Summary: As he held the still and small body in his hands, he shattered.
A/N: A what-if!AU where Naruto was stillborn and Madara did not attack Konoha. It probably won't make much sense because it's not arranged in strict chronological order and jumps crazily from train to train of thought. Have a tissue handy, readers.
Sometimes, Minato sees a little boy with chrysanthemum yellow hair, sky blue eyes, a wide smile and six whiskers. The child had an infectious and exuberant laugh that never failed to make him smile. No one else could see or sense him even as he cavorted amid them. That was because he was a figment of his imagination, an idealization of what his dead son might have been if he was still alive.
Naruto giggled and waved at him from behind an ANBU's legs. Minato had to restrain himself from waving back though he did not contain a smile from spreading on his face. While his ANBU could not see Naruto, they can still see him and it would do him no good if they thought he was going mad (he is already insane but he refuses to admit it). Naruto laughed gaily before he ran away, disappearing into the golden sunlight.
Kushina is no longer his wife, having divorced him because she could not bear to look at him. He reminds her far too much of their lost son with his blond hair and blue eyes even if they were the wrong shade (his hair is too light and his eyes too dark).
Maybe Kushina's actually right in believing that Naruto has his exact colouring (no, the boy is much, much brighter) but Minato does not want to believe that the boy he sees is wrong and therefore unreal. He does not mind her leaving him because he understands her all too well. After all, he sees Naruto in her face.
Few people know that Naruto existed and even less know how he died. It's such a tragedy that his son's name will never be engraved on the Memorial Stone. Minato remembered how his son never even got to see the sunlight or breathe the same air as him, having died in the watery darkness of his mother's womb. Tsunade and Biwako theorise that Naruto died from gestational complications. Jiraiya and Sarutobi hypothesize that Naruto was poisoned by Kyuubi's chakra leaking from the seal. Minato did not care, only knowing that Kyuubi was responsible for his son's death.
He had never craved for murder with such blood-thirst before that night. It drove him mad that he could never get his revenge because Kyuubi is immortal. It can only be imprisoned and Kushina is Kyuubi's jailor. Minato thought that it was probably a good thing that she left him because he occasionally dreamed of slitting her neck and watching her bleed.
Because with a strong enough seal made with the help of a god, he can permanently bind Kyuubi's life to Kushina's. With her death, he can also kill Kyuubi. But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at it) , Minato was not quite that insane nor did he want Kushina dead (he probably still loves her but he is too broken to love any more. If he still loves anyone, it's probably his dead innocent son, the laughing boy who dances in the sunlight).
When Naruto was born, he was so still and tiny that he seemed like a doll in his hands. A perfect, beautiful doll with such perfectly formed tiny toes and fingers that were the size of his thumbnail. Naruto both felt so heavy and light, the weight of his cooling flesh immeasurably heavy on his soul and infinitely light in his hands. Kushina could not even bear to touch Naruto with her hands, having felt his unmoving weight in her womb and sliding out of her body. Minato hated her a little for that. What mother would not want to touch her child, even if the child was already dead before he was born?
Minato remembered the thin six lines on Naruto's pale cheeks and he had traced them over and over with his fingertip, feeling the fine scars. He had wanted to erase those lines for they were Kyuubi's curse, proof of his crime of murdering an infant with his poison. But he couldn't, not wanting to mar Naruto's perfect face any further and in a way, they're like battle-scars. He's so proud of his son for managing to survive so long against Kyuubi alone within Kushina's womb that he did not suffer any worse deformations than those six whisker scars.
As he sat down at his desk, Naruto shimmered into existence in front of him from the dappled pools of sunlight. The child kicked his legs and quietly watched him do his paperwork – he's a good child, he knows when's the appropriate time to play or work. Minato didn't mind his curious attention because it helped to pass the time faster, knowing that Naruto was waiting for him to finish his work so they could play away from everyone's eyes to Naruto's contentment.
Naruto was frozen eternal as a young boy even as the children around him grow up to be spoilt teenagers coddled by their parents. Minato sometimes wanted to kill those whiny arrogant brats just to shut them up (and perhaps provide Naruto some company but perhaps not, because they were now all older than his son forever frozen in the age of innocence) and make his peers feel his pain. He was so, so, so jealous of his peers who get to watch their children live, grow and breathe.
But perhaps, that's not a bad thing because he will never have to fear his child leaving him when he grew old enough to be independent. He will never have to fear his child's death because he already died once and he's now with him always, a joyous spirit of light and wind. As Naruto hugged him and kissed his cheek lovingly, Minato wrapped his arms around the small form and held onto him until he faded away into the golden sunset.
During the Chuunin Exams in the year Naruto would have turned thirteen, Orochimaru dangled a tempting offer in front of him. Hissing sibilantly like the vile snake he was, he tempted him, "You only have to give me an Uchiha and I will resurrect your son."
For a moment, Minato was so tempted to take up the offer. There are a lot of Uchiha and he'd never really liked the Clan for they were always trying to undermine him, pushing and testing his tolerance to the point of near treason. Then he saw Naruto standing beside Orochimaru and shaking his head no. Well, that certainly made his decision for him. Smiling at Naruto, he said to Orochimaru, "Hell no. I don't want your filthy hands on my son."
Orochimaru snarled and all hell broke loose. But he was not afraid for Naruto was at his side. With his Hiraishin, the battle was easily in his favour until suddenly, Orochimaru pulled his trump card. He actually summoned the Shodaime and Nidaime and the tables were flipped much to his frustration and grudging respect. The old snake was very wily and that resurrection technique would have certainly made him rethink his decision if not for Naruto's scowl at the undead Hokages.
Growing tired and slow, Shodaime's Mokuton finally trapped him. Orochimaru ordered Nidaime to stand down as he stepped closer with the Kusanagi in hand. He hissed, "I'll offer you another chance. Don't you want to see your son alive again?"
Naruto was defiantly glaring daggers at Orochimaru as he crouched protectively in front of Minato. It was such an adorable sight that Minato howled in laughter and understandably freaked the Snake Sannin out. Finally calming down, he smirked and drawled, "No need. I already see my son all the time. In fact, he 's right in front of you, giving you the cutest glare I've ever seen."
Orochimaru slowly blinked and shook his head in bemused awe, "You're actually crazy. Your son's not here. There's nothing in front of me, you realize?" To make his point clear, he swung the Kusanagi in a shallow circle in front of him and nearly cut Naruto's head off. Big mistake. Minato was absolutely furious and that gave him the strength to rip free of Shodaime's Mokuton, disarm Orochimaru and stab him in the heart with the Kusanagi in the blink of the eye.
As Orochimaru lay drowning in his blood and the undead Hokages crumbled away to reveal two dead Sound ninja (oh, so that was why Naruto said no), the Snake Sannin turned frightened eyes to him, questioning, "How?"
"You should be asking why." Minato casually replied as he wiped the Kusanagi clean of blood on his sleeve. He was definitely keeping this fine blade as spoils of war. As Naruto curiously crouched beside Orochimaru's head, dipping his fingers in the pooling blood, he explained, "You almost killed Naruto, that's why."
Wavering on the boundary between death and life, Orochimaru still couldn't see the small boy. As he finally died, he saw Minato bend down to hug a non-existent child and thought that the loving expression on the Yellow Flash's face was the most terrifying thing he'd ever seen.
Sometimes, Minato wondered why it was only him that could see Naruto. Not even Kushina, Naruto's mother, could see the boy. Maybe it was because he still couldn't let go of his son, vividly feeling those cold tiny fingers grip his in rigor mortis. He remembered as though it was yesterday, how brilliant his son's yellow hair had seemed against the white burial shroud, how pale he looked and how silent he was (weren't all babies supposed to be red squalling little beasts? He meant it with all affection, of course).
Naruto's tiny coffin was white instead of the usual black and Minato had wondered if this referred to how pure and innocent his son was; untouched by the filth and sins of the mortal world. It seemed so wrong to bury Naruto in the ground. No, Naruto belonged to the sky. He was the wind. But he couldn't say it out loud here and now at the funeral when everyone was watching.
Minato crept back in the middle of the night to the small nameless grave and dug up the freshly dug soil to reach the coffin with the help of his shadow clones. He carried the coffin up to the top of the Hokage Monument. Unsealing the coffin, he delicately carried Naruto out, loathing the dirt he left on the pristine white shroud. The night sky was beautifully clear, its myriad array of stars twinkling above him. Naruto would never see it, but he would get to be part of it.
Casting an S-rank genjutsu and setting up sealing wards, he built a pyre and laid Naruto on top of it. Kissing his son's forehead for the final time, Minato stepped back and lit the pyre on fire. Fire roared and jumped into the air, like glorious fireworks. He knew that Naruto would have loved this far more than being buried in the suffocating ground.
He kept vigil the whole night and when dawn broke, the fire had finally died down to embers. All that was left of Naruto was a small mound of white ash, which Minato carefully cupped in his hands. Walking over to the edge of the mountain, he watched the sun rise over the horizon, a great flaming ball of fire that stained the sky orange. Only then, did he lift up his hands to his face and blow delicately, scattering Naruto's ashes to the wind and the sky.
Perhaps, he had breathed in some of Naruto's ashes then, the very molecules permeating his flesh. Naruto was with him. Maybe this was why he could see Naruto now, smiling at him mischievously and asking to be given a piggy ride. Obliging the boy with a smile, Minato thought that it was not so bad that he was the only one who could see him. It meant that he had Naruto all to himself and he was never letting go, not wanting to feel those cold tiny fingers being ripped from his hands again.
Kushina came back to him once, still as beautiful as ever. She kissed him and said, "I want to be with you again, Minato. Even if we can't have any more children, can we be together? Can we start over again?"
Minato looked at her and did not feel anything. He did not say anything. Behind her, he could see Naruto bowing his head and looking so sad and lonely. Naruto then looked up at him with a determined and pained smile. He turned and began walking away. Minato couldn't bear to watch him leave so he said to Kushina, "No, we're over. Goodbye, Kushina."
Not staying behind long enough to see how Kushina's face crumbled into tears, Minato ran after Naruto, not once looking back. Naruto needed him far more than Kushina did and he had only room for Naruto in his heart now.
It was with a great sense of relief when he finally stepped down from the Hokage role to let his younger former student Hatake Kakashi reluctantly take over as the Godaime Hokage. Even though he had the shortest term in office, he felt seventy in his thirty-seven years old body.
But he loved the new freedom he now had and Naruto also agreed, sticking out his tongue at the stunned Council beside him. When one of them asked him why he was resigning so early, Minato spared a glance at Naruto beside him and smiled enigmatically, "I simply have had enough. I am so very tired and I merely want to rest now."
Nara Shikaku, ever the wise one, remarked, "You sound like you're going to die."
Minato laughed and as he rested his chin on his hand, he replied, "It's not my time yet. But I do think that it would be interesting to see what's on the other side sometimes. If you try to stop me from leaving, I wouldn't mind giving you a ticket to the other side."
Naruto squeezed his other hand comfortingly as the Council finally let them leave, bemused and fearful of the Yondaime Hokage who was also known as the Yellow Flash.
Minato was given special Sennin rights like Jiraiya to travel as he pleased as long as he didn't piss off any important allies or create trouble. Not that they would have been able to stop the Yellow Flash. Naruto tagged along faithfully at his side and together, they travelled to a small village where he was born.
It was a place where the waves met the wind, high tides slapping against the sharp rocks below the cliff to splash fine salt-spray into the howling wind. It was a harsh place to live as a boy at the tender age of five and his mother (he could barely remember her now but he recalled that she had been blue-eyed blond like him) had handed him to a Leaf Jounin passing through on a courier mission, in hopes of finding him a better and easier life. Even if it was one where he had to kill.
This was the second time he came back to this wild place that was his namesake. As he breathed in the salty air and looked at the horizon, he smiled. Yes, this place suited him now. He turned to Naruto and said, "This is where I was born and this is also why my surname and yours are Namikaze. Your name is Namikaze Naruto. You are my son and I love you."
Naruto gripped his hand and smiled. He leaned up to kiss his cheek and he whispered, "Thank you for giving me my name and remembering me, Dad. I love you too."
The sun was rising. Naruto shimmered gold and he turned to squint into the dazzling glow of the sunlight. He squeezed Minato's hand, "I'm going to have to leave now. Will you come with me?"
Minato slowly smiled.