Actions

Work Header

Branch

Chapter Text

There was a lot of work to be done. Finally Orochimaru had the space, the time and the resources to fully commit to his research. Of course, Danzos help in this would come at a price. Everything comes at a price. But he would deal with that once the time came. For now he looked at his state of the art labs, strolled along the hallways of his lair and looked into the different rooms. Equipment, sparkling new, clean and ordered to his specifications. Several medical labs, a bureau, a kitchen, his personal sleeping quarters and own bathroom, supply rooms, bathrooms for the subjects, a spacious library, filled with books on everything that could possibly be useful for this project. Which are a lot of things. Okay, so the library might have been a bit luxurious for an underground secret lair. But what was this? Empty shelves and crates of unpacked books. What? Everything was supposed to be ready to use, why were these books not in place? Were the other rooms also in this kind of half done state?

Quickly he retraced his steps, back to the supply rooms, the kitchen. And yes, here as well some boxes were stacked unassumingly behind the door while the drawers and cabinets sat empty. Which incompetent idiot did Danzo have on this job? He had half a mind to send that man a message about his inefficient workforce. At this point Orochimaru suspected his personal rooms might be the only ones in a decent state, because he had prepared those himself.

If at least the medical labs were all ready to go. He stormed down the hallway and into the first lab. Closeed the door. Saw the boxes. Opened the boxes. Opened the drawers. Opened the closets. Breathed deeply. Went to the next lab. Repeated the process. Clenched his teeth. Went to the third lab. Looked. Breathed. Closed his eyes. Tought of a quiet place.

ROOT Couldn't have gotten this incompetent. This must have been Danzo messing with him, telling him – something he would have to think about when he wasn't about to flip this almost offensively white and clean new medical table in front of him. There was even a white paper sheet on top of it. The restraints on it glimmered innocently in the artificial lighting.

Abruptly he turned around, his long hair flaring out behind him dramatically in a gesture he had at some point perfected for most effectual exits (only those he meant to see those exits were no longer around, but the habit stayed). Some decisive quick steps carried him to the cells. At least those were filled and the subjects weren't just tied up and dumped in the hallway. But by the looks of it most of them were still knocked out. He would have to check them over later, see if Danzos incompetent staff hadn't managed to damage them and messed up that part of their job as well. One pair of eyes was looking at him, though. Maybe more resilient than the others. Or not as roughly handled. He had wanted children of different ages. This one seemed to have been just before graduation. Peace time graduation. A girl, unassuming brown hair in a recently redone short braid. Leaning against the side wall of her small cell, standing up. Weary, sharp eyes. She wasn't saying anything. Now that he had stopped walking it was eerily quiet. Just the quiet breathing of a lot of bodies and the quiet humming of the neon lights.

“Can you read?”, he asked into the silence.

“Yes, Orochimaru-sama”, she said quietly, leaned away from the wall but didnot bow, keept her eyes on him instead. She knew who he was, then. Maybe even had an idea about the situation she was in. Interesting.

“Good. Follow me”, he said and with a flick of his chakra opened her cell door. She waited until the door was opened fully, then steped away from the wall and into a deep bow.

“My name is Mitsuki. I humbly give myself into your care.”

Orochimaru didn't grace her with an answer, just raiseed one slim eyebrow at her. Mitsuki, huh? Who taught that brat these manners? At least she didn't freeze in his presence. Weather or not she was capable of following orders he would have to see. Orochimaru turned around and lead her to the library. Her steps behind him were steady, but hurried. In the middle of empty shelves and full boxes he stoped, turned around to her again. She was watching him intensely.

“I expect these books to be put away in the subcategories given on the shelves, in alphabetical order of the author names. Do not make a mess of this.”

She went into a formal half-bow. “Yes, Orochimaru-sama” Then she kneeled down next to the nearest box and started going through the titles, taking out each book one by one and putting them into different piles. She seemed to be getting on with that. So he left her to it and went back to the cells. Maybe one of the other brats was awake and could tidy up the supply closet. And the kitchen. Maybe even the medical equipment for the labs. He'd need more than one brat for all of that. Good thing he had quite a number of them, then. At least a few of them should be suitable for menial tasks.
Orochimaru rolled his eyes on the situation. He had hoped to get straight to work, but apparently he would have to set up quite a few things first.

Mitsuki wasn't the oldest he found among his subjects, he later learned, but the most fearless and stoic. She had a cold practicality that he appreciates. She didn't stay in the library, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The oldest among them was Daiskue, a meek, shy boy from the genin corps, an orphan of civilian parents, who just about managed to graduate. Apparently utterly useless. At least that was what Danzo wrote into his file. Many of the files bared such comments, Orochimaru found as he readed them in the evening, after he brought the subjects back into their cells.

Daiskue had not introduced himself to Orochimaru, had not spoken at all. His dark hair was cut unevenly short, he looked unhealthily thin. There was an unsettling quietness around him. He would not meet Orochimarus eyes, would not even look up. All his movements were minimised, calculated to attract as little attention as possible. He was so very quiet, it spoke of ill things in his past, or of excellent shinobi training. Or both. There was no explanation at all in the file. Why was someone as quiet as him labelled as useless? Even if he was lacking in any other talent, this in itself was a good quality in a shinobi.

Daiskues silence was very different from Mitsukis. As the oldest subject there Orochimaru had him help him with the lab equipment that day. Daisuke did as he was told and had no problem at all following instruction. After Orochimaru was confident he could leave Daiskue alone in the lab for a while, he went again back to the cells. By now all the children were awake. As he neared hushed whispers quieted and big eyes stared at him from behind bars.

“Who knows how to cook?”

A hand soared up in a cell to his right. A little girl with a blond bob was almost vibrating with energy, her eyes sparkling and her round cheeks flushed. As he met her eyes she started speaking:
“Maki has started learning the art of cooking from her honourable parents. Though Maki never finished her education in this field and was forced to attend the shinobi academy once her honourable parents passed, she is still convinced she is more qualified for any culinary position than anyone else here. No offence, shinobi-sama.”

Orochimaru grinned. Look at that, what a lively one. Maybe too lively.

“You better keep your promise, Maki. As you can see, there are a lot of people here to feed. Are you ready to run a kitchen?”

“Though Maki has never before had full authority over a kitchen she knows she can do it! Please give Maki a chance to pursue her dream of becoming an expert chef!”, she yelled and dropped into a deep formal bow.

He had only thought to have her tidy up the kitchen and make food today. But if he didn't have to do that at any time of this operation he would have more time for his actual studies. Nevertheless, she was another test subject. He would see how she did today and then make his decision about what to do with her from there on out. So he dumped her in the kitchen and told her to have food ready in three hours for everyone and went back to Daiskue and the labs.

Three hours later he picked up Mitsuki from the library, where she had filled a considerable amount of shelves, and brought both her and Daiskue into the kitchen. Maki was standing on a chair and stirring in a big pot with a look on intense concentration on her face. Her hair was tied back from her face with a piece of cloth. Somehow she had produced an apron from somewhere.

“I made stew, shinobi-sama! I wasn't sure how many people there are to feed and how hungry they are, but this should be enough and suit everyone. It is a hearty and healthy meal!” She turned around with a grin.

Orochimaru ended up bringing the big pot of stew to the cells, while the other three carried bowls and spoons. As they handed out food to the other subjects Orochimaru considered how it had come to this. He never wanted to learn any of their names and within a few hours he knew three of them. Was it an ingrained instinct to gather three brats that were about genin age? He really should know better than that. That way only lay pain and loss. But he did not have to learn any more about them, did he? He only really had files on his subjects because he needed to know their history for his research. But still, he hadn't really planned to read any of those files. He had new ones ready at his desk.

He looked at Mitsuki, who was watching him out of the corner of her eye while handing a small child a bowl of stew. He looked at Daiskue, who mechanically filled another bowl of stew. He looked at Maki, who was hauling the big pot around with surprising ease and a beaming smile on her face. And he ate the stew. It was good.

Chapter Text

Orochimaru realised the next day that he had forgotten to have someone take care of the supply closet. He didn't want to learn another name, so he considered the ones he already knew. Maki was busy in the kitchen. It was no small task to run one for over twenty people, so he wouldn't make her take care of general supplies as well. But he could show her how to use the ledger of the food supply. Mitsuki had worked in the library without problem, maybe he should leaver her to that while it was still a work in progress. (He ... might have gotten a few to many books. When would he even read them all? Were all of them really necessary? Nonsense, every book was necessary. There was no such thing as to many books.) So, Daiskue then? He had done well yesterday. But there were still some crates in the third lab to go through. If he had Daisuke do that, he could start his actual work here. Maybe an assessment of the two of them was in order. Or he could stop wasting his time and just grab another brat for the job.

The first batch of subjects were twenty children from the ages of six to eleven. All academy age, where they could be expected not to annoy him with crying and drive him to premature homicide. He would have to experiment on younger subjects at some point. He sighed. Those would be a nuisance to have around. He got Mitsuki and Daisuke first, their cells being in the first half of the hallway, and send them off with short instructions. As he did the same with Maki, she bowed deeply before him.

“Permission to speak, Orochimaru-sama!”, she shouted. Oh, so she had learned his name since yesterday? Amused he raised an eyebrow.

“Permission granted”

“Maki deeply apologizes for not knowing your name yesterday, Orochimaru-sama! Maki has since been informed of your many accomplishments by Mitsuki-senpai and wants to express her gratitude for being involved in this operation, whatever it may be. Also, Maki has calculated the amount of work that needs to be done in the kitchen and could greatly benefit from two assistants. Would you grant Maki them from your pool of unassigned workers, Orochimaru-sama?”

What a thing to ask of him. Quickly he glanced around to the other subjects. They were all watching them with baited breath. Just what did these children think they were here for? But this kind of forward thinking was not entirely unappreciated.

“Tell me, do you have anyone in mind already?”

She rose from her bow and beamed at him. “Yes! Kana and Kaede told me they were punished with kitchen duty a lot in the orphanage, so they would make great potato peelers and dish washers!”

“Alright, you may have them for now. Show me to them”

Kaede and Kana, as it turned out, were two obvious sisters, close in age, with the same long straight black hair, carefully innocent faces and wide green eyes. But instead of the mischief he half anticipated from them they too dropped into formal bows once he had opened their cells and coursed: “Thank you for giving us a chance, Orochimaru-sama! We will not be trouble!”

And they rose again, aiming dimpled smiles at him.
He gave Maki a look. She didn't cringe.

“They are your responsibility”, he said.

“I understand, Orochimaru-sama!”

With that he sent them off to the kitchen. Next to their two cells, the last one in this row, was a boy who could be around ten. He was gangly and short, with hair that was of an unassuming brown colour and curled around his head. Orochimaru narrowed his eyes. There was something off about that hair colour. Could it be died? Why would a ten year old die his hair?
“You can read and write, I assume?”

The boy nodded, looking at him hopefully.

“Yes, Orochimaru-sama”, he whispered.

“Good, you'll take care of the supply room”

With that he opened the cell and as he almost expected by now the boy dropped into a deep formal bow.

“Thank you, Orochimaru-sama. My name is Ken. I humbly give myself into your service”

Who told these brats they had to do that? Orochimaru repressed another eye roll and lead Ken to his work station. With all of those initial things taken care of, it was time to get to work. Time to see what his subjects were made of. Starting with Mitsuki.

 

She was sitting on the examination table dressed in a hospital gown. The room was bathed in the cold electrical light that also filled the air with a soft electrical humming. Orochimaru had his hair bound up in a bun and was wearing a lab coat. He was bend over a microscope, looking at her blood sample. So far, he had not found anything amiss with her blood. He'd have to see what the other tests he had currently running would produce. The solution to indicate her elemental inclination should be done by now. He leaned away from the microscope and looked at the vial sitting on the desk next to it. The liquid inside it had split into two, one half a clear blue, the other a turquoise green. Well, would you look at that. The first one had already double elements. Wind and Water, both rather unusual for fire country. He turned to face her. She was watching him intently.

“What do you know about your origins?”, he asked.

“I was told my parents were some kind of useless layabout foreigners. I believe they might have been civilian refugees from a minor country”

He considered her physical appearance. With the way she looked she could have been from anywhere, really, except Kumo, Uzushio and Suna. Those countries tended to favour brighter, more vibrant hair colours and darker or lighter skin respectively. Ame, maybe, or even Kiri, for the water. A lot of refugees from those regions came in at the time she had been born. Wind however was the more surprising one to find. Well, ultimately it did not matter where she got it from.

“Why were you awake yesterday while everyone else wasn't?”

“I am adept at feigning unconsciousness”

“So, are you saying you were awake during the transfer?”

“Yes”

“Interesting. Could you find your way back?”

“If it was only about orienting myself and retracing their steps I believe I could. However, since they passed through several checkpoints I don't think I would make it back to the surface.”, she replied calmly. She was not lying, and not scared of him.

“What do you believe this place is and why you are here?”

“This is a place for you to conduct your research, Orochimaru-sama. I do not know what this research is, but I believe us children to be involved somehow.”

“Can you make a guess as to how?”

She was quiet for a moment, and the continue with the same unmoved voice: “We are to be your test subjects and assistants”

“Oh? And how did you arrive at that conclusion?”

“Apart from you and us there is no one else here. Cells are places to forcefully hold someone who is at flight risk or a risk to their surroundings. However, since we are neither of those I am unsure as to why exactly we are placed in cells. It may be just because that is how the place was constructed and whom it was constructed by. Apart from the bars as doors the cells are pretty comfortable. They are small, yes, but we don't have to share them, while still able to see and talk to others. Beds and blankets would be nice, but ultimately some of us didn't have those before either. And it is warm and dry here. There was food. Some of us have been assigned tasks already. I believe you have a vision for us, for this place. We are the lucky ones to have been placed here under your care, Orochimaru-sama” While talking her otherwise cold demeanour had picked up a bit of fire. Her cheeks were lightly flushed and her eyes shone with a referential light. He considered that light.

“Tell me, Mitsuki, what do you know of me?”

She took a deep breath and composed herself.
“You are Orochimaru of the Sannin, graduated at age six, trained under the Sandaime Hokage and a war veteran. You are the most intelligent shinobi in the village and you battle prowess is legendary. You invented countless new techniques and strategies, are unafraid of innovation and utterly beautiful, a role model for shinobi and kunoichi alike. You are a shinobi like Senju Tobirama, like I want to be as well.”

Orochimaru stared at her for several seconds. Children tended to be scared of him, not idolise him. He was not quite sure what to do with this.

“And I suppose you were the one who told Maki my name?”, he asked to fill the silence.

“Yes, Orochimaru-sama! I informed her and the others of your greatness. They shall comply to your requests with swift obedience and assist you on this operation, I made sure of that!”

“Shall they?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“They shall”, she replied with a certainty only children can have.
What was Orochimaru supposed to do with this kind of blind loyalty from the self appointed leader of his subjects? Loyalty, he had learned, was not something people gave him. Not even the ones he had thought closest to him, the ones he had called teammates and teacher. Ultimately they had all left him, for foreign grounds or to a new taskmaster, and had never looked at him without doubt, without contempt for his cold, analytical nature. (There had been others, young eyes looking up to him, a cheeky grin, young voices calling him “sensei”. That had not gone well. He could not repeat that. He refused to repeat that.) But this, he thought while looking at Mitsuki, this he could use.

Chapter Text

After Orochimaru send Mitsuki to go get changed into normal clothes (not the rags she came in, having unified clothing for his subjects ready was logical) and then get back to the library he had a quick look into the files of the Ken, Kaede and Kana. Then stopped by the kitchen to if it was still not on fire after having released two children into it who he suspected ended up in his lab because no one so far had been able to handle them. Kaede and Kana, according to their records, were nine and eight years old and had been orphaned for two years, after which they were transferred into an orphanage and forced to attend the shinobi academy, as was standard. They came from the red light district, the children of a prostitute who was not even named in the files, which annoyed Orochimaru to no end. There were no notes about their father. Apparently no had found it odd that they looked very much alike, which meant that they likely had the same father and that being coincidental seemed rather unlikely to him. Something was amiss here. But no one seemed to have been interested in that before, maybe because of all the incident reports of misbehaviour and pranks in the orphanage and academy both.

So it was with a certain amount of relief that Orochimaru only heard lively chatter when he entered the kitchen and found it not only still standing, but also plenty of pots boiling, vegetables being peeled and dishes being cleaned. Orochimaru leaned against the frame of the door and listened for a moment.

“I'm not sure beetroot would work. Don't you think it's a bit to red?”, asked Kaede, carrot in one hand and swinging the knife she was peeling it with around to illustrate her point. A bit of carrot peel flew of. She was holding the knife expertly.

“Honestly, I think it could work just fine, depending on your skin colour. Blueberries would be ideal, but they are rather expensive.”, Kana added, her arms elbow deep into soapy water in the sink. Both of them had their long dark hair tied into buns.

“We don't have any blueberries”, Maki added absentmindedly while she was stirring in a big pot in deep concentration.

“What do you need blueberries for?”, asked Orochimaru.

Kana and Kaede whirled around to him and stared. Maki hummed and said quietly, still concentrating on her cooking: “They want to make eyeliner like yours”

“Maki!”, Kana, exclaimed in indignation and whirled around to the blond girl.
Kaede meanwhile lowered her eyes demurely from Orochimaru and blushed artfully.

“Oh Orochimaru-sama”, she chirped, “we are just so taken with your excellent make-up and were discussing how it could be recreated. There is nothing wrong with that, is there?” With that she looked up to him again through her lashes and cocked her head to the side slightly. What a nice display of acting skills. He couldn't tell if she was genuinely interested and using that interest to present herself favourably or acting full out. But considering the conversation he just witnessed he was inclined to believe the former.

“I'm afraid I will have to disappoint. It's not make-up, these are clan markings I was born with.”

“Aww.”, said Kaede, “Neat, though. But isn't it restricting your style a lot?”

“I find myself rather comfortable with the style they dictate. But if the need arises I know how to cover them up”

“You know about make-up?”, Kaede exclaimed. Kana joined her side and both of them turned their big green eyes at him. “Could you teach us more, please!”, they chorused.

“We already know the basics!”

“More than the basics!”

“We will be good students”

“Very diligent!”

“We won't be any trouble!”

“Please! Be our sensei!”

Orochimaru froze.

“Do not”, he snapped, “Call. Me. Sensei.”

And with that he turned around and walked away.

-----

Orochimaru knew better than to do science when overly emotional. Things went very wrong when he did that. So instead of storming back into the lab and shoving the first best subject he came across inside a test tube and see what would happen he left the lair. He went to the top of the Hokage Mountain. It was a well known place to contemplate ones fate and people usually had te decency to respect ones privacy when gazing soulfully out at the village. Hatake Sakumo apparently had missed that social norm.

Orochimaru had been sitting on the head of the Nidaime for no longer than three minutes, gazing at the village lit in sharp mid-morning sunlight with his mind carefully blank, and a light spring breeze tousling his hair when he was rudely interrupted.

“Ah, excuse me, is there room for me as well?”, asked a voice from behind him.

Orochimaru turned his head and saw a man in standard ninja gear, jounin west and hitai-ate on his forehead keeping wild white hair out of his face, looking at him sheepishly. Some disturbed leaves from a shunshin were settling around his feet. It was not Jiraya. There was only one other Konoha jounin with white hair. Orochimaru had only ever seen Hatake Sakumo in passing, but he knew of him. While Orochimaru was eyeing up Hatake, Hatake was watching him in return. Then he stepped forward and sat down next to Orochimaru, letting his legs dangle over the edge. He sighed deeply and then just looked out at the village.
Orochimaru was watching Hatakes profile. He had rather fine bone structure for a man with his broad build. His eyes were really dark, but there were deep circles underneath them. After a few seconds of Orochimaru just staring at him he saw first one dark eye turn to him, then Hatake angled his entire body to him.

“Sorry to disturb you like this. It's just that this is my favourite spot to contemplate my existence. And you were looking so lovely sitting here that I just went ahead and sat down next to you. I realise that was very rude. If you want me to leave I will”

Hatake was blushing. Orochimaru was still looking at him. The breeze tousled their hair.

“Okay, I don't know how to interpret that.”, Hatake said after a while, looking away from him “Might I tell you what is bothering me?”

Orochimaru inclined his head just a fraction.

Hatake took a deep breath, leaned back on his hands and looked back out at the village.

“My son entered the academy this spring semester. He is five years old and will turn six in September. He will graduate this fall. I can already tell. And I am proud of him, I really am. It is just that...”, and he stops for a moment and takes a deep deep breath, “ I am also so horribly worried. Kakashi is a genius at being a shinobi, I couldn't possibly hold him back. And I have many enemies, him being strong is a good thing. I just wish he wouldn't have to be. Those who enter the battlefields young can die on them young. But you would know all about that, wouldn't you, Orochimaru? To be honest, seeing you here reminds me that there is hope for Kakashi to survive, to grow up and become one of the strongest shinobi of the village. After all, you did it.”

With those last words Hatake tuned to Orochimaru and smiled warmly.

What was he supposed to say to that? He thought back to his parents, what he remembered of them. The shimmer of his mothers long hair as she brushed it, how soft it felt falling on him when she leaned over him. Her showing him poisonous plants you could find growing anywhere. His fathers deep laughter, his hands picking him up like he weighed nothing. Him showing him a trick with senbon, how to hide them on up your sleeve. The memories were much to faded for his liking. But they all had the same feeling to them.

“Be there for your son. Teach him things that make him stronger and things that make him happy.”, Orochimaru said.

Hatake smiled again. “Thanks, Lovely, that is great advise. And thank you for listening. Is there anything you want to get of your chest?”

Orochimaru considered him. Then set down a privacy seal on the stone between them and activated it. Hatake raised an eyebrow.

“I started a project but it is not going like I thought it would.”

“Okay, is that a bad thing?”

“I'm not sure. I was really keen on this project. I had made plans. I was set on a path. I could still make those plans work. But the one who helped me set it up is not trustworthy. Maybe I should not follow the path he set me out on.”

Hatake looked at the privacy seal and back to Orochimaru.

“Is this a sensitive village matter? What am I asking, I am talking to you, after all, of course it is a sensitive village matter. Anyway, listen, Lovely, if someone you do not trust and who might have bad intentions towards you has set you on a path you now realised you are uncomfortable being on, leave that path. Or change it. You said it is going differently than you anticipated? If you want it to keep going that way then go for it. Just either convince your not-ally that this is for the best or make sure he doesn't notice.”

Orochimar slowly nodded. “That seems reasonable”, he said. He just had to make a decision now.

“Puh, look at us, being reasonable adults and talking about our problems, dealing with them in a non-destructive way. I feel like we deserved some tee for that. What do you say, Lovely? My treat.”

Orochimaru rolled his eyes and deactivated the seal. But he found himself looking at Hatakes warm smile again. “Sure”, he said. The smile got a bit wider.

They had tea together. Hatake also bought them some dango. It was sweet and soft, and the tee was a light, mild blend. He hardly ever found Hatake not looking at him. When Hatake asked him to meet again he said yes. On his way back to the lab he bought make-up.

Chapter Text

“You are all here for a reason”, Orochimaru started. He looked into the faces of the assembled children, all out of their cells, freshly send to the showers and given new clothes. They all looked back, some wide-eyed, some shyly, some excited. All twenty of them attentive.
“You were considered of little use for the village by powers above me, of little consequence and without anyone who would miss you. That is why you were given to me, who received the orders to use you as research subjects in my newest projects. As it is right now the project promises great results in enhancing a subjects abilities, but it also comes with a high fatality rate. You are expected to die. But I have decided not to use you in that way. I see potential in some of you and will use that potential. There are tasks that must be done around here and some of you have already proven themselves adept at them. There will be work for the others as well.

“But I have a reputation for being cruel. I am expected to keep you locked up in your cells. You are not going to waste away in there. If you are not working I expect you to educate yourselves with the help of your peers or the library. Nevertheless, there is a risk that the powers above me will consider this mode of operation as suboptimal, maybe even subversive. Therefore it will be necessary that you learn how to use make-up and acting to appear miserable and sick. We will run drills for receiving visitors. I expect all of you to become experts at subterfuge and to also find a personal speciality you will pursue.

“In one month time I will receive another delivery of test subjects who will be younger than you. At that point we will have to establish a care system. You can already decide among yourselves who will handle that and learn how to care for infants. “

At that a slight wave of dread went through the crowd. Ah, infants, the bane of every orphanage, keeping everyone awake because they are crying all night.

“There is also the matter of my research. Apart from the ones among you who will assist me in the lab you will not have to concern yourselves with it. But I will require samples from you from time to time. Do not fret, it will hardly be painful.”

“Some general rules are: You will sleep in your cells for at least eight hours a night. Night will be indicated by dimmed lights in the general areas. General areas are the corridors, the kitchen, the bathrooms, the library. There will be three meals a day and you are expected to eat all three of them. If you get sick let me know. I will take care of it. You are expected to have some amount of relaxation each day. At this point in time you none of you are authorised to leave the compound.
Now, I believe that is it for the moment. Are there any questions?”

It was a good thing he had memorized the list Tsunade had given him all that time ago, of things a child needed for it's basic functions to be taken care of. Even if he had discarded most of them useless for himself at the time, it had been amusing to quote them at Tsunade whenever she tried to convince him to take breaks. It also had come in handy -

No, that was not – He wouldn't think about that. He – should focus on the present, on the eyes staring at him attentively. A hesitant hand went up. Mitsuki, of course.

“Yes?”

“How many infants of what age are we to prepare for?”, she asked neutrally.

“As I am informed right now there will be ten infants from ages zero to three.”

Mitsuki nodded seriously. “Understood, Orochimaru-sama”

Next to her, Ken looked rather disdainful. He wasn't the only one. Orochimaru waited another moment, then as no more questions were asked, he declared the meeting over and ordered them to pick up the schedules he had deposited at a table next to the door. As the children moved along Orochimaru called out Ken and made him follow him to lab one.

-----

Ken was sitting on the medical bed and visibly trying not to tense up. His eyes flickered from the (so far unused and new looking) restraints to to door, to Orochimaru, to the various vials where he had tests running on Ken's blood and back. Sometimes his hands locked around the thin fabric of his hospital gown, but then he consciously relaxed them again. He looked like he had to keep himself from either bolting or rolling up into a ball. He had good instincts, it seemed.

According to his bloodwork Ken was healthy. Even though he was rather small and slim for his age, he was not malnourished. In fact, compared to the others Orochimaru suspected Ken would end up one of the healthiest among them. The reason for that was glaringly obvious in his file.

“So, Ken, isn't it incredible how very much the powers in this village dismiss sex workers? I was supposed to get children no one would miss. Your mother, apparently, is no one.”

“It appears so, Orochimaru-sama”, he whispered, his eyes downcast.

“I think the old men running this village have lost their touch with reality and forgotten that for a long time shinobi and prostitute were synonymous. Now the seduction unit is frowned upon like their work is any less dangerous and important, like it is somehow dirtier to sleep with someone for a mission than to straight up rob or kill them.”

Ken looked up at him with something akin to hope in his eyes.

“I will not disrespect you because of your mothers profession. But at the moment I am unable to return you to her. However, I aim to find a way to do that in the future. In the meanwhile I expect you to pull your wight around the compound.”

Kens eyes had grown big while Orochimaru was speaking. Now he closed them and inhaled deeply, shudderingly.

“Yes, Orochimaru-sama”, he said softly and smiled, his eyes still closed.

“Great, now that that is out of the way, care to explain to me why your hair is died?”, Orochimaru asked flippantly, eyeing the offending averagely coloured brown locks.

Ken's eyes flew open and his head whipped around to him. He was staring at Orochimaru in astonishment, his mouth opened slightly.

“How - how can you tell?”

“It is a good job, I admit, but I am schooled and practised in infiltration missions and subterfuge. I noticed when I first laid eyes on you. So, care to enlighten me?”

“I – My mother taught me how to do it. She says it is necessary. I have always died it this colour. I'm not sure what my real colour looks like. But I think it is something light and blueish. Mother said it would make me stand out a lot and is not good to stand out like that.”

“You have a wise mother. Does she also colour her hair?”

“Only to cover the grey in it”, said Ken and then flushed in embarrassment. Ah, the taboo topic of greying hair on women. How sweet of Ken to be embarrassed to have mentioned it.

“So the exotic hair colour comes from your father, then?”

Ken nodded. “It is likely, yes”

“But you don't know?”

“No, I don't know much about my father. Mother said he was a merchant passing through the village and had black hair. She suspects that might have been died or some kind of disguise. She never managed to contact him.”

Orochimaru eyed the liquid in one of the vials for a moment. It had just turned blue. Water elemental affinity, then. He turned his eyes back to the child.

“Interesting. For now, let your natural colour grow out. I want to see what it is. You said you know how to die your hair?”

“Yes, I know the recipe and how to mix everything”

“Good. I want you to show me what you know about the different components and their reactions. The end goal is for you to not only be able to mix one, but all kinds of hair colours. And after that all kinds of other useful chemicals.”

Ken nodded and smiled shyly at him.

Orochimaru would have to seek out Kens mother to get any more answers about the promising genetics he could fathom in the boy. And, he supposed, to answer he some questions about what had happened to her son. If things went well, she could become an asset. He also had to meet Hatake for tea again tomorrow. He really had a lot of things to do in the labs, but maybe he could delegate a few of those to Daisuke and Mitsuki. Establishing outside contacts was important after all, now that he planned to subvert Danzo. Orochimaru felt a deep excitement stir in him. Deceiving that arrogant old bastard would be a challenge, one that he had not previously realised he craved. It was time for Danzo to make place for the next generation. Now he only needed someone to take over for his old fool of a sensei as Hokage and for that someone to pick him as an advisor. Orochimaru had a candidate in mind already.

Chapter Text

It was late morning when Orochimaru entered the red light district. Any earlier would have been rude, as the people here tended to work late and would now just have had breakfast. So he had already been able to instruct the children on how a decent morning practise routine should be constructed. They should be busy with that right now.

As he walked along the narrow roads to the address listed in Kens file he saw young children being sent out of the houses for delivery and message runs. There always were a lot of children in these kind of districts. How many of them had Danzo abducted? He went through a lot of young blood with his program.

Then Orochimaru arrived at the house he had been looking for. He gave the door a quick knock, which was answered by hurried footsteps. The door was opened by a girl of maybe ten, dressed in a plain kimono, marking her as a servant.

“Good morning, o-nee-san(1), how can I help you?”, she asked.

“Good morning. I would like to talk to Sayumi, please. I am here to talk about a flower arrangement of verbena that has been sent her way”, Orochimaru said in a soft, silky voice that he only ever used on subterfuge missions. Ah, he had kind of missed shedding his skin and becoming someone else for a while. And the colourful Kimono he was wearing was truly beautiful. A whirl of purples and pinks, grey and silver, butterflies, leaves and flowers on a black background and an elaborate silver belt spattered with purple flowers. He had not had an opportunity to break it out in a long time. And even if he sometimes wore his hair in a bun, he had quite enjoyed putting it into the elaborate up-do it was in right now and adding all the delicate and colourful decoration to it. Putting on the make-up was not quite as rewarding, but Kaede and Kana had been duly impressed and proven themselves to really have a good foundational knowledge in this area. They had picked up his teachings on how to change the way your faces contours were perceived really well. He would show them how to fake injuries next.

The servant girl took a moment to understand the code he had used. Verbena, meaning “cooperative” in flower language, was used to signify a possible cooperation or proposition of such. While this code was also sometimes used among the ladies of the district themselves, it was mostly used for subtle communication between shinobi and them. The moment she did understand though her face flushed with excitement and she told him with a carefully controlled voice: “Of course, o-nee-san, please follow me. I will show you to Sayumi-sama.”

He had to wait shortly in a beautiful tea room, where he was served tea and a tray of mochi by another apprentice girl, who ducked in and out of the room in practised motions. The tea was served in a beautifully crafted pot and two matching cups. The mochi as well were served on a matching ceramic platter. The tatami were not new, but well cared for. Still, they would ave to be replaced in a few months. The flower arrangement in the wall alcove was fresh, placed just this morning, and made up of spring plants. While certainly arranged skilfully, they weren't the most expensive options. The ink painting above it showed a famous waterfall in the Land of Hot Water. He had been close to that location once, but his mission had not allowed for him to stop there. Jiraya had complained loudly that they missed it, but Tsunade had nagged him until he shut up. It would have been nice to see it, but he hadn't said anything to his teammates back then. Instead he had just watched their busy argument from the side.

Finally, the screen was moved aside again and a young woman came in. Someone on the other side of the screen closed it behind her, while the woman strove inside the room and took a seat across from him. Under the layer of make-up he could see bone structure similar to Kens. Her eyes as well had the same shape and colour, a cool grey. She in turn was looking him over cautiously.

“Good morning,o-nee-san, how may I help you?”, she asked.

Orochimaru smirked. Then, with very projected movements, pulled a privacy seal out of him sleeve, set it down on the table between them and activated it.

“As you can see, this correspondence has to be stay secret. The ones listening in from behind the screen will just hear very disinteresting chatter about flower arrangements, hair dye and make-up.”, Orochimaru said still using his soft, feminine voice.

“I understand”, she answered with and unmoved face.

“Good. Sayumi, as you have most likely guessed already I am in a bit of a disguise at the moment and will not be able to tell you my real name. If things go well between us you might learn it later. For now just call me Tsubaki”

She almost did not cringe at that pun. Tsubaki, the yellow Camelia, meaned “waiting” in flower language. Since she was still waiting for Orochimarus real name he could just not help himself and use that as a pseudonym. Besides, it was a genuine name. It also meant wings, which he found appropriate for the kind of offer he would make her.

“Alright then, Tsubaki-san. You are just another woman of the district if anyone asks”

“Quite right. Now that that is out of the way, your son is okay, but I can't bring him back to you at the moment”

That certainly shook Sayumi out of her composure. She jerked violently and gasped out a chocked “What?”

“Some idiot had him snatched for a government program I am running where I was assigned human children as test subjects. Don't worry, I'm not going to do lethal or even very painful experiments on him, I decided not to follow those orders. And I also won't train him into an unfeeling weapon who will be used until he breaks, that is a division under a different commander. But I also can't just give him back to you, because that would be noticed by the ones who's orders I am defying. But I see a possible way of returning him to you in the future.”

Sayumi listened with apt attention, staring at him. “How? What must I do?”, she asked now, breathlessly.

Orochimaru smirked again. Oh how he liked when people were quick on the uptake. “As it stands now I am slated to receive a steady supply of children in the future. The war has left the orphanages full and a few missing children can easily be excused, especially if the ones who were supposed to protect them are happy to receive some coin in their stead. But since I am expected to use up the subjects I receive I am bound to run out of space for them at some point. I can't keep them there indefinitely, which is where you will come in.”

At this point, Orochimaru produced a satchel from his sleeve, placed it on the table and pushed it over to Sayumi.

“You managed to save enough coin over the years to leave this place and establish a tea shop and saloon. A deed in you name for the property is included in the bag. Start as a saloon and become a merchant empire over time. As your business grows you will need in-village assistants and also merchants who will help you with supply runs all across the country. Those assistants and merchants will be supplied by me, which will stay a secret between us. You hired them because they were qualified for the job and there is a shortness of in the workforce due to the war. The first one I will send you will be Ken.”

As he expected, she took his offer.

-----

Orochimaru was back in his regular jonin uniform for his meet-up with Hatake and all traces of his elaborate up-do and make-up were gone. (For a moment he wondered how Hatake would have reacted to seeing him in that get up. But there was no point to this train of thought.) When he walked into the same tee salon as yesterday ten minutes before their set time Hatake was already there, waiting for him, a pot of tea and two cups on the table. Orochimaru slid into the seat across from him and Hatake had the decency not to act surprised, like he hadn't noticed him entering and walking up to him. Some ninja did that, apparently it put people at ease when trained killers acted like civilians. As if they were harmless. Orochimaru refused to act harmless. Hatake, as it appeared, didn't bother to as well. Now he smiled at Orochimaru.

“Nice to see you again, Lovely.”, he said.

Orochimaru nodded shortly and put down another privacy seal, activating it. Hatake raised an eyebrow.

“Habit from the war”, Orochimaru said, “if anyone asks”

Hatake shrugged one shoulder. “Fair enough. A good enough habit to have. But wouldn't it be more productive to have the seal somewhere more subtle and permanent where you can just activate it without anyone noticing and won't use up that much paper?”

“What, you think this thing is single use? Tsunade gave it to me as a present, her grandmother made it”

“Wha – you mean - Uzumaki Mito made that seal?!”, Hatake sputtered. He looked rather flustered.

“Yes, that is who Tsunade Senjus grandmother is”, Orochimaru said slowly, like he was talking to an idiot. Truly, if he were talking to an idiot he wouldn't talk at all, but Hatake made such an amusing face at the moment.

“Lovely, that is not what I mean. Mito-sama is legendary. Do you remember that time someone pissed her off and she altered something in the village protection seals that made the sky pink. Neon pink.”

“Ah, yes, I was told about that. Sadly, I was away on a mission at the time.”

“Oh no, you missed it? Should I put you under a quick genjutsu to show you?”

At that Orochimaru paused. People tended to be irritated when he casually used jutsu in everyday life and even more irritated at the idea of using jutsu on them for anything outside of training. Tsunade, Jiraya and especially sensei had given him endless lectures on that matter. Preserving chakra for things that matter and not causally using something so serious and all that. Really, why did Jiraya though he had any ground to stand on that matter eluded Orochimaru. But Hatake, apparently, wasn't bothered by that. He also had noticed Orochimaru pausing and now his face quickly fell. He took a breath to most likely retract the offer because he remembered that it wasn't socially acceptable, when Orochimaru spoke again.

“Sure”, he said.

Hatakes face brightened again. “Okay, here we go”, he said and with a quick flurry of hand signs (shortened sequence of a simple technique he knew as well, Orochimaru noticed) the light changed. And when Orochimaru looked though the window outside the sky was indeed a bright, unnatural pink. He looked back at Hatake after a moment and nodded.

“Thanks”, he said.

Hatake nodded back. “You're welcome” And dropped the jutsu. Then he looked back at the seal, leaned over and mustered it.

“I haven't seen an Uzumaki seal up close before.”, he mumbled.

“I didn't know you were interested in seals, Hatake”, Orochimaru said.

Hatake sat back upright, laughed impishly and rubbed his neck. “Oh, just a bit. I really only know the basics, you know. Nothing compared to what you know”

“But it still interests you”

“Of course it does. See, here, this line, I have no idea what it does, and I know how to make a standard privacy seal.”

“That makes it reusable. A simple adjustment, really.”

“Oh, simple you say? What about this entire section over here? I have know idea what it does. To be honest, I have trouble reading the entire seal. It looks so different to the sealing we use in Konoha, like a similar, but different language.”

“Well, it is Uzushiho sealing”, Orochimaru said.

“Yes, exactly. You can read this, right?”, Hatake replied.

“Of course I can. Do you think I would use something I don't understand?”

“Of course not. I'm just amazed by your abilities, Lovely.”, said Hatake warmly and smiled at him.

Orochimaru did not know how to respond to this. He had to look away from Hatakes earnest smile and sipped on his tea. Hatake let the quiet linger between them for a moment and drank some tea as well.

“How is your project doing, Lovely?”

“Good”, Orochimaru said and sipped on his tea again. It was getting cold. The white of his fingers and the green of the ceramic cup he had fingers wrapped around were a stark contrast.

Hatake sighed. “That is good to hear. I've started training Kakashi with the tanto. He took to it like I expected he would. And he looked so proud to start training in it. It was such a great moment, watching him light up like that. He was so cute. I wanted to thank you for your advice, it helped me a lot with my decisions for him.”

Orochimaru blinked and looked up again. Had ... anyone thanked him for emotional advice ever? Had anyone asked him for it before, even? Should he say something now? People say something in this kind of situation, right?

“How does your chakra sabre work?”, was what came out of his mouth.

That wasn't what one was supposed to say in this situation, he was sure. But Hatake rolled with it.

“It is made from a chakra conductive metal by a master sword smith in iron country. My father had it made and gave it to me when I was promoted to chunin. He trained me with the weapon type beforehand, of course.”, he explained.

“But why is it white?”

“Oh Lovely, going straight for the family secrets? Truth is, I don't know how it is made, and that is the secret on how it is white. It was made for me. But there is a secret in who made it and what I had to do to get it made. I would have to marry you to tell you.”

Hatake did not say it like a joke. Orochimaru blinked at him. No one had ever mentioned him and marriage without a negation in one sentence when it hadn't been a joke.

“But if you want to, you can have a look at it”, Hatake continued, apparently not noticing the effect his words had on Orochimaru. Or simply acting like he did not notice, which was more likely. Now he took the harness from his back and gave the sheathed weapon to Orochimaru, who took it automatically. Orochimaru stared at him for a moment uncomprehendingly, but Hatake nodded invitingly. So Orochiamru pulled out the legendary chakra sabre. It glinted in the sunlight. It was in really good condition. He could tell the quality of the blade. It's colour was slightly lighter that regular blades.

“Go on, channel some chakra into it”, Hatake said.

Orochimaru did not to be asked twice. It did not light up white. Instead, when Orochimaru carefully channelled a small amount of chakra into it, a pale purple glow engulfed the blade. It felt like an extension to his body.

“Does it work for everyone?”, asked Orochimaru softly, while he was watching the glowing sword.

“Oh no, Lovely, it very much does not”, said Hatake. His face was illuminated by the pale purple light. Slowly, a smile was stretching across his face and his eyes were locked on Orochimaru. There was something about that smile Orochimaru could not read. But it did not make him feel uncomfortable.

Chapter Text

When Orochimaru came back into the lab he was greeted by Kaede and Kana, grinning up at him.

“Welcome home, Orochimaru-sama!”, they chorused.

They were both wearing their hair up in a bun and their eyelids were adorned by purple eyeliner. It took him a moment to make the connection. Then he did not know how to react to it, so he just ignored it.

“Yes”, he simply said and walked past them. He could still see them turning to each other triumphantly and giggling out of the corner of his eyes. Mitsuki was waiting in the door to lab one and also watching the two other girls with narrowed eyes for a moment. Then she quickly looked up to him and bowed shallowly.

“Welcome home, Orochimaru-sama. I have completed the test you tasked me to do. The files are on the main desk.”

“Good. I will look them trough later. For now, follow me.”

“Yes, Orochimaru-sama.”

He led her to the library, where several of the children were situated in three groups. The first group was made up of Ken and five younger children. Ken was teaching them simple mathematics. The second group was close to the first group but seemed busy with a writing exercise instead. And then there were two more children reading in a corner. All of them jumped up when he entered and started greeting him, but he told them to stand down. There would be no greeting that was louder than a nod or bow. Restrained greetings in the library, please. They couldn't interrupt their studies every time he entered.

Quickly Orochimaru pulled a few books and handed them to Mitsuki with orders to study them. She seriously nodded and held the books tightly. Then he took her to the so far unused storage room four. It was a rather spacious room, originally planned for the storage of dead bodies. But since he wouldn't need it for that, he could use it as a training room. He instructed Mitsuki to leave the books on a shelf outside the room, so they wouldn't get damaged. Then he tested her taijutsu.

It went as he expected. She was not good at it, but she tried so very hard to be. To impress him. To be worth something in his eyes. But the academy form favoured a different body than hers. First of all it was developed by men for men and thus relied on strength and overwhelming physical might. He told her as much. She bit her lip and balled her fists. Ah, the good old frustration because of sexism.

“It might not seem like it to you, Mitsuki, but it hasn't been that long that women were even allowed on the battlefields. Of course, it differed from clan to clan, but during the Warring Clans Era most saw the woman's place at home, as the defender of the children and injured. A sort of last defence. Woman had ways to fight back then as well, but those were not considered proper forms and styles by those who taught forms, but instead mere tricks. These tricks relied on surprise, flexibility, speed and an opponents weak spots. That they often were really intricate fighting styles did not matter, because in the eye of the law they weren't. So the academy fighting style is derived from the typical male styles used on the battlefields and not from the tricks used by women. Naturally, most females or non-typical males find it ill-fitting. I did as well.”

She had been listening to him attentively and at that her look became hopeful. He smileed slightly.

“Thankfully, I had a clan style I could base my fighting style on instead. I am sure it will fit you much better as well”

It did. And after she did well with it he considered the other children for a while. They also would have to learn a fighting style. His was very distinctive. If he wanted them to be undercover agents he couldn't have them all be linked to him through his fighting style. Also, he did not want them all to just copy his style. It would not suit every one of them as well. But the academy style was so standard and boring. So he instead he spend a few hours to make up a new standard fighting style, tailored to their small statues and relying on surprise hits and quick getaways. Once they could do that they could learn how to fight one on one.

Mitsuki learned this new style as well. (He would have to come up with a name for it, but he is bad with names. The only things he could think of were “Snake”, but he had already named his personal style like that, so that was out. “Snakeling” also came to his mind, but that was still to close and easy to mix up. Oh well, some name would come up.) He also had her learn how to do one-handed hand signs and tells her it was part of an experiment. She didn't see the purpose of it, but practised them anyway without complaint.

After that first practise with Mitsuki Orochimaru established the former storage room four as the training room and gave everyone access to it. The rules were to have always one coherent person with you who was not training themselves but supervising and to think before you did things in an attempt to not do stupid things.

At the evening meal he noticed that Mitsuki keeps looking at Kaede and Kana and their hairstyle and make-up. She apparently was jealous. Orochimaru hoped there would be no pre-teen drama, he really had no patience for that. Luckily for them, the tension was gone the next day. Mitsuki was also wearing her hair in a bun and had purple eyeliner.

While he was immersed in his research for the next few days more of them end up wearing purple eyeliner. First, it spread amongst the girls, then Ken showed up wearing it as well and from there on out all of them do. Orochimaru ignoreed it, because what was he supposed to say to that or do about it? They would grow tired of it in a month. Meanwhile he had some shadow clones doing some business in the village while he himself taught the children the new fighting form, some basic chakra control exercises and how to handle weapons. It was only for a few hours every day, he made up that time by not having to cook and clean himself and by having lab assistants.

Mitsuki picked up his working methods and procedures like a sponge. Daiskue he usually send to fetch files or books from a different lab or the library. Ken, it seemed, had taken over teaching the younger ones in basic subject matters like mathematics or penmanship, when he wasn't in the lab trying out new chemical formulas that could possibly be used as hair dye. Kana, it turned out, was also fairly interested in that, though she wanted to research make-up instead of hair dye. Orochimaru watched as she sidled up to Ken for the first time and asked him of she could help. It was the first time he had seen her away from her sister. Well, Kaede was watching from the doorway and when Ken turned to look at her she smiled so sweetly he paled. Then, having made her point clear, she left, most likely to go back to helping Maki, who was still running the kitchen.

Maki also came up to him within the first week and nervously asked him when they would get fresh food supplies because they would run out in about a three days. Of course Danzo had planned for him to starve the children. In an abuse of the shadow clone technique he sends one of those corporal chakra constructs to set up an inconspicuous supply chain funded by his private fortune that he had earned in the last war. It would be fine for quite a while, but still, his operation with Sayumi had just become more important and would have to eventually be profitable.

During that first week he also took aside Daisuke and had a talk with him. As far as it was possible, anyway. At this point Orochimaru had been dearly tempted to dissolve the file in acid because it was just that useless. It was a testimony of incompetence. For example, it stated that Daisuke was delivered to the village when he was eight by a Konoha shinobi who had been out on a mission. It did not state that shinobis name, rank, mission, the location Daisuke was from, the state he was in and whether or not he had come willingly. All points Orochimaru really rather would know. So he sat Daisuke down in his office and took a seat across from him. Daisuke cowered in his seat and looked at his knees.

“It is curious how your file states you are devoid of any talent, Daisuke, yet you blend into crows and shadows so very naturally. Even as the tallest, oldest and best educated among these children here you somehow managed to appear uninteresting. Your file is lacking any interesting information as well, which almost leads me to suspect someone tampered with it. Tell me, Daisuke, where did you learn to hide so well? Any why?”

Daisuke became very, very still. His breathing became so shallow Orochimaru thought he stopped breathing altogether for a moment. Then, in defeat, Daisuke inhaled loudly and started speaking softly. Still cowering in his chair, his hands gripping the seat, his eyes staring at the floor unseeingly.

“I don't know the shinobi who found me. He never told me his name. I don't remember how he looked like, but if I saw him again maybe I would recognise him. It's not important. He didn't hurt me. And it was nice, living here, so in a sense he rescued me. He found me in Grass Country, where I grew up during the war. I don't remember a time when there was no war there. There was an older child, they taught me how to hide and how to steal and scavenge. We survived. One day something happened, I can't remember what. Sometimes I wish I would remember, but at the same time I'm glad I don't. It must have been bad for me to just forget it. We were out scavenging and then my memories black out. The next thing I remember is hiding, alone. It was raining that day and I don't know how much time had passed. But my friend was gone. I started looking for them and when I couldn't find them I got negligent and stayed out in the open longer than I should have. That was when the Konoha shinobi found me.”

“Based on what the shinobi was wearing, what rank do you think he had?”

“I'm not sure. At least chunin. He didn't have any clan marks. But he was carrying scrolls. I don't remember any more.”

“I checked you over for seals, you don't bear any. Most likely the cause for your memory loss is trauma. Was there blood on you or around you? On the shinobi?”

“I don't . . . don't . . .” Daisuke got quieter, then stopped speaking altogether. His knuckles turned white gripping his seat and his eyes stared unseeing.

“Was there blood?”, Orochimaru asked again.

Softly, almost inaudible, Daisuke whispered “Yes”. Then, tears started to slowly run down his cheeks, but his face was unmoved, devoid of life. Orochimaru watched him for a moment, to see if he would say any more, but Daisuke had shut down. So instead Orochimaru summoned one of his youngest snake summons and started softly talking to her. After a while, Daisuke stopped crying and came back to himself.

“Look at me, Daisuke”, Orochimaru said.

Daisuke did. His eyes were red and puffy. Orochimaru leaned forward over his desk and kept eye contact.

“Do you remember what we talked about today?”, he asked.

“Yes”

“Good. If you remember anything else tell me. If you need anything, let me know.” With that he brought Daisuke to his cell (room) and wrapped him in the blanket from his own room. He could get a new one. That reminded him, he needed to get them some bedding.

Now, what did you do with traumatised children? How did you deal with trauma?

Chapter Text

Orochimaru was a creature of logic, so he knew not to go looking for information on trauma on his own, but instead, go and ask people who are experts on the topic. Thus, he walked up to the gate of the Yamanaka Clan compound the next day, where he was received by a polite clan member wearing a chunin vest and a welcoming smile.

“How can I help you, Orochimaru-sama?”

“I wanted to ask about trauma. Would it be possible to borrow some books from your library on the topic?”

The Yamanaka’s smile got wider, almost enthusiastic.

“Of course! Do come in, this is above my jurisdiction, so you will have to talk to a higher ranked member about it. Let me show you to our tearoom!” they exclaimed.

That was how Orochimaru found himself waiting in another tearoom, this one very tastefully decorated and with the tatami in mint condition. The flower arrangement was excellent with lavishly expensive flowers. He was served tea and kept company by the same clan member who received him at the gate. They were all smiles and pleasant small talk, even if Orochimaru hardly ever participated in said small talk apart from the occasional hum. Actually, Orochimaru was surprised the other got even that much out of him. He usually ignored small talk. But this time it was almost soothing.

Then the sliding door opened and Yamanaka Inoe walked in. He nodded once to the other clan member, who nodded back and left, closing the sliding door behind them. Apparently, the Yamanaka took him seriously enough for their clan head to speak with him personally. Inoe was a man in his thirties and a war veteran. He wore the clan typical light blond hair long and had pale blue eyes. There was a scar that clipped his ear and ran across his cheek. He was smiling warmly. Why was everyone in this clan smiling at him like that? People didn't do that. Apart from Hatake. And the children in the lab.

“Orochimaru-san, thank you for coming. You wanted to talk about trauma?” Inoe asked once he had sat down opposite Orochimaru.

“No, I wanted to be lent some books on the matter,” Orochimaru corrected.

“Oh, of course I can lend you books as well. Do you want an introductory text? Once you are done with that, you can get some further reading.”

Orochimaru blinked at him for a moment. He had expected more resistance than that. He was asking to read about the Yamanaka clans’ specialisation, after all. “Yes,” he simply said.

“Great! Inoko, who let you in, will bring the titles to the adjacent room. Now, may I ask why this topic interests you?”

“I am researching it for an acquaintance,” Orochimaru answered.

Inoe nodded seriously. “Of course,” he said. “Does your acquaintance need some help?”

“Yes,” Orochimaru answered, unsure where this was going.

“And do you want to help this person?” Inoe continued patiently.

“That is why I am here, yes,” Orochimaru said slowly. What was Yamanaka doing?

“In that case, do you think it would help if you talked with me about trauma for, let's say, half an hour? You would learn more than from just reading a book.”

“Yes,” Orochimaru said very slowly. What Yamanaka was saying did make sense. And he had thought convincing him to let him borrow literature would take longer, so he had more than an hour of time planned for it. He wouldn't be able to ask any specific questions about Daisuke’s situation, that would be suspicious. General questions would have to do, but getting input from a specialist of the field could only help, so he stayed and talked about trauma.

A bit more than an hour later, Orochimaru walked out of the Yamanaka Clan compound a bit dazed, his desired book in his hands and a promise for another talk in a few days given to Yamanaka Inoe. It had been one weird talk. But he felt … not bad. He didn't even mind the thought of another talk. What was going on?

By the time he made it to the tearoom for his meeting with Hatake, he had shaken of the weird mood that had come over him and stored the book in a seal. Not only was Hatake Sakumo waiting for him, but beside him in the booth, sat a child with silver hair. They both got up and Hatake Sakumo greeted him with a smile.

“Ah, Lovely, so nice to see you! May I introduce my son, Kakashi. Kakashi, this is Orochimaru.”

“Nice to meet you,” the small Hatake said – chirped, really, because his voice was so very high – and bowed a bit in a very practised motion.

Orochimaru blinked and tried to think of an appropriate answer. What came out of his mouth was a simple yes.

The little Hatake looked up to him and scrutinised him. He was small for his age and thin, but from natural predisposition rather than malnutrition. Either he would grow out into a broader frame like his father, or he had inherited this frame from his other genetic donor. His flyaway silver hair, his eyes and most facial features were clearly inherited from his father though. It was a bit unnerving, like looking at a small copy of Hatake Sakumo. Then that copy narrowed his eyes suspiciously, opened his mouth again and proved he hadn't inherited his father’s sunny character.

“Are you going to be my new parent, then?”

“Kakashi!” exclaimed Hatake Sakumo, “You can't just ask things like that! I haven't even -” and he stopped talking. Orochimaru tilted his head to the side in interest. What hadn't he even? But little Hatake turned to his father and continued embarrassing him.

“What? This is why you are introducing us, isn't it? You want Orochimaru as a partner for yourself and as a parent for me, but you want to see if the two of us get along first, right?”

Little Hatake was looking up to his father like one of Orochimaru’s snakes after they had completed a task and wanted a treat. Like little Hatake solved a puzzle or problem and now wanted to be told he did good. But his father, with his face buried in his hands, was too embarrassed to notice. He just let out a mournful “Kakashi...” Little Hatake’s face began to fall. Orochimaru had to do something, say something quickly to not let this first meeting take a turn for the worse via a disappointed five-year-old. Quick, brain, come up with something children are interested in!

“How do you feel about snakes, little Hatake?” Orochimaru asked. Oh no. Normal children were either uninterested or scared.

The child whirled around to him and focused on him again. “I've never really met snakes, so I don't know. If they are like dad’s dogs, they must be nice!” he exclaimed. Okay, this child wasn't really normal, but he had already known that. Little Kakashi was a shinobi child of one of the old clans, a clan like his own had been, too. And thankfully familiar with the concept of summons and the like.

“Would you like to meet snakes?” Orochimaru offered.

“Yes!”

“All right, but let us order some tea and treats first, they usually want some.”

With those words Orochimaru herded little Kakashi back to the booth and Hatake Sakumo finally managed to drag himself out of his embarrassed stupor and sat down next to his son. With two quick gestures to the waitress, Orochimaru placed their order. Little Kakashi was watching him.

“Dad usually gets me dango,” he commented, obviously having read Orochimaru’s hand signs.

“Would you rather not get any when I am the one paying for it?” Orochimaru asked and raised an eyebrow.

“No, it's fine if you are going to be my new parent.”

Next to Little Kakashi, his father started suffering again.

“Dad took care of me since my Mom died at my birth. It has only been the two of us since then. I'm glad he is looking for someone again, I can be a bit much at times for him to handle. And between the two of us, I think he could use some adult company in the house,” Kakashi said to Orochimaru while he leaned over the table as if he was telling him a secret. Meanwhile, next to Kakashi, Hatake Sakumo sank even deeper into his seat.

“Do you even know what that means, Kakashi? Where did you even hear that?” Sakumo groaned.

“At the academy,” said Kakashi, without turning to his father.

“Sending you there was a mistake,” groaned Sakumo, melting into his seat and covering his face with his hands.

“Don't be a drama queen, Dad.”

“Stop using words you don't understand!”

“Anyway, I think it is good that Dad is looking for a new partner and I would like to have a second parent. But quite frankly, I don't know you. Besides your obvious beauty, what do you bring to the family? And are you strong enough for my Dad?”

At that moment, their conversation momentarily was halted because their tea arrived.

After that, Orochimaru bit his thumb, and with a quick flick of his chakra, summoned a snake he knew well. With a puff of smoke, a pearly shimmering snake was wound around his arm and wrist, looking out at the table.

“I have snakes. This is Manabu. Manabu, these are Hatake Sakumo and Hatake Kakashi”

Kakashi’s face lit up in delight. “Hello, Manabu, nice to meet you,” he squealed.

Sakumo sat up straight again and also greeted her politely. She looked at both of them and graciously gave them a nod.

The four of them ate their dango, drank their tea, and then moved to one of the training areas. There, Orochimaru got to practise his kenjutsu against Sakumo, while little Kakashi watched at the side. They kept things at a casual, almost playful level. Kakashi wanted to see what they were doing, after all. If they went at top speed, his eyes would not have been able to see their movement. Afterwards Kakashi looked up to Orochimaru and told him, “You're cool.”

Which – what was that supposed to mean? Confused he looked over to Sakumo, who mouthed quickly “It means he likes you” and grinned widely. Kakashi, meanwhile, was busy petting Manabu, who he had asked to have around his shoulders once they left the tea saloon. Manabu was enjoying the attention.

“Thanks, I guess,” Orochimaru said. “Do you want to keep her around for the day? She will have to get back in the evening, she has duties at her home.”

Kakashi looked up to him with big, astonished eyes. “She could stay for the day?”

“Yes, I could, little human.”

Kakashi squealed and jumped off the ground. “You speak! She speaks!”

“Yes, little human, but only if I feel like it, don't expect me to in the future.”

Kakashi nodded frantically and went back to carefully petting Manabu.

Orochimaru gave her a long look. “Manabu,” he hissed lowly.

She looked up from her perch on Kakashi’s shoulders and managed to look him in the eyes for a few seconds. Then, she lowered her gaze. “Understood, Orochimaru-sama.”

Kakashi, even if he pretended to still be immersed in petting the snake, had noticed the exchange from the way his head was tilted their way. Sakumo, on the other hand, had watched it outright and with scrutinising eyes. Orochimaru made the hand sign for “explain later.” Sakumo nodded.

Chapter Text

Kurama Unka was turning sixteen in three days. She had been dreading that day for years. It would mean the end of her life as she knew it. Right now she sat silently in a formal seiza in a tearoom and let the excited chatter of her aunts and cousins wash over her. They were talking about her dress, about the flowers, about the food that would be served. About how they planned to do her hair and make-up. She just stared down at the table, unseeing. As was customary in the grand Kurama clan, on her sixteenth birthday she would be married. To her uncle Amagumo. She had been living with that reality since she could remember. Her resignation from the active shinobi forces was already submitted and approved. She had been off birth control for months and, as the medic informed her with a smile just yesterday, was biologically ready to have children.

She should have been okay with her marriage. Everyone else in the clan acted like it was a grand, joyful occasion. Something to look forward to. But the only thing she could think of were her dead mother and older sister, both who birthed child after child and then died for it. Of Amagumos gaze once she hit puberty, lingering on her body. Of everyone's gaze on her developing body, appraising her like a piece of livestock.

She has been prepared for this. In endless classes she had learned how to be a good wife, how to care for a household, for children, for her husband. All while a silent dread had filled her, had drowned out more and more of her being. She had tried her best to be unavailable for those classes, to be busy going on missions, to make herself valuable for the village. Valuable enough so they would want to keep her in the active ninja forces instead of letting her drop out for marriage. But her clan wouldn't have that. Wouldn't let her take the chunin exam, because that was not proper for a woman of the Kurama clan. Wouldn't let her cut her hair, because a proper lady had long, luscious hair. Wouldn't allow her to be sent on long term or high risk missions, because they couldn't risk losing a female of their declining clan. Wouldn't let her learn skills that would put her on the front line.

Genjustu were the clans speciality, and she was good at those, really good. But she also grabbed all the skills she was allowed to learn, like bukijutsu. Her clan regarded senbon as a female weapon, so she was allowed to practise endlessly with them. Shuriken and kunai they had to let her learn, because the academy required them. The academy also taught her basic taijutsu, which, same as shuriken and kunai, she practised rigorously, away from her families eyes. She wanted to take up a sword, but that was a man's weapon. Instead she took up the naginata and it didn't feel like the worst possible fit.

Her genin team had been a short time escape from her clan. But her sensei had been rather uninterested in the girl of the group, who he appreciated enough as support, but was clearly not meant to have much of a career. Her clan had helpfully informed him that she wouldn't take part in the chunin exams when he introduced himself to them. So eventually her two teammates were promoted to chunin and left her behind. She remained an unassigned genin, readily available to be put on any team missing a member. Her old teammates she tried to avoid, because seeing them have the career she longed for was painful. Unka knew she was better than a genin. But most saw her rank, her flawless hair (even if tied up in a bun on missions) and her genjutsu specialisation and passed her over. She had hoped she had made herself valuable enough so the wedding would be postponed a year or two. Apparently not.

Finally, the social gathering was over. She could go back to her room. Where she then shed her expensive kimono and took the ornaments out of her hair. She didn't bother putting them away properly for now. Instead she dropped everything on the floor, opened the sliding door to the garden and threw up a quick genjutsu that made it seem like she was still in her room. It wouldn't hold up to much against her clan members, but they wouldn't expect her to leave her room again tonight so they wouldn't look to closely. In only the thin under kimono she stepped outside into the expansive garden. It bordered on the forest beyond the clan lands, but as long as she didn't pass the border no one would notice. Unka went to a pond near the border, where a big pine tree reached it's branches over the water and moss covered stones lined the silver surface. The moon was behind the clouds, but since it was spring there was just enough light to see by once her eyes had adjusted themselves. Besides, she knew where her way here blindly. Unka had been coming here for a long time to stare at the dark water. Normally it helped make the numbness more bearable. It didn't help today.

Suddenly, there was a person on the other side of the pond. An apparition out of a fairytale stood before her. A person with long flowing black hair, pale skin and piercing yellow eyes. A vengeful ghost or spirit, come to take her away. She was not afraid.

Then she blinked and noticed the jounin uniform and recognised the figure. Orochimaru was standing across from her. It was a dark night and no one else was around. Her clan wouldn't notice she was gone till morning. She was not afraid.

“Kurama Unka, I have an offer for you”, Orochimaru said.

She stared at him, but didn't say anything.

“As it happens, I need someone skilled in genjutsu for a project of mine and your clan is known for that. More still, you specialised in them. You are a skilled shinobi with a too-low rank and a restrained skill set. Tell me, Kuraka Unka, do you really want to get married?”

What was he saying? Was he offering her - a way out?

“No”, she whispered.

He tilted his head and waited for her to go on.

“No”, she repeated, this time louder but with a raising tremor in her voice “I do not want to get married. I hate it. I hate Amagumo, I hate the way he looks at me. I hate my long hair, I hate the lessons they made me learn, I hate the fancy clothes they stuff me into. I hate my silly aunts who act like this is something to look forward to when it will end my life. I hate my clan for doing this to me!”

“Would you rather leave and never have to come back?”

“Yes!”

“In that case, why don't we let Kurama Unka die and you pick a new name for your life in the shadows?”

She took a deep breath and briefly thought of her family, of the values, the responsibilities she had been taught. And then she rejected them. Here was the offer she had been waiting for, her way out. Even if this meant she would die in some horrible way, she would still be a shinobi. Orochimaru had noticed her as a shinobi and wanted her for that.

And the numbness made way for a deep rooted determination. She was not afraid.

“Yes, I would like that”, she answered.

-----

Kasumi was wearing a new uniform. Her hair was cut short, almost a buzz cut. The person standing next to her had helped her with that. He also was the one to give her her new uniform and with that her new life. The only thing she gave herself was her new name. Kasumi, a different reading of the second character that made up her given name. The first character had been the one everyone among her clan shared. Since she no longer was part of that clan it seemed fitting to lose it. Kasumi meant “haze”, but it was also a common given name for women. She felt comfortable with it.

Orochimaru had brought her here, to a lair accessed through the cellar of a tea shop that seemed recently set up. Through some tunnels he took her to a sealed of area. Behind the seals waited another corridor, wider than the tunnels and with doors going of at both sides. Then they entered one of the doors and there a second Orochimaru was sitting at a desk, with his hair in a messy bun and reading glasses on his nose. He put down a file he was reading and nodded at the Orochimaru who had brought her in, who then burst into smoke. Huh, a shadow clone. Of course he could do those.

“Welcome to your new home, Kasumi. I will show you to your room and introduce you to the other inhabitants of this place in the morning. After that I will give you some scrolls to study. There are also training sessions you are free to join. For now, let me place a quick genjutsu on you to show you how I want you to make this place look like to unwelcome visitors. We will use fuinjutsu to make the illusions permanent”

It should have been hard sleeping after that. But while she was still thinking about what the future now had in store for her and her hands were brushing back phantom long hair in automatised gestures, she fell asleep. When she woke up she started her first day as Kasumi, no last name, no clan. Just Kasumi.

Chapter Text

Orochimaru introduced Kasumi to the others at breakfast. They had this communal breakfast every day, and communal lunch and dinner. He hadn't told them to do that, they just started doing it on their own. Must be habit that carried over from the orphanages. They used the training room to eat and simply sat down on the floor. Should he build a designated room for eating? Anyway, it was convenient to have them all in one space to announce things. They quieted down when they noticed him stepping in front of them and Kasumi trailing him.

“This is Kasumi. I recruited her to put up genjutsu that make this place appear to outsiders as dirty, bloody, and filled with dead, dying, and suffering children. We will start running drills for the eventual visits of outsiders tomorrow.”

When his shadow clone brought Kasumi to the lair, it had been the result of several days of research, spying, and scouting. Looking up the shinobi of the Kurama and Uchiha clan had given him a few options, but Kasumi’s file had stood out to him immediately. Mostly because she had just retired. Further observation had led him to believe that she would have the genjutsu prowess he needed while also be desperate enough to work for him.

(He also was incredulous that she had never been allowed to progress in her career and that her clan forced her to retire in order to get married. He understood what kind of clan politics lead to such a situation, but it frustrated him that such a clan, such practises existed in Konoha, in the city he called home. But he was used to being frustrated with Konoha.)

He had waited for her to be alone and made a deal. As he had predicted, she threw away her former life in an instant. Though, she now was confused by the lair full of young children. He didn't bother explaining it to her, she would come to her own conclusions in time. What mattered right now was that they had set up the genjutsu-seals and that she was going to learn how to maintain them, and to eventually make them herself. He had made this batch of seals, but ideally, in the future, he would not have to do that anymore. It would be very convenient if she became a fuinjutsu and genjutsu specialist. She would need to be around less to maintain the jutsu, as well, and could go on lengthy, dangerous missions! He was looking forward to building his own spy network. But alas, right now his future spies were watching their newest member with suspicious, untrusting eyes. Ah, they'd get used to Kasumi being here.

-----

They did not get used to Kasumi being here, even he could tell that. Kasumi avoided interacting with the young ones at all costs, as if she feared she would be made to look after them if she was seen getting along with them. And Mitsuki valiantly tried to spontaneously develop a kekkei genkai that would make people drop dead if you just stared at them with loathing in your eyes for long enough. What had gone wrong? Should he have introduced them slowly? Maybe gotten them used to each others scents first?

The other children saw Mitsuki’s reaction and followed her lead. While they did not try to murder Kasumi with their eyes, they either avoided her or threw her scornful looks. Suddenly, Kana was never without Kaede or Ken. Where he had seen single children before, the younger children were now always in flocks. Maki, of all of them, seemed to take the change the best. She cooked enough food for everyone and treated Kasumi only mildly differently, more distant, than the other children. Daisuke did his best to become invisible.

Orochimaru still did not know how to help Daisuke. His first and also his second visit to the Yamanaka had not helped with that. They had done something, though. And in the text he was lent, he read that animals could help distraught people. So he summoned a snake and asked her if she would agree to being in the human world for an unforeseeable amount of time and be a boy’s comfort animal. He had anticipated being referred to a different snake. He had not anticipated the gossip.

“Orochimaru, you have nested! Why didn't you tell us you were going to have younglings?” asked Asa, one of his older summons. She was about five meters long and her head was about the same size as his head. Her scales were a sensible green and brown. If she hid in the trees of Konoha she was as good as invisible. He was rather surprised to see her appear, because though he had not asked for a specific snake, it was unusual for Asa, one of the more powerful members of the clan, to respond to such a call. Asa had originally been one of his mother’s summons and had often watched over him growing up. When his mother had died, he also ceased seeing Asa, because at that point he had not yet been able to summon her. When he finally did, she kept even closer by his side for quite a while. He was glad for it. Up to this day they retained a close relationship, even if they didn't see each other quite as much. But Asa always wanted to know what was happening in Orochimarus life and then told the entire snake clan.

“I have not nested. I did not make these children” he objected. Which raised the thought: Could or should he “make” children? How would he do that? There had to be a less messy way than the natural one. A train of thought to pursue at another time.

“Oh, but you have them here and are caring for them, are you not? That makes them yours.”

“Oh, does it really?” asked Orochimaru sarcastically.

“Yes, it does! How exciting! A good move to expand your clan like that. We will have to expand our clan, as well, if you want all of them to sign the contract.”

“If at all, only some of them will sign it. They can't all have snake summons, that is very much an over-specialisation for the kind of organisation I have in mind. I doubt everyone would fit the snake clan, as well.”

“Ah, but we snakes are so versatile! But we will have to share with the dog clan anyway, won't we?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, Manabu told us you are courting the dog summoner, Hatake. If your clans are going to merge, we will have to share your new clan members as summoners between us from now on.”

Orochimaru stared at her rather gob-smacked. “Courting? I rather doubt that is what Hatake is seriously doing.”

“He better be serious about you!”

“Asa, I can have casual relationships.”

“Oh, Orochimaru-kun, we both know you are not one for casual relationships. You may go on seduction missions and not be bothered by it one bit, but once you enter any kind of relationship with another human being you get intense about it. If Hatake is not serious about it, you need to stop meeting him right now or this will develop into another Jiraya situation.”

“Stop calling it that! There never was such a thing as a Jiraya situation. And I didn't summon you for relationship advise.”

“What else do you need my help with?”

“Really, Asa?”

“Now, now, don't be cross with me. You are no longer nine, it is no longer cute.”

He could tell she was lying about that last thing. Well, he was just going to ignore that. “One of the children here has some form of trauma. I read that comfort animals help. Do you know a snake who would be willing to stay with him long term?”

“A human realm partner? I'll ask around, but I'm sure someone will be up for it. They would have to meet him first and see if they are compatible, of course. I trust you want him to sign the contract?”

“Yes, though his chakra reserves won't be able to handle much at the moment, but that can be changed with training. He is a very quiet, stealthy person.”

“Ah, that just about eliminates none of the possible partners from the list, Orochimaru. All our summoners should be stealthy, sneaky and deadly. Like you are.”

With those words, she gently pressed her head against his in a caress she had used since he could remember. Instinctively, he leaned against her, closed his eyes, and raised one hand to her cheek. He should summon her more often. He had missed arguing with her.

A few hours later, a small black snake was wrapped around Daisukes wrist. She was unassuming and very, very deadly.

Chapter Text

The next time he met Hatake Sakumo, he did not bring little Kakashi along. Instead, it was just the two of them in a local tearoom, with the privacy seal activated on the table. Steam was rising from the tea cups on the table in front of them. Hatake’s hair was slowly escaping the combed and ordered ponytail he arrived with. He took a deep breath and looked up to meet Orochimaru’s eyes.

“Lovely, I feel like I have to be upfront about my intentions towards you.”

Well, how convenient for him to have been the one to bring this up. Because even though Orochimaru knew he should talk with Hatake about this, he couldn't bring himself to do it. Something in him just couldn't make him initiate this talk, even now that Hatake was the one to start it, a slow, but steady, tide of panic rose in the back of his mind. This was the moment where Hatake will say he was just curious; that Orochimaru was interesting and exotic, that he'd be interesting to fuck and that he regretted accidentally letting his son meet him, that Kakashi misunderstood the situation, and that Orochimaru should not take a child's words for facts. Orochimaru just didn't want this to be over, whatever it was. He liked meeting Hatake. He was so lonely before. Sure, there were the children now, but that was something entirely different.

“Lovely? Are you okay?” Suddenly, a hand was holding his from across the table. Orochimaru blinked and looked right into the concerned face of Hatake. He had to be strong now. This was the moment of truth.

“Yes. Continue,” he said softly.

Hatake hesitated another moment, then he took another deep breath. “Okay. What Kakashi said was right. In that, I am looking for a life partner for myself and a parent for Kakashi.”

Orochimaru blinked and stared at Hatake, who still looked straight at him and now began to get nervous. “If you are not-”

“What?” interrupted Orochimaru.

“What do you mean, 'what'?”

“Why would you want me as a life partner? And as a parent for your child? Parents want me as far away from their children as possible.”

Hatakes grip on his hand tightened.

“Orochimaru, you did great with Kakashi. Better than most people. He really likes you. He is still talking about how cool you are. And as far as wanting you for a life partner goes… I've been attracted to you for a long time, in all possible ways. When I saw you sitting on the Hokage monument ... it was not primarily to hit on you, I really was looking for a place to contemplate Kakashi’s future and my parenting. But if it had been anyone else than you sitting there, I would have left again. But seeing you, my brain sort of short-circuited and the next thing I knew, I was sitting next to you. I had been looking for a way to get to know you for a while.”

Orochimaru looked up into Hatake’s honest and serious eyes. “You… find me attractive?”

“Yes. Very much so. And I have to admit that part of it is that you come from a clan that is close to its summons, like my clan. There aren't many of us left and I thought you might fit well into my family because of that. But as I got to know you more, I realised you not only fit great because of your clan, but also because of everything else. I know, this seems rushed and we haven't been dating that long-” Dating? Is that what they had been doing? “- but I have always known very quickly what I wanted. And I want you as a life partner. If you are amiable for it, I would like to marry you one day. I understand that most people aren't like me and take longer for such decisions and we still have several steps ahead of us to see how sharing a life would work, but these are my intentions.”

Hatake said all serious, like he didn't ask him to marry him somewhere in there. Orochimaru just stared at him. Was this man real? Did he take an experimental drug and was now hallucinating the whole thing? Did he die and go to heaven? (As if he believed in such a thing.)

Hatake began to look worried. Slowly, he started to let go of Orochimaru’s hand. Lightning fast, Orochimaru grabbed his hand in an iron grip and leaned over the table into Hatake’s space.

“Yes! To everything!”

Hatake startled. Then, he smiled.

“So you agree to a serious relationship? That is aimed to be a life partnership, if we can work out how to do it?” he asked, excitement leaking into his voice.

“Yes. And fuck if we can't work it out, we are both brilliant. I want you, Hatake.”

Hatake smiled broadly and leaned in closer as well.

“Call me Sakumo, Lovely.”

And then he lifted Orochimaru’s hand to his lips and pressed a soft kiss to it. Orochimaru felt his cheeks grow hot. What a thing to do in public. What a thing to do in general. That was so romantic. Then Sakumo leaned back again and slumped down in his seat, letting himself drop on the table in a heap of listless limbs.

“Oh, Lovely, for a moment there I thought you would say no. Did I come on to strong? I understand it can be intimidating for someone to be this intense, but I thought you would work well with that? I don't know, I just – Okay, I'm rambling, I will stop now.”

A chuckle escaped Orochimaru’s lips. Huh, when was the last time that had happened? “Don't be an idiot, Sakumo. I agreed, didn't I? I like that you told me what you want from me. And to use your words, I work well when people are upfront about the social interactions they wish to have with me. I am bad at subtle social cues.”

Sakumo looked up to him from the tables surface and then sat upright.

“You are right. I'm sorry, that must have been the adrenaline wearing off. But there is actually more about our relationship to discuss. Actually, it feels kind of wrong to talk about these things here in public, even if we have the seal. Would it be all right to adjourn to my house?”

They leave the cooling tea behind.

---

The Hatake clan compound was not as big as, for example, the Yamanaka one, but still much to big for just two people. There were several houses that were boarded up and the garden had seen better days. But the main house was in good repair, even if it as well was to big for just two people. Honestly, it all kind of reminded Orochimaru of his own big, empty house.

Sakumo lead him into the kitchen, which was much more modern than the old house suggested. Kunai and shuriken were strewn about, some dishes left from breakfast stood next to the sink, cleaned, but not yet put away. All the surfaces had recently been dusted. In one corner, there were several bowls for dogs.

“Make your self comfortable, Lovely. I'll make us some fresh tea, since we kinda forgot to drink the one at the shop,” Sakumo said. While turning the kettle on, he opened one of the cupboards that was filled with boxes of tea and quickly scanned the different containers. They all were of varying sizes, with different patterns and colours. Sakumo picked a small blue one with golden cranes on it. When he opened it, a delicate smell of expensive tea wafted over to Orochimaru. Was Sakumo trying to impress him? Orochimaru watched him brew the tea from where he leaned on the wall next to the table. This was not the first time Sakumo made tea. It seemed more like he did this very, very often.

“What was it you wanted to explain about your snake Manabu?” asked Sakumo when the water had boiled and he was preparing the tea dishes.

“Manabu is harmless. I would not have summoned her around Kakashi if she was a danger to him. She just has a history of obsessive behaviour with specific humans, so I warn her when I see her getting excited about someone.”

Sakumo throws him a concerned look. “Obsessive behaviour?”

“She's decently powerful and really old, but she's not suited for combat. I found her and her younger friend buried in a pot under a bell on temple grounds. People had believed her to be a demon and that was supposed to ban her. I came across an old story about what she had supposedly done. From her perspective that story was really different. She can turn into a humanoid form, you see, as can her younger friend. And she fell in love with a human who pursued her. She got him in trouble because she didn't know how human society worked. He forgave her and they got married and promised each other eternal love. But low and behold, once he found out she was a snake, he ran away. Things got ugly. He married a different woman. She killed her. He had Manabu and her maid banned and buried alive on temple grounds. I'm glad I came across them.”

Orochimaru had crossed his arms while talking and was no longer watching Sakumo. Instead, he was staring unseeing into the distance. Sakumo had poured the water over the tealeaves and now turned around to face Orochimaru. He crossed the kitchen and lightly touched Orochimaru’s arm. Orochimaru looked at him. His silky black hair fell over his shoulder.

“I'm glad you came across them as well,” said Sakumo softly, “And I will not run from you. I know you are a snake. I know you are dangerous. And I am no civilian myself. I am a wolf. We will just have to see how well a wolf and a snake get along, won't we?”

Orochimaru hummed softly and looked up into those sincere, black eyes. Then, he hesitantly leaned up a bit. Sakumo’s eyes widened for a moment in surprise, before he smiled and leaned down. His eyes fell shut as he softly kissed Orochimaru. Orochimaru, for a moment, watched Sakumo’s relaxed face, his long lashes, his eyebrows. Then, he closed his eyes as well and let himself enjoy the brief, almost chaste way their lips brushed against each other. Had anyone kissed him like this before?

Then, Sakumo stepped away again. He served the tea and motioned for Orochimaru to sit down at the kitchen table. It was a well used table with scratches from weapons on its surface and some stains that would never go out. Was that a burn mark? And that acid?

“So, Lovely, I am very glad we are on the same page about where this relationship is headed. But there is something else I wanted to ask you. What kind of partnership do you want and are you comfortable with?”

Orochimaru frowned at him. What a weird question to ask. “What do you mean?”

Sakumo frowned in return. “I mean I just think we should talk about what we want from each other in a partnership.”

“Did we not already do that?”

“No, we both agreed that we both wanted a life partner in each other. You just kissed me, so is it right that you want, not only a platonic, but also a romantic partner?” Sakumo asked, a bit confused.

“Yes,” Orochimaru said slowly.

“Do you also want me as a sexual partner?” Sakumo asked just as slowly.

Orochimaru stared at him. What was going on?

“It is completely all right if you don't want to have sex with me. Just because I am sexually attracted to you does not mean you have to be sexually attracted to me in turn. And just because you are romantically attracted to me does not mean you are sexually attracted to me as well,” Sakumo hurried to explain.

Orochimaru was smart, he understood the kind of concept Sakumo was talking about. But that did not change that this was the first time he heard about it and it was difficult to wrap his head around it.

“I don't - I’m not sure.”

Sakumo was watching him closely. Then, he reached across the table and gently caressed Orochimaru’s hand. Orochimaru focused on that hand on his.

“Your parents died when you were really young, didn't they? And you were on a team with a Senju and an orphan, your sensei was a Sarutobi?”

“Yes, that is pretty well known”

“Who did you have the Talk with?”

“Tsunade. She was the team medic and Sensei didn't want to deal with that. He said she knew more about it than him because she was a medic.”

“Lovely, did you ever talk about the different kind of attractions there are? About the orientations one can have? All of that stuff? What did Tsunade say?”

“She said a lot about biology, about how puberty worked. She also said that boys liked girls, girls liked boys and some boys liked boys and some girls liked girls and that was fine as well, but some clans didn't allow such relationships, so we had to be careful who we started something with.”

“That's it?”

“Yes.”

“That's progressive for a Senju. It was your sensei’s job to tell you about these things, he should not have left that to a child. But then again, he's a Sarutobi, so maybe it's actually good you didn't have to hear his views. Would it be okay if I told you how the Hatake clan views such things?” Sakumo asked ever so softly.

“Yes, I would like that,” answered Orochimaru just as softly.

“Let me get something I had prepared for Kakashi, it makes things more tangible.”

When Orochimaru nodded, Sakumo got up and shortly after, came back with a children's book in his hands. It explained things very differently than Tsunade had done. It had many labels Orochimaru could really have used when he was a teenager and finding himself not fitting in anywhere. But even now, they were a revelation. Here was a clan that had such a broad understanding of sexuality, romance, gender, and self. Maybe this was what his mother had meant when she had told him he could be whatever he chose to be. If his parents had lived, would they have told him about these things eventually?

He sat in Sakumo’s kitchen and drank excellent tea, learned and basked in Sakumo’s kind presence, in his gentle voice, and the promise of a different kind of reality his clan came with.

Chapter Text

Orochimaru got up bright and early and did not think about Sakumo for an inappropriate amount of time while brushing his hair. He might have read the book Sakumo lent him again, once or twice. When he knew the children would be at breakfast, he forced himself to get up and go to the training room. There they all were, chattering and eating. Kasumi sat in a corner, all by herself and focused on her food. When he entered the room, they grew quiet and looked to him. He took position in the front of the room, where everyone could see him.

“Good morning. I realise I was not very clear when I introduced Kasumi. She is here as a member of this lair, like the rest of you as well. But since she already came with a specific skill set I recruited her for and is more advanced than you, she has an exalted role in protecting this place and will be the first field agent, but she is still a minor and will not be your caretaker. If you need taking care of, come to me. Either I or one of my shadow clones should be here at all times. Just because there is a new person does not mean any of you will be of less worth to me. I needed to spend more time with her initially to teach her something specific, but some of you have similarly received special attention. Don't be jerks about it. You will get your turn. If you feel neglected, tell me. I'll sort it out. Any other questions?”

Slowly Kasumi raised her hand. Orochimaru nodded to her. “Field agent?” she asked faintly.

“Right,” Orochimaru said, “Come to my office after breakfast, I'll brief you there. Mitsuki, Ken, I need to speak to you as well. Wait outside my office after breakfast.”

Maki then got up and immediately dropped into a formal bow. “Will you stay and eat with us, Orochimaru-sama? Maki made enough for you as well,” she almost yelled.

Expectant eyes watched him. The small faces around him were all so hopeful. Maki was shakily holding her bow. There was a big pot of something in the middle of the room that smelled delicious.

“All right,” he responded.

Maki shot up from her bow and beamed at him with bright red cheeks and sparkling blue eyes. Was she wearing purple eyeliner? Yes, she was. So was every other child in the room. Except for Kasumi, who was staring at him with a blank expression.

Maki handed him a bowl of soup and a bowl of rice as the children scooped to the side to make space for him among them. He asked Maki what was in the soup and suddenly, she was telling him about all the vegetables and nutritional values in them and how Kenta and Isamu, two of the younger boys, had helped her make it. It was very good soup.

After the meal he was witness to a very organised process in which all the children put their used cutlery onto a serving wagon (that used to be a surgical tray, he remembered Maki asking him if she could have that and him nodding, half distracted. It was from the, so far, unused lab three). Maki put the pots on the lower level and together with Kenta and Isamu, rolled that wagon back to the kitchen. Seemed like they had this figured out.

In his office, Kasumi listened to his explanation on how this lair came to be (“Orders from above, couldn't say no”) and how what he was doing is still illegal and had to stay secret (“The orders are against village law and feel like a set-up to fail. Even so, since I am circumventing them, I am technically committing treason by treating these children well and abducting you. So, that is where you come in, keeping this all a secret”). On how he planned to still do his research, but also to train the children and turn them into field agents specialised in infiltration, information gathering, and stealth, but no seduction if they didn't want to and not under a certain age. Could she see herself fitting into that profile? She could. How much did she know about tea, by the way? More than she wanted to, really, growing up in a traditional clan and groomed as a perfect wife came with that. Why? Ah, see, they needed a cover for their operations. Tea merchants seemed like a good choice at the time.

That was when Orochimaru asked Ken to join them in his office. He and Mitsuki were waiting patiently outside and practising hand signs when he opened the door. Ken's hair had grown and the roots came out a blueish white. It kind of reminded him of the Hatake clan, but also of Kiri people. He'd have to look at those genetics again. For a moment, he considered letting Mitsuki sit out this conversation as well, but then he remembered that he wanted to be better at communication and motioned for both of them to come inside.

His office was not meant for that many people. There were files everywhere and only one chair, so they would have to remain standing for this conversation. Should… he get more chairs?

“So, I mentioned field agents. Kasumi here is going to one of the first field agents I will send out. The other will be Ken. The reason for that is, I promised his mother to send him her way as soon as possible.”

That got a reaction from all of them. Kasumi looked like she was going to be sick. Mitsuki whirled around and stared at Ken accusingly. Ken froze like a scared little animal.

“Mitsuki, back off. No one is at fault for having a family. Kasumi, Ken's mother loves him and took really good care of him. Ken, I noticed her in your file and approached her. She agreed to work with me. In return, you will be sent back to her as soon as you can pass for someone else than your old self. Officially, you are missing and you cannot be seen around the village or the powers above will know I am not following orders. We don't want that to happen now, do we?” He said as flicked his hair back over his shoulder and smiled graciously at them.

All three nodded frantically. “Yes, Orochimaru-sama,” stammered Mitsuki, and the others quickly joined in as an uneven chorus. Cute.

“Back to the topic at hand. Ken, with some more training you will be ready to return to her for parts of the day. I would like for you to still join the training and come to the lab when I need you there, but you'd be living mainly with your mother. Officially, you will be her employee in the tea shop she set up. Conveniently, I built a tunnel connecting that shop to this lair. It's the new door I told you children not to touch. But you will not be her only employee, as you would seem a bit young to show up from Kiri on your own. You came with your older sister, Kasumi. Ken is a common enough name that you can keep it. You two only need to pick a last name for your cover, make it common as well. You will be refereed to mainly by your last names anyway. Call each other brother and sister and no one should even know your name is Ken.”

“My mom is waiting for me?” asked Ken quietly. His eyes were suspiciously wet. Was he going to cry? What were you supposed to do with a crying child again?

“Yes, your mother would do anything to get you back, I believe. Not that I would do anything to harm her, I promise. In fact, she is getting a comfortable life as a merchant out of this as well”

Silent tears started rolling down Ken's cheeks and his lips started wobbling.

“Mitsuki, Kasumi, leave us alone for a moment, will you?”

The two nodded and fled the room. He would have to talk with Mitsuki about her behaviour and training later. For now, he stepped closer to Ken and carefully petted his hair. Ken let out a miserable keening sound.

“You miss your mother, Ken?”

Another pained sound. A choked sob.

“That's all right. I miss mine as well,” he said softly and continued stroking Kens hair.

A big heaving sob, and then Ken flung himself at Orochimaru, who caught him in an awkward embrace. Now Ken was crying loudly, wailing and sobbing included. Orochimaru shifted him in his arms a bit so he could hold him more comfortably. Was he doing this right? He'd have to ask Inoe how to comfort someone correctly. It felt like he was doing okay. Snakes liked being pet when they were upset, so he kept doing that. After a while, Ken calmed down again. He was exhausted, so Orochiamru summoned a blanket (after last time, he stored one in a scroll he carried on him) and wrapped Ken in it. He sat the wrapped Ken down on his chair and settled down to do his research. He had to go over the experiment data of reactions of Mitsuki’s genetic material and the serum that was supposed to bring out inherent, but suppressed abilities. So far, every test had been a failure. If he only could figure out why. The serum should theoretically work. His test system was sound, but as the tests told him, if he used the serum on Mitsuki right now, she would die. And she was the most prominent candidate he had among the children, with her two chakra elements. The serum should make her able to develop Ice Release, if he managed to make it stop degrading her genetic material. Maybe he should test it on some others as well? Dual affinities were an obvious possible kekkei genkai, but he could look for genetic markers in the others. He threw a brief look at Ken's sleeping form. He was curled up on the chair, the bright roots of his hair showing. Well, there was always that. He should really have a closer look at those genetics. Would Sakumo allow him to look at his genetics? Just to make sure he wasn't related to Ken.

He took out the book again and started thumbing though it. Sakumo had told him he identified as panromantic and pansexual. Another set of terms Orochimaru had not heard before yesterday. Should he use terms from this book to label himself? He stopped at the page where three children were depicted. Except they all looked the same. The text above them said:

“This is Aoi. Sometimes, Aoi feels like a girl. Other times, Aoi feels like a boy. And sometimes, Aoi feels like neither. All of that is okay. Aoi is gender-fluid. When Aoi feels like neither a boy or a girl, they are non-binary.”

He stared at that page for a long time.

Chapter Text

The tea shop was small, with just a few rows of tea on both sides of the corner and most of the tea behind the counter. The décor was simple and tasteful. Sayumi was wearing a modest kimono and had her hair done up in a respectful way and in it, a pin with a purple butterfly. Currently, she was idly chatting with a client while weighing tea. When he entered the shop, she aimed her very polite smile at him.

“Welcome, I will be with you shortly,” she said.

He nodded and watched her interact with the woman across from her. Civilian, early twenties, very good fashion sense, moderately wealthy, works … in an apothecary? Or something similar. She looked over her shoulder and blushed at seeing him. She turned back to Sayumi quickly.

“Anyway, do you think it could be true?”

Sayumi closed the bag of tea and put it into a shopping basket the customer had brought with her.

“The truth is always subjective to the one looking at it. But I don't know, I didn't know the family or the girl, so I can't even give you an estimate. It could only be rumours. That will be 1200 ryo, please”

“All right, all right, be obtrusive and neutral. Here you go.”

She paid and left, giving him one last glance out of her eyes as she walked past him out of the door. She blushed again. Weird.

As the door shut behind her, he casually flipped the “open” sign to “closed” and locked the door. When he looked to Sayumi, she was smiling unfalteringly.

“Welcome, Tsubaki-sama. How may I help you?”

“Let us adjourn to the back room for this talk, shall we?” he said in his soft, feminine voice. He had not shown himself to her out of this disguise. It would stay that way for now.

“Of course.”

He walked past her and took the lead. Out of sight of the store front he asked her: “What were you talking about with that woman?”

“Oh? She told me about that tragedy in the Kurama clan. A young girl died in a fire. Officially, it was an accident, but there are rumours. Depending on who you believe, she was a secret agent and got assassinated for it or she killed herself because she hated her fiancé. Rather insensitive to speculate about her in that way, if you ask me.”

He chuckled. Ah, rumours. Then he reached the middle of the storeroom, stopped walking and turned around to her. She watched him attentively.

“You will get two new employees in two weeks. They will show up, introduce themselves, and ask for work. Siblings from the Land of Water. You know who the boy will be. Do not slip up.”

She was shaking a bit, but after a deep breath, she straightened and nodded. He then explained to her how they would operate, be sent on missions, and live in the back room of the store, but would be gone regularly for schooling, which was already taken care of. She did not need to know that the classes they would attend would be in his lair.

When that was all taken care of, he quickly went back to base, startled Kasumi with how he looked, slipped out of disguise, showed Kaede how to achieve the eyebrows she was going for, got a snack from Maki in the kitchen, and spied Mitsuki conspiring with Ken in lab two. What were those two up to? He checked in on Daisuke, who was diligently practising the numerous amounts of hidden techniques he had given him scrolls for. Once Daisuke was proficient in them, he would be teaching them to the younger children. Riho, his snake, was curled around his wrist and whispered corrections from time to time. When they looked up to Orochimaru, he gave them a slight nod and left.

His steps took him out of the lair again, this time through the official exit, into a different part of town. Today, he was not wearing his usual jonin uniform. Instead, he had taken off his headband, brushed out his hair, and put on a light blue kimono, appropriate for the warm spring day. He considered for a moment to leisurely walk to where he was going, but then, he remembered how the citizens of Konoha looked at him. Well, he wanted to be at his destination quickly anyway, so he took the rooftops.

When Orochimaru arrived at Sakumo’s house, he was already waiting for him at the door. Sakumo must have sensed him coming. A broad smile spread across Sakumo’s face when he saw him.

“Oh, Lovely, you look so beautiful again today!” he exclaimed. “Come on in, I made tea.”

Orochimaru followed him into the living room, where a heap of comfortable cushions were placed next to a low table with two steaming cups of tea and a pot on it. They sat down on the cushions next to each other and made themselves comfortable. The room had a fantastic view of the garden, but Sakumo was watching Orochimaru instead. He smiled again.

“Kakashi is at the academy still, but he will come back later. Will you stay long enough to meet him again? He would be happy.”

“Yes, I can stay,” Orochimaru replied and kept his eyes on Sakumo. They were sitting pretty close. If he reached out a bit, he could touch him.

“That's good,” he hummed and took a sip of tea. Orochimaru did the same. That expensive tea again. After a moment of comfortable silence, Orochimaru flicked his sleeve back and activated a storage seal on his arm. Sakumo’s eyes had followed his movement and were briefly focused on the pale skin of his arm and the seal written in dark ink. Then, he looked to the book in Orochimarus hand.

“Thank you for lending this to me, it helped a lot,” Orochimaru said and held the book out to Sakumo.

Sakumo gave a startled laugh, then gently covered Orochimaru's hand and pushed the book back to him. “Keep it, Lovely. I found another copy in one of the other houses and had that Talk with Kakashi. I thought ‘better safe than sorry’ and did it then. He knows what he knows. Thank you for reminding me to not wait with something as important as that.”

It made something feel warm in Orochimaru's chest to get thanked by Sakumo, and he was grateful that he could keep the book. However, a silent dread filled him because Sakumo was implying he could at some point no longer be around to give the Talk to Kakashi. The life of a shinobi was dangerous and tragedy was only ever a heartbeat away, but at that moment, Orochimaru realised that he would not take it well if anything were to happen to Sakumo. For a moment, he could hardly breath, then he forced himself to think of something else. He would have to talk about this with Inoe.

“I'm glad I could help you with this,” Sakumo continued on.

“Yes, I ...” Orochimaru hesitated. He really wanted to tell Sakumo, but once he had said it out loud, there was no going back. There was no reason to fear Sakumo’s reaction. He would no longer hesitate. He looked Sakumo in the eyes and said calmly: “I am gender-fluid/non-binary”

Sakumo did not flinch, did not break into a big smile. He just looked at Orochimaru seriously and just as seriously asked: “Do you want me to ask you for the pronoun of the day or use 'they'?”

“They.”, Orochimaru answered and kept looking at Sakumo, for any signs of rejection.

“Okay, Lovely.” Sakumo said, and gently took Orochimaru's hand. His hand was warm, the calluses on it rough. “Do you want to tell someone else?”

Orochimaru closed their eyes and breathed deeply. “I should tell Kakashi and my summons. But no one else. No one else cares enough to be told.”

“This might be inappropriate and crossing a line, and if it is tell me and I won't ask anymore, but what about your teammates and sensei?” Sakumo asked softly and caressed the back of Orochimaru's hand.

They shook their head. “No. My teammates are not even here. They showed me how much they care about me.”

“You're not in contact?”

Orochimaru shook his head again. “No. We could use summons to stay in contact easily, but no. They never bothered to write me. And if sensei cared he would not … No. He would tell me I am wrong anyway. Look at the Konoha he built. I should have know about these things, but he failed to teach me even that. I hate him”

Suddenly, there were arms around them, engulfing them in comforting warmth. Their eyes flew open in surprise. Sakumo was hugging them.

“I'm so sorry, Lovely,” he whispered into Orochimaru’s hair. They took a shaky breath and slowly relaxed in his arms, letting their arms sink to rest on Sakumo’s back and shoulder, their head on his other shoulder, their face angled towards his neck, and nose almost touching skin. Sakumo was so warm. And he smelled so good. They had noticed before that he smelled nice, but never let themselves focus on it to much. Now they finally indulged in breathing in deeply. Sakumo was caressing their back with one hand and with the other still holding Orochimaru close to him. Orochimaru had always loved a warm and comfortable place where they could either curl up or stretch out and take a relaxing nap. A nice spot of sunlight would do, and when they were a child, they remembered curling up in their parents labs. Sometimes, when they were on missions with Tsunade and Jiraiya and they had to share warmth at night, they came close to that feeling. Sakumo felt like sunlight. Orochimaru always did better with a source of warmth nearby.

After Orochimaru had basked in Sakumo’s warmth for a while, they found their hand slowly exploring Sakumo’s back. His hair was bound to a ponytail and had a bit of a tough, rough texture. He was wearing casual clothes as well, and through the rather thin material, Orochimaru was able to feel the muscles of his back. He was in excellent shape. He shuddered. They looked up to Sakumo's face. Was he blushing? With some simple movements, Orochimaru was now facing Sakumo fully, while still sprawled in his lap. Sakumo was watching them closely. Orochimaru clutched Sakumo’s shoulder with one hand and cupped his face with the other hand. Then, they looked him in the eyes and slowly kissed him. Sakumo’s eyes fluttered close. After a moment, Orochimaru closed their eyes as well and gave themselves over to the kiss completely. It was soft, gentle, like their entire romantic interaction had been so far. Then, Orochimaru opened their mouth a bit and licked Sakumo’s lips. He instantly opened his lips and met Orochimaru’s tongue with his own.

When they separated again, Orochimaru felt a bit flushed, but not as flushed as Sakumo looked. He had a rather dumbfounded expression on his face.

“By the way, I am romantically attracted to people sometimes, I am not sure what to call it, but concerning my sexual attraction, demi-sexual seems a good label” they said.

“You are?” Sakumo said a bit dazed. Then he seemed to realise what he said. “Wait, I didn't mean to sound doubtful!”

“Do not worry, I did not take it as that. I simply think you were still affected by that kiss.”

“Affected is one word for it. So, you are romantically attracted to me?” Sakumo asked hopefully.

“No need to be insecure about that. I think I showed you right now pretty well how my romantic feelings are towards you.”

Sakumo hummed and blushed again.

“I am pretty sure I will develop sexual attraction to you. I have only once before been sexually attracted to someone, so I am unsure about the process. Give me some time?”

“Oh Lovely, I will give you all the time you want and need. And even if you never develop sexual attraction to me, I am fine with a romantic relationship.”

At that, Orochimaru frowned. “We can still have sex, even if I am not sexually attracted to you. I have had sex before and liked it well enough. Orgasms are nice.”

“What? So, sex is on the table?”

“I would much rather prefer the bed.”

“That is not what I -” then Sakumo saw the smirk on Orochimaru’s face and groaned. “You got me good there, Lovely.”
Suddenly, he grew still for a moment. “Ah, Kakashi is coming home,” he said. Orochimaru started getting up, but Sakumo pulled them back into their embrace. “Stay,” he whispered. “He has been asking me when we will become a couple. Seeing us together like that will reassure him. But he might want to cuddle as well. I mean, if that is fine with you”

Orochimaru just hummed in agreement. They could hear the front door open, footsteps come in, and the door closing. Kakashi’s voice sounded through the house as he called out, “I'm back.”

Sakumo answered with a loud, “Welcome home. We're in the living room. Why don't you join us?”

There was a short pause, then fast footsteps as Kakashi barreled into the room. He squeaked as he saw them, but after Sakumo opened a welcoming arm to him, he came to snuggle between Sakumo and Orochimaru. They stayed still for a moment, then Kakashi started talking about all the interesting things he had learned today and the two adults gave him their undivided attention.

Later that day, they introduced their summons to each other and were witnesses to unashamed gossip and unmasked glee from talking animals. Kakashi played and snuggled with dogs and snakes alike.

Chapter Text

There were other people Orochimaru told about their new identity. One was Yamanaka Inoe, on the evening of the same day they told Sakumo. Yamanaka reacted like he reacted to almost anything Orochimaru told him: with a collected and serious attentiveness and then asking more questions about how Orochimaru felt about this new development. It was helpful for their own personal situation, but not for helping Daisuke.

They also told the children in the lair at breakfast the next morning, which lead to Orochimaru producing the book Sakumo had given them and educating the children about its contents. Most of them took the news well. Kasumi, however, was visibly shaken. Even when all the dishes were collected and the children were leaving, she was still sitting in her space, staring at nothing. Orochimaru approached her and called out her name quietly. She startled and looked up to them with wide eyes.

“I like women,” she said wretchedly, in the tone of voice of someone who finally figured something out about themselves, something that explained why they had not fit in to the mould made for them. Well, not that a straight woman would have to be happy with the kind of situation Kasumi had been in.

“Congratulations,” said Orochimaru.

Kasumi just stared at them. Then she asked helplessly: “What am I supposed to do?”

Orochimaru raised one eyebrow. Was that not rather obvious? “Nothing, at the moment. You are not in a situation where you can meet and thus date other women because you are the only woman here. But once you meet a suitable and willing partner, you can initiate a romantic and or sexual relationship with her.”

“Right,” said Kasumi, as she took one deep breath and said once again, this time much more steadfast, “Right.” Then she smiled at them, thanked them, and left to do her morning practise.

Orochimaru had just run a first set of tests when the newest seal on their arm flared up. It was located on the inside of their lower arm, just beneath the elbow. Sakumo had a matching one. It was linked to their respective summons and it flaring up was a message that their summons wanted to talk or had a message for them. It would not be good for their summons to show up whenever they wanted, so this alarm was what they came up with.

Orochimaru summoned a snake that gave him a message from Sakumo. Apparently, he had been requested for a mission and would be gone for two days, if everything went to plan. This was not anything unusual. There was no reason for Orochimaru to be suspicious, to frown and be tense. And yet they could not shake the bad feeling that suddenly settled in their stomach. Instinct. They knew to listen to their instinct. Something was going on. The timing was suspicious. They spent that day waiting for whatever was coming.

It took until evening. Then, the alarm from the seals on the corridors outside the lair flared up. A deep humming sound vibrated through the lair. They heard the children moving into positions. Then silence. Suddenly, the lair's door opened. The genjutsu washed over Orochimaru and the lab they were in was now spattered in blood and grime. Several sets of footsteps entered the lair. Orochimaru went to the door of their lab, opened it, and stepped outside into the corridor. There, walking up to them, was Danzo. Following him were five of his faceless agents carrying two unconscious infants each. Danzo was two days early.

“Orochimaru. I bring you the second set of orphans,” he said instead of a greeting.

“Oh? How accommodating of you. Let me show you to the empty cells,” they responded with and lead them to the cells, as if turning their back to Danzo and his agents did not bother them at all. The normally brightly lit corridors looked like they had not been cleaned in a month. If Orochimaru did not have children around who had cleaning duty in their schedules that would have been the case. They stepped out into the area where the cells were located and let their eyes sweep over the place. There were bloodstains on the floor, leading to three of the cells. In one of those three cells, a dried puddle of blood marked the corner. Another cell had small bloody handprints on the bars. In most of the cells, cowering bodies were curled up in corners. There were twenty cells all in total. Five of them appeared empty. Orochimaru opened those five.

“Place them in here.”

Danzo’s agents did not move. They stood a step behind Danzo, whose eyes were roaming over the place, looking at the cells, the dirt, grime, blood, and the cowering figures. Then he nodded to his agents.

“Place them in the cells.”

Then, agents moved as one and followed Danzo’s order. Afterwards, they stepped into their former positions behind him.

“Their files?”

Danzo produced a scroll from his sleeve and held it up for Orochimaru to see, but did not move to hand it over. They would have to step closer to him to get it. So, they did. But as they stepped in front of Danzo, he spoke again:

“You were seen with Hatake Sakumo.”

Orochimaru tilted their head to the side. “And?” they asked.

“You seemed to be involved.”

“What does it matter to you who I fuck?”

Danzo slowly let his eye sweep over Orochimaru’s body. “Do not forget your loyalty to the village,” he said and handed Orochimaru the scroll. Then, he turned around and left. Orochimaru kept standing there, waiting for the footfalls to cease, for the door of the lair to close behind them, and for the seals to deactivate. Then, suddenly, the lights brightened, the blood and grime were gone and instead of cowering figures, children with curious, big eyes were staring at them from the cells. Well, fuck.

“Is that man molesting you, Orochimaru-sama?” asked Kaede very seriously from across the bars.

“Not at the moment, no.”

“He is the one who had us kidnapped, right?” sounded Mitsuki's voice from beside Kaede. They were both sitting in one cell. Kaede’s hair was half braided. Orochimaru simply nodded. Mitsuki took a deep breath. “Well,” she said, “if you don't kill him one day, Orochimaru-sama, we will have to be the ones to do it.”

What was Orochimaru supposed to say to that?

“I am looking forward to that.”

Yes, that was an appropriate answer to give Mitsuki.

----

Caring for ten infants from the ages of zero to three turned out to be disturbingly much work. One hour after they all came back to consciousness, Orochimaru concedeed that they were wrong and they could not just leave the children to take care of the infants. So, they summoned Manabu and Asa. Asa because she had reared young before (including Orochimaru themselves), and Manabu because she could turn into a humanoid form. One of the snakes was ecstatic.

“Look at you, Orochimaru! Look at you! Even more hatchlings!” cooed Asa over the screaming and wailing of the infants. Manabu was standing next to her, dressed in a simple yukata Orochimaru had handed her, her dark hair tied back and staring at the children in front of her without comprehension.

“Yes, yes, now help me shut them up!”

“Oh, they are just upset because they are in an unfamiliar environment and don't know what is happening to them. Some of them are most likely also hungry or need to be cleaned.”

“Go ahead, then. Take care of them”

“Oh, but if you helped, it would go so much faster.”

“I have to read their files.”

“Just sit down here and hold one and let two sit on your lap; body contact calms them down. I will do the same while Manabu gets them food.”

Mamabu looked over to Asa, who was currently curling up around five children and distracting them with being a big snake. “What do they even eat at this age?” she asked.

That lead to Asa giving an explanation of the development of humans’ digestive tract and when to feed a developing human what. It was rather insightful, but Orochimaru found themselves adding or correcting the odd point while they were unsealing and reading the files. And while sitting down on the floor and slowly being approached by crying children. The first one was a little girl with flimsy brown hair. Her file named her as Aiko, parents unknown, two years and three months old. She saw Orochimaru sit down and being non-threatening and, still crying, started walking over to them. Once she reached them, she placed herself in their lap and snuggled close to their chest. She heaved quite a few more sobs, but they grew more and more quiet. The other children who were not distracted by the big snake saw her success and started imitating her. By the time Manabu came back with Maki in tow and carrying a tray of food, small plates, and bottles, Orochimaru had two toddlers on their lap and three more snuggled close to their back. The crying and wailing had ebbed to an occasional sob. Now that Manabu was passing out food, they detached themselves from Orochimaru and Asa to bother Manabu instead.

Orochimaru had managed to read all of their files while they had waited for Manabu to come back, not that the files told them much. All of the children had at least one unknown parent (their father) or both parents were unknown. At least the orphanages they had been taken from were listed. But their medical records were, while present, lacklustre and devoid of any really useful information, like chakra and blood type.

Suddenly, the seal underneath Orochimaru’s elbow flared up. A message from Sakumo? He should be on his mission. Quickly, they summoned a third snake. She was hardly even there when she hissed loudly:

“Intruder at the Hatake house! Dogs are protecting Kakashi!”

Chapter Text

Orochimaru's hands were covered in warm, red blood, shining silver in the moonlight. The smell was so strong they could taste the copper on their tongue. They had been on battlefields with much more blood than this. It should not affect them so. But they have never before desperately fought to make their healing chakra obey them, to fix the damage done to the organism under their hands. They never had to do such extensive first aid before. Blood stained hands and healing chakra working against the time. Was this how Tsunade had felt? They were in the village, they were supposed to be save here. This should not have happened. And they had never before had a child sit beside them, pressed against them and frozen in shock, staring at Orochimaru's hands coated in green chakra and knitting the flesh of one of the child's companions back together.

A flash of chakra, a signal, and three sets of footsteps suddenly appeared outside the house, making their way to the room they were in. Then the Uchiha patrol Orochimaru had signalled for stepped inside the room. Orochimaru saw them out of the corner of their eye, but did not take their concentration away from healing Shiba. The patrol took in the scene for a moment, then one of them asked, “What happened?”

Kakashi, still pressed against Orochimaru and staring at Shiba's side that was slowly being knit back together, spoke in a toneless voice: “They came in through the window of my bedroom, two of them. They had no face, no smell. They were after me. Hachiko, Shiba, and Akita defended me. Nana went to get help. The intruders fought silently and didn't try to kill me, they wanted me alive. Hachiko told me to run. I made it to the kitchen, but the intuders got away from the dogs and followed me. Akita killed one of them, then. He ripped their throat out when they tried to grab me. I ran to the living room. The second one showed up. Hachiko and Shiba followed them. That was when he cut open Shiba's stomach. Akita came in too late to help Shiba. Shiba fell down here. Then, Orochimaru appeared and the intruder ran. Orochimaru stayed to heal Shiba.”

And Orochimaru would not fail to heal Shiba. They could not. Even if their chakra was not as willing to turn into healing chakra as it should be, even if the damage had been extensive. They would not let Shiba die in front of Kakashi. Kakashi had seen enough. Hachiko and Akita, both also injured, but not in immediate danger, sat next to them, watching.

The Uchiha officers exchanged glances and hand signs, then two of them left and the third one stepped closer to Orochimaru and Kakashi. It was a man, in his mid twenties with typical Uchiha features, shoulder length hair, and a beauty spot on the middle of his forehead.

“I am Uchiha Tekka. My colleagues are going to try to track down the one who fled and secure the body of the other one. I will be staying with you for security. We have signalled for reinforcements. This is a serious matter and we will investigate it to our fullest abilities,” he said.

Orochimaru nodded in acknowledgement. The Uchiha took position and waited. A bead of sweat rolled down Orochimaru's face, but finally, they managed to stabilise Shiba. His intestines were where they were supposed to be, inside his body and whole again. The wound was healed enough that he would not lose any more blood. Slowly, they let the healing chakra fade. Uchiha Tekka handed them a set of bandages from a first aid kit he had produced from somewhere on his person. Orochimaru wrapped the wound carefully. Then, they leaned back and took a deep breath. They could still almost taste the blood. Kakashi was still pressed into their side and staring at Shiba's unmoving form. The two of them were sitting in a pool of blood. Orochimaru turned to Kakashi and slowly pulled him into a hug. Their hands were still stained red and left smudges where they touched Kakashi, but he did not seem to notice. He gradually melted into the hug, until he leaned his full weight against Orochimaru and pressed his head onto their shoulder. Orochimaru started to softly caress Kakashi's back.

“Shiba will pull through. He is stable now, but he lost a lot of blood, so it will take some time before he wakes up.”

Kakashi nodded against their shoulder, but did not move away from them. That was how the other Uchiha found them when they came in. And that was also how they walked to the police station. Both of them covered in blood, Orochimaru carrying Kakashi, Kakashi clinging to Orochimaru, his face buried against their shoulder. Two dogs walked beside them, one of them limping, and a third dog was being carried by a police officer. Thankfully, an Inuzuka vet was already waiting for them at the station and took over healing the dogs. After a quick patch-up on Akita and Hachiko, the vet took Shiba away to their clinic. Orochimaru, Kakashi, and the two dogs were shown to a room inside the police station, where they were assured to be safe for the night. It was a simple space with a cot, some chairs, and a table. There was a restroom attached. Shortly after they had been shown in, Uchiha Tekka brought them clean sets of clothes. Washing up and changing proved to be difficult because Kakashi did not want to let go of Orochimaru. To be honest, Orochimaru did not feel much like letting go of Kakashi either. They ended up in the bathroom together, Orochimaru first washing their arms and hands, and then changing while Kakashi looked away. Then, Orochimaru looked Kakashi over. He sat slumped against the wall, his eyes half-lidded and ringed with dark circles. He did not look like he could do much in this state. So, Orochimaru ended up washing the blood from his hair, face, and arms, and gently coaxed him into changing clothes. Afterwards, they picked him up and sat down on one of the chairs, Kakashi on their lap, wrapped in their arms. They stayed the night in that room. Kakashi fell asleep at one point, but Orochimaru did not. Akita and Hachiko kept watch and slept in turns.

An Uchiha officer brought them breakfast and news of the investigation. Apparently, they were neither able to catch the intruder who got away, nor figure out who the one who died had been and who sent them. But they assured them that the investigation would continue. Orochimaru knew how competent the police force were. Still, for a moment, they wished they had pursued the fleeing intruder. Then they looked at Kakashi and remembered why they chose not to and could not resent that choice. And just because they trusted the Uchiha to be competent did not mean that they would not investigate on their own.

“When can we leave?” Orochimaru asked.

Uchiha Tekka was as expressive as most Uchiha and did not flinch, apart from a small tightening around his mouth. “Well, there is a problem there, Orochimaru-san,” he responded calmly. “Since Hatake-kun was the target of the attack and he is still a minor, we are bound to keep him here at the station until a parent or guardian can pick him up. While he obviously trusts you and wants you near him, Orochimaru-san, you are not listed as either and therefore, cannot leave with him.”

Of fucking course. Kakashi, awake and refusing to move from Orochimarus lap, tightened his fist in their shirt.

“What about the dogs? They are his father's summons and he was left in their care. Do they count?”

“Unfortunately, the law does not recognise summons as paternal figures.”

“So, you're telling me that Kakashi is stuck here until his father comes back from his mission?”

“Yes. That is the usual procedure. He will be provided with food and adult supervision.”

Orochimaru gave the Uchiha an unimpressed look, as did the two dogs by their side.

“All right then, I will stay with Kakashi until his father comes back. I hope there is no regulation against that?”

There was not. And there was also no regulation against Orochimaru sending for books and an acquaintance. The books were delivered first. It took only a minute of reading them for Kakashi to look up from where he had his head pressed against Orochimaru's shoulder and curiously glance at the book. It was not a coincidence that Orochimaru had chosen literature about chakra theory that they were pretty confident Kakashi would already be able to comprehend. Soon, Kakashi turned around to sit more comfortably, his back leaned against Orochimarus chest, reading along with them and gradually relaxing. That was how Yamanaka Inoe found them when he opened the door and walked in. Before Kakashi could shy away again, Orochimaru spoke.

“Ah, Yamanaka, you came faster than I expected. This is Kakashi, something bad happened to him last night and he needs someone to talk to. Kakashi, this is Yamanaka Inoe, he knows a lot about trauma.”

Kakashi did not want to talk to Yamanaka alone, but after a while he did finally concede to give up his perch on Orochimaru's lap. Orochimaru did their best to not intrude on Kakashi's talk, but still provide the comfort his presence gave to the child. Seeing Yamanaka work his craft on someone else was enlightening. The sneaking suspicion about their meetings finally could no longer be ignored. Orochimaru had been going to therapy for weeks now, had they not? But they could not deny that it had helped their mental state. And it also gave them a connection to the Yamanaka clan that had allowed them to call Inoe here to help Kakashi. They should find a way to get either a Yamanaka to Daisuke, or Daisuke to a Yamanaka. Maybe they would have to offer something in return, but they themselves would never be able to help Daisuke in the way a Yamanaka could.

After Inoe left, Kakashi and Orochimaru had to give some more statements to Uchiha Tekka, but mostly passed the day by reading and petting the dogs. Orochimaru was already dreading a second night of no sleep and guarding a fretful Kakashi, when the door opened and Sakumo came in, still dusty from the road and a bit short of breath, but unharmed.

“Daddy,” shouted Kakashi, and threw himself at Sakumo, who caught him with ease and pressed him close to his chest.

“Pup, I'm so glad you're alright,” he said and closed his eyes. Then, he opened them and gave Orochimaru a steady gaze. “Thank you, Lovely. For everything.”

“You are welcome. Anytime,” said Orochimaru. They were not one for pleasantries, but in this case, they really meant it. They would do the same anytime. They just hoped it would never come to that ever again.

Sakumo nodded seriously. “They told me Shiba will have to stay in the clinic for two more days, but he wouldn't have made it without you.” His eyes fell on Akita and Hachiko, “Thank you, as well.”

The two dogs nodded and Hachiko spoke up, “It was our duty, Sakumo.”

“You can go back now,” he said softly and with another nod, Hachiko and Akita disappeared.

“Where are you going to go?” asked Orochimaru. Sakumo looked up to them and shrugged, Kakashi still in his arms.

“I don't know. I'm told my house is still a mess. Apparently, they finished the investigation there, but I will have to do the clean up myself or hire a genin team. One of the other houses on the compound should do for now.”

Orochimaru hesitated. Were they ready for such a suggestion? But then again, did they want them to spend the night in a most likely unsecure house out of their sight?

“You could come to my place. The house is big enough for more than one person and the guest bedroom is in a good condition.” Not because it was used recently, or even at all, but because of a nifty seal placed on the rooms of the house that kept the dust away. Their grandfather's work, if they weren't mistaken.

Sakumo's face brightened into a smile. “Oh, Lovely, thank you! What do you think, Kakashi? Yes? Okay, then we would like that very much.”

Chapter Text

It had been weird, allowing Sakumo and Kakashi into their house. After showing them around shortly, the two of them had soon retired to the guest room. Orochimaru had gone to their bedroom as well. Despite the two other people in the house, sleep had come to them quickly, and they found themselves well-rested the next morning and making breakfast for three. As usual, they only had long lasting food in their stores. But rice, miso soup and some dried fish would do.

It was a novel experience to have other people at their house for breakfast. Since their parents died Orochimaru had been the only one who ever slept here. Jiraya and Tsunade had been there, sometimes, but never over night. Outside of training, they usually either met in a public space or at the Senju Compound.

“Oh, you made breakfast for us, Lovely?”

Sakumo was standing in the door, smiling. His hair was out of its usual tail and even more of a mess than normally. He must not have brushed it yet. Did he even have a brush on him? Should Orochimaru lend him one of their own? Sakumo was (still? again?) in yesterday's clothes. They were crumpled and dusty.

“The rice isn't quite done yet”

“Right. May I set the table while we wait for the rice and for Kakashi? He insisted to go to the bathroom alone”

“The dishes are in the cabinets. How was the night?”

Sakumo stepped forward and next to Orochimaru and opened the cabinet Orochimaru had pointed at. He smelled a bit like road dust still (and a faint whiff of sweat, which was to be expected after a mission or any physical activity, despite the deodorant), but underneath that was his own personal smell. Orochimaru was suddenly aware that they had missed that smell.

“It was all right. Kakashi woke up a few times, but went back to sleep pretty fast again.” Sakumo started taking out dishes and putting them on the table. Orochimaru tore their gaze away from Sakumo's moving form (his muscular arms, his broad shoulders, the line of his back) and focused back on the rice. It would be done in three minutes.

“Did the Uchiha tell you anything about who did it?”

The sounds of plates and cutlery being set down on the wooden table paused. “They said they neither caught the live one nor could identify the dead one.”

“They told me the same.”

“Would you come with me to the station later?”

Orochimaru carefully did not look over their shoulder. “Yes,” they simply said. Then there were steps in the hallway and Sakumo resumed putting down the dishes. He was just done when Kakashi came in. As was the rice. After putting everything on the table the three of them sat down and ate. It was Sakumo who started the conversation again.

“Lovely, would it be all right if I gave you guardianship rights for Kakashi?”

“Should you not ask Kakashi first?”

“He did”, piped up Kakashi, “And I said yes. I approved you as my parent ages ago, remember?”

That was a big responsibility. Orochimaru should think about- “Yes, I would like that.”

“Great!” cheered Sakumo, grinning vividly, “Once we get married, you would have automatically gotten those rights, but I don't quite feel like we are ready yet and oh Gods, I haven't even asked you properly yet, I will just stop talking now.”

Sakumo was blushing a bright red and looked slightly horrified. Kakashi stared at him with wide eyes.

“You said the goal of this relationship was a lifetime partnership and marriage if I was so inclined.”

“But I'm supposed to ask you properly!”

“Do it now, Dad, quick!” shouted Kakashi.

“I didn't get them a present yet!”

“They already know now, you spoiled the surprise. Just say a present will come later!”

Orochimaru was watching this exchange curiously. Sakumo, still blushing furiously, got up from his chair and stepped up next to Orochimaru.

“Orochimaru, might I ask you an important question?”

Orochimaru was just able to suppress a snort. Then, they got up themselves, took Sakumo's hand and led him two steps away from the table, into the middle of the room. “You may,” they said, a small smile stealing itself onto their face. Sakumo, still holding onto their hand, took a deep breath and looked into Orochimarus eyes.

“Orochimaru, even though I have no present for you, as of yet, to show my love for you, my feelings for you are sincere and I cannot imagine my life without you any more, now that you allowed me into yours. I still have to show you some things of my life, and there are some formalities that don't allow us to get married right away. But after that is done, Orochimaru, would you marry me?”

For a small moment, Orochimaru could not breath. Time slowed down and all they saw were those sincere eyes staring into theirs. They had known Sakumo would ask this, it was not a surprise at all. But it was still oh so very nice. Like from very far away, they heard themselves say yes, and suddenly they were in Sakumo's arms and Sakumo's laughter was ringing out in their kitchen. In the background, Kakashi was cheering and clapping.

This was how Orochimaru and Sakumo got engaged.

Then, Kakashi insisted on going to the academy again this very day and after having him promise to let himself be brought there and picked up again, Sakumo gave his okay. Sakumo asked Orochimaru to leave the dishes to him and went to drop off Kakashi. They were gone in a shunshin. After the dust settled, Orochimaru made a shadow clone and sent it to the lab. It did not seem like they would get to go there themselves anytime soon. Then, they sat down at the table again and poured themselves another cup of tea.

Engaged. Was there any clan tradition to celebrate such an occasion? They had never really learned about such traditions, because they thought they would not ever need them. Was it even important? It was their clan, their family history. Even if the only clan members they ever had known had been their parents, that was enough. Father and Mother. If only they could tell them. They would have been happy for Orochimaru, of that they are sure. Maybe there were some dusty scrolls about traditions somewhere in a storage room. They would have to go looking.

“I'm back!” called out Sakumo from the door. Suddenly, Orochimaru could see it clearly, a future where Sakumo always came back to their house, where they always called out greetings to each other. Where Orochimaru would not come back to an empty, lonely house any more. And Kakashi would be there, coming and going as well, growing up into an insufferable teenager. And maybe there would even be other children.

“Welcome home,” replied Orochimaru and got up to meet him halfway. When Sakumo stepped into the kitchen and saw them, he smiled. Then, he stepped up to Orochimaru and softly kissed them.

“I don't know how to thank you,” he whispered against Orochimaru's lips. What were they supposed to say to that? It is fine? Do not feel obligated? That only sounded like empty niceties. Orochimaru knew that what they had done was not fitting for niceties. So instead, they said something they would have found embarrassing and too revealing with anyone else.

“I was protecting my family.”

Sakumo's eyes bored into Orochimaru's. Suddenly, Orochimaru was reminded of that other kiss they shared, of draping themselves across Sakumo's lap and feeling the muscles of his back. Slowly, they licked their lips. Sakumo's eyes slid down to the movement. Then, they were kissing again.

Several minutes later, Sakumo stepped back and held up his hands. His lips were red and wet and his hair, just previously tamed, was a mess again. His eyes were dilated.

“I have an appointment with the Uchiha in thirty minutes,” he said apologetically, “and you said you would come there with me.”

“Of course.”

“We should go get ready, then”

“Yes, we should,” agreed Orochimaru and after a last look at Sakumo's lips, they slipped past him into the hallway behind him. After a few minutes, the two of them found themselves standing next to each other in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing their hair. Sakumo was using one of Orochimaru's brushes. It is okay, because they gave it to him.

“There is another thing I wanted to talk about before we got distracted,” said Sakumo.

“Hm?”

“You had Yamanaka Inoe come and talk to Kakashi?”

“Yes.”

Sakumo stopped for a moment and frowned, looking down.

“Is that a problem?” asked Orochimaru, giving Sakumo a long look through the mirror.

“How did he act around Kakashi?”, he asked, still looking away.

“Professional. Why are you asking?”

“It is not well-known, but the Hatake and Yamanaka had a feud back in the day”

“And you don't want one of them around Kakashi? You know how Konoha works, right?”

“As teammates, it is different. And the Hokage knows, I have been on a team with a Yamanaka only a handful of times. But the situation yesterday was different.”

“Because Yamanaka was helping Kakashi with trauma?”

“Yes.”

Orochimaru turned to face Sakumo directly. “Do you not approve of it?” they asked.

“A Hatake should not need the help of a Yamanaka,” said Sakumo, still facing down.

Orochimaru snorted. “Look at me, Sakumo,” they said and he did, indeed, look up and face them. “Am I not one of the strongest ninja of this village? Yet I have been going to the Yamanaka to help with my mental trauma for weeks now and it has helped me a lot. And I am sure yesterday he helped Kakashi as well. Would you really let a feud of a bygone era come before you or your child's well-being?”

“I – You are right, I really shouldn't. I'll work on myself to overcome my prejudice against them. I can't guarantee they will do the same, though.”

“As far as I could tell yesterday, their clan head at least does not hold ill-will towards Kakashi. Chances are he does not against you, either. And since I do plan to form an alliance with them, our relationship is a great opportunity for your clans to bury old conflicts.”

“Don't make it sound like a political marriage, please,” said Sakumo, sounding dejected, but resumed brushing his hair.

“Don't be naïve, every marriage is political. But I know that is not in the forefront for our relationship. Still, there will be reactions.”

“Yes, I know. And I'm not afraid of them. But still, I wanted, if you were all right with it, to keep our engagement, and maybe even our marriage later on, private, for now. Organising a big event takes time and I don't even know if we both want a big wedding. But I really want to get married to you soon.”

“How soon?”

“If things go well on my end? Another week.”

“So, we go file the papers, just the three of us, and then have a fancy dinner?”

“Oh, that sounds lovely. Not that I want to hide you but – I just don't want the hullabaloo of it right now.”

“I understand. Me, neither.”

They looked at each other and shared a smile. Then Sakumo tied his hair back and said, “Well, time to face the Uchiha.”

Chapter Text

“As you can see, we are as unhappy with the results of our investigation as you are,” said Uchiha Tekka. He was sitting across from Orochimaru and Sakumo in a rather unglamorous, small meeting room and looked like he was missing some sleep. Orochimaru was leaning back into their seat and keeping their body language carefully neutral. Sakumo, however, had his hands crossed over his chest in an obvious sign of annoyed anger.

“So, you're telling me that my son was attacked in my own house in the middle of Konoha, we have the corpse of one of the attackers, and still you have no idea who did it?”

“Yes, that is what I am telling you.”

Sakumo snarled wordlessly and was about to lean forward aggressively when Orochimaru softly touched his arm and caught his eye.

“We know,” they said, “that someone was skilled enough to make sure we could not identify the dead one, and skilled enough to make the live one disappear without a trace. The attacker was either very quick to get away or did not have to go far. I fought them. They were not that agile. There is also the timing to consider. Sakumo was only gone for two days. The attack happened the night he was not home.”

Uchiha Tekka and Sakumo were both staring at Orochimaru. It was Uchiha who found his voice first.

“You're suggesting an inside job?”

“Fuck,” cursed Sakumo and slapped his hands on the table with a loud bang, “A traitor? What would they do with Kakashi, though?”

What would they do with Kakashi indeed? If the person Orochimaru suspected was behind this, then the answer was for him to turn Kakashi into a perfect little soldier. But they couldn't just accuse one of the most powerful people in Konoha of treason. Instead, they would have to put the Uchiha on his tail.

“What would anyone do with an insanely talented child of a famous shinobi? Either kill it, to minimise the future risks it brings and to break the parents morale, or kidnap it to extort the parent, put political pressure on them, or to use the child's talents for their own sake. Breaking the parent's morale is also an option for kidnapping.”

Sakumo took a deep breath and released his hands from the table, where he had left small indents.

“Yes, Orochimaru-san, we were also wondering about the motive. Since you listed some of the possible ones, why don't you tell us which one you think is the most plausible?”

Orochimaru just about repressed an eye-roll at the Uchiha's dry voice. “A mixture of a few of them. Political because Sakumo has been getting very popular among the shinobi forces. Same reason for breaking his morale. Extortion is unlikely. Using him for their own sake would only be possible if they had a place where they could let him disappear to, where a nameless child would not be suspicious.”

“What are you suggesting, Orochimaru?” asked Sakumo wretchedly, his eyes closing tightly and slumping over in his chair. “That someone has a private army here? Or that the Hokage wanted Kakashi for ANBU and didn't think I'd give my okay, so he decided to have him kidnapped, which would lead to me being to distraught to be a threat to his position?”

“Oh my fucking Gods,” Uchiha Tekka stared at them with wide eyes.

“What?” asked Sakumo and looked up. “I was joking!” he looked from Uchiha, still staring at them in shock, to Orochimaru, who just looked back with a blank face.

“I was joking…” he repeated, quietly, and buried his face in his hands and sank back down into his chair.

“Hiruzen is getting old. You would make a great Hokage, Sakumo. The only thing you currently lack is political influence. But you are likable and I do not think it would be hard for you to gain,” Orochimaru said.

“We have no evidence whatsoever,” said Uchiha.

“Of course we don’t, but there have been children disappearing from the orphanages and the red light district. Be as discreet as possible when you look into it. You do not know it from me, but I can give you a list of names. Figure out how they disappeared and you will find out how all the ones not on the list disappeared.”

“Understood.”

“That is fucking unbelievable! Why the fuck did they go after Kakashi?” whispered Sakumo hoarsely.

“It may be because of me,” said Orochimaru. Sakumo whipped around and stared at them.

“I'm dangerous, but I also hold some degree of power in this village. Your recent connection to me makes you more dangerous.”

“You're saying someone wanted to break us up by going after my kid?!”

“It is possible.”

“What the fuck is wrong with people?!”

Uchiha Tekka cleared his throat. Sakumo and Orochimaru both looked back to him.

“This is, of course, all theoretical. But with the implications of the possible ramifications, I will have to go to Uchiha-sama with this, and we will of course look into the disappearing children, as discreetly as possible. If you were to receive an invitation to tea with Uchiha-sama, would you be at all inclined to accept it?”

They were.

After they left the police station Orochimaru and Sakumo split up. Sakumo to go get some papers filed and politely inform the Hokage about his security concerns and to get his house back in order. Orochimaru went to the Yamanaka compound.

“I am not surprised to see you, Orochimaru-san,” said Yamanaka Inoe when they sat across from each other in their usual meeting room.

“Is that because of yesterday?” asked Orochimaru, casually eyeing the steam rising from their teacup.

“Yes, precisely. I thought something might come from that,” Yamanaka was smiling politely.

Orochimaru took a sip of his tea. Ah, a nice strong blend. The flowers in the alcove had been changed again. “I have since come to understand that there was an age-old dissension between the Yamanaka clan and the Hatake clan. But yesterday, Yamanaka, you conducted yourself in a very professional manner. I could not tell from your bearing that you held ill content for Kakashi.”

“Ah,” said Yamanaka, still smiling politely, “But that would have been very unprofessional of me. Besides, it was you who called me, not Hatake-san.”

“If it had been a Hatake who called you, would you still have come?”

Yamanaka stopped smiling. “Of course. Maybe not personally, but one of us would have come. We take our position seriously.”

“And besides that, it seems rather silly to hold onto old grudges when the cause for them is long gone and there are bigger things to concern oneself with. As such, I hoped that the alliance I am offering you does not conflict with the relationship I have with Hatake Sakumo.”

The polite smile was back. “Well, we would make that alliance with you, Orochimaru-san, and not with the Hatake. Your relationship with him would then be a step to start bettering relations between the Hatake and Yamanaka clan.”

“Hm, and I imagine a marriage would help bettering those relations further,” mused Orochimaru and tilted their head to the side coyly.

“Yes, Orochimaru-san, if you, as an ally of the Yamanaka Clan, were to get married to Hatake Sakumo, it would certainly shift the political climate.”

Orochimaru smiled politely. Yamanaka did not flinch. “See, Yamanaka Inoe, clan head of the Yamanaka, Sakumo and I have an invitation to tea with Uchiha Keita, clan head of the Uchiha, this very afternoon. Sakumo and I are going to be discussing the recent case we have been involved in.”

“Oh? How very interesting. The Uchiha clan have traditionally been rather politically isolated, apart from their weird relationships with the Hyuga and Senju. It would be interesting if they got more connections.”

“It certainly would. But I do hope you did not miss how well connected Sakumo will be after all this is political maneuvering is done. You see where this is going?”

“I also can not fail to notice how well positioned you would be, Orochimaru-san.”

“Yes, but Sakumo is much better suited for the job than me. I do hope you would not object to him in the position. After all, you would be, by then, allied with the Hatake clan.”

Yamanaka chuckled. “Yes, I understand. And if things were indeed to play out that way, I would indeed not object. A Hokage from our side of the political spectrum would be quite a welcome novelty.”

Orochimaru took another sip from their tea, this one long and indulgently. They leaned back a bit and hummed quietly, looking up at the ceiling. That had been a fun talk.

“Would it not just be? I have only recently understood the scope of bullshit Sarutobi taught me. I told you about it and fuck, did he mess me up. Remind me to tell you about the time he sent me on my first seduction mission one time. And about … ah, fuck, I can hardly even mention it without getting angry and currently I do not wish to feel that way. About when he stopped being my teacher.”

Yamanaka blinked and suddenly wasn't sitting as formally anymore. “Ah, would you like to talk about one of these things right now?” he asked.

Orochimaru raised a hand and waved it dismissively, still looking up at the ceiling. The wooden boards had a pretty texture. “No, not right now. We still have that alliance to forge, right?” With that Orochimaru rocked back into an upright position and looked straight at Yamanaka.

“About that, you mentioned that you would get married to Hatake-san. Is that something theoretical or are you planning it?” asked Yamanaka.

“We got engaged yesterday and plan on signing the papers in a week.”

Yamanaka took a moment to reply, staring at Orochimaru a bit uncomprehendingly. “How long have you two known each other, again?”

“We started really talking about a month ago”

Yamanaka nodded slowly. “Hm, and how long have you been dating?”

“I am not quite sure, we sort of slid right into that. Going out for tea together is considered dating, right?”

“Usually dating is about the intentions of the participants.”

“Then yes, we were dating from the beginning” At least for Sakumo it had been dating. Orochimaru, in the beginning, had just been lonely and glad to have someone for company who could apparently stand to be in their presence and even maybe enjoy it. As soon as they had realised what it was that Sakumo actually wanted, they had pounced onto that opportunity with vigor.

Yamanaka cleared his throat, bringing Orochimaru out of their thoughts. “Orochimaru-san, you do realise that one month is considered an awfully short amount of time to enter such a committed relationship as an engagement, much less a marriage.”

Orochimaru snorted. “I do not care about societies standards for such things. I never fit into those molds.”

“This is not about societies standards. It is about how relationships and feelings take time to develop. And please forgive me for pointing this out, but you have some problems with your feelings.”

“I know that,” now, after having talked with Yamanaka regularly, “But I am a better person around Sakumo. It is so much easier to feel things around him. And I have never felt so sure about a relationship in my life as I feel with him. He offered me the security of a marriage and I want that. With him. I cannot imagine wanting that with anyone else”

Yamanaka paused and watched Orochimaru’s face for a moment, then he gave him a small, honest smile. “Congratulations, then. I can tell that he is good for you.”

Orochimaru found themself smiling back. Just a tiny movement of the lips, a small softening of the eyes. But a smile. “Thank you.”

For a moment, they both lapsed into comfortable silence and sipped their tea. It was no longer as hot, but still tasted as nice. Then, Orochimaru started the conversation up again.

“There is something else. As much as I appreciate the therapy you have been subjecting me to and want to continue it, I did not actually lie when I said I was asking for someone else,” they said.

Yamanaka sighed and then raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “So you figured it out? Glad you still want to come. Go on, then, who is this someone else?”

“Recently I have found myself with a traumatised child on my hands. Would it be possible to send him here regularly for therapy?”

A slow, confused blink. “Certainly. I am not the expert for children, so he would go to a different therapist.”

“As long as it is someone you trust to be discreet. Because, you see, officially this child is no longer alive. His file lists him as missing, presumed dead.”

Yamanaka frowned. His tea sat forgotten in front of him once again. “May I ask why?”

“You certainly may ask. Officially, I cannot answer you. But unofficially, you will find that last month, twenty children of no consequence went missing at around the same time. Plenty of children go missing all the time. The orphanages are full after the war. They can not keep an eye on all of the young ones. Daisuke was already a genin, but still considered useless enough to Konoha in that position that he would be better used as something else. I just happened to disagree.”

“Orochimaru-san -”

“Do you want to know or not? If you know, our alliance will be stronger for it. I offer you a secret and my poison recipes, but in exchange, I want therapy for myself and my charges, as well as your political allegiance for myself and my future partner.”

Yamanaka took a deep breath. His face was frozen in a neutral mask. “I guess that allegiance will be tested by the secret? Before I agree, does it make you a traitor to Konoha?”

“That depends on how you define Konoha. A traitor to the current power structure, yes. A traitor to its people and ideals? No, the opposite, in fact. I am not good with morals and all that shit, but even I realised by now that what I was ordered to do was fucked up and wrong.”

Yamanaka sighed, closed his eyes briefly. “Life with you around is certainly interesting, Orochimaru-san. And you know just what to offer my clan, but can you really expect me to potentially damn my clan for your secret?”

“You could always betray me if you find yourself on the wrong side of the political table after all, but I do not think you will,” said Orochimaru and smiled politely.

“How very quaint of you to already speak of betrayal,” answered Yamanaka with a just as polite smile. Then, he leaned forward the table over in anticipation and said, “But all right, I'll bite. Tell me your secret.”

Orochimaru’s smile vanished.

“Danzô gave me thirty children to conduct deadly experiments on. It was an order. I have not done it, but he does not know that and will not find out if nobody fucks up.”

Yamanaka stared at him with wide eyes. The anticipation had drained out of his face, leaving behind a blank mask. Slowly, he sat back up. Orochimaru took a last sip of their tea. It had gone cold by now.

“Well, fuck,” was Yamanaka’s conclusion at long last.

“Hm, quite so,” replied Orochimaru casually.

“Who else knows?”

“Besides you and the children? My summons. I'll tell Sakumo soon.”

“The Hokage?”

“The orders had his seal on them.”

“Fuck. For what it is worth, I'm glad you didn't follow those orders. How do you think Hatake will take it?”

That was indeed a good question.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean he doesn't know yet?!”

Yamanaka's reaction to finding that out had been a bit more emotional and exasperated than Orochimaru had anticipated. Then, Yamanaka had proceeded to talk Orochimaru through why it would be a good idea to tell Sakumo as soon as possible. One of the reasons being that Yamanaka was now also caught up in it and Orochimaru owed their alliance that Sakumo would actually end up in the place Orochimaru envisioned for him, with Orochimaru at his side.

Nevertheless, Orochimaru did not tell Sakumo about the children when they next met, because then they had tea with the Uchiha, which, while it was delightful, did not leave time to talk about private matters.

Uchiha Keita was a battle-hardened politician in his mid-forties who was quite good at not showing just how fed up he was with the kind of treatment his Clan was receiving. Not good enough to hide it completely from Orochimaru, and thus, most likely also not able to completely hide it from the likes of Sarutobi Hiruzen and Shimura Danzô. And Uchiha Keita was very interested in finally getting his clan into a better political situation, even if he was wary of Orochimaru. Most likely, he had also heard those rumours about Orochimaru's keen interest in the sharingan. Still, he had signalled that he would be open for negotiations if evidence indeed was found that someone in the village was making children disappear.

After the tea, Sakumo and Orochimaru paused just outside the Uchiha compound on a rooftop. The streets below them were busy as usual and some ninja were always taking the roofs, so they weren't in private. But still, Sakumo turned to Orochimaru and smiled softly.

“I'll go and pick up Kakashi. Can we come back to your place again? It felt very safe there, yesterday.”

Orochimaru was, for a moment, distracted by the way the light caught in Sakumo's eyes. Then, they shook themselves out of it and answered, “Of course. Would you go and pick up some groceries on the way home? I do not have much at home at any given time, you know how it is. Also, I will have to go somewhere else for the rest of the afternoon, but you can go on ahead.”

Sakumo's smile became slightly strained. “I'm sorry to take up your time like this. I know you must have been busy with other things before all this happened.”

Orochimaru narrowed their eyes at Sakumo. “Do not be sorry,” they said, “It was not you who was the aggressor in this. And besides, I do not despise intrigue and politics.”

Sakumo laughed at that. His sharp canines reflected some small flecks of sunlight. Orochimaru remembered how those canines had felt on their lips, on their tongue. “Oh Lovely, you are a treat. And you are so very competent at the whole politics thing, in your own weird way, with how you never use honorifics and pull one power move after the other.”

Sakumo looked really nice when he laughed. And when he smiled. And every other time. Slowly, Orochimaru moved into Sakumo's space, put their hands on his shoulders. Sakumo kept still and waited. Orochimaru brought their mouth to Sakumo's ear, making sure his hair obscured their lips' movement and whispered: “I am sexually attracted to you.”

Sakumo let out an undignified squeak that turned into a groan. Despite what Orochimaru had implied to Danzô, there had been no sexual interactions beside kissing and some touching above the hips. They simply had not found the time yet. Suddenly, Orochimaru realized that finding time was more of a priority than they had thought. This was certainly a new kind of feeling. (And very, very different to that deep, desperate, hopeless longing they had felt for Jiraya. Had felt? Was that feeling finally gone? They hadn't seen Jiraya in so long, how could they be sure – now was not the moment to think about this.)

Sakumo, beside them, was shaking slightly. “You know just what to say to motivate someone, don't you, Lovely?” he finally said, “Well, let's just see how Kakashi feels tonight about sleeping alone. If he doesn't want to ….” Sakumo did not finish the sentence.

Orochimaru, their mouth still hidden in Sakumos hair, whispered: “Kakashi takes precedence. And we do not have to have sex tonight or anytime soon. I enjoy being with you as is. But I suddenly find myself much more eager to perform sexual acts with you. So, if we do find time, I am amenable,” they paused, considered something, and then added, “But you do not need to feel pressured into it. If you are not amenable, then just tell me so.”

Sakumo let out a startled laugh. Then, he buried his head in Orochimaru's hair as well and brought his arms around them in a hug. Orochimaru found themselves immediately relaxing into the embrace. “Lovely,” he whispered into Orochiamru's ear, “I've wanted to have sex with you for a lot longer than we have been together, than we have been talking. But I'm still glad you asked.”

Technically, Orochimaru had not asked. But they found themselves not in a mood to point that out. Instead, they quietly hummed into Sakumo's hair and deeply breathed in his scent. A loud crash startled them out of their quite reverence. Not far from them a ninja had crashed down into the street mid-jump. That was their cue to leave.

-----

Orochimaru finally went back to the lair. They were not sure what they expected to find after they left the lair alone without prior notice, just after the toddlers arrived and then just sending a clone to take over. When they stepped through the door themselves, all was quiet, nothing was on fire and the seals were still in place. So far, so good. After turning the corner of the hallway Orochimaru found the first one of their charges. Kasumi was standing outside the door where the toddlers had been situated and was deeply concentrated on writing a seal onto the door frame. She acknowledged their presence with a slight incline of her head and a quiet “Welcome back, Orochimaru-sama,” but did not look up from her work.

“What are you doing?” they asked calmly.

Kasumi narrowed her eyes and kept concentrating on her work. “Noise cancellation seal. Works both ways. I'll put in an alarm seal for when they cry inside of we think we need it, but for now we just can't keep hearing them cry. Don't worry, your clone looked it over and approved it.”

Orochimaru took a step forward and looked the seal over. It was mostly done and from what they could see it was indeed right that their clone had approved it. “Was this your idea?”, they asked.

“Yes, Orochimaru-sama.”

“Good work. Carry on, then.”

Next, they checked the library and found Mitsuki pouring over medical texts and encyclopedias. When had she taken an interest in those? As they stepped inside, she looked up and a smile bloomed on her face as her eyes sparkled.

“Orochimaru-sama!” Why was she so happy to see them? “These text are challenging, like you said they would be, but I am determined!”

“Did I say that? I suppose I will receive the memories of that later. Do not be confused, I am the original, not the clone you talked to today.”

She hesitated, her enthusiasm dampened. “Will you have a different opinion than your clone, Orochimaru-sama?”

“I believe not. We are the same person. Why, what did they do or say?” Being suspicious, even of your own past self, or maybe especially of your past self, was exactly why Orochimaru avoided using shadow clones. That, and the headaches after dispelling one.

Mitsuki was back to looking hopeful. “You taught me how to numb the skin of someone when you take a blood sample and allowed me to learn more medical techniques, but told me to be careful and not practice or use them unsupervised.”

“Do you want to become a medic?”

“No! Well, maybe. But not just. I want to know everything! There is so much to know and learn and use in a fight! Like that numbing technique, you could totally use that against someone! And knowing some first-aid would be good, right, Orochimaru-sama?”

She was right about that. Come to think of it, all of the children would benefit from basic first aid training. And more medical training, if they were suited for and desired it. Orochimaru only knew so much, it would be better if they learned formally in the hospital, but that was not an option. So what Orochimaru knew would have to be enough. And whatever they managed to learn via scrolls and self-study.

“Yes, you are right. Who did we take blood samples from?”

“The babies. They cried a lot from even the small prick of the needle. Manabu gave us a look and then you started using the technique.”

Manabu, of all people, had given them a look of disapproval? Manabu, who had cheerfully stolen holy artifacts to impress a man, managed to marry him, stalked said man across the continent when he found out she was a snake and fled, and then murdered his new wife, only to be captured and imprisoned by some monk, gave them a look of disapproval for making babies cry? Sounded like she had gotten attached really fast.

“Do you happen to know where my clone is right now?”

“They went into the lab with the samples and haven't come out since.”

“All right then, I will no longer keep you from studying.”

“Yes, Orochimaru-sama!”

When they entered the lab, it was to a familiar kind of chaos. Files and scrolls were everywhere, experiments running in different stages, and in the middle of it all, stood their clone, hair up in a messy bun and glasses on their face while they carefully put a reagent into a small vial of blood. That was not the test to determine elemental affinities. Why was their clone testing weather or not a child's cells reacted negatively to the serum? They only ever had done that test on Mitsuki's blood.

Then, their clone blinked and suddenly, a stream of memories washed over them, accompanied by a headache and the disorientating sensations of having just stood several meters to the right and having done something completely different with their day. Then, their memories slotted into place and their eyes zeroed in on a particular file. They picked up the file. It was that of a little boy, seven months old, no known parents.

He had two equally strong elemental affinities. Earth and Water.

His name was Tenzô.

Chapter Text

This was what Orochimaru had been waiting for, a viable subject for the serum. If their theories were correct, this subject should not only be able to survive the serum, but also get mokuton out of it. And their shadow clone had already set up the test to see if the subject's cells had an adverse reaction to the serum. The next thing to do was preparing the tank that would hold the subject during the adjustment period while they waited for the test to show it's results (They already knew the result would be positive. It had to be. That would explain why Mitsuki was not a viable subject, because her dual elemental affinity was different. It was not an universal serum, it was -).

The tank was in the still unused lab, it had to be set up. Where were the chemicals they would need for this, where did the children put them? They must be in one of the cupboards they had not opened since they started using the lab. They had not needed them yet. Once they had the chemicals, they would have to fill the tank with water and put in the chemicals and then, get the subject ready and -

No. Stop. Breath.

They did not know whether or not the subject would survive it. Orochiamru took a deep breath and closed the cupboard again. Slowly, they sat down on the floor, placed their hands on their knees, and closed their eyes. Deep breaths. What had just happened? Why had they suddenly felt like they had to use the serum, right away, this very moment? As soon as they had found a viable subject, their clone had started falling into this spiral of simple research turned into a mad science rush. Dispelling the clone had transferred that spiral over to Orochimaru. This was why they hated using shadow clones. They could still feel it, the shakiness. (The need to get the research done, the cold panic that it would be too late, that he would die -) The insecurity over what it was they had actually done that day. The ingrained sense of panic that they did know what had happened to them, because if they had conflicting memories, what guaranteed them that any one of the two sets was real? But no, this was real, they were sitting here, breathing. A slight smell of chemicals was in the air and above them a cold neon light spread over the ceiling.

The child's name was Tenzô. He could be a viable subject for the serum, but Orochimaru would have to make sure he would actually survive the process and be safe during it. Further testing would be needed. It would take time. Time Orochimaru currently did not have.

Because they told Sakumo they would be back that evening and Sakumo was waiting at home. Kakashi was also there. Sakumo bought groceries. Maybe he even cooked dinner. When was the last time anyone had made a home cooked meal for them? And Kakashi. He was four. If Danzô had gotten him, what would have happened to him? Would he have ended up in ROOT? Or, to test Orochimaru and ruin them further, been given to them as a test subject? With instructions to figure out the Hatake chakra? Be a loyal Konoha shinobi and do what your superiors say.

Orochimaru took another deep breath. There was no use on lingering on these thoughts right now. What they had to do now was finish the running tests, note down the results and then go home to Sakumo.

With that, Orochiamru got up from the floor and started tidying up the lab. Some time later, the last test had run its course. The results did show that Tenzô would indeed be able to survive the serum. Maybe. With a probability of around 35%. How very good that they did not immediately put him into a test tube. And why was the percentage so low? It was almost as if -

Orochimaru should really go home now. Dinner should be ready now. They left the lab and were instantly hit with the sound of a whole hoard of children chatting. Right, the children were in the common room having dinner as well. Orochimaru walked towards the noise and stopped outside the open door of the common room. All of the children seemed to be there. Maki was very industriously passing out some sort of stew and smiling brightly. Mitsuki had a stack of notes she was showing to Kasumi, who had a smidgen of ink on her cheek and was very seriously looking at the notes, nodding, and then apparently answering a question. Daisuke sat not far from them, listening in unobtrusively, and calmly eating his food. His snake was wound around his torso like a strange black comfort blanket. Kaede was entertaining a whole flock of younger children with some sort of story while while Ken and Kana were deep in some sort of discussion, a self-drawn colour pallet between them. Asa was curled up in a corner, a whole bunch of toddlers leaning against her and making a mess of the food. Manabu was holding the smallest child. That must be Tenzô, since he was the youngest. She was feeding him with a bottle and was in a cheerful hissing conversation with Asa. It was Maki who noticed Orochimaru first.

“Ah, Orochimaru-sama! You're back! Come eat with us!” she cheered. Suddenly, all the children fell quiet, stopped eating, and looked in their direction.

Orochimaru felt a small smile steal itself onto their lips. They stepped into the light of the doorway so they were better visible.

“I am sorry to say that I have a prior engagement for dinner today. But thank you.”

Maki's face fell and they could see similar disappointment in the other faces as well, with the exception of Asa and Manabu, who looked smug for some reason. “Will you be here for breakfast tomorrow, then?” Maki asked.

“I believe not. There are some current developments up in the village I need to take care of. But I plan on coming back during the day tomorrow. Do not worry, I will not abandon you.”

Mitsuki stood up abruptly. Her face was pulled into a determined frown and she clutched her bowl of stew tightly (but without spilling anything). “We would never think such a thing of you, Orochimaru-sama!” she declared passionately. Still, from the way her eyes were shining, she had needed to hear that. As did the others in the room.

----

“I'm home.”

“Welcome home!” echoed two voices. There was a delicious smell of food in the air. Something fried? A set of quick footsteps came running from the kitchen and then Kakashi flew around the corner of the hall. Orochimaru did not expect what happened next and their shinobi reflexes almost made them dodge. It was a last second effort that made them stay where they where and catch Kakashi instead when he jumped and threw himself into their arms.

“Kakashi,” they said a bit startled and looked down onto the grey head buried into their shoulder. Kakashi had his arms and legs wound around their torso and was clinging rather tightly. Carefully, they positioned their arms to support Kakashi more comfortably. After a moment, Kakashi looked up and smiled shyly.

“I missed you,” he said quietly, “Carry me?”

Well, why ever not? It was thus that Orochimaru came into the kitchen with Kakashi firmly positioned in their arms. Thankfully, Kakashi relented and deigned to sit on his own when they sat down to eat. The evening with Kakashi was brief and after a short, but heartfelt discussion Sakumo agreed to let Kakashi sleep on his own (“I've been sleeping on my own for ever, Dad, just because yesterday was an exception you don't have to think I'm a baby. Come on, Dad, I will be fine!”). Still, Kakashi did not protest that Sakumo summoned three of his dogs to keep watch over him. If the slight blush on his cheeks was any indication, he was quietly pleased by that.

While Sakumo put Kakashi to bed, Orochimaru took a shower and dried their hair with a quick bit of water manipulation. After finishing their nightly routine, they slipped into a light yutaka they wore around the house. Then, they went into the living room and picked up a scroll with some jutsu notes to read while they waited. It did not take longer than a few minutes after that for Sakumo to show up. He was wearing a clean set of casual clothing and his hair was still a bit damp. Orochimaru set the scroll down on the table and beckoned Sakumo to sit down next to them.

“Kakashi is asleep,” he said as he sat down. Then, he looked over to Orochimaru and visibly paused. His eyes wandered from Orochimaru's openly falling hair to their chest, only sparingly covered by the yukata's thin cloth. His eyes focused on the expanse of pale skin that was Orochimaru's left leg, propped up an the coffee table and not covered by the yukata's fabric up to their thigh. Sakumo blushed, swallowed, and looked back up to Orochimaru's face. Orochimaru smiled.

“Oh, you did that on purpose, Lovely.”

Orochimaru gracefully stretched and angled themselves towards Sakumo. The sofa they were sitting on was not very big and they were sitting very close. If either of them wanted to they were easily within reach to touch each other.

“Perhaps,” they hummed and licked their lips.

Sakumo leaned forward, reached out a hand and cradled Orchimaru's neck. His eyes fell closed and his lips carefully met Orochimaru's. For a moment, their kiss was just a trembling touch, then, Orochimaru surged up, wrapped their arms around Sakumo and swung themselves into his lap, straddling him, their legs on either side of him. Orochimaru closed their eyes, pressed their body flush against Sakumo's and kissed him with all their might. They felt their hair fall over the two of them, felt his hands clutch their neck and back, felt his canines and his tongue. Then, when their mouths disconnected, they tasted the salt of Sakumo's skin on his neck, heard his quiet noises of pleasure.

Orochimaru moved from his neck to his ear and whispered, “I need to tell you something”

Sakumo became quiet underneath them. Then, he quietly said, “Are you using seduction techniques on me?”

Orochimaru blinked and sat up from their hunched over position over Sakumo's neck. They tilted their head so they could look Sakumo in the face. He leaned his head back against the sofa and looked up to Orochimaru. His lips were wet and red, his face flushed and he was smiling. Was Orochimaru using seduction techniques on him? They had to think about that for a moment. If you had to tell your targets potentially upsetting news, get them all hot and bothered first. That was a basic technique. Orochimaru blinked down at Sakumo again. Had this happened because that was how they had learned to sexually interact with people? Because they did want to have sex with Sakumo and also happened to want to tell him something potentially upsetting?

“I had not realised, but on further examination, I do think I am. I am sorry, I did not mean to.”

Sakumo continued smiling and raised a hand to caress Orochimaru's cheek. Orochimaru leaned into the touch immediately.

“Don't worry about it, Lovely. But just know that you can tell me things without doing that.”

“I really did not mean to,” whispered Orochimaru.

“Hey, Lovely, I said it is fine. You mentioned that you went on seduction missions before, I knew that and expected some mannerisms from them. Just know that I'm fine with those mannerisms, but also fine without them. I mean, that kiss was amazing, but if you need to tell me something you can just straight up do that.”

Orochimaru blinked again and took a deep breath. They let themselves slump against Sakumo again and rolled of him. After a few tugs, their yukata was on properly and their hair out of their face again.

“Right,” they said and turned back to Sakumo, who was also looking a bit more put together than just moments before.

“I feel like I should tell you this before we get married. Before we have sex. Before we take this relationship any further. I probably should have told you this before we got engaged. But to be fair, I had no idea when it would have been appropriate to tell you.”

Sakumo was looking quite serious now. He leaned forward and took one of Orochimaru's hands.

“Whatever it is, Lovely, I promise to listen and not do anything rash.”

“Do you remember when we met on the Hokage mountain and I asked you for advice on a project?”

“The sensitive village matter?”

“Yes, exactly. I took your advice and did not follow orders. That is why I now have a secret lair filled with thirty children I am supposed to do deadly experiments on but instead, have … not done that.”

Sakumo was staring at them intently. “Thirty children?” he questioned, his face unmoved.

“Yes. And I also recruited a teenager to help with seals and illusions to keep it a secret that the children are not dead”

“Thirty-one children, then. You were ordered to kill them?” his eyes continuing to bore into Orochimaru's.

“Basically.”

“But you did not.”

Orochimaru nodded.

“What did you do with them, then?”

“I gave them tasks around the lair, in the labs and the library and the kitchen. I organised a food supply. I made them a new fighting style to use instead of the academy one and showed it to them. I got them beds. I summoned snakes to take care of the youngest ones. I … helped one of them with sword-fighting and gave another the snake summoning contract. I gave two of them make-up tips. I ate meals with them. I tracked down the mother of the one who still has a mother and set her up as an outside contact and front for future operations. He'll be ready to return to her tomorrow, but he doesn't know that yet.”

“Oh, Lovely,” said Sakumo and smiled so very softly at Orochimaru, “that is wonderful. I am so proud of you.”

“You are?” Orochimaru whispered, unable to look away from Sakumo.

He cupped Orochimaru's face in his hands and leaned his forehead against theirs and started speaking softly. “Yes, Lovely, I am. You did good. And I am glad you defied those orders. We really have to take down those bastards who gave them to you, don't we? Was it just the one-eyed bastard or both of them?”

Just as softly, Orochimaru answered, “The one-eyed bastard gave it to me, but it had the others seal. It could be fake, or maybe done behind his back, but either way, he gave the one-eyed one authority over me. He didn't want me as a student anymore and passed me on.”

“Fuck him, you're amazing.”

A helpless little chuckle escaped from Orochimaru at that.

“I'm serious, Lovely, you are. But about your children, could I see them?”

“What, right now? They are all asleep.”

“No, Lovely, we can't leave Kakashi alone here anyway. But how about tomorrow, when he's at the academy?”

“Yes.”

“Great. Anything else you need or want to tell me?”

Orochimaru shook their head. Sakumo closed the small space between their faces and kissed them again. A small, chaste, sweet kiss.

“Should we go to the bedroom, then?”

Orochimaru could not help the grin that suddenly spread across their face. Instead of a verbal answer, they got up, took Sakumo's hand, and lead him to the bedroom. Sakumo was very willing to follow.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Orochimaru woke with Sakumo wrapped in their arms, his warmth seeping into their body like rays of the sun. His smell was a comforting a reminder that they were not alone, as was his warm smile he greeted Orochimaru with when they blinked up to him. In that moment, Orochimaru thought that it was a good thing the two of them were already engaged or Orochimaru would have had to come up with a way to get this man to stay at their side. They did not know how they had managed to do that.

Last night's sex had not been what Orochimaru had expected, but at the same time it was. They had expected Sakumo to be different than the seduction missions they had been on and the few other sexual encounters they had had, but it still had been jarring to realise just how much of a difference actual sexual attraction on their side and a truly considerate partner had made.

(For a short moment, when Sakumo went to wake Kakashi and Orochimaru cooked breakfast, Orochimaru's thoughts wandered to Jiraiya. Jiraiya, who they were attracted to. Or had been attracted to. They had imagined sex with him, sometimes. Not often. What would sex with him have been like? Would it have been like with Sakumo? No, they decided, because Jiraiya and Sakumo were really different people and Orochimaru could not imagine Jiraiya getting over what he perceived as the proper way a man had to behave in the bedroom. Which was the same reason nothing ever happened between the two of them. Jiraiya knew about Orochimaru's attraction. There was a moment, one too long, lingering look from Orochimaru and then a sudden, horrified realisation on Jiraiya's face. That was when things got really bad between them, when Jiraiya's occasional comments turned into something even more hurtful.) But then, before Orochimaru could sink further into painful memories, Sakumo and Kakashi walked in. Sakumo with a bright smile and quick kiss, Kakashi sniffing the air curiously, and giving them both inquisitive looks.

“Why do you both smell like each other so much? I noticed Dad smelled like you, Orochimaru, but you smell like him too. You did before as well, but less,” said Kakashi thoughtfully.

Sakumo and Orochimaru, still standing close to each other, exchange a look. Before one of them could answer, however, Kakashi had already come to his own conclusions. His face lit up in enlightenment and he said excitedly: “Did you share a bed? Dad and I smell more like each other when we do that! Why did you share a bed? Do you not have more beds, Orochimaru?”

“I do have another guest bedroom,” Orochimaru blurted out. Sakumo gave them a look again and Orochimaru realized they had to keep speaking now. “But you are right about us sharing a bed. We did that because we are getting married.”

Kakashi nodded seriously and accepted that answer. Sakumo sighed and mumbled, “I'll have to clear that up later, won't I?”, but did not pretend anyone in the room had not heard him. (Kakashi, because of his Clan heritage. Orochimaru, because of sense training. That was one enhanced sense their Clan heritage had not given Orochimaru.) After breakfast, Sakumo and Orochimaru both went with Kakakshi to the academy, where they got some surprised looks from parents and teachers for the minute they were there to safely see Kakashi delivered to his teacher.

Soon after that, they stood before the door to Orochimaru's secret lab. Sakumo gave the dark hallway they were in a look while Orochimaru took a deep breath.

“The illusion seals can only be deactivated from inside. You will sense what every outsider senses when they enter here. I will key you into them once we reach the key,” Orochimaru warned.

“Duly noted.”, said Sakumo.

Orochimaru opened the door and stepped inside. Sakumo followed behind them. As the two of them made their way to Orochimaru's office, where the key to deactivate the seals was, Orochimaru listened for every harsh intake of breath, for every faltering step from Sakumo. There were none. Sakumo walked past the illusions of blood, grime, misery, and death without flinching, without faltering. Still, Orochimaru felt a sudden shame, a sudden regret that they put the key to the seals inside their office, that they had not made Sakumo wait outside and deactivate the seals, that they had Sakumo see what it would have looked like if they had followed orders.

Then they were finally in the office and Orochimaru deactivated the seals. When they turned around, Sakumo was looking around the suddenly clean and tidy space. Once his eyes found Orochimaru's again, he smiled. Orochimaru felt themselves relax from a tension that they had not been aware was building.

“I will need some of your blood to key you into the seals, that way they will not activate when you get here and also hide you if they activate during your time here.”

Sakumo nodded and held out his hand. After a quick slash with a kunai, it was only a matter of a minute to write Sakumo into the seals. They had been designed to easily include new people; originally, with new children in mind (like the toddlers, they had all been keyed in as well). Finally, it was done. Orochimaru put their brush down and coaxed a bit of healing chakra to seal the skin of Sakumo's hand. They were still looking at that hand when they spoke up again.

“I will get them all into the common room and introduce you. They can show you around afterwards.”

Sakumo caught their eyes and smiled again. “I'm looking forward to it, Lovely”

Orochimaru stepped away from him and opened the door. They were greeted with the sight of Kaede leaning casually against the wall opposite their office door. Her long hair was up in an elegant bun and purple eyeliner framed her eyes. There was a perfectly pleasant smile on her face. To the right of the door, hidden underneath a simple chameleon genjutsu, was Mitsuki, weapons drawn and ready to strike. Her make-up was just as well-done. Above them on the ceiling was Daisuke, holding himself there with chakra, not using a jutsu to conceal himself, only the shadows of the hallway and the human habit not to look up for more enemies when there were two already on front of them. Lesser shinobi often fell for that. Daisuke, too, was ready to strike, as was his snake companion.

“I see you have brought a guest, Orochimaru-sama,” chirped Kaede and her smile became even more pleasant. “Would you like me to take care of him?”

Orochimaru was a seasoned shinobi and in control of their emotions and facial expressions. That was why they did not give into the strange stirring in their chest. These children were ready to take out Sakumo for him. They must know that they would not stand a chance. But then again, it was Orochimaru themselves that had told them not to underestimate surprise attacks and numbers. Still, they must know that they had no chance against Sakumo. Orochimaru should talk to them about when not to pick a fight. (There was something in the back of their mind telling them that the children already knew that and would go up against a grown shinobi for them anyways. They wanted to protect Orochimaru from this new intruder. How adorable. They must have chosen these three to go up against him. Where were the others?)

“There is no need for that, Kaede. I invited Sakumo here to meet all of you. Tell me, where are the others?”

Kaede's smile dropped from her face as she huffed out a breath of air and pouted for a moment. Mitsuki dropped her jutsu and sheathed her kunai. Daisuke hopped down from the ceiling and stood to Kaede's right.

“Honestly, Orochimaru-sama, what were we supposed to think when you brought Hatake Sakumo here? You should have warned us that you would bring someone,” whined Kaede as she continued pouting and batted her eyelashes at them. Mitsuki snorted and stepped next to her. She looked up to Orochimaru and said, “The others are in the common room with Kasumi, Orochimaru-sama, she said she had a seal for this. The babies are in their room with Asa and Manabu. Asa said they would be fine and now that I think about it, she was weirdly amused.”

“Of course she was. Well, let us go to the common room, then,” Orochiamru said.

They did exactly that. The common room looked empty, but Orochimaru could hear a slight humming in the air. For a moment, they wanted to test Kasumi's seal, see how long it took them to find its weaknesses, but now was not the time.

“Kasumi, deactivate the seal,” they said.

A moment later, the humming stopped and they looked into the confused and, in some cases, frightful faces of the children. Kasumi, standing in front of them, was watching Sakumo, who was in the doorway behind them, with narrowed eyes. Kaede, Mitsuki, and Daisuke joined the others and then looked expectedly up at Orochimaru. At least Kaede and Mitsuki did. Daisuke looked like he rather would curl up in a nice hiding spot instead of standing in the front row of a meeting.

Orochimaru motioned for Sakumo to step beside them, which he did.

“Children, this is Hatake Sakumo. I introduce you to him because I will marry him in a few days.”

Sakumo smiled brightly and gave a cheery wave. “Hello, nice to meet you.”

The children were eerily quiet. Then, whispers broke out. Orochimaru cleared their throat and instantly, silence fell again. “Sakumo and I are partners and as such, he will be involved to some degree with this operation. How much has not been determined yet.” They then motioned for Sakumo to continue. He did.

“I must say I was surprised to learn Orochimaru has so many children, but it was a pleasant surprise. My clan was once big, but currently, it has been reduced to just my son and I. I am glad to see that with my marriage to Orochimaru, it will get much bigger than I thought it would. I am looking forward to getting to know all of you. Now, why don't you all tell me about yourselves?”

And with those words, Sakumo stepped to Kaede, Mitsuki, and Daisuke and complimented them on their ambush by the office door. After that, they started talking and soon, Sakumo was making his way around the room, chatting with small groups of children, and being his usual charming self. Orochimaru watched him and a warm feeling started to rise in their chest. It took a while for them to realise what Sakumo's words actually implied. Sakumo had spoken of his clan. As if his clan would include the children once he got married to Orochimaru. As if the children were Orochimaru's clan. Orochimaru did not know what to think about that.

Chapter Text

“Why did you refer to them as my Clan?” Orochimaru asked.

They were back in Orochimaru's office, the door firmly closed. It was not a big room, the desk and worktables took up most of it. Therefore, Sakumo and Orochimaru stood only a few steps inside the room, Sakumo in front of the desk and Orochimaru with their back to the door, watching Sakumo with narrowed eyes. Sakumo blinked and frowned. He opened his mouth to speak, but cut himself off before the first sound left his lips. His eyes unfocused for a moment, then he grimaced and focused back on Orochimaru.

“I am sorry Lovely, I made assumptions from the way you were talking about them. I thought you had adopted them”

Now it was Orochimaru's turn to blink in confusion. “What?” was all they managed to say.

“I asked you, yesterday, what it was you did with them, instead of following orders. You provided them with safety, housing, food, comfort, guidance. To me, that sounded like something a Clan head or parent would do,” Sakumo calmly replied.

Orochimaru heard what Sakumo was saying, but somehow could not understand it. A parent, them? A Clan head? They had been alone for so long, and even before, when their parents had still been alive, their Clan had been so small, so inconsequential, that Orochimaru had at some point stopped using their Clan name. As had Jiraya and Tsunade. There were other factors that contributed to that, like Jiraya not having a last name to begin with and Tsunade wanting to get out of the shadow that the name Senju carried. But for Orochimaru, it had been an acknowledgement that they had no Clan to fall back on and that their new family was their team, a group of individuals not needing a Clan name to be recognised and respected. Only now, that team, that family, was no longer there to fall back on.

Sakumo's voice carried through that maze of thoughts in its usual calm timber as he continued talking, “There is also how you interact with Kakashi. I've watched you closely with him in the beginning, which is why I can confidently say that you are really good with him. I decided pretty early on that you would make a good parent for him, so maybe there was a bit of projecting involved when you told me you had other children depending on you. But then again, they respect you and were ready to go into battle for you.”

That was true, Orochimaru had accepted that they would be Kakashi's parent. But to be the parent for all of these other children? They had been supposed to be disposable, back when they had been brought into the lab. But Orochimaru had slipped up, had given them purpose other than to be a specimen in their experiments and had learned their names. Then, Orochimaru had realised that those orders had been bullshit.

“Fuck those orders,” Orochimaru whispered.

“Excuse you?” Sakumo choked out in surprise.

Orochimaru looked up (when had they looked down?) and faced Sakumo. He was looking rather confused. “I decided to say fuck those orders, back then, after I asked you for advice on the Hokage mountain. I took care of the children partially out of spite, partially out of practicality. But I had not realised how far I had actually gone in taking care of them. For fuck's sake, I recruited a Kurama, helped her fake her own death, and taught her seals in order to hide what I was doing from Danzô. I did a lot of things normal people do not just do for random other people. So yes, my relationship with these children is something, I knew that, I just refused to acknowledge what. I just ...” Orochimaru's voice, which had been low but steady, suddenly cracked and they stopped speaking. They were no longer looking at Sakumo, but at some point behind him. Some far away point over his shoulder.

 

(A beaming smile was aimed up to them, one of the teeth was missing, another half grown in. Next to the smile was a fierce scowl and next to that an amused grin. “It's not fair,” a high pitched voice said, “Just because he's from a big Clan, of course he's better than us, he's had more training!”
“Don't be jealous, you're just a sore loser,” said a different high pitched voice.
“Am not!”
“Are too!”
A third voice cut through the banter, cheerful and oh-so-eager to please. “Did I do good, sensei?”

Sensei.

Sensei.

SEN-)

Orochimaru blinked. There was a hand on their shoulder, steadying them. Sakumo looked slightly concerned, but stayed quiet, waiting. His hand squeezed their shoulder slightly. Orochimaru took a deep breath.

“I never considered being their parent. Or a parent, for that matter, before you asked me to be Kakashi's. I haven't been Kakashi's for long at all, but I like it. But these children, I was supposed to kill them. Can I be their parent instead? There are so many of them, I am only really close to some of them. Would they even want me as their parent? I have not even shown you the toddlers yet. Would you even be okay with that many children? Sakumo, I ….”

Orochimaru stopped speaking, drew a shuddering breath, stepped closer to Sakumo and leaned against him, closing their eyes. Sakumo's arms came around them in a hug instantly. They were both silent for a while, Orochimaru trying to get their quivering emotions back under control. There was so much hurt and pain, they could not face this right here and now. Then, Sakumo started quietly speaking.

“I'm sorry I brought up something painful, Lovely. But for what it is worth, I think you really need to figure out what your relationship with these children is. And if you want to be their parent, we will figure it out. You already are acting like you are and they already are acting like you are, which is why I thought this was your relationship to begin with. Do not misunderstand me, Lovely, I wanted to marry you before I knew you came with a whole lot of children and I still want to marry you with them. I always bemoaned how small my family, my Clan, was. If it were to suddenly gain so many new members, I would rejoice. I'd gladly be on your side raising them.”

What was Orochimaru supposed to say to that? They shifted in the embrace, until their lips reached Sakumo's for a brief kiss. But then neither of them pulled away and over time, the soft and languid caresses soothed the quaking emotions in Orochimaru's chest. When they finally parted again, Orochimaru felt like they could continue talking about all of this family business again. For a moment, they were tempted to stay wrapped inside Sakumo's arms, to just continue talking like this. But then they found themselves already thinking about Sakumo's lips again and with a deep sigh, they untangled themselves from Sakumo and took a step away from him. They found his eyes following them.

“Are you okay, Lovely?”

Orochimaru nodded and brushed some of their hair out of their face. “Yes, I am better now. Do you know how the legal process is to adopt them into my Clan? And what that would mean for our marriage? I never thought it would come up, so I must confess, I am unprepared.”

Sakumo smirked and pulled a scroll from a pouch. “While I must confess that I do not know how the adoption process works for your clan, I did some research into Clan marriage law to refresh my knowledge. It is surprising how many different possible clauses one can put into their marriage contract. I also looked up possible clauses concerning children, originally because of Kakashi, but I think this could come in handy here as well. And I think there is a way we can work around the adoption mess using those clauses”

Orochimaru was intrigued. They leaned forward as Sakumo unsealed the scroll and produced a whole lot of papers and books. The two of them poured over possible contracts and clauses for a while and Orochimaru was delighted by some of Sakumo's ideas. Orochimaru had never really considered using bureaucracy to get their way, but this was promising. Who knew you could do these kind of things with your Clan business? And maybe they would even find a purpose for their so long unused Clan name.

Now, they only had to pour over all the other legal business that had to go into the contract, write that document, sign it, and get it registered at the village administration. Oh, and take care of those things Sakumo had mentioned he wanted to do before they got married. For now though, Orochimaru left Sakumo in their office to write up a draft of the contract while they went to take care of the children. There was something specific they had planned for today.

-----

Kasumi had been staring at them for the entirety of the briefing. Her eyes had not strayed once. So had Ken's, but while he had been buzzing with excitement and smiling, Kasumi's face was carefully blank, except for the tight set of her mouth that told Orochimaru how upset she actually was. So when Orochimaru dismissed Ken to go on ahead and say his temporary good-byes, he motioned for Kasumi to stay behind.

“What is it that upsets you?” they asked.

She balled her hands to fists and openly scowled. “Why are you getting married?”

Oh. They would have to deal with that bit of trauma, would they not? Well, better now than at some point in the future where she came across the topic in a hostile setting and gave herself away because of her overly emotional response. And it was supposedly healthier to deal with such things and not let them fester. (They could hear Yamanaka in the back of their head and could just barely resist rolling their eyes.)

“First of all, I am getting married for a lot of reasons, but the main one is because he asked me and I want to become his life partner, so I said yes. Second, while I understand that your experience with this topic has been unpleasant, you must understand that other people will continue getting married around you and usually people do that when both parties want to. What your Clan tried to do with you and is, as I understand it, doing to most of its members, is not the norm and frowned upon by most of the village. I, myself, find it abhorrent. Do you have any questions?”

She stared at them for a few seconds, her face frozen, then she slumped forward and took a shuddering breath. When she looked up again there was hurt plainly on her face, her eyes drawn tight and her lips trembling slightly.

“How can it be changed? I know I got out, but what about the others?” she asked.

“With the current Hokage, there is as good as no way for it to change. The Kurama Clan is his political allay and even if they were not, he does not have the spine to interfere with Clan matters. But then again, interfering with Clan matters is highly frowned upon, so even a different government would have difficulties doing that. The best way for Clans to change is from the inside. One needs a powerful Clan member who wants change, and outsiders then can back that member up to give them more political power. Of course, continued social or political pressure from the outside are also an option, but that can also result in a Clan stoically continuing it's traditions out of spite or hiding them and thus making the problem even worse. It is a delicate matter, but not unsolvable.”

Kasumi's nodded seriously, but thoughtfully. Orochimaru would have to keep an eye on her and that matter. It would not do for her to blow her cover because she inelegantly murdered her former Clan head.

----

One hour later, Orochimaru was dressed as a young woman and idly chatting with Sayumi about how her business went, while Sayumi casually closed up the shop in the middle of the day. Then, they both went to the back of the shop. Two figures were waiting there, dressed in civilian clothing. A young woman with short white hair (freshly bleached) and a boy with short blue-white hair (freshly cut, but for once, not dyed). The woman seemed rather composed, but the boy was a bundle of nerves. When he saw Sayumi, his face crumbled and he rushed towards her. Sayumi, who had at first frozen up at the sight of them, let out a cry of joy and ran towards her son. She caught him when he threw himself into her arms and at that point, Orochimaru mentioned for Kasumi to come with them to the front of the shop. They managed to show her around the entire shop and introduce her to all of the products before Sayumi, her eyes red from crying but the smile on her face blinding, told them that they could come back now. As Orochimaru passed her, she told them quietly, but so very sincerely, “Thank you.”

Orochimaru simply nodded and accepted her thanks. In the back of the shop, she handed them a folder of papers. It was a list of missing children from the red light district, including all information Sayumi's contacts had known. Which turned out to be a lot. Orochimaru would have to go see the Uchiha again. But before they did that (because they could not go there looking as they did now, like a woman), they had another thing to do in this particular outfit.

Half an hour later saw Orochimaru sitting across from Yamanaka Inoe, who looked rather amused. It had been quite funny when the poor Yamanaka who had been at the gate had not recognised them and had been very confused why this civilian lady and her son knew a code that got the two of them to appointments with high ranking Clan members, one of which was the Clan head himself.

“Daisuke will be coming here himself from now on, I just showed him the way today,” Orochimaru said.

“That is good to know. Concluding from your good mood, I take that you have good news?”

“Oh, yes. Sakumo took the news very well. We are currently drawing up the marriage contract. He also made me realise that I have a parental relationship with the lair children. I know I need to work through that with you, but I am not sure how far I will be able to go there. There is also something else that I really need to work on. I used a shadow clone yesterday and that did not go well. Do you know how to fix that?”

“There is no easy way to fix that, but we can work on it,” said Yamanaka with the kind of tone and expression that revealed that this was a well practised phrase.

Later that day, after Orochimaru had delivered a shaken Daisuke back to the lair and had changed into the jônin uniform, they dropped by the Military Police Force and handed Uchiha Tekka the folder, who was at the time in his small office, surrounded by files and working on his desk. Uchiha browsed the folder shortly and then looked up, frowning.

“I will not ask how you got this information, but this is much more detailed than the list of names you gave us before. Why?”

Orochimaru leaned casually against the desk and smiled politely down at Uchiha. “Why, that is because the first list was just a starting point to direct you towards the process of how these children were vanishing. Those children you do not need to find, I know where they are. But the ones in this folder? All missing and not accounted for. I can not even promise you they all vanished the same way the children on the first list did. But the children in this folder are the ones you really need to find. Just don't get yourselves killed, framed, or kidnapped in the process.”

Uchiha stared at them for a solid three seconds. Then, he sighed. “Thank you for your contribution to this investigation, Orochimaru-sama. We will contact you if we have further need of you. Of course, should you come across more information or evidence, we will welcome further contributions as well,” he said dryly.

Orochimaru left with one last polite smile, but without a farewell. They made it to the academy just one minute before Sakumo did. Sakumo had a splash of ink on his cheek and greeted Orochimaru with a triumphant smile. It seemed like a contract had been set up, then. Orochimaru found themselves smiling back. Behind them there was a sudden yelp. When the two of them turned they saw an academy teacher who had apparently run into the door. He was holding his bleeding nose and blushed under their inquisitive looks.
“I'll go get Hatake-kun”, he said with a bow and hurried back into the building.
Kakashi's academy teacher, to his credit, was much less surprised to see the two of them than he had been this morning. Kakashi, seeing the two of them, was delighted and threw himself bodily at them. Orochimaru was growing accustomed to catching him.

Chapter Text

The sun was setting when the three of them arrived at the Hatake Compound after an early dinner at Orochimaru's house. Kakashi jumped from his fathers back where he had hitched a ride during the shunshin, but they did not go in the direction of the main house. Instead, Sakumo lead them along the winding paths of the estate. Kakashi seemed to realize where they were going and looked up curiously to his father.

“Why are going there, Dad?” he asked.

“I want to introduce Orochimaru to the rest of the family. Don't you think they should meet them?”

Kakashi fell into a thoughtful silence. After a few more steps on the path filled with long evening shadows and orange light, he gave a slight nod. Soon the path led them away from the boarded up houses and into an old forest. The shadows were deeper here and where the orange light of the fading day fell through the trees, it painted orange flecks on the small footpath between the trees, half overgrown and seldom travelled. It lead uphill in a slight incline. A mild spring breeze made the fresh green leaves and grass sway. Then, the path levelled and the trees receded. Before them in the evening sunlight lay a glade, filled with soft grass and rectangular stones.

“Ah, I will have to cut the grass again soon. It does grow a lot in spring,” Sakumo said as he looked over the graveyard.

Kakashi had stepped away from his father's side and walked ahead to one of the gravestones.

“Your clan has it's own graveyard?” asked Orochimaru.

Sakumo turned to look at them. “Ah, yes. I know it is a bit unusual, most clans bury their dead in the central graveyard, but we have this one. Come, this way,” he said and went to follow Kakashi, who had sat down in front of one of the stones. Stepping next to the two of them, Orochimaru was able to read the inscription on the stone. Hatake Hikari. Suddenly, Orochimaru could not form coherent thoughts anymore. But they still heard Sakumo speaking next to them.

“Good evening, Hikari. Sorry we lately haven't been by as much as before. But we have good news! Let me introduce you to Orochimaru! I told you about them before. We are getting married! Isn't that exciting! You said you would approve of whoever made us happy, and they do. Or what do you think, Kakashi?”

“Yes! Orochimaru is my new parent, Mom. Dad picked them, but don't worry, I made sure that he picked well!”

“There you have it! Hikari, this is Orochimaru, who I call Lovely most of the time. Orochimaru, my first wife, Hikari,” Sakumo said as he gestured from the gravestone to Orochimaru and back. Orochimaru stared at him, silently, their face expressionless. Sakumo's smile slowly fell.

“Too weird? Too much? I'm sorry,” he said.

“You talk to your dead wife?” asked Orochimaru, face still devoid of any expression.

“Yes. Kakashi and I both. Hikari may be dead, but she still has much meaning to the both of us. Even if she died before Kakashi could remember her, I wanted him to be able to have a relationship with her. It is important to honour your dead and acknowledge what they mean to you. Hikari will always be important to me and will always be Kakashi's mother, but we still have space in our lives for you.”

Orochimaru did not say anything to that. Sakumo looked down to Kakashi, who shrugged. Then Sakumo looked back to Orochimaru again.

“I know you knew I was married before. I wanted to make sure you knew that I was okay to get married again. I have made my peace with Hikari's death”

“Made your peace?” whispered Orochimaru. They only had fleeting memories of Hikari. She had existed. The two of them had even spoken sometimes. Because they had both been in the seduction unit. Why had she dropped out again? Orochimaru hadn't really been interested at the time. They remembered when they heard that she got married to Hatake. She did get married, but she had also retired from active duty. How had she died? Why was Sakumo able to talk about her like that? Like he was fine with her death?

“Yes. I did mourn her, but with time the grief became more bearable. Lovely, are you okay?”

“How can you be fine with her being dead? Did you not love her?” asked Orochimaru quietly, coldly.

Sakumo frowned. “Of course I loved her. I still do and always will. But that does not mean I can't also love you.”

“How can you just accept her death like that, then?! If you loved her, do you not want her back?!” hissed Orochimaru.

“She died, Orochimaru. Whether I want her back or not does not matter. I can't have her back. Hikari is dead. And I have come to terms with that. That does not mean I love her any less!” Sakumo said back, slightly raising his voice.

“But you will forget her, will you not?! Your feelings will grow weaker with time. You have already moved on from her. You are courting me, after all!”

“I've been trying to tell you, that is not true! Why do you insist that it is a bad thing that I have grieved her properly and am moving on in my life?!”

“Because I can not!”

“Whose death can't you accept?”

“My team's!”

Suddenly their raised voices gave way to utter silence. Orochimaru stared wide eyed at Sakumo, whose eyes flashed with realisation.

“Your genin team? The ones who died in the war, five months ago. I'm sorry..." Sakumo continued talking, but Orochimaru could no longer understand the words he was saying.

Kenji. Takako. Nawaki.

----
The Hokage was looking at Orochimaru with even more gravitas than usual. He visibly let his eyes wander over him, judged him. Then, he finally spoke.

“Know that this was not an easy decision and that I have not made it lightly. In fact, I was not wholly in favour of it as were many others in the village. Tsunade insisted it should be you. With Jiraya regrettably not here to take the position I understand why she would choose you, but as I said, I would not have. Nevertheless, she does have a say in the matter.”

The Hokage paused and took a long drag of his pipe. As he let the smoke billow out of his mouth, he spoke again.

“Take off your mask. I am reassigning you as a jônin. You will be the sensei of Nawaki's genin team. This is your chance to show me what you can be. Do not disappoint me.”
----

“This is my little brother Nawaki and I will defend him with my life!” declared Tsunade. She was holding a small child in her arms who looked rather confused.

“Heh? You have a little brother?! How cute! But not as cute as you!” Jiraya stepped up to them and pinched the small child's cheek.

“Are you using my little brother to come on to me, you jerk?!” Tsunade yelled. Nawaki was eyeing the finger pinching his cheek rather critically. Orochimaru stayed back and observed the scene.

“What? No!” yelled Jiraya, still pinching baby Nawaki's cheek. “I'm simply saying that of course he's cute, he's related to you. And the way you are holding him shows your womanly virtue!”

Before Tsunade could tell Jiraya exactly what she thought about those compliments, Nawaki showed Jiraya what he thought of getting his cheek pinched. He disapproved. Violently. By biting Jiraya's finger.

Orochimaru snickered.
----

“You left Nawaki-kun alone with Orochimaru?! I thought you liked your brother?”

“Oh shut up, Jiraya! Of course I love Nawaki! Why wouldn't I leave him alone with Orochimaru?”

“Because he's bad with children! Have you checked if he's okay?”

Jiaraya and Tsunade were arguing in the doorway. Orochimaru pretended to be to absorbed in his reading to notice them and remained laying motionless on the sofa. But Nawaki, curled up in sleep on his lap, stirred.

“Be quiet, 'm sleepy,” he murmured without opening his eyes.

Jiraya, who had already opened his mouth again to shout some more, closed his mouth with an audible click. Next to him, Tsunade snickered and elbowed him (Jiraya flinched, which given Tsunade's strength was appropriate). “See, they are fine. Orochimaru is good with him,” she whispered with a smug smile. Jiraya simply grimaced, but did not say anything else. After listening for Nawaki's deep, sleeping breaths, Orochimaru actually went back to reading.

----

“Tsunade, what is this?” asked Orochimaru.

“A child-caring manual. After the last few incidents, I decided you needed it, so I wrote it for you. Nothing already in existence is basic enough for you.”

What did she mean, basic enough for him?“I see that it is a child-caring manual. I meant, why are you giving it to me?”

“Because we should stop pretending that you aren't regularly taking care of Nawaki, especially now with Jiraya busy with his genin team, and we both know you don't know how to take care of yourself, even less of any other child”

“I'm not a child anymore,” Orochimaru interrupted, frowning.

“Debatable. Anyway, I know you work best with things in writing, so I wrote this for you. Say thank you.”

“Thank you.”

“I trained you well,” said Tsunade and patted Orochimaru's head. It felt nice.

----

Nawaki was learning how to read while sitting on his lap. He spelled out each sound slowly because he had trouble with s-sounds. Thankfully, Orochimaru knew how to tackle that particular problem.

Nawaki always smeared ink on his chin when he first started writing. Orochimaru knew how to wash ink of skin, get it out of all kinds of fabric, including clothing, tables, floorboards and the ceiling. (He might have had a phase in which he was obsessed with fuinjutsu. During that time, ink got everywhere. Getting ink out of the ceiling, by the way, was similar to getting it out of floorboards. You just had to use some chakra to stick to the ceiling). None of Nawaki's ink related accidents perturbed him.

Nawaki didn't do well in the academy. This greatly puzzled Orochimaru, but he was willing to help Nawaki with homework regardless, no matter how long Nawaki needed to understand some things. Thankfully, he was more receptive to physical training. (Sometimes, Orochimaru thought that maybe Nawaki was actually faking his lack of understanding of academic concepts, because outside of those he was so very bright. But why would he do that? It made no sense at all, so it could not be true.)

Nawaki often initiated physical contact or indicated that he wanted it. The manual had told Orochimaru that this was a normal thing for children to do, because physical contact made them feel better. So he accepted Nawaki's hugs and carried him when he wanted to be carried or when he was tired (or pretended to be tired). The only other people who touched him without wanting to hurt him were Jiraya and Tsunade. But then Jiraya noticed one too long, too lingering look and avoided touching Orochimaru as much as possible. Suddenly, Jiraya only ever touched him in sparring matches. For a while, Tsunade made up for that with hugs and head pats. Then she met Dan and was distracted. She still casually touched Orochimaru, but she spent a lot of time with Dan. She tried to integrate Dan into the team dynamic, tried for all of them to get along. Orochimaru was fine with Dan. He was nice and Tsunade loved him, so Orochimaru was fine with him being around. But Jiraya was not. He became even louder, made harsher comments and started avoiding to look at Orochimaru as well. Where he had only occasionally flirted with passing women, he now threw himself into that sort of behaviour with vigour. He stopped interacting with Nawaki. Then, he stayed in Ame and Orochimaru carefully did not examine what he felt about that. Instead, he watched Dan and Tsunade being happy together and regularly came to dinner with the two of them and Nawaki.

When Sarutobi-sensei gave him over to Danzô, his time with Tsunade and Nawaki became even more precious. A respite from the reality that no one in the village seemed to be willing to acknowledge. Maybe most people didn't know what was done to keep them safe. (Was it, though? Was that keeping them safe?)

Tsunade became the head of the hospital and was glad for every time Orochimaru took care of Nawaki.

“You are so good with Nawaki and he likes you a lot. I trust you with him,” she said.

Apparently, she trusted him enough to convince the Hokage to pull him out of ANBU (Danzô's division, ROOT) and make him Nawaki's genin sensei. Nawaki's two teammates were a boy named Kenji, good taijutsu with possible future kenjutsu, and a girl named Takako, potential future medic, so far only trained in first aid and basic fighting. They were “low priority”. Both were civilian born and meant as support for Nawaki, the precious Senju heir. Kenji would make a good bodyguard and Takako was slated to become a medic. If both of them survived long enough. Sarutobi had been clear in his orders who Orochimaru was to protect first and foremost.

Now, he was looking down on his genin team (“I was not in favour of it. This is your chance to show me what you can be. Do not disappoint me”). He had them spare against each other to see how good they actually were. Predictably, Nawaki had won. He was leagues better than the other two. But the other two had not been trained by Orochimaru and other high level shinobi most of their life.

Nawaki was aiming a beaming smile up to Orochimaru, one of his teeth was missing, another half grown in. (He only now started losing his baby teeth, at a much higher age than children did normally. Orochimaru did not know why. It was fascinating!) Next to him, Takako was scowling fiercely and next to her, Kenji was grinning with amusement.

“It's not fair,” Takako said, “Just because he's from a big Clan, of course he's better than us, he's had more training!”

“Don't be jealous, you're just a sore loser,” said Kenji.

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

A third voice cut through the banter, cheerful and oh-so-eager to please. “Did I do good, sensei?” Nawaki asked.

Orochiamru nodded. “You all did good. Takako, Kenji, I know that have less training than Nawaki and do not hold it against you. But I still expect you to continue giving your all. And you, Nawaki, just because you are currently ahead of your teammates does not mean you can neglect your training. Am I clear?”

“Yes, sensei!” the three of them chorused.

Then Nawaki vibrated with excitement and yelled: “I always wanted to call you that, Orochimaru-sensei! You taught me so much more than anyone else! This is so exciting!”

Orochiamru blinked and did not know what to say to that. So he just patted Nawaki's head and addressed his team again.

“Even though there is a war going on, you only just graduated, so I do not expect that we will be sent out immediately. There should be some time to find ourselves as a team first and for me to train you up to my standards.”

Orochimaru was wrong. There was no time. They were sent out the next morning.

-
When they left, Tsunade was at the gates.

“Promise me you will bring him back,” she said as she hugged Orochimaru good-bye.

“I promise,” he said.

-
“Sensei, I'm sacred,” whispered Takako when they arrived at the front.

“That is normal,” Orochimaru whispered back.

-

“S-s-e-n-sei...” croaked Kenji, blood running down his mouth. Orochimaru held him. He already knew the injuries were fatal. He had stopped Tamako frantically trying to stem the bleeding and taken Kenji's broken form gently into his arms. Then he used a flicker of chakra to cut of all feeling below Kenji's neck.
”I am here,” he whispered and kept looking into Kenji's eyes as the light faded from them. Then, the next wave of the attack hit.

-

“I don't want to die! Sensei, please!” Takako begged frantically, her eyes already unseeing, her body shaking from the poison. Poison, of all things. Orochimaru did not have an antidote for this one. Fucking Suna. But he still tried. He tried. So hard. But Takako's pleas became less articulate as they became louder, her shaking more violent, her pulse racing underneath Orochimaru's useless hands. Her last cries only faintly resembled the word sensei.

-

“I don't want to be here anymore, Orochimaru-sensei,” Nawaki whispered. He was wrapped securely inside Orochimaru's arms, hiding his tears from anyone else. Orochimaru stroked his back and tried not to think about tomorrow. Or today. Or yesterday.

“I don't want to be here either. But orders are orders,” he whispered back.

“When will I die, sensei?”

Orochimaru did not answer. His hold only tightened until it was almost bruising. Nawaki did not protest.

-

When Nawaki died, it was in a fiery explosion where none should have been. Intel was wrong all the time. This time, it had been so wrong that it had killed all of Orochimaru's students on their first time out of the village, on their first mission.

Was it ironic that the only one of them that did not die in his arms was Nawaki? Nawaki, who he had held in his arms more than anyone else. Nawaki, who had been so delighted to have him as his sensei. Nawaki, whose body was hardly even recognisable. Orochimaru made a DNA-test to be sure. Nawaki was dead.

-

Tsunade was screaming. Orochimaru was not saying anything. Could not say anything.

“When I said bring him back, I meant alive!”

-
Sarutobi did not look disappointed. He looked resigned.

“Once your mandatory leave is over, go and contact Danzô”, he said, once he had read the mission report. Nothing else. Orochimaru did not reply. He could not. He only bowed and left.

Tsunade was no longer part of his life. He sometimes saw her, but she pretended he did not exist. Dan sometimes threw him some apologetic glances when he thought she did not notice. There was no one Orochimaru talked to, no one he ate food with, no one who touched him at all.

Then, Dan did not come back from the front and Tsunade came back changed. After one night back in the village she vanished.

All around Orochimaru there was an empty void.

He did not think about Jiraya, about Kenji and Takako. About Dan and Tsunade. About Nawaki.

Instead he started researching something. A serum. It is supposed to do something very specific, something to make people stronger. But Orochimaru could not quite place what exactly it was supposed to do. But he was doing better.

When his mandatory leave was over, Danzô was the only one to step into the void, but he filled it poorly. At that time, Orochimaru was able to give verbal answers again. He told Danzô about the serum. Danzô offered him test subjects.

Orochimaru did not mean for them to not so much fill the void, but, together with Sakumo and Kakashi, make it slowly disappear.

But now that Orochimaru thought of Nawaki, and the serum, they (not he) suddenly realized why it did not work for any of his subjects. Because Orochiamru had designed it specifically for Nawaki's DNA. It would have given him Mokuton. It would have made him stronger. (Would have made him survive, maybe.)

Orochimaru came back to themselves curled up in Hatake Sakumo's lap. It was quiet, they could hear their breathing, the rustling of leaves and grass in the wind, the hoot of an owl, other animals roaming around in the woods around them. As they opened their eyes, they realized that it was dark, the darkness of a late night. Kakashi was curled up in a pile of dogs next to them, sleeping deeply. There were dried tear tracks on Orochimaru's face and they could still feel their muscles shaking. There was a bone deep exhaustion in their body.

“Are you back, Orochimaru, Lovely?” whispered Sakumo.

Orochimaru let out a low keening sound.

“I need a Yamanaka,” Orochimaru whispered.