Pairing: Orochimaru/Anko, with hints of Anko->Minato, Orochimaru->Tsunade, and Minato/Kushina.
Genre: Drama, pastfic, introspection, slight smuttiness.
Spoilers: For a lot of pre-canon goings-on.
Other Notes: This is really heterosexual— surprising for me.
Go easy on the con-crit this time, please; trust me, I am painfully aware of its faults.
The first ten years they tried to saddle him with genin teams, Orochimaru failed them. Simply. Unequivocally. Without debate or argument or fanfare.
He stared at them— through them— and rolled his eyes, sighed heavily, and snidely began the endless tongue-lashing. He mocked their weaknesses; he pricked their childish, arrogant suppositions and dreams, needling them relentlessly until, one by one, they fell silent, all bravado swept away; he ruthlessly taunted them with nightmare visions of war-torn lands, blood and death, pestilence and betrayal.
He twisted them deep into genjutsu, slithering deep into the crevices of their vulnerable minds; he toyed with them, luring them into traps loaded with poisoned kunai and exploding tags and writhing serpents. He watched the fear dancing in their wide eyes just before he closed white fingers round their wrists and crushed the small bones.
Orochimaru licked the taste of sweat-salt and tears from trembling skin and smiled before he finished dashing the last sweet drops of hope from them.
Sarutobi questioned him once, briefly, but Orochimaru shrugged, the corners of his lips quirking, and said simply, “They were too weak.”
Tsunade understood— or rather, she thought she did, and Orochimaru did not mind her…understanding.
“You’re right," she sighed once, and closed her eyes before she could see the flash of amusement in her teammate’s face. She leaned back against the railing of the channel, her arms crossed under her full breasts, and the wind caught the pennant of her hair, pulling soft curls loose to tickle her cheeks. Orochimaru watched her, watched the sun pour gold all over her, watched and said nothing, waiting for her to finish.
“It doesn’t seem right, does it? They’re just kids… stupid, scared kids. It’s supposed to be like training wolf cubs, not like sending sheep out to the slaughter. If we’re not tough on them here, then they’ll be killed. Better they face you as an opponent than the enemy.”
Tsunade thought she understood.
Orochimaru did not mind.
“I don’t have time to waste on lost causes,” he answered, and it was her turn to smirk. Cynicism was not the best look for her, Orochimaru thought, but he liked seeing her wear it anyway. It was such an ugly look for such a pretty face, and he did so enjoy the contrast.
“Selfish bastard,” she said, pure honeyed savagery, fiery and sweet all at once, and Orochimaru laughed shortly. “Still. Still such a selfish bastard. You never change.”
“That’s the idea,” he agreed, smiling at her.
Tsunade lifted one fine brow questioningly, then shook her head. She didn’t want to know; she knew too much about him for her comfort as it was.
“We were younger,” she said instead. “Strange to think about it… We’d already fought for years by the time we were the age academy graduates are now. In a way, we’re relics… survivors of a time so different than the present that the rules we lived by no longer apply.” She squinted up at the sky, then lazily rolled her head against her shoulder to look at Orochimaru. “Times change, even if you don’t. “
The river chuckled and burbled against the concrete channel walls.
“Let Jiraiya play with the snot-nosed brats. Just like in Amegakure,” he snorted. “He’s still one himself, after all, still thinking it’s all fun and games. The fool actually thinks it’s some sort of privilege.”
“Isn’t it? Isn’t it a privilege to be asked to share everything you’ve learned with the future of the village? To shape new shinobi?” Tsunade shrugged as she pushed off of the railing. “Think about it, will you?” She waved casually over her shoulder at him, leaving him to consider her last words.
Idiocy, Orochimaru decided, is contagious in this small village.
And isn’t that the truth! he sourly thought sometime later while pacing his underground lair, waiting on the results of his latest experiment. Idiocy was inherent in the creed being passed down, generation to generation— cultural stupidity revered. Everyone born into the village inhaled the same air and ate the same food, and every breath and every bite was tainted with foolishness.
The villagers were Konoha and Konoha was the villagers, and everyone thought in vapid platitudes…everyone except him.
He was different.
Somehow, he’d been…immune…to the mealy-mouthed groupthink that dominated the village. He’d rejected it even while he was very young, and he had grown up developing his own ideas on life and death and the art of war— ideas that had no place in the land that had borne their creator.
Psychological immunity… Now there was an interesting concept.
If Konoha had produced him, then couldn’t it— in theory— produce something else different too? Not the same as him, of course, but something that didn’t fit in here, either.
Something interesting and unique.
Orochimaru picked up a scalpel and smiled.
Experimenting made him very, very happy.
The first time, he accepted a trio of genin. Better odds, he decided, to have three at a time, and less suspicious-looking since three was the typical number.
Orochimaru quickly remembered why he had not involved himself with students for so long. He hadn’t the patience for them, really, despite his students’ obvious respect for and fear of him. They didn’t dare disagree with their teacher— cowards, he thought— but they shifted uncomfortably and averted their eyes, silently resistant to his teachings.
He wondered what they told their peers and their parents when training sessions were over, when they returned from assignments.
Orochimaru killed them within nine months. Their bodies went to his lab, and a few identifying remains— a lock of hair, an earring, a scrap of cloth— went to the Hokage, and the whole thing was written off as a terrible accident, a mission gone tragically wrong.
So sad, the losses of war.
He was excused from training another team for another year.
It was frustratingly difficult, and while Orochimaru enjoyed challenges, he did not appreciate feeling incompetent, especially not in front of a line of stubbornly unspeaking children.
Konoha children, he thought, were the worst. Perhaps their minds could have been opened to other possibilities once, but after the academy… No.
Orphans were best.
Orochimaru liked finding strays on the streets, filthy little gutter rats ready to accept anything he gave them, eager to speak with someone who would actually listen. They weren’t afraid of him; he showed them the only kindness they’d seen in years. He stroked their lice-infested hair and smiled at them; he gave them bread and praise, and took them to warm shelters where they could stay. He used them and they did not mind because he gave back to them more than anyone else had ever bothered, more than they expected.
They looked at him as though he was god.
He raised up the weak and sick, and they exalted him and served his glory.
Someday soon, all of Konoha would understand his power.
Jiraiya was the first to comment on his frequent absences from the village.
“Wow, you’re still alive!” he exclaimed sarcastically, hooking his arm around Orochimaru’s neck in order to half hang on him. “Haven’t seen you in so long, I was thinkin’ that I missed the funeral! You know how much I wanna give the eulogy.”
“Get off me, you moron!”
“You kinda look dead… Oh wait, you’ve always looked like that.”
Orochimaru wondered again why he hadn’t yet killed the blockhead. Oh, yes: people would notice. What a shame.
“Do you actually want something or are you just trying to piss me off, Jiraiya?”
“Hmmm…” Jiraiya smirked mischievously and waggled his eyebrows as he leaned in far too close for Orochimaru’s comfort. “I wanna know what you’ve been up to all this time. Never see you around anymore… And even when you’re here, you’re not here, if you know what I mean. So what’s up?”
Orochimaru stared at him.
There were eyeballs floating in jars of saline in the laboratories beneath the village. Genetic samples were lined up in test tubes awaiting further distillation. There were bodies laid out on the hard tables, and iv racks shivered as fluid dripped into the still, pale arms.
Jiraiya stared serenely back, waiting with more patience than his teammate thought he possessed.
Two day’s travel to the north, a small-but-growing community of children rescued from the streets slept and ate and trained. Those who’d tried to run were locked in cages, awaiting Orochimaru’s command and consumption, and more than a few of others regarded them as traitors against their savior.
“I’ve been studying,” Orochimaru said finally, coldly. “Since the last treaties were signed, there’s been nothing else to do.”
“True enough. Although…” Jiraiya paused thoughtfully. “…it’s better this way. I’d rather have the free time to research and write and train up my team than worry about when another fight’s gonna break out. You should think about that, too. Now that the wars have died down, you know Sarutobi-sensei’s gonna ride your ass about teaching some students.”
It would look good, Orochimaru thought. It would be good cover. It was expected of him, and if he wanted to see his other projects through to completion, then he needed more time without interruption. And when he was Hokage…
“Perhaps.” Orochimaru pushed a stray lock of hair behind his ear, considering. “Perhaps… Perhaps you’re right for once, Jiraiya.”
This time, there would only be one.
He would sift through the miserable slag until he found one rough semi-precious gem buried in the mud.
Opportunity was a pretty girl child with pale brown eyes and a sharp wide smile.
“What’s your name?”
The girl proudly jerked her face up toward him.
“Mitarashi Anko, Orochimaru-sensei.”
“Are you afraid?”
Anko hesitated a moment, furrowing her brow, and he watched her eyes flick rapidly back and forth as she scanned his face, trying to glean more information from his expression . She looked at him, unfazed and unabashed. “Afraid of what?”
“Power.” Orochimaru spread his hands out in an all-encompassing gesture, and a smile began to blossom on his lips. “Are you afraid of becoming powerful, little one? Are you afraid of becoming more than you ever dreamed you could be? More than they thought you could be?”
He’d spoken similar promises to the street scum he’d picked up over the years, and he was accustomed to seeing disbelief and hope flicker across their dirty faces in response. Their eyes said yes, please, please!, before they even fully understood what he was offering them, before they could even decide if he was lying to them or not.
This little girl, on the other hand, was not looking hopeful or confused or unbelieving. She was looking at him very strangely. Almost…skeptically.
“I’m not afraid of you. Or of learning new things. Actually,” she said, perking up and brightening, “I want to learn something cool. Everyone acts like you’re really scary, so you’ve got to know some really cool stuff. Like how to kill a guy just by looking at him or something.”
There was a very long pause.
Anko added, “I don’t think you’re that scary-looking. I like your tattoo.”
“Oh, do you,” Orochimaru said drily.
“Yeah. That’s pretty wicked. Can I touch it?” Small tanned hands stretched out to catch ahold of his wrist.
Her knuckles were criss-crossed with pink and white scars and scrapes, her nails were dirty and bitten short, and there were tough calluses on her palms. She was rough and active, no slouch in her basic training, obviously. Four warm fingers brushed across the inked serpent’s head delicately, lingering a moment before Orochimaru pulled away.
Anko blushed and jerked back, then curled her hands into fists, restraining her too-curious fingers. She gave sharp, tight laugh— a sound too mature, too self-aware to come from a child’s throat— and raised her eyes to his again despite her slight embarrassment.
She licked her lips. “Wicked,” she said again, and Orochimaru grinned.
The girl might not be the best specimen, but she was different than the others, her mind cracked open just a touch more.
And if it didn’t work out, he’d still find a use for her one way or the other.
Their sparring sessions were short and brutal.
“Man…” Jiraiya drawled disapprovingly when he first saw Anko tagging along after his old teammate, a week after their first training. “Didn’t you ever learn how to pull your punches, you bastard?”
Orochimaru narrowed his eyes, then glanced behind him, analyzed the damage, and shrugged. “I only used taijutsu, and I didn’t break any of her bones.”
“Mm. I suppose you think that’s fair.” Jiraiya downed another glass of sake. It was seven o’clock in the evening, and he was already well into his cups. His last mission had been unexpectedly difficult and he desperately wanted to forget it ever happened. “What’d her parents say about you training her like this?”
“They didn’t say anything at all. They’re dead,” Orochimaru responded coldly. It was part of her appeal.
“Just like—” Jiraiya was drunk, but not drunk enough to finish that thought out loud. Orochimaru tended to not appreciate reminders of the past. “That doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want,” he muttered instead.
“It’s ok.” Anko clambered up onto the barstool next to the other sannin, hissing softly in pain as she struggled with the rungs. One eye was swollen shut, but the other gleamed brightly as she sat up and smiled at him. “I don’t mind. I used to beat up all the boys in my class all the time, so I guess I needed a challenge.” She laughed. “I’ll try harder next time and win for sure!”
Orochimaru savored the shocked silence.
“I figure,” Anko continued after a moment, “if I can beat Orochimaru-sensei, then I can beat anybody, right? So I’ll train harder and lose a lot and then one day I’ll never have to lose again.”
“Holy shit,” Jiraiya managed finally. Then, “How old are you?”
“Not old enough!” Orochimaru hissed, and that quick reaction caused white brows to arch in surprise.
“Ok, ok… Geez, aren’t we getting touchy.” Jiraiya held his hands up in a placating gesture, but he couldn’t hide the furiously crazed grin that split his alcohol-flushed face. “I’m just playin’; you know that.”
Orochimaru leaned forward over Anko’s head, dropped one hand onto her shoulder, and smirked at his old teammate. His pale fingers squeezed the muscle trapped between them slowly, rhythmically, and Anko practically purred at the attention despite her myriad of bruises, her eye narrowed in a contented arc of dark lashes.
Jiraiya couldn’t entirely believe what he was seeing; he’d never seen Orochimaru do anything quite like that before for any reason, and he never would have believed that anyone receiving such attention would look so delighted with it.
It was beyond strange; it was utterly surreal.
“Ah…” Orochimaru chuckled softly, a bare breath of laughter that caught in the girl’s mop of hair. “But this one’s mine to play with, and I don’t share well.”
That was beyond frightening; it was absolutely, completely horrifying.
Jiraiya stared wild-eyed for one appalled moment, then slid off his stool and staggered away from the bar to vomit in the street.
Within two months, Anko sported noticeably fewer bruises.
She’d always been a little rough around the edges, an unfeminine and brash little tomboy who played a little too hard and hit a little too far below the belt for the comfort of her peers, uninterested and unconcerned with the types of things which preoccupied the other girls’ minds. She hated flower arranging, thought dressing up was a waste of time, and knew that all boys were bores.
She was changing, though, inch by inch.
She dropped the last of the baby fat that had stubbornly clung to her belly and gained three inches.
Her skirts got shorter, bare scraps of leather wrapped from the peaks of her pelvis to mid-thigh.
Her shirts got shorter, too. They rose up and up until they barely covered her small breasts.
She started letting her hair grow out longer, though she still kept it clipped back out of her face in a wild, messy spray.
Within five months, she had her own ‘wicked’ tattoo winding around her forearm.
Anko liked the snakes. She enjoyed listening to their soft, sibilant voices, especially when they nuzzled their blunt noses up against her ear to whisper to her their own secrets and tricks. They wound around her warm body; they slithered into her jacket sleeves and wended down her shivered back. The touch of their silken scales raised her own skin in gooseflesh.
Her mannerisms changed, too.
Her walk turned into an aggressive rolling strut. The world swayed with her hips.
She was precise in her movements, no motion wasted.
She laughed easily, freely, but her smiles were feral and dangerous.
Within eight months, Anko was a predator.
Orochimaru watched his student stretch backward like a wild cat over a tree limb high above the forest floor of their meeting place. She leaned back further, and then gravity caught ahold of her; she flipped her long, lithe legs over her head and arched into a graceful dive toward the earth, righting herself at the last moment to land easily on her feet.
“Sensei!” She grinned up at him happily, her pale brown eyes gleaming almost hazel in the warm afternoon sunlight. “What are we doing today?”
“I want you to tell me,” Orochimaru pulled an apple from his supply pouch and held it against his lips, his smile hidden behind it, “why forbidden jutsu are forbidden.”
“Mmm… Because they’re dangerous for the one performing them. Some of them require more chakra than a lot of people have, and a lot of other ones can injure or kill the shinobi using them, even if they’re done right.”
“That’s half of it. What’s the other half?”
“Other half?” Anko frowned.
“Not all forbidden jutsu are dangerous, but all of them are forbidden nonetheless. Why?”
“Because…” Anko trailed off, unsure. Her brows furrowed, and she picked her thought up again slowly. “Because they’re…not right. They’re… um… They’re wrong. They’re wrong to do, even in battle.”
“Immoral, you mean.” Orochimaru tossed her the apple. “Yes. Some jutsu are forbidden because people find the techniques they employ repugnant. Now…” He held up a slender finger, catching Anko’s attention before she took her first big bite. “Tell me: who makes these decisions? Who decides what jutsu are too terrible for anyone else to ever learn?
“Oh. I don’t know.” This was an unexpected topic of instruction. Anko had always been curious about kinjutsu, but had resigned herself to never knowing anything more about them sometime during her academy years. She pocketed her fruit; lessons now, rewards later. “The Hokage, I guess. And the elders. They make all the rules ‘cause they’re wiser than us.”
Orochimaru made a soft irritated noise in his throat, and shifted his weight uneasily. For a short minute, he was somewhere else entirely, somewhere beyond the bright forest. He was gone so often from Konoha, disappearing for days and sometimes even weeks at a stretch. He left Anko with histories to study, jutsu to practice, and strange weapons to learn how to handle; her apartment was littered with handwritten books filled strategy problems ranging from go board set-ups to battlefield situation for her to solve in her free time. Homework, she thought disgustedly. He went away and he left her behind to wait all the time, and now, again, he’d gone inside to someplace she couldn’t ever follow.
Anko wanted to pound her fists against his chest into the bulk of his flak jacket until he came back and at least looked at her again.
“It’s not fair!” she said suddenly, and Orochimaru’s attention snapped back to the present moment immediately, his amber eyes wider than she’d ever seen them before.
He was surprised.
More than surprised…though Anko couldn’t decipher the strange, wild air that shivered around him. She trembled like a live wire, feeling faint with giddiness, euphorically triumphant. She knew what he wanted. It had been an accident, a Freudian slip, but she knew now.
She threw her arms out in a frantic gesture toward him and cried out again, “It’s not fair! That’s… They haven’t the right! It’s our choice, isn’t it? Our choice to enter the academy, and our choice to train and study, and our choice to risk our lives! So why shouldn’t we be able to do what we like to stay alive and come out on top!”
She slammed into him before she’d even realized she’d began moving. She clawed at the front of his jacket savagely, and jerked her chin upward to look at him. A crazed, desperate grin slashed across her face.
“Orochimaru-sensei… You’ve made your own decisions, haven’t you? Haven’t you!” Anko’s fingers tightened on handfuls of canvas again. “I understand. I understand. And if… If you’ll let me, I’ll live or die by those choices, too. I’ll…” She searched for better words. “I’ll abide by your code, sensei!”
The solid frame began to shake beneath her.
Orochimaru drew in a deep breath, tossed his long hair back, and let his laughter loose to echo through the woods.
Startled birds tore from their branches across the white skies.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes.”
“You grew up fast. What, are you in some kind of hurry?”
Anko whirled on the unexpected voice, a trio of kunai slipping into hand.
Namikaze Minato held up his hands and chuckled half-heartedly, shaking his head. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Geez, you get a scary look on your face when you’re surprised, Anko-chan!”
“Ah,” she said, feeling the blood rise to her face. “…sorry.” The blades vanished up her jacket sleeves and she dropped her gaze away from his eyes toward the relative safety of his sandals. His toes, while quite attractive as far as toes went, were not as difficult to face as the brilliance of his smile.
“’S’ ok,” Minato shrugged amiably and fell into step beside the younger nin. “I understand. You’ve been training hard lately. That tends to make you edgy. We’ve all been there once in a while.”
“Yeah… I guess.”
Anko winced at the sullen sound of her own voice, but Minato seemed not to notice. He was humming under his breath.
“Haven’t seen you chase Obito down and threaten his life in like… what? Six months?” he said after they’d walked another block. They passed the turn she’d needed to take to get back to her apartment, and she didn’t say anything. “He lives in eternal terror of you, you know.”
Anko mumbled something under her breath.
“I suppose that fear’s justified now,” he continued, oblivious to Anko’s internal agonizing. “I hear they’re expecting you to ace the jounin exams in a year or two. You’re on your way to the top.” Minato laughed. “By the time there’s a new Hokage, you’ll probably be in ANBU or something.”
Anko stopped in her tracks and finally forced herself to look up, needing to see his face. “Namikaze-san…” She swallowed hard, and struggled to keep her hands from forming tight, nervous fists. “Do you… Do you think— Who do you think Sandaime will pick as his successor?
Minato stopped as well, looking very surprised...and then his expression softened. He understood. “Oh. I don’t know, Anko-chan,” he said nonchalantly. “That’s not really something for you to worry about. I’m sure that he’ll choose well. Sandaime understands the heart of Konoha; he knows what we hope and dream and what we need to carry on.”
“O—” Anko bit her traitorous tongue, held back the torrent of words holding all her faith and fear.
“What?” His voice fell on her as gently as the twilight slid down over the village, hushed and dark. “You can say whatever you want. It’s alright.”
She startled violently when Minato’s hand fell lightly onto the top of her head; she trembled under his touch, more afraid of his kindness than she’d ever been of Orochimaru’s scathing cruelty.
A petty deity needed no excuse for malice; whereas a beautiful young man’s casual benevolence seemed unearned and undeserved.
Anko lifted her face, eyes wide and throat silent…
“Hahahaha!” A red-haired woman pounced out from the shadows. “There you are— oops!” She looked around wildly, since her target was, in fact, no longer there at all. “Damn!”
She waved cheerfully at Anko before vanishing in a puff of smoke, hot on the chase of the Yellow Flash.
Anko stared at the empty street.
She drew in a deep breath of cool night air, and that eased the ache in her chest.
Everything was lost in an instant, except that which she never had to begin with.
Anko knew what kind of sacrifices her capricious god might demand in exchange for an evening’s solace.
She knew, and she accepted, because she could stand anything but spending the night alone.
A place for everything and everything in its place meant nothing at all when there was too much of everything and too little room in which to put it. It was a late night in a dark location far outside the jurisdiction of any village or clan, and Orochimaru was beginning to think that perhaps he’d tried to choke down more than he was capable of digesting all at once.
Back in Konoha, in the underground, the experiments continued, and it was becoming harder and harder to procure the subjects he needed to finish them with accurate results. Tending the other irons in the fire left less time than he would have liked to devote to his ongoing projects; many of his samples rotted before he managed to finish them, and he found he needed to be pickier about what type of work he wanted to focus on during the time he had.
The first four rounds of fetal manipulation had all failed, which was not surprising, considering he was working with genetic material from a long-dead source. Orochimaru cursed every moment he spent grinding the Shodaime’s bones into dust and then soaking the dust in acid baths— such a waste of time! If only he’d had the foresight to save even a single hair from Tsunade’s golden head before she ran away, then…!
Well. Orochimaru gnashed his teeth together in frustration. He hadn’t. And that’s all there was to that.
And then there was Anko-kun, so close and yet so puzzlingly, impossibly difficult to pin down. She’d reminded him a little at first of his ex-teammate; Tsunade’d been a brash, brassy tomboy of a child, too, outspoken and unafraid. It’d made him wonder what it would have been like, training someone like the Shodaime’s granddaughter— what could he have done with such source material!
But Anko was wary as a half-tame wolf cub with bared teeth and tightly restrained tail flipping between her slinking hind legs; instead of becoming tamer with time, though, she was becoming increasingly more feral, pulling away and startling easily. It was such a pity; she’d begun so sweetly, trusting him implicitly but something was drawing her away and muddling her loyalties.
Perhaps if he brought her here, to the northern lands where he’d taken all the other lost children and formed his base of power…
“Orochimaru-sama?” A young boy stepped cautiously into the room and bowed his head quickly, avoiding eye contact. “Sir… There’s some sort of commotion outside. I think someone’s trying to…um,” the boy’s voice dropped fearfully, “…break in. He’s killed Daiguro and Isamu already, and he’s… he doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.”
And now this… Orochimaru stood up, and the boy shot away in instinctive terror. There was no reason to flee, though. He was calm.
This lair was not in Konoha. This was his place. Orochimaru enjoyed chaos, but only the kind that he controlled.
There was blood spattered on the walls and puddled on the floor.
Orochimaru stepped over the wreckage of two young kunoichi toward the evident cause and winner of the short battle.
A boy with wild ginger hair huddled in a corner, and most of his body was covered in gore. He whimpered and trembled pathetically; he rocked in place, face hidden in the crook of his arm, and muttered softly to himself, though his words were tear-stained and choked, incomprehensible.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk…” Orochimaru glanced around again, then snorted good humoredly under his breath. He stopped a few feet from the boy and when the echoes of his footfalls died down into silence, he added, “You’ve made a rather large mess, haven’t you? Are you done now? Had your fill?”
The boy slowly lifted his head from the cradle of his forearms to stare. Horror scrawled large across his face and stared out from red-rimmed, blood-shot eyes so wide they seemed to pop from his face. His Adam’s apple bobbled; his mouth opened and closed a few times wordlessly.
“…help.” The boy managed one word and then clutched at it desperately. “Help. Help… Help me. Please… Please! Oh god, please help me!” He uncurled and fell across the floor. His limbs shook as he tried to push himself up, and he reached for Orochimaru frantically, clawing at the air. “Help! You’ve got to help me, I don’t want to do this, oh please…oh please…oh please…”
Orochimaru watched the boy raggedly crawl toward his sandals. “Help you not do what?”
It seemed self-evident, but he asked. This didn’t seem like a crazed attacker bent on invading his sanctuary. This seemed like a scared, useless child caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I… I don’t want to kill people. I don’t want to, but I can’t help it! It’s not me, and I hate it, but I can’t help it!” The boy grabbed at his own head, collapsing back onto the floor, and loosed an ear-splitting agonized howl. Shadowy shapes raced across his skin, staining half of his face with dark blotches. Orochimaru’s attention sharpened instantly.
“No! No! N—Yes!” Spittle flew from his clenched teeth, and the boy shook as though having a seizure. He gasped wildly. Part of his body twisted, and muscles roiled under the skin. “Nnnnn… No! No… No.”
What was that? What nearly happened there? Orochimaru wanted to grab the kid shake him. He wanted to breathe, Yes, yes, yes! into his ear until he stopped fighting himself and let whatever was meant to happen, happen.
“You’ve got to help me,” the boy mumbled at Orochimaru’s feet. “You’ve got to help me. You’re the only one. I don’t want to hurt anyone else. I’ll do anything. I’ll try anything. I’ll endure anything. It doesn’t matter… I don’t want to hurt anyone anymore.”
“What’s your name?” Orochimaru grinned at the damnable good luck. Whatever the kid had— some sort of bloodline limit?— it was a godsend. He could certainly help his poor young man, especially since he was so generous with himself. “If you’re going to stay, it’s only proper that I know your name.”
“Juugo.” The boy looked up, full of numb gratitude. “Juugo of the Scales.”
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Namikazi Minato grinned, a little embarrassed to be the center of so much attention; beside him stood two other fools, both looking proud and pleased as punch. The wind caught the length of Jiraiya’s hair, sending it lashing out behind him like a white dragon’s tasseled tail, and Sarutobi had had to pinch the brim of his hat with two fingers to keep it from flying wild blue yonder until he passed it to the young blond man standing between them.
The sun was beating down fiercely, with the first breath of summer’s heat, and almost everyone in the village was assembled to see the announcement of their new Hokage. Waves of people below the tower swelled and swayed; they roared out their approval when Sarutobi spoke drowning out his words with their crazed chorus.
Anko was caught in the crush of bodies, asphyxiated by the strangling denseness of the hoards, and she couldn’t shout, couldn’t scream; she was breathless and voiceless, choking in the sweaty heat that blanketed the crowd.
She’d never felt so grateful in her life.
Minato embraced the village, everything about it. It was clear as still water to anyone who looked. As the Sandaime had been as a devoted father to them, Minato would be as a faithful bridegroom, happily in love with his arranged wife until the end of days. He would live for her, die for her, protect her with all his heart and strength.
She’d never been afraid of Orochimaru before, not even when he’d locked their fingers together and all but demonstrated a mutual suicide kinjutsu. He was her sensei. He was powerful and dangerous, but that’d only meant to her that she was learning from one of the very best. Orochimaru’d fought through endless wars his whole life, and if he was prone to blood-chilling moments of inhumanity, Anko understood. What would she be like in twenty years? After she’d killed people who did not deserve to die, after she watched friends and comrades drop one by one from the ranks, after she’d seen the best and worst humanity had to offer…what then? Would she, too, frighten others merely by looking at them? Would she take to drowning her memories in sex and sake? Would she run and hope to god she’d never have to face her past again?
Anko understood that the same forces that created a legend also could create a monster. There, but for the grace of god, went she.
She’d never feared him until now.
People were beginning to surge upward, pressing forward to offer small gifts and congratulations, and Anko felt herself pulled by the riptide irresistibly up the winding stairs toward the trio at the tower top. There were snakes inside her belly eating her up; she was pregnant with fear, swollen and clumsy. She didn’t know where she was trying to go; she only knew she couldn’t stay here any longer. She struggled to turn and fight against the current, stumbling and flailing recklessly.
“Hey, hey, hey… What’s this all about? This isn’t a battlefield, you know.”
Anko’s hands began forming seals before the grip on her shoulders managed to turn her around.
“It’s you!” Jiraiya’s fingers caught hers in the middle of the ox form, and his brow furrowed. The line of people swirled around them. “Are you alright? You’re…pale.”
She stared, wild-eyed for a moment. She knew how she must look. Sweat drizzled down her back. “Please…” she said finally, tugging against his hold. “Orochimaru-sensei… He…”
Jiraiya’s lips thinned into a bloodless line and he closed his eyes. “No.” He shook his head slowly. The cords in his throat stood out violently, and for one perfect moment, Anko could see right through him. He was so transparent to her that she startled again, another spike of anxiety digging into her.
Shinobi were never supposed to be caught so vulnerable.
“No. That’s a different story. It couldn’t be written, not this time.”
“I don’t know what to do.” Anko licked her lips. It was selfish. It was self-preservation. It was desperation. “What am I going to do, Jiraiya-san?”
“You…?” The question startled Jiraiya back to the present moment and his eyes popped back open. A lopsided grin slid across his face, and he stroked his chin with one hand consideringly. “Well… I suppose you could stay the night with me.”
Anko’s mouth fell open. Some strange, inarticulate noise emanated from her throat.
Then she realized she was laughing.
Then, she realized, so was Jiraiya.
Her fear melted away under the hot sunshine, standing and braying out laughter together with a man of equal power to her fierce sensei and who did not fear him. She understood now where the new Hokage’s sense of loyalty derived, and a sense of complete security enveloped her— she was part of the village, and those who loved Konoha loved her, too. She was part of this place, blood and bone; she’d fought at the Sandaime’s word and she would continue to fight under the Yondaime, ready to give her life for her village.
And in return, they would keep her as near to their hearts as their profession would let them.
“How ‘bout we just go get a drink instead?” Anko smirked and laid her hand on his broad, tanned forearm, cocking her head upward at him fetchingly. “My treat? I think we all deserve it.”
It was over a week after the ceremony before Anko saw Orochimaru again.
Storms had swept over Fire Country, bringing sweet rain and flickering lights that illuminated the night. The trees and grass were shimmeringly verdant, glistening under gray skies, and everything had taken on a dark, drenched glory.
She’d spent all morning training in the Forest of Death, and she, too, was soaked to the skin. The rain pulled strings of dark hair down from the clip that held it and stained her jacket nearly black, and she tipped her head back to let chilled drop cool her flushed face.
She’d been expecting it— she’d learned to always expect him, and she always would, even long after he’d left Konoha forever— but the sound of his voice still startled her.
She whirled sharply and then stumbled backward, choking on her greeting; how had he gotten so close without revealing himself?
Orochimaru’s lips parted, showing perfect, even white teeth in a terrifyingly congenial smile.
“Come. I have something to give you,” he said.
Anko never told anyone everything that had happened that night.
“Take off your wet things.”
The sound of the lock clicking into place was lost in the drumming beat of the rain on the roof.
The ANBU squad who handled the case had pieced together some of the events on their own.
“Do you trust me?”
She narrowed her eyes and confessed, “I don’t know anymore.”
“I should feel hurt.” He laughed and stroked her blushing cheek. He laced his fingers through her damp hair and leaned in toward her until their foreheads touched. His eyes were liquid gold, softer than she’d ever seen them. “I have a gift for you.”
Anko felt the tension start to drain from her, puddling at her feet like the rainwater running from her body. Warmth spread through her body.
“A very special gift.”
“What…?” The word dragged awkwardly. She should look away. She should, and she couldn’t.
Orochimaru cocked his head and pressed his mouth to hers, stopping her before she wrangled her thought into completion.
There was a wall at her back that hadn’t been there before— she was sure of it; when had she moved?— and she was braced against it in an awkward position. One of her hands was caught and pinned in a vice-like grip; her left knee was raised up and out, supported underneath by a strong arm that nearly lifted her off completely up off the floor.
“Good girl,” he purred into her ear. “Make this easy for yourself.”
Wet heat slithered down between her small breasts. Anko couldn’t place the strange snapping-popping noise at first, and then she understood: the mesh of her fishnet bodysuit was being torn apart as his tongue slid insistently downward.
There were things that had happened that many guessed at, but none would ever know.
She arched against the wall, her moist pink mouth wide as she cried out. A tremor raced down through her and jolted her hips forward.
“Oh… Oh! O-Orochimaru-sensei…!”
His teeth were digging into her shoulder, but she barely noticed. It was just another sensation added to an overloaded system on the verge of collapse.
At least, until the pain hit.
Rust poured down her back, screaming pain like ancient hinges in her spine creaked wide open to let the dying nerves crawl sickly out. Foreign enzymes eddied in her blood, and the poison of the curse seal branded her soul with scorching black fire.
When she woke up, three days later, she was alone.
The Sandaime had been the only one to hear the majority of the story directly from Anko, start to finished, but she’d left out the personal, not daring to give voice to memories she wished had been annihilated in the flames of agony. Anko spoke only in generalities.
Indeed, the devil himself had been in the details.