4: Beginning of Twilight
Another year went by for Muramasa, though he was spending more time at home and for good reason. Whenever he went off to do a job, he always found that he was busting his ass more which was obviously because of Iga being back at home with Youko. Nowadays Muramasa seemed like more of a busybody then he had been since he met the redheaded man. He didn't quite know what to think of it, except now his sharpness with fighting had been coming back, if only because he was pulling all the weight of his job.
Right now he had just finished one job. It wasn't exactly anything of consequence and he'd be damned if it made him sweat, but was more interesting was the ride home.
"Thanks sir, come again."
"No problem, old-timer."
Muramasa had been getting a bit more social with the townspeople as of late. After his little escapade in the bar he'd been getting a lot more noticeable in the bar for being the guy who had the spine to tell Iga what to do. Plus he had to go into town more often to get groceries ever since Youko had gotten pregnant.
Putting a bag of rice over the back of his horse, Muramasa got onto the stirrups and tipped his hat to the store owner (and inadvertently to a young woman who looked like she had stars for eyes) before tugging the reins and being on his way. Curiously, Muramasa actually headed down the southern road, which was not in the direction of his home.
Muramasa kept riding down the dirt path, the town having long since become a mere blob in the distance. Coming to a crossroads, Muramasa stopped.
"Alright, I guess that's enough." he turned his head "Oi, are you two gonna get'cher asses out here or do I gotta drag the both o' ya out?"
Muramasa was no fool and trying to trail him wasn't easy. Hearing a faint sigh, the silver-haired man saw two green-clad figures jump from the shadows and into the middle of the road. He sized them up, taking their most noticeable as a bandage across one's face while the other had his hair covering one eye. Muramasa knew they were both Leaf nin judging by their headbands. Great, the village he liked the least of all.
"Tch, great, forest boys." he mumbled as he dismounted his horse.
"A pleasure to meet you, Hodaishi-san, I am Hagane Kotetsu and this is my partner Kamizuki Izumo." The one with the bandage was kneeling and speaking in a respectful manner that made Muramasa roll his eyes.
"Yeah, yeah, ya mind cuttin' to the chase and tellin' me why exactly you bastards were stalking me?"
"Sorry, but we didn't really know how to approach someone who's known amongst shinobi as a sort of natural disaster."
"Pfft, next time just approach me face ta face."
Kotetsu frowned at the man's way of speech. He was well aware of Muramasa's dislike of shinobi, so it didn't come as a surprise that he was growing increasingly irritated with Kotetsu and Izumo. Kotetsu brought himself to his full height, though that obviously paled in comparison to Muramasa.
"Our Hokage has brought you a job offer."
"Oh?" Muramasa's brow rose "Been awhile since I heard words like that. I thought you bastards were gonna try an' gut me in my sleep er somethin'."
"Trust us, we wouldn't throw away our lives that willingly."
"Alright then, so whaddya want?" even Muramasa, gruff and surly as he was, wouldn't so quickly turn away a potential employer.
Kotetsu took out a folder from inside his vest and handed it to Muramasa.
"Well, I suppose you would want to discuss it with your partner first."
"Well, we are hiring the both of you so I would believe you would want to talk to him about it."
To Kotetsu's surprise, the folder had just been slung back at him and Muramasa was getting back on his horse. The tall man adjusted his hat and looked at the ninja.
"Sorry, buddy, but either ya make make due with one of us or get someone else."
"What the hell do you mean? I thought you and Akazume were a pair."
"Look, we happen to be workin' solo right now, alright?"
"Listen here you dog!" Kotetsu's friend Izumo seemed to have snapped "This was an offer from the Hokage herself. Don't you dare cast it aside so friggin' quickly!"
The word "dog" never sat well with Muramasa. Izumo was quickly regretting his outburst as Muramasa gave him a glare that would send demons running back to Hell
"Dog? Did I just hear you call me a fuckin' dog?" eyes like a pair of silver daggers glared at Izumo, boring right into him.
"Y-yeah, so what?"
"Buddy, you best be glad I wasn't in too shitty of a mood today, otherwise I'd be havin' yer guts plastered on the roadside now."
"Please, we're well aware of your reputation so neither of us wants to get into a fight." Kotetsu stepped between the two.
Muramasa just spat at the thought of the ninja and snapped the reins in his hands, making his horse do an about-face. The horse strode by the two of them with Muramasa not even giving them the slightest of glances. He did, however, say to them over his shoulder:
"If your precious Hokage wants us so damn badly, tell her to get 'er ass over here herself. I don't like dealin' with grunts."
The silver-clad man kept riding on his horse, obviously telling the two ninjas that they'd better do as he said. Izumo was breathing heavily, not being used to the level of glare that Muramasa had shown him.
"Jeez, why did you have to snap like that?" Kotetsu scratched his head nervously.
"Sorry, but I can't stand the thought of having to hire some merc. Did Hokage-sama really think it'd be that necessary? I mean, there are other mercs on the same level of fame as Akazume and Hodaishi."
"I dunno what Hokage-sama is thinking. But whatever the case, we need to tell her what happened."
Muramasa was in a foul mood after dealing with those two. It got him so pissed off he was sucking down bowls of tobacco like water. He did not like dealing with the ninja villages, especially Konohagakure. Last thing he needed was to have a bunch of people he know didn't like him be his bosses.
Coming to the forest, Muramasa sucked whatever was left in his pipe in one long pull. A literal cloud of smoke poured from his mouth and practically covered his head. He would have enjoyed himself more, but he couldn't exactly smoke in the house anymore.
Iga was outside the house with his jacket off, so all that was covering his torso was his black tank top. Rarely for him, he was actually practicing for once. Guess being around the house all day made one bored quickly.
"Been awhile since I saw ya do that." Muramasa gave a curt snap of his wrist.
"Well, it's either do this or play my shamisen and I can't exactly play a shamisen when a string is broken."
Muramasa dismounted from his horse and tossed the bag of rice to Iga who caught it with no trouble. Judging by his cut figure, Iga was no weakling.
"So, Youko been okay?"
"Yeah, she's fine." Iga through the bag onto his shoulder "I swear though, your son's gotta pair o' lungs on him. I think I can actually hear him across the forest."
"Is that so?"
Iga sort of jolted at hearing Youko's voice. The black-haired woman was in her usual kimono, leaning against one of the supports to the house. In her arms was a bundle that she cradled delicately to her breast. Iga merely dismissed himself as Youko turned to Muramasa.
"I trust Ame's been well?"
"Too well if you ask me. He's obviously gotten your endless energy."
Ame, it was short for Amenonuhoko. That was the name of their son. Youko sat on the walkway with Muramasa joining her. The small infant was a pudgy thing, his cheeks plump and red. His silver eyes and the vibrant tuft of platinum hair obviously meant he took after his father. Youko watched the boy contently nursing from her.
"Fella's got an appetite, don't he?"
"Quite, though it seems he's more energetic than most, perhaps a bit too much. He obviously doesn't take after me a lot."
"Guess sleepin' all day doesn't suit 'im, unlike you."
Youko frowned at Muramasa's remark. She merely gave him a flick of her finger to his ear, though he hardly noticed it. Ame was still feeding, oblivious to his parents' light arguing.
Muramasa looked at the small boy who had just finished. He never quite expected he'd be doing something like this. Then again, back in those days he never expected he'd meet someone like Youko. To say the least, the last year had been…different.
Muramasa still remembered when he arrived after Ame was born back in winter. Apparently Iga had been a nervous wreck the entire time and said if he never had to be within ten miles of another birthing he'd die a happy man. Youko had said he refused to even be in the same room as Ame, going on about how the first man a child should see has to be their father. Muramasa, of course, had laughed his ass off when Youko told him that.
Youko wiped Ame's mouth with a cloth, the infant full now. Youko nuzzled her nose against his, grinning with maternal content.
"Well, now that's a picture for the album."
Muramasa glanced at Iga who was smirking in his usual manner. Muramasa leaned back.
"We got some stuff that seems a bit big." he stated bluntly.
"Great, bet this'll be a bed of roses."
Almost two weeks had passed since the two Leaf-nin had failed to make a proper contract with Muramasa. Though disgruntled, they reported back to the Hokage. She was displeased, though not very surprised. Kotetsu and Izumo had attempted to convince her that the services of a mercenary were not needed, especially ones as infamous as Hodaishi Muramasa and Akazume Iga. All that the Hokage had to say was that they, as the seekers, had no rights to demand anything of the people they were seeking to employ. She just put on her traveling clothes and dreaded the amount of paperwork that was going to be piled up on her desk when she came back.
The trek to the village hadn't been a bad one, though Tsunade was wishing she had a carriage as the blisters on her feet were going to be murder on her. Adjusting the bamboo hat on her head, she scanned the street looking for any sign of a man with silver or red hair. To her disappointment, nothing that ostentatious stood out.
"Dammit, I've been living too comfortably for the past few years."
"I know, my feet are killing me."
Tsunade looked to the black-haired woman next to her. Shizune was all she needed as a companion. Kotetsu and Izumo were back in the village since she knew those two wouldn't help things with the two mercs she was hoping to employ. She sighed; maybe she shouldn't have taken that brat Kakashi's advice about hiring those two mercs.
"I need some sake."
"It's the middle of the afternoon."
"Shizune, I've been walking for days. I NEED SAKE."
Shizune knew it was best not to get in between Tsunade and drinking. The heavy-bosomed woman practically smelled a bar, seeing one not ten meters from where she was standing. Like the wind she dashed through the doors.
However, she wasn't expecting her target to be so close. Tsunade's jaw dropped. In the back of the bar, surrounded by four women, was a redheaded rogue who was having some sort of small party at his seat. She knew from the description that it was Akazume Iga. Red hair, eye patch, cocky grin, there was no mistaking him for anyone else. However, she suddenly had second thoughts, seeing as the wild merc was drinking like a fish.
Analogous to a bandage being ripped off, Tsunade approached the man and his cadre. Iga, being a womanizer, instantly knew when someone feminine was approaching. He greeted her with a grin, obviously flaunting his well-kept teeth.
"Well, well, not everyday a specimen such as you rolls in."
"I take it you're Akazume Iga."
"Yes I am, my dear lady." He offered one of the bottles on the table "Care to join us?"
"Hardly, I'm here because a certain friend of yours demanded I come in person if I wished to hire you."
Iga smirked again, setting the bottle back down on the table and standing up. He reached into his coat pocket.
"Sorry, ladies, but looks like business calls." He threw a wad of bills on the table before waving in an almost apologetic manner.
Needless to say, his women blew him kisses as he walked out the door with Tsunade, his eye roaming her figure from top to bottom.
"Well, I thought that the Hokage was some old hag. Didn't expect a specimen as…voluptuous as yourself."
"Your info wasn't wrong. I'm actually old enough to be your mother."
"Damn." Iga's eyebrows rose high "If I look half as good as you when I'm you're age, I'll be one happy bastard."
Tsunade grinned at Iga. He was rough around the edges, but he definitely had his own sort of charm. Shizune tilted her head at the merc, not quite sure what to make of him.
"I imagined…you'd be taller."
"Trust me, you'll get enough of that when ya see Mura. But, let's not talk about me and instead you."
Iga, of course, was practically in Shizune's face. He was so close she could tell how many hairs made up his eyebrows.
"Mind tellin' me just when you came down from heaven?"
Tsunade tapped her foot at Iga's antics, making him cease. Despite that, Iga gave Shizune a look that said "we'll continue this later". Turning on his heel, he faced Tsunade.
"Well, do you mind telling me where your partner is?"
"Back at the house I'm afraid, which reminds me…" Iga dug into his back pocket and took out a black colored cloth "You're gonna have to wear this."
"Mura isn't exactly the most trusting sorta guy. He says I have to escort you blindfolded if we're gonna have a meeting."
"That's absurd!" Iga looked over his shoulder at Shizune who was bit pissed "That guy demands that Tsunade do something so injuring?!"
"Hey, it's his business. Besides, last time I checked it was YOU that was asking US, not the other way around."
Tsunade sighed, taking the blindfold and tying it around her head.
"Look, Shizune, the fact of the matter is I need both of these guys. Last thing we need is another incident as bad as last time. Just wait at the inn until I come back."
Shizune, despite fuming madly gave in to her friend's request. Iga politely took Tsunade's hand, leading her to his horse.
Muramasa sat on the walkway of his house. Youko was inside, giving Ame a bath. Taking his pipe between his fingers, Muramasa shot a line of smoke from his lips. He had been in a week-long foul mood since he had those two ninja idiots come along expecting him to be jovial. If there was one thing that annoyed him (though he in fact had a long list of things that annoyed him) it was dealing with grunts. If the damn Kage thought it was so damn important then they'd best come down in person. Although, considering his reputation, Muramasa wasn't expecting much.
"I don't have the sort of time for this b.s." he took another pull from his pipe.
"Acting the old man, eh, Mura?"
Muramasa glanced at Iga, expecting him to be back alone and smelling of sake like he had been the past few days. However, Muramasa immediately took note of the blindfolded blond woman riding with him on his horse. Taking another pull from his pipe, Muramasa sighed when he breathed outward.
"Tch, I thought I toldja not ta be bringin' any broads here."
"C'mon, I brought her here because ya told me to."
"…Oh, just friggin' great."
Honestly Muramasa hadn't been expecting the Hokage to come. Most of the time if grunts came, that was all he got. Guess the villages actually got someone worth something for a change.
Iga helped Tsunade down and even undid her blindfold. Blinking her eyes, her attention went to Muramasa who was practically glaring at her. Tsunade tilted her head, sizing up the mercenary.
"What?" Muramasa's brow rose.
"You're…taller than I expected." Indeed, he towered over Tsunade by a foot. She actually had to strain her neck a bit to look him in the eye.
Muramasa sat on the walkway, his long legs stretching outward as Tsunade sat in proper fashion in front of him. She bowed her head.
"I am Tsunade, Fifth Hokage of Konohagakure; a pleasure to meet you, Muramasa-san."
"…I don't recall tellin' you to call me by my given name, but whatever. Plus I find it hard to believe that a ninja is pleased ta meet a guy like me."
Tsunade frowned at Muramasa; there shouldn't have been any way that someone as pretty as him would be this gruff.
"Well, Muramasa," Tsunade continued "I find it hard to believe a mercenary would refuse a job."
"Ya asked fer both for us, and at this point that ain't happenin'."
"That's another thing; I thought you and your red-haired friend here were supposed to be partners. Since when have you two worked separately?"
"Well, isn't this a lovely afternoon?"
Tsunade didn't quite get what she had heard for a moment. She had to look in the direction of the new voice to see an elegant, black-haired woman standing in an open door, a bundle in her arms. Tsunade blinked three times, not quite sure what to make of this woman.
Muramasa just looked dully and gestured to the now-sitting woman at his side. "My wife, Youko. And that's our son, Ame."
Tsunade blinked again, this time shaking her head as well. Muramasa smirked at her reaction, amused.
"What, sellswords can't have families?" His smirk was almost mocking her "Is that honestly what you thought of me?"
"This is why you refused that offer?" Tsunade was over her shock now "You had a wife this entire time and no one knew about it?"
"Well I'm not exactly out of the house much." Youko pulled a strand of hair away from Ame who was attempting to grab it "I suppose you thought Muramasa here was just another heartless, gold-digging excuse for a man."
Tsunade wasn't quite able to grasp it. She looked to Iga, who had surprisingly been silent the entire time.
"What about you?"
"…Don't think we're so different from ninjas. It's not like I'm doing this for money or anything."
So, it seemed Muramasa wasn't what Tsunade expected. She ruffled her hair, seeing that convincing these two wasn't going to be easy. She stared into Muramasa's silver orbs.
"Well, I must say I never did think you'd have a family, but don't think I'm letting you go."
"Tch, persistent, ain'tcha? Just what exactly is so important that you hafta hire a coupla mercs instead o' havin' yer own guys handle it?"
"…Is it true that both you and Iga here can make a ninja completely helpless? I heard that jutsu can't touch either of you."
Iga and Muramasa looked at each other, conveying thoughts that needn't require words. Muramasa's eyes darted to Tsunade.
"Well, not too bad, but yeah, what you heard was true. I ain't exactly keen on sayin' what we do though."
"That's fine, I was just hoping the rumors were real."
"Sounds like you guys've got a problem-child or somethin'."
Digging into the inner pocket of her jacket, Tsunade drew out a picture. She handed it to Muramasa. On the photograph was a teenaged girl with extremely unique features. Her hair was a strange emerald shade with white streaks in it. However, her eyes are what stood out the most, those golden, reptilian eyes. Muramasa's eyebrow rose.
"The heck…is this babysittin'?"
"Yes, you and Iga are in fact going to be this girl's teammates. Her name is Hokuto, Tatsumaki Hokuto."
Muramasa froze and his neck slowly craned up until he met Tsunade's eyes. Iga also looked surprised and even Youko had expression on her face that conveyed some level of interest. Muramasa finally responded:
"Woman, what did you just say?"