Hope you're doing well. Me? I've been in hellish shape this winter. Ugh! I'm finally crawling out from being a block of ice after a long winter, which still isn't quit over, seeing as how it snowed yesterday. I can't wait for a warm-up!
I want to thank those who take the time to leave me reviews for my stories. They really inspire me to keep writing even when I'm not feeling it, and I totally need that.
I also want to thank my beta, Sakura's Unicorn. Honestly, if it wasn't for her prodding me with a sharp stick, chapters would not be coming out with any regularity at all. Having four stories open at once is a lot of work and she keeps me moving along to finish them. She's a super friend—and one of the good ones, like Wonder Woman, not a lame one like Aquaman.
A few of my fics are getting close to the end, but Co9t still has a long way to go.
I hope you enjoy the update! Happy Spring!
Cat-o Nine Tails
By Kaze and Kiba
~Kill a cat and you will be cursed for seven generations—Japanese saying.
~We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best. ~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox(1850-1919)
Chapter 36—Hidden Demons
After the commotion of Hyuuga Neji hauling her out on a date then staying up late with the boys watching movies, Sakura hit the snooze button on her alarm three times before she actually woke up, still feeling lethargic. She sighed and rubbed her eyes before running her hand through her messy, pink locks.
Sasuke was sleeping, curled in a fuzzy, black ball at the end of her bed and purring so loudly, she thought for a moment that he was her alarm going off. But when she checked, the clock still had five minutes before it would buzz again. She shut off the alarm and got up to see if Naruto had left.
Sakura stretched sleepily and shuffled into the kitchen to find shredded petals strewn across the floor. Lying next to the wastebasket, she found the broken stem of the rose Neji had given her…and a note.
I swear I didn't do it! It was the cat. He's a little demon! Anyway, I'll be back with breakfast soon.
She rolled her eyes, sure that if she asked Sasuke about the rose, odds were he would blame the blond. She shrugged and cleaned up the remnants of her flower.
"Boys," she sighed. My boys, she corrected herself, half-smiling. It was nice to have them all together again, even if Naruto didn't know Sasuke was, in fact, hanging out with them. Felt a little like old times.
Knowing Naruto, she was sure he'd scarf a bowl or two of ramen before returning with breakfast, so she yawned and went back to her room. I'll just catch a cat nap before he gets back. So tired! Try as she might, she just couldn't shake off that lazy feeling.
The bang of a door slamming made Sasuke's ear twitch. One eye opened then narrowed with irritation when the loudmouth yelled for his ex-teammate.
"Sakura-chaaaan! I brought ramen! Ramen, dattebayo! And some of those mochi cakes you like! Sakura-chan! Rise and shine, sleepyhe—eh?! What's this?"
Sticking out from the pile of covers on Sakura's bed was a cat's tail, the tip of it flicking contentedly. Sasuke cursed inwardly when the blond lifted the blanket and found the tail attached to a small, white, napping cat.
"Aww! Who's this little cutie?" he asked the black cat as he snatched Sakura up. "Is she your girlfriend, Teme?"
Sasuke's tail twitched and he sat up as Sakura mewled, trying to jump from Naruto's arms.
"Hey, Sakura-chan!" he hollered, thinking the she was in the bathroom. "You never said you had two cats."
He hauled the squirming Sakura out of the room. Sasuke cursed under his breath, jumping off the bed to follow them.
Lightning flickered behind her as Tsunade walked into Sakura's apartment, a lithe, black cat darting between her ankles just as the door closed. When Itachi caught sight of the young man coming down the hall, he disappeared behind the furniture.
"Hey, Granny! What're you doing here?" Naruto asked, rubbing the white kitten behind her ears, making her purr.
Tsunade's golden eyes widened and she mumbled, "Damn it…too late."
"Too late for what? For breakfast?" He scratched his head. "Um, cause I only brought enough breakfast for two, 'tebayo." He grinned sheepishly, pointing at the hefty stack of take-out boxes on the table. "Sakura didn't say you were coming over. Do you want me to go back for more, Granny?"
The Hokage's eye twitched as the orange-clad blockhead used her least favorite nickname again.
"I am not your, nor anyone else's grandmother, brat." She looked at the food, getting an idea. "But, now that you mention it, I am hungry. Get me some ramen…now!" She plucked the cat from his arms and shoved Naruto out the door before he could protest.
Tsunade gave him a scary look and shut the door in his face. Naruto scrambled back and ran all the way to the ramen hut.
Sasuke jumped onto the back of the couch where Itachi now sat. "About time that loser left."
Setting Sakura down on a kitchen chair, Tsunade smiled at her and said, "You changed earlier than I expected even though tonight is a full moon." Sakura mewed softly in response then nosed through the bag of food, trying to paw open one of the boxes. Tsunade opened it for her and the white kitten dug into the food, purring. "What's this?" Tsunade picked up the note on the table, read it, and glared at Sasuke. "Demon, eh? Well, you little devil, what happened last night? A Team Seven reunion?"
The hair rose on Sasuke's back and he huffed, looking away uncomfortably. "No. That idiot just stopped by to watch a movie. He thinks Sakura has a new pet."
"Pets, you mean," Tsunade returned pointedly. "He'll be expecting to see Sakura and her two cats when he returns."
"I can henge as Sakura long enough to get rid of the idiot," Sasuke volunteered grudgingly. He'd done it before with nearly disastrous results, but he figured as long as he didn't have to deal with Sakura's matchmaking mother again, he could handle it.
"No. I think the little demon will have to remain a cat this time. Last time you watched over Sakura as a kitten, she was nearly lost." She glanced at Itachi as he jumped down from the couch gracefully. "You'll have to perform the henge, Itachi. Naruto eats and then leaves. Don't give him any information." When the black cat nodded, she took hold of her necklace and changed him into his human form.
Sasuke spat, "I have to stay a cat?! But I thought—"
"It's not your job to think, Uchiha." Tsunade thought it unwise at the moment to divulge to Sasuke that Team Taka was right outside Konoha, searching for him. As long as he stayed a cat, his chakra would be masked, even from their sensor. "Don't forget, as part of our terms, you are charged with protecting Sakura. I trust you're capable to watch over her as you are?"
As anticipated, he bristled at her doubt. "Of course I can."
Tsunade nodded to Itachi whose hands slipped through signs. Just as Naruto barged in with another bag, the dark-haired man became the pink-haired girl.
"Thank you." Tsunade pinched the food from him as she passed. "I'll take that with me, Naruto. I have some work at the Tower." She made eye contact with the henged Itachi. "Sakura, you know what you have to do."
"Hai, Hokage-sama." Itachi bowed and Tsunade nodded and left.
In the dim light of early morning, water dripped from the eaves of the roof. Sasori shook his paw, glaring at the puddle distastefully as he listened to Madara lay out his plan.
"And don't tell Itachi, his brother, or his partner about the plan. They are a little too chummy with our captors for comfort."
"You plan to take the girl with us if Pein arrives?"
"Not if—when," Madara hissed, flicking his damp ear in irritation. He had every confidence that Pein would figure out where they were somehow. Akatsuki had their fingers everywhere. He wanted to be ready when Pein arrived—Konoha wouldn't know what hit it.
"I want to scope out the village's security and see where the kunoichi lives. One of Pein's paths can collect the little bitch while the rest attack the village." He planned on heading straight for the old cat lady's den and making her a deal to break the spell in return for the girl. If that didn't work then he'd have Pein fill the kunoichi with his chakra rods to control her until they figured out another plan.
"What about the Uchiha brothers? If they are protecting her, it won't be easy."
"I'll use that against them. Since they are with her most of the time, we'll make it appear as if Itachi and Sasuke are behind her disappearance." He snickered wickedly. "That way Konoha will focus on them while we break out."
A cold mist crept along the ground. A fine drizzle was accompanied intermittently by the rumble of thunder and the occasional brilliant flash of lightning. An orange and white cat squeezed between the broken boards underneath the porch. With a quick snap of his head, he flicked water from his whiskers, shaking off the chill of being outdoors in the rain.
"Hn. You couldn't have found a better place for a meeting. Like, say, inside the warm, dry house, unya?!" Deidara spit unhappily, looking around at the others assembled under the front porch of the Uchiha house, his damp tail twitching in irritation.
"Quiet down, kid. At least you didn't get impaled trying to squeeze your ass through that busted hole." Kisame pulled a sliver of wood from his shoulder with his teeth, spewing it out in Tobi's direction and making him scuttle out of the way. He hadn't seen Tsunade in a week and his mood had become downright foul. "Besides, I thought you liked water."
"Warm water!" Deidara sneezed twice and shivered. "It's like ice out here!"
"Enough," Sasori interrupted. "We have a mission to accomplish if we are ever to escape from this ridiculous spell. We've wasted enough time as it is and I for one am ready to shed this shell permanently."
"Funny, seeing as how you'll return to another shell, unya," Diedara grumbled, wriggling his wet whiskers. "So, how are we supposed to do that, danna? The old lady said we'd be stuck as cats for three years and—ITAI!" Deidara hissed, pouting at the Mist ninja who'd just stepped on his tail.
"Quit calling her old, kid, before I make a pair of mittens outta ya."
"Tobi wants to do it! Tobi wants to go on a mission!"
"Shut up!" The Abyssinian cat narrowed his fawn-colored eyes. "If we just sit around arguing, we might as well stay cats!" he hissed. "Fine, Tobi, you can go on the mission, but if you get caught, you're as good as dead."
"Tobi can do it!" The striated cat jumped around. "Tobi will have fun!"
Sasori sighed and nodded. This was working out precisely as Madara had planned. The others were more than willing to let him volunteer. "We're going to cover Tobi's disappearance from the Uchiha district with well-timed distractions."
"Where's he gonna go?" Kakuzu asked. "They said he couldn't go more than ten miles from one of those two women or he'd be a cat forever."
"Huge improvement," Deidara sniffed.
"He's going to scope out the village's weakness for Leader-sama. He will also find out where the girl goes when she's away from here."
'Among other things,' Madara thought as his tail flicked back and forth craftily.
"When we break out of here, the girl is coming with us. Pein-sama will capture her and she will remove the spell."
"And what if she can't?" Kakuzu asked.
"Then we hold her hostage until someone else removes the spell."
"What good is that? We'll still be fucking cats!" Hidan whined.
"Do you have a better idea, dummy?" Kakuzu pushed Hidan aside. "Get going, Tobi. We'll cover your ass for a while, but don't fool around."
Sasori glanced at the gloating Tobi as he danced around. Shaking his head once, he closed his eyes to curb his irritation at the blatant display. "Don't be gone long. Everyone split up and find a way to distract the guards, but don't be obvious about it."
Itachi stared, open-mouthed, as the blond shoveled food into his mouth. It wasn't only that the boy was on his fifth bowl of ramen and still had two more unopened next to him that amazed him—it was the fact that the cheery kyuubi container managed to talk non-stop the whole time he ate that had Itachi perplexed.
Naruto glanced up at his wide-eyed teammate as he slurped up another mouthful of noodles. "What is it, Sakura-chan? Do I have a booger on my face or something?"
Itachi shook his head, wrinkling his nose distastefully. But before they could discuss Naruto's eating habits further, their attention was drawn by a loud hiss and the white kitten tearing into the kitchen to hide behind Itachi's ankle.
"Trouble, Sukoshi?" He smirked, rubbing the kitten behind her ears. She mewed sadly and nuzzled against his hand.
"You picked the right name for that black cat, Sakura-chan." Naruto offered between mouthfuls. "He's as grumpy as Teme for sure."
Itachi nodded, brushing back the pink hair that fell into his face. "Excuse me a moment, Naruto-kun." He went to the living room, grabbing the 'demon cat' by the scruff of his neck. He carried him into the bedroom, stepped inside, and shut the door behind him.
Sakura watched the henged Itachi take Sasuke away. She hadn't meant to get him in trouble—she'd only wanted to play and had accidently stepped on his tail. She hesitantly followed Itachi down the hall, wanting to tell him it wasn't Sasuke's fault, wanting to apologize to Sasuke even if she couldn't speak.
She was standing in the middle of the hall when Naruto scooped her up and stuffed her inside his jacket.
"That demon cat needs a time out, believe it! Sukoshi, is it? Let's you and me go for a little walk." Naruto opened the front door and yelled back inside. "Yo, Sakura-chan, we'll be back later." A rainbow over the top of Hokage Mountain made the blond grin. He rubbed the little kitten's chin, making her purr as he walked down the market road.
"Hey! The rain's gone, Sukoshi. Looks like it's gonna be a great day, dattebayo!"