I had no idea what made Tsunade decide to play a game of poker with me for help with a cure for Kimimaro's autoimmune disease, but I certainly wasn't going to pass it up. Especially since the woman herself won games of chance so little that she took winning as a sign on oncoming disaster. Was she counting on that for her victory? If she won she'd actually take it as a sign of something bad being about to happen and she should run for it? I couldn't say.

What I could say though was that I had no bad intentions towards her and the whole exchange would be nothing but advantageous for her. Even if she didn't truly have magic bad luck powers I was a decent hand at poker and had a major advantage. Tsunade tended to bet big on hands that weren't that great, while I could play it safe and win. So long as I kept at least a bit of chips back and never went all in, I could stay in the game until I won.

"So we going to do this here?" Tsunade asked, gesturing around us at the restaurant.

"Sure. Though try not to break any more of their tables." I chided as I pulled out scroll. In moments the scroll released a small pile of poker chips I had sealed in their earlier.

Tsunade raised an eyebrow at me.

"I was coming after you. I had a fair bet that gambling would be involved somehow." I stated simply, to which Tsunade gave a shrug of acknowledgment.

"Alright, we're playing Hold Em'. No Jokers. Ace high." Tsunade stated as she pulled out an unopened deck of cards. "I'll deal the first hand."

"I think not." I stated swiftly. "We are ninja. Far too easy for us to cheat when dealing and shuffling."

Tsunade rolled her eyes and let out a sound of frustration, but did nothing further. A sign she conceded the point, but wanted me to provide the solution.

The man that shouted for us to not break any more tables caught my eye and in moments he found himself with a deck of cards in one hand, a ten thousand ryo in the other, and a general sense of bewilderment as he handed out the cards.

The first hand passed in near silence. Tsunade sat across from me staring with more intensity than the desert sun. I let her have her silent moment and picked up my two cards then looked at the table. The three card on the table didn't really do much for me, so I put a measly amount of chips into the center of the table. Tsunade copied a moment later. The chips clicking into the table seemed to almost echo in the room as all the other patrons tried to act as if they weren't staring in wonder at what was occurring. That is, if they hadn't already left due to a well used sense of self-preservation.

The pot stayed small as the next two cards went onto the tablew with a round of betting for each. I got two pairs across the both of them. Not the worst hand, but not great either. I stayed in for now. Tsunade was looking for something and she'd get the calm first hand she was looking for.

Finally, the hand ended, I won with two pair and Tsunade had nothing.

I took the measly amount of chips and put them to the side. The deck was shuffled again and everything was passed out again. But this time, I went on the attack.

"You know, I really don't understand how it is that you always have money problems." I stated as I glanced at my cards.

"Huh?" Tsunade asked in surprise.

"Your money problems with debtors." I stated simply, throwing in a handful of ryo. More than previously, but nothing substantial. "You gamble big, run up a tab, and disappear. Only keeping people off you by occasionally letting some rich person pay way too much for your services in order to get some of them off your back."

"I really don't need you preaching to me about bad choices." Tsunade shot back as she threw a hand full of chips into the pile, at least twice mine. "Raise."

I glanced at my hand. I had nothing now, but Tsunade might have nothing either. She did tend to bet aggressively even on nothing. The next card hit the table and I knew that it didn't really matter what the next card was. I wouldn't have better than a single pair.

"I'm not getting on to you about your bad choices. I'm actually saying you could do your bad choices better. There is no reason that you should ever pay for your drinks or gamble with your own money. Fold." I stated as I passed my cards to the dealer, who was still looking at us more nervously, but seemed to be getting into the dealing.

Tsunade scoffed. "And what? Bat my eyes at some guy and let him pay for everything? Please. I have more pride than that. Raise." She tossed in an even larger amount of money this time.

The next hand was passed out swiftly, and with a slight flourish. A smile tugged at the corner of my lips as I noticed a few people's tables had been scooted just a bit closer.

"I'm not asking you to lead anyone on Tsunade." I said with a dismissive wave. "If you just acted aloof you'd still never have to pay for a drink and men would pass you chips. You just have to turn down the aura of barely contained violence."

"Barely contained violence? Please." She stated dismissively. "I don't want to hear that coming from someone with your solution to orphans in war-torn regions. Raise." The woman put a hefty chunk of change into the center.

I didn't let my grimace reach my face. One of the bleaker moments in the war I remember advocating to kill starving children as a mercy, and smiling while I did it. Never mind that one of those times it probably WOULD have been better for the world for us to have just offed them.

I glanced at my hand. I had a straight if any of the next cards were a three or an eight. I matched Tsunade's bet. "Call. I'm a changed woman now though. I admit that I was a terrible person before, but that doesn't make my advice wrong."

"My life is perfectly fine. I'll keep on living it my way, you keep on being a liar and traitor." Tsunade said with stone cold seriousness. "Raise." She stated as she added chips to the table.

I couldn't hide my wince that time and hesitated. For me to really have anything I still needed a three or an eight. They wouldn't be the same suit, but I'd have a straight. Though a straight was a mid-tier hand. I decided to stay in for now. We were early on and I still had more chips than her. I match her bet. "Call. You are correct that I don't have much room to come in and tell you how to live your life, but I didn't intend it that way. I was just trying to give advice on how to...optimize your current lifestyle."

The next card was placed on the table. Eight of spades. I had my straight. Tsunade glanced at the cards on the table, shrugged her shoulders and grabbed a large handful of chips and threw it in. "How the hell do you know anything about my life? Even if you are Orochimaru, you haven't been a factor in my life for twenty fucking years. You don't even know me anymore." The woman said, staring me down. "Raise."

I winced. Both at the raise and at her words. Twenty years? Had it really been that long? I hadn't thought about how long it had been and it made this all just that much more awkward. A person changed a lot in twenty years. That was just the nature of being human. By all rights, she really could have moved past caring about her.

Then there was the hand. It was a random mish mash of cards. Nothing sequential and nothing repeating. It wasn't possible for her to have a better hand than I had currently. At best she had the same thing as me and it would just come down to suit. She was probably betting on nothing.

"Call." I answer back, throwing a matching amount into the pot. "A long time has passed. You aren't the same person anymore, but by that, couldn't you say that I've changed too?"

Tsunade lightly tapped the table, signifying to let the bet ride. I did the same. The last card was dealt. A ten of spades. The third spade on the table. It was possible that Tsunade now had a flush. One hand better than my straight. The question was if she bet this high on having absolutely nothing only for her to luck out at the last minute?

Tsunade tapped the table, letting the bet ride even as she spoke, "No. People don't really change who they are. They change the set dressing. They change some priorities, but who they are stays pretty much the same. I'm still a gambler. I'm still a drunk. I still have anger issues. Just like if you are Orochimaru, you'd still be a liar and a manipulator. If you aren't him, that still makes you a liar. Either way, that says I shouldn't trust you."

I sat there, plastic smile on my face as my mind raced for a response. I couldn't come up with one. I didn't know how to argue that other than just claim some people do change, but it rang hollow. Someone could change their ways, but it was hard. Changing who you are as a person, not just your habits, but your attitude, priorities, and personality, that took a lot of effort and rarely happened. I didn't know how to argue back without doing the equivalent of saying "Nuh uh."

I tapped the table, signifying that I let the bet ride as is.

I placed my cards on the table. She placed hers.

I winced as she she laughed and pulled the chips back towards herself. She had two spades in her hand and raised the pot up to that point with nothing to back it up, but at the last minute got the winning hand. Was that fate thing real? Was something bad about to happen to her or something?

Then I stopped and consider things. Tsunade was controlling the conversation. I was playing defensive. Since my Soul Searching Moment I'd never really lost a game of social fu. As I realized that it hit me why as well. I had grown used to people fearing me. Tsunade was wary of me, but she wasn't afraid, and I almost didn't know how to function without that easy leverage. For months I was wishing for someone that wouldn't be afraid of me, and now I had one it was screwing me over.

I also wasn't flirting either. It just didn't feel right and I doubted it would end well. The woman was still grieving her lost fiance more than two decades later and flirting would escalate her rage at me. The only other emotional leavers I could pull on were either already pulled, or sore spots that I'd feel like a ass to use.

This was why I didn't want to meet with my former teammates, damnit.

I shook it off and the next few hands passed with little consequence. Tsunade didn't bet big for the next three hands, but every single hand she played to the end, even when she had garbage and the odds at the table that I had something were strong. Though a time or two, she let me raise the bet and went along and had a decent hand without raising. She seemed to try to be unpredictable.

Attempts at talking were rebuffed or my character and motives were brought into question. Every trick that Orochimaru knew, aside from the really dickish ones, weren't going to work.

So I decided to throw out Orochimaru's playbook and use a play from the thirty year-old realtor and recovering addict.

"You're right you know." I state as we are both slid two cards and three are placed face up on the table. "My story is fishy. There are a lot of reasons that this all looks doubtful, but let me ask you something. If for some reason I were not Orochimaru, what would I have to gain to by pretending to be him?"

I check my cards. The queen of hearts and the queen of diamonds. The table had a jack of clubs, a ten of clubs, and a queen of spades. Sequential cards. The beginnings of strait. Though I already had three of a kind. A full house or four of a kind weren't unlikely either.

Tsunade looked at me in surprise at the sudden shift in demeaner and the odd question. Her brows furrowed as she considered the question.

"Raise." I state simply as I took a small hand-full of chips into the middle of the table.

"A quick death probably." Tsunade stated after a moment, throwing her own hand into the table. "Raise."

I threw in the chips to match. With a motion from both of us, the next card was placed down. The queen of clubs. All four ladies were accounted for. I had four of a kind. Third best hand in the game. At the same time, three cards for a straight flush were on the table. Straight flush and a royal flush were the only things that beat four of a kind.

"Ara ara, Tsunade, you should know more than that. Yes, the name Orochimaru brings many enemies, but it also brings respect. Caution. It's a name that you don't cross because it will come and kill you, your family, and house pet. It inspires caution out of sheer ruthless reputation. Raise." I say as I throw a small handful of chips to the pile.

Tsunade stared at me for a long moment. Calculating.

"Call." She states as she matches the bet. "So what? You have a fear fetish? You just decided to pretend to be my former teammate in order to feel important?"

"Oh no. I am your former teammate still." I said waiving my hand and throwing some hair, "We are speaking only of hypotheticals here. Now, if I were someone that has all of Orochimaru's knowledge but not his fearsome reputation, how long before enemies came out of the woodwork to take a shot now? That is a lot of secrets to silence after all."

"Cut the bullshit. What's your point? You're saying you aren't him but are using his name as a shield?" Tsunade pressed.

"That's one possibility," I stated simply, "Or it could be that in the process of trying to rise myself beyond the confines of my mere flesh I experimented on myself and in that process gained a new lease on life as my brain's chemical makeup changed, giving rise to new personality and new emotions. I don't throw away my former name and reputation, but do wish to rebrand based on what I feel is the new me."

"Or you could be full of shit and it's none of those things. This is just some manipulation I'm not seeing." Tsunade shot back.

The last card was placed on the table. A nine of spades. There were now four cards for a straight flush on the table. If Tsunade had a king of spades or an eight of spades, I'd be done. However, the likely hood she had one of those two cards out of the forty-five cards that I didn't know was small. My chances were damn good.

"True. Everything I said could be a lie. However, the real question here isn't who I am. The question this all is based on is if who you THINK I am is going to prevent you from saving someone's life." I stated firmly as I grabbed almost half my chips and put them in the middle of the table. "Raise."

Tsunade stared at me in consideration. The hostility there was gone. This wasn't combative. It was assessing. Then she seemed to come to a conclusion.

She swiped her arm on her side of the table and pushed ever single chip she had to the middle of the table. "All in." She announced in lieu of responding to me.

My eyes widened. My hand was good. It was damn good in fact. I had a solid chance of winning. Tsunade had a bit more in the pot than me, but the Sannin had always ruled when playing poker that one All In from one player was as good as another's regardless of chip count. It kept the game interesting and they had long served the tradition. I was a few short, but she'd accept my all in matching. But there remained the possibility of losing. I'd have to go all in to keep up too or fold. Bet it all on something solid, or fold to have an uphill climb to win the game?

But it wasn't just a game.

It might be to Tsunade, but for me, I was betting on a life. If Tsunade once again had the lucky card to pull out a victory, Kimimaro would probably die. Was his life worth the chance? Even if it was a fifteen percent chance?

No. This wasn't a mission. This wouldn't be a life spent for a gamble. It would be a life wasted for a gamble. I can go again until I can chip her down. If I have more than her and she goes All In, I can just match with money to spare. The All In being as good as another only really matters if you do it first. It was a rule to prevent people from winning just because they had the most money and they could make their hand not matter anymore.

I'd take the long road that a sure victory.

"Fold." I stated as I grabbed my cards and began to hand them back to the dealer to-

Tsunade's hand clamped onto my wrist and the cards were pulled from my hand. She held them up to her face, saw what I had, then gave me a look of smug satisfaction.

"That is quite against good etiquette to-"

"You're not him." She cut in confidently.

I came up short.

"He'd never pass up this bet for something he wanted. You aren't Orochimaru, and there isn't a damn thing you can say to convince me otherwise."

"Oh, come now, I said earlier that-" I started.

"Nope. I don't give a shit. You can put out all kinds of shit about experiments or religious experiences or whatever the hell you want. You aren't him in the ways that matter. Maybe you found his diary. Maybe he fucked something up bad enough that you got left behind. Maybe the gods decided this was funny. Doesn't matter. You're not him."

The air grew tense and I stared at her. She was entirely correct. It was also still inconvenient to me for people to know that for sure.

"Then I must ask, is that a good thing, or a bad thing?" I asked.

A smile crossed her face. "Doesn't really matter. You haven't won the game yet."

I let out a slow breath and leaned back in my chair.

"True. But suddenly, I feel very lucky." I said as I forced a smile on my face and tried to suppress the nervousness in my stomach.

It was a good thing that most all of my plans were already falling into place, but for the first time in months, someone knew. Someone could convince others that I wasn't so dangerous. That I was weak now and it was the opportune time to strike. They could also convince people that I wasn't so bad, and that an alliance wasn't likely to end with being stabbed in the back.

And I just wasn't sure how to feel about that.

A note from WhoaMama

Well that chapter took more out of me than I expected. Though the hands involved were something I've spent months thinking on. That last one in particular. The enterprising reader can go back through and even see how the raises and calls match with the flow of their arguments too. Anyways, hope you enjoy!

Also, thanks so much to my Patreons, that always motivate me to make sure you all get at least one chapter a month. I got some fan art again recently that I plan on posting in here soon too when I have more energy to do so.

Thanks all.

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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