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Tobirama realized just what was going on in the most uneventful way possible.

It was an afternoon like any other; he’d finished his morning paperwork and was leaning back in his chair, considering going out to lunch, while Hashirama continued to slog through the last of his and Madara did the same.

It was a bit odd that they’d found a…routine, but the former Uchiha leader’s presence wasn’t as excruciating as some thought it to be.

Madara had gone over to Hashirama’s desk (and, all right, Tobirama was a bit amused when Hashirama screwed something up and the Uchiha gave him a tongue lashing over it that left him sitting in a dejected cloud) to hand him a report about the Academy tests, which he’d gone to watch and assess himself the previous day.

Hashirama rested a hand over his wrist and smiled up at him with a thank you.

Madara stared back blankly for a moment before muttering a response and turning away.

His cheeks had gone red, and he was resolutely looking at nothing but his own desk.

It all clicked in Tobirama’s brain, because that- that was a blush. Not a flush of embarrassment or going red from anger or humiliation; a blush brought on by one person only.

It all made sense.

The odd behavior, the random bouts of becoming uncomfortable, the weird reactions to Hashirama.

He was a bit dumbfounded at first. He’d never seen Madara express an interest in men, but then again, he had never seen him express much interest in anyone. And when he really got to thinking about it, he was so attached to Hashirama that it made sense for some feelings to develop. The two had known each other since their childhood, even if several years of that relationship had been…rocky, to put it politely.

Still, some part of him was in disbelief that Madara fostered romantic feelings for Hashirama.

He wasn’t sure if he was confused, felt numb by the revelation, felt disapproval, or wanted to ram his head into a wall.

Then his mind began piecing together bits and pieces of interactions and behavior and he started to feel…pity.

Because- even if he was in full disapproval- what was there to disapprove of? Madara had been exhibiting these signs for weeks, but, rather than act on them, he was trying to hide it- that much was certain the more Tobirama thought about it. The man was attempting to hide his feelings from Hashirama and ignore it.

And Hashirama- Tobirama knew that he was certainly fond of Madara, fond of him more so than any other friend, but he wasn’t sure if his brother felt the same way. From his behavior, Tobirama could see it going either way.

Madara wasn’t stupid; he most likely thought the same. As Tobirama had learnt, he wasn’t a bad person- he was irritating, hard to deal with, belligerent at times, but Tobirama had, by now, spent weeks with him as he worked just as hard as himself or Hashirama to get the village off the ground. He’d thought he was doing it for free and hadn’t even asked for anything in return.

And most of all, Madara never did anything halfway. If there was one thing everyone knew about him, it was that he felt in vivacity and intensity. His temper was famous for a reason.

Anything he felt for Hashirama had to be just as intense.

Feeling something like that for someone he considered his best friend- when they were both men, no less (was that part of the reason he held back, because Hashirama was the Hokage?)- and spending every day with him, especially considering how brazen Hashirama was with showing his affection to people he cared for, was a slow torture.

Tobirama felt many things, some of which he wasn’t sure how to decrypt, but as he watched Madara stare at a piece of paper hard enough to burn through it, biting down on his cheek, he couldn’t find it in himself to be angry at a man who obviously didn’t want to be in this situation.

His eyes darted over to Hashirama again. He was humming to himself as he looked over the report Madara had given him, looking happy and content. It was much easier for him to get through paperwork with the other two there; shared burdens were easier to cope with (aka, others suffering along with you made the suffering more tolerable).

How could Tobirama know if he felt the same as Madara did? He was open with his emotions, yet if he himself wasn’t aware of them, that was no way to tell.

Tobirama had always assumed his brother would marry a woman and produce heirs to keep their line going strong. He hadn’t really considered who he liked- it had never come up, and there were certain expectations he carried as clan head, and now, Hokage.

He certainly did consider it the safest route- for his brother, and for the clan- for Hashirama to find a wife and do so, but that was due to their responsibilities and what would be safe.

However, despite the jokes certain people liked to make at his expense about mother-henning, he was no overbearing control freak intent on making sure Hashirama obeyed. The Hokage was a grown man who would have to make his own decisions, and all his little brother could do was offer what advice he could. Tobirama would never dare go behind his back to try and arrange anything with a woman without his knowledge. Even with his responsibilities, the expectations on his shoulders, the standards of the society they lived in…

At his core, Tobirama did wish his brother to be happy.

Hashirama was someone who would only shine duller and duller if he was forced to live with a miserable lot he hadn’t chosen. If a man made him happy, Tobirama would accept it and deal with the fallout in the shadows to protect him.

He also had more faith in Hashirama than some gave him credit for. There was no one else who could have spearheaded the creation of Konoha; Hashirama was unlike any other with his charisma and ability to win over others with his words, and if there was someone who could defy the odds and bigoted traditions, it was him.

If Madara made him happy, Tobirama would accept it and deal with the infuriating family dinners that would undoubtedly follow.

Hashirama picked up his quill. Tobirama glanced over at Madara and found him watching the Hokage, his usual mask of indifference having fallen slightly, eyes centered on Hashirama’s as they moved along the page.

A moment later he tore his gaze away and glared at his own paperwork, looking angry at himself, before forcing his face to go blank- but his grip on his own quill was so tight Tobirama was surprised it didn’t break.

Yes, he thought- he wasn’t angry at Uchiha Madara, just a little bit sorry for him.


 

It seemed that finding abandoned baby animals in the woods was becoming a habit of his. Madara’s trek through the forest back from his own solo training was interrupted by a single, high-pitched keen that nearly startled him. It had come out of nowhere, quite literally.

He paused on a tree branch and searched the forest floor, catching sight of a small brown lump a few feet away from the base of a tree.

A bolt of concern shot through him when he realized what it was; a baby kestrel, feathers ruffled, wing bent at an odd angle as it lay immobile in the grass. It stared up at him with wide, unreadable, yet expecting eyes that were frighteningly reminiscent of Zunu.

He leapt to the ground and bent on his knees beside it, gently moving it into the palm of his hand. “Poor thing,” he cooed, stroking its head with his index finger. “Did your mother abandon you?”

It tilted his head at him and pecked at his glove as if to complain he hadn’t brought food. “Later,” he promised, standing. “We need to fix that wing first.”

It- or she, rather- cheeped at him, sounding unconcerned. In fact, she seemed rather satisfied with her current lot, unbothered by the unfamiliar human who’d picked her off the forest floor.

He didn’t have a kestrel, he thought to himself, a little bit pleased, but they could be deadly. Watatsumi would surely accept a new addition to the aviary.

He returned to the Hokage Tower, expecting Hashirama to still be there doing paperwork like he had an hour ago, and approached the office- which was, for some reason, closed. He frowned, knowing there was no meeting scheduled, and moved a hand away from Tatsumaki (so what if he’d already named her?) to open the door.

“My only point is,” an unfamiliar Senju was saying, obviously frustrated as he stared at Tobirama with a furrowed brow, “I don’t think he should be this close to the administration-”

He froze like he’d been caught doing something awry when Madara stepped inside. He didn’t care either way what the man wanted; he was talking to Tobirama, so it must’ve been his business. “Tobirama,” he said, “where’s Hashirama?”

“Hashirama? He’s out, why?” Tobirama looked at him with a frown. He was annoyed; Madara could recognize it by now. However, it wasn’t the fun annoyed that unfolded when Madara goaded him, and for once it wasn’t directed at him. He looked more than a little irritated at whatever conversation he’d been having.

“Where’d that idiot get off to now? I need his medical jutsu,” Madara complained.

The unfamiliar man glowered a little bit and opened his mouth; then his eyes fell to what he held. Tobirama’s gaze dropped to his new falcon at the same time, remarkably blank.

“She has a broken wing,” he said for explanation, because apparently they needed one despite having working eyes. They continued to stare. “I found her outside.” Tatsumaki chirped, once, in agreement.

“Outside” was always a broad term in Konoha.

Madara returned his other hand to cover the kestrel’s small body and gave them an imperious stare. “Well?” he prodded. “It won’t heal on its own.”

Tobirama’s eyebrow slowly rose a steady path up his forehead. He gave his fellow Senju a pointed glance.

The man floundered for a moment. “I…have an appointment I need to get to. Excuse me, sir,” he said, sounding a bit sour as he hurried over to the door.

Madara looked after him for half a second before remembering he didn’t care and turning back to Tobirama. “Well? Where is he?”

The man sighed and rubbed his temples.


 

Tobirama wasn’t sure why Kenichi thought he was the man to complain to if he thought Madara’s job was inappropriately-given. Well, he did know why- they all knew Hashirama would just listen to their complains in full, press his lips together, put on a fake smile and tell them he had it handled and their concerns were unnecessary (the man could be much more passive aggressive than anyone suspected).

With how he’d been acting with Madara, lately, he also doubted anyone was brave enough to criticize the man in his presence.

“I’m just concerned,” Kenichi went on, like he had been for the last three minutes and twenty-five seconds. “He’s been acting strange as of late and you know the things they say about him.”

“Things? What things?” Tobirama raised his eyebrows and pretended not to have the faintest clue what the man was referring to.

Kenichi frowned. “I’m sure you’ve heard them yourself, Tobirama-sama.” His concern, however genuine, was misguided. Tobirama knew exactly what rumors he was referring to and he also knew how quickly any random Uchiha would snap at someone for spreading them. At least Kenichi wasn’t complaining where any of them could hear. “I don’t mean to cast any illusions on his character, but are you sure having him work directly under the Hokage is a smart decision? With sensitive materials-”

“I’ve interacted with the man myself, Kenichi. We do, indeed, sit in the same room together every day. I’ll know if he starts planning something.”

Tobirama’s irritation lay less with whether he agreed or disagreed with what Kenichi said and more with the fact that he was doing the polite equivalent of arguing with him. Obviously, he did value his subordinates’ opinions and suspicions- but when it came to Madara, it was very easy, it seemed, for those suspicions to lean on mere rumors for support rather than factual evidence, and Kenichi was acting more like he was trying to convince Tobirama to somehow yank Madara’s position out from beneath him than simply trying to convey his concerns. At some point, a subordinate needed to accept the fact that his higher-ups had it under control- although there wasn’t much to have under control in the first place, considering Madara would most likely have an aneurism from Hashirama’s unashamed tenderness sooner than do anything worthy of suspicion.

“What, specifically, has he done to make you suspicious?” he asked when Kenichi opened his mouth, folding his hands into a steeple. He found that others quickly ran out of steam when forced to defend their positions if they had little with which to defend.  

Kenichi faltered. “I…well, you can’t say you think he’s harmless, Tobirama-sama.” Tobirama stared blandly at him, unimpressed with the way he avoided the question and tried to change his focus. “My only point is, I don’t think he should be this close to the administration-”

The door swung open. They both paused and glanced at Madara, who’d entered with nary a warning, holding something in his hand. Kenichi froze.

“Tobirama,” he began, “where’s Hashirama?”

Tobirama felt uncomfortable with the man’s sudden presence after he’d just been having a discussion about him. He wouldn’t have, a few weeks ago, but there was a vaguely dishonest taste in his mouth and he couldn’t pinpoint why. He frowned. “Hashirama? He’s out, why?”

Madara scowled. “Where’d that idiot get off to now? I need his medical jutsu.”

Kenichi started to glare, no doubt unhappy with Madara referring to the Senju leader as an idiot- even though Tobirama knew it was little more than a nickname of habit by now- before both their gazes fell on what Madara was holding.

When it became apparent their silence would go on, Madara spoke, sounding put out. “She has a broken wing. I found her outside.”

The bird chirped as if it were agreeing with him.

Outside was a rather broad term. Tobirama suspected he’d found that kestrel in the forest and not on the sidewalk.

Madara covered it with a hand like he was trying to hide it from their odd staring. “Well? It won’t heal on its own,” he snapped, obviously impatient.

(Was this man the same one he’d seen cackle wildly on a battlefield? How was he the same one he’d seen cackle wildly on a battlefield?)

Tobirama raised an eyebrow and turned to look at Kenichi, silently mocking the very words he’d just said. You can’t say you think he’s harmless.

Obviously, Madara was not nor would he ever be harmless, but the juxtaposition between Kenichi’s complaints and the Uchiha walking in with a baby bird he’d rescued was a hilarious kind of irony.

A redness tinted Kenichi’s cheeks and neck. Not the bashful blush of a would-be lover, no, this was a flush of humiliation. “I…have an appointment I need to get to. Excuse me, sir,” he said sourly, and fled the room.

The whole thing was a bit amusing behind how irritating it was.

Madara stared after Kenichi for a half a moment before turning back to him. “Well? Where is he?”

Tobirama just sighed and rubbed his temples.

He swore, Uchiha Madara and his brother…


 

Tobirama remembered a vague detail from his drunken night out with the Uchiha hive in the middle of training. He paused as he was blocking Hashirama’s wooden katana, staring into space as they stood in the yard within their home. “Did you know Madara has a student?”

That made Hashirama falter. His sword slipped off Tobirama’s and left them both standing there awkwardly. “What?”

“Madara. He has a student.” Tobirama was stuck on the piece of information now that he could finally remember it. How on earth had he not remembered a detail as odd as that sooner? “Hikaku and Naori told me.”

“Madara has a student? Why didn’t he tell me?” Hashirama whined, bottom lip jutting out in a pout. Tobirama wondered if his brother legitimately expected Madara to tell him everything he did.

He shrugged and raised his sword again as they started to circle each other, albeit very distractedly on Hashirama’s end. “For several weeks now, apparently.”

Weeks! I’d tell him all about it if I got a student,” Hashirama complained, taking a swing at him. Tobirama leapt back to avoid it. “I- wait, that’s a great idea!” His eyes lit up as he looked at Tobirama. “We should take students too at some point, shouldn’t we?”

“I would assume so,” Tobirama grunted as he dodged another swipe. “Sasuke’s mentioned something about taking on his boy. It would be a favor to the Sarutobi.”

“He’s in the Academy, right?” Hashirama ducked to avoid his sword and gave a sharp tap to his brother’s shin that made him hiss. “You could take his genin team when they graduate. I don’t have the time myself, but I could help.”

“True.” Tobirama kept his eyes on the other’s movements as he considered the idea. “That leaves me a few months to prepare, at least.”

Hashirama grinned at him. “Daunted by the prospect of dealing with children, Tobirama?”

“I already have enough practice from dealing with you, anija.”

“That’s cold…”

They were both brought out of their banter by a rhythmic knocking from the direction of the front of the house. The yard stretched around the side, and they’d neared the front by now; Hashirama jogged over to the fence and peeked through a gap in the boards to check if someone was at their door, freezing with a gasp when he did. “Tobirama!” he whispered. “I think I see her!”

The spar was obviously over now. With a sigh, Tobirama walked over to look through the fence beside him, resisting the urge to facepalm at the man’s excited bouncing.

A girl who looked similar to Madara herself, with unkempt black hair and her own set of bags beneath her eyes, was knocking on the door to his home. “Sensei!” she yelled, making Hashirama let out a weird gurgling noise of happiness that made Tobirama give him a side-eye. When no one answered the door, she started shouting louder. “Sensei!”

The door swung open mid-knock. She jumped a foot high with a squeak as Madara stared blearily down at her. His hair was a ruffled mess, and his eyes were glazed over in a way that told them he’d been sleeping. Or, rather, napping, considering it was the middle of the day. “Miki?”

“Sensei,” the girl wailed, so dramatic and loud that Tobirama almost thought she was related to Hashirama instead. Her eyes welled up with unshed tears. “Madara-sensei, I’m a failure.”

Madara gave a light sigh and rolled his eyes towards the heavens, sounding markedly patient. “What happened this time?”

Miki’s lip began to wobble. “I…I tried to ask Tamaki to go train with me but I chickened out again…I’m a total coward.”

Tobirama had seen more of Madara’s smiles the more time he spent with him and Hashirama, but it was still a bit strange seeing the fond smile that took over his lips as he set a hand on his student’s head and ruffled her hair. “You’ll get there eventually.”

“Isn’t Tamaki Kenichi’s girl?” Hashirama whispered to him, trying to decode the conversation. Tobirama nodded without saying anything.

“What about you, sensei?” the girl looked up at him through her bangs and fiddled with her gloves. “Have you talked to the person you like?”

Tobirama froze, wondering if Hashirama would catch on as Madara’s cheekbones tinted pink. His brother paused, an odd expression flitting across his face, but said nothing.

“No,” Madara replied, averting his gaze from Miki’s. “That’s not important. Have you finished practicing your Gōenka?”

Miki’s eyes lit up and they could feel the glee radiating from her. “Yes! I made eight yesterday!”

“Good. Today we’re going to learn something…bigger.”

She folded slightly shaking hands together and stared up at him hopefully. “Bigger?”

“You should know the Gōka Messhitsu. So yes.” A gleam appeared in Madara’s eye that made Hashirama internally cringe at how many trees he would have to regrow. “Bigger.

“And if you succeed with the Gōka Messhitsu,” Madara continued, “I’ll teach you the Gōka Mekkyaku.”

The girl let out a sound so high-pitched it made their eavesdroppers wince. “Thank you, sensei! I’ll succeed, I swear!”

She turned and started running, presumably, towards their training ground. Madara smirked to himself before retreating into his house, probably to change.

“W-well…he’s certainly teaching her a lot,” Hashirama laughed as he straightened up, running a hand over his hair.

Tobirama twitched. “If you call ‘his most destructive techniques’ a lot, then yes.”

“Aw, c’mon, she was so…excited.” Hashirama grinned at him and made Tobirama sigh with a shake of his head.

“Fire-happy, more like. I assume one would have to be to be able to stand his tutelage.”

Hashirama chuckled and raised his practice sword, idly dusting off dirt from the end with a strange look in his eyes. Tobirama watched him with folded arms for a minute before rolling his eyes and deciding to prompt the conversation himself. “I didn’t take Madara for one to be romantically involved.”

Hashirama froze, though he tried to hide it, fidgeting with his sword. “Ah, yes, that…surprised me too. But I suppose it makes sense, yes?” He stared at the garden in the middle of their yard with an unreadable expression. “That he would grow to be…fond of someone. I wonder who it is that he likes.”

Tobirama wanted to slam his head into the Hokage Monument. He ground his teeth for a moment. “Yes. I wonder who.”

Hashirama completely missed his sarcasm. “I suppose we should be happy for him. With…settling in…the village…” He trailed off as if he forgot Tobirama was there at all, looking quite uncomfortable and like he wanted to be happy for his friend but couldn’t- and as if he couldn’t figure out why. Tobirama could see it in the way his eyes drifted about, the slightest furrow in his brow, and the lack of a smile on his face.

He stared, quiet, for several seconds. The idea clearly bothered Hashirama. If he only saw Madara as a friend- whether consciously or subconsciously- it shouldn’t have, unless he was the type of person to become so clingy with his friends that he was made upset by anything that took up parts of their attention. Tobirama knew he wasn’t that pitiful. Logically, if Madara was simply his best friend, Hashirama should have been overjoyed if he’d found someone who made him happy.

He was obviously trying to make himself be positive about it, but was unable to get over his own feeling of tension. He didn’t even understand it. It was a little bit pitiable. It also made him want to ram his head into a mountain even more.

Now, Tobirama understood that Madara wasn’t the only one with hidden feelings. Hashirama was simply unaware of his.

Of course, he could simply tell Hashirama, but he suspected that the man needed to come to the revelation on his own or else he wouldn’t believe it. That would also be an invasion of Madara’s privacy and highly likely to make the man come after him with his sickle.

Now, though, he couldn’t help but pity Madara a little bit more, because Tobirama’s brother was a complete nitwit. He massaged his forehead and willed his oncoming headache away.


 

“Is it all right if Kagami stays? I’m supposed to be babysitting him,” Miki admitted with an embarrassed blush.

Madara tilted his head and wondered who she was referring to. It was then a dark head of curly hair peeked out from behind her. The child had dark eyes and pale skin and wore navy blue clothes- an Uchiha.

“Oh?” He knelt down and raised an eyebrow. “And who are you?”

“Um… I’m Uchiha Kagami, Madara-tama,” the boy said as he shuffled out from behind Miki, talking with a lisp due to his two missing front teeth. It sounded as if he’d said Uchiwa.

Madara bit his lip. A weird sensation flowed through him, as if he’d been here before, tinged with a feeling like regret. He couldn’t put his finger on what it meant. But even he couldn’t deny the child was cute. “Kagami. A good strong name. When do you graduate, Kagami?”

“In a few months.” A toothy grin came over the boy’s face. “I’m graduating earlier than everyone else! I’m gonna be nine soon!”

“I would expect no less.” Madara reached forward and ruffled the boy’s hair. The grin widened as he looked to be repressing a giggle. “Why don’t we go do something a bit more enjoyable than training today, Miki?”

Although she found training just as enjoyable as any Uchiha should, she picked up on his meaning and beamed. “We can go get ice cream! You haven’t tried it yet, have you, Kagami-chan?” The boy blinked up at her and shook his head. “It’s this wonderful sweet that’s made cold and it tastes great on warm days.”

“Can we go get some?” The boy turned wide, hopeful eyes to him. Madara probably would have brought a meteor crashing down on Wind Country if he’d asked.

“Hn. Let’s go, then.” He picked the boy up and transferred to him to his shoulders. He made a sound of delight and curled his hands in Madara’s hair.

(All right, so what if he had a soft spot for children? They reminded him of his brothers, with how similar the Uchiha all looked. They’d died too young. Too young. Too young.)

He was walking through a random side street as Miki led the way to a shop she insisted existed when something tugged at his yukata. He paused and glanced down, surprised when he found a tiny Uchiha girl in a purple kimono decorated with flowers holding onto the end of his clothing. “What, child?”

“Um…” She bit her lip and stared up at him with the same puppy dog eyes. “Madara-tama…” She only stuttered over his name a little. “I hope you’re feeling better. I got this for you!”

She held up a bright red flower in her hands. Madara didn’t quite know what to do with this. “I…er…thank you.”

She waited for a moment before pouting. She made a motion with her hands as if to grab at his hair. Confused, he knelt down, careful not to dislodge Kagami, and she began winding the flower into the space behind his ear. As soon as she was done, she turned to a building where a pair of eyes were peering out from behind a corner and hissed something unintelligible.

A dark blue shape darted from behind the building and up to him. A girl who looked like the first’s sister, in a matching blue outfit, kept her head down so her bangs covered her face as she tied a sunflower into his hair. Madara was too stunned through the whole thing to do much other than sit there and let them fiddle with his locks.

Kagami giggled. “Did you give it to him?” someone else whispered from behind a potted plant.

Madara glanced over at it with a frown. “Are you hiding? All of you come out. Uchiha don’t hide.”

Sheepishly, several more children slithered out from various hiding spots in the shadows. They were dressed in varying shades of blue and black with the occasional royal purple or deep forest green. Some avoided his gaze or fidgeted.

“Aww, that’s so cute!” Miki gushed. “Was it your idea, Ami?”

The first girl- Ami, presumably- nodded, face growing red.

“See? I told you it’d look pretty,” one of the girls whispered to a boy. He pouted in reply.

One of the younger ones, apparently overcome with emotion, leapt forward suddenly and latched onto his leg, sniffling. “We love you, Madarara-chama!” If that wasn’t the most adorable butchering of his name he’d ever heard, he’d be damned. “And we hope you’re feeling better!”

Madara had to bite down hard on his lip to contain himself. “I am,” he said, ruffling the boy’s hair. “Thank you.”

“You guys should have told me,” Kagami pouted from his shoulders. “I woulda gotten a flower too!”

His declaration prompted a stampede as they were all abruptly rushing in, holding up flowers of enough colors to form a rainbow, trying to fold them into his hair all at once. He winced and weathered the tugs on his hair as Miki placed a hand over her mouth to quiet her own laughter.

“Come on, everyone, give him some space,” she said, voice wavering from the effort. “We’re taking Kagami-chan to get ice cream.” That was her fatal mistake, Madara thought. Every time he’d said he was going to train in his youth he had four (and then three, and then two, and then one) brother clamoring to come with him.

Ami let out a loud gasp and looked at her with wide eyes. “Ice cream? Can we come?”

“Ice cream!”

“I want ice cream!”

“Can we come?”

“Please?”

“Please, Madara-sama!”

Beads of sweat began rolling down her brow as Madara stood, sending her an amused smirk. “Um…” She edged closer to him and leaned up to whisper, laughing nervously. “T-they’ll be so disappointed, sensei…I-I have some money…if we combine it we should have enough for them all…”

Madara had more than enough on his own. He rarely bought anything and was still subsisting mostly on fish, so his salary did little more than sit still and accrue interest; whenever they went out to eat, Hashirama almost always insisted on paying for everyone there. “I have enough. All right, you all, but behave. Uchiha aren’t disorderly in public.”

Their voices blended together as they yelled at him in reply. “Yes, Madara-sama!”

Miki drifted to the back of the group to mother-hen them all, anxiously nudging them into a neat line and zeroing in on the younger ones that looked a bit lost. “All right, everyone, come along, we’re going to get ice cream with Madara-sama! Shush, Zumi, stop poking at your brother. Come on.”

She lifted the youngest, a two-year-old following her seven-year-old sister, onto her hip and took the hand of another.

Madara just shook his head, restraining a smirk, and returned to following her. It was a mess when they reached the shop, the children speaking all at once with what they wanted, reaching out with hands he knew would become messy when the woman behind the counter handed bowls or cones to them. She was gnawing on her lip and had watery eyes through the whole thing and seemed to squeak every time she talked to him. He saw her holding onto her counter inside, shoulders shaking, giggling to herself as he walked away, and shook his head. Everyone in Konoha was a weirdo.

He sat down on the bench outside her shop, Kagami still on his shoulders, and the Uchiha rushed to leap onto the bench. Those who didn’t pouted for a few moments before sitting down on the ground in front of it. Miki ended up on his left, still holding the two-year-old, and Ami on his right.

“Madara-tama, tell us a story,” she insisted at random, eyes shining with anticipation.

“Yeah, story!”

“Tell us a story!”

“Story!”

“Hush,” Madara commanded, making them all fall silent. He closed his eyes and pretended to deliberate. “Hn. How would you like to hear about how Hokage-sama and I met?”

A chorus of gasps met his question. He had never told anyone how he and Hashirama came to know one another before.

“When I was younger…” He poked Miki in the forehead. “Perhaps a bit younger than you, I went to a river near the Uchiha encampment to skip stones. There I met a boy with the dumbest haircut ever seen in Fire Country.”