A/N: hides Er, I shouldn't be starting another story, I think, but I've been working very hard on this... . . Well, at least I now have a story for every mood I am in, so chances are when I feel like writing I'll head to one of my three Naruto stories first thing! Which is good! Truth be told I can't wait to get my fics out the door; I have so many stories to post! I just don't like having too many ongoing at once. Well, I'll add a status meter in my profile which I will update regularly. For those who care, of course.

I don't mean to offend anyone by saying this, but the sheer amount of Naru/Sasu and Naru/Hina fics out there is astounding. I suppose it is just that I am a die-hard Naru/Saku fan XP. Good news for any fans of my work (there are fans, right? O.o) is that whenever I go looking for a new Naruto story to read, encountering so many of these just puts me right in the mood to write. Horrah!

This story is sort of the inbetween of the sort of carefree-teenager-romancy feel of Guardian and the more angstish of RotL. The first chapter or so is a bit dark'ish, but the rest shouldn't be. We'll see.

Blanket Disclaimer: Naruto and all characters contained there within belong to Kishimoto. I do, however, take sole responsibility of this plot.



Artifice: 1. n. Subtle but base deception.

2. n. A deceptive maneuver, especially to avoid capture.








Chapter One





The halogen light above flickered with a light noise, casting shadows and resounding in the narrow white hall. The only imperfection marring the otherwise immaculate bleached walls was a door of the same color, a small window filtering out a red light onto the tiled floor.

The stillness was palpable, leaving the air feeling thick and stuffy. A scream was heard tearing through the silence, rough with anguish and pain. Following that, a long series of electronic beeping and whirling ensued.

"Stop it!" a loud voice yelled. "You're going to kill him!" Inside the room, the shouter was breathing heavily, her large chest heaving with effort under a pristine lab-coat. Deep brown eyes shone angrily from under dark blonde hair tied back in low pig-tails, a small, purple diamond marking on her forehead barely noticeable. He cheeks flushed with emotion, anger or worry.

The man she had directed her comment at scoffed quietly, but stepped back, ending the other noises in the room with the raise of a slender hand. "You know as well as I do that he'll be perfectly fine, Tsunade." He had long inky black hair, pulled back into a loose tail running past his shoulders. Eerie amber eyes gazed at her reproachfully, his pale skin making the black tattoos near his tear-ducts seem especially sinister. "It'd do you well to sever these…ties you have with the subject. They'll do far more harm than good."

The man left the room silently, as though floating, his tall, lithe body slipping out like a shadow. "Damn you, Orochimaru…" the woman, Tsunade, whispered in the direction he had left, her words lost under the constant humming of computers and other such devices. Snapping upright, she looked about the room.

It a fairly small space, holding no windows and the sole entrance being the door near her. The walls were made of whitewashed cinderblock, lending no heat to the frigid atmosphere. Tightly packed against the confines were multiple high-tech computers and machinery, most giving off a dim red light. All of them had a multitude of numbers and words passing across their screens, cryptic messages she had read through all too many times. The mainframe was in the corner, seemingly mocking her for her helplessness with its glowing eye. She knew who was watching on the other side. She knew who was responsible for all of this.

In front of the largest workstation was another person, reading code on the bright screen, the monitor's glare reflecting off of his glasses and grey hair, though he was younger than herself.

"Kabuto," Tsunade stated firmly, with an air of superiority. "You may leave now."

"Just a moment, m'am. I'd just like to get past this next set of vitals-"

"I said you may leave. Now." She repeated, her voice as cold and hard as the systems around her.

"Yes. Of course." Kabuto answered, quickly printing a few pages and gathering up various materials and notebooks before hurrying from the room.

As the steel door slammed shut a second time, harsh breathing made the other occupant of the room's presence known. With a regretful expression, the busty woman strode to the other fixture, a small metal table, in the area.

Upon the silver bed was a monstrosity that could've passed as a sick joke of a boy. Writhing weakly on once-white but now stained in red sheets and gasping in large quantities of air, the creature looked little more than a beaten animal. His eyes were screwed shut, yellow eyebrows scrunched together in a tormented expression. A steady trickle of tears made its way from under his lids, washing away a small amount of the blood spattered on his face. Along his gaunt cheek bones there were facial markings mirroring each other on each side, three thin black lines reflecting a crude example of whiskers.

His head was well-bandaged with soaked through gauze, desperately needing to be changed soon. Along his torso he had several deep gashes, each oozing the crimson substance, and for all appearances, it looked as though someone had tried to skin the poor creature alive. The sheet covering his lower-half had thick smatters of the life-giving liquid, looking like something out of a B-grade horror film.

Running across the blanket near-to where his shins would be, there was a thick leather strap tightly buckled and securing him in place. A similar one ran the length of his upper-arms. The boy's hands were clenching the thin fabric in a death-grip. Around his wrists were shackles, tying the appendages down and roughly slicing through the skin surrounding them.

With a final sob, the boys eyes flew open, their color flickering between deep-red and crystal-blue for a moment before settling on the hue of the sky. He dropped his hips, the cover slipping down enough to show his lean stomach. Surrounding the navel was a complicated piece of inky artwork, spiraling around with un-readable kanji lining it.

Tsunade glared at the restraints and everything else, the red patches especially. With a snarl she lifted up the nearby tray of sharp, bloody utensils and threw them at the wall creating a loud crashing noise as the grisly tools fell to the floor, a cry wracking her small frame.

The boy coughed, another trickle of red spurting forth from his mouth, and she was instantly at his side again.

The woman hushed him, pulling the sheet back up and placing a gentle hand on his cheek, despite the blood now marking her, and murmured gently. "Shh. It'll be okay in just a moment. You'll be fine, Naruto. You've had worse. Just give it a bit…" And sure enough, just as she said that, many of the more noticeable bruises and wounds were closing up and healing before her very eyes. Within two minutes, all that was left was a passed out and bloody teenager.

She smiled down at him sadly. "I'm sorry, Naruto." Her voice broke. "I am so terribly sorry." Loosing another grief-induced sigh, she reached into her coat pocket, producing a small cell phone in her shaking hands and speed-dialed a number. Waiting a minute, she spoke softly into the mouthpiece. "Iruka? If you could bring a wheelchair down to Exam Room five I'd be very grateful." A pause, then. "No. He's fine now. I think we should get him back to his room as soon as possible though. See you soon."

Tsunade flipped the phone shut and continued to caress the boy's face, wishing to rid him of the filth covering his body. How long had it been? It seemed like so long ago…then again, it was. It was at least seventeen years since she had gotten into this mess, though in truth it was longer. Ever since he left, things were beginning to get out of hand…Orochimaru was right. She shouldn't have gotten close to Naruto, but she couldn't help it. The serpentine man was a monster for not feeling anything for the broken child. To be able to commit such acts on someone so innocent was the most disgusting things Tsunade had witnessed in all her almost-forty years.

Orochimaru…he hadn't always been so sadistic…in school, along with him, they had all been friends. They had laughed together, they had studied together, they had done everything together. They had worked together here. Then the third of their trio had left, and she had never felt so alone. The days blended together in a display of depressing and terrible sights and she couldn't take it. He was smart to get out when he did. She hadn't understood at the time, but now it was clear as day. And too late for her. She couldn't leave Naruto. Not ever.

A crisp knock on the door roused her from her musings and Tsunade carefully un-latched the restraining clasps and gingerly lifted the boy into her arms, draping a fresh sheet from a nearby counter over him as she did so. She was fairly strong, especially for a woman, but the main reason for this was that the youth was just very thin.

Walking over the stone floor, heels clinking behind her, she made her way to the door. It opened for her, revealing a man holding it back. Umuino Iruka. He had only worked here for the past seven years or so, and was considered one of Naruto's personal care-takers. He was a shy man, though very nice. He always wore his hair in a short pony-tail, and had a large scare across the bridge of his nose, a testament of his time working. He had obtained that during one of Naruto's fits, not believing the boy -for he was merely ten at the time- would hurt him.

"You're sure he's fine?" asked Iruka worriedly.

"As fine as he could be, given the situation." Tsunade sneered angrily.

He gave her a tired smile and allowed her to place the battered boy onto the chair, the front of her clothes now soiled. "I've got it from here." Tsunade said. "You can get back to your duties."

"Call me if you need anything." Iruka said, starting off down the hallway.

Tsunade didn't answer. She made sure her charge was secure before grasping the back and wheeling him forward, the opposite direction from the scarred man.

She bypassed several doors on her trek through the maze of hallways. Most weren't labeled with words, rather a number. The few that had names were obviously offices for people. She came to a halt at a gate directly in front of her. It was a double door, and had no handles, just a camera overhead and keypad on the side. These doors had no windows to catch a glimpse to the other side, only lettering painted in foreboding black paint; 'Authorized Personnel Only'. Tsunade rummaged through a pocket and procured an identification tag holding her name, picture and a series of numbers. Under 'Position:' it simply said, 'Adviser and Caretaker'. Of course, no one would doubt her qualifications to do anything in this compound, deceiving title or not. There was only one man she was required to answer directly to, and he was a rare sight around here indeed…

She swiped the card through the slot with a practiced ease and typed in a long numerical code onto the keypad. The words 'entrance approved' flashed across the micro LCD screen before the portal slid open with a hiss of forced air.

Positioning herself once more behind the wheelchair, Tsunade walked forwards. For such a spike in security -there now being cameras every ten feet or so- the surrounds looked pretty much the same. There were considerably less doors and hallways though.

Walking by the room with a small sign naming it 'Cafeteria' she wrinkled her nose. It was amazing what the higher-ups in the lab would feed their more prestigious workers. Needless to say, Tsunade did not partake in the delicacies served there. And since it was up to her, neither did Naruto, much to the anger of some colleagues.

Along her way Tsunade passed by few more titled rooms, and those were mainly generic such as 'Gym' and 'Restroom'.

She came upon no others on her journey, which suited her just fine. She was known for her temper, and she was angry enough right now that she was sure if she ran into someone she would punch them clear through a wall. Twenty-some-odd years of Tai-Jutsu can do that to a person.

These new doors didn't have a label upon them at all, rather a number pad along the side and a small black square. She once more procured her ID card from her breast pocket and ran her slender fingers over the keypad, inputting various numerical combinations. Following a card swipe she pressed a manicured thumb on the black surface, waiting as a green light passed underneath.

A speaker above her buzzed into existence, a feminine, computerized voice addressing her. "Scan complete. Access granted. Welcome, Tsunade."

The doors ahead sprang to life, separating with a resounding hiss. Tsunade stepped though, flinching as the portal slammed shut behind her, locks hatching.

This newer hallway was apparently the heart of the complex, desolate and barren. There were only five doors in this room, one directly opposite the buxom woman and two on each side. From her vantage point she couldn't make out the bold lettering on the thresholds but it didn't matter. She knew them all like the back of her hand anyways.

The two closest to her were labeled 'Training' and 'Medic'. She was in charge of both of those rooms. Behind those was the 'Monitoring' room and the one she detested most; 'Testing and Procedure'. It was amazing how misleading a name could be.

Outside each door was a security measure similar to the one seen on the one she just passed. Dotted along the ceiling every few feet were cameras; black, menacing domes set equidistant apart.

The entire area reeked of antiseptic, the walls spotless and the floors reflecting every one of the artificial lights.

Tsunade purposefully strode forward, moving to the silver door ahead of her.

As she drew close, her sandals breaking the silence with each step, the lone red words on the door came into focus and, if possible, infuriated her even further.

"Specimen: Nine

Codename: Kyuubi"

'The bastards can't even call him by name!' She was here everyday and it still angered her.

Taking a calming breath, she moved to the side of the door where the familiar security procedures were in place. In addition, however, was a set of goggles jutting from the panel. After repeating her usual spiel, Tsunade placed her head in front of these glasses, wincing as a red light phased past her eyes. She would never get used to retina scans.

The small monitor along the keypad flickered to life;

'Name: Tsunade

Clearance type: S-Class

Access Granted.'

The opening of these doors was proceeded by a flashing of red lights towards the ceiling. She grasped the handles of the chair once more while waiting for the barricades to clear. It was slow going, but that was to be expected of two-foot thick steel.

Once a sizable enough gap formed she pushed her way through, using a switch to light the room, the darkness receding to the furthest corners.

'Kyuubi's room, as it were, was a thankful relief from the others in this place. The overall area could be described as chaotic; clothes were strewn every which way, bedding in heaps on the floor and various papers littering the ground.

It was tastefully decorated in a way an adult accountant might enjoy-very plain and simple. The dominant color was, strangely enough, orange. Not by his care-takers choice, of course. Tsunade had stepped in for that, and the lowers hadn't dared defy her.

In the corner farthest from her was a medium-sized television screen, flatscreen, hanging snugly on the wall. Directly below that was a tangled mess of wires and gaming consoles. He had a desk on the wall nearest her, various text-books opened to random pages collecting dust atop it, and on his sunburst-covered bed there sat a vast amount of books.

If there was one thing Uzumaki Naruto enjoyed to do, it was read.

He read all sorts of books in all sorts of genres.

It was the closest he could get to experiencing the outside world.

Along his bedside table was a compact stereo, various CDs stacked precautiously over one and another.

It didn't matter to the Akatsuki if he had access to a tv and a stereo if he didn't have any sort of cable or radio.

There was a singular window in this room, opposite the bed, set into the wall. In place of glass was a large mirror.

Tsunade wheeled the boy over the waxed wooden floor to his bed, the door barring itself closed at her back. She carefully picked up his belongings and placed them neatly on the already-overfull bookshelf. She then lifted his slight weight and put him under the covers, effectively tucking him in.

The woman sat beside the broken boy, gently petting his hair as he slumbered on. He had long since stopped grimacing in his stupor, and now seemed as peaceful as any other youth his age would be expected to be.

His own Identification Tag was different from hers, a metal collar around his neck with a

plastic piece listing off his statistics.

'Name: Kyuubi.'

It had been so long she couldn't even remember how this had all started.

'Birth date: 10/10'

She had been a child then, hardly older than the boy she was now beside.

'Hair color: Blonde'

It had been wonderful in the beginning. The money, the fame. Things she had only dreamt of.

'Eye color: Variable'

But then Jiraiya left. And with him so too did her hope.

'Security Risk: S+'

Now here she was, a broken woman and an even more broken boy, longing for freedom.

'Property of: Akatsuki, Research and Development.'

No. If no one else, Naruto deserved to be free.

He would be free.






A/N: Can anyone tell I'm a Tsunade fan? Well, I am. This is just a start, but I adore 'battered' Naruto stores. Contrary to this chapter, the story is focused on Naruto. Pairings are as follows: Naruto/Sakura. That is the only 100 percent one in this story thus far. Okay, so I wrote, you review? Please? D