Disclaimer: I own nothing. And I'm borrowing a phrase from the Old 97's because it's lovely and it works. Spot it, if you can.

He walks through the silent battlefield, and where there is still life, gasping and sputtering in the dust, he stamps it out.

Kabuto wishes that he hadn't missed the actual skirmish.

Three Sound shinobi hover in the generous boughs of a nearby live oak. Kabuto feels their gaze on the back of his neck, but they keep their distance. To them, Kabuto is the harbinger of an angry master. They think that Orochimaru's displeasure dictates where he goes. Kabuto smells their fear, dank and spongy like toadstools. They are mistaken. For once, he didn't plot his course to satisfy his master's whim. Kabuto had followed the thread of coppery blood on the thin wind because he wanted a fight. Which he missed. A scowl darkens his features as he completes the clean-up.

"You are sloppy," Kabuto observes to the three in the tree as he pauses over a fallen Leaf chuunin long enough to send a fatal chakra burst through the shredded flak vest.

Judging by the way that the kid's guts are splayed out like seeds from a burst melon, it's a mercy killing, really. The kid on the ground doesn't agree. Her blue-white lips form a silent plea before going slack. Kabuto thinks she mouthed Please.

Kabuto raises his head and glares at his comrades. The hush of the wind in the leaves whispers disapproval.

"Sloppy," he repeats.

The others say nothing.

Kabuto returns to his work and finds the final victim of their slovenly slaughter under the crushed ferns. For a moment, he thinks those uncouth yokels skulking overhead had to cut off her hands to overpower her, but then he sees the ridiculous long sleeves.

The dark clothes set off her pale, pale face. She wear no hitai-ate, he notes, and there is very little left of the tell-tale vest. Even so, it's clear that she is Leaf. Kabuto pushes his wire-rim glasses up to the bridge of his aquiline nose and studies her blank expression. There's something about her that seems familiar. He circles around to see her another way. The ferns flop this way and that in the chilly breeze. She is still as stone. Kabuto sees only a fixed mask of death. He has seen it on a thousand other faces.

This is nothing special, he reminds himself. His heart ignores logic and keeps skipping along.

Something about her...

Then he remembers. She is... was... Tsunade's girl.

For no reason, Kabuto wishes that she were alive to fight with him. Med nin make the most creative opponents. She was so clearly out of practice the last time they fought that he hardly counts it as a real match.

Sighing, Kabuto leans in to check her vital signs, just in case. His breath stirs her fine, raven-feather hair. In a flash, her onyx eyes fly open. She spits at him with a garbled cry that might have been fierce if both her lungs weren't punctured. The poison needle arches from her mouth towards his eye, and not for the first time, Kabuto is reminded why he wears his glasses. She has caught him by surprise-- he didn't even have time to react-- but he is saved nevertheless. Her needle glances off his left lens and falls harmlessly to the forest floor.

She knows that her last effort has failed before he fully resisters that she faked her own death to lure him in closer. She had stilled her breath, forced the blood from her face, and quieted her heart to draw him in for the kill. Now she writhes like a snake run over by an ox cart. Kabuto watches those dark eyes of hers burn with hate of him.

He takes in her ragged wounds and understands that the woman leaking life blood into the forest floor explains the Sound squad's poor performance. She must have put up quite a fight. The graceless team cowering from him in the tree canopy was only able to take her down by attrition. All of her wounds are minor. Individually, none of them would be an issue, especially for a med nin like her, but there are so very many. Gashes on gashes, cutting deeper and deeper until she could do no more. They never even landed a solid blow on her lithe body.

Here was the fight he craved.

Kabuto rests back on his haunches and regards her. She is quite lovely, he admits at last. How exquisite it would be to see her fight again. How unfortunate for her that the others from the Leaf were so green. She couldn't defend them and herself.

Their eyes lock. Something in his chest lurches forward, and Kabuto wonders when he last saw something that he wanted something so much for himself alone. She stares at him with dark eyes as the rest of her body bucks, twitches, bleeds.

Finally, the strain on her system diverts her mind away. She looks upwards. He follows her gaze and sees a scrap of sky through the dying leaves. Beyond the mud-colored foliage, there is a blue bowl of heaven.

She coughs-- a wet, sucking heave of an oxygen-deprived system.

Her pupils dilate. Death comes for her on beams of autumn's orange light. As a medic, she must know it, too. Her eyelids flutter, then close. She opens her sweet, cherry blossom mouth to gasp, but there's no space left in her fluid-filled chest cavity for air. She will asphyxiate on her own blood.

Kabuto agrees with himself that he will allow her this death.

A thin hand emerges from a bilious sleeve, as if to flick another poison-coated needle at him. Her wrist muscle spams. It's too late now. There isn't even a needle to throw. Her head arches back into the cool, moss bed.

Everyone begs for life in the end.

Kabuto watches her mouth as she dies, waiting for the plea to form on her thin lips. He wants to see what form her last word will take. He smells her bowels release before he understands that her nature forbids such selfishness. This woman warrior, strong enough to change a battle from certain defeat to near-victory, does not beg.

They are so much alike, he realizes. A life spent in servitude leads to forgetfulness. You stop remembering when and how to ask for something for yourself.

His hand darts into the uneven gash just under her ribs. Her warm blood folds around him, and Kabuto pours his chakra into her without thinking. He catches the last link that binds her spirit to her body and reels her back. Cracked ribs knit. Fissures of split skin narrow and close. Her head tips to the side, and her first breath propels the blood from her lungs up and out. The congealing mess lands on his shoes. It squelches between his toes as he leans in to restart her heart with his other hand.

He wants to feel those dark eyes on him again. He wants her to look at him, even with eyes full of hate.

"Sir?" a voice behind him interrupts.

Kabuto whirls around to see one of the three cowards kneeling behind him. The man's eyes widen. He sees yet does not understanding why his master's best servant would heal an enemy.

"Leave. Now," Kabuto orders.

The man turns and flees. The other two take off from the tree to follow. Kabuto, unconcerned, shifts his attention back to her. He will catch up to them in a moment to make sure that they can't tell Orochimaru of this indiscretion.

When he looks again, her eyes open. Her battered lungs pull in air with short, choppy gasps. A dusty rose rises in her cheeks as her circulation returns.

Twin balls rise in the long sleeves as her limp hands tighten into fists, preparing to attack.

The chakra signatures of the three cowards grow dimmer with each passing second.

"Some other time," he whispers into her hair.

Kabuto dumps all the chakra he can spare into her coils. She is a Sannin's apprentice; she can heal herself after he goes. She winces as he wretches his hand from her side. In his rush, he has healed himself into her. His fingers leave four, angry, red tears in her creamy flesh. Her bright eyes tell him that she feels what he has done, yet she says nothing.

She doesn't beg.

She doesn't question.

As he takes to the trees, Kabuto remembers her name.


Shizune puts him out of her mind. It's easy to do. There's training and Tonton. There's research and reaching over to slap Tsunade's hand away from the sake cup. She moves. She works. She falls into bed so tired and wakes up so early that every day feels the same, and she doesn't think.

Much later, Shizune gets most of the way through her watch on the first night of her first trip outside of Konoha since the incident before he sneaks into her thoughts again. The mission is easy, and the genins are sleeping in the tent not three yards away. The tiny fire flickers, one of kids mumbles something in his sleep, and she remembers that it was a mission just like this with kids just like these when everything went terribly wrong and she woke up with a mouthful of her own blood and Kabuto beside her with his hand under her skin and his eyes fixed on her face like he wanted very badly to kiss her.

So few people seem to see her, and no one thinks to look at her, the Hokage's pale assistant, with such open desire, except maybe Gemna when he has knocked back few too many and tries to ask her out (again, and that hardly counts).

Shizune shudders and draws closer to the fire.

Inside every flame is a calm, dark center, and sometimes she imagines that she lives in that dead space inside of the fire of life. Everyone else dancing and shifting around her. The orange, yellow, and pale blue making the light and heat. And the little black void, what does it do? And who notices enough to care?

Staring at her...

As if the odd superstition that thinking on the devil could conjure him, Kabuto appears. He crouches on the other side of the fire from her. The reflection of the flames shimmers across his glasses. No hallucination could be so real.

Shizune reaches through the fire and flicks seven of the poisoned senbons she keeps hidden in her long sleeve into his throat. Four of them land in a horizontal line that cuts across his Adam's apple. Two hit the soft flesh just under his chin. One sticks in his clavicle. Any one of them is enough to kill. The poison works instantly. Kabuto rocks to his feet, gurgling as he lurches forward. Foam leaks from the corners of his mouth. He staggers, gasps, convulses. He falls at her feet.

When the twitching subsides, Shizune draws a small, all-purpose blade from her vest to slit his throat. Better safe than sorry.

She gets one hand into his silvery hair to draw his head back when Kabuto comes back to life. His eyes go from glassy to clear. He sucks in air through his mouth, and then he's fully functional again. He wrests her wrist loose with one bony hand and dodges out of her reach while ripping the senbon from his neck with the other. Clear streams of poison mixed with lymph weep from the puncture wounds.

He dips to his left and comes up with a half dozen kunai. One tears into her sleeve, but Shizune avoids the rest, barely. She body flickers to dodge his attacks until she gets close enough to try out one of Tsunade's trademark punches. After Sakura picked up the technique, it seemed silly that Shizune could spend so many years with her mistress and not know how to throw a chakra-charged right cross.

He catches her fist across the chin, and the force of it knocks him back into a tree trunk. His skull makes a juicy thump when it hits and leaves a long, liquid smear on the shingled bark as his limp body slides to the ground.

Shizune watches him this time, and sure enough, he comes around again in a few seconds like it was nothing more than a nasty, little bump. She sees his crushed skull pop out the dent like a balloon filling with air.

It is in that moment that Shizune comes to two uncomfortable conclusions. One is that Kabuto isn't bothering to fight back. The other is that he can't be wholly human.

As soon as he is on his feet, Shizune slams Kabuto back into the tree with another chakra-enhanced jab, but she snatches away his lifeless body before the trail of gore already on the trunk gets a twin. She grabs his shirt front, shifts her weight to the right, and hip-checks him to the forest floor. In a heartbeat, she is on him with her bare hands under his shirt.

She closes her eyes and dives down.

Although curiosity drove her into his systems, it's anger that draws out her words.

"Who did this to you?" she hisses.

Her tone comes out protective instead of menacing. It can't be helped. No one deserves what's been done to him.

His voice surprises her. "It doesn't hurt. Not anymore."

He came back to himself faster than she expected. Her eyes snut open in time to see him reach up and touch her cheek.

Shizune rips her palms away from Kabuto's warm chest, pushes off, and springs back to put distance between them. When she looks up, he is watching her, propped up on one elbow with a slight smile playing across his pink-red lips.

She waits for an explanation. She learned long ago that people will tell you what they want to tell you, whether you ask them for it or not.

"You don't leave the village often," he remarks. He sits up to drape long arms around bent knees.

"So you were waiting for me," she says evenly. Shizune wants to believe that she can react to his confession so calmly because nothing can surprise her anymore.

Kabuto shrugs and rolls his shoulders back. His smile widens.

Under her sleeves, Shizune secures a new needle between each of her fingers.

"You don't sound like you mind," he observes. He cocks his head to one side. The fire dances across his glasses. "Have you been thinking about me, too?"

Shizune pushes her hands out from her sleeves and her fingers open like the fronds of a palm. The needles fly true.

Kabuto swats them away with a kunai and rushes her. She defends with her fists, but he moves too fast. He gets his arms around her and slams her into the earth.

She falls down on him from above as her clone pops out of existence beneath him. His leg comes up to meet her. The sole of his sandals flips her to the right, and his body follows the arch of the kick until he is once again over her. His aim isn't injury but restraint.

For an insane moment, Shizune wants to let him pin her just to find out what he really wants. It's the genin still dreaming their children's dreams in the nearby tent that prevent her from considering deliberate surrender.

She wraps her fingers around his forearm and squeezes to tap into his nervous system. He's quick, much faster than she is, but she only needs a moment to ping his inner ear. He uses that same moment to go for her optical nerves. The night becomes all-consuming as her vision darkens.

Shizune shoves as hard as she can. She only raises Kabuto a few inches, but it's enough to draw her knee up. They are so close that she doesn't need her eyes to pop his torso higher with her bent leg. She uses the freed space to straighten her knee and twist from her center to grind him into the dirt beside her with a punishing roundhouse kick.

The artificial vertigo hits him at the same time as the ground. Shizune hears and smells him retch up the contents of his stomach.

Shizune rolls away, but he grabs at her clothes. A finger grazes her throat, and then she can't move at all.

It doesn't hurt. He isn't hurting her.

"Shizune," he pants.

She ignores him and focuses on healing the damage. She'll have an easier time of it than he will. Blindness and paralysis leave her brain intact. She can think clearly.

Kabuto makes another retching noise followed by a low whimper. The dizziness will distort his concentration, and the horrendous, self-healing machinations pulsing under his skin won't perceive the fluid disturbance in his head as a wound.

She has this one chance to gain the advantage.

The stars pop out like flash-pot dots as her vision returns. Her shoulder twitches. She inhales, exhales. In the next moment, she vaults over the puddle of sick and pins Kabuto, belly first, to the earth with her shin pressed down the length of his spine. She holds back his arms, binding his elbows just over the dip between his shoulder blades.

"Whatever you want, I will not let you have it," she says.

Kabuto hmphs into the forest floor. His breathing rattles through the dry leaves once, twice, then evens out, and she knows that he has healed.

"I already have what I came for," he murmurs against the dirt. "I wanted to see you."

Shizune doesn't reply.

People fill silence with the sound of their own voices.

If she waits, he will explain why, so she waits.

"This is your chance to kill me," he reminds her.

She hears the cracks before she understands the warning. He bucks her off. She pivots in the air and uses the bloodied tree to kick off and find a foothold in the branches above. He flies toward her, his two broken arms streaming behind him like banners. His eyes burn.

She fumbles for her needles.

A shoulder pops forward with a wet crunch as he lights on the branch. He snags her wrist with his newly mended arm, presses it to his parting lips, and licks. She gasps as his tongue follows a blue vein across her wrist and up her thumb. His mouth closes over the last knuckle and sucks.

He vanishes in the next instant.

Shizune looks at her hand. The slick trail of his tongue shines in the firelight. She drops down to her place by the genin's tent and wonders why she does not wipe it away.