The day felt too peaceful. He felt anything but; there was tension in the air he felt acutely sensitive to, and every time Izuna examined part of the village with narrow eyes or that disapproving look came over his face, it made the ground look particularly appetizing to sink into.
They walked through the streets, Izuna in a henge that made him look like a random Uchiha, as Madara showed him the fruits of their efforts.
They ended up on a grassy knoll, overlooking a large part of town, as a soft breeze rustled their hair and Izuna stood silently staring at the village with reserved eyes. Madara glanced at him and cleared his throat. “It’s…doing well so far.”
He swallowed. He hadn’t said as much, but he’d clearly asked Izuna what he thought. Madara had been doing all the talking so far, guiding him about, and he hadn’t made any comments.
Finally, Izuna let out a sigh and turned to look at him. “Madara, it’s not that I think the village itself is a bad idea…” He glanced back to the scenery with a frown, making Madara’s stomach flip uneasily. “But…you can’t possibly think the Senju will keep their end of the deal in this alliance.”
“There…” Madara’s mouth went dry, because at one point down the line the Uchiha clan had gone extinct. But he was here this time; surely he could prevent that. “They’ve shown no sign of doing such so far.”
Izuna pursed his lips. “A shinobi doesn’t show his hand before striking.”
“There are other clans here,” Madara pointed out. “They have all made an agreement. An attack on one is more likely to start infighting.”
Izuna’s eyes went narrower. Madara shifted under his gaze and wished his brother could see- could understand that he was trying to do things better this time, that the village was a worthwhile effort.
“Maybe so.” Izuna glanced at the Hokage Tower in the distance and let out a light scoff. “But Senju Hashirama? Really?”
Madara frowned at the oddity of his question. “What do you mean?”
Izuna gave him a patronizing look. “He’s the one you have…” He trailed off and wrinkled his nose, stubbornly refusing to use ‘love’ in relation to the man. “…urges for, correct?”
Madara froze and felt his face start to bloom red. “How I feel about Hashirama is my business alone,” he said quickly to derail the topic, turning to walk down the hill.
“He’s not good enough for you,” Izuna muttered, ignoring his clear dismissal and making Madara take in a frustrated breath. “He’ll only end up hurting you.”
Madara didn’t answer and let them stand in silence, willing himself to keep his calm. “As I said,” he repeated, trying not to grind his teeth, “it’s my business. Let’s go.”
Izuna was different.
He didn’t smile when Hikaku came to Madara’s house to visit him. He didn’t smile when Naori followed behind, obviously in the know, wanting to see the man she’d considered her little cousin in their youth. He didn’t smile when he saw Ami and Aki run up to Madara in the street and beg to show him the Katon they’d learned.
He stayed at a distance, detached, with a politeness Madara knew was fake.
It was all wrong. He’d wanted to see Izuna’s smile again, just once. He’d always a happy child and smiled for Madara. He may have been cold to their enemies, but with their clansmen he was warm and tender.
He’d smiled as he died.
But Izuna didn’t smile. He didn’t show pleasantness to anyone, barely even to Madara. He followed his brother like a loyal dog, but frowned more often than not and looked bitter.
He was a sour presence at his back when he ran into Mito, who took one look at the two of them and stepped closer, placing a hand on his wrist with a question in her eyes. He began outright glaring when Madara smiled at her.
He didn’t smile.
Madara drifted away from him, thinking of three days earlier when he saw Hashirama smile at him, warm and caring as he hooked an arm around his shoulders, and something deep inside longed to go back to Hashirama’s side if only just for a moment.
Izuna still didn’t smile.
Madara felt as if he’d failed again. His brother was so unhappy with him and where he’d led the clan that even some small amount of peace was out of reach for him.
He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to ask Hashirama.
He sat at his kitchen table, not eating his food as Izuna sat by the window and stared outside and the cats avoided him. Madara had tried to introduce him to Watatsumi again and quickly had to abort when the falcon tried to attack him. She shrilled as loudly as she could, making him wince at just the memory, flapping about as he tried to get her back under control.
It had been the first time his falcons had ever disobeyed him. Maybe he was a bit shaken.
He glanced at his brother again, watching him stare outside with a blank look, and his shoulders sagged.
He didn’t know what to do.
Obviously, it was on a Tuesday that disaster struck. Madara thought back on the whole thing as he lay there with empty eye sockets, remembered the Tuesday he’d gotten half-skewered by an irritating Yamanaka’s spear, and wondered if that day was cursed.
“Kagami,” Miki began, holding up her sketchbook, “which hairstyle should I do tomorrow?”
The child squinted up at her paper pad and stared for a moment. “I like the ponytail,” he said at last, pointing at the drawing furthest to the right.
“Ponytail? Ponytail. Hmm. I wonder if Tamaki likes ponytails…”
Kagami stared at her as she went back to deliberating over her plans for the next evening. They sat in one of the more secluded training grounds, having shied away from the first two they tried since they were swarmed with eager Academy students happy to be out of their classrooms. Kagami’s own teacher was sick and had called class off, hence why he was with Miki.
He left her to her task as she hummed and kicked her ankles back and forth on her stump and went back to looking for interesting things on the forest floor to collect. So far he had a collection of stones, some snail shells, and minerals that had been brought up from the earth. He’d also found a small, rusted copper ring in a gutter and several variously colored feathers.
Miki made sure to glance up at him every few seconds to make sure nothing was awry. They’d never had an incident in the village, but one could never be too careful.
She glanced up at the sun. It had risen high in the sky above them to the noon position.
She flipped her sketchbook shut and set it beside the bag of scraps she brought along for Tatsumaki, as the kestrel always liked following her around- though she had taken off for a flight around a few minutes before- reaching for her bag on the ground and rifling through for the sandwiches she’d packed.
The rustling of plastic as she withdrew them was interrupted by a startled yelp. It wasn’t from her.
Miki dropped the sandwiches and whipped around, freezing when she found a man she didn’t recognize in the clearing- how had she not even heard his approach?- holding Kagami by the collar. “Hey!” she yelled, leaping off her stump and rushing forward as her Sharingan flared to life. “Let him go!”
The unknown man narrowed his eyes as she rushed him and ducked under her kick. He slammed a palm into her back and sent her flying; she hit a tree and barely caught herself before crashing into the ground, landing in a crouch that sent pain ringing up her legs.
“Miki-nee!” Kagami screamed, clawing at the hand holding his mantle.
Then his chakra coiled and let out four quick bursts, completely unnoticed by the man holding him, a technique meant to catch the attention of sensors in the area. Miki paused for a split second and hoped that there was at least one around.
The odd pale man in front of her smirked suddenly and a red pattern sprung into his eyes. Miki froze as they made eye contact, lost in a world of hazy red and black as waves crashed around her and bullets made of water rained down from overhead.
She crumpled to the ground, pressing her hands over her eyes, and let out a pained cry at the ringing in her head. That’s not the Sharingan. How could he have something like the Sharingan?
The man withdrew four kunai and aimed them at her torso as she knelt there. Startled, she jerked out of her fazed state and looked up with wide eyes, but wasn’t fast enough to even dodge.
Four kunai met his in midair, knocking them off course and landing spread out through the clearing.
“I suggest you let that child go,” a man she recognized as Senju Tobirama said as he landed in front of her, steel in his voice. “The people of the Leaf don’t take kindly to outsiders attacking our children.”
Relief washed over Miki. She got to her feet and suppressed the shakiness that wanted to take over her body. “Tobirama-san!”
The man looked at them with a bored gaze. “Do you know what these are?” he asked, obviously referring to his still active dojutsu, and the way Tobirama’s eyes went narrow made Miki’s stomach churn. She feared the answer had to be the reason he hadn’t attacked yet.
The Senju, however, wasn’t ruffled. “You are of the Chinoike, then? What purpose do you have attacking Konoha?”
“Unimportant. What matters right now is whether or not I make this child explode.”
Miki froze as horror ran through her veins. Unbidden, one of her hands raised to cover her gaping mouth. Explode? She glanced at Tobirama in a panic, but the scowl that had started to appear on his face just made her anxiety worsen.
“All I need is skin contact,” the man continued, drawing her eyes back to him. “I’ve heard tales of your speed, Tobirama-san. Are you fast enough to remove both my hands before I can initiate this technique? Or would you rather this child die right now? I could have already initiated it. A single displacement of my chakra could set it off.”
There was dead silence in the forest. Kagami turned his head to stare at her, eyes wide and frightened, and Miki stared back, knowing she looked just as terrified. She longed to run over and snatch him from that man’s grip and run back to the compound.
When Tobirama spoke again, his tone was quieter, but no less threatening. “What do you want?”
The Chinoike eyed them contemplatively for a few seconds. Finally, he raised one hand in half a seal, making them both tense. “You will both follow the signs I call out and perform a jutsu that will render you unconscious. My goals are no business of yours, but I need a hostage, not a dead body.”
“How am I to know you’ll release the child afterwards?” Tobirama challenged, his scowl deepening.
“You don’t.” Miki tried hard to ignore the nausea assaulting her as their assailant smiled at them, placing his free hand atop Kagami’s head and making him wince, reminding them that an instantaneous death was, literally, at his fingertips. “But if it’s any consolation, he isn’t going to be my hostage; you will be.”
Madara had to confess that he had purposefully avoided Izuna that morning. He’d awoken and found the man sitting on his couch in the upper level living area, staring with a deadpan look on his face at Zunu, who sat on the opposing couch, not moving a muscle. Neither one had broken eye contact when he’d entered the room. Neither had moved the whole time he prepared his morning tea and drank it.
He’d decided to let them work it out on their own and fled the house to train. He was getting sore from inactivity anyway.
It was during that training, right after he’d finished sparring with two kage bunshin, that Tatsumaki appeared in a flurry from the trees, screeching and flapping her wings wildly about. Startled, he dropped the kunai he’d been holding and let both clones dispel, holding up his hand for her to perch on.
She refused to land, hovering in the air and squawking pointedly at him. “What? What is it?”
She shrilled and moved back the way she’d come. Frowning, Madara leapt into the treetops to follow her.
He got the answer to her agitation when he landed- well, blundered into, more accurately, at the speed he was going- in a clearing and found Miki and Kagami unconscious on the ground.
“Shit.” He strode over and crouched down, checking their pulses before activating his Sharingan and examining them. Kagami had only been knocked out- probably due to the blossoming bruise on the back of his neck he could see- but there was a genjutsu over Miki. He reached down and pressed two fingers to her forehead. “Release.”
She awoke startled, jerking under his touch as her eyes flew open. “Sensei?” she stammered, eyes flicking around at the speed of light. “Where-”
She shrieked and bolted up, looking around wildly. “Kagami!”
“Focus, girl.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and made her look him in the eye. “What happened?”
It took a moment for her attention to come back, but when it did her eyes went wide. “There- there was this man,” she told him breathlessly, going pale. “He attacked us and took Kagami from me and- and he had this weird dojutsu, and he almost killed me, but Tobirama-san felt a pulse Kagami sent out and came to intervene but-”
She cut herself off, wan and anxious, and he noted the distinct lack of Tobirama.
“He said he would kill Kagami if we didn’t do what he said,” she finished in a wavering voice. “So he…he took Tobirama-san as a hostage instead. I-I don’t know what he wants.”
Needing no more information, he stood and placed Kagami into her arms. “Go back to the village as fast as you’re able and tell Hashirama. I’m going after them.”
She stared up at him with a frightened look on her face. “A-alone, sensei?”
“Go, Miki. As fast as you can.”
Not waiting for her to respond that time, he leapt into the trees and cast out his senses, finding Tobirama’s dormant chakra signature easily.
The truth was, Yataro had been planning this for far longer than just the few weeks since that disastrous battle with the Hagane.
He had carved out a hideaway for himself around the time Konoha had been founded, lurking there for weeks in bitterness and thirsting for vengeance. So the Uchiha thought they could go into a peaceful life, after everything they’d done? After what they’d done to his clan?
He would spend his life proving them wrong if he had to.
Truthfully, he’d joined the Hagane and the two other clans making a revolt against the village out of desperation. There was little a single man could do. He’d obsessed and thought about when he would meet the Uchiha leader over and over, and when he did, it was more terrifying than he could have thought.
Madara was the example of everything he hated. His father had forced Yataro’s and their clan from their home and into exile, and Yataro himself had been lost in the fray and been forced to grow up fighting for scraps and struggling just to stay alive.
Madara was a terror on the battlefield. The greatest example of Uchiha arrogance. He thought himself untouchable, Yataro thought, with no small amount of anger.
But he wasn’t.
He hadn’t been expecting to survive after he’d initially clashed with the man; it was only luck he managed to initiate one of his personal genjutsu, a technique that drew memories out through a chakra link in the eye and left the opponent’s burned too badly to use by way of his Ketsuryūgan. Of course, Madara had broken free before it could finish, but Yataro had gotten the important flashes of memory.
The Rinnegan- that was what it was called, wasn’t it?- would give him the power he needed to crush the Uchiha beneath his fist. Maybe even the Senju, and whoever else had aligned themselves with that clan. He’d only briefly seen how it had been created, but he was sure that with enough experimentation he could prod it into existence.
But there had been something else he’d seen in Madara’s head. For the smallest instant in time, he’d seen- no, felt- the blinding affection he had for the one he called friend. It was so foolish of the former Uchiha patriarch to cultivate such love for another- and a man, no less.
That was why he knew Senju Tobirama was a better hostage than even that Uchiha brat. Not only would he provide him with Senju genetic material, he was Hashirama’s younger brother- Madara may or may not have cared about Tobirama, but Yataro knew he loved Hashirama, and he would try to keep Hashirama from experiencing the pain of losing family.
He’d spent weeks preparing for this day, creating an elaborate trap made of barrier fuinjutsu in a stone valley obscured by hot mist from the surrounding springs, connecting to a cave system that would lead him underground and back towards his own domain. So far everything had gone as planned, although Tobirama’s presence had been luck.
He retreated to his trap and waited, red eyes gleaming in anticipation as one of his summoning dogs alerted him to the approaching scent of Madara. He’d thought he would have to lure the man there, but it seemed he was content to come to Yataro.
All the easier.
The valley he’d tracked Tobirama and their pest to was flanked on all sides by high walls of rock. Steam billowed out from its nooks and crannies, obscuring much of the path, but the clearing within the stone was clear of it.
Ink symbols spread out in circular patterns from the center, alerting him to the fact that this was, obviously, a trap, and this enemy shinobi didn’t even feel the need to be subtle about it. In front and above him, a vaguely familiar-looking blond man stood on an outcropping of stone, one hand over the head of Tobirama, who sat cross-legged on the ground with his arms bound behind his back and an undoubtedly cranky expression on his face.
Madara paused in the center of the clearing and stared up at the man with an eerily blank face. He met his eyes, his own sporting his Mangekyo, and watched part of his cheek twitch. He was unsettled.
“What is it that you desire?” he asked, calmly, as if they weren’t enemies at all and this insect wasn’t holding someone from Konoha hostage. His eyes flicked over to Tobirama as the man stared down at him with an unreadable frown. The air between them was still awkward and tense and he could tell the Senju was wondering what he would do.
And whether he would save him if it came down to it.
“Tch. Do you not recognize these eyes?” The man was glaring, now, and Madara most certainly did recognize that pattern from his father’s written records.
“You’re from the Chinoike, are you?” he asked, keeping his tone bland. “The Uchiha have no quarrel with you.”
A slightly unhinged grin came over the other’s face. “Oh, but I have a quarrel with you. Your clan forced mine into exile, took everything from us. I think it’s time you repay the debt, don’t you?”
Madara narrowed his eyes and said nothing.
The Chinoike lowered his index finger to touch Tobirama’s head, pointedly making skin contact. “As you’ve noticed,” he called down with a raised voice, bringing attention to the marks around them, “there are quite a few barrier jutsu here. I’m sure you could use those eyes of yours, activate that construct you love to use so much, and break through them, but not before I cause this man’s body to explode.” He looked at the symbols at Madara’s feet, not looking back to him again.
Madara restrained a sneer. He knows he has no chance against me and hides behind others. What a weakling.
At least a foe who met him head-on was deserving of some small respect for not being a coward. Shinobi may have been soldiers of the shadows, but Madara had nothing but scorn for one who couldn’t use his own strength to achieve his goals.
“In exchange for his life,” the man continued, “give me your eyes.”
The air went silent and still. Tobirama’s own widened a fraction, and he stared down at Madara with something similar to a mixture of suspicion of doubt. The Uchiha’s face betrayed nothing; for all intents and purposes, he looked as if he couldn’t care less about Tobirama or his life right now, and he certainly had enough reason to at the moment.
He couldn’t fathom that Madara would give up his eyes. Maybe for Hashirama, but not him.
“Well? What will it be?” his captor prompted, engaging a dangerous game of chicken as Tobirama felt his chakra stir. “You have three seconds to decide. Three-”
Madara’s eyes narrowed to slits. It was true that he could break through the barriers- rather easily, in fact- but those precious few seconds were all this shinobi needed to kill Tobirama instantly.
Madara…he may have hated Tobirama a little, maybe he didn’t quite know how to feel, but he didn’t know if he could truly just stand there and let the man die.
He didn’t know if that was what he wanted to be.
He was Hashirama’s little brother.
He thought of his eyes, welling up with tears when Madara returned to tell him that he’d stood there and let his brother die. He thought of the days- weeks- months- he would spend in depression. He probably wouldn’t be the same.
He was Hashirama’s little brother.
Madara had already lost his own. He couldn’t let Hashirama suffer the same fate.
The Chinoike paused and grinned, knowing he’d won. Madara avoided Tobirama’s stunned gaze.
Irritation flowed through him. Of course this cretin would make him remove them on his own as a way to humiliate him.
He wouldn’t get the satisfaction. Unfortunately for him, Madara was quite used to horrors of the body.
He let his Sharingan fade so the man would look him in the eye again. Their gazes met across the clearing.
He reached up with one hand, never turning away, and took out his left eye.
Something in the man’s grin faltered at the blank expression Madara wore.
Blood ran down his cheek as he held his eye in his palm. Madara pressed down the urge to grit his teeth, because that definitely hurt more than it had the last time when he’d had Hashirama’s cells boosting his vitality and a shitload of adrenaline coursing through him during the war.
Ignoring the pain, he removed his right eye, placing it in his palm with the other. His sight left him and he was left in darkness.
“Satisfied?” he drawled, holding out his hand.
He didn’t have to look to know Tobirama was staring at him, paler than usual and with a vaguely dumbfounded quality to his expression.
The Chinoike broke out of his momentary stupor and the smile returned to his voice. “Thank you for cooperating, Uchiha-san.”
Madara heard him jump down to ground level at the same time several of the barriers closer to him activated second layers, locking him into the center of the valley.
He tracked the man’s steps as he walked up to him. He stopped two feet away, and Madara didn’t doubt he had some other way to kill Tobirama from a distance if he was so casual with coming down to him.
He fought the urge to close his hand or summon his Susanoo to skewer this fool as his eyes were taken from him. Here he was, giving one of the most vital parts of him- eyes that held unquestionable power- away, all for Tobirama.
“Thank you…so much, Madara,” the Chinoike told him, a laugh shining through his voice. Madara wanted nothing more than to light him on fire and feed the remains to his falcons.
Then a sword skewered him in the chest. It wasn’t a small one.
He let out a startled gasp, having not heard the Chinoike pick up or take out a blade, and stumbled back half a step. His hands went to the wound on instinct, assessing the damage, his mind growing more frantic as he mapped out where his organs were. It had missed his heart but pierced his lung.
The man stepped forward, suddenly in his personal space, and placed a hand on his throat. It was the only thing needed to make him freeze. He wasn’t stupid- he knew he’d practically cornered himself now.
“I could kill you now,” the Chinoike contemplated, and Madara let out an alarmed gurgle when a second blade pierced an artery in his thigh. He crashed back into the rock wall he’d backed into, leaning heavily against it as he repressed the urge to start coughing up blood.
Tobirama’s voice abruptly filled the valley, sounding cold and furious and harder than Madara had ever heard it and he couldn’t begin to fathom why that tone was aimed in his defense. “That man,” he called down, his glare obvious, “is the most important person on this earth to my brother. You kill him, and Senju Hashirama won’t stop until there’s nothing left of you but ashes and the full force of Konohagakure will come down on you.”
Madara couldn’t help a quiet, gurgling laugh when the hand on his throat stilled. Even the threat of Hashirama sent chills down spines.
“Perhaps.” The hand slowly left him and he sagged down the wall, hitting the ground with a wheeze. “Enjoy what remains of your life, Madara.”
Footsteps made their way away from him towards the other end of the valley.
Madara couldn’t believe he’d let himself come to this. He should have crushed that man instantly, made him know what real fear was, and yet part of him knew that was a lie. He wondered when he’d started going to such lengths to put others before himself.
“Madara!” Tobirama’s voice called down to him again. “My chakra is bound. I can’t help unless you release me.”
Madara’s head had gotten so heavy. He raised it with a struggle in Tobirama’s direction, breathing in wet-sounding breaths as the pool of blood he sat in grew larger. Moving, in his state? What a joke.
Painstakingly, he raised a hand and gathered his chakra. A single Susanoo arm shimmered in existence in only its skeletal form. It began to extend in Tobirama’s direction.
“Twelve degrees left and half a foot down,” Tobirama instructed, sounding not panicked, but definitively hurried. “There’s a tag on my forehead.”
This was ridiculous, Madara thought, utterly ridiculous, and he had no idea what his life had become that he was sitting here bleeding out and trying to blindly remove a tag from Tobirama’s forehead surrounded by boulders and mist that was making him feel uncomfortably warm. He didn’t believe that this was reality at this point.
His chakra brushed against paper. He flicked the Susanoo’s index finger and dislodged it, unprepared for the instantaneous rattling of metal directly afterward that startled him. Hardly a moment later hands were grasping his shoulders. He was dizzy, it was hard to breath, he felt like coughing up a gallon of water; everything felt like someone had cut it open and poured salt in it.
“Goddammit,” Tobirama breathed, and Madara just let himself sit there, unaware of much other than the blinding points of pain in his body. “Why the hell did you give those up for me, you dumb bastard?”
“Hashirama loves you,” Madara mumbled, making the hands momentarily pause as they were ripping his yukata into pieces and trying to adjust the blades so he could be carried. “And besides…what kind of person would I be…if I let a comrade from Konoha die?”
He was on the verge of passing out and didn’t know what he was saying, but that felt…right, in a way not much had in a very long time.
He’d already lost his sight. He lost his other senses as unconsciousness took him.