Time Flows Like Ink

Summary: After a fuinjutsu experiment gone wrong, Minato is yanked into a future where his family is dead, his team fell apart and the Uchiha were slaughtered. With the defective seal burning in his palm, Minato struggles to stay afloat in a Konoha that isn't his.

Chapter 1

If he weren't so frustrated about his latest fuinjutsu experiment blowing up in his face, Minato would have probably been more worried about the burning sensation on his skin.

No matter what Kushina would say, he was not pouting. Minato did not pout. He was above that, and completely justified in his frustration when it was the fifth time he had unsuccessfully tried to reach a breakthrough for his most recent project.

If he'd known being Hokage left him with so little time to himself… he would have still taken the position. Konoha needed the guidance. Sarutobi was tired. He couldn't lead the village through another war.

Minato took a look at the sun's position and huffed, deciding he would have to give up for the evening.

He reached for his location seals to transport himself into the village, pausing to choose his destination. He contemplated if it was worth another of Kushina's pranks to teleport straight into their bedroom, but decided against it. He was still picking glitter out of his hair from last time and didn't want to imagine what boredom made her come up with this time.

Strictly speaking, he wasn't supposed to teleport over the village borders at all, unless for emergencies. "Hokage-sama, please!" Raidō had said after one time too many, exasperated and struggling with the new formality of addressing him as kage. "You can't sneak out of the village like this. At least take somebody with you."

He'd felt like a child being scolded rather than the new Hokage, and Kushina had laughed hard enough to risk pulling a muscle.

Decision made, Minato picked a seal relatively close to their home. He stumbled upon impact and caught himself on the nearest brick wall.

Minato hissed, snatching away his hand and steadying himself with a step backwards. That shouldn't have happened. His landings hadn't been this wobbly since he'd perfected his technique years ago.

He raised his throbbing hand to take a closer look. He should have probably done that the second his experiment had backfired.

The palm of his hand was tender and sore, the newly developed seal – defective, since he definitely hadn't planned for it to end up decorating his skin – scorched into it with black ink. Behind the burning he could feel an odd tugging sensation.

Maybe the seal had thrown off his teleportation technique? It shouldn't have been able to interfere, but experiments with fuinjutsu were often unpredictable.

Kushina would help him figure it out. She'd appreciate the distraction, considering how often she moaned about not being able to do anything while pregnant.

He chose a longer path to their home, one that was more likely to be deserted at this time. He wasn't in the mood to deal with anyone other than Kushina for the rest of the day.

She'd probably complain about how long he'd been gone, leaving her alone and bored at home. With Mikoto away on a mission, her best friend was unavailable to keep her company.

He was passing more people than he had expected in this part of the village.

Minato blinked, slowing down as he spotted a building he had never seen before. And had that market district been there before?

He kept walking as if he hadn't noticed anything off. A silent disruption of his chakra flow told him that he wasn't dealing with a simple genjutsu.

Another apartment building that definitely hadn't been there a few hours ago.

The illusion had to be strong, for him to be unable to dispel it.

He tensed with every person he came across. Nobody seemed to pay him much attention. There was a reason he'd left his gear at home. Curious eyes slipped off of civilian clothes like they made their wearer invisible.

It was starting to get late, and shopkeepers were packing up their wares, preparing to retire for the day. A young boy was being scolded by an old lady. He must have been a troublemaker: The stand next to them was a mess, half squashed fruit and vegetables lying everywhere.

He kept walking, kept his head low and his chakra at the tip of his fingers. He realized he could only feel about half of the seals he'd placed around the village.

Minato noticed his pursuers immediately. He couldn't risk a fight. There were too many civilians around. Besides, he recognized one of the chakra signatures.

Minato leaped onto a fairly high building to face them head-on. "Genma," he said, hoping everything would clear up soon. "What's going on?"

"Funny," came his answer, in a voice far deeper than he had expected. "I was about to ask the same."

Minato tensed, facing Genma and two ANBU shinobi. Genma, who was his friend and his guard. Who was careless and calm, always a smirk and a joke on his lips.

Genma, who was not the teenager he remembered. He was looking at a man, broad shoulders and sharp features and looking older than Minato himself. Still, he recognized the face, recognized the senbon, and most importantly, he recognized his chakra.

Genma's voice was nearly void of emotion. Ice lined his words, made them ragged and cold.

"Genma, I don't–" Minato tried to take a step forward, but froze as all shinobi took fighting stances. His face hardened and his tone grew sharper. "Shinobi, explain. Now."

All three shinobi straightened up at the command, instinct telling them to obey. Genma caught himself before he could oblige. Why he refused to acknowledge Minato as his superior, he didn't know. Another question to add to his steadily growing pile.

"How dare you," Genma whispered. "How dare you wear his face. Steal his voice."

The implications of that statement were so massive, it took Minato a moment to process. "You think I'm an impersonator."

Genma laughed at the surprise in his voice, strangled and humorless. "Do you really need it laid out for you?"

"If you would."

Genma fought with himself, his mouth restless as if he chewed on something bitter. He spit out the words like poison. "Minato is dead."

Minato didn't know what to say. The seal burned in his palm, and Genma's eyes bored into him like ice shards.

He tried – and failed – again to dispel a genjutsu. There wasn't one. This was no illusion, and Genma believed what he was saying. So what did that leave him with?

"Bring me to your leader," he said, and wondered who would be waiting in the room that had been his only hours prior.

Sarutobi was the Hokage and Minato was dead. That's what the discussion in the Hokage's office boiled down to.

They asked him questions only very few people knew the answers to.

They argued.

They brought in a sensor, who couldn't disprove his identity.

They argued.

They made him show them one of his signature moves, the Rasengan, under strict supervision and threats to his life should he step out of line.

They argued.

In the end they summoned a Yamanaka and let him repeat his claims, proving he wasn't lying.

And yet again, they argued.

Minato took it all with a stoic facade and minimal input himself, mentally reeling from the picture that unraveled in front of his own eyes.

Sarutobi looked old. Everybody he knew looked older. Genma was no longer a gangly teenager. Shikaku had two new scars slicing his face. But Sarutobi had been old when Minato had last seen him. Now? The former Hokage looked ancient, lines and wrinkles covering his face from age and years of worry.

Over ten years, was what they told him. He had been dead for over ten years. He'd missed a decade of Konoha's history. Had skipped it? Minato didn't know what to think.

Sarutobi was as silent as Minato, letting the other shinobi bicker and argue over what they should do with him.

"It's not him. How are we even considering this?!"

"All of our tests confirmed it. All of them. What else do you suggest we do?"

"I'd be happy with an explanation, for the start. Isn't it convenient that he doesn't have one?"

"How did he get into the village in the first place? None of the guards spotted him until he was right in the middle of it."

"Oh please, so he's a skilled infiltrator instead of a regular one. It's not that big a leap!"

"Why don't we just ask him?" Shikaku chimed in, and the room fell silent.

Minato couldn't help but feel uncomfortable under the piercing sets of eyes directed on him. "I used one of my Thunder God seals to teleport."

That set them off again. Minato suppressed the urge to sigh.

"Thunder God seals! Are you hearing this? I don't know why we're even listening to–"

"This is ridiculous. Bring back the Yamanaka for a proper interrogation, that's what we should have done from the–"

"Enough." Sarutobi didn't raise his voice, and yet every person in the room fell silent. His eyes were focused solely on Minato. "You've been quiet."

Minato met his gaze head-on. He needed a moment to sort out his priorities. One question won out over Kushina. Barely.

"The war. How is our situation?"

Sarutobi looked at him with a half hidden smile. "The war is over. It ended over ten years ago. Konoha is at peace."

Minato waited.

Sarutobi leaned back in his seat. "That's all the details I am able to give you, as long as there is any doubt left that you're not who you claim to be."

Minato's mouth tightened. 'At peace' could mean anything from 'united with the other villages in friendship and rainbows' to 'hanging by a thread from the next declaration of war'.

Another question was burning on his tongue, so he let the matter go. For now.

"Where is Kushina?" Now that he knew to look for it, the absence of her unique beacon of chakra was disturbingly clear.

The shinobi around him were sharing glances, and Sarutobi's eyes slipped to his office table. Nobody answered. Something in Minato's chest tightened.

If he was dead in this older, bizarre version of Konoha, did that mean–-

Could it mean–


"Where is she?" he repeated, and his voice was bound tightly enough to burst.

Shikaku stepped forward, looking past Minato and towards Sarutobi. "It's public information. He could ask anyone."

The old Hokage sighed, but gave his approval with a nod.

Shikaku met his gaze. "I'm sorry."

They told him about the attack. They told him about the Kyūbi's rampage, about it taking Kushina and part of Konoha with it. About her sacrifice that saved the village.

They left out the details, Minato could tell. But he couldn't bring himself to care, because why would he when he'd fallen into this bizarre version of Konoha and would never see Kushina again?

But Kushina hadn't been the only family he had.

"What about our son?" Minato's hands were clenched to fists, his desperate attempt to hold onto something. Anything. Because depending on the answer he would receive... "Kushina was pregnant. The baby, what– Where is our son?"

Nobody looked him in the eyes, and Minato could feel his chest caving in. This couldn't be real. It couldn't. He gasped for breath, felt light-headed and dizzy. Nothing felt real. This was all some dumb, horrible illusion.

He wanted to ask about his team, but he didn't want to hear the answer. Everything in this version of Konoha was wrong, and he didn't want to hear more.

It was too much.

Shikaku realized what was about to happen a second too late. "Minato, don't-"

Minato used one of his remaining seals and vanished.

A/N: This story isn't canon compliant. It's smaller details at first (like Minato having been made Hokage sooner), but there'll be larger changes down the line. Canon is a nightmare to navigate in terms of its timeline and consistency, and I've no intention to spend more time on that than necessary. If that's something that bothers you - well, here's your warning!

My wonderful betas are Igornerd, PyrothTenka and To Mockingbird, so a giant thanks to them! Additionally, To Mockingbird came up with the wonderful title!

This is my second story for this fandom, so please let me know what you think! Minato is a joy to write, and one of my all-time favorite characters!

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment!