“Are you really a demon?”
Kurama, who was happily asleep up until three seconds ago, reluctantly pries one eye open and sees…nothing. Suspicious, he surveys his surroundings, then casts his gaze down, down, down to see—
A larval-stage human, at that.
“Get lost,” he orders, unamused, but too comfortable to stand up and squish the little creature the way he normally would.
The tiny thing stares up at him, and if Kurama were in the mood to be impressed—or could ever be impressed by a human—he would have to be at the way it doesn’t even flinch. Thankfully, Kurama is not in the mood and would never be impressed by a hairless little worm with less chakra control than a baby summons, so he just snorts, the gust of it blowing the human’s white hair back from its face.
“Well?” he prompts, putting a growl that shakes the trees around them into the words.
The child takes a step back, and for one half of a second Kurama (foolishly) allows himself to think that it’s going to be over with that easily. He’s already lowering his head, ready to go right back to sleep, when the human stops at exactly the right angle to look him in the eye, and says, “I want you to teach me.”
Kurama is absolutely one hundred percent certain that he heard wrong.
“Excuse me?” he rumbles, and offense has him bushing to his feet to loom over the human.
Once again, the human doesn’t flinch, even though it’s roughly the height of one of Kurama's toes. “Teach me,” it repeats firmly. “I learn quickly, and I'm good with chakra—”
At that, Kurama scoffs. No human can even comprehend the vaguest edges of what chakra actually is, let alone possess any skill with it. “Good?” he mocks, lowering his head and pulling up a corner of his lips to show vast white teeth. “Good? It’s amusing that you use that word when I'm a manifestation of the chakra you claim such talent with. You think you have any skill at all? Let me prove you wrong!”
With a snarl, he lunges, but the human is already moving. It leaps back in a blur, darting underneath the cover of the trees, and when Kurama tears right through them the creature is already gone.
“Hah,” Kurama mutters to himself, sweeping a long, slow look around the mountain’s foothills. No sign of it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more lurking somewhere. It’s been a while since Kurama wiped out a town, but humans, he’s noticed, tend to hold grudges.
After several minutes, when nothing else happens and no other little worms appear out of the twilight, Kurama scoffs again and drops back down to the ground, the thud of his impact jolting the ground and making the trees sway. Still slightly wary, he drops his head back onto his paws, twitches his ears, and lets his eyes slowly slide closed.
The human doesn’t wake him this time, and Kurama is naïve enough to think, once again, that that’s the end of the matter.
“For a demon, you’re not very self-aware.”
That tone is dry and a little derisive, with just the barest edge of amusement. Kurama doesn’t even bother to open his eyes before he rolls them, though doubtless some of the effect is lost.
“I thought I told you to go away,” he growls, and if he hadn’t finally found the exact perfect angle to wedge himself in between the remnants of an old rockslide, he’d have already eaten the little brat.
“I did,” the larval-stage human points out, in the tone of one used to being the sole voice of logic. Kurama cracks one eye the barest sliver, and sees that head of obnoxiously white hair sliding closer. He considers the distance, weighs it against his own reach, and reluctantly concludes that the brat is still just out of reach. It’s being very careful to stay that way, too—it moves sideways to study Kurama, rather than closer. The tiny touch of cleverness annoys Kurama; is it too much to ask for the thing to move into range so that Kurama can eat it, get this over with, and go back to his nap?
Apparently it is, because the human says, “I need you to teach me about chakra.”
A different approach this time, it seems. Kurama opens one eye the rest of the way in a glare, and bares the tips of his teeth again. “Not for fucking anything, brat. Get lost, and this time, stay that way.”
“Not until you teach me,” the human says, more stubbornness in its voice than Kurama has heard since he last butted heads with Son.
With an exasperated growl, Kurama lifts his head and fixes the child with his harshest look. “You little—”
“Tobirama,” the brat interrupts, and Kurama has to stop in surprise at its fearlessness. When Kurama raises his voice, people usually start cowering and bolting for cover. Even his siblings aren’t immune to the effect. But this little bastard hasn’t so much as twitched. He meets Kurama's stare as if he faces down demons every day, and says, “I am Senju Tobirama, second son of the Senju Clan Head.”
A boy, then. Kurama has difficulty telling. He doesn’t care enough to get better at it, either. “So?” he demands. “Is that going to make you leave?”
Tobirama looks faintly affronted. “I was being polite in giving you my name,” he answers, on the edge of haughty. “Usually one returns the favor.”
Comfortable position on the rocks be damned. Kurama shoves up and forward in a surge of muscle, and his teeth snap shut hard.
But all he catches is empty air. In a blur of white and blue, the human dives back into the trees, dodges around a clump of shadows, and vanishes completely. Kurama snarls after him in impotent rage, just a touch too slow to follow his trail, and takes great, petty pleasure in knocking over every nearby tree with angry lashes of his tails.
Sage damn it. This time Kurama can see that until he finally manages to get his teeth in the little worm, the human isn’t going to stop bothering him.
“I'm a sensor,” is what Tobirama opens with the next time. “No one else understands, because they don’t see chakra the way I do. I thought you might.”
With his own healthy dose of stubbornness, Kurama stays silent, keeping his eyes closed and his head firmly planted on a pile of collapsed trees. Maybe if he pretends to be asleep, the kid will either come close enough to serve as a midday snack or just leave him alone entirely.
Honestly, Kurama isn’t too hopeful of either happening at this point. Humans are stupid, and this one is no exception, but he seems to have an understanding of basic logic, at least. Combine the two and you get someone who’s too smart to get eaten easily, but too dumb to leave while they still have all of their limbs.
This whole situation is just more trouble than it’s worth.
There's a pause as the boy waits for a response the Kurama definitely isn’t going to give, and then a quiet sound of frustration. Kurama waits with breathless anticipation for Tobirama to leave, for his peace to return, and—
“Please,” Tobirama says, as though it’s something distasteful to utter. The words are close to desperation, and twisted through with something that might be grief.
Kurama doesn’t care. It has nothing to do with him.
“You’re the only one who might be able to teach me!” Grief gives way to anger, growing, growing, and something inside Kurama stirs interestedly. It’s not the flavor of malice he likes best—too protective, too bound up with love—but this boy has hatred in him, and a healthy helping of it at that. He doesn’t stir, forces himself not to move, but his attention has sharpened despite his intentions.
“My brother is too strong for me to keep up with,” Tobirama says. “He has Mokuton, and when he applies himself, he’s a genius. I am very good, but to protect him I need to be better.”
Ah, Kurama thinks, disappointed. It’s not true hatred Tobirama is feeling—his is widespread, directed at the shadowy possibilities of people who might try to harm his family. How boring.
“I'm not going to leave unless you teach me.”
Yeah, Kurama was kind of getting that impression.
“I'm a monster,” he tells Tobirama crankily the next time, before the kid can even get his mouth open. “Chakra beast who feeds on malice and anger and levels towns for fun. You know you’ve got the self-preservation of a concussed lemming asking me this, right?”
Tobirama’s mouth compresses into a stubborn line, and he looks up, up, up to meet Kurama's gaze. “That would be more convincing,” he says, dry as the desert, “if you weren’t splashing around like a sparrow in a puddle.”
Kurama growls, but he’s finally compressed the lake bed enough that he can actually lie down and have the water come partway up his sides, so like hell he’s moving. “I’m bathing,” he bites out. “And you're fucking intruding. Get lost.”
Chakra flickers, and Tobirama slowly and deliberately brings his hands together, shaping seals. Kurama watches him narrowly, but there's no hostility in his face, and when a long coil of water rises from the lake beside him he mostly manages not to flinch. It doesn’t turn into an attack, though; instead, the water pauses, hovering and swaying, and Tobirama says in a voice that’s slightly strained, “Where would you like me to pour it?”
Fucking humans, he thinks, and wonders why the hell the Sage didn’t warn them about stuff like this.
But the boy isn’t moving, even though he’s started sweating, and the water is still there. “My back,” Kurama says grudgingly, and wonders why it feels like giving in.
Next time Tobirama appears, Kurama doesn’t even let him start talking before he’s on his feet and lunging, just to prove a point.
(It is unfortunately possible that this point is to himself more than the human.)
At some point along the way, with Tobirama’s appearances becoming a daily thing and Kurama's sleep becoming not a thing, Kurama stops actually trying to eat the kid. When he realizes that he missed a perfect opportunity to catch Tobirama with his tails in favor of snapping his teeth and chasing him off, he puts his head down on the ground, covers his face with his paws, and curses furiously at himself.
“Are you all right?” Tobirama calls from further into the woods.
“Fucking fine!” Kurama snaps back, and is horrified to realize he can't tell if it’s a basic response or actual capitulation.
“I hate you,” he growls at Tobirama the next time the boy steps through the early-morning mist and into the hollow of the mountain Kurama has staked out.
Tobirama gives him a supremely unimpressed roll of his eyes, and takes a seat on a large boulder, tapping his sandals against it. “You didn’t try to squash me last time,” he says, assessing.
“Everyone has off days,” Kurama huffs, but he doesn’t try to do it this time, either.
There's a pause as Tobirama watches him, somewhere between wary and peaceful. Kurama hates it, more because he knows he should than because he actually feels that way. He shifts, restless, and demands, “What the hell do you even think I can teach you? I'm fire and wind—your nature is water.”
Tobirama rolls his eyes again, and really, whoever is responsible for this little bundle of unbearable pique should really come and retrieve their spawn. Kurama is tired of dealing with him.
“It’s not about natures,” he retorts, and there's an undercurrent to his tone that says he’s definitely judging Kurama for the question. Kurama's never had his intelligence questioned by a worm before, and he doesn’t particularly like the feeling. “You're a creature of chakra in its purest form, and that’s how I see it, but I can't use it.” he sounds frustrated, angry at himself, and Kurama can feel his ears pricking up a little despite himself.
“See it,” he repeats a little dubiously. “You see chakra like it is.”
“I’ve been trying to tell you that.” Ah, pissy aggravation. Kurama knows it well. More in himself than others, but even so, it’s clear in the kid’s face. “I'm a sensor, but I can see halfway across Fire Country without trying. Not even most Uzumaki sensors can do that.”
Kurama is reluctantly kind of interested, though he’s definitely not going to show any part of it. “And you think it’s like what I can do,” he says, though it doesn’t come out quite as mockingly as he intends.
“They say you destroy villages that grow wicked,” Tobirama points out stubbornly, “and you’ve gone after villages on opposite sides of the country, one after the other. It’s at least similar.”
It might be, Kurama allows, if only to himself. That’s impressive range for a human, after all. And he can't believe he’s even contemplating this, damn it.
“Don’t you have a family to get back to?” he demands, a last-ditch attempt to head this whole disaster off at the pass.
Tobirama’s mouth tightens, and Kurama can't quite tell what that expression is. Nothing happy, though.
“My younger brothers are dead,” he says, simple and flat, though he can't quite meet Kurama's gaze. “Hashirama can take care of himself. I told Father I was going on a training trip, so no one will miss me.”
Kurama mildly loathes all of his siblings, and knows that the sentiment is entirely returned, but…
Death is a pretty damn permanent loss, and not a solution to sibling rivalries.
He stares down at the kid for a long moment, debating, turning the matter over in his head. But—Kurama's been sleeping a lot, lately. There are only so many towns rife with malice that he can wipe out before they start to wise up and kick the degenerates out immediately. The Sage is gone, the other bijuu are scattered, and Kurama's a beast of chakra and power but he’s bored.
At the very least this will be entertaining. And when Kurama gets tired of it he can just eat Tobirama and be done with it.
“Right,” he says, halfway to a sigh, and sits up, wrapping his tails around his feet. “If you're that in tune with chakra, maybe there's a sliver of possibility that you're not just a sense-blind monkey bouncing in the trees.”
Tobirama blinks. He looks offended, then assessing, then surprised, and finally settles on quiet excitement. “You're—” He stops before he can say going to teach me, though it hangs in the air between them. A long moment, and he finishes, “—a fox. That’s hardly any better.”
“Excuse you,” Kurama snaps. “Foxes are the best animal. We’re clever and wise and the best.”
Tobirama rolls his eyes and pulls a face.
It’s entirely fair, Kurama thinks, when he lunges and tries to eat the brat on principle.