There was a girl.
With a crazed glint in her eyes, a feral air radiating off of her, and a rowdy mutt at her side, this little girl wasn't like many that he had met before in his life.
(He would know. He could remember every single person he'd ever met in his life. Even the least memorable people had a permanent place within his mind, caught inside the trap that it had become.)
(He didn't want to think about his past.)
(It refused to leave him alone.)
"The name's Tsume!"
Tobirama did not know why this little girl was in his house. He didn't have it defended or full of traps, yes. But it was hidden so well within the forest surrounding the village he had helped create that he had never even contemplated setting them up. He was alone, isolated, and barely anyone was insane enough to visit these lands. Besides, with his sensory affinity, he had always been able to feel whenever someone was anywhere near him. And he always went out of his way to divert them away from the path of the cottage, either by gentle genjutsu or violent deaths.
On more than one occasion, he had singlehandedly stopped terrorist cells from entering Konoha. And the village was none the wiser about his continued service.
"Are you a hermit?"
The voice was high pitched and extremely curious. Just what Tobirama remembered from all other children he had ever met.
There was a lack of fear in this girl's demeanor, though... It pained him. It reminded him of Tsunade.
(He didn't want to remember his little grand niece... But he was forced to remember everything.)
The man kept his silence.
The girl didn't seem to mind.
"You look like a hermit. I mean, ma says that hermits are dirty ol' geezers that prey on lil' kids." Bright brown eyes twinkled as an animated mouth continued to babble. "But Kuro here won't let you do nothin' to me. Right, girl?"
The black pup yipped as its tail wagged at the very speed the girl's mouth ran. It lay on top of the girl's matted hair- she could do with running a brush through it at least once in her life.
Tobirama was not sure about how he was supposed to answer. Or if he even was supposed to. Because the little girl just continued to talk and ask questions she didn't wait to get answered. And she moved around his wooden house as if she belonged there, as if this was as much her house as his.
(So much like Tsunade...)
"I like this place! Kuro, we've got to come back here some day!"
Once more the pup yipped. But now it walked up to Tobirama and sniffed at his bare feet, causing the man to frown slightly.
The dog's nose was cold.
"Hey! That's a cool sword!"
Suddenly Tobirama's attention was forced back onto the young girl. And for good reason.
His hand slammed onto the weapon being lifted within seconds.
He had been gifted this by Mito. It was one of the few things from his past he could still look at and not feel despair over. Mito had gone behind Hashirama's back to surprise both brothers with matching swords... Remembering Mito's face when he and his brother had received their gifts still managed to warm his almost stony heart. Remembering his brother's whoops and cheers of gratitude aided in allowing him to remember he had once been human.
The little girl blinked at the white hand that had shot out of Tobirama's robes to stop her. And she stared and stared.
Tobirama wondered if she would run away screaming. He would not blame her. He had been on the other side of his living room when she had tried to pick up the sword. And he'd moved far quicker than any old man should ever be able to.
(He couldn't even be called an old man. Because he didn't age. Not anymore.)
Slowly the girl's face morphed. But not into the gape mouthed face that accompanied a scared scream. Instead, a broad smile melted onto her face, pushing the skin of her cheeks towards the corners of her eyes.
"That was awesome!"
Tobirama frowned as the girl then began to ask questions of all kinds about his speed.
"Shut up." He growled, swooped down to pick the girl up by the collar of her gray shirt, grabbed the scruff of her puppy's, and walked out of his cottage.
The girl grunted and demanded to be put down. But Tobirama ignored her as he walked towards the trees and shot up to begin traveling through them.
Reaching the Village Gates was not a difficult or lengthy endeavor. Traveling back to the home he had built was always a fast thing, his love for his home and all of its surrounding made him enjoy every single thing about the journey.
(This was yet another unbearable part of his punishment. Going to Konoha was such an easy thing to do... But he couldn't enter it. Not because he wasn't permitted. No, it was because it hurt so much to see all of the changes that had happened and would continue to happen.)
(He was never supposed to have seen Konoha grow so much. He was supposed to have died long ago. He was supposed to never have gotten to see anything after that damned mission- the only memory he couldn't access.)
When he reached the periphery of the Village Gates, Tobirama stopped running. He threw both of his annoying trespassers down onto the ground and glared at them both, more than unbothered by the matching, irritated glares sent his way.
"Do not come back."
And he left without waiting to hear any answer.
His warning was not heeded. Not more than a week had passed before the tattooed brat had shown up at his doorstep, this time with more intruders accompanying her.
"Hey! Hermit! Open up, my brothers want to meet you!"
Tobirama was forced away from his book- one he had read thirty times over but continued to re-read just to keep himself busy on the slowest of days- by the shout, which was accompanied by harsh knocking.
Abruptly, the man stood up from the chair that faced the main window of the large area he called his living room- which was simply a space with a few wall decorations and two different chairs. He swiftly moved towards the door and gazed through the peep hole to look down and make sure he truly had heard the little girl's shrill shouts.
Humans were social creatures. No man was an island. And Tobirama was no exception to these rules. In his curse-imposed solitude, he'd been forced to adapt to a life no human should ever be condemned to. And, as part of this, he'd been forced to face pure silence. Pure loneliness.
Before, as a child, he had felt alone and ostracized because of his physical oddities.
He had been a fool to think that could have been considered alone. Because nothing could ever beat his actual reality.
On more than one occasion, he had sworn he could hear new visitors arriving. Even though he had not been able to feel any of them through his senses, his need for human interaction had made him believe that people had actually stumbled onto him. Every single time he had opened his door when he had swore he'd heard people had wound up with Tobirama wishing to finally be able to die. Because of this, he had drilled a hole into the door to be able to look before he made a fool of himself.
This time, though, there was someone. Well, three people, really.
The little girl from a week before was there, standing in the middle with a determined glare on her face. To either of her side were identical boys, taller than her by a few inches. Their faces were the same, just like most of their bodies. And they had the same feral glint in their dark eyes as the girl in between them. But the boy on the left had hair cut short like the girl, all the while the boy on the right had it long and was pulled into a shaggy pony tail.
In front of them were dogs that would always be found tailing Inuzuka members. The pup from the last time sat in front of the little girl. A new white dog stood beside the left boy, dark eyes poised on the girl. And another white dog stood in front of the boy on the right, focused on the door.
"Kiba doesn't think you're real! So you got to prove him you are and he'll buy us both steak!"
Tobirama could not believe what he was seeing. Much less what he was hearing.
It must have been a new development of the curse. Because he wasn't supposed to have ever been allowed to meet anyone. He was supposed to have lived out the rest of his existence in solitude and pain.
(The details of his curse were lost to him. Much like the only memory he could not access, whenever he tried to remember what his curse entailed, he only drew up blanks. But if there was one thing he did know about his curse, it was that he was supposed to be alone. And he knew this because he had woken up to find one single note laying on his barely moving chest- enjoy your solitude, it had read.)
A few seconds passed without the girl receiving an answer. So she began to knock on the door once more, causing the boy on her left to scoff and shake his head.
"Alright, Tsume. You found a house in the middle of nowhere. That doesn't mean anybody lives here."
"Shut up, Kiba!" The girl hissed at the boy, then glared straight into the little glass in the middle of the door. "I know you're there, Hermit!"
Now the boy on the right scratched at his chin, head cocked slightly to the side, "I dunno, Tsume... I can't smell nobody in there."
"Neither could Kuro! But he's here!"
Once more her fist met the wood of Tobirama's there. But this time there was the harsh crack of wood splintering beneath too much force. And Tobirama threw the door open, angered beyond words.
Who did this child believe she was? How dare she walk up to his only sanctuary and try and force her way inside?
"I told you to stay away."
His hiss would have made any normal human cower.
Inuzuka were not normal humans.
The boy with the long hair gaped. The one with the short hair gasped. And the little girl merely smirked.
"Now Kiba's got to buy us food."
"Yeah. Pops wants to give Kiba and Katsu extra lessons. So they won't be around much more."
Tobirama grunted softly as the annoying Inuzuka girl continued to follow him around the forest, all the while the small dog that was always with her continued to bite at his ankles.
She had not left him alone.
Tobirama had stopped trying to drive her away after both twins had appeared with her. If she wanted to doom herself to knowing a wretched soul like himself, he would allow her.
Besides, she would undoubtedly tire of him. Eventually, she would leave him. Willingly or unwillingly, everyone had eventually left him. He was cursed to be alone, after all. She would leave.
"I don't think he wants me to learn much. Which is stupid!"
The dog yipped in agreement. Tobirama remained silent.
"Just 'cause I'm a girl my dad doesn't think I should be able to lead my Clan!"
The Inuzuka were a rather interesting Clan. Sometimes their ideas and beliefs bordered on scandalous because of their liberal views. Other times, they were the most conservative people Tobirama had ever met... but the Inuzuka alive now were not the Inuzuka he had known before, were they? Those Inuzuka were dead and gone by now. These were their descendants.
"Hey, Hermit! Why don't you ever talk to me? I'm always the one telling you about school and stuff!"
The girl did not know the meaning of the word silence. She couldn't know it. Not when she did everything in her power to keep Tobirama from ever acquiring the state of peace that came from the absence of noise.
Because of her blabbering, he knew almost everything about her life. Who her best friends outside of the clan were- an oddity, for clan heirs; a studious Aburame and a stuck up Hyuga-, who her favorite teacher was, how cool she thought the Hatake Clan was, who the dumbest boys in her life were... Petty, childish things. Innocent, childish things.
"I do not want you anywhere near me."
Normally, he would bite this out with a dozen times more venom.
For some reason, he could not muster the spite needed to ground the little girl.
An amused laugh escaped the child as she jumped over a large tree root, then she skipped towards him and smacked him on the leg. "You love me, Hermit! That's why you even put up my drawing on your refrigerator!"
It had been the short haired twin to do so. The last time he and his brother had come around, they had decided to bring along little mementos to make Tobirama remember them.
"It'll look more like an actual home!"
"Yeah, not like this emotionless dump!"
The long haired one was as crass as the girl. The short haired one had a bit more tact.
Tobirama didn't bother to tell the girl that he had not been the one to put that up. Instead he just continued to walk and idly listen to the girl continue to ramble about everything that left her mouth.
(It was kind of like having Hashirama around him again...)
(Tobirama refused to acknowledge this.)
Tobirama stifled the long suffered sigh he wanted to release as soon as he heard one of the Inuzuka boys calling for him.
"We brought that fish Tsume told us to find for you!"
The twins were an interesting phenomena. They were their own individuals, different from one another in many different aspects. It was easy to tell them apart because they happened to be so different. But, at the same time, it was as if they were two halves of a whole. Their minds seemed to always be connected, they barely ever communicated with one another whenever they were near Tobirama. Yet they were always synchronized; always seemed to know what the other was thinking.
Trekking through the dense shrubbery that surrounded him seemed to have never been a problem to any of the Inuzuka troublemakers. They climbed over any and every troubling surface they found with a grace that spoke of familiarity with difficult terrain. This didn't surprised Tobirama, though, seeing how Inuzuka were known to be some of the best trackers in the land. Maneuvering over such terrain was only part of the territory for their specialization.
This time, the eight year olds were carrying twin paper bags. The long haired one had his little dog following him at his heels, but the one with the short hair had his own rested on top of his head.
The little girl was nowhere in sight, though.
Tobirama kept his silence, even though curiosity begged him to ask why the main trouble maker was nowhere to be found.
He had been meditating near the bank of a waterfall that was hidden behind miles and miles of large trees and dangerous terrain. The Inuzuka had somehow managed to find him, which was truly quite the undertaking. Even though he had not asked directly, the man was aware that he was, apparently, hidden from the Inuzuka nose. He had no scent anymore.
Just like he couldn't sense whenever the brats neared him, they couldn't smell him to find him.
Without waiting for an answer on his part, the twins made their way to either of his sides and settled down. Once they were sat, the long haired one opened up his bag and peered inside.
"Oi, Katsuyoshi, are you sure he'll like this? Smells rank."
The short haired twin rolled his eyes at his brother's words, didn't bother with a response, and turned towards the red eyed male they had come to see. He then snatched the bag from the long haired boy and offered it to Tobirama, slowly shaking it- as if trying to tease him.
Tobirama stared blankly back at him before taking the bag from the boy. He then peered inside... and his mouth began to water.
He did not thank the boys for the food. He did not even acknowledge them afterwards. He said nothing as he broke off a piece from the fried fish that had been brought to him. And he closed his eyes as he returned to his meditative pose after placing the piece within his mouth.
His silence was not enough to keep his enthusiasm from being noticed by the twins.
"See? Told ya he'd like it!"
"Shaddup, Katsu. It smells rotted, no matter if the hermit likes it."
They began to argue over him after that... and then a tussle broke out between them, leaving them rolling around the ground as they threw lazy punches and kicks at each other.
Somehow, they're arguing wasn't as bothersome to Tobirama as it should have been.
(He blamed the fish. It had been so long since he had eaten something that hadn't been cooked by himself... He blamed the fish.)
He had been looking at the drawing on his refrigerator when the girl had appeared with tears streaming down her face.
The drawing was crude and rudimentary... A perfect reflection of the girl's soul in Tobirama's eyes.
It featured the little girl, both boys, their dogs, and Tobirama in the very middle. The Inuzuka siblings were all smiling broadly and were painted brightly. The fangs on their faces were oversized, took up most of their faces, but it was understandable. The little girl was only six years old, after all.
Tobirama stood in the middle with a simple downturned line for his lips. The three red marks on his face were appropriately sized, seeing how they took up very little space. And his red eyes had thick, narrowed eyebrows drawn over them to show him frowning. His head was covered by a black hood. And his whole body was indistinguishable, for the girl had just painted what seemed like a rectangle in black.
The man always wore heavy robes and a long hood. He didn't want anybody seeing him and recognizing who he had been. He didn't want his legacy to be desecrated by the truth that now had him incarcerated; even if he didn't know the precise truth.
He had not been prepared for the girl's sudden entrance into his home. Much less to find her jumping onto him, forcing him into a hug that crushed the breath out of him.
"They're dead, Hermit! They're dead and it's all Kiri's fault! I hate them! I hate Kiri! I want Kiba! I want Katsuyoshi!"
The little girl didn't explain anything after that. She just devolved into gasped sobs that cracked Tobirama's frigid heart.
It would not be the last time an Inuzuka chipped the stone that had hardened him.
He had not gone to the funeral. The little girl had invited him, but she had left before he could tell her that he would not be able to go. On the day it was hosted, after the funerary procession had finished up, she had hunted him down and demanded an explanation for abandoning her brothers on the most important day of their death.
Tobirama had merely told her that his proper place was staying far away from the Inuzuka's funeral. He was no clan member, nor was he a citizen of Konohagakure. He had no business in such an intimate goodbye.
She had been well beyond angry when he had told her this. She had thrown a tantrum unlike any other- she had made a mess of the sparse furniture he had within his little home. He had managed to calm her down eventually by reminding her that he wasn't an official member of their clan- even though it hurt, it was not his place to say goodbye to them.
Even though she had said it was unfair, she had come to accept his logic. And she had even agreed that she didn't want to deal with the headache that would come from trying to explain to her parents just who the Hermit was to her parents. It sucked, but it was easier this way.
The girl was now sleeping beside him, on top of the couch cushions she had torn into only a handful of minutes before. Her dog, though, was standing guard, eyes wide as she protected her partner from any possible dangers.
It was touching to see how protective the animal was of her human. Even though it was unnecessary to be so on guard when he was around. Ostracized and hermitical as he may have been, he was still a formidable opponent to any that dared cross him.
Still, Tobirama allowed himself to look over the handful of pictures the girl had brought with her as the final gift left behind by her now deceased brothers.
The Inuzuka twins... the ones that were supposed to have taken control of the Clan instead of the savage girl... the boys that had not been able to grow any further than their childhood years... they were now immortalized in a handful of pictures given to him by that damned little girl. Immortalized within the cage that was Tobirama's mind.
They had been identical in everything. Even when one lost a tooth, the other wasn't late in following.
This last picture- the one where they both smiling with gaped smiles, was recent. The last time he had seen the two, they had still had milk front teeth.
Katsuyoshi and Kiba had deserved better.
Tobirama shuddered softly as he tried to breathe in a steady breath. The action was shaky. There was a sting in the inner corner of his eyes he could not ignore.
And he frowned.
He didn't want to care about anyone. He didn't want to meet anyone. And this was the reason why! As soon as he allowed someone into his heart, they died.
It would only be a matter of time before this young girl died. Probably in the war.
(But even as he told himself this, Tobirama could not bring himself to kick her out of his life for good. He had been so long without any companionship that he absolutely enjoyed her visits- even when he kept her at arms' length.)
(When the time came that she would die... he did not want to think about that time just yet.)
Tobirama sighed and shook his head at his own selfish desires. He knew that he would only end up in pain because of this ordeal. He knew that he should just tell the girl to leave and never come back. But he also knew he wouldn't do that. For as long as she would be willing, he would allow her into his home. Because he was just that stupidly selfish.
The years passed.
The little girl grew up into a capable kunoichi. She became the scourge of Kirigakure. All ninja there began to fear the Inuzuka Clan, believed that their sense of smell was so great that it was even formidable enough to outplay their mist techniques. Even though she had not been the child that had captured her father's heart as soon as she had been born, the girl quickly proved herself as a formidable ninja that needed to be taken seriously.
Tobirama helped wherever he deemed fit.
From him, a young six year old learned how to properly and accurately throw kunai. From him, a young seven year old learned how to create concoctions that were traceable to Inuzuka noses, but went unnoticed by less developed senses of smell. From him, an eight year old received her first black eye when she challenged him to a no holds barred taijutsu match.
From him, an Inuzuka little girl had learned how to move on from the death of those that had once been most important in her life.
When he had noticed just how important he had become to her, Tobirama had been too late to stop himself. Had been too late to force her away. To force himself to leave her.
He watched her grow up before his eyes.
The voice was still courageous. But it was deeper now. And much rougher than before. It had aged. Just like the girl herself.
"I tried marriage before." He murmured as he placed his cup of coffee back down on the table, all the while the teenager in front of him huffed at him. "Once was enough."
Marriage. The girl was already looking for a possible husband to continue the Inuzuka Head's bloodline.
Kuro, now a large beast with a scar on her muzzle, seemed to snort. Both Inuzuka females had always been incredibly fine tuned with one another's emotions.
"They want me to get married to this one old geezer... Somethin' 'bout 'im being strong with good blood." With an exasperated puff, the girl managed to push away some of the hair that had fallen onto her face. But she didn't make any further move to make her face more visible.
Her hair was wild and seemed to never be brushed. The only reason why it was not completely knotted up was because Tobirama would sometimes help her fix it up.
"I thought you had your eye on a certain someone."
Even with the bright red fangs on her cheeks, Tobirama was able to make out the reddening of the teenager's cheeks.
"Shaddup, Hermit! You ain't know nothin'!" She hissed, then looked down at the cup of tea he had served her. "He'd never marry me... 'Is clan would never let me."
Tobirama took a sip of his tea to allow the girl a few seconds of peace.
At least she was aware that her affections would never blossom into anything usable.
"... What happened to that Daichi kid?" He questioned off handedly, momentarily glancing over at the refrigerator within his kitchen.
The little girl's drawing still hung there, proud and in the middle. But now it was surrounded by pictures brought to him over the years. One was of a twelve year old girl smiling broadly with a boy that seemed just about her age.
He'd heard a lot about Daichi over the years. Not as much as the Hyuga or Aburame teammates. But enough to make a point of remembering him.
The teenager didn't answer immediately. She remained glaring down at her tea for a few seconds. Kuro even stood up and began to bite at the corner of her jacket, trying to get an answer out of her.
"You ain't half bad, Hermit."
Tobirama did not bother to answer. He just finished his tea.
The formidable teenager- the kunoichi dubbed Kiri's Scourge- aged. The changes were gradual, but they were noticeable. Tobirama didn't care about them. (He tried not to care.)
Her unkempt hair was long now. To look presentable for her Clan's sake, she had started wearing it in a simple braid that helped her keep it somewhat cared for. Her clothes had changed as well- she no longer showed off her flat stomach and lean legs with clothes that were much too short be considered acceptable by the more uptight older people. Instead, she wore pants that fell down to her shins and her long sleeved shirt was tight, but covered up most of her skin. She wore a hooded vest that was always covering up her hair and head- the hood was furred white.
She had told him once that she had asked for a vest like this because it reminded her of his hair. He chose to ignore the sentimental value of such a thought.
She was strong. She was supposed to be the strongest kunoichi Tobirama had ever met.
But it was hard to be strong when the world was constantly trying to destroy her.
A month ago, she had let him know that the only man she had ever truly loved was now set to marry some heiress from within his clan. The heir of the Hyuga Clan had never been a man she would have, she had known... but she had still cried into his chest as she had blabbered about how stupid traditions and feelings were.
Now she was holding onto him once more, her sobs absolutely heart-wrenching.
"That bastard Zabuza slit her throat right in front of me, Hermit! He killed her when he didn't have to and I hate him and I need to torture him until he can't even remember his name!"
Kuro was dead.
Tobirama felt numb.
This was a wake-up call.
He had seen Kuro grow up before him as well. From hyperactive puppy to a levelheaded warrior, he had seen her at her worst and her best. And she was dead now.
It was only a matter of time before...
His grip on the young woman tightened and she broke out into pained howls. He didn't offer her any kind of vocal comfort. But he didn't let go of her.
It was only a matter of time before he was alone once more.
He had the pictures from the wedding. And he loved to look them over even with the bitter taste that always filled his mouth when he did so.
(He was... soothed by the easy smile she had on her face in those pictures. In the wedding dress that was as much her, as it was traditional. The look of love that could be seen on the faces of the bride and groom as they said their 'I do's' was just breathtaking to him.)
It was fortunate he had these pictures he knew. Because if it had been up to her, he would never have known about their existence.
(Apparently, she had told Daichi about him early in their relationship, and while the groom wasn't sure why the other wasn't coming to the wedding, he didn't want him to miss out on any part of it. So, his gift to his wife's oldest friend came in the form of the pictures from the wedding and reception party.)
An argument had driven her away from him. She had wanted to know why he never entered the village, even though he clearly cared for it and knew about it.
He had never told anyone about his curse, he didn't know how to, wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to. So instead, he opted for silence, hoping that would dissuade her from the conversation. But silence had never been able to dissuade her before now he knew that it would never stop her. He had felt her ire rise, and braced himself for the inevitable argument that they would embark on.
In an attempt to try and ease tensions between them, she had asked him to go to her wedding. When he had told her that he couldn't, she had growled at him that he couldn't use the same excuse he had when he had refused to go to her brothers' funeral. Eventually, she had called him a coward.
Admittedly, unfortunately, regrettably... he had not taken being called a coward well.
The argument that had then broken out between them was explosive to say the least. They had screamed obscenities at each other, had said some things…unforgivable things at each other. By the time it was all over, they stood apart from each other, both breathing heavily as they glared at one another.
Then it was over.
She turned on her heel and stormed out of the door. She hadn't bothered slamming it, instead, she had left the door wide open. And it was because of that single action that Tobirama had known that she would never come back again. Never had she left his home without slamming the door shut; she had always shouted out a hasty unapologetic apology for slamming the door. He now knew that she had resolve to never see him again.
It was for the best, he had tried to reassure himself. He didn't need meddlesome people in his house, or his life. It was for the best to drive her away before her death could tear him apart. He had already suffered enough because of her; it was for the best that she was gone once more.
But that didn't stop the loneliness from setting into his bones once more.
Sometimes he wondered if his seemingly too perfect memories were part of the curse placed upon him. Because he could remember everything. From his first days in the world all the way to those that were supposed to have been his last ones. The way he could look back upon on his life was hyper realistic, everything he remembered was as clear as day, just like everything he had ever felt.
He knew that another part of his curse was missing the most important part of his memory. Whenever he tried to remember why exactly, he couldn't die... all that came to mind was nothing.
He did not know why he could not die.
What he did know was that he wanted to die now that he had no one around him once more.
Returning to a completely solitary life had not been easy.
Having the mementos of the young Inuzuka that had filled his life with more than just sadness scattered all around his house made returning to his old life a thousand times harder than it should have been.
Even seven years after the girl had slammed his cottage's door without another word shared between them, Tobirama still managed to find little toys, pictures, and drawings littered in the oddest of places.
Cleanliness had never been one of the girl's strengths...
Some nights, Tobirama would find himself so unbelievably lonely that he would try and reach out with his senses to see if he could find out anything about the little girl he had once known- about the strong kunoichi she must have been now. But he would never find anything... He never was able to find the Inuzuka signatures... Had not been able to ever since he had been cursed on the day he could not remember...
One day, when the memories of his life before this living hell and the little girl that had forced her way into his second life had become too much for him to properly handle, Tobirama decided that he couldn't continue living like this.
So he wrapped himself up in his thickest, darkest robes. He made sure that everything within his house was in its place and there was enough food and water left for the little pup he had recently adopted. And then, before he could talk himself out of entering the village he had sworn to never go back to, Tobirama began to cross through the forest to get to Konoha.
Entering was not difficult. He knew hidden entrances that not even Hiruzen himself was aware of. Secret passageways who's very existence was supposed to have been lost with his death.
He walked around for a while, just allowing himself to look at the passerby's that were nothing like those he had last seen roaming these streets. Although he could swear that he knew who belonged to an older family of Konoha and who had entered after his death... He could see familial resemblance almost everywhere he looked.
He had been distracted because of his busy thoughts. He was so caught up within his own mind that he had not been paying complete attention to the street directly in front of him. And it was because of this that he had bumped into a small body that had shouted at him in a young squeak to watch where he was going.
When he glanced down to growl at the disrespectful child that he walked where he damn well-pleased, the surge of anger that had welled up within him died.
This girl... she looked just like her.
The hair was longer. The color was a bit lighter. The fangs on her cheek were smaller. And her skin was a bit paler. But there was no denying that this young girl was the spitting image of the six year old he had met so long ago.
Unbidden, tears welled up in his eyes. His breath caught in his chest. His heart squeezed, leaving him frozen for just a moment.
Then that moment was gone- vanished in the blink of an eye.
The girl looked up at him with her eyes scrunched up in analysis; her lips were pursed in seeming confusion.
"Hey, you alright, mister?" her voice had lost the angered edge and had instead adopted a worried tone.
This was not the girl he had once known. She was her spitting image, yes; but she wasn't the girl he had known.
He frowned and nodded stiffly. "I am sorry for having bumped into you."
He hurried off. He needed to leave. He didn't know why he had come to Konoha in the first place; but he had been foolish to believe this had been a good idea. It had been the biggest mistake he had ever committed in his life.
Everyone he had ever cared about died or abandoned him. It was good the woman had completely left him behind. It was good she had been able to give birth to a child; begin the family her Clan had been desperate for her to have. It was good he wasn't a part of his life anymore. All he brought upon people was pain and destruction. She was one of the lucky ones to have escaped his radius of misfortune.
"Hey! You don't smell!"
Once again, he froze in his tracks. The blood within his veins became ice upon hearing a name that had once meant too much to him.
He was supposed to have been stronger than this.
But he wasn't.
He wanted to finally be able to die.
The young girl with the long hair was in front of him once more. But this time, she was attempting to pull back the child that had told him he didn't smell... a child that was the spitting image of the young girl he had once known.
Kiba. The twin with the short hair and the more serious personality of the two. The boy that had always wanted to bring him fish for treats because it was the one thing that brightened his mood. The boy that always apologized whenever either of his siblings accidentally broke some item within his home. The boy that had always been more emotional than either of his siblings.
This child now had the same name.
"Why don't you smell, mister?"
"You don't ask stuff like that, runt."
It was like seeing the girl interacting with Kiba himself when they had been younger- but the roles had been reversed.
For once throwing caution to the wind, Tobirama used his full speed to escape the situation. To them, he had vanished within a second. In truth, he had just run off like a coward.
The insult that had set him off all those years ago had been being called a coward.
He was a coward.
Tears stung at his eyes. But Tobirama refused to pay attention to them as his tired eyes looked over the browning pictures inside of the picture album.
He should have burned this damn thing years ago- when she had stormed out of his life. But he had been too weak to let it go. And now, he was torturing himself with its contents once more.
That little girl... That damned little girl...
"Hey, Hermit, dry those eyes. Inuzuka don't cry. And you're just about an Inuzuka at this point."
His eyes widened in a clear show of surprise he wasn't able to stop himself.
He hadn't felt her come... but he had never been able to feel her before. Even after years of being alone, it seemed that this one fact had not changed.
"Wow, everything's still the same." Her voice was gruff- hoarser than it had been when she had left his life for good. She sounded older.
When Tobirama lifted his eyes from the picture album he had been looking over... he was treated with a sight that destroyed any self-control he may have had- the tears in his eyes began to fall even as he cursed their very existence.
Her hair was short again. It was wild an unkempt once more, though. Her clothes were dark and covered up her body. And she wore the standard Konoha flak jacket over the dark garments. To her right, there was a large dog that looked so much like the Kuro he had once known... But this was a different dog. It had an eyepatch over its right eye. It was missing its left ear.
The two children he had stumbled into just yesterday were hiding behind her legs, staring wide eyed over at him.
The woman had her arms crossed; her lips were set in a proud smirk; but her eyes were clouded.
"Well, Hermit, after having to interrogate them, my children let me know about your existence." just like she had so many years before, the woman walked deeper into his home as if she belonged... and fat tears streamed down his cheeks as she made her way towards him.
Time changed everything. Everything changed and died except for him.
He closed his eyes.
He wanted to die.
There were hands on his cheeks, wiping away the tears. But he did not open eyes; he could not face the world that had changed while it had left him behind.
"Hana's her name. She's smart, like Kiba once was. And the boy's Kiba- he's more like Katsu, though. If I have another boy, I'll name him after that idiot." beside him, the hands on the picture album tightened. This woman sounded so calm. She was a mother now. Seven years had flown past him- left him behind; taken her with them. "I'm sorry, Hermit."
Any semblance of self-control he may have been able to hold onto disappeared. He lunged forward and threw his arms around the woman, holding onto her with the desperation of the desperate man he was.
Not it was he who cried into the crook of her neck as she held onto him. It was the woman that offered him the strength he could not find within himself. It was her who offered him what little physical comfort she could.
Unlike him, she talked the whole time they hugged.
"I was so angry that you wouldn't go to the wedding that I refused to even acknowledge your existence. I hated you for refusing to be there for me on the most important days of my life... I wished you would die... I was scared you had." her grip on him became so tight that all the breath within his lungs was squeezed out. "I never came back because I was too scared of knowing my stupid, selfish, impulsive wish had gotten you killed."
Tobirama didn't want to meet the children. He didn't think his heart could handle meeting any more of the woman's family. But he didn't pull away from her embrace. If anything, he tightened his own hold on her.
No person should ever be subjected to this kind of torture. No one should ever have to face the pain that was outliving all the people they loved.
His family was gone. The friends he had once known were dead. And these Inuzuka would one day be gone as well.
It would hurt to have them in his life. But it would hurt to push them away.
His existence was hell.
"This is the Hermit your dad once told you about. He's my oldest friend."
The tears died in his eyes and he was able to get a better handle of his emotions. Because of this, he forced himself to release the woman and look up at the curious children that she had brought along.
They were the spitting image of the woman. There was no denying these were her children. But they were, seemingly, more reserved than she had ever been. They were staring at him with awe- they were not exploring his house like the young girl had done so many years ago.
"How come you've never talked about him, mom?" the girl- Hana- asked as she tiptoed over to him.
He was kneeling on the ground. The woman had moved so she was sitting cross-legged in front of her. And Hana hugged her mother's side, blinking still at Tobirama.
Admittedly, he was not surprised by the awe. With his white hair and bright red eyes, he had always been considered an oddity be most that had met him. Being stared at by children was nothing new.
"Because there's a lot of history between us." the woman breathed out, a sour smile coming onto her lips.
The boy, though, walked up to him and poked at his throat. The woman barked out a sudden laugh, all the while her child frowned at him.
"You still ain't got no smell. I don't like that. How'm I s'pposed ta hunt you down for free food?"
Tobirama was absolutely taken aback by the question.
Then he looked at the girl in her mother's arms... and he asked, "Are you amazed by me because you cannot smell me?"
"Yeah. Why else?"
Never before had anyone stared at him for anything other than his looks...
As soon as he had thought such a thing, he told himself he was an idiot. Someone else had been surprised by him because of his lack of smell, rather than his unique appearance. Their mother.
He should not have been surprised.
"What's your name? Hermit's not a name." the boy crossed his arms over his chest and puffed up in seeming indignation at the idea of him not having an actual name.
Tobirama was left struck by the question.
That was a dangerous question. It had a dangerous answer.
He couldn't answer that.
Tobirama Senju was dead and had been for decades now.
"Hermit is his name, brat." the woman growled at her child, "It's his name because I gave it to him!"
Both children gasped, apparently surprised at the idea of their mother having named him. And Tobirama was offered a glimpse into child-like innocence he had not been around in so long that... well... his frigid heart warmed up once again.
His existence was pain.
But this Inuzuka had brought life back into his undead existence.
Thinking about her leaving again was excruciating.
He was an idiot.
"Would..." he cleared his throat, then breathed in to try and calm himself down.
This was a mistake.
But he needed this.
"Would you like some tea?"
"Don't got any meat?" the girl questioned, only for her brother to follow by saying, "You'd be my favorite if you have meat for us."
Tobirama blinked at them both. Neither of them was their mother. But they were incredibly- achingly- similar.
The woman chuckled at her kids, then smiled directly at him. "Ignore 'em. We've got meat back home. Just make some of that rancid tea you love so I can catch you up on my life. We'll be here a few hours."
This was a mistake.
Tobirama stood up and padded into his kitchen to begin brewing the tea she had asked for.
This was a mistake... but he needed this mistake.
He'd tried being alone for so long that he knew he couldn't continue. Not like this.