The last time that it had really snowed he'd been about five or six. His parents had still been alive and had spent the whole weekend playing in the icy white stuff with him. It had been a lot of fun, and for years afterwards he'd always been disappointed when it hadn't snowed.

Now all Minato could think as trudged through yet another snow drift was how cold and miserable it all was.

At least it's winter break and I don't have to try and walk to school in this. He sighed, and saw his breath condense into a little misty cloud. I should've just stayed inside…

But staying inside meant putting up with Uncle Jiraiya singing Christmas carols very badly, and setting up multiple sprigs of mistletoe all around the house. Going to Aunt Tsunade's house wasn't an option either; she tended to stay at least half drunk throughout the holidays to help forget that her baby brother and fiancé were dead. And not feeling up to visit with his friends, his only escape meant wandering around snow-covered Konoha.

He sighed again. As Shikaku would say: How troublesome…

Winter always made him feel gloomy. The days were short and dark, and it was always cold and rainy (and in this case: snowy). And when the holidays rolled around, he was unhappily reminded that he was an orphan.

This year was even worse than usual, as all his friends had managed to find a significant other. They had special little Christmas gifts to buy. They had someone to kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve. They had a reason to look forwards to Valentine's Day and White day.

He didn't…though not for lack of trying.

Freshman year he'd briefly dated a girl he'd developed a crush on in middle school, but it turned out that she was more interested in trying out as many boys as possible rather than just sticking with the proper "one at a time" approach and their relationship hadn't last more than a month. After that mess, he'd gone on a string of blind dates, usually with Inoichi's nicer ex-girlfriends. But not a single one had gone on to be something more.

He paused and noted what street he'd ended up on. It was a narrow stretch lined with cherry trees; a place he passed through every day on his way to and from school. It was where…he'd first encountered her.

The first girl I've felt interested towards in a long time…and she goes to another school and thinks I'm as perverted as Jiraiya-oji-san.

"Hey! Hey, over here!"

That was real smooth, he mentally kicked himself. Just when I finally get her name, I ruin any chances of ever talking to her again…

"Hey! Turn around! I know you can hear me!"

But who am I kidding? A pretty girl like her…she probably has a boyfriend already.

"Oi, Namikaze!"

He blinked. …Huh? Who's—


She loved snow, especially fresh snow. Old snow was full of footprints or gray with car exhaust. Fresh snow was white and clean and sparkling—a sort of blank slate. It gave her a little thrill to be the first one to put her mark on it.

When Kushina had rolled out of bed that morning, she'd been delighted to see a decent carpet of snow blanketing everything. She'd barely paused for breakfast before bolting outdoors to play. This kind of snow was supposedly rare here in Fire Country, so she was going to enjoy every moment of it.

But regrettably her enjoyment didn't last. As she crossed over part of her route to school, she ran into a bunch of jocks who attended class with her. Normally she would've hung out with these guys, but they were snobs, jerks, and thought that girls were only good for cooking, house-keeping, sex, and baby-making. And that attitude made them her enemies.

Worse, some creep had put up some mistletoe on the street sign and they'd caught her under it. They got into a friendly argument as to which of them would get to "unfreeze the ice bitch" and blocked all her means of escape. If there hadn't been so many of them, she would've punched them where it really hurts and ditched them. But if she tried here, they could retaliate before she took them all out and ran off. It was too dangerous; she needed a "Plan B."

By some miracle, she spied a perfect "Plan B" just down the street. If she could get a tolerable boy to kiss her and release her from the mistletoe trap, she wouldn't have to suffer a nasty kiss from one of the douche bags that had her surrounded. And Namikaze, the artsy sunshine-blonde, was definitely a guy she would classify as "tolerable."

All she had to do was get his attention and she was sure that he'd help her out. The problem was that he'd seemed to have developed some severe hearing loss as no matter what she yelled at him, he failed to react. Frustrated and rather desperate (the jocks had noticed her possible savior and had sped up their competition of rock-paper-scissors), she chucked a snowball at him and hit the back of his head.

Haha! Got your attention now!

When he turned around, he looked really mad.

Aw, crap…

"Hey, Red!" one of the creeps laughed. "Calm down! You don't need him. We'll save you from the mistletoe."

"I'd rather skip the kiss and take the consequences, thank you very much!" Kushina snarled, leaning away from the speaker.

"Well that's just too bad," another one purred. "We're going to help you, whether you like it or not."

"And maybe we'll manage to unfreeze you in more ways than one!" a third crowed.

Real panic started to claw at her chest. No one would ever try something like this back at her old school. No one would dare. Her brothers would beat them to a pulp, or her friends—whichever group caught up with the offenders first.

But she had no friends here. Her brothers were busy with work or college, and were miles away. Her reputation was left back in Whirlpool. She had no protection here.

"If any of you jerks touches me I swear I'll sterilize you in the most painful way possible!" Kushina hissed, pressing her back against the signpost.

"Relax, Red," the first one—the captain of the swimming team, she thought—soothed. Or at least he tried to soothe, it was sort of ruined by the leering smile on his face. "We just want to show you what you've been missing!"

"I'd rather miss out!" she snapped, shivering. "Buzz off!"

The rock-paper-scissors thing seemed to have been abandoned in favor of letting the swim captain have the honors. The tall, lean senior closed the gap, braced one hand on the sign pole over her head, and started to close in for the kill. The pack of jocks leaned in, eager to watch.

"Now just hold still, baby," swimmer boy chuckled. "And no bitin—gah!"

Kushina blinked and watched as her enemy lurched away from her and crumpled to the snow. His free arm—which he'd probably meant to grope her with as he took advantage of her—was twisted painfully behind his back. And polite, gentle, sun-shiny Namikaze Minato suddenly looked very mean and badass.

"I believe that Uzumaki-san has made it perfectly clear that she does not desire your 'help,' so kindly respect her wishes and back off."

"Son of a—ow!" the jock cursed and twisted free, rubbing at his abused wrist and shoulder. "You little punk!"

Minato just stared him down, his blue eyes icier than the ground under their feet.

"So, you want her for yourself, is that it?" swimmer boy sneered, staggering to his feet. "Well go ahead then, have at her. She's not going anywhere until someone gets a taste."

If anything, Minato's stare grew colder. But when he turned to her, his eyes lost their steely look. It was like it had caught up with him what he was doing, and he was regretting it.

Damn it, you're not chickening out on me!

Her desperation made her more impulsive than usual, and she snagged him by the wrist and dragged him in. It was half-head-butt, half-kiss, but there was lip-to-lip contact so it counted. Before anyone could recover, she was out of there, running as fast as she could through the snow and towing her poor many-times victim with her.

"See you later, scum-suckers!" she snarled at the jocks, and then disappeared around a corner.

Kushina didn't stop until she reached a strip of shops where there were other people around. If the jerk jocks followed, they wouldn't dare do anything in front of witnesses. It was safe to stop here.

"I'm sorry…about that…" she muttered between pants. "And the snowball…but I really…really needed to…get your attention."

"Who were they?" he asked, massaging his bare hands.

"Jocks, mostly from the swim team. They're a bunch of chauvinistic creeps who think all girls are in love with them." She stomped excess snow off her boots with more force than was necessary. "I hate them so much! If there had only been three or four of them, I would've kicked their asses!"

"Ah," he blinked. "Is it bad that I can't feel my fingers?"

"Yes," she frowned and immediately grasped his naked hands with her gloved ones and tried to warm them up with a little friction. "Don't you have any gloves?"

"It's never cold enough to need any," he shrugged.

"Yeah, that's what everyone says," she sighed and glanced around at the nearby shops.


"I moved here last spring," Kushina grumbled. "I came from Uzu no Kuni, where it snows every winter, and people are sensible enough to own gloves."

"Ah," he chuckled nervously.

"Here," she led him by the arm across the street and into a coffee shop.

She despised coffee; it tasted disgusting. But coffee shops also sold non-coffee beverages, and that's what she was after. She sat him down at a little two-person table and bought two hot chocolates—one for him and one for her.

"There!" she grinned and presented him with the drink cup. "That will fix your hands, and everything else, too!"

Minato rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "You didn't have to—"

"I wanted to," she smiled. "Besides, it's like an apology…seeing as every time I run into you, I beat you up a little bit."

He blinked, and smiled back. "You do, don't you."

Kushina swallowed hard and dropped her eyes to the melting marshmallows in her cocoa. Stupid cute smile! "So, um…drawn anything cool lately?"


"That time in the summer, I was trying to find your cell phone to call someone after the concussion thing and I saw some stuff in your notebook." She peered up at him, and found that he looked quite horrified. "What, was I not supposed to look at all the pretty pictures? I thought they were pretty cool…"

"You…liked them?" That seemed to ease his mind a great deal.

"Of course I did! They were really good!" She peeled her gloves off and sipped at her hot chocolate. "I really liked that fox with all those tails. Did you ever finish it?"

For a good two hours they ended up talking about that and a whole bunch of other things. She complained about how horrible her school was. He amused her with stories of all the crazy things his friends did. And somewhere in there, they exchanged phone numbers.

Kushina was glad. She'd finally found someone interesting and cool to hang out with. It was a horrible shame that they didn't go to the same school, but at least they didn't live too far apart. It had taken the better part of a year, but she'd finally found a friend, and just in time for the holidays too!

She had no designs on dating him, though. She was Uzumaki Kushina, tomboy for life! She did not date boys, no matter how pretty or charming or funny or nice or awesome they were. No, he was just a friend.

Although, on Christmas, when she found a wrapped picture frame with a pencil drawing of two foxes sharing a scarf and sitting under a snow-covered toad statue, she felt her resolve waver a teeny-tiny bit…

...or is the beginning?