Summary: "Now I'm going to have to keep you, and judging by that nice left hook of yours, I have a feeling you won't leave for Konoha with me without a fight." Minato and Kushina, from the moment they met until the bitter end.
Rating: T (mild suggestiveness)
Disclaimer: Naruto and all of associated characters belong to Kishimoto Masashi.

Author's Note: I'm sorry! I know I should be working on Ashes, but I was working on one of its later chapters and got inspiration for this story. As the similar titles suggest, this may be read as a companion to Ashes if you want. I'd love to know what you think, so please R&R if you have the time.

"I suck at mending. Can't even patch up a hole in a pair of socks without tearing the whole thing to shreds, you know."

Namikaze Minato can't move his head without feeling pain shoot up his spine, but he glances down at the increasingly thick wad of gauze bandages being wound around his torso and then his eyes flicker surreptitiously to the woman who is binding him up. She has a pretty face, all pale skin and high cheekbones and a small, pointed nose. Her eyes are focused on the task of continual bandaging but her little mouth is moving a mile a minute, going on about her withered potted plants and the number of fish that she's accidentally killed – "…Couldn't figure out for the life of me why they just kept floating to the surface of the water like that, but then again I suppose it isn't a good idea to keep fish when you're away on missions for days at a time…". Minato guesses that she couldn't be much more than eighteen or nineteen years old.

"Perhaps I should be a little more concerned then," He says, and the young woman's eyes shoot up to meet his. Bright, bright blue, intense like the sky over Konoha on a hot summer day.

"I'm sorry?"

Minato gestures to the yards-long medical tape around his waist that she is currently cutting from the roll and attempting to tie in place with her long, thin fingers. "You said you're bad at mending things. It's one thing to die in battle, and quite another to be saved from bleeding to death only to die of an improperly-treated wound."

BAM! The Leaf ninja's head is jerked to the side from the impact of her fist – her fist, Minato registers, and not merely an open hand – against his jaw.

"Well, excuse me for helping you out then, you jerk," she says angrily, the offending fist now clenched at her side. "I may not be a medic by any means, but I still took the time to drag your unconscious body half a mile to safety so some idiot wouldn't find you and finish you off. Maybe I should have just let you lay bleeding where I found you!"

Minato brings a hand up to cup his chin, prodding it with his thumb and forefinger thoughtfully as he inspects the damage. "Maybe you should have," he says slowly, and the anger slowly melts from the red-haired girl's features.

"You want to die, then?"

"No, that's not it." This woman isn't wearing a forehead band to identify herself as a ninja, but Minato was willing to bet the fracture in his jaw line that she was no civilian. She has the temper of a warrior, and she hits like a practiced kunoichi. With a miniscule shrug (for Minato's battered body cannot afford a grander gesture) he continues, "I'm just saying it would have been easier for the both of us if I didn't meet you. Now I'm going to have to keep you, and judging by that nice left hook of yours, I have a feeling you won't leave for Konoha with me without a fight."

For a moment, the girl can only stare at him silently in shock; her eyes are wide and her mouth hangs open and Minato has time to notice that he has managed to make her blush before she reverts to outrage again.

"How dare you…!" He receives a lightning-fast blow to the other side of his head, as he knew he would, but even as vision begins to sparkle and fade he wears a cheeky sort of smugness on the upturned corners of his lips.

"It'll be a lot easier to dress the rest of your wounds if you're unconscious." There is scathing in her voice, but Minato believes she has already lost her edge. She will come around sooner or later.

"At least tell me your name before I black out. I don't think I can wait that long."

A pause, some hesitation, and then… "Uzumaki Kushina."

Ah, there; Uzumaki Kushina, Hidden Shoal's Liquid Fire. It made perfect, wonderful sense.

"Uzumaki Kushina," he repeats the name to himself. His words are beginning to slur; he won't stay alert much longer. "And I am…"

"I'm not stupid, nearly everybody knows who you are. You're Konoha's Yellow Flash," Kushina says, but the man she is looking down on shakes his head gently. The world swirls and darkens.

"No, no," he mumbles. "Namikaze Minato. Just call me Namikaze…Minato…okay…?"

Maybe in retrospect she shouldn't have hit him so hard, considering the injuries he already sustained. "Okay, I guess," she says a little more softly. His eyes flutter, then still, and Kushina is left to her thoughts and the sound of his deep, even breathing. When she is sure that he's out she tries out his name on the empty air. She knows something is seriously wrong with her when, in spite of all that's happened, she realizes she can't keep the smile off her face.

It takes Minato fifteen days to recover strength enough to make the trip back home and another two to tear himself away from Kushina, who forcibly refuses his insistence on taking her with him and consequently becomes the first woman he has to admit defeat to. Minato leaves on the seventeenth morning in an angry, irrational storm; for all his prowess as a shinobi and the respect he commanded as a man, when he failed to get his way he always reverted to little more than a shade of the boy he used to be.

He slams the door twice on his way out: once to make the point that he was leaving for good, and once more to give Kushina his parting gift. Minato storms back inside and grabs Kushina by her little wrist and yanks her to him; she twitches, shivers, like she can't stand being that close to him, but when his mouth crashes against hers she drinks him deep, surrendering completely to passion and Minato is able to feel that, despite her refusal to leave with him, this battle would end in a tie.

It becomes Minato's victory when, eighteen miles outside of Hidden Shoal Village, he is assaulted from behind by a blur of long red hair, like liquid fire across his vision.

The Yellow Flash returns to Konoha with a young foreign woman on his arm and the people of Hidden Leaf sigh in relief, glad to see their hero back on home turf. Minato introduces the girl with the stream of straight auburn hair as Uzumaki Kushina, his lover, his fiancée, and the future mother of his children. Kushina kicks him and he kisses her, laughing at her embarrassment. Kushina: lover, fiancée, mother, three identities as foreign as the soil she has arrived on now circulating through her blood with every heartbeat. Some vital part of her dies and is born again, and Kushina isn't sure if she should be in mourning or celebrating.

Kushina was ten years old when she decided that she wasn't ever going to get married. The child that she was believed that nothing great or useful could come out of a person that divided their heart up among different purposes, so she made a vow to herself that she would only ever focus her sight on one. She had chosen her profession, and now, over a decade later, she stands before a man renouncing her choice for love.

For a stifling second, Kushina thinks the marriage altar feels more like an altar of sacrifice.

She is throwing her dream away to give herself to this man in front of her. Kushina should have been angry, but she wasn't fifteen anymore. She felt that anger thick and distant like a large grey cloud in the distant sky, and she let it go. Minato's eyes lock onto hers, and when the corners of his mouth twitch upwards in that cheeky, secretive little smile of his, she is filled with sunlight again.

"I do," she says. Two small, simple words and yet they carry a stifling amount of power. Two words and Kushina's dreams drift away on a passing breeze to follow her anger to some distant, unreachable world.

But she is okay with that. She has done the previously unthinkable and given herself to the Yellow Flash, and now she has new dreams to fulfill.

Uzumaki Kushina. She was able to part with her childhood ambitions, but somehow cannot bear to see the familiar kanji of her surname replaced with strange characters, so Minato lets her keep it. He makes a joke, says that Namikaze Kushina is too much of a tongue-twister anyway and Kushina laughs, outwardly agreeing and inwardly hoping that Minato doesn't notice the sigh of relief that escapes her lips.

She is nervous when it's time for bed, and when Minato places a guiding hand on the small of her back and she doesn't budge, he smiles and picks her up and carries her into the bedroom like the Western bride of some novelty romance paperback. They had made love just once before, forceful and frenzied in a pile of leaves on the way back to Konoha, but by the way Minato's eyes follow the curve of her bare shoulder she knows instinctively that it's going to be different this time.

Minato stands behind her, places his hands on her shoulders to steady her. Slowly, he reaches up into Kushina's hair, taking out the elaborate pin-clip and allowing all that glorious red to fall around her shoulders and down her back. The bow on her silk kimono is easy, nothing the Yellow Flash can't handle, and Kushina steels herself before allowing the garment to fall in a pool at her feet.

Mud and leaves she can handle. Scratching and clawing and shinobi gear shoved aside by hands too impatient to remove them were no problem. But here, standing illuminated in the moonlight, Kushina feels more exposed than she has ever felt in her entire life.

Her shoulders tighten as Minato places kisses at the base of her neck and then relax completely against his touch, leaning her back against his bare chest and revelling in the feeling of his arms sliding over the skin of her stomach, her hips, her thighs. When they finally drift to sleep that night, Minato remains an imprint on the inside of Kushina's eyelids, every inch of him, and he dominates her thoughts. The doubts she had this morning have dried, withered and died, just like the potted plants she buys and neglects.

Three plates, two teacups, one bowl, a jar of pickled ginger. Kushina tallies up the household losses for the week and simultaneously feels like throwing another dish against the wall and praying aloud to whatever god that blessed Minato with prodigious shinobi skill. It is only a steady income that's saving Kushina from losing all faith in her own abilities as a housewife; this, and Minato's nonchalance at her mistakes. Her miso soup is too salty. Her meat dishes are tough. Her attempts at stir-fried anything are always downright intolerable, but no matter what she attempts and fails at her husband eats every meal without so much as a complaint (although there was that one time when she accidentally mistook the baking powder for flour. Minato took one bite and grimaced, but she could hardly blame him for that. She'd had to throw the entire meal out and they'd gone to Ichariku's for ramen).

When the Great Secret War calls Minato to duty for weeks at a time, Kushina takes the opportunity to practice cooking. She feeds her experiments to the youngest and runtiest of her husband's young Genin students, a scruffy-haired, goggle-wearing goofball named Uchiha Obito who spends as much at time over at his sensei's house as he probably does at his own. Kushina doesn't wonder why the other students never come over, the little girl with the bandages beneath her eyes and the tall, stoic boy with the silver hair and the face mask; she is merely thankful that Obito-kun has the stomach of a warrior, even if he doesn't have the mindset of one (yet. Kushina is forever telling him this. It will come, she is sure of it). It is when Obito finally pronounces her seafood udon soup tolerable that worry begins to creep into her conscience. She worries for Minato, for his students, for this Godforsaken war that seems to be inching its way closer to home with each passing day. Desperate to keep her mind occupied, Kushina buys a potted orchid, sets it on the windowsill that gets the most light and sharpens the set of kunais she hadn't even touched since the day she first arrived in Konoha.

When Minato returns home one day with his lips pressed into a thin line and one less brat trailing behind him, Kushina falls into her husband's arms and allows them to lock her in place against his chest. She cries harder than she ever has before, adding her tears to the dirt and the grime and the sweat of the shirt he had abused for days during this disastrous mission and understands in this moment that she is his vessel. Minato stands stony and unmoving over her, cold and hard like the great cenotaph that would soon bear Uchiha Obito's name, and Kushina cries enough tears for the both of them. Sadness fills her to overflowing, because she carries the sadness that her husband cannot afford to.

"I feel like I'm drowning," she says, her words muffled against him. They should have been angry; Kushina should have been angry, but can only manage to be tired.

"I'm sorry," Minato says quietly, but Kushina isn't sure what he is apologizing for, the fact that he failed to save Obito or the fact that he couldn't spare her of the excess grief that he poured into her to keep himself strong.

They say that marriage transforms the unified roles of two people in their line of profession into entirely separate gender-specific roles. The shinobi becomes the husband and fights for money. He fights because it's his job to put bread on the table for his family. The kunoichi puts down her knives and swords and fists to take on the role of the wife, and becomes a supporter for her husband. They say that a married woman cannot be a wife and a kunoichi at the same time; that she cannot fight and love simultaneously.

They couldn't have been more wrong. Love is a fight, Kushina knows; it's a wife's battle, and just like the battles she used to put her whole heart into as a contracted kunoichi, it's a fight that she would gladly die for so long as she emerged the winner.

Once she has come to terms with this, Kushina throws herself into her husband and into her husband's world.

She seeks out Minato's two remaining students, the Jounin Hatake Kakashi and the healer Rin. The girl is polite enough but distant; there is a haunted, far-away look in her eyes that speaks of loss and despair and Kushina sets off to fix it with a determination that reminds her of the days she used to get a thrill out of fighting for her life and the lives of others back in Whirlpool Country. She places Rin at the hospital on a part-time basis, and soon she is able to wave at the brown-haired girl and see warmth rekindled back in those eyes of hers. When she finally sets her sights on fixing Kakashi, Rin is a full-time nurse with no time left in her busy schedule to regret or to mourn.

The silver-haired son of the White Wolf soon becomes the most challenging aspect of her life as a wife. He is cold, so Kushina burns him with kindness. He is solitary, so when Kushina can't find him, she walks down to the cenotaph and offers Obito some flowers from the Yamanaka Flower Shop. When he is stubborn and silent, refusing to add to her conversation, Kushina talks to the open air.

When Kakashi finally appears on her doorstep on his own volition one afternoon, the war finally draws to a close. Kakashi and Kushina have already started on dinner before Minato bursts through the door, nearly taking it off its hinges and causing his wife to drop her plate. It hits the floor and explodes into a million pieces, but Minato is already striding across the ceramic shards; he reaches Kushina and grabs her by the wrist – just like the first time, the very first time those years ago – and yanks her into a back-bending kiss right in front of their dinner guest.

When she is finally released Kushina demands, "What is the meaning of this?" But she can't stay angry after a kiss like that, and Minato is standing on a cloud. No anger could touch him.

"It's been decided." He speaks a mile-a-minute. "Sarutobi-sama has named his successor. I'm going to be the next Hokage!"

There is another crash; behind them, Kakashi too has dropped his plate. His heavily-lidded amber eye has flown wide open in shellshock, first because of Minato's news and then because he realized that he just broke the last of Kushina's dinnerware set.

Kushina saves him before he has to do something embarrassing like say he's sorry. "Don't worry about it, Kakashi-kun," she laughs, "I'm so happy that if we had some more, I'd want to break some platters just for fun!"

"Celebration, Uzumaki Kushina style," Minato says drily, but he chuckles in spite of himself. "How about we try for something a little more normal and just get out the sake instead?"

His wife pretends to think about it for a second. "Well, okay. We really don't have any more plates anyway, so I guess sake will have to do."

Kushina stands next to him at the inauguration. As they place the ceremonial cape over Minato's shoulders, she is suddenly overcome with pride in this man, the man that she happened upon by chance in her homeland and changed her life with his wounds that healed under her hands despite her nature to destroy and not to mend. She wills some of this pride away from her and at her husband because this is one emotion that he is justified in having himself. Perhaps she's just imagining things, but Kushina thinks that if possible he seems to glow even brighter.

They fall into bed later that evening, Kushina's long auburn hair arranged on her pillow like a halo of fire. On the night Minato is named the Yondaime, their son is conceived.

The first time the hulking, white-haired man named Jiraiya shows up on their front porch, Kushina gains an understanding about her husband that she'd never had before: his sensei is totally and completely responsible the events that led up to her marriage to Minato. She doesn't even need to ask; after spending five minutes with the man, she is sure that nobody else could have taught Minato how to be so cheeky and persistent.

And so she forgives Jiraiya-sensei for being unabashedly perverted and for laying on the charm too thick, although she does discover that she can throw a punch just as well as she used to as a professional kunoichi way back when…was that five years ago, now, or six? These days, the pages of the calendar Tsunade-san bought her to track her pregnancy seem to peel off the wall all on their own accord.

Jiraiya had sought out their residence with the specific purpose of delivering a poorly-bound copy of his very first authored book to his former student Minato, but it was Kushina who received him so it was Kushina who got the first preview.

"Minato is a busy man, Jiraiya-san," she says, wagging the book back and forth in front of him like a scolding finger. "If you had really wanted to make sure this got into his hands first, you should have checked in at the Hokage's office."

"Hmmph." Jiraiya crosses his arms and upturns his pierced nose. "I didn't think it was important enough to bother the kid at his station. Read it, for all I care; be that way."

Kushina does read it. She tucks her legs up around her growing belly and sits on the brightest windowsill of their house, losing herself in The Legend of the Gutsy Ninja. She loves it so much that she forgets to water the potted orchid and invites the pervy ninja Jiraiya over for free meals when her husband couldn't find a chink in busy schedule large enough to come home.

Minato finds the unassumingly-bound novel abandoned on his pillow late one night, where it must have fell from Kushina's hands after she fell asleep. Curious, he picks it up, slips under the covers so as not to disturb his slumbering wife, and reads it all in one go until the early hours of the morning. Kushina wakes to find Minato finishing the last page at five-thirty in the morning and yanks it out of his hands, chucking it against the opposite wall of their bedroom.

"What are you doing? You hardly get enough sleep as it is!" It registers that she sounds like a nattering housewife, but only dimly.

Minato shrugs, dismissing the overreaction as a product of hormones and gathers his short-fused wife in his arms. "I'm used to not sleeping, but it doesn't matter. There's something more important I want to talk to about."

Her resolve melts in his warmth, like he knew it would. "What is it?"

"The child – I think we should name him Naruto." Minato smiles triumphantly, like he just found the answer to an impending village-wide crisis. "Don't you think it's a good idea?"

"Naruto…" Kushina rolls the name around in her mouth, and she can't help but smile back. "You want to name our child after Jiraiya's gutsy ninja?"

"Sure do."

"I see," she says. A small, thoughtful silence passed between them before she added, "I think he'll be very honoured. Do you think he'll cry when we tell him?"

Minato laughs, holds her close. "I don't know, but that would be something I'd like to see."

The village is burning, and Kushina's frenzied mind paces between the battle that rages outside and the battle that she is fighting here, now, on the birthing bed.

Some say the world will end in fire, some in ice. Yes, but who ever would have thought that the kunoichi who was said to be the personification of fire would one day be incinerated by two flames that burned hotter than hers? The Kyuubi was a raging inferno, and the boy…the boy was a spark.

"Save the child," she gasps at the medic, at her husband, at everyone; "Save Naruto…at all costs."

This is a dream that she will fight for; this is a fight that she will die for, but at least she will win. That's all that matters to her now. That, and…

"Namikaze…Minato." Kushina grips his hand in both of hers, her hold on him steely-strong despite the strength that is leaking from her body like sand in a broken hourglass. "My Hokage…my husband…father of…my child." Three identities that coursed through her blood, kept her heart beating and her hope alive.

"I love you," Minato said fiercely. "I love you always, Kushina, and I'll see you very soon."

She had followed him to Konoha. Would he really follow her into death?

Of course. The words breathe over her hot, tired skin, calming her fever. She lets out the breath she's been holding.

Uzumaki Kushina's hands slacken around her husband's and the Yondaime stands, stony-faced. His son is swathed in blankets and tucked safely inside a wicker carrying basket, strangely calm despite the chaos that enveloped Konoha. The Yonaime picks up Naruto and leaves without a word; the nurses whisper to each other, sweaty and scared. Chakra sings down his arms and his fingers and it is all that anyone can do to avert their eyes, because it is like staring at a solar eclipse.

Outside, the Kyuubi roars and releases a hot burst of flame upon a string of buildings and Minato is reminded of the blinding red of Kushina's hair. Liquid fire, like the name her people bestowed upon her.