A/N: I've had this idea in my mind for a while, people seeing ghosts of the dead. And I've always loved the idea of Minato coming back to watch over Naruto. Figured I'd finally try it out.
And yeah, yeah, plot hole partay. I'm using my own version of the Kyuubi attack night because I prefer this one/ already had planned it, and having Kushina around would just make things needlessly complicated. Sorry :)
S e n t i n e l
P r o l o g u e
Somehow, above all the inhuman screams and the snarling that shook the ground beneath their feet, it was Naruto's whimpering that drew his attention, even as he continued to run forward under the smoke-cloud sky.
"Shh." Minato leaned in and petted Naruto's forehead softly with a dirty fingertip, still colored by the dust and sticky bits of ink. Ink from, of course, the seal lacing its way across the baby's stomach. Not for the first time the doubt crept its way into the back of his mind, but Minato forced it down. The village. His village. And what sort of Hokage would he be if he wasn't willing to give up anything- everything, for its sake?
He forced himself to ignore the terrible look on Kushina's face as she'd realized what was about to happen, to forget that split instant before her flawless porcelain kunoichi mask clicked back into place. She'd always wanted a family, it had been the one feminine pleasure she proudly possessed, besides the fiery hair she let run past her waist. She'd always wanted to be a good wife, had quit being a kunoichi and learned to cook and do the laundry, had learned what time to expect him home so he'd always find her at the door, ready to scold him for pushing himself too hard.
But she'd be able to try again. He'd stop the beast, so she'd still be alive, and so would Konoha, and she could settle down again, once everything was rebuilt and the ashes made way for the sun again. She could have her son, and she could fall in love again, and she could raise him in the family she'd always dreamed of having.
Minato, had he not become so used to keeping his opinions visibly secret over the years, would have grimaced.
Who was he kidding?
Green and red and flames blurred by him as he ran, so as he panned around him the only thing as solid as his arms was the bundle in them, giving him the most pathetic, pleading blue-eyed look he'd ever seen.
Minato was tempted to apologize, but shook his head.
For his village he'd give anything in the world. He was the Hokage. He loved his village.
This was the mantra he played over and over in his mind as he approached the sight of the Kyuubi. Fire danced across the murky skyline, nine tails whipping about like they had a mind of their own, sweeping down trees and the buildings set at the very edge of the village.
As he got closer to the source he began to hear a voice he knew well, too well, ringing through the air.
"Boar, Hare, Ant! Take your groups right, try and hold it back from the village a little longer. Leopard, start around to the other side, I'll follow you!"
Minato only spoke once the boy had stopped barking orders, and he started, shoulders tensing and his hands leaping to the defensive. Slowly Kakashi turned to him, and his face was bare, masks no doubt smashed and ripped in the hit he'd taken to the side of the face, his hair was still slick against that side of his face with the blood.
Only a month in ANBU and already he'd gathered a group of trusted teammates, he wasn't a captain yet, but only on technicality. Everyone knew he was more than skilled enough to be one, and they all would follow him to the death if he asked them to. ANBU was like that.
The look in Kakashi's eyes just then, as he turned, made Minato's heart sting a little. The relief flashed in them like a flare. Kakashi thought he could save them, that they still had a chance, now. That they could win.
But after losing so many, they could never win this battle.
"Sensei!" Kakashi said gratefully, staring into his eyes for a moment more than was safe, as if soaking up his presence. It marked just how tired and desperate the young teen was, that he hadn't called Minato 'Hokage-sama' as he'd taken to the past eight months.
"How are we holding up?" Minato asked quickly, wasting no time.
"Not good." Kakashi's eyes narrowed a fraction. "We've lost at least a sixth of our number, and who knows how many jounin and chuunin we've lost, they've been dropping like flies."
And then, finally, the silver-haired boy's eyes drifted down to Naruto, clutched tightly in Minato's grasp. It seemed to take his mind a tangible moment to process the information reaching his brain, to but two and two together, but as it did he visibly shuddered, and his eyes widened.
"Kakashi," Minato started, soothed, eyes already flicking nervously up to the great beast again. He didn't have much time.
"No, I won't let you." Kakashi repeated, voice shaking suddenly. "You can't."
"There's no other way." Minato insisted. Why was he even arguing this point? He had to leave, and he'd never receive Kakashi's blessing for this.
"Kushina will hate you."
"Sensei, you know we can't-"
The name came out harsher than he'd expected, but he didn't hold back. Kakashi flinched again, as if struck, and guilt began to fill his eyes. He understood, he always had. He just didn't want to.
"I have the chance to save my village." Minato said. "What kind of Hokage would I be if I didn't take it?"
Kakashi's didn't answer, just turned away quickly.
"We can hold him off for as long as you need us to."
"Just thirty seconds will be fine." Minato said.
Kakashi nodded, although he didn't turn back before starting off at a run, bloody fingers already sparking blue lightning.
Minato turned back to the task at hand, ran a couple hundred meters closer before stopping. The roars beat at his ears so hard it was nearly deafening, and he could feel the dirt shaking violently beneath him, but he couldn't spare anything but total concentration.
Minato laid his child on the grass, knelt by him for a moment, and after a quick hand seal he touched the seal on his soft skin, not allowing his fingers to linger on the warmth. He stood up quickly, his hands flickering through seals faster than even his eyes could keep total track of.
He looked up for a moment. He caught the familiar silver thrown back, slam against the ground, rise again.
Just a few more seconds, just hold on.
He shouted, although the words he was unable to make out with his ears above the roar the Kyuubi suddenly let fly, as he felt the chakra suddenly tugging at it, felt its power beginning to flicker.
Its dark eyes turned to Minato, and in that moment, he knew what must have been the truest fear he'd ever felt, spilling in and under his skin like ice cold water.
Naruto let out a final small, whimpering cry.
And suddenly everything was quiet.
The light struck him, and as his eyes opened he was blinded for a moment.
His thoughts were sluggish in his lightheaded mind, but Minato managed to sit up, to grasp his knees and gasp for breath. His bones ached, his vision swam, nausea spilled bile up his throat just enough to touch his tongue. He had that terrible empty feeling one got, when chakra exhaustion reached its peak.
The voice shredded at his ears, it was low-pitched and fingers on a chalkboard. Minato forced himself to look up. The thing's face was dull grey, fangs settled over his lips, at least an inch in length. Horns pierced the cascade of messy, off-white hair. He must have stood at least seven feet, maybe more.
"You're the… the shinigami." Minato forced out, speech was unbelievably hard, it seemed as if the air around him had a mind of its own, planning to suffocate him, crush him beneath its weight.
It smiled, showing yellowing teeth. "And you must be the Yondaime Hokage. It's an honor." The shinigami grabbed Minato's shoulder, hauled him to his feet, and he stood unevenly. Darkness surrounded them but for the light coming from behind the creature, so it was hard to look at it without squinting. "Now come."
"Wait!" Minato said quickly, although he wasn't sure why. But the itch at the back of his mind wouldn't let him alone, as hard as he tried to tell himself it didn't much matter anymore.
The shinigami turned back to him, blinked its inky black eyes at him blankly. "I have given my share. I am only making sure you complete your side of our trade."
"But I-" He could still see the blue eyes staring at him, clear and helpless.
"Whatever you have left behind no longer matters." The shinigami said, although in its voice was something like interest. "You realize that after giving me your very soul, there is not much left to give. What could possibly be worth it?"
"My son." Minato blurted.
The shinigami raised his eyebrows. "You have a loving wife, a devoted student. You have an entire village looking up to you. Yet you choose to give everything away for a newborn?"
Minato straightened his shoulders. He'd taken something from Naruto, taken his freedom. He wanted to pay everything back to his son, not to some death god. Finally, he spoke. "What do you want?"
He smiled again. "Interesting. You're a very interesting man, you know that Yondaime Hokage?"
Minato didn't answer.
"Alright, I'll offer you a deal." The shinigami said. "You are dead. This is a fact. But there are ways you can go back despite this, watch over your son, keep him on the straight and narrow, all of that. All you need to give me in return is a favor."
"Something of equal value, of course." He assured. "It is no small feat, bringing a soul back to the earth once he has passed. But if there is nothing you wouldn't give, then I will let you watch over him as he grows."
"What do you want?" Minato repeated.
"It is as I said. Only a single favor. I have nothing I desire at this point in time, but I shall come and redeem it in due time."
Somehow, even as every alarm bell went off in the back of his mind, all Minato could taste was sweet victory on his tongue. He'd get to see his wife again, his friends. And most importantly, somehow, he'd get to see his son.
"Do you accept the offer?"
This time he didn't hesitate to answer.
And with the sudden ease of a blink, the light and the shinigami were gone, and Minato ceased to think.