Ghost of Love: Chapter Twenty One

Down, down, further than he would have thought possible; the snake sannin traversed the shadowy landscape of Sakura's mind with growing unease. Before, it had simply been a matter of opening her consciousness and waiting for her to give in. The moment she allowed him access – which had been unnecessary, he reminded himself – she had been present in every grain of thought. This was… wrong. Her lack of consciousness no doubt contributed, forcing him to delve deeper into her soul to find her- but not this far. Not for this long. It was as though she simply was no longer.

Orochimaru hissed wordlessly- furious, frustrated, concerned. There was a vague, pinkish glow somewhere ahead. Its proximity could not be determined in the utter lightlessness of the girl's empty mind; it could have been a foot away- or a mile. It was so very tempting to impose order and control on this vast emptiness, to command her to appear right now, here, in front of him. It would be so simple, just send tendrils of thought here and there, snare her mind in a vice-like grip and tear all control away from her. It was not as though she was making any use of it, at the moment.

But it would be far, far too easy to do irreparable damage that way. And Orochimaru was nowhere near done with the girl. Not yet.

Resigned, the oto-kage continued to make his way toward the vague glow, counting jutsu to keep his frustration under wraps. It would not do to let too much of his influence settle into the shadows of the girl's currently vulnerable mind. He had to maintain control, lest their connection grow stronger. It had been said that too much contact between minds could form a sort of… dependence, between the participants, which Orochimaru surmised would only be exacerbated by the frequent transference of chakra from Sakura to himself. He had no wish to tie himself to his frail little protégé. No wish to tie himself to anyone. Those who lived in his shadow were permitted to do so only because they were useful. They could never, would never, be anything more than puppets, dancing as and when he commanded them to. That he had left the girl alive this long was extraordinarily unusual. He had, at first, entertained thoughts of simply killing her and sending her back to konohagakure in a box, as a sort of gruesome gift to his old-teammate-turned-hokage. Alas, she had proved to be more interesting than he anticipated, and the only excuse he could come up with for keeping her around for so long was that he was bored. And she had her uses; she was an entertaining little chakra battery, though he currently had little need for the excess power she gave him. It did nothing to increase his strength long-term, so it's only useful application would be during battle, when chakra reserves ran low after many, many jutsus. And Orochimaru sincerely doubted that the girl would willingly give him her chakra if he was going to employ it against her little friends. Something must be done about that pesky loyalty of hers! Her only allegiance should be to me.

Frustration boiled within him once again, though for a difference reason this time, and he returned to reciting jutsus.

The pink glow grew larger now, every moment bringing him nearer to it. Orochimaru hastened towards it, barely able to make out prone figure from which the light emanated. With an emotion that could almost be called relief, he realized that the girl was apparently still alive, just very, very weak.

Closing the last few metres between them, the snake sannin knelt swiftly at her side, reaching out to grip her shoulder, fully expecting her to awaken at his touch. When nothing happened, he shook her - gently at first - but growing rougher with every moment that she did not react. "Sakura," he hissed, deep-seated unease bubbling higher in his chest as the seconds ticked by; there was much he had yet to accomplish, plans that had not yet reached fruition – things that revolved around the little pink-haired kunoichi that he was unwilling to abandon - and he required that she awaken now!

At the resounding, soundless echo of his fury Sakura stirred, blinking weakly as she tried to form words that wouldn't come. Orochimaru pushed aside the unexpected relief that flooded him, feeling that it was entirely justified considering how inconvenient it would have been if the girl had died.

"Orochimaru," Sakura murmured softly, confused and exhausted, lingering on the precipice of slumber.

The pale, beautiful sannin bent down, closer to her. Dark hair brushed her arm, and she felt that she could simply float in the warmth of his eyes forever. The snake-eyes hardened. "Don't go back to sleep, little one. I will not traipse through your mind to find you again!"

Sakura shivered and tried to sit up - finally managing to do so – as she struggled to comprehend what on earth he could have meant by that. "Okay," she smiled. She blinked heavily and swayed towards Orochimaru, giggling vaguely as she slumped against his shoulder and looked up at him with unfocused sweetness.

Orochimaru stared at her incredulously, attempting – unsuccessfully – not to be amused. "I am very glad this is taking place in your mind, Sakura-dear; my reputation might not be able to handle this insult!"

Sakura giggled again and snuggled against him, eyes closing as sleep overwhelmed her.

Orochimaru pushed her away, to her muttered discontent, and stood. "Apparently you are well, apart from your appalling lack of chakra."

"Where're you going?"

With a raised eyebrow and a haughty smirk, he drawled, "Back to my body."

"Really? Okay then," she whispered sleepily, curling up on the ground.

Orochimaru retreated from her mind, finding himself much closer to the surface than before, and hastened to return his own form.

"Lord Orochimaru, what happened?" Kabuto questioned the moment his master's eyes opened.

"She was very weak, and far from the surface of her mind." Orochimaru pulled back and stood gracefully. "Bring her to her room, Kabuto."

The medic's eyes widened, but he nodded his acquiescence and bent to lift the girl into his arms. He hurried to catch up to the snake sannin, who swept down the hall with long strides.

The trio arrived at Sakura's room in no time, Kabuto depositing her on the bed with an air of relief. He sincerely disliked being used as a pack mule for unconscious kunoichi. Especially unconscious kunoichi whom he would dearly like to dissect and study.

"I am going to infuse her with some of my chakra, Kabuto- whatever the cause of this malady, it has drained her almost to the point of death. I want to know what could do this."

The med-nin nodded slowly, folding his arms and standing back to observe. Kabuto had serious reservations about this idea, as he had about the last one, but he recognized that there would be no point in voicing them; Orochimaru would do what he thought necessary. And apparently saving the girl was necessary.

The lean, elegant otokage seated himself on the bed, at the girl's hip, and leaned over her to position her hands- fitting his palms against hers and resting his fingertips on the soft skin of her wrists. The opposite of their usual chakra-transfer arrangement. With a mental nudge, the pathway that had formed between them over months of power-exchanges reversed itself, opening smoothly. It tugged gently at his chakra, as though to encourage him to let it go, and his lips twitched with an amused half-grin at the sensation. It was very… Sakura.

Chakra rushed easily from Orochimaru's expert hands; he guided it to fuse with the remnants of the girl's own energy, delicately manipulating the ebb and flow of power within her. After mere moments her body began to respond, to reawaken and generate small amounts of new chakra, which was the goal of this exercise. Satisfied that her own power was working to sustain her once more, Orochimaru deftly disengaged.

"How long would you estimate before she awakens, Kabuto?"

The silver-haired shinobi hovered over Sakura, glasses glinting as his keen eyes assessed her. "A few hours, I would say, before she could be woken. If left alone to recover, it is unlikely she will wake before tomorrow, however."

AN: Perhaps an odd place to stop, but it felt right. Not as much interaction as anticipated, maybe, but I think this chapter represents some real progression.

ReginaSlytherin: I like how you left in bitch-monster XD I am horrible at updating, no doubt about it!
LaBunny: I don't know exactly what is going to happen with this story, lol. I have plans, but precisely what Oro/Saku's relationship is going to become is kind of a mystery to me. There is a distinct imbalance of power between them, with her being essentially his prisoner, which is part of what makes this pairing so fun. But my Sakura tends to have a decent amount of self-respect, so she's not likely to throw herself at him (no matter how attracted to him she is), and my Orochimaru is not inclined to force himself on anyone- it's no fun at all if you can't manipulate them into it! So, it may take a while yet for anything further to develop. Although, you never know. I'm not very consistent- I say this now, but the way the story writes itself, I can't be sure!

Anyway, thankyou for your wonderful reviews, guys! You're awesome! Let me know what you think and if you see any mistakes, etc.