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                                                                 "Small Talk"

            He swept down the hall like a phantom, the tails of his coat drifting behind him.  He turned the corner, startling one of the new recruits. White faced and wide eyed, the boy backed against a wall as the man passed.

            That one wouldn't last long.

            The report had come around dawn.  It was almost funny; while people picked themselves and their injured off of the battlefields, someone still had the time to do paperwork when it would've been just as easy to come and get him in person.  It was foolish, but then who was thinking straight those days? Shell-shocked boys, the lot of them.  They would learn.  They would have to.  He would make them, if necessary.   Morino Ibiki shoved the papers into his coat and stopped at the door, where he watched, stone-faced, as the guard on duty fumbled for his keys.

            "S-sir, you might want to--"

            Ibiki gestured for silence.

            "-She bites, sir."

            Ibiki eyed him.

            It was surprising how easily the proper presence could leave a man mute.  Ibiki ordered the door shut behind him, and were there any questions? None? Good. It slammed closed with a clank.  The prisoner looked up at the noise.  Dusky eyes glittered feverishly in the half light.


            He remembered something of the master.  How could he not? He hadn't known many monsters then, and never in the shape of a man--never someone who wore humanity like a loose second skin. Years later he knew them well-- in all of their shapes, sizes, and perversities--but that one had been the first, and the only one whose memory could still make his skin crawl.  Yes, he remembered the master well. One didn't forget a man with eyes like that.

            The student didn't look like much of anything anymore, all tatters and dried blood.  They hadn't bothered to clean her up, but at least they hadn't chained her to the wall. No, instead it was a chair, and she slumped against it almost comfortably.  Her head lolled to the side, showing off an obscene expanse of white neck and the ugly mark left there like a wicked bloom.  She smiled serenely.  Her lips were flecked with blood. It looked fresh.

            "Oi," she rasped happily. "Ibiki! It's been awhile."

            "Mitarashi Anko," he acknowledged with a nod.  "I suppose I don't have to explain why you're here?"

            The woman threw back her head and laughed. "Why I'm here?" she crowed, and then fell forward against her bindings, laughter trailing away into a gulp and a long wistful sigh. "Do I know why I'm here…"

            Her voice faded. 

            "Yes," she said after some time. "I understand the circumstances perfectly."

            "Then you understand that you are, officially, a prisoner of war."

            "And a 'treacherous snake',"  Anko supplied as she sat back, grinning toothily.  "Don't leave out the good bits."

            Ibiki cleared his throat. "I was just getting to that."

            "Aaah." Anko clicked her heels together, for a lack of conventional applause. "See? I like you, Ibiki.  Man after my own heart. Literally. So, how do you take 'em? Blank with terror? Screaming? Squiiiirming? I can squirm quite well. Although I can't guarantee it'll be entirely from pain." She winked, taking her time as she licked the blood from her lips.

            The faint sound of water dripping from one of the shadowed corners of the cell seemed to grow louder in the silence.

            "Are you done?"

            Anko sighed. "Yeah, yeah." Her eyes strayed, unfocused and defeated. "Have at me."

            "As I'm to understand it, you put up quite a fight."

            "Small talk, Ibiki?"

            The corner of his mouth twitched. "Tell me how that went."

            "Tell you what exactly?" Anko raised an eyebrow. "You probably have a very thorough report on your person as we speak."

            "I'd like to hear it from you."

            Her eyes went dark. "Well. What is there to say? Your baby Hokage's Anbu caught up to us at the pass after you uncovered that village. And I was ordered to…deal with them.  I fought them. I lost. Not much more to it."

            "Then you won't mind explaining to me what's on your neck?"

            "Ah." Anko's lips twisted into an almost-grimace. She gave her shoulders a roll, the muscles under the mark tightening. It looked less like a bruise and more like a brand. "This.  Something I'm sure the Researcher Nins are just dying to get a look at."

            "He gave it to you."


            Ibiki took note of her expression, and made no reply.  He waited.

            Anko didn't disappoint.  She collected herself, and narrowed her eyes. "You're being awfully pleasant, Ibiki. I'm almost surprised. With your reputation I would think you'd be a bit more…"


            "Yes." Anko hissed.

            Now that was curious.

            "And why would you think that?"

            She lowered her head warily.  "Because I have information that you need. If I didn't…" She smirked. "I wouldn't be alive, now would I?"

            "Actually," Ibiki said, stepping forward.  Anko watched him, tipping her head. "With the risk you pose, with your…close associations with the enemy, and with his known tactics taken into consideration, whatever information you could provide may be deemed too unreliable to gamble with."


            "Perhaps," He allowed himself a shrug. "Either way, though, I don't expect the job to get particularly…interesting, this time."

            It was the first time he'd seen her blink since he'd stepped into the room. She went rigid, and genuinely puzzled.  "Why would you think…"

            There was something deeply satisfying in the expression of a person coming hard upon the realization that they were completely figured out. 

            "…That I'd be so forthcoming."

            "Only the fact," he told her. "That you've been able to escape for the last two hours, and haven't done so."

            The woman's eyes went wide.

            "I'd say you were the one being pleasant, Anko."

            And she burst into giggles; an uncontrollable fit that lasted as long as it took for her to bend her legs up over her head farther than nature had ever intended, pull a pin out of her hair with a toe, and in a few deft, sinuous motions sit forward, rubbing her wrists as the chains fell around her.

            "Well." A mad amusement glowed in her eyes. "Looks like you got me."

            "Seems so." Ibiki agreed. "Well, now that we have that out of the way…"

            His voice cracked like a whip. "Mitarashi Anko."

            The woman in question gave a long, languid stretch. "Yes?"

            "What can you tell me of Orochimaru?"

            Anko's lips pulled back into a nasty, joyless, serpent's smile. 

            "Where do you want me to start?"