"I have to make a bet with a sucker." Orochitama stated, squaring her shoulders before leaving the room with purpose.
Kabuto watched her go and then, after a few minutes, let out a shaky sigh or relief. That interaction had been terrifying, but also informative. It confirmed that the profile he had been building was correct. Orochitama had been avoiding some actions due to a subconscious desire to avoid emotionally complex situations.
Assuming that said vulnerability was not just displayed for his benefit. Throwing out false flags about personal weaknesses was a good practice for ninja. He suspected that wasn't the case here, though of course he would. He thought of it, so he was naturally predisposed to believe it. A simple instinct that he had observed Orochitama take good advantage of over the last several months.
Kabuto shook his head to clear it and walked to meet with one person in the world he felt he could...mostly trust. His gaze glanced over the brightly colored walls and the motivational words hung from frames.
It was amazing how much things could change in a short time.
"Kabuto-kun." Nono called out as he approached. Her body posture screaming hesitance while her face whispered of hope. Hope that looked contradictory in the black eyes of an Edo Tensei summon. It seemed she was as torn on his existence as he was on hers even still. "You're late. Work keep you up?" She asked probingly.
Was she gathering information or just checking on him? Both? Either way, Orochitama's return wouldn't be hidden.
"Yes, Orochitama-sama returned and Kimimaro had some health complications." Kabuto answered easily before hesitantly walking to sit down on the bench across from the hall from her. Nono looked at him in consideration before sitting down next to him, though kept her hands apart and visible to him.
That was kind of her, even if it was training number thirty-seven subsection alpha used to get close to wary ninjas.
"Oh? Is everything okay? You seem out of sorts today. Plus you are already supposed to have left, right?" She asked.
"Yes." Kabuto stated before pausing in consideration. "I- I did what you had suggested."
"Oh." Nono stated faintly before looking up and down the halls in slight fear before focusing on him again. "Are you okay? How did she take it?"
"She-" Kabuto hesitated, collecting this thoughts. That was nice to be able to do. To have natural pauses in conversation and not pre-planned ones to have the most emotional impact. He took a breath to appreciate that for a moment. "She stated I was correct and that she is changing her plans to hunt down Tsunade now, so that she can help Kimimaro's worsening condition."
"She just admitted it as a weakness?" Nono asked. "That easily?"
"Yes." Kabuto stated. "She just confirmed it and stated she changed plans based on it."
Nono's brows furrowed. "So we were wrong. She wouldn't admit to it so easily if it were true."
"I'm not so certain that's true." He adjusted the glasses on his face in consideration.
"I have not felt Orochitama use killing intent once since her-" What was it she always said? Ah. Right. "Not since her soul search. But me confronting her with her weaknesses, in a public space, she almost attacked me. I could feel her intent to kill and it was every bit as potent as it ever has been. She almost killed me for what I did."
Nono's face pinched and Kabuto was sure she would have turned pale if she had the blood flow that would make her capable of that.
"Are you safe? Is she going to just wait to do something in private?"
"I don't think so." Kabuto stated and all the tiny details of the last few months made him come to a conclusion that a part of him didn't think was possible. Not for the kind of person that did the kinds of things the Snake Sannin had done. The kind of things he had done. "I think she's ashamed of her past actions. I think she's taking actions not just from some plan or manipulation. I think I need to entertain the idea that she's making decisions based on morality, not on pragmatism."
"Morality? A change of heart? From the person that induced chakra poisoning in fifty orphans to see if it was possible for toddlers to survive it with no treatment?" Nono scoffed. "This is probably a play to try and manipulate people. Make them think she's going soft."
"There are more efficient ways to do that." Kabuto stated and shook his head. "And she's been actively going out of her way to make people think all these actions were out of pragmatism. Every time someone has brought up a question of why she always brings out a litany of self-serving reasons it was done."
The hallway grew silent.
"But-" Nono's voice started, sounding flabbergasted. "But why? Why try to hide it?"
Nono said it, but they both knew why. He had read her mission reports from her time in Root. They both had taken advantage of the reason many times. It was one of the easiest things a shinobi worth their salt could use. It was obvious, but he felt the need to voice it, when for so long he never had been allowed to.
"Because having a heart is a terrible weakness."
"It is, but it also can bring strength." Nono stated firmly. For the first time in their conversation, her eyes had steel and she spoke with the confidence reserved only for children, the drunk, and the foolish. "I was stronger after finding my heart than I ever was in Root."
Kabuto closed his eyes and resisted the urge to lean against her. He wanted to, but if he did it it would serve to make him uncomfortable. This hadn't been something he'd factored for. He'd never had the opportunity to operate under someone with a moral compass and the power to be able to actually enforce it.
"The question, Kabuto-kun," Came Nono's voice, "Is if you find the strength this would bring her worth the weakness it would show." The woman then lowered her voice to give a barely perceptible "If it's actually true."
"Yes." It surprised him that he got his answer instantly. "I would rather die helping someone who values me than live serving someone while being disposable."
"If that is what's happening here." Nono reminded.
"Yes. If that's what's happening." Kabuto confirmed. He had to keep in mind that he could be wrong. Pride does ninja in as often as a heart does after all. "However I think Orochitama-sama's maybe is far more attractive than Danzo's certainty."
A laugh of the gallows came from Nono and a smile split her face like man committing seppuku split his belly.
"Of that, Kabuto-kun, we can both agree."
I could hear screams and it made my stomach roll. Cries of pain. People begging for the mercy of death. I could feel my mind note the behavior clinically before allowing myself to enjoy the entertainment, despite another part of me wanting to shiver with revulsion. This was for science this time, not recreational. Though as many of the subjects lost all sense as they succumbed to the intense pain during the third hour of the procedure I could feel a devil's smile cross my face and laughter bubble forth.
Then I woke up. Orochimaru's training stopping me from immediately sitting up in bed or letting out a shudder. I forced myself to do it anyways a second later, as I did with all of those dreams.
I closed my eyes and wiped a hand down my face. I hated Orochimaru's fucking memories. The war. The killing. The fighting. That was bad, but I could deal with it. It was the stuff off the battlefield that liked to creep into my dreams. That liked to ruin my mood when things got quiet.
"Orochitama-sama?" Came Sakon's voice from the other side of the thin hotel door. "Tsunade-sama is awake and on the move."
Already? That was unusual.
I had tracked the Senju down the previous day, but when I had arrived the buxom blond had been beyond drunk and was firmly in the realm of shitfaced. Experience from both lives told me approaching her then was not a good idea. So instead I rented a room and decided to sleep for the night.
Dream aside, it was a superb choice. The room had a particularly plush bed and had a wonderful hot spring that did wonders for my ability to face the prospect of meeting my former teammate. I allowed myself to enjoy the amenities as the ones tracking Tsunade, Sakon and Ukon, continued to keep watch over the woman.
"Thank you, Sakon-kun. Rejoin Ukon-kun and try to keep out of sight still. I'll get dressed and catch up with her." I responded as I rose from the bed and and began to prepare myself. I couldn't very well go see Tsunade with bedhead, now could I?
"At once." Sakon replied in confirmation before dashing away.
It was likely best that I took my time. Tsunade wasn't a morning person and I knew she had gone on a bender the night before. If she was awake this early it was either because something had annoyed her or she won a game last night and wants to move on because she got spooked. Since the universe seemed fit to deem that Tsunade could only win a gamble if something bad was about to happen to her.
I'd scoff at the nonsense if I hadn't seen it be correct so often. I still wasn't ready to accept fortune telling via gambling, but I wasn't ready to write it off either.
Either way, it was a good idea to let Tsunade get on with her day and get into a better mood before approaching her. So I took my time doing my hair, debated on which outfit to wear, got myself a nice breakfast with some lovely tea, then I grabbed two more orders to go and started to make my way towards my former teammate. It was around eleven in the morning when I caught up with Sakon and his brother, both crouched to peak over the ledge of a building.
I made sure to not reveal myself but gently set the two orders down behind them.
"I got you both some breakfast. The thermos has an apple tea that I highly suggest you have while it is still warm." I stated softly.
The two brothers turned to regard me for a moment. Sakon and Ukon had both been staunchly supportive and vocal about me still being Orochimaru, regardless of the cosmetic changes. However, as time passed, they began being less vocal. More warry. They weren't so certain that was true anymore.
They regarded the food and turned away from it.
"She's in there. The gambling den just opened and she bullied her way in. Her bitch hasn't followed in, meaning she probably gave her the slip." Sakon stated.
A frown tugged at my face for more reasons than his derision of Shizune. It was possible she had managed to slip away to avoid her aid's insistence to her that she not gamble as much. That could even be why she left the room so early, in order to not have her assistant chase after her easily.
"Did she have a pig with her?" I asked.
"Huh?" Sakon blinked, "Oh, uh, yeah. She went in with that pig they travel with."
"Seems you need to practice your stealth then." I stated as I cast a pulse of chakra out from me. Something I knew Tsunade would pick up on, but would also tell me what I wanted to know as well.
As soon as the pulse went out Shizune leapt from the building beside us, tiny needles heading towards us both. I opened my mouth and Kusanagi swiped them from the air.
The Konoha medic landed light on her feet and she quickly pulled back on the strings on her arm launcher and leveled it at us both. She thought she was going to threaten us with some needles and poison. That was adorable.
"You really think that-" Sakon began.
"Don't bite your tongue." I interrupted as I reached out for him.
The door to the gambling den splintered and an angry blonde missile came barreling towards us both. I managed to yank Sakon out the way and leaned slightly to avoid the lethal attack of the last Senju. The woman instead smashed into the chimney of the building we were on with a violent explosion.
I maneuvered Sakon behind me as I sighed and straightened out my dress. Perhaps going with the white and purple dress wasn't the best thing to wear to meet Tsunade. She did tend to kick dust up everywhere.
"Ara ara. Such destruction, Tsunade, I wasn't doing anything to harm-"
My fingers snapped up to grab the tiny needles that just flew towards me. I turned and gave Shizune a sigh and the look I found to be effective at getting toddlers to stop rough housing.
"Shizune-chan, please stop that. We are trying to use our words right now."
The woman gaped at me in shock. She also didn't load another needle, so mission accomplished!
The dust cleared and Tsunade stood there, fists raised and her face the very picture of stony resolve and acidic anger.
"Who the fuck are you?" She demanded, though unlike others that asked that on first meeting me, she said it differently. She had no question on who I was presenting myself to be. She felt the chakra I let off. She knew the looks. She just couldn't believe that Orochimaru would look like how I do now in any world or existence.
"Is that any way to treat your former teammate?" I asked, holding a hand to my chest and giving a voice of faux hurt.
Tsunade's stared. Then stared longer. Her mouth half hanging open as I politely obliged her incredulity with silence and no violent action. Just a smile and my hands grabbing lower on my dress giving a slight tug back and forth to make the material sway slightly.
Finally, Tsunade seemed to have seen enough, she lowered her fists, stood up straight, and announced, "No."
Then she turned and began to walk away.
Shizune took a moment to realize that her master had just left her on the roof with a dangerous S-Class ninja. When that fact did connect, the woman gave a half turn, keeping me in her periphery as she let out a stuttering squawk.
"T-Tsunade-sama! Where are you going!?"
She took only a moment more of hesitation before she charged after the Slug Sannin. I observed the ruined chimney, the needles on the ground, and my subordinate rising to his (their?) feet. I gave slight nod and a smile.
"That actually went way better than I expected it to!" I announced.
"That was good?" Sakon asked in shock and just a twinge of anger.
"Of course." I gestured to the bags on the ground. "Your food didn't even get messed up! Though you should probably head back to the hotel now. Have a meal and get some rest." I ordered as I reached back to put my hair in a pony tail. "It's up to me from here."
Hatake Kakashi was really trying to find a fuck to give and he kept coming up short. He was supposed to seem invested in this, but he didn't really want to be here. The only reason he was at all was based solely on one central factor.
"Gah! Come on! This game is rigged!" Naruto yelled angrily.
If they didn't go with Naruto he'd just go by himself.
"Of course it is. It's a carnival game, dumbass." Sasuke replied before tossing three rings in a row. Sasuke's throw used the near invisible strings blocking the bottles to actually land the rings on their desired locations.
"We have a winner. Woo." The man at the stall stated drolly before grabbing a small stuffed cat from the display before casually tossing it to Sasuke. His broody student stared at the toy with offense, as if he hadn't just paid five-hundred ryo for the opportunity to win it.
"Sasuke-kun, if you don't want it, I could take it?" Sakura replied lightly. Far too lightly.
Sasuke glanced at the toy, trying to see the trap, but came up short to what it could be. So he just shrugged and threw it to her.
"Sure. Whatever." It wasn't as if it meant much to the Uchiha.
Sakura, meanwhile, looked as if Uzume herself descended from heaven and personally handed her her greatest desire. To Sakura, this was now a date and she had proof. He won her a prize after all.
"Well this is a dumb game anyways." Naruto whined, as he turned his head to not look at the stuffed animal nor Sasuke. "We should go get some food! I heard that they had some great stuff!"
Kakashi sighed and followed after as they descended into bickering. Usually he found the infighting of his team amusing. Endearing at some points. However, he could only stifle a sigh of frustration. Still, he'd had worse assignments and completed them in worse states. And he couldn't very well let his cute little gennin get offed just because they weren't patient enough to get the all clear for visiting the obvious trap outside the village.
Though, he did have to admit, seeing Naruto completely miss every single reverse pickpocket so far and actually complain about not getting one yet was worth a chuckle.
Then someone bumped into his shoulder.
"Hey buddy, look where you're going and stop staring at brilliance." An angry voice demanded before a nondescript disappeared into the crowd.
Of course. Why not? Add that the pile too.
"Why don't you guys go get some food at that stand and I'll get us some of that pink puffy stuff we saw earlier." Kakashi stated.
His students then began to ignore him. He took the opportunity to duck into a small gap between stalls. A small gap in the back wall of one of the stalls allowing him to still keep an eye on his students.
"You think coming here with them was a good idea?" Jiraiya asked. He was in the same henge he had been in when they bumped into each other earlier.
"Naruto was going to come here one way or the other. I had to show up because his godfather wasn't really around to do it for me." Kakashi shot back.
Jiraiya blinked, and whispered so low that Kakashi could barely hear it over the sounds of the crowd around them. "You okay kid?"
"I'm fine." Kakashi responded and once again glanced to make sure the kids were fine. He went to smell for anything suspicious, but it was almost impossible with all the people around and the smell of fried foods.
"Bullshit." Jiraiya stated simply. "You were snippy at the meeting earlier too. What's up?"
Now? He wanted to do this now?
"The middle of an enemy garrison is not the place for this conversation." Kakashi responded tersely.
Jiraiya regarded him for a moment. The mummer of the crowds and the whistles and bells of the carnival games filled the silence.
"Is this about what the snake said?" Jiraiya asked.
He wanted to snap back at Jiraiya just then. How could the man not know that finding out Obito was still alive was fucking him up inside? How he wondered if Obito had suffered all this time and he never knew? How he stayed awake at night wondering if he'd one day have to kill his friend because the boy that set his moral compass seemed to be palling around with the people that thought Orochimaru was good company.
No. With people that Orochimaru apparently thought was too extreme.
But he couldn't have that conversation. Not now. Not even taking into account they were surrounded by foreign shinobi! But he couldn't yell about any of that. He couldn't mention it.
"I'm fine." Kakashi said lightly, flipping a page in his book.
Jiraiya met his gaze for a few moments before nodding. "Alright, kid. Let me know when you're ready to talk."
Kakashi glanced to his students. They seemed to be fighting over some spiraled confection with a white drizzle over it.
"I'm going to be in the third row on the right during the show." Jiraiya stated. "I'll help keep an eye for trouble if you sit the kids in that area. Show starts in fifteen minutes. I'd make sure you have a good seat. And hey, maybe enjoy it. The show might not be awful."
Kakashi doubted that. He'd never been much of one for the theatre, but having Jiraiya close at hand during the show would be nice. He gave his nod of agreement, and the two men walked away in opposite directions. Kakashi to his kids. Jiraiya to hopeful grab a seat.
"Kakashi-sensei! You didn't get the puff candy!" Naruto yelled in form of greeting.
"Ah, sorry. They were out when I passed by, though the show is about to start, so I figured we should get our seats." Kakashi stated. His gennin agreed and it took little effort to get them where he wanted them. They took their seats and Kakashi's gaze slid over everyone in the crowd. The stiff backed posture of so many people showed that more than half the crowd were ninja. All the villages were curious about what was going on apparently.
In a low area in front of the stage, a collection of people began to file in and raise bizarre instruments to their lips. Large complex things made of brass with all manner of bends and buttons. He briefly raised his headband to make sure the things weren't some kind of ninja weapon.
Surprisingly, they weren't.
The lights grew dark and he could make out a massive scroll being wheeled onto the stage. A spot light centered on it. Nothing moved. This was it. This could be where the trap was sprung. Did the scroll have a seal? Would it explode and take them all out?
There was an inhale and then-
Music. Loud, bold, and invigorating music blasted out as the scroll opened.
"A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away." Kakashi muttered under his breath as the scroll unfurled, traveling up slowly, new words coming to be displayed and the music played. The score was- well he'd never heard anything like it.
Well maybe this could keep his attention. It was original, if nothing else.