Life was…oddly peaceful.
He’d spent so long involved with manipulations from the shadows and conflict and war that it had started to become all he knew. His entire life had been spent in conflict. There had been a short, fleeting time spent in Konoha before he left- a time spent mostly alone, isolated even when he was still the leader of the Uchiha. He remembered the rumors had gotten worse until hardly anyone trusted him.
It seemed to be going differently now, though he couldn’t fathom why.
Of course, he knew war was a few years away on the horizon- Kagami wasn’t yet full grown, so he would estimate in about a decade the First Shinobi World War would begin.
He still couldn’t understand how someone of Hashirama’s power had died in that war. Even in death, Madara had been the only one able to match him.
But it certainly wasn’t going to happen again. Madara would make sure of that.
(And, he begrudgingly admitted, it wouldn’t do to let Tobirama die, either, because Hashirama would become so direly depressed from it. It was only for that reason and that reason only.
Not because maybe, Tobirama had been inching up from that man who killed Izuna back to his position of Hashirama’s irritating little shit of a little brother.)
It certainly wasn’t because outside their arguing he had a sense of humor that could be appreciated.
“I swear I didn’t know that was a sign of disrespect,” Hashirama whinged, standing in a slump outside the meeting room that the Kurama clan head occupied as his brother and best friend stared at him with equally bland expressions.
“To be fair, none of us did,” Tobirama intoned. “It’s fortunate she laughed at you rather than take offense.”
“It’s fortunate you’re easy to laugh at,” Madara added on without intending to add on, smirking as Hashirama’s slump deepened.
“Next time, I’ll call ahead and ask about customs to be observed,” Tobirama said, not looking away from the scroll he’d taken out to look over, looking entirely unimpressed with their Hokage.
Madara’s smirk widened. The perfect opportunity to make a disparaging comment. “Since you obviously won’t remember to do so yourself.”
A dark cloud slammed down over Hashirama’s head. I’m starting to regret asking them to get along, he thought as alligator tears streamed down his cheeks. They’re even worse working together.
He looked up and caught the barest hint of a smirk on Tobirama’s face as he turned away.
Definitely worse together.
Hashirama’s behavior was out of line again. Madara knew he suspected that something was bothering him and that he was hiding it, since he’d caught the Hokage watching him multiple times when he thought Madara wasn’t looking, watching for any sign that he was upset about something.
However, there was something else there that he didn’t recognize. It was as if something was bothering Hashirama, as well, and he kept trying and failing to verbalize it.
“So,” he began one afternoon as they returned from their meal, passing through the peaceful streets of the village, “has anything new happened lately?”
“New?” Madara questioned. “How do you mean?”
“Oh, I don’t know…” Hashirama shrugged in a way he probably thought was casual. There was nothing casual about his demeanor whatsoever. “Met anyone new? Made new friends?”
Madara gave him a suspicious squint. “No. Why do you ask?”
Hashirama laughed. It was oddly stilted compared to his normal laugh. “No reason! I was just curious.” He turned away to stare straight ahead, and now Madara knew he was nervous because he avoided eye contact when he was nervous.
He opened his mouth to taunt him.
He paused when he spotted Ami and her sister Aki running towards him. “What is it?” he asked, descending into a crouch.
Ami took ahold of his sleeve with a bright grin. Her sister edged partially behind her, grasping her kimono and shooting Hashirama a few nervous glances. “She’s gonna do it! She’s gonna do it!”
“Who’s going to do what?”
Ami shook his arm back and forth like he should have known. “Miki! She’s gonna ask Tamaki!”
“Are you certain?” he asked, a bit of a jest in his tone. They all knew Miki had been going to ask several times yet.
“Yes! She’s doing it outside the Hokage Tower! We’re gonna go watch!”
In an excited rush, Ami grasped her sister’s hand and took off in the direction of the tower. Madara raised an eyebrow after them.
He turned to look at Hashirama, who stood there biting his lip to contain a grin as he watched. “They’re adorable,” he said, looking like he was in the midst of a rash of baby fever. “But what were they talking about?”
Madara folded his arms and smirked slightly. “I suspect I know.”
He started in the direction they’d gone, expecting Hashirama to follow. He did.
Miki knew this was brash and reckless and possibly going to humiliate her, but she was going to spontaneously combust if she kept on in the pitiful way she had been.
Uchiha weren’t cowards, she told herself. Uchiha weren’t weak. Uchiha didn’t run away from a challenge.
And she was an Uchiha, even if some of the other youths in the clan liked to tease her and say she wasn’t because she couldn’t even activate her Sharingan like most Uchiha over the age of ten could.
She gulped and shifted from foot to foot, watching Tamaki’s back as the Senju examined the note in her hand with a frown; she would have found it in her window and followed its instructions to come to the square, and now all Miki had to do was…
She startled and turned around when Miki called out. They were friends, Miki told herself. They’d been hanging out since the village was created and they’d been placed on a team together. Even though Tamaki was a chuunin now she still took time out of her day to go find Miki. Even if she said no they would still be friends.
And with what she’d heard Hikaku and Naori talking about…
She wanted to be an example to the younger Uchiha. She wanted to be brave. She wanted the future to move forward.
She gulped again and marched stiffly forward. Tamaki stared at her in confusion as she came to a stop a few feet away.
“I…I…I really like you!” she finally burst, clenching her eyes shut. “Like, in a, in a romantic way! Please go on a date with me!”
She fell into a waist-deep bow and held out the flowers she’d bought from the new Yamanaka shop, heart pounding.
There was nothing but silence for a minute. She started to sweat as it dragged on, imagining Tamaki’s face twisting uncomfortably, or even worse, in disgust.
The flowers were slowly taken from her grasp. Miki straightened up, cringing as she cracked her eyes open.
Tamaki stared down at the bouquet in her grip with a surprised expression. She blinked a few times and opened her mouth, then looked up at Miki, looking a little dazed.
Miki had folded her hands together and pressed them against her mouth like a shield but her eyes snapped open then. “Huh?” she asked, a little dumbfounded.
“I, um.” Tamaki’s face went a bright red that contrasted prettily with her bright blonde hair. “I’ve liked you for a really long time! I-I just wasn’t sure if you liked me back…I’ll go on a date with you!”
“Th…thank you!” Miki was practically shaking, as red as a tomato as tears welled up in her eyes and startled her friend. “Thank you so much!”
Tamaki looked nervous as she stared at her, fiddling with the paper on the bouquet. “A…are you okay?”
“Y-yes! I’m sorry!” Miki hurriedly wiped at her eyes with her sleeves. “I-I’m just so- so happy!”
Miki stared at her in puzzlement. Tamaki pointed to her own eyes, wide as they stared back. “Your…Sharingan…”
“…I activated my Sharingan?!”
Tamaki nodded. Miki sprinted over to a fountain nearby and nearly toppled into it in her haste to peer over the edge and at her reflection. A shriek left her throat. “I activated my Sharingan!”
She let out another excited scream and whirled back around to face Tamaki, who’d come up behind her and started to grin. “Congratulations.”
Miki leapt forward and wrapped her in a hug, squeaking out wordless expressions of joy. “I gotta go tell sensei,” she said, hands on Tamaki’s biceps as she looked around in a daze. “But, uh…do you want to…um…”
“We can go to dinner,” Tamaki suggested, flushing lightly. “And…take a walk, if you want…”
“Yes! I mean, yes, that sounds…wonderful. Um, tonight?”
“I’ll come to the compound before sundown,” Tamaki told her, clearing her throat to try and lift some of her own bashfulness. “If that’s all right?”
“That’s definitely all right! Tonight, sundown, I’ll be there, you’ll be there, that’s great,” Miki rambled as she walked away backwards, wringing her hands. “That’s great!”
She turned and ran to find Madara, feeling excitement course through her. This had all turned out better than she ever could have hoped.
“Young love,” Hashirama sniffled from beside him, wiping at his eyes with his kimono’s sleeves. “It’s so wonderful! And between a Senju and an Uchiha! I can’t believe how far everyone’s come…”
Madara rolled his eyes. He leapt onto a roof and moved to meet Miki as she turned down a side street in search of him, a set of Sharingan eyes with one and two tomoe respectively still blazing in her head. “I see you didn’t chicken out,” he said as he dropped to the ground, a teasing note in his voice.
“Madara-sensei!” she yelled, lunging to wrap her arms around his midsection. “I did it! We’re gonna have a date tonight and she likes me back and I activated my Sharingan and she likes me back-!”
He patted her on the head and smiled fondly. “Let’s see it,” he said, making her pull back and stare up at him with wide eyes so he could see her Sharingan.
He remembered when Izuna had first activated his. He’d come running to Madara’s tent in the middle of the night and shaken him awake, voice chipper as he waited for his older brother’s approval and for Madara to praise him. He’d been so excited.
“You did well,” he said, ruffling her hair.
Her eyes started to water again. “Thank you, sensei,” she sniffled, wiping moisture from her cheeks and trying to keep it together.
It was then Madara noticed Hashirama had followed and stood at the entrance to the street a few feet away, for some reason looking a little dazed as he watched them. “Hashirama, don’t just stand there like a weirdo,” he scolded.
The man jumped at having been caught and smiled apologetically. “Ahahah, I’m sorry! I didn’t want to interrupt your moment,” he said sheepishly as he came closer.
Miki stared at him and suddenly remembered his weird behavior in the woods. He seemed nice enough, just…very strange. “Uh…good afternoon, Hokage-sama…”
“You don’t have to be so formal when we’re not on duty! I’m a friend of Madara’s,” he said cheerfully, grinning at the man in question. “You can call me Hashirama!”
“It’s, uh, nice to meet you, Hashirama-san…I’m Miki…”
Hashirama looked to Madara again, only to find him giving him a sour stare as he stood with crossed arms and one hip cocked at an angle. “W-what?”
“You could have met Miki earlier if you weren’t such a freak,” his friend told him with a sniff, closing his eyes. “That day you had a meltdown for no reason and claimed you loved paperwork and ran away for no reason.”
A miserable cloud came down over the Hokage’s head. “I’m sorry…”
Madara rolled his eyes. “Stop getting so depressed, you moron.”
Hashirama glanced up at him and tried to smile convincingly. “I’m a loveable moron, though!”
“Tch.” Madara rolled his eyes again and looked away from him.
Miki’s own went round when she noticed the slightest tinge of red on his face. She thought back to the story he’d told the children about how he and Hashirama had met. It was like star-crossed lovers…does he like Hashirama-san?
He had to. She’d never seen Madara blush around anyone else.
“Uh, I should go get ready for tonight,” she piped up, smiling as she backed away. She should give them their space, she thought, so they could be alone together. “Goodbye, sensei!”
She turned and ran off, turning her attention towards what she was going to wear. Naori would surely help her.
Hashirama didn’t know why he was so…uncomfortable with the idea of Madara having someone he liked, or even- or even someone he was seeing in secret.
That thought brought a sour taste to his mouth.
Who was able to catch Madara’s attention? He hadn’t seen him spend time with anyone other than Hikaku, Naori, Mito or his student. Occasionally, Inoue spent time at the photography studio Madara had taken a liking to, but his gut told him it wasn’t her.
I don’t know why I’m so worried about it. It’s fine! He rubbed his forehead and willed the strange feelings to go away. He should have been happy for Madara. That’s what a good friend would have been.
Seeing Madara with the Uchiha children brought warmth to his heart. They weren’t scared at all by him; the more shy one seemed more wary of him than anything. A different one had even stopped him in the street to give him a flower she’d picked. The whole thing was adorable.
It was because they were children, of course. It was cute; endearing.
Madara put the daisy in his hair and smiled when the girl thanked him. Then he wore it that way. For the rest of the day.
The warmth spread to his whole body. Hashirama thought it darling. Someone as strong and fearsome as Madara showing a soft side was bound to be.
(But he’d seen plenty of adult shinobi be affectionate with children. What made Madara so different?)
Having Madara there, with him, made him feel like all their dreams were achievable. That peace was achievable. Even with the minor difficulties they’d faced, Hashirama never wanted them to part ways.
Maybe some of the Senju (oh, he did hear them when they murmured about his and Madara’s friendship, even though they thought he didn’t) were right when they thought he was too attached. He couldn’t help but be fond of Madara- he was his best friend.
He turned a corner and found the man with his student, a hand on her head as he smiled in a soft way even Hashirama only rarely saw.
It made him happy to see Madara settling in. He’d made friends, he’d adopted pets, he’d taken on an apprentice, he even had a hobby- but the idea of him taking a lover still set something off within him, something that was usually the urge telling him to take action. He just didn’t know what action it was telling him to take.
He was so confused.
All he knew was that Madara was important to him.
The afternoon drew to a lazy close as civilians and shinobi milled about, some of them murmuring about the odd incident in the street outside the tower involving two girls yelling confessions at each other, and they ended up on the Hokage Monument, in the exact place they’d stood in countless times before, looking out over the village they’d created.
He remembered when he’d stood here and told Madara he wanted him to become Hokage. His friend didn’t seem to want the job, and if anything, thought Hashirama was the better choice, and he couldn’t deny that his faith in him felt inspiring.
He remembered the day he’d come up to this very spot and found his friend bleeding, different, more miserable than before. Those few days had been hell, full of worry and fear, feeling Madara slipping away from him until he’d almost lost him.
He was doing better now. Hashirama couldn’t describe the relief he felt.
(He didn’t…know what he would do without Madara.)
“A bit overwhelming sometimes, isn’t?” he chuckled, watching Madara gaze at the ground below with a serene expression. It was nice to see him calm and peaceful.
The man laughed under his breath and closed his eyes. “Maybe for you. Getting cold feet, Hokage-sama?”
“Of course not! Although I’m still not sure if my face looks very good…”
A full-blown laugh ripped itself from Madara’s throat. Hashirama stood silently as he guffawed, soaking in the pleasantness of it.
“You’re just now having doubts?” Madara wheezed, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. “After they spent weeks carving it into a mountainside?”
Hashirama pouted. “Well, it’ll be better when there are more faces.”
Madara snickered. “Just be glad you don’t still have that dreadful bowl-cut.”
“Uggggh. You’re going to lord that over me forever!”
“You bet I am.”
Madara turned to look at him and grinned, a full-fledged grin that spread over his whole face. “You idiot.”
Hashirama froze. The wind gave a light gust that made Madara’s hair billow behind him as leaves swirled around their feet; he looked so genuinely happy and Hashirama felt like he hadn’t seen that grin in weeks.
His eyes were warmhearted and caring, his smile fond and bright. The descending sun cast a warm glow over his face and light glinted off the Konohagakure forehead protector he wore wrapped beneath his bangs.
Everything about him in that moment felt like what Hashirama had been looking for the duration of his life without knowing he was looking for it. Everything about him felt like home.
Oh, he thought, a bit numbly. His memories slotted together, making countless feelings and moods he’d been in make sudden sense. Everything made sense now. Oh.
He realized in the back of his mind that his heart was pounding.
I love him.
Mito looked up from her needlework and glanced towards the window.
“Is your ‘idiots in love’ sense tingling?” Toka asked from the other side of her couch, sounding amused without even smiling.
Mito smirked. “I’ll bet you money Hashirama realized this evening.”
Toka looked up at her from over the rim of her newspaper. She’d been reading about the village forming in Wind Country, deep in the desert- it seemed others were taking after their lead. “Somehow, with those two, I expect there will still be some amount of drama before anything is resolved.”
Mito chuckled. She set the scarf she’d been working on aside and crawled over to lean against Toka, setting her forehead on the other woman’s shoulder. She moved aside a few inches to give her room and wrapped an arm around her. “I’m glad I got up the courage to talk to you that day.”
A small smile quirked Toka’s lips. “Instead of pining from afar for weeks?”
“And then taking another few weeks to say anything at all,” Mito added with a smirk.
Toka laughed. Mito listened to it rumble in her chest alongside her heartbeat.
“I never took Madara for a shy one,” she admitted. Really, she’d never had much of an opinion either way about Madara- though he did irritate her sometimes (she swore it was on purpose, one time he’d set the whole Senju banner on fire at a banquet “accidentally”)- but it was honestly sympathy-inducing how hard he was pining.
She’d only noticed it since she started seeing him more, due to being with Mito- no doubt it would give Kenichi an aneurism if he found out. The man worked directly under her, so she knew he was still a bit sour towards any Uchiha.
(He was a bit of a glorified assistant, really, and she would poke fun at him if he wouldn’t take it so seriously.)
That made Mito snicker. “I wouldn’t call it shyness, exactly, though he can be a bit shy. He just doesn’t know what to do with feelings.”
“That does sound accurate.”
“Neither does Hashirama, it seems,” Mito continued, amused.
Toka sighed. “He usually does, better than most, but he can be an idiot.” Mito raised an eyebrow at her. “A major idiot.”
They both sat there for a moment before chuckling and shaking their heads. “I hope they resolve this soon,” Toka said, grinning when she thought of Tobirama sitting at his desk with a dull look that betrayed his suffering, “or else Tobirama might throw a desk.”
Tobirama blinked away the haze at the edge of his vision and squinted in the dying candlelight at the scroll on his desk.
He sat within his own study in his home, having been there for hours, and exhaustion had begun to set in. He’d been working on this since the day before- he was so close he could feel it.
This jutsu could revolutionize the way they gathered intel and engaged in warfare. Being able to revive fallen comrades or dead enemies for information could prove invaluable. They could also be used as emergency soldiers to bolster their forces, if push came to shove.
And there were less practical positives. It could give their fallen a chance to say goodbye. It could give their living a chance to get closure.
If he could prove that calling a spirit back was possible, he could give Madara and Izuna the chance for a proper goodbye, if Madara chose it. That was far from the only- or main- reason he was doing it, but it hung in the back of his mind, a steady weight.
Tobirama had been working on the Edo Tensei for years. He always collected genetic material from his fallen enemies if he could, and taking samples from his blades after battle had simply become a force of habit even if they spent years in storage doing little more than sitting still. Vials and petri dishes were arranged in alphabetical order on the shelf by his desk, some of them many years old and some as recent as their battle with the Hagane.
He reached for a particular one- a blood sample from a man from the Uno, a clan who’d helped the Hagane attack- tiredness making his movements sluggish. He shook it off and stood, rolling up the scroll and grabbing his coat. Sleep could wait.
He exited the house- it had grown dark, and Hashirama was out, with Madara judging by his chakra signature- and headed into the woods.
He kept going until he was a suitable distance away from the Senju compound and found a clean clearing to work in. He rolled the scroll out on the ground and took out the vial, wrapping a sealing tag around it before placing it on the forest floor.
He performed the required hand signs and held his breath in anticipation.
The symbols on the scroll began to glow bright blue in the darkness around him. Rubble and dirt started to drift towards the vial. A pile of dust and leaves started to form, swirling together as it formed the shape of a human being.
The sense of both excited suspense and apprehension rose in him as he watched the outer layer take on a flesh-like tone.
Clothing, cracked skin that looked unnatural, and dark hair appeared.
Dark eyes with black where white was supposed to be snapped open.
That was not the Uno shinobi.
The eyes- almost completely black- narrowed. A snarl curled the man’s lip as he stared at Tobirama, and the irises abruptly shifted from black to red.
“What the fuck is this?”
The angry visage of Uchiha Izuna was staring back at him.