Disclaimer: I don't own the unparalleled Naruto.

A/N: Originally completed on 5/29/10. Set in the area of (manga) Vols. 26-27. An exploration of the darker side of Naruto. Please tell me if I did a good job! Read-'n'-review-read-'n'-review-read-'n'-review-read-'n'-review-read-'n'-review-read-'n'-review-read-'n'-review-read-'n'-review!

Rated T for abuse, blood, and...well, mutilations.

Manipulations, Machinations, and Mutilations

Although Kabuto was Orochimaru's right hand, none of the prisoners were afraid of him. They feared Orochimaru—oh, yes, with such a deep-seated, paralyzing fear that many of them were beside themselves whenever they saw him. But not Kabuto. He was not the one to fear.

Many of the things he did only gave reason for them to like him. His chakra-warm hands were capable and gentle, stroking, healing, easing pain. Once he stayed up all night with a man's head in his lap, giving the prisoner sips of water, spoon-feeding him what broth he could get down. In fact, Kabuto fed them all. "Don't withhold the bare essentials from them, Kabuto," Orochimaru would purr.

"Of course not, Lord Orochimaru," Kabuto would reply. He brought armloads of food to the prisoners, leaving it in a heap on the cold floor. Everyone scrambled to the pile ravenously, snatching whatever they could get their hands on, for Orochimaru didn't make it a habit to feed any of them while he was performing experiments. He despised nurse-work; he left that sort of thing to Kabuto.

Anakame Soma was one of those whom Kabuto nursed back to health. She, her older brother, and a few of the other children were too weak to even crawl to where the food lay. Kabuto came to them, built a fire nearby. He made meat broth, rice gruel, and mashed parsnips, and fed them all, one by one. Some asked for more, but he wouldn't give them more. He said they had to eat only a little now, until their strength returned. And it did return, to them and all the prisoners, while Kabuto went around, stopping the bleeding, washing and bandaging wounds, handing out blankets, getting food, and doing whatever else needed doing. He was their savior.

But everyone hated him. And Soma didn't understand why. He was gentle and kind, the opposite of Orochimaru. When she asked anyone the reason for their hatred, he would only mutter, "Watch. You'll see." So she watched. But all she saw was a benevolent medic ninja, helpful as could be.

When Soma's brother Bi got better, he attacked Kabuto when he came to give them fresh bedding. Straw and blankets went flying from Kabuto's arms as Bi threw himself upon him, tackling him and closing his hands around Kabuto's throat. "Stop it, Bi!" Soma screamed. She was afraid Kabuto would die. But the young doctor smiled even while he gagged.

"Don't fool yourself, boy," he rasped. He took his finger and touched Bi's thigh. Suddenly Soma's brother howled with pain and lurched forward, straight into Kabuto's arms. Kabuto held him cradled in his arms and raised his voice so everyone could hear. "I am a healer. I don't want to hurt any of you—I haven't even hurt this boy. But if you force me to, I will kill you." He laid Bi carefully down on the dropped straw and stood up. "Please don't give me a reason to," he finished solemnly. He healed Bi then, his hands glowing with chakra. When he walked away, Soma whispered to her brother,

"Why did you do that? Kabuto is a good doctor. He watches over us." Bi coughed and rolled over.

"You should have run—tried to escape," he told her in a dull voice. Soma didn't say what they both already knew: there was no escape possible from this hopeless place. "You'll see," Bi went on darkly. "And you'll hate him, too." Soma almost always believed what her brother told her. But she couldn't believe him this time.

Later, a boy with dark hair and scary eyes stopped outside the door. He stared through the bars at them. Kabuto didn't like that. "Please don't watch me in my work," he said irritably. "It makes me . . . uneasy." The boy snorted but left. Orochimaru came soon after.

"Are the subjects in top form yet, Kabuto?" His voice hissed out like a snake's. As soon as they heard him, all but the bravest prisoners scrambled to dark corners, getting as far away from him as they could. Kabuto met him on the other side of the grate.

"Nearly so—all but one." He sighed. "He's been damaged beyond repair." Orochimaru's eyes narrowed, and he unlocked the door and came in. Kabuto led him to a cot where a man lay, while the rest of those in the cave pressed themselves wretchedly into the rock walls, desperately hoping he wouldn't look their way. The man on the cot tried to get up, tried to run, but Kabuto grabbed his injured arm. He bent it different ways so that Orochimaru could see the damage. The man screamed with pain, but Kabuto ignored him. "There's nothing more I can do," he explained regretfully to his lord, acting as though the prisoner weren't there. "It's your decision, Lord Orochimaru. Do you prefer a test subject that's damaged or maimed?" Horrified, the poor man froze and waited for the verdict. Orochimaru licked his lips.

"Maimed," he decided at last, turning to leave. Kabuto nodded and pushed the man back down against the cot.

"Wait!" came the man's terrified plea. "No—please—!" But Kabuto, still paying him no heed, pushed a rag into his mouth, cutting off his cries. His movements quick and efficient, he lashed the prisoner down. He wiped down the man's arm and tied a tourniquet just below his shoulder, before the damage began. From his waist pouch he pulled out a roll of material. He pushed it open to reveal scalpels, knives, and tools whose purposes were known to him alone.

Orochimaru had gone, but Soma's heart was still in her throat, cutting off her breath. She watched, trembling, while Kabuto calmly completed his grisly task. He cut through the man's skin and underlying muscle, applying his own chakra to the incision to slow the bleeding. It wasn't until Kabuto chose a saw from his stash of medical supplies that Soma couldn't bear to look anymore. Huddled against her brother, hiding her face against his shoulder, she was forced to listen to the grating sound of metal teeth slowly cutting through bone. Although she covered her ears, neither her hands nor the cloth gagging him could stop the prisoner's choked shrieks and moans from reaching her.

Hours later, when the operation was over, Bi said to her quietly, "That's why we hate him." Soma leaned against him and didn't reply. Kabuto was only obeying Orochimaru. Everyone had to do that. He was a good doctor, she told herself. Everything he did, he did to help them. There was no reason to hate him. He was just doing his job.

Was she only making excuses for him? No—no, she had to believe he was good. If she didn't, then there really was nothing to believe in, and nothing to hope for anymore.

Orochimaru often stopped by to take a few prisoners when he felt like it. He came to get Bi the next day. Soma wept and pleaded for him not to, but he pulled Bi out while Kabuto held her back. She was left alone.

Three days later, Orochimaru came back with one of his test subjects draped over one arm. He was in shadow, so no one could see who it was. But Soma thought she knew. And when Orochimaru came into the dim light of Kabuto's lamps, she saw she was right.

"Bi!" she wailed.

"He didn't survive the testing process," Orochimaru sighed. "Disappointing, really."

"Biiiii . . ." Soma moaned. She reached toward him from where she crouched, yearning to go to him, but afraid to get near.

"Lord Orochimaru," Kabuto said with what sounded like suppressed eagerness, "may I have the body?" In answer, Orochimaru tossed Bi to him like a rag doll. Soma retched; her breakfast exited her mouth in a rush.

"Do what you like," Orochimaru told him carelessly.

"Thank you!" Kabuto said happily. He laid Bi's limp corpse on the ground and began painting it with strange marks. Soma stole over to him, daring even to get close to Orochimaru if it meant she could see her brother again. She grabbed his hand hungrily, but was horrified to discover that it had gone cold. Impatiently Kabuto moved her out of the way. She wormed out of his grasp and ran back to her brother, shaking him as hard as she could.

"Bi, Bi, Bi, Bi, Bi!" But he didn't answer. And what Orochimaru said next made her blood freeze.

"I need a replacement for him. The girl will do." He pointed at her with a long, pale finger. It was worse than a death sentence. Soma shrieked and scrambled away from him, running blindly. Kabuto got to his feet and the next thing she knew, he was in front of her. She crashed right into him, unable to avoid him as he snatched her up.

"No! No no no!" she bawled. She wriggled and thrashed with all her might, but he held her easily. Sobbing helplessly, she offered him a last plea. "Please don't make me go back," she whispered. Kabuto smiled at her. His smile was empty.

"You will go back." It wasn't an order or a request. He was just stating a fact. She sobbed wildly and clung to him. It was sheer desperation that made her do it. There was nothing of affection in the way her arms wrapped around his torso. Because she knew what the others meant now. She still wasn't afraid of Kabuto: why fear the snake's shadow when the snake still loomed? But with everything in her heart, with everything in her soul, with every fiber of her being, she hated him.

She hated him.

= The End =