Madara woke to the sound of a tea pot’s high-pitched whistling.
Confused, he sat up- in considerably less alcohol-induced agony than before- and looked for the source of the noise. The door to the bedroom was ajar, and past it he could see an open concept living area with a kitchen attached. Hashirama was moving a kettle off the stove.
In the back of his mind, he wondered when exactly stoves had been invented. He’d completely lost all context for the progress of technology. Then again, he couldn’t exactly remember how long it had been since the village had been founded, either. His memory of tiny landmarks from eighty years ago was…a little sketchy.
He got up and wandered into the front room. Hashirama glanced over at him and smiled, and some of the unease faded from his gut. He snorted softly at himself and sat down at the table, glancing around and trying not to show how confused he was at his surroundings.
Hashirama hid a grin. Madara looked like a cat looking around, acting like it wasn’t perturbed when it really was, and it was only worse with how ruffled his hair was. “Good morning,” he said, setting a cup down and starting to pour tea into it.
“Is this your house?” Madara asked instead of answering, his puzzlement making Hashirama cock an eyebrow. Madara had been in his home before- it was an odd thing to forget. Then again, he’d been stressed for weeks. It had probably just slipped his mind.
“It’s your house,” he replied cheerily, sitting down across from the Uchiha. Madara stared at him with thinly veiled confusion. “Come now, you didn’t think I was just booting you out of your house and leaving you nowhere to go? I built something!”
“Oh.” Madara wasn’t sure what to do with that. He took a sip of his tea. “Thank you.”
Hashirama beamed at him. “It’s close to mine, too! We’re neighbors!”
Madara choked on his tea. “Excuse me?” he asked, coughing. Hashirama turned to grin pointedly at the windows across from his bedroom and he got up, walking over to them and shifting aside the curtains to look.
The house was set on a small hill, so he was looking down at everything from his viewpoint; the Senju home sat across from him and the path to the road in between. He twitched, but couldn’t find the energy to be truly annoyed. “Idiot.”
Hashirama laughed. Somehow it slipped Madara’s mind that he was, technically, on Senju grounds now, since the flower-loving idiots had spread out so much and hardly had a formal border on their property.
“It’ll be easier to visit each other now,” he pointed out. “And there’s an aviary attached in the back.” Madara jumped a fraction out of surprise, and turned to glance over his shoulder at him. The man gave him a knowing look. “I know you must have missed them, Madara.”
Madara turned away without acknowledging that, even if it was true. He had momentarily forgotten about them during his panic when he first came back, but he’d known after calming down he wouldn’t be able to take care of his falcons. It had felt a bit like abandoning his children when he left them at the Uchiha compound.
“And there’s some relaxing places around here. Promise me you’ll try and get out of the house at least once a day?”
The man started to look at him with his damned puppy dog eyes. Mustering up a lackluster glare- that definitely wasn’t a pout- Madara gave in. “Fine.”
“Thank you! And, ah, if you wanted to…help…just a little…with all the work at the Tower…I would appreciate it so much,” Hashirama told him with a wheedling grin, and Madara tried not to twitch again. He would bet the man was using his allergy to paperwork as an excuse to get Madara involved with the village. Idiot.
Two could play that game. “If you’re so incapable of doing it yourself,” he said dryly, making an invisible boulder slam down onto the Shodaime’s head.
“Ah…thank you…” The depressed cloud suddenly evaporated and Hashirama leapt to his feet with another shining grin. “That reminds me! I wanted your input on what kind of exam would be best for chuunin testing. You’ll come help, right?” He turned on the puppy eyes again. Madara gave him an unimpressed stare.
“I know,” Hashirama grinned.
Madara rolled his eyes.
Madara stepped into the aviary at the Uchiha compound with a hesitancy in his step. Falconry was based on a mutual agreement, a different type of relationship than working with a dog or cat. Part of him was afraid his birds would reject him like he’d done to them, even though he knew he deserved it.
He’d come under the cover of night, not wanting to deal with the clan at large, and could feel his birds’ chakra signatures all in the outbuilding. He’d thought they would have left by now.
“Watatsumi?” he whispered into the darkness.
An eye slivered open. It watched him as he came to a stop and stood there in silence, judging.
Other sets of eyes started to open around him. None of them came any closer so long as Watatsumi stared disdainfully at him from her perch.
He stared back at her- his largest, and fastest, peregrine- and wilted. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, remembering the first time he’d left. Left and never came back.
There was a rustle in the darkness. She leapt forward with a flap of her wings, a motion that would have caused anyone else to startle in fear, and landed heavily on his shoulder, claws sharp enough to tear through his skin but pressing down just light enough to avoid tearing his haori. She chittered lowly at him, intelligent eyes flicking over his face.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured again, raising one hand hopefully. She tilted her head and rubbed his cheekbone, bringing a small smile to his face.
The other birds came rustling out of the dark and shuffled together, fighting for space to perch on his shoulders. Madara felt a bit of weight lift from his mind and raised his gloved hand for Watatsumi to perch on so the others would have more room as he left the building.
Maybe things could go back to the way they’d been, he thought. Maybe he didn’t have to leave anyone.
True to his word, Madara had been trying to ‘get out of the house’ once every day. Hashirama dragged him to the Hokage Tower at least four times that week (which was awkward, since Tobirama seemed to be doing his best not to look at him whenever they ran into each other), so it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed, but walking around without the Hokage’s presence still felt…weird.
He tended to like the more secluded spots for that reason. There were plenty of trees around the Senju compound and their area of the village- which was to be expected, considering the location of the village, but was also very deliberate considering their clan head controlled plant life- and he was partial to a spring just off the road a small distance behind his house, obscured for the most part by large, weeping leaves from the trees.
Though he’d only found it a few days ago, he’d yet to see anyone else there, so when he entered the pond area and found a woman sat cross-legged on a large blanket by the water, he paused and got ready to turn around and leave. She hadn’t seemed to notice him and he didn’t particularly want to talk to anyone that day.
“You don’t have to leave, sir,” the woman called over without opening her eyes. Madara paused with one foot in the air. He glanced back, a little bit curious, but didn’t recognize her- though she seemed familiar, for some reason. She wore a white kimono over a purple one, and two tags hung from the headdress in her hair. It was a shocking red that nagged at his memory.
She opened one eye and looked over at him with a half-smile that seemed amused. He felt embarrassed, suddenly, for trying to hide from her like a person fleeing. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“It’s polite to offer yours first,” he retorted, though not in a particularly rude way.
Her smile widened. “It’s polite to offer yours to a lady when she asks.”
“Well, I suppose we’re both rude, then.”
The smile cracked into a large grin. “I guess I won’t learn your name,” she said, pretending to sound disappointed. She patted the space beside her. “Come and sit with me.”
Madara hesitated. He couldn’t help but feel like she was subtly ribbing him already and the stubborn part of him wanted to sass her back. He walked over to the blanket and settled down beside her, glancing at the small canvas she had propped on a small stand in front of her. There was nothing on it yet. “I take it you’re from a new addition to the village?” God, it’d been decades since he’d been forced to participate in small talk. But he wasn’t about to ask about something inane like the weather.
“In a way,” she replied vaguely, uncapping a few bottles of paint on the ground by her side. She reached into one with a brush, apparently feeling no need for a palette. “My family is not set to meet with the Hokage for a few weeks now. I find myself preoccupied with other matters in the meantime. Although I’ve managed to catch a few glimpses of him here and there.”
“Hn. And what do you think of the Hokage?” Madara drawled, sounding bored but anticipating her answer.
A small smirk slithered onto her lips. “He’s kind-hearted,” she replied, speaking as if she had no idea he was the Hokage’s friend. “And a strong leader, if a bit silly. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone wear striped pants like that.”
Unbidden, a laugh bubbled from his throat and exited his mouth sounding out of breath. Startled at himself, he tried to regain his composure and averted his gaze. She was eyeing him over her smile as if she’d been trying to make him snicker. “Yes, well,” he said around a snort, “he spread that fashion to his whole clan, so feel sorry for the lot of them.”
She laughed. The sound spread throughout the clearing and sounded like water trickling over smooth stone. Part of him preened a bit at having caused it, at participating in a normal conversation with someone who had no idea who he was and no preconceptions about him- in his first life he knew everyone had thought he was unapproachable and unable to make friends on his own.
He glanced at the canvas, surprised to find she’d already filled in a basic outline of the scene in front of them with the color tones set in. She twirled the brush as if she were thinking of her next move.
“I find it admirable the Senju have managed to gather so many clans to themselves in such a short amount of time,” she went on. “The Nara are a smart addition. I’m interested in working with the Yamanaka and their studies of the mind.”
“Oh? And what of the Uchiha?” he asked, voice carefully even, as he eyed her, wondering if she was unaware that the village only existed because of their alliance.
She surprised him again. “Their work has been phenomenal, of course; the village wouldn’t be here without their help. I confess I haven’t had the privilege of interacting with many, but I will say, they are more fun to look at than the Senju clan, in general. There’s something about them that’s rather hauntingly beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?”
She looked at him with eyes that were laughing. Madara stuttered out a reply and jerked his head away, glaring at the pond with a flush on his face. What a brash woman. He’d heard people insult his clan and people admire their strength, but he’d never encountered someone whose first thought was how easy on the eyes they were.
“Here, sir. Why don’t you try?”
“Hm?” He glanced up and found her holding the brush out. Befuddled, he held up his hands as a shield. “I don’t think-”
“Painting is a wonderful pastime,” she bulldozed over him with a polite smile, producing a second canvas from seemingly out of nowhere. She reached down, as casual as a movement made in passing, and pressed each bottle in between her spread fingertips, moving them between the two almost too easy to notice.
He felt like he’d walked straight into a trap. A bead of sweat ran down his forehead. “Ma’am-”
“It reduces stress, and produces a great eye for color,” she continued, eyeing his dark attire. “You could use some color in your life.”
He felt like he should be insulted by that.
“Very well,” he muttered, taking the brush she put into his hand and giving in. What was the worst that could happen, that he get paint in his eyes?
“I can’t believe you got paint in your eyes,” she said three days later, holding a hand over her mouth and struggling not to let out a wheezing, unladylike laugh. She patted him on the back of his shoulder as he bent over the pond groaning.
“Shut it,” he muttered without any bite. She giggled at him and took out a handkerchief with a green leaf pattern sewn into it from one of the hidden pockets in her clothing.
“Come now, let me see,” she said with an amused smile, tilting his head up. She was completely unbothered by his moodiness and he was starting to think she was unflappable.
He relented and let her gently wipe at the paint on the corner of his eye. She dabbed at the part that had splattered onto the surface with a feather light touch.
“Is it all gone?” he mumbled, cowed by her sympathetic smile. It was difficult to be grumpy at someone who looked at him so softly.
She released his face and patted him on the head. It was vaguely patronizing. “Don’t worry. My little cousins often do the same thing. It’s an easy mistake.”
He twitched. “Don’t compare me to children.”
She smiled behind her sleeve. “But you act so much like them!”
She was unbothered by the glare that passed over his face.
“If I’m a child, what are you to deign to my level?”
His eyebrow started twitching again. Snickering at his expense, she capped the offending bottle of paint that had accosted him and picked up her brush again. “I’d like to do a portrait of you,” she said cheerfully. “Sit right there.”
“Oh? Like this?” he drawled in a flat tone, gazing dryly at her.
“Exactly. Looking sour and humorless. It’s a perfect depiction of your personality.”
“Maybe you should sit for me. I’m sure I could create something oh so flattering to capture you.”
“Is that sarcasm I detect?”
“Of course not.”
She withdrew one of her fans and flipped it open to hide a shit-eating grin behind. Before she could keep their banter going, they were both distracted by a yell from the street. She raised a curious eyebrow in his direction before getting up to see what it was and he stood to follow.
They emerged from the trees and found a cart overturned in the road. An elderly man was pointing his cane at a familiar woman in Senju armor, a vein bulging on his forehead as he yelled. “You addled-brained shinobi just jump around everywhere you go and don’t give any thought to the common folk, I swear!”
“Sir, I’ve already told you that I’ll pay for any damages,” the Senju woman snapped, looking ready to lose her temper. “It was an accident-”
“That could’ve been easily avoided!”
“That I will rectify to the best of my ability!”
“Excuse me,” the woman who Madara still didn’t know the name of interrupted, gliding over with a smoothness to her step that made her look like she was floating. Both combatants froze and turned to gawk at her, eyes wide as dinner plates. “It seems you’re causing a ruckus, sir. Surely all can be forgiven if Senju-san here helps fix your cart and whatever damage she caused, yes?”
“Uh…” The man faltered at being chastised by such a gentle-looking woman and wilted. “Of course. My apologies. I, uh, don’t think anything’s broken, I just need to…”
“I’ll help,” the Senju woman- who Madara remembered was named Toka- muttered, moving to the other side of the cart and helping him right it. The vendor shot him a nervous-looking glance and he folded his arms, watching with a blank expression and making the old man shudder. It was a little bit amusing.
The man nodded his goodbyes and started pushing his way down the road. Toka turned to the redhead with a flush on her cheeks and opened her mouth. “My deepest apologies, M-”
“There’s no need, Toka,” the woman interrupted her, a pointed look in her eyes. Toka paused, mouth hanging open and her brow creased in confusion, and she went on. “I understand completely. I was just enjoying some time with my friend here.”
Toka’s eyes flicked over to him. He’d never spoken to her, but it was the tiniest bit hilarious how wary she looked. “…of course. Madara-san,” she greeted with a nod of her head.
Madara momentarily cursed her for leaking his name. His acquaintance looked at him with a smirk, and he glared back, unhappy he’d lost their game. “Toka,” he gritted out in reply.
“Well. This is…er. I should-”
Hashirama’s excited voice interrupted their not-conversation. “Madara!” he called from overhead, landing on the grass across from them and bounding up to him like an overexcited puppy. Madara didn’t move and let the man come to him. “Madara, I saw you from-” He abruptly noticed Toka and the woman and jerked to a stop, smiling apologetically. “Oh, I’m sorry! Was I interrupting something?”
“Not at all, Hokage-sama,” the redheaded woman replied, watching him with a twinkling expression and having somehow moved directly to Toka’s side as if she had arrived with the Senju without Madara noticing. “Please do go on.”
“Ah, thank you,” Hashirama laughed, his smile returning as he turned back to Madara. He watched him suspiciously from behind his bangs, feeling like he was about to ask him for something. “Like I said, I was going to lunch and I saw you down here. I thought I’d ask if you wanted to come with me.”
He stared at Madara with a smile that was downright adoring. Madara, for reasons he couldn’t explain, suddenly felt put on the spot, and he found out why when he glanced over at his companion and found her watching them like a hawk- or maybe a viper was more accurate- eyes glittering from behind her fan with uncanny focus and undeniable interest. She was watching them, analyzing, evaluating. It made an abrupt flush of heat rise to his face and he felt embarrassed without knowing why. He realized then that Hashirama, as usual, didn’t know what personal space was, and he’d started standing closer and closer since Madara had started to not berate him for it, and he was now practically an inch away from him, one hand on Madara’s shoulder and the other holding onto his arm. “I, er…”
“It’s your favorite,” Hashirama told him in a sing-song voice, distracting him from his
friend’s companion’s weird staring. “I’ll buy you inarizushi.”
Dammit if Madara wasn’t hungry, because he hadn’t eaten since breakfast; his mouth started to water and he cursed his friend inwardly. “Fine.”
Hashirama grinned in triumph and looked over at his clanswoman. “Great! Would you like to come, Toka, miss…?” he trailed off, obviously asking for her name.
“Oh, we have lunch plans of our own, Hokage-sama, but thank you dearly for the offer,” the fan-wielding woman replied, skillfully dodging his question and giving Toka a smile. “Shall we be going?”
“Uh, yes.” Toka broke out of staring at all of them with confusion and nodded, offering her arm. The woman wrapped her hand around it and they started down the street together after giving the two men respectful nods. It wasn’t altogether weird for a kunoichi to offer a lady her arm, but for some odd reason Madara still felt like he was missing something.
Hashirama clasped his shoulder. “Well, let’s get going, then,” he told Madara with a smile, and started yammering about whatever had happened at the office that morning as the two left.
The woman had visited his house, only once, to deliver a bonsai to sit by the door, and told him with a mildly judgmental tone that he needed to decorate, because the traditional-style lower floor was almost completely barren. (He was still a little bit indignant she’d managed to correctly guess that his house was mostly empty. How had she even known where he lived?) The front room only had a few cushions for guests, and behind the sliding doors that led into the back room with the kitchen to the left and a spare bedroom on the right with the stairs ahead, he had little else but for a coat rack and a table in the kitchen.
So, begrudgingly, he’d
ordered asked Hashirama to create a few more plants to put around the place and reluctantly gone out to look for something else. He found a low table for the front room and a basket for storage to put under the coat rack, and he found an absolutely hideous little sculpture of a fish with bulging eyes to put in the windowsill in the kitchen for the sole fact that he knew Izuna would have loathed it with his entire being.
Regardless, he didn’t actually expect anyone at his door, so he didn’t put very much effort into it. He only hoped Hashirama saw the fish statue and was horrified by it even as he tried in vain to compliment Madara’s tastes with a weak, twitchy smile.
So it surprised him one afternoon to hear a knock at his door, because Hashirama was usually yelling through the door by now and hardly anyone else probably knew where he lived.
He swung the door open and had to look down. The first thing he saw was a mass of black hair only a little more subdued than his own.
“Uh, g-good morning, Madara-sama! Well, it’s afternoon now, but I meant to come in the morning, so- well that’s not important, I just wanted to bring you this, because I hope you’re doing well, and everyone’s missed you, so-”
The girl in front of him was talking so rapidly he was having trouble understanding. “Slow down, girl,” he interrupted, making her freeze and go sheet white. She wore an Uchiha outfit- he hadn’t seen her specifically before, but her chakra was undoubtedly Uchiha. “What do you want?”
“Um…here!” With a squeak, she shoved a basket forward so hard it hit him in the gut and made him grunt. She didn’t notice because she was bowing at the waist. “I hope you feel better soon!”
Befuddled, he grasped the handle of the basket- which held, to his further confusion: pears, apples, cheeses- tulips?- a bottle of wine, dried meat, almonds, was that chocolate? There were a few small packages wrapped in brown paper too. What the hell.
“It’s a gift basket!” she almost yelled as she straightened, wringing her hands together. “Please enjoy it!”
Madara was pitifully confused. “What- what’s your name, girl?”
“Me? I’m, uh, I’m Miki,” she stammered out, looking caught off guard.
“Er, thank you…Miki. But…why did you bring this to me?” He glanced at the basket again with a puzzled look on his face and looked back to her expectantly.
“Um, well, I mean…you’re part of the clan and everyone cares about you! I just wanted to do something…something nice, for you? I, uh, I hope you like it, I really have to get back to Naori-san, please have a good day,” she blurted out, then bowed and whipped around to run off as fast as lightning.
Madara stared after her as she went streaking down the street and past a confused Toka in a slight daze. “…huh.”
The official Uzumaki congregation hadn’t yet arrived in Konoha for a talk with the Hokage. Mito had gone ahead of them, wanting to see the village for herself without the rest of her clan members there to pressure her into a marriage with the Senju clan head. Everyone was already expecting it to happen, murmuring in the background about it, to the point most expected Hashirama to give her father a proposal during the talk.
Mito was resigned to this. Resigned to her duty to marry and produce heirs to keep their lines going.
Until she arrived in Konoha and saw Senju Toka walking down the street.
She’d been smitten instantly. The woman was dressed practically, built like a soldier, and had calloused hands from years of using weapons in battle. She might have looked plain to others, but Mito thought she was beautiful.
The best part was, her attraction seemed mutual. When she’d gone up to the woman and asked her name, her eyes had gone wide and she’d blushed when she looked at Mito. Mito had avoided telling her name for a few days, since she knew it would cause the other woman to pull back. Instead of answering, she’d giggled coyly and told the Senju she’d have to guess her name.
Toka was smitten instantly.
She showed Mito the sights, was her guide for days, and it was bliss. The two spoke of war and peace and the relief the village’s creation brought; they discussed politics and the village’s news and lighter things like how Mito kept her hands so soft. She had Toka sit for her one afternoon and made a portrait of her that she tried to gift to the woman. She told Mito to keep it, so she would have a reminder, and they stared at each other with lovestruck expressions for a full two minutes. She understood when Mito told her she wasn’t ready to divulge her real name yet, to call her Miyo, and she told her she was beautiful with any name.
The truth was, Mito had never liked men. Her mother had groomed her as she grew up, prepared her for having a husband; she knew the technical mechanics of how the relationship was supposed to work, her duties as a wife, what she was supposed to do. Duty was paramount in this time and Mito knew hers.
But deep down, she’d known the truth since she was thirteen. She’d known that someday she would be married off and she would have to lie back and have a man atop her and bear his children while never loving him.
Marrying for love was a childish concept, her mother told her, but Mito always held onto a little hope.
But even after meeting Toka, she still knew her duty. She still knew it would have to end. That she was being foolish.
Then she met Madara.
Truthfully, she’d heard many conflicting things about the man and was curious for herself, so she’d staked out where he spent his time and been prepared when he first happened upon her. She’d been expecting a cold, rude man, or perhaps a depressed, distant one, from how people spoke of him. She hadn’t expected to be so amused by his dry humor, to be able to exchange banter so easily, to become his friend.
And then she saw the Shodaime lay eyes on him and she knew that there was love there. Hashirama adored him. He stood closer than two men really should, took every opportunity to touch him, and looked at him with a soft look in his eyes that Mito had recognized in her own; in Toka’s.
And Madara? He was just as in love. She’d seen him blush. How he allowed Hashirama in closer than anyone.
She couldn’t believe the Hokage was so…so open and free and blatant with his affection. He was so brave to do it, to act freely with his lover and damn the consequences from anyone else. Mito was a little bit smitten with him in that moment- not in the way a wife would be, no, in the way one would be with their greatest inspiration.
The truth was, Mito was afraid. She’d always been too afraid to live as her true self, to live with a woman, to live with such courage.
But it was a new age, and Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara were the bravest people she’d ever met.
So, she decided, she would be brave too.
She cared about Madara, and she wouldn’t hurt him by making a marriage contract with Hashirama. She would not dare to break apart such a union when she herself understood how difficult it could be to stay together. She refused to hurt Toka by abandoning her.
She was going to choose for herself what her life was going to be, and damn the consequences.