Chapter 2

Kitsune waited patiently at the appointed training field, sprawled carelessly in the grass. Kakashi was always late, and he doubted it'd be different today. The Hokage and two Jounin were waiting off to the side. The two Jounin both had an air of impatient around them, while the Hokage seemed to enjoy the open air and sunshine. No wonder, since he usually spent this time of day indoors.

"Are you ready, Kitsune-kun?" Hiruzen called over to him.

"Of course, Hokage-sama. I'm good to go the moment Kakashi deigns to turn up." He replied without even opening his eyes. The sun felt wonderful against his skin.

"Good." None of them mentioned the three spectators hidden in the trees some distance away. Figures team 7 would turn up to watch. Kitsune felt a smile stretch his lips. Children really were too curious.

Twenty minutes later, Kakashi appeared next to the Hokage, ready with an eye smile and all. "Good morning." He greeted calmly, as if he wasn't an hour and a half late.

"Good morning, Kakashi." Kitsune jumped to his feet and strolled over.

"Kitsune." Kakashi greeted with a nod.

Hiruzen watched the exchange with a faint smile. He had thought Kakashi would be furious over Kitsune's behavior the previous day, but it seemed it had all worked out well. Kakashi even seemed... friendly, towards the man.

"Let's begin, then. I believe you're both ready?" Hiruzen brought everyone's attention to the matter at hand.

"Yes, sir." Both Kitsune and Kakashi answered readily.

"Whenever you're ready, then." Hiruzen and the two Jounin retreated to some distance away to watch.

Kitsune turned towards Kakashi, leaning a bit closer and lowered his voice. "You are aware of the spectators, aren't you?" Kakashi gave a subtle nod. "No stray kunai in that direction." Kitsune concluded and then marched over to a spot he was comfortable with, before turning back towards his opponent.

"Begin!" Hiruzen stated, eyes trained on the two young men. This would be interesting.

Kitsune pulled out a kunai from his pouch, twirled it expertly in his hand a moment, before gripping it tightly. He formed a simple seal with his other hand and a Kage Bunshin puffed into existence at his side. A heartbeat later, the two Kitsune's were charging the grey haired shinobi. Kunai clashed a few times as they slowly but steadily gained speed, and shuriken were deflected. Soon enough, the two of them were nothing more than a blur for the untrained eye. Kakashi jumped back, formed a series of hand seals and then breathed an enormous fireball at the fox masked man. Kitsune dove out of the way, rolling to his feet immediately and diving at his opponent again.

Kakashi wasted no time as he began to throw ninjutsu after ninjutsu at the man; he wanted to press him into using some of his own. The man's taijutsu had already proven to be more than adequate. Kakashi's one visible eye quickly widened when he realized he could no longer see the kage bunshin. He knew he hadn't dispelled it, and was immediately on edge. A few minutes and exchanged blows later, a hand grabbed his legs from underneath the soil he stood on, almost tripping him. He quickly threw a kunai at the bunshin's head, effectively dispelling it.

The fight escalated from there.

Hiruzen watched the fight unfold, and was astounded. Especially when considering that that was Naruto; the dead last. And Kitsune had still not pulled any ninjutsu apart from the most basic ones, as well as the kage bunshin clones. To think that he had the Kyuubi on top of that, too. What kind of enemy had he been fighting to reduce him to the state he had been in when Hiruzen had found him on his office floor? A frightening thought, if any. It wasn't until Kakashi pushed up his hitai-ate to use his sharingan that things began to change. If possible, the two shinobi gained speed. Kitsune was running around dodging kunai and ninjutsu, aiming kicks and kunai of his own at Kakashi, who managed to dodge most of them.

Kitsune suddenly pulled back and stopped. Kakashi tensed as his sharingan followed the string of seals the man formed, before slamming his hand down on the scarred ground. A loud rumbling sounded before the earth seemed to crack open in a cobweb of fissures. Kakashi didn't waste time to stand and stare, but launched into action. He already had something in mind that might work. Kitsune proved to be more of a challenge than he had thought, and he even suspected the man to be holding back.

Taking advantage of the upturned ground, Kakashi laid his trap as they fought. When he was ready, he leapt back, already forming the hand seals.

Kitsune's eyes widened as he realized what was about to happen. Cursing out loud, he ran towards an area they had yet to fight in. He spat out a harsh curse as he heard Kakashi's low, victorious exclamation.

And then the world around him erupted into flames.

Smoke filled the area and debris rained down on them as they waited to see what had happened.

"Damn it." They could hear someone exclaim as a shadow separated from the smoke.

Hiruzen watched a slightly singed Kitsune shake his head. His mask was covered in soot, and his left arm looked like it had recieved a burn, but looked otherwise unharmed.


"That explosion almost made me deaf, you stupid scarecrow!"

Kakashi blinked, before eye smiling at him. Kitsune took that opportunity to attack. It appeared the blast had managed to affect him more than Hiruzen had first thought, as he watched one of Kakashi's kicks land, resulting in an earsplitting crack.

Kitsune dodged the kick, but his head was still ringing from that damn explosion, so he didn't pull back far enough. The smack to his face made his eyes water and it felt as if his nose had been broken, but he ignored the pain as he felt his mask crack and slowly slide off his face. Well, good thing the old man had thought of that henge. He didn't let Kakashi savor the moment as he attacked with renewed abandon. His head hurt, his eyes were stinging from the smoke and direct sunlight, his nose was most likely broken and his arm was burned; all in all, he didn't feel like keeping this up much longer. He'd be damned, but he'd give Kakashi a few mementos too.

A few strikes later, Kitsune smirked triumphantly as Kakashi grunted with pain as his kunai sank into the man's thigh. Now having successfully hampered the man's movements, it was easy to kick him hard in the chest in his moment of distraction. In a flash, Kitsune was crouched over the man, a kunai pressed against his jugular. He grinned down at Kakashi, and the man's eyes widened a friction at the sight of his exposed face. Kitsune knew that his scars were very noticeable, and pulled at his mouth when he grinned, making his smiled somewhat lopsided.

"Very well done." Hiruzen called out. "Come over here now, and let the medic take a look at you." The man ordered.

Kitsune quickly put the kunai away and helped Kakashi up. Kakashi eyed his hand a moment, before taking it. He refused any further help, however, and limped over to the Hokage and the waiting medic with his pride intact, Kitsune strolling along beside him. The moment they got there, the medic began to fuss over Kakashi, making him sit down so he could take a look at his injured leg.

"That was an excellent fight." Hiruzen observed.

"Thank you." Kitsune grinned. It felt really strange without his mask on; he had worn it constantly ever since he had left the hospital. "It was fun." He added cheerfully.

Kakashi just sent him a look, not really surprised anymore. He remained silent as the medic treated his leg, a green glow surrounding the man's hands as his chakra knitted his flesh back together. Hiruzen, meanwhile, was having a muted discussion with the other Jounin, presumably about Kitsune's performance and the possibilities this presented. Kitsune waited patiently for the medic as movement at the edge of his field of vision caught his attention. He watched one of the shadows bend down to pick something up and reacted before anyone had time to even blink.

"Don't!" He exclaimed frantically, startling the rest of the shinobi. Kitsune was behind the two boys in a heartbeat, grabbed them around their waists and returned to the others, just as an explosion went off where the boys had been standing just a moment before. "Don't you ever enter a battlefield before it's been cleared. Understand?!" Kitsune snapped at the two wide-eyed Genin. "There're still traps and explosion tags all over the place." He added in a fractionally calmer voice. He then caught sight of something red on Sasuke's clothing.

"Are you hurt? Where are you bleeding?" He asked worriedly, grabbing the boy's arm and inspected his side where the blood was staining his clothes.

"It's yours." Sasuke stated, looking decidedly uncomfortable.

"Oh." Kitsune immediately relaxed. "Okay, then." He caught sight of Sakura on the other side by the trees, looking thoroughly downcast and abandoned. He quickly jumped over -careful with where he placed his feet- grabbed her and then put her down next to her teammates. He then strolled over to Kakashi and flopped down on the ground next to him.

"What are you three doing here?" Kakashi asked tiredly, deciding to ignore the potentially lethal situation that had just been deflected. For now.

"We wanted to watch you and Kitsune fight!" It looked like Naruto had recuperated from the shock by now.

"And why did you go out on the field?" He fixed his students with an intense glare.

"Kitsune's mask." Naruto stated sheepishly, handing over a piece of the broken porcelain mask to Kitsune, who took it with a sigh.

"Naruto." He began sharply. "Kakashi placed traps all over that field. You two are lucky you didn't step on any before you reached this." He held up the blackened piece for them to see.

"I didn't see any." Naruto defended himself stubbornly. Kitsune raised an eyebrow, pulled out a kunai and threw it into the field. It struck a rock with a clang which immediately erupted into a flash of fire, consuming the metal knife. "Oh." Naruto blinked.

"I told you it was a bad idea." Sakura looked close to tears.

"At least no one was hurt." Kitsune breathed.

Sasuke gave him an incredulous look. "You're bleeding." He stated.

Kitsune glanced down on his left arm before dismissing it with a faint scoff. Unfortunately, the medic didn't.

"Take off your shirt." He ordered. Kitsune turned to glare at the man who was obviously done with Kakashi.

"Why? It's just my arm!" He objected. "You can treat it just as easily like this."

"I want to make sure you don't have any other injuries after that explosion." The man explained impatiently.

"It's fine, this is the only one." He held out his arm.

The three Genin watched with some amusement as Kitsune and the medic nin argued. Eventually, the medic relented and settled for cutting off the arm of Kitsune's uniform, revealing his bare arm. The three children immediately stopped smiling.

"That must hurt." Naruto observed as he stared at the angry red, cracked skin. Kitsune peered over at him.

"It's not too bad." He smiled reassuringly.

Sasuke scoffed. He knew that that must be very painful. He glanced down on his shirt, which was smeared with blood. He had used that arm to carry him away from the explosion...

"So you won over Kakashi-sensei, huh." Naruto said as he sat down next to the scarred man.

Kitsune made a noncommittal sound, giving Naruto a knowing look. "Yes. But had I been just a little bit slower, Kakashi would have won. That trap was very dangerous, you see." He explained to the blond. "And had the fight dragged on much longer, Kakashi would've won, because he's much smarter than me."

"Why?" Sasuke couldn't help but ask. He was curious as to why the man thought so.

Kitsune turned to meet his gaze, pleasantly surprised by Sasuke's involvement in the conversation. "You see, Kakashi had already placed another two traps in there, rigging the things while I was trying to get out of the explosion's range."

Kakashi startled. How in the world had the man had time to notice that?

"I had to be very careful where I stepped, or I would have been defeated without even reaching your Sensei."

"Hn." Sasuke glanced at Kakashi, who eye smiled back.

The medic chose that moment to smear ointment on Kitsune's tender skin, causing him to tense. Once he was done, the man wrapped it quickly with bandages and turned his attention to Kitsune's face.

"This'll only take a moment to fix." He muttered to himself before placing two fingers over the break in his nose. It snapped back into place and Kitsune felt the healing chakra wash over it, numbing the pain. "There." He stated once he was done. "Let the bandages remain on until the burn is completely healed. Apply this ointment every night before going to bed." He handed Kitsune a small jar. "Make sure not to get any dirt on the skin." He gave the redhead a warning glare, before turning to the waiting Hokage. "I've done what I can." He confirmed.

"Well then. Kitsune, I hope you're up for a trip to the Hokage tower." He looked the man over worriedly.

"Oh, I'm fine." Kitsune rolled his blue eyes with an exasperated grin. "It's hardly the worst I've ever been injured."

Hiruzen just nodded. "Let's go, then. Kakashi, you can take the rest of the day off." He sent a meaningful look towards the three Genin, and Kakashi nodded with a sigh. He understood.

Kitsune stood up and made to jump off, but Hiruzen caught his uninjured arm. "Here." He handed him a new mask, identical to the one that had been shattered. "I thought you might need a new one." He smiled and then disappeared with a small puff of smoke. Kitsune rolled his eyes again, ignoring Kurama's hearty laughter, donned the mask and followed.

. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o. o . o .

"Is it true, what he said?" Sakura asked the moment they were alone.

Kakashi turned towards her. "About the fight? It is." He nodded, pulling his hitai-ate down to cover his sharingan. "He surprised me by making a direct attack after taking such an injury. Had he made a different decision, I had prepared for it." Kakashi shrugged. Sakura sat down next to him.

"Are you alright, Kakashi-sensei?" She eyed his bloody leg worriedly.

"I'm fine, Sakura-chan." Kakashi eye smiled at her. "He plunged his kunai into the muscle. It painful, and hinders your movements, but is easy to mend." He assured her. "See." He pulled at the torn fabric, revealing nothing but smooth, whole skin. Sakura nodded, clearly reassured.

"But that fight was awesome." Naruto said, beaming at his Jounin sensei.

Kakashi simply sighed. "Now, we need to talk. Sit down." He mentioned for Sasuke to join them. After all three were seated in front of him, Kakashi fixed them with a serious, stern stare. "I want you to know just how close the two of you were to getting seriously injured today." Kakashi stared unrelentingly at Naruto and Sasuke. "If Kitsune had been just a fraction too late, the two of you would not be sitting here right now." It was important that they understood how close it had been. Naruto blinked while Sasuke's scowl just deepened. Kakashi glared at them until both of them nodded.

"Good." Kakashi finally gave them a faint eye smile. He would drill them mercilessly for this.

. o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o . o .

"How're you feeling?"

"I'm fine. Stop fussing, Jiji." Kitsune smiled at him as he sat down on the sofa. They were all alone -for a change- in the Hokage's office. The Sandaime had just activated the privacy seals to ensure that no one could eavesdrop. Kitsune had been given a day off to recuperate, but was now ready to take on the responsibilities of a Konoha Jounin.

"So you're ready for taking missions?" Hiruzen glanced at the still bandaged arm.

"Of course."

"But before that..." Hiruzen made a brief pause, gaze flicking to Kitsune's stomach. "I would like to inquire about your tenant."

"About Kurama? Sure. What about him?" Kitsune asked, tilting his head slightly to the side. He had pushed up his mask, so that it was resting on top of his head.

"How well can you truly control the Kyuubi? If I am to send you on missions, I can't have it going out of control and reveal who and what you are." Hiruzen eyed the young man evenly. He needed an answer to this.

"Control?" Kitsune asked, blinking at the Hokage. "You misunderstand, Jiji." He placed a hand on his stomach, over the seal. "Kurama and I are partners; we work together." He gave him a small smile.

Hiruzen didn't look convinced. "The Demon fox can work together with a human?"

"He can." Kitsune grinned. "Would you like a demonstration?"

Hiruzen blinked. "In what way?" He felt apprehensive about allowing the Kyuubi to do anything inside the village.

"Our chakra is quite special, when we use it." Kitsune explained, his eyes slowly closing as he concentrated.

Hiruzen watched as a flickering light came to life in the room. A blink of an eye later, and Kitsune was surrounded by a golden cloak of chakra. It felt like sunshine after a rainy day. Like a comforting fire on a cold, dark night. How could this power come from the Kyuubi? That's when Hiruzen realized that it didn't; this was Naruto. This wasn't the Kyuubi's chakra; it was Naruto's.

"And this is only the first 'form', if you can call it that." Kitsune spoke softly, opening his eyes. They were now the same golden color as the rest of him. "If we join together more closely I'll get a slightly different appearance, and I'll be able to turn into a variation of Kurama."

"A variation?"

"Yes. Because I only have half of Kurama's chakra sealed away inside of me, I can't make us look solid." Like Gyuki and Bee. He made a brief pause. "At least that's Kurama's theory." He smiled sadly. "Dad has the other half, remember." He clarified when the Sandaime looked confused.

"Minato?" Hiruzen let out a heavy breath. Kitsune nodded and let the chakra fade.

"So are you convinced yet? Or do you want to speak with Kurama directly?"

Hiruzen frowned. Kitsune didn't wait for a response, but grinned and formed a single seal. A moment later, a kage bunshin popped into existence next to him. Only this one had red eyes.

"So, Sarutobi Hiruzen. You believe I will go berserk on missions?" Kurama began in a raspy conversational tone. Kitsune had to suppress a snicker.

"What evidence do I have that you won't?" If the Hokage was unnerved by this use of a kage bunshin, he didn't show it.

"I no longer have any desire to take over Naruto's body." Kurama stated. "I haven't tried that in years." He added, grumbling under his breath. "As he said; we work together now." Kurama lifted his chin defiantly, as if daring Hiruzen to contradict.

"Why?" Was the only thing Hiruzen could think of asking. The Kyuubi was known to be nothing more than a hostile mass of malevolent chakra.

Kurama looked contemplative for a moment. "Because he accepted me."

"I wanted to try and do something about all of Kurama's hatred." Kitsune elaborated with a shrug.

"...I see." Hiruzen had to admit he was convinced. He gave the two of them a resigned nod. "Alright. I believe you." Kurama gave him a predatory grin and then dissolved in a puff of smoke as the kage bunshin dispelled. Hiruzen took a moment to compose himself and then continued as if nothing had happened. "Well, then. Are you ready for your first Jounin meeting?"

"Of course." Kitsune smirked and then pulled down his mask as the Sandaime cancelled the effects of the privacy seals. His ANBU guard immediately returned to the room. Hiruzen signaled to them that everything was alright and then got to his feet.

"Let's get this over with." He muttered, leading Kitsune out of the room.

. o . o . o . o . o .

Kitsune stood leaning against the back wall, arms crossed in front of his chest as he listened to the Hokage's briefing; talking about the up-coming missions, the situation at the country's borders and such. He pretended like he didn't notice that every single Jounin in the room were sending him curious looks every now and then. Towards the end of the meeting, the door opened and a book-wielding Kakashi strolled in, eye glued to his precious text. After a brief pause, he walked over to Kitsune and slumped against the wall next to him. This only served to make the rest of the room intensify their scrutiny. Kitsune smiled.

"Subtle as always." He commented dryly.

"How's the arm?" Kakashi ignored the jibe and returned with one of his own. Kitsune could clearly hear the amused undertone in his voice.

"It's fine. Almost healed already." He gave a one sided shrug. In truth, the arm was perfectly healed by now -thanks to Kurama's chakra- but he had to pretend otherwise to avoid attention. "How's the team?"

"They're fine, a bit shaken but otherwise learned a valuable lesson." Kakashi flicked him a quick glance. "I think you've earned Sasuke's respect." He sounded torn between amusement and incredulity.

Kitsune snorted. "I didn't know that was possible." He chuckled. Kakashi just hummed and turned back to his Icha Icha. Once the Hokage finished speaking and concluded the meeting, a few of the other Jounin drew closer to the masked pair.

"Kakashi. Who's your friend?" Kurenai asked curiously, followed by Asuma and, surprisingly, Anko.

"This is Kitsune." Kakashi gave a disinterested response. Kitsune sniggered.

"Why are you wearing your ANBU mask?" Anko continued, as blunt as always.

"I just want to spare you all my horribly disfigured face." Kitsune told her in a perfectly serious tone. "Kakashi tried to burn it off a few days ago."

"He did what?" Kurenai turned incredulously towards Kakashi.

"I did not." Kakashi objected.

"Fine. You just tried to blow me up." Kitsune smiled.

"It was a fair fight." Kakashi shrugged, much to the amazement of the others.

"Yeah, and you only got my arm." Kitsune was grinning outright by now.

"I'm beginning to think you did that on purpose, just to get out of the Hokage's office." Kakashi commented absently.

"Of course."

"At least deny it, Kitsune." Hiruzen cut into the conversation with an exasperated sigh.

"Hokage-sama." The Jounin snapped to attention. Kitsune gave him a lazy salute.

"You know my disrespect comes with love, Jiji." He stated in his most serious voice. Hiruzen eyed him wryly.

"Is that so? Maybe I should place you on gate duty for a few days." He raised an eyebrow.

"NO!" Kitsune clasped the Hokage's hand with an air of desperation. "I was joking! Kakashi really did try to kill me with that trap! I only barely escaped with my life." He confessed. "He's a genius shinobi who shouldn't be taken lightly!"

"Alight." Hiruzen couldn't hold back a chuckle. "So are you ready for a mission? I have one for you here." He held up a scroll. Kitsune snatched it out of his hand before anyone could so much as blink.

"YES!" He exclaimed, arms raised over his head. "I'm never going back to your office again, Old man!" He then dashed out of the room, leaving a bunch of speechless shinobi in his wake.

"He... seems like a... unique guy." Kurenai offered diplomatically.

"He's nuts." Anko deadpanned.

"I think Kitsune-san seems like a very youthful man." Gai put in with a wide grin, surprising everyone, since no one had noticed him.

"That he is, Gai-kun." Hiruzen agreed.

"So why haven't I seen him before? I think I would've remembered someone like that." Asuma turned towards his father.

"He's been part of ANBU, my personal guard. It doesn't suit him, so I transferred him."

"Right." Asuma's eyes lit up with recognition. "He's the one that's been in your office the last few weeks." Hiruzen nodded. "He's been sitting on your desk. Not very ANBU of him."

"You should have seen him when me and my team met him the first time." Kakashi put in with a faintly amused voice. "He was strolling around the ceiling."

"No way!" Anko looked a mix between incredulous and awed.

"He was. And then he picked a fight with Naruto." Kakashi continued, ignoring the uncomfortable looks on some of his colleagues' faces.

"He is aware that he'll have to report to you office, right?" Asuma glanced at his father.

"Oh, he knows." Hiruzen assured them with a smile. "Have a nice day." And he walked to the door.

"KAKASHI!" Gai exclaimed, too loud for comfort. "I hear your new youthful friend engaged you in a game of tag!" He slapped the masked Jounin on the back, a blinding smile on his face. Kakashi's eye twitched and before anyone could ask or comment further, he disappeared in a small puff of smoke.

. o . o . o . o . o .

A simple B-rank mission. Kitsune grimaced; this really was too easy for him. But he supposed the Old man wanted to give him an easy start. It was his first proper mission since coming back in time, after all.

Kitsune quickly donned his uniform, strapping on his backpack and tucking away his storage scrolls. He finished it all by checking his weapons pouch and then donned his mask. After a quick look around his sparsely furnished apartment, he shunshin'ed away.

Kitsune entered the Hokage's office once the secretary had ushered him inside. He saluted the old man and then waited patiently. Soon enough, he was joined by another shinobi.

"Hokage-sama." The man saluted and then stepped up so that he stood beside Kitsune.

"Well then. You're both here." Hiruzen eyed them seriously. "I have assigned the two of you to this mission, a B-rank." He began. "You two will act as my envoys to Sunagakure no Sato. You are both aware of the fact that Konoha will host the Chuunin exams this year?" Both men nodded. "Good. This is just one last step in preparation for that. Kitsune." Hiruzen turned his attention to the fox masked shinobi. "Your job is to serve as a companion and guard for Genma, here. He's been my voice and contact with the Kazekage. You will do as he says and protect him against any harm that might come your way. Understood?"

"Of course, Hokage-sama." Kitsune snapped a salute.

"Genma." He turned to the brown haired, senbon wielding shinobi. "I have already given you your instructions and we have discussed everything needed for this trip." Genma nodded serenely. "Well, then. I'll await your return a week and a half from now." And with that, they were dismissed. Kitsune followed Genma out the door as they headed for the village gates.

Kitsune found himself studying the Jounin out of the corner of his eye as they jumped over the rooftops. He had half-long brown hair that ended at his jaw line and a senbon in his mouth, rolling it absently between his teeth, as if deep in thought. Genma nodded at the two guards at the gate without slowing their pace.

Kitsune suppressed a small sigh; this journey would most likely turn out to be quite awkward. He hadn't known Genma particularly well in his time. But he had seen him get killed, and the image lingered in his mind every time he looked at the man. After some time of travel, Genma spoke up for the first time.

"I hope this pace won't be a problem for you. We'll keep it up so that we reach Suna in the appointed time, three days from now." His eyes were still focused ahead of them, looking for sturdy branches to leap to. They had moved into the trees quickly after leaving the village, as it was quicker and with less interruptions.

"It won't be a problem." Kitsune assured him, not quite able to suppress the amused undertone in his voice.

"Good." Was Genma's only response after a quick glance at his mask.

Hours trickled by and Kitsune found his mind wandering.

'You might see Gaara again.' Kurama tried to cheer him up. 'Of course, he will be the emotionless killing-machine he was when you first met him, and won't recognize you.'

'If you're trying to cheer me up, I'd like to tell you you're doing a shitty job.' Kitsune replied dryly. 'I wonder if there's something I can do for him?' He added sadly. Gaara's life right now was just like his had been, all those years ago.

'I don't know if you should.' Kurama mused. 'His bond with Naruto -you- was always important.' He pointed out needlessly.

'I know that!' It pained him that what Kurama said was the truth. 'I just can't stand the thought of leaving him all alone...'

'I know, kit.'

When it was beginning to darken, Genma slowed down.

"We're stopping for the night." He declared when Kitsune tilted his head questioningly.

Kitsune was surprised. They could still travel quite some ways before it got too dark to see. But then he caught himself; maybe this was normal when you weren't constantly chased by an enemy intent on your demise?

"I'll take the first guard shift." He offered. Genma sent him a calculating look before nodding.

"Thanks." And he then pulled out a blanket, spread it out on the ground and lay down to rest. More out of habit that anything else, Kitsune quickly made three kage bunshins and sent them out into the surrounding foliage before taking a seat at the base of a tree. He studied his companion as he slowly eased into a light sleep, breaths even but silent. It was common amongst shinobi; making sure to be still and quiet even in sleep.

He slowly leaned back, listening to the peaceful sounds of the forest around them and enjoying the lack of the looming shadow of war in the air.

. o . o . o . o . o .

Finally arriving in Sunagakure no Sato two days later, Kitsune looked around at the somewhat familiar surroundings. Genma had begun to relax around him along the way here, and was now almost friendly. He waited quietly as Genma approached the gate guard and talked to the shinobi on duty, introducing them and stating their business.

"Come on, Kitsune." Genma said once he was done. "We're heading straight for the Kazekage's office." He said, leading the way into the sandy village.

"Sure. Lead the way." He nodded. Kitsune absently looked around, wondering if he'd see any familiar faces on the way. He could feel a faint pull inside, as if something was calling for his attention.

'It's Shukaku's killing intent and chakra you're feeling, Kit.' Kurama informed him tersely. Kitsune gave him a mental nod and focused more closely on their surroundings. A quick glance at Genma told him the man was focused solely on finding his way to the Kazekage's building. Once they found the correct building, Kitsune was surprised to see Genma actually pause to take the senbon out of his mouth and tuck it away. It appeared he noticed the look, because he quirked a quick smile.

"Can't approach the Kazekage with weapons out." He pointed out before continuing. Kitsune chuckled and followed.

It turned out to be another immensely boring day for Kitsune, as he waited for Genma outside of the Kazekage's office. He tried to make time go faster by restlessly pacing the room, occasionally looking out one of the windows. The room's other occupants -not to mention the on-duty shinobi- gave him bewildered and irritated looks, but Kitsune ignored them with practiced ease.

Genma looked exhausted when he finally came out. He gave Kitsune one look before visibly slumping in resignation.

"I have no idea how you can be so energetic." He grumbled tiredly.

"I have good stamina." Kitsune shrugged with a grin.

"That might be so, but this is ridiculous." Genma muttered, sending him an envious glare. "We've been running from dawn to dusk for three days and you still have energy to spare."

Kitsune didn't say anything, but smiled under his mask as they made their way down a corridor.

"Where are we going?"

"The Kazekage has appointed us rooms down this corridor." Genma told him. "It's set aside for envoys from other countries, such as us." He explained at Kitsune's confused glance.

"Oh. Well, it'll be nice to sleep in a bed again." Kitsune said, stretching. He wondered where the Kazekage's children stayed. Surely the man would want to try and keep Gaara away from potentially important people? Or maybe he would keep the Jinchuuriki close as a reminder of Suna's power? He didn't know and didn't have the patience to ponder the question at length; he'd simply have to wait and see if he ran into the small version of his brother.

. o . o . o . o . o .

As it was, Kitsune met Kankuro first. He was waiting outside the Kazekage's office for Genma once again, this time having chosen a spot by the window, standing with his arms crossed over his chest and staring out at the village. This might not have been very eye-catching, if it wasn't for the fact that he was hanging upside-down from the ceiling. The shinobi guards gave him incredulous, borderline scornful looks.

"What the hell are you doing?" A voice demanded to know. Kitsune turned his neck to spot a kid with purple markings in his face.

"Looking at the village." Kitsune answered innocently.

Kankuro gave him a suspicious glare. "I don't think I've seen you before."

"I'm from Konoha!" Kitsune informed him cheerfully. "My name is Kitsune." He grinned, pointing at his mask.

Kankuro blinked. Right. This man was a complete idiot. "Don't you have a babysitter or something somewhere?" He asked disdainfully.

Unfazed by the scorn, Kitsune happily replied. "Yeah, but he's having a meeting with your Kazekage at the moment, so I'm bored out of my mind."

"Why are you staying here then?" Kankuro couldn't help but ask.

"Orders." The strange shinobi stated with a shrug.

Kankuro supposed he could grudgingly respect that... Deciding to ignore the foreigner, he walked over to his father's secretary.

"Kankuro-kun." She eyed him warily.

"I need to talk to the Kazekage." Kankuro began evenly.

Kitsune tuned them out, hoping that Genma would be done with the Kage soon. Half an hour later, his wish was granted.

"GENMA!" Kitsune exclaimed, engulfing the man in a desperate hug. "I thought I was going to die of boredom!" He complained to the shocked man. Before anyone -including Genma- had a chance to react, Kitsune had shunshin'ed them away, leaving nothing but a puff of smoke in their wake.

"Weird ass moron." Kankuro muttered as he took the opportunity to go into the Kazekage's office.

. o . o . o . o . o .

"Can you let go of me now?" Genma deadpanned as Kitsune brought them to their rooms. Kitsune did as asked with a wide grin. "Why are you behaving like this?" Genma asked. "You weren't like this on the way here." He muttered sullenly. Spending any length of time with the Yondaime Kazekage gave him a headache, and Kitsune wasn't helping.

"Why not? It's fun." Kitsune waved it away. "Can we please do something now?"

"Fine." Genma relented, rolling his eyes. "I want to visit a few places in the village anyway." He let out a sigh. "Come on."

"Yes!" Kitsune happily followed the Jounin out.

Kitsune watched with some amusement as Genma took out a senbon the moment they got outside. Was it some sort of addiction? Maybe he had smeared something on the weapon? Like a poison, but less deadly? Genma took a quick look around and then set off down an alley. Kitsune strolled along, hands in his pockets as he studied the shops curiously. Things were really different in peace times, he mused. Genma eventually stopped in front of a store.

"Alright. Do whatever you want for a while." He turned to fix an irritated glare on Kitsune. "You're a grown man, stop following me around."

Kitsune made a show of mock indignation. "What? But what about my orders?"

"I doubt I'll encounter anything in here that I can't take care of on my own. And if I did, I doubt you'd be any help." Genma stated patiently.

"Fine. See you in a few hours." Kitsune waved goodbye and then jumped up to the roof of the nearest building. Genma pinched the bridge of his nose, took a deep breath, and then entered the shop.

Kitsune ran around the village for a bit, looking down on the people in the streets with interest. He didn't really have anything specific he wanted to do. Did the sand village have a Ramen stand anywhere? He decided to try and find one.

Kitsune was well aware of the fact that he was being followed. That wasn't anything strange; he was a Jounin from another village, after all. It wasn't as if any village would allow a potential threat to roam around without supervision. He ignored the Suna ANBU and instead focused on finding something interesting. A sudden spike in oppressive chakra and killing intent made him pause. Kitsune grinned under his mask. The next moment he was gone from the spot he had previously been standing in. The ANBU scrambled to follow.

"Hi." Kitsune greeted in a carefree manner. Much to his guards' growing horror, the man was sitting at the edge of a roof, feet dangling over the edge. That in itself, wasn't any cause for concern. No, the fact that he was sitting next to the village's homicidal Jinchuuriki was.

Gaara turned away from the unfortunate shinobi that had somehow invoked his anger and stared at the stranger. Kitsune inwardly flinched at the dead, soulless gaze. Gaara had all the emotional complexity of a rock, at the moment.

"Who are you?" He demanded in a monotone Kitsune hadn't heard in a very long time.

"Me? I'm Kitsune." He answered cheerfully.

Gaara glared suspiciously at him. How had this man managed to get so close to him without his notice?

"You're not a Suna shinobi." He stated.

Excellent deduction! "No. I'm from Konoha!" Kitsune grinned. "So what's your name?"

Most of those listening could barely believe their ears. What was this idiot thinking? He was going to get himself killed! At least they managed to save the man that Gaara had been in the process of killing when they had arrived.

"Sabaku no Gaara." Gaara said. Now, hopefully, the annoying man would leave him alone.

"Oh. So are you going to participate in the Chuunin exam?"

"Leave." Gaara had run out of patience. This shinobi was asking to be killed.

"I don't really feel like it." Kitsune leaned back, supporting himself on his hands, seemingly staring up at the cloudless, blue sky.

"Then die." Gaara moved a hand and sand gushed out of the gourd on his back, rushing towards the seemingly carefree leaf shinobi. In one moment, he was there... the next, he was gone. Gaara blinked and then whirled around.

"You missed!" Kitsune announced happily.

With a subtle growl, he directed his sand at the infuriating man.

. o . o . o . o . o .