This is a short (for me) story. There are eleven chapters and it will be posted twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, between Wednesday 28 December 2011 and Wednesday 1 February 2012.

It is the same world and has the same characters as in In the cold of space you find the heat of suns, Tales in Tarasade and Iteration. For those of you who haven't read those, the world is AU and SciFi. Many of the characters are OOC and there are lots of children, most of whom are OCs. There are also two adult OCs.

This is part of Haru's story. It is told entirely from his point of view and, as he is only nine, sex is something that the adults around him do. However, the story is Yaoi in that most of the adults are in M/M relationships.

Good luck to anyone reading this who hasn't read the other stories. I shall try to help. Sasuke is head of Uchiha, a spacer clan. Naruto (a fox-human hybrid) is his partner and they have thirteen children (a litter of ten and younger triplets). Many Naruto anime and manga characters are sworn to Uchiha. At this time, Uchiha lives in part of a spacestation that is called Tarrasade.

Haru is one of Sasuke and Naruto's big litter (nine boys and one girl). It consists of six fox-human hybrids (Kazuki, Kuuya, Keizo, Yoshimi, Yasushi and Yuki), a wolf-human hybrid (Ryuu) and three purebred humans (Hoshi [the girl], Hikaru and Haru).

Haru calls Sasuke Papa and Naruto To-chan. His best friend is Ran (based on Ranmaru), who is an empath and Iruka and Kakashi's adopted son. He calls Shikamaru Shi-chan because Shikamaru is one of his genetic parents (Sasuke is the other) and, no, I am not explaining why here.

Sumiko is Shikmaru's little sister. He has responsibility for her since his parents died.


Heartfelt thanks to my beta and muse, Small Fox.

Thanks also to The Horseman of Death because the idea for this story started in a discussion with him.


Real

Chapter one: Nine


Haku-san looked at him and Haru looked back. Haru found himself thinking that Haku-san's eyes were almost identical in colour to Ran's. However, while Ran's gaze was warm and compassionate, Haku-san's was sharp; like a scalpel. What they had in common was that they both could see below the surface; Ran because he was an empath and Haku-san because he was Haku.

It had been almost a standard since the big litter had turned eight and started doing duties. Each of them had been assigned to Haku-san for a division. Haru was last. He guessed that everyone had thought it would be a disaster, so had put it off for as long as possible.

Maybe delaying had helped. Out of the kits, only Yuki measured up to Haku-san's standards. Kazuki had set a new level for Haru to live down to; Haku-san had banished him to the laundry within two days. In contrast, Haku had praised Ryuu for his exemplary boot-polishing and Hoshi for taking care with delicate fabrics. Hikaru had been tolerated; attracting neither praise nor criticism.

And perhaps Haru had learned to be more flexible in the nine divs since he had turned eight.

They were twenty-five days in and the truce between them was still holding. Haru tried not to think of Haku-san as his nemesis and, in return, Haku-san treated Haru as if he was any other boy of eight.

As Haru kept telling himself, it was only half of each afternoon.

Today they were folding clothes. Haru stuck to children's tops. He divided the tops into piles according to size, selected the correct folding frame for each batch and made himself repeat the mind-numbingly boring task until each of the thirty-seven tops was a perfect square.

Haku-san was watching him even more closely than was usual. Haru braced himself.

"Occasionally I can see your Papa in you," Haku said finally.

It was so unexpected that Haru made an error. He unfolded the shirt and began again. "Thank you, Haku-san."

"Credit where credit is due," Haku admitted. He sniffed. "It is only occasionally."

But next day, during Papa-time, Papa praised him for doing his duty even when it was boring and Haru realised that Haku-san must have given him a positive report.

His Papa hugged him and kissed his forehead. "I am proud of you, Haru-chan," he declared and Haru felt warm all the way through.

It made even folding clothes worthwhile.

When he got back to the others it was personal time. The rest of the litter were spread across the bays that had been built around two walls of the main playroom. Haru headed directly to the one that he, Ran and Kazuki usually occupied.

Ran was reading. Kazuki was juggling. Haru grabbed his tablet and settled down to study his latest puzzle only to have his concentration falter. He closed the programme and looked about, wondering what had distracted him.

Yoshimi was up to something. He was working his way around the bays, speaking to each of the litter in turn. Haru saw him pop out of the bay Hoshi and Yuki were occupying. Within a few seconds he was beside Haru.

"Soon To-chan and Papa will ask what we want to do on our ninth birth anniversary," Yo-chan began.

Haru nodded; that was the usual pattern.

"We want to go for a new high score," Yoshimi told him.

Haru's eyes went to the locked door at the other side of the playroom. The first simulator had been so popular with the kits that Izumo-san had built a second and then a third. Then Shi-chan had designed scenarios that allowed interactions between users. Kakashi-san and Itachi-san began using simulations in their training, more simulators had been added, a dedicated room had been opened up and, once the ninth and tenth simulators were added, the whole litter had started to tackle problems as a team.

Itachi-san insisted that each of them practiced in each role but they were most successful when everyone played to their strengths. Haru liked it best when he was in charge of intelligence analysis.

Shi-chan's scenarios were amazing; it was like living in one of his stories.

Then Itachi-san had asked Shi-chan to introduce a scoring system and the situation had soured. The kits had become obsessed with driving up their highest score for each scenario, Kiba-san had put his foot down, To-chan had decided to limit their access to the simulators and the kits had not reacted well.

Even Haru could see that the kits' whining, pleading and sulking were annoying; Kazuki had been unbearable. He hadn't been surprised when Papa had locked the door and told them that the simulators would be disassembled if there was any more poor behaviour.

Haru imagined how Papa and To-chan would react if they said that they would prefer using the simulators to a picnic or a party.

Yoshimi was looking at him. Haru could tell that he was expecting agreement.

"I think we should ask for a session on the simulators with a new scenario and not mention a high score," Haru suggested.

Yo-chan's whiskers twitched. "Why?" he asked.

"Because To-chan and Kiba-san think you and the other kits like the simulations too much, particularly the high score part."

"Hoshi said ask for a party first," Yoshimi admitted.

"Good idea."

"Hi-chan and Ry-chan just agreed," he grumbled.

"They like the simulators as much as you do," Haru reminded him. "Why don't we let Hoshi do the asking?"


Haru thought that Hoshi had done an excellent job of it. She had mentioned breakfast with To-chan and Papa, a cake and a party, followed it up by saying that they would like to go to the park and only then mentioned the simulators.

Not that it mattered, because neither To-chan nor Papa was going to miss the fact that the kits all held their breath as soon as the simulators were mentioned.

"We will have the usual birth anniversary breakfast," Papa assured them.

"I am sure Choza-san will make you a cake," To-chan added.

"And we can certainly have a party and go to the park," Papa concluded. "Perhaps we should have the party in the park."

Kazuki cracked. "And the simulators?" he asked.

To-chan looked at Papa, who nodded.

"You can go on the simulators either on your birth anniversary or the day afterwards," To-chan told them.

Yoshimi opened his mouth to speak but jumped and scowled at Yuki instead. Haru guessed that Yuki had kicked him to shut him up.

Ran had arrived in the playroom while they were with Papa and To-chan. He was reading something on a tablet but put it aside when Haru and Kazuki joined him.

"How did it go?" he asked.

"Hoshi did a great job," Haru answered.

Ran looked at Kazuki, who had said nothing. His tail was bushy, which meant he was agitated.

"Ka-chan?" Ran encouraged.

"I want to go on the simulators more than just once," he complained.

Haru was about to point out that it had been the kits fault they had been banned but Ran spoke first.

"Naruto-san knows how you feel. He and Sasuke-sama will sort something out."

Kazuki's fur settled and his whiskers relaxed. "Do you think so?"

Ran gave a small, reassuring smile. "Your To-chan and your Papa love you very much."

Haru liked seeing Ran smile; it still did not happen often. He smiled back; grateful that Ran had stopped him from saying something that would have made the situation worse. He stroked Kazuki's tail in silent apology and Kazuki responded by pushing against him and purring.

Perhaps they would have talked more about it, perhaps not. They never found out because Sumiko interrupted them. She invaded their bay, plonked a basket down on the table and started moving chairs.

Haru reached for the basket, intent on getting rid of her, when there was a touch on his arm. He turned and was met by Ran's compassionate, brown eyes. Haru sighed; he knew that Sumiko was avoiding Haku-san.

"Gym," Kazuki told them and vanished.

Neither Ran nor Haru regarded the gym with such affection; they left the table she had claimed to Sumiko and settled at the other.

Despite himself, Haru found himself watching Sumiko's game. She had three dolls, a small tablet, a large display tablet and a tea set. Three of the chairs were occupied by dolls, one by Sumiko herself and the large tablet was propped up on the fifth.

It was like the large tablet was a fourth doll. It was switched on and showed a face. It had dark hair, pale skin and very dark, almost black, eyes.

"Looks like you but with different colour eyes," Ran pointed out.

"It doesn't," Haru objected but he had to admit it looked a little bit like Hikaru.

The image was not very sophisticated. Its eyes did not track Sumiko's movements. It did not smile. Haru was wondering why Sumiko liked playing with it when she asked it a question and it responded.

The voice wasn't very good. It was all one tone with very little rhythm. Haru was surprised. If Shi-chan had written the programme, he would have expected it to be better.

A small thought crept into his mind. Had Sumiko written it? If so, he was grudgingly impressed. After all, she was only five.

"What's his name, Su-chan?" Ran asked.

Haru had not been sure if it was a he or a she.

"He hasn't told me yet," Sumiko admitted.

Haru was intrigued. Normally Sumiko did not hesitate to bestow names on her numerous dolls. He watched a little longer. The large tablet kept slipping on the chair and falling flat. Each time it did so, Sumiko would prop it up again. "You should get Shino-san and Shi-chan to put the processor, speaker and microphone into a doll," he suggested.

She scowled at him. "He's not a doll. He's my friend."

Haru was about to make some comment about how pathetic it was to think of a programme you had written yourself as a friend when Ran poked him. He sighed. Ran was right; it wasn't Sumiko's fault that the Mai and Naomi were a standard and a half younger than her. It didn't help that the two of them were inseparable and that Sumiko was so bossy.

Ran went to find some bean bags, brought them back and made a base for the tablet to stand on. "You'll be more comfortable if you aren't falling over," he said to the tablet. Haru knew he was being nice to Sumiko by contributing to the game.

"Thank you," the tablet responded. "Who are you?"

"I am Ran. What should I call you?"

There was a pause. "I do not know," the monotonous voice replied. "I do not have a name."

"Maybe you should have a nickname for now," Ran suggested.

Haru knew Ran was really speaking to Sumiko but addressing the tablet, making it part of the game, was clever.

"She's only using the big tablet as a display," Ran pointed out once Haku-san had gone and Sumiko had moved to her usual place near Mia and Naomi. "All the processing is in the small tablet."

Haru had gone back to his puzzle; it was one of a series that Klenn-san had sent for him and it was proving tricky.

"You could adapt one of the miniature 3D projectors for her," Ran suggested. "The ones with the workings in the base."

Haru reluctantly pulled his mind away from the puzzle. "I guess so. It would have to be one with video capacity and it would have to link wirelessly with the tablet. Sensors would be good too. That way it can be programmed to act as if the projection is reacting to its surroundings." He could see that Ran was glazing over as he always did when Haru talked about anything technical. "I'll ask Shino-san if I can alter one," he promised and was rewarded by one of Ran's smiles.

It didn't take him long to sort it out. Once he said it was for Sumiko the adults fell over themselves to help him; they were that pleased he was doing something nice for her. Shino-san gave him the components, Shi-chan the software and Izumo-san offered to fabricate a rubbery cover with an integral carrying handle.

"What colour do you want it?" he asked. "Pink? Yellow?"

Haru almost said yellow but stopped. Sumiko had insisted that the talking image was a friend, not a doll, and male rather than female. "Dark grey," he decided.

Sumiko looked at him with suspicion as he put the grey, rubbery disc on the table. He switched it on and it projected a three-dimensional image of a flower.

"You can link it to the small tablet, in the place of the large tablet," he told her.

She considered. Then she nodded, pulled the projector towards her, switched it off, picked it up by the handle and was walking away from him.

Haru swallowed his irritation. Like To-chan said, you didn't do things for people to make them grateful to you; you did them for the joy of giving.

Then, to his surprise, Sumiko turned back to him.

"Thank you, Haru-chan."

"You are welcome," he replied. "Do you need help linking it to the tablet?"

"No," she replied and continued walking away.

The next morning he spotted her talking to a disembodied face above the projector. By the afternoon the face was a head and by next day it had a body; Haru was impressed by the rate of progress.

Doll or not, the figure was obviously dressed by Sumiko; no boy would choose to wear such a silly top.

Haru discovered that doing something for Sumiko had its rewards. Papa, To-chan and Kiba-san praised him for it. Even Haku-san smiled at him. Shi-chan was very pleased. He seemed to think Haru had done more than he actually had. Haru tried telling him that Sumiko had created her own imaginary friend and that he had only provided the projector, but Shi-chan was convinced he was being modest and Haru gave up.

He had other things to think about; the next day was their birth anniversary. They would be nine.


Haru was the last to wake, as usual. For a split second he snuggled down for an extra nap but then he remembered what day it was and sat up.

Like the playroom, the nursery had changed over the last standard. It was now more like a crew room, with a central shared area and five bays. They had discussed separating each bay with a wall and a door but for now it was open-plan.

He and Kazuki had chosen to have bunks in their bay. Haru had a desk, with storage below and above, and there was a closet for boring stuff like clothes and shoes. The rest of the bay, including the ceiling, was a climbing frame for Kazuki; his desk was halfway up one wall.

Kiba-san had not approved but To-chan had insisted that Kazuki should have what he wanted.

At the back of each bay there was a shower and a lavatory. Haru quickly visited both and came out scrubbing himself with a towel; too impatient to wait for the blowers.

Hanging on a hook was a new pair of pants and a top, as was usual on their birth anniversary. Amazingly, the top was not white and was patterned. It had swirls in shades of blue the odd touch of golden yellow. Haru liked it; it reminded him of images of galaxies. He wriggled into it. On the left breast, as always, was the Uchiha crest.

He finished dressing, grabbed the slip of paper he had prepared the night before and dashed through the shared area on his way to the kitchen. For once he was not last; Hoshi and Yuki were just emerging from their bay.

Hoshi's top was blue, crimson and white; her hair, which she had started to grow, was woven through with crimson ribbons.

Yuki's top was amazing; a patchwork of pattern and colour that should have clashed but didn't. Haru guessed that he had designed it himself and that Haku-san had helped him make it.

Both Papa and To-chan were already at the table. Papa congratulated them on reaching the ninth anniversary of their birth and wished them the best for the coming standard. To-chan smiled and promised them a fun day.

"I like this," he told them, indicating their new tops. "It's cheerful."

Papa took the hint. "Very festive," he agreed. "It is good to see you expressing your individuality."

To-chan waited until they had all finished eating. For once everyone stayed at the table, even Kazuki. "Today," To-chan announced and Haru sat up and paid attention. "Your Papa and I have planned the day from midmorning onwards, but that leaves first thing this morning. As usual, each of you will have one vote. Do I need to get paper and pencils?"

"I have my vote here," Ryuu declared, pulling the slip of paper from his pocket.

"So do I," Keizo added, followed by each of the others. Haru happily waved his slip of paper.

Then, as always, To-chan pointed out that they needed something to put the pieces of paper in, Papa went to get the empty tea caddy with the dragon on it and they all put their votes inside.

Next To-chan and Papa took turns pulling out the slips of paper and pretending to be surprised at yet another vote for dancing with To-chan.

They danced along the corridors, through the playroom and into the gym. On the wall, near the showers, Haru could see copies of the clothes they were wearing hanging from the hooks. He imagined Haku-san pointing out that children should play and that they would each need at least three of the birth anniversary tops.

Kiba-san was there to give each of them an anniversary hug and to drum for them. Papa played his biwa for the first part of the session but set it aside when To-chan asked him to dance.

Papa could not dance anywhere near as well as To-chan, just as Haru, Hikaru and Hoshi could not move like the kits and Ryuu. It did not matter. They danced and danced until even Kazuki was too exhausted to do anything other than slump on the floor.

They sat or laid there and watched To-chan run and leap and twirl before performing a series of handsprings and rolling to a halt beside them. The children found one last burst of energy to pile on top of him to be hugged and kissed. Haru clung tight, his joy coloured by the times his To-chan had not been there; when he had been kidnapped and when To-chan had been in the tank.

To-chan gave him another hug. "I love you, Haru-chan," he whispered; his whiskers tickling Haru's cheek.

Then they showered and redressed before gathering around a table in the playroom for juice and cookies. Shi-chan joined them. He wished them all a happy birth anniversary and sat on a chair slightly to the side.

Haru wondered what was coming next. He could see that To-chan was about to speak.

"Your Papa and I know how much you like the simulators. It's been hard saying no to you using them. So we talked to Shika-san and we have come up with some changes that we think will work.

"First, everyone will have a limit for going on any of the simulators. We are going to start by setting it at two hundred minutes over any three day period. Occasionally Itachi-san may give you special permission to go on for longer, but that will be because it's part of your training.

"Second, the highest score function has been removed. You can choose to test your skill at something, for example gunnery or navigation or orienteering, once per div. That will allow you to see if you have improved that skill.

"Thirdly, there are now different types of activities on the simulators. There are skill-practising-activities and the once-a-division tests that go with them. There are also lots of scenarios, think of them as interactive stories, for you to explore. These do not have scoring, they are just for fun. Then there are challenges.

"The important type of challenges is missions. Itachi-san will set the missions and they will be part of your training. Some will be individual, some for more than one of you and, occasionally, they will be for all of you working together. At the end of the mission there will be a mission report, a debrief and a score. Shi-chan has worked very hard to make sure that the scores can be compared mission to mission. Missions can be tried only once, like real life.

"There are also practice challenges. You can try any practice challenge three times and it will be scored like a mission is scored. There will only be a few practice challenges available at a time and they will be changed each div."

Haru considered. To him it seemed better than before but he wasn't Kazuki.

"Have you got that, Ka-chan?" Papa asked.

Kazuki twitched his whiskers. "Stories, real missions, practice missions you can do three times and skill-stuff with tests." He gave a sunny smile. "Two hundred minutes over three days is lots, Papa."

Papa looked at To-chan. "Yes, it is."

To-chan flushed slightly and Haru guessed that Papa and Kiba-san had wanted the limit set lower but To-chan had negotiated it up.

"It's a great present," Yoshimi volunteered and the others were quick to agree.

"You should thank Shika-san. He had to rewrite the engine behind all the simulations," Papa told them.

They chorused a 'thank you' to Shi-chan.

He stood up and gave a slight bow. "You are welcome. It was a pleasure. I have an anniversary present for you all. It is a scenario; a story. I hope you will enjoy it."

"Can we play it now?" Yasushi asked.

Shi-chan smiled. "There is a short introduction," he suggested.

Haru and the others looked towards Papa.

"Very well," Papa agreed.

As soon as they entered the room Haru could see that they would have thank Izumo-san, Kotetsu-san and Shino-san as well; the simulators had been completely rebuilt. He took off his shoes, top and pants and climbed in. The chair immediately conformed to his body and the sensor net spread across his skin.

"Welcome, Haru Uchiha," the interface acknowledged. "Do you wish to participate in the current group simulation?"

He confirmed that he did, which triggered the displays, inputs and activators. He winked into existence in what seemed to be an enchanted forest. The kits' and Hoshi's avatars were already there and Hikaru's and Ryuu's were close behind his. It was warm and humid and it smelled amazing. Haru could see Kazuki sniffing the air and wondered if Shi-chan had got Kiba-san or To-chan to help him design the scent and sound landscapes so they worked for hybrid noses and ears.

There were hundreds of butterflies, which were beautiful. A blue one fluttered over and landed on Haru's arm.

The ground was mossy and gave slightly when you walked on it. When you looked upwards all you could see were leaves; even the light was green.

A tiny, dancing mote of light appeared, generating a small sphere that glowed. In story simulations that always meant the same thing; they were meant to follow.

They made their way at Haru's pace, which left Kazuki and the other kits time to dash this way and that from the path, investigating a trunk here and a flower there.

The path led to a more open area containing fewer, more spaced trees.

"A tree-house!" Kuuya shouted and began running towards it.

Haru looked up. Across the trees was a platform. There were ropes and ladders leading up. On the platform Haru could see walls and doors and a roof.

Then To-chan was there. He had intercepted Kuuya and picked him up.

Haru noticed that Shi-chan had made To-chan glow slightly, as if he was magical.

"That is all for today," To-chan's avatar told them. "You have a party to go to."

"I wanted to play in the tree-house," Kuuya told him.

To-chan smiled. "Soon," he promised.

The others winked out one by one. Haru glanced back at the tree-house as he spoke the words that would take him out of the game.

Was there a boy sitting on the edge of the platform? He wished he had time for another look but the enchanted forest was gone, the layers of the simulator were peeling away and Kazuki was demanding that he hurry up and dress.

Then it was off for a picnic party in the park. Haru guessed that the food and the guests had gone before because the playroom was empty and Papa and To-chan weren't carrying anything, not even the triplets.

Kazuki entered the park first, accelerating away and calling for Kiba-san. Kuuya and Ryuu ran after him. Then there was excited yelping and Kazuki was back, moving at full speed, demanding that the others come see.

It was a tree-house; like the one in the simulation but real. Kuuya and Ryuu were already up on the platform. Kazuki and Yuki were swarming up two of the ropes that hung down.

Haru ran to one of the ladders only to have Hoshi reach it at the same time.

"I'll hold the bottom while you climb up," she suggested.

He thanked her and started up the ladder. It was nice of Hoshi to offer; he didn't climb quickly, so it would be a long time before she made it up to the platform.

Hoshi did things like that.

When it came to it, Hoshi was not that far behind him because Papa took over and To-chan gave her a boost up the other ladder as soon as Hikaru was up it and onto the platform.

Up on the platform there was the house and an even higher look-out tower. As well as the two ropes and two ladders, you could get down by a pole or a slide.

Once Haru had looked about he sat on the edge of the platform. He could see how much thought had gone into making the tree-house safe without ruining it as a tree-house. The balustrade around the side would be really hard to fall through but he could still dangle his legs off the edge and look through the bars.

Not that the balustrade would save Kazuki, who at that very moment was walking along what was meant to be the handrail. Haru hoped Shi-chan or Izumo-san had thought about what would happen when someone fell off.

Thinking about it, it was probably more likely that he would fall from the ladder than Kazuki would lose his balance when walking along the handrail.

"Asked others," Kazuki informed him. "Got permission to ask Ran up."

Haru smiled his thanks. Birth anniversaries were about the litter, so he had warned Ran that they might not be able to spend any time together. Even so, he was pleased that Kazuki had asked the others on his behalf.

To-chan and Papa accompanied Ran; Papa and Ran used the ladders while To-chan climbed one of the ropes. Ran came and sat beside him while To-chan and Papa enjoyed being shown around by the others.

Their shoulders were touching. Haru liked that. He knew how wary Ran was of being close to people; it made him feel special.

Haru began telling him about the simulators and Shi-chan's story. He was about to mention seeing the figure on the platform when To-chan called them, saying that everyone was going down for the party food and the cake.

To-chan slid down the pole. Haru and Ran were among those who used the slide. Then they ran to where Choza and Kiba-san had set out the food.

The cake was huge.

Haru looked over at the tree-house as he bit into his slice. He could see where he and Ran had been sitting at the balustrade.

It was exactly where the boy had been in the simulation.


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