The Butterfly's Wings
AN: A man smart enough to do what the Fourth Hokage was rumored to do should have found a better way to handle the Kyuubi. If he could contract, for a high price, with a Death God might he not also be able to banish entities to 'live' with the Death God? What would happen if Minato had survived and remained as Hokage?
The young blonde man wearing the garish Hokage robes walked out to the ruins of the ancient Senju estate from before there was a Hidden Leaf Village. The message he'd received this morning had indicated this spot as the meeting point.
"Come out, Madara."
An orange masked ninja phased into view.
"I came alone."
The Hokage seated himself on a fallen log. "Your messenger was awfully interesting."
"Hypnotizing Orochimaru's little spy Kabuto was no great feat, Minato-kun, for one such as I…."
"We tried and convicted him."
Madara shrugged. "Death always to traitors."
"Funny words coming from you, Madara." This man had, after all, attempted to murder the First Hokage in an epic battle that involved summoning the Nine Tail Fox.
"I did not wish for the Uchiha to join Konoha unless the Uchiha were in charge. I was overruled but refused to be bound to what the elders of the clan desired."
"Are you a shinobi or a lawyer?"
Madara seemed to chuckle, then he sat down himself on a log thirty feet from the Hokage.
"I am old enough to be a relic, Minato, but still I am forced to survive by my wiles."
"What can the leader of a group of thugs want with me?"
The orange mask bobbed up and down as Madara burst into laughter. "If anyone else had insulted me that way, I would strike them down without a second thought…but, you, Hokage, I don't know that I could touch you."
"Tell me why I'm here, Uchiha."
"For an exchange of information." The emphasis on the word 'information' was desperate, far beyond just insistent.
Minato smiled. "I had wondered when someone would come calling."
"I have tried all other avenues."
"What do you wish to know?"
"What did you do to the Kyuubi all those years ago?"
Minato leaned forward a bit. "That day you sent it rampaging toward Konoha?"
Madara said nothing.
"It is a true secret of the Hidden Leaf Village as I've told no one what I did…."
"Who did you make into the Jinchuuriki?"
Minato smiled. "It is a valuable piece of information you seek. What do you offer?"
"I have come into a rather tantalizing item concerning the Fire Lord and his views on the Hidden Leaf Village…."
"That I would be interested to hear," the Hokage said.
"You seem trustworthy to me, Minato-kun, so I will begin the information exchange. Your killing of Orochimaru last year shook up the court something fierce…."
"Why? I had twice before thought I'd got him, only to realize he'd been using horrible constructs crafted from living ninjas as body doubles."
"Because you succeeded," Madara said, "where everyone else for the last decade has failed. Because the paperwork you should be doing should have lessened your combat skills like they did to all your predecessors."
Minato laughed at that. "It's easy to solve that problem. I changed the procedures concerning what paperwork I have to see and sign. If I'm going to have a staff, I should use them well."
Madara seemed to nod in agreement. "Minions who are useful should be put to use, I concur."
"I wouldn't use those words," Namikaze Minato said. "You've got me intrigued so I will play along for now. As for a jinchuuriki, I did not need to create one."
"Preposterous! You expect me to believe that you slew a tailed beast?"
Minato shook his head. "Of course not. I am a seal master and a creative one at that. I dispatched, but did not kill, the Demon Fox."
"I have not been able to contact the creature since that night."
Minato laughed. "I am relieved to hear that, Uchiha."
"Seals, huh? What did you do, Minato?"
"I could show you. In fact, I would be glad to…."
Madara almost growled at the offer. "I will have to refuse for now. But the verbal description would be most appreciated."
"First I should like to hear more about the gossip out of the Daimyo's court."
Madara stood up and began to pace for a moment. "It is certainly not gossip. They contracted with an affiliate of mine for certain services."
"You don't disbelieve me that Miyashi-dono would contract with a group of missing ninjas?"
"He is young and more than foolish and far less honorable than his late father."
Madara stopped moving. "Yes, he is at that."
Minato considered what he had just heard and decided to continue feeding the information exchange. "There are three common rumors about what happened to the Kyuubi…."
"I have heard a dozen stories."
"…but three of them have little grains of the truth. They say I used my sealing prowess to kill it, but we both know a being like that cannot be killed. They say I contained the bijuu in a person, perhaps even my son Naruto. It is true that I considered making a jinchuuriki. It was the only technique when I started my research that had been shown to work at all…."
Minato waited for Madara's curiosity to move the conversation along.
"I suppose there is a price for the last 'grain of truth'?"
"The Daimyo, through an intermediary, asked my affiliate to put together a team capable of killing you, Hokage-sama. The reward is one ton of gold bars."
Minato swallowed but did not seem to disbelieve what he'd been told. "This is a surprise."
"How will you handle this?"
"I will ask the young lord if this is true and, if he admits his complicity, I will permit him to stand down and go into exile…."
"And, if otherwise…."
"There will be a new Fire Lord."
Madara nodded, seeming to be pleased with what he heard. "Hashirama was always too weak to deal with his enemies like that. By all accounts he killed me, but as you see he left me alive and only somewhat broken after our fight."
"Out of pity?"
"Out of foolishness," Madara said.
"I, too, wish he had dealt with you."
"That's not a useful thing to say in a mutual exchange like this."
"Your information is new to me, of course, but I have heard other mutterings that suggest the Fire Lord thinks his position is stronger than it is."
"Good, good. Glad I can help. Now…the Kyuubi."
Minato smiled. "They say that I contracted with the Shinigami to consume the Kyuubi in place of my own sacrifice."
"That is impossible, of course."
"No, it is possible, Madara, but the cost is very high."
"Your researches were focused on your clan's dojutsu, but mine were on our history, our mythology, and the fundamentals of chakra and sealing functions. Without that grounding, you would never understand."
Minato considered how to say what he needed to say. "I'd still rather show you than attempt to explain it."
"I don't think I'd care to see what you cooked up to deal with a being as powerful as the Nine-Tailed Fox."
"What did you do with it?"
"In truth, I did use seals to contain the bijuu and I did use the Shinigami in my plans."
"You ask so that you can unwind what I've done?"
"If you can do a thing, I can undo it."
Minato shook his head. "Not in this case, Madara, not this time."
"The rumors of you defeating three Kages at once are nothing compared to what I can do, little Hokage."
"I did defeat three Kages at once, when Kumo tried to seize the Byakugan for itself and dragged in Iwa and Suna to assist. I left all three of them alive, but broken, far more broken than the First Hokage left you, Uchiha…."
"I heard that rumor. Care to tell me how you did it?"
"I played to their weaknesses…."
"I have no such vulnerabilities."
"Really? Even the Kyuubi was vulnerable."
"Yes. The Kyuubi, that is something I desperately wish to know…."
Minato smiled, like he was about to tell a joke. "I created a two-part technique, one part to deal with the physical aspects of the bijuu, the fact that he can form up a solid-seeming body even though it is a chakra construct. The harder part was dealing with the bijuu's spirit."
"Where did you place the spirit?"
The body portion was useless, Minato and Madara both knew, because the spirit could reconstitute a body after it grew strong enough drawing on natural chakra. It was the spiritual portion that was the key to whatever Madara had planned.
"The body portion I forced into a nature chakra overload. It solidified as hard as stone…."
"That memorial in the forest where the Kyuubi fell…that's actually the Kyuubi's body?"
"That was the most intricate piece of sealing I have ever done. Did you know that the Shinigami's realm is quite easy to access, but impossible to leave?"
Madara frowned. He wasn't going to like whatever this story was.
"I forced the Kyuubi's spirit on a one-way journey back to the Shinigami's realm. Only the Shinigami knows how to leave…."
Minato had a large smile on his face.
"You really did that?"
"This was a waste of time. Obviously you have lied to me today." Madara began pacing again. "I might salvage something out of this and collect my ton of gold." He snapped his fingers and several more people entered the ruins.
Minato took a moment to look them over. Akatsuki had added new members, it seemed. None of these new faces, most of them from Water Country it seemed, were anything as tough as the S-ranked monsters Minato had been killing off the last few years. The only one he recognized was one of Jiraiya's old students, now called Pain.
"You know that I had nine days of warning after the Kyuubi awoke and three days notice that the bijuu was heading directly for the Hidden Leaf Village. Do you know what a smart seal master can do with nine days?"
"Kill him," Madara instructed his subordinates.
A variety of weapons and flashy techniques, including one that seemed to control razor sharp crystals, closed the gap between Madara's side of the conflict and Minato's. At the halfway point, something odd happened. The physical weapons seemed to hit some kind of a barrier and the chakra-based attacks turned around and flew back to those who initiated them.
All of the Akatsuki managed to dodge their own attacks, but it still shocked them.
The first one off the mark, Hoshigaki Kisame, sprinted forward when his water sharks failed and ran head first into the barrier that had stopped all of the weapons from advancing. He was out cold from the force of his impact, his massive sword bowed but not bent.
The rest began to scatter, each discovering the edge of the barrier they were enclosed in. "Anyone can walk into that space, but none will ever leave," Minato explained.
Madara scowled and seemed to flicker for a moment before he screamed.
"Not even you with your cursed eyes."
"What did you do?"
"I had thought to draw this out longer to see exactly what your plans were and your counterplans, but I see you will be closed lipped. I have a training session with my son, Naruto, in twenty minutes, so I guess I'll wrap things up."
"Tell me why I am trapped here, you bastard."
"I offered several times to show you what I did to the Kyuubi…and you declined. Now I have to insist…."
Minato made a dozen handseals before he stooped and laid his palm upon the ground. "Namikaze Sealing Art: Downward Swirling Pathway."
Instantly all the former enemies feel over insensate, their spiritual essences ripped from their bodies and cast across dimensions to a world they would never be able to exit.
"I wonder if Madara will enjoy being reunited with the Kyuubi?"
"I suppose I should have forced natural chakra into their bodies to create a nice statuary garden, but I couldn't bear having Madara on display for all eternity."
Minato walked over, ended the seal-based barrier he had erected within minutes of Kabuto's invitation to a meeting, and sealed up all the bodies into scrolls. That crystal user in particular merited attention from the Medical Corps.
Minato realized that Pain, with his multiple, puppet-like forms, was still alive most likely, but the rest of Akatsuki, including its true leader, was gone.
He'd just have to finally deal with Pain, one of Jiraiya's larger mistakes, the next time he went hunting. Or perhaps there was another way to handle them: delegate the mess back to Jiraiya.
Minato walked back to the village, stopped off at the ANBU medical corps office, and requested full reports on the bodies he'd sealed away, plus the heads sent to the Bounty Office for collection.
Water Country, at the very least, would have massive bounties out for a number of the people Minato had just killed. The village's coffers could use a refilling.
Minato smiled as he walked down to the high security prison cells two hundred feet below the village. He had one last task before starting Naruto's training this morning.
"Why don't you kill me?" the old ninja croaked. Unbidden tears spilled from his visible eye.
"To the world at large you died of cancer two years ago," Minato said. "Then we folded your ROOT soldiers back into the ninja force after retraining them. Most of them had shoddy skillsets, Danzo. They had fierce loyalty but not enough skill to do much at all. I guess that fits your style, doesn't it, a large superloyal force that is unable to ever turn against you."
"Just let me die."
"After what you nearly fomented in my village – after you almost had Itachi convinced to murder his clan down to the last infant – you think I will show you any mercy?"
"Danzo, normally I am not a cruel man, but you ordered the murder of nearly four hundred shinobi and civilians for no good reason. You claimed there was a conspiracy, which I investigated after I stopped you. I've had Yamanaka Inoichi inside the minds of seven elders and Fugaku as well on various pretexts."
"It was true…."
"As true as you dismantling ROOT? Or as you staying out of the affairs of our allies? Your people were in Rain and Grass and Bird – those are merely the incidents we've confirmed. Your training methods were brutal and ineffective. As punishment for supporting you, I put Homura and Koharu through your course. They were both gifted jounin in their day, but it only took thirteen days for the training to kill off Koharu and eighteen to fell the old bastard…."
"You killed them?"
"I sentenced them to the same torture they permitted you to inflict on orphans. You are little better than Orochimaru, Danzo…."
"Let me go through the course."
"You designed it, what good what it do? Anyway, I had four teams spend a year filling in all of the underground tunnels and manmade caverns underneath the village. What a security risk. We even discovered a few dozen sets of traps throughout the village and tunnels created by spies or thieves, all sorts of messes. One asshole created a network of a thousand exploding tags throughout the village; no one had noticed even though the tags were at least ten years old. Your hypervigilance wasn't worth much, you useless husk."
Minato let the room fall silent. "Tell me what agreements you had with Hanzo of Rain."
The old ninja was silent.
"That's what I thought."
"Do it, just run me through with a sword."
"Once you have given up all your secrets, Danzo, then I will permit you to die. The medics will keep you alive, keep healing the cancers that are eating at you, and keep refusing you any pain relief."
"Damn you, Namikaze."
"I would hear your secrets now…." The Hokage expected the silence. "As I expected. I shall return in a few months, then. Oh, by the way, Uchiha Madara is now dead. Good morning."
Danzo began to rave in anger as Minato walked from the desolate space where the former ROOT leader now lived his days. That confirmed a number of things Minato had wondered about. Danzo had dealt with Hanzo of Rain; it seemed he had dealt with Orochimaru at some point; here was some kind of confirmation that he knew Uchiha Madara or had dealings with him.
Minato quickly made his way back to the small house that he shared with his wife and their three children. Isami and Ushabari were twins, two years of age, with great shocks of their mother's form of unruly red hair.
Little Naruto, just now eight, was already stretching on the lawn behind the home.
"Are you ready?"
"Save your energy for our sparring, little man."
The spar commenced. Naruto used his compact size to his advantage, shrinking his profile so that he was harder to hit than his father was. Minato, of course, was holding back considerably from the full extent of his capabilities.
He wasn't one of the top ten taijutsu experts in the village, but he could hold his own in any hand-to-hand situation. Of course, he couldn't have a ninjutsu spar with his son yet nor utilize his known and unknown signature fuuinjutsu. That was where Minato's talents truly lay, in fashioning and perfecting techniques that no one had yet determined how to counter.
The young ninja-to-be was already quite gifted at hand-to-hand combat. It wasn't his strength or his size that he used best, it was his unpredictable mind, his ability to be in the same situation ten times and react to it ten different ways. For every time he tried and failed, Naruto would go again with a different idea.
Minato saw the very first blossoms of what might be his son's own taijutsu style, one he would probably create and keep mutating over the coming decades, a style built upon unpredictability.
Minato smiled as he dodged a kick to his kneecap. Little Naruto was laughing as he was trying to be vicious. He was such a sweet child even during training.
"That's enough," Minato said twenty minutes into the spar. Naruto had landed a few good hits when he'd cooked up something Minato hadn't expected. Naruto himself was panting and was a bit bloody from a few cuts and scraps. "You're getting better."
"I beat Sasuke yesterday."
"Oh? How did you do that?"
"I just kept trying until he was tired and then I clobbered him."
Minato smiled. "You will never want for energy, I think, my son. We need to build your skills up so that you can handle someone who has as much stamina as you do…."
"How do we do that?"
Naruto seemed pleased at the idea. He loved his father; he loved the Hidden Leaf Village; he was mischievous and sneaky and couldn't tell a lie to save his soul, but he was a good person and was well on his way as a future ninja.
"Now, you must head to the Academy…."
"But you're a better teacher!"
Minato smiled. "I am also busy until after dinner. Then we will do some more lessons on sealing, alright?"
"Okay." The boy went inside the house and came back out a few moments later with a clean face and ran off the street.
Minato walked inside the house and saw that Kushina was feeding the twins. "How was your meeting this morning?"
That made Kushina breath easier. "I am glad to hear it."
"I had something earlier but do you have any more tamagoyaki?"
Kushina pointed at the counter in the kitchen.
"You got Naruto off to the Academy?"
"I had to bribe him with sealing lessons tonight…."
"You were going to do it tonight anyway."
Minato shrugged and began to have his second breakfast. That technique he'd used on the Akatsuki really consumed the energy.
Kushina ushered the twins off for a scrubbing after their messy breakfast. Minato washed the plate he used and walked to the Hokage Tower, stopping to chat with several merchants along the way. He had long since reformed the advisory council and tossed off civilian participation, but he did his best to keep in touch with the people who kept Konoha fed, clothed, and entertained.
When he arrived at the tour, he had messengers sent to inform his advisors – Sarutobi Hiruzen, Senju Tsunade, and Aburame Michio – of a meeting with him this morning. The Daimyo was already scheduled to visit with the Hokage around ten during one of their usual, quarterly meetings.
The traitorous little shit had probably planned to come and smile and enjoy the idea that S-ranked opponents were getting ready to kill the Hokage on his orders.
Minato walked into his office and saw the stack of paper on his desk.
Every few months he had to retrain his staff and those who dumped things on them about what precisely Minato wanted to see. He grasped the pile of material, flipped through it, pulled out four items and carried the rest back to where his staff had their desks.
"Why am I looking at the gate logs from three days ago?" the Hokage asked of his personal gatekeeper, Nara Tadatio.
"It's something you've been avoiding the last few months…."
"You're new to this desk, right? A new chuunin?"
"Did the ANBU, codenamed Egret, not train you in your job before you took over?"
The Nara looked a bit nervous. "He did."
"Are you ignoring what he told you?"
"I am following what the written manual said…."
"Let me explain a few things to you, young ninja. These logs go to the intelligence unit because they know what they're looking for. The ninja who work in intelligence sift through all of this and tell me what I need to know…."
"But you're the Hokage and you need to know these things."
"I am the Hokage. And you're not listening. My job is the big picture, young ninja, not the details. Others handle the small things. I handle the vision, the strategy, and sometimes the execution against a very tough problem. Can you grasp that?"
"The same goes for the rest of this stack. Route them to the right people. There were only four items I needed to see. Four out of almost sixty. Your job is to make sure I see the right things at the right time. There's no way I can do what I need to do if I have to approve every D-rank mission and sign off on the purchasing of new kunai for the Academy. I have put various ninjas I trust into positions so they can make sure the village functions properly. I trust them, so you need to trust them to do their jobs and keep me informed…."
The Nara was just nodding now, trying to apologize.
"Get these distributed to the right departments and take an early lunch, young Nara. Get your mind pulled back together."
Minato walked back into his office and began to digest the four critical reports that had been buried inside the dreck. Minato cared only for things that were out of the usual. If a new training ground was coming along just fine, he didn't care, but if one of the auditors reported unusual expenditures involved in the construction, that Minato did want to hear about.
Fraud was tantamount to treason in his mind.
These four reports all dealt with different aspects of fraud.
As Minato read them, he saw four members of the Daimyo's staff involved, one staffer involved in each type of fraud. One was pilfering from the emergency storehouses; another was raiding accounts set aside for helping orphans; a third had discovered a discontinued account from when Danzo was still involved with ROOT; the fourth staffer was raiding the merchant support account that was meant for attracting new industry to this part of Fire Country.
The total amount of money was enough to equal more than a ton of gold bars.
The little shit had decided to fund his assassination attempt by stealing from the Hidden Leaf Village.
Whatever the young man who wore noble robes might say, Minato had already decided his life – and the lives of every advisor he had – was forfeit.
His advisors arrived just before ten. Minato presented the overview of his busy morning.
Hiruzen responded first. "So many people gone so wrong. The young Daimyo just the newest of them. I would counsel peaceful negotiation if I thought there was any way to achieve it."
The Aburame, one of Minato's teammates before Minato became the sole apprentice of Jiraiya, said, "There is no peace possible after such treachery."
"To think the apple fallen so far from the tree," Tsunade said. She no longer resented having to be present in the village except for her annual month-long vacations when she traveled from casino to casino. "My grandfather was on excellent terms with this little shit's great uncle."
"Is there any other choice?" Minato asked.
Sarutobi Hiruzen wanted to argue that there must be, but he did not know what it was. Instead he remained silent.
"Fine, let us move onto the consideration of our bid for the Chuunin Examinations in three years." The tournament moved from country to country and Konoha hadn't hosted one for four years. It was time to get involved in international affairs in a firmer manner.
The meeting broke twenty minutes later with several items hashed out but still needing final decisions. Minato liked to consider issues for a time before he acted.
What he would do this now he didn't need to consider any longer.
The Daimyo had outlived his purpose. He was meant to provide good government for the country, not play games with his court and plot against the ninjas who lived in the Hidden Leaf Village.
Minato ate another snack, went for five laps along the village walls so that he didn't get too soft sitting behind a desk all the time, and took a shower. He had kept the Daimyo waiting for nearly forty minutes by then.
The Hokage and the Daimyo met in the private garden Minato kept behind his residence. His home, with the seals he developed and emplaced everywhere, was a far more secure location than even the Hokage Tower. Here, at home, Minato could lock down almost everything and create highly restrictive rules. In a public building, like the Hokage Tower, the rules for any security seals had to be loose, more flexible, and hence less secure.
"Have a seat."
"Thank you, Minato."
The Daimyo, four years younger than Minato, always used the Hokage's first name but had never extended permission for Minato to use the Daimyo's first name. It was a weak sort of game but Minato, as always, followed the niceties.
In theory, the two of them were equals in front of the law. The Hokage had a role in helping appoint each new Daimyo after the previous one resigned or died; the Daimyo had a role in appointing a new Hokage, even if it was just to give a stamp of approval.
"My advisors and I have decided to bid for the next open Chuunin Examinations…."
"I heartily approve. I do so enjoy having a reason to invite my lordly brethren into Fire Country. With all the gambling going on, they'll be sure to come."
"It won't be for another three years, but the process of preparing an examination like that can take some considerable time."
"Oh? Three years. Well, when the dates are finalized, be sure to send a message to my appointments secretary…" His words faded off, but it was clear he regarded Minato as less useful than his mistress and appointments secretary.
"Of course. Any news on your front?"
"News? No, nothing terribly interesting after I had to shake up my staff." That was five months previous. The young man now had a bunch of ass-kissing ladder climbers who had probably helped convince the young lord that hiring a bunch of S-ranked criminals was a good idea.
The conversation remained light and insubstantial for the next hour before the Daimyo indicated that he needed to return to the capital.
"Do be careful…."
"I've got two ANBU squads out now tracking down reports of A- and S-ranked nukenin inside our borders."
"A fair number from Water Country have crossed over in the last few days."
"My army division will be able to handle anything."
Minato smiled and nodded, not believing a thousand samurai could harm an S-ranked opponent.
"I could send along an ANBU protective detail…."
"A generous offer, but one I must decline."
"I wish you the best…. Oh, if you run into trouble, use this special kunai. It can summon help." Minato handed over one of the special, renowned kunai that everyone believed crucial to his Flying Thunder God technique.
"Hmm. This, this I will take. What a princely gift, Minato."
"Be safe." He stood and led the Lord out of his garden.
Once the man was gone, Minato nodded at the hidden ANBU near the fence. In thirty minutes, the Daimyo would be slain by the very S-ranked criminals he'd hired. One of the bodies would be found nearby.
Minato, of course, would make sure the next Daimyo went through a much more discrete selection process.
He walked back to his office, looked at the paperwork piled up, and scowled. He needed a new gatekeeper, one who listened to directions. He sat and sorted through the mess again.
Minato felt the Daimyo throw the special kunai he'd been gifted. He waited a few moments, dropped the worthless papers back onto the pile, and then flashed to the site.
The Daimyo was restrained by three ninja wearing the slashed forehead protectors of the Hidden Mist. "Help me," the young Daimyo called out.
Minato said nothing, but examined the destroyed caravan. The Daimyo's samurai force was dead to a man. The Fire Guardians had been disbanded within a week of the Daimyo's ascension; he had wanted no ninja protectors. Now he had no protection at all.
"Alas," Minato said, "I was too late to stop Hoshigaki Kisame from beheading you. But I avenged your death, little lordling…."
"I'm not hurt, yet."
"When you offered to pay one ton of gold bars to have me killed, you were dead."
The Daimyo stopped whimpering.
"The men you hired were very dangerous people, a collection of A- and S-ranked criminals. One of them was probably the most dangerous evil sod I've ever heard of, Daimyo-dono. Of course, he didn't expect the meeting he arranged with me to taunt me to be the last thing he ever did on this plane of existence."
"I am your Lord."
"You are a barely adequate swordsman who plays a good game in the court, bribing, threatening, and the like. That doesn't make you anything."
"You owe me fealty."
Minato held out his hand and a 'missing nin' put a glove on it and then gave him the famed Sameheda. It attempted to drive metal through Minato's hand, but the glove protected him.
"I allowed you to live, to see what you would do. Now I know. I revoke my earlier parole."
Minato swung the heavy sword and scraped off nearly half of the Daimyo's head. "The day I refuse to handle my own unpleasant tasks is the day I retire, Kakashi."
"No one should ever plot behind a desk and retain clean hands. When I kill a man like this, he should know it was me punishing him for his presumption."
Minato dropped the sword, looked around for Kisame's unsealed body, and formed up a Rasengan in his hand. He slammed it into the already dead ninja, destroying the dead man's upper chest, separating Kisame's head from his body.
"I guess I was too late," Minato said, his words meant for the official record. "I wish he would have accepted the ANBU protection I offered. I told him of the dangers lurking here, but he was too proud to bend."
"I shall notify the Daimyo's Court."
Minato shook his head. "Hold. Let me write a letter, part balm, part caution. Also, find these four men and make their deaths a public statement."
Kakashi accepted the scroll. "What did they do?"
"They stole money from us to finance my assassination."
"I understand. Should I use a lot of water techniques?"
"Anything but the Raikiri," Minato said.
He walked over and picked up the special kunai he'd given to the one-time Daimyo. He returned it to his belt.
"Any decent candidates for a new personal assistant?"
Kakashi thought a moment and shook his head. "Not working out?"
"Won't listen to the things I tell him. Thinks I need to see everything."
"You don't get grumpy about much other than paperwork, sensei."
Minato smiled. "No, it's the bureaucrats who generate it that I really dislike."
"Assign a team to handle all this Kakashi. Those four at the Court are awaiting your arrival."
"They will have an unpleasant evening, then."
Kakashi disappeared. Minato surveyed the scene and nodded. It looked right. "Have the investigator come speak to me if there any questions."
"Yes, Lord Hokage," called back Tortoise.
Minato walked back to the village. He loved the woods, he loved these woods in particular. The trees were particularly magical, a hundred years old at the most but with the strength and majesty of those hundreds of years older.
He nodded at the gate guards who hadn't seen him leave, but didn't question him coming back inside. This was not an uncommon occurrence. With his Flying Thunder God technique, he could disappear most anywhere he wanted.
Of course, that had earned him his reputation – and his role as Hokage. But he hadn't stopped his explorations of chakra there. He was considered the most powerful shinobi to have ever existed, but he was happier thinking of himself as the cleverest seal master to have ever existed – and hopefully the best father and husband.
He walked past the Academy and he stopped inside. He activated a seal woven into his robes and disappeared from sight. He sat and listened to his son's instructor. The lesson was on history and it was easy to see that little Naruto was terribly bored. The words weren't inaccurate, but the instructor wasn't the most engaging lecturer Minato had ever heard, either.
He waited until a recess was called before he dropped a scroll where Naruto couldn't help but see it. "No sealing lessons tonight if you fall asleep during class," it said.
Naruto blushed and shook his head. "He's always doing that."
Minato smiled and walked out of the room. He released the invisibility seal when he was alone in a hallway. He left the room and walked up to the public baths. Jiraiya was in town, trying to fly under notice, but Minato always knew where his sensei was.
The man had a seal on him that he had not yet noticed.
Every powerful ninja Minato had ever met – and let live – had a similar seal on him. The only one Minato had ever met and not sealed was Hanzo of Rain. Had he lived today Minato could have pulled it off, but not when he was younger and Hanzo was in the late portion of his prime.
Jiraiya was using a weak invisibility jutsu outside the women's baths this morning. Minato walked right up to his sensei and cleared his throat. The aging ninja almost screamed in surprise.
"You're not paying attention."
"Damned brat. What do you need?"
"A mind to bounce some ideas off of. Can I tear you away from all this?"
"What do I get?"
"How about I don't ban your next book?"
Jiraiya frowned. "How could I pick a boy like you to be my student – you should have turned out just like me, you know."
"I need only one woman."
"Fine, where do you want to talk?"
Minato walked off while Jiraiya returned for a last few minutes of peeping. Area 73, of course, did not exist as a proper training ground. It was a term Minato and his sensei used, a joke. It was the place where Minato had first summoned Gamabunta and been forced into a drinking contest. Bunta had consumed seventy bottles of sake to Minato's three – but the drunken antics Minato had put on for the Boss Summon had been sufficient to impress the old gangster.
Minato arrived in the clearing in the forest outside the village walls five minutes before Jiraiya arrived. As per usual.
"What was so important, brat?"
"What do you know about the Akatsuki?"
Jiraiya scowled. "Stopped paying attention after you offed Orochimaru."
"I don't believe that for a second."
"I don't know anything…."
"About the orphans you trained in Rain? Trying to protect them even now?"
Jiraiya hung his head.
"I've ended Uchiha Madara and at least one of Pain's bodies. You should talk to the girl…"
"Yes, Konan. Tell them it's over, lay it all down, and I won't need to hunt them."
Jiraiya nodded, unable to form up any words.
"You should stop and see Naruto while you're here."
"I didn't want to let you know I was nearby."
"You're such a fool. You come here and think I don't know?"
"I guess I am an old fool."
"You asked to be his godfather, sensei. You should get to know him."
"What should I do? Tell him about my source of income; tell him embarrassing stories about you…."
"You obviously want to reintegrate into the village. This is the third time you've come back in the last year, but the first time I've sought you out. You want a reason to come back. Why not form a bond with my son? Or settle down? Maybe take on a new student."
"I'll think about it, brat."
"You could always drag back Tsunade and set about seducing her."
"You think I haven't tried?"
"I've got things to do, kid. See you later."
Minato walked out of the clearing. That was the last advice he'd offer his sensei. The next time he would issue an order. Jiraiya would get indignant about being ordered around; then Minato would drag him to a discrete training ground and knock the stuffing out of him.
The White Fang had a reputation that put him on par with all three of the Sannin at their prime. Minato was not too modest to admit he could now take on the White Fang and any army of his choosing and win within a few minutes.
The explorations of chakra he had done; the delving into the summoning between him and the toads; the unlocking of secrets he had accomplished left Minato the strongest person living, to ever live. He would train no one in his arcane discoveries. He would teach the Rasengan to his children; he would teach them sealing if they wished it. He would share the ninjutsu he knew and had created. But the fundamental principles, the true knowledge of power he had unlocked, all that would perish with him.
It had to.
Minato waved again at the gate guards and returned to the Hokage Tower. The stack of paperwork had grown even taller.
He sat down and sifted through it.
One piece of intelligence popped out at him. The rest of the detritus was barely worth the examination.
He returned it to the Nara who would not be his personal assistant the following day. "Send this to the analysts. I've got something here I need to follow up with."
Minato left the Tower and walked to the warehouse district. He walked into one of the hundred devoted to storing rice. He followed the directions in the message. The fourth row, twelfth pallet in, five layers in, the bag with the green stamp on it.
Minato hauled the bag out from the pile and sliced the bag open with a kunai. He poured the grains on the floor and counted the glassine envelopes that littered the floor. Heroin.
He looked at the bag of rice again. The Gato Corporation.
Minato walked to the ANBU building and pulled four team members together rather than allow them to continue their gossiping.
He laid the bag on the battered table. "Handle this man. I never want to see another reference to him, his company, or his drugs."
Three of them left the room, but Minato held back the youngest team member. She was the former apprentice of Orochimaru and was eternally grateful to the Hokage for slaying her former mentor.
"I need you to investigate this more completely. The clue I had to all this was encoded in a customs report. It was generated by a customs officer and meant for someone else to read. I want to have both of these individuals in interrogation cells by tomorrow."
He smiled when she left.
Minato stayed away from the Hokage Tower the rest of the afternoon. He did not want to deal with the paperwork passed to him by his incompetent assistant. He'd find someone new tomorrow. He stopped and picked up his son from the Academy at four. He took them the long way back home.
They walked through a field of wild flowers. Naruto ran like a little wild thing. At one point he scared up what seemed like a thousand butterflies. When they settled down, one landed on Minato. He looked at the glorious creature. All of the secrets he knew of the world – of its beauty and its savagery – were contained right here. The little energy contained in the small creature was enough to move mountains, with the right understanding.
The butterfly leapt off the Hokage's wrist and returned to a tree.
He stood and stared at his son who was enjoying the whole range of life. He was such a joy.
"If we don't get going, we'll be late. You know who would be upset?"
"I do," Naruto shouted.
"Let's go. Dinner and then a lesson, right?"