Hiruzen was a seasoned shinobi, priding himself on the fact that there was very little that could surprise him. So when now faced with a situation completely unprecedented, he simply closed the door behind him and signed for his ANBU guard to surround his strange, unbidden guest. Hiruzen strolled into his office, eyeing the body on the floor with wary curiosity.
"Hokage-sama." A man with a bird-like mask said, stepping up to his side.
"How did he get in here?" Hiruzen asked calmly. He might be older than most shinobi, but he could still fight quite well, and wasn't overly worried. He stopped in front of the limp form on the floor. One of the ANBU was currently searching his clothes.
"Hokage-sama." The woman spoke up. Hiruzen nodded for her to continue. "His hitai-ate simply declares him as 'Shinobi'." She rolled him over onto his back, for him to see. "I have never seen that before." She added in a murmur, as if more to herself. Hiruzen simply nodded. Then he caught sight of something, almost at the same time as the woman. She wiped blood and grime off of a piece of worn, dented metal at his chest.
"Konoha." She stated pensively.
Hiruzen eyed it intently. The hitai-ate had been stitched onto the man's vest... right over his heart. The symbolism wasn't lost on him, but he did not understand what was going on. It shouldn't be possible for anyone to get in here undetected.
"I do not recognize this man." He stated firmly, staring at the pale, slack face. The man's hair was blond -if currently dirty and blood stained- and he had a wide scar marring the right side of his face, beginning by his nose, right under his eye, going down his cheek and ending on his neck. A similar scar ran on the other side of his face, but from his mouth down his chin. "How bad is his state?" He asked. The bird-masked ANBU kneeled by the man and a green glow surrounded his hands as he appraised the man's condition.
"He is severely wounded, Hokage-sama. If nothing is done, he will bleed to death." It was stated without much feeling. This was an unknown shinobi, who had somehow made his way into the Hokage's office; a possible threat.
"Heal him enough that he won't die right away." Hiruzen ordered. He wanted to know who this man was, if nothing else. He needed him alive for that. The ANBU nodded and did as ordered.
Sometime later, the man leaned away from the stranger. "It is done." Hiruzen simply nodded and the man rose and backed away a step. Hiruzen was about to lean down to try and wake the man up, when his eyes snapped open.
They were blood red.
Hiruzen had to suppress a shudder as the inhuman gaze fixed itself at him.
"Sandaime Hokage Sarutobi Hiruzen." The man on the floor stated. His voice was gravelly, as if he hadn't spoken in quite some time.
Every single ANBU in the room tensed, ready to leap at the man should he prove to be hostile.
"Who are you?" Hiruzen asked, letting a little of his killing intent leak into the room.
"I am the brother of this man." The man stated, his face eerily blank. "Do not worry; I cannot move." The red eyes flicked briefly to the ANBU. Hiruzen noticed that they had vertical pupils.
Hiruzen was irked by the response; it didn't tell him anything. "How did you get in here?" He demanded next.
"I used a forbidden jutsu, to send us back in time." The man whispered. It appeared he was growing weaker. "He was dying; I had no choice. The battle was lost."
"Who are you referring to?"
"The shinobi you're looking at."
This only served to confound the Hokage more. It must have shown on his face, because the intruder continued, his voice faint now.
"He is utterly loyal to Konoha, and you in particular, Sarutobi Hiruzen..." And then his eyes slowly slid shut, but not before flashing in a startlingly familiar blue.
Hiruzen stared at the once again unconscious man. He could feel a headache building behind his eyes.
"What to do with him, Hokage-sama?"
"Take him to one of the secure hospital rooms. Complete lock-down until we can confirm his identity and purpose here." He stated after only a brief pause.
With a quick bow, two of his guards took the body and shunshin'ed away, leaving only two small puffs of smoke in their wake.
Hiruzen was well aware of what the... man had said. Time travel. As far-fetched as it sounded, he could not simply dismiss it. He would have to look into this more closely.
With a heavy sigh, he moved across the room and sat down behind his desk. Without looking up, he addressed another of the ANBU.
"Fetch me Yamanaka Inoichi."
With a quick salute, another of his shinobi disappeared from the room. This sure would prove to be interesting. He absently stared at the blood on his floor, where the man had laid. Someone would have to clean that up.
. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .
The first thing that Naruto became aware of when he woke up, was the fact that he was not alone. The second thing that made its way into his muddled mind, was the fact that he was lying on something soft. As confusing as that was, he soon became aware of something much more important. He couldn't move. Panicked, he snapped his eyes open and began to pull at his restraints, ignoring his protesting body.
"Don't move." A firm voice commanded. Naruto listened to it only because it was achingly familiar.
"Impossible." Was the first word out of his mouth. Naruto almost winced at how rough and raw his voice sounded. His throat ached at the simple act of speaking.
"Are you aware of where you are?"
Naruto tried to shake his head, but was unable to, so he was forced to speak up. "No." He croaked. Damn, his voice was pitiful. He absently wondered why he wasn't in more pain.
"You are in Konoha, the village hidden in the leaves." The same voice informed him. Naruto blinked once. He couldn't help himself; he began to chuckle. It wasn't a particularly happy sound, and it hurt more than it should.
"Why are you laughing?" A new voice asked, sounding perplexed.
"Konoha was destroyed years ago." Naruto said. He must have been captured by the enemy. Still, that didn't exactly explain why he was still alive... Madara would have extracted the Kyuubi first chance he got, and consequently killed him. "I saw it happen."
Silence rang loudly at his words.
"What is your name?" The first voice asked, sounding slightly less hostile now.
"..." Naruto didn't answer and the question was repeated again. "I would be a pitiful shinobi if I gave in just like that."
A heavy sigh was heard not far from where he lay, staring up at a white ceiling. How could anything be that white?
"Let him up so that he can see me."
A moment later, Naruto found himself staring openly at a face he had never thought he'd see again.
"... Jiji." His voice hitched slightly.
Hiruzen frowned. There were only a few people who ever called him that... Surely that couldn't be right.
"Your name." He snapped. His patience was wearing thin.
Naruto's quickly moistening eyes suddenly narrowed. "How do I know this isn't a genjutsu?" He asked suspiciously.
"You don't." Hiruzen said. "Nevertheless, I will have an explanation as to why and how you ended up in my office. If you do not part with this information willingly, I will have someone enter your mind." He mentioned towards Yamanaka Inoichi with a wave of his hand. Naruto's gaze flicked over to the man before quickly returning to Hiruzen's.
After a couple of tense moments, he visibly deflated. "Fine." He said. He continued to mutter under his breath. "I can't see why I would be alive if I was captured..."
His answer was met by another shocked silence. Hiruzen and Inoichi exchanged disbelieving looks before turning to stare at the grown man before them.
"...How old are you?"
"22." Naruto answered tiredly. He didn't know what was going on, or what had happened. He didn't even know where he was.
"How did you end up in my office?"
Naruto blinked and then frowned. "No idea."
"What are your intentions?"
Naruto just gave them a blank look. Intentions? Heck, he barely knew what was going on.
"What is the last thing you remember before now, then?" Hiruzen grudgingly gave in.
"I was on the battlefield." Naruto answered briskly. That was something he was familiar with. He was about to continue, but frowned as he came up with a blank. "Wait, I'll ask Kurama if he know what's going on."
Hiruzen and Inoichi both blinked and then exchanged another quick glance. They watched as the man's blue eyes glazed over. A moment later, he snapped out of it and his eyes widened.
"Holy crap!" He exclaimed faintly.
"Excuse me?" Hiruzen felt his eyebrows rise towards his hairline. Inoichi coughed into his hand, though it sounded suspiciously like a laugh. No one dared speak to him like that anymore.
"I'm in the past." Naruto sounded close to fainting and his breathing sped up until he was close to hyperventilating.
"Calm down!" Hiruzen snapped. He was running out of patience, and would not stand for the man to loose consciousness.
His barked order seemed to have the desired effect, as Naruto slowly relaxed. He hadn't even been aware he had strained his muscles.
"I- I'm from the future." Naruto stumbled slightly on the words. "Kurama brought us back in time..." His blue eyes were wide.
"Who's Kurama?" Inoichi asked, puzzled.
"It might be better if you speak with him directly if you want your questions answered." Naruto ignored the question and closed his eyes. They quickly opened again, but this time they were the same red that they'd been two days earlier. Inoichi flinched from shock.
"What do you want?"
Hiruzen couldn't help but notice that the man's voice sounded decidedly rougher.
"Naruto and I both already explained. We're from the future." He ground out impatiently.
"Who are you?" Hiruzen narrowed his eyes.
The man stared intently at him a moment before barking out a laugh. "I am the Kyuubi." He grinned menacingly.
"How is it you are able to speak like this?" Hiruzen asked coldly. "I thought the seal kept you back."
"And it did." The Kyuubi growled slightly. "Me and the brat came to an agreement long ago. We now work together, and I will protect him. He is the only human I care for." He glared. "The only one." He stressed this fact. If Hiruzen didn't know better, he'd say that the demon sounded vaguely embarrassed.
He let out a tired sigh. "Let's say I believe you... How did you end up in the past?" Hiruzen leaned back in the chair he occupied and rubbed his fingers over his eyes. This was turning out to be quite the headache.
"I told you before I passed out." The Kyuubi grumbled. "Naruto was dying. I had to do something, and there was no hope for us left where we came from." He made a brief pause, his red eyes boring into Hiruzen's skull. "I will not tell you the technique I used to bring us here, and I did not intend to bring us straight into your office. It must have been Naruto's strong emotions that brought us there."
"Why was... Naruto," It was with some difficulty that Hiruzen used the name in reference to this scarred man. "dying?" He asked.
"The time we came from was at war." Kyuubi stated brusquely. "We survived longer that most, but still... Against enough enemies." He let out a sigh. "Naruto was about to be captured, and I would have been forcefully extracted from him." He slowly blinked. "It would have meant the end of the world."
"I didn't know the Bijuu were prone to exaggeration." Inoichi murmured quietly.
Kyuubi managed to actually snarl. "Exaggeration!?" He sounded outraged. "Here I deign to speak to lowly humans, and look what it brings me!" He practically screamed. Or as much screaming as Naruto's abused throat would allow. His eyes abruptly snapped shut and when they opened they were blue once more.
"Sorry about that. He's a bit cranky at the moment, as he's suffering from severe chakra depletion." Despite his words Naruto sounded far from apologetic.
Inoichi just gaped at him.
Hiruzen decided he had had enough. "Will you submit to the mind-walking technique?" He asked sharply. It went unsaid that it would be forced if he refused.
"I will." Naruto gave Hiruzen a fond look before shifting his gaze to the blond shinobi standing to the side. "I'm ready whenever you are, Inoichi-oyaji."
Looking wary and tense, Inoichi nodded and stepped forward. He bent down and stared into Naruto's eyes, forming a quick string of seals with his hands.
Hiruzen watched and waited in silence. He would have his answer soon enough, and then hopefully be able to make some sense out of all of this.
Ten minutes later, Inoichi broke free of the technique with a gasp and collapsed on the floor. Hiruzen was at his side in a matter of seconds. "Inoichi." His voice filled with concern.
"It's true." Inoichi had eyes for nothing but Naruto. "All of it is true." His voice was weak, and he looked nauseous.
Naruto met his gaze steadily. "The world was not a pretty place." He commented mutedly. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes a brief moment, before giving the two men crouched on the floor a blinding smile. "So how old am I here? My younger self, I mean."
"He... He's twelve." Hiruzen stared at the blonde. This really was Naruto. How had he gotten those scars? It shouldn't be possible. Especially not with the Kyuubi's chakra.
Naruto looked thoughtful a moment. "Has the Chuunin exams been yet?"
Hiruzen shook his head. "Actually, team 7 just returned from a C-rank gone A-rank mission from wave."
"Ah." Naruto didn't look the least bit surprised, confirming the truth further. "So Zabuza and Haku are dead. Pity." Was all he had to say about that. Naruto suddenly looked exhausted. "There's so much to do..." He sighed.
"What do you mean?" Hiruzen returned to his chair, mentioning for Inoichi to remove Naruto's restraints.
"The events over the next few years are very important." Naruto shrugged. He continued to stretch his limbs carefully as the restraints fell from him.
Hiruzen let out a heavy sigh. He didn't ask about the future; he knew how serious this was, and wouldn't want to mess too much with time. "You'll have to stay here for now, Naruto. I'll come back in a few days."
"Alright." Naruto shrugged again. He was exhausted, and his body was still aching. He knew his chakra stores were almost empty. "See you, Jiji." He watched the old man leave the room, conversing quietly with Ino's dad.
. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .
Naruto reflexively caught the white projectile aimed at his face. He turned it over to see a white mask with red markings. It was a smirking fox.
"After you leave this room, you'll no longer be Uzumaki Naruto." The Sandaime informed. "You will from now on be known as nothing more than Kitsune."
"Yes, sir." Kitsune answered readily. Anything to get out of this room! He had waited two days for the Hokage to return.
"I also brought you a uniform. You're now part of my personal ANBU team."
"ANBU?" Kitsune tilted his head slightly, eyes lighting up. "Really?" Those in charge had always refused him that particular position.
"Yes." Hiruzen looked slightly apprehensive as he took a seat in the single chair by the bed. "But before that, we need to talk." He gave the young man a meaningful look. Kitsune nodded.
"What rank do you have?" He would take on Kitsune no matter what position he had, but it would be beneficial to know.
"Technically, I'm just a Genin." Kitsune grinned.
Hiruzen felt like burying his face in his hands. "Technically?"
"Yes. Because of certain circumstances, I was never promoted beyond Genin. I was traveling with Jiraya for two years, training." He made a brief pause, thinking back. "I'm a Sage." He said.
"You are? A Sage?" Hiruzen's eyebrows climbed towards his hairline. A Genin Sage? It was unheard of.
"Yes. I am also able to work perfectly together with Kurama. But even without the old fuzzball's help, I'm a chakra powerhouse." He shrugged.
Fuzzball? Who in their right mind referred to the Kyuubi as 'fuzzball'? Naruto got up and quickly shrugged out of the hospital gown. Hiruzen studied the young man's scars with a detached sort of fascination. Inoichi had told him about the memories he had seen...
Kitsune quickly pulled on the dark blue uniform, strapping on the standard issue weapons pouch and then finished it all off with the dark green vest. He fingered the cloth over his heart a moment before turning towards the Hokage.
"...Hokage-sama." He began hesitantly.
Hiruzen automatically straightened at the formal tone of his voice. "Speak."
"My hitai-ate. Do you know where it is?" He eyed the leader of the village serenely. Hiruzen relaxed and then reached into a pocket.
"Here you go." He threw the battered piece of metal to the shinobi, who caught it with a steady hand. "Why did you wear it on your vest?" He asked, more curious than anything else.
"After the war began, the Nations banded together. We gave up the use of the old hitai-ate, and replaced them with ones that simply stated 'shinobi'." Kitsune paused. "But I could not give up the one Iruka-sensei gave me, so I asked Sakura to sew it onto my vest, closest to my heart." He then snapped into attention, pulling his new mask into place. "What are your orders, Hokage-sama?"
"At ease." Hiruzen felt his lips twitch in a slight smile. "I have made sure you have accommodations in the village. You are taking a shift on duty as of now."
"Yes, sir." Kitsune saluted before he relaxed. "So, Jiji. Won't people be suspicious if I just show up out of nowhere?"
"They will." Hiruzen chuckled. "And I don't know how long we will be able to keep this under wraps." He gave the man a speculative look. "I don't think people will believe me if I say you've been on an infiltration mission..." Kitsune just shrugged. Hiruzen sighed, shook his head and then continued. "Anyway. You'll have to do something about your hair. There's only one person in the village with such a vibrant yellow hair colour." He gave Kitsune a sad smile. "And hide those whisker marks too, in case you lose your mask." He added thoughtfully.
Kitsune nodded and formed the proper hand seals. A moment later, his blond hair had been replaced by a faded red. You couldn't see it, but the distinctive whisker marks on his cheeks were also gone, hidden by the henge.
"There. Acceptable?" He tilted his head questioningly.
"It will do." Hiruzen nodded. "Why red?" He asked curiously.
"In honor of my mother." Kitsune smiled sadly under the fox mask. Hiruzen startled. "You really ought to tell Naruto about his parents, Jiji." There was a well hidden, berating note in the man's cheerful demeanor.
Hiruzen took a deep breath, rubbing at his face. "Let's go. I'm needed in my office." He turned around and headed for the door. Kitsune shrugged and followed. He was ANBU now, after all.
. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .
Two hours later, Kitsune felt like anything would be better than this. Remaining hidden, watching the Hokage do his paperwork and listening to the occasional conversation was boring as hell. Kitsune was bored.
'We've talked about this, Kit.' Kurama's voice resonated in his mind. 'Patience.' The fox was almost completely recovered by now, but had spent the days since their arrival almost constantly sleeping.
'I know. That doesn't mean I have to like it.' Kitsune retorted with a mental pout. 'There's nothing for me to do!'
'There's a reason you was never placed on the ANBU, brat.' Kurama sounded far too amused for Kitsune's liking. 'You're about as subtle as a drunk rhino in a restaurant.' The demon fox chuckled. Kitsune grimaced.
'So stealth isn't my strong suite. Fine.' He relented. 'But I can beat anyone when it comes to speed.' He retorted sullenly.
'Yes. I agree that there isn't anyone that can beat you with that.' Kurama nodded. It wasn't so much that the man was incapable of stealth; he just didn't possess the patience for it. He personally wondered how long it would take for Naruto -Kitsune now, he reminded himself- to tire of it all, and reveal himself to the room. As it turned out, he didn't have to wait long.
Hiruzen looked up, to see Kitsune reclining on the sofa by the wall.
"Kitsune." He acknowledged the man, hiding his amusement. He knew more than anyone that Naruto wasn't suited for ANBU.
"This is boring. Doesn't anyone ever attack you? Even just a little?" Kitsune complained. The other ANBU in the room could hardly believe their ears.
"There hasn't been a direct attack on my person in quite a few years, no." Hiruzen signed another paper, before picking up the next one to be read. "If it'll make you feel better, I'll be handing out missions to the Genin teams soon." He hid a smile.
Kitsune perked up. "Well, it's better than this." He jumped up and strolled over to the desk, taking a seat on a corner, folding his legs up Indian style. "What are you even doing?"
"Reading reports, signing mission requests and such things." Hiruzen answered patiently. "The Hokage post is somewhat overrated, I think. Everyone forgets all about the paperwork." He smirked.
Kitsune grimaced. "Imagine; you could be spending all this time training."
"I am an old man, Kitsune." He reminded the man, suppressing a chuckle. "I have far more important things to do than training."
"What?!" Kitsune sounded outraged. "There's nothing more important than training!"
"Hear that, kids. It's true." A pleasant voice stated from the door. Kitsune simply tilted his head in acknowledgment. He hadn't heard that voice in a long time. "Mornin', Old man." Asuma entered the room fully, followed by three very young looking Genin. Kitsune almost fell off the desk he was sitting on as he caught sight of how tiny Shikamaru and Chouji were. And Ino didn't even have breasts!
"Good morning, Asuma." Hiruzen greeted with a faint smile. "Here for your mission?" He asked, even though he knew full well that was the reason.
"Of course." Asuma offered a wry half-smile.
"Well, then. Here you go." Hiruzen handed his son a scroll, containing their mission for the day. "D-rank." He smiled.
"How troublesome." Shikamaru muttered, stifling a yawn.
"Quiet! We're in front of the Sandaime." Ino smacked him in the back of his head.
"I'm hungry." Chouji muttered under his breath, rubbing his stomach. Kitsune was very glad he was wearing a mask as he looked at his old friends. How nice it was to see them again! Even thought they were about ten years younger than they ought to be.
"Good luck with your mission."
"Hai, Hokage-sama!" The three Genin answered with different levels of enthusiasm. Or, as in Shikamaru's case, the lack thereof. Once they had all left, Kitsune slowly turned back towards the Hokage.
"You turned quiet, Kitsune." Hiruzen observed. "Not used to seeing Genin?"
Kitsune understood what it was he meant, and slowly nodded. They were so young. Had he really been that small when he had been a Genin? He let out a quiet sigh; he had probably been even smaller.
The rest of the morning progressed in a similar manner. Kitsune remained in his claimed seat on the Hokage's desk, asking random questions from time to time. They would never admit it, but the rest of the Hokage's ANBU guard found his behavior rather amusing. It wasn't until mid-day that something truly interesting happened. It knocked on the door.
"Enter." Hiruzen called out distractedly. The door quickly opened to reveal one particular Chuunin.
"Hokage-sama, I've brought the files you asked for yesterday." Iruka said as he walked up to the desk and put down a pile of files. Kitsune moved before anyone had a chance to react.
"Iruka-sensei!" And he wrapped the brown-haired man in a fierce hug.
Iruka stood frozen in shock. "Uh, Hokage-sama?" Iruka chose to ignore the strange shinobi and turned to the old man for answers. He could swear he could hear the ANBU in the room snigger.
"Ah, Iruka-kun. This is the newest member of my ANBU guard." Hiruzen answered amicably, pretending not to notice the man still clinging to the Chuunin. "Kitsune."
"Eh." Kitsune released the man and took a quick step back. "Nice to meet you." He offered sheepishly. Iruka stared at him.
"Right." He answered slowly, drawing the word out. He turned back to the Sandaime. "I need to return to the Academy, Hokage-sama." And he saluted and left, sending Kitsune confused, slightly wary glances all the while.
"You might want to reconsider the way you greet people." Hiruzen commented lightly, stomping down on all the questions rising within.
"Yes." Came Kitsune's downcast reply.
. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .
Hours later, Kitsune was released from the Hokage's office. He immediately went to the small apartment he had been given, to check it out. He didn't linger there long, though, as it had little to offer at the moment. Soon enough, Kitsune found himself in a favorite spot of his; the Hokage monument. Sitting on top of the Yondaime's head, leaning against one of the hair spikes, he stared out over Konoha.
'How're you holding up?' Kurama asked softly.
'I think it's finally sinking in.' Kitsune admitted. 'Seeing Iruka today...' He let out a heavy sigh. Iruka had died years ago, in the beginning of the war. He had gone down trying to protect a team of newly promoted Genin. It had not been pretty.
'You've missed him.' It wasn't a question.
'Yeah. I mean, he was the first person to acknowledge me.' Kitsune gave a mental shrug. 'He's important to me.' He made a long pause. 'His death was painful, and difficult to accept.'
'I know, Kit.' Kurama hummed, settling down in his mindscape.
"Who're you?" His mental conversation was interrupted by a terrifyingly familiar voice. Kitsune turned around to stare at an orange and blond eyesore.
"Kitsune." Kitsune said, pointing at his mask.
"Oh..." Twelve year old Naruto answered, squinting at him. "I've never seen you here before." He informed him.
Kitsune let out another sigh and nodded. "I'm usually not up here much." He admitted with a shrug. It was the truth, but mainly because Konohagakure had been destroyed in his time and there was nothing to look at. "Shouldn't you be training or something?" Kitsune asked, glancing up at the sun. He hadn't been here that long, had he?
"Yeah, but my Sensei is in the hospital, so I have a few days off." Naruto rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. Kitsune blinked. He really had been socially awkward back then. Nowadays he simply didn't care anymore. Naruto blinked curiously at him a few moments before slowly sitting down. "So why do you wear a mask?"
"I'm ANBU." Kitsune answered evenly.
"I thought ANBU just wore masks when they were working." Naruto pointed out, squinting at him slightly. "You're not an enemy nin, are you?"
"I'm not." Kitsune chuckled. "Look." He pulled out his old hitai-ate from the breast pocket of his vest, handing it over to Naruto.
"Why's it so banged up?" Naruto asked, curiously turning it over in his hands.
"It's the first one I got, and it's very important to me." Kitsune glanced up at the one on Naruto's forehead.
"Oh. Mine too!" Naruto handed the dented piece of metal back with a wide grin. "Iruka-sensei gave me mine!" He chirped happily.
Kitsune then spent the next fifteen minutes listening to why Iruka-sensei was the best person in the world. It was somewhat endearing, he thought. He had leaned back, supporting his head with his hands, as he listened to Naruto prattle on and on about everyday stuff. He remembered that he'd hardly had anyone to talk to at this age. There really had only been Iruka and the Hokage, and the Sandaime didn't have much time to spend on a lonely twelve year old.
When Naruto began to talk about his Genin team, Kitsune asked a few carefully neutral questions. And then listened to rants on Sasuke-teme and adoring rambling on Sakura-chan. Naruto even managed to mention Kakashi in there somewhere. Kitsune smiled wistfully under his mask.
Eventually, he sat up straight and stretched his arms over his head. "Sorry, kid. I need to go. I want to get in some training before I go to bed tonight." And he got to his feet.
"Oh." Naruto looked thoroughly disappointed before perking up. "Can't you teach me some cool ninjutsu?"
Kitsune laughed. "Sorry, kid. I only know a few ninjutsu. It's not really my specialty." He revealed, amused.
"So what's your specialty?" Naruto looked honestly confused.
"Well." Kitsune jumped to the boy's other side. "I'm really fast, and skilled when it comes to taijutsu." He grinned at Naruto's awed expression. "And shouldn't you think about getting something to eat before going to bed?" He inquired.
"I guess." Naruto sighed and got up. "I'll see you around?" It sounded more like a hopeful question than a statement.
"I'm sure you will." Kitsune nodded and then left for one of the empty training grounds. He had spent all day doing virtually nothing; he'd have to work off some energy before he'd be able to sleep.
. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .
A little over a week later, Kitsune was strolling around the Hokage office's ceiling when team 7 walked in for their mission.
"Yo, Naruto!" Kitsune greeted him enthusiastically. He was bored out of his mind, and welcomed any distraction. "Here for a mission?" He tilted his head questioningly.
Naruto blinked up at him before breaking out laughing.
"You know that weirdo, dobe?" Sasuke scowled faintly, glaring at his teammate, as if blaming him for the strange welcome.
"Hi, Kitsune." Naruto had recovered enough to return the greeting by now. "What're you doing?"
"I'm working." Kitsune answered in a voice that stated it ought to be obvious. "Unfortunately, the Hokage insists on staying behind his desk, instead of going out there to challenge dangerous opponents, so I'm stuck here." He crossed his arms in front of his chest and let a slight pout leak into his voice. The Sandaime simply chuckled as he took in Kakashi's silent bafflement. The man was skilled at hiding his emotions, but you could see it if you looked close enough.
"Kitsune, please don't disturb the Genin." He intervened before Naruto could fire off another question. Kitsune executed a perfect salute, which looked utterly ridiculous when he was standing upside down. Naruto snorted at the sight.
Kakashi's visible eye twitched, especially since he could hear the faint sound of a snicker from one of the hidden ANBU. Who was this guy?
"The mission, Hokage-sama." Kakashi reminded, as the old man seemed to struggle not to laugh too.
"Of course." Hiruzen cleared his throat and then handed over a scroll. "A D-rank." He said, knowing what was to come.
"Aw, come on! We managed an A-rank, and now we're back with Ds?" Naruto complained loudly. "Give us something more difficult, Jiji!"
"Really? A runt like you pulled off an A-rank?" Kitsune teased, strolling up to Naruto until his masked face was almost right in front of Naruto's, staring him in the eyes. "I mean, you don't even reach me to the neck." He said, posing one of his hands over Naruto's head as he tsk'ed.
"Ey!" Naruto took a swipe at him, clearly affronted. Kitsune just laughed and sidestepped him.
"Anyway!" Hiruzen had to raise his voice slightly, to intervene before it could turn into a ridiculous form of tag. "Any questions, Kakashi-kun?"
"None." Kakashi eye-smiled and then herded his team out the door. Naruto was making faces at Kitsune all the way, until the door closed between them.
"I didn't know you had met Naruto already, Kitsune." Hiruzen smiled up at the man. He had to admit that while Kitsune was abysmal at staying hidden and discreet, he sure was excellent entertainment.
Kitsune shrugged. "We met up at the Hokage monument."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah. I went there for the view." His words held so much more meaning, and Hiruzen found himself staring at the time traveller. "We talked."
"Hm." Hiruzen grabbed the next report he had to read and sign. "I've been thinking, Kitsune. I don't really think you're suited for ANBU. At least not my personal guard."
"You think?" Kitsune deadpanned.
Hiruzen ignored him. "I thought I should let you know you're up for an assessment tomorrow, to see what missions I can send you on." He smiled warmly at the man.
"Really?" Kitsune didn't sound the least upset about the surprise assessment. "Yes!" He dropped from the ceiling, flipped in the air and landed on his feet without a sound. "So what'll you have me do?" He plopped into his favored seat on the old man's desk.
Hiruzen chuckled. "I was thinking a fight would be sufficient."
"With whom?" Kitsune asked eagerly. Even through the mask, Hiruzen could see the gleam in his eyes.
"Kakashi. The Jounin that just left with Naruto-kun."
"Is he any good?" Kitsune asked, suppressed mirth in his voice.
"Very." Hiruzen nodded. He had to admit he had chosen Kakashi mostly out of curiosity. Pitting the man against his student's future self would be interesting.
Kitsune leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Won't it be unfair? I know Kakashi better than most, while he doesn't know me at all."
"Maybe." Hiruzen shrugged. "It'll no doubt be interesting." He smiled.
"I always knew you had a twisted sense of humor." Kitsune barked out a laugh.
"As you've repeatedly pointed out; I'm stuck behind this desk most of the day. I need some form of entertainment." Hiruzen grinned unrepentantly.
"So true." Kitsune nodded. "So can I please go harass Kakashi a bit now?" He asked innocently.
"Your shift doesn't end until one hours from now."
"I know." Kitsune didn't sound concerned. "But you haven't told Kakashi yet, have you? I'm sure he'd appreciate some time to mentally prepare." Kitsune grinned under the mask. He would have so much fun with this!
"Fine. If only to get you out of my hair." Hiruzen grumbled in mock irritation. "The office will be more peaceful without you here." He rolled his eyes as Kitsune executed some sort of victory pose in front of his desk. "I need to work, now shoo." And he waved him away.
"Thanks, old man!" And Kitsune leapt out the open window.
"He really is... unusual." Taka murmured quietly from his spot by the window.
"Yes." Hiruzen answered simply, casting an amused glance at the bird masked ANBU.
. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .
Kitsune spent a few minutes up in a tree, just observing the three Genin and their sensei as they began the day's mission. Gathering trash from a small, shallow stream on the edge of the village. After a few minutes of watching Naruto make a fool of himself in an attempt to get Sakura's attention, he leapt down to the ground next to where Kakashi was slumped against a tree, reading his beloved Icha Icha.
"Shouldn't you be with the Hokage?" Kakashi asked without taking his eye off the book.
"I'm off in an hour, so he let me go now to inform you of your plans for tomorrow." Kitsune grinned.
"My plans for tomorrow?" Kakashi echoed evenly.
"Yes. Apparently, I have an assessment tomorrow, and the Sandaime inform me a few minutes ago."
Kakashi thought he knew where this was going, but didn't plan to make it any easier for this strange shinobi. Too bad his strategy didn't seem to be working.
"You and I will spar. I don't know the time or place yet, but I'll take any opportunity to get out of that office." Kitsune stated cheerfully, not the least bit contrite.
Kakashi finally looked up at him, incredulous. "...How in the world did you become ANBU?" He asked.
Kitsune took no offence, but settled down on the grass next to the man, instead. "No idea. The Hokage made the decision. I, personally, think he was bored and wanted some entertainment." He admitted in a loud stage whisper.
Kakashi blinked. What was wrong with this guy? Usually, whoever he was talking to would have gotten offended and left by now. Instead of showing any reaction, Kakashi snapped his gaze back to his book, deciding to ignore the fox masked shinobi.
"And the rest of his ANBU guard haven't done anything about your behaviour yet?" Kakashi couldn't help but ask in a disinterested voice.
"Oh, one or two of them tried a few things." Kitsune leaned back. "It was fun for a while, but they gave up when they realised it wasn't working. Now they just sort of go with it. I can even make them laugh from time to time." Kitsune grinned. "I'm winning." He added smugly.
"You turned it into a competition?" Kakashi asked incredulously.
"Have you ever guarded the Hokage? It's boring as hell!" Kitsune defended himself. Kakashi blinked and then realised he had been pulled into the conversation again. He hummed noncommittally and returned to his reading.
"Kakashi-sensei! This is too boring!" Naruto called over at the seemingly relaxed Jounin.
"It's an important mission, Naruto-kun." Kakashi answered in his default, politely amused tone. "And we'll stay here until you finish it."
"Yes, Kakashi-sensei." Came Naruto's despondent reply.
"Wow, you're a laidback Jounin." Kitsune commented, just to tick Kakashi off. It was oh so funny to get a reaction out of the man. As expected, Kakashi's eye twitched. Kitsune resigned himself to the fact that Kakashi was now ignoring him, and turned to watch the three Genin. He really itched to do something about Sasuke.
An hour later, the two of them were joined by the kids in the grass.
"Are you always wearing that mask?" Naruto asked curiously as he flopped down next to him. Even Sasuke turned his head slightly to hear better.
"Yes." Kitsune answered amusedly.
"Why?" Sakura joined the conversation.
"To hide my hideous face." Kitsune stated dramatically. "Disfigured by my many battles!" He continued to spread it on thick. Kids were so much fun, and he'd rarely had a chance to spend time with anything other than battle hardened soldiers since the war broke out.
Naruto snickered. "Didn't you say you were really fast?" He grinned.
"True!" Kitsune was surprised he had remembered that. "Amazing! You must have a perfect memory or something." He grinned right back at him, even though none of them could see. Sakura and Sasuke both snorted at that, causing Naruto to scowl at them.
"I just remembered you said that, because you told me you wasn't very good at ninjutsu." Naruto pouted. Sasuke sent Kitsune a disdainful glance at that.
Kitsune held up a finger. "Ah, but I didn't say that!" He reprimanded lightly. "I said I didn't know too many ninjutsu. I never said I wasn't any good at them." He smirked. "The ones I actually know, I know very well." He was aware of the fact that Kakashi was listening closely, despite being apparently engrossed in his reading. Kitsune didn't mind, and saw this as a chance to even the odds a little.
"Like what?" Naruto asked curiously.
"Now, I can't tell you that." Kitsune put on a tone of seriousness. "If I did, I'd have to kill you. Especially since I'm fighting your sensei tomorrow." He relaxed in his seat again, slumping against the tree.
"You are? Why?" Sakura cut in before Naruto had a chance to open his mouth.
"I'm being assessed. Apparently, I'm not suited for the Hokage's ANBU guard." Kitsune told her with mock hurt. "Who would've known?"
"Aha!" Kitsune exclaimed, pointing at him. "I made you laugh!" He stated smugly, effectively drawing the boy into the conversation.
"I was laughing at you." Sasuke pointed out bluntly.
"Even so, you laughed." Kitsune chuckled. "You know, scowling like that all day will give you wrinkles before you know it." He tapped a finger to the side of his mask in a thoughtful manner.
Sasuke blinked at him, and then seemed to deem him a hopeless idiot. "I'm twelve." He muttered sullenly.
"Exactly. You should break out of the habit now, before it's too late!" Kitsune then abruptly turned towards the other two. "So what about you two?"
"What about us?" Sakura asked pensively, glancing between him and Sasuke and back again.
"What bad habits do you have that needs to be broken?" He tilted his head questioningly.
"I don't have any!" Naruto declared confidently. "All my habits are good." He crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"Is that so? And you?" He turned to Sakura without disputing the boy. The girl was currently looking like she wanted nothing more than to introduce Naruto's face to her fist.
"I, uh... I-" Sakura stammered.
"Sounds to me as if you all have plenty of things to work on. Not to mention your sensei over there." Kitsune had lowered his voice conspiringly now. "My guess is that he's an irreparable pervert."
Sakura choked on air, while Naruto snickered. Even Sasuke's lips quirked up a fraction. Again, Kakashi's eye twitched, but he didn't show any other sign of actually listening.
"So what do you guys do now? It's still early."
"I don't know." Sakura looked over at Kakashi, an uncertain expression on her face.
"How about a game of tag?" Kitsune suggested excitedly. "Kakashi's it!" And before anyone could either refuse or agree, Kitsune had snatched the orange book out of Kakashi's hand and dashed away with a manic laugh. His students only got a glimpse of Kakashi's outraged face before he dashed after the decidedly odd ANBU, leaving them all alone.
"So... Do we report back to the Hokage on our own?" Sakura asked timidly.
"I guess?" Naruto rubbed the back of his head confusedly. Sasuke just sighed and got to his feet.
"Let's go." And he led the way back to the village centre.
Twenty minutes later, the three Genin trudged into the Hokage's office. Sasuke looked bored, while Sakura looked decided uncomfortable with the entire situation. Naruto walked in with a large grin on his face, just like he always did.
Hiruzen looked up, surprised. "Now, where is Kakashi?" He asked.
"He, uh..." Naruto blinked, wondering how he was supposed to phrase this.
"That odd ANBU of yours engaged him in a game of tag." Sasuke's blunt answer left the room in a stunned silence.
"And how in the world did he manage to do that?" Hiruzen had trouble seeing Kakashi agree to play anything. Even less with someone he considered a complete stranger.
"He stole Kakashi-sensei's book." Sakura answered when it was obvious Sasuke deemed he had done his part.
Hiruzen stared. He became aware of several of his ANBU who momentarily slipped in their efforts to remain hidden, but pretended like he hadn't noticed. "He did what?" He eventually asked.
"He took that orange book Kakashi-sensei's always reading and ran off." Naruto nodded, confirming what Sakura had just said. Hiruzen slowly put down the brush he had been using and rubbed his hands over his face.
"But he did, Jiji!" Naruto insisted.
"Oh, I'm not saying you're lying." Hiruzen quickly assured them. "It's just..." He'd have an irate Kakashi in his office sooner or later, he was sure. "Can't he just do things normally?" He exclaimed, asking no one in particular. The three Genin just blinked at him. "Never mind. Have you finished the mission?"
"We think so. Kakashi-sensei left before we could ask." Sakura said hesitantly, as if wondering if they would get scolded.
"Alright. I'll accept that today, since there's some... circumstances. You can go." He nodded and waved them out of his room. As soon as they had left, Hiruzen slumped back in his chair.
"He stole Kakashi's Icha Icha." he muttered to himself.
"This is Hatake Kakashi we're talking about, right?" Taka asked uncertainly. He was usually acting as the ANBUs' voice.
"Indeed he is."
Silence rang loudly as the ANBU in the room reevaluated the odd shinobi they had started to get to know over the last two weeks. Hiruzen just knew that this would be all over the village before the day was over. He hoped Kakashi was prepared for Kitsune's friendship. It mattered little whether he wanted it or not; he had it.
. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .
Okay, so Kakashi could admit he had underestimated the fox masked shinobi. That didn't explain why he was now chasing said shinobi all over Konoha for something that was rightfully his. Playing tag! And the man was ridiculously fast. He hadn't been lying when he'd claimed so, earlier. But Kakashi was no slouch either, when he made an effort, and was right on the man's heel. They two of them dashed over rooftops and trees. Kitsune jumped down to the middle of the street, startling the civilians, before he was off again. Kakashi ground his teeth and followed. Where were they even going?
They ended up on top of the Hokage monument. Kakashi glared at the red haired ANBU, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Explanation." He demanded.
Kitsune turned to look at him, unconcerned with Kakashi's leaking killing intent. "You seemed like you could need a break." He shrugged.
Kakashi blinked. Whatever reason he might have expected, that wasn't it. "Huh?" Was his eloquent response.
Kitsune tilted his head a little. "You seemed like you could need a bit of mindless fun."
"You call this fun?" Kakashi deadpanned.
"You can't deny it." Kitsune grinned. "If you really didn't want to chase me, you wouldn't have." He stated confidently. "It's not like I was going to destroy your book." He pointed out, trying not to sound as smug as he felt.
Irritated, Kakashi just held out his hand. "I want it back."
"Sure." Kitsune stepped towards him. "Are you certain you don't want to play a bit more?" He teased lightly.
"I'm certain." Kakashi ground out. Damn it, this guy was annoying! And he completely disregarded the facade Kakashi put up. The moment he got hold of his book he inspected it for any damage it might have sustained during their wild trek through Konoha, but to his surprise and relief, it was perfectly unharmed. Jiraya-sama, the man who had taught his sensei, had written this book. He glanced at Kitsune, just to see the man sitting down where he had stood a moment before. Kakashi surprised himself by joining him, opening the book to read as he did so. "You really are fast." He commented neutrally.
Kitsune produced a noncommittal sound. "I'm probably the fastest shinobi alive." He murmured absently. Kakashi blinked and gave him an incredulous glance. That was quite a claim. But Kitsune didn't sound particularly enthusiastic about it, or as if he was actually aware of the fact that he had said it out loud. That just gave it more weight, in Kakashi's opinion, and he made sure to remember it.
"I've heard the Raikage is pretty fast. Supposedly only bested by the Yondaime, the Yellow Flash." He said in a conversional tone, returning his gaze to the text in his hand.
"Mm." Kitsune hummed, leaning back until he was lying on the stone surface, using his hands as a headrest. They stayed like that, enjoying each other's silent company.
. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .