Kushina wandered the streets of Konoha in mild confusion. For once, she could not sense her pesky bodyguard anywhere nearby. She quickly stamped out the loneliness that dared sprout up at Minato's absence. Instead of mulling over his sudden understanding of personal space, she observed the excited faces she passed.
The children were giddy with anticipation, while the adults busied themselves buying candy and various knickknacks. For all intents and purposes, everybody seemed to be preparing for some big birthday celebration. At the same time, she wondered if they were preparing for a parade or a masquerade. The streets were as decorated and festive as the costumes everybody seemed to be wearing.
For an instant, the festive atmosphere reminded Kushina of her land and people, and it left her homesick. The time of the year was right. She wanted to be with her family to celebrate the bittersweet festival kept dear in the Uzumaki heart. She wanted to cuddle with her imouto near the family room hearth under their okaa-sama's woven blanket.
It was the evening of the Star Fall, and she was far away in a strange land.
She was a hostage, along with her imouto. They were bargaining chips to ensure the Uzumaki removed themselves from the looming battle and sided with none of the great powers.
As she cradled her torso, a gentle hand brushed across her shoulder. Kushina could not stop her eyes from widening at the sight. Minato stood beside her wearing ancient robes and carrying a furled and obviously long scroll. He smiled readily for her, and her loneliness, almost to her displeasure, instantly melted away.
Without a word, he unfurled a section of the scroll he carried, tore it off, and handed it to her with a flourish. She stared at it for a long moment. She could not help it. The gift was traditional, and he dressed as the hero of Star Fall. When she looked up to thank him, he was already gone. She tried to be angry, but the reality of the situation got in the way.
"She's so lucky…" She heard one of Minato's admirers whisper in supposed confidence to another nearby admirer. "I don't see what he sees in her, giving her the first gift!"
Kushina looked at the section of scroll she received. As much as she hated to admit it, the 'secret' admirer was right. Three borders surrounded an intricate set of seals and runes, and a tear made only one side jagged. In spite of herself, her heart fluttered. However, she saw more, something endearing.
Minata walked down the street proudly. He had the bearing of a hero. More importantly, he stopped at every child he met along the street. Even as they crowded around him excitedly, he patted each gingerly upon their crowns. He tore a section from his scroll and handed one to each expectant child. He waved to their parents as he continued down the street.
He did not leave her side. He fulfilled his self-appointed duty. He let her know he was thinking about her. Kushina blushed at her self-centered thoughts. She blushed brighter as she realized she was thinking about him! As she tried to regain control of her senses, a young Uchiha female, about her age, walked up next to her.
"He's usually more composed than this." She looked at the Uchiha girl with some surprise when she spoke out of nowhere. "I admit; I like the seeing the emotions dancing across his face. It's better than that bland, stately expression he tries to take."
"E-Excuse me?" Kushina stumbled as she tried to identify the Uchiha.
"You probably don't remember me." She said sweetly. "I'm Mikoto. We spoke briefly when you first came here; though, that was just an informal introduction."
Kushina nodded, somewhat remembering. "Engaged to the heir to the Uchiha?" She asked carefully, receiving an affirmative nod.
"Wanna get a bite to eat?" Mikoto continued easily. She almost giggled at her new companion's expression. "That seal won't break for a few hours, so we may as well do something to pass the time. Besides, Minato will be busy for a while now."
Kushina blushed at how obvious she must have been. She did not like like Minato. …right? She barely nodded before Mikoto dragged her off to a restaurant further down another street. She lost track of her surroundings as her escort dragged her back and forth.
The restaurant was as crowded as the streets outside. The din was almost a low roar, and she wondered how the waiters took their orders under such pressure. However, they placed and received their orders without incident. They ate with a near palatable silence between them.
Then, Mikoto started the questioning. "You know about Star Fall, right?"
"O-Of course!" Kushina blinked. "How do you know?"
Mikoto giggled. "The Namikaze keep the tradition alive. Minato always loved the roll of Whirlpool."
"So..." Mikoto leaned closer. "What do you think of him?"
"Who?" Kushina blinked in genuine confusion.
"Come on! How do you see him?"
"H-He's annoying!" She blushed. "He's childish and a hopeless busybody!"
"I see…" Mikoto cooed.
"Nevermind." Mikoto brushed her off and continued without looking back. "I know it must be hard to be so far from home, but Minato worked real hard on the Star Fall festival this year. What's so important about it to you, anyway?"
Kushina sighed and looked down. She should have seen the topic coming. She looked at the section of scroll Minato handed her before answering. "I guess it's something like the birth of some great legend." She leaned back and rolled her glass. She listened to the swirling liquid as she resumed her story. "Whirlpool was the leader, so I suppose he was remembered as the hero. However, he wasn't the only one there."
She wove a tale for Mikoto. She spoke of a time before shinobi, before people learned to mold chakra into powerful jutsu. She spoke of a time where clans of summon beasts lived among man instead of far and hidden away. Kushina eventually garnered the attention of host and patron alike as she spoke of a time where seals, runes, and ceremony harnessed natural energies.
A long time ago, an ancient among the monkey clan lashed out at humanity for a reason forgotten by the ages. He went on a rampage and laid waste to everything in sight. When his clan visited punishment upon him, they chose to strip bear his pride. Like the bijuu of the age of shinobi, the violent monkey wore many tails.
When his clan removed his tails, the monkey's rage against humanity only intensified. He started a great and terrible war, and he cast off his mortal shell. He became a being of pure chakra, and he changed his name. He became the Reibi no Hoshi. He reduced and scattered humanity, and he set his rage upon any beast that sided with his sworn enemies.
Eventually, the greatest warriors of the land gathered. At the center, a human called Whirlpool emerged. He led the charge with ten beasts at his flanks. Even still, the Reibi no Hoshi proved too much. They were at a standstill, and they could not lead the deranged monkey into their sealing trap.
A forgotten hero, a great bird of ten wings, eventually discovered a way to break through the Reibi no Hoshi's defenses. The bird of ten wings sacrificed himself, and his power filled nine earthen pots. Whirlpool completed the arcane circle and trapped the Reibi no Hoshi, separating his power among the nine earthen pots and trapping his body in stone. The great star had fallen, but it caused great collateral damage in its wake.
As Kushina finished her tale, she noticed the gathered crowd. The ending was bittersweet, and some obviously wept or held in tears at the loss the hero must have felt. Then, midnight caressed the land. She looked at her section of scroll as it creaked and popped. After a moment, a small earthen jar emerged from the arcane circle.
She knew the seal was a shinobi's attempt at replicating the historic circle, but she felt the sentiment nonetheless. The symbols of the ten beast clans adorned the earthen jar. She pulled a small jewelry box from within. She gasped and smiled at the sight.
She saw a small bracelet and a charm representing the forgotten hero, a feather of his bird clan.
Maybe… Maybe she did like Minato.
Kushina didn't know where her first Star Fall in Konoha would lead. She didn't know how well she would get to know Mikoto and other clan wives before she would call Fire her home. She had no idea where her unexpected relationship with Minato would lead. She only knew he brought a small comfort to her homesick heart.
I'd like to apologize for my absence these last few months. I have reasons, and I do not actually apologize for those reasons. I apologize that any fans I have had to wait on The Path We Walk and Fate, Alchemy, and Bridges. I'll mention this again when I actually post in those stories, which I plan on soon.
I hope everybody enjoyed their Christmas and New Years! For any US audience, I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving! Also, happy Chanukah! Stay Safe!