DNON

A/N-Happy Holidays, everyone!

I'm so happy to be back! Now that fall is passing and winter's setting in I get more time to work on my stories and find time to read my favorite authors. Ack! I'm so far behind!

I'm working on updating Gravity next, then I'm gonna dig into my other stories. My lovely beta's making sure that I catch up on everything.

I want to thank Sakura's Unicorn for cracking the whip at me. I love to write, but life catches me up, and I forget to sit down and take a little time for my passion. She always whacks some sense back into me.

I also want to thank another friend who, funny enough, goes by the name Kakashi online. He gave me some inspiration for part of this chapter and I used one of his poetic turns of phrase about his muse, Icha-Icha, with his permission of course. Believe me, it was an entertaining conversation, lol.

Lastly, I want to thank you guys for reading my stories and sharing your reviews with me. I enjoy them very much. I hope you enjoy the new, extra long chapter.

Thanks!

K&K

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Cat-O-Nine Tails

Chapter 35—Old Friends

Tsunade's eyebrow twitched in irritation and she slammed her hand on the desk hard enough to crack it. 'Shit,' she thought. 'Shizune's going to pitch a fit.'

"Believe it or not, I've handled the position of Hokage just fine for several years. And I've managed that without locking up my ninja or corralling them inside the village."

"Danzo-sama only has the best interests of—"

"Danzo's despotic dictations will drive this village into the—" Tsunade paused, holding her hand to her head. "You'll have to excuse me, Homura-san. I suddenly have a splitting headache." She pressed the intercom on her desk. "Shizune, please show the Council out." She turned to the Elders, smiling. "Thank you for all your guidance. I'll take it under advisement and have an answer soon."

'When hell freezes over,' she thought, snarling at the old badgers' backs as they left. She massaged her temples. The officious oldies really had given her a headache, she thought as she checked her drawer and found nothing but an empty sake bottle.

'Shizune found my stash again, damn it!'

Tsunade opened the window in the corner of her office for some fresh air. "Ugh!" She stepped back when rain blew in sideways. "It's raining cats and dogs out here!"

Just as she was about to slam down the pane, she spied a soggy feline huddled on the corner of the slanted roof. "How long have you been sitting out here, Uchiha Itachi?"

The black cat's ear twitched, flicking water from it. "Long enough to hear you berate the Council of Elders for meddling, Hokage-sama." He coughed weakly.

"You heard nothing, young man." She smirked, picking up the soaking, shivering feline and depositing him on her desk. "Sakura's going to skin you alive for getting yourself into this condition, you know."

"Hn," Itachi grunted. "It was unavoidable. I was following a group of suspicio-us persons who attempted to enter the village this morning."

"Suspicious, eh?" she asked, looking through her drawers for something to dry him off with. "And do you happen to know who these persons are?"

"They were traveling with Sasuke before Sakura captured him."

"His team is looking for him?" Tsunade stood up with a towel in her hand, looking slightly concerned. "It was only a matter of time before someone came sniffing around I guess."

"The female with them is a tracker ninja. They're camping on the east side of the forest, outside of the village," Itachi began as he recalled tracking Team Taka this afternoon for the Hokage.

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Once Taka moved from Konoha's bustling main gates to the woods, the silent member of the trio seemed to relax even though the other two didn't change their behavior. Itachi got the feeling he didn't care for crowds.

As the tall boy leaned against a tree trunk, birds and small animals gravitated toward him, landing on his outstretched fingers and playing at his feet. The tiny sparrows flitting back and forth calmed the boy, but they were a rather irritating distraction to Itachi in his feline form. It was hard to stay focused while his eyes instinctively followed their movements.

"I'm hungry," Karin whined.

"Then eat."

"I'm sick of trail rations."

"I'm sick of you."

"You are such an idiot!" she huffed. "Why didn't you just surrender your sword at the gate? They would've given it back when we left! I could be sitting at a nice restaurant right now."

"Shut up! What do you know? They probably say crap like that just before they lock you up in a cell and throw away the key!"

A squirrel chattered and squeaked at Juugo before jumping from his shoulder and racing off. "Guys…"

"What self-respecting ninja is gonna just hand over his weapons, woman?"

"Respect?" Karin sneered. "Who respects you?"

"Uh, guys…" Juugo scratched his head, trying to figure out how to get their attention as yet another bird landed on his shoulder, twittering in his ear. He checked the sky, sighed and nodded, thanking the little sparrow before it flew off.

Itachi's Sharingan picked up on the anxious bird's faint trail of yellow chakra as it joined blues, greens, and reds dancing in the branches above. 'Why have I never noticed the chakra signatures of small animals before?' he wondered. 'Maybe it's these feline senses—they seem to be incredibly attuned to the barely perceptible chakra in the twitch of a squirrel's tail or in the flit of a bird's wing.'

"And why the hell can't you find Sasuke anyhow?" Suigetsu's booming accusation cut off Itachi's train of thought. "What happened to all that crap about—" his voice became high pitched and whiny, "'Oh, I can fine my Sasuke-kun anywhere!'"

"It's not my fault, asshole. That witch put a spell on him!" Karin wailed, pulling her hair. "This morning, I could feel him clear as day and then…he was just gone!" Karin whined.

The seal she'd given her love had vanished, too, about half an hour before she lost all trace of Sasuke's chakra. Of course, with her extraordinary abilities, she didn't need the seal to find him, but it had marked him as hers and hers alone—and now it was gone!

An idea came to Itachi then, just as the heavens opened up and it started to pour.

The Mist ninja laughed, raising his face to the rain as the redhead screamed. Juugo pulled his cloak over his head, plodding off toward the shelter that the animals told him about, unsure whether his two noisy teammates would follow.

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"I think I know why the tracker ninja is having problems pinpointing Sasuke's whereabouts, Hokage-sama." Itachi sneezed, shook the water from his ears, and allowed Tsunade to dry his fur with a towel. "Sasuke's team won't leave until they find him, but I have an idea of how to keep him hidden until they can be taken care of."

"All right. I'll send an ANBU unit to check them out," she decided. "You should warn Sasuke again that if he gets too far away from either me or Sakura, he'll remain a cat forever." Tsunade mumbled absently, listening to the broken wheeze coming from Itachi's lungs. The glow of healing chakra lit her hands. "As for you, Uchiha Itachi, sit still."

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Sakura leaned back on the door after Neji left, closed her eyes, and heaved a sigh of relief. When she opened them again, Sasuke was sitting in front of her, staring with that crabby puss.

'He's been through the wringer today, too,' her Inner reminded. Sasuke had been jabbed with needles, half drowned, and locked in the bathroom. 'Plus, you do owe him big time for saving you from the Kissing Bandit.'

Sakura snorted at her Inner's nickname for Neji.Who would've thought an ice-cold Hyuuga would be so amorous?

"Ah, thanks for the save, Sasuke-kun." She tried to smile a bit. "Now, can we please forget this day ever happened?"

"Hn." He flicked his ear in irritation and walked away.

Sakura shook her head. 'Great, now Sasuke will be even more cross. I'll get that Ino-pig if it's the last thing I do,' she thought. 'Maybe some blue dye will end up in her shampoo.' She savored the sweet taste of revenge. 'I feel awful that Neji might've been led to believe I want to marry him. Other than being ninja, the two of us really have nothing in common. What was Ino thinking?!'

'Even you can see that Neji is handsome. Ino was thinking with her hormones, as usual,' her Inner said.

Sakura waved her hand, dismissing Sasuke's sour kitty face and all thoughts of being sucked into the Hyuuga clan against her will through her best friend's good intentions. She picked up the teacups, setting them in the sink when someone else pounded on her door.

"If that's Neji, I'm not answering," she grumbled. There was only one irritating man she could put up with at a time and Sasuke was stuck with her. She looked through the peephole and opened the door.

"Hello, Naruto." She glanced at Sasuke who was hiding behind the chair.

"Sakura-chan! Big emergency at the hospital! Kakashi broke his skull and he needs you on the double!" Naruto's head darted around, looking behind her as he spoke.

"Really?" She watched him curiously. "I thought he left on a mission this morning?" She knew Kakashi was at the Uchiha estate.

"Ne, ne, are you alone?" Naruto whispered comically loud.

"Yes," she whispered back. "Except for you, baka."

"Oh, good." Naruto waved his hands. "Forget that then. I was just trying to give you an out in case that Hyuuga bastard was around."

She crossed her arms, raising a single pink eyebrow. "And how do you know about that?"

Naruto rubbed the back of his head, smiling sheepishly. "Well, I saw Neji stroll toward your place earlier and didn't think anything of it, but then I was at Ichiraku's, eating with Shino and Choji, when Ino came running in. She was saying how she got him to drag you out on a date." The blond boy growled. "I wanted to save you, Sakura-chan, but she wouldn't tell me where you went! So, I spent two hours checking every place in town and the last place I went to said you'd just left. So I came back here."

Sakura scoffed lightly. "So you came here to break me out, eh?"

"Yep!" Naruto grinned smugly. "I'm your knight in shining armor, dattebayo."

Sakura frowned, tapping her foot. "What if I didn't want you to?"

"Eh?!" Naruto's haughty expression dropped to the floor. "Uh…I don't know." He shrugged. "I just figured you would never want to date Neji. He's so boring, he makes Teme look like Mr. Personality and—"

Sakura interrupted him with a big hug.

"Arigato, Naruto. I wish you could have been here earlier."

"You want me to challenge him, Sakura-chan?" He grinned down at her, blue eyes twinkling. "I could kick his ass, dattebayo!"

"No, no. Don't bother." She shook her head quickly. "Neji's a smart guy. He'll get the hint pretty soon, I hope."

He frowned. "Ino said that bastard kissed you. Twice!"

"That's, um, not exactly true." She shrugged, blushing a little. Hoping to change the subject, she said, "Hey, you wanna come in and watch a movie? That way, you can be here if Neji or Ino-pig comes back." She smiled, poking him in the ribs. "If they do, they're all yours."

"You got it, Sakura-chan." Naruto's face lit up. "Got any horror?"

"Yeah. Pick something out." She locked the door. "I'll make popcorn."

Naruto hesitated, scratching his head. "Ne, Ino said something else, too."

Sakura froze halfway between the kitchen and living room.

"She said you have a cat named Sasuke."

'That blabbermouth Ino-pig!' Sakura exhaled. At least her irritating best friend hadn't said anything about Sakura having sex with Neji. 'Throwing condoms on my nightstand right in front of Sasuke—what must he think?!' Her eye twitched. 'I'm so gonna kill her!'

"I do. He's around here somewhere." She shrugged, trying to act indifferent. "Naruto, I'm going to get out of this silly dress. Be right back." Sakura went into her room to change into pajamas.

"A cat named Sasuke, eh?" The blond mused, watching her go. "You must really miss Teme, Sakura-chan." Naruto flipped through the stack of videos they'd seen many times before yelling down the hall. "Hey, how about Killer Clown Ninjas from Mars, dattebayo?"

"Naruto, you hate clowns," she groaned, coming from her room in pajamas. "They give you nightmares."

"Not always." He grinned insolently. "Just if I eat lots of ramen before bed."

"When don't you eat lots of…ugh, nevermind." She gave up. "Put it in. Do you want a beer?"

"Sure." He flicked on the TV. "Ne, too bad Kakashi's gone. He could come over, too."

"Yeah. I know he'll be back in a couple of days, though," she informed him, wishing she could just tell him the truth. "Then we can have another movie night."

"Okay. Maybe we can all bring dates," he snickered. "You can bring Hyuuga Stick-Up-His-Arrogant-Ass-san."

"No way, baka!" She shook her head. "And that's not nice. Ino told me his uncle's forcing him to find a wife. Poor thing. He probably wouldn't even look at me twice if he wasn't so desperate."

"Nah, you're a good catch." Naruto flopped on the couch, his arms behind his head, leaning back. "Pretty. Smart. You're the best doctor around—'sides baachan—and you have good political ties. I'm surprised more clansmen aren't after you to make little pink-haired babies." He waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.

"Ugh." She wrinkled her nose at the thought. "Please don't say that."

"That's all right, Sakura-chan." He grinned assuredly. "Kakashi-sensei and I'll drive them all away until Sasuke comes home, tebayo. Unless you've changed you mind and want to marry me instead?" he teased good-naturedly.

She frowned, wondering if Sasuke was listening. "Shut up, Naruto no baka."

He chuckled, putting his feet up on the coffee table. "Ne, do you think Teme thinks about us much?"

She shrugged lightly. "Sometimes, sure."

"Hey, is that your cat?"

"Yeah," she said, smiling softly. "That's Sasuke-kun."

Naruto noticed the affectionate look in her eye when she smiled at the cat. 'Does she miss Sasuke so much she'd name her pet after him?' he thought worriedly. 'Maybe she might be better off going out with a few sticks-in-the-mud to get her mind off him.' But when he imagined Sakura dating, his face twisted. 'Nah!'

"He kinda looks like the bastard." He grinned. "Hey, Teme."

The cat sat on the arm of the chair, ignoring him completely.

"Oh, yeah. Just like that arrogant asshole," he said with a chuckle. "Now I see why you named him Sasuke."

"Che," she scoffed. "Shut up and watch the movie, Naruto." Sakura pressed the play button as she lay down on the couch, using his knee as a pillow.

He raptly watched the movie until a particularly creepy clown jumped up on the screen. "Ew!" Naruto cried, holding his bottle in front of him to block out the disturbing image and looking away from the television. It was then that he noticed Sakura was already asleep. He spied her cat sitting on the edge of a chair.

"Come here, Teme. You can sit by us." He patted the couch in front of Sakura and, after a minute or so, Sasuke jumped up next to her. Naruto set down a coaster with beer in it and a handful of popcorn. "Don't tell Sakura I gave you this. She'll scalp me, tebayo."

Sasuke was silent, choosing instead to drink from the coaster.

"Oh, man." Naruto stretched out and leaned back on the cushion, being careful not to move Sakura too much. "We've both been so busy. We hardly get to go out on missions together anymore. I gotta figure out how to keep her away from Neji. She'd die of boredom being married to that stuffed shirt," he groaned. "I bet he'd put her out to pasture in the Hyuuga compound and make her have a bunch of kids. You don't ever see the Hyuuga wives come out of that place. She'd be better off with Rock Lee than him. Although, we both know who her heart is set on."

Sasuke finished his saucer of beer and looked up, licking his chops. Naruto refilled his coaster.

"Damn, I miss the old Team Seven. When we get back together we're gonna be the most ass kicking-est team in the five nations. Believe it, Teme."

The cat watched him silently, considering. The tip of his tail swung back and forth.

"Man, you really do remind me of Sasuke," the blond said through a yawn. "She really misses that bastard, you know. We all do." Naruto tucked his hands behind his head and closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep. Just before he fell out, he swore he heard Sasuke.

"Dobe."

"Teme," he mumbled, snoring loudly.

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Kakashi walked back into the house at the unusually quiet Uchiha district and found Sai in the living room, reading one of his how-to books. The boy was surrounded by Akatsuki criminals who'd been turned into cats. He glanced at the title in Sai's hand.

How To Please Your Pussy

The copy-nin slapped his hand over his good eye and sighed. "Sai-kun…I don't think that's appropriate reading material for work."

The pale ANBU looked up from chapter five and smiled emotionlessly. Deidara sat on the right arm of the sofa, his long, orange tail swinging with interest as he scanned the pages with bright his blue eyes. Kakuzu and Hidan peered from the back of the couch—Kakuzu looking mildly bored while Hidan nudged the back of Sai's head whenever he finished a page. Kisame sat to the left of Sai, occasionally chuckling with his deep bass tone when something he read tickled him. Even Sasori sat behind the group of Akatsuki cats, high up on a bookshelf, half-asleep and seemingly disinterested, but Kakashi could see that his one eye was slit open and locked on the book in Sai's lap.

On top of the bookcase, Tobi glowered at the lot of them, his tail twitching in irritation and a soft, low growl rumbling in his throat. Kakashi watched for a few moments, observing the odd demeanor before Tobi noticed him. His entire personality did a one-eighty.

"Tobi can't see!" the marbled black and orange cat yelled as he leapt down between the Zombie Twins, who batted him out of the way. When he then tried to usurp Deidara's spot, the blue-eyed cat swatted him thoroughly, making him tumble from the sofa. Tobi whined about being a good boy as he climbed back up to sit next to Kisame.

"Good day, Hatake-san. I had thought to read up on the care and training of cats." As he held the book up to mark the page and close it, Deidara stuck his six-toed paw between the pages, preventing him from shutting the book. Sai opened it back up for the cats to see. "They seem to enjoy it." Sai hooked his thumb back at the cats flocked around him. "Unfortunately, this book has nothing to do with felines, although the statement on the dust jacket says—"

"I know what it says, Sai. No need to share."

Sai looked mildly surprised. "So you've read this volume? I was under the impression that you read nothing save for the perverted Sennin's pornography?"

Kakashi's eye twitched. "No, Sai, I haven't read it. I read the summary on the back of that book. And Jiraiya-sama doesn't write porn," he said seriously, his eyes alight with memories of his treasured tales. "His books are jam-packed with wonderful stories of couples falling in love." Kakashi held his hand to his heart as he spoke passionately. "They are filled with relatable topics and issues couples are facing currently in the real world—all due to Jiraiya-sama's relentless research," he finished dramatically. "Anyway, Sai, what made you think this book was about cats?" A few of the cats snickered—Kisame and Deidara in particular.

"At the bookstore I overheard two jounin discussing it. One of them said he had his sweet, little pussy tamed three days after reading it. He said she was an impossible hellcat before, but after he followed the instructions in the book, he had her purring like a kitten for him."

Kakashi slapped his forehead.

"I'd say the method is a success, Hatake-san, judging from the calm demeanor of most of the prisoners at the moment."

"Quit your fucking supposing and turn the damn page already!" Hidan swatted Sai's head impatiently.

Shrugging, he turned the page. "At least, most of them are calm. I'd say there's about an eight-five percent success rate. "

"Sai-kun…that's…"

"Not only that," Sai added, pointing at the page, "it says here that shaving your pussy is a very pleasant experience." Sai turned his emotionless gaze toward Hidan. The purple-eyed cat was clueless.

A few of the feline criminals broke out in a fresh chorus of snickers.

"I give up." Kakashi left to find Yamato.

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Naruto was the first to wake up, courtesy of the kink in his neck. He grunted as he opened his eyes to see Sakura's fuzzy, black cat curled in her arms, purring contentedly, while she slept soundly.

"Eh, too bad it isn't that easy to catch Sasuke," he grumbled and the cat picked up his head, looking around. Naruto used the remote to flip off the TV.

"Watch this, Teme." He carefully arranged pieces of popcorn on Sakura's eyelids and cheeks then grabbed Sasuke's tail, using it to tickle her nose. Sakura awoke when she slapped herself.

"Damn it, Naruto!" she groused, dusting smashed popcorn off her face and shirt. Sasuke jumped down as Naruto laughed.

"What? We were just having a little fun."

"…we?"

"Teme and me."

Sakura turned swiftly to see Sasuke sitting next to the chair, staring at her silently—a barely noticeable shake of his head told her that he had not spilled their secret to their clueless teammate. She sighed, knowing that if Naruto found out, he would blab to everyone how Sasuke was back and they'd never be able to keep the situation under wraps.

"Go home, Naruto."

"No way! It's too early." He stretched out, taking her warm spot on the couch. "Ne, let me sleep a few more hours, dattebayo."

Glancing at the clock to see it was three a.m., she relented. "Fine, but you've got to vacuum this mess up in the morning. Goodnight." She threw a blanket at him and went to her own room, shutting the door.

"Ne, Sasuke-kun, you didn't say anything, right?"

"Hn."

She climbed into bed, turning out the light. By the moonlight coming in through the window, she saw Sasuke jump on the end of her bed and get comfortable.

"Good. You know how bad he is at keeping secrets. You spill and he'll be hanging with you every minute of every day." She smirked at him as he flicked his ear at the irritating thought. "I'll make sure of it," she promised.

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