Basically I love me some sannin. And I'm not only fascinated by the idea that Tsunade and Jiraiya are Minato's parents, I'm pretty sure it's true. Then again, I was also sure about the Tobito theory, so that just goes to show you... But whatever. I still think Jira + Tsu = Minato. When I had established that, it sort of occurred to me: "How did that affect Orochimaru? To be the only teammate left out of something like that?" Thus this fic was born. He was the odd-man-out one too many times, so he gave up and left Konohagakure behind for the first time. I don't own Naruto. Enjoy! :)
~Forgetting the Lights~
Minato was the final reason Orochimaru left Konoha.
It sounded stupid, blaming his first great act of treachery on an infant, but the blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby was precisely the deciding factor that made the snake sannin pack his bags.
But there was some backing up to do.
As much as Orochimaru himself disliked admitting it, there was some backstory that came into play as well. He couldn't blame everything on the baby.
Sarutobi-sensei's team had always been the socially-dysfunctional squad of its era. They worked together flawlessly on missions and when they trained, and they were definitely the most talented group of their entire graduating class. However, they lacked something inherent to the other teams: they weren't friends. There was no common bond that brought the four together to ramen shops after hot afternoons on the training field. They chose instead to go their separate ways and either study, eat a meal at home, or – in Orochimaru's case – train even longer.
Each member of the team was highly prideful, which was probably at least partially responsible for the divisions among them. Regrettably, this pride also drove each member to act as though he – or she – didn't care in the least that the four comerades lacked any fraternal bond. Tsunade was too high-class for the other three. Sarutobi had too much skill to have patience with his students when duty didn't demand it. Jiraiya said the other three were too uptight. Orochimaru, for his part, just didn't care in general.
That's why he was so startled by the pain inflicted by his isolation from the team.
The final isolation.
The isolation that occurred the day of Minato's birth.
Orochimaru wasn't stupid – he knew even before Jiraiya did that Tsunade was pregnant. The whispered altercations with Sarutobi-sensei were his first clue. Her mysterious lack of participation in some drills – a few that had once been her best, followed soon afterwards. Orochimaru's suspicions were finally put to rest by her inexplicable tardiness to some of their early-morning practices. The situation was painfully easy to figure out: Sarutobi's female chuunin was with child.
Orochimaru's only emotional reaction to this fact – if it could be call 'emotional' – was mild interest. It would affect missions; that was for certain. And it would be intriguing to see how Tsunade went about relaying the news to Jiraiya. If she tried to do so. Most interesting of all, would a father come forward?
All of those questions – save for the last one – were answered within the first few months following Orochimaru's realization.
Sarutobi-sensei probably had been the very first told, Orochimaru suspected. Hence all the clandestine discussions and permissible tardiness to training.
Senju had been told within a couple of months. He, naturally, had to be one of the first. Though Orochimaru was never told first-hand about how Tsunade's famous grandfather reacted to the news, he had his ideas. No doubt Senju would have been disappointed about the wrench thrown in his ambitious granddaughter's plans, but it was probable that he was slightly pleased as well. Especially if he approved of the father. Any patriarch would want to live to see his legacy extended, and that would hold true for a hokage more than anyone.
Jiraiya never connected the dots, or at least, never let on that he did. However, about three months in, Tsunade took him out for dinner. His behavior took a turn for the unexpected following that meeting. He was always asking her how she was feeling and fetching her drinks. Surprisingly enough – to Orochimaru, at least – Jiraiya cared enough about his teammate that he occasionally stayed home with her from missions and cooked for her.
Tsunade, however, never took it upon herself to share her secret with Orochimaru. And it's not that she didn't know he would figure things out eventually. Though she might not have expected him to make the discovery so early on, she wasn't stupid, and she knew he wasn't either. Despite all of that, Orochimaru couldn't help but feel a little bit of … surprise … that he had been left out of his team's confidence. He had never been the odd man out before… at least not more than any more than any of the others.
Well. Life progressed as normal anyway, for awhile at least. As normal is it could, under the circumstances.
Thanks to an unfortunate kunai accident from her childhood, Tsunade had some complications and was forced to remain bedridden for the final trimester of her pregnancy. Jiraiya was always either training or at her side, which Orochimaru found curious. Not painful. Of course not painful.
As the eighth month rolled around, Sarutobi-sensei started spending lots of his time with Tsunade as well. Orochimaru once stopped by the hospital for a routine treatment and passed Tsunade's room. The other three members of his team were deeply involved in a card game and were all laughing about something Jiraiya said. Orochimaru shrewdly observed that they wouldn't be laughing as hard if they could see the row of aces sticking out of the waistband of Jiriaya's pants.
But his amusement didn't entirely mask the pang he felt in his chest.
It didn't make him understand that strange emotion either.
He had never been one to need people. Ever. At least not on an emotional level. Occasionally Sarutobi had volunteered Jiraiya to help his teammate lift something heavy or help teach Tsunade a new jutsu, but Orochimaru never sought out those partnerships on his own. For that reason, he didn't understand why being the forgotten teammate set him so off-balance.
Was it that he assumed he would always have his team, and would never have to actually make an effort to take part in it?
Was it because he was insulted that they didn't think they could trust him?
He didn't know.
And he told himself that he didn't care, either.
When the delivery finally occurred, Orochimaru was not with the other three in the hospital room. It wasn't that he wanted to be there… but he didn't want that badly not to be there, either. He more or less neutral on the matter.
Which, as he decided, was really irrelevant anyway, because he hadn't been invited.
Orochimaru, therefore, waited until a day or so after the child's birth to pay his respects. Word of mouth alone told him that there had been a C-section involved, so he knew he would still be able to find them in the hospital several days later. That was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an outpatient procedure, even for the ever-determined and quickly-recovering Tsunade.
About thirty-six hours after the delivery – which had occurred in the wee hours of the morning – Orochimaru walked purposefully into the hospital. None of the medic-nins questioned his arrival. They knew as well as anyone that he was part of Tsunade's team. If anything, they questioned why it had taken him so long to show up.
Orochimaru, from the night he had witnessed the card game, remembered exactly where to find the room. Several people asked him if he needed their guidance, but he declined every time. And sure enough, when he arrived at that familiar place on the second floor in the east wing, there was the new mother.
She was resting on a stack of pillows, her blonde hair fanned out behind her like a halo. Though she was without make-up, without sleep, and dressed in a hospital gown, even Orochimaru couldn't help but admit that she looked every bit her title: in that moment, she was more a hime than ever. She seemed to glow, and the glow radiated to the room around her. Sunshine poured in through the single window, and flowers seemed to cover every surface available.
And there, of course, was Jiriaya, sitting at her feet and watching over her like a knight in shining armor.
When he saw Orochimaru, he jumped to his feet. The movement of the mattress startled Tsunade, and she opened her eyes.
"Orochimaru-kun," the two said together.
However, there was a dramatically different intonation to each of their exclamations. Jiraiya sounded startled or alarmed, as though he was about to have to fight to defend someone. Or perhaps… perhaps even as though some kind of secret was about to be discovered.
Orochimaru chuckled under his breath.
Idiot. It's not like I didn't know she was having a baby. What did you expect me to think – that she had swallowed a pillow?
Tsunade, on the other hand, looked a little bleary-eyed and bemused, but overall sounded pleased to see him.
"Oro-kun, you came," she whispered. "We didn't know if you would or not."
Jiraiya glanced down at her, somehow surprised she had reacted as positively as she had. He also looked as though he needed some instruction. Tsunade shook her head and held up a hand as though to call him off.
"Oro-kun is our teammate," she said softly. "Invite him in. Show him the baby."
Jiraiya paused a moment, demonstrating to both of the others that Tsunade's suggestion went against his better judgment, but he finally beckoned Orochimaru in. The latter stepped lightly behind him, nodding his recognition and congratulations to Tsunade as he crossed the threshold.
"You seem to be recovering well," he said matter-of-factly, not daring to sit down in the chair despite the fact that it was empty. Jiraiya's welcome had made it clear that he did not want the third teammate staying around for any longer than absolutely necessary.
"Thank you," Tsunade said. "I think I am. The bleeding has mostly stopped, and the medics are pleased with my progress. They still want us to stay until the weekend, though."
"Probably wise," Orochimaru replied, though he really had very little idea regarding the general procedure following a delivery like Tsunade's.
"Do you want anything to eat?" Tsunade asked softly. "We've been given lots of food. More than the two of us will be able to eat by ourselves."
"No thank you," Orochimaru said. "I'm not very hungry."
While it was true that he had already eaten, that wasn't the real reason he declined. He was mostly too confused to consider eating. It seemed very strange to him that everything that came out of Tusnade's mouth was a "we" rather than an "I." She clearly wasn't talking about the baby, so she must have been talking about Jiraiya. But what made them such a unit, all of a sudden?
At that moment, Orochimaru realized that there was something extremely obvious that he was missing. And perhaps even then, he realized that he was missing it intentionally.
Jiraiya cleared his throat, obviously in an effort to remind them both that he was still standing there.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Jira-chan," Tsunade said softly. "Please, show Minato to Oro-kun. I'm sorry for holding you up."
The look on Jiraiya's face said plainly that this was not the reminder he had been hoping for. However, knowing that he couldn't disagree with Tsunade, he shrugged and motioned for Orochimaru to come over and meet him beside the basket that sat on the table beside the bed.
When Orochimaru leaned over see the baby, his first thought was that it was Tsunade's, through and through.
The child's hair was a brilliant shade of yellow, the color that its mother's had been when she was younger. He had her high cheekbones and full pink lips.
Orochimaru was about to rack his mind for some kind of complimentary, non-awkward comment that he could make to fill the silence when he was interrupted by an unexpected motion from the baby. The little boy opened his eyes suddenly and without warning, and the sight nearly caused Orochimaru to fall backwards in shock.
The gaze came from the face of an infant, but it was Jiraiya's brilliant blue eyes that stared up at the astonished snake sannin. He knew, of course, that most babies were born with blue eyes, but there just wasn't any question that the ones looking up at him also belonged to his teammate. They were without the laugh lines and mischievous gleam of the ones possessed by the latter, but the baby's eyes had the same gentle slant and wide curiosity.
Orochimaru was the master of his emotions. He managed to contort his expression of shock into a sneer before either of his companions could glimpse that he had been so shaken.
Turning his own cruel gaze to Tsunade, Orochimaru finally spoke.
"And now it all falls together," he said silkily.
Tsunade's cheeks reddened, and she lowered her eyes to the floor.
"We were going to tell you sometime, I promise," she said, her voice almost pleading. "We just… didn't know how."
"Our native language would have sufficed. But then again, it's not like we trained together every day for the first six months of your pregnancy. I understand how difficult it would have been to catch up with me and break the news."
It was looking more and more as though Tsunade might cry.
Jiriaya took a step closer to Orochimaru, clencing his fists. His face too had reddened, but from anger rather than shame.
"You will not make Tsunade-hime feel this way," Jiraiya hissed. Rather than showing any intimidation – which he didn't feel anyway – Orochimaru only deepened his smirk.
"Interesting how you suddenly care. As I recall, you used to be the one making Tsunade-hime blush with shame."
Unable to tolerate any more, Jiriaya seized the collar of Orochimaru's flak jacket.
"Out," he whispered, pointing a solitary finger towards the door though.
"As you wish," Orochimaru replied, lifting his arms in implied surrender. "I've paid my respects to the glowing new mother and her disgruntled guard dog… guard toad, perhaps? Either way, I'll depart."
Orochimaru might have heard Tsunade sniffle once or twice as he turned his back and walked out the door, but he was hardly paying attention. He was too preoccupied with the aching of his own chest.
And the lack of any explanation for the strange pain.
It was so severe that he found himself almost breathless as he rounded the corner, and he had to stop for a moment and grab the wall to steady himself. Orochimaru was healthy, if nothing else, and had no reason to be feeling the dull pain that seemed to come in waves. Stranger yet, the hurt seemed to be associated with the young Minato. The first night he had unknowing witnessed father, mother, and unborn child sharing time together with Sarutobi, his chest had ached the same way.
He refused to give his former teammates and their mysterious child the power to make him feel that. To feel anything.
Instead, he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders.
Clearly, neither Jiraiya nor Tsunade needed anything to do with him. It would be easier on all parties involved if he, Orochimaru, simply disappeared for a while. The idea had been in his head for some time anyway; Konoha had nothing left for him. Loyalty to village was dramatically overrated anyway. If he could make more of himself elsewhere, why sit around and pretend to be content with the mediocre?
It didn't get much more mediocre than the level to which his teammates had stooped. It didn't take any real skill to change diapers and open jars of baby food. And their pride in all of it was the most sickeningly meaningless part of all. Ninety percent of the couples in Konoha pushed out children. The two of them were in no way special. Shinobi such as Jiraiya and Tsunade would have been much better suited to terminate the pregnancy early on and concentrate on becoming as skilled as they had the potential to be.
These were the things he told himself late at night when he awoke unable to erase the memory of the light.
The light provided by a candle sitting in the middle of a table where three shinobi played cards one evening…
The light in Jiriaya's eyes as he watched the mother of his child sleep peacefully in the afternoon sunshine one afternoon…
The light provided by the streetlamps lining the road as a single shinobi walked away from the gates of the only city he had ever known.
These were the lights he longed to forget.