Title: His Tender Blows

Rating: T, for wounds of an icky nature.

Written for: 24hourthemes on LJ, 10pm.

Author: Lell

Summary: As Tayuya's skull slammed into the wall with a sound like an iron bar slamming into a hunk of raw meet, she cursed those cowardly enough to sleep while she spent her time as a target. Sound Four study. Plus Kimimaro.


It was late in the evening (though one never could tell in the dank, timeless gloom of the underground base) and the air down there smelt damp and musty. The gradual dripping sound of leaking water from some crack in the foundations managed to sound lethargic as the hours rolled on towards midnight. The rats, allowed to remain as fodder for Orochimaru's little pets, skittered around in search of whatever titbits might have been dropped by some slovenly guard and their nails clicked against the cold, cold granite. The guards themselves yawned, bored by the tedious duty assigned mostly by lot (and, naturally, going to the losers) and discussed where their next change of accommodation would be to and when.

Most of the soldiers slept, or were at least in their rooms. Tensions were running high these days and it was never sensible to wander the labyrinth of halls and passages alone because the minions of the Snake-lord were partial to working their frustrations out on the flesh of others. By tacit agreement, their rooms (tiny cells more like considering how cramped they were) ended up as private little sanctuaries that nearly all retreated to.

Two hours before midnight and the world as they knew it was quiet. Their bellies were full and they had at least six hours of rest before they had to return to their vicious life cycle once more.

As Tayuya's skull slammed into the wall with a sound like an iron bar slamming into a hunk of raw meet, she cursed those cowardly enough to sleep while she spent her time as a target.

Kidoumaru was already wheezing on the floor, the pale gleam of bone shining wetly through the torn flesh of the crater dug carved out into his shoulder. Jiroubou was standing, barely, but his face was more pasty than usual (ashen with blood loss, really) and Tayuya imagined that those slippery things with a purple sheen clutched in his meaty hands were his own guts. At least she thought they might be – she couldn't see them all that well with the spots of light dancing in front of her eyes.

Kimimaro stared down at her through the whirling halo and what she was able to see was that pitying sneer and his condescension, his superiority towards her, the weaker of the two of them because no one, no one at all was stronger than Kimimaro.

It made her mad. It made her murderous. It made her want to take that hauntingly beautiful face and destroy it with fire and steel and her bare hands until Orochimaru-sama no longer wished to behold him because, for all of them, that would be the worst punishment of all.

Instead, when he let go of her throat, her broken leg (a dismissive slap of his impossibly dense humerus had been enough to turn her kneecap to shards) wasn't enough to hold her up and she slipped down the wall to topple forwards.

The stone was rough and the grazes she gained on the hands she'd flung out to catch herself immediately burned ice-hot with the odd type of pain the scratches always produced. Her hands seemed to hurt more than her leg, but her pride was wounded the most and a humiliated Tayuya was a ferocious Tayuya.

She cursed. She swore with whatever breath she had left and her words damned him for being beautiful and strong, for being Orochimaru-sama's pet, but, mostly, for being the one to look down at her when she was weak and bleeding and turn away.

"Training's over," he intoned and, God, even his voice was rich and pure.

Tayuya's fingers scrabbled against the floor, just like the rats, and her voice cracked with passion, holding the anger of the scream she'd have let out if she had enough air in her lungs.

"Get back here, you fucking coward." She forced the words out through her dust-filled throat and struggled against the restraints of her own body. Shattered, she still fought and he was just walking away. "This isn't over!" Tayuya stared at his back (robes so clean, hair so long) and wanted to howl in anger. They, the Sound Four, may have been elite, but they were toys to him, little dolls against which he could hone his already perfect skills, and he broke them all with casual precision. He gathered them there (ordered them, actually, supercilious as you like) and made them fight in that low-roofed, dark room where long-range fighters like Tayuya and Kidoumaru were at a disadvantage.

It was hard to wrap genjutsu around a person's mind when you were impaled on their bones.

Tears of frustration and rage pricked at the corners of Tayuya's eyes and her nails were shredded where she'd scraped them against the unforgiving ground. The soft skin there bled and tore, but still she dragged herself forwards. Jiroubou's breathing was wet, liquid in his lungs, and the hiss from Kidoumaru was as much a warning as it was painfilled.

"You don't leave shit like this unfinished." He was further away now and still he ignored her. She hated being ignored (because that was what the swearing was about, her swearing and her unpleasantness and her flaming, flaming hair) and she could taste her own blood as it pooled on her viper's tongue. She spat in his direction. "Don't walk away from me, Kimimaro, because we're not done here. I'm going to kill you, bastard, I'm going to gut you for this." Her fury made her antagonistic, made her blind enough to ignore the part of her that knew Kimimaro was close to God in their little world and that you didn't mess with Orochimaru-sama's disciple because you ran and hid from him instead. "Come back and fight me, Snake's whore!"

"That's enough." A hand, delicate yet strong, cuffed her in the face and gripped her chin to force her to look up. Sakon's face was bloodstained and Ukon hung limply against his back, but he still had a body fit enough to walk and stand and pull her hair. "You're going to get us all killed, bitch." He looked down at her in disgust. "Do you have a fucking death wish? Think clearly and snap out of it."

The click of the door (Kimimaro would never do anything as inelegant as slam it) signified that it was just them in the room and the tension levels went down tangibly. Kidoumaru started coughing, the blood dribbling down his chin and a groan escaped Jiroubou's throat. You always, always held it all in until Kimimaro was gone because you never, never made yourself a target.

Unless you're crazy, and Tayuya had been.

Tayuya bared her teeth at Sakon in a feral snarl. "Get the hell off me, you fucking fairy."

And with that insult, normality was resumed, her murderous rage broken by sheer reality. In the aftermath of Kimimaro, the Sound Four began to pick up their pieces.

Sakon hauled her to her feet, not making much of an effort to prevent her any pain, but helping her up anyway because, whatever differences they had, however much they hated each other, they all hated Kimimaro more. In the face of a greater evil, you always chose the lesser one and they all had their scars from the pale prodigy, so Tayuya let him place her back on her feet. Her bloodstained hair clung wetly to her face and the world momentarily swam as a result of whatever the bone-bastard had done to her head when he'd slammed her against the wall.

"You look like shit."

"And I hate your face as well, faggot, so we're even."

"Tayuya, it's really not appropriate for you to—"

"Shut up, pig. And don't leave your guts anywhere where I can trip over them." Walking proved harder than she'd anticipated and she stumbled, but Kidoumaru was there to catch her. She scowled at him and he grinned back, all creepy like except he smiled like that all the time so it'd kind of lost its edge.

"Why don't we all totter down to see Nursie?" he suggested, smiling like the moron he was.

The thought of submitting to Kabuto's tender ministrations didn't improve Tayuya's already foul mood unduly and her string of profanity was answer enough. Kidoumaru chuckled, hefted her up more securely with one of his good arms and, just for shits and giggles, asked whether she needed to be carried.

When one filtered out the curse words and the threats of bodily harm it was apparent that, no, she did not wish to be carried, thank you very much.

The rats skittered on. Their little world was (mostly) quiet once more.