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Minato makes a point of getting to know all of those who work closely with him at a personal level, even the newest recruits. He’s a friendly person by nature, and being made Hokage hasn’t immediately reduced him to stuffiness, no matter what Kushina claims. It’s nice to be able to ask after an assistant’s daughter or a courier’s fiancé, to get a smile in return and know that he’s managed to remember something that’s precious to them.

“Boosting morale and inspiring loyalty”, the Sandaime calls it, but Minato doesn’t like to think of people as tools to be improved upon. To him, he’s just being sociable.

It’s for this reason that he’s out in the furthest parts of Training Ground Nine, wading through knee-high grass dried a brittle brown by the summer sun as he searches for the newest member of his personal guard. Choza, who had been the young man’s jounin sensei, directed him here with a fond smile, and the assurance that even if Minato didn’t see his quarry at first, he should just keep walking until he found him.

Minato is a little intrigued already, to be honest. Shiranui Genma's file makes him look like a chronic overachiever, given his rapid jump from chuunin to tokubetsu jounin, done in a quarter of the usual time, and his eager acceptance of a post where the mean age is easily twice his, but his psychological profile speaks of a laidback, easygoing attitude that should contradict his drive. It’s an illogicality, and Minato loves puzzles, even—perhaps especially—when they come in the form of people.

Given his file, Minato had expected to find the boy with friends, or maybe sparring with his year-mates. Instead, he’s almost two miles from the village proper, trekking through terrain that could be classified as wilderness, and still hasn’t found the boy.

Minato is vaguely aware of his newest bodyguard’s identity. Genma is a few years older than Kakashi, and Minato can vaguely recall mention of Team Choza facing off against his team in the Chuunin Exams. There was also a mission with them, if he remembers correctly, some simple C-rank that ended with Kakashi and Obito both, in their own ways, growling about the taijutsu nutjob, the prick with a stick up his ass, and the smug asshole they’d had to work with. He’d laughed at them at the time and given it no more thought, but now he’s curious. Genma is going to be working with shinobi quite a bit older and more experienced, and too much arrogance will win him no favors. If he’s as smug as Minato remembers Obito insisting, this won't end well.

But even so, Minato can't imagine the Guard Platoon’s current commander recommending anyone who can't work with others, especially when that recruit is barely fifteen. Genma was hand-picked, and knowing the Commander’s paranoia levels, he wouldn’t have made it past the first round of assessments if he wasn’t at the very least reasonable.

Before he can sink any deeper into his thoughts, the soft sound of a grunt draws Minato's attention, and he lifts his head, scanning the area. There's a stand of trees to his left, quietly overgrown, and the rocky bank of a small stream on his right. Between the two a meadow opens up, studded with jagged boulders that bear the scars of jutsu training. And in the very center of the meadow is a boy, tall and a little gawky, doing katas.

Minato pauses for a moment, watching. He knows Genma's record—he was on the upper end of average as a student, equally good at bookwork and more practical applications, with a family history of weapons specialization. His taijutsu is good, though, fluid and steady without being showy. The kata he’s doing is one Minato recognizes, and it’s fairly complex, emphasizing speed and flexibility. Given who Genma's teammate was, it’s not much of a surprise that he has at least some skill, but it’s still fairly impressive.

Genma turns, dips low, slides back a step, and then whirls forward with a high, fast kick that would leave most opponents with a broken jaw at the very least. But he overstretches himself as he moves and tumbles to the ground, landing with a slap of palms and a huff of quiet frustration. Before Minato can so much as take a step, though, he’s back on his feet, restarting the kata.

Turn, dip, slide back, kick—

A correction, Minato thinks, studying the slight shift in the boy’s stance. He corrected himself. Not enough, given the way he overbalances again, this time landing on his hands and knees, but it’s still a shift. He isn’t trying blindly to work through the kata, but assessing, adjusting. Minato knows shinobi ten years older who still try to bully through on physical prowess alone.

“Widen your stance as you come out of the retreat,” he offers, and Genma doesn’t jump or even twitch, though Minato's certain the boy didn’t register his presence. He just turns, eyes narrowing carefully, and regards Minato for a moment.

“Thanks,” he says, inclining his head, and then shifts back into his form. A breath, collecting himself, and then he moves again.

Turn, dip, slide back, kick—

Too steady, this time—there isn’t enough fluidity to the kick, or enough height. Genma comes to a halt, expression considering more than anything. Minato is used to Kakashi's edge of anger when he can't get something right, or the way Obito would throw himself into it with mounting frustration and decreasing finesse, but there's none of that on Genma's face. Just cool assessment.

“Maybe too much,” he suggests, although Genma has likely already seen the mistake, and gets a quick flash of a crooked grin in response.

“Yeah, a bit,” the boy agrees easily, and starts again.

Turn, dip, slide back, kick—

A faint shift, just the slightest alteration of his stance, a little more speed and power to balance out the increased grounding, and the kick snaps out and back without the faintest falter. Genma slips through three more, slightly lower but just as fast, aimed at what are clearly vital points on his invisible opponent, and then straightens from his ready stance and turns. He bows politely to Minato, and when he rises he’s grinning again, still crooked but full of satisfaction and an easy sort of confidence.

“Thanks, Hokage-sama,” he offers.

Minato can see how the self-assurance and poise Genma carries around himself could have been mistaken for smugness—after all, teenage boys aren’t exactly emotionally intelligent, and Kakashi and Obito were even less so than normal—but there's no jagged edge of arrogance to Genma's manner, and he can also see what caught the commander’s attention. It’s a rare thing to find, even in those much older than fifteen.

“My pleasure,” Minato returns with a smile. “I hope I'm not intruding, but I wanted to meet you before you started officially.”

Hazel eyes widen faintly before composure returns, but Minato catches the expression. Definitely not arrogance, then. But…aloofness, he thinks, studying as Genma as the teenager studies him in return. Almost shyness, well-hidden behind a casual façade. This is a boy who keeps to his teammates even now that their genin days are over, maintaining the friendships despite how it would likely be easier to let them drift. A boy who can stand in a crowd but not be part of it, but who by all reports is the first to step in and break up a fight.

He’s interesting. Minato's always been fond of interesting people.

“I'm honored to serve,” Genma says after a moment, and offers Minato a slightly quieter version of his half-quirked smile. “You did a lot for Konoha, during the war. I know a lot of people preach peace, but—if we had to fight, I'm glad we had someone like you on our side.”

It’s…not a phrasing of that particular sentiment that Minato has ever heard before, certainly, but he understands the meaning behind it. Peace is good, but it didn’t work, so I'm glad we could fight. I'm glad you fought for us.

“Konoha is my home,” Minato answers simply, because he thinks Genma will appreciate that more than any overwrought sentiment.

And, indeed, what he gets is another of those quicksilver smiles as the boy pulls a senbon from his pouch, tucking it between his teeth. A cute quirk, Minato thinks, hiding a smile, and certainly a handy one for a shinobi to have.

“Yeah,” Genma agrees, and that smile spreads, small but warm as he turns to where the lights are coming on in the village as dusk descends. “Yeah, it is.”

Somehow, Minato is feeling a lot more optimistic about this whole bodyguard thing. He chuckles softly to himself, tucks his hands in the pockets of his flak jacket, and offers, “Dinner? My treat. I thought it might be nice to talk as people, before you have to start calling me Hokage-sama all the time.”

A curious glance, slanted from underneath a fringe of red-brown hair that falls into hazel eyes, and then Genma nods quickly. “All right. Thanks, Ho—thank you, Namikaze-san.”

“Just Minato,” he corrects firmly, heading back towards Konoha. When the teenage falls into step with him, he gives the boy a warm grin. “It’s nice to meet you, Genma. I look forward to working with you.”

The senbon clicks softly against his teeth, an absent habit, and Genma smiles back. “The same to you, Minato. It’s…an honor.”

He means it, Minato can tell. Bone-deep and completely sincere, the way most people aren’t, and that alone is enough to make Minato suspect that this boy, calm and quiet as he is, is someone special.

 

 

The kitchen is warm and brightly lit, and smells of Kushina’s cooking. Minato can hear her humming in the distance, likely sharpening her weapons, and it’s a good sound, a reminder that this is his now, this is home.

It’s still incredible, sometimes, to think of it. They loved each other for so long, but it took years to come to terms with it, to realize that they felt the same way. Minato wouldn’t trade the time it took them for anything—it makes what they have all the more precious.

With a contented sigh, he pushes away the last of his paperwork and flips the folder closed, then stretches his arms out. It feels like a lazy day, for all he’s signing forms on the weekend, and that makes him mind the work a little less. In addition, he finally managed to drag his newest bodyguard out of his shell, if only a little.

Lips quirking in a faint smile, Minato glances at the far end of the table, where the fifteen-year-old is curled catlike in one of the hard-backed chairs, twisted into a position Minato can't imagine is comfortable, though he doesn’t seem to mind. There's a scroll half-unrolled over his legs, and chestnut-brown hair is falling into his eyes, almost hiding the sharp hazel from view.

Five years to the day since his father’s death, and Minato was hardly about to let him endure it alone. Even if that meant inventing an urgent reason for Genma to bring him the forms on his desk, and then spending part of his day doing paperwork.

It’s difficult to remember, sometimes, just how young Genma is when he’s playing the aloof, analytical guard. Minato is fairly certain that even his fellow Guard Platoon members forget, regardless of the fact that Genma is still eighty percent gangly limbs and joints.

(The other twenty percent, Minato has come to learn, is dry wit and an unflappable sort of good humor Kakashi swears comes from being the only relatively sane member of his genin team. Then again, given that one of those team members is Gai, it’s possible that Kakashi is a bit biased.)

“Find something interesting?” he asks warmly, and brown eyes blink back into focus, then lift. When they settle on him, there's a spark of…something. Something bright and impressed and a little awed, and though Minato has seen it before in others, coming from this aloof, composed boy it makes something flattered and fond curl in his chest. Genma isn’t impressed by anyone that he’s seen—even Kakashi, who generally inspires reverence in his own generation, receives nothing more than polite deference whenever he appears.

“Yeah,” Genma answers, and it’s not quite quiet—too confident for that—but there's definitely none of the brashness Minato expected when the Guard Platoon’s commander said he had his eye on a fifteen-year-old for their next recruit. The boy sets the scroll on the table and uncurls himself carefully, as ever strangely conscious of each limb. It saves him from a lot of the teenaged awkwardness even Kakashi is suffering through.

When nothing more is forthcoming, Minato huffs a soft laugh and leans forward to get a look at what Genma decided on. It’s one of Kushina’s, a beginner’s guide to space-time ninjutsu that Minato remembers picking up more than once when he was starting to teach himself the Hiraishin.

“Put that away,” Kushina orders before he can say anything, sweeping into the kitchen. “It’s lunchtime, you can take a breather for a little while, heartbreaker. Look! Even Minato stopped working, so that’s a sign you should too!”

As always, Genma flushes at the nickname Kushina has insisted on using since the first time she met him. It’s always amusing, having them in the same room, and Minato sits back with a grin, watching as Genma protests, “That’s not my name, Uzu—”

“Kushina,” Kushina cuts him off mercilessly, setting a pot of her homemade ramen down on the table. Her smile is sweetly threatening. “And really? You're going to tell me you haven’t broken a few hearts, with the way you are? I bet the girls are all over you!”

His wife is evil, Minato thinks in awe. He is the luckiest man in the world.

The number of times he’s seen Genma blush, like now, can all be counted on one hand, and Kushina was involved each time. It’s subtle, but as the flush spreads, Genma still ducks his head to hide it behind his hair, and mumbles, “I…don’t really like girls.”

Kushina’s eyebrows fly up, ladle hovering forgotten over the soup, and Minato will admit to feeling some surprise himself. “You don’t?” he asks, and shakes his head with a chuckle. “You're a little old to still be thinking girls have cooties, aren’t you—ow!”

Kushina withdraws her elbow from his ribs with a pointed glare that just leaves Minato feeling lost, then turns her gaze back to Genma with a bright smile. “My point still stands!” she declares cheerfully, even though Genma is eyeing her with an odd edge of wariness. “I'm sure there's more than one guy who’s cried himself to sleep over you, heartbreaker. You're just that kind of guy!”

Minato blinks.

The pieces connect, and he snaps his mouth shut with a rush of embarrassment.

The blush is finally fading back into Genma's normal expression of lazy amusement, and it only looks a little stiff. He casts a quick, sidelong glance at Minato from under his lashes, assessing, and retorts smoothly, “You sound like you're talking from experience. Made a lot of guys cry, Kushina?”

“Yep,” she parries, dropping his bowl in front of him with a beaming grin. “Usually in pain, but that’s okay. Most guys are wimps.”

“Hey,” Minato protests, if somewhat halfheartedly.

“Quiet,” Kushina orders. “You, Mister Unreliable Pretty Boy, are the biggest wimp of them all. You're just good at fooling people into believing otherwise. The whole village has been hoodwinked, I swear.”

Genma snorts, reaching for his tea to cover it.

Minato gives him a wounded look. “Don’t gang up on me! That’s low. I'm your Hokage, so show some respect!”

“Of course, Hokage-sama,” Genma says, perfectly straight-faced. “You're right, we’re being rude. Are you going to put your wife back in her place for daring to talk to you like that?”

One wary glance at Kushina is enough to see the sharp, bloody grin she’s wearing, just daring him to try it. Minato winces, and says meekly, “I love you, dear.”

Kushina’s eyes soften, and when she passes him his ramen, it comes along with a kiss on the forehead. “You dork,” she murmurs fondly. “Eat your food.”

Obediently, Minato picks up his chopsticks, then brightens as an idea comes to him. “Oh! Genma, if you're not attached at the moment, I've always thought that Kakashi—”

“No,” Genma interrupts blandly. “I'm not going to date Kakashi.”

“Probably wise,” Kushina agrees. “Besides, no self-respecting gay man would get quite that giggly over Jiraiya's stupid books.”

“But…” Minato blinks at her. “He told me he reads them for the plot!”

“And you believed him? You're such a ditz, Pretty Boy! Why did they make you Hokage again?”

“Kushina! Don’t be mean!”

Genma laughs at them, but his eyes are brighter than they have been in a week, and Minato has to give himself a subtle pat on the back for providing a decent distraction. Sorrow doesn’t suit Genma, and to see him doubting himself is almost painful. He’s a good shinobi, and he has the potential to be great, but he tends to let bad memories weigh him down, and it’s hard to watch.

With that in mind, Minato remembers something he’s been wanting to bring up for a few days now. Having bodyguards is all well and good, but the problem is that Minato usually outstrips them, by virtue of both physical speed and his Hiraishin. He’s been turning over ideas, and the best solution he’s come up with is to give them an edge. Not all of them, but the ones—like Genma—who are strong and clever enough to grasp the concept.

Besides, he’s proud of his Flying Thunder God jutsu, proud of using it in ways even Tobirama never thought of. To be able to teach it to someone—well. He’s dreamed of teaching it to a little boy with his eyes and Kushina’s hair, or a girl with Kushina’s vivid smile. That’s for the future, though. For now, he’s more than happy to pass it on to the cleverer of his guards, and see how well they do with it.

“If you're interested in sealing,” he ventures casually, “how about learning the Hiraishin? I was thinking of showing you, Raidou, and Iwashi how to do it, so that you can keep up no matter where I disappear to. It would make your jobs easier, I think.”

The bright grin the suggestion earns him is gratifying. Brown eyes lit with enthusiasm, Genma leans back in his chair and answers, “For that, I’ll kiss your feet if you want me to, Hokage-sama. Really? You’ll teach it to us?”

Minato chuckles. “Of course. I think you’ll be good at it, Genma. And besides, it’ll be good practice for when I want to teach my own kids. If we have them,” he adds hurriedly, seeing the brow Kushina raises at him. “If. A very large if. And only if Kushina really, truly wants to.”

“Kushina wants at least another year of being able to go on missions before she has any spawn of yours,” Kushina says, but she mostly sounds amused. “I just know the kid’ll be a hellion.”

Genma looks back and forth between them, pointedly arching a brow, and Kushina scowls and flings a piece of carrot at him with her chopsticks. “Oh, shut up!”

The teenager just laughs, easy and warm, and Minato feels an answering thread of warmth in him. Maybe, if they have a son, Genma can be honorary uncle.

Minato gets the feeling Genma would be just about the greatest honorary uncle ever.

 

 

He comes to with the taste of ashes in his mouth, a subtle, creeping sense of wrongness burning through his veins, and knows before he even opens his eyes that something very bad has happened.

It doesn’t take the sight of the other three Hokages, two of whom he knows are long since dead, to confirm that.

The man before them is familiar, right down to his triumphant smirk, the light in his golden eyes. Orochimaru looks them over for a long moment, and then nods once, as though satisfied. He turns away, ignoring the Sandaime’s sharp-voiced demand for an explanation, and looks at the tall, broad man beside him.

“Well?” he asks silkily. “Any more miracles you find yourself in need of today, Jiraiya? Gold spun from straw? Diamonds made from ashes?”

Jiraiya's eyes are on Minato, and don’t waver. There's relief in his expression, a tremendous amount, and an underlying ache that is equal parts grief and gratitude. “Shut up, Orochimaru,” he orders, but it doesn’t hold the edge Minato expects. “This was your idea, so quit making it sound like I forced you.”

Orochimaru huffs haughtily, gathering himself up and turning away towards the surrounding trees. “Tell Uchiha we’re even,” he says sharply. “I want nothing more to do with your little war.”

Jiraiya half-turns to watch him go, and snorts softly. “Then why are you heading toward the battlefield?” he calls mockingly. “Lost your sense of direction, teme?”

The only answer is a menacing hiss before the Snake Sannin’s presence fades completely, and Jiraiya turns back, shaking his head.

“War?” Tobirama asks, crossing his arms over his chest. He studies his brother for a moment, eyes narrowed thoughtfully, and then says, “This is Edo Tensei, yes? Someone finished it?”

“Don’t ask me how,” Jiraiya heads him off, raising his hands helplessly. “Obscure, creepy jutsus Orochimaru’s specialty, not mine. No offense, Nidaime-sama. But yeah, there's a war on. One of Madara's minions forced Orochimaru’s apprentice to use the same jutsu on the mad Uchiha himself, so he’s back and trying to tear apart the Shinobi Alliance. His right hand turned on him, but it’s still not enough. Oro owed one of ours a debt, and decided to repay it by calling in you four as reinforcements.”

Minato looks down at his hands. There's no difference from when he was alive, not in the feel of his chakra or sensation of being alive, but…he’s not. He knows that very well, and the fact that he can feel the Kyuubi’s chakra seething inside of him just proves it.

“Well?” he asks, voice steadier and stronger than he expects it to be. “What are we waiting for? Konoha is in danger, and it’s our duty to protect it.”

Something heartbreaking flashes across Jiraiya's face, but he smiles. Smiles, reaches out, and claps Minato on the shoulder the way he always used to. It feels just like it used to, even, and Minato is unspeakably grateful.

“Right,” the Toad Sage say firmly. “Can't let your son have all the fun, right, Minato?”

That feels like getting his legs cut out from under him, and were Jiraiya's hand not on his shoulder, Minato would stagger. “Naruto?” he demands. “Naruto is out there?”

Jiraiya laughs. “You say that like he’d be anywhere else,” he chuckles, and waves them forward. “This way. Madara's got a bunch of clones fighting for him, so anyone green, that’s the enemy. And watch out—they’ve got Mokuton.”

The Shodaime makes a noise of great offense at this, and Tobirama rolls his eyes at him. “I will find Madara,” he says firmly, and takes one step away.

“Not without me!” Hashirama insists, latching on to his brother’s arm just before he vanishes in a flash of yellow light.

Sarutobi falls into step on Jiraiya's other side. “Then—Naruto is well?” he asks.

“The brat’s in perfect health, Sensei,” Jiraiya assures him, grinning. “And gods help everyone if he isn’t. That little nest of hellions is not one I’d want to cross.”

Minato blinks, confused. “Hellions?” he repeats, completely lost. “Nest? What are you talking about?”

Sarutobi and Jiraiya exchange glances, meaning it’s something they're both in on.

“Naruto got himself adopted,” Jiraiya says at length, something soft in his eyes. “I…think you’d approve, Minato.”

“As do I,” Sarutobi agrees, lips quirking. “It was…a very good match all around.”

Just as Minato opens his mouth to demand they cease being ambiguous and just tell him, there's a crash, a cry, and suddenly they're in the midst of a battle. The enemy is easy enough to tell, and Minato takes one half-second to register the kanji for shinobi marking the headbands of those fighting before he throws himself headlong into the fray.

 

 

For a war, it’s over relatively quickly.

The battle was half-won by the time Minato even reached the field, and given his speed, that’s saying something. Obito—Obito—is alive, a traitor but entirely repentant, dealt with by Kakashi and a resurrected Rin. Sarutobi routed the odd black clone creature that tried to take over Obito's body, and between Might Gai, the Shodaime, the Nidaime, Minato himself, an Uchiha boy, and Naruto—his son—Madara is soon overwhelmed. The rest of the Alliance takes on the pale green clones, and with the best of each country’s shinobi and the handful of jinchuuriki Minato can sense on the field, there's little trouble and no unexpected turns.

The last of the fighting is still winding down when Madara's body crumbles to ash for the final time, and Minato watches it with grim satisfaction before turning. He glances out at the battlefield, then back to where his son and the Uchiha are standing with their heads bent together. Naruto looks a little like him, a little like Kushina, and very, very strong. He’s grinning, all but glowing with their victory, and the Uchiha is smiling back, just faintly.

Then, as one, both teenagers turn to look at him. There hasn’t been a chance for more than a few words in passing, and Minato feels his breath catch in his throat as he stares unabashedly.

He’d always wanted a son, and to think that son grew up to become this person, this hero

He’s not entirely sure how to comprehend it.

A step, another, another, and then Naruto is right in front of him, still grinning, but it’s softer now. “Hey, Dad,” he says, impossibly warm and full of love, and Minato has to tell himself very, very firmly that he isn’t going to embarrass himself by crying in front of the son he’s only just met.

“Hello, Naruto,” he answers, and can't stop himself from reaching out, cupping the side of Naruto's face and then taking one more step to wrap his arms around his child. An adult, a shinobi, a jounin, yes—but still his. Still his flesh and blood, and so infinitely dear.

Strong arms hug him back just as tight for a long moment, and then Naruto pulls back. “You look just like the pictures,” he says, eyes tracing over Minato's features—features they share, now that Minato is looking.

“You have pictures?” is all Minato can manage. He hadn’t thought—but maybe Mikoto or one of their friends had some and passed them on. Minato really hopes so.

With a laugh, Naruto leans in and hugs him again. “Of course!” he says cheerfully. “You really think—”

But before he can finish, there's a rush of chakra, sharp and deadly. Naruto and Minato both spin, already reaching for jutsus. There's no time to finish, though. A man with blue skin and shark-like features lunges at them, filed teeth bared in a malicious grin, and—

Something small and silver flies past Minato's nose, making him jerk back. Half a second later, yellow light flares, and a figure is suddenly right in front of the charging ninja, three senbon driving deep into vulnerable veins. The attacker gives a strangled cry and swipes with his oversized sword, but the other man dodges and launches into a familiar taijutsu sequence. Turn, dip, slide back, kick—and when it connects, high and fast, it’s hard enough that they can hear the shark-man’s jawbone crack even from a distance.

Oh, Minato thinks, utterly floored.

But—

But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Naruto knows the Hiraishin, uses it just the way Minato does, and someone had to have taught him. Minato only ever showed three people, and…

I…think you’d approve, Jiraiya had said.

He does. If this is anything close to what he thinks it is, he really, really does.

“Genma!” Naruto cries, all but bolting forward as the shark-man crumples. “Are you okay?”

Shiranui Genma turns with a crooked smile on his lips, still all long limbs and easy calm, and huffs out an amused breath when Naruto slams right into him. “Oof! Well, I was fine until you decided to break my ribs, brat. Get off.”

The only response is a cheeky grin, and Naruto doesn’t let go. “What about everyone else? Are they okay too?”

Genma rolls his eyes, exasperated and fond. “You and Sasuke were the ones dealing with the superpowered madman,” he points out, but at Naruto's stubborn stare relents and adds with a sigh, “Yes, brat, everyone is fine. Kotetsu broke his arm, and Izumo's got a mild concussion, but they're okay. Lee took a bit of a beating, but Sakura is patching him up, and Tenten went to go browbeat Neji into letting a medic check him over. How about you two?”

“Fine,” Naruto reports, and jerks his thumb over his shoulder at where the Uchiha boy is waiting with his arms crossed. “Sasuke might be running a bit low on chakra, but that’s it.”

But Genma isn’t looking at Naruto. In turning to see Sasuke, his eyes caught Minato's and went wide. He’s frozen, as pale as if he’s seen a ghost, and Minato can't help but smile a little.

“Genma,” he says, stepping forward. A glance towards the shark-man proves what he already suspected: there's a senbon buried in the ground behind him, and at this angle, Minato can just make out the faint lines of a seal etched into the metal. “You—?”

A crooked smile, warm and a little proud. “Got it down. After a lot of practice,” he confirms wryly, taking a step forward. His eyes meet Minato's squarely, gentle brown and traced with equal parts grief and joy. “I…couldn’t disappoint you. Not again.”

It hurts, aches to hear that from this boy, a man now, who always tried so hard, who worked himself to the bone to keep up with shinobi twice his age. Who took in Minato's son after he died, who passed on pictures so Naruto wouldn’t grow up without knowing what he looked like. Whose job it was to give his life for Minato, and who clearly counts it as a failure, or something very like it, that he couldn’t.

“I think,” he says, and it takes work to keep his voice steady, “that out of all the people in Konoha, Genma, I have never been less disappointed in someone.”

 Genma's breath catches, eyes widening. Like it’s a surprise that Minato would be grateful to him for taking in Naruto, for clearly giving him the love of the parents he never knew. Minato shakes his head in disbelief, stepping forward across the space between them to drop his hands on Genma's shoulders and look him directly in the eye.

“Thank you,” he says, and puts all the force of his conviction into. “Genma, thank you. I always knew you were something special, but you have exceeded everything I ever hoped for. For Naruto's sake, and my own, thank you.”

“Genma makes the best mom ever,” Naruto confesses, flinging himself over Genma's back to hook his arms around the man’s neck with a cheeky grin. “We’ve got a house near the river, but we all used to squish into Genma's apartment until he gave up and got a bigger place. And he always makes our favorite foods on our birthdays, and—”

Finally, Minato registers just what pronoun he’s using and raises a hand to cut him off. “Wait,” he says, and Naruto blinks at him in surprise. The older blond turns a long stare on Genma, and asks deliberately, “I'm sensing that in this case, ‘we’ is referring to more than just the two of you. Genma, how many children so you have?”

Genma freezes, and the expression on his face turns vaguely hunted. “Er…”

“I don’t know,” the Uchiha boy puts in, having drifted close enough to hear. He lifts a brow, looking amused. “Are we counting Gaara?”

“What about Sakura?” Naruto wonders, and Minato would totally buy that innocent expression, except he once saw Kushina wear it right before she tripped him into a mud pit. “And Tenten and Neji? Do they count? They do spend a lot of time at the house, and sleep there a lot, and—”

“You are brats,” Genma huffs, reaching back to poke Naruto in the side. “Shut up, okay? It’s not my fault you're all so damn pathetic.”

The Uchiha snorts. “If I edited your Bingo Book entry to show your actual weaknesses, no one would ever take you seriously,” he says dryly, ignoring the narrow look he gets.

“Or they’d all just throw orphans at him and run,” Naruto chimes in. He grins at Minato over Genma's shoulder. “You should meet everybody, Dad!”

Genma sighs, pressing a hand over his face. “Off, brat,” he orders, though it comes out muffled. “I need to go find Gai.”

“Just…avoid that area,” the Uchiha warns him, waving a hand at where Minato's former students are grouped on the ground, Kakashi practically cuddling a rather shell-shocked Obito as Rin scolds them both. “It’s…” He grimaces. “Very gooey.”

“Emotions are not actually going to give you hives, Sasuke,” Genma informs him dryly, pulling away from Naruto. He ruffles blond hair, then black, ignoring the twin offended protests it earns him, and raises a hand as he steps away. “Shoo. Kotetsu and Izumo could use some company, and I want to make sure Gai's in one piece.”

“Gai is indestructible,” Naruto points out. “Even Madara was scared of him.”

Genma shoots him a wicked grin. “Well, then maybe I just want to kiss my boyfriend,” he counters archly. “He does this thing with his—”

Instant loud cries of denial drown out the rest of that sentence as both boys clap their hands over their ears.

Minato takes a second to try and wrap his mind around that one, and after several failed attempts decides he’s better off just giving up. “Come on,” he tells the boys, smiling at them warmly. “I want to meet your family.”

The tips of Sasuke's ears flush slightly, while Naruto beams and grabs Minato and Sasuke's hands. “Come on,” he urges, dragging them both away. “I bet Kotetsu is driving the medics nuts already. We should help him.”

“Do you want Sakura to give you a concussion?” Sasuke demands. “Dobe, she really will kill you one of these days.”

“Sakura loves me,” Naruto denies cheerfully. “I'm like her little brother.”

“That won't stop her from punching you through a tree, idiot.”

Minato takes one look back at his former bodyguard to find Genma watching them with a smile gentler than any Minato has seen him wear before. There's life in his eyes, bright and certain, and when he catches Minato's gaze he calls, “I’ll meet you guys later,” then turns and takes a step. There's a flash of yellow light, and then he’s gone.

Minato stares at the spot where he was for one more moment, then smiles to himself and turns back to his son.

Absolutely, definitely someone special.