“I said,” Izuna repeated, sitting up with a sneer, “what the fuck is this?”
Tobirama stared, frozen, with a sense of trepidation and deep foreboding settling over him. This was wrong. This was entirely wrong. What had he done?
Without waiting for an explanation, Izuna leapt at him with a snarl, hands reaching for Tobirama’s throat. He swore and fumbled back, toppling over into the grass as Izuna’s weight came down on him.
He blocked the angry Uchiha’s first punch and grasped his other wrist before he could attack again, gritting his teeth. “What the fuck did you do?” Izuna demanded, Sharingan whirling rapidly as it transitioned into his Mangekyo. His memories were a painful blur, little more than mush floating around in his head. He remembered fighting the Senju, giving Madara his eyes, dying, watching, screaming in the rain because he could do nothing and he knew he’d been right, watching Madara slip into darkness because no one had bothered to try and stop it.
And now he was here, with none other than the man who’d killed him.
“What did you do?” he hissed again, brawling with the Senju for a minute.
Tobirama’s breath came a bit heavier from the exertion. He finally managed to kick him off, hardly getting a break before Izuna was jumping at him again without any regard for himself. It was clear the only thought in his head right now was beating an answer out of him.
“Calm down,” he managed to snap, ducking under a kick that snapped a tree branch in two.
Moving on instinct, he flew through the signs required to release the jutsu, moving back as he dodged attacks that would likely break more than one bone.
A pit formed in his gut. Shit.
His momentary distraction allowed Izuna the opportunity to tackle him again, taking him to the floor with the heavy weight of his partially-formed Susanoo that was appearing over him. It was only the ribcage, thankfully, and not the arms. His hand snaked down and darted into the pouch on Tobirama’s thigh, withdrawing a kunai and aiming to skewer his eye.
Tobirama cursed himself for being so stupid- for not waiting, for leaving an opening, for doing this when he was exhausted- and grabbed ahold of Izuna’s arm to block him. He pressed down on Tobirama with both hands, glaring at him with enough heat to melt an icecap. “I don’t know what you did, but you’re going to regret it,” he growled. “We’re enemies.”
Tobirama glowered at him. “Not anymore.”
Izuna paused, only slightly alleviating the pressure on his forearms, and a frown came over his lips. His eyes narrowed. “The Senju…and Uchiha…”
He trailed off, as if he was remembering something. What, Tobirama didn’t know.
“We’ve reached a peace agreement,” he grunted, angling the kunai to the side and tossing it across the clearing. “Hashirama and Madara brokered it months ago.”
At the mention of his brother, Izuna went still. “Where is he?” he said, question coming out as more of an interrogation than inquiry. “Where’s my brother? Tell me at once!”
“In the village, which I could show you if you stopped trying to attack me,” Tobirama snapped, shoving him off. Izuna stumbled back and regained his footing, opening his mouth again before he stopped, noticing his hands.
He raised them before him and glanced down, eyes roving over the cracks in his skin. Tobirama stood unmoving and watched as realization spread over the Uchiha’s face.
He lifted a hand and hesitantly placed it against his cheek. It was rough under his touch, and he could feel the crevices pressed together to create makeshift skin.
“What…did you…do to me?” he began, speaking slowly as his eyes went slightly out of focus. He stared at his free hand with wide eyes, Sharingan fading away. “What- what am I?”
His voice had become breathless. Tobirama felt the pit in his stomach grow heavier. His body was revolting against him, taking in the dismay in the Uchiha’s expression and making him want to vomit.
This wasn’t something he’d done against an enemy in battle, or someone who deserved what they’d gotten. This was something he’d done to another human being unprompted. Something that was completely his fault. No one else could take blame for this.
“We need…” Izuna’s eyes snapped back over to him, bright and panicked and dangerous. “We need to talk to your brother.”
Hashirama was moping.
Madara watched as the man gave him another kicked puppy glance from his side of the room and rolled his eyes. “Out with it, Hashirama.”
The Shodaime jumped like a guilty child who’d been caught stealing cookies. “W-what?” he stammered around a laugh, waving his hands back and forth. “Nothing! Nothing’s the matter!”
Madara raised an eyebrow at him. “Did I say something was the matter?”
“Uh…” Hashirama floundered for a response. He snatched up a scrolled and unfurled it before burying his face in it. “Never mind!”
Madara gave him a bland stare for a moment before going back to his own work. They’d returned to the office to finish some of tomorrow’s work so they could take the morning to train, and it had grown dark outside. Hashirama had been acting weird ever since they went up to the Hokage Monument.
He watched out of the corner of his eye as Hashirama’s shoulders began to sag. Again. He knew that behind that paper, he was probably pouting.
Madara looked up from his reports and raised the same eyebrow.
Hashirama bit his lip and stared at the surface of Madara’s desk, opening and closing his mouth a few times. “Uh…I just wanted to…never mind.”
He turned jerkily back to the scroll.
Madara briefly considered shocking him to catch him by surprise and make him blurt it out. It had worked before. One time he’d even managed to convince him it was because of a faulty electrical socket.
He smirked to himself at that particular memory.
Hashirama stared at him with longing eyes- not that he realized they were longing for him. Madara noticed- again- and raised the eyebrow- again. Hashirama looked away and mumbled an excuse.
Madara sighed and turned in his chair so all Hashirama could see was his mound of hair. It was probably something stupid, he thought. Maybe it was stupid enough it would make Tobirama do that twitching thing with his cheekbone. He smirked again.
He looked down at the report in his hand and let a small smile onto his face when he saw the note in the margin, from the Academy teacher whose classroom he’d given a spur of the moment falconry lesson to when Hashirama had noticed he was bored in the office, thanking him for coming. She barely even knew who he was but apparently thought he was “such a nice man.” (And wasn’t that new?) Even Watatsumi had enjoyed her visit; she’d perched on his gloved arm and preened as the children gushed over how pretty she was.
That had never happened in his first life.
With a bit of hesitancy, he turned back around until he could see Hashirama again, wondering whether he should ask what was on his mind or not. After a few moments of sitting there in pathetic indecision, he gritted his teeth and set his report down. “Hashirama.”
“Hm?” Hashirama looked up at him, looking as if he’d actually managed to engross himself in his paperwork through sheer willpower and wanting to hide something.
“If you…” Madara trailed off and averted his eyes, licking his lips. “If you…did something…made a mistake…and you had a chance for a- a re-do, what would you do?”
Hashirama frowned at the sudden- and more somber- change in his demeanor. He set his scroll down and tilted his head. “How do you mean?”
“You know.” Madara gestured with one hand, unsure of what he meant. “If you did something that was…wrong, but you had a chance to go back and re-do it all, what would you do?”
Hashirama stared at him. He couldn’t fathom what Madara was talking about, but it was obvious that something was weighing on his mind- something that might have something to do with what had been bothering him, he suspected. He didn’t understand the man’s meaning, but he supposed that he could work within his metaphor if it helped. “Well…I’d try to do better than I did before.”
Madara frowned. Hashirama couldn’t tell if that was the answer he’d been looking for or not. “But what if…this thing was committed against a…certain person? You haven’t done it yet, and aren’t going to do it again, but wouldn’t you still want their forgiveness?”
“I suppose so.” His brow furrowed. Now he was even more confused, but he tried to plow through it for his friend’s sake. Perhaps it was all an elaborate example. “I guess I’d explain it to them and tell them I was sorry.”
Madara’s body went tense. That was definitely not the answer he’d been hoping for, apparently. “What if you…can’t…explain it to them?”
“Uh…” Now Madara was staring at him, straight in the eye, expecting his answer. It felt as if he was talking about something much more personal, all of a sudden, something that involved them, something that he wanted to apologize for but felt he couldn’t.
(Madara’s eyes were very beautiful, weren’t they?)
He realized he’d been staring for more than a minute and straightened, clearing his throat. “Well, I suppose you’d just have to try and be a better friend than the first time around. Why? Is there…something bothering you?”
Madara looked away from him. The flash of vulnerability Hashirama had glimpsed was gone, now, and a wall had come up. He hated when this happened. “No. Nothing particularly…important.”
But he didn’t sound too upset, at least, so maybe it wasn’t that serious.
Madara stood and stretched, rolling his head back. Hashirama let out a slow breath and stared at his neck as he did, watched pale skin rise and fall as the man took a breath. He felt as if he suddenly noticed every little thing Madara did or had simply started noticing that he was noticing.
He couldn’t tell Madara he loved him, not knowing he liked someone else, but this was torture.
Madara straightened and let out a yawn. “I’m going to get coffee.”
“Ah. Bring me some?” Hashirama gave him a hopeful, wheedling smile.
Madara met it with a dull stare. “You’re just too lazy to go get some yourself.”
Hashirama’s smile took on a sheepish tone.
Madara rolled his eyes. “Fine, you nitwit. But I’m deciding how much sugar to put in it.”
He turned and walked towards the door as Hashirama cringed. “Please don’t give me something too sweet,” he called out in a pleading tone.
Madara looked over his shoulder at him with a smirk and slipped out the door.
Hashirama let out a small sigh when he was gone. He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms and legs out, letting out a yawn of his own and glancing at the clock. Already past midnight? Perhaps they’d sleep in tomorrow instead of sparring…
He was in the middle of a second yawn when a clatter of shattering glass from the room down the hall that connected to the lower floor startled him. Madara’s shrill voice followed not a moment later, ringing with distress and restrained fury. “What is this? What is this?”
Hashirama shot out of his chair and into the hall. He rushed into the other room, nearly ramming into the corner of the doorframe in his panic, and came to a frozen stop when he saw what had made Madara shout.
The Uchiha himself stood at the counter on the far side of the room, as pale as a ghost and hands clutching at nothing. He’d dropped a cup, the source of the shattering noise, which lay in pieces at his feet.
Opposite him, just inside the door, stood Tobirama.
But he wasn’t alone.
Hashirama’s heart dropped to his feet as he took in the unnatural appearance of Izuna. The look on his face was subdued as he stared at Madara with a sad look in his eyes, but the rest of him was unsettling to say the least. His skin looked as if it were made of cracked paper and his eyes were completely dark.
“What…what…?” Out of breath, he glanced back and forth between the man who should have been dead and his own brother. Tobirama avoided his gaze, moving his own to the floor.
“What is this?” Madara repeated, sounding even more hysterical than before. Hashirama would have moved to comfort him if he wasn’t so frozen in shock himself. “W-what did you do?”
“I apologize,” Tobirama spoke up, voice solemn. “I did not mean for this to happen. I was experimenting with the Edo Tensei-”
“Tobirama, you didn’t,” Hashirama stammered, voice breaking. Tobirama dragged in a deep breath and opened his mouth to continue.
“No.” Madara let out a pained-sounding whine and took a step back, staring at Izuna with a panicked fight-or-flight expression, pupils dilated from stress. “No.”
Izuna looked at him with something twisted between sympathy and pity. “Aniki…”
Hearing him call him his older brother again was too much. Memories flashed through his mind, so, so long ago, holding Izuna’s hand as they slept, kneeling over his dead body, Aniki, I activated my Sharingan!
It was too much.
He choked over something like a sob and fled backwards, nearly ripping the window off its hinges in his haste to get out.
“Madara!” Hashirama broke out of his stupor and took a step after him, stopping when Izuna whipped around and gave him the most vicious glare he’d ever seen from him. Even the one he’d had on when he was telling Madara not to trust the Senju with his dying breaths paled in comparison.
“I’ll go after him,” he snapped, glowering darkly at the Senju before running to the window and jumping out.
Hashirama stood there, frozen, torn between wanting to help his friend and knowing he needed to give them space- even though he doubted this reunion was going to go down without any agony. The part of him that wanted to be there for Madara- to offer what little support he could- warred with the part that told him it wasn’t his place.
Madara and Izuna. The Uchiha brothers. Back together, even after death.
He had to let them be.
He looked back to Tobirama, remembering his presence, and his expression shifted to something imploring that made the younger wince. He walked over to his brother and grabbed him by the shoulders, tone verging on desperate. “Tobirama, do you know what you’ve done? Why?”
Tobirama’s head bowed in shame at his elder brother’s scolding. “It was a mistake,” he said, voice quiet but even. “I meant to resurrect an enemy. I…must have grabbed the wrong sample of genetic material.”
“A mistake,” Hashirama repeated, feeing a bit hysterical himself. “That just so happened to bring back Madara’s brother? Tobirama, how could you be so careless? Don’t you know what this will do to him?” Tobirama winced, but said nothing. “He has to lose him all over again! It would have been kinder to release the jutsu and never tell him of it!”
Tobirama glanced up at him. There was something guarded in his eyes that made Hashirama pause and the unsettled feeling in his gut grow heavier. “You…can undo the jutsu, can’t you?” he asked, dreading the answer.
Tobirama swallowed before responding. He met Hashirama’s gaze again, red eyes blank in a distant way, expression attempting to be neutral but lined with guilt. “I attempted to, but it didn’t work. There must be an error.”
Hashirama let go of him and placed his hands over his face. He had no idea what to do. This was all abysmal. All he could think of was Madara’s stricken face as he held his little brother, having to watch him pass away a second time, given a tiny glance into what he could have had and having it cruelly snatched away from him.
He didn’t deserve this.
He was the last person who deserved- or needed- this.
He imagined getting to hold Itama and Kawarama again after suffering their deaths once already, only to watch them crumble to dust.
“He doesn’t deserve this,” he murmured into his hands, slumping as he leaned against the table.
Tobirama said nothing and simply stared at the floor, because he knew he was right.
He was a pathetic coward. His brother stood before him after years- decades- and Madara had frozen. He was right there, yet all he could feel was fear. The sense of shame festering within him- at having let Izuna die, at having failed him in protecting the clan, in shaming his memory with his failed dreams and manipulations- made his feet move on his own and he found himself in the clearing he’d met Mito, standing with clenched fists as he panted.
He looked down into the spring and let out a shaky breath as he stared at his eyes. Izuna’s eyes.
What a coward I am. He raised one fist and glared at it, clenching his teeth. His cowardice was selfish. Izuna was the one suffering- the one who’d been yanked back from death and into a sham of a body. He must have been so confused.
He must have come to Madara for an explanation. For help.
He…had to go back. He had to face Izuna.
Even if it would be agonizing. Madara could deal with pain.
He turned and took a step, jerking to a stop with his heart in his throat when he realized Izuna stood just under the trees across from him, watching him with a quietness about him that was both unnatural and familiar. They stared at each other for a moment, him with his eerie calmness and Madara with shaking hands.
“Izuna,” he said, and the name hurt worse than he’d thought to say aloud. “Izuna, I…”
He took another step, jaw working as he struggled with what to say.
Izuna gazed at him with an expression that was unquestioningly pitying. “Aniki,” he greeted.
Madara choked and dropped, crashing into the ground with his face an inch from the grass. “Izuna, I’m sorry,” he rasped, closing his eyes as tears gathered, bowing there as his voice wavered. “I’m so sorry.”
Izuna’s voice was slightly amused, if yet somber and sympathetic still, as he knelt down and pressed his hands on his upper arms, bringing his face up so he could look him in the eye. “Madara, it’s all right. You couldn’t have stopped what happened.”
“But I could have!” Madara protested, a plea on his face as he curled his hands in the front of his brother’s Edo Tensei-constructed mantle. “I could have made peace sooner and prevented that battle from unfolding in the first place. You’d- you’d still be here.”
He choked over the last part and closed his eyes, pressing his forehead against a chest that was quiet, devoid of the heartbeat he’d once fallen asleep to.
Izuna was silent. Peace with the Senju. What a crock, he thought with a sneer, thinking of a dark valley and seeing his brother’s blood mix with the rainwater. Senju Hashirama thought so highly of himself, thought himself a herald of a new age, so above all the other warmongers in their era who’d grown up by stepping over the bones of others.
Senju Hashirama was a liar.
Senju Hashirama was worse than any of them.
He wanted to grab his brother, shake him, make him understand that there could be no true peace between an Uchiha like him and that Senju, and the angrier part of him wanted to berate him for creating this peace agreement at all, but he knew this wasn’t the time, nor was it what his brother needed right now.
Madara had always been stubborn. He couldn’t change his mind with an argument.
“It’s all right, aniki,” he said, stroking Madara’s hair. It felt as if it had gotten softer. “I don’t know what I am, but I’m here now.”
Madara huffed out a broken-sounding laugh. “As…as a reanimation,” he croaked. “That’s not a life. You’re…you’re an undead. And when Tobirama releases the jutsu-” He cut himself off with an agitated noise, distraught.
“He already tried that, and failed, from what I could tell,” Izuna told him. “He didn’t seem to be expecting me, anyway. So I’m sticking around indefinitely.”
Madara tensed beneath his touch. Izuna stood, staring down at him with a calculating look that was unnoticed by him. “Well. We need to figure out what to do, yes?”
Madara looked a bit lost as he stared back at him. Izuna wondered where the commander he’d followed for years had gone, because even if Madara wasn’t the type of person who could ever fall into weakness, there was something more brittle about him now, something less rigid.
And he knew why.
He should have known from the moment he’d been tasked with following Madara to the river. Hashirama could hurt him like no one else- at least Tobirama had been open with his suspicion, rather than playing at being Madara’s friend before stabbing him in the back.
Hardly anything in the world could touch Madara, but Hashirama- he could destroy him completely, and he wouldn’t need to touch a single blade to do it.
At this point…he could hurt Madara even more deeply than Izuna could.
His eyes narrowed.
Not again. Never again.
The morning was an…awkward affair, for all parties.
“We have…decided it would be best for Izuna to stay with me,” Madara began hesitantly after walking in and proceeding to stand in uncomfortable silence as Tobirama stared at them and Hashirama stared at him with frantically worried eyes and Izuna stared at them both with an aggressive emotionlessness and he stared at the floor. “And use a henge to go out for the time being. Hikaku will be the only one who knows.”
Neither Senju said anything for a moment. “I see,” Hashirama muttered, eyes glancing back and forth between them. “I think that’s…wise. For the time being. Until…well…”
He glanced at his brother. None of them said a word.
“Very well.” Madara turned to leave and kept any inflection out of his tone. “I’ve also decided that, for obvious reasons, my presence here would not be beneficial. I will complete any work from home.”
Hashirama opened his mouth to protest but clamped it shut almost immediately, wincing as he realized Madara was right. He couldn’t ask him to come and sit in this office every day now.
Some part him mourned the weeks of perfection that he’d had, having the two closest to him so close by every day, being able to work with them both- because he knew that Madara probably wouldn’t be coming back after…Izuna died again, either.
It was all lost, now.
Before Madara opened the door, Tobirama spoke for the first time in the short conversation, gaze carefully avoiding Izuna, who glared when his brother wasn’t looking. “Madara-”
Madara’s head snapped around with a snarl on his lips. “Silence,” he growled, startling both of them into just that. “Do not speak to me. Do not even direct your gaze to me. Because of your mistake…” He said the word with such vitriol they both flinched. “I have to lose him again.”
Izuna eyed him, betraying nothing. His expression was stony and impassive, but guarded at the same time.
Hashirama was the only one who noticed; he was the only one looking at him. Something in his gut told him that Izuna wouldn’t abide by that easily.
“And I thought we were starting t- tch.” Madara cut himself off bitterly, looking as if he didn’t know whether to be more angry at Tobirama or himself for slipping.
He glared at Tobirama again, gaze filled with bitterness and spite, and stormed out the door. Izuna followed in his wake and didn’t spare them another glance.
Hashirama stood in his spot for almost a full minute, longing to go after Madara and make sure- well, he definitely wasn’t all right, but he still felt the need to do something, even if it was simply be there. It felt wrong to let him go off and deal with this all on his own.
Tobirama sighed, a quiet and tired sound, and leaned back until he sat on his desk, arms crossed as he stared at the door. Hashirama glanced at him, wondering at what Madara had been trying to say; he’d wanted his best friend and little brother to be friends for so long, and it might have even happened had this disaster not unfolded. Now he was going to go back to not being able to stand in a room with the two of them because of the tension, but even worse- and he couldn’t even blame Madara a bit for his anger, even though it had all been a mistake.
Everything had been going so well.
“I’m sorry, Hashirama.” He startled when his brother spoke and glanced over at him; he was still looking at the door, his posture relaxed even though Hashirama knew his mind was anything but.
The office seemed, suddenly, very, very empty without Madara in it; to both of them.
“I know you are.” Hashirama sighed and glanced out the window, wondering what Madara was feeling right now. “I know.”