Author's note: I'm so effing pleased with this that it's not even funny. I mean, I sort of copped out at the end with the humor, but I'm ridiculously happy with how I wrote this. HOORAH!
Something to Protect
'I'm scared! I'm scared! I'mscaredI'mscaredI'mscared!'
Naruto gripped the cloth of his jacket in his hands tightly, surprising even himself when he managed to keep his mouth shut. The missing-nin passed them, their footsteps loud on the ground; they weren't trying to be quiet, because there was no one else there to stop them. Naruto's knuckles turned white from his tight grip, and he glanced frantically at his teammates.
Sakura looked almost as scared as he felt. This was supposed to be a simple mission, clearing out an old, abandoned field to be plowed by new farmers. Who would have guessed that there would be missing-nin so close to the village? Why were they there? What business did they have there?
Kakashi-sensei had been wounded. He had been just as surprised; there hadn't even been a rumor of any missing-nin around, so he had, unfortunately, been surprised. He'd ordered them to run, hide, and not to come out until they saw other Konoha ninja. He'd held the criminals off, and his tone of voice brooked no argument.
Sakura had, after seeing one missing-nin's face, whispered something like 'S-class… Bingo Book…'
Sasuke didn't look scared, but his eyes flicked about frantically to find an escape. They didn't know if Kakashi was dying somewhere, or if he'd left to get help. He was probably wondering which way to run; away from the village, where the missing-nin were searching for them, or to the village, to get help.
He felt pathetic. He couldn't do anything to help his teacher, to help his teammates and friends. He was paralyzed with fear. He wanted to help, but he was useless. He closed his eyes tightly to try and block out the situation. He thought of his ragtag little family and hoped he'd see them again.
"I remember I was so scared on my first dangerous mission!"
Naruto's eyes shot open as he remembered the way it was laughingly said. Anko had always made danger seem fun. It was her defense mechanism, to make everything okay when she got too stressed or afraid.
"I froze up! My sensei had to yank me out of the way of a kunai, haha! What a newbie mistake!"
"…I don't think nearly dying is funny, Anko…"
Iruka had always been uncomfortable with her attitude, but he understood it, and she realized that he was trying to make it okay for himself by saying that, so she didn't mind.
"What happened next?" Naruto had asked, enthralled.
Anko had frowned. "One of my teammates was sliced open. I got pissed. I know you're not supposed to fight when you're that pissed, but I fight best when I'm mad. But I can't remember that first fight. I just remember being covered in blood and holding a katana that wasn't mine. …I wasn't scared like that ever again. I had people depending on me after that."
Both Naruto and Iruka had pretended not to notice the glance she'd given the chunin sensei. Iruka had merely smiled at him.
"I only froze up once, before I killed my first enemy. …I had something to protect, too."
Anko had let out a squeal and tackled him, telling him that he was so sweet despite the brunet's frantic yelps of 'I didn't mean you!' She still firmly believed it was her he was talking about, and Iruka had eventually sighed and agreed with her with an eye roll.
Naruto bit his bottom lip. He needed something to protect. He was fiercely protective of the things he had, so what could he protect? His plants? No. They were fine by themselves. Iruka and Anko? No, they could protect themselves better than he could.
He heard a nervous squeak beside him and turned to glance at Sakura. She was digging her fingers into the bark of the tree so hard that he saw blood beneath her nails. Sasuke grunted on his other side, and moments later, he heard the missing-nin's footsteps again.
Naruto waited until he was certain the missing-nin were out of hearing distance before he turned, gently grasping one of his teammate's hands and prying her fingers from the wood. He flashed her a small smile when she looked up at him in confusion. "Calm down, Sakura-chan. Everything will be okay."
"But—" she began, voice breathless with fear.
He grabbed a necklace from around his neck, a cat's eye pendant dangling from the leather cord, and pressed it into her hand. "Stay here. Okay? If this doesn't work, keep pushing chakra into this rock."
Sasuke scowled at him. "What the hell are you talking about, usuratonkashi?" He watched in a sort of shock and horror as the rock flashed with chakra. "You're going to lead them right to us, you idiot!"
Naruto smiled. "No. I'm going to lead them to me. Take care of Sakura-chan!" he ordered, then leapt from their hiding place and made a dash in no general direction; just away, away from the people he had to protect.
Sakura stared out of the spaces between the vines of ivy, mouth gaping open as she watched the blond disappear between the trees in an orange blur. A few moments later, they saw flashes of the missing-nin dashing past the tree they were hiding beneath in pursuit.
Sasuke stared after him as well, confused and annoyed. "Usuratonkashi—" he began, but his arm was caught in a surprisingly tight grip.
"Sasuke-kun, what is it doing-!" Sakura gasped, holding the glowing stone out in front of her.
The slit pupil began to spin, widening from the middle until it was a large, black circle like an inky, empty pit. The green was eventually eclipsed, the stone now a dark, shiny obsidian oval. The rock shook in her palm, nearly bouncing out of her grip. She closed her fingers over it so she wouldn't drop it.
There was a flash from the rock at the same time a burst of smoke signaled the arrival of some ninja outside the vines. Thick, sharp claws slashed through the ivy, tearing it away, and the two youth came face-to-face with the largest cat they'd ever seen.
It was either a very large cat or a very small panther, and had long, sleek black hair. Its green eyes were sharp and impatient, and it set its paw back down. It eyed them both, saw the stone clenched in her fist, then curled its lips up in a feline sneer that exposed long, sharp white teeth.
"Where is the kitten?" it hissed.
"I… I-!" Sakura mouthed at him anxiously, still too stunned to answer.
It took a moment for him to figure it out, but eventually, Sasuke realized he meant a child, and he could only assume he meant Naruto. "He went that way!" he answered, pointing behind him.
The feline roared and turned, its wide paws kicking up dirt and leaves as it pounded off in the direction that had been indicated. "Stay here! Help is on the way!"
Sakura continued to gape. "…I didn't know Naruto had a summon!"
"…I don't think it's his," Sasuke stated, then opened her hand to look at the rock again.
The stone had regained its regular coloring, green with the slit of black through the center. He flipped it over to see a kanji for 'family' written in blood brushed on it and covered with something so that it couldn't be smudged. He'd heard of things like this, allowing other people to summon creatures that their families were under contract with, but he'd never seen one like it.
What family did Naruto have? Who had a contract with that creature, and what sort of creature was it? Panther? Leopard?
How would it protect Naruto from three missing-nin?
Naruto clenched the kunai in his hand tightly, peering out at the three men that had chased him. He'd tried to circle closer to the village, so perhaps maybe the sentries would sense something wrong and come investigate, but the missing-nin had been much closer than he'd originally thought. Luckily, he'd had tons of practice hiding from Iruka, and he could only hope that these people weren't teachers, because teachers had that special sixth sense that saw everything and—
"There ya are, ya little runt!"
Naruto squeaked as a hand shoved into the bush he was hiding in and instinctively jabbed it with his kunai. The missing-nin howled in fury and released him, allowing him to quickly scurry out of the bushes and run again. "Gah!"
Another large hand caught the back of his jacket and threw him back the way he came, knocking the air out of him as he hit a tree; his head cracked against the bark, and he felt blood begin to dribble down the side of his face.
One of the men grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up, and he gagged as the missing-nin's foul breath gusted over his face. The man shook him. "The hell did ya think ya were doin', ya little brat!"
Naruto moaned in pain and closed his eyes tightly. This man was going to snap his neck just by shaking him! How strong was this guy! He grunted as he was thrown to the ground, gasping in air frantically to replace what was once against knocked from his lungs. He struggled onto his knees and glared at the three men.
One of them was tall, thin—almost wispy. He looked like he wasn't all there, his ratty, knotted brown hair hanging around his shoulders like an ugly curtain. His glassy blue eyes were darting about in a paranoid manner. He was trembling, and the blond saw a bunch of blue lines up one of his arms, the veins bulging and dark against his white skin.
The second man was stouter, one of his broad hands bloody. His head was shaved, and he had a long, jagged scar across his cheek. His black eyes were sharp and mean like a bird's, and his muscular body could probably crush him with a swat of his hand. He looked angry, and was drawing some shuriken from a pouch at his hip.
The third man was short—almost as short as Naruto was—and he had big, almost-innocent green eyes that glinted in the sun maliciously at him. He smiled a wicked smile and cracked his large knuckles, circling around him so he couldn't escape.
Naruto swallowed nervously and clenched his hands into fists, then glared at them. "What are you doing so close to Konoha?"
The stout missing-nin laughed, a cruel, harsh laugh. "Doesn't matter, does it, brat?"
"B-bloodlines," the tall man whispered, a faraway look on his face. "I t-thought we were researching the—the b-bloodlines of Konoha."
"Oi! Shut up, Sho!" the stout man snarled, glaring at him.
"What does it matter?" the short man asked, laughing. "The boy's going to die anyway. It's not like he'll tell anyone!"
Naruto swallowed again. "H-how were you gonna research our village's bloodlines?"
The short man laughed again. "Getting into your village isn't that hard! Your security is a joke!"
The stout man snorted as well. "It's easy enough gettin' inside. Won't be hard t' just grab one o' the brats with the famous bloodlines and sneak back out. 'specially the one with no family!"
'Sasuke!' The blond forced down a squeak of terror for his teammate, flinching as the stout man drew back his hand to release the shuriken, then stiffened his spine and lifted his head defiantly. At least he'd drawn the missing-nin from his friends.
There was a black flash, and suddenly the man's throat was torn open with a loud, wet splattering sound. He threw the shuriken blindly as he lifted his hand to his neck, trying to staunch the blood flowing over his fingers and dripping down his chest. Naruto yelped as one of the shuriken sunk into his shoulder, a second just skimming his scalp. He felt hair flutter to land on his arm and lifted his uninjured arm to cover his wound with his hand.
The third shuriken hit the man's shorter comrade in the thigh, making him curse and pull some kunai from his belt. "Tah! Idiot! You hit me!" When the black flash tried to attack him, he punched it away, catching the creature by surprise.
Naruto cried out as the feline hit a tree with his stomach, breath gusting out of it with a sickening whoosh. "Tomiko!" When the short man began toward the cat summon, he struggled to his feet, head spinning as it throbbed with pain. "Tomiko, get up!"
Tomiko yowled as the man grabbed him by the scruff and kicked wildly, lifting his front paws to sink his claws into the man's hands. "Arrrr! Let go of my scruff, bastard!" His howling was cut off as the man sunk the kunai in his side to the hilt, and the blond saw blood beginning to mat and glisten on the cat's fur.
"Tomiko!" the boy cried, tears filling his eyes. He stumbled over to them and began punching the man's side and back weakly, head still spinning with pain and terror. "Let him go! Let him go, bastard!" He yelped as he was shoved away, falling on his rump when he stumbled. He got to his feet and began hitting him again when the man pulled the kunai from the cat's side and moved to stab him again. "No!"
He saw another kunai tucked into the back of the man's belt, and he grabbed it, stabbing the man in the back quickly. He saw the man's hand shudder to a stop just inches from Tomiko's body, so he pulled the kunai out and stabbed him again, then again and again, and he kept stabbing until the man fell—then he stabbed him some more, in case he wasn't dead and managed to get up.
Tomiko struggled to his feet and caught the blond around the back of his neck, shaking him gently and dragging him away. "Grumph!"
Naruto sobbed and turned to hold him tightly. "Tomiko!"
The feline released his neck and turned, sinking to the ground and curling around him protectively. He turned a glare on the remaining missing-nin, eyes sharp and dangerous, but when he saw the man sway over to his fallen comrade and pull some syringes from a bag he'd been carrying, he turned his attention back to the blond, nuzzling his head gently. "Calm down, kitten. They can't hurt you anymore." His eyes narrowed in disgust as the man stabbed a syringe into his arm and heaved an almost orgasmic sigh. "…I don't think that one's ever hurt a fly."
"Tomiko! I didn't think you'd come, because you said that you'd only ever come in an emergency, and then you said that the only thing you considered an emergency was a lack of fish in the fridge for you! Now you're hurt! I'm sorry, Tomiko! I'm sorry!"
Tomiko huffed. "Stop that. Ninja don't cry. Hey! You're getting my fur wet!" he snapped, then sighed when the blond continued to bawl. He narrowed his eyes at the gash on the side of the boy's head, already beginning to heal, then turned his head, his sandpapery tongue swiping over the wound to clean it.
"Oooow!" Naruto jerked away, covering the wound immediately as he glared at the cat in confusion. "That hurt!"
"I'm just trying to clean it! Hold still!" Tomiko snarled. "Stupid kitten! How are you going to live to be a tom when you won't let me clean your wound?"
"It feels like you're ripping my hair out!" the blond roared. "Cut it out!" He yelled in pain as the cat swiped at the shuriken in his shoulder with his claws, yanking it out roughly. "Aaaaagh! What the hell is wrong with you!"
"Let me lick it clean! It could have poison in it!"
"No! Get away! I'd rather be poisoned—ooooow!" Naruto wailed. He shoved the cat's face away. "Cut it out!"
Naruto looked up as he heard his name and blinked as Sakura and Sasuke stumbled into the clearing. Sakura staggered over to him and fell to her knees, cupping his cheeks as she checked his head and eyes.
Once she decided he didn't have a concussion, she roared and punched him in the head. "You idiot!"
"Don't go playing hero like that ever again!" She smacked his wounded shoulder.
She grabbed his collar and shook him angrily. "If you die, I'll bring you back to life and kill you myself!"
Sasuke walked over to the corpse of the man that Naruto had stabbed and raised an eyebrow, slipping his hands into his pockets. "Who knew the usuratonkashi had it in him?"
"He was hurting Tomiko…" Naruto mumbled, rubbing his head. He looked at the black cat and frowned worriedly. "Tomiko? Are you okay? I don't think any of us can carry you…"
"It's alright. Luckily, that human knew nothing about feline anatomy." Tomiko turned his head to begin licking his own wound. "The knife slid right between my spleen and my stomach. I'm tender, but I'll live." He hissed when the blond reached for his wound. "Don't touch it. I'm cleaning it adequately; believe me." He turned his glare on the other two children. "I told you to stay put. Who knows how many other missing-nin are wandering around here?"
Sakura turned immediately, biting her bottom lip. "That S-class missing-nin isn't here-!"
"That's why I told you to stay put!" the cat snapped. Hearing the bushes rustle, he turned his head sharply. "…Kittens, get behind me," he growled, heaving himself to his feet. "Something's coming and I won't be responsible for dead kittens."
Sasuke glanced at the mutilated body, the other man swaying drunkenly where he sat next to his fallen comrade, then to the feline as his fur began to bush out and his back arched threateningly. He grabbed a larger kunai from the man's belt just in case and held it ready as he want to go stand in front of his teammates. Naruto looked exhausted, and Sakura was too busy worrying over his wounds now that she'd yelled at him properly.
Tomiko bristled even more as the rustling came closer, eyes nearly glowing in warning as he tried to hide the children from view with his puffed out fur. When a small brown pug's head poked out from beneath a bush, however, all of the fight drained out of him, and he relaxed immediately. "Christ, dog. I thought you were the enemy."
"Like I couldn't outrun you," Pakkun muttered, wiggling out from under the bush. He tilted his head back to howl, then glanced around the clearing skeptically. "Well, well, well. And here I thought you'd lost your touch. What the—" He frowned as he saw the man swaying where he sat, then growled, lip curling up in disgust. "Doped up already? Druggies are the worst backup they could have had."
"It wasn't just me." The feline's chest swelled with pride. "I was in trouble, so the kitten stabbed the guy attacking me." He paused. "…And then he kept stabbing. And stabbing. And stabbing."
"Shut up!" Naruto exclaimed, blushing a little. "Gah!"
A moment later, a bunch of other dogs burst into the clearing, followed by several ninja.
Anko swooped down and pulled Naruto into a hug. "Oh, Naruto, you're okay! I thought for sure they'd killed you!"
"…Thanks," Naruto mumbled, scowling, and he glared at Sasuke when the other boy choked back a laugh and pretended to cough instead. He yelped as he was immediately dropped to the ground. "Ow! What the hell? Why do you guys keep hurting me!"
Anko walked over to the drugged up missing-nin and frowned, grabbing his wrist to eye his arm skeptically. She whistled. "Dude, I'll be surprised if you live three more years at this rate."
"Blurgh…?" the man questioned.
"…Ibiki's going to have fun with that one," Kakashi stated, one hand clenched over a wound in his side. He reached out to pet Pakkun, then glanced at the two bodies. "Hmm. Good work." He grunted as he was shoved aside. "Ow."
"Naruto, you're gonna give me a heart attack!" Iruka snarled, grabbing the boy and shaking him a little. Then, grabbing the blond's chin, he jerked his head to the side and examined the source of the blood. "…Alright, that's not too bad…" He examined the wound on the blond's shoulder, then sighed. "That might take a stitch or two. Nothing seri—Tomiko!" He immediately turned to examine his summon's wound. "If it's not Naruto, it's you or Anko. I'm going to get an ulcer at this rate."
"Did you see which way the other missing-nin went?" one of the jounin that had arrived asked, stepping forward.
Sasuke turned and pointed back the way they'd come. "They were chasing us back there. One of them stopped after a few minutes." He paused, then glanced at Sakura and sighed. "…Right?" he asked after a moment, knowing he'd regret it.
Sakura nearly squealed at being acknowledged by him. "Right! I recognized him as an S-class criminal from the Bingo Book! He stopped chasing us back there, but we don't know where he went afterward!"
"Shiiiiit…" another jounin mumbled. "Alright. Anko, Iruka, you should escort this team back to the village. I'll report to the Hokage. The rest of you, spread out and search." He walked over to the drugged up missing-nin and grabbed him by the arm. "You're coming with me. I'm sure the Hokage would be interested in speaking with you." He sighed as the man vomited in front of him and rolled his eyes skyward. "Fuck my life."
"Good luck with that," Kakashi drawled, then jerked his head for his team to follow him. "Let's go."
"I can walk, Iruka. I can walk. DON'T PICK ME UP I hate you," Tomiko hissed, glaring as the chunin placed him on his shoulders and began carrying him back toward the village. "I'm a highly respected and powerful ninja. I don't appreciate being made to look like a lap cat."
"Fuck you, Tomiko. You are a lap cat," Anko replied, slapping the cat's tail playfully. She turned and hooked her arm around Naruto's waist, yanking him over her shoulder. "Come on, squirt."
"I can walk just fine!" Naruto exclaimed, struggling wildly.
She shrugged and let go of him. "Okay."
"OW! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?" he roared, rubbing his head and glaring at her.
Iruka snorted. "Come on, Naruto. I'll treat you to ramen once we get Tomiko taken care of."
"It's a flesh wound!" Tomiko exclaimed.
"Tomiko?" the chunin asked sweetly. When the cat grunted acknowledgement, he turned his head sharply to glare at him. "Shut up or I'll neuter you."
"My queens would kill you," the feline replied, glaring back at him, but stopped his minute struggles.
"Maaa, sensei," Kakashi began, walking up beside him. "Is your summon a… house cat?"
Iruka glanced at him suspiciously. "Yes. A very large house cat." He stopped walking and turned to glare at him. "A very large house cat that, while mostly unmotivated, will do anything to protect kittens and, to some extent, Anko and me. So whatever you're planning? Get it out of your crazy jounin head."
The silver-haired man smiled behind his mask. "Sensei, how do you know I'm planning anything?"
Tomiko hissed at him. "Get away or I'll pee on you!"
Naruto snorted and covered his mouth quickly as he watched his current teacher hurriedly step away. He blinked when he felt a hand on his arm and turned in surprise. "Sakura-chan?"
"Um… Here. This is yours," Sakura stated, pressing the cat's eye pendant into the blond's hand. "Thanks, Naruto. That was really brave of you."
The blond blushed and smiled awkwardly, scratching the back of his head. "It was nothing. I just… had something I wanted to protect."
Anko squealed and hugged him tightly. "You're so sweet, Naruto!"
"Gack! I wasn't talking about you!" Naruto exclaimed, squirming. "Iruka-sensei I can't breathe help!"