So... sorry for the long wait! I'll try to make it up to you by giving you a longer-than-usual chapter. First of all, I need to tell all you lovely people that this chapter was ridiculously difficult to write. I didn't quite know how to go about it, and had to delete, like, eight or nine pages because I wasn't happy with how it turned out. But once that hurdle was passed, it all just 'unclogged' so to speak. It felt wonderful!

I hope you all will leave a review to tell me what you think! The last chapter surely got a reaction out of a lot of people. :)

Kitsune

Chapter 6

"Finally!" Kitsune exclaimed from where he stood by the wall. Team 7 had just entered the building. He had been worried about them, but not overly so; he already knew roughly what happened. But he had spent the last five days suffering from extreme boredom. "I was beginning to think you were lost." He grinned, ruffling Naruto's hair before the kid had a chance to react.

"Hey!" Naruto exclaimed indignantly, trying to take a swipe at the offending hand. Kitsune chuckled softly while he looked them over. They all looked a little worse for wear, but didn't otherwise appear to be injured. He narrowed his eyes as he studied Sasuke. The boy looked tired and his shoulders were stiff, as if he was in pain. Sakura stepped up to him, eyeing him intently.

"Thank you." She murmured softly, gaining both Sasuke and Naruto's attention.

Kitsune sighed. "Don't mention it." He glanced around. "I mean it. Not here." Sakura blinked and then slowly nodded to show she understood.

"What are you doing with my students, Kitsune?" Kakashi asked in a pleasant voice.

"Oh, I'm just trying to corrupt them a little. I figured you weren't doing a good enough job by yourself." Kitsune quipped. Kakashi eye smiled at him but didn't comment, and then turned to his Genin team to look them over. He noticed Sakura's new haircut, but didn't question it. It wasn't a far stretch of his imagination to think that something must have happened during battle.

"Alright, good job, you three. All the Genin are assembling, go line up." Kakashi said. "Come, Kitsune, everyone's waiting."

Kitsune made an effort to skip after Kakashi up to the other Jounin, making most of the adult shinobi, as well as the Genin in the room stare at him with incredulous disbelief. "Hi, Gaara!" He waved cheerfully at the Suna boy and then got in line behind the Hokage, who was chuckling quietly to himself.

Baki stared at Kitsune as if he had suddenly grown a few extra limbs. He wasn't the only one.

The Hokage cleared his throat and addressed the Genin. Kitsune watched as they were told about the truth of the Chuunin exams. Everyone reacted differently, some with shock and suppressed outrage, while other's didn't look the least bit surprised. Kitsune watched as there seemed to be a quiet, heated discussion between Sasuke and Sakura, guessing it was about the curse seal.

Kitsune's hands clenched into fists at the reminder of his failure. Kakashi merely glanced at him, noticing his shifting mood. Everything was as he remembered it. Even Kabuto's forfeit. Kitsune felt his eyebrows climb up his forehead at the sight of the boy. He would have been alarmed, if he hadn't killed the teen himself and handed the body over to the Hokage personally. He narrowed his eyes at the short, simple reply confirming his forfeit. It must be that corpse technique, he suddenly realised. He assumed Kabuto's teammates hadn't wanted to give up, and had easily found a corpse in the Forest. He shot a look at the Hokage, who hadn't showed any reaction to the entire thing. It was smart, Kitsune could admit; if he hadn't killed him, he would never had guessed Kabuto was dead. And it assured his teammates the chance to continue the exam.

When Gekkou Hayate had turned up, Kitsune found himself staring. He couldn't really say he recognized the man and he narrowed his eyes as he strained to think back. Hadn't Hayate been one of the first ones to be killed because of the invasion? He could vaguely recall his photograph from the Hokage's funeral, but wasn't sure. Then there was the fact that it had been Genma that had proctored the third task in his time... Kitsune quickly decided to place a clone close to Hayate the moment things were done here, just in case. It would be tiring to maintain a clone for a month, but he could do it.

With a start, he realised it was time for the first match. Sasuke vs. Yoroi. He followed Kakashi up to the second level, pretending he didn't notice the man's quiet warning for Sasuke about not using the cursed seal. Sasuke's mind had still not been overly affected by the vile thing, so Kitsune was fairly confident in him.

"Begin!" Hayate declared, trying to suppress another sickly cough.

The fight went mostly as Kitsune remembered. He narrowed his eyes and took an involuntary step forwards when the damned curse seal activated for a moment, but stomped down on his protective instincts when Sasuke managed to suppress it on his own. That seemed rather promising, in Kitsune's mind. The match finished quickly after that.

Kitsune grabbed Kakashi's arm briefly before the man shunshin'ed down to stop Sasuke from falling flat on his back. Kakashi simply glanced at him before Kitsune let go.

He couldn't interfere with this.

"I'll keep an eye on the rest." He flicked his eyes to Naruto and Sakura, but said nothing else. Kakashi simply nodded. He hoped the sealing of the curse would work better this time.

Kitsune watched the next match with little interest. He absently wondered if he really could expect the matches to be between the same Genin, but reasoned that he hadn't really changed that much, and that it had already been decided by a slump generator in his time. He'd have to wait and see.

Kakashi returned in time for Kankuro's match. He listened quietly as Naruto questioned his sensei about Sasuke, and he narrowed his eyes as Kakashi tensed almost unnoticeable. It was a small enough change that anyone who didn't know him very well would have missed it. But Kitsune did know him, and he knew enough to know that something had unsettled the man.

Kankuro won, just like last time, and the next match was Sakura's.

"I don't get it. Why is Sakura acting like that?" Naruto asked a moment later, staring down on his teammate as she and Ino screamed insults at each other.

"They're rivals." Kitsune explained. Naruto blinked up at him with sudden understanding and then turned back to the starting fight. He didn't speak up again as Naruto asked another couple of questions, letting Kakashi deal with his student.

Time was dragging on.

Had it really taken this long in his time? Kitsune couldn't be sure. Then again, they were all Genin. He guessed he'd never before thought too much about what that really meant. Kitsune hadn't been that weak in a very long time... His gaze flicked to Naruto. He hoped the next couple of months would be kinder to the kid than they had been to him, and he'd try his best to make sure of it.

Finally, after about ten minutes, Sakura and Ino were tied in a double knock-out.

The next couple fights were quicker; Temari won over Tenten, and Shikamaru won over the sound Kunoichi. Then it was Naruto's turn.

"YES!" Naruto exclaimed excitedly -much to Lee's chagrin- and rushed down to the floor. Kitsune glanced around the room. Everyone acted as if this fight was decided already.

"People are blind." He muttered sullenly under his breath. Kakashi twitched and then eye smiled at him.

"Most people are." He agreed lightly. Kakashi opened his eye and stared intently at Kitsune. That was true; most people couldn't see underneath the underneath. And it was true in more cases than just Naruto.

"Begin!" Hayate declared, starting the fight.

Kitsune actually had to stop himself from scoffing when the spectators thought Naruto got knocked out with the first move. As if he'd ever been that fragile.

He idly watched the rest of the fight unfold.

When Naruto won, Kitsune had to stop himself from banging his head against the wall in embarrassment. It was worse for him, because technically, that was him. Or at least a younger version of himself... the thought process was giving him a headache.

'At least he's original.' Kurama offered in between bouts of roaring laughter. Kitsune ignored the old fox. He did agree that, even though farting in Kiba's face had been accidental, it was effective. That still didn't mean he had to like it.

After that, the fights seemed to go by in a blur. The Jounin and Hayate still had to stop Neji from killing Hinata, which was honestly sad. Kitsune frowned as he stared down on Neji. He had forgotten how Neji had been before their fight. All he could remember was his friend; the kind, strong man that had sacrificed himself for others with a smile on his face. Neji had died a hero, too young and much too bloody. His chest clenched painfully and he abruptly forced the memories away. It was neither the time nor place for that!

And then there was the main event; the fight between Lee and Gaara.

Kitsune watched with grim eyes as the fight played out. He had tried to stay out of all the drama that had surrounded the fights up until that point. He had listened to the countless questions Naruto and Sakura had fired at their sensei, watched the fights and kept an eye on all the foreigners. He had to admit that he somewhat agreed with Kakashi when he subtly berated Gai about teaching Lee to open his Gates at such a young age. But at the same time, he agreed with Gai, too.

'You can't fool yourself.' Kurama murmured. 'You know full well that Lee is aware of the risks, and the repercussions.'

'I can't help the fact that I'm worried.' Kitsune ground out, a small frown etching its way onto his face. Lee had become a very close friend. They had always been able to sympathize with- and understand each other.

The moment Gaara reached out to crush Lee's arm and leg, Kitsune moved at the same time Gai did. It was actually quite irritating; many Jounin had reacted when Neji had been about to kill Hinata, but only Gai -and now Kitsune- were willing to do the same for Lee. Both Konoha Jounin fixed the Suna Jinchuuriki with firm eyes.

"Stop. It's over." He said, standing in front of Gaara, ready to send the Jinchuuriki flying if need be. The boy slowly shifted his gaze from his pray to the Jounin obscuring his view.

"Why do you protect him?" He asked dully, gaze barely even skimming over Kitsune.

It was Gai that answered.

"Because he is my beloved comrade." There was nothing but warm conviction in Gai's voice and affection for the boy behind him in his eyes.

Gaara was clearly affected in some way by the man's words and actions, and he slowly struggled to his feet.

"The fight is over. You won." Kitsune stated mutedly. Kitsune could feel Kurama baring his teeth and growl threateningly inside, clearly telling Shukaku to back off. It was subtle, but Gaara seemed to relax minutely as the biju relented his overwhelming influence. When it was clear Gaara would do no further move towards Lee, Kitsune tuned out the activity behind him, and approached the redheaded boy. He stopped next to him and couldn't help but think about how young Gaara was.

"You fought well." He smiled softly behind his mask. "Congratulations on your win."

Gaara's head snapped up and he stared up in Kitsune's eyes. It pained Kitsune to meet that gaze; it was glaringly obvious no-one had ever genuinely complimented the kid before. At least not like this.

Gaara said nothing, but stood rooted to the spot as Kitsune moved over to Lee's side.

As it turned out, Lee had still sustained serious injury to his limbs. And it was still a very serious blow to the boy's life and career as a shinobi, but he was at least slightly better off than in the original timeline. It irked Kitsune that he hadn't been able to completely stop it. Sure he could have done it, but that would be far too suspicious. Imagine the attention it would attract if he had charged in before Lee had been injured, and thus defeated. Yeah... He had to try and keep a relatively low profile, at least until the invasion.

Kitsune kept back when Lee's unconscious form rose and then collapsed into Gai's arms. He only felt his resolve harden at the sight of Gai's tears and Kakashi's remorse and silent apology. They would not grieve the deaths of their students ever again. This once for Gai was enough. Watching the man in the last years of the war had been heart wrenching; the once optimistic and energetic man a mere shadow of a shadow of himself.

In the end, Hayate declared Gaara the winner and things instantly rushed into motion. Medic nins hurriedly began to care for the injured boy. It was sad, but Lee had done more damage to himself than Gaara had, and his condition was grave.

Kitsune internally flinched at Naruto's loud outburst at the medics' diagnose and had to bite his cheek to stop himself from interfering between Kakashi and his student. He glanced at Naruto, seeing his anger, sadness, worry and determination on behalf of Lee. He was ten years older than the young Naruto in Kakashi's arms, and couldn't help but sympathize with the teachers. Gai and Kakashi had both been in a war, had seen the horrors of the worst side of shinobi life and simply wanted to make their students as powerful as possible, and he could understand that. Even more so, as he knew what they would be forced to face in the future. Kitsune absently pulled a hand over his vest, knowing what marks were hidden beneath, remembering old pain and suffering.

Before Kitsune could return to the elevated stand, Gai marched up to him, an uncharacteristic serious look on his face. It seemed the man had managed to compose himself somewhat, but his eyes were still red and he looked far from his usual cheerful self.

"Thank you for interfering on my precious student's behalf." He said, voice firm despite his emotional turmoil. "Now, I apologize, but I must go with Lee to the hospital." He executed a deep bow, and then turned on the spot. Kitsune watched Gai hurry after the medic nins. He hated to see him so grim. With another look, he shunshined to the stand.

"Gai liked you before." Kakashi commented in a muted voice once he and Naruto had joined him. "I'm afraid you'll never get rid of him now." He managed to sound slightly mournful.

Kitsune snorted despite the serious mood. "Don't try and act like you don't care for him." Kitsune gave the Copy-nin a sad, knowing look.

Kakashi's eye widened in mock indignation at the implications. He was just about to make a retort when Naruto interrupted them.

"How can you joke around like this!? Lee might never be able to be a ninja again!" Naruto glared up at both of them.

Kitsune sighed and placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "We know more than well enough the seriousness of what happened." He told the boy.

"Then how can you talk like that?" Naruto scowled.

"Because, whether you like it or not, this is the life we've chosen." Kitsune kneeled in front of him to be able to look into his eyes properly, resting his arms on his knees. Naruto crossed his arms in front of his chest, clearly pouting. "If you had the choice to back away from a fight and survive, or fight to the best of your abilities for what you truly believed in, with the risk of losing everything. What would you do?"

Naruto thought about it intently for a moment, before declaring confidently. "I'd fight, dattebayo!" Kitsune nodded, already having known the answer, and rose to his feet again to watch the last fight. Kakashi sent him a grateful look. Kitsune just gave a subtle half-shrug in response.

Chouji's fight against Dosu was quickly over, but that was what happened when you underestimated your opponent's abilities; something Kitsune had seen happen time and time again, and that wasn't even counting the ones that had underestimated him in a fight.

The Hokage stepped in front of the Genin once more when the fights were done. Kitsune noticed when Kakashi straightened his stance, as the man seemed to realise something.

"Sakura, please listen closely to Hokage-sama and tell me later what the third task entails. There's something I have to do." He eye smiled in an apologetic manner at the pink haired girl. Kitsune caught his gaze, discreetly made a bunshin to shadow Hayate, and then followed without a word.

. o . o . o . o . o .

They shunshin'ed to Konoha's hospital, entered, and walked through the building in silence.

When Kakashi opened a door to a private room, Kitsune couldn't help but stare at the still form of Sasuke.

"Anyone suspicious try to get in?" Kakashi asked the three ANBU stationed in the room.

"Negative." One of the hidden shinobi replied in a neutral monotone.

Kakashi nodded, the tenseness in his shoulders lessening a fraction. "Could you three wait outside? I'll call you back when we're done." His eye drifted over to Kitsune, who was still staring at Sasuke's barely visible face. The boy looked to be hooked up to a number of different machines and his eyes had been covered. For what reason, Kitsune could only guess. When they were alone, Kakashi walked up to stand next to him, and together they looked down on his unconscious student.

One moment, Kitsune had been standing by the hospital bed, lost in thought. The next, he found himself shoved against the wall with a kunai pressed against his throat.

Kitsune blinked, looking calmly into Kakashi's narrowed, calculating eye. He didn't say anything, but waited for Kakashi to speak his mind.

"Who are you?" Kakashi eventually hissed out, voice low and killing intent carefully controlled; all of it directed at Kitsune.

Kitsune tilted his head slightly to the side, ignoring the sharp, deadly blade against his skin. "I don't remember doing anything to warrant this treatment."

"You didn't answer my question." Kakashi growled, pressing the kunai even closer, drawing a red line on his throat.

"I know." He studied the man in front of him a moment. Kitsune had thought he and Kakashi had become friends during these last months. Maybe he had been mistaken. "But I still don't see why you're doing this."

"Orochimaru is after Sasuke."

Kitsune tensed at the mention of the traitorous Sennin. How in the world did Kakashi know about that? As if reading his mind, Kakashi answered his unspoken question.

"He was here, in Konoha." The grey haired man said. "He approached me after I placed the seal around Sasuke's curse seal."

"And how does that make you attack me?" Kitsune was getting annoyed. He hadn't done anything but protect everyone to the best of his abilities! And Orochimaru had entered Konoha again? That snake was arrogant.

"You knew about it." Kakashi's voice was conveying a false sense of calm, but Kitsune could hear the simmering rage beneath. It was unsettling; he had never had Kakashi's anger directed at him before. Not like this. "I didn't know what to make of your words until I saw that mark on Sasuke's neck." Kakashi was furious.

"Which words." Kitsune frowned. Had he said something to give him away?

"When you came to find me before your mission." Kakashi bit out. "You said 'I'll try to get back in time'."

Kitsune stared.

Shit.

'Maybe it's time you told him?' Kurama shared his thoughts. '"I must say it's an excellent opportunity.' Kitsune would have agreed with him, had the old fox not sounded so smug about it.

"So what? I was worried about the exams. Everyone know they're dangerous, at least for Genin." Kitsune snapped back. He was tired, worried and had gone through far too many emotions in the last few hours to be able to deal with this calmly right now.

"You could just as easily be a spy." Kakashi said, more composed now.

That simple sentence was enough to make Kitsune snap. Kakashi's eye widened when Kitsune's usually warm blue eyes suddenly looked like ice. "A spy?" His voice was barely more than a whisper. "I have given everything for Konoha. And I'll gladly give it all again. Don't you dare call me a spy."

Not one to be intimidated or deterred, Kakashi pressed on. "You knew. And told no one."

"What makes you think I didn't tell anyone." Kitsune snarled. He still hadn't gotten over the fact that Hiruzen had sent him away at that most crucial time.

Kakashi blinked and slowly lowered the kunai a fraction. "Who did you tell?"

"The Hokage. Who else?" Kitsune scoffed.

Kakashi digested that for a second before bringing up the kunai to press against Kitsune's jugular again, drawing another red line. "Are you trying to tell me that the Hokage would disregard Orochimaru marking and trying to kidnap my student? What the fuck are you insinuating?"

Kitsune let out a small sigh; he realised this was going nowhere. "Despite what you think, I am loyal to Konoha. But I will tell you everything I know about it, if you come with me to a secure location."

"Where?"

Kitsune shrugged. "Any suggestions?"

Kakashi glared at him a few seconds longer before he pocketed the kunai and marched over to the door. "Come with me." He wordlessly signalled the ANBU to retake their positions.

Kitsune cast a last glance towards Sasuke, and then followed.

. o . o . o . o . o .

Kitsune looked around. Kakashi had taken him to a small apartment. It was just one room, with two doors leading to a small kitchen and the bathroom. All the while, Kakashi never let him out of his sight.

"Why did you take me here?" Kitsune questioned tiredly. "I thought I said 'somewhere secure'."

Kakashi gave him a calculating look as he walked up to the wall and pressed his hand on a specific spot. A pulse of chakra later and Kitsune could see a seal light up and feel it take effect.

"You've placed seals all around your apartment?" Kitsune raised an eyebrow. He didn't really know why he was surprised; Kakashi had been borderline paranoid for as long as he had known him.

Kakashi didn't answer him, but gave him a pointed look instead. "Now, speak."

Kitsune huffed. "Let's just sit down." He shuffled over to the kitchen; he had seen a small table and a pair of chairs in there.

Kakashi scowled but reluctantly followed. "You'd better have one hell of an explanation." He growled under his breath.

"Oh, I do." Kitsune smiled humourlessly. Kakashi passed him and slumped down into the chair. He had no doubt that he would be able to counter Kitsune if he decided to attack, sitting down or not.

"I'm waiting."

Kakashi's voice snapped Kitsune out of his thoughts. He had been staring at the table, not moving to sit down. He let out a heavy sigh, lifted his hand and let it hover over his mask. He took a deep breath and made his decision. He took the mask off and placed it on the kitchen table with a resounding clack. When he sat down, he faced Kakashi with a solemn look.

Kakashi raised an eyebrow at the odd display. He had seen Kitsune's face before -he had managed to break the man's mask during their spar- but had never imagined to see his face so grim; his personality was anything but solemn. Silence filled the small kitchen while Kitsune mulled over where to start and Kakashi waited patiently.

"Alright." Kitsune rubbed a hand tiredly over his face. "Let me just begin by telling you that the Hokage knows all this already." He eyed Kakashi seriously. "It's obvious, but Kitsune is not my real name." He quirked a half-grin. Kakashi watched with some interest how the motion pulled at the scars, adding to the uneven impression.

Kakashi scoffed. "You're not the only shinobi with an alias." He glared; this was not what he had had in mind when he demanded answers.

Kitsune inclined his head. "Which is very fortunate for me." He spoke softly. "Either way, the Hokage is well aware of my true name, my origins and my purpose here."

Kakashi straightened at the words. "Purpose? So you do have an agenda." He narrowed his eye.

"Yes." Kitsune replied blandly. "To protect Konoha and all her inhabitants." Well, most of them, he mentally amended. He wouldn't mind if Orochimaru killed Danzou one bit.

Kakashi said nothing at that, but a thoughtful air had settled over the room.

"To get on with my story." Kitsune pushed his thoughts away. "There are things going on here that you don't know about. Sadly, the safety of one of your students matters little when compared to the safety of the entire village." Kitsune stiffly recounted the Hokage's words. It was minute, but Kitsune's words made Kakashi flinch.

"Really? Then fill me in." Kakashi's voice was deadly. He didn't like it when people threatened his precious people. And whether he like it or not, his team had become precious.

Kitsune sighed and closed his eyes. He knew this would happen, yet still here he was. Kurama hummed comfortingly in the back of his mind, encouraging him.

"Right." He breathed. "Orochimaru is planning to invade the village during the conclusion of the Chuunin exam. He's managed to convince Suna to help."

Kakashi was shocked. He could do nothing but stare at the man eyeing him calmly from the other side of the table. Then his eye narrowed to a thin slit.

"How can you possibly know that if you're not a spy?" He ground out. He could feel a headache coming already. Kakashi didn't know when it happened, but he had come to think of Kitsune as one of his closest friends. The dread and hurt filling him at the suspicion he felt was surprising, if not unexpected. He so wished he was wrong, but he had to be sure. He couldn't let his defenses fall any further, just to be crushed later on. And there was no doubt in him mind that such a betrayal would crush him.

"I..." Kitsune hesitated. How the hell was he supposed to go about this? "I'm from the future." He stated with an awkward shrug. He might as well stay true to himself and not beat around the bush.

Kakashi blinked first once, then twice. His mind had frozen at the words, and he was struggling to kick-start it up again. "W-What?" That hadn't even been on the list over possible answers! He had speculated if Kitsune might have been someone Konoha had managed to lure to their side; a turned enemy nin. Or maybe a spy that had been away on a long-term mission. It wasn't likely -considering Kitsune's personality- but possible. Or the man was just really a former ANBU who's past was none other than the Hokage's business. But still, the former-enemy-nin-theory had been at the top as the most likely. If fit most of Kitsune's situation; no one knew him, he was known as nothing but 'Kitsune', he was wearing a mask at all times and he knew things he shouldn't.

"I'm from the future." Kitsune repeated calmly, gaze not wavering from Kakashi's.

"That's bullshit." Kakashi snapped, whipping a kunai at the man.

Kitsune caught it before it could embed itself in his face, and gently placed it on the table between them, sharp edges pointing away from both of them.

"It's the truth."

It was the weary tone to his voice and the pain in his eyes that convinced Kakashi to give him at least a chance.

"Convince me."

Kitsune blinked. He hadn't expected Kakashi to give in so quickly. He had more expected to deflect another volley of weapons.

"Uh." Was Kitsune eloquent response.

"If you're really from the future, then you shouldn't have any problems proving it." Kakashi stated firmly. And if Kitsune failed, he would knock him out and bring him to the Hokage, no matter what the man said.

Kitsune thought about it; there were so many things he could tell him. But what would be the most effective? And he didn't want to give away too much of the future...

"Fine." Kitsune placed his elbow on the table, hand supporting his chin. "Your name is Hatake Kakashi, twenty six years old. Your sensei was none other than the Yondaime Hokage, Namikaze Minato."

"Anyone can find that out with little trouble." Kakashi interrupted irritably.

Kitsune sent him a long, dark look. "Don't interrupt." He snapped. This was difficult enough as it was. "I also know that you're the only remaining member of your time's team 7. The two other members were Nohara Rin and Uchiha Obito." He had Kakashi's undivided attention now. "Both are long gone. Obito died saving you from falling rocks, I think. He gave you his sharingan only moments before he died, as a belated congratulatory gift for your promotion to Jounin. Rin made the transplant, as per Obito's request. " It was unimaginably difficult to speak about Obito's 'death' to Kakashi when he knew better. "Rin died not long after, by your hand. It was her choice." He added softly. "She willingly stepped in front of your jutsu, thus ending her own life, to save the village."

All blood had drained from Kakashi's face and his hands were trembling slightly. He couldn't tear his gaze away from Kitsune's sad eyes. "How do you know that?" His voice was faint. No one but the Hokage knew everything that had transpired during both of those incidents, and Kitsune had given details he should not have been able to find on his own.

"You told me yourself, Kakashi." Came the muted response.

Kakashi strained his memory. He practically never spoke of his past, and he could count the people that knew this information on one hand and still have fingers to spare. And when he had reported after both those mission, he had been in the Hokage's office, which had been secure to prevent eavesdropping. He was certain he had never told Kitsune in person, unless he truly was from the future -as he claimed- and it just hadn't happened yet. He rose to his feet, ignoring the way Kitsune tensed.

"I'm making tea." He muttered as he stepped over to the counter. He needed something to do while he thought.

Kitsune slowly relaxed once he was sure Kakashi wouldn't attack him. He knew that this was much to take in; hell, he'd barely come to terms with it himself. Soon enough, Kakashi placed a steaming cup on the table in front of Kitsune, before reclaiming his chair.

"So. Let's say I believe you." Kakashi began in a bland conversional tone. "Why are you here? Why did you come back?" He questioned.

Kitsune took a sip of tea, wondering how he was supposed to explain this without being forced to tell him about Akatsuki, Madara and the war. Kakashi really had a gift for asking difficult questions.

"I was dying..." He began hesitantly. "I ended up caught in a complicated jutsu and was flung back in time." He gave a small, one-sided shrug. "The Hokage found me bleeding on his office floor."

Kakashi stared. "And you wasn't killed or arrested?" He had trouble seeing that.

"Oh, it wasn't exactly a warm welcome. But I was far from a threat in my state." Kitsune's lips twisted into a sardonic smile. "I woke up strapped to a hospital bed. The Hokage had Yamanaka Inoichi take a look at my mind the first thing he did."

The Sandaime must have taken things very seriously if he had called in Inoichi-san for that, Kakashi mused.

"And?"

"I'm here, aren't I?" Kitsune raised an eyebrow. "My story was verified." He stated dryly. It really was difficult to dispute the fact that he was containing the Kyuubi, something that shouldn't be possible.

"True." Kakashi relented reluctantly. This was too much to take in; his head was already spinning. The silence stretched between them again. "So you didn't come here by choice." Kakashi concluded once had digested the news somewhat.

"Yeah." Kitsune snorted. "Once I realised what had happened, I decided to try and change things for the better."

"What about ruining the timeline? Wouldn't you be afraid of destroying the future you came from?" Kakashi asked, puzzled by the man's nonchalance.

Kitsune scoffed. "Trust me; it couldn't get much worse than it was." At Kakashi's deep intake of breath, Kitsune realized what he had just blurted, his eyes widened and his mouth clamped shut. Fuck! He hadn't planned on saying that.

"What happened?" Kakashi immediately demanded, cold steel in his voice.

Kitsune seemed to slump in his seat, as if trying to fold in on himself. "War." The simple word was enough to stop Kakashi's building irritation.

"I... I see." Came his soft, weary reply.

Kitsune sent him a tired, grateful look. At least he wouldn't be forced to explain what it was like; Kakashi had experienced his fair share of war, had seen the unspeakable horrors and lived through the mind-numbing terror.

Kitsune fiddled with the cup in his hands and couldn't help but wish it contained something stronger.

"So the invasion started it all?" It took a moment for Kakashi's question to register.

"No." Kitsune shook his head. "But it resulted in quite a few meaningless deaths."

"And you're trying to prevent it." Kakashi murmured, staring off into nothing. Kitsune nodded. "So why would you let Orochimaru place the seal on Sasuke?"

Kitsune went rigid. "Let?" He echoed hollowly. "I was ordered to go on a rescue mission." He stated stiffly.

"Hadn't you told the Hokage what would happen?" Kakashi asked. He couldn't imagine what it would be like to know what would happen before it did.

"I did. He still sent me away." Kitsune couldn't quite keep the anger out of his voice.

"Why?" Kakashi couldn't help but ask. This was his student's life they were talking about.

"He told me that we needed to know what happened during the invasion. That I shouldn't change something so significant, to be able to save lives." Kitsune could hear the self-loathing in his own voice.

"Do you have any idea what the curse seal does to the one it's placed on?"

"Yes." Came Kitsune stiff reply.

"And that was the Hokage's reasoning?" Kakashi couldn't help but feel doubtful. Those reasons sounded weak, even in the best of light, and that wasn't even counting his student's situation. Kitsune nodded. "If you're from the future... shouldn't you be able to do something about it despite that?"

Kitsune froze. Kakashi didn't notice and continued speaking.

"I mean; you already know what will happen. Shouldn't you be able to save Sasuke and prevent the meaningless casualties from your timeline?" He was about to continue his musings when Kitsune slammed his fist against the table between them, making his mask clatter slightly against the wood.

"I'm from the future." He growled. "That does not make me into some kind of God!" His voice was gaining volume with every word. "I'm doing as best I can! You have no idea what it's like to be back here, what it's like seeing dead people walking around, knowing how long they have to live! I DIDN'T ASK FOR THIS!" Kitsune finished, his voice sounding feral and deadly. Kakashi stared wide-eyed at the man, taking note of the way his blue eyes had darkened to a dull grey and the way he was baring his teeth in a snarl. "I should have died together with my friends."

Kakashi opened his mouth to say something, but what could he possibly say? Kitsune was right; he had no idea what it was like. He struggled enough to come to terms with Obito, Rin and Minato-sensei's deaths, even now, and he didn't have to see them walk around and talk to them. He thought back to what he had said before Kitsune's outburst and mentally cringed. That had been unfair and out of place to say. Not to mention it was a sensitive subject. Kakashi tried to picture himself in Kitsune's situation, and guessed it was something he struggled with every day.

"I'm sorry."

Kitsune flinched at the soft tone. He had been lost in ever darkening thoughts and hadn't expected to be interrupted. He had expected Kakashi to apologize even less.

"...that's alright." He didn't apologize for losing his temper at the man; as far as he was concerned, Kakashi had deserved it. He took another mouthful of his now lukewarm tea. The silence between them now was awkward and tense.

"So... you have a younger self running around somewhere in the village?" Kakashi tried to change the subject.

"Yeah." Kitsune muttered. He didn't want to meet Kakashi's inquisitive gaze, so he ended up staring at the pale porcelain mask on the table between them. The painted fox face was grinning mockingly up at him. When it was clear Kitsune wouldn't elaborate, Kakashi continued to prod carefully.

"Anyone I know?" He had been too distracted before, but was now searching his memory, trying to match what he knew about Kitsune to every male shinobi he knew.

Kitsune hesitated a full minute before answering. "Yes."

Kakashi studied the man, contemplative. He realised he hadn't told him how far in the future he came from. For all Kakashi knew, Kitsune could be a small child right now. "How many years did you come back?" He asked casually.

Kitsune opened his mouth to answer, but stopped himself, sending the Copy-nin a shrewd look. Kakashi gave him a bleak eye smile in return.

"Are you sure you want to know?" Kitsune asked, and they both knew it wasn't concerning Kakashi's latest question.

Kakashi considered the question seriously. Would he really want to know Kitsune's real identity? He thought back to the last months, thinking of the friend he had found in the man. He was surprised to realise he didn't want to lose that, but at the same time, he didn't want there to be such large secrets between them. And when confronted with the choice, he would take the truth any time, no matter the consequences.

"Yes." He came to his decision. It wouldn't be fair to Kitsune if he chose to ignore the truth and let him carry the burden all on his own. "I want to know."

Kitsune let out a defeated sigh. He had hoped he wouldn't have to do this. "I don't know how to tell you." He confessed, pulling a hand through his messy, pale red hair.

"Why not just say it?" Kakashi asked curiously. Now that he had decided already, he was more curious than anything else. "I must say, I don't know who you could be. And you said I know you?"

"I'm wearing a Henge." Kitsune confessed sheepishly. He had honestly forgotten about it.

Kakashi nodded thoughtfully. Now that he concentrated carefully, and knew what to look for, he could feel a light henge clinging to the man. It couldn't be changing much, or it would have been much more noticeable.

"Why don't you just drop it then? I might recognize you on my own." He eye smiled disarmingly.

Kitsune's eye twitched. Oh, he knew Kakashi would recognize him if he dropped the henge. But he wasn't so certain that was to prefer over just telling him. He debated with himself for a few minutes before lifting his hands in a familiar seal.

"Don't regret it." He said, and then released the henge.

Kakashi felt his curiosity spike when Kitsune lifted his hands in the familiar seal. With a small puff, the henge dissipated. Kitsune's hair changed colour and three lines appeared on each cheek. He could do nothing but stare.

One minute passed, two minutes, five minutes. When ten minutes had passed and Kakashi still hadn't so much as twitched a muscle, Kitsune shifted restlessly in his seat.

"Well?"

"NARUTO!?" Kakashi shot out of his chair, staring at him with shocked disbelief.

"The one and only." Kitsune said wryly, fully aware of the irony of that statement. "Or I used to be." He added in a dark mutter.

"B-But..." Kakashi gaped. Kitsune watched with some amusement as the famous Copy-nin, Sharingan no Kakashi, prodigy of Konoha, spluttered and floundered for something to say. "It can't be." He finally settled for denial.

Kitsune glared. "Why the hell not?" And he'd better not say something along the lines of 'Naruto would never get this strong', or 'Naruto would never turn out like you'.

"How did you get those scars!?"

Kitsune blinked. It seemed he had underestimated Kakashi's affection for his student. It seemed the man was honestly distressed, unable to tear his eyes away from the ugly scars marring his face. He was so used to them he barely remembered they were there, by now.

"It's impossible for Naruto to get scars. You can't be him!"

"Well, I am." Kitsune huffed. "It shouldn't be that hard to believe; I've been told how much I resemble my dad."

Kakashi flinched violently.

"You know?" He slowly slumped back into the hard kitchen chair.

"Yes." Kitsune said dryly. "I know. And you should have told me." He gave the grey haired man a reproachful look.

Kakashi suddenly looked ten years older and rubbed his masked face tiredly. "I-I just..."

"Couldn't." Kitsune finished softly for him. Unlike when he was younger, he could understand. "I know, but it would have been nice to know I wasn't entirely alone." His voice was incredibly soft, barely audible. "You know... for the longest time, I wondered what I had done for the Yondaime to choose me. And why hadn't my parents objected? Hadn't they cared at all?"

"That's not true! I never saw Minato-sensei and Kushina-san so excited as when they found out about you." Kakashi said insistently, reaching across the table to grab Kitsune's arm. "They loved you. More than anything."

"I know." Kitsune gave him a soft smile. "I know that now." He repeated, voice gaining strength. "But I didn't, for a long time."

Kakashi deflated, letting the grown man's arm go. "I've debated the question to no end." He admitted mutedly. "But I just couldn't bring myself to talk about Minato-sensei."

"And Naruto would ask questions." Kitsune continued knowingly. He did understand, but it still didn't change the facts.

"But what about the Kyuubi?" Kakashi's gaze dropped to Kitsune's stomach. "It shouldn't be possible for you to get scars." There was an almost pleading note in his voice.

Kitsune leaned back, eyes distant and a nostalgic look on his face. "A serious enough injury, combined with a case of severe chakra exhaustion does the trick." He smiled humourlessly.

"What happened?" Kakashi's gaze was solemn as he met the old, tired eyes. Naruto shouldn't have eyes like that. And the worst part was that Kakashi recognized the look well; he had seen it too many times in the mirror.

"As I said; war." And there was steel in Kitsune's voice now. "The Fourth Great Shinobi war, to be precise."

Kakashi's shoulders slumped in defeat. He had hoped he'd never have to live through war again. Too lost in his own thoughts, Kitsune didn't notice Kakashi's depression.

"Anyway, this happened when an enemy tried to cut off my head." He mentioned towards his face. "He missed, but not with as much as I would have liked." His mouth twisted into a mockery of a smile. "And then he proceeded to almost cut me in half when I was blinded by my own blood." He pulled up his shirt a fraction, showing Kakashi a wide scar that began a few fingers-width over his navel, sweeping out to his side and continuing to his back. It really did look as if someone had tried to cut him in half.

"How did you survive that?" Kakashi asked, feeling faint. The unspoken question was; Where was I? Why didn't I protect you?

"Despite our exhaustion, Kurama still had a bit of chakra left. He managed to keep us alive until Sakura reached me." He drummed his fingers absently against the table.

"Sakura?"

"Yeah. She became an excellent medic. Better than Tsunade, even." The first true smile in quite some time surfaced on Kitsune's face. Kakashi stared. It really was Naruto. And he looked so much like Minato. He suddenly realised the genius and necessity of the mask; it prevented people from seeing Kitsune's expressions and hiding his more than familiar features, both at the same time and with ease.

"Well... She does have near-perfect chakra control." Kakashi muttered. The something occurred to him. "Wait, Kurama?"

"The Kyuubi's name." Kitsune grinned. "We're friends now." He laughed at Kakashi's flabbergasted expression.

Eventually the man snapped out of it. "Figures you if anyone would be able to become friends with the old demon." He muttered, trying to keep his amusement from his voice. They shared a comfortable moment of silent camaraderie together, before the seriousness of the situation returned with a vengeance. "How old are you, Naruto?"

"You shouldn't call me that." Kitsune straightened. "I'm not Naruto anymore. Can never be Naruto, ever again."

Kakashi frowned. He understood, but that didn't mean he had to like it. As if sensing his disapproval, Kitsune gave him a firm knowing look.

"It wouldn't be fair to Naruto. I can't come back to this time and seal his identity. It's the only thing he's got."

Kakashi flinched. Such depressing words, and he couldn't even dispute it. It made him feel like an utter failure of a human.

"And I'm twenty two." He smiled.

"Ten years." Kakashi murmured thoughtfully. Kitsune nodded. "How much time do we have?"

"Some time yet." Kitsune's lips twitched. "The first obstacle to clear is the invasion." Kakashi nodded. "I have already informed the Hokage about everything I can remember." He shrugged.

"I'm amazed you can remember much." Kakashi teased. "I didn't think Naruto cared about what went on around him."

Kitsune grinned. "He cares more than anything about his team. And I always remember everything about my training."

Kakashi chuckled. "So what happens to Sasuke?" The grin slowly slid off Kitsune's face.

"...It doesn't matter. Because I'm going to change it." And there was such conviction in his voice that Kakashi couldn't bring himself to question it. "What is important is that you make sure to keep your wits about you and that you're prepared. You're planning to train Sasuke, yes?"

"With the mark and Orochimaru's interest, I was thinking about it." Kakashi sighed, reminded of his dilemma. "I'm looking for someone to teach Naruto." He sent Kitsune a questioning look.

"Hm." Kitsune hummed. "I don't know how you did it, but you roped Ebisu into tutoring me in my time."

Kakashi flinched. It seemed he was doing that a lot today. Ebisu would not be his first choice. Not even his second or third, in fact. The man owed him a favour for something he helped him with quite some time ago, and the only reason Kakashi could think of to have used it for this, was if no one else was willing to help him with Naruto. He had to suppress a growl. No one else had wanted to teach the Kyuubi container? Then a thought occurred to him and his gaze snapped up to Kitsune's.

"Maybe you could teach him? I don't think there's anyone more qualified."

Kitsune startled. Teach? He had never taught anyone anything. "Uh." Was his eloquent response. He shook his head to clear it of the shock. "I'd rather not." He admitted with a sigh.

"Why not?" Kakashi would have thought the man would jump at the opportunity. He was, essentially, refusing to help himself.

"I lay the foundations for one of my most precious bonds in the weeks before the Third task." He admitted hesitantly. "I would not want to rob Naruto of that for anything in the world." He paused. "But I will keep an eye on him." He promised.

Kakashi sighed. He didn't ask who it was Naruto would meet; it was obviously a sensitive question, and he would find out eventually either way. "Then I'll approach Ebisu and see if I can convince him to help." Blackmail him more likely, Kakashi mentally snarled.

Kitsune nodded tiredly, he suddenly felt exhausted. "If there wasn't anything else..?" He left the question hanging unfinished. He was so tired.

Kakashi studied him intently and then flicked his gaze to the window; it was getting dark out. "You could always take the couch." He offered carefully. Now that he knew, he felt even more strongly about his new-found friend. Yes, he had much to think about, but he would not push Kitsune away.

Kitsune stared blankly at him a few seconds, before reaching for his mask. "Thank you." His reply was so soft Kakashi almost didn't hear him. He smiled and got to his feet.

"Just wait a moment and I'll prepare it for you." He walked into the main room and quickly made the couch and placed a pillow and blanket on top of it. When he was done, he looked up to see Kitsune standing in the door, leaning against the doorframe, watching him with an undefinable facial expression. "What? "He asked, puzzled.

Kitsune shrugged with a smile. "I've just never seen you looking so domestic before." He smirked.

Kakashi let out an indignant sound. "You brat! I'll let you know; I'm as fierce a shinobi as anyone!" He scoffed, smothering an amused chuckle. He walked over to his bed and then paused. When was the last time he had bickered with anyone like this? He could barely remember. With another shrug, Kakashi grabbed his book and sat down, leaning against the headboard and getting comfortable.

Meanwhile, Kitsune chuckled lightly as he took off his flakvest. He put in neatly on the low table next to the couch, putting his mask on top of it and then lay down. He threw the blanket over his legs, bunched up the pillow under his head and then relaxed. He could hear Kakashi's near-silent, even breathing in the background and the soft rustling of paper as he flipped page.

It was strange, even to him, that it was so difficult to sleep when he was alone. He hadn't been truly alone since before the start of the war... Always surrounded by comrades, if it so was in the heat of battle, getting something to eat or resting a few hours in a tent. So for the first time in months, Kitsune allowed himself to relaxed and fall into a deep sleep. Hopefully, there would be no nightmares.

Kakashi lowered his book when he heard Kitsune's breathing even out and deepen. Like all experienced shinobi, he was remarkably silent and still while sleeping. He supposed war changed everyone, thinking of Naruto and his current sleeping habits. With a small shake of his head, he got up. Without a sound, he put on his shoes and slipped out the window, sliding it shut behind him.

He had an appointment with the Hokage, whether the old man wanted it or not.

. o . o . o . o . o .

Hiruzen looked up at the knock on the door. He wasn't expecting anyone at this time, but cleared his throat anyway.

"Come in." He spoke calmly. He quickly signed the report he had been reading as the door opened, and in stepped Hatake Kakashi.

Hiruzen hadn't seen him in private since their talk after Uchiha Sasuke had been marked, and he studied the man somewhat warily. Shinobi as skilled as Kakashi were never easy to deal with when angered, and they could hold a grudge like no others.

"Can I help you, Kakashi-kun?" He asked mildly, not letting his thoughts show outwardly.

Kakashi nodded and signed a request for the Hokage to activate the privacy seals. Surprised, Hiruzen did so promptly.

"Speak."

"I spoke with Kitsune." Kakashi began, watching the Hokage for any reaction. "He told me the truth."

Hiruzen abruptly signalled his ANBU guard to leave the room, and they discreetly did as ordered, if reluctantly. "And what truth is that?"

Kakashi was well aware of what the old man was doing; making sure Kakashi really knew what he claimed, to make sure he didn't spill any secrets unknowingly.

"Uzumaki Naruto." He stated dryly.

Hiruzen leaned back in his chair watching Kakashi with shrewd eyes. "What about him? Is there a problem with your student?"

"You're going to force me to say it, aren't you." Kakashi sighed. Hiruzen just smiled, waiting for the younger man to compose himself. "Kitsune is Naruto, from the future." It sounded ridiculous, even to his own ears.

"Please take a seat, Kakashi." Kakashi did as asked, waiting attentively as the Hokage shuffled around a few papers. "May I ask how you managed to get him to tell you?" He smiled somewhat sadly.

Kakashi shifted uncomfortably. That confrontation felt even worse now in hindsight. "I... might have accused him of being a spy." Kakashi admitted reluctantly.

Hiruzen bit back a wince. That couldn't have been recieved well. "And how did he take it?"

"He was furious." Kakashi said. "And tired." He added, clearly remembering the frightening response. He was suddenly very glad that he had been wrong; he wasn't sure he would have survived had Kitsune really been a spy. And then he chuckled. "I can barely believe that he's really Naruto." He murmured.

"Yes. It's quite remarkable." Hiruzen agreed. "And he looks so much like Minato." He breathed wistfully. Kakashi dipped his head in a small nod. "And?"

"Maa, he gave me the choice to leave him alone or take him somewhere secure to talk." Kakashi chuckled sheepishly. Hiruzen raised an eyebrow. "I took him to my apartment."

Hiruzen produced a sound of surprise in the back of his throat. Sure, he had seen the growing friendship between the two shinobi since -the now rather famous- impromptu game of tag through Konoha a few months back, but Kakashi had went out of his way to keep his fellow shinobi away from him ever since Minato died. He didn't even think anyone other than him and a few of his personal guard knew where Kakashi's apartment was even located. He raised an inquiring eyebrow at the Copy-nin.

Kakashi frowned. "I hoped I was wrong." Was his only explanation. "And my apartment is more secure than any other location I can think of, save for your office." He shrugged.

"And he told you." Hiruzen pursed his lips. He reached over to the drawer and took out his pipe, filled it with tobacco leaves and lit it with a small katon.

"He did. Although, I don't think he was very eager to do so." Kakashi said. He watched the Hokage intently. "Do you know what he's been through?"

"I had Inoichi take a look to try and determine his identity when he first appeared; he told me of what he saw in his mind." He inclined his head, taking another drag on his pipe. He contemplated his next words with care. "He has led a difficult life." Maybe it wasn't so strange that Kitsune and Kakashi had established such a strong friendship so quickly; they had both survived a lot and lived with an overwhelming sense of loss for many years. Yet they were both so young.

They were quiet for a while, both lost in their own thoughts. Kakashi eventually snapped out of it; he had questions to ask, and he wanted answers.

"Why did you send him away?"

The abrupt question startled Hiruzen out of his reverie. "Pardon?"

"On that mission? Why did you send him away when you knew Orochimaru would seek out Sasuke in the Forest?" His one visible eye was sharp and piercing as he waited expectantly for the response.

Hiruzen sighed and regarded the man in front of him. Kakashi hadn't been hailed a genius at the tender age of five for no reason.

"Because he was the best choice for the task."

"That may be so, but don't think for a moment I believe that's it, Hokage-sama." Kakashi eye smiled at the Sandaime, who grumbled slightly under his breath. Kakashi thought he caught words such as 'respect', 'youngsters', and 'retirement' but couldn't be sure.

"What did Kitsune say on the matter?" He asked wearily.

"That you didn't want to change things before the invasion to save lives." Kakashi recounted briskly, a calculating look in his eye.

"Which is true." Hiruzen felt the need to point out. It wasn't often he was being questioned by his subordinates concerning his decisions, and he wasn't sure how he felt about it. Kakashi waited patiently. "But I admit it's not the only one." He eventually admitted with a huff.

Kakashi smiled triumphantly, reassured that the motion was hidden by his mask.

The old Hokage took another deep drag on his pipe, gaze drifting over to the Hokage portraits hanging on the wall behind his desk, coming to rest on the one of Minato. When he felt he couldn't stall any longer, he turned back to Kakashi with a heavy, bone-weary sigh.

"I know my former student very well, Kakashi. The only person to know him better than me, is perhaps Jiraya." He began. Kakashi listened attentively. "Orochimaru must have planned this invasion for years; he would not risk it all by facing an unknown shinobi and jeopardize his plans being exposed." He gave a tight, grim smile. "So why should I let Kitsune give away any advantage he may have, when Orochimaru most likely won't even face him?" Kakashi considered his words carefully.

"He showed himself to Anko." He reminded.

"Yes." Hiruzen nodded. "And he knows Anko, maybe better than she knows herself." He frowned. "He does not know Kitsune; he's an unknown component. I refuse to deny it; Orochimaru isn't stupid. It was the reason I treasured him so much as a students." His gaze turned distant while his voice sounded faintly self-loathing. It still hurt, the way Hiruzen hadn't seen his student's decline into darkness, and his inability to deal with the problem properly once it had been discovered.

"Orochimaru entered that forest for one reason; Sasuke." Hiruzen focused on Kakashi once more. "He does not know that we know of his plans, and I want to keep it that way. If Kitsune managed to confront him despite my beliefs about Orochimaru, he would most likely speed up his plans." He shrugged. "We would deal with it as we would have anyways, but it is still to our advantage to know roughly what happens beforehand." Hiruzen concluded.

Kakashi had to admit the old man had a point. "So you're saying a confrontation between Kitsune and Orochimaru would only result in Kitsune giving his cards away." He mused. He could still sense something behind that. "And?"

Hiruzen gave Kakashi a resigned look. "Maybe I should name you my successor, Kakashi-kun." He chuckled. The chuckle grew into full-blown laughter at Kakashi's horrified look.

"Please, Hokage-sama. Don't even joke about that." Kakashi didn't know what was worse; the thought of being responsible for the safety of the entire village, shinobi and civilians alike, or the fact that he wasn't even sure the old man had really been joking.

Hiruzen composed himself as he studied the young Jounin. Minato had been around his age when he had been named Hokage. He wouldn't even have hesitated if he didn't know just how adverse to the idea Kakashi was.

"The final reason for my decision, was Kitsune himself." He said.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know if he told you, but he did not choose to come back here." Hiruzen said and Kakashi nodded. "He was almost dead when my ANBU found him." He revealed. "He was lying right there, slowly bleeding out on the floor." He pointed to a spot slightly behind where Kakashi was sitting. Again, Kakashi nodded, even though the thought pained him.

"So, thrown back in time without much say in the matter, surrounded by loved ones that might have been dead for years..." Hiruzen sighed. "And he hasn't come to terms with it quite yet either, I believe." He shot Kakashi a knowing look. "I'm worried about him, and I'm worried about his mental health. He hasn't dealt with any of his emotions." He paused, looking older than ever. "It may just be a few weeks, but I wanted to give him a little longer to relax and rest before being thrown into another battle for his life." He bowed his head slightly.

Kakashi was silent. When he thought about it, he didn't want Naruto to ever fight Orochimaru, twelve of twenty two made little difference.

"Can he do it?" He suddenly asked.

"Do what?"

"Fight Orochimaru. He is one of the strongest missing-nin out there."

Hiruzen smiled tiredly. "I believe he can. It won't be easy, but Kitsune is strong."

Kakashi blinked. He had fought the man, but he was no longer sure if Kitsune had given it his all.

"Did you know he can work together perfectly with the Kyuubi?"

"Kurama." Kakashi snorted. "He told me they were friends."

"He showed me a little of what they can do, and I find myself believing in him." Hiruzen chuckled. "And he's been very insistent that I let him fight." Kakashi just blinked. "He has not come out and said it, but I believe Orochimaru killed me in his time." Hiruzen smiled thinly.

Kakashi found himself on his feet before he knew it, distraught by the mere thought. The Sandaime had always been there. He was the only one who had been there for him when Minato-sensei died. The only one who had understood. The thought of him dead, gone, was indescribable.

His distress must have been clearly visible on his face, because Hiruzen hurried to reassure him.

"I do not plan to just roll over and expose my stomach, Kakashi." He said. "And I'm sure Kitsune will do everything in his power to fight Orochimaru. He was quite upset with me after I 'let' Orochimaru mark Sasuke."

Kakashi grunted. "I can't believe everyone thought all that killer intent came from me." He grumbled. He hadn't understood at the time why everyone was staring at him. They had all been to stuck in their belief that Kitsune was harmless that they immediately dismissed the possibility that he was the source of such a heavy, overwhelming killer intent.

"The point is; Naruto has only become more protective with the years." Hiruzen chuckled.

Despite the supposed reassurance, Kakashi couldn't quite relax. Kitsune was right to be worried. And angry.

"Do you have any idea how much Kitsune's been grumbling about that mission?" He said instead of voicing his thoughts.

"They way I see it, it was a happy coincident." Hiruzen chuckled. "I had been scrambling for an appropriate mission to send him on all day, and then that one practically fell into my lap. Quite fortunate, I say."

"You even wanted him out of the village?" Kakashi couldn't help but ask, eyebrows raised.

Hiruzen nodded. "As I told him; Kitsune would not have been able to just sit back and watch, even if I had told him my reasons."

"Fair enough." Kakashi relented, easily; he had no trouble visualizing that.

"And Kitsune still managed to complete that mission quicker than I had estimated. He broke into an Iwa border station, got the target out and only sustained light injury while doing so. All within a two day time span."

Kakashi blinked. That... was impressive.

"Where is he now?" Hiruzen questioned next. Kakashi startled, and had to think through the question twice before he realised what the Hokage was asking for.

"He's sleeping on my couch."

If Hiruzen was surprised -which he was- it didn't show.

"Well, as nice as it is to have a late-night chat, I do believe it's time for both you and I to get home." Hiruzen said, emptying his pipe in the ashtray before putting it back in the desk drawer. "Get some sleep, Kakashi. You have students to see to in the morning."

Kakashi gave the old man a respectful bow. "God night, Hokage-sama." Take care, was hanging unsaid in the air.

Hiruzen nodded with a tired smile, sending him on his way.

. o . o . o . o . o .

Kakashi ran across Konoha's rooftops through the chilly night air. It was dark out, and the half-full moon had already begun to climb up the clear sky. He had too much on his mind, really. In his distraction, he accidentally cracked one of the roof tiles he stepped on and winced. Well, no one was perfect.

When he got back to his place, he crouched down next to his window, feeling the pulse of chakra that alerted him of his own presence. That aspect of privacy seals almost made him want to roll his eyes. Almost.

He soundlessly slid the window open and climbed into his apartment. The moment his feet touched the floor, the fraction of a second of whistling air was the only warning he got of the kunai flying at his head. He snatched it out of the air and dodged a kick to his stomach.

"Kitsune! It's me!" He stated as calmly as he could. Kitsune paused at the familiar voice, and blinked a few times.

"Kakashi." He slurred drowsily.

"Yes. Calm down." Kakashi gently guided him back to the couch.

"What were you doing?" Kitsune asked, struggling to wake up.

"I had to go out for a moment." Kakashi eye smiled even though he was sure Kitsune didn't see it where he sat. "I didn't want to wake you."

"Hm." Kitsune grunted, rubbing the heel of his hand over his eyes before peering over at Kakashi. "Mission?"

"No. It was personal." Kakashi took of his shoes and shuffled around the apartment, getting ready for bed. Kitsune grunted noncommittally again. "You should get some more sleep."

"I'll try." Kitsune chuckled wryly. "Nerves too high-strung now."

Kakashi sighed. He knew what it was like; after the war, he hadn't been able to sleep easily for years. The body couldn't tell the difference between war and peace, and habits once learned were hard to get rid of. Anyway, Kakashi moved around his apartment in his usual routine, and by the time he was ready for bed, Kitsune was slumping back on the couch, barely awake.

"Just lie down." Kakashi chuckled mutedly.

"Leame 'lone." Kitsune was barely awake, yet still managed to object.

"You need the sleep."

Kitsune grunted stubbornly. He couldn't even form coherent words, yet Kakashi just knew he was objecting. He sighed and sat down next to the guy.

"Don't worry; I've got your back." He nudged him with his shoulder lightly. He felt him twitch in response to the words and glanced over at Kitsune's drawn, tired face. Now that he got a good look at it and he wasn't as preoccupied, he could see how utterly exhausted he looked. Didn't he sleep? The scary thing was that he couldn't honestly answer that question. Slowly, he felt Kitsune relax beside him, only to jerk awake a moment later. When this repeated for the third time, Kakashi gave up.

He sighed and fished out his book from a pocket. Next, Kakashi pulled up his legs and crossed them as he turned around so that he sat with his back towards Kitsune.

"You'll have my back while I rest for a while?" He asked over his shoulder. Kitsune's head jerked up and he blinked blearily.

"Yeah." He mumbled, slowly mirroring Kakashi's position so that they ended up back to back, leaning against each other.

"Thanks." Kakashi said as he flipped open the book and got comfortable. He couldn't help but smile when ten minutes later, Kitsune was asleep.

. o . o . o . o . o .