commission for tumblr user madokamakara who has kindly given me permission to post this around. i haven't been up to date with Naruto in a while so chances are this is now, you know, fairly non-canon. apologies in advance if that is the case.

i've got so much to tell you, and it can't wait til you're born again

Orochimaru is old. He is old, and growing weak; every day now folds its hours beneath his flesh, and so he bears blood like the earth, bones grafted of moon-wax, a mouth of paper curses. -an eight-forked head and an eight-forked tail; its eyes were red, like the winter-cherry; and on its back firs and cypresses were growing. As it crawled it extended over a space of eight hills and eight valleys... "My lord," Kabuto says, hands on Orochimaru's chest, palms worn calloused yet his touch still tender, between them a seperation of nothing but skin, "time will not wait for you to catch up."

"Quiet, quiet," Orochimaru hisses-always as venom, always tongued like the lash-and bows his head into his hands, til all becomes dark and his laboured breathing cannot be heard. Orochimaru is old. Orochimaru is

"dying?" Kabuto says, wearing that untouched smile, so gentle and coy. Orochimaru would like to murder him, maybe. Orochimaru would like to hit him, certainly. "Of course not."

"Don't lie to me." Orochimaru scowls up at the ceiling. His legs are particularly weak, today, and his bed is long since sunk in with the lines of his back; he attempts to count rain-stains in the wood and finds his eyes struggling to focus, and so he shuts them, and settles for the knowledge of Kabuto's presence at his bedside, and nothing more.

There is silence for a few moments before Kabuto sits down, a bare inch from Orochimaru, so close and yet, and yet-"well, we are all of us dying, my lord," he murmurs, and Orochimaru thinks, you are lucky I am tired, you are lucky I will not waste what energy I have left on splitting your throat, all I have asked for is my health and what I have now are your lies and your weakest of comforts and still, oh, you don't know how lucky you are to

"have me," Kabuto says, leaning over Orochimaru, pulling the sheets away from between them, and Orochimaru bares his teeth very slightly in a tired grimace but cannot say with truth that he finds any repulsion in Kabuto's loyalty. Perhaps it is almost endearing. "You'll always have me, lord, any way you need me-but surely you know that?"

It is spoken like a joke, so Orochimaru laughs, so Kabuto laughs also, together but for one being a little more embittered than the other (but which?). They are old, both of them, old and wisened in their own ways; the only difference comes within the body and that is easily overcome, will be, shall be, shall not. Kabuto lays a hand down around on Orochimaru's wrist, feeling the pulse thrum, slow and heavy. "Kabuto," Orochimaru says, fingers loose in a fist, recalling clear and wistful the violence of his youth for that is all there is to recall at all-the blood and what is broken, the scars and what is won, and yet, and yet, what have you left? what have you lost?-"come to bed with me."

Kabuto dips his head with a smile. "Yes, my lord," he says, and Orochimaru surrenders his mind to be now the worth of only his old bones, and his weary lust, and his

"hands, your hands," Kabuto says, breathy and tense, "they're very cold." He shifts to take them in his own warmer ones, coming down closer, both their limbs leaving shapes below the sheets; Orochimaru does not think of the past or of the lost, shoulders-to-shoulders with Kabuto, chest-against-chest. He thinks of Kabuto's face unreadable and every noise a mess. He thinks, so this is what it comes to, here is where they settle: with the dark holding all secrets, and the night sealing all wounds, all but for those of

"the heart," Kabuto says quietly, "it's your heart."

"Will you lie to me now, Kabuto? Will you tell me I am not dying?" Orochimaru says, with no care at all. It is true that time will not wait for him to catch up-will not, has not, has never. He coughs twice into his fist and wonders if Kabuto could taste the poison in him last night; wonders if it is something that can spread, the concept of falling-to-pieces, as though that their mouths had touched and all sickness had bled between them like splitting of sins, breaking of bread. Kabuto is the only person he has loved in some few years now, he supposes, but he has begun to be unsure what love consists of. It is probably like battle-scars and bloodied-hair and healing jutsu. It is probably a little like arrhythmia, where one thing is wrong, and all the rest comes down with it.

Kabuto looks away. "No, I won't," he says, and Orochimaru considers not for the first time that in his weakened state Kabuto could easily kill him, in almost any way he desired, if he did, and it is like a joke: they both of them have wormed under one anothers skin, like force beyond their own rotten hands, like the bad-hearts that even medics like Kabuto could not touch, like the earth and the sky as halves of a set of jaws with the living lost in all the ridges of their teeth (and they shall always feed in the end), and like time that will not wait for anyone nor for anything and least of all Orochimaru's breath to return. It is like a joke, and so Orochimaru laughs, or perhaps coughs, til his throat seizes up and his mouth fills with blood, hot and bitter, and Kabuto holds him around the shoulders in that soft way that he loathes-for Kabuto's arms are growing stronger yet than his own by the day and Kabuto's words have become so reused, every "there is time" so over-spoke that Orochimaru does not know what there is now to even say when there is undeniably near to no time left-but he is dying, he is dying, and of course it would be from the heart.