I promised him.
There is a part of me that will never live down what has happened; another piece of my fragmented soul has been lost to it. That is as bad as it gets, I believe. I have left something behind.
The baby in my arms cries loudly as I rock him slowly in my arms until his wails are silenced, replaced only by contented coos. It makes me remember when my son was this small; back in the good 'ol days. My wife would usually be the one to hold him, until she told me, "Hiruzen! Don't just stand there! Do you expect me to do all the work?" Fiery woman she was...
"Shhh..." I say, quiet, hoping, wondering, wishing that this would be easier. His father was a great friend of mine, one that the village didn't deserve to lose. However, his sacrifice was not in vain, his, nor Kushina's.
"What are you going to do with him?" Asuma raises a brow at me. He's a teenager, watching the baby with interest. "Got any parents to take him in?"
"Not yet," I close my eyes, unwilling to admit that no one is courageous enough to take him.
"How long's he going to stay?"
I pause, unsure of what to answer. "As long as it takes."
People are cruel. I take it back. The world is cruel. After several months of fruitless searching, there is still no family willing to adopt the baby. The council decides he must live on his own. I have come out of retirement because of the death of my successor, and now this?
"It isn't uncommon."
"He'll be fine, I'm sure."
The looks they give me are somewhat scornful. Are they insane? Would this be what the Fourth wanted for his son? "You see him as a monster." I say aloud, "He is only a boy." I didn't know how many times I would insist this in the future, but I stand by that claim today.
"You're too old to take him. Besides, you have a son."
He is only a boy.
"Lord Third," He said, "You must promise me. You must,"
I glance at the crib, knowing I must let him go as soon as he can walk. "Hm?" I raise a brow.
"Ho...ka..ge!" He coos, and I can only chuckle. Already planning out his future...
"Trying to take my job, aren't you?" I say, giving him a little smile as I lean down towards him. "I'm not dead yet."
"Hoka-ge!" The child's small fingers grip my nostrils and yank on them hard.
"Ouch!" I smile as I pull his fingers away, "You've got quite a grip, don't you?"
"Hokage!" He yells at the top of his lungs. "Hokage! Hokage!"
I chortle at his obvious amusement, then sigh, knowing he must be on his own from now on.
A blonde toddler blinks at a refrigerator full of food and a table with a money purse on it. "FOOD!" He yells, then picks something out. Ramen. Does he know how to prepare it? No. Nonetheless, he peels the top off and tries to eat it.
"HARD!" He cries, "It's hard!" Still, he stares at it, then he glances at the water. "...water!" With some hesitation, he pours water all over the ramen cup, flooding it and the floor.
I'm watching the entire time- though I was advised not to- just in case. The boy is only two after all. It's remarkable he's made it this far.
Days, weeks, months and years all pass and I watch the boy grow. He can read and write and even pull pranks at some point. The "whiskers" on his cheeks simply grow with the rest of his face, which is looking more and more like Minato everyday. In many ways, I thought of him as my own son, and I was proud. Of course, I was also slightly-
" Lord Hokage, Naruto painted the Hokage Monument! AGAIN!"
"Lord Third, I want you to promise me," He says, breathing his last breath, "Promise me they'll see my son as the hero he really is, and not a monster."
Of course, to each story there are turmoils and triumphs, but I believe that Naruto is a hero- and he will only grow in the Will of Fire you passed on to him, Minato.
"Whaddoya think? It was hard getting the right expression! It took me three hours to get it right!" Naruto boasts, sitting in front of my desk, "After all, it's not like something ordinary would do...but with MY artistic vision!"
I give him a long, hard, stare. "Do it over."
He gives me a disbelieving expression, and I go on, "What concerns me is that you didn't even wear your hitai-ate headband...it marks your adulthood as a shinobi of our village."
"I didn't wanna damage it!" He protests, and I can only sigh. This boy...
I tip my hat to the Fourth. Only he could have a son as daring as this... A hero, hm? One day soon...but not today. Not today at all. Good luck, Uzumaki Naruto.
You're going to need it.