When he slapped a hand down to the ground, releasing a burst of chakra in order to form his new transportation seal, he expected two outcomes. Either he shredded himself into a bloody pulpy mess and thus do the job of the Kinkaku Squad for them because he was too hasty to properly check his seal, which was a beginner's mistake and something he hadn’t done since he was a child, or he lands miles away from the fight because his experimental seal actually worked.
As he hunched over his last desperate move, glaring down Kinkaku’s oncoming attack, he poured his chakra into the seal he formed from his own memory and chakra. For the first time in a long time, he prayed and begged for something to work and save him.
Then in a blinding flash of blue, Kinkaku was gone and the blazing fire of chakras that seared at his senses had disappeared as if they were never there.
The sheer force of chakra exhaustion slammed into him, making his joints weak and give out. Tobirama lay there blinking the growing number of black spots from his vision. Tree leaves danced and shifted above, letting hypnotizing rays of light trickle through. Around him, familiar traces of his departed older brother. He breathed deep, head spinning in a riot. He’d made it back to the Land of Fire. His brother’s trees stood sentinel over him, still watching over him.
Tobirama let his eyes close as an incredibly bright beam of light crossed his face and lingered there.
He’d rest before moving again. His village, his team needed him. Mito, his nieces and nephews, Tsuna-chan. He’d get back to them as soon as he could hold a more coherent thought.
The next time he opened his eyes, he knew he’d been asleep for a long time. His body was stiff, his mouth dry, and his chakra mildly restored from the dredges it had been before.
Tobirama calculated that it’d probably been about nine hours given his chakra levels. A stupid amount of time to remain vulnerable and asleep.
A stupid amount of time to remain unaware too.
He felt slow as he contorted his body from a prone position into a low crouch, kunai gripped in both hands. His lips twitched to hiss and bare his teeth like his summons had taught him to do so long ago.
But what he found in front of him wasn’t a threat. Not like he was expecting. A young and small blond child stood in front of him with some of the brightest blue eyes Tobirama’s ever seen. His own red eyes narrowed as he took in the way those blue orbs darted between his weapons before the boy shrunk in on himself and shuffled back a step. The boy was small actually. On dirtied and scratched cheeks, Tobirama could make out his cheekbones and jaw easily. Malnourishment. Even his clothes, baggy, worn, and dirty as they were hung off of too-thin shoulders and gaped around tiny limbs. For the sake of the Sage, the kid wasn’t even wearing shoes!
The sight of an obviously starving child made something cold and angry turn over in his stomach, but he pushed it aside for now in favor of very slowly loosening his fingers around his kunai. “Easy,” he murmured lowly, letting the weapons dangle from his pinkies. “I won’t hurt you.”
Tobirama was trying to figure out if the boy was shinobi or civilian born, and the lingering suspicious look he got made him start favoring the former. Then any murky distrust cleared up in a look of understanding the man couldn’t follow. “Oh! I snuck up on you, huh? That’s why you got your ninja weapons. My bad!” Tobirama felt his head tilt to the side as the boy laughed at himself before running a hand under his nose in the careless way children do. “Say, that’s a good ninja thing, right? Being able to sneak up on ‘nother ninja.” The boy pointed at Tobirama’s head, where the leaf symbol was carved into his happuri. At least the child was familiar with Konoha and didn’t feel threatened.
The Hokage carefully moved out of his crouch and instead sat on his heels, careful to keep himself small and still. He didn’t miss at all the way the kid maintained his distance and twitched at every large movement; especially when he moved his hands. “A vital skill,” he agreed, resting his chin on his knees. “Do you want to become a ninja?”
“Yeah!” Tobirama would admit he had to suppress a flinch at the suddenly loud voice. “I'm gonna be such a awesome ninja, just you watch! I’ll become Hokage, believe it!”
Ah. Well. The current Hokage tilted his head to briefly hide his mouth against his knees, not trusting his lips to stay still. “Hokage?” he repeated curiously, cocking an eyebrow as he got his expression under control. “You’re a bit young, aren’t you?”
“So?” The tiny blond—he’d never really seen a blond like this before. Not even little Tsuna-chan’s hair was this bright and golden—pouted and crossed his arms. “I’ll be the youngest Hokage ever, believe it! Don’t you dare laugh at me!”
His other eyebrow rose up to join the first. “I’m not laughing,” he assured the child. “If anything, I do believe you. Knowing what you want, what your goal is as early as possible so you can work as hard as you can, that’s good.”
The boy’s eyes widened to impossible size and his breath audibly caught. “You…You believe me?” he whispered and Tobirama wanted to curse whoever decided to put this child down for his dreams. Yes, he was a realist and a pragmatic—a complete and total nihilistic cynic at times as well, he would admit—but just because he couldn’t dream anymore didn’t mean others shouldn’t. Besides, he was more than willing to give up the hat at this point. If the boy wanted it and could protect and lead the village adequately enough, let him have it. Saru was going to be tired of the stupid hat soon enough, no doubt.
Tobirama hummed and bobbed his head, trying to affect the serious expression he’d used to convince the council of his ideas and plans. “Given you work and train hard, eating your vegetables and attending your studies, you can become Hokage.”
He fully expected the boy to blanch at the idea of eating vegetables and following his lessons. His nieces and nephews always did when they were younger and even Tsuna-chan had done it. Still does if Tobirama’s honest. He just pretends not to notice when the little girl flicks her veggies into his bowl.
But the boy looked as if he’d been struck. His mouth opened and closed soundlessly as a bright flush rose on his cheeks and his eyes took a distressingly shiny sheen. The man braced for imminent tears, mentally flailing to figure out what he’d said wrong, before the boy visibly steeled himself. His chin trembled worryingly, but he blinked rapidly and took a deep breath. “R-Right. Right! I’ll be the best,” the boy’s voice cracked here and his eyes squinted hard in a wide, toothy grin. Tobirama let him pretend he didn’t see the tear that slipped out of the corner of his eye. “The best Hokage! Believe it!”
“I do,” Tobirama replied quietly, sincerely. He wondered if that was the kid’s favorite phrase right now. “I’m Tobirama.” It was still a habit to never give a family name. “You? What’s the name of my future Hokage?” he asked teasingly in a rather stilted voice. He was still trying this joking thing Kagami and Torifu were on his case about. Izuna would be laughing himself sick at the mere thought.
If it was possible, the child’s smile widened even further. He sniffled and Tobirama was thankful to see that the oncoming tears had been averted. “I’m Naruto Uzumaki and I’m going to be the Fifth Hokage!”
“Uzu…Fifth? That’s a rather specific number.” Tobirama was horrified at the implications that an Uzumaki child was out in the wilderness starving. His sister-in-law was going to murder someone, he just knew it. He’d leave the pointed questions for later because he definitely wasn’t going to leave the child—Naruto—here.
“Eh? No, it’s not.” Naruto crossed his arms and visibly thought hard about something. For all his genius, Tobirama sometimes had a hard time following the logic of children. They made jumps and associations that he didn’t. “The Fourth Hokage may be dead, but he saved the village from the Fox! Everyone knows that! Jiijii may be Hokage again, but the next person will be the Fifth Hokage! One, two, three, and four! See? I can count!”
Tobirama didn’t…know where to start with that. Everyone knew that the Fourth Hokage had saved the village from the Fox. The nine-tailed fox? But that wasn’t possible. The Kyuubi was sealed inside of Mito, the seal-mistress keeping the chakra-being firmly under her watch and refusing to be a threat to the village. Tobirama knew that if there was any doubt of the seal’s integrity, Mito would’ve sought him or her home clan out for assistance. But what else could be referred to as “the Fox”? Not to mention the reference to the Fourth Hokage and alluding to this “Jiijii” being the third…
“Naruto?” The blond hummed. “Who’s the current Hokage right now?”
The boy frowned, his eyes flicking to the leaf symbol on his forehead. “You don’t know. Jiijii’s been around forever.”
“Yes, but what is his name?”
“Um. I’m not sure. Jiijii’s always been Jiijii, you know?” Naruto scratched the back of his head, grumbling to himself. “He always checks up on me. Ever since I could ‘member. Hm…Oh!” Tobirama tried to calm his racing heart and spinning thoughts as the boy perked up. “I heard other adults and stuff call him something. They always yell at me for calling him Jiijii. Say ‘m no’ s’ppos’ to,” he mumbled petulantly and Tobirama shifted, having to mentally keep a hold of his patience and composure. Naruto straightened. “They always say to call him San-dai-me-sama. Is that his name? It can’t be. Too stuffy for Jiijii…”
Tobirama swallowed dryly. “Is his name…Hiruzen Sarutobi?”
He almost wished joy hadn’t dawned on Naruto’s face. “Yeah! That’s the one! Monkey, monkey.” The boy giggled and hooted like a monkey while Tobirama silently crumbled in on himself.
That wasn’t possible. Not enough time had passed for Saru to be properly placed in office let alone enough time for a Fourth Hokage to be selected and inaugurated.
His seals. His Hiraishin. They dealt with space and time. That had been the crucial addition that Mito had suggested he try in order to perfect the jutsu. Tobirama tried to recall the exact seal he’d formed during battle. His eidetic memory failed him as it usually did in times of high stress and trauma and over stimulus. He cursed his fallible mind. Just when he needed answers. Where else could he search for answers?
“How far from here is the Hidden Leaf Village?”
“…How far? Mm. We’re already in the Hidden Leaf Village.”