Title: Absinthe

Author: Lovesrainscent

Rating: T

Summary: After the battle between the Three Sannin Orochimaru muses about his past with his teammates and his Sensei.

Absinthe

"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world." - Oscar Wilde

Orochimaru stared at the milky louche that had a moment before been a golden-green that matched his eyes. Adding the water and sugar cooled, cut and sweetened the absinthe but it still remained a powerful intoxicant. Kabuto had left after preparing the glass. Let him wonder, Orochimaru thought, how he planned to lift it without the use of his arms. There were some things, he'd discovered, that it was best to keep Kabuto in the dark about.

Chakra strings and a great deal of self-control allowed him to lift the glass and take the first sip. Bitter. Sweet. Pungent. Cool. He forced himself to swallow it down, savoring the medicinal taste.

Medicinal. It made him think of Tsunade, seeing her again recently after all these years. She hadn't changed a bit, still breathtakingly as beautiful as thirty years ago. He almost envied her that jutsu, the skill that allowed her to remain frozen in time, until he understood the cost of it. She was shortening her own life. He shook his head, revolted. Was her life so miserable without Dan that she would choose to commit what was, to his way of thinking, suicide? To deliberately deduct from the number of days Destiny had allotted her, what kind of death wish must she have?

Would bringing Dan back have made her happy once again? Would that have made her want to live again?

Taking another sip he thought back to the time when he had first discovered how to execute the resurrection jutsu. She was the first person he had thought of. He hadn't seen her in years, but once he knew how it was done, he'd wanted to search her out and explain it to her, prove to her that he could perform it. She would have been happy once again then if he could have brought Dan back to her. He, Orochimaru, could have done what no one else could - make Tsunade smile.

He finished the drink, wincing at the bitterness. He hadn't known how to find her. For years now, it had been in the back of his mind - if he devoted himself to her pursuit he could find her and could prove it to her. But something else always took precedence. When he finally did find her, he was broken, in need of her skills. She never would have believed him now. What he once would have offered as a gift he had to use as a bribe.

He wasn't in love with her. He knew that. He loved Tsunade the way a man loved spring. But he wished so much he could hear her laugh again.

Beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he expended the energy and effort to lift the bottle and prepare a second glass. She had come to him but when exactly had she changed her mind? Had she truly ever been planning to use Jiraiya and that nine-tails brat as the sacrifices the jutsu would require? Had she been daring him to take Jiraiya's life?

He let the absinthe linger on his tongue, developing an affinity for the bittersweet liquid, swirling it before letting it slide down his throat, cool and numbing.

Jiraiya. The white-haired goof had called him his friend when he had begged him to return to the village. He had never been a friend to that idiot, that bumbling fool. If Jiraiya wanted to think that they were friends, well he was welcome to continue to delude himself. Just because Jiraiya had always been the first of the team willing to sacrifice himself for the team, just because he'd saved Orochimaru's butt more times than he cared to remember, just because he was always the first one to badger the other two into a celebration after a successful mission these things did not make him gallant, these things did not make him fun. They made him...annoying.

They were not friends. They never had been.

And just because Jiraiya lived his life out loud, trying to neither shorten nor lengthen his days but savoring every moment of life given to him that did not make him admirable.

There was nothing about him to envy. That was stupid.

And just because Jiraiya might have been the only shinobi in Konoha with a prayer of believing him when he told him the truth, just because he would have been the only one to have forced the council to sit still and listen to Orochimaru and just because once he knew the truth, the whole truth, he might have come with him, leaving the village behind, these things did not mean him missed him.

Because he didn't miss him. He never had.

Orochimaru was close to exhaustion. He did not know why but he forced himself to prepare one more glass. If he was going to sleep at all after this fight he wanted it to be a sleep of total oblivion. He didn't want to be disturbed by memories of teammates, friends and teachers.

Teacher.

Sensei.

Why?

Why had it all turned to hate? When did the love that he had for the man turn into such a festering wound that it consumed his every thought? He had things to do, skills to learn, jutsu to acquire. How could he let himself spend so much time hating the man?

Most people who knew the history of the two of them would assume it started when he was passed over for the position of Fourth Hokage. It was true that he had been outraged. But it was only after the death of Minato that he realized Sarutobi had been protecting both his own favorite student and himself. And after the fashion of his sensei, Jiraiya, Minato had sacrificed himself and his own son for the good of the village, never considering that Sarutobi was there to step back into his old political machinations once the danger was passed, "for the good of the village" of course.

Did Jiraiya even suspect how his student had been used?

What of Tsunade? Did she realize Sarutobi had orchestrated sending Dan on a mission for which he was vastly underqualified? Did she know that in a fit of pique, seeing how she loved the boy and due to his unparalled lust for her the old man had in effect ordered Dan to his grave and delayed her own team's arrival?

His two teammates had been so deceived.

Why had he considered himself above that?

Why did it not occur to him that Sarutobi was using him, too? Encouraging his work. Checking on him every step of the way. Notes that he shared with only sensei. Why did he never suspect?

He had been so surprised at the betrayal, the disruption of his laboratory. Only Sarutobi's weakness, his fear of losing political power had caused him to cave in to the council's requests to investigate and shut him down if necessary. And there Sarutobi had stood, clothed in righteous indignation for the good of the shinobi accompanying him and acting shocked at what he'd seen. Sarutobi was brilliant and Orochimaru had fallen right into his trap. And that was when he began to hate him.

The man who had been there for him since his parent's death, who had taught him and trained him and encouraged him had simply been fashioning a weapon, a tool to be used and discarded when no longer necessary. He was expendable, like Minato and Dan, nothing more than one more pawn to the old man.

Idly he wondered if the amount of love one held for another was proportional to the amount of hate that would follow in the event of betrayal.

He supposed that must be the case for hatred had indeed consumed him. He became obsessed with the thought of surpassing Sarutobi, of hurting him, watching him beg for his life and his beloved village of pawns. Most importantly, he was obsessed with killing him and watching him die.

And the most horrible thing in the world?

He had succeeded.

A/N 1: For Vanya Starwind who asked for Orochimaru's thoughts to complement Jiraiya's in "Rainbows" and Tsunade's in "Cougars and Other Big Cats". As expected, Orochimaru's turned out by far the most maudlin.

A/N 2: Miscellaneous stuff - My father-in-law is Polish and he brought us back a bottle of real Absinthe. I personally do not see how anyone would make it through three glasses of that stuff. I only had one and wound up with a splitting headache. However, the taste is exquisite. On an interesting historical note, in ancient Rome, the winners of chariot races were required to drink a beverage similar to Absinthe to remind them that every victory is bittersweet.