Izuna was…stressed, to put it mildly.
He knew that Madara needed some time to himself that morning, after showing Izuna around. He’d been much more receptive to the village and tried to be positive about the parts that stood out to him- the children he saw running about, happy and carefree, the general aura in the streets that was free of a fear of sudden attacks, the fact that Madara now had a regular source for inarizushi, which Izuna teased him over at least three times.
And it had made his brother happy, he knew, for Izuna to say he liked something about the village. Deep down, he was afraid that Izuna wouldn’t be able to integrate and that he would feel as if he didn’t belong.
Izuna smiled and hid the fact that that was exactly how he felt.
It was just around a week earlier, for him, that they’d been locked in mortal combat with the Senju. Every time he saw one pass by Izuna felt biting anger and an anxious feeling flow through him. He found himself tensing up, palming a kunai or placing his hand on his pouch, getting ready for any of them to attack him. Some of them gave him odd looks, but most passed him by without sparing him a glance.
And the worst part was, no one else felt as he did. All the Uchiha acted the same way, as if there wasn’t a care in the world, as if it wasn’t odd at all to have the whole Senju clan within walking distance.
He hated it.
It wasn’t so much the fact that the alliance existed- maybe he could have grown accustomed to it after a while. It was the fact that he was completely alone and everyone around him seemed to expect him to act exactly as they were.
How could he just turn on his heel and start trusting the Senju at the drop of a hat? How could he trust that none of them would stab him in the back when he wasn’t looking? How could he walk around at ease knowing there were probably at least two of them near his location at all times? He’d gone from being on high alert except when within the deepest recesses of the Uchiha camps to…to this. He’d seen Inuzuka, Yamanaka, Akimichi, Aburame, Kurama, Nara, even the Hyuuga- the Hyuuga, who the Uchiha had fought with like cats and dogs. He couldn’t turn anywhere without inevitably feeling his pulse quicken and wondering who was going to try and kill him.
The only place he felt even mildly at ease was within the Uchiha compound. At least they’d had the mind to put a fence around it.
Even if he didn’t want to be in the village, where else could he go? The clan was here; he had nowhere else. This was where his brother was. He had no other options. He’d died and suddenly awoken to a life that was already ironed out for him without his say. It wasn’t as if the village wasn’t nice- or that he thought it would be a painful existence living in a peaceful place such as this (hadn’t they all wanted peace deep down?)- but he just couldn’t relax. He was frustrated.
He could tell that Madara was picking up on his anxieties, to an extent, even though he tried to hide it, and even though he didn’t think his older brother was making the right decision, Izuna didn’t want to burden him further. He had obviously built a life for himself here- a life that he was happy in. Perhaps it was a life that Izuna didn’t have a place in anymore.
He simply didn’t know what to do.
He paused when one of the blonde women behind him who’d been sitting at a table in a tea house’s outdoor area spoke. He stood in the street, outside the short hip-high fence only there for decoration, and she’d come over to lean on it with a friendly smile. “Yes?” he asked, keeping any emotion out of his tone.
“I’m Yamanaka Inoue,” she said, another oddity of this time. He never would have given his name to a stranger so easily. “The clan head of the Yamanaka clan.”
Izuna couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows. Female clan heads weren’t unheard of, but they were rarer, as it was often harder to take command of shinobi when there were more men than women in the force. Izuna thought it was bullheaded and ill-advised to refuse to listen to women; all he had to do was look at where trying to steal Naori’s novels when he was fifteen had gotten him.
She pushed lightly off the fence and stood there, arms at her sides and stance open but not too wide, hands in full view as she smiled but didn’t put too much friendliness into it. “I heard the story of your revival from Naori-san. We work together in a studio not too far from here.”
Izuna frowned. Naori had been like a pseudo big sister to him growing up. If this woman honestly worked with her, that meant she may have had some small amount of trustworthiness, he supposed.
“I wanted to offer our services to you,” Inoue went on, reaching to the armband on her left wrist and pulling out a small paper card. “The Yamanaka operate a branch of the hospital designated for mental health. When we integrated with the village all of our shinobi went through integration programs and we’ve broadened the offer to all shinobi of the village.”
“Integration programs?” Izuna asked, perturbed.
She held out the card. He eyed it suspiciously. “We often face difficulties when adjusting from one situation to the next. The era of warring clans left scars on many, both physical and mental,” she said, matter-of-factly, as if it was a fact of life and not related to him at all. “It was a state of constant stress and anxiety for most. Adjusting to a sudden change to a peaceful atmosphere in which you’re expected to ‘play house’ with people who were enemies just a few days ago can be highly stressful, but it’s not something you need to experience alone.”
Izuna’s eyes flitted up to her face and he shifted uncomfortably. She was the only one who’d managed to exactly pinpoint his problem and she didn’t seem bothered by his distrust at all.
“So, I came to offer our services,” she continued, smiling again. “You’re free to talk to me, or someone else you’re more comfortable with. I helped Naori with the same thing, and I also spoke with Hikaku a few times. You can ask your brother about me as well. I realize you may not be chomping at the bit to come to the Yamanaka, but I wanted to let you know that we’re here if you need us.”
Izuna stared at her before slowly reaching out and taking the card, examining it. He swallowed a lump in his throat and cleared it, unsure of how to handle all of that. Surely she wouldn’t lie about knowing three Uchiha he could go ask about her in less than five minutes. “I…see.”
There was an address on the card, which had the name of the hospital at the top, with a wing apparently dedicated to what she’d described. She’s a…psychiatrist?
“What…” Hesitantly, he glanced up at her again. Ice blue eyes stared back at him with an open and amicable aura that reminded him of Naori. “Would you suggest for…trying to…integrate?”
“Ah…would you like to sit down for a moment? I still have my tea,” she said, gesturing at a table behind her where a small cup and plate sat in front of a chair.
Izuna debated with himself for a moment before walking around the fence and following her over to it. She sat down across from him and smoothed out her shirt, then adjusted the cup as if it was off center.
“I’m afraid that answering questions often involves asking more questions, if you’re comfortable with that,” she told him with something more like a teasing grin. It made Izuna want to smile back at her. He refrained and nodded. “I can assume that you feel anxious much of the time, on guard, expecting an attack?” He nodded again. “That’s entirely normal. Do you also feel angry?”
“Yes,” Izuna admitted. It may have been inadvisable, but she had the type of face he felt he could talk to. “Angry at…many people. Everyone just…” He glanced down at the table and frowned. “Expects me to be buddy-buddy with the Senju, and others, as if it’s not…”
Inoue folded her hands together and leaned her chin against them. “Logically, you can be assured that none of these clans will attack yours, because it’s been many months since the peace agreement was made; however, you aren’t required to be logical about your feelings. It’s reasonable to feel the way you do.”
He stared at her feeling a little lost. He hadn’t been expecting someone who seemed as if they’d started wearing flower bands and dancing together with all the rest to say that. “Is that so?”
“Of course.” She took a sip of her tea. Izuna glanced up when he saw a Senju woman walking down the street and kept his eyes on her until she was out of sight. “What I suggest is giving yourself time. No matter what anyone else says, you’re not obligated to make this switch overnight and start trusting the people of Konoha as your comrades today. If there’s a place you feel comfortable, spend more time there and with people you recognize. Take some time to reacclimate to simply being alive again, and to be around your family. Obviously, you’ll have to get used to the village eventually, but taking it in steps can help. Such as speaking to a member of another clan one-on-one, and putting friendly faces to clan names,” she said with a pointed grin, making him let out a light chuckle.
“I suppose so. I don’t know if I want to talk to any Senju next. Have any Nara friends? They’ll probably be too lazy to attack me.”
Inoue snickered. “As a matter of fact, I do. Naori and I are going to lunch tomorrow with her. Very lazy, I assure you, it’s a struggle just to get her out of bed. You can come along if you like.”
“I’ll…ask Naori,” Izuna dodged, feeling hesitant to barge in on an outing with two people he didn’t know well. He stood up and pocketed the card, unsure of what to say. “Thank you for the…offer.”
“Anytime, Izuna-san,” she said with a wave as he walked away.
Izuna gave her a nod in goodbye and folded his hands into his pockets, thumbing the card as he walked down the street. Later, he would ask his brother what he thought of the Yamanaka clan head and stand there in mild disbelief at the bizarreness of Madara looking up from a newspaper he’d been reading at Naori’s dining room table and saying “I often see her at the photo studio. She seems nice enough.”
And what the hell was a photo, anyway?
Izuna was entirely unprepared for the circus inhabiting Naori’s house when he returned.
He’d passed the Hokage tower on the way, which, for some reason, was emanating a sort of dismayed screeching as a voice that sounded like Hashirama’s yelled what sounded like “This is horrible, I take it back, go back to fighting-” and a voice he could have sworn was Madara’s laughed in the background. Then a window had burst open as a wave of water rushed outside and took an odd conical red hat with it.
Izuna decided to give that a respectable distance and retreated to the Uchiha compound.
When he reached Naori’s residence, there was a teenage girl he felt like he’d seen running about as a child sometimes looming over a seated Madara, shrieking about something to do with a person named Tamaki. Naori herself was fiddling with some strange device and grinding a piece of metal down, on her kitchen table, hence the need for the girl to shriek to be heard.
A small child streaked past with a colored bag in hand and ran into Izuna’s legs as he stepped into the room. He let out a surprised huff and stumbled back, then looked up at him with wide eyes. He had the fluffiest hair Izuna had ever seen on an Uchiha.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his R’s sounding a bit like W’s, perhaps due to his missing teeth and the fact he couldn’t have been older than seven or eight. “Who are you?”
Izuna glanced up at Madara, who sat with a smile as the girl ranted at him and Naori grinded metal with safety goggles on, and back down at the child. “It’s polite to offer your name first to relatives, lad.”
“Oh! I’m sorry!” It was comical how the child panicked and waved the bag around, face twisting up. “I’m Uchiha Kagami!”
He stumbled over his name some, but Izuna could recognize it. He gasped in realization. “Kagami-chan? You’ve gotten so big! You were hardly more than a baby when I saw you last!” He knelt down and smiled. Some of his anxiousness was gone with countless Uchiha and Naori’s home and Madara’s presence around him. “I’m Izuna. Do you remember me?”
Kagami blinked a few times at him. His eyes went hazy as if he was thinking before clearing up as he grinned. “Izuzu?”
“Izuzu!” Izuna agreed, lifting him and twirling him around. “You grew so much! And you’re still just as adorable!” Kagami giggled as he spun in a circle. Izuna felt a warmth settle in his body as he brought the child close and settled him on his hip. “What are you doing here with Naori, hm?”
The question was asked to the boy but aimed at Naori, who’d finally stopped her grinding and was watching them with a small smile. “Miki and I often babysit him,” she explained. “His grandmother’s ability to get around has lessened with age, so we take some of her burden off.”
The girl noticed him due to the exchange and watched him with comically wide eyes. “Izuna,” Madara greeted, looking amused, “this is Miki, my student.”
“You took a student?” Izuna asked with a raised eyebrow. “No way.”
“And he teaches her much too destructive jutsu,” Naori chastised. She pulled out a chair and sat down, crossing her arms as she cast the duo a judgmental eyebrow. Miki smiled sheepishly and Madara just jutted his chin up as he closed his eyes and folded his arms. “You’ve ruined three of Hikaku’s mantles.”
“I didn’t mean to, I swear,” Miki defended herself, turning beet red. Izuna grinned and walked over to them, still holding Kagami.
“You even look like him!” he said cheerfully, poking one of her hair spikes. “That’s adorable. I’m Izuna.”
She stared at him in a bit of awe at the fact she was getting to meet Madara’s younger brother. “It’s…um…nice to meet you, Izuna-san…”
“Just call me Izuna. Izuna-san is weird. I’m pretty sure I used to see you when you were a little kid.” He grinned, poking her forehead. “I’ll come and train with you two sometimes. I know some tricks even my brother doesn’t,” he said with a wink.
“Can you teach me too?” Kagami asked excitedly, grasping the front of his mantle.
“Of course I can,” Izuna cooed, ruffling his hair and making him laugh again. He leaned over and set the boy down in a chair, snagging a cushion from the window-seat behind the table and setting it down first so he would be tall enough to see over the rim. He had always loved children and losing his little brothers had been like losing a chunk of his heart. People often forgot that Madara hadn’t been the only older brother in their family.
He nabbed a seat for himself and looked at the machine on the table. “Going to explain what that is, Naori?”
“It’s a camera,” the woman replied. The metal she’d been grinding looked to be part of some weird experiment to make a second model. “A device that creates a recreation of the scene it’s exposed to on metal or paper. We’re trying to create a portable option.”
She reached for a piece of paper on the table Izuna hadn’t noticed due to it being facedown and showed it to him. To his surprise, there was a crystal-clear image on its surface of Madara and Miki. “I didn’t know such a thing was possible.”
“We work with a civilian merchant who’s been researching it for years,” she explained as she set the paper down. Kagami pulled it towards himself and looked at it with a wondering look on his face. “We’ve been able to make a wonderful amount of progress in a very short time due to her help, cutting down on the exposure time and how complicated the process is.” She looked down to survey her project and hummed. “As such-”
Before she could go on, the front door burst open. Izuna jumped and turned, one hand drifting to his kunai pouch, and he was even more unprepared for the whirlwind of red hair that came flying in.
“Madara,” the woman who’d burst inside shrieked, “I’M GETTING MARRIED-”
To Izuna’s shock, Madara sat up ramrod straight with slightly widened eyes. “So soon?” he asked, sounding surprised.
“I asked her last night and she said yes,” the woman ranted, looking a bit undone. A few strands of hair had come loose from her bun and her kimono was slightly askew. “What on earth should I wear? I have to order some purpleheart to make her a comb, it’s a tradition- you’ll be my man of honor, won’t you?” She raised her hands to her worried face and paced, hair waving back and forth due to her chakra fluctuating. “She said we should do it this week. There’s so little time to plan-”
“Calm down,” Madara said as he stood, stopping her with his hands on her arms, looking unprepared for her concerned onslaught. “There’s-”
“Madara,” she hissed, curling both hands in his collar and yanking him closer as her eyes became almost wild, “I don’t even have a headdress.”
It was then she noticed Izuna, watching them with a befuddled air about him, and flushed deeper than a rose bush. She let go of Madara and smoothed his mantle out, clearing her throat as she straightened her own clothes. “My apologies, Izuna-san. I…didn’t see you there.”
“Uh…right…” Izuna stared at her, caught off guard. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh or edge away. “Uh…”
A light shone in her eyes, suddenly, and she strode forward, holding out her hands. Izuna glanced down at them and grimaced inwardly, thinking of Inoue’s advice- surely she couldn’t be that bad, if she was so familiar with Madara- and reached out with one of his own to shake hers. Instead, she grabbed it with both hands and pulled him to his feet, kissing him on each cheek.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said with a sweet smile, patting him on the head. “Madara’s younger brother is cuter than he is.”
“Uh…” He stared at her with wide eyes and red cheeks, eyes darting between her and Madara as the elder restrained a snicker at his predicament. “Thank you…?”
“I’m Uzumaki Mito. Although…I don’t know if Toka wants to take my name, or me take hers, or keep our names, or…” Mito trailed off again, losing track of her thoughts, and she shook herself. “Unimportant right now. You’re invited to come if you wish, of course, to the wedding, it would be lovely to have you there.” She smiled again and he was vividly reminded of Naori, and his own mother, and how they could convince him to do their bidding with little more than a tender smile.
“Erm…of course, Mito-san…” he mumbled, ignoring the burning in his face.
“Don’t be silly,” she said brightly. “It’s Mito.” She whirled around and seized Madara by his clothes again. “Madara, you have to help me plan. I have to make a list of who to invite, order wedding favors, find a tailor who can work on such short notice-”
“It will be fine,” Madara chuckled, placing his hands over hers. “It’s amusing to see you so ruffled. Aren’t you usually so put-together?”
She glared at him and reached for the hand fan tucked into her obi, smacking him upside the head with it. He pretended to flinch away but smirked as he did. “Don’t make light of this! When you get married I’m going to mock you as well!”
“When, not if?”
“If I have anything to say about it,” she said sweetly, delighting in the glare he sent her. “Now come on! You’re the man of honor! You’re my assistant.”
She grabbed his wrist and began tugging him to the door. “Joy to me,” he drawled sarcastically, putting on a show of making her pull him. “Who else is in the bridal party? Will there be alcohol?”
“Of course there will be! We have to put on another show,” the woman said with a grin directed over her shoulder that was downright predatory.
The way Madara smirked back told Izuna there was something he was missing. He raised an eyebrow at Naori for help, but she just shook her head and placed a hand over her eyes, trying to hide a smile.
Madara didn’t know what having a clipboard made people think, but every time he went to get a task done everyone he spoke to for some reason listened to him even better than usual. Perhaps this was Hikaku’s true secret to getting things done so quickly.
“Relax,” he told Mito, standing there with folded arms and closed eyes as she drifted around the room looking at clothes strung up on hangers and mannequins.
“I am relaxed,” she retorted, looking to anyone else just that with a calm expression and a bit of aimlessness in her stride. “I simply want everything to go well.”
He eyed her for a moment. “Do you think any Uzumaki will show up?”
She paused, examining the sleeve of a snow-white kimono in hand. “Most likely not,” she said, sounding strung halfway between glad and disappointed. “Unless it is to cause trouble.”
“I’ll have someone watch,” Madara dismissed with a wave of his hand. “Your purpleheart should be here in three days. Enough time to fashion what you want?”
“More than enough. Uzumaki have a…tradition,” she said with a light flush to her cheeks, holding a kimono from the wall to herself as she looked at a mirror. “Not a very well-known one. There have been a few couples who disappeared or snuck away on their own. My cousin used to say they carved combs for each other. It became a bit of a marker for such people. They would wear them in their hair, right here,” she said, pointing to the front of her bun.
“Subtle,” he noted, looking over the list attached to his clipboard as she reached for a different item. “What distinguished them from normal combs?”
“Sometimes nothing; sometimes they would paint violets or green flowers on them. Did you order the wedding favors?”
“Of course I did,” he huffed, leaning back in his chair and propping his feet on a coffee table in the room. “And the Uchiha have plenty of supplies, so don’t concern yourself with that. Toka’s already told Hashirama when and where he needs to be.”
Mito hummed in confirmation and turned around, having slipped into a kimono she’d been examining while he wasn’t paying attention. When Madara was young most brides had completely new clothes created for their weddings, but more and more in Konoha were starting to buy more into a commercialized set-up in which such things were more readily available. It was certainly convenient when on a time crunch.
“How does this one look?”
“Ah, excuse me, Mito?” Izuna interrupted, poking his head into the dressing area with a hesitant smile. “I believe the seamstress has something you requisitioned?”
“Of course! Thank you,” the Uzumaki said as she whirled past him, a blur of red and white.
Izuna glanced after her and awkwardly stepped inside, glancing around the room and wandering over to his brother. “She’s a bit of a…hurricane, isn’t she?”
“I’ve been told most Uzumaki are,” Madara said with a smirk as his brother sat down beside him. He was still tense, but less rigid than he had been. His smirk faded as he eyed him. “How has it…been?”
Izuna shrugged. “Fine. I took a walk with Hikaku the other day. That was nice,” he said, and instantly hated how much it sounded as if he were pitifully trying to come up with something kind to say. “Naori dragged me to lunch with that Yamanaka and her friend. It was…an experience.”
An experience that mostly involved lots of bickering, the Nara sleeping so heavily he’d worried she was unconscious, and Naori tripping over a door sweep when she saw Kotori and both their companions cackling at her for almost ten minutes.
“I think I’m going to go for a walk myself,” he said, standing only moments after he’d sat down. Madara opened his mouth, probably to offer to come with him, but Izuna knew that a woman about to get married would probably explode if her main support vanished. “You stay here. Mito-san still needs help, yes?”
“Right…” Madara muttered, glancing at the doorway. “Be careful.”
Izuna nodded at him and headed for the back door. He didn’t say anything else as he left. Things had changed a bit between them- there was a bit of fumbling where before they’d fit together seamlessly. Izuna didn’t yet know whether it was a good or bad thing; all he knew was that he thought he needed some time to himself to figure things out.
He ended up wandering a bit; he already knew his way around fairly well, and even if he got lost it wasn’t hard to reacclimate himself- there was a giant mountain to serve as a landmark and he could see the Hokage Tower from most places in the village.
The sun was hot overhead despite the cool temperatures of the turning season, so he ducked into a mostly-empty teahouse for a respite. He nearly collided with another man exiting, one that he recognized from just the day before when he’d caught him giving Madara and Miki a vexed look in passing on the street. Distaste and irritation rolled through him, but the logical part of his mind begrudgingly reminded him that he was technically…allies with the man now, and overtly antagonizing him would get him nowhere.
“Senju,” he greeted, in what he hoped was a polite tone.
There was something like disgust in the man’s eyes as he looked at him. “Uchiha,” he replied, a curl in his lip.
Izuna’s temper rose. “Is something on your mind, Senju?” he asked with false politeness, goading clear in his tone.
The other man’s eyes narrowed into a glare. “Multiple things,” he spat back, barely refraining from using more aggression. “Keep your distance, Uchiha. I have no interest in interacting with you.”
He stepped outside and walked away quickly enough Izuna was left standing there stewing in irritation. At least the hostility is mutual, he thought darkly, turning on his heel and scrapping his brunch plans. He instead headed towards the woods, where he knew the training grounds were.
Fate was not being kind to him today. He had barely reached the edge of the shop district when Senju Tobirama rounded the corner, pausing in surprise when they came face to face. Izuna stared and the man stared back, face unreadable.
Izuna narrowed his eyes in annoyance and stepped to the side to go around him. He’d hardly taken more than a step before the Senju spoke. “Wait a moment.”
Izuna turned to look at him with a dangerous tint of red in his eyes. “What, Senju?” he barked. The man wasn’t cowed, and simply looked at him with a closed-off look on his face.
“I have something to say to you,” he said, and Izuna mentally sighed. He really did not want to talk to Tobirama at the moment.
“Fine, then. Say it,” he instructed impatiently, wanting it to be over with.
Tobirama was still completely unaffected by his visible irritation. It was a bit infuriating. “For what I did to you, I apologize,” he said, throwing Izuna completely off guard.
He stared at him in confused silence. Why on earth was the Senju apologizing to him? What was he trying to get? “What are you playing at?” he demanded, suspicious.
“Absolutely nothing,” Tobirama told him, expression so blank it didn’t even seem as if he was pretending not to lie. “I don’t care for pity, or dispensation. The fact is I committed a wrong against you and there is no viable way to repay it, so the only thing I can offer is my apology. Ignore it if you like, and I’ll never speak to you again outside of business.”
Izuna stared at him. He was doing a lot of that nowadays. Once again, he felt thrown off and off-balance in a way that made his mouth taste sour. Part of him didn’t really want to think about Senju Tobirama having a brain and person and maybe even a heart under all that indifference they’d built up between each other.
Just tell him to fuck off, his mind told him.
“Whatever, Senju,” he muttered, and stalked away.
Fate was cruel to him indeed. He told himself seeing Tobirama next year would be too soon, yet the next time he saw him was a mere five hours later, when the afternoon sun was high and he’d descended upon a training ground that had a large 3 marker sign hanging off a tree to practice shuriken and sulk in.
The man emerged from the trees, a clipboard in hand (what was it with everyone around him and clipboards?) and glanced at where he sat on the log farthest to the right. They stood and sat there, respectively, neither saying a word and waiting for the other to make the first move.
“What, Senju?” he finally demanded, losing his patience. “Is there something interesting about this log?”
“I’m marking down what training ground will belong to what genin team,” the man told him with a quiet snort, making him bristle. “Nothing interesting.”
He turned away and took out a pen, writing something on the paper he held. Izuna had only ever used quills.
His irritation was at a point he wanted to grind his teeth and light something on fire, but something else in him simply felt tired. It wasn’t as if Tobirama himself had really done much in the grand scope of what was bothering him. It was everything, and perhaps how when he reached out it felt like it backfired on him.
Tobirama had been the bastard who’d dealt him a death blow, but some part of him could feel some grudging respect for his skills that he’d managed to do that. After all, he was the second strongest Uchiha in the whole clan.
Izuna also wasn’t stupid; he realized they’d been in the midst of a war and the distaste he had for Tobirama was due to distrust rather than a personal grudge. (Although he did have a bit of a grudge, too.)
“Assigning a scrap of land sure does take a long time, Senju,” he drawled after a minute of silence.
Tobirama paused and glanced up at him. He didn’t venture closer. “I thought to satisfy a curiosity, nothing more.”
“A curiosity? About?” Izuna prompted, narrowing his eyes.
“How you’re acclimating to the village.”
“And why would you be interested in that?”
“Your brother is a friend of mine,” Tobirama said bluntly, and it made Izuna flinch because he knew it was true. “I don’t deny I feel some small measure of responsibility due to my actions. All citizens of this village should feel as if it is their home.”
“Well, to answer your question, I’m ‘not acclimating well,’” Izuna said with some small amount of bitterness, folding his arms and turning to glare at a tree.
“You’re acclimating better than most,” Tobirama replied, making him frown in confusion. “If the version of myself that did battle with you that day was brought to today, I would severely doubt my own capacity.”
Izuna looked at him out of the corner of his eye feeling a bit flabbergasted. Admitting that he would do no better- or that he would be doing worse- wasn’t something he’d expected of Tobirama. He wondered, again, what ulterior motive the man could possibly have. “Why are you even talking to me?” he asked, less of a demand this time and more of a curiosity of his own.
Tobirama paused. Red eyes that Izuna had never really taken the time to look at examined him with a sort of distant rationality that looked as if it could hide every emotion the Senju felt. “It can be difficult to find one’s place,” he continued at length. “I know what it is to be the overlooked younger brother. Perhaps the place you’re looking for is closer than you think.”
It was confusing, nonsensical, and not an answer to his question at all, and maybe it was an answer and Izuna just wasn’t understanding. He watched Tobirama turn and walk away and wondered at the fact that he wore no armor, no weapons other than a kunai pouch. Even Tobirama had changed with the peace.
Tobirama hadn’t lied: Madara was his friend, and he would be upset if his younger brother was. However, his interest in how Izuna was integrating into the village lied more in the sense of responsibility he felt.
He knew it wasn’t even his business, in the end, but the suffering that had been caused by his hands still weighed on him. He still remembered Izuna’s broken laughter in the woods and the look on Madara’s face after he’d been left inconsolable even by Hashirama due to his brother’s tongue-lashing.
Perhaps it wasn’t his responsibility, but Hashirama’s hopes for Konoha was to create a place where the shinobi looked after one another without worrying over such things as whether they needed to or not or whether it was their place or whether they were required to.
Everyone always has a reason for doing what they do, Inoue had told him, offhandedly and casual, in one of their conversations. Tobirama had spoken to her multiple times, as he found the Yamanaka’s study of the brain fascinating. Sometimes they ended up spending hours in her office looking over brain diagrams and illustrations of the scans their jutsu let them create. The easiest way to stop someone is to find out why.
Madara and Izuna were quite different, but in many aspects, they were the same. Perhaps it was his experience dealing with Madara and his emotional issues for months that had allowed Tobirama a new perspective. He knew now that both of the brothers more often than not only set loose barbs or insults as a form of defense when they felt threatened in some manner. He recognized the look in Izuna’s eyes from his brother’s; it was almost eerie how similar they were- he didn’t feel he could allow himself peace.
Looking back, he could see that his initial handling of Madara had been flawed. He had relied too heavily on reacting to what the man did and hadn’t attempted to figure out the why, even if only from an analytical perspective.
It would be very easy to manipulate people this way, he thought, and that was best saved for their enemies. It was something he was having to learn; Hashirama had always been so intuitively good at it that Tobirama was a bit impressed.
He truly did not have any point of context to imagine Izuna’s situation. He imagined being thrown forward from the era of warring clans to where he was now, wondering at how different he and everyone around him were. That version of himself thought Madara was better off dead. He wouldn’t have trusted an Uchiha as far as he could throw one. (Inaccurate, since he could throw one quite far, but it was an idiom.)
And Izuna had been killed by the Senju. What must he have been feeling?
He didn’t know if it was pity, sympathy, or guilt he felt. Even now, he could still vividly remember Izuna’s broken wailing and see Madara tearing his eyes out and clinging to his brother like they were children again. He had fixed his mistake, but if there was more he could do, he would do it.
He had no illusions of what he would be able to do; he knew Izuna wasn’t likely to be receptive to any friendliness on his part, but at times, family members and friends were too close to be objective. Sometimes, a person one didn’t particularly like could help more than others.
And perhaps it was a bad idea, when Izuna appeared with blazing red eyes in front of him as he walked down the street in the dead of night, to say yes, but if the Uchiha needed to work off his agitation and frustration, Tobirama was more than equipped to do that.
“Fight me,” he demanded, voice emotionless and cold.
“Training ground three,” Tobirama replied, expression guarded, and Izuna disappeared without another word.
He didn’t bring his armor, his sword, or anything but the kunai he wore, because they hardly needed a reminder of their fight the first time around. Izuna was waiting for him with a frown that he knew was not born of impatience, because he’d been half a step behind and the Uchiha had barely touched down before Tobirama arrived. Tobirama said nothing and let the other man lunge at him without needing to give the fight a verbal start.
And maybe there was something a bit exhilarating about it, because Izuna was no weaker than he had been in life and if anything seemed even stronger than before, and Tobirama did love a challenge. They fought with their fists and nothing more at first and it reminded him how challenging sparring with a Sharingan user could be. Before the hour was up flames were lining the treetops around them and glancing off into the open air as water collided with the fire closer to the ground and created a swath of hot steam around them.
It had been a long time since Tobirama had gotten the chance to fight with an equal outside of his brother.
Thunder rumbled overhead, their background music as they clashed in midair and readied attacks as soon as they landed on the grass, repeating the pattern over and over again. Izuna’s Sharingan whirled wildly with something like invigoration.
Lightning struck a few feet away, nearly rocking Tobirama off his feet. He hadn’t been expecting it, or the way Izuna was suddenly on him without warning, ramming into him with a handful of kunai in his fist and taking him to the ground with a hand on his throat. The invigoration was something more feral now.
It happened because, even with how much he had been letting loose, Tobirama had still been sparring when Izuna abruptly came at him with the intent to kill.
He sat on Tobirama’s chest, breathing heavily, staring at him with wide eyes and the kunai a mere centimeter from slicing his neck open. Tobirama laid there and didn’t move and stared back while trying to keep his surprise off his face. Izuna’s shoulders sagged, though he still stared at him looking startled, and he slowly pulled his kunai away, face unreadable.
“…excuse me,” he rasped after moments of silence, and he got off Tobirama and walked quickly away, leaving him lying there not knowing if he’d made things worse or not.
Izuna couldn’t believe he’d lost control as he had, and all due to something as silly as a bolt of lightning. All he knew was that he was there, fighting that frustrating Senju, and it was actually a bit fun, if he was being honest, finally getting a chance to vent his frustrations with the world, but there had been something fraught and menacing hounding the back of his mind even then that felt like anxiousness.
Then the bolt of lightning had struck down mere feet away, and he’d reacted without thinking- he had to go for the killing blow before his opponent did. He had to make sure he came away from that fight alive this time. He had to make sure Madara didn’t lose him twice.
He’d only slipped up for a moment. He’d realized what he was doing before he killed Tobirama. Even if he wouldn’t have been particularly torn up about killing the Senju, he knew he would have felt guilty anyway since they weren’t supposed to be fighting to the death and Madara would have been upset with him.
He felt like a wire that was strung too taut, frantically searching for relief but only growing closer to snapping in half.
He let out a sigh as he entered the Uchiha district. He needed to relax.
His eyes caught on movement in the dark. Squinting, he activated his Sharingan and raised an eyebrow when he found Kagami standing at the base of a small house, fiddling with something on the ground. Coming up behind him, he planted his hands on his hips and cocked his head to the side. “Kagami?”
The boy jumped a mile and let out an ‘eep’ as he spun around. “Izu!” he gasped, startled. He clung to the large paint brush dripping in red paint he’d been holding.
Izuna smiled. “What’re you doing?” he asked as he knelt down, glancing at the streaks of red paint on the building that only went up to waist-height. He could guess easily enough.
“Oh, um…well, my grandma really wants to paint the house red and Naori-nee said she would help me tomorrow, but tomorrow is my grandma’s birthday and she gets up really early and I really wanted to make it red before she sees it,” Kagami admitted, flushing as he grinned.
Izuna bit his lip and restrained a laugh. Naori would probably have a cow if she found out he’d snuck out of bed, went and found paint (he should probably find out where the child had gotten it in the first place) and attempted to paint a whole building by himself. “A worthy task,” he said, glancing at the second bucket beside the paint can that held two other brushes. He’d probably found it where the paint had been.
He patted the child on the head and picked up a brush for himself. “Why don’t I help you out? It’ll go much faster that way,” he suggested, tone light as he dipped his brush into the paint.
“Really?! Thank you! I’ll bring you cookies tomorrow,” Kagami told him with a smile so wide it looked like it hurt his cheeks to wear. “Miki-nee’s helping me make them.”
“Why don’t I come over and help you? Food always tastes the best just after it’s made.”
“Yes! Thank you, Izu-nii!” Kagami lunged forward and wrapped him in a hug, unintentionally smearing paint on his trousers (not that it mattered, since he would probably end up covered in paint after this anyway).
Izuna bit his lip as he ruffled Kagami’s hair and tried not to let his voice shake. “Of course. Red’s a good color, you know. Very fitting for an Uchiha house. Why don’t you handle the bottom and I’ll paint the top part? It’s good to have someone tall around.”
“You are really tall,” Kagami replied cheerfully, and of course, to a child like him, he was.
He dipped his brush again and attacked the wall of his home with renewed vigor.
Izuna painted there with him for almost two hours before he began to sputter out, walking with half-lidded eyes as his strokes became more tired, clearly struggling to stay awake as he tried to lift his brush. Smiling to himself, the elder gently took the brush from his hand and set it down, lifting the boy into his arms. He was already starting to snore by the time Izuna reached the front porch.
The house was small but homely. There was an elderly woman sleeping in one of the two bedrooms, and Izuna did his best to move silently and avoid waking her as he removed Kagami’s mantle- it had become downright filthy and covered in red paint- and found something more suitable to pull over his head before tucking him into bed. He retrieved a washcloth from the kitchen and wiped paint from his face and hands, knowing he would need a better bath the next day.
He knelt beside the bed and stared at Kagami’s slumbering face for a few minutes. Children always did manage to look peaceful, somehow, even during the most violent times.
His oldest little brother had looked different- more like Madara, with spiky rough hair and paler skin, but Kagami still reminded Izuna of him as he slept. He remembered the last time he’d gotten to hold Akira as they went to bed, the night before he lost him in battle. He had held onto Izuna’s hand the whole night and asked him not to leave him, because I’d really miss you, nii-chan.
Izuna gritted his teeth and ran a hand through his hair. That had been such a long time ago, when he himself was still a child.
He’d had to do it again and again and lose two more. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to believe peace was possible; he just felt like he couldn’t.
But he did want. He wanted to believe that this place where children weren’t dying was possible and true and good. He wanted to think that maybe he could have a life with his family where he didn’t have to constantly worry and wonder which one he was to lose next. He wanted to believe that the other clans felt the same way- that they’d finally tired of losing their young too- that they would stay together and use their numbers to protect their chance for utopia.
And maybe this was what that Senju bastard had meant. Maybe he could have a place here if he let himself have it. He didn’t know what that place was, but perhaps that was okay- perhaps he didn’t need to know yet.
He just had to let himself have it.
He wanted to let himself have it.
He wanted Madara to be happy, but Izuna realized that he didn’t want to do so for Madara, or his family, or anyone else. He thought that perhaps a more important route was required; even if Madara, and Hikaku, and Naori, and Kagami, and all the people he’d known in life were here, he didn’t want to do this for them.
He wanted- and needed- to do it for himself.
He leaned down and planted a kiss on Kagami’s forehead before rising and heading for the door. After all, he had a paint job to finish, and he couldn’t disappoint Kagami’s grandmother.