A/N: I honestly have no idea how this will be received, so I cross my fingers now. Much much thanks to the lovely Ricchan for giving me the inspiration I needed to write this and for continuous support.
Warnings: this will go very, very in-depth into issues of gender, sexuality, and transsexualism. No, there will NOT be mpreg or anything vaguely similar; I'm striving for scientific accuracy here. This fic will follow the canon plot as much as possible, as a backstory of sorts.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or the Naruto world; Kishimoto does. I own a smattering of OCs, and the plot itself.
Under the Snake's Skin
Queen of the World
"My, if he isn't just the sweetest boy I've ever seen!" gushed another of the endless relatives, beaming down at Orochimaru and stroking his head. He just stared up at her – was she another aunt, or an older cousin? – as she said, "Shinja-san, I declare, I've never seen a little boy his age this well-behaved! How do you do it?"
Now that the attention had been directed slightly away from him, Orochimaru took the opportunity to duck behind his mother's leg, where he could peek up at his relatives from a safe distance. He'd come over here to find his mother because his boy cousins were playing pretend-ninja outside with sticks for kunai and he didn't want to play. Besides, he preferred being around females anyway. This bothered his father, but his father was outside helping barbeque pork for the holiday dinner.
It wasn't often the Yashagoro family (at least the bit that was made of Orochimaru, his mother, and his father) left Konohagakure. Pretty much the only time was for the Nations' Founding, the celebration of the day the Great War ended and the five great shinobi nations were formed, years before the shinobi villages were even formed within their nations. On that day, they left Konoha for the weekend, traveled to a little village in the southern Land of Fire called Kinme no Sato, and stayed there with his father's family through the holiday.
But this was the first Nations' Founding that Orochimaru could remember. He had only been three last year, and didn't remember any of these strange relatives in the least. And now they were all cooing at him and trying to pat his cheek and stroke his hair. He endured it as best he could by staying silent and just staring at them.
"Yes, Shinja-san, it's just amazing!" said another lady, somehow managing to stretch a grin at both Orochimaru and his mother at the same time. He stared back. "When my oldest was his age, he just wouldn't be quiet. He was either getting in a mess or fighting other boys or playing ninja in the house. Though Orochimaru-chan is going to be the real thing someday, isn't he?"
Shinja, Orochimaru's mother, smiled patiently and put her hand on his shoulder, guarding him from the other relatives. "He's always been well-behaved," she said. "I didn't have to do anything, really. He just came out like that."
"Well, I declare!" exclaimed the woman who had been stroking Orochimaru's hair. "You're very lucky, Shinja-san."
"Boys are never so calm at this age. I'd almost think you had a daughter!" another woman said.
The relatives tittered nervously, thinking that perhaps the joke was in bad taste. But Orochimaru smiled widely for the first time since arriving in Kinme no Sato.
He didn't mind the comment at all. In fact, he preferred being compared to girls to being compared to boys; he just didn't think he had as much in common with boys, no matter what his father said. Girl things were just more fun.
The conversation had turned away from Orochimaru, and Shinja was listening without really caring. She wasn't related to these people, after all. Orochimaru, however, was a bit tenser. His father had come in and spotted him with the ladies.
"Mama, can we go?" he asked in a whisper, eyeing his father nervously.
She looked down at him and said, "Go where?"
"You know," he said, hopping nervously from one foot to another. Time for some fast thinking. "You promised, Mama."
She raised her eyebrows a bit, evidently with no clue what Orochimaru meant. Most likely because he didn't mean anything. "Can you wait a while? We're having lunch soon, Orochimaru."
"Mama!" Orochimaru said impatiently. Too late; father was coming over.
"All right," Shinja said with a sigh. She scooped Orochimaru up. "Where to?"
"The room?" Orochimaru offered, meaning, of course, their guest bedroom.
Noticing them stand, an aunt asked, "Oh, Shinja-san. Going somewhere?"
"Ah, yes, I need to get something out of our guest room," Shinja said, nodding at Orochimaru as explanation. "I hope you don't mind?"
"Oh, of course not. We know what a mother's life is like," the aunt said, looking vaguely irritated. She'd been relating an anecdote about her own rowdy son when Shinja had stood. "Do come back soon, now."
Shinja nodded as a way of excusing herself, and Orochimaru eagerly rode in her arms to the hallway.
But it was too late all ready. Orochimaru's father intercepted them, a smile fixed on his face. "Were you leaving, Shinja?" he asked.
"Hello, Dakatsu," she said. "I think Orochimaru's getting tired of hearing all these ladies talking. He asked me to leave."
No, no, that wasn't true. Orochimaru didn't want to leave the ladies. He would rather be sitting with them than anywhere else, except maybe playing with his girl cousins upstairs, but father wouldn't let him. That was why he'd tried to leave before his father could catch him.
"Is that so?" Dakatsu's smile relaxed into a more natural one. "Do you want to come out back with me, Orochimaru? You won't have to listen to the others out there."
No, Orochimaru wanted very much not to go outside. But he couldn't say that. At four years old, he already knew when he was supposed to just keep his mouth shut. So he was silent as Shinja handed him over to Dakatsu.
"You're getting heavy, you know!" Dakatsu said, chuckling as he carried Orochimaru outside. His father smelled like raw meat and grease and fire. "Some day you're going to be a big tough boy, aren't you?"
Orochimaru thought about that – as he did every time his father suggested it – and he felt slightly scared every time. Without answering, he watched over Dakatsu's shoulder as the safe haven of his female relatives was left behind.
His father put him down outside and told him he could go play with the other boys, and then turned back to the grill with the other men. Orochimaru stood rooted to the spot where he had been set down.
In front of him was a mob of wild children he could barely identify as human, who were currently playing pretend-ninja. Their clothes were disheveled, smeared with dirt, torn, rumpled, wrinkled. Their hair was short and choppy, wild, matted with grease and leaves. And they were all shouting and red-faced and sweating and throwing themselves at each other like they wanted to break each other's necks with the force of their own weight. Most of them looked angry. These were the boys he was going to "play" with?
The men were no better. Unlike the women inside, they weren't really talking together; they were a bunch of individuals working independently who shared this common interest in burning the flesh of the pork. He wouldn't receive any sympathy from them. If he went away from the boys and towards the men, he'd find no protection. They might not even notice him.
So Orochimaru kept standing alone, until one of the boys playing ninja notice him.
He'd just thrown a rock at a boy who was looking the wrong way, then glanced up and saw Orochimaru. He stared at him a moment, as if he couldn't quite tell what he was seeing, then gave up all pretext of crouching behind a bush for cover and ran up to Orochimaru. "Hey, are you playing?" he asked curiously.
Orochimaru didn't want to play, but he knew what the proper answer was. "Yes," he said.
"Why are you standing over here?" the boy asked.
"I'm in disguise," he said. "I'm spying on everyone." It was a good lie.
"You don't look like it. You're just standing here," the boy said, frowning. This, this was enough to annoy him?
"I'm a good spy. You didn't know I was playing, did you?" Orochimaru challenged.
The boy thought about that a moment, then shrugged. "Okay, you're on my side."
Oh great. There was no getting out of this now. "What do I hafta do?" Orochimaru asked softly, resigned to his fate. It seemed he'd just have to get used to the fact that he was going to fight an imaginary war.
"Spy on the enemy," he said, pointing at something among the mob of fighting boys. For the life of him, Orochimaru couldn't tell what. "They're the Spider Village, and we've gotta kill them. Find out their plans and report back to us."
Kill them! Orochimaru thought that was going a little too far. But he nodded anyway. "What are we called?" he asked.
"We're the Cro-co-dile Village," the boy said proudly. He'd obviously never heard the word before that day, which was fine because Orochimaru hadn't either. Back to giving orders, he pointed at a tree overlooking the war zone and said, "Climb up there so you can get a better view, okay?"
Orochimaru frowned. "I don't wanna sit in a tree!" he protested. He'd get bark all over his clothes, and while he didn't really like his clothes – they were jinbei, a shirt and pants, rather than a simple kimono like he usually wore – he didn't want to get dirty.
"You gotta if you're a spy. Come on!" the boy said, and suddenly shoved Orochimaru. Startled, he stumbled and fell.
"What was that for?" Orochimaru said, sitting up. He'd scraped his hands and his left knee. "I didn't do anything!"
The boy stared at him for a moment, startled, before he shouted, "I was trying to get you to move!" He glared at Orochimaru angrily. As if he was the one who'd been shoved down. "What are you doing down there?"
Orochimaru stared at the heel of his hand, watching the scraped skin start to bleed. His hands and knee stung with pain, and now he had dirt on him. What had he done to deserve that? It hurt! He thought he was supposed to be playing with this boy!
It was quite a bit more than his four-year-old mind could comprehend. He started to cry.
"What's wrong now?" the boy demanded, crossing his arms. "I just pushed you, you sissy."
Some of the other boys were starting to drift over, to see what was going on. "Who's this?" an older boy asked. "Did you push her over or something?"
The first boy gave the older one a bewildered look. "'Her'? He's a guy! He's wearing pants!"
"Girls wear pants sometimes. And her hair's too long to be a boy," another kid pointed out. "What did you do? You're not supposed to push a girl."
"But he's gotta be a boy! He said he was playing ninja with us!"
"You moron, haven't you heard of a kunoichi?"
Evidently he hadn't. He stared at the other boys blankly. Orochimaru was just looking up at them, trying to wipe his hands off on his pants. That just made them hurt more.
"Besides, boys don't cry unless they're sissies," another kid pointed out. The other boys nodded in agreement.
Orochimaru felt his tears start to flow faster at this, and he ducked his head again as his face heated up and started to turn red. Why was he out here? Why couldn't he go inside and play with the girls upstairs? He didn't want to play ninja, he didn't want to obey these violent boys, he didn't want to be called a sissy...
"Hey," one boy said, standing in front of Orochimaru. He looked up. "What are you, a wimp or a girl?"
The boy said it like they were the same thing. But Orochimaru knew there was a difference. He also knew which he'd rather be called.
He said, "I'm a girl." The tears stopped coming. And then she smiled.
The boy that had pushed Orochimaru onto the ground turned a vivid shade of red. "You should have said something," he muttered.
"So you'll be a kunoichi," one of the other boys said. Orochimaru nodded. The boy looked at the others in confusion. "What do kunoichi do?"
"I can be a spy," Orochimaru offered, since it was the only job she knew of so far that didn't involve fighting.
"No, girls can't spy," one of the older cousins said – and since he was older, his word was law. "Girls are medics. Can you do that?"
Orochimaru thought a moment. "Sure." She wouldn't have to fight, and maybe she could do something about how dirty the others were.
"She's with the Crocodile Village!" another boy declared.
"No way, Spider Village wants her! We don't have a medic!"
And thus the battle broke out anew. Orochimaru ended up being medic for whoever next yelled for her help. That lasted until the boys realized she was a double agent, at which point she was chased, to be imprisoned and held as hostage. Orochimaru ended up having to climb the tree after all to escape them (she was surprised to learn she was the only one who could figure out how to climb it).
She was stuck up there until she declared that she was a princess from Spider, but she'd married a warlord from Crocodile, so they had to come up with a treaty because of her marriage. After agreeing on peace, the boys started trying to figure out who, exactly, had the honor of being the warlord married to a princess.
Orochimaru had quite thoroughly taken control of the game. The war was over, the boys were being civil again, and now they were trying to heal themselves and were starting to choose warlords and kages instead of simply killing each other. She had to admit, she was quite pleased with the way the game was turning out.
The game had been completely rearranged, altered so that it flowed around her, bent to her every word. From her vantage point up in the tree, Orochimaru really was starting to feel like a princess.
"What's all this about princesses and kunoichi, Orochimaru?"
The sharp voice snapped Orochimaru back to reality. Dakatsu was glaring up in the trees, and the other men were standing behind him, grinning bemusedly. His face was red with embarrassment and anger, and he looked about prepared to murder.
"H-hello, Father," Orochimaru said weakly, terrified. And in hardly a moment, he had lost control of everything again.
"Orochi-maru? Isn't that a boy name?" Whispers coming from the boys below. Orochimaru started blushing again instantly, and felt tears well up, but forced them back.
As father always told him, and made sure he remembered, boys don't cry.
"Get down here," Dakatsu snapped. Orochimaru meekly climbed down from the tree and walked through the stilled mob of boys to his father.
As he passed one of the older boys, around eight or nine, he put his hand on Orochimaru's shoulder and said, "Don't worry, Orochimaru-hime. If he does anything to you, the Crocodile Village will protect you."
"Thank you, Waniji-dono," Orochimaru whispered, and walked on. Waniji was the Crocodile warlord who'd married the Spider princess.
He stopped in front of his father, head low. He could hear the other men laughing; one said, "You've got one hell of a kid, Dakatsu. Good luck with him."
Dakatsu crouched down. "Orochimaru, look at me."
He didn't look up.
That time, he jerked his head up, standing ramrod straight. Father was glaring at him; cold yellow eyes widened with anger, the serpentine slits of pupils barely a line in his iris. "You know exactly what you were doing, don't you?"
Orochimaru blinked fast, trying not to cry. Boys don't cry. "Playing ninja, Daddy."
"And pretending to be a girl?"
It wasn't pretending, it wasn't pretending. "No, sir."
Dakatsu's eyes finally narrowed again. "You know what this means, don't you? When we go home Mama and I will have to punish you again."
Orochimaru let out a small squeak of shock, and he had to blink even faster to hold the tears in. There was only one thing father did for punishment, when he thought Orochimaru wasn't acting like a proper boy. His hands quickly reached up to run through his beautiful long hair. It was the only part of his entire body that he liked. "Daddy!"
"It's for your own good, Orochimaru. You have to learn your lesson somehow."
No. No. Boys can't cry, and Orochimaru had been told he was a boy. He squeezed his eyes shut, bowing his head, letting his hair fall in front of his face. He wouldn't be able to do that with his hair again for a long, long time.
"Man, Dakatsu, what have you and Shinja been doing with him?" Another bemused voice. "Is he always like this?"
Boys can't cry, Orochimaru thought, as tears started to slide down his face again. He covered his mouth as he broke into sobs. Where were Waniji and the Crocodile Village to protect him? Boys can't cry.
As he cried, Orochimaru hated being a boy.
A/N: Please, please tell me what you thought. I've no idea what anyone will think of this idea. I hope it'll be something new. Criticism is very much welcome, as are praise, questions, and flames. (Yes, flames. I'm easily amused.)