For a moment I contemplated naming this chapter after "In The Blood", an epic story by JustPlainRii because... well, let's just say it's very tempting to just use it. (If you have time, check it out.) Then as I was finishing the chapter, I knew I had to find a better fitting title because as obvious as it is, some people might not understand my reasons for using it. So here is the new chapter title.

This is new material. Even the old chapters, all usable lines have been milked out of them and the original plot halted dead at the events of Dei Ex Machinis. And so, if you haven't fit the pieces of the puzzle together yet or you just want an affirmation of your hunches, I hope you enjoy this. :3

Disclaimer: Don't own.

This chapter is for Laniol, for patiently keeping up with all my bullcrap and applying good pressure to keep me writing, and for Hersheys Rocks, for being there from start to finish (and mostly because I don't know if you're still alive and kicking, so yeah, lol).


Gods of Vindication
Part XI: The Poisonous Tacenda

"I won't suffer, be broken, get tired, or wasted, surrender to nothing, or give up what I started and stopped it, from end to beginning, a new day is coming, and I am finally free..."


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"Sakura, baby, please forgive mommy, alright?"

"..."

"I know... I know this looks bad but I promise I'll stop drinking.

"It's going to end, all for you,

"I swear.

"It's just that right now, I can't take care of you.

"Right now, you need to hide.

"You just hate me now, I can feel it. It's obvious.

"Maybe you'll hate me in a few years too, who knows?

"Just darling, promise me you'll grow up good.

"Not like me. Not at all like me.

"Look at you. You probably got his brains, glaring at me like that.

"But he's not bad, okay?

"He's just... different. Misunderstood.

"I hope you'd understand when the time comes around.

"That you would know why I did this.

"It might be a bit difficult,

"And I know you're gonna get mad,

"But you're mine,

"Okay?"

"Shishou, you're drunk."

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The snow fluttered, slow and delicate and graceful, to brush against her cheeks in cold kisses of the night. Artificial lamps lining the boulevard glowed white on sparkling streets. Towards the center of it all they trudged, ankle-deep in the blanket of the weather, Saudra's hand encased in the frozen death grip of Sasuke's mentor. It was a weather uncooperative with her circumstances, blatantly lying in her face of the beauty of the town. It never occurred how much she was despising the situation, running things over and over in her head.

The wind was refreshing compared to the stuffy constraints of the house, a first for Sakura in this land of ice. One more moment in that noxious home and fate would have found another way to destroy what sanity she was still able to cling to.

Itachi, his words had been like misty mornings where she could almost, almost understand where he was coming from. His last spoken sentence to her was a piece of a puzzle that can't be the last. (The resemblance... is incredible.) Not even close. But it was a piece which shed tremendous light on what she had been searching for as a whole, shattering and obscuring previously held beliefs as to why she — of all people — had been summoned to the snake's grasp.

Orochimaru's long slender fingers wrapped around hers as though holding precious china. Chilly coldness bloomed at the tip of her boots despite the dry softness inside were she wriggled her feet in. There was a static feeling in her chest, a hollowness pointing at the man in black and white walking beside her.

Sakura knew why she was here.

There were doubts, yes, of uncertainties she harbored, but only for the cause of having no confirmation. To her, the ideas she had been formulating were nothing but fantasies whispered to the night air. They held no ground. They might be true but for the moment, for the precious minutes counting down to what she was instinctively feeling was an intervention, they had to be falsehoods.

Tsunade was... Tsunade had been drunk. Wasted out of her mind as she did to herself every night of the week. It was random nonsense.

She shivered, gold eyes turning not once to see it. The blonde ends of her hair ticked her cheeks with the light movement, her grip tightening the slightest at the hand supporting her and green eyes wondered at the marble complexion.

It dawned how she had never let go of this man's hand from since when he had stretched out his arm for her back at the house, Sasuke's angry facade trying to block the way, his clenched fist, his scowl.

She shuddered.

"Are you cold?" Orochimaru asked without sparing her even a glance.

"No, I'm all right."

She shook her head. This was nothing. An insignificant price to pay for what his intentions were.

The sidewalk they were following was slowly being populated by villagers, more and more bustling activity the closer moved to the center of town. Horse-drawn carriages trundled by, glittering under the yellowish pink lights. The confidence brewed in her that there would be nothing the sennin could show her, tell her, ask her to be able to convince her to help him.

Lend him an ear, listen to those grandiose plans for an immortal existence. She would pretend to ponder over the notion of helping him, just to give back the taste of false hope he kept feeding Sasuke for three long years.

She bit the inside of her lower lip, feeling the numbing deep in her veins, a quickening heartbeat and restless hands signs of her nervous anticipation. Her stomach was swirling. I would crush your ideals. Green eyes flashed angrily, boring through the back of his head. She'd stomp on anything he threw her way then run back to her misguided avenger, convince him to come home with her to Konoha.

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"Sakura, baby, please forgive mommy, alright?"

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The crunching inches of snow beneath her boots suddenly gave way, miscalculated footing causing her to trip and stumble, her free hand shooting out instinctively to balance or break her fall.

Orochimaru's grip tightened, a powerful pull switching her weight with pure momentum just before she met with cold concrete. In an instant she was swept upward in an enveloping embrace, her free hand catching him around the neck and nestling her in the safeguard of a vice-like arm behind her waist. She could feel other white hand encompassed around a shoulder, his long, spindly fingers ending wrapped around her skull in the dampening frost.

It was a familiar gesture. This was where Sasuke had learned the hold he used when they plummeted head-first from the top of the Hokage Mountain.

"Ah, my dear. You must be careful of the ice. It builds up frightfully quick in this weather," he stated softly, meeting her green eyes out of the side of his yellow ones.

When Orochimaru helped her to her feet it was as if a shadow crossed his features, muting he very essence of his lively personality. Deft fingers raked back the hair from her face and she felt their coldness, felt some sort of dragging clumsiness slowing the movement. Sakura could only imagine it was because of the snow but there was a nagging, distinct difference from when he did it before.

His arms wavered for a bit, suspended in the briefest moments with his long fingers still frozen in the instance of combing back the mess of her hair, when abruptly he snatched it to his side.

"For tonight I would like something to go with sake," he drawled, though he seemed not quite there with a wall drawn up between them. "Something with a taste of home, hmm?"

"Sure," was all she could say.

Sakura didn't particularly care where they went. She could still feel the tremble against her cheek, and she added, "So you can warm up your hands too."

All he gave was a pause, finally breaking into a terse half-smile.

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"..."

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The restaurant was quaint, full of an infinite variety of people seated at the tall tables and high-backed chairs she never found herself able to get used to. They were reminders she was worlds away from Konoha, where she sat on cushions and ate from low surfaces with her Academy batch. But... But if everything will go right, I'll be going home.

The thought was thin comfort.

Sasuke's black anger written across his face flashed in her mind's eye as she watched Orochimaru animatedly discussing the menu with the waiter, a man in formal-looking clothes and a black bow tie.

It worried her how the usual vengeance in his basic character immediately could morph into a stunned glare when she practically begged him to let her go with his mentor. Like she were the one who'd betrayed him.

"... not so much. Oh, and the best wine to go along with it."

"And for the lady?" the middle-aged man turned to look at her expectantly with his inquiring accent, taking her out of her reverie.

"I'm sorry?" was her absentminded reply.

"What would you like?"

Her eyes caught the smile on the sennin's pale lips, arching an eyebrow at the menu still in her hands. She hadn't even checked the damn thing. Ugh.

"I'll have whatever he's having."

"Same, wine?"

There was a twinkle in those golden irises as though he were amused at how this was unfolding, watching much too carefully at how she was handling herself. That strange feeling returned again as though she were an experiment he was intently observing. It was uncomfortable, heat clouding under the long sleeved shirt she hadn't even changed out of from that morning.

She needed the alcohol.

"Yes, please."

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"I know... I know this looks bad but I promise I'll stop drinking."

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The slightest twitch at the end of his lips went unnoticed by her.

"Now dear, I'm willing to bet your pretty head you're simply dying to know what I've kept from you."

His choice of words wasn't exactly encouraging.

There was a lull in the background noise, a peak where it was as if everyone in the high-ceiling room heard Orochimaru and fell silent to await his next words, like an oration by public officials. Then the wine came and the quiet was broken, the murmurs and laughter and conversations picking up as though nothing had happened.

"Did it have to take you this long to tell me?" she tested, watching as the person waiting on them poured frosty light liquid into her glass. Her green eyes followed as the fluted crystal on the sennin's side was filled as well.

"Yes."

The extending lisp at the end made her skin crawl.

"You're finally going to tell me?"

"Of course."

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"It's going to end. All for you,"

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"By now I'm sure you're well aware of the transformation technique Tsunade-hime is very fond of," he began, swilling the contents of his glass. The vague tremor in his arms returned, she noticed, and the glass was put back down after a perfunctory sniff. Sakura kept quiet. She only realized she had been staring when his other hand reached out to the centerpiece flower, picking it off the display.

Had he noticed her? She tried searching for any visual sign he was on guard. Then again, the strangeness of his condition could be passed off as a mere tick or the flighty nature of an insane mind. Yet he was too intelligent for such a thing. So intelligent it's driven him mad.

"Have you ever wondered how she does it?" he asked, twirling the delicate specimen between well-manicured fingers. An accompanying smile made his next words smug. "Hasn't it ever boggled your mind?"

Sakura had no idea what the Hokage's masking techniques had to do with her but she felt genuine pangs of curiosity emerge, drawn out by Orochimaru's leading questions. Find out whatever his rotten gibberish is and reject him. I can't forget who I'm doing this for.

"I don't really care much about it," she answered even and flat.

"Really?" came the goading.

It wasn't discernible whether he was mocking her or found real interest in her point of view. The sennin straightened his back, the glossy sheen of his hair in the warm lights giving her a flash of the long-haired Uchiha. She frowned, trying not to think too much of it. This old man in front of her might notice something was wrong.

"So you mean to tell me that never in all the time that drunken princess had you under her tutelage, you never found it strange her appearance always stayed the same?" he challenged, amused.

How he was pursuing the topic grated on Sakura's nerves. He was not asking out of curiosity. He was not asking to ferret information or to demand an answer. His potent grin, as insincere as it were, ursuried into her thoughts her own lack of observance.

She began toying with the silverware. It was so underhanded, this way. It was so indirect a probe, steering her line of thought to whatever he wanted her to know. It was so Orochimaru she hated it.

"Are you saying I should care if she sometimes doesn't look youthful?" she asked spitefully, gripping the fork tight and wanting to rent the metal in two. What curiosity he awakened was blown away by her anger. "I really, really don't care if she's an old woman. Not that you won't find that important."

His chuckle successfully made her cringe.

"Why, don't you think even the most potent henge should disappear if the owner passes out dead drunk night after night?"

Golden eyes glittered.

"Look," Sakura sneered, finally feeling fed up enough not to care how many heads turned her way. "If you want to tell me something, I'd appreciate it if you can just tell me."

She did not like behaving toward the sennin this way, mostly because it was his innate personality that goaded her. She did not want to dislike anyone for the way they were, simply because they couldn't help it, although Orochimaru was proving the better of her patience.

His laughter resounded.

It was an absurd sound, tinkling with the amusement he so enjoyed in complex situations exactly like this. She grit her teeth.

"Tsunade does not employ genjutsu," his oily voice lisped at her shishou's name. "In fact, she's not much of a tactician anyway."

The waiter arrived, setting down a plate in front of her and the man before her. The smell of heavy meat watered in her mouth, a trivial sensory response threatening to override her anger. Sakura realized late that she hadn't eaten during the day.

"Hime," the snake continued, snapping his fingers in quick succession to emphasize a point, "she want results. Hard and fast, no nonsense. Of course, being a Senju greatly helps."

Wait, what? Feeling confused, she tried to read the gaunt, white face. What does her ancestry have anything to do with appearance?

"You're this awkward sort of adorable when you fail to make connections." Orochimaru's words sliced through her thoughts, an elbow resting on the table with a knife in his hand. "You're so like her, I could swear."

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"I swear."

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"Her henge is a ninjutsu."

Sakura could just feel the aura of smugness radiating off of him. His motions were quick and efficient, slicing through the tender flesh on his plate and spearing it with a fork.

"Mind you, she's a Senju. That blood is powerful," he gestured with his fork as if to question why she had not begun eating. "The females do not manifest the wood techniques you might know to be the First Hokage's unique chakra signature, but she is of his blood nonetheless."

"Please, eat," he motioned once more at her plate.

The movements she performed felt mechanical, yet she relished the taste of food on her tongue as much as she resented the company of who she was with. It tasted of home. The animal was clearly raised in Fire. It might have been presented differently, but she could tell nonetheless.

"I still don't understand what this has to do with me," Sakura replied, catching the glimmer of gold. Maybe this all was a mistake? Some deluded hallucination of a madman wanting a sane audience for his lunatic speeches. "It's not like I'm really related to her to care about those things."

"Oh," a sigh, a sly look of mischief loading the words with meaning, "really?"

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"It's just that right now, I can't take care of you."

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Sakura swallowed hard, blood rushing to her face in a cloud of heat. Green eyes furtively cast guarded suspicion on him.

It's just her imagination, isn't it?

There had been no one there in that office but her and shishou. It simply was not possible. The snake sennin himself had not been sensed anywhere near Konoha ever since Sasuke was taken. How else would he know the drunken rant of her teacher?

This time, it was her turn to laugh. Slit-eyed irises narrowed, a widening smirk on his lips as he watched her, watched her pour all anxiety and anger and pain and confusion, all the wicked churning emotions of the past hours into a stream of unrepenting giggles.

She laughed at the patheticness of blindly following Sasuke into the wilderness. She laughed at the shocking appearance of his brother who seemed neither the killer he was portrayed to be, nor the brutal image she built of him. She laughed at the snake sennin's insinuation that she, the first person in her family to ever graduate from the Academy, was related to her mentor of three years.

As all of it was drained from her, peals of laughter coloring her red in the face, she breathlessly waved away all the curious glances wondering what had been exchanged at their table to make her react so. The only person she looked in the eye was him, sitting across her, irises gleaming gold like the sun.

Like Naruto's hair. She had another easy mouthful.

"I don't know where that came from, but I'm very sure I'm not a relative of Tsunade-sama."

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"Right now, you need to hide."

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"Well, this is quite a development then," the devious, calculating grin continued. "I am truly sorry you must hear it from me, but you are related to hime-sama. Not only related, but she is your mother."

Her throat barely able to swallow, she set down the knife in her hand. She absolutely could not trust herself to not even try killing this old man.

"I wonder how you could prove something like that," challenged Sakura, the unease building into a crushing force inside her. She did not know if she wanted to hear what else he would tell her. All of this just felt too unrealistic for hard truth, but the nagging suspicions in her mind were beginning to surface. The ravenous appetite of her wanting to continue listening was overriding her reasonable thought of walking out. "You can't even give me evidence of what you're saying."

He wore a mirthful expression upon looking up.

"Like I've said, Senju blood is incredible powerful. Even if the breeding gender do not manifest the powerful, showy characteristics like our Shodaime and Nidaime, they have essentially the same properties."

Her limbs grew numb despite the warmth of the restaurant. The chatter was louder, climbing to a din. Orochimaru's dark, feminine voice boomed in her ears.

"Hmm... how shall I put it? Ah. Their chakra allows them to mess with the core of life." His disgusting, triumphant smile. "All that power, in the hands of a medically talented, desperate woman, what do you think can happen?"

Laughter erupted from the group seated behind her.

She wanted to take the knife and hack at his cruel face and plunge it blade-deep into his black heart.

"It's a shame, and I believed you were actually intelligent enough to understand," he lectured. "You cannot just use basic physical skill in changing how you look. You would have better luck simply wishing upon dead stars."

"So it's regular ninjutsu, something only she can do. Big deal." A dismissal. Her dismissal.

"Yes, very," he agreed, not wanting to let the topic go, much to her frustration. She began sawing off a chunk of meat, making sure her jerky movements conveyed the annoyance gnawing inside her.

"I still don't get the point of all this," Sakura snapped, growing angrier by the second.

"Deary, have you forgotten the very basics of using chakra?" Orochimaru deigned to ask in his suspiciously innocent way. It sounded like a rhetorical question, something she answered with a glare. "When you use it properly, it can even change the physical aspect."

"And?" So what?

"Some decade and a half ago, I happened to meet our hime-sama." A pert nod. A flicker of Snake eyes looking up to the left, recalling. Returning after a heartbeat to feast on her reaction. "She had pink hair, like cherry blossoms."

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"You just hate me now, I can feel it. It's obvious."

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Erratically beating heart, increasingly shallower breaths. Sakura could feel the cold sweat on her forehead. Her routine kicked in, standard information flooding her brain. Her stomach felt heavy, scrutinizing her plate.

She'd seen Tsunade pull off her parlor trick in the blink of an eye countless times before.

"It's not possible to affect things at such a miniscule level. Individually modifying cells to accept the mutation, doing it fast enough to prevent biological rejection, on top of that the stability of the chakra even as you're changing..."

Green eyes found a mirthful caveat on pinkish lips, her voice trailing away.

"Tsunade is a Senju," he reiterated as if that alone were enough of an explanation to merit all distresses in life. Like a trump card, a deus ex machina to end the game.

"I don't... understand."

"The females don't inherit any of those godlike chakra types, but the brutish masses completely overlook the retention of as much potency as the males."

Pause. A sip of wine. A lounging swill around the glass.

"She can change the very essence of life itself."

"And that's all the proof you have?" Sakura snipped, wary and tense. This was not going where she wanted it to go.

Why couldn't have Tsunade just have been sober that time? Why did she have to keep drowning every little problem in alcohol and running and escaping from all her responsibilities?

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"Maybe you'll hate me in a few years too, who knows?"

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Suddenly an inkling, a hideous twitch of Orochimaru's arm he couldn't hide, causing a deep red stain to drip and spread across the slippery tablecloth. The immense black sordidness of his expression was contrasted by her own surging glee as everything seemed suddenly pieced together.

"Without Tsunade-shishou's ability to — how did you put it? — change the very essence of life itself, you're never going to use your arms again," Sakura leaned back, trying not to gloat. "Am I right?"

The offending glass was gently placed above the bleeding stain on the table, the solemn blank mask so uncharacteristic of him returning like the chill of a frosty day. She took this as a sign of her victory.

"Tsunade would never heal your arms, never in her right mind," she continued acidly.

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Just darling, promise me you'll grow up good.

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"I see why you brought me here now. You only care about the chance I'm her daughter, right? That you can manipulate me into healing you?"

At this point she'd thrown a disgusted glance at the long white fingers beside his plate, pressing tightly on the tabletop. There was no turning back now. She bared her teeth.

"I'd rather die before even considering it."

This was her triumph.

He can destroy her chances of aspiring to be proficient in the medical field. He could twist the soul of the one she loved the most. He could wreck the path of finding out who her biological parents are without sparing any tact. He can do that and more, Orochimaru could have it all.

But he could never make her give one shred of pity for the loss of his arms. She wouldn't give a damn even if he reformed and begged for mercy. Not even if he were in genuine torment.

She'd never give in to snake tears, something her shishou would surely react violently to.

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Not like me. Not at all like me.

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From the black folds of his cloak emerged a familiar notebook, flopped down on the silken tablecloth beside the centerpiece. A shower of pale pink petals dripped onto the dark leather as the flowers were disturbed, swinging heavily with their ripeness. Orochimaru's expression was as hard as ice.

"You fancy yourself too much of a pureblood," he drawled scathingly. "Hime's abilities are at a stretch as it is. I wouldn't count on anything short of a miracle with you."

His words felt like a slap, the aftershock only adding to her growing confusion.

"Why do you have that?" Sakura was unable to keep the demand out of her words. The last time she saw it Karin had been reading it by the fireplace and —

"How it came into my possession is not your concern. You can't blame me for finding curiosity in such a... crude journal." Humor in golden, sunlight eyes. "Of course I'd recognize that handwriting anywhere."

It was Tsunade's.

An unexplainable reason caused her skin to crawl, a horrible, sinking feeling in the empty pit of her stomach as the contents of the diary rushed back to her.

"You realize, Sakura-chan, she's talking about your father in these accounts of hers?"

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Look at you. You probably got your dad's way of thinking, glaring at me like that.

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At this point Haruno Sakura felt physically sick, tasting the tartness of saliva on her tongue, the prelude to what could be her heaving the contents of the meal onto the floor. There was no dating on the leatherbound notebook, no indicator of when it could have been written. For all she knew her mentor penned it last month, or seventeen years ago. Blood was draining in cold trails from her face, her tongue thick in her mouth.

"Do you mean to say the man written there... he is my father?"

Sakura felt sick. This isn't... oh, come on! This isn't how things are supposed to be! The golden irises were like daggers, pupil slits sharply thin. He was very much composed for someone about to destroy her.

There was bated breath, and a small sigh on his end, but never releasing her from his steady gaze. He wasn't the goading, slimy, malicious Orochimaru. He was so emotionless it rivaled the aristocratic demeanor of the Hyuugas, as though she were some insect in his eyes, someone he couldn't even bother to kill.

"A year before you were born, I happened to meet hime," his voice like a whisper through the trees, "and at the time, she was running away from a loan shark whom she owed quite a staggering amount of money. A very powerful man."

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But he's not bad, okay?

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She watched him as he stared into the candle, much too tiny in the brightly lit room for any semblance of illumination on his face yet enough for it to be reflected in his accursed eyes. All what ran through her head was how the color of his irises were now like pyrite. Fool's gold.

"She did have pink hair at the time but of course I did not even think there was such a connection when I saw you, because back then... her eyes were blue."

The fool's gold stare shifted back up to her green one with what seemed like disgust. An inner turmoil burned in her at the audacity of this pathetic being to be the one finding her repulsive. It made her want to strike the snake's head right off.

"The precious princess escaped that little niece of her dead boyfriend, I've forgotten whatever her name is." Orochimaru appeared appropriately trying to recall it, the queer look morphing into an apathetic shrug. "The utter honesty and responsible behavior of that family makes me want to vomit. It's a good thing Dan got himself offed during the war," he chuckled, a portion of the salacious snake returning for a second, "who knows what ridiculously upright offspring he might have bred."

His vile words were followed by a quick judgmental glare from her.

Shizune, she wanted to scream. Her name is Shizune and you don't deserve to know it.

She kept quiet for her own sanity.

"Tsunade-sama then proceeds to convince me to help her with this man, because at that point she'd sold off all family property. She'd become that desperate. The prestigious bloodline, reduced to so little by her gambling. Nothing is left to her name even to this day. Your precious mentor would have even sold their faces on the Hokage mountain if she could."

The knowledge of such things made her angry, both at the snake before her and her own teacher. She could not confirm whether whatever he was saying was true, however, neither could she deny them. The notebook in the Godaime's own script did mention something about escaping debts, but then again, Orochimaru could have simply read it.

"I don't even know if you're telling the truth."

Her words came thick and flat, reflection of an inward struggle she desperately wanted release from.

The waiter appeared like a ghost, whisking away plates and refilling their glasses without a word, then disappearing just as he came. Sakura could feel her face was tightening, unable to comprehend the point of this intervention.

"The person she borrowed money from isn't just an ordinary civilian," he began, sipping lightly, smirking. "Aside from being part of an organized crime group, you could say he was well connected. Not bad for a measly country citizen."

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He's just... different. Misunderstood.

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Her mind was full of sirens blaring, bells ringing of lies and manipulative bastards. This was the person her Sasuke-kun learned from, the destroyer of dreams. She could not simply take his words as the whole truth, something especially as hard to swallow as this.

"You can't just tell me these things and expect me to believe without any proof," she choked, massaging her temples. It was beginning to hurt too much.

"Oh, you think I would lie about such trivial things?" he responded in a cold hiss.

He had no right to be angry. No. This was her life they were talking about, not his. Did he love Tsunade, is that why he was doing this? Did he actually learn to love someone with that black, ugly heart of his in his twisted, sadistic way?

They're not trivial to me!

"You can ask orihime-sama. I doubt she could lie to you when you confront her about this."

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I hope you'd understand when the time comes,

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"I'm not going to tell her even one word about this," she hissed back, hot tears blurring her vision. "You don't deserve to hurt her. If she really is my mother, then all the more reason not to!"

She hated him. She hated him. She hated him, she wanted to kill him, kami-sama, just punch through those high, delicate cheekbones and pinkish white skin because he is the lowest of all creatures who could possibly think of doing this to her. It only made her angrier the way he appeared so unperturbed about this.

A small voice in the back of her head reminded her of Sasuke's plan to kill him and the very thought made her sick with satisfied vengeance. If her avenger would not heed her call for home, he would be ending the malicious existence of Orochimaru.

He drained his glass and poured another, gesturing towards her own untouched cup.

"Drink. I did not ask you to be brought here for something as petty as pissing off the Senju heir, if that's what's making you look like you've swallowed a cockroach."

Hands clenched under the table, under the tablecloth, Sakura's fingers wrapping tightly around the material of her clothes. She could see the shadows lengthening on his taut face.

"Take the book," he ordered haughtily, a show of deepening frustration. "Take it and see for yourself. You must have already read its contents and can verify she talked about attending a festival of some sort."

Yes. She did.

"You can look over that thing for yourself and confirm whether I'd tampered with it." A scalpel was suddenly laid flat on the object of interest, cold steel crushing down on downy petals with the force of snow white fingertips. "Take it!"

The notebook was slid over to her side of the table, the metal of the instrument clinking against the stem of her glass. His eyes burned with a sort of emotion she could not name, raising the hairs at the base of her head, but her encounter with Itachi assured her she could live through this one. It didn't take a fool to play the part he wanted.

"Whoever my father is, you have no right to let me know like this."

She dared raise her voice. Her teeth hurt from being clenched together.

"You're wrong if you think I'm so weak to confront my teacher about her mistakes. And if you insist on this..." A pause. A shuddering breath. "You're only giving me a reason to hate you on a personal level."

One passing heartbeat.

He broke her gaze and fished for something in the pockets inside his coat, pulling it out to reveal an envelope covered in light creases. Laying it where the notebook had been before, he met her green eyes once more.

"Open the back cover like you would open flesh. If you still have doubts I have provided you the raw data from the lab results we've conducted. Someone of your caliber shouldn't need me to interpret them for you," the condescending tone ordered, eyeing her hand trembling from pent-up rage. "Especially with your lineage."

I'll kill you. But she knew she never could. It would be a lie to claim she'd pound him to dust with her fists, at least not at this point. She swears she'd get stronger, much more than him.

"Are we going to sit here all night exchanging murderous thoughts, Sakura-chan?"

"Tsk." Courtesies were lost on him.

The blade slid like a knife through oil, the old wrinkled leather parting like a gaping wound. Without ritual she stuck her fingers through the hole and found something, what felt like a loose piece of cardboard floating inside. Pinkish eyebrows drawn together, she pulled it out into the light.

In her hand Sakura saw the paper was aged and brittle but not yellowed, what she was looking at being bold, legible handwriting on the back of a photograph. The inscription read, "We should do this more often."

A brief glance told her Orochimaru was as on edge as she was, his jaw tightening at the artifact.

It was a strange feeling, seeing the hand of her mentor so neat and clean without the drunken sloppiness or the rushed strokes. It clawed at her heart, because she now had an inkling of what was on the other side of it.

"Turn it over."

"You don't have to tell me," Sakura snapped, more out of nervousness than annoyance.

With a flick the image came to light alongside the sound of the photograph's edges dragging on the ridges of her skin, with the powdery scent of the centerpiece flowers and spilled wine.

Sakura's heart stopped.

"Wha... I-I can't..."

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That you would know why I did this.

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She was looking at a picture of herself.

No.

It was undeniably her, only older. The same hair, the same smile, the same tiny dimple beside her lips. She was holding a paper parasol with the blue sky behind her, carefree as though there was nothing wrong with the world. It was her, but not her. It was her with sky blue eyes.

The funny thing was, Sakura didn't feel surprised about seeing the (incredible...) resemblance. Not one painful throb of the heart was caused by the sight of her mother, the one who had given her life. No.

Because her mother, she'd talked about it, written this memory down and sealed the fate of the reader of her diary with the sight of this picture, because whoever was with her was the face of the man who fathered her child.

And he stood beside her. Regal. Frowning in the split second the photograph captured, wearing a simple dark kimono beside Tsunade's scintillating extravagance. So much beads and pearls and sequins sparkling in the sunlight. He glared at the lens with fool's gold eyes and a white hand outstretched as if about to rip away the camera.

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It might be a bit difficult,

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Despair culminated into horror, Orochimaru's own dark silhouette equaling hers as he sat there swilling wine with shadows on his face.

"She never said anything to me," he told her quietly.

When Sakura looked back down she suddenly realized she was shaking, her other hand coming to rest on top of the other just to stop it. But it wouldn't, couldn't, cannot possibly stop because her muscles were twitching even as she screamed in her mind for it to please, kami-sama, make it stop, her heart pounding liters of blood through her veins.

Emerald eyes fell on the envelope lying innocently beside the vase. Another stab at her weary heart.

More proof, more evidence. More tears now rolling down her face.

Nothing he could say or do would change anything. Nothing would make the situation better. It wouldn't change a thing even if —

"I know you're upset about this..."

No! Please, don't say it! I don't want to hear it!

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And I know you're gonna get mad...

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"But..."

Don't!

"...you're mine."

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But you're... mine,

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"Whether you like it or not, you're mine."

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Okay?

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"Shut up, you're mad!"

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You're drunk, shishou.

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The snow kept falling in flurries, brushing against Sakura's face as she ran through cold streets. Her blood was pumping through her veins, her cheeks painful from the wind, tears frozen on her lashes.

Life was unfair. Quite.

But she needed to keep moving, faster, pushing the legs in her muscles to go on even though they ached. She came to this godforsaken place not for herself. She never came here to find out her father or confirm her mother. She never set out to find the answers to her own questions.

She came here for Sasuke.

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Almost falling to her knees at the corner of the street where the house stood, Sakura bent down to catch her breath, puffs of tiny clouds issuing out into the air. There it stood, as black and empty as its occupants. As black and empty as the houses around it were bright and cheerful and full of life.

This is it. Biting her lip, one last self motivation, she sped through the snow.

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Sped through the unlocked front door.

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Up the stairs, two at a time.

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And there was Sasuke's door, opened a fraction with darkness beyond, where she ran to as though demons clawed at her heels.

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"Sasuke!"

She stopped dead in the doorway after slamming it open, frozen at the extended feminine moan of pleasure, that flash of red hair, clothes strewn on the floor, both of them stark naked, their sweat reflecting slick in the moonlight sifting in through his window. Numbness poured into her, at the shock on his face, at the guilt she could see from him, at the climax rocking Karin's body, that fucking bitch, you fucking jerk.

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And her heart broke.

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AN: I realize some of you are not able to leave reviews because you have left a review on this chapter before. This is essentially a remade chapter and all the reviews (right up from six years ago) are still on this story. If you want to leave one and are unable to, you can do it the anonymous review way, although it would be nice if you still left your username so I know who you are. :)

Question 1: Holy crap, is Sakura really the daughter of Orochimaru and Tsunade?

Yes. At least in this story.

Question 2: Is this still SasuSaku?

YES. :D

Question 3: HAVE YOU JUST LOST YOUR MIND? WTF WAS THAT LAST PART ABOUT?

Eh. It's the story. :P You'll live.