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Kurama's Skulk

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Kurama’s Skulk

A Naruto Story

By Sif Shadowheart

Disclaimer:  Naruto and all accompanying media belong to…whoever they belong to, I honestly have no idea.  All of my Naruto knowledge comes from Wiki and fanfic so…yeah.

WARNING!  This fic contains the following:

Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics; Alternate Universe; Mpreg; Slash; Blatant Disregard for Canon

Read at your own risk!

That said: enjoy!

Skulk: group of foxes; also could be called a leash or earth.

One: A Fox’s Patience

After being alive for thousands of years, Kurama thought that he’d seen the depths of humanity’s idiocy long before he ever was forced into bondage at the hands of an idealistic idiot and his seal-master of a wife.

Given the current situation surrounding his latest jailor clearly he’d been wrong.

Considering how high that bar was before the latest clusterfuck he was witness to while bound and contained inside an insignificant human – fleshies, he’d never understand how they functioned with all their oozing and shedding and blech, give him good clean chakra any day – it was almost impressive.

Almost.

If the reason for their current idiocy wasn’t something as fucking idiotic as human politics and as ridiculous as taking wrongful revenge on an innocent human-kit, that was.

Kurama and his brothers and sisters had become known as many things over the many years since their creation by the Sage of the Six Paths but even at their lowest and worst – most of those moments being one and the same since that damned Hashirama Senju and Mito Uzumaki had bound them – none of them had been fans of torturing young ones.

He would have gladly led Mito – arrogant bitch that thought she was soo superior to him and his kind that she was – right off a cliff.

Kushina with her chakra chains, fear, and temper he could’ve done without but she was never as…enraging as her predecessor for all that she was an annoyance all her own.

But this?

This little newborn kit that he’d been shoved into by the kit’s own parents who’d lived a scant few years of being treated ambivalently at best and neglected and abused at worse?

No, he couldn’t hate the kit.

Unlike his predecessors, little Naruto – and he’d been awake for that discussion between Kushina and her pretty-boy Hokage husband, they’d meant for it to be used as Maelstrom not fucking fishcake unlike the irritating twats at the orphanage had been using – hadn’t had anymore of a choice in becoming Kurama’s jinchuuriki, jail and jailor all at once, than Kurama had done.

Once he’d woken from the rage of the latest round of Uchiha trying to fuck with his head, he’d been quick to realize that and even quicker to stop punishing the kit for his unwitting and unknowing part in Kurama’s ongoing humiliation.

Kurama had also been quick to realize once the fleshbags had moved him from a boring-but-fine fosterage (he thought, the fleshbags didn’t discuss much within Naruto’s presence given that he’s a kit) to the orphanage and his temper had been officially roused over something other than his ongoing binding that he’d picked up from his vessels more than he’d thought – when he wasn’t sleeping or raging at them anyway.

Like Kushina’s foul language, for example.

Or enough knowledge about how humans actually worked as a society to realize just how not okay Naruto’s situation was.

Sage, but even with his less-than-stellar opinion of fleshbags in general and those of Konoha in particular, he hadn’t expected them to be so damn intentionally vindictive towards an innocent kit who’d done not a damn thing to deserve it.

Some of it, yes, he’d seen coming.

Mito had been respected but feared, Kushina had been somewhat alienated due to that same fear, but never had either of them dealt with the level of small-minded and undeserving loathing that Naruto was forced to live with day in and day out since the Hokage had had him placed in the orphanage.

Kurama wasn’t good.

He wasn’t nice.

He was a creation of the Sage made of pure chakra who’d been roaming the lands ever since with his siblings joining him off and on as pleased them all.

That said: he wasn’t evil either.

Which meant, as much as he hated to do anything that benefitted the fleshbags after what they’d done to him and his family, he had to do something about Naruto’s situation.

Because knowing what was going on and ignoring it when he had the power to improve things?

Now that was evil, just the same as the ones who were being evil jackasses in the first place.

Though…given the givens: bound, limited in reach, at the general mercy of a kit so young he wasn’t up to more than toddling yet…what he had the power to do to make things better was the real question.

Oh well, he’d think of something.

Humans didn’t call it being cunning as a fox for no reason after all.

Months passed by as Kurama tested the new limits of his binding – his last container’s husband had altered the seal holding him before sealing him inside Naruto, fleshies did so love to meddle – getting a feel for how the bindings rather than the adamantine chains of Kushina or Mito kept him and his powers contained.

In the past all he could manage was to growl, roar, and lunge at his chains.

Force Mito and Kushina to keep a constant – and wary – eye on him lest their control break and send his corrosive (to them) chakra spiraling through their systems and burning at their chakra pathways.

He didn’t know what Minato had done – he’d been a little busy being controlled by a damn Uchiha at that time – but it was clear he had done something more than simply replicating Mito’s work.

For one rather than being chained down instead he was in a plain stone cavern with a small pool at the base of the rock slab that he curled up on when he wasn’t paying attention to everything going on in the physical world surrounding his container – Naruto.

It wasn’t the most comfortable place in the world, but still better than being chained in the center of nothingness with nothing to do but watch the world around his container, rage, and sleep.

Granted, he still did a lot of watching and sleeping but now rather than rage he focused on plotting more than the best way to irritate, enrage, or otherwise bother his latest container.

Time had never been a concept that Kurama paid much attention to one way or another.

As an immortal construct of chakra given life and personality and purpose, he had never needed to mind something as simple as time.

That changed – to an extent – when he and his siblings were trapped.

But never had time meant so much as it did now.

Now as with every day that passed he was forced to do nothing but watch as his new container, his kit – and when he’d moved from being Kushina’s spawn with that Namikaze pretty boy he didn’t want to think about too hard or deeply – was treated just a little worse each and every day as no repercussions were in the offing from the Hokage or anyone for that matter.

Kurama watched, Kurama saw, and someday he would ensure that those missing repercussions were visited on each and every adult who “forgot” to feed his kit a meal or smacked him upside his little head for crying when he was cold.

And every day while Naruto was left alone to cry himself – silently in time – to sleep or to shiver and hide from the other children who’d taken to tormenting Naruto both as a way to make themselves feel better and to gain approval from the caretakers of the orphanage, Kurama was there, whispering in his mind, humming him to sleep, and making plans.

Since he was certain that it would be at least a couple of years – no matter how infuriating – before Naruto was either able to make it beyond the walls of Konoha without being caught, even with Kurama’s guidance, or manage the hand signs to complete a jutsu that made the walls superfluous, planning and using his chakra to heal the kit was really all he could do beyond just…being there.

A kind word in the night.

A whisper in the wind.

Anything and everything he could think of to comfort a kit that by all means he could hate…but why bother?

There were more than a few fleshies far more worthy of his ire than a little kit orphaned and abandoned by those who should at least pretend to give half of a damn about him.

Kurama was patient.

He could wait.

The fleshies thought Kurama and his siblings were weapons to be used when needed and locked away when not.

Kurama fully intended on showing them just how awful of an idea that was when they didn’t even have the brains necessary to treat the jinchuuriki – the literal only thing between a skulk of pissed-off bijuu and them – well and show them the respect they deserve.

Payback would be one glorious bitch when it came back around on the fleshies.

And he would be there howling with laughter when it did.

Naruto Uzumaki had grown up – as much as a five-year-old could “grow up” – knowing two things for certain: the people of Konoha hated him and there was a voice in his head.

Now, he’d come to understand that most people had a voice in their head.  What the caretakers at the orphanage responsible for teaching the other children – not Naruto, never Naruto – how do to things like read and write called a conscience.  Naruto had one of those too.  But that was more like a silent thought nudging him this way or that.

Not an actual voice that could be loud or comforting or anything at all just like the people around him and called itself – himself, the voice was also a boy like Naruto – Kurama.

When Naruto was crying in a hidden corner because one of the caretakers had “forgotten” his dinner again, Kurama was there telling him stories about running under the trees and hunting in forests.

When Naruto was cold because one of the other children had taken his blanket and the caretakers had refused to get him another one, Kurama was there with tales of huddling up together in great piles of fur with his siblings.

Because Kurama was a fox, the greatest of all foxes or so Kurama said, and his brothers and sisters were also animals too.

When Naruto had understood that…well that was when he also understood that his voice wasn’t like the voice other people had.

He thought, maybe, that having a fox trapped inside him was the reason the adults around him called him names.  Things like “monster.”  And hurt him or ignored him or just treated him different (and worse) than the other orphans.

Naruto wasn’t a dummy no matter what any of the other children said.

He knew that it wasn’t because he was an orphan or the marks on his face (though he thought maybe the marks didn’t help.)

When he could get away from the orphanage he saw people, mostly shinobi, with marks on their faces much stranger than his whiskers that Kurama said were because of his parents putting him inside Naruto when he was just born.

Kurama was honest like that, not like others.

He told him things, whatever Naruto thought to ask and more, and he never hid from the truth even when it might not be a good truth but an ugly truth…like that Kurama was the reason everyone was mean and awful and ugly to Naruto.

As he got older the things Kurama told him made more sense instead of simply being things Kurama told him.

The reason he was able to warm him up when Naruto was cold was because of chakra, which Naruto had but Kurama had too and in time Naruto would be able to use.

Kurama was the reason Naruto was bullied and treated awful but he was also the reason why Naruto never stayed hurt when someone hurt him, no matter how bad it looked he always got better and didn’t even scar.  Because of Kurama Naruto didn’t get sick, not even the sniffles in the winter like the others.  Because of Kurama Naruto had also always known that the way those around him treated him wouldn’t last forever.

Because Kurama had a plan and Naruto trusted him, even if he wasn’t old enough yet to follow Kurama’s instructions so Naruto could see him and not just hear him.

Naruto couldn’t control his own chakra to let Kurama out at all or meditate for more than a few moments before getting distracted.

But what he could do was follow instructions if Kurama was patient when he got things wrong on the first or tenth try and encouraging when he wanted to give up or he got it right.

So when Kurama walked him through spying on the Academy classes to learn the basic hand signs for jutsu, Naruto did it.  It wasn’t like it was hard after all.  And as long as he was out of the way everyone was happier so the strange shinobi – who Kurama told him were ANBU and to be careful around – left him be.

They had no idea what a scheming fox and a little boy who only wanted someone to care would do with that little bit of common shinobi training.

“Boar, dog, bird, monkey, ramGood kit!”  Kurama said warmly as he watched through Naruto’s eyes as the human kit practiced the hand signs in the bathroom mirror at the orphanage.

It was quiet there for once.

The perfect time for this sort of thing with the fleshbags all out at the Kyuubi Festival.

Safer than the alternative as well.

Kurama had yet to spend this day out among the villagers but if the way they treated his kit normally was any sign he really didn’t want to even if it wasn’t a celebration of his latest ignoble puppeteering via Sharingan and subsequent defeat and sealing away.

There were times when the high status his other jinchuuriki had enjoyed was a curse – Kushina’s death to protect Konoha came to immediate mind, as well as being a stark contrast to how his kit was being treated – but in others it was a blessing.

Such as now where a common bit of Konoha lore gave him a most excellent idea of how to get his kit safely away from those who would use and abuse him and somewhere he could be healthy, protected, and safe.

Even for a genius, clan-raised, genin five-year-old (which Naruto wasn’t) striking outside of the boundaries of the village was a risky business if they could get around the guards.

Without Kurama flat-out taking control of the kit – something he didn’t want to do without knowing what the consequences would be – he didn’t like the odds on that.

Runaway just once as a jinchuuriki and any illusion Naruto had of freedom, no matter how shitty the circumstances, would disappear like smoke on the wind.

Are you ready, kit?”  Kurama asked as Naruto didn’t respond to his praise but instead basked in the warm affection that flowed freely between the two: bijuu and jinchuuriki, and had for years since Kurama had started talking to and comforting the kit.

“Ready,” Naruto whisper-thought back, tugging just once on the makeshift pack he’d made.  Kurama had talked him through it like he did many things, braiding strips from his thin bedsheets for rope, folding and tying his only blanket around his thin pillow and some rations scavanaged here-and-there over the last weeks after Kurama explained his plan.  Another child might doubt.  What Kurama wanted him to do took a lot of chakra from what Naruto had figured out from stories around the village.

But he trusted Kurama.

And, worse come to worse, they could always go with plan b.

Living in the Forest of Death didn’t sound like fun however, so he really hoped Kurama was right and he had enough chakra for this.

Good,” Kurama soothed him as Naruto went through his instructions step by step.  First pricking his fingers with a sharp paring knife from the orphanage kitchen.  Then spreading the blood from his fingertips down to his palm, covering all of his hand.

And then finally: “Kuchiyose no Jutsu!”  Smiling to himself as Naruto slammed his hand down onto the ground in a summoning.

Though, as the tales of Jiraiya claimed, as Naruto didn’t have a summoning contract but had plenty of chakra to burn, both his own and Kurama’s, he – they – were sucked away into the ether.

After all, if you didn’t have a summoning contract with a summons and tried it, and had the chakra to back it up, instead of a summons coming to you, you would be taken to the home of whichever summons suited you best.

Needless to say, Kurama was less than surprised for Naruto to sit up and blink open his eyes – once the world stopped spinning – and see the leafy eaves of Raijin Valley, tucked away and hidden within the Forest of Mythic Beasts in the Land of Valleys, and the home of the Spirit Foxes.

Kurama’s kits were about to meet face-to-face for the very first time.

Back in Konohakagure, Naruto’s absence wasn’t truly noted until he failed to turn up for the evening meal the next day…and by then any trail or chance of tracking him was well and truly gone, leading to more than one conclusion regarding his disappearance both horrifying and farfetched.

Conclusions that would leads to the destruction of more than one citizen of Konoha before the kyuubi jinchuuriki was finally found, many years in the future.

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Two: Raising Kits – Human and Otherwise – For Grumpy Old Foxes

As the world stopped spinning and the fuzzy-dots cleared from his eyes, Naruto heard the sounds of voices coming from all around him before he was even able to see where he was.

“…a kit?”

“Kit?”

“…oooh kit summoner!  Like that pervy toad sannin!”

“How long has it been…?”

“Aww, he has whisker markings!”

“Kaiyah so cute!”

Before he could make out much of anything – though Kurama had used that same time to note the towering trees and green bushes and undergrowth and rocky cliff walls that made up the Raijin Valley – Naruto found himself surrounded in a whirl of fur and tails and whiskers and sniffing noses.  Reds, oranges, browns, tans, blacks, greys, silver, and even pure whites.  Eyes flashed in colors of gold-yellow-orange-brown though here or there was a flash of rare blue or grey.  Noses nudged his hair and arms and belly and chest and well, all of him that they could reach as he’d fallen on his behind in his reverse summoning jutsu dizziness.  And through it all was the chattering and gekkering of a skulk of foxes.

Foxes, he realized after his blinked to make sure he wasn’t seeing things, that in each and every case surrounding him seemed to have extra tails.

Spirit foxes he thought without his Kurama-sensei having to prompt him.

Kitsune most likely from what Kurama-sensei had explained about his fox-kits that he’d created in ages past, as his nogitsune kits usually preferred the solitude of the wilds than the company of the Raijin skulk.

A hefty sniff of his hair had one of the foxes yelping a bit and backpeddling, Naruto simply cocking his head to the side in question at the reaction.

“Kurama-sama!”  The pure-white fox – a vixen, Naruto thought though it was hard to tell with fox voices – called out.  “The kit smells like Kurama-sama’s chakra!”

As one the foxes backed away, vulpine eyes wide and either confused or awed – and in one or two cases distinctly angry – as a massive fox pushed forward, their plumes of tails (Naruto thought he counted eight but with so many it was hard to tell and he was still little) fanning out behind them as they stood from their watchful amusement as the other, younger and/or less powerful, foxes gamboled around the little kit-summoner who suited their contract.

A contract that hadn’t been fulfilled since the humans betrayed the bijuu, the creators of most of the sage summons and spirit animals like the kitsune, and they retreated to their sacred territories like the fox’s own Raijin Valley.

The fox – Kurama-sensei whispered Masashi, Lord of the Kitsune, first of my kits – was massive, almost as big as Kurama-sensei in the memories his sensei showed him over the years.  His coat was marbled black-grey-white-silver and his eyes gleamed rich and golden in the black mask-like markings over his face and part of his snout.  As he came to tower over Naruto all he could do was watch the fox reynard in awe.  It was one thing to be told or shown how big the spirit foxes were.  Like Kurama, who was bigger than even his oldest kit Masashi.  And quite another to have a spirit animal big enough to swallow little Naruto in one bite leaning down to sniff at your head.

Masashi took one sniff of the kit-summoner before him and then sent a wordless look over at one of his many, many descendants and the fastest of them all.  Akane with her deep-red coat nodded in understanding, her seven tails flaring as she called forth her foxfire, and leapt into the air, flying on the wind and the power of her foxfire and disappearing from even Masashi’s sight in less than a moment to take word to his mate and counterpart of their Kurama-sama’s return…albeit while still sealed inside a human kit.  Semantics.  Returned was returned, everything else could be worked around.

His mate likely wouldn’t see it that way at first but that was to be expected.

Kokoro with her pure-white fur and golden eyes was the Lady of the Nogitsune to the tips of her toe-pads.

Acceptance without fighting or struggle wasn’t in her wildest of natures.

“Tell me, little jinchuuriki,” Masashi asked, voice low and deep and rumbly to Naruto’s ears.  “How did you come to summon yourself here, hm?  Shouldn’t you be training in your insignificant little village to be a weapon.  A shinobi?”

If it were his mate who’d been in the Valley when the kit arrived, the question asked would be much different.  Something along the lines of why she shouldn’t rip out his throat and free their Kurama-sama.  Good thing it was Masashi who was there instead.  His version of cunning wasn’t nearly as…wild and spontaneous as his mate's.

The Yang to her Yin.

“Kurama-sensei taught me.”  Naruto answered honestly, climbing – a bit shakily – to his feet after summoning all of his five-year-old reserve of bravery, staring up at Masashi-san’s head that was as big as a whole horse!  As the ancient leader of the kitsune hunkered down to stare into tiny – to him – bright blue eyes and an earnest face.  “He says that the care people at the or-phanage weren’t treating me right.  Kits are ‘posed to be cared for an’ safe.  An’ I wasn’t safe there.  So he taught me how to come here ‘nstead.  Cuz ‘m his kit an’ so are all you.”

Masashi hummed as he watched the kit cock his head to one side as if listening to something – or someone – none of the rest of them could hear as he spoke answering Masashi’s question.

He wasn’t surprised at what he heard.

Not any of it.

That the humans mistreated a kit of their kind wasn’t new.  They’d seen it happen over and over again before they retreated from the world.  More than one of the skulk liked to take human form and mingle among them to relieve the boredom that living for ages could create – or used to anyway.  It was a very human failure that was all too common.

Nor, despite how shocking it would be to humans or those not familiar with the bijuu, that Kurama-sama had overcome his rage – a rage that all the bijuu felt and their creations with them – at the audacity of humans to abuse and bind and use him to have mercy for the human-kit that was his current jinchuuriki.

The Sage – or so Kurama-sama had taught them – had made the bijuu to be a family and among them created some more than others to be protectors and caretakers for all the rest.

First – and first among them – was Kurama-sama who unlike some of the others due to their natures like Shukaku-san had taken the Sage’s charge to heart.

Masashi wasn’t surprised in the least that his Kurama-sama had adopted the little human-kit, even if at first it might have sprung from self-preservation as Masashi could easily read enough of the spirit-lines of the seal the little jinchuuriki-kit carried to note how tangled his creator’s chakra was with that of the kit.

Other than Kurama-sama’s fellow bijuu, Masashi had known the greatest of all foxes the longest.

His creator might be a grumpy old bastard at the best of times and a ball of writhing rage and wrath at the worst, but he cared for what was his.

Which now apparently included a too-young human kit who was part jail, part jailor, and part symbiote.

Whoever had fiddled with Kurama-sama’s seal when they’d slapped it on the little kit might as well have made the ancient bijuu the kit’s third parent – or his fraternal twin – so entangled were their chakras and therefore lives.

That would have to be fixed at some point lest the Kyuubi no Kitsune die along with his kit, but one thing at a time and at the moment being able to actually converse with his creator on matters without having to use a child as a translator was of utmost importance since he could tell with a sniff that the little kit was healthy – relatively – and none the worse for wear for attempting a dangerous summoning without a contract in place.

Well.

That and calming down his mate who he could feel even from miles away was not best-pleased by the message Akane had given her.

Yes.  Talking with Kurama-sama directly.  Because given what he was feeling off of his mate, Masashi wasn’t entirely certain he would be able to keep Kokoro from killing first and calming down never.

“Reina,” Masashi called for his daughter and one of the gentlest of the skulk’s vixens.  And with six tails more than powerful enough to keep the kit out of the way – hopefully – and calm while he dealt with the issues at hand.  “Take the kit to the main den, everyone else go with her.”  He ordered.  “Kurama-sama,” he spoke to the kit hoping that if his creator was aware enough to teach the kit and talk to him that he would also hear him.  “I can’t feel my link to you, the seal must be interfering.  Can you pulse your chakra so myself and Kokoro have a guide into the spirit plane to speak with you?”

The kit tilted his head again even as Reina padded over and gently nudged and moved him up onto her back after lowering herself down to the ground to help – as much as she could anyway without actively transforming into a smaller form – then looked over his shoulder at the massive marbled fox and nodded.

Excellent.  That would make Masashi’s life much easier.  And prevent him from having to sleep out in the forest rather than the den if Kokoro was too mad at him over his peaceful approach to the situation thus far.

His mate was as wild as the foxfire they controlled.

And he loved her for it more each and every day…even when it was a bit troublesome like at present.

Kurama was hesitant to use his own chakra through the kit while Naruto was still so young and vulnerable, this was true.  However, what his eldest kit had asked of him was not quite the same thing, more a gentle nudge into the ether than a wash of power filling his human-shaped vessel.  With that in mind, Kurama kept a mental eye on the ball of chakra-hope-anger moving quickly towards the Valley and as soon as he felt his second-eldest kit come through the safety of the chakra barriers that separate the sage lands of the spirit foxes from the surrounding Forest of Mythic Beasts, he did as Masashi-kun asked.

A gentle pulse of power was all it took, then a moment later instead of watching with soft amusement as Naruto was all-but-buried in a pile of fox fur and nuzzles from the rest of the skulk he was seeing the golden-chakra-hazed spirit plane.

Specifically, the central glade of Raijin Valley where Naruto had arrived after attempting the summoning, with the golden haze surrounding everything in a haloing or aura effect – which looked quite striking around Kokoro’s pure white fur in particular – and adding additional luster to the red and orange wisps of chakra that surrounded Kurama at all times, even at rest.

He stood and stretched, shaking out his fur and reveling in the space of the spirit plane – and enjoying looking down on his kits who were watching him with far too much awe for the eldest of their kind.

Well, once Kokoro had picked herself up from her stumble after her mate hauled her into the spirit plane along with their creator anyway.

Kurama-sama.”  His kits breathed as if in prayer.

He nodded his head, touching noses with first Masashi and then Kokoro which broke them of their stupors.

A moment later, with joyous yips, Kurama found himself subjected to the greatest of horrors: a pair of playful, gamboling kits who nuzzled and nudged and climbed all over him as they reveled in having their creator returned to them after his long absence.

Kurama would say he bore it with stoic dignity suited to an ancient bijuu and eldest of the Sage’s creations but…well.

A hundred years and change was a long time to be separated from his skulk, kits, and family.

Time passed differently in the spirit plane, there was no need to rush them.

If he reveled and gamboled and frolicked a bit himself, there was no one to see and tease him for it but his kits – and that was as it should be.

“What do you need from us, Kurama-sama?”  Masashi asked once they’d settled down, the three great foxes sitting on their haunches in a circle in an echo of many such conferences in times now passed.

“The kit, Naruto.”  Kurama sighed, flicking his tails as Kokoro lifted her lip – just a bit – in a vulpine sneer at the mention of his jinchuuriki.  “We are tied together.  More he’s an innocent and if those useless fleshbags in Konoha aren’t going to care for him properly than I will.”  He regally ignored the all-to-knowing look between his eldest kits and the cough from Masashi that was little more than a poorly-covered snicker.  Kits.  “Until I’m certain I can manifest without harming him however, the day-to-day handling and training of the kit is going to have to fall to the skulk.  As my container he’s also the rightful heir to the fox summoning contract which gives you extra incentive,” not that you should need it, his tone made more than clear.  “To ensure he’s trained.  As an Uzumaki he was already going to be a little chakra demon of a shinobi, adding in my power merely compounds the issue.”

Both of his eldest kits perked up at the magic word: Uzumaki; as before the crazed lunacy of Madara Uchiha and the subsequent betrayal of Mito Uzumaki, the foxes of Raijin Valley would enjoy – if they were old enough – taking human form and wandering and learning in Uzushio, the closest of the larger hidden shinobi villages to the Land of Valleys where they made their home.

More than one Uzumaki had befriended – knowingly or otherwise – kitsune and nogitsune over the years, even during the era of warring clans before the founding of the hidden villages.

Another reason why Mito’s actions were so heinous to Kurama, as she’d used knowledge passed down from those long years of friendship to help bind him and his siblings.

He could forgive many things.

Betraying the trust of his kits was not among them.

“Our knowledge is aged from our long remove from dealing with humans.”  Kokoro admitted in her soothing voice.  “But even the youngest kits can help us train him in everything we know.”  A smirk crossed her muzzle.  “If nothing else, those who would use or hurt him will find him difficult prey to catch and trap once we’re done with him.”

“Good,” Kurama nodded.  “If the way the fleshies treated him as a helpless kit is any sign, nothing we can teach him will go to waste.”  He grimaced.  “No matter how we came by the knowledge.”  He said thinking of his time trapped within a sealing mistress of Uzushio and a front-line dynamo.

Granted, both of them had already gone through their basic training before becoming jinchuuriki so he wouldn’t be of any use there other than what he’d picked up from watching Kushina’s pretty boy teach his genin team, but hopefully between his kits they would manage to fill in some of those gaps in Kurama’s own knowledge.

Plus – chakra construct – there was a lot about being a physical being like how human kits were supposed to eat that he’d never had to know as he fed on chakra.

“The other bijuu?”  Masashi asked gently, knowing that it had to be a sore spot for his creator.

“Trapped,” Kurama growled.  “I can barely sense them.  In a few weeks on the new moon of Kannazuki,” the tenth month of the year when the veil between the physical and spiritual planes was thinnest, one of the reasons he’d had Naruto try the summoning jutsu when he did as the timing made everything easier.  “I shall attempt a Call.  If they’re not totally sealed away,” which they shouldn’t be unless their meddlesome fleshies had altered their seals as well.  “I should be able to at least speak with them here on the spirit plane if nothing else.”

“How do you think they’ll be?”  Kokoro asked, referring to the differing personalities of their creator’s siblings.

Kurama snorted.  “Well, I expect that idiot tanuki Shukaku to be worse than ever.  The rest…”  He shrugged.  “I have no choice but to wait and see.”

“We’ll do as you ask, Kurama-sama.”  Masashi swore, as was expected.  The spirit foxes disobeying or ignoring Kurama’s request was about as likely as Kurama doing the same to the Sage of the Six Paths: impossible without an outside force forcing them to do so.  “The kit will be safe with us and our summoner will be protected within the Raijin Valley so long as you both wish it.”

Kurama nuzzled first one then the other in gratitude to his kits and their loyalty, then released his hold on the anchor Masashi had provided of his chakra and faded back into his tiny little cavern inside his jinchuuriki-kit.

If he was going to try and gather his siblings – spirit plane and right timing or no – he was going to need all the rest he could get beforehand.

Damn Mito and Namikaze anyway and their fucking sealing mastery with them.

If anything has happened to his siblings because Kurama wasn’t there to watch out for them, there was going to be Izanagi to pay when Kurama got hold of the guilty parties.

High-pitched giggles rang through the tall treetops of Raijin Valley as soft footfalls – already quieter than they’d been a week before when the boy had arrived – pattered through the leaves of towering oaks and maples and other non-evergreen trees that made up about half of the forest.  The rhythmic sound was followed by the soft swish-swish of fur brushing on leaves and against bark and excited yips from fox kits.  A week all-told Naruto, dubbed “Naru-bo” by most of the foxes as even the smallest kits of the skulk were his seniors by quite a few years, even the single-tailed who’d yet to gain either the age or power for their second-tail, had been living among the spirit foxes and tag was already a favored game.

The main skulk of the Valley were those with the closest relation to the “boss” summons of the spirit foxes – Masashi and Kokoro, the Lord and Lady of the Spirit Foxes with Masashi in dominion over the kitsune and Kokoro over the nogitsune – and the youngest of that immediate family of foxes were quick to fold him into their mini-skulk of young kits with one or two tails.

Playmates and contemporaries more than teachers or guardians, the handful of young kits who in human terms ranged from young Naruto’s age to pre-teens, enjoyed having a new face around very much even if they had to quickly adapt their play to account for his humanness.

Naruto didn’t have claws or fangs to scuffle with, his skin was thin and without the protective fur they were used to, and having only two legs he was much slower than them for the most part.

But they adjusted to their parents’ approval, learning and teaching in tandem as Naruto finally learned what it was to have friends, to run and fight and play and laugh and tease.

Reina, who among them had the most experience with human-kits from her roaming when she was younger like a few others of the main skulk, hadn’t taken any time at all to claim Naru-bo as her newest kit.  She ushered him along with her playful two-tailed twin tods into their cavern in the complex warren of caves and tunnels in the Valley’s cliffs, watched over their play, and made sure that when the foxes were enjoying their meals of raw prey that some was set aside and cooked – using foxfire to light the cooking flame – so he didn’t take sick.  When they weren’t playing tag she taught little Naru-bo (and his playmates) which berries and nuts and seeds and wild green things were good for humans to eat, and every few days when he was dirty enough that his whiskers weren’t showing on his face anymore she tossed him in one of the hot springs that heated the warren of caves to bathe.

There were other lessons to be had of course.

Chakra control among the most important as until he mastered his chakra he couldn’t learn to use Kurama’s nor could the bijuu risk attempting to manifest – the other option for that being to wait until he was older and hardy enough to withstand the corrosive properties of Kurama’s unfiltered chakra but he didn’t want to harm his kit if he could help it – but they were foxes not savages.

They, as instructed, began lessons on everything the pooled knowledge of the skulk thought might be of use to Naruto-bo someday – meaning: everything.

There was a certain dark irony in the whole situation if you asked Kurama: him, the so-called most dangerous and bloodthirsty demon in all the lands, teaching his latest jail/jailor/symbiote how to use the same skills, jutsu, and bloodline talents that had been used to trap and control – or attempt to anyway – him in the first place.

Somewhere in the Heavenly Lands, the Sage was laughing at him, he just knew it.

Then almost before they knew it, the new moon came and Kurama prepared to try and Call out to his siblings in the spirit realm.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”  Kurama’s question was less raging and more incredulous as he watched Shukaku thrash and flail and rage as the idiotic tanuki – now apparently an insane idiotic tanuki – charge him only to be pinned to the ground by stuck-up Son Goku (the great strong ape moving faster than Saiken) and Matatabi, his feline sister looking far too pleased with herself for putting the racoon in his place.

Kurama shared a look of mutual suffering with Gyuki, the eight-tailed bull and second-eldest his eternal partner in suffering when it came to the antics of their younger siblings.

Well.

At least Shukaku – bugfuck crazy now or not – had shown up.

Isobu was nowhere to be seen under the high tree and open glade where the Sage had created them – or the spirit plane’s version of it – and that troubled him far more than the varying degrees of excitement, resentment, and in the case of Shukaku madness of his other younger siblings.

Of all the bijuu, Isobu had never been Kurama’s pick for being unreliable, that had always been Shukaku, fucking tanuki, so his absence worried him more than it would if bugfuck-nuts hadn’t shown up.

Though it took him all of two seconds to realize that sealing had been worse for Shukaku’s state of mind than the rest of them, even if why he couldn’t quite pinpoint.

Other than the obvious issues of being treated as weapons at best and monsters at worst.

“Stop it you useless fucking trash panda!”  Kurama barked, lashing out with his chakra and pinning the tanuki’s paws to the ground of the spirit realm, finding no enjoyment out of chaining his little brother with chakra the exact same as he’d been chained his entire time sealed in Kushina.  “You’re not hallucinating, Shukaku!  You’re in the damn spirit plane!”

Saiken, always the softest-hearted and best of them, reached out in soothing counterpart to Kurama’s command, their chakra – as Saiken didn’t consider themselves one gender or another as gender for a construct of chakra was largely a matter of choice after exposure to gendered creatures – playful and bubbly and comforting to all of them after so long apart.  If Kurama was the protector, Saiken was the shoulder – in theory since as a slug Saiken doesn’t have shoulders – to cry on.  And, true to form, while it didn’t make Shukaku any saner, it did calm him to the point that Kurama could loosen up on his burning chakra chains to the point that while they still restrained the tanuki from lashing out they weren’t punishing him anymore.

Shukaku calmed – if not coherent – Kurama took account of his other siblings, studying them closely to see if there were any obvious signs of strain, like Shukaku’s absent sanity, from their binding.

Resentment, anger, resignation; those were all expected and thankfully with the exceptions at hand – crazy tanuki, missing turtle – the others were weathering the century of sealing with a resilience of ancient beings whose imprisonment while infuriating was only a fraction of their lifespans thus far.

“Does anyone know who Isobu is bound in or which Hidden Village they’re in?”  He asked the most pressing question first, needing to have all of the information at hand before he got into why now – after so long they’d all seethed in isolation – he’d brought them together if only spiritually.

Looks abounded among the bijuu, then Saiken turned from where they were still soothing Shukaku and keeping him calm.

“Kirigakure.”  They told him.  “The same as my jinchuuriki.  I believe Utakata called Isobu’s Yagura, the current Mizukage after he killed the last Mizukage my Utakata's father.”

Kurama blinked at that.  Even in the case of Mito, who would’ve been an excellent Hokage, he’d never heard of a jinchuuriki being made a Kage.  That Isobu’s had done so and yet Isobu was absent despite the strength of Kurama’s Call…it made his worry treble for his younger brother.

That they both were in Kiri, who destroyed Uzushio and was the enemy of most of the rest of the world wasn’t exactly good news either as the more bloodthirsty the country or village the more likely one of them were to be pressed into service or out-and-out abused.

“And bugfuck nuts over there?”  He tilted his head towards the darkly-muttering and suspicious form – almost pouting – of Shukaku.

“Suna.”  Son Goku answered in his deep voice.  “My jinchuuriki faced the last holder – a crazy old monk – during the last war as Iwa fought Suna and Konoha.  Roushi heard he’d died but not who he’d been sealed in afterward.”

“Great,” Kurama grimaced.  “I’d be willing to bet that his seal was fucked with, the same as mine but with a different result.  Saiken,” he sighed, frustrated that he had to ask it of his sibling but the slug was the best fit for the job.  “How long do you think you can hold Shukaku here without my help?”

If they could hold Shukaku in the spirit realm then – hopefully – whatever was causing the issue on the physical plane could be diminished enough to get useful information out of him.

Naruto might be a kit but one or more of the others had to have an adult jinchuuriki that they might be able to influence into doing something about a crazy-assed tanuki bijuu before Shukaku exploded and destroyed Suna in a rage.

Not that Kurama could judge if he did, but if one of them was after wanton destruction they should do so with a clear mind and their own control instead of under Sharingan or madness.

“As long as you need me to.”  Saiken answered at once.

“We’ll take turns.”  Kurama decided.  “My jinchuuriki is safe with my kits in the Valley, I can trust them to watch over them when you need to rest.”

“Your jinchuuriki escaped his village?”  Chomei, a beetle, blinked her many sets of eyes at him.  “Konoha has never let one of your jinchuuriki leave, especially not so young.”

As his latest rampage against the Leaf was something like an urban legend at this point, he wasn’t surprised that Chomei, being from the tiny hidden village in Waterfall one of Konoha’s allies, had an idea of his circumstances.

“I taught him the summons,” Kurama rightfully bragged, the other bijuu except for Gyuki staring at him in utter shock.  “The fleshbags weren’t taking proper care of him and Naru-bo is only a kit.  As a result, my prison is much more comfortable and I have the freedom to venture into the spirit plane.  More freedom than any raging and testing limits had gotten me with his predecessors.  Which brings me to the point:” he sighed.  “If there is anything worth anything in your jinchuuriki, working with them and not against them is in your best interest if possible.  Even after living in and around several seal masters over the last century I still don’t know how to remove our bindings short of the death of the vessels and even then,” he looked away in shame.  “My last sealing was altered.  I am…entangled with Naru-bo.  As things stand when he dies, I will follow him.”  He ignored their shock and outcries – and the cackling from Shukaku fucking tanuki – and continued.  “Which is why it’s in my best interest that he’s as trained, skilled, and powerful as possible.”

“Ah,” Son Goku nodded, immediately seeing what he was after and amused.  The biggest baddest bastard bijuu of them all and he has a soft spot for younglings that was as large as the Land of Fire.  “You wish to know if any of our vessels would be appropriate for teaching your young kit.”

“Yes,” Kurama agreed reluctantly, ignoring his pride in favor for survival.  Both his own and his kit’s.  “There is much he can learn from myself and the Raijin skulk but there are things that only humans can teach another human.”  As much as he hated to admit it, if his kit ever intended to return to human villages even if only to take a mate, he would have to learn more than what Kurama and the foxes could teach him unless he wanted to be dismissed as a feral child.

Son Goku hummed, sharing a glance with Kokuo, the horse nodding once.

“Roushi won’t listen to me, and as hard-headed, hard-hearted, and fiery-tempered as my vessel is I wouldn’t want him influencing your kit if you care for him as your words imply.”  Son Goku admitted.  “Kokuo’s Han on the other hand…”

“He’s a missing-nin,” the horse bijuu with his dolphin-shaped head said.  “But he’s kind.  I’ve had worse vessels.  If I nudge rather than demand, I might manage to influence him towards the Land of Valleys.”

As both Son Goku’s and Kokuo’s vessels were from Iwagakure, it would take time for Han to arrive, months or even a year depending on where he currently was in his wandering from place to place – but for a tutor for Naruto that might be trustworthy with his kit rather than immediately selling him out to Konohagakure it would be worth it for both Kurama to take the chance and for Kokuo to have a safe place for his vessel to rest for a time.

That both their vessels were from Iwagakure and also missing-nin – if he was reading the undertone about Roushi correctly – also wasn’t a surprise.  As things go, the worst place to be a jinchuuriki was probably Konoha – with their intimate knowledge of just how much an enraged bijuu can hurt them.  That said, there wasn’t really a good place to be a jinchuuriki for all that most of the other bijuu other than Shukaku were at least resigned to their current vessels or in the case of Saiken abnormally bubbly for a trapped wild creature made of chakra.  But then, Saiken has always been the most optimistic of them, it was just their nature.  Whether that meant their current vessel treated them well or not (and given that Utakata was from Kiri the same as the missing Isobu’s vessel, he wasn’t taking bets on that) remained to be seen.

Of them all, other than Saiken as an outlier and Shukaku being crazy, Gyuki actually had a decent partnership built up with his vessel not unlike Kurama’s own but with different parameters – a Kumo shinobi named "Killer" Bee who was apparently the brother of the Raikage and an adult which honestly made him an ideal candidate for tutor – but due to said-brotherhood didn’t think he’d have any luck trying to convince Bee to go missing-nin to tutor a mini-jinchuuriki.

“I would be grateful.”  Kurama said, then glanced around at the others who were simply enjoying being together again after more than a century apart – even bugfuck nuts was calming down.  “Keep your ears open – all of you – for word of Isobu or his vessel.  I don’t like that he still hasn’t responded.  Saiken and I will work on rehabilitating crazy-ass over there,” he snorted in the general direction of the pair of his biggest pain the ass and his biggest help among his siblings.  “And when the time comes if any of your vessels are in danger, either have them summon themselves to your sage territories or convince them to travel to Raijin.  My kit gives me hope that there might be a purpose to our binding.”  He spoke with deep conviction from years of watching Naruto’s unwavering cheerful spirit.

“If there was ever a shinobi that might be convinced to free us,” Saiken mused, though they’d never been as wroth over being forced into confinement in a human than their siblings.  “An Uzumaki raised by you big brother,” Saiken burbled happily at Kurama, beaming with every ounce of joy they possessed over being around their siblings again.  “With your power behind them might be our best chance, if it is the Sage’s will.”

“Agreed,” Matatabi spoke for the first time after watching everything with that unnerving feline stare of hers.  “You will have to teach him sealing, as much as it might grate.”

“Of that,” Kurama sighed, nodding in resignation.  “I am well aware, sister.”

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Three: Konoha’s Hound

When Kakashi Hatake, the infamous Copy-Nin capable of copying any jutsu used around him via his transplanted sharingan eye except for bloodline talents, and ANBU Commander returned to Konoha with his team he instantly was on alert.

With the addition of Hayate a tokubetsu jounin or tokujo, who specialized in kenjutsu or ninja skills using a sword, and excelled at tracking and infiltration, Kakashi’s ANBU team had been sent on a long mission that was part A-rank infiltration and recovery and half training mission.

They’d been gone more than a month as it now mid-Hiroku and they’d left the first day of Kannazuki, and all of them were aching for their beds and rest before the Hokage sent them on another mission.

Unlike the Jounin Commander, Shikaku Nara and head of the Nara Clan, his position as leader of ANBU was mostly illusory as the current Hokage preferred to assign and track ANBU personally rather than leaving it to the discretion of the Commander.  As Kakashi was one of – if not the – most elite jounin in Konoha but had been made ANBU Commander under the Yondaime, he didn’t entirely mind the Hokage continuing to send him into the field instead of trapping him behind a desk as Minato-sensei had done when he started to fear the weight of blood on Kakashi’s hands was growing too heavy for him to bear.  Still, as Commander, there were some perks.  Choosing his own teammates was among them and for that ability alone he clung to the title with both hands.

Tenzo, who Kakashi had helped rescue from Danzo – the Hokage’s oldest and closest friend who fancies himself a shadow-Kage – and his damned evil ROOT program that created child soldiers, and Shisui Uchiha who was an infamously powerful side-branch Uchiha clansman possessing the Sharingan as well as the legendary Mangekyo Sharingan rounded out their team though rather than joking and playing as the pair had been a moment before with Hayate following quietly behind, Tenzo and Shisui instantly sobered as they read their Captain’s tense body language and noted how Kakashi scanned the streets of the village trying to locate the source of the disquiet.

Before they could question him on what he was sensing, Kakashi dismissed them with a silent hand gesture.

He needed to report to the Hokage and they had reports of their own on the mission to file.

Hopefully Sarutobi felt like sharing what he’d missed, otherwise Kakashi would have to go digging…and that never ended well for anyone involved.

Kakashi leapt through the Hokage’s office window, then immediately pushed off from the sill and landed with an athletic flip in front of his desk in parade-rest, his porcelain ANBU Hound mask still covering his face.

Hiruzen Sarutobi head of the Sarutobi Clan and the Sandaime Hokage or Third Hokage who was forced to return to the office after the untimely death of Kakashi’s sensei Minato Namikaze the Yondaime or Fourth Hokage, flashed a hand sign at his ANBU guards who melted out of the shadows and left either by the window or the door, sealing both with privacy seal barriers behind them.

Another sign from the Hokage had Kakashi reaching up and removing his mask then hanging it from its attachment on his black ANBU flak jacket, his normal everyday gray mask already in place covering the lower half of his face including part of his nose and his Konoha shinobi forehead protector with the leaf insignia covering his Sharingan eye.

“Commander, report.”

“Mission successful.”  Kakashi drawled lazily, already slipping into his lazy-perverted-genius mask with the removal of his ANBU mask.  Though he’d never personally been under the tutelage of the Yamanaka Clan with their skill of switching between personas – and that was before their abilities with mental jutsus was taken into account – his Minato-sensei had been great friends with Inoichi, the current Clan Head, and picked up a thing or two from the skilled head of Torture and Interrogation for Konoha along the way about setting himself up to be underestimated.  Hard to do with his clan name behind him and his reputation as a prodigy as well as creating the Chidori jutsu, but he’d managed it with a bit of help from being shameless about running around with a copy of the infamous porn series Icha Icha with its orange cover and reading it in public no matter the company.

Except small children.

Mikoto Uchiha had beaten that lesson into him years ago.

The Uchiha matriarch may not be as infamously hot-tempered as the late Kushina Uzumaki but that didn’t make her any less fearsome than her deceased best-friend when her temper was riled, that was for certain.

“And Hayate?”

“Integrating well, reports should be on your desk by dinner tomorrow.”

“Good work, Commander.”

“Hokage-sama,” he bowed his head slowly, waiting a beat for the Hokage to prompt him.  He wasn’t the most sociable shinobi in the village but he knew better than to try the Hokage over certain things.  And pressing him when he looked that wan and worn out was one of them no matter how cordially contentious their relationship was and had been for the last five years.

“What do you want, Hound?”  Hiruzen sighed, rubbing one hand over his eyes though while the answer should be obvious as the ANBU Commander had only just returned and wasn’t visibly seething or making an ill-considered attempt at spontaneous assassination, it couldn’t be what trouble Hiruzen and had been keeping him from sound sleep for weeks.

“What’s wrong in the village?”  He asked bluntly.  “The air is…off.  Heavy.”

Wrong.

Hiruzen cursed in his head.  So much for even getting a night’s grace with the team’s return.  Damn Hatake and his enhanced senses anyway.

“I suppose it’s better you learn of it from me than another.”  Hiruzen decided.  Less chance of an innocent bystander becoming collateral damage that way at least.  “On the eleventh day of Kannazuki, the Kyuubi no Kitsune jinchuuriki disappeared.”  He continued despite the sudden paling of his audience’s face, followed swiftly by a rush of red and a clenched jaw as the dangerous shinobi before him – one of the most deadly in the entirety of Fire Country to be precise – struggled to hold onto his temper as he processed the information with that prodigious brain of his that everyone was so quick to dismiss.  “By the time the orphanage informed the guard, the exact time he was taken or ran away,” or killed though given that there wasn’t a rampaging bijuu out to destroy Konoha running around, Hiruzen was betting on the boy still being alive.  “Was impossible for even Fugaku and the best investigators the Uchiha Clan has to offer to distinguish.  The last place we know for certain he was, was the back courtyard of the orphanage.”

Kakashi closed his eyes as nothing short of utter rage washed through him.

Sensei.

Sensei’s son, missing, presumed taken.

Only the Hokage’s gag order and insistence had kept him away from who in another life would have been his – adoptive – little brother.  Minato-sensei had been the older brother and mentor Kakashi had needed when he’d been drowning under the legacy of a father who’d killed himself from shame and his own reputation as a genius.  Kushina the cool older sister he wished he didn’t have but knew he needed anyway, always willing to deflate a swelled head with a well-placed jab at his ego.  He’d loved them.  More than anything.  Would have done anything for them.

And he’s failed them.

He’s been failing them ever since the Council and Hokage refused his petition to adopt their son, their little Naruto, when the decision had been made to remove him from the care of the Sarutobi Clan to an unaffiliated orphanage to “prevent unseemly influence on the jinchuuriki.”

Yeah right.

Those utter conniving assholes of the civilian representatives hated little Naruto and everything he stood for while the likes of that disgusting old war hawk Danzo only saw a weapon to be twisted and used.

And now Naruto was gone.

“What’s being done to find him?”  He demanded to know.  He had to know.  He would lead a team himself that very moment to search for him, he would…

“The area around Konoha has been swept,” Hiruzen reported, pity clear in his weary old eyes.  “He’s nowhere in the surrounding forest or the village that ANBU, T&I, or the police force can find.  At this point the council has made a decision that containing the situation and the danger such knowledge leaking out to our enemies – or even our allies – presents.”

You fucking bastards.”  Kakashi hissed out, eyes narrowed.  He was leaping gleefully into insubordination but honestly he didn’t give a damn.  Not when the jinchuuriki the Hokage was talking about was Naruto.  “You’re sweeping it under the rug, pretending you never lost him and let him be taken by who fucking knows…you’re…”

Whatever Kakashi would’ve said next, which even odds Hiruzen put at being a jutsu, was silenced with a hand sign and a flex of chakra from the Hokage, who eyed his most effective ANBU team captain with a sternly cold eye.

Just as upset over this situation as you are, Kakashi.  But the decision has been made.  Rest.”  He ordered.  “Your team will have a new assignment the day after tomorrow.  Until then you’re officially on rest orders to mourn and get your head on straight.  You’re one of the most loyal shinobi Konoha has.  We need you in top form now more than ever.”

“Yes.”  Kakashi bit out, forgoing any attempt at showing the old bastard respect at the moment, as soon as the Hokage reversed the silencing jutsu.  “Hokage-sama.”

“Dismissed.”

Kakashi was Not Amused™.

In fact, he was downright killing furious as he left the Hokage’s presence.

Their relationship had been rocky ever since the Sandaime returned to the Hokage’s office after the Kyuubi attack and death of Kakashi’s sensei Minato, the Yondaime Hokage.

A rockiness caused in part by Kakashi’s resentment – he’d never been one to lie to himself – over the Sandaime retaking what had been Minato-sensei’s position in the village and in full by the immediate decisions Sarutobi had made with the pushing of his oldest friends: Danzo, his closest friend and advisor, and the two civilian representatives to the Counicil: Koharu and Homura which included a standing gag order over the identity of the jinchuuriki.

If that were all, Kakashi would have been – if not at ease with the situation – then at least not as resentful.

But it wasn’t and more it was an order that failed within a year though was never rescinded.

Along with the order over Naruto’s identity came the others and the ones that seemed almost designed to ferment resentment in Kakashi and his fellows who’d been close to the Yondaime and Kushina.  That none were ever to speak about Naruto’s parents.  That anyone who’d known or been close to them were not allowed within speaking distance of Naruto – a number that included more than a dozen of the most powerful shinobi in the village.  Then a year later that he wasn’t to be raised or adopted by any clan including his current fosterage with the Sandaime’s daughter, forcing his removal to an orphanage.

Oh yes, Kakashi and every other loyal shinobi of the village who’d loved Minato-sensei and Kushina had plenty of reasons to resent the Sandaime and his cronies.

On the part of the Sandaime, Kakashi was usually willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was acting with the good of the village in mind.  Usually.  However that didn’t also cover his friends who whispered in his ears and got into his damn head all too often for any of the clans to like, one of the reasons everyone had been so happy to have Minato-sensei replace him and remove such a direct line of influence for the trio from power.

Hiruzen Sarutobi was a peace-minded Kage, who worried over the fate of Konoha it was true.

He was also constantly ruled by sentiment as his allowing the escape of his former student Orochimaru showed along with his infuriating blind spot when it came to Danzo.

Sixty-plus children dead, dozens more experimented on and indoctrinated, and Orochimaru turned missing-nin all at the behest of Danzo and his ROOT…and the man responsible merely got his hand-slapped.

Now there was a missing child, a missing powerful child, and Danzo hadn’t even been questioned if Kakashi read the implications of the Hokage’s summary of events correctly.

Reaching his apartment in the ANBU dorms within minutes of leaving the Hokage’s office, he took down his alarm and security seals with a few hand signs then slapped them right back up behind him but leaving the door open, already biting down on his thumb before slamming it onto the floor.  His ninken, ninja-dog, summons were allowed in-and-out of his wards freely.  And while normally he would care about secrecy, what he was about to order them to do wasn’t only so in-character that it would shock approximately no one, it was also expected with Naruto’s disappearance even if it would be, he’d already bet, futile.

Still, while plotting was going on in the shadows, his futile attempt to track Naruto would provide excellent cover for his actual plans.

All eight of his current contracted ninken appeared in a puff of smoke and a draw of chakra, from the massive mastiff Bull to the smallest – and first – of his summons Pakkun the pug.

“Naruto-kun has been missing for more than a month.”  He told the ninken who as one started rumbling growls low in their canine throats.  None of them had ever met the pup but all of them had been close enough to memorize his scent when he was still an infant, as Kakashi had watched over him from a distance as circumstances and his missions allowed.  He’d ensured that they knew Naruto’s scent as thoroughly as they did his own.  Just in case.  Paranoia according to his oldest friend Gai, but as the current situation showed, clearly justified paranoia.  “Search the village for any trace of him at all.  Shiba, Pakkun, Bisuke,” he gave additional directions to his two fastest – and single slowest – summons.  “Return in two hours to report.”

As one his summons growled their agreement, splitting off into pairs to canvass the village.

He already knew they wouldn’t find anything.

With more than a month to hide Naruto away and Kakashi’s attachment to Minato-sensei well known, whoever would have taken him would have accounted for his return and search.

And that was just fine.

He wasn’t Konoha’s finest tracking-nin for nothing and there was nothing he loved more than a challenge.

With the life and safety of his sensei’s son on the line, he’d overcome and find Naruto, even if it took years.

Even if it killed him.

Nothing and no one would keep him from ensuring he never failed Minato-sensei again.

Two hours later, his three chosen summons returned to his side and gave him the expected report as he rose from where he’d knelt writing message scrolls in his best calligraphy.

After his summons had left he’d shut the door to his small dorm – though it was still far more spacious than the rest of the ANBU dorms as the Commander – and taken a deep breath, options flickering through his mind at the same lightning speed as he used in combat even without the boost of his Sharingan.  To do what was needed, what he must, he had to out-think a Kage and an old manipulator like Danzo.  To see underneath the underneath and not just plan three steps ahead but five, six, eight, ten, a dozen and more.  Parse through all possibilities, all possible reactions, but remain flexible enough to react and counter to the inevitable reactions and backlash of his opponents.

And the first step was one he’d been avoiding with nothing short of all-out-revulsion for years.

But Kakashi wasn’t just the Hound for his summons or as an Alpha.

Minato-sensei had given him that mask and identity as a nod to his tenacity.  Once he made a decision he didn’t falter.  Once his loyalty was given it was unshakable.  And once he set his teeth into a problem he never let go.

For Minato-sensei, for Naruto, he would do what he once promised himself he never would.

No matter how foul a taste it left in his mouth.

With that decided, Kakashi had stripped out of his ANBU uniform and tossed it away for laundering later, his weapons placed precisely in their positions and holders, and took a quick but thorough shower to remove the lingering grit and grime of the mission.

Stepping out of the steam and toweling off, rather than dress once more in another ever-present ANBU uniform or the green-and-black of a regular Konoha jounin, he instead went to his closet and removed the semi-formal traditional haori jacket and hakama trousers with the Hatake Clan symbol embroidered on the back.  For years, since achieving his mature growth, it had hung ominously in his closet beside a formal Clan kimono, just waiting.  A gift from Gai who was as stubborn a jounin as any Kakashi had ever met, and at the time a dark omen of a future that he’d wished to die rather than see come true.

Fate did love to laugh at the plans of men, and almost particularly those of shinobi.

Dressing swiftly, he turned to his next task and inked out the messages, finishing in time for his summons to return and for him to fasten the scrolls to their backs.

Three for Bisuke, his swiftest summons and favored messenger, one for Pakkun, and the rest for Shiba as he gave them their instructions.

“As fast as you can to the clan heads of the Nara, Uchiha, and Yamanaka, Bisuke.”  The tan-and-brown hound nodded and took off, running at full-speed.  “To the Hokage, Pakkun,” the two share a knowing glance, the instruction to take his time not needing stated.  If Kakashi wanted the Hokage informed before the Clan heads he would’ve used Bisuke or any, really, of the others instead.  “To the rest of the Clan Heads, Shiba.”

Hai!

Shinobi clans – great and small – were the backbone of every Hidden Village.

Without them there were no Hidden Villages, they were the founders, blood, sweat, and tears that allowed the Villages to exist.  They often – as in more than ninety percent of the time – produced the finest and most dangerous shinobi recruits for the Academies, their children reached jounin with far greater regularity than non-clan children, and without exception they were populated by both those possessing a secondary gender dynamic and suspicious, secretive bastards.  The latter being in the Warring Years a product of the former when one looked at the facts in black and white.

Alphas were stronger than non-dynamic shinobi, their bodies tougher built and minds quicker to outlast, outfight, out-think, and endure in order to protect what was precious to them.  Of the three secondary genders, alphas were the warriors and generals of the clan.

Betas were calm for shinobi, their minds designed to filter out much of the instincts, hormones, and drives that altered alphas and omegas and made them so very dangerous in order to support the physical tanks and jutsu dynamos preferring logic over instinct.  Of the three secondary genders, betas were the diplomats, peacemakers, and spymasters of the clan.

Which left omegas.  Or as some would say the best for last.  Omegas were the least represented of the dynamics, if betas were the bulk support and alphas the bulwark, omegas were the heart and soul of the clans.  In their ability to produce strong children – whether their primary gender was male or female – omegas were priceless to the clans.  They were the mothers and bearers, the heart and soul of the clans, and often the last line of defense.  Rightfully, while few clans supported omegas in the field as they were far too precious to risk, their chakra stores and skill with jutsu made them some of the fiercest shinobi in the world and one would disrespect their abilities at their own peril.

Of alphas, betas, and omegas, ninety-five percent ended up shinobi as the human body had to be able to support a certain level of chakra to endure the change that tended to occur at some point during puberty – usually at the beginning of the change between eleven and thirteen, but as everyone knew not everyone matured at the same rate.

The other five percent, almost without variation, were geisha as the two professions had a distinct preference for chakra use that wasn’t necessary in any other field and only those two professions, unless one had access or funds for a tutor, trained children in chakra usage.

While this separation of dynamics tended to hold true most of the time, there were always outliers.

Prodigies, geniuses, and so on who were the exceptions that proved the rule and often ended up either as Clan Heir or an advisor to them when they were old enough to take up the office.

Clans defended their dynamics as fiercely as they did their bloodline talents and their hiden, or secret, arts.

Needless to say, when Kakashi Hatake was gifted a Sharingan eye from his teammate and – it was rumored – lover when Obito Uchiha fell in combat and took away the possibility of an alliance between the last Hatake and the Uchiha Clan it was heavily resented by the clan elders as not only was a non-Uchiha given use of the Uchiha bloodline talent via the transplant but it cost them a member whose mating to Hatake, one of the premier bachelors in the shinobi world despite certain…shadows on the Hatake reputation, as well.

The Uchiha Clan had made their resentment clear to Hatake in the years since the disaster that ended Obito’s life and shunned him, refusing to teach him how to use in gifted (stolen, some whispered) dojutsu.

Fugaku Uchiha, alpha, clan head, and head of the Konoha police force, was therefore understandably wary of a formal message from Kakashi Hatake when he knew – like any shinobi with sense – that in the wake of Naruto Uzumaki’s disappearance the Copy-Nin was going to be even more unstable than usual.

Most of the informed shinobi of the village were just waiting for him to die on one of his suicidal missions one of these days, the genius prodigy of the diminished-to-one Hatake Clan little more than a ball of seething rage and angst since the death of his sensei sealing the kyuubi no kitsune and the council and Hokage’s decision – a fucking stupid decision at that – to isolate Uzumaki from anyone who was close to his parents.  Which, incidentally, was only most of the elite shinobi of the village leaving the child without a buffer for the mindless hate and disdain of the village’s civilian population once the jinchuuriki’s identity had been leaked.  Intentionally leaked, likely by one of the two civilian representatives of the council, or Fugaku would shuck off his Uchiha colors, dress in white, and call himself a Hyuuga.

Hatake however wasn’t called a genius for nothing and had planned for Fugaku’s wariness, adding an afterword to the formally-worded request that had accompanied a statement of intent regarding Hatake’s empty Clan seat on the council – and had a whole host of implications behind it that had set his beautiful Mikoto to plotting furiously before sending him to the meeting – that assured him they would not be meeting alone but would also have the Nara and Yamanaka clan heads with them.

That he also used a secrecy seal that was supposed to be council-only and opened only to council members didn’t need stressing over despite it being a breach of both secrecy and protocol.

When you have a shinobi like Hatake running around, secrets was often a matter of what he wasn’t around for or interested in more than any real ability to keep his nose out of things he shouldn’t know or be privy to.

That this particular breach was likely a throwback to when Sakumo Hatake was still alive and a member of the council as the Hatake Clan Head was neither here nor there.

Raising two geniuses of his own in his sons Itachi – a prodigy nearly on par with Hatake and a genius almost to rival the late Yondaime Hokage – and Sasuke who while not as precocious as his brother was still an order of magnitude more talented than even Uchiha clan children were known to be, let alone those produced elsewhere, he was more than well aware of the difficulty involved in keeping inquiring minds of their stripe away from things they shouldn’t even know exist let alone to spark their curiosity.

Fugaku still thought his ears rang every now and again over his wife’s fury when their younger son got his chubby little two-year-old hands on one of Itachi’s training kunai and almost had to go to the hospital had their clan healer not arrived in time to stop the bleeding from one plump little leg.

Prodigious toddlers and sharp objects did not mix much like genius children and secrets.

So it was that matters of secrets that shouldn’t be known and shunning aside, Fugaku found himself being led to a back room of a tea house – an actual tea house not a brothel under the cover of one – to meet with the single largest pain in his ass outside of clan head Hiashi Hyuuga alongside Shikaku Nara and Inoichi Yamanaka.

From the grim look on Inoichi’s face and the for-once-not-vacant focus on Shikaku’s, both of the other clan heads were just as aware of the shockwaves Hatake’s message was going to send spiraling both through Konoha and all of the Great Nations and Hidden Villages that were even mildly connected to them, whether as friends, neutralities, or foes.

Konoha’s Hound was out for blood – and if the Sandaime wasn’t careful, let alone the rest of them, it was going to be theirs.

And, if Fugaku was honest, with their depleted forces following the Kyuubi attack only a few years ago, he didn’t know if they had anyone who could stop him from getting it as with Sarutobi’s age and Hatake’s Sharingan it was debatable of who would come out of that fight the winner…if that was Hatake didn’t just settle for a quiet assassination instead if they couldn’t placate him over the Uzumaki issue.

To borrow a phrase from his jounin commander counterpart Shikaku: it was troublesome to say the least.

“So,” Inoichi summarized after tea had been poured and Hatake had confirmed that he was, indeed, not joking and was officially taking up both positions as the Clan Head of the Hatake Clan and as ANBU Commander, resigning as a team lead for the dreaded boring post that was desk work – a fate worse than death to most shinobi.  “You’re serious about this.  Upsetting the balance of power on the council, overturning the Hokage’s direct involvement with the ANBU assignments.  You’re that pissed off.”

Shikaku, Inoichi’s longtime best friend and teammate, hummed under his breath head cocked to the side as he studied the young ANBU shinobi, one of the brightest and most dangerous shinobi ever to come from Konoha and had to admit his shame as a strategist: he hadn’t seen this decision coming.

Shikaku and Inoichi had put their heads together when no one, not even their finest operatives working in conjunction with Fugaku’s investigators, had found neither hide nor hair of Naruto Uzumaki.

Shikaku had even asked, almost to the point of begging, for Hatake to be recalled.

As their best tracker-nin, a better hunter than even the Inuzuka Clan with their ninken partners, Hatake should have been recalled to locate the missing jinchuuriki.

When the Hokage had refused, citing Hatake’s instability over the past years since the Yondaime’s death and even before considering a past riddled with loss, rage, and grief, those in the know regarding the situation and Hatake’s very personal interest in Naruto Uzumaki had started making plans and bracing themselves for the inevitable blowup and fallout.

As yet there hadn’t been much of the former and the latter was in full swing if Hatake’s current decision was any sign – and that was twice as terrifying coming from Kakashi Hatake than an immediate but quickly blowing over expression of rage.

Hatake’s fury hadn’t gone supernova and spectacular – it had gone ice-cold and patient.

And that?

That was far more worrisome for the ever-delicate balancing act that was politics in a Hidden Village, especially since the ones most likely to be caught up in Hatake’s revenge over the clusterfuck were some of the highest-placed and highest-ranking shinobi and more than one civilian in the village.

Troublesome.

Hatake had always been troublesome, even if he functioned better as a one-shinobi-army than anyone Shikaku had ever met excepting, the Sandaime and Yondaime Hokage.

However, in this case Shikaku wasn’t alone as the jounin commander trying to handle a troublesome shinobi, but a clan head trying to keep Konoha from blowing up like the powder keg it had become since the kyuubi attack while Hatake both lit the fuse and skipped merrily through the wreckage.

And no matter how irritating Fugaku Uchiha was with his clan snobbishness and arrogance, he wasn’t a stupid man or shinobi.

“What do you want in exchange for resigning from ANBU rather than publicly undercutting the Hokage’s power?”  Fugaku asked, seeing the statement of intent – sent only to the three clan heads before him and not all of them or the Hokage – as the bargaining chip and threat it truly was.

Hatake didn’t want the post of ANBU commander, being trapped at a desk and overseeing all the black ops of the village.

He never had, something that perhaps the three shinobi before him and maybe Fugaku’s wife as one of Kushina’s best-friends were aware of alone in the entire village.  It had been a stop-gap measure by the Yondaime.  An attempt to pull Hatake’s head above water before his suicidally-inclined solo ANBU missions left Minato Namikaze burying the last member of the only genin team he ever mentored before becoming Hokage.

Never let it be said that shinobi didn’t learn from their mistakes: after watching the genius prodigy attempt to self-destruct over and over again even the dumbest clan head around didn’t allow their children to graduate the Academy until they were at least eight or to take missions outside of the village and surrounding area until they were ten.

War had made a killer of Kakashi Hatake when he was six years old.

Losing everything he had ever cared about before he turned fifteen had made him a grief-stricken ball of suicidal rage.

But his attachment to the only remnant of his sensei made him a protective grief-stricken ball of suicidal rage, something that had made him a weapon for the village without peer.

Now that attachment was gone alone with the boy and unless Hatake was properly directed he was going to implode and take the entire village with him.

Giving him whatever the fuck he wanted in order to point him at a target that wasn’t Konoha as a whole would likely be a lot less costly in the long run than trying to outwit, outmaneuver, and out-think someone who’d been running infiltration missions in enemy territory for the last five years and slaughtering entire squads of enemy shinobi in war before that.

Kakashi smiled with his eyes, mask still in place and hitai-ate tilted down over his Sharingan eye as Fugaku cut to the point of this little meeting.

“I want to be appointed a Special Investigator in conjunction with T&I,” he nodded towards Inoichi, “and the Konoha Military Police Force.”  He turned towards the Uchiha clan head, facing him dead on.  “I want carte blanche to investigate the disappearance of the jinchuuriki and take whatever actions I deem necessary to locate, rescue or extract, and return him to Konoha and the care of the Hatake Clan until he is old enough to take up the mantle of the Uzumaki Clan.”  His voice was ice-cold and lethal as all three of the clan heads blanched at what Hatake’s price was for maintaining the delicate balance of power in the village rather than blowing it to smithereens.

Shikaku thought – if only for a moment – a bit wistfully of the idea of assassinating the troublesome Hatake before banishing it.

Partly because what he wanted was actually quite in line with what at least half of the clans would prefer happen with the Uzumaki affair: take two; but mostly because the Uchiha Clan had tried to assassinate him when he’d been gifted with Obito’s Sharingan in an attempt to reclaim the eye and every last one had failed along with all of the foreign and missing-nin who’d likewise never managed to kill Sharingan no Kakashi in order to collect the massive bounty on his silvery head.

And all of that had occurred while he was actively suicidal.

Shikaku didn’t want to calculate how much more difficult a task it would be while Kakashi actually had something worth living for.

“No assassinating a Clan Head or the Hokage without the approval of at least three other Clan Heads,” Fugaku countered.

“Done.”

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

When is a door not a door?  Answer: when it’s open.

Chapter Four: When Is a Door Not a Door?

Twelfth Day of Tsukuyomi, Approximately Six Months Post-Disappearance; Konoha

Kakashi slipped silently through the tunnels that riddled the Hokage mountain like a warren.

It had been a long tedious four and a half months since he returned to Konoha fresh off a successful mission – that was one Uzumaki family artifact, a matched set of blue and white tessen with golden engraving, that wouldn’t be decorating the Earth Daimyo’s palace any longer as with the destruction of Uzushio now more than twenty years ago the looters were getting bolder about displaying their audacity – to the news that his sensei’s son was missing.

He’d made a lot of noise and caused a lot of consternation among the powerful shinobi of Konoha in that time, kicked over a lot of anthills in his position – however grudgingly agreed to by all the clan heads before being presented as a done deal to the Hokage, the repercussions of which (and the payback) Kakashi was still waiting on.  The Hatake Compound had been torn to the ground and rebuilt.  He’d watched and bit his tongue through meeting after meeting of the council and clan heads.

It was grating, playing the long game, including a not-quite-bloody confrontation between himself and Danzo but now his prey was starting to relax, to feel comfortable and smug in his superiority that Kakashi had believed his denials of having anything to do with Naruto’s disappearance.

Danzo might not even be lying.

Not that it mattered.

His relationship with the Hokage had bought him a lot of chances and even more averted gazes but eventually even the most slippery of manipulators have to pay the piper.

The old bastard had been put on Kakashi’s list before he’d ever left ROOT.

Kakashi knew as well as anyone just how good the fucker was at getting in someone’s head, whispering just the right truths and half-truths to turn and twist and use them.

He’d escaped it, helped Tenzo escaped it, and together with sensei ostensibly shut ROOT down.

But children still disappeared.

Like Naruto.

It was a simple equation.  When rot takes hold in a single tree you had to burn it out root and stem or else you risk sacrificing the whole forest.  Sandaime had settled for trimming the obvious signs of disease.  Kakashi would not.

Danzo was a disease that was creeping into every corner of Konoha and Kakashi was just the shinobi to burn him out.

That there was even the possibility that Danzo had gotten his wicked hands on his sensei’s son was enough to fill Kakashi’s already terrible nightmares with fresh hell-scenes of his imagination to feed on.

He hadn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in months, which was a new record even for someone with his extensive mental damage.

And given the thriving patrols of blank-masked ROOT operatives Kakashi was passing as he slipped like a shadow through the underground tunnels, Sarutobi’s pruning of his old friend’s activities after the death of the Yondaime wasn’t nearly as successful as the Hokage liked to tell himself.

Not that it mattered.

It was an unspoken but ugly truth of modern shinobi that they were drawn towards flashy displays of chakra-infused ninjutsu rather than the foundation skills that were only skimmed over at the Academy as things stood, considered mere stepping-stones to more impressive displays of power like spewing fireballs or conjuring walls of earth or stone.  Kakashi, however, had been raised to be shinobi since he could walk under one of the last great shinobi of the old ways.  Sukumo Hatake, the venerated – and then despised – White Fang was many things.  When it came to drilling his son he was a loving, but stern, taskmaster who’d taught Kakashi to step silently from his first steps and how to use shadows and stealth in his favor hand-in-hand with throwing kunai and senbon and shuriken.

Their family might be remembered now for their lightning elemental techniques and partnership with canine summons but they’d been a clan long before the founding of the Hidden Villages and survived when many others with big, flashy chakra like the Uzumakis had been wiped out – or nearly.

Now the Hatake clan was in the same dire straights as that powerhouse, both of them down to a single member, though as things stood: the Uzumaki heir missing and the mentally-unstable Hatake with a death wish that came and went with his mood swings neither was likely to survive long enough to ferment a new generation of his clan.

And wasn’t that a fucked turn of events?

That of the two of them, Kakashi was more likely to pass on his gene's than sensei's adorable sunshine child who smiled even through the loneliness and neglect of the orphanage?

Almost as sad as it was to tamp down his chakra, step into the shadows, and slip unseen through the tunnels of Danzo’s secret headquarters.  He avoided blank-masked operatives that smelled like a few of his former ANBU colleagues and set their presence into his memory for later investigation.  And in less than an hour he was slipping through an air vent and out into Danzo’s private quarters while the old bastard’s bodyguards watched the doors and never saw or sensed him at all.

To give the devils their due: most shinobi weren’t able to completely suppress their chakra to the point he could to avoid detection by a sensor without use of a sealing tag or another jutsu that would show up on Danzo’s rather impressive barrier and alarm seals.  If they could, the likelihood that they could move as silently as needed to avoid waking the old bastard without using chakra was negligible.  But as already established, Kakashi Hatake was not the average shinobi or even the average shinobi genius.

He was the son of the White Fang, student of the Yellow Flash, and in a matter of seconds between sweeps of the enemy shinobi – because citizens of Konoha or not at this moment that’s exactly what they were – he’d stabbed a poisoned senbon between Danzo’s bandaged knuckles where it wasn’t likely to be seen, copied his documents that Kakashi had scouted the headquarters several times to ensure he had everything he needed, and he was gone with no more than a silent whirl of air not even the typical falling leaves of a body-flicker teleportation jutsu to give his presence away.

And if he tripped the wards on the way out well…Danzo’s heart was already stopped anyway and he had the evidence he was after.

Even if fingers were pointed his way, Danzo was many things…but he wasn’t a clan head or the Hokage no matter how he liked to think of himself.

There was nothing to stop Kakashi from burning him out, his ROOT and all, if it meant protecting Naruto.

Whether from some current plot or one a decade in the future didn’t matter.

All that he cared about was that the threat was eliminated and he had Danzo’s records, including his ideas about what might have happened to his pup.

Though if what he suspected was true – he hadn’t totally been wasting time over the last four months no matter how ostensibly he hadn’t been investigating Danzo – the person most likely to cheer over the old bastard’s death was going to be the one required to investigate it: none other than Kakashi’s new “boss” Fugaku Uchiha.

Kumo, Lightning Country, Northeast of Konoha:

“Danzo Shimura is dead.”

The announcement rang through the Raikage’s office like a thunderclap, A, the Raikage, and his adoptive brother “Killer” Bee looking up from their shogi board at the announcement made by one of A’s clones that had been tasked with reading through the Raikage’s correspondence and reporting anything of interest or concern – in in this case both.

Kumo had been – not seriously, more as a way to be invited into Konoha – considering an alliance with the Hidden Village of Leaf.  If such a strong player had finally died – or more likely considering the old bastard in question – been removed, then plans will have to be reconsidered.  Danzo’s death many would think would weaken the village.  Aged or not, shinobi didn’t survive to become elderly unless they were the best of the best or desk shinobi.

Many would be mistaken.

All the Kage had their spies in the other villages if they could manage it, and A’s were particularly effective.

It hadn’t spread to all of the Hidden Villages – Onoki in particular had his head buried in the Stone of Iwagakure, hiding from anything and everything he didn’t like such as the knowledge that his jinchuuriki had defected years ago – but a child had gone missing in Konoha and none other than Kakashi Hatake had retired from active service in order to search for him.  Over the last six months, Hatake had used his position of Special Investigator to purge Konoha of the stench of disloyalty and weakness – many of whom had been operatives of one form or another planted in the city or exploited for their connections in the strongest of Hidden Villages.  Attempting to make a move against Konoha as long as Hatake was in the hunt would be nothing less than suicide.

“Good riddance,” A sneered then snorted, rolling his eyes.  “Though I imagine Sarutobi-san is mourning the loss of yet another of his generation.”  He shook his head.  “In respect for Konoha’s mourning,” he dictated to his secretary who’d entered the office at a ping of chakra from the Raikage to a seal on his desk in the atrium.  “Kumo’s visit will be belayed for the foreseeable future.”

A wave of A’s hand dismissed the secretary who’d add all the required flourishes and diplomatic bullshit expected.

“Not going to play games with the Hokage, brother?”  Bee asked with a small smile, eyes glinting behind his sunglasses.  “How strange.”

“As long as Hatake has the village on alert playing games or making moves against Konoha is asking for trouble that even a Kage should be wary of bringing down on their head.”  A thought a moment then chuckled.  “The Mizukage or Kazekage might be brash enough to try it but Kumo remains respectful – if at times envious – of the power Konoha commands.”

“The Bloody Mist has bigger problems than Konoha at the moment.”  Bee said, head tilted in that specific way that said he was listening to something – or more appropriately someone – no one else could hear.

A studied his brother carefully.  Bee didn’t often share what the bijuu had to say.  And as he was the first jinchuuriki to last more than a handful of years as the holder of the Hachibi, even A wasn’t arrogant enough to ask.

In Kumo, they were respectful of the bijuu and even more so of the strength required to house them, but they were still weapons to be used for the good of the village, even if all that looked like was the threat of their very existence working as a deterrent against invasion or an off-hand comment from Bee every now and again.

His brother was renowned for his partnership with the Hachibi, a fact which kept Kumo safe even while embroiled in incursions beyond their borders during the Third Shinobi War.

“You don’t say?”  A finally responded.  “Bloodline purges carried out by the Mizukage not enough trouble?”

“Hn,” Bee snorted derisively.  He was a bodyguard and jinchuuriki, not a strategist, but even he knew how idiotic hunting down one’s own shinobi clans with bloodline talents was.  That the Mizukage had alternately endorsed it or simply not stopped the civilians from carrying it out, was a matter of great disdain to the other Hidden Villages and nations both great and small.  “The Mizukage has been assassinated, long live the Mizukage – the jinchuuriki of the Sanbi.”

A sucked in a startled breath, eyes darting to meet the dead-steady gaze of his brother as Bee looked over the frame of his sunglasses.

“Are you certain?”

It would be a first, to say the least.

Outside of Kumo and the late Mito Uzumaki the way the jinchuuriki as a whole were treated was nothing short of monstrous most of the time.

They call their jinchuuriki monsters and demons and spit on them in the streets and then wonder why so many go missing-nin or turn on the villages they’re supposed to protect altogether.

That they’re usually chosen from the Kage’s own families often didn’t matter to the small-minded fools who mistreated them, as the Kazekage’s own son could attest – before he was kidnapped by his maternal uncle anyway as A’s spies reported.

Kidnapped, A gave an internal scoff.  Saved or freed was more like it if you asked anyone with half a brain.  There was no fool like an ambitious fool, and the Kazekage’s attempt to use an impartial seal to give his son easier access to the Ichibi’s powers showed that Rasa was exactly that.

“I am, or rather the Gokubi is.”  Bee answered.  “The bijuu lost contact with the Sanbi, only the Gokubi’s report to the others on the situation lets us know this much.  Whatever is going on in Mist, it makes the current troubles Konoha is experiencing look like children’s games.”  He pursed his lips then broached a subject a long time in coming – or only six-months depending on how he looked at it since that was when Gyuki started to get insistent on the matter.  “I want Yugito brought to Genbu.”

“The jinchuuriki of the Nibi?”  A blinked, then frowned thinking.  “How old is she now?”

“Thirteen, and ready for the jounin trials from all accounts from her tutors.  But to learn to work with the Nibi is something only another jinchuuriki can truly teach her.”

“I don’t like it, having our two greatest assets in one place,” A scruffed at his chin with his nails.  “But,” he nodded, resigned.  Bee was the most effective jinchuuriki ever made.  Even with the lessened powers of the Nibi compared to that of the Hachibi, if his distant cousin could be taught to harness the powers of the great Neko, Kumo’s power would be unparalleled in all the Great Nations.  “I trust no one as I trust you.  If you say this is the way, I will believe it.”

“Thank you, brother.”

“I’ll send the message to her trainers in the morning.”

Raijin Valley, Land of Valleys, South of Konoha:

Han, missing-nin formerly of Iwagakure, sat beside a burbling stream with his brown eyes closed and massive body – the tallest and strongest of the jinchuuriki even Killer Bee – folded into lotus position as he meditated and used his bijuu’s sense for chakra and strong emotions to monitor the forest around him now that he’d come to an agreement and not-quite-friendship partnership with Kokuo.

When the Gobi had started speaking to him – calmly rather than the early ragings Han was subject to after being made the Gobi jinchuuriki and the sullen silence that had taken over after that first tumultuous year – six months ago he’d been nothing short of paranoid and suspicious.

This was the Gobi.  An ancient demon of malice and rage that had been bound and chained inside human containers by the great seal masters of Uzushio.  From the start the Gobi had been more than clear that if it could find a way to escape its imprisonment it would rain down destruction on Han, Iwagakure, and the Uzumaki/Senju Clans.

Not that Han could really blame the Gobi for its feelings considering Iwa given that Han’s own treatment at their hands had ended with him turning missing-nin and wandering the lands as a shinobi-for-hire but he still didn’t think that everyone in Iwagakure deserved to die for it.

He’d heard tales of Kumogakure’s infamous Killer Bee being able to work with the Hachibi which had stopped him from dismissing the Gobi out of hand…but on the other hand everyone knew of the wrath brought down on Konoha whenever the Kyuubi no Kitsune escaped confinement, leading many over the years to think that even the depth of the Uzumaki chakra pools weren’t up to the challenge of containing the greatest of the tailed demons forever.

In the end it had been a simple statement that had convinced Han to listen to Kokuo and in time heed his advice: neither of us chose this.

Han hadn’t been sure what he’d find in the Raijin Valley that Kokuo said would give them respite for a time rather than having to continue to wander but needless to say he hadn’t expected a skulk of fox spirits that – the most powerful among them at least – could take human form at will and were in the process of protecting and nurturing the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.  It had been a shock to say the least.  Of all the bijuu the Kyuubi had been the first bound and was notorious for its hate.  That it took an interest in its latest container, to the point of taking the little boy to safety among the spirit fox summons…it said quite a bit about the treatment the child had been subjected to in Konohagakure.

And made Kokuo’s insistence on Han traveling to the Valley finally clear as they could’ve rested anywhere as there wasn’t much that was an actual danger to a grown and trained shinobi jinchuuriki.

A child jinchuuriki on the other hand?

That was a different story entirely.

Given the life he’d led thus far, there were worse ways to spend a few years than tutoring Naruto Uzumaki.

That in exchange he was protected – truly protected – for the first time since Kokuo had been trapped inside him was simply a bonus.

As he was suddenly pounced upon – no warning flares of chakra or emotional intent, nor sounds (like, say, a giggle) or sense of air moving – he grinned even as he canceled his kage bunshin, a forbidden technique of Konoha (and a few snoopy Kage) due to the sheer amount of chakra it required to conjure and maintain that was his “signing bonus” for taking the job as Naruto-kun’s instructor and dropped down from his actual hiding spot in the trees overhead and snagged the pint-sized chibi jinchuuriki as he all-but-belly-flopped onto the ground where Han’s clone had been a second before.

Kage bunshin, shadow clones, were the closest thing to exact replicas that a chakra user could make, and as Naruto-kun and his tag-team of fox summons Kenji and Jiro had proven able to fool even someone with the chakra-sensor abilities of a jinchuuriki (though granted, Naruto-kun was just starting to learn many shinobi and jinchuuriki skills now that he was safe with the foxes and he and Kurama didn't have to worry about sheer survival above all else) or the noses and senses of canid summons.  They were physical in a way that standard bunshin were not.  Able to actually work and take more than a single hit if their creator were powerful enough, though what made them both a help and a hinderance depending on their usage and user was that the creator of the kage bunshin would gain all the memories of their clone when it was canceled whether intentionally on the part of the creator or unintentionally by being destroyed from sustaining damage in addition to splitting the chakra of the creator evenly between themselves and each clone.  One clone halving the user’s chakra, two quartering it, and so on.

It was a drawback in battle, or so Han would assume having only learned the skill when he’d made it to Raijin Valley a little over a month before, as if one wasn’t used to parsing quickly through the clone’s memories it would be a major distraction, especially if the user was actually able to make more than one or two and have them be effective without immediately entering chakra exhaustion.

The other main side-effect was that of maximizing training time, such as allowing the main Han to meditate and commune with Kokuo while a clone tested and trained Naruto on sneak-attacking, moving silently, and other infiltration skills and another worked on their jutsu and elemental controls.

But like with the memory-disorientation issue in battle and having to split his chakra, Han not being comfortable enough yet with Kukuo to use the Gobi’s chakra for much of anything, the mental fatigue that came with having three hours of memories (his main hour plus an hour for each of his two active clones) was a real issue and as an adult he didn’t have as much mental flexibility to quickly adapt to the mental fatigue like his chibi-jinchuuriki student.

Naruto, much to Han’s chagrin and the entertainment of his fox-guardians (as well as Kokuo and Kurama if the heckling mental laughter at Han’s befuddlement was any sign), while still not even old enough to attend a shinobi Academy could easily summon a dozen or more shadow clones at a time without any significant drain on his usable chakra at all, so extreme were his chakra reserves and while it took meditation for him to sort through the memories, he showed less mental fatigue with a child’s adaptable mind than Han did at the end of every training day, though he used more clones than his sensei.  It was no wonder with the few – but significant – drawbacks that the Nidaime Hokage had listed Kage Bunshin, let alone it’s Multiple-Clones-at-Once counterpart, as kinjutsu.  With little chibi-jinchuuriki Naruto-kun living several days at once thanks to his use of the bunshin, his mental maturity was certain to outpace his physical maturity before long.

It worried Han.

Shinboi already grew up faster and harsher than civilians.  Tossing in the training regimen designed by a bunch of spirit foxes and a bijuu – who contained in humans or not had never been human – wasn’t going to help that in the least.  All he could do was try and ensure that the kid at least was treated as a kid until he was old enough physically to make sound decisions…however influenced by the Kyuubi they might be.

Creating dozens of clones at a time was apparently an improvement from the first time Naruto summoned kage bunshin on his bijuu’s training and insistence, as Kurama-via-Kokuo had told Han that as an Uzumaki in addition to being the carrier of the Kyuubi, little Naruto-kun’s chakra reserves were, to be blunt, ridiculous and required special training techniques as a result rather than the standard education offered to most shinobi that Han was familiar with and the chakra drain of creating so many clones was actually helpful for teaching him fine control exercises and expecting the kid to actually make them work.

Han, like many – or even all before the latest generation in Naruto and the Kazekage’s youngest son, though he’d heard troubling rumors about the jinchuuriki from Taki’s age as well – jinchuuriki had already been a chuunin before being chosen as the carrier of the Gobi, as had his best friend Roushi with the Yonbi and definitely Killer Bee with the Hachibi.  That the Kage of the jinchuuriki-possessing villages had turned to making jinchuuriki at ever-younger ages in an attempt to make better weapons from them was…disturbing to say the least.  That Kokuo had confided things were bad enough for all three of the youngest jinchuuriki for their bijuu to teach them summoning so they could escape…well.  It didn’t exactly fill him with sunshine and rainbows.

Selecting who might become a jinchuuriki and training them accordingly was one thing, though he knew for certain that at least himself and Bee had gone through their village’s Academies.

Sealing a demon – no matter how friendly now – inside babies was something entirely different.

The Yondaime Hokage was lucky he was already dead as the asshole who’d started that precedent or Han (and likely the other adult jinchuuriki with him of which there was a whopping three including him and he didn’t care what the shinobi said about being adults once students made genin) would have taught him a lesson about that sort of idiocy.

Because of Naruto’s massive chakra stores, rather than starting small and working up to big effects using the same jutsu, Han had to teach him the other way around like turning a tap on full blast and then slowly ratcheting back the power.

Thankfully with how old the bijuu and Kurama’s fox-kin were, they’d forgotten more about chakra and how to use and mold it than Han had ever learned in the first place or could learn, even with shadow clones to help out, in a hundred years.

Even so, as he held Naruto-kun and his twin fox summons in his arms and spun them around before tossing all three of them into the stream to shouts and yelps of dismay and outrage, he didn’t think he would trade helping Naruto-kun grow strong enough to have choices in his life unlike any jinchuuriki before him for anything in the world.

Though he could do without wandering in from his cave given to him – and rather comfortable compared to a lot of places he’s stayed in the past for all that the foxes ostensibly had no use for human comforts before being made guardians of their own summoner – and seeing half-a-dozen bunshin-Narutos sitting down and learning from various foxes everything from penmanship and calligraphy via the (mentally dubbed as Han wasn’t stupid enough to say it out loud) “Mom” vixen Reina who spent most of her waking hours with Naruto in human form, to maths with another fox in human form but with fox-ears, to beginning tactics from another and so on and so forth.

Honestly if it weren’t for Naruto’s shadows in the form of a handful of the youngest foxes of the skulk as he ran around doing the physical part of his training that his clones couldn’t learn and have his physical body change – they could learn theory all they wanted but things like actual muscle let alone muscle memory was another thing entirely and had to be done by the actual Naruto-kun – or Han being a bijuu and able to sense the Kyuubi when he wasn’t blocking, he didn’t think he’d ever know which Naruto was the real one when he was awake.

Still, if he had a ryo for every time he came across the little guy in a fox cuddle-pile with his one-and-two tailed friends, Han would be a rich shinobi.

Yeah, he thought.

There were worse ways to spend a few years.

He could be like Roushi, the dumbass, and trying to figure out what-the-fuck-was-wrong with Kirigakure and the Sanbi’s jinchuuriki-cum-Mizukage according to his friend’s latest message sent via Son Goku and Kokuo.

Now how that had come about Han could hardly wait to find out the next time he saw his hot-tempered friend.

Six Months Later, Approximately One Year Post-Disappearance

Roushi of the Lava Release, jinchuuriki of the Yonbi – prideful demon ape that Son Goku was the bastard – climbed up the sheer cliff-face of the Mizukage’s palace in Kirigakure, cursing his life choices and wondering idly how he’d come to be smothering his chakra signature down to nothing more than an insect’s with one of the most irritating creatures on the face of the world above him and heckling him for a range of things including his speed, red hair, and height.

“C’mon chibi-ginger!”  Zabuza Momochi whisper-shouted down, hanging from one hand as he dangled for a moment to rest his sword arm.  Kami knew, if they survived the climb he was going to need it.  “If we’re late you can kiss any chance at Terumi goodbye along with her head!”

Ah.  He remembered now.  Momochi – one of the infamous Seven Swordsmen of the Bloody Mist – was best friends with Mei Terumi, who also was the only other shinobi Roushi had ever met that used a Lava technique, and the second half of the would-be-rebel leaders seeking to overthrow Yagura Karatachi.

Yagura Karatachi, the Mizukage and jinchuuriki of the Sanbi, and the actual reason Roushi had come to Kiri in the first place to investigate what Han swore was a problem with the bijuu and likely its jinchuuriki as well.

Roushi wouldn’t know.  The Yonbi had ruined his damn life when it’d been shoved in his fucking soul to contain it.  He had zero intention of ever speaking to or working with the fucking thing.

Han could go soft on his demon if he liked.  That was his prerogative.  Roushi was one of the most powerful shinobi of Iwagakure long before he’d gone missing-nin and as no one had ever seriously attempted to return him to the Hidden Village he still was.  He didn’t need to form a damn understanding with a damn demon to stay safe and free.

That was the catch in Roushi’s opinion.

Hidden Villages, especially the civilians, either treated jinchuuriki like monsters or weapons, somehow expecting them to just take it no matter what abuse is dumped on them and stay loyal.

They could force kids to deal with it and stay.

Once they were fully trained shinobi it was a different matter and other than Mito Uzumaki and Killer Bee, Roushi couldn’t honestly think of a jinchuuriki who’d remained anything other than grudgingly a shinobi of their Hidden Village after they hit their late teens, early twenties at the latest.

Even Kushina Uzumaki couldn’t be used as an example of a loyal adult jinchuuriki as she’d died still twenty-two or twenty-three at the oldest.

“Mei is worth it,” he muttered under his breath as he continued to climb.  “Mei is worth it.  Can’t kill the swordsman, Mei would kick my ass…”

As Mei Terumi – in addition to being the most beautiful alpha he’d ever seen – was a fierce kunoichi, it was a legitimate concern.

She may not be able to level hills like Tsunade Senju in one punch – or so the legend goes – but her temper wasn’t to be underestimated.

New mates or not, if he fucked up her coup by killing her main conspirator, he’d be lucky if all she did was castrate him.

Swallowing down his irritating, Roushi set his jaw, and followed the infamous murderer up the cliff.

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Five: Raison d’etra

Akatsuki Base, Mountain’s Graveyard:

“The Sanbi jinchuuriki has been freed from the Sharingan.”  “Madara” Uchiha reported to Nagato, leader of the Akatsuki.  “Karatachi has been removed as Mizukage – though whether he is still alive is still a matter of some debate – and Mei Terumi has been made the Godaime.”  His tone turned mocking.  “Though no one can locate the jinchuuriki of the Rokubi either, the Yonbi appears to have mated the new Mizukage.”

“Interesting.”  Nagato mused, staring off into space as he always did when in his weak physical body rather than through the Six Paths of Pein bodies he piloted via chakra.  “Kiri is lost to us then.”

“Since Madara bounced off their improved barrier seals like a ball.”  Zetsu added, more entertained than Madara would prefer.  “Yes.”

“They know then, or at least suspect.”  Nagato summed up with a sigh.  “Are the seals keyed to Sharingan in general or just the Uchiha Clan?”

“Sharingan.”  Madara almost growled.  “As Kakashi no Sharingan and their own Byakugan thief Ao have proven that of all bloodline talents those with dojutsu are the least secure and not as limited to a single bloodline as the Uchiha and Hyuuga clans would like to think.”

As both clans were hunted during the Warring States period for their eyes and talent, they shouldn’t have needed relatively recent events to remind them of that much.

Fools.

“Kiri in rebellion, jinchuuriki going into hiding, such a bother.”  Nagato sighed.  “Zetsu.”

“Hai.”  Both sides of the strange symbiote plant creature/person came to attention.

“Until the young jinchuuriki come out of hiding there’s no point in attempting to abduct the rest and extract their bijuu.”  He sneered.  “We need to locate them.  Recall the rest of the Akatsuki and our serpentine friend.  Let’s see if Orochimaru is worth his legend or if his vaunted intelligence is as worthless as his vows of loyalty.”

Raijin Valley, Land of Valleys:

Kurama supposed it was too much to ask for a hot-head like both Son Goku and Han/Kokuo – who would know best – said Roushi was for a simple information gathering mission to stay a simple information gathering mission.

Han had used his considerable influence and sway with his best friend to convince the short – only about five feet tall – alpha male to venture to Kirigakure and see if he could get eyes on the jinchuuriki of Isobu when the bijuu failed to answer or in any way respond to Kurama’s Calls or that of Saiken who while less powerful was significantly closer in proximity to the Sanbi.

Roushi’s resentment of Son Goku was only bettered by the bijuu’s own over the situation, which was more common than not in some jinchuuriki-bijuu pairs though thankfully now that Kurama had had a wake-up call via his little kit – who was growing by leaps and bounds in every way now that he was actually getting the care, training, and necessities needed for a growing shinobi child and had been for the last year and several months since they’d joined the other kits of Kurama’s skulk in Raijin Valley – Son was the only one to have such a tense status quo with his container.  Honestly, if Han and Killer Bee, who according to Kurama’s brothers had both tried to fix the non-existent partnership, hadn’t had luck in the years before Kurama had been sealed inside Naruto he didn’t hold out hope that much would change it now.  As such, as cold as others would call him for it, Kurama had no use for Son’s container other than as a means to get a better idea of the situation with Isobu and his container.

If anything, Roushi and his inflexible ideas about the bijuu and resentment was the exact opposite of a beneficial adult influence on the younger jinchuuriki so removing him as far as possible from all of them – whether they were in Kumo under Killer Bee or off in the protected sage lands of their bijuu’s spirit creations like the foxes in Raijin Valley Kurama claimed as his kits even if he’d only had a paw in creating a handful of them – was ideal.

How sending him on a simple – if dangerous – scouting mission to Kiri had ended in: a mating (or possibly two as Kurama eyed a pair of the fleshies who were being studied intently by Kurama’s host and his oldest kits), a rebellion, a coup, and the handful of misfits making their way to Kurama’s skulk before him he had no clue…and honestly wasn’t sure he wanted one anyway.

Humans.

When push came to shove a lot of Kurama’s bafflement about the fleshbags could be explained with: humans and what couldn’t with: shinobi.

Exasperating creatures.

“Alright,” Kurama used the connection between Naruto and his shadow clones to change one of them into a human-sized version of his actual form rather than speak through his kit, a trick they’d figured out not long after Naruto was done (under Masashi’s supervision) experimenting with the uses and limitations of the clones.  It worked well for both of them, allowing Kurama a bit of freedom in the physical world but preventing Naruto’s chakra coils and pathways from being overstrained by his bijuu chakra.  Kurama couldn’t use too much of his power this way, it was still filtering through Naruto after all, but a simple transformation was well within both of their abilities at this point after about fifteen months of intense training.  Or about five years’ worth once the clone-time was tallied up.  “Let’s try this again.  You are all here why, exactly?”  He demanded.

Not that he wasn’t sympathetic to at least one of them – being controlled by Sharingan was humiliating and terrifying all at the same time as he knew only too well.

And well, Utakata held Saiken so there was a bit of a soft spot there.

But nowhere in any instructions he gave to any of his siblings did he say that he wanted a pack of jinchuuriki camping out in Raijin Valley and drawing attention to them, especially the now-deposed former Mizukage complete with a pair of former Kiri-nin who’d “been released” by the new Mizukage.

Dead was the official story while most knew that Yagura was simply in self-imposed exile.

Controlled or not, he wasn’t exactly the shining symbol of reform he’d hoped to be after deposing the Sandaime Mizukage, if anything his short reign over the Bloody Mist had been nearly as catastrophic.

The last thing Mei – childhood friend or not – needed was him lingering around and causing resentment.

Kurama appreciated that Isobu’s jinchuuriki was smart enough to realize that.

Where the group had scraped up what looked like a Kaguya Clan survivor with that white hair and red clan markings Kurama didn’t even begin to understand as he’d thought they’d all been wiped out fighting against Kiri.

Such a shame.

Not.

Naruto giggled a little with a bounce, blue eyes flashing with interest as he scanned over the forms of Yagura Karatachi, jinchuuriki of Isobu, Utakata (no clan name, which was interesting as everyone knew he was the son of the Sandaime Mizukage) jinchuuriki of Saiken, Zabuza Momochi, one of the Seven Swordsman and his “apprentice” Haku of the Icy Mist, and their tagalong Kimimaro Kaguya.

Haku and Kimimaro were pretty.  Prettier than anyone he’d ever seen before.  Though maybe not some of the foxes when they took human form but they were foxes so that was different.  (Secretly he still thought Haku might be prettier than even Masashi in human form, he wouldn’t say so because he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.)

Utakata was pretty too but not as pretty as Haku and Kimimaro, even though his eyes were gold on black instead of having whites something Naruto had never seen before.

Yagura with his scars and Zabuza with his shark-teeth were more scary than anything, though Utakata apparently didn’t think so if how he was leaning into the shorter-but-broad form of Yagura was any sign.

Naruto gave a discrete sniff as he tried to figure out what it was he was sensing from those two – other than that they were jinchuuriki.  After months of training with Han, he already knew when he was sensing another bijuu container.  Eventually he shrugged it off to ask Han later, the massive Steam Release shinobi standing just to the side of the little meeting and watching…Utakata actually which was strange to Naruto.

Han had taught him that in case of situations he wasn’t sure would be a fight or not to always notice how others around him watched the strangers.

Some of the foxes were watching Yagura, some Kimimaro or Zabuza or Haku, but he took careful note that Han, Masashi, and Hiraku (who spent a lot of time human over the years from the stories he told when he was working on Naruto’s sparring or physical skills which made sense since the six-tailed kitsune was Reina’s mate) all were almost locked on Utakata instead of the bigger and scarier Swordsman or the rougher Yagura.

Maybe it was because the pretty jinchuuriki with black and gold eyes held the Saiken.

Naruto wasn’t big or scary or anything but plenty of people had been afraid of him before Kurama taught him how to leave Konoha and he was only a little boy no matter what Han and Reina said about his mental development via clones.  They studied.  That was pretty much it.  Which made him smarter and gave him knowledge, but he didn’t think really made him that much older.  He saw how it could work that way eventually but how that made him different from standard prodigies even if his was gained artificially he wasn’t sure.

“Mei was willing to trade two jinchuuriki and a swordsman plus his apprentice for her mate and not having to brand any of us missing-nin.”  Yagura explained concisely then tilted his head towards Zabuza.  “Big Bad over here has a serious mother-hen-attachment issue for traumatized kids.  We found Kimimaro poking around the edges of the sage barrier and Zabuza decided to vouch for him.”

“Fuck off, no I don’t, he’s broken.”  Zabuza said gruffly, folding his arms over his chest with a scowl.  “Doesn’t speak yet but I know that look and I know what happened to his Clan.  Word was they kept one of their own locked up like a beast they were so afraid of his occurrence of their bloodline talent.  That sorta thing tends to end up with kids with more’n a few screws loose.”

Kurama nodded, eyes dragging over the assembled shinobi in consideration.

Kimimaro and Haku were both kits still, maybe nine or ten years old if he’s any judge of human age, and as Yagura noted both had attachment issues.  Haku in particular appeared constantly alert as if ready to throw himself on a sword to protect his guardian at any moment while Kimimaro in turn was focused with the sort of intensity on Haku that would be startling in any other situation.  Though not utterly focused as still being a child his attention did wander while the adults were talking, light green eyes darting over the gathered foxes and glancing more and more towards the sunshine blond hair of Naruto.

Not exactly healthy versions of kits for his kit to play with and learn from but…other than hauling one of the other chibi-jinchuuriki out of their bijuu’s sage lands he didn’t have a whole lot of options for socializing his kit, even if they were head-cases and older than Naruto by at least a couple of years.

“Four jinchuuriki in one place, even a protected place like the sage lands, is asking for trouble.”  Kurama made his decision.  “But there is a solution: another young jinchuuriki, not much older than my kit,” he nodded his great head down towards Naruto who still bounced in place.  “She’s at Omukade in the Land of Jungles.  Chomei taught her the summons and sent her to her spirit creations as I did with my kit and Shukaku did with his own.”

Well, once the pup’s uncle had hauled him to a sealing specialist Kurama via Shukaku had directed him to.  Even with all the bijuu working on it, keeping Shukaku locked away in their shared mental realm wasn’t a long-term solution.  And something had to be done before the pup’s power-hungry father snapped and had the boy killed in order to stuff Shukaku inside someone else, someone who’s seal hadn’t been right fucked over by their aforementioned power-hungry father.

Kurama had thought there were fifty-fifty odds on the pup having the tanuki sage summons – wolves or jackals wouldn’t have surprised him at all, or badgers as well – but Shukaku’s influence, no matter how negative prior, had won out in the end and the less-crazy-assed tanuki, his pup, and the pup’s uncle were now tucked away at Danzaburou in the Land of Forests.

Oh to have been a fly on that wall when the Kazekage found his brother-in-law and youngest child missing!

Likely not as entertaining as the Hokage’s when Naruto disappeared but still – worth a laugh.

Yagura and Utakata traded a considering glance speaking-without-speaking in that way mates and close friends or teammates used to working with each other had, though given the scents coming off of the pair of jinchuuriki Kurama was betting on the former and so glad that his kit was too young to know what it was he was scenting if the hint of confusion in Naruto’s face was any sign.

But before they could make the offer that was clearly on the tip of their tongues, Han spoke much to pretty much everyone’s surprise especially Kurama.

He’d thought the massive shinobi was if not happy as the mentor for Naruto at least content.

“I’ll go.”

Naruto gasped, turning his big blue eyes that rapidly filled with hurt on his Han-sensei.

“No, not because of you, Naruto-kun,” Han shut down that thought before it could ever fully form, moving with a shinobi’s quickness to kneel before the little boy.  “Because of me.  I’m big, much bigger than you’re going to be when you grow up.  I use a style of fighting and jutsu that probably won’t work for you while those guys,” he jerked his head towards the other shinobi.  “Use different techniques and have smaller builds than I do.  They’ll be better teachers for you, Naruto-kun while this girl in Jungle is already trained and just needs a little help and someone to watch over her.”

“I need you too, Han-sensei.”  Naruto told him, sniffling and plumping out his lower lip.

The other shinobi, Kurama, and the foxes were far more entertained than they probably should be as they traded amused glances over the pair’s heads.

“Hey hey,” Han rested his hands on Naruto’s thin shoulders.  The boy was growing like a weed, with golden-blond hair pulled back in hundreds of tiny braids that Reina braided every other week or so reaching the bottom of his shoulder blades.  Already Han could tell that Naruto, like his father, was going to be a shinobi built for speed, even with the Uzumaki-and-bijuu enhanced strength he’d been granted, rather than the stocky form the Uzumaki had tended towards before their clan’s destruction.  He’d told the truth.  Any of the other shinobi, even Momochi, would be a better teacher for the kid than Han.  “Listen to me little one.  This isn’t a goodbye, just a temporary parting.  You’ll become a great and fierce shinobi under teachers from the Mist.  Far better than a big lummox like me from Iwa.  Zabuza is a renowned swordsman who uses Water jutsu, Yagura and Utakata are both jinchuuriki who use Water jutsu, Utakata even uses Wind jutsu for part of his Bubbles jutsu.”

“Like me?”  Naruto perked up at that.  Han had only been able to teach him a little Wind technique after he’d gone to the nearest shinobi village and gotten chakra paper to test him on his affinities and for his beginning seal creation training.  Naruto had two main affinities – which Kurama said was common for shinobi chosen to be jinchuuriki like how Han used Water and Fire to create his Steam Release or Han’s friend Roushi used Fire and Earth for his Lava Release.

He also had a very minor talent for Lightning jutsu, due no doubt to his Uzumaki heritage as Uzushio was known for their Storm Release shinobi, nothing close to a true affinity, but as high level shinobi often learned more than jutsu in their chakra affinities it didn’t much matter besides giving them an order in which to train Naruto from easiest to most difficult elemental affinities for nature-based jutsu.

“Just like you,” Utakata chimed in, a hint of a smile on his face seeing where the older shinobi was going with his speech.  For the second-youngest – by all of a few weeks or so if his father’s spies were right – jinchuuriki, Naruto-kun was quite sharp for his age.  “I also learned seals from my former sensei, which Saiken tells me you’re learning from Kurama.”

“I’m learning Water and Wind for my Ice Release.”  Haku added, his voice soft and pleasant in tone, almost chiming like a perfectly tuned bell.  “We can also teach you how to hide in the Mist like Kiri-nin.  I would be glad to share my lessons with you.”

Kimimaro didn’t add anything to the conversation to no surprise, but nodded firmly regardless and that, so it seemed, was that.

Naruto had gained more teachers and company while Fu wasn’t to be left alone with just the company of Chomei and the flying insect sage summons – everything from dragonflies to butterflies and beetles and so on – while she finished growing and maturing as a kunoichi.

If nothing else, Han would be able to teach her how to fight against a larger opponent better than anyone else they could send her while the foxes with their shape-shifting and transformation abilities could manage to replicate a sparring partner his size or even larger for Naruto and the other young ones.

If Naruto pouted for several days – even with Kurama passing along messages from Han and Kokuo – after Han took his leave that was only to be expected and disappeared easy enough once he got used to having actual human young close to his own age to play with.

Even if the concept of play had to be carefully taught to Kimimaro.

Still, it netted Naruto the first expression other than blank apathy from the older boy so it was hardly a loss.

Nine Months Later, Two Years Post-Disappearance; Konoha:

Shisui Uchiha, ANBU Captain and lowkey prodigy of his generation with a price on his head outside of his Hidden Village to rival both Kakashi Hatake’s and most clan heads, took a slow pull of his plum wine as he watched his friend and former Commander with concern clear to see on his face.

He wasn’t a…stereotypical Uchiha to say the least, which was one of the reasons why his intelligence and quick grasp of shinobi skills had flown under the radar until he hit jounin rank at fourteen.

Quick to smile and laugh, he didn’t keep the “Uchiha Mask” in public like ninety percent of his clan, especially clansmen who were chuunin rank or higher.

ANBU a year after making jounin, he’d served under Kakashi who was his same age but a prodigy to beat all others and with the mental trauma to prove it for years before the Commander had resigned to take up positions on the Council of Clans and Special Investigator working jointly with both T&I and the Uchiha-centric military police.  Everyone knew what that was about even if it was supposed to be a SS-Class secret.  Naruto Uzumaki went missing and the literal day after Kakashi returned from their last mission together he was resigning and working with Inoichi Yamanaka, Shikaku Nara, and Shisui’s cousin and clan head Fugaku to run down any sign of the missing boy.

Nothing like losing a jinchuuriki to have hackles raised all through the upper echelons of Konoha.  The lockdown that his little cousin Itachi had told him of when it was discovered had kept a lid on most information regarding the disappearance.  But information was information and it was only because of Kakashi’s dogged – and bloody if one was willing to look underneath the underneath when it came to the spate of arrests or deaths by “natural causes” that had taken out more than a dozen formerly-important retired shinobi and civilians alike – tear through the dirty underbelly of Konoha had kept the other Kage from exploiting the situation.

No one, no one, wanted to bring the wrath of Kakashi no Sharingan down on their heads when he was already out for blood.

They may not know the cause of the issue riling Kakashi up like Shisui did – the only reason half the time he believed Kakashi-kun was still breathing was because of that missing kid – but they weren’t entirely without self-preservation.

And the stupider ones like the Kazekage?  Well, several of them suddenly had their own missing-jinchuuriki issues to deal with.  Though they at least had starting points.  From the reports Shisui had pulled, the caretakers at the orphanage – none of whom it seemed were still breathing any longer, funny that – hadn’t even noticed that Uzumaki was missing for at least a day.

Rasa had his brother-in-law to hunt down, the headman of Taki knew that his granddaughter liked to run off before his small jounin force brought her back, and Iwa’s missing jinchuuriki had been missing-nin almost as long as Shisui had been alive.

Kakashi had run down every lead, sniffed out every hint of corruption that would profit from a jinchuuriki, a young boy, or the son of either Uzumaki or Namikaze and…nothing.

The same story was being told – though with much richer shading in the background thanks to letters and reports and records found in various places – now as it was two years ago: Naruto Uzumaki had vanished into thin air without so much as a hint of where he’d gone, how he’d gone, and (realistically, he was only five and not a prodigy from all accounts) who had taken him.

Honestly, Shisui had been making the same bet as Kakashi in the beginning – ROOT and the unlamented corpse of Danzo Shimura.

But while the old bastard had had secrets and evil shit aplenty to his name, Naruto’s disappearance wasn’t one of them.

Not that there weren’t musings and records that spoke of something along those lines being in the works on Danzo’s end – along with horrifying facts regarding the Orochimaru situation, the length of the Third Shinobi War, and the unrest and distrust being actively fermented against Shisui’s clan before Danzo’s death – just none of them had apparently come to fruition before Naruto turned into a ghost in the wind.

Kakashi was out of leads and the desolate fever in his eye shouted his sense of failure and desperation to anyone who knew him as well as Shisui…which was probably only a couple of people at this point.

“What’s up, taicho?”  Shisui asked cheekily.

Kakashi just rubbed the fingers of one hand over his non-covered eye, sighing and then downing the rest of his sake, despondency filling him as he – for once – answered his friend plainly instead of dancing around the issue.  Though with what he and the clan heads had discussed earlier that day, there was no point to prevaricating.  Shisui would learn about it all soon enough anyway.

Shisui listened with concern as Kakashi rattled off just about everything he’d been thinking himself moments before: out of leads, out of bodies to interrogate, out of people to punish.

“…I’ve failed him again, Shisui-kun.”  Kakashi slumped over resting his head in his hands, speaking openly to one of the only Uchiha who’d been decent to his Obito and hadn’t turned into a raging bitch after Obito’s death.  “Naruto is gone, everyone who was even tenuously connected to his disappearance has paid for it,” in spades in some cases.  “There’s only one last thing to do before I…”

“Before you what, Kakashi-kun?”  Shisui asked, voice turning stern and dark.  “Before you start living for something other than grief and vengeance again?  Before you find something new to obsess over?  Because any way you finish that sentence otherwise will have me kicking your ass so hard your ancestors will feel it.”

Kakashi paused, considering the logistics of that a moment before giving a mental shrug and pulling himself out from his own depressive spiral.  Neither of them knew which way a genuine fight between them would go.  Shisui had the Mangekyo and his personal twist on that, the Kotoamatsukami, was a powerful but subtle version of mind-control making him extremely formidable even before his notable speed with the Body Flicker Technique was taken into account.

If there was anyone in the village that might manage to kick is ass it was probably Shisui or the current Hokage.

Maybe Fugaku or Mikoto if he pissed them off enough, but in the case of the latter it’d be sheer cold-blooded assassination not an out-and-out brawl.

“Sure,” Kakashi gave a half-hearted smile behind his facemask, free eye crinkling at the corner.  “That’s what I meant.”

Shisui snorted, eyeing him skeptically and making a note to keep a much closer eye on his friend, even if it was only in the last two years that Fugaku had loosened-up and totally forced the elders to rein back on the Kakashi-hate over his gifted Sharingan that they were able to be openly seen together outside of ANBU.

Kakashi might not dive into normal (for shinobi) ways to drown out the oceans of blood and trauma they lived with everyday like self-harm, drugs, drinking, and meaningless sex, but that didn’t mean his habits of going without more than minimum amounts of food, water, and sleep to function or (before Naruto’s disappearance) taking back-to-back-to-back missions weren’t just as damaging in the end.

“Who’s left?”  Shisui’s brow creased a bit in confusion as he ran the known citizens of Konoha through his mind.  Because he knew Kakashi.  It had to be a who and not a what or else he would’ve already taken care of it before Shisui’s badgering had gotten him to go out for a drink with him.  “Rasa or A?”  He guessed, since the Yondaime Mizukage had already been deposed and there weren’t any other major players he could think of off the top of his head that would have the sheer balls – out of either confidence or idiocy, depending – to try something like making off with Konoha’s jinchuuriki.

Given that Kumo had tried their hand at kidnapping a jinchuuriki with Kushina when she was a teenager, though that was when the Hidden Village had been under the control of A’s father the previous Raikage, it wasn’t a strange conclusion to come to.

And Rasa was, well, Rasa.

“Someone I’m going to need your help with, Shisui-kun.”  Kakashi made a decision of the scant options available to him and the Clan Heads who were in the know regarding the full breadth of his operations over the last two years – so, Fugaku, Shikaku, and Inoichi.  “Are you free for the next day or so?”

“Hai.”  Shisui tilted his head in curiosity.  Kakashi, the original lone wolf shinobi, asking for help?  Would wonders never cease.

Though later when he heard the full story of what it was his friend and former commander wanted from him, he would come to deeply regret his relief at Kakashi asking for help.

Shisui’s Mangekyo spun lazily as he pressed the commands deep within the psyche of Hiruzen Sarutobi.

He had to give Kakashi-kun (and likely a couple other clan heads, he saw Fugaku-tono, Mikoto-ba-chan, and Nara-san in the breadth and Inoichi-san in the knowledge of just how the mind interprets things) credit.

His Kotoamatsukami was an elegant solution to a thorny problem.

A problem created in part by Kakashi’s vicious vengeance over the disappearance of his sensei’s son and in part by the people involved themselves such as the late council members and the Sandaime himself.

Props to Kakashi-kun, a year – hells even six months – before and he doubted his former taicho would have settled for anything less than the Sandaime’s death either at his hand or Sarutobi-sama’s own.

All agreed, though he imagined that Fugaku-tono if actually involved as deeply as Shisui thought he was would disagree, that the Sandaime was at heart a good shinobi who wanted Konoha to grow and prosper.  The problem was that he was old and tired and had bouts of sentiment that sprung up and affected his decision making at all the wrong times.  Such as allowing Danzo Shimura to run around presiding over an illegal shadow-ANBU program with ROOT, the victims of which were only just now over a year and a half later starting to be deprogrammed to the point that the youngest of which could be placed in families and the older into shinobi teams if they still wished to serve the village as a shinobi in the first place after the epic mind-fuckery, brainwashing, and torture Danzo had subjected them to.  Or, and an example that burned the asses of basically everyone not wearing either a blindfold or rose-colored shades when it came to the Hokage, allowing Orochimaru to fucking leave when he was caught neck-deep in Danzo’s illegal bullshit experimenting on children, Tsunade to abandon both her Clan headship and her responsibilities to the village years before Orochimaru’s bullshit without even a slap on the wrist for desertion, and Jiraiya to play playboy/author/spymaster when he was one of the strongest shinobi they had still supposedly loyal to Konoha.

But, with Kakashi-kun’s purge and Uzumaki-kun still being missing, they couldn’t exactly afford for the “God of Shinobi” to either be assassinated or kill himself.

Resigning and being put to work in another part of the village, backed by commands he couldn’t even remember being given and definitely couldn’t fight?

Now that was a compromise over the Sandaime than everyone involved could at least live with apparently, hence Shisui being brought to Kakashi-kun’s apartment and having years and years and years of evil bullshit and underground dealings shoved in his face via records that Kakashi-kun had found and hoarded – likely for a similar use to what he put them to with Shisui – as evidence regarding the Hokage and why action needed to be taken.

Shisui wasn’t sure who had talked Kakashi-kun out of outright murder but he was willing to put money on Nara-san as Mikoto-ba-chan while normally the voice of reason in the Uchiha Clan tended to get…prickly over anything to do with kids and was even worse when pregnant like she was currently.

Which led them to the current state: Shisui using his advanced Sharingan against the Hokage…for the good of all Konoha.

It was an interesting ethical question as to most there was no difference between loyalty to the person and loyalty to the village, much like most clansmen were taught that loyalty to the Head was the same as loyalty to the Clan.  Shisui didn’t believe that.  And given that Kakashi-kun was one of the most loyal people he’d ever met in his life, his taicho didn’t believe that either.

Focusing, he pressed the commands into Sarutobi-sama’s mind, ensuring they were set, then cast a simple sleeping compulsion over the soon-to-be-former Hokage.

It wasn’t like it would be the first time Sarutobi-sama fell asleep at his desk, though it was likely to be the last depending on how quick the clan heads moved in the morning to insist on the old shinobi’s resignation.

From this day until his last breath Hiruzen Sarutobi, called the Professor, called the God of Shinobi, Sandaime Hokage, Head of the Sarutobi Clan, patriarch of the Sarutobi Clan will:

Graciously retire and pass all knowledge required to successfully lead Konohagakure to the successor chosen by the Council of Clan Heads and remain a resource of knowledge for all succeeding Hokage.

Accept the position as Head of the Konohagakure Academy and work in conjunction with the Hokage and Council of Clan Heads to improve the education provided therein to aspiring students.

Work to instill the ideal of the Will of Fire into all Konohagakure citizens, both shinobi and civilian, and protect the children of the village born and unborn as the King as the protection of the King is the protection of future generations.

And last, he will forget this meeting between himself, Kakashi Hatake, and Shisui Uchiha utterly and not allow anything regarding it to alter your behavior, words, or thoughts regarding Kakashi Hatake and Shisui Uchiha.

Two weeks later, staring at the Hat – and symbol along with his new robes of the office of Hokage – the Godaime Hokage scowled fiercely at the sight of his new pair of bodyguards – well, bodyguard and bodyguard’s apprentice, his condition for taking on the Kami-forsaken position after helping remove the last one from office.

One look at his scowl and that bastard Kakashi-kun – who had to have planned this damnit, who was the initial selection of the council of clans but refused on the grounds that he had a new member of his clan to integrate, a boy named Shin who was an orphan from Danzo’s ROOT and his third cousin or something according to the blood tests all the ROOT victims had to undergo, and his recent swathe of bodies dropping – burst into laughter.

His apprentice, the new Hokage’s cousin, side-eyed the infamous Copy-Nin hard, as the Godaime grabbed a kunai and launched it at the cackling hyena’s head.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Shisui Uchiha, first Uchiha Hokage, and one of the most feared shinobi in the Elemental Nations, pouted.

“I never wanted to wear this stupid hat!”

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skullk

Chapter Six: He’s a What Now?!

Approximately Six Years Post-Disappearance; Konohagakure

Shisui Uchiha, Godaime Hokage for the last several years, didn’t even bother to look up when his window was soundlessly opened and a pair of bodies slipped with equal silence through and into his office at the top of the Hokage Tower.

The first six months of his tenure as Godaime he wouldn’t wish on anybody, even his worst enemy.

(Except, maybe, the plotting asshole of a friend and former-taicho who’d stuck him with this damned job in the first place.)

Speaking of whom…

“You’re late.”  He commented without looking up as his erstwhile bodyguards, who spent as much time off on special assignments as they did actually guarding him anymore leaving that up to ANBU for the most part, took up position on the opposite side of his desk, both falling into parade rest.

The pair had been sent out two weeks before on a fact-finding mission tracking a S-Class missing-nin from Iwagakure who liked to blow things up and was – or so their spymaster Jiraiya said – being considered for recruitment into the mercenary band of Akatsuki.

Since those assholes were a lot harder to track or kill once they joined up as they always worked in at least pairs, it was in their best-interest if the unnamed leader of the organization didn’t locate Deidara before Konoha did.

Jiraiya may not like that Shisui had forced Tsunade Senju to choose between going officially missing-nin complete with a price on her head and her apprentice with her or to return to Konoha and take over their hospital and actually contribute to the village she’d sworn her loyalty to, but he was still loyal to Konoha even when his teammates had wavered and kept Shisui informed of the goings-on of the seedy underbelly of the Elemental Nations, particularly Akatsuki which gave Shisui a warning tingle on the back of his neck even if he didn’t know why since for the most part all they did was act as nin-for-hire.

Logic decreed that S-Class missing-nin did not band together like Akatsuki just to act as thugs and bounty hunters but no one had managed in the last fifteen or so years since the Sandaime became aware of them to figure out what exactly their goals were or what they might be planning.

To keep Jiraiya’s ears to the wind and his nose to the ground Shisui would semi-play-nice with Tsunade even when what he’d really wanted to do with the drunken excuse for a med-nin was excise her from Konoha and be done with it all.

He’d had to settle for doubling the bounty on Orochimaru as an expression for his distaste over the Sandaime letting his former genin-team run roughshod over the Elemental Nations doing whatever the fuck they pleased and tarnishing the reputation of Konoha at the same time.

His ancestor hadn’t helped found this damn village for a Sarutobi’s students to make it look ridiculous or weak to the rest of the Elemental Nations for the love of Izanagi!

“Maa, Shisui.”  Kakashi smirked behind his mask as his cute little apprentice glared over at him with wrath and his friend lifted his head from ignoring him for a few moments.  Though at sixteen, elite jounin, and an alpha rapidly growing into his strength, Itachi wasn’t nearly as cute now as he was a couple years ago when Shisui tossed him at Kakashi for training before Fugaku forced the sweet kid into ANBU to raise the status of the Uchiha Clan even higher than it was already with one of their own finally made Hokage.  “We still made it and look!”  He tossed a couple of scrolls on the Hokage’s desk.  “Presents!”

Itachi rolled his eyes in exasperation as Shisui – having been on a team with Kakashi – felt for his not-so-little-anymore cousin.

He knew that pain.  Kakashi-itis.  It was one of the reasons he’d tossed them together because if anyone could crack his emotionally-stunted cousin out of his shell it was Kakashi Hatake in all of his flamboyant ridiculousness and (now at least) carefully banked rage.

Though not even Fugaku-san could complain about the quality of shinobi Itachi had become under Kakashi’s tutelage, much like every ANBU who’d ever served on a team with the former-Captain/Commander, his methods at times left a lot to be desired.

“Shin would’ve forgiven you if you’d missed his graduation.”  Shisui commented as he studied the trio of scrolls.  One was a standard mission report, another the black scroll used for body containment after a kill or a loss in the field – Deidara no doubt, which would give the pair an excellent bump to their savings – but the last was what caught his attention.  “Sasuke on the other hand…”

Itachi winced.

Under the new system Shisui had come up with with help and input from several jounin instructors, people like Shikaku Nara and Inoichi Yamanaka, and the new (then) head of the Academy in the Sandaime Hokage, Sasuke at eleven was set to take the final exams for his basic education.  A new exam as of Shisui’s first year as Hokage instated at the end of three years of basic education the results of which decided if Sasuke was continuing on to the Shinobi Academy or would be shuffled into a different career.  Those without the right chakra control for the Medic Academy went into the Admin Academy that trained what used to be called “paper ninja” before Shisui took one look at the failure rate of making genin versus the cost of training them, not to mention how many genin died in the field or failed to make chuunin, and got the psych reports from the Yamanaka Clan over how many shinobi experienced severe or debilitating mental problems before they hit twenty.

As a clan kid, he’d already been well aware of the life expectancy of all but either the most mediocre shinobi who rarely went on dangerous missions or the most powerful who never seemed to die simply because there was no one around, except maybe pissing off Fate or having some seriously bad luck, who could kill them.

Like Kakashi, who if he listened to Shikaku’s grousing as the jounin commander had more lives than a cat or a cockroach depending on how badly the Copy-Nin had irritated the Nara that day.

Shisui made plenty of changes to the shinobi training in Konoha as a result, focusing on quality over quantity, and as they weren’t actively at war set minimum and preferred age limits on everything from graduation from the Academies to recruitment into ANBU.

Inoichi Yamanaka loved him.

The Council on the other hand…well.

It was a good thing that he was universally feared outside of Konoha and had the staunch backing of Fugaku-san and Kakashi or else they might’ve done more than bitch about his changes.

Tsuande-san who he’d tasked with creating the curriculum for the Medic Academy which took students not suited for field shinobi work for one reason or another but had too much chakra or too good of control (plus an interest in medicine) to train as admins was also not as pleased as the Yamanaka clan head.  But then she wasn’t happy about much of anything except drinking herself into a stupor each night to drown her memories and nightmares, so he didn’t worry about it.  If it weren’t for having a punch that could level buildings thanks to her superior chakra control Shisui was certain Inoichi would be all over her mental health.

Students could always – and some did every year – choose to leave the Academy altogether if they didn’t make it into the Shinobi Academy, but those were always civilians and with the new entrance exams were expected to drop off sharply with Sasuke’s year, as they were the first to enter the Academy under the new system instead of having to adjust and recalibrate their expectations and learning curve mid-program.

Educating shinobi was expensive for the Village, their main expense after salaries and paying their active shinobi in fact.

Weeding out those totally unsuited for even riding a desk as an assistant at the Konoha Library or at the hospital intake desk from the beginning made a massive waste of resources a much less prominent problem.

If the students the village paid to educate didn’t even become chuunin it was a huge expense with little return on their investment.

The Sandaime had believed in giving all children who wanted to learn a chance to become shinobi.

Shisui would rather manage expectations and keep potential time-bombs – like, say, Deidara who Kakashi literally just finished hunting down or that Mizuki asshole who’d been found completely unsuited for his job as a chuunin teacher with a massive inferiority complex – from receiving training that took them from potentially dangerous to actually armed with skills to make them dangerous and lethal.

All shinobi were often one bad mission, or maybe the wrong bad mission, away from snapping.

If they already have preexisting mental health problems or lacked the will or spine to do what was needed from a shinobi, then Shisui wasn’t interested in taking the time and ryo to train them.

Cold, maybe, to crush the dreams of kids but if a kid was eight and had a split personality like one of the bigger problems the Yamanaka interviews had found in his little cousin Sasuke’s year, they did not belong in the field.  The civilian girl had decent power and excellent chakra control, which tagged her for either the Medic or Admin Academies rather than training as an active kunoichi, but if he was still in the field he would not want someone like that at his back.  As a Uchiha he knew all too well what it was like having to work with or around headcases.  Some could be managed, others couldn’t.

Better to catch the issues young while they still had hope of decent lives rather than the alternative.

Uchiha had a system within the clan that underwent a similar process while giving their children pre-Academy instruction.  Any issues severe enough to alarm the elders were shuffled off into civilian careers.  The clan has gained some of their best artisans, admins at the police station, and medics that way.  They’ve also managed to dodge any more stains on the clan name since Madara had done such a fan-fucking-tastic job of that all by himself.

What was interesting was that many of the ROOT victims had actually made it through the Yamanaka interviews and tests after extensive treatment to enter either the Academy or to be placed directly into ANBU, T&I, or the police force as while they had issues understanding, processing, or even recognizing emotions in the severest cases, they were still excellent and loyal field shinobi.

Shin, Kakashi’s ward, would pass the graduation exam with flying colors to be placed on a genin team and Sai, who considered Shin a brother and was being fostered by one of the more…relaxed Uchiha families, would get the clearance to continue with Sasuke into the Shinobi Academy or Shisui would eat his Hokage hat point and all.

Arching a brow, Shisui unrolled the silver-edged scroll, smiling when he saw that it was.

“Summoning scroll?”  He tilted his head as he made out the design of crows and ravens at rest or in flight.  “For corvids?  Where’d you find this?”

Kakashi shrugged.  “Deidara had it on him, no idea why.  It’s standard, not sage I know that much however.  Seemed for a good fit for a couple Uchiha I know.”

The ninken summoner found himself subjected to dual deadpans from his friend/Hokage and his cute little apprentice.  Likely over the fact that it was worth a literal fortune.  Most shinobi would hoard it and hand it down to their family, like the Hatake Clan did with their canine contracts or how Jiraiya was known to be protective of the toad sage summons.

And he just gave it to them…just because.

“Maa,” he scrubbed one hand over the back of his head.  “I’m going to check in with Shin-kun.  Have fun with your summons.”

And with that he body-flickered out of the office before Shisui could stop him.

“He is the most…”  Shisui hissed in frustration even as he started nicking each of his fingertips with a kunai, Itachi snorting softly in commiseration.

“Your fault.”

“How d’you figure?”

“You keep giving him things to live for.”

“Point.”

The fourth year under the Godaime’s new system and the second graduating class, the end-of-year graduation exam for the exiting class from the Shinobi Academy was more a ceremonial rite-of-passage than anything.

After the first graduating class the prior year, where only two years of intensive training under the new system wasn’t quite enough to overcome lacks earlier in their training, where only three-quarters of the graduates made genin – though still significantly better than the one-third to one-fifth average before it – after a two-year gap without any genin teams at all, it was expected that all of the graduating fourteen-and-fifteen year olds would pass and make it onto genin teams.

Other hidden villages might look at their new system askance, especially the age of their new genin and that two year gap while the new system was implemented, but under the Godaime’s mantra of “quality over quantity” the four genin teams turned out the prior year were all excelling and had a lower mission-failure and complaint rate than any year before them.

Shisui expected the same rate of excellence from the upcoming class, which was set to be another four teams.

He watched from his office window across the street as Kakashi showed up – barely on time and likely only that because of Itachi heckling him until he left for the Academy in self-defense, his cousin arriving a split-second after the Copy-Nin – and joined the other parents or guardians waiting for one of their kids to exit the building with either the news that they were moving on into a specific program for the younger students or victoriously with a Konoha hitai-ate in place as newly-minted genin.

Sarutobi-san used to do the same though now the former-Kage was able to hand new genin their shinobi headbands (even if at times they ended being worn in places other than their heads) with the engraved plate with the swirl-and-leaf of Konoha displayed proudly on the front in person.

He smiled as he watched Shin Hatake and Sai Uchiha, the two of them raised for many years in ROOT as brothers and now a bridge between formerly at-odds clans, rush out of the Academy.  Shin with his hitai-ate in place on his forehead and a beaming smile from ear-to-ear with a more subdued Sai bouncing at his side, scroll in hand that no doubt contained his entrance certificate to the Shinobi Academy.  The pair mobbed Kakashi.  Which he deserved.  It might not be common knowledge but every last one of the former-ROOT members knew exactly who to thank – or in a few cases blame, as while most of ROOT had been successfully deprogramed and reintegrated into Konoha, others were genuine fanatics following Danzo and either escaped and turned missing-nin directly after his death or had to be executed, the missing-nin hunted down by a special strike team led by Shisui’s ANBU squad – for their newfound freedom as citizens of Konoha.

For all of Kakashi’s protests that he didn’t know what to do with kids, he managed child-soldiers well enough, likely from the unique perspective given as a child-solider himself.

Kakashi might not have been kidnapped and brainwashed, but Shisui couldn’t find it in himself to think that putting a prodigy on a battlefield at all of six-years-old during a war was any kinder.

It was only the long term of peace they’d been enjoying since the end of the Third Shinobi War that had kept others like Shisui, Itachi, or even Sasuke from following in Kakashi’s footsteps and allowed Shisui to make the changes to the Academy and age-minimums on active shinobi possible.

War would come again, it always did.

But this time hopefully Konoha would have enough veteran adult shinobi to keep from having to make the kinds of choices that led to Madara Uchiha and Hashirama Senju founding Konoha in the first place, namely that of sending children hardly old enough to wield a kunai into battle.

It was good, to see life in Kakashi’s eye again.

A spark for more than vengeance.

His former Captain still hunted down every last hint of stray jinchuuriki like the Hound he used to be, even to the point of sneaking – without orders and Shisui still pretended complete ignorance of it – into Kumo to talk to Killer Bee.  Any word of a blue-eyed blond about the right age wandering in Suna or Iwa or Kumo was sure to draw his attention.  But overall, Kakashi was living again rather than just waiting to die in service to Konoha.

As his cute little cousin Sasuke ran up to Itachi with a sparkling grin for his beloved older brother, a sure sign of his passing into the Shinobi Academy, Shisui smiled.

He might not have wanted this thankless job, but after four years and many changes, he wouldn’t give up days like today for all the ryo in Fire Country.

Sasuke made a deep bow to his father in the Clan Head’s office, his certificate for entrance into the Shinobi Academy offered on open palms as he stayed bent over.

“Father.  I have completed the basic Konoha Academy education course at the top of my class and been admitted into Shinobi training under Sensei Iruka Umino.”  He announced with all-due-solemnity the occasion required.

Many things had changed since his cousin Shisui, a prodigy even for an Uchiha and the standard (in ability if not behavior) for all Uchiha prodigies after him such as Itachi and Sasuke, was made Hokage by selection of the Sandaime and unanimous agreement by the Council of Clans.

That Fugaku still held each and every one of his clan to the standard that had made Uchiha one of the most powerful clans in the Elemental Nations was not one of them.

The Uchiha patriarch had to give up any idea of an arranged mating for his alpha clansman when Shisui was made Hokage, and having his eldest son chosen to apprentice under the Copy-Nin had done the same for Itachi.

Mikoto, his mate and one of the most dangerous kunoichi in Konoha no matter that she’d retired to raise their children, wished that their sons would be allowed to find their mates as they did.  But as none of the eligible omegas of the Uchiha clan had sparked mating instincts in their eldest and their younger children had yet to present, it put him in a bit of a difficult position with the clan elders.  He was lucky – he knew that.  Mikoto was a distant cousin, an elegant and dangerous Uchiha beauty, and eminently suitable for the wife and mate of the then-Uchiha heir.  With Shisui showing no interest in mating or marriage, it put the onus of siring the next generation of Uchiha prodigies directly on the shoulders of Fugaku’s sons.

Together they’d decided in the wake of the waning anti-Uchiha sentiment following Sarutobi-san’s removal from office – others might be blind to the truth of events behind the Sandaime’s “resignation” but Fugaku wasn’t one of them – and Danzo’s death that the best thing they could do to lessen the burden on their existing sons’ shoulders was have more children.  They’d always wanted more children than a pair as was common in alpha/omega matings but with the ever-rising tensions in Konoha at the time it hadn’t been safe.  It wasn’t safe for Uchiha who didn’t have other options to have children in those years.  Fugaku and Mikoto had had Itachi when they were sixteen.  As they were only in their mid-twenties when the ever-hovering threat against the Uchiha was dispersed, having more children to both fulfill their own desires for a larger family and to lessen the burden of accepting an arranged marriage or mating young on their older sons was one of the easiest decisions they’d ever made.

Masaru followed ten and a half months to the day after they’d made that decision, their third son just as beautiful as his brothers and Itachi and Sasuke just as adoring of him as they’d always been of each other.  Kousuke followed two years later, then the surprise babies of the identical twins Natsumi and Hoshiko were currently keeping the entire household awake half the night though his darling daughters had their four older brothers and most of the Uchiha compound wrapped firmly around their dainty fingers.  For the first Uchiha princesses in over four generations, they were a boon and a blessing on a clan that less than a decade before he often woke in a cold sweat at night fearing they would all be murdered in their beds for crimes they never even committed.

Now, all he had was hope.

Sasuke was due to present any time and given his temperament was almost certainly going to be an alpha like many Uchiha males.

He could be entered into an arrangement any time thereafter according to Uchiha traditions but…

Fugaku gave an internal sigh even as he gave his second son a sober – but honest – congratulations over his success, clapping one hand on his shoulder and giving it a firm squeeze.

If he dared do such a thing to his sons, pressure from the elders or not, his lovely elegant mate would skin him alive and let her feline summons use the rest of him for a toileting box.

Fugaku was a fierce shinobi, scion of the Uchiha Clan, possessing the Mangekyo Sharingan and tasked with keeping the peace within Konoha as the head of the Konoha Military Police Force.

And the only shinobi in all the Elemental Nations he truly feared was his beloved wife.

A fact that gave him no shame, if anything it filled him with pride that such a lethal kunoichi and the beauty of their generation had found him worthy of her hand and had only trebled upon her protective instincts roaring up from a banked flame as their older sons aged to a wildfire with a toddler and two infants in the house.

“Today you have upheld the honor of our clan, my son.”  Fugaku told him, Mikoto smiling softly just over his shoulder, Natsumi in her arms and Itachi at her side with Hoshiko in his and his younger brothers clinging to his yukata.  “Continue to show similar excellence in all your endeavors and you shall be a shinobi of Konoha worthy of the Uchiha name.”

Kurama’s kit was only a month into his twelfth year – and his seventh living among the spirit foxes of Raijin Valley and the ragtag bunch of shinobi who’d gathered there – when it happened.

As an ancient bijuu he’d experienced many things in his long life and as he’d been held within the souls of shinobi for more than a century he’d had many human experiences – albeit secondhand through his host, the less said about fucking childbirth the better – but this strangeness was distinctly new, uncomfortable, and very un-fucking-welcome.

Naruto had never even had the sniffles before like Kurama had watched other kit-fleshies go through, what-the-fuck-was-this-shit?  His body was burning up with what Kurama thought, having never experienced one for himself, was a fever.  There was a tightness and throbbing pain in his lower belly, and the less said about his sudden rush of hormones and mood swings the better.

Clearly something was wrong with his kit that Kurama had never seen before leaving him only one choice: to take the issue to his fellow bijuu and hope one of them had seen it before and knew how to deal with it.

Between the nine bijuu and their dozens of hosts over the last hundred or so years it wasn’t a bad bet to make.

Though once his siblings had all been gathered, Kurama finished explaining what the problem was with his kit, and several of them had burst into laughter at his panicked concern he was feeling much less appreciative of that collective experience and much more put upon as it seemed the only other bijuu who wasn’t in on whatever the joke was, was Shukaku and that was never a turn of events Kurama had wanted to see come to pass in his life.

At least the damn tanuki had only had one host before his current chibi-host Gaara, a crazy-assed old monk which left Shukaku even worse off than Kurama when it came to understanding the fleshies that were humans.

Especially since it left the two of them staring disgruntled at the rest of their siblings, as even Gyuki and Kokuo who usually could be counted upon to be level-headed were snickering.

“For once,” Matatabi grinned, feline fangs flashing as Saiken – somehow and Kurama didn’t want to think too hard on it – did the slug version of rolling on his back and flailing with laughter.  “The great and mighty Kurama has well and truly missed something rather important – vital, even – about humans, especially humans powerful enough to host us within their souls.”

Kurama did his best to set his sister on fire with the power of his glare alone but failed, even as Shukaku protested not understanding what was going on.

“No, little brother.”  Gyuki soothed the tanuki with his hair-trigger temper.  He was better since Yashamaru had taken Gaara to Jiraiya for fixing his seal but he’d never been the best-natured of them to begin with and progress at times was slow in returning him to his pre-sealing level of crazy rather than his post-sealing level of bugfuck insane.  “You were sealed inside a monk and then a newborn, your lack of understanding is completely understandable as a lack of exposure.  Kurama’s is a fault of his own arrogance in not taking an interest in the lives of his hosts or the humans surrounding them unless they were involved in something he found interesting,” which knowing Kurama was probably limited to sealing, battle, tactics, tricks, and any time they were in an emotional state that might allow him to break free of their control.  “Given that he had two female hosts of considerable power who had children while imprisoning him he should know what’s going on with his kit and failing that should be aware from simple observation of life in a shinobi village.”

“You’ve had your laughs at my expense.”  Kurama said, snarling lowly when his temper started to edge from bearing his siblings humor to actual rage at their mockery.  “Now explain before I get angry.”

He might not be able to harm them in their physical hosts while in their shared portion of the spirit realm but he could definitely kick their asses and have them limping home to their cages in their hosts’ souls to rest.

Saiken wriggled back upright and swiveled their eyes on their antennae around to face him, taking point, as usual, when it came to explaining pretty much anything to Kurama he didn’t already know since of all their siblings they were much less likely to end up in the crossfire of their eldest brother’s temper than anyone else.

“He’s an omega,” Saiken burbled along happily.  “Just like my host!  I went through this with Utakata!  Your other hosts must have already gone through it before you were sealed in them, humans go through this time when they’re maturing from kits to young adults.”

Kurama blinked taken aback.  “He’s a what now?”

Gyuki chuckled.  “An omega.  Some shinobi – and the odd civilian with better than average chakra from what I understand from Bee – sort of…evolve when they start truly advancing towards sexual maturity and thinking about mates and having young.”

“From your description.”  Matatabi purred over the words as she tended to do.  “He’s going through his change from regular human to an omega.”

“He’ll be fine!”  Saiken chimed back in before Kurama could return to panicking.  “The fever and pain and mood swings are worse during the change than any other time.  His chakra is changing his body to allow him to carry young when he finds a mate and sharpening his instincts to protect what’s his and help him find a proper mate.  Utakata knew as soon as his Yagura was free from the Mangekyo that Isobu’s host was his mate but it doesn’t always work like that I don’t think.”

“So…”  Kurama attempted to process this nonsensical complication to do with fleshies.  Humans.  So gross.  “He’ll have heats like Mito and Kushina then and will want to mate.”

The very idea of some filthy human defiling his kit was enough to raise his hackles but he knew eventually his kit was going to grow up and want those things.  Humans usually did.  At least after being raised by Kurama he’d – hopefully – have better taste than Mito and Kushina.

They’d chosen powerful mates who were excellent on a battlefield, that Kurama couldn’t deny, but otherwise they were fucking irritating air headed pretty boys.

Hashirama was a plague on the earth, no one could ever convince him otherwise, with his perkiness.

Minato at least settled – some – as an adult even if he was iron-clad in his belief in his own judgement and right-of-things.

Golden children, both of them, whose self-righteousness was nauseating to experience even second-hand.

How Mito and Kushina didn’t smother them each with a pillow he’d never understood.

“Is that so strange, brother?”  Kokuo asked placidly.  “Even we felt the need to have young of our own.”  Though as chakra constructs they went about it a different way.  “It is an instinct of all living things.”

“But,” Kurama would deny he pouted over this until the end of days.  “My kit.”

If the rest of the bijuu returned to heckling him and he subsequently kicked all of their asses – at least those not fast enough to leave the spirit realm at his snarl – well, they had it coming.

Kurama wasn’t the only one noticing the changes Naruto was going through given that he was surrounded by four shinobi that had presented secondary dynamics of their own.  One that had the power but just…didn’t for whatever reason.  Add in dozens of canid noses and it didn’t take them long to figure it out, around the time that Kurama couldn’t take the internal changes any longer and went asking his siblings what was wrong with his kit, when Naruto’s scent bloomed along with the changes to his physical body.

Which led to a conversation only moderately less awkward than the one Kurama had with his siblings and leaving the ancient bijuu feeling a dose of secondhand embarrassment the likes of which he hadn’t experienced since watching Minato Namikaze chase after Kushina Uzumaki when they were teenagers until his last host decided he wasn’t completely useless.

Naruto’s lack of needing countless hours of therapy because Kurama – or any of the foxes for that matter – didn’t try to give him The Talk but left that bit to the humans was a fact everyone should all be deeply thankful for.

“Shh, Naruto-kun.”  Haku hummed under his breath, Kimimaro kneeling down at his elbow with a fresh bucket of cold water from the stream nearby, the pair of them hovering over Naruto as he keened and whimpered and thrashed through the fever that always accompanied the distinct physical changes that occurred to Alpha and Omega shinobi.  Betas didn’t change as abruptly as the other two dynamics did, for them it occurred gradually instead of a sudden boost that stayed in high gear before tapering off.

Haku remembered the fever all too well, and thanked Kami every day that as an omega his actual heats were much less traumatic and more an uncomfortable, well, heat – an itch under his skin and a wanting that while frustrating at times was easy for a trained shinobi to ignore.  Alphas got a bit…intense during an omega’s heat but not dangerously so – or not any more dangerous than they were normally.  A good man or woman didn’t suddenly lose control and try and mate an uninterested or unwilling omega during their heat any more than they would normally.  His scent was…thicker was the best description from Zabuza-sensei’s reactions when he went into heat, a bit more tempting, a bit sweeter, but not to an extent that it completely clouded the senses of others who were receptive to it.

Kimimaro was a different kettle of fish altogether.  He’d never felt any of it.  Not the changes of a second dynamic, not the thought that a person was attractive, not even a passing thought that he might like to kiss or snuggle or even hold hands with someone.  It didn’t happen often but it wasn’t unheard-of, especially among shinobi for someone to be unmoved by thoughts of romance or be uninterested in sex or intimacy and those few shinobi were often the most sought after for special positions such as bodyguards for Daimyos or Kage or high tier assassins because they couldn’t be compromised in ways that shinobi who were interested in romance, sex, and intimacy could be even despite their training.

When it happened, those few shinobi, even if they had the power to present a secondary dynamic never did.  They weren’t inclined whether it was mentally, biologically, or some combination of the two for siring or bearing offspring the way others were.  This was especially true for Kimimaro as he was now fifteen and hadn’t presented or started the process of sexual maturity other than the normal changes of non-dynamic puberty which unless he was a very late bloomer meant that he wasn’t going to at this point.

He’d latched onto Haku and Naruto, seeing them – whether it was instinctual or logical or the way the wind was blowing that day – as his to protect and the thing that was worthy of his loyalty.

Considering that the pair of them were probably the most dangerous omegas – now that Naruto-kun was presenting that way – in the Elemental Nations or would be once they were fully matured and trained anyway, his instincts or whatever might be a little off but in the meantime having a virtually indestructible close-combat shinobi to play bodyguard wasn’t something Zabuza or Kurama or any of the other semi-responsible adults or adult-like beings in their lives were going to protest.

“How much longer is he going to be like this?”  Kimimaro asked in his smooth baritone, his voice not altered at all from the time he’d spent selectively-mute.

Haku frowned for a moment, saddened that his friend even had to ask that question.

At least his father and village had only wanted to kill him for having a bloodline talent, what the Kaguya Clan had done to Kimimaro – treating him worse than an attack dog to be unleashed on their enemies and locked away the rest of the time – was inhumane and had left Kimimaro broken in ways that even the spirit foxes, bijuu, and years of peace in Raijin Valley couldn’t heal.

Haku wasn’t fixed by any means, any more than Naruto was.  Some traumas couldn’t ever be fixed.  But they all were better, had come back into a cohesive shape piece by piece.  Haku’s restoration had been started by Zabuza, Naruto’s by Kurama, but Kimimaro had wandered for months or even years before he made his way to the border of Raijin Valley and was taken in by the shinobi, jinchuuriki, bijuu, and spirit foxes that made their homes there.

Haku had had a good childhood before his life crashed down around him, Naruto had always had Kurama, but Kimimaro had never had anything like that.

That his friend was as well-adjusted – if intense, focused, and beyond dutiful in his loyalty – as he was, was nothing short of miraculous.

“Not long, maybe another day or two depending on how fast his body adjusts to the changes made by his chakra.”  Haku told him, patting Naruto’s brow gently with a soft cloth damp with the cold water brought by Kimimaro.  “It’s a natural, if uncomfortable process.  That’s not the problem.”

Naruto cracked open his eyes with a shiver as he stared at his two closest friends outside the foxes, especially Kenji, Jiro, Aimi, and Jun who were his best friends and playmates.  Just behind them were Zabuza and Yagura, Utakata missing but since Naruto thought it was late in the evening that made sense.  He’d be with his and Yagura’s son getting him fed and ready for bed.  He found it kinda – or a lot – bit entertaining that even with Utakata going through pregnancy and childbirth Kurama hadn’t realized that there was something going on beyond the normal “humans are weird” weirdness.

“Whas tha probl’m Haku-nii?”  Naruto rasped out.

“You’re an omega now, otouto.”  Haku soothed, rubbing one hand on Naruto’s back.  “Do you still want to be a shinobi?”

“Haku…”  Yagura warned, growl rumbling in his throat before Zabuza hit him with an elbow shot to the ribs and a glare cold enough to freeze blood.

“He doesn’t have a choice, Haku-chan.”  Zabuza reminded him.  “He’s a weapon to every last shinobi in the world.  Just like Yagura and Utakata and Roushi and Han and the rest of the jinchuuriki.  And the ANBU in Konoha.  And the hunter-nin from Kiri.  All of us are weapons and if we aren’t powerful enough to be weapons for ourselves we’ll just be tools for others.  I’m teaching all of you little whelps to be strong enough that you’ll never have to kill a hundred children to keep thousands more from dying pointless deaths at the Mizukage’s whim or perform some similar atrocity.  If he’s not a shinobi – omega or not – he’s trapped with no way to protect himself.”

“That’s why the bijuu worked to move you young ones away from your villages and somewhere safe, Naruto-kun.”  Yagura added.  “Jinchuuriki were never meant to be made from infants and children but from shinobi with the understanding of what it meant to hold a bijuu within your soul.  Roushi.  Han.  Killer Bee.  They’re the last ones who had even the illusion of a choice.  It was chosen for the rest of us.  I don’t want to live in a world where I have to worry about my son being stolen away to be turned into a weapon for the Hidden Villages’ eternal wars against each other.”

Naruto wasn’t quite well enough to track at the moment but the others were – and he’d remember later – but even so what both Kiri-nin had to say struck him deep.

“Anyway.”  Haku kept on-topic regardless of issues of motivations and personal beliefs.  “Omega shinobi and kunoichi undergo special training.”

“Like wh’n you wen’ ‘way?”  Naruto asked, Kimimaro helping him drink from a small cup of water to cool him from the fever.

“Exactly like when I went away, otouto.”  Haku smiled though he remembered very well the tantrums Naruto threw over Haku going away for the year between his thirteenth and fourteenth years.  “At an Academy you would have special classes there.  But…”

Naruto pouted, already reading between the lines as Kurama rumbled deep in his chest.

“I don’ wanna go back yet.  I’m not ready.”

“You don’t have to, Naruto-kun.”  Yagura promised, trading a glance with Zabuza.  “There’s some people who will do the training outside of an Academy for students apprenticed to other shinobi like Haku-kun’s year in Kiri.  There’s a pair of mates who each retired from their professions when they met in the capital of Fire Country.  It’s our best bet to keep Naruto-kun hidden and get him the training he need.”

“What kind of training?”  An all-too-protective Reina asked, lifting her furry head from where she was curled up by Naruto’s side trying to comfort him as best as she could.

“About that, heh,” Zabuza grinned behind his mask.  “Something tells me the fuzzball to end all fuzzballs is not going to like it…”

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Seven: Hangyoku

Kakashi looked up from his beloved copy of Icha Icha: Paradise when a heavy, ornate scroll was dropped in his lap by his irritating friend-cum-Hokage, Shisui.

Opening it with one hand even while pocketing his orange-covered book, tucking it away in his inner vest pocket and he lounged in the Godaime’s office with his feet up on Shisui’s desk while he waited for his friend who’d been treating him to a bit of payback for his newly rediscovered habit of being late to literally everything except missions and mission briefings.

“Invitation to the Flower and Willow Ball at the Fire Daimyo’s palace.”  Kakashi snickered.  “Madame Zhu must be spitting nails over that tradition not being abolished yet no matter how much she nags her husband.”

“That’s an understatement.”  Shisui snorted, swiping Kakashi’s feet off of his desk – thankfully free of the stacks of paperwork his predecessor had let build up as if the Sandaime had never in his life heard of Shadow Clones.  “This year is supposed to be something special though, Madam Mei is debuting a new hangyoku.”

Kakashi arched a brow.  “Special” was an understatement.  While it wasn’t well-known, in fact a Kage-level secret among the Hidden Villages (or just those who are perennially nosy or turned up the information during an investigation like when he was in the beginning stages of turning over every stone he could find for Naruto-kun,) Madam Mei and her partner Madam Koi conjointly took an apprentice they shared every five years.  That apprentice, or hangyoku if they chose to be publicly known as a geisha or geiko in training rather than a burgeoning courtesan, was always a shinobi student either studying outside of an academy or a special case sponsored by Konohagakure to receive extra training in infiltration and seduction of marks in preparation for a long-term mission.

Long-term missions that usually meant insertion to a daimyo’s court – and not always a foreign daimyo at that.

“So send Yuuhi-san.”  Kakashi shrugged even as he obeyed Shisui’s exasperated jerk of his head and gave him back his desk, moving around to slouch against the wall behind him in the laziest facsimile of playing bodyguard Shisui had seen out of him in a while.  “She should be more than capable of analyzing the threat level of a stray kunoichi or omega shinobi.”

“I’ve already sent Yuuhi-san to investigate, which is why I’m sending you to get a closer look at the Flower and Willow Ball.”

Why?”  Kakashi almost-but-not-quite whined.  “Isn’t it bad enough you’re inflicting a genin team on me this year?”

Shisui rolled his eyes, wondering if any of the other Kage had to deal with this sort of nonsense then remembered his single meeting with A and Killer Bee before deciding to take his blessings as they came – at least Kakashi hadn’t started rapping in the last five years.

“Because if I don’t keep you busy until then you’ll spend all your time either irritating me or Itachi-kun and either of those would end with you turned into a pincushion and then you won’t be able to turn the little dichotomous ball of insecurity and pride that is my cute little cousin into a semi-stable shinobi capable of doing more than training himself into the ground or playing mother-hen over his younger siblings so,” he clapped his hands together.  “Yuuhi-san couldn’t get a solid read on the hangyoku or discover who had sponsored their placement with the Madams or paid their fees.  She’s understandably upset over coming up with nothing on the hangyoku including what they actually look like under the makeup and wig of an apprentice geiko except that they’re an omega with blue eyes.”  His eyes hardened.  “Which alone means that they’re either a shinobi, have shinobi training, or have a shinobi patron.  Having them presented before the Fire Daimyo and most of the main political figures of Fire Country and our allies and allowing them to be placed under the patronage of any of the dignitaries without so much as knowing their hair color or name is not an acceptable state of affairs.”

“Hai, Hokage.”  Kakashi straightened and bowed.  “I will not fail you.”

Shisui smiled softly.  “I know.”

“Are you sure about this kid?”  Zabuza asked gruffly, arms folded over his broad chest and his face set in a scowl clear even with the bandages hiding his mouth and lower jaw from view.  “You don’t have to go back there.  Kiri would take you in a heartbeat to have a second jinchuuriki and Iwa, Taki, or Suna would all give you ten times your weight in gold, A – fucking asshole that he is – would give his left kidney for a third jinchuuriki.  You have options, kid.”

That Yagura and Utakata, who had made a home in Raijin Valley, would be more than glad to have him back and the foxes themselves would be fucking ecstatic didn’t really need to be said, much like that Haku and Kimimaro would sooner cut their own throats than let Naruto return to Konoha alone and where his little monsters went Zabuza followed.

“I know it sounds otherwise, Zabuza-sensei, from Kurama’s stories.”  Naruto told him softly, even as Kurama grumbled a protest.  “But it wasn’t all bad there.  The civilians weren’t nice to me, that’s true.  They called me names, didn’t take care of me right, but the civilians aren’t all of any shinobi village.  I remember,” he smiled, looking down at the chakra-infused indigo colored polish on his nails, a gift from Kimimaro on his last birthday that made the soft rounded edges of his nails as hard as diamonds.  One gift making him think of another.  “My fourth birthday, the last before Kurama taught me to summon myself to Raijin Valley – not that either of us knew one hundred percent that it would work or that I’d end up there instead of somewhere else – it’s the only one I remember before the Valley.  Too young before that, probably.  But I was sitting alone and in the cold at the orphanage when someone snuck inside.  Four someones, actually.  All of them wearing white masks with red markings.”

“ANBU?”  Zabuza only half-guessed since back then if a hunter-nin squad had been sent after the Kyuubi jinchuuriki he would’ve been on it.  People talked a lot of shit about him being one of the Seven Swordsman of the Mist, but he was an even better assassin than kenjutsu master with silent kills numbering in the hundreds.  There was no one else – when he’d still been actively working with Kiri – that they would’ve sent on that kind of hit or retrieval with the stealth that would’ve been required.

Naruto nodded, still with that soft smile pushing up the trio of whisker markings on each of his cheeks and passed over what he’d been holding in his hand, turning it over and over again.

“They gave me this, it wasn’t much.”  The object was small, easily hidden from say bullies or assholes picking on a little orphan kid who had no idea why he was hated and strung on a simple silk ribbon that Zabuza was ninety percent certain had belonged to Haku before being repurposed into a bracelet.  “Just a piece of abalone shell on a cord, etched with what Kurama told me was the whirlpool for the Uzumaki clan on one side and an anti-theft seal on the other.  They didn’t speak to me, not one word, weren’t willing to disobey whatever gag order the Sandaime had in place.  But I still remember them: Inu-san, who kept an eye on me whenever I was away from the orphanage, Hare-san, Raven-san, and Tanuki-san.”  He looked up, staring Zabuza dead in the eye as he took his bracelet back and hid in in the folds of his kimono.  “Until I return I’ll never know why they did that or if their kindness to an orphan was singular in the village.  After all,” he cast a wicked, foxy smile at the massive swordsman.  “If I don’t want to stay, it’s not like they can keep me.  You and the others have made sure of that, Zabuza-sensei.  And if all else fails, I always have Kurama-sensei.”

Zabuza grunted, displeased but not really able to argue it.  The kid had learned a lot in Raijin Valley.  And not just how to throw a kunai or sneak about in the underbrush.  If he were from Kiri he’d probably be a chuunin at least or a jounin if they overlooked his age and lack of field experience and went by skill alone.

He had to trust the kid would be alright.

After all: Zabuza himself wouldn’t be there to keep an eye on the tricky little brat until he had a bounty requiring the “help” of his erstwhile partners once the brats arrive in Konoha and enough time passed to cover word of a Yuki wandering around the Hidden Village.

And a lot could go wrong between now and then.

He just hoped that tricky bastard of an Uchiha they called Hokage kept his cheating fucking Mangekyo to himself and away from his kids.

He’d hate to have to raze the village because someone fucked with one of their heads.

The first two months were hard.

Returning to a place that was as loud and cramped and gloriously alive as the capital of Fire Country after years in seclusion among a small group of trusted people was culture shock and anxiety and heart-racing and wonderful all at the same time.

Naruto adapted, of course he did that’s one of the best things he did always able to shift to flex to change as the world and people around him changed.

But still, even for the most active of the three young ones raised for years in the quiet and peace of the valley – Haku was generally content with speaking softly to whoever was around as he went about his training or chores. Kimimaro was content to just not speak for days at a time.  But Naruto almost always was pestering one of the adult shinobi (or Haku or Kimimaro, given that they had lessons not taught to Naruto yet or at all because of their differing affinities and bloodline talents) for training or stories, running through the surrounding forest with foxes at his heels, and so on.  Creating a steep learning curve on moving about in human society at play in Naruto’s first months of specialty training after so long outside of it, even for him.

Or perhaps especially for him since for the first time in his life since Kurama taught it to him, to remain in character and under the radar of nearby Konoha and the Konoha-nin who were constantly in and out of the city, Naruto wasn't able to use Shadow Clones to learn multiple things at once or speed up his learning in any way.

Good practice as far as Kurama was concerned, what with Naruto's asinine plan regarding going back to Konoha in play, but who listened to the ancient fucking fox anyway, it's not like he'd lived there - unwillingly - for over a century after all.

Needless to say, for all that he eventually gave in on the subject, Kurama was not a happy participant in the "plan" and spent the majority of his time sleeping or ignoring Naruto in the spirit realm.

Haku and Kimimaro went with him of course, Kimimaro posing – though there wasn’t much pretending about it – as a guard for the Madams’ latest half-jewel geiko-in-training, while Haku played hairdresser and makeup artist, slipping in tricks and skills that were strictly chakra-powered or shinobi-specific among the knowledge of how to use paint and light and shadow to shift from one person into another without so much as a flicker of chakra to form a henge or the physical transformations the foxes had taught him hand-in-hand with their version of sage training and “what a human-kit needs to know.”

Honestly, Naruto would never stop thanking Kurama for teaching him the Multiple Shadow Clone jutsu, which like it sounded was a more powerful version of the basic Shadow Clone jutsu, as well as how to dispel them to retain the chakra used to create them rather than let it be wasted upon their destruction.  If it wasn’t for his clones and their ability to learn things for him, as him, he never would’ve had time to play.  Or more likely he would’ve had to choose between playtimes and learning extra things that weren’t required under Kurama and Reina and the other shinobi’s ideas of education but that he wanted to know anyway.  There were lots of things that even Han before he left to mentor Fu – something that still twinged a bit but didn’t hurt as bad with more maturity on his end and both jinchuuriki having come to visit when he was ten – knew that weren’t strictly necessary for Naruto to know.

With shadow clones able to do a lot of his “scroll learning” – though not all of it because Reina insisted being able to sit and do it himself may be a skill he required one day and his clones couldn’t effectively do anything he couldn’t effectively do himself – the hours they provided him as the core Naruto to learn many of those not strictly necessary skills were pivotal.

Granted, a lot of the knowledge he’d been given he couldn’t really use yet or see a need for, but having it and not needing it made a lot more sense to him than needing it someday in the future and not having it in the first place.

If Kurama hadn’t paid attention every time chakra was used around him during his tenure with his first two hosts, he wouldn’t have been able to teach Naruto the summoning.  If he hadn’t been able to do that, looking back at it, Naruto really wouldn’t want to put odds on his actually managing to escape Konoha at that age and get far enough away to throw off trackers and make it to the Valley.  That Kurama had been completely baffled by a normal part of shinobi life when Naruto presented and had no freaking clue what to do and panicked – at least a little – over it had merely compounded Naruto’s ideal that it was better to know and not need than need and not know.

He wasn’t a genius, he knew that.

He didn’t learn at the same pace as his father had according to Kurama’s stories.

He wasn’t a prodigy either.

What he was, was a kid who’d been given an opportunity and a tool and was determined with every fiber of his being not to waste them.

It was an ethos that came through in just about everything he did from playing with his foxes to later studying under the Madams to learn how to seduce a target – or, Madam Koi had smirked wryly, glancing smugly out of lowered lids at her partner and lover of many years, Madam Mei, to ensnare a lover – the exact way to flick his wrist when opening a fan, and to otherwise be the sparkling perfection of companionship and artistry expected from a geiko or the ultimate sensual lover that could enthrall an entire room with a look from a courtesan.

While the two professions were interlinked – there was a reason that the section of any city or village that housed the high-class courtesans and the geisha was called the “Flower and Willow World” – they weren’t the same.

Geisha – if female – or geiko otherwise were masters and mistresses of dance, song, music, art, conversation.  They were elite entertainers and never whores.  A person might be blessed with their intimate companionship, or so said both Haku and the Madams, but it was never compulsory, never part of a monetary exchange, and never for any reason but the geiko’s personal desires.

On the flip side if a geiko was an unobtainable ideal, a heavenly willow of strength, grace, and elegance, a high-class courtesan was a very earthly one.

Nobles and the wealthy didn’t go to their proper wives for sex or intimacy – at least civilians didn’t, as with most things shinobi had different ideals than others but some still patronized courtesans.  No, wives were supposed to be paragons of modesty and home-management, while their husbands sought sexual and romantic attachments elsewhere.  While a geiko moved to beguile with grace and beauty, a courtesan did so to enthrall with lust and entrap with desire.

Needless to say, while there was still some overlap in things like how to dress and walk and portray the correct persona, they were two very different skill sets and without Haku helping him as he couldn't use his clones to practice, Naruto thought he’d still be lost even months of training later and ready to make his “official” debut as a hangyoku.

A trap, just as much as a courtesan’s smile or the flicker of their lashes, but the bait he was after was far larger and more dangerous than a wealthy merchant’s son.

It was his future.

And in order for it to go the way he wanted, it rested on actions very much out of his control.

Kakashi arrived at the ball exactly when he meant to: just as the main act – this mystery hangyoku was to take the floor for their performance and not any earlier where giggling wives of merchants and nobles could try and paw at his mask and “mysterious” persona.

The platform for the debuting maiko and hangyoku had been built along the back of the ballroom with a single off shoot bisecting it, a legion of swift servants setting out chairs in neat rows at the signal from the Daimyo’s majordomo.  As Kakashi handed over his invitation to the doorman and slipped inside, leaning his shoulder against one wall rather than sit in the darkened room, he cataloged the attendees but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary at first.  There were the expected guests.  The sort of wealthy nobles and merchants and shinobi who had a taste for either refined entertainments or refined bed companions, their wives or current companions, and the already existing members of the Flower and Willow World who were high profile enough to warrant an inclusion to the event, including those like the pair of Madam Koi and Madam Mei who were debuting a new protégé.

It was among the latter that the first oddity of the night caught his eye.

For the truly gifted or talented geiko or courtesans – whether shinobi playing a part or not – to have a bodyguard wasn’t unheard-of.  In fact that combination was one shinobi infiltration and assassination teams played often enough that it was common.  If the geiko or courtesan was high profile enough it wasn’t even strange for them to have a shinobi guard contracted out from a Hidden Village.  Kakashi distinctly remembered a round of truly epic bitching from Kurenai and Raido over having to play handmaiden and bodyguard to the spoiled former-mistress of the Fire Daimyo a couple years back.

What was odd about this pair was a simple detail that most probably overlooked.

A beauty – he couldn’t swear from this distance of what gender or dynamic they were without activating his Sharingan and drawing attention – was wearing the flawlessly subdued makeup of an experienced geiko.  They were young, young enough that if they’d been wearing the elaborate makeup or hairstyling of a maiko or hangyoku he wouldn’t have been surprised.  Their kimono wasn’t flower-themed but had white snowflakes scattered across a pale blue background, the glint of crystals adding a bit of ice to the winter-themed attire, marking them as definitely a geiko rather than a courtesan.

Their bodyguard was dressed in dark indigo shinobi gear, trousers, shirt, haori, with gloves on their hands and a mask on their face in stark white porcelain that matched their colorless white hair that nearly glowed in the dim room and next to the ink-black tresses of their employer.

Stark white porcelain except for the Uzumaki whirlpool spiral painted in the center of the forehead area in the rich royal blue that Kushina-chan, before she married Minato-sensei, would wear for her formal attire.

Uzumaki blue with an Uzumaki clan symbol.

But before he could do anything with that information – like cause a political incident that Shisui would skin him over – since as far as he knew there was only one living Uzumaki, the main performer took their place on stage, lowering themselves in their pure white kimono with a scattering of sakura blossoms among willow vines at the hem, and then the drum beat began to thrum through his veins.

Kakashi darted a look at the stage – the pair who’d caught his attention were utterly rapt on it themselves – only to feel his heart stutter in his chest when the hangyoku’s eyes snapped open, rich and summer-sky blue – and all Kakashi could think was Minato-sensei…

They hadn’t been certain who the Hokage would send, especially since the Godaime Shisui Uchiha was someone none of their ragtag little group of friends-cum-family had ever had dealings with him before though they were all well aware that he had a “Flee On Sight” order in the Iwa and Kumo-issued bingo books for anyone encountering him before he became Kage.

Killer Bee and A would probably be the exception to running away rather than engaging him, but since they were only two out of the thousand high-ranked shinobi between the two countries it was a reasonable thing to do if his skills were as terrifying as Kumo seemed to think they were.

Since Kiri had basically been off-limits for years before Mei’s instatement as Mizukage, none of Naruto’s friends had really come into contact with the infamous Uchiha prodigy before he’d been made Kage.

To that end, they’d set several seemingly-innocuous pieces of bait out, unknowing of what would work to trap their target.

Though as the shinobi – anyone who’s seen a bingo book in the last fifteen years recognized Kakashi of the Sharingan – stiffened and froze at a single glance at Naruto, everything else it seemed was a little overkill as Naruto rose from his prone position on the stage and melted into his dance with all the elegance and grace – and hidden athletic ability – that years of shinobi training compounded by a year under the aegis of the Madams had pounded into his head and trained into his muscles and memory.

And while a mask was a mask, Naruto would know that gravity-defying silver hair anywhere.

Inu-san.

Kakashi of the Sharingan was his Inu-san.

World-altering realizations were shoved aside for processing later as Naruto sent a hand-signal to Haku and Kimimaro while he moved into the second half of his dance, flicking open his fan before whirling and turning and building up chakra, enveloping himself in a cloak of sakura petals and downy snowflakes that trailed behind his fan in a cloud of palest pink and white while the audience gasped and applauded.

Building and building, as the music crashed to a close he sent the maelstrom of petals and snow flying overhead in a whirlpool of color before having it crash to the ground around him as he bent artistically one leg extended behind him and his face hidden between his upright knee and his fan, the deep mink brown of his wig flecked with pink petals and snow that thanks to his chakra – and a few tricks learned from Haku – refused to melt as the audience gave him a standing ovation and Madam Mei moved to join him on stage.

Madam Mei reached down and helped him rise elegantly, showing off a silk-clad leg in the process and the dainty pink silk dance slippers on his feet before the folds of his kimono settled back around him with a flick of her fingers.

Hands held between them, they gave a round of bows to the gathered audience – including the Fire Daimyo who tossed a silken purse in pure white to the stage at his feet from his balcony seat, the ties keeping it from spilling over but the solid clink of metal on metal making it quite clear what form of tip he’d just been given as others – from would-be patrons to lustful bores – nearly carpeted the stage in flowers as the rest of the debuting maiko or hangyoku trooped out to join them with their own geiko or geisha instructors tailing them.

A final bow – and a kunai-callused hand snapping up the offered purse and tucking it away – and Naruto finished thanking the audience with a final wave then Madam Mei was hustling him back off the stage to meet up with Haku and Kimimaro.

It wasn’t the best of their planned exits but given that whatever confrontation might be going through Inu-san’s head was better done without an audience who would likely – at least some of them – connect the dots between a Leaf shinobi confronting a random hangyoku and Naruto’s eventual career as a shinobi himself if they stayed.

Some secrets should stay secret and if he ever needed a cover identity, he’d like to have the one of Madam Mei’s delightful, brunet, former hangyoku to fall back on.

Mei and Koi-sensei would spread the word – discreetly – that he’d been given a lucrative offer to be a companion of some noble no one would ever hear of again and that would be that – unless he needed to slip back into this world again.  Then he had a tailor-made identity waiting for him.  After all, who would ever think that a geiko who’d once been applauded by the whole Flower and Willow Ball and shown favor by the Fire Daimyo himself was a shinobi?  Let alone the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.  Options.  Call him paranoid but Naruto liked to have them.

And at the moment that meant escaping to his rooms at Madams’ house he shared with Haku-niisan and Kimi-kun before Kakashi of the Sharingan, also known as the Hound of Konoha, caught up with him and made everything a whole lot more difficult than it really needed to be.

The frustrating thing about trying to corner a target in a busy ballroom was that they were constantly moving.

And if the hint of a smile on Madam Koi’s face was any sign, having far too much fun stymying him while the hangyoku with Minato-sensei’s eyes had yet to reappear from disappearing backstage to change before mingling with their adoring fans.

“Hatake-dono,” the voice spoke in a raspy alto damaged from years of singing before her retirement from behind him while he was tracking her partner.  That was the other frustrating thing about ballrooms.  Too many people to focus on more than a dozen or so at a time even for a shinobi used to working in crowds.  “I didn’t think you cared for these sorts of events.”

Turning, he gave a short bow to the still-elegant form of Madam Mei, automatically looking behind her as with her reappearance so too should her protégé appear and yet…

Her face turned soft with understanding even as her mouth curved in humor.

“He’s gone, Hatake-dono, ah!”  She stopped him with a lifted hand before he could commit the – admittedly, and especially for a clan head – gauche action of shuunshin’ing out of the ballroom to track that pair of illusive blue eyes before they disappeared totally.  Again.  Brown hair and makeup or not that face underneath was Minato-sensei’s face and those eyes were Minato-sensei’s eyes.  He’d only just found his little brother again.  He couldn’t lose him now.  “Peace.  He promised to meet with you tonight in my home and not vanish beforehand.”  She arched a brow as she handed over a pale pink ribbon from the end of which dangled a simple round piece of abalone shell that had his breath stuttering in his chest for the second time in less than an hour.  “He said you would be able to find him, Inu-san.”

Kakashi reached out with a hand that despite him being rocked down to his toes and barely processing was as steady as it had always been whether wielding a kunai or weaving hand signs for jutsu and took the charm.

He remembered it well.

How could he not?

Naruto-kun had never stopped wearing it from the moment he was gifted it by Kakashi and his father’s former bodyguards until the day he disappeared just over nine years ago.

So long ago that everyone but Kakashi had long since given up on Naruto ever being found.

Missing, dead, or just gone in the end it had all meant the same thing.

“Well, Hatake-dono?”  Mei-san asked, only half-mocking him for his frozen state.  “What are you waiting for?”

There were no barriers or alarm jutsus or seals set on the window as Kakashi slipped into the room tucked away in a corner in the house the Madams shared with their apprentices for the duration of their training.

There was no sign of the bodyguard with the Uzumaki spiral on their mask, no illusions set to fool his senses for his Sharingan to find.

Just an elaborate brown wig set on a mannequin and a golden-haired, blue-eyed omega male with three whisker marks on each of his cheeks showing in the bright lights of the vanity mirror who had rid himself of his masking makeup and was slowly running a carved wooden comb through a heavy curtain of hair that would likely drop all the way to his ass when he stands.

Blue eyes that watched him enter the room with patient calm, his hands unfaltering on his task, even as he found himself sharing space with a shinobi – and more, which had Kakashi’s inner alpha rattling, a strange alpha that if he’d been wrong could have been dangerous to him in more than one way with the omega’s enticing scent heavy in his bedroom and the younger male wearing nothing but a simple sleeping yukata with watercolor geometric waves in blues ranging from the palest sky to lush aqua to the royal shade favored by the Uzumaki clan.

“Oh, don’t scowl at me Inu-san.”  Naruto, it was Naruto, in the flesh and so fucking beautiful in all his glory after nine years, he’d found him, he was alive and right there.  “Those masks might hide your faces but that hair of yours is a dead giveaway.”

“Naruto-kun,” Kakashi blinked back the sudden wave of emotion that threatened to rock him but not before he darted forward at a speed rarely matched by anyone, dropping to his knees behind where his sensei’s long-missing son was seated and completing his evening routine, wrapping his arms tight around his shoulders from behind and dropping his head to the curve of that golden-tanned neck with a badly-hidden sob.  “Naruto-kun!

Smiling softly, blinking back a tear or two of his own, Naruto set his wooden comb aside – carved for him years ago by Han – and reached up, holding the strong arms of an alpha male shinobi in his prime in his grip, even as he let his head fall to the side, curtaining Inu-san’s head in his wealth of hair, resting his cheek against his former bodyguard’s own gravity defying silver mop.

“I’m here, Inu-san.  I’m here.”

 

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Eight: Truths Half and Whole, Kind and Unkind

The tidal wave of emotion didn’t pull them under long, neither of their trainings would allow it, but for a moment they each took a breath and just were together before reality crashed back down on them.

Kakashi spun Naruto around in his arms, staying knelt down on the floor and resting his hands lightly – but unbreakably without actually breaking bone – on the lean shoulders that had a long layer of solid muscle playing under his grip.  Naruto wasn’t built like either of his parents from what Kakashi’s eyes – including the Sharingan still bared to the room and recording every last second of this time with Naruto – but along the lines of omega shinobi and warriors from the tales.  All long lines and muscle built from body-weight exercise and the like of swimming and running and dancing, not the exact sculpting that tended to occur to maximize a shinobi’s performance.

Give him a red wig rather than the brown he’d worn earlier – basic disguise and infiltration though whether that was knowledge Naruto had possessed before training with the Madams remained to be seen – and a seal on his forehead instead of a maiko’s elaborate face paint and he would’ve been a ringer for his distant cousin Mito, the first jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.

He drank him in from the top of his blond head to the bare toes peeking out from the edge of his lightweight yukata.

Unlike some shinobi raised in Hidden Villages who present omega, Naruto wasn’t fully embracing either the feminine or the masculine but seemed content to walk a line between the two – something which his time with the Madams would’ve only reinforced.  His fingernails were painted indigo and his hair was long, but rather than the soft hands of a kunoichi specializing in infiltration and seduction as his choice of mentors would suggest, Naruto’s were scarred and callused.  A shinobi’s hands.  Kakashi knew the marks of training with edged weapons as well as any even mildly observant shinobi.

He wore his hair in a heavy fall of gold but Kakashi easily spotted the lethal points of his hair sticks or the senbon hidden inside decorative hair combs, clips, and kanzashi.

The vanity with its large mirror and special lighting was strewn with pots and vials and powders and brushes of all kinds – all kinds.  Liniment for strained muscles and ointment for bruises shared counterspace with poisons and lip paint.

And the feet sported a roughness and layer of thick callus that spoke of extensive time outdoors without so much as a sheltering layer from the cheapest pair of sandals.

Wherever Naruto had been all this time or whoever he’d been with, one thing was certain: he’d come out of it with at least some training as a shinobi.

Kakashi wasn’t certain if he should feel comforted by that, as it made it more likely than not that his sensei’s legacy wouldn’t waste away as a civilian broodmare or some equally horrible fate, but it made the possibility that Naruto had landed in the equivalent of Danzo’s ROOT but in another place that might have been even worse more likely in turn.

Like Kiri before Terumi became Kage or, fuck, somewhere like Ame that had an axe to grind against Fire Country and Konoha that made even Iwa look reasonable.

The unfortunate truth was that no matter what Naruto told him now – truth, lies, somewhere in between the two – Shisui wasn’t the Sandaime.  He wouldn’t be content to allow Naruto to just walk back into Konoha after nine years missing without a trace.  While Kakashi didn’t think that he would toss Naruto to T&I there would be something, some hurdle to overcome for Naruto in his immediate future now that Kakashi had found him that he wished he could save him from or undergo for him.  He was Naruto-kun.  Kami only knew what he’d been through already.

Kakashi didn’t have much of a soft-spot for anything but his ninken and smut, even his friends in Shisui, Genma, Raido, and the others were treated to a hard edge that only his cute little kohais in Tenzo and Itachi had managed to dull towards them over the years he’s been their senpai.

The kids from ROOT certainly gave it a shot and were better at getting under his skin – if not his mask – than most but that had more to do with just not recognizing the warning signs of when to stop, back off, or stay away from Kakashi like he’d managed to train the rest of Konoha and most of the Elemental Nations.

Shin and Sai were the worst, the little mutts with their blank expressions and not-so-secret tenacity always finding ways to be underfoot when Kakashi was in Konoha or in the case of Shin now that his former-ward (and still housemate, the Hatake estate was huge like all the clan estates and he wasn’t a monster, though if he thought that little bastard Sai with his vicious streak and love of summoning animals made of ink was going to be moving in once he made genin Shin had another think coming) was a jounin sometimes even on the odd mission Kakashi was handed directly from Shisui.

“Where were you, Naruto?”  He asked, eyes locked on that familiar sweet face.  “What happened?”

Remembering, Kakashi took the little abalone charm out of the wristband of his gloves, handing it back over to its owner, and letting that same hand fall to hang loosely at his side while his other out of some desperate instinct or thought that if he let go Naruto would disappear again stayed firm on the blond’s shoulder.

“It was my birthday.”  Naruto told the story, all truths and half-truths, that he’d spent literal months working out and patching any holes poked by anyone who heard it like Zabuza and Haku.  Kurama and Yagura helped him shape it, knowing better than most the sort of things a Kage would worry over and what was most likely to see Naruto chucked top over toes into a dark cell.  “I was turning five,” he laughed a little, the twist to his mouth bitter.  “I wanted to go to the festival but I knew better than that.  Whatever it was that made the villagers hate me it always got worse around my birthday.  The words were harder and sharper.  Monster.  Demon-spawn.  Abomination.  I was just a kid and I didn’t understand but I knew enough to stay out of the way.”

Kakashi knelt and listened and seethed, rage woken from where it’d been a banked fire for years since Sarutobi-san had stepped down as Kage thanks to Shisui’s Mangekyo but no amount of payback on Naruto’s behalf would ever change what had already happened.  He’d known that then even as he was in the middle of it.  But hearing it all from Naruto’s perspective rather than that of bystanders or the guilty parties themselves…well.  Made him wish he’d been a little less logical about what steps he took and a little more vicious.

Of course, if he’d done that, there wouldn’t have been but a handful of civilians left in Konoha once he was done, Sarutobi would’ve been killed instead of allowed to retire gracefully, and then Tenzo and Shisui would’ve given him those looks of disappointment they got when he whipped out his Icha Icha during meetings with the shinobi commanders.

“I remember…”  Naruto let his tone fall into a musing air and cadence, an effect easy as breathing for someone with geiko/courtesan training and control over their body, including their voice.  Haku could do it too and much more effectively since somehow his brother managed to blush or go milk-pale or even turn green-tinged on command, a trait Naruto couldn’t manage without using chakra on his form and blood vessels.  “Being alone and lonely.  Blood and bright light and a crushing feeling.  A jutsu, looking back on it but at the time it was just startling and scary.  The next thing I remember I was with the foxes.”

“The foxes?”  Kakashi repeated, incredulous even as the pieces started to form something like a semi-complete picture.  And he wasn’t sure if he liked the shape it was taking.  Minato-sensei, what did you do to your son?

Naruto nodded, beaming.  “The spirit foxes of Raijin Valley led by the Sage Fox Masashi.  They found me and then Haku-nii and Kimi-kun found us,” his forehead wrinkled.  “A year later?”  He shrugged, not bothered or hindered at all by the firm grip Inu-san was keeping on his shoulder.  “Hard to say, they aren’t ones for time-keeping like humans do.”

No mention of the jinchuuriki or the bijuu if it could at all be helped, that was rule one if Naruto wanted to explore what Konoha was like now that he was strong enough to stand up and defend himself, even against their strongest shinobi.  None of their skills equated to the Sharingan, they couldn’t even really replicate it for training, but Kurama and Yagura both had experience fighting it.  At least the genjutsu illusions and hypnotic effects.  Naruto and the rest of them could dispel an illusion in their sleep thanks to Yagura’s relentless drills and the foxes’ unparalleled skill with illusions and transformative chakra.

They were as certain as they ever could be that Naruto would be safe returning to Konoha if he was set on doing so – and the longer they waited the more suspicious his return would become in turn.

With his training under the Madams due to his omega dynamic, there was never going to be a better time no matter how many times Kurama grumbled and groused at him over it.

Naruto wanted to see what people were really like.

If Konoha was really worth what his family gave to save it.

Because if they went off his memories alone he’d have to say it wasn’t and if that was the truth…he didn’t even begin to know what to do with that or make sense of it other than to hate them for not being worth his parents’ lives.

And for a jinchuuriki there was nothing more dangerous for him to feel than hate.

Kurama was already good enough at being negative and destructive without Naruto fueling him or giving him additional cause to want to level a Hidden Village or five.

Grumpy bastard old fox.

Of course all of his planning was moot if he gave Inu-san a fucking heart attack or broke him since even with having most of Kakashi’s face covered his dazed gaze clearly read: does not compute.

His sensei’s son was kidnapped…by sage summons who happened to be the same species (sort of) as the bijuu trapped inside him.  That…  That wasn’t good.  In fact that was the exact opposite of good.  The toads might have been helpful for Minato-sensei (and he would assume Jiraiya) but Kakashi couldn’t remember a time where Tsunade summoned her slugs and the less said about Orochimaru and the snakes the better.  One out of three weren’t great odds on sage summons turning out to be good or even just benign.

He knew as well as anyone having a contract himself with ninken summons that they weren’t just animals bent to a person’s will and that went doubly so for sage summons which were a step above normal summons by a large margin.

“Who trained you, pup?”  Kakashi asked finally marshalling his senses and thoughts into order.  “Who paid for your training under the madams?”

“Haku-nii and Kimi-kun.”  Naruto replied promptly.  The less said about the handful of Kiri-nin who’d had a hand in raising him the better since even more than five years since the change over in power things still weren’t quite on a friendly basis between Kiri and Konoha especially considering which Kiri-nin were involved.

Somehow neither he nor Kurama thought that the Demon of the Bloody Mist teaching him how to use a sword and half of his water jutsus would go over well.

“Who…”  Kakashi started to ask only to shoot to his feet in a split-second as the sliding door to the room was opened, the pair who entered walking so softly that even his enhanced hearing didn’t pick it up.

Though considering how focused he was on Naruto, that wasn’t a complete surprise.

Another piece clicked into place as the pair glided – there really was no other way to describe the motion – into the room.

The pair from the ball.

Of course.

Though as the kimono of the pretty brunet parted and showed a second white porcelain mask, this one marked with a sharp-edged snowflake design that was rather infamous for all that it’s clan had always been small before Kiri got it in their collective heads to scrub their clans with bloodline talents from the face of the world and exterminated them.

Or so it was said, just like the Kaguya clan.

As the pair of shinobi bounty hunters with no known affiliation could attest, the second lifting one hand and removing his mask with the whirlpool mark to show the pair of red bloodline markings on his forehead and the eyeliner effect of more red markings around the outer corner and lower lid of his eyes, the Yuki and Kaguya clans apparently had at least one surviving member to each of their names.

What the fuck?

Were the sage foxes running a home for orphaned clan heirs?

It bore repeating: what the fuck?

“Haku of the Icy Mist,” Kakashi acknowledged.  A name well-earned given that the bounty hunter who looked all of a teenager used the Mist technique of Kiri-nin with a skill and finesse rarely seen according to a few accounts of witnesses to his successful bounty collections and could plummet the temperature around him on a whim.  “Kimimaro, last of the Kaguya Clan.”  He arched a brow at Naruto, rocking back on his heels lazily as he looked down at the unmoved and calm form of his sensei’s son.  “I guess there’s worse tutors to have.”

“Otouto?”  Haku asked, not blinking or looking away from the exceedingly dangerous alpha shinobi in his little brother’s room, part of the plan or not.

“I’m fine, aniki, I promise.”  He looked up with a grin and dancing blue eyes at Kakashi.  “Inu-san isn’t going to hurt me.”

“Maa…”  Kakashi sighed, rubbing one hand over the back of his head.  “My time in ANBU is supposed to be secret, brat.  Call me Kakashi.”

“Okay, Kakashi-kun,” Naruto’s grin widened at the visible wince that got him from the big-bad-bogeyman of the Elemental Nations.  “And I’ll say it again: with your hair it wasn’t much of a secret.”

Haku gave a soft snort in agreement.  That Kakashi Hatake had been ANBU and likely a captain if not a commander before turning into the Hokage’s personal bodyguard and assassin was the worst kept secret in the Elemental Nations right alongside who the jinchuuriki were despite their identities supposedly being kept secret while they were young and training.

“Where’s Momochi?”  Kakashi asked, casting a shrewd glance at the pair of bounty hunters who were missing their on-again off-again partner.  Zabuza Momochi was one of those shinobi that didn’t just work in the shadows he bought real estate and lived there.  Not a missing-nin or an exile, but not seen actually in Kiri for almost as long as Naruto had been missing, he was credited with hundreds of silent kills but whether those were simple bounties like when he worked with this pair or assassinations assigned by the Mizukage no one really knew.  “Don’t you two usually run around with him?”

“Not when we’re around Naruto-sama.”  Kimimaro countered sharply – and they’d ensured to do exactly that for the last year, hoping that whatever interrogation they were forced to deal with would take that as truth and not dig deeper.  “An unmated alpha has no place in close contact with an unmated omega half their age.”

“Kimi-kun.”  Naruto blushed and blustered, only half-performing for Kakashi.  “I’m sure your friend would have been a perfect gentleman!”

A trio of snorts echoed in the room, the older shinobi all trading glances.

The Demon of the Mist was known for many things, being a gentleman wasn’t one of them.

“Yeah, you’ve definitely never met Momochi if you believe that.”  Kakashi muttered, rubbing his hand over his eyes and adjusting his hitai-ate so it once more covered his Sharingan.  “You two aren’t fools for all that you’re young.  The bounties you’ve collected have made that clear.  I’m assuming you planned to bring Naruto to Konoha’s attention?”

Haku raised a slim shoulder, hands tucked into the opposite sleeves of his kimono, the motion one far too elegant to be called a shrug.

“Naruto-kun is growing up.  If he wishes to experience life among others then it is our duty as those who care for him to arrange a safe transition.  While my thoughts regarding Konoha are not kind,” Haku said, tone a clear warning despite its soft register.  “Given Naruto-kun’s memories of it, he is of an age to make such choices for himself.”

“We’ll take care of him.”  Kakashi swore.  “I’ll take care of him.  Protect him with my life, if need be.  It won’t be the same, not this time.”

“That’s all well and good,” Haku arched a dark brow.  “Regardless, where he goes, we follow.  In this, we are unmovable.”

“I’m not a kid, you know.”  Naruto complained but mildly, arms folded over his chest and the barest beginnings of a pout on his face.  “I can take care of myself.”

The twin snorts from his best-friends told him exactly what they thought of that.

A bit of wrangling led to an agreement between the three young shinobi – unaffiliated or not, his nose didn’t lie, Naruto was either gearing up for a career as a black widow or a shinobi and somehow a boy who blushed over the idea of doing anything improper with Momochi didn’t exactly scream femme fatale to him – and Kakashi that had him summoning Pakkun to keep an eye on the kids while Kakashi went to the shinobi standby station by the Daimyo’s palace to borrow a messenger hawk to give Shisui a heads up.

If he just popped up at the gates tomorrow evening with a missing jinchuuriki and a couple of bounty hunters he doubted his friend would be very happy with him and Kakashi could do without an endless parade of irritating missions before he got stuck with a genin team in a few months.

Shisui would do it to, the vindictive ass.

Kinda like how the Hokage and Itachi had already threatened him with being forced to return to a desk job if he dared to fail Sasuke when the kid ended up on his genin team.

Since the only reason they were giving him – or punishing him, depending on how you looked at it – a genin team was due to his success with helping train both Shisui and Itachi in hope that Kakashi with his well-established Uchiha-wrangling skills could manage the latest round of genius prodigy that they’d popped out it would rather defeat the purpose on pulling him off missions until the team made chuunin if he sent the mini-Itachi back to the Academy on the first day.

Damnit.

Chibi-Uchiha was a problem for another day, for the current he had who should have been his little brother calling someone else aniki, three Clan Heirs who were the last of their clans sleeping – according to Pakkun who’d taken one sniff of Naruto and almost lost his canine mind giving him slobbering kisses, the pug ninken summons just as ecstatic as Kakashi but a lot freer to show it – in a house bordering the Flower and Willow district, and the dread of which way things might go tomorrow evening filling his mind along with a dozen other worries that had sprung up in place of the early elation over finding Naruto.

He wasn’t a fool, not nearly, no matter what mask he shows the world and the games he plays.

There was a lot more to Naruto’s story than the kid was sharing and if it was up to Kakashi that’d be fine.  The kid would open up and share when he was good and ready.  That he remembered him at all or had the intelligence to connect him to his one-time ANBU guard said a lot about the kid’s mental capabilities.  As well as those to manipulate others around him.  Kakashi didn’t doubt for a second that every step of Naruto’s current state was part of some bigger design.

The only question he really had was what the end game was.

Naruto was sincere in wanting to go back to Konoha, that much Kakashi believed.

It was why that bothered him and it had a lot more to do if Kakashi was any sort of strategist with what they weren’t saying – like how the summons had snagged him from Konoha in the first place or if Naruto had done it himself, Jiraiya’s legend tended to have kids trying it not long after they start at the Academy but five was a little young – than what little information they were free with.

Perhaps it was as simple as it looked.  Naruto wanted to give living in a Hidden Village another shot now that he wasn’t a vulnerable young child.  Fair enough.  But…  He ran into the same argument, little did he know it, as the one Zabuza had used a few days before.  There were other villages, ones that hadn’t already hurt Naruto that would welcome him with open arms.

Kakashi always told his teammates and students to look underneath the underneath.

What he was seeing when he did that was that he, Shisui, the Fire Daimyo, all of them had been maneuvered so that Kakashi would see Naruto and react exactly as he had.

Haku even admitted it.

It was the purpose under Naruto’s wish to return to Konoha that was itching at Kakashi’s mind, even if he didn’t have the slightest clue of what it was.

But that it existed he didn’t doubt in the slightest.

Kakashi wasn’t certain what he expected from the trio when he entered the Madams’ house after spending the night on a neighboring roof hidden in the shadows and keeping watch.

Some skills never faded.

He might not be ANBU anymore – officially – but he could still go days without sleeping if need-be and he’d come on this mission after a solid week of down time with nothing to do but have puppy piles with his pack, harass Shin over when he was going to propose to Fuu Yamanaka (another former ROOT child) now that they both were jounin with the latter’s recent promotion, bother Shisui and hide from Gai’s insane challenges that, somehow, had gotten worse now that he had his own pack of gremlins to impress as a jounin instructor.

Maybe it was a problem of first impressions tending to stick.

Aside from Kimimaro, the younger shinobi had given the impression of being on the seduction/infiltration side rather than active field shinobi.  He even knew Haku’s record as a bounty hunter.  But somehow he’d expected more dozens of bags and having to hire a cart than a trio of actual shinobi dressed in their own versions of travel gear.

Haku was wearing a yukata, yes, but under it was a shirt of shinobi mesh light armor showing at the neckline and peeking out from under his sleeves.  Leggings clung to his legs under the concealing drape of the yukata, sturdy sandals were on his feet, and his long fall of dark hair was tucked up under a white bun holder held in place with metal hair sticks that Kakashi would bet good ryo tapered to lethal points.  Rather than bags and bags, each of the three had a small bag filled with what looked like storage scrolls.  The weapons pouch held in place with a simple strap over bandages were the size for packs of senbon on Haku and Naruto or kunai on Kimimaro.

The bodyguard/friend of the two omegas had his facemask in place and was wearing the same outfit including all of his weapons as the night before but with the inclusion of a travel cloak.

Naruto was the surprise.  His hair was woven into dozens of braids decorated with beads of wood and glass and shell before being wound up into a bun held in place by the silver-and-blue holder Kakashi had noticed on his vanity the night before.  He wore a simple kimono-type wrap shirt with shorts banded under his knee in indigo, the same senbon pouch on his thigh as Haku, and a whip coiled on his right hip opposite the senbon.  Kakashi attributed the lack of armor to the fact that if you weren’t an active shinobi or a member of a hidden village, it was actually quite expensive.  Basic gear like shinobi armor for genin and (to a point) chuunin was subsidized with taxes on trade within the village which also supported other infrastructure and the Academy.  Since Naruto had just spent a year according to all sources as a hangyoku it made sense that he wouldn’t have shinobi armor given that even if he owned a set from before his apprenticeship under the Madams it wasn’t going to fit at the rate teenagers tended to shoot up, especially teens with a dynamic.

That he was barefoot, wearing some sort of decorations in leather with wooden and glass beads that wrapped around his ankles and looped over his middle toe, Kakashi had no explanation for though it did explain a lot of the callus built up on his strong dancer’s feet.

But it was the coat over the shirt that nearly gave Kakashi his third heart attack in twenty-four hours.

It didn’t have red flames at the hem but a six-inch-deep border of blue waves.

But it was white, with a high collar and a straight cut to the calf, and on a boy with blue eyes and golden hair it was like looking at a color-altered version of his sensei.

Though Kakashi didn’t remember Minato-sensei’s Hokage coat having a royal blue lining with a continuous golden Uzumaki whirlpool swirl pattern, it was still an eerie look on his son that other than a few details like the missing hitai-ate, kanji for Hokage on back of the coat, and the whisker marks on his cheeks would be a dead ringer for his late father.

Seeing him now, it made the Sandaime Hokage’s attempt to “protect” Naruto by denying him his father’s name and identity even more of a joke than it already was.

Anyone who’d gotten a good look at Minato-sensei and had a half-decent memory like, say, Killer Bee or A or fucking Onoki who wouldn’t just die already would peg Naruto’s parentage in an instant.

Kakashi certainly had.

Still, running with shinobi to Konoha rather than two shinobi and a semi-trained civilian plus baggage would make a day-long trip take a third of the time.

Small blessings.

Kakashi just wanted to get Naruto back in Konoha and safe.

After everything he’d done to find him it didn’t seem like too much to ask.

The message from Kakashi was short but profound: Kit acquired.  Will return to base with pups.

Brows lifting in surprise but not shock – he’d figured the kid was still alive since otherwise word of a rampaging Kyuubi would have ran through the Elemental Nations faster than Kakashi avoiding matchmakers – Shisui opened the panel on his desk that was engraved with dozens of seals.

It was a simple but effective system designed by the Nidaime Tobirama Senju.  When shinobi entered ANBU they were tattooed, given a codename, and a blood sample was taken.  The blood sample was used to link their tattoo to two seals each contained on a panel either in the Hokage’s office or his quarters in the Hokage residence across the courtyard from the Hokage tower bordering the Academy grounds.  If a specific ANBU member was needed, all the Hokage then had to do – or anyone with access to the panel who knew how to undo the security seals which was a minor drawback from creating the hard links between the tattoos and the seals – was send a short pulse of chakra into the corresponding seal.

A moment later the four ANBU he wanted for this sensitive mission were summoned and he turned to look at the ANBU guard resting but alert regardless in the shadows behind his desk.

“Get me my cousin Itachi and Inoichi Yamanaka.”

Twenty miles stretched between the capital of the Land of Fire and Konohagakure.

At a steady walk most could make the trip in a day.

At the easy lope of a shinobi who was done with a mission and wanted to breeze back home it took about four hours, less depending on how comfortable they were with abandoning the road and running through the treetops.

When they set off from the capital Kakashi – and the others, he’d caught the lightning-quick glances and hand signals they traded even if he didn’t know the code Kiri-nin used if that even was what it was – an entire four-man squad of ANBU fell into their shadow, with one in a Tiger mask splitting off to scout the path and the rest spreading out to effectively tail and guard with one-on-one coverage of all three kids.

Naruto let a small smile slip onto his face as he tracked the porcelain masks in the shadows.

Having Kurama sealed inside him and the Sage Fox contract was good for multiple reasons and his enhanced senses – including vision as an ambush predator, a fox's quick-twitch eye responses were far superior to what humans without a dojutsu like the Sharingan were capable of – were just one of them.

Granted, he could do without having knowledge of Yagura and Utakata’s nightly activities in live and living color shoved up his nose, but those sorts of drawbacks became less and less pervasive as he learned to dial his senses back on purpose rather than allow himself to overload on information he’d rather not have, thanks.

He didn’t recognize the Tiger mask from before he left the village – at least he didn’t think so, since other than Kakashi most ANBU actually managed to keep their actual identities secret he might be wrong – but the others?  Oh he knew them.  Hare-san, Tanuki-san, and Raven-san.  Either Kakashi-kun had asked for them specifically or the Godaime Hokage didn’t miss a trick when it came to using whatever advantages and knowledge he had at hand to try and move things in his favor before he even entered the room.

Having been raised by a bunch of sneaky, sometimes manipulative, cunning foxes, Naruto thought he could appreciate that in a leader since if he was serious about joining a Hidden Village – and the closer he got to Konoha and the more time he spent with Kakashi-kun the more right it felt – he was going to have to get used to having an actual leader again since about the time he perfected using Kurama’s bijuu chakra even Masashi stopped treating him like a kit and started asking him what he wanted to do, mainly about the future.

Reina still babied him but Reina was Reina and he doubted she’d ever stop.

With his father’s bodyguards behind him and his last remaining student ahead of him, Kurama’s first – and last – description of Minato Namikaze rang through Naruto’s mind:

“He fought the Masked Uchiha.  He fought me.  And he beat us both, giving his life to do it.”  Kurama looked down at him then, this torn look in his eyes, the only time Naruto ever remembered seeing his guardian at odds with himself.  “He defeated me.  A little, insignificant human.  A fleshbag.  I will never stop hating him for that.  And I will never stop respecting him.  Minato Namikaze was infuriating and a ditzy pretty boy at all the worst times.  But he could inspire loyalty like no other Kage I’ve ever watched from within my prisons.  Love him, fear him or hate him, your father was powerful and his legacy lives in you.  Never forget that kit.”

The hours between the capital and Konoha passed in silence, Naruto lifting his hand every now and then to run his fingers over the makeshift bracelet of abalone shell and ribbon in a self-soothing motion he’d thought had been trained out of him years ago.

Behind his back Haku and Kimimaro traded guarded looks as the gates of Konoha came into view and their pace slowed to a walk a few yards away, Naruto’s spine snapping straight as if it’d been infused with steel.

It was quite the sight.

For all their travels and training and bounty hunting missions, all of the human inhabitants of Raijin Valley had kept well away from Konohagakure.

The Hidden Village of the Leaf or Village Hidden Among the Leaves, Konoha was round with high walls embedded with barrier seals and defenses designed by the first two Hokage, the Senju brothers, and the first’s best-friend Madara Uchiha the original Konoha missing-nin.  More than a handful of shinobi major clans and a dozen minor ones made their homes within the encircling walls plus civilians.  The main thoroughfare cut straight through the village leading from the main gates all the way to the Hokage Mountain that loomed over the Hokage Tower and it was down this street that Kakashi led the trio.

Tiger ran ahead once they passed the gates, the guards Kotetsu and Izumo merely watching as the strangers were led into the village of their own free will but surrounded by none other than a squad of ANBU and the Hokage’s personal bodyguard.

As Naruto stepped foot through the gates and into Konoha proper, Haku and Kimimaro closed in taking up position just a pace off his left and right shoulders respectively and allowing his father’s former bodyguards to come in as well though they stayed a few more paces back as they shadowed the trio.

Seeing the change in position, Kakashi looked back and smiled beneath his mask, his visible eye crinkling.

“Welcome home, Naruto-kun.  You’ve been missed.”

It was a perfectly ordinary day when it happened.

Sasuke was watching his little brothers for his mother.  They were in the last few days of the New Year break before Academy classes started back up and his brother Itachi had been sent for by his cousin and Hokage late the previous night so wasn’t around to help wrangle the adorable demons while Mother had her hands full with the even more adorable demons that were their toddler sisters who were well entrenched in their terrible twos.  Having his hands overfull with seven-year-old Masaru begging for lessons in Fire jutsu and five-year-old Kousuke’s puppy-dog-eyes-of-doom for kunai practice, Sasuke leapt for the stand-by of beleaguered brothers everywhere: distracting them with sweets.

They’d get a sugar high, run it all off on the playground, and then crash into comas as soon as they got home.

Mother and Itachi probably won’t approve – given that this was hardly the first time he’d used the tactic when he was facing the littles alone and outnumbered and past experience told him he was at least looking at disappointed glances from Itachi-nii though if it got her some peace of mind Mother usually let it slide – but desperate times called for desperate measures and the dango shop was enough of a walk from both the compound and the Hokage Tower that he wasn’t likely to get caught before his objective was complete.

He’d gotten Masaru and Kousuke settled with their sticks of dango, looks of unholy glee on their cute faces that hid the demons they truly were on the inside like proper chibi-Uchiha, when the glint of silver coming down the street caught his attention through the glass window of the dango shop.

Like most of the popular shops in the village, the dango shop was on the wide main street along with others like the Yamanaka flower shop and Ichiraku’s ramen stand or other important buildings such as the police station, library, the Academy and Admin building, and the Hokage residence estate all leading up to the Hokage Tower that overlooked the village as a whole.

It was a particular shade of silver, one he’d had seared into his memory even with his Sharingan yet to activate, as it had been in and around the Uchiha compound, his cousin Shisui, and his older brother for years now: the color of Kakashi Hatake’s hair.  Sasuke had started equating Hatake-san’s hair with trouble probably about the time his brother became the shinobi’s kohai and Sasuke as a result saw his brother less and less for the next couple of years.  Technically Itachi despite being a jounin for years now was still the shinobi’s kohai, even though Itachi spent more time helping his mother and the other Uchihas with their littles than he did standing behind Shisui’s desk and looking menacing.

And no, that wasn’t Sasuke’s description of his brother’s position as Hokage bodyguard, it was Hatake-san’s.

That Hatake-san’s success as Itachi’s senpai made it exceedingly likely that he’d be Sasuke’s jounin-sensei was a reality he was currently staunchly ignoring, thank you very much.

It wasn’t that he still blamed Hatake-san for getting to spend less time with his brother like he did before he started maturing and understanding what it was to be a shinobi.

It was that Hatake-san was widely acknowledged as an effective but – and it was a large but – unorthodox instructor for his handful of students he’d ever taken on either officially or casually.

Sasuke was half-serious about the idea that the man was infected with some sort of viral form of ridiculousness that infected everyone that spent large amounts of time in close proximity to him.  Shisui’s obnoxious cheerfulness, Itachi’s habit of transforming into a murder of crows whenever he felt uncomfortable in a social situation, and Sai’s…everything simply compounded this belief.  How Shin between Hatake-san and ROOT managed to be as well-adjusted as he was, was a question that boggled the mind.

He was also an alpha that the elders were more than a little resentful over missing their original chance at securing into an alliance through mating and marriage with the death of Obito Uchiha and were pushing hard for Sasuke to succeed where Obito-san’s death had forced him to fail.

As Sasuke had zero intention of mating with anyone that had as many ghosts and shadows haunting him as Hatake-san, anything that took the older shinobi out of the village for more than a day was a boon.

The shinobi rumor mill being what it was, Sasuke was well-aware that Hatake-san had been sent to the Flower and Willow Ball to investigate a debuting hangyoku and assumed he was returning which meant the return of the elders “encouraging” him to mate the Hatake clan head or failing that one of their own grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Such had been Sasuke’s life since his presentation as the rare once-a-generation occurrence of an Uchiha male omega, a trend that went back to the Warring States era and the most famous of them all: Madara Uchiha.

And then he looked beyond the gravity-defying hair that filled him with a sense of oncoming doom regarding his genin team placement and he felt the world shake under his sandaled feet as his vision became blind to everything but blue and gold.

“Sasu-nii!  Sasu-nii!  Your eyes are red like Tachi-nii’s!!!”

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Nine: Running the Gauntlet

Utterly ignorant to the Uchiha he’d left shaken and stunned far behind him in the center of the village, Naruto quickly cataloged the trio of visible occupants in the Hokage’s office as the door clicked shut behind him and his companions.

His father’s bodyguards remained outside the door and Tiger was nowhere to be seen, leaving the meeting to Kakashi-kun, the Hokage, a male who could be no one abut another Uchiha if a bit younger than the Hokage if Naruto was any judge, and a blond male whose hair was a natural paleness rather than Naruto’s sun-kissed gold plus Naruto, Haku, and Kimimaro.

Well.

Them and whatever members of Konoha’s infamous ANBU lingered in the shadows.

The ability from Kurama to sense chakra and strong emotions wasn’t much help in a room as saturated with chakra as the Hokage’s office and watchfulness and caution weren’t emotions as much as they were states of mind.

He thought based on the best positions to attack and guard in the room that there had to be at least one on a near-invisible lip running about three feet short of the ceiling and another in the potted plant in the corner.

Or if they were half-decent with transformation jutsu they were the plant in the corner, which would be the post Naruto would go for if it were him.

The Hokage stood in front of his desk rather than behind it, removing a barrier either in a wordless gesture of trust or a threat – considering it was Shisui of the Body-Flicker it really could go either way though all reports leaned more towards the former than the latter – with his cousin on his right and Kakashi-kun falling in on his left once he’d run through the introductions.

Interesting.

Kakashi-kun was his enforcer, not his own cousin.

From what Naruto had been told of the Uchiha – including Kurama’s many years of experience with them – that seemed a clear divergence from their standard operating behavior.  But then, according to rumor, Shisui Uchiha wasn’t quite cut from the same cloth as the rest of the Uchiha, probably how they’d avoided an uprising from the Hyuuga clan when he’d been made Hokage given the long-standing rivalry between the two clans over which version of dojutsu was superior and between Fugaku Uchiha and Hiashi Hyuuga, the current clan heads, in particular.  There was a reason that the council of clans saw more of Mikoto Uchiha and Hizashi Hyuuga than their respective leaders since it was about the only way to get anything done if Zabuza’s sources were to be believed regarding the current political state of Konoha.

The blond was apparently Inoichi Yamanaka, head of the Yamanaka clan.  He wasn’t an unexpected addition to the proceedings of getting Naruto back in the fold of Konoha.  He just hadn’t thought it would be right out of the gate.

If nothing else, Shisui Uchiha was clearly less trusting than Hiruzen Sarutobi, which given what they’d heard of the goings-on in Konoha – Naruto’s neglect included – wasn’t a bad thing.

Just…inconvenient.

Naruto already had enough people running around in his head, thanks, without the Yamanaka head trying to poke around, ferret out his secrets, and otherwise rearrange the furniture.

With the Yamanaka poking around, the fox was going to be out of the bag in almost no time at all since Kurama wasn’t about to tolerate that nonsense, which changed how he had to handle the situation before they even really got started.

Haku and Kimimaro had been trained specifically to deal with Yamanaka mental intrusions as this was a turn of events they’d assumed would be in the offing for them as borderline missin-nin and unaffiliated bounty hunters seeking admission to Konoha being interviewed by T&I was a foregone conclusion.

Since anyone trying to mess with Naruto’s head got treated to Kurama’s fangs no matter how skilled, he’d have to own up to knowing about Kurama from the get go, even if Yamanaka’s reaction likely would’ve been entertaining.

Funny: yes.

Best way to build good will with a clan head: not so much.

He was best friends with Minato and knew Kushina.  Kurama whispered.  He should know he can’t access your mind.  It’s whether they expect you to know or if the Uchiha is aware of that is the real question.

Fuzzball had a point.

“Hatake-san tells me that you would like to make your home in Konoha, Uzumaki-san.”  Shisui began once the niceties had been observed, eyes flickering over the trio and cataloging them from the tips of their hair to the bottom of their sandals – or feet in the curious case of the jinchuuriki.  Odd.  But given he was a shinobi or close to one from Kakashi’s report, not the oddest thing he’d ever seen from a shinobi.  “While there are questions regarding your absence from Konohagakure to be answered, you are still listed as a citizen.  Your companions on the other hand will have to apply for citizenship and submit to a full battery of tests to ensure they pose no threat to the security of the village or the safety of its citizens.”

“We expected nothing less, Hokage-sama.”  Naruto tilted his head in a not-quite-bow of agreement.  “We’re wanderers but not entirely ignorant.”

Reaching into one of the sealed pockets hidden in his coat, Naruto sent a soft pulse of chakra into the seal protecting the interior, unknowingly – as to him it was something he did all the time and normal – showing off a level of chakra control that was rare in both an Uzumaki and a jinchuuriki of his age, especially for an Uzumaki raised outside of his clan.  From the protected space, he held out a pair of scrolls bound in simple ribbons – copies, only – and prepared for one of dozens of plans they’d made regarding his return to Konoha.  Twin pairs of eyes flickered red, then at a nod from Shisui, Kakashi took the scrolls and handed them over to the Hokage.

Not quite the chakra sensing ability of Byakugan, Sharingan could still detect things regular vision missed and dispel genjustsu in the literal flicker of an eye.

Living up to his name as one of the swiftest shinobi in the Elemental Nations – if not all the world – Shisui had the scrolls opened, scanned by his Sharingan, and processed in the time it took Kakashi and Itachi to lean over his shoulders and Inoichi to look away from studying his best-friend’s son and arch a brow at his Hokage.

Kakashi must’ve had a stroke at the sight of him.

If not for the fox markings on his cheeks and a bit of Kushina around the mouth, the kid was the spitting image of his old man.

Add some three-pronged kunai with the Hiraishin seals scribed on them and a red-head at his side and the lookalike contest would go from shoe-in to fucking eerie.

He half-wished he was there when ol’ stick in the mud Fugaku got a look at the kid.  Nothing like seeing a doppleganger of a former teammate alive and kicking to stop a heart.  They hadn’t partnered up until they made jounin what with Minato being Jiraiya’s apprentice for fuinjustsu but adding a Mangekyo Sharingan user in conjunction with someone of Minato’s speed, ability, and control of a battlefield had been devastating, even before the blond menace had perfected Hiraishin.

“Copies of an official treaty of alliance.”  Shisui lifted his brows, setting the scrolls down on the desk behind him.  “Between the Uzumaki Clan of Uzushio and Konohagakure and the Yuki Clan of Kirigakure and signed with the clan head seals.  Accompanied by a contract of filial and enduring vassalage between the Uzumaki Clan, again signed with the clan head seal, and their retainer Kimimaro Kaguya and any descendants he may have.”  The corner of Shisui’s mouth lifted, entertained almost despite himself.  “You know that, technically, you’re not the head of your clan yet Uzumaki-san.”

“On the contrary,” Naruto countered, Kurama rumbling a laugh filled with malicious amusement at getting one over on an Uchiha.  “According to the laws and accords between the Fire Daimyo and the Whirlpool Daimyo – which are still in effect and valid so long as there is a single surviving member of the Whirlpool Daimyo’s direct family line to uphold it – a member of the Uzumaki Clan is considered an adult according to the traditions of the clan and not the country, city, or village in which they may happen to reside.  Traditionally, as I’m sure Konohagakure has some record or knowledge of as we’ve had a branch or representative of our clan here since the Founding, Clan Heirs are considered adults once they’ve completed an apprenticeship.”  Granted, that apprenticeship was usually in their traditional clan skill of fuinjustsu but…  “Which as of my performance last night I have done as a hangyoku and am, therefore, the Head of my Clan.”

Kakashi gave up all pretense of playing stoic and buried his face in his hand.

That cunning little shit.

Oh yeah, he was raised by foxes alright.  Anyone who had to deal with him in the process of getting whatever the fuck Naruto-kun wanted would never doubt that in the least.  Little bastard planned like a Nara.

Shisui traded a glance with Inoichi, the short grimace the head of T&I gave him saying it all.

If the Hokage wanted a form of control over Uzumaki, he wasn’t going to get it that way.

“The direct line of the Whirlpool Daimyo being…”  Itachi nearly sighed under his breath as Shisui answered: “The Uzumaki Clan.”

Uzushio had been a hidden village, yes, but Whirlpool Country had been a small one, mostly a single island protected by their natural whirlpools and riptides – and a single, extremely powerful and competent, clan of shinobi with a mastery over creating, altering, and using seals.

That clan?  The Uzumaki.  And unlike in other hidden villages where they had several or many clans attempting to live together and struggling for power and prominence, Uzushio had been all Uzumaki, Uzumaki branch families, or Uzumaki retainers plus civilians that took the protection offered from the clan and counted their blessings since it was the Uzumakis who’d for so long kept them safe from invasions and depredations of Water Country and the bloodthirsty clans of Kiri.  That the Clan Head of Uzumaki had doubled as the Whirlpool Daimyo had surprised exactly nobody.

That they hadn’t tried for official recognition as a one of the five great Hidden Villages was more prudence on the Daimyo’s part as all of the five had a separation of shinobi and civilian affairs that wasn’t present in Uzushio from their founding before the Warring States Era until its destruction to spark off the Second Shinobi War.

“Not interested in being Daimyo?”  Kakashi asked with a tilt of his head once he’d recovered his public persona.

Naruto snorted.  “Of what?  A boneyard?  Uzushio is a ruin and even with Kiri-nin no longer slitting each other’s throats every two seconds I wouldn’t want to make waves with Water Country just starting to stabilize as a whole now that the Mizukage as Kirigakure under control.  I’ll take my chances with reforming the Clan on the mainland, thanks.  So.”  He tilted his head with a half-smile.  “Those questions you wanted to ask?”

At least with the alliance and vassalage in place Konoha couldn’t keep Haku-chan and Kimi-kun in a cell without running the risk of having him pull a runner that would make the last one look like a summer daydream, though it wouldn’t totally protect any of them from the consequences if the Hokage – with that thick strand of Uchiha-cold that Kurama had warned him about over and over again – decided they were a threat.

Taking that as the compliance it was, Shisui nodded to the ANBU in the corner who canceled their henge and left the shadows to escort the pair to T&I for questioning – the aforementioned “tests” – where they’d be interviewed by the teams standing by and a medic would take samples to ensure they were who they said they were.

The Konoha hospital labs didn’t quite have a complete listing of known clans and their genetic profiles but thanks to science-minded shinobi like Tobirama Senju and the now missing-nin Orochimaru they weren’t that far off either.

“This way,” Dove directed them in her low alto.  “Yuki-tono, Kaguya-san.”

The three companions traded glances, an almost-hidden flicker of an eye roll from Naruto showing just how excited he was to sit through an interrogation – call it what they liked, with the head or former head or whatever of Torture and Interrogation sitting at ease in the Hokage’s office that’s what it was – with two-and-a-half Sharingan users and a Yamanaka.

That it was Haku and Kimimaro with him and not Yagura or Zabuza was the only reason they weren’t laughing their asses off at his put-upon micro-expression, though Kurama had no such compunction if the howls of laughter ringing inside his head were any sign.

The ANBU’s form of address towards Haku at least told him that they were going along with the common thought of him being the last of his clan and being of a certain age giving him the respect due him as a clan head – even if he’s not, technically, a Konoha clan head.

Being the last of a clan, let alone the Head, carried problems of its own in a place like Konoha but if the Council of Clans valued their collective lives none of them would start out from the gate trying to require any of them to breed.

That was really where the scrolls aligning them in one way or another with Uzumaki were worth their weight in gold.

“How did you really leave, Uzumaki-san?”  Shisui asked as soon as the door was sealed behind the others.  “Blood and light leaves a lot of ground for interpretation.”

If the triad hadn’t figured out that Kakashi had left them with a clone on entering the village to report, that was on them.  In the meantime it let Shisui have a bit – no matter how small – of an upper hand as the others had no way to know what all he’d been told.  It wasn’t much, but he’d take it.  Especially after living in an information deficit regarding the last Uzumaki and jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi for so many years.

“Did you know that for a time after sealing a bijuu they're at their most vulnerable as their chakra adjusts to the new container?”  Naruto offered a totally true fact as misdirection.  Kurama, Masashi, Yagura, and Utakata had prepped him well before he even stepped outside of Raijin Valley.  “It can take years for them to recover.  Not a pleasant thing to deal with over and over and over again, even for an ancient being formed of pure chakra.”

No matter what, Naruto and Kurama were agreed on one point: no one could ever know beyond the bijuu and the Boss Foxes that to kill Naruto was to kill Kurama.

No one.

Anything else was up in the air and at Naruto’s discretion but not that.

“Interesting enough,” Naruto continued as the others processed, trying to make the puzzle pieces that made up a misshapen version of Naruto Uzumaki intentionally created to obscure the full picture fit in some sort of order that made sense to each of them.  Each picture would be a little different.  That was just true in general and a matter of perception.  But he could give them fuzzy-outline to work with, like a shadow clone transformed just enough – like hiding his whiskers – to keep his identity hidden.  “The more powerful the bijuu, the longer it takes.  Puts the Kyuubi into a wicked-grumpy mood for years until he adjusts.  Then he’s normal-grumpy instead.”

Itachi and Shisui sucked in harsh breaths almost in perfect unison as their genius minds connected the dots, Kakashi one step behind them and leaving Inoichi in the dust, though it was Itachi who said it.

“You’re a perfect jinchuuriki.”  He stated, not a doubt in his mind based around how comfortable Uzumaki-kun was returning to a place where he’d been inarguably mistreated and couldn’t be totally sure of his welcome or how they’d treat them now versus then even with Kakashi-senpai’s bloody-swathe he’d cut through Konoha’s underbelly or Shisui-kun being made Hokage.

Why wouldn’t he be comfortable?

Anyone would be with the chakra levels of an Uzumaki and those of a bijuu to back them up.

Even if all Uzumaki-kun knew was the repertoires of Yuki-tono and Kaguya-san, he was still more powerful than almost everyone they could feasibly send after him.

He had nothing to fear, nothing to lose, and potentially everything to gain.

In Uzumaki-kun’s shoes, Itachi would’ve been comfortable too.

“Mmm.”  Naruto hummed under his breath, nodding shortly.  “In the Kyuubi’s experience, while demonizing him and the other bijuu, turning them into nothing more than blood-thirsty mindless monsters, worked well as a way to pacify the populace during the Shodai’s reign, it also had the effect of branding them as dumb animals.  And people will act in certain ways, do things, discuss things in front of a dumb animal that they wouldn’t in front of an intelligent, ancient force that had thoughts and emotions and family when the pinnacle of human accomplishment was fire.”  Naruto arched a brow at the chagrined looks exchanged between the four Konoha shinobi, not one of them able to dispute his point. 

Telling them what he was severely lessened the chance that they’d underestimate him but it was necessary regardless since shinobi didn’t rise to offices like the Head of Torture and Interrogation or personal bodyguards-slash-hitmen of the fucking Hokage without a healthy bit of paranoia regarding, well, everything.

If they were going to be suspicious of him, and they would no matter what he said or did until their paranoias eased, he’d rather it was for the right reasons and not whatever twisty bullshit they thought up for themselves.

“Having me summon myself to the Foxes when the Kyuubi had serious doubts about my longevity if I continued to exist within Konoha as an orphan is only one of the things he figured out after living within and watching everything around two of the most powerful kunoichi of the Uzumaki Clan to ever make their homes in Konohagakure.  If he couldn’t free himself in a hundred years of imprisonment before me then keeping me alive instead of being shoved into a new container every few years is his best option.”  Naruto said bluntly.  “As long as seal masters capable of containing a bijuu still exist, he knows he won’t be allowed freedom.  A détente in the wake of that realization when my dad managed to seal him in me in the middle of a battle with an Uchiha while the Kyuubi ran rampant in Konoha was only in his best interest.”

“That probably tops the list of things I never thought I’d hear.”  Kakashi said, scratching at his jaw over the mask.  “Kushina-chan always made him sound like a snarling ball of rage and hate.”

“Oh, he can be.”  Naruto smiled with far too much genuine enjoyment for the others’ druthers given his next words.  “Just being in the same room as an Uchiha with the Mangekyou has him all-but-frothing at the mouth,” a bit of an overstatement, Kurama was far more rational than that, but he definitely wasn’t comfortable with it no matter what the fleshbags thought.  “And he’s not fond of the Senju or Uzumaki as a whole either.”  He rolled his eyes a bit.  “That I happen to be an Uzumaki makes things a bit awkward when he goes on one of his rants about Mito-hime but it is what it is.”

“Somehow I have a feeling that’s something of a mantra for you.”  Inoichi observed.  Not having taken his eyes off of Uzumaki once since his best-friend’s son walked through the door and for more reasons than one.

“Foxes are practical creatures.”  Naruto shrugged.  “Survival of the fittest, law of the wild, live and let live, whatever homily words for you.  The Kyuubi saved me – he did.  Whatever his motivations.  Whatever his rationale, he saved me when this village was content to let me rot.”  He met Inoichi’s gaze for the first time full-on.  “Out of sight, out of mind, right?  If my father would’ve lived, you,” he nodded towards the Yamanaka clan head.  “You’ve been Inoichi-ji.  He,” he tilted his head towards Kakashi.  “Would’ve been Kakashi-niisan.  He at least tried to protect me and give me what comfort he could working around – what I assume anyway – was some kind of order from the Hokage.  Where were you, Inoichi-ji?  Why was the main influence in my formative years a chakra construct trapped inside my soul, a skulk of spirit foxes, and some all-but-missing-nin?”

“Then why did you come back?”  Shisui asked the pertinent question.  “If you’re still so angry with us, and it’s clear you are let’s not pretend, why come back?”

That the young jinchuuriki could’ve stayed hidden like the others still were went without saying.

If it hadn’t been for the public spectacle, a rather unsubtle but clever trap in hindsight, Naruto Uzumaki could’ve lived out his life in anonymity.

“Because humans are pack animals,” Naruto answered honestly, fingering his abalone charm again, the motion easily caught by the others.  “We’re made for family, for friends and companions.  I have the latter and have something like the former but the family I should have had was sacrificed for this place,” he lifted his hands in an encompassing motion.  “The day I was born.  A heavy price was paid for Konoha.  My parents.  My blood.  My childhood and a lot of my innocence.  All given on the day I was born.  I want to know if it was worth it.  That’s why I came back and why Haku-nii and Kimi-kun followed me here.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.”

While the group in the Hokage’s office were coming to an agreement that no one was particularly happy with – making it an almost perfect example of a political compromise – Haku was mercilessly running circles around the poor suckers who’d been designated for his “interview” and Kimimaro was being a little shit.

In other words as soon as his Yamanaka pulled his mind-jutsu to take a look inside his head he tossed the kunoichi head-first into the cage his loving relatives used to keep him in when they weren’t forcing him to blitz their enemies.

By the time the pair were returned to their companion in the atrium of the Hokage Tower, Naruto dismissed – and frustrated, and dealing with an emotional torrent that was giving him whiplash let alone everyone else – with a list of conditions he and his companions were going to have to abide by while they were in Konohagakure all three sets of interrogators were more than glad to see their backs, Inoichi was revisiting the idea of retirement, and at least one of his people was making an appointment with the Psyche Department of T&I for a check-in.

Head-cases was the considered opinion regarding Konoha’s newest residents.  Each and every one of them was a head-case.  The question then became, once that was established, were they the sort of head-cases that could be assets or were they the sort that had a cup of sake too many and decided to slaughter every civilian in sight or an entire clan for giggles.

To which the educated and experienced interrogators of T&I responded that…they weren’t sure.

The odds Inoichi gave Shikaku, who like Inoichi was still the head of T&I was one of the Hokage’s chief advisors and the Jounin Commander, was an eighty-twenty split depending on how the village reacted to Naruto’s return and change in status from nobody orphaned jinchuuriki to Clan Head and perfect jinchuuriki with allies and friends at his back.

That all three of them, despite circumstances that couldn’t – and probably should’ve – swung them another way, still managed to form deep and so far enduring bonds with each other made the odds what they were instead of a more likely fifty-fifty or worse split.

Which in turn made the challenge to convince them to form similar bonds to, if not Konoha as a whole, then at least shinobi who were loyal to Konoha.

That, as far as the Hokage was concerned, was the sticking point.

And as they were all unmated, he had a damn good idea of how to manage it.

“Since we’re being released I’m guessing they’re willing to give us a shot?”  Kimimaro noted dryly as he was handed the scroll with his weapons that had been sealed away before they’d entered the gates of the village, much like Haku’s senbon – that the others could find – and kunai as well as Naruto’s whip and various sharp-and-pointy things. 

The others were being handed their own sealing scrolls, though at least one of the ANBU had body language showing how not happy they were about this turn of events even if they wouldn’t publicly challenge the Hokage’s ruling.

“With caveats, yes.”  Naruto told him, slipping his various sharpened kanzashi that he’d had to trade for simple wooden sticks back into his hair, all of them making quick work of weaponing-up.  He wasn’t the only one that’d been on tenterhooks or feeling naked without his tools, though even stripped of weapons only an idiot would expect a shinobi to be unarmed.  What all of them could do with either ninjutsu or their bloodline talents made them far more dangerous without an obvious weapon like a kunai than they were with them.  “For one,” he sighed pointing over his shoulder at the slouchy form that remained when the rest of the ANBU melted back into the shadows.  “Meet our gracious host while the Uzumaki Compound is cleaned up and readied for occupancy.”

How much of what the Konoha shinobi were being willing to share was from wanting to win his loyalty or because they figured Kurama might know and tell him anyway he didn’t know.

Either way, there was an Uzumaki Compound despite him being originally dumped in an orphanage after the civilians threw a fit over the “monster spawn” living in comfort with the Sarutobi clan, and once he opened the barrier seals and gone through the place to dismantle any traps – or put up his own over anything that should stay private and/or hiden – he’d do the paperwork for some genin teams to clean the place up and help with repairs or whatever else needed doing that he wasn’t going to have time for.

Because he’s going to be joining the graduating class at the Shinobi Academy when it reconvened in a few days.

Fuck his life.  He’d wanted to get to know others his age, maybe meet some eligible mating prospects, but still.  Shinobi Academy.  Over two dozen teenagers plus the attached – if he understood the Hokage’s description correctly – Medic, Admin, and basic Academies and all their students.  Fuck his life.

Haku and Kimimaro, once they aced their skill evaluations tomorrow, were going to be active shinobi if on probation for the next year like him.  Haku-niisan would probably end up working as a field medic-nin if he had his way, still preferring to take care of others rather than kill no matter how good of an assassin he’d become.  Kimi-kun’s vassalage meanwhile only allowed him to take missions at Naruto’s discretion.  Which wouldn’t be happening per the agreement with Kurama, the foxes, and the others until they were dead certain no one was going to try and assassinate him without Kimi-kun to watch his back.

“When is that happening?”  Haku asked as they fell in behind their laconic host, ignoring the ANBU that surrounded them as if they were civilians and not able to tell they were there.  That was fine.  He’d rather know that a kunai was at his back than have to worry a kunai was at his back.

“We’ll let it take a month.”  Naruto decided openly, giving those who needed to know a heads-up on how long he’ll tolerate close-quarters suspicion before he started doing things about it.  If they weren’t trusted to have a modicum of privacy in their home by that point he doubted they ever would be.  Better to know.  “By that point they should at least trust we’re not going to start eating babies.”

“Oh, is that what the stories of Kiri-nin have us doing now?”  Haku snarked back.  “Or is that Kaguya clansman and jinchuuriki?”

“Luck of the draw,” Naruto shared a smirk with his companions as one of the more obvious guards gave a nearly-imperceptible flinch.  “Could go either way.”

“Please don’t terrify your guards, Naruto-kun.”  Kakashi said mildly as he led them through the southern shinobi district which started with the library, T&I, and the Rehabilitation center nearest the Hokage Monument.  It southern third of the village was – basically – one giant shinobi district compared to the smaller version at the northwestern quadrant.  Included was the Hatake Compound.  “The Hokage does enough of that already for one village.”

Naruto could say one thing for the part of the village Kakashi was leading them through: when he’d lived here before it at least was one of the places he didn’t have to worry over being found after dark.  Whenever an Uchiha patrol or clansman – including their civilians – or the same from the Hyuuga or Yamanaka Compounds or a random shinobi from one of the smaller clans or living in the shinobi-owned apartments in the district found him they wouldn't curse at him or call him names or swat at him.  The worst that would happen was they’d be busy and he’d get shooed away.  Most of the time however he would just get taken back to the orphanage on the street that curved from the main street’s marketplace and civilian district down along the southern part of the city and was separated from the shinobi district by the Naka River and shinobi training grounds that ran along it.

It took several minutes moving at Kakashi’s meander cross the village from the Tower to the Hatake Compound – the existence of which he knew about, theoretically, but until he saw the gates for himself he hadn’t placed.

And for good reason.

“Last time I saw this place,” Naruto mused as Kakashi made a few hand signs to disarm the security on the gate then ushered them onto the compound’s grounds.  “It looked haunted.  Like no one had been here for…”

“Years?”  Kakashi offered with a sardonic lift of his visible brow, taking in the trio as they took in the sight of his refreshed home.  Naruto-kun was finally home…if a bit later and under different circumstances than he’d hoped for.  Still.  Beggers and choosers and all that.  “About twenty, give or take.”  He waved a hand as he nearly bled a disinclination to answer questions on the subject.   “You’re not the only ones who’re the last of your clans in Konoha, though we’re not as numerous as some like to think.”

As soon as he heard it for himself, Kakashi winced as his new houseguests shared another one of those wordless moments of understanding.

Yeah.

Not exactly his best selling point for staying and becoming loyal Konohagakure shinobi.

He’d work on it.

Kakashi was not letting Minato-sensei’s son disappear again.

 

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Ten: Reputation

That night, while the three newcomers were settling into the largest guestroom available at the main house of the Hatake Compound, the main family of the Uchiha Clan was gathering to discuss a new – and startling – turn of events, one even more profound than the second-son of the Clan’s main family presenting Omega as had happened two years before.

Venerable elders of the Clan had wanted Sasuke pulled from the Academy at once and either hidden away for his “shame” as the first publicly-known male omega in the clan’s main family since Madara or married off immediately to his cousin and alpha Shisui or failing that used to finally gain the much-desired alliance with the Hatake Clan however it could be managed.

Obito, being from a distant line of the family and only one-step from a clan civilian, didn’t quite count as for the most part no one really cared for what he did, only what his death robbed the clan of: a chance to ally with the Hatake Clan’s prodigious genius turned clan head in Kakashi Hatake.

Shisui and Itachi had, politely, told the elders what they thought of that plan and the elders and main family had lived a strange détente ever since.

Sasuke continued to train as a shinobi as his power made anything else a distinct waste of his innate talent.

The elders seethed.

And the three alphas of the main family remained an indestructible barrier between anyone who would attempt to force Sasuke into an arrangement or similar decision against his will, while his mother and fellow omega taught him every underhanded, dirty and low-down trick she knew so he could keep himself safe instead of relying on the strength of others, even those as strong and fierce as his father, brother, and cousin.

The younger kids were all tucked in bed – or at least they were supposed to be, considering how precocious both Sasuke and Itachi were at Masaru’s age they weren’t willing to place bets on whether he stayed put or not – by the time Shisui and Itachi made it after Mikoto’s message made it clear that failing an actual, current ongoing blood-in-the-streets attack on the village they were to haul their asses over to the main house.

All they knew was that it wasn’t an emergency in the sense of imminent attack, pain, or death (or one being needed on Sasuke’s behalf if the elders or other schemer found a way around their jutsu and seal protections keeping him from a forced mating) but was more a family concern requiring their presence.

Given that one of them was the Hokage and the other the Hokage’s right hand, it was a demand that pretty much only said-bodyguard’s mother and said-Hokage’s closest family after his own parents died could make.

“What’s going on?”  Shisui asked as he took his place kneeling on the cushion left out for him in the family’s living area, Itachi kneeling on a cushion at his right, ever-proper even – or perhaps especially – in his family home after he greeted his parents and little brother, the latter with a tap of his first two fingers to Sasuke’s forehead. 

Shisui’s eyes flickered between the three other Uchihas, knowing in a glance that whatever was going on it had left Fugaku far more shaken than Mikoto who was almost amused while Sasuke didn’t know what to think one way or the other.

It didn’t need to be said that it was important as Shisui briefed Fugaku himself on their new would-be citizens.

He wasn’t thrilled to say the least over some of the details he’d hashed out with Uzumaki.

Then, neither was Shisui and he’d been more than happy to let the misery roll down hill to Konoha’s commanders of the military police force and all of the others who had to be informed to at least some degree regarding the new status quo regarding the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi and his tagalongs.

“Sasuke-kun activated his Sharingan today.”  Mikoto smiled proudly at her fourteen-year-old son who promptly blushed, which puzzled her oldest and Shisui.  At least, until she added: “Without feeling a negative emotion.”

“How?”  Itachi asked, his own Sharingan flickering on and back off again as he stared in wonder at his brother.  “All the traditions, the lore…”

“Say strong emotion in regards to a precious person in the oldest scrolls.”  Shisui told him, sharing a pained glance with Fugaku, the two of them in perfect sync for once despite often butting heads since almost the moment he’d been born, let alone become his cousin’s Hokage.  Fugaku was proud.  That couldn’t be understated.  Having an Uchiha as Kage had been the dream of every Uchiha Clan Head since Madara.  That said, he would’ve preferred it if it was someone who acted more like an Uchiha than Shisui, no matter how powerful his little cousin had grown.  “Anger, hate, grief, are all strong and given that we’re shinobi tend to be experienced before others that might also serve except in rare cases.”

Especially with how young most shinobi used to experience their first kill or death due to constant wars.

“Like your grandfather Kagami.”  Fugaku nodded in agreement with his cousin’s research.  “He told my father that he felt a rush of fear for his teammate but more a desire to protect when his Sharingan activated.”  He smirked.  “I may have been eavesdropping at the time.”  He said with a pointed look over his shoulder that resulted in a flurry of whispers – ah, not just Masaru then – and scarpering feet in the hall.  “But I remember it clearly as it was, before now, the only time I’d heard of someone doing so.”

“Yes,” Shisui nodded back in return.  “He never activated his Mangekyo but his sensei, the Nidaime, thought it might take an equally powerful positive emotion as, well,” he shrugged not wanting to delve into that landmine with the only other Uchiha having a Mangekyo Sharingan alive sitting across from him.  In this, like most things, Kakashi-san’s donated dojutsu didn’t count.  “But it was never proven one way or another.  So, little cousin,” Shisui beamed over at Sasuke.  “What sort of emotion is behind this new development, hmm?”  He teased, having a decent idea given the blush that instantly washed over Sasuke’s face and the nearly-buzzing-with-excitement form of Mikoto.

“I saw…”  Sasuke fumbled over his words a bit, even after having explained to his mother, assorted clan members, and his father already the same thing.  It never stopped being a tangle of emotions and thoughts and instincts and newness that unsettled him however.  “I think,” he corrected since his father had made it clear that instincts were one thing but until there was more to show for his feelings than, well, feelings it wouldn’t be accepted as truth.  “I saw my mate.”

His tone and expression were wondering, showing far more open emotion than usual for an Uchiha, and he didn’t even care.

It was wonderous.

After living with fears of fangirls and arranged marriages and political matches hanging over his head thanks to the prune-faced elders who still held considerable sway with the clan despite the power collected between his father, brother, and cousin, he’d almost given up hope of making a true match like his parents had and he knew Itachi and Shisui both wanted.

For the good of the clan, if it meant his brothers or sisters not having to marry one of the descendants of the elders or someone as reputedly off as Kakashi Hatake, he would’ve done it.

Before.

Now…now all he could see was bright blue eyes and golden-sunshine hair.

Itachi and Shisui exchanged a glance, having a damn good idea of who might have set off Sasuke’s mating instincts and while excited and happy for him – of course they were, they loved him and meeting one’s mate with such a strong initial reaction was an event to celebrate.

But the drama and – worse – paperwork that this was going to cause no matter which one of the three it was would make any even semi-sane shinobi shiver in their sandals.

Especially since two out of three of their new residents were also omegas.

The elders were going to lose their damn minds over the match.  Not because it wouldn’t result in children.  On the contrary, male omegas were just as capable of siring children as any other male.  If anything they would likely have more children than the average mateship with two bearers and two sires.  It was that such pairing traditionally weren’t done.

Omegas belonged with alphas according to tradition.  Period.  End of story.  It was only since the Founding and the rise of shinobi villages that those who were capable of bearing children – except in rare, extremely powerful examples – were given freedoms they hadn’t known among most clans during the Warring States Era.  More and more omegas and females trained as shinobi and less emphasis was placed on traditional matches.

That was the reality of the modern shinobi era.

That didn’t mean dried up old prunes like the clan elders liked or agreed with the changes.

Shisui sighed, rubbing one hand over his eyes then asked: “Blond, brunet, or white hair?”

“Blond.”  Sasuke answered with a blink of surprise.

“Let me guess,” Shisui traded a concerned glance with Fugaku and Mikoto.  “Blue eyes, wearing a coat that had blue waves at the hem?”

“Yes, what…?”  Sasuke looked between the adult shinobi in confusion before turning big black eyes on Itachi, knowing which of the four was the soft-touch.

“His name is Naruto Uzumaki.”  Itachi answered softly.  “He’s the last of his clan and will be taking up the Headship once his probationary period is finished.  He’s the orphaned son of the Yondaime and Kushina Uzumaki but as the Yondaime was a genesis shinobi and Kushina the last Uzumaki before the birth of her son, they gave him her family name.”

Sasuke nodded, understanding that choice the way only a clan child could.  There was a certain order of things in the shinobi world and clans were the very foundation of it.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear that a female heir would marry a genesis shinobi or a secondary child of an allied clan – like a cousin to the main line, usually at least four or five people from being the Heir – and have them take her name rather than his own.  A rare exception where a female from a more powerful family had her children take their father’s name instead was Mito Uzumaki but at that time there were still literal hundreds of Uzumaki clansmen instead of the sole survivor the family had been – apparently – whittle down to in the present day.

They learned about that decision a lot in the histories taught by the clan elders as children before they were even too young to attend the Academy.

Such decisions were binding.

And because Mito Uzumaki didn’t designate even one of her children as an Uzumaki instead of a Senju, the Uzumaki accounts and properties had all been locked down upon the death of Kushina Uzumaki and held in trust by the council of clans and the Hokage until her son and heir came of age.

The Senju were allowed to oversee the trust, ensure that no mismanagement went on, but they couldn’t touch it and they couldn’t get through the Uzumaki seal-barrier wards.

Short-sighted was the consensus of the old biddies, but considering that they also put pressure on his father to marry off all his children into advantageous matches for the good of the clan, Sasuke took everything they said with a grain of salt.

Then Itachi hit him with the fact that was going to be the sticking point: “and he’s an omega.”

Sasuke sucked in a startled breath, Mikoto echoing him even as she ran a comforting hand down his back, both of them knowing just how problematic the situation was going to be on multiple fronts.

Even so, Sasuke squared his shoulders and turned an unbending gaze on his father, eyes flashing red for a brief moment and showing the double tomoe – a rarity, jumping from a single to double on first activation, a feat his older, alpha, brother was infamous for managing – as a sign of his resolve.

If,” Fugaku announced after having a lightning-quick conversation/argument with his wife, Heir, and Hokage that was more glances, hand signals, and fleeting expressions than actual words.  “Uzumaki-san is in fact your mate and the two of you decide to mate and marry, I will ensure that the elders see this as the advantageous match it could be instead of the problem or danger they will be quick to dismiss it,” and Sasuke with it, “as.”  His face firmed, meeting the strong gaze of his little cousin who had grown so much and then his Heir’s in turn, looking between all of his boys who were the shining future of the Uchiha Clan.  “As I will also do for the mates of each and every one of my children.”  He tacitly acknowledged the strong bond between Shisui and his sons as his wife had done not long after Shisui had taken one look at his new Clan Heir when Itachi was born and all-but adopted him and then the rest of Fugaku’s children after him as his own siblings.

That this even needed to be said puzzled Sasuke, though he waited to follow up for after he was dismissed along with his mother and brother, his father and cousin staying to discuss confidential information if the privacy jutsu being used – keyed specifically towards Uchiha – that went up after they left the room was any sign.

“Why would Uzumaki-san be a problem or a danger?”  He asked – and at fourteen he wasn’t naïve.  He could think of several off the top of his head for the most stringent elders regarding keeping their bloodlines pure.  But from the way his father spoke he didn’t think that’s what was in play.  “Because of his parents and clan?”

And dynamic.

Being related to the Senju, granted, wasn’t optimal for an Uchiha mate but it wasn’t like he was a Kiri or Iwa shinobi and the relation if Sasuke understood his clan history correctly was four or five generations back from Uzumaki-san and not a direct connection to him personally.

Itachi sighed after his mother left him with a comforting squeeze to both of their upper-arms to explain, Itachi taking the conversation to his bedroom that he rarely actually saw between Shisui and Kakashi-senpai keeping him busy.  Rare sight or not, the privacy seals were still in place.  Anymore they were force of habit than anything with so many siblings but better safe than sorry.

Shisui had overturned a lot of the Sandaime’s decisions regarding Uzumaki-san, one of the agreements that he’d been at ease with allowing of the things that had been decided in his office that day, but the information wasn’t going to be disseminated, rather left up to the discretion of those in the know to decide when, where, and how it would be shared.

“That’s part of it.”  Itachi admitted, shrugging out of his flak jacket and stepping behind a dressing screen to finish stripping down before putting on a yukata and sandals for a visit to the family hot springs.  If he was spending the night in his own bed for once he was going to take full advantage of it.  “The Yondaime ended the Third Shinobi War almost single handedly and the Uzumaki clan was feared and destroyed for a reason.  Their skill with fuinjustu held a unique understanding and flair that was rarely matched outside of Uzushio and their chakra reserves dwarf every other known clan as a whole though on a case-by-case basis comparing individuals that might not necessarily be true.  Grudges endure in shinobi much as we ourselves do.  What worries Father and our honorable cousin is that because of the formidable power and chakra levels of the Uzumaki they are one of the only families capable of serving as the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.”

 He locked gazes with his wide-eyed little brother, able to read the cogs turning in Sasuke’s clever brain.  Itachi knew he cast a long and dark shadow that his brother struggled to leave and make others see him instead of a lesser-Itachi.  He knew that was foolish.  Sasuke had the potential, especially now, with outdoing even him.  Omega or not.  He couldn’t wait to see it.  Couldn’t wait to watch as each and everyone of his siblings surpassed him in their own ways.

“He used to live here and has only just returned after being removed because that fact was widely known if not discussed and many mistreated him as a result.  His safety and very existence were apparently in question.  It was a time of much upheaval following his removal.  Many people, including many powerful and well-connected people, died or were imprisoned.  And like I said…”

“Shinobi hold grudges.”  Sasuke set his jaw firmly, nodding once in iron-hard resolution as he deciphered the information and warning his brother armed him with.  “I understand.”

“Good.”  Itachi smirked, tapping his anija’s forehead with two fingers even as Sasuke scowled and swiped at his hand.  Still shorter than him though almost as strong.  Where did time always go?  Yesterday Sasuke was as tiny as the princesses, toddling after him on chubby legs and demanding piggyback rides.  Now he was talking about mating the shinobi with the most raw power at his command – in theory – in all Konoha.  “And good luck.  I think with that one you’re going to need it.”

He didn’t say a word about the extremely protective older brother or bodyguard…and they were before he took Kakashi-senpai and the Yondaime’s own former bodyguards into the equation.

No reason to make it easy on Sasuke.

The kid did so love a challenge after all.

On silent feet, even his pajamas not making a sound, Naruto located his host kneeling before the pseudo-shrine Kakashi-kun had set up in one of the many unused – mostly – rooms in the main house.

There were a few pictures, an incense holder, some candles, but what caught Naruto’s attention was the kunai.

It had three prongs with calligraphy running down the handle that even from lingering in the hallway he could feel the power still running through.

Seals.

“Is that…?”  He couldn’t help but ask, shuffling forward as if under a mind-controlling jutsu.

Kakashi didn’t need to look over his shoulder, he’d smelled the strange mixture of wind and water with the faintest hint of the white-hot tangle that was lightning mixing with the muskiness of fox and an undertone of the cosmetics from his hangyoku training that would linger for some time even if he never used them again.

“A Hiraishin kunai, with seal-work inscribed by my sensei.  A gift from him upon my becoming jounin.”  Kakashi said almost robotically though with the man’s son at his back a trickle of grief didn’t quite manage to hide itself as it would otherwise.  “In other words: yes.  One of your father’s Hiraishin kunai.”  He tilted his head, looking up at Naruto-kun through his visible eye, though rather than the hitai-ate tilted over his eyes he wore a simple gray eye-patch that showed the scar cutting over his eyebrow, under the patch, and then peeking out of the bottom over the top edge of his cotton facemask.  “He told me the day he gave it to me, barely in my double-digits and already a jounin in the middle of a bloody war, that the moment it was thrown it would alert him and he’d be at my side in an instant, no matter where he was.”

Naruto folded himself down, cross-legged and staring at both the mini-shrine and Kakashi-kun with intent eyes as Kakashi spoke of his father, a man he’d only ever known through second-hand memories and stories that were more of a…legend, a hero or a demigod, than a flesh-and-blood shinobi.

“Sounds like he really cared about you.”

Kakashi quirked a knowing brow at the blond even without a bitter undertone to Naruto’s words.

“Not as much as he cared about you, more than he cared about the average person, distinctly less than Konoha as a whole.  You weren’t wrong, you know.  I loved that man and even I can admit that he sacrificed who you would have been for Konoha.  He was alone with his dying wife and his newborn son, a rampaging bijuu and evidence of a battle against a human opponent though that much as never been confirmed, and he made a choice.”  Kakashi pursed his lips, turning his head back and staring up at the picture of Team Seven, Minato-sensei beaming with his hands on his and Obito’s young heads.  “Right or wrong, he made it and we have to live with the consequences, you more than anyone.”

“Not just the consequences of his choice.”  Naruto didn’t even pretend to hide the bitterness in that statement.  “For a man who’s supposed to be so very wise, the Sandaime certainly made choices that ended in rivers of blood and oceans of tears.”

Shrugging, Kakashi couldn’t really argue with that and didn’t exactly want to anyway.

“Who are the others,” Naruto asked the question that had nagged at him since he was old enough to wonder about it.  “And why did you come back then?  It would’ve been your heads if you were caught.”

The only thing Naruto could figure for why he didn’t put the pieces together between Inu-san and the prodigy from Kurama’s version of Kushina’s memories was his father requiring Kakashi to wear a skull-cap or hood or something to hide his hair.

That the Sandaime hadn’t cared quite so much if Inu-san’s identity was discovered didn’t come as much of a surprise.

Kurama said the others were his father’s bodyguards but he’d like Kakashi to confirm it anyway.

“Minato-sensei’s bodyguards from when he was Hokage.”  Kakashi told him without giving their actual identities away.  “They’ll probably make nuisances of themselves whenever they can and will be fluttering around you soon enough.”  He smirked at the idea of Iwashi in particular fluttering.  “I’ll leave introducing themselves up to them.  As for why…”  He sighed, looking quickly at that face that broke his heart a little every time he saw it.  Exposure was the only cure for that that he could think of.  Exposure and time.  “It wasn’t a secret how you were treated.  We did what we could until we couldn’t anymore and had to take a risk.”  He shrugged.  “Couldn’t let you think that everyone were like those shit-stains who called themselves caretakers.  A little thing, just a token…it didn’t seem that great of a risk against what could be lost?”

“Your lives?”  Naruto asked, incredulous.

Your life.”  Kakashi corrected.  “No matter what they threw at you, you still smiled.  We thought it was about time you had something to smile about.”

After that, there wasn’t much more for either of them to say, each at ease with where the other stood and having at least a tiny understanding of what made them tick.

They weren’t okay.

Not even close.

But it was a start, a real start, nonetheless.

“When and where do we have to be for your evaluations?”  Naruto asked the next morning after breakfast of rice, fish, and miso soup with pickled vegetables was eaten.

He needed to go over to the Uzumaki Compound that day as well, start checking it for traps and making lists of what needed done to it, but he’d never turn down a chance to watch Haku-nii and Kimi-kun run rings around random jounin.

A message had been sent with the instructions for the older pair’s evals for their official Konoha shinobi rank first thing that morning but Naruto had been busy helping Haku-nii in the kitchen while Kimi-kun read the note Kakashi accepted and handed over from the runner.

“Noon.”  Kimimaro answered from near the sink where he was drying the dishes as Kakashi washed.  As a host the Copy-Nin hadn’t been happy to let them takeover his kitchen but had caved to Haku-nii’s gentle but completely unmovable polite insistence that if they were staying for a month they were going to help with the chores.  “Training ground four.”

“Time for some shopping then,” Haku noted.  “Market, apothecary,” he eyed Naruto’s sour face.  “Clothes for you to wear to school beside your one travel set that still fits.”

Naruto grumbled – quietly, he knew better than to test Haku when it came to taking care of them – but sighed and rose to change into something other than his yukata and underwear, following after Haku-nii like an obedient, if grumpy, duckling as Kakashi watched and smiled under his mask, Kimimaro rolling his eyes at their antics.

Shopping was completed, the trio quite shameless about beginning their tenure with Konoha by buying goodwill as they spent with an open hand and purse at both a shinobi clothier for Naruto – picking up what looked to Kakashi’s experienced eye as a few things for the others they didn’t actually need – and the civilian marketplace for healing herbs and groceries.

Naruto talked a good game about being put-upon and abused by his Haku-niisan but when push came to shove, Kakashi had to hold in snickers more than once as he saw the blond playing the charming young omega complete with fluttering eyelashes to foil the soft-spoken dark beauty of Yuki and the silent, untouchable bodyguard that was Kimimaro.

It was one hell of an act but it was just that: an act.

Though for who’s benefit Kakashi wasn’t entirely sure other than that it wasn’t directed at him.

He wasn’t quite sure what it was, maybe not playing games with Naruto-kun the night before when he came asking questions, or even before that when he didn’t pretend to be anything but overwhelming relief at finding Naruto finally, but they’d stopped with the there-but-not cold shoulder, the tense tip-toeing, and even the little games of testing testing always testing that many skilled shinobi played as easily as they breathed.

Kakashi nodded at Shikaku as they arrived at Training Ground Four precisely on time, moving over to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the jounin commander who was in charge of all evaluations whether to place shinobi into effective teams or for consideration for special circumstances like making jounin in the first place or being selected for ANBU.  Fugaku was standing on Shikaku’s other side, nodding cordially to Kakashi for a split second before focusing with – if Kakashi didn’t know the history – what would otherwise be startling intent on Naruto.  The Uchiha Head and head of the military police hadn’t been Minato-sensei’s best-friend like Inoichi, but he’d known him since their Academy days and been on the same genin team.  Even if Fugaku didn’t have a reason to be there, Kakashi was reasonably certain he would’ve manufactured one to get an idea of what sort of shinobi his former-teammate’s son had been hanging out with and learning from, even if he didn’t need to know the same regarding the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi to keep the village secure as part of his charge as the head of the police.

One by one the four shinobi chosen – an initial opponent plus a backup each – body-flickered in and Naruto nodded to his companions and came to stand by Kakashi who ran a considering eye over the selection.

Though he’d been aware of part of it considering who all’d been chosen.

“The rules are simple.”  Shikaku announced, arms folded over his chest, both foreign shinobi focusing on him with an intensity that would rattle a shinobi not used to dealing with some of the strongest – and strangest – shinobi in all the Elemental Nations as their commander.  “Either a knock-out or until I call it.  Hatake, Sarutobi: you’re on Kaguya.  Hayate, Uchiha: you’re on Yuki.”

The paired-off shinobi nodded to each other and Naruto thought he saw what Nara-san was going for.  Each pair of Konoha-nin had a kenjutsu user and a generalist though the severities were swapped.  For Kimi-kun the kenjutsu was more dangerous/stronger than the generalist, Kakashi-kun’s cousin who lived in one of the compound houses by himself from what Kakashi told them the night before followed by the son of the Sandaime who once served as one of the Twelve Guardian Shinobi, the Fire Daimyo’s elite bodyguards provided by Konohagakure.  Naruto didn’t really know anything about or recognize “Hayate” but Itachi Uchiha needed no introduction.

And said a lot about how leery Konoha was about the Yuki bloodline talent of Ice Release.

Naruto studied the Konoha with a canny eye used to watching his trainers for any sign of weakness as they batted him – and not just the foxes either – all over Raijin Valley then announced loudly:

“A thousand ryo says Kimi-kun sweeps and Haku-niisan downs Hayate-san in one strike.”

Fugaku leaned around Shikaku – Kakashi already shaking on the bet with the golden-haired menace – and asked with carefully-hidden humor: “No odds on how he fares against my son?”

Naruto tilted his head, eyes flickering between the two for a moment.  Wow.  Itachi-san must really take after his mom.  There was definite relation in the sharp cheekbones, the line of the nose, but not enough for him to instantly peg “father-son.”  Though given that he’d mostly been raised with only memories to go off of regarding how to figure out things like that, he thought he wasn’t doing too terrible at it.  He’d known they were related without being introduced at least.

“Nah.”  He smiled crookedly.  “I know my brother, but I only know Itachi-san by reputation and considering how mine reflects on me, I’m not generally inclined to trust them as a sole source of information.”

Fugaku nodded in recognition of the jinchuuriki’s point.  Part of the reason he’d come after all was to begin taking Uzumaki-kun’s measure.  Both as a threat-analysis and as a prospective son-in-law for all that Uzumaki-kun by all accounts was utterly ignorant to the…impression he’d made with his entrance to the village the prior day.

And unless he was completely out of touch with his Heir, that was the same reason Itachi had immediately agreed to being one of the opponents for the foreign-nin to be tested by.

With Uzumaki-kun entering Sasuke’s class, his son would have quite a bit of time and opportunities to see if his initial reaction to Uzumaki-kun were correct or not and that the blond was or wasn’t his mate.

Sasuke’s family had significantly less chances to take the young omega’s measure and so couldn’t afford to dismiss any of them out of hand with such a vital part of his life hanging in the balance.

Haku and his opponents backed over to where the others were standing well-outside of the clearing of the Training Ground, Haku nudging Naruto over with a narrow-eyed look at all the alphas they were surrounded by, with a particularly sharp look at the Uchihas who were infamous in all the Elemental Nations for their possessive alphas.  The elder smelled safely mated but the younger was a different story.  Naruto was far too young for an alpha of Itachi-san’s age, let alone the other alphas that were either visible or lingering out of sight as either part of their guard detail or out of interest for the coming fights.

Kimimaro and Shin Hatake faced each other in the center of the clearing, Sarutobi leaning against a tree smoking with his arms crossed over his chest, and then Shikaku called for the match to begin.

Hatake led with a hail of shruiken, which bounced harmlessly off of a quickly raised earthen wall, Kimimaro flashing through hand signs so fast that both Uchihas and Kakashi activated their Sharingan to track it and – as was their wont – memorize any jutsu used they weren’t familiar with.

The former ROOT member used the distraction of the shuriken to body-flicker behind Kimimaro and set off a blast of lightning which forced Kimimaro to dodge and the last Kaguya spun away, slashing out with a katana freed with a flick of his wrist catching a ricochet of Hatake’s own jutsu on the edge of his chaka-infused blade and batting it back, sending Hatake leaping and rolling away at the unexpected move.

Naruto chuckled as the Konoha shinobi thought on his feet, sending a rain of kunai down on Kimimaro that he dispersed with a showy spin of his katana and a smirk.

“C’mon Kimi-kun!”  Naruto called out.  “Stop playing with him!”

Rolling his eyes, Kimimaro nodded in acknowledgement and copied Hatake’s earlier move by body-flickering behind the shinobi and lashing out with his katana in a feint as his free hand moved through the hand signs for a jutsu – a skill Zabuza had been certain to teach all of his little apprentices though some of them were better at it than others – and finishing the match with a clap of his hands that enveloped Hatake in a two-sided crash of dirt before hardening into an earth-prison.

A wave of Kimimaro’s hand dismissed the ton of dirt before it could seriously damage Hatake, leaving a leveled area of the clearing and a swaying-on-his-feet Shin behind.

Dazed as much by the concussive force of the jutsu as he was by the weight of the dirt, Hatake tumbled to the ground, Kakashi darting in to remove him at a signal from Shikaku and Asuma Sarutobi taking advantage of the distraction he afforded to strike out at Kimimaro.

Knowing that the older shinobi was a lot less likely to underestimate him, especially after watching him finish Hatake-san in short order – which was honestly to be expected from a bounty hunter – Kimimaro parried and set to actually fighting the kenjutsu shinobi.

Unlike Hatake, Asuma was enough of a challenge that the longer they fought the more strikes landed…and then everyone who wasn’t already aware noticed something odd.

“He’s not bleeding.”  Shikaku muttered, eyes narrowed.  He could clearly see the rents in Kaguya-san’s clothing that would need repair and ragged edges of his armor from Sarutobi’s strikes connecting but not a single cut or drop of blood on his body.  “Not even a drop.”

Fugaku cursed as thunderheads crashed over Sarutobi’s brow, the swordsman realizing the same thing their audience had noted: he could hit Kimimaro all he wanted.

It was actually hurting him that was the problem.

Naruto and Haku watched with matching expressions of smugness even as Asuma pressed their friend hard enough – despite not being able to bleed him – that he cut his thumb on one of his canines and swiped the drop of blood on the seal tattoo hidden by the long sleeve of his armor.  A loud whinny rang through the training ground as a stallion as black as night appeared, Kimimaro body-flickering onto the summon’s back and crouching there, katana at ready as the stallion ran in swift circles around Asuma.  Timing was the key.  And as Asuma prepared to dodge a kick from a rearing stallion, Kimimaro flipped over his summon’s head striking out with the hilt of his katana and knocking the swordsman – who against any other bloodline limit than Kimimaro’s probably would’ve done better since he clearly could find holes in Kimimaro’s defense – out.

Sharing a nod with a victoriously-trumpeting stallion, Kimimaro slid his katana back into its hilt as his summons dismissed himself and the other jounin collected their comrade.

“Summons – not necessarily a surprise considering, well,” Shikaku waved a hand at the blond head of Naruto as they were joined by a serene Kimimaro.  “Is the lack of blood a genjutsu or…?”

“Bloodline limit.”  Fugaku knew, though that application of it was interesting and not at all what the flashy Kaguya Clan was known for.  “Rather than forcing his bones to create weapons and projectiles, he’s reinforced his skeleton and skin.”

“And hair.”  Naruto grinned, bouncing in place.  “Though neither of them,” he jerked a thumb at the two unlucky bastards who’d had to fight his Kimi-kun.  “Were dumb enough to go for it.”

“Concussive force,” Kakashi mused, more to himself than the white-haired hunter-nin.  “You can protect against wounds but not internal bleeding from a hard-enough shockwave.”

“Or lightning.”  Shin admitted with a good-natured grin.  “Which is why you had to dodge it instead of take it.”

Kimimaro didn’t agree with either of them but he didn’t deny it either which the others took as acknowledgement of their points.

Though the topic was quickly pushed to the background as Haku glided out into the center of the clearing, Hayate swallowing with a blink before squaring his shoulders and going out to meet what he was relatively certain – given Naruto’s bet and spot-on assessment of Kimimaro vs. Jounin – that he was about to get his ass handed to him.

Politely, of course, complete with a gracious smile.

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Eleven: Haku of the Icy Mist

If it hadn’t already been implied by the stakes of Naruto’s bet, it should be noted that Haku was a formidable opponent for even skilled jounin to face off against one-on-one.

Kimimaro was a tough, fierce shinobi however his skill set, bloodline talent, and elemental affinity for Doton ninjutsu made him an exemplary bodyguard or hunter-nin when called for, but he wasn’t a flashes-and-bangs shinobi.  His preferred displays of Doton were the earth wall or earth cocoon unless in a life-or-death situation.  As had been explained, he focused his talents inward, becoming both sword and shield for his friends and fading more into the background as Haku and Naruto fixed the attention of marks – or as with the current situation – and allies alike.

Haku on the other hand fought and lived with a singular philosophy.  As he preferred not to take a life if it was ever at all avoidable, working swift and silent, taking opponents down hard as he recognized that the longer a fight lasted the more likely it was he would have to kill in order to escape with his life, let alone the bounty he and his friends or sensei were after.  Taught as he was by an assassin and a skulk of foxes that all avoided full-frontal confrontation wherever possible, his fighting style was one of trickery, diversion, and illusion interspersed with strikes so hard and fast that even Zabuza-sensei was impressed. He was the manifestation of personal beliefs coming to loggerheads with the realities of being a bloodline clan shinobi born in a place where that alone put a price on his head or saw him being hunted elsewhere for his talents.

After seeing what Kimimaro was capable of and understanding that Yuki was considered to be more dangerous if not why, Hayate strode into the center of the clearing with calculation written all over his face as he studied the lithe omega who could easily pass for a beautiful woman in his layers of kimono and obi.  It made no sense to Hayate.  All those layers and fabric would tangle and constrict in a fight let alone a skill battle like the other shinobi knew he was in for.

It was like Yuki either wasn’t taking the skill test seriously – which all of them doubted was the case – or he knew something Hayate didn’t otherwise why dress like that for a fight?

The layers of snow-white to icy blues weren’t even a split skirt or wrap hiding divided legs.

They really were kimono.

Not wanting to give Yuki time to conjure the Ice Release that his family had been hunted for, Hayate darted in with swift strikes that Yuki avoided – each and every one – not even lifting his hands from where they rested at ease before him to send out a hail of kunai or the senbon that his bounties reported when interrogated as being his favored weapon.

“What is he doing?”  Fugaku murmured, eyes burning red with the Sharingan as he studied the almost-dance Yuki was leading – despite appearances otherwise – Hayate on.  “He’s taking two or three steps for every one he actually needs to dodge.”

Kakashi smirked under his mask, his own Sharingan spinning lazily as Shikaku picked up on the other bit of strangeness.

“Is he barefoot?”

The Copy-Nin wasn’t surprised it wasn’t immediately picked up on, with the jewelry – specialty metal work from a shinobi armorer or he was a cat – flashing and shining on his feet and ankles it was so easy to dismiss them as a flashy pair of sandals.  But they weren’t.  If he hadn’t seen Naruto-kun wearing something similar he might’ve missed it too until Yuki-san lifted a strong dancer’s foot at the same time a whirl of his kimono showed off his feet.

“He’s being a bloody fucking show off.”  Kimimaro muttered in exasperation, complete with a roll of his eyes.

And the reason for his complaint became clear a moment later when Yuki-san swirled out of the way of Hayate once more, the pair “dancing” for all of two minutes as Hayate tried and failed to hit Yuki with everything from his katana to genjutsu to ninjutsu.  A stomp of one foot on the ground revealed the design that he’d delicately etched with wisps of chakra into the clearing’s dirt, all glowing with the same blue-edged-white of pure snow and ice.  Yuki-san arched a brow at Hayate as he darted for the edge of the seal – not a clue what it did but knowing he did not want to be caught in it – and the trap cast with as much distraction of the flips of Yuki’s kimono and the flash of his foot jewelry as his chakra sprang into being with a snap and crash.

There in the center of the clearing stood another cocoon only instead of a ton of dirt and rock, this one was fashioned of pure ice and airtight.

“Show off.”  Kimimaro called from the side-lines.  “Why do you always have to steal my moves?”

Haku merely smirked at his friend as he snapped his fingers, releasing the Hyouton: Entrapment Dance that as Kimimaro accused had been designed with help from Yagura after Kimimaro had learned his Doton: Smothering Cocoon as while Suiton had a water prison there was no known Hyouton equivalent.

“Because half of what Haku-nii can do with his bloodline talent we’ve had to figure out from trial-and-error.”  Naruto reminded his best-friend drily.  “Water Country as good as slit their own throats when they started hunting their bloodlines down and we’re still paying the price.”

Fugaku, Kakashi, and Shikaku traded looks, curious on Shikaku’s part and considering on that of the Sharingan users, then Fugaku told him in ANBU hand signs: Has use.  If we can remove bloodline.

It was the ultimate blind spot in the Sharingan.  They could record and predict bloodline talents all day long but they could never copy them or reverse engineer them without a lot of effort and creating new jutsu from scratch after seeing the effect used by a bloodline and even then it wouldn’t be the exact same and usually far less powerful than for the elemental bloodline equivalent.  Body and innate internal bloodlines were even worse.  For example, if they knew down to the last cell how Kimimaro upped the density of his skin, bones, and hair they couldn’t copy it with their own chakra.  They didn’t have the genetic programming to mold their chakra into the right forms to manage it.  The Sharingan could see it, remember it, record it, but they would never have the genetic requirement needed to truly copy it.

Naruto used to struggle with a similar problem with Haku’s Hyouton techniques.  He had both Water and Wind affinities which was the combination required for Ice Release.  But Hyouton was a bloodline talent and no matter how hard he tried to force his chakra into the right form it refused to take and work the right way for Hyouton.  They’d figured out some interesting jutsu that way, but not a way to force a body that wasn’t made for Hyouton to manage it.

“Itachi.”  Fugaku gave the soft command after Shin darted in and grabbed Hayate, taking him straight to the hospital under Shikaku’s orders for treatment for hypothermia and any cold-burns the kenjutsu user had gained from his – however brief – stint in an ice prison.  “A true assessment, if you please.”

Father and son traded a glance, Itachi nodding in agreement with the implication.

He was to force Yuki-san to push himself as the others had failed to do with both Yuki-san and Kaguya-san.

Very well.

“Ow.”  Ink-black lashes fluttered open over mink-brown doe eyes, the darkness followed immediately by a throbbing pain in his head – and then a host of other sensations that Haku rushed to categorize before whoever surrounded him, and it was definitely more than one person, could realize he was fully aware as well as awake.  If nothing else, the intensive training in Raijin Valley had made even the weakest of them, the “lost kits” of the clans as Kurama had put it with more than a bit of derision towards “idiotic fleshies,” ready to fight or flee in an instant.  Growing up around an entire massive skulk containing several smaller leashes/families of foxes that were prone to both ambushes and tricks would do that to you.  “Did someone get the name of the bijuudama that hit me?”

Strong arms wrapped around him spasmed and flexed in response to his weak joke, even as he found himself staring up – at his friends and spying woods behind them.  Still at the training ground then.  Interesting.

And since neither Kimimaro nor Naruto were the ones holding him…and the look he and his human pillow/restraint combination were getting from Uchiha-san…he had a sinking feeling in his stomach.

There was only one reason he could think of for a non-family member – or adoptive family member – to be reacting the way his pillow was, and he most definitely did not need this complication in his life at this precise moment in time.

Especially since he saw almost everyone surrounding him who was expected…except Itachi-san.

“Wasn’t a bijuudama.”

Given that it was Naruto-kun speaking, through the bit of a muzzy feeling in his head – concussion or some other kind of head injury unless it was a lingering effect of a genjutsu he was starting to remember being caught in – Haku was inclined to take his word for it.  Didn’t explain the clingy, not-quite-all-there Uchiha treating him like a stuffed toy, but at this point he’d take what information he could get.  Other than that he’d lost.  That had been evident from the moment Uchiha-san ordered his son for “a true assessment” of his skills.

“It was your ice mirrors,” Naruto continued to explain, half-worried and half-entertained by the turn of events.  Especially as he knew they were only going to get even more entertaining once Zabuza-sensei showed up to find Haku-nii had acquired an Uchiha-shaped growth.  “Itachi-san’s genjutsu caught you at the same time you caught him in them.”

Haku groaned softly, rolling his eyes and instantly regretting it when it sent a spike of pain tunneling through his head.

He didn’t really need more explanation than that, as they’d all seen curtesy of the intense illusion training given to all of them by the kitsune and nogitsune what happened when he was trapped in an illusion – depending on the illusion – in conjunction with trying to control and use his mirrors.  Genjutsu users were a pain in the ass when they had the skill some Uchiha were famed for.  Itachi-san – still not any more cognizant after Haku had been awake for several minutes than he’d been when he first awoke – was apparently one of those infuriatingly skilled genjutsu users the Uchiha clan could produce.  The Sharingan’s ability to pick up and process even the smallest details making their illusions as powerful and detailed as anything the foxes could concoct if without the extra push that came with foxfire and the actual mind manipulation some of the nogitsune in particular were capable of.   It wasn’t unheard of for shinobi caught in illusions to turn on allies and enemies alike or lose control of their chakra or abilities depending on the genjutsu.

Looking beyond the half-circle of shinobi surrounding him – them, clingy Uchiha pest – he could see an impact crater that hadn’t been in the center of the training area before his “assessment” and could guess from there how he and his mirrors had reacted to whatever illusion was used on him.

It looked like – from the remnants of ice shards and steam – that Itachi-san hadn’t expected or anticipated his ice mirrors imploding, the safeguard he used against being trapped inside them if caught in a genjutsu.  His ice mirrors required precise chakra pulses to travel and use them effectively.  Pulses that trapped in a genjutsu he wasn’t capable of using unless an illusion master knew to account for them, causing the mirrors to shatter down towards whoever he had trapped inside them.

Which wasn’t, generally, a problem for Haku.

His own ice didn’t hurt him, it was part of his chakra, part of him.

His little brother, friends, and teachers all knew that…but he’d failed to account for the fact that the Konoha shinobi wouldn’t and Itachi-san had likely – and Naruto confirmed with his rundown of the accident – tried to protect him from the catastrophic failure of his jutsu and tackled him out of the way, using a Katon to melt most of the ice before it hit them.

He wasn’t entirely certain how that’d ended up spiking Itachi-san’s alpha instincts into using Haku as a plushie, but he was patient that he’d get an answer for that odd turn of events soon enough.

Especially if the utter glee – however well-hidden on their parts – in the eyes of his friend and little brother were any hint.

Itachi had fought hundreds of shinobi in his life both in practice and in earnest.

The most difficult – from pure strength and tactics – had always been his father and Shisui-kun with Kakashi-sensei not far behind them for sheer creativity even if the Sharingan had only ever evened the playing field between them while his father and Shisui-kun both had so much experience using their own that it gave them an advantage against even other skilled users of the dojutsu.

With their Mangekyo amplifying their perception and reactions even above that of the Sharingan they were only truly a challenge for each other but Shisui’s skill had quickly caught up and overpowered Itachi’s father’s years of experience before he even became Hokage.

Both of their Mangekyo being the sort of techniques that were never turned against an ally, it was only the base benefits of advancing their Sharingan that benefitted them in their spars.

Itachi found sparring his mother and siblings difficult as well but for an entirely different reason: his desire to protect them, even from himself.

His belief that his siblings, Sasuke especially, would one day surpass him remained unchanged or if anything grew stronger as the years passed, and he watched them grow.

That didn’t mean the very idea of harming them sent disgust and utter repugnance churning through his stomach.

At heart, Itachi didn’t want to hurt anyone.

That anyone might be those he cared for was an untenable concept to him and he knew it hurt his ability to train them effectively since he couldn’t – he couldn’t, wouldn’t, would never – fight full-out against them with the merciless ability he preferred against an enemy.  Merciless.  Ruthless.  Cold.  Cutting off his emotions in favor of pure logic was one of the only ways he could do his duty to his family, village, and clan as one of the most feared shinobi of the Hidden Leaf if not all the Elemental Nations.

Shisui of the Body-Flicker.

Kakashi of the Sharingan, Kakashi the Copy-Nin, Kakashi of the Thousand Jutsu.

Itachi of Illusion, Itachi of the Ravens, had joined the ranks of his cousin and sensei not long after Kakashi had gifted the Corvid Summons contract to himself and Shisui, the three of them together more feared and respected than even the Sannin for all that they’d never – officially – been on the same strike team.

Both he and Shisui – before his cousin gained his legendary speed that was said to be on-par with that of the Yondaime without Namikaze-sama’s Hiraishin – had learned to perform body-switching with not just a log as students were taught at the Academy but to use everything from small pebbles to bother people to their favorite: an entire murder of crows or ravens giving the illusion that their bodies had dispersed into a dozen or more of the birds rather than the body-switch followed immediately by a body-flicker that they actually used.

Haku of the Icy Mist had just been another in a line of shinobi dozens deep that he’d been used by the various commanders of the village to test and assess.

It wasn’t his favorite duty though at least it tended to be less mind-numbing than standing behind his cousin pretending that Shisui of all people needed a bodyguard.  He understood it was more of a mind-game than anything.  The rest of the Hokage had had trusted guards on the premise that even the most powerful of shinobi could never be on guard against everything every moment of everyday.  It was still boring as hell.

The newest would-be shinobi of Konoha were interesting at least, and it gave him an opportunity to see how all of them interacted with both each other and people like his father and Kakashi-sensei – who could frustrate a monk into violence when the mood struck him – which was of additional interest to both himself and his father as the golden omega had rattled Sasuke’s instincts into a frenzy to the point of activating his Sharingan, a feat not to be understated.

Mating instincts were…strange.

They didn’t occur in every person who presented with a secondary dynamic.  They didn’t occur with the same strength or insistence in every person, they were as individual as those they appeared in.  Most often – from what he understood, never having felt them for himself – was that mating instincts were similar to a strong physical or sexual attraction, little more.

However, Uchiha were rarely able to be filed into the ranks of the “usual” or “expected” behaviors of other shinobi, especially those who were distinct even among their own.

Shisui for example, for all that he was considered congenial and friendly, had proven to be intractable when it came to marrying and – as Itachi would know as one of his bodyguards, mostly ornamental or not – rarely took a lover for more than a night.

Itachi had never felt attraction to another, odd for an alpha as normally those who didn’t feel such drives often didn’t present at all and filled his need for physical touch and affection through innocent activities like playing and cuddling with his siblings.

Or, so he thought.

The aesthetic beauty of the three new residents of Konoha had struck him when they’d arrived in Shisui's office hadn’t escaped him.  It simply hadn’t moved him anymore than a pretty flower or well-painted landscape would.  That his little brother, his Sasuke, was drawn to one of them wasn’t a shock.  As much as his little brother would probably deny it, he’d always been, well, bored by the otherwise infamous looks of the Uchiha beauties their father and the elders tossed at them.

It didn’t get much different from what Sasuke grew up surrounded by than golden hair and skin with eyes as bright a blue as a summer sky or pure white hair with red clan markings and pale green eyes.

Between Sasuke’s mile-long streak of contrariness that was normally well-hidden behind his Uchiha mask and his clan (and father) reinforced desire for nothing but the best, no, Itachi couldn’t say that he’d been surprised at all by the identity of who Sasuke had been drawn towards by his instincts.

That it clearly unsettled their father – if only for an instant – was merely a bonus if Itachi had to guess.

Perhaps his softer handling of his younger children would bear different fruit than what his previous stern and exacting way of raising children when the Uchiha Patriarch felt their clan was under constant threat and perfection was the only way for his sons to survive, but in Itachi and Sasuke once they started thinking for themselves it’d only gotten their father a strange combination of public compliance and private intransience.

Haku, on the other hand, could almost pass for an Uchiha for all that his looks were a bit softer than males of their clan tended towards and rather than black eyes he had the softest brown – more to do with his personality from what Itachi could tell from his behavior with his own little brother than some effect of pigment – and it was those eyes that had first given Itachi pause.

Before the Ice user’s first fight – or what passed for one considering how the other beat Hayate with all the effort of swatting a fly – they’d taken on a calculating cast from the moment the matches were announced.  All softness had washed away.  But it wasn’t bloodlust or competitiveness or anything of that sort – all of which were all too common among shinobi – that took over those dark eyes.

It was something Itachi saw every time he looked in the mirror whilst wearing his jounin uniform.

Resolve.

Haku hadn’t wanted to fight.  That was the province of Naruto unless Itachi was very much mistaken.  But once a fight was unavoidable, he chose to finish it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Faced with a shinobi not unlike himself, a rare breed indeed, Itachi’s interest had been snagged.

Then after holding his own – that icy mist of the Ice user was quite the annoyance, especially, with Itachi’s Uchiha higher-than-normal body temperature though would be useless against a Byakugan user – for several minutes against Itachi they’d both decided at almost the same moment to stop holding back, trapping each other within fractions of a moment of being simultaneous.

What Itachi had had no way to predict, even with the Sharingan, was the chain-reaction his genjutsu – a relatively harmless one he used in spars against allies of an endless black abyss but too strong for most shinobi to disrupt with a single Kai – led to.  The mirrors collapsing and imploding.  Haku’s slight form – only an inch or two taller than his little brother, about half a head shorter than Itachi himself – directly in the path of destruction.

Itachi had an instant to make a decision.

And he’d made it.

He’d tumbled them both to the ground, curving his larger form around Haku’s smaller one, and blown a Great Fireball back over his shoulder to melt the ice and hopefully lessen the impact of the implosion.

In the process, his cheek had brushed against Haku’s own.

And then all there was, was red and black and his.

“Oh yeah,” Naruto grinned like a fiend.  If they thought Kurama’s reactions to Naruto growing up was bad, he couldn’t wait for the fallout of Zabuza’s reaction to Haku his “perfect, adorable minion” getting a mate.  “This is going to be fun.”

Kurama snickered in his kit’s mind, reveling just as much in the coming show no matter that it was likely weeks away though each of them were planning on enjoying opposite issues.

Zabuza had been – to put it bluntly – a shit over Kurama’s less-than-pleased reaction to Naruto’s dynamic presentation while Haku had teased his little brother over Kurama’s pouting and hissy-fits, especially once the Kyuubi learned exactly what omega-shinobi/kunoichi training entailed, relentlessly with the help of more than one of the foxes of the skulk who were likewise entertained and less than sympathetic to the plight of their skulk-brother and creator.

Kimi-kun nudged him pointedly in the side over his public and visible entertainment.

“Focus.”  He hissed at his charge.  “Tease him later.  Figure out how to pry him out of the powerful alpha’s clutches for medical treatment now.”

Grumbling as an incoming wave of chakra that he felt solely due to being a jinchuuriki in harmony with his bijuu, parted to reveal the Hokage with a pair of ANBU bodyguards arriving in a body-flicker, likely the result of being alerted to the situation by any of the Konoha jounin present.

Well.

Other than the one in a near-feral alpha state anyway.

“Oh dear,” Shisui’s tone was less-than-serious and barely holding back the vibrant humor he felt in general at the situation and in particular at the hidden chagrin on his cousin Fugaku’s face.  Not one but two of his sons falling ass over teakettle for non-Clan shinobi who were the last of their own clans.  The elders were going to shit bricks and he couldn’t wait to stand – and laugh – on the sidelines.  For once it wasn’t him as the uncontrollable Hokage alpha who preferred alphas, and worse alpha males, who was going to give the elders a connipition but his golden-children cousins.  Ah, yes.  Sweet, sweet revenge.  He might get along better with Fugaku now that the Clan Head had no choice but to play nice with him as the Hokage but that didn’t mean he’d forgotten what things used to be like as a regular, if powerful, Uchiha clansman.  “That’s an unanticipated end to a skills test if I’ve ever seen one.”

Getting Kakashi-senpai to snort was worth the Look he was cast by Fugaku.

With as long as Kakashi had been his mentor, friend, bodyguard, and most trusted operative in the various incarnations of their interactions, surprising the lazy asshole became more and more difficult as time passed.

Shikaku merely rubbed one hand over his brow with a standard Nara-male troublesome as the newest citizens of their fair village traded looks of their own over what precisely they’ve gotten themselves into by coming to Konoha, even the one currently trapped and being used as a plush toy by Itachi.

“Haha.”  Shikaku said, deadpan.  Some days he really wished he’d retired at the same time as Sarutobi, if only to avoid the odd sense of humor his new boss possessed.  Most of which seemed to spring from putting his younger clansmen in situations guaranteed to break their public-Uchiha masks or driving Fugaku-san or the Uchiha elders into a frothing rage.  Troublesome.  “Now if you have any ideas of how to rescue our newest jounin-level field-rated medic before his inactive-roster jounin-level bodyguard decides to start removing limbs, that would be appreciated more than you attempt at humor, Hokage-sama.”

“Really?”  Shisui arched a brow at his jounin commander, former captain, and the head of the Konoha MPs, pursing his lips in thought when all of them nodded in agreement, some more reluctantly than others.  He’d known about Yuki-san’s medic skills, they made up a good half of his reputation as a wandering-nin and were one of the reasons the pair of hunter-nin had gotten off with only a year’s probation after a mild interrogation rather than a month’s isolation and hard interrogation the Council would likely prefer.  Field-rated medics were hard to come by and those capable of jounin-level shinobi skills were rare with those the village had usually slotting into ANBU squads along with their promotions.  They couldn’t do that with Yuki-san due to his unique circumstances, which made him more valuable to jounin-rank regular ops run by Shikaku than his weight in gold.  “Interesting.  Terumi-san is going to be so put out when she receives my message.”

“Not so much,” Haku muttered, looking over his shoulder at the spinning red-on-black three-pronged shuriken design eyes glaring up at the rest of the shinobi around them in suspicion, Haku meeting them with fearless exasperation.  Alphas.  At least the shinobi surrounding them were smart enough to avoid looking straight at Itachi-san as while the Mangekyo was probably a new development on the part of his human-pillow from the expressions they were surrounded by, given Itachi-san’s reputation it wasn’t farfetched to believe it likely presented him with a whole new range of genjutsu powers to go with the evolution of his Sharingan.  “Bloodlines are still a touchy subject in Kiri, Terumi-sama having two to her credit is hardly the sort of thing that helps bring together her separatists and the pro-purge hardliners from the Sandaime and Yondaime’s reigns.  My joining a new village of my own accord isn’t the sort of thing she can afford to cause trouble over.”

“If you’d joined Kumo, maybe.”  Kakashi tossed his two ryo into the ring, even as he added the political knowledge displayed – and how nonchalant all of the newcomers were about Haku-san being held at least partially immobile by Itachi-kun – into the puzzle surrounding Naruto-kun and his missing years.  “Like the rest of the bloodline clans that escaped the purge rather than go into hiding in Kiri.  They may only be allies when they need to team up against a stronger adversary,” like Konoha now or Uzushio once was, he didn’t need to remind anyone present.  “But that’s different than joining Kiri’s main opponent against them expanding their current territory.”

“Politics later,” Haku said in a near-hiss as Itachi-san’s arms spasmed around him at the sound of the older alpha’s voice – both of them.  Apparently the newcomers pushed Itachi from watching and rumbling a growl every now and again into borderline aggression against what he considered threats but with Haku in his arms – and his ability for higher-thinking knocked offline by his instincts taking over – he couldn’t actually do anything but whatever dojutsu he could manage.

And since none of them were dumb enough – appearances aside – to catch his eyes that wasn’t much.

Like any other skill, activating the full abilities of a Mangekyo Sharingan took time, experience and effort, neither of the former which Itachi had at the moment to use with the latter.

“Can we do something about the feral alpha holding me prisoner now?”

“If we must,” Shisui sighed as if put upon, body-flickering behind the ever-so-distracted form of his little cousin.  Before even Itachi could register that he’d disappeared, and with the feral alpha’s focus on the threat in front of him and the omega in his arms his reasoning ability at the moment not really up to dealing with a threat that didn’t yet exist, Shisui was behind him and slapping a sleeping seal-tag on the back of his cousin’s neck.  “We must.  What?”  He blinked innocently at the shocked looks his swift action gained him from the others.  Well, except Kakashi.  If his former captain was fast enough that was exactly the sort of thing he’d do.  “Problem solved.  Let’s get everyone to a medic before Ba-chan skins me for knocking out her pride and joy.”

For not the first time in his life, Fugaku wondered what he did in a former life to deserve Shisui as his kinsman and Hokage.

Considering the unholy level of glee the brat took in everything certain to rile up the clan and/or most of the elders of Konoha, it must have been something truly vile.

Killing kittens.

Torturing puppies.

Sucking up to Tobirama Senju.

Something heinous to deserve the unending frustration in human form that was Shisui Uchiha, Godaime of Konohagakure and pride of the Uchiha Clan.

Chapter Text

Kurama’s Skulk

Chapter Twelve: Village Life 101

“So…”  Naruto grinned once more at the stoic form of his older brother as Haku-nii walked with him to his first day of Shinobi Academy.

Haku had been ducking him – ducking all of them, really, Kakashi-kun included – since returning from the hospital with Kakashi-kun.  The stand-by medic had deemed Haku’s concussion too serious for their skills, sending him along to the healers accompanied by Kakashi while one of the ANBU had escorted Naruto and Kimimaro back to the Hatake Compound, Shisui deciding that they’d all had more than enough excitement for one day.  There was something going on with the Uchihas, even Naruto could tell that much, and it was more than Itachi-san’s apparent desire to glomp onto Haku in a feral daze.  That on top of that Haku didn’t want to discuss – to the point of pretending to go right to sleep after returning from his treatment at the hospital – finding a possible mate, well, Naruto’s innate curiosity was killing him.

“Itachi Uchiha,” Naruto hummed, flicking a teasing glance at Haku-nii.  “He’s handsome, if you like having a mate almost prettier than you are, aniki.”

Kimi-kun snorted.  Naruto wasn’t wrong.  All three of them were pretty, but Itachi for an alpha fit into the aesthetic with ease.  Their kids would either be adorable and take over the world with a pout or be ugly little gremlins from the overdose of good genes. 

“He’s strong, that’s all Zabuza-sensei is going to care about.  After he beats the snot out of him for defiling his precious precious little apprentice.”  Kimimaro pointed out ruthlessly, entertained by all the gushiness.  And gladder than ever that he’d never had any of those…urges.  Genitals.  So gross whether innies or outies.

Kakashi who was following along behind the trio, as he’d be stationed at the Academy as part guard and part observer while Naruto-kun went through his first day of lessons while the other two went to a meeting with Shikaku, took note of that.

None of them had been hiding the fact that Zabuza Momochi, the Demon Swordsman of the Mist, was the mentor of at least Yuki and Kaguya though a careful verbal distance between Momochi and Naruto was maintained.  A distance that was so carefully maintained that it made Kakashi instantly suspicious.  Though if someone had to teach his cute little Naruto, one of the Seven Swordsmen would be acceptable…if it weren’t for which of the Swordsmen was the one in question.  Rough, crude, and vicious, there wasn’t a sane person in the Elemental Nations who’d want Momochi serving as a role model to their impressionable young omega charge.  The only worse option was Kisame…but that was a thought down which lay the path of nightmares and cold sweats, Kakashi refusing to even ponder it.

Even so…if that shark-toothed asshole Momochi so much as laid an inappropriate thought in the vague direction of Naruto, Kakashi would make certain that the alpha would never pleasure anyone ever again let alone sire children.

“I’ll have to take your word for it.”  Naruto said with a too-mild look on his face.

Kakashi almost snorted, giving away the game.

Oh yeah.  He knew that expression.  It was all Kushina-chan when she was hiding a prank.  He’d bet his favorite copy of Icha Icha that Naruto-kun had at least met the swordsman if not traveled with and learned from him like his pair of friends.

That Kakashi’s senses, advanced even for an alpha thanks to his clan’s long partnership with canines, the mild sort of bloodline talent that didn’t tend to draw the sort of attention as the flashier ones like dojutsu and Yuki’s Ice Release did, said his pup was still untouched was the only thing saving Momochi from being castrated on sight.

For that matter all three of them smelled pure as the driven snow.

Which was…odd to say the least with a seventeen-year-old omega like Yuki who looked like Yuki at hand.  That kid had probably been propositioned more in the short years since his presentation than an average-looking beta or alpha would be in their entire lives.  He didn’t do anything for Kakashi, too young for one thing and too…butter-wouldn’t-melt for another, but he could still both see and smell the appeal.

Kakashi gave a mental snicker.

He was going to drive his cute little apprentice insane with jealousy until he’s locked down and firmly mated, maybe even until he pops out a kid or two for Itachi to just rub his claim in a little more.

As far as Kakashi was concerned it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving alpha than his ice-in-his-veins apprentice.

Itachi was a good kid, an excellent shinobi, and a damn good friend and brother.  Kakashi would never say otherwise.  But damn.  That kid needed laid years ago by someone out for more than the gold in his pocket or the Uchiha name.

Looking thoroughly done with his friends, Haku rolled his eyes and pointed imperiously at the gate leading to the Academy, Naruto laughing at his expression and all-but-skipping down the path with Kakashi slouching along behind him.

A teacher was waiting on them at the stairs leading up to the Academy itself, Kakashi blinking lazily at a face that looked familiar but not enough to the point he actually thought he’d met the other shinobi before.

Darkly tanned skin with a faded scar cutting across his nose, plain brown hair and brown eyes, the teacher shinobi wasn’t anything particularly special outside of his ability to mentor young shinobi.  A chuunin from the vest he wore, not tall or short, thin or thick, something that was hard to actually get right for a lot of shinobi specializing in infiltration, Kakashi was intrigued.  He’d be interested either way: this was the teacher that Shisui trusted with Naruto-kun after all and he’d heard a thing or two over the last couple of years from Itachi about…Urmino?  Irmine?  Irupa?

“Hello, Uzumaki-kun, Hatake-dono,” the chuunin nodded genially with a tense smile on his face and caution in his eyes.  Someone who knew then.  Interesting.  There weren’t many of those still around outside of the Clan Heads and ANBU who knew enough to be wary of Naruto-kun with only a name to go off of.  Normally Kakashi would think that would be a problem but considering the juggling act…Uruki? Managed over the years with the heir-heavy class of future shinobi he’d been given by the Academy Head Sarutobi-san, Kakashi was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  “I am Iruka Urmino,”

Iruka!  That was it.

“The head instructor for this year’s graduating class of Konoha’s Shinobi Academy.”  He continued, blissfully unaware of the running thoughts of one of his guests.  A good thing too.  Kakashi thought the – he took a discreet sniff to double check, the result surprising him more than he’d thought – little omega teacher was too cute with the scar and his otherwise baby face running up against his no-nonsense attitude.  “I’ve been assured by the Hokage that despite your lack of official schooling, the graduating class is the proper placement for you, Uzumaki-kun and that Hatake-dono will not,” a cautioning and warning glance, too cute, “be a disruption.  Nevertheless,” Iruka nodded firmly at the agreement he sourced from the pair.  “You will need to stay after classes today, Uzumaki-kun, for a knowledge test so I can be aware of any gaps in your previous education so I can properly prepare you for the final exam at the end of term that determines whether you will continue on with your new classmates to become genin of Konoha or will need additional time and training.”

“Understood, Sensei.”  Naruto nodded slowly, taking the warning for what it was.  And actually liking the shinobi for it.  He wasn’t going to give him a free ride because the Hokage or Council might prefer it that way anymore than he’ll intentionally hold him back.  That already made him better than ninety percent of how Konoha civilians treated him in the past and might very well return to treating him once they put the pieces together between him and the “demon brat” who disappeared years ago.  “That shouldn’t be a problem so long as I can send a note to my brother and personal bodyguard.”

“What do you call him then?”  Iruka couldn’t help but ask after a suspicious glance at Hatake-san.  He might not know the Copy-Nin on an official basis, but he’d had to attempt to decipher enough of his chicken-scratch mission reports to have a healthy sense of resignation at having to have him lurking around.

The Hokage had already given him notice of which jounin were taking the anticipated three teams of genin at the end of term and Iruka was dreading having to figure out a team that would manage to function regardless of Hatake-san’s more…infamous quirks.

Naruto shot a teasing glance at the masked face of Kakashi.

“A guard-dog.”  He smiled crookedly, Kakashi rolling his eyes that the pun.  Because he’s never heard that one before.  Little brothers.  Troublesome creatures or so it seemed if Naruto was any sign.

Kakashi wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world even if he suddenly was a lot more sympathetic for all those times Itachi would show up for training or a mission looking harried.  Well.  For Itachi.

He only had one little brother in Naruto-kun.  Itachi had three of the little buggers plus a couple little sister princesses to go with him.  He almost felt bad for him.  Almost.  The day one of his siblings took off for years with no notice or word or any way to know if they were still alive then they could talk.

“Woof.”  He responded in a total deadpan – worth it for the bright grin from Naruto-kun let alone the snerk Iruka made in sheer surprise.  “I’ll make myself scarce.  No one will even know I’m there unless a situation requires me to step in.”

What such a situation might look like he left up to their own interpretations as he shuushin’d into the Academy and right into Iruka-sensei’s classroom to find a comfy spot to spy on – err, observe – his cute little brother and his little-brother’s sensei until the rest of the hormonal terrors that were final-term pre-genin shinobi students.

Shikamaru woke up on the first day of his final term of training before becoming genin with a deep sinking feeling in his gut that today was going to be even more troublesome than the Shinobi Academy normally was.

It wasn’t as much of a waste of his time – time better spent sleeping or cloud gazing than pretending to pay attention in class – as the basic Academy was.  For the whole three years of his general education Shikamaru had constantly debated between what path would give him the greatest benefit for the least amount of personal effort: skipping ahead and being outed as a “hidden” prodigy or playing dumb and wasting his time in class.  In the end between the Godaime’s edicts and seeing the attention showered all over the Uchiha his own age when they proved to be even just a bit smarter than average – attention that came with strings attached like expectations and assumptions and duties – he decided that wasting time, playing lazy, and napping through the Academy was in his own best interest.  There wasn’t much playing about it.  At heart he really was lazy.  Mainly because he really didn’t see the benefit in exerting himself anymore than necessary when he ended up, usually, getting what he wanted either way.  But even he, stricken with typical Nara-male apathy caused by seeing things coming from a dozen steps ahead that came hand-in-hand with their reputations for intelligence and strategy, had a hard time maintaining a completely apathetic mask all the time for three years straight.

What entertained him the most during that time was the assumptions people made about him because of his ultimate lazy Nara mask.  Things that with a little bit of logic applied would fall apart.  It was one of his favorite pastimes especially since his future teammate – or so everyone said even if it was an epically bad idea that should’ve disappeared along with the Sandaime from office – Ino Yamanaka was one of the worst about it and then ignoring everything she learned to the contrary because yes, she was just that fucking stubborn.

Other alphas were the fucking worst about being hardheaded and clinging to their ideals, right after civilian-born alphas and civilians in general.

For example, when they were kids Ino and their other future teammate Choji Akimichi, the third part of the “infamous” Ino-Shika-Cho partnership- that in their collective dads had produced a team of unparalleled efficacy in tracking, infiltration, and interrogation.  But in them was a disaster waiting to happen because no one with a fucking functional braincell put two alphas on the same team without expecting explosions until they were older and more settled into their instincts.  Especially an exceptionally aggressive alpha like Ino, but he digressed: when they were kids Ino and Choji came over on laundry day and saw his room strewn with clothes he was sorting as one of his chores.  Ever since, Ino was convinced and wouldn’t hear otherwise that he was a slob.

On the surface, Shikamaru could accept that this was an easy assumption to make.  Laziness equaling not picking up after himself wasn’t a hard sell.  Where her assumption ended up being contrary to reality was when cause and effect came into play.  Being a slob in a house ran by the iron-fist of his mother was not a good idea unless he liked having his ears shrieked off more than Yoshino Nara shrieked already about him skipping class when he was bored or “being mean” to Ino whenever the blonde felt particularly spiteful and decided that his civilian-born mother was an easy target to make him miserable for her entertainment.  It was much less energy to pick up after himself, do his chores on time, and in return give his mother one less thing to complain about to Ino and Choji’s mothers than “forget” to do it in the first place and have her yelling at him like the troublesome civilian-born female she was.

Shikamaru was convinced that she’d been pregnant when his dad proposed.  Between his birthday and how miserable the pair made each other it was the only logical answer to that equation.  That as a result of watching his dad hide and then deal with his mother’s shrieking had taught him that oh-so-important lesson about the line between laziness vs. efficiency was beside the point since other than how to take basic care of a house and that he wanted to actually marry his mate instead of some rando he knocked up was all he ever learned from his parent’s extremely fraught and unhappy marriage wasn’t a trade off he’d take if he’d been consulted about the situation.

Honestly.

Reputation or not, he didn’t get why people stayed married when it was like that.

His mother drank, his father never came home except to sleep and see Shikamaru, and if his dad hasn't been screwing around with Ino’s dad since they were teenagers themselves Shikamaru would marry Ino and sell himself into a life of suffering and servitude.

Who cared that they both were alpha males?  It wasn’t like they couldn’t have used surrogates.  Traditions and the elders could go suck an egg.

Expecting him and Ino to function on a team was just another example of the idiocy of blind adherence to tradition if you were asking him and that in the final term of the redone shinobi classes they had a weekly team assignment that changed week-to-week as if the Ino-Shika-Cho bullshit wasn’t already set down in solid diamond was just irritation heaped on top.

Like letting him get a glimpse of freedom before slamming the gates shut on him.

Troublesome and it started today.

Still, there was nothing to be done about it.  He didn’t want much.  Ambition was for idiots as far as he was concerned, all he wanted out of life was to not be as fucking miserable as his parents, have a partner in the field he could trust, and beat the curve on shinobi life expectancy.

Two out of three of which required him to actually graduate even if flunking out was really fucking tempting if it meant not being bossed around by Ino for the rest of their working lives as if he wasn’t also a fucking alpha.

Shikamaru wished he really was the beta most people dismissed him as.

It would be far less troublesome and he’d spend a lot less of his time and brain power being aggravated to almost the point of murder over Ino’s attitude – in theory anyway.

Slouching and with slumped shoulders, hands tucked into his pockets, Shikamaru skulked his way into the classroom, pausing a moment in the doorway as an interesting new scent hit him – and thankfully wasn’t a wafting cloud of artificial scent poisoning from one of the other schools housed in the same building as happened far too often for most of the shinobi students’ preference as without the enhanced senses of a secondary dynamic or bloodline talent they couldn’t smell how rancid it was before dumping it all over themselves.

Hmm.

Interesting.  Or troublesome.  He didn’t more data to be certain.

In the meantime, a ninth desk had been added to the classroom and Iruka-sensei was even more tense than usual for the first day of term.

Slipping into a boneless sprawl that looked more tired than effortless after plenty of trial and error to get the effect just right, Shikamaru lowered his lids to half-mast and sat in his corner of the class, ready and waiting to figure out what was going on that had to do with the new desk, new scent, and Iruka-sensei’s disquiet.

Something was up with Sasuke-san as well, but considering that Ino was displaying exactly zero chill regarding their class’s token omega shinobi, he couldn’t really blame the poor fucker.

Fangirls, man.

That had to be a whole new world of trouble that Shikamaru was ecstatic seemed to be innately repelled by his lazy aura.

Success.

Iruka-sensei was interesting, Naruto decided after the older omega showed him to a tiny office attached to his classroom to wait while the rest of his class arrived until Iruka-sensei could introduce him.

Though, maybe it was just because Naruto’s senses were improved by having Kurama-sensei in his soul, he could’ve done without how Kakashi-kun smelled after Iruka-sensei was firm with him.

Ick.

Not that he was immature enough to still be grossed out by the idea of adults having sex or being affectionate – he was fourteen not four – Yagura and Utakata had never bothered with being shy or hiding what they were up to when they kicked the rest of the humans out of the hotsprings or slapped up a barrier seal over their comfortable part of the cavern complex.  It was more that it was Inu-san stinking like interest over Naruto’s teacher.  Or just Kakashi-kun being interested in someone in general when he’d been a constant – if distant save for that one instance – fixture in Naruto’s early childhood.

The Hatake Compound had been absent any of those sorts of scents – at least in the main house.

Keeping certain secrets around enhanced canid noses was a lesson in futility, something which Shin-san who Naruto had only met briefly thus far and Tenzo-san didn’t bother with outside of privacy seals on their smaller residences on the compound.  The second the doors opened and the air wafted out, the entire compound knew – well, not Haku or Kimimaro until Naruto told them – what they were up to with their respective partners whether long-term like Shin-san or for the night like Tenzo-san.  In comparison, the scents at the main house made Kakashi-kun seem like a monk or maybe just not interested in those things like Kimimaro.

Not so, apparently, as Naruto’s nose had been sure to inform him as Kakashi-kun had tracked his sole visible eye all up and down the form of Naruto’s new teacher.

Hound, indeed.  The smells of Kakashi’s pack, none of them had openly discussed their summons but, well, without seals and jutsus smells don’t lie, had made it clear why Kakashi once had that code name.  Though it seemed when faced with an omega he was interested in he continued to live up – or maybe down – to the tag.

Naruto couldn’t really blame Kakashi-kun for being interested in the older omega either.  He smelled like interesting things: ink and chakra paper – fuuinjutsu, fresh rain and the zip of chakra – suiton affinity which is rare according to his lessons in Fire Country, and the mess of a mixture that was all the scents of the people he came into contact with often enough for them to have imprinted at least a little on the teacher.  Sorting those out would require a better nose than Naruto’s without pulling Kurama’s power further forward but he’d be willing to bet that Kakashi-kun already knew from five minutes around Iruka-sensei who his close friends were and any family he might have.

One by one or in one case in a pair Naruto’s new – and only – classmates arrived.

There were only eight other students under Iruka-sensei according to the little the Hokage had told him about the shinobi academy when they were making plans and decisions regarding how to integrate him back into the pulse of life in Konohagakure.

He hadn’t met any of them yet though he’d met family members of several of them.

Ino – the Yamanaka Head’s daughter, the man they’d brought in to test his truthfulness, the Yamanaka Clan famous for their mind-based abilities both with and without chakra.

Shikamaru – the jounin commander’s son, the chief strategist also being in on his integration and having an interesting sense of humor from how he’d dealt with the events of yesterday surrounding Itachi-san and Haku-niisan.

Which of course brought him to Sasuke, the younger brother of Itachi-san and younger cousin of the Hokage, latest installment in the village’s tradition of Uchiha prodigies and his own distant cousin Sai who was another Uchiha prodigy and family member but was said – from the rumbles around the village – to have issues with social situations at times and was the adoptive younger brother of Shin-san.

That left him with four classmates that he’d not met the family members or other distant connections to other than tangentially if he considered that both Shikaku and Inoichi might as well be the uncles of their Akimichi teammate’s son, and so on.

Choji Akimichi – beta, heir of the Akimichi Clan.

Hinata Hyuuga – beta, former heiress of the Hyuuga Clan.

Shino Aburame – beta, heir of the Aburame Clan.

Kiba Inuzuka – beta, second child and eldest son of the current Clan Head.

Out of nine students including himself, Iruka-sensei was responsible for giving five Heirs or in the case of Naruto clan Head their non-clan education.  Talk about pressure.  Add in the two secondary heirs and a former heir and the only student in the entire class who wasn’t or once was in the direct line to control a clan and that kid was Sai who had his own challenges.

Being the new kid expected to navigate the class, Naruto was starting to feel like he’d been tossed head-first into the deep end of living in a shinobi village and just a bit less out of his depth as he’d have been if it was a meeting of the Council of Clans instead.

At least he knew how to deal with powerful people – he’d been doing it one way or another since he was born thanks to his passenger – but not-powerful-now but someday-powerful-kids…that was a whole new dynamic.

“We have a new student joining us for the rest of the year who will also most likely be joining two of you on your genin team barring any unexpected disruptions.”  Iruka announced after his students had shuffled into the room with varying levels of energy for class after the break for the new year.  He continued to talk right over the expected outbreak of whispers among some of the class while others like the Nara Clan heir simply stared at him with the glazed look of the still half-asleep.  Not that that had any bearing on whether Nara at least learned anything.  Somehow the frustratingly lazy student at the inexplicable ability to always seem to just know things that was as much a Clan trait as the Nara shadow manipulation.  “Please welcome Naruto Uzumaki, the Clan Head of the Uzumaki Clan, and newest shinobi student of Konohagakure.”

Taking his cue right on the mark – at least Hatake-san hadn’t corrupted him yet with his habits, small mercies – the door to Iruka’s office slid open and every one of the boy’s new classmate’s turning at watching him enter the room.

“Hello,” Naruto nodded in greeting to his new classmates, even as more than one had disgruntled looks on their faces – likely over Iruka-sensei’s introduction of him as a Clan Head.

Most young Heirs weren’t able to take up clan headship – according to what he’d been taught – in any Hidden Village unless or until they reached adulthood which meant graduating shinobi training and becoming a genin.  Even then they might not be allowed a seat on a Clan Council or equivalent due to their age.  With his sudden reappearance in Konoha, he’d be willing to venture that more than one of these kids’ parents were having conniptions over what it meant for the balance of power in the village as well as their own clan and personal power.

Little did he know, sheltered as he’d been since leaving Konoha, that with only a single exception, his classmates were more focused on how his yukata and leggings clung to his form than any thoughts of – well, just about anything else.

And then there were two in particular who felt such a rush of demanding instincts that it was all they could each do to stay in their seats instead of pouncing on him and burying their noses in his scent.

Wrinkling his nose slightly, Naruto took his position on the cushion that had been added to the back half of the classroom at Iruka-sensei’s prompting as the rush of scents from his classmates washed over him.  Most were inoffensive, a mixture that smelled to him of general interest or curiosity, but there was also an acrid wash of jealousy-tinged arousal that turned his stomach coming from across the room that made him glad his seat at the three-seater tables in the “academic” half of the room that replaced individual desks as well as his meditation cushion in the other half of the room for practical work were opposite the blonde female alpha Kurama helped him pinpoint as the originator of the stench.  The reason for the jealousy – from what he could tell – was due to the next-strongest scent of what from working with the Madams he knew as “shy” arousal.  And honestly that was what he’d been expecting from a small group of predominantly alpha and beta shinobi their age.

It wasn’t the secure physical response of a mature shinobi but the first blushes of a young adult.

The Madams had ensured that he could pick out those sorts of nuances at thirty paces lest he get himself into a situation he couldn’t handle – yet – without having to resort to lethal force.

As it was, one out of eight having a negative response to him because of a pretty Uchiha boy flashing his Sharingan and blushing at him when the blonde saw it for herself and nearly snarled was better than the odds Haku and Kimimaro were making over his first real introduction to other shinobi his own age and of similar status.

For Sasuke it was like he was living in a daydream that wasn’t certain whether it was a vision hellish or divine.

His cousin had told him to wait and have patience, that Uzumaki-san would be joining his class at the Academy and already had a lot on his mind with returning to the village.  To wait.  To give him time to breath and adjust before pressing forward to see if he really was Sasuke’s mate.

Then his brother fought Uzumaki-san’s adoptive brother yesterday, activated his Mangekyo Sharingan, and had to spend the rest of the day and night recovering from his feral episode first at the hospital then in deep meditation at the Clan’s shrine.

Hardly the sort of impression Sasuke wanted Uzumaki-san to have of the Uchiha Clan.

Bad enough that Shisui – who was a fine Hokage all agreed but was a pain in the ass as a cousin – was Uzumaki-san’s first impression of their clan.  Having Itachi go all feral and alpha on his brother wasn’t the sort of thing that was likely to endear their clan to the newcomers.  Though from all accounts Uzumaki-san had been amused by the scene rather than upset as most clan heads from Konoha or worse a foreign village would have been.

Sasuke could feel the strange itching in his eyes and the sharp-regular flickering that told him his Sharingan was flaring out of his conscious control in reaction to his inner turmoil and instincts, forcing him to take a deep breath and focus.

Well.  On something other than how beautiful Uzumaki-san looked that day.

When Sasuke had first rested his eyes on the golden omega, he was dusty and disheveled from his journey and still the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

Now rested, with his hair flowing down his back except for a few remaining braids with silver or blue glass beads woven into them and his yukata a crisp blue with white spirals along the edges, he was somehow even more lovely than before even though if he’d been asked previously Sasuke would have deemed that an impossible feat.

And he wasn’t the only one to apparently think so.

Echoing the cute expression on Uzumaki-san’s own face, Sasuke wrinkled his nose as the wash of hormonal scents nearly slapped him upside the head with the interest – blatant and otherwise – of his fellow students over his mate.

As omegas, they were even more in tune with such shifts than their alpha counterparts, which his mother said was a survival mechanism and her explanation was one he was inclined to believe.

It made sense to him.

If an omega could tell with a single glance or smell of surroundings the emotional tone of room or situation they were more likely to be able to survive even the most fraught or emotionally charged of scenes.

That didn’t make it a comfortable skill, like now as he was forced to see that he was going to have competition – both serious and casual – in securing the interest of his mate.

“We will begin as always with our meditation and chakra control exercises.”  Iruka-sensei commanded control of the room as Uzumaki-kun took his place, reaching out one hand and lowering the lights to a comfortable dimness that worked well at keeping his students in the proper mind set.  “Quiet thoughts for quiet minds.  Today we will begin with the eighth standard meditation exercise.  You are walking along a stream in the forest…”