Disclaimer: All characters and other thingies within belong to their respective creators.
Beginning Notes: I was a great fan of Naruto. Note the past tense - I've become increasingly sick and tired of the steaming pile of excrement the canon has rapidly become, to the point where I no longer follow it on a regular basis and most of it will hold no bearing on anything I may happen to write. This hasn't stilled my love for the fandom, which has shown itself capable of producing some truly incredibly material despite the fact that the manga it's based on is rapidly de-evolving into a convoluted mess that aught to be retitled Sasuke. This idea's been floating with me now for a while, and I finally decided to put pen to paper, as it were.
So without further ado: this is my take on the Naruto universe, with just one change that took place a couple of years before our orange-clad hero was born. The title is, obviously, based on the Butterfly Effect.
He laid what few possessions he'd be taking on a scroll, sealing them inside with a brief pulse of chakra and a puff of smoke. He shoved it carelessly into his hip holster, not caring whether it ripped or not. After all, his most precious treasures were locked inside the most secure vault of all - his head.
A look of melancholy briefly crossed his features as he turned to look at his stripped, bare room. He was human, no matter what some of his more superstitious peers seemed to think, and to say that he wouldn't miss what had been his home for most of his life would be a lie. There were memories here, good memories, though they numbered few and far between. He cherished them as best as he could, though they had started becoming increasingly distant and unreal - more like dreams than memories - as time went by.
He let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding and squared his shoulders, pushing the thoughts away with a small effort. Power and knowledge were part of what a ninja was. Dejection and homesickness, on the other hand, were not. Inwardly, he scowled; the old man's weakness (compassion, a small part of him said, but he squashed the thought ruthlessly) must have rubbed off on him.
He didn't think of himself as evil, per se. He just had a different set of morals, and less inclination to hide his intentions. He snorted suddenly, a wry smirk curving his lips upwards as he recalled Sarutobi's appalled reaction to his 'abominations,' as the elder ninja had called them. As if what the Uchiha had done to their own flesh and blood for generations was any better, and look at what it had gotten them - their own little police force.
After all, it wasn't as if any of the villagers he'd volunteered had been doing anything terribly important with their lives. And Anko would thank him when she realized the full potential of the gift that he'd given her.
As for the sixty babies... if one of them did show any signs of the First's bloodline traits, he'd have brought back jutsu that had been effectively lost forever.
A pity that Sarutobi hadn't seen things his way.
His thoughts shifted to the other reason he was preparing to leave the village he'd called home for nearly forty years, and he frowned.
Namikaze Minato had been an interesting boy from the moment he'd graduated from ninja academy, showing outstanding levels of aptitude in ninjutsu, taijutsu and genjutsu alike. Though he'd been assigned to Jiraiya's team, the snake sennin had also taken a vested interest in the young genius, taking him under his wing and teaching the boy in addition to his own genin team. He'd even felt a sort of detached pride when the blond had made jounin at the tender age of fourteen, making him one of the youngest to achieve that rank in the history of the Leaf.
He hadn't been prepared for the incredible pace at which the boy had continued to advance, absorbing jutsu at a pace that rivaled his own. And he certainly hadn't been prepared for Sarutobi's declaration that the next Hokage was not going to be him, but Namikaze. The revelation had thoroughly erased any goodwill he might have had for the younger ninja, replacing it with a simmering feeling of resentment and - though he'd never admit it - hurt betrayal.
As if merely thinking of the Hokage-to-be had been some sort of horrible summoning jutsu, barely a moment had passed since his thoughts when a voice came from behind him.
"It doesn't have to be this way, Orochimaru-san."
The man who had spoken watched with a sense of faint fascination as Orochimaru visibly transformed in front of his eyes. The slight slump of his shoulders shifted subtly, his body's language sliding from surprise to cool confidence in one smooth motion. The ninja's face hardened, becoming like a mask, a sheet of wrought metal that slammed down in front of his emotions. It was disturbing, to say the least, to think of how long Orochimaru had fooled him - had fooled everyone - into thinking that it was his 'real' face. It couldn't have been more fake if he'd used a henge.
"To what do I owe this honor, Hokage-sama?" Orochimaru asked smoothly, the honorific more like a curse coming from his mouth. Minato winced at the spite carried in the title, the one that Orochimaru thought of as rightfully his. He had his work cut out for him.
A small part of Orochimaru briefly wondered how Namikaze Minato, with his unruly mop of shining golden hair and electric blue eyes so bright they practically glowed in the dark, could ever have concealed himself in the shadowy room. The rest of him mentally scowled, his brilliant mind rapidly running through a list of jutsu that he might use to get himself out of the situation he found himself in. The presence of Jiraiya's star pupil meant that the perverted idiot himself was probably hidden somewhere nearby as well.
"I'm not the Hokage, sensei," Minato said, biting back a sigh of exasperation as he shed the formal -san honorific for the more familiar term. Not ten seconds had passed since he'd arrived and he was already starting to regret his decision to come here.
"Yet," Orochimaru shot back, his mask slipping a little. "Sarutobi's all but draped the mantle around your shoulders. It's just a matter of time." In reality he hadn't wanted the title so much for itself as for the power the title would have granted him, but Namikaze didn't need to know that.
Pushing the thoughts out of his mind, he focused on his surroundings. Jiraiya was no slouch at concealing himself thanks to his daily 'research' expeditions to the women's hot springs. Still, even if he still hadn't figured out the secret to that damned invisibility jutsu which Jiraiya and the old man insisted on using only to watch naked women... still, Orochimaru's skills in camoflage were second to none.
Which was why it was so disturbing when he could find nothing. Either Jiraiya had suddenly gotten a hell of a lot better at hiding himself in the past week or so since Orochimaru had seen him, or...
"Jiraiya-sensei isn't here," Minato said, spreading his hands apart. Inwardly, Orochimaru groaned; the blond was far too honest for his own good. Admitting potential weaknesses to people they trusted was an irritating character flaw that both Jiraiya and his pupil shared, and one that the snake sennin himself had unsuccessfully tried to purge from them. "I came alone."
Minato didn't reply immediately, instead looking sideways at the tatami neatly snacked on top of one another in the corner.
"I just got back from a mission," he said shortly. Orochimaru read all he needed to know from his former pupil's posture and tone, and nodded. Must have lost one of them.
"I see," he said, frowning inwardly. "That doesn't explain why you're here."
"I'm here," Minato said, looking as if he'd rather be anywhere else, "to keep you from leaving, sensei."
The elder ninja's mind kicked into overdrive as he raced to examine the unexpected turn of events from every possible angle. Outwardly keeping his calm facade, he smiled a humorless smile and replied smoothly, "That's strange, Minato-kun. Because the last I'd checked, the Hokage himself - you know, the man whose word is absolute law in this village - was on the verge of killing me himself, but instead graciously chose to give me the option of desertion and exile to be broken on pain of death. I doubt he suddenly experienced a change of heart in the past three hours or so."
Minato frowned, his vibrant blue eyes darkening to the color of a stormy sea. "We're ninja, not samurai - a fact that Sarutobi-san and Jiraiya-sensei seem to forget all too often," he said sharply, surprising the snake sennin. He'd always assumed that the blond ninja shared the same misguided sense of damn-fool heroism as his mentor. "They often don't understand that the clean, honorable way is not always the best one. There're often paths leading through darkness that reveal better outcomes, and it's exactly because we're ninja that we have the option to take those paths."
Ah. So the boy had learned. Orochimaru leaned forward slightly, intrigued. "And keeping me in Konoha is part of one such path."
Minato nodded. "As a village at war, we can't afford to show any signs of weakness - it's why we keep on taking potentially risky and time-consuming missions even though in reality we need every man, woman and child we can get at the front lines. Our battles are fought with misdirection and false appearances as much as they are with open combat."
Basic ninja strategics, but something that even the best often forget, Orochimaru thought approvingly. For the moment he kept his silence, letting the blond continue.
"How would Iwa take it if one of Konoha's legendary sannin went rogue? You know how the war escalated after Tsunade-san left. They'd probably strike full force as soon as they made sure you really had left. There would be untold losses on both sides, and even if we won we'd be crippled for years."
"Why, Minato-kun," Orochimaru said lightly, an amused light dancing in his eyes. "You say that almost as if you expect me to care."
Minato bit back the frustrated growl that threatened to leave his throat. He reminded himself that one of Orochimaru's favorite weapons on the verbal battlefield was deliberately baiting his opponent, trying to get them to slip up and reveal something. He wasn't going to fall for it.
He knew that Orochimaru was extremely pragmatic - to the point that some of his more disparaging peers said that he was probably part demon - and in all likelihood, could watch Konoha burn to the ground without turning a hair. His loyalties lay not in Konoha, but in the few people he knew as friends, although it was unlikely that he'd ever admit it to their faces. All nine of the bijuu would visit Konoha for a formal tea ceremony before that happened.
That wasn't to say, of course, that he couldn't be tempted. "I wasn't expecting you to do this out of the goodness of your heart, sensei." Minato took a deep breath, and laid all of his cards out on the table. "If you agree to stay as a ninja of the Leaf, I'm prepared to offer total amnesty for what you did. Your former rank of Jounin will be restored, and you will also be granted access to the Hokage's library."
On the surface, all the response he got was a raised eyebrow. Inside, Orochimaru was the closest to frantic he'd been since he was five and taking the genin exam for the first time. Never in his wildest dreams had he expected his former pupil to come out with this. "Isn't that a bit much to grant someone who - let's see... not only murdered dozens of innocent Konoha citizens as well as several Leaf ninja in cold blood, but also undertook 'atrocious experiments' on their corpses, implanted a potentially fatal seal onto a young genin who was receiving training under him, and last, but not least, injected foreign DNA into the cells of 5 dozen newborn babies, the large majority - perhaps all - of which will not survive to see their first birthdays?" The snake sennin ticked them off slowly and deliberately on his fingers, hoping to goad Minato into dropping the other shoe.
"Perhaps," Minato agreed, his voice even. "But I don't know of anything else that will get you to stay. The fate of this village hinges on your presence." It wasn't flattery or exaggeration - both ninja knew that it was a distinct and very likely possibility that the Hidden Village of Rock would fall upon the Leaf with all of its combined might once it had confirmed that Orochimaru had left. Especially since both of them knew that Jiraiya was liable to immediately take off after the snake sennin without a second thought in some sort of foolish crusade to bring him back, leaving the village void of all three legendary ninja.
The flat declaration shook Orochimaru more than he let on, but he hung on gamely. He would not fall victim to his own softer side - there had to be a catch, and if he could just prod Namikaze enough that he let something slip...
"And who are you to offer a missing ninja amnesty, and decide the fate of this village, both of which fall under the jurisdiction of the Hokage?"
"Someone soon going to be responsible for the life of every man, woman and child in Konoha," Namikaze said bluntly, his voice gaining strength and confidence as he spoke. The time for hiding behind half-truths and avoidance was past. "Someone willing to give his all to protect the village he values more than his own life."
"I thought you weren't the Hokage?" Orochimaru asked, and scowled. He knew immediately what the answer would be.
"Yet," Minato replied, giving his former teacher a humorless grin.
"But I will be soon, and Sarutobi-san respects my judgement; eventually I'll be able to persuade him that this is the right way." The Sandaime Hokage was highly idealistic and slightly blinded by a misplaced sense of justice and honor where he could ill afford to have either. However, he was anything but stupid, and once Minato explained the need for Orochimaru's presence he was sure to acknowledge his soon-to-be successor's reasons, albeit grudgingly.
For his part, Orochimaru would cheerfully commit genocide if it meant gaining access to the Hokage's library; the archives there held the combined knowledge of over a hundred years of ninja, neatly compiled and stored in a collection that was the largest in Fire Country - perhaps in the world. But he'd never jumped blindly into a deal before, and he didn't plan on changing this philosophy simply because the stakes were higher. He stalled. "Assume for a moment that I accept, that the old man doesn't kill me on sight, and the thousand and one things that could go wrong... don't. What's keeping me from simply taking what I want from the library and leaving?"
"I never said you'd be alone, sensei," Minato replied, a quick grin appearing and disappearing on his face like smoke despite the seriousness of the situation. "Four handpicked ANBU will be assigned to escort you during your visits."
"Can you afford to waste four of your finest in a dusty room full of old scrolls?" Orochimaru asked, the brevity of his tone showing none of the displeasure he felt inside. One, or even two, highly trained and alert ninja, he could handle in a heartbeat - he wasn't called legendary for nothing - but four of ANBU caliber...
"I can afford to because I know exactly what someone as good as you can do with those old scrolls," Minato said, steel entering his voice. "You might be able to dispatch of the four ninja I'll assign to you with ease - in fact, I'd bet on it - but unscathed, before any of them could so much as raise an alarm?" You'd never get out of the village alive, were the words that hung unspoken in the air. The blond's normally cheerful blue eyes were hard chips of ice, and to his own surprise the snake sennin found that it was he who looked away first. "I'll do whatever it takes to ensure that Konoha survives this war."
Orochimaru's lips twisted in a sardonic smirk and he made an odd hissing noise through his lips. It took Minato a moment to realize that it was the first time he'd heard his former teacher truly laughing. "Spoken like a true Hokage," the elder ninja said at length, though his voice held little of the spite that had been it earlier. He was too busy for mincing words, too busy checking and double-checking Minato's words for any sign of duplicity.
He decided on a cautious probe. "I suppose I'd have to give up my experiments?" he asked lightly, already knowing what the answer was going to be. He was just buying time, and looking for any mistakes Minato might make.
"Of course not," Minato said calmly. "You'd just have to stop performing them on villagers and Leaf ninja. After all, we're a nation at war. There're plenty of prisoners to go around. You can have any that don't have value as potential hostages or bartering chips."
If the circumstances hadn't been quite so serious, Minato suspected he would have had to expend a great amount of willpower to keep from laughing aloud at the expression of shock that appeared and disappeared in an instant on the older man's face.
Orochimaru hissed again, his expression showing clear disbelief and suspicion. "You're..." His voice trailed off as his eyes ran over the younger man, taking in everything.
There were certain traits that nearly every ninja of genin or higher rank almost automatically incorporated into everything they said, making it nearly impossible to tell whether they were lying or not simply by sight and sound. Stares that were purposely slightly off-center, projecting a false sense of honesty. Slight alterations in posture and tone. Minute, almost undetectable movements made at key moments designed to distract the subconscious.
Namikaze Minato was not showing any of these traits.
"You're telling the truth."
As Minato nodded wordlessly, it struck Orochimaru that there was no underlying scheme, no trap set to spring as he set foot on it. All of his quick thinking had revealed no insidious plot simply because there was no insidious plot. Namikaze Minoto truly meant to keep him in the village solely to ensure the Leaf's continued existence. There were no strings attached, only the condition that he stay and let things be as they had been.
The only thing blocking Orochimaru from his life of exile was... himself. His pride, that is. His pride, standing between him and a near limitless archive of techniques - taijutsu, ninjutsu, genjutsu - along with the resources to continue his studies unhindered and...
Minato watched as the older man's eyes lost focus, as if he was deep in thought. It struck him that this was perhaps the first - and last - time Orochimaru had ever been so transparent; emotions flickered across his face like firelight, bare to the world. At length, his slit eyes closed for a long moment before opening again, and Minato knew in an instant that the decision - whether it was for better or worse - had been made.
Orochimaru shot his former student a glare that could have melted steel before reaching into his vest pocket. He slowly withdrew a battered metal object that bore a spiral emblem on the front: a Leaf hitai-ate. He stared at it for a moment, his expression unreadable, before raising it and tying it around his head in one swift, practiced motion.
"You realize Jiraiya will flay you alive when he finds out you went and did this without his knowledge," he said simply.
Instead of replying, Minato merely grinned impishly before forming a simple seal and vanishing in a puff of smoke.
Once certain he was completely alone, Orochimaru groaned and slumped against the wall, closing his eyes and letting the cool metal of his hitai-ate against his forehead provide an anchor to the real world. The snake sennin was by nature a cautious man, not given to blind optimism. Now that the binding decision had been made, he decided to go about making the most of it.
He took the scroll out of his hip holster and laid it on the ground again, unsealing its contents with a brief moment of concentration. Straightening up, he looked out the window to see the sun rising slowly, its light illuminating his room in all its admittedly under-whelming glory.
Slowly, he allowed himself a small smile.