"I don't know, Naruto-kun," Morino Ibiki said doubtfully, pacing back and forth in the small, dingy room many meters below ground. "You say you want to cooperate with me, but you keep lying. I don't like it when you lie to me, it makes me think you don't really want to cooperate with me after all. Please tell me it was just a mistake and you do want to cooperate with me."
Naruto was already pale and haggard under the harsh, hot lights, itchy because of the cheap prison greys he was dressed in, and he squirmed involuntarily in the restraint chair as he fought the urge to puke. "Oh no no nonono! Shit, Ibiki-san!" he said, his voice high and shrill with terror. "As I told you, in my world, you practically raised me! I fucking know what you can do! I've seen it! You taught some of it to me firsthand! You frighten me in ways I can't even express, BELIEVE ME, I've been cooperating! PLEASE believe me!" If nothing else, the tears streaming from his eyes indicated that he was an excellent actor.
Ibiki said nothing, pacing back and forth slowly, his expression unreadable.
"For crying out loud, if I was some sort of super spy trying to sneak into Konoha and replace your Naruto, I think I'd have done my homework a little better and not been so blatantly out of place! At the very LEAST I would have gotten the teams right! Gods above, the only way I would have screwed that up would be if I was as dumb as everyone thinks I'm supposed to be, and then that would indicate that I'm really me, right?" Naruto argued desperately. "Shit, I don't even know who or where I am anymore. Fucking mind games! I HATE MINDGAMES!"
"By your own admission, you claim to love them," Ibiki noted with faint amusement.
Naruto looked taken aback. "Well, only when I'm the one pulling them! The receiving end sucks no end of cock!"
"You're certainly fouler mouthed than you should be," Ibiki commented after a moment.
"You took me to work almost daily!" Naruto shrilled, his balls attempting to climb into his throat for protection. "Nozomi and Tori and Hebi taught me how to curse! Anko gave me pointers!"
Ibiki shrugged. "I don't believe you. I guess we'll just have to try something else to make you more cooperative."
Naruto shrieked like a little girl and flinched so hard the chair creaked.
"IBIKI." The name wasn't so much shouted as said with such a commanding tone of voice that even the master torturer blanched and quickly retreated backwards and to the side, bowing low in apology as the Sandaime Hokage entered the room.
"Hokage-sama!" Naruto said, crying in relief. "Oh thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou."
Sarutobi gave Ibiki a stern glare, and the burly man bowed again in apology, submitting to his leader.
"You were to interrogate Naruto one on one because he claimed close association with you, not break him," Sarutobi said reproachfully.
"My apologies, Hokage-sama, I was simply testing his claims. His story has remained plausibly consistent throughout the retellings, and I only wished to check for appropriate responses for the things I could verify. I apologize again for getting carried away, Hokage-sama."
Sarutobi raised one eyebrow in inquiry.
"Either the most magnificent acting I've ever seen, or the truth, Hokage-sama. His reactions to me are entirely consistent with the fear and psychological pain that I evoke among some of our long term guests whom I have developed a closer working relationship with. Such responses can't be entirely transferred to another interrogator, facial recognition and voice inflection are too important for subconscious reaction. It's possible he was prepared for the role by someone henged to look and sound like me, but the likelihood of an enemy getting such a complete psychological profile of me and yet making such blatant mistakes elsewhere do seem unlikely."
"So if our displaced guests stories are true, then at least in some world, I gave Naruto to you to raise." Sarutobi's voice was flat.
"It does appear that way, Hokage-sama," Ibiki noted with the closest thing to amusement he ever had.
The Hokage, unquestioned military leader of Konoha and all its inhabitants, facepalmed in disgust.
Naruto laughed, though it was kind of shrill and unhinged as it faded out. Even Ibiki smiled.
Sarutobi smacked Ibiki on the back of the head with the speed of a ninja god. "What are you smiling for?! Look what you've done to this child!"
Ibiki paused. Such a casual, insulting gesture should have been infuriating, but the third Hokage's compassion to children was well known, and it wasn't as though he could actually be mad at his leader. If the Hokage decided he needed a good smack, then he assuredly did and he should contemplate the error of his ways.
"So, if I get the blame…" he said slowly, "do I also get the credit for his successes?"
Sarutobi frowned. Looked at him, looked at Naruto. Didn't answer.
Instead, he produced a kunai from somewhere in his robes and quickly released Naruto from the restraint chair.
"Thank you, Hokage-sama!" Naruto babbled enthusiastically. "I'll be properly grateful and regain my composure in a little bit. Until then, do you mind if I grovel at your feet until I forget how goddamn scary Ibiki-san is?" he asked politely as he fell to his knees and groveled.
"Of course, Naruto-kun, whatever you feel is best for helping you recover," Sarutobi said, unobtrusively helping the boy up and out of the room to rejoin the rest of the genin. "Don't worry, no one's going to hurt you. In fact, we're going to let you see your team again and have a break for a little while."
"Oh good," Naruto said brightly, still groveling just a little. "I'd been worried about them, you know. The only good thing about being with Ibiki-san was knowing that, you know, at least it was ME, you know? Every time we get tortured I always make sure I get to go first 'cause I have more experience with it…"
Ibiki stood quietly out of the way as the Hokage and Naruto rejoined the ANBU guard team and were escorted back out of T and I.
After a while, he smiled.
He thought the kid turned out great.
It had begun as a day completely unlike any other day. All of them woke up feeling incredibly sick and tired, much like a hangover, though none of them knew what a hangover was. It wasn't even like the various times they'd overdone it on Kyubi chakra and nearly died. There was an incredibly strong sense of disorientation, and a mental fog that made it all but impossible to speak, much less notice that the things around them were subtly wrong.
Naruto woke up shivering and aching, couldn't find any of his weapons, his scrolls, or his favorite clothes, and his kitchen cabinets, not that he felt up to eating, were inexplicably stuffed with nothing but instant ramen. To the extent he thought about it at all, he thought Sasuke was messing with him again and had clumsily drugged him with something really freaking powerful.
Sasuke's apartment was much the same as always, though under any other circumstances his permanently activated sharingan would have noticed things being in the wrong place and little details like the place where Naruto had torn the wallpaper being missing. Since he couldn't see for puking for almost fifteen minutes, his sharingan wasn't doing much good. He assumed he was either sick or poisoned, and either way, had to see Naruto and get some of that amazing healing Kyubi chakra and get it fixed. The hospital never even crossed his mind.
Hinata's room was completely identical on the surface, though someone had bizarrely replaced all of her clothes with old things she'd thrown out and new things she'd never have bought because they were plain and nearly identical to her old stuff. She felt incredibly sick as well, but the juken could heal as well as harm, and she quickly managed to get herself at least functional by adjusting blood and chakra flows to her head. Assuming that her father had directed the servants to replace her clothing with less sexy, more drab, if comfortable, items as some indication that he did not approve of a sexual relationship and was in no hurry for her to produce a new heir, she shrugged and went about her morning business as she made a note to bring it up with Naruto later.
Breakfast with her sister and Neji was again as normal. Hanabi barely answered when she spoke to her, which was not something Hinata worried about. Neji was under the weather as well, which caused them both to assume they had caught some illness. They were both polite and formal, as usual, though Neji invited her to cough on Sasuke a few times before she got over it.
Ironically, the person whose home life had changed the least was the very person who first discovered that all was not as it used to be in Konoha.
"What do you mean, I'm on a team with Naruto and Sasuke?!" Sakura exclaimed in complete confusion. First she woke up sick, and now her team was messing with her head. What a terrible way to start the day.
Shino and Kiba exchanged glances and slid unobtrusively away from the clearly insane girl.
"Sakura-chan… I think we need to get you to the doctor," Kurenai said gently. She frowned. "And possibly your sensei."
"But you're my sensei!" Sakura wailed. "Hinata was the one who got put on Team Lie! Just ask them!"
"We will, I promise," Kurenai prepared to jump on and subdue the increasingly distraught kunoichi. "But why do you call them Team Lie?"
"We started calling them that when we found out Naruto was just pretending to be an idiot and was actually really smart and talented. He pretended to be an idiot so well it fooled everyone," Sakura explained.
"He does play the fool well," Shino noted.
"If he's that good at lying, I bet he's lying about being smart, not being an idiot. Naruto is dumb as a sack of rusty kunai," Kiba countered.
"Arf!" Akamaru agreed.
"And then Hinata pretended to be shy and meek and was really… uh… kinda scary, really," Sakura admitted with an embarrassed cough. "Sasuke is still cool, though," she hastened to add.
"Scary Hinata? This I gotta see!" Kiba announced.
They finally found the aforementioned 'Team Lie' with, of all things, Asuma and his Team Ten.
"We thought Kakashi was still gone, and we couldn't remember what we were supposed to do today, so we went to ask Asuma-sensei," Naruto explained. "So you're here, too, Sakura? Well, I'm getting the theme now." Naruto quirked his lips ironically.
"Neji did tell me to cough on Sasuke this morning when he thought I was sick," Hinata said quietly. "So I believe it's safe to assume he is a part of this as well." She paused. "Stop sniffing me, Inuzuka."
Kiba paused in his circling and sniffing of what should have been his teammate. "Well, she looks like Hinata, and she smells like her too, but there's a lot of Naruto all over her." He leaned in and sniffed some more.
"We're together," Naruto explained.
"Genjutsu wish fulfillment?" Asuma asked Kurenai quietly. She only shrugged.
"And you really should stop getting in her personal space, Kiba," Naruto continued.
Kiba looked up at him challengingly. "What, you gonna defend your girlfriend?"
Even Kurenai and Asuma were too slow, and only partially because of the shock, to stop Hinata.
Kiba was rather surprised to find himself on his knees in front of Hinata, the front of his jacket balled in her fist and her palm millimeters away from his forehead.
"I haven't hurt him," Hinata announced quickly, releasing Kiba as the jounin clearly wavered on whether to treat it as an attack or not.
Kiba debated on mentioning the twinges of pain in his joints from the forced movement, but decided that it might be time to shut up after all.
"It's always hilarious how they underestimate Hinata first," Sasuke noted happily. "You see, you have it all wrong. Hinata protects Naruto." He chuckled. "Certainly the idiot can't manage to do it himself."
"Oh, shut up, Sasuke," Naruto grumbled. "This is not the time. We've clearly got some sort of weird issue that I'm still betting is some sort of freakish genjutsu. I can't even remember what happened yesterday, much less make any kind of guess why everyone but those of us with a contract seems to be from a similar but different world." He paused and tapped his chin in thought.
"I'd love to say that there's something affecting everyone who doesn't have a contract, and we're the only ones who remain unaffected because of the nature of our chakra. Ideally, I'd have liked to keep all this quiet until we can figure out what's going on, but the nature of the discovery seems to have created a situation where not just our respective teams, but Asuma-sensei and Team 10, and almost certainly Gai-sensei and his team as well all know about the unusual circumstances surrounding us. Since it really does seem to be everyone but us, and they think we're acting strangely and not the other way around, sadly I foresee a visit with the hokage and many hours in interrogation."
"You're right about that," Kakashi announced, appearing out of nowhere. "I intend to find out what is going on here as soon as possible."
Naruto nodded. "Yes, Kakashi-sensei. Um, can I pee first?"
"Well, I encourage all of you, and that goes for you, too, Sakura, to cooperate fully and answer all questions to the best of your ability. The last thing we want is to be declared spies or imposters when all we are is a group of poor, innocent, extremely confused and increasingly frightened young genin," Naruto advised. "Please, be considerate of our situation," he continued, turning to the adults. "I mean, Sasuke has a fragile psyche, and Sakura is just a gentle kunoichi. Hinata is really sweet, and I'm just a poor abused orphan." He paused. "Feel free to scare the shit out of Neji when you go get him, though. He's kind of a dick."
"Heh," Hinata snickered once.
"…and so that was the second time I got crabs," Naruto finished explaining.
"Well that's quite a story, Naruto-kun," Sarutobi said calmly while he packed his pipe full of tobacco again.
AN: What story did Naruto tell the Hokage? Why, only People Lie, gentle readers!
"I suppose your teammates will tell the same story?" the Hokage asked as he puffed his pipe back to life.
Naruto hesitated. "Well, Hinata would. Sakura and Neji weren't there for most of what I told you. Don't listen to Sasuke, though. He's gonna make himself out to be the hero or something and emphasize all the parts where I kind of look like an idiot."
"Indeed. Then, while I hear their versions of events, would you care to tell your story again? I believe you said you were close with Morino Ibiki in your childhood? I'm sure he'd love to hear that. I'm afraid that, as I've known events, the man has never made a real connection outside of work."
"Here you go, Naruto-kun. Your friends, safe and sound. You've got three hours with them, and then you'll be escorted to different rooms for the night. We'll resume our conversations tomorrow," Sarutobi said, not unkindly.
"Are you okay, Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked, concerned as she immediately went to his side and relieved him from the Hokage's company.
"Yeah, how was it?" Even Sasuke had been worried when he found out Naruto was with Ibiki. Naruto's stories of growing up with the man were hardly frightening compared to many of the things they'd done, but Naruto's fear of the man was clearly real.
"Could have been worse," Naruto evaded. "What about you? Everyone okay?" He looked around the room to check on Sakura, who sat nervously apart from the others, but seemed unharmed and untraumatized, and Neji, who sat even farther away against one wall, just as calm and composed as ever. All of them, Naruto included, were dressed in drab prison greys, having been quite thoroughly searched and inspected when they were first brought in.
They'd been interrogated separately over the course of about three days, and although they all needed a good bath and their own clothes back, they had at least been fed and allowed showers and sleep time. This was the first time they'd been brought back together.
Sasuke shrugged. "Meh."
"They didn't hurt me or anything," Sakura replied. "But… they haven't fixed anything either! This… this isn't right!"
"This probably would have been quite a shock if I hadn't already realized fate isn't real," Neji noted calmly.
"The worst part was attempting to explain it to Father," Hinata admitted. "They have not yet asked us to attempt a summoning as further proof."
"Yeah, I'm kinda curious if it's gonna work," Naruto admitted. "A little scared to try it, admittedly. "If it doesn't work, that means everyone else is right and there's something wrong with us. I don't want there to be something wrong with us. I like us."
"Me, too," Hinata said softly.
Sasuke grunted in agreement.
"I don't," Neji added unbidden.
"Yeah, I didn't get the luxury of having my team come along on this bizarre mind trip, either," Sakura whined.
"I'm not talking about being in a world where my teammates aren't the ones I remember, though truthfully I couldn't tell a difference, I just don't like them," Neji elaborated with a gesture at Team Lie.
"Yeah, well, you're just a bucket of sunshine yourself," Naruto grumbled.
"But what about me? I don't have my team!" Sakura whined. "Whichever one I'm supposed to have!" She jabbed her finger at Neji. "You at least have the same people, right? I'm with people who don't know me at all! They're more concerned about Hinata than they are me! I'm all alone!"
"We're all alone in this cold, uncaring world," Neji agreed. "Nothing has meaning, nothing has purpose."
"Whaaa!" Sakura started crying.
"Oh, don't worry, Sakura, we're here with you," Naruto said, going over to put an arm around her. "We remember the real you, we won't forget you! Just remember all the good times we had together!"
"Why, it seems like just a couple weeks ago when I threatened to kill you," Hinata noted. "Good times."
"WHAAAAAAA!" Sakura cried.
"Sasuke is here at least, right?" Naruto said in a vain attempt to get her to stop crying as he awkwardly petted her tangled hair. "Remember? You were dating the love of your life? That's good, right? It's like a romantic getaway! To another world! How many couples get to do that?"
"It was only one date," Sasuke noted. "It's not like I like her."
Naruto implored him with his eyes to come over, shut up, and comfort the crying girl.
"Why are you looking at me like that, Naruto? Stop it, it's creepy," Sasuke complained.
"Oh, stop crying before I give you something to cry about," Hinata snapped peevishly.
"There's nothing worth crying about," Neji noted. "Nothing is worth anything at all."
Naruto looked up at the ceiling, where doubtlessly there would be hidden listening devices, or seals, or something, and sighed.
"This was all part of some master plan of forcing me to be with my teammates so that it would make me crack, wasn't it?" Naruto asked the presumed unseen observer. "If so, well played, Sir, well played."
The next day, the Hokage asked them to tell their story one more time, but this time an abridged version replacing the kyubi with a fictional bloodlimit Naruto had activated, to the assembled groups of Team Eight, Ten, and Gai's team, as well as their respective teachers and Hinata's father. Sakura's parents did not have nearly enough political power or security clearance to be brought in on the secret, though the Hokage promised her they would deal with that issue privately as needed.
"Although I agree with Naruto that, under ideal circumstances, we would have kept this as quiet as possible, until we discover a cure, a counter, or some other way to set things right, far too many people know that these five genin are not as they should be. We will allow you to return to duty on an extremely limited trial basis, to be evaluated as time goes on. But since you will be working with people you once knew as friends on both sides but no longer trust because of these events, I think it'd be a good idea if you tell them your stories together, here in a secure room."
"Oh, man, you mean you want us to tell the truth to these people in hopes we'll learn to be friends again?" Naruto complained. "What kind of freakish friendship is based on trust and honesty, anyway?"
"Normal ones?" Ino asked hesitantly.
Even Neji joined in the laugher for that one.
They told their stories. Team Lie's was by far the most intricate, though Sakura took pains to tell some of the funny events that had happened with her Team Eight, which had Kiba and Kurenai laughing now and then, and even Shino might have smiled.
The real difference came with the story of their first C rank mission, which turned into an S rank horror show that still showed itself in the three scars across Naruto's stomach and the intricate tracery of scars that covered Hinata's body.
Those scars, disfiguring though they might be, were actually a tremendous relief to the displaced genin, since they were proof that their memories were correct. One little difference nagged Naruto and Sasuke, though. There were fresher, pinker patches of skin on Hinata's stomach and back, where it seemed like the scars had been distorted and twisted. Instead of the original twisty runes devoted to the seven tailed beast, there was an almost comical depiction of a star shaped fishcake with a spiral on it.
Hinata had, at some point in their missing memory gap, had her scars changed so that they were devoted to Naruto. Admittedly, the naruto symbol had been carved into her flesh, perhaps by her own hand, but neither Sasuke nor Naruto found that in the least creepy.
The description of the shoggoth was particularly vivid, as well as their various experiences inside the beast. Sasuke used a minor genjutsu, with permission from the adults who knew it was harmless, to give a brief recap of it chasing them out of the swamp, which he still remembered in vivid clarity.
"Oh, my. I'm certainly glad we don't have those in our world," Sarutobi said grimly.
"Really?!" Naruto asked.
"No. I've fought some amazing things, including the Kyubi, but I've never seen or heard of anything like that," Kakashi confirmed, feeling a little proud of 'his' students.
They paused to consider that amazing revelation that even some of the fundamental stuff of their world was not the same in the new one.
Then, very seriously, Sasuke walked over and gave Kakashi a hug.
Kakashi was, needless to say, somewhat freaked out by this.
"Best. Alternate." Hinata began.
"World. EVER!" Naruto cheered. "Woohoo! No shoggoths! Goodbye nightmares, hello sweet dreams! Forget trying to fix things," he said, turning to the Hokage. "Can we stay? Please?"
They downplayed their role in antagonizing Gai's team, though they did admit that they were, 'kind of jerks' as they poked at their weaknesses. Neji's ironic laugh told his team all the needed to know about exactly how bad Team Lie had been. But it hadn't happened to them directly, and as students of Gai, they winced appropriately at the story of how they'd been told to 'Run. That's all he said. Run.'
Then they explained how they'd been sent to train with Team Ten, and how they'd come to honestly like Ino, Shikamaru, and Chouji, and tried to make friends with Team Gai again, though Lee was still kinda mad and Neji was…
"What? What are you implying?" he asked, affronted.
And the last thing they could really remember they were with Jiraiya the Sannin and on their way to summon Orochimaru from an alternate plane to answer some questions about the nature of Naruto's power and were really hoping Orochimaru didn't…
…mess with them…
Naruto stumbled to a halt in his story and facepalmed.
"Oh, shit. We summoned Orochimaru the freaking GOD. OF COURSE IT WENT BAD." He stumbled back and forth for a few minutes, slapping himself in the head. "Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. DAMN IT JIRAIYA! THAT WAS YOUR IDEA!"
"You know, under the circumstances, this is probably nothing at all as bad as it could have been," Sasuke noted grimly.
"Point," Hinata allowed.
"This can only end in tears," Shino noted.
"Or hilarity," Tenten countered. She found their circumstances tremendously amusing, and the new nihilistic Neji, while certain to get annoying fast, was at least a change of pace from 'oh noes fate' Neji.
"Either way, it'll be troublesome," Shikamaru said with a sigh.
AN: Sorry about the lack of People Lie updates. I've been largely focused on my original novel project, which still needs a title. Needs beta readers and feedback, too. Since I'm the kind of guy who likes to work with what I'm good at, you'll be pleased to hear that I'm totally stealing some of the more popular stuff from People Lie for my novel. Not ninjas, or anything like that, I mean themes and styles. Friends who are mean to each other in funny ways, friends who are mean to other people in funny ways, and the juxtaposition of comedy and horror that, really, is so important to the way People Lie went down. The novel itself is kind of a dark urban fantasy type world… except with a more military slant and mostly non powered characters. Lots of moral grey area stuff, sometimes edging into black, much like the missions of People Lie. (I stress again, the novel has nothing at all to do with ninjas, Naruto, or People Lie, but the writing style will be quite familiar.) For more information and addition to the as yet small mailing list, PM IM or email me. People Lie was always a test bed for ideas I wasn't sure about. Some of them didn't work, but enough did that it astonishingly enough got popular in its own right.
Well, I'm sad to say that People Lie has kind of meandered its course. I always had plot elements in mind, and I always planned to, you know, get on with the plot at some point, but I kept totally being distracted by further elements of the characters I wanted to explore. And, to be honest, People Lie has pretty much run out of steam. Most of the negative comments I'm seeing now aren't from people who never liked it to begin with, they're from people who quite enjoyed it at first but gave up when it just started being character interaction without purpose. That's a very valid complaint, and one I agree with. To actually fix the issue would require a complete rewrite of People Lie.
But wait! That's… boring, right? It might make it more accessable to the new reader, but to those of you who have been following for years now, that's not very exciting, especially at first. And quite a few of you have expressed interest in Team Lie taking on canon events over the years, which I mostly strayed from, because I had other ideas. Well, combine that with time travel and alternate world business and you've got the inspiration for this.
It certainly won't follow pure canon, and the world their in is still the darker, grittier version I like, but there's no lovecraftian stuff except what they brought with them. The interesting thing is, at least to me, is that Team Lie is so unsuited to even near canon. They need a hero, which they had in canon Naruto.
PL Naruto is not a hero. Maybe he's not an actual villian… but he's not a hero. Still, it's up to you whether you believe Shino or Tenten. Me… I'm just writing this because the novel project is moving slower than my urge to write due to the difficulties inherent in building original material. I'm gonna go with Shikamaru on this one. This is very troublesome.
Also, I have not committed to anything other that for sure working on my novel. I may go back to regular People Lie and try to fix it, I may keep working on this, I may do something else. I dunno.