Title: Four Things That Never Happened to Naruto
Characters/Pairings: Naruto, Namikaze Minato/Uzumaki Kushina. Kakashi and Jiraiya make cameos.
Notes: One of those 'What would have happened if Minato and Kushina hadn't died?' fics.
Namikaze Naruto is three days old, and the nurses are not quite finished proclaiming him the healthiest baby born in Konoha's history.
His father is delirious—with love, with pride, with anxiety, with a queer sort of apprehension that feels like a weight squeezing his chest and a knot of ninja wire in his gut all in one. He knows all about raising children—he's practically raised Kakashi in all the ways that matter—but how does one go about it before the age of seven? Before the child walks, before his hands are big enough to curl around one of his fingers?
He traces his son's baby-fine hair (blond, just like his own), runs a finger down a cheek that's softer than—than, well, anything else he's felt in his life, so he can't really compare. He's never been the sort to wax poetic about the wonders of life—better to leave that sort of thing to Jiraiya-sensei—but now, holding the impossibly small and miraculously warm bundle in his arms, eyes sweeping over the gentle pout of red lips, the curve of lashes as they rest on petal-soft skin, the curl of tiny, tiny, tiny fists as they fold in near a chin that already resembles his wife's, he can't help but think: I don't know how to describe you, the magic and love and wonder and everything else that you are, but all I know is that I love you more than I thought I could love another.
A note of panic drives shrills his chest as he realizes that he can kill hundreds of enemy shinobi in seconds, can manipulate chakra and seals and power to a millionth of a degree, can ride on the backs of toads as tall as mountains, but he knows nothing—nothing—about caring and nurturing and growing something as fragile as the little life beating in his palms.
It's a good thing his wife is so pragmatic, though. She just tells him to shut up, quit panicking, and give their baby to her before he begins bawling for his meal. They'll figure it out, she assures him. They've got each other, and now they've got Naruto, and nothing could be worth more than that.
Namikaze Naruto is six months old, and he's letting the world know that he is not pleased.
He's colicky, fidgety, possibly teething, and generally unhappy, which just means that Kushina is also generally unhappy: she loves her baby and her husband more than life itself, but she doesn't appreciate that one is determined to drive her insane with his constant wailing and that the other has abandoned her to do the child-rearing while he buries himself up to his eyeballs in paperwork.
She's read and heard of things, placating things, other mothers say: "Of course you'll be bigger than before, sweet heart, you just had a baby!" and "Oh, you won't be sleeping much, not until the little one starts sleeping though the night!" and "Your breasts will ache all the time, but that's to be expected." But none of them ever mentioned the bone-deep exhaustion that set into her body like it had always been there, or the crippling isolation, or the mess that grows almost organically around her. The worst is the feeling of incomprehension, of not knowing what to do. She's a ninja, used to command and competence; she's not sure what to do with this new sensation, of floating through the days, where day and night have no meaning and all she's doing is rising and falling with her baby and nothing is as it was before.
Minato cleans up after her comes home, stinking like coffee, ink and exhaustion, doing what he can to make the space livable. But by then, she's exhausted and angry and drained, and all she can do is snap at him. He's not much happier—he's got an international crisis on his hands involving lost clan members from Iwa, a chuunin exam coming up, and some disturbing reports that Orochimaru was once again on the move, and a hundred million other things—and it makes her feel lower than dirt to spit angry words at him at night, but her frustration has to go somewhere, and all too often, he's the outlet. He never responds in kind though: he just turns around and leaves her to fume and returns after she's in bed. "I know it's hard," he whispers one night, running a hand down her side. "But I can't deal with you in a snit right now, I just can't. Please, Kushina. Don't." He buries his face in his hands, sighs, and rolled over. They sleep, that night, back-to-back, and no words of love had been spoken between them since.
She's heard and read about other things, too, of how relationships change after a baby is born, of post-partum depression. Before she can ponder her tangled-up emotions and moods, though, Naruto is hungry or crying or smelly or something, and she needs to go.
And one evening, as she's trying to soothe a squalling Naruto and trying to ignore an on-coming migraine, something snaps.
I can't do this.
Half an hour later, Minato finds himself stranded in his office with an armful of screaming Naruto and a baby-bag filled with pre-pumped breast milk and diapers. Kushina spends that night and the next day at a former teammate's place. He's bewildered to find her on his doorstep, but his wife understands: she sweeps Kushina in, gives her a couple of sleeping pills, and nudges her towards a cushy futon on the spare room.
She sleeps a black sleep that night, one without dreams and one not interrupted by a squalling baby demanding attention and one not corrupted by the weight of an angry, exhausted and increasingly distant husband. The next morning, though, she hiccups through her breakfast, and then, she cries and cries and cries: cries for herself, young and twenty-something, wife and mother, worn out and drained and depressed, but who has forgotten that she, herself, chose Minato knowing full well that leadership was in his future, and chose to have Naruto, knowing that sleepless nights and fatigue would be in store; cries for her husband, who has the weight of the village on his shoulders, but who has forgotten that though his obligation to Konoha will always come first, he has a family, and that, too, is an obligation he must fulfill and who barely knows his son, who cannot distinguish an I'm-hungry cry from an I'm-sleepy wail from an I-need-to-be-changed squeal from and I-want-attention gurgle; and she cries for her baby, an innocent victim in his parents' struggle for balance, in their groping for stability, child of those who cannot find purchase in the slippery slopes of responsibility.
She spends the rest of the day thinking. Minato knows where she is, of course. She doubted her invisible ANBU escort ever lost sight of her—and she hadn't been trying to lose them, which was a message all its own. Minato has always been a gentle and thoughtful and deliberate person, and never one to make a fuss. That is very much my territory, she thinks, and she spends her day helping her hostess peel potatoes, do the laundry and air out the futons. When she smells the clean, sharp scent of scrubbed cotton on the breeze, she decides that she needs to go home. She's Namikaze Kushina, and, well, giving up was never an option, not with her.
Minato greets her at the door, haggard, bewildered, and very uncertain. His anger is always the quiet, deadly kind, and it lurks in the sharp inflection of his vowels. He doesn't know what to do with her, he says. He understands that she is depressed; what can he do? What does she want? Does she—and here, he falters, just for a second—want to leave him? She listens, and then says, just as quiet, "I'm tired, Minato. I'm so tired all the time. I love you, I love you so much. I love our baby. I don't mean to complain. But—" her voice cracks, and Minato goes utterly, utterly still "—I can't do it alone. I can't. I need you to be here. I miss you."
The tears she thought she had finished erupt again, and she crumples in on herself. Minato is there, holding her, and she melts into him, just like she had done a million times before, and feels things inside her that she didn't even know were broken come together. She sobs into his collar, and feels him tremble around her, and he's mumbling broken apologies into her hair, and suddenly, everything is whole and fine and wonderful again. They have things to discuss, routines to reconfigure, a mountain of things to set in order. But for now, they're together, on the same wavelength, and they're not angry. That's more than enough.
Later that night, Minato sends a note to the Sandaime, asking the esteemed older man to fill in for the next two days, and they spend them getting acquainted with each other and Naruto again. She teaches him all of their baby's laughs and cries. They, too, laugh and cry and spend the days on the living room floor as their son giggles and flops over and crews on her hair and his fingers. She catches Minato staring at Naruto with overly bright eyes more than once. Later that night, he wraps his arms around her, burying his face in the juncture of her neck and shoulder.
"What have I missed?" he asks shakily, his voice thick with anguish and unshed tears. "How much has he done that I haven't seen?"
She strokes the back of his neck with sure hands, happier than she has been for longer than she can remember. "Then don't miss anymore," she says. "He needs you. I need you."
And then Minato cries. Sure enough, every day after that, barring a war, an assassination attempt, or some other sort of crisis that threatens to destroy the world, he's home by six every night, waving flowers for her and a new chewable kunai set for a delighted Naruto to gum through. More often than not, he spends his evenings rough-housing with Naruto on the living room floor, rolling and giggling and tickling amid the seemingly millions of toys her baby has, including a plush bear that bears a striking resemblance to Kakashi, instead of plowing through the mountain on paperwork sitting in his home office.
That's okay, though, Kushina thinks, as she drinks in the sight of Minato asleep on the couch with Naruto snuggled safely under his chin like a woman dying of thirst. The paperwork could wait.
Namikaze Naruto is seven years old, and is very confused, but nonetheless pleased with himself.
He's been a pretty naughty boy, he knows, but that's okay. The most his mom will do is take away his TV privileges for, like, five minutes or something, and his dad…well, his dad is kind of locked in a bathroom right now, and while Naruto knows very well that the lock wouldn't hold him in for long, Dad's always liked not blowing things up for some weird reason, so it'll slow him down. I'm a genius, Naruto thinks happily, a genius ninja. And if anyone asks, I'll just do what Jiraiya-jii-chan does—lie like crazy and run for cover! Or he could think of something sad like dead puppies or ramen gone bad or something and look really sad, because that made the grown-ups melt all over him. He didn't really know why, but that didn't matter. It just meant that his mom gave back his practice shuriken set back in almost half the time, so he didn't think on it too heavily.
He's grabbed his father's spare robes, a funny hat that Jiraiya-jii-chan stole from Sarutobi-ojii-san, and an old hitae-ate that he might or might not have gotten from one of Kakashi's nin-dogs. It's all very official, but he does wish that the kunai he was waving around was real and not made of rubber, and that the hitae-ate would stop slipping onto his eyes. Well, whatever, he is sitting in his dad's chair and he had his Kakashi teddy bear tucked under it just in case it got lonely, which is what mattered.
There was the Matter At Hand, which was Very Important. He stares at the woman standing across from him, and who is looking like she either really needs to go to the bathroom or laugh really hard. He straightens up a little bit in the chair and waves the kunai a little more threateningly.
"You see, Kyouko-san," he says, all serious and Hokage-like, "you make my mommy angry. She's always sayin' stuff about your, uh, short skirts and, um, complete laugh of…professionalism, I think." He smiles a little when the woman makes a choking sound that sounds like the kind of sounds Kakashi makes when he was reading that stupid book of his. Is that a good sign? Undaunted, Naruto plunges on. "See, that means she gets angry at me a lot faster'n she would usually. I mean, grounded twice in one week? No practicing tree-climbing for a month? Does that sound like something she would do?"
He leans forward, just like he'd seen his dad do. The hat flops over and the hitae-ate slips over his eyes again, but Naruto doesn't let things like that get in his way. He continues, "No, it's not something she does, 'cause my mom's nice. Nice. But she's not being nice. You know why, Kyouko-san?"
The woman is looking vaguely green by now, but that doesn't deter Naruto. "That's 'cause you're here! She's always goin' off about your clothes and stuff." Naruto frowns now, mostly because he doesn't really get why his mom is always muttering about Kyouko-san's clothes and always banging pots and pans around whenever his dad mentions how helpful Kyouko-san is when it comes to cleaning out the paperwork. Didn't that mean that Dad got home a lot faster? He really liked it when dad came home early in the evenings. Still, an angry mom meant unpleasant things, and Naruto really wanted his practice shuriken kit back. "She really, really doesn't like it when you talk to my dad. So," he leans back now, and frowns, just like he's seen his dad do a million times, and he really wishes he could cross his arms, but his hands are tangled somewhere in the coat's folds, "I'm gonna hafta let you go, Kyouko-san. It's better for all of us this way."
Things happen very fast after that: his dad bursts in, red in the face ("Naruto! Why did you—how did you—what are you doing—wait, is that Sarutobi-sama's hat?"); Kyouko-san bursts into peals of hysterical laughter, and ends up clutching the desk in a futile attempt to remain standing, which is decidedly not the reaction Naruto was going for; his mom finally finds him and tries to make sense of the situation ("There you are, you fishcake! What on earth is going on?"), but doesn't get very far because Naruto quite proudly proclaims his success while bouncing on the Hokage's chair and holding the hitae-ate from flopping over his eyes again ("Mommy, Mommy! I told Kyouko-san to go 'way 'cause she makes you so mad all the time! Can I have my stuff back now, please? Huh? Please? Please, Mommy, please oh please oh pleeeeeese?"); and a team of ANBU peers in through a window and politely backs off.
Namikaze Naruto is twelve years old, and he's never been so embarrassed in his life.
They're cheering, and not politely like the rest of his peers' parents, either—they're being freaking loud and obnoxious and really, really annoying. His dad's even dragged the stupid Ero-sennin home for this, and his mother is crying and whooping, and his dad has this big goofy smile on his face. Kakashi's even smiling, both eyes uncovered so his dead teammate could see this too.
He scuffs a shoe across the ground and steals a furtive glance at Sakura. She probably thinks that it's so dumb, that his family members are making fools out of themselves. But, no, she's only got eyes for stupid Sasuke-kun, whose family is standing and politely clapping like normal people.
It's not like it matters, anyway. It's not like he's ever been number one in class, not like stupid Uchiha Sasuke and his stupid perfect grades. Naruto's aren't so perfect—he's not very good at thinking a zillion steps ahead in a fight; although Kakashi taught him how to climb trees and walk on water when he was nine, his chakra control is pretty sucky; and even though he figured out the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu a while ago when he had filched a scroll from his dad's office, he still can't make a decent normal bunshin. He doesn't get why his family's so okay with it.
Iruka-sensei says that he's pretty good at manipulating his surroundings and is a pretty tricky fighter to keep track of because of his creativity or something girly like that, but Iruka-sensei, as nice as he is, is a teacher. It's his job to make kids feel good about themselves, even if it means to lie to them.
It's kind of nice, though, Naruto has to admit, when they all take him out to dinner later, and his mom keeps saying how proud she is, and Ero-sennin orders drinks for everyone in the restaurant and Kakashi claps him on the back and reminds him not to eat breakfast tomorrow before the big test. Well, if he has Kakashi for his jounin sensei and Sakura for a teammate, it just might make up for getting paired with Uchiha Sasuke. Almost.
The best part, though, comes when his dad gives him his old hitae-ate later that night, the one he wore when he was a gennin, and Naruto feels awed by the weight of the trust and pride in his hands.
He also feels unworthy, because his dad's always been first in everything and the sort of genius that only comes by every billion years, and his mom is so scary strong that, even though she's mostly retired and does deskwork now, she makes most other ninjas cower with a glance. And it's plagued him, as soon as he was old enough to think about it: why are his parents so okay with a substandard son like him? Enough to give him something so precious? He runs the pad of his thumb over the grooves of the leaf, and doesn't know what to say.
His dad senses his thoughts, though, even if Naruto's throat is too full of lumps to say anything, and when the older man speaks, it's not his dad Naruto is listening to. It's the Hokage of Konohagakure.
Naruto is slightly awed by this, too, because, always, it's been Dad. Just Dad, who is a goof and laughs easily and kisses Mom when he thinks Naruto isn't looking, not the Hokage, who has piercing eyes that have no room for anything but competence.
"Naruto," the Hokage says, and immediately, Naruto picks out the difference: Dad's voice is soft, like butter, not steely, like kunai, and Dad's eyes are warm, not blazing and cold. "Ninja are said to be defined by the amount of jutsu they know, their mastery of games of strategy, by the range of their insight. I'm not going to deny all of that: as a ninja, it is your duty to make sure that you're fit for whatever missions come your way, to place Konoha and her well-being at the forefront of your mind. You are an adult now, a soldier of Konoha, and as such, there are responsibilities you cannot shirk.
"But," and now, it's Dad speaking, and Naruto lets out a breath he hadn't even known he was holding, "there's something the textbooks don't tell you, Naruto. There's something else that makes a ninja truly great. And it's here." His dad touches his chest, right where his heart is. "It's your ninja way. It's what defines you, son, and what will guide you through everything life will throw at you. Your mother and I, we've given you all the love we can, and we'll always love you and try to help guide you for as long as you let us. But this—" and here he taps that same place on Naruto's chest "—is the heart and soul of everything. And what that is…well, it's entirely up to you."
"And what if I'm not strong enough?" Naruto asks in a small voice, because he's not—not strong enough, and not smart enough, either. "What if…what if everything I do is second rate to—?" To you? To Sasuke? He can't continue. To say the words would make them real.
"Then train," his dad says simply, his eyes holding Naruto's own. "Train until you can't stand anymore, and then do it all over again. Because, you know Naruto? The greatest ninja of all? They never, ever give up. Never."
There's a wonderful light blooming in Naruto' chest, but he's still not sure. "But how am I supposed to know if it'll come to anything in the end?"
"How do we know?" Dad asks. Naruto nods. His dad moves his Kakashi teddy bear aside and settles himself more comfortably against the bed's headboard, tucking Naruto securely into his side. The mattress groans below them, but Naruto doesn't care that he's getting too big for this. His place has been here, will always be here, and that he knows for certain. "It's easy, sport. We know, Jiraiya-sensei, Kakashi, your mother and I, simply because we do. We love you, Naruto, but we also know that you have the potential to do anything you want to. No, let me finish," he says, as Naruto tries to interrupt, because that's not proof of anything, not really. "You're the son of the Hokage and the Kyuubi no Jinchuuriki, kiddo. Those are some dangerous credentials. You've been watched since you were old enough to wave a kunai around. Reports have been compiled and more studies done than I can count. You want to hear the conclusions?" His dad grins. "You're one heck of a ninja, son. But I don't need all of those reports to know that. And you know? You shouldn't either."
The light in Naruto's chest bursts into fireworks, and he hugs his father then, fiercely, angrily, and vows, feeling his dad's arms around him, holding him, right there, that he's gonna be the best ninja ever. Best Hokage ever, even! Better than stupid Uchiha Sasuke.
Because his dad believes in him, and his dad is the best ninja ever.
And he was gonna be just as good.
A warm hand settles on his head. His dad chuckles, and says, "No, surpass me, Naruto. Then we'll call it even."
He's not so sure about that, but his dad never lies. So Naruto wraps his arms around his dad's torso even tighter, because he may be twelve years old and he's acting like a baby, but he doesn't care. Dad smells like leather and coffee and ink, and this is home, and there is tomorrow, with Kakashi-sensei, blazing and bright and new.