Hunted

Chapter One: Running

Written by Zenerific1

^_^

The hunters were coming!

Naruto was thrust into his coat and the hood drawn over his head. The dark leather would serve to camouflage the kit in the darkness. His mother was trying her best not to cry as she pulled the golden fox into her arms and his father stood stoically by. She gave his hair one last stroke before drawing the hood up over the bright locks. Stroking his whisker-scarred cheeks; she studied him, trying to memorize his face.

The adults of the clan were going to stand and fight allowing the nine children to run. Each of them knew that the hunters were really after the children because they were easier to train into obedient pets. Every year the hunters came and every year the clan dwindled. Soon only the domestic breeds would be left.

Minato looked at the boy who stood in his mother's arms not really understanding the gravity of the situation. His enormous cerulean eyes looking at his father in confusion over the way his mother was acting. The father moved to gather the boy into his own arms.

"You have to be brave now, Naruto. You're nearly an adult and you have to protect the little ones under your care. You, Gaara, Kirabi, Yugito, and Yuki have been grouped together while the others will be sent in the opposite direction. Your mother and I, as well as the other adults, will hold the hunters at bay long enough for you to run and hide. We will find you when the hunters are gone but it may take several days. Do you understand?"

Naruto nodded against his father's chest feeling the tears gather in his eyes. He clutched the soft leather tunic and prayed harder that the hunters left them alone. Every time the cry went up that hunters had been spotted, he'd been separated from his family and every time he knew that he wouldn't see them again. But in the end he'd been reunited. He'd been one of the lucky ones. His friend Gaara hadn't been so lucky, first his mother had been killed protecting her small family from the hunters, and then last year both of his older siblings had been taken. With every death, and every disappearance of another kit, the small fox clan suffered, then they were forced to move and hide again. Only to be found once more by the determined hunters.

"I've taught you how to hunt and gather food so you know how to survive, but now you have to be strong. I trust you, Naruto, to be safe and stay alive until we find you again. I love you, son," Minato said before releasing his only child. Kushina repeated the words, then the family left the shelter of brush and trooped to where the nine other children were gathered.

The groups were split up and each reluctantly was lead away from their parents in different directions.

Naruto's group was lead by the nearly adult Kirabi who had a penchant for singing in the form the humans called rap. The next oldest was Yugito who was quick as any cat and twice as mean, then Gaara and Naruto who were close to the same age and lastly was Yuki. He was a quiet, shy boy who watched them with the same confusion that Naruto had felt earlier. He was still young enough that he didn't understand fully what was going on.

Naruto reached up and scratched a cob web that had gotten stuck to his ears as they followed a small trail into the hills. There was a break in the trees allowing them to look out over the valley that had been their home for the past six months. With shock they looked out over the scene that was being played out before them. The hunters slashed and jabbed with spears and swords at the people that were defending their children.

Naruto watched in muted horror as a particularly pale hunter with long, blue-black hair pulled a sword from under his cloak and impaled both of his parents on it. His mouth opened to scream only to have Kirabi's hand stop the sound before it could come out. He pulled the boy away from the break and further up the trail only when he felt that they were sufficiently far enough away that the hunters wouldn't hear the boy did he let him go.

Naruto fell to his knees and sobbed out his heart ache while the rest of the group looked on in empathy. Yuki crawled into Yugito's lap and began to cry into her chest, his sympathy for Naruto's heartbreak over coming him. The older ones knew that they wouldn't see their clan again with this group of hunters being especially vicious in their hunt. Gaara stood next to his friend looking down at the heartbroken boy before kneeling next to him offering comfort without actually giving it. He'd learned long ago not to form attachments but he couldn't ignore the bond that had sprung up between him and the golden kit.

With the full onset of darkness the group moved into the brush and trees at the side of the trail to hide. Yugito took up the watch allowing the rest to get some sleep. Their losses had been draining on the whole group and each of the foxes but they, save for Yuki, slept lightly keeping one ear open for the sound of the hunters.

The next day when the sun was high in the center of the sky the group came to the end of the forest. Before them lay rolling hills with little to no cover; the ground was covered in brown grass and scrub. There was a small creek running near by which would offer them some shelter as long as the hunters didn't get near them.

"There's no hope for it," Kirabi stated as he rubbed the goatee that he was so proud of. His ears were hidden by the scarf that was secured around his head. During the winter months, he'd grown to full adult hood, something that he'd be crowing about for the past six months. Fox cub reached full adulthood when they had their first heat. It was a time for celebration and honor. Kirabi had no doubt been wanting to stay with his family and defend their clan but his older brother had insisted the he lead their little group to safety. Naruto had no doubt that he'd be hearing Kirabi grouse about it for the next several days.

"I know," Yugito seconded, "we have to go now or chance being caught."

"Yep, the hunters are still coming after us. I spotted a fire last night." The older blond took the first step leaving the tree line. The others are following closely but now with more caution.

"Let's speed up. There's a chance that we can make it across the valley before they reach this point." Kirabi swung Yuki up onto his back and they started running as fast as they could.

The hope was quickly dashed as the hunters broke from the trees less than ten minutes later. The shout that went up as the scout spotted the fleeing kits echoed across the valley.

"Fuck!" Kirabi pushed his feet to go faster which caused the rest of the group to push past their limits also and they sped across the valley.

Thunder pounded behind them and Naruto glanced back to see that their pursuers were on horse back. He gulped down the fear that rose and turned back to concentrate on the path in front of him. Gaara was right beside him as they brought up the rear. He looked at Gaara with a silent order which the red head nodded to. Suddenly he broke off from the rest of the group slowing slightly as if he was weaker and therefore a better target.

"What the hell is he doing?" Yugito yelled when she noticed Naruto's absence.

"He is creating a diversion so that we can get away," Gaara responded with a glare.

"Is he fucking nuts?"

"The life of one for the lives of many, that's what his father taught him," Gaara said in explanation.

Kirabi heard the exchange and wished the young fox luck in his endeavor.

Naruto watched as the group swept up the slope of a hill and he shifted his direction so that he was running in a perpendicular line leading away from the group. He jumped over brush and debris hearing the horses getting closer. As soon as he thought that they were close enough he quickened his steps only to stumble when his foot slipped into a gopher hole. Snarling a quick cuss word he fixed his balance but it was already too late as the horses surrounded him and he was faced with a sword blade at his throat.

The blade was nothing special but the hilt drew his attention as it looked like a snake was trying to swallow it. He followed the line of the blade up to the white hand that held it and further to the jaundiced eyes that glared back at him. A shudder moved through him as he stared at the man who had killed his parents. His face was extremely pale and his greasy black hair hung in limp threads over one side of his face.

"Finally," the man hissed as he dismounted the horse he was riding and moved closer to the kit he had just captured. He lifted a hand to pull the hood off the kit exposing the golden tufts of hair and the ears that were flattened against the fox's head in anger. He left his hand a little too long and Naruto sank his teeth into the hunter's arm drawing blood.

The man howled as he pulled his arm away from the sharp teeth but wasn't able to do anything further because the fox broke through the ring of men and ran.

"After that bastard fox!" the snake man screamed.

A dark haired man watched the whole thing with an air of amusement and now felt the surge of adrenaline. He's lips quirked up in a seldom seen smile as he wheeled the horse around and took off after the fox. He signaled the men that were also in pursuit to back off because this was going to be his capture. The hunters with him were use to this kind of treatment and cut their pursuit off to wait.

He pulled his horse back keeping pace with the fox but not getting closer. He wanted to see what this young kit had in him.

Naruto ran seeking the ditch that would offer some protection and lept down the bank and barely missed hitting the water. He scurried along the bank, leaping to the opposite side and up the other side. He'd seen the pursuer and had wondered why he hadn't caught up with him, but now he was wondering why the man was playing with him.

A feral grin overtook Naruto's lips; if the man wanted to play games, then the little fox would be happy to play because it's what he accelerated best at. The high grass was thick enough to play hide and seek in and Naruto planned to win. Putting on a burst of speed, Naruto darted quickly left then right in a zig-zag pattern that blurred with the rushing speed then he disappeared altogether.

Sasuke drew up his horse as the fox disappeared from view and the thing was he didn't know at which point the kit had been at when he'd vanished. He glanced back to the group that waited nearly a mile away watching and most likely waiting for when the Uchiha failed. Most of the men silently hated him because of his success and the fact that Orochimaru valued him more than any of the others. There had been too many times when they had failed only to watch as Sasuke triumphed no matter what the hunting party was up against.

There had been the time when a customer had offered 5 million ryos to Orochimaru to capture a dragon for him. The hunt had killed several of the men but it was Sasuke who had finally bagged the beast. It had been Sasuke who'd brought the young green dragon into camp trailing after him like a little puppy lost. It had been Sasuke's invisible movements that had slaughtered the youth's protector and in turn defeating the little dragon's spirit and hard work. But in the end, the dragon, Rock Lee, turned on the customer when the man had gotten the dragon drunk. Lee had ended up killing the man only to be called too dangerous to those around him and euthanized.

Sasuke had been sorry when the dragon with his bushy brows and bowl cut hair had been led away in chains. An odd feeling had gathered in his chest at the dark look of sorrow on the boy's face, but he'd relentlessly pushed it away until this moment when he wondered if capturing the little fox would end in the same way. One way or another, he was determined that this time would be different.

Sasuke slid off the horse letting the reigns dangle to keep it from going very far. He pulled the sword closer to the front but didn't draw it; instead he rested his hand on the hilt. He slowly began approaching the spot where he presumed the little fox hid. It was where the grass grew the tallest and the thickest; it was the best place to conceal a body. But even as he approached it he kept his eyes moving, probing other areas of the field, and searching for a thick golden mop that would give the fox away.

As he approached he paused and listened to the wind, frowning. There had been a low thick sound but it had been so quiet that Sasuke felt like his ears were deceiving him. He took another step then let his lips tilt upwards in the beginning of a smile because this time he wasn't mistaken. He stopped and pulled a small hallow tube from a pocket, from another he took a tiny dart that was laced with a sedative strong enough to bring down a…well, a dragon. Once the two pieces were fit together, he continued stalking his prey in the high grass.

Then he caught a glimpse of what he was looking for. There in the grass to his left and in front of him about twenty feet away; he'd caught a glimmer of gold. The fox had made a mistake by trying to see where he was and now Sasuke had him. Gathering energy, called chakra, into the balls of his feet he leaped towards, and over, the area where the fox was hidden. His eyes widened in shock when a yellow plumed bird suddenly took flight, and scaring up several more of its companions, all of them, except for the one that had been hit by his dart.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught the movement of the little kit as it jumped from his hiding spot and darted away. But Sasuke was already reloading the tube with another dart and aiming quickly and carefully before the kit was able to get out of range of his shot, Sasuke struck, hitting the fox in the back a little off center. He heard the kit give out a shout of alarm stumble several more steps before falling to the ground, out cold from the quick acting tranquilizer.

Sasuke rushed to the fox to assess the damage done, and breathed out a sigh at seeing that the fox was relatively unharmed and would awaken several hours from now with nothing more than a head ache. He hobbled the fox's feet and hands then whistled for his horse. The large animal trotted obediently over to him so that he could secure the fox to his saddle and swing up behind him.

"Good work, Sasuke," came the low hissing from Orochimaru as the man approached him. "The golden fox should make us a lot of ryos when sold."

Sasuke noted that the snake man's arm had been bandaged and he couldn't help feel satisfaction that the kit had been the one to take a bite out of it. It showed that the boy was full of spirit and wouldn't be easily tamed.

"The kit isn't going to be sold," Sasuke stated coldly then turned his horse to make his way back towards the camp they'd made the day before.

"Sasuke-kun," Orochimaru gritted out.

"When I joined you, you told me that I could have my pick of the 'litter'," Sasuke reminded the man. "I didn't choose then, but I am choosing now. The fox belongs to me."

Sasuke rode away unaware of the narrowed eyes that followed him, of the hatred that had grown, and the sudden grin on the snake man's face. Orochimaru now had the means to control the raven that had just turned his back on him. How dare he talk that way to the man who had taught him everything he knew?

Sasuke made it back to their base camp in record time. He slid off the horse and pulled the little fox into his arms, then strode to his tent. He carefully laid the boy on the comfortable pallet. He turned the fox over to inspect the tiny wound to make sure that there wasn't any adverse reaction to the tranq before covering the form with a blanket.

He stared down at the fox for a few minutes, his face softening unknowingly, as he watched the kit sleep. The golden hair was incredibly soft looking and Sasuke couldn't resist the temptation to slide his hands through it to find that it was even silkier than it looked. He watched as a few strands seemed to curl around his fingers as if to keep the touch there. His sensitive finger tips found a spot just behind a large ear that was even softer than the hair and he scratched it. A soft snuffling sound reached Sasuke's ears and the fox leaned into the touch but didn't wake.

Sasuke heard a sound outside of the tent and lifted the flap to see a small, black haired kitten staring up at him with nearly white eyes. He would almost believe that she was blind, if it wasn't for the fact that he knew those eyes could detect even the tiniest life form from several miles away.

The cat family, Hyuuga, was their greatest asset during these hunts. They were used to find the animal's dens so that the hunters could bag the prey easily. Without the cats' eyes then it would be nearly impossible for the hunters to fulfill orders.

"Hinata, what do you want? Where is your cousin and keeper, Neji?" Sasuke asked the girl.

"H-He went t-to g-get some w-water," the girl replied unable to meet the Uchiha's stare. "Is i-it t-true?"

"Is what true?" Sasuke asked getting impatient.

"D-did you c-capture a g-g-golden f-fox?"

Sasuke lifted the tent flap further so that the kitten could look inside. He watched as her eyes widened even more and a tiny gasp escape.

"H-he's pr-pretty," she whispered. Sasuke almost nodded but was saved by Hinata's next actions. Her hands clapped over her mouth as if she hadn't meant to let that slip before she turned and darted away, red faced.

Sasuke rolled his eyes at the kitten's actions then sighed. He decided that water was a good idea; the kit would need it when he woke up, so Sasuke set off towards the small pool to refill the water bladder.

^_^

Naruto groaned as he woke. He head was pounding in an unfamiliar ache and he tried to lift a hand to stop it from spinning only to find that he couldn't. This fact brought him to confused wakefulness and he remembered. He realized then that his hands were tied behind his back as well as having his feet hobbled. Terror pierced his heart and he lifted his head to look around.

The sudden movement of the tent flap caused him to flinch and he tried to scramble away from the noise. His heart hammered in his chest as he saw the dark haired hunter that had pursued him entering. Cowering, his eyes shifted around trying to find a weapon to defend himself with, but there was nothing but blankets and pillows. He searched for a place to hide and there wasn't anything unless he ducked under the blankets like a young kit.

Black eyes met his, and he pulled his lips back in a silent snarl, warning the hunter. The man stepped through the opening and fully into the tent allowing the flap to fall back into place, ignoring the warning that the fox was giving him. He held out the bladder of water and approached the fox. A low throaty growl erupted between the two and the hunter halted his progress.

Naruto studied the man in the same fashion that the hunter studied him. The hunter moved behind him and undid the bindings around the fox now that he was back in the tent. Naruto shifted his position so that he crouched on all fours. His clawed hands tensed and burrowed into the blankets ready to pounce or run if the situation allowed. Ears folded back against his lowered head, he focused his eyes, shifting them from the front of the tent, where the opening was, and back to the hunter rapidly. He wondered if he could make it past the man and out the flap in time.

"You won't," the hunter stated calmly.

Naruto threatened the man again with another low growl.

"Are you thirsty? I brought you some water." The hunter opened the bladder and Naruto froze.

The wonderful scent of water was torture to the teenager. His parched throat making its self known as did the cotton in his mouth. The flight as well as the chase had left him dehydrated and in need. He licked his lips in a tale tell sign.

The hunter smirked slightly before allowing a few drops of water to escape and slide down the outside leather of the bag. Naruto's eyes followed the trail of the droplets closely and a slight whimper escaped. His body quivered as he tried to make a decision. He could always escape later…

Naruto slowly eased up from his crouch and waited. Approaching slowly, warily, the hunter held out the bag of water to the kit. Ears relaxed and perked forward, the small fox waited for the bag to be within reach before snatching it out of the pale hands and tilting it back to pour the cool liquid down his dry throat. The water soothed the ache there and a little slipped out of the corner of the greedy mouth to slip down a chin and leave a wet trail down an arched neck.

Distracted as the kit was, he didn't see the instant lust in the hunter's eyes as it watched that small drop of water. He didn't see the sensual lick of lips or the increased breathing. Closed blue eyes didn't catch sight of the bulge in the man's trousers before he turned away.

But highly sensitive ears did catch the sound of the man's hitch in breath as well as approaching feet.

"Uchiha!"

The name was called from someone outside and the hunter moved to the tent flap, pulling it back to reveal a smaller man with grey skin, white hair, and a small fang sticking out to the corner of his mouth. A smirk lit the man's face as he caught sight of the small golden fox that was sitting at the back of the tent.

"Suigetsu?"

The Uchiha captured the man's attention and Suigetsu turned back to the hunter.

"I've brought the tracking cuff as well as dinner." Suigetsu held up a thin gold band and a pot of roast venison with potatoes.

The Uchiha took both before dismissing the man by dropping the flap in his face and turning back to the fox.

The smell of the cooked meat assaulted Naruto's nose causing his stomach to growl loudly in approval. The small fox blushed then tried to ignore the pangs of hunger in his stomach. He'd been taught not to accept food from strangers, especially humans. And no matter how hungry he was, he was going to follow what his parents had told him.

Sasuke rummaged in a nearby trunk to find plates and eating utensils. Finally he pulled out two tin plates as well as a couple of interesting looking instruments. One end looked like a spoon while the other end looked like a fork but one of the tines of the fork had been sharpened down the edge and serrated, a knife.

He doled out equal portions of the roasted deer as well as the vegetables then looked at the fox. He smirked when the fox's eyes darted away from him and studiously stayed on the pole that held up the corner of the tent.

"Are you hungry?" Sasuke asked the fox.

The fox shook his head only to have his stomach give another loud protest. Turning a dull shade of rose, the fox continued to ignore the plate that Sasuke held out.

"Alright, suit yourself." The man shrugged then set the plate of the floor and proceeded to eat with gusto from his own. He licked his fingers loudly and hummed out little noises of appreciation trying to entice the little fox. He knew that the animal must be starving. They had attacked the settlement two days ago, and he didn't think that the small group that had escaped had stopped long enough to eat. He knew that they hadn't started a fire because the hunters would have seen it even from a distance.

Naruto glanced at the plate of food, felt his mouth water, but tried to strengthen his resolve. The smell was so delicious and warm. He closed his eyes but it only made it worse. Sweet spices assaulted his senses.

Suddenly a thought came to him. He needed to eat in order to keep his strength up, didn't he? So if he was going to try and escape it would be better to have a full stomach…

Gingerly, he inched forward and grasped the plate. Slowly he pulled it closer, half thinking that it would be yanked out of his hand, but the man made no move to stop him. Shooting looks to the hunter, he began to eat. Stuffing meat and vegetables into his mouth as fast as he could, chewing little, and swallowing chunks whole, barely tasting anything. It was only when he was three fourths of the way done that he finally slowed down, chewing the food thoroughly and tasting the delicious spices that seasoned the meat. Once finished he set the plate back in its original spot not noticing the brief flicker of upturned lips on the hunters face.

Feeling lethargic, the small fox curled up in the corner that he was in and drifted off to sleep again.

Sasuke took care of the dishes, handing them off to a boy that would wash and return them. Sasuke approached the sleeping fox soundlessly, the gold band in hand. The sedative from the dart would continue working through the fox's system for the next few days keeping his energy low. He knelt to the side of the fox and gently lifted the wrist and slipped the tracking cuff onto it latching it in place.

A mumble escaped pink lips and the fox shifted so that he was lying on his back. Sasuke looked the now still form over, watching the chest rise and fall evenly before drifting down the rest of him. He reached out and stroked the blond locks with a sure hand and heard a small purr rumble from the boy.

****

Sasuke woke slowly the next morning, feeling lethargic and heavy. A weight was settled over his chest and he looked down to see a mop of golden hair filling his vision. Sasuke's lips curled slightly at the sight. Sometime during the night the small kit had been drawn to his warmth. The fox was now lying curled against his side with his head pillowed on Sasuke's chest.

Reluctant to move, Sasuke lifted his hand and fingered the light strands, feeling how soft they were against his fingers. It was almost like stroking a rabbit's hide; they were that smooth and silky. He could now see why the foxes were so prized.

A low moan drifted to his ears and it took him a few seconds to realize that it came from the boy he was petting. The sound was seductive and exotic to Sasuke's ears and it took some of his will power not to respond with his own moan. It was bad enough that his body was reacting. Sasuke needed to move so that he didn't give himself away.

He slowly pushed the fox away then slid a pillow under his head before getting up. The little fox had a frown on his face for a moment before his features smoothed out as he drifted into a deeper sleep. Sasuke gave a small sigh of relief before he went in search of breakfast. He also needed to tell Orochimaru that he was leaving, going back to his home.

He spotted Neji sitting regally in a streamer of sunlight.

"Neji," he called. The man stood and strode over to Sasuke. "Would you fetch some breakfast for me and the fox, please? I need to go talk to Orochimaru."

"Sure, anything in particular that you want?" Neji asked smoothly tossing a strand of his long brown hair over his shoulder.

"If there are any tomatoes left, I would like a couple."

"Alright." The lithe man strode away and Sasuke saw his little cousin dart out from behind a tent and scramble after him. He was sure that she would question Neji about what Sasuke wanted and the fox.

Sasuke walked in the opposite direction toward the biggest tent in the clearing. He tossed back the flap and entered without being announced. He looked around the tent to see Kabuto, Orochimaru's aid and occasional lover, preparing their breakfast.

"Such rudeness," the man commented lightly, he was used to Sasuke's harsh attitude towards his caretaker.

"Where is he?" Sasuke asked insolently.

"For that attitude, I shouldn't tell you," Kabuto muttered just as uncivil.

"Tell me, or I will cut your balls off. You don't need them for Orochimaru's needs."

Kabuto just waved the comment away. "Fine. He's out looking for the rest of that group. There was another young fox with them. Not as valuable as the golden one but it should fetch a handsome price no less."

"When he gets back, tell him that I've left."

"Why, I thought that you wanted to learn from him?"

"I've surpassed him so I don't need to stay."

"Where are you going?"

Sasuke knew that Kabuto was searching for information. If he could let Orochimaru know of Sasuke's plans then they could scoop the commission out from under him.

"I'm going home for a few days to rest them I'm heading towards Rock Country. I've been commissioned to find a turtle." Sasuke turned on his heal and left just as unceremoniously as he arrived.

He found Neji standing just outside the tent with one steaming plate of scrambled eggs and ham. He frowned at the plate then looked at Neji in question as to where the other plate was. Neji motioned to the tent with a little smile.

"He seemed hungry," the cat stated then handed Sasuke his plate.

A loud thump was heard from inside the tent, startling Sasuke who flipped the tent flap back letting the morning light in.

The fox was on his back with his feet tucked against the cuff as he tried to pry his hand out of it. The boy must have realized what it was because he was struggling furiously with it. Blood seeped down his arm from a deep gouge in his wrist. Sasuke knew that he'd gotten the injury trying to get the cuff off. Frowning he watched, the boy tugging futilely, little growls escaping his lips.

Sasuke shoved the plate back into Neji's hands and entered the tent in order to stop the fox from hurting him self further. He grabbed the boy's wrist and moved it from his feet ducking as one of the limbs tried to connect with his head. Twisting his body and pulling on the cuffed arm he was able to flip the boy over onto his stomach being careful not to hurt the fox by pressing on the wound.

"Let go!" the boy shouted in distress.

Sasuke shocked at the husky voice that came from the fox, stilled. He knelt with the boy straddled between his legs with the boy's arm shoved into his shoulder blade. He could feel the heat that came off the fox's body and felt his own temperature rise.

"He can talk," Neji said evenly having watched the entire scene from the opening of the tent.

"Hn," Sasuke grunted in response to the obvious.

"Get off, you bastard!" The boy screeched loudly.

"He's really loud too," Neji commented, snitching a piece of ham off the plate he held and nibbling on it idly.

"Hn."

Sasuke leaned over the boy. "I'll get off if you agree to not try and take the cuff off. You'll just cause greater injury if you do."

The boy growled low in his throat and Sasuke had to suppress a shudder.

Naruto panted trying to get more air into his lungs but the Uchiha's weight on him depressed his diaphragm preventing him form getting a full breath. He tried to wriggle but the pressure on his arm increased and he bit back a whimper at the pain. Instead he quickly weighed his options. He agreed but he would be stuck with a virtual collar around his throat. He could not agree and see how long the Uchiha could hold him. Or he could try and fight the painful hold and possibly end up seriously hurt. He was very tempted to go with option two though…

"Neji, get me some rope," the man above him ordered.

…Okay, that didn't sound good.

"Fine! I'll not try getting the cuff off!" he shouted.

"Good."

Naruto was immediately turned loose. He gasped in air and felt nearly light headed at the influx of oxygen. He sat up and glared at the Uchiha who was now standing over him with his arms folded in triumph. God, Naruto wanted to swipe that superior smirk off the hunter face. Instead, he closed his eyes and sank into the pain he hadn't had a chance to think about until now.

A low whimper barely heard left Naruto's throat as he thought about the past two days. These hunters had killed his family and now he was their prisoner…their pet. The offensive word played about in his head and fear followed the overwhelming grief. He dropped onto his side as sobs caught in his throat. He curled into a fetal position and tucked his legs against his chest securing them with his arms. He buried his mouth against his knee and bit it. It felt like an unfathomable blackness enveloped him. And he dove deeper into its cold embrace.

He felt a hand drift through his hair as though to offer comfort but he didn't acknowledge it. Everything seemed to blur together in a haze. He was dimly aware of movement around him and the sounds of people talking but they didn't register on his despairing mind. His dad had said that they would find him, but he knew better. He would never see them again; never feel the arms of his mother wrap around him in comfort, love, just because. He would never see his dad smiling at him or lifting a hand to ruffle his hair. He'd never hear their warm voices blending as they told him they loved him. A tear slipped past his defenses unnoticed to trace across his nose and drip into the blanket under him.

The glitter of reflected light didn't escape Sasuke's keen gaze. He frowned puzzled by this boy. The sedative should have kept him calm. He shouldn't have been able to produce enough strength to hurt himself or struggle against Sasuke. The drug was designed to kick in and render its victim unconscious when adrenaline entered the blood stream. So why wasn't the boy snoozing away on the blanket where he lay? Why didn't in essence drop off when Sasuke grabbed him? And most importantly, why did that tear rip at his heart?

Sasuke approached the fox only to find him in a near catatonic state. The boy's eyes were open but nothing was going to get a response out of him until the boy was ready. Sasuke sighed. This was going to make the journey that much harder on everyone involved.

"Neji!" Sasuke looked over to where the man was just finishing the last of the ham on the plate. Startled Neji looked up at Sasuke then down at the plate.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! It was just there and smelled so nice…"

"Forget that. How is Hinata at healing injured animals, I know that she was supposed to have been learning?"

"She's okay, not the best but not the worst either."

"That's fine. I just need someone to help with…the fox." Sasuke realized that he didn't know the fox's name and made a mental note to ask when the fox 'woke up'.

"Well, you'll have to get permission from our owner…"

"Yes, yes, where is she?"

Getting directions from Neji, Sasuke set off in search of the Hyuga's elusive owner. He approached the odd tent. It was made from paper but specially coated to keep out wind and rain. Staring at the oddity he strode forward and called out to the occupant.

"Enter," a light feminine voice called from inside. Well, at least Neji wasn't wrong as to where the woman was.

He stepped into the tent surprised at how well lit it was. Apparently the paper construction allowed the light through instead of keeping it out like the fabric of his tent did. But he still wasn't to sure about its reliability in transportation and durability.

Konan stood at the opposite end of the tent before a table. She appeared to be examining herbs that were drying on racks. The herbs had been gathered along the way and she would gather more on the way back. Her duties for Orochimaru worked in her favor. Not only was she providing a service to the man by giving him some of the best trackers but she also was able to gather exotic herbs that normally would cost her a handsome price if she bought them from a traveling herbalist.

"I would like to purchase Neji and Hinata from you," Sasuke said getting straight to the heart of the matter.

"Oh? But Orochimaru needs them."

"Has Orochimaru used them on this hunt so far?"

"Well, no…but he paid for the services."

"Then just reimburse him for the services and I will pay not only the price for the two cats but also double his fee for the service." Sasuke wasn't wealthy but he could certainly afford what he was offering.

Konan seemed to think about his offer, weighing the money he was offering and the money that she could off of Orochimaru. The two cats, Sasuke knew, were highly valuable but Konan still had Hinata's sire and dame, plus a younger sister.

"Neji is an experienced tracker who is unsurpassed so his asking price is higher that Hinata's. For both I would let them go for 10 million ryos. Orochimaru paid 5000 ryos a day for the tracking fee for a week so you pay 10 thousand which is 70 thousand."

Sasuke nearly smirked in triumph as he handed over a bag of ryos. It wasn't nearly as pricey as he had expected but it was close. 10.07 million ryos wasn't something to sneeze over. He had just obtained one very skilled tracker plus two highly breed-able cats. He left Konan to deliver the returned fee to Kabuto since Orochimaru was out and returned once again to find that his caravan was ready and waiting.

Neji and Hinata were also there which didn't surprise him. The older cat was very intelligent and knew that Sasuke was going to purchase them. He also wasn't surprised to find Hinata hovering over the golden fox who was now occupying a liter. He just hoped that the black haired cat could keep him alive until they arrived at his home.

^_^

A/N:Oh, noes! What is going to happen to poor Naruto? I have a question...how do we know that tomatoes are Sasuke's favorite fruit? Is it mentioned in the manga and I just over looked such a trivial thing, or did someone (writing fanfiction) just decide arbitrarily to make it so and the rest of us just followed along?

Huh, only 6,800+ words...I was kind of expecting more... So how do you like it? Well, like I warned, it is unbeta'd...I just can't seem to get anyone to reply to my messages. WAIT!!! Don't run off yet! Please leave a review and make this underpaid author happy! just press the button at the bottom with the green lettering (no I'm not going to tell you its pretty)!

Well, to let everyone know...I have a website! It for my original stories...no, no naruto stories will be showing up there, so if anyone is interested go check it out!!!! Its at http:// zenerific1. webs. com - (no spaces).