Author's Note: As usual, a few warnings. First this is a side fic of "Minato Namikaze and the Destroyer of Worlds" and if you haven't read some of that you'll be a little confused. Second, this is obviously NOT CANON.
Once, years from now in a future that no longer existed, a man and a god struck an unusual bargain.
The Shinigami, dressed in the body of a pale man in dark over flowing robes, hair like black ravens' feathers partially obscuring eyes that were both terrible and green, sat across from the yondaime hokage Namikaze Minato in a Konohagakure set out of space and time if only for a moment. A seal, the shiki fujin, stood half complete between them along with a board of shogi.
In a voice that was neither feminine nor masculine the god of death said, "Your soul is only worth half of the bijuu."
The bijuu in question, the nine-tailed beast in the guise of a fox, chained by Kushina's struggling chakra chains struggled and turned a baleful eye to the yondaime hokage, his wife, and his son. Its eyes, though a dark and bleeding red, glowed like a sunset seen through volcanic ash.
It its shadow was the total destruction of Konoha as well as a memory of the betrayal of Uchiha Madara, the death of Senju Hashirama, and the ultimate sacrifice of Uzumaki Mito.
"That isn't good enough," Namikaze Minato said, not commanding a god, but laying down irrefutable terms.
Death's lips, in the slightest of amusement, quirked upwards, "When you measure a soul against a soul, existence against existence, then it has lived and altered much more than you have, Namikaze Minato. That is simply the way things are," Death moved a piece forward on the board, fingers pale as moonlight, thin, elegant, and tapered in a too perfect replication of humanity, "If you choose to accept this then you will seal half the bijuu into your son. There will be death, war, and destruction but one day he will rise above it and lead the nations into a new era."
"And so I would condemn my son to the same fate as my wife," Minato said with a slightly crooked smile, his eyes, for a moment, leaving the board and his village to rest on his wife's expression of agony already so close to death and clinging onto life through will alone, "If Kushina is right, they'll blame him for this, all of this, and all I can do is hope that they surpass my optimistic expectations and that Naruto has that same inner-fire and strength that she has…"
His voice hitched, eyes closing for a moment, a small singular moment where he allowed himself to be Namikaze Minato in grieving rather than the yondaime hokage doing what he must. Death, ageless and momentless, said nothing to interrupt.
Finally, when Namikaze Minato's blue eyes turned back to the board, the Shinigami said, "We could make some other bargain."
Minato's voice was serious, hard and flat, and a poor disguise for the note of hope and yearning underneath, "What other bargain could we possibly make?"
"You could still save your village, your people, you could turn back so that this moment would never come to fruition. You can shoulder the burdens you would place on your son; your soul is worth more than that."
Death's eyes glowed, and in them Namikaze could not only see trees growing and blossoming but also distant alien stars burning brightly, "You are the summit of what humanity can be, of what it aspires to, you can rewrite the world in your image and make the Konoha Senju Hashirama once dreamed of a reality. To rewrite the world, however, the price is to rewrite yourself."
Minato for a moment said nothing, looked out to Death's pale hand outreached, and perhaps it was that his mind was lingering on the son he had barely seen, to the wife whose eyes even clouded by pain and the imminence of death were still a burning purple fire, and he said with a fond, sorrowful, and yet somehow joyful smile, "I believe that you are talking about my wife."
Still, Namikaze Minato, like others before him, made his bargain with Death.
Kushina wasn't really sure when she first saw Lee she just knew that it wasn't in those first few years she spent in Uzushio's academy. Now, that wasn't to say that Kushina had always known Lee or even known her very well before that first stint in the academy, but that Lee must have caught Kushina's eye enough times that her appearing inside the academy wasn't much of a surprise.
Which was kind of odd, if you thought about it, because you could tell at a glance that Lee wasn't an Uzumaki. Oh, sure, she supposed if you were foreign and not a part of the clan then you might see red hair, pale skin, and thought you were good to go but the trouble was that Lee's red wasn't the right kind of red. First, it flew all over the place, curlier and thicker than anyone's hair that Kushina had ever seen, but second it was a brighter, lighter, almost blonde color in the right light versus Kushina's more common darker red.
There was also something about her facial features which Kushina had also never seen before in anyone. The shape of her impossibly green eyes, the shape of her nose and face, there was just this inescapable foreign aura to her that made it clear that even though Lee wasn't an Uzumaki she wasn't some bastard of one of the other smaller clans in the village either.
Given that she was an orphan Kushina supposed this shouldn't have been too odd, given that Lee could have come from just about anywhere, but the thing was that Uzushio didn't have too many orphans that weren't from one of the clans or the small civilian population of the village.
It supposedly wasn't like this in larger villages like Konohagakure, where people would immigrate from all over the country, and sometimes even civilians from other countries, but in Uzushio you could usually trace back to somewhere close by.
As far as Kushina knew, though, the orphan Eru Lee had just popped out of nowhere one day and waltzed into the orphanage, and that was that.
It probably wasn't too important anyway, not then at least, because aside from seeing her on the street every once in a while, (those green eyes always just watching, assessing, looking at Kushina like they were searching for something and almost finding it) Kushina didn't have much to do with her, hadn't really even spoken to her.
The trouble was there was something about Lee that just seemed older and kind of unnerving. Like Kushina had met Lee somewhere before, or seen her shadow somewhere, and it hadn't been… pleasant.
Either way, it wasn't until that first day of the academy, that, on seeing Eru Lee lounging in the desk in front of hers, pale hands tucked behind her neck, sandaled legs crossed on the desk, looking at the blackboard with a dull and resigned sort of disinterest, that Kushina snapped and decided to get down to the bottom of the mystery.
"Hey, you, blondie!"
The girl's head tilted backwards so that her green eyes, still entirely too green even in the fluorescent light of the classroom, met Kushina's with one yellow-red eyebrow raising.
Kushina, at once, felt something cold plummet into her stomach like she had just picked a fight with someone much larger and more dangerous than herself but had been too stupid to realize it. Kushina gathered her nerve and her confidence and continued on, "How come you're sitting in front of me?"
The girl just stared for a moment, and Kushina couldn't get a read on her expression at all, and finally with the slightest of accents Kushina couldn't place at all the girl said, "Coincidence."
Except the way she said it Kushina didn't think it was a coincidence at all, so Kushina sat down, leaned forward and laid down the law, "You follow me, don't think I don't notice, believe it! I see you all over the place, and you're always staring!"
The other eyebrow rose and Kushina had the distinct impression that the girl was internally and silently asking, "And?"
"And it's kind of creepy and weird and I don't even know what your name is!"
"Eleanor Lily Potter," the girl replied, giving Kushina a sort of half salute with one hand while she grinned entirely too cheerfully back at Kushina, "But that's an ungodly English mouthful, so you can just call me Eru Lee."
Lee, it was the first time Kushina had actually had a name to call creepy foreign stalking girl, and it wasn't the kind of name she'd expected. Before then she'd taken to giving her sort of codenames in her head that had started out nice and feminine enough like Aiko or Sakura but had progressed to terrifying things like Tsunami. Kushina had never thought to give her a normal or frankly kind of masculine name like Lee before.
Still, it did suit her, in a weird sort of way.
Kushina stared for a moment, wondering if she was supposed to introduce herself as Uzumaki Kushina, future badass and queen of all ninja, but decided that Lee probably knew anyway and that it was best to get to the point already, "So, you admit that you're stalking me,"
The girl grimaced, not quite chagrinned but probably as close as she was able to get, and then with a shrug said, "Stalking's a strong word."
"It is not a strong word, believe it!" Kushina said, pounding her fists on the table, "I see you practically everywhere!"
Which was quite the accomplishment as Kushina couldn't say she got out too much. Every day that she could remember was spent almost entirely in the compound, training and training and training, in ninjutsu, fuinjutsu, taijutsu all for some unspoken task that they thought Kushina was too stupid to figure out.
Something Kushina was supposed to do or going to do that she…
Either way, it wasn't like Kushina had many (any) friends or spent much time out and about in the village proper. So, the fact that she saw Lee as often as she did really spoke to Lee's tracking abilities.
Lee, again, gave an entirely too casual and nonchalant shrug, like Kushina could just go ahead and believe what she wanted to believe.
Kushina was about to announce, right then and there for everyone to hear, that she was going to kick the shit out of her creepy stalker outside of school but the chunin instructor, a distant cousin of Kushina's, entered and Kushina was forced to swallow her words.
It was kind of boring, especially in the beginning, and Kushina had the feeling that she was only here to be going through the motions for something. She'd already covered most of this and more and could feel her thoughts and attention drifting as she stared out the classroom windows and towards the sea.
Lee's attention, she noticed, tended to drift as well. Except Lee, being an orphan who undoubtedly had been taught jack shit before entering the academy, didn't have the same excuses Kushina had.
Kushina didn't exactly know why, she had no reason to, but she didn't think Lee was being lazy or that she'd be bad. It was like some part of her really did believe Lee knew all of this already and more, even better than Kushina herself did.
When school ended, Kushina hadn't had a chance to kick the shit out of her stalker in front of everyone. All she could do was stare at Lee's back as she packed up her things with a solemn, determined, look, gave Kushina that half sort of salute thing again, and then sauntered out the door.
Which, for whatever reason, had Kushina scrambling after her, "Hey, creepy stalker, wait!"
Lee kept walking and it took Kushina sprinting, cursing, and catching her as she reached the bridge towards where the orphanage was shouting, "Lee, I said wait!" for her to stop.
In the twilight, Lee somehow looked impossibly more inhuman than before, her hair seemed to become a part of the sunset itself, a strange golden extension of the sky and the water while her eyes somehow glowed impossibly brighter.
"Yes?" Lee asked, stopping on the wood of the quietly gurgling river as Kushina tried to catch her breath.
"You know, for someone stalking me, you're kind of rude, believe it," Kushina said, wincing as that came out not entirely like she intended. Then, straightening, she asked, "Why are you stalking me anyway?"
It was the question she probably should have asked first, but as usual, Kushina had gotten too caught up in the moment to think about it. The thing was that she didn't know why though. Kushina was hardly the only Uzumaki in the village, she wasn't clan heir or anything really important, and she wasn't even close to being a genin yet. Kushina was well aware that no one had any reason to follow Kushina around at all, though she hated to admit it, her life was criminally boring.
Lee considered this, taking a bit too long to mull over those words when Kushina would think that the answer should probably be obvious, finally, Lee said, "Someone said I should meet you."
Kushina's jaw dropped open as she let out an inelegant, "Huh?"
Who the hell was someone? Kushina barely knew anybody, and certainly nobody that would know some random orphan and say, "Hey weird foreign girl, you should totally go check out Uzumaki Kushina, she's the bomb, believe it."
However, Lee just nodded, like it was a perfectly reasonable answer and one that Kushina should have no trouble accepting.
"Who the hell is someone?!" Kushina asked, probably a bit too loudly as she could see people on the bridge down the river glance towards them.
Lee just shrugged, "To be honest, I don't really remember."
Well that made even less sense than before and was maybe even kind of creepier. Actually, it was the kind of creepy that spoke of genjutsu, sleeper agents, and things Kushina should tell security.
Still, Lee looked out past Kushina towards the river, with the sigh, "Just that, when I decided to leave, I… I remembered I had talked to somebody, and I was going to go meet him first, but then I remembered that he'd said I should go see you or that you were worth finding."
"Right," that was all Kushina could think to say to that, "Is this guy anybody I should know?"
Because either a) it was one of her cousins and Kushina was going to kill the punk out of sheer embarrassment or b) it was actually something she should be really concerned about. However, Lee just smiled, a sly sort of fond thing and shook her head as she started walking forward, "Not yet, I don't think."
"If you don't remember who he is then how the hell can you know that?" Kushina said, against her will moving forward to keep pace with the strange girl, who, again, gave a lazy kind of shrug.
"I'll know him when I see him."
Well, that was either romantic as hell or mildly creepy, Kushina supposed she could settle and say it was a little bit of both. Slowly but surely, they walked through the village and fell into, what for Kushina, was a somewhat uncomfortable silence.
Even though Lee seemed easily able to navigate the winding streets and alleyways, even though she was wearing the kind of clothing you could buy second hand, Kushina thought she still looked kind of alien and more than a little foreign. Like every pretense she'd put into belonging separated her from the herd that much more.
Finally, when the silence had gone on far too long, Kushina blurted, "Well, I am pretty cool, so I will give your mystery guy that. He's got mighty fine taste, believe it. I just kind of wish you could remember who it is…"
Kushina flushed, wondering who would ever say something like that about her. As far as she knew she'd barely stood out enough from the crowd to be noticed by anyone, good or bad, let alone Lee's mysterious stranger.
Kushina came to a sudden halt, realizing that they'd somehow managed to walk all the way to the orphanage with Kushina barely noticing. Kushina flushed and stood by the gates somewhat awkwardly while Lee stopped and turned to look at her with that empty, assessing, expression.
Probably looking for whatever her mystery guy had described inside her.
Kushina gave a somewhat awkward grin, rubbed the back of her head, and said, "Well, either way I guess I hope you find him, you know, if that's what you want?"
"I'll see him someday," Lee said, looking oddly fond of someone she supposedly couldn't remember, "Just not quite yet."
"Right, well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow, and in the meantime try not to follow me home."
Kushina, turning, and forcing herself to walk away didn't look back until she had turned the corner. Still, as far as she could tell, Lee had decided to leave Kushina alone for the moment which was…
Well, it was both a little relieving and kind of disappointing. Kushina hadn't said it, hadn't even really thought about it much, but some of the time she wondered if Lee wasn't a kind of secret admirer and even though it'd been creepy it'd also been a little flattering. Some part of her was hoping Lee would come and follow her anyway.
"Stupid," Kushina said, chiding herself as she took the long way back home, more than late for fuinjutsu lessons on top of taijutsu lessons on top of even more ninjutsu lessons. Although whether Lee was stupid, she was stupid, or the whole thing was stupid even Kushina couldn't say.
"So, I think you're my secret admirer, believe it."
Kushina didn't want to go ahead and call herself and Lee friends except she was having a hard time getting around the term if only because Kushina didn't really have friends.
She'd never seemed to have time for friends, had for as long as she remembered been separated off even from cousins let alone kids in other clans. She'd always assumed it was the same for everyone except most of the kids all seemed to know each other, and for whatever reason, seemed to want nothing to do with Kushina.
Well, all except Lee.
For someone who had to be spending most of her spare time following Kushina around, Lee was annoyingly indifferent to Kushina and other than idle chat (always started by Kushina) at the start of class or Kushina hunting her down during lunch, Lee never seemed to have much interest in doing or saying anything to Kushina. Like all she really wanted to do was watch and make her mind up from a distance.
Which, if she was going to go around and stalk Kushina the least she could do was eat lunch with her.
Lee's lunch, as usual, consisted of the nutritional instant ramen and protein bar. Which, Kushina bringing out her own homemade meals was starting to make her feel kind of bad about it like she was rubbing all this good food in Lee's face. Sure, Lee never said anything, but at this rate Kushina was going to start to have to pack two lunches if only so that she didn't have to watch Lee eat affordable garbage.
"Your secret admirer?" Lee asked, mouth filled with noodles as Kushina nodded with confidence.
"I think your story about mystery guy is garbage, Lee, and you're just totally embarrassed that you're so into me," Kushina said with a grin, trying to goad Lee into saying something, but Lee just sort of blinked at her and looked entirely nonplussed.
"If you say so," Lee finally settled on with a shrug.
"Oh, come on," Kushina cried out, "You told me that you came all the way here, from England or wherever you come from, to find him and then you go and change your mind because you think he told you to go find me instead?"
And that wasn't even getting into how Lee, on this rainy island filled with civilians, could go all the way from there to Uzushio to find Uzumaki Kushina on that sparse amount of information alone. Which, actually, was a kind of terrifying thought that boded well for Lee's future as a tracker.
"That's about right," Lee said, like this was the kind of thing normal people talked about or even did.
"That's completely crazy, believe it!" Kushina said with vehemence, "It makes way more sense if you were just looking for me in the first place and then went and lost your nerve. After all, how long were you even living here before you talked to me?"
"Two years," Lee said with a shrug, again, like it was totally normal to go be a wallflower in an orphanage before walking over to Kushina and even saying hi. Kushina wouldn't have even minded, probably would have been secretly thrilled, no random mysterious stranger had ever walked up to her and just said, "Hi" before.
Plus, there was something kind of romantic about the idea of someone from some faraway island, leaving everything they knew behind, battling through dangers untold and unnumbered, to come and find you.
Granted, Kushina felt a little young for that sort of thing, and probably too much of a badass to successfully play the role of a princess, and she'd always sort of thought her prince would be a guy, but the thought still counted.
"Two years, I can't even wait two minutes for ramen!" Kushina exclaimed but Lee didn't look embarrassed at all.
Lee was never embarrassed by anything though, or at least, not as far as Kushina could tell. There were a few things Kushina had learned about Lee in the few months they'd spent together in the academy. The first was that Lee was a terrifying genius and it was probably a really good thing that Kushina hadn't tried to kill her that first day. Sure, Kushina's taijutsu was probably better, and her fuinjutsu was certainly better, but Lee's ninjutsu and genjutsu were glorious and terrible things to behold that had had their chunin instructor just blankly passing her in both subjects without anything to say.
On ninjutsu and genjutsu alone Kushina thought Lee might be jonin worthy. Eru Lee, who, it needed to be said, was only six years old.
Lee also had absolutely no tact and no shame. She once turned in an essay on why she was a shinobi with the words, "Because my textbook told me too and the will of whirlpools" repeated until it filled two pages. Mostly though she tended to say what she thought, no matter how weird it was, and left it to you to deal with the aftermath of it (and there was always aftermath to whatever happened to come out of her mouth).
Honestly, Kushina kind of admired that. Sure, Kushina talked big (and tried to live up to her words as best she could) but Kushina also knew that she was more than a little insecure and sometimes wished she was as confident as she tried to sound. Lee just went out and did whatever she thought she needed to and said the same, and Kushina wished that she could be like that.
"So, anyways, where'd you train before all this?" Kushina asked, now that the subject of Lee being her secret admirer had kind of fallen flat.
"Sure, you're… kind of crazy good at ninjutsu and genjutsu," Kushina said, though this was a remarkable understatement, "So who taught you? I didn't think anyone taught orphans before they came to the academy."
Lee just shrugged, "I guess I taught myself."
Now it was Kushina's turn once again to be floored, "You taught yourself?"
Sure, Lee didn't use hand seals, but that was usually the sign of someone who was crazy good versus someone who had just never been taught them. Did Lee really think Kushina was stupid enough to believe she'd just… Then again, it'd explain why her ninjutsu was so good but her taijutsu and other branches weren't. Except that kind of natural talent was…
Kushina just swallowed not sure if she ever wanted to admit out loud that she was just, well, worse than Lee in that respect.
With a sigh Kushina just kept eating and once again wondered where her life was headed. There'd been hinting, recently, that Kushina wasn't going to stay at the academy as long as she thought she was. She'd brought up at dinner one night about her future as a genin and they'd just sort of looked at her, like Kushina just wasn't getting something.
And she'd felt…
She didn't know, that sort of aching loneliness that she supposed she'd always felt.
She glanced over at Lee, taking her in, the ease at which she ate food and sat next to Kushina, like sitting next to Kushina was the most natural thing in the world, "Hey, Lee, honestly, we're friends, right?"
"I don't see why not," Lee said after the slightest of pauses, "Of course, I've never really had friends."
Kushina blinked but then wondered why she should be surprised, she'd never seen Lee hanging around with anyone else and she was kind of hard to get along with, but still Kushina asked, "Really?"
"My fat cousin loathed me, my aunt and uncle weren't much better, it was actually why I left England. My uncle was screaming at me one day that if I didn't like everything they'd given me I could go ahead and leave and go to an orphanage and see how I liked it there. If I didn't appreciate what I had I'd better get what I could appreciate. And I guess I decided to do it."
At seeing Kushina's questioning glance Lee elaborated, eyes bright and insistent as she confessed, "I went and got something I could appreciate."
Somehow, even though it wasn't quite the confession Kushina had been looking for or would ever think to hope for, it made her just as happy.
Even though it seemed like it should be anything but, it was actually kind of easy being friends with Lee after a while. Kushina just sort of slid into the role until even she stopped questioning why Lee hung around so much or said the things she did or came from the mysterious places she came from.
So, they'd walk home together and part ways at the river, eat lunch together, and Lee would show up to the compound bringing all of her handwritten books from her home country as well as purchased movies from the local video store. Kushina, in turn, would bring her lunch and dinner and they'd talk about the future, the war, Kushina's cousins, Lee's cousin, and anything and everything in between.
And even though it was a terrible thing to think Kushina was kind of glad that Lee's relatives had been the worst kind of civilians. Lee never said exact details, but what she did let drop sounded bad, bad enough that Lee had left and not once looked back at where she came from.
Which meant that she had come to find Kushina instead.
So, the years went by and Kushina just stopped asking herself why all this was happening, if and when Lee planned to find the guy she'd been looking for in the elemental nations in the first place, or even what Kushina's future was going to look like.
Because when you got down to it Lee really was the greatest kind of friend you could have. Sure, she didn't say the right thing at the right times, but she was endlessly fascinating, whole worlds of knowledge available inside of her, and, more than that, endlessly loyal. She'd come to find Kushina just because some guy she couldn't remember, who she seemed to endlessly respect, had told her to and she hadn't faltered since.
Not when Kushina had screamed at her and told her off, or when she'd buckled under pressure, or when she hadn't lived up to her own words Lee had never flinched or made even one hint of moving on and looking elsewhere.
Lee, Kushina realized when she was around seven or eight and they were celebrating Lee's birthday out on the beach, was the kind of best friend she'd never known she'd wanted.
So, being Lee's friend and letting the time towards graduation slip closer and closer was entirely too easy to do. Even when the war seemed to take a turn for the worst, when Kiri's shadow loomed closer and closer from the mainland, and Konoha's supporting ninja seemed slower and slower to respond, everything felt alright.
Then Kushina turned ten, the Fall semester of the academy loomed ahead, and Kushina was told she was going to be enrolled in Konoha's academy where, upon graduation, she would become Uzumaki Mito's apprentice.
And all those years spent cloistered away, spent getting attached enough to the village but not attached to people, on being taught ahead of the academy curriculum and taught fuinjutsu at a young age started to make sense.
And Kushina's world, everything she knew, shattered.
Except, maybe Kushina should have learned to have more faith than that.
On the barge, rocking in the summer swells as the gulls circled overhead, among Kushina's small entourage to escort her to Konoha and to meet with the hokage, was Lee sitting small and unnoticeable and already packed despite the fact that Kushina hadn't had a moment to say she was going.
Kushina stared, looked around and noticed that no one else was looking at Lee, then stared again and asked, "What are you doing here?"
Lee's eyebrows raised and she smiled, "Aren't you leaving?"
"Sure, I'm leaving but…"
"Then I'm leaving too," Lee said, as if that was that and there was nothing Kushina could say to stop her and she shouldn't even think of trying.
"But what about the academy and Uzushio and…"
Lee just gave her this look like Kushina was being willfully stupid or something, "Kushina, I was only there because you were there."
Kushina, against her will, felt tears rising to the corner of her eyes. She was immensely grateful, as always, that Lee was so damn good at genjutsu that no one seemed to notice or care that Kushina was about to sob her heart out.
"And your guy, I mean, that guy you've always been looking for?" Kushina asked, trying to hold back the tears and wipe at them with one hand.
"I told you," Lee said, blinking slightly and looking like it was the most natural thing in the world to say that she had only ever stepped foot on this island for Uzumaki Kushina, "He was never in Uzushio to begin with."
Kushina leapt forward and embraced her as she would a friend, a sister, and maybe even the prince that Kushina had yet to meet. And Lee though hesitantly at first, like she had no idea what was happening anymore, hugged Kushina back even as they pushed away from the dock and left Uzushiogakure behind.
As it turned out it would be the last time either of them would see it standing.
And it was a pity, Kushina would think later, because blurred through her tears she could barely make out the hidden village at all.
Author's Note: A fic where instead of becoming Minato's best friend at the start of "Minato Namikaze and the Destroyer of Worlds" when the bargain is struck, Kushina catches Lee's interest and she ends up her friend instead. So we have this very strange Minato/Lee, Kushina/Lee, and then Minato/Kushina mashup. But it's all good fun.
Thanks for reading, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Harry Potter