Water dripped in the distance. Kurama no longer paid it any mind.
Kurama was past caring about the features of his newest prison. The sepia toned sewer of his latest jinchuuriki's seal was less painful than his previous incarceration, gentler than the crucifixion he had endured within Kushina, but a prison was a prison. Nothing would ever change that
Nine red tails, long and sinuous, lashed to and fro behind the iron bars that represented the seal within the metaphysical landscape of his current host's soul. Water rippled in time with the motions. A snarl echoed through the cage, growing with intensity, as Kurama once again reflected upon his life.
He could still remember the time before he started called himself the embodiment of hatred. When his eyes had been wide and fresh; when the Sage of the Six Paths had shared his dreams of a shining future with Kurama and his siblings.
Before human hatred had shattered his father's dreams.
Before human greed had stolen his life.
Kurama could remember Madara's words on the day his torment began; how the man had refused to acknowledge Kurama's personhood, simply because the man had desired Kurama's power.
Kurama also remembered the words that had followed.
The First Hokage's words had been kinder and his tone gentler, but the man had taken Kurama's freedom simply because Kurama's freedom was inconvenient for the man.
Kurama also remembered the words of the man's wife, Mito, who had implied that his imprisonment within her was a kindness, as if that could somehow justify her part in the self-serving chain of evil that Madara had started.
And he remembered words of Kushina, who had tried to hide her part in the sin with words of sympathy and duty, as if those concepts could make up for what she had withheld from him.
As if anything could justify what they had done to him.
While Kurama's mind dwelt in the past another memory rose unbidden.
"Hey, you stupid fox! I'm letting you live in my body, so instead of rent, lend me your chakra!"
Those had been the first words his current host had ever spoken to him. An ignorant child, but brave enough to stand tall in front of Kurama's glare and his snarl, to stand up straight before a menacing bjuu that towered over him.
Kurama's snarl ceased as he reflected on that memory. One corner of his mouth twitched upwards in something that almost resembled a small smile, the expression revealing fangs that were larger than most people. His tails came to rest behind him.
The words the boy had said, words once again implying that Kurama's imprisonment was a kindness, should have been as offensive, as hurtful, to Kurama as Mito's and Kushina's words had been.
But, in that moment, seeing the child standing before him like that, seeing the child face to face for the first since the boy had been an infant, somehow, Kurama didn't hate him.
During that decade while Kurama had been imprisoned within the boy, the bjuu had managed to pick up on some things about the boy's life. Kurama could sense the negative emotions that had been directed the boy.
To Kurama the hate and disdain directed at the boy had been like the tortured screech of scratched glass.
Kurama knew that the boy had some sense of that hatred as well. Kurama could feel the boy's own negative emotions, the numbing feeling of loneliness, the almost cold-like sensation of alienation, reactions to the hatred directed at him. And Kurama could sense the boy's own hatred, a buried, hidden screech of pain from a lonely child almost entirely alone in the world.
Maybe, Kurama reflected, that was why he hadn't found the boy's words offensive. Afterall, Madara and the First Hokage had chosen to control him. Mito and Kushina had chosen to imprison him. They had all chosen to steal Kurama's freedom. But the boy?
The boy suffering alongside Kurama hadn't chosen anything.
Maybe that was why Kurama had started drawing out the boy's true self. That self beneath the layers of masks that the boy wore, that inner scream of hatred that only Kurama could hear.
After that first meeting with the boy, Kurama had drawn that darkness closer to the seal, closer to himself.
Close enough to whisper to the true self of the boy. Close enough to pick up on the disturbed dreams. Close enough to pick up on the hidden tears in the dark eyes of the boy's true self.
And when the dark part of the boy slipped past the outer mask, when the boy's hatred and rage brought him into the sewers of his own mind, when the feelings of the boy and Kurama's own feelings were in sync, that was when Kurama could let his own chakra flow past the seal and into the boy. Their feelings, their wills, their power flowed together like two swift rivers joining, become a raging flood.
Kurama knew that he and the boy's true self were growing closer. The more pain, cruelty, hatred, and suffering the boy encountered in the world, the closer Kurama and the boy's true self became. And as the two became closer, the time grew sooner that their mutual suffering would end. Kurama would be free and with his freedom, he would destroy all that the boy hated.
Kurama began to growl, a low rumble that filled the sewers. The waters began to vibrate and dance as the sound flowed throughout. Once more the nine tails began to lash to and fro.
They had come so close recently. Kurama remembered the hopeless, helpless rage that had flooded through boy during their fight with the leader of the Akatsuki. If it hadn't been for the accursed Yondaime, Kurama would have been released then.
Still, his day would come.
Kurama would be free and his tails would crumble mountains and whip up tsunamis.
And his suffering and Naruto's suffering would end.