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“I could kill them for you if it bothers you that much,” Orochimaru offered. Seeing the look on Jiraiya’s face, he hastily added, “Or we could kidnap them and take them to Konoha?” He offered as a joke. An obviously irrational and ludicrous solution. Quite clearly not a serious proposal.

“Orochimaru...” Jiraiya glanced at him from the corner of his eye, and suddenly Orochimaru had a very bad feeling about this. “Konoha isn’t taking in refugees.”

“Sensei wrote in a sponsorship clause to the ban. You want to sponsor them or adopt them, you could bring them in,” Orochimaru corrected him, quietly cursing his inability to let Jiraiya be wrong without comment. “Obviously, that would require you signing on to be their guardian until they’re eighteen or chuunin, so it’s clearly an impractical solution.”

“They look like they’re about Nawaki’s age,” Tsunade contributed, and Orochimaru’s arguments against stealing the kids shriveled up and died inside his mouth. “Maybe, six or seven? Young enough to adopt into a clan.”

The children were inching away, clearly formulating an escape plan with significant looks and head tilts. Good evidence of teamwork, at least. Orochimaru frowned, his eyes falling to half-slits as he concentrated. All three had enough chakra to be Academy children, and the red-headed one’s level’s were close to those of a chuunin. “They would be capable of becoming ninja, I suppose.”

“I’m sick of killing,” Tsunade said, cracking her knuckles thoughtfully. “If we each adopted one--”

“I did not volunteer,” Orochimaru interrupted, shaking off the foolish thoughts that had tried to root in his mind. “And I don’t care how much you want a playmate for your brother, I--we’re too young to be adopting six year olds. Jiraiya lives in a one room apartment with his porn collection, he is not nearly responsible enough to have a child.”

The children snuck down a convenient alleyway, quietly disappearing, and Orochimaru’s shoulders relaxed. “And they clearly don’t want to be adopted,” he added, nodding at the empty street behind his teammates. “So let’s forget we ever saw them and head home.” Orochimaru rubbed his chest, hand hidden under his rain cloak to keep Tsunade from panicking over his health. There was an odd tightness in his breast bone, like a rib slid out of place.

Jiraiya hummed, staring at the alley they’d disappeared down, his eyes as intent as a hungry wolf’s. “I could move.”

“You could stay with me until you found a new place,” Tsunade offered, clearly envisioning playmates for Nawaki, and oblivious to the fact that she was inviting Jiraiya to live with her. “You too, Orochimaru, there’s more than enough room.”

The Senju Clan grounds were certainly large enough...Orochimaru looked at her, and then at Jiraiya. Live with them?   “You aren’t thinking things through,” he said, his tone sharp in spite of his best efforts to sound neutral. “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. They aren’t things that we can steal.”

“If we leave them here...” Tsunade let her sentence trail off, shrugging because there were many ways for children to die in Ame, and very few through which they could survive.

“Aren’t you sick of this?” Jiraiya asked, his words soft and almost lost in the endless patter of rain. “It’s been four years. We’ve been fighting for four years, and...”

Orochimaru started walking, following the trail of the Ame children because it was in the same direction of the next objective. They fell in step beside him, still arguing about the children, and Orochimaru would have to be blind and deaf to not notice their exhaustion.

Jiraiya and Tsunade were both growing war weary in spite of his best efforts. Tsunade was burned down to embers and Jiraiya was perilously close to heartbroken. No matter how he tried to protect them, it never seemed to be enough. 

“Do you think they were orphans?” Orochimaru studied the flagstones under his feet, something very like an emotion sweeping through him. Water dripped down his neck and back, finding a way under his rain cloak. He hated Ame.

“Isn’t everyone?” Tsunade replied.

“True,” he agreed, regretting that he’d asked. He frowned at the rippling puddles, still rubbing his chest. He wished...that the war was over. That they could go home, where Jiraiya and Tsunade would smile and laugh like they had before. They could sleep somewhere warm, and Tsunade could see her little brother.

“Orochimaru?” Jiraiya poked his shoulder, drawing him out of his thoughts. “We’re heading in the wrong direction, aren’t we?”

In the distance, he could still feel three dots of chakra, no longer moving away from them. The children had gone to ground, thinking themselves safe. Rain dripped down his face like tears, and he could see his breath in the air. Ame was a miserable place for anyone, much less orphans. “...are we?” Orochimaru asked.

Tsunade’s face brightened slowly. “You’re tracking them!”

“We should investigate their living situation at least.” Orochimaru replied, his hand falling to his side as the ache in his chest finally subsided.

“Really?” Jiraiya hesitated, staring at Orochimaru like he’d grown a second head.

“It’s still not a good idea,” he muttered, because Sensei was going to blame him for this, he just knew it.

“I want the one with the orange hair--”

“The blue haired one is mine.”

“I guess I get the redhead, then?” Jiraiya asked, laughing as he shoved Orochimaru to the side. “Joke’s on you idiots, he’s going to be the coolest of them all.”

Orochimaru looked away, the corners of his mouth twitching up, unaccountably flustered and pleased. The blue-haired child was by far the calmest of the three, and her eyes reminded him of his mother’s. It was obvious that she was best suited to be his ward. Orochimaru rolled his eyes at the foolishness in his own thoughts, wondering how Tsunade and Jiraiya always managed to talk him into doing such stupid things.

Chapter Text

“They didn’t adopt us, they kidnapped us!” Yahiko protested, interrupting Orochimaru’s mission report. “We just asked if they’d teach us ninjutsu, and then they kidnapped us!”

“Tsunade’s ward has exhibited some issues with lying, but she has expressed confidence that she will be able to mold him into a happy and productive member of Konoha,” Orochimaru continued, ignoring the interruption, staring at the wall behind the Hokage. “As such, we would like to petition for refugee status for all three, and adopt them as our wards.”

Smoke puffed out of Hiruzen-sensei’s mouth, rising toward the ceiling in milky grey streamers. Orochimaru kept his face and spine perfectly straight, Tsunade and Jiraiya’s restless chakra an ever present hum to his left and right. Konan, Nagato, and Yahiko stood behind them, standing so close to each other that their chakra was a single indistinguishable mass to Orochimaru.

“I feel like I should point out that there are orphans in Konoha, if you truly wish to become guardians,” Sensei said, after a long, nerve-wracking silence. Orochimaru’s eyes flickered toward him, rapidly assessing his mood, before returning to studying the wood paneling behind him.

“But these orphans are better orphans.” Jiraiya stepped forward, smiling like an idiot. “They’re more colourful. Orochimaru’s brat has blue hair.”

“My name is Konan,” she muttered, quietly enough that only Orochimaru could hear, rightfully bitter at Jiraiya’s casual disrespect.

Orochimaru did not sigh. “We agreed that I would do the talking, Jiraiya ,” he hissed, glaring at his entirely uncontrite teammate.

“On the assumption that you would do a good job of it, Orochimaru ,” Tsunade whispered from his other side. “You can’t go around calling Yahiko a liar when you’re trying to convince sensei to let me adopt him!”

“He was contradicting our story! I had to call him a liar so that we wouldn’t be liars,” Orochimaru whispered back. “Just be quiet and let me convince him--”

“I tried to raise you right,” Hiruzen-sensei interrupted, the embers in his pipe flaring crimson. He gave a heavy sigh, ripe with disappointment. “I truly did.”

"Yes Sensei,” they muttered in unison. Orochimaru reached behind himself, finding Konan’s sleeve and tugging her behind him. She was a good child. Far less trouble than Tsunade’s brat, and much cleverer than Jiraiya’s. This was not her fault. Even if Hiruzen-sensei refused their petition, Orochimaru would make certain she went somewhere less awful than Ame.

“I wish that I could grant you this.” Smoke poured from Hiruzen-sensei's mouth, rising toward the ceiling in white rings. “But we are still at war, and I need you to fight it.”

Orochimaru’s heart twinged in his chest, disappointment sharp enough to hurt. “Hiruzen-sensei--”

“Grandfather built this village for children like them. He didn’t build it to wage wars or fight, he build it to protect,” Tsunade interrupted, stepping forward and putting herself between Hiruzen-sensei and Yahiko. “You may be Hokage now, and you may make the rules now, but it would be a betrayal of our founding principles if you did not accept them.”

“What Tsunade means to say--”

“Is exactly what I just said.” Tsunade folded her arms across her chest and glared at Orochimaru. “It was and is true.”

 Orochimaru stared at Hiruzen-sensei, and braced himself for the rejection that was certain to follow Tsunade’s foolish speech.

The lines on his face deepened, leaving Hiruzen-sensei looking unsettlingly old. Orochimaru swallowed hard, faintly nauseous at that observation. The strength of Hiruzen-sensei’s chakra did nothing to quell Orochimaru’s worries, and Orochimaru closed his eyes, trying to wrest his emotions back under control.

“Orochimaru?”

Orochimaru opened his eyes slowly, hiding his stupid, senseless fears behind an expression of polite emptiness. He was acutely aware of Jiraiya and Tsunade’s chakra teasing at the edges of his own, both of them checking on him. They were such sentimental fools. “Yes?”

“How did they convince you to do this?” Hiruzen-sensei asked. “Usually you’re my sensible student.” His smile was fond, but Orochimaru could not understand it--what wasn’t sensible about this?

His chest ached, a sharp and bitter counterpoint to the nausea, and Orochimaru had to fight to keep from grimacing. “They did not have to. It was my suggestion,” he replied. Jiraiya’s chakra prodded him encouragingly, and so Orochimaru continued, “Hiruzen-sensei, why is this not sensible? These children would have died had we not taken them. What is not sensible about keeping them alive?”

“Orochimaru, you know better--”

Orochimaru snarled, interrupting Hiruzen-sensei and cutting off Tsunade before she could start. Sensei had made up his mind, and so Orochimaru would speak his. “I do not know better! What you would have me call sensible? Sensible is--is packing an extra blade, or bringing extra socks for Jiraiya because he always forgets his. I do those things! But I am not apathetic to the suffering of children, and I do not see why being so would be sensible. It is only easier for you.”

“Orochimaru--” Tsunade whispered, her chakra tugging urgently on him before she graduated to physically pulling his hair.

He ignored the minor pain, drowning anger so strong that he could barely stand to feel it. “Why is walking away from dying children sensible, Lord Hokage? And why do you expect it of me?” Orochimaru’s mouth snapped shut, and for one glorious moment he felt nothing but raw, unfiltered pleasure at having finally spoken his mind.

 “We weren’t dying,” Tsunade’s child protested in a hushed whisper, and Orochimaru’s glee crumpled into nothing. His words were useless, a pointless waste of Hiruzen-sensei’s good opinion of him. The Hokage would not listen.

Jiraiya cleared his throat, and Orochimaru whipped his head around, glaring him into silence before Jiraiya could make Orochimaru’s faux pas even worse.

“Orochimaru’s been tired recently,” Tsunade said, smoothly stepping in to completely wreck the microscopic chance that Hiruzen-sensei would listen to what Orochimaru had said.

“I understand that you are all tired, but you kidnapped three children from a neutral country,” Hiruzen-sensei said. “That is not a good thing.”

“They’re orphans! You can’t kidnap orphans!” Jiraiya protested. “That’s like saying we stole Rain’s rain or something!”

“Don’t be an idiot, of course you can kidnap an orphan!” Orochimaru snapped, because that was too stupid to let stand.

“They don’t have parents, Orochimaru,” Jiraiya explained patiently, sounding like he thought Orochimaru was the stupid one, which--no. That was unacceptable. “Who would they be kidnapped from?”

“Kidnapping’s like murder, not theft! It doesn’t matter if no one loves them!”

“Orochimaru, don’t say that! You’ll hurt their feelings!” Tsunade covered Yahiko’s ears far too late for it to matter, glaring at him like he’d done something much worse than simply point out the obvious.

“Enough!” Hiruzen-sensei shouted, loud enough that Orochimaru flinched away before he caught himself. “You’re all off duty for a week, barring emergencies.”

“And the kids?” Tsunade asked, her hands still over Yahiko’s ears, protecting him from Hiruzen-sensei’s words. It was useless. Yahiko not hearing Hiruzen-sensei's verdict wouldn't change anything.

Hiruzen-sensei stared at Orochimaru for a long time, his expression unreadable. “I will decide at the end of the week. You have raised points that I must think about.”