Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or these characters and stand to make no profit by posting this story.
Summary: After Minato dies, Jiraiya encounters an unexpected visitor with an unusual offer.
The white haired man hunched over his drink, nursing it, wondering if the bartender would let him get away with one more round.
But tonight it seemed he had Tsunade's luck. The bartender was glaring at him, shaking his head 'no.' With a resigned sigh he slid bills onto the counter to cover the tab and turned to walk out into the darkness.
Wooden getta echoing on the cobblestones he stumbled once on the way toward the room he had rented. The misstep wasn't due to the drink, it was simply that he didn't care. Did not give one damn about whether he fell asleep in that lonely room or here in this godforsaken alley.
What difference would it make? He would be alone either way.
He'd been alone for years now and for the most part by his own choosing, entering and leaving Konoha on a whim.
It wasn't being alone that bothered him, He traveled alone and preferred it that way.
What he felt now was loneliness.
There was no longer any reason to return to Konoha, no whim to take him there.
Minato was gone.
Dead and gone.
With somewhat unsteady steps he continued on down the deserted back alleyway of wherever-the-hell he was.
A street light flickered up ahead in the distance wreathed in mist and fog. The night was playing tricks on him, or else it was the sake. For a moment he thought he saw a ghost.
Passing the light post he cast one sidelong glance just to be sure but there was nothing, only the mist.
Kiri? Maybe he was in Kiri? Or the outskirts?
That seemed about right.
Gamabunta had delivered the news to him three days ago and he'd been on the move ever since. Anywhere but Konoha.
Whisper soft footfalls that weren't exactly the echo of his own steps eventually fell in time with his measured pace.
He seemed to have acquired a ghost after all. Or at least a shadow.
Never breaking his pace he continued his walk on up to the next lamppost. His rooming house was to the right at the intersection just past it. Pausing under the lamp he pulled out his pipe and proceeded to fill and light it. A couple of long draws, sweet tobacco filling his lungs, exhaling through his nostrils he waited patiently for the ghost to speak.
"I heard," soft lilt of a tenor voice behind him that tugged at his memories and took him back twenty or thirty years. "I'm sorry." Flatly stated but far from devoid of emotions. Those four words, actually the mere fact that he was here to voice them, spoke volumes.
Deep long draw on his pipe before Jiraiya trusted himself to speak. "Did you have anything to do with it?" Anything more and he was afraid his voice would crack and a dam would break inside of him.
"No." The answer came, firm but not overly emphatic. And Jiraiya knew it was the truth. "My quarrel is with Sarutobi and the village elders." What was left unsaid was the implied 'not with you.'
"Could you have done anything to stop it?"
There was a deep silence and Jiraiya smoked waiting for the answer. He knew he was asking a lot. Finally the reply came. "Had I known, then perhaps...but...I wasn't aware of it until...it was too late."
Jiraiya nodded. Any admission of weakness no matter how minor was a huge admission for Orochimaru. The fact that he had acknowledged his inability to foresee this was, in an odd way...touching.
He turned to face his ghost. Orochimaru, with his pale skin, black hair and absinthe eyes that he remembered from years ago looked at him from the edge of the circle of light the lamp was casting. The last time they had faced each other they had both been beaten bloody. A smaller form stood near his side in the darker shadows.
"Why did you come?"
"To tell you I was sorry. And...to tell you there is a baby."
Jiraiya shook his head. "For God's sake, Oro, don't you think I know there is a baby? That it's Minato's child."
"And to tell you that Sarutobi will allow it to grow up as an orphan."
Jiraiya barked a little self-deprecating laugh. "Well, that's one of the things we shinobi excel at, isn't it? Producing orphans?"
"It doesn't have to be that way," came the whisper-soft reply.
His pipe had gone out. Jiraiya clamped it between his teeth stubbornly and started to relight it.
"You should take the child, Jiraiya. Don't...," Orochimaru paused, "don't let that happen. Don't let it grow up alone."
"I don't need a brat slowing me down, Orochimaru." Jiraiya lied as he puffed on the freshly lit pipe.
"Then bring him to me."
"Bring him to you?" he asked, incredulous. "What, just waltz right into Konoha and take him?"
"You're his god-father."
"I hardly think you and your new companions would be a good influence. And when did you get to be so tenderhearted toward orphans anyway?"
For the first time, Orochimaru stepped into the light. "I can make him immortal."
Jiraiya had to do a double-take. The young man in front of him was his best friend of that he was certain. But it wasn't the Orochimaru he last remembered, not the man from their battle in the Valley of the End a few years ago when he pleaded with him to stay in Konoha. This was Orochimaru from twenty years earlier, from before Amegekure, before Jiraiya left to take on the training of the three orphans that Orochimaru encouraged him to just kill and put out of their misery.
Disbelief. "So you did it, huh?"
Orochimaru shrugged. "Close. Closer every day."
"At what cost?"
The dark haired man considered then finally answered truthfully, "Higher than you'd be willing to pay for yourself but I thought..."
Jiraiya cut him off, "You thought wrong."
Orochimaru smiled and Jiraiya found he'd missed that smile, not condescending just pure and simple friendship. "No. I knew what your answer would be. I just had to ask. To let you know. And to...reassure myself that some things never change. You, for instance."
He motioned to the smaller form and a boy stepped forward from the shadows. The lamplight glinted across his eyeglasses. An errant strand of silver hair fell from beneath the hooded cowl he wore. From the depths of his robe, the boy produced a flask of an amber liquid and held it up toward Orochimaru.
The former sannin took it from him and handed it to his old teammate. "Here," he said softly, "this will at least help you sleep without the hangovers."
"You sure it's not poison?"
"That depends on how much you drink."
"So how much should I..."
"That depends on what you want to do." No judgment there, just a simple statement of fact. He expected nothing else from his old friend.
"Good bye, Jiraiya. I am sorry about Minato." Orochimaru put his hand affectionately on the boy's shoulder as they turned to walk away. The hood slipped back revealing more of the shock of silver hair.
"Oro, wait...," Jiraiya called out. The man and boy turned to him again. The boy's face and hair seemed eerily familiar. "Who is that...?"
Lifting silver strands and letting them fall through his fingers, Orochimaru answered. "Kabuto? He prepared the elixir for me to give to you. He's an extraordinarily talented young medical ninja." Orochimaru smiled serenely, "You could almost say he was born to it. As I understand it, both his parents were gifted in medical ninjutsu."
Jraiaya's mouth was dry even as his eyes pricked with tears. "Is he...? Did she...? Is he hers?"
Orochimaru shrugged again as he turned once more into the shadows. "I would have raised them like brothers, you know." As he walked away into the shadows his final words were, "Farewell, Jiraiya."
Jiraiya clenched the flask in his hand, torn between dashing the cursed thing on the cobblestones or returning to his room to drink the entire contents.