There was a creature perched atop Ibiki's stack of paperwork, which was no longer in a neat tower, but rather a lopsided one, swaying precariously under its weight, mewing pitifully as it stared at the floor, an impossibly long distance away from its' current location. Ibiki tried his best to just ignore the damn thing, but it was crying, and it was bright orange, and there was a neon pink bow wrapped around its' neck. The beast practically screamed for attention.
This was why he should read the fine print before agreeing to anything. Especially with his apprentices. He could swear they spent all their spare time thinking up ways to drive him crazy.
Now, there wasn't anything wrong with experimenting when one was clocking time on the job. Morino Ibiki encouraged it.That was what apprentices were supposed to do; learn from the best and eventually become the best. If they didn't go insane before hand, that was. Ah, but that was the shinobi occupational hazard. Win some; lose some.
Reni-chan had gotten some raised eyebrows when she'd brought the box of squirming kittens into the basement earlier in the day. But after a mere seven minutes and twenty three seconds after entering the cell with her newest assignment, she'd had him screaming for mercy and babbling all they had ever wanted to know about the black market trade routes from Snow to Grass Country. Ibiki had been, despite himself, quite impressed. It was almost a record for an apprentice, but she had been three and a half seconds short. Ah, but it had been worthy of celebration.
In the aftermath, he was still trying to figure out how exactly the box ended up in his office, and on his chair, no less, and that he was the one who had to get rid of all six of the mewing cats.
Ibiki hadn't been pleased. And five members of ANBU had new pets.
He didn't look up from the paper he was filling out. "Come in."
He doesn't sound pleased, she thought as she moved to open the door, but then, it is Ibiki. She entered his office, glancing upwards to note the softer than normal light coming from overhead. She smirked a bit, the softer, more efficient lighting just didn't suit T&I or it's head.
"Ibiki-san, I found that last case of the old light bulbs in storage." She set the box down on a chair, "If you want more than that though, you're going to have to either find them yourself or convince the council members to exclude you from that budget cut." Either way, she didn't want the responsibility if she could help it. She had more than enough to handle.
She turned to face the scarred man, who still had yet to even look up from his work, when a piercing and anguished sound caught her attention. There was an orange ball of fuzz scrambling atop a stack of papers that was beginning to slide closer towards the floor.
Her reflexes had her scooping the furry thing in one hand, the other hand reaching out to catch the majority of the falling pile. It was only as tiny, needle-sharp claws latched around her thumb that she really saw the squirming, shaking ball for what it was. She gave a little wince as the frightened kitten clutched at her, drawing blood and gazing up at her with huge, frightened eyes.
"Ibiki-san, I didn't know you were a cat person."
The head of Torture and Interrogation stopped writing mid-sentence, placed his pen down, and looked up. Ah, she'd brought the light bulbs. Thank Kami, the new ones didn't work with the place at all.
"I'm not," he said evenly. "My apprentice used a litter of them, and I got stuck with this one. Temporarily." Ibiki paused, looking at Shizune critically. "Want it?"
As he spoke, the scarred shinobi was plotting exactly how he was going to change the council's mind about the budget cuts. Perhaps a few choice members instead of them all? Would four be enough to sway the rest? And what...methods should he use?
Ah, decisions decisions, so many to be made.
"Used a litter of them?" She suddenly felt a little nauseous and very sorry for the kitten and its siblings. "It's okay, little one," she spoke softly to the quivering creature as she pulled it's tiny claws out of her flesh. Damn Ibiki. He'd left this one in here knowing she'd be arriving soon, hadn't he? It wasn't her fault she liked animals...and though she took care of Tonton quite often, the pig belonged to Tsunade. She'd never had a pet of her own.
She gave a defeated sigh as the kitten decided she was safe and nuzzled into her hand, purring loudly. She dumped the armload of papers back onto his desk (he could sort them back out himself) and gave in, scratching the creature behind the ears. "I can't very well leave it here with you, can I? Damnit, Ibiki..."
Putty. She was freaking putty. Damn man. Damn cat.
She scrunched up her nose, "I hope Iruka's not allergic..."
"Of course you can't," Ibiki replied smartly. The exact reason he'd left it there, after all. "And don't look so sad, the kittens were unharmed."
Shizune could probably figure out exactly what they had been used for if she thought about it for a bit, so Ibiki didn't see the need to inform her. Shizune probably didn't want to know the details of their use. The kittens had done what they had needed to do, and that was all that mattered.
Part of Ibiki was wondering why he hadn't just tossed the thing into the street, but a very small part of him though it was maybe, possibly, slightly, sort of cute.
And besides, a good shinobi took care of their tools, and for all extensive purposes, the kittens had served as just that. Tools. Nothing more and nothing less.
Ibiki nodded his head briefly at the papers Shizune had slammed down onto his desk. His apprentices wouldn't have dared, and for that matter, neither would a good portion of ANBU. Ah, but the medic had guts. He had to admire that. "Since you're here, perhaps you could help me with something."
It was polite to ask instead of demand. Made people feel like they had a choice.
Shizune sighed and pulled up the remaining empty chair, sitting and placing her new cat in her lap. Great, my cat. Gonna have to think of a name. She lifted the cat's tail and laughed, "You poor thing. Having to bear with the indignity of wearing a pink bow..." She made a mental note to pick up supplies, including a collar that was not pink, for the tiny male.
She continued petting the cat as she turned most of her attention back towards Ibiki, smiling innocently at his acknowledgment of the mess on his desk, "How might I be of assistance to you, Ibiki-san?" It wasn't like she couldn't find any number of important things do instead if she didn't care for his request, but she was curious (not to mention glad to be out of the hospital and Tsunade-sama's office, if just for a little while).
Ibiki chuckled softly, but then turned serious, looking her strait in the eye, unblinking. "An agent of mine whom you recently took care of. I want to know how he's doing."
The kitten was purring, a very loud sound from such a small beast. Shizune would take good care of it. A tool was not something to be thrown away after a single use. Like kunai could be remelted and reforged, the kitten could work as a pet, a friend to a busy kunoichi. In a way, it was a gift, though not many would see it quite that way.
He sighed, clasping his hands together. "Hyuuga Neji, who wishes to be placed back on active duty."
Well. The Hyuuga was another matter entirely. She'd wondered when he might inquire about the young man. Had actually expected to have him breathing down her neck about him...not that she would complain about his surprising show of patience. Then again, being a specialist in torture himself, he was sure to be the first to understand the severity of Neji's situation.
She ran a hand over her face, collecting her thoughts. The stress of the past several weeks showed in her posture, in her expression for a moment before she could stuff it back down. The kitten peered up at her, curiously, before getting distracted by it's own tail.
"He's improving. Physically, he's come a long way. He may still have some pains for a while, and he'll need to be careful once he resumes training. He's been in the hospital for a very long time. Emotionally?"
She sighed, "Hinata says that he was finally able to open up to her, tell her a bit of what happened. You know as well as I how big of a step that is."
He nodded, processing the medic's words. It was as he'd thought, mostly. The Hyuuga kid was still hurting, would probably be doing so for a good long time. But Neji was a survivor, and a tough shinobi. He'd pull through, and then he'd move on, or get as close to it as one could.
"He wrote a report, which I found slightly confusing." More than slightly, actually, more like downright wired. "I want to know what you make of it."
Now Ibiki paused, wondering exactly how to phrase it. He needed Shizune on his side, so she couldn't be scared away by this. Best to ease up to it, then.
"I agree with you, he's been through a lot. But for someone whose been gone that long, the kids doing extremely well." The torture specialist almost smiled, but it came off as a grimace. "But his report makes me wonder."
"Tell me, Shizune-san, what kind of a person shoves needles into a shinobi's eyes for half a year, but never asks him any questions, and even goes so far as to kill the members of the squad who could have answered them?"
She nodded slowly, wondering what about Neji's report he might want her opinion on. As Ibiki paused, she realized that Neji must have described the torture done to him. She'd been able to guess a great deal of it, just by piecing his injuries and scars together, the way tracker-nin took broken twigs and trampled grass into consideration, but she'd yet to have any of her theories proved by Neji himself. Taking a steadying breath, she waited for Ibiki to continue.
As his question sank in, she couldn't stop the hand that flew up to her mouth or the sharp gasp that escaped. Half a year? She'd guessed the needles, but not that it'd gone on for the duration of his capture. And to not ever be asked any questions?
She wondered aloud if it were something that Kabuto would have done personally, but shook her head. "His style of cruelty is based more on his chakra as a weapon. This didn't felt like his work. Someone under him then? Whoever it was, was just as skilled a medic as him, not to mention possessing enough knowledge on the Hyuuga to avoid doing anything that might trigger Neji's seal, rendering their delicate torture useless," she trailed off and glanced up at Ibiki, wondering if he'd come to the same conclusions, or if Neji had given any further information about his captor.
"I would not call it delicate," Ibiki said, tone not so harsh as before. "Delicate is drilling holes into bones with chakra. Delicate is a well-crafted genjutsu. To be delicate is to be deliberate, and not to beat your prisoner when you're having a bad day."
He paused again, wondering exactly how much of his theory he should reveal to Shizune. He'd said a great deal already, more than he normally would have with a medic not under his command, but Shizune was smart, hopefully smart enough not to go talking about it to anyone else.
The kitten was purring in her arms, looking content, unaffected by all that went on around it. A beast innocent in its naivety, unfit for the shinobi world, but a good companion to the lonely and sad nonetheless. Such things were odd, sometimes inexplicable, but they occurred all the time, especially when you didn't expect them to.
Ibiki looked down at his paperwork, frowning at the untidy pile. He'd have to arrange it in a stack again, and soon, before it toppled itself and ended up on the floor.
"What kind of drugs were found in his system, and in your opinion, what were they used for?"
Neji had been gone for too long and hadn't been beaten, at least outwardly, for his torture to be a message to Konoha. And they hadn't asked him any questions. So information hadn't been the purpose. His eyes, though. That was probably what they had been after.
There was a chance Ibiki knew what they had been trying to do, though he needed conformation before he could act upon it. He waited for Shizune to answer.
"I didn't mean that his treatment in general was delicate, but the precision of the work on his eyes," she sighed and waved a hand to dismiss that line of thought. She could tell that there was more that he wasn't telling her, wondered how much of it he actually would willingly reveal.
She started listing off the various drugs and their uses that she and Tsunade has purged from the Hyuuga's system, including the ones that they hadn't found until that second purge, when he'd lashed out at them. They hadn't quite figured out the exact goal of the nasty cocktail though. There was a piece to the puzzle that the med-nins had missed and hopefully, Ibiki had found it.
If she understood the true purpose behind it, besides the obvious curiosity about the byakugan, it might help her repair the remaining damage.
Ibiki nodded, processing the names of the drugs, and recognizing several poisons as well. Mostly sedatives and paralysis-inducers. The probability that his theory was correct had increased, not hugely, but enough that he should probably act upon it. The poisons were nasty enough, but coupled with the sedatives, well, it would take an extremely talented medic to get just the right blend that wouldn't result in the death of the one you were injecting it into.
Neji had said the kunoichi who had done the most work on him had walked with a bad limp, and had been extremely easy to kill, far too easy for a shinobi. It stood to reason that the woman had been hurt early in her career, and had then devoted herself completely to the medical arts instead of combat. It would explain her skill, if nothing else.
Ibiki sighed, and decided that he would have to reveal a bit more to the kunoichi before him. He didn't want to, but he needed information upon which he could then formulate a course of action. "I believe they were attempting to poison his chakra."
A dangerous undertaking that demanded incredible skill, and one that would take time to complete. But the Sound ninja possessed both in abundance.
"Perhaps, trying to distance the curse-seal from his eyes."
Eyes wide, it took Shizune to come up with a response that wasn't a knee-jerk reaction. Poisoning his chakra to try to avoid the curse-seal? It...sounded feasible, if not a frightfully large undertaking. It wasn't something that she'd have thought of, as she considered herself to have better morals than to use her skills in such a manner. She could use her medical talents as a weapon if necessary, and to an extent, did with her array of poisoned needles and gases. But to administer such treatment on a person for months on end?
It also began to explain the drug mixture and the fact that they hadn't simply removed his eyes in the first place. They'd had enough information on the Hyuuga to formulate this alternate course.
She sighed as she gave a short nod, "It is possible. I can't say if it would have worked, but without having an expert on seals at their disposal, it may have been their only option." She gave a slight scowl, "But keeping that in mind may help me in healing the damage that's been created. It's a starting point at least - something to look for."
Ibiki nodded. "It is far-fetched, I admit, but Orochimaru, though he is by no means an expert, would know something about seals. Perhaps not the Hyuuga family one, but enough to know which poisons to mix."
The snake-shinobi's signature was his curse-seals, after all. Not exactly on the same level as the caged-bird marks, but enough for guess-work. Enough to know how to formulate an experiment. Enough to know how to hold a Hyuuga prisoner for as long as he had.
He sighed again, looking at Shizune squarely. "Take care of Neji for me. Try to make sure he sleeps, that he's not just pretending to."
The kid, for Ibiki honestly couldn't think of Neji in any other light, had been through hell. No one could deny that, and those who'd been there didn't sleep easily. Not for a long time after the event, often not for years. They always felt the need to be on their guard, to never relax, to never relieve the tension in their muscles nor the cold light their eyes gave out.
Ibiki knew all about those shinobi.
Shizune watched Ibiki for a moment. Had he been a concerned parent of a patient, she would have reached out a comforting hand. She somehow doubted that the head of Torture and Interrogation would appreciate the gesture though. She settled for stroking the kitten dozing in her lap. She'd do what she could for Neji, she just had to figure out what that was.
She gave him a short nod though, "I'll do my best. And I'll see that he sleeps if I have to put him that way myself. At least as long as he's in my care."
The head of T and I give a short nod. "Knock him out, if you must."
Ibiki had read the report, heard accounts from his sources within the hospital. Neji had been fighting them, not letting the medics work on him unless they drugged him and then did their work when he was comatose, unable to hurt those who were attempting to heal him.
"Shinobi who've been through what he has can be...stubborn, about receiving treatment. I worry that he'll hurt himself."
The Hyuuga already had, cracked his skull open, even. That didn't improve Ibiki's outlook of the kid's mental state, but the action was not unheard of, and if you put yourself into the proper mindset, not entirely unreasonable. Crazy things suddenly seemed to make sense, if you'd lived through your trip through hell.