Softly Say Goodnight
AN: Wow. This chapter has taken me an insanely long time to get out. Never fear! I'm not losing interest in this story; I'm just a horrible procrastinator who needs a good swift kick in the arse to get me motivated. Ahah, yes, aren't I cool. Also, I was having some plot problems and blah blah blah. Long story short, HERE IS THE FIC. Rock on.
For fear of being redundant, I shall continue to thank people so much for all the support I've gotten for this fic. I'm totally all -omgsquee- over this whole thing.
Addendum - This is the last chapter before I pull a Kishimoto and jump ahead two years.
The city they are in - Toyu-ou - is a large, economical city on a peninsula between Wave and Lightning countries, the summit for coming negotiations between Kirigakure and Kumogakure. It has been said and speculated both that they will form an alliance that will crush Konoha.
When Jiraiya enters the room, Orochimaru is the first thing to catch his eye. He's dressed in princely finery, as befits his mock-rank. His pants are embroidered with bits of silver and gold and his hair is slicked back in a queue, the style worn by nobles in Earth Country. His eyes are brown, like the color of old blood. It's a dangerous bit of playacting, but he's posing as the son of a Lord, and he has to look the part. He's certainly been acting it, from the rumors that have reached Jiraiya's dock-side haven.
The room itself is far more ornate than what Orochimaru is wearing, though Jiraiya wouldn't have thought it possible. Rice-paper screens partition off segments of the room, painted in golds and blues and silvers and reds. On one there is a phoenix, on another a dragon. There are lavish red futons strewn here and there, made of what looks like crushed velvet, with dangling tassels in bronze thread. The low table at which Orochimaru is sitting is made of solid oak, and there are papers littered and strewn across it, some with graceful calligraphy and some with the harsh brushstrokes of someone angered or perhaps in a hurry.
There is a mirror on the wall, wreathed in ivory, but it is covered.
He stands there waiting for Orochimaru to acknowledge him, though he does not wait patiently. He taps his foot and smacks his lips and sighs exasperatedly every once in a while. Orochimaru continues to ignore him, brushing hair out of his face or behind his ears while his eyes scan a document before him. Finally, Jiraiya gives up on the pretense of pleasantry and goes to get himself a drink from the enameled mini-bar behind one of the screens. He had taken his geta off at the door but his bare feet leave dusty prints across one of the carpets.
Orochimaru holds out a hand as well, as Jiraiya stands behind him with a decanter of fine wine and two fluted glasses, so he pours a glass for the both of them and smacks one into Orochimaru's outstretched hand, slopping wine all over the place as he does so.
Orochimaru turns his head just enough to give him a very dry glance. And thus do they begin their new bit of subterfuge. "My father," Orochimaru begins, voice succinct as he pulls a silken handkerchief from one sleeve to mop up the wine. "Commissioned a luxury yacht nearly a year ago, now. I understand that the old shipmaster died, and that you are undertaking to finish his the commission? He has sent me to, ah; assure that there will be no further difficulty."
Jiraiya takes a deep drink of his wine before responding. "Yeah, that's right."
Orochimaru's artificially colored eyes flicker to the single window in the room, and then to the door. Jiraiya knows what he is doing, and keeps his own chakra muted so as not to interfere. Orochimaru has always been better at this sort of thing, though he would never readily admit it.
"I trust that it is going well, then?" Orochimaru's way of asking – have you gathered information, is it useful, has anyone gotten suspicious of you?
Jiraiya grins, doffs his straw hat and sprawls contentedly on a futon. It's probably worth more than he makes in a year on his shinobi's salary. "A few difficulties, here and there. One of the logs that was being seasoned and fire-hardened split, and will need to be replaced. I estimate an extra month of labor." Translation: I had to kill three Kumogakure shinobi just last week, what do you think, moron?
Orochimaru raises an eyebrow, touches his pale lips to the glass but does not drink. "We aren't being watched."
Jiraiya nods, and drains off the dregs of his glass, looking longingly towards the crystal decanter. He hadn't anticipated how damned good the stuff was going to be. "This place is crazy, man. Everywhere you go, it's the same damn thing, and I haven't heard from the princess yet – you?" And it is unusual, or more than unusual, that in the four months they've been away, they haven't heard from her.
Orochimaru shakes his head wordlessly, though he shuffles the papers on the table a little more, and Jiraiya groans. "Well, when we get back we'll … pardon, I'll bitch at her. You can stand there and … smirk. And flick your tongue or something, that always creeps her out. We can totally do a good-shinobi, bad-shinobi shtick."
In amusement, Orochimaru traces the lip of his wineglass. "If we get back," he reminds the other boy a little too coldly, a little too quietly and a lot too calmly. All at once the lighthearted atmosphere that Jiraiya had been painstakingly building up splits as if cut by a knife. What they are left with is tension, the sort that makes it difficult to speak and to sit without fidgeting.
"… Yeah, well. Damn, you're a killjoy, jackass. Why can't you just keep your mouth shut?" He hops to his feet and starts to pace, partly so he can get nearer to the wine without seeming too conspicuous, but mostly so he can just be doing something, anything that isn't thinking about what they're doing. He isn't angry, though. He knows just how much it takes to pretend you're something you're not for this long, and Orochimaru was definitely awarded the short end of the stick in terms of cover stories. Almost as an afterthought, he adds, "I don't hold it against you, though."
Orochimaru snorts delicately and finally deigns take a sip of his wine. He makes a face afterwards as if it isn't quite to his taste. He sets it on the table, pushing papers out of the way, but every so often he laps at it with his tongue, because he knows it will annoy Jiraiya.
True to form, Jiraiya throws the decanter's stopper at him. Both are silent for a while, as Orochimaru's eyes drift over documents, over the scrawled signature of their princess, and at her angry/annoyed/worried enquiries as to why they haven't responded to her letters. Then he pushes it under an invitation to a get-together from the richest of the local merchants. Jiraiya, he thinks, doesn't need to know about the letters.
"I watched the Northern Lights the other night," Jiraiya says abruptly, obviously bound and determined to change the subject. "First time I've done that in years. And there's this girl, too… ha, she's nothing like our princess, but she's pretty enough and she's got this cute smile and I think she likes me, I really do. She giggled when I groped her, okay? Usually I get smacked."
Orochimaru curls a lip. "If she likes you at all, it's because of the role you're playing, not you yourself. Stop with the sentimentality, before it gets you killed."
Jiraiya is quiet a moment, fiddling with his glass and a brightly-colored bandana he's pulled from his hair. He rests one arm along the sill of a window and leans out, looking down into the street. Instead of getting angry, instigating one of their many spats, he merely looks back at Orochimaru and smiles. It may be a touch brittle but at least it's there. It's as if he's sitting there saying 'Look, see, I'm still willing to try. Don't you want to help?' "Awww, I'm touched. You really do care. Tch, jackass." After a moment of silence, he springs to his feet to pace.
He reaches for Orochimaru's wineglass when he's near enough, and when he grabs it to pour the other boy a refill, the flurry of his hands causes several of the papers to drift forwards as if on a breeze.
And maybe it's poetic irony or just a bastardized version of karma, but Orochimaru doesn't quite move fast enough to cover Tsunade's letters.
Jiraiya is simple but he is not stupid – stupid ninjas do a poor job of surviving in wartime, and he's trained to look at things and in the minimum amount of time take in the maximum amount of detail.
The first thing he sees is Tsunade's signature.
He sets the wine glass down with an almost uncharacteristic calmness, and picks up the first of the letters. He stands there, paper crinkling in his white-knuckled grasp as he reads, aloud:
"To Orochimaru, and Jiraiya too if you're actually literate enough to read,
Haven't heard from you guys in a while. Things are all right here, boring though. I've asked Sensei to assign me a mission but so far the only thing I've gotten to do is take watch around the city while I finish mending. There haven't been any attacks but everyone's on edge anyways. Orochimaru, you bastard, why haven't you written yet? I gave you that kit for a reason, you know! And Jiraiya – if you're out there compromising some poor girl's innocence, I'm gonna kick your goddamned ass."
After a while, Orochimaru tunes out Jiraiya's voice and looks out the nearest and most convenient window, noting the flight path of some low-flying bird. Jiraiya finishes and discards the first letter, moves on to the second, and then the third and the forth and he stops mid-way through the fifth and Orochimaru looks at him dryly, raising an eyebrow as he does so.
"So." Jiraiya says, and a muscle jumps in his jaw, making it clear just how angry he is. "When were you planning on telling me?" He throws the paper in Orochimaru's face. "I've been fucking worried about her, you goddamned bastard! Anything could have happened back in Konoha and you were just fucking keeping these letters all to your goddamned self, what the fuck Orochimaru!"
Orochimaru shrugs, and quashes the slightest tinge of guilt. He doesn't feel the need to say anything and so he doesn't, merely looks at Jiraiya with as much condescension as he can manage.
He's only mildly surprised when Jiraiya grabs him by the collar of his shirt and jerks him to his feet and starts yelling obscenities at him, ending with something about rhetoric and honor and ninjas and how this isn't how they were taught and why the fuck does Orochimaru get off on deceiving his own goddamned teammates.
Orochimaru's palm, the one with the faded white scar, twinges a little. "You shouldn't be so loud, Jiraiya," he says calmly, pointing at the open window. "Someone might be listening."
And so Jiraiya fumes in silence, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. The bandana falls, abandoned, to the floor, a bright splash of red against the rich white carpets. The wine glass does the same, only to greater effect, for it creates a stain.
There is a knock at the door.
Orochimaru and Jiraiya are both alert and on guard so fast that there is no discernable point between the happening and the being. From somewhere, Jiraiya conjures a kunai and Orochimaru's lithe fingers form a seal.
At Orochimaru's nod, Jiraiya moves to open the door, undoing one of the heavy latches and pushing it open. There's a child standing there, looking frightened and ill at ease. His uniform marks him as one of the hotel's employees, though he seems a little young. "I… I'm sorry, I heard yelling, I thought maybe something was wrong, I…"
Orochimaru relaxes. Jiraiya does not. "What did you hear?"
"Shinto," Orochimaru says Jiraiya's alias calmly. "Don't frighten the poor child." It is true. He looks on the verge of either bursting into tears or running for his life. He can't be older than ten, and he has no shinobi's training that has taught him to hide his emotions.
With steady hands that had been so ready to kill, Orochimaru pours a third serving of wine and beckons the child closer. Jiraiya stares at him in wariness coupled with disbelief. Disbelief because he has never heard Orochimaru speak with that particular tone (sweet and soft and soothing, like a waterfall) and wariness because he doesn't see why he has a reason to start now.
"I apologize," Orochimaru says, as he pushes the glass into the boy's hands and gives Jiraiya a rather esoteric glance, as if he senses the wariness and is puzzled by it. "It was good of you to come. I will be sure to make a recommendation to your supervisor for your quick thinking."
The boy is still trembling somewhat, but he manages a smile, paper-thin and just as flimsy. "I'm sorry, m'lord, I didn't hear anything." Momentarily, he adds, "I'm Kosuke." By his expression and his body language, Jiraiya thinks that the kid heard at least that they were ninja, and he kicks himself mentally.
Orochimaru returns to the table that he had sat at moments earlier and rests his elbows on it, chin in his folded hands. "My name is Orochimaru." His eyes flicker again towards Jiraiya, only this time there is malice there. Jiraiya starts as if stabbed with a senbon.
He knows, then, that Orochimaru wouldn't have given his real name unless…
"Don't drink that!" he says suddenly, roughly, as he slaps the glass away from the boy's hands just a heartbeat too late. His lips are dark with berry wine, and his eyes are wide.
Orochimaru makes a noise that is almost a hiss as the glass shatters and the dark liquid stains the floor. They are not on carpet, here. The boy looks between them, and has just enough time to ask, "Wh - what's wrong?" before he convulses, once, not quite hard enough to snap his neck but enough to drop him to the floor. The foam at his mouth is tinted with blood, and Jiraiya's mind tells him immediately that the boy probably bit his tongue.
"You fucking bastard!" For the second time that day, he rounds on Orochimaru, intent on grabbing him and perhaps on smacking some goddamn sense into him, even though nothing he says or does will change the fact that there's a child dying on the floor behind them.
Orochimaru is smiling, and he stands slowly, unhurriedly, to look over Jiraiya's shoulder. "Pity he didn't break his neck. It's going to take a while for him to die like that."
"What did you give him? Where's the serum for it!"
"There is none."
Jiraiya stares at him, but the boy's thrashing brings him back to his senses in alarmingly short order. With one bitter, angry look at his comrade, he marches over to the kid, bends down and slits his throat. Blood spills out, hot and red, onto the hardwood, and he steps away from it so he doesn't leave footprints. He watches, though, as it spreads and eventually touches the fringe of the carpet and one of those fancy fucking futons.
"I'll get rid of the body," Jiraiya volunteers eventually, hating that he can't be more repulsed by what he's saying.
"Yes," Orochimaru agrees. "Please."
The day of the summit arrives. The Raikage and Mizukage both make appearances and withdraw for negotiations, making known the severity of the happenstance. Rarely in these days of war do the Kage leave their fortified villages. Orochimaru mingles with the few daimyo that are included in the discussion, though they are not permitted into the central antechamber. The real son of the Earth Country Daimyo lies in an alley, naked and with his face and fingers burned off as if by acid.
The summit runs for forty-seven hours, upon which time both the Kage emerge and return with their retainers to their respective villages. There is a pressure in the air, almost electric, and on the lips and tongues and in the hearts of men there is a whisper of war.
Jiraiya catches a glimpse of Orochimaru as he leaves the large, ornate building in which the negotiations took place, but the other shinobi doesn't so much as spare him a glance.
He looks paler than usual, though.
That night, he lies on a bed of little more than reeds and isn't really surprised when Orochimaru comes to find him when the moon is high and heavy in the sky above.
As if expecting him to be asleep, (facilitated, perhaps, by the fact that Jiraiya closes his eyes and fakes a snore when he senses the other's presence) Orochimaru clamps a hand over his mouth and pins him down. His fingers are chilled as if he'd had his hands entombed in ice.
"We have to leave," he says, when Jiraiya looks at him. "Now."
Jiraiya sits up and shoves him away. "Why?" He knows he shouldn't be asking, but he does it anyways. Orochimaru narrows his eyes, and for the first time in the flickering light, Jiraiya realizes that he's dropped the henge that had kept him inconspicuous. That, more than anything, brings him fully alert and wary.
"The city has been attacked. All shinobi are suspect, and the city officials are checking passports and identification thoroughly enough to break our cover," Orochimaru drawls in an imperiously annoyed tone. "I could leave you here."
Jiraiya grunts in answer and starts rummaging for a shirt that's at least relatively clean. "Who's responsible?"
Orochimaru purses his lips and gives him a long, level look. The dark violet markings around his eyes make him look older and perhaps more tired than he is.
Jiraiya says nothing immediately, giving the other boy a chance to give a reason for this unexpected announcement. Orochimaru raises both his eyebrows at this and looks only mildly thwarted, reminding Jiraiya of a cat that's had its bird escape from beneath its claws.
"I was given an order to destroy the city if the peace-talks went well," he says curtly, "because Toyo-ou is under the protection of one of the surviving orders of Samurai." He punctuates his words with the wave of one elegant hand. "If we strike here, now, the Samurai's code of honor will force them to take action, and it will alleviate some of the pressure on Konohagakure."
Jiraiya stiffens marginally when the Samurai are mentioned. He will never actively admit to hating them, but he certainly held no affection for the memories they stir. He pulls his shirt on over his head and gets to his feet, causing Orochimaru to do the same.
"It's underhanded," he says finally, but he is obviously not in the mood to argue. "I thought we were just here for subterfuge – Sarutobi-sensei never told me anything about this."
Orochimaru smiles somewhat, and his teeth are stark-white against his too-pale skin. "It was not an order from Sarutobi-sensei. It came from his teammate, Homura. And I was told to exclude you."
Jiraiya snarls, shoves past Orochimaru and stalks out into the night. He has a boat tied up and waiting on the dock, because in some corner of his mind he'd been expecting… something like this.
Orochimaru leaves the rowing of the tiny skiff to Jiraiya, who notices when the other boy pulls his sleeve up past his forearm and studies something. There are inky black figures against his skin, and the moonlight makes a mockery of them, twisting them as if they are alive and dancing.
"What's that?" Jiraiya asks, more for something to say than any real desire to know.
"Nothing," Orochimaru says, and pulls the sleeve back down.
Behind them, the city burns.
END PART ONE.