Tsunade arrived half an hour late. It was a bit out of the ordinary for her, but then they usually met up at her place. Perhaps she had merely forgotten how long it would take to walk to his flat and didn't allow herself enough time. Orochimaru deemed it forgivable under the circumstances.
After opening the door, he gestured toward the table in the middle of his sitting room. "I made some tea. It may have gone bitter as I had to reheat it while I was waiting."
As she entered the flat, she kept her arms folded in front of her. "Oh, sorry about that. One of my patients delayed me," she replied stoically. She poured herself a cup of tea and took one sip, then sat it back down. "It's fine. Not too bitter." Tsunade stayed on her feet. "I guess we should talk... Now that we have some privacy, that is. I've been so busy at the hospital and—"
Before Tsunade could finish, he tilted her chin up with his hand and moved in to kiss her. For some reason, she didn't kiss back. Orochimaru trailed a finger down her throat to try to entice her as he often would. The path down to her breastbone was strangely unobstructed.
"Where is your necklace?" he asked, pulling back from the kiss to examine her.
"I gave it to someone," she murmured. Her cheeks turned the slightest shade of pink.
It was one thing to give a precious family heirloom to her little brother, but who else could possibly be worthy? A nagging suspicion grew in the pit of his stomach, spreading upwards and causing his shoulders to tighten.
Orochimaru narrowed his eyes. "Who?" She was closer to him than anyone else and had never so much as suggested letting him have it. Something strange had to be going on.
Tsunade looked down and sighed. She chewed on her lower lip for a second before answering, "Dan."
Him. That high-minded optimist. Orochimaru couldn't understand what she saw in Dan, other than how the fool followed her around like a lost puppy. It really was pathetic. Why on earth did it impress her? Of course, Tsunade was so different lately. It was hard to know what exactly she was thinking.
It proved almost impossible to shake off the anger and hatred he felt towards Dan, but Orochimaru remained placid in front of Tsunade. He reached out and gently brushed his fingers over her hair. "Ever since your brother died, you've treated me differently. Do you blame me for what happened to Nawaki?"
"No, I know it wasn't your fault," she sighed. Her brow contorted in anguish.
"Then what is it?" he asked, fighting to keep his tone soft. Her answer had given him a small shred of relief, yet at the same time made him pause. If Nawaki wasn't the reason for this rift between them, what was? Certainly it wasn't that Dan held that kind of power over women. The dolt was ugly and his talent as a shinobi was nothing special.
Recoiling from him, she balled her hands into fists. Tsunade flashed one of her trademark angry glares. "I don't like what you've become. It's as if part of you has been... Warped."
Such abrupt mood swings from her were nothing new, but rarely was he the target of them. Orochimaru folded his arms over his chest. His lips curled into an irate sneer. "Well then, I suppose that just makes you shallow. You can't accept all of me."
"Dan has a great dream to become Hokage." She looked up toward the ceiling with misty eyes. The corners of her mouth arched into a proud smile.
It was sickening to witness such childish adulation for so unworthy a man on Tsunade's part. Orochimaru always reserved a certain amount of pride when he was the subject of her praise, but Dan? This betrayal was intolerable. That weakling didn't merit a second glance, certainly not when she was supposed to be his.
"What about my dreams?" He was gnashing his teeth in rage. Was his own dream of being Hokage somehow less important? "I suppose the two of you couldn't help yourselves and were overcome by the romantic atmosphere in the cemetery. Did he kiss you at your brother's grave? Does he touch you the way I do?" Orochimaru yanked her closer by the arms.
She pried his hands off of her. "No! Dan's a perfect gentleman, which is more than I can say for you, right now. Why don't you get your mind out of the gutter? You sound like Jiraiya," she spat.
"At least Jiraiya wouldn't be won over by some sob-story. He'd never start a relationship based on feeling sorry for each other," he growled. "We are supposed to be shinobi. We must focus on our goals, not wallow in memories of the past."
"You think there was ever anything more between us other than my pity for you?" she shouted. Bubbling anger reddened her face as she glowered at him.
He grabbed her by the throat and squeezed. "If I didn't know that was an outright lie, I would snap this pretty, little neck of yours in two." Orochimaru then pushed her away.
Tsunade didn't bother to argue the point. They both knew it was a pretense. She had loved Orochimaru, for a time. "How can you be so unfeeling? I would have thought you'd be more sympathetic, having lost your parents." Her voice was fraught with emotion and slightly hoarse from being choked.
Orochimaru closed his eyes. "It's because of that. I've learned to shut off those feelings so that I can get on with my life. The pain was too unbearable," he groaned. His eyelids snapped open once more. "Mourning isn't going to bring them back."
"You lie. You never cared about anything other than power," she said through gritted teeth. Her shoulders stiffened.
"Power is necessary for love. If I had been more powerful, I might have been able to do something to save my parents," he said. Regret and frustration were etched in creases on his face. "Even as an adult, I was too weak to prevent Nawaki's death. Now you despise me. So be it. Self-pity won't bring me any closer to my goals. When I discover the secret to immortality, no one need ever mourn again. Your brother's death reminded me of how important my dream is. If I have to kill to make it real, I will."
She shuddered and hung her head down. "Would you kill me?" Her tone was frail, almost sad.
Maybe part of her still cared for him. The thought stirred something deep within his chest. With his left hand, he slowly brushed his knuckles against her cheek. "You're the one I most want to protect with such powers." He'd never admitted that before, not even to himself. The realisation shocked him.
Steadying himself, he continued. "A ninja is only an agent of death. And a ninja village is but a war machine. All of our lives are worthless. The second we take on a mission, our futures are up for grabs. If I could overcome death and weakness, I could end war. I could end suffering. There would no longer be a need for people who exist only to perpetuate death. People could live for themselves. Such a goal would be worth any price."
Daring to look up again, she gaped at him. Her reaction was difficult to gauge. Was it terror or awe that had rendered her speechless?
The confusion ate at him. He grabbed her by the chin. His eyes bore into hers. "Tell me you love me! Say it!" Orochimaru had to hear those words from her lips. After everything he'd said, he needed to be adored by her in order to feel strong again and to justify his own admissions.
There was a glimmer in her eyes that suggested she was holding back tears. "It's not as if you've ever said you loved me."
Orochimaru flinched. Letting go of her, he turned away. "You know I don't like to say that word."
"Why are you like this?" It didn't sound like she was crying, but she hadn't resumed yelling at him, either. Her words seemed numb and jaded.
"I have had to kill my heart." He continued to avoid Tsunade's gaze as if doing so would give her an opening for attack. Being vulnerable like this made the bile rise in his throat.
"How can you expect me to love someone with a dead heart? That's obviously why you can't say it to me, being so dead inside! I used to think you were merely afraid to admit your feelings, but now—"
"Now what?" he shouted, turning back to look at her. His eyes were bulging with rage. Her words only served to provoke him further.
There were no tears in her eyes. All he could make out from her expression was burning hatred. "Now I see that you're incapable of love," Tsunade replied in an icy murmur. "I'd rather have a man who is, even if he is a sentimental fool."
"I'm incapable? That's rich coming from a woman who claims to have only ever pitied me!" He picked up his teacup from the table and threw it against the door. It shattered into dozens of miniscule pieces. Drops of the liquid seeped down the panel.
Orochimaru then seized her by the shoulders, squeezing her like a vise. "Enough of your impudence. You belong to me!"
She shoved him away with her terrifying strength, knocking him several feet back. Without another word, only a ferocious glare, Tsunade stomped out. The front door slammed shut behind her.
Still fuming, Orochimaru punched a hole through the wall. A cloud of dust wafted about as he removed his fist. He was on the verge of punching the wall again when he caught himself.
It wasn't so much that he was mad at Tsunade. He was certainly furious with her, but much more with himself. Orochimaru was angry that he had let himself get hurt. He should have known better. After all, what had he just told her?
That insolent heart of his was still clinging to life, making him weak. His heart was the reason Tsunade was able tear him apart like that. He needed to focus his wrath on it instead of his home and possessions. If he could destroy it once and for all, the awful feeling inside of him would be gone and he wouldn't be so powerless. Orochimaru curled his fingers into the shape of talons as he silently scolded himself. Kill your heart! Slaughter it. Crush it until there's nothing left.
He was waiting in the darkness of her flat when she returned from leaving flowers at Dan's grave. Sitting on her couch, he had worked out what he intended to say to Tsunade.
Orochimaru hadn't been pining over her. That kind of sentimentality was beneath him. Rather, he was disappointed that she had not come to him. The desire to comfort her got the better of him. He'd never particularly cared for Dan, to say the least, but it stung him to know that Tsunade was hurting. Perhaps she had simply been waiting for him to rescue her. If that were the case, he'd be able to prove to her that she should've stayed with him in the first place.
Tsunade didn't see him until she turned the light on. For a split second, her eyes, damp and red from crying, went wide with shock. "What are you doing here?" she asked in a nearly inaudible tone. The First Hokage's necklace was back around her throat.
How heavily it must weigh on her, he thought. Tsunade had bestowed the accursed gem upon the two people she loved most and both of them met violent, premature ends. Dan had died right before her very eyes. Despite her legendary healing talent, she was helpless to save him. She must blame herself. Now she truly understands how I've felt all these years, having caused my parents' deaths.
She looked pale and gaunt. Dan's death had left her a mere shell of her former self. Even her prowess as a medic-nin was gone. The debilitating fear of blood she had acquired as a result rendered her useless on the battlefield. Her acute vulnerability made it easier for him to face her this way. It made them even for her choosing Dan over him.
"I hate to see you looking so sad," he whispered as he rose from his seat. He put his arms around her and gazed deeply into her eyes. Soon, he started kissing her neck. Orochimaru began with little pecks, working his way up to deeper, more languid kisses. It had been such a long time and she felt so good, he couldn't stop himself.
Tsunade was passive at first. She didn't kiss back, but she wasn't resisting him, either. After about a minute, her resolve cracked and she proceeded to return his kisses. Her tear-streaked face met his, grateful for the warmth and tenderness he was providing. It was almost like old times. Her arms wrapped around him in a needy embrace. All the loneliness gave way to wanting.
They were starting to get hot and heavy, hands wandering over each other. She was necking him a bit, then whimpering when he slipped his tongue inside her mouth.
Without warning, she pulled away. "No, I can't do this!" A sob escaped her lips as she shook her head. She quickly hid her mouth behind her hands. Whether it was to conceal her sobbing or to block further kissing was not apparent.
"Do you want me to say I love you now? Is that what you want?" Orochimaru asked in his softest voice. He gently drew her back to him and stroked her shoulders.
"No, you're cold and cruel. Your heart is pure stone," she wheezed, shaking her head. Tsunade had stopped sobbing. She wiped the tears from her face with her hands.
"You loved me once. Or was that a lie? Remember all the times I climbed in through your window and we made love in your bed? Did you think I was cold then?" Orochimaru tugged her closer to him, so that her glorious breasts were against his torso.
He'd definitely missed those. It was driving him mad. Why did she have to be so stubborn? If she would just give in, he could make her forget all about that pitiful Dan.
She wriggled out of his grasp once more. "I was an impetuous teenager. We were both more innocent back then. I've seen how dark you've turned." Her inflection was spiteful and bitter. The fire was back in her eyes.
Orochimaru's body went rigid. He glared at her and hissed. "Well, perhaps you will change, too, for now you know how it feels to be responsible for the deaths of two loved ones." With that, he stormed out. His footsteps echoed with angry thuds.
After he'd gone out of his way to make everything better, Tsunade had the nerve to insult him like that. Why did she have to be so stupid and obstinate? He offered to say he loved her and she still thought he was some sort of unfeeling monster. Orochimaru sincerely hoped his last words to her would be prophetic. Her heart may well have turned cold already, for her to scorn him yet again.
That was it. He'd had it with her. Orochimaru swore then that he would never open himself up to her again. It had been a mistake to even try consoling her. Tsunade deserved having her life in shambles. She could rot for all he cared. She was of no use to him now and he hated her.