Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, or Fargo.

AN: Yet another piece of Akatsuki crack. It's so long I had thought about breaking it up into chapters to be able to start posting sooner but that would have broken the flow of the narrative (and as my regular readers know by now, my cracks actually have narrative). Some OOC, but it's mostly centered on Madara, who cannot even be counted on to be honest about his personality, so it shouldn't be too bad. You might also want to keep a scorecard for the back and forth between him and Pein, to figure out for yourselves who is actually winning; I certainly had fun writing their banter.

The title (and one of the scenes) is a reference to Fargo. Enjoy.

Accomplice in the Woodchipper

As a Kiri shinobi, born and raised, Kisame was a very difficult man to phase. The sheer level of desensitization he'd been put through, even in Academy, was enough that not much of anything bothered him. He could usually guarantee that, no matter what it was, he had already seen something worse, weirder, more horrifying. It was for this very reason that he didn't even bat an eye when he walked into the bathroom one morning to find the battered remains of what had once been Kakuzu's partner stuffed headfirst into the toilet.

Instead, he calmly closed the door, walked down the stairs and poked his head into the kitchen where Pein, Zetsu, and the man responsible for the mess were currently hanging out waiting for the coffee to finish brewing.

"Clean-up in the second floor bathroom," he informed them flatly, before casually walking away to find a different bathroom.

Pein didn't need any more details to realize what had just happened.

"Damn it, Kakuzu!" The stitch-nin didn't even offer a reaction as his commanding officer smacked him over the head with a rolled-up newspaper.

Zetsu's two halves sighed simultaneously, mumbled quietly between themselves for a minute, before sinking through the floor to get to work.


Suddenly sensing a threat near at hand, Itachi's eyes shot open in the darkness of his room, Sharingan on and at the ready. He kept his breathing even as he remained still and tracked the foreign presence quietly moving around. It was close, too close. The Uchiha palmed the kunai he kept under his pillow as he prepared to retaliate against whatever it was that had seen fit to invade his personal space. Funny thing was: he couldn't sense any killing intent from it. And then it giggled.

Abandoning all illusions of sleep, Itachi reached and quickly turned on his bedside light. The sudden illumination revealed Orochimaru, crouched in the corner. Molesting the Uchiha's dirty underwear. The pale man blinked like a deer in the headlights when he realized he'd been caught.

"Um…" the snake-sannin gulped, trying to think up a way out of this situation. "Good morning, Itachi. Did you sleep well?"

"Put those down and get out of my room." The icy, biting retort didn't leave much room for argument. Not that that stopped the older man from trying.

"Now, now, Itachi, let's not get too hasty—"

"Put those down and get the hell out of my room."

"Please, there is no need for hostilities—"

"Fucking put those down and get the hell out of my room!"

"Just give me a moment to explain—"

"Fire Style—!"


A minute later, a slightly singed Orochimaru had taken refuge from the enrage Uchiha in the second floor bathroom. The same bathroom Kakuzu had stashed his dead partner in. The same bathroom Zetsu was in, ready to dispose of said body. Another uncomfortable silence. Both halves glared at the white-skinned man.

"Do you need something?" the dark half growled. The snake-sannin ignored the barely veiled threat to glance at the corpse in the toilet. Even he didn't need too many guesses to figure out who it was and what had happened to him.

"Killed another one, has he?" he asked lightly, relishing in the fact that no matter how bad it looked for him, at least he wasn't partnered with Kakuzu. "What a pity."

"Will you get out and let us work in peace?" the white half requested in a way that was at once diplomatic and scathing. Orochimaru sighed; he was getting that a lot today, and he hadn't even had breakfast yet.


"So what is this, his fourth?" Madara inquired with a hint of morbid amusement coloring his voice.

"His fifth," Pein corrected, not really looking up from the paperwork scattered on his desk. "Kakuzu has had five partners, and all of them are dead."

"Oh, yes, that's right, how could I forget such things." Finding the elder Uchiha's blasé attitude to be no longer tolerable at the moment, the younger man turned narrowed grey eyes up at him.

"You do know all of this recent attrition is your fault, yes?"

"How exactly is his temper my fault?"

"Because you were the one who recommended him in the first place," Pein reminded him. "Recommended him rather highly, too."

"Yes, and because you vouched for him, we are now all working alongside a deranged psychopath!" Konan cut in from her seat on the other side of the office. "He could go after any one of us at any time! And let me tell you something: if it's not Orochimaru I am going to be pissed."

"She has a good point," the Rinnegan user agreed, suddenly seeming more smug than annoyed. "Perhaps you should be his partner."

Madara stiffened ever so slightly at that, before composing himself and pulling a folder out of his cloak and depositing it on Pein's desk.

"No, I think he'd do better with someone a little more normal," he explained lightly. "This one has a clean bill of mental health, is fairly low arousal, and is a counter-intelligence type. He'd be useful to the organization, and there's nothing about him that should set Kakuzu off."

While Pein kept on a completely blank face, a few miles away in a heavily secured tower, the original body declared the Uchiha a cop-out.

A couple months later…

It wasn't often that Sasori found himself compelled to draw; normally he wasn't one for the 2D arts, preferring the more true-to-life 3D forms, but every so often he would simply feel inspired. Like right now for example, faced with the corpse of Kakuzu's most recent partner. Such an aesthetically interesting display needed to be immortalized somehow, and he wasn't sure he would be allowed to make a cast of it once word got out.

The body was lying in the center of the safe-house's sitting room, stripped naked and bent over backwards so far that his head was lodged in his own ass. Sasori hadn't thought that was physically possible. Most of the bones in his spine had probably been shattered to achieve this level of flexibility. Almost had to wonder what the poor bastard had done to deserve this.

"It's kinda funny, really," someone suddenly spoke up behind the puppeteer, nearly making him jump. A quick glance revealed a grinning Kisame leaning into the room with both hands supporting him on the doorframe, a half-grin on his face.

"How we're a house full of shinobi," the shark-nin continued. "And yet no one ever seems to catch him in the act. You'd think at least one of us would notice the sounds of a struggle and come to investigate."

Sasori elected to not comment on this rather astute observation and continued on with his sketching.


Suddenly sensing a sinister threat, Itachi promptly froze one step into the shower. Because this time he was fully awake, it didn't take him nearly as long to figure out what the problem was. He glared down at the drain.

"You…" he hissed, eyes going red. "Lack associative learning."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Orochimaru replied as innocently as he could from the shower drain, trying to act casual.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about," the boy snapped back, going over to the sink and opening up the cabinets below. "No matter how many times I attack you for invading my personal space you keep coming back."

"Oh come now, Itachi," the older man was trying to sound sweet and mostly failing. "Would it really kill you to just stop to consider my offer?"

The Uchiha walked back over to the drain with the bleach in hand, his expression almost blank.

"Perhaps not, but I do know that it will hurt you to keep pressing the matter. No means no." And with that, Itachi poured the bleach down the drain, silently relishing in the shrieks that ensued.


Some time later, Orochimaru wandered into the sitting room, puffy-eyed and trying to disguise the patches of now colorless hair. Wandered right into Sasori's line of sight, effectively obstructing his view of the corpse.

"I'm not sure I really did anything to deserve this kind of treatment," he whined as he applied a light cosmetic-genjutsu to make the hair dark again.

"You deserve much, much worse, cradle-robber," The puppeteer snapped at him. "Now move your ass. You're blocking my view."


"Well, so much for the survivorship of normal," Pein grumbled, glaring pointedly at Madara, who pretended not to notice the hostility.

"Let's look at the bright side here: at least he's not killing them while on missions." The Uchiha's optimism was lost on the younger man.

"Anymore. He's not killing them on missions anymore. I still say you would be the best partner for him, what with your points of commonality and all." Normally, Pein wasn't this scathing with his elder associate, but today he was just in a foul mood. "You could sit on the porch commiserating on how different things were 'back in the day', and swapping stories about how humiliating it was to get your asses handed to you by the First Hokage."

"No, I have someone else in mind, someone who's worked along side people who've wanted him dead before." It was amazing how quickly Madara could brush things off and redirect the subject. He deposited another folder on Pein's desk.

Miles away, Nagato's main body threw his head back and screamed 'COP OUT!' as loud as he could to the empty chamber.

A few weeks later…

"Does anyone else hear a buzzing sound?" Konan asked of the few Akatsuki members assembled in the kitchen at a little past the crack of dawn.

"It's probably the woodchipper," Kisame explained, taking a sip of his coffee. "The people in the next house got one recently to do some landscaping."

"So why are they running it at this god-awful hour of the morning?" she continued, rubbing her eyes to get the sleep out of them.

"Beats me," the shark-nin shrugged. "If it bothers you that much I guess there's no harm in going over there and asking them to turn it off."

"I'll do that then." And with that she left the kitchen, pulled her cloak on and marched out the door. It took Sasori a few minutes to get caught up with what just happened.

"Wait a minute, didn't that family have to leave this weekend for a funeral?" Everyone's eyes slowly widened as they realized, one by one, that he was right.

Outside of the safe-house, Konan made quick strides across the damp lawn towards the next door property. Sure enough, that seemed to be where the noise was coming from. Her resolve thus strengthened, she followed the sound back to its source, preparing to tell their civilian neighbors exactly what she thought of this (while at the same time being civil enough to not blow their cover).

What she saw around the back of the house, however, was not what she had expected. It wasn't the short, pudgy, balding, cheery man she knew to be the head of the family, nor was it one of his sons. Instead it was Kakuzu's massive frame standing with his back to her at the mouth of the woodchipper, using a long stick to force something deeper inside, cursing all the while. Judging by the stench of blood and the two legs she could barely see poking out of the machine, there was little question as to what that something was. She wondered why she was even surprised.

Making sure to keep a safe distance from him so she'd have enough running room should he decide to go after her too, she yelled over the grinding roar of the machine.

"AND THAT WOULD BE YOUR ACCOMPLICE IN THE WOODCHIPPER?"

The stitch-nin startled at her voice and spun around to face her, dropping his stick and revealing the blood and flecks of flesh that coated his front. He froze up, looking strangely sheepish.

"You weren't supposed to see this," he offered almost apologetically, a bit of a nervous smile showing beneath his mask.

"So, out of morbid curiosity: is this a cause of death or a post-mortem disposal?" Her question went unanswered as he remained frozen in place.

Back at the safe-house, one of the second floor windows shattered as Orochimaru dove out, a jet of flame close on his heels. He rolled back to his feet as he his the lawn and continued to flee towards the neighbor's property. And promptly stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Konan and Kakuzu. Not missing the gore that the stitch-nin was drenched in, he thought better of approaching them and changed his trajectory.

Once the snake-sannin was out of sight, the kunoichi turned her attention back to the homicidal maniac before her.

"Why can't you ever do this kind of thing to Orochimaru?" she asked dryly. "I can guarantee that no one will care. We might even thank you."


"His so called experience in dealing with murderous psychopaths failed to save him," Pein deadpanned, glaring daggers at an unusually fidgety Madara.

"I was so sure he'd last longer than this…" the older man offered, sounding surprisingly sheepish.

"Well, he didn't, and now Kakuzu needs yet another partner. You, maybe. You're not so weak that he could kill you like that, right?"

The Uchiha did not respond to baiting, just deposited another folder on the Rinnegan user's desk. Miles away, Nagato's auxiliary bodies were up and about, doing a complicated cheer about how much of a cop out Madara was, complete with megaphones, back-flips, and a human-pyramid.

One week later…

The power was out in the neighborhood, had been since the night before. Because they were all ninjas, trained to work in adverse conditions and under the cover of darkness, none of the Akatsuki were particularly bothered by it. Mostly it was the sudden lack of hot water that bothered most of them rather than the low light conditions. And a good deal of them were about to be extremely put off by the fact that they were going to need to use a fire-jutsu to boil water for coffee.

Which was part of the reason why Pein was wandering down to the kitchen in the pitch dark before dawn; to preempt all the whining from the fire-deficient members that was sure to begin if there wasn't enough hot coffee by the time they woke up. That and no one wanted to be around Kisame after he'd spitefully used his alternative morning stimulant, intravenous caffeine, so it was better to just make sure it didn't come to that.

The darkness, and his own grogginess, were probably the reasons he didn't notice that something was horribly wrong until he was right under it. And it was dripping blood on him. The power returned and the lights went up at oh so convenient a time to reveal the source. Kakuzu's latest partner was up there, pinned to the ceiling with about three dozen nine-inch nails, probably dead. Pein couldn't say he was too surprised.

"Wow… four days… that's got to be a record." However, he couldn't bring himself to be angry at this point. Maybe he was too tired, maybe it was because he'd had no time to develop any attachment to the man, or maybe it just hadn't sunk in yet. Whatever, he'd deal with it later.

"Oh well. It could be worse." Then he entered the kitchen, and realized that it was, in fact, worse. "SON OF A—"


Itachi jolted awake as his instincts suddenly informed him that his space had been invaded. However, whoever it was seemed to be absent from the room at the moment, which was even more disconcerting. Knowing he was alone, he didn't bother to feign sleep to gather information; he was out of bed and on his feet with the lights turned on in seconds.

At first glance nothing appeared to be amiss, but his Sharingan knew better. The seals he had recently arranged to protect his underwear drawer had been disturbed—likely removed and replaced. However, he could not feel Orochimaru's dark, oily presence anywhere in the room. Oh, the residual chakra was dark, alright, but it was a different kind of dark than the Snake-sannin; a more angry, fiery darkness. And then there was the smell, the faint hint of iron and rot. A combination of scents he was all too familiar with.

He wasn't completely shocked to find a severed head once he removed the seals and wrenched the drawer open. He could recognize the chakra residue as being from Kakuzu now. More than shocked he was indignant that the stitch-nin had seen fit to stick the gruesome thing in with his underwear, and with its eyes removed no less. He'd always had been squeamish about eyes and any tampering thereof, it was just so visceral and instinctive.

It took Itachi a few moments to realize that the head didn't belong to Kakuzu's partner: it belonged to Zetsu's.


"Couldn't just keep to killing your own partners, could you!" Pein raged at the offending homicidal maniac sitting at the kitchen table, the walls painted floor to ceiling in blood, before the dismembered, disemboweled corpse of Zetsu's partner, as if nothing was wrong. Said plant-nin was also sitting at that table, seemingly undisturbed by this. Again, Kakuzu didn't dignify him with a response.

"I'm telling you; they were both dead when we got here!" the black half of Zetsu insisted before their commanding officer could say anything else.

"Um, actually—" the white half spoke up before getting interrupted.

"That's my story and we're sticking with it!"

Pein elected not to be concerned by this at the moment, instead focusing his attention of the corpse and how much of him appeared to be absent.

"And what did you do with the rest of him?" he asked tersely, glaring at the stitch-nin while simultaneously scanning the blood-soaked room. It was then that Itachi appeared, holding the severed, eyeless head.

"Kakuzu," the Uchiha growled lowly. "Was this intended to be some sort of veiled threat?"

Pein said nothing as he abruptly pulled the head out of the boy's hands and placed it on the table adjacent to the neck-stump.

"The lungs are in the sink," Zetsu's white half offered meekly, trying to be helpful without upsetting anybody. The Rinnegan user marched over, goggled a little at the display, and proceeded to pull the cleanly dissected organs away from the faucet, which had been pouring water down the trachea. These, after squeezing out as much of the liquid as he could, he stuffed back into the gaping chest cavity. And speaking of clean dissection…

"Hey, look what I found in the toilet!" It was Kisame, delicately holding out a pair of kidneys with attached urinary ducts and bladder. "You know, Kakuzu? For someone with a lot of anger management issues you sure can manage to fit in a non-destructive autopsy with your partner-killing sprees."

As with the Itachi's little souvenir Pein snatched it away and returned it to its appropriate place in the body. Konan was the next to appear, looking quite incensed.

"What the Hell, Kakuzu?" She brandished what she held, a pair of eyeballs. "Are you making a point to copy bad horror movies now?"

Her lover calmly took those eyeballs out of her hands while she raged a little more about how she'd found them in the showerhead, and placed them back in the sockets, not caring which one went where, or that they were facing the wrong way. Itachi did care, however, and looked a little squeamish before quickly darting over and correcting the problem.

"You should know that I do not like my puppets being tampered with." It was Sasori who entered next, looking quite dangerous with that vacant glare and the bloody heart clutched in one hand. "And I especially don't appreciate auxiliary organs being put inside them. Especially ones I can't use for anything."

The puppeteer didn't need Pein to take the heart out of his hands; he placed it back in the corpse's chest himself, eyes fixating on an ambivalent Kakuzu the whole time.

"The arms and legs are plastic-wrapped in the freezer," Zetsu's black half chimed in. "Leave them, I'm saving those to eat later."

Everyone, except the stitch-nin, gave him an incredulous look once that was said, but no one tried to protest. So, the only missing piece that left was… Orochimaru burst in right on cue.

"What the hell, Kakuzu? What kind of sick joke is this supposed to be?" Sure enough the severed penis and testicles were dangling between two to the snake-sannin's fingers and held out at arm's length. Itachi wrinkled his nose a bit at the display.

"I figured you might have some use for it," the stitch-nin shrugged, speaking for the first time since Pein arrived on the scene. Everyone else got a bit of a laugh out of that, however uncomfortable and awkward it was. But once the giggling was done their commanding officer also had to wrinkle his nose a little.

"You're putting that where it belongs yourself." The unintended double-entendre only made Orochimaru even more pissed off than he already was.


"You missed the double-homicide this morning," Pein said dryly as soon as he sensed Madara appearing in his office. For once the older man actually stayed silent, just standing there, staring at the ground like a scolded child. The Rinnegan user immediately took advantage of his apparent shame.

"What? No witty comebacks this time? No oh, so convenient manila folders filled with half-assed replacements? You have nothing, do you?"

The Uchiha elder cleared his throat to interrupt before the verbal abuse could get any worse.

"I've decided that it might be time for me to start putting in some basic groundwork for this organization," he said solemnly.

"Well it's about damn time you lazy, sheep-fucking, son of a bitching monkey whore!" But because it was Nagato's main body that blurted this out, miles away, and the present body stayed blank and silent, Madara continued without pause.

"Not right away though," he rephrased, to which the main body screamed 'FUCKER!'. "I need to cultivate another persona first. Someone new."

It was around this time that one of Itachi's crows alighted on the windowsill and started pecking on the glass. Madara paused his explanation to walk over and let it in.

"I was forced to cut off one of Orochimaru's arms in self-defense just now," it declared in the younger Uchiha's voice. "I wanted to warn both of you before he comes complaining about it, and assure you that I was well within my rights to defend my person."

Its message delivered, the bird disappeared in a puff of smoke. Both Akatsuki leaders stared at the space it had occupied blankly.

"It's just one thing after another…" Pein mumbled, reaching to rub his eyes in frustration.

"Anyway," Madara cleared his throat again. "Why don't we just let Kakuzu and Zetsu go partnerless for the time being. It will give me more time to come up with a more permanent solution to this problem. Just sit tight with eight members for now, alright?"

"You do know that 'I'll hold down the fort' are very famous last words, right?"

"You'll be fine. What could happen?"

A week later…

"You lost track of him? How could you loose track of him? You have one job in Akatsuki and that is to keep track of the personnel and targets, and now you're telling me that you screwed it up?"

This is the scene Itachi walked in on one morning after a blissful, sexual-harassment-free week: Pein berating a guilty looking Zetsu in the finally clean kitchen while Sasori looked on in blank silence.

"What's going on?" he asked, getting the feeling that there was something very important that he had missed on account of not having to wake up defending himself from a deranged pervert.

"Orochimaru is missing," Sasori explained because they're commanding officer was too busy fuming. "No one has seen him since that double-homicide last week."

Itachi gaped; he actually gaped. Had he done it? Had a violent mutilation really scared him off?

"Has his lab been checked?" Kisame, who was obviously more in the loop than the Uchiha had been, asked as he brushed past his partner on the way to the fridge. "You know, the one in the basement?"

"Cleaned out."

"Like it was never there to begin with."

"Hm, guess he really is gone for good." Grabbing the milk (taking the entire carton), the shark-nin strode out of the kitchen with a little spring in his step, shouting for the entire house to hear the whole way, his tone sing-song. "Oh, Kakuzu! You'll never guess what's not your fault!"

Drawn by the yelling, Konan was the next to appear. Taking stock of who was present and who wasn't, she quickly deduced which member short they were.

"Oh, did someone finally kill Orochimaru?" she asked, sounding almost smug. "You maybe, Itachi?"

"He's not dead, he's missing," Sasori repeated, emphasizing the difference, before suddenly freezing up as the information and all its consequences sunk in. "Oh my god! Orochimaru is gone!"

"What about his ring?" Pein finally started addressing Zetsu again. "Has he left his ring?"

"Not as far as we can tell."

It was around that time that Kakuzu leaned in, a snickering Kisame standing a little behind him.

"I just wanted to make sure you knew that if I did kill Orochimaru, I would have made it obvious," the stitch-nin announced without preamble. "I would have left his drawn and quartered body out on the yard for all to see."

"And blown our cover to the neighbors," Kisame reminded, taking a deep swallow of milk straight from the carton (everyone hoped he didn't plan on putting it back in the fridge after this). "Just like your wood-chipper stunt almost did."

"Can't you track his ring?" Pein just decided to ignore the homicidal peanut-gallery and keep going with his interrogation.

"Not if it isn't attached to a living finger. His ring hand was the one Itachi took off."

The Rinnegan user twitched, twice, before rounding on the aforementioned, still dumfounded boy.

"Damn it, Uchiha!" Since he was still in shock from the revelation, Itachi couldn't dodge the newspaper that struck him upside the head. Instead it looked like he was reaching the same conclusions the puppeteer had.

"Oh my god… Orochimaru is gone…" he whispered, seemingly unaware of the hostilities shooting his way. "Do you realize what this means?"

"Yes, it means that until we can recover that ring Akatsuki will not be able to exceed nine members," Pein bit back. "You couldn't have taken off his other hand, could you."

Itachi stared at him blankly, snuck a glance over at Sasori, then seemed to make a decision.

"I'll be right back," the boy announced, slipping past Kakuzu and Kisame and making for the front door.

"Excuse me for a minute," Sasori spoke up just seconds later, quickly falling into step behind the young Uchiha. The door opened quietly and closed softly behind them.

"Anyway," the acting Akatsuki leader sighed once they were gone. "Zetsu, I need you to devote the majority of your resources into tracking him down and getting that ring back."

"You know we're not a fighting type."

"Since he seems so intent on keeping it we might not be able to take it from him without a confrontation."

"Then get me a fix on his location and I'll send a strike team to handle the combat."

Outside, out of both view and earshot of the safe-house, Itachi and Sasori were jumping for joy.

Two weeks later…

"Damn it, Madara! Your news had better be good!" Pein practically roared, slamming both hands violently on his desk. Had it been anyone other than the Uchiha elder he might very well have thrown a paperweight at his head, but he knew that no matter how hard or fast he threw it, it would be avoided.

"Yes, actually." The older man seemed unusually chipper, holding up two manila folders proudly. "I've found the solution to our Kakuzu problem."

The pierced man fixed him with a blank, switching between the happy eye-crease behind the new orange mask and the pair of folders he was thrusting in his direction. Two new prospects for their two remaining rings.

"What are their qualifications?" he asked, hesitantly taking both folders and opening them. Damn, one was two years Itachi's junior, and the other was only a year older.

"The blond boy from Iwa has great firepower and incredible range. He can be Sasori's partner; I think they'd get along once they realize how much they have in common," Madara explained almost casually. "And the albino boy from Yu can't die, so he can be Kakuzu's partner."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Pein said doubtfully. "How can you be so sure of this anyway?"

Instead of answering with words, the Uchiha elder reached across to that boy's file and flipped it open to a particular photograph. One that showed him walking off the battlefield drenched in blood, a broken sword stuck in his chest, a small length of intestine poking out of a wound in his abdomen, and a nasty gash in his throat. His facial expression was one of disturbing calm, despite the panic over his condition his nearby comrades appeared to be showing.

"So he can withstand a beating that would kill anyone else," the Rinnegan user amended. "That doesn't make him immortal. What are his other qualifications?"

"He can't die," Madara shrugged and left it at that.

"You already said that, I asked about his other qualifications." Silence settled between them as Pein caught on. "Are you telling me that his only qualification for Akatsuki is the fact that he can survive mortal injury?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

Another silence settled, and the ginger-haired man had to fight down the urge to slap the Uchiha with the folders he'd given him. It would be pointless, because the blow would be dodged. After a backwards count from ten conducted by his main body, he made his decision.

"Well, he's only fifteen. I think we can afford to let Kakuzu go solo until he matures a little more," he declared with authority, firmly closing both files. "And the other boy can wait, too, especially since Sasori needs to do some work on his spy networks and I doubt he'll want to break in a newbie while he's doing that. If they are all that's available we'll just have to make due with seven members for now."

"But—"

"We'll just have to make due with seven members for now," Pein repeated more sternly, his glare and his tone leaving little room for argument. "Unless of course you are ready to take up a slot? With your 'new persona'?"

"We can survive on seven for now," Madara hastily agreed. "Two years should be enough time for those two to develop further, and for us to find Orochimaru's ring. I'll just be going now."

"Yes, that's right, run, you little bitch." But because it was the main body that said this, as far as the Uchiha knew, Pein stayed silent as he disappeared from his office.

Two years later…

The new boy, Deidara, was not happy with the situation. In less than a week he had gone from being free as a bird to being cooped up with a bunch of psychos with no appreciation for true art. Well, he supposed he had to amend that, not all of them were crazy; Kisame, the partner of that damn Uchiha, seemed pretty stable at least, relatively speaking. And it looked a bit like at least Kakuzu, the scariest of the lot, had a basic understanding of what art was; he had just the other day come menacing him with a stick of dynamite and a cigarette lighter before Sasori, his own partner, had stepped between them and declared that if anyone had a right to shove explosives down his throat it was him.

That encounter had certainly been weird, especially when afterwards Konan, their leader's girlfriend… wife… dominatrix… whatever, had pulled him into a surprise hug and said she was glad he'd been able to get out of there alive. And Itachi, of all people, had all but begged him to stay out of the stitch-nin's way. No one would really tell him why.

At least that was until he found the plastic-wrapped leg in the freezer one morning.

"What the Hell is this, un?" he asked, pulling the thing out and staring at it.

"DON'T EAT THAT!" Itachi and Sasori screamed in unison as soon as they saw what it was. The bomber pulled a face.

"Ew, no!" he shot pack, holding the frozen limb out at arm's length. "I know what it is, un. What the Hell is it doing in the freezer?"

"That's Zetsu's—hey!" Itachi started but got cut off by one of the puppeteer's chakra-strings yanking on his ankle.

"Don't you dare scare this one off, too!" Sasori hissed, trying to be subtle but failing horribly.

"He has a right to know," the Uchiha shot back before returning his attention to the younger boy. "That's Zetsu's partner. Kakuzu killed him, two years ago."

And just like that every question he'd ever had about the gruff, old mercenary had been answered.

"But what the Hell is it doing in the freezer, un?" Deidara reiterated, unsure whether to drop the limb like it was poisonous or to put it back in the freezer.

"Zetsu said to leave it there, he'd eat it later," Sasori informed, resigned to his young partner knowing this now. "I guess, what with all the tracking they've had do recently, they must have forgotten he was in there."

"Not sure he'd still want to eat him anymore, even if he did remember," the older boy added. "It's been two years and it's probably become desiccated by now. Just leave it in there and tell Zetsu next time you see them."

Deidara pulled a face and stuffed the leg back in the freezer and slamming the door shut. Suddenly he didn't feel quite so hungry.


"Good morning, Pein!" The pierced man promptly spit out his coffee as someone who looked and dressed a lot like Madara popped into his office, chirping like a happy little bird.

"What the Hell?" The strange man stood there bouncing on the balls of his feet while Pein composed himself. "Madara, is that you?"

"It's Tobi now!" the Uchiha elder chirped some more, his voice light and childlike. The Akatsuki's acting leader gave him a long, hard once-over.

"Tobi, huh?" This 'Tobi' nodded enthusiastically. "So this is your new persona? The one that is supposed to gain you access to the ranks?"

"Uh-huh!"

Pein blinked once, twitched twice, and didn't even bother trying to keep his reaction contained to his main body.

"What are you on? What moron gave it to you? And why the Hell aren't you sharing?"

This 'Tobi' seemed a little taken aback by his outburst.

"Do I seem like a retard?" Oh good, he'd switched back to his regular voice and mannerisms.

"YES!"

"Maybe I should tone it down a notch…"

"We're an organization of S-class criminals, not a community youth group! Of course you should tone it down!"

"Right, right." Madara then decided that it was time to change the subject. "That Deidara boy seems to have integrated well."

"That he is," Pein agreed. "He's getting along with the others much better than Orochimaru ever did."

"We need to think about collecting the Hidan boy soon, too," the older man added. "He's matured into quite a capable fighter from my observations."

"Who is this 'we' you speak of?" the Rinnegan user cut in coldly. "Are you actually suggesting that the two of us go after him together?"

"Erm…"

"What's the matter?" the ginger-haired man kept on baiting. "The great Madara Uchiha of the Eternal Mangekyo can't do this himself?"

"Hidan would need to be physically subdued before he'd join us," the masked man insisted. "He is very taijutsu oriented and his stamina exceeds mine; I'd be forced to fall back before he even became short of breath. And his family has a history of genjutsu resistance, so I can't rely on that as my only weapon. And on top of tha—"

"Fine, I'll get him myself," Pein interrupted sounding surprisingly smug. "Unlike you, I won't be needing any help to take this boy down. Go cry in a corner or something while I take care of this. And I'll make certain to thoroughly test his so called immortality before bringing him back."

A reverse summons latter, the God Realm was gone, back in the Tower with the other bodies. Madara sighed in relief.

"You know, there are less humiliating ways of getting him to do stuff for you," Konan spoke up from her seat on the other side of the room, covertly slipping her camera back into her sleeve. "He is never going to let you live this down."

The Uchiha spun to face her, genuinely startled.

"When did you get here?"

"Before you did, 'Tobi'."

Six weeks later…

The tension in Pein's office could have been cut with a knife, and the lethal intent was almost smothering. The rage could no doubt be felt throughout the safe-house, and the Rinnegan user couldn't help but feel smug about what Kakuzu's reaction would be when he saw what had been brought just for him. But because he was determined to maintain an impassive exterior in front of their latest recruit, he didn't allow the God Realm to smirk as he so wanted to. It simply wouldn't do to further provoke the seething young man before him.

"You won't be needing these any longer, so let me just take them off of you," the Akatsuki's acting leader explained as he undid the seals on the silver-haired zealot's wrists that had been keeping his chakra suppressed.

"Bastard," was Hidan's flat, furious reply as he wrenched his now unencumbered hands away. "Where the fuck are my weapons?"

"Just a minute," Pein continued with steady calm. "There's someone I need you to meet before I return any of your personal effects."

"I want my goddamn weapons back, asshole!"

It was then that the stitch-nin knocked on and opened the office door. He froze when he saw what was inside, and locked gazes with the albino immediately.

"Ah, Kakuzu, what perfect timing," Pein greeting pleasantly as he sat down behind his desk. "I'd like to introduce you to your new partner: Hidan."

The two shinobi glared at each other in silence before the older of the pair finally spoke.

"I thought I'd sufficiently proven over the last two years that I don't need a partner slowing me down," the stitch-nin growled. "I don't work well with others, you know that."

"Be that as it may, we picked him up especially for you." Miles away, Nagato's main body was cackling with anticipation, waiting for the inevitable attack, and the revelation that would swiftly follow. "Spend some time getting to know him and you will realize that you compliment each other quite nicely."

"You've wasted your time, Pein, and mine." Kakuzu broke eye contact with the younger man to fix that glare on his commanding officer. "This one will end up dead just like all the others."

A derisive snort from the albino drew the mercenary's attention back onto him. A snort that turned into a chuckle that made the elder's eyes narrow dangerously.

"As if you could kill me, asswipe," Hidan declared arrogantly, before he, too directed his attention towards the Rinnegan user. "You can keep yammering at him all you want, but I don't think the old fart gives a fuck."

"What did you say?" The low, lethal tone told Pein that he didn't have much longer to wait before the inevitable happened.

The zealot's grin widened even further, and then he repeated himself, loud and slow, as if speaking to a person who could barely hear.

"I SAID: I DON'T THINK THE OLD FART GIVES A FUCK!"

It didn't even take a second for Kakuzu to react. His hand lashed out, grabbing Hidan by the hair and giving him a sharp wrench, breaking his neck with a sickening pop. He then shook him twice more for good measure before dropping his limp body to the floor.

"Now do you see that I—!" The stitch-nin stopped short rounding on Pein when he realized that he was leaning forward with a strangely disturbing smile on his face. "What's with that look?"

Pein just chuckled, leaning even further forward and coming to rest his chin on his propped up, laced fingers.

"Three… two… one…"

"Oh, son of a bitching shit! What the fuck is your problem?"

Kakuzu spun to find the supposedly dead body glaring up at him, seemingly unaffected by the fact that his neck had been twisted at a nasty angle. For a moment, he could only gape in shock.

"But… how…?" he stammered, wanting to look back at his very smug commanding officer but finding himself unable to glance away from what was, apparently, his new, unkillable partner.

"Like I said: we picked him up especially for you," the Akatsuki's active leader affirmed, sounding quite satisfied. "Now help him get his neck straightened out."

While Kakuzu hesitated to obey, morbidly transfixed by the way the albino's fingers were starting to twitch, Pein reached into his desk and pulled out a pair of scrolls.

"I have a mission I want both of you to go on. Kakuzu, straighten his neck. It's not something I can send anyone else on seeing as how a good portion of it can be classified as a suicide mission. I said: straighten his neck. But if you follow the division of labor I suggest in the scroll then both of you should be able to walk away from this mission. What part of 'straighten his neck' requires clarification?" The stitch-nin finally got a hint, broke his trance, and pulled the immortal's head back into alignment. While the younger man groaned in relief and gratefully rubbed the sore areas around the crest of his spine, the mercenary humbly accepted the mission scroll from their commanding officer.

"Now, Hidan." Pein indicated the second scroll. "All of your personal effects, including your weapons are sealed in here. Feel free to keep using it for this purpose."

He wasn't too surprised to find the scroll violently snatched out of his hands. Nor was he surprised to see the immortal unfurl it and unseal everything all at once, scattering them across the floor. And he completely expected the relieved expression on his face when he finally held his rosary again.

"Alright, now that that's taken care of, I want you heading out on this mission by nightfall," the pierced man declared, sitting back. "Now, get moving."

It took quite a hustle but before too long both shinobi had left his office, Hidan with every single one of his weapons in hand, looking almost ridiculous. Pein couldn't help but smirk; this seemed like it would work out just fine. It looked like Madara had finally made a good recommendation.

And speak of the devil…

"Masterfully done, Nagato," the elder Uchiha congratulated, clapping his hands as he appeared in the office. "Very masterfully done."

"Indeed, and I barely had to do anything at all," the Rinnegan user agreed smugly. "That boy Hidan did most of the work for me."

"But that is beside the point. Since he cannot be killed, we no longer have to keep replacing Kakuzu's partners. I believe this calls for a celebration!"

Nagato blinked as Madara disappeared from his office and reappeared before his main body, mask-less and holding a bottle and two wine glasses. The emaciated man recoiled at the sudden intrusion.

"What are you doing in here?"

"Champagne?"

"Get out!"