Twin1: …Hi, everybody. So, I was checking my email and mui had left me a lovely review for Dogtags, to which I had one reaction"I haven't updated that yet? Whoops." So sorry for the wait of… far too long. Here's the next chapter. Unedited (gasp!) because I have two exams in ten days' time. On the same day. Ouch. So yeah, no time for perfecting the chapter. You shall all have to make do with my spell-check-and-a-glance-over-it-for-missing-sections. Oh! A warning: there is a bit of Nasty in this chapter, but it's ONLY this chapter. By next chapter, it'll be a thing of the mentally-traumatic past.
Hope you enjoy anyway, if anyone except mui is still interested in this story. Dedicated to mui for reminding me to update this thing. What is it about Dogtags that makes me just completely forget to update?
Chapter Eight: Unpleasant Happenings
Naruto twitched in agitation, chewing his lower lip as Hokage-sama unlocked the box that Master's scrolls were kept in, in order to give him his fifth one.
He was late. Very late. A week late.
He still had many scrolls to go.
Master would be furious.
Hokage-sama handed him the fifth scroll, smiling as he did so, and Naruto took it with a slightly shaking hand.
He knew what he had to do: he didn't have to like it.
"H-Hokage-sama," he began, a wobble in his voice, his eyes fixed on the polished wood floor. "I have to leave."
Silence. Even Kakashi-sir lowered his book in shock. Naruto shot the man who had become his Packmate a pleading look, begging him to understand.
"I need to go home," he said.
The old human sat down behind the big desk in the room. "May I ask why?" he said quietly. "Why the sudden urgency? Have you been treated badly here? Has anyone hurt you, or frightened you?"
"NO!" Naruto burst out, before reigning himself in and continuing in a quiet tone, "Everyone's been so... so nice... but I need... I have to go home. I have to. Master he said I have to be home in a month, and I'm already late, and so I have to go now, without the scrolls if you won't give them to me."
Naruto shuddered at the thought of returning home late, without the full set of scrolls he'd been sent to retrieve, and a little whimper escaped him.
Master was going to be so mad...
There was silence for a very long moment, before Hokage-sama leaned forward and said, "Very well. But just give us a few moments to organise some things first, okay? Do not leave right now, this second."
Naruto nodded, tears wetting his cheeks and dripping off the end of his nose. It hurt. He didn't want to leave here, leave Kakashi-sir and the life he had here. But he had no choice. He belonged to Master. What Master did was best for him. He had to go back.
"Please wait in the hall for Kakashi to join you," Hokage-sama was saying, so Naruto made his miserable way out into the hallway to wait.
Inside the office, Kakashi slammed his hands down onto the desk.
"He's not going back!" he snarled, furious. Sarutobi reached for his pipe, a frown furrowing his forehead.
"I am aware of that," he said, stuffing the clay pipe with tobacco and lighting it, "The question is, how do we convince him to stay?"
Kakashi was silent. He had no idea, short of locking the blonde up and throwing away the key. Sarutobi leant back in his chair, gesturing for the jounin to sit. "I'd say it's high time we put those tax dollars to good use," he began, his pipe smoking ominously.
Sakura was running late. Normally, this wouldn't have caused too much of a panic in her, given how tardy her sensei was all the time, but today they were meeting in the Hokage's office. She hurried into the large red building and spoke to the chuunin at ground level there to direct traffic. The man grinned at her and waved her through, well aware that he should have seen her at least twenty minutes ago.
The pink-haired medic rushed towards the Hokage's Office, taking stairs two at a time, though she slowed and composed herself before turning the last corner and coming into view of the guards stationed outside the Hokage's door. The ANBU had probably already spotted her undignified display, but there was no helping that.
Naruto was sitting cross-legged on the floor beside the door, just far enough away from it so as not to be in the way of the guards. This in itself was not surprising: ever since Kakashi-sensei had appeared with the unusual teen in tow, he seemed to spend much of his time waiting patiently for the sluggish teacher. What was surprising was that instead of sitting quietly, amusing himself by fiddling with whatever inane object was within reach, the blonde boy looked… upset.
"Naruto?" Sakura knelt near him, ignoring the way one of the guards looked at his watch and cleared his throat. The other teen looked up, his odd eyes full of tears. "Are you alright?"
The odd child opened his mouth, closed it again without saying anything, averted his gaze and nodded. Sakura pursed her lips not convinced by any stretch of the imagination, but really, really late.
"I'll come back and talk to you in a bit," she promised, and straightened to walk into the Hokage's Office.
Inside, there was a small gathering: Kakashi-sensei, Toshi, Sasuke-kun, the Hokage and, alarmingly, Ibiki-san, the man who had proctored her first chuunin exam. Toshi and Sasuke-kun were shunted off to the side, heads swivelling like they were watching a three-way tennis match with numerous balls in play where the rules seemed to revolve around clobbering the competition to death with one's tennis racket. The adults were the players in this game, shouting back and forth in a confusing jumble of arguments that seemed to have no bearing on one another.
Unable to think of anything else to do, Sakura slid into place beside the boys and joined them in trying to track the progress of the… discussion. I bet anything that this is directly related to why Naruto is so upset.
Kakashi-sensei noticed her well, in fairness, everyone except Toshi noticed her arrival, but Kakashi was the only one to respond to it and broke off his part of the battle to turn to her with a smile and say in his most irritating sing-song voice, "Saku-ra, you're la-ate!"
Sakura smiled. "I found a crying boy and stopped to make sure he was okay," she embroidered. From the flicker of unease in her teacher's sole eye, she had the strange feeling that he knew to whom she was referring, but he didn't question her, returning to the raging debate storming up the Hokage's Office.
Sarutobi seemed to take the reprieve as an opportunity to end the fighting."Sakura-san. Good. I have a mission for you all of you. He began addressing the whole room. "It seems that Naruto is determined to return to his home, and I have decided to have Team Kakashi escort him. You four have watched over him admirably in the last few weeks. Ibiki-san and I were just discussing how best to organise Naruto's permanent transfer to Konoha."
Sakura blinked. "He's not from Konoha?" she said, trying to catch up. Kakashi-sensei piped up.
"He is, he's just… I suppose you could say he was lost when he was very young. Now, we need to figure out a way to keep him, see?" Sakura frowned at the smile her sensei had pasted unconvincingly onto his posture. He seemed very troubled by something.
"I still don't think it's a good idea to let Naruto back to that person." The way Kakashi said the word person hinted that he wanted to replace it with monster. He had turned back to appeal to the Hokage. Sarutobi shook his head, smoke curling from his pipe.
"I'm afraid Naruto will not be dissuaded," he said. Ibiki crossed his arms.
"Are you really sure about this?" he asked. "There are a million ways this can go wrong."
"I'm sure," Sarutobi said confidently. "You will take Naruto back to his master. You will make this Makoto my offer. You leave in thirty minutes."
Kakashi took a breath as he took in the fortress Naruto had led them to. He glanced sideways at the blonde, noticing that the closer they got to this place, the stiller and quieter he became. He walked between Sasuke and Toshi, eyes on the ground, hands clutching the sides of his shirt convulsively.
Subtly, Kakashi manoeuvred to stand next to his charge, letting the blonde creep close and press against him.
"You okay?" he asked softly. Naruto nodded.
"Yes," he said agreeably.
"Are you worried because you're late?" the Hatake pressed. Naruto shook his head.
"Can't change it: shouldn't worry about it," he shrugged. He hesitated a beat, and then added, "I'm just... I've never seen a Packmate Handler before. And... I'll miss you."
Kakashi frowned. "Naruto, we're not going to say goodbye forever here. Don't be frightened we're not going to abandon you."
The blonde just smiled sadly and began to speak quietly, turning his gaze back to the ground. "You should tell Ibiki-sir this stuff, okay? Home isn't like Konoha. We are treated with much less grace. You mustn't do anything rash, and don't draw attention to the fact that you're like me, or Master will want to buy you, and you could be in trouble. Um... just, keep peace, okay?"
Kakashi frowned. "Alright," he said. He had an idea of what went on in this place Naruto's collar was prime evidence, for one thing. He dropped away again and began to murmur to Ibiki, repeating what Naruto had said in undertones. Ibiki nodded once, curtly, to signal that he understood, and Kakashi drifted away from him again.
"Kakashi," Naruto said suddenly, "You have to pretend you've been controlling me the whole way here, okay? Don't act like my friend." The blonde seemed quite anxious. Kakashi thought it was a little cute the way he was trying to protect his 'Packmate' so vehemently, and nodded as they reached the gates of the home of Nakamura Makoto.
There was a guard outside the closed wooden entrance, and he stopped the little procession.
"Who are you and what business do you have here?" he demanded roughly, one hand on the hilt of his sword.
"We are an envoy from Konohakagure," Ibiki said smoothly. "We come seeking an audience with Nakamura Makoto. We have found something we believe belongs to him."
The Head Interrogator jerked his head at where Naruto was standing with Kakashi's hand on the back of his neck, fingers curled around his collar.
The guard considered for a moment, before nodding curtly. "Wait here," he ordered, slipping through the gates for a moment. He spoke on the other side, and then re-appeared.
"Come with me," he said, and the gate was swung open from the inside.
Makoto was waiting for them in a stone antechamber, seated at a sturdy wooden table when the visitors were shown in. His sharp amber eyes flicked over the five humans before settling on his pet, which was standing among the three children.
A stab of anger flicked behind his eyes as he forced a smile.
"Good afternoon," he said politely, standing as a courtesy. "I understand you have come to return an item of some value to me."
Ibiki answered he'd ordered the other not to speak, after all.
"Yes, Nakamura-sama," he said, stepping forwards, "We found a young jinchuuriki some weeks ago, and have since identified you as his owner. I am Morino Ibiki, and this is my comrade, Hatake Kakashi and his three students."
"Pleased to meet you," Makoto replied without even glancing at the others."Forgive me, I must deal with the creature before I play my role as host. Perhaps you could wait for me in the dining room. I will have someone lay out refreshments for you, and show you the way."
Kakashi looked like he might protest, but Ibiki shot him a look and he deflated, placing a hand on Toshi's shoulder and Sakura's back to guide them after the servant who had appeared like magic. Sasuke followed him silently, and Ibiki made sure he was the last out of the room. He had a fair idea what was going to happen.
He didn't object when Kakashi paused in the doorway, looking back, his expression worried under his usual mask of boredom. Maybe the man needed to see this.
Naruto stood alone in the stone room before Makoto, shivering as if frightened. There was an expectant pause before Makoto's eyes flashed and he flicked a hand.
Sakura gasped as the man who had been introduced as Yasuo, Naruto's 'Handler', stepped forwards and without preamble struck Naruto hard across the face, his fist striking his left cheek from behind with enough force to snap the boy's head to the side. Naruto's blue eyes widened at the violence, and Ibiki tilted his own head to see something fill the expressive organs. The interrogator wasn't quite sure what to name it, but it made all the difference between the Naruto that had walked here with them and the Naruto they had found and dragged back to Konoha five weeks ago. In two seconds flat, all progress that had been made evaporated, leaving little more than an intelligent animal where a boy well on his way to being human had once stood.
Naruto's shoulders shook and his lower lip trembled before his knees folded and he fell to the ground, pitching forwards to settle into a very low bow, his head lowered in an obvious display of submission.
"You fail to complete the task is have set you, come home a week and a half after my highly generous time limit, and then have the nerve to show such blatant disrespect!" Makoto hissed, clearly not appeased by the corrected expression and position. Naruto cringed away from him, shoulders hunching as he tried to shrink into himself.
Idly, Ibiki wondered if the fact that he was finding this a fascinating display of total psychological control and mentally taking notes with almost admiration was an indicator that he sorely needed a holiday.
Even if he hadn't been trained in the art of reading people from the smallest ticks and indicators, it would have been easy to see that this Makoto had Naruto absolutely terrified, and yet still desperately wanting to please him. A true slave/master relationship.
"I'm sorry, Master!" the blonde whimpered wretchedly. "Please, I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! I tried, I promise!"
"Silence!" Yasuo hit him again, this time across his back with the stout stick in his hand. "You weren't given permission to speak!"
"Yasuo, calm down."
Ah, now that was interesting. Makoto stepped in before his man could overreact, protecting Naruto. Ibiki logged the information as he absently put a hand out, barring the way for Kakashi, who was trying to go back into the room.
"Kakashi, don't do anything stupid," he murmured quietly enough that their patiently waiting guide wouldn't hear them, not taking his eyes off the scene in the other room. "If we are going to help him in the long run, we must let him suffer now."
Kakashi hesitated, but nodded, falling back into his trusty mask of total emotionlessness, the one he'd used in ANBU, and as a child.
Shaking, no doubt flushed with adrenaline and awash with fear, Naruto lowered himself further, a physical substitute for the apologies he was not allowed to utter. His face and chest pressed against the stone floor and he brought his hands to rest palm-down on the floor next to his shoulders, leaving himself totally submissive and open to any blow the men cared to deal him, not even the flicker of an attempt to shield himself in his posture.
Ibiki narrowed his eyes. This servitude ran deep. Naruto was honestly dismayed at a fundamental level that his master was displeased, and obviously wouldn't be at peace until Master was once again pleased with him.
That was interesting. If he could condition some of his spies with the same loyalty, the same subservient attitude
Ibiki cut that thought off, squashing it ruthlessly. No, not even he was heartless enough to reduce a person to what Naruto had become: a slave, an animal, a pet.
Makoto was shaking his head, looking with equal parts regret, distain and disappointment?
Bending down, he took a firm hold of Naruto's golden hair and pulled, tilting his head back to see his face, taking in the tears brimming in blue eyes which were averted. Good he was remembering his place.
"You always were my favourite pet, little one," he said, his tone regretful and soft, his amber eyes tracing the boy's features. "But that won't save you today." Abruptly, he let go of the boy's hair and looked up at the Handler standing behind him. "I think it's time to bring out the cat and show him some real punishment," he said, his voice different, as hard and cold as ice.
Naruto gave a stifled cry of very real fear, and for a split second, Makoto looked regretful before his face hardened and he stood. Ibiki noted the tears that formed in Naruto's eyes as his master began to walk away and saw the agony written all over his scarred face as he warred internally, before throwing out a hand to catch hold of Master's pant cuff, knowing full well he could just get his fingers trodden on hard for his trouble.
Instead, Makoto paused and looked down, scowling at the disobedient pet who dared to behave like this.
The sight of the little fox's desperate, pleading face made his heart soften marginally, enough that he didn't reward the pet with a hard stomp on his hand, and instead glared as Naruto's eyes begged him for mercy.
"Master, forgive me," the blonde whimpered. Ibiki was fascinated. Such cruelty, and yet Naruto was still desperate to know his master didn't hate him when all was said and done.
Makoto considered for a surprisingly brief time before nodding once and leaning down, placing a hand gentle on the shivering child's head.
"I forgive you," he said simply. Then his voice hardened into something cruel and almost careless. "Flog him."
Kakashi made a convulsive movement as Yasuo grabbed Naruto and began to drag him away, but it was only a twitch before he was back under control. A furious glance from both adults got all three outraged children back in line, and the five quickly fell into step after the servant.
They made it to the room just ahead of their host, and Ibiki resigned himself to the task of making small talk with Makoto alone while Kakashi and Sasuke brooded and the other two sulked.
All five were failing miserably to keep images of what was happening to Naruto right now out of their minds.
"…Once we'd determined exactly who you were and where you lived, we brought him home. I'm sorry it took so long, but you know… red tape…" Ibiki shrugged apologetically.
Makoto waved a hand. "I understand completely. I apologise for any trouble he caused you. Do eat something, you must be starving."
Sakura bit her lip and looked uneasily at Kakashi. Ibiki was the only one who'd even touched the food they'd been offered. Everyone else was feeling too sick at the way Naruto had been treated to eat anything.
Kakashi stepped in before anyone (Toshi) said something stupid. The kids were doing an admirable job of keeping their mouths shut, and he suspected it wouldn't last much longer. He could hear Toshi and Sasuke grinding their teeth as he said lightly, "I'm sorry, Makoto-sama. We ate just before we arrived teenagers, they choose such odd times to be starving." He smiled falsely, but it fooled their host, and the man chuckled. "Mostly, we're just tired," he added.
"Of course, you've come a long way with a creature like Naruto to control," he said totally missing the way three teenagers stiffened at the casual reference to their friend. "You must stay the night, it's far too late to go home today. I'll have someone show you to the guest rooms. I'm sorry, but I have some business to attend to, and so I must leave you now. Perhaps after breakfast tomorrow I can take you for a tour of my home."
Kakashi held his breath on the trip through the estate, and almost collapsed with relief when they made it to their assigned bedroom before the children exploded.
It took five minutes for the two shinobi to make sure the large room was soundproofed and bug-free.
"Hokay," sighed Kakashi slumping down on one big bed. Ooh, squishy…
Wait. The kids were being far too quiet. Instantly alert, he looked around sharply and saw them gathered silently by the window that overlooked the stone courtyard. With a glance at Ibiki, he rose to his feet and moved to stand behind them, using his height to see over their heads what they were looking at.
What he saw made his gut clench.
There was a perfect view of the entire courtyard. Off to the left, there was a large cage that Kakashi would almost have pegged as an aviary if not for the thickness of the bars and the fact that it was pulsing with chakra. Directly opposite this, on the right side of the courtyard, there was a sort of overhang, a section where there was a roof extending three or four metres past the building, providing shelter.
Apart from a sturdy wooden table and a few items stacked neatly along the wall, it was totally devoid of clutter, and so it was easy to spot Naruto kneeling in the shade, shirtless. His chest was heaving as he balanced his weight on the balls of his feet, stretched upwards as far as he could go.
It took a moment for Kakashi to realise his hands were bound, caught in some kind of iron cuffs suspended from the roof by a heavy chain. He wasn't struggling, he didn't even look particularly worried: rather, he was upset and resigned.
Yasuo was standing nearby, with another man Kakashi assumed was another Handler. In his hand, Yasuo was holding a simple but frightening whip, and as the Konohans watched, he sent it swishing through the air and let it land over Naruto's back, its nine tails fanning out to deliver a truly punishing blow.
Sakura gave a low exclamation of distress as the bronze skin of Naruto's back broke and he began to bleed, but Yasuo didn't hesitate, instead quickly raining several blows onto the prone body, ensuring with a practiced hand that the sharp tails of the whip licked over his whole torso until he was riddled with cuts.
Then, once Naruto's cheeks were wet with tears he was obviously trying desperately not to shed Kakashi winced at the indicator that he'd been whipped before: tears in whip-wounds only make things hurt more and Yasuo looked like he was tiring, the man stepped back.
There was time for the people watching to breathe a sigh of relief before the man turned and held the whip out to his fellow Handler. With a sneer, the other man took it from him.
They didn't start again right away. The Handlers stood back for a few minutes, waiting for something. Ibiki murmured in surprise and touched Kakashi's arm, leaning closer to hiss, "Look: he's healing."
Kakashi felt sick. They were waiting until Naruto's advanced healing rate had kicked in, in order to continue for longer overall.
Soon, the nameless man judged the jinchuuriki to be ready and stepped forwards, lifting the whip ominously.
Biting his lip hard enough to make it bleed, Toshi reached forwards and carefully eased the window up, letting the sound of what was happening fill the room. With every blow, Sakura flinched. Toshi had turned away and was listening with his eyes closed to the telling swish-crack and Naruto's yelps and cries of pain. Sasuke was staring at the sight, unblinking, not seeming to notice how Sakura had slipped her arms around him and was hiding her face in his shoulder, crying quietly.
Kakashi noticed an ominous tensing of his student's shoulders and quickly shut the window; not a moment too soon, as Toshi promptly exploded into a scream of rage and lashed out, one fist slamming into the wall with a shriek of "God-fucking-dammit!"
Instantly, too quickly for either of the adults to have decided what to do yet, Sasuke shoved Sakura away and pinned Toshi's hands, and Sakura herself slapped a hand over his face.
"Shut up!" she hissed, "They'll hear you!"
"Don't be an idiot, Asshole," snarled Sasuke in his ear. "You'll make it worse!"
Toshi narrowed pale blue eyes and the next second Sakura squealed and grabbed her hand away, wiping his saliva off her palm where he had licked her. "Are you just going to stand by and let them whip our friend to a bloody pulp?" he demanded hotly as if he hadn't just resorted to such a childish trick to get free.
There was a pause before Sasuke let him go slowly and turned his murderous gaze to the adults.
"I suggest," he said slowly, glaring from one to the next, "You tell us what is going on here."
Kakashi and Ibiki looked at each other, silently conferring as they tried to decide what to do. They had to tell the kids something fast, to keep them playing along, but what?
Eventually, Ibiki grunted, turning away. "Whatever. May as well tell 'em, Hatake. They're old enough to understand: I always thought you keeping this from them was unnecessary protection."
Swish-crack! echoed from outside, and everyone cringed.
Kakashi sighed and ran a hand through his hair, nodding once at Ibiki to tell him he'd gotten the hidden message.
"Okay," he said, sinking back down onto one of the two raised beds in the room. "Simply put, Naruto is a slave."
"A slave?" repeated Sakura, moving away from the window and sitting next to her teacher. Kakashi nodded.
"Yes. Makoto, as I'm sure you've gathered, owns him, and has ever since he was two years old or so."
Swish-crack! A cry of pain.
"Hn. Slavery is illegal," Sasuke commented. Kakashi inclined his head, but it was Ibiki who spoke up.
"In Fire Country, yes," he agreed. "Here, there are no specific laws on slavery, so it's not technically illegal. Slaves are particularly useful sources of information, so I've spoken to quite a few."
Swish-crack! Swish-crack! Swish-crack! Three blows in quick succession, and Naruto screamed.
The Konohans all winced.
"Why the fucking hell did you bring him back, Sensei?" Toshi shouted, shoving Sasuke off him and punching the wall again, harder this time."Back to his stupid fucking master and this stupid fucking punishment!" he punched in time with his words and the wall steadily dented. "What did he even do! I mean… fuck!"
The teen's voice had risen to a shriek towards the end there, and he punched the wall one more time before leaning his head against the plaster with a groan. "I believe," Kakashi said slowly and carefully, "That he is being punished because he arrived home late, because we had to take him home and so he embarrassed his master and inconvenienced us."
"And the way he acted earlier seemed to rile Makoto, too," Ibiki put in."And the all-encompassing because-I-can aspect of the whole situation. Makoto is mad, he's taking it out on his slave."
"Sensei?" Sakura's voice was small and uncertain. "Di… did you know this was going to happen?"
Kakashi hesitated, before sighing. He couldn't lie to her. "Yes, I did," he said simply.
"Then why in nine hells did you bring him back?" Surprisingly, it was Sasuke who snarled this. The teacher glanced at him in time to see his sharingan flare to life.
"I think you heard my opinion when we were assigned this mission," the teacher said flatly. "I was against letting him come back here from the start."
"We had to," Ibiki commented. "Naruto was determined to come back to his master nothing we said would convince him it was a bad idea. So Hokage-sama decided that I'd come too, and try and buy Makoto out."
"But why are we wasting so much time and money trying to buy him?" Toshi demanded roughly. His eyes blazed as he added, "No way would the council approve this if it wasn't a special case."
Ibiki snorted, and Kakashi cringed. Hoo, boy…
"Because Kakashi here has a soft spot for him," the interrogator said brightly.
"Shut up," Kakashi mumbled.
"Hey, if you're going to waste more than half my annual budget buying the whelp, I'm allowed to complain about it."
"It wasn't me who suggested buying a son of Konoha! I wanted to steal him." Three teenagers made noises to bring the adults back on topic, and Kakashi was dragged back to his explanation. "Oh, right. Truthfully, it's because of his abilities," he said simply. He glanced at Toshi. "Remember when you first saw him? He's... odd. Powerful. And we want that power to be ours. Again.
"That's what we told the Council, at least," Ibiki retorted. "You brats were all too young to remember, but the Hokage was quite upset when he went missing as a kid."
Swish-crack! Swish-crack! Swish-crack! Swish-crack!
Swish-crack! Swish-crack! Swish-crack! Swish-crack! Swish-crack!
As one, the visitors turned back to the window. Kakashi stood up and shouldered his students aside so that he could stand next to Ibiki, watching with grim resignation as Naruto was showered with lashes, more violently that before. The blonde twisted and screamed, blood dripping down his body, staining him a sick red colour, a mocking imitation of the demonic chakra that cloaked him so often.
Quite abruptly, the vindictive flogging stopped and Yusao stepped forwards, a small device Ibiki couldn't make out in his left hand as his right hand reached out to do something to Naruto's collar.
To the surprise of both men watching through the window, Naruto began to cry in earnest, and he was obviously pleading with the Handlers, begging for mercy or respite. But why would he do that now, when they had stopped beating him? Surely that whip was worse than whatever they were doing now?
Kakashi compulsively reached up and shoved his hitai-ate up, watching the happenings with his sharingan eye. As the unnamed Handler smacked the back of Naruto's head and snapped at him, obviously ordering him silent, Yusao fiddled with something on the device in his hand and the chakra in Naruto's collar surged.
The Hatake tensed, waiting for the collar to activate and flood Naruto's system, torturing him into unconsciousness. It never happened: instead, the collar seemed to be altering Naruto's chakra flow... stopping it?
That made no sense. Why would they limit his chakra to the point of nonexistence?
Kakashi jolted forwards as he was shoved from behind and took his eyes off the scene to glare at Toshi.
Toshi glared right back. "What's going on out there?" he demanded.
"They're done," Ibiki said simply. Kakashi looked back and saw it was true: the Handlers were untying the chain where it had been hooked into the wall, lowering Naruto to the ground carefully and releasing his hands before the larger man lifted him over his shoulders, totally uncaring of Naruto's whimpering as the cuts were pressed into his coarse jacket but more gentleness than Ibiki would have ever expected.
Sasuke placed a hand on Ibiki's elbow and pulled him away, forcing him to take a half-step backwards and pushing forwards so that he could see properly as well, watching Naruto being borne across the courtyard with narrowed sharingan eyes.
The unknown Handler carrying Naruto made his way towards the opposite end of the courtyard, and for a moment Kakashi thought he was headed for the large cage he'd seen earlier, but the Handlers walked right past it. Something that looked awfully like a human hand flicked into view behind the bars, but Yasuo slammed his stout stick into the bars and whatever whoever was behind it hastily retreated.
The Handlers carried Naruto (who had gone limp, hanging compliantly across the broad shoulders of his bearer) past the cage to where there was what looked like a wooden cube, painted white, with no windows or even a door through which to enter or exit it. Kakashi estimated it to be about three meters cubed, and his eyes widened as the Handlers mounted a set of stairs that led to a platform set next to the top of the box.
Yasuo knelt and fiddled with something for a moment before standing up, lifting the top of the cube as he did so, and Kakashi realised it was hinged.
Sasuke snarled as the Handler carrying Naruto stepped closer and without hesitation or preamble lowered the boy who had started to cry again into the box, dropping him gently when he'd been lowered as far as the man's arms would reach.
With a finalistic thump, Yusao dropped the lid closed and bolted it into place.
"They keep him in a fucking box?" Toshi bellowed, and there was a loud crash. Ibiki glanced at the children: Toshi was systematically destroying a small bedside table, Sakura was crying on one of the beds and Sasuke was clenching his fists, his face as ominous as a storm cloud. He smirked.
"They're your kids," he pointed out to Kakashi, and strode away to find the bathroom, leaving Kakashi to deal with the freaking teenagers.
Kakashi sighed, rubbing a hand over his hair. This was going to be a long night.
Ibiki looked up and smiled at Yasuo, who had spoken. The five Konohans were eating breakfast in the kitchen, though they had not seen Makoto once yet today. Probably just as well, as Toshi would most likely have attacked him.
"Good morning," the scarred man returned. Yasuo bowed slightly.
"Makoto-sama has unfortunately been delayed by business," he said formally, "However, I would be happy to show you around this morning."
"Yes! Let's go!" Toshi said instantly, sounding enthusiastic. Kakashi was surprised, but it was nothing compared to when Sasuke nodded.
"Hn. I'm looking forward to seeing this place," he said contemplatively.
"It's so cool," Sakura agreed. "Can we have a tour? Please, Sensei?" Suddenly, Kakashi found himself accosted with two sets of puppy dog eyes and one half-glare half-pleading look.
Ibiki chuckled. "The children grew rather attached to the boy in the time he was in our care," he explained. "I think they are eager to see how his life works here."
Yusao looked confused for a moment, before his face cleared. "Boy...? Oh! You're talking about the fox. Yeah, sure, we'll pay him a visit, if you want, but I'm afraid you kids won't be able to bring him out to play with him today he's been put into solitary, and he'll have to stay there until tomorrow."
He smiled at the teenagers, and the three of them smiled back, thought Sasuke's was very thin, and Toshi's looked like he was in a measure of pain. Yusao's expression was so friendly, he looked just like a good-natured passerby who'd offered to do them a favour. Definitely not like the person who had beaten and enslaved their friend.
"Well, if you're ready, you can come with me while I feed the animals." Yusao checked his watch and flicked his head.
"Yes, we'll come," Sakura said instantly. Kakashi not as dumb as he looked, by any stretch of the imagination stood instantly, not willing to let his students wander off in this place without adult supervision.
Ibiki sighed and stood as well. "Let's go, then," he said.
Soon, they were outside and heading across the courtyard. Yasuo was carrying a rusting metal bucket that clanked with every moment.
Toshi stiffened slightly as the man who had carried Naruto last night appeared, carrying a similar bucket, heading towards them from the direction of the looming cage that took up almost a whole side of a courtyard. Yusao waved, and the man waved back.
"That's Tamasine," he said, leading the way towards the box Naruto had been locked in last night. "He's the other Handler who helps me look after the creatures. He's just been feeding the others, and I'll look after the one you found."
Kakashi observed the others grinding their teeth in order to keep silent.
"Here we are," Yusao said, reaching the box. With a grin, he led the way around the back of it, to where there was about a metre and a half between the courtyard wall and the side of the box which, inexplicably, had a thick black curtain hanging from it, stretching top to bottom.
Yusao reached out and tugged on the curtain, pulling it aside, narrating as he did so, "This is the isolation tank we put the animals in when they get out of control and need a little time to cool off. We keep them in the dark, because it calms them down and makes them sleepy. They're diurnal, so…"
He trailed off as the curtain was pulled to the side, revealing a side of the box that was made, not of wood like the others, but of thick, clear glass. Toshi was sure he wasn't the only one who felt his anger spike higher as they saw the inside of the box. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting: a bunk, certainly, including blankets and a pillow, and maybe some other furniture like a table or a sink or something.
Instead, the box was two thirds full of coarse hay and straw, and nothing else. No, there was a trough screwed to the wall of the box just above the level the hay rose to, and Toshi could see by rising onto his tiptoes that it was full of water.
Naruto was easy to spot. During the night, he'd dug down into the hay, and had made an alcove against the glass just big enough for him to fit into if he curled up. Sasuke couldn't see the tunnel he'd used to get there, so he assumed it was being hidden by Naruto's body. It couldn't have collapsed, or Naruto wouldn't be able to breathe, and he was obviously alive, as he was moving groggily, squinting and hiding his face as the sudden light hurt his eyes.
Yusao sneered. "Yeah, this one always digs himself in," he commented. "I s'pose it's in his nature, the little fox. He'll always end up against this side, because the glass is cool and it gets rather hot and stuffy in there."
"Aren't you worried he'll run out of air?" asked Kakashi evenly. Yusao waved his hand.
"Nah. There's holes up there, see?" He pointed, and the visitors looked up to see several dozen two-inch circles around the top of the box. "Air can get in, but he can't get out. Excuse me, I've got to feed him. You stay here: you'll be able to see fine."
The man left, and Sakura instantly knelt, her eyes filling with tears as she put a hand on the glass right over where Naruto was curled.
Naruto finally managed to adjust to the morning light and squinted dully at them. The moment he recognised who was outside, his eyes lit up and he smiled a little hesitantly, placing a hand on the glass, right under where Sakura's was resting. But for an inch of glass, they would be touching.
Naruto's mouth moved, but they couldn't make out the words. Kakashi translated quickly, having read his lips. "He says hello. Good morning."
"Sensei, how can they treat him like this?" hissed Toshi. Kakashi sighed heavily.
"I don't know, kids," he said simply.
"We're going to get him out," Sasuke said darkly. "We are going to buy him. This is just temporary."
"Temporary or not, it's horrible!" Sakura exploded quietly. "Look at his cuts: they're still seeping. He hasn't healed at all. That must hurt, especially with the hay pricking him all night. And the dust might very well cause infection!"
She was sounding vaguely hysterical, so it was probably a good thing the roof was lifted off the box at that moment.
Naruto raised his head, hay falling into his hair and over his body as he upset the walls and roof of his precarious den, and he smiled a little sadly before turning and scrambling through the tunnel he'd dug to get down there, re-emerging at the top of the hay to watch as Yusao lowered the metal bucket into the box.
Naruto nodded a polite thanks at his Handler and waited for a command before he reached for the offered food, scooting so he sat near the glass side of the box and could see his friends.
His nose wrinkled as he dug his fingers into the… muck… he'd been given, and the lid of the box dropped closed just as he tentatively put some in his mouth the watching humans all felt sickened just by the sight of the brown goo Naruto was resignedly consuming.
"Ready to move on?" Yusao was back. Ibiki tilted his head towards him.
"Tell me," he said, "What do you feed him? We had terrible trouble feeding him he wouldn't eat bread or meat or rice until we ordered him, and even then he only ate the absolute minimum."
Yusao looked amused. "He did, did he?" he said. "I'll have to pass that along. That may well earn him a reward. Uh, yeah, he's been taught not to accept 'human' food. Can't have him being picky, you know? The best he ever gets is the leftovers from the kitchen slops, you know and only as a treat. Uh, no, we feed him and the others mostly just bran mixed with water. It just fills them up, you know, and doesn't leave them feeling hungry. Makoto doesn't like anything under his command to be hungry his family nearly starved during the war, so he knows what it's like but we can't feed 'em proper stuff, of they'll develop a taste for it. You give 'em meat, they'll go hunting when they're out, and suddenly they're not safe. At the moment, all of them, especially this one, are totally safe. I'd trust the fox here to carry a newborn baby.
"Anyway, we can't have them turning on us, looking for blood etcetera, so we keep them healthy with protein and vitamin powders, with bran or gruel to fill them and fruit when they behave for a bit of flavour. It works quite well, and it's perfectly fine for them."
Sakura silently watched Naruto choking down the muck that she wouldn't go near, with frequent stops to drink from the water trough, and felt her face setting.
No, it wasn't 'fine for them'. It couldn't be further from 'fine'.
Quietly, she stood and made her subdued way after her teacher when the curtain was pulled back over the glass by Yusao, plunging Naruto once again into darkness and the Konohans were led away.
She didn't look up when Toshi slipped an arm around her, or when Ibiki said, "I would like to arrange to speak with Makoto-sama before we leave. I have a business proposition for him…"
It wasn't fair.
Twin1: Next chapter will be updated sooner than this one was, promise. It's not nearly as dark, either. Next chapter: fluffiness comes back.