Tobirama was met halfway back to the village by the group they’d sent out as a retrieval squad. There were over twenty jounin gathered around the Hokage, who’d donned his armor and his weapons scroll on his back and led at the front.
“Hashirama!” Tobirama hollered his brother’s name at the top of his lungs. He dropped out of the trees from a higher point than the squad, making them glance up when they heard his voice.
“Tobirama!” Hashirama froze when he saw Madara, sagging at Tobirama’s side with an arm held around his shoulders, absolutely covered in blood.
Tobirama landed on the ground and transferred Madara to the grass as gently as he could. Hashirama landed in front of him, wide-eyed, glowing hands already reaching for the blade in Madara’s chest that Tobirama had been forced to break off. “What happened?” he demanded, glancing at Madara’s face and going still. “His eyes-”
“They’re gone,” Tobirama interrupted him, sounding aggrieved as he met his brother’s frozen gaze.
Hashirama stared at him with a gaping mouth. For a moment that was all he did, before his expression slowly began to transform into something thunderous. Tobirama could hear his teeth grinding together as a cold rage Tobirama hadn’t seen in a very long time took him over.
“Who?” he asked through gritted teeth, even as his chakra removed the portion of metal in Madara’s chest and tossed it aside and the clone he’d made before leaving dealt with the other injuries. The chakra he was giving off escalated, a gradual but steady rise as his anger coiled, making his hair start to float off his back. “Who did this?”
The sensors in the squad swallowed and shifted uncomfortably. Even the non-sensors became aware of the deep well of chakra they could feel, simmering in repressed fury, starting to radiate outward. It made them feel a bit like ants in the midst of an angered rhinoceros.
Tobirama, having gone stiff, steeled himself, as he knew that fury wasn’t directed at him. It was simply hard to ignore the sheer amount of angry chakra lashing out when one was as good a sensor as he was.
“A shinobi from the exiled Chinoike clan,” he said, managing to keep his composure. “Apparently this was some elaborate revenge plot. He took his eyes for himself.”
A frown overtook Hashirama’s face. He glanced down at Madara’s, pale and streaked with blood, and the question on his tongue was obvious.
“Anija,” Tobirama said, quieter that time, as his gaze followed his brother’s, “he did it for me.”
Hashirama went rigid. He looked up at Tobirama with his eyes, not moving a bone in his body, as an unspoken conversation passed between them. Tobirama could see even he was in some mild disbelief.
Even after everything he’d done to him, Tobirama thought, Madara had still made this sacrifice for him. If he’d still had any preconceptions about the man they were gone now. Part of him couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen this aspect of Madara, so blatant in other shinobi of Konoha but seemingly hidden under the surface of the Uchiha, but now it seemed as if it had always been obvious.
He would give up anything for the village and those he deemed his comrades.
Even Tobirama, who’d had by far the rockiest relationship with him, who’d forced him to witness his own resurrected brother and wait to lose him to death again.
“He asked me,” he murmured, “what kind of person he would be if he let a comrade from Konoha die.”
Something like pain flashed across Hashirama’s face. Tobirama didn’t regret telling him. He looked at Madara with a tenderness that was offered to no one else, and Tobirama knew never would be.
Madara was many things: cantankerous, impish, a mischief-making gremlin who liked to replace Tobirama’s quill ink with disappearing pigments.
He had to be the most loyal person Tobirama had ever seen.
Madara is a fundamentally kind man.
It turned out his brother had been exactly right, from day one.
“Hashirama…? Is that you?”
Hashirama’s head whipped around so fast Tobirama was sure he’d given himself whiplash. He left the chest wound for his clone to finish healing, moving closer to Madara’s head and settling on his knees in the grass. He placed a hand on the man’s forehead and brushed his bangs aside. “I’m right here. Don’t try to open your eyes, Madara, just rest.”
Madara lay there, confused and with darkness as his company, disoriented. An ignored voice in his mind told him he must have lost consciousness. He didn’t know where he was- but Hashirama was there, so it didn’t matter.
“Aniki! Look at my Sharingan!”
Izuna stared up at him with bright, adoring eyes, shining with a care he only gave his brother. Trust. Respect. Love.
Of course he’d dreamed of that. He wished he could feel it again.
With effort, he raised a hand and reached out until he felt the edge of red armor. Hashirama stared at him in confusion as he moved his hand to hold the Senju’s face. He relaxed a fraction when he felt familiar smooth skin under his. The chakra around them calmed.
“I can’t… see your face anymore,” he explained with a smile, finding it difficult to speak due to the exhaustion and echoes of pain hounding him. “So this’ll…have to do.”
His half-delirious mind didn’t pay attention to the presence of others around them, or that brushing a thumb over Hashirama’s cheekbone with an adoring smile was in no way platonic. “I missed you.”
He didn’t know what caused it, but the man holding him let out a choked noise as if he’d startled him. “I-I missed you too,” he said, voice quivering. He laid a hand over Madara’s to keep it there, noticing how it was shaking from effort. “Rest now. I promise I’ll fix this.”
Tobirama watched as his brother’s expression traveled from slightly amazed back to pained. The jounin around them glanced at each other, wondering if they should be looking at the scene or not, some of them with a question in their gaze. Several were from the Senju, a few from other clans, and they all noticed how the Uchiha soldiers there looked as if they knew something they didn’t.
“I’m sorry,” Madara muttered as he clearly started to drift into sleep. “I should have been stronger than this.”
Tobirama stared, and thought to himself that it would be a crime for either of them to choose anyone else. They and their loyalty and their special brands of inanity were perfect for each other. They fit together like two sides of a coin and he couldn’t fathom how neither had figured it out yet.
(And deep down, someone this loyal was the only type of person he could approve of.)
Fifteen of their shinobi were sent to the valley to investigate where the Chinoike could have escaped to, while Tobirama used his Hiraishin to transport his brother and Madara back to the village. Instead of taking the Uchiha back to his house, Hashirama settled him in the living quarters in the tower attached to the main room on their office floor, obviously not wanting to leave him alone.
Tobirama leaned against the table in the room, watching with folded arms as his brother fretted over how tight the bandages wrapped around Madara’s eyelids were as the man himself sat on the side of his bed looking mildly annoyed.
“He didn’t do anything else to you, correct?”
“No, Hashirama, I’ve said it three times by now.”
“You can’t blame me for worrying.”
“I’m blind, not in a coma. Go bother Tobirama.”
“Thank you for the concern,” Tobirama drawled. “Trying to foist him off on me.”
Madara wrinkled his nose in his direction. “Shut up, bastard.”
Hashirama made an unsatisfied noise. “Tobirama’s fine. The man took a vial of his blood, but-”
Madara stiffened, losing the air of irritability around him that Tobirama suspected was only for show. “He took a vial of your blood?”
“Yes. He thought I was unconscious at the time.” Tobirama narrowed his eyes as Madara sat there, not moving a muscle. “Why?”
Madara was still for a moment before he began to open his mouth; that obviously had some importance to him, but he was interrupted by the door slamming open. He jumped, while Hashirama just turned with a frown. He’d been expecting Izuna to make an angry appearance at some point.
“Madara,” the dead Uchiha snapped; Madara heard him making quick and angry steps towards him. “We need to talk.”
He glanced at the Senju with a clear dismissal. Hashirama turned to the tray of bandages on the night table and pretended to busy himself with the salve he’d made in a mortar and pestle, keeping one eye on him. Tobirama simply let himself fade into the background, not saying a word.
Izuna stopped a mere two feet away from his brother and glared. Madara couldn’t see him, but he felt the lividness radiating off of him and winced. “Izuna,” he muttered in greeting.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Izuna hissed, apparently uncaring about the brothers’ presence. “Giving up your eyes to an enemy? For a Senju? For him? You remember he’s the one who killed me, don’t you?”
Madara licked his suddenly dry lips before responding. “I…”
Izuna didn’t give him much of a chance. “You gave up your Sharingan. You gave up mine.” He moved closer and grabbed a handful of the plain grey robe Madara had been clothed in after his own was ruined. Ironically, his own Sharingan began spinning in his eyes. “And for that Senju. Did I waste it on you?”
Madara’s ability to breathe abruptly cut out on him. He knew he’d started to tremble, might have worried about showing weakness, but the words cut right to his core. He’d been afraid of that notion ever since Izuna died; that he had died for nothing, that he had wasted his love and sacrifice on Madara.
And Izuna thought so.
He tried to say something, but a pained breath was all that escaped him.
“That’s enough.” Hashirama’s voice, closer than Izuna’s was, startled him. The man was suddenly in his space, forcing himself in between them, cleanly extricating Madara’s robe from his brother’s grasp, and his voice had taken on a note of coldness. “Madara needs to rest. Come back when you’re calm enough not to blame him for something that wasn’t his fault.”
Izuna turned furious red eyes on him. “You don’t have the right-”
“Yes,” Hashirama emphasized, giving him a stern stare that somehow had a trace of guarded pity within it, “I do.”
Izuna stared at him, seething, and glanced at his brother. His brother, who wasn’t arguing. His brother, who simply sat there with a dumbfounded look on his face, practically cowering from him.
“Very well,” he hissed, and turned on his heel and strode out. He let the door bang shut behind him.
None of them spoke. Hashirama stared at the closed door, looking mildly disappointed, and Tobirama eyed where Izuna had been speculatively.
He had noticed the dead man’s odd behavior. He almost thought nothing was wrong at first. Izuna was obviously still stuck in the warring states era, and any adjustment wouldn’t come easily.
He glanced at Madara, who looked close to keeling over from pure shock. Or perhaps crying.
No, there was something wrong. Now he knew what.
“Madara,” Hashirama began softly, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder, “you should rest now.”
“Did you just…” Madara stammered in disbelief. “You- I don’t-” He stopped and made an indiscernible noise, running both hands through his hair.
“He’ll be fine,” Hashirama tried to reassure him. “You’re the one who needs to recuperate.”
Madara shook his head, both to shake himself out of his stupor and reply. “No. I- I know what this Chinoike is trying to do,” he admitted, abruptly looking shamefaced as he turned away from Hashirama.
Tobirama’s eyebrows shot up. He exchanged a surprised glance with his brother. “What?”
If Madara had eyes, he would have bet they would have been avoiding looking at either of them. “A…while back,” he began, quiet, as if the memory shamed him, “I found a tablet in the Uchiha’s belongings. Only someone with my level of visual prowess was able to read it as well as I could.”
Hashirama’s eyebrows started to rise along with Tobirama’s, wondering where this story was possibly going.
“It…it spoke of many things. Things I thought were nothing but myth, that were…unbelievable. It spoke of a dojutsu more powerful than the Sharingan; one that belonged to the Rikudou Sennin.” Tobirama’s eyes widened, and he glanced at Hashirama in surprise, but his brother was no better off than him. “The Rinnegan. I thought…it wasn’t attainable, a legend.”
“How does this relate to the Chinoike?” Hashirama asked, perturbed.
Madara grimaced. “I destroyed the tablet because the things it said would lead an Uchiha into darkness.” And he had; as soon as he had the presence of mind he’d snuck in and broken the thing into a thousand little pieces. “The way it described the path to attaining the Rinnegan involved the mixture of Uchiha and Senju biological material.”
He left a slight pause to leave them to decipher what he meant. It only took Tobirama a moment to put the pieces together. “As clans both descended from the Sennin. That’s why he took your eyes and my blood. But how did he come to find this out?”
“During the battle with the Hagane,” Madara replied, voice quiet and subdued in a way that made Hashirama frown. “I crossed blades with him and he put me under a genjutsu. It…brought a variety of unpleasant memories to mind. I broke it- I didn’t think…I thought, with the tablet gone-”
He cut himself off and cursed the way he was stumbling over his words. All he could see was that he’d failed again, practically handed a power that could potentially threaten Hashirama and his dream to an enemy on a silver platter.
“Madara, there is no possibly way you could have even vaguely predicted this,” Hashirama told him, sounding frustrated. “Do not blame yourself.”
“I am the one who-”
“I said no!”
“Just let me-”
“This is just like that time you-!”
Tobirama resisted the urge to rub his temples when they started to bicker. They were like an old married couple and neither one had even hit thirty yet.
“Madara,” he broke in, interrupting their stubborn argument. Hashirama had already begun to pout. “What’s the probability of this all being true, that this man might actually awaken such a dojutsu?”
Silence as Madara pursed his lips. He settled back on the mattress and curled his hands into fists. “Enough that I will transcribe the jutsu the tablet spoke of it could perform. However…from what the tablet said, he is missing one piece.”
Madara’s head turned slightly towards Hashirama. There was hesitancy there, now, that told Tobirama it involved his brother, and thus it was probably headache-inducing.
“The tablet…seemed to imply…that Senju and Uchiha biological material wasn’t enough. The sage had a pair of sons,” Madara explained. “And the infusion of both of their chakra would be required.”
“Well, that’s good, then,” Hashirama put in, glancing between them. “Surely those sons are long dead by now.”
The way Madara grimaced told them he was wrong.
“Very long ago,” he began, “a rift formed between them. The elder brother, angry that the successor to his father’s ways was to be the younger, engaged him in battle. He ultimately lost yet swore vengeance no matter how many lifetimes it took.”
“It’s not a true reincarnation, from what I could tell, but their chakra migrated from host to host. And…”
Madara trailed off, with little intent of continuing. Hashirama stared at him with a frown before freezing as realization spread across his face. “You mean…”
“If the elder brother who went on to found the Uchiha clan is represented by me, you know there is no one else but you who could rival my power as the representation of the brother who founded the Senju,” Madara told him, and his logic in such a mystifying and reality-defying conversation was mind-numbing.
Tobirama stared in silence. Fate. Of course it was fate. They really were fated to end up being moronic together.
“…but we’re not…actual…brothers, right?” Hashirama asked with a twitchy smile, so obviously uncomfortable with the notion and hoping it wasn’t true because of his crush, making Tobirama want to slam his head into the mountain.
“Don’t be an idiot!” Madara chastised him, equally uncomfortable with the thought. “If you were my brother I would fling myself off a cliff.”
“Just shut up, you idiot, and make sure no one steals any of your chakra anytime soon. Surely you can manage that.”
Yataro was frustrated.
No, that was too weak of a word. He was furious. At the end of his rope. About to rip the eyes he’d transplanted into his skull out of it and crush them beneath his feet after all this effort.
He couldn’t even manage to get the man’s damned Sharingan to activate. Every time he thought he saw a flicker of red in his mirror it disappeared before he could achieve it.
One side of his face was mottled with synthetic tissue that held the Senju blood in his body, and he’d injected what he’d gleaned from Madara as well. It couldn’t hurt to use as much as he could. He could feel that man’s chakra lying dormant in the eyes, infuriatingly just out of reach.
“You’re missing a vital component,” a voice rasped from behind him in the cave, making him whirl around and let loose a handful of kunai. A dark shape slithered around them, grinning at him and making a shiver run down his spine.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“An interested benefactor,” the thing purred. “You’re trying to achieve the Rinnegan, are you not?”
“I think you’ll find that I’m highly familiar with it. I know exactly what you’re missing.”
The thing grinned at him again, all teeth.
His eyes narrowed. “And what would that be?”
“A sample from Senju Hashirama. And I can get it for you.”
Yataro stared. Normally, he would have already attacked a mysterious invader in his domain or sent them away, at least- and he was suspicious- but at this point, he had nothing to lose. No family. No allies. There was only him and the growing thirst in his soul that cried out for him to crush the Uchiha.
He doubted this being had his interests in mind, but in the end, who considered any but their own?
The grin widened.
Tobirama found Izuna in a training ground cutting down trees with his Susanoo, lips curled in an angry snarl. He stood there for a moment and waited for the man to notice him. It hardly took a minute before an enraged Sharingan was staring him down.
“What the hell do you want?” Izuna growled. Tobirama kept his stance relaxed, even if he was on guard- because Izuna looked half convinced he should try and kill him to even the scales.
“I came to talk.” He kept his eyes glued to the reanimation as he stalked to the other end of the clearing, lighting various trees on fire with black flames. “You’re angry.”
“No shit I’m angry!” Izuna snapped. “Is that what you came to tell me, Senju? Have any other rhetorical statements for me?”
“You’ve been angry this whole time,” Tobirama went on, rational and calm. Izuna didn’t look over at him. “You’ve been getting angrier.”
“Of course I have!” Izuna howled at him, whirling around. “Why the fuck would I not? I’m angry at everyone!” Tobirama raised an eyebrow. “I’m angry at you! I’m angry at that motherfucking brother of yours! I’m angry at Madara- I’m angry at me! I don’t even know why I said those things, I’m just pissed off!” Practically foaming at the mouth, he flipped one of the pieces of wood he’d dismembered into the air with his sandal and punted it across the training ground hard enough it dented a tree. “I’m angry that everyone expects me to show up and play nice as if we weren’t mortal enemies a week ago. I’m angry and I can’t stop being angry,” he hissed, turning and staring at him with hysterical red eyes. “What the fuck is wrong with me?”
The man before him lowered his gaze to the grass at their feet. “The Edo Tensei is unstable. You’re unstable. In a state of deterioration. It only worsens with each day.”
Izuna stared at him. Running out of steam, he spoke with a desperate edge to his voice, breathless. “What? You’re- you’re telling me-” He broke into a feverish laugh, rough and brittle enough it made the Senju wince. “You couldn’t even bring me back from the dead right? I’m just some bomb- some animal- I’m not even a human being anymore.”
He turned away from Tobirama and laughed, pressing his hands over his eyes and feeling the hysteria rise. Fury was still bubbling in his gut and the horrible, oppressive darkness that had hounded him since he awoke seemed to double. He wanted to cry, to rage, but nothing would come. No moisture gathered in his eyes. He couldn’t even cry.
He laughed harder.
Tobirama’s voice was cautious and hesitant. “Izuna-”
“Don’t fucking say my name,” Izuna shrilled, curling his hands in his hair. “I can’t even cry. I can’t even cry.”
And he was so angry.
“Leave, Senju,” he wheezed, laughter bubbling out of him. Tobirama’s presence didn’t move. He whipped around and screamed at the top of his lungs. “I said leave!”
Izuna kept on laughing, falling to his knees and burying his face in the grass and wishing he’d gone to hell instead of this.
Tobirama listened to the sound of unhinged laughter the whole time he returned to the village. It faded eventually, but echoed in his mind as he landed on a high tree branch and knelt there, shaken and pale.
Breath coming in uneven intervals, he slowly sat down and placed the scroll he’d been carrying in his lap. Izuna’s broken shrieking and the way his eyes had glinted with the beginnings of insanity stayed in his mind’s eye and didn’t let him rest.
He thought of Madara, sitting on his bed with no eyes and suffering as his beloved younger brother left him there.
His mistake couldn’t even affect just one person. It was just like his missteps with Madara causing Hashirama pain. Madara was caught in the crossfire now- Madara, who’d hated him a little bit even if he denied it but still tried to put it aside and- dare he say- become Tobirama’s friend.
Somewhere along the line he had. Their relationship would probably never make sense- or be easy- or be anything that wasn’t infuriating- but Tobirama considered the man his friend. He’d started enjoying it when he sent his falcons to the office- they were things of beauty- or when they teamed up on Hashirama, or even when they argued like a cat and dog that were mortal enemies.
He'd wondered before if he and Izuna would have gotten along had he stayed alive, and despite bringing the man back, he couldn’t even decide that. He was trapped in a well of hatred that was Tobirama’s doing. He was twisted and malformed and most likely nothing like what he’d been when he was alive, if the disappointment on Hikaku’s and Naori’s faces after meeting him was any indication.
If the way he’d seen Naori duck her head, and murmur about the person she’d considered a little brother not wanting to see her, and the way Hikaku had slung an arm over her shoulder with an equally depressed look on his face, was any indication.
Two other friends Tobirama had hurt.
But it was time to stop dwelling on what he’d done. His guilt was right, but it wasn’t productive and it wouldn’t fix the situation or save any of them more pain.
He had the way to fix all this in his hand. Sitting and agonizing over his mistake would do nothing; it was time to undo it.
He glanced down at the scroll in his lap and narrowed his eyes.
Whoever he was, that Chinoike would soon regret harming one of Konoha’s own.
The Uchiha as a whole were less than happy to hear what had happened to Madara.
Hashirama rubbed one temple as he stared at the square outside the tower, filled with what looked like nearly every adult Uchiha but for a few to babysit the children. Every Sharingan was active and glaring at him, though he wasn’t the target of their anger.
“They’re understandably restless, sir,” Hikaku said from the front, innocently, as if he wasn’t part of this mob. “They’d like to ask that you pull other clan shinobi from the roster and let the Uchiha form the brunt of the force going after this man.”
“I suppose there’s nothing better than several hundred Sharingan to fight the most advanced state of the Sharingan,” Tobirama muttered from beside him, expression stony but a glint in his eyes, and Hashirama slumped because he could just feel that Tobirama was making fun of him somehow.
He sighed. He couldn’t blame them for being angry. “All right, then,” he called in a raised voice. “The Uchiha will spearhead the search squads.”
A quiet murmur spread through the crowd. He could see many of them smirking. That was probably their version of cheering.
“Tobirama, will you-”
“I’m leading the commanding squad, anija. It’s obvious I would organize them.”
Hashirama slumped as a raincloud appeared over his head. “You said it’s bad to undercut the Hokage’s authority in public,” he pouted.
Tobirama’s expression was blank. “Then act like a Hokage.”
Hashirama slammed into the ground. Why did his brother have to be so ruthless?
Tobirama repressed the urge to grin. If Hashirama ever caught onto the fact he did this on purpose, he would start doing half his paperwork for him.