After Kimimaro got sick, he didn't visit me very often anymore. I heard whispers from behind my thick steel door, rumors, but that was all.

"Kabuto says it's just a matter of time…"

"Nah, I don't think he'll die. Not yet, anyway…"

Whenever Kimimaro did visit, after stretches of forever, he was weak, pale. The sparkle had gone out of his eyes, the luster out of his hair. He looked dead on his feet, a corpse on crutches. (He couldn't even walk on his own two feet anymore.)

When he came to visit during this time, we didn't talk much. He just sat there, a waiflike shadow.

I held him a lot during those times. I'd wrap my arms around him and hug him tight, not wanting to let him go. Ever.

I liked him. No, I think at this point, I knew that I loved him. And the idea that I could lose him terrified me.

"Don't cry, Juugo," he said once, reaching up to dry my eyes. "I'll be fine, don't worry."

I knew he was lying. Lying through his perfect teeth, trying to pacify my monster. I knew, even back then, that Kimimaro was going to die.

There was nothing I could do.

All I could do was hold him in my arms that could crush him by accident, with my clumsy hands that didn't know how to comfort.

It hurt, knowing I was powerless. Sometimes, laying on the pathetic, hard mattress of my cell, I would imagine the disease destroying his body from the inside, literally eating him alive. Something that literally destroyed him…it made me ill thinking about it.

My Kimimaro…my Kimimaro.

I wanted to keep him by my side forever, keep him safe and keep him warm. But I couldn't. For all the strength I possessed, I was powerless.

I hated that. I hated watching him waste away. Nothing helped- not even when he took my enzyme and bore the Curse Mark. It slowed it, but didn't stop it.

Orochimaru couldn't use his body anymore. That much was painfully obvious. And that made Kimimaro upset. He never smiled anymore- not even for me.