A/N: It took me two months to get this updated. I am very, very sorry. On the other hand, I'm pretty darn proud of this chapter. I hope you enjoy it too! (Just remember, I promised that this fic would be following canon as much as possible!)
Completely random, but you know what gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling? When someone gives me a review saying "update soon!" just a few hours before I'm going to post the newest chapter. Hi there!
Mirror Mirror on the Wall
I cross-dressed all the time when I was little. I played dress-up with my grandmother's old clothes that my sister and I had in our play area. Now I felt like I was doing something incredibly wrong. – Madeline H. Wyndzen
When Orochimaru's parents emerged from the doctor's office and told Orochimaru they were going home now, Dakatsu looked unusually pleased and Shinja looked annoyed. Orochimaru wondered what had happened in there.
On the way out of the Yakushi Ward, the woman at the desk stopped them. "Hey, wait a sec, I've got a note I'm supposed to give someone," she said. One arm propped up her chin and the other lazily held out a paper. It was a piece of blue stationary off of a pad on the woman's desk, with a printed header at the top that said "Mitarashi Kinako – Chuunin – Yakushi Ward Assistant." Below was scrawled the name "Susano'o" and a phone number. Orochimaru leaned over to look.
"I'm supposed to give this to a 'girly boy,'" she said, face set in an expression that said she was quite aware how strange the message was but couldn't bring herself to care. "Izzat you?" She looked at Orochimaru, one eyebrow cocked.
"No, it isn't," Dakatsu said sharply. The pleased expression had vanished. He took Orochimaru out of Shinja's arms to keep him from looking at the paper and set him on the ground. Squeezing his hand, Dakatsu pulled Orochimaru along so fast he almost couldn't keep up.
Kinako watched them go, and shrugged. "Sorry, my bad," she muttered to herself. "Guess that was a girl." She laid the paper aside to wait for the next "girly boy" she saw.
"Daddy, slow down," Orochimaru said, tripping and almost falling to one knee before he could stumble back to his feet.
"Learn to keep up," Dakatsu snapped.
"Dakatsu, stop that! You're going to make him fall," Shinja said angrily.
Dakatsu stopped so fast that Orochimaru almost jerked out of his grip, still running. "I'm just walking," he said tightly. "If he falls, it's his own fault. He can run."
"Listen to what you're saying! How is it possibly his fault? You are not walking, Dakatsu, I can hardly keep up with you!" Shinja said. "Don't be a fool. It wouldn't hurt you to consider that maybe Orochimaru isn't exactly the same as you, and that doesn't always mean he's done something wrong!"
Dakatsu and Shinja glared at each other a long moment, and Orochimaru realized that, perhaps, this fight wasn't completely about whether or not Dakatsu was running too fast for Orochimaru to keep up. This was some strange adult matter that Orochimaru had no way of understanding. He could see his mother's face, the fury in her eyes, directed straight at Dakatsu. Even though she sounded like she was fighting for Orochimaru, she didn't even look at him.
Orochimaru couldn't see his father's face, his father's cold snake eyes. He was glad.
"Are you suggesting that I did something wrong?" Dakatsu asked. His voice was trembling with controlled anger – and something else. Fear.
That was when Orochimaru figured out the real reason for this fight. It was over whether or not Orochimaru was a girl – no, over whether or not Dakatsu had caused something to go wrong in Orochimaru.
"No, Dakatsu, of course not!" Shinja said. "Nobody did anything wrong, Orochimaru's just—"
"Daddy!" Orochimaru said, loud enough that Shinja looked at him in surprise. He had to stop this fight. He didn't care who was right, he just wanted his father to be happy again. "It's okay. I can keep up now."
Dakatsu gave him a confused look, as if he didn't remember what Orochimaru was talking about. "You can...? Oh, yes. And why is it different now, Orochimaru?"
"Because..." Orochimaru swallowed hard and said, miserably, "I can handle it. I'm tough enough."
"That's right. Of course you are." Dakatsu gave Shinja a triumphant look. She watched with tight lips as Dakatsu started walking again.
This time, Orochimaru really could keep up. Dakatsu had started walking slower, just because Orochimaru had said he could walk faster. Why had that happened? He walked with his eyes on the ground, baffled, as he wondered where things had changed.
For a moment, Orochimaru had been strong. That was it.
There are two ways to be strong, and Orochimaru had been strong like a girl. Girls are strong by being smart enough to get others to do what they want, and somehow, Orochimaru had done just that. He had been strong.
He was so distracted by his thoughts that he didn't notice when they left the hospital, and almost ran into the kid standing in front of him.
Orochimaru started and looked up. Dakatsu had stopped, and was looking sharply at the kid.
It was Susano'o, still wearing his barrette and pink jumper. Since the last time Orochimaru had seen him, he'd added a bracelet – it was one of those pretty braided ribbon and bead bracelets that had inspired the lanyard for Orochimaru's house key – and three flowers drawn on one cheek with red and blue markers. He was wearing a backpack, so he'd apparently just come home from school.
Susano'o surveyed Orochimaru critically for a moment, then stated, "I think you're cute." He leaned forward and pecked Orochimaru on one cheek.
"I'll see you later!" Susano'o said, and ran past Orochimaru and into the building.
Orochimaru stood perfectly rigid. He'd seen a ninja melt into the ground once and wondered if he could do that right now, when Dakatsu said, "Orochimaru?"
"Yes, Daddy?" he said in a tiny voice.
"Do you know that child?"
"N-no," Orochimaru said.
"Hmm." To his surprise, Dakatsu laughed. "What do you know! Looks like you're a lady-killer already, Orochimaru."
"I don't kill ladies!" Orochimaru said, horrified.
"No, that's not what that means. It's a good thing," Dakatsu said.
"It... is?" It was good that Susano'o had kissed him? Orochimaru had gotten kissed by another boy, and it was a good thing? He didn't have to think that it was wrong?
Orochimaru felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from his chest. It was okay to be kissed by another boy, just like a girl would be, it was okay, father had said so! Orochimaru smiled up at Dakatsu, who beamed back.
For once, Orochimaru wasn't wrong, Orochimaru wasn't evil, Orochimaru was acting like a girl... and even her father approved. She floated home on a cloud of elation.
As they walked, Dakatsu turned to Shinja and murmured, "Did you know that little girl?"
"The one in the pink jumper?" Shinja said. "No, I've never seen her in my life."
Orochimaru remained in her own little world all evening, her head floating somewhere far above Konoha with happiness. She was once again the Spider princess, the wife of a Crocodile lord, anything she wanted to be – and she had Susano'o to thank for that. She could tell that her parents had no idea what had her so happy, but she didn't care. Upon arriving at home, she went to her room to retrieve Zimu-san and her key and left again with only a shouted good-bye to Shinja and Dakatsu.
Orochimaru never saw her parents again.
"I'm gonna be a queen when I grow up," Orochimaru informed Zimu-san, as she walked and he slithered through Konoha's streets. "I can do that, right?"
Zimu-san bobbed his head up and down, relieved that Orochimaru's general outlook on life had improved so much from the night before. "Ysss." Yes. As far as Zimu-san was concerned, Orochimaru could do whatever he, she, or it wanted.
"No, I'm gonna do even better than that!" Orochimaru declared. "Daddy says I have to be a ninja, so I'm gonna be the Hokage!"
Now this was news. "Ssnn?"
"See," Orochimaru said, "I'm gonna be the first girl Hokage ever. Besides, you've got to be really tough to be Hokage, right?"
"So, if I'm Hokage, I'll prove I'm really tough. And then Daddy will be happy, right?"
Well, that was one way to look at it. Zimu-san didn't think Orochimaru would really enjoy being a Hokage, but he was there to support her.
"Anyway," she continued, "the Hokage gets to decide what's right and wrong, so I can say that everyone can be what they want. That – that nobody's wrong or evil." That way, no one would have to live like Orochimaru had.
Orochimaru wanted to go find Jiraiya and tell him the news, that she was a girl now and always could be, but a warning siren went off, the low, slow siren that said there was some kind of suspicious activity outside the village but nothing worth getting worried about yet. Still, it meant that civilians were not supposed to be wandering around outside, just in case. Until Orochimaru became a genin, she was still a civilian. "Come on, Zimu-san," Orochimaru said. "We've gotta go home now."
"Yess." Zimu-san really needed to practice some new words, didn't he? Orochimaru hadn't even seemed to notice yet that he could (sorta) talk, although he was doing it for her.
He slithered near his master's side, guarding her from whatever threat lurked outside the village.
Orochimaru's parents were already gone by the time she got home, undoubtedly to see what the sirens were about. Orochimaru got dinner by herself, cup ramen that was a bit gummy because she either hadn't added enough water or had microwaved it a little too long. (It was hard to enter the correct time when she had to stand on her toes just to hit the top buttons.) She let Zimu-san outside to catch his own dinner; he hunted for mice and rodents in the narrow gaps on either side of and behind the Yashagoro house, between the house's blank grey walls and its neighbors.
As he hunted, he found a frog, an orange one about the size of Orochimaru's head. Zimu-san had never seen such a large frog before. He eagerly glided forward, coming up silently behind the frog, then reared back and opened his jaw wide to bite. Such a treat, this was the first time Zimu-san had caught a frog for dinner...
"Hey, you punk!" The frog whirled around and hit Zimu-san hard in the side of the head. Stars shot through his vision. "Brash little twit, who do you think you're tryin' to take a bite outta, huh? You got any idea who my brother is, punk? I don't think so!"
Zimu-san's jaw had been knocked apart, and he thrashed his head around a bit until he could re-hinge it. "Ssuh?"
"That's right, loser, Gamajiro is the name, and my big bro is Gamabunta! Not even you wanna tango with him, ain't that right?" the frog said. Zimu-san had no idea what the frog was talking about, and was still just trying to get used to the fact that this frog was so fluent in the human language. By now he could see straight again after the knock to his head, and he looked at the frog. Shocked, he realized that what had hit his head was the broad side of a miniature katana.
"And who do you think you are, huh? Punk?" Gamajiro shot.
Luckily, Zimu-san had practiced his name before. "Ssszzimmu-sssn," he managed.
Gamajiro gave him a blank look. "Come again?"
Zimu-san gave him an annoyed look.
"Oh. Oh, you ain't a summon, are you? Sorry, bud, I thought I was dealin' with a pro nin-hebi." He re-sheathed his katana. "Didn't realize you was a regular garden snake, punk. Shoulda figured there wouldn't be many nin-hebi outside a' Iwagakure."
Zimu-san hissed viciously enough that Gamajiro immediately said, "Okay, okay, you're not a garden snake! Sheesh. So, can you speak at all?"
"Okay. So. I still need to know your name." Gamajiro tapped one webbed foot as he thought. "How 'bout this? We go one character at a time. That work?"
Zimu-san bobbed his head. "Sszzi..."
"Oh, okay, Zi. Go on."
"San? Zimu-san?" Gamajiro frowned thoughtfully. "Eh, I'm not an honorific kind of guy. No point among animals, right? I'll just call you Zimu and you can call me Gamajiro. But, eh, don't strain yourself trying."
"Oh, I gotta go," Gamajiro said. "Hey, do you know where Namikaze Tenka lives? Kokona-chan wants me to go take a picture of him." He held up a disposable camera.
Wasn't Kokona that scary girl who had scolded Jiraiya? Zimu-san nodded in answer to Gamajiro's question, and used his tail to point at the walls of one of the buildings they were between. Gamajiro hopped gleefully. "Ha, I knew he was around here! Thanks punk." He hurried away and around the side of the house to find a way in.
A summoned frog. This was a day full of firsts for Zimu-san; the fist time he'd seen a frog like Gamajiro, the first time he'd ever met a summon. He slithered on his way to find a meal that wouldn't fight back, and caught two rats before it started drizzling and he decided to go home.
He should really practice speaking more, if he wanted to be as useful to Orochimaru as Gamajiro was to Kokona.
The rain finally started storming full out at about the same time that the sirens stopped, some time after the sun had fallen. Orochimaru went to sleep without waiting for her parents to come home, with Zimu-san curled up around her. Who knew how long they'd be gone?
She had nightmares that she couldn't remember about being something she wasn't, when something woke her up. The digital clock beside her bed said 4:36. All the time meant to her was that she wasn't supposed to make noise, so she wouldn't wake her parents.
At first, she thought that a high crack of thunder might have woken her up, but she didn't hear any more. It took her a long moment, sitting silently in her dark room, to realize what she'd heard; the terrifying wail of a new siren, screeching over the entire village. This wasn't the slow, low one to say that something suspicious was happening. This wasn't even the cautious whining siren to announce a confirmed sighting of enemy ninja. This was louder, harsher, one that Orochimaru had never heard in her life. She wouldn't get back to sleep with that going off. Now that she recognized it, she couldn't ignore it. At least she was too young to be scared of it.
Orochimaru got up, climbed over Zimu-san to keep from waking him, and tiptoed quietly, even though she couldn't be heard over the siren, to the door of her room and slowly opened it. Then she walked to her parent's room, and when she was only a few inches from it she could see that it had been left open. She sighed in relief, and flipped on the light switch. She wouldn't have to worry about being quiet if they were still gone. Orochimaru wandered into the room, wondering what her parents were doing, and then forgot about them completely when her mother's dressing table caught her eyes.
This was where her mother had gotten prettied up for that party... was it two days ago, now? With her long hair combed out and lipstick and blush and eye shadow, and Orochimaru had thought, maybe, someday, she could be that pretty too. Her parents hadn't actually gone to the party that night. That was probably her fault, she thought guiltily.
Something about the room looked strange. A combination of the strange hour, the phantom wailing, the alien tap of rain, made the entire room somehow changed, made it seem as though anything in it could change, too. Orochimaru wasn't poetic enough to consciously think all this; she just knew, without a doubt, that something about her mother and father's room tonight made everything possible.
Orochimaru walked up to the dressing table, pulled herself onto the chair, and leaned over the myriad of make-up and brushes and perfumes. Somewhere distant, she heard what her father had said to her when she had first said she was going to be a girl:
"Take off your clothes and go look in the mirror, that'll show you everything you need to see. You're a boy, and you always will be. That's not changing."
She ran one hand uncomfortably through her hair, which was only just barely past her chin by now. What if Dakatsu was right? Orochimaru's face in the mirror certainly didn't look female. Maybe a bit feminine, but not female. What if it was true, then, that Orochimaru could never change the fact that he was...
No. She could change. She'd already decided that, and now she'd prove it. She'd make the image in the reflection a girl, too, and that would be enough.
She grabbed up her mother's lipstick, and started with that, imitating what Shinja did, pursing her lips as she smeared the red make-up on, and then when she felt like she had enough, grabbing the pink blush, and then the eyeliner, the eye shadow, some nice-looking creams that she couldn't really recognize... Orochimaru grabbed a couple of necklaces from the top of the table and put them on, and then decided that maybe a little more lipstick couldn't hurt.
If she had checked her clock, she would have seen that it was well past five when she decided she was finished, and leaned back to survey her work. By now, she had to look exactly like a normal girl, didn't she? Just like...
Orochimaru stared at the face in the mirror with horror. Pasty white skin framed by hacked-off black hair, painted on like an ugly canvas, with red smears around the lips and almost neon pink splotches, dark blue-purple stains caked around the eyes, patchy brown and tan layers crusted over the skin from the skin creams. Orochimaru looked like a clown. Orochimaru looked like a monster. Orochimaru looked like a freak, an aberration, a horror. Orochimaru looked like nothing remotely female.
"That'll show you everything you need to see. You're a boy and you always will be."
He could never, ever change. It didn't matter if he had permission, it didn't matter how easy it seemed, how right it felt, how badly he wanted it. Orochimaru was, and always would be, male.
Orochimaru stumbled off the chair, fell hard and hit his elbow on the dressing table. He cradled it in his other hand and started sobbing, sending a muddy stream of make-up down his cheeks as he cried. He wanted to die. Daddy had been right all along. Why? Why not?! Why couldn't he change? If only Orochimaru knew, he could stop crying enough to tie all this up inside him, where he could keep it hidden and go about his life without tears. Boys don't cry, no matter how much it hurts.
If only he understood...
Daddy. Orochimaru forced his eyes open and pushed himself to his feet. He'd get in trouble if Dakatsu came back now and found him like this, futilely pretending to be a girl again. He rubbed his face, covered both hands with make-up. That wasn't good enough, Daddy would see through that.
Orochimaru ran out of the room, pulling at the pearl necklaces around his neck until the strings snapped and the pearls bounced away. He had to get this all off. In his bathroom he stood on his stool in front of his sink so he could see over the top, turned on the tap, and started scrubbing his face with the too-hot water.
Zimu-san was woken by the activity and slithered into the bathroom. "Orosssshi?" he questioned.
"Go away," Orochimaru whined. "I-I'm ugly."
What had brought that on? Zimu-san got closer and lifted his head enough to peek at Orochimaru's face. He was a mess. "Ssn?"
Reluctantly, Zimu-san lowered himself to the ground and backed away, but didn't leave. He couldn't abandon Orochimaru in this condition.
The make-up wasn't coming off. Orochimaru needed something stronger than just the water. He couldn't let anyone ever see him like this.
He jumped down from the stool, leaving the water running, and ran out of the room to get something. His mother always used it to remove stains, it would work now, too.
Zimu-san followed uneasily, wondering what Orochimaru could possibly be going to do now. He was acting almost psychotic, and Zimu-san was scared for him. He'd never seen Orochimaru act like this before.
Orochimaru ran into the utility room, snapped on the weak bulb, and Zimu-san hesitated a moment, wondering if he should go in or not. Orochimaru would definitely be mad, but, if anything happened to him because Zimu-san wasn't there to protect him...
Zimu-san slithered into the room, and for a moment, froze in terror. Orochimaru had climbed on top of the washing machine and grabbed a bottle of bleach, uncapped it, and was tilting it over his face, looking at it fearlessly with wide-open snake eyes.
Without thinking, Zimu-san lunged at Orochimaru, sank his fangs into the bottle, and jerked it out of his hands. He slithered out of the room as fast as possible with the bottle clenched in his jaws. The bitter poison started to seep around the holes his fangs had made in the bottle, and he resisted the urge to spit it out. He had to get this away from Orochimaru.
"Zimu-san?! Come back here!" Orochimaru leaped deftly off the washing machine, landed at a run and chased Zimu-san. He caught the snake's tail in the living room and held on tight. "I need that," he snarled, sounding much angrier than any child his age should. In the dark of the living room, his golden eyes glimmered through the blue shadows. For a moment, he couldn't see what he was doing, who he was hurting. He was merely calculating how to get what he wanted.
If Zimu-san hadn't been so worried about hurting Orochimaru, he could have easily whipped the child off and kept going, but he hesitated long enough for Orochimaru dive for the handle of the bleach bottle and grab it. "Give it back!"
Zimu-san couldn't say no, couldn't shake his head, so he only sunk his teeth in deeper. More bleach leaked into his mouth, and the sharp stench right under his nostrils was making him dizzy. He couldn't hold on much longer, he thought woozily, he couldn't let any more of the bleach in his mouth, or the chemical could kill him...
Orochimaru jerked the bleach bottle free, and didn't even notice that his only confidant had passed out on the floor. He tilted the bottle again over his face—there was only a little left, most had been spilled or leaked, but he thought it would still be enough to wash his face clean.
Before he could pour any of the bleach, the front door was forced open with a crack of broken wood. He jumped and dropped the bottle, and the last of he liquid soaked into the carpet. Too late, his father—
"Orochimaru-kun! Where—?" Someone flipped the living room light on. Half-blinded in the sudden bright lights, Orochimaru squinted at the invader. Sarutobi.
"Oh, my word, Orochimaru-kun," Sarutobi gasped. "What happened?"
"W-what?" Orochimaru asked pitifully. His face heated furiously in shame. He could see Sarutobi's expression, and he knew exactly what it meant; he was terrified of Orochimaru, because of what he'd done to his face.
The two Hokage followed shortly. "Kid, it's all right," the Second said quietly to Sarutobi, laying a hand on his shoulder. "It's just face paint."
Sarutobi's breath gushed out of him in relief. "It... oh, thank goodness. When I saw all that red..." He shuddered. "I've seen too much blood tonight."
He crouched in front of Orochimaru and reached out to wipe away some of the red lipstick, but Orochimaru swatted Sarutobi's hand and backed away.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded of the strange men, his three Hokage. "This is my house!" His eyes started watering again, but he fought the tears back. "If you don't leave, then I'll—" He spotted his snake. "Zimu-san?"
The First noticed as well and nudged his brother. "Ozora. See what's wrong with him." Orochimaru watched helplessly as the Second kneeled beside his snake and started examining the limp body for wounds.
Orochimaru was going to be in more trouble than he could possibly imagine, he knew that. He turned to Sarutobi. "Please," he begged, "don't tell Daddy about this." He wiped his eyes and his hands came back with a messy smear of eyeliner and eye shadow. "He'll punish me again if you tell him."
Sarutobi frowned. "Orochimaru-kun," he said sadly. "We came here to tell you something."
"Just don't tell Daddy!" Orochimaru insisted. "Please!"
"Orochimaru-kun, listen," Sarutobi said.
Orochimaru nodded slightly. What was Sarutobi going to say? Did Dakatsu already know? He couldn't hold the tears back anymore as he listened.
"There was an attack on Konohagakure tonight," Sarutobi said. "We detected some suspicious activity yesterday evening and sent out jounin out to investigate, and when they found nothing, we assigned them to patrol the outer perimeter of the village. A little over an hour ago, the enemy attacked."
Orochimaru stood silently, crying and confused.
"Mist Village and Waterfall Village have declared war against Leaf. Sixteen of our finest are... are dead." Sarutobi swallowed hard, and placed a hand on Orochimaru's shoulder. "Orochimaru-kun, I'm so sorry. Yashagoro Dakatsu and Shinja... your father and mother gave their lives to protect our village."
Orochimaru almost stopped breathing. Now he understood. He stopped crying and stared blankly through Sarutobi.
Sarutobi cleared his throat thickly, and said, "They're dead, Orochimaru-kun. That means—"
"I know what death is, Sarutobi-san," Orochimaru said softly. Everything made sense now.
They were dead because of him. Orochimaru had lost his Mommy and his Daddy forever because of what he had done. This was his punishment: for trying to be happy, he had lost his parents, his family, his home...
Orochimaru shot a terrified look at Zimu-san's body. What if he lost him, too? Orochimaru would be alone. He would have nothing in the world. Nothing.
"Orochimaru-kun..." Sarutobi laid his hand on Orochimaru's shoulder, and this time he didn't push it away. He hardly noticed it. "You'll have to come with us," Sarutobi said, wiping some off the make-up off Orochimaru's face with one hand. "We need to find someone to take you in, at least for the next few days and then... a long-term guardian."
When Sarutobi stood up and offered Orochimaru his hand, he took it without thinking and numbly allowed himself to be led away from his home.
For the rest of his life Orochimaru would always feel, somewhere deep within his heart where not even adult reason and logic could pierce through, that he had killed the two people he loved most in all the world by daring to wish he was a girl.