Spoilers up to ch 217. Short surreal confusing fic. I didn't like Brush Strokes in Ammonia, so I did another one. Hope it's better, S.

White cloth burial shroud over his face and Kimimaro is swimming, moving slow as a bloated corpse between the spaces in his mind.

Machines squeak, dolphin sonar. Kimimaro takes in a breath thick with his own decay, and then the world begins to move again.

"So you're awake." The doctor, patient as ever, if consistent in his detachment. "You might be pleased to know--"

Metal clicks in rhythm, and Kimimaro turns his head underneath the sheet, questing for the cause.

"--the medicines have taken full effect. Life signs are stable. Lord Orochimaru's new host is showing no signs of complication. Full restoration to maximum capacity should take no greater than a week."

In the sway of mismatched time, Kimimaro's mind latches onto a single name. "He's here?" Whispered. Kimimaro's tongue is thick and heavy, muzzy with the grave. "Lord Orochimaru?"

Clawed fingers fumble for the skin of fabric over Kimimaro's face. He pulls it down. Unlike Orochimaru, the act does nothing to regenerate his own body.

He can see the doctor in the dim light. Kabuto doesn't turn around. "Yes."

The slow arc of Kabuto's shoulders makes a fingernail curve of shadow, and Kimimaro realizes this is because Kabuto looks like he is dressed in black. Backlit. In better light, Kabuto would reveal himself in blue, but underground he is composed of contrasts.

Another click, and Kabuto is setting aside a syringe. Freshly cleaned. He continues to speak, clipped. "If you want to call it that. He's been assigned to bedrest for the time being," the medic dictates, dropping words like summer flies struck down by the heat. "And is currently located in a closed ward. No visitors. His condition has not yet stabilized, but I expect it will soon."

Kimimaro starts to speak, but his throat is dry. Swallowing brings his tongue against the roof of his mouth, which is faintly sticky from disuse.

"And then he will see me?"

In the silence, Kimimaro listens to his own pulse announced from the artificial instruments.

"Your time is over, Kimimaro." Kabuto in motion is a cat; more humid than a snake, drier than a badger. He licks his lips too often to be a dog. One step brings him away from the supply tray and fussing with the intravenous bags. "Orochimaru has successfully performed the transfer. He no longer has any need of you."

"Kabuto." Kimimaro's fingers should be moving, as he wills them to, but nothing happens save that the sheet upon his stomach rustles in winter-branched mockery.

Two knuckles twist, and the uncomfortable rush of new fluids hits Kimimaro's veins.

"I have to go back to Konoha now, Kimimaro. Lord Orochimaru called me out in the middle of my lessons, and my teammates can't cover for me forever. They're not very good, you see," Kabuto explains, and when he smiles, his hand is already covering half his face. His slender doctor-fingers push up his glasses; the ruse is automatic, expression hidden by Kabuto's palm so that Kimimaro cannot see which part Kabuto is or is not lying about.

Kabuto's footsteps recede.

The lights go out.

- - - - -

In the dark of his own bones, Kimimaro dreams of summer.

His memories stink of mold. They meld together--wet, sticky lumps of images wrestling like melting otters, chocolate fur glistening in the sun. Limbs dissolve. The taste of enemy viscera blends with afternoon tea until Kimimaro can't determine which requires sugar, and which a fork.

Everything in his mind moves as one. Running, hunting. Choking, breathing, screaming--all Kimimaro's thoughts combine together in a single-blooded entity that does not know the meaning of the word time, or despair.

Just as his spirit had once joined with the man he had called master.

And then one day Orochimaru was gone.

"Where is he," is the first thing Kimimaro says when he wakes up. He asks this twice more before unconsciousness claims him with black-swaddled fingers, but then the Kaguya hisses it so many times while insensate that Kabuto turns up the sedatives until he stops.

- - - - -

When he next has chance for thought, Kabuto's breath is on Kimimaro's face. Glossy duck-down is everywhere. Kabuto's fingers are leaving jutsu position in slow motion, artfully twisting from shape to shape, leaving pale ghost-trails of knuckles behind. Kabuto's lips are revealing something that Kimimaro strains to hear, because he has the feeling it is something very important, but he can't hear it over the blood-buzzing in his ears.

And Kimimaro drowns in feather's sleep.

The next time he wakes up, Kabuto is gone. The covers are pulled back. Kimimaro does not know how much time has passed to transform the underground womb that serves as his storage locker, but the room has been draped in living shade. Cloth is everywhere, pulled over the medical trays and over Kimimaro himself.

He has seen this before. In houses unused, where dustcloths are assembled to keep the furniture from stain. When the fabrics are whisked away, the cushions underneath are as fresh as if they were newly-stitched. An actor's flair; a truthful trick.

With this in mind, Kimimaro forces his head up to see if his body has been restored. Upon seeing the angry pulse of the Curse Seal half-spread upon his chest, tubes jutting like false-ribs out of his body, he lets his skull drop. It hits the table with a thunk he does not feel, and does not want to.

The diagnosis is one he wishes he imagined. Kimimaro's body, his pride and birthright, has chosen to kill itself rather than harbor a foreign influence inside it.

It has failed him. It no longer wishes to perform. It hates Orochimaru, and so hates Kimimaro by extension.

Several vague days later, sliding through the haze of medication, Kimimaro finally is able to present his second question.

"Why am I being left alive?"

Kabuto moves into his vision like a painting underwater. The needle in his hand flashes as the doctor taps Kimimaro's vein. The Kaguya doesn't notice the insertion; one pinprick is as good as another, and the cool rush of drugs into his bloodstream is rapidly subsumed under the conception of normality. Kimimaro's body doesn't understand life without drugs anymore, so it's only during withdrawal pangs that he really feels strange.

Plunger depressed, Kabuto withdraws the syringe and sets it on a tray out of sight. "There's a chance you might be saved, Kimimaro."


Kimimaro doesn't have the energy to argue that his salvation had already been denied him the instant Orochimaru had thrown him aside. The Sannin has no need of a vessel whose body is eating itself from the inside out. Orochimaru would rather rely on a constant strength, rather than one whose bones are impenetrable until the critical moment when they crumble like dry cheese.

Kabuto is good with illusions, but no genjutsu can comfort this.

The remainder of the Sound Five come to see him afterwards, looking awkward, fidgeting beside Kimimaro's hospital bed. Ludicrous visitors. None of them know what to do in this situation, seeing their leader brought low by a cause as crude as disease. More shameful than even poison. At least a weapon could be involved with the latter. Sickness brings to mind the image of blades steeped in cattle dung, not vials.

Brought down to Four, the Sound team is brittle. They will not stand against an enemy, they will break, and Kimimaro realizes this with a mounting sense of frustration that is all the worse for how the intensity of emotion is fading from conscious thought.

Lying in a narrow row on the bed, arms on either side of his thin body, Kimimaro feels like a paperweight in tissue wrappings. He starts to breathe in, but he doesn't remember how to care enough to speak.

- - - - -

One time when he opens his eyes, Kimimaro decides he's still asleep. This revelation occurs in the manner of the terminally ill; slipping in and out of dreaming with less and less interest in determining the difference between the two. Time has abandoned the Kaguya. It leaves the teenager to reel memory back through mental fingers that can't hold a clear line of thought any better than his body can a kunai.

The Sound Four vanish and return without any discernable pattern. He doesn't know how many times they've visited, or even if they've been standing there for hours, frozen faces while he fades in and out of consciousness. Tayuya's frown, a hard line while she crosses her arms, staring at him in barely-bridled resentment. Jiroubou, chewing on a pastry bun spasmodically as a way to quell his own fear of illness.

The hallucination of their bodies departs when he tries to talk to them, and then discovers he's only whispering to an empty room.

If he speaks too much, Kimimaro is convinced that his spirit will just flutter out of his mouth, exiting with the damp wings of an unhatched moth. It would stumble through the heavy sky in the same way that Kimimaro would trip over his own words, let his fingers waver if he dared hang them suspended in midair.

Kimimaro can move, but it's shaky, and he hides it. Every inch of him is trembling. Screaming weakness, and Kimimaro keeps touching his hands to things in order to keep the tremors from showing.

He holds the sheet. He touches his face.

He takes whatever comes.

Kabuto frowns down at him, and carefully disentangles Kimimaro's fist from his shirt.

Noise down the hallway distracts them both. Kimimaro starts to turn his head towards it to better pinpoint the activity, and his cheek rubs against the fabric covering Kabuto's chest.

"Is... that lord Orochimaru? Is he here?"

"No," Kabuto said, and his face is like drinking moonlight. Silver. Cool. Inhuman. "Not for you."

- - - - -

Kimimaro's thoughts return endlessly to one point, revolve around a gravity well born of breaking.

The Kaguya remembers the day he lost. A stray kick was all it had taken, thrown by the heel of a man whose eyes were already dimming in death throes. The strike had hit square; Kimimaro's ribs snapped in a curving row, like razor-kissed piano strings, stunningly weak where once he had been nothing short of invincible.

It wasn't even an attack. That was the most shameful fact of all. Just a last, unconscious reflex of a corpse that should have never left more than a bruise upon Kimimaro's body.

Instead, he'd fallen to his knees and spit blood for the first time in years. The wet crimson dots seeped dark into the ground while he stared.

The sickness had been a rumor among his clan. A story that the elders used to frighten children who sprouted grotesqueries out of their bodies, daring one another to remove more and more of their own skeletons to see what they could manage to live without. The mythological limit to the Kaguya bloodline, a final refusal of the flesh to continue spawning bone after bone after bone.

Use your gift too much like that and it will kill you, the clan would warn whenever such mischief was caught. Keep it only for the battlefield, never for play.

Contrary to this, Orochimaru had delighted in Kimimaro's power. The Sannin had demanded greater twists of perversion than the games Kimimaro had participated in back at his village. One rib was never enough. Nor two. Orochimaru always wanted more.

One afternoon, upon the removal of Kimimaro's jawbone--pulled out of his chin like a conjurer with an ivory coin--Orochimaru had clapped his hands and finally declared the Kaguya his favorite.

Lacking full dental structure, Kimimaro had been unable to close his mouth. The flesh had become a puckered fruit of wet muscle that dangled powerless from his cheeks, stretching his lips out in an exaggerated circle that split the corners. His tongue dripping spit onto his shirt, the Kaguya child had waited patiently until he was told he was done.

Kimimaro wonders only once if it had been because of his master's need for advanced jutsus that spurred the onset of his illness. Then he asks if Orochimaru is back yet.

The empty room does not answer him, and eventually, he goes to sleep.

- - - - -

Lost in a dream of cold fingers and ink, Kimimaro comes back to himself again with a jolt. This time, he thinks he might actually be awake.

Nothing changes when he opens his eyes. All the lights are off.

He takes in a breath. The air smells of sweat and that peculiar neutrality of bones. It reeks like a graveyard, hurts to inhale. Sharp agony lances through his lungs, but Kimimaro chalks it down to another stage of his brittle, dying body.

There are medicines that Kabuto will give him to help. He can ignore the pain.

The chirping of his life support machines is inaudible, but Kimimaro assumes they're still present. It wouldn't be like Kabuto to just turn the equipment off, no matter how many times Kimimaro has whispered pleas in the form of thinly veiled threats.

Blackness disorients him. Flashes of recent visions streak by, of ruddy hair and a painfully green suit of clothes, but Kimimaro dismisses them. There had been a task Orochimaru needed to be fulfilled, that much the Kaguya remembers, but he's too tired to think further than that.

Everything is hushed in his hospital ward. Kimimaro can't even see the woodworm's glow of monitor readouts. Instead, he fumbles for the last thing Kabuto might have said.

"Lord Orochimaru," Kimimaro asks again, into the fragile darkness in which anything can live, treading the line of disbelief. Knowing only too well how hope was a thing that exists simply for the purpose of being broken. Dreams are such fragile things. "Is he... here?"

He is.

The positive is more than Kimimaro expected. He does not believe it at first and then his heart is lurching like a deformity in his chest, throat closing so swift that it feels like his body's choking him from the inside.

It's hard to get the question out, so he forces it in small increments, vomiting out awkward sounds.

"When... will he see me?"

Kabuto's answer, when it comes, is uncharacteristically faint. It's as if he's miles away, in a chamber uncaring of Kimimaro's fight. Not like the doctor at all. Kabuto customarily sounds more self-satisfied than this.


Kimimaro decides he doesn't mind how quiet Kabuto's become. His lips part. Smiling.

"My lord," he whispers, into the blackness. "Welcome back."

Then the bones of all his dreams shatter a final time, and Kimimaro forgets everything about his illness until there's nothing left.