Author's Note: Don't ask why I wrote this. Just don't.
Sakumo was puffing on a cigar, his habitual mask pulled down around his neck, when Orochimaru encountered him on the bluff overlooking the war's latest battlefield. Uncharacteristically, the White Fang didn't notice him until Orochimaru was practically at his shoulder, but besides a slight widening of the eyes, nothing about Sakumo's demeanor betrayed that he had been surprised. "Hey, Orochimaru. What are you doing up here? Thought you'd be doing leader-ish things in the command tent with your various underlings right about now." That was as close as Sakumo ever got to being bitter that Orochimaru had been assigned to lead this campaign instead of himself. The White Fang was a vicious warrior, but much like his summon he thought grudges were more trouble than they were worth.
Orochimaru's reply was neutral in tone, though his eyes narrowed at the cigar, and his words sounded deliberately confrontational. "We won. I'm entitled to do what I want for a few hours."
Sakumo shrugged, unoffended, as he breathed in more of the cigar smoke. "Never said you weren't." He gestured dramatically towards the lands stretching out before them, now laid to waste by war, soaked in blood and covered in corpses. There wasn't a tree in sight, the Stone having razed the forest to the ground, knowing how that environment gave the Leaf-nin an edge the Stone couldn't afford them having. Some bushes remained, but the total effect gave the landscape a desolate air that had been lacking before the fighting had started. "Not exactly what I'd call a great victory though. We lost a lot of good shinobi out there."
Orochimaru shrugged, neither surprised nor particularly moved by this. "We achieved our objective."
Sakumo laughed, a sound that lacked the brittleness that characterized the majority of the ninja that had fought in the war as long as the White Fang had. Orochimaru himself had stopped laughing years ago. He found it difficult to find amusement in anything anymore, and what little there was to be found came out of him mocking and bereft of humor. "Practical as always, Orochimaru. Still..." He tapped on his cigar. Orochimaru found his eyes tracking the ash as it fell towards the ground before being swept away by the afternoon wind. "I wish I had caught sight of their camp earlier. It would have been much easier to ambush them then."
"No one else would have spotted them at all." It wasn't ego stroking. Hatake Sakumo was, to put it bluntly, the best tracker Konoha had. Orochimaru knew he was fortunate to have acquired him as the head of his scouts for this campaign. Jiraiya and Tsunade were being forced to make due with intel greatly inferior to his own. Orochimaru spared a brief moment to pity them, more for their lack of foresight in not requesting the White Fang's assistance before he did instead of for the trouble they were probably encountering as a result before turning back to Sakumo. "Is that what you're doing up here? Brooding?"
Sakumo laughed again. "Hardly. Just enjoying a good smoke before I get back to work."
"I didn't know you did." Orochimaru knew his tone sounded disapproving. That was because he disapproved. Addictions were a weakness he preferred his subordinates to avoid. It created too many problems.
Sakumo grinned, and breathed out some of the cigar smoke. "I didn't before this campaign. Found out by accident that it mutes my sense of smell." Now his grin turned sad, a look that only passed over him, Orochimaru knew, when he was thinking of his son. Most of the time such moments of sentiment were almost completely hidden by the mask, which was probably why Sakumo had never bothered to learn how to guard his emotions. Yet another failing that irked at Orochimaru. If Sakumo was unfortunate enough to be captured- not an unlikely possibility, as a scout- he wouldn't have the luxury of the mask to disguise his pain. "Easier to sleep with the smell of tobacco in my nose instead of the smell of blood."
So that was why Sakumo had taken so long to notice him. He was called the White Fang for a reason, after all. Not only for his summon, but for the canine characteristics he had taken on over the course of his blood contract. Smell was how he tracked best. Few enemies thought to hide their scent, and the few that did rarely succeeded. For Sakumo to deliberately suppress his greatest asset... there was a reason Orochimaru led this campaign, though Sakumo had the edge on him in years and experience. Orochimaru wasn't foolish enough to weaken himself just so he could sleep better at night. After so many years of insomnia, sometimes he felt he operated best on no sleep at all.
"You shouldn't. Especially not before a tracking mission." If he thought himself capable of it, Orochimaru would have grabbed the cigar and smashed it underfoot, but Sakumo was faster than he was. And as the two highest ranking shinobi on this campaign, it would be irresponsible if he were to provoke a fight between them in plain sight of their subordinates. So Orochimaru didn't move, though his hand twitched as he watched Sakumo again bring the cigar to his lips.
Sakumo's grin suddenly had a wolfish edge. "I know." Then he dropped the cigar, and smashed it himself, remembering his basics well enough to kick some dirt over it to muffle the smell. The action was followed by a sharp whistle, and suddenly they were surrounded by the other scouts, Sakumo's men. Personally trained by the White Fang himself. His wave to Orochimaru, a twitch of his fingers, as he pulled his mask back up over his face, was unexpectedly jaunty. "Don't worry about it, Orochimaru. We'll be back in a few days with the Stone bastards' new position, and then we'll grind them into the dirt." It was as Orochimaru watched that the White Fang and his team of scouts faded into the underbrush, just like they'd never been there at all. Only the smell of tobacco, much reduced but still pervading the air, let the snake sannin know their presence hadn't been of his own imagining.
It was the last reminder he wanted. Sakumo was a good shinobi, a great one, a fighter that Orochimaru knew in many ways surpassed himself. But the addition of a nicotine habit just drove home what Orochimaru already knew. Sakumo had too many cracks in his armor to get out of the war unscathed, no matter how much he persisted in living in the present and not lingering on past regrets. One day, Hatake Sakumo would fall, and Orochimaru realized, surprised at his own sentimentality, that he would mourn the man's death. One didn't come across a scout like the White Fang every decade, after all. It would be such a waste, even if Sakumo was an irredeemable fool.