Madara has been throwing so many tantrums and snarling down the halls of the ship so viciously that it’s hard not to notice that the Akatsuki have a new prisoner. Kiba stays back in the shadows, watching the destruction and doing his best to stay out of the way.
That generally means sticking close to the rest of the Knights, since even Madara isn’t going to take a chunk out of Konan unless he’s really unhinged.
Granted, that’s not impossible, but still. No one’s pushed Madara over the brink yet, so Kiba is holding out hope that it won’t happen until he can retire his cover. It shouldn’t be too long; Kiba’s already wrung about as much information out of the organization as he’s likely to get, and it’s not like he can advance much higher in rank than the Knights of the Eternal Moon.
“So who’s the unlucky bastard?” Hidan asks, mostly distracted as he scowls down at the mission route he’s trying to plot. Kiba glances over his shoulder, then immediately smothers a snicker. He’s not about to be the one to tell Hidan that he’s in the entirely wrong quadrant. Kakuzu will point it out eventually. Probably by chucking the data pad at Hidan’s head, which is half the fun.
With a hum that’s faintly pointed, Konan taps a finger against the back of Kiba’s hand, reminding him to sit still as she paints his nails, and says, “A pilot from the Resistance. Lord Madara captured him on the outskirts of one of Suna’s systems, trying to get information on Hashirama’s location from Hiruzen Sarutobi.”
Kiba sucks in a breath through his teeth, blows it out on a low whistle. No need to ask what happened to Sarutobi afterwards; Madara’s been trying to kill him for years now. It twists like regret in Kiba’s chest, because Sarutobi’s son was one of his teachers once, but it’s a lesser blow, nowhere near as strong as some things that have hit him over the years.
“A lot of fuming for one pilot,” he says, and as if in agreement, Madara snarls something in the distance, closely followed by a crash and a brief wail of alarms before they can be silenced.
Sasori snorts, though he doesn’t look up from his reports. “I believe,” he says, smug and a little sly as he turns a page, “that Madara couldn’t read his mind.”
Even Hidan lifts his head at that, eyes wide. Kiba blinks, blinks again, and glances up at Konan for confirmation. She raises a brow, but tips one shoulder in silent agreement.
“His temper started after he came out of the interrogation room,” she confirms. “And he hasn’t given Kabuto a new heading yet. I assume he would have, if he’d found a clue to Hashirama’s location.”
Kiba pulls a face at the mention of the general, but before he can say anything, there’s a light rap of knuckles against the edge of the door. “Konan is correct,” Pein says lowly, looking grim. Not that he ever looks much of anything else. “The pilot has managed to resist all attempts to break into his mind. Madara has called a conference with Lord Zetsu.”
Konan lays the last coat of paint over Kiba’s thumbnail, then caps the polish and rises to her feet, collecting her cloak from the back of a chair. “The general and the leader of the Knights are requested to attend?” she asks.
Pein inclines his head. “As much as Madara ever requests anything,” he says, and the faintest trace of humor curls one corner of his mouth. Kiba snorts, because Madara’s equivalent of a request is an order that isn’t shouted. He gets up as well, and in a burst of goodwill he leans over Hidan’s shoulder and hits three buttons, then swipes right.
“Wrong quadrant,” he says cheekily, and Hidan lets out a snarl of frustration and swipes at his head. Ducking away from the blow, Kiba takes two long steps back and stretches, then grins at Konan. “Can I tag along and listen to Madara squirm?”
Konan looks amused, though Kiba has to know her well to spot it. “Entertain yourself elsewhere,” she tells him. “I won’t be lurking, either.”
That says a lot about her opinions on how this meeting is going to go, Kiba thinks, even as he huffs. “Lame,” he complains, and Konan flicks the tip of his ear lightly.
“Go guard the prisoner, then,” she tells him. “Orders will be coming in soon, I’m sure.”
Kiba shrugs one shoulder, even as his heartbeat picks up. Konan can’t read his mind; no Force user can, and it’s one of the main reasons he volunteered to spy on the Akatsuki like this. Inuzuka are different than most species—their thoughts are closer to animal than the majority of civilized races in the galaxy, so they’re hard to get a grip on, for Force users. So there’s no way Konan can know that that’s what he was hoping for, not really. Not beyond a good guess.
It’s still unnerving, though. Then again, Konan generally is.
“If Madara chucks me out an airlock, then it’s on you,” he says, though he hardly means it.
Konan hums. “Take Deidara with you, if you want,” she says, unimpressed, and sets a hand on his shoulder for a moment before she turns, following Pein down the corridor.
“Deidara? Yuck,” Kiba mutters, though he mostly doesn’t mean it. At this point, he and Deidara are closer than most of the Knights, and having him there will keep Kiba from doing something stupid and blowing his cover.
Of course, Kiba's never blown his cover before, and it’s been six years since he faced Madara down across the ruins of a temple and demanded Madara train him. Six years as the galaxy’s next best thing to a Sith, with murderers and the worst people in the galaxy as company, and sometimes at night Kiba stares up at the ceiling of his room and wonders if he even remembers what it’s like to be something different. He left the Order when he was twelve, after all, only just barely a padawan, and now he’s eighteen. About half of the life he remembers has been spent on the Akatsuki’s ships, as this person who didn’t used to be him, and Kiba used to hope that he would walk back into a Jedi temple and feel everything reset, like none of this had ever happened, but—
He’s a little older now, a little smarter. It isn't going to work that way.
Kiba rubs a fingertip over the scar on his cheek, where it cuts through his marking, and then lets his hand drop. There's no use thinking about any of that; right now he needs to get a glimpse of the prisoner, to see if he should try to intervene. He can, sometimes. If it’s worth it.
(Once upon a time, Kiba would never have been able to make those calls. He kind of hates that he can manage it now, honestly.)
If you want doesn’t directly translate to an order, even coming from the Knights’ second in command, so instead of detouring for the training salles, where Deidara usually spends this portion of the day, Kiba turns his feet towards the detainment portion of the ship, keeping his steps lazy and prowling. The clone troopers don’t do more than glance at him as they pass, but Kiba hardly minds; they’re a little eerie, skin white with a tinge of green, eyes flat gold. Zetsu, their genetic basis, always laughs off questions as to why they look different than him, and Kiba hasn’t been able to find the actual reason, even with some creative splicing into the systems. If Madara knows what happened on Oto, he’s keeping it quiet, and no one who lands on the planet tends to make it off again, regardless of their loyalties, unless they're Madara or Kabuto.
There’s a Clawdite at the security post just outside the start of the cells, running checks, and Kiba grins at her and doesn’t think about the scrambler hidden in the sleeve of his cloak, carefully programmed to loop the cameras if he ever needs to. “Hey,” he says cheerfully, and practice keeps him from reacting when she glances at him and immediately blanches. “Which cell is Madara's new favorite in?”
There’s a hesitation, but her desire to get rid of him wins out over questioning one of Madara's Knights. “481, sir.”
“Thanks.” Kiba tips his head, then keeps walking, making the correct turns thought the maze-like halls more due to the scent that still lingers from Madara's last passage than because of any memory of the layout. He’s pretty sure Sasori and Madara are the only ones who actually know their way around in here, and Kiba's content to keep it that way. Too much time spent down here is bad for his resolve, and he’s given up too much already to throw the game for every prisoner Madara grabs.
There's another scent down here, too. Something sharp, angry in a low, dark, way, and it would make Kiba want to sneeze if he wasn’t so used to it already. Turned earth and pain and tired fury can mean only one person, and he picks up his pace, trotting down the next hall and ducking the corner, then calling, “Obito!”
With a whirl of dark cloak, Madara's oldest apprentice turns, scars catching the light. He looks even paler than normal, washed out in the overhead lights, with a smear of fresh blood down his cheek and bags under his eyes that say he hasn’t slept in a long time. Kiba feels something twinge; Obito's been the one who’s done most of his training, since Madara's too busy, and Kiba knows better than anyone how Obito is still pulled towards the light, no matter how he fights it.
“Kiba,” he says, and smiles faintly, pausing to let Kiba catch up. “Has something happened?”
“Guard duty,” Kiba huffs, and squints at him, reaching up to tap his own cheek. “What’s that from? You get into another fight with Konan?”
Obito snorts, mouth tipping in a wry smile. “I’d have more than a scratch if that was the case. Besides, Konan, Yahiko, and I worked our differences out.”
Kiba makes a face, clapping his hands over his ears, because he knows precisely what Obito means and wishes he didn’t. “No no no, don’t tell me! And next time you're working shit out, remember to close the door.”
Obito flushes faintly, looking away. His ears are red. “Whatever. Keep your nose out of it, brat,” he says gruffly, and clears his throat. “It’s from Madara, anyway. He blew up a door after the interrogation. The shrapnel caught me.”
Kiba's seen Obito's reflexes; there must have been a hell of a lot of shrapnel if he couldn’t block it all. “He’s taking it out on the rest of the ship now,” he says with a grimace. “You might want to avoid the area near the bridge. And the meeting hall.”
“A call with Zetsu isn't going to improve things much, either,” Obito says with a sigh, and rubs his eye with the heel of one palm. “I'm going to head back to my quarters. If the prisoners start yelling mean things at you, don’t come crying to me.”
“I’ll tell Konan you’re picking on me again,” Kiba says without heat, and Obito snorts and ruffles his hair, even though Kiba is the same height as him.
“Konan will probably be joining me as soon as Madara's call is done,” he says dryly, and sidesteps the punch Kiba throws at his shoulder. “Just so you know to knock.”
“I hate you,” Kiba mutters, folding his arms and scowling at the bastard.
“Sure, padawan,” Obito says dryly, and steps around him, heading for the exit.
Kiba watches him go, head cocked, and wonders again whether the thing with Konan and Yahiko is a good sign or not. Obito has mellowed a hell of a lot over the years, from an outright bloodthirsty bastard to someone a lot more conflicted, a lot more careful, and Kiba was hoping that there would be a chance to turn him, but—
Now he’s not sure. It seems like Konan and Yahiko would tie him more firmly to the Akatsuki, would keep him firmly on the Dark side of the Force, but if anything, Kiba's seen him softening further. Maybe there’s still some hope.
Shaking off the contemplation, Kiba turns down the corridor Obito just emerged from, finding the correct door halfway down. There’s a white Zetsu stationed beside it, but when Kiba says, “Lady Konan sent me down to take over,” the clone nods, shoulders his blaster, and steps away.
Someday Kiba will probably get used to having the authority to order soldiers around, but it’s still weird. He waits until the clone has vanished, scent fading, before he puts his hand on the scanner. The door clicks open without hesitation, and Kiba slips in, pulling on the extra edge of cockiness he uses when dealing with the Resistance. A little more show, a little more bravado, some fury and a touch of malice, and he shrouds himself in it like a cloak, turns—
And promptly loses every ounce of air in his lungs, because the pilot strapped to the chair in the middle of the room is Naruto.
For an instant, all Kiba can do is stare. Naruto looks—well, not quite like he did before, because the last time Kiba saw him, they were both twelve, on opposite sides of the battlefield for the first time as Kiba followed Obito on an attack against a Resistance base. Naruto was one of the people being evacuated, almost too late, and he’d stopped and stared in the hall, expression all horror and betrayal.
The memory of that looks still keeps Kiba up at night sometimes, and all the repetitions of it’s worth it in the galaxy aren’t enough to make it easier to bear.
Naruto now, though—he’s different. Beautiful, even bruised and bloody and unconscious, and wearing a pilot’s uniform. Like his mother, Kiba remembers, because Kushina Uzumaki was the best pilot in the galaxy, responsible for the destruction of the Death Star the last time a genocidal maniac tried to take over everything. He’s—he’s sunny, even like this, and it makes Kiba's breath come painfully, tangled up in his chest like it’s made of razors. Kiba's been drowning himself in the Dark for years at this point, learning the boundaries and how to step across each one, and for all that he’s done good, for all that he’s warned the Resistance and gotten spies out and freed prisoners with conveniently-timed mechanical failures, he’s done a lot of shit that he knows won't be forgiven, too.
Shit he knows Naruto in particular won't forgive him for, and the thought rattles him more than any meeting with Zetsu ever has.
The one time Kiba was able to meet Tsunade after turning spy, three years ago now, he remembers how she looked at him, the weight of her gaze. Remembers it more clearly than anything, along with the tremble in her hand as she stroked the ruined marks on his cheek and said your mother is never going to forgive me. three years under and she already couldn’t look at him the same, and Tsunade knows. She was the one to approve his mission. All the other people, the younglings who survived the massacre at the temple, the children of pilots and fighters and commanders that Kiba grew up with—none of them know. For the last six years, they’ve all been convinced down to their bones that Kiba is precisely what he sells himself as. That he looked at the man slaughtering younglings and creche masters and promptly marched up to him and asked for training.
And—it’s true, on the surface. But Kiba had been moved there precisely on the chance that Madara would attack, was ready and willing to serve as a spy, because Madara kept ferreting out all their other spies but Kiba was precisely the sort of candidate he wouldn’t suspect. Because someone had to do it, and Kiba could, so Kiba did.
It’s really as simple as that, in the long run.
(Madara wanted revenge for the Death Star and the murder of his brother, the Sith Lord he rose to power with. Wanted revenge on Tobirama, Izuna's killer, and the rest of the Jedi Order by proxy. Wanted revenge for Hashirama’s assistance in the defeat, for his own perceived betrayal when Hashirama tried to cut him down, and Kiba was one of Hashirama’s students, one of his favorites. They used to play games in the gardens, before the war started. Taking him, corrupting him—
There was never a chance that Madara would say no, even if Kiba was an Inuzuka.)
Kiba straightens, tips his chin up, and settles back against the wall, letting a cocky grin spread over his face, keeping his eyes in the shadows. Menacing, that’s what he’s going for, even if he and Naruto used to wrestle in the dirt, take apart engines together, laugh and joke and challenge each other to stupid contests like who could eat the most ramen. Naruto knows him uncomfortably well, and more than that, Naruto is Kiba's weakness, and he’s self-aware enough to know that.
Naruto is the reason he’s here, the reason he’s a spy. If Madara hadn’t gotten his revenge on Tobirama’s Order, he’d have gone after Naruto as Kushina's son, and Kiba knew that. Knows it still; it’s likely the reason Naruto is still alive, beyond Madara wanting Hashirama’s location. Given the chance, Madara will probably try to execute Naruto in a big public spectacle, a grand showing of having conquered the son of the rebel who brought down the Death Star. Kushina is a general in the Resistance, all but untouchable, but her daredevil pilot of a son? That’s Madara's best chance at bringing her low.
Carefully, carefully, Kiba draws a breath, lets it out. That’s—that’s not something he can think about. For right now, Naruto is alive, and despite the panic that surges like a supernova in Kiba's chest, he has time. Zetsu's orders will occupy Madara for at least a few days, with any luck, and Madara still wants Hashirama’s location more than anything else. Naruto will be fine. He will. Kiba can spend a few hours getting a plan together—
A clatter of metal makes him lift his head, to see Naruto wrench at the shackles holding him down. He jerks, trying to sit up, but can't, and Kiba digs his nails into his arms and laughs.
“Hey hey,” he says, with as much cheerful malice as he can interject into his voice. “Finally awake? I thought Master Madara might have knocked you out for good.”
Naruto's eyes flicker to him, then widen and hold. “Kiba,” he says, and there’s something torn in his voice, halfway between hope and horror. It makes Kiba's stomach turn, visceral and wrenching, but he’s been playing this part in front of Sith Lords and Dark Jedi and half a dozen Knights since he was twelve years old. He keeps the smirk on his face, even as he pushes away from the wall and steps into the light.
“Naruto,” he returns, and tries to ignore the way Naruto's eyes dart down to his cloak and linger on the pattern of red clouds. “Looking a little rougher than the last time I saw you, huh? Sorry the accommodations aren’t up to standard. Master Madara's got a thing for dungeon chic.”
Naruto's mouth tightens at the title, and he scowls. For all that Naruto's face is generally given to smiles, he’s good at scowling, too; Kiba feels a little like he just got kicked in the chest, to have it turned on him. “Kiba, why?” he demands. “You but Shino in a coma.”
And Kiba has never wanted to die more than he did in that fight, Shino bound and determined to drag him home and Kiba fighting desperately to keep his cover intact. He’d used every trick he knew to keep from killing Shino, but—Shino's always been smarter than him, cleverer than anyone. He came the closest anyone has to putting Kiba down, and Kiba used Dark techniques on him to end it before he could. He’s never going to forgive himself for that.
“Oh? Is he still out of it, then?” he asks, deliberately careless, and brushes his robe back a little, a motion meant to look accidental, so that his twin lightsabers show on his belt. If Naruto gets one of them away from him, uses his Force sensitivity for something other than flying for once in his damned life—
But it’s Naruto, so of course he doesn’t take the opening. Warm blue eyes go flinty, and he strains up against the metal shackles, like he’s going to tear right through them and punch Kiba in the face. “He’s fine! Shino is strong, and he’s gonna kick your ass next time you meet!”
Kiba is going to do everything in his power to make sure that he never has to cross paths—or lightsabers—with Shino again. His crechemate is too dangerous to every aspect of his mission, and Kiba can't risk it.
“That’s a shame,” he says, and steps in front of Naruto like he’s circling him, but stops there, meeting his gaze squarely. “Next time I’ll have to hit him harder.”
“I'm going to kick your ass, before Shino ever can!” Naruto snaps, and pulls at the cuffs again. He’s going to tear his wrists open if he doesn’t stop, and that fluttering panic in Kiba's chest rachets up a notch. If Naruto hurts himself, Kiba isn't going to be able to help him. He’s going to have to stand around and watch Naruto bleed until he’s right up on the edge of death, because anything else will make Madara suspicious.
“Yeah? You and what battalion?” Kiba asks cockily, stepping closer, and when he leans over Naruto, Naruto gives up on the cuffs to snap his head forward. Kiba dodges the headbutt, grinning, and says, “Hey, no fair using my own moves against me, you cheater. I'm the one who showed you that.”
Naruto just looks mulish as he glares. “Kiba, why?” he demands again.
“Because Madara's strong,” Kiba says carelessly, tipping one shoulder in a shrug. “You should have seen him carve his way through the temple on Yugakure. It was fucking incredible. I wanted to be that strong, too.”
“The Akatsuki want to wipe out whole systems,” Naruto protests, and the anger Kiba can deal with, but the look of betrayal on Naruto's face is the difficult thing. “And you’re helping them! You're one of them! Kiba, you can't think that’s okay!”
“What does it matter to me if a few planets bite the dust?” Kiba asks, though he’s seen the plans for something even bigger than the Death Star, a weapon that kills stars and could wipe out a dozen planets in one blow. Hasn’t managed to find a location yet, and it’s one of the main reasons he’s still in the Akatsuki, but—this is a good reminder of those reasons.
“You don’t mean that!” Naruto says hotly, like his own belief will override Kiba's. It aches, because Naruto can never let go of a friend, and Kiba had forgotten the strength of conviction in blue eyes, the way Naruto seems to light up with it. “Kiba, I know you! You're not like this!”
Kiba laughs a little, even though it sticks in his throat like bile. Bracing a hand on the chair, he leans in, grinning right in Naruto's face, and says, “You're wrong, Naruto. I was always like this. You were just too dumb to see it.”
Something flickers across Naruto's face, a bright burst like a sudden realization, a surge of determination. “No,” he says, more quietly this time, and it burns, that tone. Sheer faith, and Kiba of all people doesn’t deserve it. “Kiba, you wouldn’t. I know you wouldn’t, and you know it, too. This isn't you.”
For a long moment, Kiba can't say anything, entirely caught off guard by that expression. Then, finally, he snorts, drawing back, and—
The intercom in the corner hisses to life, and Madara's voice comes over the line, sharp with fury he hasn’t bothered to bury. “I want the prisoner brought to my location immediately.”
Kiba pulls away from Naruto completely, heading to the comm. “Master,” he says, hitting the button. “I can do it. where to?”
There's a pause, and then a low, pleased sound. “Kiba. Good. Bring him to the bridge. I want the Resistance to see what happens to those who defy me.”
Something colder than ice slips through Kiba's veins, stealing his breath. Cold certainty slides down his spine, and it takes effort to open his mouth enough to ask, “An execution, Master? Want me to rough him up a little more first?”
“The interrogators did that quite well already,” Madara says, a trace of annoyance in his tone. “Just bring him, and quickly.”
“Yes, Master,” Kiba says obediently, and closes the line. Turns, unlocks the chair, and hauls Naruto to his feet with a hand on his arm, one eye on the restraints to make sure they hold. The door opens with a hiss, and Naruto squawks, suddenly hauled down the corridor at a quick pace. He stumbles, and with a huff of annoyance Kiba leans down, releases the catch on his ankle cuffs, and lets the bonds drop to the floor as he pulls Naruto forward, picking up their pace.
“Kiba!” Naruto protests, and there isn't nearly enough fear in his eyes for Kiba's comfort, given the situation. “Kiba, you can't, this is stupid—”
“Believe me, I know,” Kiba mutters, and when the Clawdite glances at him, he bares his teeth at her. For an Inuzuka, it might as well be a spoken threat, and she must know that, given how she recoils. Kiba doesn’t even have time to feel regret; he shoves Naruto down the left-hand turn and keeps moving, as fast a walk as he can make it.
There's a pause, and Kiba glances over to find Naruto staring at him, eyes wide but assessing. He looks from Kiba to the hallway and back, and then says, “Kiba?”
Despite the insults Kiba's thrown at him, Naruto has never been dumb. Dense, sometimes, but not where the people he cares about are concerned, and Kiba lets out a rough breath, pitches his voice low.
“Madara's going to execute you on the ‘net for everyone to see,” he says, and turns his gaze ahead, not daring to glance to the side. This is—this is giving up on the Starkiller plans, but if the price is Naruto's life, getting those plans isn't worth it. Kiba knows that with the same instinctiveness with which he knows how to breathe. He’s done a hell of a lot of terrible things, but this, letting Naruto die—
This can't be one of them.
“If I get you to a fighter, can you fly it out of here?” he asks, and finally turns, meeting Naruto's blue, blue eyes.
There's a frozen, fixed moment, all disbelief and rising hope. Naruto stares at him, and finally, finally, he smiles.
“You're not with them,” he says, and laughs. It curls around Kiba's bones, warm as the sun in the cold of the ship. “I knew it!”
“Shut up, you did not,” Kiba huffs, though he doesn’t mean it. Doesn’t mean a word of it, and never will. “Tsunade is the only one who knows I'm a spy. Was a spy, thanks to you getting your genius self captured.” Tugging on Naruto's arm, he steers him right, towards the hangar, and hopes that Madara getting ready for a big show means he’ll have had Kabuto call the troops elsewhere.
“It was me or my droid!” Naruto protests. “And Mister Ukki had the map to Hashirama. It was an easy choice.”
“Don’t just tell me that, you idiot,” Kiba hisses, horrified by the easy spill of information. The part of him that’s a practiced spy kind of wants to cry, honestly. “What if I really was a traitor? Think!”
“You're not,” Naruto says stubbornly, and the faith in his eyes is too much; Kiba has to look away, even as his grip on Naruto's elbow tightens.
Taking a ragged breath, he opens the door, and when the only visible occupant is a maintenance droid on the far side, he hisses, “Can you fly it or not?”
“I can fly anything,” Naruto says, and that grin is a boast, cheerful exaggeration and complete confidence in one.
Kiba can't find it in himself to doubt him.
“I can get the doors open,” he says, steering Naruto towards his fighter. He’s not a great pilot himself, for all Kakuzu’s tried to make him improve; on his own, he wouldn’t have a chance of outrunning the fighters that will doubtless be sent after them, but Naruto can. Kiba's seen him fly, and he’s nearly as good as his mother. “But the minute I do, Madara will know. We’ll have maybe twenty seconds before he sends the squadrons after us.”
And probably the Knights, too, though something in Kiba's stomach turns over at the thought of fighting them. He’s been one of them longer than he was part of the Jedi Order, and he likes all of them. Betraying Deidara, Konan, Obito—that’s going to be nearly as bad as betraying the Order, and knowing that they're objectively bad people doesn’t change that.
Naruto's shoulder bumps his, and when he glances over, Naruto smiles. “We can do it,” he says. “We’ll make it, Kiba.”
Kiba laughs, a little winded, and unlocks the manacles on his hands. “If we do, you owe me a lifetime of free dango,” he says, and leans in, riding a high of stupid courage and the sky-blue of Naruto's eyes. kisses him, quick and daring, and pulls back to meet his stunned gaze, smile crooked.
“Just in case,” he says, and then pulls Naruto towards the fighter at a run.
They make it. Somehow, with Naruto laughing beside him, an arm thrown over his shoulder and their breath mingling, warmth like a sun down Kiba's side—
Somehow, like that, it’s no surprise at all.)