The beast was thrashing and growling when she neared it. It looked down at her with barely contained wrath and bloodthirstiness in its eye, snarling through the chain wrapped around its snout.
“Kyuubi,” she greeted, stowing whatever fear she felt in the back of her mind, being so close to one of the great beasts.
“Release me!” it howled, its voice echoing for miles. It started writhing again with renewed fervor and let out a frustrated scream when the chains tightened and forced it to hold still.
“Calm yourself,” Mito ordered, willing her voice to stay calm and unbiased. One red eye looked at her with a pupil blown wide.
“Take these chains off me, you wretched human wench! You’re all the same,” it snarled, the single tail that was less contained than the others lashing wildly. “Arrogant, pompous, self-important, hideous little-!”
“Kyuubi!” Chakra swelled in her voice and amplified it loud enough that even the fox stopped talking. “Calm yourself. I’m going to take the chains away. I simply wanted you to stop moving about so you don’t hurt anything.”
It was quiet for several long moments. It looked distrusting, as if it expected her to try to trick it. Its gaze flicked over to the summoning beasts scattered about.
Mito slowly retracted her chains. The Kyuubi laid there frozen, not believing she was genuine, before leaping off the ground so quickly she was afraid it would try and attack her.
It streaked over to the summoning beasts and snatched the chameleon up in its gigantic mouth before whirling and taking off for the hills like the devil was on its heels. She saw its eyes as it ran, as it glanced at Hashirama and Madara across the battered field, as it looked back at her a single time before fleeing.
It was terrified of them.
Mito used to think that the tailed beasts were hatred incarnate and the only result of their powers would ultimately be hatred as well. Living in Konoha had shown her that even old hatred could be overcome- that sometimes, love won. It had softened something in her.
She watched the feared, terror-inspiring, “monster” run away like it feared them more than anything and felt pity.
No shinobi became a monster like Yataro without a reason. No one fell into hatred without experiencing pain first. Mito didn’t believe that any natural being could come into the world already full of hatred. The world was cruel and made it itself.
She wondered, for all the millennia that beast had been alive, how much hatred it had to have seen to erase whatever kindness it had once had.
She turned and started walking back towards where the rest of the shinobi were gathered. Toka and Tobirama had both been watching her from a distance, as she insisted on dealing with the Kyuubi alone. The Hokage himself was busying himself with helping the beasts.
“There, there,” Hashirama soothed, brushing a hand down the bird’s injured beak. “We’re going to help now. I promise.” He glanced at the various bruises lining its body and winced. “I’m sorry about before.”
The ox moaned loudly from about thirty yards away where a group of healers were trying to heal its wounds and take the rods out of its body. The rhinoceros was unconscious, along with the centipede, and the panda was sitting on its backside looking dazed as several Uchiha tried to convince it to try and stand to see if it could walk.
Mito brushed a hand through the fur of the dog. It was still a giant, but had shrunken down to a more manageable size with only one head and now laid on its side, one eye cracked open as it stared at her. “Shh,” she whispered. “It’s going to be all right.”
It stared at her for a moment before letting its eye drift shut.
“Here, aniki, let me help,” the insistent voice of Uchiha Izuna said from behind her. He had let Hashirama heal him and eyed him suspiciously the whole time, never letting go of Madara’s hand. As soon as it was over with he’d put several yards between them.
The way Madara smiled in amusement as Izuna led him over the rubble by the arm made Mito chuckle. “I can walk on my own.”
“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” the younger brother told him, voice edging on a pout.
“Izuna?” Hikaku emerged from some of the activity around them, having faded into the background to let Madara reunite with him alone. He had a hopeful look on his face that he looked to be trying to repress. Mito couldn’t help but feel a little pitying. She couldn’t imagine suddenly seeing one of the family members she’d lost years ago and having them barely look at her.
Izuna whirled around and his eyes lit up. “Hikaku! I haven’t seen you in forever!” If that didn’t speak to how twisted he was as a reanimation, nothing did.
He let go of Madara and moved forward to embrace the other Uchiha. Others had started to congregate around them, curious about the familiar-looking man moving at Madara’s side, whispering to each other.
“Is that Izuna?”
“He looks just like him.”
“He couldn’t be. He’s dead.”
Naori hesitantly ducked in between two Uchiha and stood there awkwardly, watching Izuna exchange pleasantries with a smiling Hikaku. The skin beneath her eyes looked stained with blotches of faded red as if she’d sloppily wiped blood away. “Izuna?” she asked, quiet and unsure.
Izuna whirled around and smiled even wider. “Naori-nee!”
Mito couldn’t see the other woman’s face, but she could see the way she hurriedly wiped at her eyes. She went over and accepted a hug from the younger man, running a hand over his hair as if to confirm that he was real. Hikaku stared at them for a moment and turned away, ducking his head as he lifted a hand to his face and tried to hide it.
Mito could hear the other shinobi whispering and murmuring on the field, not quite believing it was actually Izuna yet, but she could already hear bits and pieces about what they’d used the Chinoike’s body for due to the Nara making her way around. Soon enough everyone would know that Izuna had been brought back to life because of the Rinnegan.
She felt Toka’s presence at her side before the other woman slipped her hand through hers. Mito turned and gave her a smile, one hand still placed soothingly on the dog’s side. Tobirama stood behind his cousin, watching the Uchiha reunite with an expression she thought was almost solemn. He turned and began walking towards his own brother before Mito could ask why he was so melancholy.
“All right, everyone,” Hashirama yelled, gaining the attention of everyone on the field. “Prepare to transport the animals back to the village. We can better deal with them there.”
Madara stayed with his brother all the way back to Konoha and through the hullabaloo that followed. His touch was gentle and his words rang with a love Madara hadn’t felt in years. His state as a reanimation was baffling, at a minimum, because Madara had no idea how he hadn’t noticed that he had degraded so far he was hardly even Izuna anymore. Perhaps he’d thought himself so deserving of Izuna’s anger he had been shortsighted.
He was separated from Hashirama in the busyness and ended up in the Uchiha compound, having wandered into Naori’s house after her and Izuna. For what felt like the first time, it didn’t feel oppressive or suffocating or uncomfortable. The Uchiha welcomed him back and let him be with a pleasantness in their aura he felt like he was just noticing.
However, he did notice how much quieter Izuna became when they were finally alone, arranging extra futon on the floor in Naori’s spare bedroom. Madara waited until they were both seated on their cushions, sitting there in semi-awkward silence, waiting for Izuna to speak before he decided to do so himself. “Is something the matter?”
It was hard to gage what Izuna was thinking when he couldn’t see his face. It took him a moment to respond. “I’m sorry, aniki. For what I said to you. I would never think it was a waste to give my eyes to you. I was just…” He trailed off awkwardly. “Angry.”
Madara frowned. “You were right to be angry at me.”
Izuna pressed his lips together. “I was angry at you, but that was superficial. I was angry at- at everything, but…” He ground his teeth together for a moment. “I was angry at the Senju. At Senju Hashirama.”
Madara’s frown deepened. “Why were you angry at Hashirama?” he asked, confused. “He hasn’t done anything-”
Izuna’s tone was angry and bitter when he interrupted him. “But he has. I…I remember things, Madara. I remember watching this happen, but- but- different.”
Something in Madara’s mind murmured to him with foreboding.
“I remember you being alone. And leaving. And coming back, and that man-” Izuna cut himself off, as if he was too angry to get the words he meant to say out. “He killed you.”
A stone dropped into Madara’s stomach. Izuna remembered. How could he have remembered? He hadn’t even been alive- had he been in limbo watching him? How had he come back with Madara?
“And…and after that, there’s just- these flashes, that don’t make sense,” Izuna continued. “Things about the sky, and beasts, and purple eyes, and- it doesn’t make sense. But I know what I saw. I know that this happened once somehow already-”
“It did,” Madara said, a bit hoarse. Izuna paused. “It- it did. I…I lived through this once and I came back and I’m not sure how, but- but just forget about what you saw, Izuna. I did…things that were wrong. I brought my fate onto myself. Please forget it.”
“How am I supposed to forget it?” Izuna hissed. “He killed you! He gave up on you! You know that if it were you, you wouldn’t be able to do the same. That you would lose. How can I trust him-”
“Things are different now,” Madara told him, ignoring the flash of hurt that resurfaced. “Izuna, I finally got a second chance to make things right. To do what I should have done. Please…please just try and see the village for what it is. Ignore the Senju if you must, but I can’t…”
I can’t lose you again.
Izuna was silent for several moments. It stretched into a minute and Madara began to worry he was going to fight him on the matter further.
“All right,” he finally said, quiet and subdued. “I’ll try, aniki. For you.”
Madara breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.” He relaxed and inched his hand forward, wanting to search for Izuna’s hand but feeling hesitant. Izuna reached out and took it for him, his flesh warm and strong and alive and Madara felt so tired.
“Let’s go to sleep. You’ll have to show me around again tomorrow when I can really appreciate it.”
Against his bidding, a smile began tugging at Madara’s mouth. “Yes,” he agreed, “I will.”
Mito was quiet as she rolled out variously sized cuts of handmade paper, dried them, and stored them in shelves labeled with their measurements and ingredients. It was a task that required minimal brainpower, much like organizing the bottles of inks in the other shelves and on the counters had been, and it allowed her mind to drift as she worked.
On the other side of the room, Toka quietly shuffled around, yawning once in a while, organizing various scrolls whose contents ranged from instructional guides on how to create certain types of low ranked seals and barriers to how to seal powerful beasts. She glanced over at Mito as she put another stack of paper away and hesitated for a few seconds before setting her latest armful of scrolls down on a table.
“It’s late,” she suggested, noting how messy Mito’s bun had become. “Perhaps we should retire.”
Mito looked up and smiled tiredly. “I suppose so.” She glanced down at her work and sighed. “I simply don’t want anything like this to ever happen again.”
Toka drifted closer with a fondly amused smile and patted her on the shoulder. “We have more than tonight to do it. It will be fine. Our enemy is dead.”
The shorter woman pursed her lips. “But that manifestation is still out there.”
“It ran with its tail between its legs. It won’t resurface so soon.” Toka leaned down and pressed a kiss to Mito’s temple. She relaxed and leaned into her, ignoring the smell of smoke and grass that was entrenched in their clothes after such a long day.
She rested her forehead against Toka’s shoulder and trailed her eyes over the floor. There was a tiny little crack in one of the wood panels of the floor. It was hardly noticeable; she’d probably made it when she dropped a rather heavy bottle filled with her thickest ink earlier. Buildings made from the Mokuton were always surprisingly resilient.
“Toka,” she murmured, fiddling with a stray sleeve on the undersuit the Senju wore under her armor. “I’ve realized lately that I never want to live without you. All I could think of when I went onto the battlefield was that I couldn’t let anything happen to my home where you were. With the example of how excruciatingly oblivious some people are…” She could feel her partner restraining a snicker. “I know maybe I’m impatient, and we haven’t been together a very long amount of time, but I don’t want to wait. I was thinking maybe we could…you know…”
“We could…?” Toka raised an eyebrow down at her. Mito blushed and averted her eyes.
“You know…I don’t…ever want to live without you.” Toka continued to stare at her in puzzlement. “I want to be together forever, Toka.”
“…oh,” Toka said after a moment, eyes widening. “Oh. I- you want-”
“Yes. I was…going to plan more…and make something for you…but I suppose that can wait,” Mito mumbled, her blush deepening. “I want to marry you. I was thinking- surely it would be allowed, Hashirama seems willing enough to officiate-”
“He knows I would kill him if he said no.”
“So…you say yes, then?”
A laugh bubbled out of Toka’s throat. “Why on earth would I say no? Of course let’s get married. If you’d like, you can move into my home, although…” She trailed off and rolled her eyes towards the ceiling. “I wouldn’t be unhappy for Kenichi to have longer to run to bring me errands in the morning.”
Mito laughed and reached for her haori which lay strung over a chair. There was a cold nip in the village nights as fall neared winter. “I can answer the door half-dressed for you.”
A shark-like grin overtook Toka’s face. “Yes. Anything to scandalize him.”
The two snickered together as they gathered their things and headed out into the chilly night air, holding hands as they made their way back to Mito’s home.
“You can come inside if you like,” Madara had told his brother, and was promptly met with scathing politeness directed at the Hokage. His brother had always had a particular talent for that that even Madara couldn’t compete with.
“I’m sure Hokage-sama doesn’t want me impeding his work. You go on ahead, aniki, flare your chakra if you need me,” Izuna told him with a smile, and then he was off to go do…something. Madara hoped he didn’t feel out of place.
He felt his way up to the upper levels and followed the Senju brothers’ chakras. He found them in their office, bickering back and forth about something. How on earth had he ever thought once that they never argued? A serious fight was rare, but they bickered like children sometimes.
“Tobirama, there’s a hand in my desk,” Hashirama was whining when he opened the door. Madara paused and stood there without saying a word.
“I didn’t have anywhere else to put it,” Tobirama retorted, sounding slightly sullen. “Anyway, you-”
“Ah! Madara!” Hashirama had, apparently, noticed him, and was walking towards him now. “We were just-”
“I don’t want to know,” Madara cut him off. He got the feeling there was now a depressed cloud hanging over Hashirama’s head. “What of my eyes?”
“Ah, yes, of course. Well…” Hashirama trailed off and glanced at Tobirama, who reached behind him to pull out one of his desk drawers and take out a small container filled with liquid that suspended two eyes. “Tobirama was able to remove them safely, but…”
“But?” Madara prompted, impatient. He folded his arms and turned so he faced the Hokage fully. He found he could achieve the same glaring effect that way.
“Well…there was some genetic material attached that he couldn’t remove without damaging them. We don’t know what effect it will have when you try to use them.” Hashirama paused, gnawing on his bottom lip, and watched Madara’s unexpressive face. “I’m sure you guessed, but the genetic material is mine.”
Madara shrugged, not knowing why they both found it so dramatic. He couldn’t deny that some part of him craved to have the Rinnegan again. It would give him more power to ensure the shinobi wars didn’t take anyone from him if he could bring down a meteor on the opposing field. “So? What does it matter if some of you is in me?”
He realized what he said a millisecond after it left his mouth. He froze from head to toe and felt heat rising to his cheeks.
Hashirama choked on his own spit and stumbled, nearly slamming his head into the wall and catching his own desk to support himself on as he coughed and pressed a hand to his chest. He went beet red and breathed in a wheezing breath as he glanced at Madara’s statue-still visage.
Just pretend not to notice, Madara told himself, still standing there rigid. “What, you idiot?” he raged, sounding angry. “Don’t act as if I said something weird!”
“I’m sorry!” Hashirama squeaked. He waved his hands frantically back and forth even though Madara couldn’t see it and glanced at his brother for help.
Tobirama just stared at them with the dullest expression he’d ever seen. He had no idea how these two had managed to create the village and keep it running without royally screwing up everything they touched.
“Anyway,” Hashirama said with only a slightly strained smile, hesitantly patting Madara on the arm, eager to change the subject, “let’s put your eyes back where they belong. Come sit down.”
Madara let the man tug him over to Tobirama’s empty desk and nudge him to sit down on it. He sat there with crossed arms and said nothing as Hashirama pressed his hands on either side of his head, surrounding his empty sockets with soothing green chakra.
Tobirama cut through the bandages with a pair of scissors and opened the container. Madara could hear the quietest slide of latex as he did that told him he was wearing gloves.
“Open your eyes,” Hashirama instructed. Madara wondered in the back of his mind if there was a way to say open your eye sockets without sounding weird as he did.
There was very little sensation or pain- due to the chakra, he suspected- and the feeling of his eyes being placed back in their sockets was already not unfamiliar to him, so it wasn’t odd at all. He pondered over how Tobirama’s fingers on his face, putting pressure on his empty sockets, didn’t bother him. At one point it would have made his skin crawl to have the younger Senju touch him.
“Close,” Hashirama said as soon as Tobirama was done, and Madara obeyed. He stood there funneling medical chakra for a minute more. Madara thought he was overkilling it a bit, but he wasn’t about to argue if it meant he got to sit there and feel Hashirama’s warm chakra filtering over his forehead for a minute more.
“All right,” the Hokage finally said, letting his hands fall. “Open up.”
Madara opened his eyes and blinked at the onrush of light he’d become accustomed to not seeing.
The office looked the same as ever, basking in warm sunlight as stacks of paperwork that had probably been neglected sat on their desks. Tobirama stood behind his brother watching him with narrow eyes, while Hashirama looked at him with a hopeful, attentive gaze. Madara hadn’t realized how much he’d missed seeing the tan lines of his face and the sparkle in his brown eyes until now.
He couldn’t contain a small grin. It prompted Hashirama to smile, staring at him with a mildly giddy expression as he leaned closer. “Everything feel all right?”
“Everything is working as it should,” Madara replied, activating his Sharingan. He looked to the window as his eyes adjusted to the light and shifted it into his Mangekyo.
They both stared at him. He knew what they were wondering.
He reached out for that familiar feeling of power blossoming in his eyes. It felt like it was there, just out of reach, yet he couldn’t grasp it.
“I can’t activate the Rinnegan,” he said. Hashirama breathed out a light sigh and some of the tension bled from Tobirama’s body. He could tell they weren’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
“Perhaps that’s for the best,” Hashirama said with a weary smile, whether to comfort himself or Madara he didn’t know.
From their perspective, they didn’t exactly know much about the Rinnegan. It was an unknown and something Madara would have to “train” himself to control. They could recognize how useful it would be in battle yet also knew it posed a danger.
But he could still feel the potential there. Madara knew what he needed, but he wasn’t going to voice it. He didn’t know if he just didn’t want to or if he felt like he couldn’t.
“Well, all’s well that ends well, for once,” Hashirama said with a cheerful smile, snagging his attention again. “Are you hungry? Toka brought some manju by earlier.”
“I’ll go get some,” Hashirama continued cheerily, practically speed-walking out the door. Madara stared after him in palpable befuddlement.
His gaze shifted when there was movement in the corner of his gaze. He eyed Tobirama as the man readjusted himself, leaning against Hashirama’s desk with folded arms. He was staring at the wall, saying nothing, and Madara suspected he felt just as awkward as he did.
He really didn’t want to, but he knew he should say something.
It was such an…awkward situation. He knew Izuna would probably be irritated- this was the man who had killed him- but Madara simply couldn’t say he felt the same way about Tobirama as he had before; the great, writhing swath of anger he used to feel in his chest was gone, fizzled out, and if anything, Izuna seemed more irritated with Hashirama than Tobirama.
He felt a bit like he was betraying his brother by doing this, but the part of his brain prone to logic argued with the part prone to emotion. There were many Senju who had killed many Uchiha and many Uchiha who had killed many Senju before Konoha. The point of creating peace was forgetting the wrongs they’d committed against each other, and in the end, it had been Madara’s fault that Izuna had died- it could have been any Senju that fell upon the misfortune of being the one to cross blades with his brother.
He loved Izuna- he once might have said more than anyone or anything or even himself- but there had been so much in between his death and now, so many days spent with the Senju, such a long time given to Madara to move past it.
It was a twisted situation.
Madara whipped around and glared at the imbecile for interrupting him when he’d spent almost two minutes building up to it. Tobirama glared right back. “Well, if you wanted to speak,” he said crankily, goading him, and Madara ground his teeth.
“Moron,” he said, but it didn’t have as much bite in it as before. “I just wanted to say-” He stopped talking and turned to glare out the window, refusing to look the other man in the eye not out of cowardice but out of stubbornness. “I just wanted to say…” His voice took on a softer note that made Tobirama pause in surprise. “…thank you.”
Tobirama stared at him, eyebrows rising, and the silence in the room because utterly loud.
“Thank you?” he repeated, confused. “For what?”
That was a dumb question, Madara thought, because it was glaringly obvious. “For bringing him back,” he said, looking at the Senju out of the corner of his eye. The surprise on his face was a bit funny, considering how hard it was to take him off guard. “I realize you’re the one who caused the mess in the first place, but I have him back again. I just…” He trailed off awkwardly, hating to expose so much of a personal variety to much of anyone. “Didn’t expect you to do that for me.”
Tobirama stared at him. A furrow developed in his brow as he did, and he looked almost incredulous. “I watched you rip out your own eyes for me,” he said, cutting Madara off when he opened his mouth to argue. “And it was for me. It was for Hashirama, it was for the village, but it was for me, as well. I’m not stupid. You didn’t want me to die.”
Madara’s eyebrow twitched. Something about being accused in such a way seemed impudent. “So?” he asked loftily, feeling put on the spot.
Tobirama pinched the bridge of his nose. “Don’t act as if I’m accusing you of first-degree murder,” he demanded. “I was trying to thank you for it. You put your life on the line for me, and you’re confused as to why I brought your brother back? I wronged him too by turning him into a reanimation. It was fixing a mistake I made. Don’t act as if this is four months ago and I still dislike you.”
“I’m not,” Madara snapped, irritated. “I don’t expect anyone to do things for me.”
He’d meant to tell the man off for assuming he still wasn’t understanding him, but what had come out of his mouth was born of resentment he hadn’t known he was still holding onto. He froze and watched something mild similar to surprise ripple through Tobirama’s expression as he looked at him.
“…Konoha is your home,” the Senju said after a minute of silent staring. “More people than just Hashirama care about you.”
Madara sat there for a moment before turning away again, huffing. “Tch. I know that. Don’t talk to me as if I’m five.” His eyes fell on the window outside where he could see the tall roof of the Academy. He curled his hands in the length of his mantle and tried to ignore those words.
Konoha is your home.
He wanted to get up and leave but something in his gut knew he couldn’t. He felt as if this was a turning point, and he really should move past it or else it would bother him forever. He looked back at Tobirama, who hadn’t responded to his barb and just sat there staring at him.
Izuna may have hated him for it, but he needed to let go.
Madara moved his gaze to the floor. Hashirama was taking quite a long time to get manju and tea, he thought, with a bit of exasperation. “I don’t hate you,” he said, making the furrow in Tobirama’s brow grow deeper with confusion. “I used to…I think…but I don’t anymore. I think…”
Exuding an awkwardness only an Uchiha trying to express their feelings could, he got up and inched closer, refusing to look at the other’s face. “We should start over,” he finished. He thought that perhaps they had tried, in variously dysfunctional ways, over the last few months, but it needed a confirmation or else an odd tug of war of misunderstandings would hound their lives. He offered his hand and mentally threatened the other to snub it after all this ungainly fumbling he’d gone through.
Tobirama stared at him with a puzzled expression.
“As friends, you moron,” Madara snapped, twitching. I swear to god, he can be just as dense as Hashirama.
“Oh,” Tobirama stammered, then swore at himself for such a maladroit reply. He stood and took the hand offered to him, in a bit of a haze of disbelief that he had, somehow, managed to become Uchiha Madara’s explicitly stated friend. Nothing in life could ever unfold normally. “Of course. And Madara, I…” He let the Uchiha’s hand slip from his grasp and stood there not quite knowing what to do. “You have my apologies, for killing him in the first place.”
That incident may have been the product of the times and their clans’ war, he thought, but he could acknowledge that while simultaneously realizing it had been his hands that took a part of Madara’s family from him.
He winced internally and prepared for a blowup like the first time when Madara went tense. To his surprise and vague relief, the Uchiha let out a slow breath and nodded. “It’s- forgiven. You should…” He mustered a weak smirk. “Worry more about Izuna’s attitude. He isn’t ignorant, and doesn’t particularly separate you from other Senju, but he can hold grudges.”
It was his way of joking, Tobirama realized. Or maybe his vague way of saying Good luck, you poor fucker. He snorted and fell back against his desk again, refolding his arms. “He’s related to you. That should be obvious.”
The smirk widened into a sharp grin. Madara’s eyes drifted to the door, where they could both feel Hashirama’s chakra lingering in the hall. “By the way,” he said, leaning close- closer than he ever would have a few months ago- and lowering his voice so an eavesdropper couldn’t hear. “I believe Hashirama has…dare say…tried to goad us into a conversation.” A three-tomoe Sharingan that Tobirama had once flinched at spun lazily in his eyes. “Help me terrorize him.”
Tobirama stared into his eyes and felt a slow grin overtaking his face. They both turned towards the door, and Tobirama’s poor, unsuspecting, meddling brother.