Orochimaru had no idea what to expect from this.

He had left Akatsuki only a week ago, and the wounds were so fresh and tender. He had only just managed to take another body, this one with both arms, and Orochimaru was wondering what Sasori could possibly want. He was well aware it could be a trap; he was almost certain it was. Only Sasori had signed the notice he had received, though, and it didn't have Pein's official seal on it. Maybe that was part of the plan…? Orochimaru took a deep breath and stepped out onto a long bridge, suspended over a rushing river. He crossed quickly and headed into the tree line, afraid of being seen. He continued a bit into the woods, searching for the tree Sasori promised he would have marked.

Well, the "X" on the tree off to the left seemed promising…

At a closer glance, Orochimaru could see that instead, it was a crude scorpion, etched into the tree by hands of cherry wood grasping a long knife of pure steel. Orochimaru took a step back and turned around, golden eyes flickering around and searching for Sasori. He knew the puppet master would be here any moment-he hated keeping people waiting. Finally, that shock of red hair came into view, and Orochimaru was surprised that Sasori wasn't inside Hiruko. But as the Akatsuki member came into clear view, Orochimaru could see why.

A small boy tagged at Sasori's heels, looking frightened and half-hidden behind Sasori. He was dirty all over; so much that Orochimaru wondered where he had come from. Half of the filth that the boy was covered with seemed to be blood, and it matted his silver hair and stuck to his pale skin. His dark eyes gazed up fearfully at Orochimaru, and he stepped back even more behind Sasori, one of his small hands clinging to Sasori's Akatsuki cloak and the other covering his mouth. He seemed afraid to speak, or even be noticed, but Orochimaru couldn't help but stare. Sasori, on the other hand, seemed not to care about the boy, and ignored him as long as the small footfalls followed him whenever he wanted them to.

"Orochimaru."

"Sasori."

Their greetings were curt and short, neither willing to fully acknowledge the other. A heavy silence fell between them, broken only when the boy let out a small whimper. "Shut up," Sasori muttered, and smacked the boy hard upside the face. The small child yelped and let out a dry sob, curling up against the tree and wondering what he had done wrong. Sasori gave a huff of exasperation and turned back to Orochimaru.

"Long story short, we found him on the battlefield and grabbed him before someone else could. He seems to have something about him as far as talent as a shinobi goes, but none of us have the time or the patience to develop that. So, we were wondering if you wanted him."

Orochimaru could tell that both Sasori and the boy wanted the other away. Sasori clearly treated the boy with disdain, and the child seemed infinitely afraid of his abusive master. Orochimaru slowly walked through the mud of the forest to crouch in front of the boy, golden eyes still locked into his dark ones. One of Orochimaru's long-fingered hands found the boy's chin; the other remained on one knee.

"What's your name?" Orochimaru asked softly. His voice was low, and almost gentle, and something about it was different than what one would expect from Orochimaru.

"K-Kabuto," the boy managed, "Yakushi Kabuto."

"How old are you?"

"Eight."

"Can you read and write?"

The boy nodded, not wanting to say anything as far as Orochimaru-or Sasori-went. Orochimaru remained staring at the boy for another minute, then slowly stood up and spoke the words that would change his life forever:

"I'll take him off your hands."

Sasori was almost surprised to hear this, but didn't care either way. "Well, Zetsu's been whining lately, so you're a lucky brat," he finally snarled, and seized Kabuto's long, silver hair. He threw Kabuto down at Orochimaru's feet facedown in the mud and walked away, ignoring the boy's pitiful cries of pain. He continued walking until he was long out of Orochimaru's sight, and out of hearing, never once even pausing or turning back.

And Orochimaru realized he was alone with Kabuto.

"Come here," he whispered, once again lowering himself to Kabuto's level. The boy whimpered and hiccupped once, then slowly pulled himself to his feet, wiping the worst of the mud off his face and approaching Orochimaru with distinct fear in his eyes. Orochimaru opened a scroll and summoned a first aid kit, then began wiping the grime off Kabuto's face. Throughout the entire thing, Kabuto would whimper and cry a bit more, upset with how he had been treated, but he would hold still as his wounds were cleaned and bandaged.

"What happened to you?" Orochimaru asked as he held one of Kabuto's hands in his own, bandaging a cut on his forearm. Kabuto gave a tiny shrug.

"I-I don't remember," he whispered. "All I remember is my mom…and my dad…leaving the house…and then, I went outside to look for my cat…and someone came up behind me…and hit me…and I don't remember anything after that. I'm sorry-"

"Hush, it's alright," Orochimaru murmured, recognizing the threat of tears. He knew exactly what had happened: a memory block, or a mind control. "To force an eight-year-old to go on a killing spree," Orochimaru muttered, "And then hand him over to the Akatsuki. Now that's a new level of genius." The sarcasm was evident in his voice, but Kabuto couldn't help another sob. Orochimaru sighed, watching the tears begin to fall again, and sealed the first aid kit away again in the scroll. "Come here," he said tiredly, eliciting a slow, hesitant reaction from Kabuto. He slid his hands under the boy's arms and lifted him up, settling him against his shoulder. The Akatsuki cloak he wore over his fishnet shirt and leather pants meant nothing to him anymore-but he figured that pretending meant little to nothing in today's world. Kabuto buried his face in Orochimaru's shoulder and clung to him like a burr, unsure of himself but wanting the comfort. And for the first time in what must have been years, Orochimaru felt himself growing attached to someone.

How could this one little boy steal his heart and grip it so?

OOOOOOOOO

"Calm down, it's just water!"

"It hurts!"

"That's because it's infected and needs to be cleaned out!"

"It hurts!"

Orochimaru's patience was wearing thin, even with the sobbing eight-year-old sitting on the medical table in front of him. He gave a long, slow exhale and let his head fall, then shook his hair out of his face and tried again. "Kabuto, shush. I need to wash this cut out, because there's an infection in it. I know it hurts, but you can't fight against me, because then it will hurt more. Understand?"

Kabuto gave a small nod, and Orochimaru firmly grasped his tiny wrist in his hand. The other picked up an alcohol pad and began running it over the wound, trying to ignore the whimpers of the boy he was currently trying to clean up. "Calm down," he said, feeling Kabuto begin to tremble. He remained concentrated almost fully on the wound, though, and didn't look up at all. While Kabuto's trembling had stopped for the most part, his shoulders would give an occasional hitch, and his breath came in shirt, gasping breaths. Finally, Orochimaru looked up, trying to see what was wrong.

Kabuto was crying.

Orochimaru finished bandaging the wound and then pulled Kabuto into his arms, feeling his hands clutch at the Akatsuki cloak he had never bothered to take off. Kabuto clung to him, crying his heart out, for a full ten minutes before finally pulling himself back under control. Orochimaru carefully eased Kabuto off his shoulder, staring into the boy's dark eyes.

"What's wrong?" he asked slowly. "It doesn't hurt that much, does it?"

Kabuto wordlessly shook his head, another hiccup rising in his throat. "You sure do a lot of crying, don't you?" Orochimaru remarked dryly. "Come on, you need to get yourself a bit more cleaned up, and there's only so much I'll do for you." Kabuto nodded wordlessly, but Orochimaru noticed him covering a flinch when he moved to wipe the tears off his face. Orochimaru's hand flashed up, grasping Kabuto's wrist and forcing it aside, the other hand forming half a hand sign.

"Kai!"

The genjutsu over Kabuto's body disappeared, revealing more injuries that Kabuto had obviously received from Sasori. Kabuto gasped and curled into a ball, quivering with fear. Orochimaru felt a sudden stab of sympathy towards the boy, and lifted a hand to heal him. Kabuto whimpered as the hand touched each of his wounds, but held still. Once he noticed the pain vanishing, however, he suddenly seemed interested in what Orochimaru was doing. Orochimaru was no medical ninja, but his healing would suffice for the moment. Kabuto seemed entranced as Orochimaru closed over a wound on his forearm, and wouldn't stop staring at the green chakra that was working its magic on his wounds. Orochimaru finished quickly, then helped Kabuto down from the table, setting him down on the floor as he washed his hands over a sink against the opposite wall.

A gentle tug on his Akatsuki cloak as he was drying his hands drew his attention down.

"What?" he asked, dropping the paper towel in the trash can in the space between the sink and the wall. Kabuto's face flushed and he immediately looked away, taking a sudden interest in his feet.

"Um…I was wondering…if you could teach me to do that…what you just did…"

Orochimaru shrugged slowly. "I suppose…sometime later though, alright?" One hand came to Kabuto's hair, gently patting the silver hair that lay underneath the dirt and blood. "Right now, you need food and clothes, so we can take care of that first, alright?" Kabuto nodded enthusiastically, and Orochimaru smiled in return. He turned to walk away, and could hear quick footsteps across the hard floor as Kabuto caught up to him.

A smaller hand slipped into his.

OOOOOOOOOOO

Orochimaru was dead tired.

It had been five days since he had taken the boy off Sasori, and he was proving to be a true asset. He was beyond intelligent, increasingly loyal, and seemed only to live to serve Orochimaru. The sannin found Kabuto to be relatively low-maintenance once he had gotten the boy cleaned up: he kept to himself, cleaned up after himself, managed to find his own food, make it himself, or get someone with time to kill to make it for him. Several had expressed concern to Orochimaru; concern he had already taken into account. Even so, Kabuto was allowed to stay, and Orochimaru found his company enjoyable at times. He knew that once the boy was more mature they would end up being good friends, and possibly even have more than a master-slave relationship.

"Orochimaru-sama?"

Orochimaru could hardly force himself to open his eyes. He had been taking a catnap in the sun on the roof, but somehow Kabuto had managed to find him again. "What?" he mumbled, golden eyes opening just a sliver. Kabuto was kneeling next to him, leaning over his face and staring at him.

"I-I have something to tell you…"

His voice was shaking with how upset he was, and Orochimaru could see that he wasn't happy at the moment. In fact, Kabuto's dark eyes were welling up with tears…

"Kabuto, what's wrong?" Orochimaru asked, slowly sitting up. He put one arm around Kabuto and gently embraced the child, knowing that he only needed a father's love at the time. He was so innocent-what could possibly be making him so-?

"I-I'm sorry, but he-he made me tell him!" Kabuto suddenly choked out. "He made me tell him everything! It was like I didn't have any control over my body-Orochimaru-sama, he wants to get you back for leaving Akatsuki, and he's making Sasori use me to find out what you're doing-I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"

Kabuto abruptly broke down into tears, clutching at Orochimaru's shoulders and burying his face in the sannin's neck. "Kabuto-Kabuto, calm down…Kabuto, breathe, you're going to be alright-" But even as he spoke the words, Orochimaru knew it wasn't true. He knew now why Sasori had insisted he take the child-he was only a tool for the Akatsuki to use, because such an innocent little child could hardly be suspect of such a crime. Orochimaru sighed and pulled Kabuto into his lap, trying to comfort the child to some extent. "Kabuto, you need to calm down," he whispered. "I can break his control over you, if you want."

Kabuto's head shot up, and he was suddenly interested. "Really?" he whispered. "O-Orochimaru-sama…could you really?"

"Of course," Orochimaru whispered. "I am stronger than Sasori; he holds no control over me, nor you, and poses a threat to neither of us." Orochimaru pressed a hand to Kabuto's forehead, underneath his bangs and up against his heated skin. "You're alright," the sannin whispered. "Just calm down, take a deep breath, and don't move."

Kabuto's eyes widened. "Don't move? Orochimaru-sama, what-aaaaaaaaah!!"

Orochimaru ignored Kabuto's sudden screams, forcing his chakra further into the child's mind and destroying the barriers around it. Kabuto continued to writhe and scream in agony in front of Orochimaru, trying to get his hand off his forehead. Orochimaru only fought harder, crumbling the last of Sasori's control over Kabuto's mind.

Kabuto collapsed to the ground the second he was released.

Orochimaru stood up slowly, staring down at Kabuto and waiting for the boy to move. He waited for a minute…then two…then three…Orochimaru was beginning to get worried. Had he damaged something else in Kabuto's brain? Orochimaru was about to bend over and check Kabuto's pulse when the boy's arm suddenly twitched. Orochimaru took a step back, still waiting. Kabuto's legs slowly moved underneath him until he was kneeling, then pushed him to his feet. Kabuto stood before Orochimaru, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth, shaking with the effort of standing, but smiling with victory.

"Orochimaru-sama," he finally whispered, staring up into Orochimaru's dark golden eyes, "I will serve you until I die, and I'll die to serve you."

A/N: Well, it popped into my head…just a short little five-chapter thing, one for two or three years of Kabuto's life maybe…up until Shippuuden, I guess. Or maybe one for each of the major incidents in Kabuto's life…? Well, I'm going for it, so put this on your alert list and be happy when the next chapter comes out. Toodles, all!!