Not only had the Chinoike man seemed to disappear into the woodwork, but no one had appeared to visit Madara.
Well, one specific person he didn’t know the identity of.
Hikaku and Naori had, of course, but he was certain that Madara didn’t like either of them. His relationship with Naori seemed more familial, and he’d heard from Toka that she liked women anyway; Hikaku had been in a subordinate position for too long for Madara to grow fond of him in that way. Mito had also come by, examining Madara’s face with pursed lips and repressed anger, followed by his student and that fluffy-haired Uchiha child.
Most others were, understandably, busy with either helping the search squads or picking up the slack those who were had left.
But this person Madara liked- who he was undoubtedly friends with if he’d developed feelings for them- hadn’t shown hide nor hair anywhere near the tower. They hadn’t visited him, hadn’t come to comfort him- and if they felt the same way, that was even more stinging. How could someone receive Madara’s affection and leave him to deal with this alone?
Madara was probably wondering why they hadn’t come. He was most likely listless and restless considering he’d lost his eyes.
Subconsciously, he curled his hands into fists as he stared out the window at the approaching form of his brother on the street below. What he wouldn’t give for that person to be him.
Some may not have seen it at first, but Madara was one of the most loyal, kind people he knew; he deserved a partner who would show him the love and care he deserved. Hashirama longed to do just that, to comfort him like he wanted to, to press their bodies together and listen to the easy sound of Madara breathing as he layered kisses over his skin.
It hounded him every night. He thought of how warm Madara’s body would feel under his hands as he ran them over it, over the dips in his hips, down his sides, cradling his face, feeling the warmth of his chakra- he still didn’t know why everyone thought it felt cold.
He’d resolved to himself that he would try to be as supportive and positive as he could be if Madara brought this mystery person forward, but so far, they were not making a good impression.
“Has there been any luck finding him?”
“None yet.” Tobirama watched his brother with folded arms as he frowned out the window of the office- the Hokage’s office, rather than the office they and Madara used just next door. “He could have left the country.”
Hashirama’s frown deepened. He was in a bad mood, probably in part due to the fact that Madara refused to stay in bed and had been bumping around the floor refusing to acknowledge he needed help with tasks and reminding him at every turn that his friend had no eyes. Tobirama had been passing by the break room and nearly broke his neck doing a double-take when he saw a kettle about to fall off the counter due to where Madara had set it down. He’d barely caught it in time while struggling to be quiet enough the Uchiha didn’t notice him.
“I’ll head back out after this. I don’t think he would leave so easily,” Tobirama continued. “His only reason for attacking was vengeance on the Uchiha.”
“Do you think he could resurface for that?”
“He certainly won’t be happy to hear that Madara’s survived. If he is trying to create this dojutsu, he’ll surely return for more ingredients when he realizes his error.”
Hashirama’s eyes narrowed. Tobirama remembered watching the man pull his eyes out, as easily as if it were a simple rudimentary task like making tea. He had been forced to sit there, unable to do anything, and simply watch.
He wondered how it would have felt to watch Madara die there if the Chinoike wasn’t threatened enough by Hashirama to leave him alone.
The door swung open behind him. Knowing it was Toka returning for her own report, Tobirama moved aside, knowing she would have no further news than he did.
Hashirama tensed at the same time Tobirama did. They each turned with narrow eyes, not missing the agitation in their cousin’s voice. She stood halfway to the desk with a rigid stance, part of her cheek twitching, one hand jerking slightly every few seconds. Something about it was unnatural.
Tobirama wisely moved back a few steps as Hashirama stood from his seat. “Toka. What’s the matter?”
The woman’s mouth opened, but she didn’t say anything. Her head tilted. The rest of her body twitched again. Tobirama couldn’t tell if she was struggling to move or struggling not to move.
But whichever one it was, it was obvious she was fighting against something.
One twitchy hand reached into her kunai pouch and withdrew a knife. The brothers watched her carefully, growing even more guarded when she aimed it at her own neck.
“Good afternoon,” a raspy voice spoke, startling them. “Hokage-sama.”
What looked like thick blank ink wiggled out from under the collar of her armor, just enough they could see it, as a vaguely humanoid face peeked out from its hiding spot and grinned at them. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Might I request some chakra? I’m afraid I’m experiencing a shortage.”
Mentally, the Hokage and his brother swore at the same time. Of course they’d been expecting some ploy to take Hashirama’s chakra and had heightened security, but it appeared someone- no, something- had found a way around their defenses by way of body possession.
Part of its face shifted, revealing the Chinoike’s discarded dojutsu. The sight reminded Hashirama that the man must have replaced his own with the Sharingan, that he was wearing Madara’s eyes as if they were his own. He clenched his fists and willed his chakra to stay under control.
“I’ve been told you value your comrades, Hokage-sama,” the thing continued. “But if you’d rather play it safe and let this woman die, I must confess I would be fascinated to see it, even if my prerogative is otherwise. What will it be?”
“Don’t, you, dare,” Toka seethed, glaring at Hashirama with a furious curl on her lip. He stared back at her with indecision, glancing between her angry expression and the grin on her captor.
He glanced at his brother, who shook his head. He didn’t have a Hiraishin mark on Toka (although, after this incident, he was going to put one on every single person he knew-) and even if he had, there was no way he could see to safely separate her from the being in time to stop a blood explosion.
“Toka?” As if she’d sensed the looming danger to her lover, Mito appeared in the doorway with a frown. “Have you-”
The thing on Toka’s neck twisted around and smiled at her as Tobirama stepped closer and held out a hand to signal her to stop. She froze and went pale, standing there like a statue frozen in time as her senses broadened subconsciously and alerted her to what was going on.
Hashirama looked at the terror in her eyes and felt guilt flow through him. He recognized that terror. There was no other feeling that could bring him to his knees so easily. No shinobi with bonds could escape it, no matter how hard they tried to ignore the feelings all of humanity shared.
He glanced back at Toka, at the kunai that was just for a sadistic show, and the red pattern in the thing’s eye. He held out his hand.
He was the Hokage. It was his job to protect his comrades and his family, and Hashirama was tired of losing people. He would deal with the consequences of this decision.
Two long black tendrils twisted out from Toka’s sleeve and reached towards his hand. He let one cut a stripe up his palm as the other curled to collect his blood and a stream of chakra it pulled from the wound.
The rest of what he assumed was its body slunk towards the floor and began shifting into the wood under Toka’s feet, moving like a puddle as it did and the tendrils withdrew. Toka gritted her teeth as its hold on her weakened, but its ability to poison her blood did not, forcing her to stay still.
“Thank you,” part of the creature’s mouth told him as the last of it disappeared, leaving its last words with him just as it escaped. “Hashirama.”
As soon as it left her, Toka slammed the kunai in her hand into the floor where it had been as Tobirama knelt and placed a palm to the floor, trying to sense where it had gone. “Dammit! Hashirama, weren’t you the one who said we couldn’t let this man get your chakra?”
“Toka,” Mito pleaded, a waver in her voice as she stepped around and placed a hand against her lover’s cheek. “Please. He saved you.”
She glanced at Hashirama, face still pale, but the grateful look in her eyes spoke volumes and he knew he’d made the right decision.
Toka softened slightly. She placed a hand over Mito’s and bowed her head. “I’m sorry. This is my fault anyway. It attacked me while I searched one of the caverns and took me by surprise.”
“Do you know where it went?” Hashirama asked, looking to his brother as he knelt with closed eyes and concentration on his face.
“It certainly is fast, whatever it is, and can conceal itself well. I was only able to detect it for a second before I lost track of it.” Tobirama’s brow furrowed. “I don’t sense anything else in the tower, but if it’s able to mask its chakra like this-”
“There could be other intruders,” Hashirama finished for him, growing a sudden panic. He practically leapt over his desk and shot out the door, barreling down the hall to the break room where he felt Madara’s chakra, quiet and calm.
Madara himself had been dozing in a seat by one of the windows, enjoying the warmth on his face- the cold seemed more bitter when he wasn’t able to see- but was startled by a wild lash of chakra that snapped him awake. He barely had time to search his senses himself before Hashirama came streaking inside, stopping hard enough that Madara could actually hear his sandal make a mark in the floor as he turned. “What-”
“Madara!” Then his arms were seized and he was dragged out of his chair, furthering his confusion as Hashirama felt his shoulders and arms and inspected his body.
“Have you sensed anything out of the ordinary? Felt anything odd?”
“Are you absolutely sure that nothing-”
“For god’s sake calm down, you spaz, there’s nothing-”
Tobirama walked in behind them and rubbed his forehead at the scene. It looked even weirder with Madara in the haori he’d put on over his robe, an extra one of Hashirama’s that had been hanging around the office with the Senju clan symbol on the back.
“There was an intruder in the tower, but it appears it’s gone now. We will have to heighten security again,” he said, interrupting Hashirama’s impromptu medical exam. He glanced over at him, both hands still holding Madara’s shoulders, and frowned.
“What do you mean ‘it’?” Madara asked suspiciously, the nonexistent narrowing of his eyes practically evident in his voice.
“It was an odd creature,” Toka explained as she stepped inside, followed by Mito. “It appeared to be made of some viscous black material and could stretch and deform itself at will. It formed a parasitic possession on my body and used me as a hostage.”
Madara slowly turned his head towards Hashirama, the dark look on his face making the man gulp. “Hashirama, did you give it your chakra?”
“What is the one thing I told you not to do?!”
“I couldn’t let Toka die!”
“Psh. You’re useless.” A dark cloud of depression came down over Hashirama’s head as he slumped over. Madara glanced over to where he felt Mito; her chakra was unsettled and tinged with anxiety. If she’d almost lost Toka- she definitely would have tried to attack Zetsu- it definitely had to be Zetsu- “Are you all right? Did it hurt you?”
“No, I am fine,” Mito told him, smiling serenely as Hashirama’s cloud got heavier.
“No concern for me?”
“No,” Madara replied shortly, making his face slam into the floor.
Instead of giving the downed Hokage anymore attention, he looked over at where he felt Tobirama. “It sounds as if it was a manifestation of will.”
Tobirama frowned and tilted his head as Hashirama got up, paying attention to the conversation but simultaneously pouting at being ignored. “The technique you transcribed from the tablet? Could this Chinoike have learned to create one so easily?”
“Possibly,” Madara replied, knowing it wasn’t true. “It could be anyone’s. The elder son’s, or someone else’s. It must know of what’s required to create a Rinnegan, and must have a reason for wanting one in existence.”
“So it’s safer to assume it’s more ancient than not.”
“It’s also safe to assume that the Rinnegan will be awakened shortly.” Madara grimaced. It had taken him decades, but he suspected that since Zetsu was interfering directly, he must have wanted this Chinoike to awaken the Rinnegan fairly quickly.
“Then we must search with even more dedication than before. The destructive capabilities you described are a threat to the village.”
“Meanwhile,” Hashirama interrupted, placing a hand on Madara’s shoulder again that made him glance at him, “I want a guard with you at all times.”
“I don’t need-” Madara began indignantly.
“You can’t see. This being can completely mask its chakra, so even a sensor as skilled as you wouldn’t be able to detect it.”
Madara gave him a withering glare that was somehow no less effective with the bandages over his eyelids. Even so, Hashirama met it with a stubborn stare of his own. They stood that way for about ten seconds before Madara turned away, folding his arms with a huff as he muttered. “Fine. But tell me when something happens. I’ll rip his eyes out myself if I have to.”
Yataro gritted his teeth against the pain wracking his body and kept his gaze centered on the crack in his ceiling. It had been there for much longer than he had and dripped water when it rained; a single drop glinted on the crevice now, taunting him as it wallowed in indecision over whether to fall or not.
The straps holding him to his work table strained as he convulsed. The rods that creature had put into his body to conduct chakra weren’t even the main source of his pain. Senju Hashirama’s chakra was running through his body now, and it did not seem to like him.
And yet something had happened. The chakra in his eyes seemed drawn to it, even if it refused to activate still. They were both uncomfortably warm and grew painfully hotter whenever they brushed near each other.
The synthetic tissue on his face bulged further now, held in place by tiny rods, mixing the Senju brothers’ blood together. The creature had more Senju material, too, that ran the length of his arm. It had modified it to specifications Yataro didn’t know. There were many malformations and experimentations in Yataro’s body now that he didn’t know the workings of.
He didn’t care. He only cared if it gave him more power than he had.
“Still not activating?” it asked, looming over him with a knowing smile.
“What do you think?” Yataro glared at it, taking his eyes off the crevice overhead. A drop of water splashed onto his forehead.
“Hmm…” The humanoid figure that still hadn’t given him its name examined his body, thinking. “I’ll force it, then.”
Yataro wasn’t afraid, only curious. “Force it?”
“You might die,” it said with a shrug of its shoulders. “In fact, you probably will die. I’ll merge with you…” It held up one morphing hand. “And force the chakras to mix together. Show you things. Urge the Rinnegan forth. The likelihood of you surviving is close to nothing. And the eyes will be wasted, but risks, hmm?”
“But there is a chance,” Yataro said, even as the black shape overtook his body and sunk into his skin, “and I’ll take it.”
That was the last thing he was able to say before his body turned to fire. A pain unlike any other he’d ever felt raced through his veins, leaving no receptor in his body any mercy. Images and memories flashed through his mind, of a goddess, of purple eyes, of a cold dead eye looking down on the world, of white forms writhing back and forth, of brothers trapped in eternal battle, of a great beast turning into an empty husk. None of it made sense but all of it hurt.
A will forced itself upon him, chanting in his mind, wake up, wake up, wake up, and he knew that this creature was using him only to achieve these eyes, that it most likely wouldn’t let him keep them, but as long as he achieved his goals, he didn’t care.
The chakra in his eyes awakened and it was on fire. It was hotter than any flame he’d ever felt and the chakra in the rest of his body responded. It felt as if it was rushing through his limbs, an endless thing that was too fast for him to comprehend, racing towards an unseen goal.
The creature in his body reached farther. It needed more.
It hurt more.
The pain was too much. Yataro found himself drifting, so much faster than he had anticipated, falling into a dreamlike state. He couldn’t do this.
The great eye in his mind stared down at him with judgment and derision in its gaze. It knew he was too weak.
What are they?
He couldn’t do it.
He saw his dead mother’s face in his mind’s eye, covered in blood as her hair fanned out around her in the pond she’d died in. How young had he been?
The creature made him watch more. Countless of his clansmen lying dead, washed away, their legacy taken from them. Now Yataro was alone and had an Uchiha’s eyes in his skull.
The hum of hatred in him grew to a roaring onrush of fury. The creature egged it on. It grew and grew until Yataro hardly recognized himself anymore. He would have killed his mother right now if it would give him the chance to exact his our plans vengeance.
The screaming that he realized was coming from himself reached a crescendo as the pain did. He was almost gone, but he couldn’t let himself fall off the edge now. He had to do it.
Uchiha Madara will be dead by the time the sun rises tomorrow.
He opened his eyes.
Hashirama was somewhere between losing his patience and leaving the village to assist in finding their enemy with his senjutsu when the problem fixed itself- sort of.
“The distance worries me.” He thought of one of the techniques Madara had told him about- the one that involved bringing a meteor down from the heavens. It sounded impossible, like something a god would do. Then again, that was the point. “Some of the techniques he might have at his disposal could damage the village even if I take the fight far away.” He glanced up at the tower as they walked towards it, a furrow in his brow.
“I’ll have our earth style shinobi stay on guard at the village limits until we return. It would also be a good idea to take Mito with us, for her sealing capabilities,” Tobirama replied. He paused, glancing over his shoulder at a vendor cart in the street behind them, and frowned.
Hashirama bit his lip to contain a laugh. “Something wrong, Tobirama?” he asked innocently, pretending not to notice the shadow that had been following them for five minutes. His brother twitched at him.
“Come out,” Tobirama called to a potted plant that their shadow had switched to. “There’s no use hiding when we’re right here.”
A moment passed in silence.
Slowly, a bashful-looking Uchiha boy emerged from the plant. “Sorry, Tobirama-tan,” he mumbled, stumbling over Tobirama’s name in the most adorable way. Hashirama almost keeled over right there.
Tobirama’s brow crinkled. “You’re Kagami, correct?” The boy nodded. “What did you need?” The boy had fluffier hair than any Uchiha he’d ever seen now that he took a good look at him.
“Um…I just wanted…to thank you…for…” Kagami glanced up at him and trailed off, seeming to notice something he hadn’t before.
It’s so fluffy, he thought, staring at the fur adorning Tobirama’s shoulders in awe. He wondered if it was as soft as it looked.
Tobirama’s eyebrow twitched and a bead of sweat slid down his face as the child gawped at him. At least with adults, he could get them to say what they meant, if they even got distracted at all. Children often didn’t even know what they wanted to say.
Kagami was, of course, a quiet and respectful child, but he was still that- a child. He tended to blurt things out without thinking and Naori often chastised him over it, but he hadn’t quite gotten it down yet. So fixated, he was, that he burst out, clasping his hands together, “C-can I touch your fluffy?”
Hashirama slapped both hands over his mouth and tried his hardest not to laugh. Tobirama glared at him. He looked back to the child while his elder brother had a seizure and stared at the wide, hopeful eyes looking up at him. How on earth could he say no to that? Madara would strangle him.
So he knelt down and watched the Uchiha hesitantly reach out one hand and bury it in the fur on his shoulder. His face lit up with wonder. “It’s soft!”
A chuckle escaped him. He smirked and ruffled the boy’s hair. “Yours is softer.”
Hashirama grinned as the boy’s face turned beet red. He bent down with a sparkle in his eye. “Kagami-chan! You wanted to thank Tobirama, didn’t you? Why don’t you bring him lunch next week after all this is dealt with? I’m sure he’d enjoy it!”
“Anija, that’s not nec-”
“Okay! I’ll get Naori-nee-san to help me! Thank you, Tobirama-tan!” And just like that the boy was shooting off towards the Uchiha compound, a giant grin on his face. Tobirama gave his brother a dry look.
Hashirama smiled at him and radiated innocence. “You have to interact with the children sometimes, Tobirama.”
“I already do. Every day.”
Hashirama pouted. “Are you ever going to stop comparing me to a child?”
“Perhaps if you stop acting like one,” Tobirama said blandly, making a sad cloud cover his brother’s head.
“Hokage-sama!” someone yelled from down the street, sounding urgent enough they both stopped and turned, on alert. “There’s an emergency!”
“What’s wrong?” Hashirama called out, already striding towards the chuunin running towards them.
“It’s the Chinoike- he approaches from the west. There are several gargantuan creatures with him. And-” The chuunin paused, as if in disbelief. “Scouts say he has a large fox with him, sir. They think it may be the Kyuubi.”
The duo froze and gave each other a brief, startled glance. “Gather the Senju and Uchiha,” Hashirama said after half a moment of decision, growing more serious than before. “I’ll give further orders when we’re ready to leave.”
The village wall was finally finished and left them a sending-off point. Hashirama adjusted the armor on his wrists as a Yamanaka relayed a report from one of her clansmen fleeing the destruction that followed the Chinoike’s steps. He was heading straight for the village, making no effort to hide whatsoever, and reports were coming in that said he had purple, ringed eyes. Madara had been right.
In the back of his mind, he wondered what that meant for Madara’s eyes. He wondered what it would mean for his friend when he ripped them from that man’s skull for him.
“Hashirama!” a voice bellowed above the quiet conversation of the Senju and Uchiha clansmen around them that would form the brunt of their offensive force. Hashirama resisted the urge to rub his hands over his eyes when he spotted Madara leaping down from a rooftop, paying no care to what he ran into even if he was very good at avoiding stumbles. Toka followed behind with pursed lips and a disapproving expression. “Why didn’t you inform me the Chinoike resurfaced?”
He made a beeline for the Hokage as the jounin and chuunin around them eyed him, their conversations having quieted. The Uchiha had knowing looks on their faces, while the rest watched Hashirama, wondering what he would do; they had all heard what Madara had done for Tobirama, and anyone left who doubted his loyalty to the village was stuck in delusions. None of them wanted to see him fall on the battlefield because he’d been fighting blind.
“Madara,” Hashirama greeted, stepping close enough that he could reach out and touch him. “You need to stay here.”
“Like hell I’m staying here! Do you honestly think I’m letting you fight that maniac alone?”
Even with the gravity of the situation, that made a few Uchiha bite their lips to hide smiles.
“I know you’re a capable shinobi,” Hashirama began to try and placate him, knowing he wasn’t going to win the argument. He placed his hands on the Uchiha’s shoulders. “And you’re a skilled sensor, but you can’t fight a battle like this blind and come out of it unscathed. There’s too much risk.”
Madara scowled. He was not happy at being sidelined- yes, perhaps it would have been difficult to fight without his sight, but whatever injuries he would acquire were irrelevant. He’d screwed up and allowed the creation of a Rinnegan; even Hashirama might have difficulties defeating the Chinoike now.
He could not allow Hashirama to die.
“I don’t care. It’s too dangerous-”
Hashirama interrupted him with a stern voice that made him feel the tiniest bit cowed. “Madara, I’m the Hokage. It’s my job to protect the village and everyone in it. That includes you.” He pressed closer, suddenly, wrapping his arms around Madara’s shoulders, and his hair brushed Madara’s ear. He froze at the contact. “Do you understand?”
Madara’s brow slowly furrowed in confusion. “I don’t-”
He let out a surprised noise when Hashirama’s hand struck the back of his neck. He lost consciousness almost instantly and crumpled in the Hokage’s grasp. No one was altogether that surprised.
Hashirama glanced up at Toka. “Take him back to the tower. Don’t let him out of your sight.”
She nodded and moved forward to pull Madara over her shoulders. She looked over to where Mito stood, in a black undersuit and deep red armor, a solemn look on her face, and they exchanged a long glance before Toka turned away and leapt onto a building to leave.
Toka paused, on the roof of the flower shop she’d bought Mito’s flowers, looking back one last time to where she could see red hair moving in the crowd of shinobi. How she wished she could go along and make sure Mito stayed safe, but her cousin needed her for a task that was just as important to him as Mito was to her. She did have eyes. She knew he loved Madara.
She watched Mito propel herself forward so she ran alongside Hashirama and Tobirama, her two idiotic little cousins, undoubtedly to talk about something related to how they could seal the beasts.
It felt wrong to watch her family leave and her stay behind.
Come back to me. All three of you.
If they did die, she supposed she and Madara could live out their days as depressed widowers who never got the chance to actually marry their loved ones together. They would probably bicker and sulk over shogi for the remainder of their days until they were old and grey and betting over who would kick the bucket first. She grimaced at the thought.
They had better return. She couldn’t deal with Madara for another sixty years alone.