Fall Apart

The problem with people, Orochimaru has decided, is that they die.

All the time, really. Death is no stranger in a ninja village; indeed, it stalks the best of them with the same fervor as the worst, and nearly every family has felt its touch.

But there are many kinds of death:

Dan's body, mangled to the point where Tsunade could barely recognize her lover.

The hundreds of ninja he has killed – or is it more? At this point it is getting difficult to tell, to keep one enemy from another, each wound, each death blending together until even his near-perfect memory cannot track them all.

And then there are the new grey hairs in Sarutobi-sensei's beard, and the slight stiffness when the Hokage moves that has nothing to do with stress or the man's near constant lack of sleep.

Dying. From battle wound or from age, it is death all the same.

Orochimaru knows more jutsu than the most elite of ninja. He is a genius on all fronts: versed in the arts and techniques of slaughter and stealth. He has never encountered a weapon he does not know how to use, and has been a weapon himself, crafted of the finest and most dangerous steel since childhood. He has guided teams to victory and survived missions that were thought suicide, and he has killed everyone who dared to oppose Konoha, to oppose him.

And for all this, someday he too will die. His vast and arrayed skill will be brought down so low, so /easily, with age. His joints will stiffen, his reflexes slow, his senses dull and his wits numb – and even if he manages to avoid death from an enemy, one day time will come for him all the same. This weapon he has become, all his talents and tricks, will amount to nothing, and he'll never again know the freedom of a body fighting in its prime: that fierce and unadulterated joy.

Only the best ninja die of old age. Orochimaru is already one of the best –

(and Sarutobi-sensei rises and stretches, so slowly, joints creaking painfully)

- but he'll be better.