The sun is beating down on her with great ferocity, and that is how she knows he's there—because of the absence of the grinding sunlight. It falls directly into her eyes, blinding her. Droplets of sweat scurry down the sides of her forehead. The dust from her hands has somehow settled itself into all the recesses of her body. Her face is fixed in a squint against the sunlight, and then suddenly it isn't there anymore.

She blinks—once, twice—the sudden darkness hurts almost as much as the light did, and in the cool air of someone's shadow it feels as though she has dunked her head in ice cold water. She looks up and her eyes slowly adjust to show her the figures of two people—a boy and a girl. The girl is pale and delicate looking, and she must have been Kushina's classmate in the Academy because she is very, very familiar. The boy, though, is Minato.

She runs into him everywhere—when she's doing her shopping; taking a walk; doing her laundry. It sounds odd, but she knows his appearance well enough to notice that he has acquired a new kunai holster since the last time she'd seen him. And, no, he still hasn't cut his stupidly long, floppy hair.

"Afternoon, Kushina."

It is Minato who speaks first—it almost always is. His face crumples into a stupidly blue-eyed smile, as though he's happy he found her. He is bouncing nervously on the soles of his feet and darting anxious looks at his teammate every few moments. It is a little odd, but what is odd in other people, Kushina has learnt, is perfectly normal behaviour in Minato.

The girl, on the other hand, looks slightly amused. It only shows in the slight folding of the skin above her lips, but Minato seems to sag with relief. Interesting, Kushina thinks, The girl—whose name might or might not be Miho—uncrosses her arms and looks at Kushina coolly. Kushina stares back at the two of them. This is, she thinks, the most bizarre thing that's happened to me in weeks.

"Minato," she acknowledges stiffly, "Um…Miho."

The skin above Miho's mouth creases again. It unnerves Kushina slightly.

"It's Mikoto," Mi-ko-to says, and Kushina sees movement in the corner of her eyes which must be Minato shuffling his feet.

"Right," Kushina agrees, awkwardly leaning against the spade that is stuck in the ground.

"So…" Minato says, body trembling with unspent energy, "What're you doing?"

Kushina snorts. She can't help herself because "What're you doing" is exactly the kind of thing Minato would ask a tired, sweating, dirty girl with a spade in her hand knee-deep in fertiliser. So she doesn't answer his question. Instead she gives him a look filled with so much contempt that he actually wilts a little under her gaze. Which is a little satisfying. Crushing Minato makes her feel a little better but it doesn't make the slight feeling of unease go away.

She never has been comfortable around girls—never, not in her whole life has she ever been friends with a real girl. Girls, it seems, are naturally repelled by dirt and sweat and Kushina doesn't even have the required organ that would make her disheveled appearance 'rakish' and 'charming'. And she wouldn't care for a girlfriend anyway. She thinks.

"Are you on a mission?"

Mikoto asks this, and her face is completely blank of expression. It fascinates Kushina because she has never seen anyone who is so tightly controlled and self-possessed before. It is an admirable quality in a ninja, she knows, and her own short temper is one of the obstacles that lie in the way of her becoming a great ninja. Well, that's what her sensei says anyway. Every part of the other girl's body language only tells Kushina what she is allowed to know. It would be exhilarating to see Mikoto angry or enraged, if she is even capable of such an emotion.

"Yeah. My teammates are taking a break."

Minato frowns. Well, technically he's still smiling like he's had a whole bottle of the pink pills the nurses at the hospital give you for pain, but there are less blindingly white teeth on show now.

"They left you alone."

Kushina straightens up.

"Well, yeah. I guess they thought even I couldn't screw up planting tulips in a line."

"Yes, even you—I mean of course you'd do fine without them. Er…" he trails away, looking apprehensively at Kushina. Because she has just pulled the spade out of the earth and is looking distinctly murderous.

"I think Minato would like to take over for you, while you rest."

Kushina looks at Mikoto, surprised. So does Minato, who didn't look like he'd known until then that that was what he wanted to do. Then Mikoto pokes him in the ribs with her elbow. Kushina actually winces in sympathy. Mikoto's elbows look pointy and dangerous.

"Ah—yeah! Exactly. I'll dig the holes while you—um—take a break."

In spite of herself, Kushina is tempted. But—

"I can't. My teammates—they'll be back any second. If they think I'm slacking…"

"Oh they won't," Mikoto says smoothly, "We saw them walking towards the ramen stand just now. They'll be a while, I think."

"I," Kushina says uncertainly, looking between Minato—who looks like a puppy that wants to play fetch—and Mikoto—who looks enigmatic, and says, "Fine—but no deeper than seven inches, alright?"

Minato nods vigorously. Kushina hands him the spade and goes to stand by Mikoto.

"So," she says after a moment of watching Minato struggle with the dry-as-dust earth, "Were you two on a date? Did I interrupt or something?"

Kushina felt a little contrite. True, it must have been a pretty shitty date if Mikoto would rather have her boyfriend plant tulip bulbs while they were out, but still.

"Oh no," Mikoto replies after a pause, "We weren't on a date."

Kushina doesn't quite know what to make of that pause.

"Anyway," Mikoto adds suddenly, turning as though preparing to leave, "It was very nice meeting you Kushina. I'm sure we'll be friends."

Kushina stares at the other girl's back.

"Hey!" Kushina yells after her, "Hey! You can't just decide that on your own, you freak! Hey! What the—"

"Calm down," Minato says, and Kushina spins around to find him leaning against the spade now, "That's just how Mikoto is. Sorry," he adds with a lopsided grin, "Looks like you're stuck with her for life."

Kushina tries to clamp down on the sudden lightness in her chest.


A/N: Ah, sorry about the long wait. I've just started college so things have been really busy for me for the past few…um…weeks. Hehe.

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