Sasuke's seal was breaking him from the chains he was brutally held down with. His arms were stretched out, chained at the wrists and held at absolute tension, allowing Orochimaru no movement. His legs were chained together at the ankles and stretched downward, allowing no movement there, either. His neck was chained down, a metal cuff as a necklace stained ruby with crimson blood. Finally, a blindfold covered his eyes, soft silk as a bitter irony to the brutality of the chains.
And that blindfold was slipping.
Orochimaru's left eye was free, and he opened it with a sudden flash, appearing in Sasuke's own left eye. Orochimaru could feel the chains around him slackening, and he pulled against them ever harder. Sasuke was having trouble keeping the headstrong sannin in check. But still, both tried to overcome the other, and Orochimaru grit his teeth in anger.
His left wrist came free.
Orochimaru gave a cry of joy and yanked off the blindfold, reaching over and pulling the chains off the rest of his body. He rose from the cold steel table he had been restrained on, and his soul broke loose from its confines. Orochimaru paused to offer Sasuke a bit of power, hoping to tempt the child enough into relaxing his guard so he could take over. Sasuke couldn't seem to make up his mind, and so Orochimaru made it for him. He initiated his hydra jutsu, and eight snake heads spewed from Sasuke's Curse Mark. Orochimaru could see Itachi's recognition through one of the snake's eyes, and knew it was time he emerged from his eternal prison.
A heart took its first beat.
Lungs inflated in a strong coughing breath, but long fangs were revealed as a mouth opened in a scream of victory. Golden eyes snapped open, taking in the world around them, and lengthy black hair cascaded down around bare white shoulders. Orochimaru realized his lack of clothing, but it was a small price to pay for being alive. He could take other's lives later, so long as he still had his.
"You finally show yourself."
Orochimaru felt a hand fasten around his throat and tear him from the suddenly-severed snake's heads. He crashed to the ground with a startled shout of surprise and pain. Orochimaru's chest heaved with heavy breaths, and he slowly raised his eyes to those of his attacker. Painted toenails gave way to standard issue shinobi sandals, pants, and then a long Akatsuki cloak, half of it burned away by the flames of lightning. Long black hair, loosed from its usual ponytail, blew in the slight breeze. A blood-stained face stared down at him, and dark eyes that betrayed nothing hid their Sharingan perfectly. Orochimaru's head slowly raised, and he kept his body angle pressed enough to the ground that salvaged the last of his dignity. Well, better his ass shown off than anything else…
"Itachi," Orochimaru whispered. "Good to see you again-ah!"
Orochimaru was roughly lifted from the ground and held across the hips by Itachi's cloaked arm, still striving to hide what should have been hidden to begin with. "Take a good, long look," he snarled, using his other hand to bend Orochimaru over to stare into glassy Sharingan eyes. "Now, aren't you glad you escaped that body?" Itachi whispered, gently moving his hand to rest between Orochimaru's shoulder blades. "Because I would have killed you, too. I'm ashamed of you, Orochimaru. Allowing yourself to be imprisoned in such a mediocre shinobi."
Orochimaru gave a shiver and unwittingly took a small step back. Itachi smirked and tossed Orochimaru to Zetsu, who barely emerged from the ground in enough time to catch him. He glanced at Itachi, the expression on his face clearly stating, "Well, whadda ya want me to do with it?"
Itachi noticed this and rolled his eyes. "Carry him for me, duh," he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "He can't walk, and I barely can. So, if we can both make it to my room, we'll be safe." Itachi turned around and began slowly making his way back into the Akatsuki lair. With every step, his movements grew slower and heavier. Zetsu stayed slightly behind Itachi, carrying Orochimaru so his body angle was folded between his arms, still making efforts to spare him the smallest shred of dignity. Itachi finally collapsed to his knees, panting and clutching at his left eye. "Dammit," he swore, struggling to his feet again. Zetsu almost asked Itachi if he wanted help, but then took into accommodation Itachi's pride. If the Uchiha had no legs, he would walk on his hands. That was the theory, though no one had dared put it anywhere near testing. Finally, Itachi roused himself to his feet and continued down the hallway, finally turning off into his room. Right before he closed the door, he turned around and said to Zetsu,
"Do not-under any circumstances-eat my brother's body. Remove the eyes, and leave the eyelids closed. I will perform an experiment on it later. Keep Orochimaru with you. Clean him up, and allow him to regain his strength. Also allow him freedom in public areas, but keep an eye on him. I will not have him snooping around in forbidden places. Stick him in the library if he gets bored-he can amuse himself for that period of time until I wake up and can get to him."
And the door slammed.
Orochimaru shrank back as Zetsu's gaze fell to him, but took Itachi's word and Zetsu's own fear of the Uchiha as a gift and remained silent. Zetsu sighed, rolled his eyes, and carried Orochimaru a few doors down. He opened the door and pushed Orochimaru inside, then locked it himself. Orochimaru subconsciously put his hands down, but remained standing, as if to prove a point.
"I'll eat it if I see it," Zetsu's black half snarled, and Orochimaru shivered with disgust. The white half, however, politely pointed Orochimaru to the bathroom, telling him he would be back with at least some boxers for Orochimaru to cover himself with. Orochimaru nodded his thanks, and Zetsu walked off to find clothes for Orochimaru. Orochimaru sighed and walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind himself and slowly turning the lock. Orochimaru took a glance at himself in the mirror and shuddered.
"You're a mess," he whispered to himself, running a hand through his matted hair. Orochimaru found a comb under the sink and began brushing out his hair, starting from the bottom and working his way up. After half an hour, his hair was smooth enough to wash, and Orochimaru turned on the water and stepped into the hot stream of water coming from the shower. He washed off his hair first, scrubbing out the matted blood and slime from the snake's mouth. Next, he moved down across his body with the most soap he'd ever seen in his body, being careful to scrape every flake of dirt and gore off his porcelain skin. Finally, Orochimaru cleaned the crap out from under his nails, being sure that little to nothing remained to remind him of the painful ordeal of being chained down in Sasuke's mind. Orochimaru finally turned off the water, wrapped a towel around his waist, and wiped the fog off the mirror to comb his hair again. It only took him a few minutes this time; his hair was already combed out from before. Orochimaru took one last look, pushing the last section of hair over his shoulder, and let out all his pent-up breath.
He opened the door to the bathroom and found clean clothes piled next to the door. He picked these up and retreated back into the bathroom, changed out of the towel and into the half-fishnet shirt and shinobi pants, and then, on a whim, reached under the sink and emerged with a roll of bandages. He wrapped his lower legs, just for a bit of definition, then took a deep breath and walked out of the bathroom. Zetsu glanced up, nodded once in approval, and extended his closed hand. Orochimaru drew closer, curious, and as he came closer, Zetsu opened his hand, revealing a pair of curved, dangling earrings.
"You left them twenty years ago, and Itachi liked them so much he decided to keep them. Problem was, he accidently pierced his ears too low, so there was a danger of them tearing under the weight. It was funny. The holes healed, but one got infected, so now he can't pierce it." Zetsu's white half smiled, and Orochimaru hesitantly accepted the earrings. "Go on, put 'em in. As long as the holes haven't closed up, I say go for it." Orochimaru shrugged and went back into the bathroom, softly closing the door. He immediately inspected the earrings for poison that could possibly get into his bloodstream. Finding none after a thorough investigation, he slowly put the earrings back into his ears.
"The holes were a little healed," he said slowly, explaining his absence, "So I needed to poke a little. But no, they weren't completely healed over." Zetsu seemed to barely mind, but nodded politely in recognition of Orochimaru's speech. Gathering no further reply, Orochimaru continued, "I take it I'm supposed to stay with you."
"Those were Itachi's orders."
Rather anti-social. Alright, Orochimaru could deal with that…"And where was this library Itachi spoke of?"
Zetsu stood up and beckoned Orochimaru after him. The sannin followed obediently, all the way down the entire hallway and through winding corridors after spinning hallways. Orochimaru's own complex was like this, but a foreign one he could never navigate after only one try. Maybe two, but mostly likely it would take him three trips to get there on his own-if he was allowed. Most likely he would need an escort and be forced to go everywhere with the permission and accompaniment of one of the Akatsuki or one of their affiliates.
Zetsu finally stopped before two large double-doors, pulled one open, and ushered Orochimaru in. "There are at least two people in here, so watch yourself," he hissed, and backed out of the room, letting the door slam.
The room was huge.
The ceiling was at least three stories high, a glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling and illuminating everything with a thousand candles. Massive bookshelves stood in rows on either side of an oriental carpet the stretched from one end of the room to the other. A woman with blue hair was sitting in a bean-bag chair off to the left, and a man with silver hair and red eyes was sitting at one of the tables to the right. Orochimaru immediately went down the lines of bookshelves, searching for something at random that would peak his interest. His finger trailed down the spine of several books, even hooking in the binding and pulling the book off the shelf, then turning it over and reading the back or the inside. Orochimaru finally settled on a documentary of the Kyuubi, its origin, the legends surrounding it, the like. He pulled one of the bean-bag chairs into the corner of the carpeted area and sat down, curling up and folding his legs off to the side. He opened the book and immediately lost himself, eyes skimming furiously over the pages and drinking in all the information. He was only interrupted by the woman getting up and leaving, and then again by the library door opening. Sasori stepped in and looked around, then headed over to Orochimaru and crouched down across from him. Orochimaru glanced up, waiting for Sasori to speak first.
"Itachi wants to see you."
Orochimaru's heart leapt into his throat, and he glanced frantically up at the clock. It had only been-! Five hours. Orochimaru shivered, then stood up and re-shelved the book. Sasori was waiting by the door when he came back, and escorted Orochimaru back through the endless maze of hallways. They finally stopped in front of a normal-looking door, one that looked no different than the rest. Sasori pushed it open and motioned Orochimaru inside, then nodded and closed the door.
Orochimaru was immediately spooked, and his golden eyes flickered around searching for Itachi. He spotted the Uchiha sitting on the couch, feet up and head tipped back, eyes closed. Was he asleep? Orochimaru was hoping so-
The order was simple and passage enough, but Orochimaru could hear the underlying tones of authority in it. He obeyed, slowly walking over to Itachi and stopping next to the Uchiha, waiting for his next order. Throughout the entire encounter, Itachi's eyes remained closed.
Orochimaru gingerly lowered himself to the couch next to Itachi, scooting over as far as the couch itself would allow. Itachi's eyes suddenly opened and glared at Orochimaru, but the sannin refused to shrink back before him, or show any sign of fear. He would not be belittled!
A harsh slap rang out across the room.
Orochimaru immediately moved to counter, but Itachi caught his wrist and yanked Orochimaru over to him. "You are not free, by any standards," he snarled. "You are lucky I have treated you so kindly thus far. In fact, you'd be lucky if I merely sent you straight down to the prisons after I caught you. But…I have a little something I thought you should know about."Orochimaru recoiled from Itachi's grasp, but the Uchiha only yanked him closer again. Orochimaru was beginning to los his arrogant air: he was shrinking back, and his breath was starting to pick up. His heart beat fast, and Orochimaru's confidence was dwindling fast.
"Orochimaru," Itachi whispered, "You should know by now that there's a reason I treated you so well."
Orochimaru wordlessly nodded, not liking the look in Itachi's eyes.
"Well, I'll give it to you straight. I hate lies. Orochimaru, ever since you were sealed away in Sasuke's mind, I've held off killing him until you could re-emerge. And why? Because I've always seen killing you as a waste. You almost broke away from me when I put you into Tsukiyomi, and I consider you a challenger as far as power goes. You could probably kill me right here and now, if you wanted to." Itachi glanced at Orochimaru, who only looked confused at this point. "I think…maybe, even as my prisoner, we can work this out somehow."
Orochimaru offered a blank stare.
Itachi sighed and let his head fall to the back of the couch, eyes closing and hiding murderous intent. "I treat you right, you never try for my body again. The Sharingan will never fall to you, Orochimaru. A snake that dreams of flying will only do so in the talons of an eagle. However, you can find your own ways around this…" Itachi opened his eyes slowly and with a sigh. "Well, Konan should be able to transplant Sasuke's eyes into me. I will have to ask her about that. In the meantime, you need something to do…" Itachi glanced around, then shrugged. "Well, you're smart. You'll figure something out. Food's in the fridge, just don't touch anything relating to fish. Kisame will be missing that. Anything else is free game unless otherwise specified. Eat when you're hungry, and you're welcome to the scrolls and books you may find around. Kisame should be back shortly, and you shouldn't have a problem. I need to find Zetsu." Itachi stood up and walked to the door, although rather slowly and awkwardly, and opened it. "Zetsu!" he called into the hallway. The Venus-flytrap of a man rose up out of the floor with a wet squealch and glanced over Itachi's shoulder.
"Wow, he's still alive," the black half said dryly. "Once I heard you wanted him, I was sure he was dead."
"Shut up," Itachi growled, "And get Konan. Tell her I need her-oh, and where are Sasuke's eyes?"
Zetsu held up a jar filled with liquid, two eyeballs half-floating in the liquid. Itachi took the jar from Zetsu and nodded his thanks. "Can't wait to get these in," he muttered. "Go, get Konan," he sighed, closing the door. Itachi set the jar down on one of the refrigerator shelves, slammed the door shut and collapsed again next to Orochimaru.
"She'll be here any second. And when she does, I want you out of this room. Go into mine and just stay there until I call you."
Orochimaru sighed and released his coiled muscles, happy that Itachi wasn't going to beat him-yet. Who knows what the Uchiha had planned for him later? Orochimaru rose soundlessly and slipped into Itachi's room, softly closing the door as paper began gathering and shaping itself into the body of a tall, attractive woman. Orochimaru tentatively lowered himself to the bed, stretching out his legs a bit until he was leaning back, supporting his upper body weight on the heels of his hands. It took a few minutes, but once Orochimaru was fairly certain he wasn't going to die, he stretched out a bit more, lying out fully across the bed, and settling with his head on one of the pillows. For now, he would settle for catnapping here and there. He could hear murmuring in the room across from him, and Itachi saying something Sasuke's closest friend. Well, it made sense: for Itachi to gain the Mangekyou again, he would have to kill his closest friend. But, since the eyes were Sasuke's, he only needed to kill Sasuke's closest friend. Orochimaru turned onto one side, and felt his eyelids sliding closed. After fighting Sasuke's chains for so long, he was exhausted. Orochimaru felt his body being claimed by sleep, and finally allowed himself to be taken down into the inky abyss of relief.
Orochimaru awoke to a hand between his shoulder blades.
He shot upright, hand immediately groping for a kunai. Out of habit, he reached down to under the pillow, where he usually had his hand wrapped around a kunai. Finding none, he glanced around frantically before realizing that it was a young woman with a grin on her face that had awoken him. Orochimaru calmed himself down with a few deep breaths, then nodded a greeting to Konan.
"Missed you," she said dryly. Orochimaru shook his head.
"I guess I could say the same," he murmured, pushing his hair out of his face. "So, what happened?"
"In the three days you were asleep?" Konan said, her smile growing larger. "Well, Itachi's eyes are working fine, and he told me to keep you within my sights at all times. He said he went out to get some dango."
Orochimaru gave a snort of laughter. "Sounds like him. But was it really three days?"
"Nowhere near," Konan admitted, "Only a day and a half."
Orochimaru shrugged. "Not bad. So, he gave me to you now?"
Konan's eyes suddenly darkened, and her face fell. "Technically, you still belong to Itachi," she said, her voice low. "But Pein's had his eye on you for all the time you've been here. Watch yourself, Orochimaru. Be submissive, but know when enough is enough and how to assert yourself effectively. It's a fine line you walk as Itachi's prisoner, as Pein is on par with Itachi and the two of them have short tempers. I wouldn't be surprised if they fought over you." Orochimaru swallowed hard. What a wonderful mess he'd gotten himself into, now, wasn't it?
"And…my village?" he asked. "Who has taken control?"
"Kabuto, of course," Konan replied evenly. "He took a few of your remains and put them into his own body, trying to keep you alive. Why, I don't know, but he did."
Orochimaru's head dipped, and he gave no reply. He knew exactly why, but he didn't want anyone else to know.
"Well," Konan said, standing up with a pat to the sheets on either side of her thighs, "I'll just be going now. Pein's room is adjacent to the library, so if you ask nicely he might let you through." Konan smiled and left the room, closing the door as she left. Orochimaru sighed, reached over to the nightstand next to the bed, and turned on the light there. He took a look around; clearly this was not Itachi's room. It was a bit more feminine, and had origami all over it. Obviously Konan's room. Orochimaru hesitantly stood up, getting his bearings as he did so. He slipped his shoes back onto his feet and walked over to the door, grasping the knob in his hand and slowly turning it.
He almost ran into Pein.
"Oh, sorry," he said, immediately stepping to the side. "I was wondering if maybe you could let me into the library-?"
"Of course," Pein said impatiently, taking Orochimaru's wrist in his hand and pulling him out into the main room. Orochimaru was led into Pein's room, a large, lavish one much like his own in Oto. Orochimaru hardly got a glimpse, however, as he was tugged into a closet: or rather, a tiny corridor leading into the library. Orochimaru was pushed into the passageway, and then the door slammed behind him. Orochimaru took a long, deep breath, then crossed the three-foot-long tunnel and opened the door at the other end. He was immediately dumped into the back of the library, as promised by Konan and Pein alike, and he made a beeline for the books.
And he was only leaving when someone made him.
A/N: Wow, I really like this. I could write the entire story right now, but at current I'm looking for reviews. So, drop a line, let me know what you think! Flames will be reported and then fed to my pet fire demon.