Warnings: oddness, bit of NaruSasu

The Labyrinth III: Poison

It took almost two minutes to restrain Neji. During that time he managed to bite a chunk out of Shikamaru's arm, kick Naruto in the face, scratch up both
Sasuke and Kankuro, and leave some nice bruises on Kiba and Shino before they'd finally succeeded in prying him off. All told it was a horrible show of
teamwork and had he used even a hint of his ninja training he could have easily killed someone. Luckily his crazed state reduced him to bestial behavior and
while the initial shock of not being able to use any jutsus against him had slowed down their reactions, they were still shinobi. They had him hogtied and
gagged before the first drops of blood hit the floor. Then they backtracked to the corner away from the exit to regroup.

"I don't get it," Naruto mumbled. He'd very nearly bitten through his tongue and like the lingering soreness in his shoulder, the injury showed no sign of going
away. He spat a mouthful of bloody saliva on the floor, then rounded on Gaara. The Sand nin had stood back the entire time, and now he had the same blank
look as always. "You're using your sand right now, aren't you? I thought it was just me and Sasuke, because of this stupid chain, but-" He grimaced at
Shikamaru, who was having his arm wrapped up by Kankuro, the only one with bandages left. "Is it just us from Konoha?"

"I haven't been able to use my sand since we left the room," said Gaara.

Sasuke shot him a sharp look. Did that mean his blank expression wasn't a mask? He hadn't shown a hint of surprise or emotion during the attack. Even now
he looked more statue than human.

"It's not that our chakra has been sealed or rendered useless," said Shino. He and Kiba were crouching beside Neji, keeping him from thrashing too much and
ready to redo the ropes when, not if, Neji finished chewing through the one holding his gag in place. "He used the byakugan in the hall earlier and my own
chakra is still functioning normally. It's only externally that our chakra dissipates."

"Someone might have mentioned that sooner," Shikamaru commented. Taijutsu was not one of his strong points and while Neji wasn't particularly strong
himself, the adrenaline rush had given him quite an advantage. Being tackled by the crazed Hyuuga was comparable to wrestling with Asuma. Not something
he cared to repeat.

"I don't remember you offering to share information," Kankuro snorted at him. He wiped the back of a hand over the light scratch Neji had made on his neck,
some welts but no blood, and then tossed the roll of bandages to Sasuke. "You're going to look like a fucking mummy by the time we get out of here." He
rather liked that.

Neji's fingernails weren't very long, but they'd dug some nice grooves in his hand. Sasuke wrapped the wound with a dull glower, not responding to the taunt.
Shikamaru had been thrown right between him and Naruto, leaving them in a tangled mess. He was just glad Naruto was the one who'd been kicked in the
head and not him. "Nothing happened to you when you were standing in doorway, earlier," he said, looking over at Kiba. "Right?"

"They saw me," Kiba made a face at the memory, "but they didn't come at me or anything." He was rather pleased with the way things had turned out. He had
warned the dumbass not to go out there, after all. "It's his own fault for walking right out there."

Considering Neji had the byakugan, it was unlikely he'd have walked out unless he'd seen something Kiba hadn't. That the 'things' out there were merely an
illusion, perhaps. Between the two of them, Sasuke would put faith in Neji's eyes over Kiba's nose any day. That meant that there was something else behind
the illusion Neji hadn't spotted, or that he'd underestimated what he had seen. It was likely the latter. He'd gotten a very close look at the sort of energy used in
this place with his sharingan when he and Naruto had struck the door earlier. If he hadn't witnessed the power of it firsthand, he wouldn't have even known it
was there. He tossed the roll of bandages back to Kankuro. Then he tugged on the chain. "Let's go take a look."

"Are you kidding?" Naruto demanded. "If one of us goes crazy the other one is screwed." He raised his cuffed arm in emphasis. The damn chain was three
inches long again. He swore the length kept changing on them. As short as it was now there would be absolutely no chance to evade an attack. And though
Sasuke was putting up a good front for the others, it was obvious he'd barely gotten back to his feet after being bowled over by Neji. He'd either end up
attacking Sasuke in a crazed state like Neji, or braining him to get him off and, either way, one of them would be stuck dragging a hogtied psycho.

"I'll go as well," Shikamaru sighed. Someone had to take charge here or they'd end up bickering and accomplishing nothing. Once he actually knew what they
were up against he'd have some chance to find a way around it.

Naruto scoffed, working his way to an outright ranting tone. "What? You want to get jumped by one of us? Or both? Yeah, that's a great idea! I guess getting
bitten once wasn't enough for ya, eh?"

Shikamaru sent a tired look at the others, including the Sand pair. He hadn't expected any help from that quarter and received none. Sasuke was staring off
toward the entrance, Kiba had his head down and was pointedly petting Akamaru, and Shino merely quirked an eyebrow. No one was offering to help calm
Naruto down, assuming it was even possible. He sighed and adopted Sasuke's approach of ignoring him altogether. "Anyone else coming?"

"Spider," said Gaara. He stared impassively, completely ignoring the strange looks he received.

Kankuro rolled his eyes, waving at Shikamaru, "Let's go. Make sure to hold your breath."

Sasuke led the way, dragging a ranting grumbling tugging Naruto one step at a time. Shikamaru followed a few steps behind, his expression twisted in tired
annoyance as he had to shove Naruto a few times when he tried stopping completely. Shino sidled up to Kankuro, who was trailing after.

"Spider?" Shino asked quietly.

"Don't worry about a few legs, just protect the head," Kankuro muttered. Temari would be throwing a fit right now if she knew Gaara had made that
designation. The kid was smart, maybe, but having him in charge? It was downright degrading. He wasn't even useful without those shadows of his. In fact, he
was probably the weakest one here, not counting the mummy.

Not a bad analogy, Shino supposed, although- "The head isn't very useful without eyes."

Kankuro grinned, almost willing to forgive the creep for that thing in the woods. "Part of the head, right? But if you ask me we already lost those." He'd back the
byakugan over the sharingan any day, especially when there was no report of the Uchiha ever using his for genjutsu. Best eyes around for mind-fucking and
he didn't even use them for it. He was a hand all the way, just another leg. And if Gaara wasn't worried about that...friend...of his, then the other leg didn't
matter much either right now.

One look at the bright sunshine outside was enough to momentarily blind Sasuke and give him a splitting headache. Just what he needed. Naruto didn't seem
to have that problem because he immediately cursed, trying to drag him out of sight. He wished someone would take the initiative and knock the moron out.
Dragging him around would be a huge strain, but it had to be better than dealing with this. He wiped his eyes clear and squinted again.

"What are they?" Naruto was hissing, in a whisper louder than his normal speaking tone. "What the hell are they?"

They were things. Just as Kiba had claimed. The thing directly in front of the exit was the biggest of the things. About twelve feet tall and nearly as wide, green,
bulbous on top, with a wide gaping mouth full of arm-long teeth, thick squirming root-like tentacles that drug it along the ground as it moved a few inches to the
side and turned that mouth toward them. It looked more plant than animal, but its breaths were loud huffing explosions of air. The leaves and entwined vine
textures that made up its head formed what might have been hair and a face, giving it an almost humanoid appearance. Human, animal, plant. Yes, it was most
certainly a thing. And there were more of them squirm-crawling their way around the clearing just outside the entrance. A few were waist-high, but there were
three that rivaled the largest size. It was a troop, or herd, of huge things with big teeth. Although Sasuke still wished someone would shut Naruto up, he
couldn't quite argue with the frantic disgust in his voice. They were gross intimidating things, he'd give him that much.

They were also see-through, once he'd activated the sharingan. He said as much to Shikamaru, who'd edged closer to see for himself. This was undoubtedly
why Neji hadn't hesitated. There was no sign of traps or chakra, and the things looked like a weak illusion at best. In fact, half of the forest looked like an
illusion, only the dirt and a few of the trees looked solid and even they appeared masked and obscured by fake plants and a variety of small creeping
animal-like things in the foliage. His eyes told him they were on an open field, dirt and moss, no grass, and a few trees that might be henge'd rocks or other
inanimate objects. There was a blur further out, stretching along the horizon and then higher until even the sky seemed to be part of the illusion. There was
also a person, nearly a mile off and only visible through the blur because he was one of the few things not affected by the illusion. Sasuke couldn't make him
out beyond the slight haze of his energy. Human, real, but still not enough energy to be threatening. There was nothing out there to make a shinobi hesitate.
So what had happened to Neji?

"Those things got him!" Naruto yelled, furious at being ignored. He grabbed Sasuke's shirt and got right in his face. "Listen to them huff! They're what made
that laughing sound - they huffed poison on him and they'll do the same to anyone who goes out there! The only reason they're not coming in after us is
'cause they're too big-"

"That one's not too big," Kankuro pointed out, amused by Naruto's antics.

"It's more likely that we're safe in here," said Shikamaru. "They're guards to keep us from going out. They can see us, but they won't do anything to us unless
we attempt to go out."

"Wait, then, you don't buy his claim that they're not real?" Naruto frowned in confusion, looking from Shikamaru to Shino. It wasn't until Sasuke shoved his
hands off that he scowled at his teammate again.

"I never said they weren't real," Sasuke spat. "I said they don't look real. Everything out there looks like an illusion. But if it is, then it's an obvious illusion put in
place to hide something even worse."

Naruto deflated sullenly. He was getting very frustrated at not being able to fold his arms over his chest. "Then, you're not going to suggest someone go out
there and see what happens?"

"I didn't say that."

Shikamaru grabbed the back of Naruto's shirt before he could launch himself at his teammate again. "Be useful and clam up, Naruto. He can't go out when
he's chained to you and none of us is volunteering to do it. We're assessing the situation, that's all."

Kankuro rolled his eyes. The situation was pretty clear already. "Those tentacles aren't long enough to grab us. They're slow as slugs. Even if the illusion is a
trick to make us think they're not real, the poison can't hurt if you hold your breath. And if they've got some other attack, I doubt they're fast enough to hit a
shinobi with it."

"You're assuming they aren't intelligent," said Shino.

"And that they're the source of the poison," said Shikamaru. "It's far more likely that the genjutsu caster is nearby and someone with him is the source of the
poison. Even if the...things...are real and they are the source of the poison, there's no reason to think they're all that's hidden out there." The fact that their
enemy could easily be sitting on the roof right above them and listening to every word they said clearly hadn't occurred to any of them. They were also missing
the entire point of this trap. He rubbed a hand over his throbbing arm and wondered if he should warn Sasuke about the poison. In his condition it probably
wouldn't make much difference, so he didn't waste his breath. For a simple excuse for some male bonding, this sure had turned into a troublesome mess.
"There's a quick way to determine the rules."

"Ru-" Naruto's eyes widened. "Follow the instructions to get out..."

"This is more of a game than a trap," Shikamaru confirmed tiredly. "Are we at the wrong exit, are we not supposed to leave until our abductor returns, or is
there some qualification we have to fulfill in order to exit safely. We can't determine the first possibility without backtracking through the maze and trying some
of the other paths. That's the last option because by the time we check all the untaken paths, the man should be back. In the meantime," he eyed the things
out there and wrinkled his nose, "someone is going to have to throw something at them."

"Why?" asked Kankuro. He still didn't like the guy, but he was suspicious. Shikamaru seemed to know a lot more than he was letting on.

"To see if they're simply here to poison anyone who steps outside, or if they'll attack inanimate objects as well. Hitting one would also prove whether or not
anything is physically there."

Sasuke put a hand out at Naruto. "Kunai."

"No way!" Naruto growled. "If that thing gets mad because you hit it and huffs poison on us, it'll be just the same as going out there. Who says the poison only
hurts if you breathe it, huh? We just got a little bit of it on us earlier, but standing right here we'd get it head on just like Neji did." If Sasuke tried to say he
could stand there long enough to watch the kunai hit the thing and still be able to run away fast enough to avoid the poison, he was going to knock the lying
asshole out himself. Sasuke's eyes narrowed in a very hateful glare, but he didn't say a word. There was no way he could run right now and they both knew it.
Naruto snorted at him, then turned his glare on Shikamaru for suggesting it in the first place. "And if Sasuke isn't right here to watch, you won't know if the
kunai hitting the thing is part of the illusion or not, right? So that's out. Any other ideas?"

Shikamaru sighed. Was there any point suggesting the obvious? Naruto would throw a fit in horrified denial and Sasuke would pull a macho outrage. At this
rate one of them might as well just walk out and try to dispel the illusion. Or take Kankuro's route and try running past the things as if they were the only threat
out there.

"Carry him," said Shino.

Naruto gaped in horror, Sasuke flinched in outrage, and Shikamaru slapped a hand over his forehead. He was laughing before the two teammates could say a
word. They were so predictable it hurt. And the idea was so obvious and simple that only two idiots like them would put up such a fuss over it. Their pissy
expressions and Shino's blankly confused face made him laugh harder.

"What?" Shino frowned. "It's the most obvious solution."

Sasuke glared at him for even suggesting it. Then he snapped a disgusted look on Shikamaru, who was bent forward and laughing like a loon. "What the hell
is so funny?"

"You two," Shikamaru gasped, swallowing hard to keep the laughs in. "Stubborn to the last. And him," he jerked a thumb at Shino, "for thinking you could be
mature adults about something so simple. And this entire situation, because it's all Asuma's fault. Locked room, fine, but did he have to drag the rest of us into
it, too?" He choked on what sounded scarily like a giggle. Then he forced himself to shove Naruto and Sasuke away from the exit. "Everyone back up. Safe
distance."

"What are you thinking?" Kankuro demanded. He didn't have to look to know Gaara was frowning at them, at him. Brains weren't supposed to have
breakdowns and that was exactly what Shikamaru looked to be having. Either that, or he was-

"I'm going to step outside and try dispelling the illusion," Shikamaru chuckled. "And whether I'm poisoned or not, you're going to tie me up afterward and keep
an eye on Sasuke. And yourself, too," he flicked a look at Kankuro's neck. "Just in case."

Sasuke froze, all expression leaving his face. "It's contagious?"

"Seems that way," said Shikamaru. He wasn't letting the laughs out anymore, but they were still there, shaking his shoulders and sending waves of careless
euphoria over him. It wasn't actually a bad sensation, certainly better than having the sudden urge to jump and bite people the way Neji had after a full dose of
the stuff. "You can salvage your pride right now, but if that scratch infected you, then you're going to end up getting tied and carried, anyway. Sorry to break it
to you." And he couldn't stop a laugh, proving just how not sorry he really was. It would serve the stubborn arrogant jerk right. He probably should feel a little
sorry for Naruto, but he didn't. His stubbornness was just as annoying, really.

Kankuro curled a hand over his throat. His scratches hadn't broken skin. But the mere possibility of it made him pale and take a quick step back. Without his
sand, Gaara was all but defenseless. If three of them lost it all at once... "We don't have enough rope!"

"So hit us over the head, if you have to," Shikamaru shrugged. He thought of the hogtied Neji getting hit over the head first and broke into laughter again. It
was starting to hurt his throat and chest, but he really couldn't stop. A glance found the usually taciturn Neji still flopping and thrashing like a fish and he
wondered if a person could laugh himself to death. Not as nice as dying in his sleep, but not too bad. He threw a bleary-eyed look at Sasuke. "What do you
say? Take a peek and get carried, or do I walk out there? It's all the same to me." Though he would have preferred to watch the Uchiha get carried before he
lost it completely. It was better to actually have a reason for laughing his lungs out. He sent a curious look at his arm and snorted at the faint swelling. There
was no visible sign of the poison tracking its way to his brain. Bright bold green lines would have been so much funnier.

Sasuke thought he was going to be sick. The very idea of himself laughing like Shikamaru made his throat close up and his stomach churn. At least if he got a
direct blast of the poison he'd have the satisfaction of tearing a few chunks out of Naruto before he was put down. An infection was far more likely from a bite
than a scratch, but there was still a chance. He clenched his fist, trying to feel any difference in the wound itself. His hand hurt, but his head hurt much worse
than that. In fact, being jerked and rushed away would probably knock him out, sparing him from any hysterical breakdown that might be heading his way. In
the end it was a glance at Shino that decided him. He'd called Naruto a baby earlier for being stubborn and immature. Was he honestly going to be just as
bad? He put a hand out at Naruto again.

"We don't know you're infected," Naruto cried, turning to put his kunai pouch out of grabbing reach. "And we know I'm not! If I can't get us away fast enough,
we'll both get poisoned for sure."

Shino raised a hand between them, stopping the brewing debate and drawing their glares. He ignored them in favor of frowning down at Shikamaru, who was
now leaning against the wall and shaking with muffled laughter. "Are you capable of running?"

"Me?" Shikamaru laughed. "Not a chance."

"Then you can't step out there. All they did was poison Neji because he stumbled back inside afterward. Had he remained outside, those things might have
eaten him. I doubt the teeth are for show."

"So someone will have to yank me back inside and run fast," waved Shikamaru. "I don't mind being carried. Just don't let me get a full blast because I don't
want to eat anyone." He clamped his hand over the bandage and imagined Neji's face when he learned that he'd swallowed a chunk of his arm. He almost
slipped to the ground at the force of his convulsive laughs. "Cannibal Hyuuga, oh, that's great..."

"Hey..." The wariness in Kankuro's voice drew their attention. He edged backward slowly, pointing at the doorway. "Anyone know what that is...?"

For a long moment, nobody moved. There was a yellow creature hovering in the doorway. At first glance it resembled a bat, a round yellow body the size of a
person's head, filled by a large red eye that blinked slowly at them, and large wings with purple skin on the inside. The wings were flapping much too slowly to
be supporting its weight. Yet it hovered in midair, that large eye turning from one person to the next. It was less than two feet away from them.

"Just like the other things," Sasuke said very quietly. It was transparent with the sharingan, but there was no question in his mind that this one was real. It was
also half inside the building.

"Run or fight?" Naruto whispered. His hand dipped into his pack, curling around a kunai. The thing didn't look dangerous, no mouth, no claws, nothing but the
wings and eye. But it smelled weird, smoky and sweet like burnt flowers.

"Why don't we introduce ourselves?" said Shikamaru. He rolled his eyes when the others sent him death glares. Just because he couldn't stop laughing didn't
mean he wasn't taking the situation seriously. "If it can come in, the little versions of those poison things can. So what's the point? If they were going to come in
and get us, the others would have already." He waved a hand at the hovering thing, drawing its gaze to him. "Kakashi dumped us here. Have you seen him?"

The batlike thing let out a high pitched hum, its wings fluttering so fast they blurred. It bobbed for a moment, at eye level with Shikamaru, then it turned and
zoomed away. Shikamaru snorted himself into another muffled laughing fit.

"That's it," Kankuro growled suddenly. That was all the proof he needed. He stalked to the laughing idiot and shoved him against the wall, shaking him when
he wouldn't even meet his eyes. "What the hell is going on?"

"How should I know?" Shikamaru muttered. He started to say something and hiccuped instead. He wasn't getting enough oxygen to continue laughing this
hard. He batted halfheartedly at the hand holding him up. "Let go. I don't know anything."

Kankuro could hear quiet footsteps approaching them. He wasn't going to stand down this time no matter what Gaara said. Fuck the alliance. They'd been
kidnapped by someone impersonating a Konoha shinobi and here they were, being played with by another Konoha shinobi. Now they were supposed to trust
them? He bared his teeth in an unholy grin. "I don't need to use chakra to beat the hell out of you."

"Yes, you do," said Shino.

Sasuke snorted, "Do you even realize how badly you're outnumbered?"

Naruto didn't have a smartass comment, he just punched him as hard as he could. In his opinion, that was much more satisfying. That would teach the bastard
to ignore him. And, damn it, he'd been wanting to kick his ass since the first time they'd met. What was it with the guy and picking on helpless people? Okay,
so Shikamaru wasn't usually helpless, but threatening him right now was just as bad as going after Konohamaru. He could barely even stand up. Check that,
he couldn't stand up at all. Naruto caught Shikamaru's arm and kept him from slumping to the ground. He never took his eyes off Kankuro, though. The punch
had knocked him back, but he still looked fully prepared to take them all on. Judging by his grin, he was actually looking forward to it. Naruto tensed when he
spotted Gaara closing in on them, but if he couldn't use Kyuubi's chakra then he doubted Gaara would be able to use his demon's, either. In a hand to hand
fight, he definitely outweighed Gaara. And there was still Kiba over there, if they needed backup.

Gaara stopped beside his brother, his face as blank as ever. "Kankuro?"

"He's in on it," Kankuro spat. He bristled and braced himself for the censure. "They're probably all in on it! We don't know-"

"Naruto and subterfuge?" Gaara interrupted smoothly.

Kankuro made a face, not quite skuffing his foot in embarrassment. Yeah, that didn't sound likely. "Okay, maybe not him, but that one knows a hell of a lot
more than he's telling us."

"I don't," Shikamaru huffed. He'd finally stopped laughing. He still couldn't catch his breath, though. He really wished Naruto would let him go so he could sit
down. This was so tiring and annoying and stupid. "Just that no one was supposed to get hurt. It's just a time wasting exercise to get those two to bond. Asuma
made him think of a locked room and," he managed one more laugh, "he really meant it, I guess. None of this is personal, no politics, he doesn't know who any
of us are. He was just asking around for strong young people. To borrow. I don't know what for. I don't know what kind of jutsu he was using or how he set all
this up. I don't know where we are or what he needs us for. I don't know if we're supposed to find a way out or wait here. I don't know anything. Honestly.
Naruto, put me down."

"Yeah," Naruto said quickly, "okay." He lowered him and then remained crouching in front of him. "What do you mean bond?"

Shikamaru snorted, rolling his eyes. "Blame your own stupid stubborn rivalry. And Asuma. He was talking about how you don't get along. He figured locking
you two up until you'd finally fought it all out, but that's obviously not what the fake had in mind with his locked room. Only why did he have to include the rest
of us in it? I shouldn't even be here. I get along just fine with my teammates. Well, with one of them, anyway." Because, really, who could get along with Ino?
Not even Sakura got along with her and they'd been best friends a few years ago.

Shino was the first to notice the trouble heading their way. Or, more accurately, Akamaru noticed first and warned Kiba, who sent the puppy to inform his
teammate. After sitting on Neji for the last twenty minutes too far away to know what the hell they were all going on about, Kiba was so annoyed that he just
cocked his head and made a face when Shino sent him a sharp look. Someone was coming. Akamaru had smelled the guy from all the way in here and there
they all were, arguing and bunched up right by the exit, and none of them even noticed? They weren't even looking outside. What the hell kind of shinobi were
they if they couldn't even keep watch? He really missed Hinata. Granted, she hardly said two words without being prompted, and could be as boring as Shino
on a bad day, but at least she was always there to keep an eye out.

He grumbled moodily, shifting on Neji's back and glaring at the lot of them. Neji wasn't bucking as much, but he did snap at him, growling and huffing like a bull.
He supposed he should have gotten some more rope to replace the chewed up gag. He didn't see the point, though. The guy was clearly winding down, and
watching the contorted expressions on his filthy face was kinda satisfying. Well, that was one reason to be glad Hinata wasn't here. She wasn't vindictive
enough to enjoy her cousin's plight as much as her teammate did. It was a real shame Shino wouldn't let Akamaru mark the sullen bastard while they had the
chance. He sat more heavily on the trussed up Hyuuga's back and watched as the others took up positions against the walls.

Even from where Kiba was sitting, he could hear the person. Soft murmurs and unnerving croons from the things outside, one of those loud 'haa' sounds and
a startled complaint, like a shinobi who'd just been nipped by his own nindog-in-training pup. The mere idea of someone training those things made his
stomach hurt. Shino's bugs were equally creepy, but at least they didn't stink and have mouths big enough to 'accidentally' bite their owner's head off with a
single chomp. He saw the others tense, flattening closer to the wall as the footsteps approached the entrance. He readied his own kunai, a bit put out that he'd
have to protect Neji as well if the stranger made it past the others. Not that there was much chance of that.

Unlike Neji, this guy was taken down in a matter of seconds. He walked right inside with a loud 'Anyone in here?' and was immediately pounced, knocked flat
onto his stomach, arms wrenched behind his back, a thin wire edging into his neck to keep his head back, and pointy weapons digging warningly into various
parts of his anatomy. From his ashen face it was very clear he'd come close to wetting himself. A long moment of silence settled over them as his dark blue
eyes flicked from one expressionless face to the next. Then a heavy rustle sounded outside and the man let out a panicked 'Oh, shit!' before a cloud of poison
gushed inside.

From where Kiba was sitting, the retreat looked instantaneous. Shino and Kankuro grabbed the hostage, Naruto grabbed Sasuke, and Akamaru tried to grab
Shikamaru. Sadly the puppy wasn't as strong as his sire yet and the two were left behind to take the full blast. Kiba spared one moment to glare at Gaara,
who'd reached him before anyone else had even started to move, and then ran to his partner. Shikamaru had Akamaru's head smothered in his vest when the
poisonous cloud dissipated. At first glance it wasn't clear whether that was to protect the pup from the poison or to suffocate him. Kiba didn't wait to find out.
He snatched his partner up and retreated a safe distance away. Had he stopped to think about it, he might have hesitated to hold Akamaru so close to his
neck. As it was, he received a sloppy lick over his cheek and a tail thumping on his arm rather than a throat rending bite.

Shikamaru wiped an arm over his runny nose, coughing for a moment. That stuff was putrid, searing his throat and leaving his eyes running nearly as badly as
his nose. He also had an overwhelming desire to sleep. He did not, however, feel a sudden hunger for human flesh, so maybe the stuff affected each person
differently. The huge thing that had huffed on them was crowded in the doorway, tentacles reaching futilely at him. He eyed one of the kunai that had been
dropped during the flight, then thought better of it. The thing wasn't going to fit through that narrow doorway and, besides, he wanted to still be awake for the
interrogation. Shino had joined Kiba, both watching him warily from a few feet away. He waved them off, climbing to his feet and wiping his shirt over his face.
His skin tingled where the stuff had struck him, a light unpleasant burn. Nothing serious.

"I'm not going to bite anyone," he muttered, when the two tensed the closer he came to them. He considered this sleep-inducing effect an improvement over
having to laugh until he hyperventilated. "The poison may have a different effect each time."

"It depends on the person's natural immunities," said their hostage. "The normal status effects are poison, berserk, sleep, confusion, slow, blind, and
sometimes stop or stone, but these Marlboro's are too young to do that. The worst you have to worry about with these is berserk and confusion, since a
person can do serious damage under those. And sleep, since you can sleep right through the acid spitting till you die. They're too awkward to do physical
attacks often." The hostage blinked when he caught the blank stares he was receiving. After a moment he continued a tad quieter. "They're really not a
serious threat if you can deal with the status effects..."

"Yeah?" Kankuro drawled. He sneered and turned the man toward Neji. Now that he wasn't being held down, the Hyuuga was writhing toward them, snapping
dangerously close to their ankles. "How do we deal with those 'effects', then?"

"Oh, shit," the man exclaimed, his eyes widening as he hopped away from those snapping jaws. "Why did you tie him up like that? Just give him a remedy or-"
He gaped, cringing closer to Kankuro, "Is that blood on his mouth? You let him bite someone? What kind of sick joke-" He let out an eep when he suddenly
found himself being pricked by an assortment of sharp pointy weapons. "Wait," he said quickly, and quietly. "Hold up. If this is a weapons exercise, then you
want Hiko, not me. I just came because an Allemange said Kakashi had put a bunch of kids right next to my Malboros. No one is supposed to be out here
today. I specifically reserved the forest so this pack could get used to the place. They're not ready to interact with students yet, especially not with the babies
along. Whatever exercise Kakashi has you doing, just take it somewhere else." He grimaced at the wire that was once more digging into his neck. "Okay?"

"How are we supposed to go somewhere else with those things out there?" Naruto demanded. He immediately regretted speaking up. They were looking down
at him now, Gaara in particular. He flushed at the sudden scrutiny, equal parts embarrassed and angry, defensive more than anything. What was he supposed
to have done? A moment ago he'd been horrified at the thought of supporting Sasuke, with everyone watching and Sasuke giving him that look. But when he'd
seen that poison bearing down on them he'd acted on instinct. Even if he'd wanted to just take care of himself, he couldn't have done it with that chain holding
them together. Now Sasuke was gone, had been before he'd even landed, and what was he supposed to do? Stand and leave him laying there with his arm
hanging up all awkward and probably painful? It wasn't like he was hugging him or anything. He was just supporting him the easiest way he could think of. If he
had to move quickly again, that was just common sense. They were still looking at him in a way that made him wish he could beat the hell out of all of them.
Especially Kankuro. He'd give anything to wipe the smirk off that guy's face.

"We'll get to that in a minute," Shikamaru sighed. He felt comatose, slow and sluggish and...not too different from usual for him. He was probably the best
person to be hit with a sleep inducing side effect. He spent a good portion of his time looking for anything to make staying awake worth the effort. Now he sat
down on the other side of Naruto, as much to distract him as to give his boneless legs a break. Naruto's face was a royal red, cheeks bunched up as if his
head were about to pop. Shikamaru ignored the defensive way he tensed and pulled Sasuke closer to him. Maybe there was a little merit to the whole locked
room thing. He still didn't want to acknowledge it. Too troublesome. He caught their captive's eye. The man looked like a civilian, long dark hair in a loose tail,
jeans and a dark jacket, no weapons in sight. The way he stared wildly and flinched at the slightest touch of a kunai also screamed civilian. "Do you have an
antidote for the poison?" While Neji's byakugan was no more trustworthy in this situation than the sharingan, it was better than nothing.

Kankuro prodded him with the kunai he had against the man's stomach, his wire curled snugly around his neck. There was still a chance he'd been infected
and he wasn't willing to consider what that might mean for Gaara. At the moment there were only three able fighters and two of them were Leafs. He didn't
count Naruto, who was obviously too busy cuddling to be of any use. "Well?"

"I have a couple antidotes," the man said quickly. "But that'll only get rid of the poison. Are any of you actually poisoned?"

Kiba had resumed his former role, holding Neji down with one foot planted on the small of his back. He snorted and waved a hand at the rabid shinobi. "What
do you think? He got a full blast of that poison."

"He doesn't look poisoned-" The man started to turn his head and froze when the wire made a tiny slice in his skin. "Um..."

There was no need for Kankuro to look at Gaara to know what he was going to say. He huffed and withdrew the wire. This man was clearly no threat. He let
him go completely and stepped off to the side. He played with the sharp tip of his kunai, enjoying the way those dark blue eyes followed the movements and
widened. No threat at all. Though it would be fun to see how much it took to make him wet his pants. He looked pretty close to it already. "Continue."

"Uh, sure." The man sent a wary look around him, making a face when he saw Kiba's foot. Finally, he sighed and crouched near Neji's head. He eyed him
closely for a moment, then shook his head. "He's not poisoned. He's definitely berserk, maybe confused. Berserk causes an adrenaline rush but doesn't cause
any harm to the afflicted. It can actually be useful in some situations since it increases strength. Poison is just the opposite, it wears down and slowly kills the
person. It's only useful if you inflict it on something you can't cause significant damage on, and even then it can take a long time for it to die. Confusion is the
worst, though. A berserker won't attack his own comrades. Confuse one and he may even attack himself."

"Thanks for the lesson," said Shikamaru. His expression was droll and more than a little bored. "Do you have the antidote or not?"

"That's what I'm saying," the man protested, looking rather annoyed. "Antidotes only cure poison. A tranquilizer would fix the berserk, but it won't do anything
for the confusion and that's the real killer." He suddenly turned an outraged look on Kankuro. "How could you let him bite someone?"

Kankuro snorted. "Why are you looking at me?

The man scowled at him for a moment longer before looking around again. "Who did he bite?"

"Me," said Shikamaru.

"Well, you don't look poisoned, but you probably are." He dug into his jacket and tossed a small bottle to him. "It tastes like shit. Drink it anyway." Then his
attention fell on Sasuke, his nose wrinkling. "He needs to go to the infirmary. Right away. Did he get bitten, too?"

"Scratched," Naruto muttered. He watched Shikamaru down the bottle he'd been given. Shouldn't he have hesitated? That was one of the first things they were
taught. It was the shinobi version of never take candy from strangers. The man handed him a bottle, which he eyed warily. It could be anything from poison to
truth serum. And he was supposed to trust the guy? To just go right ahead and give Sasuke something that might kill him? He scowled at Shikamaru.
"Shouldn't you have had him take a sip first?"

"Shinobi are always immune to their own poisons," said Shikamaru. "If he did try that, he'd have to produce an antidote or be killed. Besides," he nodded at
Sasuke, "unless he broke some ribs earlier, he shouldn't be breathing like that."

Naruto didn't think he'd broken anything, not that Sasuke would have mentioned it if he had. He was cold, though, clammy, breathing in shallow little jerks. He'd
been trying not to think about it. The last time he'd been this close to Sasuke, Sasuke had looked a lot like he did right now. And then Sasuke had died. He
wasn't going to think about it. He thought about the eyes on him instead, how uncomfortable and angry it made him. Tilting Sasuke's head back and opening
his mouth was awkward. Sasuke choked and coughed on the smelly stuff, the thick glass of the bottle clinking against his teeth. They were watching the entire
time and he hated them. He couldn't even give his teammate a drink of something that might save his life without being made fun of. Or maybe it was all in his
head because when he turned coldly bitter eyes on them, nobody was smirking. Kiba wasn't looking at him, Shino nodded, Shikamaru took the empty bottle
and pocketed it. Kankuro was busy drinking another of those little bottles, still eyeing their captive and fingering his kunai. Gaara was staring at him, but he
was Gaara. Whatever was going through Gaara's mind, he seriously doubted judgment and mockery played a part in it.

"What about Neji?" Shikamaru asked, redirecting their captive's attention. "Do you have something to fix him?"

"No," the man sighed. He looked embarrassed, scratching at his cheek in a way that suddenly made Naruto think of Iruka. "I can't make remedies myself, so I
don't have any on me. Sorry. I could cast an esuna, but not in here. This is the labyrinth, right? You can't use magic once you leave the chambers. We could
try taking him outside, but..." He turned toward the entrance and grimaced at the large creature still crammed in the doorway, its tentacles scrabbling at the
stone. "They're in a bad mood now." He straightened suddenly. "Why did you guys jump me, anyway? And what are you doing in here?"

"We were kidnapped and left here," Naruto scowled. He felt guilty for comparing this guy to Iruka even for a second. They looked nothing alike. Besides, this
was an enemy. A weak, weird, possibly helpful enemy, but still a bad guy.

"By Kakashi?" The man's eyes widened suddenly, his mouth falling open. "Oh! You're Kakashi's students!"

Naruto was already bristling by the time Kankuro rounded on him. "I told you that wasn't Kakashi-sensei! We were with Kakashi-sensei when that guy grabbed
us. It wasn't him, no matter what this guy says. It was someone pretending to be him - an imposter!"

"Or a different Kakashi," said Shikamaru. He ran a tired hand over his face. Whether he was poisoned or not, the antidote certainly wasn't helping with his
tiredness. "Same name, different person. I told you this isn't about politics." He dropped his hand, leveling a sober stare on Kankuro. "Don't use this as an
excuse to fight. It's a waste of time and energy. We are in enemy territory, you know. All of us."

"Don't tell me how to be a shinobi," Kankuro countered. He could definitely see why Temari was so riled by the guy. All the evidence pointed to him, to Konoha.
The least Shikamaru could do was act defensive.

Shino stepped up to the captive, waiting for the man to finish eyeing his high coat warily. "How can we get out of here?"

"We'll have to use a card," the man sighed. He flushed as he dug in his jacket. "I'm not supposed to have any. Kakashi's going to owe me for this one. How
could he leave you in here when he knew I had the forest reserved? Where is he, anyway?"

"We don't know," Shino said truthfully.

"That figures. Okay, everyone crowd around. I've never actually used one of these before. I think we just have to look like a group for it to move everyone. Uh,
where are we going? Infirmary or the office? Did you guys just get here?"

"What is that?" asked Kiba. The man was holding a thin rectangular card, one that looked uncannily like something a certain white-haired man had used at the
beginning of the Chunin exam. Only this one had a strange pattern on the back and a picture of five people flying through the air like a flock of birds on the
front.

"It's a card," the man shrugged. "You can't use magic in the labyrinth halls, but cards are different. They don't use magic, they are magic. It's all internal. Or
maybe that's external," he frowned. "I'm not really sure. It's like that antidote I gave you. There was some magical ingredients...maybe, I think...and I guess it
uses magic when it works...unless it's just science...but it doesn't take any to...uh...activate it? Ugh, I sucked at Potions. Look, just trust me, okay? Items work.
Period. The card should transport us fine. The labyrinth counts it as an item or magical creature and ignores it. I think. I'm not sure about the magical creature
bit, but... Whatever, this is the closest thing I've got to a portkey. Uh, you guys don't have a portkey, do you?"

"What's a portkey?" Kiba shrugged.

"Yeah," the guy drawled, giving him a weird look. "You definitely just got here. Did Kakashi bring you here himself, or did he give you something that
transported you here?"

Gaara reached into his pocket and then held his hand out, a shiny blue marble sparkling on his palm. "This was thrown to me."

"That's a portkey," the man nodded. "The moment you touch it, it activates and transports you. That's what the card does. Except that portkey only had one
destination set, and you already used it, so it's useless now. This card takes you wherever you want to go. It's the same principal, though. So. Infirmary or
office?"

"Can you take us to Konoha?" asked Shikamaru.

"Who wants to go there?" Kankuro scowled at him.

"We do," Naruto snapped. "And we still outnumber you."

"Easy, kids," the stranger winced, waving at them. "If this Konoha is where Kakashi picked you up, then a card ain't gonna take you there, anyway. This only
works on school grounds. I'm just going to drop you off at the infirmary, alright? You can settle things once the headmaster gets back." He held the card up in
one hand, at eye level. "Accompany on. Muraki."

There was a burning blue glow, the sensation of flying through the air, blurry surroundings, stinging wind, and then they were in another place, each still
standing or sitting in the exact positions they'd been in before. Shikamaru promptly tipped over backwards at the lack of a wall behind him. They'd barely
registered the white walls and a strange man, also in white, standing a short distance away. A loud gasp sounded in the room. Then a blur of green and a ear
splitting cry of 'Neji!' They just had enough time to register Lee's presence. No one reacted quickly enough to keep him from getting bitten by his still rabid
teammate.

The silver-haired man in the white jacket turned to glare at their captive. "Thank you. I just finished healing him and now he's poisoned. I do hope you have a
very good explanation, Laguna-kun."

The blue-eyed man had the grace to blush. "It's all Kakashi's fault. Honest."

.-.
TBC

NOTES:  Malboros and Laguna (pony-tail guy) are from Final Fantasy 8; the Allemange (one eyed bat thing) is from Final Fantasy 7; the Accompany card is
from HunterxHunter; Muraki (silver-haired doctor guy) is from Yami no Matsuei (Descendents of Darkness).



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