Baki had always wondered what the inside of a Konoha interrogation room looked like. Now he knew: Boring. Cinderblock walls painted over in gray paint. A single chair – that he was tied to – and a single light from above, illuminating that chair. The chair was bolted to the floor. Other than that, there was a solid metal door between him and the way out of this room, and he suspected he'd find a maze of hallways. Filled with guards, naturally.
He wondered if Kabuto Yakushi had betrayed him, but considered it unlikely. It would hardly further the invasion of Konoha.
It was far more likely he had been observed by someone with masked chakra and turned in. That would explain his sudden collapse on the street, and why he'd woken up here with a bag over his head.
The man who'd taken the bag off of his head was none other than the big, broad-shouldered Chief of Interrogation himself: Ibiki Morino. The scarred man was unmistakable. And he certainly was imposing in his official slate blue uniform and black leather coat, he'd give Morino that.
Baki grinned. "That is one badass coat."
Ibiki inclined his head graciously. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Baki waited.
"Well, it's like this." Ibiki scratched his chin. "We're really after Kabuto. After all, he's one of ours, and it's a personal insult to be betrayed. You understand that."
"So if you tell us where Kabuto is or how to get in touch with him…" Ibiki raised an eyebrow expectantly.
"Mmn." Baki pretended to consider it. "Or, perhaps I can even call him myself and betray him to you. Make him walk into a trap."
"That kind of thing," Ibiki agreed pleasantly.
"I thought that might be what you had in mind," Baki said.
"So we're agreed?" Ibiki asked.
"Sure." Baki smiled. "But I'm not going to do any of those things."
"Why not?" Ibiki asked, still pleasant.
Baki shrugged. "Maybe my attitude has something to do with the fact that you've asked me to betray my country."
"Oh, that." Ibiki stroked his chin, looking at the ceiling. "Hmm. Well, you could become a Leaf nin."
Baki snorted. "You're not serious."
"I'm not?" Ibiki looked at him quizzically. "Why not?"
"Because then you're talking about betrayal and desertion." Baki grinned. "That'd make it worse. I hardly think that piling offenses on top of my head is going to make me talk to you any quicker."
"What would make you talk?"
They looked at each other for a moment.
Then they both laughed.
"Have it your way," Ibiki said.
"Thank you," Baki said politely. He wondered what would happen next. Would he jump straight to the torture? Or would a man like this go in for psychological manipulation? Drugs, maybe?
Ibiki inclined his head. "Of course. You are my guest."
"For how long am I going to be staying?" Baki asked.
Ibiki said with a hint of a smile, "I don't know. Until you talk, probably."
"If I talk, you'll probably get rid of me by killing me and dumping the body," Baki said lightly.
Ibiki looked slightly injured. "That all depends." He gestured with one hand. He was wearing gloves. "Your fate depends on how quickly you talk, and about what, and whether or not you're helpful."
"Cooperative," Ibiki said. "Cooperative people live."
"In a dungeon," Baki said.
"Perhaps," Ibiki said. "Or perhaps we'll send you back to your country."
Baki grimaced. "Oh, that. Extradition would hardly be courteous after making me talk."
Ibiki grinned. "Oops. I hadn't thought of that."
"Sure you haven't." Baki gave him a look. "I need to know what inducements I'm working with. How can I trust that something terrible won't happen to me the moment I talk? I've got kids to look after."
"You're not married," Ibiki said flatly. His expression turned stony.
"They're not mine," Baki said. He was somewhat frightened by the reaction to what Ibiki perceived as a lie, but he didn't show it. He kept his expression mild and his chakra tightly controlled. "I mean the Kazekage's kids. I call them my kids. My team."
Ibiki relaxed slightly. The stiffness went out of his shoulders. "You'll be replaced, I imagine."
Baki wondered if Ibiki could know how much that comment stung. "I don't want to be replaced." He swallowed. "I…I've bonded already. I care already."
Ibiki furrowed his brow. "Look: Do they know you're working with Sound already? How much do these kids know?"
"Nothing," Baki said quickly. "Kankuro, Temari, and Gaara don't know anything. Yondaime was going to tell them when they returned from the first part of the Chunin Exam. Which I know they won't do if I'm missing. So they don't know. They know nothing about the invasion."
"Invasion?" Ibiki murmured.
Baki knew then that he'd slipped up. Of course. Getting me to talk about the kids. He closed his eyes for a moment. He found a way in. And I was easy. Stupid, Baki. Stupid. He forced himself to open his eyes, to avoid a show of sustained weakness.
"As we suspected," Ibiki said softly. "An invasion, of the Sound and Sand."
Baki nodded once.
"On whose orders?" Ibiki asked.
"Yondaime's," Baki said wearily.
"I know that." Ibiki gave him a wry smile. "But what I want to know is, who is behind Kabuto? Orochimaru?"
"I can't help you," Baki said.
"Dangerous words," Ibiki teased.
Baki tensed in spite of himself.
"The kids are still genin, aren't they?" Ibiki asked.
Baki stared at him.
Ibiki looked at him innocently.
"That's why they're here," Baki said at last. The easy banter they'd initially had was gone, and nothing could bring it back. He didn't know why Ibiki was trying.
"So…they're not much of a threat, and they're not involved," Ibiki summed up.
Baki relaxed, all the way. "Yes. Exactly."
Ibiki looked at him sympathetically. "I don't know how you do things in Suna. But around here, we don't involve people in sessions like the one we're having without them being involved in something. You say the kids are clean and I believe that."
Baki bowed his head. "Thank you." Thank god for Konoha being soft. God, I don't want them to be hard. Ever. Let the Leaf stay as naïve and as merciful as possible.
"Just keep telling me the truth," Ibiki said. "It can be that easy."
"I can't," Baki said, knowing he was fighting a downhill battle.
"Yes, you can," Ibiki said gently. "You're good at telling the truth. I can tell."
Baki's eyes burned because that really was the truth about him, he was a terrible liar and an honest person and – Oh god. He got to me. Again. How did he do that? "Yondaime's my teacher. He's my teacher. He's my teacher from the Academy. So don't ask me to betray him." Yes, he told himself. Good. Remember that.
"I know," Ibiki said in that same gentle voice. It was like needles slipping insidiously under Baki's skin.
Baki shut his eyes and plowed on desperately. "My parents died and he was there and –"
"I know. I know all of that."
Baki felt a touch on his chin and he opened his eyes. Ibiki stood over him, cupping his chin with a patient gaze. Looking into his eyes.
"I can't," Baki protested.
"What if I told you that's not your teacher?" Ibiki asked.
Baki went numb. "I'd say you're lying."
Ibiki spoke slowly and carefully. "We've received intelligence that the Kazekage has been replaced by an agent of Orochimaru's. When we see him in the second part of the Chunin Exam, we expect to find that he is someone else, wearing the Kazekage's face."
"No." That was the only word Baki could come up with to stop all this.
"There was a fight." If only Ibiki didn't look so sympathetic.
"Your teacher is dead," Ibiki said. "The one who ordered the alliance with Sound is a member of Sound. Sound was founded by Orochimaru."
"No," Baki protested. "No, no, no." He needed this to stop. He needed it to stop because he believed Ibiki. I had a wrong feeling when I left – "No!"
"Take a moment," Ibiki said softly. "Please."
Baki tried desperately not to cry. Sensei…No. No. "You're just trying to get to me."
"I could do that any old way," Ibiki said. "I need your cooperation. I want you to turn to our side, Baki. The right side. Your treaty with us takes precedence over the orders of a stranger. That man usurped the name and title of your sensei unjustly. You can't listen to anything he says. You know a lot about the truth, Baki. Am I telling the truth?"
Baki stared at Ibiki. He wanted to look away, but he couldn't. Psychological manipulation. It's psychological manipulation!
"You can read people," Ibiki said. "Am I telling the truth? I have, haven't I?"
"My sensei –"
" –is gone," Ibiki finished. "I'm sorry." He stroked Baki's cheek. "I'm sorry, Baki. I wish I could undo what Orochimaru did. Help me catch him. Help me so that our nations don't go to war with one another. We have a good treaty. We have a bond of trust. Don't betray us. Please. Think of the children you care about. If they go back to Suna, if they participate in starting a war under the direction of a stranger, their lives will be ruined. If they find out from someone other than you that their father isn't alive anymore…"
Baki looked away. He could imagine the devastation. "Don't. Don't talk about it anymore."
"I have to," Ibiki said. "I'm sorry, but we have to talk more. Time is ticking down, Baki. Orochimaru is going to try to invade with or without you. But he is counting on the Sand to make his move for him. You're his public face for conquest, unless you say otherwise and back out of the deal now. We need to know where Kabuto Yakushi is to put this all to a halt."
Baki swallowed and looked into Ibiki's eyes. Could the man know just how much Baki hurt at this precise moment?
"More people will get hurt if we don't act quickly," Ibiki said. "More people than you, or me. Entire villages, entire countries may be at stake. This thing could escalate. For all we know that's what Orochimaru wants." He cupped Baki's face in both hands. "You can stop this, Baki. You can stop this right now by saying how you get a hold of Kabuto Yakushi. By giving us the right code to signal him by, by being the one to lead us to him, you can do your country and ours a great service. Don't break the treaty. Remember the treaty, Baki. You owe us an allegiance of friendship. Don't throw it all away."
Baki couldn't tell what was right and what was wrong anymore. He knew the line had blurred. His orders? The treaty? His team, the country, Orochimaru? He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think.
But Ibiki's hands stroked his face gently, offering all the sympathy in the world – and it was true that his old sensei hadn't been acting like himself. Not at all. He'd been cold, distant…strange…
Oh, no. Oh, god, no. Denial tried to kick in again, but it was a losing struggle against Baki's nauseating certainty that nothing would ever be the same again.
"Baki, you'll be a hero," Ibiki said softly.
Baki's heart skipped a beat. No – I'm not – Don't speak!
"You don't really want to break the treaty, do you? Neither does the Wind Daimyo. What about him? He's the leader of your country, Baki. Even if your sensei were alive, which he is not, how could he go against the Daimyo? Would your sensei ever do that?"
The logic hit like an earth release to the stomach. Baki gritted his teeth, his breath suddenly hissing. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter, and then opened them. He was shaking. "No." Tears blurred his vision. He looked away, refusing to look at this person who was dealing him so much pain. "He wouldn't. He would never do that. He respected the chain of command." Respected. Past tense. He swallowed, bile in his throat.
Ibiki reached around him and untied his hands, freeing him from the chair.
Baki almost came undone.
Ibiki took his arms and helped him up.
Baki tried to pull away, stumbling back against the chair.
Ibiki pulled him forward to keep him from falling and wrapped him up in a tight hug.
Baki burst out with a sob and started crying.
Ibiki rubbed his back. "We're not your enemy. Orochimaru is. Help us find him; catch him; keep him from destroying our villages. We're safe now. As long as you understand who your allies are, you're safe."
"He's dead. I'm sorry."
Baki's chest constricted with pain.
"But you're not alone. And he would have wanted you to preserve the treaty. He guarded peace with his life. Did he not negotiate the original peace treaty with Minato Namikaze? Did he not fight for peace all his life?"
Baki fell limp in Ibiki's arms, burying his face against Ibiki's shoulder.
Ibiki held him and let him cry himself out.