a/n: Contains spoilers up to 579 (but that's in the third part). Hint of SasuSaku and Naruto/someone.
Summary: When Naruto dies, he leaves behind more than his legacy, he leaves Sasuke his son.
Sasuke propped the 10 month old on the counter for what felt like only a few minutes as he dug around in the refrigerator for ingredients to make fresh baby food, but when he turned around at the sound of a screeching wail, he discovered the child had rolled off of the counter and landed on the floor. Despite what should have been excellent reflexes given that he was a ninja of advanced skills - he froze. The child's face almost turned blue after he kept continuously sucking in and holding his breath for a near minute between cries until Sasuke, not knowing what else to do, picked him up under the armpits and held him while his little legs kicked back and forth like he was treading water. Still, the kid continued to cry his heart out, and Sasuke felt helpless. He finally brought the baby against his chest, cuddled him, and stroked his back, trying his best to whisper soothing words into the tiny, delicate ear.
"There, there," he cooed, attempting to hide the annoyance from his tone.
Surprisingly, the child did calm after some time, his head pressed to Sasuke's shoulder, drool slipping from his mouth after he'd fallen asleep. His chest rose and fell against Sasuke's, shuddering every once in a while with a hiccup. He looked down at the baby - his ruddy red face, where the cheeks were tear-streaked and the messy blond hair fell over his eyes. He pushed it away, able to imagine the color of the child's eyes even when they were closed. The only real trace of the mother must have been the shape of the face. It wasn't as round as his father's. There were no whisker marks, of course. The nose might be different, too. Perhaps, just a bit longer and the tip turned up, thought Sasuke as he traced his finger lightly over the bridge.
The child shifted against him, his fingers clinging to the back of Sasuke's jounin vest. Sasuke watched his face as the thin, rosy lips parted to emit a helpless, exasperated sigh. He sighed in response, realizing he was doing so only in the middle of it. Alone in the kitchen, he was glad there was no one there to see him as he bit the side of his lip (it was sore already as it had become a strange nervous habit of his) and he bowed his head, letting his dark hair fall in front of his eyes.
He went into the spare room, where the crib had been placed. He had to meet his teammates in a half hour in front of the command post near the southern entrance of the village. Sakura would be coming over soon to watch the baby.
Sasuke lay him flat inside the crib. There was a stuffed toy in the shape of a green lizard that had proven to be the child's favorite. He set it in the flabby crook of the child's elbow, waiting for the expected reaction - the fingers on the baby's left hand twitched and he grabbed for the toy, smothering it to his chest as his mouth opened and closed as if ready to chew on the stuffed lizard's head. Sasuke made sure the monitor was on, and as he left the room, he kept the door open half way.
Downstairs, he waited for Sakura's arrival while filling enough containers of baby food to last the duration of his mission. When Sakura let herself in, they exchanged a few brief pleasantries, with her kind enough not to point out the distinct dark bags that had formed under his eyes, threatening to remain permanently. It was already disturbing enough to look in the mirror and instantly be reminded of the Kazekage.
As he left the house, all was quiet, and passing through the gated fence, the gears changed along with the oncoming stone-faced expression he wore, and there was nothing in his thoughts except the mission ahead.
The boy had been named Akiyoshi, meaning "bright and good". Whether it had been his father or mother who had come up with the name, Sasuke was uncertain. He didn't always address the child by name, but Sakura and some of the other kunoichi who came around to baby-sit once in a while, often called him Aki-chan.
"Aki-chan, he's so adorable. Look at those beautiful eyes!" or "Aki-chan, even when you throw up all over Sasuke, you're just the sweetest thing in the world! I could just take you home with me!"
On several occasions, Sasuke had wanted to say, Please do.
Aki-chan was three now, and it had become very clear to himself as well as Sakura that the child had inherited his father's stubborn personality. If he did not want to eat, he would not. If he did not want to sleep, he would not. If he did not want to stop drawing in crayon all over the walls of Sasuke's house, he most certainly would not.
But what Akiyoshi did like to do was take a bath with Sasuke. Of course, the child had a bit of a problem pronouncing his name, so it came out sounding more like "Thoth-u-thkay". Sasuke partly believed he could say the name correctly but did this just to piss him off. Sasuke would be reading a scroll on the couch as Aki-chan played with his trucks and his blocks, but then he'd crawl over to where Sasuke was sitting, tug on one of the pockets of his pants and look up at him with those big, round eyes.
"Thoth-u-thkay, do you want share bath time? Bath?"
Sasuke didn't even glance up from the scroll he'd been reading about recent negotiations between the Lands of Iron and Cloud. He'd become significantly interested in political details since deciding to move back to Konoha. With Naruto's death, the slate had been wiped clean for himself as well as the rest of the ninja world.
Even though Aki-chan pulled and tugged at his pant leg, Sasuke refused to indulge him, so the toddler did go back to his toys at least for another ten minutes before he was clumsily crawling onto the couch cushions. He huddled up to Sasuke's side and squinted at the writing on the scroll. He pointed at it.
"A scroll," Sasuke answered him dryly.
"Oooh. Bath now, oji-tan? M'fingers are dirty." He spread the fingers of both hands out, holding them up for Sasuke to see.
Sasuke sighed, rolled up the scroll, and went to the bookshelf to set it high enough that Akiyoshi couldn't reach it. He'd learned from experience that anything the child could get a hold of he would inevitably destroy. It was no different than having a pet, except, as Sakura had pointed out on occasion, it was not good discipline to lock a three year old into a cage.
Aki-chan stood on the couch and ran across the cushions, dislodging them with each lap, and as Sasuke was turning around, he had just enough time to sprint over when the boy lost his footing and was about to tumble over the arm of the couch into the lamp.
"So fast!" Akiyoshi's eyes were wide with astonishment and awe. "Thoth-u-thkay so fast! Amazing. Bath now?"
He'd caught him in such a way that Aki lay horizontally in Sasuke's arms, face down toward the floor. The child made a series of noises that went like buuuuurrrr buuuuurrr.
"I'm an airplane!" he cried gleefully and giggled.
Sasuke sighed and flipped Aki around, carrying him under one arm easily like a sack of potatoes. They marched up the stairs, Aki-chan babbling about the toys he wanted to choose. Sasuke went into the bathroom and turned on the faucet for the tub, testing out the temperature with his hand. Akiyoshi squirmed in his arms, so he set him down, and immediately he went to the bucket where there was a collection of bath toys.
"Only pick out two of your favorites. No more than that," Sasuke told him sternly, cutting off the water when the tub was half way filled. He removed his shirt and carefully folded it. Sasuke placed it on the sink counter, watching Aki as he tried to decide amongst four toys he'd dumped on the floor. There was a red and yellow tugboat, a tiny blue whale that squirted water out its blowhole, a stack of three different colored octopus-looking creatures, and a rubbery neon green frog. Aki kept glancing from the toys to Sasuke as if expecting him to give in on the demand of only two so that he could bring in all four.
"How many is that?" Sasuke asked him after a few minutes had passed without any hope of a decision being rendered.
"Four." Aki pouted.
"How many did I say you could bring?"
"...Four?" The boy held up three chubby fingers.
"I see you got your father's brains. How unfortunate for you," Sasuke muttered. More loudly, he said, "I said two. If you want me to take a bath with you, you'll do as I say."
"Why?" Aki's tone was innocently curious. "There room in tub for all of us."
Sasuke made like he was reaching for his shirt to put it on again, but Aki threw his arms out in front of him.
"Okay, okay. I'll choose, uh," Aki turned around and scrutinized his choice of toys. He crouched and picked out the tugboat, frog, and the whale. Then he threw the whale back into the pile. "Frog and boat."
"Good choice. Now get undressed."
Though they'd been working on getting Aki potty trained, he still had a considerable amount of accidents, especially during the nighttime; so, they alternated between diapers and "big boy" underwear. Aki stripped off his shirt and tossed it aside, but Sasuke reprimanded him and told him to fold it nicely, which he did without argument. He did the same with his tiny pair of cargo pants, but for those he needed a bit of assistance from Sasuke in getting them off. The underwear were folded, and Sasuke made sure Aki put them in the straw hamper himself. He lifted Aki into the water and handed him his two toys. A moment later, Sasuke got in, too, and was forced to play the role of the tugboat. Tugboat and Frog were friends, and Aki wanted them to go on a journey together. Frog would ask Tugboat about how his day was going and what he had for breakfast because Frog had eaten some really yummy flies.
Eventually, Aki got tired of Sasuke's unimaginative answers to his questions and confiscated the toy, deciding to play by himself, which was just fine with Sasuke. The water splashed, and the room filled with sharp peals of laughter. Sasuke sunk into the water and leaned his head on the edge of the tub. At one point, Aki-chan stopped splashing his toys about and stared up at him.
"You look tired," he said, his small features full of concern for Sasuke. "You take nap?"
"No. I haven't taken a nap. Sasuke doesn't sleep. Ever."
"Ooh." Aki abandoned the tugboat, but hugged the frog to his chest as he waded over to Sasuke and crawled onto one of his thighs, his flabby baby butt perched right on top of Sasuke's very sore muscles. He'd had a particularly intensive training session and spar yesterday, but Aki didn't seem to notice the grimace Sasuke gave each time the toddler bounced. Sasuke closed his eyes, and when the bouncing stopped, he felt two tiny arms attempt to wrap around his middle.
"You look sad. I give you hug," said Aki-chan.
Sasuke's eyes fluttered open, and he stared down at the mess of wet blond hair right underneath his chin. "I'm not sad."
"Uh huh, sure. Sakura-neesan says it's okay for me to cry if I happy or sad. You, too, Thoth-u-thkay. You cry, too."
Sasuke gave a grunt and put his hand on top of Aki's head. The child looked up at him keenly. "I am not sad," he said in a firm voice. "I do not need to cry. Ninja do not cry no matter what Sakura tells you."
"Boo." Aki stuck out his bottom lip. "I think it okay to cry when you feel like it. I don't want be ninja if I can't cry like Sakura-neesan say."
"Fine," said Sasuke, a bit nastily. "Don't be a ninja."
Aki scowled and crossed his arms. "Fine," he repeated, imitating Sasuke's tone. "Fine. Fine. Fine."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "Fine."
"FINE!" Aki shouted. "Ninjas are mean!"
"Yes," said Sasuke, bringing his face very close to Aki's, their noses almost touching. "Ninja are very mean. They like to eat children for breakfast." He poked the child's belly. "You're fattening up quite nicely."
Aki burst into giggles when poked and grabbed hold of Sasuke's finger. "Thoth-u-thkay's weird and silly."
Sasuke sat up and leaned back against the tub, his arms resting on the sides. "You think so?"
Aki-chan started bouncing on him again and while laughing happily, he said, "Yeah. You weird. You really, really weird."
Once Aki turned seven, they had decided to enroll him into the ninja academy.
The decision had come after nearly a year of debate between Sasuke and Sakura. Sasuke was, for his own reasons, vehemently opposed to raising a ninja. In fact, while he had promised Naruto prior to his death to take custody of the child should anything happen to him, he didn't really consider that it meant indefinitely.
By the age of 26, Sasuke had gone from Konoha genin to rogue ninja to Akatsuki member to the entire shinobi nation's No. 1 enemy to... well, whatever he was currently. Had it not been for the fact it was Naruto's dying wish to see Sasuke's crimes exonerated, where would he be? Wandering alone, in prison, dead? Grudgingly, over time his peers (with the unsolicited influence of Sakura, Ino, and Neji) had come to accept him. After Naruto died and the Fifth retired, Kakashi had taken the reigns, at least temporarily, until someone else could fill his place. But temporary had turned into three years already. Sasuke had, officially, become a jounin at 18. He'd - when Akiyoshi turned four - spent a year with ANBU black ops and worked, much to his dismay, alongside Sai. Sai, Kakashi, and himself had begun working together to restructure the Foundation, although Sasuke's privileges to information were extremely limited despite his consistent attempts to prove his loyalty. But he and Kakashi had evolved between them a tentative friendship. However, Sasuke maintained a suspicion that it had more to do with the older ninja's guilt for Team 7's disintegration, Sasuke's abandoning the village, and Naruto's death.
Personally, Sasuke blamed no one in particular for Naruto's death, except maybe Naruto.
It was Sakura who insisted Naruto would have wanted his child to attend ninja academy. It was also her, more than Sasuke, who had taught Akiyoshi basic ninja techniques and rules and also the village's history. If Sakura talked to Akiyoshi about Naruto, Sasuke did not care to know. No one mentioned Naruto in front of Sasuke very often unless it was Sakura or Kakashi, and Sasuke's response was always to promptly teleport from the room in a puff of smoke.
Although, there was a period when Akiyoshi reached the age of six that he asked Sasuke whether he was Aki's Dad and other questions that Sasuke was rather overwhelmed and unsure how to answer. In the end, he chose to evade the questions or told Aki to ask Sakura.
Sasuke managed to care for Akiyoshi with a sort of detached fascination because every year, he came to look more and more like his father. Sasuke tried early on to kick any possibility of a strange speech pattern. Apparently, it was genetic. Naruto had always spoken quickly and animatedly, but Aki could be very careful about the words he chose. Even though Akiyoshi had been wild as a toddler, he'd become more calm, more thoughtful, more subdued - traits Sasuke attributed to the child's mother. The boy had even come to understand when Sasuke wanted to be left alone, and there were also times when Akiyoshi tried to provide him with comfort. He'd grab one of his favorite books and sit on the couch next to Sasuke as he read through various reports. Aki wouldn't say a word, and it was as if he figured Sasuke could do with some company. Often, Sakura took Akiyoshi for the weekends, but they accommodated each other when long-term missions became unavoidable. Very briefly, Sasuke entertained the idea of a relationship with Sakura, and for two weeks when Aki was five, he supposed they did have one, but it fell apart quickly. They were compatible, sure, and they shared Akiyoshi in common, but it had all been propelled by loneliness. A conversation that shouldn't have ever been started, where, for the first time in years, they spoke freely of Naruto. So they'd slept together. Akiyoshi was very happy about it at the time, because he thought he would have a mother and a father just like a lot of the other kids did. Although, oddly enough, one of Akiyoshi's playmates included the child of Kurenai and Sarutobi Asuma.
That meant Sasuke saw a fair amount of Shikamaru.
Shikamaru, Sasuke had always thought, was lazy and worthless, even if he hadbeen the first of the Rookie 9 to attain the rank of chuunin. But, Shikamaru had become a brilliant strategist. His father, Shikaku, had died two years ago, and Shikamaru had taken over as an advisor to Kakashi. It was even rumored that Shikamaru might, within a few years, become the next Hokage. Or, at least, that's what Kakashi had hopes for and said to Sasuke when they were in private. When Sasuke hung around with Shikamaru they talked only of unimportant matters or they played shogi. Sometimes, there were things Sasuke wanted to ask Shikamaru, about the time when Sasuke was...disturbed, but he didn't have the courage to ask what Naruto had been like during that time. He'd never been curious while it was happening. In fact, he had tried to keep Naruto out of his head for so long. At least, up until their confrontation on the Samurai Bridge in the Land of Iron after Sasuke fought Danzou.
How long ago had that been now? Almost a decade? Yet, there were times when Sasuke awoke in bed, the words Naruto had said ringing in his ears.
"If I die, we both die."
But, Naruto was dead, and Sasuke remained alive, whether he wanted to be or not or whether he felt like he was really alive or just the walking dead.
And so, on and off, for the past year, he and Sakura had debated Akiyoshi's future. While shinobis were still needed to protect the individual nations and the feudal lords, they were receiving less support - financially and politically. After the fourth great ninja war, civilians had become skeptical about the use of ninjas. Before, it had been the main profession of hidden villages, but now there were other options for children. Yet, Sakura had insisted, and Akiyoshi had given Sasuke several silent treatments because he'd decided on his own that he wanted to follow in his Dad's footsteps and become a great ninja. Aki was proud of his heritage, and Sasuke, however painful it was to relate, could understand the desire to continue on his father (and mother's) will.
The final conversation ended with Sasuke saying, "Do what you want" and storming out of the house. Sakura must have taken that as an affirmative so she registered Akiyoshi for his first year of academy, where he would be taught by Ino. The second year and third year, he would be taught by Iruka-sensei, who also frequently visited the household and would take in Akiyoshi whenever Sasuke got in a bind over a babysitter. Iruka and Akiyoshi were extremely close. Sasuke had wanted to be left out of such decisions, but a few months after Akiyoshi had been born and only a month after Naruto had died, Sakura had asked Iruka to be Akiyoshi's Godfather.
Sometimes Sasuke wondered why Naruto had asked himto take his son and not Iruka. It would've been less of a burden on Sasuke. Not that he didn't realize what he owed Naruto, but that was between himself and that damned dead blond idiot.
Knowing Akiyoshi was in the care of Sakura the weekend she registered him for academy, Sasuke had gone out of the village for a few days to blow off steam. Much to his chagrin, he'd been asked to wear a tracking bracelet, which he did without protest. He simply had to get a way for a while. He donned a disguise and passed through the east of Fire Country to Grass, avoiding the Sound village altogether and ending up in Wave Country for a few days in a run down inn next to the sea. The water lapped underneath his window at night, and the air was so fresh. He thought he could be happy in this shabby fishing village if he were ever to leave Aki-chan with Sakura or if he decided to move the boy here with him.
Like hell he'd raise a Mist ninja though. They all grew up with foul mouths as bad as Suigetsu.
After his three-day holiday ended, Sasuke was back on the road to Konoha, where once he arrived home, Akiyoshi ran down the path of Sakura's front yard and nearly tackled him. He wrapped his arms around Sasuke's waist and buried his face into the cloak he wore. Sasuke had shared a conflicted look with Sakura as he pet the boy's shimmering flaxen hair.
After they left Sakura's, he took Akiyoshi to the spot in the woods where he used to practice throwing shurikens when he was younger. He hadn't been there in a long time, and he had to re-carve the targets into the various trunks. He showed Aki twice how to hit all 12 targets at once. Aki could do three or four at best, which wasn't altogether unimpressive for a seven year old. If Akiyoshi was some sort of prodigy or genius as his grandfather had been and, perhaps, as his Dad had been, he hadn't shown it yet, but Sasuke had seriously neglected the boy's potential. So, if he was going to be sending the child he'd been raising for the past seven years to the ninja academy, he couldn't send a dunce, even if the surname remained Uzumaki and not Uchiha. But he was, in a way, an Uchiha, so Sasuke couldn't deny his pride and would, likely, spend the summer attempting to train Akiyoshi in preparation for his first day of academy. After all, he didn't want the poor kid to perform as pitiably as Naruto had all those years. Sasuke would not be bringing up a dropout whether they were related by blood or not.
Also, having Aki-chan at the academy every day would allow Sasuke to take on more missions. It took a considerable amount of money to raise a child as a bachelor.
On the way home from shuriken training, Akiyoshi asked if they could stop by Ichiraku. Sasuke was reluctant at first, even if the Ichiraku had been rebuilt and was not entirely the same as it had been all those years ago. It was in a different location of town, more toward the south than the center, but at seeing the flaps, there was a moment where Sasuke expected to see a young boy with blond hair in an ugly orange jumpsuit with a dozen empty ramen bowls stacked next to him.
When they walked in, there was no such thing, only a couple of jounins Sasuke barely knew who stopped talking the instant they entered. The owner, who was getting on in his years, greeted Akiyoshi warmly, and the owner's daughter gave him a hug and told him how big he was getting. Aki told them about starting academy in the autumn. Sasuke politely answered their questions. He didn't order anything for himself, but Aki had two bowls. He wanted a third, but Sasuke said no.
By the time they left Ichiraku, it was later, almost Aki's bedtime. The night sky had turned dark, but the stars were out. They were walking, Aki's hand in Sasuke's, while the young boy stared at the sky. He kept tripping over rocks, and refused to keep his gaze on the ground despite Sasuke's scolding him.
Akiyoshi pointed at the sky, asking wistfully, "Is Daddy watching me from up there? Do you think he'd be happy I'm entering the academy?"
Sasuke paused too abruptly, causing Aki to trip over his own sandals and fall back against Sasuke's front.
"Oji-chan?" Akiyoshi called, gazing up at him curiously, his tiny brow wrinkled in concern.
Sasuke shook his head, and they continued on their way. After a couple of minutes had passed, he told Aki, "I'm sure he's up there watching, and yes, I bet he's very proud you're following in his footsteps."
"Y'think so?" Aki asked excitedly. "Do you miss him very much?"
Sasuke squeezed the tiny hand. "Who knows."
"Maaah, you never tell me anything about him!"
"I'm sure Sakura tells you whatever you want to know," he replied.
"Not really. She tells me some things, but I wanna know what youthought of Dad and the fun times you had together!"
"Fun times?" Sasuke frowned. "Maybe when you're older."
"You always say that! When am I gonna be old enough?"
"Hm. Never probably. I hope to delay it as long as possible."
"You're funny, Sasuke," said Aki. "So weird."
"Your Dad was weird. Did you know, he only ever wore orange when fighting?"
"Orange?" Aki gazed up at him, his face scrunched up like he'd stepped in some nin-dog poop and had a sniff of it. "What sort of ninja does that? Enemies would see him right away!"
"Tell me about it," said Sasuke. "I think that was the point though."
"Naru-," Sasuke paused and corrected himself, "Your father wanted to be seen. By everyone."
"He can be seen by everyone, can't he? His face is on Mt. Hokage, right?"
Sasuke stopped and crouched in front of the boy, pushing his shaggy hair out of the way and making a mental note that he needed a haircut. "Want a piggyback ride?"
Aki climbed on his back and loosely wrapped his arms around Sasuke's neck. Sasuke was reminded of a time long ago when he'd twisted his ankle and Itachi had carried him this way, past the old Konoha Police Station. They continued home, taking their time, and it was in Sasuke's bed that Akiyoshi fell asleep while being read one of his favorite bedtime stories about a boy who grew up to be a famous samurai named Masamune. As Aki lay snoring, Sasuke covered him with a blanket and went out onto the balcony. He stared up at the stars, half-expecting to hear Naruto's voice come from somewhere, but all was mostly quiet save for a lone locust hidden out in the handful of cherry blossom trees he'd planted last spring.
It wasn't long before he went back inside the bedroom to check on Akiyoshi, who was fast asleep and sprawled across the entire width of the bed. Gently, Sasuke rolled the boy to one side and got in under the sheet. Aki, having sensed the new warmth, latched to his side and let out a contented sigh. Sasuke found himself running his fingers through the boy's hair while gazing at the ceiling. He shut his eyes as he continued to run his fingers through all that soft blond hair, trying not to let any of the thoughts come about the person that hair reminded him of the most.