Note: Uhm, there's some mild torture-like scenes in this chapter. It's not horribly heavy, but if you feel it might trigger some bad emotions, you might not want to read.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: In Darkness Once More

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. (Galileo)

You can't undo anything you've already done, but you can face up to it. You can tell the truth. You can seek forgiveness. (Unknown)

Naruto woke up in the dark.

For a moment, all he could feel was confusion. Where was he? What had happened? Why was he surrounded by blackness? Then everything came rushing back to him – hearing Itachi's song, Sasuke's strange appearance, the man grabbing from behind and taking him—

The panic started to set in. Naruto thrashed, panicking more when he found that his arms were tied behind his back and his legs were bound as well. He supposed that the blackness must come from a blindfold – he could feel cloth on his face. His mouth was also tied. For a moment, all-encompassing terror set in. There was only one person who would take him, one person obsessed enough to take him.


"Naruto, dear," a voice said. Naruto groaned, all of his worst fears confirmed. He'd recognize that voice anywhere. "It's about time you woke up."

The blindfold was ripped away.

Naruto blinked for a moment, his eyes re-adjusting to the new lights, and then Kyuubi's face came into focus. He looked surprisingly well for someone who'd spent the last year in prison, but Naruto supposed spending a few months free would do that to a man. In fact, he looked almost exactly as he had when Naruto had last seen him. Naruto's heart was pounding away.

"It's so good to see you again, my dear," Kyuubi said, a smirk playing at the edge of his lips. His hand reached out to caress Naruto's jaw – Naruto shuddered and Kyuubi pulled back, a snarl at the edge of his lips. "Still fighting then, are we? I thought you'd have realized how futile your struggles are, Naruto!" He slapped Naruto hard across the face. Naruto's face snapped to the side and his cheek stung with the force of it. Kyuubi grabbed Naruto's shoulders and shook him hard. "See what you're making me do, Naruto? You're making me hit you. Why can't you just give in? Why can't you just obey me?"

Naruto turned his head back to face Kyuubi, staring up at the man's wild face, his crazy eyes. He wished his gag was off so he could tell Kyuubi exactly why. A part of him shrunk from saying anything remotely bad to Kyuubi, especially since he was tied up and at the man's mercy, but another part was dully resigned. What more could Kyuubi do to him, that he hadn't already done? And, more than that, what could Kyuubi do to him now that he wouldn't do sometime in the future? Naruto knew the odds of anyone finding him were slim to none – Kyuubi was too good for that, and the police weren't good enough to keep up with him. He could try and hold on to that small, fragile hope that someone would find him, but Naruto found it too exhausting.

"You know what I think you need, Naruto?" Kyuubi said, caressing Naruto's cheek. "I think you need a lesson. You need to be taught what your place is, just like I taught you when you first moved in with me. Remember that?"

Naruto closed his eyes. He wished he didn't.

"Look at me!" Naruto opened his eyes again immediately. Kyuubi looked pleased. "Well. At least it's starting to come back to you. But I think this lesson is necessary. I can't have you being rebellious."

Yeah, we can't have that, Naruto thought. But even as Kyuubi gleefully pulled his gag away in preparation for the lesson, he kept his mouth shut. Kyuubi was right about one thing – everything he'd managed to forgot since leaving Kyuubi was rushing back to him.

Kyuubi turned and grabbed something from a nearby chair. Naruto paled when he saw the long bull-whip, Kyuubi's pride and job and his favorite way to teach Naruto some manners. The whip was coiled into a tight loop and polished to perfection. Kyuubi unleashed it with a sharp crack and Naruto flinched as the tip snapped by his cheek.

"Ah, you remember this, don't you, my dear," Kyuubi purred, snapping the whip again. Naruto felt pain slide across his jaw, and he knew that it had managed to hit him. "Have you missed this? I know I have."

Kyuubi set the whip aside and turned Naruto around. Naruto saw that there were in a small, dingy room that was equipped only with a chair, a TV and a bed. His best guess at where they were was a cheap motel. Unfortunately, there were dozens of them in the cities alone. Naruto smiled a little bitterly. Not that knowing where he was would help. He didn't have a way to let anyone know.

Kyuubi laid him down on the bed, back down. He turned again and when he faced Naruto once more, he had a slim knife in his hand. Naruto swallowed, panicked. Kyuubi rarely brought out the knife, but when he did—

When he did, it was more painful than words could allow.

Kyuubi saw the panic in Naruto's eyes and smirked. "Don't worry, darling," he cooed, dragging the knife edge along Naruto's chest, shredding his shirt. "I just needed something to . . . undress you with." Kyuubi leered as more of Naruto's chest became exposed. Naruto wished he could cover himself up.

The shirt dropped from Naruto's frame and Kyuubi turned him over. After a moment, Naruto's hands were untied – Kyuubi had slashed through the rope with the knife. Naruto felt a brief spark of hope – maybe he could fight his way out somehow, find a way to escape, run

Before he could make a move, Kyuubi had turned him over again, his wrists moving to his chest, and had already started re-tying his hands together. Naruto cursed his slowness. He might've had a chance. But now it was too late – his hands were already tightly bound once more, this time on his front instead. Naruto knew why. If they were tied behind his back, they'd get in the way of the whipping. Surely enough, he was turned on his stomach again, and after a moment he heard the distinct crack of a whip being unleashed.

For a brief moment, the room was silent. All Naruto could hear was the sound of Kyuubi's heavy breathing. Naruto closed his eyes, preparing himself for the pain. He knew what was going to come next.


Naruto bit his lip, trying to hold his whimper in. The whip had lashed against his back, hard and fast, and he knew that it had drawn blood. Kyuubi usually liked to wait a few lash marks in before he drew blood, but Naruto figured that going a year without someone to torture made Kyuubi a little impatient.


Naruto shuddered a little. That one had been harder.

Crack! Crack! Crack!

Do not cry out, Naruto thought as Kyuubi began whipping his back hard and fast, never stopping to take a break between lashes. Tears blurred his vision, but he bit down hard on his lip so that he didn't make a sound. He didn't want to give Kyuubi that satisfaction. He couldn't.

"Why aren't you making any pretty sounds for me, Naruto?" Kyuubi purred, whipping harder. "Do I need to make it a little harder for you?"

There was a pause and then Naruto heard a crack sharper and stronger than any he had heard before and the whip burned against his back. Without meaning to, he opened his mouth and screamed.

"There we go," Kyuubi said, all smugness. "It's as pretty as I remember."

Naruto was crying now, and he wished that he wasn't. He wanted to be strong and brave and hard, he didn't want to sob like a five-year-old, he didn't want to let Kyuubi know how much this affected him, how much Kyuubi could still hurt him after being separated for this long. He didn't want Kyuubi to know just how little it took to break him. But he still couldn't stop the tears, just like he couldn't stop the pained whimpers or the harsh, panting breaths. Kyuubi knew, of course he did. And that just made everything worse.

Naruto heard a low chuckle and felt a hand stroke along his back. He flinched away from it and regretted it as his back muscles screamed at him.

"It's good to have you back, Naruto," Kyuubi said. "We're going to have such fun together."

"What do you mean he was taken?" Minato bit out each word, panic and worry etched into every line of his face.

Itachi and Sasuke were sitting across from him in Jiraiya's living room. To Minato's frustration, they both looked calm. He didn't understand how they could be calm. Did they not realize what was going on? Naruto had been taken. He'd been stolen right under their noses by Kyuubi. Minato wanted to punch the wall, he wanted scream, and he wanted to run down every street yelling his son's name in some faint hope that Naruto would hear him and answer.

"I was talking to him outside and some man grabbed him," Sasuke said, eyes dark and unreadable. "I couldn't follow them in the weather."

"You're sure it was Kyuubi?" Minato stressed. It would be better if it wasn't Kyuubi. Naruto would be gone, yes, but he wouldn't be with the monster that tortured him for half of his life.

"He had red hair," Sasuke said softly. "I don't know about Kyuubi, but Itachi and the police have told me that he has bright red hair."

Jiraiya was sitting on the couch opposite them, his head buried in his hands. Now he lifted his face, which was streaked with tears and heavy with emotion. "He does," he said in a raspy voice. "Have red hair, I mean," he clarified. "That son-of-a-bitch got him," he added, looking angry and drained and broken at the same time. "He has Naruto." His head went down again.

"Did you see anything else?" Minato asked Sasuke. "What direction they were going in? Anything?"

Sasuke was tense. "No," he said tersely. "I told you, the snow made it hard to see. I was lucky I even made out his hair color."

Itachi cut in. "I will look into it, Minato," he said. Minato shivered a little at his tone. Itachi's voice sounded dead and very, very cold. He thought about earlier, where Itachi had seemed warm and even loving towards his son. It made him like Itachi better, knowing that he reacted to Naruto's capture so severely. It showed him that Itachi did care.

"How?" Minato asked, shaking his head. "The police are already searching, but the weather—"

Itachi met his eyes. They were as cold and dead as his voice. "I have my ways," he said, standing. "Come, Sasuke. We should be leaving." Sasuke stood as well.

"If we have any news we'll call," Minato said, watching as the Uchiha brothers turned to leave without so much a goodbye. Sometimes he wondered about the Uchihas.

Minato collapsed next to Jiraiya. "What are we going to do?" he asked despairingly. "He has him, Jiraiya. Even if we get him back—who's to say he'll still be Naruto?"

Jiraiya shook his head. "When we get him back," he said. Minato looked at him in confusion and Jiraiya gave him a long, hard stare. "When we get him back, we'll help in any way we can to make the Naruto that you've met come back to the surface again. And, Minato—" Jiraiya paused, looking pained. "When it comes time to heal him, I'll need your help doing it. So whatever happens, you can't bail out on me or him, okay? Whatever happens, you need to be there until the end, because he's going to need you. Understand?"

Minato thought about Naruto. He'd barely gotten to know his son in the past few days – only a few glimpses here and there about who he was. His love of music; his laughter; his sadness; the way he liked coffee; his favorite movie; his relationship with Itachi; his voice; his face when singing—all of these little things added up to a person, but there was so much more that Minato hadn't yet seen, so much of Naruto that he hadn't uncovered. What he did know was that his son was a loving, bright, wonderful person and he'd be damned if he gave up on that because getting that person back was going to be a little hard.

"Of course I understand," he said. Jiraiya gave him a bright, hard smile.

"Good," he said, and that was that.

Kisame sat quietly in the back room of Akatsuki, waiting for Itachi.

It was unusual to be called on by Itachi so often. Mostly it was a yearly thing, sometimes even every other year. To be called on not only twice a year, but within months of the first call, was unusual. Kisame had a feeling that it probably had to do with the last favor Itachi had called him for – the Jinchuuriki. Kisame shivered a little. He hoped Itachi hadn't gotten too involved in that. He'd tried to warn Itachi that it was dangerous, but the Uchiha were stubborn creatures. Itachi probably thought he could handle it, the moron. Kisame sighed.

He looked up when the door opened and frowned when he saw Pein standing in the door. He and Pein didn't know each other very well – only through Itachi, really – but Pein was a good guy, as far as Kisame was concerned. He didn't ask questions and he set up these meetings without any fuss. But usually he led Kisame to the room he would meet Itachi in and left him alone. He didn't come in after that.

"Pein?" he asked, standing. "Is something wrong? Did something happen to Itachi?" That was the only reason he could think of for Pein coming to see him.

Pein stared at him for a moment, then smiled. Kisame blinked. It looked like Pein's smile, but there was something a little . . . off about it. Kisame frowned, feeling a little uneasy.

"No, I just wanted to see how you were doing," Pein said easily. "These rooms can be boring when you're just staring at the walls."

Kisame relaxed and laughed. That sounded like something Pein would say. His unnamed uneasiness disappeared. "Yeah, they are," he admitted. He smiled at Pein. "Thanks, I guess." He sat back down and glanced back down at his watch. When he looked up, Pein was watching him. He'd moved further into the room, closing the door behind him.

"Is Itachi very late? When did he say he'd arrive?" Pein asked, still casual.

Kisame frowned, looking back down at his watch. "He said he'd be here ten minutes ago," he said worriedly. "It's not like him to be late." Itachi was always pin-point accurate when it came to arriving on time. Kisame had never had him arrive even a minute late.

"I'm sure he'll show up," Pein said carelessly. He moved closer to Kisame. "What are you two meeting about today?"

Kisame tensed. "I'm sure Itachi wouldn't want you to know about that," he said, eyeing Pein. Pein raised his hands and shrugged.

"I was just curious," he said.

Kisame relaxed a little. "Well, he hasn't told me either," he said. "But I'm sure it has something to do with what we discussed last time. Probably something to do with that Naruto kid too," he said, huffing a little. "From what little I saw, Itachi's infatuated with that kid."

Pein frowned. "Is he?" he asked, his voice strangely tense. "I didn't notice, actually."

Kisame smiled a little. "Well, the last time I was here, Naruto was singing when I left. I walked right by Itachi, and he was staring at that kid like he hung the moon." Kisame shook his head. "Never figured Itachi to be gay—actually, I just figured Itachi was just asexual. He never showed an interest in anyone. But that Naruto kid got him, that's for sure. I've known Itachi for years, and I've never seen him look at someone like that."

"You think so?" Pein said, his voice still tight. "Well, I suppose you would know, having known him for so long."

"Didn't you think so before?" Kisame asked. "You were standing right by him when I saw that. Guess you're not as sharp as me," he added, grinning.

"Thank you, Kisame," Pein said unexpectedly.

Kisame blinked in surprise. "Thank you for what?" he asked nonplussed.

"I was already going to do this for what you know, but you've just made it much easier for me," Pein said, a smile on his face. Kisame got to his feet as Pein moved closer.

"Do what?" Kisame asked, still confused. Pein moved closer until he was nearly standing chest to chest with Kisame. Kisame looked down into very bright green eyes and—


-he slipped a knife into Kisame's ribs. Kisame gasped, crumpling into himself. Pein pulled the knife out and watched as Kisame fell to the ground with dispassionate eyes.

"Pein?" Kisame whispered, his eyes blurring as he stared up at the figure standing above him.

Pein—not Pein—squatted down next to Kisame's body. His smile was all teeth. "I'm not Pein," he whispered mockingly. "I'm Nagato. And that," he added, looking down at the blood pooling on the floor, "was initially for being foolish enough to investigate my little club. But it's also for telling that someone else is interested in my Naruto." Pein—doppelganger—smiled. It wasn't a pleasant smile. "I never believed in the saying don't shoot the messenger. If he says something you don't like, you stab the fucker. That's my way of thinking anyways."

Kisame was dying, so he was understandably a little slow on the uptake, but he after a minute he got where Pein—Nagato, why does he look so much like Pein?—was getting at.

"You're the leader of Jinchuuriki," he rasped, feeling his life slipping away.

Nagato grinned and stood up. "Got it in one," he said. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a brother to go see."

He turned on his heel and left Kisame there to bleed dry. In ten minutes, someone would come into the back and find him there, eyes dead and blinking at the wall, blood drying on the floor underneath him.

However, at the moment, Nagato moved quietly throughout the halls. He knew it was only a matter of time before someone saw Kisame's body, but he didn't care. They wouldn't be able to catch him – no one had been able to catch him.

The hallways were deserted except for a few people, all of whom nodded at Nagato and greeted him as Pein. Nagato was amused. He hadn't thought that their resemblance was that uncanny, but he supposed that the years of being apart had blurred his memory of what his brother looked like a bit. He liked knowing that everyone who passed him had no idea that he could kill them at any minute, and that he would feel no regret doing so.

His shoulder was gripped tightly as he passed the bathrooms and Nagato tensed, whirling around to meet black eyes. "Pein," the young man said without emotion. "Where is Kisame?"

Nagato took him in. This had to be the infamous Uchiha Itachi, the one late, unfortunate Kisame had mentioned. Of course, Nagato already knew everything about him. And it wasn't only because he was in a secret relationship with Naruto. Nagato smiled.

"He hasn't arrived yet," he said smoothly. "I was going to send you into that room," he added, waving to a nearby room.

Itachi's eyes narrowed. "It is unlike Kisame to be late," he said, an edge to his voice.

Nagato shrugged, adopting an air of nonchalance. "I don't know the reason," he said as he led Itachi to the door. He hoped that there wouldn't be anyone inside, and when he turned the doorknob he relaxed a little when he realized that it was an empty room. He walked in, Itachi at his heels. When Nagato turned around, Itachi was surveying the room tensely.

"Why did you call Kisame?" Nagato asked, curious. There had to be a reason to call an investigator, and Nagato didn't know everything about Itachi. Nagato was always curious about the things he didn't know about.

Itachi's eyes narrowed. "You do not know yet?" he asked. "Naruto was—taken." His mouth narrowed into a thin line.

For a moment, rage burned bright and hot in Nagato's body, blinding him from feeling or seeing anything else. Kyuubi, he screamed inwardly, already knowing who had done it. There was only one man stupid enough and obsessed enough to try and steal Naruto from him. The rage swelled again. How dare he, Nagato thought savagely. How dare he try to take what isn't his.

"That's horrible," Nagato said, trying to keep his voice steady. It wouldn't do to let Itachi see his rage. "I hope you find him." He cleared his throat. "If you'll excuse me, I have a club to run."

He hurried past Itachi, his mind already on the dozens of things he would need to do to fix this mess. However, as he reached for the door, it opened. Nagato tensed as he met eyes identical to his own. What horrible timing, he thought with annoyance, staring at the shocked face of his brother.

"Hello brother, goodbye brother," Nagato said, slipping past Pein's frozen form. "It was lovely to see you again, brother," he added in, grinning. Before Pein could react, he was already down the hall, his mind moving away from his brother and Akatsuki faster than his body was as he contemplated all the ways he could get Naruto and kill Kyuubi in the process.

Pein, on the other hand, had a much harder time adjusting his thoughts. For a full minute, he stared at the place his brother had stood. Then he whirled on his heel and stared down the empty hallway, cursing himself for falling into shock.

"Pein?" he heard Itachi ask in confusion. "What is—" Itachi fell silent and Pein knew that Itachi's almost supernaturally quick brain was figuring out what had just happened. "Nagato," Itachi said grimly.

Pein was shivering even though it wasn't cold. "Yes," he muttered, feeling shaky. How were you supposed to feel when you came face to face with your murdering and possibly psychotic brother after years of not seeing each other? Whatever Pein had expected to feel if he ever met Nagato again, it hadn't been this numb shock.

"Did Kisame arrive?" Itachi asked sharply. Pein shook himself.

"Yes," he said in confusion, "about a half-hour ago."

Itachi's eyes widened. "Check the room you left him in," he demanded. Pein stared at him for a minute before his brain comprehended why Itachi would be saying it. He thought he would be sick.

"Why would he?" Pein muttered to himself as he called in Deidara and asked him to check the back room for him. "Why Kisame?"

When he turned back to face Itachi, Itachi's face was a calm mask. Only his eyes revealed the rage burning deep within.

"Kisame," Itachi said slowly, "was our only chance to find Naruto before he's killed or—" Itachi broke off, eyes narrowing. Pein understood – before Naruto broke again.

"The police still haven't found anything?" Pein asked.

"Nothing," Itachi said. The frustration that wasn't in his voice was in his eyes. "The trail's cold."

Pein ran a hand through his hair. "Fuck," he muttered. "This is just a wonderful time for Nagato pop out of the woodwork, isn't it?" he asked sharply, feeling his anger and hopelessness rise.

He remembered how Naruto looked when he'd last seen him – a little sad, sure, but also bright and loving and, for the most part, happy. Pein didn't know much about Kyuubi, but he'd been told enough that he knew Naruto wouldn't be that person anymore if they left him too long in Kyuubi's "care." And, more than anything else, he didn't want that Naruto to be gone forever.

There was a quiet knock to the door and Deidara entered, looking pale. "Pein," he said. Pein knew what was coming next before he said it. "Kisame's dead."

Pein met Itachi's enraged eyes. "Well, fuck," he said quietly, his hope starting to dwindle away.

Madara had rarely seen his nephews so worked up.

He supposed it had to do with the Uzumaki boy's kidnapping, which had just recently been reported to the newspapers. The story hadn't been front-page, but everyone was talking about it. Madara thought it was because of how intense it was. A boy getting kidnapped by a man that used to beat him made for a good story. It personally made Madara sick to think of what that boy was suffering through. It made it worse when he saw how it affected his nephews.

Sasuke sat in the house when he was home, usually not saying anything. He stared off into space for the most part, and he rarely responded even when spoken to. He hadn't picked up his violin in days. Itachi, on the other hand, was in a frenzy. He talked to the police, he talked to witnesses, and he did searching of his own. Madara had gotten calls because Itachi had skipped school a few days to try and search the city. Madara didn't know who to be more worried about.

He'd been trying to think of anything he could do to help. It hadn't been until about an hour ago that he'd finally gotten an idea.

From the sparse amount of details Itachi had given him and the bits of information in the newspaper, Madara knew that Naruto had been taken by a man under the alias Kyuubi Kitsune, who was a well-known criminal. That had sparked the idea of contacting Haku, who was the son of a mafia boss with connections. Whether he had the connections to find Naruto or not, Madara didn't know, but it didn't hurt to try, even if it did make him heartsick to ask Koubo's help for anything.

There was a knock at the door and Madara rose to his feet to answer it. He smiled when he saw Haku on his doorstep, dressed for the cold and looking a little irritated.

"Madara," Haku said stiffly, pushing past Madara and into the house. "What did you want? It was ridiculously hard to get my father to let me come out on my own, so this had better be good."

"It's actually about your father," Madara said, watching with amusement as Haku basked in the warmth of the house. "I have a favor to ask."

Haku's eyebrow rose. "A favor?" he asked, sounding a little wary. "What kind of favor?"

Madara hesitated. "One of Itachi's friends went missing a day or so ago," he said. "His name's Naruto—"

"Naruto went missing?" Haku asked sharply.

It was Madara's turn to raise an eyebrow. "You know him?"

Haku blinked, then blushed. "Not very well," he admitted. "We've run into each other a few times. What happened to him?"

"Apparently he didn't live in a very pleasant household before moving here. His old guardian kidnapped him," Madara said. "I was wondering if you could use some of your father's contacts to see if you could find him. His kidnapper is using the name Kyuubi Kitsune, although I'm pretty sure that's not his real name."

Haku's brow furrowed. "I'll see what I can do," he said. "If he's just a small fish, he'll be hard to find, but if he's big enough . . . . Well, we'll see. I'll put everything I can into it." Haku hesitated, then said. "Itachi – does he have long hair? And lines under his eyes?"

Madara frowned. "You've met him too?"

Haku shrugged. "He's always with Naruto."

Madara didn't smile. "Yeah," he agreed, "he is. This is why I want to find Naruto as quickly as possible." He met Haku's eyes. "It'll kill that kid if we don't find him, got me?"

Haku looked confused for a moment before his eyes widened in understanding. "I thought there might be something between them," he murmured, half to himself.

Madara sighed. "Look, I don't know if they're in a relationship or not. Itachi isn't really the sharing type. But whether or not they are, Itachi cares about that kid more than he cares about pretty much anyone besides me and Sasuke, so I need to find him and find him fast."

Haku smiled. "You really do love your family, don't you Madara?"

Madara smiled, just a little. "They're all I have left," he admitted. "If I can't protect them, I'm a failure."

Haku put a hand on his shoulder. "You're not a failure," he reassured Madara softly. Before Madara could say anything, he pulled away. "I'll do everything I can," he promised. "I'll get the information to you first thing tomorrow."

"Thank you," Madara breathed. "Thank you so much."

Haku shook his head. "Don't thank me," he said. "I'd do it anyways." He paused for a moment, looking thoughtful, then said, "Naruto was kind to me. He wanted to be my friend. He seemed . . . like a good person. I don't want him to be hurt anymore than you do."

Madara smiled. "You really are your mother's son," he said, almost more to himself than to Haku.

Haku smiled anyways. "Thank you," he said, and turned to leave.

Naruto woke hazily. His back was burning, but the pain there seemed small in comparison to the ache in his head. His tongue felt thick in his mouth, probably from dehydration, and he was tied up again. But not, Naruto noticed, gagged. This meant there was more to come.

Kyuubi's face loomed over him. He looked a little blurry. Naruto wondered if Kyuubi had knocked him out or drugged him, because something was wrong with his eyes and his head ached more sharply with every passing moment.

"Naruto, darling, how kind of you to join me again," Kyuubi purred. "I was beginning to wonder if you were going to wake up anytime soon."

Naruto wanted to answer, but his mouth was too dry. Instead he made a croaking sound. Kyuubi chuckled.

"Ah, yes, you're thirsty," he said. He moved out of Naruto's sight for a moment, then returned with a glass of water in his hand. Carefully, almost tenderly, he lifted Naruto's head, making Naruto's eyes blur from the pain. "Drink, my dear," he said, holding the glass to Naruto's lips.

Naruto wanted to refuse – it was probably drugged – but he was drinking greedily before he could stop himself. The water tasted amazingly good, and it was gone in three long gulps. Kyuubi chuckled again and Naruto's stomach churned at the sound.

"I suppose you're hungry as well," Kyuubi said. On cue, Naruto's stomach started to growl. Naruto grimaced. "Well, that will have to wait. Tonight I have other plans in mind, and you'll do better with them on an empty stomach."

A tight knot formed in Naruto's stomach, making it hard for him to breathe. No, he thought, remembering why he'd run in the first place, why'd he'd risked everything to get away from Kyuubi. Anything but that, please, just let it be something, anything else, please—

"Oh, look at him squirm," Kyuubi laughed. Naruto had never wanted to kill someone so much in his life. "No, my dear, the baser pleasures can wait a day or two. Tonight, all I want is a performance."

Naruto frowned and looked around the room. There wasn't an instrument in sight.

"Ah, yes, you've noticed the obvious lack of a piano," Kyuubi said, smirking. "This is why tonight we will be relocating into a more suitable area. This means, of course, that this conversation is now at an end."

Naruto frowned, but before he could even think to question it, Kyuubi hit him on the head, knocking him out.

When he woke again, it was dark. His back still ached, but compared to the pain before, it seemed to have dimmed considerably. He wondered if Kyuubi had actually bothered to try patching him up. The thought made his stomach twist. If Kyuubi tried to heal him, it meant that he only had worse things to come. Kyuubi liked him fresh when he inflicted damage.

"Ah, you're awake finally. I didn't think I knocked you out so hard." Kyuubi, suddenly looming out of the darkness, half-mad smile playing against the edge of his lips. Naruto flinched back from him and the smile grew. "Stand up, Naruto."

Naruto noticed his legs were free, although his arms were still trapped. He frowned, wondering if they would hold him. Cautiously he put one foot on the floor, then the other, and hauled himself up. Surprisingly, beyond a few wobbles, he managed to stand.

"Follow me," Kyuubi said. "And don't try to run. You won't manage to get anywhere before I catch you, and trust me when I say I won't be pleased with you when I do." Naruto shivered.

"Yes," he said.

"Yes . . . .?" Kyuubi asked, mockingly polite.

"Yes, master," Naruto spat, angry at having to reduce himself back to this, something that he thought he'd managed to escape. Tears were burning behind his eyes. Why couldn't this part of his life just be done? Why did it have to come back and haunt him like this?

"We'll get rid of that cheek in time," Kyuubi said warningly. He took Naruto's arm and led him out of the room.

They entered a bright hallway and took a set of stairs to go down a level. Naruto didn't know where they were, but it was a nice house: an upgrade from the dingy motel. He wondered why Kyuubi had brought him there in the first place, but then figured it was probably to throw anyone pursuing Naruto off the trail for a while. Perhaps things had died down already. Naruto wondered how long it'd been. He had no idea how long he'd passed out the first time, or even the second. It could have been hours, but it could have been days.

They passed a few rooms until Kyuubi opened a door and shoved Naruto in. Inside, the room was empty except for a chair and a grand piano. It was lovingly taken care of – everything on it gleamed. The cover for the keys was open, revealing ivory white treasures within. Naruto almost forgot his situation for a moment as he took in the beauty of it. Then it came crashing in. Kyuubi wanted him to play again. He wanted a performance. And Naruto knew what would happen afterwards. It was what had happened after every performance he'd given Kyuubi as a child, the thing that had made him terrified to perform for anyone. The beatings. The abuse. It would all happen again. Naruto closed his eyes.

"Go on," Kyuubi said. He sounded fond. Naruto wanted to stab him.

Tiredly, Naruto moved to the piano, sitting down at the plush bench cover. He placed his hands on the keys, stroking them reverently. It really was a beautiful instrument.

"Play me something, Naruto," Kyuubi said. "And you know the rules."

Nothing modern, Naruto remembered. He dislikes Chopin, but adores Mozart, so he prefers one over the other. Otherwise, all classical music is free game.

Naruto thought for a moment. He knew that whatever song he chose would be ruined for him in the future. He'd never be able to play it again without thinking of this moment, the moment where he'd had to revisit his horrible past, trapped in the hands of his former tormenter and abuser. He took a deep breath. And then, almost without thought, he started to play.

Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 was meant for a larger group than just a piano – even as Naruto played, he could hear in his mind the backing sounds of the orchestra, led by the violins. But it was still a beautiful piece with just the piano, delicate and lovely, the way all Mozart was. Naruto's heart ached, knowing he was saying goodbye to this piece even as he played it. He would never play it again.

He threw himself into playing. He left nothing behind. Mozart was lovely and delicate and, sometimes, slightly emotionless. It wasn't that Mozart wasn't brilliant, per se, just that his music lacked passion sometimes. Beethoven was a musician with passion, even if his fugues were depressing. Mozart was meant to be played with precision. Naruto threw that out of the window. He butchered timing, he ran notes together, and he played with dynamics. Sometimes he messed up. But he played with emotion. Tears started to run down his face. He'd closed his eyes at some point during playing – he couldn't remember when. He opened them when he reached the middle of the concerto, where the music suddenly became fierce and hard, moving faster and louder. His eyes were blurry. He couldn't see Kyuubi.

He didn't want to think about what he was doing. He didn't want to think about the situation he was in, what would happen to him after the music had finished, what was going to happen tomorrow, the day after. His life, which had been going so well, which had been turning around for him, was all of the sudden, out of nowhere, ruined beyond fixing. Suddenly he was in Kyuubi's hold again, back to the place he was a year ago, as if everything that had happened since Kyuubi had been arrested had never happened. As if he'd never met Jiraiya or gone to Konoha or met his friends or . . . Itachi. It was if they were all a dream that he'd had, a marvelous dream about life that didn't have fear or pain or sadness in it. A life that was a happy, free of constant abuse. A life where music didn't equal pain, where it instead gave him the release it did when he was a child, a way to channel his emotions into something beautiful. A life that was wonderful, not hopeless. The tears came faster now. It had all been a dream. A beautiful, hopeless dream.

He came to the end of the piece abruptly, almost without realizing it. Naruto stared down at his hands, tan against the white keys. Teardrops were dripping onto his fingertips. Clapping echoed in the room and Naruto looked up wearily. Kyuubi was standing, clapping loudly, smiling. Naruto hated his smile.

"Well done!" Kyuubi said, still grinning. "That was marvelous, Naruto." He strode forward. Naruto flinched. He knew what was coming. "In fact, it was so wonderful, I feel inspired. Let's take a little . . . break, shall we?"

Kyuubi's grin filled Naruto's vision. And then, the pain.

Itachi stared down at his hands. They were attached to his violin bow, white-knuckled around it in fact. Slowly, he made them relax. He couldn't afford to break another bow – he'd already snapped one that morning.

The police hadn't come up with anything yet. Itachi had gone down the local station that morning to see if they'd gathered anything new during the night – but there was nothing. Only dead ends, leads that went nowhere. The police were starting to say that they might not be able to find Naruto. They might have to give up.

His hands were going white-knuckled again.

Calm down, he ordered himself. If they won't find him, I will. The question: how? He was rich, sure, and his name had influence, but there was only so much he could do. Kyuubi, it seemed, was smarter than anyone had given him credit for. He'd gone underground, and he'd done it fast. No one was able to find him, especially not the police.

Itachi had played around with the idea of a private detective, but he hadn't found anyone halfway decent yet. The only other thing he could do was ask for favors from friends who had contacts in the sort of places Kyuubi would frequent and wait. Itachi frowned. He hated waiting.

Carefully, he put the bow down. There was no point in trying to make music tonight. He'd only end up butchering whatever he tried playing. Madara had suggested he try practicing for a while, to take his mind off of things. His uncle meant well, of course, but he had no idea what Naruto meant to Itachi. Itachi's frown deepened. He had to find Naruto. He didn't know all of the specifics of what Kyuubi had done to him, but he knew enough to realize that Naruto was being hurt in his care, probably very badly, and it wasn't all physical. He didn't know if they'd get him back, even if they managed to rescue him. Itachi remembered Naruto when he'd first met him – a shadow of the person he'd become in the past months. Still himself – loving, bright, caring, empathetic – but at the same time, he was shadowed, cautious, and vulnerable. And that was after a year of being away from Kyuubi. Itachi hated to think of the state he'd be in if they rescued him. When, he thought. Not if, when.

But he wasn't just going to wait on the police to handle the situation. They obviously weren't doing good enough – it was on their watch that Naruto got kidnapped in the first place. No, Itachi had to find Naruto on his own. He just needed a place to start. Any lead would do.

A knock on his door. Sasuke popped his head in. "Itachi? Can I talk to you?"

Itachi nodded. Sasuke had been oddly subdued the past few days. Itachi thought it was because he'd seen Naruto taken right in front of him. Naruto and Sasuke hadn't liked each other, but that had to have been traumatizing.

"I was wondering . . . about the man who took Naruto," Sasuke said, hesitantly taking a seat on Itachi's bed. "What did you say his name was again?"

"Kyuubi," Itachi said, "Kyuubi Kitsune. Although the police don't think it's his real name." It likely wasn't.

Sasuke bit his lip. It was odd to see the nervous gesture on his brother's normally emotionless face. "Why is it bad that Naruto's with him? Not that it'd good," he added hurriedly. "It's just—why are you all so worried? Isn't it possible he just wants a ransom or something?"

Itachi shook his head. "Sasuke," he started bluntly, "Kyuubi abused Naruto for the majority of his childhood." Sasuke paled. "He was beaten regularly. Usually after he'd finished performing for Kyuubi. It's where he got his fear of performing." Sasuke looked sick. "There were also, from what I've gathered, threats of molestation." Itachi's voice was steady, but his hands were curled up into fists. Sasuke looked on the verge of throwing up.

"Oh," he said, his voice very, very small. "I think—I need to—Sorry—" He left. Itachi stared at the door, frown furrowing his eyebrows, considering. Sasuke had been acting strangely lately. He was curious as to why, but sometimes his brother's motivations just eluded him.

Besides, he had more important things to worry about. Such as finding Naruto.

Sasuke was close to a panic attack as he hurried into his room. He could only hope that Itachi would ignore his odd behavior because of his distraction over Naruto. He couldn't afford for Itachi to see him like this and guess the truth.

He threw himself onto his bed and buried his face in his hands. Abused, he thought, numbness settling over him, calming his breathing. He was abused. By the man who—He tried to stop from thinking it, but he couldn't, couldn't because it was the truth—the man who I let take him. Sasuke knew he had many faults: he had a temper, one unbecoming of an Uchiha, and he was impatient sometimes and childish others. He hated being wrong and he hated other people besting him. But he had never thought he'd do something this monumentally stupid.

I have let Naruto go back into the hands of his abuser, Sasuke thought. This is my fault. I caused this. Without my help, Kyuubi wouldn't have succeeded as easily.

All of that was true. He could pretend that it wasn't, that Kyuubi would have gotten Naruto anyways, without his help, but that was false and Sasuke was many things, but he liked to think that he didn't make the same mistake twice, especially when it was one this huge. He couldn't lie to himself about what was going on, not anymore.

I hated him, Sasuke thought. And maybe I still hate him, for taking my brother and keeping him and impressing him and being loved by him, something I've tried and failed at for years. And yes, I would've been fine with this if it was a ransom or a kidnapping, because I do dislike him and I do want him gone. But a ransom is different from abuse. It's different from molestation. Sasuke shuddered at the thought. What if Kyuubi touched Naruto? What if Naruto got hurt or—worse. And the blame would be on Sasuke's shoulders.

Sasuke's heart hurt.

I can't let that happen to him, he thought. I can't be responsible for that. If he comes back broken and hurt from whatever Kyuubi does to him, it'll be my fault. Itachi will never forgive me and, he could only acknowledge this in his head, a place where no one could hear him, I'll never forgive myself.

This meant, of course, that he would need to tell someone the truth. Sasuke cringed away from that idea. He'd have to tell Madara and Itachi that he'd been in contact with Kyuubi, that he'd plotted to get Naruto away from Itachi, that he'd all but handed Naruto to Kyuubi on a silver platter. He'd have to tell them that it was all his fault that Naruto was currently missing, getting hit and tortured and maybe even raped. Sasuke felt the urge to throw up.

Then he took a deep breath. This can't go on, he thought. You can't hide in here like a coward, trembling at the thought of what they'll say to you when you tell them the truth. That's not the Uchiha way and, more importantly, it shouldn't be your way. You may not like Naruto, you may hate him, but you can't stand by silently when you may have the information that could save him.

No, Sasuke silently acknowledged, he couldn't. This meant that he needed to have a conversation with Itachi and it needed to be now. Sasuke stood. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders and made his way to the door.

Time to tell the truth.

Author's Note: Okay, so I know this is very, very late. I'm so sorry! Unfortunately my life has been obnoxiously busy for the past few months and I've had very little time for writing at all, let alone updating stories. I'm hoping to update my stories either this weekend or next, and I'll hopefully be on my schedule by the end of March. Once again, sorry for the delay, especially since it was on a cliffhanger. Next chapter will be a confrontational one: Haku and his father and Sasuke and Itachi. Meanwhile, Kyuubi and Naruto will be . . . chatting. Please leave a review to let me know what you think!

Songs Used in This Chapter (in chronological order): Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20