It was after eating that Sasuke brought up the topic.

"Naruto?"

"Yeah?" Naruto asked, before stuffing the rest of the fish into his mouth. Sasuke waited until Naruto finished swallowing what was in his mouth, and realizing that Sasuke was serious, Naruto turned to look at him in the eyes.

"You were a little weird when I just got back. Did something happen while I was out hunting?"

Sasuke saw something flickering in Naruto's eyes and bit into his lips. He tried not to let anger seep into his voice as he said, "I'm not going to get mad, so tell me."

"Do you have a brother?" Naruto suddenly blurted out.

".............what?"

"Whenever I talk about my mama and papa, I can tell you don't like it, so I try not to talk about your family. But do you have a brother?" Naruto repeated. Sasuke's eyes became momentarily cloudy, but a second later they suddenly cleared and blazed with anger. Sasuke started snarling, deep growl starting in his throat developing into harsh, angry snarls as he bared his teeth.

i"Did that fuck HURT you?!!!"/i

Naruto's eyes widened at the harsh reaction, but his voice was curt.

"iNo/i, Shashuke. Calm down. Stop yelling at me."

"I'm sorry," Sasuke immediately said, panting and shivering as he continued to snarl. His clear black eyes flickered into ruby color, and then changed back into black. Muscles rippled underneath his clothing.

Naruto waited until Sasuke's snarls turned into low growls before he continued.

"While you were away, someone who smelled just like you came by. He was only slightly bigger than you, but I could tell that he was stronger than you." When Sasuke started to snarl loudly again, Naruto snapped, "I don't have time to think about hurting your feelings right now, okay?! It's our family's safety we're discussing right now!"

iOur family./i Sasuke knew this wasn't the time nor the place, but he felt something soothing his frayed emotions at such words. Not realizing the calming power of his words, Naruto sternly continued, "He didn't rape me nor kill me, so I don't think that's what he wants. But I don't know what he's after and I have a feeling he'll be back, either to hurt you or the baby. I don't want to make you worried, but there is no way I can fight him off alone, especially in my condition."

iHis mate's pregnant condition./i

"I want to reassure you that I can take care of myself, but I can't. I need you. So until our child is born and weaned, don't leave my side. The two of us should be able to handle him, even though alone, we probably don't stand a chance. So, what do you think?"

Sasuke had stopped growling and bristling as Naruto continued to talk, and he looked at Naruto silently when he finished speaking. Many emotions and thoughts seemed to pass his depthless black eyes in the few seconds he remained quiet. And then Sasuke said, "I think... that the baby is not the only thing that has been growing."

"Haa?" Naruto asked, wrinkling his forehead. Sasuke smiled a little.

"You've grown a lot, Naruto. I... am so proud to be your mate."

"What the hell are you talking about, you dumb-bunny?" Naruto yelled, blushing, as he pounded the ground impatiently. "This is no time to be...!"

"I will protect you," Sasuke said. Naruto sighed and stared at the big baby who was supposedly his mate, curling his tail a little.

"Were you listening to a word I was saying?"

"Yes, I heard you, and I agree with you on most points. Itachi--that is my older brother--is indeed much stronger than I am, and I think even two of us together would be no match against him."

Naruto's eyes darkened into deep blue as he placed a paw over his slightly swollen belly. "Then..."

"Don't worry. I'll go talk to him." Sasuke smiled. "I'll take care of everything."

Naruto thought Sasuke's smile looked a little weird, but he smiled in return and let Sasuke pull him into his arms and nuzzle him. After talking to Sasuke, he no longer felt worried. He trusted Sasuke with his life, and if Sasuke said it was going to be okay, it would. Just as he had discussed his fears and problems with Sasuke, surely his mate would honor him with the same if he felt he could not handle this Itachi character on his own.

Making a note to himself to ask Sasuke in detail about his family and his creepy brother later, Naruto made little mewling sounds and clung to Sasuke's back. The male's shoulders and back were wider than his own, but only slightly, and when Naruto suddenly pushed with his entire weight, Sasuke fell backwards. Naruto climbed over him and lightly bit his nose. The male cat cocked his head, his ears flat against his head. In the semi-darkness, his black pupils looked enormous.

"You're so cute, Shashuke-chan," Naruto suddenly said, starting to laugh, but Sasuke only smirked.

"You're cuter."

Naruto growled, upset that he had failed to rail up Sasuke. Sasuke reached up and pulled Naruto down, kissing his ear before he started to clean it up properly. Naruto, being a cat, was a tidy little creature, but even for a cat Sasuke's constant washings and groomings were on a verge of excessive. Naruto had wanted to play, not wash. Even though he liked it when Sasuke cleaned his ears, he struggled and whined. Sasuke tried to keep his grip on the cheese tabby kitten, but Naruto managed to pull away and turned his back on Sasuke, licking his paw before he smoothed down his ruffled fur.

"I know you can clean yourself, Naruto, but I just--"

"YOU were supposed to POUNCE on me when I make fun of you, not laugh at me and wash me like... Like I'm five years old, stupid Shashuke!" Naruto meowed, his little ears turned sideways and his tail wagging furiously. He huffed and started to tuck his paws under his body, still refusing to look at his mate. Sasuke trotted up to him and sat next to him. When Naruto still didn't look at him, he tucked his head under Naruto's chin.

"I knew that's what you wanted. But after what just happened, I didn't want to do anything that had even the smallest chance of hurting you." Sasuke snuggled against the fragrant, soft little body of his mate as he purred, "I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd get mad. Let's play?"

"No!" Naruto refused, pawing Sasuke's face away. He darted away, and Sasuke followed him. Naruto sharply turned sideways and pushed past Sasuke, and Sasuke stopped and changed his direction, running after him.

"Stop following me!" Naruto said, before he suddenly turned on Sasuke and attacked him. They tumbled together as Naruto threateningly growled, even though his high-pitched baby voice was not very scary. He leaned down and bit Sasuke's ear. When he pulled and chewed on it, Sasuke lay beneath him and gave him a meek look. Naruto stopped growling and started to laugh at the look his mate was giving him.

"Okay, I'm not mad anymore," the kitten informed his darker-colored mate. Sasuke purred and snuggled against him, and Naruto cuddled with him, both cats purring happily as they basked in the warmth and scent of their beloved. Naruto chewed on Sasuke's neck as he held Sasuke's body against his, their tails entangling.

After few content minutes, Naruto finally got his breath back and turned to look at Sasuke, playfully saying, "That was kind of hot."

To his surprise, Sasuke was looking at him with a funny expression on his face. Naruto looked back at him, astonished, before he smiled and kissed him.

"Hey, I'm okay. You didn't hurt me."

"Um. I guess," Sasuke uncertainly said. He looked at Naruto's bloodied neck. More than anything else, he was shocked and disgusted at himself for not being able to stop, even when his love sounded unhappy. That was same as ra...

"Really. It doesn't hurt," Naruto said, nuzzling against him. "It's okay."

But really... It was not okay.

*****

"Hinata, Sweety, what's wrong?" Kurenai asked, picking up the little mouse and kissing her soft cheek. "Are you upset that Naruto is missing? You haven't even touched your food."

"I'm okay," Hinata quietly replied, nuzzling against her owner lovingly. The only thing mice were usually used for was for breeding, because they bred so easily. Most people preferred cat or dog humanoid for a pet or show breed, and if a mice was used to breed with a cat or dog humanoid, breeders usually kept the cat or dog offspring, but drowned the mice pups. Hinata's owner bought baby Hinata, saving her from fate of drowning, and even encouraged her to live happily and get married to whomever she wanted. Hinata loved her owner and did not want her to be worried, but she could not tell her owner why she was unable to eat.

"Well, us women have to at least stay healthy and well, Hinata. If you get sick, too, I wouldn't know what to do," Kurenai said, smiling. She sounded as if she were joking, but Hinata quietly nuzzled against her owner. Her husband had died of cancer only few months ago, leaving his pregnant, beautiful wife a widow. Hinata wanted to eat, to ease Kurenai of one more unnecessary worry, but even her favorite sunflower seeds failed to calm the nauseous feeling in her gut.

"I'm not hungry right now," Hinata said in a small voice, and her owner kissed her again and let her down to go prepare her own dinner, while Hinata went to her basket and curled up. She put her small paws around her belly, and then closed her eyes. Her silly, girlish crush on Naruto had ended a long time ago. Hinata learned of gentle smile that would make her heart pound, as Naruto's beautiful but babyish smile never could.

But her mate, the sire of the pups growing in her belly, had been taken away from her to be mated with another, and Hinata never had the chance to tell Neji that she loved him back.

Hinata repeated to herself what her owner had said when her husband had died.

"..............if I cry... My baby will be sad, too, so I won't cry..."

*****

"I thought you said you were going to bring your brother back with you," a golden cat meowed as a much larger black cat entered the cave. The tom looked at the queen with brooding ruby-colored eyes, and then he turned and started to wash himself. "What, he was still too weak or something?"

"He's useless," Itachi said. He looked bored as the other cat sauntered up to him. "Not only was he still a weakling... He has a pregnant mate."

"Oooooh," Deidara squealed. "Why didn't you kill the female and bring your brother back with you?"

"My brother is not strong enough to handle his mate's death. Most likely, he would just kill himself if that happens. Don't worry," Itachi said, turning to leave the cave. A huge shark humanoid emerged from the dark and trotted after him as Itachi added before he left, "I'll bring him when he's ready."

When they have been walking for a while, the shark suddenly said, "Deidara does not mean any harm. If only he knew about your--"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Itachi cut him off, turning to look at Kisame. The coldness in his eyes made even his partner flinch.

"......of course. I'm sorry."

The two continued to walk in silence.

[To Be Continued]