Twin1: Hey, does anyone know the official name for the jinchuuriki of the Rokubi, the six-tailed demon? We have a pretty picture, but I can't find his name anywhere, and he doesn't wear a nametag… I didn't like having to make one up…
Okay, now, before we get onto anything serious, the warnings for this story are very important:
Dogtags is not a story for the young or the easily upset. It contains coarse language, violence, and adult themes… okay, it's mostly the themes that are the issue here, as it's not particularly graphic (most of the time, anyway), but there are very strong themes of slavery in this story. Likewise, there is some violence, and a fair bit of cursing, making this a story that really shouldn't be read by anyone under fifteen.
Trust us, people. This story can be very disturbing, and while it is rated 'T', you should approach it with caution. You may find that your opinion of a T-rating is different to ours.
Blue-red eyes widened in alarm and their owner rapidly backpedalled on all fours, away from the falling branch. Dirty nails clutched at the trunk of the tree as a huge bough tumbled through the branches above him.
The creature ducked his head, hunkered against the rough tree bark as the falling branch passed him and hit the ground.
A moment of silence, then the bright red-ringed-blue eyes slitted open and a small figure crept forwards, still on all fours, cautiously curious. He scowled and tipped his head back, quickly finding the sheepish face above him.
"Uh… Sorry?" the face offered, blonde hair hanging down around her face. The younger one on the lower branch scowled.
"You nearly killed me!" he complained, the words unpractised and choppy, as if he wasn't used to speaking. The accusation was ended with a squeaky growl.
"I didn't try to!" his companion replied, swinging down to land on the lower branch next to the male. "I thought it would hold. And there was a whole nest of eggs on it, too!" She wrinkled her nose, put out.
"I'm hungry," her companion whined. The female placed her arm around him, purring comfortingly in the back of her throat.
"I know, Naru-kit," she murmured.
A quick whistle made the blonde pair glance around. A man with brown-black hair in his late twenties was standing at the base of the tree, cocking his head as he looked up at them curiously.
The female in the tree broke into a smile. "Mirasu!" she exclaimed, jumping down to land lightly beside him. He flinched back from her when she landed too close, but calmed quickly.
"Hello, Yugito," he said tolerantly. "Why is the child still up there?" he asked, gesturing the boy still suspended in the branches above them. Yugito scoffed.
"Oh, he's just pouting because I almost killed him again," she said flippantly. "Nearly smashed him with a tree branch. Good thing he can dodge, ne?"
This statement, of course, caused the boy to pout in true seven year old fashion, thus proving Yugito right.
"Come on down, kit," he called. "I have food!"
The boy's tan face lit up and in less time than it took to blink, he was next to the older male, impatiently pawing through Mirasu's clothing for the promised food.
Mirasu flinched again and stepped back swiftly, a deceptively slim hand snapping out to fend off the blonde with surprising strength, shoving the young chest and sending him stumbling backwards a few steps.
The kid pouted more.
Mirasu relaxed, his easy-but-guarded smile returning as he held up a pair of dead cottontails by their ears. "Won't be cooked for a while, kit," he said. "Unless you want 'em raw."
The child looked like he was seriously considering it, but Yugito reached out and elbowed Mirasu hard, taking the rabbits in the same movement.
"We're not eating them raw," she said firmly. Her eyes flicked to the youngest of the three. "We are not animals," she added just as firmly. Then her tone lightened. "Besides, raw meat is gross. Here, Naruto, chew on these until it's cooked."
She held out a fistful of sweet berries, and the feral boy she'd called 'Naruto' smiled and accepted them, sinking down to sit on the damp forest floor to eat them without a second thought. He dumped the handful in his lap and began eating them one by one.
The child out of the way, Yugito shoved the rabbits back into Mirasu's hands and said, "You. Cook these. Hurry up: we're hungry!"
She sat down next to the blonde child, draping one arm around his shoulders. Humming a little, she tapped his right shoulder with her hand as it rested there, and he looked at the limb, his attention attracted by the gesture.
Quick as a flash, while Naruto was looking the wrong way, Yugito stole some of the berries from his lap and shoved them into her mouth in time to block an instant attack from the brat in question.
"Falls for it every time!" she chortled, fingers working to disengage his teeth and claws from her arm.
"I hate you!" Naruto shouted without meaning it, letting her go.
"You do not, kit," Yugito said tolerantly, ruffling his shaggy golden hair, seemingly unperturbed by the puncture wounds on her arm. He scowled at her, before breaking out of it to smile.
His hand went to reach for another of the bright red berries that had already stained his lap and mouth, but it changed its mind at the last minute and instead shot up to tug at the collar encircling his neck.
About an inch in width, the collar was a thick metal circle that lay snug against the child's throat. It was sticky and uncomfortable in the summer and a band of ice in the winter, but always causing some form of discomfort. The smooth band had no buckle or seam, nothing to betray how it had gotten there in the first place. A small ring fixed to the metal was the only thing that marred the smooth object. A length of grubby, frayed rope was secured to the ring, too firmly for Naruto to untie, about thirty centimetres long. The end was scraggly and hardened – it looked like it had been gnawed through.
Yugito watched him tug at the annoying object irritably, her hand snaking up to touch her own neck. She had an identical collar there. They all did.
Mirasu chose that moment to thud down beside the blondes. He smiled and held out a pair of slightly blackened, Katon'ed rabbits.
"Cooked!" he exclaimed proudly. Naruto instantly abandoned tugging fruitlessly at his collar and visibly lit up as he reached for food.
As it turned out, 'cooked' was a bit of a stretch. Burnt on the outside and all but raw on the inside, the three companions ate quickly without complaining. Mirasu was never particularly gifted at Katon jutsu, and he'd had scarce opportunity to practice it since he was nine.
None of them really cared, though. They all ended up fed.
A few minutes of silence later, the rabbits had disappeared, and three happy companions sat side-by-side on the ground. Naruto was chewing on some limb that no-one really wanted to think too hard about, and Yugito was occupying herself by running her fingers through his blonde hair, working tangles out of it.
Mirasu was dozing, tired after their adventure last night. He slipped to the side a little as he nodded, sleep closing in on him.
Then, in a heartbeat, he had sat straight up, instantly wide awake, Yugito had snatched her hands back and was staring with wide brown eyes and Naruto froze mid-chew.
The sound that had affected them all so echoed through the trees again: a quavering, high-pitched note that sounded like a mixture between a whistle and a bugle cry. This time, it had the opposite affect on the three sitting together as they burst into motion, leaping to their feet and looking at each other with panicked expressions. The youngest one, Naruto, made as if to move towards the sound, but he was grabbed by both his older companions. The eldest two exchanged grim looks before gathering together and racing away through the trees, away from the noise, dragging their confused charge with them.
A sharp whistle rent the air as the sound came again, and a voice echoed after them. "Hey! Here boys, girl! Time to come home now! Whee-EEEE!!" He whistled again. "Come on, where are you?"
Naruto stumbled and fell when he heard how close behind them their pursuers were, confusion dancing through his eyes. Mirasu grabbed the back of his shirt and hauled him back to his feet, pushing him to urge him to continue running.
The bugle-sound came again, and then another voice said, "They probably can't hear us."
"But look at these tracks; they can't be far!" protested the first voice.
"Go left!" hissed Mirasu, taking up the rear. "There's a stream!"
The trio swerved to the left, sprinting through the trees as quickly as they could while leaving as little evidence of their passing as possible. Yugito led, pushing branches aside, and Mirasu ensured that Naruto followed close behind her.
The pursuer's voices were calling again.
"Here, boys! Here, girl! Whee-EEE!! Where are you? Aren't you hungry? Come on home, have some dinner!"
Yugito grunted as she splashed into an icy stream and began to forge her way upstream. "Follow me and keep up," she hissed over her shoulder. The strange whistle-bugle noise sounded again.
Naruto stumbled over a slippery rock, his head slipping under the water for a brief moment before Mirasu's slender but strong arms hoisted him back above the surface, setting him back on his feet and shoving him forwards. Yugito reached back and grabbed the boy's wrist, hauling him after her even as Mirasu slipped himself and was swept backwards.
Blue eyes watched fearfully over a caramel shoulder as Naruto and Yugito clambered out of the stream, the female helping out the boy who was eleven years her junior.
"Don't look back," she hissed, tugging his wrist as Mirasu caught up with them, shaking water out of his ears. "Just run."
"Where are we going?" Mirasu asked from behind. Yugito hesitated briefly before replying.
"There are some caves up in the hills – I saw them when we were looking for food earlier. If we hide in them until the Handlers are gone-"
"Lead the way," the eldest one cut in, a hand already pushing Naruto to start him moving. Yugito took off again at a run.
"It's okay, little ones!" the second pursuer was shouting now too. "Come on out; it's okay! It's just us! You know us, remember? Come on, there's no need to be afraid!"
Apparently the trio in question did not feel this to be true: the terror on all three faces told that easily enough even as they took to the treetops.
The odd noise sounded again, and Naruto shivered as what he simply dubbed the 'Call' tugged at his soul.
"Maybe…" he ventured, sounding as tentative as was possible while running like all hell, "Maybe we should just go back…"
Yugito did a double take that almost caused her to miss the next branch. "Bite your tongue!" she hissed over her shoulder. "We're not going back!"
"But-" protested Naruto, gritting his teeth as the Call reached his ears again. He had never not raced directly to the Handlers when they sounded the Call before. Never. Doing so now made him feel sick, dirty and confused.
"No!" Yugito snarled furiously. "No more!"
"He's just a kid," Mirasu objected mildly, so close behind Naruto that the younger could feel his breath on his neck. "Of course he's confused by all this. When we were seven-"
"Now's not the time, Mirasu!" Yugito said, her panic evident in her voice. "We need to hurry."
They all flinched as the first Handler shouted again. "Where the hell are you?! Get here now!"
"I don't think you're helping the situation, Yasuo," the second Handler reprimanded. "Here, kit! Here, boy! Come on! Kitten! Pup!" And again he blew on his whistle, sounding the Call.
"They're getting closer," breathed Yugito, her pace quickening. Mirasu yelped as Naruto matched her, shooting away from him, and sped to catch up. Then a curse from behind informed the chasees that their chasers had followed their tracks right to the stream, and then lost them.
"This is getting ridiculous! You three! Wherever you're hiding, get here, now!!" The first Handler's tone was becoming gradually harsher as he became more and more frustrated and wet.
"Here! I found their tracks! Upstream!" called the second Handler.
Yugito whimpered slightly; the trackers had been delayed, but not by much. She ducked a low branch and found herself forced down to the ground again by the sudden arrival of thorns. It was probably best they were on the ground anyway, she grudgingly admitted, if the Handlers were going to catch up to them…
"I've had enough of this!! Kit, Cat, Ferret! You have a three second immunity!! Come back now and I won't set your collars to 'nicely cooked'!!"
There was a moment of hesitation on Mirasu's part as he – briefly – paused and considered their options, but that split-second of indecision cost him dear. Suddenly, he was in range, and his collar sparked to life.
He collapsed, twitching slightly, then lay still.
Naruto was pale as he looked back at the man who had all but raised him. He almost turned around to try and help, but Yugito grabbed his wrist and forced him forwards, forced him to abandon their companion on the forest floor.
"We can't do anything for him now!" she said, rapidly winding her way through the trees. "We just need to get to the caves. We need to hide!"
"Mirasu!" Naruto whined, his free hand reaching back futilely as if to grab for the unconscious man.
"We have one! Looks like Ferret – his collar just pulsed!"
Tears filled both sets of eyes as the two runners that were left continued without their hind guard. "Just keep going, Kit," Yugito panted. "We can't go back to-"
Naruto nodded as he was shoved in front of the woman, her hands guiding him and shunting him forwards, towards the caves that weren't too far off now.
"One down…" the second Handler's voice reached sensitive ears. "The others can't be too far away. Here, boy! Here, girl!" The Call echoed through the trees.
Naruto flinched. They were close. They were very close. And what was worse, much of himself was screaming that they just return; that they just answer the Call. He gritted his teeth and shook his head to clear the treacherous thoughts. Yugito knew what was best! He wasn't going to abandon her – not ever!
Well, not unless the Handlers tell you to… a tiny, unwelcome voice whispered in the back of his mind.
"Run, Kit!" Yugito hissed in his ear, as if sensing his inner turmoil. "Don't think, just run."
Naruto nodded and managed to somehow coax another increase in speed from his tired muscles, and Yugito fell back.
He instantly regretted leaving her when she let out a pained whimper and collapsed, her collar pulsing. She was in range.
"Another collar just lit up!" one of the Handlers announced. "Signature looks like Cat's. So it's just the little one now."
"He won't be hard to find," the other Handler said dismissively. "He's never too far from the others."
Naruto had slowed unconsciously as he hesitated, overwhelming panic threatening to swallow him. Blindly, he did the only thing he could think of and followed Yugito's last order, finding a deep cave and crawling right to the very back of it, tears finally overflowing.
"No, don't make me go back," he whimpered, curling up into a ball and wrapping his arms around his head. "Please don't make me go back there!"
He knew that it was useless. He had already figured out that hiding here was pointless – that they would find him either way. But he was tired and upset and couldn't stand the thought of keeping on running without Yugito and Mirasu, even if he had the energy to do so.
He was just tired now… so tired…
So he sat in the cave and cried. Cried as he heard heavy feet crunch the gravel and leaf litter outside. Cried as the sunlight at the front of the cave was cut off as a person stooped to look in. Cried as that person then turned to his partner and said, "He looks okay. Turn it on."
Naruto just cried as his collar began to buzz and send shock after shock of world-shattering chakra waves through him, jolting his system, fluttering his heart and shutting down his mind.
Unconsciousness was almost welcome.
He was home when he woke up.
He returned to the waking world groggily, grudgingly, not entirely willing to come forwards and face the music. His head pounded furiously with the worst sort of headache, his chest ached terribly and he felt sick to his stomach – side effects of the chakra surge.
He let out a pitiful moan as he tried to move a little, feeling the world spin around him as he did so.
"He's awake," a familiar voice said, and Naruto managed to crack open his eyes in time to see one of his Handlers – Tamasine – lean over him, pressing two firm but not rough or cruel fingers under his collar to check his pulse. "Looks to be fine."
"Good," said a second voice, and Naruto felt his heart plummet. He turned his head a little, just enough to see the man who had spoken.
He was sitting on a comfortable chair beside a table, watching the collared blonde closely. They were indoors, in one of the few rooms Naruto had ever been allowed to enter. Naruto shifted on the cold stone floor and whimpered as Tamasine reached to steady him and accidentally pressed a painful bruise. He didn't even try to maintain eye contact with Makoto-sama, instead dropping his gaze away submissively.
Makoto-sama set his cup carefully down on the table and leant forwards, elbows resting on knees and his hands clasped together before him.
"Come," he said firmly. There was no question as to whom he was talking to. Naruto forced down the ill feeling running through him and sat up, shaking his head to clear it, then scooted the six feet to Makoto-sama and readjusted his posture so he was kneeling respectfully, head bowed and hands splayed on the stone tile floor under him to help keep his balance.
Makoto-sama allowed him a moment, waiting until the blonde child was settled and still, testing his obedience for a few long seconds before he said, "What were you doing?"
Naruto bit his lip but didn't reply. His eyes were fixed on the stone floor, but he still knew that Makoto-sama was leaning forwards, watching him.
"I am very disappointed in you," he said softly. "You know the rules. You know you must stay in your cage unless a human lets you out. So why did you leave?"
Still, Naruto didn't respond. He kept his eyes down and his body still, almost praying that the whole situation would just dissolve.
"Who was it, Kit?" Master was pressing. "I know this wasn't your idea. You're a good pet; I know it wasn't you. Which one was it? Or was it both of the others, planning together?"
Naruto shook his head slightly, in denial, in a refusal to share the name of the person who had sparked the flame of rebellion.
Makoto-sama sighed heavily and leaned back. "Naruto," he said helplessly, shocking the child as he spoke his actual name, "You shouldn't have done it, little one. You know you did the wrong thing, don't you?" Naruto hesitated for a bare second before nodding his shaggy head, once. Makoto-sama ran a hand through his greying hair. "You need to be punished," he decided, slightly regretful as he saw his youngest pet tense up. He didn't like having them beaten, but they needed to learn that breaking the rules had consequences. "Your Handlers… are going to whip you," he decided. He turned his eyes from the now-shivering jinchuuriki brat to Tamasine, adding, "Five lashes without his shirt. Regular whip, across his back."
The man nodded once, indicating his understanding, and Makoto-sama used his foot to nudge the animal at his feet.
"Before I leave, pet," he began in a low voice, "Is there anything you wish to say?"
Naruto bit his lip again, considering. He knew what his master wanted, but would it be honest if he said the expected words now? No, but Naruto decided to risk the lie.
"I am sorry, Master Makoto-sama," he said, his voice wobbly. He flinched when his master's hand touched his head, briefly patting his golden hair.
"I forgive you," Master said simply, and Naruto yelped as his collar was grabbed from behind by Yasuo and he was dragged away, outside to face his punishment.
Hours later, it was dark. Naruto was curled up in the middle of a large pile of hay that was the bedding supplied in the wooden box he'd been placed in until their usual enclosure was repaired. It was warm and pitch-black, too dark for him to see even with his sharpened senses.
His back stung dully, the places where the whip had cut through his flesh smarting as they came into contact with the soft hay, but he ignored the feeling. It could have been much worse, and Naruto suspected Master had been going easy on him because of his age again.
Not that he was complaining.
Of course, he did feel a little guilty half an hour later, when the lid of the box was opened and Mirasu and Yugito were both forced in, falling with light thumps onto the hay. He could smell blood on the both of them, and he hesitantly dug himself out of the little hole he'd made in the hay, scrambling closer.
"You okay, Naruto?" was Yugito's first comment. Naruto nodded, even though she couldn't see it.
"Yes," he said simply. "S'only five 'cross my back with a normal whip. You?" He felt her wince as she hugged him gingerly.
"Twenty," she admitted. "Back. Nine-tails. I think Master figured out I was the one behind the whole thing." Naruto made a sympathetic noise and then an inquiring one. "I'm fine. Mirasu?"
"Fifteen," he replied without further prompting, "Wet whip. Chest."
That got twin squeaks of helpless empathy from both his companions. Burying himself in hay again and settling between his two packmates, Naruto couldn't help but wonder why exactly the older two continued to defy their owner. It didn't seem fair. He wantedto be a good pet and obey, but for some reason they – both of them – seemed totally unable to accept their station in life.
Maybe it's because they feel… human, Naruto mused to himself, a little shocked himself at his outrageous thoughts. But it's true. I know they don't feel like they're animals… like a dog or a fox or a… but then, does a dog or a fox or a cat or a bird think it is below a human either? Probably not. But they can't accept them as undisputed masters… maybe it's because we look like humans? That might be it.
Naruto shook his head, trying to knock the thought away. I can't be thinking like this. I'll get in trouble, he fretted childishly, and as if on cue, his back started throbbing worse than before. I just need to stop and sleep now. Yes. That's it. Sleep.
Closing his eyes in determination, Naruto tried to force his brain into shutting down. But try as he might, he couldn't drop off. Worse, he couldn't stop the little voice in his mind that whispered over and over to him.
But Mirasu and Yugito say we're human…