Who: Minato, Kushina. Jiraiya is mentioned a lot, though.
Where: canon, as much as it can be, considering how little is known about Kushina.
Warnings: none whatsoever
Summary: He would have never even looked at her twice, had it not been for Jiraiya.
What Couldn't Be Avoided
It was becoming painfully clear that there was enough room for only one of them in the apartment. The other would have to leave, and soon. Minato felt quite safe and smug in his knowledge that it wouldn't be him. He had never meant to share in the first place, and he was in no mood to put up with anyone, with anything audacious enough to produce irritating little noises and disturb his hard-won sleep, when he needed it so much, especially in the unpleasant light of what was to come once he woke up next morning.
He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, frowning.
Yes. Especially that.
Right now, he didn't have what it took to be merciful or patient. The damn mosquito would have to go.
He squinted. The room was suitably dark, exactly the way it should be in the dead of the night, but he'd left the window open to let the fresh air in.
He'd been away for almost a month this time, sniffing out potential threats to the village and taking care of some other business on the way; and the apartment had become hot and stuffy in his absence, dust gathering in the corners and settling down on every horizontal surface, resulting in an overwhelming urge to sneeze. He'd even found two cobwebs, one in the kitchen, the other in the bathroom, of all places, the spiders too lazy and too fat to scuttle away. He'd squished all of them, of course, and removed the products of their activity, but it had done little to cheer him up, because by that time he had already acquainted himself with the contents of Jiraiya's letter.
No. It was necessary to exterminate the mosquito before he could properly concentrate on the other misery that had befallen him.
Minato squinted harder, and finally, there it was. The pale moonlight filtered into the room through the open window, casting wavering shadows on the walls, creating uneven patches of light on the ceiling, and, lying on his back, he could see a small black dot right in the center of one of those patches. So far, it wasn't moving. Without taking his eyes off the disgusting little thing, so he wouldn't lose it again, Minato extended an arm toward the table and fumbled there until his fingers found something rectangular, with nice, rather sharp edges. He picked it, still not blinking, and with a well-trained aim hurled it up at the source of his annoyance. Something white flashed through the air as it struck home, rebounded and fell back down, straight onto his chest.
It was an envelope.
Minato looked at it gravely for a moment, then raised his eyes to the ceiling again. The small black dot was still there, visible in the shadowy light, but now it seemed a little bigger and a lot more stationary, as the very ability to move had left it. Now it was nothing more than an ugly stain on the otherwise pristine surface that would have to be washed off in the morning. Typical death.
Of course, it also signified his victory.
It occurred to Minato that no matter who or what got killed, it boiled down to the same unseemly sight in the end. There would be a mess, and someone would have to clean it up.
He scowled at himself, realizing where he was heading and disapproving of the direction. It was a clear sign of how stressed and tired he really was, that he was thinking any of this at all. Being bitter and resentful about killing an annoying insect was not how he'd planned to spend the night. The long mission had a lot to do with it, certainly, but Minato knew who was to blame for the fact that even now, when everything was over and done with, he still couldn't lie back and enjoy his well-deserved rest.
Jiraiya, that was who.
Minato sighed in exasperation. He'd known – and liked – Jiraiya for almost ten years now, starting from the day when the latter was assigned to train the genin team Minato was part of. He could easily recall his first impression of the man, which was one of the most curious things he'd ever had the dubious luck to experience, because as soon as the new teacher had launched into an unbelievably long speech, Minato had started to see two different people – a loud one doing the talking and the laughing, and the other behind that image, collected and determined, focused on getting the job done. And somehow both were the real thing.
Figuring out his sensei always gave him a royal headache.
The monologue itself had been quite awful though, as the first thing Jiraiya, a representative of the older generation of shinobi and a veteran of multiple wars, had chosen to teach his new-found students was how winning a drinking contest never failed to attract ladies.
According to his theory, a man who almost had sake dripping out of his ears was the same thing to women that honey was to bees, and they would invariably end up swarming over him, doing their best to please. It was at this point that Minato – then twelve years old and already possessing more common sense than three average adults put together – had felt compelled to point out that any lady who approached a walking bottle of sake was more likely to try and steal its money than partake in any pleasures of the flesh.
That had earned him the title of a smartass; something that Jiraiya still had a habit of bringing up whenever he thought his student was being too smug for his own good and wanted to take him down a peg or two.
Minato reluctantly pushed himself up into a sitting position, then reached out to switch on the lamp on the table near the bed and turned the white envelope over in his hands.
He and Jiraiya were nothing alike; yet a great deal of what he knew and, more importantly, of what he was, he had learned from the man. There was a lot he could respect and admire when it came to his former teacher – much more than what most people he met on the everyday basis could boast of – but certain aspects of Jiraiya's personality hadn't abated over the years and would still leave him angry and frustrated every single time he had to deal with one of them, despite the fact that technically he knew what to expect.
Like this time. The unfortunate letter was a fine example of Jiraiya's occasional inadequacy, as well as his firm belief that if he thought something was no big deal, he could just go and dump it on some poor clueless idiot and then prance away, not feeling guilty in the slightest.
It was only too bad that this time around, the clueless idiot was Minato himself. Or perhaps he should have seen it coming somehow?
For the second time that day, Minato opened the envelope and took out a sheet of white paper, unfolding it carefully and smoothing down the creases to fully reveal what he called a case of completely unintelligible handwriting, when he was his usual reasonable self, and chicken scratch, if he happened to be in a particularly bad mood, like now.
It had taken him about twenty minutes to decipher the thing when he first opened it, even though he was more than familiar with Jiraiya's scribbles. He scanned the letter again, a whisker of hope that he had simply misunderstood it earlier, still twitching somewhere in the back of his mind.
I trust your mission has gone well, and I would expect nothing less from you, considering that you are my student. I hope you'll tell me all about it later, when there's sake and beautiful women nearby to help the story flow smoothly, but for now, this is not what I wish to talk about."
That, Minato thought absent-mindedly, was typical Jiraiya talk, which mainly revolved around drinking and womanizing and was good for little else. Some people might inquire about the recipient's health, but Jiraiya could be trusted to suggest something that came dangerously close to carousing. In some ways, he was, in fact, quite dependable.
The letter went on.
"I don't doubt that you know about the recent Whirlpool incident, even though you didn't go there personally, as far as I know."
True, he'd had his hands full with trying to ferret out the going-ons in the Hidden Mist at the time. It was always an abnormally paranoid place, wrapped up in mystery as much as it was shrouded in mists; but lately, they'd been receiving even more sinister messages from the borders, and Minato had gone there personally to look into them closely. He was slightly ashamed – and very alarmed – to admit that the mission had turned out to be quite a failure. Mist had refused to disclose its secrets in a very disturbing fashion.
However, this was not the right time to dwell on the subject.
Minato re-focused on the letter.
"If that is the case, you're probably aware that the Third Hokage offered to take in some of the refugees and give them shelter as well as any help they might require to assimilate into our life and methods of work, since it appears that there is little hope of rebuilding Whirlpool in the near future."
According to what Minato himself had heard, rebuilding wasn't even an option, because where the houses had once stood, now was a deep, giant crater which was rapidly filling with water from the underground streams. He couldn't help thinking that the place more or less lived up to its name, albeit in a very creepy way.
A decade or so, and it would probably become a picturesque lake where people would come to fish and bathe in the summer, when the weather was hot and dry; all tragedies and deaths forgotten.
They said that even now, the water was already nice and clear.
Minato was unable to decide whether he approved of it or not. Wallowing in misery was certainly not a productive idea, but pretending nothing had happened at all was too hypocritical for his tastes. He did approve of the help offered by the Third, though, and considered it the duty of any decent person. If only...
"...more people came to us than we'd expected, some almost a week after we decided no one else would appear and didn't have anything prepared; so we had to arrange something quickly for them. I agreed to take care of one of the refugees, a beautiful young woman, named Kushina–"
"You're incorrigible, sensei," muttered Minato under his breath. "I bet you wouldn't be so ecstatic if it was some old hag well into her eighties and with a limp." He knew Jiraiya would help anyone, even a hag, but only a young woman could render him temporarily brain-dead, which was clearly the case, as the last part of the letter indicated.
"–unfortunately, before I had a chance to arrange the matters for her, I received an emergency message from one of my informants, who requested help as soon as possible. I'm leaving the village in less than an hour, and there is no time to do anything about Kushina, so I'm passing her over to you. The Third told me that you were already on your way back and wouldn't be doing any missions for a couple of weeks, so you can help the girl; she needs support.
Show her around, tell her about the village – well, you know what to do. I told her you were going to take care of her in my place, and she'll be waiting for you. Here's the address, it's where she and the other refugees are staying for the time being–"
There was indeed an address.
Minato closed his eyes and visualized the map of the Hidden Leaf. If the memory wasn't playing tricks on him, the house was located just a breath away from the Uchiha district. It made a lot of sense, he supposed. Welcoming a lot of strangers with arms wide open was all very noble, but a sensible person – a sensible Hokage – always remembered that it wouldn't do to simply let a group of shinobi from another village do whatever they pleased, without any supervision.
Putting them under the snobby nose of the Military Police Force was a brilliant solution. There was always plenty of supervision wherever the Uchiha clan was involved, and in more than just one way. And they didn't put much store in nice either. It really was a good idea.
Still. The Uchiha.
As a rule, Minato preferred to avoid dealing with them unless it was necessary. He held no personal grudges against them, and he admitted they were excellent shinobi and perfect for the job, but that didn't mean he had to like them. He also believed the feeling to be mutual, in a broader sense of the word.
The Uchiha clan was like a village within a village; part of the Hidden Leaf, yet not quite, its members keeping their secrets, sticking close to each other and looking down their noses at everyone else. Exceptions existed, of course, they always did, and Minato even knew one or two personally, but for the most part, the Uchiha weren't a friendly lot. Every time he had the misfortune to work with the Uchiha shinobi, he couldn't help noticing something flat and hard behind the unreadable gaze, and it was never a pleasant thing to experience.
And now he would probably have to interact with them on the behalf of this Kushina person, thanks to Jiraiya.
As if he had nothing better to do.
Twirling Jiraiya's letter in his fingers, Minato stared off into the slowly dissipating darkness outside the window.
If he was completely honest with himself, he had no particular plans for the next week, and helping along someone who really needed it to recover might be rather relaxing, as well as earn him extra karmic points. It definitely beat chasing criminals across half the country and spying on the so-called allies of the Hidden Leaf. It promised to be a clean, uncomplicated job, practically a walk in the park.
The simple truth was, he felt tired, and sleep-deprived, and quite annoyed at not having been asked if he minded helping. He would have agreed, of course, but it was the principle of the thing that mattered. Still, done was done, and if he allowed himself to carry on the way he was going, tomorrow he would be even grumpier, and would take it out on this poor unsuspecting girl, who had a real tragedy of losing her home to deal with, and maybe more than that.
He felt slightly ashamed of himself.
Putting Jiraiya's insufferable attitude and the potential encounter with the Uchiha firmly out of his mind, Minato resigned himself to the circumstances and opted to get some sleep while there was still time.
He was about to fold the letter and stuff it back into the envelope and out of sight – preferably, under the bed; but his gaze landed on a previously unnoticed line. Apparently, it had been added as an afterthought and probably in a hurry, as Jiraiya's handwriting seemed even messier, making Minato's eyes water to simply look at it.
He must have missed this final message earlier, too busy being indignated, but there it was, sure as the sun rising in the east.
"Try to go easy on the girl, will you? And don't be a smartass."
Right. He definitely should have seen that coming.
A/N: Nothing I write ever comes out the way it's planned. This was supposed to be a one-shot from Kushina's point of view. Instead I wrote five pages full of Minato, and it looks like it's far from over. Now I will have to write at least one more chapter.:)
If you leave me a review, it will be much appreciated.