Yo! It's been a while!
Or maybe it hasn't for you when you're reading this, but for me, it's been about... five or six months since I uploaded the final chapter of 'Trip Down a Hill', my previous story. As for why this story (Which I said should be out in around two or three months after that) has taken double that, well...
Idk, I got lazy honestly.
So, rectifying that, here's 'What it Means to Live Forever', a story focusing on Orochimaru of all people! Hoping this gets a good enough reception, motivating myself to write this in the first place is difficult enough lol.
...God I've totally forgotten how I used to format these. Ah well, hopefully I'll get close.
Anyways, without further ado, and whatnot, let's begin the first chapter!
What it Means to Live Forever
Chapter 1: Coronation
Orochimaru stared in bewilderment, along with the entirety of the rest of the room, at the man who'd only just sat back down, apparently satisfied his surprise impromptu announcement.
"You– I–" One of the many Leaf dignitaries present for this meeting straightened his outfit in an odd mixture of indignation and shock that seemed, if nothing else, appropriate for what had just been communicated to them all. "I must urge you repeat yourself, Minato Namikaze!"
"As many times as you'd like, your Lordship." The spiky-haired blonde gave an easygoing smile at that, standing back up from having just sat down, clearing his throat, and reiterating his words as ordered. "As I've already announced, my wife, Kushina, is pregnant. As such, though I am extraordinarily honored to have been nominated, I must turn down the position of Fourth Hokage, as I fear that with the upcoming preparations, I would not be able to give the position my fullest effort or attention."
Orochimaru himself wasn't alone in gawking at the man like he was some mythical creature, even hearing the words a second time.
"My apologies." Minato bowed his head, not looking the least bit apologetic. "I assure you, however, that the Leaf is home to several ninja just as fit for the position as I may've been."
As Orochimaru came down from the initial shock of Minato's words, he found it brought him a good deal of mirth to watch the mouths of the normally so unflappable VIPs, those in service to the Daimyo and other various political figures who were present for today's 'coronation', hang open, their gums flapping like those of fish pulled from a stream.
…Even if that was hardly his major focus, given his mind was now a swirling vortex of thoughts.
He was no fool. Even having long-since desired the position of Hokage, having sought after it with everything he had, he'd not expected to have a shot at the position when competing against Jiraiya's golden boy.
The numbers were working against him. Minato's contributions during the Third Shinobi World War had been too recent, and too important, to be ignored. They dwarfed his own in the same, having spent the majority of his time behind the scenes, acting as a covert operative. Along with that, his own accomplishments in the Second Shinobi World War were, in comparison, ancient history, even if they had been only a few years prior. It never took long for the people to forget their heroes, and it certainly didn't help his cause either that the war he'd really made a name for himself during had been brought about under… less than pure intentions, so to speak. It had been the will of the Daimyo's of the great nations who'd participated to sweep the details of that particular incident under the rug, lest rather unflattering information that might put them out of their positions come to light.
And so, coming here today, if he were being honest, he'd expected to stand no chance at all when vying for the position of Fourth Hokage. Not against the hero of Third Shinobi World War.
Not against the so-called 'Yellow Flash'.
Danzo would support him, and he'd gone into the day thinking that perhaps his former master might put in a good word for him as well – even if it'd turned out that he too had betrayed him for the blonde wunderkind, which annoyed him, even if it didn't necessarily surprise him – But in the end, he'd expected to be outvoted by a healthy margin.
And he'd been correct. The votes had been tallied, and Minato had received nearly ninety percent of them. But that'd just made him standing up and delivering his declaration – that he would not become the Fourth Hokage, that he would be focusing in on his home life with his wife and soon-to-be-born-child – that much more surprising.
…But not at all unwelcome.
Surely, he would've rather been the first pick of the litter, have gained universal pedigree and been the obvious candidate…
But Orochimaru had never been above claiming a lucky break from time to time.
"Well, if that's the case, then…" The Daimyo himself, from the front of the table, pursed his lips before continuing. "I suppose we shift conversation towards our secondary options."
Almost immediately, Danzo rose in his seat. If anyone saw his action as rude, or offensive, then none voiced their opinions as he cleared his throat, and immediately took control of the flow of conversation.
Danzo may've been a snake himself, but he'd never deny that the man had his uses.
And really, who was he to talk ill of snakes?
"In the absence of Minato Namikaze, I would nominate the candidate I personally see to be the most fit for the position, Orochimaru, as I did earlier in this very meeting."
"Orochimaru?" The Daimyo tilted his head dumbly.
He saw that as his cue, and stood in place, bowing as politely as he could force himself to do so towards the useless figurehead at the head of their table.
"Hm. I do not believe I've been acquainted with this… Orochimaru before."
He bit down on his lip as subtly as he could as a way of keeping his annoyance in check – it would not do to be seen as prone to bursts of irritation – just as someone else stood as well. He looked to the source of the movement, and found his former master, Hiruzen, now standing as well.
"Orochimaru is a former student of mine. He is also one of the Sannin, the three illustrious warriors who stood for the Leaf in both the Second and Third Shinobi World War's."
"Ah, yes, the Sannin!" It was rather clear from the Daimyo's overly enthusiastic attitude that he had no idea who the hell they were supposed to be, or why they were at all important, but he saw no reason to call the statesman on that and appear a petty man-child. "Of course, of course! I don't know how it slipped my mind."
Danzo cleared his throat, which served as a rather effective way to force the Daimyo to get on with it.
"Hm, well… I've heard Danzo's endorsement, but what do you have to say, Hiruzen? Do you believe this Orochimaru fellow capable of the duties of the Fourth Hokage, or should we focus on other options?"
He supposed it made sense that Hiruzen's endorsement would carry the majority of the room with it. As the current Hokage, he would know who possessed the ability to hold the position, would know whether or not someone was suited towards it or not.
It was his vote, after all, that had converted most of the room towards Minato in the first place. Most of the dignitaries here had only a very basic knowledge of the war, and, as politicians mainly interested in its economic or utilitarian effects, certainly wouldn't have known very many of their 'frontline soldiers' by accomplishment, much less by name or face.
And so, it was likely that his fate would ride on his old master's words.
Hiruzen turned towards him, and he met his gaze. Despite their long history together, Orochimaru wasn't quite able to read the expression within the codger's aging orbs. Could he see through him, somehow? Did he know of his actions? His exploits? His quest? Was he measuring his worth? Would he claim him unfit, unworthy of the position?
All of those and a million more questions passed through Orochimaru's head, and then, with a small finality, Hiruzen nodded subtly, before turning back towards the Daimyo.
"If lieu of Minato's abstaining… he is my first choice."
He forced himself to crush the small ampule of pride that squirmed within his breast at his former master's words.
"Hmm…" The Daimyo nodded; firm appreciation set upon his face as he turned towards some of the other dignitaries. "In that case, does anyone have any other candidates to suggest?"
A few more were considered, but it was ultimately clear that the room had already made up its mind.
"Very well, then let us put it to a vote."
A small, confident grin bloomed upon his face as, when his name was called, nearly every hand in the room rose with it.
"I do believe that's majority." The Daimyo spoke as he closed his ornamental fan and set it down on the long table in front of him. "If that is the case, then our affairs are in order. Orochimaru, please stand."
He did as asked of him, finding that same grin growing in size, and he was forced to reign in that expression, lest it become something more sinister than the truly prideful smile he wore now.
"Let the rest of us rise in recognizing Orochimaru…"
He watched as everyone else in the room rose alongside him, their faces a mixed bag. Danzo could barely conceal a sly smirk, and a few of his ninja colleagues who he knew from the battlefield nodded his way. Hiruzen did not face him, but instead looked to the Daimyo respectfully.
But oddly enough, it was not his former master's expression that caught him, but Minato's.
He looked his way, and, after a moment, gave him a single, tiny nod.
The subtlest 'good luck' he'd ever seen.
Orochimaru barely held back a sneer.
"The Fourth Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves."
He'd need luck no longer.
"So… How's it feel?"
Orochimaru hummed contemplatively as he pondered that question, allowing the seamstress – a tiny old woman who'd apparently sewed the cloaks of every Hokage before him – to continue taking measurements of his form in order to tailor him a cloak.
One that would be adorned with the words 'Fourth Hokage'.
"Earned." He came up with after a moment.
"Psch," Jiraiya scoffed rather fondly. "Wiseass."
He found a very real smirk upon his face as his fellow Sannin crossed his arms over his chest, his legs splayed out around the chair that he was occupying as he leaned forward over the backrest.
"Still, c'mon, you've been trying for Hokage for, what, a decade now? Two? It's gotta' be a pretty surreal feeling."
He shrugged, wincing slightly as the seamstress slapped down on his shoulder with his ruler, berating him and reminding him to keep still. Normally, he might make the woman pay for such an action, but he was in an unusually good mood, so he let the slight slide.
"I never believed that I would not one day possess it, so it is not entirely surreal."
"Gods, you're so fun to talk to."
"Actually, there was something I wanted to ask," Orochimaru completely barreled through his fellow Sannin's comment as he turned his head towards him, seeing undisguised curiosity hanging within the man's gaze. "Did you know of Minato's situation?"
Jiraiya actually laughed at him. "'Course I knew. He told me about a week back. I've already been named godfather to their kid; I'll have you know."
He didn't much care, but he supposed if Jiraiya was happy with that, then that was fine. "Good for you."
"I get the less than subtle implication you don't entirely care about that."
Apparently Jiraiya was a bit better at reading him than Orochimaru had given him credit for.
"I meant if you knew he was planning on turning down the position of Hokage?"
"Yeah, that I definitely didn't know. Caught me by surprise. And, if I'm willing to guess by the fact that you're asking about it, it caught you off guard too, right?"
"Well, if I'm bein' honest, I don't know. It's his decision in the end, and I think… well, losing Obito and Rin was hard on Minato, even if he didn't show it."
He… knew those names. Members of Minato Namikaze's Genin team. Consisting of Kakashi Hatake, who'd caught his interest as the son of Sakumo, who he and the other Sannin had gone on missions with on occasion before his suicide around a half-decade or so ago, and two other kids, Obito Uchiha, the black sheep of his legendary clan, and some girl named Rin, who he'd had very little interest in at all.
The latter two had died during separate missions. That was about all he knew about the situation, but he supposed losing a Genin student or two might affect someone like Minato.
He thought for a moment about how he'd react if Anko or her teammates were killed…
He felt nothing of note.
"I suppose that would make some sense."
Jiraiya nodded a bit glumly, before seemingly deciding he wanted to bring some light back to their little conversation.
"Still, I don't think you asked because you really needed to know why, did you? It's less that," Jiraiya gave a lazy, lopsided grin. "And more that you're annoyed that you weren't old man Hiruzen's first pick for Hokage, right?"
Jiraiya was apparently far better at reading him than he'd assumed, which he supposed made sense, given they'd been fellow students, teammates…
Friends… for half their lives.
What they were nowadays… well, Orochimaru himself wasn't even sure.
"…You're aggravatingly astute today."
"Hah, knew it."
"If you must know, then yes, I found myself annoyed by it. You'd think I'd have earned a bit of approval over the years, but here we are, with your perfect little student as prime candidate, even in his eyes."
Jiraiya smirked. "Well, in Hiruzen's defense, Minato did have just about the best teacher you could ask for."
He glared as his fellow Sannin let out a bark of laughter.
"Seriously, though, could you really argue with him?" Jiraiya asked, somehow managing to switch his tone effortlessly to one more serious. "Minato might not be your favorite person at the moment, or well, he might be your very favorite, with the stunt he pulled, but you've gotta' admit he earned that shot at Hokage just as much as you did."
"I… suppose I can make no real claim against that."
"Even so, I'd have liked if that old codger had at least put in a word for me at all."
"Ah, well…" Jiraiya's voice sounded like it was considering whether or not to continue with every word that sprang from his lips. "I can sort of see why he wouldn't."
He turned to the man immediately, an accusatory look in his eye as he stared at Jiraiya's rapidly paling face. It was clear from that alone that his teammate wished he'd not said what he just had.
"…And why is that Jiraiya?"
The man swallowed, whether from nerves or the awkward atmosphere hanging about them, he couldn't be sure.
"Ah, well… the war got to all of us, so I'm not blaming you that much, but… you've just been… y'know, different as of late."
"Different?" He questioned, having only just clued into the fact that the seamstress working on him had taken a step back from the both of them. "Different how?"
"I – actually, y'know what, it's nothing." Jiraiya faked a smile, laughing facetiously as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Forget I said anything. It was just a joke anyhow."
No part of him bought that for a solitary second, but at the same time, it would've been far more suspect for him to continue questioning Jiraiya. To draw attention to himself and his actions… a person who had nothing to hide would let this go.
And that was precisely what he did. "Fine. I'll do that."
"Oh, by the way!" Jiraiya changed the subject with far too much enthusiasm, which went unnoticed by no one, but at least everything seemed to have returned to normal, for the seamstress was back to work taking measurements and writing them down on a clipboard by the time Jiraiya was continuing on. "I haven't been able to confirm anything, I really just sent a message out, but I think a certain someone might be dropping by for your coronation at the end of the month!"
"Oh?" An almost mocking grin was forming on his face before Orochimaru knew it. "Is the prodigal daughter of the Leaf finally coming back?"
Jiraiya's eyebrows drew down.
"Hey, I know you didn't exactly approve, but she was going through a helluva' lot for a while there." He sighed out as he shifted in his chair, turning the thing so he was sitting normally, his back against it. "I think she just needed some time away from everything, what with the war in full swing. Painful memories, y'know?"
He decided it would probably be best to not let his exasperation with Jiraiya, and with their mutual acquaintance, show. Instead, he simply nodded.
Jiraiya groaned, apparently not at all fooled.
"Just… try and be nicer than you usually are when you see her? She's still recovering from Nawaki and Dan, let alone–"
"Really?" He eyed the man out of the side of his vision as the seamstress turned his head with her bony hands, getting some measurements of his collar. "Jiraiya, it's been ten years."
"People take different periods of time to process grief, Orochimaru."
"And so, what, we should simply coddle her for the rest of time?" He scoffed. "Nawaki was my student, and yet you don't see me losing sleep over him these days."
He could tell something about that comment had angered Jiraiya almost the moment the words left his mouth. The man glared at him like he was scum.
He almost wanted to meet the expression with a smirk.
"Yeah, well, not all of us are as heartless as you."
Something knotted within him at Jiraiya's words, but he ignored it as he sneered, turning away from the man, and staring straight ahead.
"Yes. You could all stand to learn a thing or two."
Jiraiya's breath caught, seemingly halfway towards a dissenting opinion, but he caught it before it could progress any further. Instead, the look on his face became one of defeat, of resignation.
Jiraiya stood from his chair, his hands, which had once been balled into fists, loosened, and hung limply at his sides.
"I'm gonna'…" The Sannin let out a tired, angry sigh as he turned towards the door. "I'll see you later, I guess."
He said nothing as Jiraiya exited, and even as his seamstress asked if he was planning on following him, to a sort of questioning "no?" from himself, he made no effort to move or catch up with his teammate.
And yet, when he focused in on that feeling, the squirming, wriggling mass within his chest that remained from when Jiraiya had called him heartless, and focused in on it, tried to identify it…
A pang of guilt? The tiniest twinge of regret? Was that what he was feeling?
"Turn your head this way for me."
No… He thought as he did as asked and zoned back out for the remainder of his fitting.
A month passed by surprisingly quick, and somehow, in no time at all, it was the day of Orochimaru's inauguration.
Leaf Ninja from all over the world were returning to the Village in droves, and whether coming from on missions, vacations, or other such instances, the Leaf seemed fit to burst. The streets were nearly overrun with people, not quite built for, or accustomed to, the rather rare occurrence of the inauguration of a Hokage. There had, from the Villages founding, only been four, after all, so he supposed it made sense in a practical way to not bother accounting for an occasion such as this.
Besides, the roads being congested, or the food stalls being packed, or thieves running rampant, both praying upon and utilizing the massive crowds to enrich their normal earnings, or any other manner of nonsense made no difference to him.
Not when he was busy basking in his glory.
He was seated in the Hokage's office, just below the area where he would, in around an hours' time, be presented with the Hokage's attire and inducted as the Fourth Hokage. And though he would've rather been able to savor the moment by himself…
He wasn't alone.
"Okay, c'mon, you've gotta' be feeling it some, now, right?" Jiraiya pestered for what had to be the thousandth time, speaking with a mirth that was still somewhat muted on account of their 'argument' a month or so ago. "Crowds gathering outside, parades being thrown in your honor, your robe around your shoulders, marked with the insignia of the Fourth Hokage… and you're telling me that does nothing for you?"
Oh, it did. For once, Jiraiya had a point. He would've had to be a saint (and he was definitely not one of those) for this to not at least go somewhat to his head. But still, he had a reputation to uphold.
"Not particularly." He lied, facing Jiraiya with a small, feigned yawn. "Why, should it?"
"Uh, YEAH!" Jiraiya scoffed. "The entire Leaf Village is gathered for the express purpose of seeing you, and you alone, and you mean to tell me you feel nothing? I mean, c'mon man, just think of all the ladies chanting your name! That's gotta have you at least a little excited, no!?"
A laugh from the other end of the chamber had both of their heads turning, though it was not in surprise, or fear, or anything else that might accompany such a movement normally.
Because they both recognized that voice.
"Leave it to you to think only of debauchery at a time like this." The woman spoke, shaking her head as she and her attendant, a raven-haired woman who looked to be only barely an adult, stepped into the room. "I see some things never change, huh, Jiraiya?"
Tsunade had arrived.
Jiraiya greeted their former teammate with a boisterous laugh, wrapping an arm around the woman's shoulders that she shook off with a huff and a roll of her eyes. He introduced himself to her assistant as well, apparently named Shizune, and inquired as to her age, which both Orochimaru and Tsunade could tell was not at all for decent purposes.
"If you hit on my student, Jiraiya, I will destroy you." Tsunade said with a decisiveness that carried with it her complete seriousness.
"Er… right. Got it."
And before that conversation could go any further, Orochimaru realized Tsunade had turned to him, staring up expectantly at him, waiting for him to say something.
He was about to make some snide comment, remark about the half-decade she'd been missing from the Leaf, when Jiraiya's words from a month prior passed through his head.
"Just… try and be nicer than you usually are when you see her? She's still recovering from Nawaki and Dan…"
"Yeah, well, not all of us are as heartless as you."
He blinked once, and then spoke.
"Tsunade, it's been a long time." He offered as amicably as he could, holding out a hand. "It's good to see you seem more upbeat than last we saw one another."
He noticed the way that Jiraiya's eyes widened, as if he never would've foreseen those words coming from Orochimaru's mouth, but more than that, he focused on the exact same expression appearing on Tsunade's face.
Surprise? He found himself thinking. Why? Am I so predictable that the very thought of me being cordial is staggering?
"Oh?" Tsunade opened, a single eyebrow raising as her lips curled upwards absently. "You, being polite? I guess becoming Hokage has changed you more than I thought it would."
For some strange reason, he found an honest laugh pouring out of him before he knew what to do with it.
And once again, before he could stop himself, he found the three of them reminiscing on times gone by. About their missions during the Second Shinobi World War, where they'd made a name for themselves, as little Shizune let out the occasional 'woah' or 'holy crap'. They talked of Tsunade's absence, of Jiraiya's and Orochimaru's missions during the just-ended Third Shinobi World War, and of a variety of meaningless, pointless things.
And it felt… it felt–
An Anbu, one of the more experienced members of Hiruzen's personal guard, if Orochimaru was remembering correctly, materialized into the space, kneeling towards them.
"Lord Orochimaru, the coronation will begin in just ten minutes. Lord Hiruzen advised you finish your preparations, and then make your way towards the roof for the ceremony."
Ten minutes? Orochimaru found himself pondering.
The last he'd checked, he'd had an hour, and he and Jiraiya had only been speaking for, at most, two or three minutes before Tsunade's entrance.
Had the woman's arrival, and the three's subsequent conversation, truly distracted him so much that an hour had passed by underneath his nose without him so much as noticing?
Before he could ponder that any further, Tsunade was nodding towards the two of them, inclining her head towards the doorway.
"Alright, Shizune and I are going to go on ahead. I assume we're allowed to stand with your posse on the roof?" She asked with some mirth, as if daring him to make some sort of joke in response.
And… for some reason… Orochimaru did.
"Perhaps you should find a spot down with the crowds beneath, I hear thievery has become rather easy with how jampacked the roads are, and as deep into debt as you are… well, you could use the money."
Tsunade snickered as she rolled her eyes, slapping him on the shoulder as she and Shizune turned towards the door, the young girl giggling slightly at her master's expense.
"See you at the ceremony!" Tsunade called before she disappeared from sight.
He laughed lightly as he cracked his neck, being brought out of his reverie by a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Jiraiya smiling up at him, looking almost…
If he were a fool, he might've thought the expression pride.
"Hey, thanks man." Jiraiya spoke, almost completely at ease. "For changing your tone. I know she appreciated just being allowed to chat with friends for a while."
He barely held back on the scoff that threatened to pour out of him at that.
"Please, don't thank me for something so insignificant."
Jiraiya's expression seemed to both soften and harden all at once, almost paradoxically.
"I don't know. Feels like a lotta' the time you don't bother trying to change to help someone out, even when it's 'insignificant'."
His lips practically sealed together, and as the seconds tick by, he found he had no idea what he was supposed to say in response to that.
"Just… I appreciate you being kind to her. I think she needs this. Just a nice, relaxing day in the Leaf, y'know? Something to remind her that her times here weren't all bad."
"…Yes." He said after what even he could recognize was too large a pause.
Jiraiya, to his credit, merely breathed out a laugh.
"Gods, they should present you another accolade up there. 'Best Conversationalist of the Year'."
He glared the man's way, and Jiraiya snorted at his expense.
Seeing as they had very little time, Orochimaru gestured for them to walk and talk as they made their way out of the room and began climbing the few flights of stairs they'd need to traverse before they arrived at the roof.
Jiraiya's pursed his lips, seeming deep in thought about something or another before, at last, some ten seconds later, he spoke up.
"Hey… so…" He began, rubbing at the back of his neck, underneath his waist-length hair. "Seeing as she's here for a while, and… y'know, we don't know for how long… do you think I should ask her out?"
He decided to try and deflect the rather heavy topic with humor. "You mean Shizune? I believe Tsunade implied she'd kill you if–"
"NO!" Jiraiya shouted just a bit too loud, letting out a groan of annoyance as he smirked just a bit too victoriously. "I mean… Tsunade, man. You think I should ask her out?"
He sighed, seeing there was no way he was going to avoid this conversation given they still had another minute or two of walking before they'd reach the roof.
"This again? What makes you believe it would go any better than the other thousand or so rejections you've already received?"
He couldn't help but feel the question was fair
"No, no! I mean, like…" Jiraiya hesitated, and he was fairly sure if he were better at reading people in social situations, he might've been able to gleam his meaning from his stuttering. He was not. "I don't know. Just… Should I?"
He let out a breath, trying to disguise a bit of his annoyance for the man within it.
"…I see no reason to." He shrugged lazily. "Surely, she's here now, but if your heart were to require you to ask, you could always simply track her down later."
Jiraiya wouldn't meet his gaze.
Before the man could finish his thought, they'd arrived in front of the door to the roof above. He placed both his hands against it and prepared to push it open the moment their little 'talk' finished.
"Besides," He pointed out as if it were obvious. "You've all the time in the world, do you not?"
"…Yeah." Jiraiya laughed a bit awkwardly, and Orochimaru could hear the smallest timbre of what sounded almost like disappointment in his tone. "I guess you're right."
And without any more hesitation, Orochimaru pushed open the doors.
"…As such, these sixteen Anbu will serve as your elite guardian force."
Orochimaru surveyed the masked faces all looking to him with a tired sort of attention. None appeared to him to be overly impressive. These were the sort of Shinobi he and the other Sannin had dealt with on a regular basis during their high-level ops.
Strong, yes, but not overly so. A ninja of Orochimaru's caliber, and thusly, a ninja who would be any sort of threat to a Hokage, would have no real trouble rolling over the lot of them.
And seeing as how their job description was protecting him, well…
He couldn't see them being of much use.
He stated as much. "I see no reason for me to have guards. If anything, in an emergency scenario, they might prevent me from utilizing my stronger techniques by simply being present."
It was not as if he would ever actually hold himself back on their account. In his eyes, if they were in his way, then he wouldn't hesitate to go through them. Still, he had appearances to keep up.
"Relax, Orochimaru." Hiruzen, who'd introduced the group to him, laughed easily. "Rest Assured that they exist to deal with threats that you shouldn't have to encounter. The average assassination attempt, not the attack of another Kage-level Shinobi on the battlefield. In such a case, they would leave things to your discretion."
He hummed at that, satisfied, at least, that he wouldn't be forced to cede leadership to any of them in a crisis scenario. He had not been named a Sannin so he could take orders from some middling imbeciles.
An Anbu he didn't recognize stepped up to him, pulling the porcelain mask off of his face and smiling up at him with an almost roguish charm.
"Glad to meet ya', Hokage, sir." The man held a hand out. "Tondo Uzuki, at your service. I've been appointed captain of the Hokage Protection Unit."
He held himself back from rolling his eyes, instead deigning to reach a hand out and accept the man's own, shaking it a single time before pulling his own away.
"I assume I've no need to introduce myself." He gave as his only answer.
Tondo snorted, seeming to find no problem with his less than polite nature. "Yeah, think I've heard of you once or twice."
Orochimaru nodded his head as he looked back towards Hiruzen, who was eyeing him with something akin to mirth. Yet there was a depth about it, as if it was hiding something more beneath the surface.
He was far too curious about that expression to allow it to simply disappear in the next moment, and so before his former master could dismiss himself, he held up a hand.
"I've no further business with any of you. You're dismissed."
Far from complain at such an abrupt sendoff, every member of his new troupe simply nodded their heads, before disappearing in a flicker of light.
Hiruzen seemed amused at his motion, and Orochimaru let out a low sigh as he made his disdain known.
"I've no idea how you managed to deal with them hounding after your every move for nearly three decades." He complained immediately. "Am I supposed to expect one of them to prepare my meals throughout the day as well?"
"They won't follow you unless there's a reason for you to be followed, such as a diplomatic visit, or a breach in the outer wall. On a calm, quiet day such as this?" Hiruzen got a real kick out of his apparent anguish as he stepped around the Hokage's desk, ending up planting his feet just in front of the window that looked out over the entire village. "Why, they have lives too, my student. They do not wish to waste them watching you sign paperwork."
And wasn't that something he'd underestimated about the position. Already on his desk was a stack of congratulations letters from various nations across the world so high that it threatened to topple over, not to mention several diplomatic incidents that, as the new Hokage, he was now entirely responsible for planning their Villages response to.
…Still, he could worry about such trifles later, especially since his initial concerns, that he would have to shake off his 'honor guard' every time he wished to conduct his research, proved to be unfounded.
He walked to stand beside his mentor, looking out over the entire Leaf Village, and remembered in that moment what he had briefly forgotten.
"You were looking at me oddly a moment ago."
"Your expression…" Orochimaru paused for a moment to remember how he'd described it. "It was akin to mirth, and yet it carried within it something I was unable to identify." He turned, studying Hiruzen's face. "Was there something interesting about me in that moment?"
There was a certain kind of quiet that settled over the two of them as his master hummed, seeming to consider his next words carefully.
"I found myself… intrigued is all."
"The difference in the Orochimaru I saw just now, addressing the men who were introduced to him, and the one that stood before me earlier, who had just spoken with Jiraiya and Tsunade so excitedly." The man shot him the ghost of a playful expression. "Why, they were like night and day. Like two entirely different people."
He narrowly restrained himself from glaring at the man but managed to pass off the motion as that of a stray sunbeam connecting with his face. Said beam of light had originated from the setting sun, which sunk beneath the towering walls of the leaf hanging off in the distance.
Hiruzen seemed to find a question in that view, regarding him casually with "What is your opinion on the sunset?"
"Am I supposed to have an opinion?" He asked in return. "It's a time of day. It comes once a day, every day, within around an hour." He looked out at the sunrise beyond him and shrugged. "The sunset today is no different from that of tomorrow's, and likewise, yesterday's was the same as today's. I see no value in it if that is what you're asking."
"A fair few many words for a man with no opinion."
He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, earning an audible chuckle from the man beside him.
"I must admit, I do not see such things the same way as you do." The aging skin on his old master's face crinkled as his cheeks rose, and his face scrunched together. His eyes gleamed in the gradually fading light. "The sunset is never quite the same as it was yesterday, and once more, it will never be quite the same as it is right now." He stepped forward, placing his hand against the glass window as he took a deep, calming breath. "If you never stop to drink such things in, Orochimaru, then you will find nothing in life has any 'value' at all."
He sneered quietly as he rolled his eyes, deciding rather pointedly to end this particular line of conversation before he died of boredom.
"If you're done speaking like an ancient poet, Sensei," Orochimaru cast his view to the man who'd been Hokage just a few hours prior. "You've not yet answered my question."
His master's face fell somewhat, and he cast from out of his lips a deep, gravelly sigh. It felt the type of thing that would accompany grave news, or ill tidings, and rather unconsciously, Orochimaru found himself bracing for combat.
"In truth, I am more knowledgeable than you might expect, my former student." Hiruzen finally turned to face him, his eyes meeting Orochimaru's own for the first time the entire conversation, and his gaze nearly forced his own away. "I have seen it… that darkness hanging about you of late."
Orochimaru found himself flinching somewhat, as if caught, but forced himself to hold himself together.
He'd been called on a similar thing earlier in the month by Jiraiya, the man saying how he was 'different as of late.'
He'd chickened out before finishing whatever thoughts were further on his mind, but even so, the fact that the thought had been on his mind at all…
Was he so obvious?
"Oh?" He forced out, keeping calm as much he could manage.
…No, clearly, neither his master, nor his teammate, knew of the full truth. If either of them had… friendship, or the fact that he'd once been Hiruzen's student, wouldn't have been enough of a reason to keep them from reporting his sin.
"I'm choosing to believe such a thing is merely the war's effect on you. Gods know it's affected me, and every other person in the Leaf." Hiruzen's gaze seemed to study him once more, as if measuring some part of him. "I am going to hope that the position of Hokage does you a service in and of itself. That it helps to mend your fractured heart."
It was in moments like this that he wished the old man across from him would ever be clear with what he thought. His flowery language hid behind it some secret knowledge, and Orochimaru would've killed to gleam what it truly was.
Instead, he merely sighed, and voiced some of his annoyance. "Must you speak always in poems and riddles, master?"
The former Hokage lit up cheerfully. "I must not. I simply choose to."
"Wonderful." He groaned out, earning a guffawing laugh from the man beside him that shook his entire body.
It was in that moment, staring down at thin, bony shoulders hidden beneath the shawl his master normally wore, that he found a tiny inkling of… something boiling up from within him. He bit down on his bottom lip, trying, and failing to push away whatever it might have been.
A single question lingered upon his tongue, one which he spoke to the man beside him.
"Sensei… if you could live forever, would you?"
Hiruzen's surprise at having been asked something so profound was written all over his features as he stared up at him.
"Hah, I suppose it's only fair after my asking your opinion on the sunset that you get to ask something equally nebulous. Still, what a question." The elder eyed him curiously. "And what's brought this on?"
He stared down at his master's body and found himself drawn back to the very first day he'd met the man.
The bell test that'd soon followed…
He'd remembered Hiruzen's body emanating power; remembered his techniques being infallible, unbreakable…
And he found his gaze travelling along his master's body now.
The way he slouched whenever he walked, how whenever he laughed, the movement shook his entire body, and he was forced to steady himself against something. How he hadn't sparred against any of them, an activity he used to thoroughly enjoy, in what had to have been years now.
How he'd ceded the position of Hokage to him.
Hiruzen's pursed his lips as he hummed in response, thinking upon his answer for a few seconds as he stroked his beard with his right hand.
"To live forever, hmm?" There was a twinkle in his master's eye as he answered. "No. I don't think I would."
He looked to the man beside him with a small start.
Once more, Hiruzen's gaze left him, and instead found itself roaming the Leaf Village beyond them.
"You're young now, but when you get to be my age, Orochimaru, you begin to see things differently." His master explained, and for once… he found himself listening. "Life isn't about how long you can manage it… it's what you can do with the time you're allotted that matters."
Orochimaru stared out at the Leaf Village beyond him, and briefly studied its features. He could remember being raised in this village, could remember it changing ever so steadily as he changed alongside it…
He shivered slightly as the same feeling that had coursed through him earlier when thinking on his master's aging body did again, one he did not dignify with a name.
"Yes, well… To parody your earlier words…" He shook his head, walking away from the window and sitting down in the seat of the Hokage.
"I do not see such things the same way as you do."
Hiruzen nodded his head, as if entirely unsurprised by the notion.
"Hah, and that's fine. Like I said, you're young, in the prime of your life. You've got plenty of time to come up with your own answers." He placed a hand on Orochimaru's shoulder as he passed by him, walking towards the door of the office. "Alright, I'll leave you to it." The man gave him a look that seemed like it was half pity, and half vindication. "I must say though, I thank the gods I no longer have to work on such…"
They both stared at the massive pile of paperwork on the left side of Orochimaru's desk, and his master couldn't quite resist the tiny smile that blossomed onto his face.
"Intricate assignments any longer."
He rolled his eyes as he took the paper on the top of the stack, and placed it in front of him, shooting the man one final wave of his fingers as a farewell as he closed the door behind him.
He was left in silence after that, entirely alone to get his 'intricate assignments' finished. And yet, as he signed what had to have been the thousandth paper requiring his signature that regarded upkeeping trade agreements from the previous administration, he found his mind wandering back to some of his master's last words to him.
"You've got plenty of time to come up with your own answers."
And now that he was alone, he did not hold back on the sneer that poured out of him like venom.
Oh, he'd have time alright.
He'd have forever if he could help it.
His hidden laboratory was almost entirely silent, aside from the occasional droplet of water which impacted into the small stream that ran down the entirety of the now defunct sewage pipe ways he had built his research center within.
As Orochimaru made his way through the dank, humid hallways, he found himself pondering back on the day's events.
How he had apparently been so radically different as to normal when he'd spoken with Jiraiya and Tsunade earlier, that Hiruzen had called him a practically different person. How both his former master and Jiraiya both had noticed a darkness hanging about him, even without figuring out his secret.
How, when he'd pondered the passing of time, the aging of his sensei, the changing of the world around him, he'd felt…
Orochimaru shook his head, purposefully ridding himself of such thoughts.
Asinine. That was what such things were. Completely unworthy of thought.
He told himself as much at least as he stepped into his personal laboratory.
It was a dimly lit, cramped space. It had probably been some sort of control room for sewage at some early point in the Leaf's history, but now, it had been… repurposed. Bodies of his former experiments lined the walls around him, hanging from their hands or legs depending on what areas in particular he was studying about them, trying to crack the code of immortality by using them all as guinea pigs.
In the middle of the room, however, laid his current fascination. It laid there, strapped to the table, awaiting his plying touch.
Though apparently, from its complete lack of response at his entrance, it'd fallen asleep.
He sighed annoyedly as he slapped the side of its face to try and awaken it, and…
He tried a second time, before wising up and placing two fingers against a prominent vein along its neck.
He sighed audibly as he drew his hand back and pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand.
It seemed his latest test subject had passed while he'd been out.
He groaned as he thought briefly on whether or not he could manage without another, but ultimately came to the rather simple conclusion that, no, he'd need to round up another if he wished to continue on with his current inquiry.
But, well, aside from his initial annoyance, that would be no real trouble.
The Leaf Village was always bustling with 'volunteers'.
End Chapter 1
And that was that!
How'd you like the first chapter? Hopefully quite a lot! If you'd like, leave a review with your thoughts, I could certainly use the motivation!
Going to address one thing, because I know I'll get comments about it if I don't. Yes, I understand Minato wouldn't really give up the position of Hokage, but I've decided he shall for no real reason so that this story can happen, so that's that.
Anyways, I'm not sticking to a release schedule or anything for this fic, so the next chapter will be out whenever I feel like writing it! Probably within a month, though, since this story itself isn't going to be very long (think like 10-12 chapters, maybe slightly longer if I come up with any really good ideas, but probably not), ranging around 100K to 120K words.
Anyways, see you all eventually for chapter 2 and beyond!