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…?


Chapter 10

"I don't want much you know. All I needed… was for our family to be together." ~Nohara Rin


Jiraiya stilled. His muscles bunched and he went far tenser than Naruto had ever seen before. The toad sannin narrowed his eyes when the yellow eyed figure finally stepped into the light.

"Orochimaru."

It took a moment for Minato to understand what was going on.

The name that slipped from his former sensei's lips did bring up images and connotations, and Minato noted tightly that Jiraiya was not wrong. The dark haired, pale faced figure who had suddenly appeared in front of them did in fact match what Minato remembered of the snake sannin.

But Orochimaru.

Children, addicted to an unknown substance and prostrating themselves before him so that they might just get a little bit more. Bodies, piled and rotting in a forgotten place and hardly resembling anything human anymore. Tools, dark and glittering and merciless and tanks of acid guttering in the background. The images flashed through Minato's mind in an instant, reminding him of who exactly they were dealing with.

But why had Orochimaru surfaced again after eight years? And why was he here?

"Orochimaru…" The hesitant voice broke Minato from his thoughts, and he whirled to see Naruto looking back and forth from the two. "As in the snake sannin?"

The child broke the two former teammates from their staring contest. Both actually looked a little startled, as if they'd forgotten that Naruto was there. Minato might have found that funny if his mind didn't just suddenly go blank from panic at Naruto bringing the attention to himself.

"Naruto," Minato hissed, only to stop when he realized there was nothing he could say. The damage was already done, and there was no point in berating Naruto over it. The older blond exhaled, briefly closing his eyes. "Just… be careful. This man is dangerous."

Naruto's eyes flickered to where Minato was floating to confirm that he'd heard, and, an unusually serious expression crossing his features, nodded imperceptibly.

Orochimaru's lips had curled into something that almost resembled a smile, "Oh? I had no idea that the Academy would still teach about me. I'd have thought that the Hokage would have been too ashamed of the stain on his reputation."

They hadn't, actually, offered much on the snake sannin. The Academy had briefly gone over the 'Legendary Three Ninja' and gave one line about how one of the three ultimately betrayed them. Naruto had just remembered because he was brilliant.

"Orochimaru." Jiraiya's voice was strained. Minato was secretly worried. It was not that he was unsympathetic to Jiraiya, but his son's life might be on the line and Jiraiya had to be at his best. "You know that's not how it is. Sensei cared—no, still cares about you. You were always his favorite."

"And yet," Orochimaru commented lightly, his eyes deceptively casual as they landed on Naruto, "he chose this boy's daddy over me. Your student."

Jiraiya went tenser still, if that were possible, "Don't bring Naruto into this. He has nothing to do with—"

"Don't get your panties in a twist," Orochimaru interrupted with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Weren't you always the one telling me to lighten up? I'm not here for him."

"Then what are you here for?"

"Ah, finally asking the smart questions." Orochimaru waved another hand, and the ground behind him erupted. That hardly mattered however, in the context of what had risen from the ground.

Three coffins with unfamiliar seals and silver chains holding them in place discarded the dirt that they had been buried in and now stood tall and proud behind their summoner. Minato had no idea what they might be for, and from Jiraiya's blank expression neither did he, but given Orochimaru's history, neither were willing to take chances.

And then one of the coffins rattled, "Help me!"

Minato's eyes widened. He recognized the voice. It was the same man at the inn who'd convinced Jiraiya and Naruto to stay for celebrations.

From Naruto's and Jiraiya's reactions, they recognized the voice too.

Orochimaru grinned, "Yes yes, Inoue-kun here was my spy for Kuman. Imagine my surprise when he reported that the great sage Jiraiya was here accompanied by a boy with the most curious description. I had to see it for myself of course."

"So you decided to, what?" Jiraiya said with narrowed eyes, "Confront us now while we're… not weakened? Not distracted? This seems sloppy for you Orochimaru. What are you up to?"

Orochimaru only smiled in response, "Ah well, to be honest I wasn't planning on confronting you. I only wanted to confirm the details. But then I found something I just couldn't let go of." Beady yellow eyes flickered to the treeline above them, and the snake summoner's voice gained an extra oily quality, "Why don't you come out now, Itachi-kun?"

There was a moment of silence, and then the leaves above them ruffled and Uchiha Itachi jumped out in front of them. His face was completely blank.

From Naruto's wide eyes, Minato could tell that his son had not noticed their third (fourth?) party member. Minato hadn't expected Naruto to. He himself had only managed with the barest of hints, and no matter how brilliant Naruto was, he just didn't have the experience yet to pick out those hints.

It'd taken a moment for Minato to appreciate why the newly minted ANBU captain was following them, and secretly at that. And then he'd understood.

While Jiraiya was one of Konoha's most trusted and valued shinobi, the fact of the matter was that the Sharingan eyes had the advantage to tailed beasts. It was only logical to send out the only loyal Uchiha after the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune, 'just in case' there were problems. While Minato hated to think that the Sandaime might have been worried about Naruto losing control, he had to acknowledge the wisdom of the decision.

Uchiha of course, had stayed hidden for Naruto's sake. The small blond had again and again proven his ability to give his guards the slip if he noticed them, but he would not take any precautions around those he did not know were there. Naruto had even managed to wiggle out of Jiraiya's protection for a little in the end.

Jiraiya was tense, "So you noticed him."

"Yes indeed," Orochimaru drawled, his lips forming into a wicked grin, "but I almost didn't. Itachi-kun here hid himself well. He'll be worthy. Very very worthy."

Naruto, who had been oddly silent during the whole exchange, finally spoke. His voice was low so not to carry, and Minato instantly knew the question was for him, "That guy… has he been shadowing us the entire time?"

"Yes," Minato breathed. "He's also the one who helped you with that bandit, and stirred up the trail for Tomu for us."

"What exactly are you aiming for?" Jiraiya asked with narrowed eyes.

The question was directed at Orochimaru, but it was Itachi who chose to respond. His voice was low and lacked any intonation, save for the customary politeness required for an elder.

"I believe, Jiraiya-sama," the genius of Uchiha said as he moved forward, "that Orochimaru requires me for the immortality jutsu he is perfecting. He wishes to transfer his consciousness into my body in order to gain more years, and also because of my kekkei genkai. He finds the Sharingan useful to him. He has made an attempt once before, but failed."

"Is that how it is…"

Orochimaru tsked, clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It was slim and forked. "So I won't fail again. I've made preparations this time."

Minato went tense as his gaze went to his son. Orochimaru was wily and as much as he hated to think it, he knew that Jiraiya would have a hard time with him on a good day. He knew next to nothing about Itachi's skills but if Orochimaru was confident enough to attack them both anyhow, then his preparations had to be godly. Naruto could not be caught in that.

Jiraiya also glanced at Naruto, and then at Itachi, before turning back to Orochimaru with his brows furrowed. "And do you really think I'll just let you do whatever you want?"

"Oh but Jiraiya," Orochimaru's smile was all teeth. "I won't give you a choice."

He threw his arm out then, towards the coffins.

Something deep within rumbled, and Minato gasped as he felt a sharp tug against his naval. He resisted—no!—because he suddenly had a feeling that he knew what Orochimaru's 'preparations' were. But the force of it was too strong and he could use none of his seals and none of his jutsus. He felt something tear.

Naruto screamed.


Minato felt the Edo Tensei work the instant before he had his body again. And then he was breathing in air for the first time in nearly eight years and experiencing the prickling feeling of sensation again.

But it didn't matter. Not when Naruto had made such a horrifying noise.

Minato's position had changed. Rather than being beside Naruto, he had transferred to a point behind Orochimaru, trapped in the false body that the snake sannin had conjured. So he saw Naruto's eyes roll back as the smaller blond crumpled like chakra paper, tumbling to the ground. Minato felt his newly acquired heart skip a beat.

He hurriedly took a step forward, because he needed to get to his son. He needed to! But he'd been living with no notion of human gravity for the past seven years and he'd all but forgotten the limitations that came with having a body. His balance splintered and Minato stumbled with his step, actually tripping over his own feet and falling to the floor.

Minato let out an 'oomph' of surprise as he nearly face planted into the ground, only just managing to catch himself on a hand and his knees. He might have been embarrassed, except there was no room for it within his worry. His brows furrowed. He'd crawl to his son if he had to.

He was saved from such a gesture when Jiraiya made a sound, breaking through his thoughts and reminding Minato that someone else was there too. Letting out a breath Minato looked up to beg his former sensei for help, only to see that Jiraiya had already moved to do so.

He must have lunged forward the instant Minato did, because Minato could see that he'd caught Naruto just before the child hit the ground. Itachi was standing a few paces away, and Minato recognized the stance as a protective one. If anyone else moved for Naruto, the Uchiha would be the one to dispatch them.

Jiraiya was kneeling now, cradling Naruto's head between his hands as he checked the younger boy's vitals. And then he looked up. Astonishment at the sight of Minato and his two companions that Orochimaru had raised was still present in his eyes, but his former sensei held it together well.

"He's alright," the toad sage informed Minato. "Breathing steady even. I think he's just fainted."

Neither of them commented on the fact that Naruto had screamed before Orochimaru's coffins had opened, and thus he couldn't have fainted from simple shock. It had to be something more. And from Jiraiya's tense body language, Minato knew that Jiraiya worried about it too.

Something shifted at the edge of Minato's periphery, and he finally turned to look at the shinobi beside him. Jiraiya followed his gaze, or perhaps the old man's attention had never truly left them in the first place, but in the end it amounted to the same.

Directly to the left of Minato was a slim man with long dark hair. Even farther left was a much stockier, silver haired shinobi with a customized hitai-ate. Even if he did not recognize their faces from the monument, he would by his own resurrection and knowledge of Orochimaru's nature. They were the first and second Hokages, respectively.

Minato closed his eyes. This was not good.

And then the Shodaime spoke. His voice had an almost childish quality to it, "Eh? Where are we?"

Minato's eyes snapped open. He stared at the founder of Konoha.

The Shodaime had a frown splayed across his lips as he scratched at his cheek. He looked almost… petulant.

Thankfully the Nidaime answered before any of them had to. The sneer on his lips told everyone what he thought of the question, "Isn't it obvious Hashirama? We've been summoned by Edo Tensei. Just look at our bodies. They're practically corpses." Brittle black eyes roved the little niche that the Konoha nin had made for themselves. They landed on Orochimaru. "You were the one who summoned us?"

"Ahh, why can't I move so well?" The Shodaime whined, continuing on as if he hadn't heard. He lifted an arm limply only for it to flop back down again. He turned to the Second with something that almost looked like a pout on his lips, "Tobirama, why'd you have to create such a troublesome jutsu?"

"Be quiet brother," the Nidaime replied harshly.

The Shodaime wilted right before the Konoha nins' eyes. Jiraiya and Orochimaru were staring at the two in disbelief, while Itachi's was completely blank. Minato actually might have found their antics amusing, if it weren't for the fact that his son's life might be in danger. As it was, he was hard pressed not to whack them, despite the fact that his body was not responding well either.

"Ah but what's this?" Suddenly the Nidaime's attention turned away from his brother and towards the other member that had been raised with them. "It looks like you didn't completely succeed. Hmpht. You might have been lucky with us, child, but you'll find that my Edo Tensei is not so easy to use."

Minato recognized the significance of the Nidaime's words at the same time Orochimaru did.

The blond pushed himself off the ground and leapt towards Jiraiya and the others, moving just in time to avoid the rain of shuriken Orochimaru threw at him. Minato landed beside his former sensei, only barely stumbling this time.

The implications laced through his mind at a thousand thoughts per minute. His gaze flickered the slightest bit sideways, catching his reflection on his former sensei's hitai-ate. He caught Jiraiya's eyes widening with realization at the same time Minato confirmed it.

"Yondaime…" Orochimaru's expression was a twist between forced bemusement and extreme hatred as he straightened from his striking position. He did not attack again. He knew that it would be a gamble now that the element of surprise had left his side. "It figures that you would be the one to find a way to circumvent this jutsu."

Unlike the Shodaime and the Nidaime, who looked like glorified corpses, Minato was slowly gaining hue. His skin was definitely less flakey than either of his predecessors, and most of all, his eyes were not the deadened black of Edo Tensei. They were a shocking blue.

There was awe on his old sensei's face as Jiraiya opened his mouth with question, but he closed it again before any could slip out. A shrewd intelligence replaced wonder. "Your revision of the Eight Trigrams?"

Minato nodded, "What else could it be?"

They'd both reached the conclusion that something about Minato's state previous to Orochimaru's summoning had disrupted it somehow. Whatever the case, Minato wouldn't question. At least not at the moment. What was important right now was defeating the snake and getting Naruto out of here.

The point was that he could move while Orochimaru's other summons could not. And he would take advantage of that.

"Itachi-kun!" Minato commanded, "I trust you to get my son safely out of here?"

There was only the slight widening of the boy's eyes to show his surprise, but he did not hesitate as he nodded. Buckling his knees, he scooped up Naruto in one smooth motion and raced towards one of the open paths.

"Oh no you don't," Orochimaru hissed, tossing out an arm and throwing a snake in the direction of the Uchiha. "You're not getting away again!"

Minato and Jiraiya jumped to intersect. They caught the snake by the head and the tail respectively, and Itachi disappeared into the woods.

"Do you think we'll let you?" Minato asked lightly.

Orochimaru grit his teeth. And then, a horrifying smile spread across his lips. "Oh, but I think you'll be too busy for that."

He moved too quickly for Jiraiya and Minato to counteract. Twin kunai with a tail of a forbidden seal appeared in his hands and without an ounce of mercy, Orochimaru drove them into the Shodaime and Nidaime's necks. The two Hokages gasped, spines stiffening.

"Kill them," Orochimaru hissed.

The Nidaime's eyes darkened as he glared back at their new master, "It sickens me that I'll have to fight for a traitor to Konoha."

"It's fine," the Shodaime replied with a wink, "if this guy wants to control us completely, he won't be able to use us at our full power. Let's have a little faith in our successors, shall we?"

And then the colorful personalities of the first and second Hokages were gone, leaving only deadly killing machines in their wake.

The two rushed at Minato and Jiraiya, not allowing the two to do anything but react.

The Nidaime was upon Minato in an instant, displaying to nearly full capacity the speed that he was so famous for. Minato reacted nearly too late. It felt strange to be in a body again and stranger still to move. Like stimulating soldier pills and thick miasma all at once. He only just managed to avoid the deadly strike the Nidaime had for him.

Minato gritted his teeth as he pulled back his shoulder to let the Nidaime's hand sail past his body. He pushed back the disconcerting feelings of having a body again as best he could. There was no time for it. He had to fight.

He grabbed onto the Nidaime's wrist before the previous Hokage could pull back from his attack and pulled him forward instead. His other hand reached for his own kunai to slice easily at the Nidaime's neck while he was off balance. It all happened within a second.

But the man before him was not the second Hokage of Konohagakure for no reason. Black eyes flickered to Minato's face before suddenly the Nidaime's leg swept towards Minato and Minato was forced to let go of the wrist to avoid being pulled into a disadvantaged taijutsu fight.

They engaged in a taijutsu fight anyway. It was neither of their specialties, although neither could be called poor at it either. Out of the corner of his eye he caught the Shodaime and Jiraiya begin exchanging ninjutsu, flares of every element lighting the sky. Trees moved at the first Hokage's command, barrelling towards Minato's mentor at every chance they got, and surrounded by forest as they were, it left Jiraiya with a severe disadvantage.

Orochimaru waited for a quarter of a moment before smiling sickeningly at Minato and making for the woods where Itachi and Naruto had gone. Minato felt his blood boil. The blond quickly forced the Nidaime's arm down from the beginnings of a choke hold and skipped a number of paces back, forgoing his advantage in order to intercept the sannin. Because this meant nothing if Orochimaru got to his son.

But the summoned body's first priority was to protect their summoner, and the Nidaime broke off their mutual agreement for a taijutsu battle in a splay of acid water discharging directly behind the snake. Minato had to abruptly cease his rush forward to avoid hitting into the wall, and he knew that by the time it came down, Orochimaru would be long gone.

Swearing under his breath, Minato turned back to the Nidaime. He could only hope now that he'd inferred correctly from Orochimaru's previous comment and that the young ANBU captain would be able to defeat the snake sannin again.

The two moved again, this time testing each other's prowess with ninjutsu. The Nidaime sent a cannon of water at him, which Minato avoided by swivelling his upper body back in a rolling duck. He used the opportunity to flash through a few quick seals, and sent lightning along the stream of water, directed back to its owner.

He hardly had time to do more as the rain of shuriken from the Nidaime arrived, and Minato was forced to slacken his legs and drop to the floor to roll out entirely to avoid them. Nevertheless one of them skimmed past his arm, drawing a thin line of blood.

Minato hissed as his skin split from the cut. His nerves felt alight in a way that he'd slowly been forgetting the past eight years, and to have it all back suddenly was a shock to his system. Embarrassingly enough, he nearly passed out from it.

But it wasn't the time to dwell on it.

His lightning justsu forced the Nidaime to abandon the follow up, and it gave Minato time to draw a few kunai of his own. He infused them with wind chakra to make them faster and deadlier, sending them flying towards the Nidaime the second he jumped to his feet.

It was just then that a great trunk emerged from the ground, surging forward to catch the knives within its deadly embrace. Minato's kunai should have cut through it anyway, except that it was supported by the Shodaime's chakra.

Before he had time to think about the intervention, a wall of fire flared to life in front of Minato, and he saw little holes of steam scatter across the veil. It took him less than a second to realize what had happened. The Nidaime had used the opportunity to send invisible water darts at Minato. He turned his head slightly as the wall dispersed, meeting the gaze of Jiraiya as the old man lowered his arm. He'd protected Minato again.

They had interfered with each other's fights. That changed the game entirely.

The four of them broke apart, panting, scattering with nearly the entire length of the visible road between them. For a moment neither side moved, studying the other.

"Do you still remember how to fight with me, sensei?" Minato said grimly.

Jiraiya snorted, "Brat, I was with you when you were first developing this thing and tripping everyone."

Minato put up his hands defensively, "Hey, hey, I was just asking because I wasn't sure if I remembered how to fight with me."

"Course," Jiraiya smiled. And then his expression turned serious. "How do we stop these two? They freaking regenerate and it's not like they're so weak that they'll just let us take them apart."

"The seals." Minato said immediately. "Their bodies are indestructible but the part that is controlling them is not. We just have to aim for their heads and take out the implanted kunai."

Jiraiya smiled grimly, "You make it sound so easy."

They both knew it would be not. Orochimaru's machines would surely know of their weakpoint and protect it with all their strength.

"Ahh well," Minato breathed out, "you're the great Toad Sage of Mt. Myoboku are you not?"

"Hahaha! Well, you've got that right brat!" And then he grinned, and pulled something from his pockets. He tossed it to Minato. "Just for that, I'll give you this gift."

Minato's eyes widened as he caught the thing. It was a kunai with three prongs, and a familiar symbol etched along the front. For the first time, he smiled, "You always know what to get me, sensei."

Jiraiya winked and charged, a rasengan forming in his right hand as he dashed towards the Shodaime. Minato followed suit, rushing towards the Nidaime to prevent the two from combining against Jiraiya.

Minato was faster than Jiraiya, reaching his target first. He slashed his three pronged kunai towards the Nidaime, who brought out his own weapon to deflect it. Sparks flared as steel met steel, but the shape of Minato's kunai gave him the advantage and it caught the weapon between the prongs.

The Nidaime instantly let go of the weapon and drew another with his other hand to aim a low strike at Minato's belly. But Minato caught his wrist, shoving the Nidaime's arm down just as the Nidaime brought his free hand to his mouth.

Minato's eyes widened as he quickly let go, skipping multiple steps to the side to avoid the sudden torrent of water the Nidaime sent at where Minato had been. Minato quickly shook the Nidaime's kunai off his and formed a fist at his side, gathering thick blue energy to him.

The Nidaime noticed and rushed towards him with his kunai, intent on disrupting Minato before he completed his rasengan. Minato tossed his own kunai at the man's head to get him to back off. The second Hokage ducked to avoid the kunai, but it did slow his momentum enough for Minato to complete his rasengan. And the target of Minato's kunai had never been him to start with.

Just as the Shodaime leapt out of the way of Jiraiya's frontal assault, Minato appeared behind him. He snatched the kunai he'd throw with his left hand and slammed his right towards the back of the Shodaime's neck.

The Shodaime whirled just in time, bringing up a shoulder to block Minato's assault. The rasengan keened and the left side of the Shodaime exploded. Minato hissed as bits of clay whizzed past his face, but before he could follow up the earth roared and surged towards him, forcing Minato to roll mid air to avoid being crushed.

He saw out of the corner of his eye that the Nidaime had turned towards them, his hands on the ground and the perpetrator of the jutsu no doubt. He also saw Jiraiya slam into the second Hokage a moment after the jutsu activated.

Hands flashing through seals quickly, Minato pushed a palm against the block of wood the Nidaime had formed, sending a spray of earthy barbs in the Shodaime's direction. He knew they'd be useless in causing long term damage, but if they could pin down his opponent, it'd be all he'd need.

The Shodaime wasn't done yet. He summoned a wind with his still available hand, blowing himself out of the trajectory of the spikes. But Minato had always known better than to bank on one strategy. Just as the Shodaime released his wind jutsu, Minato wrapped his kunai with wreaths of flame, and threw the weapon. The wind that the Shodaime had created only made the fire burn all the brighter.

The Shodaime quickly dodged right, with his left side having less to protect. Minato had been counting on that. He appeared in a flash beside his three pronged kunai and put out the flames as he grabbed hold of it. In the same motion he reached for the Shodaime's neck, currently unprotected by a left arm.

Wood erupted from the Shodaime's shoulder, blade thin and lightning fast. The edge even seemed to glint in the artificial light. Minato jumped backwards, and just in time too. It sliced the air where Minato's head had just been.

The small reprieve was all the Shodaime needed. The Shodaime jumped towards one of the nearby trees, swiftly placing a hand against the trunk. Instantly, the tree seemed to become a monster, the branches stretching and whipping towards Minato like a shark that had smelt blood.

Minato dodged, which was about easy enough until fifteen other trees joined the first one. Slowly, ever so slowly, the trees were forcing him towards the line of trees, making it even harder to dodge. Sooner or later, he was going to get hit by the blade-like branches.

But he wasn't out of options yet.

Minato quickly formed some handseals, and just as he simultaneously ducked the branch of one tree and slid his body around the branch of another, he released his jutsu. "Wind Style: Tattered Remains."

The winds howled, and ripped through the trees around him, shredding the solid trunks like paper. The Shodaime was forced to leap backwards, using chakra to enhance his jump, just avoiding the wild winds.

That was alright though, because they weren't really aimed for him anyway.

Jiraiya and the Nidaime came into view as the Shodaime vaulted, at some time having migrated behind the first Hokage during their own fight. Jiraiya having purposefully led his opponent there.

The winds hit the Nidaime a split second before Jiraiya's fireball did.

He was caught just in time by Jiraiya's fireball.

Minato didn't hesitate for a moment. Just as the Shodaime moved, Minato formed another long sequence of handseals. The winds gave him time. Then, he took a few steps to the left, and slammed his hands down into the ground and forced up a wall between Jiraiya and the Shodaime. He was just in time to block the Shodaime's lightning jutsu that was aimed towards his old mentor.

There was a fatal second before the Nidaime leapt from the flames, but he hadn't been untouched. Minato's affinity was wind, and Jiraiya's fire. Together their jutsus was hard to shake off by even a Hokage, especially since they had hit at point blank.

Half of the Nidaime's body was burnt.

But just like it had been the first time, Minato knew that it wouldn't last long.

"Now sensei!" He yelled.

Jiraiya didn't waste any time. Immediately, he bit his thumb, making one single handseal as he slammed his hand against the ground, "Summoning Techinque!"

Gamahiro appeared in a puff of smoke, "So I'm telling him that— oh, Jiraiya-dono, what is it that you require of me?"

Jiraiya pointed to the Shodaime, "Distract that guy!"

They both knew that a summon wouldn't stand long against the Senju, but they didn't need long.

Minato and Jiraiya both surged towards the Nidaime. The Nidaime cupped his still working hand around his lips, and a plume of water erupted from his mouth. It formed the shape of a dragon, spearing for the two advancing nin.

The two of them reacted instantly, Minato angling his body low and to the left while Jiraiya went right. Still, even as they moved, Minato couldn't help but be impressed. He recognized the Nidaime's jutsu as an A class one, and to do that without seals or a water supply was thought to be impossible. If their situation weren't so dire, Minato would feel overwhelmingly grateful to be able to fight these people.

But the water dragon wasn't one that could be so easily dodged.

"I'll take care of it!" Minato yelled, waving for Jiraiya to go ahead with the Nidaime. He summoned up a wind to divert the path of the dragon into the line of trees, where it splashed and knocked down about twenty of them. Minato was panting with the effort at the end, just as Jiraiya engaged the Nidaime in taijutsu.

The Nidaime aimed a roundabout kick at his head. Jiraiya collapsed one knee, just barely dodging the kick as he thrust up an arm, fist clenched in a powerful punch. The corpse ninja twisted, allowing the fist to skim his side as his own hand shot out, grasping onto Jiraiya's exposed arm. Jiraiya used the Nidaime as a pole, flipping his body upwards around the place where the Nidaime had grasped onto his body, and aiming a deadly kick at the Nidaime's head.

For one precious second, Nidaime was too preoccupied to notice Minato appear behind him. He'd tagged the Nidaime with his seal the first time they'd engaged after Jiraiya had given him the three pronged kunai.

But Minato was not the only one to have made a surprise appearance.

The Shodaime came from nowhere, lightning rippling down his hand as he speared through Jiraiya's arm. The arm that the Nidaime had been holding on to ripped away, freeing the Nidaime once more.

Gamahiro lay motionless some distance away. And then he disappeared in a puff of smoke which indicated that he had exhausted all his chakra and would be unable to continue.

Minato's heart dropped to his stomach. A terrible churn that nearly made his limbs weak with denial. No, no, no, not Jiraiya.

But Jiraiya gave no indication of the attack save for the grimace of pain which crossed his features, and Minato knew then that he would have to continue. His mentor wouldn't have it any other way. The Nidaime was free, but it was too late.

He slammed into the back of the Nidaime, razor winds acting like a cutting glove around his fingers as he drove his hand into the Nidaime's neck. A second later, he pulled out the kunai which had been controlling the Hokage, and the Nidaime's body crumbled to dust.

One down, one to go.

Jiraiya was fighting the Shodaime with one arm, and awkwardly too, because there had been no time to get used to the weight shift balance. Minato concentrated on the symbol that he had tagged the Shodaime with the time when he'd been hit with the rasengan, and appeared directly behind the corpse.

The Shodaime whirled just in time to block a jab from Minato, black eyes unearthly as they stared at the blond.

The resulting battle was long and bitter. Minato had never expected any less from the first Hokage, but he had hoped that their Edo Tensei selves would have been a bit easier to defeat. Then again, Minato still was not exactly in top form himself. Jiraiya's situation was worse and if Minato wasn't sure that he'd lose badly without the help of his sensei, he'd have ordered Jiraiya to stand down long ago. It'd taken all of his and Jiraiya's combined intellect to finally take the Shodaime down.

"Shodaime, I am sorry," he murmured as he finally, finally snatched the kunai from his neck.

The Shodaime only smiled at him, "It is not a problem, Yondaime. You have done your predecessors proud."

And then his body crumbled to dust.

Minato let out a breath, staggering back as he ran a hand through his hair. Briefly he closed his eyes as if that could restore some of his energy, and turned back to Jiraiya.

The toad sannin finally allowed himself to collapse to the ground. He'd put on a brave face during battle and had ignored his injuries spectacularly, but this wasn't just a little wound.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," Jiraiya grimaced, though his face was the one that was ghastly. "Don't count me out yet, kid."

Minato closed his eyes. He felt like his blood would never flow correctly again. "Your arm…"

Jiraiya's left arm was gone.

It was a small mercy that the wound had come from a lightning jutsu, and so Jiraiya wasn't bleeding. His stump of a shoulder was burnt through.

Jiraiya snorted, "Heh, considering we were fighting the legends of Konoha, and with them being immortal nonetheless, I'd say we came off lightly."

Minato swallowed. There was more that he wanted to say, but despite Jiraiya's easy words and tone, Minato recognized the slight tension in his shoulders and the weary face. An arm was… well, it was the life of a shinobi. Perhaps it was his sensei himself who did not want to discuss the topic.

It was just then that Naruto came bursting out of the woods.

"Jiraiya-jiji!" He shouted, only for his eyes to go wide at the sight of the old man sitting with something clearly missing from his side. He froze.

Minato did too after he whirled to face the newcomer. He blinked in confusion, "Naruto…?"

"Jiraiya-jiji, what…?" Naruto looked utterly devastated. He took a few steps forward. Stopped. A hand twitched at his side. "Is that—is that a trick? An illusion for Snake Face?"

Jiraiya's face fell, "Oh Naruto."

"Because he's gone now! Itachi-san scared him away! Except now something's wrong with Itachi-san and he needs you to look at him, so please drop the illusion!"

"Naruto, it's not an illusion," Jiraiya said gently. He lifted his right arm in an inviting hug and tried to smile. It came out twisted. "My old teammate left us a nasty little gift. I'm afraid it was a bit more than this old man could handle without injury."

Naruto let out a choked sob and ran into Jiriaya's embrace. The toad wrapped his arm around the child, patting his back tenderly.

Jiraiya exchanged a glance with Minato, and Minato nodded. As much as he wanted to see how Naruto was doing, to be there for Naruto, both of them had noted what Naruto had said. Uchiha Itachi was apparently in trouble, and somebody needed to see how he was.

Minato turned and raced through the path that Naruto had created. Itachi had managed to leave no trace of himself and Naruto even while escaping the snake sanin, but Naruto was not the same. Then again, if what Naruto said was true, he had good reason.

He followed the trail to the end, and found Uchiha Itachi leaning against a tree with his eyes closed, legs crossed in a lotus position as he breathed raggedly. It didn't stop the Uchiha from reacting as soon as Minato was in range.

Minato had taken a step before a storm of kunai was flung at him. Minato sucked in a breath as he twisted sharply to the left, just in time to see Itachi's eyes opened and his hands flickering through seals. Itachi's eyes widened and he dropped his hands.

"Yondaime-sama." Itachi relaxed minutely. "My apologies. I did not expect you, and your footsteps did not sound like Jiraiya-sama's or Naruto-kun's."

"No, no," Minato said easily, his bones crackling as he shifted back into a normal position. "I shouldn't have startled you."

To be honest he hadn't thought that Itachi would react so promptly, considering he was supposed to be injured. Also, how far could the kid hear to have noticed Minato coming?

"Nevertheless," Itachi bowed his head. And then he looked up warily. "I am glad to see that you are apparently alive and well, but I must ask, how it is that you are still here while the Shodaime and Nidaime are not?"

"Not quite sure," Minato replied with a shake of his head. "Perhaps it's because the technique hasn't actually ended yet. We forcibly stopped the first and second Hokages, but Orochimaru might not know that. Now Naruto said you were injured?"

Itachi took a long look at him. Minato waited patiently. He knew that if he were in the Uchiha's position, he wouldn't be so quick to trust either. But Itachi seemed to have something in Minato's face, because he nodded curtly and pulled down the collar of his shirt.

Minato drew in a breath, "And what's that?"

On the right side of Itachi's neck was some kind of dark marking which Minato instantly recognized as some kind of seal, but he could not easily discern what it was meant to do.

For the first time, Itachi winced. "Unclear. It activated some kind of genjustsu at the moment of its inception but I overcame it. I estimate that it is a seal that disrupts chakra as I am admittingly finding it more difficult than usual to access certain techniques. Currently it is causing me some pain but it is dissipating. I'm afraid that Naruto-kun over reacted, and at the time I was in no condition to chase him."

"But if it were just meant to disrupt you during battle, it wouldn't have stayed," Minato mulled. "I'll speak about it with sensei."

Itachi inclined his head in thanks before rising to his feet. He gave no sign that he was fatigued save for the small tremors that occasionally surfaced from his body. "Then let's get going."

"You're allowed to take it easy," Minato said gently. He took a few steps forward and took Itachi's elbow. The Uchiha stiffened but did not push him away. "I don't sense any enemies nearby. We can take a bit more time."

Itachi exhaled and nodded, and they began walking.

Now that he had time to think, he did note that Itachi could only be thirteen. It was so young. He felt badly for pushing the responsibility of Naruto onto the child, but at the time there had been no choice. Besides that, Itachi had proven himself skilled, and no matter what his age, he was an able shinobi.

"When did Naruto wake?" Minato asked softly. He'd been running over Naruto's appearance to him and Jiriaya and his only conclusion was that the child himself must have woken during the escapade.

"Not long after we absconded," Itachi replied instantly. His gaze shifted to Minato, and there was something in his eyes that told Minato that if Itachi didn't know, he at least suspected. "Whatever happened to him, I believe it was only a momentary shock to his system and he was restored accordingly."

Minato winced. "I was afraid of that. How much of your encounter with Orochimaru did Naruto see?"

The only good thing about Naruto having fainted in the first place was that he wouldn't have to see a shinobi battle at their level. Naruto had only just fought bandits. While Minato had taught him a lot of techniques, he had never expected Naruto to face S-class nin this soon.

The sheer killing intent that could be emitted had driven some unprepared genin insane, and Naruto had never even truly been on the field yet. To think that his child had woken in the midst of all this…

The smile on Itachi's face was strained, but it was a smile nonetheless. "Naruto-kun helped me with Orochimaru actually. The genjutsu seal he used… it momentarily stunned me, but Naruto's quick thinking distracted Orochimaru and gave me time to recover."

"Really?" Minato asked in interest, surprised.

Itachi nodded and gave a brief summary of the fight that had ensued between him and Orochimaru. Minato listened in amazement to how his son had the guts to try and back up the ANBU captain, and by all accounts had succeeded.

He couldn't help the grin that stretched across his face at the end of it. He was beyond proud of Naruto.

"After that, Orochimaru escaped," Itachi finished. "I thought to follow him but my primary mission was securing Naruto, and I did not want to leave him alone or bring him with me on a dangerous manhunt."

"You did the right thing," Minato said gently. "The instruction was to flee, not to capture Orochimaru. We have no idea what else he might have been capable of. To think that he's mastered Edo Tensei…"

And from what Minato had seen of Itachi when he'd first arrived in the forest, he wasn't entirely sure that the young ANBU captain was capable of chasing down Orochimaru anyhow. Itachi hid it well, but it was evident that whatever Orochimaru had done to him affected him more than he was willing to admit.

"I should have killed him the first time," Itachi said softly. "But I was arrogant. I'd thought to use him to gain information. I'd never thought that he'd advance to such a degree. For that I apologize."

"So now you know to guard against it the next time," Minato said with a smile. He hesitated, and then gave Itachi's shoulder a small pat. The boy tensed slightly under his hand, but did not otherwise react. "I can count on you to not make the mistake again, correct? But remember that even the Sandaime was deceived by Orochimaru. And you chased him away from my son this time, so I thank you for that."

Itachi's eyes flickered, and his lips parted as if to say something, but it was then that they arrived back on the road. Minato noticed Itachi's eyes widening when they landed on Jiraiya's left side. Naruto was asleep on his legs.

Jiraiya looked up. He smiled, though Minato could see the strained lines around his mouth. "Oi Uchiha, glad to see you're doing alright. Naruto wouldn't calm down until I assured him I sent someone after you."

Itachi and Jiraiya engaged in some kind of exchange, but Minato only paid the barest amount of attention. His focus was nearly completely on the fair haired boy dozing at Jiraiya's side. The child looked smaller than ever.

Gaze tender, Minato moved forward, and knelt directly in front of his son. He reached out a hand and touched Naruto's cheek. It was as soft as he'd always imagined, well suited to such a kind hearted boy. Naruto shifted with the touch, and Minato pulled back.

He didn't want to wake Naruto yet. If this Edo Tensei did not last, he did not want Naruto to think that his father had come back from the dead, so to speak, only for it to be cruelly ripped away again. If Edo Tensei did not last, it would be better if Naruto never saw him like this.

"How is he?" Minato asked gently.

Jiraiya chuckled, though it sounded drained. "He was apologizing for what he said to me at the bandits thing. Said I acted dumb at times but thought I'd still always be smarter than him and he looks up to me. It tired him out." There was a soft smile on his face as he gazed down at the child. "Idiot."

Minato forced himself not to look at Jiraiya's missing arm. While what Naruto had said had been out of line, Minato had the feeling that this apology had come from the recent changes to Jiraiya. It didn't mean that it wasn't sincere. But it did mean that Naruto was acting from as much of a place of guilt as of sincere repentance.

Well, it wasn't like Minato didn't understand that. He was the one who had actually gotten his sensei's arm ripped off. He felt like apologizing for every uncharitable thought he'd had towards the toad sage.

"He's so mature." There was a hint of sadness in Jiraiya's eyes, "I sometimes forget that I'm speaking to a child in nearly every sense of the word when I'm talking to him."

"He is very responsible," Minato agreed.

But Jiraiya only shook his head. There was a slight grin on his face, "Nah, you don't get it, but then again, why did I expect you to? You're his dad. You're probably incapable of seeing him as anything other than your little boy, aren't you?"

Minato chuckled, "You may be right."

Jiraiya looked away, "He talks to me like a godson to godfather, but he's responsible and mature and while I never forget that he's a kid, sometimes I forget that he's not shinobi just yet. I think I expect him to understand too much too quickly sometimes. Heh, never thought I'd be the one to do that."

There wasn't a lot to say to that.

"Yes well," Minato grinned, "over the years I think I've learned that you're not infallible. The strange pervert stance you've made up did a lot on that front."

"Oi, you're not allowed to make fun of me. I'm exhausted," Jiraiya laughed. And then he grimaced. "I think we all are. Considering the new developments it might be best to abandon this mission and head back to Konoha."

"Yeah," Minato breathed, and looked down at his hands. It had to be the famous Uzumaki luck that turned this mission into such a disaster, but there was a part of him that hoped—that had thought of Edo Tensei ending as an if and not a when but didn't dare believe—

Well, first and foremost, Konoha.


A/n: Yes Minato getting his body back was always the plan. Edo Tensei is overdone but it's practically accepted fanon theory and I didn't see a need to make some other random stuff up because the hows of this is not the focus. I really would have preferred to have let Minato keep his body from the very beginning but I didn't want to deal with the political changes that would invariably be there. The focus of this story is after all, the cutesy father-son relationship.

On that note, the cuteness kind of had to come to an end at Seven Years Old. So the last three chapters were basically just set up for Minato's revival and to end on a high point. I've considered more but ultimately nothing else would suit the tone of this story. One more chapter and this fic will be done.

…before any of you start staring in disbelief at me for ending it just when things are getting interesting, yes I am planning a sequel. It'll be of a slightly different tone than The Daddy Thing though. It won't be pure fluff like this one, though it will have its moments. It'll be a little darker, have a little more plot, and the risk of it being abandoned are a whole lot bigger. If you're interested just state so and I will write it. Keep this on your alerts list even after it's marked as 'Complete' if you're looking for more and I'll post a note telling you guys if I do it.