He hadn't known what he'd been expecting when he reentered the ruined cottage. It was a guess, a hunch. A gamble. And educated one, because he never jumped to conclusions unless he could be fairly sure of them, but it had been a guess all the same and when he pushed passed the thin door with only one of it's leather hinges unrotted, and moved into the dim interior of the single room, he wasn't expecting to see what he did.
He hadn't been expecting to see a girl with her wrists firmly caught in the noose he'd set from the ceiling.
She'd been making little annoyed noises, huffs through her nose, when he stepped in but the second he let the moonlight in with him, she twisted, bare toes barely on the dirt floor as she swung to face his menace. For a second, only a second, he almost started forward with an apology. His trap hadn't been meant to catch young girls. But in the split second when she spun and her eyes found his – they weren't scared. Her eyes were murder furious and gold fire. It stopped him before he could even start forward and his own eyes narrowed in response.
"Please… don't hurt me…"
Her voice was small and young and it trembled in the twilight air. If he hadn't seen her eyes for that brief moment before she hid them behind the sleeve of her kimono… he would have believed it. As it was, he still felt a bolt of guilt slide into his stomach. He shook his head and moved in a cautious circle around her and she slowly pivoted on her toes, body suspended, to never leave her back to him.
"I just want something," in the dark, his voice was low and emotionless. She whimpered in response and he couldn't stop the way the edges of his eyes flinched at the sound. Because – he would hurt her, and worse, if that was what it took.
"Please… " her little girl's voice in the dark. "Please… it hurts me…"
Her slim wrists shifted, pale moths in the gloom, and the red cord that bound them suspended from the ceiling looked like fresh blood. He moved closer, nerves straining in the night, body corded for an attack against him. The seals should hold. They should be alone in the building.
He didn't trust that enough to let his guard down.
"Give me what I want, and I'll let you go."
"…no…" her refusal was small. It was a child's refusal and despite himself, he stepped forward and his mouth curved sadly at its edge.
"You don't even know what I want…"
"You're a bad man," it whimpered out of her and made him sick to his stomach with its helpless innocence. "You've hurt me. You'll want bad things."
"I'll want bad things," he agreed, careful to keep the pain out of his voice as he nodded. "And you'll give them to me."
"…no…" it sounded more like a plea than a protest this time and she drew into herself, becoming smaller somehow in the oversized kimono.
"I'm sorry," he apologized, even though they were only words and whether he meant it or not, the words didn't absolve him from what he was going to do. He stepped forward to reach for the cord.
She unfolded with the speed of a sprung trap and even as she closed over him and wound him in coils of flesh and silk, he cursed himself. He'd known what she was, if not specifically at least in general. He should have paid more attention to her glimpse of molten gold eyes and less to her child's voice. He wasn't lost yet though.
There was a flurry of hands, arms, legs, cloth and hair. He almost lost his footing in the maelstrom. Something was snarling and he didn't think, much, that it came from him. He got a hand, imbued with chakra strength, around her thin throat but he also felt an unpleasant tightness and damp against his own. Together, they paused, swaying lightly because she'd wound her legs around him, anchoring him to her, and yet it left them both caught by the bounds that kept her suspended from the roof.
This close she didn't seem like such a little girl.
"You'll give me what I want," his voice came out a bit rougher but it was because of the pressure on his throat. It was still emotionless. He heard a snort near his ear.
"I'll rip your throat out," the little girl's voice was long gone and in its place was something furred and guttural. He felt the threatening grind of fangs against his neck and knew she had her jaws locked over him there.
In the time it would take him to crack her neck, she would do permanent damage to his.
Dead, neither of them could do what he needed done. Though… if he was dead, would he need it done anymore anyway…?
"Kill me and you'll still be trapped," he told her flatly and then narrowed his eyes against the brush of her tongue behind her teeth against his skin. It was hot and surprisingly dry. He tightened his fingers in answer.
To his surprise, she went still. He didn't get the impression it was in answer to his threat. Instead it was a thoughtful pause. He waited. After a long moment, she asked, carefully enunciating around his throat:
"What do you want?"
Despite himself, his shoulders slumped, just a little, even if he didn't loosen his grip on her neck.
"I want my son to live."
It was quiet for a long moment more. Finally, surprising him, he felt the jaws leave his throat. Her head stayed close to him there though and he couldn't see well enough from the edge of his eye to tell more. Her voice was surprisingly human and normal as it stated:
"You don't have a son."
He did turn his head then, though it was carefully and he kept his grip around her throat firm. The face that looked back at him was entirely human and not as beautiful as he'd expected it to be. Instead it looked… unnervingly normal as she rested her head on his shoulder and looked at him through calm, golden eyes. His returned look wasn't entirely friendly.
"How would you know?"
She blinked at him and didn't lift her head. Around his waist, her legs shifted disturbingly. He realized, belatedly, that it was to take some of the weight off of her wrists – which were still trapped above her and now behind his head. Without thinking about it, he slid his free hand under her to give support, spreading his fingers. She shifted in the long cradle of his hand to get more comfortable and he knew she wasn't human for the unselfconscious way she did it.
"Because you're Namikaze Minato. And Namikaze Minato has no children."
He gifted her a look for the answer that answered nothing and the edges of her lips curved upward. He finally gave up pretending and his fingers slipped from her throat. The pale skin kept the red marks of his grip.
With his free hand, he pulled up the silk of her kimono on one side of her and she watched him expose her thigh where it was tight around his waist with mild curiosity. He found what he was looking for and his fingertips tapped against the pale scars that circled her skin there, touching indented dimples on otherwise smooth flesh.
"You're the little fox I freed from the hunter's trap last year."
She made a softly huffing noise that blew warm breaths against his throat and he realized she was laughing in a strange, non-human way. He'd thought he'd seen that little fox from time to time since then, flickers on the edges of his vision but he hadn't paid much attention. Konoha was surrounded by forest and he saw more raccoons and squirrels than foxes.
"You owe me."
She made the huffing noises again and they were quicker this time. The gold in her eyes sparkled and her lips were most definitely upturned. His face didn't answer the sentiment.
"You let me be a brute."
Her laughter died out but her lips stayed curved. Her eyes softened though and he realized he'd let the tick of shame into his voice when he'd accused her.
"You came in downwind. I couldn't smell you until you were closer." A small shoulder shrugged. "Humans all look alike to me. Don't be angry. Whatever you want must be very ugly if you were willing to be ugly to get at it."
It brought the reality of what he was doing here back to him and he felt his heart slow in his chest again. His arm shifted around her without thought, the reaction of a little child holding a stuffed animal closer for comfort. But she wasn't a stuffed animal and he hadn't found comfort in them since his father had taken his away from him and tossed it in the fire when he'd been a child and 'too old for nonsense like that'.
He didn't remember if he'd cried or not. He remembered his mother had.
He'd always sworn he'd be better than that – when he had his own son. Now… now he realized he was going to be worse.
So much worse.
"I'm – " he paused and then continued anyway. "I'm going to do something terrible to my son when he is born. Something… unforgivable. Something so horrifying that I wake up before I can do it." His voice had gone tight with the wash of memories and clammy, sickening emotions that always came with the dreams. He took a deep breath and forced his voice back to steadiness. "Whatever it is, it's bad enough to kill him. I need – " he paused again and his voice softened. "I need to make sure he survives."
She was still and silent in his arms, her exhales dusting light against his throat. For the first time since he'd let himself face what his dreams meant, he didn't feel like vomiting. Her arms around him shifted.
"You want fox magic to save him."
He nodded once.
"I would take any beings magic I could find if it will save him but fox magic works just as well as any of the others. It's not good or evil to taint him. And you're forest kami so you deal with the basic components of things." The more he thought about it, the more he was sure. "You can change things without destroying their nature. You could make his body strong enough without changing what he really is."
Against his shoulder, she'd started to shake her head. He narrowed his eyes in response and nodded at her.
"It costs too much."
"From me, or him?"
"From you," her voice sounded strangely sad when she said it and he shook his head again.
"I'll pay it."
"You don't even know what it is!"
He looked down at her.
"I'll pay it."
For a moment there was the crackle of sparks around the gold of her eyes and she narrowed them at him in the gloom.
"No. And you won't hurt me. You can't force me."
"I'm offering you me. All of me, any of me, every part of me. All you have to do is bind your fox magic into my son before he's born and give him the chance to survive whatever I do to him. I know your kind makes pacts with men. I'm not even asking for safety clauses or stipulations or requirements before you collect your payment. You take whatever you want from me. You save my son. The bargain's weighted in your favor and you know it."
Her jaw had tightened so that the thin line of it stood out against her pale skin and her eyes had narrowed down into yellow slits. She didn't lift her head from his shoulder and it seemed almost proprietary.
"Damn it!" It wasn't often he swore, not even in quiet tones, but her stubbornness pulled it out of him. Still supporting her with one arm, he reached up with his other and started to free the sacred knots that had bound the simple scarlet cord to the central beam of the ceiling. As he did so he grit out between his teeth.
"I'll find someone else. There are other creatures that will jump at the chance to own an ANBU."
Whatever she'd done before he'd arrived, the knots were partially seared and blackened. No normal cord could have held up to whatever she'd put through it trying to break free but that was the point. As fragile as it looked, the red cord was sacred and he'd gone through a great deal of trouble to get it, not to mention caused several possible political problems if anyone ever figured out which village had it. He hoped it was strong enough to last through another setting. If not –
If not, he'd just have to go get another one.
"Is Nara pregnant?"
"What?" the question was so unrelated he didn't give it much attention as he picked the knots he'd so carefully woven free.
"Is Nara Mikoto pregnant? Is that why you're in such a hurry to sell your soul for a son you don't have yet."
"What?" this time he did pause and look down at her. What he thought she was guessing was so far outside of what was going on in his life, he needed clarification before he committed. She huffed out a breath at him, tiny white teeth clipping together lightly.
"Is it the one of the Hyuga twins then? Who have you bred with that you're going to have a son to do horrible things to?"
"Not – no one," he answered without thinking, which was unusual for him. "I'm not – the Hyuga twins?"
She made a dismissive noise.
"I told you, humans look alike to me. The two girls with the false eyes." She blinked at him, turning her head sideways a little as if looking at him from a different angle would change what she saw. After a long pause in which he didn't move and she looked at him thoughtfully, her brows twitched together a little and she frowned.
"They always smell ready around you. Quite a few of the women start to smell ready when you are around them." She shook her head but it was as if she was shaking her fur to resettle it and it unsteadied him on his feet. "If you are so worried about a son, you must have taken one of them to your den and she must be carrying your kit now. That's why you're in such a hurry about buying magic."
He was used to being in control of a conversation. So it was irking to find himself stumbling verbally.
"I don't – no one. No one's pregnant. By me." He hastily added, sensing that she took things literally when it suited her. "I don't have any kits in my den or foxes or – " he shook his head, "Whatever metaphors we're using." He was going to have a hard time looking the Hyuga twins in the eye the next time he saw them and he'd always made it a point to before because he knew how many people avoided their eerie pupil-less eyes. 'Smelled ready'? "I just know I am going to have a son one day. And when he is born, I'm going to do something devastating to him. I can't wait until he's being born to try to stop that from killing him."
"ah," she made a thoughtful sound and settled against him. Apparently done with her speculation on who – or how many – lovers he had. He forced his mind away from both the thought she'd obviously been around enough to pay attention and to what she'd been paying attention to and went back to work on the knots. They finally came apart near the beam and her arms, still tied at the wrist, fell around his shoulders.
She made no move to untangle her legs from around his waist so he found himself continuing to hold her.
"You're sure?" she finally asked and he swallowed before he nodded. He was sure. He didn't know a single ANBU who didn't have nightmares after the things they were required to do to preserve their village. These weren't regular nightmares though. Gamabunta had confirmed that, thanks to the Great Toad Sage.
He hadn't wanted to ask any human help with it until he knew what the dreams were. After…
After he knew what they were, he certainly wasn't going to share it with anyone human.
Her arms settled more companionably over his shoulders and for a moment they might have almost have been friends. Almost…
"What I mean is – are you sure no woman is pregnant with your child?"
He gave her a narrow look. Not about to go into his sexual life, or long running utter lack of one, with a fox.
"Doing what you're doing now may be what leads to what you dream of in the future," she speculated and it was nothing he hadn't thought to himself a hundred times already.
"I know," he met her gold eyes. "But I would rather be damned for doing something, than for sitting around and doing nothing."
"Your potential kit… his mother may not approve of you making pacts over the child."
His shoulder moved.
"It's my sin. Not hers. Not our child's. If I need to keep it from her – it won't be the only thing."
She exhaled thoughtfully and dipped her head to rub her cheek against her shoulder.
"Do you know the mother?"
Somehow that seemed so much less important and he shook his head. If he could destroy the son he loved already, what chance did a woman have against whatever he would become? She peered at him in the shadows.
"Do you know who you want the mother to be?" she pestered. He gave her a narrow look and let go of her for just an instant. Her arms clenched around him and she made a muted sound as her legs tightened. He wrapped his arms back around her, assuming that his warning would put an end to her pointless teasing, and grunted:
"I don't care."
"Liar…" her voice was sing-song and a twilight breeze but her slanted gold-fire eyes watched him as she let him get away with it.
"I will help you." Almost immediately after the statement, she ducked her head and rubbed her nose against her shoulder. He suspected trickery. Foxes weren't generally evil. They just liked their games at other's expense.
"Liar," he echoed back without guilt – and found the tip of his nose suddenly nipped. The move startled him back a step and she grinned at him, white teeth in the moonlight shadows.
"I will," she repeated. "Because I like you. And because if I don't you're going to get yourself damned."
"I'm already damned."
"That isn't my fault," she shrugged off damnation with a single shoulder. "But what you want is not my secret to give. You want to change a child still in the womb. That is ancient knowledge. It happens to a kit in a kitsune's womb because they shift as their mother does but they are flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood. Her power is theirs and theirs hers. You wish to give that power to a human woman and her powerless child." She shook her head. "I don't know how that would be done."
Her eyes met his and he held them, patient and waiting. Her pointed chin tipped, just a little, to the side and he suddenly wondered when she had lifted her head from his shoulder so that they were now face to face.
"Grandfather knows though. Or he has the secret of it buried in his library of scrolls. Kitsune were once just foxes. Our creation should hold the secret to our changing magic."
"No," she shook her head. "But it will cost you nothing but celibacy while you find out. If we're right or wrong, you can go impregnate a woman afterward."
His lips thinned and he shot her a narrow look. She wasn't asking anything he wasn't doing already.
He'd never been fond of touch. Since becoming ANBU he now had an almost instinctive aversion to it. That and…
and he was an idiot. Leave it at that. A willing body wasn't all that he craved these days.
She smiled at him and he wondered what she'd seen in his eyes.
"You need to stand on your own feet," he told her. Her lips just curved more and edged the corners of her eyes. Then she sobered and gold searched his face carefully.
"Grandfather would require your payment if he knew. You would make a very pretty piece to add to his go board. He can't know you have not already given yourself to me. Only men already mostly in the dream world of loving a secret fox are allowed in our den. They don't see the secrets we don't wish them to."
He met her eyes and blinked slowly. Without inflection, he stated:
"So I'm kitsune seduced?"
Her hips shifted against his and his fingers tightened on her in response. He'd been very deliberately ignoring where she was pressed against him up until that moment and the look he gave her for reminding him now wasn't friendly.
"You're not doing it very well," she complained and very dryly he answered:
"I'm not in front of your grandfather at the moment."
The huffing sounds spattered out of her like raindrops then and she shifted her hips again until he was very aware of her. Somehow it was the little huffing laughter that awakened him as much as her warmth.
"Dropping you now," he warned flatly, even if he didn't and the huffing became something burbling and delicately rumbling. Her arms around him tightened and mercifully, her hips stopped even if it left her very – too - comfortably pressed against him.
"I take it back. You're not a bad man."
"Yes. I am."
so I'm back with another multi-chaptered story, though this one won't - hopefully - be as long as my last one. For everyone who reads me regularly, thanks for coming to check this out and to all the new readers - welcome. I will, ffnet willing, post a chapter each and every Sunday night/Monday morning just as I did for Tales Within Tales. I try to make it a point to be consistent because as a fellow reader I know how much easier that makes it to just sit back and enjoy. I will, to the best of my ability, be keeping this canon (or as canon as we are aware of at the time it gets published) though hopefully this won't be a repeat of anything you've read regarding Minato Namikaze before. I'll use the Japanese traditions when they fit - last name first, suffixes on the ends of titles/names, and skip them when it seems to slow down the reading. Double thanks to Jini who is being my beta for this endevor. And now - sit back and enjoy the ride. You'll have to tell me as we go how Minato's doing at being a 'bad man'.