Where There Is a Shocking Revelation and Kyuubi Has No Indoor Voice


091. Birthday

Naruto had four somewhat, kind-of peaceful days in Makimura, not counting the first day which was more like half a day. Kabuto started teaching the fire brigade girls first aid, the stuff with bandages and CPR, and no jutsu because the jutsu took an insane amount of chakra control, and Gai started helping Idate with his taijutsu. There were some difficulties at first because Gai apparently remembered Idate from before, but Gai was pretty cool about it in the end.

"You are aware that Idate-san has left Konoha most un-youthfully?" he asked Naruto when Idate walked through the door after a training session with the girls, his bangs glued flat against his skull with sweat.

Idate flinched, but he lifted his chin defiantly and stood his ground, only shifting his legs a bit more apart for better balance. His mouth only had a second to flatten into a thin line before he opened his mouth and Naruto had to cut in because he just knew that Idate was going to say something stupid, like that Gai could take him to Konoha and that the Wasabi family never knew anything about him. Well, the bit about protecting the Wasabi family wasn't stupid because only rats ratted out their families - no pun intended, it wasn't even all that funny - and okay, so Naruto wouldn't have run away either if Iruka-sensei's well-being was on the line or something, but that was different because he wouldn't have left Konoha either.

Iruka-sensei had been the one to foil Mizuki-sensei. Kakashi-sensei would never have pulled a Mizuki-sensei on him and Naruto thought that maybe he had just been really lucky when it came to teachers. Except for the part where Mizuki-bastard had been the one to teach him taijutsu and pulled a Mizuki-sensei on him years before Naruto even coined the term.

"Hey, since Aoi predated Mizuki, should I refer to it as pulling an Aoi instead?" Naruto only realized he had said that out loud when the tension in the room dropped like a ton of bricks, only to be replaced by those blank looks that meant he had once again failed to remember that other people didn't live in his brain. He only realized now how ready Konatsu-chan and Kaede had been to fight until their hands inched that crucial half inch away from their kunai pouches. Kabuto didn't show anything, but then, he wouldn't.

"I was just thinking out loud," he defended himself, but that didn't do a whole lot to help the stares. Naruto gave up. "Look, I knew it after that Tea Country Race mission when Ibiki came to debrief us. He's your friend, right? Shouldn't you trust his judgement on this?" Wanting to protect your family wasn't stupid, but thinking that Idate needed to be dragged back to Konoha most definitely was. Besides, he wasn't sure if Gai and Ibiki were in fact friends, but they were in the same age bracket and Gai was the sort of person who was a friend to others whether they wanted it or not. He dazzled them with sunsets and the Power of Youth and declared eternal friendship. It was common knowledge in Konoha that when you tried to run after him to protest you found he had tied your sandal straps together while you rubbed your eyes. That ended with the ground hitting you over the head, and then Gai wanted to Nurse you to back to the Youthful Bloom of Health with the Power of Youth and offered band aids and in the end you decided it was just less hazardous to say yes. He was kind of... really Gai like that.

And of course, Naruto being very much Naruto like that, the parallels completely escaped him.

"He is, indeed." Gai looked him right in the eye and Naruto looked back, ready to make an issue out of it. Ibiki was alright with it and Aoi had paid for his dastardly deeds and that was that. But before he could protest further Gai's face was split by a small smile. It looked odd on his face, soft around the edges, and Naruto felt strangely honoured to see that small smile instead of the huge, glittering grin that was on the man's face most of the time.

"Yes, valiant Ibiki is my friend and I am glad that you have not betrayed his trust," he said. His team hovered somewhere at his back and probably looked terribly confused, but Naruto had a hard time looking away from Gai's face. He gulped. Gai had been fierce when he had fought Kisame, but there were fiercer things in him than violence.

"Yeah. Not like Sakura-chan did either. Or Sasuke, whatever else that bastard betrayed," he muttered.

"My Eternal Rival must be terribly proud of you!" Gai bellowed and gave Naruto the Good Guy pose, which Lee mirrored behind him. In a way, that broke the mood. In another way... it didn't. Naruto so wanted Kakashi-sensei to be proud of him.

"So, we agree on this," Naruto muttered and started to drag Idate to the kitchen just to do something, to get away from it all. But those few steps took him past Konatsu-chan and Kaede and they had been great about the whole thing so he stopped there. They were due their due now.

"Thanks, you were great. Like, any village that would have halved that greatness must be terminally stupid. Did the daimyo drop it on its head when it was founded?" he said. They had been ready to fight Gai and anyone who was ready to fight someone who wore that much spandex and pulled it off was very brave indeed.

"It's alright. It was mostly Konatsu," said Kaede. He scuffed the off-white tatami with his feet and looked down. Naruto noticed that he had really long and girly eyelashes for a boy, but it would have been really low to tease him for it now.

"Except when it wasn't. You're alright too, Naruto," Konatsu-chan said and looked him straight in the eye and that was that. At least almost. "Have you given any thought to continuing your bloodline a few years down the road? Our genes would be awesome together."

"EH?"

So. Konatsu-chan had joined the scary brigade, wanted to have a child eventually and was ready to let him have one too - she was generous like that - and Kabuto was teaching the girls to make ointments for burn wounds and so forth. Miwa-chan was still Miwa-chan, of course.

"The world is like a birthday cake. Taking a piece is okay, but more is rude. Let's keep things in Makimura," Naruto tried to dissuade her. She tilted her head and the pretty hairpin she was wearing made a tingling sound.

"Are you trying to convince me that you have ever taken only one piece of any cake on the table?" Miwa-chan asked and gave him that knowing eyebrow; Naruto made a guilty eeping sound and tried to sink through the floor. So Miwa was Miwa and Maito Gai had maybe joined the cult - Naruto was too scared of the answer to ask - and Idate hadn't been arrested and things weren't any more insane than they usually were; this was his life, somehow. Then Jiraiya-sensei came back. He was early, which was unusual.

He had a pretty girl with him, and that wasn't unusual in the least.

092. Christmas

It was evening and Naruto was sitting on an old sofa someone had found from somewhere. Things had just appeared while he had been away and kept appearing because that morning he had eaten his cereal and nutrition pills from a brand new Takoyaki the Ninja Mouse plate - and so had everyone else. Those had been an emergency acquisition because all the other plates in the house had gotten contaminated by an unfortunate chemical experiment that had apparently been conducted in the middle of the night for some reason - without waking anyone. It was kind of nice to not be the automatic suspect, even though Naruto half-wished he had thought of it first. Konatsu had made faces and held her chopsticks like she wanted to impale the brave mouse shinobi with them while Kaede had pulled a face that made Naruto think he had been behind it. He had managed to suppress the snickering, but not to keep his mouth from twitching. I have no shame and Konatsu does, the twitching said loud and clear. Lucky me.

(Let the Inspiring, Youthful Example of our mouse comrade Stoke the Fires of Youth in us, Gai buoyed them. Yikes!)

Okay, so maybe the plates were dead embarrassing, but they were secretly kind of cool too because Naruto never got the Ninja Mouse plate he wanted when he was a child because the orphanage was low at funds. And at least the sofa was nice. Naruto curled up on it, pulling his knees up so that his chin could rest on them and read a certain well-loved book about explosives.

"Hey, Tenten, what about tracking explosives? They're paint bombs with really sticky, slow-drying, smelly paint. Makes you leave tracks wherever you go and can't be washed away without turpentine," he called to the kitchen. Tenten made some vague noises that didn't tell Naruto if she was listening at all or not, but then, she was busy making bombs and that was a tricky job.

The sun was setting behind some trees on the hill to the west and the colors in the room became cooler even though the air didn't, at least not in front of the window. Naruto was feeling lazy and just staring out of it when he saw Jiraiya-sensei. At first he didn't realize it was his sensei and thought it was just some random white-haired guy. Jiraiya-sensei wasn't fat at all, but he had a lot of muscles, and they were the bulky kind more than the sleek kind like Kakashi-sensei's. If his hair had been shorter and if he had been wearing a mask Naruto would probably have mistaken him for Kakashi-sensei at first, in fact. He wore some clothes Naruto had never seen on him either and the pretty woman trotting after him in a slightly pained manner was the only normal thing about the whole picture.

"Hey, Ero-sensei!" Naruto shouted and threw the window open. "You are early! What's happened to you? You look really terrible. And who have you tricked into coming with you this time? You better leave now, lady, he's an incurable pervert," Naruto warned the woman as he jumped through the window. She hid her mouth with her hand and snorted in a way that was a lot less ladylike than the demure gesture. Naruto liked her immediately.

"You should respect your teacher, brat – more than you ever do!" Ero-sensei bellowed, thumping him over the head in that way that was a lot gentler than it looked. "I am the Gallant Jiraiya and I have lived up to my reputation by saving this fair maiden!" He made that silly hopping dance he always made when he started spouting words like "gallant" and "legendary" around. Naruto had read once that that being teased could make people do strange things, and he thought that Jiraiya must have been teased really badly. A lot.

And of course, Naruto being very much Naruto, the parallels completely escaped him.

"Is she a princess? I once saved a princess too, that was Koyuki-hime, she used to be Fujikaze Yukie when she was still hiding from her evil uncle," told the girl and wondered where she was royalty and what evil relative or adviser needed his ass kicked now. She just shook her head, though, and looked really sad.

"My name is Morimoto Tomomi and I'm no princess," she said. "I used to be a kunoichi of Iwa." Naruto was going to console her and tell her that the jerks in Iwa - whatever they had done to her - hadn't deserved her anyway and would get their asses kicked if Jiraiya-sensei hadn't for once lived up to his self-appointed nickname and done it already, but that was when Ero-sensei coughed very pointedly.

"Funny thing you mentioned Kazahana Koyuki. My information network intercepted her letter to you," he drawled and handed Naruto the letter. Naruto cheered and grabbed it, but his mood darkened when he noticed it had been opened already.

"Hey, did you read this? Because reading other people's post might be a shinobi thing, but we're only supposed to go shinobi on non-Konohan shinobi and now I'm going to read your post right back." That would teach him. Maybe Ero-sensei would write some really sappy love letter he could mock too...

Koyuki-hime hadn't sent a sappy love letter, had she? Because she was older and Naruto liked Sakura-chan and she hadn't ever made puppy eyes/cow eyes at him at all like those Uchiha fangirls always did whenever Sasuke walked by them, but the way his luck had run lately Koyuki had had gotten struck by lightning or something and developed some delusional love for him. And then Ero-sensei was going to mock him mercilessly... Except he looked more grave and angry than anything.

"I can't leave you alone even for a moment, can I? This letter only confirmed what my network already told me. You have apparently decided to found a jinchuuriki cult, never mind that you were supposed to keep a low profile, and a ruler of a sovereign state has decided to found a holy day in your honour in lieu of a proper protocol to offer congratulations for this. It's in midwinter and it's celebrated by handing out presents and bringing symbolical evergreen trees inside, presumably to die in a symbolic way."

"Hey, that's great!" Naruto cheered, but instantly deflated under the withering stare. Ero-sensei looked like he meant business, this time.

"It wasn't my fault, these crazy missing-finger people started trying to beat me up and then they tried to rape Miwa-chan, what was I supposed to do? And it really was evil to tell Konatsu-chan to kill her brother so I gave her shelter and that hunter-nin failed evil forever so he stayed too, except now he's staying in Konoha." He was babbling and maybe not telling this the way he should have, but damn it, he had been in the right. Things had gotten out of hand, but he didn't regret a thing, couldn't regret a thing. "Then that police chief thought I was a yakuza boss, but no worries, we had a sports day and he changed his mind. Except, eh, he kind of decided that I was a cult leader instead and Taiki had sent that letter to Kiri and then Miwa-chan decided that having a cult was a great idea. So it wasn't my fault!"

Jiraiya-sensei didn't look like he believed in his innocence at all. He was holding his face in his palms and Naruto thought that was only because he lacked a convenient surface to bang his head against. His face was red and he was making these huffing noises, like he weighed twice his original weight instead of a lot less.

"Not even two whole months," he moaned.

"But I got Sasuke back too! Well, Kabuto got him back too. And I got Kabuto pardoned so everything's okay on that front," he said and patted Jiraiya-sensei's arm, deciding to have mercy on him and give some good news.

"Yakushi Kabuto what!"

093. Thanksgiving

Deidara's eyes were full of hate, and Itachi approved. Just not for the reason anyone who had heard his official reason for becoming a missing-nin - the words he had spoken to his brother as a gambit for a seppuku-by-proxy - would have thought.

"I will kill you. One day, whatever it takes," Deidara swore. His pupils shrunk, an involuntary reaction, and he clearly expected Itachi to take umbrage. Yet, he had said so. He wasn't going to allow himself to be controlled.

Itachi was counting on that. The boy looked more like half-drowned rat than anything else, his clothes torn and glued to his skin, his hair hanging limply - but there was such brilliant potential.

The sun was setting and it was raining in the Earth Country. Itachi loved when it rained at night. He could hear the drops, the water falling, and that was enough for him. He was used to seeing so much, remembering so much, that sometimes he wondered why his brain didn't bleed as his eyes did; but in the darkness he couldn't see what he heard and that was a blessing. Sharingan eyes were famous and infamous, but it wasn't superior to Byakugan in every respect, not even at its highest level. It still needed visible light and more than a cloud-covered night offer and a clear line of vision. This night was going to be pitch dark, so far from all human habitation, there was the sound of a hundred thousand raindrops and more, and Itachi reveled in that even as he played his part. Cool, he thought, at the air drifting through his hair and water on his face and the fresh scent of moist foliage.

"Aren't you going to do anything?" Deidara challenged him and still the former Iwa jounin's vital's didn't change. Itachi was very certain that he wanted to die. That was too bad; Itachi wasn't too keen on living himself, but if wishes were fishes, no-one would ever go hungry.

"Am I supposed to care?" he asked and rolled his shoulders in a carefully calculated gesture of indifference. An oxymoron that might be, but an efficient one so as to rekindle some of the old fire in Deidara. The younger man's nostrils flared and his cheeks reddened.

"In this world of hate, people are resources to be used. You are no more special than any other. You are worth no more than many better than you who are dead now." The heavy drops rolled off Itachi's hair and down onto the tip of his nose, then down his cheeks and over his lips to drip off the end of his chin. He was cold under the last rays of the sun and it was so sweet. The rain still tasted and felt pure even when he wasn't.

There was a reason Itachi was baiting Deidara, a very good reason. He didn't know why Kakuzu had accepted the mission to kill this man's lover and that wasn't really of importance to their situation. Deidara would resent Itachi for forcing him to live and for forcing him to join yet another cause, and that resentment could only double when he found out that he was a member of the same terrorist group as Tomomi's killer. Deidara would be a time bomb set to blow up on Akatsuki at any moment he felt himself strong enough.

Much could be said of Itachi, but he had never forgotten his one, true loyalty, the one he had experienced when he had stood in front of the Memorial stone after the Yondaime's death, the one that made even finding comfort in cold rain worth it. There were few enough reasons for him to feel thankful, but somehow every day he remembered that day was a day to feel grateful he had lived, had chosen to be loyal. If he wasn't loyal, what would he be other than nothing?

The palm on Deidara's hand opened the slightest bit. Itachi had never seen this technique used in a fight before - it had been forbidden and forgotten for longer than he had lived - and he allowed Deidara to grab his clay, smiling. Any day he learned something new was a day to be grateful, he told himself.

Much could be said of Itachi, but no-one ever accused him of being stupid. He had learned the art of sabotage before he could walk down the street of any settlement other than Konoha and not have a well-meaning adult to ask where his mommy was. In the Country of Earth an explosive had been prepared, again by one of Konoha. Its fuse was ever-so-slowly burning shorter and shorter.

094. Independence

In Makimura it was yet another perfectly beautiful evening.

"You totally didn't know that about your own village, did you? What kind of spymaster are you anyway?"

Jiraiya had sat Naruto across the table in the safe house turned operations headquarters and he hadn't been surprised in the least when Kabuto had walked in only scent minutes later, mild as milk and pleasant as please. The rest of the misfits had been sent out of the house for an hour or so and a few privacy seals ensured no-one could eavesdrop on them. He had demanded answers about Kabuto, but that had turned into a rambling story about Danzo.

"A spymaster who spends the majority of his time hundreds of miles from Konoha spying on her enemies," he said. Naruto gave him a flat stare that told him that excuse didn't fly and he had to admit, reluctantly, that it really didn't. "It was Danzo. The sad truth about being a ninja is that there is always a bigger fish, kiddo. There is always someone better and badder than you. I guess I just found mine." Admitting that was like swallowing glass.

It had been a long time since Jiraiya had been flat-out bested in anything. Salamander Hanzo had beaten the three students of Sandaime in a fight and named them the Sannin because he had been so impressed they could fight against him and not die immediately, but that had been in the mists of his youth. His student had surpassed him in the arts of battle and sealing both, but that wasn't something any teacher could ever regard as a defeat. Jiraiya was fairly certain that during Sandaime's second reign he could have beaten his own teacher in a battle; the old man had aged well, but that truth was that he had aged. His spy network was the best in the Elemental Countries; he had even sent a warning to Konoha that the leaders of Sand and Sound had been meeting in secret and his suspicions that the Otokage was in fact Orochimaru, so while he hadn't figured the invasion out, he had at least been on the right track, just out of time. He had gotten used to being at the top of his game and the fall hurt.

"It wasn't that I didn't know Danzo had his fingers in many pies. I thought... never mind that. It seems that Danzo let me to find out just enough that I didn't get suspicious about the rest of it. But that is a wonderful conversation for another day." Jiraiya turned the full weight of his attention to Kabuto. Not quite killing intent, the technique was rather similar: it allowed the target to physically experience the observation. It was something even civilians could sometimes do accidentally, but with the chakra of one of the Sannin behind it, well, Jiraiya had once heard it compared to divine judgment.

Kabuto didn't speak out of turn. He didn't even fidget. Jiraiya's mood darkened even more at that.

"Why did you bring back Uchiha Sasuke? I can't imagine it was from the goodness of your heart," he drawled. The jinchuuriki meant power and Naruto, should he learn to get over his fear of Kyuubi's power and properly control it, could mean the biggest power boost there was in the Elemental Countries.

"I once made a promise to Naruto-sama that when he founded a ninja organization I would join it. Naruto-sama gave me the colour of a person who always keeps his promises," Kabuto answered, forcing Jiraiya to do a double take. He understood every single word, but the whole of it didn't make much sense.

"Care to explain this?" he asked Naruto. It was a sad day indeed when he asked Naruto of all people to make sense of someone even more inexplicable than himself.

"Well, I sneaked out of the orphanage this one time when I was a kid because the bigger kids kept talking how cool it would be to sneak out at night and then I met Kabuto. And then we were friends." At this point Naruto graced Kabuto with one of those heart-rendingly bright smiles and Jiraiya realized with a pang that he had probably been Naruto's first friend. Oh shit, the way this could have gone down... "No-one else played ninja like we did. We even had drop bags and..."

"Drop bags! Were you preparing to take Naruto with you?" Jiraiya's voice went up in pitch until it cracked at the end. Missing Danzo had been one thing, but he had missed that? Minato would have come back from the Shinigami's stomach to haunt him if Jiraiya had let Orochimaru take his son. And he would have been beaten to the punch by Kushina who didn't have to claw her way through stomach lining to get at him.

"Of course not, Ero-sensei. You think that bastard Danzo would have let him take me to a mission in Iwa? Even though I would totally have gone with him," Naruto grumbled.

"I would have taken you anywhere if you asked," Kabuto said glibly, prompting a wince from Naruto.

"Please stop helping me now?" he groused and looked at Jiraiya, lifting his chin defiantly. The last time Jiraiya had seen that look had been when he tried to convince Naruto to give up on Sasuke.

"So we played ninja, and I was pretty good at finding blackmail and recruiting these genjutsu characters, but I didn't blackmail them into it so don't start going on about bad influence, okay?" Dear gods, Anbu training simulations? "And I helped Kabuto with his colours. And look, it's a private thing and you wouldn't like it if, I don't know… Tsunade-baachan started airing your private business for the whole world to see, right? So, I'm only going to say that Kabuto started forgetting something really important and I reminded him. He gave Orochimaru the boot and came back to Konoha and brought Sasuke back to me because he had made a promise to me and loyalty's a two-way street. He needed colours, I gave him colours, I needed him to return and he returned. He isn't going to tell my secrets and I'm not telling his. I know what I'm doing and I have the track record to prove it. We're going to kill Orochimaru. Unless he's still one of your precious people?"

And this, Jiraiya though, was as good declaration of independence as any. What an utter headache.

"Don't worry, any lingering feelings I might have had for Orochimaru died with sensei," he said and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He left Naruto alone for less than two whole months and this happened. Though, in all fairness, a lot of it had started years ago.

Years ago under his nose and he had missed it. It was so very clear that Kabuto had been taught by Danzo. It was also clear that those colours were a shared metaphor for something else entirely, but Jiraiya needed a little more context to pin down exactly what.

"And what made you decide to ask Naruto for your 'colours'?" he fished for that extra piece of information that would make everything else make sense. He didn't want to try and pressure Naruto on this because whether he won or lost, he had a feeling that this was one issue that could cost him his student's trust if it wasn't handled carefully.

"It had to be someone loyal. Someone who wasn't damaged goods yet, who would be worth the dirty work I was doing. Someone who embodied Konoha. Someone who was Konoha," Kabuto spoke slowly, his eyes distant like they were looking into the past, like he was trying to remember something for the first time in a long while. Gods, he couldn't even remember why he chose Naruto in the first place. "And I knew that Naruto-sama was born to be that to the whole village even if, living in denial, Konoha couldn't bear to admit it. It wasn't even that hard to figure out. I intended to tell Naruto-sama once he became a little older and more careful about keeping secrets, but by then, he was more Konoha to me than Konoha itself. In the end it was nothing for me to betray the village, because losing it meant nothing as long as I didn't lose Naruto-sama. Loyalty to Konoha was one of his colours, not mine." He turned to look at Naruto like he was seeing the boy for the first time a second time around.

"I really didn't think loyal-to-the-village-Konoha wasn't obvious," Naruto complained.

"I think it was, in the very beginning, but then Danzo happened. Again. After that, I could only see what I had explicitly been given to see. I apologize, Naruto-sama." Kabuto shrugged and Jiraiya could read a multitude of completely conflicting things into the gesture, yet nothing at the same time. This whole thing was really starting to give him a headache.

"I chose you because you embody Konoha, Naruto-sama, and I always intended to tell you why. You are the son..."

"DON'T..."

"...of Yondaime Hokage Namikaze Minato."

"Yondaime!"

095. New Year

Within the seal Kurama impatiently waited for a chance, any chance, any spike of chakra or any flash of emotion to take advantage of. Those bloody eyes of Uchiha Madara, the bastardization of the Rikudo Sennin's heritage, had taken his free will. After that Senju Hashirama had proved to be very much a fruit from the same tree and taken his freedom, helped by his Uzumaki wife. The yellow-haired man whose shadow still haunted the seal and his wife had pulled a reproduction of the same, though at least Kurama had been able to make them pay for it with their lives. All this he had swallowed, the bitter chalk, and he seethed in the hate and basked in it.

But now... Now these cultists were going to take the name of his father and twist it to their own will and Kurama had had enough for once and all.

It was hard to tell the passage of time within the seal. It could have been a very long time since the last time, or maybe very short, but finally there was a silvery flash that struck through the body of his host with almost the intensity of physical pain. There was no hate, only a mad swirl of surprisedisbeliefyearningpride(bitterness)WHYDIDN' TANYONETELLMEhappinessMYFATHER. It wasn't hate, wasn't Kurama's demesne, but the raw force of it was such that it left Naruto wide open, allowed him to reach out with the ebb and flow of chakra through the seal and pull. The form of a human child tumbled down the imaginary hallway leading to the bars of the cage, the fragile, powerful seal holding it shut.

"Oh, hey, furball, guess what? I have a father!" the blond human worm declared inanely and smiled, completely without fear. It made Kurama growl and throw himself against the bars. The force of that desperate lunge was almost as potent as Naruto's revelation had been, but much more futile.

"LET ME OUT SO I CAN DEVOUR YOU AND YOUR CULT AND YOUR VILLAGE!" Kurama bellowed with such force it made the human worm flinch and he felt satisfaction, imagining his very voice rattling the fragile self image.

"No way I'm gonna let you out, you stupid fox. My dad died to put you in there, you know, and my mom too, and I don't want anyone devoured." The boy-worm clucked his tongue and then blew a raspberry at Kurama and that was really too much.

"MY FATHER IS DEAD AS WELL AND YOU ARE USING HIS NAME TO YOUR OWN ENDS!"

"Well, you killed my father, you bastard, so you don't… wait a second, you had a father?" The presumptuousness of that! Though it wouldn't have mattered what Uzumaki Naruto said, Kurama wanted to be enraged, and no words could defuse that.

"OF COURSE I HAD A FATHER! DID YOU THINK I BUDDED FROM JUUBI'S SIDE LIKE A RUNNER FROM STRAWBERRY? WITHOUT HIS ACTIONS I NEVER WOULD HAVE COME TO BE!" This only went to prove how short human memory was. For Kurama time wasn't counted with turns of seasons, but climate changes and plagues, the births and deaths of the leaders of the summon creatures and the maelstroms of hate that destroyed great empires. For humans his father's time was ancient history.

"You have no idea what indoor voice means, right?" the human complained and lifted his hands to cover his ears. "Who was Juubi?"

"JUUBI WAS A PRIMORDIAL ENTITY THAT SOUGHT TO DESTROY THE WORLD. THE SAGE OF THE SIX PATHS, MY FATHER, FOUGHT IT." The shock of this boy's ignorance was starting to break through the rage Kurama felt. He had known that humans were a forgetful species, but to forget the best of them who ever lived? This species only had one to redeem it and Rikudo was dead. Dead. It was of no use to wish the dead had been immortal.

"The Sage of the Six Paths was your father? And, uh, had sex with this Juubi? Was it some kind of enemy kunoichi attraction thing?" the boy-worm prattled inanely and for the first time in his long life Kurama was shocked entirely silent. He understood every single word used and the sentence structure made sense, but those words echoed in his ears like fleshy noise that couldn't make sense.

"Uh, sorry, I guess you don't want to think about your dad having sex, right? I mean, I don't even remember mine and I don't want..."

And, uh, had sex with this Juubi?

"I wonder who my mother was. She must have been Uzumaki since dad's name was Namikaze, but nobody ever told me her name..."

Enemy kunoichi attraction thing.

"HOW DARE YOU MOCK ME! I WILL BE FREE EVEN IF IT IS THE LAST THING I WILL EVER DO AND THEN I WILL UTTERLY DESTROY YOU!" Kurama threw himself against the bars again with a clang that couldn't be heard as much as it could be felt in the bones. The seal on the gate rustled like the golden silk paper on the lanterns of his father's palace, like a precious, fragile thing, but the accursed thing held yet.

"Indoor voice! And I wasn't mocking you, but if Juubi was your mother and he was your father, how come they got you if they didn't have sex?" The boy's chakra radiated plaintively and his body was open, almost relaxed. He didn't seem afraid and he didn't even seem cruel. Kurama was offended. Blue eyes very much like those haunted his memories, a face like the boy's, but framed by red hair.

Blood red hair and blood red skin, death in a gasp and the child in life, damn it to Hell.

"RIKUDO SENNIN FOUGHT JUUBI AND SEALED IT INSIDE HIS OWN BODY. BUT SHOULD HE HAVE DIED, THE BEAST WOULD HAVE ESCAPED, AND HE WAS ONLY MORTAL MAN. SO HE SPLIT IT INTO NINE BIJU; HIS CHILDREN," he explained, wondering all the while why he even bothered. Why educate someone too foolish to appreciate it, someone who had to die so Kurama could be free again?

"Hey, you said strawberry!" the boy shouted and pointed at him; Kurama blinked, wondering again if there was something wrong with his hearing. Or maybe the captivity had finally gotten to him and he had hallucinated this entire conversation.

"WHAT?" he asked even though he probably shouldn't encourage figments of his imagination.

"You said strawberry earlier, don't try to deny it. You're Kyuubi, and you said strawberry! That's funny," the boy laughed and Kurama stared at him through the bars. He had a feeling he was quickly losing the control over this conversation. He opened his mouth, uncertain how to get back to the original point, when foreign chakra rippled through the seal and he knew the boy's teacher was trying to wake him, call his consciousness back from the seal. Kurama didn't even know whether he was disappointed or not.

"Look, I gotta go now, but... I really am sorry your dad is dead. That sucks," the boy said. Then he flickered like the heart of a candle that had burned out leaving Kurama to stare the spot on the floor where he had stood.

What?

Kurama didn't count time in years, but in eras. Humans celebrated every new year, and maybe that made sense to them; their lives were so short. Kurama hadn't bothered with the convention after his father's death, but now he couldn't shake the feeling that for good or ill, this wholly inconspicuous year marked the beginning of something entirely new.


AN: BiblioMatsuri continues to be my wonderful beta. ^_^

We have almost reached the end of How to Win Friends, Influence People and Start Your Very Own Secret Ninja Organization. It has been a long ride and I want to thank my readers for their support.

Once upon a time there was an avid fanfiction reader who went by sparrowette. She sometimes read those 100 theme drabbles when she liked the fandom and characters involved, but she so very often bumped into one that was incomplete and had last been updated sometime two years ago. Isn't there a single completed table in the Internet, she wondered. Well, of course there were, but it seemed a rare thing when compared to the total count of the tables and she dared herself to complete one. Then she dared herself to complete the prompts in numerical order and chronological order just because. She needed a few flash-backs in the end, but those don't count, right? Right?

(Damn you, Kabuto, for foiling me! And Tomomi too.)

So, in the next and last chapter: we will finally learn what event sent the sequence of events off the canon tracks and into AU land! Naruto makes one more promise of a lifetime! What are they thinking about this all in Suna? What will become of Makimura after Naruto leaves it and what consequences this international ballyhoo has for Konoha? Stay tuned!