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"If I'd known you were coming, I would have made tea."

Tsunade ignores Orochimaru's sly smirk, and the smug note in his silky voice. She glares at the scattered books and papers on the table beside him, so she doesn't have to look at those gold, piercing eyes.

If he's surprised to see her, he gives no indication.

(He's just as devastatingly handsome as she remembers him. Even clad in nothing but a purple silk yukata and his dark hair held back by a rather dangerously sharp hairpin, he managed to make Tsunade feel distinctly plain and under-dressed by comparison.)

Orochimaru sets down the beaten leather book he's holding and brushes aside a few pages of handwritten notes, sitting himself on the table and regarding her with a vaguely amused sort of look.

"Mind telling me how you found me, Tsunade-hime?" He asks, idly reaching a hand up to play with a loose lock of his silky black hair, twirling it deftly around his thin fingers. "I'm curious."

Tsunade huffs, crossing her arms and glaring at the wall behind him.

"I have resources." Is all she says, still not daring to look directly at him. Even so, she can feel his smirk turn into a disappointed frown.

"Why bother, though?" He asks, a softer tone to his voice now.

"Why did you save my life during the war?!" Tsunade snaps back, balling her hands into fists, her face growing hot as her emotions rise.

"Because I wanted to."

Tsunade growls.

"You fucking expect me to believe that?"

"Well- yes, actually."

Tsunade finally forces herself to look at him straight-on.

He looks...hurt?

"Do you think I would have let you die when I had the power to prevent it?"

The look Tsunade gives him could have frozen water in August.

"I do." She spits.

Orochimaru's hand stops twirling.

"...I suppose I shouldn't be surprised." He mumbles. "You're cold, Tsunade-hime."

"Damn right you shouldn't be." Tsunade hisses. "After the shit you've done you expected me to think you'd fucking save my life just because you wanted to?! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"I'd think asking what's right with me might be a better place to start, all things considered." Orochimaru retorts, regaining his haughty composure. "But tell me, Tsunade-hime- why did you go to all this trouble of tracking me down? Surely it would have been better to enjoy your retirement and leave well enough alone?"

Tsunade falters, biting her bottom lip to keep her emotions contained.

"...Because you're alive."

"So what? Surely it makes little difference to you?"

There's a certain curiosity in Orochimaru's gaze now, gold eyes intently fixed on the woman in front of him.

(Certainly she was as beautiful as she'd always been. Her sunkissed skin still looked so inviting, her red painted lips so painfully kissable.

Just like he remembered her.)

"I thought you died." Tsunade says weakly, trying to keep her voice from trembling. "Everyone thought you'd died. I thought I was alone- but you're here...I didn't believe it…"

Damn it, woman! Keep it together! No way in hell are you going to cry in front of this jackass!

Orochimaru laughs, but there's no mirth in it. It's a low, mournful sort of sound that pierces her heart. He slides off the desk and strides past Tsunade to the door.

"If you don't mind following me, I'll make us some coffee- you still like coffee, don't you?"

Tsunade hesitates for a moment.

"...Yeah." She finally answers.

"Wonderful."

She trails a few steps behind him through the gloomy place in which he lived. There's nary another soul in sight, and the poor lighting makes everything cast a long, eerie shadow.

Orochimaru lets out a longing little sigh that pulls her out of her thoughts.

"It's been so very quiet here since Kabuto-kun left," he says a bit wistfully. "Though I suppose it's for the best- I hear he's doing very well for himself these days."

"He is. I think he's working in the orphanage now."

Orochimaru gestures for her to sit at the table while he puts the coffee pot on to heat up.

"I'm glad to hear it. That sort of job suits him well, I think. Kabuto-kun is a good boy."

"No thanks to you.'"

"I never claimed to be a good influence." Orochimaru tsks at her. "Though I do think I did a better job with him than the old badger."

Tsunade can't argue with that. She watches him while he goes about making the coffee, not feeling like talking at the moment. Orochimaru still has that same easy grace to his movements- just like the snakes he was so fond of. But there's a weariness to it now, a tiredness that hadn't been there when they were younger- As if his limbs had heavy weights strapped to them.

"It seems I've gotten rather lonely lately," Orochimaru says softly, pausing briefly to brush that stray lock away from his face once again. "Karin-chan went off gallivanting with Sasuke-kun, and heaven knows where Juugo-kun and Suigetsu-kun are half the time. Most days it's just me here."

(He talks like a father pining after his children after they're grown and fled the nest. It's almost comical.)

"I suppose I miss having young faces around here sometimes. Maybe I'm just going soft."

"Somehow I doubt that."

Orochimaru ignores her, and doesn't say more until the coffee is done and on the table.

"Kanpai," he offers, raising his mug in her direction.

Tsunade watches him closely as she takes a sip of her coffee. It doesn't seem to be tainted with anything, so it shouldn't do any harm to drink it.

"So did you come to gloat about my loneliness?" He asks. "Surely you didn't track me down just to make small talk."

Tsunade grips her mug of coffee tightly.

"...I've been lonely too." she admits sheepishly.

"Oh?"

She scratches at her blonde hair to try and vent some anxiety, painted nails digging into her scalp.

"...I didn't feel it so badly when I was Hokage," she continues. "There was just so much to deal with all at once- I didn't have to think about it. But after...after the war- it's all I can think about. I can't focus on anything anymore."

"Surely you could find someone better to share this with than me, though?" Orochimaru asks, quirking an eyebrow as he sips his own cup delicately.

"There isn't anybody else!" Tsunade snaps. "Jiraiya is dead, and you killed Sarutobi-sensei!"

The man flinches, tensing up as if the very memory was painful.

"...Do your old vices not comfort you anymore?" He asks, after an agonizing pause.

"Do yours?"

Another of those weary little smiles.

"They never did."

Tsunade finds herself growling again.

"Do you want me to feel sorry for you?" She asks, finding it her turn to smirk at him.

"Nothing like that," Orochimaru assures her, with a wave of his hand. "I don't deserve that much from you. It's more than I deserve that you're here to see me at all."

Tsunade grits her teeth, unsure how she wants to respond. Orochimaru regards her with a curious expression- much like a child would observe a stray kitten.

It's infuriating.

"I'm glad you're here, Tsunade-hime."

The sincerity in his voice catches her off-guard.

"Stop calling me that!" Tsunade snaps, banging her fist on the mahogany table.. "We aren't children anymore!"

A light chuckle.

"Forgive me."

An annoyed huff, and another bout of scratching at her scalp for a brief distraction.

"Tsunade."

His serious tone startles her.

"Tell me. What happened to Jiraiya?"

Tsunade sighs heavily, staring at the dregs in the bottom of her coffee cup.

"He was probing into Akatsuki," she explains, blinking back tears. "He'd gone to Ame looking to confront their leader. As it turns out- the leader of Akatsuki was one of those orphans he'd taken in and trained forever ago. He's the one who killed Jiraiya."

She glances back up at Orochimaru. His face is blank, so it's hard to tell how he's feeling right now.

"I hate to say it-" Tsunade continues, shaking her head, "But you were right about them."

"Hm?"

Her hands curl back up into fists, nails biting into her palms.

"We should have killed those brats back then."

Orochimaru seems to be surprised by this.

Tsunade runs her hands through her hair.

"I know, I know. I'm horrible. I wish I could go back and kill a few kids so Jiraiya can still be around. It's awful."

Orochimaru pulls a face.

"I wouldn't say it's horrible. It's a perfectly human reaction, isn't it? To want the people we care about to still be with us- who wouldn't want that?"

"Yeah. But when it's you saying it-"

Tsunade says it with a wry smile, almost laughing. Orochimaru rests his chin on the heel of his hand, smiling that smile of his that was once upon a time so enchanting; that ever-so-slightly lopsided smile that bore one of his abnormally sharp canine teeth, and made his entire face lighter.

"I suppose you're right."

(Damn it, that smile is distracting.)

Tsunade sighs in exasperation.

"What happened to you?" She asks sadly, searching her old friend's eyes for any trace of the man she'd known so many years ago- before everything had gone so very wrong.

Orochimaru is taken aback by the question, and seems, for once, at a loss for words. His expression makes it clear he doesn't have an answer for her.

Tsunade rises from the table, weighed down with disappointment.

"I should leave." She says, turning her back to him.

"...Will I be seeing you again?" Orochimaru asks her, his voice wavering ever so slightly. He's so quiet she almost doesn't hear him-

Was he worried she would say no?

"...Do you want me to?" Tsunade asks, keeping herself turned away. She wraps her arms around herself to keep her nerves at bay.

"I do." He replies, a bit too eagerly for Tsunade's liking.

Tsunade draws a deep, shaking breath before she dares to answer.

"When should I come back?" She asks.

An enormous weight seems to lift, and the entire atmosphere of the kitchen becomes palpably lighter.

"Just let me know." He tells her. "Anytime you like."

Tsunade can't suppress a smile.

"Alright. I'll be seeing you."

"I look forward to it."

~oOo~

Tsunade can do nothing else but cry, standing in front of her grandfather's grave, clinging to her mother and wailing in despair.

This is the first time she's been able to visit Hashirama's grave without being crowded out by the other villagers, and finally getting the chance makes the totality of his death overwhelming. The tears flow without end, spilling down her round cheeks despite how desperately she tries to wipe them away. Her mother holds her close, petting her hair and murmuring motherly reassurances.

"Here, sweetheart. Why don't you go lay the flowers down? I'm sure he would like that."

Tsunade sniffles miserably, but takes the bouquet and walks into the shade of the maple tree that stands watch over Hashirama's grave. She lays them down in front of the enormous gravestone, whimpering mournfully.

"You shouldn't cry."

Tsunade jumps, head jerking upward to see a dark-haired boy perched up in the tree. Yellow eyes peer out from between curtains of thick, tangled black hair, regarding her with curiosity.

She's seen this boy at the academy before. He's the weird, pale-faced kid who sat in the back of the class and never said a word. Nobody else talked to him either- unless they were hurling insults to try and get a reaction out of him. Really, only the teachers call him by his name.

Orochimaru.

"W-what's it to you?!" Tsunade demands, failing to sound brave.

"Pretty girls like you shouldn't be sad."

Orochimaru hops out of the tree, landing deftly on the ground, barely making a sound. Tsunade's mother watches on warily, but doesn't say anything to him.

He extends his arm out toward Tsunade, a single dark purple rose held between his fingers. His eyes wander anywhere but in her direction, as he fidgets uncomfortably on the spot.

"Here."

"What's that for?" Tsunade asks, nose wrinkling up.

"I got it for my parents' graves," he explains. "But I think you'd appreciate it more."

Tsunade's brow furrows in surprise.

"Your parents' graves? Are they-?"

The boy nods. Tsunade's expression softens.

"Oh. I'm- I'm sorry."

"You didn't have anything to do with it."

"No need to be a jerk about it!" Tsunade huffs.

The boy chokes on a breath, his face going red.

"F-forgive me."

He gestures to the rose in his hand.

"Take it. I guess it's an apology now."

Tentatively, the girl reaches out to take the flower, watching him warily.

Before Tsunade can say a thank-you, an elderly woman appears out of nowhere and snatches Orochimaru by the wrist.

"There you are!" She snaps, jerking him away from Tsunade. "Always running off without permission! And now here you are, harassing the granddaughter of the Hokage! Gods, you really are too much!"

The caretaker drags Orochimaru off, alternating between scolding the boy and apologizing profusely to Tsunade's mother. The boy manages to cast a goodbye glance at Tsunade-

He's smiling.

"What an odd child," Tsunade's mother muses. "Is he a friend of yours?"

Tsunade regards the solitary rose in her hand.

"...Yeah," she decides, after some deliberation. "Yeah, he is."