"…The mission has failed…"

"…Take me back…"

"Orochimaru-sama…! Orochimaru-sama, please, no!"

"Orochimaru-sama…"
Orochimaru could barely feel Kabuto next to him anymore. The fever was carrying him higher and higher, and so were Kabuto and Tayuya. Kabuto had taken Orochimaru's body in his arms just as the fever from Sarutobi's curse had taken over, and Orochimaru had struggled to stay conscious. His efforts had failed, however, and he had to beg Kabuto to keep him conscious. Kabuto had refused, telling him to sleep, and maybe the pain wouldn't be so bad. Orochimaru had insisted, but Kabuto had gently placed a hand on his forehead and put him to sleep. Now, Orochimaru was waking, and it seemed that Sakon and Jiroubou had switched off with Tayuya and Kabuto to carry him.

"Kabuto, he's waking."
Orochimaru slowly opened his eyes to Kabuto's smiling face. "Yes, I know," he said. "I'm carrying him, too, Tayuya."
Tayuya had sighed. "Okay stop for a minute!" she called back. "Kidomaru, how far?"

"Another half a mile and we'll be at the gates of Otokagure," the spider-nin replied. Tayuya nodded.

"Kabuto, keep him stabile. And hurry, we need to get him into a hospital!"
Kabuto nodded, and Orochimaru felt a hand pressed to his shoulders, then his forehead. His consciousness faded out again, and the painful world became completely black.

OOOOOOOOOO

Orochimaru woke up again in a much calmer environment.

Something cold and wet slid down his temples, and his raven hair was plastered to his face, slick with sweat. His entire body was damp and sticky with it, and he could feel a cold, wet cloth on his forehead. Apparently Kabuto had been trying to bring his temperature down…Silk sheets encircled his body, and he lay in a large, very comfortable bed. Many pillows had been stacked behind him, probably by Kabuto, and several more had been placed around him and underneath his head. His shirt was gone, as were his pants; he had been stripped down to boxers! He hoped it was Kabuto who had done this, or Kimimaro, or someone else close to him…this was just humiliating!

"Kabuto," he tried to say, but it only came out a weak rasp. "Kabuto," he tried again, and this time the silver-haired teen turned back to him.

"Orochimaru-sama!" he gasped, and he was at his side in an instant. "Do you need anything? How long have you been awake? Are you-?"

"…Do you have anything to drink…?"

Kabuto nodded and stood up. Orochimaru noticed he was in a small room that looked like…

"Kabuto…why am I in my room…?"

"I thought you would be more comfortable," the boy replied. "I know how much you hate hospitals…"
Orochimaru nodded and waited while Kabuto tracked back to his side, a glass of water in his hand. Orochimaru felt a hand on his forehead, removing the cold cloth. Kabuto's hands were soon set on his back, carefully lifting his body into a sitting position.

"Why doesn't it hurt…?"

"I was able to disconnect and rearrange the nerves in your upper arms and shoulders. The effect is not permanent; it should wear off in an hour or so. But in the meantime, you will be numb. And now is a good time to start getting used to not using your arms, since you will be numb."

Orochimaru nodded, and Kabuto helped him drink, the cold water rushing down the back of his throat. Orochimaru almost choked at the first gulp, but soon he had drained the entire glass.

"I'll get you a little more in a few minutes," Kabuto said, letting him lay back again. "I don't want to vomit."

Orochimaru nodded and Kabuto set the glass aside. Kabuto carefully lifted Orochimaru's body into his lap, and Orochimaru felt a wave of nausea wash over his body.

"Kabuto, I'm going to be sick-"

Kabuto had him turned onto his stomach in seconds, and Orochimaru felt his stomach turn over and empty onto the floor. Orochimaru remained on his stomach, panting, and Kabuto held him securely around the torso and hips. Orochimaru retched again and whimpered, feeling a fresh wave of pain come up with the vomit.

"Kabuto…" Orochimaru whispered. "It hurts…"
Kabuto very, very carefully lifted Orochimaru back into his lap and focused healing chakra to his hand. "Where?"

"My stomach…"
Kabuto nodded and rested his hand on Orochimaru's stomach. Orochimaru gasped at the sting, but eventually it wore off and he was left breathing hard in Kabuto's arms.

"Thank you."

Kabuto nodded and pressed Orochimaru to his chest, holding him close enough for each other to share breath.

"You know I would do anything for you."
Orochimaru gasped at another barrage of pain, and Kabuto had spun him back onto his stomach just in time. Orochimaru retched violently, spilling stomach acids on top of the vomit already covering the floor. Kabuto held his hair back out of the way as Orochimaru released the contents of his stomach, then picked him up again and held him against his body while he wiped the vomit from Orochimaru's mouth.

Orochimaru fought down another whimper as the feeling in his arms began to return.

"I know, just try to hold still," Kabuto whispered. He felt every ounce of his master's pain; it hurt him to see Orochimaru suffering so much. Orochimaru's stomach was soon pressed to the mattress and Kabuto's hands were running over his back, pressing and pushing at knots of pain and tension in Orochimaru's shoulders. Orochimaru whined as Kabuto hit a bruise; one of many, from what Kabuto could tell.

"Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto said quietly. Orochimaru turned his head to look at Kabuto.

"Release the genjutsu. I need to see how badly you were injured."

Orochimaru sighed, and Kabuto felt a huge release of chakra. New bruises suddenly appeared over Orochimaru's entire body, and Kabuto gasped.

"Don't ever hide this from me again!" he scolded. Orochimaru gave him a glare, but said nothing as Kabuto's hands glowed with green chakra again. Kabuto's skilled hands ghosted the bruises on Orochimaru's body, healing chakra pouring into his body. Orochimaru shivered; Kabuto's hands felt like ice on his abused back.

"Shhhhhh, quiet, now," Kabuto said. "The feeling will be back in your arms in a few minutes, and from what I've seen of you it's beginning to come back already."
Orochimaru nodded, and Kabuto's hands worked at Orochimaru's stiff, overworked muscles, pressing the feeling back into them. As Kabuto worked, he felt Orochimaru begin to relax under his palms, and he slowly inched closer and closer to the sannin, pressing down into his smooth, supple back. Finally, Kabuto was close enough to throw his leg over Orochimaru's back and straddle his hips.

And he did.

Kabuto carefully lowered his weight to Orochimaru's hips, perfectly balancing himself on his master's beaten, broken body so he was resting in a comfortable position for Orochimaru. Orochimaru felt powerful thighs capture his own, squeezing gently to hold him down. Kabuto's hands glowed with chakra again, and he rested them on top of a particularly nasty bruise.

"Hold still, now," he murmured, and Orochimaru obliged. The bruise quickly vanished under Kabuto's hands, and Orochimaru held completely still as this was repeated on every mark on his body.

"There," Kabuto purred. His hands ran through Orochimaru's tangled hair, separating the knots and carefully brushing it out.

"Kabuto…"

"What, Orochimaru-sama?"

"There is someone at the door."
Kabuto looked up, confused. "How do you know?"

Orochimaru smiled, but it went unseen by Kabuto. "The snakes tell me."

Kabuto slowly picked himself up and went to the door to Orochimaru's rooms and opened it. Sure enough, Kimimaro stood in the doorway, looking very anxious.

"Can I see him?" he asked, the second Kabuto opened the door. Kabuto sighed.

"He has a very high fever, he's stressed, and he's about to regain feeling in his arms. Are you sure-?"

"Yes, let me see him!" Kimimaro pushed past Kabuto and ducked into Orochimaru's room.

"Orochimaru-sama!"

"Kimi, you left the door open," Kabuto scolded, shutting it behind him. Kimimaro ignored him, lifting Orochimaru into his small lap.

"Orochimaru-sama, are you all right?"
Orochimaru shook his head. "Where's Kabuto?"

"I'm here," Kabuto murmured, lowering himself to the bed next to Kimimaro.

"Watch the puke," Kabuto warned, stepping around the mess. Kimimaro moved his feet farther away from the pile of vomit, but Orochimaru barely felt a shift.

"Shhhhhh, it's okay," Kimimaro soothed, watching Orochimaru's face contort with pain. The sannin gasped and arched his back, closing his eyes and trying to fight it off.

"Orochimaru-sama, breath," Kabuto said quietly. "Deep. You'll feel much better, believe it or not."
Orochimaru gasped again, and Kimimaro's hand went to his hair and began stroking it in a comforting motion. Kabuto rested one of his hands on Orochimaru's forehead, trying to find his temperature.

"He's burning up again," he said sadly. His hand moved to Orochimaru's long, pale throat, searching for his pulse. "Heart is still strong, though." Kimimaro held Orochimaru down as the sannin let out a small cry of pain and twisted in his arms. "Kimi, hold him!" Kabuto said, he took Orochimaru's head in his hands and forced the snake to look at him.

"Orochimaru-sama, listen to me. Listen to me." Orochimaru's breathing sped up, fueled by the furious pain now beginning to ravage his body. A whimper rose in his throat, and Kabuto raised a hand burning with healing chakra.

"Quiet, hold still."
Orochimaru's panting increased as Kabuto pushed his hand into Orochimaru's shoulders, and Kimimaro's embrace tightened.

"Kabuto, are you-?"

"Yes, I'm finished, let him go."
Orochimaru didn't move.

Kabuto cautiously lifted the sannin into his lap and held him upright against his chest, stroking his hair. Orochimaru's ebony locks shone like the feathers of a raven, contrasting sharply with his pale, pale skin, colored like dull marble. His golden eyes shone with unbelievable pain, and his cheeks had dried tracks of a salty substance on them that weren't sweat. Kabuto ran his fingers through Orochimaru's hair and down the sides of his face, trying to comfort him in any way possible.

Orochimaru let out a small cry of pain as feeling returned more extensively to his arms. Kabuto's healing power could only dull the pain; never remove it. And that stung Kabuto: he was forced to watch while Orochimaru suffered endlessly, while he sat there and tried fruitlessly to bring his fever down from its 103 pitch. He felt so useless! Why couldn't he do anything more than stroke Orochimaru, trying to calm him down enough to pour more of his chakra into his broken, abused body. He had seen the blows dealt to Orochimaru during the battle, and could only imagine the pain he was going through right now as his arms deteriorated while still on his body. And along with them, deteriorated a dream; Orochimaru's dream. A dream that Kabuto would fight for, kill for, betray for, lie for, die for! And here it lay, dying like Orochimaru, while he just sat here, stroking Orochimaru and making an effort to make him comfortable. Kabuto felt something warm and wet slip down his face, and watched as it hit Orochimaru's battered cheek, landing in the corner of his eye. As the tear fell, Kabuto could feel his life crashing own around him, in the form of a useless life, thrown away-and for what?

"Kabuto," Orochimaru gasped. "There is…one person…who can heal me…and she will do it…"

"Who?" Kabuto said breathlessly. Orochimaru couldn't answer; he screamed n pain and began to writhe in Kabuto's grasp.

"Hold him!" Kabuto called to Kimimaro. "He can hurt himself like that!"
Kimimaro took hold of Orochimaru's hips and pinned him to the mattress, feeling Orochimaru's pain ripple through his body like a shock wave.

"Orochimaru-sama, who can heal you?" Kabuto asked, bending over Orochimaru. He slid a hand underneath Orochimaru's hair, splayed out around his face like the rays of a black sun. "Who can heal you?" Kabuto repeated desperately.

"Ts-Tsunade…" Orochimaru gasped. Kabuto handed Orochimaru to Kimimaro.

"Stay with him!" he instructed. "Switch off whenever you need to, but never leave him alone!"

"Where are going?" Kimimaro snapped, but he accepted Orochimaru from Kabuto's hands.

"Get him to sleep and you should survive. If his fever ever gets past where it is now, 103, call a medic immediately! Get someone to try and lessen the pain if you can. I am going to find Tsunade."

"But that could take months!" Kimimaro cried. "How are you going to-?"

"I know exactly where she is," Kabuto growled. He began running around the room, gathering objects necessary for Orochimaru's care. "This should only take a day, but if not, give him some of this, and this, and…try to get this into a vein, any vein, just get it into his system. It cannot be ingested, so don't get it down anyone's throat. Two of these, and two of these, twice a day."

"Just write it down!" Kimimaro said, frustrated. Kabuto sighed and found a piece of paper. "I'm burning it in with my chakra," he said. "Make sure he gets it all, make him swallow it if you have to." Kabuto grabbed his shuriken holster and kunai pouch from where they rested beside the bed. "I'm going, I should be back by tomorrow afternoon, but if I'm not, just give him…this." Kabuto handed Kimimaro the sheet of paper and strapped his shuriken holster to his thigh. "I'll be back." He leaned over and cupped Orochimaru's face in his hands, kissing him tenderly. "Please, please, be all right," he whispered, even though he doubted Orochimaru could hear him through the fog of pain in his mind. And then, he tore himself away from Orochimaru-

-And refused to look back.

If he did, he knew he would break.

OOOOOOOOO

Orochimaru faded in and out of consciousness the entire time Kabuto was away. He couldn't distinguish anymore who held him in their embrace, only that they tried to ease his pain. Several times, Kimimaro made him take a few pills, telling him Kabuto left them for him and he would feel better. Orochimaru thought they made no difference, but then he would fall into a deep, restless sleep, haunted by nightmares of Sarutobi's Reaper Death Seal. And then he would wake up screaming, half from pain, half from terror, and someone would rush to comfort him and quiet him, to tell him he was safe. And Orochimaru would simply lat there and panted, trying to breath. The fever blurred, and soon he had no sense of time, and sometimes even place. The fever came and went in intensity, and the Sound Five were doing their best to sweat it out of him. Every now and then, someone would try to take his temperature, but they weren't Kabuto, and it was rarely accurate. Twice, they called someone from the medical team, but whoever it was could not get an accurate reading either. Orochimaru would wake up and ask for Kabuto, but the boy was never there; still out on his mission, they told him, and from what Orochimaru could gather it had been a day and a half since Kabuto left.

The next time Orochimaru awoke, it was to shouting.

"Kabuto's back!"

"Is that Tsunade?"

"It is! Orochimaru-sama, Tsunade's here!"

Orochimaru slowly opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was…blonde.

"Well, well, well, if Sarutobi-sensei hasn't made a fine mess out of you," the other sannin sneered. "Fine, I'll heal you-but for a heavy price."

"Name it," Orochimaru panted. A flicker of concern crossed Tsunade's face, but only for a moment. She set one of her glowing-green hands on Orochimaru's chest.

"Better?"

Orochimaru nodded, his breathing eased. "Thank you."

"Let me through, I'm with Tsunade-sama!"

Tsunade turned around to see a slender, dark-haired girl pushing her way past the Otonin crowding Orochimaru's bedside. "Ah, Shizune-san," she said. "I've been waiting."

"Sorry, Tsuande-sama," Shizune puffed, "But those bone-heads were too stupid to move."
Tsunade smiled and turned back to Orochimaru. "All conditions must be met in full or I won't heal you. I'll also need a sample of your blood for a blood contract."

Orochimaru nodded.

"I'll do it."
Kabuto appeared next to Orochimaru out of a cloud of smoke. "How much do you need?" he asked, drawing a syringe from his kunai pouch.

"Enough to write his name."

Kabuto nodded and carefully inserted the needle into Orochimaru's chest. Orochimaru flinched, but allowed Kabuto to draw blood from a healthy vein.

"This should do it," Kabuto said. "Where's the scroll?"
Tsunade pulled a scroll from her own kunai pouch, unrolling it across the floor. "All right then," she said, slicing her index finger with a kunai. "You sign for him. I'll sign for myself."

Kabuto nodded. "Fair. What are your terms?"

"You stay away from Konoha. Period. If you need something, send someone for a representative from Leaf. We will meet and discuss whatever you want. Secondly: if you so much as breathe on any of my ninja, you will be dead. Unless they attack you for no reason, and I must have a blood oath swearing that you were. And if you lie or refuse the oath, you will die anyway. Third: send no ninja into our village; no assassins, no Akatsuki, no rogues. Nothing. Fourth: Don't you ever attempt to disgrace our village with your charades and games again. Stop your experiments on live subjects, and neutralize the curses on everyone you have placed them on. Release Sasuke. Fifth and last: this one is optional, but it comes with a bonus. Keep everyone else away from Konoha and/or sign an alliance treaty with us. Blood contract, of course, to make sure no one betrays it this time. If you disagree, speak now or forever hold your peace."

No one moved.

"I agree to everything."
Tsunade's eyebrows came up, but she said nothing in regards to Orochimaru's consent. "Okay, then," she said. "Sign."
Kabuto knelt down and dipped his thumb into Orochimaru's blood and began to write his name in smooth, even kanji.

"Being artistic?" Tsunade asked, voice dripping with sarcasm. Kabuto shrugged.

"It's a blood contract," he said. "It has to look good."

Tsunade sighed and waited until Kabuto was done to sign her own name underneath his. The second she finished, the contract exploded with chakra, sealing the deal. Tsunade rose.

"You know you will die if you violate that contract?"

Orochimaru nodded, and Kabuto stepped aside for Tsunade.

"Hold him down. And I want that cutesy little tongue of his restrained."

Kabuto sighed. "Orochimaru-sama, can you stand it for a minute?"

Orochimaru exhaled. "Just do it quickly."

Tsunade nodded curtly. "Kabuto and Shizune, work it out."

"Let me do this," Kabuto said quickly. "I know how to handle him."
Kabuto slid the ninja headband off his forehead and tied it across Orochimaru's mouth. The sannin held perfectly still as Kabuto straddled his hips again and gently pushed his hands into Orochimaru's shoulders. He nodded to Tsunade, and the kuniochi stepped forward.

Her hands lined with blue chakra, focused into a spinning disk of raw power.

"Genesis Recreation!"
Tsunade's hand made contact with Orochimaru's arm, and the snake screamed in agony. Stifled by the gag, it came out a pathetic mewl of pain. Kabuto felt Orochimaru try to thrash underneath him, and tightened his grip. Orochimaru felt a sting, then a burning sensation like pins and needles were being shoved into his flesh. Then just a brutal, horrible, shocking wave of pain.

Tsunade released Orochimaru's arm, and the skin slowly returned to its normal, stone white. Orochimaru lay still for a moment, just breathing hard. With Kabuto's headband over his mouth, he was having trouble forcing air in and out of his mouth. His nose and throat burned.

Kabuto released his mouth, and immediately Orochimaru began gulping down air. He hesitantly moved his arm, watching the skin change and feeling the pain wash away. He stared at Tsunade in shock, watching as the sannin ran her hands up and down his arm.

"Feel better?"
Orochimaru nodded numbly, flexing the muscles. Tsunade moved to the other side and firmly gripped his arm.

"Ready?"

Kabuto replaced the gag and held Orochimaru's shoulders down. Orochimaru slowly quieted, then nodded to Tsunade. The Hokage's hands glowed with the same wild chakra, and she plunged it into his arm. Orochimaru gasped at the pain, and Kabuto held him down again. Kabuto's hands were unrelenting on his shoulders; Orochimaru could feel the heels of the boy's hands digging into his collarbones, and began to squirm under his hands. Kabuto only tightened his grip, but Orochimaru continued to fight him.

"Orochimaru-sama, please, try to keep still!" Kabuto gasped, panting with the effort of restraining the sannin. Orochimaru ignored him, blind with pain.

Tsunade released Orochimaru's wrist and jumped back. "Get out of the way!" she called to Kabuto. "Let him sort himself out!"

Kabuto jumped off to the side of Orochimaru, trying to give him room to figure out where he was. The bed was so big, however, that Kabuto simply fell to its edge and rolled off, onto the floor. Tsunade waited while Orochimaru pushed himself up, panting and struggling to breath properly. Slowly, Kabuto rose and made towards his master to check if the jutsu had worked.

The deadened skin was returning to its normal pallor, and Kabuto's eyes widened with shock. What kind of ninja could reverse the jutsu…?! Kabuto watched as Tsunade walked to Orochimaru's side and seized his wrists, yanking him up to her face.

"And you watch it," she hissed in his ear. "You owe me your life. Given another few days, that jutsu would have killed you. The dead skin would have turned into cancer and taken over your body."
Orochimaru's eyes widened as Tsunade's face descended to his, and waited nervously as she moved her mouth next to his. "And Orochimaru, you owe me huge."
Orochimaru nodded fervently as Tsunade pulled his hands down and pinned them to his sides. "Tsunade…?"

"Shut up."

"Tsunade, please think twice-"

Orochimaru abruptly silenced by-

Tsunade lips crushed to his own?!

Orochimaru looked so stunned as Tsunade withdrew she almost asked him if he was having a stroke. A smirk crossed the kuniochi's face, and she stepped back to Shizune.

"Shizune, the scroll."
The girl nodded and picked up the scroll, neatly rolling it up. "Let's go."

Orochimaru fell back against the pillows, and Kabuto jumped to his side.

"Orochimaru-sama, are you all right?"
Orochimaru nodded, his eyes closed. Kabuto's hands slipped underneath Orochimaru's head, lifting him into his lap. "Orochimaru-sa-?"

"I'm all right," Orochimaru murmured. "Get me something to drink."
Kabuto nodded and helped Orochimaru sit up against the pillows, adding more to support him. Kimimaro immediately slipped into Kabuto's spot next to Orochimaru's head, carefully stroking his ebony hair to calm him down again. Kabuto went into the kitchen to find another glass of water for Orochimaru.

"Oroch, we'll be seeing you," Tsunade said as way of dismissal. "Or not." She and Shizune disappeared in clouds of smoke, and Orochimaru set his head on Kimimaro's knees.

"You make a good pillow."

One of Kimimaro's eyebrows came up. "Thank you?"

"You're welcome."

Tayuya shoved several Otonin out of the way and sat down next to Kimimaro beside Orochimaru. "Good morning. Still delirious with pain?"

"Shut up, Tayuya. Kimimaro, the soap is in the top drawer in the last set of-"

"I know where it is," Kimimaro interrupted. "Should I get it?"

"Yes," Orochimaru said. "Shove it down her throat."

They were cut off by a squeak from Tayuya as she fled the scene. "Aw, Orochimaru-sama!" she called back as she ran. An illusion overtook her soon, hiding her from sight.

Kimimaro sighed.

"I'll get her later. For now, try not to stress yourself."

Orochimaru nodded and closed his eyes just as Kabuto returned with the glass of water.

"Sit up."
Orochimaru meekly obeyed, not knowing why he didn't backhand the boy for insolence. Kabuto handed him the glass, and Orochimaru had drained it in seconds.

"Sleep, okay?" Kabuto said, taking the glass back. Orochimaru nodded and Kimimaro moved him off to the side, back into the middle of the bed.

"I'll stay with you if you want."
Orochimaru shrugged and pulled the sheets up over his bare chest. "If you must. I'll be all right now."

Kabuto nodded. "Okay, people, party's over, get back to your lives!"

Most of the Otonin departed with a bit of grumbling, but the Sound Five stayed with Kabuto.

"Can we stay, too?"
Kabuto shrugged. "Ask Orochimaru-sama."

"As long as I can sleep, I do not care."

"Okay, then," Kabuto said. "Do what you want, as long as you can do it quietly."

"Kabuto, I want lunch," Jiroubou whined.

"You always want lunch, Jiroubou," Kabuto said exasperatedly. "Fine, I'll make you something. Orochimaru-sama?"

"I'm sleeping. Make me something when I wake up."

"All right," Kabuto said. "Come on," he said to the Sound Five. "Let's leave him to sleep."

Tayuya appeared in a corner out of an illusion.

"Is it safe to come out?"

Orochimaru sighed, picked up one of the many pillows behind him, and hurled it at the kuniochi. Tayuya screamed overdramatically, ducking the pillow as Orochimaru threw it.

"Orochimaru-samaaaaaaaaaa!" she whined.

Orochimaru threw another pillow at her head.

"Orochimaru-samaaaaaaaaa!!"

"Oh, my God, Tayuya, shut up or go away!!"

"Orochimaru-samaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!"

"Tayuya, you might wanna get out of here," Kidomaru said dryly. "He's got all kinds of things buried in those pillows, and frankly I don't want to stick around to find out what else."

A kunai slammed into the wall just above Tayuya's head.

"Yipe! Everybody run!"

Kabuto sighed as he watched a flurry of shuriken chase the Sounds out of the room. He's fine.

OOOOOOOOO

Orochimaru slept a very long time.

He only woke up because, being a slight sleeper, Kabuto had come in and placed a blanket at the foot of his bed. Orochimaru had raised his head, somewhat out of it, and asked Kabuto,

"What's that for?"

"It's going to get very cold tonight, Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto had warned. "I'm leaving a couple for you, just in case. I know you just had a fever, so it's important that you stay warm."

Orochimaru nodded an promptly dropped off again.

The next time he woke was several hours later; again to Kabuto coming in, but this time it was freezing.

Shivering, Orochimaru sat up. "Kabuto, why is it so cold?"

Kabuto threw some wood into the fireplace and replied, "I told you it was cold."

Orochimaru sighed and reached for the blanket Kabuto had left before. He found that there were two, and pulled both up over his body. Kabuto lit the wood aflame with a simple fire jutsu, and let it burn slowly. He watched as Orochimaru shivered, then walked over to him and sat down next to him on the bed.

"Still cold?"
Orochimaru nodded and turned, trying to find a warm spot on the bed. Kabuto sighed, kicked off his shoes, and slid into the bed next to Orochimaru. The sannin felt strong arms encircle his shoulders, and flinched at the contact.

"Kabuto, what are you doing-?"
A warm body was pressed into his, and Orochimaru found himself pulled into Kabuto's soft chest.

"Try to sleep," Kabuto said quietly. "I'll stay here and keep you warm."

Orochimaru settled against Kabuto's chest; already he was warming up…it was comfortable in Kabuto's embrace…he could fall asleep in his arms…

And he did.

OOOOOOOOO

Orochimaru woke up a third time snuggled against a warm chest.

"Kabuto!" he cried, rocketing away from his servant. Kabuto lifted his head and looked at Orochimaru, something like a smirk on his face.

"Warmed up?"

Orochimaru sighed and turned to his dresser. A small clock rested atop it, hands pointing to nine in the morning. Orochimaru sighed.

"I overslept!"

Kabuto shrugged. "I got up and did everything that needed to be done. I'm surprised you didn't wake up then."

Orochimaru swung his feet over the side of the bed, throwing back the covers and blankets. He gasped as his feet touched the floor; it was still the cold stone it had always been, even though Kabuto had built a fire. Orochimaru practically ran to his closet; it was freezing, period, and all he was wearing was a pair of pants. Kabuto watched him, smiling, as he ran back and forth, gathering his clothes and then rushing into the bathroom. Kabuto exhaled, and then crawled out from underneath the warmth of the sheets. A bit of Orochimaru's body heat still lingered on the sheets, and Kabuto sighed as he felt himself leaving it. Orochimaru emerged from the bathroom only a minute later, as Kabuto was pulling on his boots, fully clothed and still looking freezing. Kabuto smiled and tied the laces on the first boot.

"Good morning."

Orochimaru sighed and dug around in the cabinets for the can of coffee he was fairly certain was in there somewhere. Kabuto finished lacing up the second boot and tied the knot, watching Orochimaru search for the coffee.

"Orochimaru-sama, you're never going to find it."

"I know."

"So…why are you still looking…?"

"I'm trying to keep myself moving. Why are you so warm, anyway?"

Kabuto smirked again, and Orochimaru barely fought down the urge to backhand the boy for insolence. "I'm special that way."

Orochimaru sighed and gave up on the coffee. Kabuto handed him a blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders.

"Go curl up on the couch for a minute," he said. "I know exactly where the coffee is. But I also know where the hot chocolate is."

Orochimaru sighed, pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders, and slumped down on the couch. Kabuto caught the hisses that slipped past his lips, and a snake slithered out of another room. Kabuto shuddered; his master's bond with the snakes was extensive enough to call them at will. And they came. Now, the snake slipped underneath the blanket Orochimaru was clutching around his shoulders and wrapped around his body, warm, dry scales slithering over his shivering form and caressing the smooth muscles under the thin robes. Orochimaru sighed with relief, and thanked the snake for coming to him. The snake hissed in reply, and Orochimaru smiled and ran his hand over the snake's long, flat head, which was resting on his shoulder.

"You know, I could have done that," Kabuto commented dryly.

"But the snake can't make coffee."

Kabuto paused. "This is true," he said slowly. The snake's tongue flicked out and affectionately licked Orochimaru's neck. The sannin closed his eyes and leaned into the snake's embrace and placed one of his hands lightly on its head.

Isn't it nice to be loved without fear, Orochimaru-sama?

Orochimaru looked up at Kabuto with murder in his eyes.

Ooooo, was that out loud?

Kabuto ducked his head, a flush coming to his cheeks. "I'm sorry."

Orochimaru smirked and rested the snake in the curve of his neck. "What was that about being loved without fear?"

Kabuto handed Orochimaru a cup of hot chocolate and sat down next to him. "How possessive is the snake?" he asked.

Orochimaru looked at the snake and began hissing quietly.

"His name is Sotto Voce, first of all, and he says he will be watching you, but he will allow you to do anything I permit you to do."
Kabuto nodded. "Tell him I said thank you, and I respect his wishes."

"He can understand you."

"Very well, then," Kabuto said. "Thank you, Sotto Voce."

The snake hissed at him.

You may call me Sotto.

Kabuto nodded and extended the steaming mug to the snake. "Want some?"

Sotto visibly recoiled. No…thank you…

Kabuto shrugged. "More for me."

Orochimaru slowly took a sip from the mug Kabuto had handed him and smiled. "This is good. What did you use?"

Kabuto shrugged. "Just a few pieces of chocolate and some milk," he said slowly. "Simmer it on the stove for a minute or two."
Orochimaru shrugged. "It's good," he repeated, and Kabuto flushed again, somewhat embarrassed at the praise. Sotto shifted on Orochimaru's shoulder and dipped his tongue into Orochimaru's cup. The snake shot backwards like a truck in reverse.

Orochimaru smiled. "Were you burned?"
No, Sotto said sourly. But I officially do not like chocolate. My kind does not take to it well in the first place.

Orochimaru shrugged. "Do you consider me one of your kind?"

The snake lifted its head haughtily. To an extent.

Orochimaru smiled. "Thank you."

So you know how highly we pride ourselves on being an elite and exclusive race.

Kabuto glanced at Sotto. "Your name is Sotto Voce, which means 'in low tones' or something along those lines. Does that derive from anything? A species trait, a special ability?"

Sotto lifted his head and snaked it forward to stare at Kabuto. You have a sharp one on your hands, Orochimaru-san. He can be so much of an advantage to you. Prize him highly, but do not underestimate him.

Orochimaru smiled. "Yes, he is an asset to me."

Sotto returned his head to Orochimaru's shoulder and licked his jaw again. Orochimaru settled back against Kabuto, and the boy slowly wrapped his arms around his master's shoulders. Sotto eyed Kabuto curiously.

You allow him to touch you so affectionately?

Orochimaru nodded. "I consider him my own."

You consider him your son?

"Yes."

Sotto glanced at Kabuto, and then nuzzled Orochimaru's neck. So be it. Then I consider him my brother.

"Thank you, Sotto," Kabuto said. The snake regarded him highly, as Kabuto knew. Snakes were often cold, and even cruel, to people they disliked or did not trust. For Sotto to trust Kabuto simply because Orochimaru did was incredible for a snake.

Orochimaru glanced at Kabuto. "It's too quiet around here. Where is everyone?"

"I sent the Sound Four to retrieve Sasuke today," Kabuto said. "Kimimaro is in the hospital again…most of the Otonin are helping the Sound Four with Sasuke…beyond that, I do not know."

"Don't touch my bunny!!"

"Come on, I just want the ears!! Please?!"

"NOOOOOO!!!!"
Orochimaru sighed. "Jiroubou wants the ears on Tayuya's chocolate bunny?"
Kabuto nodded. "Sounds like it. I swear she saves it just to torture him. Every year, on exactly this day, she eats her chocolate bunny from months ago."

Orochimaru shrugged. "I would too."

"You're an evil person, Orochimaru-sama."

"Don't you ever forget it."
Orochimaru gave a small, involuntary shiver, and Kabuto reached around and put another blanket around his shoulders. Sotto looked at Orochimaru, and then settled once again on Orochimaru's shoulder.

Orochimaru, are you really this cold?

Orochimaru nodded, and Sotto smiled.

You should consider dressing more warmly, and maybe you wouldn't have this problem.

Orochimaru sighed. "All you of you be quiet."

Sotto tightened his grip on Orochimaru and slithered up and down, trying to warm him. Kabuto sighed as Orochimaru's door swung open and Tayuya and Jiroubou charged in, screaming.

"Get away from my bunny!"

"I just want the ears!!"

"Orochimaru-sama!"

"Orochimaru-sama!!"

"OROCHIMARU-SAMA!!!!!"

Orochimaru flinched as both Otonin screeched at the same time. He extended his arm, and Sotto slid forward along it.

"Go."
The snake leaped forward, hissing and spitting. Jiroubou yelped and ran first; it took Tayuya a second to realize that Orochimaru had set his snake loose, and then she squealed and ran. Orochimaru sighed and silently instructed Sotto to chase them until someone dropped him a treat. He could eat it, and then do what he wished.

Orochimaru finally leaned back and finished his hot chocolate.

"Kabuto," he mused. "What would you do if I gave you an entire day to do whatever you wanted?"

Kabuto shrugged. "I don't know…eat Tayuya's chocolate bunny, I guess…"
Orochimaru smiled and set his cup down on the low coffee table in front of them. He slowly pulled his legs up to his chest and bent them to the side, leaning on Kabuto for support. Kabuto set his own cup aside, wrapping his arms around Orochimaru. The sannin closed his eyes, tired and spent from the day. Kabuto sent out a wave of chakra and the candles all sputtered out, giving Orochimaru the darkness to sleep.

A/N: Another one of my huge one-shots…and Sound fluff. Hope everyone likes, the last one was really a hit, and I had to do something for Orochimaru's curse…bleh. Hope everyone likes, no flames, thank you good night!! .