The first time Namikaze Minato saw her profile in a Bingo Book, he had only been mildly incredulous at the picture of a small girl.
No older than nine, she looked small and out of place among the countless jounin filling the pages, her bright green eyes still large on her chubby, slightly red face. If anything she looked more like a street urchin than a ninja, her muddy green-brown hair messy and in need of serious brushing. Not exactly an adorable little girl, but still obviously a child.
While plenty of children could be deadly prodigies—just look at Kakashi—this girl had earned her place on the page not for her skill, but by the company she kept.
The unnamed child never strayed far from the Seven Mist Swordsmen. If one saw her, they could guarantee at least one deadly swordsman to be nearby. Her presence on the battlefield signaled for weaker and injured ninja to flee, and for the strong and able to brace for an inevitable battle. Her entry gave almost no detail on her actual abilities, in part because the few survivors who'd recalled her presence had never seen her fight before the Swordsmen would appear.
Minato knew his upcoming deployment would place him near the last reported sightings of the Swordsmen, so he made specific note of her photo before moving on. As he skimmed over the entry on the next page Kushina hovered behind him, studying her picture with a keen eye. "Hey, Minato, keep an eye out for her," she ordered, and he glanced at her curiously.
"Huh? Why?" She pursed her lips, her violet eyes considering.
"Just a hunch, I guess," she replied finally. He frowned at her unusually vague response but accepted her advice nonetheless, taking another look at the girl's entry as he contemplated just what about her could elicit any kind of gut feeling in his lover.
The first time Minato encountered the girl in person, he had been caught completely off-guard and mildly horrified.
A single girl with an umbrella of seaweed-like greenish-brown hair sat in the middle of a veritable battlefield hunched over a mangled torso, the land around her strewn with severed limbs and maimed corpses. Horrible, quiet groans reached his ears and he quickly realized to his sheer horror that most of the "corpses" were in fact alive, just left in varying states of dismemberment and injury that rendered them incapable of moving.
His attention snapped back to the girl, more alert and wary of the sole standing figure on the battlefield. This time he noticed the bluish-green glow coating her hands, her body rigid with intense concentration as she attempted to staunch the bleeding from the gory stump that once held a man's right arm. A medical ninja? Minato watched her with narrowed eyes. She seemed a bit young to really do anything, but he couldn't help but feel mildly impressed by her tenacity and grasp of the Mystical Healing Palm.
His thoughts were disturbed as he felt a hand clutch his ankle, and he snapped his gaze downwards only to freeze. A vaguely familiar man trembled on the ground next to him, his legs nothing more than stumps and his face streaked with blood, dirt and tears as he stared up at the blonde jounin. He didn't have a hitai-ate as far as Minato could see, but the familiar green flak jacket made his Konoha allegiance obvious.
"Minato," he rasped, coughing. "Th-that girl... sh-she's a monster... She has... p-poisons... We c-couldn't move..."
A harsh shudder ran down his spine at the words, his gaze raising to scan the other bloodied ninja littering the battlefield. Six in total, one other man with a Konoha vest and the rest in the colors of Iwa. "She did this?" he whispered, his stomach lurching. His gaze flickered back to the girl, and he froze when he found himself staring into a pair of bright, bright green eyes.
Only then did he recognize her face from that photo, and his hands clenched at his side as he watched her lift her hands from her "patient." Her bangs fell in her face her face as she turned to study him and tilted her head, the gesture almost cute if not for the sash tied around her waist like an obi with a dirty metal plate bearing four wavy lines.
Kiri, he thought in disgust, gritting his teeth. While she might be young, she was still an enemy, and a potential threat. Pure curiosity shined in her eyes as she regarded him, and her mouth then opened in a small "o" as she pointed at him with a loud exclamation of surprise.
"Ah! You're... You're..." She trailed off, her face growing blank for a second as she frowned. "Um... I never actually got your name. Like, ever."
Minato didn't waver at her youthful voice, his hands reaching for his kunai pouch. "I see Kiri is living up to its reputation as the Bloody Mist," he remarked coolly. Her face clearly belonged to a child, she didn't even look as old as his students, and yet she'd managed to cause this much bloodshed, or at least participated in it. The child blinked at him, looking surprised.
"Huh? Oh, right, the graduation ceremony..." She trailed off, crossing her arms with a frown as she closed her eyes. "Um, I think that got done away with the year before I graduated. Um..." She trailed off and hummed, her eyes pinching tighter as she rocked her head side to side with a small frown. Her sheer lack of wariness around him caught Minato slightly by surprise; the girl seemed to be busy mulling over something despite him clearly being an enemy. Not one to waste an opportunity, he silently wrapped his fingers around a kunai and started to pull.
Just before he could pull his hand out of the pouch, the girl's eyes suddenly snapped open and she pounded a fist into her open hand triumphantly. "Ah! Right! I remember now! You're Arashi, right?"
Cue a near face-plant from Minato, the kunai clumsily sliding from his now-slack grip back into the pouch, but he barely paid it any mind. "What?" he sputtered, face twisting in confusion. "Where the heck did Arashi come from?" The girl blinked and frowned, tilting her head with that same thoughtful, almost puzzled look.
"...Am I mixing up fanon with canon again?" she mumbled to herself, and Minato blinked as she casually slipped two unfamiliar gibberish words into the sentence. Frowning, he shoved the thought away and decided he'd humored her long enough, and blurred into motion. The girl squeaked in surprise and quickly lurched away as he appeared behind her, narrowly avoiding an open-handed strike to the back of the neck. "Wh-what the hell!?"
Minato didn't reply, instead spinning and planting his foot into her stomach. The girl cried as she flew back, her body skidding and bouncing across the ground like a stone across water. Rolling into a crouch on the final skip, she clutched at her abdomen with a pained gasp, shakily raising her head to stare at him. Genuine shock registered on her face as if she didn't expect him to attack, but Minato just stared back stonily, retrieving a kunai from his pouch and lunging forward to finish the job.
However, just as he was about to land the killing blow, her expression shifted and a sad, resigned smile flashed across her face. The sudden change gave him pause and he froze with his kunai halting mere seconds from impaling her jugular, the tip of the blade pressing into her throat without puncturing the skin. Killing children had always been the worst part, and seeing so many complex emotions on a child's face always made his stomach lurch, always made him hesitate for just a few seconds.
"I... We're enemies, aren't we?" she asked, sounding as if she'd only just realized it. Tears began to prick the corners of her eyes as she closed her eyelids, her sad smile still in place. At that moment she looked every bit the child she was, and the fact that a child from Kiri could show that sort of emotion shook him to the core. "I guess I forgot, since I'm used to great Fourth Hokage being one of the good guys."
Despite the fact this girl was an enemy and he should be actively killing her Minato instead stood in shock, his mouth opening and closing in a respectable impression of a fish as his cool momentarily ceased to exist."...Hokage?" he repeated dumbly. "What are you talking about?" At this her eyes popped open again, sincere surprise evident in the vivid apple-green orbs.
"...You haven't been...?" She trailed off, doing her own impression of a fish gasping for water. Then she leapt back with a loud squeak, her hands flying over her mouth. "Oh crap I just spoiled that didn't I, shitshitshit, please don't screw up the future..."
Her quiet self-rambling managed to reach Minato's highly-trained ears, and he stiffened at her words. Comprehension visibly sparked in his blue eyes as he stared at her, his earlier shock fading as his mind shifted from kill to capture and interrogate.
The kunai disappeared into his pouch only to be replaced by a three-pronged one which he immediately threw in her direction. Gasping, the girl quickly darted to the side as it zoomed past her head to embed in a boulder behind her, and Minato pulled on the seal wrapped around the handle and appeared next to it a moment later. He immediately lunged after the fleeing child, a spool of wire already in his hand in preparation to bind her.
However, just as he was about to make contact he abruptly tensed and activated the Hiraishin again to flash back to his original kunai, neatly avoiding the large sword that cleaved through the air where his neck had just been. He frowned as he saw a man with bar-like red stripes tattooed on his mouth standing between him and his quarry, hefting the giant meat cleaver-like blade over his shoulder.
The girl spun to watch the newcomer as she continued retreating, her eyes wide. "Juzo!" she cried out, and the man snorted.
"You're more trouble than you're worth," he growled, facing Minato with a stern scowl. "Sorry, Yellow Flash, but if I let you hurt the runt back here Ameyuri'll kill me in the afterlife."
Minato's mind raced as he shifted his position to something more defensive, quickly recognizing the man to be one of the Seven Shinobi Swordsmen of the Mist. Fighting even one would be difficult and messy, and while it would be more beneficial in the long run, right now he had other priorities. Eyes flicking back to the still-groaning forms of his fallen allies, he made his decision and quickly darted to their sides, grabbing them and disappearing in a yellow blur as he tugged on another nearby Hiraishin seal.
The last thing he heard before the seal teleported him away was the little girl casually quipping, "I guess you're not dying here then, huh Juzo?"
About a month later,when Minato got the latest updated Bingo Book, he was only mildly surprised to see her entry had been updated. The photo remained unchanged, but it now had a name:
Minimum C-rank threat, known to heavily rely on poisons and her small size in her fighting style. A large amount of her skills still remained unknown, because she played support more than anything, but reports had started to trickle in from survivors who had faced her. And that was just the word to use—survivors. Those who faced her in battle usually ended up mangled, some kept alive and in pain by her immediate application of medical ninjutsu. Whether that could be seen as a mercy or a cruelty was up for debate, because he'd met her victims, and they spent nearly all their time in agony.
Minato's lips thinned as he read over the brief entry, his mind flashing back to his brief encounter. Everything about her had been unsettling, from her actually child-like demeanor to her legitimate surprise and sadness that he attacked her, but for some reason what stuck with him most were her words:
"I guess I forgot, since I'm used to great Fourth Hokage being one of the good guys."
"Fourth Hokage," he breathed to himself, his eyes narrowing as he stared at her photo. The notion of him becoming Hokage was almost alien. The Third had no intention of retiring before the war ended, and everyone knew he favored Orochimaru for the position. While he'd love the position, he doubted anyone else would expect him to be Hokage either. Hell, Kushina had better odds than him, what with being from an actually established clan and all. But that wasn't what really struck him as odd; it was the way she said it, the almost matter-of-fact casualness to her quip. No matter how he looked at it, he could only reach one conclusion:
She didn't know him as Namikaze Minato. She knew him only as the Fourth Hokage.
And he had no idea why.