Happy Father's Day, Minato. This one's for you.
Disclaimer: Naruto and all its characters are the property of Kishimoto.
The day Naruto was born was a bittersweet day for Minato.
Most fathers, when handed their newborn child for the first time, count the little fingers and toes, marvel over how soft the skin is, and gently smooth back the baby's tuft of hair. They would sit next to their wives and weave beautiful dreams for their hours old child nestled in his mother's arms.
Instead, the first time Minato held his son was on the way to the battlefield. Rather than counting fingers and toes, he counted the seconds and prayed he would make it before too many shinobi died. He was too busy running the seals through his mind to marvel over the softness of his son's skin. With the feelings of dread and terror steadily building up inside of him, his fingers trembled too much for him to attempt smoothing back the fine, blond hair that stuck out from inside the blanket.
When he arrived at the battlefield, he could hear the relief in the voices that announced his arrival.
"It's the Yondaime! The Hokage's here!"
He could hear the hope rise with each cry until the battlefield was awash with the calls. For the first time that night, the shinobi of Konoha believed that they had a shot at surviving.
Later, he wouldn't remember much, except that Sarutobi was by his side, speaking frantically, and his son was squalling in his arms. He couldn't focus on much of what the Third was telling him, the screams of his men, his companions, dying to hold the demon at bay clouded his understanding.
With a start, he realized that his arms were empty, his son was gone. Panic gripped him for the first time that night and he looked around wildly. There, a spot of yellow nestled in Sarutobi's arms. The shinigami loomed over the two, his ghostly arm reaching through both the old man and the newborn child to grab hold of the demon fox.
He was numb and everything going on around him seemed as though it was so far away. His mind was sluggish; someone was talking to him but it was a struggle to just keep breathing.
Crying. Someone was crying, the sound tearing at his heart and pulling him out from the fog that had encased his mind. He looked up, forced his eyes to focus.
Rin was walking toward him, cuddling his son. His son was bawling as though his life were ending.
He glanced around the battlefield, even though he already knew what he would find.
The Third was gone. Just like that, without any evidence that he had ever lived, save for his likeness carved into the mountain. There would be no body at the Third's funeral.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this, he thought, sorrow and anger and hurt and grief rising up inside him. He was supposed to be the one to pay the price. He was the Hokage, it was his job to protect the village. And he couldn't even do that.
"You have too much to live for, Minato. The village will need you more than ever in the aftermath. They depend on you."
He bit back a sob, aware that all eyes were fixed on him. He did not, however, try to stop the tears that streamed down his cheeks. He wept, for all the lives lost, for his son, for Sarutobi.
"Sensei." Rin was in front of him, holding out the small babe who was still crying with everything in him.
He reached out, took his son and held him close. The heart-wrenching cries ceased as he rubbed the tiny back. For the first time, he allowed himself to marvel over his beautiful son.
He would live to see his son grow up. He would be there for his first day of school, his first crush, his first mission, everything. Suddenly, the endless possibilities flooded his mind, as if they had been released from behind a dam that he had kept sealed tight until this moment.
He would pick his son's jounin sensei and team.
Something about that struck him as absurd and he began to laugh. It was as if the events of the night, his repressed emotions, his adrenaline, everything that he had refused to feel were pouring out in his laughter. Tears streamed down his cheeks and he was well aware of the looks he was getting, but he couldn't stop himself, didn't want to.
When his laughter finally died down, he wiped his eyes and looked around at the gathered shinobi. Some of them looked as though they thought he had lost his marbles, others simply looked tired. Most, however, were numb.
Some men would take the opportunity to make some speech about how their comrades died for the greater good, how they would be remembered for their valiant deeds. Words such as those would pour salt on an already painful wound.
Instead, the Fourth looked out at the men and women and simply said, "You fought well. Go home and get some rest."
They trailed past him, some murmuring a quiet thank you, others working up the courage to pat their Hokage on the shoulder.
Rin stayed by his side until all the other shinobi had left. He heaved a sigh and turned his back on the battlefield. Together, with Naruto sleeping in his arms, they headed back to Konoha.
Tomorrow, the funerals would begin.
Minato arranged the Hokage's robes on the desk, covering his mountains of paperwork, and laid Naruto down on top of it. Naruto cooed up at him, a baby's laugh spilling out from his lips. He waved his arms, trying to grab hold of his father's hair, a favorite pastime of his.
Ever since the night Naruto was born, father and son had been inseparable. It had quickly become common knowledge in Konoha that if you saw the Yondaime Hokage, it was a safe bet that his son was snuggled in his arms.
Of course, this attachment had a detrimental effect on Minato's productivity in all fields, but especially in that of his paperwork. Kushina had joked that she would have to get him a stamp with his name on it; that way, he'd just have to stamp papers instead of taking time signing them.
Minato was seriously considering this prospect.
Naruto giggled again, drawing Minato's attention back to his son. "You're such a happy boy, Naru-chan," he murmured, running his finger along Naruto's soft, pudgy cheek.
"Hokage-sama, the elders are asking about—"
Minato's head jerked up when he heard RIn's voice outside the door, his eyes going wide. Rin had taken it upon herself to make sure that his paperwork got done in a timely manner—luckily, her shifts at the hospital took up much of her day, but she still made time to stop by and yell at him.
He looked guiltily at the heaps of papers on his desk, one of which Naruto had found and was now drooling on.
"—that proposal they submitted three months ago. I told them—"
As the door began to open, Minato made a decision. He scooped up Naruto in one arm and used his free hand to form a seal. Faster than he could blink, his office vanished and he was sitting on his stool at the ramen stand.
He was busy congratulating himself on his smooth escape when the owner glanced over at him and asked the fateful question.
"Eh, Hokage-sama, where's little Naruto?"
Minato looked down. His arms were empty. He stared for a moment until the pieces clicked. His eyes went wide and all he could do at first was breath out, "Kuso!" He jumped up and formed the familiar seal, his heart pounding in his chest and worry clouding his thoughts.
As the ramen stand disappeared, he played the impending conversation with Kushina in his head.
"Minato! Welcome home! …Where's Naruto?"
"Yeah, about that. I kind of accidentally dropped him."
"You did what?"
"Heh heh… Apparently I can't use Hiraishin no Jutsu when I'm holding someone."
"Nine months, Minato. Nine months! And then I spent fifty-two hours and thirty-seven minutes in agonizing labor, trying to bring your child into this world and you go and drop him?"
He could see the headlines now: "Yondaime Hokage Killed by Enraged Wife!"
His office focused around him with an abrupt jerk that he was used to, but today caused him to stumble.
Crying. He heard crying. He felt guilty about it, but the first thing that went through his head was, Oh, thank Kami. I didn't kill him.
Rin was glaring at him, cuddling Naruto and trying to comfort the crying child. "You," she hissed, "are so lucky he landed on the papers and robes."
Minato couldn't help it; the words slipped out before he had a chance to consider the possible consequences. "So it's a good thing I haven't been doing my paperwork."
A second later, he had to dodge a flurry of kunai his former student sent his way.
Kushina woke up because she was cold.
It took her a moment to realize that she was cold, merely because that hadn't happened to her in years. She rolled over and discovered the reason she was cold.
Minato was gone.
She grumbled to herself as she got out of bed and grabbed her robe. That idiot knew very well that she couldn't sleep if she was cold and that she couldn't fall asleep without him. She padded down the hallway, her bare feet growing colder with every step.
All the lights were still off and instinct guided Kushina to Naruto's doorway. She pushed the door open and leaned against the doorframe.
Minato sat on the floor next to Naruto's bed. The six-year-old was fast asleep, curled around his favorite stuffed animal—a dog he had named Pakkun-chan.
Kushina stepped into the room and Minato's head came up.
"What are you doing?" she whispered, sitting down next to her husband.
He wrapped his hand around hers. "I couldn't sleep," he whispered back. "I kept having this strange dreams about what would have been had I been the one to seal the Kyuubi that night instead of Sarutobi." Minato reached out with his free hand and brushed a lock of blond hair out of his son's face. "I came here to… reassure myself, I suppose."
Kushina squeezed his hand and they fell silent. Both gazed at their beautiful son, his face utterly relaxed and devoid of the emotions that danced across it in his every waking moment.
After several long minutes, Kushina spoke again. "It's been hard on him, you know."
Minato shot her a questioning look.
"Being away from you. Since he started at the academy, he's been moody. He misses being with you." Kushina tore her eyes away from the little boy that looked like his father but acted just like her. "Why don't the two of you take lunch together? He would enjoy that and so would you."
For being a genius, Minato sure was dense sometimes. He stared at her and finally asked, "Did he tell you this?"
Kushina shook her head.
"Then how do you know?"
Kushina leaned up against her husband, turned her gaze back to her son. "Because he's just like me. Neither of us can go too long without you."
Minato was quiet. Then, "We could go to lunch as a family."
Kushina laughed softly. "Idiot. A boy needs his father. Besides…" She smirked and leaned in to place a kiss on Minato's lips. "We're both extremely jealous concerning the time we get with you. Sharing you would not go over well."
Kushina stood, tugged Minato to his feet. The blond had enough time to place a loving kiss on his son's forehead before Kushina pulled him out of the room.
"I'm cold," she said petulantly, shooting Minato a look that belied her tone. "It's all your fault, idiot, so you get to warm me up."
Minato didn't expect his son to be a genius—contrary to popular belief, intelligence wasn't hereditary. He loved and encouraged Naruto no matter how he did in the academy.
So when he got yet another report detailing how his son refused to participate in class and was dangerously close to the failing section of below average, Minato wasn't concerned. Yes, he wanted his son to excel—what parent didn't?—but he refused to make his son think that he only cared about his performance. After all, that approach had worked so well for the Uchihas when it came to Itachi.
However, when the report mentioned that Naruto, at age ten, could barely hit a bale of hay, let alone the target, Minato began to worry. Yes, he understood Naruto's lack of interest when it came to the written tests. After all, who other than Nara Shikamaru would be able to—in the midst of battle—calculate the wind speed and kunai trajectory?
But for Naruto to be almost failing the practical skills, too? That was not good.
Minato left the office that day preoccupied and more than a little worried about his son's future. When he arrived at home, he asked Kushina without preamble where Naruto was at.
Several minutes later, Minato arrived at the training field. He alighted in a tree, keeping out of sight of his son.
There was his son, all alone with a bag of kunai and shuriken. His pants were several inches too short, a testament to his recent growth spurts. His eyes were narrowed in concentration, a look that Minato remembered from when he had been learning to read.
Naruto pulled a kunai out of his bag, not once taking his eyes from the target.
Minato nodded his approval. Looking away was a mistake many academy students made. An opponent was never stationary unless it was dead.
With practiced ease, Naruto threw the kunai. The motion was almost lazy, but the kunai flew straight and true, landing in the center of the bulls-eye. It was followed in rapid succession by three others.
Minato's eyes widened. Naruto was good, and that wasn't just his fatherly pride. But what he couldn't understand was why Naruto was nearly failing at the academy when he could easily be at the top of his class.
As he crouched on his tree branch contemplating this mystery, Naruto ran for the target, a kunai gripped tightly in his hand. A kick aimed at where the feet would be, designed to knock a person off balance. A fist to the face, meant to break the nose. A dodge, followed by a roll that landed Naruto behind the target. His free arm wrapped around one of the straw arms and his other arm snaked around and sunk the kunai into the straw neck.
Stunned, Minato took a moment to collect himself before jumping down from the tree. Naruto jerked, his eyes growing wide when he saw his father walking toward him.
"Where'd you learn to do that?" Minato asked, his tone deceptively conversational.
Naruto dropped his gaze to the ground and kicked at the grass with his foot. "Kakashi-niisan trains with me sometimes."
Minato nodded and stepped closer, examining the spacing of the four kunai embedded in the straw man. "You have very good aim. Would you care to explain why, with aim as good as this, you're failing the practicals at the academy?"
From the corner of his eye, he saw Naruto wince. He turned to his son, allowing his face to soften. "Naru-chan, your mother and I love you very much and we'll always be proud of you, no matter what. I want you to do the best that you can do, and if I knew that you were doing your best at the academy, I would be fine with that."
Naruto sighed. "It's just…"
Minato plopped down on the ground and patted the grass next to him.
Naruto sat down and leaned into his father's side. "You're the Hokage. Iruka-sensei and the others are always telling me that you were a genius and by the time you were my age, you had already done whatever. It's like they expect me to be just like you. And all the other kids want to be my friends because I'm the Hokage's son.
"The only one who doesn't expect anything from me or doesn't see you when he looks at me is Shikamaru." Naruto shrugged. "I guess I just figured that if I did terrible, they'd all realize that I'm not Minato, I'm Naruto."
Minato laughed and wrapped his arm around Naruto. "You're more like your mother than anyone realizes, I think. Like I said, we'll be proud of you whether you're the best in your class or not." Minato made a face. "Just promise me you won't be dead last. I'd have a hard time explaining your promotion to genin if you were."
Naruto wrapped his arms around Minato and smiled. "I promise I won't be dead last. Besides, I'd have to fight Shikamaru for that honor."
The two stood and began collecting Naruto's kunai. Minato held the bag out to his son and the two began the walk home.
"When you graduate, as long as you're not dead last, I'll teach you Rasengan."
"Yep! Just… don't tell your mother."
Minato never thought that he would be so proud he'd be in danger of bursting. But here he was, standing in the courtyard of the academy with his family, unable to contain himself. A huge grin was plastered on his face and Naruto was blushing furiously.
Kushina, naturally, was taking pictures.
"It's not like I graduated at the top of my class," he muttered, shooting his father a look.
"Naruto, I've told you before, that doesn't matter. I never thought I'd live to see this day, so I'm going to enjoy it. You might as well shut up and deal with it."
Naruto rolled his eyes and turned away, but Minato saw the smile spread across his face.
Minato pulled his son's new hitai-ate out of his hand, eliciting a startled "Hey!" from Naruto. He ignored the cry, though, and placed the metal plate over Naruto's forehead and tied a knot, careful not to trap any hair within. He turned Naruto to face him. "Today, you are a shinobi of Konoha."
Kushina pushed Minato out of the way and gather Naruto into her arms. "We're so proud of you, and we love you so much," she whispered, tears gathering in her eyes.
"Kaa-san!" Naruto protested, but Minato saw the tears in his eyes, too.
Kushina let go when several jounin came up to congratulate the Hokage on his son's… achievement.
After they left, Minato pulled a box out of his pocket. "Congratulations, Naruto," he said, handing him the box.
Naruto's eyes dawned with understanding when he pulled out a kunai with a seal wrapped around the handle.
"If you're ever in trouble," Minato said, "I'm just a second away."
Naruto nodded and slipped the kunai into his pouch, a sober look on his face. It didn't stay there long, however. "Eh, Tou-san, who's my jounin sensei going to be?" The serious look was replaced by a sly, questioning look, one that Minato had seen many times on Kushina.
He shook his head. "You'll have to find out later, just like your classmates."
"Oh, come on! Just a hint? Please?"
Minato grinned, a twinkle settling in his eyes. "Sorry, I can't reveal sensitive information." He paused. "You know, you might want to get into the habit of calling your nii-san sensei."
Naruto gaped up at him. "Kakashi-niisan?" He let out a groan. "Oh, man! He's going to work us into the ground!"
As the three headed home, Minato looked up at the Hokage Monument and sought out Sarutobi's face. From where he was standing, it was almost as if the Third was looking at him.
"Oi, Tou-san! We should go out for ramen to celebrate!" Naruto, in a display of affection that had become rarer as he got older, wrapped one arm around Kushina and the other around Minato.
Minato looked down at his son and his heart swelled with pride and joy and gratitude.
Thank you, Sarutobi.