Behold, for I have returned! And I still don't own Naruto.



"Kyuubi speaking"

-Sound Effect-


When Special Training goes way too far.

The figure bolted through the treetops as only a chakra-user could. The cold night air stung his eyes through the slit in his mask, thankfully taking his mind off the screaming of his over-worked leg muscles.

He was being followed, he knew. No sight, sound, smell or trace of the pursuer was making it to his senses, but he could tell. His danger sense was prickling at him constantly, filling him with the urge to run, to escape

The mission had been going so well, too! Infiltrate Konoha's Archives, retrieve kinjutsu, fuuinjutsu arrays and/or kekkei-genkei gene samples and rendezvous with the extraction team. Easy!

From somewhere in the darkened branches behind him came a faint, faint sound. A mere flicker on the edge of hearing that nonetheless had the black-clad figure gulping soldier pills like cough-drops, icy fingers of terror dancing over his spine.

A tiny jingle of a bell.

He had gotten in with minimal problems. The chakra-inhibitor seals suppressing his power levels to a civilian level while expertly-forged papers declared him to be a junior archivist, fresh from the Daimyo's court, got him in. Then, a few days to get a sense of the place, some tweaking of the guard roster and an hour's hard work in pitch blackness and he was gone, taking some very valuable sealing scrolls with him.

A flicker on the edges of his vision had him leaping away, heart hammering in his chest. It might have been a mere trick of the shadows that caused the effect of a pair of shining eyes, but he knew better…

It had been during the escape that it had all gone wrong. He'd been spotted scaling the village wall. Taking to the trees (while silently cursing overly-competent guards) and strewing the area with smoke and gas tags while a quartet of mizu-bunshin laid false trails had lost his pursuers, though.

Or so he'd thought, at least. At first he'd dismissed it as paranoia, jitters. After a while, though, he'd begun to suspect. The scuffling in the leaves, too close to be forest animals. The glints and flickers as starlight hit reflective eyes. The tiny ringing of that bell…!

Then he'd reached the rendezvous.

There is a certain aroma that every shinobi knows. Metallic, coppery and pungent, what greeted him at the meeting place was the far-too-familiar stench of freshly spilled blood, a host of shining eyes…and the soft jingle of the bell.

He'd run. Not in panic, though it was a near thing. His mental focus narrowing down to "Escape!" and "Complete the mission!", he had bolted into the dark, silent trees, burning chakra like a pyre, stealth forgotten in his desperate urge for speed.

Hurtling through the shadowed foliage, he forced another agonising burst of acceleration from his overstressed frame and cautiously allowed a tiny spark of hope to kindle. The border was near! A few more minutes and he would be within range support from friendly patrols! The sun would be rising soon, as w-

'Neko-Shibari no Jutsu!'

A scream of mingled panic and thwarted rage escaped his lips as the coils of ninja wire cocooned him, his momentum sending him tumbling to the forest floor, the first faint hints of the false dawn through the thinner trees ahead taunting him with their empty promise of escape.

Lying stunned on the fallen leaves that carpeted the unnatural forest, the unfortunate shinobi caught sight, for the first time, of his pursuer.

The eyes were the first to emerge from the shadows, glowing a pearlescent green-white and glinting with a manic amusement at their helpless victim. Tearing his gaze from the eerie glint, he took in, with rapidly mounting alarm, the tight-fitting fishnet outfit, the spools of wire, the well-used and blood-stained climbing claws adorning hand and foot and the wide and sadistic grin adorning the figure's face.

"You have been a very good sport in our little game, Nezumi-san", chirped the figure as, he?, ambled closer, shining eyes appearing in his wake. "Your friends didn't want to play, tried to hiss and claw, scratch and bite. They weren't very fun, so the game didn't last long. But oh!" he said, crouching down with that ever-present grin even wider (revealing canines slightly too long to be natural), "You play properly! Such a lovely run you gave us, Nezumi-san, such a lovely chase. You ran and squeaked, skittered and scurried…such a perfect playmate!"

The figure straightened with a contented sigh and a visceral shiver of pleasure, only to consider his bound captive with a suddenly regretful look, grin fading for the first time.

"If it were up to me, you know, I'd let you go," he said in the tone of one passing on a regretful confidence. "Playmates like you should be cherished, after all."

From the edges of the fallen shinobi's vision came a flicker of movement, of many bodies in gentle, subtle motion.

"The trouble is, Nezumi-san," he continued, "that you have taken some of Konoha's special toys. Those toys need to go back. We can't have naughty thieving mice scurrying around Konoha, after all."

Quickly plucking the scrolls from within the binding web work of steel wire that bound the shocked and trembling shinobi, the figure turned and began a slow departure, the rustling of small forms and blinking, shining eyes in the darkness coming closer in turn. Pausing as the first small whimper of terror broke through the captive's lips, he half-turned, catching the fear-filled gaze with one glowing, pearl-toned eye.

"Therefore, Nezumi-san," he said as the chirrups and mews grew in volume and menace, "all that is left for me to say is this: I am Hyuuga Neji, Konoha's Shadow Cat. It was a pleasure to play with you tonight."

As the hungry eyes converged on the screaming, thrashing figure, as the hisses and joyful yowls rose through the gloom of the trees, as the warm copper-scent filled the air, a final, regretful whisper was heard.

"Good-by, little Mousie."

Author's Comments:

See? I told you i wasn't dead! At least this time I have a legitimate excuse for not updating in over six months. Between moving between cities, starting a new (and rather busy) job and all the stresses that go with both, I've had very little time to write and rather little idea of what to write about. Thankfully, I had this lurking in my files that I finally managed to dredge up, so here it is! The long-awaited return of Kitten-Freak Neji (emphasis on 'Freak') Consider this to be a potential future emanating from the final scene of "Beauty and the (Green) Beasts". Does anyone really imagine 'Special Training' with Anko to result in anything less?

Concerning reviews. First, thank you (on bended knee) for everyone who has submitted one on my stories. Sadly, due to the backlog caused from my long pause in writing, i won't be addressing any in here. I intend to begin again on the next installment, but due to time and effort, I'll only be answering those raising specific points or questions. I love the "this is good" reviews and appreciate every single one, make no mistake, but i haven't the time to respond to them all.

Anyway, the nest few updates are likely to be in 'Tales' as well, but rest assured, I am still working on my others and fully intend to continue them.

Stay tuned,