I had found the single best aspect of being a ninja. All the power, super human abilities, and mystic knowledge paled in comparison to my passion for this one aspect of my new life. Ninjas could cure hangovers in a few seconds if they have enough medical knowledge.

"Where have you been all my life?" I muttered towards my hand, the medical technique fading from the appendage.

I had cured my hangover with not a drop of tomato juice or Gatorade in sight. I had also managed to keep myself to my study, considering I'd woken up there. Unless I received reports about me walking topless through the halls then Kabuto and Nono were probably the last ones to see me.

All in all, a pretty successful night with tequila access.

A trip to my personal bathroom allowing for a wonderful hot shower, then throwing on a fresh set of clothes, and I felt far better than anyone who consumed that much tequila had any right to feel the next morning. I was even humming a happy tune to myself as I sought out breakfast.

A short time later, I had acquired food and had begun walking back when it happened.

"What do you want from me?"

I turned around to see Nono staring me down as she purposefully walked around me to stand between me and the hallway that led back to my office.

"Ara ara, Nono-san." I said adopting a faux shy look, "So sorry you had to see that side of me last night. It was a bit unbecoming."

The woman chose to glare daggers rather than give a response. She likely didn't see a drawback from her course of action, it had little risk to someone who couldn't die.

I heave a sigh.

"Nono-san, I know what you are doing. Approach 37-B. Attempt to gather information by interrupting their routine and find information based on their reactions. Not a bad policy in this circumstance, since I can't meaningfully threaten your life and you have no social standing here to speak of. Though I do appreciate the directness."

Nono's face barely twitched. She had a good poker face, but I was able to see enough that I'd hit the nail on the head.

I then continued walking down the hall rather than take the turn that Nono was blocking. I wasn't headed back to my office anyways. I let Nono stand there awkwardly for a moment before giving a shout over my shoulder.

"Come along Nono. I was going to do this later but you can come with me and see what this is about."

I took a bite of the bacon bits onigiri that served as my breakfast and began to chew. Nono's training would tell her to retreat in the face of the unknown and try a different approach later. I'd ruined her momentum and her attempts at getting a reaction from me. I had the initiative, socially speaking. She'd be walking in blind with me.

This was however something I wanted to go ahead and get taken care of.

"I will give truthful answers to everything you ask me while we walk."

It took only a few seconds for her to begin to follow. That was the sort of promise that a spy dreamed for after all.

I got two more steps before she spoke up.

"Are you manipulating Kabuto?" She asked.

I gave a scoff.

"Come now, what a waste of a question Nono. Of course I'm manipulating him, we're ninja and he's a double agent. He's well aware of my manipulations too." I say as I take a sip of the green tea in my thermos.

"Fine, are you lying to him?" She asked.

I took a bite of my onigiri and did a mental check on the things I'd told him.

"No, at least not for the last three months or so." I answered.

"Three months? Why only that long?" She pressed.

"Well I had done some soul searching and then settled my current look and lease on life. I was quite a bit different before then."

I could feel Nono's stare at my back, trying to find any sort of falsehood or useful information in my statement.

I paid her no mind as I finished off the first of my onigiri.

"Three months ago was when you left Akatsuki." Nono said after a pause.

"It is." I said simply.

She seemed to think she was on to something.

"What is Akatsuki's goals?" She asked.

"Every member is in it for something different. The overall stated goal is capture all of the tailed beasts and put into into a single statue." I took another bite of my breakfast.

I could feel Nono stopping in place. That was a huge statement. It would be the same as someone in my old life saying they intended to steal all of China, Russia, and the USA's nukes. An almost ridiculous idea but frightening if it was possible.

"Why did you join them?" She asked.

Ah, she was more focused on trying to understand me and my motivations. Even more than finding out Akatsuki. That was interesting.

"I found another member's eyes absolutely captivating." I replied in a dreamy voice.

"What?" Nono asked in surprise.

"His eyes. I found them incredibly attractive." I said before taking a loud slurp of tea.

Nono made a few stuttering sounds before falling silent.

"Why did you leave them?" She asked, deciding to deal with any double meanings later.

"I tried to rock his body. He objected violently."

"I- you- what?" She asked in bewilderment.

"Oh look we're here!" I chirped and started the process of opening the large vault door.

"Wait, but I wanted to ask-" She started.

"Sorry, no can do. I'm a busy woman. You'll have to ask some other time. Besides, this isn't the type of conversation you'll want to have in here." I said as I stepped into the room behind the vault door.

"Tama!" A chorus of small voices yelled out in cheer and laughter.

I had a small horde of tiny humans body check my legs, arms wrapping around me and small forms that weren't close enough to touch me excitedly hopping up and down at the back of the crowd.

Guren bowed on one knee behind them. I'd managed to get the woman to stop chiding the children for this behavior a month ago, but it had been a fight to do so.

"Orochitama-sama. It is good to see you back." She spoke, voice barely loud enough to be heard over the shouts of children.

"You were gone too long!"

"Can you sing a bunch to make up for the ones you missed?"

"Can you finish the story?"

"I picked a booger and it looked just like you!"

"I got all gold stars on my potty chart! I get a treat!"

"Kuma-san got a tear and you do the best at fixing him."

"Ara ara!" I cut in, "So much energy! Let me come sit down and we'll do this one at a time!"

I turned my head to see Nono out of the corner of my eye. The woman stood stock still and couldn't figure out if she should scream in horror, shield the children, or ask the universe what it had been smoking. She seemed to settle on a breathless sigh as she spread her arms out to her side in the hopes that the universe would drop meaning into them.

The universe didn't answer so I decided to instead.

"Guren-chan, this is Yakushi Nono. I would appreciate it if you would explain what this room is for and what the daily activities of the children looks like." I informed as I leaned down to the kids and picked up Kimiko, the youngest in the group around us.

"Now, tell me about what happened to Kuma-kun!" I stated in shocked horror as I walked to the rocking chair in the middle of the play area. I left the befuddled Nono behind with hardly a backwards glance.

Nono was not quite sure what to do with herself. From her perspective it had been quite the tumultuous few days. She remembered dying quite vividly, then she woke up in that box with a short and very dead man, a female and curvy Orochimaru, and her long estranged charge Kabuto. It made her ponder on the merits of this being the result of hell coming to very odd conclusions on how to eternally torture a soul.

Nono had started the morning with steeling her resolve about finding answers. Kabuto was...nice to have around again. He of all the children she helped raise had a special place in her heart. She always felt more responsible for him than any of the others and the man she talked with seemed genuine enough and knew enough of the details that she was confident he was, in fact, her long lost son.

It still didn't answer what she was meant to do with herself.

She was dead and was being kept alive only at the mercy of Orochimaru, there was no way that Konoha would allow her back. Danzo might, but she was now absolutely sure that Danzo couldn't be trusted with anything. He was a traitor to Konoha, to the Sandaime, and to her, his own student.

She had nowhere to go to but she wasn't going to live in this village and assist more of Orochimaru's evil deeds. She'd seen first hand the evils he had done. Danzo had called her in to be the one to examine the work the Snake Sannin had left behind when he fled the village. The work was some of the most repugnant things she had come across in all her years and she would refuse to be part of anything of the sort.

So, she resolved to be aggressive, to make her stance known and to find out all the details of what was going on so she could satisfy her conscience about being willing to stay around in Orochimaru's village of psychopaths.

What's the worst he'd do? Kill her?

Several minutes later she wasn't any more dead but was considering stabbing herself in the head.

The most secure place in the entire base held a group of several dozen children. The children were well fed, had plenty of toys, and were not being overly respectful of Orochimaru. She'd need a more extensive look to be sure, but they didn't seem to have any recent marks of experimentation either.

"This is the Children's Den." The woman, Guren, suddenly spoke up to her as she approached. Guren's stance was not one of politeness. In fact she was fairly certain that the other woman was mentally preparing to kill Nono at a moment's notice. "I am responsible for the health and safety of these children. If you think to so much as scratch them, I will hang your head in the cafeteria as an example for-"

"Guren-san!" A small voice yelled. One of the children, a little boy with short black hair and smattering of freckles, ran over to them, making Guren's body-language change from deadly killer to doting older sister in the blink of an eye. "Guren-san, I can't find the picture I colored for Tama! It's gone and I-I can't."

Guren gave a fond shake of her head, "Did you check the top drawer in your room?"

"Oh. I'll check there!" The child said before running off.

As soon as the child turned away the deadly assassin returned and pointed and accusing finger at her. "If you hurt them I'll have your anguished cries make others rethink their religious choices. Are we clear?"

Nono could only smile and feel a kindred spirit. "Oh yes, we are quite clear."

Then the reality of whose base this was hit her again.

"So, they must be kept healthy and safe before they are experimented on, is that it?" Nono asked, offence clear in her voice.

Guren's eyes blazed and a knife of crystal manifested in her hand.

"You will not question Orochitama-sama's decisions like that again. It is not your place to question her." Guren ground out.

This was familiar ground, Guren was conditioned to follow Orochimaru's orders without question. Which meant that these children were likely meant to be indoctrinated as well. Soldiers and experiments meant to be loyal to the Snake Sannin. Nono was probably meant to keep the children healthy before being put on a slab.

"You can't kill me in any meaningful way." Nono stated dismissively. "If it protects children, I'll defy your master as much as I damn well please."

Contrary to her predictions, Gurren lowered her crystal blade with a face that looked as though she had sucked on a lemon.

"I suppose you could be...helpful."

She had not expected reluctant acceptance to be the response to her declaration.

"Helpful with what?" Nono asked.

"We have three big meals a day with a two small snacks between. Diaper changes on the four toddlers and the infants are expected at least five times a day minimum. You should be a part of at least three community games with the children every day. Arts and crafts must be at least one of these. An adult must be stationed here at all times."

Nono blinked a few times before nodding. Her time at an orphanage made that all seem standard, a bit excessive even. "Yes? That much interaction must be good for the children. What is your point?"

"Orochitama-sama holds these children as being Sound's greatest asset. She finds it hard to trust people to look after them. None have managed to pass both of our standards."

"Both of-" Nono trailed off. "Are you the sole caregiver for these children?"

Guren's eyes stayed the same hard steel, but Nono could see the woman across from her was more wound that a coiled spring.

"Yes. Yes I am." Guren answered.

"Oh." Nono said before turning her gaze to the numerous children. Far more children than a single person should be expected to look after. "Oooooh."

"While I don't care for your disrespect of Orochitama-sama, you do seem to be willing to act in the children's best interest."

Nono had but one phrase come to mind in light of the poor woman's troubles. "Oh you poor thing."

Though Nono had to admit, being brought back for her skills as a caregiver rather than her skills as a ninja...well she failed her charges once before and she intended to make up for that.

Shimura Danzo disliked a great many things. His old teammates had always told him it made him a pessimist. His teacher, Tobirama, always told that it helped to make one appreciate the things you do like that much more. Danzo was partial to the second choice himself, though knew the former was likely more accurate.

People often said he was a bit of a jackass.

They were right.

The ninja world was a dangerous place, where the best of intentions and purity of heart, for all its beauty, could be smothered and poisoned. Someone had to make sure the right choice was made. The hard choice. So Danzo made sure it was done, so others might stay pure, since once you crossed that line there was no going back.

To pretend you could change for the better was the height of folly. People didn't change, they just lied about it convincingly.

The world was always on a knife's edge from falling into war. One lost caravan, one assassinated lord, one unintended slight from falling into death and blood. The people to upset that balance were the people that fooled themselves into thinking they were some sort of savior.

Most shinobi you could trust to act in their own self interest. It was the selfless that acted in ways one couldn't hope to predict.

Orochimaru had always been good about that. For all his intelligence the snake was an incredibly simple man. Danzo had always ensured that there was someone near him to keep track of the "How's" of the Sannin's pursuits.

He'd received reports of Orochimaru's recent priority changes. Switching to more long term goals rather than short term. It wasn't confirmed, but Danzo was certain it was from a failed attempt at obtaining Uchiha Itachi's body.

Itachi was even more of a problem than he had thought if the young prodigy could beat the Sannin.

Something he would have to plan contingencies for in the future.

It was all predictable. All within the margins the world could sustain.

Then he had a conversation with Hiruzen about a genin team's recent trip to Wave, and Danzo could feel the balance of the knife beginning to tip, and Konoha was not ready to come out on top in a war. Kumo had the advantage because of their jinchuriki had made massive strides in his control over the Eight-Tails. Iwa also had two ninja that looked to be of Kage level quality. There was too much uncertainty as it stood.

The report of Orochimaru's behavior was unusual, uncharacteristic, and thus unsettling.

There was no previous hint at any feminine tendencies nor any sort of understanding of the average human libido. Such massive changes in operation meant that either someone had replaced the Snake Sannin with someone who had no intention of acting like him, or the Sannin was about to try something big.

The other possibility was Itachi. He had Shisui's other eye. In their fight, Itachi could have done something with Shisui's eye to forcibly change the Snake Sannin like this. It would explain much of what was going on, though he couldn't for the life of him figure out why Itachi would have the man start acting like a loose woman.

Though Itachi was a teenager, that couldn't be completely discounted.

So, Danzo pored over the reports again. Looking for something to draw from. Some piece of damning evidence that told him what he needed to know.

"Danzo-sama." One of his attendants said, bowing down and stretching out a folder towards him. "I have brought Team 7's latest debriefing."

Danzo took one look at it and his frown deepened. The packet was far thicker than the fifth such debriefing had any right to be.

"Uzumaki is altering the story again?" He growled in question.

"He heroically faced down one hundred ninja boars during the course of his training now." The man said simply.

If Danzo wasn't sure of his attendant having no emotion, he'd think the man was laughing.

Danzo snatched the packet and threw it on his desk.

"You're dismissed." He ordered before looking back at the pages.

There was some sort of secret going on with Orochimaru. Something that could cause a war. It would be something Danzo would get to the bottom of. Then it would be handled quietly and permanently.

The Roots would nourish the tree with blood, as it always had.


About the author


Bio: I'm just someone who writes and is quite surprised that people give a shit about what I write.

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