Prompt: Minato chose to give Naruto a few minutes with his mother rather than a lifetime with his father. Right or wrong, it happened, but how would the world have looked if the other choice had been made…?
"Don't be silly Minato, you'll be a wonderful father. Besides, who else is going to pay for the ramen?" ~Uzumaki Kushina
A Death Wrought Too Soon
One hour old (Outskirts of Konoha)…
Minato stumbled slightly as his feet touched the rocky ground of the place of sealing where he had placed Kushina and Naruto. Even a shinobi such as he could not help the slight fumbling of the steps. He was chakra-exhausted, worried, and grief-stricken over what he knew he had to do.
Nevertheless, he was not the Yondaime Hokage for no reason.
A second later he felt the Kyuubi land behind him, uplifting huge boulders as the bulk of the massive beast sunk into the ground. Minato used the force to propel himself to his wife and son, scooping them up in his arms and landing gently on some untouched ground.
"Gotta put up a barrier," the blond haired shinobi muttered, shifting Kushina to his left side while making a seal with his right. Instantly streams of light arose from the ground, forming a dome over their heads and blocking out the angry roars of the Kyuubi from the outside world.
Minato let out a sigh of relief when the task was done, and set Kushina down on the ground.
Naruto instantly started crying.
Minato let out a light chuckle, glad that his son seemed like a healthy baby at least. It would make him that much more likely to survive what Minato was about to do. Minato gazed sadly upon his little boy. Naruto was cuddled in his mother's arms, who herself had her eyes closed despite the fact that Minato had moved them and…
And suddenly Minato had a very bad feeling about this.
"Kushina? Kushina!" He shook her shoulders roughly, but she gave no response
Naruto started wailing louder.
His hand dropped from her shoulder, his blue eyes disbelieving as he searched her face. There was a smile on her pallid demeanor, her lips slightly parted as if giving thanks.
There was a billion things he wanted to say to her, about how she was the one who had made him Hokage, about how if she weren't there, he probably would have died a long time ago. About the fact that he felt as if his world was ending, that he was even mad because she had died before him.
But there was no point to that, now, because it was just a dead body in front of him and the unconquerable fiery spirit of Uzumaki Kushina was gone.
He choked slightly, in grief, and brushed back a strand of her long flaming hair. Minato simply knelt there for a moment, head down and body shaking, tears streaming from his eyes.
Not Kushina, never Kushina. He had seen many a shinobi die in the fields, and as a Hokage he had even sent some of them to their deaths. He had even seen both of his teammates and one of his precious students die.
He had drunk himself to sleep and then some on those nights, but he had always the comforting presence of his favourite redhead. Now though… he honestly just wanted to give up and follow her. He wanted to be with her again.
But no, Kushina would hate him if he did that.
Minato closed his eyes, then opened them again. He took Naruto from Kushina's arms (so limp, so lifeless) and stood.
Immediately he started grafting a seal on Naruto's tummy, ignoring the cries and wondering briefly how the Kyuubi still hadn't found them, but grateful for it nonetheless. His plan was to make his son into the new Jinchuriki, and with the power of the Kyuubi at his disposal, Naruto would be able to take Madara.
And then, Minato hesitated.
He was under no illusions that Naruto would be treated poorly by at least some people. Oh yes, Minato did hope that the splendor of Konoha would shine through, but he also knew the nature of humans all too well. And without Kushina there, who could help Naruto learn to control the Kyuubi?
The lonely father paused in his seal making. He had originally planned to put a part of himself inside to act as a fail-safe in case anything progressed to a point of seemingly no return, but that plan was only feasible if Kushina would be there the next time to help Naruto get completely control of the Kyuubi.
Letting out a breath, Minato quickly changed the seal, and it was just then that the Kyuubi turned to look at them. The red eyes were narrowed in hate, the poison of its chakra lapping against Minato's skin.
And there was no time. Minato threw one, last fleeting glance at the one who was his everything, and hugged Naruto tighter to his body. "Goodbye, my love."
No matter how desperately Minato wanted to follow Kushina, he knew that she would never forgive him if he just let his son suffer alone. Minato was going to seal himself inside of their baby boy too.
He would use his body to trade the shinigami for taking with it half of the Kyuubi's chakra. His spirit would stay with Naruto. He could then release his spirit and see Kushina again when Naruto grew old enough to take care of himself. He could wait that long.
The Yondaime Hokage of Konoha slammed his hands together, his fingers going through a vast amount of intricate designs. He ignored the thunderous roars of the Kyuubi and the choking malevolent chakra that flowed from it like a deadly cloak. He instead focused all his attention on the jutsu he was about to complete; he had to focus if he wanted to do it right.
"Dead Demon Seal!"
The Little Old Lady Who Could
Eleven months old (Konoha Orphanage)…
Chosi Kimiko wasn't superstitious by any means, but sometimes when she passed by the blue eyed, blond haired angel, she wondered.
Kimiko was a little old lady of seventy, and had spent most of her life nursing in the Konoha Orphanage. She had never been a beauty, but she had been gentle and kind enough to snag a few suitors in her prime.
However, she'd never taken the young men up on their offers of marriage and a large house all for themselves, because quite frankly, she knew she could never leave the children to themselves.
The amount of times the orphanage almost burned down because somebody had left a sweater over the table lamp, or somebody wanted to try cooking when they couldn't even reach the pot, or even when somebody tried to burn their school project to give it an authentic look but really didn't know how to use matches… well, let's just say that it was more than all the fingers and toes of the nurses present at the orphanage. Combined.
When the younger nurses asked if Kimiko regretted it, she had always laughingly replied 'no', because what more was there to life than helping the small children that had no one to help them?
Besides, she had fallen in love with the place long before any man could have hoped to take her heart. And even now, when by all rights she should have retired and lived a nice quiet life in a home for the old people, she couldn't bring herself to leave the place.
And so she stayed on as a nurse, much slower now and no longer able to keep up with the hurling boys but filled with the same love she had when she was twenty. The children were very aware of her too, always carrying her books for her or holding open the door when she passed them. She thought it was the sweetest thing.
Every now and again her back would ache and her bones would grind to a halt, and she would have to take a day or two off to be in her bed. Those days were painful, but once, a small class from the orphanage had decided to visit her while she were in this state and had sung the dastardliest little song she had ever heard. They had even given her a card.
Now whenever she had a Bad Day, all she would have to do was look at the cut out piece of construction paper with the sloppy crayon signatures of the children and she would feel her pain melt away.
She cared equally for all the children, but she had to admit that when the bawling, whisker cheeked, blond haired angel was brought in the day after the Kyuubi attack, he had found a special place in her heart.
And she knew that he needed a special place from her, because he had already gotten enough 'special places' from the others that weren't given the kindest format.
One hour after the Kyuubi attack, it had been jubilation as everyone learned that the threat was over and that they were alive.
Two hours after the Kyuubi attack, people started to realize that no, not everybody was in fact alive, including their beloved Yondaime, and grief struck Konoha.
Three hours afterwards, and everybody had somehow found out that the Kyuubi was in fact not dead, and was actually in the form of a newborn baby.
The Sandaime had done a massive speech and had managed to quell the anger for the moment, and although Kimiko didn't understand most of it, what she did understand was that little Naruto was the only thing keeping the Kyuubi from coming back. The very next day, the Sandaime placed little Naruto in the Konoha Orphanage, with guards. Kimiko didn't see any of the guards, but she had overheard the Sandaime assuring the orphanage matron that they were there, and Kimiko trusted the Sandaime.
Of course, the influx of orphans after the Kyuubi attack was enormous, and Kimiko had found even herself asked to work overtime to accommodate all of them. After the first day that he was brought here, she hadn't been able to see their little savior for three months. And what a mistake that was.
When she finally found a little time out of her schedule to visit their little savior, she was surprised to find that he'd been sectioned off from the other children.
"Why's he not with the other babies?" She'd asked, not very pleased with this arrangement. While it was true that he was their savior, she did not believe that he should be receiving any special treatment. It would only serve to bloat his head. She had raised enough children to see that clearly.
The head of the orphanage had simply raised a brow, and then uttered the single worst sentence that Kimiko had ever heard. And she had heard a lot, in her lifetime. "Do you want the others to be corrupted by him?"
Kimiko had been flabbergasted. Somehow the patron of the orphanage believed that their little savior was somehow the Kyuubi reincarnated, despite the very clear speech the Sandaime had given. Kimiko had pointed this out, but the orphanage head had refused to listen.
"Keeping that thing is a threat to our safety," the head had said, "and I wish you would realize that."
"The threat's about as relevant as the sea cow," Kimiko had muttered, but had left anyway. She knew she couldn't argue with the one who allowed her in this orphanage in the first place.
When Kimiko complained to the others about the patron's unreasonable stance, she'd been surprised to find that she was the one whom they thought was crazy.
"You're just too kind, Chosi-san," one of the nurses whom Kimiko had thought of like a daughter had said to her, her young blue eyes filled with sympathy. "Much too kind."
If it weren't so sad for Naruto, it'd have almost been funny. As it was, Kimiko just barely managed to keep in her choked laughter.
After that day, she resolved to see their little savior more often. Kimiko was old, and she knew how human nature worked. She knew that she couldn't possibly hope to convince the others that little Naruto was not someone to be wary of. Something like that was beyond her power.
What was within her power however, was the little things that she could do for Naruto. Whenever she had any free time she would check up on him, holding him despite her frail arms and cooing with him despite her sore throat. Nobody else would do so, after all.
The others fed him and they changed his diapers, and Kimiko had to admit that despite their hate and wariness, they did not neglect the baby in any physical way.
But, they failed to realize that a key component to raising any child was love and attention, something which they were very slow to give. Either that, or they just refused to acknowledge that Naruto was a child like any other.
So it was solely up to Kimiko to give their little savior the affection he deserved. And it was in those months that she noticed something very odd about him. She tried her best with him, but even she knew that it was not nearly enough. By all rights he should have been developing much later than the other children, because a baby's development depended mainly on the amount of attention they received and with the miniscule amount of time Kimiko was actually able to visit little Naruto, he should have been months late in his understanding of the world. He wasn't, however.
He was in fact, impossibly ahead of the other children in the orphanage.
She wondered at this strange phenomenon and couldn't help the creeping doubt that maybe, just maybe, the others were right about him being the Kyuubi reincarnated, but then she shook her head and dismissed the silly thoughts.
After all, it wasn't as if he were forming words or anything yet, which in his eight month old state would have been a red flag for unusual. He was simply showing the signs of a particularly brilliant child.
She had smiled sadly at that thought, wondering if his chances for a bright future would be ruined by what he enclosed.
It was at times like this that Kimiko couldn't help but wonder what the Yondaime was thinking when he decided to ruin a perfectly healthy boy's life. She knew better than the praises everybody sang for their 'perfect' Hokage; nobody was without flaws, and that was that.
Nearly a year after little Naruto had been brought in, the Sandaime made an official visit to the orphanage. Everybody was frantic with decorations and nurses were doing their best to force the boys into acting on their best behavior (such a task unfortunately, was deemed as probable an Uchiha dyeing his hair pink).
When the Sandaime did arrive he smiled kindly and spoke gently, complimenting the homemade ribbons and correctly guessing who had made what. He made all the orphan children feel special, and for that Kimiko was grateful. She had to admit; while nobody was perfect, the Hokages came pretty darn close.
It wasn't until after all the children had left that Kimiko had learned the reason behind the Sandaime's visit. With a smile the ruler of Konoha turned to the patron of the Konoha Orphanage and inquired after little Naruto.
Kimiko, who had passing through the courtyard at the time, paused. She wasn't an eavesdropper by nature, but if the topic of the conversation should concern anybody it would be her, and thus she slipped behind a small pillar to listen.
The patron had reported Naruto's status blandly, which made the Sandaime frown a little, but the robed man did not comment.
Kimiko also frowned, noting that the patron had skipped over many aspects of the report, such as the fact that Naruto wasn't getting the mental attention that he needed.
Finally, the Sandaime sent the patron on her way, and turned to where Kimiko was hiding.
"Yes?" The Sandaime asked, a soft smile spreading across his face as his blue eyes searched out her pillar.
Kimiko flushed, wondering how he knew she was there but knowing it was useless to ask. He was a ninja after all, and she was just a civilian. She cleared her throat, and walked out from behind her hiding place. Face to face with the ruler of Konoha she felt her heart skip a beat, but knowing that even the Sandaime wasn't quite as old as her yet gave her confidence.
"May we speak, privately?" She asked, her voice slightly hesitant.
The Sandaime's eyes sharpened, but he nodded in agreement.
"I have time," he replied easily.
And so, Kimiko began to speak. She quickly explained Naruto's true situation to the Sandaime, whose eyes softened word by word, until he gazed upon her as softly as she had seen him look upon their little savior, in private.
"Is that so?" The Sandaime said at the end of her explanation, sounding very, very old, "I've had very many people complaining to me about little Naruto, but I had hoped that the orphanage, where the adults voluntarily look after children… well, I suppose it is too much to expect, isn't it? People are grieving, and it is human nature to scapegoat."
The next day a law went up that nobody could tell the younger generation about Naruto's Jinchuriki status.
"Did you hear that?" She'd said to Naruto as she once again went to visit him after her hours were done, "Now, the other children will treat you normally."
Naruto gurgled up happily at her, making her smile back at him gently. She played with him a little while longer, making sure to pet his hair but not touch his cheeks, because doing so made babies drool, before the dinner time bell rang and she knew she had to go.
"I'll be back," she promised, turning to leave the small room. It was at the very least, painted and lit very brightly, so that their little savior wouldn't grow up in the dark. She left the door open as she left, wanting Naruto to hear the sounds of the orphanage in more of an attempt to get him to learn. Perhaps that was how he was so advanced in the first place.
At the end of the hallway, Kimiko couldn't help but give one last, final glance back at him. His interest had already shifted, his little face twisted in an expression of concentration as he reached his arms out to the empty air beside him. She smiled lightly, and turned away again, walking briskly to the mess hall.
She could have sworn she heard him say 'dadda'. But that was just random baby babble, wasn't it?
Eighteen months old (Naruto's Room)…
"No Naruto, that's not food," Minato said worriedly, waving his arms wildly as he watched Naruto chew up the wooden spoon.
Naruto was sitting in the center of his own special room, a small metal tray beside him. The caretakers at the orphanage had taken to simply leaving food for Naruto instead of taking the time to feed him as soon as he had learned to eat independently, and only collecting the tray later on. Naruto had finished everything on his plate, but was still hungry it seemed.
"Naruto," Minato said yet again from within Naruto's mind, wondering for the hundredth time if his baby boy even understood him, "That spoon is not something to eat. Put it down."
"Dadda," Naruto complained, finally taking that shinigami forsaken spoon out of his mouth.
It was dripping with saliva, and even Minato had to stand back a little, impressed at the indenture marks that littered the utensil. It was starting to resemble some of the more hard-worn kunai that he had seen during the wars.
Naruto pointed one, chubby finger at the spoon which he held in his hands, "'ood!"
Minato let out a sigh, "No Naruto, that is not food. Food is something you can swallow, remember? Like that lovely um… brown lump that we had yesterday. Yes, that was food."
But Naruto's attention wasn't even on him anymore.
The toddler had plodded over to the right side of the room, no visible wobble in his step as he walked. Naruto's gaze had become riveted on a potted plant sitting on the window ledge, blue eyes wide as if mesmerized. His arm hung limply, the spoon quite forgotten as it dripped off excess drool. And there was quite a lot of excess drool.
Minato ran a hand down his face. Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered.
Though of course, initially he had not bothered.
The first of the three months he had been inside Naruto, he had done nothing but grieve for Kushina. After the initial getting over of his pathetic-ness, he had started to pay attention to the outside world. He was still waiting until the time that he could be with her, but he knew that mourning aimlessly would not make the time pass faster than doing something productive, such as raising her son.
Everything he saw was from Naruto's perspective, but his adult mind was able to comprehend much more than Naruto's developing brain could.
He was saddened and dismayed at the treatment Naruto received, but if he were honest with himself, not overly surprised or even mad. He knew human nature well, and had always known in the back of his mind that something like this would happen.
The sound of shuffling feet alerted Minato that somebody else had entered Naruto's room, but Minato's sight was Naruto's sight, and it was currently full of potted plant.
Naruto didn't notice the intrusion, so he didn't turn around and let Minato see who it was.
Of course, Minato already knew who it was even without seeing the person, but still, it would have been nice to turn around and see.
Once again Minato thought about tampering with the seal from the inside, but in the end his good sense won out. He wished that he had some more time to develop the seal before he inputted his chakra and forced his spirit inside his son, but the fact was that he did not have that time when the Kyuubi was almost among them.
As much as he loved his son, it did get a bit tedious at times listening to baby babble with nothing else to do.
And now, with all the time in the world, Minato could not touch the seal for fear of accidently tampering with the restrictions around the Kyuubi. He had never read or done anything from within a person before, and he did not want to risk it.
Naruto's attention finally shifted from the potted plant. He looked around, raising his arms in happiness as he spotted the one who had entered.
It was one of the nurses.
Somehow ignoring Naruto's utter, devastating cuteness, the nurse jerked the wooden spoon from Naruto's hands and went over to pick up his tray. Minato frowned a little at the treatment; despite the fact that something like this happened every day, he was still surprised by it.
"You're not a child," the nurse muttered, "stop acting like one."
With that as her closing statement, the nurse hurried away, locking the door behind her.
Naruto's hands dropped back to his sides, his head dropping. Despite the fact that he couldn't have really understood the words, Minato knew that Naruto picked up on the fact that he was unwanted.
"Hey, hey, it's alright," Minato soothed, once again wishing that he could pat Naruto's shoulder or pull Kushina's boy into an all-encompassing hug that would just make him forget about all the stupid proceedings around him. But he could not, so all he could use were words. "I'm here Naru-chan, I'm still here."
Naruto instantly brightened, forgetting his other encounter in the light of the recent one, as babies were wont to do. "Dadda!"
"Yes," Minato laughed, "It's Dadda."
"Dadda!" Naruto beamed, showing off all of his little teeth.
Although Minato couldn't see Naruto, he did manage to catch Naruto's reflection in the window, which was how he knew what Naruto was doing. He chuckled.
"You're getting a fine set of molars, Naru-chan," Minato teased, "those are the signs of a strong boy. You are a strong boy, aren't you?"
Teething had been a nightmare, especially since nobody had really bothered to help Naruto get through the pain, but Naruto had gotten through the stage somehow.
"Dadda!" Naruto exclaimed again, not really understanding Minato's words.
And then, quite abruptly, Naruto sat down, a serious expression on his face. "Dwink."
"Drink?" Minato repeated, blinking, wondering how Naruto was suddenly thirsty after all that potato and apple juice. And then, he realized what Naruto was about to do. "Oh Naru-chan, you have to first find a toi—"
But his warning came too late.
"Dwink! Dwink!" Naruto giggled happily, slapping yellow puddle that had formed. Stuff splashed everywhere, and for once Minato was glad that he didn't have a physical form.
Minato could only smile weakly, not sure what else he could do. "No Naruto, that's not called a drink, although it does look very similar…"
They weren't in the best of circumstances so far, no, but they were surviving, somehow.
Two years old (Hokage's Office)…
The Sandaime sat back on his chair, taking a breath as he took a quick break from the monstrous mountain of paperwork that had been threatening to consume his desk.
Sarutobi Hiruzen could only shake his head as he thought back to exactly how much paperwork he had received earlier that day. He had been forced to arrange it all in a pattern not unlike the Hatake family hairstyle in order to get it all to fit on the table.
Idly he played with his pen, wondering if there was some way to push all of the blasted work onto someone else. Surely his predecessors had found a way to do it. Then again, they were a little bit stuffy, and he wouldn't have put it past the Nidaime at least to have actually enjoyed doing this stuff.
A small smile flittered across Hiruzen's face at the thought of the Nidaime. Now there was a man who certainly knew what he was doing. What he wouldn't give to have the Nidaime back again…
The past two years had been hard on him. Even before the Yondaime was selected, Hiruzen knew he had been losing his touch, but it wasn't really until Minato's death that Hiruzen truly started feeling his age.
Previously, he'd been able to ignore it because he had known no other way of life, but when Minato took office, Hiruzen had finally the chance to relax. He finally understood that he was not in top condition any longer, and Minato's efficiency in taking care of the village showed him that he had been in fact, failing to keep up with the times.
At first it had actually made Hiruzen feel a little offended, because a youngster barely out of school had been so much better at doing everything than he was. It also made no small sting to his pride that his favourite for the Hokage position –Orochimaru—had turned out to be such a debacle.
Those subtle feelings lasted until the first two weeks of Yondaimehood had passed, and Hiruzen had realized that there was no one more suited to the position.
Just barely a year after that, the Kyuubi attacked.
Hiruzen sighed, and put down his pen.
That was when all the troubles started, really.
While on the surface it was not so much of a change between his pre-Yondaime days, there was now and forever would be a marked difference. For one, Hiruzen now knew that his days as Sandaime should be over, but there was no other suitable replacement and that made things so much worse. For another, the village was different.
Normally civilians did not take much notice of what their ninja counterpart did, but even they knew of the loss of their beloved Yondaime. He had been widely popular, and in his prime when he died, so nobody really remembered whatever flaws he might have had. It did not help that he went down in a blaze of glory during the battle with the Kyuubi.
Hiruzen was old, but he was far from senile. He heard the whispers when his back was turned, and the villagers clearly preferred the young and god-like Minato.
Of course, they all had kind thoughts about the Sandaime, but the spark that had been there when Minato had ruled was now gone. There was a kind of morale that had disappeared with the Yondaime's death, and Hiruzen was not sure he could contain the leaks made from that.
What's worse, whatever remained of that spark seemed to have reorganized itself into anger. Hiruzen had seen a horrifying metamorphosis of admiration and esteem become rage and hatred towards the very thing the Yondaime sought to protect.
He was of course, thinking about Naruto.
A year ago he had put up a law, due to a very kind old woman's intuition. Sadly, that old woman now was confined to her bed, and could not get up any longer. Still, it was her words that helped Hiruzen to see the depths of the village.
He could only hope that things would change in the future as heated emotions died down and slowly rage faded into painless memory. Perhaps even now the village had forgotten who Naruto was, and would be willing to accept him again.
Hiruzen frowned a little at the thought, noticing something wrong with it. While it was true that he hadn't been keeping tabs on Naruto because he didn't want to show too much favouritism, would Minato be mad that Hiruzen knew so little in regards to his son?
Sure, Hiruzen knew that Naruto was developing normally, and that nobody outside was going to plan a high depth assassination plan any time soon, but was that enough? Wouldn't Minato have wanted him to know more than that?
The Sandaime Hokage shifted guiltily.
The truth was, he had no time, what with village reconstruction and the budding problem of the Uchihas.
But that had been his exact excuse when he was bringing up Asuma, and look how well that turned out. Of course, Asuma was still an invaluable shinobi, but Hiruzen still felt twinges of pain at the fact that relations between them were strained at best, and that they would never be the ideal father and son combo.
Hiruzen was not Naruto's father of course, but Naruto's father was unavailable at the moment. It was true that it would be a little special treatment, since no orphan had a father, but Hiruzen thought that the Yondaime's son might deserve that much.
He would go visit Naruto then, and see how the child was growing up.
Nodding to himself, Hiruzen stood, fluid in his motion. He went for the door.
At the entrance he paused, and looked back bemusedly at his unoccupied desk, wondering how mocking grief about paperwork had turned into an inner soliloquy about the hardships of life. Shaking his head at the intricacies of the human mind (thought his student Tsunade might have known something about that) Hiruzen quietly shut the door behind him and exited his office.
He hummed a charming tune as he walked down the streets, nodding to various people as he passed them. Civilian and young ninja alike waved to him enthusiastically, and Hiruzen could not help but smile back.
Now there were some people who were not kind simply because they wanted something from him. They were not like the blasted squabbling war veterans who aimed to change Konoha to their will, and would not listen to reason as Hiruzen presented it. This was the village he was trying to protect.
The stroll took far less time than he would have liked, and soon Hiruzen was once again in front of the large silver gates the Konoha Orphanage.
Well, the gates used to be silver, anyhow. They were full of tarnish now, and it was hard to distinguish them from iron, but Hiruzen had been here when the orphanage had first been built and he remembered how it had looked them.
Shaking such thoughts out of his head (they did make him sound very old, didn't they?) Hiruzen quietly entered the compound, making sure not to disturb anyone. He wanted this to be a surprise visit after all. He himself was very surprised to be visiting.
There were children playing outside, but he did not allow them to see him. He knew that if he were swamped, he would not have the heart to deny them some of his time. So, Hiruzen stuck to the shadows.
It only took him a few moments to find Naruto's room. The lady Chosi had shown it to him the few times he had come, and although the last visit had been months ago, Hiruzen was not declared to have eidetic memory for nothing.
He opened the door to Naruto sitting in the middle of the room with his side facing the entrance, a tower of blocks before him. Naruto seemed so intent on what he was doing that he didn't notice Hiruzen's entrance.
The Sandaime bit back a grin. Gently closing the door behind him, Hiruzen knelt beside Naruto, causing the boy's eyes to finally flicker up from the blocks. And then, blue orbs widened in realization, and Naruto let out a happy gurgle, reaching chubby arms up for a hug. "Jiji!"
Hiruzen chuckled, and obliged the boy. When he pulled back, he patted the boy's head and took a moment to access the small tower that the boy had made. It was surprisingly intricate, much better than anything Hiruzen remembered Asuma building. Then again, Asuma had never been a particularly active boy on that part.
"Me builth." Naruto said proudly, seeming to have guessed some of the Hokage's intentions and jumping right into answering the unspoken question. The blond was pointing one stubby thumb towards his chest, his other fingers curled into a fist. His chest was puffed up, and he might have almost looked manly if it weren't for the fact that he was so undeniably cute.
The Sandaime's eyes crinkled, "Ah yes. So you are. Maybe you'll even become a great architect one day, and build a monument that people from all the elemental countries will go to and praise."
For just the fewest of moments, Naruto's little face scrunched up in confusion, but just as the Sandaime was about to open his mouth to explain what he meant, suddenly, the blond haired boy's face cleared.
"Yea, yea, me builther!" The two year old exclaimed excitedly, jumping up and consequently, knocking over his tower. His face plummeted, "Aw shucts."
Hiruzen had to just barely bite back a laugh. Life was never dull with Naruto around. He wondered where Naruto had learned some of the gestures and phrases, and Chosi-san had made it clear that he didn't really have much interaction with others, but Hiruzen did have to admit that it made for some entertainment.
Despite himself, Hiruzen felt pride for the little ball of energy. Naruto was a bright child, just like his father. It really was a shame that the village could not see that yet.
"They're the ones missing out," Hiruzen muttered softly, which caused Naruto to throw a confused glance in his direction. Hiruzen shook his head, and decided to change the subject, "So Naruto, I notice that the blocks are a new addition to this place."
Naruto's confusion instantly cleared, as was wont of a toddler. He nodded enthusiastically, obviously happy to share his story, and pointed to the blocks imperiously, "'miko gift."
Hiruzen made an 'ah' of understanding. Slowly but surely, Naruto's room had been filling with things from Chosi Kimiko-san. It really was unfortunate that Chosi-san had taken ill now and could no longer provide for him.
The Hokage of Konoha smiled a little sadly at that thought, and reached out a hand to smooth the edges of Naruto's hair. The little child leaned in to the touch, savouring it, which only made Hiruzen feel sadder. "Would you like some more toys Naru-chan?"
He felt as if he were pawing off time for money, which really shouldn't have been described as a feeling, because that was exactly what he was doing. However, he was Hokage, and he couldn't spare time to take care of Naruto, no matter how much he wanted to. After all, he hadn't even been able to look after his own son and daughter.
Besides, if he spent a disproportionate amount of time with Naruto, people might start to wonder. The villagers would probably figure that it was because Naruto was the Jinchuuriki of Konoha, but the other villages didn't know that, and Hiruzen was afraid that they would assume the worst.
Although Naruto could as of now reasonably pass as the child of any blond, blue haired parent in Fire Country, Hiruzen knew it was only a matter of time before people started seeing the resemblances and wondering. It was best to keep Naruto under the radar until people started forgetting about their Yondaime Hokage, no matter how much it tugged at Hiruzen's heartstrings to let it be so.
Still, if people recognized Naruto as the son of the Yellow Flash, there would be trouble. Hiruzen did not have confidence to capture every assassin that would be sent due to Naruto's paternity. Jinchuuriki were usually left alone as a national affair, but if the other villages knew that the strongest of the demons were combined with the blood of the Fourth, even Hiruzen could not predict the outcome.
"Want sworths," Naruto suddenly said, snapping Hiruzen out of his thoughts.
Hiruzen blinked, not entirely sure what had just been requested of him.
Naruto pulled away, hopping around and going through some rather impressive fencing motions. Or rather, they would have been impressive if he didn't look like he was about to trip at any moment. "Sworths! Fight dwagons! Whescue pwincess!"
Hiruzen let out a laugh as Naruto's intentions finally became clear to him. "You want to rescue a princess, why am I not surprised?"
"It's what thights do!" Naruto sounded indignant.
"And how would you know that?" Hiruzen asked in amusement.
"The booths saith!" Naruto cried out, looking frustrated as he waved his imaginary sword in what might have been meant to come off as a threatening gesture. As it was, Hiruzen just knew his daughter would have wanted to take pictures. "Dadda tolth me!"
The Sandaime had just been about to open his mouth to tell Naruto that he shouldn't believe everything he read in books, when he felt the first warning bells go off in his head.
"Dadda?" He repeated, alarmed. All his previous jubilation disappeared in the face of the new threat.
Naruto opened his mouth, and then closed it. His face screwed up, and Hiruzen felt his heart do a flip-flop. He recognized that expression. It was one that people had when they were holding an inward conversation with themselves… or someone who was in their head.
The Hokage felt his gut clench. If the Kyuubi had gotten access to Naruto already, then the villagers would be right, and Hiruzen might not be able to do anything to save the little boy.
"No Dadda?" Naruto asked, sounding confused, before brightening and bobbing his head up and down in fierce agreement with himself. He made a stance, and then crossed his arms in front of him in a big X, "No Dadda here!"
And then, he giggled, ruining the effect.
Hiruzen could practically hear his heartbeat in his chest now. Someone was obviously instructing Naruto to lie.
"Could I look at your stomach, Naru-chan?" Hiruzen asked gently, sure that the Kyuubi would tell Naruto to refuse. If it came to that, then Hiruzen would have no qualms about knocking the child out. If there was one good thing about his level of skill, it was that Naruto wouldn't even feel a thing.
"Doctor!" Naruto exclaimed in an ear splitting yell, hurrying to lift his shirt. He still didn't have complete control of his motor skills it seemed however, because quite suddenly, Naruto went tumbling backwards, his own movement causing him to lose balance.
The Sandaime caught him before his head hit the ground, and noted dryly that somehow Naruto had gotten the shirt wrapped around his head, exposing his stomach but at the same time, completely covering his face.
He gently tugged the shirt off Naruto's head, noting that Naruto was still giggling rather adamantly. There was no doubt that the little blond thought this was all great fun.
Hiruzen pressed a finger to Naruto's stomach, and pushed some of his chakra across the skin.
Naruto started squirming in his grip, letting out a sporadic giggle. Hiruzen knew it must have tickled, but he urged the boy to go along with it for a few moments later. Finally, the seal appeared, spreading out like spillway ink from the center of Naruto's belly.
The Sandaime's eyebrows furrowed as he examined the seal. No matter how he looked at it, he could find no mistake. It was doing exactly as it was supposed to, and it was not coming lose in any way.
And then, he spotted it.
Hiruzen sucked in a breath as his mind brought forth the type of sealing that the array most resembled, and quite suddenly, he saw what Minato must have done. It was slightly dangerous, but there could be benefits to it as well, and besides, the seal was some revised version that probably did more than Hiruzen knew that it did.
After all, it was Minato that was the seals genius, and although Hiruzen was a master himself, he acknowledged that the Yondaime had gone beyond mastering the art.
It seemed as if Minato had given something of himself and Kushina to little Naruto. It looked like nothing serious, probably just a few memories or something, but enough for Naruto to know that he was loved.
It was probably too confusing for poor little Naruto right now, which was why he thought that he had talked to 'Dadda', when in reality all he was seeing was memories, but Hiruzen knew it was also probably the only thing that was keeping Naruto going right now. If there was something that Hiruzen could do to change the people's opinions, he would do it within a heartbeat, but unfortunately his power did not extend to the depths of people's thoughts.
"That's that, Naruto," Hiruzen said softly, letting go of the wriggling blond. Naruto instantly jumped away, running after something on the other side of the room. It seemed that during Hiruzen's examination, Naruto's attention had been diverted yet again, and even a visitor's prescience couldn't keep that bundle of energy still.
Hiruzen smiled as he brushed off his robes and stood. He knew he had overextended his stay here, and that he needed to go back to his office. He wasn't worried this time, however.
It seemed as if even in death, Minato and Kushina looked after their son.