|How It All Began
Author: Lagadatte PM
Minato Namikaze was the legend of Konoha, the hero who died for his people and for his beliefs. What led to this sacrifice? What are the trials he had to face in his own time? A Minato and Kushina fanfic, following canonRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Minato N. & Kushina U. - Chapters: 16 - Words: 158,341 - Reviews: 239 - Favs: 203 - Follows: 217 - Updated: 03-28-13 - Published: 05-05-12 - id: 8089432
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: Hey guys, once again it's been awhile I suppose ^^; This time I have no valid excuse apart from one that I believe most of you have experienced: the attack of the writer's block. This chapter turned out to be very hard to write, as proven by the numerous times I rewrote different bits of it (mostly the last part). God only knows how many times I tweaked around with it, I lost count after the sixth time. No matter how much I worked on it, parts of it always seemed to be off and it felt like I am not doing justice to the actual characters… That being said, I do hope you enjoy the chapter nevertheless and I can only hope that I have managed to get characterization right at least somewhat!
Thank you once again for the lovely reviews so far, your support is really important for me! I am glad so many people are enjoying the story!
After the fast-paced last chapter, this one will seem rather slow, centered mostly around conversations. I will try to alternate between the two styles, so that you don't get bored. No, there is almost no mush here, Minato and Kushina meet for the first time after three years and a half, they won't start making out on minute five, but there is interaction finally! Besides, they're getting there ;)
About the beginning of the chapter: I have tried a new style of writing here, do leave your comments about it, I am curious if you guys would enjoy it or find it too weird for your taste. Since it's from the perspective of an unconscious person I figured that their perception of the world wouldn't be as straightforward as that of a conscious person. I hope it worked out well!
Ringing laughter. Rustling leaves. The whisper of the trees. A wind chime. The scent of cherry blossoms. Cicadas singing. A curtain of white petals all around. A swing. Blue eyes sparkling. Golden locks waving in the wind. A smile.
"Push higher, I want to fly."
Black wings and falling feathers. A scream. The gleam of metal and a clash. The tattered clothes of war. The blood. A blast and pain, and pain, and pain. A streak of red. A cry.
A fire – the rustling leaves were burning. A storm – the petals blown away. A fading light – the smile tarnished; the golden locks had scattered with the wind.
A splash. A dirty sewer. A metal cage. A fox. Red chakra and burning hatred. Despair. Darkness. Death.
Silence. Peace. Eternity.
"… hear me?"
A voice. The quiet shattered.
"…you hear me?"
A stab. Her chest was aching. A blow. Her limbs felt numb. A jab. Her side was burning. A cut. Her throat felt raw.
"…do you hear me?"
A bright blue light. The darkness faded. A gentle touch. A push.
A spark of chakra. The cold retreated. A golden flash. The sun.
"Kushina, do you hear me?"
"Kushina, do you hear me?" the blond man before him repeated for what felt the fifth time, his voice seemingly calm and collected. Sakumo was not fooled.
The jōnin had long learned how to read people's emotions, even if they were as expertly masked as Minato's.
Upon entering the medic's tent earlier and seeing Kushina lying on the floor, unconscious, pale and barely breathing, he had been much too aware of the blond man's reaction. Sakumo had seen how he had frozen in place, how his eyes had widened in alarm and horror, how the pain had twisted his features into a grimace. It had all lasted no more than a few seconds before the chūnin had steeled his emotions behind an expressionless mask, seasoned shinobi reflexes kicking in by themselves. Sakumo could recognise the sternness in his eyes and the way his teeth clenched tightly – Minato was suppressing everything in favour of professional objectivity. A clear head.
He had knelt next to her, placing a finger on the ground, piercing blue eyes fixed on the medic still healing her. Sakumo had heard the sharp intake of breath then, before his hands had pushed Dan's away, two fingers quickly checking her pulse. His hands had been steady, the movement mechanical, as if he had done this numerous times before. Dan hadn't protested, too tired and surprised to react. He had assumed that the boy was a medic ninja come to help. Sakumo was just about to voice his own objections, knowing all too well that Minato's skills in the area were poor, when the boy had started forming seals before his chest. With a final flick he had placed a hand gently on Kushina's chest, just below her collar bones, and a web of kanji had expanded below it, forming an intricate seal over her skin and bandages.
"W-what-" Sakumo had begun before seeing the blue light emanating from the chūnin's palm, slowly getting absorbed by the seal. Chakra, he knew right away, staring wide-eyed along with Dan.
That's when the boy had begun talking, calling out Kushina's name calmly and patiently, over and over again, his voice a bare murmur as his hand kept pouring chakra into the seal. His breathing soon became laboured, sweat trickling down his forehead as he grit his teeth, but didn't stop. Sakumo had no idea what he was doing, but if it helped Kushina he couldn't care less. His attention shifted to the girl and he knelt by her side also. Her quick, shallow breaths felt like a painful stab each time.
Hang in there, girl.
She didn't hear the mental support, her breathing becoming more of a rasp. His hand groped blindly for hers and he shivered, feeling cold, clammy skin under his touch. She's too weak, at this rate she…, he thought in horror, feeling the panic taking over. How was she dying, why? She had been conscious and communicative mere moments ago; they hadn't taken more than fifteen minutes to finish what was left of the battle before they had returned directly to her. How had her condition deteriorated so quickly, hadn't Dan healed her wounds?
He threw a desperate look at Minato. The boy looked intense, but confident, his whole countenance emanating strength and resolve. Something about him made Sakumo shiver. Was it the raw power that the boy had demonstrated earlier? Was it the fire burning in his eyes? Or was it the way he influenced people by his mere presence, the way that even now the firm conviction in his look was calming the white-haired man down, filling him with hope?
The change was small and he wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't been looking at Minato intently at the time – the boy's eyes suddenly relaxed, the edge disappearing from his strained posture. And then he smiled. It wasn't a real smile, more like a twitch, the corners of his lips turning up ever so slightly just before Kushina gasped, inhaling a deep breath and groaning in pain.
"Kushina, do you hear me?" Minato repeated again, through a hoarse voice.
There was a slight twitch in her fingers upon hearing his voice – it was all the reaction Minato needed. He nodded once and released the seal, sagging back with arms outstretched to support his weight. His breath came out in heavy huffs, as he threw his head back, face flushed, staring at the ceiling of the tent.
A pregnant silence followed, interrupted only by Minato's heavy breathing. Both jōnin were staring at him incredulously. A wince from Kushina made them snap back to the situation at hand and the blue-haired medic jumped into action, checking the girl's vitals and continuing healing her ribs. A quick warm look at Sakumo's direction told him everything he needed to know.
She would be alright. She would heal.
The jōnin's shoulders slumped with relief as he gave Kushina's hand a gentle squeeze.
"I didn't know you were skillful with medical ninjutsu, boy." Sakumo said quietly in a groggy voice.
The blond man straightened his back with a heavy sigh. Dark rings were visible under his eyes. With all the chakra he had spent during the battle, wasting so much now had taken a toll on him. The white-haired man didn't find it in him to feel bad for the boy – if it meant Kushina's life, any price was worth it. When he met Minato's eyes he knew that the chūnin was of the same opinion.
"I am not. It wasn't a medical ninjutsu at all."
The White Fang raised an eyebrow at him.
"I didn't think so either, but the results…" Dan spoke up quietly, still running a chakra-infused hand over her side. "What exactly did you do, Minato-kun?"
The boy stayed quiet for awhile. Sakumo didn't miss the painful look he stole at Kushina and he winced at the intensity of it. So he had been right. She had been close to death.
"Her problem were not the wounds, she recovers fast… but she was out of chakra, she was…" pain laced Minato's voice. His emotionless mask was cracking. "She was slipping away. I gave her some of my own chakra."
"Through a seal that I created. It allows the user to mould some of his chakra within another person's system, using their tenketsu as a receiver rather than a transmitter. However, it is not fully balanced yet, as you can see… The user spends as much chakra when using it as he is willing to give up. In other words, he moulds twice as much chakra as he is transferring." He said quietly and ran a hand through his hair.
Sakumo gaped at him. This man, this boy, created his own seal? A seal that complicated and powerful, on top of it all, despite being unfinished? What on Earth have you been teaching him, Jiraya?
"I know her chakra was depleted, but if she had wasted it on her last barrier she would have di-" Dan began, but quickly corrected himself as he saw the wince in both other men. "-I mean she would be gone before she even made it to my tent. She was unconscious at the time, how come her chakra levels dropped further?" the question wasn't really directed at anyone. The medic didn't expect them to know. Therefore Minato's answer surprised him.
"She kept subconsciously moulding chakra even when unconscious. I do not know the circumstances of it, but given that she is an Uzumaki I can suspect a seal of some sort…" here Minato paused and flashed a piercing gaze at Sakumo. The white-haired man stiffened. A knowing look. "…I can only guess she subconsciously kept pouring chakra into it, despite being close to death herself. With her chakra supply so low, the amounts she spent were greater than her own natural recovery rate, which must have been slowed down further by the wounds… At one point she wasted too much to sustain herself and she started slipping away. That's when I used my seal."
Sakumo winced, realizing just how close his student had been to death and how lucky they had been to make it in time. Even more so, to have a new addition to the team who seemed to be a Seal Master in the making, perceptive enough to react accordingly in time. He knew all too well what Minato was talking about. He had felt the spike in the Bijuu's chakra when he had joined Kushina on the battlefield. Coming so close to losing a friend had thrown her into an emotional mayhem, her raging feelings allowing for the Kyubi's chakra to leak through the seal and mix with her own. Kushina had held it together, suppressing the demon's power with her own, but her weakened state had further ruined the balance between the two chakras in her body. Sakumo could only imagine what happened after Dan had appeared by their side, taking Kushina and Kemuri away. Even unconscious, even close to death, Kushina had continued suppressing the weakening seal with her own limited chakra, pouring everything that she had in preventing a disaster. Even if it meant her death, she would go and take the Kyubi with her rather than let it take control and harm her friends.
Had the boy figured it out? Kushina's state was not common knowledge within the village and any further information was forbidden by the Hokage and the council, in an attempt to keep the identity of the Jinchuuriki hidden during such precarious times. The only one who could reveal anything on the matter willingly was Kushina herself, and Sakumo was sure that she had never ventured as far as telling Minato. Jiraya, despite being a hopeless slack-off, was actually a serious man, who respected the village's orders. He couldn't imagine the Sannin going against the Hokage's word and informing his student about the situation, not against Kushina's wishes. His look fell on the blond man again, feeling a new wave of awe upon him. He had always known Minato Namikaze to be intelligent and perceptive, but to be able to determine Kushina's situation in such a short time was down-right shocking. Then again, he had proven to be more than proficient with seals so far…
Dan was also observing the boy with a weary look.
"That's all well and good… But how did you know?" the medic nin asked quietly.
Despite being tired, Minato somehow still managed to give them his signature warm smile.
Here Sakumo's jaw dropped.
"I am in no means expert at it, nowhere near Jiraya-sensei's level. Actually you could say I am barely a beginner. I cannot use the natural energy at all, but I can feel it." And with that he tapped a forefinger in the ground. "For example, when I do this, I can feel chakra signatures through the energy in the ground in a radius around me." His eyes fell on Kushina again and the smile dropped from his face. "And right now, her chakra signature was fading at a rapid pace. And speaking of which, Dan-san, there is a man two tents down in the clearing whose chakra signature is frighteningly weak as well."
The medic nin nodded through an incredulous look.
"I… I will come back later, for now she is stable." He said quietly and stood to go.
"One moment, Dan-san." Minato's voice stopped him as the blond man stood up through a wince, his body still feeling strained after the amounts of chakra he had spent.
The boy quickly retrieved two scrolls from his chūnin vest and unrolled them in a swift move, tapping them with chakra-infused hands, releasing the seals. With a puff of smoke the tent floor filled with baskets of herbs, medicine, soldier pills, bandages, needles and other medical equipment.
"Special supply delivery from Tsunade-san, along with her good wishes for your health." Minato said through a warm smile and Sakumo could see the flush in Dan's face as the man thanked him with a slight bow.
It was amusing to watch, seeing the older man demonstrate such respect to the younger, much more inexperienced ninja before him. It was incredulous how quickly the young man before them had managed to stir such feelings of admiration and esteem. All of a sudden it seemed only natural to him, feeling once again that subtle aura of strength and confidence that the boy had demonstrated in the Hokage office. Even when exhausted, Minato Namikaze emanated unyielding tenacity of will that could inspire any man.
He sighed inwardly, watching the white-haired jōnin exit the tent grudgingly. If truth be told, as much as he admired Sakumo-sensei, the man's intense look had started to make him feel uncomfortable throughout the last hour. Minato hadn't expected anything less, already having guessed that the jōnin would be assigned with his evaluation and would be asked to report on Minato's progress. Nevertheless, the attention that he was receiving at times, along with the looks of what he could describe only as bewilderment, were disconcerting. He suspected that the jōnin's personal observations and more particularly his curiosity, were mixing with his professional interest in Minato's skill. Whichever the case the result was the same – a piercing, calculating gaze that seemed to follow his every movement and evaluate his every word. Therefore, he couldn't help but feel partially relieved when he saw the white-haired man leave the small tent in search for Hizashi Hyuga, who was the current leader of Squad 15 (or what was left of it).
With Minato's current weakened state, Sakumo had decided to give him some time to rest while he discussed the current situation and defense measures of the camp with the few remaining survivors. If their estimations were correct, the replacement squad should arrive by the following day at the earliest, at which time Sakumo and Minato would head back towards Konoha as escort for the injured of Squad 15. This gave plenty of time for Iwa to launch a second attack on their already weakened base and that would require his full strength and attention if they were to push the enemies back again.
It had been easy enough the first time, when his and Sakumo's intervention had been unexpected, with the Iwa shinobi thinking that their swift arrival wouldn't leave enough time for Konoha to send reinforcements. This, in addition to his unique fighting style, unseen before on the battlefield, made the battle much easier than it should have been as the Iwa nin scattered in panic and fear. Picking them off one by one after that had been child's play.
His stomach clenched at the thought of it and he tried to push the images away. He didn't think anyone could particularly enjoy killing, but he knew for a fact that the act was much more disturbing for him than it should be – he was a shinobi after all and that entitled death in every nine missions out of ten. If it wasn't someone else's death then it would be his; that's how the shinobi system had always operated – kill or be killed yourself. Somehow this standing had always seemed wrong to him. Maybe it was because of his own naivety, or because of his sensei's idealistic views of the world, but in time he had adopted a much more peaceful ideology than shinobi life permitted. Gradually he had learned how to lock his emotions away during missions and concentrate on what needed to be done – a mechanical state that cleared his head and steeled his heart. Even so memories remained and he couldn't help but feel a shudder run down his spine at the memory of his kunai sinking through fabric and flesh as if it was warm butter, dark-red blood spurting over his hand and clothes – again and again and again, as he attacked his confused enemies faster than any of them could see coming. It almost made them look helpless and him – a callous assassin upon an innocent prey.
Perhaps that is why he hadn't caught up with the last remaining men of the Iwa forces, letting them flee for their lives and return to the Tsuchikage with precious intel on their own squad. A humane decision, but a stupid one nevertheless. Now if a second attack came (although highly unlikely after the sudden shortage of people), the new reinforcements would be roughly aware of Minato's abilities – using the element of surprise would be out of the question, making things more complicated. Thankfully, he knew his attack was unique – he had created it himself – and not easy to figure out after such short observations, especially under the strain of battle. Whatever accounts the survivors gave, they were unlikely to be accurate. It didn't make a difference in any case – if more of them did arrive he'd face them all and kill again, despite hating it. If that is what it took to protect his village and the ones he loved then he would go through that hell times and times again. He'd bear the pain and end this war. He'd bring peace.
Minato shook his head, pushing the grim thoughts to the back of his mind, and turned towards the unconscious girl lying next to him. A quick touch to the dusty tent floor informed him of her even chakra signature and he sighed in relief. Colour was returning to her skin and her breathing had stabilized – her incredible recovery rate had already kicked in, making her injuries seem less threatening than they should have been. Now that her life was out of danger, Minato allowed himself to relax at her side, an involuntary smile springing to his lips as tired eyes fixed on his childhood friend's face. He hadn't noticed it before in all the panic, but Kushina had changed a lot throughout the last three and a half years and he couldn't say it was for the worse. Even in her dirtied, pale, blood-staked state, he couldn't deny that her features had become more elegant and feminine. Her face had lost the roundness of childhood, only to be replaced by a soft oval shape and high cheekbones – a look further complimented by full lips and eyes framed in thick, long lashes. All in all, Kushina the perpetual tomboy didn't look nearly as tomboyish as she had before. Even if her loud boisterous attitude had remained intact, it was hard to place it with the feminine features of the woman that lay beside him now.
His eyes fell on her fiery locks, tangled in a bloodied, dirty mess below her and his smile widened. Her hair had grown longer than before, most likely reaching to her thighs, and he could already imagine her running down the meadow of Field 3 with her mane spilling behind her in the wind. It had the same gorgeous rich colour to it, making it seem alive every time that the sun played with her locks. Despite the grime and sweat of the battle, the familiar subtle scent of cherry blossoms still clung to it, calling for nostalgic memories.
He reached a hand out tentatively, brushing a lock away from her face, and his cheeks grew warmer as his fingers lingered over her skin longer than necessary. The longer he looked at her, the harder it was to avert his eyes, taking in every little detail of that familiar and yet different face. Minato had never thought his friend unattractive; in fact he had always considered her to be pretty in an unconventional way. Right now however, looking at his sleeping friend with her fiery hair spread beneath her, he was very much aware of the undeniable fact that Kushina was, to put it mildly, beautiful. Every feature of her face, including the small scars on her jawline and temple, seemed to compliment her looks further, making his cheeks burn warmer with every second he spent gazing at her.
A part of his mind, the one that remembered Kushina's violent side, was telling him that this was highly inappropriate and that if she were to wake up right now he'd eat a well-deserved punch for staring so intently at a sleeping person. With difficulty he tore his gaze away, looking at the baskets with supplies and at the tent walls – at anything really – to keep himself distracted from the woman by his side. A distant memory of an innocent kiss on the cheek surfaced before his eyes and Minato realised with a groan that his heart-rate had increased, blood rushing to his face, making his sides feel even warmer. What was wrong with him? Why was he reacting so strongly to her presence? Was it because he was unprepared to see Kushina changed to such an extent in the little time he had spent away from her? That had to be it. The surprise had to be messing with his senses, intensifying his reactions to a tenfold. Because really, he had seen beautiful women before, Jiraya tended to surround himself with such wherever he went. If he had to be honest however, despite being comely, they had never caught his attention in any way. Maybe it was because their looks were a façade – a mask of paint and powder behind which they hid faces that could potentially be pretty on their own. A false image that was not unpleasant to look at, but did not impress. And here, now, before him lay a girl, who instead of being covered in make-up was whole in dirt, blood and grime and even so she looked so beautiful that it took his breath away. A delicate, natural beauty that no battle could hide – that is what Kushina possessed.
He wondered for a second if he would seem just as changed to her as she did to him. He didn't think he had grown up to look particularly different than he did three and a half years ago. Sure, he had grown taller and his face and body had lost much of the baby-fat associated with childhood, making his features leaner and more muscular, but that hadn't caused any drastic change in his outlook. He still looked quite ordinary, bright hair excluded. Or maybe he thought so, because he had seen his reflection most every day, growing accustomed to the changes gradually over time? Maybe he would seem different to her? He wasn't certain if that would be a good thing or not – Kushina had teased him, over and over again, for looking like a sissy flake. Maybe the added considerable difference in height might make her see him differently. He glanced at his sleeping friend, who had always been the most stubborn hot-headed person he had ever known, and he already had his answer: nope, definitely not.
With an irritated scowl he forced himself to look away again. What did it matter what he looked like to her? He knew all too well that Kushina's opinion of him wouldn't change if he looked different. She'd still see him as the dear friend from her childhood. In fact it was not those changes that he should be worried about at all. What if she had changed in character and ideology? What if she wasn't the same loud, funny, positive person from days past? He was all too aware of the way war and pain changed people. Would he care less about her if she was changed too? He already knew the answer to that too: no, he would not. The fact of the matter was that Kushina had become an irreplaceable part of his life. That is why he had crossed half the nation in less than two days, why he had dived into battle with no second thoughts about it, why he had slaughtered people in spite of himself and later used an unfinished seal that might have well cost him his life – all for her. For his friend. Of course it had been for his fellow Konoha shinobi and for his village too – Iwagakure was a dangerous enemy that was threatening everything that he held dear. Even so, he knew that the ferocity behind his actions had been far greater than the situation required. Because she had been there. Because she had been hurt. Because she was in danger. If Kushina had somehow become a cold malicious person in the past years then he would just have to drag her back to who she really was – if anyone could do it, it would be him.
He shook his head again. Such grim thoughts were irrelevant, he couldn't know until he actually spoke to her and dwelling on it certainly wouldn't change anything. Sakumo-sensei had said that she was dealing okay with the war after all. According to him she hadn't seen that much of it, having stayed mostly in Konoha, because…
His teeth clenched as he threw an intent look at where her stomach was supposed to be under the blankets. He could pull them away right now and make certain of his suspicions – he wasn't a seal master, but he knew enough of seals to recognise that particular type, regardless of the specifics of it. It would explain a lot of things. In fact, it made so much sense that he was almost certain of it, having felt for himself the irregular chakra signature that his friend possessed – at the time it had felt like there was a second chakra stream interfering with her own. If there could still be doubt about it, the clear malevolence and killing intent that spilled with that particular chakra had been proof enough. One look now and he would have his answers. His fingers twitched and his hand clenched in a fist. As much as he wanted to check, he knew this was the wrong way. If he was correct then this was something that Kushina had to tell him herself, in her own time. He would never forgive himself if he violated her boundaries in such a disrespectful way.
He had always had his suspicions, but he had never been so certain of their verity until now. For the first time since he started toying with the possibility a new question rose to his attention: what would he do if he was right?
The light sound of footsteps reached his ears before he could ponder over things further and Minato directed his attention to the tent entrance instead. The dark green cloth moved aside and a shaft of light outlined the dust flying calmly in the air. The face that appeared in the gap was unfamiliar, although he thought he might have seen the younger boy once or twice during Konoha missions. Whoever he was, the look on his face clearly indicated that he recognised Minato very well – he was looking at the chūnin before him through wide eyes with what could only be described as awe.
"Are you Minato Namikaze?"
Minato stood up slowly, ignoring the slight ache in his muscles as he did so. At least his legs had stopped trembling at the movement – the break, even if not very long, had allowed him to recover some of his strength.
"That would be me." He said through a tired smile.
"Hizashi-sama requests your presence, if you feel strong enough to join him at his pavilion, sir." the boy mumbled through, not taking his eyes off him.
Minato frowned at the sudden formality, unused to being addressed as 'sir', but he didn't comment on it. He nodded taking a three-pronged kunai out of his holster and laying it down beside Kushina. With a last glance at his friend he turned and followed the newcomer out of what had turned into the supply tent.
The camp didn't consist of many tents at all, as the number of survivors was drastically reduced after the last battle. A small meadow had provided all the space needed in the current situation with no more than ten tents dispersed irregularly in it. There were few people going around, but Minato could feel the presence of three more shinobi in between the surrounding foliage, not counting the chakra signatures of the injured men within the tents. The number wasn't enough for keeping an efficient watch over the pass and he realised through a scowl that the remaining able shinobi after the battle must be far less than he had initially conceived. This left the leader with the hard choice of either abandoning sentry of the pass and allowing efficient vigilance over the camp, or dispatching sentries to the borderline and leaving the injured at their own weakened defenses. As it seemed, Hizashi had chosen the first, relying on the improbability of a counter-attack so soon after Iwa's defeat. While Minato saw the wisdom of his decision, he couldn't help but wonder yet again whether the Tsuchikage could be trusted to play mildly in this case. He had killed his son after all. The old man had always seemed to be nothing if not vengeful.
"What's your name?" Minato asked quietly, looking at the boy next to him, who appeared to be stealing silent glances in his direction every now or then.
"U-Usaggi Mai, it is an honour, Namikaze-sama."
If Minato wasn't paying attention he might have tripped. As it was, he faltered in his step, eyebrows shooting up in surprise and confusion. Namikaze-sama? What on Earth? "I heard the tales, sir. You defeated the entire Iwa-army single-handedly; if it weren't for you we would have all…"
If Minato hadn't felt uncomfortable by being addressed with one of the highest honorifics within the shinobi system, being referred to as 'sir' again certainly made him feel even more self-conscious. He knew the reasons, of course, those men were grateful to him, but he had never imagined being treated with such reverence. It was unnerving.
"Please, 'san' would be enough." He said calmly, the smile never leaving his face. "And those tales would be highly exaggerated, Usaggi-kun. I was accompanied in battle by Sakumo Hatake, who did no less than me. Most importantly, before we arrived you and your comrades had already reduced the enemies' numbers significantly, despite the uneven odds. You are the real heroes of this battle, so the honour is all mine." He finished, inclining his head slightly.
The boy's eyes widened and he gaped at him openly.
"N-no, not at all, Namikaze-sama- I mean Namikaze-san…" he mumbled again and Minato chuckled before stopping close to the other end of the meadow.
"Thank you, Usaggi-kun, I can find my way from here." the blond man said softly, throwing a look at the nearest gray tent, slightly larger than the rest, marked as the leader's pavilion.
The boy nodded quickly, still eyeing him with disbelief, before jumping up in the nearest trees and joining the other sentries.
Hizashi's tent was more spacious than the others, but it didn't contain any more comforts, apart from a constructible desk, which was now heavy under the numerous scrolls, documents and maps spread over it. Sakumo and Hizashi were the only ones present, leaning over the papers as Minato entered, with the white-haired man pointing at a map and explaining something quietly. Their heads quickly snapped up at his presence, Sakumo looking concerned and Hizashi throwing a curious gaze at him. He knew that look all too well, having mastered it himself from an early age – the Hyuuga was studying him carefully, taking in all of the changes that Minato had gone through over the years. The blond man didn't cringe under the emotionless pale eyes, returning the testing gaze evenly. He had never been particularly close with Hizashi, but that wasn't unusual as the Hyuuga tended to keep to their own clan. Minato had always known that they weren't cold or disrespectful as many people would have described them, their ways were simply different – where people were emotional and outspoken, the Hyuuga clan members were always quiet and observant, steeling emotions behind expressionless masks. In a way Minato could relate to their views, as he adopted the same attitude many times, albeit subconsciously. He never took it to such extremes as the seemingly detached Hyuuga did, but he could understand them. Furthermore, he could read them - he had learned to recognise hidden emotions when he saw such. Hizashi Hyuuga might have seemed cold and unwelcoming in that moment, but the chūnin knew better and his opinion of the man was not tainted.
"Hizashi-san. Sakumo-sensei." Minato greeted first, as was expected of one with an inferior rank.
"Minato-san." The pale-eyed man echoed the greeting, gesturing for Minato to join them. "I heard from Sakumo-sensei that you were resting after exhausting a large amount of chakra for Kushina's recovery. I apologize for asking for your presence so soon, but there are a few things I would like to discuss with you."
"I have already recovered substantially, thank you for the concern. I am ready to take up any duties in help of Squad 15." Minato said through a serious look, approaching the table and throwing a glance at the detailed map of the Land of Fire.
Hizashi nodded curtly.
"That is good to hear, our position is weakened and any help is welcome… especially coming from you."
Minato raised an eyebrow at him, but didn't comment again.
"What's the situation?" he asked instead.
The Hyuuga heaved a sigh, shaking his head. "Not good at all I fear. We are down to thirteen men, counting you and Sakumo-sensei, four of whom are incapacitated and three are lightly injured, but are recovering as we speak. We lost twelve men on the battlefield and two more died of their injuries afterwards. And their number would have increased by one more if you hadn't helped Kushina in time, for which you have my gratitude." the honest worry in his voice was unusual, although not surprising.
Initially, Kushina had deeply disliked her teammate, finding it next to impossible to communicate with him. As far as Minato knew, the feeling had been mutual. Where she was loud and energetic, he was quiet and calm, where she was rash and boisterous, he was thoughtful and observant. They couldn't be more different, which is why, Minato realised now, they had been placed on the same team. They could influence each other moderately and learn how to accept differences. It was a system old as the world and it had always worked, as had happened in this case as well. With the years Kushina had learned how to tolerate Hizashi and their relationship had improved. Seemingly, they had become friends – a fact that was further proven by the honest gratitude in the man's words now.
Minato nodded through a scowl. He knew that he should be happy for the few people he had managed to save, but his heart still clenched when he thought of the nameless fourteen victims of today's battle, who hadn't been so fortunate. It was a heavy loss.
"They were good shinobi" he said through a dry voice. "They died honourably, protecting their village."
"And even more would have, if it weren't for you. Sandaime himself should be indebted to you, you saved his eldest in the nick of time."
Minato gave him a confused look before realization struck. The boy protecting Kushina must have been little Kemuri Sarutobi… not so little anymore. He scowled at the idea of having anyone indebted to him for doing what any human being would do – protect a child in danger.
"I weren't the only one fighting, Sakumo-sensei was-"
"Mostly covering for you." Sakumo interrupted, eyeing him with a weird look. "Do not try to put your accomplishment down, boy. My help in this battle was very little and I am confident that you would have won regardless, although it would have probably been more costing."
Hizashi nodded next to him.
"That's what I thought as well, after having observed parts of your unusual attack. It is thanks to you that Konoha prevailed. Your skills are more than impressive."
"Thank you, Hizashi-san, but in this case, the circumstances were in my favour. As General Kotetsu had predicted, the team chosen by the Tsuchikage comprised mainly of long-ranged attackers, who used their techniques both as offense and defense. They had grown arrogant in the easy distance they were keeping and that made them careless. In this case Hiraishin was the ideal counter-attack as it lets me slip past their defenses and attack head-on unexpectedly. It nullifies the distance factor immediately."
The black-haired man eyed him with a questioning look.
"Hiraishin? I don't think I've heard of this technique before…"
"I would have been surprised if it was otherwise…" Minato said through a nervous smile, one hand rubbing the back of his head absent-mindedly. "Hiraishin no Jutsu is a Fūin based technique that I invented about a year ago. It is a space-time jutsu that allows me to teleport myself and any person or object of my desire to a pre-marked location. I use specific type of seals as markers, or what I also call beacons, to which I can teleport instantly at any one time."
"I-Impossible" Hizashi stuttered, his emotionless mask slipping for once, giving way to a bewildered expression. "Teleportation jutsus do not exist, this is…"
"An S-class technique that will be of great importance for the war." Sakumo finished for him in a calmer manner, although his eyes betrayed the same level of surprise. "You were always one of the fastest shinobi in our village, even at your young age. When I saw you moving instantaneously I assumed you had developed your speed further, which was quite impressive in itself, but… to think you would invent a teleportation jutsu…"
Minato's radiant smile lit up his face.
"I had a good teacher."
Hizashi nodded next to him. "I suppose we shouldn't expect less from the student of one of the Legendary Sannin… This technique of yours might be exactly what we need right now. As I told you we are short on men, the camp defenses are weakened and the replacement Squad sent by Sandaime will not arrive until tomorrow. Judging by your battle earlier, I would assume those beacons that you speak of are your kunai?"
Minato nodded quickly before pulling a three-pronged kunai out of his holster.
"The seal wrapped around the handle allows me to teleport next to it at any given time, as long as it is within a certain distance from me. The farther away I try to teleport, the more taxing it is." And with that the blond-haired man threw the kunai casually at the other end of the tent. Before it could tear through the cloth, he had already reached out with his mind for the subtle speck of light that was the seal, feeling the familiar tug as he stepped through space and time, appearing instantly by the weapon and catching it in mid-flight. To the people present in the tent it might have happened within the blink of an eye – at one moment Minato was by the table and in the next he was fifteen feet away.
Sakumo slowly shook his head through a small smile as the chūnin made his way back to the center of the tent. A gleeful look had entered Hizashi's eyes.
"But how did you manage to teleport within their lines after they pulled back from your kunai?"
Minato smiled and tapped the inside of his elbow, indicating for the white-haired jōnin to do the same.
"What…" he began and fell silent, his eyes fixing on the black kanji nestled in between the folds of the blouse.
"Forgive my insolence, I should have asked before placing the seal on you, but given the circumstances I didn't have the chance. It was a precaution." Minato explained through a nervous smile. "It does the same as the one on my kunai – right now, if I wish, I can use you as a beacon and teleport next to you at will. Technically, upon touch I can place those seals anywhere, but it requires more chakra to hold them in place…"
"…so during the battle, instead of killing everyone you teleported next to, you placed seals on some of them to use them as markers and teleport behind enemy lines in case they figured out the kunai trick…" Sakumo finished for him with an incredulous look on his face. "Impressive, kid."
Minato's answering smile had a playful tint to it. "Hiraishin allows for a few such tricks."
"And how many such Fūin techniques have you created, boy?"
"A few. Most are simply improvements to other interesting seals."
Sakumo grinned in return before Hizashi cleared his throat, drawing their attention to more serious matters.
"Your technique, this Hiraishin no Jutsu, it can help us keep watch more efficiently. Have you recovered enough from your chakra loss to begin patrol?"
Minato nodded. "I will need a plan of the sentry routes and shifts taken up by the able shinobi. I can set up seals in the remaining key positions around the camp and the Pass and rotate sentry posts."
"That's a good plan, but don't spread yourself too thin, boy. We don't know when we'll need you in battle again." With that Sakumo paused and looked back at the maps with a thoughtful expression. "I assume that it would be too early to expect a second attack after our decisive victory, but we should stay alert nevertheless."
"From what I know of the Tsuchikage, I can say that he is a shrewd man and quite unpredictable. The loss of his son will shake him, he'll want my head on a golden platter and as soon as possible too."
By the stunned looks of his companions, Minato could only assume that the death of the Tsuchikage's descendant was news to them.
"The Jinton user?" Hizashi asked quietly through a scowl. "He was powerful, but I never expected…"
"Yes, he was OOŌnoki's eldest son and as such was taught how to use Jinton techniques. He would have been a very hard opponent, but I managed to catch him off-guard and weakened after using such a taxing technique twice. As it is, the Tsuchikage was very fond of him, he will be enraged… and will most likely respond accordingly."
None of the two jōnin asked him how he knew so much – they were both aware of the specifics of the mission for which Minato had accompanied Jiraya.
"I hadn't realised the kind of battle that had unfolded there… The eldest sons of the Kages of Fire and Earth, facing each other on the battlefield." Sakumo murmured quietly.
Fear was visible in Hizashi's eyes. "Kemuri-kun stood no chance."
"Yes, and that makes his actions even more worthy of respect. Minato is right, in this situation anything is possible. I stand by my words, do not overexert yourself, but do try to keep an eye on the Pass as well. You can speak to Kizashi Haruno about the current sentry system. He should be on watch here." and with that Sakumo tapped a finger at the map.
The blond-haired man nodded briefly before passing the kunai he had thrown earlier to Hizashi.
"The seal on the kunai alerts me when it flies. If you need me use it and I will teleport next to you as soon as possible."
Hizashi took the kunai gingerly, inspecting the seal.
"As expected, I don't understand a thing of it…" he murmured and Minato chuckled quietly at the disappointment in his voice.
"I placed one such kunai in Kushina's tent, if… if something happens…" the chūnin started quietly, eyeing Sakumo.
"You will know." The older jōnin promised through a frown.
"Thank you. With your permission, captain?"
Hizashi nodded once. "Dismissed."
A low buzzing sound reached Kushina's ears as her senses gradually opened to the world. She frowned at the disturbance, not wanting to leave the safe haven that had been sleep. Feeling again brought with it the dull ache of wounds and the numbing sensation of cold. Exhaustion still weighted heavy on her, shrouding her thoughts. After what felt as an immeasurable amount of time she determined that she was somewhere, lying down on her back. She took a deep breath and winced, feeling a stab of pain in her chest. Her broken ribs hadn't healed completely yet. Good, she thought warily, pain is good. It means that I am alive. Ignoring the now familiar burn, she inhaled deeply again, the act clearing her head further from the soft blanket of drowsiness.
The noises were getting louder, now suspiciously resembling low murmurs and Kushina strained her weakened senses to hear better. A part of her mind reminded her that her hearing had been impaired not too long ago. She frowned, trying to remember the last events prior to her injuries. Scrambled thoughts and images jumped through her mindscape, not making any sense. She could vaguely remember a battle and a blast, but her tired mind refused to piece the images together. She groaned, feeling the oncoming headache, and gave up her efforts for lost. What she clearly remembered without a doubt was that they were at war. The knowledge was so deeply embedded in her memory that no battle-wrecked state could make her forget that particular detail of her life. A stab of fear ran through her as she considered the possibility of having been somehow captured by the enemy and she tried to push the panic away. Her hands and feet were not bound and someone had gone through the effort of healing her wounds (judging by the receding pain) and of covering her in blankets – she was a precious container for a Bijuu, but even so she didn't believe that an enemy would go that far to make her feel comfortable. Logic dictated that she was with friends. Common sense dictated that she should make sure.
Dark purple eyes slowly opened to the world, blinking in confusion at the surrounding darkness. Kushina scowled. Was she still asleep? An involuntary shudder ran through her as she considered the possibility of being blind. Her mind quickly discarded it as she registered the presence of a faint light from an unknown source, somewhere to her left, far off in the distance. Fire ran through her muscles as she lifted a shaky hand before her face, limbs feeling heavy and unresponsive. She recognised the familiar sensation immediately – chakra exhaustion. She had pushed herself too far yet again. Her eyes carefully focused on the dark outline of her own fingers and she felt relief seep through her – she could see.
With a groan she placed both arms palm-down at her sides and pushed herself up, ignoring the burning sensation that came with the movement. A wave of dizziness crashed over her and Kushina felt thankful for not having eaten anything as her stomach clenched at the nauseous feeling. She blinked instinctively, willing the spinning light-spots away. Gradually the world came into focus and she realised that the lack of light was due to the time – it was night time and the tent she was sitting in had no light source of its own. Someone outside had lighted a fire not too far away and the orange shadows were dancing on one side of her pavilion, illuminating the insides of what appeared to be a supply tent. A score of baskets filled with medical supplies were scattered along the floor some feet away from her improvised cot.
The noises from before had died out and Kushina could only conclude that she had heard people from outside, given that her tent was currently empty aside from her. An attempt to make herself more comfortable ended with another stab of pain from the side and she instinctively ran a hand down her torso. Shaking fingers explored bandages that seemed to be covering her entire ribcage and parts of her stomach. She sighed and gave up the movement for now, letting her hands fall motionlessly by her side. Skin came in touch with something sharp and cold and her head whipped to the side instinctively, looking for the source of discomfort. Her eyes widened as she took in the outline of a three-pronged kunai, lying by her side and she gasped at the sudden onslaught of pain as memories came rushing back. The battle with Iwa, the barrier, the Jinton-user, Kemuri defending her, the seal, the space-time barrier… she frowned. What had been that seal?
Her hand reached out absent-mindedly for the kunai, running a finger down the kanji-inscribed handle. She could remember the battle, but she couldn't make sense out of it. At one moment there had been a rain of such kunai and in the next she had seen someone who killed their enemies with inhuman speed. Someone who had suspiciously resembled Minato. At this point she didn't trust her senses much. It was too early for Minato to be back and she had been exhausted. Only moments before the sudden appearance of reinforcements she had confused Kemuri for Minato too. A frown crossed her forehead. Why did she always think of Minato in such dire situations? Was it because he was the first man that had ever saved her when she truly needed help?
Without thinking she picked the kunai up, bringing it closer to her face for inspection. What was it doing by her side? Was this a test of some sort? What if she was in enemy territory after all? There were no guards by her tent and no sentries, but there were no medics or friends around either. Her grasp on the kunai tightened. It felt heavy in her hands and she was certain that it wasn't just due to her exhausted state – the weapon itself was imbalanced and heavier than a normal kunai. Why anyone would prefer using something so impractical rather than the standard shinobi weapons was beyond her. Her finger automatically slipped through the metal loop at the end of the handle and she spun it around, testing its balance further. It felt off. Kushina frowned. Whoever had left that weapon with her had obviously wanted to impair her fighting style further in case of a sudden attack. Maybe she could throw it, but she doubted that she could aim the imbalanced kunai well. With a final flick she grabbed the handle before casually sending the kunai at the centre wooden pole holding the tent up. Even as she threw it she knew that she had to exercise more force than should be needed for aiming a weapon, already expecting to see it go astray and land somewhere in between the baskets with products, instead of hitting its mark.
The kunai did neither.
With a quiet zap a figure materialised through a yellow flash in the middle of the tent, wrapping a hand around the flying weapon and breaking its flight. Kushina gasped, instinctively pushing her blankets off and scrambling away from the sudden newcomer, ignoring the pain in her muscles as she kicked at the ground to back away. If she hadn't been stunned wordless by the sudden appearance of a human out of thin air she might have kicked herself for having casually disposed of the only weapon she had at hand, imperfect as it was.
Said person whipped around instantaneously, kunai held at the ready as he searched the tent through narrowed eyes, his face set in a threatening scowl. A quick look around the premise informed him of the lack of danger (for Kushina could hardly be considered as such in her state) and his posture visibly relaxed, a quiet sigh escaping his lips. His eyes quietly directed at the now-motionless girl on the floor before him and Kushina froze. Even in the dim light she could make out the familiar face, light-coloured eyes holding her own through a worried look.
"You." she breathed incredulously, still staring at him through wide eyes. She was most likely dreaming again. After all, people didn't just happen to materialise in the middle of a tent without any prior chakra signature indicating motion, as was the case with the Shunshin no Jutsu.
His answering smile made her insides burn. It was the same warm smile that had brightened her childhood, the one he reserved for her eyes only – carefree and understanding, the smile of her own little sun. "Me."
Seconds passed as they both stood in place, Kushina looking at him through bewilderment and Minato seeming more amused than anything else. Finally his one hand tucked the weird kunai away in a holster, as his eyes moved from her own down to the bandages covering her body and he frowned. He quickly crouched and placed a forefinger on the ground before him as if it was the most casual thing to do. Kushina raised an eyebrow at him.
"Okay, that concludes it, this can't be a dream, my imagination wouldn't come up with someone as illogical as you." she said through a frown, eyeing his weird hand movement.
A chuckle escaped his lips, the shadows finally lifting from his face and the girl felt shudders run down her spine upon hearing that sound. She had forgotten how pleasant it was to hear his laugh.
"I would expect you to dream of better things."
Kushina felt her sides warm up. "So would I. For starters, less lethal wounds and more ramen, ya know." she said, feeling the smile tugging at the corners of her lips already. Despite the exhaustion, despite the pain and the war, his mere presence brightened her up.
His answering look held both worry and mirth, as if he wasn't sure whether he should laugh at her joke or scold her for getting in trouble. She knew that look all too well, which made it even more incredulous. He really was there, in that small stuffy tent, having appeared out of thin air mere seconds ago. She had known it the moment she saw him, for if she ever dreamt of him he was always a child in those dreams, the very last image of her friend that she had. The Minato before her now was far from that and she knew she didn't have the creativity needed to come up with something like that. He was a man grown, much taller than she remembered him and more muscular, although still lean. He looked familiar and different at the same time – his shoulders were wider and his face narrower, any excess childhood fat having melted in favour of slim straight features that, Kushina was sure, many girls would whole-heartedly declare more than just appealing. His hair was longer too, although still spiky in a chaotic manner with two stray bangs framing his face – a tint of carelessness in his otherwise serious look. All in all, she was all too aware that her friend had become anything but a flake. The only thing that hadn't changed at all was the smile – the same infectious warmth hid in it, reminding the girl of days long past.
Minato remained quiet as her eyes carefully studied him, taking in every little detail of the man before her. He was still crouching in the middle of the tent by the supply baskets, a good eight feet away from her, as if afraid that any sudden movement would frighten her. With a scowl she realised that his behaviour was logical – her first reaction had been to scramble away from him as quick as possible. Maybe he feared she was still confused and disorientated. With a sigh she eased up her tensed pose and tried to rise up. An involuntary groan escaped her lips as pain shot through cramped muscles and her legs gave way beneath her halfway through. The wall of dizziness returned viciously and she found herself falling back.
Hands were about her before she knew it, easing her gently to the ground. S-so fast,she thought incredulously, blinking in confusion at the sudden movement. In one moment he had been standing in the other end of the tent and in the next he was beside her, catching her mid-air in a firm grasp. All too soon the gentle touch disappeared and her eyes flashed open to meet a pair of cerulean ones staring intently at her. Blood rushed to her face as she realised how close he was standing, kneeling at her side and leaning over with a worried expression. She cursed inwardly – time hadn't changed the way his presence affected her – her body still reacted sharply to the proximity, making her all too aware of the subtle musky scent of ground pine needles that clung to him and of the calming warmth of his gentle touch. She would never admit it, but despite teasing him for looking girly, she had always considered Minato to be good-looking in a not-so-friendly way. The years had done him no ill favours in that regard.
"Don't overexert yourself, Kushina…" he murmured, worry laced in his soft voice. "By all rights you shouldn't even be awake yet, not to mention walking around."
The girl flashed him a tired smile.
"Don't worry, I heal fast, ya know."
A shadow passed through his eyes for a second before disappearing again and Kushina blinked, wondering if she was imagining things. She quickly pushed herself up in a sitting position, not wanting to have to look up at him. His disapproving look told her what he thought about her attempts, but at least he didn't stop her, waiting by her side in case he needed to interfere again. A sigh escaped his lips.
"Stubborn as ever, I see." he said through a small smile. "Some things never change."
"And you are the same mother hen, worrying over minor injuries."
Minato raised an eyebrow at her.
"Three broken ribs and a fourth cracked one, a sprained wrist and two broken fingers, a low puncture wound in the stomach area, internal hemorrhage, possible brain concussion, impaired hearing and to top it all – severe chakra exhaustion that almost cost you your life. Now which of those exactly is a minor injury?"
Kushina blinked at the exasperated, yet calm narration, her eyebrows shooting higher and higher with every word. She knew she had been injured pretty badly, but that went beyond anything that a normal person could easily recover from. Once again she silently thanked for Kyubi's healing powers, appreciating the one good thing about being a Jinchuuriki.
"The broken fingers sound like a pretty pathetic one, ya know." She offered through a nervous smile, flexing her now-mended fingers instinctively, and to her relief her friend chuckled, the seriousness leaving his face. "Since when have you become such a medic anyway?"
A playful look entered his eyes. "Ever since I found out that my best friend has the destructive tendency to push herself to extremes."
A sudden warm feeling spread through her body as she noted the casual mentioning of 'best friend'. With a start she realised that she had been afraid until now without even knowing, fearing that he would have forgotten about her or at least stopped caring for her as much as he did before. Three years was a long time after all, long enough for people to change. Despite being different however, in a way, Minato was still the same. Relief washed over her as she saw the same concern in his eyes now, the same ease in his proximity as before, as if he took comfort in her presence. As if he had missed her too.
The smile came easier to her now, slipping back into old habits.
"Sounds like quite a reckless person, that friend of yours."
"Indeed she is… But then again, she's the strongest woman whom I have ever met, so I suppose that if anyone can deal, it would be her."
Kushina's head snapped to the side, eying him incredulously. The honesty in his words was tangible – he had meant everything that he said, as absurd as it might have sounded. Kushina felt a small lump form in her throat and tried to swallow past it. It had been too long since anyone looked at her like this. She had made friends in the past years, outgrowing her image of the Red-Hot Habareno, becoming less of an outsider and more of a true Konoha shinobi. She had people who cared now, people who worried, people who understood (or at least tried to). It was entirely different, however, to have someone who simply believed. Someone who knew you better than anyone else, weak points included, and still had unwavering faith in you, which no distance or time could shatter.
A knowing smile was playing on his lips as he took in her startled expression.
"She also happens to have a problem with compliments. Another thing that time hasn't changed, it would appear."
Kushina blinked the surprise away.
"You've changed." She said quietly, adopting a more serious tone.
Minato raised an eyebrow, remaining quiet. If Kushina didn't know better she might have thought she saw a look of uncertainty cross his face.
"You're taller." she offered after a pause and he chuckled again.
"I hear age does that to you, yes."
"And you are more confident." she added quietly and for once Minato didn't answer right away. His expression changed to a thoughtful one, as if he wasn't sure whether Kushina's remark was a positive or a negative one.
She had noticed it right away, the subtle change in his countenance and the liquid fire burning in his eyes, emanating intrepidity. There was an air of confidence and strength about him that was unmistakable. His movements had been swift and graceful as he had soundlessly rushed to her side within seconds, his grip on her being both firm and gentle at the same time. From that movement alone the girl already knew that he had become stronger and faster and suddenly Kushina was certain that he had slowly grown up into the capable shinobi that she had always known he would be. It was him, she realised and the revelation struck with such conviction that she didn't need to ask. He had been the one to cast the seal, saving both Kemuri and her before defeating the Iwa army only seconds after, for defeated they should be if she stood in that tent right now, alive and well. It all seemed perfectly logical now, as if it was exactly the thing he would do. Appearing out of nowhere in critical moments to help her when she needed him most, but least expected him – it was only natural for Minato Nimikaze.
His promise from years ago ran through her mind and she knew that he had meant it then and meant it still. If defeating an army was what it took, then she had no doubts that he would.
A new thought entered her mind and she turned towards him with a frantic expression on her face.
"What happened? Did we hold the pass? Where is everyone?" the moment the words left her mouth Kushina felt the need for answers burn through her and she felt like slapping herself for not having asked earlier.
The look on Minato's face did nothing to ease her worry. He seemed conflicted, eyebrows knotted in a painful scowl.
"We held the pass…" he began slowly and paused, eyeing her carefully, as if assessing whether the following information could in any way harm her recovery process.
"A wise person once told me that nothing said before the word 'but' matters much." she offered lightly, trying to show him that she was not going to fall apart. To her credit, he smiled, but his smile held a tint of sadness to it.
"…but we lost a lot of people. I am sorry, Kushina, we couldn't make it in time. By the time Sakumo-sensei and I arrived, the battle had already broken out. Fourteen are dead. Three more are heavily injured and Dan is tending to their wounds right now. Everyone else who survived the battle is on sentry duty around the camp and the Pass, which is why no one was around when you woke up."
"Kemuri?" she whispered, trying to keep the fear out of her voice.
"He's alright, worry not. Apart from a few scrapes and bruises, he was mostly unharmed."
She hadn't realised she had been holding her breath until the air rushed out of her lungs in a relieved hoof upon hearing the news. They had lost more than half the men they had, but it was more than they would have lost if reinforcements hadn't shown up on time. Without a doubt they would have all perished. Therefore it was with mixed feelings that she eyed Minato now, both with sadness for the ones who lost and relief for the ones saved. Kemuri was one of them after all and so was Dan. The child wouldn't lose his chance to experience life before it even started. Tsunade-sama wouldn't have to burry a lover.
Without thinking she reached out a shaky hand, putting it over Minato's. The warm touch made goose-bums run down her hand as usual and she wondered whether the same pleasant shock had run down his body at the contact. His eyes quickly snapped at hers, widening in surprise – he hadn't expected the touch. If she didn't know better, Kushina might have thought she heard his heart beating faster as a slight shudder ran up his hand. As it was, she was certain it couldn't be true – she was still exhausted from the battle and her hearing was, most likely, not completely healed yet. Instead of focusing on her numbed senses, she decided to trust her eyes, now staring intently at a pair of cerulean ones filled with pain.
"Do not blame yourself. You did all you could, ya know. Even more lives would have been lost if it weren't for you. Instead of mourning the dead, celebrate the living… It's the only way to pull through war and keep your sanity in touch." With that she paused, feeling his hand clench into a fist under hers. "You saved a child's life… I do not understand how, but you did and that is a reason enough to smile."
His eyes widened for a fraction of a second before his expression softened and the strain disappeared from his posture, hand easing out of the fist. A tentative smile spread on his face, spelling gratitude. Kushina couldn't help but smile back, pulling her hand away, ignoring the stinging emptiness upon breaking the contact.
Minato exhaled quietly, running a hand absent-mindedly through his yellow locks. The move somehow made Kushina's insides clench and her smile widened. It was charming and even more so in addition to the playful tint that his smile had adopted.
"You could call it even. I had promised to protect you and yet I was not there. I can only be grateful to Kemuri for doing what I could not, so you could say I owed him one." his tone was light and teasing, but Kushina was certain that there was an undercurrent of sadness in those words, as if he truly held himself accountable for not being there all the time.
"He did a much better job at it too, I'll have you know. He kept his word, unlike some other men, ya know." she said through an amused voice.
"Oh are you the one to talk of breaking promises? When you said you'd wait for me to come back, were you planning to do so in one piece?" he chided, gesturing to her bandages and Kushina couldn't hold back soft laughter.
"Every hero needs battle-scars, ya know."
Minato opened his mouth to say something and froze midway through, his eyes glazing as if seeing something far off in the distance.
"Ah… it would appear the replacement unit for Squad 15 is nearby. They should arrive by the hour." he murmured quietly before chuckling at Kushina's perplexed expression. "I told you that everyone uninjured is keeping watch, me included. When I felt the seal on my kunai alert usage, I created a shadow clone to go down my sentry route while I teleported here. Said clone just dispersed to transmit information about our approaching reinforcements." he explained calmly, one hand again running a hand through his hair. "I should probably alert Hizashi-san."
Kushina nodded, feeling another tinge of relief upon hearing that Hizashi had survived the battle as well.
"How come Sandaime sent only- Wait, did you just say teleport?"
"Um… well… that's a long story…" he began through a nervous smile, one hand rubbing the back of his head absent-mindedly, just as footsteps before the tent entrance alerted someone's presence.
They both turned to see Dan entering, carrying a lantern and a basket of medical supplies. His clothing was covered in blood and his face was pale and ghastly, indicating the chakra exhaustion he was putting himself through once again. His eyes quickly fixed on Kushina, widening in surprise upon seeing her awake with Minato kneeling by her side. His lips quickly broke into a tired, yet sincere smile.
"I'm glad to see you recover so quickly, Kushina-san. You gave us a fright there." he murmured, placing the lantern on the ground and kneeling on her other side. "If you do not mind?"
He quickly started taking her vitals as his hands ran over her bandages, emitting green chakra. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Minato place a finger on the ground again and frown.
"Dan-san, your chakra levels are lower than acceptable. Please take a break, or if needed a soldier pill."
Kushina threw him a questioning look. Dan's exhaustion was obvious enough, but the weird hand-movement gnawed on her curiosity.
"Later." Minato promised through a smile and she nodded. She would hold him to it.
"The patients were worse than I expected them to be… But worry not, Minato-kun, I will rest soon enough. I just want to make sure that Kushina's ribs are healing well."
Minato nodded once before standing up.
"Either way, the replacement squad is almost here and they have medical ninjas with them. Please do not overexert yourself until their arrival." And with that he took the same three-pronged kunai out of his weapon-holster and handed it to Kushina. "If you would hold on to that for me? It's heavier than the normal kunai and the design is different, but once you get used to it, it has its benefits."
The girl raised an eyebrow, eyeing the seal wrapped around the handle, but held her tongue. He had a lot of explaining to do when 'later' came. Instead she took the kunai with a quiet nod.
"Alright then, I suppose I will meet with Hizashi now." He murmured and nodded to Dan, who replied in kind. His eyes fell on Kushina's and he smiled. "This will probably be a wasted effort, but please stay here and rest for now, we have it all covered."
Kushina's answering smile had a wily tint to it.
"You're right. It is a wasted effort indeed."
The blond man shook his head through an exasperated smile and lifted a hand before his chest, fourth-finger and pinky bent forward. With a quiet zap he disappeared from the room in a yellow flash, leaving Kushina to stare wide-eyed at the place where he had stood only seconds ago.
AN:Notes on the text:
The seal for transferring chakra that Minato has created is something that I came up with, I haven't seen it anywhere in the manga/anime so far, or at least not that version of it anyway. It's not just a random technique that is convenient for that scene – it(or a variation of it anyway) will play a rather important part for the story later on.
Kizashi Haruno – Sakura's dad? Maybe ;)
About the Senjutsu part – it isn't stated directly anywhere that Minato learned Senjutsu. Being Jiraya's student, however, and having signed the toad contract would suggest so. Furthermore, the toad sages (Ma and Pa) both seem to know him first-hand with Pa referring to him as Minato-chan a few times, which would suggest that Minato has met them and perhaps even trained with them. During Naruto's battle with Pain, Pa says "Naruto has surpassed his ancestors" and Tsunade sees the images of Jiraya and Minato in him – could that mean that Minato, as his ancestor, knew at least a little bit of Senjutsu and Naruto has managed to surpass him? Now that being said, since it is not stated anywhere that Minato could use senjutsu (and if he could he probably would have used it versus Kyubi), he will not master it. Still, that doesn't stop him from knowing the basics of it right? Like maybe, having stopped his progress at stage one – feeling the natural energy around him. And since he isn't as advanced as Naruto, maybe he can feel that energy only via touch? Because really, how else would you explain the finger-to-the-ground-i-sense-all-enemies-around-me skill? I mean, there probably are other more proper explanations, but Senjutsu explains it well enough too, so I'll work with that.
To answer a previous comment: yes, I am aware that Kushina's parents are not mentioned anywhere in the manga. However, I base my information on the anime mostly, because Minato and Kushina's story is told in greater detail there. Two specific parts alert me of the presence of Kushina's parents. One of them is when she is a kid, just before she gets kidnapped, she gets back home and shouts 'Tadaima' or 'I'm home'. I would assume that she would do so only if someone was actually waiting for her to go back home - in this case probably relatives, most likely her parents. The other, very direct hint towards the presence of her parents is the part where Kushina informs Naruto that Minato learned Fūinjutsu from her mother. Now that being said, I know that Naruto grows up without grandparents so yes, her parents will die in the near future.
If you guys have any other questions about the story do write a comment or a PM and I will do my best to answer!
I hope you enjoyed the chapter, please share your opinions, I enjoy reading feedback, both positive and negative – it helps me learn. Gonna do my best to have the next chapter up sooner!
Ja ne ;)
Tenketsu: nodes from which chakra can be released. There are 361 tenketsu in the body, each one is a checkpoint on the Chakra Pathway System.
Senjutsu: a specialised field of techniques that allows the user to sense and then gather the natural energy around a person.