I was really good at helping him with demonstrations."
"Good point, good point," she conceded. Little sneak. He knew perfectly well how much difficulty his mother had saying no to their ikura-filled ones.
Naruto had turned away from their conversation, and resumed his lonely swinging up and down. He was chewing on his lip, and trying not to look desperately hungry. She walked over to him, and smiled in what she hoped was a loving manner. "Naruto-chan," she said, reluctantly appending the affectionate suffix, "do you like onig—"
His face lit up like a festival bonfire at the first spark of her attention, and he scrambled to his feet. "Yeah, I love onigiri! Not as much as I love ramen, but I don't really love anything as much as I love ramen, and anyways I will definitely come eat onigiri with you and Sasuke whenever you want. What's your name? Where are we going? Do you live in the really nice house on the edge of town? Sasuke says you do, but your family must be really big to fill up that big house. My house isn't very big at all, so I thought—"
She held up a hand to dam the rush of words, which had absolutely no effect. "Naruto," she said, and then repeated herself, louder. He finally shut his mouth with a little pop. "My name is Uchiha Mikoto and you can call me...Mikoto-obasan. We're going to a restaurant that Sasuke and I like very much. Our house is pretty big, and I do my best to make sure it looks nice. I—" she began, as her brain finished processing the rush of questions. "Your house? You don't live by yourself, do you?"
"Yeah, sort of I do," he replied. "Stuff kept happening to me at the orphanage that I didn't like at all, and the ladies there kept making out that it was my fault, which was stupid, because why would I do things like set my own shirt on fire while I was wearing it? And so finally the Old Man let me move into my own apartment. The landlady cooks for me, and does my laundry and stuff, but I think she needs to see a doctor for her head because she forgets an awful lot. I heard that happens when you get old, but she isn't that wrinkly yet. I hope she's not sick."
Mikoto let his rambling wash over her, growing more and more horrified with every innocent word. Her conflict over his containing the thing that slaughtered her family faded away before the fact that someone deliberately attempted to set a little boy on fire. It had to get bad enough that an attempt to maim him, maybe even kill him, was what it took to get Naruto out of the public orphanage? Aside from mild malnourishment she didn't see any physical signs of injury, but that didn't mean it wasn't happening. Kushina's bruises from their sparring sessions had faded in hours, and even a broken leg hadn't kept her from running laps for more than a couple of weeks. At the time she claimed it was an ability of the Uzumaki clan, but Mikoto now suspected it had more to do with her secret...houseguest than her parentage.
Even in the grip of her own smoldering hatred of the Kyūbi, she didn't think she could bring herself to physically harm its young jailer. Especially since he turned out to be so ingenuously adorable. She'd only known Naruto for a few minutes, and, her history with his prisoner aside, had cautiously decided she liked him. She swallowed back the bitter anger at his nameless assailant, and her own feeling of negligence in the matter, and took one small, dirty hand in hers. She would make this up to Kushina. She would.
Mikoto went to bed that night feeling more than a little queasy with guilt. When she and the boys walked into the small restaurant, the proprietor hadn't been able to fully mask his sneer at the sight of Naruto clinging to her hand. The service she and Sasuke received was as pleasant as usual, but somehow the waiter 'tripped' and almost poured scalding hot tea all over the back of Naruto's head. Only Mikoto's shinobi reflexes had kept the tray level, and saved him from a very nasty burn. Later, when Sasuke asked to try a bite of one of Naruto's onigiri, he discovered the ones the other boy received were packed with dry, burned-tasting rice on the inside, compared to the moist ones on his own plate.
The service for the table as a whole only improved when Mikoto murmured to Sasuke, well within their waiter's earshot, that the standards here had really slipped, and she'd be telling everyone she knew to avoid the place.
Naruto didn't seem surprised by any of it, which was depressing. Did he receive this treatment from everyone? No wonder he seemed so uncomfortable sitting at their table. His manners were not poor so much as nonexistent, but she could tell he was trying his very best to sit still and behave in the best way he knew how. He spent the whole of the small meal watching Sasuke like he had a sharingan of his own, aping his every gesture as if he could absorb years of etiquette training in half an hour. Naruto turned out to be an extremely energetic child, but he heeded her gentle corrections to speak more quietly, and stop kicking the table, with gratifying determination.
At six he already had a reputation as an audacious prankster and hellion-in-the-making, but he wasn't a bad kid. In terms of his intentions (if not his impulsive actions) she would even go so far as to rate him better than most. He seemed to genuinely care what other people thought about him, and was desperately eager to please if given the chance. What struck her most was his concern for the wellbeing of people who clearly had none for his. In particular, the garbled story of the borderline-abusive caretaker that lived down the hall made her furious on his behalf. Apparently, she would 'forget' to bring him the home-cooked meals the Hokage was paying her to prepare, and Naruto would have to dig into his meager pocket money for convenience store ramen cups to fill his empty belly. Mikoto decided to start preparing an extra bento every school day, and stowing it nonchalantly in Sasuke's book bag for the foreseeable future.
She turned restlessly in the large bed, and wished desperately for someone to talk to. Fugaku was working a difficult case this week, and would probably end up catching whatever sleep he could on the futon he kept in his office closet. She scowled up at the ceiling. Having another warm body in the bed was comforting in a small way, but it wasn't like she could talk to him about something like this anyway. Her Uchiha friends wouldn't do either; to a woman all of them considered her friendship with Kushina a topic to be avoided like the discussion of an embarrassing rash. Their jōnin instructor had held an unassuming affection for both of them, and would have been ideal, but Hatake Sakumo had been dead by his own hand for a decade. Yūhi Daishiro, the last of her old genin trio, was still among the living to the best of her knowledge, but he was leading a long-term mission in the Land of Lightning, and was so unreachable he could be living on the moon.
Save herself as of seven hours ago, the Hokage was the only other person she was aware of that took an active (if limited) interest in Naruto's continued wellbeing. But he was so busy, it would be weeks before it was brought to his attention, and even if it was there was no guarantee he could change things. Konoha was the most democratic of the ninja villages, and that meant the Hokage had no right to give the civilians direct orders unless their actions were directly threatening the village's integrity. She didn't think the mistreatment of one small boy was going to make the cut.
Mikoto was a naturally companionable person, and had cultivated a long list of friends. It was a sucker punch to discover all the ones she could really count on were either dead...or so far away they might as well be. All the loneliness she'd been trying to push away since she awoke that morning came crashing down like the waters of a breaking dam. Mikoto's eyes began to burn with tears. She ground her fists into the sheets, and tried to force them down.
"Why didn't you check on him?" her conscience screamed at her in Kushina's most outraged voice. "You didn't even go to see him once. You left that up to Daishiro when he'd just been accepted into ANBU, and didn't have time to babysit, and we both know Kakashi was too much of a fucking wreck after the Kyūbi killed Minato and Rin. You called yourself a shinobi when you were scared of a baby? You're nothing but a pretty little coward."
"I had my own responsibilities," she whispered to the empty air. "I had a newborn of my own. The southern clan compound was almost leveled, and half the Uchiha were homeless. There was so little time..."
"Right," the inner voice scoffed. "You always were the responsible one, picking up the slack for me all the damn time, even when I didn't want you to. I'm sorry I was so busy being dead I couldn't pull my own weight the one time I really needed your help."
Mikoto hadn't cried for years, since the night of the memorial before that mountain of a grave. But tonight she turned her face into her pillow, and lost her battle against the straining tears. "I'll do better, Kushina," she whispered between stifled sobs. "From now on, I'll do better."
And there we have it. Chapter 1. Chapters 2 through 19 are already written, save for final polishing, so like it or not there will be more where this came from in a timely manner. I will endeavor to update once a week. Deadfic makes DigitalTart a sad panda!
Another note, this time on the Gratuitous Japanese. I do not speak the language of the source material. I do not even pretend I speak the language of the source material. All Naruto-specific terminology (mostly jutsu names) has been kept in Japanese for consistency, since some of them sound really stupid in English. I've also kept the honorifics, since there are shades of meaning you can't get otherwise. I've probably butchered them, apologies to any Japanese speakers who may have come across this. Feel free to have a chuckle at the gaijin's expense, and if you're feeling charitable, correct her.
Bento—a Japanese style boxed lunch.
Onigiri—rice balls wrapped in seaweed, often filled with various fishy and/or pickled ingredients for flavor. Fills roughly the same culinary niche as the sandwich.
Tantō—a straight-bladed style of dagger. A lot of the Naruto cast seems to carry these around once they become chūnin, but Sai is the only one who seems to use his.