A/N: Awkay, I'm mildly irritated with Kishimoto right now. Don't get me wrong – he's writing THE BEST Naruto in about over a year, and each new chapter makes me feel warm and fuzzy. But he's stalling when it comes to finishing Minato and Kushina's story. And as much as I love seeing those two around, the slow pace is a problem since I'm trying to keep this story canon. I read the latest chapter yesterday and decided that there was no way I could make you guys wait any longer. So – whether it's fully canon or not – here comes chapter four. (grins)
Ah, but first… Thank you so much for all those amazing reviews you left for the previous chapter! You seriously made not updating earlier difficult, ya know? (grins, and GLOMPS) THANK YOU! (hugs again) Responses to anonymous reviews and those I couldn't PM back can be found from underneath the chapter, as usual.
BUT, now… (gulps extremely nervously) I guess I can't keep stalling any longer, sooooo… (takes a deep breath) Here comes the final chapter. I REALLY hope you'll enjoy the ride!
Of the Red Thread of Fate
Months flew by, and soon enough Kushina was four months pregnant. Both she and Minato enjoyed the rare moment of peace as they lay in their bed, he holding her in a rather tender hold.
Minato loved moments like this, when the reality felt like nothing but a distant dream. When he could pretend for a little while that everything was perfect in their world, that the Kyuubi and their enemies didn't exist.
"You know…", Kushina murmured, sounding like she'd been about to fall asleep. "I'm pretty sure it's a boy."
He quirked an eyebrow, feeling a hint of a smile on his face. "Oh? Why?"
There wasn't doubt on Kushina's face as she looked at him with shining eyes. "Trust me. A mother knows these things." She placed one hand gently to her slightly swollen abdomen. "All we need is the perfect name for him. And there's one on my mind."
He arched an eyebrow once more. "I didn't know you'd been looking already."
Kushina grinned, reminding him a little of the teenager she'd once been. "I didn't have to look – the name found me. I read that book of Jiraiya's you've been going on about." A gentle look appeared to her eyes as she glanced towards her barely visible bump. "I think Naruto would be a great name for this kid."
Something warm spread all over Minato, and he couldn't resist tightening his hold on the redhead. "Are you sure?"
Kushina nodded, then chuckled. "And it looks like the little one agrees – he started kicking like crazy."
A smirk appearing to his face Minato outstretched a hand and slid it under Kushina's shirt, so that he could touch the bare skin of her stomach. It took a moment but then he felt a clear thrust, then another.
He felt his eyes soften, along with everything else inside him. At that moment the mighty Hokage was dangerously close to tears. "He's gonna be as tough as you", he stated softly.
Minato strayed deep in thoughts for a moment, enjoying the feeling of the baby moving, until he glanced towards Kushina's face. He grinned a bit when noticing that she'd fallen asleep. Cautiously – careful not to disturb the woman's rest – he placed a gentle kiss to her forehead, then whispered a few words only she was allowed to hear.
He almost fell asleep as well until he heard a silent thud. A rock hitting the room's window.
Feeling much colder than some moments earlier he looked towards Kushina, making sure she was still sound asleep, then pushed himself out of the bed. Some very dark ideas rose in the back of his mind as he made his way out of the house.
Kushina didn't know how long she'd spent in half-sleep until she woke up with a start, a frown on her face and one hand protectively on her stomach. Did she have a nightmare?
She turned towards Minato's side and felt a jolt when finding it empty. She blamed hormones on the fact that her eyes stung.
Oh hell… Not again…!
Following some instinct she got up, making her way to the room's window. The sight she met brought her cold shivers.
Minato wasn't alone on their porch – before the Hokage stood Jiraiya, his expression more serious than Kushina had ever seen it. The man told Minato something that made the Hokage's blue eyes flash and darken.
Kushina knew that reaction better than well, and that's why her stomach knotted.
As though sensing her there Minato turned his gaze and their eyes met. And at that moment they both understood that things wouldn't be the same again.
Although Minato did his best to protect Kushina – as he put it, because she called it lying – she heard the constantly spreading rumors of someone or something very dangerous being after the Kyuubi. And as her pregnancy was almost eight months along she found herself growing restless.
If something really did happen to her, what would happen to Naruto? Would she be able to protect her son from whatever was to come? It was annoying to worry about such things along with all the other questions the pregnancy and becoming a mother brought to her mind.
Having been pacing around for the past three hours while waiting for Minato's newest investigation mission to end Kushina was at her feet when the man entered, appearing exhausted.
"How bad is it?" she asked immediately.
Minato took a breath, not really looking at her. "You shouldn't worry so much."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Don't you dare belittle me like that, Namikaze. I have the right to know."
Minato didn't respond, instead walked up to her and pulled her to a tight embrace. All of a sudden Kushina felt very cold.
"I have to go – there's an emergency meeting." Minato's voice was tight and tired. There was a nearly torn look in the man's eyes. "I just wanted to see you first."
She nodded, then frowned as she spotted the look in his eyes. "Are you okay?"
Minato shook his head, then kissed her with such passion that suggested someone's life depended on it. Once the kiss was over he pulled her tighter into his arms, still not saying a word.
For someone as impatient as Kushina the two minutes of silence felt endless. "I've been thinking", Minato murmured in the end, his face buried into her hair. "We've been waiting too long." He looked at her with surprisingly serious eyes. "When this is all over, when we've found a way to keep you safe… Will you marry me?"
Once again she was convinced hormones were in action, because without a warning tears ran down her cheeks. She wrapped her arms tighter around Minato, holding him as though she'd feared he might disappear. "Yeah, you idiot", she murmured into his ear, closing her eyes tightly. "Of course I'll marry you."
As they kept holding each other they decided not to think about the fact that when this was all over there might not be them – that the world as they knew it might fall to pieces. At the moment such an option didn't exist.
/THE FOLLOWING BIT INCLUDES A LOT OF DIALOGUE FROM THE ACTUAL MANGA. ME NO OWN!/
Naruto's birth was planned carefully and in great secrecy – only a handfull of people knew any details of the one time when the Nine-Tails Jinchuuriki was at her weakest.
As usual with labors, Naruto's birth wasn't a smooth, painless ride. Minato had never before been as terrified as he was then, watching Kushina bleeding and screaming like a wild animal. But he never once let go of her hand, even though she cursed him with a extremely colorful vocabulary and almost broke every singly bone of his limb. With how loud and dramatic it all was the end was almost anti-climatic.
All of a sudden shrill, demanding cry filled the small space. Nothing in the world could've matched with what Kushina and Minato felt as they were finally face to face with their son.
Minato could only laugh, wiping tears from his eyes. "I'm a father!"
All of Kushina's attention became fixed on Naruto. And she smiled like only a mother can, panting with exhaustion and something overwhelmingly strong. "Naruto… I finally get to meet you…"
She almost cried out when the baby was suddenly taken from her arms. Her attention snapped away from Naruto only when she saw Minato's face above her and he spoke, his expression grim and focused. "I know you're exhausted from the birth, but we've gotta get the Nine-Tails completely sealed."
She nodded, fighting to concentrate. "Right."
It was supposed to be finished, they were supposed to be safe. But exactly five seconds later Kushina's eyes widened as her maternal instincts and something much darker screamed a warning.
No – not now, please not now…!
Such coldness she'd never felt before filled her until there was a boom.
"Biwako – sama, taji!"
And then, in less than a breath, Naruto was in a masked attacker's arms. At that moment Kushina could've sworn her heart stopped for a while.
Kushina had never known such fear she did then, and it wasn't for herself. She was terrified out of her mind of what that bastard would do to Naruto, when she couldn't do a thing to protect her son. The only thing she could do was scream, with all the rage and terror there was in her.
If she'd had any strength whatsoever in her she would've charged forth and ripped that asshole to shreds with her bare hands. But unfortunately she didn't have such option.
And like that wasn't enough Kyuubi decided to start acting up on her. The pain was unimaginable.
"Kushina!" All sounds were muffled to her, unclear.
"… your son dies?"
Then, in the middle of the chaos, all her attention focused on the fact that Naruto was flying through the air. For the second time in those few moments her heart stopped as she bellowed at the top of her lungs. "NARUTO!"
Minato was already moving, and hot relief flowed through her when he caught the baby safely into his arms. But her happiness was doomed to be short lived. Because the next second there was a deafeningly loud explosion, and she couldn't see her family anymore.
Tears filled her eyes as she screamed once more. "NARUTO! MINATO!"
Minutes later, chained by the attacker who was ripping Kyuubi out of her, Kushina fought not to scream under the tidal wave of agony and wrath.
Her son, her beloved, her village… She'd failed to protect them, let them all down. And now…
With what she assumed to be some of her last breaths Kushina slumped down to the stony floor, panting helplessly as she tried to reach out for the man who was already walking away. She'd never felt weaker in her life. "Stop…", she barely managed.
She was almost sure the man spoke something, but she couldn't comprehend the words anymore. And the next moment Kyuubi was attacking her.
Kushina was almost sure she'd die right there and then. But after a one more shallow breath she realized that she was out in the forest once more – in Minato's arms.
Forcing absolutely every ounce of her strength to motion she rasped out. "Minato… Is Naruto okay?"
She was amazed that even in such a situation Minato's smile was comforting. "Yeah, he's fine. I hid him someplace safe."
It was the greatest relief Kushina had ever felt. Enough to make her smile although she was in agony and knew she didn't have much time left. "Oh thank god…" Then, struggling to just think, she forced words out through pants. "Minato… Stop him… Stop the Nine-Tails… They're headed for the village…"
The sight of Minato's face was the last thing she saw before everything faded ino darkness. The next time she managed to crack her eyes open she realized that she was in a tiny house, still in Minato's arms. Safe.
Her head spinning and her thought blurring together she frowned as he lay her gently to the floor. "Why?" Why did you save me when you knew it was too late? Why did you…? The thought was, however, cut as she realized that she'd been laid right next to a already calm Naruto. Immediately tears found their way to her eyes.
This… was the last time she'd ever see her son. She was fairly sure that deep down both she and Minato knew it.
"Never mind why." Minato's voice didn't sound quite familiar to her ears. He got up oddly stiffly, she could feel his reluctance to leave. "Stay with Naruto."
Unable to do anything else she squeezed her eyes tightly shut and pulled the baby close. "Naruto…"
Hearing Minato move she forced her eyes halfway open to look at him. His back was to her as he approached the door. That was when the first tears rolled down her cheeks. "Minato… Thank you… Good luck…."
Minato didn't have to tell her how hard it was for him to leave, how much he loved them and would've wanted to say. She wouldn't have even needed to see his balled fists. She already knew. "I'll be back before you know it", he promised in that unfamiliar voice.
Kushina hoped from the bottom of her heart that she would've managed to summon the will to say at least something, anything. Because as soon as Minato walked out the door she knew it was the last time she ever saw him. And the tears streamed harder.
It took a moment before she managed to gather enough strength and concentration to look at Naruto, who was sleeping soundly. It was a huge relief to her that the child, at least, was oblivious to the nightmare going on.
Her eyes blurred for a while just before she whispered. "I love you… Naruto…" She leaned her forehead against the baby's, relieved that he didn't wake up to the couple of her tears spilling to his face. Apparently he was as heavy sleeper as she was. "Don't forget that."
Naruto responded with making a sleepy sound.
Kushina's stream of thought began to slow, but at least she was still functional and conscious. She knew there wasn't a lot of time left.
She was no fool – she knew exactly what Minato would soon have to do. Kyuubi couldn't be allowed to run around freely. He'd have to seal it. Although Kushina despised even the mere thought she knew there weren't many who'd be able to carry such a burden. She was fairly sure Naruto would soon have to continue the mission that used to be hers. And there was only one thing she could do to help him.
"It's alright", she whispered hoarsely. "You're gonna be okay… I promise."
The baby stirred, then followed with clear fascination how her tired fingers moved in the rhytm of a nearly forgotten technique. Soon enough the tiny space filled with blue light as a part of her chakra flowed into the baby. Naruto squealed and waved his arms, but didn't start to cry.
Kushina, on the other hand, was dangerously close to tears once more as the glow died out. She was fairly sure the lack of chakra wasn't the only reason she felt a hole inside her while brushing Naruto's cheek gently. "See that, Naruto?" Her eyes drooped and she fought to stay awake for a few more seconds. "That way a part of me is always with you – I hope you can feel it. No matter what happens… I'll be there to protect you."
With those words she lost the battle. Her eyes slipped closed, and every single muscle in her body went limp as she lay on the floor. Her breathing didn't work properly, either.
The sounds Naruto made escorted her into a blinding white, away from one world.
/AND NOW, OFF TO SOMETHING A TOUCH LESS CANON./
By the time Minato rushed back to the house – exhausted, dizzy and terrified out of his mind for his family – he came to discover that he wasn't the first one there. He stopped a couple of steps away from the door as Hiruzen Sarutobi walked out, holding Naruto in his arms. There was a gloomy expression on the older man's face that made Minato's chest tighten painfully.
It took a mighty while before Sarutobi managed to look at him, let alone talk. The man stopped a step away from him and shook his head slowly. "I'm so sorry, Minato. But… By the time we arrived it was already too late."
Minato barely heard that last sentence as he stood there, fists balled with helpless rage and such ache he'd never experienced before. It felt like the bottom had dropped his world, and it sucked him so out of breath that he couldn't even cry out or shed a tear. He never noticed that he was shaking violently.
He didn't come out of his stupor until there was a touch on his shoulder, after which Naruto was placed gently into his arms. "Naruto's fine. A bit shaken by all the hassle, but physically alright."
Minato nodded, dazed. This was all going over his head. And then he sensed something that made his eyes blur for a fleeting second – something very familiar. "Kushina…", he breathed out, looking at the baby in his arms. Blue eyes looked right back. "She gave him some of her chakra."
He wasn't sure how long passed until Sarutobi spoke, quietly yet sternly. "Minato." The tone was enough to make him look at the man. "I know this is hard for you, but Kyuubi is attacking Konoha. It needs to be sealed." The older man's eyes were sad as they shifted towards Naruto. "And sadly… At the moment there are only two children in Konoha who are strong enough and can be considered. And I doubt you'd want to seal it into Sasuke."
Looking at his son Minato was forced to admit that Sarutobi was right. Naruto was the only possible option. He hated even the mere thought, but what else could he do?
It was the hardest decision he'd ever come across. And he didn't want any other father to face it.
Minato closed his eyes for a moment to gather himself, then looked at Sarutobi. His voice was heavy as he spoke. "Tell someone to bring Naruto to the forest opening in half an hour." For a one more time he looked at Naruto, who appeared confused and restless. His eyes stung, forcing him to blink twice. "However this turns out… Do what you can to make sure he's loved." He took a deep breath to even his voice. "I… I don't want him to be treated as monster."
Sarutobi nodded solemnly, accepting the baby into his arms. Just as Minato had turned around and taken two heavy, hard steps away the older man spoke. "Good luck, Minato. And remember, you're doing the right thing."
Doing the right thing, Minato mused while walking away.
Then why didn't he feelt that way?
Exactly five minutes and thirty seconds before his death Minato was knelt to the forest floor, long since having grown deaf to chakra-chained Kyuubi's roars. He looked down towards Naruto, who was crying heartbreakingly. At that moment he was much too aware of how little time there was left, how little choice he had.
Minato's throat felt choked as he put the baby gently into a small basket, letting go with reluctance the kind he'd never felt before. And then he allowed his badly shaking hands move while something warm and hot appeared to his cheeks.
I'm so sorry, Naruto. He could barely breathe as he closed his eyes and completed his actions. If there was a choice…
He grit teeth, feeling something of himself fade away.
He'd done all he could for Konoha, given everything. Now he could only pray that it wasn't in vain – that the curse he was about to put on his own child would also cause things that weren't dark.
There was a deafening roar, far louder than that of thunder. And then it was all over.
Dying was nothing like Minato had expected. He felt lightheaded a second before everything turned utterly white, like snow had covered everything. The sound of Naruto crying escorted him as he faded away from the world.
No one in the grieving village noticed that that night two new stars lit up in the sky.
Years, almost two decades, flew by.
There was a look of sadness and longing on sixteen-year-old Naruto's face as he stood on a cliff, barely seeing eyes observing how waves caressed the stones. At that moment Naruto looked more like his father than ever before.
His mother's words – the last and only ones he'd ever hear from her, the tale he was still struggling to believe – echoed in his head. His mind wrapped around three particular words.
'I love you.'
Blinking furiously Naruto lifted his gaze towards the steadily darkening sky, where stars were already starting to show. He felt choked, but sobs didn't escape.
"I wish you guys could be here, you know? But… I hope you see me, wherever you are." It took a moment before he realized that he was the one talking. He didn't even notice how a couple of tears spilled. "Thanks, for everything. I'll make you proud of me, believe it. I'll do whatever it takes to be worth your expectations."
"Naruto?" He jumped upon hearing Yamato's voice. Glancing over his shoulder he met a pair of somewhat worried eyes. "Are you okay?"
It wasn't until then Naruto realized that there were tears on his cheeks. He wiped them away and tried to grin. "Yup, I'm fine. Just… thinking."
Yamato nodded, then apparently came to a conclusion that there was no point in prying further. "There's some dinner still left, if you're hungry."
This time his grin was a genuine one. "Are you kidding? I'm starving! I'll be there in a bit."
After Yamato had left Naruto lifted his gaze towards the stars once more, focusing on two particular ones that seemed to be coalesced. And he smiled.
If he'd ever been in self-doubt, sad, angry, insecure and lonely, he was none of that anymore. He had friends, a home, precious things and people to protect – and somewhere out there parents who'd loved him more than anything watching over him. And he was going to show the world just what the heir of 'The Leaf's Yellow Flash' and 'The Bloody Habareno' was made of – what was at the end of the red thread of fate.
He was Naruto Uzumaki. And his tale had only just begun.
A/N: (sobs a bit, wiping eyes) I… feel a bit sad when sitting at the end of this. Those two poor things! But at least there's Naruto to carry on their legacy. And we can always imagine they ended up happy wherever they went, right?
PLEASE, do leave a review for this final chapter! I'm a bit insecure when it comes to first and last chapters so it'd mean the world to me. So… Pwease? (gives puppy's eyes)
You guys, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the love you've given this story! When starting I was expecting this to get one or two reviews, but clearly I underestimated how much you love this couple. Thank for all those reviews and listing – heck, thank you for sticking around! You guys are the best, ya know?
MinaKushi forever, folks! (grins)
Once more, thank you! Who knows, maybe I'll see you guys again with another MinaKushi or some story.
All the best for each and every single one of you! Peace out!
piiiie: So I'm not the only one head over heels for that couple! (grins) They definitely deserve tons of love.
Monumental thank yous for the review!
I really hope ya'll be staying tuned for the final chapter.
I-Like-Pineapples: My gosh, how happy I am to hear enjoy how the plot's developing! It's one huge concern for me while I write. (grins and wipes forehead)
I didn't want to rush things, so I wrote in a chapter four. Besides, a story of the Fourth should have four chapters, right? (grins again)
Gigantic thank yous for the heartwarming review!
I hope you'll enjoy the final chapter as much.