CHAPTER TWENTY THREE – Present day, human world, village of Konohagakure

Kyuubi strolled calmly down the halls of the Leaf Village hospital. The Akatsuki attack on the village that ended with Orochimaru's death and his forces being demolished, had resulted in a great number of the beds being filled. The staff at the present was any and all that could be called off of their days off to come in. Nurses, and practitioners frantically attempted to deal with the near-capacity amount of injured. One of the waiting rooms she headed toward in particular. It contained the one person she did not expect to take the part he did in the strife.

Surely enough, as she walked into the chamber, she saw Kenzo, her husband, sitting in a chair. His pants of animal hide had been cleaned, his boots freed of soil, and his massive, muscled torso cleaned of blood. Usually, the king of foxes, in human form, stood proud and tall with his wide barrel chest stuck out and his gigantic arms proudly taut at his side. Instead, he sat in a chair, having planted his elbows on his tree-trunk thighs and resting his head in his frying-pan size hands. He had a look of confusion on his face she did not recognize.; Surely the great Kenzo of clan Uzumaki isn't moping, ; she said in fox tongue.

He lifted his head and looked at her, slightly peeved. ; What ignorant things say you now, Kyuubi? he implored. ; Me? Moping like an emotional human child? Nothing of the sort. ;

She chuckled a moment. ; Don't lie to me, Kenzo. I'm smarter than you give me credit for. Now tell me, what's on your mind? ;

He shook his head; just like always, she saw right through him. Nine thousand years he'd been alive. Through the countless battles they'd seen together, and the dozens of children she'd bore him over the millennia, she learned every habit, every mood he entertained. The wars he wrought and the hundreds of thousands of victims he claimed did not diminish the fact that she was staring at a very emotional, very caring father. It confused her; her running away must have taught him something he didn't know. Or maybe, she entertained for a moment, he matured, having learned the value of something after losing it.

"Kyuubi," he switched to human English. "Those years ago, when you ran away from me, escaped hell, while still pregnant with my latest child, I was very angry at first. Then, after watching my other sons go out and do their usual routines of fighting and killing enemies, it dawned on me." He looked at her, and the great taker of life had tears in his eyes. "I knew nothing except how to end life. Having fathered plenty of offspring, I should have been a better father; instead, I only brought my knowledge of war to the table."

She pulled a chair next to him. "Don't worry, Kenzo, this is our chance to start anew. Besides, I made sure to teach our other children what you should have, so you didn't do much harm."

What happened next she would never forget. He leaned his head on her shoulder, wrapped his massive arms around her slender body, and cried like a child. "Oh, Kyuubi! I'm so sorry! None of this would've happened if I'd been a better husband, a better father! I felt so lonely without you, my love! Can you forgive me?"

She closed her eyes and rested her face in his blonde mass of hair. "For all the shit you ever put me through, Kenzo, I never stopped loving you."

"To think that Arashi almost stole you away from me..."

She interrupted him. "Kenzo, I won't lie to you. Had Arashi been a better man than he turned out to be, I'd have given him all of my love. But how can I ever forget the man who provided me with the sweetest child I've ever given birth to?" She pushed him back to a seated position. "Now dry your eyes, you big crybaby, and come with me. You owe it to someone particular to pay them a visit."

Kenzo wiped his eyes and stood up. "Right."

Seven hundred steps away, in a distant part of that hall, in a bed, Lay a quasi-comatose blonde shinobi. It had been two days since the attack, and Kyuubi had never left his side save to use the bathroom and talk to the council. Once the battle had ended, and Naruto taken from the field, she went straight to his room and sat on his bed, cuddling her son, comforting him in her arms. He had cried until his eyes couldn't take any more, until he cried himself to sleep. She held him tight, and the next day, he lie staring at the wall, with only God to know what thoughts were raging in the thunderstorm in his head. She spoke to him and nothing happened. None could get a response from him. She'd left the room, thinking perhaps, there was one man who could do so.

Naruto had two distinct sets of images burning inside his mind. The first, were all of the wonderful times he'd had with Arashi, all the times he'd called him father and thought, "this is what a family is supposed to be." The second, was the things he knew to be true: the Akatsuki operative who temporarily blinded him in the forest so Orochimaru could escape, the higher allegiance the bastard serpent had talked about, were the same man in the first set of visions. And every time he thought of the two together, he died a little bit inside.

"Naruto," Kyuubi beckoned, walking into the room. Predictably, he stared at the wall, silently. "I've brought someone I think you need to talk to."

Kenzo nervously cleared his throat. "N...Naruto, I...I really don't know what I could possibly say at this point..."

Naruto emotionlessly replied, "What do you want, father?"

The tone cut Kenzo worse than any knife could. "Naruto, I'm positive you've heard every story imaginable your mother could possibly tell you about me, and if I know her, they're all true. She ran away from hell to avoid me, and I very nearly lost two of the most important things I can dream of."

Naruto sat up, and faced his father, angrily. "DO YOU REALLY FUCKING CARE?! DO YOU?...! OR ARE YOU JUST DECEIVING ME LIKE ARASHI DID?" He stopped a moment only to catch his breath. "WHY SHOULD I BELIEVE YOU?"

"Naruto," Kenzo reassured, "your heart may be permanently injured by the deceit of a man you called father, but let me assure you, my love for you is genuine." The king of foxes thought of his past. "I can only imagine what you're going through; I never had a father. Or a mother, for that matter. They were both killed in the great demon war."

Those words piqued Naruto's interest. It also calmed him down. " were an orphan?"

"Naruto, you once knew the love of a father, even if it was just a lie. Now, I'm going to ensure you continue to know the love of father, except I'm not deceiving you."

Naruto leaned up, and Kenzo approached. "You, you're really not lying to me?"

Kenzo took his son's much smaller hand in his own. "As long as I'm alive, you will NEVER agonize for love like I did; you will never suffer as I did. That's a promise. And when a fox demon gives his promise, he is bound by it for all eternity."

Naruto's tears fell like rain. "I...I love you, father!"

"My son!" Kenzo wrapped his arms around his son's much smaller body.

"Father? I have to ask you a question. Why did you turn Hinata into one of us?"

Kenzo drew back with a grin on his face. "Son, do you think you can lie to the eyes of a man who's lived nine millennia? I see how you look at that girl. I know what you think. And do you think I'd allow someone my son loves to grow old and die? What accursed being thought up such an idea?"

From that, all three members of the family laughed a bit.

So the healing process continued on. The village replenished its forces in a surprisingly short amount of time, as expected of the mightiest of the five shinobi villages. The council decided that Arashi—who wasn't an Uzumaki at all, but a member of clan Kazama—would be stripped, on his tombstone and memorial documentation, of the title of Yondaime Hokage, and his body stripped of all medals and celebratory pieces of flair, and his body cremated without a funeral. His head on the mountainside, though, would remain with the words "We shall never forgive a traitor" carved into his forehead. Their other decision was to allow Kenzo honorary citizenship to the village without question, free to come and go as he pleased, but since they had no history with him, could not grant him the title of Hokage. Instead, Kyuubi would hold the title until Naruto reached the age of twenty-one.

It was slightly later that the clan Hyuuga was cleared of any and all wrongdoing in regards to the indentured servitude Naruto had been subjected to. Lord Hiashi Hyuuga protested, demanding that he personally be held responsible and be punished, but with the honorable son's request, he was freed of all charges. The one stipulation Naruto placed on Hiashi before letting him off the hook, was that he had to give his blessing to the blonde jounin's marriage to Hinata, whenever that should take place. Hiashi, reluctantly, agreed.

About three weeks after the infamous incident, Naruto took a walk with Hinata in the evening sun as it set. "So, Hinata, how are you doing since the attack?"

She scratched her head. "We're...we're recovering nicely, Naruto-kun." He noticed she wasn't twiddling her finger anymore; that must've been due to his influence. "'s you I'm worried about."

He wrapped his arms around her waist, and kissed her. "My family's back in order, I've got parents who love me," he pulled the front of his pants out a bit, and looked down, then playfully winked at Hinata, "I'm just doing great in all areas!"

She laughed. "You're so funny, Naruto-kun." They both laughed, then he pulled the embrace closer and they kissed yet again, savoring the moment for at least several seconds.

He had a ring in his pocket. He glanced at it. Should I? He mulled it over. Not yet. I'll wait a bit longer. He walked on.

"Something in your pocket, bothering you?"

"Oh, not at all. I'm just waiting."

She blinked in confusion. "Waiting? For what?"

He smiled. "You'll see soon enough. You'll see."

In the immediate vicinity, he felt several demonic chakra signatures and immediately switched into battle mode.

"There's no need for that, Naruto," a voice said out loud. Naruto turned around. Six figures, each as tall as him or slightly taller, approached. They all had hair very much like his, and the same facial marks and stomach seals. Their faces were very different, but looked very much like his, at the same time.

One, a girl, looked at another blonde figure. "He looks kinda like you when you were younger, Las."

The tallest and most mature looking of the bunch came close. "Well, Naruto, my name is Lasorian of clan Uzumaki. These are some of your older brothers and sisters. Dad invited us here."

Naruto looked at them very happily. "Wow! I never knew I had siblings! This is going to be so awesome!" He paused a minute. "Hey, you said 'some.'"

Lasorian answered. "The rest will meet you later. Someone has to look over the Uzumaki famly mansion in hell, you know! Enough chat. Let's go have dinner with father and mother!" There was a collective cheer from the other Uzumaki's.

"What're we having?" Naruto asked.

One of his older sisters replied, "Mom told me the prison was getting full, so she took some of the heftier inmates and, well, let's just say we're going to have enough for sandwiches tomorrow."

"Sounds yummy!" he turned to Hinata. "Wanna come?"

She smiled, despite the thought of eating human flesh. "If you're going to be there, I wouldn't miss it for the world."

I'm finally going to have a family again, Naruto thought.

(the page is attached to the back cover, which turns over, revealing the dust-covered rear of the book)