Brush Strokes in Ammonia Ink
Quick fic. Spoilers for Kimimaro and Kabuto. This one was a challenge-request from S that I answered because of the strangeness. Hope you like it.

Body heat and Kimimaro are alien to one another at this stage in his life. He leaves his bed cool. The sheets are lukewarm at best when Kabuto rolls them off, gathering them like a party dress abandoned outside a classroom door.

Kabuto said once that the virtue of a sterile bed was beige. Kimimaro didn't understand. He assumed was because of the smell. Not from comparisons of white bleached whiter, but from a color neutrality that sought not to give offense by any other manifestation than pale. Even when Kimimaro slept so long in one that the linen turned musty with late night sweat, Kabuto only claimed the bed was brown, like mushrooms or bodily excrement. That it smelled like decompositional stew, and Kimimaro was rotting in it.

Kimimaro would change the sheets if he could, daily, to thwart Kabuto and his color associations. Instead, he gets his bedroom cleaned once a week. Switched to a secondary cot while Kabuto performs maintenance, Kimimaro watches the other ninja go about his task with the same composed pleasantry as a gravedigger.

Normally it is one of the faceless, inexperienced medics of Sound that attends the fallen. Since Kabuto's return, the spy had assumed control of the hospice division with an ease that implied he'd been doing it for years. In reality, it has been months since Kabuto last visited the Village for any length of time, and even then the trip was sporadic, covered as a D-rank mission that was nothing more than pretense.

Kabuto trusses the sheets as if he had done it a thousand times before, pulling a new set onto the gurney. If Kimimaro hadn't been a permanent patient, he'd have never known different.

The top layer goes first. Bound and decorated with the seals that keep Orochimaru's Curse Seal from wrenching what little chakra was left. Kimimaro's body goes underneath, bumps and planes of his form labeled like an anatomy chart overlaid. Kabuto had learned the arresting Seal even as Kakashi had, but rather than close the pattern and leave the Curse Seal docile, Kabuto keeps the whole binding as widely spread as a freshly gutted salmon.

The treatments evolve weekly. They chase the spiral of Kimimaro's death, seeking to catch up with the Kaguya's steady decline and measure the progress even if they cannot slow it. Kabuto's return to Sound has escalated the experimental sealings; brilliantly careless in the way of creatives, the spy has engaged in Kimimaro's dilemma with a patient enthusiasm seen only in occasional sadists.

Kabuto brings in color to the medical wing. He speaks of it heedlessly as he assigns flavors to parts of the room, organics blooming where only the inanimate lurked before. Unworried by the death that is hemmed up in the Sound, its cages of trapped shinobi and rotting bodies, Kabuto walks through the stench of the Village without a second glance. Untouched. Everything dies in his vision, and the spy acknowledges none of it as he smiles, and refills another syringe.

Kimimaro alternately hates him for it, and is privately amazed.

Once a week, Kabuto develops new twists in the binding seal. He plays. One variation is as good as another where Kimimaro's health is concerned, and so the Kaguya does not protest.

He tells himself that this is because he does not care.

Each new arc of Kabuto's treatments is introduced with the periodic updates of the binding seal. He pulls off the old sheet and throws it away, a new one already waiting to be sacrificed for the purpose of Kimimaro's continued existence.

Discarded, the linen lies withered in the corner like a snake's skin. The ant-marks of the seal crawl upon it, buzzing like a nest bestirred to feast.

Kimimaro watches the black blots swarm in his vision.

"Lie back, Kimimaro." Kabuto pulls up the ink jar with one hand, fingers clicking the lid open. The cap is unthreaded. It goes to the side, settled upon the wheeled instruments.


"Lie back," Kabuto repeats, "or I'll tell lord Orochimaru you're resisting."

Childish, the threat, but it works. Kimimaro's eyes are pure contempt for the angle of the tattle-tale ploy and yet down he goes, spine rolling down in the smooth curl of a dancer's instep, heel-to-toe. Arms spread upon the bottom sheets, fingers dribbling over the edges. White-syrup skin. Kimimaro isn't very good at looking boneless even in his sleep, so he doesn't try; his internal armor leaves his limbs stiff, discarded like a child's doll.

The brush ghosts itself over his body, and Kimimaro counts centimeters off the ceiling while he waits.

"I'm not tickling you, am I?"

Kimimaro does not bother to broadcast his disdain. "No." The same question, every time. Kabuto, sounding as if the act of asking itself amused him. Repetitions tiresome to the terminally ill.

"Have you been feeling any stronger since last week?"



Kabuto makes a tsking sound in his throat, a practitioner's professional disapproval at a particularly unhelpful virus. "I'll see what I can do to improve it, then."

Kimimaro does not answer.

After several minutes, the first stage of inking is complete. Kimimaro senses the doctor pull back; Kabuto turns away to rinse his brush in a water jug, shaking drops free in a spatter that the Yakushi might call spiderweb later, or aquamarine. Words that involve vibrance rather than empty, unheeded oblivion.

Kimimaro is not impatient. Curiosity is a detriment when the majority of your time is spent immobile, and so when he summons the strength to move his head forward, it is out of a boredom that is detached at best.

The pattern which stains his body from top to bottom isn't familiar. In fact, it is composed entirely of hiragana, mocking characters which slash in possession of the pale of his body.

Kimimaro is too surprised to conjure even disdain. His question flirts out, harmless as a newborn bird. "What have you written on me?"

Kabuto's lips make a curved sickle moon, right in the corner. "Your eulogy."

With that, Kimimaro is up, pushing one-handed off the bed and feeling the sticky smears of ink begin to puddle down his skin. Old strength floods into his muscles with a killer's automatic demand. His fingers are in Kabuto's throat without realizing they had made the jump from his side to the destination of his eyes. Knuckles deep in Kabuto's flesh. Kneading bread dough, bread that might bleed with only a fraction more force.

"What is this?" Kimimaro growls, except that it mutes back into a hiss, a tiger turned serpent by route of its disease.

Kabuto might have tried to say something. Kimimaro feels the tensing of his neck when the other nin attempts to inhale, fails, and instead begins to choke.

"You are so weak." Tighter goes Kimimaro's palm, as if he could burst Kabuto's larynx like a plum and lick the juices off his thumb. "Your body is so soft. But I'm the one who's dying. Me. And you--"

Thud smacks his lungs, hard against the condensed ribs. Hard enough to bruise, his body fighting itself in a war to see what would give first. Kimimaro's shoulders hunch forward as he releases the medic and claps a hand over his mouth, choking out cough after wet cough, thick and dripping as a butcher's fresh cut of meat.

Kabuto had somehow managed to not hack after being released. Angry red marks dot his skin like a pox; they fade in seconds as Kabuto rubs at them, his healer's touch undoing violence as deftly as he had invited it. His fingers dive into Kimimaro's hair, right at the prow of his scalp; palm to the younger's forehead, Kabuto leans a dominating shove down.

"You have to lie still, Kimimaro." Doctor's orders cool, rattling off medicines that never work, prescriptions that do more harm than good. "Your chance as lord Orochimaru's vessel is over. We both know that. Lie still, Kimimaro. You don't have much time left to waste on efforts like these."

Kimimaro's head is twisted to the side, and from here his eyes are fixed upon the chemical vials that measure out his life. Green tinctures gleam malicious in the monitor-glow lights. He can't see Kabuto's face from this angle, but Kimimaro imagines that it is full of overwhelming vitality, a heartbeat that can't hide itself no matter how composed the spy may be.

Instead, the Kaguya dry-voices words that he knows are written on the clipboards beside his bed.

"Your treatments aren't working, doctor."

Kabuto sounds nonplussed as he dips his brush into the inkwell, and scoops a curl of character out of Kimimaro's collarbone. "And?"

The diagnosis confirmed quenches the temporary rebellion out of Kimimaro's body. Another week of treatments will see no change. The seal patterns might shift and twist, reverse in a dance of a madman, and Kimimaro's death is only a matter of time before he's free.

The jars which are stacked on earth-shelf walls extend around the chamber, stretching out of the narrow range of Kimimaro's sight. Plastic tubing dangles by his bed. Containers of his own bodily fluids are strung like festival garlands beside his head; one is a red so deep that it shines near to purple in the distorted florescent lights. Another, golden.

From the warm bag rises the smell of ammonia. Urine. His, because Kimimaro can't even properly clean himself when his body tries to expel its contents, can't control the scant fragments of life still remaining.

Kimimaro wonders which colors Kabuto uses for these things, in a world so full of black-ink brushstrokes.