Where: AU.

Who: Minato, Kushina, others.

Chapter summary: no one is amused, and it becomes painfully clear that politics is not something to build a healthy relationship on.


What Couldn't Be Avoided

Chapter 3

by DreamCharmer

-/-

It had been, Minato reflected, as he let the girl's words sink in and make themselves at home in his mind, a good time. A long time, too, since he had last made a fool of himself in such a blatantly obvious manner and in public on top of that.

The feeling was not welcome.

Sure, this little skirmish could never even aspire to beat the accursed day when Jiraiya had dragged him along to peep at the women at the local hot springs. One of those women had turned out to be Tsunade, Jiraiya's former teammate and another one of the legendary Sannin. Apparently, she hadn't expected anyone to be crazy enough to sneak up on her, and had her guard lowered. From their vantage point in the thicket, Minato had managed to get more than just a glimpse of what Tsunade had to offer to the world of men, before Jiraiya, in his excitement, trod on a dried twig and alerted the woman to their presence. Minato couldn't recall much of what had happened after that, as the things became rather hectic. However, Tsunade's face, rendered unrecognizable and ugly by the fury, when she'd charged at them, roaring obscenities, still stood out vividly in his mind. Jiraiya had taken it in his stride, more or less, even muttering "what a temper, huh?" affectionately, before passing out and being carried away to the hospital, Tsunade in tow, still shaking an angry fist at her former teammate and threatening to bash the last brains out of his head if he ever dared pull this stunt again. It had taken Minato half a year to stop flinching whenever he looked her in the eye.

His only justification was that he'd been barely fourteen at the time, and had Jiraiya for the teacher. The last fact especially carried a lot of weight. Even Tsunade had only spat "get lost, brat" instead of kicking his liver out through his ears in her usual manner..

Kushina, of course, lacked the other woman's upbringing and, thankfully, personal quirks, and he doubted she could ever pack a punch to rival Tsunade; but the dangerous gleam in her eyes, as well as the firm grip she had taken on the cookie tray, hinted at the storms to come. Besides, he'd already got his first taste of her vocabulary, and wasn't thrilled.

Not that it made a difference, sadly.

"Well, it's good to meet you," he said, hoping his voice sounded sincere and suspecting it didn't.

The slight scowl on Kushina's face served as an excellent reminder that he should really work on his poor acting skills. But if she had any snide comments, she kept them to herself. For now.

Instead, she nodded reluctantly and muttered, "Yeah, I guess it is."

Minato could hardly blame her for not being convinced. He felt no particular joy about meeting her, and it probably showed. It was an ominous sign, nevertheless, because women were notorious for digging up some implied insult and then gleefully blowing the almost non-existent spark into a roaring fire of enmity.

Jiraiya liked to give long speeches on the subject, although somehow he always made it seem as if it were a good thing.

Still, as far as Minato could tell, there were only two options.

The first one would be to pretend everything was perfectly fine and start smiling. It was probably the most abused method in the history of human relationships, but Minato was having misgivings about using it this time around. The biggest catch was that in order for it to work, both parties had to make an effort; and Kushina exhibited no desire to get all chummy with him. In fact, her sour expression alone was enough to curdle milk.

It didn't upset him, though, as Minato was quite sure he wouldn't be able to pull it off anyway. Lying had never been his forte to begin with, and being strong enough to deal with any opponent in a direct combat meant he never really got any practice. Besides, he preferred to be honest with people. As honest as possible without getting into trouble, at least.

That left him with the second option.

"Why don't we take a walk?" he suggested brightly. If he assumed a friendly, but businesslike tone, she would certainly understand that there was no point to wage a personal war against him, and would just accept his help, if she needed it, so that they could both get on with their lives.

Kushina's eyebrows went up practically to the point of disappearing under the scarf. "Why would I go anywhere with you?"

Oh yes. Now he would have to prove he wasn't going to backstab her first.

"Jiraiya asked me to show you the village," he explained patiently. "It wouldn't be funny if you went for a walk and got lost, would it? Besides, we need to talk, and here's not a good place. Well, I need to talk to you, at least," he amended, noticing that she opened her mouth, probably to let him know she had absolutely nothing to say to him.

Kushina pursed her lips sternly, and Minato prepared to deal with any witty comebacks that might be heading his way. None followed, however, because another thought appeared to strike her. She pointed in the direction of the Uchiha district, where Fugaku still graced the roof with his presence.

"What about him?"

"Him?" Minato shrugged, unconcerned. "He won't mind. He's only here, because it's his duty. You can go wherever you want as long as you don't leave the village. But that applies to everyone, you've got to get permission for that."

She remained hesitant, and he rolled his eyes in exasperation, "I'm not here to harm you. Jiraiya sent me, remember?"

That seemed to work.

"It would take more than you to bring me down!" Kushina retorted haughtily, setting her tray down on a discarded three-legged chair, and marching out into the street ahead of him. Her nose was stuck into the air, so she could hardly see where she was going; and as Minato hurried after her, shaking his head in amusement, he half-expected her to trip and fall on her face.

He decided to simply give her a tour around the Hidden Leaf, so she could get the feel of the place, rather than drag her to gape at the Hokage's Tower or the hospital. Those were fine enough places, certainly, the alpha and omega of any self-respecting ninja village; but if Kushina was to become a Leaf kunoichi, she'd soon find herself seeing more of the Hokage's office than was healthy for any human being even without his help. As for the hospital, it was practically a second home to any shinobi. A couple of Minato's worst nightmares were dominated by its cheerful facade, and he believed he would be able to pinpoint its location even if he was dumped in the middle of the woods, drugged and blindfolded.

Still, there was no point to rush towards the inevitable. She'd probably be more interested in shopping anyway. Women generally were; and if a shopping spree was necessary to take her mind off the recent nasty business and, more importantly, Minato's involuntary part in it, he could live with that.

Maybe he could buy her something, like ice-cream, or a straw hat, for that matter, so she would throw away that orange abomination. It was such an eyesore, with its acidic color and ridiculous length; and he couldn't even see her hair because of the thing. It reminded him of those embarrassing pictures where people had only half a head, because the photographer had been too drunk to stop swaying.

He didn't raise his hopes though, as Kushina was likely to consider such an offer an attempt to bribe her into trusting him. Still, it was worth a try. Minato quickly picked a suitable street and steered the kunoichi in the chosen direction.

She seemed to enjoy the sites, asking questions, turning her head to take in every little detail and poking her nose into every side street and corner. She insisted on eating ramen, somewhere along the way, and criticized the recipe, provoking a lengthy – and rather heated – discussion with the owner of the shop. Minato didn't understand half of what they were saying, since the conversation was littered with monstrous words that belonged, as he assumed, somewhere in the cooking book: names of different spices, and herbs, and kitchen utensils he had never heard of before, and verbs defining all sorts of seemingly frightening processes that every cook probably knew the meaning of.

It occurred to Minato, as he watched the two of them plunge into the mysterious depths of the craft, that the cookies he'd eaten earlier on had been baked by Kushina herself. She'd taken his offhand praise rather personally, after all.

She immersed herself into the conglomeration of flowers, potted plants and miniature bansai trees in the Yamanaka flowershop, and stood there for what seemed like a small eternity with a disturbingly dazed expression, touching the leaves and petals with careful fingers, quiet and serene, as if she had spent all her life in a mountain monastery achieving enlightenment.

The solemn impression was spoiled almost immediately though, because five minutes after they'd exited the shop Kushina got chased up a tree by a big stray dog with floppy ears. She sat on the lower branch, red-faced and outraged, showering the creature with words that Minato would have only expected to hear from a retired sailor.

"It's your own fault," Minato commented reproachfully, after he had herded away the dog and dragged Kushina over to the other side of the street. "This scarf is too long, and it's just dangling there. Dogs don't like that. You might as well wave a stick in front of it. Why don't you take it off–"

"The scarf stays!" she barked, brushing dust off her clothes.

"Look–"

"It stays!"

Minato gave up. It was none of his business if she got attacked by more dogs.

"That aside, how do you like it here? Is the house alright? I know, it's been empty for a while, and it looks a bit shabby on the outside, but you won't have to live there forever."

"Any house is better than living in the open field," Kushina replied matter-of-factly, still craning her neck to check if the animal was pursuing her. "It has a roof and four walls, and that's more than what's left of the Whirlpool." she added grimly.

Minato was perplexed. "What? A roof and four walls? Aren't there any rooms inside?" It couldn't be that bad, even if it was a fairly old construction. Unless, of course, they allowed a spiteful Uchiha to pick the house. He hoped not.

"It was a figure of speech! Of course, there are rooms!" Kushina snapped irritably, glaring at him. "And they are not my relatives, if you really must know. They are just people who managed to survive."

Oops.

Minato put out a placating hand. "I'm sorry," he told her, and he really meant it this time. "I shouldn't have said that. It was tactless of me."

"Yeah, it was," she grumbled.

She was still shooting him nasty glances, but at least she appeared to have sensed his sincerity. At first, Minato was tempted to ask what had happened to her family, but he thought better of it and decided not to push his luck.

Kushina dropped her gaze to her hands and spoke again after a moment of silence. "I actually like the house. It's really old, yes, but it's spacious, and my room is on the sunny side." She beamed at him suddenly, all bright and dazzling. "Shizuka wanted it too, but I beat her to it, so she had to take the closet near the kitchen! Serves her right!"

Minato stared at her in bewilderment. Couldn't the girl stick to the same mood for longer than a minute at all?

"And Shizuka is...?" he asked cautiously, hoping he wasn't venturing into forbidden territory again.

But Kushina had no problems discussing the subject. "She was the one with the bucket and a long face," she supplied cheerfully, and Minato immediately remembered the bland young woman he had deemed useful for stealth missions. Apparently, there was no love lost between her and Kushina.

He found it unsurprising. As far as personality was concerned, Kushina and Shizuka appeared to be positioned on the opposite ends of the scale, and he couldn't see them meeting anywhere.

"You don't like her very much, do you?" He gave her an amused look, and Kushina giggled conspiratorially in response.

"I hate her guts!" she announced loudly, scaring a nearby bird into taking wing from the comfortable branch where it had been napping peacefully. "Well, we've been rivals since forever, actually. And she's just so prim and proper, I can't stand her!" There was nothing at all proper about Kushina, starting with the terrible orange headwear. "And I hate her holier-than-thou attitude, always knowing what's right, trying to boss me around, making fun of me in front of other people! Well, now we'll see who's laughing."

Minato thought about everything she'd said.

"Is it really a closet?" he asked finally.

Kushina pouted. "Not exactly," she admitted, visibly chagrined by the fact. "It's just a very small room no one wanted, because it's right next to the kitchen, and you'll have to live with the smells. I bet she planned to shove me there."

To Minato, it all sounded a little too extreme and unnecessary, but he wisely refrained from commenting, and chalked the whole thing off to Kushina's fiery temper. She seemed to be a competitive, all-or-nothing type, and as such, was unlikely to appreciate it if things like reason and common sense were suddenly inflicted on her by the guy she'd only met an hour ago.

He opted for the safe path. Kushina obviously enjoyed bad-mouthing her rival, so he would let her rant some more.

"But why does she despise you so much?"

To his surprise, the question had the opposite effect. Instead of launching into an excited monologue, she fell silent again, as if someone had switched off the light inside her.

"I don't know," she mumbled finally, shifting her weight from one foot to another, eyes fixed somewhere on his left ear. "She just does, that's all. Maybe she needs to pull that stick out of her ass or something."

Minato wasn't going to buy such a poorly masked lie, and he considered pressing her for the truth, but quickly discarded the notion. She didn't owe him any answers, and antagonizing her now was the last thing he wanted to do.

So instead he proceeded straight to the next question. It was an important one. "Do you need help with any formalities?" There were always formalities, as Minato, who battled post-mission reports on a regular basis, knew only too well. Sometimes he felt that Leaf had gone a bit overboard developing its bureaucratic system.

Kushina seemed a bit puzzled. "Formalities?" she echoed, raising her eyes to his. "I gave my name to Jiraiya-san, and to the guards on the gates, and they wrote it down... There's more?"

Poor girl. She had it all coming to her.

"Well, yes, I'm afraid there is," Minato said sympathetically. She suddenly looked very lonely and small, despite her bravado, her volatile temper and rudeness; a little girl with no family and no home, helpless against the looming shadow of never-ending paperwork. He wondered how he could have disliked her at all, when he should have felt compassion and pity. It wasn't like him.

Minato sighed.

"You'll need to get a permanent registration as a Leaf kunoichi," he told her, waving a hand in the air vaguely. "You'll have to give them detailed information about yourself, not just the name. They will probably want to run some medical tests on you as well, and depending on the results you may be required to undergo special training."

He chose not to mention that an encounter with the Interrogation Squad might be included in the program.

"What? Why would I need extra training? I'm a professional, you know! I'm strong!"

Minato pinched the bridge of his nose. A moment ago she'd been acting normally, and now she was a bundle of nerves again; and all it took was a suggestion she still had something to learn. Way to go, certainly.

"I'm sure you are, but no one knows it here yet," he said mildly, and she had the decency to look sheepish. "They'll never know unless you tell them. Come on, give people a chance. What makes you think someone's going to go out of their way to spoil it for you? We're not monsters here, no one has anything against you."

She slid him a sidelong glance. "You don't know that."

"Of course, I do," Minato replied exasperatedly. They were going in circles, and he really hated that farce. "I grew up in this village, it's my home. Are you saying I don't know how things work around here?"

Kushina remained unfazed by his words. "I guess you do, but that's not what I mean. You're not the Hokage."

Minato frowned down at her. "What does it have to do with anything?"

"It means there may be lots of stuff you don't get told about, because you don't need to know. So you can't say for other people, and they may have their own reasons."

"Reasons to dislike you?" Minato asked sharply, and her face tightened, but he went on regardless. He was getting tired on tiptoeing around her, and the conversation was heading into places he didn't care to explore. "Do you mean to say that someone here has a personal grudge against you? If that's what it's all about, just give me the name already, so I can do something about it. I'm sure I will be able to think of something, even though I'm not the Hokage," he added acidly. "Or is it this idiotic theory about the Leaf somehow destroying your village again? It is, isn't it?" he exclaimed, when she gave him a sullen look and stuck her chin out defiantly.

There was some weird, twisted idea orbiting inside her head, and she stubbornly refused to be clear about it, preferring to dodge questions and speak in badly formulated riddles instead. Damn Jiraiya for saddling him with a job like this. He was going to have a word with the man as soon as he returned. Quite a few words, in fact.

Minato tried to focus.

"Listen... Kushina," he began in a slow, measured voice. "I don't know exactly what your problem with us is, but I'm telling you it's not true. Whoever planted the idea in your head either was a complete moron and didn't know what he was talking about, or simply wanted to make your life here difficult."

He didn't say and I would very much like to meet the bastard, but he thought so.

He found it hard to call her by her given name, as it suggested some sort of familiarity and mutual respect, which he knew neither of them really felt. Minato didn't count mind-reading as one of his talents, so it was anyone's guess what kind of thoughts were running through the girl's head, but he was ready to bet that her opinion of him wasn't something to brag about. For his part, Minato found her quick to judge and susceptible to sudden mood swings; and it didn't take a genius to put two and two together and arrive at the conclusion that he would have one hell of time communicating with her.

He still thought she was a good person, when she forgot to feel misunderstood and buried that metaphoric axe she kept swinging about just in case. He believed that he'd seen - and quite liked - glimpses of the woman she might be, but it would undoubtedly take a lot of time to make her trust him. Kushina seemed to operate under the false impression that enemies were lurking behind every corner, and while he could see where it came from, it didn't make the situation any easier for him.

To help her, Minato needed her cooperation now, and she wouldn't give it, because she was too busy defending herself from him.

He knew it wouldn't stop until he ridded her of the mysterious issues all Whirlpool shinobi appeared to have about the Hidden Leaf and its role in the obliteration of their village. These issues were a thorn in the side of his unwilling relationship with the girl, and needed to be removed, fast. They were poisoning her mind.

It was all completely ridiculous, of course. A mistake of some sort; maybe a provocation. As far as Minato's limited knowledge of the subject went, the Whirlpool had been attacked and subsequently destroyed by a large group of Mist shinobi. He had no idea what possessed them to annihilate a place that had never been a threat to them; but no one seemed to be able to figure out the Mist nowadays. Minato knew it better than anyone, because he'd tried and failed. But where the Leaf might come into the picture, he couldn't explain even to himself. They weren't on good terms with the Mist themselves.

The Whirlpool, on the other hand, had been an ally – a rare thing to come by in the paranoid world of shinobi – and while Minato wasn't arrogant enough to presume he knew everything about his village's politics, he couldn't imagine it undermining its own safety. Granted, even the Hokage, no matter how sharp and intelligent, couldn't hope to know everything. Too many parties were involved, both openly and otherwise, too many undercurrents, tugging and pulling in opposite directions, often disregarding petty little things, like common good and justice, caught up as they were in pursuit of their own ambitions.

If anyone cared to ask him, Minato could name some of these parties, most prominent being Root, which seemed to have benefited from being outlawed, and proved it daily by spreading its influence further; and the Uchiha clan whose members appeared to take a sick sort of pride in the fact that their ancestors had left a bloody trail throughout the history. But that was the reason the Hokage and the ANBU existed – to keep the village whole, to prevent any of these people from taking things too far, to put a stop to their plots and schemes before they escalated to a full-blown civil war or triggered something equally terrible.

They all kept their secrets and played their games, as was and had always been the way of shinobi, but somewhere out there existed a line not to be crossed, a boundary every player was expected to know and recognize on sight. Most did, because they saw it as a necessary condition that kept the game running and provided a measure of safety that even people like Danzou needed if they wanted to achieve their goals.

All-out wars were ugly, messy affairs that definitely lay beyond the imaginary line and left little room for anything but fighting for survival. It would take a person of exceptional caliber, a second Madara Uchiha, to defy that system, break all laws and customs and throw the world into the chaos of anarchy. It was a thing only someone who had nothing left to lose might attempt to do. Someone who didn't particularly care if they came out on top, as long as everyone else was down and finished.

Privately, Minato believed people of that rare kind to be the only real threat, since they were unpredictable in their insanity and couldn't be reasoned with. Luckily, Madara Uchiha had been dealt with and passed into dusty history books, which few people read and even fewer understood. Everyone else adhered to the unwritten rules and consequently made the world a more peaceful place, on the whole. The leaders of the five great nations ought to know that very well (those who didn't never lasted long), and none of them would start a war unless the circumstances were so dire that it couldn't be avoided. And once it was started, no amount of brainwashing and paper work would be enough to hush it down.

He said that much to Kushina, seeking to impress upon her that there was no way he wouldn't know about a war, if it was real. He tried to dumb it down as much as possible and refrained from using over-complicated words – she didn't strike him as the type to read or think a lot – but it still turned out to be quite a long monologue.

Minato was surprised when she didn't interrupt him or show any signs of impatience or boredom. At some point, he even decided that he'd managed to lose her despite all efforts and she was now sleepwalking; but the moment he finally reached the end of the speech, Kushina suddenly halted in midstep and turned to face him, hands on hips. Her face had gone pale despite the tan, and she was biting her lower lip. Minato began to suspect, quite belatedly, that he had gravely miscalculated somewhere.

"So," she breathed out quietly, through clenched teeth. "So that's what you really think? That it's all a game? A freaking game?"

"What? Of course, I don't think it's a game!" Had she completely missed the point?

"Oh really? What was that about lines and rules then? You sure seem to enjoy it all, talking about living people like they are pieces on a board."

"You misunderstand," Minato snapped with irritation. "I never in my life treated people like things and I certainly didn't mean it like this. Perhaps you should stop picking on me and twisting my words. It was just a metaphor, if you know what I'm talking about," he added innocently, because her behavior was beginning to irk him.

Kushina snorted derisively. "You think I'm stupid, don't you? Well, I'm not!" She jabbed him in the ribs with a forefinger. "That stuff you told me, I know it all. Did you really believe that I didn't know it was Mist shinobi who attacked us? When I was there myself? If only you'd cared to ask what I meant, before you started lecturing me–"

Minato felt his ears turn red. "I wasn't lecturing, I was explaining. And I only did it because you're fixated. Maybe I used wrong words, I don't know, but it's your own fault for spouting some vague nonsense instead of just telling me everything, like normal people."

"Normal people? Well, maybe I'm not normal people! Excuse me for not trusting someone who shows up all out of the blue, makes a mess and then acts like nothing has happened!"

"There you go again! You don't trust me, which means you don't trust Jiraiya, and seeing how you talk about them, you aren't too fond of your friends or whoever they are, either! Who do you trust then? No one, I guess, because you seem to be delusional enough to suggest we are all part of a great big conspiracy against you."

"I didn't say that," she protested, balling her hands into fists angrily. "You're the one twisting my words. I never thought you were all my enemies here or anything. If I did, I wouldn't have come here at all. I would have run away or go down fighting rather than dance to your tune. You don't know a thing about me, so stop talking like you do!"

"Then you stop blaming us! If you know it was the Mist, then what the hell is wrong with you? Spit it out already, because you're driving me mad, and I'm not even being paid for that."

He didn't plan to say the last part – it was the proverbial smartass territory, and Jiraiya had specifically requested polite treatment for his no-good protege, after all – but the words came out before he had a chance to clamp his mouth shut. She was driving him mad with her incessant mood swings and total inability to see or make sense. If he was more paranoid, he might suspect she was doing it on purpose.

Minato longingly wished he had ignored Jiraiya's letter. The fact that he hadn't, only proved that his faith in humanity was over-inflated at best.

Sadly, Kushina didn't look impressed at all.

An unexpected movement, and she was suddenly right in front of him, her small hand gripping the collar of his shirt tightly. She stood on tiptoe to reduce the difference in height and avoid looking up at him.

"Nothing is wrong with me," she told him tersely. "And if you had let me finish, instead of preaching, I would have told you that we had no trouble with the Mist. That's why no one anticipated the attack, and they took us by surprise."

"I still don't see–"

"Stop interrupting me!" she barked, and Minato winced at the volume. "We are – we were – your allies! Everyone knew that. Everyone out there knew we were important to you people because of our sealing techniques. The Mist didn't come to simply wipe out our village, they came to destroy an invaluable asset of the Hidden Leaf. They didn't give a damn about how many innocent people got killed, they just wanted to weaken you! You, not us. It was never about us! And your Hokage allowed it."

Minato was silent. His mind was reeling with the new information, as he tried to quickly assess the probability of her theory and figure out what it might entail for all of them, if it was true. It fitted nicely, he had to admit, and it explained everything he'd been puzzling over so far. The half-veiled enmity, the vague comments, the bitterness; it all fell into place.

He wouldn't put it past the Hidden Mist to choose such a brutal course of action either. They excelled at brutal and could even be openly sadistic at times, if at least half of the rumours he'd heard about their graduation ceremony and the legendary Seven Swordsmen of the Mist were to be believed. Once again, Minato regretted that they knew so little about the place. He wondered, not for the first time, if the Leaf was getting too arrogant and sanctimonious, too blinded by its own light to see it wasn't untouchable; if they had already let the enemy past their guard perhaps.

He wished he could apologize to Kushina and say he believed her. It would likely ease the tension between them, and maybe even make her trust him a little. He also wished he could disapprove her story and deny any part his village might have played, however involuntarily, in the destruction of her home.

He did neither, though, because it would mean lying, and while Minato could be many things, hypocrite wasn't one of them. He needed to talk to someone else first, someone who would tell him the real truth, not make educated guesses. He needed to make sure he knew what he was getting himself into if he decided to take sides.

Jiraiya would do, but he was out in the middle of nowhere, rescuing one of his informants, and there was no telling when he might resurface again. Nothing was ever certain with Jiraiya.

The Hokage then. The Third had to know what was going on.

Right now, however, he had something else to concern himself with. Kushina was still staring at him sternly, one hand clutching at his shirt, her face inches away from his; so close that he could see every eyelash clearly, and feel her breathe.

It was a highly disturbing thought. And a very awkward situation. Silence seemed to have enveloped them, and time flowed agonizingly slow, like syrup.

Minato cleared his throat and said, "Listen, Kushina, would you mind stepping away? You're invading my personal space."

Immediately, the spell was broken, and normality came back in a stream of noises and colors: a bird chirped cautiously, and then launched into a cheerful song; a dog barked a few streets away; and the warm greens and yellows of a typical Leaf afternoon filled his vision. Kushina let go of his shirt and took a step back hastily. She didn't look angry anymore, but rather unnerved and shaken.

"Well? What's up with you? Aren't you going to say anything?" she asked snappishly, trying to regain her composure.

"I don't know yet," he replied honestly. "It's a serious accusation. Well, not accusation, but you know what I mean. I think I believe you, but I want to talk to... other people first." He noticed her try to wipe her hand on the apron discreetly, and felt offended. He was not contagious.

She gave him a look. "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why talk to anyone about it at all? What difference will it make now?"

Minato frowned. "I will know the truth, of course, that's the difference. How can I change things if I don't know what's going on?"

"Change things?" Kushina echoed. "You won't be able to change anything no matter what. Supposing you learn the truth, and I'm right, what will you do? It's too late now – my village is already destroyed. Even if it wasn't, do you honestly think they would let you get in the way? The higher-ups, I mean, the Hokage and those others you mentioned. They let it happen once, they'll do it again."

Minato paused. What would he do? He thought of the Third, and the Uchiha, and Root, and gods only knew who else might be involved. Did he really know his village as well as he had assured her?

He shook his head. He would agree that things had gone wrong – if what Kushina had said was correct, which had yet to be confirmed – but he refused to believe the Leaf was corrupted beyond reason. He couldn't imagine the Third to stoop to slaughter even if it seemed necessary (why would it be necessary?). There was always a solution, always a silver lining, or so Jiraiya used to teach him. All that he had to do was find it and then perhaps he could fix everything. Or, at the very least, he could make sure it would never repeat in the future.

"I will think of something," he told her firmly. "If it's true, I definitely need to know all about it. You don't expect me to just sit back and allow it to happen again, do you? Maybe not now, you're right, but I'll become the Hokage one day, and then I'll make it work my way."

Kushina gaped at him for a moment, and then burst out laughing. "You? Hokage? You? Are you kidding me?" She stopped abruptly, drew a breath, and went on calmly. "Sorry. I don't mean to sound rude, but there's no way you can ever become the Hokage. Come on, you didn't even expect to hear all the stuff that I told you. You should have seen your own face, so shocked... You're just too naïve," she shrugged and added. "And kind-hearted. You'll never make it."

"I'm not naïve!" Minato snapped, very insulted. Just because he was polite and preferred to think good of the place he called home didn't mean he was blind.

"You are," Kushina said flatly. "That's why you have no chance. It's not a job for soft people." She sniffed. "Honestly, I'd make a better Hokage – at least I know life!" She shot him a haughty look. "Anyway, I'm going back now. Thanks for showing me around and all. I think I can find my own way now, so you don't have to bother. See you."

With that, she turned and strode away, the ends of the scarf waving in the breeze.

Minato watched her retreating back disappear behind the corner with a frozen expression. Not only had he been labeled weak, in a roundabout way, but gotten dismissed too. By the girl who had horrible fashion sense, couldn't decently communicate her thoughts if her life depended on it, and was directionally challenged.

Jiraiya was going to hear all about it. If he liked loud, violent women with potty mouths, it was fine by Minato, as long as the man kept them on a leash and away from his life. He had better things to do, like paying a visit to the Hokage, for example. He may never have to interact with Kushina again in his life – he certainly hoped so – but he still wanted to get to the bottom of the Whirlpool affair.

With that in mind, Minato turned and began to walk towards the Hokage's Tower.

He was so infuriated that he didn't call Kushina back to tell her she was going in a completely wrong direction.

-/-

A/N: Alas, there's no such genre as politics, but know that if only it existed, it would be right here. I have no idea where it comes from, though. I don't even watch TV. :)

I'm sending a great big thank you! balloon to everyone who reviewed. Look, it has a smiley face on it, yay! It compels you to review again... "crawls away to take pills".