Starts: During the Second Great Shinobi War.

Summary: A look at Orochimaru and how the war affected him, from his PoV. I firmly believe he once must have had human feelings aside from the rage he currently displays.

Slipping Mortality

Taking stock of my injuries, I did not notice anything I couldn't work through. A few broken ribs, but all my limbs are functional and no organs have been damaged. I could have faired better if I was not in such a rush. But I dismiss the idea as nothing of my body has been damaged beyond repair. Searching for Tsunade and Jiraiya is my current purpose, we had gotten separated at some point earlier in the altercation. We function better as a unit, that is all there is to it.

I pass by a concave of trees in time to see Jiraiya gasp and drop to the forest floor. One of his assailants has a grin plastered upon his face as he reaches down to finish the job. Without thinking I rush at him, pinning him to a tree before neatly slicing through his throat. Through the satisfying spray of blood I spare a glance downward and I see Jiraiya is shallowly breathing. Relief floods through me and I cringe at the feeling. This is a war, why spare the time thinking about someone else's well-being.

There is movement but I realize it a fraction of a second too late as I feel something dig into my neck. Belatedly I remember there are others and I curse my thoughtless action.

I push back into the enemy, the action surprises him as he was expecting someone injured and outnumbered to run away. I refuse to flee from such miserable opponents, discarding of them like the trash that they are is a simple matter. In a few minutes I am the only one left standing.

The cut which caught me unaware travels a gash from the back of my neck to the curve of my right shoulder. It does not hurt as much as it is a bitter reminder of my weakness.

Shuddering, the feel of my blood dripping down my neck. A touch of warmth at first, only to fade to cold fingers dragging downward. I wipe an equally blood drenched hand across the crimson stain to ease the itch. I smile at the ridiculousness of the action when I should be concerned about the injury the blood is coming from.

Dropping down to Jiraiya's body I check his vitals. His breathe is still shallow and his pulse is weak, but he will live if he obtains the necessary medical treatment in time. I wipe my hands clean of the clammy feeling of his skin. Why is everything associated with death always so cold?

The strain of my blood loss a bit too much, my vision is starting to blur and I feel my mind slipping into the murky depths of unconsciousness. I wonder if this is what it feels like to die. At the thought I shake my head and try to push away the darkness. A poor decision, as it only increases the spinning of the world.

"Orochimaru!" I whip my face towards the voice and grasp a kunai in one hand. It is Tsunade, looking harried, but she seems to be just fine. I resent her for it because I am decidedly not feeling alright. I stagger towards her and fall into her arms. I assume correctly that she would catch me, because we are teammates, and that is what people are suppose to do when they work together.

Tsunade gasps when she sees the still form on the ground. I wonder what she would do if I were to say he has died. He would have if I had let him, if I was careful enough to watch after myself. I would not have been injured if the fool was already dead.

Instead I say, "Jiraiya...he's still breathing." I try to make the words come out as dispassionately as possible. It would have been successful if my words weren't followed by a sickening wet hack. This is accompanied by a sharp pain in my side and I crumple over. Tsunade makes a move to check my injuries, but I wave her away. "Go take a look at him, I will fair just fine." Displaying such weakness in front of someone, I'm disgusted with this weak body.

Roused from the depths of slumber, I find that I am lying in a narrow bed in a darkened room. It is one of the cots in a small room of a building converted into a temporary hospital. I smell the lingering scent of pastry and I realize that this use to be the bakery. Even such a place has been converted to a location to hold the dead and dying. I do not want to be here, so close to the sweet stench of decay intermixed with the doughy odor of creation.

I lay awake, feeling my mortality slipping away. Each breathe is another second lost, never to come back. All too soon all the seconds of this life will be gone. All that I know will cease and there will be nothing left. I am nauseous at the thought. Such a feeling brings me amusement and I wonder if my preoccupation with death would bring me towards it all the quicker.

I clench at the bed sheets and feel the reassuring pressure of nails in my palm. I am here for now, but how long could that last? Everyone turns to cold flesh and even that fades away into dust. That I could be reduced to such a state is unthinkable. All that I have done, I must live to see what effects it will have. All the progress I could accomplish with my life, I will not let some human weakness of a life counted in years stop me.

I hear heavy footsteps travel down the hall towards my door. Jiraiya bursts into my room unceremoniously, the familiar white mop poking out from behind the door. "Hey, let's go raid the pantry. They still keep some of the food in here." Trust Jiraiya to worry about his stomach first. The reminder of food only brings forth images of rot.

I shake my head. "No, I will stay here. Not everyone has your insatiable appetite." I note that he is looking perfectly healthy, as if nothing has happened, as if he were never close to dying. In contrast, my pale skin is a constant reminder that I will never have the warm appearance of life.

For once Jiraiya decides to not argue a trivial point. Perhaps it is because I am sitting in this miserable hospital bed. A hospital bed I am in for his sake and he does not even know. I can never tell him. Wanting to protect someone else at the cost of my life? Clearly I was possessed by a temporary madness; his stupidity must be rubbing off on me. It will not happen again.

He grabs a stool and plunks himself down on it. Jiraiya looks at me curiously. "How did you get hurt? You are usually much better at watching after yourself."

Stupid Jiraiya, perceptive in regards to all the wrong things. I wave the question aside, "It was dark, the unfamiliar terrain made me careless." The excuse is weak, but I had nothing else to offer. Jiraiya knows that I always take in my surroundings at a glance, and my unnatural eyes allow me to see better than most. I turn my back towards him, opting to stare at the wall. A normal person would have seen this as an indication of a completed conversation.

Unfortunately, Jiraiya was anything but a regular person. He continued talking as he was not being ignored. I am convinced he would have continued talking to himself if I left the room. "Oh, really? Because I had this crazy idea that you might have been looking for us. Somehow I'm still here even though I could swear I was surrounded by at least seven opponents."

A pause, to see if I had a response of any of that. I remain silent, so he continues. "Yet somehow they apparently all ended up dead and you just happened to be there." He nudges my shoulder with a warm hand. "Face it, you care about people." He announced it so triumphantly.

I slap his hand away. "It was a matter of luck, I was passing by. I would have left you there to die if they didn't decide it was an opportune chance to attack me. Don't attribute your survival to me. Rather, you should think about how you were sloppy enough to almost be discarded of by such rubbish." All said without looking at him. But I know how he will react, people like him are so easy to read.

I hear the stool scrap backwards as Jiraiya stands up. "Well, damn, you didn't have to say it like that. I would have saved your ass if you were down." He storms out of the room and slams the door shut. So predictable.

Curled on my side I whisper into the pillow, "I will never need to be saved by someone like you." Relying on others is a fatal flaw. If everyone expects someone to come by and save them they would not fight harder to survive by their own power.

During the course of the war we used those we captured to question and test new poisons on. Winning is not only about skill, but developments in weapons as well. I participated in such research occasionally and soon my mind strays towards how easily the human body can be picked apart and made into a fresh whole again. If individual parts of the body can be so separated couldn't the mind, something so persistent, last longer than the body it is trapped in?

I have killed countless people to preserve the village and my own life. It would be a waste if I were to die now. I know I am trying to justify what I am considering, but the reasoning is sound so I continue with my thoughts.

Eventually I start dragging off the victims I capture to complete my own experiments. But all wars eventually end, and soon I was left with no one to conduct my research upon. For a short span of time I dally with cadavers and live animals as some have lifespans which far outlasted humans. Still, I need live human subjects to progress. I consider the idea of using the citizens of Konoha. It is only reasonable, I saved so many lives during the war, taking of the lives that exist now would only be proper payment.

And is it not only fair that I treat the people of Konoha the same as I treat the living creatures within its land? People are no better than the other creatures of this land, worse than the snakes that some so abhorred. With all our knowledge we still resort to the killing of others. At least the ones I will kill will be for a purpose that could benefit all.