Obligatory Disclaimer: Naruto is Kishimoto's, not mine, and this was written for fun, not profit.

got a boy in the war

The first thing Minato ever notices about Kushina is her hair - which makes him slightly unusual, because the first thing most of his classmates notice about Kushina is that she likes to throw wadded-up paper balls at the teacher's back. Her hair is bright red and very long and worn loose down her back, utterly at odds with a girl who marches around in grass-stained shirts with smudges on her nose.

Once, partly out of curiosity and partly because he's eight years old, he reaches over and tugs it, just to see what she does.

The first time Kushina notices Minato is when the quiet boy two seats over pulls her hair, at which point she does the only sensible thing and tries to punch him in the head.

Their entire class is summarily ushered out of the academy when they're ten, because there's no time to be squeamish or overprotective when there's three border wars to worry about. Kushina sulks when she learns she isn't on the legendary Jiraiya's team - although by the time Minato gets around to pointing out that he isn't entirely sure who this Jiraiya person is and they can trade if she's so upset about it, she's already gone and picked a fight with Uchiha Mikoto and their teachers have lost whatever tenuous control they had over the proceedings.

Sometimes, when Jiraiya's being particularly embarrassing, Minato hides his face with his hands and laughs helplessly and wonders if Kushina would be willing to swap teams after all.

Everyone knows Kushina is an Uzumaki because she says so all the time - the mighty Uzumaki Kushina, greatest ninja the Hidden Whirlpool has ever seen. Sooner or later her classmates and friends learn not to point out that they've never heard of her or the Whirlpool, not since one of the Aburame boys asks what she's talking about in a bored sort of voice. Certainly Minato doesn't, because he is an observant child and sees the way her face falls just for a moment, right before she goes speechless with rage and tries to kick said Aburame boy in the shins.

No one ever asks what the Namikaze are, no one except Kushina, and when Minato tells her that they are fishermen and fruit sellers and the other sorts of people hardly any ninja ever thinks about, she huffs and mutters that at least they're all still here and that it's ungrateful of them, being so boring.

"Names aren't important," Minato says, his back to the cliff and the three portraits set forever in stone, and Kushina makes rude gestures in his general direction and stomps off and refuses to speak to him for a week.

"Why do you cover your mouth when you laugh?" she asks all out-of-the-blue while she kicks her feet against the legs of her stool, thirteen and short and well into her fourth bowl of ramen.

Minato pokes at his own noodles with a certain amount of distaste, not entirely sure why she dragged him along or what it means that he didn't protest all that much, even though he hates ramen and always has. "I dunno. Why do you yell all the time?"

"I don't yell!" she snaps - and then her mouth shuts and a blush spreads across her cheeks, her face scrunched up in outrage just in case he dares so much as chuckle at her.

He does, of course - he can't help it - but her jaw sets and she catches his hand before he can lift it and knocks him off his stool in the process. He retaliates by kicking hers out from under her and they're both banned from the ramen stand for a week.

It's several months and innumerable arguments later (her loud and angry, him baffled) before she eventually admits that she likes his smile, so it's better if everyone can see it. Not that she likes him or anything, because that's mushy and gross.

She lights up whenever he walks into the room. Then she smacks him upside the head and tries to pick fights with his teammates, because he's one of the only two people who doesn't notice this. (She's the other one.)

He rubs at wherever her blow landed and smiles and asks if her mission went all right then and says he's glad she's back, and he is always mildly confused when she turns bright pink and yells at him on general principles - as if she can't take care of herself!

Sometimes Minato's exasperated teammates ask why he puts up with such a loud, annoying girl - particularly Mikoto, who is sick of Kushina declaring them eternal rivals and challenging her to sparring matches.

He finds the ceiling really quite fascinating and quickly becomes an expert at changing the subject.

The six times Kushina lands in the hospital, Minato keeps her company and doesn't bring her presents or cards or anything, just sits on the chair by her bed and tells her that yes, he knows being injured sucks and yes, he's sure the Rock-nin had it coming and no, maybe it wasn't a good idea to insult said Rock-nin's mother, even though yes, he's sure she had it coming too.

The first time Minato ends up in the hospital, Kushina smuggles in instant ramen and is evicted by a nurse. The second time, she sneaks him out onto the roof and they spend a pleasant evening dangling their legs over a four-story drop and talking about nothing important. They're only found out when Kushina starts throwing things at hapless pedestrians and scores a direct hit on a passing Inuzuka; the entire hospital and possibly most of the village hear the ensuing shouting match, profanities and all.

(The third time Minato's in the hospital, it's actually a field tent with one exhausted medic and dirty bandages and bodies on the floor and Kushina telling him not to die on her account you stupid self-sacrificing asshole, but he's unconscious for most of that anyway.)

When Kushina is fourteen, she decides she wants a boyfriend. Whether the Yamanaka boy she selects has ever so much as talked to her before (much less if he had any say at all in the matter) is open to debate - but that's the way most things work with Kushina, so no one gives it much thought.

Minato does what he feels is her duty as her close friend. He corners the Yamanaka boy in an alley and tells him - perfectly politely, happily even - that he's thrilled for both of them, but if Kushina gets hurt, someone is going to get stuck full of a whole armory's worth of kunai, and by the way, he's much too fast for any mind-trapping Yamanaka jutsu to catch him. Just so everyone's clear.

The next day Kushina asks why her boyfriend hid behind his squad captain when she walked by. Minato shrugs and somehow gets talked into getting ramen again and tries not to feel just a little smug.

Kushina is good at taijutsu and very brave and her chakra reserves are impossibly big, even if her control waffles somewhere between imperfect and abysmal. Minato is merely quick and hard-working and frighteningly, terribly brilliant - qualities that would serve him better in peacetime than in war, because right up until he lands a killing blow, he's thinking and wondering if he's taking the right course of action.

Minato likes to believe he sees the world in shades of gray, but he doesn't - just in nuances and variations of right and wrong, with a sharp distinction always drawn between them. He swerves and ducks and maneuvers through skirmishes, using precise ninjutsu and the seals that come to him as easily as breathing, but there are lines he will never cross and things he won't do, not even to save the Leaf or Kushina or his teammates or himself. He adds to them as he grows up: he will not abandon the village like Tsunade and so many others; he will never knowingly let anyone hurt the people he cares about; he will not resort to the tactics he sees on both sides of many different border wars, no matter how desperate his circumstances might be, because otherwise the Leaf has no principles to fight for at all.

"If you were a threat?" Kushina says when he gets around to casually asking her. "What would I do?" They are perched on a tree and soaked with rain and trying to gnaw their way through rations. "I'd have to kill you, but you're not dumb enough to make me do that."

"Thanks," he says. "I think." And he absently tugs on her long hair and she threatens to push him off his branch if he so much as looks at her wrong.

In theory, Kushina is the better ninja.

Every single time Kushina meets an enemy - or at least an enemy who's willing to stare incredulously for a few seconds - she insists on putting her hand on her hip and thrusting her fist in the air and introducing herself with overly dramatic flair. At this point the poor enemy invariably looks at Minato, who shrugs as if to say "What can you do?" Sometimes there are brief truces over this - the conflicting interests of feuding villages set aside because a Mist chuunin or a squad of Sand genin have extra rations and Minato has a few bandages he won't need - and they all sit on the pockmarked ground and discuss the fact that Kushina is obviously batshit insane.

(She huffs at them and accuses Minato of fraternizing with the enemy and finally resorts to flopping beside him and eating twice her share of the rations and using his shoulder as a pillow, because announcing her existence to the world is hard work.)

Once a smirking Rain jounin recognizes her before she can get a word out or so much as pose. He sneers, really. She must be the Whirlpool daimyo's littlest granddaughter, the one who wasn't accounted for. If only they'd known that she ran crying to the Leaf instead of fighting to the death like her brothers and sisters, and does she remember that her mother wore her hair just like that?

Kushina goes white and then red and her hands ball into fists and she doesn't speak - doesn't even swear, just shakes. Minato hands her a few of his extra kunai and steps out of her way. The Rain jounin ambushed them, he writes in his report.

As long as she continues announcing her existence loud enough for the whole world to hear, everyone will know that the Uzumaki of the Whirlpool are still alive.

What Kushina isn't good at are seals. Minato would go so far as to say she's terrible at them - he certainly thinks it, anyway - and he shakes his head at her when she asks why he put that line here and this circle here and wouldn't it be easier for him to just ninjutsu the crap out of whoever they're about to fight next?

"Not everyone has your chakra reserves," he says mildly, etching a swirl and a loop and a few characters into the bark of a tree, building on a half-formed idea as he works. She flushes and glares at him and watches him work around his own insignificant reserves by channeling them through ink and paper and wood.

Some of what he does is impossible, but he is only a chuunin and still a teenager and not old or experienced enough to know that.

When someone screws up somewhere far from their strike point and they find themselves surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, he remembers the seal scratched absent-mindedly into the tree and grabs Kushina's hand and focuses the last faded remnants of his chakra. The ground vanishes beneath them and the Rock-nin with it, and they land three miles away and tangled up in branches without ever crossing the space in-between.

Kushina curses at him under her breath, then gets much louder when he looks like he might pass out from chakra loss and blood loss and that's what he gets for inventing a jutsu in the middle of a fight not to mention teleporting and did she mention he's idiot - and by the time the two of them stagger to safety, her shoulder is numb from his weight and he's half-conscious and pleased with himself, fingers tangled painfully in her hair and a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. If she weren't so busy terrorizing the overworked medic or trying not to cry, Kushina would tell him he looks much too happy for someone lying pale and still on a cot.

(Eventually she learns what happened further along the border, exactly what went wrong, and because Minato almost dies, she never forgives Hatake Sakumo, not while he's alive and certainly not after he kills himself, the stupid coward.)

"What's so wrong with saving your teammates?" Minato asks when he finishes telling one of the ANBU captains that yes, he maybe teleported a little and no, he didn't learn the seal from anywhere, he swears he just made it up. He forgives Hatake Sakumo when they're still surrounded and fighting for their lives - before he knows there's anyone to forgive at all.

Kushina rounds on him and storms over to his cot - looms over him, really, all wide-eyed fury - and splutters out ten kinds of obscenities. She grabs him by the collar and hauls him up and herself down and for long moments they're nose-to-nose and she's glaring at him and wishing he'd get angry about something for once.

"You could've died," she says.

"You could've, too." He considers and adds, "I didn't want that."

Kushina is so close that she has to cross her eyes to focus on him. "Look, asshole, if you think I'm that easy to - "

He kisses her without really thinking about it - or tries to; she's mid-insult and it lands on the corner of her mouth - and she stares at him like she's been punched in the nose and decides then and there that she's going to have to murder him, really, right this second.

Just as soon as she's done trying to smack him and call him an idiot and kiss him back like it's the last thing she'll ever do, all at the same time.

What Minato isn't good at - will never be good at - is knowing when he means something to people.

The whole Yellow Flash thing starts as a bad joke - the sort that involves old genin teammates and what, in hindsight, was probably too much sake - but it sticks and gets passed along despite said Yellow Flash's mortified objections, and the day it turns up in a captured Mist bingo book, he bangs his head on his folded arms and asks the man he thinks of as a father what he ever did to deserve this. (Jiraiya is too busy making fun of him to answer, the bastard.)

He tries to be reasonable about his jutsu, of course. He explains the seal and the precise chakra control to the Leaf's elders and elite, first cheerfully and then seriously and finally with growing desperation when he realizes that no one else can even move themselves from one room to another. Other seals are brought in for him to examine - twisting, complicated ones on musty scrolls - and he reads them like words on a page, expertly untangling them until everyone but the Sandaime and maybe Jiraiya and Orochimaru completely lose track of what he's talking about.

After that people start calling him a prodigy. He begins to wonder if the whole village has gone out of its gourd.

"If you get a big head, I'm smacking you," Kushina says, and she shoves him off the wall they're perched on the way a normal girl might kiss his cheek. She doesn't call him Minato either, but he likes eyerolls and "you idiot" better than silly, grandiose nicknames.

"Maybe I want to be Hokage," she says the fifth time she's released from the hospital. They're sitting together on some poor civilian's roof, plotting how to trip up harried-looking chuunin messengers just because they can.

He hears the words she leaves hanging in the air. "No one's ever going to forget you, Hokage or not."

"Don't be sappy," she mutters.

The more the rest of the village starts respecting him, the more Kushina calls him by his name. She says it's to keep him from getting delusions of grandeur - and it's certainly not because no one remembers who the Shodai and Nidaime Hokage were before, whether or not they liked ramen or grinned like morons or never, ever wanted to be anything special. (And he doesn't exactly help his case; only he would think his rasengen isn't good enough.)

He tilts his head and asks if that means she's stopped thinking he's an idiot. She flushes, he says she looks like a tomato, and she stands on her tiptoes and calls him all kinds of names with her face an inch from his.

Kushina sees the world in heroics and theatrics and memory - and, when necessary, lungpower. She lives in the noise and grandiose sweep of adventure stories - in the exact place Minato doesn't belong - and she is afraid that one day his name will disappear forever, swallowed up by the Leaf and the seals and stupid aliases in bingo books.

He doesn't get around to telling her he's been assigned Sakumo's son as a student, but she learns soon enough - at least when she enters his apartment by way of a window and discovers he's dragged a haughty, bewildered little boy home for dinner.

And maybe it's just as well that he didn't tell her, because Kushina thinks Kakashi is an arrogant little brat and Kakashi thinks Kushina is a disgrace and possibly a waste of oxygen, and Minato finally has to slam a pot down on his table a little too hard and tell one to behave himself and the other to please be quiet, because she's being out-argued by a seven-year-old.

Kushina mutters something obscene, but leans over to peer in the pot all the same, feigning disinterest. "I thought you hated ramen."

Minato rolls his eyes and hands her an extra-large serving without a word.

When Kakashi's out of earshot, he tells her that ramen and rations are the only things he can convince the kid to eat. She shuts up after that.

He doesn't flush or falter around girls - Kushina, he discovers, is the one who turns as red as her hair whenever he reaches over to catch her hand. (Some mornings she's one big blush, even if she is hogging his covers and most of his bed and by the way she has no idea where her shirt went, so she's taking his.) But the same boy who can accomplish the impossible on a battlefield doesn't quite know what to do with girls, especially one he thinks he might possibly be in love with, and he wonders if Kushina will shatter or disappear or break both his arms if he makes a misstep.

"We're not dating," she says sometimes – and then one day without any warning it becomes "We're not married or anything" and he hauls his bickering little team home from a mission to find most of her belongings piled in the middle of his apartment and instant noodles taking over his cupboard.

Kushina, he's convinced, is a force of nature – something that just happens without ordinary people having a say, even the people with stupid nicknames.

She thinks the same about him, but she'd never admit it.

When Uchiha Obito dies, Minato mourns by butting heads with the boy's clan, insisting without raising his voice that Kakashi be allowed to keep the sharingan eye. He doesn't have to fight back tears or hide a quaver in his voice, not even once, and when the Sandaime points out he's never lost anyone before, he shakes his head and says that it won't happen again. He will not knowingly hurt the people he cares about; there are lines he will never cross.

He tells Kakashi to live for the sake of the people he loves and loved and will love, since he thinks of the boy as a little brother and this is what has always worked for him.

Kushina could tell him his prize student will take the advice all wrong – Kushina lives in-spite-of rather than because-of and in-honor-of, and somewhere under the noise and the temper and the occasional threats of violence, she's a more realistic judge of people than Minato will ever be.

"If I had a kid," Kushina says for no reason at all, right in the middle of their argument about whose turn it is to cook (and more importantly, how badly Minato wants something besides noodles). "If I did, I'd make sure he wasn't as fussy as you."

"If you had a kid, we'd have to find something that goes with Uzumaki," Minato says as he tries to steer her away from the stove. He starts to say something about her temper and how maybe they shouldn't pass that along, but then she almost knocks him over and hides her face against his chest and says that any kid of hers is going to have her good looks, you stupid jerk.

It is the first and last and only time he ever sees her cry.

Attempting to keep Kushina off active duty is a task for trained ANBU squads, not for the poor chuunin who listens to her announce at the top of her lungs that she's pregnant, not useless. Half the village knows by lunchtime, when Kushina's sent out into the village with instructions to pester someone else, and since no one gossips like a bunch of ninja, the other half knows about it before dinner. Minato spends the rest of the day fending off congratulations – at least when he isn't staring at the convoluted mess of phantom squads and fake signatures that allowed Orochimaru to hide any number of secret labs all over the village and wondering why the Sandaime keeps foisting more and more paperwork on him, no matter how well the peace proposals with the other villages are going.

He learns that he is the next Hokage somewhere between realizing he's been reading Form A-16 upside-down and telling Kushina to stop lounging on the desk he laid claim to, because that was a very valuable scroll she just tore – and even then he hardly notices the Sandaime standing in the doorway and smiling in a wise all-knowing sort of way, not until the old man clears his throat and Minato stands up so quickly that he knocks over his chair.

"Why me?" he asks later, once the shock has worn off and Kushina has been convinced that it isn't a joke. What he thinks is: because of the nickname, because he is young and probably a little naïve, because he is unattached to any of the clans and wasn't even born in the village.

"Because you believe in the Leaf," the Sandaime says.

"No one will remember your name," Kushina mutters under her breath, hands clenched at her sides, but she thinks she might be the only one who cares at all.

Neither of them can decide what to call their child. Until they lay claim to Jiraiya's Naruto, their best options are Hey-You-There and just plain Kid – and possibly Ramen, but Minato's fairly sure that was a joke.

"Watch," he says, head bent over a proposal or letter or order that makes Kushina's eyes glaze over – probably another protest from the Hyuuga about something-or-other, and in another week she'll be able to see her feet again and will teach the newest Uzumaki how to paint obscenities on compound walls; he's sketching seals in the margin and frowning at them, but she can't understand them and dismisses them as something uninteresting. "He'll be just like me and you'll be sorry."

Kushina rolls her eyes and threatens to kick him out of the apartment – never mind that it's still his, even if she's taken over most of it – and he points out that he's Hokage and could probably have her arrested for that, and just when she protests that he's getting a big head he starts laughing – and really, after that she has no choice but to try and put him in a headlock.

The Uzumaki of the Leaf has a nice sound to it, she thinks.

Minato draws seals late in the night and reads rumors about a biju near the northern border of the Fire Country – but they are only rumors. Even if they aren't, he has half-formed plans sitting in the back of his mind. He will not be like the other villages' kages and he will not sacrifice anyone – not Kushina, not strangers, no one except himself.

(There are certain lines he will never cross.)

Uzumaki Naruto is realistic enough to know his birth family almost certainly abandoned him - and he is more than resilient enough to guess why - so he constructs a new family out of his friends and his village, held together by his own stubborn determination.

He never gives his parents a second thought.