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“We’re going to have to separate.”

Hashirama paused as he was getting a drink of water from the pond, going still as his eyes drifted towards Madara. He was lounging in the grass after having taken a nap in the sun, but it was high in the sky and he knew they should get a move on sooner rather than later. “We don’t…have to,” Hashirama finally said, gaze skittering away from him.

Madara withheld an eye-roll. “We’ll cover more ground that way.”

The corners of Hashirama’s mouth started to drift down. He wasn’t quite frowning, but he did look unhappy. “You’re not fully recovered yet.”

“I know.” It wasn’t as if Madara wanted to leave Hashirama’s presence, but he didn’t want to stay there in that strange land for any longer than necessary, either. “I’m not helpless. It’ll be fine.”

Hashirama’s lips turned down into a frown. “The longer we stay here, the longer we leave the village unprotected,” Madara pointed out. “It’s sensible.”

Hashirama let out a sigh that was more of a huff. He was sulking. Madara almost smiled. “Well, I suppose you’re right. But not for long, understand? We’ll meet back here in thirty minutes. And flare your chakra if anything happens. Anything.”

“Just focus on getting enough money to pay that toll. And try not to topple anymore large buildings.”

“Are you ever going to let me forget that?”

“Maybe if you beat me in cards,” Madara said with a smirk, thinking of the host of other much more pleasurable things he would be willing to do if Hashirama beat him in one of their games. Hashirama squinted at him, wondering at the way his eyes had darkened, and he shook himself out of his thoughts and cleared his throat. “Just go find something to do to make money.”


 

Making money was a…broad goal.

He didn’t exactly know what to look for. There didn’t seem to be actual jobs anywhere around him; machinery moved on its own and products seemed to arrange themselves. Most of the people milling about didn’t even seem to be looking for anything in particular, simply passing through to somewhere else or wandering aimlessly and not quite looking at any of the goods in the market.

The amount of shifting, differing energies in the space around him was enough to make him feel a bit dizzy as he went along. He tried his best to not use his senses- a strange alternative, when they’d been his primary method of scoping out the area for years- and evaluate with only his eyes, but none of the strangeness around him became any more sensible just by looking.

“Oho, I see the kimono fits,” a voice crowed from under an awning, drawing his eyes to an old woman behind a cart with various clothing piled on the counter. She gave him a sharp-edged smile with eyes that were both amicable and somehow unnerving. “Are you and your beloved having a good time?”

“My what?” Madara questioned, confused enough that he drifted closer and eyed her set-up with wariness. She raised one thin silver eyebrow at him.

“Is there a different word where you’re from? Hm. Your-”

“I know what beloved means,” Madara interrupted, folding his arms and scowling a bit. He wasn’t in need of a dictionary. “I just don’t have one, nor do I know you. What did you mean?”

The old woman stared at him for several prolonged seconds. Something seemed to click as she turned away and growled to herself, the knitting needles in her hands that Madara hadn’t noticed before since they’d been under the counter clicking together as she muttered. “Oh, that man- did he lie just to get free garments? Did he think to trick me? Did he-” She paused and glanced down. “…well…I did assume a bit…but he clearly-” She looked up and squinted at Madara, making him shift uncomfortably. “And you clearly…you both clearly. Ugh.” She murmured to herself unintelligibly, seemingly irritated, and turned back to face him with an annoyed expression. “Now I completely have to redo it! It’s not accurate at all!”

“What’s not accurate?” Madara demanded, increasingly irritated himself at her inane mutterings. She gestured wildly at him and squawked.

“Your clothes! They aren’t right!”

“My clothes are perfectly fine! I’m not buying anything from you.”

“No, no, no, I can’t just give matching sets to people who don’t need them! That’s so negligent. You need something different.” He continued to stare blankly at her, making her sigh and ram a fist into her cart. A purple shot of dust burst from the side, making him jump, and out of nowhere, a small bag appeared in her hand. “Fine, if you’ll be that way. I’ll pay you for it.”

You’ll pay me to take more of your clothes?” Madara asked, befuddled. It didn’t seem a strange idea to her at all. What sort of business practices did these people even implement?

“I’m not giving you anything! I’ll just change them! Are you taking them or not?”

Madara stared at her for a moment more before sighing. They did need the money. “Fine, old woman. Get it over with.”

“Ahah! Good,” she cackled, tossing the bag at him and reaching for some of the purple dust on her countertop. He watched in perturbed silence as she poked at it on her hand and sprinkled in some sort of fine sand from a container behind the counter. She fiddled with it for a minute before humming and tossing it at him.

He startled, but didn’t do much of anything other than cough as it floated into his airspace and settled over him as it drifted towards the ground. He wiped it from his eyes and paused when he noted his sleeves had gotten longer. Puzzled, he glanced down at himself and found that, true to her word, his clothing had changed from his kimono to a silver furisode covered in an elegant leaf pattern that sparkled in the sunlight. “A furisode? Don’t young women wear these?”

“Of course they do,” the shopkeeper told him, squinting at him. “So do young men, and other young people. I swear you humans focus on the weirdest things.”

Mildly offended, he opened his mouth to retort when he noticed the bag get heavier in his hands. Half a moment later a basket burst into existence out of nothing, making him jump again. “There, I’ve paid you more,” she said, waving a hand at him. “And even given you something to have an outing together with! Now shoo.”

Madara clicked his mouth shut and glared at her. She turned her nose up back at him and motioned again, and he turned and slithered back into the crowd without saying another word to her. At least he hadn’t had to do much for it, because he was starting to get a headache from the noise.


 

Getting back to the clearing was an…experience.

Every few minutes- or more often, if he was passing through larger crowds- someone ended up smiling at him and complimenting something about him. A woman also in a furisode told him he had beautiful hair. A man in an odd uniform with red sparkling dust on his hands as he washed them in a sink in the middle of the road cast him a grin as he passed by and told him the kimono suited him very well. He stumbled his way through awkward thank-you’s or just darted into the crowd before anyone could speak to him further and chalked it up to the realm’s oddities.

“This isn’t really necessary,” Hashirama’s confused voice echoed from the clearing by the pond. “You don’t owe me anything.”

“Don’t be silly!” a higher-pitched voice argued. “You toppled King Pin! It’s the least we can do!”

“H-he called himself King Pin…? That sounds like something out of a bad novel…”

Madara stepped onto the grass and walked around the corner of the trees lining the road, glancing at the area by the pond curiously. Knowing Hashirama, he’d probably gotten himself stuck in something or other. Sure enough, there were three small pigs with opposable thumbs and transparent wings that somehow worked despite being bent out of shape fluttering around him as he stood there looking perturbed. He vaguely remembered seeing them in the casino working in the kitchens.

He would have laughed, if not for what the man was wearing.

The yoroi hitatare beneath his armor was a deep red, the exact shame shade as his Mangekyo, and the armor itself was the most ostentatious, pretentious, unnecessarily elaborate looking thing he’d ever seen. Everything from the leg and arm bracers to the chest piece to the panels on Hashirama’s sides was a glittering silver, decorated with a swirling pattern with leaves that ran up the sides, and it seemed to gleam in the sunlight at every angle.

It was gaudy by itself, but somehow, on Hashirama, it only made him look all the more regal and worthy of distinction. It was bright and intricate and stunning and would have looked none of those things if it weren’t Hashirama wearing it. It made him look like a king, and Hashirama deserved the beauty because he would never cultivate the arrogance of kings that made them so ugly.

He was beautiful. Madara didn’t breathe as he stared at the way his hair draped over the shoulders of the armor, such a beautiful shade of umber, just like his eyes. He didn’t know how anyone thought brown could be a dull, boring color.

He imagined seeing Hashirama in the midst of battle in that armor. Seeing him bloody it until the gleaming silver was splattered with gorgeous crimson.

Something warm slid across his upper lip. He clapped a hand over his mouth and nose, and just in time, because Hashirama noticed him and smiled instantly. “Madara! Did you find something?”

“Um.” Still standing there with a hand awkwardly over his mouth, he nodded. “Yes. Uh…” He quickly turned away and looked for something to wipe his lip with. “One…moment…”

Hashirama wandered over to him and leaned close with a curiously raised eyebrow. “Did you cut yourself?” he asked, and then wrapped a hand around his wrist and pulled it away with such casual ease he almost stumbled.

“Just a small nosebleed,” Madara mumbled, looking at the trees beside them. “It’s fine.”

Hashirama pressed a glowing index finger to his nose and hummed. “They can come on spontaneously,” he said, and looked at the intense flush on Madara’s face. He had no idea what was making the man so flustered this time. “Are you all right?” he asked, letting concern bleed into his tone as he pressed his hand against Madara’s forehead. It wasn’t everyday he got the opportunity to touch Madara’s face, but he’d done it twice now in less than a day and it pleased him to see the way Madara averted his eyes but let him linger so closely to him. “You seem unwell.”

“I’m- I’m fine,” Madara stammered, reddening further as he batted his hand away in mock annoyance but didn’t make him step back. “Don’t freak out over nothing.”

“Here you go,” one of the pigs squeaked, holding something in its hands. Hashirama took the handkerchief it offered him and leaned closer to wipe the blood off his lip. His fingers were warm on Madara’s jaw and he could feel it making his pulse speed up as he remembered those same fingers being on his jaw hours earlier. “There we are.”

“Thank you,” Madara replied, still mumbling, and held up the basket in between them like a shield. Hashirama glanced down at it. “Let’s eat.”

Hashirama’s stomach rumbled. He let out a bellowing laugh and placed a hand on Madara’s shoulder, and it brought his attention to his change in attire that had slipped him by as he focused on Madara’s face. “Where’d you get this?” he asked curiously, rubbing some of the material between his thumb and index finger. It was about as soft as anything he’d ever felt. He let his eyes drift to the collar, where it made Madara’s skin seem even more pale, his neck out in the open and making Hashirama want to lean down and run his tongue across it.

“A weird shopkeeper who seemed convinced I had on the ‘wrong’ clothes,” Madara muttered. He stepped away and walked towards the pond, shaking himself to dislodge the stubborn flustered feeling hanging around his mind, trying not to focus on Hashirama’s steps following right behind him. “But she paid me, so it doesn’t matter.”

“Well, I don’t think anyone here is going to make sense,” Hashirama said as he put a hand on his elbow, making him pause and glance back. The Senju unfolded a blanket he’d gotten from seemingly nowhere and rolled it out on the ground for them to sit on. The pigs were floating away into the trees as they giggled at them. He continued as he sat down. “A parrot paid me to turn every sign in his shop upside down. I’m not sure what the point is if customers can’t read them.”

Madara sat down and squinted at him before deciding to give up on deciphering any sense in the story and flipping open the basket. The food, at least, looked normal. His eyes alighted on something that looked exactly like inarizushi and his hand darted towards it without thought.

Hashirama let out a tiny snicker as he put a piece into his mouth. Glaring, Madara pointedly said nothing and ate in silence. He set the satchel he’d received out so Hashirama could count it, as he still had virtually no idea of what the money there was worth due to the process requiring brainpower to complete.

“Not too bad,” Hashirama said after he’d finished, reclining back on his elbows and glancing up at the sky above them that was colored a strange periwinkle mixed with white and lavender. “Wasn’t too strenuous for you, hm? Getting paid to change clothes?” he teased, reaching over and poking him.

As he might have done any other day, but fate would have it his target was Madara’s side, and he spat out his mouthful of sushi as a snort escaped him. He clapped a hand over his mouth and coughed, wiping his mouth with the towel that had been in the basket.

Hashirama squinted at him. Madara swallowed and looked away. “Yes, well-”

“Did you just laugh?”

Madara froze, feeling a creeping sense of trepidation crawling up his back, and hesitantly glanced at Hashirama. He was staring at him like he was a thing to dissect, and there was a slow grin crawling onto his lips that made Madara gulp down the sense of foreboding. “No.”

“Yes you did.” Hashirama sat up and leaned forward, eyes glinting as he stared intently at him. Madara leaned away on instinct. “Are you ticklish?”

Madara stared at him. His throat felt like it had closed partway, but he managed to get out a quiet “No.”

Hashirama’s grin widened. Alarm bells went off in his head and made Madara jerk around to try and flee, but he was too late to avoid Hashirama leaping at him across the basket and food and crashing into him against the grass. “Hashirama-!”

He got through half of Hashirama’s name before a shriek erupted from him. The Senju was using most of his weight to hold him down, one arm holding one of his own captive, and his other was running across his stomach. It reached his side and he dug his fingers into the same spot, making him shriek louder as laughter escaped him. “Hashirama!

Hashirama grinned and pressed down harder onto his wriggling body. Madara raked in gasping breaths, jerking against the pressure on his limbs, but Hashirama was too close to do any damage and wore armor besides, armor that made him even heavier as Madara tried to buck him off.

“Are you ticklish?” he prodded, a breathless chuckle in his voice.

His fingers were still teasing the same spot and Madara could barely breathe. Tears started to leak from his eyes as he laughed, unrestrained and loud in the clearing, gasping for air. His struggling became erratic and more of a jerky reaction than an attempt to get free. “Hashirama!” he choked out, a bit delirious. “Hashirama!”

“Are you ticklish?” Hashirama asked him again, beaming as he moved his hand to Madara’s navel. Madara screeched and arched his back, trying to turn away, but the other man’s proximity wouldn’t let him. He was pulling on the Senju’s shoulder-piece but it did nothing.

Yes!” he wheezed, relenting as another wave of hysteria crashed over his skin. “I- I’m- I’m tick- I’m ticklish, ok-okay?”

Hashirama stopped. Madara’s body stilled as he laid there panting, various parts of his body twitching every so often. His skin was still tingling and he could feel Hashirama’s hand still close to his belly, hovering just inches above his body.

He was grinning down at him, with a bit of an odd light in his eyes, and it made Madara feel potently…vulnerable. He shuddered when Hashirama placed his hand flat against his stomach, not tickling him, but making something like a squeak escape him regardless.

“You shouldn’t lie to your Hokage,” the Senju teased, and Madara would have knocked the grin off his face if he could have moved properly.

“Asshole,” he breathed, without any real heat behind it, and Hashirama’s eyes sparkled. His hand pressed down, with just a bit more pressure, and it made him almost yelp again.

“I could still tickle you,” he warned lightheartedly, leaning up on his knees when Madara glared at him. “I can’t believe I didn’t know until now.”

“There was a reason for that.”

“I can’t imagine what it would be,” Hashirama simpered, staring down at him with an innocent expression.

Madara gave him an unimpressed stare. “Of course you can’t,” he said, pushing up with all his strength. He only managed to roll them over because Hashirama leaned back and let him. He flopped back into the grass with an unconcerned grin and smiled up at Madara as he sat beside him, half leaning onto his chest. “Anyone who thinks you’re innocent has wool over their eyes.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Hashirama told him, fluttering his eyelashes. “I’m nothing but innocent.”

I’d like to find out just how innocent you are. Madara bit his tongue to bite back what he wanted to say. He raised one disbelieving eyebrow that made Hashirama snicker.

“Excuse me,” a warbling voice called from the edge of the path. Madara’s head jerked around at the interruption and he found a bird the size of his torso with two sets of wings flapping in the air, head turning side to side, blinking rapidly at them as if it was trying to see them better. “Are you two going to the mid-day event? It's very easy to get money over there. I heard you were looking!”

“Mid-day event?” Hashirama asked cheerfully, unconcerned with their position.

“Of course it is! Everyone loves a good dance!” Not staying to say anything more, the bird turned and started ambling down the road away from them, rumbling to itself. “Always love a good dance. Just like my budgie friend. She loves a good dance.”

Madara stared after it as it disappeared. He wondered if the sense of normalcy in Konoha would make sense anymore after they returned.

Hashirama nudged him. He glanced down at the other man and found him grinning again. “We should head on over, don’t you think?”

“It didn’t even say where it is.”

“I think we’ll be able to guess.”


 

Numerous crowds had congregated in a large square, where loud music was playing even if no one seemed to be doing anything. Madara wandered through the people around him towards the center of the square, wondering at the dancing that the bird had mentioned, which had the unfortunate effect of garnering more weird attention.

“Did you come to dance?” a man in a glittering green furisode asked him, grinning at him with a light-hearted light in his eyes.

“…yes?” Madara replied, confused. The man’s eyes drifted across his body and he tried not to shift. He wasn’t being particularly creepy about it, but he didn’t know what his intent was, and it was unsettling.

“I think I saw you at King Pin’s a while ago,” the man continued, meeting his eyes again and smiling. “Too bad it got toppled.” He leaned a bit closer, though not enough to intrude too terribly on his personal space, and a glimmer appeared in his eye. “How about we dance this afternoon and do a little different kind of dance this evening?”

Staring, Madara tried to find an explanation for the man’s odd behavior and said the only thing he could think of at the moment. “Uh.”

Hashirama had drifted a few feet away to look around the crowd but most definitely noticed someone snagging Madara’s attention. His brow twitched as he watched the blatant flirting in front of him. Jealousy was an ugly thing, he knew, and not very healthy, but Madara’s confusion was palpable and his eyes were darting to the sides as if looking for assistance.

“Ah, I’m afraid we came together,” he said with a friendly smile, moving closer and setting a hand on Madara’s back. He looked marginally relieved to see him.

The man’s eyebrows shot up in surprise when he saw him. His gaze dropped to his armor, and a bit of realization came over his expression. “Ah. Have fun, then,” he said, waving at them before disappearing into the crowd. Madara let out a breath of relief and turned away, electing to ignore it, and Hashirama hummed but did the same. He doubted Madara even knew that man had been flirting with him.

A sudden explosion of music kicked up around them, startling them both. “What in the world?” he wondered, yelping when some of the guests leaping into motion behind him jostled him forward. He tried his best to stay out of the way, but they were in the middle of the crowd, and it was as if everyone had started dancing to a rhythm he didn’t know.

They both glanced around in mild panic, looking for what to do, and hurriedly reached to clasp each other’s hands between their bodies. “Uh- like this-” Hashirama stammered, nearly stumbling over himself as he tried to turn to stay out of a couple’s way.

“Here,” Madara shouted in his direction, head turned to the side. Hashirama glanced at him and found his Sharingan active as he surveyed the crowd.

Abruptly, he threw them into the pattern and tugged Hashirama along with him, leading him by the hands as he whirled around. The dance took them in a square pattern with large, bounding steps, turning and twisting around other couples or small groups that had linked hands, and with some form of guidance Hashirama found it was actually quite fun. He smiled as Madara whirled them around and laughed as they leapt, feeling like a youngling again.

Madara returned his grin with a small smirk as he wound them through the crowd. The rhythm was easy to keep track of once he had it. He slowed as the groups came down from the fastest part of the song, easing into something quieter, listening to Hashirama’s laughter rumbling in his ears. It felt as if warm chakra was radiating from the man’s hands into his own and he didn’t want to let go.

He had no idea where the music was coming from, but it slowed and took on a quieter note as the denizens of the realm came down and giggled and panted, ready for a break. Hashirama glanced around and then looked at him with a smile, feeling a sense of familiarity, withdrawing one of his hands to hold out and let Madara step into. The Uchiha placed a hand on his shoulder and moved closer as they swayed back and forth, much more like the wedding, a feeling of comfort and calm lingering in the air between them.

“I wonder if we’ll get paid for this too,” Hashirama joked, a bit breathlessly, turning to let a couple drift past them. They were in matching kimono, like they had been before changing, and he wondered at the shopkeep’s insistence on giving those to him at first.

“If not, at least you’ll have more to tell Tobirama that he won’t believe,” Madara teased with a smirk. Hashirama laughed, but said nothing more as he gazed at him with a smile.

It was the most relaxed he’d felt since arriving. Madara was content to stand there drifting with him, but his eyes alighted on a sight beyond Hashirama’s shoulder that caught his attention. He could see the bird from before, the one who’d told them to come, perched on a mailbox near the square watching the festivities by itself. It was a bit slumped over, head tilted down, eyes disappointed.

The bird looked so…downtrodden. He couldn’t help but be reminded of the ones in his aviary. Whenever he lost one during the hard winters of the past they would all mourn for a few days and it had broken his heart to see them droop on their perches and hear their cheeps be quieter than usual.

He couldn’t just…leave it.

“I’ll be back,” he muttered, slipping out of Hashirama’s hold. The Senju watched him curiously as he weaved through the crowd and stepped out into the edge of the square. The bird didn’t look up as he approached it, but it did jump when he coughed awkwardly into his hand.

“Oh!” Both sets of wings fluttered rapidly as it spun, squawking. “I didn’t see you! I’m sorry!”

“It’s fine.” Madara waved a hand dismissively and averted his eyes. “You’re sitting over here alone. Shouldn’t you be dancing if you’re here?”

“Oh, I love a good dance, but my friend isn’t here. I don’t really dance with anyone else.” The beak lowered again, a pitifully sad droop, and Madara rubbed the back of his neck.

“Don’t be so depressed,” he muttered, holding out his hand. “I’ll dance with you if you’d like.”

The bird’s head raised as it blinked at him. “Really?” it squawked, wings fluttering. He nodded again, awkward, and it squawked once more. “Really! I love a good dance! Thank you!”

It leapt off the mailbox and flapped over to him, wrapping the tips of two of its wings around his hands, and he couldn’t help but smirk a little at the excited expression it wore as he merged back into the crowd. It was a bit odd, dancing with a bird, leading it around as it flapped in the airspace just in front of him, but it looked as if it was having the time of its life, so he didn’t mind too terribly.

“You’re a very good dancer, you are,” it chirped at him, cheerful. “And that man you’re with. You’ve got a very pretty one, you do!”

A pretty one? Madara squinted at the bird in confusion and decided not to ask.

From a relatively calm, empty place in the square, Hashirama gazed at them as they moved about with an adoring smile. Madara had gone over there out of the goodness of his heart because he’d seen someone was lonely. He wanted nothing more than to go over and bury his face in the man’s hair and tell him how much he loved him, how he saw the kindness that he was willing to offer in his own ways.

“That was sweet,” a woman in a furisode commented from beside him, smiling. “That bird delivers my mail. You’re with him, yes?”

“Yes, I am,” Hashirama replied, a bit on autopilot. Her smile twinkled.

“You’ve got a pretty one there.”

His smile widened. His distracted mind had misinterpreted her first question a bit, but there was no denying Madara was handsome. “I know.”

Madara was on his tenth rotation with the bird when it glanced at one of the roads leading into the square and gasped. “My budgie friend!”

Madara turned and followed its gaze. A bird about the same size- true to its name, a budgie- was perched on a fencepost glancing around. “Go and ask her to dance,” he said with an encouraging smirk, gesturing with a tilt of his head. “She might get bored.”

“Of course! She loves a good dance!” The bird pulled away from him and flapped away, spinning in a circle as it went. “Thank you! I loved having a good dance with you!”

Madara returned the wave it gave him and watched with a smirk as it met the budgie at the fence and joined a pair of wings with one of hers as if they were holding hands. The two rose from the fence and flew away towards another part of the square where the music was livelier.

A loud pop made him jump. He whirled and spotted an area of the cobblestone that looked as if bright pink paint had exploded all over it. Hashirama stood in the midst of it looking incredibly confused, armor as stainless as ever, the rest of him stained pink as a woman next to him laughed.

“We’re so lucky!” she gushed to him, taking out her coin purse excitedly. “This means we get double!”

“Uh…double?”

A series of pops started exploding in the air as various objects began raining from out of nowhere in the air. Hashirama fumbled with his own coin satchel just in time to catch a long series of coins that fell down in front of him, filling his purse almost to the brim. He stared at it in bewilderment for a good minute.

Nothing made sense here, but at least parts of it were enjoyable.


 

Madara was still snickering at him as he lowered himself into the pond. “Pink suits you, Hashirama. You should wear it more often,” he said, voice steady, before he dissolved into snickering again. Hashirama pouted as he sank into the water.

His armor and clothes, somehow, were spotless as they sat in a pile on the grass. Even the underclothes he’d been given were clean and didn’t quite feel as though they were absorbing water like normal clothes would. He reached up to feel his hair and sighed when he felt it caked through with the strange paint material. He liked having his hair long, but it was inconvenient when it got dirty.

Madara eyed him and rolled his eyes. He sat down on the bank and slowly eased into the shallow part of the water, making Hashirama furrow his eyebrows at him. “Come here, idiot,” he said, fondly, as he motioned to his lap. Hashirama lit up as he swam over and sat down on a lower part of the bank, easing back and resting his head on Madara’s knees.

His hair billowed out in the water around him, making it easy to rake his fingers through it. Hashirama closed his eyes as Madara did, working from his scalp to the ends, gently working the pink gunk out of it until the strands looked brown again.

He glanced at Hashirama’s peaceful face, relaxed and unworried about anything, and softened. It was nice to see Hashirama look so unconcerned. He wasn’t one to walk around worrying by nature, but it was still pleasant to see him let go of everything and lay there relaxing. He was quiet and calm under Madara’s touch, so relaxed, and it made him want to move his fingers to massage the sides of the man’s face and his temples and lull him to sleep.

Everything about him was breathtaking. His handsome features, the hair in Madara’s palms that was so soft it was downright silky, such a beautiful shade of brown that gleamed in the sunlight. He was always so kind to everyone- even those who didn’t deserve it, and Madara had most definitely not deserved it many times- and it wasn’t even only because that was his nature; he chose to do it, and that somehow made it mean more. Madara would be content to follow him for the rest of his life grasping at the edges of his sunlight if it meant he got to feel it at all.

He nudged Hashirama’s shoulder. He rolled over with a hum, folding one wrist over Madara’s knees and setting his chin on it, eyes still closed.

Madara cupped his hands in the water and rinsed the man’s hair a few times. He looked like he was about to fall asleep, and it made him smirk. “Feeling sleepy?”

Hashirama cracked one eye open at him. “Just relaxing,” he chuckled, setting his other wrist on Madara’s knee. He looked at him with a half-lidded look that felt mischievous. “It’s enjoyable in here. You know what would make it more enjoyable?” Madara raised an eyebrow. With a grin, Hashirama reached forward and wrapped his arms around his waist. “If you came in with me.”

“Wh- Hashirama!” Madara squawked in protest as he was pulled into the pond. Hashirama floated back, away from the bank, holding Madara against his chest and treading with his legs. He grabbed onto the Senju’s shoulders out of instinct. “I can hardly swim in this!”

“It’s fine,” Hashirama chuckled into his ear, breath making his skin shiver. “I’ve got you.”

A shiver went down Madara’s spine. He slumped into the man’s grip, still holding onto his back with a death grip- he wasn’t the best swimmer anyway- and let out a slow breath. All Hashirama had to do was say one thing and Madara would give him the world. I’ve got you.

It didn’t feel too bad, floating there, if Hashirama was supporting him. He leaned against the man’s shoulder and let out another sigh. The water was pleasantly cool, just warm enough not to cause a shiver, and Hashirama was humming, a quiet sound, and it was enough to make him want to go to sleep.

He lost track of how long they spent there floating, but he knew the ferry they’d gone to trouble to get a toll for was leaving in a matter of hours or less. “We should get out,” he mumbled, wondering why he felt a strange sense of disappointment. “Get ready to leave.”

Hashirama paused in his humming and let out a tiny sigh. “I suppose you’re right,” he said, kicking towards the bank. He, too, felt a tiny bead of disappointment, and he couldn’t pinpoint quite why. He did suppose the parts of their little adventure during which they hadn’t been fearing for their lives had been fun. Being with Madara always was, and it had been a while since they’d gotten to do something by themselves like this.

He put a foot on the shore and shifted Madara, folding an arm under his knees and lifting as he stepped out and carried him onto the bank. He set him down once he’d reached the grass and grinned as the other man gave him a flat stare.

“I’m drenched now,” he said, raising the wet sleeves of his furisode pointedly.

“You weren’t complaining a minute ago,” Hashirama told him innocently, laughing under his breath when Madara rolled his eyes and stepped away from him.

He folded his hands together and summoned his chakra. A barrier of it burst into existence around him, a deep wine-red color, so fitting for Madara himself. His hair flew into the air and his furisode billowed around him, absolutely glittering in the red light, and Hashirama couldn’t help but stare.

Madara was beautiful, he thought, soft to those he knew and all sharp edges to those he didn’t. His eyes were closed in concentration as he summoned chakra just hot enough to dry him off- Hashirama could feel the heat radiating out and warming his own skin- and that furisode really did accentuate every beautiful part of him, every curve of his body, the soft yet razor-edged quality to his attractiveness that made Hashirama want to press in close. His hair slowly settled back down over pale skin as he let his chakra dissipate, opening his eyes, slowly revealing pitch black irises that Hashirama could happily get lost in.

He realized he was still staring when Madara raised an eyebrow at him. “Hashirama?”

“Ah!” He jumped, realizing he still needed to get dressed, and smiled sheepishly. “Right. I’ll just be a minute.”

Madara watched him for a moment and then shrugged to himself, going over to pick up their coin satchel where they’d left it on the bank. They were nearly home.


 

“So…what exactly do you think this…is?”

Hashirama’s voice was exactly as hesitant as Madara felt. The ferry was, indeed, a ferry, but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere- the workers at the front had taken their money and pointed them onto a wooden platform that looked strangely like a spoon, and other travelers were on spoons pointed in different directions. It all made him a bit antsy.

“Maybe it’s some type of teleportation?” he suggested, wincing at how unlikely his suggestion sounded yet how plausible it could be here. Folding his arms, he glanced around in an attempt to hide his own wariness, surveying everything from the relatively normal-looking railing on the edge of the boat to the odd coin statue in the center over the captain’s cabin. All the workers were dressed in bright red and tan uniforms with strange symbols on them.

“We’re lifting off!” one of them called, barely two yards away from them, and they both jumped. The worker checked his watch. “In five, four, three-”

“Well, I guess we don’t have time to ask questions,” Hashirama yelped, stumbling when the spoon rocked. Madara would have retorted if not for the uncomfortable flips his stomach was performing.

“-Two, one, lift-off!”

The spoon shot forward and launched them into the air. Hashirama shouted in surprise, flipping completely upside-down in his shock, and Madara’s stomach whirled again as his world tilted. They’d been punted high enough that the ferry was quickly becoming a tiny dot on the edge of his vision, and he dragged in a giant gasp of air after realizing he’d stopped breathing in his surprise.

The wind was whipping his bangs against his face and making his kimono billow. The sound of Hashirama’s laughter drew his attention and he turned in midair, finding the Senju with his head thrown back as he tried to right himself. “Madara!” he yelled over the wind, reaching out with one hand.

Madara reached out and grasped it, pulling the other man closer. They could hardly lose each other on the way home. Hashirama looked at him with a grin that shined in the sunlight, and he found the worry and concern bleeding from his mind as a smile overtook his lips.

Hashirama pulled him close and leaned their foreheads together, taking his other hand and beaming. A laugh rose out of Madara’s throat- at the ridiculousness of it all, at the ridiculousness of Hashirama for enjoying something so disorienting, at his own ridiculousness for laughing.

A tingle spread across his back. Hashirama’s laughter became louder, tinged with something like disbelief, and Madara startled at the sudden weight on his body. He looked back, too surprised to really consider how unbelievably weird it all was, and snorted when he saw the large black wings extending from his back. Could anything that happened here truly be considered impossible?

He moved them, a little bit delighted at the odd feeling, sending them spiraling through the air. Hashirama took a tighter hold of him to hang on, laughter loud in Madara’s ear, intoxicating in its brightness.

Madara caught sight of a large pool of grey in the ocean below, radiating a strange energy that felt familiar. He let out a yelp when everything around them- their clothes, the wings, the armor, even a trace remnant of pink in Hashirama’s hair he’d missed- burst into sparkling dust, dissolving on the wind, leaving them free-falling towards the pool in nothing but the torn yukata they’d arrived in. Hashirama let out another shout when they hit the water, expecting a harder landing, but it felt less like crashing into the ocean and falling into a cylinder of wind spiraling around at the rate of a tornado.

Madara came up sputtering, struggling to orient himself, and Hashirama’s head broke the surface of the water beside him not a moment later. He grabbed ahold of Madara’s arm and helped him towards the shore just ahead, pushing him up onto the bank before lifting himself out.

The ocean was gone. They’d come up in a pond, made of crystal clear water and purple stone beneath, in a small clearing surrounded by empty air on all sides- due to it being incredibly high in the mountains. There were a series of smaller pools ahead of them, where a man with glittering green eyes and magenta hair floated on a yellow cloud the size of a horse.

“Good morning!” he crowed, even though Madara was certain it had been nearing evening when they left. “Where are you looking to go?”

Hashirama blinked and took a moment to orient himself to the surroundings. It was a strange place, though no stranger than the rest of the places they’d been. “The human world?” he asked, hoping they would land near Konoha, at least.

Something like a sympathetic smile appeared on the man’s lips. “Ah. Did a witch get you?” Hashirama smiled and nodded sheepishly. “That’s usually it. Don’t worry, the pools will take you where you came in. But I’m afraid there is a toll.”

“A toll?” Hashirama shot a worried frown at Madara, who’d narrowed his eyes. “We weren’t told about one. I’m afraid we don’t have anything to offer.”

“Don’t be silly! It’s not that kind of toll.” The being’s grin became wider. “I don’t deal in possessions. I deal in secrets. Tell me a secret, and you may pass.”

Hashirama’s frown deepened. He supposed there were plenty of secrets he could tell- but he hardly wanted to tell something about Konoha’s infrastructure to a being he didn’t know.

“It must be a personal secret,” the man went on, eyes drifting towards Madara. “Something held deep within your heart. I’m sensing you have one, don’t you, messere?”

Madara froze. Hashirama turned to look at him, looking curious, and he swallowed. He doubted that Hashirama had any type of secret like his own- especially if the toll-keeper was focusing on him like this.

“You have a secret? What is it?” Hashirama asked, eyes bright and curious and Madara could not say it where he could hear.

“I’m not telling you!” he blurted out, unintentionally making Hashirama’s curiosity hike as he turned to face him fully. “Cover your ears!”

Hashirama’s lip jutted out in a pout. “Come on, Madara-”

Madara crossed his arms and scowled. “Cover your ears or I won’t say it and we’ll just stay here forever.”

Hashirama pouted at him for a moment, hoping he’d change his mind, before he sighed and covered his ears. Madara glared at him for a few seconds and he pouted more before closing his eyes as well so he couldn’t read Madara’s lips.

“You better not be faking,” Madara threatened, narrowing his eyes.

Out of nowhere, the being appeared at his side- hardly coming up to his shoulder- and grinned. “Don’t worry! I’ll just turn off his hearing for a minute.” He motioned to Hashirama, and there was an odd whooshing sound that made Madara frown. “Go ahead, tell me!”

Madara eyed him suspiciously and glanced at Hashirama again. He was mostly expressionless, giving no indication he could hear them. He gulped before starting to speak. “Hashirama…I-”

No change. Hashirama truly couldn’t hear him.

How cruel was it that he was about to say it to the man’s face, and he would never know?

“I…” The words came heavy off his tongue, like thick molasses that refused to part with the utensil that had dipped into it. “I…love you, even if I can never say it.”

Saying it aloud- in Hashirama’s presence, no less- made him feel like someone had punched him in the gut. He breathed in slowly, trying to calm his pulse, not wanting to look upset when Hashirama opened his eyes.

A sniffling sound to his left caught his attention. The toll-keeper was holding a handkerchief to his eyes, practically weeping, staring at him with a watery look and a wavering voice when he spoke. “I too have experienced unrequited love,” he hiccupped. “You’re so strong for enduring.”

“Uh…” Madara shifted uncomfortably, wincing as he debated whether he should try and get the being to stop crying or not. He hadn’t asked him to get emotional over his secret.

Before he could do anything, the toll-keeper waved his hand again and Hashirama opened his eyes upon hearing the strange sound. He frowned when he noted the being crying his eyes out as he stood beside Madara, who looked pointedly uncomfortable, and put the pieces together in his head in barely a few seconds. “What did you say?” he demanded, voice full of worry as he hurried over to him to grasp his elbows. “Are you all right? What was it?”

“It was nothing!” Madara gave the toll-keeper a venomous look for giving him away and turned away to placate Hashirama. “He’s just- emotional. It’s my secret anyway! It doesn’t matter.”

“If there’s something upsetting you-”

“There’s not. It’s of no concern, honestly.”

The toll-keeper quieted and squinted at them. The way the taller man was looking at the shorter one, he would have guessed he was the one with unrequited love. Unless…

It wasn’t unrequited love, he thought, it was oblivious love. He was sure of it. The look in their eyes was just like what every couple’s eyes who passed through his domain looked like. Maybe they just needed a little nudge.

“All right!” he yelled, clapping his hands and making them both jump. “Ready to go home?”

“Yes,” Madara exclaimed, pulling away from Hashirama’s hands and plastering a cranky expression on his face. The Hokage pouted yet again at being ignored.

The toll-keeper pointed at one of the small ponds. It began to glow a bright green and churn like a whirlpool. “Hop on in and it’ll take you right there,” he said with a friendly smile, stepping aside.

Madara stared at it for a moment before glancing at Hashirama. They nodded at each other and stepped forward, leaping into the pool without any hesitation. It glowed even brighter for a few moments before dimming as they disappeared.

The toll-keeper stared at the pool after they’d gone and smiled. He twirled one hand and let loose a bright spark of blue and motioned it forward; it darted into the pool, making it glow brightly once more, before it dimmed completely, leaving him humming to himself as he settled in to wait for the next travelers.