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Now that there was no danger afoot and the craziness had finally died down, Hashirama’s mind naturally turned back towards the identity of the person Madara had feelings for.

The person who hadn’t shown their face the entire time Madara had been in danger. Even now, when they presumably might have had free time, no one showed up.

It was enough to make him grow even more irritated without even knowing who they were.

He couldn’t help but painstakingly go over each and every person they knew and examine how Madara interacted with them. Surely Hashirama would notice something, no matter how small, something awry if they spoke to the person he liked.

There was nothing to suggest he saw Hikaku and Naori as anything but family. There were few other Uchiha he interacted with on such a personal basis. The others who’d begun working at the tower (and, blessedly, began cutting down on their paperwork) were given hardly more than a glance from Madara if he needed to pass forms back and forth. It wasn’t Toka or Mito, obviously, and Madara hadn’t ever taken Inoue up on her offer- he was a very private man- so he didn’t think it was her.

His mind automatically turned to the other person who spent day in and day out with them. Surely Madara didn’t…didn’t like Tobirama. Hashirama crinkled his nose as he thought of it, thought of the way the two bickered and rolled their eyes at each other and, most recently, ambushed him and drenched him in the hall.

They…had been getting along much better recently.

Something in him couldn’t help but feel a little dejected at the thought. How cruel could Fate be? Why would Madara end up liking his little brother instead of him?

That was a selfish thought, Hashirama told himself. Even if Madara did like Tobirama, he would have to accept it and be happy for him.

…and yet, he knew Tobirama didn’t feel the same way. He thought of Madara as a friend now, of course, but Hashirama didn’t think he’d ever had a crush in his life. If his little brother did, he would definitely know about it.

But there was still no change in behavior towards Tobirama whatsoever. With how angry Madara had been at him right after the Edo Tensei incident, Hashirama couldn’t see much affection growing on a long-term basis.

Honestly, Hashirama had run out of ideas. He had no idea what was going on.

His gaze fell on the object of his pondering himself. Madara stepped out from under the awning of a shop, lips moving around a smile as he spoke to his brother just behind him.

Izuna’s gaze fell on Hashirama. The pleasant expression he’d been wearing disappeared, replaced by a distinct distaste that made Hashirama cringe. Oblivious, Madara kept walking until the two Uchiha had disappeared from view.

He let out a weary sigh and ran a hand through his hair.

What had he done to make Izuna dislike him so? Every time Hashirama saw him with Madara, he glared or simply looked at him as if he was something unpleasant he’d stepped in after a hard rain. He made sure only to do it out of Madara’s line of sight, and while he didn’t go so far as to directly antagonize Hashirama, it certainly felt antagonizing enough when he used that stony stare to ward him away from his older brother.

He had seen the love Madara had for his little brother firsthand. He knew how important he was to him. He couldn’t be comfortable with the fact that he seemed to have garnered the man’s ire.

Whatever it was, he hoped that he could at least ask Izuna about it and open a line of communication. If he could just do that, perhaps he could manage to start to get along with the Uchiha, even if just a little bit.


 

“So,” Izuna said, out of nowhere, pausing to take a sip of tea as they sat at a picnic table in the Uchiha compound, “Senju Hashirama.”

Madara froze for a moment as he was reaching for a small vial of honey they’d brought with them outside and darted a quick glance at him. “What about him?” he asked warily, hoping Izuna wasn’t going to berate him for his feelings again. The topic was already awkward enough without another argument.

Izuna looked as if he was deliberating for a moment. Keeping both hands wrapped around his cup, he eyed the reflections in the surface of the tea within. “You really love him, don’t you?”

Madara couldn’t help but cringe. “Yes,” he admitted, keeping his voice steady. “And before you ask, no, I don’t plan on acting on it.”

Izuna frowned. “He doesn’t feel the same way?”

“Obviously not.”

“Which means you haven’t asked.”

Madara gave him a dry stare as he pressed his lips together, looking unsatisfied. He didn’t know why; he’d figured Izuna would be more than happy to hear he wasn’t pursuing a relationship with Hashirama. “I don’t need to, Izuna.”

“Mhmhmm.” Izuna hummed noncommittally and took a sip of tea. Hearing that his brother didn’t plan on pursuing the Hokage didn’t make him feel as at ease as he thought it would have.

Even if he hated the man, he had seen the way Madara obsessed and his fervent attempts to repair his relationship with him- he had seen the way he became reserved, almost bashful, and the warmth of affection in his eyes when he looked at the Senju.

He could see that Madara loved him, probably more than he should have.

He couldn’t find it within him to trust Hashirama to be with his brother- not without knowing what he’d done- but he could see that he was the only person Madara would ever love. His brother was the type who latched on and never let go, even if he pretended to. The Uchiha valued bonds above all else; many times there was a single special person they found and held onto, sometimes to an unhealthy extent, and Senju Hashirama had become that person to his brother. Being bereft of him would only make Madara unhappy.

The part of him that hated what Hashirama had done and the part of him that wanted Madara to be happy warred with each other. He couldn’t make himself tell Madara pursing that Senju was a bad idea or that he disapproved. All he could do was watch, doing nothing, not knowing how to handle it.

“Madara,” a voice called out, making them both glance up from their now tense silence. Tobirama was striding towards them, though he paused when he spotted Izuna on the other side of the bench. “Am I interrupting?” he asked, a note of guarded wariness in his voice.

Madara waved a hand dismissively at him. He ventured closer, keeping a polite distance. “These need to be done by tomorrow,” he said, dropping a file folder full of what Izuna presumed to be paperwork on the table.

“I’ll send a bunshin with it later,” Madara replied, sounding a bit bored as he flipped the folder open and stood up. He frowned at something on the papers and started walking towards the main house. “I’ll be right back.”

Izuna stared idly after him until he was out of sight. He and Tobirama sat there in uncomfortable silence, broken only by the chirping of the birds in the trees around them.

At least the Senju was just as uncomfortable as him, if the way he was staring at the tabletop with folded arms with a blank expression was any indication.

Izuna inwardly grimaced. He genuinely hadn’t meant to snap and almost kill the other man, and he didn’t quite feel guilty, but he felt he should at least confirm that.

Inoue’s voice echoed in his mind. He had sat down with her and clammed up almost immediately, answering her questions with short, clipped answers that gradually became longer the longer they sat there until he was rambling at her, after almost three hours.

She’d ensured that he knew he didn’t have to forgive or interact with anyone, but he still felt a bit of a nagging sense that he should if he truly wanted to be the new person this life required.

“So,” he muttered after almost two full minutes of silence, tapping one nail against his tea cup, “Apologies for…inadvertently, almost killing you…”

“Apologies for…killing you,” Tobirama muttered back, sounding just as awkward as him. They went back to sitting there in silence, perhaps even more uncomfortable than before. He spoke again with little warning. “How has…acclimating…been?”

Izuna grimaced. “Are you trying to make small talk?”

“If you like the unpleasant silence, you’re more than welcome to it,” the Senju told him dryly, and, well, that was familiar, that was something Izuna could work with.

“Please,” he snorted, leaning back and folding his arms. He finally met the other man’s eyes with a flat stare. “Don’t patronize me. At least find a better topic if you want conversation.”

One silver eyebrow arched. “You say, as such a skilled conversationalist yourself.”

“I’ll have you know my silver tongue has gotten people killed. Or undone in other ways,” Izuna said with a smirk, because suggestive comments were second nature to him.

Somehow, Tobirama looked as if he was rolling his eyes without actually rolling his eyes. He leaned his hip against the corner of the table and folded one ankle over the other. “If you wanted to spar again,” he began, a bit of hesitancy in his tone, “I would not be opposed.”

Izuna’s eyebrows raised. “Really, back for more? I don’t know, I might end up trying to stab you again,” he said with a grimace.

The corner of Tobirama’s mouth tipped up in a smirk. He shrugged. “It was an accident. Besides that, I have to say I did enjoy the challenge. You’re a worthy rival.”

“Oh, are we rivals now? Does that mean we get to run around destroying shit like our brothers?”

The smirk widened, just a bit, in amusement. “Only if you continue to goad me.”

“I guess I’ll continue to goad you,” Izuna said innocently, and leaned forward on the table as he turned his gaze elsewhere. He watched a few Uchiha come and go further towards the gate, carrying wrapped packages he knew were supplies for Mito’s wedding. “You know, Senju, you’re not…the worst person I’ve ever met. I…wouldn’t be opposed to sparring either.”

Tobirama watched him out of the corner of his eye. Some might have taken offense to such a half-hearted-sounding compliment, but he knew it was difficult for the Uchiha to acclimate to this situation. It was difficult for him, too. “You can call me Tobirama,” he said, a small gesture, looking away so if Izuna’s expression did shift a bit he wouldn’t feel the need to hide it.

Izuna paused and considered, glancing at the still, non-threatening stance the other man had taken, thinking that it was a bit amusing how he tried to extend an olive branch. He was more awkward than Hashirama; it reminded him a bit of Madara.

“All right,” he agreed, waiting for an uncertain moment before going on. “Tobirama.”

Tobirama nodded, more as a way of avoiding having to reply, and they went back to sitting in silence. It was still awkward, but less uncomfortable than before.

“You haven’t set him on fire yet, I see,” Madara said wryly as he returned, the folder gone and his clipboard in hand. Izuna and Tobirama simultaneously turned to look at him without saying a word. He stared back with an unchanging, emotionless expression.

“God, aniki,” Izuna finally muttered, breaking first. “Your stare is still just as soulless.”

Madara’s eerie expression disappeared in lieu of a victorious smirk. “Neither of you brats can beat me,” he said, just to see them both twitch.

Ugh, they thought at the same time, wrinkling their noses in sync, though Tobirama’s was subtle and barely-there whereas Izuna’s was a full-blown pout. Arrogant bastard.

“Anyway,” Madara went on, waving the clipboard as his bored look returned, “Izuna, I’m putting you in charge of the second reception.”

“Ooh,” Izuna exclaimed, reaching for the piece of paper held out to him. “I get to choose where we all go to get hammered and meet one-night-stands?”

Madara narrowed his eyes in warning at him. “Don’t choose anywhere like that hovel you took me to when we were younger.”

Izuna smiled sweetly at him. “I seem to remember you enjoyed that ‘hovel,’ aniki. You had a fun night, if I remember correctly.”

A stubborn red flush spread across Madara’s cheeks. Tobirama raised an inquisitive eyebrow, curious as to the story behind it.

“Enough of that,” he bulldozed on, giving his brother a scathing glare. “Tobirama, tell your brother he needs to grow decorations at the shrine. Do not let him grow those hideous brown things he came up with last month.”

This time, Tobirama was the one who grimaced as Izuna looked at them inquisitively. “I’ll handle it,” he muttered, pushing off the table and moving to leave. He paused with a glance over his shoulder, and gave them a nod of goodbye that encompassed them both.

Izuna didn’t wave him off, but he thought to himself that, as strange as it was, he was fine with being included.


 

It was almost hilarious, he thought- after one got over how depressing it must have been, both for Mito, to have had to have married a man, and for Hashirama, when he realized his wife had been forced into a marriage she couldn’t stand- to think of Mito marrying Hashirama. She had such a small tolerance for any form of bullshit, half of it must have been spent chastising him. Tobirama probably hadn’t been safe either. The thought of her turning that dangerous little fan on them was amusing.

He set the scroll he’d been reading- a bill from a venue that was taking care of the food- down on the surface of his bed and rubbed at his eyes. It was dark out at this point, and it felt a bit odd to leave Izuna in the Uchiha district at nights, but he could see that he needed to be there right now, with the rest of the clan.

He’d been given a small house near Naori’s, which he’d taken to easily enough- he didn’t voice any desire to live in the main house or even to become clan head; he seemed content to leave that to Hikaku. Madara wondered if he felt lonely in that house as he did in his own at times.

Nights like these made it feel especially lonesome. The cats had curled up on the couch downstairs, leaving his room quiet and empty, lit only by the lamp on his bedside table. It cast a soft, warm glow on everything within, one that was relaxing and almost intimate, in a manner. It made him wonder how it would feel to have warmth next to him and arms curled around him.

What Izuna had mentioned flitted through his head. It had been such a long time ago, but he remembered skulking to that- what had it been? Not quite a bar, not quite a lounge, and definitely a little rickety- with Izuna, not when they were children but when they’d just passed the standard of adulthood.

If he remembered correctly, he’d had a few drinks- though he hadn’t lost control of himself- and ended up retreating into one of the rooms with a couple who looked at him as if he was something dangerous and pretty and something they wanted. He’d been curious, and, perhaps, a little desperate, just for a bit of affection, because they had so few chances, and at the time they had been deadly and attractive to him as well. Somehow his younger mind had thought it wasn’t really sleeping with a man if there were three parties involved.

It had been a bit uncomfortable, because he had always had trouble opening up to others and had refused to let either of them behind him, but they’d managed to make things work. Yet he could remember clearly now that even if what the woman had done to him had brought physical pleasure, the only part he’d really enjoyed was what her partner did.

Madara had never really engaged anyone else, mostly because he simply never got the chance, and now he was so deep in his want for Hashirama that he doubted he could ever consider taking anyone else, even if just for a night.

He wanted so badly.

Unbidden, thoughts of that night rose to his mind again, but it was Hashirama’s hands instead on his body.

This was a bad idea, he thought, but he couldn’t help it. Everything Hashirama did just seemed to make Madara love him more; he wanted him so viscerally it startled him at times.

He ran a hand slowly down his chest, imagining it was Hashirama’s, wondering what the man would look like unclothed with sweat running down his forehead and desire in his eyes. He wondered what he would look like with his eyes pressed shut and his head thrown back in pleasure as Madara used his mouth on him. He wondered if he would see that mischievous glint in Hashirama’s eyes that he so often did during their spars. It was cold out, but his room felt warmer and his clothes more restricting.

He settled his hand against his lower abdomen, a flush to his cheeks, and wondered what it would feel like to have Hashirama’s body pressing him into the mattress he sat on, holding them together from head to toe, as he moved beneath his clothes to run his thumb over the tip of his erection. He could imagine it all so clearly and it sent heat and energy rushing through his body as he wondered in what ways Hashirama would differ from his fantasies. Madara had always enjoyed having his expectations proven wrong in their fights.

He dropped his head back against his pillow and let out a groan as he stroked himself, thinking of that first dream he’d had after he’d realized he loved Hashirama, letting himself fall into the memory like a familiar acquaintance. He’d considered that particular scenario more times than he would admit.

He wanted, and, he realized, sometimes it hurt to know he could never tell Hashirama.

He reached his climax with a quiet gasp, back arching as he fantasized about brown eyes looking down at him with nothing but love and affection and desire. That was what he wanted more than anything. To feel the man’s hands running up and down the length of his body with a tenderness reserved only for lovers, but to feel the devotion in his touch and see it in his gaze.

Out of his control, the chakra that had been stirring as he delved further into his fantasy lashed out and rolled away from him, nearly dislodging the lamp from its table and sending the scroll flying off his bed. The bedframe jumped over half an inch, scraping the floor, and the other furniture in the room rattled with the window panes. Half startled, Madara jumped, lightly berating himself for forgetting to control himself. His chakra tended to rise when he was excited and it had been a long time since he’d needed to suppress it like this.

He bit his lip as he laid there, coming down from the momentary high he’d allowed himself, and closed his eyes as he took a deep breath.

I love you, he thought, because even if he would deny it to others until the sun went down, it helped to admit it to himself, just a little, because he knew he could never say it aloud- but it was nice to daydream.


 

Tobirama wasn’t aware of it at first, but a few quick spikes in the chakra signature across the street caught his attention. Enough out of the ordinary movement could alert him even when he wasn’t kneading chakra due to his sensory abilities.

The way Madara’s chakra was fluctuating made him pause, a frown flitting across his face, and the first thought in his mind was whether something was wrong or not. A bit of fluctuation was normal in most shinobi if they were asleep, but Madara’s had risen as if he was awake. Yet- it didn’t feel as if he was using it to fight. It would be more controlled if he was.

There was a certain…feeling, to the chakra, that he couldn’t quite place. It had a tingle to it and felt warmer than normal, and when he looked closer, it felt more as if it was radiating, not simply rising up and down, and he wasn’t keeping it calm or suppressed, as he usually did- it was open and shimmering in a way that felt as if it was too intimate for most to be sensing-

Ah. Tobirama paused, a blush rising to his cheeks, when he realized what the other man was doing, and he tried his best to turn his mental senses away. Madara was no exhibitionist and if anything valued his privacy, so he must have not realized exactly what waves he was giving off.

There was a sudden surge that startled him. He nearly tipped over the bottle of ink he’d been using (pens may have existed, but he still liked traditional methods) all over the open scroll on his desk and cursed as he steadied it. Still a bit red in the face- it wasn’t as if he wanted to be the sensory equivalent of a voyeur- he resisted the urge to rub his temples as footsteps came down the hall.

“Tobirama?” Hashirama asked, confused, as he poked his head inside Tobirama’s doorway without asking. His hair was ruffled and he wore only a plain yukata for bed; he must have been asleep. He looked at his brother with a confused expression. “Did you feel something just now? I was sleeping, but I could have sworn-”

Of course he’d woken up without even having his senses active simply because it was Madara tossing off across the street, Tobirama thought wryly, wanting to wring the both of their necks.

“Nothing at all,” he lied, face blank, and Hashirama frowned at him. He could tell he was actively searching for something now, but at least Madara’s chakra had started to fall again.

A crease formed in Hashirama’s brow as he noticed. “Do you think Madara-”

“Probably just a regular fluctuation,” Tobirama steamrolled him, turning back to his scroll. “Sometimes it happens when he sleeps. Go back to bed, anija.”

Hashirama lingered in the doorway before hesitantly nodding, accepting his explanation, and retreating into the hallway, sliding Tobirama’s door shut as he did. Tobirama started making a list of pros and cons of moving out of the house and halfway across the village in his head.


 

“I think I’m getting a taste of my own medicine,” Hashirama muttered, stuck in a funk that made Tobirama glance up and sigh.

“Technically, you didn’t do anything.”

“No, but Madara had to deal with my disapproving little brother,” Hashirama whined at him, prompting an eye-roll. “And I was even more aware of it! Madara has no idea he’s always doing…” He waved his hands about vaguely. “That.”

“I find he’s more pleasant than what first glance implies,” Tobirama noted mildly as he marked down a few notes on his latest jutsu, just to see Hashirama’s head droop further.

“What did I do?” he wondered. “I can’t believe he’s friendlier to you than me.”

“Thank you so much, brother.”

“I didn’t mean anything about your personality! It’s just complicated! And you are the one who…you know…”

“Perhaps you should go and speak to him, if you’re so wearied over this,” Tobirama suggested, instead of dignifying that with a response.

Hashirama straightened up with a frown. “He avoids me,” he replied, glancing out the open doors. They didn’t have any paperwork to do, for once, but seeing as the village was quiet and they had no other duties, they were left to sit around in one of the outer rooms of their home. “Sometimes he doesn’t always seem angry. More…uncomfortable. Bitter, at times.”

Tobirama paused in his work with a frown of his own. He couldn’t think up a reason for Izuna to have a problem with Hashirama, but he knew the Uchiha wouldn’t hold a grudge without a reason. “I would offer to ask him, but we aren’t exactly friends. Have you spoken to Madara about it?”

“No,” Hashirama admitted with a small wince, rubbing the back of his head. “He’s been so busy these past few days with the wedding and I…I just don’t want to upset him. He finally has his brother back, and I don’t want him to think there’s any problems.”

“There is a problem, if you can’t spend time with him without Izuna glaring a hole through your head.”

“Well, yes, I know,” Hashirama retorted with a small blush, fidgeting, “but I thought I could have at least spoken to him by now, and apologized if I needed to.” He sighed and leaned back, looking at the ceiling. “Is this what Madara went through? You know how unagreeable you can be, Tobi.”

Tobirama twitched. “Do go on, anija.”

“Well, you can be particularly sour when-”

Hashirama yelped when a pen nailed him in the forehead. “You’re proving my point,” he whined as he retreated towards the door, dodging a second pen. “Sour grump!”

“Go find something useful to do, Hashirama, before I actually make an attempt to aim.”

Hashirama pouted at him and turned to leave. A scroll collided with the back of his head just as the door slid closed, drawing an indignant cry from him as Tobirama smirked in self-satisfaction.


 

Hashirama acquired his chance to question Izuna sooner than he expected, and completely by accident.

As winter approached, the nights grew longer and colder and naturally led to move evenings spent inside than out and about on the training grounds. Spring and summer provided plenty of long, warm afternoons that stretched into bright evenings, but the cool weather made even the shinobi want to stay inside.

Hashirama himself sat within the main archive room in the Hokage Tower, a room Tobirama spent an ungodly amount of time in. Hashirama had been forced to drag him out half-asleep a few times to make him rest. Rows of bookshelves lined the room, and a few alcoves hosted small tables with a few chairs around them for research.

There was a bit of moonlight shining in through the windows that illuminated the space, but it was swathed in shadows anyway due to his candle going out. He’d started to doze after his third hour of reviewing the current Academy standards and ensuring they were rigorous enough without being too much for the students, who deserved a chance to be the children they were.

The door swinging open awoke him. Glancing up, Hashirama squinted against the sudden rush of light from the lights in the hall and blinked in surprise when he found Izuna standing there, holding a small stack of books.

The Uchiha stared at him, expression blank, for what felt like a full minute before he let the door swing shut and moved forward to set the books down. “I came to return these for Madara. I’m sure you know where they go.”

He whirled around and moved to leave. Hashirama tensed, recognizing a chance he so rarely got, and spoke up, hoping he could at least convince Izuna to stay for a moment.

“Izuna,” he said, making the other man pause as his hand wrapped around the doorknob, intending to start off gradually and in a non-confrontational way. What came out of his mouth was instead an impulsive query. “What did I do?”

He had to admit something in him was a bit desperate at this point. He genuinely had no idea what on god’s green earth he had done to garner the younger Uchiha’s scorn. He’d even started to friendlier with Tobirama, and Tobirama had killed him.

Izuna tipped his head back and chuckled. “What did you do?” he asked, not turning around. “If only you knew.”

He didn’t even sound derogatory, or like he was taunting him- only like he was genuinely irritated Hashirama didn’t know.

“So tell me,” Hashirama insisted when he tightened his hand on the door handle to leave.

The archive room was silent as Izuna deliberated. Hashirama almost thought he was going to leave when he spoke. “What if you found out that you’d already lived your life once, then it was reset without you ever knowing?”

A crease formed in Hashirama’s brow. The question seemed so nonsensical and out of left field- and yet it felt familiar.

“That there were events that had happened that you don’t remember because you haven’t even lived through them yet? What if you’d done things to people?”

Hashirama froze, suddenly remembering what the line of questioning was reminding him of- the questions Madara had asked him. “Are you trying to say…”

It seemed crazy, but the man before him had been dead until recently and come back as a shambling corpse to combat someone who’d stolen Madara’s eyes because he was the successor to the Rikudou Sennin’s eldest son. What, in their lives, was truly impossible?

“That we…lived life once before? That Madara remembers?”

He couldn’t see it, but a small, wry smile appeared on Izuna’s lips. Not as slow as people think. “He probably spoke as if he did something horrible, didn’t he?” Hashirama didn’t answer, staring at him without a word. “I suppose he did. But you did as well.”

“What did I do?” Hashirama pressed, growing more concerned. What had he done to make Izuna hate him?

“Madara.” Izuna stood silently for a moment after speaking and slowly began to turn around, looking at him over his shoulder. His eyes seemed to glow in the dim light even though his Sharingan was nowhere to be seen. A deep sense of foreboding settled in Hashirama’s gut. “You killed him.”

The world slipped out from under his feet and rammed him over the head. The breath left Hashirama’s lungs in one swoop as he shuddered, staring at Izuna with wide eyes. “W…what?” he croaked.

Izuna turned around completely and narrowed his eyes. “You killed him,” he snapped, apparently deciding they were having it out, for better or for worse. He stood there grinding his teeth for a moment, looking at Hashirama’s pale visage, and some of the rigidness left his body as he closed his eyes, sighing slowly. He shook his head. “Think back to when you first noticed something was wrong with him. It was such a sudden change you had to take notice, wasn’t it?”

Hashirama nodded helplessly. He couldn’t find any words, any courage to speak.

“The first time, there was nothing like that to tell you there was anything wrong. Madara gradually grew away from everyone, including you, and he certainly didn’t get along with Tobirama. The Uchiha never became so warm to the other clans. He warned the clan that they would be ousted from village leadership and get the short end of the stick, but they all turned his back on him and rejected him.

“He didn’t have- anyone. He stopped spending time with any Uchiha. He never made friends with Mito or Toka or Tobirama or Miki. I never came back. He was- he was alone.”

Izuna gritted his teeth and turned his gaze to the floor, curling his hands in his mantle. “He just grew farther away from the village. People whispered rumors about him. Said he was a warmonger and a bomb waiting to go off- that he’d stolen my eyes. Imagine living that way, with maybe one person you can depend on, but feeling alone, while some monster in the shadows tries to manipulate you even further into darkness.”

It took very little to see what he was getting at. “The manifestation?” Hashirama whispered, feeling as if he was hearing information that made so many things make sense. He couldn’t imagine just leaving Madara to himself these past few months, not seeing his spiral downward until it was too late. If he had done that, Madara would have been dead.

Izuna opened his mouth again before pausing and letting out a frustrated sigh, looking as if he was struggling to find what to say.

“Look,” he said at length, looking at Hashirama with a frown. “I’m not…I’m not saying he wasn’t responsible for his actions. He chose to leave. He chose to come back with the Kyuubi and challenge you in a fight to the death.”

Hashirama went even paler, if at all possible. To the death.

“I’m not saying he didn’t choose to do those things, and I realize now- after having so long to think about it- that you weren’t- weren’t in the easiest position. You were the Hokage, and you had to protect the village, and you couldn’t let him hurt anyone. But at the same time, he’s…he’s my brother. I had to watch him die. What does logic and rationality help me when I saw all the chances everyone around him had to reach out and didn’t?” He closed his eyes and clutched his mantle harder to stop the shaking of his hands. “I know it’s selfish to blame you, but I can’t help what I feel. I can’t help hating you for giving up on him and letting him go. And really, it’s not- it’s not even the fact that you killed him.”

He let out a closed-mouth smile that quivered as he paraphrased the words he remembered, making a stone sink in the Hokage’s stomach. “You said the dream you two shared was your dream. That you would protect your village, and you wouldn’t forgive anyone who threatened it, even if it was your own child. How could…” He barked out a harsh laugh and brushed his bangs out of his eyes. “How could you do that? Just erase him like that, even if you had to kill him? How could you?”

He opened his eyes to look at Hashirama, the lividity in his gaze demanding an answer, but he had none. “I-I don’t know,” he stammered, feeling like shrinking into a tiny ball and sinking into the floor. He understood now why Izuna was angry. He had every right to be.

How could he have done such a thing? How could he have let Madara drift away in such a manner until he was so far away he returned with a Bijuu to kill him? And even, in the end, even if he had to kill his friend to protect others, how could he have denied what they’d shared together? How could he have done that to the man he was in love with?

“Do you understand now, Hashirama?” Izuna whispered, eerie eyes watching him in the darkness. “This is why I can’t trust you with my brother. I’ve already seen the result doing that will bring. You’re the single person in this world who holds the most power to destroy him, and you don’t even see it.”


 

The rain fell softly on his head and shoulders as he sat hunched over on a bench near a koi pond, staring at the grass under his sandals. He hardly felt the cold bite in the air even with the water, even with how he was drenched head to toe at this point.

How could I do that?

How differently had their story unfolded for it to come to that between him and Madara? As it was now, he would never harm a hair on the man’s head outside of a spar and he knew the notion was mutual. Had his past- future- first self simply not noticed as the Uchiha grew to scorn the village they’d worked to create? Had he noticed but hadn’t known what to do to help?

He looked down at his hands and wondered how he’d felt when he took Madara’s life. Had he at least mourned? Had he at least felt regret?

He glanced down at the grass again. All he could imagine was seeing Madara’s blood coating it through.

“Hashirama?”

Hashirama tensed. Madara walked up behind him, holding an umbrella overhead, steps soft in the wet grass underfoot. “What’re you doing?” he asked, a note of curiosity in his voice.

“N-nothing, Madara,” Hashirama muttered, keeping his head ducked down. He could hardly look the man in the face. Now he knew what had caused his breakdown months ago, and he felt even worse; he had obviously tried so hard to make up for his mistakes, to do things better than he had the first time- he had even made friends with Tobirama. He’d nearly died for Tobirama. He had been so guilty over what he’d done that he’d attempted to commit suicide.

He remembered what it had felt like pulling that blade out as the man begged him to let him die. He imagined being the one to put it there. He wanted to vomit.

Madara frowned and walked around to the front of the bench. He bent down and looked Hashirama in the face, making him flinch. “Hashirama, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Madara,” Hashirama insisted, trying to smile but only mustering something watery and miserable. “I-I’m fine!”

“No, you’re not,” Madara told him firmly, frowning. He looked the Senju up and down and tried to quell the panicked concern badgering his thought process. Hashirama almost never acted this way- the last time he’d seemed this bad, his brother had died. He moved closer, ignoring the man’s flinch as he did. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s…it’s nothing, really…” Hashirama bowed his head and did his best to hide what he was feeling, but his voice wavered. He couldn’t stop himself from choking around a sob. “Really.”

Madara’s frown deepened. He had never been the best at comforting people, but this was Hashirama. He couldn’t just leave him there alone. Hashirama had comforted him too many times to count.

With a bit of hesitancy, he placed a hand against the back of Hashirama’s head and pulled him in, running it over his hair and settling it on the back of his neck. He breathed out an uneven breath and buried his face in Madara’s yukata, curling both hands in it, not quite crying but feeling as if he was.

“It’s all right,” Madara murmured, unsure of what else to say but doing his best not to let an awkward silence fall. “You’re fine.”

Saying nothing, Hashirama shook his head, a minute gesture as he breathed out another ragged breath.

“Come on,” Madara said, reaching to his side and snagging one of the Senju’s hands. “You need to get out of the rain. You’ll get sick.”

Hashirama refused to look at him as he pulled him from the bench and started in the direction of his house. He walked with hunched shoulders and his eyes trained on the ground, not gripping Madara’s hand back and simply letting it hover in his grip.

Madara’s nerves grew tense as they stepped into his house. The cats were nowhere in sight. They were probably avoiding them. He ran through the possibility of things that could have happened in his mind- a fight with Tobirama? Had something happened to Toka? Had he screwed something major up that involved the village?

He dragged Hashirama into the kitchen and went to turn on the light, grimacing when nothing happened; the power had probably gone out as the storm outside got worse. He pushed Hashirama onto a stool at the bar and peeled off his haori to put in the sink before searching out towels and wrapping one around the man’s unmoving form, using the other to dry his hair. The fact that he let Madara do it all without a word was more concerning than anything.

Madara watched him for a moment with a frown; he stared at the floor, eyes half-closed, looking lost.

What could possibly have happened?

He turned and reached for one of his cabinets where he kept his kettle and tea pot. The stove probably didn’t work, but he had fire jutsu for a reason.

“He told me.”

Madara almost jumped, but managed to refrain as he spun around and looked at his friend intently. He’d closed his eyes, but opened them to look at him with a sudden focus and intensity Madara wasn’t expecting.

“What?” he asked, bewildered.

“Izuna told me.” Hashirama’s eyes bored into him like he was waiting for a bomb to go off. “What happened in our first life.”

Madara’s breath hitched as he froze. That was the last thing he’d been expecting. A delayed, cold sense of horror rolled through him a moment after he’d heard it, and he knew he’d gone even paler than usual. “He told you that…”

Hashirama’s voice was rougher than before when he spoke. “That I killed you.” His eyes started to water as he looked at Madara; he refused to move his gaze elsewhere and be a coward. “That you were alone and didn’t have any of us and that you left. And I killed you.”

He wasn’t supposed to find out. Madara didn’t know what his expression looked like, but he was starting to feel sick to his stomach. “Y…you weren’t supposed to know,” he whispered, hands starting to shake. A slight crease formed in Hashirama’s brow. He looked away, too ashamed to keep looking him in the eye. “I’m sorry,” he choked out. “If- if…if you want me to leave, then-”

“What? No!” Hashirama stood so quickly his towel fell off, expression dismayed. “No, Madara, I’m the one who needs to apologize. Why on earth would I ever want you to leave?”

“Because I’m the one who left in the first place!” Madara snapped, beside himself. “I betrayed the village- I betrayed you. I made you kill me.”

“No one makes people like us do anything,” Hashirama retorted, moving closer and making Madara look at him with the intensity of his stare. “Madara, tell me, and be honest. In that last battle, was there a part of you that still wanted to come home? Was there a part I could have reached? Even if you didn’t know it at the time?”

Frozen, Madara looked at him with wide eyes and slowly opened his mouth. Nothing came out.

He wondered if there had been a part of him at that time that had wanted to come back to Hashirama.

Hadn’t there always been?

His silence was more than enough of an answer. Hashirama placed a hand over his eyes and bowed his head, shoulders starting to quiver. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I gave up on you. I shouldn’t have said those things. This will always be our village.”

The utter misery in his tone snapped Madara out of his stupor. “It wasn’t your fault,” he snapped, seizing a handful of the other man’s collar. “Don’t you get that? I’m the one that left- that tried to kill you. How could you feel guilty about that when I’m the one who left?

Hashirama eyed him through a slant in his fingers. “Now you’re being selfish,” he murmured, partly to himself and partly to Madara, making him draw back in surprise. “What use…are logic and rationality, when it comes to how I feel?” he asked, suddenly understanding what Izuna had been feeling. Maybe it hadn’t been his fault- but he couldn’t help but feel wretched. “How do you think it feels finding out I had to kill you? That I told you, basically, that our dream was only my dream? Didn’t that hurt you?”

Madara closed his mouth and looked down at the floor. He’d denied it even to himself, but he knew Hashirama was right. “How do you think I feel?” he asked, voice hardly above a murmur. “To wake up here after I’d done that to you knowing I didn’t deserve a second chance?”

Hashirama’s breathing was shaky as if he wanted to say something more but couldn’t. They stood there in silence, a handful of the Hokage’s yukata still in Madara’s grasp, each of them staring at the floor as rain pounded against the roof overhead.

“We hurt each other,” Madara muttered after more than a minute of silence, closing his eyes. “We destroyed each other. I told myself I would make it right. That I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. I…I’m sorry.”

He released Hashirama’s collar. A warm, tanned hand caught his before he could pull away. “If I forgive you for leaving,” Hashirama whispered, and Madara didn’t look at him because he knew seeing the man’s tears would make his own fall, “will you forgive me for letting go of you?”

It didn’t matter whether it had been Hashirama’s fault in the first place or if he was even in the wrong at all, Madara thought. Hashirama would hold onto the guilt whether it was his fault or not and wouldn’t be able to sleep at night thinking his deed had gone unforgiven.

Unable to say anything, he nodded. Hashirama tugged him closer and wrapped his free arm around him, burying his face in Madara’s hair. “I’m not letting go again,” he said, voice quivering. Madara wanted so badly to promise him he wouldn’t leave again, but he was afraid to speak. He got the feeling Hashirama understood anyway. “It’s forever this time.”

A lump formed in his throat. Madara nodded and tried to ignore the crushing, overflowing sense of relief flowing through him that would overwhelm him if he paid too much attention to it.

He had wanted so many times to come clean to Hashirama and tell him what he’d done. He finally didn’t have to worry about it anymore. He could finally feel as if he was forgiven.

“Your clothes are still wet,” he mumbled into Hashirama’s shoulder, feeling exhausted suddenly. “You can have one of my robes. Let’s just…go to bed.”

“All right,” Hashirama returned into his hair, quiet. They untangled themselves from each other and he followed close behind as Madara climbed the stairs and entered his room, pointing him to the bathroom to change out of his damp clothes while he looked for something suitable to wear.

It didn’t occur to him to use the couch in the living room or the spare bedroom downstairs. He wandered back into Madara’s bedroom as he was climbing into bed, hardly noticing when the Uchiha reached blindly for his arm and tugged him towards the bedframe.

It had always taken Hashirama a while to fall asleep at night, but with how drained he was, he was asleep almost before he even noticed the small, fuzzy forms crawling onto the pillows with them.


 

Hashirama was a light sleeper. He’d been that way since he was a child, even before he’d been taught by the adult Senju at the time to sleep light in case of attack. When he used to share a tent with his brothers he would awaken at the slightest noise, ready to defend them, and he always knew when one of them left to relieve themselves; he would crack open one eye, half-awake, and drift back into sleep as soon as they’d returned.

He opened his eyes blearily that night for a few seconds when Madara groaned in his sleep, taking half a second to ensure the other wasn’t in the midst of a nightmare before going back to his own slumber. Naturally, he was the first one awake in the morning.

He lay there unmoving, blinking as light trickled in through the window, and turned his head to watch the rise and fall of Madara’s shoulders as he breathed. His expression was tranquil and peaceful and hardly indicative of the discussion they’d had the previous night. The morning brought with it a sense of recovered calm that made him feel much steadier than he had when he’d gone to sleep.

Movement near the edge of the bed caught his attention. He glanced at Toba, who sat curled up in a ball giving him the driest stare he’d ever seen. Reminded of Tobirama, Hashirama couldn’t help but grin.

Zunu came stumbling out of Madara’s hair, followed by a yawning Hachi. They both waddled lazily in between the two humans and leapt onto Madara’s side to escape, crawling over him and dropping on the other side of the bed to leave. He didn’t rouse even slightly through the whole thing.

Hashirama couldn’t help but chuckle. He wondered if Madara was that heavy of a sleeper or if he’d just gotten used to the cats’ presence.

He looked down at the other’s slumbering face and softened. He had felt so forlorn and dismal the evening before, but talking it out with Madara had made him feel so much better. There was still a tinge of regret echoing in his mind, but it was overpowered by a dogmatic determination to never let such a situation unfold ever again.

This time it’s forever.

He loved Madara too much to lose him.

He felt a rush of raw affection as he gazed down at the man, and paused, face going pink, when he realized how intimate their current scenario was. He longed to have this every day- to be able to go to bed wrapped around Madara and wake up the same way.

Madara, who had tried, to the best of his abilities, to correct his mistakes even when the guilt and self-loathing he felt became too much; Madara, who had forgiven him without even having to think about it. Hashirama thought of the way he’d tried his best to comfort him, the warmth of his hands as he dried Hashirama’s hair, how he probably would have sat there in the rain with him if he refused to get up.

He loved this man more than life. If only he felt the same.

Who does he love?

The mystery was still unsolved. Hashirama had only blanks. He couldn’t come up with a single person who was even a possibility.

Madara didn’t seem to be doing anything about his feelings, either. He never went on outings with anyone. He hadn’t introduced anyone to his family.

Perhaps he knew the recipient of his feelings didn’t return them. Was he just wallowing? Had he moved on?

In the back of his mind, a tiny little voice told him that he was wasting his time and letting an opportunity slip by. There was nothing to suggest Madara’s feelings were more than a crush; he hadn’t said he was in love. Miki’s comment had been about who he liked.

What said Hashirama couldn’t try and show Madara he had another option?

The more he thought about it, the more he realized he’d been being an idiot. He didn’t have to start out with a marriage contract. (Although that would be an…interesting way to solidify their ties with the Uchiha later on.) They’d been friends since they were children; it wouldn’t be hard to try and grow closer in other ways at all. Madara trusted him enough to completely let down his guard around him.

This mystery person hadn’t even been there for him (unless it was, somehow, Tobirama after all; Hashirama prayed to every god he knew it wasn’t Tobirama). Hashirama had so much he could offer- and by god, he would offer it. There was no use giving up without even trying.

“Madara,” he whispered, leaning down and poking the man’s cheek. “Wake up.”

Madara’s nose wrinkled. “Nnngh.” He turned his face away and hunched farther into his pillow. “…no.”

Hashirama bit his lip to contain himself. “It’s morning.”

“Tired,” Madara muttered at him, squeezing his eyes shut harder. Hashirama restrained a laugh and smiled, sitting up and carefully moving his legs out from under the covers.

“All right,” he acquiesced, “I have something to go do. Stay here and sleep.”

A moan made vaguely in his direction was his only reply. Hashirama chuckled and bent over to press a kiss against the sleepy Uchiha’s forehead. He left the room to search out his clothes.

It was almost ten minutes later when Madara shot up, startled awake by his own frazzled mind as he replayed the last few minutes and let out a wheeze.

Holy shit,” he rasped, pressing a palm against his forehead as his face blossomed with a red deeper than any tomato. Shakily, he turned to find his clock and see what time it was, trying to recover from nearly giving himself a heart attack.

Hashirama was going to kill him someday, and he wouldn’t need any sword to do it. All he would have to do was keep on being…like that… and Madara would keel over all on his own.


 

Izuna was waiting for him outside the house, leaning against the door to his and Tobirama’s house with crossed arms. He raised an eyebrow at Hashirama’s slightly disheveled appearance.

“You spoke to him, I presume?”

“I did,” Hashirama replied quietly, watching his expression carefully. The eyebrow rose higher in question. “He forgave me. And I…forgave him. We promised we would never do something like that again.”

“I see.” Izuna turned his head and glanced down the road, face blank. He breathed in a long, slow breath, and let it out just as slowly, sagging as he relaxed against the door. “For the record, I know it wasn’t your fault.”

“No,” Hashirama agreed with a sad smile, “but I could have done more.”

“Sometimes there’s nothing more you can do,” Izuna replied, playing devil’s advocate for the sake of satisfying his own curiosity. He wasn’t stupid. As a reanimation he’d thought Hashirama cruel, but as a living man he could see he was no cruel soul. Even if he was angry and bitter at the man, he could recognize his guilt.

But furthermore, he could see just how much his older brother loved him. He supposed he should try to be understanding if only for Madara’s sake.

“I don’t believe that. Izuna, I promise- if Madara should ever…stray into darkness, ever again-” Hashirama looked a bit sour as he said it, unhappy just thinking of the scenario. “I won’t stop until I reach him.”

“And if you can’t?”

Hashirama set his jaw. “Then I’ll die with him instead of making him go alone.”

Izuna stared at him. He closed his eyes. “I can’t ask that of you. It would be selfish. Do you think that’s what he would want?” Hashirama lowered his gaze to the ground and furrowed his brow.

“…then,” he continued quietly, “then I simply won’t let him die. I’ll save him no matter how long it takes. I don’t care how improbable it is, I won’t give up.”

There was a kind of raw determination that defied logic and rationality in the Hokage’s expression, Izuna noted. He looked at the honest look in the way he held himself and in his eyes and was suddenly reminded of vivid blue; he let out a small smile, something in him finally being put at ease.

“You really do love him, don’t you?” he muttered.

Hashirama jerked back in surprise. His eyes went wide. “You-”

“You probably have work, Hokage-sama,” Izuna interrupted, wearing a teasing smile as he pushed off the door and started walking down the path. “Shouldn’t you get to it?”

“Izuna!” Hashirama called after him. “Hold on! What does this mean?”

Izuna paused with his back to him. He glanced over his shoulder with a challenging look on his face, making Hashirama want to grimace. “It means,” he said, raising his eyebrow again, “that I trust you with him.”

Hashirama’s eyes went round once more.

A large grin overtook Izuna’s face as he yelled out with false cheer. “I still don’t like you, though!” He broke into a jog and started running away, leaving Hashirama in a depressed cloud.

“Izuna, wait! I swear I’m not some mean man-!”

“Don’t like you!”

“Wait! I have likeable qualities, I promise!”