AUTHORS NOTE: ***SPOILER ALERT*** This chapter will reveal information that may or may not be common knowledge. Read at your own risk. And thank you so much for all of the reviews. To answer a few questions...Akito is the Akito Sohma from Fruits Basket, revised of course. Mateus is the name of the emperor in Final Fantasy 2 and the Final Fantasy Dissidia series. Weiss was the main villian in Final Fantasy Dirge of Cerberus, though obviously the scientist points to still being possessed by Hojo's data. For anyone unfamiliar with these anime and games, worry not, they really have no effect on the storyline.

Tsundae frowned, clenching her fists in an ill attempt to keep one of them from sailing into Kabuto's jaw. She couldn't stand the arrogant little bastard, but if what Asuma was telling them was true, then there were more pressing matters to deal with. Someone had taken one of her chunin, and according to the Sound's number one medic nin, they had taken him for a vile purpose.

"So you really think there are a group of rogue ninja who are kidnapping other ninja and turning them into... into THAT!"

Kabuto nodded. "I've done a lot of research since Orochimaru-sama's disappearance. He's not the first strong ninja to disappear like this. There are plenty of rumors, but I actually found definative proof that this group exists. I found one of their clients, and she had a ninja who was formally a Swordsman of the Mist as her personal pet. This man was utterly broken, and if I hadn't recognized his picture from a bingo book I would have never believed it was him, especially since the Mizukage's report said he had been killed in battle."

The Hokage frowned. "Who was this client, and who did he have?"

"The client was a woman Orochimaru-sama used to work with named Guren, and her pet was formally Mangetsu of the Mist."

"And you really think that someone sent this group after a thirteen year old chunin?'

"I know what to look for. After careful interrogation of Guren, I learned a few things about them. The man who owns the business is named Akito. A few days before the ninja goes missing, Akito reserves rooms for a group of ninja at an inn and they pay in emeralds. A group of ninja arrived two days before Asuma's team and paid their fare in emeralds. Also, when they take someone, they erase every trace of that ninja in the town. Asuma himself said he was unable to find Shikamaru's belongings or any trace of him. Furthermore, the clients all have some sort of personal vendetta to settle with the ninja that are taken, or the family of the ninja. If Shikamaru didn't anger someone, then one of his family members might have."

"I wouldn't have brought Kabuto here if I had thought this seemed ridiculous," Asuma fumed. "I don't know why, but these people took Shikamaru, and they could be doing anything to him."

Behind him Ino and Choji stood still. An icy fire burned in Ino's baby blues as she imagined herself finding these ninja and slowly ripping them apart piece by piece. Choji was just as angry, and silent, which made their sensei nervous. This was not aggravation at being called fat. This was darker, and much more violent. When they found those ninja, none of them would survive the Akimichi's wrath. Ino-Shika-Cho was a formation passed down to them from 17 generations of ancestors. How dare these people try to tear them apart?

"Alright, I'll go ahead and buy this story for now, but…" the Hokage leveled her gaze at Kabuto, "why should I trust that you are trying to help us? The Sound and the Leaf are not allies."

"Most certainly not," Kabuto agreed, adjusting his glasses. "However…"

She waited for him to finish, but he remained silent. Seemingly he was wrestling with what information he wanted to reveal, but Tsunade didn't have the patience to wait for him. "Spit it out, Kabuto. Why are you so willing to work with us?"

The snake's apprentice gritted his teeth. He didn't want to answer her question for fear of seeming weak or incapable. And Kabuto was NOT weak nor incapable. But… "Fine. If you want my honest answer, here it is. I can't find them by myself. I can't figure out how they're moving around so quickly and so effectively. Lord Orochimaru has been missing for two months and there has been absolutely no sign of him anywhere. If they are powerful enough to keep him in place, I am not sure I am enough to take them down."

Tsunade raised a fine blonde eyebrow. She had been doing her best to poke holes in the wicked little medic's story, but she was finding it harder and harder to do so. Kabuto wasn't often openly honest, and for the first time since team ten had shown up in her office with him, Tsunade felt a cold thread of fear weaving through her. It seemed impossible. Things like this were more like urban legends than actual reality. Yet, as she looked at the worried faces of the genin, the smoke free lips of her jonin, and the anger and uncertainty of the traitor, it was becoming clear that this wasn't some sort of sick joke. Shikamaru was in terrible danger. According to Asuma he had now been missing for eight days. She felt physically ill knowing that it was already too late to save what little innocence he'd had left in him. When they got him back, and they WOULD get him back, she knew he'd never be the same.

"We want your help, Kabuto, but you need ours," she said slowly, letting the information seep in. There was no use in letting that creepy boy think he was in charge. "And if you want our help in rescuing a man who betrayed our village and became an S-rank missing nin, you're going to have to give us something in return."

To her surprise, Kabuto grinned. "You want the Uchiha back, am I right?"

Tsunade paused. To quote Shikamaru, this battle of wills was like playing Shogi. From where she sat the board looked clear and she was ready to move in with a check mate. But from his attitude, his carelessness, she knew he had a piece in position that she couldn't see. "Yes. I want Sasuke returned safely to the Hidden Leaf. In return, my ninja will do everything in their power to return your immoral snake of a boss to you."

The young man held up one finger, tsking as he shook it. "You shouldn't insult someone when they are not here to defend themselves. It's rude."

She didn't reply. Looking bored, she simply waiting for his smart ass routine to end so they could get back to business.

"Might I remind you, Lady Tsunade, that Sasuke Uchiha left your village of his own free will, and fled when you sent your ninja to retrieve him."

"I remember the situtation, Kabuto. My conditions remain the same. Either return Sasuke to us, or try to find your master before we do."

He shrugged. "If that's how it is, I guess I have no choice. It's not like I liked having the little brat around, anyway."

With a swift flick of his wrist, Kabuto retrieved his two-way radio from his pocket. He clicked the red button and while still smirking at the Hokage, spoke into it. "Sakon, Ukon, come to the Hokage's tower. Enter the North Gate, she'll have an escourt waiting for you. Bring the Uchiha."

"Shizune," Tsunade growled, "Go to the North Gate and meet up with Kabuto's allies. Bring Kotetsu and Izumo with you. Be careful."

"Yes my Lady!"

With a flash Shizune was gone. Still growling, Tsunade turned back to the younger medic. "You were planning on us asking for him. You were ready for this. Just what do you have planned?"

Adjusting his glasses, the silver haired youth chuckled. "It was easy to guess you'd want him back, and you can't blame me for wanting back up nearby. Besides, his services are no longer necessary."

Beside him Asuma frowned. "I thought Orochimaru wanted Sasuke's body for his Sharingan."

"Aren't you well informed? As I said, we don't need him anymore."

Tsunade slammed her fist on her desk, gaining everyone's attention. "What exactly does that mean? What has Orochimaru done now?"

"That is not necessary information. I am meeting the terms of your conditions. Now do we have a deal or not?"

"Wait a minute..." Choji's voice came out of nowhere, nearly startling the other people in the room. He looked at Kabuto. "Sakon, Ukon...weren't those the brothers killed by Kiba and Kankuro?"

"Kankuro left the bodies in the forest. I found them with just enough time to save them. I'm afraid they were the only ones that lucky, however. Everyone else was a corpse by the time I found them."

"So...you're really giving us back Sasuke?" Ino asked softly, as though she were afraid if she said it aloud, she'd wake up from some sort of dream.

"He's on his way now."

"We don't have time to worry about Sasuke, Ino!" Choji reprimanded her gently. "We need to find Shikamaru."

"I know that! But Sasuke could help. He's the best from our class."

"I'm afraid he won't be much help to you right now," Kabuto said.

"What does that mean?" The Hokage asked, placing her elbows on the desk and leaning in to rest her chin on her hands.

"They're here. I'll explain."

Shizune, Izumo, and Kotetsu landed in the space to the right of the Hokage's desk. Sakon and Ukon landed to the right of Kabuto, carrying with them a round, wooden coffin simular to the one they had taken Sasuke away in. The young medic waved to it. "Sasuke is in here. You see, he wasn't too keen on the idea of giving up his training and coming back. I tried to persuade him to agree, but he just wouldn't listen. I was forced to put him into a stasis coma. He's been in it for almost two weeks, so he's going to be far too weak to help out when you wake him up."

"You've been planning this for two weeks?" The older blonde snarled.

"I found out they were after a leaf nin, and I knew what area they were heading to, so-"

His sentence went unfinished as Asuma's huge fist wrapped around the collar of his shirt and yanked him forward and off of his feet. "You mean you knew they were after Shikamaru, and you let them take him?"

Sakon and Ukon moved forward, ready to attack, but Kabuto waved them off. "That's not what I said. I said I knew they wanted a leaf nin, and I knew where they were headed. When I saw your group there, I figured they must have been after you. So I followed you the entire time, waiting for them to come after you. It wasn't until close to dawn I realized you weren't their target."

"You son of a-"

"Enough Asuma," Tsunade barked. "Open that casket so I can be sure it's Sasuke in there."

Kabuto staggered as Asuma released him roughly, almost forcing him to trip over his own feet. He re-adjusted his glasses a second time and then nodded towards his commerades. Sakon and his brother stood on either side of the coffin, forming several quick and complex hand seals. Forming the final seal, they slammed both palms agains the wooden casket. It fell into several pieces, revealing an unconsious Sasuke Uchiha. In the past, Ino would have squealed with joy...but she found little seeing as her teammate was still in terrible danger. A quick scan of his chakra told Tsunade that this was indeed her Missing Nin.

"What a waste," Sakon muttered. "We lost everyone just to get this worthless brat to the Sound in the first place."

"It wasn't a waste," Ukon corrected. "We got what Lord Orochimaru wanted from him."

Tsunade frowned, standing up quickly from her desk and walking around almost in a rush to get to the boy. She knelt beside the Uchiha and pulled one of his eyelids open. Surprisingly his eye was still in place, as was the other. She stood and turned to the young man who had once nearly defeated her. "Just what did you do to him? What did you take from him?"

"Also not necessary information. He is here, and he is alive, isn't he? You've gotten what you wanted. Now, don't we have more pressing matters?"

Without needing to be told, Shizune had Izumo and Kotetsu assist her on getting the unconcious boy out of the office and into a hospital bed so they could begin the process of waking him up. Tsunade turned and walked back to her desk, sitting back into her chair. "I sent Team Kakashi to Tanzaka Town. There were reports of a large group of Shinobi ganging up on a pair of men in black cloaks with red clouds."

Asuma frowned. "You mean the Akatsuki?"

Kabuto interrupted Tsunade before she could answer, "That has to be them. They're the only group I know of arrogant enough to attack Akatsuki Members."

Tsunade nodded. "Perhaps. Team Kakashi left five hours ago. Catch up with them and help them in the investigation, Asuma. Take Kabuto and his lackeys with you. From the sound of it, you'll need all the help you can get."

The members of Team Asuma nodded and took off for the South Gate. Nevermind the fact that they'd been traveling hard and fast for a week straight, nevermind they had yet to even eat since they'd gotten back. They were more than ready to go. Anything that would get them closer to Shikamaru.

Sakon and Ukon took off after them. Kabuto paused in the window and turned back to Tsunade. "I'm most sure Lord Orochimaru will appreciate this."

x x x x x x x x x x x

Itachi Uchiha was the first real prodigy of his clan since Madara, and as such great things were expected of him. His ambitions should know no bounds. He should never fail a single mission, no matter the importance of it. And above all he should never, ever, allow his enemies to take him alive. These things had always been expected of Itachi, and these promises he had always fullfilled...until now.

When the young assassin opened his eyes he was sure of three things. One, he was bound, unable to move, and unable to see. As far as he could feel, he was stretched and chained to something that kept him off the floor, but he felt nothing except air at his back. He guessed he was suspended mid air, somehow. Two, his head really hurt, and the ache resonated from his left temple. The last thing he had seen was a blonde, thin man appear just in his periphial vision before his world went black. Obviously, the man had hit him hard and quickly enough to knock him unconcious...a hell of a feat. His enemies were apparently very talented themselves. And three, he was almost ice cold and he could feel the air passing over his bare skin, suggesting he'd been at least partially stripped. Apparently his enemies were very talented perverts.

He couldn't really help it when his mind jumped straight to Jiraiya and he almost smirked. This was almost a scene from one of the Ero Sennin's books, and the irony wasn't lost on the Toad Sage's personal spy. But this was no trick of Jiraiya's. He was in danger...or at least as much so as he ever had been.

Kisame...His partner had been with him when they had been attacked. On this subject, Itachi was sure of two things. One, with all his own talents, Kisame had beaten him in a fight that happened a few minutes after they first met. Kisame was stronger than he was, and far less likely to be taken prisoner. Two...Itachi was worried about Kisame. He was and always would be a Hidden Leaf Ninja, but he was worried about his Akatsuki partner, a partner who might kill him if he'd know the Uchiha was a spy leaking intel to his home town. But Kisame wasn't just a partner, he had been the young prodigy's friend just as soon as the fight had finished. It was risky business to get close to the enemies you were spying on, and it was just plain stupid to worry over them. But he was.

In the current situation, it was best for Itachi to remain silent and wait for his captors to come to him. Yet he couldn't seem to stop himself from whispering, "Kisame? Kisame, are you here?"

He waited but there was no reply. "Kisame," said again, this time noticing how the sound carried well. He was in a large room.

If Kisame had been captured he was either still unconcious or was being kept somewhere else. Then there was the possibilty that he was dead. Itachi shook his head at that idea. Kisame wouldn't die that easily. Then again, no one captured Itachi Uchiha that easily either. He thought back to the fight, trying to remember the events as they had occured.

x x FLASHBACK x x

Kisame grinned as his crab and shrimp sushi was finally served. Across the table a tuna roll and a salmon roll was placed in front of Itachi, who gracefully thanked his server with a small bow and a "Arigato". Each man recieved a cup of hot chamomile and honey tea, and a bottle of saki was placed in the center of the table with two serving cups.

"Your dango should be ready shortly, sweetie," the young blonde waitress said, clasping Itachi on the shoulder and letting her touch linger just a few seconds longer than was professional. "Now you let me know if you need anything else, okay?"

"Yes, Miss, thank you," Itachi replied, trying not to catch his partner's eye. Kisame liked to tease him whenever the occasion arose, and if he'd caught on to the waitress's flirting, Itachi was sure to hear about it.

And then, sure enough, as soon as she walked away the shark nin's grin turned just a little feral. "Eh, Itachi-san, I think she's into you. Seems we can't go anywhere without some woman fawning all over you. Lucky me to get the pretty boy for a partner, huh?"

Itachi frowned and tried his best to glare at his partner, but it fell apart before it really reached his eyes. Finally he sighed and took a sip of his tea. "I hope you're not jealous, Kisame. After all, I can't imagine you attract much more than your average feline."

"You little shit!" Kisame growled as he kicked the Uchiha's shin under the table.

Itachi chuckled even though the kick made him wince. Of all the partners he could have recieved in the Akatsuki, he wouldn't have traded Kisame for a second. Any anbu sent on the type of mission he'd been sent on knew they were riding to the gates of hell. Constantly in enemy territory, building one lie after another to cover their identity, and sacrificing all of their own morals to keep the facade up. It was a terrible life. Yet somehow being Kisame's partner made it all bearable, even fun at times. For that, he was thankful.

After their meal was finished, and after the waitress had slipped her name and address into Itachi's hand, they paid the bill, tipped generously, and began the trip out of Tanzuka Town, heading back to the nation of Amegakure. They had failed to capture the nine-tails, but Itachi assured Kisame that once Pein-sama learned of Sage Jiraiya's involvement, he would be more understanding. Sure, they would still be punished, but it wouldn't be nearly as severe. Pein-sama was more likely to be aggrivated that it was directly after their failure that Kisame decided to take his six-week paid vacation, of course meaning Itachi would take his as well. That was really going to get under their leader's skin.

They chatted back and forth about nonsensible things between brief periods of comfortable silence. Though his heart was ever heavy, Itachi found relief with his partner's company, and he allowed himself to enjoy this. Afterall, he'd already sacrificed everything else that made him happy.

It was only twenty minutes outside of the town that they realized they were being followed. However, it was a sudden realization, meaning these people had been following them nearly half an hour without their noticing. Itachi glanced to Kisame, making sure his partner knew they were being trailed. Kisame glanced back, grinning. He knew.

They stopped dead in their tracks at the exact same time, a sort of inner syncing that comes only from being around the other almost constantly. It was a waiting game now. They had to wait for the ninja to realize they'd been noticed, and then wait for the ninja to act on it. What really only took a matter of seconds stretched out for minutes in their minds as they forced themselves to be patient. Itachi began picking up their different chakra patterns and began counting...1, 2, 5, 10, 15... There were twenty. The Uchiha's aggrivation at being followed grew. How could he have failed to sense a group this large? They had to be anbu...

Unfortunately there was no more time to think about it. From the shadows twenty figures jumped to the air in unison and descended upon the pair. They were not dressed as anbu, as a matter of fact, they didn't even wear headbands, but they were talented and dangerous ninja all the same. Itachi and Kisame exchanged glances again as the ninja were just ten feet away, and this time both of them were grinning.

"Lets make this one quick," Kisame said as his hand flew to the hilt of his beloved Samehada. With a flick of his wrist and a stiff swing of his arm, the sword was in action and had caught three of the ninja in the stomach, knocking the air out of their lungs. He threw them off with a graceful turn, took one step, and swung the heavy blade down on the shoulder of an unlucky man. Bones snapped and splintered in Samehada's wake. A kick to the man's stomach sent him tumbling back to the ground where he would soon bleed to death from the internal injuries. Kisame side stepped just as his foot landed to avoid an obviously poisoned kunai the kunoichi had meant to implant between his shoulder blades. He spun about, commanding Samehada to release it's scales from the bindings, and sliced into her. An ear piercing scream lit the air as she was ripped literally in half from the massive blow.

Then Kisame found himself surrounded by eight of the strange nin, the three men he'd hit first having finally stood back up, though wearily. The ninja brandished their weapons and charged. They'd tagged Kisame as a brute, and the best way to defeat a brute was to overwhelm him. But strength and swordsmanship were not Kisame's only skills. On top of that, he had more chakra than anyone Itachi had ever heard of, more than the actual jinchiruki they were hunting, and now was a perfect chance to show that off. As the ninja closed in water rose from the ground and suddenly their weapons were being caught by hands that formed from it, turning into eight different shadow clones, each one activating a Water Prison Jutsu on the unlucky nin they'd caught. With each of the enemies currently against him trapped, Kisame took a moment to survey each one of them, watching the way they struggled and looking for any weaknesses he could use to his advantage. He saw it in a particularly wide eyed kunoichi who stared at him as though she were seeing a monster. Fear overwhelmed her, and that was exactly what Kisame would use to interrogate her.

And while Kisame wiped the floor with the ten ninja against him, Itachi had his own to deal with. All ten were coming after him at once in three waves, as they'd done with his partner, but the Uchiha was not in the mood to battle. He rarely resorted to his Mangekyo this early in a fight, but since he trusted his partner to take one of them for questioning, he saw no reason to pull his blows. He waited until the last possible second, until he could feel the air rushing at his neck in wake of a fist aimed at the back of his head, and he unleashed one of his most deadly attacks. Amateresu. The black flames enveloped the ninja, and their painful screams were silenced by the fire that ate them alive.

With a wistful smile he turned to the shark nin who'd finished drowning all of his victims save the one he meant to interrogate. "What do you suppose this was all about?"

"I dunno," Kisame chuckled, "but they sure as hell didn't stand a chance, did they? Maybe they pissed off their boss and he sent them to die."

Whatever Itachi might have replied with was lost when a woman's cackle was heard on the wind. They turned as a chakra signature appeared behind them almost like magic, as though it hadn't really been there before. A woman stood there, adorned in the finest of blue and golden silk. Gold and jewels wrapped around her wrists and arms in the form of bracelets and most of her fingers were decorated with almost gawdy rings. Two perfectly round, unidentifiable red stones hung from her earrings but were nearly lost in her long, luxiurous blue hair, which was pulled back from her forehead with a dainty but outrageously decorated tiara. Her looks were delicate, but her fierce green eyes belied her true nature. She was dark, and twisted, and regardless of the truth, she considered herself royalty.

"Did you see that?" She laughed coarsly again, but her gaze went beyond Kisame and his partner. "Did you see how quickly they perished? That was almost a joke! Where does Akito find such weaklings?"

"Enough Amii," another voice, male this time, appeared with a new chakra center in the direction they'd originally been facing, forcing them to turn sideways to keep an eye on both of them. This man was dressed simply in a pair of white pants and a wrikled lab coat, as though he couldn't be bothered to so much as remember to put on a shirt. His eyes glowed like jade in the sunlight, and were hidden behind a pair of dark rimmed glasses. His hair was snow white, shoulder length, and spikey, reminding Itachi of his master Jiraiya. "We're not here to play, and Akito's going to be upset enough losing this many workers all at once. Let's just do our job for now, shall we?"

The blue haired woman frowned. "It's Queen Zeal to the likes of you, Professor Weiss."

"Where's your sense of adventure? Your passion? Your appreciation for the dramatic?"

A third voice, a third signature that had gone unrecognized, and this time it appeared directly behind Itachi. The leaf nin turned quickly and jumped back, powering the move with his chakra so he was able to reach his partner. This new member was male...or at least he sounded that way. His hair was silver with feathers at his brow, his eyes were blue, and his skin was the color of porceline. He wore breast plate and thigh high metal boots. His undershirt was airy and didn't cover his stomach at all. The only thing covering the lower half of his body was a metalic cod piece and a solid white drape worn almost like a skirt. He sounded like a man, but he could have easily passed as a woman. However, none of this unnerved Itachi more than the fact that his wasn't standing there, but that he was floating as though gravity had no real effect on him.

Kisame growled. If he hated anything, it was being snuck up on in battle. He put a massive blue hand on Itachi's stomach and pushed him back a few paces as he stepped forward, brandishing Samehada. Whether or not his partner had realized it yet, Kisame knew they were after Itachi. If the third one had kept his mouth shut he'd have been able to reach out and grab the Uchiha before either of them knew what had happened. Itachi wasn't fond of being pushed back, but he trusted his partner. They could discuss this later, when they were safe.

"Damnit Kuja, you had a perfect opportunity and you blew it," Weiss said. "Stop worrying with your theatrics and get the damn target so we can go. I've better things to do than worry with a shark and a weasel."

"Enough!" Kisame bellow, catching their attention. "Tell me who you are and what you want before I shred you into pieces!"

x x END x x

Itachi frowned as he tried to remember further, but the events began bluring together from then, probably thanks to the concussion he was sure he was suffering. The trio had laughed, then they had attacked, and from there...He remembered seeing Kisame clash swords with Weiss, who was a duel weilder, and something small and metalic shot from a strange tube on top of his blade when Kisame had blocked him. The shot was loud, like a thunderclap, and was unlike anything Itachi had ever seen before. The other man, Kuja, had taken to the air, and rained down fire, lightening, and ice at him with nothing more than a simple wave of his hand. Sure, the ex anbu had dodged it fairly well, but with the sheer ease that strange man wielded each element he knew he would be in trouble.

Then the woman had started chanting strange words that seemed nonsensical, except they flowed together so naturally Itachi assumed they had to be some foriegn language. Suddenly his vision had gone red, and he felt himself slowing down, as though all the energy was being drained out of him. And from there...he knew the fight had continued, but for how long he couldn't be sure. Kisame eventually found a way to shut the woman up by throwing the professor into her, and then Itachi had been more sucessful at fighting Kuja...

The absolute last thing he could remember was hearing a fourth voice just behind him, though what the man had said he had no idea. Then there was the blonde, then there was pain and darkness. He thought he remembered bouncing once when he hit the ground, a testament to how hard he'd fallen. And he thought he'd heard Kisame saying something, calling for him, but his voice had sounded so far away.

He struggled with his memories for a while longer but was no more successful with them. After he'd seriously considered trying to fall back asleep, and then discounted the idea considering the concussion, he heard a faint click and the a creeking sound, and even without seeing he knew someone had opened a door to the room he was in. Another click and suddenly his vision exploded with light. Well, at least he knew he wasn't blind. He blinked the tears away from his eyes and noticed that he was in a rather large, empty room, save the chains that were suspending him in the air and that his back was to the opened door. He also noticed he'd been stripped completely naked and found himself extremely aggrivated. This was just plain indecent.

He had no idea.

x x x x x x x

Orochimaru followed Weiss back into the house, idly wondering what chance he would stand against him at this point. He and Shikamaru had already proved a fatal combination to three of Akito's workers, but there was no telling how many more there were, and Weiss seemed more skilled than the three they'd already killed. Just the way he walked showed how graceful he was, and the fact that he'd so easily turned his back to the two of them spoke volumes for how skilled he thought he was at least. Orochimaru knew he wasn't stupid, not if he'd formulated a serum to prevent ninja from channeling their chakra. And for now, Weiss was their only source of real information. If they attacked and failed, and chances were very good that they would fail, Weiss might decide not to be so talkative after all.

Shikamaru seemed to be full of surprises as well. The snake nin studied him carefully as he closed the door behind them. He expected that the young Nara had a thousand questions for him, but he was shocked to see how trusting the young boy was with him. It would have been foolish had they not been prisoners, but they were, and Shikamaru had immediately realized they needed to present a united front to the newcomer. He had fallen into step behind the Sannin without a word needed between them.

Weiss opened the door that would lead them back to their cell. "Well, let's go see what sort of damage you've caused, shall we?"

"Is it necessary to keep us naked?" Orochimaru asked, stalling for just a little more time. He wanted to get a good look at the front of the house.

"Akito doesn't see the need to dress a pet unless it's the client's wish that they have costumes. However, I believe your client is in the process of choosing your clothing now, so it might not be something you have to suffer much longer. Let's go."

Orochimaru frowned and started to the stairwell, his young comerade in tow. "There's something that's bothering me. You see, I've been here for two months, and-"

"Really?" Weiss interupted, "You're doing well for two months. Oh, I can tell it's going to take a while to break you. We should have plenty of time to talk."

"Yes, and I'm sure you'll know where to find me," he quipped, forcing a laugh from his captor. "But still, I'm not sure I understand... well, as I said, I've been here two months...at least I think its been about that long, and this is Shikamaru's eighth day."

"Ah, well, then his training will begin today. Tell me, Shikamaru," Weiss chuckled as he adjusted his glasses, "I'm sure you and your cellmate have been talking. Are you ready for the day?"

Finally Shikamaru focused on him, and Orochimaru eased a little seeing it. He could tell the boy had gone numb, and he was starting to wonder if his compliance was him giving up. But when he looked at Weiss, there was a fire burning in the chocolate depths of his eyes. He smirked wickedly, a look that belonged nowhere near the boy using it, "If your trainers get too careless you're going to have more corpses on your hands."

Weiss paused, studying him. He didn't know enough about the boy to tell whether or not his was joking, but the look on his face was serious. Finally he gave the boy a wry smile. "Looks like you're not going to be easy either. Good. It's going to make you that much more fun." He turned back to Orochimaru. "So, did you have a question? I might have time to answer one more."

"Why such a large time gap between my and Shikamaru's capture, if we're for the same client."

"Another good question. Really, I can't tell you how exciting it is to have an intelligent conversation with someone in this place. Originally, you were the only pet the client ordered. He asked for Shikamaru about three weeks ago. And as a bonus, I can tell you this too. The day Shikamaru arrived, he put in an order for yet another pet. As a matter of fact, we just got back from capturing him."

"Who is it?"

Weiss opened his mouth but never answered. When they reached the bottom and were just about to turn the corner, someone else appeared in the hallway. It was a large man, bald, with purple skin and pointed ears. He had black eyes, no apparent nose and large lips. There was no way this man was human. He was carrying a large black bag on his back that was smeared with blood. Obviously the corpses had been discovered.

The purple man snorted. "Why the hell do I always get put on clean up duty?"

"Don't whine, just do your job," Weiss snapped, all of his friendly helpful attitude leaving him. Orochimaru was sure that from this point on, he would no longer be addressing them.

The purple man snorted again and continued down the hallway lined with black doors. Weiss led them back down the hallway with red doors, and at the end they could see a blue haired woman yelling at a pink skinned woman to clean faster.

"What the hell is going on in this place?" Orochimaru wondered to himself. "I've never seen any of these people before. Of course, I've never escaped my room before. Still...just how many people are there here?"

As they passed the door marked with the number 3, they jumped as they heard a loud thud as something slammed into the other side of it. Weiss frowned as the banging continued and yelled down the hallway. "Amii, your son is starting to get on my nerves. Can't you dope him up to keep him quiet?"

"It's Queen Zeal to the likes of you," the blue haired woman yelled back, ignoring the other female to glare at Weiss. "I've already sedated him this morning...that IS him sedated. If he wasn't drugged he'd probably break the door down and crush you into the pathetic little stain you are."

"Big words for a queen with no kingdom."

"You son of a bitch!"

Shikamaru was standing next to the door when whoever was behind it rammed it hard enough to shake the wall. He jumped to the other side of Orochimaru, but was still close enough to barely hear a voice screaming from the room. "You BITCH! I'll kill you when I get out! Do you hear me? I'll FUCKING KILL you!"

Amii, or Queen Zeal, must not have been able to hear, as she was still glaring at Weiss. For the most part he ignored her and lead Shikamaru and Orochimaru by the arm into the room across the hall from their original cell. He opened the door marked 14 and led them in.

"Well now, maybe now that they have a few toys to play with, they'll behave," the professor said looking at Amii, but Orochimaru knew he was talking to them. "Perhaps a few lamps and books to read will settle them down. I think there's even a board game or two in there."

Amii frowned. "Do you think Akito will approve rewarding them after they killed his first team?"

"A caged and beaten dog always bites the hand that feeds it. You have to spoil your animals a little, if you want them to behave."

He closed the door on them, and though they could still hear his voice in the hallway, they could no longer make out what he was saying. Shikamaru looked around. This room was a little bigger, the ceiling a good five feet taller, and the lights were far too high to shove someone's face into again. There was a book shelf that housed several different magazines, books, maybe even a few manga. On the bottom shelf was a shogi board with all the pieces and even the stones to play Go if they so desired. There was a notebook and pens, plenty of things to occupy their time. It was almost nice, if only it wasn't a prison.

Orochimaru shook his head as he sat down on a leather couch, another luxury they hadn't had before. "This is insane. We are so screwed."

"So what was the symbol on the dock?" Shikamaru asked, taking a seat in the recliner across from him, "And what's with the sudden good treatment? I told you I studied with Ibiki, but he didn't cover anything like this."

"Well, he wouldn't. Most of the time a ninja is captured for either information or access to a Kekkei Genkai. These people are trying to make us someone's pet. They're stripping us of our humanity by treating us like animals. Right now they're trying to placate us, hoping we'll behave if they give us a treat. If we continue to cause trouble, there's no telling what punishment we'll face. Maybe they'll put us in a cage and spray us with a hose. Regardless, the fact is that they're sure they won't get caught, that whoever cares about us won't be able to find them, and they might be right."

"And you think this because of a symbol?"

"That symbol was for the 'Flying Thunder God' Technique. It's a way to teleport instantly from one location to another. The Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze, perfected the technique to the point to where he could perform it single handedly, but normally it takes a group of three."

Cold washed over Shikamaru as he started to understand exactly what he was being told. "So that's how they got us here. There are no boats coming this way. We're on a deserted island that's probably not even on the maps."

"Bingo."

Orochimaru was right. They really were screwed.