Something was wrong.
Hashirama had been meandering back towards his home in the Senju compound- although “near” was a more accurate descriptor, considering they were all rather spread out and the large traditional home he shared with Tobirama was near the edge of the compound grounds, close enough to the village that a path led right down to the road- when he was forced to stop by the heavy feeling in his chest.
He knew the feeling well. He’d felt it when he was racing towards the river, desperate to tell Madara to run away, when his brothers had died, when he’d been in the middle of a battle with a clan from the north and felt his heart seize because he’d known that something was wrong with Tobirama (the then-sixteen-year-old had gone and tried an experimental jutsu that nearly got his head cleaved off).
But he hadn’t felt that way in a long time, so for a moment he tried to play it off as coincidence. The stress of the day, the worry about Madara.
He lasted for about ten seconds before his worrisome nature took over and he turned course, heading for- well, there was his problem.
Which one of them was in trouble?
He reached out with his senses and found, to his horror, he couldn’t find Tobirama’s chakra within the confines of the village. Automatically, he zeroed in on Madara’s- he may not have been as good a sensor as his brother, but no one could find Madara’s chakra as easily as he- and froze when he found his brother’s right beside it.
What on earth?
Why were they together? Had they gotten into a fight? Hashirama wasn’t naïve- he knew his brother and his best friend didn’t get along- but surely they wouldn’t actually hurt each other.
Madara’s chakra wavered. Then dipped.
Then it started dropping.
Hashirama blanched and broke into a sprint. He tore through the village, hyper-focused on his friend’s chakra and hardly noticing his surroundings, his mind flying to every worst conclusion it could find.
He wasn’t even to the forest when he was forced to come to a stop, nearly skidding right into none other than Tobirama himself. He’d come flashing out of thin air and knelt on the ground ahead of him- and he wasn’t alone.
Hashirama froze and his heart fell to his feet when he saw what his brother was holding onto. One hand was wrapped around the hilt of a blade- a blade going through Madara’s gut- while the other clutched at the fabric of Madara’s yukata.
No part of him wanted to believe that Tobirama had done this on purpose- but he was only human, and a tiny, horrified piece of doubt wormed into his mind. “T-Tobirama, you didn’t-”
Red eyes glanced up at him and went wide when they saw the stricken expression on his face. “Anija,” he stammered, “I- I didn’t-”
Many would have been surprised to see Senju Tobirama himself stutter, but the flash of hurt on his brother’s face struck to his core. Hashirama doubted him, even if for just a split second, and he would have been hurt but for remembering that he was literally holding the sword running Madara through- what sane person wouldn’t have a moment of doubt?
“Hashirama, get over here,” he snapped, shaking himself out of his shock. “He’ll bleed to death!”
Hashirama broke out of his stupor and rushed over so quickly he wasn’t even a blur. He knelt at their side and reached for the sword, realizing then why Tobirama had such a death grip on it.
Madara himself was clinging to it with enough strength that his hands shook, trying to pull it farther into his abdomen.
“Don’t,” he gasped out when he saw Hashirama reaching for the weapon. He jerked violently away, dislodging the Hokage’s hands. “Just let me die!” he snarled.
Hashirama blanched. “Madara, no,” he said, almost begging, the situation making so much more sense. “No.”
The man hissed out an unintelligible mutter at him, still trying to pull away.
“Tobirama, stand back,” Hashirama ordered, visibly upset. He tried not to let the tears stinging his eyes distract him. How had he let his friend get this bad? He should have realized something was wrong the day before. He should have been there.
Tobirama glanced at his face, still pale as a sheet, only stumbling back onto his feet when two wood clones extended from his brother’s back. One of them grasped Madara’s wrists and pressed down on pressure points until he was forced to open his hands, and the other pulled the blade free, much to the man’s chagrin. He writhed in Hashirama’s grip as healing energy was funneled into his wound, growling out swears and disparagements; one of the clones ended up being struck in the nose hard enough it looked disfigured, but it just let him sling punches and took it without complaint.
Feeling useless, Tobirama watched Madara start to slow and eventually stop moving altogether, heaving out ragged breaths as Hashirama kept one arm wrapped securely around him and the other over his now almost-closed injury. “Madara,” he pleaded, tears leaking out of each eye and dribbling down his cheekbones. “Madara, please.”
There were often comical alligator tears involved in Hashirama’s moods, but it had been a long time since Tobirama had seen him genuinely cry.
Madara’s unfocused eyes flicked up to Hashirama’s face. “…Hashirama?” he mumbled, looking mildly confused. His face crumpled.
Looking almost panicked, Hashirama did the only thing he knew to, pulling his friend to himself and wrapping his arms around him. Madara buried his face in his shoulder, looking like a big mass of raven hair, shuddering as he clung to the back of Hashirama’s robes.
It took him a moment to realize the man was crying- quiet, quivering sobs that made Hashirama’s heart break.
“It’s okay,” he murmured, voice shaking. “It’s okay now, I’m here. I’m right here. Everything’s fine. You’re all right.”
Tobirama had no idea what to do. Once more, he felt as if he were witnessing something he shouldn’t be privy to.
It felt like up was down and right was left. He’d never seen Madara break down like this, let alone with such a lack of care as to whether anyone saw him. The broken man in front of him would sooner drink himself to death or let himself starve than do anything to harm the village.
And once more, the deep sense of disturbed disquiet festered in him as he wondered how no one had noticed this besides his brother.
Maybe it was just that no one was looking.
Madara- the Uchiha patriarch, second only to Hashirama, whose aura had been described by some as demonic- wept out his brother’s name and clung tighter to his robes.
Hashirama ran a hand over the dark mane of hair before him, such a loving and meticulous gesture that Tobirama felt the urge to look away. He shifted Madara until he was in a position he could lift him to carry and shot a glance at Tobirama. “I…I’m taking him back to the compound. I don’t- don’t think it’s a good idea for him to go back to his house.”
Mutely, Tobirama nodded. He couldn’t imagine Hashirama just dropping Madara back in his home and leaving him there. He would never even ask him to do that.
Hashirama picked his friend up off the ground and shot off towards the rooftops. Tobirama swallowed the lump in his throat and started heading back to the office, a numbness in his core that felt colder than any of his Suiton.
Tobirama had experienced bloodshed and all manner of disturbing events since he was a child. The sharpness of the night’s events had dulled, and there was no longer a sick churning in his gut; he was simply left with quiet contemplations as he sat in the dark office, illuminated by moonlight coming in through the windows.
The village was quiet- peaceful- something the Senju had rarely been privileged with as a wandering clan; even if very few would attack them in such a head-on way, there’d never been true comfort at night. There was always danger; always a need to be aware.
He wondered if living in such a way had worn Madara down. His strength was monstrous, yes, but he was- as that night’s incident had just proven to him- only human. Tobirama had never attempted to understand him on a personal level or figure out what his personal feelings were; not in the way a friend or Hashirama or family would. Yet his attempt to die made him wonder about all those things.
Was it the sudden lack of constant war? The difficulty in adjusting to a peaceful life? Did the man thrive on conflict? Tobirama himself had experienced trouble adjusting- everyone had, and if they didn’t they were either hiding it very well or very odd.
There were nights he awoke in alarm, sure there was some danger he’d forgotten to assess or watch out for, or with the need to patrol the village limits to ensure their enemies weren’t closing in.
Maybe, his mind suggested, the part of Madara’s brain that wanted peace and the part that was accustomed to conflict just hadn’t been able to integrate. Had he just been waiting for the other shoe to drop- for the peace to inevitably break- and his mind hadn’t been able to handle the strain? Had he burnt out during war and the peace had just finally allowed him to show it?
A tiny seed of guilt reminded him that Madara, unlike himself and Hashirama, had no brothers or family left. Tobirama felt no remorse over defending himself or fighting in a battle that, had their elder brothers come around sooner and made peace, could have been avoided altogether, but some part of him wondered how it would have turned out had he aimed just an inch lower, aimed to incapacitate.
A death blow hadn’t been his conscious intention, but he supposed that was a fault on his part; he should always be aware of when he was doling out a fatal injury.
He had no illusions about the fact that Izuna would have just as readily killed him, as well, and it wasn’t as if he had been friends with the Uchiha like Hashirama had been with Madara, but could the same effect- Madara being pushed towards making peace- been achieved if Izuna had been seriously wounded instead of dead?
Would even his advice not to trust the Senju have held up against him being bedridden for months, where Senju healing would alleviate his pain?
He didn’t wish active harm on Madara; the logical part of his brain told him that if anything happened to the man, the area of effect’s first victim was Hashirama.
Would Izuna being there have kept Madara from self-destructing, and, by proximity, Hashirama from being hurt?
His eyes fell on the drawer of his desk where a scroll he’d been working on sat within.
He wasn’t altogether surprised that one of the wood clones had followed him, so he wasn’t startled, nor did he glance up at Hashirama. He hummed noncommittally in greeting.
Hashirama glanced at him and sighed. He sounded weary, so weary, but not at Tobirama. He stepped into the hallway and disappeared for a few moments, returning with a wash cloth from the restroom down the hall. It was only when he bent down and grasped one of Tobirama’s hands that he remembered he was still covered in blood. Madara’s blood.
He was silent as Hashirama wiped the blood from his hands. At times, Tobirama felt- though he never voiced his thoughts- that perhaps his brother didn’t always fully appreciate the work and time Tobirama put into supporting him; the hours of paperwork, the labor it took to build a village behind the scenes, the late nights put in.
It was times like these- in which all of Hashirama’s attention should have been focused on his friend who’d nearly died, who’d tried to kill himself- that reminded him that Hashirama did care, sometimes too much, sometimes painfully too much. Even if he did sluff off his paperwork onto Tobirama and avoid meetings with unsavory diplomats, even if he sometimes didn’t heed Tobirama’s advice, he cared about Tobirama to the point he was here, making sure he wasn’t alone.
“I shouldn’t have gone, anija,” he muttered. It was the closest he could muster to an apology right now, with the thoughts bogging down his mind and the quiet, unsettling quality of that night hanging in the air. “I only meant to talk to him.”
Hashirama didn’t glance up at him, but a small, sympathetic smile came over his lips. Tobirama wondered if he hadn’t been the one who didn’t notice that something was causing his brother unhappiness. Had he been stuck in the middle, silently putting up with it as his brother and best friend refused to get along?
“He could have tried anyway, and no one would have been there to help,” he pointed out, and Tobirama mentally grimaced at the suggestion. “There’s no use second guessing anything now. He’s all right…for now.”
He folded the towel and stood up, facing the window with something like a wistful frown. “What are you going to do?” Tobirama asked, honestly curious. About Madara went unsaid.
The clone groaned a little and reached up to rub his forehead. “I…really don’t know. But I know I can’t let him go on like this. I think I need to start by getting him out of that tiny little house of his.”
Tobirama snorted. “Good luck with that. You know how stubborn he is,” he said, and neither really noticed, but it was said without any of the irritation or animosity he would have used a few months ago.
It was still far from fond exasperation, but it was progress.
Another sigh. “Yes, I know.” And this time Hashirama was smiling a little for real, probably thinking of some memory Tobirama hadn’t been there for. “I’m going to go work on that. Are you all right here?”
Tobirama hid the rolling of his eyes. “I’m fine, anija. I’m a grown man, not a five-year-old.” He made a shooing motion with his hand, making Hashirama head for the door with a familiar pout.
When he’d gone, Tobirama stood for a moment in silent contemplation, then reached for the drawer on his desk.
Hashirama stepped into the house Madara had been occupying and glanced around with a deep frown tugging at his lips.
There was a blood stain on the floor- he’d been expecting that, and the pile of discarded bottles considering Madara had been inebriated when Tobirama had brought him to him- but other than those, the house looked untouched. As if a ghost had been living there.
Curious, he looked through the kitchen and found an alarming lack of food. He’d been bringing some practically every day, but he doubted Madara had eaten it.
Not only that, there was such little light in the house- he’d only caught glimpses of it from the door. If he had to live here every day, with hardly anyone to talk to, he thought he’d go stir crazy.
He returned to the living room and eyed the stairs warily for a moment before climbing his way to the second floor.
The upper room was even worse. There was so little light that he had to bring a bulk of chakra to his hand to light his way. The only sign of a home upstairs was a dresser, upon which a few pieces of clothing were folded and several more strewn over the top. The bed was unmade, crinkled up as if Madara had just left it.
Does he even have anything here? Hashirama wondered, gathering up the clothes. The gunbai was downstairs- he doubted Madara would go anywhere without it- but other than that and base necessities, the man had nothing.
His eyes fell on a dark shape obstructing some of the little light streaming in through the window. Squinting, he moved closer and paused when he found a familiar potted plant sitting in the window sill. He’d given that to Madara- how long ago? Just after they created the village. He kept it?
The thought sent something warm through him. Smiling, though it was dulled a bit by the situation at hand, he picked up the plant and turned to go back downstairs.
Madara still cared. That meant there was still hope.
There had to be.
The sunlight assaulting his eyelids was too much for his room to have been letting in. Madara cringed and cracked his eyes open, wanting to shut them again as soon as he did; the room he was in was impossibly bright.
He forced himself to open his eyes fully and ignored the stinging sensation.
Blinking a few times, he looked around, finding himself in an unfamiliar bedroom. The walls were made of solid wood instead of planks, and the bed and windows were covered with cheery white linen. By all means, it was a calming atmosphere to most.
He looked down when he realized there was a weight on his hand and froze when he saw Hashirama sitting on a chair beside the bed, dozing off with his head resting on the mattress and his hand over Madara’s.
What on earth…?
It was then the memories of the night before began to filter back into his head.
He flinched at the onslaught, at his depraved behavior, at breaking down in front of Tobirama of all people. The pounding in his head made it all worse.
Madara went to sit up and swayed at the dizziness the action caused. He paused and breathed in and out, waiting for it to subside, and tugged his hand from Hashirama’s.
The motion, as small as it was, set the man awake in an instant and made Madara swear inwardly.
“Madara!” he gasped, standing so quickly he made his chair wobble dangerously on its back legs. “You’re awake!”
“Obviously,” Madara muttered, tossing the covers off himself. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and it was as if it set off an even worse bout of dizziness and nausea.
Groping for the bedframe, he leaned against it and held his head with the other hand, biting back a groan.
“You shouldn’t get out of bed,” Hashirama fretted, coming over to his side and placing his hands on Madara’s shoulders. He was too tired to shove him off. “You’ve probably got a horrid hangover with how much you drank and- you were injured quite badly-”
“I know,” Madara snapped, trying to pull away. “I did live through it. I’m going home now, so don’t-”
It was like he’d flipped a switch or something; all the gentle concern and the tendency to let people have their way bled from Hashirama’s body and were replaced by a stern expression and a steely, unbending will in the lines of his shoulders. There was no leniency, no indulgence, no easy-goingness. He looked at Madara with his lips pressed into a thin line and part of him wanted to die a little.
He forgot that Hashirama could be like this- he had only ever seen it in battle, or when Hashirama became angry enough.
Which was rare, considering his kind nature, but what some didn’t understand was that he was only kind because he’d made the choice early on to be so. Madara had often thrown his anger about in his first life, and perhaps it has lost some of its edge at some point; Hashirama’s was worse, as their enemies had found out the hard way.
He would deny to his (fourth) dying day that his voice wavered when he spoke.
“You are not going back to that secluded, dispiriting house separated from the whole village and everyone who cares about you,” Hashirama told him, his tone leaving no room for argument. “I am not going to sit by here and watch you fall into this hole and do nothing to help you.”
Madara tried to muster some of his infamous stubbornness and irritability. “That’s not your decision-” he began hotly.
“Technically, I am the Hokage now,” Hashirama told him, and Madara’s nostrils flared with anger, at the gall he had to pull that card, but he went on- “But I’m not doing this as the Hokage. I’m doing this as your friend. Do you know what it was like, Madara?” His eyes softened, becoming desperate and despairing, and Madara tried to look away but couldn’t. “To sit there holding you while you bled and tried to kill yourself? To know you were in so much pain you wanted to end it and I couldn’t help? I don’t know what I’d do without you. Don’t- don’t you know that?”
Madara looked away, unable to keep looking into those miserable eyes. Guilt gnawed at his heart. He’d already left Hashirama alone once- he’d thought it wouldn’t matter a second time, but maybe he’d just made everything worse.
“Just- just, just let me help, Madara, please,” Hashirama pleaded with him, hands drifting down to his elbows. “Please.”
Madara was worn down. Hashirama wasn’t going to leave him alone, his mind argued to him; why couldn’t he be selfish and stay near him? He’d been selfish for so many worse things.
“…I’m tired, Hashirama,” he whispered, staring at the floor.
Hashirama’s jaw quivered. “I know,” he replied, leaning closer to hug him and setting his chin atop Madara’s mane of unruly hair, stroking it the same way he had the night before. “I know. But I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. I won’t let you deal with this alone. I promise.”
“You’re the Hokage,” Madara mumbled into his haori. “You have more important things to be doing than this.”
“You are important to me,” Hashirama corrected him. “The village isn’t going to fall over if I miss a report or two. The roots are stronger than that. You and my brother are the two most important people to me, you know. What’d I do if I didn’t have you there to support me?”
Madara closed his eyes, inadvertently focusing on the rhythmic feeling of Hashirama’s hand stroking over his hair. It didn’t occur to him that this sudden batch of physical affection was odd in juxtaposition to their first life, when he had weathered Hashirama’s excited hugs but not touched him much. Touching Hashirama was the easiest way to sense his chakra, and right now its warmth and tranquility were more comforting than anything the world could offer.
“Crash and burn, and insult someone important, probably,” he mumbled, and it was a joke because they both knew Hashirama was far better at diplomacy than Madara; Tobirama just liked to endlessly needle him and make sure not a hair was out of line and hopefully divert any bows that rammed his head into tables. Madara was the one more likely to cause a banquet to end in flames and screaming.
Hashirama laughed. Madara listened to the sound vibrate in his chest. He didn’t have the presence of mind to notice that the Shodaime was leaking chakra from his hands or that the man was purposefully trying to lull him to sleep. Perhaps he would’ve been offended if he had.
“You’ll have to help make sure I stay in the office,” he said cheekily. Madara could feel his smile against his hair. “I could always use another assistant. Maybe you could do some of my paperwork…I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“Lazy ass,” Madara muttered. It made Hashirama laugh again. He started to say something else, and Madara tried to listen- he thought he’d had a purpose when he woke up- but sleep was calling him, and he was so tired.