hid tactically avoided the outside world for as long as he could until the sun was beating down on him and forcing him from sleep. He’d forgotten about his wound until he woke up at some point during the previous day feeling dizzy, then realized he was still bleeding and ripped one of his shirts to scraps to use as bandages. Hashirama would probably yell at him if he knew he hadn’t sanitized anything or even properly bandage it. He left the mantle with a hole in the arm in the bottom of the wardrobe. While he could sew well, he didn’t see a point in mending it.
When he emerged outside, the sun was high in the sky, telling him it was probably near noon. “Madara-sama,” Hikaku greeted him, appearing almost out of nowhere. A diligent man, he was. “I apologize for bothering you yesterday afternoon. I hope you’re feeling better today?”
Madara hummed noncommittally and stared at where two Uchiha were erecting rod iron gates at the entrance to the compound. It was set at the base of the mountain, on the opposite side as the Senju settlement, equal distances away from each other and from the bulk of the village, which was only a short walk away. In just a few decades’ time he knew they would be exiled to the perimeter under the guise of watching their criminals.
“We’re almost finished with construction,” Hikaku continued, unfazed by his silence. “We only need a few men to continue. The others want to know what you’d like them to do.”
“What else is there to do? Go help build something else,” Madara said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Why did they need him to direct them as if they were children? Could they not look around and find a task to do?
Hikaku’s brow furrowed, but he didn’t look as if he were upset. “Very well. I’ll tell them to assist in other parts of the village.” Madara nodded, only half listening, and he raised an eyebrow. “Are you feeling all right, Madara-sama?”
Madara replied with an equally vague hum. “Hn.”
“I’ll…relay the order,” Hikaku said, still giving him a sideways look but thinking it better to let it go. “Would you still like me to approve measures in your stead, sir?”
“There’s no reason for you not to,” Madara replied, a small amount of irritation in his tone. Hikaku wasn’t really the one he was annoyed with, but he doubted the man was going to take it personally.
“Very well. Perhaps… you should take the day off, sir?” Though Madara was still staring elsewhere, his eyes narrowed. “There’s not much to handle here.”
“Perhaps I will,” Madara intoned, and set off for the gate without a further goodbye.
Hikaku stood there staring at him with the clipboard tucked against his side. His mouth turned down into a frown as he watched his leader leave. Something’s off with him, he thought, wondering if something had happened between him and Hashirama. Madara wasn’t the most expressive person, but he was usually in a better mood than this. Seeing as he had no other family left, something that had driven a wedge between him and the Senju leader seemed the only viable option for his sudden change in behavior.
With a sigh, he went to go direct the rest of their building. If there was something that was causing Madara to be absent, he would have to fill the void and make sure no unrest arose in the clan.
It occurred to Madara that not only did he not know what he was supposed to do (with Hashirama, with the village, life in general), he didn’t have much to do with his day anyway. The Senju would probably see that he wasn’t with the others helping in the village and think he thought he was too good for labor, he thought with a scoff.
But he couldn’t fathom spending that much time around anyone in this village, so he retreated to the forests around it where he knew the training grounds would someday be.
Animal life fled from the wall of fire that blew through the trees and left everything in its wake charred to a crisp. He swung the fan he’d grabbed out of habit before leaving his residence and unleashed a blast large enough to smother the fire and take most of what it burned with it, leaving a large clearing with stumps around the edges and only partially charred grass since he’d aimed high. He kneaded chakra and swung again, leveling three trees that had stubbornly hung on, and stood there staring before leaning the fan and sickle against a tree and sitting down on one of the stumps.
He was more at peace out here alone in the woods than even with his own clan. There was no one to bother him here, to expect him to lead them through the village’s infancy, when he didn’t even deserve that privilege. He leaned his head in his hands and rubbed his temples, trying to dispel the slight headache that was already forming.
Because he’d stopped kneading chakra, he didn’t notice Hashirama’s growing closer until he heard something land in one of the trees across the clearing. “Madara?” The man himself called out, making Madara’s eye twitch. Was he determined to just not let Madara have any time to himself? “I thought I saw flames over here.”
Madara had lifted his head as soon as he knew Hashirama was there, but he still knew the man had seen him sitting there. “What are you doing here?”
Hashirama made his way across the grass and stood beside him with his hands on his hips. “I was scouting for places to turn into training areas,” he said, and of course Madara had that bad of luck. “This is a great one! How about we have a spar?”
That should have sent alarm bells off in his head, but knowing it would look weird if he refused- he’d always been up for testing himself against Hashirama- he just nodded mutely and got up to retrieve his gunbai. Hashirama pressed his hands together in a familiar seal and sent him a grin; he mustered up a lackluster smirk in response and got ready.
The pushed off and clashed together in midair without needing to say start. This, at least, felt familiar to him as he pushed away to dodge the roots now sprouting from the ground. Fighting was easy; a pattern he could fall into without even thinking about it.
Hashirama had summoned one of the larger swords from his summoning scroll and now pushed against his gunbai with it, grinning into Madara’s eyes without fear. He wondered if he had enjoyed their final battle like Madara had.
The arm that held the handle to his fan weakened suddenly with a pulse of pain. He swore inwardly when he remembered the wound he’d dealt with half-heartedly; with the sudden loss of part of the force he was using to keep Hashirama’s sword at bay, his fan was pushed to the side and the blade angled towards his throat. Hashirama quickly aborted its path and stopped, centimeters from slicing Madara’s throat open.
There was a disconcerting lack of concern in his mind through the whole thing.
“Madara? Are you all right?” Hashirama asked, clearly having no intent of continuing. Madara restrained a sigh.
“Don’t concern yourself with it, Hashirama.” Even still, the man frowned at him as he laid a hand over his stab wound. He realized with a start that it had bled through his clean mantle.
“Your wound reopened,” Hashirama said, stepping closer and clasping Madara’s wrist to pull his sleeve up. He tried not to jerk in response. This Hashirama had no reason to believe he would have a problem with this. He took one look at the sloppily-bandaged wound and groaned. “Madara! You told me you were going to bandage it!”
“I did,” Madara argued, feeling oddly chagrined.
“This,” Hashirama said with a stern look, pointing at the injury, “isn’t properly dealing with a wound and you know that.” He untied the cloth around his bicep and laid a glowing green hand over it. Madara tried not to cringe at the feeling of warmth the chakra exuded and the comforting feeling it gave off. He avoided looking at Hashirama by instead watching as his wound closed. “You should have just let me heal it yesterday.”
“Yes, well,” Madara muttered, moving away as soon as it was healed. “Thank you. I have business to attend to.”
Hashirama’s hand tightened on his elbow before he could go anywhere. He paused and looked back, trying not to cringe on the guilty frown Hashirama had on. “Madara, did I do something? You seem as if you’re avoiding me.”
“I’m not,” Madara lied; he was doing just that. Being around Hashirama just gave him stress. The more time they spent together, the more likely he was to guess that something was wrong and grow suspicious. A small voice in the back of his head mocked him at wanting to receive Hashirama’s friendship after he’d rejected it in the first place. “I’m just…distracted. It’s nothing you need to worry about.”
Hashirama’s frown deepened. Madara could tell he didn’t buy it, but at least he wasn’t going to push. He released his arm and nodded. “All right. I know that we’re all very busy. Will you be there to welcome the Shimura Clan when they get here? You should be at my side when they arrive.”
Madara wracked his brain for when that was supposed to happen, but the event had been decades ago to him. “When do they arrive?”
Hashirama gave him a look that told him he should have known when. “In three days in the morning.”
“All right. I’ll be there.”
Madara leapt away into the trees and didn’t look back. He knew if he did, he would just find Hashirama staring after him with concern and unease.
“Tobirama, I mean it. I think something must be wrong.”
Hashirama was worried. He’d not seen Madara act like this before, not even after the death of Izuna. Of course Madara had been upset- enough so to lead a final charge against the Senju he knew wouldn’t work- but he’d still had a fire to live in his eyes. Just days ago he’d laughed at Hashirama’s sad mug and stood with him on the mountain, looking down at the fruit of their efforts with pride.
It was as if he’d lost another brother but he didn’t have any brothers to lose. He was quiet, distant, and tense when Hashirama got too close; he avoided talking to him or looking at him and went off to do who knew what. Maybe he was telling the truth and he was just distracted, in need of some rest, but Hashirama’s gut was telling him it went deeper than that. He hadn’t even reacted when Hashirama had almost cut his neck open if not for his quick reflexes- he knew Madara was adept at hiding his reactions, but he had looked as if he truly didn’t care.
Tobirama sighed. He set down his quill, abandoning the paperwork he’d been working on before Hashirama wandered in and started complaining. “It’s Madara,” he reasoned. “He’s never been a social butterfly. Are you sure you aren’t making a mountain of a molehill?”
“I’m not!” Hashirama insisted, planting his hands on his brother’s desk. “He’s acting off-different. Like something happened he’s not telling me about.”
Tobirama’s eyes narrowed. “Something like what?”
“I know what you’re thinking, Tobirama,” Hashirama said with mild irritation, stepping back so he could pace. “He’s not going to betray the village in its infancy after working so hard to make peace in the first place.”
“If this change of behavior is that drastic, you need to consider all possibilities.”
“He doesn’t seem angry or anything like that,” Hashirama retorted. “He seems…” He trailed off and Tobirama raised his eyebrows as he waited for him to go on. “I’m not sure. Despondent. Lonely. I haven’t even seen him smile since the other day. Look, I know you don’t like him, but he’s my friend and I’m just…worried.”
Tobirama sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “All right, brother,” he relented. “When exactly did this behavior start?”
“Like I said, yesterday. I’d seen him two days before that and he seemed normal.”
“What about in between that?”
“Well, I didn’t see him the day after because we had that meeting with the Nara to attend to, remember? But yesterday, I found him on the mountaintop just staring into space. He was injured, too, but he wouldn’t let me heal it.”
“What type of injury?”
“He’d been stabbed in the arm by what looked like a kunai. He wasn’t hurt anywhere else, and he said it was an accident, but…”
“You didn’t believe him.”
“Not really, no, though I can’t fathom why he’d hide it if he were attacked. He even said he wasn’t feeling well. He just seemed to want to get away from me.” A deep frown crossed his face. Tobirama could see he was upset by this; while he cared little what Madara did unless it impacted the village, if Hashirama was this concerned, he supposed he needed to offer what assistance he could in getting to the bottom of it. He may not care much for Madara, but Hashirama was his brother.
“I saw him just earlier in the forest,” Hashirama continued. “He seemed to have cleared out a space for training, but he was just…sitting there, with his head in his hands.” Tobirama frowned. That did sound out of character for the man. “He tried to act normal, but I could still tell something was off. We had a spar, but it was like he wasn’t giving it his all. Madara always does when we fight. And then-” He paused, and Tobirama could read him easily enough to know he didn’t know whether what he was about to say was relevant or just him overreacting.
“Well, his injury acted up, and I almost hit him,” Hashirama went on, looking bothered. “I could have sliced his throat open, or really, with the size of sword I had in my hand, cut his head off, and I about came near doing so. And he just looked…completely unfazed. Madara’s always been good at hiding his emotions and reactions, but still, I’ve surprised him before.” Truthfully, he’d made it a game with himself at how often he could surprise Madara in their spars and see the telltale widening of his eyes or a startled flinch. “It was as if he just didn’t care.”
That was alarming. If Hashirama had noticed it, Tobirama wasn’t going to discard the concern- his brother was much more observant than some gave him credit for, especially concerning those he cared about, and shinobi who lost concern for injuries or even death to themselves became dangerous. To themselves, and everyone around them.
“And I healed it this time, but he left as fast as he could. I asked him if he was avoiding me, but he just said he’s been distracted,” Hashirama finished in a mumble. He was staring at the floor, now, looking truly unhappy for the first time since the village had been founded.
Tobirama sighed. Madara was troublesome no matter what he was doing, it seemed. Even if he was technically doing nothing. However, despite his personal disagreements with the Uchiha over the years, he was still a valuable asset so long as he stayed loyal; he was the only person he’d ever seen truly match his elder brother. Madara’s strength was infamous- and as far as he knew, he was the only person in his clan with such an advanced Sharingan. Losing him to any of their enemies would hit the village hard. Losing him at all would hit Hashirama harder.
Furthermore, if he started acting out, some of his clan members were bound to follow or at the least grow uneasy and suspicious. Tobirama was perfectly content to work with any of the Uchiha who could put their loyalty to the clan aside for the sake of strengthening the village, but they were, overall, one of the worst clans about valuing clan loyalty above other concerns. It was something he and his brother had to emphasize to their own clan when they entered into the peace agreement; it was something they needed to emphasize to any clan looking to join them. The village came first, and he worried over what the Uchiha would do if their leader started to become unstable.
“Well, the obvious place to start is to ask the clan itself if something happened,” Tobirama said. “There’s over a day of blank space between when you saw him, nearly two days.”
Some of the tension eased from Hashirama’s face. “Yes, of course- surely if something happened they’ll know. However…I’m not sure who to ask.” Some of the Uchiha were friendly to him, while some were still wary and gave him sideways looks that were more due to unfamiliarity than straight hostility.
Tobirama resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Ask Hikaku. He works directly under Madara. If he doesn’t know, he’s most likely to know who would.”
“Oh, right!” Hashirama grinned and slapped his fist against his palm. “I know him. He takes paperwork back and forth sometimes.”
“He does much more than that, brother.”
“I know that! I-I was just being general…”
“Hashirama, no one is going to take you seriously if you keep falling into funks when people criticize you.”
“You’re so mean,” Hashirama said with a pout as he straightened up. A moment later he turned the eyes on him and Tobirama scorned himself for being weak enough to give into whatever the man was about to ask. “You’ll come with me, won’t you?”
Tobirama twitched. “You can’t perform this task on your own?”
“Well what if Madara is there and I can’t find an excuse to talk to someone who isn’t him? Or there’s more than one person to ask, I’m sure it would go faster if there were two of us-”
Tobirama interrupted him with a loud, put-upon sigh. Hashirama just stood there grinning, knowing he’d won. “Very well.” Dealing with elder brother is just as troublesome as Madara sometimes. “But if this turns out to be nothing-” Though, after hearing what Hashirama had to say, he doubted it was, but he had to hassle his brother anyway. It was obligatory. Most of the time Hashirama thought he was completely serious and didn’t even catch onto the fact Tobirama was doing it on purpose because he thought his little brother was genuinely put out. “-and you’ve made me waste my time, you owe me.”
“Of course!” Hashirama laughed. “I’ll get you dango from that shop that just set up here you like!”
Tobirama raised one judgmental eyebrow. “I think doing more paperwork would be a better punishment. You’re behind, are you not?”
The man’s grin faltered as he turned to glance at his own desk, where three large stacks waited for him. Tobirama was always chastising him for leaving it so long that he was forced to do it for him. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a work ethic, or that he shirked responsibility, but it was as if there were a curse upon him and paperwork. He was constantly getting distracted and slogged through it like it was mud and his legs were covered in jelly. “Uh…right. Why don’t we go now, then?”
“Are you saying that because you want to question the Uchiha as soon as possible, or because those stacks intimidate you?”
A bead of sweat ran down his face. “T-Tobirama…”
“You’re still too easy to read, brother.” For me, anyway. He stood up and grabbed his kunai pouch off the coat rack. “Let’s go now, then. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can return to work.”
Hashirama’s eyebrow twitched. “Can we stop for dango on the way back?”
“Only if you add the amount of time that takes to the amount of time you were planning to spend here afterwards.”