It's Just a Step to the Left

You just can't keep a good snake down.

You want to know what's funny? I mean, what's really funny? Everyone has been assuming for years and years that my goal is to become immortal. Because I'm afraid of death or something, I don't know, people are really quite stupid. Still, even those closest to me have proved to have remarkably little clue as to why I do what I do.

'Orochimaru is trying to become immortal.'

Hah! Hah! I laugh long and hard as I stare back into the shocked expression of Naruto Uzumaki, his finger pointing in accusation and outrage and no small amount of fear.

"Don't you get it, kid? I figured out immortality years ago." I hiss the syllables just a little, adding a mocking lilt at the end.

"Kabutomaru!" he yells back. "You bastard! I am not going to let you ruin this!"

Hey now, that was just uncalled for. While it's true that I am currently wearing Kabuto's body, and perhaps it took me a little longer than usual to fully possess it, making the process a little slower and more obvious, I still resent the mashup of names. No one ever called me Orochiwhatever when I'd possessed those other bodies. Of course, even I can't quiet remember who they actually were, so maybe there's the problem. No more taking bodies of people with a reputation in their own right, it only dilutes mine.

But I digress.

"Ruin this? Ruin this?" I start to seriously mock the kid, but then I remember what he's capable of and I force myself to stop. It's sometimes hard to remember that people get older and more powerful. After all, this is the kid that killed Pain, Madara, and Sasuke. "Boy, I know exactly what you intend to do, and the cruelest thing I could do to you in the entire world would be to allow you use that Key."

Fitting that it would indeed be a key. The symbols in the ruins called it a Hyperlink Key, carved or extruded from flawless crystal with a bluish tint, and locked away in an unnatural cave on one of the few islands that used to make up Whirlpool. It was the most important tool needed to get what I'd been wanting for nearly two decades.

A second chance, of course. Don't look at me that way, we all want it. Even our day to day sayings reflect it. 'Hindsight is 20/20.' 'Youth is wasted on the young.' 'If only I knew then what I know now.'

Of course, it was what Naruto was wanting as well. Figures that I spend more than ten years looking for the barest hint of a rumor and the damned boy finds it in like three months. What the hell, I ask you, is this fair?

I tell you, if someone or something ever does manage to chase my soul out of this realm and send it off for judgment, I'm going to have some angry words for the gods, and if at all possible, I'm going to follow it up with a punch to the nose.

"Shut up!" came the predictable response. "You just want it for yourself!"

Oh wow. I can't even help myself.

"Well DUH. Of course I want it for myself. I've always wanted it for myself. Boy, I'm three times your age. That means I have more than THREE HUNDRED times the regrets you do. What are you complaining about, anyway? You won, kid. Peace is restored, Madara and all his works brought down, and the Uchiha clan is no more. Quit whining and go home." It was really too much to hope for that he would do exactly that, but you know kids, and Naruto has always been a particularly stubborn example of the type.

"Regrets? You just want to go back and murder everyone!" he accused. "Baa-chan and… and Ero-sennin, and-"

He's good, I'll give him that. Arguably the best. But he's not as good at multitasking as I am, and he was focused on his memories.

And I? I was pissed.

I felt cartilage crunch as my fist slammed into his nose. I'd covered thirty feet faster than he could react, but I was too angry to gloat. I backed off after the first punch, though, I knew better than to take a powerhouse like him on in straight combat.

"Do not presume to talk to me as if you had any idea what I shared with my teammates," I spat venomously. Honestly, the nerve of the boy. The only two people in the world I had never intended to hurt, and he accuses me of wanting to kill them. Were it possible, I would strangle him now.

"You betrayed them!" he howled in shock and anger.

"You have no idea who betrayed whom!" I hissed back. "The only thing I've wanted was to erase the people who betrayed us."

He looks momentarily confused. For someone so loud, he's always been a remarkably good listener in a fight. I intend to use that against him.

"Yes, Naruto Uzumaki, I say us. It wasn't me who split up the legendary Sannin. It wasn't Tsunade-hime, it wasn't Jiraiya. We were all betrayed by those we served. Why do you think we all left?" I narrowed my eyes. "Think, you stupid boy. You've been cleaning up Konoha's secret plots for years now. You know better than most where the bodies are buried and who killed them. The loyalists betrayed you and the betrayers were always loyal. Do you have to believe everything you're told until the evidence otherwise smacks you in the face?"

"You tried to kill Baa-chan and the old man when we first met! Don't lie to me! I'm sick of everyone lying to me!"

…and yeah, okay, this is gonna be harder than I thought. His kick powered through a mud clone I made in that instant and catches me in the chest anyway. Stone shattered on the cave wall where I hit, and it took a moment for me to get back off my hands and knees. Fortunately for me, this is still the negotiation phase, and he didn't charge up one that wind rasengan thing and murder me.

It's like arguing with Pain all over again, if Pain were hyperactive, prone to jumping to conclusions, a hundred IQ points dumber, and sane. Don't ask me which I would prefer to argue with, the point is clearly moot.

I tasted blood for a moment before Kabuto's body heals the damage. It's pretty well automatic, almost like a bloodlimit. Of course, I could have done it myself, so it's basically redundant, but still. Nice.

I shook my head to clear it and glare at the boy. "Excuse me? When did I try to kill them? When my arms were useless? Boy. Naruto. I realize you were new to playing in the big leagues at the time, but you've really got to learn to look underneath the underneath. The chances of me, especially in the condition I was in, doing anything even close to lethal damage to either of them was so small as to be practically nonexistent. We didn't even use big techniques. You of all people should know the kind of damage we do when we get serious. That was just us…" I searched for words for a moment, and finally had to shrug. "Being us."

"You made Sasuke betray the village. I had to kill him! My best friend! I will never forgive you!" he swore, his hands clenching and unclenching.

I sighed theatrically. "I don't know why I'm still talking with you, clearly you've decided to blame me for every little thing that's ever gone wrong in your life, but just in case you're still listening to reason, let me break it down for you." I held out one finger. "One, he was an Uchiha. They're all cunts." I ticked off a second finger. "Two, his brother killed his family and then mind raped him with Tsukiyomi. And yeah, Itachi was secretly loyal to the village or whatever, I was there at the time, remember? But while not killing his little brother is a mark in the 'good' column, I'm gonna have to put 'driving him insane with a genjutsu' over in the 'bad' column with like a dozen marks against him, because, seriously, goddamn."

"You were the one that gave him that cursed seal! That was what drove him insane. I was there, remember?" He throws my own words back at me. Not bad.

"He was always going to leave the village to kill his brother. And your best friend? Seriously? What about that Nara kid? Or the Inuzuka one? What, did the Inuzuka rape puppies in his spare time? How bad do your other friends have to be that you would call Sasuke your best friend?" I am frankly and utterly amazed. "You do know how they get the mangekyo, right? By killing their best friend? I saved your life you ungrateful little shit!"

"He was my friend!" Naruto cried.

"He was nobody's friend," I shot back. "I didn't cause anything to happen that wouldn't have happened anyway. If you're gonna hate me for something I did, you better try again, brat. And don't even blame me for the crap you went through chasing Sasuke after he left me. I had nothing to do with Akatsuki."

He stops. He looks at me seriously, his blue eyes cool as he calms himself. And then he hits me with what I'm sure he considers the most devastating charge against me.

"You betrayed the village and manipulated Sand into invading along with your Sound ninja. You killed Sarutobi-sama, your own sensei. You're evil."

"I did kill him pretty good, didn't I?" I respond, pleased at the memory. "He was one tough old man, I'll give him that. You don't get a title like 'God of Shinobi' by being incompetent." I shook my head. "Pity about the village, but yeah, alright, I suppose it was more than a bit evil of me to want to destroy the village just because I was pissed off at Sensei." I shrugged. "I'm over it now."

Naruto made this strangled, inarticulate sound of rage.

"What's that? He was my Sensei and he loved me?" I ask. No, he probably didn't say that, but I'm sure that's what he meant. "Maybe he did feel something for me as his student. After all, he let me leave the village alive." I paused.

"When he betrayed me."

I kept my voice as neutral as possible, but even now, just a little bit of real bitterness creeps into my voice.

"He never betrayed you! You were the one who left the village!" he screams, and, yep, here it comes, a three hit combo that bounces me around the cave and leaves blood smears behind.

Ow. But enough about me.

"I heard the story! You were caught performing experiments on people, and when the old man went to confront you you fought him and fled the village! Ero-sennin tried to stop you but you called him a fool and left. There's no excuse for what you've done. And that's why I'm going to stop you here. I'm not going to let you go back and hurt everyone even more."

"Ah, yes, my infamous experiments. I am known as one of the foremost researchers into forbidden techniques in the world, you know. Who do you think taught me? Who do you think encouraged such an interest, provided funds and assistance and subjects? Why, perhaps someone in power? Perhaps, someone as smart as I was but with far more experience? Oh, I don't know, someone like Sarutobi-sensei?"

Yeah, I can hiss pretty good when I'm pissed. Comes from merging my soul with that of a white snake. Sure, my pronunciation is ruined but you should SEE the things I can do with my tongue.

"Wake up and smell the kinjutsu. Who do you think implanted sharingan eyes in Danzo's arm? Do you even know how tricky it was to make eyelids that went along with them? Do you even care? And one of your own damned friends, Tenzo, was the result of my experimentation with the mokuton abilities of the Shodai. Do you think Danzo just jabbed him with a needle and implanted that ability in himself? NO! I was encouraged to experiment with the mokuton! It was hardly a secret at all! Danzo knew about it, Sarutobi-sensei knew about it. It was all part of a backup plan in case YOU failed to contain the Kyubi! And when my experiments were done and it became politically expedient, they cast me aside as a threat to their rule over Konoha."

Was I yelling? Naruto had shrank back a little. I was probably yelling.

"I fought Jiraiya to convince him to leave with me! Before he was sucked dry and cast aside like an empty husk, just like Tsunade-hime was! I couldn't convince him to come with me, but I did convince him to leave the village. A betrayal? That was at my most loyal!"

"Jiraiya left to build a spy network to keep an eye on you," Naruto counter accused.

I laughed again. "And yet he missed that I founded Sound? He didn't notice that I built not one, but two armies to invade Konoha? Have some respect, kid. Jiraiya was a sentimental old fool, but he wasn't an incompetent one. He might not have believed me all the way but he saw the writing on the wall, too. Sarutobi would have sacrificed him just like he sacrificed your father, the Fourth. Or do you think it was a coincidence that he became Hokage just long enough to defeat the unstoppable Kyubi and then died so Sarutobi could take back over?"

"I don't believe you. Sarutobi was a good man, and a good Hokage. He would never have betrayed anyone like that." Naruto's voice is full of conviction, but he hasn't hit me in a few moments so he's clearly more unsure than he lets on.

"I might have been out of commission for a while but I'm not unaware of what's been going on. Look at Danzo. The moment things got chancy, he betrayed Tsunade-hime and made his move to become Hokage. And yet he never tried that while Sarutobi-sensei was Hokage. Why? Because Sensei would have killed him out of hand, and Danzo knew it. That old war hawk always knew that out of the two of them, Sarutobi would have done even more than he to preserve the power of the village. And Sarutobi did. He destroyed Tsunade by getting Dan and Nawaki killed. He destroyed me by simply not admitting that what I did, I did under his orders. Only Jiraiya got out in time, but he'd already lost his prize student. Frankly, kid, I might not be the nicest person around. But if you're gonna claim best friends with that psychotic Uchiha, Sasuke, you need to get over here and give me a great big hug because I'm not even as bad as he was."

Naruto was clearly wavering.

"Naruto," I said, making my voice gentle, though I believe the hissing still gave it a certain menace, "Everything Sarutobi-sensei did, he did for the village. Do you think that makes it okay? It's all well and good to say you'll sacrifice everything for the good of the village, but let me tell you, it hurts when you don't even get asked."

"Well then I'll go back and I'll change all that!" Naruto declared. "It's a promise!"

"You? You don't even know the depths of their depravity. And I know you. You want to go back to when you were a kid and try to fix it then. Naruto, the damage done to your life started in my generation. If you want a better life, you've got to let me go back to my time."

I coincidentally leave out the fact that my intended changes will almost certainly ensure he's never born. No point in muddying the waters.

Why yes, actually, I do consider Naruto a mistake of history that should be fixed. Why do you ask?

"But I don't trust you. You're a lying liar who lies. And even if you ARE telling the truth, you still killed a lot of people. And you're planning on killing the old man, aren't you?"

I had to think about that one a moment.

Finally, I said, "No." It was the perfect answer. There was no way it could possibly be misconstrued as a 'yes'.

Naruto stared at me for a moment, clearly caught between his tendency to believe everything anyone tells him and his belief that I would kill Sarutobi if given a chance. How this kid ever managed to be a ninja I'll never know. Must be the substitution of logic and skill with disgusting amounts of power.

"You're trying to confuse me," he said finally.

I didn't roll my eyes.

"I may be the first person who's ever been honest with you," I lied.

"You're trying to confuse me. So I'll make you stop it." He grinned a little feral grin.

Aww, hell.

The less said of what happened next, the better. Suffice to say, it was one immortal man with incredible regeneration abilities, snake summons, a long lifetime of experience, genius intellect, and a knowledge of exotic and dangerous techniques unmatched in the world today, versus a naive kid a third of his age.

No points for guessing who won THAT fight. I'm telling you, I'm going to have words for the gods when I finally meet them.

Admittedly, who would have guessed that when Madara finally tore the Kyubi out of the kid, it would actually give him MORE power since he was no longer holding the fox in check. It's just not fair, I tell you. For someone who once famously claimed that there was no shortcut to strength, Naruto sure has been given a lot of them.

So I lay there on the ground and bled at him furiously while he walked over to the box and started trying to open it.

It was a locked puzzle box made of transparent crystal with twelve golden numbered wheels set into one side, requiring a specific combination of numbers to open. It was, of course, impervious to jutsu, and since it was almost perfectly transparent, there was no way to really get a look at the mechanism other than the wheels themselves. Trying all the combinations could take a lifetime.

Naruto opened it in like a minute and took out the Hyperlink Key. It fairly well thrummed with resonating power. Supposedly, all you had to do was think of where you wanted to go, insert it in a hole in reality, turn it, open the door, and go through. Holes in reality are supposed to be sort of uncommon, though, and not exactly visible. The one bit of lore I'd managed to find told the story of the previous owner who went around for like fifty years jabbing it in the air at random before giving up and locking it away in frustration.

Naruto poked it in the air randomly. Nothing happened.

"Oh, sooo close," I mocked, once my jaw had healed enough to pop back in place.

"Shut up. I'm not listening to you anymore," he said, turning the key. Nothing continued to happen.

And that was when I stole his body. Hah hah.

If you've never possessed someone, I think a Yamanaka put it best, though they only do it temporarily. You basically throw your soul at someone. I figured out a long time ago that if you throw all your chakra at them too, and do a few techniques of my own devising, you can not only lock their soul away, you can actually eat it over time to refill your own. And yes, it does cost you a bit of soul to jump bodies like that. You lose the bit that was anchored to your former body. Do it too often and you can fragment yourself into oblivion, but as long as at least part of your soul lives on in a body, you can recover from any loss. I owed my continued life to Kabuto, for instance. If he hadn't welcomed me in, I probably would really have died.

He'd had a crunchy soul. A little like edamame with wasabi.

Naruto's soul, on the other hand, was like an orange in a sewer. All bright and sweet and juicy and tangy, sunshine and life, but rolled in something foul and reeking. I'd never have gotten away with this if the Kyubi was still in there. That chakra was toxic to everyone but Naruto.

Unfortunately, a big part of permanently stealing someone's body was overcoming their will. My will to live is extraordinary. But, like Sasuke before him, with the home field advantage, Naruto's will was stronger.

We fought in the empty, dry sewers of his mind, and between the poisonous tang of Kyubi chakra that still stained the place, plus his own incredibly stubborn will, he threw me down into the depths of his mind again and again. He couldn't throw me out, and he couldn't crush me, but I couldn't just take over, either.

I had suspected this part would be a gamble.

Fortunately, I know techniques, jutsu that can be used within the battle in the mind. Where Naruto's thrusts of will and intent were manifested as simple punches and kicks, I used abilities fueled only by my soul to blast a hole in the sewer construct and emerge into his body. Then I used another jutsu to wrack him with pain, and for a moment, just a moment, I had control.

And then he countered with brute force and threw me down once more.

It was a long, hard fight to even get on even ground with him again, and I was tiring. This simply could not be allowed. I must succeed at any cost. Too far, too many sacrifices, etcetera etcetera. The usual final battle thing.

I may not have been the strongest ninja around, but I've always been one of the trickiest, and the most deviant. Blame my upbringing, initial genetics, the kinjutsu I've performed, whatever you want, it gave me one final ace in the hole.

I called up a fond memory I'd made sure to create in perfect detail, of Sasuke, right after he'd joined me, climbing out of a bath, all naked and dripping, eyes blazing in indignation yet refusing to be ashamed and cover himself, the markings of his seal crawling across his body in beautiful slow motion.

Naruto's mind recoiled in horror.

I did it! I had control!

Quick as thought, I used his hands, turned the key around, and slammed it into our chest. The crystal Hyperlink Key slid in with no sensation at all, literally penetrating the hole in reality Naruto somehow lived in.

I fixed exactly where and when I wanted to go, and turned the key.

That was it. I'd succeeded. I love it when a plan comes together.

Ah, naked young boys. Is there any problem you can't solve?

Actually, yes, there is. I've never met one under the age of fourteen who could get my bra off without help. But I digress yet again at my moment of triumph.

I've appeared literally out of thin air right in front of my own fifteen year old self. I was kinda cute back then. Ohhhhh! And Tsunade-hime was still there! How adorable! Still young, still slightly unsure of herself or her sexuality, but well aware of the affect her enormous breasts have on everyone around her. They have their own gravitational fields, I'm serious. How else could Jiraiya never fail to end up face planted in them no matter what direction you throw him in?

And little Jiraiya! White hair, wide eyes, little facial tattoos that he's had for as long as I've known him! Ah, my little friend, what fun we shall have! I'm gonna do all those things I used to do with my onetime friends again and I'm going to love it. And this time, I'm gonna do all the things I always wanted to do but never had the guts to try.

Second chances!

Of course, they're looking at the blond teenager who just staggered out of a hole in reality with something rather closer to fear and alarm rather than the welcoming looks I should be getting from my teammates.

That's fine. You see, I coincidentally have this technique that allows me to take over someone's body…

I fix my eyes with my younger self and smile. "Hi."

And then-

Naruto's mind performs the soullistic version of a body check and slams into me, latching on.

No! You can't take over your younger body! he yells at me in our head. It's not right, I don't care if it is you! He hasn't made his choices yet, he's innocent!

Yes, but he's going to make the WRONG choices, that's the whole damned problem! I struggle violently, trying to shake him off. The body, absent either of our control, flops forward limply.

Naruto and I rage back and forth within his mind, this time, me struggling to get OUT and him struggling to keep me in. And he's pretty determined to save 'my' life, just because I'm young. Come on, I was never all that innocent, really. It's for the good of the future!

And we fought. This wasn't an battle of ninja. This was two cats in a sack. I did everything I could to throw him off and he did everything he could to stay latched on.

I had several things going for me, this time. I was still new to the body, and I hadn't put down any soul roots, so to speak. Plus, the body itself was trying to reject me. Also, my damaged soul could sense 'me' nearby, and called out to my younger, fresher, more complete self.

Using the last of my will, I lifted my head up and lunged forward with one arm, badly startling Jiraiya, who'd been poking me with a stick, and grabbed the ankle of my young self.

And then I poured everything I'd become into me.

That's it, stick a fork in me, I'm done.




"Quit poking him with a stick and help me!" Tsunade snapped at Jiraiya. "We've got to get them both to a hospital!"

"I'm pretty sure the blond guy is dead," Jiraiya admitted. "His heart stopped and he's not breathing, and there's not even any chakra left in his body."

"Well he did something to Orochimaru and we at least have to get HIM to the hospital! He's got chakra overload, and his heart is about to beat its way out of his chest! Bring the dead guy and come on! I can't handle this alone!"

Jiraiya nodded seriously and did as he was bade. Orochimaru might be a dick, but he was still their teammate and friend. He seriously hoped he was going to be okay, and whatever the blond guy had done hadn't hurt him. Maybe that strange crystal key he'd dropped had something to do with it.







AL: The Hyperlink Key belongs to Mark McKinnon and his excellent Shadow Chronicles series. Link in my bio. Reviews welcome.