Title: Red Threads
Summary: Love isn’t always at first sight, nor the second or the third. And for Kushina Uzumaki, it wasn’t until the 487th time she saw Minato Namikaze that she fell in love.
A/N: Yeah, I know. I actually wrote something non-yaoi/shonen-ai. WOW. But Minato has become my second-favorite character after the latest chapters in the manga, so I wanted to do a story about him. This might be a little confusing for those who haven’t read the manga; Uzumaki Mito and Kushina’s chakra chains ability haven’t appeared/been mentioned in the anime. Btw, 487 is a completely random number. But I’m sure you get the point.
The classroom was filled with unfamiliar, young faces, and all of them were staring straight at her. Her cheeks felt hot and though she hoped it wasn’t true, Kushina knew they probably had turned a shade of red to rival the vibrant color of her hair. Most of the kids looked at her with mild curiosity, others with boredom. Several observed her with some interest, but they thankfully turned away as their Chuunin instructor began to speak.
“Now everyone, please welcome Kushina Uzumaki to our class.” The older woman patted Kushina’s shoulder lightly, steering her to stand in the very center. “She comes to us from Uzushiogakure, so I want you all to help her settle in!”
By now, the red-haired girl had spotted an empty seat in the second row, and was waiting impatiently for the sensei to finish speaking. All she wanted was to sit down and stop getting gawked at. Even better than that would be to just run home to Grandma Mito and never come back to this awful place.
“So Kushina, why don’t you introduce yourself? What do you like, what are your dreams for the future?” The teacher smiled brightly down at her, the hand on her shoulder keeping her firmly in place. Clearly this wasn’t the Chuunin’s first nervous new student.
Her face flared even hotter, even more so when several students began giggling at her embarrassed appearance. “I…” She hesitated, glancing nervously around. Why couldn’t she just sit down and have no one stare at her? In the front row, a cheeky-looking boy pointed at her, turning to his friend and whispering. They both burst into a fit of laughter, the sound infuriatingly loud to Kushina’s ears. Angrily, she took a determined step forward, arm akimbo, and sucked in a deep breath. “I’m Kushina Uzumaki !” She declared at the top of her lungs, looking defiantly out at the shocked students. “And I’m gonna be the first female Hokage!”
For a moment, the classroom was completely silent. Every person was staring in open-mouthed shock at her now, including their instructor. The spell was broken, however, when the boy in the front row spoke up.
“You look more like a tomato than a shinobi!”
Instantly, the rest of the children burst out laughing, the noise carrying out into the hallway. As she looked from each giggling face to the next, Kushina felt her embarrassment quickly being replaced with anger. Incensed, she darted out from under their teacher’s hand quick as a snap, approaching the first boy who’d spoken.
“Who asked you anyways! Idiot!” Before anyone could react, she slammed her fist squarely onto the top of his head. With a yelp of pain and surprise, he fell flat on the ground in a daze. He was utterly defenseless as the red-haired girl jumped over the table and proceeded to pummel him mercilessly, furiously raining blows down.
“Ow! Ow! Shit, stopppppp!” He yelled shrilly, trying to crawl away from his assailant. “Kaeda-senseiiiiii!”
“That’s enough, both of you,” their instructor barked sternly. She reached over the wooden table and grabbed both of them by the scruff of their necks, hauling them away from each other. “Kushina, go sit down over there, by Minato-kun.” She pushed the still struggling girl in the right direction. Kaeda then dumped the boy unceremoniously back into his chair. “And you, Kenta. If you speak without raising your hand again I’ll have you cleaning the lavatories for a month.”
Exasperated, the kunoichi waited for both of them to settle into their seats before forcing a smile out. “Anyways, there’s nothing wrong with Kushina’s dream. After all, we all have dreams. They give us a goal and make us strong.”
A blue-haired girl in the second row raised her hand. “Sensei, my mom said that dreams take a lot of hard work. Is that true?”
Kaeda nodded, placing a hand on her slender hips. “Well Aya, some are easier to achieve than others. For example, I’m sure most of you dream to be great ninjas of Konoha, right?” There was a chorus of affirmative sounds as many nodded eagerly. “Well, that dream will definitely take hard work. You’ll have to train and learn…and pay attention in class.” The last part she said slowly, enunciating clearly as she emphasized the point. “Let’s share some of our dreams. Shikaku?”
In the very back of the room, a pony-tailed head of black hair popped up. “Huh?” The young boy looked around blearily, as if interrupted mid-nap. “What’s that?”
Rolling her eyes, Kaeda sighed. “Never mind. How about you, Minato?”
The person next to Kushina stood, and she took a good look at him for the first time. He had spiky blond hair framing his face, side-bangs extending almost past his round chin. His pale skin matched well with his bright blue eyes that looked out calmly and confidently. He had a mouth that seemed to smile easily, kindness evident in his expression.
The red-haired girl noticed the admiring looks from several of the neighboring female students, aimed right at Minato. She restrained a snort; the boys in Uzushiogakure had been much better looking. This one looked kind of flaky and- in her opinion- was pretty girly as far as appearances go.
“Well sensei,” he began respectfully. “My dream for the future is…I want everyone in the village to acknowledge me and become a great Hokage!”
This time, Kushina did snort, earning her a glare from their instructor.
Yeah, definitely a flaky boy.
“Hey, wake up, brat.” The hard toe of a boot dug into her side, forcing roughly Kushina out of uneasy sleep and dreams. Her arms and wrists ached from being tied tightly together. She didn’t move, stubbornly lying on the rough ground until the man became impatient. “On your feet!” When she still refused to move, he withdrew a sharp kunai, prodding her with the tip in a clear threat. “Get up before I-”
“Daijiro!” A low voice sounded from behind them. Kushina sat up slowly as footsteps approached them. “What did I tell you about that, moron!” The newcomer cuffed his companion hard on the side of his head, knocking his hitai-ate off. “If we bring her back with any marks on her, Raikage-sama will run you through.”
“Fine fine,” the other man muttered, bending over to pick up his forehead protector. The metal plate gleamed in the light of the setting sun, reflecting the etched Kumogakure emblem.
Locking her limbs, the red-haired kunoichi winced as the two men each seized an arm, forcing Kushina to her feet. Their two other teammates also stood from where they had been waiting, taking their places at the rear of the procession. “Let’s get moving,” their captain barked. “I want to be over the Fire country border by nightfall.”
At those words, Kushina’s heart fell. They were already so far away from Konoha; it seemed less and less likely that someone would come to her rescue. She looked desperately behind her as her captors pushed her forward, searching for any sign of aid. She’d never felt so helpless before in her life; the Kumo ninjas had stripped her of all weapons, tied her arms behind her back, and placed a chakra-suppression tag on her neck. All these measures effectively rendered her defenseless, unable to perform even a basic jutsu to escape. The most she’d been able to do was to pluck out strands of her own bright red hair, dropping them surreptitiously on the ground as they traveled. She’d been doing that steadily since they had kidnapped her from the village, forming a trail leading straight to them.
Only, it seemed her cleverness was to no avail. Evidently no one had picked up on the hairs, otherwise Leaf shinobi surely would’ve come to her rescue by now. Morose, Kushina walked painstakingly slow, ignoring the disgruntled pushes of her captors. What did it matter? They were under orders to bring her back unscathed, to become a living vessel for the terrifying Hachibi.
She thought about her fate bitterly, hating whatever whim had ordained that she would be born into the Uzumaki clan; that she alone would possess a rare chakra uniquely suited to imprisoning a Tailed Beast. She hated the very hair on her head, fiery crimson and distinct. Its flamboyant color was easily spotted from far off; the Kumo ninjas had had no trouble identifying and capturing her because of it. Now, in spite of her struggling and protests, these four men led her slowly but surely towards a life of solitude and imprisonment.
And yet, Kushina couldn’t help but wonder if it would be any better back in Konoha. After all, it had only been two days ago that the elderly Mito Uzumaki had called Kushina to her room, and changed the young kunoichi’s life forever. It was then she learned that she’d been brought to Konoha years ago for a very specific purpose: to become the next jinchuuriki of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox. Just like Mito had been for so many years.
She’d been near-hysterical when Mito solemnly told her this, and of her intention of transferring the Kyuubi into Kushina’s possession soon. For the young girl it was an awful blow: not only would a terrible monster be sealed within her, but her kindly Grandma Mito- who’d looked after Kushina since she was brought here as a small child from Uzushio- would die from the extraction.
“No! I don’t want it!” She’d screamed, tears streaming hot down her pale cheeks. “Why can’t someone else have it? Why can’t you just keep it forever?” Her legs were trembling violently from the overwhelming emotion, and Kushina had fallen to her knees. “It’s not fair!”
Silently, Mito had sat on her bed, running a wrinkled hand through Kushina’s red locks. Her heart ached to see her great-granddaughter so distressed, but it had to be done. “My dear Kushina, I know this seems like too much to bear.” She gently lifted the tear-streaked face on her lap, wiping sorrowful eyes with the edge of her kimono. “But there are burdens that only the strong can carry. We do so to protect the people around us, people we love.”
“B-But why me?” The young kunoichi sobbed, hands clutching onto the soft folds of Mito’s clothes.
“Because you have a gift, my dear.” Mito took her hand, stroking it comfortingly. “You were blessed with the power to control a demon like the Kyuubi.” She sighed as Kushina shook her head furiously in disagreement. “I know you may think of it as a curse now, but in time you will understand. Duty, child, can be the deepest of sorrows.” Turning slightly, the elderly woman glanced at the framed picture standing on her bedside table. It was clean and obviously polished regularly, though it had the worn appearance of an antiquated item. Behind the dusky glass was the picture of a distinguished-looking man: he wore his black hair long, and it trailed smoothly down his back. His face was slender with high cheekbones, giving him a kind yet regal mien. Mito ran a finger down the portrait of her husband, gazing at Hashirama’s smiling face with a touch of both fondness and sorrow. “But duty can also be the greatest of joys.”
“How?” Kushina sniffed, wiping her wet cheeks with the back of her hand. “How can getting a monster put inside me bring me any joy?”
The old woman sighed, resting her hands on Kushina’s shoulders. “You must remember that the monster does not define you, child. The Nine Tails is a being of hatred and destruction, so only one force can counter and contain it. Do you know what that is?”
The young girl shook her head, confused.
And Mito had smiled, bending down to press a soft kiss to Kushina’s forehead. “It’s love, my dear. And it is imperative that you understand this. We came here to be the vessels of the Nine Tails… But before that, we must find love and fill the vessel with it.”
Even now, Kushina was perplexed by Mito’s words. How could love help her? It wouldn’t prevent the Kyuubi from being sealed within her, nor did it stop these men from abducting her for their own purposes. Or perhaps Mito meant that Kushina would need love from a strong shinobi? But where would she find such a person? She couldn’t think of any boys her own age that she could tolerate, much less love. They all teased her incessantly, and didn’t impress the kunoichi in the slightest.
Was love really as powerful as Mito believed it to be? After all, love hadn’t saved her husband, Hashirama Senju from death during the First Shinobi War. And where was love when armies had invaded Uzushiogakure, destroying their homes and loved ones? Love was surely absent when someone deemed it to be Kushina’s duty to be the living prison of a demonic beast.
A strangled cry jolted her from her thoughts, and Kushina looked around in alarm. The men holding her captive had stopped walking; one kept a firm grip on her arm as the others unsheathed swords and kunai.
Their leader looked around slowly, eyes narrowed. The sun had just set, plunging the surrounding forest into darkness. Deep shadows covered the area all around, the sky only giving off a final, feeble light before full evening. “Did you hear that?”
The red-haired kunoichi couldn’t hear or see anything, but the men evidently had detected something. Had help finally arrived? She considered her chances of escape; three of the Kumo ninjas were not paying any attention to her at that moment. The one who was holding on to her was visibly distracted, nervously scanning the area for enemy combatants. Inhaling deeply, she leaned back slightly, deciding to take her chances and make a run for it.
However, her guard must have felt her muscles tense, for he clenched his hand around her slender arm tighter. He pulled her flush against him, hissing angrily into her ear. Kushina felt the tip of his sword prod into the small of her back, cutting her skin shallowly and drawing blood. “Don’t even think about it, brat. If you so much as move right now I’ll-”
His voice died away in a wet gurgle as a kunai shot past Kushina’s cheek, embedding itself deep into the Cloud shinobi’s throat. Blood welled up dark and thick from the wound, splattering across the grass as he fell. She instantly broke out of his limp grip, running blindly into the dark forest. A strong hand abruptly grabbed her ankle before she’d managed several steps, dragging the kunoichi backwards. “No! Let go-”
Another kunai whizzed by her face, barely missing her by centimeters. With a dull thunk it drove into the tree behind her; Kushina vaguely noticed it wasn’t a standard-issue kunai. It was much larger and heavier than regular kunai with three sharpened prongs rather than one, and had a strange seal marking on the handle that she couldn’t quite make out in the darkness.
There was a sudden rush of air and chakra, and Kushina felt someone appear besides her as if summoned. He pushed her firmly forward and away from her captor, dealing several quick blows to his enemy. The man fell back with a yelp, releasing his hold on her ankle. Seizing the opportunity, Kushina hurried to her feet. She yanked the heavy kunai from the tree trunk, using it to cut the ropes binding her as she ran.
Breath coming in painful pants, the red-haired girl surged through the pitch-black shrubs. Branches and brambles raked at her arms and legs, pulling at her long hair streaming behind her like a cape. She had no idea if her rescuer was a friend or another would-be captor; all that mattered to her at the moment was to escape.
Kushina’s sandals slid on the damp ground, skidding across wind-smoothed rock. The ground felt like it was sloping upwards; hopefully it would lead her out of this-
“Aaahhhh!” Kushina shrieked as the rock gave way under her feet; in her haste to get away, she’d run headlong towards a treacherous cliff. Her left hand scrabbled along jagged rocks and loose soil, trying in vain to find a handhold and stop her rapid descent. The kunai in her right hand emitted a metallic, ringing sound as its blade dragged across stone and boulders, doing little to slow her fall. In the back of her mind, Kushina thought one last time about her grandmother, wishing she’d listened better-
All of a sudden, everything stilled. She felt as though she was floating, cradled by the air. The transition from violently rolling down the hillside to resting was disorienting, bringing a pounding sensation to her temples. Her hitai-ate had prevented any serious head trauma, but she felt extraordinarily dizzy. The kunoichi was dimly aware of various cuts and scrapes and aches on her body, but was in surprisingly little pain from such a high fall. Was she dead?
“Kushina?” A worried, semi-familiar voice was calling her name. “Are you all right?”
Gradually, Kushina became aware that it was two strong arms holding her securely, one looped under her knees and the other supporting the back of her shoulders. Alarmed, she raised her head.
Two bright blue eyes looked down at her in obvious concern. It was a face she’d seen many times over the years, both in class at the Academy and while walking in the streets of Konoha. The wind rustled Minato’s bright yellow hair as he carried her at a fast pace through the canopy of the forest. “Where are you hurt?”
“M-Minato?” He was the last person she would’ve expected to come to her rescue; she’d always thought him to be too girly and flaky to be much of a ninja. However, he’d always been kind to her on the occasional moments they’d conversed. “How did you find me?”
Minato leapt from branch to branch with ease, chakra control perfect as he maneuvered them both past a labyrinth of trees. “Your hair, Kushina. I saw the strands on the ground leading away from Konoha and knew you had to have left them behind for someone to follow.”
“Oh.” She sighed tiredly, unconsciously relaxing in his arms. “I thought no one noticed this ugly hair of mine.”
Minato frowned slightly at her words. “It’s not ugly.” It was dark, but Kushina could have sworn that the boy was starting to blush. “I noticed your beautiful hair right away.” He hesitated, biting his lip. “I think it’s what makes you unique. So I immediately saw the trail you left behind.” Sheepishly, he smiled down at her surprised expression. “I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner, but we’ll be back to the village in a few hours.”
It wasn’t the first time she’d seen his face, nor the second or even the hundredth. But tonight, Kushina thought Minato Namikaze looked completely different in her eyes. Gone was the girly, flaky little child she’d turned her nose up at; he was replaced by an intelligent, skilled yet kind young man who liked the one thing she hated about herself: her hair. And that touched her heart in a way she’d never thought possible.
Suddenly embarrassed, she looked away. “You moved so fast, Minato-kun. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The blond shrugged, smiling humbly. “It’s a technique I’ve been working on; it isn’t perfect yet.”
She suddenly remembered the special kunai he’d thrown, and moved to return it to him. “Oh, I forgot. You probably want this back.”
But he shook his head. “No, keep it for now. The seal on it lets me teleport myself to the holder, so hold on to it just in case we run into any trouble.”
Closing her eyes, Kushina rested her head against his shoulder. “Thank you, Minato-kun.”
The next couple of hours were a blur for the red-haired kunoichi; she dozed on and off as they traveled. She lifted her head, though, as the sun began to rise. In the distance the high gates of Konoha were just visible in the misty morning, tinged tangerine-orange in the sunrise. She remembered when she first had seen them, years ago when she’d been brought to Fire Country. That day Kushina had viewed them with apprehension and fear, but no longer. Today they looked absolutely wonderful, solid sentinels that guarded home. And the same could be said of Minato; the red-haired girl found that her feelings towards him had completely transformed. He too was a symbol of home: strong and loyal, with a spirit that burned as brightly as fire. But more importantly, Kushina glimpsed a bit of the man that he would become: dependable, steady, able to achieve and give great things.
As they neared the closed gates Minato slowed down to a easy jog, letting the sentries detect their presence. He allowed his chakra to flare forth; Kushina felt it flow past her cool skin like a warm summer breeze. Finally coming to a stop, Minato gently eased his passenger to the ground, patiently supporting her.
As the locks and seals on the entryway were meticulously disengaged, Kushina tilted her her face upwards towards the blond-haired shinobi. Gratefully, tenderly, she pressed a shy kiss to his cheek. “I owe you my life, Minato-kun. I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough.”
He smiled back down at her, lifting Kushina’s hands in his. “Well, maybe when you’re better…we could…” His voice trailed off, unexpectedly shy.
Dimly, Kushina was aware of shouts and excited voices as the gates of Konoha finally opened, and friends and family rushed forth to greet the returning pair. “I’d like that.” She gave his hand an affectionate squeeze. “You’re really something, Minato-kun.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but the crowd of people surrounded them, asking questions and exclaiming in relief. Jiraiya towered over most of the villagers, easily weaving his way through to Minato. He patted his student on the head, ruffling the spiky yellow hair. “Geez kid, you could’ve told me what you were up to.” But he smiled broadly, pride evident in his eyes.
Kushina turned to find the wizened Mito walking slowly towards them, leaning on a cane. She joyfully embraced the old woman, blinking back tears. Her red hair was in a disarray, trailing all over the place. As she reached up to push it out of her face, Kushina looked at the bright strands with new-found respect. Minato’s words had changed her perspective; she no longer looked at her hair with discontent. It had brought her ridicule and many headaches, it was true; but like red threads of fate, they’d helped her grow a little and eventually led her to find a budding love.