Author's Note: Oh my God, I wrote from Orochimaru's perspective. I think the world is going to end now. Tell me how I did. Criticism welcome.
There was something soothing about the feel of old parchment paper between his fingers. Frail, it could blow away like dust on the wind by the simple exertion of too much pressure, but it had lasted over one hundred years, and with care, would last one hundred more. It wasn't immortal, Orochimaru was old enough to know that nothing truly was, but it had seen generations be born, grow old and die. It had been handled by sages of the ancient customs, when blood was as intrinsic to the molding of chakra as any of the elements, and not a forbidden binding agent of the most powerful seals. It had been hidden deep within the archives of the Hokage's tower, never intended to be found again, to be forgotten by the ages and all the shinobi that followed. They hadn't counted on an eleven year old child scholar with a penchant for ignoring the "FORBIDDEN" warnings posted over the more interesting sections of the library and nothing else to occupy his attention. Especially now, now that Sarutobi-sensei had forced him on a leave-of-absence with an order not to return to duty until he had completed his "grieving."
The measures taken hadn't been necessary. He had completed his first assassination mission at the age of seven, and ever since then life had seemed rather temporary and pathetic, anyway. It had taken him less than thirty seconds to accept the fact that his parents were dead, the time it took to check both of their pulses and note that their hearts no longer beat within their bodies. And that was it. Sarutobi-sensei had assumed formal guardianship of him and Tsunade had hugged him and even Jiraiya hadn't said anything snide. Neither of his teammates had lost anyone close, but that too, was temporary. Jiraiya's brother was a shinobi, Tsunade's would be soon enough, and shinobi dealt solely with the occupation of death, including their own. No one was immortal. They would all die, eventually, the weak perhaps sooner than most. Orochimaru had known that his parents were weak, but he knew himself to be strong, or at least to have the potential to be. He had thought that perhaps the weak could live, if there was someone strong to protect them. He had been wrong. He hadn't even been in the country when the Sand had attacked Konoha and decimated over a fourth of the village. The death of his parents was offhand, accidental. They hadn't even been targeted. The apartment building had collapsed on them. If Orochimaru had been there, he could have saved them. But he hadn't been. He couldn't be there all the time. No one could. The strong could not protect the weak. They would die either way.
People, as a whole, were a risk. Unpredictable. Foolish. Frail. Fleeting. Unlike this scroll, they would not last hundreds of years with care. People would tear themselves apart long before that, no matter who wanted otherwise. Selfish. But scrolls too, fell apart, dissolved to ashes, and faded away.
Orochimaru stared at the scroll in his hands. He had searched for it for weeks, referencing all the known sources just so he could find out what he was looking for, then cross-referencing with related documentations and time periods. Ironic, that a scroll holding the key to resurrection of the dead was so close to fading away in the streams of time.
He hadn't grieved for his parents. Chakra was life force. No matter how gently the academy instructors had tried to explain it to their pupils, calling it energy or stamina, chakra stemmed directly from one's life force. And if chakra could be molded, so could life. If chakra could be retrieved, so could souls. And then Orochimaru could love his parents without the wall around his heart, because time wouldn't matter anymore. Those few days between the Sand invasion and his return to Konoha wouldn't matter, because they would always be there. He could always bring them back. The ancient sages had bound their seals with their life force, and life begot life. If they could do it, so could he. All he needed was a little preparation, a little-
"Orochimaru." A hand lightly touched his shoulder. His teacher's voice was gentle. "What are you doing back here?"
Orochimaru's hands closed around the scroll tightly. Sarutobi-sensei would try to stop him. But Orochimaru wouldn't let him. He could do this. He could see his parents again-
The parchment, made delicate by the centuries and the handling of many scholars, crumpled, cracked, and dissolved under his clenched hands. The slightest breeze, originating from window open three rooms over, was enough to send the remnants swirling amongst the shelves.
"Orochimaru. . ."
"No, I was so close! I had it in my hands! And. . . and. . ." He had been hasty. He had been eager. He had thought he had all the time in the world. But time stopped for no one, and made no allowances for those who tried to tamper with its flow.
The scroll had been the last of its kind. The only one not destroyed in the Great Purges fifty years ago when a fear of the ancient arts had risen up and led to the widespread burning of all documentation of the life-molding techniques. And Orochimaru had finished their work.
Strong arms, arms made strong by decades of training and leadership, wrapped tenderly around Orochimaru's shoulders. "It's alright, Orochimaru."
"I failed them. I failed. . ."
"Death is something that no one can prevent. No one expects it of you. Your parents wouldn't. They would want you to move on."
Orochimaru closed his eyes. Sarutobi-sensei was right, of course. No one expected an eleven year old boy to protect his fully-grown, shinobi trained parents. No one expected an eleven year old boy to raise the dead. No one expected him to do anything, except move on. No one except himself.
For the first time, and for the last, Orochimaru allowed himself to grieve. He was a genius unprecedented in the history of Konoha, but even he could not recreate the ancient practices of resurrection, of prolonging life, of immortality. He could not bring his parents back.