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The sound of pulling heaven down

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“I caught Iruka kissing Anko!” Kotetsu crows gleefully, all but falling out of his shoes as he toes them off and bounds into the main room.

Genma hums, not looking up from the paperwork spread out on the low table in front of him. “Are you sure it wasn’t the other way around?” he asks absently, because he’s met Anko. She’s a girl who knows what she wants, to say the least.

Kotetsu waves that off regally, flopping onto the couch next to him and sprawling out. “Does it matter?” he demands, enthusiasm unchecked. “I caught him behind the library with a girl. He’s not allowed to ever live this down.”

With a faint roll of his eyes, Genma pokes at wayward limbs with his pen until Kotetsu makes a wounded noise and rearranges himself in a slightly more polite pile. “I think you're forgetting all the times Iruka has caught you kissing Izumo,” the tokujo points out, raising a brow at his ward. “Or Izumo kissing you. It’s a natural thing, or do we need to have that talk again?”

Kotetsu goes brilliantly scarlet and waves his hands frantically, yelping, “No! No talks! Once was enough for ten lifetimes!”

Genma can't quite fight a grin. Resigning himself to Kotetsu's un-budging presence, he sets his paperwork aside and leans back in his seat, contemplating the teenager’s appearance in his apartment. “So why is this a thing?” he asks curiously, because he knows of at least five blind dates Kotetsu and Izumo have set up for Iruka. Iruka had shouted about each one, but grudgingly gone, because all three of his brats are completely hopeless when it comes to each other. And to him, he supposes.

(All of Konoha is aware that the reverse is already true.)

Kotetsu blinks at him, like it’s a stupid question, and then snorts. He pulls his legs up under him on the cushion, getting comfortable (Genma inwardly sighs, realizing that he’s not going to get any work done tonight), and leans forward to insist, “Because this is Iruka-chan. He’s fifteen and he’s never showed an interest in girls or dating or anything.”

“And you're seventeen and you’ve only ever showed an interest in Izumo,” Genma counters, reaching out to catch Kotetsu around the neck and then dragging him into a headlock. The boy protests—loudly—but doesn’t fight it, and Genma scuffs at his hair fondly before releasing him. “Don’t make a big deal out of this, brat. It’s a good thing, right? And maybe Iruka will be a stabilizing influence on Anko. She could use someone sensible, I think.”

With an affronted glare, Kotetsu smooths his hair back down and slumps against the arm of the couch with a sigh. “That makes it boring,” he whines. “Genma.”

“Kotetsu,” Genma answers, not bothering to hide the fact that he’s grinning again. Kotetsu has always been a bit of an overdramatic airhead, for all that he’s actually reliable. When it comes to family especially. He tweaks Kotetsu's bandage-covered nose the way he used to when Kotetsu was twelve, then pushes to his feet and stretches out the kinks in his muscles from too many hours spent writing up his mission report. “Izumo back from his courier run yet?”

Kotetsu scowls at him, rubbing his nose, and shakes his head. “Not until tomorrow,” he says, the faintest hint of dejection in his voice. He and Izumo have never been good at handling separation. With a heavy, mostly theatrical sigh, he slumps further into the cushions, expression pulling into something dangerously close to a pout.

Genma watches him for a moment, warmth curling deep in his chest as he remembers an afternoon six years ago, coming home to his dusty apartment to find two boys hiding out in his bedroom. Kotetsu had still been in shock from losing his clan to the Kyuubi, and Genma had been mourning the Yondaime and his own fall from Hokage's bodyguard to assassin. Genma loves the others, too, of course, because Izumo and Iruka are his brats and nothing will ever change that, but Kotetsu was the first. Kotetsu gave him a reason to pull himself out of his nearly suicidal apathy and live again, and Genma will always be fiercely grateful for it.

“Come on,” he says softly, reaching out and offering Kotetsu a hand. “How about you indulge a bored tokujo with some company? I was thinking of getting some ramen. My treat.”

Kotetsu looks up with a smile and takes his hand, letting Genma pull him to his feet. “Well, I'm hardly about to turn down free food,” he says loftily, and ducks away when Genma grabs for him with a mock-offended huff. He bolts for the door, one step ahead of Genma, and he’s laughing again, all traces of loneliness vanished from his features.

With a grin of his own, Genma follows more sedately, not bothering to glance back at his silent apartment as he steps out into the afternoon sunlight.

 

 

There's an odd sort of hush lingering around the ramen stall, a strangeness in the way people pass it with a wide berth but turn their heads to glare at the interior. Half a block away, Genma frowns, rolling his senbon over his tongue and clicking it between his teeth, because the wary ones are almost entirely civilians. There's the odd shinobi, but for the most part, it’s the regular villagers who are fixing Ichiraku with expressions caught somewhere between disgust, anger, and outright betrayal.

“Genma?” Kotetsu asks curiously, glancing at the restaurant and then back at Genma. Clearly he sees it too.

“I don’t know, kid,” Genma murmurs as they get close enough to see the interior of the shop. There's only one person present beyond Teuchi, and that body is too small—

Ah, Genma thinks as they step inside, and his eyes alight on a shock of wild blond hair. No wonder the civilians are acting like that. The simple presence of the Kyuubi jinchuuriki would be enough to set them off, but to see Teuchi—who primarily serves shinobi, and has adopted their overall lack of prejudice towards the boy—serving him so easily, and even laughing with him…yeah, that’d twist their panties right up in bunches.

“Evening, Teuchi-san,” Genma calls, lifting a hand in a lazy wave as the shopkeeper looks up. The kid—Genma can't quite recall his name, though he feels like it’s on the tip of his tongue—looks up as well, eyes suddenly wary even though his smile stays bright and beaming. That’s a shinobi skill, emotional concealment to put most chuunin to shame, and it makes something tight and sympathetic twist in Genma's gut. The boy is five years old, almost to the day; he shouldn’t have to wear a mask like that.

“Shiranui-kun!” Teuchi answers cheerfully. “And…Kamizuki-kun, wasn’t it?”

Kotetsu bristles. “I'm Kotetsu,” he protests, all bluster and ego. “Hagane Kotetsu!”

Judging by the grin on Teuchi’s face, he knows that very well, but he raises his hands in surrender. “Sorry, sorry, Hagane-kun, I can never tell, what with the way you're both glued to each other’s sides all the time. Forgive an old man his awful memory, hm?”

Kotetsu mutters something uncomplimentary and offended, but slinks over to take a seat at the counter. He casts one half-glance at the jinchuuriki, just barely managing to keep it covert, and pulls himself onto a stool four down from the kid.

Genma doesn’t hesitate. Jailor for the Kyuubi or not, outcast or not, this is Minato's son, and the Yondaime is probably turning in his grave enough as it is already, given his son’s treatment by the rest of the village. As his former bodyguard, as someone who considered the Yondaime the next best thing to a heroic and brilliant older brother, Genma sure as hell isn’t going to add to that. He takes a seat right next to boy, as naturally as he’s able to, and pretends not to see the nearly alarmed look it earns him.

There's a light of approval in Teuchi’s eyes as he comes over, wiping off his hands on a rag. “Your usual, Shiranui-kun?” he asks, giving the blonde boy a reassuring smile when the kid glances nervously at him.

“Hmm. No, I think I'm in the mood for something different today.” Genma clicks his senbon against his teeth, studying the menu, and then glances down at his companion. The sight of wide, sky-blue eyes so very much like Minato's studying him in return feels a little like a punch in the gut. “What would you recommend, kid?”

It hurts something, somewhere deep inside of Genma, to see the way the kid glances around, looking for whoever else Genma could be addressing. Genma isn’t one to lose his temper easily—too laidback, if anything, is what he hears more often than not—but this…this is almost enough to make him. Because the kid is the spitting image of Minato, right down to the bright smile he flashes Genma once he realizes he’s really being addressed, and how can anyone who claims to have loved the Yondaime look at him and not see that?

Willful blindness must be the only answer, Genma thinks a little grimly, though he doesn’t let it show on his face. Willful blindness and an inner acknowledgement of just how furious Minato would be, to see them treating his son like this.

But the boy is grinning now, wide and impossibly brilliant, something like hope kindling in his blue eyes. “I like the tonkotsu!” he says enthusiastically. “And the Shiro, and the Shōyu, and the Sapporo—”

Genma laughs and, entirely on instinct, reaches over and ruffles the spiky blond hair. It’s a habit, after so many years taking care of three rambunctious boys with a whole host of baggage and enough curiosity to kill them each ten times over. If Genma weren’t quite as easygoing as he is, he’d have drowned either them or himself—or possibly both—a long time ago. So he’s learned to take everything from sugar-fueled babbling to village-wide prank wars with a chuckle and a hair-ruffle. Enthusiasm for ramen is nothing compared to that.

But the kid falls silent so abruptly that it’s like Genma slapped him instead, and he stares up at Genma with uncomprehending shock written across his features.

It hurts. It aches, that Minato's son could be so unused to physical affection.

But no more. No more. It’s not a decision, not a question—Genma's buried his head in the sand long enough where the Kyuubi jinchuuriki—where Minato's son is concerned. He loved Minato so much that it broke something in him when he died, shattered him into pieces that drew blood each time he attempted to reassemble them until Kotetsu and Izumo and Iruka came along and helped him. How can some of that not transfer to his son? It’s not as though the kid is at fault for Minato's death. He’s a victim of circumstance, and Genma understands what that’s like well enough.

“Tonkotsu ramen for me and my friend here, please, Teuchi-san,” Genma says, looking up to meet the cook’s warm eyes. “Kotetsu? Know what you want?”

Kotetsu's dark eyes flicker from Genma to the boy and back again, almost unreadable. But Genma's known him since he was twelve, and he can see wariness fading into understanding and then realization. He’s a good kid with a solid head on his shoulders, flighty tendencies aside, and though it’s a relief, it’s not a surprise when he gives Minato's son a grin of his own and chimes in, “Well, if you're recommending the Sapporo, I guess I’ll have to try that. Sounds good.”

Genma gives his ward a soft, private smile that makes Kotetsu flush proudly and look down. Yeah, Kotetsu's got his head on right. The Kyuubi killed his whole clan, wiped them out and left only Kotetsu standing in the rubble, and while it wouldn’t be right, Kotetsu would certainly have reason enough to hate the Kyuubi’s jailor. But he doesn’t, and Genma can't say he’s ever been prouder of him. He reaches out and tweaks an ear, ignoring Kotetsu's mock-offended protest, and then looks back at the little blond boy.

“Shiranui Genma, tokubetsu jounin,” he introduces himself with a smile. “And the brat with the bandages is Hagane Kotetsu.”

That gets him another wide-eyed look, but it’s excited this time, and the kid almost falls out of his chair from enthusiasm as he answers brightly, “I'm Uzumaki Naruto, and I'm gonna be Hokage someday!”

Genma chuckles, pulling his senbon out of his mouth and giving the boy a lazy salute, but it’s hard to ignore the pang of grief he feels that Naruto isn’t carrying his father’s name. Kushina was great, and always a blast to be around, but Minato was…special. Like a star that had touched down to earth, just to make everyone’s world a little brighter. “Nice to meet you, Naruto-kun,” he says. “Hokage, huh? Maybe I’ll be your bodyguard, then. I've been getting bored running routine missions. Be nice to work on the Guard Platoon again.”

Naruto's eyes are wide with wonder, and he leans forward so far he almost falls off his stool again. “You're a bodyguard for the Hokage?” he demands.

“Well, I was.” Genma's smile turns a little crooked, and he prays the boy won't notice. It’s still…difficult, talking about Minato. Because it was his job to keep the Hokage alive, his job to save him, and he failed. They all failed, and maybe it’s a Hokage's duty to give his life for the village, but it’s his bodyguards’ job to make sure he never has to make that choice. Raidou can say that they didn’t fail all he wants, but in Genma's mind they did. And Konoha lost its brightest star because of that. “Not the Sandaime, but his successor. Namikaze-sama.”

Those blue eyes get even wider, enthusiasm spilling over onto whisker-marked cheeks as Naruto starts to grin. Before he can respond, though, Kotetsu darts around Genma and hops onto the stool on the boy’s other side. “Genma is an amazing guard,” he confesses in a stage whisper, leaning in close and cupping a hand around his mouth theatrically. “Did you know he made tokujo when he was fourteen? And the Yondaime himself asked him to be on his Guard Platoon when he was fifteen. The Yondaime even taught him how to do the Flying Thunder God Technique. No one else in all of Konoha can do it. You definitely want him watching your back when you're Hokage.”

If Naruto's eyes get any bigger, they're going to fall out of his head, Genma notes with some amusement, and levels his ward with a speaking look. “No one outside of the other bodyguards,” he reminds Kotetsu pointedly. “And we all have to work together to do it.”

Kotetsu waves that off. “I'm sure you could do it alone if you practiced more,” he dismisses, because he’s always had a ridiculous amount of confidence in those he loves. It’s endearing, most of the time. “After all, you're of the fastest ANBU beside Hatake, and the best assassin, period, and—”

Genma sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose. “Kotetsu. We have secret identities and wear masks for a reason. Stop blurting it out in the middle of the village where anyone could be listening.”

“ANBU?” Naruto repeats, bouncing on his stool. “You're ANBU! Can you teach me a jutsu? Can you teach me something cool? Please?”

Those puppy-dog eyes might be Minato's summer-sky-blue, but the look in them is all Kushina trying to get her way. Genma grins a little, rolling his senbon over his tongue. “Maybe,” he allows, giving the kid a quick once-over. His chakra levels are insane, but that’s likely to be expected, given both who his parents are and what he’s got trapped inside him. And…he’s Minato's son, Kushina’s son. They were both geniuses in their own way, and if Naruto didn’t inherit at least a bit of that, Genma will eat his left sandal. Training someone like that, even just in the basics—well, Genma's always liked the teaching part of raising three shinobi hopefuls. He can't imagine he’d hate it with a slightly younger kid.

“Finish your ramen first, Naruto-kun,” Teuchi chimes in, setting a bowl down in front of each of them with a warm smile.

Naruto cheers and all but leaps for his bowl, exactly as Kushina used to do. Genma laughs like it’s been startled out of him, and when he glances up Kotetsu is grinning mischievously at him.

“So this is how it happened with us?” he asks cheerfully, snapping his chopsticks apart and reaching for his bowl.

Genma rolls his eyes at the brat and reaches over Naruto's head to rap his knuckles against Kotetsu's skull. “With you and Izumo, I seem to recall a lot more breaking and entering,” he answers dryly, but Kotetsu just beams at him unabashedly.

“I think that’s mostly balanced out by the…” Kotetsu trails off meaningfully. And just in case Genma doesn’t understand that, he helpfully makes shadow puppets of something with a big mouth. Genma's going to assume he’s not referring to himself.

With a snort, he leans over and ruffles Kotetsu's hair, then picks up his own chopsticks. Naruto is already halfway done with his, and Genma catches Teuchi’s eye and nods at the boy’s bowl, getting a laughing acknowledgement as the cook turns back to his kitchen. Genma just smiles, because maybe he’s a sucker, but personally he like to think of it as being a decent person. And…he’s turned his face away for too long. Five years too long, and it makes something pathetic and guilty curl in his stomach.

Minato would be disappointed in them. In Konoha as a whole, and probably those closest to him in particular. Genma isn’t just giving himself airs thinking that he was close to the Yondaime; he might have been a bodyguard, but he was also a friend. And a friend shouldn’t have left Minato's orphaned son to grow up with only fear and mistrust from those around him.

Besides, left like this, no one will ever tell Naruto about his father, and that just fucking grates.

Genma isn’t an idiot. Knowledge is dangerous, and the Yellow Flash has a whole host of enemies who would be quite content to take their revenge on any blood relative that popped up. But knowledge is also power, and Genma wonders what it will bring, having Konoha's jinchuuriki grow up with a legacy like Minato's to aspire to. Naruto is the son of two of Konoha's most powerful shinobi. He’s got potential the likes of which most kids can only dream of, and it would be an actual crime to let that go to waste.

Maybe the Sandaime won't let Genma tell Naruto about his parentage outright, but if that ends up being the case, Genma is awesome at hints. He will hint himself blue in the face, if he has to, in order to make sure Naruto grows up knowing he had a mother and father who loved him desperately.

Come to think of it, he’s pretty sure he’s got a few pictures of the Yondaime as a kid, kept solely for blackmail purposes when Minato was alive and then for Genma’s inability to throw them out afterward. Maybe he can set a few of those out in his apartment for Naruto to find, and then oh-so-casually comment on the eerie resemblance? Just to start the gears turning.

Would ‘Wow, you could be father and son’ be too blatant? Hmm.

“Here you are,” Teuchi says cheerfully, setting another bowl next to Naruto's newly-emptied one and gathering up the used dish. “One more tonkotsu.”

Naruto goes stiff in a way that reads as desperate more than anything, and glances first at Kotetsu, who’s still stuffing his face, and then at Genma. Genma meets that wide-eyed gaze with a smile, and reaches out to push the bowl closer. “Eat up, kid,” he orders, and pretends not to see the way Naruto's whole face goes slack with surprise. “If I'm going to be teaching you some fancy ANBU moves, you’ll need your strength.”

That’s joy, pure and unadulterated, with Minato's smile to give it form and Kushina’s eager delight in his eyes. “You're going to teach me?” Naruto demands, and it’s somewhere between incredulous and overwhelmed. Genma just kind of wants to punch someone in the face for making actual human interaction something Naruto can't simply take for granted.

“Yeah,” he says, and it comes out softer than he means it to. “I think me and Kotetsu can handle starting our future Hokage's shinobi education. Right, brat?”

Knowing that Genma's talking about him, Kotetsu makes an affirmative noise around his mouthful of noodles. He swallows quickly, nearly choking himself, coughs, and then says brightly, “You bet! Genma's really good with senbon and taijutsu, and I'm brilliant with genjutsu—”

“And so humble, too,” Genma puts in, always amused by his ridiculous ward. Sometimes it’s hard to believe he survived raising the brat with as much of his sanity intact as he did.

With the ease of five years’ practice, Kotetsu ignores him and steamrolls on. “—and with bladed weapons. Oh! And when Izumo gets back he can teach you all about recon and intelligence and strategy, since that stuff’s important even if it’s kinda boring.”

Naruto's looking a little dazed, but still eager. He grabs the ramen and starts downing it like he’s on a mission. It makes Genma laugh, and that feels…good. He hasn’t been depressed, really, but October is always a bit of a difficult time, both for the village and himself. But it’s the first day of November, the skies are clear, and Genma feels like something inside him has settled, strengthened. He’s come to a decision, the only one he can live with, and come tempests, war, or hell itself, he won't be swayed.

Genma turns back to his own meal, finishing off the last few bits of vegetables, and then tugs out his wallet and drops enough ryos to cover their food on the counter. Kotetsu is already done, leaning over Naruto's shoulder and talking excitedly in a low voice, hands waving as the kid laughs. Carefully, Genma doesn’t listen in; he’s had enough experience with that particular expression Kotetsu's wearing to know that it won't do his mental health any good. Instead, he casts his mind back to the first year at the Academy, which Naruto must have just started, and tries to remember what he was learning.

Nothing interesting, he can recall that much. History and basic taijutsu, math and language, a couple of the more easily understandable regulations and the shinobi hierarchy. The first year tends to be groundwork for everything that comes later, and while that’s great it’s also extremely boring. No wonder Naruto is champing at the bit to learn something ‘cool’.

And…normally it would be years until he could. Two at least, until the Academy starts on chakra theory and basic weapons training. But given the chakra levels Naruto already has, a head start can only do him good. That way he’ll be able to adjust when his reserves start getting even larger. Best to teach him the basics of control now, too, while he’s got levels low enough that Genma can still comprehend them. Genma isn’t weak, by any stretch of the imagination—the only reason he hasn’t made full jounin is that he doesn’t need to, and it’s just more paperwork if he does. But he’s definitely not a jinchuuriki, and he didn’t have an Uzumaki for a mother, either.

So chakra control, framed as something cool. That’s the best place to start.

“Come on, you two,” he says, rising to his feet and giving Teuchi a quick smile and wave farewell. “We can go to Training Ground Nine. Gai's on a mission, so it should be empty right now.”

He pretends not to see the look of sheer relief on Kotetsu's face, which replaces the horror that appeared when Genma mentioned the training ground. After five years of even sporadic training with the taijutsu master, Kotetsu's gained a healthy respect of anything to do with Gai and exercise. And by “healthy respect”, Genma mostly means “gut-wrenching terror”. He never used the promise of boot camp with Gai as an empty threat, after all.

Kotetsu catches the amused grin Genma fails to hide and gives him a poisonous look, then swoops in and scoops Naruto right off his feet, tossing the five-year-old onto his back with an overwrought grunt of effort. “Yeah!” he cheers, bouncing towards the doorway. “Let’s go get our future Hokage started!”

Naruto is crowing with laughter, clinging to his shoulders, and Genma follows them with a soft smile of his own, tucking his senbon into his mouth and then sliding his hands into his pockets. Another loud whoop makes him chuckle as Kotetsu careens down the street, then grips Naruto tighter and leaps up to the rooftops in one long bound. Naruto cheers too, raising his fists in the air like it’s a victory, and when he turns to look back at Genma it’s like getting punched in the gut again with the knowledge that this little boy is Minato's son. They looks so alike that it’s painful, right down to that bright grin Genma used to see when Minato finally got a new jutsu down. The rambunctious laughter is all Kushina, but the enthusiasm in his expression, the shape of his face, the color of his eyes—those are all Minato, and it’s incredible to see.

Yeah, Genma thinks, smiling to himself as he follows the two boys. Yeah, okay.

This’ll work.

 

 

“Well, that could have gone worse,” Kotetsu says cheerfully.

Genma huffs out a laugh, and reaches over to pluck a twig out of spiky black hair. Naruto has mastered the beginnings of tree-walking, but there were a couple of diving lunges in there to catch him the first few dozen times he tried it. “Yeah,” he agrees nevertheless, because it definitely could have. Normally, he’d start a little kid off with leaf exercises and such, but Naruto has Kushina’s attention span, and Genma is only so good at making attaching a leaf to your forehead cool. Walking up a tree trunk is better, if only because it’s more frustrating and harder to get right, and they both have the same result in the end.

Against his shoulder, a blond head shifts, curls closer, and stills. Genma smiles a little helplessly, looking down at the unconscious boy, and it feels like everything inside of him has turned warm and malleable. It’s that ridiculous incurable weakness that plagues him in the face of stray kittens and sad-looking kids, regardless of his occupation as an ANBU assassin.

It’s some sort of natural law that children are twice as heavy asleep as they are awake. Genma shifts Naruto a little, trying to ease his arm—there's a not-quite-fresh injury left over from his last mission that’s playing up, but he doesn’t want to wake the kid, not after all the effort and enthusiasm he put into training. Thankfully, Naruto hardly stirs, though he twists to tuck his head into the curve of Genma's neck a little more tightly. Genma strokes his free hand down Naruto's back, soothing, and looks up to catch Kotetsu watching him with a strange, almost wistful expression.

Reading the question in Genma's faintly arched brow, Kotetsu drifts a little closer, gently bumping their shoulders together. He plucks absently at the sleeve of Genma's free arm, a habit when he’s nervous and within touching distance that always makes Genma smile. There's a moment of silence as he gathers his thoughts, and then he says quietly, “You know, I hate what happened to my clan. I hate the Kyuubi and whoever turned it on the village. There were never a lot of us, but—they all died. And I was the only one left. Sometimes it felt like I was the only one in the entire world, I was so lonely, even with Izumo. And I'm still sad. I still hate it. But even so, sometimes I think that you're the most amazing thing to ever happen to the three of us, Genma.”

It feels like a fist around his heart, like there's not enough air to fill his lungs, and Genma has to close his eyes for a moment so he doesn’t just give in to the overwhelming rush of emotion that rises in him. He’s not Kotetsu's father, not his mother no matter what jokes Aoba likes to make. He’s just…a chance meeting, and a weakness to lost kids, and that’s all. But to hear that he’s changed something, made something better, even if only a little—that’s enough to outweigh every bit of blood on his hands, he thinks. He’s an assassin, a killer, but…to Kotetsu, Izumo, and Iruka, he’s something more.

Kotetsu's arm wraps around his until the brat is all but hanging off his elbow, and Genma automatically opens his mouth to complain, but then shuts it again and just sighs, though instead of aggravated it sounds tellingly fond. Kotetsu shoots him a cheeky grin, then snags a twig out of Genma's hair, since his bandana was retired to his pocket after the third time it nearly fell off while corralling Naruto.

“I think,” Kotetsu says archly, glancing at the sleeping boy with a smile, “that Naruto is definitely going to feel the same, once he’s old enough to appreciate it.” Another pause, and then he adds more softly, “You—you would make the best dad in the world. You know that, right?”

Genma looks down at the top of spiky black hair, the strong shoulders he watched grow from a child’s skinny frame to a young man’s, and chuckles. “Like I’d have time,” he says lightly, freeing his hand just enough to poke Kotetsu in the ribs. “The three of you give me enough grey hairs as it is. I don’t need any more.”

(You guys are enough, he doesn’t say. Kotetsu is smart enough to pick up on it anyway.)

“Besides,” Kotetsu adds judiciously, and Genma rolls his eyes, because he knows that particular tone very well. It tends to pop up whenever—

“If you were a dad already, it would be with Namiashi, and we’re all better off—”

“Brat,” Genma cuts him off disbelievingly, freeing his arm to wrap it around Kotetsu's neck. “I’ll remind you that I am male, thanks, without the ability to bear children, because that’s a female capacity. And besides, you need to get over this stupid thing about Raidou. He’s still my partner, even if—”

“Even if he dumped you to get married?” Kotetsu squints at him doubtfully. “And to that dumb blonde civilian, of all things.”

“Raidou is the head of his clan. He’s got—”

“Duties and responsibilities and blah blah blah.” Kotetsu waves that off. It’s not the first time they’ve had this argument, and Genma's fairly certain it won't be the last. He considers himself fairly stubborn, but really, he has nothing on Kotetsu when the brat gets stuck in a rut. “Still. He’s an asshole.”

Genma rolls his eyes. “He also happens to be my partner,” he reminds his ward. “And we really are better off as friends. So get over it, kid. It wasn’t forever. Not all relationships are. Most aren’t, actually. You and Izumo are pretty special, as far as things go.”

Kotetsu's grin is smug, and he wriggles out of Genma's chokehold to trot easily alongside him. “Well, yeah. I could have told you that,” he answers archly, and then snickers at the look Genma gives him before forging on. “But you were happy. We just want you to be that happy again.”

Genma rolls his eyes. “I was happy because I had three rambunctious brats to distract me from anything and everything,” he says blandly, finally giving in and shifting Naruto to his other arm. The muscles in his right are twinging warningly. “If you want to see me too busy to even rip my hair out again, move back in. But really, don’t.”

The expression on Kotetsu's face says he’s tempted anyway, even though Genma only just managed to kick him and Izumo into their own apartment. Iruka, two years younger and just as stubborn, is still firmly ensconced in the second bedroom, and doesn’t seem to have any intention of moving out.

Genma honestly can't say he minds. His apartment has been home to three loudmouthed, high-energy boys for the past five years. Just the lack of Kotetsu and Izumo has left it feeling empty; Genma can't quite imagine how it will be once Iruka moves out as well.

But maybe it won't be so bad, now. Naruto seems to get along well with Kotetsu, and if the way he’s clinging to Genma's vest is any indication, he doesn’t have a problem with the tokujo either. Genma will give it a few more days, just to make sure, but he’s made up his mind. He’s going to do everything in his power to see that Minato's son grows up with a family, no matter how piecemeal and eccentric a family it might be. There's a possibility that the Hokage will refuse his request on political grounds, but really, Genma is the best choice. He’s got no clan, no political power of his own, and he already has a reputation for taking in orphans. To top it off, everyone knows his connection to Minato, and it was very obvious how close to self-destructing he was after the Yondaime’s death. No one will question him taking in Minato's son, or even just a kid who looks vaguely like him.

And even if they do, Genma honestly doesn’t give a damn. He’ll fight for Naruto, and he’ll win.

“So,” Kotetsu ventures after a moment. When Genma glances over, his expression is vaguely wary and suspiciously resigned. “Any thoughts on how we’re going to break it to Iruka that we’ve got a new little brother?”

Genma winces, because he hadn’t thought of that. Kotetsu lost his entire clan, but he was older, and he had already had experience losing family to a shinobi’s way. Iruka was…more effected, to put it lightly. It’s likely Iruka won't take well to the Kyuubi jinchuuriki coming to live with them, if that’s what ends up happening. Genma has faith in his ability to see past the kid’s tenant, but…it might take a while. And it might be awkward until he manages it.

Still, awkward with a family will be a hundred times better for Naruto than blind hatred without any support whatsoever, and Genma trusts his own ability to play mediator.

Besides, if there's anything Iruka can understand and sympathize with, it’s needing a family.

“Why don’t you run ahead and warn him, if he’s back,” Genma suggests. “Order some takeout while you're at it. Whatever you want. Money’s in—”

“The red box lacquer in the cupboard,” Kotetsu finishes with a grin. “It’s almost like you're predictable or something, Genma.” Laughing, he dodges the swipe Genma aims at him, then tosses off a cheeky salute and bounds forward, disappearing over the rooftops at the end of the street.

Genma watches him go with a smile and a shake of his head, then glances down to find bright blue eyes watching him closely. “Hey,” he says softly. “It’s late, so I thought I’d just take you back to my place instead of the orphanage. That okay with you?”

Naruto nods sleepily, then yawns widely. “Can we train again tomorrow?” he mumbles, even as his eyes close again.

“Sure, kid,” Genma says gently, rubbing his back again. “We can do that. You’ll never get to be Hokage if you don’t keep up with your training.”

Naruto makes a noise that’s a sleepier version of his usual enthusiastic exclamation, not lifting his head from Genma's shoulder. “’M definitely gonna be Hokage,” he mutters. “Believe it.”

Genma looks down at blond hair and blue eyes, at resolve that’s already deep-seated and impossibly fierce, and smiles. He gently smooths back blond spikes, thinks of the youngest Hokage and his incredibly vivid wife. Thinks of Naruto himself, and whispers, “Yeah, kid. I do.”

 

 

As expected, Iruka is tense and wary with Naruto in the house, but he doesn’t hide himself away in his room or resort to nasty words or glances, and Genma is deeply grateful. There's pain in his eyes, a certain rigid stiffness that Genma recognizes from the bratty ten-year-old that tried to mow him down on the street, but—

But Iruka's best feature and greatest weakness is his big, soft heart. He’s cautious around Naruto, watching from a distance as the little boy carefully helps Kotetsu sharpen his kunai. But already it’s making him realize that Naruto is human, that he isn’t the same as the tailed beast inside of him. Genma watches the way his eyes darken, his face falls, how he curls his arms around himself and seems to shrink, and something inside him goes soft and sad and sympathetic. With one last glance at Naruto and Kotetsu, he takes Iruka's elbow and pulls him into the kitchen.

“Hey,” he says softly, although with the normal noise level of the two boisterous boys out in the main room he probably wouldn’t be overheard if he started shouting.

Iruka tries for a smile, though it falls far short of his usual. “I want to hate him,” he confesses in a tiny voice, shoulders slumping inward. “Genma, the demon fox killed my parents. I want to hate him for that. But he flinched when he saw me. What kind of demon does that?”

Genma hums thoughtfully, hopping up to sit on the edge of the counter. “A demon might not,” he says gently, tapping his fingers on the stone. “But for all that sealing away a bijuu is different than sealing away a box, I think the principle’s still the same. The sealing scroll never becomes the box; they're always separate. Just because the kid’s got a demon sleeping inside him doesn’t mean he is one.”

“But sealing a living being is different than doing it to an inanimate object,” Iruka counters. “Things could…bleed through. We’d never know.”

Genma considers that, because it’s a good point. He’s not an expert at sealing, beyond what drips and drabs Minato taught him on the fly, and for all he knows it’s a legitimate concern. But…

“I knew his parents,” he says softly, because while it’s not entirely a secret who Naruto is descended from, a lot of people aren’t aware. Kushina kept her pregnancy quiet by necessity. “That kid—he might as well be his dad’s clone as far as looks go, and he’s got a hell of a lot of his mother’s temperament in him too. He’s a good kid, Iruka. And if you want to look at it from a purely selfish standpoint, he’s this village’s jinchuuriki. Don’t you think it’s better to make the walking weapon with the twenty-story fox demon inside him like you?”

Iruka makes a soft noise, reluctantly amused but still grieving, and slips over to press himself up against Genma's side. Genma wraps an arm around him, pulls him close and kisses the top of his head, because he can understand why Iruka is feeling this way. He thinks that anyone could. Iruka loved his parents with everything in him, adored them, and they died. They were killed because someone chose to rip the Kyuubi out of Kushina and turn it on the village. And now the weapon that was responsible is in Genma's living room, trapped in the soul of a little boy. Nothing is clear about this situation, not to one who suffered so much.

Genma supposes it’s easier for him, even though he also lost people in the attack. Naruto is so very much Minato's son, and beyond that, Genma is a shinobi. He can differentiate between the weapon and the hand that wielded it, even if the weapon was malice and murder given form. It was still someone else who turned it on them, and that person is the one Genma holds responsible.

“I don’t want to think that way, like—like a mercenary, just in it for myself,” Iruka says, and his voice is stronger, clearer. He isn’t slumping quite so much anymore, even though he’s still tucked into Genma's side. “He—Naruto looks at you the way Kotetsu and I used to. Like—like walking through a storm, and all the doors around you are closed. And just when you're about to give up, there's…just one. One door standing open, and inside is so bright and warm and home, even if you never thought you’d have a home again.” He takes a breath, long and slow and exhaled the same way, and then lifts a hand to rub at his eyes before pushing himself upright.

Genma watches him, and though his heart feels tight again he doesn’t try to speak.

Iruka takes another breath, squares his shoulders, and lifts his chin. He gives Genma his bravest smile, then turns on his heel and marches back into the living room like it’s an A-rank mission. And then—

There's a squawk, a cry, and a flurry of footsteps. “Kotetsu, what are you doing? You can't teach him that! He’s five!”

Kotetsu yelps. “Ow ow ow ow! Iruka, that hurts, let go!”

“That means I'm doing it right.”

“Ow, get off!”

“No! Are you going to keep being stupid? Naruto, don’t listen to anything this idiot tells you! He’s—”

“Excuse you? Who’s the chuunin here and who is still a wimpy genin? Ow! Iruka!”

“Wimpy? Wimpy? You jerk, take that back or I swear, I will booby-trap every inch of your apartment!”

“Awesome, we’ve been looking for an excuse to move back in!” Another squawk, louder this time and definitely from Kotetsu. “Oi! Watch it! Ow! Naruto, save meeeee!”

“You are such a spineless coward, Kotetsu, asking a first year Academy student to save you! Aren’t you a chuunin? Show some pride—ow! Kotetsu, get off or I’ll—”

“Make me, you—”

“Argh—”

“Ow ow ow, Iruka, joints don’t bend like that—

“I bet I can make them—

Genma laughs, maybe a little despairingly, and pushes off the counter. When he pads into the main room, Kotetsu and Iruka are a (familiar) writhing ball of limbs and teeth and insults, and Naruto is laughing, watching them wrestle with an enthusiasm that says he’s about to launch himself on top of the pile. Before he can, Genma scoops him up, tossing the little boy over his shoulder like a sack of rice.

“Okay!” he says brightly. “Bath time and then bed time, Naruto. There's a futon in Iruka and Kotetsu's room that you can use, if that’s okay with you.”

“But I took a bath last night!” Naruto protests, wriggling like an eel to get away. “I'm not dirty!”

Genma snorts, scuffing bright blond hair and coming up with a handful of twigs to present as evidence. “The four hours we spent rolling around in the dirt would suggest otherwise,” he counters dryly, then gives in and resorts to the one thing that always worked with the other brats. “Come on. If you take a bath I’ll make you some hot chocolate before bed. How about that?”

Naruto's wiggling stops instantly as he crows his agreement, and Genma has to hide a grin of his own. Bribery always works wonders.

In the main room, something breaks with a ringing crash, and the fighting instantly stops. There's absolute silence for five horrified seconds, and then a flurry of desperate whispers and shushing, and a rush to clean up whatever it was that shattered. Genma honestly isn’t too worried—everything in his house has been broken at least once, it sometimes feels like, and he’s long since hidden anything of value in out-of-the-way closets.

“They're idiots, huh?” he murmurs to Naruto, who’s listening to the same thing he is. The kid snickers in agreement, still half-upside down over Genma's shoulder, and Genma shakes his head in amusement, kisses his quiet life goodbye, and heads for the bath with a chuckle.

Well. At least it won't be boring.

 

 

It’s a little after midnight when the door to Genma's bedroom slides open and quiet steps pad across the floor. Genma knows that chakra signature, so he doesn’t bother to react until fifty-eight kilograms of chuunin suddenly flops down on top of him. Then he grunts in annoyance, opening one eye to peer blearily up at his assailant.

“You're back,” he manages around the thickness of sleep in his throat, lifting a hand to rub at his eyes. “Any body parts missing that I should be aware of?”

“Nope,” Izumo says cheerfully, nudging Genma over into the cold half of the bed. He grumbles about it, but goes, and Izumo happily curls himself into the warm spot, tossing his hitai-ate onto the nightstand next to Genma's own. “All good. It was an easy run.” A pause, and then he says lightly, “So why does it seem like Kotetsu replaced me with a three-foot-tall blond version?”

It takes a second for the pieces to connect, and then Genma snorts. “They're sharing a bed? That’s cute.”

“Adorable,” Izumo agrees without hesitation. And then, because Izumo has always been the sharpest of the three, he says almost gently, “He looks a lot like those pictures you have. Of the Yondaime.”

Genma sighs, rolling onto his back to stare up at the dark ceiling. “Yeah,” he says wryly. “Yeah, he does, doesn’t he?”

With a hum that’s more agreement than inquiry, Izumo drapes himself over his stolen pillow, and then murmurs, already half-asleep, “You're gonna have to teach him his dad’s jutsu, then. The Yondaime ‘d want that, don’t you think?”

Genma closes his eyes, thinking of a flash of yellow light like the sun, warm blue eyes and a bold grin, and…smiles to himself. Just a little. Because yeah, he will have to, won't he? The Flying Thunder God technique was Minato's, for all that the Nidaime was the one to invent it. And Kotetsu was right with what he said earlier. Genma is one of only three people in the entire village who know how to perform it. Not even Minato's student, Hatake Kakashi, learned. Not even the Sannin Jiraiya.

If he doesn’t teach Naruto, no one will, and that’s entirely unacceptable.

It means he’s going to have to work his ass off, trying to get it down. It’s possible, he thinks, but he’s just never done it. There's been no pressing need. Konoha is at peace, and Genma has his own specialties. But…

Maybe it will be impossible. Genma certainly can't rival Senju Tobirama and Namikaze Minato when it comes to either genius or power levels, but he like to think of himself as solid. He’s not flashy, but he’s on the upper end of the spectrum where power is concerned. Technically, with enough refinement of his control, the Hiraishin technique is entirely doable.

Besides, it’s Naruto's legacy. It’s what Minato left to him, even if he never said it in so many words, and Genma will do anything in his power to honor his Hokage's unspoken request.

He chuckles to himself, twisting onto his side and running a fond hand over Izumo's tangled hair. It was always the coolest technique Minato knew, at least in Genma's eyes. If he can manage it by himself…well. He’s got a definite weakness for cool jutsus, just like most shinobi.

Izumo makes a sleepy, exasperated noise and bats his hand away. “Coo later,” he mumbles, the words all but eaten by the pillow he’s face-down in. “Sleep.”

Genma laughs quietly, tugs the blanket up a little higher over Izumo's shoulders, and settles back. He’ll start tomorrow, he thinks. The brats won't protest getting dragged to the training grounds too much, so long as Gai isn’t involved, and Naruto at least will be eager to keep learning something that puts him ahead of his year-mates.

For now, though, it’s midnight, and the silence is peaceful rather than echoing. If Genma listens, he imagines he can hear the soft susurration of four bodies breathing gently, and that’s enough to pull him down into sleep as well.