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[impetus / ˈimpədəs/ , the force or energy with which a body moves. From Latin, ‘assault, force,’ from impetere ‘assail,’ from in- ‘toward’ + petere ‘seek.’]

 

Maybe it’s the familiarity of Konoha, the well-remembered hum of chakra from hundreds of shinobi all gathered together and more or less at peace, but Kurama sleeps far more deeply and for far longer than he intends to. When he finally opens his eyes, there's sunlight slanting through the window, and the bustle of people is clear even from beyond the glass.

Dreams are a fading tremor in his composure, bits of grief and horror already sliding away, and Kurama lets out a heavy breath, pushing his hair out of his face with one slightly shaky hand as he sits up. He’s spent a good portion of his last hundred years of existence sleeping so far—being locked up in a human’s body is anything but riveting—but if this keeps happening, he thinks he might swear off on it all together. At least when he’s awake, he can distract himself. His unconscious mind isn’t so forgiving.

Hard on the heels of that thought comes another, and this one is thankfully far more heartening. Naruto is somewhere out in Konoha, a child with sun-bright hair and sky-blue eyes and a smile warmer than anything. Honestly, Kurama doesn’t even need to be the target of that smile; all he wants is to know that it’s real, it exists. Maybe it can never quite be his again, but—

He doesn’t want to consider that. His determination is holding, steady in the face of his Naruto's last smile, his last request, but…too much and he might falter. Too many reminders and he thinks he’ll just…break.

How can humans be so weak when he knows they can also be incredibly strong?

But…Kurama can't help a faint smile as he buries his face in his upraised knees. They can be strong. So strong. It was Naruto who taught him that, powering through every obstacle set before him with determination and willpower alone. Despite Naruto's parentage, despite his birth, he still had to pull himself up from nothing, from a mire of discrimination and hatred, and where anyone else would have been overwhelmed with darkness, Naruto emerged entirely untouched. With a true understanding of the darker sides of humanity, a unique sensitivity to others’ troubles, but…untainted.

Kurama himself is so dark that he all but drips malice, because that’s who and what he is. Naruto was the one to show him that he could be more. And he will be. In this he’ll play the hero like Naruto wanted, though he suspects it will be closer to Itachi's version than Naruto's own. He’s not cut out to be a center-stage hero, not really. Pride and arrogance and power can only carry him so far, and while Kurama has those in spades, he’s lacking the other crucial bits. Like compassion, and selflessness, and the ability to love so freely.

He loves Naruto. Loved the Sage. No one else has ever quite managed to make the cut.

But he does love Naruto. And today—today he’ll finally see proof that the boy is still alive.

That thought brings a lightness with it, a surge of determined happiness that Kurama hasn’t felt in a very, very long time. It propels him out of bed without hesitation, even when the sunlight would otherwise tempt him to simply bask in it for a few hours. He isn’t hoping for much—a glimpse, a glance, maybe the chance to catch sight of Naruto's smile if he’s really lucky—but…anything will be better than the nothingness that haunts him right now. Better than the lack that’s eating away at his gut like a particularly vicious acid.

Naruto was his first friend. The Sage was a father, but…Naruto won himself a place in Kurama's regard, wanted to, worked for it and didn’t give up until Kurama had acknowledged him. For so long Kurama was the creature that everyone feared, a monster and a natural disaster and a mindless beast to chain up and lock away, but…Naruto learned. Learned and realized and set him free, and maybe a large part of Kurama's love can be linked to gratitude, but he doesn’t care. He loves Naruto, and so he’ll save him.

His stomach is growling again, but Kurama ignores it, slipping out of the inn and into the throng of people. The sun is high above him, more than halfway across the sky, and the realization that he slept for so long is a little unnerving. Almost twelve hours, if he had to guess, and while it’s hardly a sleep of years the way he sometimes rested as a bijuu, it’s a long time. Time he could have spent near Naruto.

The crowd is pushy, heading every direction, so Kurama keeps to the edges and picks his way around carts and little knots of stationary civilians. Several shinobi in the midst of things eye him carefully as they pass, but Kurama ignores them, letting his senses stretch. There's an overwhelming hum of chakra to Konoha, one he’d honestly forgotten. He can't remember the last time he felt so many shinobi in one place—years, three of them at least, he thinks, and it’s disconcerting now.

Still, Naruto's chakra is unique, bright and strong no matter how old he happens to be, and intimately familiar. Kurama reaches out, spreads his senses over the village even as he walks, and concentrates.

There. There, like the sudden flicker of a bonfire lit, flames climbing towards the sky and stray sparks leaping heavenward, and Kurama's jinchuuriki finally comes into focus.

Young. He’s young, so young, the blaze of his chakra undiluted and barely touched, but Kurama comes to a halt at the edge of the street and closes his eyes regardless. Because just feeling it, just sensing it, is like emerging from darkness and turning his face to the summer sun. Because that’s Naruto, so vivid and alive, and the mere touch of his chakra drives away the memory of a familiar body falling.

One touch, and all Kurama can think is alive.

Damn it all, but you're alive. You're here.

His eyes are hot again, and there's a curious itchy ache in his chest, right near his heart. Kurama wraps his arms around himself, fingers and sharp nails digging into his elbows as he grips them, but the little bit of pain means nothing.

Naruto is alive. He’s halfway across the village, surrounded by equally familiar chakra signals, and though he’s young, he’s not that young. Six years old, Kurama would guess, if his memory isn’t failing him. Just starting the Academy, just learning to use his chakra—

The Academy.

Suddenly, Kurama wants to curse.

There aren’t any children on the street. Kurama hadn’t really marked it before, because he’s so unused to there being any people on the street, but…he can't see or hear a single child above a certain age. The cluster of chakra signals around Naruto is tightly packed, closely grouped, and that can mean only one thing.

Damn it. He’d forgotten that Naruto has classes. And, despite his frequent skipping, Naruto did actually—does actually end up in class more often than not. After all, Iruka is a terror, and one of the few people Naruto respects enough to obey.

With a low groan, Kurama drags a hand though his hair and leans back against the corner of the building behind him, sighing irritably when red strands simply tumble back over his eyes. This…is not part of his plan. It’s only about an hour after noon, and that means he still has at least two hours to wait until Naruto is released. He could just head to the Academy and try to peer through the windows to see his jinchuuriki, but he’s fairly certain the Hokage would take that the wrong way. Not to mention he’d feeling like a fucking creeper loitering around the school to catch a glimpse of a six-year-old boy.

So. He’s got several hours to kill, even though the urge to see Naruto is like an itch beneath his skin. Hours left in a village that holds only ghosts brought back to life through Naruto's sacrifice, with nothing to do and a restlessness growing inside him that would, in other circumstances, lead to him uprooting trees and breaking boulders just to burn off some frustration.

Actually, that’s not such a bad idea.

Well. It kind of is—he’s trying to keep a low profile, and wrecking one of Konoha's training grounds isn’t the best way to go about it­—but Kurama's finding it hard to care at the moment. Decided, he turns—

And nearly crashes into the man standing right behind him.

Kurama leaps back with a yelp, pulse suddenly rabbiting in his veins and his heart in his throat. His shoulder slams painfully into the corner of the building, and the sudden lack of anything solid behind him almost puts him on his ass. At the last moment, though, he manages to get his feet under him, and staggers to a stop.

“Don’t fucking do that!” he snarls. “You moss-haired bastard, are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

One grey eye blinks innocently at him, almost hidden by the orange book held open in front of the man’s face. “Maa, maa, I don’t know what you're talking about,” Hound protests, sounding faintly wounded. He’s dressed like a normal jounin again, clearly off ANBU duty, but his appearance here can't be a coincidence.

“That lichen creeping into your brain, too?” Kurama huffs, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at the other man. “If you keep sneaking up on me, Hou—”

“Hatake,” he cuts in smoothly. “Hatake Kakashi.”

Right. ANBU and their secret identities. Kurama can't help rolling his eyes; if they really want to keep their identities from other people, they should probably start wearing hoods or crap like that. Especially when their hairstyles are as unsubtle as Kakashi's. “Hatake,” he allows grumpily. “Keep sneaking up on me and I won't be responsible for whatever holes get punched in you.”

“Sorry, have we met before?” Kakashi asks guilelessly.

Kurama stares flatly at him for a long moment, then growls, turns on his heel, and plunges back into the crowd. He doesn’t have much hope of losing the jounin, but, well. Points for trying, right? And if he keeps standing there, he’ll likely attempt to put a fist through the man’s face. As entertaining as that would be, it definitely wouldn’t keep him in the Hokage's good graces, questionable as those are right now.

Before he can even consider the possibility of his escape being successful, a shoulder brushes his, and easy as you please, Kakashi falls into step beside him. The book is gone, but he’s got his hands tucked into his pockets and his eye is crinkled, as if he’s smiling lazily. He casts a sideways glance at Kurama, either not noticing or not caring that he’s being pointedly ignored, and says, “You know, some people might consider that rude. I gave you my name. Aren’t you going to give me yours in return?”

Kurama gives him another growl, but, knowing how stubborn the bastard can be, manages to unclench his jaw enough to get out, “Uzumaki Kurama.”

A passing shinobi who’s vaguely familiar—an Inuzuka, given the pair of nin-dogs trailing after her—gives him a sharp look, but Kurama doubts she heard him over the sound of the crowd. Her dogs are giving him suspicious looks, too, and he bares his teeth at them. The dogs recoil and the woman bristles, but before she can approach a hand closes around Kurama's elbow.

“It’s the blood,” Kakashi says, almost cheerfully. “If you don’t want everyone with a good noise jumping away from you, you might want to change.”

Kurama blinks at him, caught off guard, and then remembers the not-quite-neat way he’d dispatched several of the bandits. Han’s robe is probably splattered with blood, but he hasn’t cared enough to notice. Fur doesn’t have these kinds of problems, after all—lick it and it’s clean, or brush it if it’s really bad, and then you're good. Clothes seem…inconvenient, what with how -washing them takes so much time and effort.

Well, that’s one way to kill time, Kurama supposes.

“There a river?” he asks gruffly. “I can—”

“Maybe you should just buy another set,” Kakashi proposes, cheerfully steamrolling over his question as he steers Kurama down a side-street. “And possibly shoes.”

Despite how cold his feet have been getting, Kurama gives Kakashi a skeptical look. He’s about as much a part of nature as any tree, and he does just fine as he is. He can't see that strapping flimsy bits of wood and fabric to his feet will improve much. In return, Kakashi just gives him another smile.

With an aggravated sigh, Kurama gives in for the moment. He supposes it will be nice not to drown in his clothes, and given the number of shinobi with sensitive noses in Konoha—foremost among which is his current escort—it’s probably best not to waltz around smelling like dried blood unless he’s trying to make a statement.

Kakashi seems to notice the sudden lack of protest, because he lets go of Kurama's arm to simply walk next to him again. “I was under the impression that moss was green,” he says, directing them towards a small shop.

Kurama blinks, caught off guard. “What?” he demands, baffled. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“You compared my hair to moss,” Kakashi reminds him, and despite the statement his tone is still upbeat. “Moss is green.”

“Ever seen an old oak?” Kurama counters waspishly. “That silvery moss that hangs down? That’s what your hair looks like.” As soon as they're through the door, he pulls away from the other man and heads for the nearest stack of folded uniforms. Most of them are Konoha's standard deep blue, but for all that Kurama's an ally, he’s not a Konoha shinobi. He bypasses the blue, reaching instead for plain shades of brown. Better for blending in than black, after all, especially if he’s heading northeast. The forests thin out through Lightning Country, and there are a lot of mountains between him and the Mountains’ Graveyard. Dirt-color can only help.

In the end, he gets several of each, because knowing his opponents he’s practically guaranteed to lose whatever he wears into a fight. Between that and a haori made of heavier cloth, it uses up a good chunk of the ryō he has left, and Kurama frowns down at the much thinner envelope. Damn. Humans and their inconvenient currency. This would be a lot easier if he could just take what he needed.

But Naruto would smack him over the head for thinking like that, Kurama knows, and he pockets the remainder with a sigh. At least with warmer clothes, he won't have to worry about getting lodging, and he’s perfectly happy hunting his own food if he needs to. The more he can avoid humans on his mission, the better. After all, who knows what the Akatsuki’s response will be when Kakuzu reports in. Maybe they’ll turn to hunting him instead.

It takes effort not to bare his teeth in a dangerous grin. Honestly, Kurama wouldn’t be entirely opposed. That would make his job a lot easier.

Ignoring the way Kakashi is positioned pointedly beside the shoe rack, Kurama mutters a quick thank you to the man behind the counter and heads for the door, bag slung over his shoulder. He’ll have to find some ink and scrolls to seal it all away—there's no way he’s going to burden himself down with a pack, not when he knows from experience how easy it is for such things to get left behind.

A quick check of the sun proves that barely an hour has passed, and Kurama restrains a frustrated snarl, reaching out automatically. Naruto's chakra is still blazing, but there's an edge to it that Kurama knows to be frustration, and he’s moving. Sparring, probably, Kurama thinks, pausing on the street corner and closing his eyes. He can't tell who Naruto is fighting against, since the chakra signatures are so tightly packed, but frustration means it’s someone better. It also means that Kurama wants nothing more than to swoop in and kick the little brat’s ass on Naruto's behalf, although he knows that Naruto wouldn’t take kindly to it. Still. Still, it would mean seeing Naruto, speaking to Naruto, and that’s more than enough to make the thought tempting.

He wants to go to Naruto right now. Wants more than anything to just sweep in, snatch him up, and carry him away. But that would be too much interference. Kurama knows how this works. Each action is tiny, meaningless little bits of happenstance, like pebbles sliding down the side of a mountain range. But pebbles turn to stones, stones turn to rocks, rocks turn to boulders, and a single careless step can start an avalanche that will change the face of the entire range. He can't risk that, not when Naruto is the one at stake.

“You look like you're packing for somewhere cold,” Kakashi points out, jolting Kurama from his thoughts as the jounin meanders up beside him. “Planning a trip?”

The man does have the ability to be subtle; Kurama's even seen him use it. That, however, was decidedly not subtle at all, and he gives Kakashi another doubtful glance. When he just gets a crinkle-eyed smile again, he grunts and looks away. The temptation to knock the man on his ass is nearly overwhelming; he’s not entirely sure how Naruto ever resisted, especially given he spent a solid year training with him. Kurama would have committed homicide within the first week.

“Not like I’ll always be able to find a town with a convenient bandit problem,” he counters. “Might as well be prepared to sleep outside most of the time.”

Kakashi hums, Icha Icha book making a reappearance as he causally flips it open and buries his face in the pages. “I’m surprised a shinobi got caught without money or extra clothes,” he says idly. “Bad luck.”

“Bad planning, more like,” Kurama mutters before he can force himself to shut up. Catching the sharp look Kakashi gives him, though it’s almost entirely hidden, he sighs and clarifies, “I got angry and jumped into a fight. Bastard nearly fried me, and I woke up with nothing.” It’s true, if a little out of order.

That doesn’t make the sharpness go away, but the book comes up a little higher to hide Kakashi's expression fully. “Must have been strong.”

Strong enough to give Kakashi himself pause, the first time around, but Kurama can hardly say that. It leaves a sour taste in his mouth anyway, remembering the fight with Kakuzu. Kurama's spent the last five years fighting Kaguya herself; one of her little mindless minions should be nothing. But, in a new body with new limits, still completely off balance from Naruto's murder and his own trip through time, he’d been stupid. Stupid and reckless and nearly cost them all their victory. Nearly wasted Naruto's sacrifice, and the very idea of it makes Kurama feel faintly sick.

The stupid and reckless parts probably aren’t going to change—Kurama's prone to the latter, and with Naruto in mind he keeps resorting to the former—but he won't let the chance that Naruto died to create be squandered so easily. Next time he faces the Akatsuki members, he’s not going to let them win.

“Yeah,” he agrees gruffly. “Decently strong. But it won't save the bastard next time I see him.”

Kakashi's gaze lingers on him, thoughtful and considering, but Kurama ignores it. He starts walking again, letting his feet carry him forward blindly without any destination in mind, and pays no heed to Kakashi following him. The problem of the Akatsuki is still at the forefront of his mind, despite Kakashi's interruption yesterday, and he needs to come up with a way to get them out of their base so he can go crush the Gedō Mazō into really ugly gravel. It’s not like he can duck in, shout “Jinchuuriki over there!” and have them stampede out. It will, unfortunately, take planning and cunning and subtlety, and while Kurama's decent at all of those, he doesn’t want to be. He’d much rather just wade in and start tearing out throats.

Still, if Hidan isn’t there yet—and likely won't be for a while, given that he can't be more than thirteen right now—that means he won't have to deal with the zealot. And there aren’t that many missing-nin on the Akatsuki’s level, so if he moves quickly enough, he won't have to deal with Kakuzu’s newest partner, either. Pein and Konan, Kisame, Kakuzu, Sasori, Zetsu, and possibly Obito—that’s who he’s up against. Orochimaru too, he remembers with a faint grimace, because…

Well. That’s an interesting thought.

Itachi isn’t a part of Akatsuki yet, the same way Deidara and Hidan aren’t. And while Kurama has less than zero fondness for most Uchiha—with the possible exception of Sasuke, and even there Kurama would claim some sort of Stockholm Syndrome or bleed-through of Naruto's feelings before he’d admit to any sort of genuine affection—if he can spin it so that the Uchiha Massacre never happens, it will remove an extremely powerful member from the Akatsuki, and Kurama's very much in favor of that. Itachi might have always been on their side, but without the Massacre—

Without the Massacre, Sasuke might never have the same relationship with Naruto.

Fuck, Kurama thinks, scowling down at the ground. There's no way to win this, is there?

But…maybe it can work. Maybe. Even without Sasuke as a blindly-driven avenger and stuck-up little shit, surely it will still work. Naruto will still be Naruto, even if he doesn’t have his rivalry with Sasuke.

(Kurama's pretty fucking terrible at lying to himself, he’s coming to realize.)

Huffing out an aggravated breath, Kurama halts and looks around, faintly surprised to find that it’s darker than he had expected, the shadows longer. He’s moved out of the village proper, too, and the road is hard-packed earth under his feet. The Academy building looms in front of him, the last few students and parents just departing. A few give him smiles, a few give him wary looks, but Kurama doesn’t even notice.

His gaze is caught on a small figure with bright blond hair, seated on a swing off to the side.

Naruto, he thinks, and just that sears through every nerve ending like Kakuzu’s lightning, but a thousand times more pleasant. Full of hope, relief, joy, gratitude, because that’s Naruto sitting right there, barely a hundred feet from him. Naruto's chakra, bonfire bright, Naruto with…

Naruto with his shoulders hunched, his head bowed. Naruto, who all but reeks of grief and loneliness and pain, with the faintest thread of anger and resentment buried almost too deep for Kurama to sense. There's no smile on his face, just blank unhappiness, and it feels so wrong that it makes Kurama's skin crawl.

He’d forgotten this, he thinks, a little horrified, but mostly stunned. He’d forgotten, overlooked, dismissed what he knew of Naruto's childhood. Because he hadn’t wanted to see it, hadn’t wanted to remember that Naruto, for all his cheer and determination, wasn’t always happy. Those smiles that Kurama loves so much, the real, meaningful ones—those only started happening regularly when Naruto gained his precious people. Right now, Naruto doesn’t even really have Iruka—the man is still hovering at the edges, not quite a friend yet. There's only the Hokage whenever he can spare a moment. None of the other children will acknowledge Naruto, not with their parents’ prejudice, and…

Naruto has nothing to smile about. He doesn’t even have a reason to pretend he’s happy, because no one will look past the mask. And that—

That aches. It hurts almost as much as Naruto's death, because this is a slow death, for all that Naruto will recover. It’s just…a decay. A sickness leeching Naruto of joy, and that’s so wrong that Kurama can't stand it.

In an instant, everything shifts.

Fuck not changing anything. Fuck not letting Naruto change. Fuck keeping things as they were—obviously that didn’t work the first time around, so why should Kurama keep clinging to it? Let this be the stone that starts the avalanche; Kurama couldn’t care less.

His Naruto is dead, sacrificed to save those he loved, and Kurama will never get him back. It was stupid and blind and base foolishness to believe he would. But the very core of his Naruto, Naruto's heart and soul and unbreakable will, still exists. It’s thirty paces in front of Kurama, grieving and lonely, and Kurama won't let that continue.

It was one thing to let Naruto suffer through an unhappy childhood when Kurama couldn’t do anything to help, and wouldn’t have wanted to even if he could have. It’s another entirely to stand by and watch while Naruto is in pain, and there's nothing at all in Kurama that’s capable of doing that.

He wouldn’t get his Naruto back even if he kept the timeline exactly as it was. He can see that now. But surely he owes it to the boy, to the man, to give him even a small bit of joy. Surely, if he can bring even the smallest spark of light to Naruto's life right now, changing the past will be worth it.

He takes a step forward, hardly even noticing Kakashi's stiffening posture beside him. One step and another, another, another, until he’s standing right in front of the swing. Slowly, the blond head lifts, and Kurama is gutted by the sight of blue eyes, a dozen shades darker than they should be. Dark with unhappiness, with sadness, and Kurama hates it.

Taking a breath, he drops to one knee in front of the boy and says quietly, “What’s your name, kid?”

Naruto blinks at him for a moment before his eyes widen faintly, and he leans back. There's wariness in his gaze, even as he offers a bright and entirely fake smile and answers, “I'm Uzumaki Naruto, the next Hokage!”

It’s so utterly, achingly familiar that Kurama can't help but smile, and that smile just widens when Naruto's own face lights up. How few genuine smiles must he get, that Kurama's unpracticed one makes him so happy? Chuckling softly, he reaches out and lightly ruffles Naruto's spiky hair. It feels impossibly soft against his fingers, and in a heartbeat Kurama's eyes are hot again. Something wet slips down his cheek, but he ignores it and laughs, soft and rough.

“Another Uzumaki, huh? I thought so,” he tells Naruto. “You’ve got your mom’s chakra. I can feel it.”

Shock suffuses Naruto's face, wondering and disbelieving in equal measure. His mouth opens, works, but nothing comes out. He closes it, swallows, and tries again, and this time manages to squeak, “You—you knew my mom?”

Unable to resist for even one more second, Kurama reaches out, wraps his arms around Naruto, and drags him right off the swing. Pulls him into his lap, against his chest, and curls around him as much as he can, burying his face in blond hair and trying not to break down completely. “Yeah,” he whispers to the boy, shocked stiff in his arms. “I knew her when she was a little girl. She was—I'm your uncle. I'm Uzumaki Kurama. We’re—we’re family, and I promise, Naruto, I'm never going to leave you alone again.”

Slowly, carefully, so very tentatively, small arms lift and slide around his neck. When nothing happens, when Kurama’s only reactions is to clutch him tighter, Naruto returns the hug, and it’s as awkward as if he’s never done it before. That’s fine, Kurama thinks. He’ll have plenty of time to show him in the future.

Five seconds. Five seconds of Naruto's arms tightening around him, five seconds for Kurama to feel as if finally, finally, he’s come home. Five seconds for hope of a better future to blossom, painful and fragile, in his chest.

Then a strong hang snatches the back of his shirt and tears him away.