Chapter Two: Getting to Know You

Kushina hesitated, clearly torn between wanting to listen to what he had to say and getting the hell out of there. Reluctantly, she opted for the former, though wisely situating herself a good distance away. "What is it?" she asked warily, already half-regretting her decision.

Jiraiya leaned against the wall to show her he meant no harm. "I truly apologize for my behavior earlier. My mind and sense of propriety were muddled by the long, hard months me and Minato endured while traveling, as I'm sure you understand."

Minato tactfully decided not to mention that his sensei's mind and so-called 'sense of propriety' were practically non-existent when it came to anything with breasts. Anything to get back into Kushina's good graces.

Kushina visibly softened, though she still was noticeably cautious around the man. And rightfully so. "I guess so. Okay, I'll let it go this time. But you better not do it again!" she warned.

Jiraiya saluted. "I swear upon Minato's life. And mine," he added as an afterthought after Minato shot him a glare.

Kushina nodded, then turned to leave, when she was interrupted by Jiraiya once again.

"But to make it up to you, I was wondering if you would be so kind as to accompany the two of us to see all the sights and sounds of you lovely village tomorrow."

Kushina paused, then said, "I can do that. It's part of the peace treaty anyway. When would you two like to meet?"

Jiraiya gave Minato a subtle elbow to the ribs, to which he stammered, "Um, around nine o'clock in the morning would be fine."

Kushina then gave him a sweet grin that made his insides do some truly funny things. "Nine o'clock it is then. I'll see you guys tomorrow," she said with a friendly wave and proceeded to turn around to walk back down the flight of stairs.

Minato stared after her in wonder, wondering where an exquisite creature like her had been all his life.

He only came back to the present when he felt Jiraiya dragging him to their room and closing the door. He spun around to meet Minato's gaze, a barely suppressed smirk of triumph on his face. He poked Minato on the chest. "Oho, you have got it bad, my boy."

Minato stared back at him incredulously. "What are you talking about?"

"Don't play coy. You like that girl."

Minato sighed, exasperated. "Must you always see the sexual in everything?"

"It's what I do, my boy. It's what I do."

"I just think she's pretty, that's all." And funny. And sweet. And so drop-dead gorgeous that he it was all he could do to respond coherently when those piercing eyes were fixed on his own and - ohdeargod, what was happening to him?

Jiraiya smirked as he flopped down on the bigger of the two beds, making it creak dangerously. "Right. Whatever you say, Mina-chan."

Minato shrugged and proceeded to get ready for bed himself. He knew from past experiences that his sensei could not be deterred when he was disillusioned like this. He didn't like Kushina, not in that sense anyway. There was too much going on in his life right now to focus on such frivolities. There were the reports of a brewing war, the academy-fresh genin he had to teach when he finally went back to Konoha, his electricity bill, and various other concerns. Sure, she was gorgeous, but so were a lot of other girls back home. Even if he wanted to start something with her, which he didn't, he couldn't see how it would be possible, seeing as they might as well be living at opposite ends of the Earth. He wouldn't be silly enough to fall for her, was he?

Unbeknownst to Minato that while he was ruminating on his love life, or the lack thereof, his sensei's thoughts were on the same page, albeit in a different, and more enthusiastic, manner. 'This is my chance! I'll make a man out of Minato yet. Now, all I have to do for tomorrow is…' On and on he went, until he finally fell asleep with a pleased smile on his face.

Later that morning, precisely at nine o'clock, they arrived at the village square where Kushina was already waiting for them. Minato almost did a double-take when he saw her. She was wearing a simple white dress that complimented her slender figure with all its subtle curves nicely. She had her hair up in a slightly messy bun and it was all Minato could do not to stare at her so openly, lest he freak her out. He had never thought of her as the dress wearing type, but he wasn't about to complain. He glanced over at Jiraiya, to see that he was equally smitten. Minato hoped to god he wouldn't say anything inappropriate, but maybe that was too much to ask so early in the morning.

She waved, then proceeded to walk alongside them. "Where would you two like to start? Anything in particular you want to see?"

"Everything!" Minato replied enthusiastically. Maybe a bit too enthusiastically, seeing as she stared at him with a slightly startled expression, which then switched to a more genuine, and if he was interpreting it correctly, devilish smile. "You got it! I know this place like the back of my hand. I'll give you a tour you'll never forget!"

Boy, did she ever. She took them to their enormous libraries and museums, to beautiful parks and stunning beaches, were they passed the time flying kites and just walking along admiring the shore, where the sand was as white and the water as blue as they could be. Aside from a slight incident wherein Jiraiya was beaten to nearly an inch of his life for drooling over and caressing the backs of a goup of sunbathing women, the day was idyllic. Beautiful. Just like her. Minato gave himself a little shake. Now, where did that thought come from? The sun was probably getting to him. He suggested the three of them go back to the village square to browse through some shops he saw there, since there was still a little light left before twilight came. Kushina readily agreed, while Jiraiya just grunted an affirmative, still probably a little peeved that those women took his advances the wrong way.

After about an hour of going through all the shops that caught his eye and buying a few interesting knick-knacks for his friends back home, he found himself admiring some exotic flowers that a man was enthusiastically hawking to a small crowd. Now, Minato was not the flower-admiring type, as he often thought them to be one and the same. But he made an exception for these flowers. They were in every imaginable color, from the brightest of reds and blues to the most subtle of pinks and purples. They had a magnificent and unusual sort of bell-shape, and their scent was almost hypnotizing. He found his eyes drawn to the red ones in particular, because they had an almost uncanny resemblance to the shade of Kushina's hair. The small buds that surrounded them could almost pass for the same blue-green shade as Kushina's eyes, but not quite.

He was about to turn away, but unfortunately at that same moment the seller saw his interest and proceeded to throw a friendly arm around his shoulders. "Ah, here's a young man who appreciates the finer things in life! What would you like to purchase, my good sir? The red ones with the blue buds I saw you admiring are my bestsellers."

Minato tried to politely edge away from the man's grip and sales pitch. "Oh, I don't really—"

"No?" the man asked, visibly put out. Then he saw Kushina near Minato's side and then brightened once more. "But you must! How else will you show this beautiful girl how much you care for her?"

"We're not together," Kushina said hastily.

"No matter, a pretty girl like you still deserves some pretty flowers."

The man had a point. But before Minato could think of saying anything, he felt Jiraiya clap him on the back and whisper, "Go on, Minato. Buy her the flowers already. It's the least we can do after all she did for us today."

He also had a point. So Minato decided to indulge the inner gentleman in him, and went to buy the flowers. The word he said when he found out how much they cost were not very gentlemanly, but no matter. They were for a good cause.

He shyly went up to Kushina to offer her the flowers, and she regarded him with a cautious, if almost embarrassed, hesitation. "You didn't have to do that, you know."

"I know," he said. "But I wanted to. To express me and my sensei's thank you for showing us around," he amended hastily, when Kushina gave him a strange look when he said he wanted to.

"Well, thank you, both of you," she smiled a tiny smile as she inhaled the flowers' scent.

"It was no trouble at all, fair Kushina," Jiraiya said easily, probably forgetting who actually paid for the flowers.

Minato felt the need to justify his actions, to make sure his intentions weren't misunderstood in any way. "I just saw them, and they reminded me of your hair and eyes. Not that I always think of your hair. Or your eyes." He winced. "I mean—"

"Minato?" Kushina interrupted.

"Um, yes?"

"Shut up. I love the flowers."

"Oh. That's good," he coughed embarrassedly while at his side, Jiraiya tried to hold back a laugh. Yep, everything was going according to plan.

As they were walking back to their apartment, they chanced upon the most delectable of smells coming out of a small, inviting restaurant just a few blocks from where they were going home. When Minato's stomach gave a loud rumble, he discreetly clutched it and hoped to god Kushina didn't hear that. No such luck.

"Oh, you must be starving!" she said contritely with a small laugh, and if the situation wasn't so mortifying, Minato would have laughed with her, because she had the most pleasant laugh he'd ever heard.

As they decided to go inside to have dinner, Jiraiya offered him a wink and said, "Good job, Minato."

"Huh?" Minato asked blankly. He had no idea what his sensei was going on about, but he didn't really want to know. He had enough on his mind tonight.

As the hostess sat them on a small table in the middle of the cozy setting, Kushina proudly said, "Give us everything you've got, Kaina-san. I want our guests to experience real Whirlpool culture, starting with your delicious appetizers all the way to your renowned desserts."

Kaina-san favored her with a wink. "You got it, sweetheart."

As she left, Kushina beamed at them all.

"What exactly does the real Whirlpool culture entail?" Minato asked curiously.

"You'll see," Kushina said.

When the courses started coming out, Minato really did start to see. 'Man, these people don't do anything half-assed," he thought.

There were soups, vegetables and meat of all sorts and in all manners of preparation that blew Minato's mind. They each had strong and subtle flavors that complimented each other beautifully. At the end of tasting them all, Minato wanted to kiss the chef. Or Kushina, since she was the one who opened his eyes to what he was missing.

Minato was nearly full, as was Jiraiya, seeing as the man was nearly falling asleep at the table. But he could see Kushina was still going strong and excitedly waiting for the main dish. Minato tried to share her enthusiasm, but it was kind of hard, seeing as he could barely breathe on account of all the delicious food he had been shoveling into his mouth with wild abandon. And they haven't even started dessert yet!

When he saw the hostess and two other waiters carrying their main dish, his jaw dropped. It was quite possibly the biggest fish he'd ever seen served on a platter. It was nearly the length of his whole arm, and alarmingly plump. It looked like it decided to swallow its brethren before being cooked. It had all the colors of the rainbow, and its head was oddly misshapen. It was also the ugliest fish Minato had ever seen.

"This," Kushina said with great pride, "is our national dish, the Kouranka fish. I swear, Minato, you haven't lived until you tasted this."

Minato thought he could, seeing as he'd survived just fine all these years. He was about to pass, when Jiraiya, having already eaten a large mouthful, passionately exclaimed, "Oh my god. This is the best fish I've ever had!"

"I know!" Kushina said gleefully, already digging into her second portion.

Minato hesitated, then decided what the hell. He only had one life to live, after all. As he prepared to cut himself a small bite, he noticed the fish's one, large eye staring back at him, almost accusingly. He quietly shuddered. While he was engaged with staring down the fish, he didn't notice that Jiraiya had discreetly coughed back his own piece of fish onto his napkin with a small grimace.

Minato took the portion into his mouth, chewed contemplatively, and then swallowed. It didn't taste as bad as it looked, he decided. It was actually quite pleasant. He could detect subtle hints of lemongrass, saffron and a variety of other spices. He also detected a mild numbness in his lips, followed almost instantaneously by an insane burning in his throat and mouth.

Now, he tried, Minato honestly tried to pull it together. He was strong, arguably one of the strongest in all of the five nations. But if there was one thing Minato couldn't brave, it was anything remotely spicy. Even the mildest of peppers would send him into a frenzy, wanting nothing more than to escape its fiery hell. What Kushina failed to mention that though the Kouranka fish was indeed Whirlpool's national dish, the way they traditionally prepared it was for it to be stewed in the hottest peppers known to man for hours, before it was deemed acceptable, and woe betide any sorry souls not accustomed to its spiciness. So really, it was too much to ask for Minato to hold it together.

He leapt up from their table, giving off a muffled half-shriek, half-sob with tears streaming out of his eyes. His whole face turning an alarming red, he blindly reached out for anything resembling a glass on their table to put him out of his misery. As his fingers touched his own glass, indeed, the only glass there that still contained any water, he inadvertently knocked it to the ground. He gave a howl of despair, with Kushina and Jiraiya just staring at him from their seats, too stunned to do anything to help. This was the first time they saw the Yellow Flash being anything other than perfect.

Nearly mad with the pain, his eyes zeroed in on the vase containing some roses on a shelf at the back of Kushina's head. He grabbed for it, paying no mind to Kushina's cry of surprise when a large amount of water splashed her, and proceeded to quench the inferno in his mouth.

After a little while, Minato finally deemed it safe to look up. Both Jiraiya and Kushina were staring at him, dumbstruck. Then, a small snort escaped Kushina. Finally, she burst out in uncontrollable giggles and Jiraiya joined in with his own hearty guffaws.

Minato gave them both exasperated looks. "Honestly, that's all you have to say? After you nearly killed me?"

Kushina, struggling with the case of the hiccups, looked up at him and grinned, her eyes dancing with merry mischief. "Well, I did tell you you haven't lived unless you've tasted it, right?" She exploded into another fit of giggles.

Minato sighed, trying, and failing, to hide his own amusement. He looked over at Jiraiya and saw that he seemed unusually smug about something.

Kushina seemed to take control of herself and said, "There's a special drink the kitchen hands can make that'll help with the burning." She held out her hand. "Come with me?"

Minato smiled and took her hand.

When they came back from the kitchen a few minutes later, they discovered that Jiraiya had ditched them with the huge bill.

"That son of a bitch!" Kushina seethed. "We were supposed to split the tab!"

"It's no problem," Minato said.

"Why the hell is it no proble—Oh." Kushina looked shocked at first, then gave him an admiring look.

Minato triumphantly waved his sensei's wallet full of cold, hard cash that he filched before they entered the restaurant. He anticipated that Jiraiya would do something like this, since he left Minato with the bill one too many times in the past. People didn't call him a genius for nothing.

They soon exited the restaurant and strolled down the street in companionable banter about the events of the day. When they finally reached the apartment, they stood there in awkward silence for a few seconds, Kushina tightly clutching the flowers Minato had given her.

"Well," Kushina smiled, "that was fun."

Not exactly the word Minato would have used to sum up the evening, 'horrifying' and 'disastrous' being the top choices. But he supposed it would have to do. Even though he nearly died a painful death by way of pepper, he had truly enjoyed the day with Kushina. Anyway, if she enjoyed it, who was he to argue? He was only glad she didn't think the day had been a total bore.

On impulse, Minato leaned in to press a kiss to her soft cheek, quickly averting his eyes as he stepped away. He could feel Kushina staring at him with surprise, and he couldn't blame her. He was a little surprised at himself too. Perhaps the heat of the peppers had given him permanent brain damage.

"Thank you for showing us around. And for dinner."

"N-no problem," Kushina stammered, blushing.

As Minato went inside the apartment and hurriedly climbed the stairs, he couldn't stop thinking about his little act of bravery in giving Kushina a kiss, even if it was only on the cheek. He hoped she wouldn't read too much into it and discover that Minato like-liked her, because he wouldn't be able to live it down if she decided to let him down gently.

Minato had no idea that as he agonized over all these imaginary worries, Kushina was still standing near the apartment, touching a cold hand to the cheek where he kissed her and smiling a soft, bewildered smile.

A/N: Sorry this took such a long time. *Hangs head in shame.*