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[simulacrum / , simyə ‘ lākrəm / , an image or representation of someone or something; an unsatisfactory imitation or substitute. From Latin simulare “copy, represent”, from similis “like”.]

 

In an unforeseen stroke of good luck, a sandstorm sweeps across northeastern Wind Country shortly before midnight, completely erasing all signs of their presence. Kurama feels the wind change in enough time for them to find shelter, so they bunk down for the night in a deep cave carved into a cliff, likely just for that purpose, whose mouth points away from the source of the storm. It’s dry and roomy enough for a fairly small man, a smaller fox, and two tiny six-year-olds, even after Kurama starts a fire to ward off the worst of the night’s chill.

It’s little surprise that Gaara immediately goes to sit several meters from the mouth of the cave, just out of range of the wind, with wide eyes fixed on the storm outside. Little surprise, too, that Naruto drifts over to sit with him as soon as he’s eaten, and over the roar of the sand Kurama can just hear Gaara recounting facts about sandstorms in a tone that is, for him, of acute excitement. Slumped back against the rough wall, Kurama chuckles, not quite able to tear his eyes away from the red and gold heads bent together in the flickering firelight.

Fur shifts under his fingers as Fuji leaves the scraps of her meal and flows into his lap, curling up tightly and dropping her head on his knee. Kurama rubs lightly behind her ear and she gives a brief, gargling purr to encourage him to continue. Amber eyes fall shut, and she stretches lightly before settling down once more.

“All of this is for the boy, isn’t it?” she asks, too softly for Gaara or Naruto to overhear.

Kurama sighs softly, tipping his head back against the stone and closing his own eyes. “It is,” he agrees. “Everything.”

There's a brief pause, and then she murmurs, “I was surprised that there were two nine-tailed kitsune, but…that’s not quite true, is it, Kurama-sama?”

Since there's no real reason to deny it, Kurama just shrugs, giving the tip of one pointed ear a light tug. “I told you it was complicated. There's only supposed to be one, but I'm an extra.”

Fuji hums an acknowledgement, clearly turning this over in her mind. “I think…I'm glad that I met you first, rather than the other,” she says slowly. “While you were fighting the Ichibi, Naru-chan got worried, and I felt Kyuubi-sama stir for a moment. He was…very angry. Very hateful. You're—better.”

“Not too long ago, I finally found a reason to change,” Kurama says, opening his eyes again to look at Naruto. The boy is laughing, and even Gaara is smiling faintly. It makes Kurama chuckle softly. “The other Kyuubi will find a reason, too. Just need to give him the opportunity. The man who left me this body showed me that no matter how long you’ve held on to hate and anger, there's a better way.” He glances down at the little fox in his lap, and gives her ear another light tug. “Is there someone looking for you right now, Fuji? Are you going to get in trouble for running off like you did?”

She huffs disgustedly, slapping a paw over her face in what is either longsuffering dismay or embarrassment, and moans, “My brother is probably looking, or he will soon. He doesn’t like me going off on my own, and he’s got five tails so he thinks he knows everything.” One eye slits open, and her expression turns wholly smug. “He won't believe that I got to meet the Kyuubi. He’s going to be so jealous he’ll turn green all over.”

Kurama laughs, smoothing a hand down her back and over her tails. “Well, you're the only reason we’ve managed to make it this far without a lot more trouble, so I’m more than happy to have you stick around, but if you need to go back that’s fine too. I don’t want you getting in any more trouble for my sake.”

Fuji snaps her teeth sharply, clearly showing her opinion of that idea. “I said that you couldn’t get rid of me that easily, Kurama-sama,” she reminds him. “I’ll stay for as long as I think you need me, and even if I do leave then, you can always summon me. You're a nine-tailed fox, no matter what form you're stuck in, and you don’t have many allies. Of course I'm going to help.”

Naruto's the one who so easily wins people’s loyalty. Kurama breathes out a shaky breath, unused to such simple and unwavering support, and scoops Fuji up in his arms, burying his face in long white fur. “Thanks,” he manages, and it comes out muffled. “Thanks, Fuji. If you ever need anything…”

Sharp ears prick up, and Fuji wiggles excitedly as he settles her back in his lap. “A star ball! Like those pretty purple ones you use, Kurama-sama! Do you think you could make me a star ball out of one of those?”

It’s probably unwise to give a bijūdama, even miniaturized and held behind seals in glass, to the kitsune equivalent of a thirteen-year-old. Still, Kurama wasn’t exaggerating when he said she’s the only reason they’ve managed to come this far. Without her, he’d likely be trapped like a dragonfly in amber, whisked back to Konoha's T & I Division with Naruto forever out of reach. And Kurama is fairly decent at seals, given his time within Mito and then Kushina; he can probably work something out. Holding that much power might even give Fuji another tail, which seems like a decent enough trade-off for her help.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he promises, and she gives a happy yip.

“Do you have an idea where to go next, Kurama-sama?” she asks, settling back down with her head on her paws, one sharp eye on the boys. “Should we cut back into the place with all the rivers, or keep traveling in the desert?”

Kurama considers, absently stroking her fur. They headed almost directly north from Suna, hoping to throw off any trackers. Gaara had insisted it would be several days before he was missed, even with Shukaku’s little scene, so Kurama isn’t too worried about pursuit from that direction. The clones he, Fuji, and Naruto created have enough chakra to draw the Freak Squad a few days off course, either deep into southern River Country or doubling back into Fire Country near Ame’s border depending on which one they followed, so there's also little risk of them catching the scent again.

Without the threat of immediate pursuit, Kurama's life is a whole lot easier. He’s not entirely certain where Matatabi is, beyond knowing that the Nibi’s host is from Kumo, but somewhere in Lightning Country seems like a safe bet. If he remembers correctly, the girl is someone Killer B looked up to as a strong kunoichi, despite her being younger, so she’s probably training. Which means she could be anywhere around Kumo, or elsewhere if she’s the hardcore type. Kurama's range for sensing the other bijuu is pretty decent, but he’ll still have to be fairly close to pinpoint her. Unless…

“We’ll cross over near the middle of Wind Country’s border with Ame,” he says slowly, picturing the maps he saw so often through Naruto's eyes. “Then we can head north through Grass and cut east across Waterfall, which should keep us far enough away from Konoha. We’ll have to go the long way, cut though Sound, Hot Springs, and Frost Country before we get to Lightning Country, but I don’t want to risk any Konoha nin picking up our trail. Up for it?”

“Sounds like fun,” is Fuji’s verdict. “I've only ever seen the area around Mount Inari, and some of the place full of rivers, but my brother says they're all different.”

Kurama saw far too much of the countries for comfort, once the shinobi villages started falling and Kaguya advanced. The survivors couldn’t stay in one place for more than a handful of days without Kaguya’s troops finding them, so right up until the end they spent most of their time on the run. Different groups went different directions, since it was too dangerous for everyone to travel together, but Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke were the main leaders, and moved between the groups constantly. Just remembering those years is enough to bring Kurama's hackles up, for the feeling of being hunted to overwhelm him. During that time he got used to being prey, rather than the predator, and the knowledge still manages to set his teeth on edge. He hates it.

Breathing out slowly, he forces himself to focus on the present, rather than a future that he won't allow to come into being. “Yeah,” he agrees roughly. “They are. Ame’s always wet, Grass is pretty much completely flat and generally green, Frost is cold, Lightning is full of mountains. They're pretty enough, but I prefer the forests.”

“Trees are good.” Fuji flicks her tails, ears twitching, and then glances up at him. “Are we looking for another one of your brothers?”

“Might be a sister,” Kurama says judiciously. Matatabi’s always gotten along best with female hosts, after all, and has always struck Kurama as pretty feminine, in a reserved-old-lady kind of way. “But yeah, hopefully the Nibi is somewhere near Kumo. Matatabi isn’t blindly crazy like Shukaku, and generally gets along with whatever host Kumo provides. I don’t think the current host is too bad, but we’ll see. Worst comes to worst, Saiken’s probably still in Kiri. They haven’t got a great track record when it comes to jinchuuriki, but since the slug’s host will skip out eventually, he’s probably not going to turn over a bunch of kids to the Mizukage.”

Amber eyes flicker back to him, then narrow faintly. “And you don’t trust me to watch them, Kurama-sama?”

Kurama snorts. “I’d trust you with them in a heartbeat, Fuji, but they're six, and I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to keep my promise. Might be a week, might be a month. Kids need care, and just in case I get hurt or captured, I want them somewhere that isn’t the middle of the wilderness. Besides, you’re a kid, too. I'm not going to dump that on you.”

Fuji sniffs, clearly a little miffed, but doesn’t protest. “All right,” she agrees, if rather reluctantly. “If you say so, Kurama-sama.”

“I do.” Kurama taps her on the nose with a smile. “I'm going to try and see if I can't get in contact with Matatabi. Keep an eye on the brats, okay? And wake me up if you sense anything at all.”

The vixen yips her agreement, sliding out of his lap and bounding over to the two kids. She throws herself across their legs, making Gaara startle and Naruto laugh delightedly. Kurama can't quite hear what she says, but it’s clearly a demand for pats, since both boys start stroking her fur. Gaara looks astonished, Naruto awed, but they're both happy, and Kurama allows himself a small smile as he settles back against the wall, resting his hands on his knees.

As a bijuu fully aligned with his jinchuuriki, accessing the shared mental world of the tailed beasts used to be as simple as willing it to happen. Kurama isn’t entirely sure that, as he is now, he’ll be able to touch it, but it’s his best bet of finding Matatabi, especially if Nibi and host are, like Killer B and Gyūki, able to cooperate. He closes his eyes and takes a breath, centering himself and picturing a world he hasn’t reached for in a very long time. Featureless brown stone beneath him, light filtering in from nowhere and everywhere, with darkness pressing at the edges. A moment of will, of want, and the air changes, the thick dust of the sandstorm vanishing into clean, sharp-edged newness, traced with the green of growing things.

Well. That’s different.

Slowly, not wanting to jar himself out of the trance, Kurama opens his eyes and is immediately met by green and brown. There's a campfire, a clearing so well-remembered it makes his heart ache, with ancient trees capable of dwarfing even his bijuu form leaning in around the edges. One step removed from this reality, he can feel Shukaku, pointedly ignoring him, and another presence that’s so familiar it feels like looking in a mirror. The Kyuubi is asleep, though, deeply asleep in a way that speaks of seals and plots and biding his time, and Kurama very carefully doesn’t poke at him. That’s a conversation for another day.

Several mental steps further on, he gets an impression of rapid wingbeats, bright laughter, and the thrill of flight—Chōmei, without a doubt. There's a feel of quick coolness to his right, but muted, and close to it the ephemeral glimpse of a bubble drifting skyward, Isobu and Saiken easy to recognize. To Kurama's left is fire and steam, peaceful and at rest, side by side with the heat of molten rock and a touch of rage. Kokuō and Son Goku, Kurama thinks, and moves on. He reaches out, searching, and—

There. The bite of cold fire, traced with a ghostly edge of death undone, and Kurama touches the border of his sibling’s mind, a gentle nudge to bring Matatabi’s attention to him. The cat stirs, curious but sleepy, and reaches back, and Kurama greets Matatabi with the impression of a rush of wind and fire. The Nibi will be expecting hate and fury all twisted up and tangled with Kurama's usual elements, but right now, at peace, with Naruto so close by, Kurama can't summon them. Moreover, he doesn’t want to.

Light shimmers, ghostly blue shot through with black, and the two-tailed cat steps out of the darkness of the trees, odd-colored eyes sweeping over the clearing.

“This is new,” Matatabi says, studying him curiously. “Since when were you artistic, Kurama? Or nostalgic—or human, for that matter? I might be your sister, but I’ll admit, I barely recognize you right now.”

Well, that answers that question. Kurama gives Matatabi a smile, trying to ignore the differences in their sizes like this—it’s vastly annoying to be so much smaller than even the Nibi. “A lot has happened, Matatabi, and I don’t always feel like I have to hate anymore. Got a minute? I’d like to talk.”

She sinks down onto her belly next to the fire, wrapping her two tails around herself, and tilts her head, eyes going distant. “Yes, I can talk. The kitten is asleep right now. Just don’t make me angry; she’s had a hard day, and I don’t want to disturb her.”

“I’ll try my best,” Kurama agrees, a little wry, because he’s never been the best at keeping his own temper, let alone helping someone else keep theirs. “You like this one, then?”

Matatabi smiles, just a little. “Well, there have been worse,” she says lightly, and Kurama closes his eyes against a pang of hurt, remembering saying almost the exact same thing about his old host many times. Naruto had always laughed, teasing him about being a grumpy old man, but his eyes had been warm. Kurama knows he understood what the fox only rarely voiced—Naruto's always been good like that.

Right now, with six-year-old Naruto beside him, happy and smiling, the pain is muted and distant, easily pushed down. But the loss is still there, no matter how much Kurama tries to focus on other things, and he suspects it always will be. He saw Naruto die, after all. That’s not something he can ever fully recover from.

“Good,” he says roughly, and it’s impossibly hard to get the word out. “Good. I'm…glad for you, Matatabi.”

When he opens his eyes again, Matatabi is watching him, concern clear on her face. “Kurama,” she says gently, “are you all right? That body—I know you can appear however you want here, but…”

Kurama swallows, shoving down the instinctive urge to snap. He doesn’t deal well with feeling vulnerable, but there's not really another word that can apply right now. “It’s a long story,” he says halfheartedly, and gets a pointedly expectant look from the cat. Rolling his eyes, he sighs and mutters grumpily, “Fine, witch. I'm from a future where everyone is dead, but my jinchuuriki sacrificed himself to send me back in time, so I got landed with this body. Now I've got two pint-sized jinchuuriki to look after, including my asshole-ish past self and that crazy bastard Shukaku, a promise to save the world that I have to keep, and a bunch of Sharingan-users on my tail, with a Mokuton user thrown in just for fun. Can you help me or not?”

There's a long, long pause as Matatabi digests that, perfectly still. Then she snorts and gives a coughing laugh. “Only you, Kurama,” she says, shaking her head. “I see you're just as prickly as ever, hatred or no. It’s quite the story, and…unnervingly plausible, given your current condition.”

“I am not prickly!” Kurama snaps, bristling, then realizes he just made her point for her and huffs in offense, crossing his arms and glaring. Matatabi just laughs at him again, sitting up.

“What do you need from me?” she asks. “Unfortunately, my help is limited by Yugito’s abilities at the moment, but I’ll do what I can.”

Kurama breathes out a sigh that’s pure relief and rakes a hand through his hair. “Thanks, Matatabi,” he says sincerely. “You're a lifesaver. I’ve got two six-year-olds with me that I can't take into battle or leave on their own, and I need someone to watch them for a month or so. Think you and your host can handle it?”

Matatabi hesitates, eyes narrowing a little, and her tails flick with minor agitation. “…Maybe,” she concludes after a moment. “I’ll speak with her about it. Head our direction regardless; you’ll be harder to catch when you're moving, and you need whatever advantage you can get right now.”

“Yeah,” Kurama sighs, raking a hand through his hair and wincing when he isn’t quite careful enough with his claws. “But I couldn’t leave either of the kids where they were. Most humans are never going to understand jinchuuriki, and they're bastards to them no matter their age. Hurting kids like that—it makes me angry, Matatabi. I'm good at angry, but this is a kind I don’t want to feel.”

When he looks up, there's an odd expression on Matatabi’s face, somewhere between pleased and calculating, but it vanishes before he can read it further. She dips her head, glancing over her shoulder into the darkness she emerged from, and then rises to her feet. “We’re in the mountains directly west of the village,” she says. “But if we move, I’ll find you and let you know. Fair winds and fast travels, Kurama. I look forward to seeing you in person again after so long.”

“Same to you, Matatabi,” Kurama answers, unable to fight a faint smile. “And thanks. I owe you one.”

“We’ll see.” With that helpfully cryptic comment, Matatabi bounds back into the shadows, and her presence vanishes like a rush of wind dispersing, fading back into a shimmer of sensation and nothing more.

Kurama scowls after her, not able to ignore the insistent jab of suspicion that he just got tricked. A kitsune’s sense for that kind of thing is usually pretty strong, and right now his is saying that he just got set up for something big.

“Damn it. You're a fucking witch, Matatabi, and when I find out what you're planning, I'm going to skin you,” Kurama threatens, but the cat doesn’t even deign to listen to him. She’s already dropped back to sleep, and all Kurama can get from her is a faint flicker of smug satisfaction.

 

 

“Oh gods, I am never going to be dry ever again,” Shisui complains, throwing himself onto a wide branch the moment Kakashi calls a halt. He grimaces at their (admittedly very wet) surroundings as he digs a ration bar out of his hip pouch. That gets a scowl too, because Shisui is only subtle when he wants to be, before he tears off the wrapper and takes an unhappy bite.

Honestly, Kakashi isn’t feeling much more enthusiastic. They're still in River Country, but this close to Ame’s border it rains more often than not, and what is thick forest further south has become a massive, choking jungle that they have to fight their way through. Every piece of clothing Kakashi is wearing is soggy, and his feet started squishing in his sandals about half an hour after they broke camp this morning. It could be worse, but it sure as hell could be a lot better, too.

With a faint grimace of his own, Kakashi takes a seat and leans back against the bole of the tree, fishing his rations out and starting in on them, despite the completely unappetizing taste and texture. Tenzō once gloomily compared both to moldy cardboard, and Kakashi can't entirely say that he’s wrong.

“The tracks are still clear,” he says, in a halfhearted attempt to keep their spirits up. “And they're starting to waver. Kurama can't keep this pace for long. We just have to outlast him and we’ll run him to ground.”

Shisui keeps his eyes on his hands, breaking small pieces of the ration bar off as he eats them. At Kakashi's words, he makes a quiet sound of assent, but his expression is contemplative. After several moments, he glances up, and asks quietly, “Are we all just ignoring the fact that it was foxes who saved Uzumaki?”

Well, they were. But for all that Shisui likes to act the fool, he’s very much not, and Kakashi should have expected him to bring up the matter eventually. Even more than Itachi, Shisui is brilliant at connecting pieces and getting to the heart of things.

With a soft sigh, Kakashi puts his food down and meets the Uchiha’s gaze. “The Yondaime’s seal won't break. It isn’t breaking,” he says simply. “If it was something big enough that it required his life in payment, Minato-sensei would have made sure that no one else ever had to pay the same price.”

Shisui considers this for a moment before he nods. “I’ll believe that. But in that case, Uzumaki having fox summons is pretty interesting.”

“Except that they weren’t summons,” Kakashi counters, because he’s thought about this a lot as well. “A summoning jutsu takes either blood or contact with the ground, even when done with a tattoo. Kurama's hands were bound, so he couldn’t have summoned them. The white fox appeared above your head, and the red one in the bushes—a summoning can't do that, either. Besides, Kurama was just as surprised to see them as we were. He wasn’t expecting a rescue.”

“I've never heard of a summons coming to find someone without being called,” Shisui agrees. “That was definitely odd. But then, Uzumaki's weird as it is, right? I mean, all those things he can do can be written off as a jinchuuriki’s abilities, but…just him in general. He doesn’t wear shoes or use weapons, he’s got the shortest fuse I've seen outside of Mikoto on her monthlies, and his hair looks like he took a rusty knife to it in the dark—which is a shame, because if he tried a little harder he could be pretty hot.”

It’s all true, if faintly amusing laid out like that. Shinobi tend to be peculiar by nature—it’s a coping mechanism, Kakashi is well aware of that—and Kurama seems no different. All the idiosyncrasies can be dismissed as a whole, but taken piece by piece…

“I think,” Kakashi says slowly, “that he feels like he’s completely alone in the world. He doesn’t care what he looks like, or what he acts like, because failing might kill him, but it might not, and that’s enough of a chance for him to risk it. He’s…caught up in everything, and can't see that the path he’s on might have alternatives, because he feels there's no other way to move forward. Taking Naruto—it was an impulse, but now that he’s done it he’s not going to give the boy up, because he can't. This is—this is how he’s grieving, and we’re all caught in the crossfire.”

Shisui's black eyes are far too sharp and clever as he studies Kakashi, crossing his legs under him on the branch. “That’s a long time to grieve,” he says mildly, and Kakashi is abruptly unsure just who they're talking about. “But…from what you said about your fight with him in the village, and then the one we had in the forest—he seemed a little more in control the second time. He didn’t completely lose it, even if he was angry. Maybe he’s getting better, now that he’s seen he’s not alone.” He meets Kakashi's stare, and adds, still mild as milk, “You know, some people don’t let go, even when the world tells them they should. It doesn’t mean they're broken; it just means they hold on a bit harder than most.”

This is edging dangerously close to being a talk about feelings, and Kakashi can already feel the hives threatening. He eyes Shisui sidelong as he swallows the last of his bar, and remarks warily, “I hope you're not implying that we should leave our village’s jinchuuriki with an unknown and hostile shinobi just because it might be a good form of therapy for him, Shisui.”

Shisui rolls his eyes, flicking a handful of crumbs into the surrounding forest. “You know exactly what I'm implying, Captain,” he retorts. “I won't play dumb if you won't. We have to catch Uzumaki, but that doesn’t also mean that nothing can change. I've been with you on Naruto's guard, and I've seen how you look at him. This might be a good excuse to connect with him, don’t you think?”

“You mean after having to kill or forcibly subdue the first person who’s ever been kind to him beyond the Hokage?” Kakashi drawls, unimpressed. “Yes, that’s a great first impression to build a relationship on.”

Sighing, Shisui holds his hands up in clear surrender. “Whatever, I'm just a lowly ANBU recruit and fifteen, what the hell do I know?” His eyes flicker red, and when he raises his head the black tomoe in his eyes have shifted into four-point pinwheels, spinning lazily. It’s a deliberate and entirely unsubtle point, because he knows very well that Kakashi also has a Mangekyo Sharingan, and is therefore aware of exactly what has to happen to get one. Shisui understands loss, and though Kakashi has never asked for details of just how he got his eyes, he doesn’t need to. Rin's death is a memory that won't ever fade.

Still, if Shisui isn’t verbally pointing it out, Kakashi feels no need to acknowledge he ever made a point at all. He pastes on a smile just to annoy the teenager and lets the conversation drop like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, Shisui is made of stronger stuff than most, and just snorts. He crumples the wrapper up and stuffs it into his pouch, then rises to his feet to stretch.

Deciding he’s also more than ready to get moving, Kakashi pulls himself up and turns to keep following Kurama's trail, half a second before the sky opens up again. It feels like getting a bucket of lukewarm water repeatedly emptied over his head, and Kakashi sighs in aggravation, shoving his sodden hair out of his eyes. Beside him, Shisui is cursing under his breath in a way that is both impressively creative and a clear precursor to violence, and if they don’t catch up with Kurama soon Kakashi isn’t entirely sure he won't join the kid in his rampage. This has not been his most successful mission ever.

And—

A flicker, like chakra wavering and then steadying again. Kakashi's head snaps up as he spins left, and he orders, “Shisui!”

Sharingan eyes still bright with power, Shisui disappears in a burst of speed, hurling himself through the trees. Kakashi can only catch a faint afterimage, but he doesn’t need more; Kurama's presence is both close and clear, and he heads for it at his fastest run, tearing straight through vines and branches. Subtlety won't do them any good right now, not against someone as powerful as Kurama, who’s doubtless aware that they're coming.

But when he bursts out of the jungle and staggers to a halt on the edge of the cliff, Shisui is just standing in front of the redhead, not moving. Kakashi leaps up to his side, already reaching for his chakra, but Kurama isn’t making any move to attack. He’s just watching them, Naruto clinging to his shoulders and the little white fox curled around his neck, and his crimson eyes are mocking.

“Uzumaki,” Shisui says warily, “is this you giving up?”

Kurama smirks, just barely showing a flash of one sharp canine. “Not hardly,” he chuckles, and waves a hand. Perched on his hip, Naruto gives them a wide, bright grin and—

Vanishes in a puff of smoke.

Fucking damn it, Kakashi thinks, with all the venom he can muster. He takes a shaky breath to get himself under control, all too aware of Kurama's sharp eyes on him, and then says with tightly-contained rage, “I take it the real you is somewhere in southern River Country, then.”

The redhead laughs at them, even as the fox disappears as well. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” he taunts. Then his gaze hardens, and he steps forward, right into Kakashi's space. “Tell me,” he says, voice low, “Why are you following? I'm his family, his blood. I love him. I’ll swear it on anything you want me to. So why can't I raise my nephew, rather than a village that hates him?” He shifts his attention to Shisui, and his eyes narrow faintly, lip curling again. “You should understand, Uchiha. Family and love is everything, right?”

“The village is more important,” Shisui counters sharply, and the resolve is clear on his angular face. “Naruto is a jinchuuriki, and maybe I can't understand everything that means, but it makes him valuable. Every country in the world will want him, and do anything to get him. Surely even you can see that he’d be better off in Konoha. If you come peacefully, I'm sure we can work something out. You don’t have to be separated from him.” A faint, wry smile crosses his face. “I wouldn’t ask you to abandon your family, and I don’t think the Sandaime would, either.”

Surprise flickers across Kurama's features, oddly similar to Kushina's face. Kakashi can see the relation in the shape of their eyes, the slant of their jaws, even the color of their hair. Long lashes clumped by rain sweep down as he looks away, towards the east, and then reaches up to rake a hand through his soaked hair. If he’s trying to get it out of his face, he fails; the choppy chin-length strands immediately tumble back into his eyes, though he doesn’t seem to notice.

“You don’t trust me,” he says after a moment, and it’s edged with a frustrated growl. “Whatever, I've never given you a reason to. But once I'm in Konoha, you're not going to let me out, and I refuse to be trapped anywhere, ever again. I've got things to do and people to save, and I'm not about to let you lock me up and steal my purpose. So either fuck off and quit chasing me, or come back with a better offer.” He makes a hand-sign that is definitely not a jutsu and just as definitely offensive, then disappears with a pop and a whirl of smoke, leaving them standing on an empty cliff.

Fuck me,” Shisui groans, pressing his hands over his face.

Kakashi looks out at the vast expanse of River Country they just crossed, which they will very soon have to cross again, and sighs, rubbing at his temples. “I think he just did,” he says wryly. “Both of us, even.”

Well. It’s the truth, but at least it makes his partner laugh.