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Raising Naruto, A Reluctant Love Story

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Some older jounin are rounding up the younger ones, but Kakashi’s sensei is still out there somewhere, probably in the heart of the battle. Kakashi’s not about to be left out of this one, and amid the chaos, he avoids detection. He’s spent too many long months guarding Kushina, in preparation for this very night to arrive. He curses inwardly at the idea that he couldn’t be there, with her and Minato for the birth of their child, and wonders what could’ve possibly gone wrong to cause this. Either way, he’s not about to be shepherded away like an Academy student to be protected while other people fight the battle for the village.

The Nine-Tails screams in the distance, and Gai is scrambling behind him, keeping up with Kakashi’s frantic pace only by the merit of his ridiculous exercise regimen. “Please wait, my eternal rival,” he yells, but Kakashi doesn’t have time. That demon should be sealed into Kushina still, and since it's not, there's something terribly wrong. If Gai wants to follow him, he’s not going to stop him, but he’s also not going to wait up for him either. They run carelessly across the rooftops - Kakashi’s mask protects him from the smoke but shards of debris fly at them, stinging exposed skin when he can’t dodge it. He barely tries to, single-mindedly going towards the beast. That’s where his sensei will be, after all.

There are members of the Uchiha clan everywhere closer to bulk of the destruction, many with critical injuries. Kakashi pushes through them, going so far as to jump over bodies as he must. He somehow makes it to the front line, Gai at his heels, frantically throwing himself at the barrier Minato has placed around the main event. At the border of the barrier, Uchiha Mikoto is kneeling on the ground next to her husband, blood covering her clothes. She’s crying, “We couldn’t do anything.”

It’s too slow, not enough. Kakashi slams his fists against the barrier, helpless, and when it finally opens, when Minato finally falls, he rushes forward, pushing the Professor out of the way even to get to Minato and Kushina first, tears streaming down his face.

He can feel every heartbeat in every second, every gasping breath he takes behind his mask. People are yelling all around him, someone’s grabbing at his flak jacket, but Kushina smiles at him, blood smeared along her mouth, and she holds out the child. So small and red, just a little tuft of hair and a dark black seal, a vivid brand against his young skin. He doesn’t see Minato at all now. The world is blurring, everything is focused onto this moment, onto Kushina and the child in her hands.

"Kakashi," she says, and he holds out his hands to accept the small bundle.

"Kushina," he replies, choking on the word, everything unsaid, all of the months spent outside her window, following her. He barely registers another jounin steadying her, checking her pulse, calling for a medic ninja. Gai at his side, touching his elbow. The baby moves a little, and he looks down - there are scars across the child’s face like whisker marks and he feels something tear through his gut at the sight of them.

Tears glisten in Kushina’s eyes as she tries to smile at him, "Take care of him for me, Kakashi." She reaches out a hand again and Kakashi lets her pull him close, the child pressed between them, so warm and so small. "I know what you did, how you protected us," she whispers in his ear. And then, "His name is Naruto. Like the character in Jiraiya-sensei's book, you know?"

Her eyes close, hand falling from his shoulder, body relaxing back into the jounin who's holding her. The Professor is there, too, pressing a hand against her shoulder, trying to wake her. "Kushina," Kakashi says again, but she doesn't reply. He reaches out his own hand to brush her hair out of her face, but she’s so, so pale. The air catches in his throat. Sarutobi meets eyes with Kakashi, then, a heavy grief already settling between them. "Get the child out of here," he says, "Go to Minato's apartment. Protect the child at all costs."

"His name is Naruto," Kakashi says, steel in his voice, and Sarutobi gives him a long, knowing look, but Kakashi can hold his own against that gaze.

"Alright, protect Naruto at all costs then," Sarutobi says, resignation coloring his voice. And then time speeds up again, too quickly, and everything's a blur of activity. Gai is beside him though, still somehow, through all of that, and Kakashi realizes Gai has been there the whole time, eyes wide at the sight of the child in his arms. Gai reaches out a hand to place on Naruto’s stomach, and Kakashi’s vision narrows to the vivid lines of the seal under Gai’s palm. That’s where it is now then. The Nine-Tails. He stares at the seal for a moment too long before shaking himself and pulling Naruto closer, cradling him in his flak jacket as best as he can.

"Let's go," Kakashi says, and Gai nods, accepting the unspoken mission as a joint one between the two of them.

---

Minato-sensei’s house is dark and weirdly empty when they arrive. Gai holds onto a screaming Naruto, as Kakashi releases all of the traps. This part of the village survived the Nine-Tails attack, but most of the residents evacuated already, and the building feels abandoned. Kakashi tries the lightswitch, surprised to find the electricity working, and the bright light blinds him. Even lit up, the absence of Minato or Kushina is startling. He’s never been here without one or the other of them around. He stands in the middle of the room, at a loss for what to do next. Gai brushes past him, bumping him with an elbow.

“Let’s get this little guy cleaned up and check for injuries,” Gai says, voice firm and commanding, and Kakashi nods numbly, but his feet can’t move from this spot. The wheels are spinning in his mind now. He sees blood on his hands. The old blood and new blood. He realizes belatedly that he knows nothing about babies, or children in general. He sees Kushina’s smile, but blurred. His mask feels damp and confining suddenly, and he pulls it down, breathing in huge gasps of air. Gai says nothing further, taking Naruto into the other room, and Kakashi is thankful as he falls to his knees, unable to stand any longer. His father. His entire team. Obito. Rin. Minato-sensei… even Kushina. All gone now.

He doesn’t know how much time passes but his legs are numb when a warm bundle is pressed into his hands. He looks down, confused, at a sleeping baby wearing a frog night cap. At Naruto, he thinks, remembering, being pulled back into the present by this new life.

“How did you…?” He asks, voice hoarse, but Gai shushes him shaking his head. Kakashi just stares at the child in his arms, then. His sensei’s legacy. Kushina’s dying wish. The Nine-Tails impossibly sealed away in this tiny body. Minato’s last mission for Kakashi was to protect Kushina before Naruto’s birth, and Kushina’s new mission for Kakashi is Naruto himself. With everything he has, he is going to get this one right. Tears slide down Kakashi’s face, and he looks up to see Gai crying, too. Gai presses his hand against Kakashi’s shoulder, and Kakashi feels relieved that he’s not here alone tonight.