Chapter 42:

The Darkness Within


If I see that bridge
That is spanned by flights of magpies
Across the arc of heaven
Made white with a deep-laid frost,
Then the night is almost past.

-          Otomo no Yakamochi



Many Moons Ago:

Tokyo Prefecture:


"A medal of honor (jugun kisho) is hereby given, on March 30, 19xx, to Orochimaru Sannin, Lieutenant of the Japanese Navy, on application by the Naval Minister of Japan and with the Emperor's approval, pursuant to the Regulation Relating to the Medals Honoring Participation in Battles (19xx-xx). Dated April 1, 19xx."


His lips curved downward as if reading something in distaste, and perhaps it was considering the circumstances around the pitiful piece of fancy paper in his hand. The event had been a big brouhaha with all the bells and whistles that accompanied such grandiose displays of affection for war ‘veterans’. He could still see the shiny, flushed faces around him; faces filled with a greedy hunger –  almost nauseating in its intensity -  as they all tried to get a piece of the decorated ‘war hero’.


(war hero my ass)


A million cameras flashed, while a thousand voices rose in claustrophobic unison. “Tell us more about the war! What happened? I heard you almost died? How many men did you rescue? Was it true you were captured? Were you tortured? Did you take out over a hundred enemies? Tell us more! Tell us more! Tell us more!”


(as if you’re really interested in the truth. You’ll never know the depths of darkness within the human heart, and thank whatever Deity you worship that you won’t have the pleasure of ever knowing. Bask in the sugar-coated stories the media feeds you and remain oblivious…for your sanity’s sake)


Politely, he declined being in the spotlight. He played the role of bashful hero to a tee, giving them the illusion that he would rather be anywhere but before the ‘adoring’ masses all clamoring for his attention. He had only done it for the love of his country. He needed no extra recognition for something that ought to come naturally to any able-bodied Japanese man. He would leave it up to Shimura Danzo - a fellow war comrade - to feed the rabid media with tales of his bravado. After all, Danzo was not afraid of the attention and lapped it up as much as he could.


(the government’s lapdog…that’s all he is)


In all honesty, Orochimaru hadn’t cared much about the war and had signed up purely for selfish reasons. To the enlightened (and goodness knows there had been many protesters who claimed to be so), the war was stupid and senseless. Why send so many young men out to no-man’s land to get slaughtered all because of your need to show your military might? War was nothing more than a bunch of high-ranking government officials sitting around a table going “Oh? So you think your dick is bigger than mine? Hold on, let me pull my pants down and I’ll show you just how much bigger my dick is.” In the end, he who had the biggest dick and bragging rights would force the others to give him a massive blow job. Forget the number of casualties this perverted game of theirs had left on blood-soaked battlefields.


(so why join in the bloodbath?)


He sneered and looked out the window of the car, where the uninspiring view of stark winter trees and melting snow slowly began to morph into memories he was sometimes loathe to remember.


He had been a child of war - their entire generation in fact – and his earliest memory of his father was seeing him in uniform and waving goodbye for the last time. How old had he been then? Six? Five? Even younger? He couldn’t remember. What he did know – and still had nightmares about – were the incessant and deafening sounds of explosions going off randomly all day and all night. One never knew when a bomb would be dropped on their heads. It was a miserable childhood spent living in underground bunkers where the concept of sunlight was close to impossible. For those foolish enough to make the mistake of leaving their safe havens to get some breath of ‘fresh air’ (ironic considering how polluted the outside world was at this time) – it was safe to say they were never seen from or heard again.


His mother – who by this time had slowly begun her descent into madness – would spend hours at a time crouched in a corner of the bunker they shared with three other filthy families. She muttered to herself, sometimes breaking out into senseless screams that terrified the other occupants let alone her only son who was at his wits end as to what to do with her. Personal hygiene became an afterthought. She chewed her nails to the quick until it bled. She refused to brush her teeth or hair, and would hardly touch a meal prepared for her by the kind officers who stopped by once a day to deliver food to the families.


Orochimaru would tell himself – as the years went by – that there was really nothing else he could have done for her. He was only a child. How could he be expected to look after himself when she simply refused to acknowledge his existence? When other children would crawl into the arms of their families at the end of a long day, his mother continued to remain in her selfish state of insanity. So much so that she would slap him away and scream in terror should he dare make an attempt to call or touch her. There had been this look in her eyes; not just from the madness, but a deep-rooted hate that struck him at the core. The rejection had hurt at first, but eventually he learned to develop a thick skin to it. He began to distance himself from her, no longer caring if she lived or died. He would tell himself it was what she deserved for being such a god-awful mother.  And it was this loathing for a woman - who ought to have loved him – that carried on to the other mothers (and women) he came in contact with.


Bitterly, he would watch them fawn and lavish attention on their offspring, and perhaps it was the way he looked – of how pale his skin was and how much staying underground had made him literally look ghostly – that even they too began to shun his company. Once pitying looks became malicious  and wary. His fellow mates were encouraged not to speak to him for fear that his mother’s madness would be contagious. And so he kept to himself, choosing not to interact with others until they were free to get back to the outside world. He found himself seeking entertainment in any other form, like watching an ant colony form in a corner of the wall – admiring their natural industry for a while - before becoming bored with the whole thing. He found that he took a rather sadistic pleasure in crushing each ant with a piece of stick, not simply content to press them into the ground, but to chop them up into bits while they still writhed and begged silently for life. Sometimes he imagined it was his mother (or any of the other women around him) in that position, and the almost serene smile that would come to his features then only made him look more sinister to the occupants forced to live with him.


Hours turned into days, days into weeks, and weeks into long and endless months. When his mother died, he didn’t even know. He had assumed she was asleep – as usual – and it wasn’t until he noticed the once scrawny figure begin to get a little bloated, and the ashen skin becoming a sick shade of gray…


(and the smell…oh the smell)


…did he finally realize something was terribly wrong.


He couldn’t remember crying, though the other wives and children in the bunker had done enough screaming and wailing for him. He had wanted  to scream at them to shut up; to tell them how horrible they were for acting as if they cared when they had simply left her to die. He watched as the soldiers – with cloths over their noses and mouths – hoisted the decaying body onto a large garbage bag, where she was probably thrown into a trash can in the outside world or burned in the incinerator. Orochimaru hoped it was the latter. He would hate to think that his mother was an extra pollutant to an already stinking world out there.


With no more attachments to this particular bunker – and aware that the families he had lived with the past few months would want nothing to do with him anyway – he made the decision to find his way out of there. He would take his chances outside, and if he didn’t, then he would welcome Death if it came knocking.  However, he would come to realize that the underground shelter was nothing more than an entire ‘city’ beneath the ground. There were hundreds of other families sheltered here, and with so many tunnels leading to even more bunkers, it became a labyrinth of wonder to the inquisitive boy. No one seemed concerned about him or cared to ask where he came from.  And why should they? There were other children, of his age, wandering around with no care in the world. With fathers either dead or soldiers fighting ‘out there’, there were hardly enough male authoritative figures to maintain some semblance of control.


(bottom line, the women were too weak)


Once or twice he got involved in fights with bigger boys who considered him a sissy because of his long black hair and slightly effeminate features. He was not a fighter and couldn’t really defend himself during those scuffles; something he was terribly ashamed of but wouldn’t let on. He would bear the abuse in silence until they eventually got tired and left him alone; though he would never admit to himself that a small – very small – part of him feasted on the attention no matter how negative it was. It was this side that convinced him that being kicked around was okay. It simply meant he was ‘alive’, that they actually ‘noticed’ him, and that was a million times better than being ignored.


However, on this particular day – where he had been minding his own damn business as usual – his bullies seemed determined to really finish off what they had started. The routine was almost always the same. First he was surrounded and taunted for having no shoes, for wearing such a ragged dishrag for clothing, for having dirty long hair, for having such pale skin (which they’d pinch so hard until it turned red), for having such weird-looking eyes (“Snake eyes! Snake eyes!’ they’d chant over and over again), for being such a fucking pansy/pussy/faggot/wimp. He would be pushed from one person to another, while he begged for them to leave him alone, though inside –


(kill you all one day I’ll kill you all one day I’ll kill you all one day I’ll kill you)


…he felt the conflicting emotions of twisted pleasure and a simmering mass of darkness that could be considered hate.


Someone ripped off his clothes and slammed him into the wall. He tried to cry out in pain, but something dirty was stuffed into his mouth and he was thrown onto his stomach. He bruised easily and was already bleeding from several places, but that’s okay. The sight of blood didn’t bother him too much. He could vaguely hear them screaming and laughing…something about ‘fucking him up since he likes taking it in the ass probably!’ He did not understand, neither was he sure why they were suddenly spreading his legs apart or why one of them was beginning to reach for his penis to fondle it roughly.


“Mmmpppffff!” he protested pitifully, though he was appalled to find that that ‘side’ of him actually enjoyed the tiny jolts of pleasure that raced through his tiny frame with each tug of his organ.


It was times like these that he wondered where the adults were. None of those cowards ever came to see what the children did. No one would care to rescue an orphan like him. He’d be messed around with and then discarded, only for the cycle to repeat itself the next day. He squeezed his eyes shut as he felt something hard teasing the entrance to his anus. Confusion and anger was giving way to pain, and perhaps whatever object was being thrust into him would have gone deeper (as their laughter rang louder and louder), when it was suddenly stopped as a gruff and very (male) adult voice interrupted the proceedings with shocked fury.


“Get the hell off him! What in God’s name do you kids think you’re doing?!”


At first Orochimaru thought the adult would be ignored, but at the sound of someone being cuffed, the other kids took the hint and bolted from the scene, but not before giving the ‘intruder’ a piece of their minds.


“Hey…kid,” the man said in a much gentler tone as knelt beside Orochimaru. “Can you get up?”


He could, and when he did, it was to see the kind features of the one he’d come to know as Hiruzen-sensei. Now going on in years (hence his exemption from being drafted into the army), Hiruzen had been a  Dean of one of the more prestigious universities in the country. Though the air raids had destroyed most of his beloved school (and home) , he had been smart enough to take with him a lot of reading and academic material which he stored in his neat and rather homely bunker.


While he tended to Orochimaru’s wounds, fed, bathed, clothed and made him sleep on the first real bed he’d had in almost a year, he regaled the young boy with tales of his life above ground. He had lost his wife in one of the countless air raids and his only relatives lived miles away where they couldn’t be reached. Orochimaru listened with polite attentiveness, not speaking much except to eventually query about the thick books that lined the cement walls.


“A reader, huh?” Hiruzen had replied with a smile and warmth in his heart. His first love had always been teaching after all, and he thanked the gods for sending him a new student to impart his wisdom to.


For the next five years, Orochimaru proved himself to be the perfect sponge. He soaked information in a way that amazed Hiruzen who was sure  he had seen his share of geniuses in his lifetime. For such a young boy, no subject matter seemed too difficult. Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Biochemistry, History, Geography, Statistics, the Languages (English, French, Russian, Spanish, German and even Latin)   you name it, Orochimaru wanted a piece of it. However, both men came to realize that their true curiosities lay in the study of the human body. Biology and all its sub-topics was Hiruzen’s passion, and he was thrilled to know that Orochimaru had a keen interest in that field as well. However, simply not content to study anatomy in picture books, he had suggested to Hiruzen that they begin catching some of the rats, stray cats or dogs that wandered around the tunnels.


“You said it yourself, sensei,” Orochimaru would say. “Practical learning is always better than theoretical speculations.”


At first Hiruzen had been wary about it, but if there was one thing he had come to know about his young protégé, it was just how convincing the young boy could be. Or maybe he was just getting too old and had come to see Orochimaru as a much-needed son to replace the one he had lost in the war. Either way, he couldn’t say no to the request. It would become the beginnings of a morbid fascination with the dead.


Hiruzen never questioned where Orochimaru found his test subjects, for the young boy would return – all flushed with an excitement in his eyes that was almost worrisome – with rats, an occasional bat or two, a still living cat or puppy held by its legs. At first the creatures had genuinely looked starved and close to dying anyway, and that was okay with Hiruzen. However, when Orochimaru began returning with more robust and perfectly healthy pets – some still with their name tags on them – Hiruzen felt he ought to put his foot down.


“I think you’ve dissected enough animals to know just what makes them tick inside,” he had argued with the pouting boy. “Why don’t we work on something else, hmm?”


At first Orochimaru had conceded; willingly going along with whatever Hiruzen wanted. However, his inquisitiveness grew to a fever pitch. There was no way he could describe to the old man the thrill he received from slicing through fur, muscle and tissue; to watch the creature’s life literally wither away as you watched. One time – when Hiruzen hadn’t been looking – he had deliberately kept a puppy alive, watching in fascination as he sliced open the chest area to observe the tiny beating heart. He would poke and prod it over and over again, that serene smile on his features as the puppy mewled in agony each time. Finally tired of this game, he stabbed the heart as hard as it could, hardly blinking as dots of blood splattered on his face.


(not good enough)


He wanted more.


It was all well and good to work with animals, but what was the point? The anatomy in all those big books didn’t show cats and puppies or birds. They showed humans in all their wonderful complexities. He longed to see it in person…to watch the blood flow through millions of tiny arteries and veins…to see a pulsing heart and if possible hold it in his hands.


He began to find himself wandering along the tunnels, seeking people who were dead or close to dying. They had been trapped in this Hell for over five years now and the wear and tear was finally beginning to take its course. Food supplies came in sporadic bursts, and though Hiruzen’s transistor radio kept feeding them lies about the war coming to an end, there had been no influx of soldiers rushing in to rescue them.


(we might have been forgotten…forever buried underground and forgotten forever)


…which was fine with him actually. He didn’t care if they were never rescued. The tunnels had become his haven away from the impurities of the outside world.  


He came to a stop before a bunker that reeked of Death. There were no lights or sounds coming from inside, and taking a quick look down the tunnel to make sure he was not being watched or followed, he quickly slipped into the small room before anyone else could notice. He flicked the switch on and off, but it was clear that the naked light bulb was no longer functioning. The stench was much stronger  now and there was no doubt of what it represented.




Removing the leather bag he always carried with him (mostly to put in any dead animal he caught, but also with some hunting supplies), he dug into it to whip out a flashlight – but not before covering his nose and mouth with a cloth. The light revealed what he had already guessed. There were two dead bodies – a mother and a baby; emaciated and already welcoming maggots to the unhealed scabs and wounds on their decaying flesh.


“Perfect,” he  muttered with pleasure as he crept closer to the silent figures, while slipping on a pair of thick gloves. “I think I’ll start with you first.”


He reached for the baby…and the rest as they say is history.


Hiruzen would never know of his student’s macabre new hobby, and when the war finally ended – after eight terrible long years - Orochimaru would leave his mentor with nothing more than a simple note placed on the old man’s desk:


“I have learned all I can from you, Sensei.

Now I have a much bigger canvas to work with.

Thank you for everything.







He flicked on the lighter and held the tip of the certificate to the glowing flame, watching dispassionately as the fancy paper began to lick it up hungrily. In no time at all, the elegant calligraphy melted into ashes, some of which began to fall on his lap and onto the car seat. He leaned closer to the window to let the rest of the burning certificate  slip out of his fingers, where it soon got lost in the whip of the cold night air.


He smiled as he recalled the headlines his underground escapades had created in the news several weeks later. The nation was ‘simply horrified’ to find so many decapitated, dissected or violated bodies of so many women and babies.


“I have never seen anything so disgusting in my life,” some councilwoman had shrieked in horror. “Whoever did this must be punished! This is  the cost of war, ladies and gentlemen! It makes mad men and women and it must be stopped!”


It’s all for science, a part of him would argue. Nothing more…nothing less.


(or was it?)


He glanced down at the gleaming bronze medal on his chest as if seeing a foreign object. He had gotten quite a few of these –


(for valor extraordinaire)


…and could almost laugh at the hypocrisy of it all. Why had he joined the war? It wasn’t for his bravery or his supposed ‘valor’. He couldn’t care less who he was fighting for or against, all that mattered to him was the quest for knowledge; the willingness to join the medic team, where he could get a firsthand look at the casualties of war. He doubted his precious country would look him in the face the moment his experiments got out in the open, but then again, he had always made sure he left no trail behind.


(but it wasn’t all for selfish reasons. I genuinely wanted…want to find cures to certain diseases, and if it means using a few (hundred…thousand) guinea pigs every now and then…what’s the harm? At the end of the day, you get praised for being a genius in eliminating cancer! No one bothers to find out the long and tedious process to achieve the final result, do they?)


“No, they don’t,” he said to himself with a cruel smile. “They never do.”





“You’re late,” came the low grumble as he walked into the gloomy establishment and sat across the sullen man before him. Why Fugaku had chosen for them to meet in this disgusting pigsty of a restaurant was mind-boggling, but then again, who knew what went on behind the mind of an Uchiha man? The entire clan was both an enigma and a righteous pain-in-the-ass.


“My apologies,” Orochimaru replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “It’s been a long day.” He flicked the medal on his chest. “My present for being such a good boy during the war.”


Fugaku rolled his eyes and finished off the rest of the beer he had ordered while waiting. As he raised his hand for the waiter to come over, Orochimaru studied the younger man in silence. Fugaku had been a latecomer to the war; an influx of new recruits sent in to relieve the ailing army in the final stages of a losing battle. He had been sent to Orochimaru’s division and consequently sustained a life-threatening injury , which would force Fugaku to return to Japan almost as soon as he had arrived. It was something shameful – at least Fugaku had thought so – as he lamented to Orochimaru while under the influence of several milligrams of morphine. The Uchiha had a proud history of protecting the country and it was a dark blemish on his record if he couldn’t return as a decorated soldier. The current patriarch – Uchiha Madara – had been a war hero in his own right; a man who was feared, respected and now considered a legend. It was safe to say that no other man in the clan could live up to his high standards, and Fugaku had felt the weight of history upon his shoulders.


Orochimaru – for his part – had listened and soaked up the sick man’s rants and raves. He had heard of the Uchiha clan over the years, but never really paid  that much attention to them until what he witnessed while Fugaku was under the throes of extreme stress. At first Orochimaru was sure he must have been hallucinating, but he’d be damned if he hadn’t noticed the dramatic change in Fugaku’s pupils at certain periods during the day.


“Oh that…” Fugaku had muttered when Orochimaru asked. “It’s just a stupid thing we have as a clan. Well…not everyone can get it. I guess you have to be really special to be able to activate it.”


“Activate what?”


“The ability to see beyond human capabilities. I think it’s one of the reasons I fucked up out there. The intense aura of all the enemies confused me and I…I just lost it. I was careless.”


He would proceed to ramble on about intense emotions and wishing he never had the ‘damn cursed eye’, but Orochimaru’s curiosity had been piqued. So much so that at some point, he had even contemplated killing Fugaku (by overdosing him on medication) and then plucking out his eyes to experiment on. Fortunately for the younger man, his superiors had decided it was time for him to go home, hence stalling Orochimaru’s sinister plans in its tracks.


Unfortunately, that little hindrance didn’t stop him.


He made a conscious effort to seek out any other registered Uchiha in his division and was dismayed to find that the few who had signed up were dead and buried, or did not have Fugaku’s ability.




He had to gain more access to these precious men (or women) and what better way than to befriend the young soldier whose life he had saved while on the battlefield? It was the reason why he had set up this reunion, though Fugaku had chosen the meeting place. Orochimaru’s goal was not to appear too eager. He would take his precious time and eventually he’ll get what he wanted.


“I plan to leave for a while,” he said aloud after his beer was placed before him. He took a sip and made a face; not liking the lingering aftertaste on his tongue.


“Leave where?” Fugaku queried with a raised brow.


Orochimaru studied the stern albeit handsome features, idly wondering if making an overt move to seduce the younger man would work. He doubted it. His ‘experimentations’ over the years hadn’t just been reserved for the dissecting of human flesh, enjoying the pleasures they gave had come into the bargain as well. From the moment he had given his body to one of the many random men he had shacked up with before joining the military, Orochimaru had seen no reason to stop pursuing such physical gratifications. He could write a book on all the sexual escapades he had been a part of over the years; from the most bizarre fetishes to ritualistic sex orgies, you name it, he had partaken of it. To him, sex was nothing more than a journey of exploration and self-indulgence. If done the right way…it could be a positively religious experience. If there was a plane higher than Nirvana, then some sexual acts would fit in that category.


But he digressed –


“Around the world,” he replied with a wry smile. “I am too restless a soul to remain in one place. You should know that.”


Fugaku shrugged lightly. “Do what you have to do.  Don’t let me stop you.”


However, at the barely audible sigh that escaped the younger man’s lips, Orochimaru leaned forward with an expression of concern on his features. “What’s wrong? You don’t look particularly happy. Are you jealous of my medal? I can give it to you if you want. It’s useless to me.”


The venomous look he received brought a low chuckle from him.


“If you must know,” Fugaku retorted. “I have a lot on my mind, all right?”


“What’s the matter?”


Fugaku sighed again and rubbed a hand across his forehead. “There was a meeting of the Uchiha leaders…and apparently they are thinking of making me the next head of Byaku-Shinkyou.”




Although he buried his words with the lift of the cup to his lips, Orochimaru’s heart rate had quickened at this news.




The revered homestead of the elite Uchiha clan; a place as legendary as the man who had created it. Orochimaru had only seen pictures of it (and of course the stories). He could only imagine the power within those walls, and if there were other members of the clan with Fugaku’s abilities just ripe for the plucking…


“…don’t know if I’m ready  for that kind of a role,” Fugaku was mumbling to himself. “I mean, I think it’s a great honor, but I’m still just thirty…well almost thirty! It’s like running a small country!”


“You should have advisors and the such to help you, don’t you?”


Fugaku rolled his eyes. “They might as well be a bunch of brown nosers for all the help I’ll get.” He paused and then looked up with a smirk on his features. “Heeey. What if I make  you my second-in-command? You’re a…” He sneered at the medal. “…war hero, aren’t you? You should know one or two things about running an organization like this, right?”


Orochimaru couldn’t help laughing at the notion, though his heart still drummed loudly. “A tempting invitation, but one I’ll have to politely decline. Besides…I still have that journey of mine to think about.”


Fugaku suddenly looked pensive. He rubbed his chin and then leaned forward with his voice lowered in a conspirational whisper. “Do you…do you remember that thing I told you about the eyes?” He pointed to his and blinked for good measure. Tonight they looked normal, but Orochimaru nodded all the same.


“I was sure you wouldn’t remember,” he said with a small smile. “You were high on morphine at the time.”


“I remember,” Fugaku replied with a shrug. “Not all of it, but I do remember we talked about it. However…” He paused again and took a deep breath. “I didn’t tell you everything about it. Remember when I said it was a damn curse?”




“For those of us who have been ‘lucky’ to get this ability…as we grow older…it gets worse.”


Orochimaru frowned. “How do you mean?”


“I mean if it’s overused, you eventually go blind,” came the blunt statement that had the older man stumped for a moment. Fugaku gave a bitter smile. “The price to pay for having such a powerful ability. It’s why the Uchiha were given the authority to become the ‘police’ for Japan centuries ago. They recognized our knack for seeing the hearts of men, and we were exploited for all we were worth. In the end, many of our ancestors – and even ‘til today – although they don’t talk about it much – end up going blind. Many choose to have their eyes removed and stored away until some kind of cure is found to either slow the process or stop it altogether. So far no one has been able to do so. The closest has been the serum applied at birth that helps ‘cool’ the eyes should they get too heated from overuse. Does that make sense?”


Orochimaru nodded; though his mind was already whirling with endless possibilities.


“I swear,” Fugaku was muttering. “I’ll do anything to find a cure for this. I want to break that damn cycle. I want to see my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (if possible) without having to rely on my hands to know what their damn facial features look like. There’s nothing worse than watching your father no longer able to recognize you again. It’s worse than death.”


The sudden flash of his mother’s horrified expression had Orochimaru gritting his teeth. He swallowed his bitterness with another gulp of beer, before reaching out to cover Fugaku’s hand with his.


“What if I told you that I could find a cure?”


Fugaku looked up with an expression that was a mixture of hope, confusion and disbelief. He eventually frowned and withdrew his hand from the cold touch. “What are you talking about?” he asked carefully.


Orochimaru smiled. “While on my journey, I’m going to do all I can to find a cure for your cursed clan’s…ailment.”


“Why? What’s in it for you?”


Orochimaru threw his hands up as if surrendering. “Nothing but the pleasure of knowing I’ll be helping a good friend. I do want you to be able to see your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with those beautiful eyes of yours."


Fugaku made a face at the compliment, but anyone could see that the hope was back in his eyes. “And how long is this trip of yours going to be?”


“Who knows?” Orochimaru replied. “Could be months, years -”


“The longer you are gone, the more blind people we’ll have!”


“Then I’ll return in earnest, my dear friend. I promise. I will return with an elixir to make you love me for the rest of your life.”





Present Day



“Forgive me for such a rough welcome, my dearest one, but I had to remind you of just how much you need me. You see, I’m able to recreate the negative effects of  an evil aura – via the smoke from the pipe you must have noticed earlier – hence your eyes reverting to its original state. Though I must applaud Uchiha Shisui for being able to come up with a counter serum to dilute the effects; not as potent as mine, but close enough. Now hold steady, my love. This might sting a little, but I promise you’ll feel so much better. ”


Sasuke didn’t want to, but he knew that for his sanity’s sake, he’d have to rely on whatever the hell Orochimaru was about to apply. He felt the cold fingers tip his chin lightly, caress his skin before trailing up to his right eye to pry it open gently. It took all his strength not to scream out in pain – for just that little act alone was enough to make him want to die all over again. However, at the one, two, three drops of something wet and cool in his lacrimal caruncle, the immediate effect was ten times better than Shisui’s treatment. Hell, even better than the previous medication Orochimaru used to give him. That one used to take at least a two or three minutes to get his eyesight back to normal, but this…this was like…magic!


“Amazing, isn’t it?” Orochimaru crooned after he had applied in both eyes and now stood back to watch the young man blink and stare around him in amazement. “My proudest achievement yet.  It’s just a damn shame your father gave up on me before I could finish it.”


“What the hell are you talking about?” Sasuke asked with a frown. He had to remember what he was here for, but at the same time, he was curious  to know just why this man had felt the need to eliminate his entire family (and most of his clan for that matter).


Orochimaru sighed heavily and placed the small glass vial on the desk as if tempting Sasuke to reach for it. He tapped his walking stick on the floor as he paced toward the window.


“For ten years,” he began quietly. “Ten years I wandered the earth searching for the cure your father had requested of me. It was during that time that I learned and gained an appreciation for our little reptilian friends.” At this he idly caressed the gilded statue of a striking cobra beside him. “It was in the depths of the forests in Peru where I was bitten for the first time – and not the last mind you- by this magnificent slithering creature. For almost a week, I drifted in and out of Death’s door until I found a way to overcome the delirium with herbs and some assistance by local bushmen. You see, Sasuke, my love. Life is all about experimentation. You must try, try, and try again until you get something right. And if becomes an abject failure, then  you give up and find the next best thing.”


He looked over his shoulder to ask slowly. “And do you want to know what that next best thing was?”


“The venom?” Sasuke replied wryly.


Orochimaru grinned and nodded fervently. “Yes. Yes, my dear one. The snake’s venom. You see, these brilliant although barbaric bushmen, had discovered the potency and effectiveness of its toxins. However, they were too uncivilized to go beyond the basic treatment procedures. I came to realize that the bushmen – especially their elders – were inflicted with that unfortunate disease called cataract. So yes, it wasn’t exactly the Uchiha curse, but at least it was enough for me to test my theories on a few choice subjects. The results were mixed, but for the most part their vision improved by at least forty percent. Not bad for a preliminary test, eh?”


Sasuke could only watch as Orochimaru began to pace about; his steady steps hardly betraying how frail he looked. His voice would rise and fall with his excitement as he recounted his escapades; traveling to different countries, each time using more ingredients to finally come up with something that could cure at least eighty percent of blindness.


“The problem was,” he breathed with a sudden stop. “I was so busy treating the wrong people. Do you see? How else was I to know if the drug worked if I had no Uchiha to work with? And so I decided to return to Japan and start with the search for any member of your clan who wasn’t stuck behind these walls. There were quite a few of you in the cities, but to my chagrin – none had the ability.”


“Did you kill them?” came the calm question that did not betray the simmering heat building within Sasuke as he imagined just how many young men (or women) Orochimaru had rounded up in his quest for guinea pigs.


“Now, my dear -”


“It’s a simple question. Did you kill them?”


“…it wasn’t my fault,” came the low response. “ that some of them reacted quite badly to the drug.”




“Now, now, we mustn’t go into those particulars -”


How did it affect them?” Sasuke snapped coldly; still holding Orochimaru’s gaze prisoner. “I want to know everything.”


For a moment, it seemed as if Orochimaru had no plans to respond to this demand, but eventually he sank into his throne-like chair and crossed his legs; a cold smile now on his pallid features. “You want to know everything? Are you sure you can stomach it, my love?”


“I’ve seen and heard worse.”


“As you wish.” Orochimaru grinned to show his fangs. “Yes, I killed the women for I had no use for them, plucked out their eyes and tested the serum on them. Most of the eyeballs burst on immediate contact, the ocular pressure too much to handle, while others shrived up as if dehydrated. Now imagine that happening while the eyeballs are still in their sockets. It was a messy affair for the most part.” He shrugged lightly and eyed his fingernails. “Should I apologize for that?”


Sasuke revealed nothing, though he was sure Orochimaru might have noticed the slight tightening of his jaw. Otherwise, he kept his features as neutral as possible and in a voice that did not betray the emotions welling up inside, he asked coolly. “What happened when you returned here?”


“Ah yes,” Orochimaru began with a snap of his fingers. “Well, after an unsuccessful series of experiments, I decided to come straight to the lion’s den. Here.” He said with a wave of his hand around the room. “Of course back then, it wasn’t this beautiful. Your father had no taste in the finer things in life. Neither did Mikoto now that I think of it.


“Speaking of Fugaku…my how the years had changed him. I had only been gone for about ten years, but during that time, he became a changed man. Gone was the unsure soldier I had met on the battlefield. Instead, I was looking at the new head of the Uchiha clan; cocky, bold, and downright disagreeable in the worst way. He had married your mother – who I’m sure was a lovely woman, but I must be honest, revolted me on sight – and there was of course your delectable older brother – who was about four years old at the time. I need not tell you that I fell in love with his eyes the moment I saw them. Now, now,” Orochimaru added with a chuckle as he noted the involuntary jerk this elicited from Sasuke. “No need to get hasty. I wasn’t going to be foolish enough to use your brother as an experiment. I was in the midst of a buffet of beautiful young men to work with, but I had to get in your father’s good graces first.


“I managed to convince him that I had found a cure for the blindness, and reminded him of his promise to make me second-in-command when he was in charge. Now, your father might have been a self-righteous jackass for the most part, but he was a man of his word and he kept it. He lobbied hard for my position against the better judgment of the other members of the Uchiha governing board or whatever they were called, and I did my best to convince them I was their best option for getting good press coverage to the rest of the world. You see, you all might have been the revered watchdogs of Japan, but you weren’t exactly loved by many. Hence, with me in the forefront – me the decorated war ‘hero’ who disappeared for ten years and suddenly returned to the limelight – I was the perfect representative for your pathetic clan.”


He paused and smiled at Sasuke as if in pity.


“I know it’s a terrible thing to hear such insults about your history and lineage, but let’s be honest…I did you all a favor. Your clan would have become extinct anyway…I simply sped up the process. However, I digress from the original story. Now where was I? Oh right…being in the spotlight. Yes, yes, I hobnobbed with all the government leaders, prime minster, emperor, members of the DIET and of course through all that, I got reacquainted with that bastard, Danzo. It seemed like he too had been trying to get his way into Fugaku’s good graces but your father wasn’t buying it. Like your grandfather before him, Danzo wasn’t exactly a likable person. That poor son-of-a-bitch. All the same, I enjoyed his attempts to try to get me to like  him. In several meetings we had, he tried to convince me that with his connections in the underworld and my connections to the police, we could be a strong team. I could take over Byaku-Shinkyou or rather he’d be the face of this establishment, while I ran things in the background.”


He suddenly laughed out loud as if hearing the funniest joke in the world.


“I loved that stupid plan, but had no intention of letting it come to fruition…that is until your father became too big-headed.” The laughter stopped and he scowled at Sasuke. “You see, when your father received a phone call from the Prime Minister with the promise of becoming the new Minister of Defense, he felt it necessary to become a first-class asshole to me. How quickly he forgot all I had done for him. It was I who had lobbied for him, I who had wined, dined, paid off and slept with a few of those sleazy fat cats at the DIET to get him the votes needed for that position, but what does your dear ol’ Dad do? He suddenly decides he no longer needs me.”


Sasuke’s eyes narrowed. “You’re lying.”


Orochimaru sneered. “Am I?”


“Yes,” came the quiet reply. “Because Itachi told me otherwise. He was there the night Father got the phone call and the first thing he did was to think of calling you to share the good news. He was even going to consider asking you to join him or perhaps run Byaku-Shinkyou whenever he was stuck in Tokyo, but you and Danzo were just too impatient, weren’t you? Besides…” Sasuke’s jaw worked. “The reports were beginning to come in about missing officers and civilians within the grounds. You kept experimenting on us even after you had sold my father the lie that the serum he was administering to the elders was the real deal. Still you weren’t just satisfied with the eyes, you started getting interested in the entire workings of the Uchiha make-up. You mutilated bodies, desecrated them as if they meant nothing to you after you were done with your sick, perverted -”


“All for a good cause, my love -”


“Like hell!” Sasuke roared as his control finally snapped.


He moved so fast that even Orochimaru had to admire the way in which his beloved protégé was able to attack without warning. However, he was more than ready, as he all but slid out of the chair – narrowly missing the katana by an inch (tendrils of his hair whispered to the floor )  - and reaching out  with his walking stick to strike the leg he had noticed Sasuke favoring earlier.




Sasuke should have known that was coming, but it still didn’t lessen the flare of pain that raced through his entire being. He would have fallen if not for bracing himself against the chair and with all the strength he could muster, he pushed it toward Orochimaru who danced out of the way, but not fast enough. Sasuke’s katana flashed through the air and took out a chunk of his robe.


This seemed to infuriate the older man, for his features grew ugly with this emotion. He struck out with his stick again – which Sasuke could now see could elongate by some kind of unseen mechanism – and knocked the katana away from his grip.  And though his leg was giving him all kinds of hell, Sasuke leaped as high as he could to dodge it, but only to find himself slammed hard against the wall as those cold fingers wrapped around his neck tightly.


“You’ve been nothing but trouble from the moment I met you,” Orochimaru breathed against the blood-streaked and flushed face before him. He squeezed a little harder, but Sasuke stubbornly refused to whimper in pain. “Perhaps I should have killed you while I had the chance.”


“Then…why…didn’t…you…?” Sasuke rasped despite his throat burning as if someone had shoved a ton of hot coals down his throat. “What…stopped…you?”


For a long tension-filled minute inky black clashed with translucent green, and it was as if in that moment, both men were more than aware of just why either hadn’t chosen to eliminate the other when given the opportunity.


(we were too connected from the start…)


For Sasuke - if he really wanted to be honest with himself - he would boil it down to simply needing a father-figure in this most traumatized period of his life. While alive, Fugaku had always been too busy with work to notice him much, and Itachi (and his mother) had taken over that role albeit unsatisfactorily in some aspects. It was one thing to get a brother and mother’s love, but no words could describe how much better it would have felt to have his father’s approval in some way, shape or form. He wouldn’t consider himself needy, but goodness knew how much he starved for that brand of affection…for some kind of acknowledgement from someone who would take care of him, praise him, cherish him and love him unconditionally no matter what.


And for an orphaned five or six-year-old, Orochimaru had filled that void perfectly.


Sasuke could still remember the kindness and warmth in that pale face the day he was discovered in that underground hiding place. He could remember the way Orochimaru had hugged him tight as if finding hidden treasure. Hell, if he thought hard enough, he was sure the older man had actually sobbed and over the years Sasuke had believed it was because Orochimaru was shocked at the carnage around him.


All the same, for the first few years, Orochimaru was all he had. He had willingly taken the place of Fugaku, Itachi and Mikoto.  Orochimaru did all he could to be the perfect father-figure, confidant and friend. He was patient and kind, quick to give compliments and praises for any good thing Sasuke did. After the boy’s regular school lessons, he would spend hours reading to Sasuke; both coming to learn how much they loved sharing bedtime stories.


They would go horseback riding, fishing trips, and boat rides. He bought Sasuke’s first katana – a fine weapon the boy had fallen in love with at first sight. He would invite the best entertainment in the form of clowns, dancers and actors to entertain the young boy whenever he wanted. Of course all of this had taken place within the grounds, and Sasuke had been too naïve to wonder why he was never let out of Byaku-Shinkyou to see the real world.


And every night – no matter how long a day he had at the office – Orochimaru would always return to his bedside to kiss him goodnight.


“You know I love you, don’t you?” he’d begin the nightly ritual as Sasuke would nod; his heart thumping with happiness that Orochimaru hadn’t forgotten to see him.


Orochimaru brushed aside the lock of hair that fell across his forehead, a warm smile on his visage. “And you know I’ll never let anything or anyone hurt you, right?”


“Yes,” came the low whisper.


“You know I’ll take care of you always…no matter what.”


“I know…”


“And that no matter what anyone says about your Uncle Orochimaru, I love you more than anything else in the world, right?”




“You remember all I’ve taught you?”


“Yes.” For within the story-tales, Orochimaru would regale Sasuke with tales of sin and impurities, of why Byaku-Shinkyou was slowly beginning to look ‘different’, of why there was the need to build such a huge arena, and why his dear Uncle was so weighed down by all the ugliness in the world. According to the Great Book Orochimaru would sometimes read from (and with tears in his eyes on some nights), it was clear that this filthy world needed to be ‘cleaned’. Why God Himself had ordained Orochimaru to purge those filthy beings from existence, and one day he hoped that Sasuke would take over the glorious role when his time came.


“I only want what’s best for you,” Orochimaru would whisper before placing a kiss on Sasuke’s forehead. “Don’t ever forget that. No matter what happens, always know I want the best for you. I would never…ever hurt you, my dearest one. Never. Goodnight, my dear one.”


He rose to his feet and prepared to leave, when three trembling whispered words froze him in his tracks. He slowly turned back to the boy, who looked embarrassed at what he had just said, and for the first time in his life, Orochimaru could safely say that his heart had been stolen by someone else.


(I guess this is what a real father must feel like…or is it? Would a father’s heart skip a beat at just hearing those words? Would a father feel tongue-tied and unable to think coherently for a few minutes? Would a father want to cradle that small frame to his body, wanting to touch him a way that would make him repeat those words over and over again. No…this isn’t father-like at all. What I feel is…what I want is…I want…)


“Is everything okay, Uncle?” came the question so full of innocence, that Orochimaru had to literally turn away from those large beautiful dark eyes that were filled with so many unspoken questions.


“Go to sleep, Sasuke,” came the gruff reply. “I’ll see you in the morning.”


Perhaps that was the turning point in their relationship…or rather the presence of that voice-of-reason – Saratobi Asuma eventually making his authority known. Looking back now, Orochimaru could almost laugh at the irony of it all, for Hiruzen-sensei’s last name had been Saratobi as well! It was more than likely that the old man had sent his reincarnation to give him hell, and it had come in the form of slowly poisoning his precious Sasuke’s mind despite his many attempts to pull him into his world of sin and decadence.


“You broke my heart so many times,” Orochimaru moaned as if in pain; his grip around Sasuke’s neck weakening slightly which was a good thing or Sasuke was sure he was going to pass out. “You broke my heart -”


“As you did mine after that night,” Sasuke finally admitted when he felt he could speak again. His voice, however, was nothing more than a harsh whisper. “In a way, I felt that saying those words might have made you angry with me, and foolish as I was, I made the decision to do everything to get back to your good graces. I wanted to become perfect for you, so I went along with all you asked me to…for the most part.”


Orochimaru gave a wan smile. “It was my mistake to send you to that god-forsaken temple to spend time with those idiotic monks. Perhaps if I had kept you here…I might have broken you a little bit more.”


“Maybe…maybe not. I was lucky in more ways than one.” Sasuke took a deep breath and with a light grunt shoved off Orochimaru’s arm. Surprisingly the older man did not protest, but simply watched Sasuke with interest as if eager to hear where this story ended.


“I met someone who was finally able to do the one thing you tried so much to do over the years and failed.”


“I’m assuming you mean the son of Namikaze Minato?” Orochimaru replied with a smirk.


“Yes,” came the quiet but blunt answer. “Uzumaki Naruto…that’s his name.”


Orochimaru straightened up. “Of course. Uzumaki Naruto. The one who is giving Shimura Danzo and indeed all of the underworld a shake up as we speak. I am impressed with your choice of a male partner, Sasuke. At least I can take pride in knowing I taught you to have good taste.”


He began to laugh, but stopped when he noticed that Sasuke had an expression on his features that brought a flush of humiliation to his cheeks. What the hell was with that look? Pity? Could it be possible that this little runt was actually feeling sorry for him? The very thought of it was –


“The past year taught me a lot of things…so many more things than I learned being with you for sixteen years,” Sasuke began quietly. “I made friends…real friends, not the ones you force fed me with. I developed genuine relationships with people who didn’t demand or expect too much from me. I found my brother again after you selfishly took away my family from me. I discovered who I could be and who I should be without you, and I came to realize that I had so much more self-worth than you ever gave me credit for. I found…”


At this point he swallowed tightly and took a deep breath to finish off what he was determined to say; while praying that a certain someone would forgive him for being so presumptuous.


“I found someone who loves and cares for me despite my flaws, and the most important thing of all…that I was finally able to realize I had the capability to love and forgive as well. I don’t know if you ever really felt that in your life, Orochimaru, and my job isn’t to psychoanalyze your insecurities and inner demons. I know that you must have loved me in some way…however, weird and unorthodox it was, but it wasn’t the kind I was looking for. I realized I was always searching for it…acceptance and belong…in the wrong places, and by believing that if I could keep you happy…it would eventually come. I guess that is what Asuma was trying to tell me all those years, and I refused to listen.”


He stopped talking to notice that his words were having some kind of effect on Orochimaru. That face seemed even more haggard as if his true age was finally being revealed with every word uttered from his lips.


Orochimaru tried to form words, but nothing came out. He couldn’t even move as he watched the younger man begin to limp away to find his sword.


Come back, he wanted to say. Come back to me, Sasuke. You belong to me. You’ll need me eventually. All of this…this life of yours is nothing more than illusion. They don’t care about you like I do. They’ll abandon you eventually. You’re nothing without me! You hear me! You are nothing without me!


(I need you)


“I’m going to go now…” Sasuke was saying without looking at him. He had found his katana and seemed to be admiring it with a blank expression. “I don’t even think you’re worth killing. You’re nothing but a shell of yourself, and if not soon…you’ll eventually die from whatever it is you are doing to yourself.  Maybe I’ll return the favor and lock you in one of your self-designed dungeons to rot away. Besides…there’s carnage taking place outside and I have to stop it before even more people get killed.” He paused and then continued in a voice that sent chills down Orochimaru’s spine. “ I have learned all I can from you, Orochimaru. Now, I have a bigger canvas to work with.”


At the sound of those last words, Orochimaru could feel the years of pain, anger, humiliation and hate rushing back in a tidal wave that was overwhelming in its intensity. It was Saratobi Hiruzen looking at him with pity and fear as his interests grew more macabre as that short letter of farewell he had left behind now seemed to be flung back to his face from beyond the grave. It was his insane mother all over again; a woman who discarded him and refused to acknowledge his existence beyond the veil of madness, distrust and hate. It was those bullies in the tunnels taunting and laughing as they called him the worst names. It was the thousands of human sacrifices – the Uchiha clan to be exact - he had used to better himself all clamoring for screaming space within his mind; stifling him, making him want to go mad with their rising voices determined to make his mind unravel completely.




Shut up! Shut up! Shut up all of you!! I have done nothing wrong!!


He dove for Sasuke with a desperate man’s lunge; his claws for fingernails almost making contact with the back of the young man’s shirt.


“Come baa -!”


His voice would be forever frozen in mid-cry as that once proud head sailed through their air in a near-graceful arc.  It would descend – as if on cue – upon his overthrown throne; the mass of black hair nearly shielding the still frozen face of haggard shock and mouth ajar. His blood – almost black with its thickness – trickled down the chair and the subsequent thud of the lanky body falling to the floor would be the  almost anti-climactic conclusion to his death.




The final purification; a ritual conceived and nurtured  from the mind of a mad man.


How ironic.


For a long minute Sasuke could only stand there watching his handiwork; his mind unable to process just what had taken place. He couldn’t tell you when he moved to deliver the final strike, but he could tell you that it had almost felt like he had sliced through ‘nothing’. It had been that fast.


As if compelled by invisible strings, he walked toward the slightly twitching body. Sasuke had seen a lot of bloody stumps over the years, but there was something decidedly grotesque (yet mildly fascinating) about Orochimaru’s. He observed it for a moment before promptly using the tip of his still blood-drenched katana to rip open the sleeves of the robes. He had to confirm his theories, and he could almost gloat at how correct he was.


(no wonder he always favored long sleeves)


Sasuke had had the misfortune of seeing Orochimaru naked once or twice, the older man always made sure it was when he was in semi-darkness…and for good reason. The needle marks all over his fore and upper arms told of a man who must have eventually succumbed to his need for the serum (or venom) he stubbornly believed would keep him young and full of vitality for years to come. Sasuke would later come to discover that he had not only injected himself with the toxins, but had gone as far as performing transfusions with blood supplied by the countless Uchiha he had murdered over the years . Subsequent notes and journals discovered would also reveal just how dark and troubled Orochimaru’s thoughts had become.


(someday he would be able to gain the cursed abilities of the clan and if so create an army of special soldiers infused with the same abilities)


“You sick bastard,” came the quiet words with no inflection. He ripped the robes a little more to reveal the skinny pale chest, where it wasn’t surprising to see that a port had been infused into the skin. This was how Orochimaru performed his transfusions apparently, but Sasuke – at the time – only saw it as another bizarre fetish by the man he had once considered mentor. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, and without lifting his lashes, he plunged the katana right through a heart that was almost visible.


He lifted his lashes, withdrew the blade and stepped away; deliberately ignoring the severed head with eyes that still seemed to plead with him to reconsider his decision. He waited for the feeling of elation and victory, the way it always appeared to be in the movies and fantasy tales where the hero gave a roar of celebration, and fireworks and rays of sunshine would burst through clouds to signal the beginning of a new dawn.


(empty. Liberating yes…but empty all the same)


He could almost hear the ghostly voices of his ancestors…of his clan…finally breathing sighs of relief. The persecution and ethnic cleansing had finally come to a cold and bitter end.


(but at such a terrible and unnecessary cost)


The shakes would eventually come with a vengeance, and he’d have to sag onto a chair to control himself (and ease the throb on his injured leg). It was now more than likely that he’d limp for the rest of his life, but that thought was pushed to the back of his mind as he felt the first stirrings hysteria rising to the surface.


For years, most of all he had done was a build-up to this point ; of imagining how killing Orochimaru would be and now…and now…




He couldn’t stop laughing – a loud bitter sound that seemed to be a mingle of a scream and cackling at the same time. He laughed until his stomach hurt. He laughed until the tears sprang to his eyes. He laughed until it felt that the whole world was laughing maniacally with him. It was the way he would be found by Lee and Neji, who arrived at the scene several minutes later. 


Neither man dared say anything as they surveyed the room in solemn silence. Somehow they must have understood just what Uchiha Sasuke was going through, so they would give him a moment to ‘grieve’ and gather himself together as best he knew how. Besides, only one person was likely to be a welcome source of comfort to him, and that person – despite his earlier decision not to follow them – had still joined their party in the end.


Only time would tell how the final healing process would begin for both brothers.  Only time would tell…




Chapter 43

Naruto Home









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