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Madara wasn’t woken by knocking the next morning, but it was nonetheless irritating to find Hashirama standing at his door when he returned from where he’d been fishing down the river with three large fish strung over his shoulder.

The man turned and smiled once he saw Madara walking up the bank, though it didn’t look as happy as it would have a few weeks ago.

“Hashirama,” he muttered in greeting, knowing that flat-out ignoring the man would just result in those pitiful eyes being thrown his way. “What are you doing here?”

“Visiting you,” Hashirama explained with tempered cheer, watching Madara fumble a bit taking out his key. He eyed the bags under Madara’s eyes. “Did you sleep well?”

“I sleep fine,” Madara replied, a bit snippy, although it was a lie. He was so tired lately it seemed all he did was want to sleep, yet it never seemed to help and just made him ache if he slept too long, which in turn made him want to go back to bed. When he did sleep he didn’t dream; he was denied even such a shallow pleasant escape from reality. “What do you want?”

He opened his door- intending on maneuvering out of the conversation- but Hashirama’s hand landed on the crook of his elbow, feather light. Unthinkingly, he paused with one foot on the threshold.

“I just want to make sure you’re all right,” Hashirama told him, in the same soft tone of voice he’d used the day before.

“I’m fine,” Madara said, feeling himself become inexplicably irritated. Could Hashirama not take a hint? Then again, he’d always been stubborn- it would probably take several times to drill into his head that he didn’t need to be spending time with Madara. “You don’t need to come out here.”

Hashirama smiled. It wasn’t particularly happy, or depressed, but knowing. “Do I not?”

He said it in the tone of voice that implied Madara was lying to himself and they both knew the real answer, but he knew Madara was too far in denial to realize it and thus he was the only one in the know.

Madara’s expression shifted into a glare. It did nothing to remove the smile from the man’s face. “You really don’t. You should be doing more important things.”

When did you start thinking you aren’t important to me? Hashirama wanted to ask, but he held his tongue. It was too early to be able to get a straight answer down that route.

“Sometimes what’s important is the things you want to do,” he said instead, watching Madara’s eyes narrow as if he were annoyed. “My training ground isn’t too far from here. You’re welcome to come over anytime. Or visit me in the office.”

Madara let out a noncommittal noise and pulled away. He refused to look at the man, because he knew if he did, he would see Hashirama staring at him with that wretched, imploring look, and he wouldn’t be able to look away and he would give in.

Behind him, Hashirama sighed. It made Madara bristle, with anger at him, anger at himself, anger at his guilt.

“You don’t need to come around,” he repeated. “Goodbye, Senju.”

He shut the door in the man’s face again, ignoring the trickle of remorse that tried to wedge its way into his heart.


 

He was woken by knocking.

Madara shoved the multiple layers of blankets from his head- it wasn’t as if his house had any sort of heating- and squinted blearily at the sunlight trickling in through the window, trying to gage what time it was.

Sitting up, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and scowled when the knocking started again after a minute or two of silence. “Idiot,” he muttered to himself, looking around for his sandals but forgetting where he’d put them. With a groan, he decided that he didn’t care and got up to go get the door, tightening the sash on the plain grey yukata he’d worn to bed; he’d managed to remember to bathe in the river and change after the training he’d dragged himself to yesterday.

He opened the door and was greeted with Hashirama’s smiling face. “Good morning, Madara,” he said, cheerful, even though it looked to be nearly noon out.

His eyes raked Madara up and down and made him feel as if he were being examined under a microscope. He knew the Senju noticed his tousled hair and wan appearance and general state of disarray.

He mentally challenged the other man to say anything about it.

“I can’t imagine you have much variation out here-” I can’t imagine you’re eating much with how you look- “So I brought you some stir fry.”

Madara stared down at the dish held out to him. Has he developed a cooking obsession suddenly? “I don’t need-”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Hashirama told him, smiling as he reached out and took one of Madara’s hands. The Uchiha tried not to jump as it was placed on the dish and he was made to take it. His hand lingered there, over Madara’s, and he tried not to stare. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to go do something today? You should get some sunshine-”

“Hashirama.” The man paused and stared at him, and Madara swallowed, suddenly second-guessing. “Just…stop coming. You don’t need to come-”

Even though I really want you to.

“Nonsense!” Hashirama interrupted him with a grin. “I want to. Anyway, I’m going to the south side of the village to see how it’s coming along. If you want to-?”

“No. No, I.” Madara stopped and cleared his throat. Realizing the man’s hand was still over his, he pulled back- unwittingly taking the tray with him- and shook his head. “I have…things…to do.”

“Right.” Hashirama smiled at him as if he believed him. “Well, see you around. I’ll be back in the morning.”

Twitching, Madara glared at him as if to say you’d better not be, but the Senju ignored him, jogging away and throwing a smile and a wave over his shoulder.

You’d better stop coming around, he thought sullenly, glancing down at the dish in his hand and twitching again. He hated how that man could just bulldoze over him with pep and a smile and end up getting what he wanted. Which in this case was forcing food on him. A petty grievance if a grievance at all to anyone else, but he felt offended. Asshole.


 

Except Hashirama didn’t stop coming.

“No, Hashirama.”

He was there the next morning.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come to the banquet? I’d love to have you there beside me.”

And the day after.

“I’m busy.”

And the day after that.

“You founded this village with me. Surely taking a stroll through it would be nice?”

No matter what Madara said or did, he just wouldn’t stop coming around.

And he wanted to tear his hair out, because it made everything so much more difficult. He could handle it if Hashirama would just let him be, let him sit out in the woods in isolation, because then he didn’t have to deal with seeing Hashirama every day and having what he was trying to separate himself from be dangled in front of him like a cruel lure.

Maybe he deserved it, he thought, but the universe was a sadist.

Because every time it became more difficult to say no. All he wanted was to step into the man’s life and soak up his presence, even if it he would leave Madara eventually, even if he would be left by the wayside at some point. It was pathetic, but some part of him, stuffed down under layers of self-loathing and anger, started looking forward to the visits, craving even just a few minutes of hearing Hashirama’s voice. He tried to ignore how he wanted to be around the Senju idiot and how dull, how dark, how empty the rest of his time was starting to feel when all he could do was sit in his front room and stare at the wall.

He just wanted his friend back.

It whittled him down, eating away at his resolve and stubbornness until he just felt pathetic.

Until one day, he simply gave in, too exhausted to say no.

Hashirama grinned down at him, infuriating in his consistency, and Madara didn’t even listen to what he’d said this time, too tired and distracted and at the end of his rope; the man’s words were starting to blur together, honestly.

“Ugh.” He dragged a hand down his face. “Fine.”

Barely even registering he’d said it, he rubbed one temple with his fingers, wishing he was a medic himself to use chakra to alleviate the ache behind his eyes from the sudden barrage of sunlight in the mornings.

Hashirama froze. Then, a blinding smile overtook his face and his hands darted forward like irritating little snakes. He seized Madara’s shoulders and pulled him out of his house, making him stumble in surprise, rambling at a mile a minute. “Great! I’m so glad you said yes finally! There’s this amazing new restaurant near the Hokage Tower that makes this delicious ramen- Ichiraku’s, I think it’s called- and-”

Madara nearly tripped before adjusting his pace so he wouldn’t fall, startled. His brain almost didn’t even catch what he’d just agreed to. He would have backtracked and said no, but the arm Hashirama had wrapped around him and the other that had ahold of his bicep as they walked and the man’s nonstop chattering made it hard to extricate himself or get a word in edgewise.

(He should have known better, really; Hashirama had finally found an opening and gone in for a strike.)


 

The worst part was, after that, it got harder and harder to say no.

Because the day after, when he weaseled out of going again, Hashirama’s eyes got progressively sadder and more pitiful the longer he stared at him that he eventually corralled Madara into saying yes. He wasn’t always successful- some days Madara had more resolve than others- but more and more, he managed to drag Madara out of his dark and depressing house in the woods and into doing something with him.

Even worse, it was partly Madara’s fault anyway. He was ashamed of it, but he’d followed the man like a lost dog and been attached to his energy, so bright and warm and comforting to a sensor nin like himself. In his first life he would have done the same, but mustered some irritation for show and not let him get too close. He couldn’t really manage the same effect now.

He let Hashirama wander into his personal space and didn’t make him leave. Sometimes, he caught himself moving closer subconsciously and had to make himself stop. He didn’t move away when the man touched him, even if his body went tense at times, and he made no effort to curtail the constant babbling anymore.

He felt pathetic. He felt unsettled. He felt better.

He knew he shouldn’t be doing it; he knew he was unraveling what he’d been trying to do by separating himself from the village, yet he couldn’t find it in himself to stop.


 

“I saw you and Madara at the market district the other day,” Tobirama started the conversation, keeping one eye on the paper in his hand and one on his brother, who sat hunched over his desk frowning at a missive.

Hashirama glanced up and smiled. It was dimmed from his usual smile, but it wasn’t quite as depressed as it had been lately. “I finally got him to come out of his house,” he said, sounding a mixture of pride, tired effort, and concern. “He’s…a little bit better lately.”

Tobirama carefully set his paper down and looked at his brother over the rim of his reading glasses. He didn’t have any sort of visual impairment, but the hospital recommended wearing the new magnifiers that had come out on the market to avoid eye strain. “He seemed rather…” He trailed off, unsure of how to describe the former Uchiha leader’s behavior. When he’d seen Madara in public for what felt like the first time in forever, it had been startling, in a way. The man looked like a ghost. Even Tobirama, who generally clashed with the man and his behavior, had tried to be a little less argumentative when he happened to run into him. (And that had been…an experience, because the Uchiha barely even looked at him and just muttered an excuse to leave.) No use kicking someone who was down. The man looked so goddamned tired that it seemed as if he was going to fall over at the slightest provocation, and Tobirama didn’t want to give Hashirama an early heart attack. “…clingy.” He could find no other word to describe how closely Madara had stuck to his brother.

A slight frown tugged at Hashirama’s lips. “Yes, well,” he began, then started chewing on the inside of his mouth and sat back in his chair. “He’s…”

The analytical part of Tobirama’s mind told him that his brother most likely wasn’t fully aware- in the way that mattered- that he was, in the literal sense, the only connection Madara actually…had right now.

“I’m not surprised,” he said, going back to his paper but still eyeing his brother. “He doesn’t have many friends.”

Hashirama’s frown deepened. “He doesn’t spend much time with his clan members, does he?”

“He doesn’t spend any time with his clan members anymore,” Tobirama corrected. Hashirama turned to stare at his desk with a thoughtful aspect to his frowning. He’d known that, of course, but hearing it aloud was just a cause for more concern. The younger sighed. “Brother…you can’t tell me you’re surprised.”

Hashirama tensed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Tobirama said, pausing the tap his pen against the desk, “that we’ve been dancing around what we know to be true for several days. How he acts with you is how a drowning man acts holding onto his only lifeline. His demeanor, his behavior- we’ve seen it before, if you can remember.” He glanced out the window to where he could see people milling about in the street below, sighing again. “Everyone has. Shinobi simply do not speak of it. We endure and move on.”

The office was silent for a few moments. “Well,” Hashirama muttered, sounding quiet and dissatisfied and loud, “it shouldn’t be that way.”

Tobirama raised an eyebrow when he stood up. “Where are you off to?”

“Visiting the Yamanaka,” Hashirama replied, making the eyebrow climb higher. Tobirama’s mind put two and two together easily enough. He nodded in approval at the idea.

Hashirama went for the door and paused halfway over the threshold. “By the way,” he said, leaning back inside with a wheedling grin. “If you…happen to…get finished early…” Tobirama leveled an unimpressed stare at him. “Maybe…do a little bit of my stack? Just a little?”

Tobirama’s stare was unending.

“Maybe,” Hashirama repeated, losing courage in the face of his brother’s judgmental expression. “I mean, if you have time.”

Tobirama raised one eyebrow.

“I’m leaving now,” Hashirama blurted out, then practically fled from the room.

Tobirama snorted to himself and shook his head. “Tch,” he muttered, forming a hand sign and bringing three clones into existence around him. Each one grabbed a stack of paper and looked for a pen. “Idiot.”


 

“What brings you by, Hashirama-sama?”

Somehow, Inoue’s pristine perfection, in everything from how not a single hair was out of place in her ponytail to how impeccable her desk was to how clean her office was to how perfect her teeth were was intimidating. Hashirama was loathe to even sit down; he felt like he would put something out of place and irritate her and she would just smile at him while secretly thinking he was an idiot.

“Please, sit,” she said, gesturing to the chairs in front of her desk.

Hashirama smiled nervously and sat down. “Thank you, Inoue-san,” he said, trying not to adjust his position too many times. Tobirama was always chastising him about that, especially during meetings. “I came by to discuss an initiative I’d like your clan to handle, actually.”

Her eyes lit up- just slightly- with the light of potential responsibility in the village. “An initiative?” she asked politely, sounding just interested enough and not too much so.

“Yes! Well, you’re, ah, familiar, with…how do I say…you know when shinobi…” Hashirama waved his hands about, another thing Tobirama chastised him for, unsure of how to go on. “You know when shinobi…get…sad?”

Inoue’s eyebrows shot up. He cringed at his horrible wording. “I mean- of course everyone gets sad! I mean…I mean the deeper kind, or maybe sad’s not the right word-”

She folded her hands together and leaned on her desk, watching him with an unreadable look, looking for all intents and purposes like the confident clan leader she was even if she’d only been clan head for six months. “Are you referring to when shinobi experience trauma, Hashirama-sama?”

Trauma. The word made his mouth go stale. Part of him was afraid of connecting that word to his best friend. “Yes. When…when someone is just depressed, and doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”

Something knowing entered her eyes. He tried not to focus on the fact that she probably knew what- or, who, to be precise- he was talking about.

“I know that we’ve learned that shinobi are meant to- to endure, and it’s a weakness to talk about such things,” Hashirama began, desperate to explain adequately and get her to agree. “But I just don’t think it should be that way.”

Her eyebrows lifted again, with a different type of interest, one like a cat on its way to being satisfied. “I quite agree, Hashirama-sama. Did you know that the Yamanaka’s shinobi experienced a fifty-three percent increase in efficiency when we implemented standards to deal with our experiences on the battlefield in a medical context?”

“Medical context?”

“The Yamanaka have studied the mind for decades. We’ve found that experiences in the real world can affect it, like any other organ or muscle, and injure it as well. We’ve trained ourselves to deal with it; simply talking about our emotions can be helpful for many. Talk therapy, is what I refer to. Some medicines can be helpful to treat the brain after a traumatic experience.”

The part of him that healed wounds and sickness felt inherently interested. “Do you think you could do this for the whole village?”

The look in her eye wasn’t quite a sparkle, but the gleam was definitely intrigued. “What did you have in mind?”

“I want to set off a division of the hospital for this. I know some might find it scornful, at first, but-”

“I assure you that mental health is one of the utmost important aspects to making sure your shinobi last for long, worthwhile careers, sir,” she said, her smile made of steel. “I will handle everything. I assume I’ll be able to coordinate with Nara-san along with the superintendent for medicinal supplies and working out space in the hospital?”

“Of course! If you need any help, my brother and I will give you whatever we can.”

Somehow he got the feeling she’d already been planning for this, because she didn’t seem particularly daunted by the request in the least.

“By the way,” he began hesitantly, his eyes trailing on the tabletop. Tobirama was always telling him to make eye contact. “I have this…friend, who is…not doing well. What-” He looked up at her again; she stared back with a silent and knowing gaze. “What do can I do for him?”

Something in the woman’s gaze softened, just slightly, and she placed a hand lightly over his. “The only thing you can do is be there for him, Hashirama-sama. You can’t fix him. You can’t make the problem go away on your own. And, I won’t be dishonest with you, it’s not easy being around people who are struggling- if you find yourself being adversely affected, it wouldn’t be wrong of you to set boundaries. But if you can, spend time with him. Make sure he knows he has a support. And make sure he knows that when this division is set up, we’ll be there to help.”


 

Hashirama didn’t show up that morning. That’s how Madara knew it was the day.

The day when he would truly start to lose his friend. (His only friend.)

He’d been deluding himself, really- maybe not consciously. He’d just let himself have a small taste of what it could be like. A tiny bit of light to hold onto. He’d indulged, just a little, but he knew he had to pull back again now.

“I’m sorry I missed you this morning,” Hashirama told him, smiling, standing there in the evening dusk, while Madara kept the door partially closed. “They, ah…they held the vote today.” His smile dimmed just a little as he watched for Madara’s reaction. “They made me Hokage.”

“I know,” Madara told him. He wasn’t disappointed, nor was he jealous. Maybe he’d felt that way the first time- he couldn’t quite remember right now. A congratulations burned on his tongue but he couldn’t get it out.

Seeing he wasn’t about to go on, Hashirama cleared his throat and smiled again, something like a plea in his eyes. “They’re having a celebration ceremony tomorrow night. I’d…I’d really like to see you there. If you can?”

An answer lodged in Madara’s throat. Did Hashirama really want him there? Or was he just asking as an obligation? It was a celebration for a reason. His presence would darken everything around him. “…maybe,” he murmured, averting his eyes. He shut the door an inch. “Goodnight.”

“I-” Hashirama raised a hand, maybe to argue, maybe to beg, but the door closed between them before he could get it out. Madara couldn’t look at him anymore. He just needed to be alone.


 

Despite it all, he was still weak.


 

He went to the celebration. Across the whole village, lanterns were strung up, lighting the way for those wandering about in kimonos and yukatas decorated for special occasions. Hashirama gave a speech in the afternoon- a very good speech, probably edited by his brother, he almost started crying at one point- and the smell of roasted fish hung on the air.

Madara stayed in the shadows where he belonged, watching Hashirama from just far enough away he wouldn’t be noticed; watching the way he smiled and laughed and shook hands with the other clan heads and elders. He radiated joy and familiarity. Madara wanted nothing more than to be near, but he knew then the smiles and pleasant looks would take an unpleasant quality when they saw him by the Hokage.

No, Hashirama deserved the most happiness he could get today.

Slinking further into the alley he was in, he turned away from the festivities and didn’t bother to try and hide his bitterness. No one was watching.


 

Hashirama looked for Madara all night. Even during his speech, he scanned the crowd for that familiar face staring up at him with a tiny but proud smile; he looked for him during the feast afterwards, while he shook clan leaders’ hands, while he ambled about being congratulated and clapped on the back.

They were all so happy for him- so proud- and it made him feel horrible, but none of it felt complete without Madara there.

Some part of him wondered if his friend just didn’t care. He knew that maybe Madara felt hurt that he hadn’t been elected- but wasn’t he even a little bit proud of Hashirama? Hadn’t he wanted to come? Didn’t he know that Hashirama wanted him there more than anything?

When no one was looking, he let his shoulders sag and drug his feet as he walked. He’d thought he was making progress, that he was at least getting Madara to reconnect, even if just a little bit, but now he felt as if he’d gained five feet and slid back ten.

Did he want to come? Did he feel like he couldn’t?

Was it the crowd? Was it too overwhelming? Did he feel like a stranger?

Konoha was supposed to be their home.

Hashirama stepped into the newly minted Hokage’s office and bit his lip, watching shinobi- his shinobi- walk around on the streets below.

Tobirama had recommended that they implement a ranking system- chuunin, for the mass of them, and he’d already compiled a long list of those who were strong enough to be jounin. A lower rank, genin, so no chuunin would become dissatisfied and think they had a worthless rank, and so children would have a stepping stone to adulthood. All the clan heads would have to be jounin, so no arguments would break out.

He thought of the headband in his desk drawer, black instead of navy blue like most of them, and wondered if Madara would accept it.

Sighing, he turned away from the window and paused when he finally noticed the paper that sat folded in the middle of his desk. Feeling silly for not noticing it, he picked it up and flipped it open, heart skipping at the familiar scrawl in the center of the paper.

Congratulations

“You were here,” he whispered, trying not to tear up. Here he’d thought Madara hadn’t even bothered to come, but he had. Even if he didn’t feel able to say it directly- he’d still given his congratulations, in his own way.

He cared.


 

Madara didn’t care anymore.

About what he did, to be precise. He didn’t care whether he ever saw the light of day again or stayed cooped up in this room for the whole of his life. All that mattered was the future was set in stone, now, that Hashirama was Hokage, now, and that he had his village, now.

As for Madara? There was no room for him, and seeing Hashirama among everyone else- happy, content- told him all he needed to know. He couldn’t let his presence dampen any of Hashirama’s happiness. He’d done that enough the first time, hadn’t he?

That was what he cared about. Maybe that was the point of him being sent back. To disappear and die in a way that wouldn’t leave Hashirama traumatized from killing his own best friend.

Hashirama was the only thing that mattered at this point, he thought. As long as the Shodaime was set along his path towards the rest of history, nothing he did- quite literally- mattered.

It didn’t even matter whether he lived or died.

And maybe, that would be better. To die now and save Hashirama the trouble of Madara taking up his attention when the village needed it more.

Some part of him still cared about the blasted thing. He would deny that to his dying day.

Which, was he’d just been thinking, shouldn’t that be now?

Maybe some of this was the alcohol talking.

Madara huffed and set the empty bottle of sake in his hand down. He hadn’t had much trouble finding some in the festivities; they were being handed out like party favors, and he’d just grabbed a random amount and absconded like a criminal back to his home. He rolled the bottle across the floor and it ran into the rest of the pile that sat in the shadows of his front room.

What does it even matter anymore? He’s happy.

Morosely, he glanced up at the window and out at the leaves lining the trees outside. They blurred together, becoming one shifting mass of green that made him feel sick to look at.

There came a rapid knocking at his door. Confused, he sat there for a moment, convinced it had been a hallucination, but then it came again, not panicked but none too quiet either.

He stayed as he got up. The alcohol in his system made everything seem fuzzy and slightly out of alignment. He plotted a few careful steps over to the door, dimly hoping it wasn’t Hashirama on the other side (ignoring the tiny part of him that hoped it was) and yanked it open.

He paused when he saw who stood outside.

A chill went through him.

“…perfect.”


 

Tobirama knew this was most likely a very bad idea, but he was doing it anyway. Even Uchiha Madara needed to know there were consequences to his actions. The types of consequences that ended up in his brother moping around for the whole evening, practically heartbroken that his supposed best friend hadn’t been there for one of the most important events of his life.

He recounted to himself, as he followed the Uchiha’s oddly fluctuating chakra signature, what he was and wasn’t going to do. He was going to drill it into Madara’s head that Hashirama actually cared for him and his opinion. He wasn’t going to start a useless fight. He was going to tell Madara in no uncertain terms what he should have been doing; he wasn’t going to be overly antagonistic. He may not have liked the man much, and wanted to yell at him or possibly scorch him with boiling water, but this was about his brother, not Tobirama. Madara was a difficult man; he would see this as a challenge and an argument. (And, certainly, it was probably going to go that direction, but he needed it to end in Madara going to congratulate Hashirama, not with them both in the hospital.) Surely that man could scrape up an ounce of kindness for his brother tonight.

Tobirama didn’t want to talk to Madara, but this was for his brother. For him, he would do anything.

He finally found the house Hashirama had described to him and knocked quickly on the door. He could feel Madara’s chakra just on the other side, so unless he was unconscious- unlikely with how his chakra was shifting- he knew he heard.

Nothing happened, so he knocked again. The chakra moved- slowly- and came over to the door.

It swung open, and Tobirama opened his mouth, prepared to give the man a verbal dressing down.

He paused when he saw Madara’s blank stare. “…perfect,” the man muttered. Strangely enough, it wasn’t sarcastic or a mockery- what on earth did he mean?

“Excuse me?” Tobirama asked with a suspicious narrowing of his eyes.

Madara’s expression hardened with resolve. “Get in here,” he snapped, reaching out with lightning speed. Tobirama stumbled inside out of surprise, righting himself when the Uchiha released him and slammed the door shut. He tensed as Madara went into the other room- he assumed it was the kitchen.

Now this was getting weirder. He had no idea why the man would invite him into his house- or, rather, drag him in- instead of either slamming the door in his face or simply getting into a yelling match with him right off the bat.

And now that he looked around…was this really where he’d been living? There was nothing there but a table and the gunbai sitting against the wall. He could see into the kitchen, and there was hardly the space to keep any food in.

Madara abruptly found what he was looking for and emerged. The shing of metal being unsheathed made Tobirama go tense, falling into a defensive stance, as Madara stared at him with a sword in hand. “Uchiha-” he began, narrowing his eyes further, wondering if Madara seriously intended to try and kill him here.

“Here,” Madara said, holding the handle out to him. Tobirama, perturbed, stared at it. Madara frowned. “Take it, you oaf.”

Thinking it was a trap, Tobirama turned his narrow-eyed stare to Madara. “Why?”

For some reason, this seemed to confuse him. He watched Madara readjust his stance. “Have you been drinking?” he demanded, glancing at the pile of empty bottles out of the corner of his eye.

“What on earth does it matter to you?” Madara asked him, sounding so genuinely befuddled he was almost sidetracked.

“You weren’t at the inauguration ceremony.”

“Oh, please.” A sneer settled on Madara’s lips. Tobirama frowned, not understanding. “As if anyone wanted me there.”

Tobirama decided to ignore how true or false that statement was. “My brother did,” he pointed out.

Something pained flitted across the Uchiha’s expression. “I know.”

If that wasn’t confusing. Tobirama relaxed only minutely, sure that, at the least, Madara wasn’t planning on murdering him, but kept his distance. “Why weren’t you there, then?”

Madara scoffed. “As if you don’t know,” he said, and his voice had gone quieter, eyes staring at the wall past his shoulder with an unfocused look. A foreboding feeling settled in Tobirama’s gut. Something was wrong with all this. “Hashirama…” He trailed off, staring, completely blank, then suddenly found his train of thought again, eyes shifting between being focused and unfocused. “He deserves to be happy.”

What?

“He couldn’t be,” Madara murmured, for once looking not antagonistic or jeering or arrogant, but poignantly miserable. “Not with me there. He should…he should’ve been able to go be happy without a shadow like me ruining anything.”

Tobirama felt uncomfortable, like he was witnessing something he shouldn’t have been. Even his anger had abated- who could stay angry at someone who looked so…dejected? He’d thought Madara had sluffed off the ceremony out of arrogance, or simply hadn’t cared enough to attend, but he apparently thought he would make Hashirama unhappy by being there.

“That’s all I do.” It was like Madara wasn’t even talking to him now, just staring at some point beyond him as if someone else was there. “Ruin everything I put my hands on. I can’t…I can’t do that, not to Hashirama.” And, by god, those were actual tears gathering in Madara’s eyes. Tobirama’s uncomfortableness had reached a peak, and he took a step back, sure something was about to happen that all of them would regret. This was so out of character- so strange- that he didn’t know how to respond. “Do it now. I couldn’t, you can.”

“What?” Tobirama felt dumb standing there staring as Madara pushed the blade towards him again. “What are you-”

“Don’t-” Madara paused to sway, spreading his feet further apart for balance and frowning. “I was…too cowardly. Every time I try…I just see your brother’s dumb face.” He bit out a harsh, watery laugh. “But you, you hate me, it should be easy enough for you, yeah, so just do it and put me out of my misery. What are you waiting for, you buffoon?”

A dawning sense of realization settled over him, followed by a deep-seated horror at what Madara was telling him to do. He can’t be serious. “Are you asking me to kill you?”

“Not asking,” Madara sneered at him, as if offended that Tobirama misunderstood his intent. “Telling. Well? Why aren’t you taking this?” He frowned once again, frustrated, and stepped closer. Tobirama moved away. “Why? You killed my brother easily enough!”

Something in Tobirama froze. Madara had never mentioned that before. If anything, he’d seemed as if he was trying to ignore it.

“Just treat it like that! I’ve done far more than he to make you hate me! You had no trouble cutting him down, so why should I be different? I should be easier!” Madara’s Sharingan was blazing at him through the dim light now, but he was obviously too intoxicated to use it. It wasn’t even his Mangekyo. “Don’t think I don’t know that you hate me! I know you-” He sneered, expression twisting into something ugly. “I know you hate me, that you’d rather see me dead with my eyes clawed out of my head than here in this village, that I don’t deserve to be here.”

Tobirama was flabbergasted. He knew he and Madara had never gotten along- that the man had caught his suspicious glares more than once- that they’d argued and avoided each other. But he didn’t hate the man enough that he’d rather him dead and deformed and his brother heartbroken. Where on earth had he gotten this idea?

A nagging, almost guilty concept occurred to him. He was the analytical mind in his family. He’d been taught to view all situations from a standpoint of logic instead of feelings. He’d examined Madara’s behavior to look for possible dangers. He knew that standard couldn’t apply to everyone but himself. Somewhere along the line, he must have acted in a way that made Madara think he hated him; even if he disliked the man and was wary of the things he could do, that was a dangerous result to cultivate with any sort of comrade if there was to be peace. At what point had he been derailed and gone from carefully watching him, ready to spot dangerous behavior where Hashirama may be blinded by affection, to sparking this…whatever this was?

“That’s why this’ll be easy,” Madara suddenly continued, voice barely above a whisper. His Sharingan spun almost lazily, but it didn’t look normal. “I’m too much of a coward to do it. But if…if you have any sort of pity, you’ll kill me. You know Hashirama should be focusing on this village instead of me. And you care for him, don’t you?” He stepped closer, cornering him in the room. “Killing me will keep him safe.”

The horror had turned into a cold dismay, so, so cold, that made his limbs feel like mush, because Madara wasn’t asking him to kill him in the heat of battle in a fight neither could control. He was asking Tobirama to kill him in cold blood in the middle of his living room, while he stood there, intoxicated, depressed, suicidal- (did this mean he’d tried before?)- the greatest betrayal to his elder brother he could think of. Killing a traitor to the village or an enemy on the battlefield was not killing someone who was, by all rights, his ally, despite whatever dislike they held for each other, someone who was Hashirama’s closest friend, someone Hashirama cared for like family.

Someone who stood in front of him, begging him to kill him. Someone who wasn’t in his right mind.

That blood would be on Tobirama’s hands until the day he died.

“Kill me to make sure I don’t hurt him,” Madara told him, and with the same speed that someone who’d downed that much alcohol shouldn’t have had, grasped Tobirama’s hand and made him take the blade.

“Uchiha.” Tobirama tightened his grip on the handle and tried to pull away. At least he had the sharp object in the room now and the man couldn’t hurt himself with it. “Calm down. I’m not going to kill you.” Regardless of how many times he’d wanted to throttle him, Tobirama wasn’t a monster.

“Why not?” Madara demanded, and he would have looked comically enraged if the subject matter wasn’t him being denied a swift death.

“Despite what you may think, I don’t hate you-”

“Don’t be inane!” He was upset, nearing hysterical, and Tobirama desperately wished his brother was there. He’d been the only one who’d ever been good at dealing with Madara.

“You are inebriated, unstable, and need to calm down-”

“What I need,” Madara snarled at him, “is to die.”

He still couldn’t lower the sword, because Madara had graduated to holding onto the blade itself, his grip tight enough that blood had begun to run down the metal from his shaking hands. Swearing to himself, Tobirama tried to slowly shift it out of his grip. He knew any sudden movements were likely to set the Uchiha off.

Something shifted in Madara’s face. Tobirama’s stomach flipped in warning. Madara’s expression filled with grim determination. Too late, Tobirama realized what he meant to do.

“Don’t-!”

Instead of pulling or using the sword on himself as he’d thought he was going to do, Madara lunged forward. Tobirama tried to avert the disaster in the split second before it happened. He was too slow, the death grip Madara had on the sword too tight. Blood went everywhere.