Free Will

By AngeloftheOdd

Prologue:

How long had he been like this? Days? Weeks? Months? He wasn't sure anymore. He was terrified of this uncertainty. This loss of control.

Vaguely, he could recall the cold, expressionless face of the creature that had called itself Sasori. The soft tinkling of bells. His instincts had told him to flee, but some force had bound him to where he stood. A voice, deep and hollow, had commanded him to move and, despite the screaming resistance in his head, he had taken several steps forward. Limbs manipulated like a child's toy.

What had he done, unwittingly, after that time? Where was he now?

Vividly, the events previous came to him. His adoptive father had sent him to retrieve specimens of a healing plant for use at Konoha's hospital. He remembered arguing with him-such a trivial chore was beneath him now. He was fourteen, ready to finally pass the Chuunin Exams. He needed to prepare for them. Not waste time playing errand-boy.

He'd been slapped hard across the face for his arrogance. Saving the lives of those in the village, he was told, was more important than some loathsome exam designed for molding more children into killers. A test that fostered the egos of those who passed. After all, what was the pride of the greatest shinobi if there was no one there to tend his wounds should he fall in battle? The medic's path was one of humility and compassion. It was a thankless position to hold, but a most necessary one. Never forget, Kabuto, the mightiest of warriors rely on us for their survival. Whether they recognize it or not.

So he had left. Angry. Bitter. What good was it to serve a purpose that one did not even believe in? His father despised conflict above all else, and yet, it was he who cared for the injured shinobi. Overlooked and under-appreciated, as the village fawned over its hero's miraculous recovery. He is strong. I knew he would pull through.

Despite his growing disgust, he had done as asked. Venturing far from Konoha to acquire the needed ingredients. He had insisted on going alone. Confident in his own abilities. He remembered wishing he had not been so headstrong.

Now, he was hiding in the shadows. Watching. Waiting. Shivering in the damp underbrush. Unable to wrench himself from his task.

A rustle of fabric. The glimmer of movement. Someone had discovered him. And all he could do was stare ahead, blank-eyed.

Golden eyes shining brightly through the foggy haze of his clouded thoughts. Twin pinpoints of candle-light guiding him down this dark and treacherous path of confusion.

A voice. Gentle. Calming. Easing him back to the waking world. Back to himself.

"What are you doing out here all alone, child?"

"I've lost my way."

It was his own voice that had responded to the question, but it sounded distant. The words had spilled forth from his lips without him forming a thought. As if someone spoke through him. But nonetheless, the statement was painfully true.

He was met with a soft laugh.

"Is that so? Is that the reason you've been clumsily spying on me for the past few days?"

A cool hand rested on his forehead. Waves of nausea coursed through his body. Shuddering violently as reality jolted suddenly and violently back into focus.

"Much better isn't it?"

He glanced up at the man who stood before him. White skin that seemed to take on a warm and angelic glow in the moonlight. A statuesque figure that carried himself with the mien of a lord. A face of flawless beauty, whose features were softened by an inquisitive and almost amused expression. Curtained by long, black hair that shimmered as he tilted his head to regard him.

"I don't understand. I'm sorry."

The way the stranger looked at him made him uneasy. It was like he was sizing him up.

"It appears that you were under the control of a most devious person. I released you from his technique. Cut the strings, so to speak."

"Who was he? What did he do to me?"

"It's a rather specialized genjutsu. What a fool he is to think that I wouldn't recognize his unique signature. His name is Sasori of the Red Sand and I'm afraid I am the cause of your unpleasant situation. We were aquaintances once, he and I. Unfortunately, we parted on less than friendly terms. My name is Orochimaru."

His blood ran cold. He had heard that name spoken in fear-filled whispers through-out Konoha. A mad-man. A cunning murderer who had a penchant for abducting unwary people and using them in painful and hideous experiments. One of the Legendary Three.

But, Orochimaru was a monster. Surely, this couldn't be the same man they had spoken of.

"Do you not have a name, boy? It's only proper etiquette to return the courtesy when someone introduces themselves..."

"Yakushi. Yakushi Kabuto."

He adjusted his glasses before quickly adding:

"Sir."

Something flashed in the man's eyes.

"Well, Yakushi Kabuto. You must be something quite special if Sasori chose you."

"Not really, Sir. I can't imagine why he did so. I was only gathering plants for the village. Quite the menial task, really."

"Your family are medical ninja, isn't that correct? Are you training to become one as well?"

"Yes."

He couldn't hold back the contempt in his tone.

"What is wrong? Is that not the path that you wish to follow?"

"No."

"Then why do you pursue it?"

"Because my father...the man who raised me...he wishes it."

"I see. Do you have no dreams...no convictions of your own? How is following his desires any different from what Sasori did to you?"

He shifted uncomfortably. Indeed, Orochimaru's words made perfect sense to him. It was a justified question.

"I do not want for my skills to go unnoticed by those I serve. Nor do I want to throw my life blindly away for some pointless power-struggle between countries.

"We are not so different, child."

"But you...you're a Sennin! I'm just some war orphan that Konoha felt obligated to take in!"

Orochimaru's laughter was dark, yet somehow strangely sweet.

"As was I once. You can prove that you're more than that. You could help aide me with my research. Together, we could become stronger."

He hesitated. Become stronger? The man was already renowned and notorious throughout the Land of Fire. What could someone such as himself possibly contribute?

"Think about my offer. I wouldn't want you to feel pressured. After all, I freed you from Sasori's binds not to simply bend you to my will. The choice will be yours alone."