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“Is that Uchiha Madara?”

Brown eyes trailed the man’s back as he walked through the village street. “I think so,” a newly-minted jounin with purple hair said to the man beside her. “Haven’t seen him around much lately, have you?”

“Not really. Kind of makes you think he’s up to something.”

“I dunno. What would he even be up to?”

“The man took his own brother’s eyes, I wouldn’t put anything past him.”

“Good god,” a new voice interrupted. The duo swiveled and found an Uchiha jounin staring down at them with a look of disgust on her face that made them both cringe in guilt. “Leave the poor man alone, for fuck’s sake. He’s going through enough right now without people talking about him like that.”

The man faltered and glanced at his partner, unsure of how to react. “But-”

A fourth voice spoke up from the booth across from them in the barbeque joint. “Can’t believe I’m saying this, but she’s right,” said, surprisingly, a Senju man as he eyed them with disapproval. “He hasn’t done anything suspicious. If people randomly start dying when they’re alone with him, then you can start talking. Just let him be.”

The Uchiha glanced at him in appreciation and nodded in mutual respect before walking away. He gave the two a stern look and lit a cigar as he got up to leave to make his point.


 

“Naori?”

The woman with dark, curly hair glanced up from where she’d been polishing a strange little metal plate. “Madara-san,” she greeted with surprise, nearly tacking on sama instead. “A pleasant surprise. Did you need something from me?”

Madara paused and considered what he should say, glancing around at the building he’d found her outside of per Hikaku’s directions, a three-story structure whose purpose he didn’t know and that had no windows on the third floor. “It’s- just Madara. I was looking for…Miki?”

He watched closely for her reaction. She smiled fondly. “Did she give you her gift basket?"

“The other day,” he explained. It felt odd to be talking to someone he was starting to remember more clearly but hadn’t seen in decades.

“She was so excited about it,” Naori chuckled, setting the plate aside on the bench she sat on. “She very much admires you, so she was very worried when you disappeared.”

“Admires me?” Madara echoed in surprise. He thought he was more likely to scare children than garner their admiration.

“Miki is…behind her peers in terms of strength,” Naori told him with a smile edged with sympathy. “She doesn’t give herself enough credit, but she’s yet to unlock her Sharingan, and she isn’t as naturally talented as the other genin, so she naturally looks up to you, the strongest of our clan. I trust there wasn’t anything you were allergic to in the basket, or anything of that sort?”

“No, no- I was…I brought her a daishō,” Madara said, gesturing awkwardly to the katana and wakizashi with matching koshirae and hilts that hung at his hip. “As a…thank you.”

Naori’s eyes drifted to the blades and an odd smile overtook her lips. “I’m sure she’ll appreciate it,” she said as she stood. “I suspect I know where she is right now, so I’ll take you there.”

“Is she your…?”

“My ward,” Naori told him. “Her parents passed in one of the clan’s battles many years ago.”

“Oh.” That felt like a lame condolence, if any. “I see.”

Naori picked up her plate and started walking down the street, gesturing for him to follow.


 

Maybe his heart was cold and dead like some people said but even he felt a little abashed at the look on Miki’s face when she took the daishō from him, shaking hands grasping the handles and staring up at him as pale as ice. He was a little bit afraid she was going to faint. He could just see what people were going to say now: Uchiha Madara terrorizing children.

“Th-th-thank you, M-Madara-sama,” she warbled out. “I-I appreciate this!”

“Tch.” Face heating, he folded his arms and darted his eyes away, trying to ignore the subtly smug look on Naori’s face. He was starting to remember such things as the fact that she was the one who caught him and Izuna trying to sneak into an over-eighteen only bath house once and she enjoyed seeing him ruffled in any way. “Every Uchiha should have a blade of some type. Use that one to behead people,” he said, pointing.

Her eyes went even wider with fascination. Her personality made it seem as if she would shy away from blood and gore, but if anything, she looked almost interested in hearing about various ways she could carry out violence with a deadly weapon. It was…a little intriguing.

“Keep in mind you’ll have to learn to use these properly,” Naori broke in, a voice of reason. Not that she didn’t appreciate Madara’s gift, but she hadn’t yet taught Miki how to use a sword.

“Ah…I don’t want to take up more of your time, onee-san…”

“Nonsense,” Madara interrupted, closing his eyes as he crossed his arms and speaking completely on an impulsive whim. “I’ll teach you.”

Hashirama’s dream had won out in the end. Maybe Madara could contribute to the next generation, too, in his own way.

“What?” Naori asked him, confused, as Miki let out something that sounded like a wordless wheeze.

“I have the time,” Madara continued, trying to make it sound like he was nonchalant about it. “But I warn you, training with me will be difficult. Back out now if you don’t think you can handle it.”

“I can handle it! I can handle it! Thank you so much, Madara-sama, I won’t disappoint you, I promise!” Miki yelled in one blurred rush, making him wonder if he was going to have to get a translator at some point. He gave her what he hoped was a composed nod of dismissal. “Thank you!”

She bowed, nearly ramming her head into the hilt of the katana she held, and turned to run off.

Mouth hanging open- that had come out of nowhere- Naori glanced over at him and tilted her head. She stared at him for a moment. “…you did that completely on impulse, didn’t you?”

Madara paused. “…yes.”

She shook her head at him and hid an eye-roll. He resisted the urge to yell don’t judge me at her.

“By the way,” he said after a moment, “how old is she?”

Naori stared at him and placed a hand over her eyes with a sigh.


 

“Isn’t that that Madara fellow?”

“I think so. Rather frightening, isn’t he?”

“They say he’s a warmonger…that his brother-”

“Now, now, you two, I hardly think gossip is productive, is it?”

“A-ah, Uchiha-san…”

“I do believe I don’t hear any Uchiha gossiping about that Senju leader of yours…and that strange bloodline of his. Why, perhaps he got it by experimenting on himself! They do say his brother is knowledgeable about that sort of thing… giving yourself unnatural, terrifying powers like that to defeat your enemies, I couldn’t imagine…”

“A-ah…”

“Madara-san is very tired, yes? I don’t think you should contribute to that.”

“Of-of course. Our apologies.”


 

“What…exactly are you doing?”

Madara may have sounded hesitant, but it was only because he was mildly befuddled. He’d come to the same building he’d found Naori in front of earlier in search of Miki, who took “practice your fire jutsu” to a slightly overboard level and had ended up singing Hikaku’s robes, somehow (he had no idea why the man thought he should ask Madara to ask her to tone it down, instead of just asking himself) and stood in the front room of the first floor watching her rub a flat padded stick against a metal plate with a strange red powder.

She glanced up at him and smiled. “Buffing this plate,” she said, as if that explained anything.

“For what purpose?”

“Taking a photograph, of course.”

When all he did was raise an eyebrow, she hid an eye-roll. He could simply ask her to explain, she thought. “You polish and buff the plate, then sensitize it with iodine and bromine in one of the darkrooms. After exposing it, I’ll develop it and fix it so it can be brought into the light. Would you like to see the process?”

“I suppose so,” Madara replied, thinking that spending time in this secluded building was better than wandering around the village feeling awkward. He wondered who even owned this building and kept it up.

“Excellent! You can sit for me and we’ll take your portrait.”

“What-?”

She snatched his sleeve and dragged him towards the back. He scowled, but didn’t fight. What on earth was with the habit of the women in his life insisting on permanently branding his likeness on their medium of choice?

He hoped Miki didn’t draw.


 

Miki drew. She asked him to sit still during their next training session so she could sketch him, with big, watery puppy dog eyes, and he swore at his stupidity for tempting irony.


 

Madara was uncomfortable, to put it mildly, at the welcoming banquet for the Uzumaki.

He’d sort of…forgotten that Hashirama did, in fact, marry at some point, and the notion made him sour. It reminded him that eventually most of the man’s attention would be taken up by his family and Madara would have to fade into the background. Oh, Hashirama would make an effort to stay connected to him, but he wouldn’t be able to keep a divided attention forever.

Seeing as he was no longer clan head, he didn’t really have a place there, either- the other clan heads had come into the room with a guard and nothing more, and Tobirama was there as the Hokage’s advisor, leaving Madara as Hashirama’s extra guest. He’d been sat between the Yamanaka clan head- who was a little off-putting, for some reason, as she kept giving him weirdly friendly smiles- and an empty seat he supposed was meant for an Uzumaki.

It seemed the village had again grown while he wasn’t looking. The Akimichi leader was there- he’d no doubt followed suit when the clan’s allies, the Nara and Yamanaka, joined Konoha- as well as the leader of the Sarutobi clan, the Hyuuga clan, and the Kurama clan. An Aburame was there, too. That meant the Inuzuka surely weren’t far behind.

The leader of the Uzumaki had been droning on and on for over five minutes about yadda, yadda, yadda. Madara stopped listening after about thirty seconds. He found himself bored, attention drifting, switching between looking at Hashirama- who smiled politely through the whole thing- other faces around the room, and Hikaku’s calm face. He could tell the man was just as bored as him. If he denied it, he was a dirty liar.

Maybe part of him was glad not to have that job anymore. Hikaku seemed to be doing well enough.

Nothing had been set in stone yet, or even officially talked about, but he could feel that most everyone in the room expected a marriage announced by the end of the night. They would have time to mingle in the banquet hall before coming back for the final course, and of course Hashirama would propose a contract there, he thought bitterly.

Hashirama, of course, had completely forgotten about it all due to the last few weeks’ events and had been reminded by Tobirama just minutes before the dinner began. He sat there sweating, unsure of why the idea of marrying Ashina’s daughter made him so uncomfortable, eyes flicking over to Madara periodically. The Uchiha looked so bored he almost felt bad for convincing him to come.

Then again, if Madara wasn’t there, he felt as if his decision on this matter would be…harder? Or easier? He didn’t know.

“I look forward to fostering the alliance between our two villages,” Ashina finished, and Hashirama breathed a sigh of relief. His face was starting to hurt. “And now, a few words from my beloved daughter.”

He stepped back and let a redheaded woman take his place.

Madara’s eyes went wide. That was Uzumaki Mito? The woman he’d been spending time with? The woman he thought of as a friend? That was Hashirama’s wife?

He didn’t even have time to feel bitter (or weirdly betrayed) before she started speaking.

“I’d like to say I support everything my father said, and look forward to watching our villages grow together,” she began, much more succinct than her father. Her eyes met Madara’s and he froze. It was as if she was telling him hold on, trust me, don’t be angry yet. “I also look forward to living here, as I will be moving to Konoha and making a home here.”

What?

“As I’m sure most of you have heard whispers of, some believe I came here to marry the Shodaime Hokage.” A secretive smile appeared on her lips. A few started to murmur at her sheer bluntness- no one had expected the Uzumaki to acknowledge this beforehand. “But I must confirm that this is not the case.”

She looked at Madara again, a knowing look in her eye, and he was too frozen to do anything, one hand still holding his wine glass. Behind her, her father had started to frown.

“I will not be marrying anyone, in fact. I will offer my skills to the village and contribute with my own strengths. However, I must dispel any rumors now: though Hokage-sama is a wonderful person, I will not be marrying this man, nor any man. There is someone I have in mind, however, and I hope you will all offer your congratulations should she one day say yes, and help us turn Konohagakure into a place where all love between people of any genders is accepted.”

Dead silence fell over the room. Madara felt lightheaded. He drained his glass in one go and set it down.

The silence dragged on. She continued to smile primly at them, unbothered.

Well, he couldn’t just let her stand there without offering some type of support.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

Every eye in the room turned to the source of the noise. Madara had reclined in his seat, looking unconcerned, clapping with the wiliest smirk Hashirama had seen him wear in months. Tobirama twitched at him across the room.

No one else clapped; they were too stunned. He decided that he was Uchiha Madara, and he didn’t care.

“I’ll drink to that,” he said, loudly, wearing something in between a smile and a sneer. He snagged the glass from Mito’s spot beside him and held it up. Beaming, Mito took one from the table in front of her and mimed clinking glasses with him from across the room. They both drank the whole thing while the room continued to stare at them.

Madara set his glass down once it was empty, stood up, and gave Mito his most simpering stare. She had already started walking around the tables over to him. “A dance in celebration?”

“Of course,” she replied coyly, sliding her arm through his when she reached him.

The two exited through the doors that led to the hall, where members of each clan had gathered, and many had been staring through the open doors in astonishment. Madara walked at an equal pace with Mito rather than leading her towards the center of the floor, where there was room.

“You do know how to dance, yes?” Mito whispered to him, a twinkle in her eyes.

Wasn’t that a loaded question. He got the feeling she meant something more scandalous than the appropriate, slow dancing that some around them had started to assume as a gentle music began to play from the violinists. He placed a hand on her waist and took her hand, moving to the same rhythm as the rest of the duos in the room.

“Of course,” he replied loftily, and he wasn’t lying. Dancing was a pastime he’d loved in his youth that even Hashirama wasn’t aware of. He still remembered when he and his brothers would toss off their outer layer of clothing and leap about around their campfire like wild little monkeys. He’d gained finesse since then, obviously.

She smiled sharply as they moved about the floor. “Another question. Do you like women?”

That gave Madara pause. It seemed completely off topic. Yet she was staring at him with an amused smile that told him she wasn’t asking for no reason. He thought for a moment. “I…have never looked at a woman and felt any sort of interest,” he realized, surprised for some reason. He hadn’t felt even an ounce of attraction to even Mito, he thought- he’d been relieved that she wasn’t marrying Hashirama for…whatever reason. It meant he wasn’t going to lose his friend. But it hadn’t been because he loved her instead or anything of the sort.

“I see. And would Hashirama-san mind if I danced with you inappropriately?”

“Why would Hashirama care?” he asked, confused. Mito paused and raised her eyebrows at him.

“Because you…” She trailed off when he only grew more befuddled. Her lips pressed together. “I see. So…he hasn’t told you yet, has he?” She narrowed her eyes over his shoulder at Hashirama as the clan heads trailed out of the meeting room, looking almost…offended on his behalf?

“Told me wha-”

“No matter,” she said with a sparkling smile, changing the subject again. She quickened her step, suddenly, making him speed up to keep up. “What do you like, Madara?”

“What do I like?”

She leaned in and whispered into his ear, sending a shiver through his side. “What do you think is sexually attractive?”

Madara froze, almost missing a step. “W-what?” he stumbled over his words like he did the dance, caught completely off guard.

“What’s attractive to you?” she purred, looking like she already knew the answer.

“I…” What was attractive to him? He hadn’t thought about this since he was a teenager, and that was…eighty decades ago? He didn’t even know anymore.

Then again…he vividly remembered that he and Izuna had shared the same tastes, because they both had the bad habit of liking battle a little too much if they had the right opponent.

“Power,” he said after a moment, staring into space. Yes, he thought, that was the right answer. If there was one thing that made him feel hot all over it was being in the heat of battle, feeling exhilaration run through him as an opponent with an ungodly amount of chakra fought against him-

Which…put a new light on his fights with Hashir-

No. No, no, bad train of thought. He was not letting himself go there.

“As I thought,” Mito snickered into his ear.

And then his brain caught up with where his logic, well…logically led.

The only people who’d ever been able to put up a fight against him- who’d given him that exhilarated feeling- who’d made him feel the rush of challenge tinged with excitement- were men. Even the kunoichi who’d been able to put up some type of fight against him in the fourth war hadn’t excited him like-

No, he told his mind, he would not think of Hashirama in that context. That was…different, obviously.

There were others, weren’t there? He searched his memory desperately for them, flitting through events and battles. He remembered the day he’d turned fourteen and clashed with a boy from the Inuzuka and felt a clamminess in his hands when he saw the other boy’s sharp teeth and wild features.

“…I…like men,” he realized, surprised. He felt as if he should have consciously noticed it sooner. It was fairly obvious once he thought about it.

“Also as I thought,” Mito said, endlessly amused, and she raised an eyebrow at him. “Remember who you’re talking to?”

Right. The woman who’d just declared herself to a whole village.

Somehow he felt a new kind of comradery with her, like two outcasts connecting over a shared origin.

The realization wasn’t that startling- he had no urge to go find anyone, and it wasn’t as if anyone could match him. It didn’t matter. Obviously. He wasn’t built for that sort of thing.

“Now let’s put on a show. This is always more fun with men who don’t like women. I don’t have to worry about your hands wandering.”

Madara raised an eyebrow and said nothing. Mito swung them by the violinists and nabbed a glass of champagne from a waiter’s tray as she passed him. “Do Konoha shinobi not know how to throw a proper banquet?” she asked the band sweetly, sipping the drink and twirling Madara around. She set it down on the tray on the next rotation and smiled at the head violinist. “Play something faster, if you’d please.”

She blinked at the Uzumaki and nodded obediently.

Mito looked at Madara with an ornery expression. He began to smirk back.

The music increased in pace as they made their way back through the crowd towards the middle of the room.

Mito wasn’t stupid. She knew she’d only escaped her father’s ire because the entire room had been too stunned to stop her or do anything. After tonight, she knew she was liable to face the anger of her entire clan, or even have to combat them trying to forcefully take her back to Uzushio. She knew she was in for yelled rants and chastisements and her father’s disapproving glare. Even after him, she knew that while some in Konoha would support her, others would give her unfavorable stares and talk behind her back. Many would only see the fact that she liked women and would never see past it. She may have asserted her freedom, but her life was going to be more difficult now.

But right now, with Uchiha Madara holding her, nothing could touch her until this night was over and she was going to enjoy it.

People around them began giving them sideways glances as they sped up, past the speed of the rest of the dancers. Madara found that she countered him at every step, better than any of the dancers in the various casinos or clubs he’d snuck off to in his life had, better than even Izuna. Though he was a little impressed, he hid it as he kept a smirk plastered onto his face.

In the back of his mind, he noted the other couples moving out of the way and starting to empty the floor, a gradual thing that started to quicken the faster they became. Mito twirled on one foot and somehow ended up two yards away from him, her outer kimono halfway off her shoulders, which were bare due to her first layer having cut out sleeves. She tossed it into the air behind her to the gasps of several women in the room and ripped out the pins keeping her hair tied up.

Not to be outdone, Madara threw off his yukata, leaving himself in only a button-up with no sleeves and the bodysuit he had on underneath.

Mito smirked and slithered towards him, sliding across the floor. She placed a hand on his abdomen and gave him a shove, circling him like a predator before they melded together again and moved across the floor with harsh and quick movements that looked fluid to their audience.

All right, a voice that sounded like Izuna told him, maybe you’ve had too much wine. (Inaccurate. Izuna would be just as drunk and laughing himself to death.)

Madara twirled her into a dip, trying hard not to let his smirk turn into a maniacal grin. It had been a long while since he’d been able to let loose and have fun. (Well, fun that didn’t involve demolishing whole armies, at least.)

She came up with a leg wrapped obscenely around his hip and a look on her face that told him she was enjoying it just as much as he was. He lifted her from the ground and whirled around, setting her down and turning until they were side by side. She reeled him in by his hand and this time she dipped him. That was probably more obscene to the gasping crowd than anything else.

Madara arched his back and stretched out, making the line of his body as sultry and salacious as he could. Her eyes were on fire with the light of competition as she gazed down at him and pulled him up.

He let go and threw everything he had into every movement, matched at every point and having the time of his life. He forgot that anyone in the crowd was even there, even when they murmured or spoke in hushed voices at his debauchedness.

Mito snagged the sash on his waist as she passed him by and unwound it as they moved away from each other, no part of either of their bodies still as they danced. He caught the end before it fell away from him and let her reel him in until he was pressed flush against her back, one hand caught in the sash and the other on her hip. She reached back and placed a hand on his, the other pressed against her own thigh as she rotated her hips, moving his with hers. He thought he heard someone choke.

She turned and placed her hands on his bare arms. “Ready for the big finish?” she whispered around a grin.

They broke apart and gave each other a mischievous glance. She came running at him and leapt, throwing herself into his arms as he whirled her into a dip that left one leg hooked over his shoulder and one pointing at the wall as the music reached a crescendo and stopped. They both paused and panted with exertion, grinning, but not expecting any applause.

There was a laugh from the other end of the room before two people began to applaud at the same time. Hikaku and Naori stared at him, equally amused. Madara glanced up and was surprised to find most of his clan members grinning at them, starting a chorus of applause that goaded others from the clans to clap, and withheld a laugh. He’d forgotten that many of the Uchiha had been privileged to seeing him dance before. Shinobi began hollering out wordless compliments even if just as many were still in uncomfortable silence.

“Start the music again!” someone called, and the violinists began again.

Dancers flooded the floor once more as the duo relaxed, and Mito sent him a roguish smile full of mischief. She nodded her head at the doors they’d come in through and he followed her gaze.

He didn’t know what she expected him to look at; there was her father, looking like he was having an aneurism, various Uzumaki, some of which were covering their eyes in consternation, Tobirama, who looked an inch away from either passing out or stomping over to hiss out a reprimand, and Hashirama, who-

Was staring straight at him with an expression Madara had never seen before, mouth hanging wide open and a flush to his cheeks that made them look hot to touch. His eyes had always been expressive, and right now they were glazed over with incredulity and…something Madara couldn’t identify.

He jerked around and looked away, a heat in his cheekbones that wasn’t from their activities. “Wine?” Mito asked innocently, holding out a goblet. He glared at her and snatched it out of her hand.

“I’m starting to think you’re insane,” he told her, taking a long drink.

She chuckled. “Why do you think we get along so well?”


 

Madara’s head was pounding. He groaned as he lay there, not wanting to get up, and infuriating sunlight streamed in through his window.

I forgot to drink water between rounds again, he thought angrily at himself, shoving himself up to lean on his elbow. Red strands of hair were strewn over his side.

He glanced behind him and found Mito curled up on the other side of his made-up bed. Apparently they’d been too drunk to even get under the covers. Grimacing, he hoped no one had seen them go home together- even if she’d declared that she liked women and only women, there were still those who’d call her a whore for staying the night at his house.

Even if the chances of them doing anything were lower than Hashirama deciding he hated the village and defecting. Considering that he’d had the revelation that the powerful people that attracted him were exclusively male.

This was the reason he shouldn’t get drunk, he thought, because Uchiha had a tendency to get wild when they drank and it seemed Uzumaki only fed into that. He remembered them drinking more after their performance (incident was a better word), then dancing more, then drinking more.

Mito moaned and slowly opened her eyes. He sat up and she squinted at his face. “You look horrible.”

“You look worse,” Madara retorted.

She sat up and yawned. “Do you have anything to eat? I could eat a mule,” she admitted, looking a tad embarrassed. He gestured at the doorway to the kitchen. She pushed herself off the bed and padded out of the room.

Madara sat there, listening to her rifle through his cabinets, and thought to himself that it was…nice, having someone there when he awoke, instead of his empty room and a quiet silence around him. The silence had become deafening in that cave, in his house in the woods, in death. Unprompted, his mind conjured the idea of having someone there every morning, hair draped over him, of a different color-

He shut that thought down before it went anywhere. He was only having these thoughts because of correlation, he thought. Hashirama was strong- stronger than him- and conveniently male, so his mind was automatically jumping there. Self-control and a dose of common sense would fix that.

(Besides, as if Hashirama would ever love him.)


 

Hashirama was…conflicted.

When Mito had come out with her intentions, he’d been too surprised to react- but he was happy the woman was finding herself and thought the village was a good place to make a home. Hashirama had no problem with loving anyone. Maybe his father and many from his generation looked down on it, but the world had so much hate in it- it needed more love.

He hadn’t expected her to exit with Madara and do…that.

How did they even know each other? He’d run into them on the street together, but he’d assumed Mito was with Toka.

But apparently, they knew each other well enough to…get to know each other like they had. (Really, he was glad Madara was making new friends, but the display had shocked him. One minute Madara was his socially distant and slightly inept friend and the next he was oozing something intimate with a stranger.)

One would think he would have been staring at Mito- more than one person was gawking at the beautiful woman as she moved- but he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Madara. He had no idea his friend could move like that, that he could even dance at all, and it was as if he’d lost control of his eyes because he couldn’t stop staring. At Madara’s legs when he kicked them out, confident and lofty, at his shoulders as he moved, at the skin on his neck when he arched and beads of sweat ran down his jugular, at his whole body as it rolled in a way that was downright sexual. The room had felt uncomfortably warm in his Hokage’s robes.

Seeing Madara like that- in such a way he’d never seen before- awoke weird feelings he didn’t know if he’d always had and just hadn’t noticed or were new, making indecisiveness and confusion swirl in his gut. He wasn’t dumb. He knew that his friend had…aroused him. That these feelings were far from platonic.

He hadn’t considered whether or not he saw men in a romantic way because he’d assumed he would find a wife and produce heirs someday. He hadn’t ruled it out, he just hadn’t considered it, and he certainly had never expected his best friend to elicit those feelings.

He had to consider, really, that it was just physical. Who wouldn’t be excited by the display of skin and sweat and sensuality he’d seen?

He couldn’t just…ignore it, but he couldn’t jump on this, move quickly, assume things- he couldn’t play with Madara like that or lead him on. Some part of him was in a bit of denial. Surely not Madara…he’s my best friend. I’ve never felt that way before.

He had to find out for sure.

He would just wait. Let things move on like everything was normal.

Everything was normal. Everything was fine. He was probably just overreacting- as usual. Tobirama was always chastising him about that.

Just overreacting.


 

Mito appeared before him in a flash of red and white. Sometimes he forgot she was a kunoichi until she drew seals at record speed and shunshin’d where she wanted to go.

She drew in a long, slow breath, standing there with her eyes closed. Madara had been in the middle of watering a fern in the garden beside his house- a thank you gift from Miki for training her (what was her deal with gifts?) and set his watering pot down carefully when he saw her.

“What is it?” he asked, slow and quiet.

“My father,” she replied. She opened her eyes, gaze boring into his, hands hidden in the sleeves of her kimono. “I have three days.”

He raised an eyebrow as a prompt for her to continue.

“If I don’t return to the delegation,” she said, lip twitching with repressed emotion, “and agree to marry who he’s chosen for me, he’s going to disown me.”

Madara paused, face blank save for his raised eyebrow.

“The alliance with the village will remain. This only affects me. Konoha shinobi will be able to visit Uzushio. But I…I will never be allowed to return. Ever.”

The information hit him like an angry rhinoceros. That was…cold-hearted, even in his opinion. And he knew cold-heartedness. Rage formed an angry ball in his chest, but this was a problem he couldn’t just cleave through with his Susanoo.

“My family. My friends.” She bit into her lip and her eyes shone, but no tears fell. She set her jaw. “I’ll see none of them ever again unless they visit me.”

“Don’t go,” Madara said on impulse, and perhaps it was selfish of him, to tell her to give all that up- or maybe it would have been selfish to say otherwise.

Something flickered in her eyes. She glanced down at his ferns, smiling. “Besides Toka…you’re the only one I have here. You’ll…stay with me?”

And it was like the world flipped out from under his feet, because it had been years since he had been that to someone, since he had been one of the last people they had left- since he had a friend who depended on him. Since he had a friend other than Hashirama.

It made something that had hardened years ago in him soften.

“Always,” he promised.

(He stood by her side as her father and family left, not sparing her a single glance, ignoring her as she stood there with a straight back and chin held high, daring anyone with his presence to look at her the wrong way. No one dared.)


 

Madara stared down at the box Miki had handed to him with a furrow in his eyebrows. “What…is this?”

Miki pursed her lips. It had taken several training sessions for her to relax a little around him, which turned out to be both in his favor because she wasn’t as nervous in spars and working against him because she was just as stubborn as Hikaku could be when it came to such matters as they were speaking of. “Your hair is out of control, sensei,” she told him, solemnly, as if he was dying.

“What’s wrong with my hair?” Madara demanded, offended. Her eyes drifted to the ground between them.

“...do you have a brush, sensei?”

“Of course I do!” Flabbergasted, he reached up to feel his unruly spikes and glared down at her. She wasn’t cowed; she knew it from his real glares that made people shiver in fear.

…and, all right, perhaps he’d forgotten to buy a brush. He combed his hair with his fingers every day- it worked well enough, why did he need a brush?

“Do you use it?” she mumbled timidly. Madara started twitching madly.

Behind them, Mito giggled, making the twitching worse.

The box she’d handed him held a fine-toothed silver comb with a cherry blossom tree painted on, probably something either she or Naori had gotten for themselves, and several hair ties that he refused to think of as ribbons.

“I’m just saying,” Miki went on, red in the face, “that maybe you should tie it up sometimes, because maybe it’d be easier to…keep stuff from getting in it, and getting tangled…”

He narrowed his eyes down at her as if daring her to go on.

“Come on, Madara,” Mito snickered from her stump. “I’m sure they’ll make you look dashing.”

“You be quiet,” Madara ordered with another glare, which only made her laugh under her breath. He glared balefully at Miki, who stared back with a hopeful expression, and huffed. “Fine, then. Hold this.”

He shoved the box towards her. Looking delighted, she gladly held it for him. He grabbed the least offending ribbon tie (had she taken these from her own collection? There was one with a cat face pattern), a bright red one, and put it in his mouth as he used both hands to start to get his hair under control. Tying it up always took a minute or two of fighting.

“Ahah, there you are!” Hashirama’s cheerful voice called out. Madara turned and raised a questioning eyebrow as the Hokage jogged towards where they were gathered on the training ground Madara had originally carved out. It had been dubbed Training Ground Three on all the maps being drawn up. “I’ve been looking for y-”

He froze, quite literally, mid-step, arms still locked in a cycle opposite his legs, staring with a frozen smile at Madara as the man stared back inquisitively.

Mito tilted her head in amusement and watched the Shodaime’s smile twitch. His eyes looked panicked, all of a sudden. She suspected she knew why.

“Ah…ah…I was…”

Madara’s tongue poked out to keep the hair tie ribbon from falling out of his mouth. His eyebrow rose higher, and his face obviously told them he was waiting for Hashirama to go on with a bit of rising impatience. He would have gone Spit it out already, Hashirama if he was able.

A wheeze left Hashirama’s chest. “I…suddenly remembered I have paperwork I need to do!” he shouted, back-stepping and cartwheeling his arms in a panic. He turned and sprinted away, fleeing back towards the village. “Ahahah, you all know how much I love paperwork! It’s so important!”

Madara finished tying his hair into a ponytail and stared after Hashirama in blatant confusion. What in the world was wrong with him? Had he eaten something weird? Did he have to be such a freak in front of Madara’s only student?

“Was that Hokage-sama?” Miki asked, puzzled.

“Yes.”

“Oh. He’s…he’s weird.”

Madara sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “I know.”