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Of Harrowed Hearts

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Kakashi wakes when pre-dawn light slats across his face at an unfamiliar angle, jolting him right into sudden awareness until memory reasserts over base instincts and he remembers where he is.

He is not in the tiny spartan apartment he’d spent most of his life in after Minato and Kushina had died, with the tight rooms and familiar sharp corners softened only by the tiniest of personal touches. For the first time in two decades, Kakashi wakes in the first place he ever called home. For the first time in twelve years, he wakes and the morning isn’t empty.

Even in the quiet the air feels somehow fuller, brighter with the dormant life of the three Genin still sleeping down the hall.

“Boss?” Pakkun yawns, curled on the pillow beside him, still half asleep. Kakashi doesn’t blame him for being drowsy– they’d been up settling in until the small hours of the morning, shuffling around training scrolls and equipment, necessities and precious trinkets, arguing about how close the futon should be to the window.

Kakashi rubs his knuckles over Pakkun’s head to lull the pug back to sleep and slides out of bed, stepping carefully over Shiba and side-stepping Bull’s sprawled bulk. He eyes the shower contemplatively, but decides it can wait until he’s checked on his charges.

He slides the shoji door open softly and steps out into the hallway, taking a moment to admire the soft glow of dusk on the stretches of tall grass that march all the way to the cliff’s edge. In the soft morning breeze the blades shift in waves of pale green, moving as one like ocean tides. Kakashi’s room is one that– as far as he remembers, was once used as a guest room. It lies across from his old room, which Kakashi had been more than willing to let his cubs convert into a study.

It’s also strategically sound– Kakashi chose the room primarily because it lies between the old master suite and all the major entrances, and is close enough that he can hear trouble before it starts.

He pads silently down the hall, smiling softly to himself when he hears Sakura’s soft snores and Naruto’s sleepy rumbling. He eases the door open, and is unsurprised to find all three of them curled up on one side of the large futon, still sprawled in their civs with hands buried under pillows or arms thrown over one another. They seem to have developed a system for sleeping on futons meant for one– Naruto and Sasuke lie parallel and Sakura sleeps upside down between them, conserving space and likely protecting the boys’ poor ribcages from the menace of Sakura’s elbows. Even in sleep the boys seem to gravitate together, heads tilted just above Sakura’s toes so that their foreheads are mere centimeters apart.

The sight makes something pang hard in Kakashi’s chest, a reminder of an old raw pain anchored into his chest by older regrets, actions never taken due to anger and wariness and foolish, foolish pride.

The hurt softens into something bittersweet– Sasuke and Naruto show no signs of making the same mistakes, and they are already older than Kakashi had been, already stronger. Even so, Kakashi will do whatever he can to make sure they don’t trip over the same obstacles he did. If their bond is as strong as he thinks it is…

He allows himself one last indulgent smile and slides the door closed again, slipping back into his room and heading for the shower. He reviews his mental to-do list as he goes through familiar motions, stepping under the spray before it fully warms to clear the last of the drowsy cobwebs from his mind. A great deal of the main house is still closed off and has been even since Kakashi was a child– it had been a big house for a single shinobi father and a kid still in the academy, and from what he remembers a great deal of the rooms had been cordoned off for being either superfluous, dangerous, or both. But Kakashi has three cubs just coming into their skins, and he plans to give them all the room they may need and more if possible.

The dojo needs some fusuma panels replaced and a fresh coat of paint, and then there’s the old building by the cliff edge that he might be able to whip back into some semblance of functionality, maybe as a surprise…

When he steps out of the bathroom, tucking his mask up around his face again and still toweling off his hair, he finds that his entire pack has gone missing. Blinking bewildered at his suddenly empty room, Kakashi pads out the door and peers down the hall.

Sure enough, the door to the cub’s room has been nosed open, and as he approaches he finds every one of his dogs nested around the kids; Bull curled around Naruto and Sasuke’s heads, Bisuke wriggled underneath one of Sakura’s arms, Pakkun tucked into the small of Naruto’s back, and Uhei sandwiched between Sakura’s legs and Sasuke’s torso.

“Traitors,” Kakashi mutters, and Urushi gives him puppy eyes from where he’s nestled under the crook of Naruto’s arm.

“The bed got cold, boss,” he reasons, soft enough not to wake the exhausted Genin, and that’s something else because Urushi has always been the loudest and least caring of his summons.

“Sure it did,” Kakashi murmurs sarcastically. “If they wake up before I get back, let them know I went out to run errands.”

“Should we start them on morning excercises?” Uhei asks softly.

Kakashi raises an eyebrow. “They’re adults. I’m sure they’ll start them on their own.”

“But we can help, right?” Uhei insists, a tail wag giving away his enthusiasm.

“You’re all terrible,” Kakashi informs them all with a rub to the bridge of his nose. He can hardly blame then for being attached though– that would make him a hypocrite. “Have them train with their own summons as well, then,” Kakashi instructs with a roll of his eyes, and slides the door shut again behind him.


Genma wakes, easy and slow, to a calloused hand drawing through his unbound hair. The way he wakes tells him immediately where he is, since in Raidou’s arms is pretty much the only place Genma has the luxury of easing into consciousness.

“Is there a reason why you’re coaxing me into a false sense of security?” Genma mutters, not opening his eyes, tucking his head up under his partner’s chin with a pointed bop. Raidou chuckles, one of Genma’s favorite sounds, low and warm and deep in his chest, flavored with fond exasperation and that rare hint of indulgence.

“I have border patrol soon. I have to leave in a few minutes,” Raidou intones lowly, pressing a tender kiss to the edge of Genma’s left temple.

“What border patrol?” Genma demands sourly, noting with distaste as he opens his eyes that Raidou is indeed already outfitted in most of his traveling gear, leaning over him from his seat at the edge of the bed.

Their bed. Genma remembers after a heartbeat. Even after a week the novelty of that has yet to wear off, and the feeling of being smothered that he’d been expecting has yet to rear it’s ugly head. Genma has never liked feeling confined, in any way, and that phobia of being stifled had been the source of a great deal of their arguments within the last month about whether or not Genma would be moving in.

It had been Raidou’s declaration of fine, I’ll move in with you then that had jolted Genma into actually considering it, because he’d yelled don’t be stupid my apartment is a wreck and Raidou had responded with well so are you sometimes and that hasn’t scared me off to date.

Raidou is an idiot, but he’s Genma’s idiot, and that had been the deciding factor.

“The border patrol I told you about last night. And three times before that,” Raidou reminds him patiently.

“I only remember a few very specific things from last night and you telling me about a border patrol in not on that list.”

Gemna is gratified by the soft red that skates Raidou’s scarred cheeks for the space of a few heartbeats, but is even more gratified by the kiss Raidou leans down to give him, molten and slow. Genma feels no remorse when he scrapes his fingernails up his partner’s neck, tracing the pulled lines of the scars there until he can grip the back of the squad captain’s neck and pull him in closer.

Raidou falls into him for a few long seconds, cupping his jaw with a large calloused hand to slant their mouths more firmly. Eventually though he pulls away with a groan, much to Genma’s displeasure, parting them with a soothing stroke of his thumb against Genma’s cheekbone.

“I’m going to go now,” Raidou tells him firmly. “Before you start something I can’t finish”

Genma snorts. “Speak for yourself,” He rumbles, leaning up to steal another kiss before Raidou can sway out of range. “You can be a little late can’t you?” he reasons, pushing into a second deeper kiss.

Raidou breaks away with a wry laugh. “Not that late,” he counters, leaning intelligently up and out of Genma’s strike zone. “I’ll be back tonight late, barring any bad skirmishes.”

Genma huffs and leans up so that he’s almost vertical, tapping their foreheads together briefly. “Keep your head on your shoulders,” he demands.

“Sir yes sir,” Raidou murmurs with a fond smile not seen on his face outside of these tender moments between them, brushing a chaste kiss over the bridge of Genma’s nose in goodbye.

He flops back into the pillows when Raidou pulls away, watching as he shoulders his pack and vanishes out the window.

Genma takes a long moment to stretch before he bothers rolling out of bed. He doesn’t have any planned missions until midnight tomorrow, so he’s going to take the rare opportunity to be lazy for as long as his Anbu trained body will allow.

When he does get up to start his morning breakfast of coffee, coffee, and maybe some more coffee, he finds that Raidou has strategically left a plate of onigiri and between him and the coffee machine, wrapped in plastic and stuck with a vindictive little note.

No, Shiranui.

Sneaky bastard knows him too well.

Just to be contrary, Genma sets the plate aside and starts his first cup of coffee before he deigns to unwrap the goods, nibbling on a single rice ball until his stomach discovers it actually is hungry and he devours two more in quick succession.

After that and a second cup of coffee Genma feels vaguely human enough to actually shower and dress, throwing on a sleeveless shinobi top and a pair of Raidou’s ratty old sweatpants for comfort, tucking his hair into a short pony tail. It’s been a while since he’s just taken a walk, and he figures the sunshine can only do him good– the sun is just coming up, so he tapps on his sandals and heads out the door.


He’s only been soaking up the vitamin D for about half an hour when he spots a familiar shock of silver hair outside the the market circle. “Oi, Hatake!” he calls. “I thought today of all days you’d be sleeping in.”

Kakashi turns from a little stand selling assorted belts and harnesses. He has a bundle of bamboo slats and a thick roll of rice paper under one arm, and a long weapons duffle with an emblem stitched across the side that Genma recognises as being from Bone– a high end blacksmith in the center of the primarily Jounin sector of the shinobi district.

“I had a few things to get done.” Kakashi admits with a careless shrug, and Genma raises an eyebrow, ticking his senbon at the complementary katana bag.

“Uh-huh. Those kids have been living under your roof for less than a day and you’re already spoiling them.”

“It’s necessary equipment for kenjutsu.” Kakashi defends.

“A-grade chakra enforced steel for Genin is a necessity?”

“They’ve earned it.” Kakashi states firmly, then tilts his head with and awkward eye-smile. “Though in truth, at this point they’re Genin in name only.”

“So Iruka keeps telling me.” Genma allows with an inclination of his head, striding up to stand beside Kakashi. “Looking for harnesses to go with?” he asks, peering over the array of of leather harnesses, wrist guards, sheathes and hip holsters. He blinks a couple times, somewhat astounded by the quality, and even more alarmed by how low the prices are in comparison.

He looks up at the vendor in astonishment, a dark skinned young man with short bluish-black hair. He’s clearly not a native– his colorings speaking more of Kumo or Taki than anywhere in Fire country. “You’ve got to be joking with me on these prices, kid. Where did you get these?” he demands.

The young man smiles awkwardly. “So this gentleman was telling me.” the young man laughs, answering the first part of his question and inclining his head towards Kakashi. “I am sorry if the item pricing is a little skewed, I spent most of my life as a hunter, and I’m a bit new to the trade.”

“I caught him just as he opened.” Kakashi murmurs to Genma. “The cubs already have some decent harnesses, the basic stuff for scrolls and kunai, but–”

“But this stuff is premium.” Genma finishes for him, patting his pockets. “Shit, I forgot my wallet.”

“I’ll spot you, if you help me figure out what I should get my cubs.”

Genma is so grateful that he doesn’t even make fun of the whole ‘cubs’ thing, already eyeing a new wrist pouch he could easily rig to carry a whole pack of poison senbon. “Kakashi, you’re still a lazy asshole, but I take back everything I ever said about you being a selfish one.”

Kakashi offers him a crooked but genuine smile just visible beneath the mask, and turns back to the young vendor. “Would I be alright if I payed you for what I believe the goods are worth, so long as it’s above the listed price?”

The poor kid looks taken aback, as if confused by why Kakashi would offer such a thing. “I suppose…”

“Oh, great.” Genma chirps, snatching the thin graceful wrist pouches off the table and ignoring the little folded paper in front of them with the price on it. Together Genma and Kakashi start a debate over functionality value vs. luxury value, discussing sums easily two or three times the listed price. The boy gapes at them as they agree on a solid number, and Kakashi hands the stunned young man a bundle of ryo while Genma happily straps them on to test them out.

“Where did you get this leather?” Genma asks.

“I-I get it from hunting. It’s a hobby, mostly.” The boy admits with a stutter. “Those particular guards came from the hide of black deer up in the Kofun mountains, southern Lightning country.”

“Quite the journey they’ve taken.” Kakashi marvels.

The young man shrugs. “I take mostly untrodden roads to avoid bandits. They sometimes lead me to interesting places. I don’t understand though– the blacksmith out towards Grass country told me they weren’t worth much at all…”

Genma growls. “I hate civilians. Look kid, this here is Shinobi grade stuff– what are you doing selling to backwoods nobodies?”

“I’ve never actually been to a ninja village before.” The kid admits. “A wandering shinobi tradesman told me to come here.”

“This is good work.” Kakashi says firmly, enforcing Genma’s statement. He reaches forward and selects a belted harness with an attachment meant to go up over the shoulder, one that could easily be rigged to carry scrolls.

“For Naruto?” Genma guesses. “Better than the standard stuff you’d get. And it would be more resistant to wear…”


An hour or so later they’ve cleaned out half the poor vendor’s stall, leaving him with more ryo than he probably knows what to do with and a recommendation to visit Shinta at Bone and get his stuff appraised– with any luck the kid and his goods will stick around for a while. Genma had taken the construction material off Kakashi’s hands so they could carry everything, and readjusts the roll of rice paper on his shoulder as they head back towards Hatake clan lands.

“Oh, I was going to ask.” Kakashi says suddenly. “You don’t have any missions today, right?”

“Nope.” Genma affirms. “I’m free and clear until tomorrow night. Why?”

“Could you run some drills with my team while I work on one of the buildings on my compound?”

Genma snorts. “Are you asking me to babysit, Hatake?”

Kakashi grimaces. “Nothing so easy, unfortunately. My kids can be… obstinate. Consider it repayment for the wrist guards.”

“Done.” Genma agrees, ever the cheapskate. “If you're looking for some cheap labor to help you out, Kotetsu and Izumo are off mission today too.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Kakashi muses. “Thank you.”




By the time Sasuke manages to drag himself into wakefulness the sun is already streaming golden through the windows, which on any other day would be a red flag that he’s late for something. But on this particular morning he squashes down the urgency and settles contentedly back down into a half sleep. Judging by the smell of dog fur and the extra warm bodies piled around him, Sasuke guesses that the ninken had filtered into their room sometime while they were asleep.

Judging by the buzzing chakra signature next to him he can tell that Naruto is awake, if only barely.

“Is Kakashi-sensei gone?” he asks, face still half buried in his pillow, one forearm lost underneath it.

“Urushi says he went to run errands.” Naruto responds drowsily, the words followed by a jaw-cracking yawn.

Sasuke turns his head and cracks an eyelid, noting Naruto’s face not far from his own. The Uzumaki is lying on his back and rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand, the other stretched above his head. Urushi is snoring on his ribcage and Shiba has tucked himself against the Uzumaki’s side. “We should get up, shouldn’t we?”

“Probably.” Naruto agrees sullenly, lifting his hand from his eyes to stroke Urushi’s back.

Sasuke rolls onto his side, careful not to disturb Uhei. Naruto rolls his head towards him at almost the same moment, causing their foreheads to slide together in an accidental brush. It surprises a warm, slightly sleepy chuckle out of Naruto, a sound that makes Sasuke’s chest swell unbidden. The gesture is a reminder of their promise, of that oath made in the last dredges of evening sunlight as the day dipped into night.

“Promises to keep.” Naruto murmurs, almost as if reading his mind, and Sasuke allows himself a quicksilver smile.

“Promises to keep.” He agrees, shifting to sit up.

Naruto shakes Urushi a little to wake him, and the ninken yawns widely before hopping off his chest, landing carelessly on Shiba’s flank. Sasuke gives Sakura’s arm a jostle, nimbly dodging the elbow she automatically attempts to bludgeon him with.

“Come on, “ he urges. “We’ve slept enough.”

Sakura grunts unhappily but pushes upright, not bothering to unhand the still sleeping Bisuke as she stands, cradling her favorite ninken in the crook of her arm.


It’s the start of a brand new morning routine.

At first it’s strange, because suddenly they have all this space that wasn't there before, and they’re not tripping over each other with every third step, all elbows and knees and tight spaces. It lowers the number of morning squabbles they have significantly, though the space between them is now filled with the scrabbling paws of their sensei’s ninken, leaping this way and that, both to help and to hinder.

The kitchen is huge compared to Naruto’s tiny space,  a long open line of counter space and appliances along one wall, outlined by a large L-shaped island that cuts the  kitchen off from the main living space. The windows over the countertops have a view of the woods that lead back to the village proper, and on the opposite end of the room are a set of sliding glass doors that lead out to a patio, and then into what was probably once a garden, now wild and overgrown. Beyond that lies a series of jagged stone outcroppings, which drop off sharply at the cliff line.

Naruto has thrown the doors wide open, allowing a breeze to chase through the freshly cleaned house. It’s still brisk despite the sunshine, but Sasuke finds he doesn’t mind. It seems fitting for a new start to a new day.

“You three should invite your summons to breakfast.” Bull rumbles, trailing after Sakura with a bag of ninken food in his maw.

“All of them?” Naruto asks from the countertop.

“I don’t see why not. “ Uhei reasons. “It’s good for bonding.”

“We should have enough food.” Sasuke decides with a shrug, opening the fridge to check. “Iruka-sensei is the one who stocked the pantry.”

So they lie out plates of raw meat cut into various lengths and chunks as soon as they finish filling the ninken’s bowls and putting together their own breakfasts.  Naruto summons first, since his summoning limit is still two, and as usual the two kits appear snarled up in each other’s throats, in a fight once again.

“Oh man. Knock it off already.” Naruto grumbles, reaching down with practiced ease to snag the kits by their scruffs. They’re bigger now than when when Naruto had first summoned them, about Shiba’s size, and after a week of gorging on Naruto’s chakra, are each sporting three tails instead of two. As a testament to their new rank, the foxes can now manifest Foxfire; which would be great if they could control it at all.

Sasuke sighs as Sakura puts out the fire roasting merrily away on the floor with a low level Suiton jutsu. The strange flames that the kits are now capable of manifesting from their mouths and around their feet and tails seem to have the ability to set alight almost anything– from the waxed bamboo floors to the side of the refrigerator. Sasuke snuffs that particular fire with a fuuton vacuum.

The foxes’ hackles flatten though at the offer of food, and Sasuke takes that moment of calm to summon his roc. In a puff of glittering sand-like smoke Kikri alights easily on his shoulder, her gilded ivory plumage glittering in the morning sunbeams. She leaves behind two rather befuddled looking roc, both of which are quite a bit larger than she is. The smaller of the two, an adolescent gildedwing with bronze plumage about the size of a large eagle, is Krell, an associate of Kikri’s from her clan, born one clutch before her. Beside him, nearly twice the size of his companion, is the sleek dark form of Valkra, a stormwing of similar age.

Sakura summons Ravia and his twin Saveri, both of which are substantially larger than when Sasuke first saw them– though they still both tend to hang off Sakura’s arms like long scaly scarves.

Both of Sasuke’s relatively new summons look at him expectantly, awaiting orders, but he given them none, instead taking a seat at the island and starting on his breakfast. Kikri, experienced with the nuances of human behavior by now, and more particularly Sasuke’s behavior, hops onto the counter by his elbow with a click of talons and primly selects a dish of thinly sliced raw meat from the array of goodies to call her own.

“Good morning.” She greets Kuran-kha, who has his head buried in a dish of rabbit the ninken had thoughtfully offered up when Naruto was raiding the fridge and freezer. It’s odd though, Sasuke hadn’t thought that ninken were ones to share food readily.

“Mornin.” Kuran replies around his mouthful, swallowing and licking at his bloody maw before digging back in.

“You, are a barbarian.” Renge informs him from his right, eating his chunked rabbit in dainty bites. “Good morning Kirki.” he adds politely to the raptor.

Kikri kees softly at the pleasantries and digs into her meal, pausing to turn her agile head over the bulge of her upper wings to glare at her fellow summons.

“Well? Don’t just perch there. Sasuke-sama has offered quite the meal, it would be rude not to partake. Sasuke smirks a little when the two roc immediately flutter forward, as if spurred into action by the mere idea of being rude.

Naruto sits down beside him with a laugh, having just finished setting all the ninken up with their breakfast, and slides a plate of tomatoes and pickled cucumbers towards him for him to eat off of. Looking down at the the stupidly simple gesture, it’s alarmingly easy for Sasuke to think home.




Anko and Genma can not, without stretching the term obscenely far, be considered friends. Extraordinarily antagonistic co-workers would be closer to the mark, so when Genma shows up on her balcony, smelling of ozone with one sleeve mostly on fire and says; “I need your help,” Anko finds it well within her rights to blink at him, eyes tracking back between the Tokujo’s damp hair and his merrily smouldering overshirt, and wonder if she’d fallen asleep over Ibiki’s paperwork again.

“Say again?”

Genma rolls his eyes and pats out his sleeve. “Look, you can either help me for the next few hours, or I can tell Inoichi that you were the one who threw up on his flak jacket two weeks ago.”

Anko sits up immediately, knocking over her empty coffee mug in her haste. “That wasn’t my fault! I caught that stupid demon flu in Tea country and it was that or Ibiki’s report folders!” She defends with a snarl.

“Whatever, are you coming or not?”

She is, but not because she’s afraid of Inoichi, but because of her very healthy fear of Shikaku. Despite their lazy calculating natures, Nara men can have protective streaks that are outmatched by absolutely none, and the Jounin-commander is the first place Inoichi would go cry too if he finds out she’s the one who almost ruined his favorite vest.

“Fine. What is it? You piss of the Anbu lieutenant again?” She demands, getting to her feet from her seat in front of her coffee table and reaching for a tank-top.

“I can run from lord stick-up-his-ass. I can’t run from this.” Genma mutters crossly

Anko raises a grudgingly interested eyebrow, her trouble senses tingling. “Alright Shiranui, you have my attention.”



Aoba is not proud to say that he jumps so bad he drops his shogi piece, startling raspy laugh out of the sickly ninja across from him. Hayate abruptly stops laughing however when Anko comes around the corner soaking wet and covered in stone dust, her dark hair sticking up at all angles.

“What the hell–” Aoba starts, but cuts himself off with a squawk when Anko snags him by the back of his shirt and begins to drag him bodily out of his seat. It has been a perfectly nice day, and he’s just wanted to relax outside with a nice strategy game with one of his few nice friends, but noooo.

“You’re being conscripted.” Anko declares wrathfully. “You too, Hayate, if you can breathe today.”

“I’m coming, I’m coming.” the Tokujo agrees, seeming to find a humor in the situation that Aoba really doesn’t see.

“Where the fuck are you draggin’ me you crazy kunoichi!?” he snarls, trying to regain his feet, but Anko keeps him on the diagonal with another vicious tug to his collar.

“There’s a war on.” she growls in answer. “We need every able-bodied soldier.”


“A little more to the right! You missed a spot in the top corner!”

“I did not! That corner is flawless.”

“You’re blind. It’s missing at least two coats!”


“It is! Look at it!”

“I am looking at it jackass, you’re out of your mind!”

Kakashi sighs to himself, leaning against the doorframe. As helpful as Izumo and Kotetsu are, they’re not exactly efficient workers. The dojo is done at least, with only a little blood shed in the process, and the fringe building Kakashi had hopped to get working is starting to look promising.

A rustle, a shift of shadow out of place, and Kakashi turns immediately to greet Shikaku before he fully materialized from the shade of the nearby pines.

“Something I can do for you, Jounin Commander?” he asks, perfectly polite in the borderline sarcastic way that he knows grates on people’s nerves.

Shikaku just hums at him, amused. “Are you aware that your kids have started a firefight with half the Tokujo currently on standby? Pretty much literally?”

“Already?” Kakashi muses, glancing up to check the position of the sun. “It’s only been an hour.”

Shikaku’s chuckle is smokey and rough. “They’ve gotten my son and his team involved apparently, as well as Kurenai’s young ones. They’re proving astonishingly good at working as a unit to terrorize my ranks.”

“They’re something else.” Kakashi agrees readily. “But you didn’t come all the way up here just to tell me what I already know.”

“No.” Shikaku admits readily. “I’m actually here to ask you something.”

“Oh?” Kakashi replies mildly, raising an eyebrow.

“How long has Naruto known about his heritage?”

Kakashi’s eye narrow immediately. “Is this a question from you, or from the Sandaime?”

“Easy, wolf. It’s a question from me, so I can let the old man know just how badly he fucked up.”

That wasn’t the response Kakashi had been anticipating, but he lets the automatic hackles drop. He has to force himself to remember that Shikaku has something to protect here too– Naruto and Shikamaru are close, and Kakashi forgets sometimes that such a bond automatically makes the young Uzumaki a part of the Nara extended family– not that such a thing is obvious with the Nara. With the Nara, very little is obvious.

“The Kyuubi told him. Probably when he was very young, seven or eight.”

If Shikaku is alarmed by the ‘kyuubi’ statement he doesn’t let it show, his only sign of incredulousness the tick of a single scarred eyebrow. “Shikamaru said it was attached to him, after he made me admit that I knew. He said that it listened to him. Is that true?”

“It is.” Kakashi admits. “He befriended it, somehow. Years ago probably, I’m still unsure how he managed that, but I can no longer say I’m surprised.”

“That Shimura bastard can’t know, then.” Shikaku says firmly. “He’s always had an unhealthy obsession with the beasts. And if he thinks the boy has a way to control one…”

“A bad idea, to say the least.” Kakashi agrees.

Shikaku laughs suddenly. “Though there's not much the old warmonger could do even if he did know. Sidelining the Sandaime’s protection, there are a lot of people looking out for him now.” There’s a subtle statement in the words, like Shikaku is unintentionally including himself in that number, except that nothing Shikaku does is unintentional.

Kakashi inclines his head in both thanks and agreement, and peers over at the portion of the building Kotetsu and Izumo are busy perilously painting.

“Is it just me or is the right corner missing a coat?” He mutters blandly, and Kotatsu promptly shrieks and falls of his ladder.