Disclaimer: I own none of Kishimoto's characters. None.


- a love story in bits and pieces -

Fairytales suck.

When Kushina finishes flipping through the last page of the cheesy romance she found under the stairs (likely left by the last tenant of the apartment), she throws the book in the corner of her room. It's going to accumulate with the old homework assignments and fester with the empty ramen cups.

She can summarize twenty three tales, neatly, in three sentences. The prince saves the princess. He tells her how beautiful she is, how (gag) overcome with love he has become. Then, they get married and produce offspring that (if they were girls) get locked up in towers and other fun predicaments or (if they were boys) rescue their own share of damsels just like Pop.

How quaint. How formulaic.

Kushina won't tell anyone in the village, not even some of the people in her nin class she feels are worth her time, but sometimes, late at night, she curls into a ball facing the wall-side of her bed and relives her own "fairytale" encounter.

And she wonders.

It's a disease, Kushina's sure, and at this point in time she knows it's not going away soon.

Namikaze, Minato.

The object of her thoughts, plagues her nightly with his renditions of love echoing in her head. Sometimes, his passionate pleas end with him calling her "Briar Rose" or "Princess Odette" and other crap like that. So then she has to re-imagine it with more of reality mixed in. Something like a continuation of that starry night, with him rescuing her from the kidnapper nin and carrying her to the treetops. In her head, he is telling her what a splendid ninja she was and how he wished he were half as brave and awesome as she, etc, etc. And hey, on occasion, she agrees to go grab some ramen with him.

And then she wakes up in the morning (or late afternoon), realizing she had dozed off after all. Kushina always feels slightly relieved that the dreams never end with her and Namikaze kissing or pulling other weird stunts on each other.

She knows all too well what happens kunoichi who decide that romance is better than training for chunnin exams or inventing cool new jutsu. Last summer, Yamanaka Aiko met a chunnin from another hidden village. They decided to get married in the Hidden Leaf, with him taking her name, and Aiko-san suddenly became "Aiko-chan" to everyone around her. She renounced her kunoichi way of life and became a (fairly aggressive) housewife. To top off horror with travesty, Yamanaka Aiko, now six months pregnant, probably cannot jump over a taller tree branch to save her life.

Kushina's not stupid. Vulnerabilities are a part of life, and that's that. Everyone has weaknesses, and everyone develops new weaknesses. Just because she fancies Namikaze now doesn't mean her life as a ninja and future-hokage is over.

But she also knows, plain and simple, that if fancying Namikaze turns into something else—kami-sama forbid, a relationship—there is absolutely no escaping the fairytale syndrome. She would get shackled with the baggage for the rest of her life. Kiss her awesome dreams of enemy-butt-kicking and peerless accomplishment goodbye.

That. is. not. happening. Not on her watch.

And so Kushina develops a plan, a special mission (SS-rank, which stands for Save yourSelf) between normal missions, to be carried out in utmost secrecy.

She's been tailing him for a whole week now.

Jiraiya-sensei actually giggles (far more loudly than any grown man should be allowed to, Minato decides) whenever she draws near to their training site. Minato notices the splash of red out of his peripheral vision every time, but chooses to wisely ignore it, lest his sensei turn around and lose focus for the rest of the afternoon. He finishes setting up his fifth exploding tag seal before both the second and third he set up a few yards ago explode with loud, resounding cracks.

He sighs inwardly, before jogging over to the location of his practice seals.

Uzumaki is fine. The edges of her red hair look a bit burnt, Minato notices with dismay. But the important part is that she has enough energy to jump back, all surprise and big, gray eyes, when he approaches.

Minato decides to speak first.

"Uzumaki-san, what brings you here?" He thinks his voice is pleasant enough, light-hearted and not-I'm-slightly-disconcerted-because-you've-been-acting-kind-of-strange, but his question only makes Uzumaki Kushina's eyes widen all the more. Minato's puzzlement grows at the look of horror that seems permanently etched onto Kushina's expressive face these days.

Minato tries to ignore the snickers behind him. Jiraiya is too far away to hit with his fist or leg, and it is unnecessary to waste a shuriken on him.

"Read it," Kushina snarls more than speaks this request.

Suddenly, a letter is shoved into his hands and Minato watches as a red blur disappears the other way, now far away from the training grounds.

He turns the rough edges around in his hands, eager with curiosity and something else. The boy regains his composure, though, with his sensei watching.

Uzumaki's letter reads "Challenge" in bold black strokes.

Minato notes that she's slightly misspelled the kanji, and he feels his lips tug upwards at the characteristic error.