Orochimaru/Kabuto, if you squint. PG-13. 720 words. Spoilerish until timeskip, violence.
Disclaimer: Do not own the rights, written for entertainment purposes only, etc.
GAME OF SURVIVAL
The boy dove down to one knee and spun, his extended leg hitting his opponent's ankles and toppling the foe to the ground. In a flash, the boy was up, over, jamming an elbow deep in the man's bowels. Still recovering from that blow, the man put up only a feeble defense of his chest as the boy delivered a fierce hand chop to his side. The crackling of his ribs precursored his scream, and only then did the boy relent. He stood up and shuffled back to his corner, awaiting the next fighter.
From the observation platform, Orochimaru approved. While there were always replacements for Sasuke's sparring partners, there was no need to be wasteful. Kabuto would patch this misfit back together in days, ready to fight once more, vengeful and still eager to prove himself for advancement. Certainly, such speedy recovery would be painful to the subject, but no matter. Sasuke's training came first.
Of course, there would soon come a time when that schedule would include desensitizing Sasuke to killing in cold blood. Might as well keep these other puppets alive until their deaths became necessary. Their supply of recruits was not endless, and some strong ones would have to be sacrificed to hone his future container - and what a splendid container it would be. Orochimaru smiled. "Yes...?" he asked.
Kabuto stepped out of the shadows, a faint smirk belying the fact he was frustrated at once again failing to sneak up on his mentor. "Lord Orochimaru," he said with a curt bow, "How is he doing?"
"He is giving you quite a bit of work for later."
"As is expected."
"Yes..." Orochimaru said at length as the next fighter readied himself, the cripple already removed from the pit. "So many fools..." he muttered, smirking. "So many chess pieces, just waiting to be played..." He shot Kabuto a slow glance, gauging reactions.
His second guarded himself adequately, and parried. "It is good to be the puppet master, is it not?"
Orochimaru's eyebrows flared for an instant, his face otherwise a steady mask. It was clear enough Kabuto saw himself as his potential successor. Perhaps he had spoiled the man too much - Kabuto was indeed favored, much in the way one favors a good toy, or a useful item, anything its wielder is not yet ready to discard entirely.
Kabuto played the grand game better than most within Sound. Others would grovel and prostrate themselves before Orochimaru and lie to cover up their intentions; their failures.
Yet, this man seemed to forget. When one is immortal, who needs successors? Barring accidents, death was not on the agenda - but then again, ambitious prodigies could almost be expected to cause 'accidents' when they thought the time right.
In time, Kabuto would surely make the attempt - but his usefulness would most likely expire before then, if only by seconds.
"He will do fine," he said.
"Only the best for you, Lord Orochimaru," Kabuto offered.
With a languid nod, Orochimaru looked away from the carnage of the pit, the screams of the new fighter echoing in the walls. He sighed. "Another failure... You must do better, Kabuto. Patch this batch up, and find someone capable of lasting at least five minutes in the ring." He glared, smirking. "Or are you not capable of this?"
Recognizing the threat, Kabuto bowed. "I will get this done, Lord Orochimaru."
"Good... You know I do not tolerate failures - or disloyalty."
"I am your faithful servant until the end, master," Kabuto replied, one step back.
"Yes..." Orochimaru answered slowly. "But... yours... or mine...?"
Through the spectacles, he noted the quick glint in Kabuto's eyes, the soft smirk, and above all the fact he turned and walked away without dismissal.
Orochimaru smiled to himself, tentatively clenched his fists, glanced down to the far corner of the pit where the boy sat, brooding, waiting. Pawns to be played, all of them. Even these two. No matter. Orochimaru thought himself prepared. Only a fool would attempt to gain power before learning how to wield it well, much less hold on to it. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, the saying went.
Orochimaru no longer had anyone he considered friends.
He spun around and left the observation platform, thinking perhaps it was time to remind Kabuto who was top dog.