The Serpent God

Chapter 7: Back on the road.

Main Characters: Jiraiya, Orochimaru, Tsunade

Minor Characters: Naruto, Kakashi, Sakura, Gaara, Neji etc

Warnings: somewhat AU, Yaoi(eventually)

Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto

*

It was hot and the air in his lungs felt dry. Coughing to ease the tingling in his throat he felt the bouncing movements, with which he was travelling through the desert, stop.

"Oro?"

That voice again, how he loathed it. Screwing his eyes tightly shut he silently cursed that voice, and the man it belonged to, and fought down the urge to scream at him to shut his filthy mouth. Of course it didn't work; it never did with that man.

"Oro, are you awake?"

He sounded worried now, and Orochimaru noted absently that they still hadn't resumed their travel. The idiot probably felt that he just had to make certain that his cargo was alright. Little did he know that he was indeed damaged goods.

"Oro?"

Shut up.

If his limbs hadn't felt like lead he'd had kicked the fool by now. To his relief his silence did seem to prompt his former teammate into action for after another moment of silence the bouncing movements, that he recognised as walking, picked up again. They must be quite the display at the moment, Orochimaru thought grimly. He knew that he was being carried, and since he could feel Jiraiya's body between his legs the cretin had obviously decided to carry him on his back. The lewd idiot. He probably didn't even realise how disgraceful it would be for him to be carried around like one of his prized conquests. The second he could move his body properly again, he promised, he'd strangle him with his own two hands. Or better yet, a snake.

For the moment though, he'd have to wait. He'd bide his time and strike at the opportune moment, as was his custom.

"Is he waking up, Ero-sannin?" a new voice asked. He thought he recognised the voice, if only dimly, but it was hard to tell without looking.

"I don't know, Naruto." Jiraiya answered, sounding grim. "And I told you not to call me that."

Really Jiraiya, Orochimaru thought and mentally rolled his eyes. If the shoe fits the horse…

"Sakura could you take a look on him?"

"He's fine, Jiriya-sama," a girl's voice answered, sounding somewhat exasperated. As if she was repeating something obvious to a stubborn child and loathed the fact that she was forced to repeat herself yet again. Still he felt Jiraiya come to a halt, and bend down before slightly damp fingers touched Orochimaru's forehead. Then his throat, as if to check his pulse. "He's just tired. His body is demanding rest."

Rest? He almost snorted at that. His traitorous body was not which was demanding rest; it was what kept him from it.

"There's nothing wrong with him."

Of course not, just brought back from the grave where he should've been allowed to stay. Nothing wrong at all.

"I wouldn't go that far," yet another voice commented, although almost inaudible.

"Shut up, Kankurou," the flinty tone of a woman snapped back.

"What for? That bastard nearly killed Gaara, Temari."

"I am fine." A third voice spoke up; low but assertive, and somehow effectively silencing the one who was no doubt routing for his unfortunate demise.

He's not the only one, Orochimaru thought as Jiraiya began to walk once more. Too bad that neither one of them seemed to get their wish.

He must have fallen back asleep, he decided when he opened his eyes and found himself lying on his back, staring up on a clear night sky.

"…and then I said: I am the green beast of the Leaf, respected foe. Who might you be? But the enemy did not respond to my courteous greeting."

"That's awfully rude, sensei. Even in battle against an enemy respect towards your foe is vital."

Turning his head towards the voices he saw a group of people sitting not far from him, all gathered around a fire.

"Indeed it is, Lee," the man who was obviously telling a story said. As he said this the man smiled a dazzling smile, which was returned from a younger man that looked much like a copy of the elder. "And it's a sorrowful day when such respect is lost to… "

"So who the hell was that guy?" another man asked, this one a young man dressed in black. No doubt a Suna nin, judging from the wrapped up dolls that were lying by his feet.

"Ah, that was a tree." The green clad man announced, sounding oddly proud of this fact. "It was dark outside and I mistook the tree for an enemy."

There was an awkward silence amongst the ninjas, during which Orochimaru took the opportunity to look over the rest of the group.

Only three girls, all of which were young, he quickly noted. Recalling the conversation he had heard earlier he assumed that the one with pink hair was called Sakura, no doubt in some kind of honour to the blossoms colour. Another one would be called Temari, but he didn't know if it was the blond or the brunette.

The man with the dolls was Kankurou, he could remember his voice from earlier, and next to him sat that red headed boy-kage, Gaara.

The unmistakable feeling of being watched interrupted his thoughts and he turned his eyes towards the direction that he felt the heavy gaze coming from.

Danzou met his gaze evenly, not with one movement betraying that he had noticed that he was awake.

He had aged horribly, Orochimaru thought as he took in the raggedly looking old man. Not that such a thing was uncommon given their occupation. Few shinobi lived to be as old as Danzou, and those who did would carry the evidence of their past on their bodies.

"Oh man, I thought you said that was one of your greatest battles," a loud voice spoke up, and Orochimaru's eyes darted towards the young man who had spoken. A blond. Had it not been for the scars running across his cheeks like whiskers Orochimaru might not have recognised him, but those scars made him easy to recognise as the Kuuybi's host.

"Make no mistake, it was a fiery battle, Naruto." The man in green announced proudly.

"Against a tree?" the blond queried doubtfully.

"What worse enemy is there than one who is unaffected by fists, and always remains standing strong?"

The man was a worse fool than Jiraiya, Orochimaru thought.

As if the mere thought of him suddenly pulled at his former teammate's attention, he turned his head and looked at him.

"Oro," Jiraiya exclaimed, a look of surprise on his face. "You're awake!"

In that same moment all conversation died down, and Orochimaru could feel every last pair of eyes turning to look straight at him. He refused to look at them though, and instead glared at his former friend as the man leaned closer to him as if to make certain that he was imagining things.

Jiraiya raised his hand, reaching for him, and Orochimaru's eyes narrowed when he caught sight of the bandaged limb. The limb that was the undoing of his own demise. Snarling he slapped the hand away from him, rejoicing as he saw the brief look of hurt in Jiraiya's eyes.

Jiraiya, as usual, quickly recovered though, and reached for a canteen that he offered to him.

"You should drink." Jiraiya said, a serious look in his eyes. Almost as if he dared him to refuse. What would he do if he did refuse, Orochimaru wondered. That steely look in his former friend's eyes offered no answers. Would he pry his jaws open and pour the water down his throat against his will?

Let me thirst to death, fool. What use was there to prolong this existence?

Still the look in Jiraiya's eyes forced his arm up to accept the canteen, but his arm froze in midair when his eyes fell on the cord around his wrist.

*

"It's just to make sure you don't run off again, Oro," Jiraiya tried to reassure his friend for what felt like the hundredth time since Oro had discovered the cord that bound them together. "And Suna refused to let you go unless you wore this." He held up his own wrist, and pointed to the cord wrapped snugly around it.

Oro didn't respond, just glared harder at him while fingering the offending cord.

Jiraiya wouldn't say it to him, but truth be told the cord made him feel more at ease. He knew what Oro was capable of and how silent and quick he could be if he wished not to be noticed. He had little doubt that if it wasn't for the cord the snake would slither away the moment his body was strong enough.

As it now were the cord kept him close to him. And enhanced as it were with his own chakra it would be difficult for Oro to break it.

"Why are you trying to run off all the time anyway? Getting into useless battles. Are you trying to get killed?" he hadn't really meant to sound quite so scolding and annoyed, but he couldn't help it. He didn't usually get hung up over the things that he didn't understand, but it was different with Oro. He was his friend, despite all that had happened over the past thirty years, and he refused to let his friends get hurt. "If it's about Konoha… you know, we'll explain everything. Tsunade has probably already started, and people will understand."

At this the snake's eyes narrowed dangerously, but he didn't answer.

Jiraiya sighed and reached for the bottle of sake he had bought before leaving Suna. But when he tipped it to his lips a sharp tug on his wrist caused him to splash out the liquor, and he cussed loudly.

"What the hell are you doing?" he snapped, glaring at the dark haired wraith sitting across from him in the small tent. Oro's white face was as impassive as ever, but for a second Jiraiya thought he saw a glint of… what? Amusement? Satisfaction? Triumph? In those bright yellow eyes. Jiraiya regarded him suspiciously. "You happy now, geisha-face?" he asked grudgingly, intentionally using that old nickname that used to drive Oro off the bend when they were young.

Now however the snake merely lay down on the makeshift bed and turned his back on him.

Jiraiya gazed on the slim back for a moment, followed the white neck with his eyes and fought the urge to take the figure into his arms and rejoice at the fact that he was back with them. Safe and sound, where he belonged.

He had an inkling that a hug would not be appreciated at the moment though. In fact Oro had never been appreciative of shows of affection in general, and had always scoffed at such ordinary display of affection as hugs. Even between friends, something which Jiraiya had found out to be a big no-no once in his youth. That little episode had nearly cost him more than he was willing to risk when the snake had tried to kick him between the legs. The bastard had nearly succeeded too, and if it hadn't been for his own instincts which had been honed after years of peeping into the women's baths he'd have to live his life with a considerably higher tone of voice than he now had.

Tsunade and Sarutobi-sensei had thought it was hilarious though, he recalled with a smile.

Sighing again he too lay down to go to sleep.

*

The others were sleeping, so Gaara kept watch. His sleeping habits were not what someone would call normal, and although he couldn't stay awake for as long as he once had been able to he still rarely slept much. At any rate he had no wish to have anymore stupid dreams right now, even if there were no beds to fall out off.

Besides, since they were still in the desert he was the best guard they could've asked for. Surrounded by endless sand dunes he could detect an enemy long before anyone else, just as he could still detect the presence of his own shinobi who had decided to follow them despite the fact that he had told them to remain in Suna.

He supposed that they were in fact going against his orders, which in itself were unusual, but he didn't really mind. No doubt if he did go confront them about it they'd only reply with something like; "But Kazekage-sama, we are still in Suna. We are merely out hunting."

He had decided to let the matter rest.

His men would turn to head back to Suna once they reached the end of the desert, which of course counted as Suna territory.

He didn't really understand this new found need his people seemed to feel to protect him, even against things that were of danger to him, but Temari had said that it was because they were worried about him. Because he was important to their people.

A precious person.

Although the idea of him being a precious person was new and bewildering to him, he found that he didn't mind it.

"Do you want to sleep, kazekage-sama?" a deep voice asked from behind him.

"No." he answered, not turning to look at the other man. He had already sensed his approach long before he spoke.

There was a pause where the other shinobi walked closer, seating himself across from Gaara on the sand. Looking up Gaara once again wondered about this man, and why he felt so fascinated by him. He was just a man after all; there should be no reason for why he found himself looking at him every chance he got. Perhaps it was the eyes, he thought as he looked at those bright lavender coloured eyes. They had no pupils, like his own, perhaps that was why.

He knew many people found eyes without pupils rather disconcerting. He found them interesting. He had never met anyone else who had eyes like his, although his own were green and Neji Hyuuga's almost resembled the moon in colour.

"Is there something on your mind, kazekage-sama?" the Hyuuga asked with his usual air of confidence.

Gaara considered the question; there were a lot of things on his mind, but none of which seemed to concern the Hyuuga.

"No."

The dark haired man gave him an odd look, almost as if he wanted to pry further but apparently he caught himself before he could do so. Instead he looked around at the surrounding sand dunes.

"Are they still following us?"

Gaara blinked in surprise.

"You noticed them?"

A slight smirk grazed the Hyuuga's lips, and something akin to amusement glowed in his eyes. "Yes."

"How?" Gaara was curious. He knew why he could sense them, his men were after all walking on his sand, but why would a Konoha nin be able to sense them as well?

Another small smirk flittered across those lips.

"Is there any tea?" the Konoha nin asked instead, and had obviously decided to change the subject. Gaara didn't like when people did that before answering his questions, but one thing he had learned was that when people did that, they usually did it for two different reasons; one was out of embarrassment, the other was out of secrecy.

The first one he loathed, but he didn't think that the Hyuuga was embarrassed. No doubt he kept his tongue out of secrecy, and that was fine by Gaara. There were many secrets in the world of the shinobi after all.

"Temari brought some. She left the pouch in that bag," Gaara nodded towards the discarded bag next to the fire. "In case I wanted any."

The dark haired man nodded and reached for the bag to dig through it.

"Would you like some tea, kazekage-sama?" the other shinobi asked as he fished out a small pouch of tea from the bag, and Gaara nodded.

As he regarded the other man preparing the tea he smirked to himself. Indeed there were many secrets in the world of the shinobi, and half the fun was in discovering them. Which he intended to do.

*

Kabuto downed his seventh glass of sake, and put the glass back down on the table with a heavy bang. With bleary eyes he regarded the half empty bottle of liquor on the otherwise empty table, and wondered if it was just him or if the bottle really did look smaller than when he had walked in to the tavern half an hour earlier.

To figure this mystery out he lay his head down on the table and looked at the bottle from that angle.

"I'm gonna drink you up," he heard himself slur at the bottle, and nodded in agreement with himself. He would. He'd drink it all, and when he was done he'd drink another bottle, and another, and… until he passed out.

This had been his habit in every town he and the remains of Orochimaru-sama's men had come to since the snake master's death. Many of them had left, although many also remained with him. They were confused, and unsure of what to do now that their leader had died.

"So not fair…" he murmured and concentrated hard as he poured another glass of sake.

It really wasn't fair that they assumed that he'd look after them. It wasn't fair that he had to pick up the pieces and hold them in his own bloodied hands. It wasn't fair that Orochimaru-sama had died; he decided and gulped down the liquor.

"…you hear? The little shit killed a bunch of guys and then walked off to fight Gaara of the Desert!"

"If he went after Gaara he's probably dead by now."

Kabuto lolled his head back to look over his shoulder at the men talking. They were sitting in the both behind him so it was a bit of a stretch, and it made his neck ache so he snorted and went back to his bottle and his misery.

"Perhaps. But I heard there was a bunch of Konoha shinobi chasing after the bastard, and ya haven't heard the best part yet!"

Kabuto tried to pour himself another glass, but after missing the glass and instead pouring a large amount of liquor onto the table he gave up and instead put the bottle straight to his lips. Drinking deep he half listened to the conversation being held behind his back.

"And what's that?"

"They say that the bastard that killed all those men, and went to kill the kazekage was Orochimaru himself."

Kabuto choked on his liquor.

*

Author's notes: Ah, there we go. Sorry about the delay but I haven't had access to internet for a while.

So I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I think I got everything in there, although there may be some stuff I missed. As for the slight time jump since the previous chapter, I just felt like there was nothing more I wanted to write about their stay in Suna so I decided to get them back on the road.

Danzou is still in the picture, but as for the reason Gai is still keeping that to himself for the moment.

The cord that is tied around Oro and Jiraiya's wrist is as I wrote just a precaution to keep the snake from running and also from hurting anyone. Also it forces Oro and Jiraiya to interact which I of course enjoy.