The second the Shinigami disappeared, Orochimaru couldn't even begin to describe the pain.

It felt like someone had just set his arms on fire, and now, they were burning right off his body. Orochimaru couldn't even stand to be conscious at this point, let along stand up straight! With a sudden howl of agony, Orochimaru collapsed to the ground, knees buckling right out from underneath him. Another cry burst through his fog of pain: Sakon…Orochimaru could barely even register the scream. "Take down the shield," Orochimaru choked out. "We're done here…we're going home."

"Hai!"

The simultaneous answer from the Sound Four was comforting to Orochimaru, and the shield fell shortly after the affirmation. Orochimaru took several deep breaths, just trying to keep himself under control. He could vaguely feel two people take him between them, picking him up and pulling him away from the scene, lifting up into the air with chakra-aided leaps. From then on, though, the world would fade in and out, and never stay focused for Orochimaru.

OOOOOOOOO

Tayuya and Sakon carried Orochimaru for most of the journey, until, two thirds of the way there, both Otonin gave out and had to be replaced by Jiroubou. Jiroubou's sheer size and natural physical strength, given his tendency to fight with taijutsu combined allowed him to carry Orochimaru by himself for the last leg of the journey, until they reached the Otogakure complex. But, only a few miles from the complex itself, Orochimaru suddenly took a dive for the worse.

Kabuto had been travelling with the group since they met up outside of Konoha. Only a few miles outside of the now-destroyed village, Kabuto had caught up with them and given Orochimaru an emergency painkiller. He claimed it was the strongest narcotic he had on hand, but it hardly seemed to be doing anything for Orochimaru. The sannin faded in and out of consciousness, and when he was awake, his screams of agony lanced through the ninjas' hearts like spears. Finally, Kabuto had sedated Orochimaru, and that had kept the sannin under for a few hours. But now, it seemed he was waking again, and it didn't look as if he was doing any better than he was before. After ten minutes of hearing Orochimaru's suffering expressed in a terrifying array of vocals, Tayuya had finally screamed at Kabuto and the group to stop. Kabuto didn't have to be told twice; he said that he could give Orochimaru a bit more painkiller about now, but that was all he was getting for another few hours. Jiroubou came to as gentle a halt as he could, slowly dropping to his knees and laying Orochimaru out in his arms. Tayuya shoved Jiroubou aside, seemingly effortlessly, and pulled Orochimaru into her own lap, cradling his head and shoulders in her arms and trying to support his upper body. The kunoichi was being as gentle as possible with Orochimaru, but another unbridled scream soon broke free from his throat. Tayuya hushed him, unafraid to do more than offer soothing words. Kabuto crouched down next to them, a hypodermic needle in hand. He gently pushed up the sleeve of Orochimaru's shirt, and turned the arm over, searching for the vein in Orochimaru's arm to inject the fluid.

Kabuto was trying to move as quickly as he could, but finding the vein in Orochimaru's arm was proving difficult with his now-dead arms, which hung, soulless and lifeless from his shoulders. The skin was starting to crack and bleed, and Kabuto had to flinch in pain for Orochimaru: that looked excrutiating! Kabuto finally located the correct vein in Orochimaru's arm, and pushed the needle into it. He depressed the plunger, sending the narcotic into Orochimaru's bloodstream and then removing the needle. Kabuto held his thumb over the wound for a moment, healing chakra sparking up to at least close the vein. Still, another anguished, tormented cry made its way up Orochimaru's throat, causing Tayuya to flinch away in pain and fear for her master.

"Kabuto, he's getting worse!" she cried, subconsciously tightening her grip on Orochimaru's fragile body. "Isn't there anything else you can do?!"

"That's the strongest I have with me, and the highest dose I can give him without giving him a complete overdose!" Kabuto snapped back. Everyone's nerves were frayed; fear for Orochimaru's safety, and even his life, was growing by the minute. But, as soon as the harsh words came forth, Kabuto sighed with regret and tried again: "I can't give him any more without severely overdosing him," he started, taking another slow, deep breath. "I'm pushing it as it is, especially because he normally doesn't take anything like this. If we can get him back to the base, I might be able to do more for him…"

Tayuya nodded, and carefully helped Orochimaru sit up. The sannin couldn't even bear to exert himself that much, and relied solely on Tayuya to remain upright. Jiroubou picked him up again, and carried him the rest of the mile and a half to the complex. The entire way there, Orochimaru faded back and forth between a fitful, deep, sleep and the screaming, waking world that everyone had begun to despise on account of him. Orochimaru's dreams were haunted by the Shinigami that threatened to take his life-his reality was plagued by the pain that reminded him of his nightmares. Kabuto's reality was tormented by his master's pain, and Jiroubou was just hungry. Yes, he was concerned, but Jiroubou tended to think more with his stomach than his head…or his heart…

"Take him to his room," Kabuto murmured, upon entering the complex. Jiroubou nodded, not even saying a word, and just did exactly as Kabuto said. The rest of the ninja followed, not surprisingly. They all wanted to make sure Orochimaru was okay. Kidomaru ran ahead of Jiroubou and opened the door for the other ninja, who had his hands full with Orochimaru. Right now, Orochimaru was asleep, twisting in the painful clutches of his dreams. But it looked like he was waking up, and so Kabuto wanted to get him into his room as quickly as possible.

"Put him down on the bed," Kabuto said, ducking into the bathroom of the suite, "And take off his shirt. I want to have his arms and chest exposed, so I can see exactly where the damage is."

Jiroubou nodded in assent, and went into the bedroom with Orochimaru. The rest of the ninja shadowed him, and Kabuto began rummaging through Orochimaru's bathroom cabinets: under the sink and in the mirror were really the only places to look. And so far, the results were quite frustrating to Kabuto. "Dammit, Orochimaru-sama, why don't you ever have any painkiller?" Kabuto huffed, whirling around and taking off out of the bathroom. "Keep him comfortable," Kabuto called in to Orochimaru's bedroom. He had barely spoken before he whipped around again and picked up a quicker pace, breaking into a run and bolting downstairs to his lab. He had kept a fair amount of medication down there, and it was all under lock and key-several locks and keys, actually. Now, Kabuto fished that key out of its hiding place and jammed it into the lock, opening up a sealed cabinet and reaching inside, groping around for the necessary syringe. He found it surprisingly easily, and grabbed several of the syringes while he was there. A swift kick closed and locked the cabinet, and Kabuto hurriedly re-hid the key. He grabbed several needles on his way out, sprinting back up to Orochimaru's room and flying right in to the bedroom. Orochimaru was awake, but barely conscious. Tayuya was sitting behind him, trying to simply hold him in a somewhat upright position. Orochimaru's beautiful golden eyes were half-closed in pain; his features were twisted in agony. Still, somehow, their lord remained silent. Deep breaths heaved in his chest; spasms wracked his body. Kabuto slowed to a walk to approach Orochimaru, knowing how hyper-sensitive Orochimaru could get when he was in pain. It seemed that he became totally animalistic in nature, and that nothing but survival instincts were present in his mind. Orochimaru usually had to be sedated from that point on, and Kabuto usually prayed it never got to that point. But they were far beyond that point now, and Kabuto could only hope that flirting the borders of overdose didn't prove harmful in the long run. Well, Orochimaru was going to end up transferring soon, anyway, whether he wanted to or not. It would only matter short term whether the medication was harmful.

"Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto murmured, slipping into the circle of ninja around Orochimaru. In addition to the Sound Four, several of Orochimaru's servants had come in, hearing the noise and wondering about the situation at hand. Orochimaru's eyes barely shifted, and Kabuto could see that his body was severely overridden by the pain. The medication, while helping the pain, wasn't doing wonders for Orochimaru's body in general. And here he was about to inject more…Kabuto let out a rough sigh of anxiety. He could tell that this was going to continue for a very long time with Orochimaru, going on as a battle of pride until Orochimaru simply couldn't take any more. Kabuto sat down next to Orochimaru, moving as slowly as he possibly could and trying to make sure Orochimaru knew exactly what he was doing before it was even done. Orochimaru seemed fine, so Kabuto began carefully putting together the hypodermic needle. Orochimaru was fine, still…Kabuto couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen next. Orochimaru usually flipped out right about now.

Surprisingly, though, Orochimaru was strangely lethargic this time around. He accepted the needle wit little more than a twitch when Kabuto pushed it into the healthy skin of his shoulder, just under his collarbone. Tayuya, who was still holding Orochimaru's shoulders, gave him a gentle squeeze, almost reassuring him she was still there. This resulted in a hiss of warning and a twisting motion from Orochimaru, who fell still at he feel of Kabuto's hand on his shoulder. Kabuto injected the rest of the painkiller, and then removed the needle from Orochimaru's shoulder. He barely got a reaction at that point, either. Kabuto was starting to get worried; exactly how bad was this injury?

Kabuto set aside the hypodermic needle, intent on finding out. He moved towards Orochimaru a bit more, taking in her bare chest and noting where his shoulders were decayed up to. If the decay spread, they would have a true emergency on their hands. In theory, it shouldn't, but Kabuto could never be too careful when juggling a life. Kabuto gently ran his hands down, over Orochimaru's arms, taking note of the softest places on the flesh: where the decay was the worst. Here, despite the painkiller, Orochimaru released a scream of anguish, throwing back his head and opening up his throat. Tayuya hushed him, putting one hand over his mouth and holding his stomach with the other hand. "Stop it!" Kabuto snapped, shoving at Tayuya's hand. "He hates that! Being restrained in any way, he just…it makes him go completely crazy. Don't do that."

Tayuya's hand fell away from Orochimaru's mouth, and not a moment too soon. Orochimaru, in his half-delirious state of mind, had just about bitten Tayuya's hand off. Kabuto caught the fetid, yellow sheen of venom on Orochimaru's fangs, and suddenly realized what was happening. Orochimaru's body was simply going into survival mode, and any danger at all was one danger too many to risk. Kabuto sighed with resignation. He would have to do this alone, and let Orochimaru come to him.

"Everybody out."

The entire group obeyed quickly, and without question. No one wanted to be around Orochimaru when he went crazy like this. It was a well-known fact that only Kabuto could handle him then. Kabuto waited until then to take Orochimaru in his arms, knowing full well the extent of the sannin's sour reaction, if he didn't want to be near Kabuto at the moment. But, surprisingly, Orochimaru's extended canine teeth retreated, his venom neutralized and swallowed by his body. Kabuto raised a hand, glowing with green chakra, and pressed it to Orochimaru's forehead, willing sleep to overcome his body.

"Go to sleep," he whispered, cradling Orochimaru's vulnerable body in his arms, pressing the chakra-surrounded hand to Orochimaru's weakened arms, and trying as much as he could to numb the pain. He began pulling endorphins forth from Orochimaru's body, to try to calm him and get him to sleep. "You'll feel better, I promise."

Orochimaru closed his eyes and nodded, too tired and in too much pain to even think about protesting at this point. Kabuto gave one final tug, and finally, Orochimaru collapsed into a deep, dreamless sleep. Kabuto stayed for a moment, though, just to make sure Orochimaru was truly asleep.

At least, that was what he told himself.

Deep down, he stayed because he knew he wanted to, not because Orochimaru needed him to. He needed to stay, because he feared for Orochimaru's life and hated to leave him, especially when he needed him most. But, he needed to make more medicine, and this time, make it custom for Orochimaru. Ordinary painkillers simply wouldn't do in this situation. Kabuto also needed to follow up on Sasuke, keep the entire Oto in order, keep Orochimaru's injury as low-key as possible, his ordinary duties needed tending to…Kabuto sighed, lowering his head to Orochimaru's. He had hardly ever even bothered to try to touch Orochimaru before simply for the sake of touching him-Orochimaru acted like he hated human contact, except when necessary, and so Kabuto had never even tried. But now…he could probably sit here all night with Orochimaru, and the sannin would have nothing to say about it. But something told him not to, and that Orochimaru didn't want him anywhere near him. And so, Kabuto stole a single kiss from Orochimaru's soft, smooth lips…

And left.

A/N: Partial lyrics from Nightwish's Sahara is the title. Don't own it. There, can't sue. Review, please? I am actually going to explore the relationship before having the sudden discovery of OMG-I-love-you-and-would-die-for-you kind of revelation…so, review, please? I am already falling in love with this fic! : )