Epilogue: The End of the Beginning
He stood on top of Gamabunta's broad head and stared sightlessly into the night. Off in the distance, he could hear snarls and explosions, and there was an eerie red glow on the horizon that had nothing to do with the sun rising. He needed to be over there. His ninja couldn't stall it for much longer. But…
He'd spent three days straight finding a solution to the walking natural disaster that threatened his home. He'd lived on coffee and soldier pills and spent endless hours bouncing ideas off the retired Sandaime. He'd run through every possibility, every contingency, everything. And the only workable answer made him sick.
Why does it have to be this way?
All he could think of was Kushina, laying on that hospital bed, sweaty, exhausted, and so very pale. Of his son, Naruto, so very tiny, and beautiful, and perfect, and crying, cold and alone in that stony room covered in seals. Of what he was about to do; what he had to do. And the fact that he wasn't going to see her or him ever again; never marry her; never see him grow up and find out just what kind of man he'd be.
Why did this have to happen?
There was another loud rumble and in the distance he could see a jet of flame flicker briefly over the trees. It wasn't hard to imagine the demon wreaking havoc just over the distant rise. The Kyuubi no Yoko, the nine-tailed fox, demon god of fire, and the most powerful of the nine Bijuu—a monster of limitless chakra that – for some unknown reason – wanted to make his home into a smoking crater.
I wish I knew why, but…
As the Hokage, he couldn't allow that. He wouldn't allow that. Even though it would cost him his life, he would defeat the demon fox.
…no matter what…
Sucking in a deep breath, he steeled his nerves and prepared to advance to the battle. Kushina would love their son for the both of them. And his son would be a hero.
…I will protect everyone!
"Gamabunta, let's go!"
The hospital was a panicked beehive of activity as doctors and nurses moved what patients they could to a more secure location, just in case the raging demon made it to the village's edge. Kushina had no interest in being moved. She was too tired and sore. And she had absolute faith that Minato would prevail and the village would be safe.
He'd spent days on end working with the retired Sandaime, the man they called "the Professor" to find a way to do it. He'd very nearly missed the birth of their son; he'd been working so hard. But he'd come at the last moment and caught the main event and told her that he'd found the solution. He wouldn't look at her when he'd told her, and that worried her a bit, but she had faith in him. He would do what was right, and he would save them all.
A nurse had stopped by earlier to try and evacuate her, but Kushina had waved her off. The nervous young woman had left and never came back. Now Kushina was being to wonder if she should've done that…
Should I still be bleeding? she wondered distantly. Should I be this tired? I know I just had a baby, but I'm a kunoichi—I'm tough!
She groped for the call button, but it was just so exhausting to even raise her hand from the bed. She couldn't find it. She tried to sit up to better see and almost blacked out. And no one came.
It reminded her of that one time, years ago, in the winter, when she'd lain bleeding on the snow. Minato had found her in time, then; he'd saved her. But this time…this time she doubted she'd be so lucky. Not with the way it felt so hard to breathe; not with how darkness steadily ate away at the corners of her vision.
I'm sorry Minato. I should've listened to the nurse and left. They would've noticed that something was wrong, and fixed it. I don't think that I'm going to make it this time…
Naruto… I'm sorry, baby… Mommy's got to go away… So you be good for Daddy… Be a good boy…
"Hey! Hey, Old Man!"
"Yes, what is it?"
"Um…do you think that…that my parents…wanted me?"
"Of course they did, Naruto. Why wouldn't they?"
"I dunno… Um…um…Old Man, do you think that…my parents were good people?"
"I'm sure they were. The very best. They had you for a son, after all."
"He he, yeah! 'Cause I'm awesome! I'm even gonna be the next Hokage, dattebayo!"
"Are you now?"
"Yeah, just you watch Old Man. I'm gonna be Hokage, the best one ever!"