Kabuto sat with Orochimaru for what could have been hours.

The two of them had taken off their shoes and walked, barefoot in the sand, down to the jetty, where they sat together on the rocks for the longest time. Their feet dangled into the peaceful water, lapping at the rocks below. Occasionally, they would share a soft, sweet, chaste kiss, barely lasting longer than a few seconds. Orochimaru, Kabuto knew, couldn't handle anything more. Eventually, though, Kabuto moved closer to Orochimaru and put an arm around his master's waist, encouraging him to move closer. To his surprise, Orochimaru did just that. He scooted closer across the smooth surface of the wave-worn rocks, shifting his weight to put his head on Kabuto's shoulder. Kabuto's hand came up almost automatically, running through Orochimaru's raven locks. It was a comforting gesture, and one that only Kabuto was ever allowed to give. Had anyone else even touched Orochimaru, they would be dead…or in Kabuto's wing of the infirmary in critical condition, if Orochimaru liked you. But this was one thing that only Kabuto was privileged with: to be able to touch Orochimaru without fear, simply for the pleasure of touching him. It was almost enchanting, to hold such sway over his master, and to see that Orochimaru trusted him that much. Kabuto loved these moments, and he got the feeling that, deep down, however much he didn't want to admit it, he liked them, too.


Kabuto glanced down at Orochimaru, almost startled by the sudden sound of the sannin's voice. He hadn't spoken since they reached the jetty. "What?" he asked softly, placing a gentle kiss on Orochimaru's forehead.

"What's going to happen…with Itachi?"

Kabuto sighed. He had been fearing this question ever since he had gotten Orochimaru back: ever since Itachi had come and gone. Not because he feared the answer. Not because he feared Orochimaru's reaction to the answer. No, he particularly feared this question, because he didn't have an answer. And what little he could scrape together to suffice as an answer was a poorly constructed half-sentence that offered no comfort, and usually offered quite the opposite. Try as he might, Kabuto couldn't pull together a decent response for Orochimaru-not to save his life, he swore.

"I don't know," he finally whispered, settling for the honesty over the lies that would only bring ruin upon them both. He felt bad about the negligence of the answer, but it was really the best he could offer. It seemed Orochimaru realized this, because he slowly sat up and turned, facing Kabuto and sitting sideways on the rock with his legs bent off to the side, still dangling slightly into the water. He still wanted to talk about it, though, and Kabuto let him. He had a right to ask, certainly, and more of a right to know the answer Kabuto had. Too bad Kabuto hardly had an answer at this point.

"I was thinking, actually, and I was wondering…what you thought of that night." Orochimaru seemed perfectly serious and rational, so Kabuto let him continue. "Do you think Itachi really meant it? Or do you think he was faking it to make us think he wasn't coming back, so we would drop our guard?"

Kabuto thought for a moment. He really hadn't given it much thought at all…he had just been trying to pick up the pieces, and he was pretty much preoccupied with that. "I honestly can't believe that he would…just leave, after all that. But, I also get the feeling that something larger is at play, here." Kabuto had offered his complete and honest opinion, and, yet again, it left him feeling rather incomplete. But still, he offered a bit more: "Pein showing up seemed completely random, and out of place. It takes so much more to lure him out, from what I have gathered. What with Sasori…and the Akatsuki. I really do think that there was something else going on, and that Akatsuki got scared. And then, of course, moved for you. I think they're after what you used to have…"

Orochimaru's brow furrowed in question. "I ask your pardon?"

Kabuto couldn't help but notice that Orochimaru didn't use the traditional use of the phrase, "I beg your pardon." Of course; he would think it was demeaning, to beg, even if that wasn't what the phrase had come to mean. Orochimaru was just like that. Kabuto took this as a sign that Orochimaru was starting to get back to himself again-and that was a very good sign. "I'm a bit confused, here; you'll have to excuse that."

Kabuto smiled and gently waved off the comment. "Nothing to forgive," he said. "That was for dramatic effect. You know, in the weird stories they write about our awkward epics suddenly made dignified? All those little fangirls try to build suspense by stretching out conversation unbelievably. It takes four lines and six dialogues to get across an affirmative, whereas normal people would just say 'yes, dammit!' And then, there's also the four pages of tragic past and a crying scene, where emotion is racked up to the highest, and then a plot twist. Predictable."

Orochimaru couldn't help it: he laughed. It wasn't even his usual, "I'm going to eat your face," laugh, it was a pleasant, true sound. It had a much lighter undertone to it, and Kabuto found that Orochimaru's true laugh almost sounded like a soft hum. It was beautiful, and Kabuto could hardly keep down the urge to just grab Orochimaru and kiss him. "My, my, you seem to know the business," he said slowly, moving to sit closer again to Kabuto. The silver-haired teen merely shook his head.

"Seen way too many sappy movies."

"Tayuya's fault?"

"Of course."

Orochimaru smiled. There was even something different about that: Kabuto could see it in his eyes. It was another true expression of emotion, and Kabuto found himself elated at the sight of it. How long, then, since Orochimaru had last smiled? And truly smiled, not the sadistic smirk he usually wore? It was amazingly beautiful…simply amazing. "Anyway," Orochimaru continued, tossing his lengthy hair back over his shoulder, "What were you saying?"

"I was mentioning that Pein and Itachi wanted something from you-or rather, Pein did. He was just getting Itachi to do his dirty work, by preying on Itachi's strong lust for you. I think that Pein wants your ring, or he wants you. He doesn't want you leaking any secrets, and he only recently figured out the supposedly best way to do it. Or, he just wants the ring. You kind if made off with it when you left…that creepy hand of yours? Yeah, that's it."

Orochimaru gave off a disparaging snort of laughter, waving off the comment. "That freak can just go cry in a corner," Orochimaru snapped, "Because he's not getting it back!"

Kabuto smiled. That was much better! Orochimaru sounded like he was coming back from what Itachi had done and, while he was nowhere near one hundred percent again, he was closer than ever before. Now, if only it would stay that way…

"I'm glad you're feeling better," he commented lightly, drawing one knee up to his body. His foot left droplets of water spattered across the stone, looking like teardrops had fallen from the eyes of a once-broken snake…

Kabuto perished the thought.

Orochimaru was fine, and would be from now on. Kabuto knew he would need to fight for it, though. Itachi wouldn't be easy to stave off, especially with his strong desires for Orochimaru. But Kabuto had confidence in Orochimaru: when the sannin wanted something, nothing short of utter despair and a brutal beating could persuade him otherwise. And even then, Orochimaru usually looped around for round two. He was far too intelligent to do it the same way twice, unless it was truly the smartest thing to do. Kabuto could easily see Orochimaru taking care of this one-with a bit of support, of course, but it would be an easy task if Orochimaru set his mind to it…

"Love? What's wrong?"

"Love?" Since when had Orochimaru used such affectionate terms? And since when was Kabuto the object of said affectionate terms? Kabuto shook it off. He had heard Itachi refer to Orochimaru as "love" more than once, and thought that maybe that was where the term has surfaced from in the recesses of Orochimaru's mind.


Kabuto jerked back to reality, and found himself staring at a rather concerned-looking Orochimaru. He found himself staring into those beautiful eyes, and was speechless all over again. He mentally smacked himself, though, scaring himself back into reality-yet again. "Sorry," he whispered, tearing his eyes away from Orochimaru. An even more concerned look passed over Orochimaru's face, and he lipped closer to Kabuto, raising a hand to his love's face.

"What?" he murmured, gently settling his hand on the side of Kabuto's face. "Did I say something?"

Kabuto's head snapped back around to stare at Orochimaru in shock. "Orochimaru-sama-! God, no, Orochimaru-sama! It's not you…well, actually it is, you're just…" Kabuto took a deep breath, seeing the sudden hurt on Orochimaru's face. He knew he would have to explain himself fast to avoid truly hurting Orochimaru. "You're just so perfect, and in every way…you're beautiful, and you just capture me, and you don't let me go. And the way you're referring to me as your lover now…well, it's more than I deserve, to be the lover of such a beautiful, striking creature. Surely you were created from the hands of God himself, with such beauty."

"But my mind sure came from Satan," Orochimaru said softly, settling back to himself. But, as his hand fell from Kabuto's face, the genin raised his own hand and caught it, gently cradling Orochimaru's hand in his own.

"Impossible, if it is capable of recognizing pain and asking about it," Kabuto rebuked, placing a soft kiss in the palm of the hand he now held. "You might not be an angel, but you're not a devil, either."

Orochimaru's smile eased all of Kabuto's fears. "Now that, I can live with," the sannin said, and Kabuto knew he had gotten past that obstacle. He was happy, really. The genin stood up, but kept his hold on Orochimaru's hand. He then pulled the sannin to his feet, taking him in his arms and offering a slow, sweet kiss. Orochimaru accepted gladly, leaning in closer and wrapping his arms around Kabuto's neck. A soft, gentle pair of hands settled on his hips, slowly massaging Orochimaru's hips to get him reacquainted with the feel of another person's hands so close, and so intimate-without pain or fear. Surprisingly, Orochimaru seemed to take well to the gestures, only a small ripple of fear shown in the smallest hesitation in his kiss. But it was more than Kabuto had even hoped for, and decided not to push it. His hands remained on Orochimaru's hips, slowly moving in circles over Orochimaru's hips. He tried to stay as far away from the center line of Orochimaru's body as he could, for his master's comfort and sanity. He was being as gentle as possible; this wasn't supposed to be stressful in any way, shape, or form.

"Well, well, well, looks like anyone can find happiness."

Kabuto jerked away from Orochimaru, gasping with surprise at the foreign voice. He shouldn't be here; he shouldn't be anywhere even remotely near here! Kabuto's hands immediately tightened on Orochimaru's hips, and his hands slid up to encircle the snake's back. One came up to press between Orochimaru's shoulder blades, holding him close. Orochimaru, in return, crowded closer, shrinking into Kabuto's hands and practically coming out and begging him to keep him safe. Kabuto would anyway; the unspoken plea reached his ears, and tore at his heart like a knife. "What are you doing here?" Kabuto snarled, turning his head to face the intruder. The man gave a small, one-shouldered shrug.

"Came to apologize. Felt guilty, I guess."

"You?" Kabuto snorted. "You?" he repeated, and for a moment, thought he blacked out with shock. "You're the cause of all this! You're the one who raped him, beat him, kidnapped him, held him against his will-!"

"I know what I did!" The sudden outburst caused the raven-haired man to raise his hand in a gesture of anger, but just as quickly, he lowered it, seeing the fear flickering across Orochimaru's face intensify several fold. His hand balled into a fist, and his red eyes slid closed. "I just couldn't take it anymore…I thought…look, I won't even make excuses. My mind was clouded with lust. I thought I loved Orochimaru, and I thought he loved me back. Meanwhile, I was only causing him pain. I came to tell you that what I was doing, I did under orders from Pein. He wanted me to break you, so you would do whatever I told you to, and then take you back to Akatsuki, nothing but a broken toy. He only wanted to keep the secrets of Akatsuki from spilling out. But, at this rate, he said he'll settle for your ring…"

Orochimaru's eyes narrowed in disbelief. "Give me one reason why the hell I should believe you after all you put me through," he growled. But, despite his harsh words and tone, he crowded even closer to Kabuto, wrapping his arms around Kabuto's neck for a more secure feeling. In turn, Kabuto's arms tightened around Orochimaru's waist, and a hand came up to gently stroke his raven hair, calming him down slightly. Orochimaru didn't want anything to come between them ever again. Itachi would have to physically drive them apart if he wanted Orochimaru for himself!

Itachi shrugged aimlessly. "You an have each other," he answered flatly. "I don't care anymore. Although, Orochimaru, I do apologize for hurting you so badly. I do swear on my very blood that I will not ever touch you against your will again." One hand disappeared behind Itachi's back, and Kabuto immediately tensed. Was he going to attack? Was he going to-? Oh, yes. A kunai appeared in Itachi's hand, but his posture seemed entirely relaxed. Kabuto's eyes immediately shifted away from Itachi's acknowledging the other's Mangekyou. Still, he kept his eyes focused on Itachi's hands and feet, searching for movement. But the movement that came was not that which Kabuto expected.

Itachi raised the kunai, as if to strike n opponent beneath him. But the only thing beneath the kunai in his right hand was his left hand. And strike, Itachi did: his hand. He drove the kunai down into his palm, cutting it open quite violently. Kabuto's eyes widened in shock as he watched the blood begin to flow rather quickly and rather heavily from the stab wound, and then Itachi yanked the kunai out. He dropped the knife to the ground, letting it drop straight into the dirt and remain there. He took out a blank scroll, and laid it out on the ground. The Uchiha then dropped to one knee, dipping the first two fingers of his left hand into the blood streaming from his right. He wrote his name, perfectly and clearly in kana, and then stood up again, stepping back from the scroll. "And there you have my promise," he said. "Sealed in blood." Itachi's chakra sparked, and then a green aura concentrated it self around his left hand. Itachi laid his hands upon one another, and the stab wound in his hand healed over perfectly. Kabuto was surprised, but then remembered that Itachi had probably been to see Konan, the healer of the Akatsuki, many times, and aimed his Sharingan at her while she was healing something of his. Kabuto was impressed then, with both Itachi's bloodline limit and Konan's healing skills: the chakra concentration was perfect, and smooth throughout the entire process. Once Itachi had healed his wound, he stepped back-

And completely vanished.


Kabuto immediately dragged Orochimaru over to where the scroll lay, picking it up and testing it for authenticity. He knew Itachi's prowess lay in genjutsu: he could very well have faked the whole thing. But not this time: the blood was real, the scroll was real-even the blood that had fallen into the dirt had seeped through the back of the scroll. Kabuto sighed. "A blood contract," he murmured. "He willingly gave us his blood, and then left. We could do anything with this! Orochimaru-sama think o the vengeance you could wreak upon him for this! Everything he's done to you, everything he's caused to happen to you, all the pain and suffering you endured on his account-"


Kabuto halted immediately, glancing at Orochimaru with concern. "What?" he whispered, unsure he had heard Orochimaru right. The sannin simply shook his head.

"No," he repeated. "I'm done with him. Just seal his blood, and use it to keep him out of the Oto borders. I can't kill him…unless he tries anything again. But after he apologized…and since it was on orders…"

"He could have disobeyed," Kabuto said strongly. "He could have faked it, or lied, or-"

"To go against Leader-sama is suicide," Orochimaru said firmly. "I don't have to kill him.
Kabuto froze, suddenly knowing what Orochimaru meant. His mouth snapped shut with the realization: Itachi had sacrificed himself to save Orochimaru. Maybe…maybe he did love him after all…Kabuto sighed, and rolled up the scroll. He put it into his kunai pouch, and then gently took Orochimaru's hand in his own.

"I'm so sorry."


As Itachi expected, Pein was waiting at the border for Itachi.

"Well?" he asked hungrily, almost immediately hounding the teen. "Do you have the ring? If not, you had better have him on a leash for me!"

"I've got something better than his ring for ya," Itachi snarled, holding out his hand. In it was a ring, indeed, but it wasn't the Sora. Pein glanced at the ring for a moment, and then his eyes jumped to Itachi's ring finger.

It was bare.

"Traitor!" Pein screamed, lashing out at Itachi. Itachi simply allowed the blow to land, the force knocking the ring onto the ground. Itachi let that go, as well. His head snapped to the side, and he took a staggering step back, absorbing rather clumsily the force of Pein's fist. "Do you not fear death?!" Pein continued, lashing out again. This time, his punch knocked Itachi to the ground, where the Uchiha simply sat, awaiting the next blow. He said not a word: he waited for Pein, sitting on the ground with his weight in one hand and hip, legs bent and off to the side. His head was down, expressing his submission to Pein. No, he did not fear death anymore: he feared not even the furious Pein, towering over him and purely livid.

"Pein, I do not fear death," Itachi finally said, after a furious beating. "Nor do I fear you. What I do fear, though, is my lover's safety: and I know that you will continue to disturb it. And so, I have cast a spell over him and his entire village, to keep him safe: but it only works under one condition."

Pein snickered. "What good can you possibly do?" he asked, stepping back and crossing his arms angrily. He did not believe Itachi could do anything after that beating-there was simply nothing left he could do, it seemed.

"The victim must be willing," Itachi began, slowly bringing himself to his feet. His orientation was off, given Pein's incredible force, but he managed to right himself and stay standing fairly well for someone who had just gotten the crap beaten out of them. "And his adversary must truly hold resentment at the moment of the spell-as you do." Itachi raised his hand, forming a single hand sign with the blood from his lips in his palms. "And they must die together."

"You think you can defeat me?" Pein shrieked, reaching out again and taking Itachi's throat in a firm grasp. He easily lifted the slender Uchiha off his feet, but Itachi seemed to feel no more pain.

"Check…and mate!"

The screams could be heard for miles.


Orochimaru awoke that night screaming.

As he sat bolt upright in bed, a small whimper escaped his throat-a whimper of fear. He had just had the most awful dream-Pein was beating Itachi to a crap, and then Itachi suicide when Pein touched him, and he had done it to keep Orochimaru safe-

"Orochimaru-sama!" A young girl dashed in, a kimono bound around her waist and a razor-edged fan in her hand. "What happened?!" Yuki, one of Orochimaru's female servants and personal guards, was the first to make it into the room, Kabuto and then the Sounds quickly on her heels. Orochimaru shook his head.

"Just a dream." he whispered. "It was nothing-"

"Then, explain this!"

Kabuto held out his hand, and in it, was a half-unrolled scroll. In the center was Itachi's name, written in large letters, with two distinct swipes down each kana-the scroll from earlier. But now, there were many more incantations on it, and the runes were etched in gold into the paper.

"He did something!" Kabuto cried. "He did something!"

Orochimaru's hand slowly came up to cover his mouth. "My God," he whispered. "Oh, my God…oh, my God!!" Orochimaru could feel the sting of tears behind his eyes, and buried his face in his hands, trying to hide his weakness. He failed, however, as a broken sob burst from his throat, muffled by his hands.

The entire night, Orochimaru wept. Wept for a love he knew could never be, would never be, and had never been.


They never found the bodies.

They never even saw blood.

Scouts searched the entire border area, but nothing but a faint whisper in the trees even hinted at Itachi's sacrifice. Orochimaru, however, knew exactly what happened. Itachi had sealed both himself and Pein into that scroll, and was keeping him safe within it. He was using his own spirit to choke down Pein's, and was putting up something of a shield around Orochimaru. He was protecting him with his life, and gave his life to protect him.

Orochimaru locked the scroll in a beautiful shrine, located inside his own soul. Off his transfer plane is the smallest of doors one can ever find, and in it, is the shrine. Orochimaru has only ever allowed Kabuto to see it, and brought him down into it. Orochimaru's immortality was strengthened by Itachi's sacrifice, and he lives to this day. Eventually, though, he shared his body-switching jutsu with Kabuto, and decided that he would keep Kabuto as his lover. He never forgot Itachi, though-

How could he, when the very soul of the sacrificial lamb lay within his own heart?

A/N: Eeeeeeeeee-mo. Well, folks, this is it: curtains, curtain call, and then blackout. I have another OroKabu up, and I have a social life, so this is cake time. After party, anyone? : ) Head over to One Thousand and One Nights Unseen to have that party. Please, review for this one, and that one, too. Thank you so much to all my loyal reviewers!! I love you!! 3