Chapter Three

The amount of sabotage someone can do whilst paralysed from the head down is extremely limited. Even if they are an expert in the field (which Sakura was not) the lack of movement would be a severe inhibitor.

The only things Sakura had were her tongue, and her mind. And against Kabuto's calm façade, it was difficult to find a purchase, some way to get into his head and start twisting.

There were the common touchy subjects: lovers, family, loyalty, usefulness, ability. The general vitality of his manhood, and the lineage of his parents. Threats were merely made ridiculous by her inability to back them up, and bribes would have been useless. Kabuto's loyalty to Orochimaru made money irrelevant.

This Orochimaru knew, and so he knew he was safe to leave Kabuto in charge of her. He also knew that Kabuto was uninterested in the subjects he was taking care of, and so there was no danger of emotional attachment.

He was wrong, as it turned out, but he never had a chance to discover that.

He knew that she was able to talk, of course. Kabuto, for whatever reason, had allowed her to, and this did not particularly bother Orochimaru. The habit she had of sometimes moving her lips involuntarily, mouthing the words 'Sasuke-kun' over and over, had been annoying at first, but after a while it had become almost soothing.

It also kept Sasuke quiet, and extremely complacent; which, whilst no longer quite so necessary, made life much easier in general for Orochimaru. At first he had always had to be near Sakura: touching her, holding clothes she had worn, looking at pictures of her, Naruto and Kakashi, and the only way to subdue Sasuke completely during a mission or an important meeting had been to threaten Sakura with bodily harm. But after a time, Sasuke had been more and more content to simply look at Sakura.

If he had chosen to, Orochimaru could have utterly crushed what little remained of Sasuke's spirit during such lax moments.

Instead he merely waited.

Orochimaru had never been in love. In lust, yes, a thousand times and more: with knowledge, with power, with women, with men, with weapons and with scrolls. He lusted after everything it was possible to attain, and refused to give up on anything.

But love of the sort Sasuke seemed to feel; awkward and unwilling, begrudging and grumpy, whilst at the same time soft and protective, with a sort of secret little joy growing deep down beneath the drive for revenge, this was unknown to Orochimaru, and as an unknown it interested him.

Orochimaru wanted immortality in order to explore all the unknowns and, since he knew himself rather well, he knew the chances of him actually falling in love where slim.

So he sat, and watched. He categorised each different expression that flitted across Sakura's face when he got near, and the way Sasuke and his heartbeat would speed up whenever he walked in on Kabuto changing Sakura's outfit. In a spirit of perverse mischief Orochimaru regularly demanded that Sakura be dressed in different outfits, each one more provocative than the last.

The effect on Sasuke was interesting, to say the least. At first he felt only arousal and hot shame, but as the days passed and Orochimaru began draping himself negligently around Sakura Sasuke's emotions turned towards rage at Orochimaru.

Each time he touched Sakura she would stare at him, as if wondering whether it was Orochimaru or Sasuke holding her. Sometimes Orochimaru let Sasuke rise to the surface in those times, and the change in Sakura's expression was almost pitiful. They all knew that Sasuke was no longer the Sasuke that she knew, and that he was only let out for Orochimaru's amusement, but there was something almost pure in those times they met. Both had lost everyone else they loved, and they clung to each other as a drowning man would cling to a rope.

And then Orochimaru would emerge again, nibbling at her skin, laughing as she stopped smiling and her eyes once again glazed over in horror and hatred.

The day after such activities Kabuto would report that Sakura had not slept. Orochimaru would just laugh softly, and feel the person inside him rage.

The problem began when one morning Sakura didn't wake up. Nothing too unusual about that – sometimes she'd go into deep meditations in an attempt to escape the prison that was her body, and after an hour or two of Orochimaru talking to her with Sasuke's voice she would return to the world with a start, eyes full of an impossible hope before reality would sink in, and she would once again register that it was Orochimaru in front of her, not Sasuke.

Every time he would watch as the hope died from her eyes, to be replaced by a dull shine as she once again experienced the loss of Sasuke. And every time she would break a little bit more.

But that day she didn't wake, even after four hours of gentle chatter. Curious, Orochimaru slithered to her side, and ignored the sudden jerk that informed him Sasuke was once again trying to gain control of their body. The attempt was weaker than the one last week – as time went on Sasuke was slowly being integrated into Orochimaru's persona. But something in the franticness of Sasuke's attack made Orochimaru sit up and pay attention.

He laid a hand against Sakura's cheek, and grimaced slightly at the coldness. Her breathing was quick and shallow, and sweat was beginning to run down her face.

Something had gone seriously wrong.

"Kabuto!" He shouted, flashing to the door. "Kabuto!"

"Yes, Orochimaru-sama?" Kabuto, who looked oddly ruffled, as if Orochimaru had roused him from a particularly pleasant dream, hastily appeared in the doorway.

"When did our Sakura fall asleep? What dosage did you give her last night?"

"She fell asleep almost immediately after you left yesterday evening, and I gave her to same dosage as ever. Why?" Kabuto glanced over to Sakura's inert form, taking note of her slackened expression and uneven breathing. In an instant he was knelt down beside her, prying open her eyelids and flashing a light into her pupils. There was no reaction. Kabuto turned to face Orochimaru, the light he was holding catching his glasses and hiding his expression.

"She's dying."

A brief pause, then Orochimaru was on the ground on all fours, desperately fighting Sasuke for control. Rage, rage such as he had never known, swept through his body as Sasuke screamed for control, if only so he could stab Orochimaru and himself, to destroy, to kill, to obliterate everything because once again he was losing a loved one and that could not happen, he had to stop this, he had to break free!

Sasuke began to rip himself free of Orochimaru's hold as the last remnant of his sanity lay dying in front of them.

Began to, but could not succeed. The jutsu which bound Orochimaru to Sasuke's body was too strong, and within minutes Orochimaru was once again in control, pushing Sasuke to the side, and ignoring his tortured howls. Sasuke had made a contract with the devil, and that was not a thing to be lightly relinquished.

"Get her into the examination room." Orochimaru managed to say as he clambered to his feet.

In the harsh light of the examination room Sakura's pale skin looked even worse, and the sweat, now flowing freely, glistened under the lamp.

"I must have somehow overdosed her with poison," Kabuto was saying as he injected some antidote directly into Sakura's lateral thigh muscles. "Her deteriorating body condition must have worsened the effect of the poison, she's been unconscious for over ten hours though, the chances of her awakening with an undamaged mental state is mini-"

Kabuto's habitual medical monologue was cut off when he realised two things: the first was the slight tinge of blue chakra coursing through the blood dripping from the pinprick the needle had made, and the second that the spare scalpel he had placed next to Sakura was missing.

Kabuto was as well trained as Sakura. He knew the different uses chakra could be put to, and that it was possible to store up enough chakra in order to change the chemicals in your body. Theoretically it was possible to use your chakra to burn poison out of your blood, but there was no record of anyone ever actually have the pure precision of chakra control capable of achieving it without accidentally exploding themselves.

Besides, the poison he used suppressed chakra. Where on earth could she have pulled a reserve of chakra large enough to perform such an act? It wasn't like she had a demon in her, or a curse seal, or anything that could possibly be used to –

Half a minute for these thoughts to race through his head; for him to see her hand twitch, to feel the blade coming, to twist away. Too slow, far too slow, a lesson Sakura herself had learnt before and didn't hesitate to impart on Kabuto.

"Shannaro!" She screamed as the scalpel sunk into Kabuto's chest and, with a faintly surprised expression, he slid to the floor. Before his corpse had even hit the ground she had flipped up off the table, and lashed a foot out at Orochimaru's face. He jumped back hastily, his hands already forming seals, no doubt to kill her. She was too dangerous to keep alive anymore. In a normal fight, Sakura would have been dead almost instantly.

But Orochimaru had to fight against a Sasuke who had been waiting for an opportunity, and just before Orochimaru formed the final seal Sasuke unleashed an attack that all but dislodged Orochimaru's control. Sasuke slammed himself against the barriers of the jutsu that bound Orochimaru to himself, screaming silently in the depths of his body as he stilled Orochimaru's movements and attacked Orochimaru's consciousness. Orochimaru-Sasuke's face distorted in agony at the internal war as Sasuke's personality slowly disintegrated from the ferocity of his attack. Each time Sasuke rammed up against Orochimaru another part of Sasuke's self splintered off and disappeared.

He was ripping himself apart from the inside out.

Sasuke couldn't win control of his body again though. He knew this. The contract was too binding, and Orochimaru was too ingrained into him. The fight for freedom would end almost immediately, and Sasuke would have utterly destroyed himself in the process.

He knew this. And yet he fought anyway.

For in that brief time where Orochimaru was not in control, that fatal half minute where Sasuke was holding his body in check, Sakura reached him, and wrapped her hands around his throat. Crying now, the tears she had held back for so long blurred her vision, wiping out Orochimaru's dark tattoos and the slight changes his inhabitation had made until she saw only the Sasuke she had known and loved for so long, she leant forward and kissed him. Her cold, chapped lips brushed up against his bloodied ones, and his left hand ghosted along her arm in a movement so light it might almost have been imagined, and then her grip tightened and twisted, and there was a snap, then nothing.

Slowly Sakura released the body, letting it fall to the floor. Her eyes were curiously blank as she collected some weapons from the room. Looking down at the dead man at her feet, a small quiver of emotion disturbed her rigid exterior. Carefully, as if she still feared the enemy alive, she lifted up the person that had once been Sasuke and carried him out of the room.

She would carry him back to Konoha, killing any who got in her way. And there she would bury him.

And after that she would return to Sound, and kill every last ninja it held. Set in her grim determination, she held Sasuke's body closer to her chest, and began running.

She did not look back.