Author's note: The first of many Kabuto fics I'll be writing for the LJ community 24hourthemes. This one happened to be ready on my birthday. :D Enjoy!

Theme: 15:00 3PM Balancing matters of the body, mind, and spirit.
Character/Pairing: Yakushi Kabuto
Category: Character
Rating: T
Warnings: Implied OroKabu, OroSasu, and KabuSasu, blood, general creepiness, set during the timeskip.
Disclaimer: Naruto does not belong to me.
Summary: Kabuto gets an unexpected visitor, Sasuke gets an unexpected lesson.


"Tricks of the Trade"

"What brings you all the way down here, Sasuke-kun?" Kabuto didn't look to the doorway when he sensed the younger-nin's chakra; instead, he finished scribbling some notes on his clipboard and glanced at the clock before turning around.

Sasuke stood in the middle of the room; he'd obviously taken the question as an invitation to step further inside the somber laboratory. The boy was much better at controlling his expressions after six months living inside one of Otogakure's underground hideouts, but his eyes were still narrowed with visible annoyance. Kabuto adjusted his glasses higher on his nose, amused that Sasuke had thought he could completely hide his intense presence. But Sasuke wasn't quite strong enough for that. At least, not just yet.

"Surely Orochimaru-sama hasn't ended today's training early?" Kabuto leaned against the edge of the table, the afternoon's experiments bubbling in test-tubes and vials behind him.

"That's none of your business." Sasuke glanced over the experiments spread across the lab table, then straightened to his full height.

"Show me the nin-card with information on my brother."

The demand was arrogant. Direct. Kabuto mused on the timing of this development, regarding Sasuke in the ensuing moments of silence and noting all of the boy's Pavlovian responses to the topic of Itachi. Kabuto had often wondered at what point Sasuke would remember about the cards… about how they first met… and come looking for him.

"Uchiha Itachi, hmm?" Kabuto inclined his head, deliberately enunciating the full name so he could watch Sasuke's left hand tighten into a fist. "I take it you couldn't persuade Orochimaru-sama to tell you about him, then?"

Sasuke's energy flared with the ironclad menace—the hatred, even—that he'd been carefully sharpening against that of their master. It burned, similarly enough to the memory of Itachi's overwhelming presence that Kabuto felt the hairs on his neck stand rigid in response, a response he had no reason to hide from this younger, paler version of that man. Sasuke wouldn't know to look for such a subtle betrayal. Just as Sasuke wouldn't know there were even more revealing, even more dangerous questions he could be asking here and now.

Not that Kabuto would tell him. No. Sasuke still had several lessons left to learn.

"You've got a card on my brother. Show it to me." Sasuke didn't add the command 'now,' though it was there all the same.

Kabuto smiled, indulgent. "Well I suppose I should have expected you to remember the cards one day."

"I know where you keep them. So don't try to lie."

"Hmm," Kabuto turned his shoulders to set down his clipboard, watching Sasuke from the corner of his eye. Then he reached into the pouch on his hip and withdrew the stack of orange cards, straightening the edges between his deft fingers. "Did you really expect to find them in my quarters, Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke crossed his arms, openly guilty. So defiant. Kabuto chuckled, shuffling through the cards in his hand like a magician and smiling like one who earned more than just the coins willingly dropped into his hat. He hovered his right palm above the neat pile in his left, and then paused, glancing to see Sasuke's black eyes locked on the cards—moist, hopeful—before focusing his chakra and retrieving the coveted prize with a flick of the wrist.

This, Kabuto held up in display, showing first the decorative orange backing and then flipping it to show clean, empty white. "Is this what you were looking for, Sasuke-kun?" he asked, putting the rest of the cards back in his pouch.

"Show it to me," Sasuke demanded for the third time, impatience visible in every stiff line of his body.

Kabuto shifted backward to rest against the edge of his worktable. He was silent for a moment, tapping the back of the card against his lips and peering at Sasuke over the top edge. "What's it worth to you, Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke glared, his energy flaring in another electric wave of anger. Kabuto turned the card and used the side to straighten his glasses, drawing Sasuke's pupils with the movement of the orange design. Then he spread his arms and leaned his bare palms backward on the lab table, setting the card face-up on the surface just beyond the reach of his fingertips.

"All information comes with a price." Kabuto cocked his head. "This should be no surprise to someone who has survived in Sound for as long as you have."

Kabuto boldly glanced away from Sasuke's bared teeth—a test—and felt the answering point of a kunai break the skin underneath his Adam's apple a split second before his body registered the heat from Sasuke's sudden closeness.

"What's it worth to you, Kabuto?" Sasuke was too short to hiss exactly in his ear; his breath tickled across Kabuto's jaw.

"If you kill me I can't reveal the information on the card, Sasuke-kun."

Sasuke shifted his other arm, and Kabuto soon felt the prick of a second kunai nestled in that tender crease between thigh and groin. The message was clear: One slash could do a great deal of damage. Kabuto tried not to smirk. Orochimaru must not have told his protégé about his second-in-command's particular rejuvenation abilities, otherwise Sasuke would know that bodily threats were close to meaningless.

"You only need your left hand to do it, Kabuto," Sasuke smirked, leaning some of his weight into the second kunai. Kabuto kept from gasping at the sting of metal piercing through his clothing, scratching a warning into his flesh and exciting him into a partial erection.

He smiled. "Is this the coin you use with Orochimaru-sama?" Kabuto lowered his chin, ignoring the pain of the kunai digging further into his neck until their noses brushed and their lips were a mere breath apart. A drop of blood slid down to his collarbone, cooled instantly by the underground temperature of the compound. "Sasuke-kun?"

"You're not Orochimaru."

"Have you found me to be so different? Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke glared, fuming. Kabuto didn't move. He watched with the senses that could assess the boy's reddened eyes without worry, hearing the gears inside Sasuke's head grind and click as he considered how to gain further advantage.

With deliberate slowness, Sasuke eased the kunai from Kabuto's throat and dragged the tip along his neck, cutting a fragile red thread in its wake before pressing it into his jugular. Then, Sasuke rose on tip-toe and tilted his head to lick the blood, his tongue warm and soft and oh-so promising.

When Sasuke pulled back, Kabuto saw that he'd left an artful crimson smear along his lower lip, locking their eyes and whispering, "Show me."

Kabuto kept the amusement from his face—for Sasuke really had been learning to survive in the dark of night over the last months—but gave in just enough to let Sasuke think he might win. He stared transfixed at the red stain on Sasuke's mouth like he was expected to, salivating from the desire to taste his own blood in the proffered kiss. Unfortunately, a kiss wouldn't be enough.

"Are you willing to pay the full price? Sasuke-kun?" he whispered back.

Sasuke hesitated for half a second, and then he slipped the two kunai back into their holster, the movement deliberate, calculated to be sensual. Kabuto watched with interest as Sasuke dropped his eyes to the floor, and shrugged his left shoulder out of his open-front training shirt, letting his bangs fall across his cheek in a display of submissive invitation that showed Kabuto exactly what kind of deals he'd been making with Orochimaru behind closed doors. Sasuke's hands slid past Kabuto's hips to trap him against the laboratory table, a suggestive move that also confirmed any suspicions of Kabuto's arousal.

"I'm not afraid of you, Kabuto." Sasuke's voice held an amusing, false bravado.

Kabuto slid his fingers over to the nin-card and picked it up, lifting it to Sasuke's forehead and touching it to his skin. He brushed the hair back from the boy's face with the corner, revealing the redness of the Sharingan looking back at him, and etching a subtle line of irritation in that pale, smooth skin.

"You don't have to be afraid of me, Sasuke-kun." Kabuto continued the card's caress down the side of Sasuke's bared neck and across his naked shoulder, causing a blossoming field of gooseflesh. Oh, the things he wanted to do to this boy, without the voyeurism of their master. But it couldn't be helped.

Kabuto shifted the crisp, linen fabric back into place, hiding the curse seal from sight. "But you do have to give me something I want in return."

Sasuke frowned, and Kabuto pressed the card flat against his mouth to keep him from speaking just yet.

"I'm a scientist, Sasuke-kun. So why don't we try a little experiment, hmm?" He paused, noting the keen mistrust in the depth of Sasuke's eyes. Kabuto shifted the card to trace the curve of the boy's upper lip, watching how the simple motion made his nostrils flare. "This card has all the information on Uchiha Itachi you'll ever need, and it can be yours—all yours—in one week's time."

Sasuke inclined his head. "And in exchange?"

Kabuto chuckled, gently scraping the edge of the card across Sasuke's lower lip, collecting the blood. "Let me hear you say it..." Kabuto brought the card to his own mouth, licking it clean before cupping Sasuke's chin and leaning forward to whisper each separate syllable, "Ka-bu-to-sa-ma."

As he predicted, Sasuke recoiled from this request with visible disgust. Kabuto watched, calm, as the boy jerked away from his hand to step backward, silent only because he wasn't sure which protest to voice first. The struggle was plain on Sasuke's face: How was it possible that anyone would refuse his offer? And who in their right mind would ask for lip-service instead?

"What's the matter, Sasuke-kun?" Kabuto folded his arms, nonchalant in the face of Sasuke's immediate affront. "Would it really be so hard for you?"

"Ridiculous," Sasuke spat. "I refuse."

"Hmm," Kabuto shifted his glasses higher on his nose. "Well, I guess it can't be helped, then."

Kabuto replicated a dramatic, teenage sigh, and turned his back on the youngest remaining Uchiha, holding the nin-card out towards the blue flame of the closest Bunsen burner and blackening the corner.

In an instant, Sasuke's hand closed around his wrist. "Don't."

Kabuto shifted his eyes to meet the triple tomoe of the Sharingan, unwavering until Sasuke understood the bargain and said the words through his clenched teeth. "Kabuto-sama."

Only some of the tension eased when Kabuto smiled and allowed Sasuke to take the card from his hand. "There now. That wasn't too hard, hmm?"

"One week," Sasuke jutted his chin, petulant. "Don't get used to it."

Kabuto smirked, but nodded in acquiescence. "You may keep that card in your possession, if you like."

Sasuke tucked the card into a pocket and then he sneered, turning and making his way across the laboratory to the door.

"And what do you say to your sempai, Sasuke-kun?" Kabuto challenged, watching the boy halt and then force himself to turn on his heel.

Sasuke gave only the briefest of nods. "This isn't over. Kabuto-sama." With a lingering glare Sasuke took his leave, and Kabuto shook his head and watched him exit, listening to the echo of footsteps fading into silence.

What Sasuke hadn't yet realized was that the kind of submission he was learning personally from Orochimaru was not the only kind of submission he'd need to learn before their time was up.

Kabuto could well remember his first lessons on how to use his body as a weapon, how to find another's weakness and strum it to meet his own ends, vital skills that were refined at the hands of the Sannin—and a few others—from a very young age, just as Sasuke was learning now. Yet for Sasuke to offer himself, even in bluff, so quickly into the negotiations…

Orochimaru was slowly breaking Sasuke's body. Itachi had broken Sasuke's mind. That left Kabuto to break Sasuke's spirit.

Perhaps it was time for Sasuke to receive some different lessons, ones to balance his training and ones in which Kabuto felt certain Orochimaru-sama would approve. The boy was over-confident; walking the halls of Otogakure without ever addressing his superiors with the respect they were due. Kabuto wasn't so insecure that he needed to hear such words from a boy like Uchiha Sasuke, but it seemed that Sasuke hadn't thought their bargain through:

He'd never be permitted to address Kabuto as requested without offering the same courtesy to their master, Orochimaru.

Some things Orochimaru-sama would simply not excuse.

Kabuto walked over to the mirror hung behind his desk, examining the cuts on his neck and healing them instantly with a feather-light touch. Then he reached into his shuriken pouch and concentrated his chakra to withdraw the real card containing information on Uchiha Itachi, remembering again the time that he and Sasuke had officially met right before the previous Chuunin exam's first test.

In that room full of Genin, Sasuke had asked to see his cards with the confidence that Kabuto would tell him anything and everything he wanted to know, so young, cocky, and unaware that the great Sannin Orochimaru had set his sights on him. At that time Kabuto had obliged him and exposed the hidden information within his special collection, since the amiable gesture allowed him to learn about his master's target, slip under everyone's radar and taunt the competing members of Sound all at the same time, ensuring his cover would stay intact.

Kabuto glanced at the clock: Quarter past 3PM. The Chuunin exam would have barely begun. How ironic.

"Well, Sasuke-kun," he sighed, moving back across the room to where he'd been standing during the unexpected visit. "Getting your information this time is going to be much harder."

Kabuto slid the nin-card into the burner's blue flame, watching it ignite from behind glasses that reflected every spark and every cinder.

Sasuke would never guess that the card he had in his possession only held the secrets of his former teammate, Uzumaki Naruto. And Kabuto had a week—perhaps more; it depended on Sasuke's performance—to make a replacement card containing as much information as Orochimaru-sama would allow Sasuke-kun to know and none of the information Kabuto could add, were he willing.

He wasn't. He'd paid the price for it himself; it was his.

"After all," Kabuto whispered, watching the stiff paper morph into fragile wisps and curls of ash. "You're not the only one with unfinished business, Sasuke-kun."

He picked up his clipboard and returned to scribbling data. "And you shouldn't forget—Orochimaru-sama was my sensei, too."