Actions

Work Header

Palingenesis

Chapter Text

Again.

“We can take a drink now as old war buddies…”

“War buddies…I suppose that’s fine.”

The darkness around him made him wonder if tales of the afterlife were just lies, like most other myths, and if souls simply spent their time sitting in an inkwell of nothingness. Surely no one who fell victim to Edo Tensei would ever want to go back if this was their heaven.

But he probably wasn’t in heaven, was he? Was this purgatory? Or Hell? He would have expected some amount of torture if it were Hell.

“We can take a drink now as old war buddies…”

The words kept bothering him as he sat- lay? Stood? He couldn’t tell- there in the darkness. His dream had died out, but Hashirama’s continued to thrive. After everything, he sat there and smiled down at him and told him they were old war buddies. He was still infuriating. He wondered if somewhere down the line there had been something he should have done differently, some component of the plan that could have been a pivotal point, if things could have ended in his favor.

No…that boy was too much like Hashirama. He’d gone up against the goddess. Some part of Madara told him he would have won no matter what. And why wouldn’t he? Madara was a relic of the past- he was part of the new world that would carry on Hashirama’s dream. There had been a time when it had been their dream.

Had his dream ever really been his dream at all, or just a cog in the machine of someone else’s machinations? He was at the end of his life now- the true end of it- and all he could feel was an aching emptiness. He thought the one inside him was worse than the gaping void around him that would drive lesser people insane. Perhaps this was his punishment after all.

He was tired. That much was certain. He was tired of futile efforts, of failure, and deep down he was just tired of living.

“We can take a drink now as old war buddies…”

The words echoed again as if they were taunting him. Maybe it was part of the punishment, to hear Hashirama say that over and over, but part of him, to his shame, found it comforting. They hadn’t said anything so overt, but their reconciliation had set something at ease that had been in turmoil for a long time. He hadn’t had to say anything, he hadn’t had to say he was sorry, it was simply offered to him.

(But deep down, he was sorry.)

And above all, he was so tired. He’d thought death would give him a release from it; he was finally ready to be dead- but he couldn’t even remember what being dead had been like the first time, and this alternative was just as tiring. Was the universe playing a practical joke on him? Keeping him from death as recompense?

He just wanted to die.

And then he woke up.


 

Sunlight shone in through his window through the curtains, casting uneven slants of light over his face. He lay there in an unfamiliar bed that felt strangely familiar, in an unfamiliar room that looked strangely familiar, staring at a ceiling that was unfamiliar and familiar. At first he could do little more than what he was; his mind felt dead. But as sounds from the outside world started to drift inside- the chirp of morning birds, the hammering of workers from far off, the occasional snippet of conversation- he came back to himself.

Madara leapt off the bed so quickly he nearly sent himself to the floor. He’d been expecting the reflexes he’d had as a Reanimation, yet his body seemed to be moving slower. More than that, he could feel his heart hammering away in his chest. He yanked at the plain black yukata that clothed his body and pulled it apart to look at himself; there was nothing strange or awry with his torso, no sign of Hashirama’s cells, not even some of the scars he’d acquired later in life.

He activated his Sharingan and looked around. There was nothing amiss- yet he appeared to be completely alive.

It was then he recognized where he was.

No, he thought, doubting his sanity. Was this part of Purgatory? Had he retreated into an illusion of his own mind’s making? Was it even real?

He stepped slowly to the window and looked out. The Uchiha settlement- their first compound in Konoha, still being built- stared back at him. Half-built buildings littered the ground below while Uchiha carried supplies back and forth and emerged from tents.

This isn’t possible, he thought, stepping back from the window. This wasn’t Purgatory. This was Hell.

He tripped on the blanket he’d dislodged from his bed- he remembered, now, this was just around when they’d started to use bedframes instead to keep the cold away- and landed on the ground with his back to the wall. Breathing heavily, he brought his hands up to stare at and clenched them both into fists. This was a hallucination. It wasn’t real. Even the Sage couldn’t have done this, and there was no reason to try. Madara had wanted to die. He couldn’t be back here, back when he and Hashirama were still-

Someone knocked on the door. “Madara-sama?” an Uchiha called through it. “Is everything all right? You’re usually up giving orders by now.”

Leave me be,” Madara snapped with more heat than he meant to. He couldn’t handle someone coming in trying to get him to- to get him to do whatever it was they wanted him to do right now.

The Uchiha didn’t answer. He felt his presence leave, no doubt very perplexed at his leader’s behavior.

This isn’t possible, he thought to himself again, running his hands through his hair. Why, after what he’d done, was he being denied death?

He pushed himself up and quelled the shaking in his hands, turning until he found the wardrobe in the room and throwing it open. He clothed himself and left the house after cloaking himself as rapidly as he could, refusing to look at any of the Uchiha as he left the compound.

Outside was even worse. There were buildings spread across the area they’d sanctioned for the village, under the barren Hokage Mountain, that poked and prodded at feelings of familiarity that he didn’t want to have. This village hadn’t been his village for a long time.

He turned and fled from the civilization. Though he was cloaked, he paid little heed to concealing his movements, walking quickly through the forest and leaving clear tracks in his wake.

How is this possible?

He shouldn’t have been there. Maybe God had looked down on his soul and decided the best torture would be reliving his life, over and over, and reliving all his failures.

His feet took him to a place he’d stood many times; on the top of the mountain, staring down at the village below. When was the last time he’d been there?

This can’t be real, he thought, taking out a kunai. Time travel? It hadn’t been achieved by any ninja.

He drove the kunai into his bicep, barely even registering the pain it induced. His blood spurted from the wound and ran down his sleeve; he watched it pool in the crook of his elbow and drip to the ground. He felt pain. He bled. He had to be real.

Tobirama and the Yondaime’s jutsu popped into his head. All the things he’d been able to achieve with the power he’d held so briefly. If a god or some impish creature outside the realm of human knowledge had done this, or perhaps some cosmic accident in the universe…

He realized he’d dropped the kunai when it went tumbling over the edge of the cliff. He grimaced and hoped it didn’t land on anyone. Unless it skewered Tobirama in the foot.

Madara lifted his head and breathed deeply as the wind blew on his face. He became aware of the rest of his weapons, sitting sharp and ready in the pouch on his thigh, that would so easily drain him dry of his life. If this was some hell made just for him, he could escape it now and embrace death as he was meant to. He considered the urge for longer than he cared to admit.

The quietness around him calmed him from his previous manic. He looked down at the village again, and wondered what he was supposed to do- when his previous goals had been meant to end in its destruction. He had no goal now; no dream.

But he was tired.

Any effort he could make was ultimately pointless and hopeless. He was a shinobi without a purpose and he’d been denied even rest. He didn’t know what to do.

He’d asked his mother one such question when he was barely three, before she had been taken from them, asked her what to do when he didn’t know what to do; “Nothing,” she’d told him with a smile. “Do nothing. Wait.”

Time passed him by and left him unaware of how long he stood there for. A sense of hopeless acceptance settled upon him- even if none of this was real, it was his reality now.

“Madara!” A voice called out from behind him. Considering he felt as if he’d just said farewell to Hashirama not half an hour ago, it didn’t startle him as much as he thought it would. “Madara!”

The tiredness was in his bones. He didn’t bother turning around or greeting Hashirama as he ran up to his place on the monument. He steeled himself and turned around, forgetting about the wound on his arm. “What is it, Hashirama?”

“I was looking for you!” the Senju leader began with a blinding grin. He was still so naïve. He thought Madara was his friend- that he could never hurt him. That he was going to be at his side forever. “Why did-” He paused when he noticed Madara’s stab wound and frowned. “What on earth is that from?”

Madara froze and berated himself for being idiotic. “Nothing,” he said, folding his arms. “It’s fine. It was just an accident.”

“Well here, let me heal it-” Hashirama began, reaching out with one hand.

Madara tensed and took half a step back. Hashirama paused and looked at him with a frown; he’d never denied healing before. “I said it was fine. Don’t you have better things to be doing?”

Flinching at the sudden hostility, Hashirama retracted his hand but wasn’t deterred. “You’re bleeding! Don’t be silly, I have plenty of time to take a minute to heal your injury. Madara, what’s the matter? You’re acting strange.”

Oh, god. He was staring at Madara with the eyes. Big, round, pleading, pitiful eyes. He winced and looked away. “I’m fine,” he insisted again. Goddammit, just act normal. “I’m just…not feeling well.”

“In that case, I could take a look at you-”

“That isn’t necessary. I just need some rest. I’ll bandage this back at the- the compound.”

Hashirama frowned at him, obviously wanting to argue, but relented. “All right,” he acquiesced. “But tell me if you feel worse, all right? Send someone to fetch me and I’ll give you a check-up.”

The lesser-known skill of the Shodaime’s: the fact that he was a medical ninja, which somehow just fed his complex about helping people. “All right,” Madara said, even though he had no intentions of doing such a thing. He took that opportunity to walk away as fast as he could without looking like he wanted to run away. The whole time he was within Hashirama’s range of sight he could feel the future Hokage’s eyes on his back. He gritted his teeth and ignored the feeling.

However, it wasn’t as if he’d lied. He’d been awake for what couldn’t have been two hours and he already wanted to crawl back into bed. That spelt weakness, he knew, but this body was human.

Yet somehow he’d never felt this tired even when he was alive.

Hikaku was waiting for him when he came back. “Madara-sama,” he said with a respectful nod, holding a clipboard in hand and meeting Madara at the gate. If he remembered correctly, the man had been the closest thing he’d had to a right-hand man, even if some of his tasks had amounted to being an errand chaser. “I have some acquisitions for your approval-”

“Just deal with it and sign my name where it needs it,” Madara said, tone short as he moved past the man. He turned and looked after him with a frown.

“Are you sure, Madara-sama?” Hikaku knew something was off. Even when Madara hadn’t read every single form, he’d skimmed the stack and gotten the gist of what it said.

“You have good judgment, don’t you?” Madara prodded, giving his clan member an irritated glance and walking away. Hikaku stared after him with the frown still in place. “Do not bother me for the rest of the day.”

The house meant for the clan head was larger than the rest and situated right in the midst of the compound. Already he felt as if every Uchiha had their eyes on him, as if they were all watching and judging. Even in the privacy of the house he felt stifled and boxed in, constantly aware of their presence all around him and of how empty the house itself felt. He thought he’d once thought of this as home, but it just felt like a wooden cage now.

It didn’t occur to him that he could try and salvage the relationship with his clan now, or that his sudden reclusive behavior would just make them wary of him. All he wanted was to be alone.

He retreated to his bedroom- the only room in the place that felt as if it had a sense of familiarity- and stood in the doorway gazing at the mess of blankets and some clothes he’d dislodged in his hurry to get out. A potted plant had also fallen from the windowsill, though it had thankfully not broken.

After shutting and locking the door, he stood there, not knowing what to do, thinking of the worried expression on Hashirama’s face, and drifted past the items on the floor. He sat down on his mattress and folded his hands; he watched a bird land in the branches of the tree outside his window, then let his gaze drift to the clouds. Could he not have even been sent back to before Izuna had died? The things his brother would say if he could see Madara now.

He let himself sag back against the wall. The air was quiet and still, but he knew that beyond the four walls around him there was a world he was going to have to deal with.

“We can take a drink now as old war buddies…”

I wish you’d killed me at the Valley, he thought, bitterly. I wish it had ended there.

He eventually slid down and curled up on the bare mattress, watching the bird as it arranged sticks and grass in its nest. Hikaku heeded his request and didn’t bother him again, and the day passed him by, until he’d fallen into fitful bouts of sleep and night had fallen. Never once did the hopeless feeling leave him.

Chapter Text

Madara hid tactically avoided the outside world for as long as he could until the sun was beating down on him and forcing him from sleep. He’d forgotten about his wound until he woke up at some point during the previous day feeling dizzy, then realized he was still bleeding and ripped one of his shirts to scraps to use as bandages. Hashirama would probably yell at him if he knew he hadn’t sanitized anything or even properly bandage it. He left the mantle with a hole in the arm in the bottom of the wardrobe. While he could sew well, he didn’t see a point in mending it.

When he emerged outside, the sun was high in the sky, telling him it was probably near noon. “Madara-sama,” Hikaku greeted him, appearing almost out of nowhere. A diligent man, he was. “I apologize for bothering you yesterday afternoon. I hope you’re feeling better today?”

Madara hummed noncommittally and stared at where two Uchiha were erecting rod iron gates at the entrance to the compound. It was set at the base of the mountain, on the opposite side as the Senju settlement, equal distances away from each other and from the bulk of the village, which was only a short walk away. In just a few decades’ time he knew they would be exiled to the perimeter under the guise of watching their criminals.

“We’re almost finished with construction,” Hikaku continued, unfazed by his silence. “We only need a few men to continue. The others want to know what you’d like them to do.”

“What else is there to do? Go help build something else,” Madara said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Why did they need him to direct them as if they were children? Could they not look around and find a task to do?

Hikaku’s brow furrowed, but he didn’t look as if he were upset. “Very well. I’ll tell them to assist in other parts of the village.” Madara nodded, only half listening, and he raised an eyebrow. “Are you feeling all right, Madara-sama?”

Madara replied with an equally vague hum. “Hn.”

“I’ll…relay the order,” Hikaku said, still giving him a sideways look but thinking it better to let it go. “Would you still like me to approve measures in your stead, sir?”

“There’s no reason for you not to,” Madara replied, a small amount of irritation in his tone. Hikaku wasn’t really the one he was annoyed with, but he doubted the man was going to take it personally.

“Very well. Perhaps… you should take the day off, sir?” Though Madara was still staring elsewhere, his eyes narrowed. “There’s not much to handle here.”

“Perhaps I will,” Madara intoned, and set off for the gate without a further goodbye.

Hikaku stood there staring at him with the clipboard tucked against his side. His mouth turned down into a frown as he watched his leader leave. Something’s off with him, he thought, wondering if something had happened between him and Hashirama. Madara wasn’t the most expressive person, but he was usually in a better mood than this. Seeing as he had no other family left, something that had driven a wedge between him and the Senju leader seemed the only viable option for his sudden change in behavior.

With a sigh, he went to go direct the rest of their building. If there was something that was causing Madara to be absent, he would have to fill the void and make sure no unrest arose in the clan.


 

It occurred to Madara that not only did he not know what he was supposed to do (with Hashirama, with the village, life in general), he didn’t have much to do with his day anyway. The Senju would probably see that he wasn’t with the others helping in the village and think he thought he was too good for labor, he thought with a scoff.

But he couldn’t fathom spending that much time around anyone in this village, so he retreated to the forests around it where he knew the training grounds would someday be.

Animal life fled from the wall of fire that blew through the trees and left everything in its wake charred to a crisp. He swung the fan he’d grabbed out of habit before leaving his residence and unleashed a blast large enough to smother the fire and take most of what it burned with it, leaving a large clearing with stumps around the edges and only partially charred grass since he’d aimed high. He kneaded chakra and swung again, leveling three trees that had stubbornly hung on, and stood there staring before leaning the fan and sickle against a tree and sitting down on one of the stumps.

He was more at peace out here alone in the woods than even with his own clan. There was no one to bother him here, to expect him to lead them through the village’s infancy, when he didn’t even deserve that privilege. He leaned his head in his hands and rubbed his temples, trying to dispel the slight headache that was already forming.

Because he’d stopped kneading chakra, he didn’t notice Hashirama’s growing closer until he heard something land in one of the trees across the clearing. “Madara?” The man himself called out, making Madara’s eye twitch. Was he determined to just not let Madara have any time to himself? “I thought I saw flames over here.”

Madara had lifted his head as soon as he knew Hashirama was there, but he still knew the man had seen him sitting there. “What are you doing here?”

Hashirama made his way across the grass and stood beside him with his hands on his hips. “I was scouting for places to turn into training areas,” he said, and of course Madara had that bad of luck. “This is a great one! How about we have a spar?”

That should have sent alarm bells off in his head, but knowing it would look weird if he refused- he’d always been up for testing himself against Hashirama- he just nodded mutely and got up to retrieve his gunbai. Hashirama pressed his hands together in a familiar seal and sent him a grin; he mustered up a lackluster smirk in response and got ready.

The pushed off and clashed together in midair without needing to say start. This, at least, felt familiar to him as he pushed away to dodge the roots now sprouting from the ground. Fighting was easy; a pattern he could fall into without even thinking about it.

Hashirama had summoned one of the larger swords from his summoning scroll and now pushed against his gunbai with it, grinning into Madara’s eyes without fear. He wondered if he had enjoyed their final battle like Madara had.

The arm that held the handle to his fan weakened suddenly with a pulse of pain. He swore inwardly when he remembered the wound he’d dealt with half-heartedly; with the sudden loss of part of the force he was using to keep Hashirama’s sword at bay, his fan was pushed to the side and the blade angled towards his throat. Hashirama quickly aborted its path and stopped, centimeters from slicing Madara’s throat open.

There was a disconcerting lack of concern in his mind through the whole thing.

“Madara? Are you all right?” Hashirama asked, clearly having no intent of continuing. Madara restrained a sigh.

“Don’t concern yourself with it, Hashirama.” Even still, the man frowned at him as he laid a hand over his stab wound. He realized with a start that it had bled through his clean mantle.

“Your wound reopened,” Hashirama said, stepping closer and clasping Madara’s wrist to pull his sleeve up. He tried not to jerk in response. This Hashirama had no reason to believe he would have a problem with this. He took one look at the sloppily-bandaged wound and groaned. “Madara! You told me you were going to bandage it!”

“I did,” Madara argued, feeling oddly chagrined.

“This,” Hashirama said with a stern look, pointing at the injury, “isn’t properly dealing with a wound and you know that.” He untied the cloth around his bicep and laid a glowing green hand over it. Madara tried not to cringe at the feeling of warmth the chakra exuded and the comforting feeling it gave off. He avoided looking at Hashirama by instead watching as his wound closed. “You should have just let me heal it yesterday.”

“Yes, well,” Madara muttered, moving away as soon as it was healed. “Thank you. I have business to attend to.”

Hashirama’s hand tightened on his elbow before he could go anywhere. He paused and looked back, trying not to cringe on the guilty frown Hashirama had on. “Madara, did I do something? You seem as if you’re avoiding me.”

“I’m not,” Madara lied; he was doing just that. Being around Hashirama just gave him stress. The more time they spent together, the more likely he was to guess that something was wrong and grow suspicious. A small voice in the back of his head mocked him at wanting to receive Hashirama’s friendship after he’d rejected it in the first place. “I’m just…distracted. It’s nothing you need to worry about.”

Hashirama’s frown deepened. Madara could tell he didn’t buy it, but at least he wasn’t going to push. He released his arm and nodded. “All right. I know that we’re all very busy. Will you be there to welcome the Shimura Clan when they get here? You should be at my side when they arrive.”

Madara wracked his brain for when that was supposed to happen, but the event had been decades ago to him. “When do they arrive?”

Hashirama gave him a look that told him he should have known when. “In three days in the morning.”

“All right. I’ll be there.”

Madara leapt away into the trees and didn’t look back. He knew if he did, he would just find Hashirama staring after him with concern and unease.


 

“Tobirama, I mean it. I think something must be wrong.”

Hashirama was worried. He’d not seen Madara act like this before, not even after the death of Izuna. Of course Madara had been upset- enough so to lead a final charge against the Senju he knew wouldn’t work- but he’d still had a fire to live in his eyes. Just days ago he’d laughed at Hashirama’s sad mug and stood with him on the mountain, looking down at the fruit of their efforts with pride.

It was as if he’d lost another brother but he didn’t have any brothers to lose. He was quiet, distant, and tense when Hashirama got too close; he avoided talking to him or looking at him and went off to do who knew what. Maybe he was telling the truth and he was just distracted, in need of some rest, but Hashirama’s gut was telling him it went deeper than that. He hadn’t even reacted when Hashirama had almost cut his neck open if not for his quick reflexes- he knew Madara was adept at hiding his reactions, but he had looked as if he truly didn’t care.

Tobirama sighed. He set down his quill, abandoning the paperwork he’d been working on before Hashirama wandered in and started complaining. “It’s Madara,” he reasoned. “He’s never been a social butterfly. Are you sure you aren’t making a mountain of a molehill?”

“I’m not!” Hashirama insisted, planting his hands on his brother’s desk. “He’s acting off-different. Like something happened he’s not telling me about.”

Tobirama’s eyes narrowed. “Something like what?”

“I know what you’re thinking, Tobirama,” Hashirama said with mild irritation, stepping back so he could pace. “He’s not going to betray the village in its infancy after working so hard to make peace in the first place.”

“If this change of behavior is that drastic, you need to consider all possibilities.”

“He doesn’t seem angry or anything like that,” Hashirama retorted. “He seems…” He trailed off and Tobirama raised his eyebrows as he waited for him to go on. “I’m not sure. Despondent. Lonely. I haven’t even seen him smile since the other day. Look, I know you don’t like him, but he’s my friend and I’m just…worried.”

Tobirama sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “All right, brother,” he relented. “When exactly did this behavior start?”

“Like I said, yesterday. I’d seen him two days before that and he seemed normal.”

“What about in between that?”

“Well, I didn’t see him the day after because we had that meeting with the Nara to attend to, remember? But yesterday, I found him on the mountaintop just staring into space. He was injured, too, but he wouldn’t let me heal it.”

“What type of injury?”

“He’d been stabbed in the arm by what looked like a kunai. He wasn’t hurt anywhere else, and he said it was an accident, but…”

“You didn’t believe him.”

“Not really, no, though I can’t fathom why he’d hide it if he were attacked. He even said he wasn’t feeling well. He just seemed to want to get away from me.” A deep frown crossed his face. Tobirama could see he was upset by this; while he cared little what Madara did unless it impacted the village, if Hashirama was this concerned, he supposed he needed to offer what assistance he could in getting to the bottom of it. He may not care much for Madara, but Hashirama was his brother.

“I saw him just earlier in the forest,” Hashirama continued. “He seemed to have cleared out a space for training, but he was just…sitting there, with his head in his hands.” Tobirama frowned. That did sound out of character for the man. “He tried to act normal, but I could still tell something was off. We had a spar, but it was like he wasn’t giving it his all. Madara always does when we fight. And then-” He paused, and Tobirama could read him easily enough to know he didn’t know whether what he was about to say was relevant or just him overreacting.

“What?”

“Well, his injury acted up, and I almost hit him,” Hashirama went on, looking bothered. “I could have sliced his throat open, or really, with the size of sword I had in my hand, cut his head off, and I about came near doing so. And he just looked…completely unfazed. Madara’s always been good at hiding his emotions and reactions, but still, I’ve surprised him before.” Truthfully, he’d made it a game with himself at how often he could surprise Madara in their spars and see the telltale widening of his eyes or a startled flinch. “It was as if he just didn’t care.”

That was alarming. If Hashirama had noticed it, Tobirama wasn’t going to discard the concern- his brother was much more observant than some gave him credit for, especially concerning those he cared about, and shinobi who lost concern for injuries or even death to themselves became dangerous. To themselves, and everyone around them.

“And I healed it this time, but he left as fast as he could. I asked him if he was avoiding me, but he just said he’s been distracted,” Hashirama finished in a mumble. He was staring at the floor, now, looking truly unhappy for the first time since the village had been founded.

Tobirama sighed. Madara was troublesome no matter what he was doing, it seemed. Even if he was technically doing nothing. However, despite his personal disagreements with the Uchiha over the years, he was still a valuable asset so long as he stayed loyal; he was the only person he’d ever seen truly match his elder brother. Madara’s strength was infamous- and as far as he knew, he was the only person in his clan with such an advanced Sharingan. Losing him to any of their enemies would hit the village hard. Losing him at all would hit Hashirama harder.

Furthermore, if he started acting out, some of his clan members were bound to follow or at the least grow uneasy and suspicious. Tobirama was perfectly content to work with any of the Uchiha who could put their loyalty to the clan aside for the sake of strengthening the village, but they were, overall, one of the worst clans about valuing clan loyalty above other concerns. It was something he and his brother had to emphasize to their own clan when they entered into the peace agreement; it was something they needed to emphasize to any clan looking to join them. The village came first, and he worried over what the Uchiha would do if their leader started to become unstable.

“Well, the obvious place to start is to ask the clan itself if something happened,” Tobirama said. “There’s over a day of blank space between when you saw him, nearly two days.”

Some of the tension eased from Hashirama’s face. “Yes, of course- surely if something happened they’ll know. However…I’m not sure who to ask.” Some of the Uchiha were friendly to him, while some were still wary and gave him sideways looks that were more due to unfamiliarity than straight hostility.

Tobirama resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Ask Hikaku. He works directly under Madara. If he doesn’t know, he’s most likely to know who would.”

“Oh, right!” Hashirama grinned and slapped his fist against his palm. “I know him. He takes paperwork back and forth sometimes.”

“He does much more than that, brother.”

“I know that! I-I was just being general…”

“Hashirama, no one is going to take you seriously if you keep falling into funks when people criticize you.”

“You’re so mean,” Hashirama said with a pout as he straightened up. A moment later he turned the eyes on him and Tobirama scorned himself for being weak enough to give into whatever the man was about to ask. “You’ll come with me, won’t you?”

Tobirama twitched. “You can’t perform this task on your own?”

“Well what if Madara is there and I can’t find an excuse to talk to someone who isn’t him? Or there’s more than one person to ask, I’m sure it would go faster if there were two of us-”

Tobirama interrupted him with a loud, put-upon sigh. Hashirama just stood there grinning, knowing he’d won. “Very well.” Dealing with elder brother is just as troublesome as Madara sometimes. “But if this turns out to be nothing-” Though, after hearing what Hashirama had to say, he doubted it was, but he had to hassle his brother anyway. It was obligatory. Most of the time Hashirama thought he was completely serious and didn’t even catch onto the fact Tobirama was doing it on purpose because he thought his little brother was genuinely put out. “-and you’ve made me waste my time, you owe me.”

“Of course!” Hashirama laughed. “I’ll get you dango from that shop that just set up here you like!”

Tobirama raised one judgmental eyebrow. “I think doing more paperwork would be a better punishment. You’re behind, are you not?”

The man’s grin faltered as he turned to glance at his own desk, where three large stacks waited for him. Tobirama was always chastising him for leaving it so long that he was forced to do it for him. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a work ethic, or that he shirked responsibility, but it was as if there were a curse upon him and paperwork. He was constantly getting distracted and slogged through it like it was mud and his legs were covered in jelly. “Uh…right. Why don’t we go now, then?”

“Are you saying that because you want to question the Uchiha as soon as possible, or because those stacks intimidate you?”

A bead of sweat ran down his face. “T-Tobirama…”

“You’re still too easy to read, brother.” For me, anyway. He stood up and grabbed his kunai pouch off the coat rack. “Let’s go now, then. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can return to work.”

Hashirama’s eyebrow twitched. “Can we stop for dango on the way back?”

“Only if you add the amount of time that takes to the amount of time you were planning to spend here afterwards.”

Hashirama groaned.

Chapter Text

Sitting alone in the woods for over eight hours allowed for a lot of reflective thinking. He’d made an effort to hide his chakra this time from prying senses, and had spent the whole afternoon and part of the evening sitting beneath a tree thinking.

In the end he’d acknowledged that Hashirama’s way had been more effective than his- it was those who carried on Hashirama’s dream who had made sure that Madara’s didn’t come to fruition. Even then, it hadn’t been Madara’s dream- not completely. Black Zetsu had somehow made him believe that it was a manifestation of his will rather than Kaguya’s. He wondered how far it had gone to suggest things to him and guide him towards her revival.

But Hashirama’s methods had ensured the village survived, long enough to reach an era where all the shinobi nations joined together. It was ironic that in the end, conflict had led to shinobi being united. Yet Madara knew that the cycle would undoubtedly continue after that.

But it didn’t really matter, did it? That was beyond his time. He would never see that era. What did matter was where he was now. He could see no place in Hashirama’s life- in the building of Hashirama’s village- where an old warmaker with cynical ideas about the world would help. Hashirama would most likely do better without him. He was to be Shodaime Hokage.

But it was more than that. He was simply too tired to try and change things from the path they’d taken. He saw no point in it. No matter what he did or didn’t do, they would all die eventually, and Hashirama would guide the village towards the path it was meant to take. Madara simply had no purpose.

It would be better, really, if he weren’t there at all.

He looked up at the night sky where the stars blinked down at him. This world was starting to feel more real, even if he still doubted his sanity; his eyes found a constellation that had been a favorite of Hashirama’s as a child- if one looked at it right, it looked like a dove, a symbol of hope and peace in times of war.

He gazed up at it and wondered where the hope it had so often given Hashirama was.


 

Hashirama was a bit disappointed to find the Uchiha had made a fence around their compound, as well as a gate, where the Senju had left theirs open and friendlier-feeling. He didn’t voice that notion out loud, however, as he knew they probably wanted to feel secure in this strange time. Everyone was adjusting in their own ways.

A few Uchiha glanced up at them as they walked through the open gate; a few others cast them respectful waves. There weren’t that many around, considering he’d seen the bulk of the clan assisting with matters in the village, which did make him happy.

He glanced around for Hikaku, searching less for someone who looked like the image in his head and more for someone giving orders and directing the other Uchiha.

“Hikaku-san!” he called out, finally finding the man checking something off a clipboard as he stood in front of a well being built. He glanced up and surprise flashed across his face before he schooled his expression to be blank.

“Hashirama-sama,” he said with a nod of his head as he approached them. “Tobirama-san. What brings you two here today? Is there business Madara-sama needs to attend to?”

The man was efficient, if nothing else. “Ah, no,” Hashirama explained with an apologetic smile. “Actually, we were wondering if we could talk to you.”

Hikaku’s eyebrows shot up. “Me?”

“About Madara,” Tobirama cut in. Hikaku turned his eyes to him. “He’s been acting strangely. Would you know anything about it?”

The man pursed his lips. “Actually, I was hoping you would, Hashirama-sama.”

Hashirama frowned. “Me?”

“Yes. You see, yesterday he began acting out of character, for no apparent reason.”

Hashirama shared a glance with his brother, who’d mimicked his expression by now. “Would you mind explaining everything you can remember?”

“Of course. Yesterday morning, I noticed that Madara-sama was late rising from his quarters. I was in his dwelling to deliver some correspondence, and knocked on his door in the case something was awry. He told me to leave him be, and I did, since he sounded tense and upset.” Hashirama’s eyebrows scrunched up in concern as he went on. “Usually, he spends time among the clan in the mornings, but I didn’t see him until a few hours later. When he did return, well…he seemed no less upset than he had in the morning, though he was much more composed. He told me to handle paperwork needing his signature on my own and just sign for him.” Hikaku frowned down at his clipboard. “Afterwards he told me not to bother him for the rest of the day. I saw him enter his home, and as far as I know, he spent the rest of the day there.”

“Did he seem off at all the day before yesterday?”

“No,” Hikaku replied, sounding befuddled. “He was completely as normal. He retired for the evening around when the sun went down, and I didn’t see him after that, but there was no change in his behavior that I knew of.”

“What about today? Did you see him leave?”

“Yes. He didn’t say much- he seemed rather…distant. I advised him to take the day off, and he left. That was the last I saw him.”

“He didn’t return?” Hashirama asked, suddenly feeling alarmed for reasons he couldn’t explain.

“No. To be frank-” Hikaku grew sheepish-looking and rubbed the back of his neck. “To be frank, I assumed something had happened between he and you, Hashirama-sama. You’re really the only…close friend that he has, and I didn’t know of anything else that would upset him this much.”

“Does his behavior seem particularly alarming to you?” Tobirama butted in. Hashirama cast him an exasperated look, which he ignored; they had to cover every base.

Hikaku raised an eyebrow at him. “If you mean, ‘Do I think he’s a danger to the village,’ Tobirama-san, then no.”

Somehow getting a taste of the judgmental eyebrow himself made the future Nidaime feel the tiniest bit sheepish.

“But his behavior was alarming because it made several in the clan concerned for him. I simply don’t know what could have upset him.”

Hashirama let out a sigh. “Well, thank you anyway, Hikaku-san,” he said, feeling dejected. He’d hoped the Uchiha would at least have some hints to help unravel Madara’s odd behavior, but it seemed they were just as in the dark as he was. “And thank you for sending your clansmen out to help with construction. They’ve been a good help today.”

“You can thank Madara-sama for that,” Hikaku retorted pleasantly. “It was his order, after all. Even if he did seem…very distracted and eager to leave when he made it.”

Some of his clansmen might have been angry at him for sharing information about their leader with the Senju, but Hikaku wasn’t still stuck in the days they’d been enemies. They were comrades now, comrades from the same village, and he knew how much Madara and Hashirama cared for one another. If anyone could figure out what was wrong, it was the Senju leader.

“I’ll inform you when he returns,” he said.

Hashirama smiled at him. “Thank you, Hikaku-san. I appreciate it.”

Both he and his brother gave the man a bow of their head and turned to leave. Hashirama glanced about the area one more time, just to make sure Madara hadn’t come back while they were talking, and his shoulders sagged when he found the man nowhere.

He’d grown up being unable to save people he loved; unable to help when he wanted to. It was no wonder he was such an overbearing mother hen sometimes- no matter what was the matter, Hashirama was sure he could help if Madara would only let him.


 

Madara didn’t return to the compound that night. He wasn’t particularly too keen on going back to the suffocating atmosphere it held.

Instead, he wandered around the forests outside the village limit until he was on the opposite side as the Uchiha were- which put him closer to the Senju compound, but it wasn’t as if he ever had visitors from the Senju- and he’d found a clearing by a river. After that he left his kage bunshin to deal with his task and wandered back in the direction of the village.

By the time he got there, the sun was up and plenty of people were out and about. He realized he hadn’t eaten since the previous afternoon and reluctantly headed towards the center of the village where most of the food vendors were. After checking to make sure he’d remembered to pick up some type of money, anyway.

Two familiar voices bickering made him aware of the Senju brothers standing in the middle of the street, backs facing the direction he came from. In his first life he would have rolled his eyes and made some sarcastic quip about how they didn’t look dignified arguing in public. In this iteration, he simply walked up behind them without saying a word.

“Not dangerous, you were saying?”

“Tobirama, I’m telling you, something’s wrong!”

“If this turns out to be-”

“It won’t.”

“Are you so sure?”

“All I need to do is find him-”

“Find who?” Madara asked, voice a bit raspy from spending hours in the woods without any water.

Hashirama jumped like Madara had electrocuted him and whirled around, nearly tripping over himself in his surprise, while Tobirama went tense as a board and turned to face him with eyes narrowed to slits.

Hashirama stared at him with shock ironed into his expression before leaping at him in a way that made him tense up. “Madara! Where on earth have you been?” His hands landed on Madara’s shoulders, and he opened his mouth to respond, but the man gave him no time. “I’ve been pulling my hair out!”

Now this, this was truly confusing. At least he’d had a reason for Hashirama’s actions before. Madara stared back at the man with palpable confusion. “What are you on about?”

“You didn’t return to your clan’s compound,” Tobirama spoke up, still staring at him with narrow eyes. “They’re wondering where you’ve been too.”

Madara picked Hashirama’s hands off him by the sleeves like he was disconnecting an annoying child from himself. “Am I not a grown shinobi with time to spend as I please? I was attending to business,” he stated dryly, continuing when Tobirama opened his mouth. “Personal business.”

“But still,” Hashirama fretted, looking like he wanted to grab him again to make sure he wouldn’t disappear again. He gazed at Madara’s paler-than-usual skin, the bags under his eyes, and the tired air about him. There was even a leaf sticking out of his hair that he had to restrain himself from reaching out and removing. “You look horrible.”

Madara arched one eyebrow. “Thank you, Hashirama.”

“He’s right,” Tobirama, the irritating little brat-version of himself, said as he looked Madara up and down. “What were you even doing?”

“As I said,” Madara growled back. “Personal. Business. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He aborted his previous route and turned to find somewhere else to go.

Hashirama’s hand wrapped around his elbow, just like the previous day. He resisted the urge to yank his arm out of his grasp. “Madara, why don’t we grab a bite to eat? There aren’t any pressing tasks today.”

His smile was disarming and friendly- there wasn’t much difference between that offer and the various offers of a similar variety he’d made to Madara in the past that he still remembered so well even after decades.

Yet, there was a slight tone shift that set this one apart from the others, and he couldn’t pinpoint why.

For a brief moment, he considered it. At this point in his previous life spending time with Hashirama had been one of the few things that had made him happy.

Part of him that he’d stuffed into a box in the back of his mind wanted nothing more than to feel that same happiness again.

“…I’m busy,” he said after a minute of silence, not looking back to see Hashirama’s expression fall. He gently pulled his arm from the man’s now loose grasp.

Hashirama’s voice was hopeful and expecting disappointment at the same time. “Another time, then?”

“Perhaps,” he mumbled, where he previously would have agreed without an issue. He walked away from them without really knowing where he was heading.

Hashirama stared after him, watching the way he stared at the ground instead of ahead of him as he usually did, and scowled. “You see now?” he demanded of his brother, turning and gesturing in the direction Madara had gone.

Tobirama frowned at Madara’s back as he turned a corner and walked out of sight. After a moment of perturbed contemplation, he met his brother’s now almost desperate gaze. “You’re right,” he said, and the agreement brought Hashirama some small comfort in at least having his concerns validated. “There’s definitely something wrong with him.”

He’d seen Hashirama and Madara interact a thousand times. However, that conversation had been nothing but strange and out of place. Something had happened two nights ago- something drastic enough to cause Madara to lose any sort of lightheartedness left in him. Even Tobirama had caught glances at a few of the man’s smiles.

Usually, they were directed at Hashirama. His brother seemed to have that effect on people.

He didn’t like Madara and he did think the man could be dangerous, but it wasn’t as if Tobirama thought he was some sort of heartless monster. It was out of the ordinary for him to react in such a way to Hashirama.

“I’m worried,” Hashirama murmured, folding his arms and walking slowly back towards their office. If nothing else, Tobirama knew this was going to distract him from getting any sort of paperwork done until it was resolved. “He won’t tell me what’s wrong.”

“You may need to consider this is something he doesn’t want to share with you,” Tobirama told him, not unkindly.

Hashirama chewed on his lip and gazed up at the mountain where he’d once envisioned Madara’s likeness watching over the village. He’d thought to himself that he would be the one who watched over Madara, then. In his heart, he wondered if Madara truly didn’t want to share whatever was bothering him with Hashirama, or if he felt as if he couldn’t.

His gut told him he knew the answer.


 

“Madara-sama? Everyone’s been wondering where you’ve been.”

“Ah. Yes. I…apologize for being…distant,” Madara managed to get out, staring at Hikaku as the man stared at him. “I’ve been busy with a…personal matter.”

Hikaku frowned at him. Madara knew the man wanted to chastise him, to tell him he couldn’t let a personal matter disrupt his leading of the clan, but was too respectful to say it. “Of course. Can I assume you’re going to be at the clan meeting tomorrow night?”

Madara hesitated. That told Hikaku as clear as day that something was truly awry if he was second-guessing his ability to meet the basic duties of clan head.

He didn’t know whether he wanted to try and gently prod the man for answers, shake him back and forth, or yell at him. Maybe all three.

“…yes,” Madara finally said, frowning now.

There was a sudden surety in his eyes. Hikaku knew he wouldn’t flake out, at least, but he wondered at what the sureness meant. He doubted Madara was going to attend in the way Hikaku expected. Was he going to bring whatever had changed to the elders and gathered clan members? Tell them of a concern or danger?

He was glad Madara was coming, at least, but something in him was extremely wary of the man’s intent.

“You have done a fine job of leading us and protecting the clan,” Hikaku said, though he didn’t know how much, if at all, it would help. He pressed his clipboard against the tabletop to keep himself from engaging in one of his idle tics. “I am sure that any concern you bring before them, they will listen to.”

If they could just assure Madara, he thought. Perhaps he was having a case of self-doubt. He needed to know he had his clansmen’s support.

Madara looked away from him, eyes distant. He sat at the dining table in his home, hands folded together on the tabletop, still in the same mantle from the day before. Hikaku saw his throat move with a swallow before he spoke again.

“I’m aware,” he said, and Hikaku cursed the double-speak and hidden meanings he felt as if he were deciphering. Or, rather, failing to decipher.

He stared at the clan head for a few moments more. It was hard to get a read on him normally, he thought, and ever since he’d started acting strange, it was even more difficult.

Maybe he’d been killed off and replaced with a being from the moon, the sillier part of his mind suggested. Anything to combat the depressive atmosphere around the man.

That was what worried Hikaku the most. He’d seen this happen to other shinobi- they came back from the battlefield, sometimes suddenly; sometimes it happened over a period of time, but they were always different than they’d been before. Or maybe they were just worse, and Hikaku had gotten better at noticing it.

It was different with each person, but there was just a tired look in their eyes, and a lackluster way they moved and lived. Sometimes they could live with it.

Sometimes they simply gave up.

It was normal in life to grieve and mourn, but when he saw this happen, he felt as if it didn’t go away or change as emotions should.

But they were shinobi. Shinobi endured, and didn’t talk about their emotional grievances to others.

In the back of his mind, he hoped that Madara was simply in a slump- a slump that he would get out of once enough time passed. They simply couldn’t function with their clan head like this.

“I’ll leave you to your evening,” he said, polite as ever, and nodded at Madara before leaving. He looked uncomfortable and out of place in the house, as if someone had stuck him where he didn’t belong.

He hoped this- whatever it was- was resolved soon. He felt something anxious stewing in the days to come. Something was amiss, something that he couldn’t let hurt the clan, but at the same time he doubted his ability to stop that- because part of him knew that whatever it was, it was coming from within.

He hoped, both as a protector of his clansmen and someone who cared for his leader’s wellbeing, that Madara did not become one of the shinobi who gave up.

Chapter Text

It was a good thing there was a clan arriving in the morning, Madara thought- he’d forgotten which one- or else Hashirama might have more time to bug him. The man was perceptive enough that he might get an inkling as to what he was doing.

Some people were fooled by his smiling face and the way he wore his emotions on his sleeve, but Madara knew better; he saw things no one else did, and in some respects, was even more perceptive than Tobirama.

Tobirama excelled at spotting deceptions and lies; Madara had no trouble admitting the man was intelligent. Hashirama, however, was better at knowing what others were feeling, knowing when they were upset due to something personal, at seeing the emotions they tried to hide.

Not to say Tobirama was bad at those tasks, but Hashirama was just in tune with human nature in a way that sometimes made Madara wary. He didn’t want the man to start guessing at what was wrong with him. (Not that he really wanted to think about the endless list of things that was wrong with him.)

He looked at the gathered clan members before him and felt the exhaustion that had dogged him since he’d woken up get heavier.

They were whispering, wondering why he’d been acting strangely, probably wondering what he was going to address them with and why he’d been late, while the two elders of the Uchiha sat on cushions on a slightly elevated stage in the building. It wasn’t anything too pompous, just a structure that allowed a clear definition of where the leadership in the room laid.

His eyes flicked over to where Hikaku stood at the front, occasionally glancing up at him with a frown. He had the same look as all the others.

Expectations. Hopes. Demands.

Things he was too wearied to deal with.

Madara remembered leaving his clan, before he even left Konoha, when none of them would listen to his concerns about the village leadership.

He wondered if it was going to go down the same route this time.

At least he wouldn’t be close enough to watch.

“I believe the first order of business is our acquisition of materials,” said the old crone to his right, the elder who had lived the longest. Mikitoro had weathered every foul mood his father had with an unimpressed look and a judging frown.

To her left, Rikku- Hikaku’s grandfather- opened his mouth. Madara spoke before either of them could.

“Hikaku will deal with all requisitions that need to be relayed to the village from this point,” he said, making the room shoot him confused looks.

Mikitoro squinted at him. “And what of making sure our shinobi are fairly rewarded for their work? You will petition the village leadership on their behalf, once a leader is chosen, I presume?”

“I will not,” Madara returned, wearing an eerie calm that set more than one person at unease. “That will also be handled by Hikaku.”

Now the man was looking concerned, looking up at him with a visibly startled expression.

Rikku squinted at him. “That is a duty that should be handled by the clan head,” he argued, sounding more perturbed than angered.

“And it will be,” Madara replied, “given that Hikaku is who I elect as clan head in my stead.”

The room erupted into a chorus of shocked yelling. “Madara-sama!” Hikaku stuttered, in disbelief.

“You can’t mean that you plan on resigning,” Mikitoro said, looking somewhere between disturbed and concerned.

“I do not ‘plan’ on doing anything.” Madara’s voice was flat and even- devoid of anything at all. It made Hikaku’s brow crease with worry. “I am no longer fit to lead this clan, and I will no longer do so. I will not change my decision no matter what argument you make. Hikaku is among the strongest of the clan, and if any of you wish to challenge him and my decision, I’m sure he’ll meet your expectations with the strength becoming of a leader of the Uchiha. From this moment on, address him with the respect you would give me.”

He turned and started for one of the doors at the end of the stage.

Various people called out to him, sounding troubled and anxious and even distraught, but it was only Mikitoro’s that made him pause.

“Madara!” she barked, dropping the respectful form of address. She’d watched the man grow up, even been there when he’d been born, and she’d never seen him act like this. “Don’t tell me you plan on just abandoning the clan like this!”

It was obvious to her that if he walked out the door, he didn’t intend on coming back. He knew damn well that he was the only one who possessed a Mangekyo Sharingan, and the loss of it would spell weakness to any of their enemies.

He turned and gave her a derisive look over his shoulder. “Is the clan full of needy children, tugging at my mantle and needing direction? We are not in the same era anymore. The Uchiha are part of Konoha; you don’t depend on the leadership of one anymore, nor will you fall apart by the loss of one member. I’ve left a capable shinobi in my stead. You need nothing more from me.”

Leaving the elders staring after him in stunned silence, he swiftly exited through the door and disappeared into the night.

The Uchiha in the room started yelling again, causing a general ruckus as they voiced their worries and wondered at the man’s sudden departure.

With a grimace, Hikaku realized that Madara coming late was no mistake- it was past midnight, probably nearing one in the morning, and as the new clan leader, Hikaku would have to be at the meeting point with the Senju to welcome the Shimura at six sharp. By the time he quieted everyone down and restored order…he didn’t have time to run to the Senju and tell Hashirama of this.

“Enough!” he yelled, stepping up onto the stage.

His exclamation startled most of the room’s inhabitants into silence, and they stared expectantly up at him. He swore inwardly at Madara for dumping this on him so abruptly, but he couldn’t let the clan fall into disarray; he had to take charge now before any chaos unfolded.

“As Madara-sama said, if any of you wish to challenge me for leadership, it is within your rights to do so, and I will meet that challenge head-on. However, I implore you to think of more than your own gain. This is a fragile time. We must appear united, especially with the Shimura arriving in the morning. Even if it is temporary, please allow me to lead the Uchiha for the time being.”

“I second Hikaku’s words,” Mikitoro interrupted before any in the muttering crowd could argue. “The elders stand fully behind him.”

At her side, Rikku nodded. “There are none among you I would choose over him.”

Hesitantly, one of the Uchiha spoke up. “All right, Hikaku…sama,” she said, sounding as if she were trying out the new honorific and found it weird. People around her began nodding in agreement.

Hikaku breathed a small sigh of relief. “Everyone in the clan must be made aware of this,” he called. “Please spread the news as calmly as you’re able.”

Slowly, the Uchiha began to trickle out of the building, still muttering to each other. Hikaku dragged a hand over his face and breathed in raggedly. He still didn’t know what was wrong with Madara- but he knew now it must have been grave if he doubted his own ability to lead so much he resigned.

He hoped Hashirama could help fix this. Otherwise, the Uchiha were going to lose their strongest shinobi in generations- possibly for forever.


 

Madara retreated to the clearing he’d left his kage bunshin at work in with his gunbai, the rest of his clothes, and the small potted plant he’d knocked from his windowsill that he’d remembered some time the day before was a gift from Hashirama.

He only wanted to leave nothing personal of the sort in that compound, he told himself, then almost snorted at the pathetic lie he told himself.

He dispelled his bunshin, which had finished constructing a small dwelling made from dark woods that blended in well. They’d used up most of his personal money to buy supplies, but now that he was out of the village itself, he could do fine living off the land.

He breathed out a sigh when the front door was locked behind him. It wasn’t as if it could stop a shinobi, but the state of being away was a relief.

He leaned his gunbai against the wall in the front room and stepped through the doorway in the back to the kitchen.

There weren’t many windows, but he’d left one by the table to place the plant. Grimacing, he fetched a cup to water the damned thing so it wouldn’t die, leaving it halfway full in the sill, and went back to the front room and up the stairs. There was only one room there, lit only by a small window in the ceiling that cast a rectangle of light in the center of the floor and a window that faced the densely populated forest that did little more than give him an escape route.

His body complained at him as he set his clothes down on the dresser. There was an ache in his back that had been developing ever since he arrived in the time period, and the rest of him simply felt hungover. He dropped thankfully onto the bed in the corner and bit back a groan.

Welcoming the Shimura would take several hours at minimum. They would probably expect a celebration with the entirety of their clan that would last into the night.

It would look rude for any leaders to leave, so at least Hikaku or Hashirama wouldn’t be badgering him for some time yet.

Madara let his eyes fall shut and surrendered to sleep.


 

Hikaku straightened out the formal mantle he wore with a slight grimace. There were black tassels on the collar that matched the one on his obi, and they were grating on his nerves every time he moved.

“Are you all right, Hikaku-sama?” one of the Uchiha to his right whispered. It was still a bit odd calling him their leader, but they were adjusting.

“I’m fine.” Truthfully, Hikaku had no idea what he was feeling. The surrealism from the night before still hadn’t worn off.

It didn’t feel overly strange to lead his clansmen in a task- but in the back of his mind, he was thinking of waking up the next day with the responsibility for the whole clan’s safety riding on his back. That was more responsibility than he’d ever taken on.

If there was one thing he was good at, however, it was compartmentalizing. He had to be composed for any official business and couldn’t let his doubts show.

What if Madara never came back? What if this was the rest of Hikaku’s life?

Was he ready for this?

He kept his gaze straight ahead instead of on the ground where he would rather be looking as thoughts whirled about in his head. The village gates were coming into view- the outer wall wasn’t yet constructed, but an entry and welcoming point was required regardless.

A small group of Senju was already there, dressed in the same white and mint-colored garb as they’d been during the Uchiha and Senju’s peace talk, creating an almost amusing contrast to the Uchiha’s dark blacks, greys and blues.

Hikaku had felt the same amusement at that meeting as he watched Madara and Hashirama shake hands. No one else had seemed to notice, but he’d seen a small smile on his leader’s face, partially hidden by his bangs, and he’d been relieved that they could all finally find some happiness and hopefully safety.

He wondered, again, if Madara’s change was truly so sudden or if it had been a long time coming.

Hashirama stood in the center of the road smoothing out and fretting over his clothes while his brother stood beside him rolling his eyes. Hikaku thought, sometimes, it was a little funny, the picture they made when they stood together. Izuna had looked a bit like a slightly shorter copy of Madara with a different hairstyle, so their enemies had usually kept their gaze on the elder brother, whereas Tobirama had a more piercing gaze than his brother but couldn’t seem to crack a smile in the same way. People were often confused who to look at before learning who was the eldest.

Hearing the Uchiha’s approach, the Senju began to look away from the gate and the road through the forest that led out, turning their eyes towards the other clan.

Hashirama turned to face them, a hopeful and anticipating look on his face, and Hikaku felt a pang when he realized the disappointment he was about to cause. It wasn’t as if he thought Hashirama a child who couldn’t handle it, but, simply put, no one really liked disappointing Hashirama. The man was like an overeager dog; he tried to make sure everyone was comfortable and pleased, willing to work together, even those who disliked him.

The man’s brow creased in clear confusion when he saw Hikaku leading at the front.

Beside him, Tobirama looked at them with a frown. Hikaku recognized the calculating element to his expression in contrast to the worried one in his brother’s.

“Hashirama-san,” Hikaku greeted as he reached a spot a few feet away, on the second half of the road, and left his clanmates there as he moved to the middle himself. Now that he was a clan head himself, equal in standing to the man, he no longer needed the former level of respect he’d used, but it still felt odd. “Good morning.”

As he’d expected, Tobirama’s eyes narrowed a fraction; he missed nothing.

“Hikaku?” Hashirama said, sounding a bit flabbergasted. He glanced quickly behind Hikaku with his eyes as if Madara were going to pop out at random in a moment. “Erm…where’s Madara?”

“Madara-sama is…” Hikaku trailed off, unsure of how to explain.

Tobirama’s eyes narrowed further. Hashirama’s frown deepened with concern.

“Did something happen to him?” he prompted.

“No,” Hikaku replied quickly, not wanting to send him into a miniature panic right before a clan arrived. “No, he’s fi…well, he’s physically safe,” he corrected himself with a mental wince. “However, he’s no longer leading the clan. I’m standing in for him.”

What?” Hashirama gaped at him without even trying to hide his incredulity and bewilderment. “Why?”

Hikaku glanced at the road, where he could see a large amount of people walking towards the gates. “I can explain in more detail later. We need to stow any problems right now.”

“But-”

“Brother,” Tobirama muttered quietly at his side, making the Senju leader stop and frown again. He glanced at the approaching Shimura.

Hashirama sighed. He straightened up and put on a smile again, but it was noticeably dimmer. “All right,” he relented, straightening his kimono once more. “After the welcoming dinner.”

Hikaku nodded silently and said nothing else, putting on a pleasant expression and waiting for the clan to reach the gates.

The Shimura didn’t look too overly weary, or as if many had sustained injuries getting there- the region around Konoha had been devoid of conflict for a fortunate amount of time since the Senju and Uchiha had united and started to gather clans to themselves. A man strode at the front, obviously the clan head, wearing a plain yukata for travel.

Hikaku glanced at the man’s dark hair, shoulder-length and kept together with a leather tie, and the scar across his nose. Shimura Daishin, he surmised, who didn’t quite have the level of infamy Hashirama or Madara did but was well-known for his own strength on the battlefield.

“Shimura-san,” Hashirama greeted with a smile, stepping forward to offer his hand to shake. He still seemed unnerved at Madara’s absence.

“Senju Hashirama,” Daishin returned with a quiet wariness about him, eyeing Hashirama as he shook his hand. After, he turned to Hikaku with a raised eyebrow, exuding a quiet expectation. “And where is the legendary Uchiha Madara himself?”

Hikaku grimaced inwardly before putting on a small, polite smile. “Madara no longer leads the clan,” he said, dropping the honorific to avoid looking weak. “I’m Uchiha Hikaku, clan head.”

Daishin’s eyebrow climbed higher. Hikaku may have been a bit insulted that the man was doubting him, but he didn’t let it get to him.

“I see. Well then, shall we get this underway?”

“Of course!” Hashirama exclaimed, eager to move away from the topic of Madara and get all this over with. He gestured towards the village with one hand and started to lead the way. “I’m sure the journey was tiring. We’ve a meal prepared for your clan members…”

Hikaku reminded himself to walk on Daishin’s other side, not behind them as he would have before.


 

As he’d thought it would, settling the Shimura in took longer than Hashirama would have liked.

He had to reassure Daishin (without looking like he was trying to reassure him) that the Shimura would be treated just as fairly as the Nara and the other clans that were currently migrating to Konoha would be, and he had to politely navigate the man’s demands and figure out where to compromise.

Having both Hikaku and Tobirama there, however, lent him so much help on the finer points of negotiation. Hashirama could acknowledge he was too giving sometimes. He just wanted so badly for his and Madara’s dream to flourish and last long after they’d died.

Speaking of Madara, he was even more concerned than he had been the last few days now. It felt like his head was going to fall off at any moment due to the sheer amount of anxiety that was giving him a mild headache.

What could have possibly happened that would have caused Madara to resign? The Uchiha clan meant everything to his friend. He’d transitioned into the role of clan head from his youth so seamlessly that the first attack the Uchiha suffered from a clan who thought they’d be weak during the change of leadership was utterly crushed. Madara knew resigning would lead some to think he was showing weakness, and he would never do that.

And now he couldn’t find him. Again.

Hashirama had been walking around the village for twenty minutes searching for the man’s chakra signature. He was starting to become a bit incensed. If Madara would only talk to him- but talking about his feelings had never been one of Madara’s strong points.

Frustrated, he activated his sennin mode. His senses broadened, and he found Madara’s chakra in the forest outside the village, quiet and lowered as if he were asleep.

He took off into the trees like a bolt from a crossbow.

It didn’t take him long to reach a small house in the woods he almost would have missed if he wasn’t tracking his friend’s life force. He dropped down into the clearing in front of it and frowned, glancing at the river by the dwelling, the darkness of the trees on its other side, and the lack of windows on the second floor. What on earth?

Perplexed, he walked up to the door- figuring he should at least exercise basic courtesy and not barge in, save he upset Madara even further- and knocked.

No answer. He frowned and knocked again.

He stood there for at least a full minute. When nothing happened, he wondered if Madara was purposefully ignoring him, or if he hadn’t heard.

Determined, he started knocking again. He was going to talk to Madara and figure out what was the matter, or at least figure out why he’d moved himself out away from the village like a hermit.

Why can’t you see how worried I am about you?


 

Madara groaned as he awoke to the sound of banging downstairs. His head felt foggy and his earlier tiredness didn’t seem to have gotten any better; maybe even worse. He sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and grimaced at the entry to the staircase.

A quick check of his senses told him that Hashirama had found him. Of course he had, Madara had been expecting it, he just didn’t want to deal with it.

Damn it, Hashirama, he thought bitterly, pushing himself out of bed and straightening out his clothes as he went downstairs. Trying to fix his hair proved futile when it just seemed to grow more tangled.

He finally reached the door- the bastard was still knocking- and threw it open with a scowl. Hashirama jerked to a stop, surprise flashing across his face, and smiled sheepishly. “What the hell do you want?” Madara growled, and pushed away the guilt he felt when Hashirama’s expression fell.

“Um-” Hashirama tried for a smile again, looking apologetic. “I came to see you. I thought that was obvious.”

“Why?”

“Why- what do you mean why?” Flabbergasted, Hashirama alternated between staring at him and glancing behind him into the darkness of his house. The front room at least had an acceptable level of light, but it was still dim. “Madara, you resigned from being clan head and moved out into the forest! I’m worried!”

“Don’t be,” Madara said, wanting to get this conversation over with and go back to his solitary. He waved one hand dismissively. “I’m fine. You should go back to the village.”

He went to close the door, but Hashirama placed a palm to the wood quickly enough to make him jump. His face took on a sterner look. “Madara, you can’t honestly expect me to just ignore it when you’re acting like this.”

“Acting like what?” Madara asked, annoyed, being ignorant on purpose. Judging by the expression on Hashirama’s face, he was more indignant by his glare than cowed.

“Acting like what! Just a few days ago you were smiling and laughing,” Hashirama insisted. Madara couldn’t stop a small cringe from escaping, and he knew Hashirama noticed. It was as if he couldn’t hide a single little detail around him. “Now you’re closed off, angry, unhappy- you gave up being clan head. Now you isolate yourself out here after we tried as we did to build all of this? Now you want me to just, leave you here and not bother you?”

“That would be preferable, yes,” Madara replied testily, ignoring the way his stomach churned. The longer he stood there dancing around this subject with Hashirama, the more he wanted to spill his guts.

“Madara, please talk to me.” The disgruntlement left the Senju’s face as he stared at him, imploring, with worried brown eyes that pleaded with him to let him help. “You’re my friend. I care about you.”

The churning got worse. Madara stared into the man’s eyes and felt all his guilt and despair crush him, thinking of when those eyes had gone cold for him, of the absolution they’d held in what should have been his final moments. In that moment he wanted nothing more than to fall at the man’s feet and blurt out the whole story and beg for his forgiveness, beg to be his friend again and nothing more- not a villain or a man looking to take over the world or a monster.

And for a moment, he felt indecision; he was almost convinced by Hashirama’s eyes and the way he was almost reaching out to touch his shoulder and the distress on his face for Madara.

But he ripped himself out of it and jerked back with a scoff, mocking that pitiful part of himself. “Just leave, Senju,” he snapped, Sharingan flaring to life in his eyes. “Don’t bother me again.”

He slammed the door on Hashirama’s heartbroken face and turned around, leaning his back against it. He took a shuddering breath and fumbled to lock it.

“Madara?” Hashirama’s shaking voice called through the door, making his chest tighten. “Madara, please open the door.”

Don’t open the door.

Slowly, he let himself sink to the floor, legs feeling too weak to keep him upright. Don’t you dare open that door, he told himself, trying to ignore the warm feeling starting to gather in his eyes.

Hashirama called through the wood again. He’d descended to begging now, and his voice cracked like it had the time he almost thought Madara drowned in the river when they were kids. “Madara. Please.”

He closed his eyes and covered his mouth with one hand, not trusting himself not to say anything.

“Madara.”

He remembered the time they’d stood on the mountain and Hashirama had smiled at him, telling him he knew that Madara would make a great Hokage. That he believed in him.

Please.

Against his will, tears began to slip down his cheeks. Madara cursed them, cursed his weakness, cursed Hashirama for doing this to him. It would have been so much easier if he’d been sent back to when he was in a dark hole all by himself.

Dead silence. He sat there, breath coming uneven, waiting until he finally felt Hashirama’s chakra begin to slowly leave.

He waited until the man was too far away to sense without straining and uncovered his mouth, dragging in labored breaths around a sob he couldn’t stop. He cried for the first time since he’d been stuck in a cave, clinging to a tree for life. Maybe since the first time he’d left Konoha. Maybe since Izuna had died.

He fisted his hands in his tangled hair and wept into his knees, desperate to hide it and his weakness. This had all only happened because he was weak; because he was too cowardly to just disappear like the ghost he was, or to just finish it like he knew he deserved. He thought of Hashirama’s devastated face, filled with hurt but no anger, with no trace of the smile he should have been wearing.

“Hashirama,” he choked out, stuttering over the syllables. It was the first time he’d said the man’s name and meant it like he was talking honestly, like he was speaking in a way other than just to look normal for appearance’s sake. Like he was actually talking to Hashirama. “I’m sorry.”


 

Hashirama made his way back to the village at a slow pace. He wanted to wait to go home until Tobirama was asleep, so he wouldn’t look at him and frown at the dejected air about him that was different from his moods and ask him what had happened.

What did I do? he thought morosely, kicking a stick out of his path. Why did his friend suddenly treat him as if he was a burden and an irritation?

He’d never been one to shy away from his emotions. He thought that was the one greatest crime of the shinobi world- the insistence that shinobi not feel. Hashirama had always let himself feel his emotions in full intensity, even if he had to hide it; he never wanted to become an unfeeling soldier who didn’t care for others. He let himself shed a few tears as he wandered through the woods in the direction of the Senju compound.

He thought of the way Madara had looked at him just before something seemed to snap and he shoved that door shut. He’d looked stricken- with grief, with guilt, with anguish. Like he’d wanted to just spill whatever was wrong at Hashirama’s feet and let him in but was too ashamed.

The Uchiha had always covered his emotions with a mask of indifference. If he couldn’t do that, he just reacted with anger. Usually, it was to hide embarrassment or react to Hashirama’s dejected moods.

It was then he realized that, although Madara’s rejection hurt, doing what the man requested- leaving him be- was possibly the worst thing to do. His friend was trying to push him away. The shame Hashirama had seen was eating at him, keeping him from coming to Hashirama for help.

Even if he was in pain now, the pain Madara was in must have been infinitely worse for him to act like this. Hashirama couldn’t abandon him now.

He paused and straightened up. He wasn’t going to let years of friendship dissolve because of one snapped order made when Madara was upset. And his friend definitely was upset- and Hashirama was going to find out why, one way or another.

He looked up at the sky and looked for a familiar constellation. His gaze fell on the dove he searched for, and he smiled, even through his heavy-heartedness.

I’m going to help you, Madara, he promised himself, his friend and the sky. You aren’t getting rid of me that easily.


 

Madara was unable to stop himself from sitting on his floor for half an hour and bawling like a child. He felt pathetic- not to mention stupid- but his body gave out on him. He ended up slipping in and out of wakefulness, growing disoriented and irritated at himself, and eventually dragged himself back upstairs and into bed. He had no idea for how many hours he’d been asleep at that point, but he did know he was exhausted.

And then he was woken by knocking on his door.

Again.

Leaping out of bed and making himself dizzy, he took a moment to stand there and blink at the light that dimly lit the room before stumbling over to the stairs and going down to the first level. Rubbing his forehead, he traipsed over to the door and grabbed the handle, expecting a messenger or Uchiha clan member or something else inane sent by Hikaku.

He pulled the door open and squinted against the bright light outside. And then froze.

“Madara,” Hashirama greeted him with a blinding smile, wearing a casual short-sleeved yukata over beige pants. His usual training attire. He had a covered dish in hand and Madara couldn’t fathom what was happening right now. “Good morning!”

Madara’s brain struggled to catch up. “Wh…w- I told y-”

“Don’t worry about yesterday,” Hashirama told him, with the same damn infuriatingly forgiving smile. “Here, I brought this for you.”

He pushed the tray into Madara’s grasp without giving him the option to reject it. He stared at it in bewilderment. “What’s-?”

“Inarizushi,” Hashirama interrupted him once again. “You need to eat, you know.” He glanced at Madara’s ruffled appearance and the dark circles under his eyes with a disapproving frown. “Have you been drinking enough water?”

Madara couldn’t remember drinking anything in the last twenty-four hours. Considering the breakdown he’d had in this very spot the night before, he was feeling very dehydrated. Then his brain caught up with the conversation and he remembered that he’d told Hashirama to leave, and he had brought himself out here to avoid this very thing. “Hashirama-” he began with a glare.

“Make sure you eat,” Hashirama told him, eyes on the dish, and the quiet tone of his voice made Madara stop. “I’m going to train this morning. You’re welcome to come with me.”

“I- no.”

“All right.” Still not looking at him, Hashirama smiled, with sadness instead of his usual joy. He glanced up at him, and Madara froze at the look in his eyes, feeling guilt worm its way into his gut. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Then he was walking away, leaving Madara standing there with a tray of inarizushi in his hand and feeling more confused and conflicted than he had in maybe years.

Madara stared at the man’s back until he disappeared into the trees. Swallowing, he slammed the door shut and retreated into the kitchen, placing the tray on the counter and staring at it.

You can’t be friends with him. You can’t interact with him. You can’t be with him.

“Just let me be, Hashirama,” he whispered to no one, pushing the tray into his trash bin and sitting down at his kitchen table. He set his head in his hands and wondered, again, if disappearing was what he should have done.

Chapter Text

Madara wasn’t woken by knocking the next morning, but it was nonetheless irritating to find Hashirama standing at his door when he returned from where he’d been fishing down the river with three large fish strung over his shoulder.

The man turned and smiled once he saw Madara walking up the bank, though it didn’t look as happy as it would have a few weeks ago.

“Hashirama,” he muttered in greeting, knowing that flat-out ignoring the man would just result in those pitiful eyes being thrown his way. “What are you doing here?”

“Visiting you,” Hashirama explained with tempered cheer, watching Madara fumble a bit taking out his key. He eyed the bags under Madara’s eyes. “Did you sleep well?”

“I sleep fine,” Madara replied, a bit snippy, although it was a lie. He was so tired lately it seemed all he did was want to sleep, yet it never seemed to help and just made him ache if he slept too long, which in turn made him want to go back to bed. When he did sleep he didn’t dream; he was denied even such a shallow pleasant escape from reality. “What do you want?”

He opened his door- intending on maneuvering out of the conversation- but Hashirama’s hand landed on the crook of his elbow, feather light. Unthinkingly, he paused with one foot on the threshold.

“I just want to make sure you’re all right,” Hashirama told him, in the same soft tone of voice he’d used the day before.

“I’m fine,” Madara said, feeling himself become inexplicably irritated. Could Hashirama not take a hint? Then again, he’d always been stubborn- it would probably take several times to drill into his head that he didn’t need to be spending time with Madara. “You don’t need to come out here.”

Hashirama smiled. It wasn’t particularly happy, or depressed, but knowing. “Do I not?”

He said it in the tone of voice that implied Madara was lying to himself and they both knew the real answer, but he knew Madara was too far in denial to realize it and thus he was the only one in the know.

Madara’s expression shifted into a glare. It did nothing to remove the smile from the man’s face. “You really don’t. You should be doing more important things.”

When did you start thinking you aren’t important to me? Hashirama wanted to ask, but he held his tongue. It was too early to be able to get a straight answer down that route.

“Sometimes what’s important is the things you want to do,” he said instead, watching Madara’s eyes narrow as if he were annoyed. “My training ground isn’t too far from here. You’re welcome to come over anytime. Or visit me in the office.”

Madara let out a noncommittal noise and pulled away. He refused to look at the man, because he knew if he did, he would see Hashirama staring at him with that wretched, imploring look, and he wouldn’t be able to look away and he would give in.

Behind him, Hashirama sighed. It made Madara bristle, with anger at him, anger at himself, anger at his guilt.

“You don’t need to come around,” he repeated. “Goodbye, Senju.”

He shut the door in the man’s face again, ignoring the trickle of remorse that tried to wedge its way into his heart.


 

He was woken by knocking.

Madara shoved the multiple layers of blankets from his head- it wasn’t as if his house had any sort of heating- and squinted blearily at the sunlight trickling in through the window, trying to gage what time it was.

Sitting up, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and scowled when the knocking started again after a minute or two of silence. “Idiot,” he muttered to himself, looking around for his sandals but forgetting where he’d put them. With a groan, he decided that he didn’t care and got up to go get the door, tightening the sash on the plain grey yukata he’d worn to bed; he’d managed to remember to bathe in the river and change after the training he’d dragged himself to yesterday.

He opened the door and was greeted with Hashirama’s smiling face. “Good morning, Madara,” he said, cheerful, even though it looked to be nearly noon out.

His eyes raked Madara up and down and made him feel as if he were being examined under a microscope. He knew the Senju noticed his tousled hair and wan appearance and general state of disarray.

He mentally challenged the other man to say anything about it.

“I can’t imagine you have much variation out here-” I can’t imagine you’re eating much with how you look- “So I brought you some stir fry.”

Madara stared down at the dish held out to him. Has he developed a cooking obsession suddenly? “I don’t need-”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Hashirama told him, smiling as he reached out and took one of Madara’s hands. The Uchiha tried not to jump as it was placed on the dish and he was made to take it. His hand lingered there, over Madara’s, and he tried not to stare. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to go do something today? You should get some sunshine-”

“Hashirama.” The man paused and stared at him, and Madara swallowed, suddenly second-guessing. “Just…stop coming. You don’t need to come-”

Even though I really want you to.

“Nonsense!” Hashirama interrupted him with a grin. “I want to. Anyway, I’m going to the south side of the village to see how it’s coming along. If you want to-?”

“No. No, I.” Madara stopped and cleared his throat. Realizing the man’s hand was still over his, he pulled back- unwittingly taking the tray with him- and shook his head. “I have…things…to do.”

“Right.” Hashirama smiled at him as if he believed him. “Well, see you around. I’ll be back in the morning.”

Twitching, Madara glared at him as if to say you’d better not be, but the Senju ignored him, jogging away and throwing a smile and a wave over his shoulder.

You’d better stop coming around, he thought sullenly, glancing down at the dish in his hand and twitching again. He hated how that man could just bulldoze over him with pep and a smile and end up getting what he wanted. Which in this case was forcing food on him. A petty grievance if a grievance at all to anyone else, but he felt offended. Asshole.


 

Except Hashirama didn’t stop coming.

“No, Hashirama.”

He was there the next morning.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come to the banquet? I’d love to have you there beside me.”

And the day after.

“I’m busy.”

And the day after that.

“You founded this village with me. Surely taking a stroll through it would be nice?”

No matter what Madara said or did, he just wouldn’t stop coming around.

And he wanted to tear his hair out, because it made everything so much more difficult. He could handle it if Hashirama would just let him be, let him sit out in the woods in isolation, because then he didn’t have to deal with seeing Hashirama every day and having what he was trying to separate himself from be dangled in front of him like a cruel lure.

Maybe he deserved it, he thought, but the universe was a sadist.

Because every time it became more difficult to say no. All he wanted was to step into the man’s life and soak up his presence, even if it he would leave Madara eventually, even if he would be left by the wayside at some point. It was pathetic, but some part of him, stuffed down under layers of self-loathing and anger, started looking forward to the visits, craving even just a few minutes of hearing Hashirama’s voice. He tried to ignore how he wanted to be around the Senju idiot and how dull, how dark, how empty the rest of his time was starting to feel when all he could do was sit in his front room and stare at the wall.

He just wanted his friend back.

It whittled him down, eating away at his resolve and stubbornness until he just felt pathetic.

Until one day, he simply gave in, too exhausted to say no.

Hashirama grinned down at him, infuriating in his consistency, and Madara didn’t even listen to what he’d said this time, too tired and distracted and at the end of his rope; the man’s words were starting to blur together, honestly.

“Ugh.” He dragged a hand down his face. “Fine.”

Barely even registering he’d said it, he rubbed one temple with his fingers, wishing he was a medic himself to use chakra to alleviate the ache behind his eyes from the sudden barrage of sunlight in the mornings.

Hashirama froze. Then, a blinding smile overtook his face and his hands darted forward like irritating little snakes. He seized Madara’s shoulders and pulled him out of his house, making him stumble in surprise, rambling at a mile a minute. “Great! I’m so glad you said yes finally! There’s this amazing new restaurant near the Hokage Tower that makes this delicious ramen- Ichiraku’s, I think it’s called- and-”

Madara nearly tripped before adjusting his pace so he wouldn’t fall, startled. His brain almost didn’t even catch what he’d just agreed to. He would have backtracked and said no, but the arm Hashirama had wrapped around him and the other that had ahold of his bicep as they walked and the man’s nonstop chattering made it hard to extricate himself or get a word in edgewise.

(He should have known better, really; Hashirama had finally found an opening and gone in for a strike.)


 

The worst part was, after that, it got harder and harder to say no.

Because the day after, when he weaseled out of going again, Hashirama’s eyes got progressively sadder and more pitiful the longer he stared at him that he eventually corralled Madara into saying yes. He wasn’t always successful- some days Madara had more resolve than others- but more and more, he managed to drag Madara out of his dark and depressing house in the woods and into doing something with him.

Even worse, it was partly Madara’s fault anyway. He was ashamed of it, but he’d followed the man like a lost dog and been attached to his energy, so bright and warm and comforting to a sensor nin like himself. In his first life he would have done the same, but mustered some irritation for show and not let him get too close. He couldn’t really manage the same effect now.

He let Hashirama wander into his personal space and didn’t make him leave. Sometimes, he caught himself moving closer subconsciously and had to make himself stop. He didn’t move away when the man touched him, even if his body went tense at times, and he made no effort to curtail the constant babbling anymore.

He felt pathetic. He felt unsettled. He felt better.

He knew he shouldn’t be doing it; he knew he was unraveling what he’d been trying to do by separating himself from the village, yet he couldn’t find it in himself to stop.


 

“I saw you and Madara at the market district the other day,” Tobirama started the conversation, keeping one eye on the paper in his hand and one on his brother, who sat hunched over his desk frowning at a missive.

Hashirama glanced up and smiled. It was dimmed from his usual smile, but it wasn’t quite as depressed as it had been lately. “I finally got him to come out of his house,” he said, sounding a mixture of pride, tired effort, and concern. “He’s…a little bit better lately.”

Tobirama carefully set his paper down and looked at his brother over the rim of his reading glasses. He didn’t have any sort of visual impairment, but the hospital recommended wearing the new magnifiers that had come out on the market to avoid eye strain. “He seemed rather…” He trailed off, unsure of how to describe the former Uchiha leader’s behavior. When he’d seen Madara in public for what felt like the first time in forever, it had been startling, in a way. The man looked like a ghost. Even Tobirama, who generally clashed with the man and his behavior, had tried to be a little less argumentative when he happened to run into him. (And that had been…an experience, because the Uchiha barely even looked at him and just muttered an excuse to leave.) No use kicking someone who was down. The man looked so goddamned tired that it seemed as if he was going to fall over at the slightest provocation, and Tobirama didn’t want to give Hashirama an early heart attack. “…clingy.” He could find no other word to describe how closely Madara had stuck to his brother.

A slight frown tugged at Hashirama’s lips. “Yes, well,” he began, then started chewing on the inside of his mouth and sat back in his chair. “He’s…”

The analytical part of Tobirama’s mind told him that his brother most likely wasn’t fully aware- in the way that mattered- that he was, in the literal sense, the only connection Madara actually…had right now.

“I’m not surprised,” he said, going back to his paper but still eyeing his brother. “He doesn’t have many friends.”

Hashirama’s frown deepened. “He doesn’t spend much time with his clan members, does he?”

“He doesn’t spend any time with his clan members anymore,” Tobirama corrected. Hashirama turned to stare at his desk with a thoughtful aspect to his frowning. He’d known that, of course, but hearing it aloud was just a cause for more concern. The younger sighed. “Brother…you can’t tell me you’re surprised.”

Hashirama tensed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Tobirama said, pausing the tap his pen against the desk, “that we’ve been dancing around what we know to be true for several days. How he acts with you is how a drowning man acts holding onto his only lifeline. His demeanor, his behavior- we’ve seen it before, if you can remember.” He glanced out the window to where he could see people milling about in the street below, sighing again. “Everyone has. Shinobi simply do not speak of it. We endure and move on.”

The office was silent for a few moments. “Well,” Hashirama muttered, sounding quiet and dissatisfied and loud, “it shouldn’t be that way.”

Tobirama raised an eyebrow when he stood up. “Where are you off to?”

“Visiting the Yamanaka,” Hashirama replied, making the eyebrow climb higher. Tobirama’s mind put two and two together easily enough. He nodded in approval at the idea.

Hashirama went for the door and paused halfway over the threshold. “By the way,” he said, leaning back inside with a wheedling grin. “If you…happen to…get finished early…” Tobirama leveled an unimpressed stare at him. “Maybe…do a little bit of my stack? Just a little?”

Tobirama’s stare was unending.

“Maybe,” Hashirama repeated, losing courage in the face of his brother’s judgmental expression. “I mean, if you have time.”

Tobirama raised one eyebrow.

“I’m leaving now,” Hashirama blurted out, then practically fled from the room.

Tobirama snorted to himself and shook his head. “Tch,” he muttered, forming a hand sign and bringing three clones into existence around him. Each one grabbed a stack of paper and looked for a pen. “Idiot.”


 

“What brings you by, Hashirama-sama?”

Somehow, Inoue’s pristine perfection, in everything from how not a single hair was out of place in her ponytail to how impeccable her desk was to how clean her office was to how perfect her teeth were was intimidating. Hashirama was loathe to even sit down; he felt like he would put something out of place and irritate her and she would just smile at him while secretly thinking he was an idiot.

“Please, sit,” she said, gesturing to the chairs in front of her desk.

Hashirama smiled nervously and sat down. “Thank you, Inoue-san,” he said, trying not to adjust his position too many times. Tobirama was always chastising him about that, especially during meetings. “I came by to discuss an initiative I’d like your clan to handle, actually.”

Her eyes lit up- just slightly- with the light of potential responsibility in the village. “An initiative?” she asked politely, sounding just interested enough and not too much so.

“Yes! Well, you’re, ah, familiar, with…how do I say…you know when shinobi…” Hashirama waved his hands about, another thing Tobirama chastised him for, unsure of how to go on. “You know when shinobi…get…sad?”

Inoue’s eyebrows shot up. He cringed at his horrible wording. “I mean- of course everyone gets sad! I mean…I mean the deeper kind, or maybe sad’s not the right word-”

She folded her hands together and leaned on her desk, watching him with an unreadable look, looking for all intents and purposes like the confident clan leader she was even if she’d only been clan head for six months. “Are you referring to when shinobi experience trauma, Hashirama-sama?”

Trauma. The word made his mouth go stale. Part of him was afraid of connecting that word to his best friend. “Yes. When…when someone is just depressed, and doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”

Something knowing entered her eyes. He tried not to focus on the fact that she probably knew what- or, who, to be precise- he was talking about.

“I know that we’ve learned that shinobi are meant to- to endure, and it’s a weakness to talk about such things,” Hashirama began, desperate to explain adequately and get her to agree. “But I just don’t think it should be that way.”

Her eyebrows lifted again, with a different type of interest, one like a cat on its way to being satisfied. “I quite agree, Hashirama-sama. Did you know that the Yamanaka’s shinobi experienced a fifty-three percent increase in efficiency when we implemented standards to deal with our experiences on the battlefield in a medical context?”

“Medical context?”

“The Yamanaka have studied the mind for decades. We’ve found that experiences in the real world can affect it, like any other organ or muscle, and injure it as well. We’ve trained ourselves to deal with it; simply talking about our emotions can be helpful for many. Talk therapy, is what I refer to. Some medicines can be helpful to treat the brain after a traumatic experience.”

The part of him that healed wounds and sickness felt inherently interested. “Do you think you could do this for the whole village?”

The look in her eye wasn’t quite a sparkle, but the gleam was definitely intrigued. “What did you have in mind?”

“I want to set off a division of the hospital for this. I know some might find it scornful, at first, but-”

“I assure you that mental health is one of the utmost important aspects to making sure your shinobi last for long, worthwhile careers, sir,” she said, her smile made of steel. “I will handle everything. I assume I’ll be able to coordinate with Nara-san along with the superintendent for medicinal supplies and working out space in the hospital?”

“Of course! If you need any help, my brother and I will give you whatever we can.”

Somehow he got the feeling she’d already been planning for this, because she didn’t seem particularly daunted by the request in the least.

“By the way,” he began hesitantly, his eyes trailing on the tabletop. Tobirama was always telling him to make eye contact. “I have this…friend, who is…not doing well. What-” He looked up at her again; she stared back with a silent and knowing gaze. “What do can I do for him?”

Something in the woman’s gaze softened, just slightly, and she placed a hand lightly over his. “The only thing you can do is be there for him, Hashirama-sama. You can’t fix him. You can’t make the problem go away on your own. And, I won’t be dishonest with you, it’s not easy being around people who are struggling- if you find yourself being adversely affected, it wouldn’t be wrong of you to set boundaries. But if you can, spend time with him. Make sure he knows he has a support. And make sure he knows that when this division is set up, we’ll be there to help.”


 

Hashirama didn’t show up that morning. That’s how Madara knew it was the day.

The day when he would truly start to lose his friend. (His only friend.)

He’d been deluding himself, really- maybe not consciously. He’d just let himself have a small taste of what it could be like. A tiny bit of light to hold onto. He’d indulged, just a little, but he knew he had to pull back again now.

“I’m sorry I missed you this morning,” Hashirama told him, smiling, standing there in the evening dusk, while Madara kept the door partially closed. “They, ah…they held the vote today.” His smile dimmed just a little as he watched for Madara’s reaction. “They made me Hokage.”

“I know,” Madara told him. He wasn’t disappointed, nor was he jealous. Maybe he’d felt that way the first time- he couldn’t quite remember right now. A congratulations burned on his tongue but he couldn’t get it out.

Seeing he wasn’t about to go on, Hashirama cleared his throat and smiled again, something like a plea in his eyes. “They’re having a celebration ceremony tomorrow night. I’d…I’d really like to see you there. If you can?”

An answer lodged in Madara’s throat. Did Hashirama really want him there? Or was he just asking as an obligation? It was a celebration for a reason. His presence would darken everything around him. “…maybe,” he murmured, averting his eyes. He shut the door an inch. “Goodnight.”

“I-” Hashirama raised a hand, maybe to argue, maybe to beg, but the door closed between them before he could get it out. Madara couldn’t look at him anymore. He just needed to be alone.


 

Despite it all, he was still weak.


 

He went to the celebration. Across the whole village, lanterns were strung up, lighting the way for those wandering about in kimonos and yukatas decorated for special occasions. Hashirama gave a speech in the afternoon- a very good speech, probably edited by his brother, he almost started crying at one point- and the smell of roasted fish hung on the air.

Madara stayed in the shadows where he belonged, watching Hashirama from just far enough away he wouldn’t be noticed; watching the way he smiled and laughed and shook hands with the other clan heads and elders. He radiated joy and familiarity. Madara wanted nothing more than to be near, but he knew then the smiles and pleasant looks would take an unpleasant quality when they saw him by the Hokage.

No, Hashirama deserved the most happiness he could get today.

Slinking further into the alley he was in, he turned away from the festivities and didn’t bother to try and hide his bitterness. No one was watching.


 

Hashirama looked for Madara all night. Even during his speech, he scanned the crowd for that familiar face staring up at him with a tiny but proud smile; he looked for him during the feast afterwards, while he shook clan leaders’ hands, while he ambled about being congratulated and clapped on the back.

They were all so happy for him- so proud- and it made him feel horrible, but none of it felt complete without Madara there.

Some part of him wondered if his friend just didn’t care. He knew that maybe Madara felt hurt that he hadn’t been elected- but wasn’t he even a little bit proud of Hashirama? Hadn’t he wanted to come? Didn’t he know that Hashirama wanted him there more than anything?

When no one was looking, he let his shoulders sag and drug his feet as he walked. He’d thought he was making progress, that he was at least getting Madara to reconnect, even if just a little bit, but now he felt as if he’d gained five feet and slid back ten.

Did he want to come? Did he feel like he couldn’t?

Was it the crowd? Was it too overwhelming? Did he feel like a stranger?

Konoha was supposed to be their home.

Hashirama stepped into the newly minted Hokage’s office and bit his lip, watching shinobi- his shinobi- walk around on the streets below.

Tobirama had recommended that they implement a ranking system- chuunin, for the mass of them, and he’d already compiled a long list of those who were strong enough to be jounin. A lower rank, genin, so no chuunin would become dissatisfied and think they had a worthless rank, and so children would have a stepping stone to adulthood. All the clan heads would have to be jounin, so no arguments would break out.

He thought of the headband in his desk drawer, black instead of navy blue like most of them, and wondered if Madara would accept it.

Sighing, he turned away from the window and paused when he finally noticed the paper that sat folded in the middle of his desk. Feeling silly for not noticing it, he picked it up and flipped it open, heart skipping at the familiar scrawl in the center of the paper.

Congratulations

“You were here,” he whispered, trying not to tear up. Here he’d thought Madara hadn’t even bothered to come, but he had. Even if he didn’t feel able to say it directly- he’d still given his congratulations, in his own way.

He cared.


 

Madara didn’t care anymore.

About what he did, to be precise. He didn’t care whether he ever saw the light of day again or stayed cooped up in this room for the whole of his life. All that mattered was the future was set in stone, now, that Hashirama was Hokage, now, and that he had his village, now.

As for Madara? There was no room for him, and seeing Hashirama among everyone else- happy, content- told him all he needed to know. He couldn’t let his presence dampen any of Hashirama’s happiness. He’d done that enough the first time, hadn’t he?

That was what he cared about. Maybe that was the point of him being sent back. To disappear and die in a way that wouldn’t leave Hashirama traumatized from killing his own best friend.

Hashirama was the only thing that mattered at this point, he thought. As long as the Shodaime was set along his path towards the rest of history, nothing he did- quite literally- mattered.

It didn’t even matter whether he lived or died.

And maybe, that would be better. To die now and save Hashirama the trouble of Madara taking up his attention when the village needed it more.

Some part of him still cared about the blasted thing. He would deny that to his dying day.

Which, was he’d just been thinking, shouldn’t that be now?

Maybe some of this was the alcohol talking.

Madara huffed and set the empty bottle of sake in his hand down. He hadn’t had much trouble finding some in the festivities; they were being handed out like party favors, and he’d just grabbed a random amount and absconded like a criminal back to his home. He rolled the bottle across the floor and it ran into the rest of the pile that sat in the shadows of his front room.

What does it even matter anymore? He’s happy.

Morosely, he glanced up at the window and out at the leaves lining the trees outside. They blurred together, becoming one shifting mass of green that made him feel sick to look at.

There came a rapid knocking at his door. Confused, he sat there for a moment, convinced it had been a hallucination, but then it came again, not panicked but none too quiet either.

He stayed as he got up. The alcohol in his system made everything seem fuzzy and slightly out of alignment. He plotted a few careful steps over to the door, dimly hoping it wasn’t Hashirama on the other side (ignoring the tiny part of him that hoped it was) and yanked it open.

He paused when he saw who stood outside.

A chill went through him.

“…perfect.”


 

Tobirama knew this was most likely a very bad idea, but he was doing it anyway. Even Uchiha Madara needed to know there were consequences to his actions. The types of consequences that ended up in his brother moping around for the whole evening, practically heartbroken that his supposed best friend hadn’t been there for one of the most important events of his life.

He recounted to himself, as he followed the Uchiha’s oddly fluctuating chakra signature, what he was and wasn’t going to do. He was going to drill it into Madara’s head that Hashirama actually cared for him and his opinion. He wasn’t going to start a useless fight. He was going to tell Madara in no uncertain terms what he should have been doing; he wasn’t going to be overly antagonistic. He may not have liked the man much, and wanted to yell at him or possibly scorch him with boiling water, but this was about his brother, not Tobirama. Madara was a difficult man; he would see this as a challenge and an argument. (And, certainly, it was probably going to go that direction, but he needed it to end in Madara going to congratulate Hashirama, not with them both in the hospital.) Surely that man could scrape up an ounce of kindness for his brother tonight.

Tobirama didn’t want to talk to Madara, but this was for his brother. For him, he would do anything.

He finally found the house Hashirama had described to him and knocked quickly on the door. He could feel Madara’s chakra just on the other side, so unless he was unconscious- unlikely with how his chakra was shifting- he knew he heard.

Nothing happened, so he knocked again. The chakra moved- slowly- and came over to the door.

It swung open, and Tobirama opened his mouth, prepared to give the man a verbal dressing down.

He paused when he saw Madara’s blank stare. “…perfect,” the man muttered. Strangely enough, it wasn’t sarcastic or a mockery- what on earth did he mean?

“Excuse me?” Tobirama asked with a suspicious narrowing of his eyes.

Madara’s expression hardened with resolve. “Get in here,” he snapped, reaching out with lightning speed. Tobirama stumbled inside out of surprise, righting himself when the Uchiha released him and slammed the door shut. He tensed as Madara went into the other room- he assumed it was the kitchen.

Now this was getting weirder. He had no idea why the man would invite him into his house- or, rather, drag him in- instead of either slamming the door in his face or simply getting into a yelling match with him right off the bat.

And now that he looked around…was this really where he’d been living? There was nothing there but a table and the gunbai sitting against the wall. He could see into the kitchen, and there was hardly the space to keep any food in.

Madara abruptly found what he was looking for and emerged. The shing of metal being unsheathed made Tobirama go tense, falling into a defensive stance, as Madara stared at him with a sword in hand. “Uchiha-” he began, narrowing his eyes further, wondering if Madara seriously intended to try and kill him here.

“Here,” Madara said, holding the handle out to him. Tobirama, perturbed, stared at it. Madara frowned. “Take it, you oaf.”

Thinking it was a trap, Tobirama turned his narrow-eyed stare to Madara. “Why?”

For some reason, this seemed to confuse him. He watched Madara readjust his stance. “Have you been drinking?” he demanded, glancing at the pile of empty bottles out of the corner of his eye.

“What on earth does it matter to you?” Madara asked him, sounding so genuinely befuddled he was almost sidetracked.

“You weren’t at the inauguration ceremony.”

“Oh, please.” A sneer settled on Madara’s lips. Tobirama frowned, not understanding. “As if anyone wanted me there.”

Tobirama decided to ignore how true or false that statement was. “My brother did,” he pointed out.

Something pained flitted across the Uchiha’s expression. “I know.”

If that wasn’t confusing. Tobirama relaxed only minutely, sure that, at the least, Madara wasn’t planning on murdering him, but kept his distance. “Why weren’t you there, then?”

Madara scoffed. “As if you don’t know,” he said, and his voice had gone quieter, eyes staring at the wall past his shoulder with an unfocused look. A foreboding feeling settled in Tobirama’s gut. Something was wrong with all this. “Hashirama…” He trailed off, staring, completely blank, then suddenly found his train of thought again, eyes shifting between being focused and unfocused. “He deserves to be happy.”

What?

“He couldn’t be,” Madara murmured, for once looking not antagonistic or jeering or arrogant, but poignantly miserable. “Not with me there. He should…he should’ve been able to go be happy without a shadow like me ruining anything.”

Tobirama felt uncomfortable, like he was witnessing something he shouldn’t have been. Even his anger had abated- who could stay angry at someone who looked so…dejected? He’d thought Madara had sluffed off the ceremony out of arrogance, or simply hadn’t cared enough to attend, but he apparently thought he would make Hashirama unhappy by being there.

“That’s all I do.” It was like Madara wasn’t even talking to him now, just staring at some point beyond him as if someone else was there. “Ruin everything I put my hands on. I can’t…I can’t do that, not to Hashirama.” And, by god, those were actual tears gathering in Madara’s eyes. Tobirama’s uncomfortableness had reached a peak, and he took a step back, sure something was about to happen that all of them would regret. This was so out of character- so strange- that he didn’t know how to respond. “Do it now. I couldn’t, you can.”

“What?” Tobirama felt dumb standing there staring as Madara pushed the blade towards him again. “What are you-”

“Don’t-” Madara paused to sway, spreading his feet further apart for balance and frowning. “I was…too cowardly. Every time I try…I just see your brother’s dumb face.” He bit out a harsh, watery laugh. “But you, you hate me, it should be easy enough for you, yeah, so just do it and put me out of my misery. What are you waiting for, you buffoon?”

A dawning sense of realization settled over him, followed by a deep-seated horror at what Madara was telling him to do. He can’t be serious. “Are you asking me to kill you?”

“Not asking,” Madara sneered at him, as if offended that Tobirama misunderstood his intent. “Telling. Well? Why aren’t you taking this?” He frowned once again, frustrated, and stepped closer. Tobirama moved away. “Why? You killed my brother easily enough!”

Something in Tobirama froze. Madara had never mentioned that before. If anything, he’d seemed as if he was trying to ignore it.

“Just treat it like that! I’ve done far more than he to make you hate me! You had no trouble cutting him down, so why should I be different? I should be easier!” Madara’s Sharingan was blazing at him through the dim light now, but he was obviously too intoxicated to use it. It wasn’t even his Mangekyo. “Don’t think I don’t know that you hate me! I know you-” He sneered, expression twisting into something ugly. “I know you hate me, that you’d rather see me dead with my eyes clawed out of my head than here in this village, that I don’t deserve to be here.”

Tobirama was flabbergasted. He knew he and Madara had never gotten along- that the man had caught his suspicious glares more than once- that they’d argued and avoided each other. But he didn’t hate the man enough that he’d rather him dead and deformed and his brother heartbroken. Where on earth had he gotten this idea?

A nagging, almost guilty concept occurred to him. He was the analytical mind in his family. He’d been taught to view all situations from a standpoint of logic instead of feelings. He’d examined Madara’s behavior to look for possible dangers. He knew that standard couldn’t apply to everyone but himself. Somewhere along the line, he must have acted in a way that made Madara think he hated him; even if he disliked the man and was wary of the things he could do, that was a dangerous result to cultivate with any sort of comrade if there was to be peace. At what point had he been derailed and gone from carefully watching him, ready to spot dangerous behavior where Hashirama may be blinded by affection, to sparking this…whatever this was?

“That’s why this’ll be easy,” Madara suddenly continued, voice barely above a whisper. His Sharingan spun almost lazily, but it didn’t look normal. “I’m too much of a coward to do it. But if…if you have any sort of pity, you’ll kill me. You know Hashirama should be focusing on this village instead of me. And you care for him, don’t you?” He stepped closer, cornering him in the room. “Killing me will keep him safe.”

The horror had turned into a cold dismay, so, so cold, that made his limbs feel like mush, because Madara wasn’t asking him to kill him in the heat of battle in a fight neither could control. He was asking Tobirama to kill him in cold blood in the middle of his living room, while he stood there, intoxicated, depressed, suicidal- (did this mean he’d tried before?)- the greatest betrayal to his elder brother he could think of. Killing a traitor to the village or an enemy on the battlefield was not killing someone who was, by all rights, his ally, despite whatever dislike they held for each other, someone who was Hashirama’s closest friend, someone Hashirama cared for like family.

Someone who stood in front of him, begging him to kill him. Someone who wasn’t in his right mind.

That blood would be on Tobirama’s hands until the day he died.

“Kill me to make sure I don’t hurt him,” Madara told him, and with the same speed that someone who’d downed that much alcohol shouldn’t have had, grasped Tobirama’s hand and made him take the blade.

“Uchiha.” Tobirama tightened his grip on the handle and tried to pull away. At least he had the sharp object in the room now and the man couldn’t hurt himself with it. “Calm down. I’m not going to kill you.” Regardless of how many times he’d wanted to throttle him, Tobirama wasn’t a monster.

“Why not?” Madara demanded, and he would have looked comically enraged if the subject matter wasn’t him being denied a swift death.

“Despite what you may think, I don’t hate you-”

“Don’t be inane!” He was upset, nearing hysterical, and Tobirama desperately wished his brother was there. He’d been the only one who’d ever been good at dealing with Madara.

“You are inebriated, unstable, and need to calm down-”

“What I need,” Madara snarled at him, “is to die.”

He still couldn’t lower the sword, because Madara had graduated to holding onto the blade itself, his grip tight enough that blood had begun to run down the metal from his shaking hands. Swearing to himself, Tobirama tried to slowly shift it out of his grip. He knew any sudden movements were likely to set the Uchiha off.

Something shifted in Madara’s face. Tobirama’s stomach flipped in warning. Madara’s expression filled with grim determination. Too late, Tobirama realized what he meant to do.

“Don’t-!”

Instead of pulling or using the sword on himself as he’d thought he was going to do, Madara lunged forward. Tobirama tried to avert the disaster in the split second before it happened. He was too slow, the death grip Madara had on the sword too tight. Blood went everywhere.

Chapter Text

Something was wrong.

Hashirama had been meandering back towards his home in the Senju compound- although “near” was a more accurate descriptor, considering they were all rather spread out and the large traditional home he shared with Tobirama was near the edge of the compound grounds, close enough to the village that a path led right down to the road- when he was forced to stop by the heavy feeling in his chest.

He knew the feeling well. He’d felt it when he was racing towards the river, desperate to tell Madara to run away, when his brothers had died, when he’d been in the middle of a battle with a clan from the north and felt his heart seize because he’d known that something was wrong with Tobirama (the then-sixteen-year-old had gone and tried an experimental jutsu that nearly got his head cleaved off).

But he hadn’t felt that way in a long time, so for a moment he tried to play it off as coincidence. The stress of the day, the worry about Madara.

He lasted for about ten seconds before his worrisome nature took over and he turned course, heading for- well, there was his problem.

Which one of them was in trouble?

He reached out with his senses and found, to his horror, he couldn’t find Tobirama’s chakra within the confines of the village. Automatically, he zeroed in on Madara’s- he may not have been as good a sensor as his brother, but no one could find Madara’s chakra as easily as he- and froze when he found his brother’s right beside it.

What on earth?

Why were they together? Had they gotten into a fight? Hashirama wasn’t naïve- he knew his brother and his best friend didn’t get along- but surely they wouldn’t actually hurt each other.

Madara’s chakra wavered. Then dipped.

Then it started dropping.

Fast.

Hashirama blanched and broke into a sprint. He tore through the village, hyper-focused on his friend’s chakra and hardly noticing his surroundings, his mind flying to every worst conclusion it could find.

He wasn’t even to the forest when he was forced to come to a stop, nearly skidding right into none other than Tobirama himself. He’d come flashing out of thin air and knelt on the ground ahead of him- and he wasn’t alone.

Hashirama froze and his heart fell to his feet when he saw what his brother was holding onto. One hand was wrapped around the hilt of a blade- a blade going through Madara’s gut- while the other clutched at the fabric of Madara’s yukata.

No part of him wanted to believe that Tobirama had done this on purpose- but he was only human, and a tiny, horrified piece of doubt wormed into his mind. “T-Tobirama, you didn’t-”

Red eyes glanced up at him and went wide when they saw the stricken expression on his face. “Anija,” he stammered, “I- I didn’t-”

Many would have been surprised to see Senju Tobirama himself stutter, but the flash of hurt on his brother’s face struck to his core. Hashirama doubted him, even if for just a split second, and he would have been hurt but for remembering that he was literally holding the sword running Madara through- what sane person wouldn’t have a moment of doubt?

“Hashirama, get over here,” he snapped, shaking himself out of his shock. “He’ll bleed to death!”

Hashirama broke out of his stupor and rushed over so quickly he wasn’t even a blur. He knelt at their side and reached for the sword, realizing then why Tobirama had such a death grip on it.

Madara himself was clinging to it with enough strength that his hands shook, trying to pull it farther into his abdomen.

“Don’t,” he gasped out when he saw Hashirama reaching for the weapon. He jerked violently away, dislodging the Hokage’s hands. “Just let me die!” he snarled.

Hashirama blanched. “Madara, no,” he said, almost begging, the situation making so much more sense. “No.”

The man hissed out an unintelligible mutter at him, still trying to pull away.

“Tobirama, stand back,” Hashirama ordered, visibly upset. He tried not to let the tears stinging his eyes distract him. How had he let his friend get this bad? He should have realized something was wrong the day before. He should have been there.

Tobirama glanced at his face, still pale as a sheet, only stumbling back onto his feet when two wood clones extended from his brother’s back. One of them grasped Madara’s wrists and pressed down on pressure points until he was forced to open his hands, and the other pulled the blade free, much to the man’s chagrin. He writhed in Hashirama’s grip as healing energy was funneled into his wound, growling out swears and disparagements; one of the clones ended up being struck in the nose hard enough it looked disfigured, but it just let him sling punches and took it without complaint.

Feeling useless, Tobirama watched Madara start to slow and eventually stop moving altogether, heaving out ragged breaths as Hashirama kept one arm wrapped securely around him and the other over his now almost-closed injury. “Madara,” he pleaded, tears leaking out of each eye and dribbling down his cheekbones. “Madara, please.”

There were often comical alligator tears involved in Hashirama’s moods, but it had been a long time since Tobirama had seen him genuinely cry.

Madara’s unfocused eyes flicked up to Hashirama’s face. “…Hashirama?” he mumbled, looking mildly confused. His face crumpled.

Looking almost panicked, Hashirama did the only thing he knew to, pulling his friend to himself and wrapping his arms around him. Madara buried his face in his shoulder, looking like a big mass of raven hair, shuddering as he clung to the back of Hashirama’s robes.

It took him a moment to realize the man was crying- quiet, quivering sobs that made Hashirama’s heart break.

“It’s okay,” he murmured, voice shaking. “It’s okay now, I’m here. I’m right here. Everything’s fine. You’re all right.”

Tobirama had no idea what to do. Once more, he felt as if he were witnessing something he shouldn’t be privy to.

It felt like up was down and right was left. He’d never seen Madara break down like this, let alone with such a lack of care as to whether anyone saw him. The broken man in front of him would sooner drink himself to death or let himself starve than do anything to harm the village.

And once more, the deep sense of disturbed disquiet festered in him as he wondered how no one had noticed this besides his brother.

Maybe it was just that no one was looking.

Madara- the Uchiha patriarch, second only to Hashirama, whose aura had been described by some as demonic- wept out his brother’s name and clung tighter to his robes.

Hashirama ran a hand over the dark mane of hair before him, such a loving and meticulous gesture that Tobirama felt the urge to look away. He shifted Madara until he was in a position he could lift him to carry and shot a glance at Tobirama. “I…I’m taking him back to the compound. I don’t- don’t think it’s a good idea for him to go back to his house.”

Mutely, Tobirama nodded. He couldn’t imagine Hashirama just dropping Madara back in his home and leaving him there. He would never even ask him to do that.

Hashirama picked his friend up off the ground and shot off towards the rooftops. Tobirama swallowed the lump in his throat and started heading back to the office, a numbness in his core that felt colder than any of his Suiton.


 

Tobirama had experienced bloodshed and all manner of disturbing events since he was a child. The sharpness of the night’s events had dulled, and there was no longer a sick churning in his gut; he was simply left with quiet contemplations as he sat in the dark office, illuminated by moonlight coming in through the windows.

The village was quiet- peaceful- something the Senju had rarely been privileged with as a wandering clan; even if very few would attack them in such a head-on way, there’d never been true comfort at night. There was always danger; always a need to be aware.

He wondered if living in such a way had worn Madara down. His strength was monstrous, yes, but he was- as that night’s incident had just proven to him- only human. Tobirama had never attempted to understand him on a personal level or figure out what his personal feelings were; not in the way a friend or Hashirama or family would. Yet his attempt to die made him wonder about all those things.

Was it the sudden lack of constant war? The difficulty in adjusting to a peaceful life? Did the man thrive on conflict? Tobirama himself had experienced trouble adjusting- everyone had, and if they didn’t they were either hiding it very well or very odd.

There were nights he awoke in alarm, sure there was some danger he’d forgotten to assess or watch out for, or with the need to patrol the village limits to ensure their enemies weren’t closing in.

Maybe, his mind suggested, the part of Madara’s brain that wanted peace and the part that was accustomed to conflict just hadn’t been able to integrate. Had he just been waiting for the other shoe to drop- for the peace to inevitably break- and his mind hadn’t been able to handle the strain? Had he burnt out during war and the peace had just finally allowed him to show it?

A tiny seed of guilt reminded him that Madara, unlike himself and Hashirama, had no brothers or family left. Tobirama felt no remorse over defending himself or fighting in a battle that, had their elder brothers come around sooner and made peace, could have been avoided altogether, but some part of him wondered how it would have turned out had he aimed just an inch lower, aimed to incapacitate.

A death blow hadn’t been his conscious intention, but he supposed that was a fault on his part; he should always be aware of when he was doling out a fatal injury.

He had no illusions about the fact that Izuna would have just as readily killed him, as well, and it wasn’t as if he had been friends with the Uchiha like Hashirama had been with Madara, but could the same effect- Madara being pushed towards making peace- been achieved if Izuna had been seriously wounded instead of dead?

Would even his advice not to trust the Senju have held up against him being bedridden for months, where Senju healing would alleviate his pain?

He didn’t wish active harm on Madara; the logical part of his brain told him that if anything happened to the man, the area of effect’s first victim was Hashirama.

Would Izuna being there have kept Madara from self-destructing, and, by proximity, Hashirama from being hurt?

His eyes fell on the drawer of his desk where a scroll he’d been working on sat within.

“Tobirama?”

He wasn’t altogether surprised that one of the wood clones had followed him, so he wasn’t startled, nor did he glance up at Hashirama. He hummed noncommittally in greeting.

Hashirama glanced at him and sighed. He sounded weary, so weary, but not at Tobirama. He stepped into the hallway and disappeared for a few moments, returning with a wash cloth from the restroom down the hall. It was only when he bent down and grasped one of Tobirama’s hands that he remembered he was still covered in blood. Madara’s blood.

He was silent as Hashirama wiped the blood from his hands. At times, Tobirama felt- though he never voiced his thoughts- that perhaps his brother didn’t always fully appreciate the work and time Tobirama put into supporting him; the hours of paperwork, the labor it took to build a village behind the scenes, the late nights put in.

It was times like these- in which all of Hashirama’s attention should have been focused on his friend who’d nearly died, who’d tried to kill himself- that reminded him that Hashirama did care, sometimes too much, sometimes painfully too much. Even if he did sluff off his paperwork onto Tobirama and avoid meetings with unsavory diplomats, even if he sometimes didn’t heed Tobirama’s advice, he cared about Tobirama to the point he was here, making sure he wasn’t alone.

“I shouldn’t have gone, anija,” he muttered. It was the closest he could muster to an apology right now, with the thoughts bogging down his mind and the quiet, unsettling quality of that night hanging in the air. “I only meant to talk to him.”

Hashirama didn’t glance up at him, but a small, sympathetic smile came over his lips. Tobirama wondered if he hadn’t been the one who didn’t notice that something was causing his brother unhappiness. Had he been stuck in the middle, silently putting up with it as his brother and best friend refused to get along?

“He could have tried anyway, and no one would have been there to help,” he pointed out, and Tobirama mentally grimaced at the suggestion. “There’s no use second guessing anything now. He’s all right…for now.”

He folded the towel and stood up, facing the window with something like a wistful frown. “What are you going to do?” Tobirama asked, honestly curious. About Madara went unsaid.

The clone groaned a little and reached up to rub his forehead. “I…really don’t know. But I know I can’t let him go on like this. I think I need to start by getting him out of that tiny little house of his.”

Tobirama snorted. “Good luck with that. You know how stubborn he is,” he said, and neither really noticed, but it was said without any of the irritation or animosity he would have used a few months ago.

It was still far from fond exasperation, but it was progress.

Another sigh. “Yes, I know.” And this time Hashirama was smiling a little for real, probably thinking of some memory Tobirama hadn’t been there for. “I’m going to go work on that. Are you all right here?”

Tobirama hid the rolling of his eyes. “I’m fine, anija. I’m a grown man, not a five-year-old.” He made a shooing motion with his hand, making Hashirama head for the door with a familiar pout.

When he’d gone, Tobirama stood for a moment in silent contemplation, then reached for the drawer on his desk.


 

Hashirama stepped into the house Madara had been occupying and glanced around with a deep frown tugging at his lips.

There was a blood stain on the floor- he’d been expecting that, and the pile of discarded bottles considering Madara had been inebriated when Tobirama had brought him to him- but other than those, the house looked untouched. As if a ghost had been living there.

Curious, he looked through the kitchen and found an alarming lack of food. He’d been bringing some practically every day, but he doubted Madara had eaten it.

Not only that, there was such little light in the house- he’d only caught glimpses of it from the door. If he had to live here every day, with hardly anyone to talk to, he thought he’d go stir crazy.

He returned to the living room and eyed the stairs warily for a moment before climbing his way to the second floor.

The upper room was even worse. There was so little light that he had to bring a bulk of chakra to his hand to light his way. The only sign of a home upstairs was a dresser, upon which a few pieces of clothing were folded and several more strewn over the top. The bed was unmade, crinkled up as if Madara had just left it.

Does he even have anything here? Hashirama wondered, gathering up the clothes. The gunbai was downstairs- he doubted Madara would go anywhere without it- but other than that and base necessities, the man had nothing.

His eyes fell on a dark shape obstructing some of the little light streaming in through the window. Squinting, he moved closer and paused when he found a familiar potted plant sitting in the window sill. He’d given that to Madara- how long ago? Just after they created the village. He kept it?

The thought sent something warm through him. Smiling, though it was dulled a bit by the situation at hand, he picked up the plant and turned to go back downstairs.

Madara still cared. That meant there was still hope.

There had to be.


 

The sunlight assaulting his eyelids was too much for his room to have been letting in. Madara cringed and cracked his eyes open, wanting to shut them again as soon as he did; the room he was in was impossibly bright.

He forced himself to open his eyes fully and ignored the stinging sensation.

Blinking a few times, he looked around, finding himself in an unfamiliar bedroom. The walls were made of solid wood instead of planks, and the bed and windows were covered with cheery white linen. By all means, it was a calming atmosphere to most.

He looked down when he realized there was a weight on his hand and froze when he saw Hashirama sitting on a chair beside the bed, dozing off with his head resting on the mattress and his hand over Madara’s.

What on earth…?

It was then the memories of the night before began to filter back into his head.

He flinched at the onslaught, at his depraved behavior, at breaking down in front of Tobirama of all people. The pounding in his head made it all worse.

Weak.

Madara went to sit up and swayed at the dizziness the action caused. He paused and breathed in and out, waiting for it to subside, and tugged his hand from Hashirama’s.

The motion, as small as it was, set the man awake in an instant and made Madara swear inwardly.

“Madara!” he gasped, standing so quickly he made his chair wobble dangerously on its back legs. “You’re awake!”

“Obviously,” Madara muttered, tossing the covers off himself. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and it was as if it set off an even worse bout of dizziness and nausea.

Groping for the bedframe, he leaned against it and held his head with the other hand, biting back a groan.

“You shouldn’t get out of bed,” Hashirama fretted, coming over to his side and placing his hands on Madara’s shoulders. He was too tired to shove him off. “You’ve probably got a horrid hangover with how much you drank and- you were injured quite badly-”

“I know,” Madara snapped, trying to pull away. “I did live through it. I’m going home now, so don’t-”

“No.”

It was like he’d flipped a switch or something; all the gentle concern and the tendency to let people have their way bled from Hashirama’s body and were replaced by a stern expression and a steely, unbending will in the lines of his shoulders. There was no leniency, no indulgence, no easy-goingness. He looked at Madara with his lips pressed into a thin line and part of him wanted to die a little.

He forgot that Hashirama could be like this- he had only ever seen it in battle, or when Hashirama became angry enough.

Which was rare, considering his kind nature, but what some didn’t understand was that he was only kind because he’d made the choice early on to be so. Madara had often thrown his anger about in his first life, and perhaps it has lost some of its edge at some point; Hashirama’s was worse, as their enemies had found out the hard way.

“What?”

He would deny to his (fourth) dying day that his voice wavered when he spoke.

“You are not going back to that secluded, dispiriting house separated from the whole village and everyone who cares about you,” Hashirama told him, his tone leaving no room for argument. “I am not going to sit by here and watch you fall into this hole and do nothing to help you.”

Madara tried to muster some of his infamous stubbornness and irritability. “That’s not your decision-” he began hotly.

“Technically, I am the Hokage now,” Hashirama told him, and Madara’s nostrils flared with anger, at the gall he had to pull that card, but he went on- “But I’m not doing this as the Hokage. I’m doing this as your friend. Do you know what it was like, Madara?” His eyes softened, becoming desperate and despairing, and Madara tried to look away but couldn’t. “To sit there holding you while you bled and tried to kill yourself? To know you were in so much pain you wanted to end it and I couldn’t help? I don’t know what I’d do without you. Don’t- don’t you know that?”

Madara looked away, unable to keep looking into those miserable eyes. Guilt gnawed at his heart. He’d already left Hashirama alone once- he’d thought it wouldn’t matter a second time, but maybe he’d just made everything worse.

“Just- just, just let me help, Madara, please,” Hashirama pleaded with him, hands drifting down to his elbows. “Please.”

Madara was worn down. Hashirama wasn’t going to leave him alone, his mind argued to him; why couldn’t he be selfish and stay near him? He’d been selfish for so many worse things.

He just…wanted.

“…I’m tired, Hashirama,” he whispered, staring at the floor.

Hashirama’s jaw quivered. “I know,” he replied, leaning closer to hug him and setting his chin atop Madara’s mane of unruly hair, stroking it the same way he had the night before. “I know. But I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. I won’t let you deal with this alone. I promise.”

“You’re the Hokage,” Madara mumbled into his haori. “You have more important things to be doing than this.”

You are important to me,” Hashirama corrected him. “The village isn’t going to fall over if I miss a report or two. The roots are stronger than that. You and my brother are the two most important people to me, you know. What’d I do if I didn’t have you there to support me?”

Madara closed his eyes, inadvertently focusing on the rhythmic feeling of Hashirama’s hand stroking over his hair. It didn’t occur to him that this sudden batch of physical affection was odd in juxtaposition to their first life, when he had weathered Hashirama’s excited hugs but not touched him much. Touching Hashirama was the easiest way to sense his chakra, and right now its warmth and tranquility were more comforting than anything the world could offer.

“Crash and burn, and insult someone important, probably,” he mumbled, and it was a joke because they both knew Hashirama was far better at diplomacy than Madara; Tobirama just liked to endlessly needle him and make sure not a hair was out of line and hopefully divert any bows that rammed his head into tables. Madara was the one more likely to cause a banquet to end in flames and screaming.

Hashirama laughed. Madara listened to the sound vibrate in his chest. He didn’t have the presence of mind to notice that the Shodaime was leaking chakra from his hands or that the man was purposefully trying to lull him to sleep. Perhaps he would’ve been offended if he had.

“You’ll have to help make sure I stay in the office,” he said cheekily. Madara could feel his smile against his hair. “I could always use another assistant. Maybe you could do some of my paperwork…I won’t tell if you don’t.”

“Lazy ass,” Madara muttered. It made Hashirama laugh again. He started to say something else, and Madara tried to listen- he thought he’d had a purpose when he woke up- but sleep was calling him, and he was so tired.

Chapter Text

Madara woke to the sound of a tea pot’s high-pitched whistling.

Confused, he sat up- in considerably less alcohol-induced agony than before- and looked for the source of the noise. The door to the bedroom was ajar, and past it he could see an open concept living area with a kitchen attached. Hashirama was moving a kettle off the stove.

In the back of his mind, he wondered when exactly stoves had been invented. He’d completely lost all context for the progress of technology. Then again, he couldn’t exactly remember how long it had been since the village had been founded, either. His memory of tiny landmarks from eighty years ago was…a little sketchy.

He got up and wandered into the front room. Hashirama glanced over at him and smiled, and some of the unease faded from his gut. He snorted softly at himself and sat down at the table, glancing around and trying not to show how confused he was at his surroundings.

Hashirama hid a grin. Madara looked like a cat looking around, acting like it wasn’t perturbed when it really was, and it was only worse with how ruffled his hair was. “Good morning,” he said, setting a cup down and starting to pour tea into it.

“Is this your house?” Madara asked instead of answering, his puzzlement making Hashirama cock an eyebrow. Madara had been in his home before- it was an odd thing to forget. Then again, he’d been stressed for weeks. It had probably just slipped his mind.

“It’s your house,” he replied cheerily, sitting down across from the Uchiha. Madara stared at him with thinly veiled confusion. “Come now, you didn’t think I was just booting you out of your house and leaving you nowhere to go? I built something!”

“Oh.” Madara wasn’t sure what to do with that. He took a sip of his tea. “Thank you.”

Hashirama beamed at him. “It’s close to mine, too! We’re neighbors!”

Madara choked on his tea. “Excuse me?” he asked, coughing. Hashirama turned to grin pointedly at the windows across from his bedroom and he got up, walking over to them and shifting aside the curtains to look.

The house was set on a small hill, so he was looking down at everything from his viewpoint; the Senju home sat across from him and the path to the road in between. He twitched, but couldn’t find the energy to be truly annoyed. “Idiot.”

Hashirama laughed. Somehow it slipped Madara’s mind that he was, technically, on Senju grounds now, since the flower-loving idiots had spread out so much and hardly had a formal border on their property.

“It’ll be easier to visit each other now,” he pointed out. “And there’s an aviary attached in the back.” Madara jumped a fraction out of surprise, and turned to glance over his shoulder at him. The man gave him a knowing look. “I know you must have missed them, Madara.”

Madara turned away without acknowledging that, even if it was true. He had momentarily forgotten about them during his panic when he first came back, but he’d known after calming down he wouldn’t be able to take care of his falcons. It had felt a bit like abandoning his children when he left them at the Uchiha compound.

“And there’s some relaxing places around here. Promise me you’ll try and get out of the house at least once a day?”

The man started to look at him with his damned puppy dog eyes. Mustering up a lackluster glare- that definitely wasn’t a pout- Madara gave in. “Fine.”

“Thank you! And, ah, if you wanted to…help…just a little…with all the work at the Tower…I would appreciate it so much,” Hashirama told him with a wheedling grin, and Madara tried not to twitch again. He would bet the man was using his allergy to paperwork as an excuse to get Madara involved with the village. Idiot.

Two could play that game. “If you’re so incapable of doing it yourself,” he said dryly, making an invisible boulder slam down onto the Shodaime’s head.

“Ah…thank you…” The depressed cloud suddenly evaporated and Hashirama leapt to his feet with another shining grin. “That reminds me! I wanted your input on what kind of exam would be best for chuunin testing. You’ll come help, right?” He turned on the puppy eyes again. Madara gave him an unimpressed stare.

“You’re hopeless.”

“I know,” Hashirama grinned.

Madara rolled his eyes.


 

Madara stepped into the aviary at the Uchiha compound with a hesitancy in his step. Falconry was based on a mutual agreement, a different type of relationship than working with a dog or cat. Part of him was afraid his birds would reject him like he’d done to them, even though he knew he deserved it.

He’d come under the cover of night, not wanting to deal with the clan at large, and could feel his birds’ chakra signatures all in the outbuilding. He’d thought they would have left by now.

“Watatsumi?” he whispered into the darkness.

An eye slivered open. It watched him as he came to a stop and stood there in silence, judging.

Other sets of eyes started to open around him. None of them came any closer so long as Watatsumi stared disdainfully at him from her perch.

He stared back at her- his largest, and fastest, peregrine- and wilted. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, remembering the first time he’d left. Left and never came back.

There was a rustle in the darkness. She leapt forward with a flap of her wings, a motion that would have caused anyone else to startle in fear, and landed heavily on his shoulder, claws sharp enough to tear through his skin but pressing down just light enough to avoid tearing his haori. She chittered lowly at him, intelligent eyes flicking over his face.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured again, raising one hand hopefully. She tilted her head and rubbed his cheekbone, bringing a small smile to his face.

The other birds came rustling out of the dark and shuffled together, fighting for space to perch on his shoulders. Madara felt a bit of weight lift from his mind and raised his gloved hand for Watatsumi to perch on so the others would have more room as he left the building.

Maybe things could go back to the way they’d been, he thought. Maybe he didn’t have to leave anyone.


 

True to his word, Madara had been trying to ‘get out of the house’ once every day. Hashirama dragged him to the Hokage Tower at least four times that week (which was awkward, since Tobirama seemed to be doing his best not to look at him whenever they ran into each other), so it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed, but walking around without the Hokage’s presence still felt…weird.

He tended to like the more secluded spots for that reason. There were plenty of trees around the Senju compound and their area of the village- which was to be expected, considering the location of the village, but was also very deliberate considering their clan head controlled plant life- and he was partial to a spring just off the road a small distance behind his house, obscured for the most part by large, weeping leaves from the trees.

Though he’d only found it a few days ago, he’d yet to see anyone else there, so when he entered the pond area and found a woman sat cross-legged on a large blanket by the water, he paused and got ready to turn around and leave. She hadn’t seemed to notice him and he didn’t particularly want to talk to anyone that day.

“You don’t have to leave, sir,” the woman called over without opening her eyes. Madara paused with one foot in the air. He glanced back, a little bit curious, but didn’t recognize her- though she seemed familiar, for some reason. She wore a white kimono over a purple one, and two tags hung from the headdress in her hair. It was a shocking red that nagged at his memory.

She opened one eye and looked over at him with a half-smile that seemed amused. He felt embarrassed, suddenly, for trying to hide from her like a person fleeing. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“It’s polite to offer yours first,” he retorted, though not in a particularly rude way.

Her smile widened. “It’s polite to offer yours to a lady when she asks.”

“Well, I suppose we’re both rude, then.”

The smile cracked into a large grin. “I guess I won’t learn your name,” she said, pretending to sound disappointed. She patted the space beside her. “Come and sit with me.”

Madara hesitated. He couldn’t help but feel like she was subtly ribbing him already and the stubborn part of him wanted to sass her back. He walked over to the blanket and settled down beside her, glancing at the small canvas she had propped on a small stand in front of her. There was nothing on it yet. “I take it you’re from a new addition to the village?” God, it’d been decades since he’d been forced to participate in small talk. But he wasn’t about to ask about something inane like the weather.

“In a way,” she replied vaguely, uncapping a few bottles of paint on the ground by her side. She reached into one with a brush, apparently feeling no need for a palette. “My family is not set to meet with the Hokage for a few weeks now. I find myself preoccupied with other matters in the meantime. Although I’ve managed to catch a few glimpses of him here and there.”

“Hn. And what do you think of the Hokage?” Madara drawled, sounding bored but anticipating her answer.

A small smirk slithered onto her lips. “He’s kind-hearted,” she replied, speaking as if she had no idea he was the Hokage’s friend. “And a strong leader, if a bit silly. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone wear striped pants like that.”

Unbidden, a laugh bubbled from his throat and exited his mouth sounding out of breath. Startled at himself, he tried to regain his composure and averted his gaze. She was eyeing him over her smile as if she’d been trying to make him snicker. “Yes, well,” he said around a snort, “he spread that fashion to his whole clan, so feel sorry for the lot of them.”

She laughed. The sound spread throughout the clearing and sounded like water trickling over smooth stone. Part of him preened a bit at having caused it, at participating in a normal conversation with someone who had no idea who he was and no preconceptions about him- in his first life he knew everyone had thought he was unapproachable and unable to make friends on his own.

He glanced at the canvas, surprised to find she’d already filled in a basic outline of the scene in front of them with the color tones set in. She twirled the brush as if she were thinking of her next move.

“I find it admirable the Senju have managed to gather so many clans to themselves in such a short amount of time,” she went on. “The Nara are a smart addition. I’m interested in working with the Yamanaka and their studies of the mind.”

“Oh? And what of the Uchiha?” he asked, voice carefully even, as he eyed her, wondering if she was unaware that the village only existed because of their alliance.

She surprised him again. “Their work has been phenomenal, of course; the village wouldn’t be here without their help. I confess I haven’t had the privilege of interacting with many, but I will say, they are more fun to look at than the Senju clan, in general. There’s something about them that’s rather hauntingly beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?”

She looked at him with eyes that were laughing. Madara stuttered out a reply and jerked his head away, glaring at the pond with a flush on his face. What a brash woman. He’d heard people insult his clan and people admire their strength, but he’d never encountered someone whose first thought was how easy on the eyes they were.

“Here, sir. Why don’t you try?”

“Hm?” He glanced up and found her holding the brush out. Befuddled, he held up his hands as a shield. “I don’t think-”

“Painting is a wonderful pastime,” she bulldozed over him with a polite smile, producing a second canvas from seemingly out of nowhere. She reached down, as casual as a movement made in passing, and pressed each bottle in between her spread fingertips, moving them between the two almost too easy to notice.

He felt like he’d walked straight into a trap. A bead of sweat ran down his forehead. “Ma’am-”

“It reduces stress, and produces a great eye for color,” she continued, eyeing his dark attire. “You could use some color in your life.”

He felt like he should be insulted by that.

“Very well,” he muttered, taking the brush she put into his hand and giving in. What was the worst that could happen, that he get paint in his eyes?


 

“I can’t believe you got paint in your eyes,” she said three days later, holding a hand over her mouth and struggling not to let out a wheezing, unladylike laugh. She patted him on the back of his shoulder as he bent over the pond groaning.

“Shut it,” he muttered without any bite. She giggled at him and took out a handkerchief with a green leaf pattern sewn into it from one of the hidden pockets in her clothing.

“Come now, let me see,” she said with an amused smile, tilting his head up. She was completely unbothered by his moodiness and he was starting to think she was unflappable.

He relented and let her gently wipe at the paint on the corner of his eye. She dabbed at the part that had splattered onto the surface with a feather light touch.

“Is it all gone?” he mumbled, cowed by her sympathetic smile. It was difficult to be grumpy at someone who looked at him so softly.

She released his face and patted him on the head. It was vaguely patronizing. “Don’t worry. My little cousins often do the same thing. It’s an easy mistake.”

He twitched. “Don’t compare me to children.”

She smiled behind her sleeve. “But you act so much like them!”

She was unbothered by the glare that passed over his face.

“If I’m a child, what are you to deign to my level?”

“A babysitter.”

His eyebrow started twitching again. Snickering at his expense, she capped the offending bottle of paint that had accosted him and picked up her brush again. “I’d like to do a portrait of you,” she said cheerfully. “Sit right there.”

“Oh? Like this?” he drawled in a flat tone, gazing dryly at her.

“Exactly. Looking sour and humorless. It’s a perfect depiction of your personality.”

“Maybe you should sit for me. I’m sure I could create something oh so flattering to capture you.”

“Is that sarcasm I detect?”

“Of course not.”

She withdrew one of her fans and flipped it open to hide a shit-eating grin behind. Before she could keep their banter going, they were both distracted by a yell from the street. She raised a curious eyebrow in his direction before getting up to see what it was and he stood to follow.

They emerged from the trees and found a cart overturned in the road. An elderly man was pointing his cane at a familiar woman in Senju armor, a vein bulging on his forehead as he yelled. “You addled-brained shinobi just jump around everywhere you go and don’t give any thought to the common folk, I swear!”

“Sir, I’ve already told you that I’ll pay for any damages,” the Senju woman snapped, looking ready to lose her temper. “It was an accident-”

“That could’ve been easily avoided!”

“That I will rectify to the best of my ability!”

“Well you-”

“Excuse me,” the woman who Madara still didn’t know the name of interrupted, gliding over with a smoothness to her step that made her look like she was floating. Both combatants froze and turned to gawk at her, eyes wide as dinner plates. “It seems you’re causing a ruckus, sir. Surely all can be forgiven if Senju-san here helps fix your cart and whatever damage she caused, yes?”

“Uh…” The man faltered at being chastised by such a gentle-looking woman and wilted. “Of course. My apologies. I, uh, don’t think anything’s broken, I just need to…”

“I’ll help,” the Senju woman- who Madara remembered was named Toka- muttered, moving to the other side of the cart and helping him right it. The vendor shot him a nervous-looking glance and he folded his arms, watching with a blank expression and making the old man shudder. It was a little bit amusing.

The man nodded his goodbyes and started pushing his way down the road. Toka turned to the redhead with a flush on her cheeks and opened her mouth. “My deepest apologies, M-”

“There’s no need, Toka,” the woman interrupted her, a pointed look in her eyes. Toka paused, mouth hanging open and her brow creased in confusion, and she went on. “I understand completely. I was just enjoying some time with my friend here.”

Toka’s eyes flicked over to him. He’d never spoken to her, but it was the tiniest bit hilarious how wary she looked. “…of course. Madara-san,” she greeted with a nod of her head.

Madara momentarily cursed her for leaking his name. His acquaintance looked at him with a smirk, and he glared back, unhappy he’d lost their game. “Toka,” he gritted out in reply.

“Well. This is…er. I should-”

Hashirama’s excited voice interrupted their not-conversation. “Madara!” he called from overhead, landing on the grass across from them and bounding up to him like an overexcited puppy. Madara didn’t move and let the man come to him. “Madara, I saw you from-” He abruptly noticed Toka and the woman and jerked to a stop, smiling apologetically. “Oh, I’m sorry! Was I interrupting something?”

“Not at all, Hokage-sama,” the redheaded woman replied, watching him with a twinkling expression and having somehow moved directly to Toka’s side as if she had arrived with the Senju without Madara noticing. “Please do go on.”

“Ah, thank you,” Hashirama laughed, his smile returning as he turned back to Madara. He watched him suspiciously from behind his bangs, feeling like he was about to ask him for something. “Like I said, I was going to lunch and I saw you down here. I thought I’d ask if you wanted to come with me.”

He stared at Madara with a smile that was downright adoring. Madara, for reasons he couldn’t explain, suddenly felt put on the spot, and he found out why when he glanced over at his companion and found her watching them like a hawk- or maybe a viper was more accurate- eyes glittering from behind her fan with uncanny focus and undeniable interest. She was watching them, analyzing, evaluating. It made an abrupt flush of heat rise to his face and he felt embarrassed without knowing why. He realized then that Hashirama, as usual, didn’t know what personal space was, and he’d started standing closer and closer since Madara had started to not berate him for it, and he was now practically an inch away from him, one hand on Madara’s shoulder and the other holding onto his arm. “I, er…”

“It’s your favorite,” Hashirama told him in a sing-song voice, distracting him from his friend’s companion’s weird staring. “I’ll buy you inarizushi.”

Dammit if Madara wasn’t hungry, because he hadn’t eaten since breakfast; his mouth started to water and he cursed his friend inwardly. “Fine.”

Hashirama grinned in triumph and looked over at his clanswoman. “Great! Would you like to come, Toka, miss…?” he trailed off, obviously asking for her name.

“Oh, we have lunch plans of our own, Hokage-sama, but thank you dearly for the offer,” the fan-wielding woman replied, skillfully dodging his question and giving Toka a smile. “Shall we be going?”

“Uh, yes.” Toka broke out of staring at all of them with confusion and nodded, offering her arm. The woman wrapped her hand around it and they started down the street together after giving the two men respectful nods. It wasn’t altogether weird for a kunoichi to offer a lady her arm, but for some odd reason Madara still felt like he was missing something.

Hashirama clasped his shoulder. “Well, let’s get going, then,” he told Madara with a smile, and started yammering about whatever had happened at the office that morning as the two left.


 

The woman had visited his house, only once, to deliver a bonsai to sit by the door, and told him with a mildly judgmental tone that he needed to decorate, because the traditional-style lower floor was almost completely barren. (He was still a little bit indignant she’d managed to correctly guess that his house was mostly empty. How had she even known where he lived?) The front room only had a few cushions for guests, and behind the sliding doors that led into the back room with the kitchen to the left and a spare bedroom on the right with the stairs ahead, he had little else but for a coat rack and a table in the kitchen.

So, begrudgingly, he’d ordered asked Hashirama to create a few more plants to put around the place and reluctantly gone out to look for something else. He found a low table for the front room and a basket for storage to put under the coat rack, and he found an absolutely hideous little sculpture of a fish with bulging eyes to put in the windowsill in the kitchen for the sole fact that he knew Izuna would have loathed it with his entire being.

Regardless, he didn’t actually expect anyone at his door, so he didn’t put very much effort into it. He only hoped Hashirama saw the fish statue and was horrified by it even as he tried in vain to compliment Madara’s tastes with a weak, twitchy smile.

So it surprised him one afternoon to hear a knock at his door, because Hashirama was usually yelling through the door by now and hardly anyone else probably knew where he lived.

He swung the door open and had to look down. The first thing he saw was a mass of black hair only a little more subdued than his own.

“Uh, g-good morning, Madara-sama! Well, it’s afternoon now, but I meant to come in the morning, so- well that’s not important, I just wanted to bring you this, because I hope you’re doing well, and everyone’s missed you, so-”

The girl in front of him was talking so rapidly he was having trouble understanding. “Slow down, girl,” he interrupted, making her freeze and go sheet white. She wore an Uchiha outfit- he hadn’t seen her specifically before, but her chakra was undoubtedly Uchiha. “What do you want?”

“Um…here!” With a squeak, she shoved a basket forward so hard it hit him in the gut and made him grunt. She didn’t notice because she was bowing at the waist. “I hope you feel better soon!”

Befuddled, he grasped the handle of the basket- which held, to his further confusion: pears, apples, cheeses- tulips?- a bottle of wine, dried meat, almonds, was that chocolate? There were a few small packages wrapped in brown paper too. What the hell.

“What…”

“It’s a gift basket!” she almost yelled as she straightened, wringing her hands together. “Please enjoy it!”

Madara was pitifully confused. “What- what’s your name, girl?”

“Me? I’m, uh, I’m Miki,” she stammered out, looking caught off guard.

“Er, thank you…Miki. But…why did you bring this to me?” He glanced at the basket again with a puzzled look on his face and looked back to her expectantly.

“Um, well, I mean…you’re part of the clan and everyone cares about you! I just wanted to do something…something nice, for you? I, uh, I hope you like it, I really have to get back to Naori-san, please have a good day,” she blurted out, then bowed and whipped around to run off as fast as lightning.

Madara stared after her as she went streaking down the street and past a confused Toka in a slight daze. “…huh.”


 

The official Uzumaki congregation hadn’t yet arrived in Konoha for a talk with the Hokage. Mito had gone ahead of them, wanting to see the village for herself without the rest of her clan members there to pressure her into a marriage with the Senju clan head. Everyone was already expecting it to happen, murmuring in the background about it, to the point most expected Hashirama to give her father a proposal during the talk.

Mito was resigned to this. Resigned to her duty to marry and produce heirs to keep their lines going.

Until she arrived in Konoha and saw Senju Toka walking down the street.

She’d been smitten instantly. The woman was dressed practically, built like a soldier, and had calloused hands from years of using weapons in battle. She might have looked plain to others, but Mito thought she was beautiful.

The best part was, her attraction seemed mutual. When she’d gone up to the woman and asked her name, her eyes had gone wide and she’d blushed when she looked at Mito. Mito had avoided telling her name for a few days, since she knew it would cause the other woman to pull back. Instead of answering, she’d giggled coyly and told the Senju she’d have to guess her name.

Toka was smitten instantly.

She showed Mito the sights, was her guide for days, and it was bliss. The two spoke of war and peace and the relief the village’s creation brought; they discussed politics and the village’s news and lighter things like how Mito kept her hands so soft. She had Toka sit for her one afternoon and made a portrait of her that she tried to gift to the woman. She told Mito to keep it, so she would have a reminder, and they stared at each other with lovestruck expressions for a full two minutes. She understood when Mito told her she wasn’t ready to divulge her real name yet, to call her Miyo, and she told her she was beautiful with any name.

The truth was, Mito had never liked men. Her mother had groomed her as she grew up, prepared her for having a husband; she knew the technical mechanics of how the relationship was supposed to work, her duties as a wife, what she was supposed to do. Duty was paramount in this time and Mito knew hers.

But deep down, she’d known the truth since she was thirteen. She’d known that someday she would be married off and she would have to lie back and have a man atop her and bear his children while never loving him.

Marrying for love was a childish concept, her mother told her, but Mito always held onto a little hope.

But even after meeting Toka, she still knew her duty. She still knew it would have to end. That she was being foolish.

Then she met Madara.

Truthfully, she’d heard many conflicting things about the man and was curious for herself, so she’d staked out where he spent his time and been prepared when he first happened upon her. She’d been expecting a cold, rude man, or perhaps a depressed, distant one, from how people spoke of him. She hadn’t expected to be so amused by his dry humor, to be able to exchange banter so easily, to become his friend.

And then she saw the Shodaime lay eyes on him and she knew that there was love there. Hashirama adored him. He stood closer than two men really should, took every opportunity to touch him, and looked at him with a soft look in his eyes that Mito had recognized in her own; in Toka’s.

And Madara? He was just as in love. She’d seen him blush. How he allowed Hashirama in closer than anyone.

She couldn’t believe the Hokage was so…so open and free and blatant with his affection. He was so brave to do it, to act freely with his lover and damn the consequences from anyone else. Mito was a little bit smitten with him in that moment- not in the way a wife would be, no, in the way one would be with their greatest inspiration.

The truth was, Mito was afraid. She’d always been too afraid to live as her true self, to live with a woman, to live with such courage.

But it was a new age, and Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara were the bravest people she’d ever met.

So, she decided, she would be brave too.

She cared about Madara, and she wouldn’t hurt him by making a marriage contract with Hashirama. She would not dare to break apart such a union when she herself understood how difficult it could be to stay together. She refused to hurt Toka by abandoning her.

She was going to choose for herself what her life was going to be, and damn the consequences.

Chapter Text

“Is that Uchiha Madara?”

Brown eyes trailed the man’s back as he walked through the village street. “I think so,” a newly-minted jounin with purple hair said to the man beside her. “Haven’t seen him around much lately, have you?”

“Not really. Kind of makes you think he’s up to something.”

“I dunno. What would he even be up to?”

“The man took his own brother’s eyes, I wouldn’t put anything past him.”

“Good god,” a new voice interrupted. The duo swiveled and found an Uchiha jounin staring down at them with a look of disgust on her face that made them both cringe in guilt. “Leave the poor man alone, for fuck’s sake. He’s going through enough right now without people talking about him like that.”

The man faltered and glanced at his partner, unsure of how to react. “But-”

A fourth voice spoke up from the booth across from them in the barbeque joint. “Can’t believe I’m saying this, but she’s right,” said, surprisingly, a Senju man as he eyed them with disapproval. “He hasn’t done anything suspicious. If people randomly start dying when they’re alone with him, then you can start talking. Just let him be.”

The Uchiha glanced at him in appreciation and nodded in mutual respect before walking away. He gave the two a stern look and lit a cigar as he got up to leave to make his point.


 

“Naori?”

The woman with dark, curly hair glanced up from where she’d been polishing a strange little metal plate. “Madara-san,” she greeted with surprise, nearly tacking on sama instead. “A pleasant surprise. Did you need something from me?”

Madara paused and considered what he should say, glancing around at the building he’d found her outside of per Hikaku’s directions, a three-story structure whose purpose he didn’t know and that had no windows on the third floor. “It’s- just Madara. I was looking for…Miki?”

He watched closely for her reaction. She smiled fondly. “Did she give you her gift basket?"

“The other day,” he explained. It felt odd to be talking to someone he was starting to remember more clearly but hadn’t seen in decades.

“She was so excited about it,” Naori chuckled, setting the plate aside on the bench she sat on. “She very much admires you, so she was very worried when you disappeared.”

“Admires me?” Madara echoed in surprise. He thought he was more likely to scare children than garner their admiration.

“Miki is…behind her peers in terms of strength,” Naori told him with a smile edged with sympathy. “She doesn’t give herself enough credit, but she’s yet to unlock her Sharingan, and she isn’t as naturally talented as the other genin, so she naturally looks up to you, the strongest of our clan. I trust there wasn’t anything you were allergic to in the basket, or anything of that sort?”

“No, no- I was…I brought her a daishō,” Madara said, gesturing awkwardly to the katana and wakizashi with matching koshirae and hilts that hung at his hip. “As a…thank you.”

Naori’s eyes drifted to the blades and an odd smile overtook her lips. “I’m sure she’ll appreciate it,” she said as she stood. “I suspect I know where she is right now, so I’ll take you there.”

“Is she your…?”

“My ward,” Naori told him. “Her parents passed in one of the clan’s battles many years ago.”

“Oh.” That felt like a lame condolence, if any. “I see.”

Naori picked up her plate and started walking down the street, gesturing for him to follow.


 

Maybe his heart was cold and dead like some people said but even he felt a little abashed at the look on Miki’s face when she took the daishō from him, shaking hands grasping the handles and staring up at him as pale as ice. He was a little bit afraid she was going to faint. He could just see what people were going to say now: Uchiha Madara terrorizing children.

“Th-th-thank you, M-Madara-sama,” she warbled out. “I-I appreciate this!”

“Tch.” Face heating, he folded his arms and darted his eyes away, trying to ignore the subtly smug look on Naori’s face. He was starting to remember such things as the fact that she was the one who caught him and Izuna trying to sneak into an over-eighteen only bath house once and she enjoyed seeing him ruffled in any way. “Every Uchiha should have a blade of some type. Use that one to behead people,” he said, pointing.

Her eyes went even wider with fascination. Her personality made it seem as if she would shy away from blood and gore, but if anything, she looked almost interested in hearing about various ways she could carry out violence with a deadly weapon. It was…a little intriguing.

“Keep in mind you’ll have to learn to use these properly,” Naori broke in, a voice of reason. Not that she didn’t appreciate Madara’s gift, but she hadn’t yet taught Miki how to use a sword.

“Ah…I don’t want to take up more of your time, onee-san…”

“Nonsense,” Madara interrupted, closing his eyes as he crossed his arms and speaking completely on an impulsive whim. “I’ll teach you.”

Hashirama’s dream had won out in the end. Maybe Madara could contribute to the next generation, too, in his own way.

“What?” Naori asked him, confused, as Miki let out something that sounded like a wordless wheeze.

“I have the time,” Madara continued, trying to make it sound like he was nonchalant about it. “But I warn you, training with me will be difficult. Back out now if you don’t think you can handle it.”

“I can handle it! I can handle it! Thank you so much, Madara-sama, I won’t disappoint you, I promise!” Miki yelled in one blurred rush, making him wonder if he was going to have to get a translator at some point. He gave her what he hoped was a composed nod of dismissal. “Thank you!”

She bowed, nearly ramming her head into the hilt of the katana she held, and turned to run off.

Mouth hanging open- that had come out of nowhere- Naori glanced over at him and tilted her head. She stared at him for a moment. “…you did that completely on impulse, didn’t you?”

Madara paused. “…yes.”

She shook her head at him and hid an eye-roll. He resisted the urge to yell don’t judge me at her.

“By the way,” he said after a moment, “how old is she?”

Naori stared at him and placed a hand over her eyes with a sigh.


 

“Isn’t that that Madara fellow?”

“I think so. Rather frightening, isn’t he?”

“They say he’s a warmonger…that his brother-”

“Now, now, you two, I hardly think gossip is productive, is it?”

“A-ah, Uchiha-san…”

“I do believe I don’t hear any Uchiha gossiping about that Senju leader of yours…and that strange bloodline of his. Why, perhaps he got it by experimenting on himself! They do say his brother is knowledgeable about that sort of thing… giving yourself unnatural, terrifying powers like that to defeat your enemies, I couldn’t imagine…”

“A-ah…”

“Madara-san is very tired, yes? I don’t think you should contribute to that.”

“Of-of course. Our apologies.”


 

“What…exactly are you doing?”

Madara may have sounded hesitant, but it was only because he was mildly befuddled. He’d come to the same building he’d found Naori in front of earlier in search of Miki, who took “practice your fire jutsu” to a slightly overboard level and had ended up singing Hikaku’s robes, somehow (he had no idea why the man thought he should ask Madara to ask her to tone it down, instead of just asking himself) and stood in the front room of the first floor watching her rub a flat padded stick against a metal plate with a strange red powder.

She glanced up at him and smiled. “Buffing this plate,” she said, as if that explained anything.

“For what purpose?”

“Taking a photograph, of course.”

When all he did was raise an eyebrow, she hid an eye-roll. He could simply ask her to explain, she thought. “You polish and buff the plate, then sensitize it with iodine and bromine in one of the darkrooms. After exposing it, I’ll develop it and fix it so it can be brought into the light. Would you like to see the process?”

“I suppose so,” Madara replied, thinking that spending time in this secluded building was better than wandering around the village feeling awkward. He wondered who even owned this building and kept it up.

“Excellent! You can sit for me and we’ll take your portrait.”

“What-?”

She snatched his sleeve and dragged him towards the back. He scowled, but didn’t fight. What on earth was with the habit of the women in his life insisting on permanently branding his likeness on their medium of choice?

He hoped Miki didn’t draw.


 

Miki drew. She asked him to sit still during their next training session so she could sketch him, with big, watery puppy dog eyes, and he swore at his stupidity for tempting irony.


 

Madara was uncomfortable, to put it mildly, at the welcoming banquet for the Uzumaki.

He’d sort of…forgotten that Hashirama did, in fact, marry at some point, and the notion made him sour. It reminded him that eventually most of the man’s attention would be taken up by his family and Madara would have to fade into the background. Oh, Hashirama would make an effort to stay connected to him, but he wouldn’t be able to keep a divided attention forever.

Seeing as he was no longer clan head, he didn’t really have a place there, either- the other clan heads had come into the room with a guard and nothing more, and Tobirama was there as the Hokage’s advisor, leaving Madara as Hashirama’s extra guest. He’d been sat between the Yamanaka clan head- who was a little off-putting, for some reason, as she kept giving him weirdly friendly smiles- and an empty seat he supposed was meant for an Uzumaki.

It seemed the village had again grown while he wasn’t looking. The Akimichi leader was there- he’d no doubt followed suit when the clan’s allies, the Nara and Yamanaka, joined Konoha- as well as the leader of the Sarutobi clan, the Hyuuga clan, and the Kurama clan. An Aburame was there, too. That meant the Inuzuka surely weren’t far behind.

The leader of the Uzumaki had been droning on and on for over five minutes about yadda, yadda, yadda. Madara stopped listening after about thirty seconds. He found himself bored, attention drifting, switching between looking at Hashirama- who smiled politely through the whole thing- other faces around the room, and Hikaku’s calm face. He could tell the man was just as bored as him. If he denied it, he was a dirty liar.

Maybe part of him was glad not to have that job anymore. Hikaku seemed to be doing well enough.

Nothing had been set in stone yet, or even officially talked about, but he could feel that most everyone in the room expected a marriage announced by the end of the night. They would have time to mingle in the banquet hall before coming back for the final course, and of course Hashirama would propose a contract there, he thought bitterly.

Hashirama, of course, had completely forgotten about it all due to the last few weeks’ events and had been reminded by Tobirama just minutes before the dinner began. He sat there sweating, unsure of why the idea of marrying Ashina’s daughter made him so uncomfortable, eyes flicking over to Madara periodically. The Uchiha looked so bored he almost felt bad for convincing him to come.

Then again, if Madara wasn’t there, he felt as if his decision on this matter would be…harder? Or easier? He didn’t know.

“I look forward to fostering the alliance between our two villages,” Ashina finished, and Hashirama breathed a sigh of relief. His face was starting to hurt. “And now, a few words from my beloved daughter.”

He stepped back and let a redheaded woman take his place.

Madara’s eyes went wide. That was Uzumaki Mito? The woman he’d been spending time with? The woman he thought of as a friend? That was Hashirama’s wife?

He didn’t even have time to feel bitter (or weirdly betrayed) before she started speaking.

“I’d like to say I support everything my father said, and look forward to watching our villages grow together,” she began, much more succinct than her father. Her eyes met Madara’s and he froze. It was as if she was telling him hold on, trust me, don’t be angry yet. “I also look forward to living here, as I will be moving to Konoha and making a home here.”

What?

“As I’m sure most of you have heard whispers of, some believe I came here to marry the Shodaime Hokage.” A secretive smile appeared on her lips. A few started to murmur at her sheer bluntness- no one had expected the Uzumaki to acknowledge this beforehand. “But I must confirm that this is not the case.”

She looked at Madara again, a knowing look in her eye, and he was too frozen to do anything, one hand still holding his wine glass. Behind her, her father had started to frown.

“I will not be marrying anyone, in fact. I will offer my skills to the village and contribute with my own strengths. However, I must dispel any rumors now: though Hokage-sama is a wonderful person, I will not be marrying this man, nor any man. There is someone I have in mind, however, and I hope you will all offer your congratulations should she one day say yes, and help us turn Konohagakure into a place where all love between people of any genders is accepted.”

Dead silence fell over the room. Madara felt lightheaded. He drained his glass in one go and set it down.

The silence dragged on. She continued to smile primly at them, unbothered.

Well, he couldn’t just let her stand there without offering some type of support.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

Every eye in the room turned to the source of the noise. Madara had reclined in his seat, looking unconcerned, clapping with the wiliest smirk Hashirama had seen him wear in months. Tobirama twitched at him across the room.

No one else clapped; they were too stunned. He decided that he was Uchiha Madara, and he didn’t care.

“I’ll drink to that,” he said, loudly, wearing something in between a smile and a sneer. He snagged the glass from Mito’s spot beside him and held it up. Beaming, Mito took one from the table in front of her and mimed clinking glasses with him from across the room. They both drank the whole thing while the room continued to stare at them.

Madara set his glass down once it was empty, stood up, and gave Mito his most simpering stare. She had already started walking around the tables over to him. “A dance in celebration?”

“Of course,” she replied coyly, sliding her arm through his when she reached him.

The two exited through the doors that led to the hall, where members of each clan had gathered, and many had been staring through the open doors in astonishment. Madara walked at an equal pace with Mito rather than leading her towards the center of the floor, where there was room.

“You do know how to dance, yes?” Mito whispered to him, a twinkle in her eyes.

Wasn’t that a loaded question. He got the feeling she meant something more scandalous than the appropriate, slow dancing that some around them had started to assume as a gentle music began to play from the violinists. He placed a hand on her waist and took her hand, moving to the same rhythm as the rest of the duos in the room.

“Of course,” he replied loftily, and he wasn’t lying. Dancing was a pastime he’d loved in his youth that even Hashirama wasn’t aware of. He still remembered when he and his brothers would toss off their outer layer of clothing and leap about around their campfire like wild little monkeys. He’d gained finesse since then, obviously.

She smiled sharply as they moved about the floor. “Another question. Do you like women?”

That gave Madara pause. It seemed completely off topic. Yet she was staring at him with an amused smile that told him she wasn’t asking for no reason. He thought for a moment. “I…have never looked at a woman and felt any sort of interest,” he realized, surprised for some reason. He hadn’t felt even an ounce of attraction to even Mito, he thought- he’d been relieved that she wasn’t marrying Hashirama for…whatever reason. It meant he wasn’t going to lose his friend. But it hadn’t been because he loved her instead or anything of the sort.

“I see. And would Hashirama-san mind if I danced with you inappropriately?”

“Why would Hashirama care?” he asked, confused. Mito paused and raised her eyebrows at him.

“Because you…” She trailed off when he only grew more befuddled. Her lips pressed together. “I see. So…he hasn’t told you yet, has he?” She narrowed her eyes over his shoulder at Hashirama as the clan heads trailed out of the meeting room, looking almost…offended on his behalf?

“Told me wha-”

“No matter,” she said with a sparkling smile, changing the subject again. She quickened her step, suddenly, making him speed up to keep up. “What do you like, Madara?”

“What do I like?”

She leaned in and whispered into his ear, sending a shiver through his side. “What do you think is sexually attractive?”

Madara froze, almost missing a step. “W-what?” he stumbled over his words like he did the dance, caught completely off guard.

“What’s attractive to you?” she purred, looking like she already knew the answer.

“I…” What was attractive to him? He hadn’t thought about this since he was a teenager, and that was…eighty decades ago? He didn’t even know anymore.

Then again…he vividly remembered that he and Izuna had shared the same tastes, because they both had the bad habit of liking battle a little too much if they had the right opponent.

“Power,” he said after a moment, staring into space. Yes, he thought, that was the right answer. If there was one thing that made him feel hot all over it was being in the heat of battle, feeling exhilaration run through him as an opponent with an ungodly amount of chakra fought against him-

Which…put a new light on his fights with Hashir-

No. No, no, bad train of thought. He was not letting himself go there.

“As I thought,” Mito snickered into his ear.

And then his brain caught up with where his logic, well…logically led.

The only people who’d ever been able to put up a fight against him- who’d given him that exhilarated feeling- who’d made him feel the rush of challenge tinged with excitement- were men. Even the kunoichi who’d been able to put up some type of fight against him in the fourth war hadn’t excited him like-

No, he told his mind, he would not think of Hashirama in that context. That was…different, obviously.

There were others, weren’t there? He searched his memory desperately for them, flitting through events and battles. He remembered the day he’d turned fourteen and clashed with a boy from the Inuzuka and felt a clamminess in his hands when he saw the other boy’s sharp teeth and wild features.

“…I…like men,” he realized, surprised. He felt as if he should have consciously noticed it sooner. It was fairly obvious once he thought about it.

“Also as I thought,” Mito said, endlessly amused, and she raised an eyebrow at him. “Remember who you’re talking to?”

Right. The woman who’d just declared herself to a whole village.

Somehow he felt a new kind of comradery with her, like two outcasts connecting over a shared origin.

The realization wasn’t that startling- he had no urge to go find anyone, and it wasn’t as if anyone could match him. It didn’t matter. Obviously. He wasn’t built for that sort of thing.

“Now let’s put on a show. This is always more fun with men who don’t like women. I don’t have to worry about your hands wandering.”

Madara raised an eyebrow and said nothing. Mito swung them by the violinists and nabbed a glass of champagne from a waiter’s tray as she passed him. “Do Konoha shinobi not know how to throw a proper banquet?” she asked the band sweetly, sipping the drink and twirling Madara around. She set it down on the tray on the next rotation and smiled at the head violinist. “Play something faster, if you’d please.”

She blinked at the Uzumaki and nodded obediently.

Mito looked at Madara with an ornery expression. He began to smirk back.

The music increased in pace as they made their way back through the crowd towards the middle of the room.

Mito wasn’t stupid. She knew she’d only escaped her father’s ire because the entire room had been too stunned to stop her or do anything. After tonight, she knew she was liable to face the anger of her entire clan, or even have to combat them trying to forcefully take her back to Uzushio. She knew she was in for yelled rants and chastisements and her father’s disapproving glare. Even after him, she knew that while some in Konoha would support her, others would give her unfavorable stares and talk behind her back. Many would only see the fact that she liked women and would never see past it. She may have asserted her freedom, but her life was going to be more difficult now.

But right now, with Uchiha Madara holding her, nothing could touch her until this night was over and she was going to enjoy it.

People around them began giving them sideways glances as they sped up, past the speed of the rest of the dancers. Madara found that she countered him at every step, better than any of the dancers in the various casinos or clubs he’d snuck off to in his life had, better than even Izuna. Though he was a little impressed, he hid it as he kept a smirk plastered onto his face.

In the back of his mind, he noted the other couples moving out of the way and starting to empty the floor, a gradual thing that started to quicken the faster they became. Mito twirled on one foot and somehow ended up two yards away from him, her outer kimono halfway off her shoulders, which were bare due to her first layer having cut out sleeves. She tossed it into the air behind her to the gasps of several women in the room and ripped out the pins keeping her hair tied up.

Not to be outdone, Madara threw off his yukata, leaving himself in only a button-up with no sleeves and the bodysuit he had on underneath.

Mito smirked and slithered towards him, sliding across the floor. She placed a hand on his abdomen and gave him a shove, circling him like a predator before they melded together again and moved across the floor with harsh and quick movements that looked fluid to their audience.

All right, a voice that sounded like Izuna told him, maybe you’ve had too much wine. (Inaccurate. Izuna would be just as drunk and laughing himself to death.)

Madara twirled her into a dip, trying hard not to let his smirk turn into a maniacal grin. It had been a long while since he’d been able to let loose and have fun. (Well, fun that didn’t involve demolishing whole armies, at least.)

She came up with a leg wrapped obscenely around his hip and a look on her face that told him she was enjoying it just as much as he was. He lifted her from the ground and whirled around, setting her down and turning until they were side by side. She reeled him in by his hand and this time she dipped him. That was probably more obscene to the gasping crowd than anything else.

Madara arched his back and stretched out, making the line of his body as sultry and salacious as he could. Her eyes were on fire with the light of competition as she gazed down at him and pulled him up.

He let go and threw everything he had into every movement, matched at every point and having the time of his life. He forgot that anyone in the crowd was even there, even when they murmured or spoke in hushed voices at his debauchedness.

Mito snagged the sash on his waist as she passed him by and unwound it as they moved away from each other, no part of either of their bodies still as they danced. He caught the end before it fell away from him and let her reel him in until he was pressed flush against her back, one hand caught in the sash and the other on her hip. She reached back and placed a hand on his, the other pressed against her own thigh as she rotated her hips, moving his with hers. He thought he heard someone choke.

She turned and placed her hands on his bare arms. “Ready for the big finish?” she whispered around a grin.

They broke apart and gave each other a mischievous glance. She came running at him and leapt, throwing herself into his arms as he whirled her into a dip that left one leg hooked over his shoulder and one pointing at the wall as the music reached a crescendo and stopped. They both paused and panted with exertion, grinning, but not expecting any applause.

There was a laugh from the other end of the room before two people began to applaud at the same time. Hikaku and Naori stared at him, equally amused. Madara glanced up and was surprised to find most of his clan members grinning at them, starting a chorus of applause that goaded others from the clans to clap, and withheld a laugh. He’d forgotten that many of the Uchiha had been privileged to seeing him dance before. Shinobi began hollering out wordless compliments even if just as many were still in uncomfortable silence.

“Start the music again!” someone called, and the violinists began again.

Dancers flooded the floor once more as the duo relaxed, and Mito sent him a roguish smile full of mischief. She nodded her head at the doors they’d come in through and he followed her gaze.

He didn’t know what she expected him to look at; there was her father, looking like he was having an aneurism, various Uzumaki, some of which were covering their eyes in consternation, Tobirama, who looked an inch away from either passing out or stomping over to hiss out a reprimand, and Hashirama, who-

Was staring straight at him with an expression Madara had never seen before, mouth hanging wide open and a flush to his cheeks that made them look hot to touch. His eyes had always been expressive, and right now they were glazed over with incredulity and…something Madara couldn’t identify.

He jerked around and looked away, a heat in his cheekbones that wasn’t from their activities. “Wine?” Mito asked innocently, holding out a goblet. He glared at her and snatched it out of her hand.

“I’m starting to think you’re insane,” he told her, taking a long drink.

She chuckled. “Why do you think we get along so well?”


 

Madara’s head was pounding. He groaned as he lay there, not wanting to get up, and infuriating sunlight streamed in through his window.

I forgot to drink water between rounds again, he thought angrily at himself, shoving himself up to lean on his elbow. Red strands of hair were strewn over his side.

He glanced behind him and found Mito curled up on the other side of his made-up bed. Apparently they’d been too drunk to even get under the covers. Grimacing, he hoped no one had seen them go home together- even if she’d declared that she liked women and only women, there were still those who’d call her a whore for staying the night at his house.

Even if the chances of them doing anything were lower than Hashirama deciding he hated the village and defecting. Considering that he’d had the revelation that the powerful people that attracted him were exclusively male.

This was the reason he shouldn’t get drunk, he thought, because Uchiha had a tendency to get wild when they drank and it seemed Uzumaki only fed into that. He remembered them drinking more after their performance (incident was a better word), then dancing more, then drinking more.

Mito moaned and slowly opened her eyes. He sat up and she squinted at his face. “You look horrible.”

“You look worse,” Madara retorted.

She sat up and yawned. “Do you have anything to eat? I could eat a mule,” she admitted, looking a tad embarrassed. He gestured at the doorway to the kitchen. She pushed herself off the bed and padded out of the room.

Madara sat there, listening to her rifle through his cabinets, and thought to himself that it was…nice, having someone there when he awoke, instead of his empty room and a quiet silence around him. The silence had become deafening in that cave, in his house in the woods, in death. Unprompted, his mind conjured the idea of having someone there every morning, hair draped over him, of a different color-

He shut that thought down before it went anywhere. He was only having these thoughts because of correlation, he thought. Hashirama was strong- stronger than him- and conveniently male, so his mind was automatically jumping there. Self-control and a dose of common sense would fix that.

(Besides, as if Hashirama would ever love him.)


 

Hashirama was…conflicted.

When Mito had come out with her intentions, he’d been too surprised to react- but he was happy the woman was finding herself and thought the village was a good place to make a home. Hashirama had no problem with loving anyone. Maybe his father and many from his generation looked down on it, but the world had so much hate in it- it needed more love.

He hadn’t expected her to exit with Madara and do…that.

How did they even know each other? He’d run into them on the street together, but he’d assumed Mito was with Toka.

But apparently, they knew each other well enough to…get to know each other like they had. (Really, he was glad Madara was making new friends, but the display had shocked him. One minute Madara was his socially distant and slightly inept friend and the next he was oozing something intimate with a stranger.)

One would think he would have been staring at Mito- more than one person was gawking at the beautiful woman as she moved- but he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Madara. He had no idea his friend could move like that, that he could even dance at all, and it was as if he’d lost control of his eyes because he couldn’t stop staring. At Madara’s legs when he kicked them out, confident and lofty, at his shoulders as he moved, at the skin on his neck when he arched and beads of sweat ran down his jugular, at his whole body as it rolled in a way that was downright sexual. The room had felt uncomfortably warm in his Hokage’s robes.

Seeing Madara like that- in such a way he’d never seen before- awoke weird feelings he didn’t know if he’d always had and just hadn’t noticed or were new, making indecisiveness and confusion swirl in his gut. He wasn’t dumb. He knew that his friend had…aroused him. That these feelings were far from platonic.

He hadn’t considered whether or not he saw men in a romantic way because he’d assumed he would find a wife and produce heirs someday. He hadn’t ruled it out, he just hadn’t considered it, and he certainly had never expected his best friend to elicit those feelings.

He had to consider, really, that it was just physical. Who wouldn’t be excited by the display of skin and sweat and sensuality he’d seen?

He couldn’t just…ignore it, but he couldn’t jump on this, move quickly, assume things- he couldn’t play with Madara like that or lead him on. Some part of him was in a bit of denial. Surely not Madara…he’s my best friend. I’ve never felt that way before.

He had to find out for sure.

He would just wait. Let things move on like everything was normal.

Everything was normal. Everything was fine. He was probably just overreacting- as usual. Tobirama was always chastising him about that.

Just overreacting.


 

Mito appeared before him in a flash of red and white. Sometimes he forgot she was a kunoichi until she drew seals at record speed and shunshin’d where she wanted to go.

She drew in a long, slow breath, standing there with her eyes closed. Madara had been in the middle of watering a fern in the garden beside his house- a thank you gift from Miki for training her (what was her deal with gifts?) and set his watering pot down carefully when he saw her.

“What is it?” he asked, slow and quiet.

“My father,” she replied. She opened her eyes, gaze boring into his, hands hidden in the sleeves of her kimono. “I have three days.”

He raised an eyebrow as a prompt for her to continue.

“If I don’t return to the delegation,” she said, lip twitching with repressed emotion, “and agree to marry who he’s chosen for me, he’s going to disown me.”

Madara paused, face blank save for his raised eyebrow.

“The alliance with the village will remain. This only affects me. Konoha shinobi will be able to visit Uzushio. But I…I will never be allowed to return. Ever.”

The information hit him like an angry rhinoceros. That was…cold-hearted, even in his opinion. And he knew cold-heartedness. Rage formed an angry ball in his chest, but this was a problem he couldn’t just cleave through with his Susanoo.

“My family. My friends.” She bit into her lip and her eyes shone, but no tears fell. She set her jaw. “I’ll see none of them ever again unless they visit me.”

“Don’t go,” Madara said on impulse, and perhaps it was selfish of him, to tell her to give all that up- or maybe it would have been selfish to say otherwise.

Something flickered in her eyes. She glanced down at his ferns, smiling. “Besides Toka…you’re the only one I have here. You’ll…stay with me?”

And it was like the world flipped out from under his feet, because it had been years since he had been that to someone, since he had been one of the last people they had left- since he had a friend who depended on him. Since he had a friend other than Hashirama.

It made something that had hardened years ago in him soften.

“Always,” he promised.

(He stood by her side as her father and family left, not sparing her a single glance, ignoring her as she stood there with a straight back and chin held high, daring anyone with his presence to look at her the wrong way. No one dared.)


 

Madara stared down at the box Miki had handed to him with a furrow in his eyebrows. “What…is this?”

Miki pursed her lips. It had taken several training sessions for her to relax a little around him, which turned out to be both in his favor because she wasn’t as nervous in spars and working against him because she was just as stubborn as Hikaku could be when it came to such matters as they were speaking of. “Your hair is out of control, sensei,” she told him, solemnly, as if he was dying.

“What’s wrong with my hair?” Madara demanded, offended. Her eyes drifted to the ground between them.

“...do you have a brush, sensei?”

“Of course I do!” Flabbergasted, he reached up to feel his unruly spikes and glared down at her. She wasn’t cowed; she knew it from his real glares that made people shiver in fear.

…and, all right, perhaps he’d forgotten to buy a brush. He combed his hair with his fingers every day- it worked well enough, why did he need a brush?

“Do you use it?” she mumbled timidly. Madara started twitching madly.

Behind them, Mito giggled, making the twitching worse.

The box she’d handed him held a fine-toothed silver comb with a cherry blossom tree painted on, probably something either she or Naori had gotten for themselves, and several hair ties that he refused to think of as ribbons.

“I’m just saying,” Miki went on, red in the face, “that maybe you should tie it up sometimes, because maybe it’d be easier to…keep stuff from getting in it, and getting tangled…”

He narrowed his eyes down at her as if daring her to go on.

“Come on, Madara,” Mito snickered from her stump. “I’m sure they’ll make you look dashing.”

“You be quiet,” Madara ordered with another glare, which only made her laugh under her breath. He glared balefully at Miki, who stared back with a hopeful expression, and huffed. “Fine, then. Hold this.”

He shoved the box towards her. Looking delighted, she gladly held it for him. He grabbed the least offending ribbon tie (had she taken these from her own collection? There was one with a cat face pattern), a bright red one, and put it in his mouth as he used both hands to start to get his hair under control. Tying it up always took a minute or two of fighting.

“Ahah, there you are!” Hashirama’s cheerful voice called out. Madara turned and raised a questioning eyebrow as the Hokage jogged towards where they were gathered on the training ground Madara had originally carved out. It had been dubbed Training Ground Three on all the maps being drawn up. “I’ve been looking for y-”

He froze, quite literally, mid-step, arms still locked in a cycle opposite his legs, staring with a frozen smile at Madara as the man stared back inquisitively.

Mito tilted her head in amusement and watched the Shodaime’s smile twitch. His eyes looked panicked, all of a sudden. She suspected she knew why.

“Ah…ah…I was…”

Madara’s tongue poked out to keep the hair tie ribbon from falling out of his mouth. His eyebrow rose higher, and his face obviously told them he was waiting for Hashirama to go on with a bit of rising impatience. He would have gone Spit it out already, Hashirama if he was able.

A wheeze left Hashirama’s chest. “I…suddenly remembered I have paperwork I need to do!” he shouted, back-stepping and cartwheeling his arms in a panic. He turned and sprinted away, fleeing back towards the village. “Ahahah, you all know how much I love paperwork! It’s so important!”

Madara finished tying his hair into a ponytail and stared after Hashirama in blatant confusion. What in the world was wrong with him? Had he eaten something weird? Did he have to be such a freak in front of Madara’s only student?

“Was that Hokage-sama?” Miki asked, puzzled.

“Yes.”

“Oh. He’s…he’s weird.”

Madara sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “I know.”

Chapter Text

Hashirama stopped once he was about two miles away from Madara’s chakra and let out another wheeze, leaning on his knees and collapsing against a tree. Okay, he told himself, feeling frantic, okay, that didn’t mean anything.

He was probably just surprised, he reasoned. It had hit him out of nowhere. It was because he’d seen Madara dancing so lasciviously and had it slapped in his face that his friend was, in fact, very beautiful, that seeing him do something out of the ordinary had startled him.

That’s probably what it is, he thought, taking deep breaths to calm down and placing a hand over his racing heart. His mind latched onto the logic, flimsy as it was.

Madara IS very handsome, he reasoned. Friends notice that sort of thing all the time.

It was completely normal.

It was then he realized that he had, in essence, just trekked out to Madara in the training grounds and instantly run away and probably made himself look like a weirdo. A depressed cloud crashed into him.

“He probably thinks I’m sick or something,” he mumbled to the ground. “Or a freak.”

Then he remembered he actually did have paperwork he needed to be doing, and going to see Madara had been his excuse to avoid doing it.

He groaned and reluctantly started back towards the village.


 

Madara hated going to the bathhouse when there was a crowd. The room got crowded, people had no concept of personal space, and he loathed to be so vulnerable around so many.

There was a hot spring open all through the night he frequented sometimes, located on the far side of the village near the Uchiha compound, and it was smaller than some but much more private at the times he went.

It was nearing one in the morning when he made his way there, an ache in his bones that came from sitting at a desk for five hours helping Hashirama do paperwork. The man was still acting weird, sending him stilted smiles and being oddly hyper-focused on his own work, and Madara caught him glancing at his hair- tied up with one of Miki’s silver hair ties ribbons- more than once.

He looked away whenever he realized he’d been caught and stammered something out about whatever report or form he was working on, anything to divert attention from his behavior.

Tobirama had been in the same room as them and he’d started twitching violently whenever it happened. Madara didn’t think Tobirama knew what was going on better than he did, but he still felt like he was missing out on something, that he was out of the loop.

(He was still waiting for Tobirama to complain about Madara invading their office, but it hadn’t happened yet. He was saving his most judgmental eyebrow for it.)

He stepped into the changing room. Steam from the spring was floating in through the doorway under the curtain, slowly dissipating as it spread further into the room. A shelf was built along the walls to hold patrons’ clothing.

From the other side of the room, Hikaku caught sight of him just as he was untying his robe and froze. “Madara-sama,” he greeted with a smile, and Madara could tell he was tense because he’d slowly dropped the -sama and transitioned to Madara-san and eventually just Madara as it became apparent that Madara wasn’t returning to his position and they became friendlier. “It’s nice to see you.”

He tightened the sash on his robe and smoothed the material out. Hikaku never fidgeted. “Weren’t you going to use the springs?” Madara asked, brow crinkling in confusion.

“Ah…I was, but I’ll let you enjoy them. It’s more enjoyable by yourself, yes?”

“I wouldn’t mind your presence,” Madara countered, befuddled.

“Well, I prefer to bathe by myself anyway,” Hikaku told him, a bit more relaxed as he reached for his clothes with a smile sent his way. “Have a nice evening, Madara-san.”

Now he was fumbling around with his forms of address. Madara’s confusion reached a peak and made him just stand there with a puzzled expression on his face as Hikaku left, taking his clothes with him and exiting the room in his robe. What on earth was with people acting weird around him lately? He knew he hadn’t been the most socially adept in life and he’d spent years alone in a cave, but he wasn’t dumb. Maybe there was something in the air.


 

The weird behavior was spreading. Madara started to dread going out in public because no one seemed able to act normally.

A woman who ran a confectionary stall smiled at him as he turned onto a street and leaned halfway over her counter, hands folded together. “Good morning, Madara-sama! Would you like a sample?”

Madara hadn’t been expecting to be singled out. “That’s-”

“Here you are!” Not waiting for a confirmation, she reached out and tugged him in by his sleeve, depositing a melonpan on a paper napkin into his palm.

“Er…thank you…”

She beamed and waved at him as he walked away. She’d done this the week before too. Frankly, it was impossible to say no to her.

An elderly woman sweeping the area outside a flower shop looked up at him and smiled in greeting. There were still those who diverted their gaze when he looked in their direction, or simply refused to look at him at all, but more and more, he found people smiling at him whenever he walked through the village. It was unsettling. It was a little bit creepy. Had a contagion been set loose? Something hallucinogenic that sent the citizens into a dazed high?

A whisper to his right caught his attention. He was used to hearing whispers, but they were especially apparent now that he’d started to hear them less. A quick whap cut the speaker off.

Befuddled, he looked for the source and found two chuunin sulking at an outdoor table in front of a teahouse while a Senju woman stood over them like a reprimanding mother and glared them into submission. One of them was rubbing his head as if she’d cuffed him.

There had to be something in the air, Madara concluded. There had to be.


 

Mito didn’t regret her decision to stay. She knew having a taste of freedom would make going back to her father and marrying the man he chose for her all the more excruciating. That didn’t mean it wasn’t painful sometimes.

None of the other Uzumaki had elected to stay, lest it look like they were taking her “side” and going against their clan head. Some of them would probably migrate at a later date, but they didn’t dare during such an incident or it would look untoward. Mito was left alone in a village in which she only knew two people.

She had some money to her name, of course, a sizable amount compared to what many came to Konoha with, and a few possessions she didn’t care about that she sold off. It was enough to attain a house near the Senju compound (though it was less a compound, she thought, and more ‘the Senju area of town’) and her skill as a seamstress quickly brought in a steady income in a village full of shinobi who were constantly tearing their clothes. She was just as capable a kunoichi as anyone- rather powerful, in fact- but she’d always been a homebody; she preferred to stay in her village to protect it than go on missions.

All in all, it wasn’t anything physical causing her problems. It was that every time she walked through the village, even though she received amicable smiles, she knew people whispered behind her back. Especially since she’d started spending time at Madara’s, uncaring of what anyone thought. Some of the whispers weren’t even about her and how she’d rebelled against her father and societal norms; some of them were simply about the fact that she was with ‘that man.’ It was no secret that Madara was her only public friend. (They were rarer, but some whispered that they had a thing, despite Mito confirming that she had a female lover.)

It wasn’t an unbearable life; she wasn’t a village pariah and she was happy enough most of the time. She was simply lonely and sometimes, it started to bother her.

Someone cleared their throat above her. Mito had been sitting on one of the benches in the square outside the Hokage Tower, absentmindedly fanning herself as she stared at the excited children running about who’d been let out of the Academy for the day. She looked up and found Toka standing before her, looking nervous, wearing full armor and holding a bouquet.

“Mito,” she greeted, trying to stay composed even as a bead of sweat slid down her brow.

“Toka? What are you…”

Their relationship wasn’t public- not yet. They’d traded murmured sentiments and fond looks in private and held hands under the cover of night and they’d even kissed, the day before, Mito having to stand on her toes as far as she could reach and even then Toka had to lean down.

“These are…er…for you. I came to…to formally ask that…you allow me to court you,” Toka said with a blush so red she looked like she had a fever.

In the back of her mind Mito remembered to cover her mouth with her fan so she wouldn’t rudely gape. She held her breath subconsciously, realizing what Toka was doing, publicly declaring herself as Mito’s lover, sharing the weight of the stares with her, telling Mito that she was in it for the long haul, that yes, someday she would be overjoyed to marry her. Even people around them had started to gawk and whisper.

“I…I- y-yes, of course I accept!” she stuttered, trying not to let her voice squeak. That hadn’t happened since she was sixteen. She stood up a little too quickly and closed her fan, clutching it with shivering hands.

Toka looked relieved and delighted at the same time. “Ah…that’s, um, that’s good.” She covered her mouth with a closed fist and cleared her throat, holding out the bouquet.

Mito took it with a pink face that only grew redder when Toka grasped her hand and leaned down to kiss her knuckles.

“Would you like to…take a walk with me?”

“Yes!” Mito burst out, growing abashed at her own enthusiasm. “I mean…yes.”

Miki watched the two blushing women walk away together hand-in-hand from behind a table. She’d crouched down behind it and stared at them with wide eyes over the rim, having been clinging to the napkin she’d been using but now holding two torn pieces due to how much her hands had shook.

I can’t believe it…in public too! she thought, flushing beet red. She knew Mito was brave, but that was…really really brave. She couldn’t think of how to describe it.

Mito-san likes girls…and Toka-san does too…they like each other… Her blush intensified the longer she sat there. If they could be so brave…

She looked away from the bench and her heart skipped a beat when she found a familiar face, so, so pretty, also staring in surprise at where Mito and Toka had been. Pretty blonde hair, pretty umber eyes, such a pretty voice she used to answer questions whenever civilians asked her for directions in the street.

“Ack, T-Tamaki-” Miki squeaked, collapsing to the ground to hide better and covering her eyes with her hands. She wanted to be brave. But how on earth could she get enough courage to ask Tamaki to go on a date with her?

The shopkeeper glanced down at her and sighed long-sufferingly. “I need to sweep there,” he said, gesturing with his broom. He pinched his nose as Miki shouted an apology and scrambled to get up and leave.


 

Madara was waiting. He’d been waiting for several days. He was starting to get tired of waiting.

He glared at Tobirama as the man sat at his desk, filling out deposit tickets for various bills to the Hokage’s office, looking for all intents and purposes like he didn’t even know Madara was there. The Uchiha himself was lurking (he may have been in full sight, but he still had a talent to simply lurk) by the window, leaning against the wall with folded arms. Hashirama wasn’t there; he’d gone out to get them lunch, naively thinking they’d be fine on their own.

The silence stretched on, filled only by the scratch of Tobirama’s quill against paper.

Madara twitched. “You know,” he began in a falsely conversational tone that grew more hostile as he went on. His lip curled into something like a snarl. “You can stop treating me as if I’m made of glass.”

Tobirama’s quill paused. “How do you mean?” he asked, so infuriatingly calm that Madara curled his hands into fists.

“You know exactly what I mean!” he snapped. Tobirama had hardly said two sentences to him since the incident, tolerating his presence in the office since he actually had a better work ethic towards paperwork than Hashirama and avoiding him when possible. “That had nothing to do with you, so stop acting as if I’m going to try to stab myself at the smallest provocation.”

Tobirama pressed his lips together and set the quill down, staring at him with something that wasn’t a glare but was nonetheless frustrated. “Nothing to do with me? You remember I was holding the sword you stabbed yourself with, correct?”

Madara made a noise of dismissal and gave him a withering look. “I’m not going to tell you about my issues,” he said, grating over the word with irritation. “Stop trying to ignore me for the sake of your brother. I don’t care if you hate me.”

The look on Tobirama’s face went a bit flatter. “Uchiha, contrary to what you may believe, I don’t hate you.”

“Hn. Don’t treat me as if I don’t have eyes, you nitwit.”

“Don’t treat me as if I’m so juvenile I would deny it if I did hate you,” Tobirama retorted with a scowl. “I don’t know where you got this idea-”

Madara threw his head back and pushed off the wall. “Hah! Where I got it? Don’t be purposefully ignorant.” Tobirama snapped his jaw shut and glared at him. “I noticed it when you glared at me whenever I was with Hashirama. I knew you didn’t like that we were friends. You expected me to make trouble.”

“Maybe so,” Tobirama snapped back. “I do not like you, and I was suspicious of you. That does not mean I hate you. I have been trying to avoid arguments with you for the sake of this village and Hashirama. What disagreements we have personally should be stowed if we’re to work together.”

“Work together? Work together?” Unbidden, years of frustration and anger rose to the surface. Madara lost control of what words came out of his mouth in the face of the chance to finally scream his irritations. “I’ve done nothing to hurt this village or you since we started. How am I supposed to work with someone who does nothing but expect the worst of me?” he yelled, Sharingan springing to life in his eyes. The notion seemed to startle Tobirama, as he looked at him with a slack expression and opened his mouth to say something but didn’t start. “What right do you have to treat the Uchiha as if they’re more worthy of suspicion than the Senju? You know nothing of their dreams, of their feelings, of how badly they want this. If you want to work together then start with yourself,” he finished, words coming out as a hiss.

Tobirama stared at him without saying anything, feeling a little bit unsettled. His first gut instinct was anger, burning white hot in the back of his head, but he’d learned long ago not to listen to kneejerk reactions. His mind separated itself from the feeling as he stared at the man in front of him, breathing heavily and glaring at him, obviously governed by emotions Tobirama wasn’t understanding.

Hashirama sometimes told him, when Tobirama chastised him about wearing his heart on his sleeve, that he relied too much on logic and rationality. Tobirama had considered the Uchiha from a logical standpoint; of what benefits and possible dangers they presented to the village. Hashirama had accepted their alliance with hardly any question, overjoyed at its existence, and Tobirama had told him he wasn’t suspicious enough. They’d been betrayed by alliances before and a hearty amount of wariness was never a bad thing.

Perhaps they were both- not quite wrong- but not quite right. If even Madara thought he wasn’t considering his feelings, that should’ve been a red flag. Madara was hardly known for being adept at his own emotions.

The man was hard to work with, irritable, and prickly like a porcupine that only Hashirama was skilled enough to handle, but maybe, Tobirama considered, he’d come at this problem from the wrong direction.

He still needed to watch the Uchiha, like any other clan, like all their clans, because a group mentality often won out in the face of the need of the common citizen, but if his line of attack in dealing with issues were only alienating people more, maybe some of Hashirama’s approach was more necessary. He was most often the one tempering his brother’s actions with reason but he hadn’t considered that perhaps Hashirama would temper his as well.

(He shouldn’t have been surprised. They’d needed each other in ways Itama and Kawarama hadn’t.)

It stung his pride a bit, but if it came to it, he would have to be humble enough to be the one to offer an olive branch when another was held back by convention or hubris. The end result was the only thing that mattered.

“You have a point,” he admitted, watching Madara’s face freeze and fall into a confused frown. “I won’t apologize for being wary of you. Not being so of new allies only gets you a quick death. However, I do see now that you care about the village. I recognize that you wouldn’t purposefully do anything to hurt it, or my brother. You would have done so already if that were the case.”

Madara didn’t say anything for a moment, considering him with a weary glower. “…fine,” he said at last, a bit imperiously, looking down his nose at him. “Then stop acting like a fucking weirdo. Everyone else in this village is already doing it enough.”

Tobirama had no clue what he meant by that. He squinted at him. “I’m willing to attempt to put aside our differences for the sake of the village and my brother. Are you?”

“Tch! Didn’t I basically say that?” Madara retaliated with an annoyed wave of his hand, and Tobirama twitched, because no, he most definitely hadn’t, and he wasn’t fluent in Madara’s doublespeak.

He likes to make things difficult, Tobirama thought with a twitch. “As I said,” he went on through gritted teeth, making Madara stare sourly back, “We should put aside our differences. I doubt we’ll ever get along, but for any…behavior, of mine, that seemed inimical, I apologize.”

He’d been expecting Madara to make any apology unbearably irritating by mocking him, but it threw the Uchiha off and he stared down at him in surprise. “Oh. Well. Uh…” He looked away, frowning at the wall, and his mouth opened and closed a few times. He looked like he was struggling to make himself speak.

Just get it over with for Hashirama, his mind told him. It doesn’t even matter in the end.

“I…apologize…for being…rancorous,” he mumbled. For some reason using words Izuna had often yelled at him over (Stop acting like you swallowed a dictionary and just say sorry for being a jerk, you asshole!) made it easier.

Tobirama blinked and stared at him. He blinked twice more, just to be sure Madara was still standing there and wasn’t a hallucination. He…apologized?

“Ah,” he replied.

They both sat there in awkward silence, neither of them looking at each other. It occurred to Tobirama this was the only real opportunity he might have to address the elephant in the room neither of them had spoken of since founding Konoha. Feeling hesitant, he glanced at Madara again, unsure of how to word what he wanted to say without setting the man off.

“There’s…” Madara’s eyes flicked over to him. Tobirama felt worse, suddenly. Was this contrition? Or just a want that things had turned out differently. “You’ve not mentioned- your brother-”

A switch flipped in the Uchiha. “You-” he interrupted Tobirama, nostrils flaring, eyes whirling in anger, “you do not-” He paused to hiss, stepping closer and glaring at Tobirama with such abhorrence that it made him freeze, made him wonder how he ever thought Madara was serious when he glared at Tobirama before because nothing compared to the look on his face now. “I’ve tried to ignore you, what you did, to tolerate you, to work with you, but you do not- you do not speak of him, understand? Do you understand me?”

Mutely, Tobirama nodded, too stunned to reply. Madara glared down at him like he was something gross he’d found on his sandal outside and whirled around, exiting the office in a blur of black and blue that left Tobirama sitting there, staring at the door, thinking that he’d just done the most unintelligent thing he could do and undone all the progress he’d made.


 

Madara regretted even bringing up Tobirama’s behavior because now he was utterly irritated. Why couldn’t the Senju have just let the conversation end there? Why did he have to bring up Izuna? About what happened to Izuna?

He couldn’t even manage to die and go back in time right, he thought. If only he’d waken up earlier…

In truth, he was frustrated because he knew that Izuna’s death was on him. Even when he’d paralyzed Tobirama with those black rods in the future, deep down, it had felt…empty.

The battle wouldn’t have even happened if Madara had made peace with the Senju sooner. Izuna wouldn’t have died if Madara had been able to protect him. He could have taken Hashirama’s hand right then, and his healing would have saved his brother.

Izuna would have been upset. Angry. In disbelief at the fact that his older brother would trust the Senju. Even if he were, at least he would have been alive.

Oh, he was angry at Tobirama. But even his anger at him felt empty. He felt empty.

God, did he feel empty.

“Madara?”

He glanced up, removing the hand he had over his face, and stared blankly at Hashirama as he walked towards where he sat on a park bench. He was frowning in concern, exercising his enraging ability to somehow sense whenever Madara was upset and conveniently show up.

Hashirama looked him over, as if checking to make sure he wasn’t wounded. When he’d seen Madara sitting there he’d been nervous, but when he realized something was the matter it had dissipated and given way to concern. “Are you all right?” he pressed.

Madara waved him off. “I’m fine. You’re a worrywart, Hashirama. As always.”

He didn’t deserve Hashirama and his worry.

A small, sad cloud rained over Hashirama’s head. “Can you blame me for worrying about you? You can talk to me, you know.”

“As you make clear every other day or so.”

The depression cloud got bigger. Hashirama slumped over and pouted. A tiny smirk appeared on Madara’s face.

Things were…better when Hashirama was around. He hadn’t realized it, but he needed to see Hashirama every day, or else the world started to feel as bitter and empty as it had when he first woke up. It was disgustingly codependent and clingy and he hated himself for it.

Even if he wanted to live his life the same way he had the first time, he…he didn’t think he could do it. He couldn’t bring himself to leave.

Even if he couldn’t forgive Tobirama, or stop being angry at him, he thought, he should try to become- apathetic, towards him. There was no way Madara was ever going to not have to deal with him- he was Hashirama’s brother- and he didn’t want to upset Hashirama. He didn’t need fondness- if he could just feel nothing- maybe the empty feeling in his gut would go away.

“Tch,” he muttered. “You still get depressed too easily.”

Hashirama glanced up at him and grinned sheepishly. “And your mug is still scary!” he said with a laugh, tossing his head back and guffawing. He sat down at Madara’s side and made something warm settle in his chest.

Everything was completely normal, Hashirama thought to himself. Sure, he’d been a bit abashed at his friend- that was normal- and uncertain- that was normal- but everything was- normal. They were having a conversation like any other day.

“You know,” he laughed, growing sheepish again, “they started carving my face in the mountain the other day!”

Madara cocked an eyebrow at him. “Oh? Now I get to see it every day and suffer. Wonderful.”

“It’s not that bad!”

“Are you sure you aren’t speaking from egomania?”

Hashirama pouted with a huff and turned away, crossing his arms. “You’ll see once it’s done! It’ll look better than the idea…”

Yes, he thought, everything was normal.


 

Madara stared. Tobirama stared back.

The Senju got to the office at the crack of dawn, so Madara was already blaming him for forcing him to get up so damned early to avoid Hashirama. He’d stepped into their office and stopped in the middle of the room, and Tobirama had looked up and sat there with his quill in hand not moving, and now they were staring at each other.

He decided that he was going to break the silence. “Tobirama,” he greeted as neutrally as he could. He told himself to get it over with already for Hashirama. “I’m-”

“Oh,” the Senju idiot interrupted him, eyebrows lowering judgmentally, “you hypocrite.”

Madara’s brow twitched. “Excuse me?” he growled.

“Hypocrite,” Tobirama repeated, as if he was hard of hearing.

“How the fuck am I a hypocrite?” Madara snapped, losing his temper again. “I came to- to-”

“Do exactly what you accused me of doing,” Tobirama told him, with some small amount of smugness that made him want to hiss. “You aren’t good at being neutral, Uchiha.”

That made Madara actually hiss. “You are infuriating,” he spat, moving closer and glowering down at him. “Do you not have an ounce of humility in your pathetic bones?”

“That’s rich coming from you,” Tobirama retorted, a mildly sour look on his face. “If you want to hate me, just do it. Don’t pretend for my brother’s sake. He’s not a child.”

“You aren’t even worthy of my hatred. And with the way you mother-hen Hashirama, I’m surprised he doesn’t act more like a child.”

“I do not mother-hen him-”

“You might as well start clucking like a chicken, Senju,” Madara spoke over him, smirking when Tobirama began to glare with a lividness that made a giddy feeling shoot through him. “Cluck, cluck.”

Tobirama slammed his quill down and pressed his palms against the table as he stood. “Do you have the maturity of a five-year-old?”

Madara bared his teeth at him. “You’re the one who’s immature if you can’t handle it.”

“If this is how you treat your allies, I realize fully now why the Uchiha were fighting with every single clan on this continent.”

Madara leaned closer, Sharingan whirling and speaking in a low hiss. Tobirama wasn’t intimidated. “Listen, you little brat-” He could think of no other word to describe the idiot right now.

Tobirama’s voice was indignant. “Brat? You’re hardly older than I am!”

More like several decades. “I have more life experience than you could fathom,” Madara said haughtily, tilting his chin up. “Brat,” he added on just to irritate him.

Tobirama’s eyebrow started twitching. He opened his mouth to angrily retaliate when a loud clap from the door made them both jump.

Madara whirled and found an Uchiha in the doorway. There was a pile of paperwork at his feet that he’d dropped. He had one hand over his heart, as if he’d witnessed something terrifying. “Oh, thank god,” he breathed, then turned tail and ran out the door.

What the hell? Madara stared after him for a moment. He turned to Tobirama and narrowed his eyes. “This isn’t over,” he warned, pointing in the man’s face before storming to the door. Tobirama glared at his back as he went.


 

Tobirama had noticed the Uchiha’s general distant behavior towards him. They weren’t rude, exactly, simply…avoiding him. He’d assumed it was because of rumors, or that Madara had told them something, or the fact that he had killed their clan head’s little brother. It wasn’t because he was a Senju; they were all friendly towards Hashirama- they actually weirdly liked Hashirama.

Then their behavior abruptly changed after his argument with Madara, and he was left confused.

They weren’t actively avoiding him anymore. They acted as if they had never even done it in the first place. He was treated like everyone else, with courtesy and general politeness; some even sent him amicable smiles or greeted him if they happened upon each other.

He got his answer to the question of What the hell was up with the Uchiha this time? when he went out to a teahouse by himself and sat at a small table near the back.

It was mid-afternoon, and a group of Uchiha came in through the door scuffed up and obviously looking for a break after training or a mission. A woman he didn’t know the name of but was obviously the leader of the group apologized to the woman behind the counter for getting dust on her floor and was waved off with a smile. They sat down near the front, but the place was small enough and empty enough that Tobirama could hear them despite them not being all that loud.

“You look like shit, Kotori,” one of the men snorted.

She sent him one of the most scathing stares he’d ever seen on a woman. “You look worse. Probably because you’re the weakest one here.”

The two other men and one woman with them snickered. He glared at the woman- Kotori- and pointed his chopsticks from a pack on the table at her. “There’s no saying I’m the weakest. We haven’t fought directly yet.”

She smirked at him. “Please, Dai, don’t delude yourself. We all know I would crush you with hardly a fight.”

“Like she did to Futoshi,” one of the other woman said with a taunting smirk, glancing at one of the men.

He glared right back. “Must you bring that up at every opportunity?”

“You got your ass handed to you. I’m never letting you forget.”

“Dickhead,” he spat out.

“Cunt,” she retorted with just as much vitriol. Tobirama stared and wondered if they were allies or bitter enemies.

The waitress set down a plate of tea and food. “Ooh, dango!” The other woman squealed, reaching for a piece. “I haven’t had some since last week. Futoshi, want to split it?”

“Hn,” the man replied, and reached for it when she held it out.

The realization rammed into Tobirama like an angry bull. Is that…is that their friendly banter? he thought, flabbergasted. He thought of how Madara always seemed to take enjoyment in goading him and the way he disparaged Hashirama constantly despite being his friend and the way that Mito woman seemed to have fun in taking him down a few verbal pegs whenever Tobirama saw the two together bickering. He’d assumed that Madara just didn’t like him when they founded the village. Is that just how they treat allies?

The world was upside down and five inches to the left. It was like he’d seen something he couldn’t un-see.

A doorbell above the door rung as a man stepped through. An instantaneous change took place- the Uchiha turned cold, distant, and closed-off, idly examining their food or nails as the jounin who’d stepped inside caught sight of them.

“Oh, Kotori,” he said with a smile that felt a little bit slimey. “Nice to see you here.”

“Hn,” the woman hummed noncommittally, twirling an empty dango stick. He stood there as if waiting for a response, so she turned and cast him a look as cold as ice. “Do you need something?” She paused, as if thinking. “Whatever your name was?”

The man’s smile became strained. “Nothing at all. I was…just leaving.”

He retreated to the door as the Uchiha gave him matching stares that were remarkably blank but somehow hostile.

“What a dick,” Dai muttered, looking like he meant it.

And then Tobirama realized: the frigidness between himself and Madara the last few weeks had been freaking them out. They’d probably assumed something vicious had happened between them. Given how protective they'd been acting of their former leader, he wasn't surprised that they'd been giving him wary glances. Now that they’d been seen fighting again, they most likely thought that they’d worked out whatever it was that was making them act with seeming coldness instead of constant frustration.

Madara hadn’t even acted like he disliked him after the village was formed, he realized, feeling like an idiot. He certainly had enough reason to, but for whatever reason, he’d either avoided Tobirama or acted (to anyone else who wasn’t an Uchiha) like Tobirama was an annoyance. But what did that even mean in Uchiha-speak?

He groaned and set a hand on his forehead. Why could Uchiha not make sense?

The world was upside down and five inches to the left.

Chapter Text

The mewling caught his attention when he was coming back from a training session with Miki and Mito that had lasted late into the afternoon. He paused in a tree and glanced down, frowning at the cat litter nestled in the roots of a tree below him before moving on. They were being unusually loud, but they were probably just hungry as their mother skulked around the woods for food.

He went the same way the next day. They were crying again, and he frowned at the tree trunk before crouching down on his branch. He was just making sure the dumb things were being fed, he told himself.

An hour passed. No older cat appeared.

“Troublesome little things,” he muttered as he reached into the roots and seized one by the scruff of its neck to pull out. It was mostly white, mottled with patches of orange, and unbelievably fluffy. It bared its teeth and hissed angrily at him. “I’m trying to help you, you fool.”

Its sibling, a brown tabby with streaks of orange on its shoulders, let out a loud scream and crawled out of the hole, wobbling across the tree roots and attaching itself to his ankle. It continued to cry while making a pitiful effort to climb up his leg and the other continued to hiss at him.

The third- a tiny ball of fluff he wouldn’t have even seen because of its black coat if not for the green eyes blinking at him- stared out from its hiding place like it wanted nothing to do with any of them.

“All right, all right!” he hissed at the tabby, snatching it up and holding it close to his chest. “For god’s sake, stop your whining.”

The kitten stopped mewling at him and let out a long whine from the back of its throat. It stared up at him with pathetic wheat-colored eyes and kneaded his mantle with its claws.

He deposited the grumpy one in the crook of his arm. It settled down a bit in the presence of its sibling, but still looked puffed up and irritated.

He reached in, grabbed the last one, and stood up to leave. They almost immediately started complaining again. “Little pests.”


 

“What’s the matter, Tobirama?” Madara asked in as innocent a voice as he could, trying to look ignorant. “You seem annoyed.”

Tobirama gritted his teeth and refused to look up at him. He was sat over a pile of paperwork twice as high as the previous day’s, while Hashirama and Madara’s desks were conveniently emptier than they had been. He had no idea how Madara had managed to get more paperwork assigned to the Hokage’s office rather than the Hokage himself (and his, technically, assistant), but he was going to reap his vengeance one way or another.

“Nothing at all,” he responded, keeping his answer neutral. Then he made the mistake of looking up at the other man and caught sight of the smirk he was wearing now. His pen snapped in half in his grip. “Nothing. At. All.”

Madara’s smirk widened. Tobirama opened his mouth to berate him when the door swung open and Hashirama stepped inside with a beaming smile. He snapped his mouth shut and glared as Madara gave him a victorious stare.

“I brought dango, you two!” the Shodaime called out peppily. Madara turned away from Tobirama and eyed the bag in Hashirama’s hand.

“I’m not hungry,” Tobirama muttered, giving Madara one last sour look before going back to his paperwork. Hashirama looked at him a little perplexed before turning to Madara.

“Hn. Since there’s nothing else to eat around here,” he said, reaching for the bag with a blank face. He couldn’t let Hashirama know he had a sweet tooth or else the man would pounce on the weakness and use it against him forever.

He sat down at his desk with a dango stick in hand and kept his expression neutral. Hashirama hummed to himself as he returned to his own desk, oblivious to the tension leftover from their passive aggression contest.

“Oh, by the way, Madara,” he said, taking out a report from the Academy as he settled into his seat, “the bank just came out with these convenient new things called checks. You should pick some up later.”

Madara frowned. What was Hashirama even referring to? Bank? Checks? “What?”

“Checks,” Hashirama told him cheerfully. “They’re these pieces of paper made with a special stamp you can use to buy things-”

“Why would I need any?”

“To…to buy things with?” Hashirama looked adorably confused as he turned away from the paper to stare at him with a crinkled brow.

Madara was befuddled. “Wouldn’t I need a bank account to do that?”

Dumbfounded, Hashirama gaped at him. “…you…you have a bank account,” he said.

Madara stared blankly. Hashirama had to have been hallucinating or something, he deduced. He knew for a fact he hadn’t opened a bank account at any point. “No, I don’t,” he argued.

“Y- yes you do! You signed the papers for it!”

“No I didn-” Madara paused, suddenly unsure. He had signed a few papers Hashirama had handed to him without looking at them…something about his work? Frankly, he’d been tired that day and hadn’t been paying much attention. He looked over at Tobirama with a frown. “Do I have a bank account?”

Twitching, the younger Senju set down the scroll he’d been reading and cast him the driest stare that side of Fire Country. “It’s where your salary is direct deposited.”

The words slipped out of his mouth before he could properly think over how they’d make him look. “What salary?”

Hashirama’s face slammed into the table. Madara looked over at him in alarm as he groaned into the wood.

“M-Madara…you didn’t think…you were just…working for free, did you?”

“I never asked you to pay me,” Madara disputed, feeling defensive and embarrassed at his error.

“We all get paid!” Hashirama cried, raising a face streaked with alligator tears. “I can’t believe…wait.” He sat up ramrod straight, abruptly concerned. “What’ve you been eating?”

“…fish?” The cats liked fish anyway. Watatsumi even brought him some occasionally so he didn’t have to leave the house.

Hashirama let out a noise like an animal in pain. He placed a hand over his eyes and leaned heavily on his desk. “Madara…”

What?” Madara was flabbergasted, honestly. Hashirama was such a weirdo. He couldn’t just expect Madara to know without saying anything that he had a salary being deposited into an account he had no idea existed.

Tobirama just stared at them both and resisted the urge to stab himself in the skull with his quill. He wasn’t sure which one was dumber. He looked over at Madara’s puzzled face and wondered if this was even the same man that he’d seen become a terror on the battlefield.


 

“This is amazing, Naori,” Hikaku uttered, his astonishment clear on his face as he examined the plate she’d handed him.

It was set in a case with an oval opening that complimented the portrait inside. Somehow, she’d convinced Madara to bring Miki into the studio and sit with her for a photo. He sat on a stool with one arm crossed over the other while she stood beside him, hands clasped together, grinning excitedly in contrast to the tiny smile her sensei wore. He’d been blank-faced when they entered, but Naori hadn’t told him when she would be taking the photo and had managed to capture a candid moment.

“It’s so crystal clear. I suppose you rather like it, Madara, hmm?” he asked with a teasing smile. Frankly, he thought it was charming, especially due to the fact that they were wearing matching hair ribbons in the photo. (The clan had a heyday when they heard about that.)

“Tch.” Ignoring the heat in his face, Madara closed the case and slid it back over to himself across the tabletop. “Idiot.”

“We’re trying to figure out how to make them larger,” Naori explained, ‘we’ being her, Inoue, surprisingly, who came by in her spare time to help- though Madara hadn’t spoken to her much- and the civilian merchant who owned the building but was paying for their efforts. Naori had apparently been friends with the woman since the village was founded and been interested in her ideas long before she had the building built. “And reach a point we can print them on paper.”

“Still, this is excellent. Great for preserving memories,” Hikaku said with a nostalgic smile, taking a sip of his tea. “You should start selling them. It would help fund your research.”

Naori’s eyes lit up. “That is a marvelous point,” she said, glancing at the closed photo case. “We have the room for a studio on the first floor. I’ll ask Haruno-san later today if she’d be up for it.”

“Well, if it comes down to getting publicity, a certain someone could leave you a glowing review,” Hikaku simpered, giving Madara a pointed glance.

The man harrumphed and made a point to look busy with his tea as he stared out the window at the street.

Naori snickered. “Don’t worry, Madara. I won’t ask you to socialize and spread the word,” she teased. “Although…a series of portraits of important figures, that could get us some foot traffic.” She rubbed her chin as she stared up at the ceiling.

Madara was about to reply when his eyes fell on Hashirama walking down the street. He wore his training attire rather than the Hokage robes (which, frankly, Madara had no idea how he walked in, regardless of how sharp they looked) and he smiled at everyone he passed. Madara watched him stop to talk to an Inuzuka, leaving the man by clapping him on the shoulder; he paused to bend down and grin at a child who tugged at his pant leg.

He looked so…happy.

“You’re smiling, Madara,” Naori purred. “What at?”

Madara jumped and whipped around. Hikaku and Naori were smirking at him, having abandoned their topic of discussion. “What?” he stammered.

Naori giggled. “Don’t act coy,” she razzed. “I’m happy for you if he makes you so happy.”

“…what?”

“We have noticed,” Hikaku said with a knowing grin, hiding it behind his menu and pretending to read it. “You two aren’t subtle.”

“What…are you talking about?” Madara tried not to let his sudden nervousness show. He felt as if he knew what they were talking about even though he didn’t know what they were talking about and he really didn’t want to know what they were talking about.

“You and Hashirama,” Naori chuckled.

“What- what about me and Hashirama?”

She tilted her head at him. “Your relationship,” she said, using the word decidedly differently than one using it as a synonym for friendship. “Oh, come now. I know you haven’t told us yet- wanted to keep it to yourselves for a while?- but we aren’t blind. I know not everyone is the most….accepting, but we support you.”

“The entire clan will,” Hikaku said firmly. “I won’t tolerate any bigotry.”

Madara felt like he was severely out of the loop. “What…do you think our relationship is?” he asked warily, dreading their answer.

Hikaku rolled his eyes. “We know you’re in love,” he said, and it was like an anvil slammed down on Madara’s body. He stopped breathing. “I mean, the man can’t go five minutes without putting his hands on you. He’s outrageously clingy.”

“The adoring looks,” Naori put in.

“You’re always together.”

“You go out to eat together practically every day.”

“He makes you happier than anyone else.”

“And vice versa. We’ve seen how he looks at you.”

He was silent for several moments. A frown started to tug at each of their mouths. “…ah. Is that…” Madara stared at the table, in shock. “…how…we look?”

Naori stared at him, and then it hit her. Uh-oh. “Erm…” She looked to Hikaku for help. He looked back at her with some amount of panic and rapidly shook his head. She gingerly placed a hand on Madara’s shoulder. “If it makes you feel any…better…it’s mostly just Uchiha who’ve noticed.”

Madara let out a noise that sounded more like a dying cow than a human male.

She cringed and patted him on the head. “There, there…”


 

He couldn’t believe this.

He couldn’t get it out of his head after those two had put it there. How on earth- why on earth- who was spreading rumors? Someone had to be spreading rumors. Hashirama didn’t act that affectionately towards him.

Something hysterical in his head laughed at his own pathetic attempt to lie to himself.

He couldn’t even- there wasn’t even anything between them, he thought. Nothing at all. He didn’t…

He didn’t love Hashirama.

Hashirama was…his best friend, that was true. And perhaps Madara didn’t have many, and didn’t know what it was like to not be so attached to a single one, but that didn’t mean he was in love with him.

What was Hashirama to him? He was his friend and rival. Only his friend and rival.

Hashirama was…something that no one else was, had ever been, or could be to him.

The nagging part of his brain that had brought his attention to the fact that Hashirama was the perfect specimen of everything he was attracted to reared its ugly head again. He’d tried hard to keep those concepts separate- just because Hashirama was a man, a man who happened to be the most powerful shinobi in all five nations, didn’t mean Madara was even attracted to him.

He thought back to seeing Hashirama in the street not half an hour before; how his hair had waved in the breeze as he smiled, how his skin had practically glowed after a workout, how his lips stretched apart when he grinned-

How every time he was around, the world simply felt better and as if Madara could belong in it after all-

Oh, god.

“Impossible,” he whispered to himself, chewing on his thumb nail as he paced in his living room upstairs. “It can’t be.”

He remembered the utter excitement he’d felt when he sensed Hashirama’s chakra coming towards the battlefield where the Juubi was raging about. In that moment he hadn’t even cared about what he was doing- what had he been doing?- all that mattered was racing to the front. (And of course Hashirama brushed him off, that bastard.)

It was normal to be obsessed with fighting your rival, he reasoned. Since that fighting was the most…exciting thing he’d ever experienced…

Oh, god.

There was no use fighting it. Denying it would make it worse. He didn’t even know what to do with it.

…But he couldn’t tell Hashirama. The man liked women, didn’t he? He’d married a woman- though, as it had turned out, that had been for political reasons. (And Madara had accidentally stolen his wife from him to be his friend. Oops.)

But Hashirama…didn’t feel the same way. He wore his heart on his sleeve. Surely he would have said something or he would have noticed.

No, Madara…was going to keep this to himself. Nothing had to change, he reasoned, he didn’t have to go and ruin anything.

A sharp pain in his ankle alerted him to Hachi crying at his feet and trying to climb his leg. “Oh,” he breathed, having not even noticed the collection of scratches he’d acquired. “Come here.”

He bent down and picked the tabby up, stroking its side absentmindedly and going back to his pacing. Toba, the bastard, who he’d named after Tobirama because they were equally annoying and because the kitten looked like it could sink into Tobirama’s fur and never come out, watched him judgmentally from his perch on the windowsill. He had no idea where Zunu had gotten off to. He was probably hiding in the closet upstairs again.

“What am I going to do?” he asked the cat, a bit out of breath. Hachi stared up at him with adoring eyes and kneaded his sleeve. “I’m talking to a cat. I can’t believe this.”

He just couldn’t believe any of this.


 

Everything was fine.

Everything was…normal.

He didn’t even have to address this at all.

“Madara!” Hashirama looked up at him with a jovial smile when he came through the door. “Good morning!”

“Good morning,” Madara mumbled, walking past him towards his desk. Hashirama frowned at the odd greeting and tilted his head at him as he sat down.

“Did you sleep well?” he prompted.

Madara choked on thin air. No. No, he hadn’t slept well. He’d gone to sleep and been tormented by dreams of Hashirama’s radiant smiles and the way he delightedly called Madara’s name when he saw him after more than a few hours apart and the way his hair fell as it grew longer and longer. He’d woken up at least twice, and it had culminated in a dream that started out completely normal as they walked home from a banquet; Hashirama edging closer and closer to him, hands warm on his shoulders and back, then they were on his thighs and sliding beneath his yukata and Madara tried to move his limbs but found he couldn’t because hands made of wood had bound them to the floor.

“F-fine,” he choked out, resolutely not looking at the man.

Hashirama continued to radiate innocent confusion as Madara stuffed his face into a report that needed doing. He hesitantly went back to his own work, occasionally shooting the red face he could see peeking out from behind various papers curious looks, but said nothing more.

Tobirama decided to ignore them, because whatever was going on now, he wanted no part of their latest drama.


 

“Mito,” Madara began, a note of desperation in his voice he wasn’t used to hearing, “do you think I’m in love with Hashirama?”

From the couch he’d bought for the front room downstairs, Mito looked up at him with a sympathetic look on her face, stroking Zunu in her lap. “Oh, darling.”

Madara’s neck spasmed. “How was it so obvious?” he despaired, traipsing over to her and collapsing on the floor to lean his head in her lap. Zunu blinked at him before crawling into his hair so she could pet them both.

She let out a light sigh. “Do you know that was one of the reasons I decided to stay and live as myself? I genuinely thought you two were already together, with how affectionate you both are. I assumed the Hokage kept you as his lover without regard for whatever consequences there might be and refused to marry and I was…inspired.”

Madara groaned loudly into her kimono.

“Shush, it’s all right.”

“No, it most certainly is not,” he argued without lifting his head. Her fingers carding through his hair- which was significantly easier to do, since Miki had bullied him into combing it through with olive oil every week- was quite relaxing. “How am I going to look him in the face now, knowing I have this…this…thing?”

He wasn’t completely hobbled- he’d managed to mumble his way through their conversations for a few days before growing a bit more comfortable and managing to interact with Hashirama like a normal human being again. After all, a shinobi’s job was to conceal, and if there was one thing he was good at it was ignoring how he felt.

But it was the other things- the moments- that made it hard. Whenever Hashirama hugged him (which was every day-), whenever Hashirama smiled at him for too long. Even the casual touches he so constantly bestowed on him were starting to fluster him.

Perhaps they wouldn’t normally, but Hashirama did it all the time.

It made him think of how much he wanted to touch back. What he wouldn’t give to-

How was he going to cope with this? Hashirama was…everywhere. Inescapable. Even if they didn’t work together, he was still the Hokage. Not to mention the fact that they lived directly across from each other.

Madara knew it was the smart thing to do, but he couldn’t bear to cut down on their time together. That would hurt him too badly.

“You could tell him,” Mito suggested lightly.

No,” he returned with vehemence. “Absolutely not.”

“And why not?”

“Wha- why not? Why not?” he mocked. “You seriously need to ask that?”

Mito raised an eyebrow down at him. “I see no reason for you to not.”

“He doesn’t feel the same way,” he argued, lifting his head and leaning against the sofa so he could glare at her, hardly realizing Zunu was on his head. “Obviously.”

“Oh?” The eyebrow climbed higher. “Is it so obvious?”

“Hashirama and his…affection…is just how Hashirama is,” he told her, sighing. “He’s…blithe…with everyone.”

And now the eyebrow rose even higher, because Mito couldn’t even believe he was that blind if he thought how Hashirama acted with him was how he acted towards the general populace.

“Hashirama is…he’s…he’s too good for someone like me,” Madara admitted, glare growing mildly despondent as he glanced down to look at Hachi pawing at his thigh. He deposited the kitten into his lap and let it snuggle up against his stomach.

“Madara. You can’t honestly believe that.” Mito went back to stroking his hair, giving him a sad stare. “There’s no reason you aren’t worthy of his love, and besides that, it’s not about being worthy or good enough. If he loves you, he loves you.”

He released a frustrated sigh. “And as I just said, he doesn’t.”

“Maybe you should ask him about that.”

He gave her a challenging stare. “And if he doesn’t? I’ll have made our friendship awkward. You know he would feel guilty.”

Mito twitched. He probably won’t even believe me if I tell him I know Hashirama feels the same, she thought, mildly irritated. “So what? You just sit here not doing anything and suffer?”

He stared back with a bland look. “Exactly.”

She groaned and let her head fall back against the couch cushions. “You’re impossible.”

A loud hiss followed by a clatter from the kitchen startled them both. Toba went streaking out the door and into the front room, shooting beneath the couch on the other side of the room.

Madara growled. “That little shit knocked over my statue again.”

Mito plastered on a fake smile. “Oh, that…attractive one in the window?”

“He hates it,” Madara informed her, crawling over to the other couch and bending down to glare beneath it with his Sharingan active. “That heinous little wretch.”

A white paw shot out and scratched his nose. He let out a muffled, indignant screech and Mito clapped a hand over her mouth, struggling not to laugh as he yelled profanities at the “heinous little wretch.”

Chapter Text

It occurred to him the position he was in after he accidentally revealed himself to a visiting Uzumaki out of pure irritation. He found Mito outside her home arguing with a redheaded man wearing a headband with the mark of Uzushio carved into it, the both of them looking primly annoyed with their lips pressed harshly together and hands folded together beneath their sleeves all in a very pseudo polite manner.

“You’re not being sensible, cousin,” the man was going on, sounding a hair’s breadth from trying to shake sense into her. Madara would pay to see that. “Running off to this village on your own, taking a woman as a lover, hanging around with that man- he’s a bad influence. I cannot believe-”

Madara walked up to Mito’s door with a bland look on his face. The Uzumaki stopped and shot a glance at him. “And you are?” he asked through gritted teeth upon seeing Madara was just going to stand there, wanting to get back to his argument. He most likely didn’t recognize Madara due to him having tied up his hair with the lavender ribbon Miki had given him and wearing clothing a subdued shade of purple that Mito had foisted upon him. “You need more color,” she’d said.

“The bad influence, of course,” Madara said, smiling coquettishly. “It’s such a shame I couldn’t emit any of my attraction to men to her through diffusion, isn’t it?”

There was a sharp snap as Mito flipped open her fan to hide her face and let out a snort. Thrown off, the Uzumaki gaped at him for a moment, opening and closing his mouth before straightening and speaking stiffly through his teeth. “I will speak to you later, cousin.”

He turned and stomped off. Mito waited a moment before laughing and leaning against him as he smirked. “You’re horrible!”

“Thank you.”


 

That position, he realized, was one of a certain freedom.

“Hey, um, sensei, how do you…uh…”

He stared at Miki silently, expecting a question about jutsu or technique.

She fiddled with the handle on her katana and stared at the grass. “How do you…ask someone to…you know…”

He raised an eyebrow. “To what?”

Red bloomed on her face. “To go on a date!”

Madara froze. He hadn’t been prepared for a question about…romance. “Who do you want to go on a date with?” he asked out of reflex, dreading her answer as thoughts of her running about with Kami forbid a Hyuuga boy flitted through his brain. Or an Inuzuka. Or a-

“Um, well…” Growing pinker, she scuffed one heel on the ground and rubbed her neck. “There’s this…girl…”

Madara relaxed a fraction. Young girls were much more responsible than young boys.

“Her name is Tamaki,” Miki went on in a mumble. “She’s really pretty and strong and I really like her but every time I try to ask her I get too embarrassed.”

She hesitantly raised her eyes towards him, looking afraid to look him in the face; he realized what she was thinking with a small wince. “Ah. I don’t…have much advice for you,” he admitted.

“Do you like anyone, sensei?”

He twitched as a bead of sweat ran down his neck. “Perhaps. Though…he doesn’t feel the same.” He’d tried to get his point across casually, as if it weren’t a big deal.

Her eyes lit up. Some of the tension in her body relaxed. “O-oh! W-well that’s his loss, sensei, you’re a great catch!”

His eyebrow twitched again. What was that supposed to mean?

“Um…do you think I should ask Mito-san?”

Madara tried to ignore how uncomfortable this conversation was and nodded. “Probably so. Or Naori.”

She stopped, and her eyes went wide. “Naori-nee-san likes girls too?” she squeaked.

“Of course,” Madara replied, utterly confused. Naori had always liked women. He remembered when he was a teenager, when he and Izuna had spent time in her tent, sitting on her floor complaining about whatever random shit the Senju had done, while she read sat on her bed and read her “romance novels” she kept under lock with a smirk. She wasn’t exactly the most vocal about it, but there was a reason she had quietly avoided getting married and producing Uchiha children.

“Right. Um…can I leave early, sensei? I need to go…talk…to her.”

Madara nodded and waved a hand. She turned and sprinted out of the training ground, slinging the strap of her sword over her shoulder and disappearing into the trees.


 

That position, he realized, was in its own way, a privilege.

Naori and Miki were quiet about their inclinations. Miki had been nervous to tell even him. Anyone else who still relied on the clan was likely to be keeping their lips sealed in the meantime. Mito had been forced to give up everything she had to live as her true self, and people were even starting to give gawking glances to Toka, when no one was looking.

He, however, was used to being the subject of rumors and distrustful looks, even if the village seemed to be treating him differently now for whatever reason.

He was used to being on his own.

He was far too powerful for anyone who wanted to give him trouble over his orientation to dare.

There was no use keeping it a secret if it might make it easier for his friends acquaintances later.


 

Madara only vaguely remembered the details of the battle that unfolded- from his first life, anyway. If he remembered correctly, news that Konoha had gathered so many clans hadn’t reached the northeast yet- it had all happened rather quickly- and three of the clans that had been enemies with the Uchiha and Senju banded together to try and wipe them and their fledgling village off the map once and for all.

They received word of it ahead of time from scouts returning from a mission; word of a large force gathering in the plains to the north. The intent was obvious.

Back in his armor for the first time in what felt like forever, Madara gave the Hokage standing on his left a smirk. “I thought Hokage-sama was meant to stay in the village, hmm?”

Hashirama gave him an exasperated stare. Now that Madara thought about it, this would be the first time they fought together in…a long time. “Be serious, Madara.”

“Oh, I will be. You have my solemn word.”

Hashirama turned away from him, but he knew the man was rolling his eyes. On his other side, Tobirama looked done with the both of them.

The morning air was crisp and cool; the grass underfoot was long and ripe for burning. There was open space around them that stretched for miles and not a soul in sight that wasn’t there for battle. Madara dared to say he felt excited.

Toka landed in a crouch in front of them. “They’ve rejected your offer, Hokage-sama,” she called out. A deep frown settled over Hashirama’s face.

Tobirama sighed. “I expected as much. You know the Hagane are unlikely to accept any peace agreement you put forth, anija.”

The Hokage sighed. “I know, but still…”

“Total annihilation?” Madara asked hopefully. Hashirama gave him a dry look.

“They approach,” a scout called from further ahead. “Hokage-sama, your orders?”

A sigh wracked Hashirama’s body. “Take prisoners if you can,” he called out, raising his voice to be heard by the Uchiha and Senju and various jounin from other clans behind him, “but protect the village at all costs.”

He was met with a series of affirmations. Madara folded his arms and watched the approaching horde with a smirk, looking altogether unconcerned. Hashirama shook his head at him.

The first to attack were, predictably, the enemy; earthen spikes broke through the ground and launched towards the center of their line.

Not willing to wait any longer, Madara propelled himself off the small precipice they stood upon and towards the fight. It was a shame there were so many allies around to hobble him. He could have taken this army out himself and really had fun.

He let loose a burst of chakra when he landed that sent everyone in a ten-foot radius flying back with startled shouts. Grinning, he swung his gunbai wide and unleashed a torrent of wind chakra that mowed down the twenty people in front of him before Konoha shinobi started to flood the field and limit his area of attack.

“Leave some for the rest of us, Madara,” Tobirama called over to him sarcastically. A kunai sailed into a downed, wriggling body, making it go still, and the man himself appeared a moment later, giving Madara a flat stare.

He grinned back. “Then keep up.” He took out his sword and stowed his gunbai on his back. “Brat.”

Tobirama glared at him. They went in opposite directions towards different ends of the battlefield.


 

“Where’s Madara?” Hashirama asked after he’d disposed of another group of ten with a smaller version of his wooden dragon. He was satisfied to say that they’d been weathering their first defense with not a single casualty. Well, on their side.

“Over…” Tobirama, having gone back-to-back with him, twisted around to point with the end of his sword. He pointed out Madara among a sea of enemies across the field, cackling wildly as bloodcurdling screams filled the air around him. “…there.”

“Ah. He’s…having fun.”

“Sometimes I wonder about him, anija,” Tobirama sighed, turning back around. “And you.”

“Hey!”


 

Madara was having a jolly time mowing down shinobi from the Hagane and the Isawabi- he wasn’t sure what the other one was, since he didn’t recognize their clan emblem- when he felt a killing intent focused on him. That wasn’t altogether surprising- he was rather infamous even now, and plenty of the enemies probably held at least a small amount of vitriol for him even if just for the fact he was an Uchiha- but this one had a more personal tinge to it, like the bearer viscerally loathed him.

Interested, he dropped the man he’d been choking and turned towards the source. Dead bodies littered with kunai and wounds decorated the landscape around him even as the opposing force began to be crushed by the Konoha shinobi.

Among a group that hadn’t yet fallen, a blond man with milky pale skin clutched a sword tight in his grasp and glared at him. Madara spurred himself forward, amused when the shinobi sprinted towards him in reply, weaving signs as he did.

Their blades clashed together and sent sparks flying. Entertained by the glower on the other man’s face, Madara looked him in the eye, having deactivated his Sharingan almost ten minutes ago for lack of need.

The man gritted his teeth.

And then his eyes bloomed with the color of blood and the world flipped out from underfoot.

Madara could hardly tell what happened. One moment he stood there taunting the enemy with a smirk, the next he was cave red hair white Nagato purple rings meant power meant destruction meant power-

He ripped himself away with a gasp, using his own dojutsu to break himself out of- whatever illusion the man had used, and brought his Susanoo to life with a jerk, shoving the shinobi away with one armored arm and falling to a knee when the safety of his chakra was around him. He held onto his left eye- the one that man had looked into- gasping for breath and trying to quell the sudden quake that ran through his body.

What was that?

It was like a rush of his worst memories slammed through the forefront of his mind with no control over them. He felt as if he was watching someone else’s life. All he could feel was the darkness of that cave around him and the blood on the ground as a girl bled out and the tears of his own blood pumping in his chest. He set his other palm against the ground to steady himself.

When had he started manipulating children to save them?

“Madara!”

A roar startled him as a wooden dragon much larger than the others Hashirama had been using darted through the air, coiling around his partially-formed Susanoo and leaving an opening on the side facing the Konoha shinobi. The man himself landed on the ground and stopped outside the border of his chakra, staring at him with an almost panicked look on his face. “Madara, release your Susanoo!”

What? Dazed, Madara looked up, briefly removing his hand from his eye. It came away stained with blood. He stared at it in shock. Why am I bleeding?

Hashirama frowned as the chakra in front of him wavered and listed back and forth. Glancing at the still immobile Madara, he cautiously stepped forward and reached out with one hand. It sunk through the outer layer of the construct with no issue.

He dashed forward without anymore hesitation and skidded into a crouch at Madara’s side. “What happened?” he demanded, looking him over. “Where are you hurt?”

Madara startled as if he hadn’t known he was there. That was concerning enough on its own, but the far-off look on his face when he looked up at Hashirama made his heart seize. “N…nothing. I’m fine.”

He winced as soon as he said it, reaching for his eye again. Hashirama wrapped a hand around his wrist and held it still, placing a glowing green palm over the eye in question. It was red and enflamed, bleeding as if something had irritated it, but that hadn’t happened since before Madara took Izuna’s eyes.

Madara jumped when Hashirama grabbed onto him and came back to himself. He took a deep breath- remembering that they were on a battlefield and it wasn’t smart to dawdle as he was even if he was practically untouchable- and went rigid when he realized how close Hashirama was. He was practically breathing down Madara’s neck, focused so heavily on healing his eye that he didn’t notice the reddening of his face.

As soon as the glow started to fade, Madara tugged himself away, turning his face towards the other end of the battlefield. “That’s good enough, isn’t it?”

Hashirama frowned up at him as he stood and, for some reason, felt reluctant to let go. He opened his hand and let Madara’s wrist drift out of his grip. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”

“No. Now-”

“Er…Hokage-sama? Madara-sama?”

They both turned, vaguely surprised, and saw an Uchiha knocking on the Susanoo’s ribcage. Madara’s face went even redder when he realized how they must have looked.

“There’s, uh…still a battle going on out here, if you’re ready…”

“Of course! I’m terribly sorry, we- why aren’t you coming inside?” Hashirama derailed himself, looking helplessly confused.

The Uchiha’s expression went slightly flat. “You can’t enter another’s Susanoo without permission, sir.” He said it as if Hashirama should have known this.

“Hn. Tha- wait, how are you in here?” Madara started, turning to demand an answer of the Hokage with an accusative frown. He looked him up and down as if he’d somehow broken through.

“Because it just…let me?” Hashirama tried, looking like he knew the answer no better than him.

Madara froze, realizing his subconscious must have let Hashirama in, and huffed. “It doesn’t matter,” he snapped, letting his Susanoo dissipate. He strode towards the opening in the wood. “Stand around and gawk after the enemy is dealt with.”

Hashirama stared at his back for a moment, feeling as if he were missing something, before following him. He would deal with Madara’s strange behavior later, he thought; there were other matters to attend to at the moment.

Madara went to leap to another part of the fields when a hand caught his elbow, jerking him to a stop. “No running off,” Hashirama scolded him. “You stay at my side.”

Madara stared at him, too thrown off to argue. He swallowed and averted his eyes. Hashirama really had no idea how he looked when he was authoritative. “Fine,” he muttered.

The ground rocked as if something heavy had slammed into it. “One of them has a summon!” an Inuzuka yelled from down the line. “Someone bring something big!”

“I’m coming!” Hashirama yelled back, giving him a pointed glance. Madara resisted the urge to roll his eyes- he wasn’t five- and kept to his side as they burst into a sprint.

The enemy’s “summon” turned out to be a gigantic sixteen-legged salamander that was, frankly, creepy to look at. Madara stood staring at it in morbid fascination for a minute before stumbling half a step as the ground shifted underfoot and broke as wood rose into the air. He quickly got his feet back under him and watched as a wood golem arose from the cracked ground below, leaving them on its head as it loomed over the rest of the battlefield.

He cut a glance at Hashirama, who stood with his hands folded together. He didn’t know if they’d ever ridden one of his behemoths at the same time. The last time he’d seen it had been when it had been trying to clobber him instead.

The salamander rose up on four sets of feet and aimed a burst of chakra from its mouth at the wooden dragon wrapped around the golem’s chest. Madara was, of course, content with watching Hashirama bulldoze the thing (all right, so what if it was a little bit amusing?) and knew the golem was capable of combating a tailed beast, let alone a random boss summon, but reacted on instinct and curled his Susanoo around the wood before the energy hit. It clashed with the armor on it before bouncing off and diverting to the ground.

“M- Madara?!”

Hashirama’s stunned voice brought his attention back to his friend. He was staring at him as if he’d grown another head. “What?” Madara asked, befuddled. Hashirama continued to stare. “What?

The wind from the blast caused the Shodaime’s hair to wave in the air behind him, hands still clasped together as he stared at Madara with wide eyes and a shell-shocked look on his face. Madara tensed, still not understanding what he’d done to cause it, and started to flush. The man looked utterly windblown.

“Your…your Susanoo…”

Madara frowned and glanced at his Susanoo, still uncomprehending. It was then he realized that he’d encased it around Hashirama’s golem like that brat had done to the blond child’s Kyuubi construct.

He’d also yet to reveal the complete form in this timeline until now.

“Move, you idiot,” he yelled, waving one arm at the salamander as it reared up on its hind legs again.

Hashirama broke out of his stupor. “Ah, right! I almost forgot about him,” he said, sending Madara a sheepish smile that was met with an unimpressed glare. He resumed his position and guided the golem forward.

With Madara’s Susanoo wrapped around it, of course, they put “bulldozing” to shame.


 

“Holy shit.” Even the Uchiha had lost their composure, if the woman to his right gawking up at the construct across the battlefield was any indication. “Fuck me.”

“Anytime. But really, are they even human? Seriously, they can’t be real,” a Senju directly beside her complained.

Tobirama just shook his head. He’d had no idea a Susanoo could combine with something, let alone that Madara and Hashirama could combine their battle avatars to make something even more terrifying. It was nothing if not effective, however, because what he saw before him right now was nigh unstoppable.

He could see why it was unsettling.

“Do you need any healing, Tobirama-san?”

He tried not to let the small amount of surprise he felt at the Uchiha woman’s sudden appearance show; it wouldn’t do to be caught staring at their Hokage like a common gawker. “No, I’m fine,” he replied, watching her put away a pouch of what he guessed was salve. “What was your name?”

He’d crossed paths with her in the battle more than once. She hung at Hikaku’s side, and Hikaku seemed to help him out- and vice versa- by random chance, also more than once, thus she’d ended up watching his back as well.

“Naori,” she replied with a polite smile, hardly needing to declare her clan. Hikaku appeared like a ghost behind her.

“Is anyone hurt, Naori?”

“No one that I’ve found, Hikaku-sama.”

“Ah, that’s good,” the man sighed, letting his shoulders sag. “We haven’t had one casualty. That’s…a first.”

She gave him a look and patted his elbow, once, but it was enough to draw a small smile out of him. It was strange seeing them interact like that.

“You know what that means, though,” he continued on in a cheerier way, a smirk crawling onto his face. “We can celebrate after. Do you want to visit the Uchiha Bar, Tobirama-san? I guarantee it’ll be worth your while.”

He asked because Tobirama was standing right there with them, of course, and it would be rude not to extend an invitation, but secretly, he thought the man really needed to get out of his office more. What would the equivalent of going gray at an early age even be for him?

“What? Oh, I-” Tobirama was a bit startled at the suddenness; he coughed awkwardly into his fist. “Have paperwork to do-”

“Tobirama.” Toka had appeared with no warning, giving him the most patronizing stare he’d ever seen. His eyes narrowed into a glare. “Get out of the office for once, will you? You’re going to get arthritis.”

Tobirama twitched. The taller Senju smirked down at him before turning and walking away.

Hikaku clapped him on the shoulder plate. “We’ll swing by around dusk,” he said cheerfully. “I’m guessing, of course, you’ll be in the office.”

A muffled snicker emanated from Naori’s direction. Tobirama gave him a baleful look.

“Don’t worry! None of us bite.”

Naori began to walk towards a group of Uchiha and leaned closer as she passed him. “Hikaku does if you ask nicely,” she purred under her breath, smirking over her shoulder as the Uchiha leader’s face blossomed red.

He glared at her and she looked to be restraining a laugh as she left them.

Tobirama just stared and slowly shook his head. Uchiha would never make sense.


 

Hashirama didn’t really know what happened.

Madara was the strongest shinobi in the village besides himself. He’d given Hashirama a run for his money countless times and there wasn’t anyone else he’d rather have at his back during a fight. He knew Madara could handle himself.

But he wasn’t invincible, and when he’d turned on the field when the man’s Susanoo had burst out of nowhere and seen him crouched down, unmoving, a visceral fear had shot through him and suddenly he’d propelled himself towards his friend like a bullet.

He’d used his Mokuton mostly to support the Konoha shinobi up to that point, occasionally making larger constructs to deal with large groups of enemies, but had let loose and created a dragon large enough to shield the upper half of the Susanoo without even thinking.

There wasn’t a dojutsu or jutsu that rivaled the Sharingan in its area of expertise, as far as he knew- yet Madara had acted like he’d overused it or it had been damaged. He wasn’t completely sure what had happened to the cells he’d healed, but the closest thing he could liken it to was a burn.

And of course Madara was keeping mum about it. He’d just said that a shinobi had caught him in a genjutsu and he’d broken out of it and left it at that. Hashirama knew there was something he wasn’t telling him, but he knew pushing would just make his friend more stubborn.

He knew Madara didn’t like to be open about things that hurt him, but it was just so frustrating.

When he’d noticed Madara had gone down, there had been a moment when he’d felt nothing but terror. They’d worked so hard and waited for so long to achieve their dream and almost lost each other a few times.

There had been a burning rage after, a rage he’d suppressed with concern and worry, but he’d almost scared himself with how angry he felt in that moment.

They’d worked too hard and waited too long.

Hashirama wouldn’t let anyone take his friend from him now.

The next time- if there was a next time, but that was a hopeful notion- they went into battle he was going to insist Madara stay nearby; they were stronger together anyway and now that he knew they could collaborate in such a way, they had a trump card.

But still, he thought as he jumped down from his wooden golem as it collapsed into the ground, there was something odd about the whole thing and he was going to find out what.


 

Madara braced himself as the golem sank into the ground. Its visage was benevolent, in a way, gentler than before now that the battle was over and its only job was to return to the earth.

When they’d neared the ground, Hashirama hopped off and turned to him with a smile as he offered his hand. Madara looked away to hide the red in his face and huffed, taking his hand and stepping down to the ground. He knew the man would just start pouting if he ignored him.

“Hokage-sama!” a man yelled over to them as shinobi ran to greet them. “That was amazing!”

“I can’t believe you merged them,” someone behind him commented.

Several Uchiha pushed through and converged on him. Startled, Madara barely had time to open his mouth before Hikaku had slapped a hand on his arm and started grinning. “A new form of Susanoo? Excellent!”

“As expected of Madara-sama!”

“Of course he would advance!”

“Er…” Madara hardly knew what to do with the praise. The Uchiha were smiling at him, nothing but affection and respect in their eyes. It was so- strange.

“Ahahah, they’re right, Madara!” Hashirama sidled over to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. It somehow felt much too close even in their armor. The Hokage gave him a dazzling grin. “That was great. We have to work on our collaboration jutsu more now,” he said with a wink.

“…right.” Madara’s heart had set to racing in his chest and he could hardly focus when he was forced to look Hashirama in the eye so close. He averted his eyes, biting down on his lip to distract himself with pain, and tried to ignore the heat rising to his face.

Several of the Uchiha started smirking at them. Hikaku gave him the most lascivious smirk he’d ever seen the man wear.

“We should make haste back to the village,” he exclaimed, breaking away from Hashirama so suddenly he was left holding empty air. He stormed past his snickering clan members and glared at each and every one of them as he passed by. Kami must have really, really hated him.


 

Purple…

Uchiha eyes.

Rings…

Senju biological material.

Devastation…

Madara’s eyes.

Power.

Raw power at his fingertips. Enough to conquer nations and bring armies to their knees before him. Enough to drag comets from the skies and bind beasts to his control. All he’d wanted was to kill the Uchiha, but even killing the Uchiha paled in comparison to what he could do if he got those ringed eyes.

Madara’s eyes.

Did it matter which Senju it was? The God of Shinobi was…nigh unapproachable.

The same could be said for Uchiha Madara, but no other eyes would work. He’d gotten lucky on that battlefield and even now that monstrous construct had sent him flying hard enough he had broken ribs.

It had to be a strong Senju, he decided, but any Senju would work as long as he got Madara’s eyes.

Madara’s eyes.

He would take them if it was the last thing he ever did.

Chapter Text

The Uchiha bar, as Tobirama found out, was literally the Uchiha Bar.

They’d taken over a slightly rickety building near the Uchiha compound that looked more like a drooping saloon than a restaurant, composed of wood that had gone dark with age yet somehow held up strong and a bar with suspicious stains on it and a battered Uchiha banner over it. The rest of the room was filled with small round tables, some of which had been shoved haphazardly together as Uchiha grouped around them, drinking. One group had even started to sing.

It was…very odd. They were clearly in their own domain and in a distinctly Uchiha space.

“You look like you’re gawking at some sort of animal you’ve never seen before,” Hikaku breathed out, stumbling over a laugh. Tobirama turned back around a bit sheepishly, watching the normally composed man give him and Naori a sleepy smile. “See, we can enjoy ourselves!”

There was a loud crash from behind him followed by giddy cackling. Tobirama winced.

“Hey!” Hikaku stood up on his chair’s support beams, leaning his palms against the table. “No arson tonight!”

A chorus of disappointed cries followed his declaration.

“Are things often set on fire?” Tobirama asked wryly, trying not to roll his eyes.

“It’s worse if Kotori comes around,” Hikaku laughed, settling back into his seat. “She’s a little, unhinged when she lets loose.”

“God, Kotori.” Naori let out a wistful sigh and took a sip of her drink. “I’d let that woman ram me.”

Tobirama almost choked on his own sake.

Hikaku chuckled and slapped him on the back as he coughed to cover it up. “Who wouldn’t let Kotori ram them?” he teased.

Naori let out another sigh, clearly more drunk than Tobirama had thought a minute ago, and sunk further towards the table. “Inoue came by the studio again yesterday. She’s just…so gorgeous…”

“The Yamanaka clan head?” a woman yelled from the other side of the room, somehow hearing all the way from there. “Hot damn!”

A murmur of agreement spread through the crowd.

Tobirama twitched and leaned further into his own table. It wasn’t that he found the topic shameful, he just didn’t like to be overheard by nature.

However, it was…surprising that the Uchiha were so free with it all. He would have expected them to be uncomfortable with the idea, holding onto some amount of old bigotry. He had eyes and ears; he knew that plenty of people were disapproving of Mito and Toka even if there were those who offered support.

Yet, he could hear not a single mutter of contempt or disagreement in the whole bar. The idea that the Uchiha as a group had let go of a prejudice faster than everyone else, for once, was a bit startling.

He himself had no problem with people who had…different inclinations. He’d noticed the aesthetic qualities of other men before. In a completely analytical way. Outside of practical needs such as deciding marriage contracts and producing heirs, there was no real rule dictating who could love whom.

“-rama,” Hikaku said, drawing him back to reality as he poked the red mark on Tobirama’s cheekbone. “Tobirama. Tobirama. Are you still conscious, Tobirama? Do you sleep with your eyes open? That’s impressive, but quite creepy.”

Tobirama batted his hand away. “I’m awake, you ninny.”

“Ninny!” Naori shrilled towards the ceiling. “Just like Ninue! God, she’s so gorgeous!”

“Hey. Hey.” Hikaku reached over and grabbed her hand, expression growing weirdly stern. “Don’t start screaming like Miki.”

“Didn’t she set your robes on fire again?”

“Yes. I’ve told Madara to tell her to stop practicing those godawful gigantic fire jutsu so close to the compound but he’s passing on his pyromania.”

“Miki?” Tobirama asked, confused.

“Madara’s student!” Hikaku told him cheerfully.

That made him pause. “Madara has a student?” he repeated, flabbergasted.

Naori and Hikaku gave him matching confused stares that made him feel the slightest bit dumb. “Uh, yes, of course he does. He’s had a student for several weeks now.”

Tobirama frowned, wondering how he’d missed such a thing, staring at the tabletop. Surely Hashirama would have known, but then why wouldn’t he have mentioned it? He would have babbled endlessly about something he found as cute as Madara having a student.

He wrinkled his nose when he thought of Hashirama finding anything about Madara cute. God, his brother was starting to rub off on him.

“You’re thinking too hard again,” Hikaku chastised, shaking his head. “I bet it’s about Hokage-sama and Madara.”

Tobirama looked up to give him an incredulous look at how he’d known that.

“You have to stay in an office with them. For hours.” Hikaku wrinkled his nose, but Tobirama got the explicit feeling that he was thinking of it in an entirely different context that Tobirama was. It was like he was missing something right in front of his nose. He hated that feeling.

“What a torture,” Naori muttered, then poured another drink and slid it over to him. “Drink to forget.”

Tobirama wrapped a hand around the mug she’d given to him and threw it back. Drink to forget was right. He was utterly exhausted of trying to decipher in what ways anyone around him at any given point in time was being melodramatic.


 

It was late by the time they got back to their homes. Madara weathered Hashirama’s excited chattering the whole way, barely even registering that he was drifting after Madara as he climbed the stone steps leading to his house.

He trailed off as Madara swung the door open, wondering if he wanted him to come inside or not, and followed when the Uchiha left the door open. He closed it behind him as Madara flicked the lights on.

A loud screeching startled the living daylights out of him as a streak shot off one of the couches in the room and darted towards Madara’s feet. The man himself just looked slightly resigned.

“Stop your inane shrieking,” he said with a scowl down to the…brown kitten clawing at his feet?

Caught off guard, Hashirama did little more than blink a few times and watch his friend bend down to pick up the kitten from the floor. He held it against his chest and stroked a hand down its back, huffing. “Troublesome. You can’t even handle me being absent for a few hours.”

The kitten meowed at him as if in reply.

Hashirama stuffed a fist into his mouth. That’s so cute, he thought, watching with watery eyes as Madara set the cat down. “You have a cat?” he asked, almost squeaking himself.

Madara glanced over at him and huffed when he saw the look on his face, turning away and folding his arms. “Obviously.”

The kitten noticed him and let out another shrill screech. It streaked over to him and almost rammed into his foot in its haste to stop and start pawing at his trousers, mewling pitifully.

Aww!” Gushing, he bent down and wrapped both hands around it, bringing it towards his neck to cuddle and kissing its forehead. “You’re so adorable! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you had a cat, Madara!”

Madara stared at him as he cooed over the thing and swallowed. “Yes, well…I do. Three. I have three of them.”

“Three?” Hashirama looked at him with shining eyes. “Where are the other two?”

His question made Madara frown and glance around. “Good question,” he rumbled, eyes going narrow. “It’s too quiet.”

He said it the way one might grow suspicious of a forest filled with enemies.

Just then, there was a loud bang from the kitchen. Madara whirled towards it with a growl, hands folding into fists as a fuzzy white ball of fluff emerged, walking as if it owned the house. “You little shit. What’d you break this time?”

The cat gave him an imperious stare and hissed. He looked past him at Hashirama, lips pulled back in a snarl, and hissed louder, as if he was trying to convey You brought THIS into my home? He’s even worse than you!

“Uh…”

The cat moved closer and yowled louder. Hashirama gulped and took a step back, holding onto the tabby as if it were his protection. He looked to Madara for help.

The Uchiha waved a hand dismissively. “He does that to everyone,” he drawled, and that was no help at all.

“Ahaha, well…” He edged over to Madara and the hissing got even louder. The cat seemed angry he dared to get near, even though he seemed to hate Madara too. It…must have been an odd relationship. “Uh…”

“Cut that out, Toba, you little hellion!” Madara snapped, growing irritated the longer the kitten shrieked. It cut off and stared at him with a blandness he felt was familiar.

“Wait. Toba?” Hashirama’s head turned like a swivel as a grin crept onto his face. Madara froze as if he’d accidentally divulged a secret. “Did you name him after Tobirama?”

“…no.” Madara looked away from him, using his hair to hide a flush.

Hashirama guffawed, holding the other kitten with one hand and slinging an arm around Madara’s neck, oblivious to the way it made the red on his face intensify. “That’s great! I have to tell him!”

“Do so, and I gut you in your sleep.”

Unbothered by the threat, Hashirama just continued to grin at him. Madara averted his eyes to the wall. “What’s this one named, then?”

Madara was silent for a moment. When he spoke, the threat was gone from his voice as he practically mumbled out his answer. “Hachi.”

“Aww, that sounds like-” Hashirama paused and beamed. He turned to him, slowly, with a shit-eating but somehow affectionate grin, eyes twinkling. “Aww, did you name him after me?”

Madara went rigid and glared at the wall. “…no.”

“You did! That’s adorable!”

Laughing, Hashirama pulled his arm tighter around him and pressed his forehead against the side of Madara’s face in a half embrace. The other man froze and dragged in an uneven breath, trying to ignore it when his heart rate picked up.

God, he couldn’t. Not with Hashirama that close.

“Yes, well,” he stammered, clearing his throat as he jerked away and moved towards the hallway, “Zunu should be around here somewhere.”

Hashirama set Hachi down when he made to claw at the air and cast his friend a bit of a confused glance. He had noticed that Madara seemed a bit uncomfortable lately, seemingly at random. Sometimes they conversed just fine, and other times he grew tense and pulled away. It was strange.

It was then he noticed there was a small black ball at his feet. He jumped and let out a surprised yelp, having not even noticed the third kitten appear in front of him, and Madara whipped around at the noise. Hokage and cat stared at each other with wide, unblinking eyes.

“He…does that,” Madara muttered. Zunu’s unchanging gaze made Hashirama feel rather unsettled. He wasn’t sure if the animal was going to let him pet it or kill him in his sleep. “Zunu, it’s fine. It’s just Hashirama.”

Zunu turned and gave him a long, slow blink. Toba let out an unhappy growl as he retreated to the couch and hopped onto the arm, giving them all a sour look before curling up and hiding his face with his tail.

Zunu turned to stare at Hashirama’s foot for nearly thirty seconds before standing from his crouch, keeping low to the ground as he carefully moved around Hashirama to get to the hallway, moving like a predator stalking its prey. He only looked away when he faced the kitchen and could creep past Madara towards the stairs.

“…does that mean he doesn’t hate me?” Hashirama asked hopefully.

Madara shrugged, wearing a bland expression. “Perhaps.”

“That doesn’t help me at all…”

“Stop getting so depressed over what a cat thinks of you, you buffoon.”

Hashirama lost the depressed cloud that had come over him and looked at Madara with a smile. “But I have to get them to like me since they’re yours, Madara!”

Madara stared back for a moment before looking away, folding his arms and wrinkling his nose. Hashirama couldn’t get rid of the inane talent he had to make him feel embarrassed over nothing at all. “Idiot,” he muttered in lieu of responding.

He heard Hashirama chuckle and shuffle closer. “You know, you’ve seemed a little prickly lately.”

Madara froze and looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “Oh.”

Hashirama noticed the way his muscles went taut and the uncomfortable rise in tension. There must have been something making Madara uncomfortable, he reasoned, if he was acting in such a way; he never did anything without a reason (not always good reasons, but there were reasons). It was something he was trying to hide, if the way he dodged Hashirama’s questions was any indication.

“If something’s bothering you, you can tell me,” he tried to reassure, taking another step closer. There was an odd sense of anxiety in the air as Madara stood there, body rigid, still refusing to look directly at him. “Is there?”

The man opened his mouth, paused, and licked his lips and closed his mouth again. Hashirama watched his throat move as he swallowed.

Madara noticed that Hashirama had been sending him a few odd glances here and there. He was starting to note his strange behavior. With how nosy the Senju was, he was bound to try to figure it out, even if Madara avoided the topic.

Part of him wanted to expose his feelings in a rush and just get it over with because that part of him hated lying to Hashirama’s face every time he asked if something was amiss. The smarter part of him pushed it down and ridiculed how weak a will he must have had if he was almost swayed by something as precarious as his feelings.

He looked over at Hashirama again, staring at him with such an earnest face and eyes unbothered by any hardship between them, eyes that were only worried and affectionate.

“…no,” he said.

Hashirama frowned. He almost told me, he thought disappointedly, glancing at the way Madara’s hands had curled themselves in the sleeves of his mantle. What made him hold back?

“It’s late,” Madara blurted out, unable to take the tension anymore. He whipped round and forcibly turned Hashirama towards the door, shoving him as he stomped towards it. “Are you trying to make me feel exhausted in the morning, Senju? Go dance around your own home at ass o’clock in the morning.”

“But-” Hashirama protested.

Madara threw open the door and shoved him outside so hard he stumbled. “Good night,” he said shortly, slamming the door shut.

“But Madara!” the man whined through the door.

“Good NIGHT, Hashirama,” Madara yelled.

He could practically see Hashirama slumping over and turning away from his house with a pout on his lips. His mind fixated on it as he imagined it; the way Hashirama’s bottom lip jutted out, how plump it looked when he did, how it made him want to lean in and trap it between his teeth-

Madara slapped a hand to his face. God forbid he do that when the man those lips belonged to was around. A distraction like that was the last thing he needed.


 

Hashirama had barely sulked his way to his own front door when he heard the singing. Befuddled, he turned towards the street where hanging lanterns lit the path and watched as a wide figure- or, rather, three figures holding each other up- stumbled their way towards the Senju house.

“Poor dog, he was faithful and kind, to be sure,” Hikaku bellowed out, swaying and nearly taking his two fellow drunks down with him, “and he always loved me, though I t’was poor-”

On the opposite side of him, helping to support Tobirama between them, Naori belted out, “When the sour-looking folks sent me heartless away-”

“I had always a friend in my poor dog Tray,” the two wailed together, while Tobirama mumbled along.

“What on earth?” Hashirama gaped at them and jogged down the steps. Hikaku noticed him and looked up with a bright smile.

“Hokage-sama! It’s so nice to see you. Do you live here?”

A large sweatdrop ran down the Hokage’s head. “We were just…what were we doing, Naori?” Hikaku continued, looking to her for help.

“Walking Tobirama home.”

“We were walking Tobirama home.”

Tobirama finally noticed him and dragged his head up, eyes going narrow. “Anija,” he slurred over his words, giving him a familiar glare, “why aren’t you doing your paperwork?”

“Wh- it’s the middle of the night!” Hashirama protested.

“Don’t treat me as if I don’t have eyes, Hashirama,” his brother snapped, swaying as he tried to take a step and making the two Uchiha stumble to keep him upright. “I can clearly see it’s bright outside.”

“How much did you drink?” Hashirama asked, agape.

The younger Senju snorted. “Irrelevant.”

“He set a record!” Naori exclaimed airily, smiling into thin air. “You should’ve seen it. Everyone was cheering him on.”

“Drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink,” Hikaku whispered under his breath.

“The Senju aren’t weak after all!” Naori crowed, looking as if she were imitating someone but couldn’t quite remember exactly who.

Hashirama groaned and rubbed his forehead. He stepped forward and held out his arms. “I’ll take him from here. You two need to get home yourselves. Can you make it there on your own?”

“Pssh. Of course we can.” Hikaku stumbled back when he took Tobirama from their support and into Naori. She slung an arm around his neck as they wheeled around, going back to their unsteady but jaunty pace. “Back to the compound!”

“Back to the compound!”

“Ohhh, I had a dog named Tray-”

Hashirama stared after them for a minute with the deep sense that he was letting the equivalent of two unruly children walk off and sighed as he started carting Tobirama up the steps. “Well, I’m glad you had fun, Tobirama, but I must say I never expected you to come home intoxicated.”

“That’s because you’re the irresponsible one,” Tobirama groused, head sagging as he did the bare minimum to keep himself upright. Hashirama kicked open their door and pushed it shut after them.

“Uh-huh. And here you are going out with the Uchiha,” Hashirama teased as they walked down the hall towards Tobirama’s room.

Tobirama made a noise of discontent as he shuffled the sliding door open with one foot. “They railroaded me.”

“Railroaded. Certainly.”

“They’re impossible.”

“Hmm-mhm.”

Hashirama nudged him towards his bedroll. Tobirama flopped onto the wood floor as ungracefully as a shinobi of his caliber could, making the noise again when Hashirama began tugging his shirt off. The mesh he had on underneath would do fine to sleep in.

You’re impossible,” Tobirama complained, glowering at him. “Do you know what it’s like being stuck in an office with you and Madara?” Hashirama frowned, anticipating a complaint about his friend despite him and Tobirama having started to get along…well, perhaps not better, but less aggressively, when his brother went on. “You two are ridiculous. Take your drama somewhere else.”

“My…drama?” Hashirama asked, helplessly confused.

Tobirama waved a dismissive hand at him. “Don’t play dumb. You know what I mean, anija. Now go away; my head is pounding.”

He eased back unceremoniously onto his roll. Hashirama winced at the sound of his head thunking into the floor.

He gently slid a pillow beneath the man’s head and unfolded the blanket at his feet. Tobirama mumbled something else derogatory at him as he did that was incomprehensible.

“Good night, Tobirama,” Hashirama said with a fond smile, ruffling his brother’s hair and restraining a chuckle at the grumpy mutter he received in reply. He retreated to the door and checked over his shoulder to make sure the man was asleep before closing the door.

He returned to his own room, feeling a bit tired from being up so long (although it didn’t compare to the exhaustion that followed some of his and Madara’s more serious spars), and hummed to himself as he changed out of his clothes.

He laid down on his own bedroll and breathed out a deep sigh as he closed his eyes. He would probably grow them bedframes as winter approached, he thought- it would be warmer than sleeping on the floor. There was no longer any need to use something that had to be quickly rolled up in case of a bug out.

Light shining on his eyelids made him open them again. He looked over at his window and realized Madara still had his lights on, and since they were across from each other, he could see in the man’s windows since he hadn’t pulled his curtains yet.

The man himself appeared in his bedroom window, mouth moving as if he was talking to someone. Hashirama propped himself up on his elbow and chuckled, watching as he pointed a rolled-up newspaper he’d probably found at his doorstep that morning at where Hashirama knew the desk was. Long black paws reached through the air to bat at it.

He was talking to the cat. That was adorable. Hashirama couldn’t help but grin.

Madara tossed the newspaper across the room. He could only assume Zunu had leapt off the desk to follow it.

Madara reached for something off the desk and turned around, leaving his view. It took only a minute for him to return, his mantle gone, in a black robe with the Uchiha fan on the lapel and his hair tied in a ponytail.

He stared straight ahead, where the wall would be, and suddenly frowned.

He glanced behind him, in the direction of his bed, and the frown deepened.

Hashirama found his own smile slipping off his face as the expression on his friend’s became downcast. He sat up, forgetting sleep, and watched with a frown as Madara stared into space, folding his arms and looking- dare he say- insecure about something. His eyes had drifted to the ground and he gnawed on his lip, showing none of the signature Uchiha blandness now that he was alone.

Now he knew for sure that something was wrong. What was bothering Madara that he felt as if he couldn’t tell Hashirama about it?

Madara turned and stormed out of view. The light flicked off a moment later, leaving Hashirama stewing in his own feelings of concern. He wasn’t tired at all now.


 

Madara was so utterly frustrated.

His heart had betrayed him and refused to listen to him. He kept telling it to get in line and behave, but it still acted like a heathen with no self-control around Hashirama.

It was even starting to affect him when Hashirama wasn’t even there. Madara…missed him. He wanted Hashirama to stay and was irritated at the fact he actually had to return to his own home for sleep and leave Madara there alone.

If that wasn’t the clingiest, most disgustingly dependent thought he’d ever had, he’d be damned. But he still couldn’t help but feel alone when everyone around him had someone to return to. The other Uchiha had the clan, Mito had Toka, Hashirama had his brother.

Zunu mewled at him from the desk. “Troublesome idiot,” Madara muttered, referring more to Hashirama than the cat. He pointed the newspaper he’d been using to threaten Toba away from his statue again at the kitten’s head.

Zunu batted at it with both paws. Madara tossed it to the corner of the room and the kitten quickly gave chase.

With a sigh of frustration, he went to his wardrobe to change and tie up his hair- Naori insisted it became less tangled that way- and watched Zunu splay with the pages before sighing again and staring at the mirror on his desk he’d bought because it became frustrating to deal with his hair without being able to see it.

The cats helped some, he had to admit, but his house still felt empty in the dead of night when the silence was all too apparent.

And, he also had to admit, so did his bed. He glanced back at it and bit his lip. The presence of a warm body…would feel nice.

Hashirama’s warm body would feel nicer, his mind whispered to him.

In a moment of weakness, he let his mind wander, imagining one of the countless times Hashirama wrapped an arm around him, imagining pressing closer and lingering, hearing the man’s laughter in his ear and breathing in the scent of the forest.

Pathetic, he thought, turning and marching to the light switch. Absolutely pathetic.

He climbed into bed and pressed his forehead into the pillow, trying to ignore the distinct nothing around him.

Two small forms scratched their way up the bedframe and crawled up the mattress towards up. Madara lifted the covers and let them slither into his hair. Hachi let out a low mewl of satisfaction as he curled against his neck.

Toba gave him an unhappy hiss as he curled into a tight ball on the other side of the bed. The bastard had to act as if he didn’t enjoy anything.

Madara sighed and opened one eye. He could see the full moon out his window, shining brightly upon the village in the darkness.

He wondered, if the Eternal Tsukuyomi had been what he’d thought it was, what his dream world would have been like.

Pathetic.

Chapter Text

Tobirama realized just what was going on in the most uneventful way possible.

It was an afternoon like any other; he’d finished his morning paperwork and was leaning back in his chair, considering going out to lunch, while Hashirama continued to slog through the last of his and Madara did the same.

It was a bit odd that they’d found a…routine, but the former Uchiha leader’s presence wasn’t as excruciating as some thought it to be.

Madara had gone over to Hashirama’s desk (and, all right, Tobirama was a bit amused when Hashirama screwed something up and the Uchiha gave him a tongue lashing over it that left him sitting in a dejected cloud) to hand him a report about the Academy tests, which he’d gone to watch and assess himself the previous day.

Hashirama rested a hand over his wrist and smiled up at him with a thank you.

Madara stared back blankly for a moment before muttering a response and turning away.

His cheeks had gone red, and he was resolutely looking at nothing but his own desk.

It all clicked in Tobirama’s brain, because that- that was a blush. Not a flush of embarrassment or going red from anger or humiliation; a blush brought on by one person only.

It all made sense.

The odd behavior, the random bouts of becoming uncomfortable, the weird reactions to Hashirama.

He was a bit dumbfounded at first. He’d never seen Madara express an interest in men, but then again, he had never seen him express much interest in anyone. And when he really got to thinking about it, he was so attached to Hashirama that it made sense for some feelings to develop. The two had known each other since their childhood, even if several years of that relationship had been…rocky, to put it politely.

Still, some part of him was in disbelief that Madara fostered romantic feelings for Hashirama.

He wasn’t sure if he was confused, felt numb by the revelation, felt disapproval, or wanted to ram his head into a wall.

Then his mind began piecing together bits and pieces of interactions and behavior and he started to feel…pity.

Because- even if he was in full disapproval- what was there to disapprove of? Madara had been exhibiting these signs for weeks, but, rather than act on them, he was trying to hide it- that much was certain the more Tobirama thought about it. The man was attempting to hide his feelings from Hashirama and ignore it.

And Hashirama- Tobirama knew that he was certainly fond of Madara, fond of him more so than any other friend, but he wasn’t sure if his brother felt the same way. From his behavior, Tobirama could see it going either way.

Madara wasn’t stupid; he most likely thought the same. As Tobirama had learnt, he wasn’t a bad person- he was irritating, hard to deal with, belligerent at times, but Tobirama had, by now, spent weeks with him as he worked just as hard as himself or Hashirama to get the village off the ground. He’d thought he was doing it for free and hadn’t even asked for anything in return.

And most of all, Madara never did anything halfway. If there was one thing everyone knew about him, it was that he felt in vivacity and intensity. His temper was famous for a reason.

Anything he felt for Hashirama had to be just as intense.

Feeling something like that for someone he considered his best friend- when they were both men, no less (was that part of the reason he held back, because Hashirama was the Hokage?)- and spending every day with him, especially considering how brazen Hashirama was with showing his affection to people he cared for, was a slow torture.

Tobirama felt many things, some of which he wasn’t sure how to decrypt, but as he watched Madara stare at a piece of paper hard enough to burn through it, biting down on his cheek, he couldn’t find it in himself to be angry at a man who obviously didn’t want to be in this situation.

His eyes darted over to Hashirama again. He was humming to himself as he looked over the report Madara had given him, looking happy and content. It was much easier for him to get through paperwork with the other two there; shared burdens were easier to cope with (aka, others suffering along with you made the suffering more tolerable).

How could Tobirama know if he felt the same as Madara did? He was open with his emotions, yet if he himself wasn’t aware of them, that was no way to tell.

Tobirama had always assumed his brother would marry a woman and produce heirs to keep their line going strong. He hadn’t really considered who he liked- it had never come up, and there were certain expectations he carried as clan head, and now, Hokage.

He certainly did consider it the safest route- for his brother, and for the clan- for Hashirama to find a wife and do so, but that was due to their responsibilities and what would be safe.

However, despite the jokes certain people liked to make at his expense about mother-henning, he was no overbearing control freak intent on making sure Hashirama obeyed. The Hokage was a grown man who would have to make his own decisions, and all his little brother could do was offer what advice he could. Tobirama would never dare go behind his back to try and arrange anything with a woman without his knowledge. Even with his responsibilities, the expectations on his shoulders, the standards of the society they lived in…

At his core, Tobirama did wish his brother to be happy.

Hashirama was someone who would only shine duller and duller if he was forced to live with a miserable lot he hadn’t chosen. If a man made him happy, Tobirama would accept it and deal with the fallout in the shadows to protect him.

He also had more faith in Hashirama than some gave him credit for. There was no one else who could have spearheaded the creation of Konoha; Hashirama was unlike any other with his charisma and ability to win over others with his words, and if there was someone who could defy the odds and bigoted traditions, it was him.

If Madara made him happy, Tobirama would accept it and deal with the infuriating family dinners that would undoubtedly follow.

Hashirama picked up his quill. Tobirama glanced over at Madara and found him watching the Hokage, his usual mask of indifference having fallen slightly, eyes centered on Hashirama’s as they moved along the page.

A moment later he tore his gaze away and glared at his own paperwork, looking angry at himself, before forcing his face to go blank- but his grip on his own quill was so tight Tobirama was surprised it didn’t break.

Yes, he thought- he wasn’t angry at Uchiha Madara, just a little bit sorry for him.


 

It seemed that finding abandoned baby animals in the woods was becoming a habit of his. Madara’s trek through the forest back from his own solo training was interrupted by a single, high-pitched keen that nearly startled him. It had come out of nowhere, quite literally.

He paused on a tree branch and searched the forest floor, catching sight of a small brown lump a few feet away from the base of a tree.

A bolt of concern shot through him when he realized what it was; a baby kestrel, feathers ruffled, wing bent at an odd angle as it lay immobile in the grass. It stared up at him with wide, unreadable, yet expecting eyes that were frighteningly reminiscent of Zunu.

He leapt to the ground and bent on his knees beside it, gently moving it into the palm of his hand. “Poor thing,” he cooed, stroking its head with his index finger. “Did your mother abandon you?”

It tilted his head at him and pecked at his glove as if to complain he hadn’t brought food. “Later,” he promised, standing. “We need to fix that wing first.”

It- or she, rather- cheeped at him, sounding unconcerned. In fact, she seemed rather satisfied with her current lot, unbothered by the unfamiliar human who’d picked her off the forest floor.

He didn’t have a kestrel, he thought to himself, a little bit pleased, but they could be deadly. Watatsumi would surely accept a new addition to the aviary.

He returned to the Hokage Tower, expecting Hashirama to still be there doing paperwork like he had an hour ago, and approached the office- which was, for some reason, closed. He frowned, knowing there was no meeting scheduled, and moved a hand away from Tatsumaki (so what if he’d already named her?) to open the door.

“My only point is,” an unfamiliar Senju was saying, obviously frustrated as he stared at Tobirama with a furrowed brow, “I don’t think he should be this close to the administration-”

He froze like he’d been caught doing something awry when Madara stepped inside. He didn’t care either way what the man wanted; he was talking to Tobirama, so it must’ve been his business. “Tobirama,” he said, “where’s Hashirama?”

“Hashirama? He’s out, why?” Tobirama looked at him with a frown. He was annoyed; Madara could recognize it by now. However, it wasn’t the fun annoyed that unfolded when Madara goaded him, and for once it wasn’t directed at him. He looked more than a little irritated at whatever conversation he’d been having.

“Where’d that idiot get off to now? I need his medical jutsu,” Madara complained.

The unfamiliar man glowered a little bit and opened his mouth; then his eyes fell to what he held. Tobirama’s gaze dropped to his new falcon at the same time, remarkably blank.

“She has a broken wing,” he said for explanation, because apparently they needed one despite having working eyes. They continued to stare. “I found her outside.” Tatsumaki chirped, once, in agreement.

“Outside” was always a broad term in Konoha.

Madara returned his other hand to cover the kestrel’s small body and gave them an imperious stare. “Well?” he prodded. “It won’t heal on its own.”

Tobirama’s eyebrow slowly rose a steady path up his forehead. He gave his fellow Senju a pointed glance.

The man floundered for a moment. “I…have an appointment I need to get to. Excuse me, sir,” he said, sounding a bit sour as he hurried over to the door.

Madara looked after him for half a second before remembering he didn’t care and turning back to Tobirama. “Well? Where is he?”

The man sighed and rubbed his temples.


 

Tobirama wasn’t sure why Kenichi thought he was the man to complain to if he thought Madara’s job was inappropriately-given. Well, he did know why- they all knew Hashirama would just listen to their complains in full, press his lips together, put on a fake smile and tell them he had it handled and their concerns were unnecessary (the man could be much more passive aggressive than anyone suspected).

With how he’d been acting with Madara, lately, he also doubted anyone was brave enough to criticize the man in his presence.

“I’m just concerned,” Kenichi went on, like he had been for the last three minutes and twenty-five seconds. “He’s been acting strange as of late and you know the things they say about him.”

“Things? What things?” Tobirama raised his eyebrows and pretended not to have the faintest clue what the man was referring to.

Kenichi frowned. “I’m sure you’ve heard them yourself, Tobirama-sama.” His concern, however genuine, was misguided. Tobirama knew exactly what rumors he was referring to and he also knew how quickly any random Uchiha would snap at someone for spreading them. At least Kenichi wasn’t complaining where any of them could hear. “I don’t mean to cast any illusions on his character, but are you sure having him work directly under the Hokage is a smart decision? With sensitive materials-”

“I’ve interacted with the man myself, Kenichi. We do, indeed, sit in the same room together every day. I’ll know if he starts planning something.”

Tobirama’s irritation lay less with whether he agreed or disagreed with what Kenichi said and more with the fact that he was doing the polite equivalent of arguing with him. Obviously, he did value his subordinates’ opinions and suspicions- but when it came to Madara, it was very easy, it seemed, for those suspicions to lean on mere rumors for support rather than factual evidence, and Kenichi was acting more like he was trying to convince Tobirama to somehow yank Madara’s position out from beneath him than simply trying to convey his concerns. At some point, a subordinate needed to accept the fact that his higher-ups had it under control- although there wasn’t much to have under control in the first place, considering Madara would most likely have an aneurism from Hashirama’s unashamed tenderness sooner than do anything worthy of suspicion.

“What, specifically, has he done to make you suspicious?” he asked when Kenichi opened his mouth, folding his hands into a steeple. He found that others quickly ran out of steam when forced to defend their positions if they had little with which to defend.  

Kenichi faltered. “I…well, you can’t say you think he’s harmless, Tobirama-sama.” Tobirama stared blandly at him, unimpressed with the way he avoided the question and tried to change his focus. “My only point is, I don’t think he should be this close to the administration-”

The door swung open. They both paused and glanced at Madara, who’d entered with nary a warning, holding something in his hand. Kenichi froze.

“Tobirama,” he began, “where’s Hashirama?”

Tobirama felt uncomfortable with the man’s sudden presence after he’d just been having a discussion about him. He wouldn’t have, a few weeks ago, but there was a vaguely dishonest taste in his mouth and he couldn’t pinpoint why. He frowned. “Hashirama? He’s out, why?”

Madara scowled. “Where’d that idiot get off to now? I need his medical jutsu.”

Kenichi started to glare, no doubt unhappy with Madara referring to the Senju leader as an idiot- even though Tobirama knew it was little more than a nickname of habit by now- before both their gazes fell on what Madara was holding.

When it became apparent their silence would go on, Madara spoke, sounding put out. “She has a broken wing. I found her outside.”

The bird chirped as if it were agreeing with him.

Outside was a rather broad term. Tobirama suspected he’d found that kestrel in the forest and not on the sidewalk.

Madara covered it with a hand like he was trying to hide it from their odd staring. “Well? It won’t heal on its own,” he snapped, obviously impatient.

(Was this man the same one he’d seen cackle wildly on a battlefield? How was he the same one he’d seen cackle wildly on a battlefield?)

Tobirama raised an eyebrow and turned to look at Kenichi, silently mocking the very words he’d just said. You can’t say you think he’s harmless.

Obviously, Madara was not nor would he ever be harmless, but the juxtaposition between Kenichi’s complaints and the Uchiha walking in with a baby bird he’d rescued was a hilarious kind of irony.

A redness tinted Kenichi’s cheeks and neck. Not the bashful blush of a would-be lover, no, this was a flush of humiliation. “I…have an appointment I need to get to. Excuse me, sir,” he said sourly, and fled the room.

The whole thing was a bit amusing behind how irritating it was.

Madara stared after Kenichi for a half a moment before turning back to him. “Well? Where is he?”

Tobirama just sighed and rubbed his temples.

He swore, Uchiha Madara and his brother…


 

Tobirama remembered a vague detail from his drunken night out with the Uchiha hive in the middle of training. He paused as he was blocking Hashirama’s wooden katana, staring into space as they stood in the yard within their home. “Did you know Madara has a student?”

That made Hashirama falter. His sword slipped off Tobirama’s and left them both standing there awkwardly. “What?”

“Madara. He has a student.” Tobirama was stuck on the piece of information now that he could finally remember it. How on earth had he not remembered a detail as odd as that sooner? “Hikaku and Naori told me.”

“Madara has a student? Why didn’t he tell me?” Hashirama whined, bottom lip jutting out in a pout. Tobirama wondered if his brother legitimately expected Madara to tell him everything he did.

He shrugged and raised his sword again as they started to circle each other, albeit very distractedly on Hashirama’s end. “For several weeks now, apparently.”

Weeks! I’d tell him all about it if I got a student,” Hashirama complained, taking a swing at him. Tobirama leapt back to avoid it. “I- wait, that’s a great idea!” His eyes lit up as he looked at Tobirama. “We should take students too at some point, shouldn’t we?”

“I would assume so,” Tobirama grunted as he dodged another swipe. “Sasuke’s mentioned something about taking on his boy. It would be a favor to the Sarutobi.”

“He’s in the Academy, right?” Hashirama ducked to avoid his sword and gave a sharp tap to his brother’s shin that made him hiss. “You could take his genin team when they graduate. I don’t have the time myself, but I could help.”

“True.” Tobirama kept his eyes on the other’s movements as he considered the idea. “That leaves me a few months to prepare, at least.”

Hashirama grinned at him. “Daunted by the prospect of dealing with children, Tobirama?”

“I already have enough practice from dealing with you, anija.”

“That’s cold…”

They were both brought out of their banter by a rhythmic knocking from the direction of the front of the house. The yard stretched around the side, and they’d neared the front by now; Hashirama jogged over to the fence and peeked through a gap in the boards to check if someone was at their door, freezing with a gasp when he did. “Tobirama!” he whispered. “I think I see her!”

The spar was obviously over now. With a sigh, Tobirama walked over to look through the fence beside him, resisting the urge to facepalm at the man’s excited bouncing.

A girl who looked similar to Madara herself, with unkempt black hair and her own set of bags beneath her eyes, was knocking on the door to his home. “Sensei!” she yelled, making Hashirama let out a weird gurgling noise of happiness that made Tobirama give him a side-eye. When no one answered the door, she started shouting louder. “Sensei!”

The door swung open mid-knock. She jumped a foot high with a squeak as Madara stared blearily down at her. His hair was a ruffled mess, and his eyes were glazed over in a way that told them he’d been sleeping. Or, rather, napping, considering it was the middle of the day. “Miki?”

“Sensei,” the girl wailed, so dramatic and loud that Tobirama almost thought she was related to Hashirama instead. Her eyes welled up with unshed tears. “Madara-sensei, I’m a failure.”

Madara gave a light sigh and rolled his eyes towards the heavens, sounding markedly patient. “What happened this time?”

Miki’s lip began to wobble. “I…I tried to ask Tamaki to go train with me but I chickened out again…I’m a total coward.”

Tobirama had seen more of Madara’s smiles the more time he spent with him and Hashirama, but it was still a bit strange seeing the fond smile that took over his lips as he set a hand on his student’s head and ruffled her hair. “You’ll get there eventually.”

“Isn’t Tamaki Kenichi’s girl?” Hashirama whispered to him, trying to decode the conversation. Tobirama nodded without saying anything.

“What about you, sensei?” the girl looked up at him through her bangs and fiddled with her gloves. “Have you talked to the person you like?”

Tobirama froze, wondering if Hashirama would catch on as Madara’s cheekbones tinted pink. His brother paused, an odd expression flitting across his face, but said nothing.

“No,” Madara replied, averting his gaze from Miki’s. “That’s not important. Have you finished practicing your Gōenka?”

Miki’s eyes lit up and they could feel the glee radiating from her. “Yes! I made eight yesterday!”

“Good. Today we’re going to learn something…bigger.”

She folded slightly shaking hands together and stared up at him hopefully. “Bigger?”

“You should know the Gōka Messhitsu. So yes.” A gleam appeared in Madara’s eye that made Hashirama internally cringe at how many trees he would have to regrow. “Bigger.

“And if you succeed with the Gōka Messhitsu,” Madara continued, “I’ll teach you the Gōka Mekkyaku.”

The girl let out a sound so high-pitched it made their eavesdroppers wince. “Thank you, sensei! I’ll succeed, I swear!”

She turned and started running, presumably, towards their training ground. Madara smirked to himself before retreating into his house, probably to change.

“W-well…he’s certainly teaching her a lot,” Hashirama laughed as he straightened up, running a hand over his hair.

Tobirama twitched. “If you call ‘his most destructive techniques’ a lot, then yes.”

“Aw, c’mon, she was so…excited.” Hashirama grinned at him and made Tobirama sigh with a shake of his head.

“Fire-happy, more like. I assume one would have to be to be able to stand his tutelage.”

Hashirama chuckled and raised his practice sword, idly dusting off dirt from the end with a strange look in his eyes. Tobirama watched him with folded arms for a minute before rolling his eyes and deciding to prompt the conversation himself. “I didn’t take Madara for one to be romantically involved.”

Hashirama froze, though he tried to hide it, fidgeting with his sword. “Ah, yes, that…surprised me too. But I suppose it makes sense, yes?” He stared at the garden in the middle of their yard with an unreadable expression. “That he would grow to be…fond of someone. I wonder who it is that he likes.”

Tobirama wanted to slam his head into the Hokage Monument. He ground his teeth for a moment. “Yes. I wonder who.”

Hashirama completely missed his sarcasm. “I suppose we should be happy for him. With…settling in…the village…” He trailed off as if he forgot Tobirama was there at all, looking quite uncomfortable and like he wanted to be happy for his friend but couldn’t- and as if he couldn’t figure out why. Tobirama could see it in the way his eyes drifted about, the slightest furrow in his brow, and the lack of a smile on his face.

He stared, quiet, for several seconds. The idea clearly bothered Hashirama. If he only saw Madara as a friend- whether consciously or subconsciously- it shouldn’t have, unless he was the type of person to become so clingy with his friends that he was made upset by anything that took up parts of their attention. Tobirama knew he wasn’t that pitiful. Logically, if Madara was simply his best friend, Hashirama should have been overjoyed if he’d found someone who made him happy.

He was obviously trying to make himself be positive about it, but was unable to get over his own feeling of tension. He didn’t even understand it. It was a little bit pitiable. It also made him want to ram his head into a mountain even more.

Now, Tobirama understood that Madara wasn’t the only one with hidden feelings. Hashirama was simply unaware of his.

Of course, he could simply tell Hashirama, but he suspected that the man needed to come to the revelation on his own or else he wouldn’t believe it. That would also be an invasion of Madara’s privacy and highly likely to make the man come after him with his sickle.

Now, though, he couldn’t help but pity Madara a little bit more, because Tobirama’s brother was a complete nitwit. He massaged his forehead and willed his oncoming headache away.


 

“Is it all right if Kagami stays? I’m supposed to be babysitting him,” Miki admitted with an embarrassed blush.

Madara tilted his head and wondered who she was referring to. It was then a dark head of curly hair peeked out from behind her. The child had dark eyes and pale skin and wore navy blue clothes- an Uchiha.

“Oh?” He knelt down and raised an eyebrow. “And who are you?”

“Um… I’m Uchiha Kagami, Madara-tama,” the boy said as he shuffled out from behind Miki, talking with a lisp due to his two missing front teeth. It sounded as if he’d said Uchiwa.

Madara bit his lip. A weird sensation flowed through him, as if he’d been here before, tinged with a feeling like regret. He couldn’t put his finger on what it meant. But even he couldn’t deny the child was cute. “Kagami. A good strong name. When do you graduate, Kagami?”

“In a few months.” A toothy grin came over the boy’s face. “I’m graduating earlier than everyone else! I’m gonna be nine soon!”

“I would expect no less.” Madara reached forward and ruffled the boy’s hair. The grin widened as he looked to be repressing a giggle. “Why don’t we go do something a bit more enjoyable than training today, Miki?”

Although she found training just as enjoyable as any Uchiha should, she picked up on his meaning and beamed. “We can go get ice cream! You haven’t tried it yet, have you, Kagami-chan?” The boy blinked up at her and shook his head. “It’s this wonderful sweet that’s made cold and it tastes great on warm days.”

“Can we go get some?” The boy turned wide, hopeful eyes to him. Madara probably would have brought a meteor crashing down on Wind Country if he’d asked.

“Hn. Let’s go, then.” He picked the boy up and transferred to him to his shoulders. He made a sound of delight and curled his hands in Madara’s hair.

(All right, so what if he had a soft spot for children? They reminded him of his brothers, with how similar the Uchiha all looked. They’d died too young. Too young. Too young.)

He was walking through a random side street as Miki led the way to a shop she insisted existed when something tugged at his yukata. He paused and glanced down, surprised when he found a tiny Uchiha girl in a purple kimono decorated with flowers holding onto the end of his clothing. “What, child?”

“Um…” She bit her lip and stared up at him with the same puppy dog eyes. “Madara-tama…” She only stuttered over his name a little. “I hope you’re feeling better. I got this for you!”

She held up a bright red flower in her hands. Madara didn’t quite know what to do with this. “I…er…thank you.”

She waited for a moment before pouting. She made a motion with her hands as if to grab at his hair. Confused, he knelt down, careful not to dislodge Kagami, and she began winding the flower into the space behind his ear. As soon as she was done, she turned to a building where a pair of eyes were peering out from behind a corner and hissed something unintelligible.

A dark blue shape darted from behind the building and up to him. A girl who looked like the first’s sister, in a matching blue outfit, kept her head down so her bangs covered her face as she tied a sunflower into his hair. Madara was too stunned through the whole thing to do much other than sit there and let them fiddle with his locks.

Kagami giggled. “Did you give it to him?” someone else whispered from behind a potted plant.

Madara glanced over at it with a frown. “Are you hiding? All of you come out. Uchiha don’t hide.”

Sheepishly, several more children slithered out from various hiding spots in the shadows. They were dressed in varying shades of blue and black with the occasional royal purple or deep forest green. Some avoided his gaze or fidgeted.

“Aww, that’s so cute!” Miki gushed. “Was it your idea, Ami?”

The first girl- Ami, presumably- nodded, face growing red.

“See? I told you it’d look pretty,” one of the girls whispered to a boy. He pouted in reply.

One of the younger ones, apparently overcome with emotion, leapt forward suddenly and latched onto his leg, sniffling. “We love you, Madarara-chama!” If that wasn’t the most adorable butchering of his name he’d ever heard, he’d be damned. “And we hope you’re feeling better!”

Madara had to bite down hard on his lip to contain himself. “I am,” he said, ruffling the boy’s hair. “Thank you.”

“You guys should have told me,” Kagami pouted from his shoulders. “I woulda gotten a flower too!”

His declaration prompted a stampede as they were all abruptly rushing in, holding up flowers of enough colors to form a rainbow, trying to fold them into his hair all at once. He winced and weathered the tugs on his hair as Miki placed a hand over her mouth to quiet her own laughter.

“Come on, everyone, give him some space,” she said, voice wavering from the effort. “We’re taking Kagami-chan to get ice cream.” That was her fatal mistake, Madara thought. Every time he’d said he was going to train in his youth he had four (and then three, and then two, and then one) brother clamoring to come with him.

Ami let out a loud gasp and looked at her with wide eyes. “Ice cream? Can we come?”

“Ice cream!”

“I want ice cream!”

“Can we come?”

“Please?”

“Please, Madara-sama!”

Beads of sweat began rolling down her brow as Madara stood, sending her an amused smirk. “Um…” She edged closer to him and leaned up to whisper, laughing nervously. “T-they’ll be so disappointed, sensei…I-I have some money…if we combine it we should have enough for them all…”

Madara had more than enough on his own. He rarely bought anything and was still subsisting mostly on fish, so his salary did little more than sit still and accrue interest; whenever they went out to eat, Hashirama almost always insisted on paying for everyone there. “I have enough. All right, you all, but behave. Uchiha aren’t disorderly in public.”

Their voices blended together as they yelled at him in reply. “Yes, Madara-sama!”

Miki drifted to the back of the group to mother-hen them all, anxiously nudging them into a neat line and zeroing in on the younger ones that looked a bit lost. “All right, everyone, come along, we’re going to get ice cream with Madara-sama! Shush, Zumi, stop poking at your brother. Come on.”

She lifted the youngest, a two-year-old following her seven-year-old sister, onto her hip and took the hand of another.

Madara just shook his head, restraining a smirk, and returned to following her. It was a mess when they reached the shop, the children speaking all at once with what they wanted, reaching out with hands he knew would become messy when the woman behind the counter handed bowls or cones to them. She was gnawing on her lip and had watery eyes through the whole thing and seemed to squeak every time she talked to him. He saw her holding onto her counter inside, shoulders shaking, giggling to herself as he walked away, and shook his head. Everyone in Konoha was a weirdo.

He sat down on the bench outside her shop, Kagami still on his shoulders, and the Uchiha rushed to leap onto the bench. Those who didn’t pouted for a few moments before sitting down on the ground in front of it. Miki ended up on his left, still holding the two-year-old, and Ami on his right.

“Madara-tama, tell us a story,” she insisted at random, eyes shining with anticipation.

“Yeah, story!”

“Tell us a story!”

“Story!”

“Hush,” Madara commanded, making them all fall silent. He closed his eyes and pretended to deliberate. “Hn. How would you like to hear about how Hokage-sama and I met?”

A chorus of gasps met his question. He had never told anyone how he and Hashirama came to know one another before.

“When I was younger…” He poked Miki in the forehead. “Perhaps a bit younger than you, I went to a river near the Uchiha encampment to skip stones. There I met a boy with the dumbest haircut ever seen in Fire Country.”

Chapter Text

Life was…oddly peaceful.

He’d spent so long involved with manipulations from the shadows and conflict and war that it had started to become all he knew. His entire life had been spent in conflict. There had been a short, fleeting time spent in Konoha before he left- a time spent mostly alone, isolated even when he was still the leader of the Uchiha. He remembered the rumors had gotten worse until hardly anyone trusted him.

It seemed to be going differently now, though he couldn’t fathom why.

Of course, he knew war was a few years away on the horizon- Kagami wasn’t yet full grown, so he would estimate in about a decade the First Shinobi World War would begin.

He still couldn’t understand how someone of Hashirama’s power had died in that war. Even in death, Madara had been the only one able to match him.

But it certainly wasn’t going to happen again. Madara would make sure of that.

(And, he begrudgingly admitted, it wouldn’t do to let Tobirama die, either, because Hashirama would become so direly depressed from it. It was only for that reason and that reason only.

Not because maybe, Tobirama had been inching up from that man who killed Izuna back to his position of Hashirama’s irritating little shit of a little brother.)

It certainly wasn’t because outside their arguing he had a sense of humor that could be appreciated.

“I swear I didn’t know that was a sign of disrespect,” Hashirama whinged, standing in a slump outside the meeting room that the Kurama clan head occupied as his brother and best friend stared at him with equally bland expressions.

“To be fair, none of us did,” Tobirama intoned. “It’s fortunate she laughed at you rather than take offense.”

“It’s fortunate you’re easy to laugh at,” Madara added on without intending to add on, smirking as Hashirama’s slump deepened.

“Next time, I’ll call ahead and ask about customs to be observed,” Tobirama said, not looking away from the scroll he’d taken out to look over, looking entirely unimpressed with their Hokage.

Madara’s smirk widened. The perfect opportunity to make a disparaging comment. “Since you obviously won’t remember to do so yourself.”

A dark cloud slammed down over Hashirama’s head. I’m starting to regret asking them to get along, he thought as alligator tears streamed down his cheeks. They’re even worse working together.

He looked up and caught the barest hint of a smirk on Tobirama’s face as he turned away.

Definitely worse together.


 

Hashirama’s behavior was out of line again. Madara knew he suspected that something was bothering him and that he was hiding it, since he’d caught the Hokage watching him multiple times when he thought Madara wasn’t looking, watching for any sign that he was upset about something.

However, there was something else there that he didn’t recognize. It was as if something was bothering Hashirama, as well, and he kept trying and failing to verbalize it.

“So,” he began one afternoon as they returned from their meal, passing through the peaceful streets of the village, “has anything new happened lately?”

“New?” Madara questioned. “How do you mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Hashirama shrugged in a way he probably thought was casual. There was nothing casual about his demeanor whatsoever. “Met anyone new? Made new friends?”

Madara gave him a suspicious squint. “No. Why do you ask?”

Hashirama laughed. It was oddly stilted compared to his normal laugh. “No reason! I was just curious.” He turned away to stare straight ahead, and now Madara knew he was nervous because he avoided eye contact when he was nervous.

He opened his mouth to taunt him.

“Madara-tama!”

He paused when he spotted Ami and her sister Aki running towards him. “What is it?” he asked, descending into a crouch.

Ami took ahold of his sleeve with a bright grin. Her sister edged partially behind her, grasping her kimono and shooting Hashirama a few nervous glances. “She’s gonna do it! She’s gonna do it!”

“Who’s going to do what?”

Ami shook his arm back and forth like he should have known. “Miki! She’s gonna ask Tamaki!”

“Are you certain?” he asked, a bit of a jest in his tone. They all knew Miki had been going to ask several times yet.

“Yes! She’s doing it outside the Hokage Tower! We’re gonna go watch!”

In an excited rush, Ami grasped her sister’s hand and took off in the direction of the tower. Madara raised an eyebrow after them.

He turned to look at Hashirama, who stood there biting his lip to contain a grin as he watched. “They’re adorable,” he said, looking like he was in the midst of a rash of baby fever. “But what were they talking about?”

Madara folded his arms and smirked slightly. “I suspect I know.”

He started in the direction they’d gone, expecting Hashirama to follow. He did.


 

Miki knew this was brash and reckless and possibly going to humiliate her, but she was going to spontaneously combust if she kept on in the pitiful way she had been.

Uchiha weren’t cowards, she told herself. Uchiha weren’t weak. Uchiha didn’t run away from a challenge.

And she was an Uchiha, even if some of the other youths in the clan liked to tease her and say she wasn’t because she couldn’t even activate her Sharingan like most Uchiha over the age of ten could.

She gulped and shifted from foot to foot, watching Tamaki’s back as the Senju examined the note in her hand with a frown; she would have found it in her window and followed its instructions to come to the square, and now all Miki had to do was…

“T-Tamaki!”

She startled and turned around when Miki called out. They were friends, Miki told herself. They’d been hanging out since the village was created and they’d been placed on a team together. Even though Tamaki was a chuunin now she still took time out of her day to go find Miki. Even if she said no they would still be friends.

And with what she’d heard Hikaku and Naori talking about…

She wanted to be an example to the younger Uchiha. She wanted to be brave. She wanted the future to move forward.

She gulped again and marched stiffly forward. Tamaki stared at her in confusion as she came to a stop a few feet away.

“I…I…I really like you!” she finally burst, clenching her eyes shut. “Like, in a, in a romantic way! Please go on a date with me!”

She fell into a waist-deep bow and held out the flowers she’d bought from the new Yamanaka shop, heart pounding.

There was nothing but silence for a minute. She started to sweat as it dragged on, imagining Tamaki’s face twisting uncomfortably, or even worse, in disgust.

The flowers were slowly taken from her grasp. Miki straightened up, cringing as she cracked her eyes open.

Tamaki stared down at the bouquet in her grip with a surprised expression. She blinked a few times and opened her mouth, then looked up at Miki, looking a little dazed.

“…okay.”

Miki had folded her hands together and pressed them against her mouth like a shield but her eyes snapped open then. “Huh?” she asked, a little dumbfounded.

“I, um.” Tamaki’s face went a bright red that contrasted prettily with her bright blonde hair. “I’ve liked you for a really long time! I-I just wasn’t sure if you liked me back…I’ll go on a date with you!”

“Y-you will?!”

“Yeah!”

REALLY?”

“Yes!”

“Th…thank you!” Miki was practically shaking, as red as a tomato as tears welled up in her eyes and startled her friend. “Thank you so much!”

Tamaki looked nervous as she stared at her, fiddling with the paper on the bouquet. “A…are you okay?”

“Y-yes! I’m sorry!” Miki hurriedly wiped at her eyes with her sleeves. “I-I’m just so- so happy!”

“…your…your Sharingan…”

“My what?”

Miki stared at her in puzzlement. Tamaki pointed to her own eyes, wide as they stared back. “Your…Sharingan…”

“…I activated my Sharingan?!”

Tamaki nodded. Miki sprinted over to a fountain nearby and nearly toppled into it in her haste to peer over the edge and at her reflection. A shriek left her throat. “I activated my Sharingan!

She let out another excited scream and whirled back around to face Tamaki, who’d come up behind her and started to grin. “Congratulations.”

Miki leapt forward and wrapped her in a hug, squeaking out wordless expressions of joy. “I gotta go tell sensei,” she said, hands on Tamaki’s biceps as she looked around in a daze. “But, uh…do you want to…um…”

“We can go to dinner,” Tamaki suggested, flushing lightly. “And…take a walk, if you want…”

“Yes! I mean, yes, that sounds…wonderful. Um, tonight?”

“I’ll come to the compound before sundown,” Tamaki told her, clearing her throat to try and lift some of her own bashfulness. “If that’s all right?”

“That’s definitely all right! Tonight, sundown, I’ll be there, you’ll be there, that’s great,” Miki rambled as she walked away backwards, wringing her hands. “That’s great!”

She turned and ran to find Madara, feeling excitement course through her. This had all turned out better than she ever could have hoped.


 

“Young love,” Hashirama sniffled from beside him, wiping at his eyes with his kimono’s sleeves. “It’s so wonderful! And between a Senju and an Uchiha! I can’t believe how far everyone’s come…”

Madara rolled his eyes. He leapt onto a roof and moved to meet Miki as she turned down a side street in search of him, a set of Sharingan eyes with one and two tomoe respectively still blazing in her head. “I see you didn’t chicken out,” he said as he dropped to the ground, a teasing note in his voice.

“Madara-sensei!” she yelled, lunging to wrap her arms around his midsection. “I did it! We’re gonna have a date tonight and she likes me back and I activated my Sharingan and she likes me back-!”

He patted her on the head and smiled fondly. “Let’s see it,” he said, making her pull back and stare up at him with wide eyes so he could see her Sharingan.

He remembered when Izuna had first activated his. He’d come running to Madara’s tent in the middle of the night and shaken him awake, voice chipper as he waited for his older brother’s approval and for Madara to praise him. He’d been so excited.

“You did well,” he said, ruffling her hair.

Her eyes started to water again. “Thank you, sensei,” she sniffled, wiping moisture from her cheeks and trying to keep it together.

It was then Madara noticed Hashirama had followed and stood at the entrance to the street a few feet away, for some reason looking a little dazed as he watched them. “Hashirama, don’t just stand there like a weirdo,” he scolded.

The man jumped at having been caught and smiled apologetically. “Ahahah, I’m sorry! I didn’t want to interrupt your moment,” he said sheepishly as he came closer.

Miki stared at him and suddenly remembered his weird behavior in the woods. He seemed nice enough, just…very strange. “Uh…good afternoon, Hokage-sama…”

“You don’t have to be so formal when we’re not on duty! I’m a friend of Madara’s,” he said cheerfully, grinning at the man in question. “You can call me Hashirama!”

“It’s, uh, nice to meet you, Hashirama-san…I’m Miki…”

Hashirama looked to Madara again, only to find him giving him a sour stare as he stood with crossed arms and one hip cocked at an angle. “W-what?”

“You could have met Miki earlier if you weren’t such a freak,” his friend told him with a sniff, closing his eyes. “That day you had a meltdown for no reason and claimed you loved paperwork and ran away for no reason.”

A miserable cloud came down over the Hokage’s head. “I’m sorry…”

Madara rolled his eyes. “Stop getting so depressed, you moron.”

Hashirama glanced up at him and tried to smile convincingly. “I’m a loveable moron, though!”

“Tch.” Madara rolled his eyes again and looked away from him.

Miki’s own went round when she noticed the slightest tinge of red on his face. She thought back to the story he’d told the children about how he and Hashirama had met. It was like star-crossed lovers…does he like Hashirama-san?

He had to. She’d never seen Madara blush around anyone else.

“Uh, I should go get ready for tonight,” she piped up, smiling as she backed away. She should give them their space, she thought, so they could be alone together. “Goodbye, sensei!”

She turned and ran off, turning her attention towards what she was going to wear. Naori would surely help her.


 

Hashirama didn’t know why he was so…uncomfortable with the idea of Madara having someone he liked, or even- or even someone he was seeing in secret.

That thought brought a sour taste to his mouth.

Who was able to catch Madara’s attention? He hadn’t seen him spend time with anyone other than Hikaku, Naori, Mito or his student. Occasionally, Inoue spent time at the photography studio Madara had taken a liking to, but his gut told him it wasn’t her.

I don’t know why I’m so worried about it. It’s fine! He rubbed his forehead and willed the strange feelings to go away. He should have been happy for Madara. That’s what a good friend would have been.

Seeing Madara with the Uchiha children brought warmth to his heart. They weren’t scared at all by him; the more shy one seemed more wary of him than anything. A different one had even stopped him in the street to give him a flower she’d picked. The whole thing was adorable.

It was because they were children, of course. It was cute; endearing.

Madara put the daisy in his hair and smiled when the girl thanked him. Then he wore it that way. For the rest of the day.

The warmth spread to his whole body. Hashirama thought it darling. Someone as strong and fearsome as Madara showing a soft side was bound to be.

(But he’d seen plenty of adult shinobi be affectionate with children. What made Madara so different?)

Having Madara there, with him, made him feel like all their dreams were achievable. That peace was achievable. Even with the minor difficulties they’d faced, Hashirama never wanted them to part ways.

Maybe some of the Senju (oh, he did hear them when they murmured about his and Madara’s friendship, even though they thought he didn’t) were right when they thought he was too attached. He couldn’t help but be fond of Madara- he was his best friend.

He turned a corner and found the man with his student, a hand on her head as he smiled in a soft way even Hashirama only rarely saw.

It made him happy to see Madara settling in. He’d made friends, he’d adopted pets, he’d taken on an apprentice, he even had a hobby- but the idea of him taking a lover still set something off within him, something that was usually the urge telling him to take action. He just didn’t know what action it was telling him to take.

He was so confused.

All he knew was that Madara was important to him.

The afternoon drew to a lazy close as civilians and shinobi milled about, some of them murmuring about the odd incident in the street outside the tower involving two girls yelling confessions at each other, and they ended up on the Hokage Monument, in the exact place they’d stood in countless times before, looking out over the village they’d created.

He remembered when he’d stood here and told Madara he wanted him to become Hokage. His friend didn’t seem to want the job, and if anything, thought Hashirama was the better choice, and he couldn’t deny that his faith in him felt inspiring.

He remembered the day he’d come up to this very spot and found his friend bleeding, different, more miserable than before. Those few days had been hell, full of worry and fear, feeling Madara slipping away from him until he’d almost lost him.

He was doing better now. Hashirama couldn’t describe the relief he felt.

(He didn’t…know what he would do without Madara.)

“A bit overwhelming sometimes, isn’t?” he chuckled, watching Madara gaze at the ground below with a serene expression. It was nice to see him calm and peaceful.

The man laughed under his breath and closed his eyes. “Maybe for you. Getting cold feet, Hokage-sama?”

“Of course not! Although I’m still not sure if my face looks very good…”

A full-blown laugh ripped itself from Madara’s throat. Hashirama stood silently as he guffawed, soaking in the pleasantness of it.

“You’re just now having doubts?” Madara wheezed, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. “After they spent weeks carving it into a mountainside?”

Hashirama pouted. “Well, it’ll be better when there are more faces.”

Madara snickered. “Just be glad you don’t still have that dreadful bowl-cut.”

“Uggggh. You’re going to lord that over me forever!”

“You bet I am.”

Madara turned to look at him and grinned, a full-fledged grin that spread over his whole face. “You idiot.”

Hashirama froze. The wind gave a light gust that made Madara’s hair billow behind him as leaves swirled around their feet; he looked so genuinely happy and Hashirama felt like he hadn’t seen that grin in weeks.

His eyes were warmhearted and caring, his smile fond and bright. The descending sun cast a warm glow over his face and light glinted off the Konohagakure forehead protector he wore wrapped beneath his bangs.

Everything about him in that moment felt like what Hashirama had been looking for the duration of his life without knowing he was looking for it. Everything about him felt like home.

Oh, he thought, a bit numbly. His memories slotted together, making countless feelings and moods he’d been in make sudden sense. Everything made sense now. Oh.

He realized in the back of his mind that his heart was pounding.

I love him.


 

Mito looked up from her needlework and glanced towards the window.

“Is your ‘idiots in love’ sense tingling?” Toka asked from the other side of her couch, sounding amused without even smiling.

Mito smirked. “I’ll bet you money Hashirama realized this evening.”

Toka looked up at her from over the rim of her newspaper. She’d been reading about the village forming in Wind Country, deep in the desert- it seemed others were taking after their lead. “Somehow, with those two, I expect there will still be some amount of drama before anything is resolved.”

Mito chuckled. She set the scarf she’d been working on aside and crawled over to lean against Toka, setting her forehead on the other woman’s shoulder. She moved aside a few inches to give her room and wrapped an arm around her. “I’m glad I got up the courage to talk to you that day.”

A small smile quirked Toka’s lips. “Instead of pining from afar for weeks?”

“And then taking another few weeks to say anything at all,” Mito added with a smirk.

Toka laughed. Mito listened to it rumble in her chest alongside her heartbeat.

“I never took Madara for a shy one,” she admitted. Really, she’d never had much of an opinion either way about Madara- though he did irritate her sometimes (she swore it was on purpose, one time he’d set the whole Senju banner on fire at a banquet “accidentally”)- but it was honestly sympathy-inducing how hard he was pining.

She’d only noticed it since she started seeing him more, due to being with Mito- no doubt it would give Kenichi an aneurism if he found out. The man worked directly under her, so she knew he was still a bit sour towards any Uchiha.

(He was a bit of a glorified assistant, really, and she would poke fun at him if he wouldn’t take it so seriously.)

That made Mito snicker. “I wouldn’t call it shyness, exactly, though he can be a bit shy. He just doesn’t know what to do with feelings.”

“That does sound accurate.”

“Neither does Hashirama, it seems,” Mito continued, amused.

Toka sighed. “He usually does, better than most, but he can be an idiot.” Mito raised an eyebrow at her. “A major idiot.”

They both sat there for a moment before chuckling and shaking their heads. “I hope they resolve this soon,” Toka said, grinning when she thought of Tobirama sitting at his desk with a dull look that betrayed his suffering, “or else Tobirama might throw a desk.”


 

Tobirama blinked away the haze at the edge of his vision and squinted in the dying candlelight at the scroll on his desk.

He sat within his own study in his home, having been there for hours, and exhaustion had begun to set in. He’d been working on this since the day before- he was so close he could feel it.

This jutsu could revolutionize the way they gathered intel and engaged in warfare. Being able to revive fallen comrades or dead enemies for information could prove invaluable. They could also be used as emergency soldiers to bolster their forces, if push came to shove.

And there were less practical positives. It could give their fallen a chance to say goodbye. It could give their living a chance to get closure.

If he could prove that calling a spirit back was possible, he could give Madara and Izuna the chance for a proper goodbye, if Madara chose it. That was far from the only- or main- reason he was doing it, but it hung in the back of his mind, a steady weight.

Tobirama had been working on the Edo Tensei for years. He always collected genetic material from his fallen enemies if he could, and taking samples from his blades after battle had simply become a force of habit even if they spent years in storage doing little more than sitting still. Vials and petri dishes were arranged in alphabetical order on the shelf by his desk, some of them many years old and some as recent as their battle with the Hagane.

He reached for a particular one- a blood sample from a man from the Uno, a clan who’d helped the Hagane attack- tiredness making his movements sluggish. He shook it off and stood, rolling up the scroll and grabbing his coat. Sleep could wait.

He exited the house- it had grown dark, and Hashirama was out, with Madara judging by his chakra signature- and headed into the woods.

He kept going until he was a suitable distance away from the Senju compound and found a clean clearing to work in. He rolled the scroll out on the ground and took out the vial, wrapping a sealing tag around it before placing it on the forest floor.

He performed the required hand signs and held his breath in anticipation.

The symbols on the scroll began to glow bright blue in the darkness around him. Rubble and dirt started to drift towards the vial. A pile of dust and leaves started to form, swirling together as it formed the shape of a human being.

The sense of both excited suspense and apprehension rose in him as he watched the outer layer take on a flesh-like tone.

Clothing, cracked skin that looked unnatural, and dark hair appeared.

He froze.

Dark eyes with black where white was supposed to be snapped open.

That was not the Uno shinobi.

The eyes- almost completely black- narrowed. A snarl curled the man’s lip as he stared at Tobirama, and the irises abruptly shifted from black to red.

“What the fuck is this?”

The angry visage of Uchiha Izuna was staring back at him.

Chapter Text

“I said,” Izuna repeated, sitting up with a sneer, “what the fuck is this?”

Tobirama stared, frozen, with a sense of trepidation and deep foreboding settling over him. This was wrong. This was entirely wrong. What had he done?

Shit.

Without waiting for an explanation, Izuna leapt at him with a snarl, hands reaching for Tobirama’s throat. He swore and fumbled back, toppling over into the grass as Izuna’s weight came down on him.

He blocked the angry Uchiha’s first punch and grasped his other wrist before he could attack again, gritting his teeth. “What the fuck did you do?” Izuna demanded, Sharingan whirling rapidly as it transitioned into his Mangekyo. His memories were a painful blur, little more than mush floating around in his head. He remembered fighting the Senju, giving Madara his eyes, dying, watching, screaming in the rain because he could do nothing and he knew he’d been right, watching Madara slip into darkness because no one had bothered to try and stop it.

And now he was here, with none other than the man who’d killed him.

“What did you do?” he hissed again, brawling with the Senju for a minute.

Tobirama’s breath came a bit heavier from the exertion. He finally managed to kick him off, hardly getting a break before Izuna was jumping at him again without any regard for himself. It was clear the only thought in his head right now was beating an answer out of him.

“Calm down,” he managed to snap, ducking under a kick that snapped a tree branch in two.

Moving on instinct, he flew through the signs required to release the jutsu, moving back as he dodged attacks that would likely break more than one bone.

Nothing happened.

A pit formed in his gut. Shit.

His momentary distraction allowed Izuna the opportunity to tackle him again, taking him to the floor with the heavy weight of his partially-formed Susanoo that was appearing over him. It was only the ribcage, thankfully, and not the arms. His hand snaked down and darted into the pouch on Tobirama’s thigh, withdrawing a kunai and aiming to skewer his eye.

Tobirama cursed himself for being so stupid- for not waiting, for leaving an opening, for doing this when he was exhausted- and grabbed ahold of Izuna’s arm to block him. He pressed down on Tobirama with both hands, glaring at him with enough heat to melt an icecap. “I don’t know what you did, but you’re going to regret it,” he growled. “We’re enemies.”

Tobirama glowered at him. “Not anymore.”

Izuna paused, only slightly alleviating the pressure on his forearms, and a frown came over his lips. His eyes narrowed. “The Senju…and Uchiha…”

He trailed off, as if he was remembering something. What, Tobirama didn’t know.

“We’ve reached a peace agreement,” he grunted, angling the kunai to the side and tossing it across the clearing. “Hashirama and Madara brokered it months ago.”

At the mention of his brother, Izuna went still. “Where is he?” he said, question coming out as more of an interrogation than inquiry. “Where’s my brother? Tell me at once!”

“In the village, which I could show you if you stopped trying to attack me,” Tobirama snapped, shoving him off. Izuna stumbled back and regained his footing, opening his mouth again before he stopped, noticing his hands.

He raised them before him and glanced down, eyes roving over the cracks in his skin. Tobirama stood unmoving and watched as realization spread over the Uchiha’s face.

He lifted a hand and hesitantly placed it against his cheek. It was rough under his touch, and he could feel the crevices pressed together to create makeshift skin.

“What…did you…do to me?” he began, speaking slowly as his eyes went slightly out of focus. He stared at his free hand with wide eyes, Sharingan fading away. “What- what am I?”

His voice had become breathless. Tobirama felt the pit in his stomach grow heavier. His body was revolting against him, taking in the dismay in the Uchiha’s expression and making him want to vomit.

This wasn’t something he’d done against an enemy in battle, or someone who deserved what they’d gotten. This was something he’d done to another human being unprompted. Something that was completely his fault. No one else could take blame for this.

“We need…” Izuna’s eyes snapped back over to him, bright and panicked and dangerous. “We need to talk to your brother.”


 

Hashirama was moping.

Madara watched as the man gave him another kicked puppy glance from his side of the room and rolled his eyes. “Out with it, Hashirama.”

The Shodaime jumped like a guilty child who’d been caught stealing cookies. “W-what?” he stammered around a laugh, waving his hands back and forth. “Nothing! Nothing’s the matter!”

Madara raised an eyebrow at him. “Did I say something was the matter?”

“Uh…” Hashirama floundered for a response. He snatched up a scrolled and unfurled it before burying his face in it. “Never mind!”

Madara gave him a bland stare for a moment before going back to his own work. They’d returned to the office to finish some of tomorrow’s work so they could take the morning to train, and it had grown dark outside. Hashirama had been acting weird ever since they went up to the Hokage Monument.

He watched out of the corner of his eye as Hashirama’s shoulders began to sag. Again. He knew that behind that paper, he was probably pouting.

“Uh…Madara…”

Madara looked up from his reports and raised the same eyebrow.

Hashirama bit his lip and stared at the surface of Madara’s desk, opening and closing his mouth a few times. “Uh…I just wanted to…never mind.”

He turned jerkily back to the scroll.

Madara briefly considered shocking him to catch him by surprise and make him blurt it out. It had worked before. One time he’d even managed to convince him it was because of a faulty electrical socket.

He smirked to himself at that particular memory.

Hashirama stared at him with longing eyes- not that he realized they were longing for him. Madara noticed- again- and raised the eyebrow- again. Hashirama looked away and mumbled an excuse.

Madara sighed and turned in his chair so all Hashirama could see was his mound of hair. It was probably something stupid, he thought. Maybe it was stupid enough it would make Tobirama do that twitching thing with his cheekbone. He smirked again.

He looked down at the report in his hand and let a small smile onto his face when he saw the note in the margin, from the Academy teacher whose classroom he’d given a spur of the moment falconry lesson to when Hashirama had noticed he was bored in the office, thanking him for coming. She barely even knew who he was but apparently thought he was “such a nice man.” (And wasn’t that new?) Even Watatsumi had enjoyed her visit; she’d perched on his gloved arm and preened as the children gushed over how pretty she was.

That had never happened in his first life.

With a bit of hesitancy, he turned back around until he could see Hashirama again, wondering whether he should ask what was on his mind or not. After a few moments of sitting there in pathetic indecision, he gritted his teeth and set his report down. “Hashirama.”

“Hm?” Hashirama looked up at him, looking as if he’d actually managed to engross himself in his paperwork through sheer willpower and wanting to hide something.

“If you…” Madara trailed off and averted his eyes, licking his lips. “If you…did something…made a mistake…and you had a chance for a- a re-do, what would you do?”

Hashirama frowned at the sudden- and more somber- change in his demeanor. He set his scroll down and tilted his head. “How do you mean?”

“You know.” Madara gestured with one hand, unsure of what he meant. “If you did something that was…wrong, but you had a chance to go back and re-do it all, what would you do?”

Hashirama stared at him. He couldn’t fathom what Madara was talking about, but it was obvious that something was weighing on his mind- something that might have something to do with what had been bothering him, he suspected. He didn’t understand the man’s meaning, but he supposed that he could work within his metaphor if it helped. “Well…I’d try to do better than I did before.”

Madara frowned. Hashirama couldn’t tell if that was the answer he’d been looking for or not. “But what if…this thing was committed against a…certain person? You haven’t done it yet, and aren’t going to do it again, but wouldn’t you still want their forgiveness?”

“I suppose so.” His brow furrowed. Now he was even more confused, but he tried to plow through it for his friend’s sake. Perhaps it was all an elaborate example. “I guess I’d explain it to them and tell them I was sorry.”

Madara’s body went tense. That was definitely not the answer he’d been hoping for, apparently. “What if you…can’t…explain it to them?”

“Uh…” Now Madara was staring at him, straight in the eye, expecting his answer. It felt as if he was talking about something much more personal, all of a sudden, something that involved them, something that he wanted to apologize for but felt he couldn’t.

(Madara’s eyes were very beautiful, weren’t they?)

He realized he’d been staring for more than a minute and straightened, clearing his throat. “Well, I suppose you’d just have to try and be a better friend than the first time around. Why? Is there…something bothering you?”

Madara looked away from him. The flash of vulnerability Hashirama had glimpsed was gone, now, and a wall had come up. He hated when this happened. “No. Nothing particularly…important.”

But he didn’t sound too upset, at least, so maybe it wasn’t that serious.

Madara stood and stretched, rolling his head back. Hashirama let out a slow breath and stared at his neck as he did, watched pale skin rise and fall as the man took a breath. He felt as if he suddenly noticed every little thing Madara did or had simply started noticing that he was noticing.

He couldn’t tell Madara he loved him, not knowing he liked someone else, but this was torture.

Madara straightened and let out a yawn. “I’m going to get coffee.”

“Ah. Bring me some?” Hashirama gave him a hopeful, wheedling smile.

Madara met it with a dull stare. “You’re just too lazy to go get some yourself.”

Hashirama’s smile took on a sheepish tone.

Madara rolled his eyes. “Fine, you nitwit. But I’m deciding how much sugar to put in it.”

He turned and walked towards the door as Hashirama cringed. “Please don’t give me something too sweet,” he called out in a pleading tone.

Madara looked over his shoulder at him with a smirk and slipped out the door.

Hashirama let out a small sigh when he was gone. He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms and legs out, letting out a yawn of his own and glancing at the clock. Already past midnight? Perhaps they’d sleep in tomorrow instead of sparring…

He was in the middle of a second yawn when a clatter of shattering glass from the room down the hall that connected to the lower floor startled him. Madara’s shrill voice followed not a moment later, ringing with distress and restrained fury. “What is this? What is this?

Hashirama shot out of his chair and into the hall. He rushed into the other room, nearly ramming into the corner of the doorframe in his panic, and came to a frozen stop when he saw what had made Madara shout.

The Uchiha himself stood at the counter on the far side of the room, as pale as a ghost and hands clutching at nothing. He’d dropped a cup, the source of the shattering noise, which lay in pieces at his feet.

Opposite him, just inside the door, stood Tobirama.

But he wasn’t alone.

Hashirama’s heart dropped to his feet as he took in the unnatural appearance of Izuna. The look on his face was subdued as he stared at Madara with a sad look in his eyes, but the rest of him was unsettling to say the least. His skin looked as if it were made of cracked paper and his eyes were completely dark.

“What…what…?” Out of breath, he glanced back and forth between the man who should have been dead and his own brother. Tobirama avoided his gaze, moving his own to the floor.

“What is this?” Madara repeated, sounding even more hysterical than before. Hashirama would have moved to comfort him if he wasn’t so frozen in shock himself. “W-what did you do?”

“I apologize,” Tobirama spoke up, voice solemn. “I did not mean for this to happen. I was experimenting with the Edo Tensei-”

“Tobirama, you didn’t,” Hashirama stammered, voice breaking. Tobirama dragged in a deep breath and opened his mouth to continue.

“No.” Madara let out a pained-sounding whine and took a step back, staring at Izuna with a panicked fight-or-flight expression, pupils dilated from stress. “No.”

Izuna looked at him with something twisted between sympathy and pity. “Aniki…”

Hearing him call him his older brother again was too much. Memories flashed through his mind, so, so long ago, holding Izuna’s hand as they slept, kneeling over his dead body, Aniki, I activated my Sharingan!

It was too much.

He choked over something like a sob and fled backwards, nearly ripping the window off its hinges in his haste to get out.

“Madara!” Hashirama broke out of his stupor and took a step after him, stopping when Izuna whipped around and gave him the most vicious glare he’d ever seen from him. Even the one he’d had on when he was telling Madara not to trust the Senju with his dying breaths paled in comparison.

“I’ll go after him,” he snapped, glowering darkly at the Senju before running to the window and jumping out.

Hashirama stood there, frozen, torn between wanting to help his friend and knowing he needed to give them space- even though he doubted this reunion was going to go down without any agony. The part of him that wanted to be there for Madara- to offer what little support he could- warred with the part that told him it wasn’t his place.

Madara and Izuna. The Uchiha brothers. Back together, even after death.

He had to let them be.

He looked back to Tobirama, remembering his presence, and his expression shifted to something imploring that made the younger wince. He walked over to his brother and grabbed him by the shoulders, tone verging on desperate. “Tobirama, do you know what you’ve done? Why?”

Tobirama’s head bowed in shame at his elder brother’s scolding. “It was a mistake,” he said, voice quiet but even. “I meant to resurrect an enemy. I…must have grabbed the wrong sample of genetic material.”

“A mistake,” Hashirama repeated, feeing a bit hysterical himself. “That just so happened to bring back Madara’s brother? Tobirama, how could you be so careless? Don’t you know what this will do to him?” Tobirama winced, but said nothing. “He has to lose him all over again! It would have been kinder to release the jutsu and never tell him of it!”

Tobirama glanced up at him. There was something guarded in his eyes that made Hashirama pause and the unsettled feeling in his gut grow heavier. “You…can undo the jutsu, can’t you?” he asked, dreading the answer.

Tobirama swallowed before responding. He met Hashirama’s gaze again, red eyes blank in a distant way, expression attempting to be neutral but lined with guilt. “I attempted to, but it didn’t work. There must be an error.”

Hashirama let go of him and placed his hands over his face. He had no idea what to do. This was all abysmal. All he could think of was Madara’s stricken face as he held his little brother, having to watch him pass away a second time, given a tiny glance into what he could have had and having it cruelly snatched away from him.

He didn’t deserve this.

He was the last person who deserved- or needed- this.

He imagined getting to hold Itama and Kawarama again after suffering their deaths once already, only to watch them crumble to dust.

“He doesn’t deserve this,” he murmured into his hands, slumping as he leaned against the table.

Tobirama said nothing and simply stared at the floor, because he knew he was right.


 

Pathetic.

He was a pathetic coward. His brother stood before him after years- decades- and Madara had frozen. He was right there, yet all he could feel was fear. The sense of shame festering within him- at having let Izuna die, at having failed him in protecting the clan, in shaming his memory with his failed dreams and manipulations- made his feet move on his own and he found himself in the clearing he’d met Mito, standing with clenched fists as he panted.

He looked down into the spring and let out a shaky breath as he stared at his eyes. Izuna’s eyes.

What a coward I am. He raised one fist and glared at it, clenching his teeth. His cowardice was selfish. Izuna was the one suffering- the one who’d been yanked back from death and into a sham of a body. He must have been so confused.

He must have come to Madara for an explanation. For help.

He…had to go back. He had to face Izuna.

Even if it would be agonizing. Madara could deal with pain.

He turned and took a step, jerking to a stop with his heart in his throat when he realized Izuna stood just under the trees across from him, watching him with a quietness about him that was both unnatural and familiar. They stared at each other for a moment, him with his eerie calmness and Madara with shaking hands.

“Izuna,” he said, and the name hurt worse than he’d thought to say aloud. “Izuna, I…”

He took another step, jaw working as he struggled with what to say.

Izuna gazed at him with an expression that was unquestioningly pitying. “Aniki,” he greeted.

Madara choked and dropped, crashing into the ground with his face an inch from the grass. “Izuna, I’m sorry,” he rasped, closing his eyes as tears gathered, bowing there as his voice wavered. “I’m so sorry.”

Izuna’s voice was slightly amused, if yet somber and sympathetic still, as he knelt down and pressed his hands on his upper arms, bringing his face up so he could look him in the eye. “Madara, it’s all right. You couldn’t have stopped what happened.”

“But I could have!” Madara protested, a plea on his face as he curled his hands in the front of his brother’s Edo Tensei-constructed mantle. “I could have made peace sooner and prevented that battle from unfolding in the first place. You’d- you’d still be here.”

He choked over the last part and closed his eyes, pressing his forehead against a chest that was quiet, devoid of the heartbeat he’d once fallen asleep to.

Izuna was silent. Peace with the Senju. What a crock, he thought with a sneer, thinking of a dark valley and seeing his brother’s blood mix with the rainwater. Senju Hashirama thought so highly of himself, thought himself a herald of a new age, so above all the other warmongers in their era who’d grown up by stepping over the bones of others.

Senju Hashirama was a liar.

Senju Hashirama was worse than any of them.

He wanted to grab his brother, shake him, make him understand that there could be no true peace between an Uchiha like him and that Senju, and the angrier part of him wanted to berate him for creating this peace agreement at all, but he knew this wasn’t the time, nor was it what his brother needed right now.

Madara had always been stubborn. He couldn’t change his mind with an argument.

“It’s all right, aniki,” he said, stroking Madara’s hair. It felt as if it had gotten softer. “I don’t know what I am, but I’m here now.”

Madara huffed out a broken-sounding laugh. “As…as a reanimation,” he croaked. “That’s not a life. You’re…you’re an undead. And when Tobirama releases the jutsu-” He cut himself off with an agitated noise, distraught.

“He already tried that, and failed, from what I could tell,” Izuna told him. “He didn’t seem to be expecting me, anyway. So I’m sticking around indefinitely.”

Madara tensed beneath his touch. Izuna stood, staring down at him with a calculating look that was unnoticed by him. “Well. We need to figure out what to do, yes?”

Madara looked a bit lost as he stared back at him. Izuna wondered where the commander he’d followed for years had gone, because even if Madara wasn’t the type of person who could ever fall into weakness, there was something more brittle about him now, something less rigid.

And he knew why.

Senju Hashirama.

He should have known from the moment he’d been tasked with following Madara to the river. Hashirama could hurt him like no one else- at least Tobirama had been open with his suspicion, rather than playing at being Madara’s friend before stabbing him in the back.

Hardly anything in the world could touch Madara, but Hashirama- he could destroy him completely, and he wouldn’t need to touch a single blade to do it.

At this point…he could hurt Madara even more deeply than Izuna could.

His eyes narrowed.

Not again. Never again.


 

The morning was an…awkward affair, for all parties.

“We have…decided it would be best for Izuna to stay with me,” Madara began hesitantly after walking in and proceeding to stand in uncomfortable silence as Tobirama stared at them and Hashirama stared at him with frantically worried eyes and Izuna stared at them both with an aggressive emotionlessness and he stared at the floor. “And use a henge to go out for the time being. Hikaku will be the only one who knows.”

Neither Senju said anything for a moment. “I see,” Hashirama muttered, eyes glancing back and forth between them. “I think that’s…wise. For the time being. Until…well…”

He glanced at his brother. None of them said a word.

“Very well.” Madara turned to leave and kept any inflection out of his tone. “I’ve also decided that, for obvious reasons, my presence here would not be beneficial. I will complete any work from home.”

Hashirama opened his mouth to protest but clamped it shut almost immediately, wincing as he realized Madara was right. He couldn’t ask him to come and sit in this office every day now.

Some part him mourned the weeks of perfection that he’d had, having the two closest to him so close by every day, being able to work with them both- because he knew that Madara probably wouldn’t be coming back after…Izuna died again, either.

It was all lost, now.

Before Madara opened the door, Tobirama spoke for the first time in the short conversation, gaze carefully avoiding Izuna, who glared when his brother wasn’t looking. “Madara-”

Madara’s head snapped around with a snarl on his lips. “Silence,” he growled, startling both of them into just that. “Do not speak to me. Do not even direct your gaze to me. Because of your mistake…” He said the word with such vitriol they both flinched. “I have to lose him again.”

Izuna eyed him, betraying nothing. His expression was stony and impassive, but guarded at the same time.

Hashirama was the only one who noticed; he was the only one looking at him. Something in his gut told him that Izuna wouldn’t abide by that easily.

“And I thought we were starting t- tch.” Madara cut himself off bitterly, looking as if he didn’t know whether to be more angry at Tobirama or himself for slipping.

He glared at Tobirama again, gaze filled with bitterness and spite, and stormed out the door. Izuna followed in his wake and didn’t spare them another glance.

Hashirama stood in his spot for almost a full minute, longing to go after Madara and make sure- well, he definitely wasn’t all right, but he still felt the need to do something, even if it was simply be there. It felt wrong to let him go off and deal with this all on his own.

Tobirama sighed, a quiet and tired sound, and leaned back until he sat on his desk, arms crossed as he stared at the door. Hashirama glanced at him, wondering at what Madara had been trying to say; he’d wanted his best friend and little brother to be friends for so long, and it might have even happened had this disaster not unfolded. Now he was going to go back to not being able to stand in a room with the two of them because of the tension, but even worse- and he couldn’t even blame Madara a bit for his anger, even though it had all been a mistake.

Everything had been going so well.

“I’m sorry, Hashirama.” He startled when his brother spoke and glanced over at him; he was still looking at the door, his posture relaxed even though Hashirama knew his mind was anything but.

The office seemed, suddenly, very, very empty without Madara in it; to both of them.

“I know you are.” Hashirama sighed and glanced out the window, wondering what Madara was feeling right now. “I know.”

Chapter Text

The day felt too peaceful. He felt anything but; there was tension in the air he felt acutely sensitive to, and every time Izuna examined part of the village with narrow eyes or that disapproving look came over his face, it made the ground look particularly appetizing to sink into.

They walked through the streets, Izuna in a henge that made him look like a random Uchiha, as Madara showed him the fruits of their efforts.

They ended up on a grassy knoll, overlooking a large part of town, as a soft breeze rustled their hair and Izuna stood silently staring at the village with reserved eyes. Madara glanced at him and cleared his throat. “It’s…doing well so far.”

“Hmm.”

He swallowed. He hadn’t said as much, but he’d clearly asked Izuna what he thought. Madara had been doing all the talking so far, guiding him about, and he hadn’t made any comments.

Finally, Izuna let out a sigh and turned to look at him. “Madara, it’s not that I think the village itself is a bad idea…” He glanced back to the scenery with a frown, making Madara’s stomach flip uneasily. “But…you can’t possibly think the Senju will keep their end of the deal in this alliance.”

“There…” Madara’s mouth went dry, because at one point down the line the Uchiha clan had gone extinct. But he was here this time; surely he could prevent that. “They’ve shown no sign of doing such so far.”

Izuna pursed his lips. “A shinobi doesn’t show his hand before striking.”

“There are other clans here,” Madara pointed out. “They have all made an agreement. An attack on one is more likely to start infighting.”

Izuna’s eyes went narrower. Madara shifted under his gaze and wished his brother could see- could understand that he was trying to do things better this time, that the village was a worthwhile effort.

“Maybe so.” Izuna glanced at the Hokage Tower in the distance and let out a light scoff. “But Senju Hashirama? Really?”

Madara frowned at the oddity of his question. “What do you mean?”

Izuna gave him a patronizing look. “He’s the one you have…” He trailed off and wrinkled his nose, stubbornly refusing to use ‘love’ in relation to the man. “…urges for, correct?”

Madara froze and felt his face start to bloom red. “How I feel about Hashirama is my business alone,” he said quickly to derail the topic, turning to walk down the hill.

“He’s not good enough for you,” Izuna muttered, ignoring his clear dismissal and making Madara take in a frustrated breath. “He’ll only end up hurting you.”

Madara didn’t answer and let them stand in silence, willing himself to keep his calm. “As I said,” he repeated, trying not to grind his teeth, “it’s my business. Let’s go.”


 

Izuna was different.

He didn’t smile when Hikaku came to Madara’s house to visit him. He didn’t smile when Naori followed behind, obviously in the know, wanting to see the man she’d considered her little cousin in their youth. He didn’t smile when he saw Ami and Aki run up to Madara in the street and beg to show him the Katon they’d learned.

He stayed at a distance, detached, with a politeness Madara knew was fake.

It was all wrong. He’d wanted to see Izuna’s smile again, just once. He’d always a happy child and smiled for Madara. He may have been cold to their enemies, but with their clansmen he was warm and tender.

He’d smiled as he died.

But Izuna didn’t smile. He didn’t show pleasantness to anyone, barely even to Madara. He followed his brother like a loyal dog, but frowned more often than not and looked bitter.

He was a sour presence at his back when he ran into Mito, who took one look at the two of them and stepped closer, placing a hand on his wrist with a question in her eyes. He began outright glaring when Madara smiled at her.

He didn’t smile.

Madara drifted away from him, thinking of three days earlier when he saw Hashirama smile at him, warm and caring as he hooked an arm around his shoulders, and something deep inside longed to go back to Hashirama’s side if only just for a moment.

Izuna still didn’t smile.

Madara felt as if he’d failed again. His brother was so unhappy with him and where he’d led the clan that even some small amount of peace was out of reach for him.

He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to ask Hashirama.

He sat at his kitchen table, not eating his food as Izuna sat by the window and stared outside and the cats avoided him. Madara had tried to introduce him to Watatsumi again and quickly had to abort when the falcon tried to attack him. She shrilled as loudly as she could, making him wince at just the memory, flapping about as he tried to get her back under control.

It had been the first time his falcons had ever disobeyed him. Maybe he was a bit shaken.

He glanced at his brother again, watching him stare outside with a blank look, and his shoulders sagged.

He didn’t know what to do.


 

Obviously, it was on a Tuesday that disaster struck. Madara thought back on the whole thing as he lay there with empty eye sockets, remembered the Tuesday he’d gotten half-skewered by an irritating Yamanaka’s spear, and wondered if that day was cursed.


 

“Kagami,” Miki began, holding up her sketchbook, “which hairstyle should I do tomorrow?”

The child squinted up at her paper pad and stared for a moment. “I like the ponytail,” he said at last, pointing at the drawing furthest to the right.

“Ponytail? Ponytail. Hmm. I wonder if Tamaki likes ponytails…”

Kagami stared at her as she went back to deliberating over her plans for the next evening. They sat in one of the more secluded training grounds, having shied away from the first two they tried since they were swarmed with eager Academy students happy to be out of their classrooms. Kagami’s own teacher was sick and had called class off, hence why he was with Miki.

He left her to her task as she hummed and kicked her ankles back and forth on her stump and went back to looking for interesting things on the forest floor to collect. So far he had a collection of stones, some snail shells, and minerals that had been brought up from the earth. He’d also found a small, rusted copper ring in a gutter and several variously colored feathers.

Miki made sure to glance up at him every few seconds to make sure nothing was awry. They’d never had an incident in the village, but one could never be too careful.

She glanced up at the sun. It had risen high in the sky above them to the noon position.

She flipped her sketchbook shut and set it beside the bag of scraps she brought along for Tatsumaki, as the kestrel always liked following her around- though she had taken off for a flight around a few minutes before- reaching for her bag on the ground and rifling through for the sandwiches she’d packed.

The rustling of plastic as she withdrew them was interrupted by a startled yelp. It wasn’t from her.

Miki dropped the sandwiches and whipped around, freezing when she found a man she didn’t recognize in the clearing- how had she not even heard his approach?- holding Kagami by the collar. “Hey!” she yelled, leaping off her stump and rushing forward as her Sharingan flared to life. “Let him go!”

The unknown man narrowed his eyes as she rushed him and ducked under her kick. He slammed a palm into her back and sent her flying; she hit a tree and barely caught herself before crashing into the ground, landing in a crouch that sent pain ringing up her legs.

“Miki-nee!” Kagami screamed, clawing at the hand holding his mantle.

Then his chakra coiled and let out four quick bursts, completely unnoticed by the man holding him, a technique meant to catch the attention of sensors in the area. Miki paused for a split second and hoped that there was at least one around.

The odd pale man in front of her smirked suddenly and a red pattern sprung into his eyes. Miki froze as they made eye contact, lost in a world of hazy red and black as waves crashed around her and bullets made of water rained down from overhead.

She crumpled to the ground, pressing her hands over her eyes, and let out a pained cry at the ringing in her head. That’s not the Sharingan. How could he have something like the Sharingan?

The man withdrew four kunai and aimed them at her torso as she knelt there. Startled, she jerked out of her fazed state and looked up with wide eyes, but wasn’t fast enough to even dodge.

Four kunai met his in midair, knocking them off course and landing spread out through the clearing.

“I suggest you let that child go,” a man she recognized as Senju Tobirama said as he landed in front of her, steel in his voice. “The people of the Leaf don’t take kindly to outsiders attacking our children.”

Relief washed over Miki. She got to her feet and suppressed the shakiness that wanted to take over her body. “Tobirama-san!”

The man looked at them with a bored gaze. “Do you know what these are?” he asked, obviously referring to his still active dojutsu, and the way Tobirama’s eyes went narrow made Miki’s stomach churn. She feared the answer had to be the reason he hadn’t attacked yet.

The Senju, however, wasn’t ruffled. “You are of the Chinoike, then? What purpose do you have attacking Konoha?”

“Unimportant. What matters right now is whether or not I make this child explode.”

Miki froze as horror ran through her veins. Unbidden, one of her hands raised to cover her gaping mouth. Explode? She glanced at Tobirama in a panic, but the scowl that had started to appear on his face just made her anxiety worsen.

“All I need is skin contact,” the man continued, drawing her eyes back to him. “I’ve heard tales of your speed, Tobirama-san. Are you fast enough to remove both my hands before I can initiate this technique? Or would you rather this child die right now? I could have already initiated it. A single displacement of my chakra could set it off.”

There was dead silence in the forest. Kagami turned his head to stare at her, eyes wide and frightened, and Miki stared back, knowing she looked just as terrified. She longed to run over and snatch him from that man’s grip and run back to the compound.

When Tobirama spoke again, his tone was quieter, but no less threatening. “What do you want?”

The Chinoike eyed them contemplatively for a few seconds. Finally, he raised one hand in half a seal, making them both tense. “You will both follow the signs I call out and perform a jutsu that will render you unconscious. My goals are no business of yours, but I need a hostage, not a dead body.”

“How am I to know you’ll release the child afterwards?” Tobirama challenged, his scowl deepening.

“You don’t.” Miki tried hard to ignore the nausea assaulting her as their assailant smiled at them, placing his free hand atop Kagami’s head and making him wince, reminding them that an instantaneous death was, literally, at his fingertips. “But if it’s any consolation, he isn’t going to be my hostage; you will be.”


 

Madara had to confess that he had purposefully avoided Izuna that morning. He’d awoken and found the man sitting on his couch in the upper level living area, staring with a deadpan look on his face at Zunu, who sat on the opposing couch, not moving a muscle. Neither one had broken eye contact when he’d entered the room. Neither had moved the whole time he prepared his morning tea and drank it.

He’d decided to let them work it out on their own and fled the house to train. He was getting sore from inactivity anyway.

It was during that training, right after he’d finished sparring with two kage bunshin, that Tatsumaki appeared in a flurry from the trees, screeching and flapping her wings wildly about. Startled, he dropped the kunai he’d been holding and let both clones dispel, holding up his hand for her to perch on.

She refused to land, hovering in the air and squawking pointedly at him. “What? What is it?”

She shrilled and moved back the way she’d come. Frowning, Madara leapt into the treetops to follow her.

He got the answer to her agitation when he landed- well, blundered into, more accurately, at the speed he was going- in a clearing and found Miki and Kagami unconscious on the ground.

Shit.” He strode over and crouched down, checking their pulses before activating his Sharingan and examining them. Kagami had only been knocked out- probably due to the blossoming bruise on the back of his neck he could see- but there was a genjutsu over Miki. He reached down and pressed two fingers to her forehead. “Release.”

She awoke startled, jerking under his touch as her eyes flew open. “Sensei?” she stammered, eyes flicking around at the speed of light. “Where-”

She shrieked and bolted up, looking around wildly. “Kagami!”

“Focus, girl.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and made her look him in the eye. “What happened?”

It took a moment for her attention to come back, but when it did her eyes went wide. “There- there was this man,” she told him breathlessly, going pale. “He attacked us and took Kagami from me and- and he had this weird dojutsu, and he almost killed me, but Tobirama-san felt a pulse Kagami sent out and came to intervene but-”

She cut herself off, wan and anxious, and he noted the distinct lack of Tobirama.

“He said he would kill Kagami if we didn’t do what he said,” she finished in a wavering voice. “So he…he took Tobirama-san as a hostage instead. I-I don’t know what he wants.”

Needing no more information, he stood and placed Kagami into her arms. “Go back to the village as fast as you’re able and tell Hashirama. I’m going after them.”

She stared up at him with a frightened look on her face. “A-alone, sensei?”

“Go, Miki. As fast as you can.”

Not waiting for her to respond that time, he leapt into the trees and cast out his senses, finding Tobirama’s dormant chakra signature easily.


 

The truth was, Yataro had been planning this for far longer than just the few weeks since that disastrous battle with the Hagane.

He had carved out a hideaway for himself around the time Konoha had been founded, lurking there for weeks in bitterness and thirsting for vengeance. So the Uchiha thought they could go into a peaceful life, after everything they’d done? After what they’d done to his clan?

He would spend his life proving them wrong if he had to.

Truthfully, he’d joined the Hagane and the two other clans making a revolt against the village out of desperation. There was little a single man could do. He’d obsessed and thought about when he would meet the Uchiha leader over and over, and when he did, it was more terrifying than he could have thought.

Madara was the example of everything he hated. His father had forced Yataro’s and their clan from their home and into exile, and Yataro himself had been lost in the fray and been forced to grow up fighting for scraps and struggling just to stay alive.

Madara was a terror on the battlefield. The greatest example of Uchiha arrogance. He thought himself untouchable, Yataro thought, with no small amount of anger.

But he wasn’t.

He hadn’t been expecting to survive after he’d initially clashed with the man; it was only luck he managed to initiate one of his personal genjutsu, a technique that drew memories out through a chakra link in the eye and left the opponent’s burned too badly to use by way of his Ketsuryūgan. Of course, Madara had broken free before it could finish, but Yataro had gotten the important flashes of memory.

The Rinnegan- that was what it was called, wasn’t it?- would give him the power he needed to crush the Uchiha beneath his fist. Maybe even the Senju, and whoever else had aligned themselves with that clan. He’d only briefly seen how it had been created, but he was sure that with enough experimentation he could prod it into existence.

But there had been something else he’d seen in Madara’s head. For the smallest instant in time, he’d seen- no, felt- the blinding affection he had for the one he called friend. It was so foolish of the former Uchiha patriarch to cultivate such love for another- and a man, no less.

That was why he knew Senju Tobirama was a better hostage than even that Uchiha brat. Not only would he provide him with Senju genetic material, he was Hashirama’s younger brother- Madara may or may not have cared about Tobirama, but Yataro knew he loved Hashirama, and he would try to keep Hashirama from experiencing the pain of losing family.

He’d spent weeks preparing for this day, creating an elaborate trap made of barrier fuinjutsu in a stone valley obscured by hot mist from the surrounding springs, connecting to a cave system that would lead him underground and back towards his own domain. So far everything had gone as planned, although Tobirama’s presence had been luck.

He retreated to his trap and waited, red eyes gleaming in anticipation as one of his summoning dogs alerted him to the approaching scent of Madara. He’d thought he would have to lure the man there, but it seemed he was content to come to Yataro.

All the easier.


 

The valley he’d tracked Tobirama and their pest to was flanked on all sides by high walls of rock. Steam billowed out from its nooks and crannies, obscuring much of the path, but the clearing within the stone was clear of it.

Ink symbols spread out in circular patterns from the center, alerting him to the fact that this was, obviously, a trap, and this enemy shinobi didn’t even feel the need to be subtle about it. In front and above him, a vaguely familiar-looking blond man stood on an outcropping of stone, one hand over the head of Tobirama, who sat cross-legged on the ground with his arms bound behind his back and an undoubtedly cranky expression on his face.

Madara paused in the center of the clearing and stared up at the man with an eerily blank face. He met his eyes, his own sporting his Mangekyo, and watched part of his cheek twitch. He was unsettled.

Good.

“What is it that you desire?” he asked, calmly, as if they weren’t enemies at all and this insect wasn’t holding someone from Konoha hostage. His eyes flicked over to Tobirama as the man stared down at him with an unreadable frown. The air between them was still awkward and tense and he could tell the Senju was wondering what he would do.

And whether he would save him if it came down to it.

“Tch. Do you not recognize these eyes?” The man was glaring, now, and Madara most certainly did recognize that pattern from his father’s written records.

“You’re from the Chinoike, are you?” he asked, keeping his tone bland. “The Uchiha have no quarrel with you.”

A slightly unhinged grin came over the other’s face. “Oh, but I have a quarrel with you. Your clan forced mine into exile, took everything from us. I think it’s time you repay the debt, don’t you?”

Madara narrowed his eyes and said nothing.

The Chinoike lowered his index finger to touch Tobirama’s head, pointedly making skin contact. “As you’ve noticed,” he called down with a raised voice, bringing attention to the marks around them, “there are quite a few barrier jutsu here. I’m sure you could use those eyes of yours, activate that construct you love to use so much, and break through them, but not before I cause this man’s body to explode.” He looked at the symbols at Madara’s feet, not looking back to him again.

Madara restrained a sneer. He knows he has no chance against me and hides behind others. What a weakling.

At least a foe who met him head-on was deserving of some small respect for not being a coward. Shinobi may have been soldiers of the shadows, but Madara had nothing but scorn for one who couldn’t use his own strength to achieve his goals.

“In exchange for his life,” the man continued, “give me your eyes.”

The air went silent and still. Tobirama’s own widened a fraction, and he stared down at Madara with something similar to a mixture of suspicion of doubt. The Uchiha’s face betrayed nothing; for all intents and purposes, he looked as if he couldn’t care less about Tobirama or his life right now, and he certainly had enough reason to at the moment.

He couldn’t fathom that Madara would give up his eyes. Maybe for Hashirama, but not him.

“Well? What will it be?” his captor prompted, engaging a dangerous game of chicken as Tobirama felt his chakra stir. “You have three seconds to decide. Three-”

Madara’s eyes narrowed to slits. It was true that he could break through the barriers- rather easily, in fact- but those precious few seconds were all this shinobi needed to kill Tobirama instantly.

“Two-”

Madara…he may have hated Tobirama a little, maybe he didn’t quite know how to feel, but he didn’t know if he could truly just stand there and let the man die.

He didn’t know if that was what he wanted to be.

“One-”

He was Hashirama’s little brother.

He thought of his eyes, welling up with tears when Madara returned to tell him that he’d stood there and let his brother die. He thought of the days- weeks- months- he would spend in depression. He probably wouldn’t be the same.

He was Hashirama’s little brother.

Madara had already lost his own. He couldn’t let Hashirama suffer the same fate.

“Stop.”

The Chinoike paused and grinned, knowing he’d won. Madara avoided Tobirama’s stunned gaze.

“Remove them.”

Irritation flowed through him. Of course this cretin would make him remove them on his own as a way to humiliate him.

He wouldn’t get the satisfaction. Unfortunately for him, Madara was quite used to horrors of the body.

He let his Sharingan fade so the man would look him in the eye again. Their gazes met across the clearing.

He reached up with one hand, never turning away, and took out his left eye.

Something in the man’s grin faltered at the blank expression Madara wore.

Blood ran down his cheek as he held his eye in his palm. Madara pressed down the urge to grit his teeth, because that definitely hurt more than it had the last time when he’d had Hashirama’s cells boosting his vitality and a shitload of adrenaline coursing through him during the war.

Ignoring the pain, he removed his right eye, placing it in his palm with the other. His sight left him and he was left in darkness.

“Satisfied?” he drawled, holding out his hand.

He didn’t have to look to know Tobirama was staring at him, paler than usual and with a vaguely dumbfounded quality to his expression.

The Chinoike broke out of his momentary stupor and the smile returned to his voice. “Thank you for cooperating, Uchiha-san.”

Madara heard him jump down to ground level at the same time several of the barriers closer to him activated second layers, locking him into the center of the valley.

He tracked the man’s steps as he walked up to him. He stopped two feet away, and Madara didn’t doubt he had some other way to kill Tobirama from a distance if he was so casual with coming down to him.

He fought the urge to close his hand or summon his Susanoo to skewer this fool as his eyes were taken from him. Here he was, giving one of the most vital parts of him- eyes that held unquestionable power- away, all for Tobirama.

“Thank you…so much, Madara,” the Chinoike told him, a laugh shining through his voice. Madara wanted nothing more than to light him on fire and feed the remains to his falcons.

Then a sword skewered him in the chest. It wasn’t a small one.

He let out a startled gasp, having not heard the Chinoike pick up or take out a blade, and stumbled back half a step. His hands went to the wound on instinct, assessing the damage, his mind growing more frantic as he mapped out where his organs were. It had missed his heart but pierced his lung.

The man stepped forward, suddenly in his personal space, and placed a hand on his throat. It was the only thing needed to make him freeze. He wasn’t stupid- he knew he’d practically cornered himself now.

“I could kill you now,” the Chinoike contemplated, and Madara let out an alarmed gurgle when a second blade pierced an artery in his thigh. He crashed back into the rock wall he’d backed into, leaning heavily against it as he repressed the urge to start coughing up blood.

Tobirama’s voice abruptly filled the valley, sounding cold and furious and harder than Madara had ever heard it and he couldn’t begin to fathom why that tone was aimed in his defense. “That man,” he called down, his glare obvious, “is the most important person on this earth to my brother. You kill him, and Senju Hashirama won’t stop until there’s nothing left of you but ashes and the full force of Konohagakure will come down on you.”

Madara couldn’t help a quiet, gurgling laugh when the hand on his throat stilled. Even the threat of Hashirama sent chills down spines.

“Perhaps.” The hand slowly left him and he sagged down the wall, hitting the ground with a wheeze. “Enjoy what remains of your life, Madara.”

Footsteps made their way away from him towards the other end of the valley.

Madara couldn’t believe he’d let himself come to this. He should have crushed that man instantly, made him know what real fear was, and yet part of him knew that was a lie. He wondered when he’d started going to such lengths to put others before himself.

“Madara!” Tobirama’s voice called down to him again. “My chakra is bound. I can’t help unless you release me.”

Madara’s head had gotten so heavy. He raised it with a struggle in Tobirama’s direction, breathing in wet-sounding breaths as the pool of blood he sat in grew larger. Moving, in his state? What a joke.

Painstakingly, he raised a hand and gathered his chakra. A single Susanoo arm shimmered in existence in only its skeletal form. It began to extend in Tobirama’s direction.

“Twelve degrees left and half a foot down,” Tobirama instructed, sounding not panicked, but definitively hurried. “There’s a tag on my forehead.”

This was ridiculous, Madara thought, utterly ridiculous, and he had no idea what his life had become that he was sitting here bleeding out and trying to blindly remove a tag from Tobirama’s forehead surrounded by boulders and mist that was making him feel uncomfortably warm. He didn’t believe that this was reality at this point.

His chakra brushed against paper. He flicked the Susanoo’s index finger and dislodged it, unprepared for the instantaneous rattling of metal directly afterward that startled him. Hardly a moment later hands were grasping his shoulders. He was dizzy, it was hard to breath, he felt like coughing up a gallon of water; everything felt like someone had cut it open and poured salt in it.

“Goddammit,” Tobirama breathed, and Madara just let himself sit there, unaware of much other than the blinding points of pain in his body. “Why the hell did you give those up for me, you dumb bastard?”

“Hashirama loves you,” Madara mumbled, making the hands momentarily pause as they were ripping his yukata into pieces and trying to adjust the blades so he could be carried. “And besides…what kind of person would I be…if I let a comrade from Konoha die?”

He was on the verge of passing out and didn’t know what he was saying, but that felt…right, in a way not much had in a very long time.

He’d already lost his sight. He lost his other senses as unconsciousness took him.

Chapter Text

Tobirama was met halfway back to the village by the group they’d sent out as a retrieval squad. There were over twenty jounin gathered around the Hokage, who’d donned his armor and his weapons scroll on his back and led at the front.

“Hashirama!” Tobirama hollered his brother’s name at the top of his lungs. He dropped out of the trees from a higher point than the squad, making them glance up when they heard his voice.

“Tobirama!” Hashirama froze when he saw Madara, sagging at Tobirama’s side with an arm held around his shoulders, absolutely covered in blood.

Tobirama landed on the ground and transferred Madara to the grass as gently as he could. Hashirama landed in front of him, wide-eyed, glowing hands already reaching for the blade in Madara’s chest that Tobirama had been forced to break off. “What happened?” he demanded, glancing at Madara’s face and going still. “His eyes-”

“They’re gone,” Tobirama interrupted him, sounding aggrieved as he met his brother’s frozen gaze.

Hashirama stared at him with a gaping mouth. For a moment that was all he did, before his expression slowly began to transform into something thunderous. Tobirama could hear his teeth grinding together as a cold rage Tobirama hadn’t seen in a very long time took him over.

“Who?” he asked through gritted teeth, even as his chakra removed the portion of metal in Madara’s chest and tossed it aside and the clone he’d made before leaving dealt with the other injuries. The chakra he was giving off escalated, a gradual but steady rise as his anger coiled, making his hair start to float off his back. “Who did this?

The sensors in the squad swallowed and shifted uncomfortably. Even the non-sensors became aware of the deep well of chakra they could feel, simmering in repressed fury, starting to radiate outward. It made them feel a bit like ants in the midst of an angered rhinoceros.

Tobirama, having gone stiff, steeled himself, as he knew that fury wasn’t directed at him. It was simply hard to ignore the sheer amount of angry chakra lashing out when one was as good a sensor as he was.

“A shinobi from the exiled Chinoike clan,” he said, managing to keep his composure. “Apparently this was some elaborate revenge plot. He took his eyes for himself.”

A frown overtook Hashirama’s face. He glanced down at Madara’s, pale and streaked with blood, and the question on his tongue was obvious.

“Anija,” Tobirama said, quieter that time, as his gaze followed his brother’s, “he did it for me.”

Hashirama went rigid. He looked up at Tobirama with his eyes, not moving a bone in his body, as an unspoken conversation passed between them. Tobirama could see even he was in some mild disbelief.

Even after everything he’d done to him, Tobirama thought, Madara had still made this sacrifice for him. If he’d still had any preconceptions about the man they were gone now. Part of him couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen this aspect of Madara, so blatant in other shinobi of Konoha but seemingly hidden under the surface of the Uchiha, but now it seemed as if it had always been obvious.

He would give up anything for the village and those he deemed his comrades.

Even Tobirama, who’d had by far the rockiest relationship with him, who’d forced him to witness his own resurrected brother and wait to lose him to death again.

“He asked me,” he murmured, “what kind of person he would be if he let a comrade from Konoha die.”

Something like pain flashed across Hashirama’s face. Tobirama didn’t regret telling him. He looked at Madara with a tenderness that was offered to no one else, and Tobirama knew never would be.

Madara was many things: cantankerous, impish, a mischief-making gremlin who liked to replace Tobirama’s quill ink with disappearing pigments.

He had to be the most loyal person Tobirama had ever seen.

Madara is a fundamentally kind man.

It turned out his brother had been exactly right, from day one.

“Hashirama…? Is that you?”

Hashirama’s head whipped around so fast Tobirama was sure he’d given himself whiplash. He left the chest wound for his clone to finish healing, moving closer to Madara’s head and settling on his knees in the grass. He placed a hand on the man’s forehead and brushed his bangs aside. “I’m right here. Don’t try to open your eyes, Madara, just rest.”

Madara lay there, confused and with darkness as his company, disoriented. An ignored voice in his mind told him he must have lost consciousness. He didn’t know where he was- but Hashirama was there, so it didn’t matter.

“Aniki! Look at my Sharingan!”

Izuna stared up at him with bright, adoring eyes, shining with a care he only gave his brother. Trust. Respect. Love.

Of course he’d dreamed of that. He wished he could feel it again.

With effort, he raised a hand and reached out until he felt the edge of red armor. Hashirama stared at him in confusion as he moved his hand to hold the Senju’s face. He relaxed a fraction when he felt familiar smooth skin under his. The chakra around them calmed.

“I can’t… see your face anymore,” he explained with a smile, finding it difficult to speak due to the exhaustion and echoes of pain hounding him. “So this’ll…have to do.”

His half-delirious mind didn’t pay attention to the presence of others around them, or that brushing a thumb over Hashirama’s cheekbone with an adoring smile was in no way platonic. “I missed you.”

He didn’t know what caused it, but the man holding him let out a choked noise as if he’d startled him. “I-I missed you too,” he said, voice quivering. He laid a hand over Madara’s to keep it there, noticing how it was shaking from effort. “Rest now. I promise I’ll fix this.”

Tobirama watched as his brother’s expression traveled from slightly amazed back to pained. The jounin around them glanced at each other, wondering if they should be looking at the scene or not, some of them with a question in their gaze. Several were from the Senju, a few from other clans, and they all noticed how the Uchiha soldiers there looked as if they knew something they didn’t.

“I’m sorry,” Madara muttered as he clearly started to drift into sleep. “I should have been stronger than this.”

“Hush. Sleep.”

Tobirama stared, and thought to himself that it would be a crime for either of them to choose anyone else. They and their loyalty and their special brands of inanity were perfect for each other. They fit together like two sides of a coin and he couldn’t fathom how neither had figured it out yet.

(And deep down, someone this loyal was the only type of person he could approve of.)


 

Fifteen of their shinobi were sent to the valley to investigate where the Chinoike could have escaped to, while Tobirama used his Hiraishin to transport his brother and Madara back to the village. Instead of taking the Uchiha back to his house, Hashirama settled him in the living quarters in the tower attached to the main room on their office floor, obviously not wanting to leave him alone.

Tobirama leaned against the table in the room, watching with folded arms as his brother fretted over how tight the bandages wrapped around Madara’s eyelids were as the man himself sat on the side of his bed looking mildly annoyed.

“He didn’t do anything else to you, correct?”

“No, Hashirama, I’ve said it three times by now.”

“You can’t blame me for worrying.”

“I’m blind, not in a coma. Go bother Tobirama.”

“Thank you for the concern,” Tobirama drawled. “Trying to foist him off on me.”

Madara wrinkled his nose in his direction. “Shut up, bastard.”

Hashirama made an unsatisfied noise. “Tobirama’s fine. The man took a vial of his blood, but-”

Madara stiffened, losing the air of irritability around him that Tobirama suspected was only for show. “He took a vial of your blood?”

“Yes. He thought I was unconscious at the time.” Tobirama narrowed his eyes as Madara sat there, not moving a muscle. “Why?”

Madara was still for a moment before he began to open his mouth; that obviously had some importance to him, but he was interrupted by the door slamming open. He jumped, while Hashirama just turned with a frown. He’d been expecting Izuna to make an angry appearance at some point.

“Madara,” the dead Uchiha snapped; Madara heard him making quick and angry steps towards him. “We need to talk.”

He glanced at the Senju with a clear dismissal. Hashirama turned to the tray of bandages on the night table and pretended to busy himself with the salve he’d made in a mortar and pestle, keeping one eye on him. Tobirama simply let himself fade into the background, not saying a word.

Izuna stopped a mere two feet away from his brother and glared. Madara couldn’t see him, but he felt the lividness radiating off of him and winced. “Izuna,” he muttered in greeting.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Izuna hissed, apparently uncaring about the brothers’ presence. “Giving up your eyes to an enemy? For a Senju? For him? You remember he’s the one who killed me, don’t you?”

Madara licked his suddenly dry lips before responding. “I…”

Izuna didn’t give him much of a chance. “You gave up your Sharingan. You gave up mine.” He moved closer and grabbed a handful of the plain grey robe Madara had been clothed in after his own was ruined. Ironically, his own Sharingan began spinning in his eyes. “And for that Senju. Did I waste it on you?”

Madara’s ability to breathe abruptly cut out on him. He knew he’d started to tremble, might have worried about showing weakness, but the words cut right to his core. He’d been afraid of that notion ever since Izuna died; that he had died for nothing, that he had wasted his love and sacrifice on Madara.

And Izuna thought so.

He tried to say something, but a pained breath was all that escaped him.

“That’s enough.” Hashirama’s voice, closer than Izuna’s was, startled him. The man was suddenly in his space, forcing himself in between them, cleanly extricating Madara’s robe from his brother’s grasp, and his voice had taken on a note of coldness. “Madara needs to rest. Come back when you’re calm enough not to blame him for something that wasn’t his fault.”

Izuna turned furious red eyes on him. “You don’t have the right-

“Yes,” Hashirama emphasized, giving him a stern stare that somehow had a trace of guarded pity within it, “I do.”

Izuna stared at him, seething, and glanced at his brother. His brother, who wasn’t arguing. His brother, who simply sat there with a dumbfounded look on his face, practically cowering from him.

“Very well,” he hissed, and turned on his heel and strode out. He let the door bang shut behind him.

None of them spoke. Hashirama stared at the closed door, looking mildly disappointed, and Tobirama eyed where Izuna had been speculatively.

He had noticed the dead man’s odd behavior. He almost thought nothing was wrong at first. Izuna was obviously still stuck in the warring states era, and any adjustment wouldn’t come easily.

He glanced at Madara, who looked close to keeling over from pure shock. Or perhaps crying.

No, there was something wrong. Now he knew what.

“Madara,” Hashirama began softly, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder, “you should rest now.”

“Did you just…” Madara stammered in disbelief. “You- I don’t-” He stopped and made an indiscernible noise, running both hands through his hair.

“He’ll be fine,” Hashirama tried to reassure him. “You’re the one who needs to recuperate.”

Madara shook his head, both to shake himself out of his stupor and reply. “No. I- I know what this Chinoike is trying to do,” he admitted, abruptly looking shamefaced as he turned away from Hashirama.

Tobirama’s eyebrows shot up. He exchanged a surprised glance with his brother. “What?”

If Madara had eyes, he would have bet they would have been avoiding looking at either of them. “A…while back,” he began, quiet, as if the memory shamed him, “I found a tablet in the Uchiha’s belongings. Only someone with my level of visual prowess was able to read it as well as I could.”

Hashirama’s eyebrows started to rise along with Tobirama’s, wondering where this story was possibly going.

“It…it spoke of many things. Things I thought were nothing but myth, that were…unbelievable. It spoke of a dojutsu more powerful than the Sharingan; one that belonged to the Rikudou Sennin.” Tobirama’s eyes widened, and he glanced at Hashirama in surprise, but his brother was no better off than him. “The Rinnegan. I thought…it wasn’t attainable, a legend.”

“How does this relate to the Chinoike?” Hashirama asked, perturbed.

Madara grimaced. “I destroyed the tablet because the things it said would lead an Uchiha into darkness.” And he had; as soon as he had the presence of mind he’d snuck in and broken the thing into a thousand little pieces. “The way it described the path to attaining the Rinnegan involved the mixture of Uchiha and Senju biological material.”

He left a slight pause to leave them to decipher what he meant. It only took Tobirama a moment to put the pieces together. “As clans both descended from the Sennin. That’s why he took your eyes and my blood. But how did he come to find this out?”

“During the battle with the Hagane,” Madara replied, voice quiet and subdued in a way that made Hashirama frown. “I crossed blades with him and he put me under a genjutsu. It…brought a variety of unpleasant memories to mind. I broke it- I didn’t think…I thought, with the tablet gone-”

He cut himself off and cursed the way he was stumbling over his words. All he could see was that he’d failed again, practically handed a power that could potentially threaten Hashirama and his dream to an enemy on a silver platter.

“Madara, there is no possibly way you could have even vaguely predicted this,” Hashirama told him, sounding frustrated. “Do not blame yourself.”

“But there-”

No.”

I am the one who-”

“I said no!”

“Just let me-”

“This is just like that time you-!”

Tobirama resisted the urge to rub his temples when they started to bicker. They were like an old married couple and neither one had even hit thirty yet.

“Madara,” he broke in, interrupting their stubborn argument. Hashirama had already begun to pout. “What’s the probability of this all being true, that this man might actually awaken such a dojutsu?”

Silence as Madara pursed his lips. He settled back on the mattress and curled his hands into fists. “Enough that I will transcribe the jutsu the tablet spoke of it could perform. However…from what the tablet said, he is missing one piece.”

“What?”

Madara’s head turned slightly towards Hashirama. There was hesitancy there, now, that told Tobirama it involved his brother, and thus it was probably headache-inducing.

“The tablet…seemed to imply…that Senju and Uchiha biological material wasn’t enough. The sage had a pair of sons,” Madara explained. “And the infusion of both of their chakra would be required.”

“Well, that’s good, then,” Hashirama put in, glancing between them. “Surely those sons are long dead by now.”

The way Madara grimaced told them he was wrong.

“Very long ago,” he began, “a rift formed between them. The elder brother, angry that the successor to his father’s ways was to be the younger, engaged him in battle. He ultimately lost yet swore vengeance no matter how many lifetimes it took.”

“…lifetimes?”

“It’s not a true reincarnation, from what I could tell, but their chakra migrated from host to host. And…”

Madara trailed off, with little intent of continuing. Hashirama stared at him with a frown before freezing as realization spread across his face. “You mean…”

“If the elder brother who went on to found the Uchiha clan is represented by me, you know there is no one else but you who could rival my power as the representation of the brother who founded the Senju,” Madara told him, and his logic in such a mystifying and reality-defying conversation was mind-numbing.

Tobirama stared in silence. Fate. Of course it was fate. They really were fated to end up being moronic together.

“…but we’re not…actual…brothers, right?” Hashirama asked with a twitchy smile, so obviously uncomfortable with the notion and hoping it wasn’t true because of his crush, making Tobirama want to slam his head into the mountain.

“Don’t be an idiot!” Madara chastised him, equally uncomfortable with the thought. “If you were my brother I would fling myself off a cliff.”

“Hey!”

“Just shut up, you idiot, and make sure no one steals any of your chakra anytime soon. Surely you can manage that.”


 

Yataro was frustrated.

No, that was too weak of a word. He was furious. At the end of his rope. About to rip the eyes he’d transplanted into his skull out of it and crush them beneath his feet after all this effort.

He couldn’t even manage to get the man’s damned Sharingan to activate. Every time he thought he saw a flicker of red in his mirror it disappeared before he could achieve it.

One side of his face was mottled with synthetic tissue that held the Senju blood in his body, and he’d injected what he’d gleaned from Madara as well. It couldn’t hurt to use as much as he could. He could feel that man’s chakra lying dormant in the eyes, infuriatingly just out of reach.

“You’re missing a vital component,” a voice rasped from behind him in the cave, making him whirl around and let loose a handful of kunai. A dark shape slithered around them, grinning at him and making a shiver run down his spine.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“An interested benefactor,” the thing purred. “You’re trying to achieve the Rinnegan, are you not?”

He froze.

“I think you’ll find that I’m highly familiar with it. I know exactly what you’re missing.”

The thing grinned at him again, all teeth.

His eyes narrowed. “And what would that be?”

“A sample from Senju Hashirama. And I can get it for you.”

Yataro stared. Normally, he would have already attacked a mysterious invader in his domain or sent them away, at least- and he was suspicious- but at this point, he had nothing to lose. No family. No allies. There was only him and the growing thirst in his soul that cried out for him to crush the Uchiha.

He doubted this being had his interests in mind, but in the end, who considered any but their own?

“I’m listening.”

The grin widened.


 

Tobirama found Izuna in a training ground cutting down trees with his Susanoo, lips curled in an angry snarl. He stood there for a moment and waited for the man to notice him. It hardly took a minute before an enraged Sharingan was staring him down.

“What the hell do you want?” Izuna growled. Tobirama kept his stance relaxed, even if he was on guard- because Izuna looked half convinced he should try and kill him to even the scales.

“I came to talk.” He kept his eyes glued to the reanimation as he stalked to the other end of the clearing, lighting various trees on fire with black flames. “You’re angry.”

“No shit I’m angry!” Izuna snapped. “Is that what you came to tell me, Senju? Have any other rhetorical statements for me?”

“You’ve been angry this whole time,” Tobirama went on, rational and calm. Izuna didn’t look over at him. “You’ve been getting angrier.”

“Of course I have!” Izuna howled at him, whirling around. “Why the fuck would I not? I’m angry at everyone!” Tobirama raised an eyebrow. “I’m angry at you! I’m angry at that motherfucking brother of yours! I’m angry at Madara- I’m angry at me! I don’t even know why I said those things, I’m just pissed off!” Practically foaming at the mouth, he flipped one of the pieces of wood he’d dismembered into the air with his sandal and punted it across the training ground hard enough it dented a tree. “I’m angry that everyone expects me to show up and play nice as if we weren’t mortal enemies a week ago. I’m angry and I can’t stop being angry,” he hissed, turning and staring at him with hysterical red eyes. “What the fuck is wrong with me?”

The man before him lowered his gaze to the grass at their feet. “The Edo Tensei is unstable. You’re unstable. In a state of deterioration. It only worsens with each day.”

Izuna stared at him. Running out of steam, he spoke with a desperate edge to his voice, breathless. “What? You’re- you’re telling me-” He broke into a feverish laugh, rough and brittle enough it made the Senju wince. “You couldn’t even bring me back from the dead right? I’m just some bomb- some animal- I’m not even a human being anymore.”

He turned away from Tobirama and laughed, pressing his hands over his eyes and feeling the hysteria rise. Fury was still bubbling in his gut and the horrible, oppressive darkness that had hounded him since he awoke seemed to double. He wanted to cry, to rage, but nothing would come. No moisture gathered in his eyes. He couldn’t even cry.

He laughed harder.

Tobirama’s voice was cautious and hesitant. “Izuna-”

“Don’t fucking say my name,” Izuna shrilled, curling his hands in his hair. “I can’t even cry. I can’t even cry.”

And he was so angry.

“Leave, Senju,” he wheezed, laughter bubbling out of him. Tobirama’s presence didn’t move. He whipped around and screamed at the top of his lungs. “I said leave!

Tobirama disappeared.

Izuna kept on laughing, falling to his knees and burying his face in the grass and wishing he’d gone to hell instead of this.


 

Tobirama listened to the sound of unhinged laughter the whole time he returned to the village. It faded eventually, but echoed in his mind as he landed on a high tree branch and knelt there, shaken and pale.

Breath coming in uneven intervals, he slowly sat down and placed the scroll he’d been carrying in his lap. Izuna’s broken shrieking and the way his eyes had glinted with the beginnings of insanity stayed in his mind’s eye and didn’t let him rest.

He thought of Madara, sitting on his bed with no eyes and suffering as his beloved younger brother left him there.

His mistake couldn’t even affect just one person. It was just like his missteps with Madara causing Hashirama pain. Madara was caught in the crossfire now- Madara, who’d hated him a little bit even if he denied it but still tried to put it aside and- dare he say- become Tobirama’s friend.

Somewhere along the line he had. Their relationship would probably never make sense- or be easy- or be anything that wasn’t infuriating- but Tobirama considered the man his friend. He’d started enjoying it when he sent his falcons to the office- they were things of beauty- or when they teamed up on Hashirama, or even when they argued like a cat and dog that were mortal enemies.

He'd wondered before if he and Izuna would have gotten along had he stayed alive, and despite bringing the man back, he couldn’t even decide that. He was trapped in a well of hatred that was Tobirama’s doing. He was twisted and malformed and most likely nothing like what he’d been when he was alive, if the disappointment on Hikaku’s and Naori’s faces after meeting him was any indication.

If the way he’d seen Naori duck her head, and murmur about the person she’d considered a little brother not wanting to see her, and the way Hikaku had slung an arm over her shoulder with an equally depressed look on his face, was any indication.

Two other friends Tobirama had hurt.

But it was time to stop dwelling on what he’d done. His guilt was right, but it wasn’t productive and it wouldn’t fix the situation or save any of them more pain.

He had the way to fix all this in his hand. Sitting and agonizing over his mistake would do nothing; it was time to undo it.

He glanced down at the scroll in his lap and narrowed his eyes.

Whoever he was, that Chinoike would soon regret harming one of Konoha’s own.


 

The Uchiha as a whole were less than happy to hear what had happened to Madara.

Hashirama rubbed one temple as he stared at the square outside the tower, filled with what looked like nearly every adult Uchiha but for a few to babysit the children. Every Sharingan was active and glaring at him, though he wasn’t the target of their anger.

“They’re understandably restless, sir,” Hikaku said from the front, innocently, as if he wasn’t part of this mob. “They’d like to ask that you pull other clan shinobi from the roster and let the Uchiha form the brunt of the force going after this man.”

“I suppose there’s nothing better than several hundred Sharingan to fight the most advanced state of the Sharingan,” Tobirama muttered from beside him, expression stony but a glint in his eyes, and Hashirama slumped because he could just feel that Tobirama was making fun of him somehow.

He sighed. He couldn’t blame them for being angry. “All right, then,” he called in a raised voice. “The Uchiha will spearhead the search squads.”

A quiet murmur spread through the crowd. He could see many of them smirking. That was probably their version of cheering.

“Tobirama, will you-”

“I’m leading the commanding squad, anija. It’s obvious I would organize them.”

Hashirama slumped as a raincloud appeared over his head. “You said it’s bad to undercut the Hokage’s authority in public,” he pouted.

Tobirama’s expression was blank. “Then act like a Hokage.”

Hashirama slammed into the ground. Why did his brother have to be so ruthless?

Tobirama repressed the urge to grin. If Hashirama ever caught onto the fact he did this on purpose, he would start doing half his paperwork for him.

Chapter Text

Hashirama was…frustrated.

Very frustrated.

Not only had the Chinoike man seemed to disappear into the woodwork, but no one had appeared to visit Madara.

Well, one specific person he didn’t know the identity of.

Hikaku and Naori had, of course, but he was certain that Madara didn’t like either of them. His relationship with Naori seemed more familial, and he’d heard from Toka that she liked women anyway; Hikaku had been in a subordinate position for too long for Madara to grow fond of him in that way. Mito had also come by, examining Madara’s face with pursed lips and repressed anger, followed by his student and that fluffy-haired Uchiha child.

Most others were, understandably, busy with either helping the search squads or picking up the slack those who were had left.

But this person Madara liked- who he was undoubtedly friends with if he’d developed feelings for them- hadn’t shown hide nor hair anywhere near the tower. They hadn’t visited him, hadn’t come to comfort him- and if they felt the same way, that was even more stinging. How could someone receive Madara’s affection and leave him to deal with this alone?

Madara was probably wondering why they hadn’t come. He was most likely listless and restless considering he’d lost his eyes.

Subconsciously, he curled his hands into fists as he stared out the window at the approaching form of his brother on the street below. What he wouldn’t give for that person to be him.

Some may not have seen it at first, but Madara was one of the most loyal, kind people he knew; he deserved a partner who would show him the love and care he deserved. Hashirama longed to do just that, to comfort him like he wanted to, to press their bodies together and listen to the easy sound of Madara breathing as he layered kisses over his skin.

It hounded him every night. He thought of how warm Madara’s body would feel under his hands as he ran them over it, over the dips in his hips, down his sides, cradling his face, feeling the warmth of his chakra- he still didn’t know why everyone thought it felt cold.

He’d resolved to himself that he would try to be as supportive and positive as he could be if Madara brought this mystery person forward, but so far, they were not making a good impression.


 

“Has there been any luck finding him?”

“None yet.” Tobirama watched his brother with folded arms as he frowned out the window of the office- the Hokage’s office, rather than the office they and Madara used just next door. “He could have left the country.”

Hashirama’s frown deepened. He was in a bad mood, probably in part due to the fact that Madara refused to stay in bed and had been bumping around the floor refusing to acknowledge he needed help with tasks and reminding him at every turn that his friend had no eyes. Tobirama had been passing by the break room and nearly broke his neck doing a double-take when he saw a kettle about to fall off the counter due to where Madara had set it down. He’d barely caught it in time while struggling to be quiet enough the Uchiha didn’t notice him.

“I’ll head back out after this. I don’t think he would leave so easily,” Tobirama continued. “His only reason for attacking was vengeance on the Uchiha.”

“Do you think he could resurface for that?”

“He certainly won’t be happy to hear that Madara’s survived. If he is trying to create this dojutsu, he’ll surely return for more ingredients when he realizes his error.”

Hashirama’s eyes narrowed. Tobirama remembered watching the man pull his eyes out, as easily as if it were a simple rudimentary task like making tea. He had been forced to sit there, unable to do anything, and simply watch.

He wondered how it would have felt to watch Madara die there if the Chinoike wasn’t threatened enough by Hashirama to leave him alone.

The door swung open behind him. Knowing it was Toka returning for her own report, Tobirama moved aside, knowing she would have no further news than he did.

“Hashirama.”

Hashirama tensed at the same time Tobirama did. They each turned with narrow eyes, not missing the agitation in their cousin’s voice. She stood halfway to the desk with a rigid stance, part of her cheek twitching, one hand jerking slightly every few seconds. Something about it was unnatural.

Tobirama wisely moved back a few steps as Hashirama stood from his seat. “Toka. What’s the matter?”

The woman’s mouth opened, but she didn’t say anything. Her head tilted. The rest of her body twitched again. Tobirama couldn’t tell if she was struggling to move or struggling not to move.

But whichever one it was, it was obvious she was fighting against something.

One twitchy hand reached into her kunai pouch and withdrew a knife. The brothers watched her carefully, growing even more guarded when she aimed it at her own neck.

“Good afternoon,” a raspy voice spoke, startling them. “Hokage-sama.”

What looked like thick blank ink wiggled out from under the collar of her armor, just enough they could see it, as a vaguely humanoid face peeked out from its hiding spot and grinned at them. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Might I request some chakra? I’m afraid I’m experiencing a shortage.”

Mentally, the Hokage and his brother swore at the same time. Of course they’d been expecting some ploy to take Hashirama’s chakra and had heightened security, but it appeared someone- no, something- had found a way around their defenses by way of body possession.

Part of its face shifted, revealing the Chinoike’s discarded dojutsu. The sight reminded Hashirama that the man must have replaced his own with the Sharingan, that he was wearing Madara’s eyes as if they were his own. He clenched his fists and willed his chakra to stay under control.

“I’ve been told you value your comrades, Hokage-sama,” the thing continued. “But if you’d rather play it safe and let this woman die, I must confess I would be fascinated to see it, even if my prerogative is otherwise. What will it be?”

“Don’t, you, dare,” Toka seethed, glaring at Hashirama with a furious curl on her lip. He stared back at her with indecision, glancing between her angry expression and the grin on her captor.

He glanced at his brother, who shook his head. He didn’t have a Hiraishin mark on Toka (although, after this incident, he was going to put one on every single person he knew-) and even if he had, there was no way he could see to safely separate her from the being in time to stop a blood explosion.

“Toka?” As if she’d sensed the looming danger to her lover, Mito appeared in the doorway with a frown. “Have you-”

The thing on Toka’s neck twisted around and smiled at her as Tobirama stepped closer and held out a hand to signal her to stop. She froze and went pale, standing there like a statue frozen in time as her senses broadened subconsciously and alerted her to what was going on.

Hashirama looked at the terror in her eyes and felt guilt flow through him. He recognized that terror. There was no other feeling that could bring him to his knees so easily. No shinobi with bonds could escape it, no matter how hard they tried to ignore the feelings all of humanity shared.

He glanced back at Toka, at the kunai that was just for a sadistic show, and the red pattern in the thing’s eye. He held out his hand.

He was the Hokage. It was his job to protect his comrades and his family, and Hashirama was tired of losing people. He would deal with the consequences of this decision.

Two long black tendrils twisted out from Toka’s sleeve and reached towards his hand. He let one cut a stripe up his palm as the other curled to collect his blood and a stream of chakra it pulled from the wound.

The rest of what he assumed was its body slunk towards the floor and began shifting into the wood under Toka’s feet, moving like a puddle as it did and the tendrils withdrew. Toka gritted her teeth as its hold on her weakened, but its ability to poison her blood did not, forcing her to stay still.

“Thank you,” part of the creature’s mouth told him as the last of it disappeared, leaving its last words with him just as it escaped. “Hashirama.”

As soon as it left her, Toka slammed the kunai in her hand into the floor where it had been as Tobirama knelt and placed a palm to the floor, trying to sense where it had gone. “Dammit! Hashirama, weren’t you the one who said we couldn’t let this man get your chakra?

“Toka,” Mito pleaded, a waver in her voice as she stepped around and placed a hand against her lover’s cheek. “Please. He saved you.”

She glanced at Hashirama, face still pale, but the grateful look in her eyes spoke volumes and he knew he’d made the right decision.

Toka softened slightly. She placed a hand over Mito’s and bowed her head. “I’m sorry. This is my fault anyway. It attacked me while I searched one of the caverns and took me by surprise.”

“Do you know where it went?” Hashirama asked, looking to his brother as he knelt with closed eyes and concentration on his face.

“It certainly is fast, whatever it is, and can conceal itself well. I was only able to detect it for a second before I lost track of it.” Tobirama’s brow furrowed. “I don’t sense anything else in the tower, but if it’s able to mask its chakra like this-”

“There could be other intruders,” Hashirama finished for him, growing a sudden panic. He practically leapt over his desk and shot out the door, barreling down the hall to the break room where he felt Madara’s chakra, quiet and calm.

Madara himself had been dozing in a seat by one of the windows, enjoying the warmth on his face- the cold seemed more bitter when he wasn’t able to see- but was startled by a wild lash of chakra that snapped him awake. He barely had time to search his senses himself before Hashirama came streaking inside, stopping hard enough that Madara could actually hear his sandal make a mark in the floor as he turned. “What-”

“Madara!” Then his arms were seized and he was dragged out of his chair, furthering his confusion as Hashirama felt his shoulders and arms and inspected his body.

“What-”

“Have you sensed anything out of the ordinary? Felt anything odd?”

“What-”

“Are you absolutely sure that nothing-”

“For god’s sake calm down, you spaz, there’s nothing-”

Tobirama walked in behind them and rubbed his forehead at the scene. It looked even weirder with Madara in the haori he’d put on over his robe, an extra one of Hashirama’s that had been hanging around the office with the Senju clan symbol on the back.

“There was an intruder in the tower, but it appears it’s gone now. We will have to heighten security again,” he said, interrupting Hashirama’s impromptu medical exam. He glanced over at him, both hands still holding Madara’s shoulders, and frowned.

“What do you mean ‘it’?” Madara asked suspiciously, the nonexistent narrowing of his eyes practically evident in his voice.

“It was an odd creature,” Toka explained as she stepped inside, followed by Mito. “It appeared to be made of some viscous black material and could stretch and deform itself at will. It formed a parasitic possession on my body and used me as a hostage.”

Madara slowly turned his head towards Hashirama, the dark look on his face making the man gulp. “Hashirama, did you give it your chakra?”

“Well…”

“What is the one thing I told you not to do?!”

“I couldn’t let Toka die!”

“Psh. You’re useless.” A dark cloud of depression came down over Hashirama’s head as he slumped over. Madara glanced over to where he felt Mito; her chakra was unsettled and tinged with anxiety. If she’d almost lost Toka- she definitely would have tried to attack Zetsu- it definitely had to be Zetsu- “Are you all right? Did it hurt you?”

“No, I am fine,” Mito told him, smiling serenely as Hashirama’s cloud got heavier.

“No concern for me?”

“No,” Madara replied shortly, making his face slam into the floor.

Instead of giving the downed Hokage anymore attention, he looked over at where he felt Tobirama. “It sounds as if it was a manifestation of will.”

Tobirama frowned and tilted his head as Hashirama got up, paying attention to the conversation but simultaneously pouting at being ignored. “The technique you transcribed from the tablet? Could this Chinoike have learned to create one so easily?”

“Possibly,” Madara replied, knowing it wasn’t true. “It could be anyone’s. The elder son’s, or someone else’s. It must know of what’s required to create a Rinnegan, and must have a reason for wanting one in existence.”

“So it’s safer to assume it’s more ancient than not.”

“It’s also safe to assume that the Rinnegan will be awakened shortly.” Madara grimaced. It had taken him decades, but he suspected that since Zetsu was interfering directly, he must have wanted this Chinoike to awaken the Rinnegan fairly quickly.

“Then we must search with even more dedication than before. The destructive capabilities you described are a threat to the village.”

Meanwhile,” Hashirama interrupted, placing a hand on Madara’s shoulder again that made him glance at him, “I want a guard with you at all times.”

“I don’t need-” Madara began indignantly.

“You can’t see. This being can completely mask its chakra, so even a sensor as skilled as you wouldn’t be able to detect it.”

Madara gave him a withering glare that was somehow no less effective with the bandages over his eyelids. Even so, Hashirama met it with a stubborn stare of his own. They stood that way for about ten seconds before Madara turned away, folding his arms with a huff as he muttered. “Fine. But tell me when something happens. I’ll rip his eyes out myself if I have to.”


 

Yataro gritted his teeth against the pain wracking his body and kept his gaze centered on the crack in his ceiling. It had been there for much longer than he had and dripped water when it rained; a single drop glinted on the crevice now, taunting him as it wallowed in indecision over whether to fall or not.

The straps holding him to his work table strained as he convulsed. The rods that creature had put into his body to conduct chakra weren’t even the main source of his pain. Senju Hashirama’s chakra was running through his body now, and it did not seem to like him.

And yet something had happened. The chakra in his eyes seemed drawn to it, even if it refused to activate still. They were both uncomfortably warm and grew painfully hotter whenever they brushed near each other.

The synthetic tissue on his face bulged further now, held in place by tiny rods, mixing the Senju brothers’ blood together. The creature had more Senju material, too, that ran the length of his arm. It had modified it to specifications Yataro didn’t know. There were many malformations and experimentations in Yataro’s body now that he didn’t know the workings of.

He didn’t care. He only cared if it gave him more power than he had.

“Still not activating?” it asked, looming over him with a knowing smile.

“What do you think?” Yataro glared at it, taking his eyes off the crevice overhead. A drop of water splashed onto his forehead.

“Hmm…” The humanoid figure that still hadn’t given him its name examined his body, thinking. “I’ll force it, then.”

Yataro wasn’t afraid, only curious. “Force it?”

“You might die,” it said with a shrug of its shoulders. “In fact, you probably will die. I’ll merge with you…” It held up one morphing hand. “And force the chakras to mix together. Show you things. Urge the Rinnegan forth. The likelihood of you surviving is close to nothing. And the eyes will be wasted, but risks, hmm?”

“But there is a chance,” Yataro said, even as the black shape overtook his body and sunk into his skin, “and I’ll take it.”

That was the last thing he was able to say before his body turned to fire. A pain unlike any other he’d ever felt raced through his veins, leaving no receptor in his body any mercy. Images and memories flashed through his mind, of a goddess, of purple eyes, of a cold dead eye looking down on the world, of white forms writhing back and forth, of brothers trapped in eternal battle, of a great beast turning into an empty husk. None of it made sense but all of it hurt.

A will forced itself upon him, chanting in his mind, wake up, wake up, wake up, and he knew that this creature was using him only to achieve these eyes, that it most likely wouldn’t let him keep them, but as long as he achieved his goals, he didn’t care.

The chakra in his eyes awakened and it was on fire. It was hotter than any flame he’d ever felt and the chakra in the rest of his body responded. It felt as if it was rushing through his limbs, an endless thing that was too fast for him to comprehend, racing towards an unseen goal.

The creature in his body reached farther. It needed more.

It hurt more.

The pain was too much. Yataro found himself drifting, so much faster than he had anticipated, falling into a dreamlike state. He couldn’t do this.

The great eye in his mind stared down at him with judgment and derision in its gaze. It knew he was too weak.

Senju.

Uchiha.

What are they?

He couldn’t do it.

He saw his dead mother’s face in his mind’s eye, covered in blood as her hair fanned out around her in the pond she’d died in. How young had he been?

The creature made him watch more. Countless of his clansmen lying dead, washed away, their legacy taken from them. Now Yataro was alone and had an Uchiha’s eyes in his skull.

The hum of hatred in him grew to a roaring onrush of fury. The creature egged it on. It grew and grew until Yataro hardly recognized himself anymore. He would have killed his mother right now if it would give him the chance to exact his our plans vengeance.

The screaming that he realized was coming from himself reached a crescendo as the pain did. He was almost gone, but he couldn’t let himself fall off the edge now. He had to do it.

Uchiha Madara will be dead by the time the sun rises tomorrow.

He opened his eyes.


 

Hashirama was somewhere between losing his patience and leaving the village to assist in finding their enemy with his senjutsu when the problem fixed itself- sort of.

“The distance worries me.” He thought of one of the techniques Madara had told him about- the one that involved bringing a meteor down from the heavens. It sounded impossible, like something a god would do. Then again, that was the point. “Some of the techniques he might have at his disposal could damage the village even if I take the fight far away.” He glanced up at the tower as they walked towards it, a furrow in his brow.

“I’ll have our earth style shinobi stay on guard at the village limits until we return. It would also be a good idea to take Mito with us, for her sealing capabilities,” Tobirama replied. He paused, glancing over his shoulder at a vendor cart in the street behind them, and frowned.

Hashirama bit his lip to contain a laugh. “Something wrong, Tobirama?” he asked innocently, pretending not to notice the shadow that had been following them for five minutes. His brother twitched at him.

“Come out,” Tobirama called to a potted plant that their shadow had switched to. “There’s no use hiding when we’re right here.”

A moment passed in silence.

Slowly, a bashful-looking Uchiha boy emerged from the plant. “Sorry, Tobirama-tan,” he mumbled, stumbling over Tobirama’s name in the most adorable way. Hashirama almost keeled over right there.

Tobirama’s brow crinkled. “You’re Kagami, correct?” The boy nodded. “What did you need?” The boy had fluffier hair than any Uchiha he’d ever seen now that he took a good look at him.

“Um…I just wanted…to thank you…for…” Kagami glanced up at him and trailed off, seeming to notice something he hadn’t before.

It’s so fluffy, he thought, staring at the fur adorning Tobirama’s shoulders in awe. He wondered if it was as soft as it looked.

Tobirama’s eyebrow twitched and a bead of sweat slid down his face as the child gawped at him. At least with adults, he could get them to say what they meant, if they even got distracted at all. Children often didn’t even know what they wanted to say.

Kagami was, of course, a quiet and respectful child, but he was still that- a child. He tended to blurt things out without thinking and Naori often chastised him over it, but he hadn’t quite gotten it down yet. So fixated, he was, that he burst out, clasping his hands together, “C-can I touch your fluffy?”

Hashirama slapped both hands over his mouth and tried his hardest not to laugh. Tobirama glared at him. He looked back to the child while his elder brother had a seizure and stared at the wide, hopeful eyes looking up at him. How on earth could he say no to that? Madara would strangle him.

So he knelt down and watched the Uchiha hesitantly reach out one hand and bury it in the fur on his shoulder. His face lit up with wonder. “It’s soft!”

A chuckle escaped him. He smirked and ruffled the boy’s hair. “Yours is softer.”

Hashirama grinned as the boy’s face turned beet red. He bent down with a sparkle in his eye. “Kagami-chan! You wanted to thank Tobirama, didn’t you? Why don’t you bring him lunch next week after all this is dealt with? I’m sure he’d enjoy it!”

“Anija, that’s not nec-”

“Okay! I’ll get Naori-nee-san to help me! Thank you, Tobirama-tan!” And just like that the boy was shooting off towards the Uchiha compound, a giant grin on his face. Tobirama gave his brother a dry look.

Hashirama smiled at him and radiated innocence. “You have to interact with the children sometimes, Tobirama.”

“I already do. Every day.”

Hashirama pouted. “Are you ever going to stop comparing me to a child?”

“Perhaps if you stop acting like one,” Tobirama said blandly, making a sad cloud cover his brother’s head.

“Hokage-sama!” someone yelled from down the street, sounding urgent enough they both stopped and turned, on alert. “There’s an emergency!”

“What’s wrong?” Hashirama called out, already striding towards the chuunin running towards them.

“It’s the Chinoike- he approaches from the west. There are several gargantuan creatures with him. And-” The chuunin paused, as if in disbelief. “Scouts say he has a large fox with him, sir. They think it may be the Kyuubi.”

The duo froze and gave each other a brief, startled glance. “Gather the Senju and Uchiha,” Hashirama said after half a moment of decision, growing more serious than before. “I’ll give further orders when we’re ready to leave.”

“Yes, sir!”


 

The village wall was finally finished and left them a sending-off point. Hashirama adjusted the armor on his wrists as a Yamanaka relayed a report from one of her clansmen fleeing the destruction that followed the Chinoike’s steps. He was heading straight for the village, making no effort to hide whatsoever, and reports were coming in that said he had purple, ringed eyes. Madara had been right.

In the back of his mind, he wondered what that meant for Madara’s eyes. He wondered what it would mean for his friend when he ripped them from that man’s skull for him.

“Hashirama!” a voice bellowed above the quiet conversation of the Senju and Uchiha clansmen around them that would form the brunt of their offensive force. Hashirama resisted the urge to rub his hands over his eyes when he spotted Madara leaping down from a rooftop, paying no care to what he ran into even if he was very good at avoiding stumbles. Toka followed behind with pursed lips and a disapproving expression. “Why didn’t you inform me the Chinoike resurfaced?”

He made a beeline for the Hokage as the jounin and chuunin around them eyed him, their conversations having quieted. The Uchiha had knowing looks on their faces, while the rest watched Hashirama, wondering what he would do; they had all heard what Madara had done for Tobirama, and anyone left who doubted his loyalty to the village was stuck in delusions. None of them wanted to see him fall on the battlefield because he’d been fighting blind.

“Madara,” Hashirama greeted, stepping close enough that he could reach out and touch him. “You need to stay here.”

“Like hell I’m staying here! Do you honestly think I’m letting you fight that maniac alone?”

Even with the gravity of the situation, that made a few Uchiha bite their lips to hide smiles.

“I know you’re a capable shinobi,” Hashirama began to try and placate him, knowing he wasn’t going to win the argument. He placed his hands on the Uchiha’s shoulders. “And you’re a skilled sensor, but you can’t fight a battle like this blind and come out of it unscathed. There’s too much risk.”

Madara scowled. He was not happy at being sidelined- yes, perhaps it would have been difficult to fight without his sight, but whatever injuries he would acquire were irrelevant. He’d screwed up and allowed the creation of a Rinnegan; even Hashirama might have difficulties defeating the Chinoike now.

He could not allow Hashirama to die.

“I don’t care. It’s too dangerous-”

Hashirama interrupted him with a stern voice that made him feel the tiniest bit cowed. “Madara, I’m the Hokage. It’s my job to protect the village and everyone in it. That includes you.” He pressed closer, suddenly, wrapping his arms around Madara’s shoulders, and his hair brushed Madara’s ear. He froze at the contact. “Do you understand?”

Madara’s brow slowly furrowed in confusion. “I don’t-”

He let out a surprised noise when Hashirama’s hand struck the back of his neck. He lost consciousness almost instantly and crumpled in the Hokage’s grasp. No one was altogether that surprised.

Hashirama glanced up at Toka. “Take him back to the tower. Don’t let him out of your sight.”

She nodded and moved forward to pull Madara over her shoulders. She looked over to where Mito stood, in a black undersuit and deep red armor, a solemn look on her face, and they exchanged a long glance before Toka turned away and leapt onto a building to leave.

Toka paused, on the roof of the flower shop she’d bought Mito’s flowers, looking back one last time to where she could see red hair moving in the crowd of shinobi. How she wished she could go along and make sure Mito stayed safe, but her cousin needed her for a task that was just as important to him as Mito was to her. She did have eyes. She knew he loved Madara.

She watched Mito propel herself forward so she ran alongside Hashirama and Tobirama, her two idiotic little cousins, undoubtedly to talk about something related to how they could seal the beasts.

It felt wrong to watch her family leave and her stay behind.

Come back to me. All three of you.

If they did die, she supposed she and Madara could live out their days as depressed widowers who never got the chance to actually marry their loved ones together. They would probably bicker and sulk over shogi for the remainder of their days until they were old and grey and betting over who would kick the bucket first. She grimaced at the thought.

They had better return. She couldn’t deal with Madara for another sixty years alone.

Chapter Text

Madara felt a burning anger when he awoke that made him direly wish he still had his eyes so he could light Hashirama on fire and watch him shriek like a child and run about looking for water that wouldn’t help. He was going to strangle that bastard when he found him.

He swung himself out of bed and cast out his senses. That Senju woman stood outside his door, no doubt guarding him, and various other chakra signature were dotted throughout the tower. None of them would keep him there.

He threw open the door and stood there, knowing the woman knew he was awake, and waited. Toka said nothing.

“You won’t keep me here.”

He got the feeling she was narrowing her eyes. “I wouldn’t discount me so easily.”

“Don’t insult me,” he bit back scathingly. “I may have no eyes, but I am no less powerful. There are none in this village who can rival me but Hashirama and you know that. You will not keep me from getting to him.”

Toka shifted her weight to her other foot, ready to push off if he made a move. Part of her felt apprehensive, as if she knew better than to try to stop him, but Hashirama had given her the order. She couldn’t disobey.

But something in her still told her it was wrong.

And something larger told her it would be stupid to try and get in Uchiha Madara’s way, regardless of whether he had his eyes, especially if him and Hashirama was what she stood between.

“I am more capable of assisting blind than most of the shinobi there,” Madara continued, giving her an eyeless glare. “And those are my eyes that were stolen. I don’t care what orders Hashirama gave you.”

Toka swallowed her indecision. She wondered if there was anything she could say to change his mind; if, had she been Mito instead, she would have been able to convince him. “He wants you to stay safe.”

He was quiet for a moment. “He’s taking too much onto himself. You know that.”

And Toka did. Her dumb little cousin tried to take too much responsibility and tried to weather too much so his comrades wouldn’t have to.

They both knew fighting would take up precious time, and most likely anger the Hokage should he find out. Toka knew she would have to injure Madara to get him to stay. There was no way around it.

He would probably take out a chunk of the tower just to be petty.

Something in Madara’s expression softened, ever so slightly. “If it were Mito, would you let someone stop you?”

Toka froze, a lump in her throat, because she didn’t have to imagine that scenario. Mito was on the frontline and she was not.

“What Mito is to you…” Madara paused, looking indecisive, hardly wanting to say something so personal to the woman. “Is what Hashirama is to me. Do not try to stop me.”

Toka stared at him. In her heart, she knew he was right. it was cruel to keep him from the one he loved when he felt he needed to help. Her own was crying out for her to follow in Mito’s steps where she should have been.

It was a risk, but if Madara could still use his Susanoo, then they had a chance.

“All right,” she said, making her decision. Hashirama was going to chastise her, but she knew she wasn’t strong enough to detain Madara if he was truly determined. “I’ll take you there.”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. Toka put her arm forward to lead him. “You’re a crazy bastard, but from what I heard, we need all the firepower we can get. Let’s go.”


 

Mito looked across the battlefield into the purple eyes of the Kyuubi and felt real fear.

It was still a mile away at least, speaking to its size, surrounded by smaller summons that were still much too large for normal shinobi to deal with.

High above, on the three-legged bird with the same eyes, a figure stared down at them radiating malevolence. Mito surveyed the line of summons and glanced at the grave expression on Hashirama’s face. The Konoha shinobi around them were shifting and muttering amongst themselves, obviously apprehensive, and it reminded Mito that there were so few summoning contracts in the village with boss animals large enough to combat a tailed beast.

She looked back to the creatures approaching them. A great multi-headed dog loomed beside the Kyuubi, leaking saliva from its three mouths, eyes eerily blank. There was a chameleon shifting colors on its back she hardly got a glance of before it disappeared from sight.

An ox and rhino trotted on either side of it, gargantuan in size and undoubtedly strong enough to cleave lines through their forces. There was a crustacean of some sort behind them, followed by a panda and a large orange centipede.

They were each riddled with black rods that she guessed were chakra receivers. They all had the same off-putting purple eyes. Even the Kyuubi.

Was this man broadening his sphere of hate to animals who didn’t know what human loathing meant? Were they even there willingly?

The Kyuubi was a monster who had no qualms slaughtering humans, but at least it didn’t constantly seek them out to consume and destroy. It hated humanity for its hatred and arrogance and wanted little to do with them.

Maybe some of its hatred was due to this. Due to shinobi taking it under their control like a tool to be used. Because, as she stared at the fox walking towards them, there was no way it was making its movements on its own. Its pride had to have stung with each step.

She glanced at the dog again. Each head had a chakra rod stuck straight through it. Mito was a shinobi and had hardened herself to sympathies long ago, but she allowed herself to feel some for it.

She glanced up to Hashirama, who had his palms together as his eyes darted from beast to beast. Even he would most likely have trouble containing them all.

She thought of Madara and Toka, in Konoha, counting on them- on her- to keep them safe. The lines of defense in the forests behind them wouldn’t succeed if they failed.

“Hashirama,” she called up to where he stood with Tobirama on a cliff overlooking the field they’d come to. He glanced down at her with a frown. “Prepare to bring any rogues under control. I’ll handle the rest.”

A crease formed in his brow, and his brother’s. Neither of them knew what she was referring to.

Then again, neither of them had ever seen her fight seriously before.

Mito gathered chakra in her legs and pushed off the cliff. A chorus of startled cries raised in her wake as she barreled through the air towards the far center of the field below. She heard Hashirama call after her. “Mito!”

Mito landed and slammed the large scroll she’d been carrying out on the ground, rolling it open and making the required hand signs to activate the mark on her forehead. It spread to the rest of her body, unleashing the full force of her stored chakra, as her seals extended from the scroll in a five-point pattern around her on the ground.

She glanced up at the Chinoike man in the air and narrowed her eyes when her gaze met purple rings tinged with insanity. I’m stopping you right here.

Golden chains burst from her back and drilled into each of her patterns, shooting into the air and growing larger and larger as they went until they rivaled the size of the summons.

They snared the Kyuubi first, wrapping and winding around its limbs and tails as it screamed in protest.

The ox and rhino fell to her second and the ground shook as the three beasts fell to the ground, writhing.

Three chains shot towards the panda and seized it as the crustacean fled. It twisted around the chains gunning for it but couldn’t escape as they doubled and grew, some of them shrinking to make sure it couldn’t wiggle out from the larger ones’ grip.

The centipede slammed into the ground, covered in chains from end to end.

The dog let out three identical screams and charged her. She directed her chains towards its feet and ripped them out from under it, sending it crashing face-first into the ground as each head as collared.

The creatures screamed, as one, fighting against her as great golden spikes fell to the ground and speared her chains.

Mito glanced up to the drill-beaked bird. It had stopped and now hovered in one place, close enough that she could see the enraged expression on the Chinoike man’s face; or what was left of it, anyway.

She could see strange formations beneath his clothes and there were odd bulges in his skin, as well as the same black rods dotting his body. Her eyes narrowed. So he was controlling them.

He leaned down with a snarl, signaling the bird to nosedive her.

Two chains lashed up from the ground and wrapped around the bird’s tail, whipping it around and around and slamming it into the ground without mercy. A cloud of dust exploded around the point of impact.

The shinobi on the cliffs gaped at the valley below. “So this is the power of the Uzumaki,” an Uchiha muttered in awe, making the Senju on either side of him nod mutely.

Mito jerked around when she felt the onrush of movement from a blind spot. The chameleon leapt out of thin air, striking out at her with the snake on its tail.

A golden spike slammed into it from above, spearing it through the abdomen and pinning it to the ground as it screeched.

The dust cleared away from the downed bird, lying with closed eyes as the Chinoike man raised himself to his feet and glared at her with gritted teeth.

“Uzumaki Mito,” he spat. His eyes hummed as he raised his hands. “Perish.”

Wood spikes made to skewer him before he could release whatever technique he’d been preparing. The man swore and leapt backwards, placing several more yards between them and switching tactics.

He held up his hands again, but he appeared to be trying something different.

The roots came right for him. He stood there and let them make contact.

A transparent shield sprung into existence around him, absorbing the wood as if it were disappearing into thin air. Surprised, Hashirama canceled his technique as he and Tobirama landed on either side of Mito.

“Was Madara too afraid to face me?” the man who’d turned himself into a chimera called out, looking angry. Tobirama grew apprehensive when Hashirama’s hands curled into fists.

“You attacked shinobi of Konohagakure. That means you deal with me,” the Hokage returned sternly.

Their opponent narrowed his eyes. They flicked over to his summons, and he slammed his hand to the ground, making Mito turn in surprise when her chains grasped nothing. All but the Kyuubi disappeared, one by one, and the fox struggled harder when it noticed the others being freed.

The ground shook as the summons began appearing around them. The panda appeared overhead with raised paws, trying to body-slam them, and was punted hard to the right by two separate Susanoo arms. One was a light teal and the other sunflower yellow.

They all whirled in surprise and found Hikaku and Izuna, who Tobirama realized with a start must have disguised himself in the other Uchiha shinobi, approaching with Naori flanking Hikaku in his Susanoo.

They stopped a few yards away and turned so they had eyes in each direction. “I’ve told the others to attack from a distance and try to unsettle the beasts’ footing,” Hikaku called out, ignoring the questioning stares being thrown his way about the Mangekyo he now sported.

Mito’s chains recovered and skewed in different directions to subdue the beasts again. “I’ll try to keep them separated so they’re easier to deal with.”

Tobirama glanced at Izuna, who only glanced over his shoulder and gave him a dark, withering stare. “Well, you wanted an un-killable soldier, didn’t you?” he sneered.

Tobirama looked away.

“All right then.” Hashirama pressed his hands together and looked up to where the Chinoike stared down at them with derision, now perched on the back of the rhino. “Let’s go.”


 

It was utter chaos that Madara threw himself into.

The bulk of the Konoha forces hung back, leaving the valley below to their commanders. Mokuton roots were flying in every direction and golden chains littered the field, lashing about as the Chinoike maneuvered his summons around them while trying to avoid Hashirama. The Kyuubi had broken loose at one point with the help of the three-headed dog and gone on a rampage before being subdued by the chains again, and its scream rocked the whole valley.

Unbothered by any harm that came to his body, Izuna wrangled the giant rhinoceros with his Susanoo while Hikaku handled the ox. Naori had the panda trapped against the ground with one long, willowy arm of the lavender Susanoo she’d summoned, leading to only more questions in Tobirama’s mind. She had ahold of the centipede as it wriggled in her other hand.

Madara could feel each of their chakra signatures bright and clear as day as he came flying through the trees and over the cliffs. He summoned his own Susanoo in midair and aimed for the creature he could feel below- the dog, if the noises it was making were any indication- and slammed into its back with enough force to take it down and fold it into a crater in the ground beneath.

All motion on the battlefield stopped, for just a moment, as everyone turned to stare at him.

HASHIRAMA!” he bellowed, whipping towards the man’s chakra. “I’m going to strangle you!

“Ah…” Hashirama veered back, even though he stood far away on his wood golem, as a bead of sweat slid down his face. He spotted Toka following in Madara’s wake and threw up his hands. “Toka! You had one job!”

“I’m sorry, Hashirama,” she called back, sounding very unapologetic. “I had to follow my gut.”

Madara pushed off and barreled towards the looming presence of Hashirama’s wood golem. As expected, wood rose to wrap around his ankles and guide him towards a gentler landing.

As soon as he had his feet underneath him, he turned and stomped towards the Hokage. He heard the man gulp. “What the hell is wrong with you, trying to leave me behind?!”

“You’re blind! You were supposed to stay safe in the village!”

“Tch! Don’t patronize me!”

“I’m not trying to patronize you, I’m trying to protect you!”

“I don’t need-” Madara was cut off by a blast of energy from the north side of the battlefield that unsettled the golem and sent even the Chinoike’s summons flying. He didn’t know where the man was getting enough chakra to pull this off. “Tell me where to aim, you moron!”

“Wha-”

Madara summoned his Susanoo and folded it around the golem, helping to steady it against the second Shinra Tensei. He felt the dog leap at them from the right and formed multiple magatama projectiles to set loose and repel it.

“Sixty degrees right,” Hashirama yelled above the noise as the dog crashed into the ground and the battle raged around them. Madara took aim again, this time aided by wooden spikes, and heard a bird screech in response.

Hikaku and Naori wisely chose to retreat to Mito and give the titan more room to move. Mito focused all her attention on suppressing the Bijuu there and let the armored golem take out the summons one by one, causing the angry chakra signature on her senses to grow more unstable with each hit.

Sure enough, the Chinoike let out a wordless scream of frustration and released another blast, more concentrated that time and entirely focused on Madara. He barely had time to be surprised before it sent him flying out of his Susanoo towards an empty space in the battlefield.

“Madara!” Hashirama yelled, leaping onto his golem’s arm and running down the length of it after him.

Madara flipped around and landed in a skid, but on his feet. The Chinoike charged him from the right and he smirked, wondering if the man thought him helpless in taijutsu, stepping around the first blow made and elbowing him with enough force to break a rib or two.

He let out a startled gasp and flipped away from him. Madara heard the metallic grate of a sword being drawn and stepped back, holding out his arm and judging where it was coming in. He let it pierce his wrist and used it to draw the Chinoike closer and jab him in the throat.

Trees abruptly burst forth from the ground and separated them. Hashirama landed beside him and pulled the sword from his wrist, laying a glowing hand over it. “You’re too reckless,” he admonished.

Madara smirked at him. “It’s effective.”

He could feel Hashirama shaking his head at him.

He could also feel more trees growing from the ground. He knew what Hashirama meant to do without being asked.

As soon as there were enough, he unleashed a fire jutsu wide enough to set the whole miniature forest Hashirama had grown aflame. He used his Mokuton to carry them above it and deposit them in the center of the valley, where Mito, Tobirama and the other Uchiha had gathered.

For almost a full minute they could see nothing but the burning trees and smoke gathering in the air. Slowly, a figure crawling from the edge of the trees caught their attention.

The Chinoike got to his knees, holding his eyes with gritted teeth and taking gasping breaths. A sticky black form was in the process of separating from his back, two long tendrils reaching around towards his head.

A kunai sliced through one of them and embedded itself in the ground. Tobirama followed not a moment later, cutting through the thing’s body and forcing it to separate itself completely if it didn’t want to be skewered. He stabbed the Chinoike in a non-lethal place, pinning him to the ground, as the manifestation darted into the forest. Mito’s chains raced after it.

“Dammit.” Obviously dissatisfied, she retracted all but the chains holding down the summoned beasts and growled.

“Another day,” Hashirama told her, then started jogging after Madara as he approached the Chinoike with a scowl.

He stopped a yard away and raised a Susanoo arm to end it.

“Stop,” Tobirama interrupted him, making him jerk to a pause. “Don’t kill him.”

“Don’t kill him?” Madara repeated in disbelief. “Don’t tell me this is some weird mercy thing-”

“Not mercy. I’m not done with him.”

Madara stood there in silent confusion.

The Chinoike, with no small struggle, managed to raise his head towards him and snarled. “You’ll pay for what you did.”

“I doubt it.”

“Tch.” He glared at him with unsteady purple eyes and ground his teeth together. “Someday you will. Mark my words.”

He tried to raise a hand, but without Zetsu to bolster his strength, he barely made it an inch.

Tobirama turned and motioned towards the cliffs. Hashirama raised an eyebrow as a member of the Nara began sprinting over.

Izuna appeared from the trees, various parts of his body in the process of reforming. Tobirama kept one careful eye on him as they did. “Is he dead yet?” he asked, sounding bored to cover up his frustration.

Madara turned towards him. “Izuna?” he asked, marginally hopefully. Izuna eyed him and said nothing.

He was blind, but not ignorant. His brother must have been angry with him still. He turned away and tried to cover up his disappointment. The hand Hashirama placed on his shoulder was a small comfort.

The Nara reached them as Toka came up behind Mito and took her hand. They traded a small smile.

“Sir,” the Nara said, giving Tobirama a nod. “I’m ready.”

“Then begin.” Tobirama glanced down at the Chinoike with derision clear on his face and in his voice. “It turns out your life will be of use after all.”

Yataro stared back at him with confusion. The Nara ran through a set of hand signs before their shadows connected. She forced Yataro to his feet, even with the sword still running him through.

“Wh-what are you doing?” he gritted out, struggling to regain control of his body and failing.

“Force a chakra flow to his eyes,” Tobirama instructed. It had taken a while to find a Nara who could do so, but now that he had it suited his purposes perfectly.

The confusion of his companions grew as the Rinnegan blossomed in Yataro’s eyes once more. Tobirama motioned for the Nara woman to copy him and started running through the signs that had been mentioned on the scroll Madara had transcribed- a technique given a line and a half of attention as the Uchiha wrote paragraphs about the destructive techniques the Rinnegan was capable of, sure they were the only ones that would end up mattering.

The Nara finished the set, and thus, so did Yataro.

A gaping maw rose from the ground in front of them. “What is that?” Hashirama exclaimed, taking a startled step back and pulling Madara with him.

“What’s what?” he demanded, unaware of what was happening. No one answered him, as they were too busy staring.

A green light shot out of the creature’s mouth and zipped across the air- right into Izuna.

He yelped in surprise as a light flashed over his fake body. Pain coursed through him as his paper skin turned real, as the rubble that created the rest turned to organs and blood and the degradation of the Edo Tensei showed itself by way of wounds scattered across his body.

That pain, however, was minor, only a small consequence of the revival technique being unfinished and sloppily put together.

What was worse was the hurricane of feelings that swept over him. He felt like he’d been caught underwater and had just come up for air, gasping after drowning for years, clawing for his first real breaths. Emotions that had been lost to him rammed back into his head with hardly any warning.

He felt like he was Izuna again, instead of the traipsing corpse he faintly remembered being not a minute before.

How he could have thought those things- how he could have said those things to his brother- was beyond him.

He’d been so angry, but now all he felt was fear of whatever was being done to him now.

He let out a gurgling cough and crashed into the ground. The Chinoike’s hair turned stark white and he fell back dead.

“Izuna!” Madara raced over to him, stumbling and falling to his knees as he seized his brother’s mantle, still so concerned even after Izuna had treated him so horribly. “What is it? What happened?”

Disoriented, Izuna reached up to feel his face. He stared at the blood on his fingertips with wonder. “I…I’m bleeding…”

“What?” Madara’s mouth hung open in shock. Slowly, he raised his own hands and hesitantly placed them on his brother’s face.

Oh god.

His brother’s face. His brother’s real face.

“Y…you’re-”

Izuna stared at him as the world started to make sense once more and felt the most crushing sense of relief he’d ever experienced. He wouldn’t have to leave Madara alone again. For the first time since he’d come back, he could speak with the fondness and love he remembered feeling so vividly during life. “Aniki.”

A sob slipped past Madara’s lips. How hard had he longed to hear Izuna call him that again?

His brother was alive. Madara was never letting him go again.

“Oh my god,” Toka whispered, ashen. She turned wide eyes to Tobirama. “Tobirama, did you just-”

“I said I would fix my mistake,” Tobirama told them quietly, watching the tears that had started to run down Madara’s face as he held his living brother.

Hashirama glanced at Yataro’s body. “Then that means…”

“I didn’t tell you because I knew it wouldn’t set well with you, anija, even if he is an enemy. But you can’t blame me for using him if it fixed this.”

Hashirama stared at the Chinoike and thought of the hatred he’d seen in his eyes, and felt something similar to pity worm its way into his brain. The man was twisted and in pain but he had gone too far when he hurt innocents. He looked at Madara as he cried silently into Izuna’s hair and softened. “No, I know I can’t.”

Tobirama took out a storage scroll to store the body in. Hashirama glanced at the summoning beasts lying unconscious or in pain around them and the still wild-eyed Kyuubi in Mito’s chains and looked up to where their shinobi were waiting for him to signal them.

“Let’s clean up,” he said, quietly, so Madara and Izuna could have a moment to themselves. “It’s time to go home.”

Chapter Text

The beast was thrashing and growling when she neared it. It looked down at her with barely contained wrath and bloodthirstiness in its eye, snarling through the chain wrapped around its snout.

“Kyuubi,” she greeted, stowing whatever fear she felt in the back of her mind, being so close to one of the great beasts.

“Release me!” it howled, its voice echoing for miles. It started writhing again with renewed fervor and let out a frustrated scream when the chains tightened and forced it to hold still.

“Calm yourself,” Mito ordered, willing her voice to stay calm and unbiased. One red eye looked at her with a pupil blown wide.

“Take these chains off me, you wretched human wench! You’re all the same,” it snarled, the single tail that was less contained than the others lashing wildly. “Arrogant, pompous, self-important, hideous little-!”

Kyuubi!” Chakra swelled in her voice and amplified it loud enough that even the fox stopped talking. “Calm yourself. I’m going to take the chains away. I simply wanted you to stop moving about so you don’t hurt anything.”

It was quiet for several long moments. It looked distrusting, as if it expected her to try to trick it. Its gaze flicked over to the summoning beasts scattered about.

Mito slowly retracted her chains. The Kyuubi laid there frozen, not believing she was genuine, before leaping off the ground so quickly she was afraid it would try and attack her.

It streaked over to the summoning beasts and snatched the chameleon up in its gigantic mouth before whirling and taking off for the hills like the devil was on its heels. She saw its eyes as it ran, as it glanced at Hashirama and Madara across the battered field, as it looked back at her a single time before fleeing.

It was terrified of them.

Mito used to think that the tailed beasts were hatred incarnate and the only result of their powers would ultimately be hatred as well. Living in Konoha had shown her that even old hatred could be overcome- that sometimes, love won. It had softened something in her.

She watched the feared, terror-inspiring, “monster” run away like it feared them more than anything and felt pity.

No shinobi became a monster like Yataro without a reason. No one fell into hatred without experiencing pain first. Mito didn’t believe that any natural being could come into the world already full of hatred. The world was cruel and made it itself.

She wondered, for all the millennia that beast had been alive, how much hatred it had to have seen to erase whatever kindness it had once had.

She turned and started walking back towards where the rest of the shinobi were gathered. Toka and Tobirama had both been watching her from a distance, as she insisted on dealing with the Kyuubi alone. The Hokage himself was busying himself with helping the beasts.

“There, there,” Hashirama soothed, brushing a hand down the bird’s injured beak. “We’re going to help now. I promise.” He glanced at the various bruises lining its body and winced. “I’m sorry about before.”

The ox moaned loudly from about thirty yards away where a group of healers were trying to heal its wounds and take the rods out of its body. The rhinoceros was unconscious, along with the centipede, and the panda was sitting on its backside looking dazed as several Uchiha tried to convince it to try and stand to see if it could walk.

Mito brushed a hand through the fur of the dog. It was still a giant, but had shrunken down to a more manageable size with only one head and now laid on its side, one eye cracked open as it stared at her. “Shh,” she whispered. “It’s going to be all right.”

It stared at her for a moment before letting its eye drift shut.

“Here, aniki, let me help,” the insistent voice of Uchiha Izuna said from behind her. He had let Hashirama heal him and eyed him suspiciously the whole time, never letting go of Madara’s hand. As soon as it was over with he’d put several yards between them.

The way Madara smiled in amusement as Izuna led him over the rubble by the arm made Mito chuckle. “I can walk on my own.”

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” the younger brother told him, voice edging on a pout.

“Izuna?” Hikaku emerged from some of the activity around them, having faded into the background to let Madara reunite with him alone. He had a hopeful look on his face that he looked to be trying to repress. Mito couldn’t help but feel a little pitying. She couldn’t imagine suddenly seeing one of the family members she’d lost years ago and having them barely look at her.

Izuna whirled around and his eyes lit up. “Hikaku! I haven’t seen you in forever!” If that didn’t speak to how twisted he was as a reanimation, nothing did.

He let go of Madara and moved forward to embrace the other Uchiha. Others had started to congregate around them, curious about the familiar-looking man moving at Madara’s side, whispering to each other.

“Is that Izuna?”

“He looks just like him.”

“He couldn’t be. He’s dead.”

Naori hesitantly ducked in between two Uchiha and stood there awkwardly, watching Izuna exchange pleasantries with a smiling Hikaku. The skin beneath her eyes looked stained with blotches of faded red as if she’d sloppily wiped blood away. “Izuna?” she asked, quiet and unsure.

Izuna whirled around and smiled even wider. “Naori-nee!”

Mito couldn’t see the other woman’s face, but she could see the way she hurriedly wiped at her eyes. She went over and accepted a hug from the younger man, running a hand over his hair as if to confirm that he was real. Hikaku stared at them for a moment and turned away, ducking his head as he lifted a hand to his face and tried to hide it.

Mito could hear the other shinobi whispering and murmuring on the field, not quite believing it was actually Izuna yet, but she could already hear bits and pieces about what they’d used the Chinoike’s body for due to the Nara making her way around. Soon enough everyone would know that Izuna had been brought back to life because of the Rinnegan.

She felt Toka’s presence at her side before the other woman slipped her hand through hers. Mito turned and gave her a smile, one hand still placed soothingly on the dog’s side. Tobirama stood behind his cousin, watching the Uchiha reunite with an expression she thought was almost solemn. He turned and began walking towards his own brother before Mito could ask why he was so melancholy.

“All right, everyone,” Hashirama yelled, gaining the attention of everyone on the field. “Prepare to transport the animals back to the village. We can better deal with them there.”


 

Madara stayed with his brother all the way back to Konoha and through the hullabaloo that followed. His touch was gentle and his words rang with a love Madara hadn’t felt in years. His state as a reanimation was baffling, at a minimum, because Madara had no idea how he hadn’t noticed that he had degraded so far he was hardly even Izuna anymore. Perhaps he’d thought himself so deserving of Izuna’s anger he had been shortsighted.

He was separated from Hashirama in the busyness and ended up in the Uchiha compound, having wandered into Naori’s house after her and Izuna. For what felt like the first time, it didn’t feel oppressive or suffocating or uncomfortable. The Uchiha welcomed him back and let him be with a pleasantness in their aura he felt like he was just noticing.

However, he did notice how much quieter Izuna became when they were finally alone, arranging extra futon on the floor in Naori’s spare bedroom. Madara waited until they were both seated on their cushions, sitting there in semi-awkward silence, waiting for Izuna to speak before he decided to do so himself. “Is something the matter?”

It was hard to gage what Izuna was thinking when he couldn’t see his face. It took him a moment to respond. “I’m sorry, aniki. For what I said to you. I would never think it was a waste to give my eyes to you. I was just…” He trailed off awkwardly. “Angry.”

Madara frowned. “You were right to be angry at me.”

Izuna pressed his lips together. “I was angry at you, but that was superficial. I was angry at- at everything, but…” He ground his teeth together for a moment. “I was angry at the Senju. At Senju Hashirama.”

Madara’s frown deepened. “Why were you angry at Hashirama?” he asked, confused. “He hasn’t done anything-”

Izuna’s tone was angry and bitter when he interrupted him. “But he has. I…I remember things, Madara. I remember watching this happen, but- but- different.”

Something in Madara’s mind murmured to him with foreboding.

“I remember you being alone. And leaving. And coming back, and that man-” Izuna cut himself off, as if he was too angry to get the words he meant to say out. “He killed you.”

A stone dropped into Madara’s stomach. Izuna remembered. How could he have remembered? He hadn’t even been alive- had he been in limbo watching him? How had he come back with Madara?

“And…and after that, there’s just- these flashes, that don’t make sense,” Izuna continued. “Things about the sky, and beasts, and purple eyes, and- it doesn’t make sense. But I know what I saw. I know that this happened once somehow already-”

“It did,” Madara said, a bit hoarse. Izuna paused. “It- it did. I…I lived through this once and I came back and I’m not sure how, but- but just forget about what you saw, Izuna. I did…things that were wrong. I brought my fate onto myself. Please forget it.”

“How am I supposed to forget it?” Izuna hissed. “He killed you! He gave up on you! You know that if it were you, you wouldn’t be able to do the same. That you would lose. How can I trust him-”

“Things are different now,” Madara told him, ignoring the flash of hurt that resurfaced. “Izuna, I finally got a second chance to make things right. To do what I should have done. Please…please just try and see the village for what it is. Ignore the Senju if you must, but I can’t…”

I can’t lose you again.

Izuna was silent for several moments. It stretched into a minute and Madara began to worry he was going to fight him on the matter further.

“All right,” he finally said, quiet and subdued. “I’ll try, aniki. For you.”

Madara breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.” He relaxed and inched his hand forward, wanting to search for Izuna’s hand but feeling hesitant. Izuna reached out and took it for him, his flesh warm and strong and alive and Madara felt so tired.

“Let’s go to sleep. You’ll have to show me around again tomorrow when I can really appreciate it.”

Against his bidding, a smile began tugging at Madara’s mouth. “Yes,” he agreed, “I will.”


 

Mito was quiet as she rolled out variously sized cuts of handmade paper, dried them, and stored them in shelves labeled with their measurements and ingredients. It was a task that required minimal brainpower, much like organizing the bottles of inks in the other shelves and on the counters had been, and it allowed her mind to drift as she worked.

On the other side of the room, Toka quietly shuffled around, yawning once in a while, organizing various scrolls whose contents ranged from instructional guides on how to create certain types of low ranked seals and barriers to how to seal powerful beasts. She glanced over at Mito as she put another stack of paper away and hesitated for a few seconds before setting her latest armful of scrolls down on a table.

“It’s late,” she suggested, noting how messy Mito’s bun had become. “Perhaps we should retire.”

Mito looked up and smiled tiredly. “I suppose so.” She glanced down at her work and sighed. “I simply don’t want anything like this to ever happen again.”

Toka drifted closer with a fondly amused smile and patted her on the shoulder. “We have more than tonight to do it. It will be fine. Our enemy is dead.”

The shorter woman pursed her lips. “But that manifestation is still out there.”

“It ran with its tail between its legs. It won’t resurface so soon.” Toka leaned down and pressed a kiss to Mito’s temple. She relaxed and leaned into her, ignoring the smell of smoke and grass that was entrenched in their clothes after such a long day.

She rested her forehead against Toka’s shoulder and trailed her eyes over the floor. There was a tiny little crack in one of the wood panels of the floor. It was hardly noticeable; she’d probably made it when she dropped a rather heavy bottle filled with her thickest ink earlier. Buildings made from the Mokuton were always surprisingly resilient.

“Toka,” she murmured, fiddling with a stray sleeve on the undersuit the Senju wore under her armor. “I’ve realized lately that I never want to live without you. All I could think of when I went onto the battlefield was that I couldn’t let anything happen to my home where you were. With the example of how excruciatingly oblivious some people are…” She could feel her partner restraining a snicker. “I know maybe I’m impatient, and we haven’t been together a very long amount of time, but I don’t want to wait. I was thinking maybe we could…you know…”

“We could…?” Toka raised an eyebrow down at her. Mito blushed and averted her eyes.

You know…I don’t…ever want to live without you.” Toka continued to stare at her in puzzlement. “I want to be together forever, Toka.”

“…oh,” Toka said after a moment, eyes widening. “Oh. I- you want-”

“Yes. I was…going to plan more…and make something for you…but I suppose that can wait,” Mito mumbled, her blush deepening. “I want to marry you. I was thinking- surely it would be allowed, Hashirama seems willing enough to officiate-”

“He knows I would kill him if he said no.”

“So…you say yes, then?”

A laugh bubbled out of Toka’s throat. “Why on earth would I say no? Of course let’s get married. If you’d like, you can move into my home, although…” She trailed off and rolled her eyes towards the ceiling. “I wouldn’t be unhappy for Kenichi to have longer to run to bring me errands in the morning.”

Mito laughed and reached for her haori which lay strung over a chair. There was a cold nip in the village nights as fall neared winter. “I can answer the door half-dressed for you.”

A shark-like grin overtook Toka’s face. “Yes. Anything to scandalize him.”

The two snickered together as they gathered their things and headed out into the chilly night air, holding hands as they made their way back to Mito’s home.


 

“You can come inside if you like,” Madara had told his brother, and was promptly met with scathing politeness directed at the Hokage. His brother had always had a particular talent for that that even Madara couldn’t compete with.

“I’m sure Hokage-sama doesn’t want me impeding his work. You go on ahead, aniki, flare your chakra if you need me,” Izuna told him with a smile, and then he was off to go do…something. Madara hoped he didn’t feel out of place.

He felt his way up to the upper levels and followed the Senju brothers’ chakras. He found them in their office, bickering back and forth about something. How on earth had he ever thought once that they never argued? A serious fight was rare, but they bickered like children sometimes.

“Tobirama, there’s a hand in my desk,” Hashirama was whining when he opened the door. Madara paused and stood there without saying a word.

“I didn’t have anywhere else to put it,” Tobirama retorted, sounding slightly sullen. “Anyway, you-”

“Ah! Madara!” Hashirama had, apparently, noticed him, and was walking towards him now. “We were just-”

“I don’t want to know,” Madara cut him off. He got the feeling there was now a depressed cloud hanging over Hashirama’s head. “What of my eyes?”

“Ah, yes, of course. Well…” Hashirama trailed off and glanced at Tobirama, who reached behind him to pull out one of his desk drawers and take out a small container filled with liquid that suspended two eyes. “Tobirama was able to remove them safely, but…”

“But?” Madara prompted, impatient. He folded his arms and turned so he faced the Hokage fully. He found he could achieve the same glaring effect that way.

“Well…there was some genetic material attached that he couldn’t remove without damaging them. We don’t know what effect it will have when you try to use them.” Hashirama paused, gnawing on his bottom lip, and watched Madara’s unexpressive face. “I’m sure you guessed, but the genetic material is mine.”

Madara shrugged, not knowing why they both found it so dramatic. He couldn’t deny that some part of him craved to have the Rinnegan again. It would give him more power to ensure the shinobi wars didn’t take anyone from him if he could bring down a meteor on the opposing field. “So? What does it matter if some of you is in me?”

He realized what he said a millisecond after it left his mouth. He froze from head to toe and felt heat rising to his cheeks.

Hashirama choked on his own spit and stumbled, nearly slamming his head into the wall and catching his own desk to support himself on as he coughed and pressed a hand to his chest. He went beet red and breathed in a wheezing breath as he glanced at Madara’s statue-still visage.

Just pretend not to notice, Madara told himself, still standing there rigid. “What, you idiot?” he raged, sounding angry. “Don’t act as if I said something weird!”

“I’m sorry!” Hashirama squeaked. He waved his hands frantically back and forth even though Madara couldn’t see it and glanced at his brother for help.

Tobirama just stared at them with the dullest expression he’d ever seen. He had no idea how these two had managed to create the village and keep it running without royally screwing up everything they touched.

“Anyway,” Hashirama said with only a slightly strained smile, hesitantly patting Madara on the arm, eager to change the subject, “let’s put your eyes back where they belong. Come sit down.”

Madara let the man tug him over to Tobirama’s empty desk and nudge him to sit down on it. He sat there with crossed arms and said nothing as Hashirama pressed his hands on either side of his head, surrounding his empty sockets with soothing green chakra.

Tobirama cut through the bandages with a pair of scissors and opened the container. Madara could hear the quietest slide of latex as he did that told him he was wearing gloves.

“Open your eyes,” Hashirama instructed. Madara wondered in the back of his mind if there was a way to say open your eye sockets without sounding weird as he did.

There was very little sensation or pain- due to the chakra, he suspected- and the feeling of his eyes being placed back in their sockets was already not unfamiliar to him, so it wasn’t odd at all. He pondered over how Tobirama’s fingers on his face, putting pressure on his empty sockets, didn’t bother him. At one point it would have made his skin crawl to have the younger Senju touch him.

“Close,” Hashirama said as soon as Tobirama was done, and Madara obeyed. He stood there funneling medical chakra for a minute more. Madara thought he was overkilling it a bit, but he wasn’t about to argue if it meant he got to sit there and feel Hashirama’s warm chakra filtering over his forehead for a minute more.

“All right,” the Hokage finally said, letting his hands fall. “Open up.”

Madara opened his eyes and blinked at the onrush of light he’d become accustomed to not seeing.

The office looked the same as ever, basking in warm sunlight as stacks of paperwork that had probably been neglected sat on their desks. Tobirama stood behind his brother watching him with narrow eyes, while Hashirama looked at him with a hopeful, attentive gaze. Madara hadn’t realized how much he’d missed seeing the tan lines of his face and the sparkle in his brown eyes until now.

He couldn’t contain a small grin. It prompted Hashirama to smile, staring at him with a mildly giddy expression as he leaned closer. “Everything feel all right?”

“Everything is working as it should,” Madara replied, activating his Sharingan. He looked to the window as his eyes adjusted to the light and shifted it into his Mangekyo.

They both stared at him. He knew what they were wondering.

He reached out for that familiar feeling of power blossoming in his eyes. It felt like it was there, just out of reach, yet he couldn’t grasp it.

“I can’t activate the Rinnegan,” he said. Hashirama breathed out a light sigh and some of the tension bled from Tobirama’s body. He could tell they weren’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.

“Perhaps that’s for the best,” Hashirama said with a weary smile, whether to comfort himself or Madara he didn’t know.

From their perspective, they didn’t exactly know much about the Rinnegan. It was an unknown and something Madara would have to “train” himself to control. They could recognize how useful it would be in battle yet also knew it posed a danger.

But he could still feel the potential there. Madara knew what he needed, but he wasn’t going to voice it. He didn’t know if he just didn’t want to or if he felt like he couldn’t.

“Well, all’s well that ends well, for once,” Hashirama said with a cheerful smile, snagging his attention again. “Are you hungry? Toka brought some manju by earlier.”

“I-”

“I’ll go get some,” Hashirama continued cheerily, practically speed-walking out the door. Madara stared after him in palpable befuddlement.

His gaze shifted when there was movement in the corner of his gaze. He eyed Tobirama as the man readjusted himself, leaning against Hashirama’s desk with folded arms. He was staring at the wall, saying nothing, and Madara suspected he felt just as awkward as he did.

He really didn’t want to, but he knew he should say something.

It was such an…awkward situation. He knew Izuna would probably be irritated- this was the man who had killed him- but Madara simply couldn’t say he felt the same way about Tobirama as he had before; the great, writhing swath of anger he used to feel in his chest was gone, fizzled out, and if anything, Izuna seemed more irritated with Hashirama than Tobirama.

He felt a bit like he was betraying his brother by doing this, but the part of his brain prone to logic argued with the part prone to emotion. There were many Senju who had killed many Uchiha and many Uchiha who had killed many Senju before Konoha. The point of creating peace was forgetting the wrongs they’d committed against each other, and in the end, it had been Madara’s fault that Izuna had died- it could have been any Senju that fell upon the misfortune of being the one to cross blades with his brother.

He loved Izuna- he once might have said more than anyone or anything or even himself- but there had been so much in between his death and now, so many days spent with the Senju, such a long time given to Madara to move past it.

It was a twisted situation.

“Tobirama-”

“Madara-”

Madara whipped around and glared at the imbecile for interrupting him when he’d spent almost two minutes building up to it. Tobirama glared right back. “Well, if you wanted to speak,” he said crankily, goading him, and Madara ground his teeth.

“Moron,” he said, but it didn’t have as much bite in it as before. “I just wanted to say-” He stopped talking and turned to glare out the window, refusing to look the other man in the eye not out of cowardice but out of stubbornness. “I just wanted to say…” His voice took on a softer note that made Tobirama pause in surprise. “…thank you.”

Tobirama stared at him, eyebrows rising, and the silence in the room because utterly loud.

“Thank you?” he repeated, confused. “For what?”

That was a dumb question, Madara thought, because it was glaringly obvious. “For bringing him back,” he said, looking at the Senju out of the corner of his eye. The surprise on his face was a bit funny, considering how hard it was to take him off guard. “I realize you’re the one who caused the mess in the first place, but I have him back again. I just…” He trailed off awkwardly, hating to expose so much of a personal variety to much of anyone. “Didn’t expect you to do that for me.”

Tobirama stared at him. A furrow developed in his brow as he did, and he looked almost incredulous. “I watched you rip out your own eyes for me,” he said, cutting Madara off when he opened his mouth to argue. “And it was for me. It was for Hashirama, it was for the village, but it was for me, as well. I’m not stupid. You didn’t want me to die.”

Madara’s eyebrow twitched. Something about being accused in such a way seemed impudent. “So?” he asked loftily, feeling put on the spot.

Tobirama pinched the bridge of his nose. “Don’t act as if I’m accusing you of first-degree murder,” he demanded. “I was trying to thank you for it. You put your life on the line for me, and you’re confused as to why I brought your brother back? I wronged him too by turning him into a reanimation. It was fixing a mistake I made. Don’t act as if this is four months ago and I still dislike you.”

“I’m not,” Madara snapped, irritated. “I don’t expect anyone to do things for me.”

He’d meant to tell the man off for assuming he still wasn’t understanding him, but what had come out of his mouth was born of resentment he hadn’t known he was still holding onto. He froze and watched something mild similar to surprise ripple through Tobirama’s expression as he looked at him.

“…Konoha is your home,” the Senju said after a minute of silent staring. “More people than just Hashirama care about you.”

Madara sat there for a moment before turning away again, huffing. “Tch. I know that. Don’t talk to me as if I’m five.” His eyes fell on the window outside where he could see the tall roof of the Academy. He curled his hands in the length of his mantle and tried to ignore those words.

Konoha is your home.

He wanted to get up and leave but something in his gut knew he couldn’t. He felt as if this was a turning point, and he really should move past it or else it would bother him forever. He looked back at Tobirama, who hadn’t responded to his barb and just sat there staring at him.

Izuna may have hated him for it, but he needed to let go.

Madara moved his gaze to the floor. Hashirama was taking quite a long time to get manju and tea, he thought, with a bit of exasperation. “I don’t hate you,” he said, making the furrow in Tobirama’s brow grow deeper with confusion. “I used to…I think…but I don’t anymore. I think…”

Exuding an awkwardness only an Uchiha trying to express their feelings could, he got up and inched closer, refusing to look at the other’s face. “We should start over,” he finished. He thought that perhaps they had tried, in variously dysfunctional ways, over the last few months, but it needed a confirmation or else an odd tug of war of misunderstandings would hound their lives. He offered his hand and mentally threatened the other to snub it after all this ungainly fumbling he’d gone through.

Tobirama stared at him with a puzzled expression.

“As friends, you moron,” Madara snapped, twitching. I swear to god, he can be just as dense as Hashirama.

“Oh,” Tobirama stammered, then swore at himself for such a maladroit reply. He stood and took the hand offered to him, in a bit of a haze of disbelief that he had, somehow, managed to become Uchiha Madara’s explicitly stated friend. Nothing in life could ever unfold normally. “Of course. And Madara, I…” He let the Uchiha’s hand slip from his grasp and stood there not quite knowing what to do. “You have my apologies, for killing him in the first place.”

That incident may have been the product of the times and their clans’ war, he thought, but he could acknowledge that while simultaneously realizing it had been his hands that took a part of Madara’s family from him.

He winced internally and prepared for a blowup like the first time when Madara went tense. To his surprise and vague relief, the Uchiha let out a slow breath and nodded. “It’s- forgiven. You should…” He mustered a weak smirk. “Worry more about Izuna’s attitude. He isn’t ignorant, and doesn’t particularly separate you from other Senju, but he can hold grudges.”

It was his way of joking, Tobirama realized. Or maybe his vague way of saying Good luck, you poor fucker. He snorted and fell back against his desk again, refolding his arms. “He’s related to you. That should be obvious.”

The smirk widened into a sharp grin. Madara’s eyes drifted to the door, where they could both feel Hashirama’s chakra lingering in the hall. “By the way,” he said, leaning close- closer than he ever would have a few months ago- and lowering his voice so an eavesdropper couldn’t hear. “I believe Hashirama has…dare say…tried to goad us into a conversation.” A three-tomoe Sharingan that Tobirama had once flinched at spun lazily in his eyes. “Help me terrorize him.”

Tobirama stared into his eyes and felt a slow grin overtaking his face. They both turned towards the door, and Tobirama’s poor, unsuspecting, meddling brother.

Chapter Text

Izuna was…stressed, to put it mildly.

He knew that Madara needed some time to himself that morning, after showing Izuna around. He’d been much more receptive to the village and tried to be positive about the parts that stood out to him- the children he saw running about, happy and carefree, the general aura in the streets that was free of a fear of sudden attacks, the fact that Madara now had a regular source for inarizushi, which Izuna teased him over at least three times.

And it had made his brother happy, he knew, for Izuna to say he liked something about the village. Deep down, he was afraid that Izuna wouldn’t be able to integrate and that he would feel as if he didn’t belong.

Izuna smiled and hid the fact that that was exactly how he felt.

It was just around a week earlier, for him, that they’d been locked in mortal combat with the Senju. Every time he saw one pass by Izuna felt biting anger and an anxious feeling flow through him. He found himself tensing up, palming a kunai or placing his hand on his pouch, getting ready for any of them to attack him. Some of them gave him odd looks, but most passed him by without sparing him a glance.

And the worst part was, no one else felt as he did. All the Uchiha acted the same way, as if there wasn’t a care in the world, as if it wasn’t odd at all to have the whole Senju clan within walking distance.

He hated it.

It wasn’t so much the fact that the alliance existed- maybe he could have grown accustomed to it after a while. It was the fact that he was completely alone and everyone around him seemed to expect him to act exactly as they were.

How could he just turn on his heel and start trusting the Senju at the drop of a hat? How could he trust that none of them would stab him in the back when he wasn’t looking? How could he walk around at ease knowing there were probably at least two of them near his location at all times? He’d gone from being on high alert except when within the deepest recesses of the Uchiha camps to…to this. He’d seen Inuzuka, Yamanaka, Akimichi, Aburame, Kurama, Nara, even the Hyuuga- the Hyuuga, who the Uchiha had fought with like cats and dogs. He couldn’t turn anywhere without inevitably feeling his pulse quicken and wondering who was going to try and kill him.

The only place he felt even mildly at ease was within the Uchiha compound. At least they’d had the mind to put a fence around it.

Even if he didn’t want to be in the village, where else could he go? The clan was here; he had nowhere else. This was where his brother was. He had no other options. He’d died and suddenly awoken to a life that was already ironed out for him without his say. It wasn’t as if the village wasn’t nice- or that he thought it would be a painful existence living in a peaceful place such as this (hadn’t they all wanted peace deep down?)- but he just couldn’t relax. He was frustrated.

He could tell that Madara was picking up on his anxieties, to an extent, even though he tried to hide it, and even though he didn’t think his older brother was making the right decision, Izuna didn’t want to burden him further. He had obviously built a life for himself here- a life that he was happy in. Perhaps it was a life that Izuna didn’t have a place in anymore.

He simply didn’t know what to do.

“Izuna-san, correct?”

He paused when one of the blonde women behind him who’d been sitting at a table in a tea house’s outdoor area spoke. He stood in the street, outside the short hip-high fence only there for decoration, and she’d come over to lean on it with a friendly smile. “Yes?” he asked, keeping any emotion out of his tone.

“I’m Yamanaka Inoue,” she said, another oddity of this time. He never would have given his name to a stranger so easily. “The clan head of the Yamanaka clan.”

Izuna couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows. Female clan heads weren’t unheard of, but they were rarer, as it was often harder to take command of shinobi when there were more men than women in the force. Izuna thought it was bullheaded and ill-advised to refuse to listen to women; all he had to do was look at where trying to steal Naori’s novels when he was fifteen had gotten him.

She pushed lightly off the fence and stood there, arms at her sides and stance open but not too wide, hands in full view as she smiled but didn’t put too much friendliness into it. “I heard the story of your revival from Naori-san. We work together in a studio not too far from here.”

A studio?

Izuna frowned. Naori had been like a pseudo big sister to him growing up. If this woman honestly worked with her, that meant she may have had some small amount of trustworthiness, he supposed.

“I wanted to offer our services to you,” Inoue went on, reaching to the armband on her left wrist and pulling out a small paper card. “The Yamanaka operate a branch of the hospital designated for mental health. When we integrated with the village all of our shinobi went through integration programs and we’ve broadened the offer to all shinobi of the village.”

“Integration programs?” Izuna asked, perturbed.

She held out the card. He eyed it suspiciously. “We often face difficulties when adjusting from one situation to the next. The era of warring clans left scars on many, both physical and mental,” she said, matter-of-factly, as if it was a fact of life and not related to him at all. “It was a state of constant stress and anxiety for most. Adjusting to a sudden change to a peaceful atmosphere in which you’re expected to ‘play house’ with people who were enemies just a few days ago can be highly stressful, but it’s not something you need to experience alone.”

Izuna’s eyes flitted up to her face and he shifted uncomfortably. She was the only one who’d managed to exactly pinpoint his problem and she didn’t seem bothered by his distrust at all.

“So, I came to offer our services,” she continued, smiling again. “You’re free to talk to me, or someone else you’re more comfortable with. I helped Naori with the same thing, and I also spoke with Hikaku a few times. You can ask your brother about me as well. I realize you may not be chomping at the bit to come to the Yamanaka, but I wanted to let you know that we’re here if you need us.”

Izuna stared at her before slowly reaching out and taking the card, examining it. He swallowed a lump in his throat and cleared it, unsure of how to handle all of that. Surely she wouldn’t lie about knowing three Uchiha he could go ask about her in less than five minutes. “I…see.”

There was an address on the card, which had the name of the hospital at the top, with a wing apparently dedicated to what she’d described. She’s a…psychiatrist?

“What…” Hesitantly, he glanced up at her again. Ice blue eyes stared back at him with an open and amicable aura that reminded him of Naori. “Would you suggest for…trying to…integrate?”

“Ah…would you like to sit down for a moment? I still have my tea,” she said, gesturing at a table behind her where a small cup and plate sat in front of a chair.

Izuna debated with himself for a moment before walking around the fence and following her over to it. She sat down across from him and smoothed out her shirt, then adjusted the cup as if it was off center.

“I’m afraid that answering questions often involves asking more questions, if you’re comfortable with that,” she told him with something more like a teasing grin. It made Izuna want to smile back at her. He refrained and nodded. “I can assume that you feel anxious much of the time, on guard, expecting an attack?” He nodded again. “That’s entirely normal. Do you also feel angry?”

“Yes,” Izuna admitted. It may have been inadvisable, but she had the type of face he felt he could talk to. “Angry at…many people. Everyone just…” He glanced down at the table and frowned. “Expects me to be buddy-buddy with the Senju, and others, as if it’s not…”

Inoue folded her hands together and leaned her chin against them. “Logically, you can be assured that none of these clans will attack yours, because it’s been many months since the peace agreement was made; however, you aren’t required to be logical about your feelings. It’s reasonable to feel the way you do.”

He stared at her feeling a little lost. He hadn’t been expecting someone who seemed as if they’d started wearing flower bands and dancing together with all the rest to say that. “Is that so?”

“Of course.” She took a sip of her tea. Izuna glanced up when he saw a Senju woman walking down the street and kept his eyes on her until she was out of sight. “What I suggest is giving yourself time. No matter what anyone else says, you’re not obligated to make this switch overnight and start trusting the people of Konoha as your comrades today. If there’s a place you feel comfortable, spend more time there and with people you recognize. Take some time to reacclimate to simply being alive again, and to be around your family. Obviously, you’ll have to get used to the village eventually, but taking it in steps can help. Such as speaking to a member of another clan one-on-one, and putting friendly faces to clan names,” she said with a pointed grin, making him let out a light chuckle.

“I suppose so. I don’t know if I want to talk to any Senju next. Have any Nara friends? They’ll probably be too lazy to attack me.”

Inoue snickered. “As a matter of fact, I do. Naori and I are going to lunch tomorrow with her. Very lazy, I assure you, it’s a struggle just to get her out of bed. You can come along if you like.”

“I’ll…ask Naori,” Izuna dodged, feeling hesitant to barge in on an outing with two people he didn’t know well. He stood up and pocketed the card, unsure of what to say. “Thank you for the…offer.”

“Anytime, Izuna-san,” she said with a wave as he walked away.

Izuna gave her a nod in goodbye and folded his hands into his pockets, thumbing the card as he walked down the street. Later, he would ask his brother what he thought of the Yamanaka clan head and stand there in mild disbelief at the bizarreness of Madara looking up from a newspaper he’d been reading at Naori’s dining room table and saying “I often see her at the photo studio. She seems nice enough.”

And what the hell was a photo, anyway?


 

Izuna was entirely unprepared for the circus inhabiting Naori’s house when he returned.

He’d passed the Hokage tower on the way, which, for some reason, was emanating a sort of dismayed screeching as a voice that sounded like Hashirama’s yelled what sounded like “This is horrible, I take it back, go back to fighting-” and a voice he could have sworn was Madara’s laughed in the background. Then a window had burst open as a wave of water rushed outside and took an odd conical red hat with it.

Izuna decided to give that a respectable distance and retreated to the Uchiha compound.

When he reached Naori’s residence, there was a teenage girl he felt like he’d seen running about as a child sometimes looming over a seated Madara, shrieking about something to do with a person named Tamaki. Naori herself was fiddling with some strange device and grinding a piece of metal down, on her kitchen table, hence the need for the girl to shriek to be heard.

A small child streaked past with a colored bag in hand and ran into Izuna’s legs as he stepped into the room. He let out a surprised huff and stumbled back, then looked up at him with wide eyes. He had the fluffiest hair Izuna had ever seen on an Uchiha.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his R’s sounding a bit like W’s, perhaps due to his missing teeth and the fact he couldn’t have been older than seven or eight. “Who are you?”

Izuna glanced up at Madara, who sat with a smile as the girl ranted at him and Naori grinded metal with safety goggles on, and back down at the child. “It’s polite to offer your name first to relatives, lad.”

“Oh! I’m sorry!” It was comical how the child panicked and waved the bag around, face twisting up. “I’m Uchiha Kagami!”

He stumbled over his name some, but Izuna could recognize it. He gasped in realization. “Kagami-chan? You’ve gotten so big! You were hardly more than a baby when I saw you last!” He knelt down and smiled. Some of his anxiousness was gone with countless Uchiha and Naori’s home and Madara’s presence around him. “I’m Izuna. Do you remember me?”

Kagami blinked a few times at him. His eyes went hazy as if he was thinking before clearing up as he grinned. “Izuzu?”

“Izuzu!” Izuna agreed, lifting him and twirling him around. “You grew so much! And you’re still just as adorable!” Kagami giggled as he spun in a circle. Izuna felt a warmth settle in his body as he brought the child close and settled him on his hip. “What are you doing here with Naori, hm?”

The question was asked to the boy but aimed at Naori, who’d finally stopped her grinding and was watching them with a small smile. “Miki and I often babysit him,” she explained. “His grandmother’s ability to get around has lessened with age, so we take some of her burden off.”

The girl noticed him due to the exchange and watched him with comically wide eyes. “Izuna,” Madara greeted, looking amused, “this is Miki, my student.”

“You took a student?” Izuna asked with a raised eyebrow. “No way.”

“And he teaches her much too destructive jutsu,” Naori chastised. She pulled out a chair and sat down, crossing her arms as she cast the duo a judgmental eyebrow. Miki smiled sheepishly and Madara just jutted his chin up as he closed his eyes and folded his arms. “You’ve ruined three of Hikaku’s mantles.”

“I didn’t mean to, I swear,” Miki defended herself, turning beet red. Izuna grinned and walked over to them, still holding Kagami.

“You even look like him!” he said cheerfully, poking one of her hair spikes. “That’s adorable. I’m Izuna.”

She stared at him in a bit of awe at the fact she was getting to meet Madara’s younger brother. “It’s…um…nice to meet you, Izuna-san…”

“Just call me Izuna. Izuna-san is weird. I’m pretty sure I used to see you when you were a little kid.” He grinned, poking her forehead. “I’ll come and train with you two sometimes. I know some tricks even my brother doesn’t,” he said with a wink.

“Can you teach me too?” Kagami asked excitedly, grasping the front of his mantle.

“Of course I can,” Izuna cooed, ruffling his hair and making him laugh again. He leaned over and set the boy down in a chair, snagging a cushion from the window-seat behind the table and setting it down first so he would be tall enough to see over the rim. He had always loved children and losing his little brothers had been like losing a chunk of his heart. People often forgot that Madara hadn’t been the only older brother in their family.

He nabbed a seat for himself and looked at the machine on the table. “Going to explain what that is, Naori?”

“It’s a camera,” the woman replied. The metal she’d been grinding looked to be part of some weird experiment to make a second model. “A device that creates a recreation of the scene it’s exposed to on metal or paper. We’re trying to create a portable option.”

She reached for a piece of paper on the table Izuna hadn’t noticed due to it being facedown and showed it to him. To his surprise, there was a crystal-clear image on its surface of Madara and Miki. “I didn’t know such a thing was possible.”

“We work with a civilian merchant who’s been researching it for years,” she explained as she set the paper down. Kagami pulled it towards himself and looked at it with a wondering look on his face. “We’ve been able to make a wonderful amount of progress in a very short time due to her help, cutting down on the exposure time and how complicated the process is.” She looked down to survey her project and hummed. “As such-”

Before she could go on, the front door burst open. Izuna jumped and turned, one hand drifting to his kunai pouch, and he was even more unprepared for the whirlwind of red hair that came flying in.

“Madara,” the woman who’d burst inside shrieked, “I’M GETTING MARRIED-

To Izuna’s shock, Madara sat up ramrod straight with slightly widened eyes. “So soon?” he asked, sounding surprised.

“I asked her last night and she said yes,” the woman ranted, looking a bit undone. A few strands of hair had come loose from her bun and her kimono was slightly askew. “What on earth should I wear? I have to order some purpleheart to make her a comb, it’s a tradition- you’ll be my man of honor, won’t you?” She raised her hands to her worried face and paced, hair waving back and forth due to her chakra fluctuating. “She said we should do it this week. There’s so little time to plan-”

“Calm down,” Madara said as he stood, stopping her with his hands on her arms, looking unprepared for her concerned onslaught. “There’s-”

Madara,” she hissed, curling both hands in his collar and yanking him closer as her eyes became almost wild, “I don’t even have a headdress.”

It was then she noticed Izuna, watching them with a befuddled air about him, and flushed deeper than a rose bush. She let go of Madara and smoothed his mantle out, clearing her throat as she straightened her own clothes. “My apologies, Izuna-san. I…didn’t see you there.”

“Uh…right…” Izuna stared at her, caught off guard. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh or edge away. “Uh…”

A light shone in her eyes, suddenly, and she strode forward, holding out her hands. Izuna glanced down at them and grimaced inwardly, thinking of Inoue’s advice- surely she couldn’t be that bad, if she was so familiar with Madara- and reached out with one of his own to shake hers. Instead, she grabbed it with both hands and pulled him to his feet, kissing him on each cheek.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said with a sweet smile, patting him on the head. “Madara’s younger brother is cuter than he is.”

“Uh…” He stared at her with wide eyes and red cheeks, eyes darting between her and Madara as the elder restrained a snicker at his predicament. “Thank you…?”

“I’m Uzumaki Mito. Although…I don’t know if Toka wants to take my name, or me take hers, or keep our names, or…” Mito trailed off again, losing track of her thoughts, and she shook herself. “Unimportant right now. You’re invited to come if you wish, of course, to the wedding, it would be lovely to have you there.” She smiled again and he was vividly reminded of Naori, and his own mother, and how they could convince him to do their bidding with little more than a tender smile.

“Erm…of course, Mito-san…” he mumbled, ignoring the burning in his face.

“Don’t be silly,” she said brightly. “It’s Mito.” She whirled around and seized Madara by his clothes again. “Madara, you have to help me plan. I have to make a list of who to invite, order wedding favors, find a tailor who can work on such short notice-”

“It will be fine,” Madara chuckled, placing his hands over hers. “It’s amusing to see you so ruffled. Aren’t you usually so put-together?”

She glared at him and reached for the hand fan tucked into her obi, smacking him upside the head with it. He pretended to flinch away but smirked as he did. “Don’t make light of this! When you get married I’m going to mock you as well!”

“When, not if?”

“If I have anything to say about it,” she said sweetly, delighting in the glare he sent her. “Now come on! You’re the man of honor! You’re my assistant.”

She grabbed his wrist and began tugging him to the door. “Joy to me,” he drawled sarcastically, putting on a show of making her pull him. “Who else is in the bridal party? Will there be alcohol?”

“Of course there will be! We have to put on another show,” the woman said with a grin directed over her shoulder that was downright predatory.

The way Madara smirked back told Izuna there was something he was missing. He raised an eyebrow at Naori for help, but she just shook her head and placed a hand over her eyes, trying to hide a smile.


 

Madara didn’t know what having a clipboard made people think, but every time he went to get a task done everyone he spoke to for some reason listened to him even better than usual. Perhaps this was Hikaku’s true secret to getting things done so quickly.

“Relax,” he told Mito, standing there with folded arms and closed eyes as she drifted around the room looking at clothes strung up on hangers and mannequins.

“I am relaxed,” she retorted, looking to anyone else just that with a calm expression and a bit of aimlessness in her stride. “I simply want everything to go well.”

He eyed her for a moment. “Do you think any Uzumaki will show up?”

She paused, examining the sleeve of a snow-white kimono in hand. “Most likely not,” she said, sounding strung halfway between glad and disappointed. “Unless it is to cause trouble.”

“I’ll have someone watch,” Madara dismissed with a wave of his hand. “Your purpleheart should be here in three days. Enough time to fashion what you want?”

“More than enough. Uzumaki have a…tradition,” she said with a light flush to her cheeks, holding a kimono from the wall to herself as she looked at a mirror. “Not a very well-known one. There have been a few couples who disappeared or snuck away on their own. My cousin used to say they carved combs for each other. It became a bit of a marker for such people. They would wear them in their hair, right here,” she said, pointing to the front of her bun.

“Subtle,” he noted, looking over the list attached to his clipboard as she reached for a different item. “What distinguished them from normal combs?”

“Sometimes nothing; sometimes they would paint violets or green flowers on them. Did you order the wedding favors?”

“Of course I did,” he huffed, leaning back in his chair and propping his feet on a coffee table in the room. “And the Uchiha have plenty of supplies, so don’t concern yourself with that. Toka’s already told Hashirama when and where he needs to be.”

Mito hummed in confirmation and turned around, having slipped into a kimono she’d been examining while he wasn’t paying attention. When Madara was young most brides had completely new clothes created for their weddings, but more and more in Konoha were starting to buy more into a commercialized set-up in which such things were more readily available. It was certainly convenient when on a time crunch.

“How does this one look?”

“Flawless.”

“Ah, excuse me, Mito?” Izuna interrupted, poking his head into the dressing area with a hesitant smile. “I believe the seamstress has something you requisitioned?”

“Of course! Thank you,” the Uzumaki said as she whirled past him, a blur of red and white.

Izuna glanced after her and awkwardly stepped inside, glancing around the room and wandering over to his brother. “She’s a bit of a…hurricane, isn’t she?”

“I’ve been told most Uzumaki are,” Madara said with a smirk as his brother sat down beside him. He was still tense, but less rigid than he had been. His smirk faded as he eyed him. “How has it…been?”

Izuna shrugged. “Fine. I took a walk with Hikaku the other day. That was nice,” he said, and instantly hated how much it sounded as if he were pitifully trying to come up with something kind to say. “Naori dragged me to lunch with that Yamanaka and her friend. It was…an experience.”

An experience that mostly involved lots of bickering, the Nara sleeping so heavily he’d worried she was unconscious, and Naori tripping over a door sweep when she saw Kotori and both their companions cackling at her for almost ten minutes.

“I think I’m going to go for a walk myself,” he said, standing only moments after he’d sat down. Madara opened his mouth, probably to offer to come with him, but Izuna knew that a woman about to get married would probably explode if her main support vanished. “You stay here. Mito-san still needs help, yes?”

“Right…” Madara muttered, glancing at the doorway. “Be careful.”

Izuna nodded at him and headed for the back door. He didn’t say anything else as he left. Things had changed a bit between them- there was a bit of fumbling where before they’d fit together seamlessly. Izuna didn’t yet know whether it was a good or bad thing; all he knew was that he thought he needed some time to himself to figure things out.

He ended up wandering a bit; he already knew his way around fairly well, and even if he got lost it wasn’t hard to reacclimate himself- there was a giant mountain to serve as a landmark and he could see the Hokage Tower from most places in the village.

The sun was hot overhead despite the cool temperatures of the turning season, so he ducked into a mostly-empty teahouse for a respite. He nearly collided with another man exiting, one that he recognized from just the day before when he’d caught him giving Madara and Miki a vexed look in passing on the street. Distaste and irritation rolled through him, but the logical part of his mind begrudgingly reminded him that he was technically…allies with the man now, and overtly antagonizing him would get him nowhere.

“Senju,” he greeted, in what he hoped was a polite tone.

There was something like disgust in the man’s eyes as he looked at him. “Uchiha,” he replied, a curl in his lip.

Izuna’s temper rose. “Is something on your mind, Senju?” he asked with false politeness, goading clear in his tone.

The other man’s eyes narrowed into a glare. “Multiple things,” he spat back, barely refraining from using more aggression. “Keep your distance, Uchiha. I have no interest in interacting with you.”

He stepped outside and walked away quickly enough Izuna was left standing there stewing in irritation. At least the hostility is mutual, he thought darkly, turning on his heel and scrapping his brunch plans. He instead headed towards the woods, where he knew the training grounds were.

Fate was not being kind to him today. He had barely reached the edge of the shop district when Senju Tobirama rounded the corner, pausing in surprise when they came face to face. Izuna stared and the man stared back, face unreadable.

Izuna narrowed his eyes in annoyance and stepped to the side to go around him. He’d hardly taken more than a step before the Senju spoke. “Wait a moment.”

Izuna turned to look at him with a dangerous tint of red in his eyes. “What, Senju?” he barked. The man wasn’t cowed, and simply looked at him with a closed-off look on his face.

“I have something to say to you,” he said, and Izuna mentally sighed. He really did not want to talk to Tobirama at the moment.

“Fine, then. Say it,” he instructed impatiently, wanting it to be over with.

Tobirama was still completely unaffected by his visible irritation. It was a bit infuriating. “For what I did to you, I apologize,” he said, throwing Izuna completely off guard.

He stared at him in confused silence. Why on earth was the Senju apologizing to him? What was he trying to get? “What are you playing at?” he demanded, suspicious.

“Absolutely nothing,” Tobirama told him, expression so blank it didn’t even seem as if he was pretending not to lie. “I don’t care for pity, or dispensation. The fact is I committed a wrong against you and there is no viable way to repay it, so the only thing I can offer is my apology. Ignore it if you like, and I’ll never speak to you again outside of business.”

Izuna stared at him. He was doing a lot of that nowadays. Once again, he felt thrown off and off-balance in a way that made his mouth taste sour. Part of him didn’t really want to think about Senju Tobirama having a brain and person and maybe even a heart under all that indifference they’d built up between each other.

Just tell him to fuck off, his mind told him.

“Whatever, Senju,” he muttered, and stalked away.


 

Fate was cruel to him indeed. He told himself seeing Tobirama next year would be too soon, yet the next time he saw him was a mere five hours later, when the afternoon sun was high and he’d descended upon a training ground that had a large 3 marker sign hanging off a tree to practice shuriken and sulk in.

The man emerged from the trees, a clipboard in hand (what was it with everyone around him and clipboards?) and glanced at where he sat on the log farthest to the right. They stood and sat there, respectively, neither saying a word and waiting for the other to make the first move.

“What, Senju?” he finally demanded, losing his patience. “Is there something interesting about this log?”

“I’m marking down what training ground will belong to what genin team,” the man told him with a quiet snort, making him bristle. “Nothing interesting.”

He turned away and took out a pen, writing something on the paper he held. Izuna had only ever used quills.

His irritation was at a point he wanted to grind his teeth and light something on fire, but something else in him simply felt tired. It wasn’t as if Tobirama himself had really done much in the grand scope of what was bothering him. It was everything, and perhaps how when he reached out it felt like it backfired on him.

Tobirama had been the bastard who’d dealt him a death blow, but some part of him could feel some grudging respect for his skills that he’d managed to do that. After all, he was the second strongest Uchiha in the whole clan.

Izuna also wasn’t stupid; he realized they’d been in the midst of a war and the distaste he had for Tobirama was due to distrust rather than a personal grudge. (Although he did have a bit of a grudge, too.)

“Assigning a scrap of land sure does take a long time, Senju,” he drawled after a minute of silence.

Tobirama paused and glanced up at him. He didn’t venture closer. “I thought to satisfy a curiosity, nothing more.”

“A curiosity? About?” Izuna prompted, narrowing his eyes.

“How you’re acclimating to the village.”

“And why would you be interested in that?”

“Your brother is a friend of mine,” Tobirama said bluntly, and it made Izuna flinch because he knew it was true. “I don’t deny I feel some small measure of responsibility due to my actions. All citizens of this village should feel as if it is their home.”

“Well, to answer your question, I’m ‘not acclimating well,’” Izuna said with some small amount of bitterness, folding his arms and turning to glare at a tree.

“You’re acclimating better than most,” Tobirama replied, making him frown in confusion. “If the version of myself that did battle with you that day was brought to today, I would severely doubt my own capacity.”

Izuna looked at him out of the corner of his eye feeling a bit flabbergasted. Admitting that he would do no better- or that he would be doing worse- wasn’t something he’d expected of Tobirama. He wondered, again, what ulterior motive the man could possibly have. “Why are you even talking to me?” he asked, less of a demand this time and more of a curiosity of his own.

Tobirama paused. Red eyes that Izuna had never really taken the time to look at examined him with a sort of distant rationality that looked as if it could hide every emotion the Senju felt. “It can be difficult to find one’s place,” he continued at length. “I know what it is to be the overlooked younger brother. Perhaps the place you’re looking for is closer than you think.”

It was confusing, nonsensical, and not an answer to his question at all, and maybe it was an answer and Izuna just wasn’t understanding. He watched Tobirama turn and walk away and wondered at the fact that he wore no armor, no weapons other than a kunai pouch. Even Tobirama had changed with the peace.


 

Tobirama hadn’t lied: Madara was his friend, and he would be upset if his younger brother was. However, his interest in how Izuna was integrating into the village lied more in the sense of responsibility he felt.

He knew it wasn’t even his business, in the end, but the suffering that had been caused by his hands still weighed on him. He still remembered Izuna’s broken laughter in the woods and the look on Madara’s face after he’d been left inconsolable even by Hashirama due to his brother’s tongue-lashing.

Perhaps it wasn’t his responsibility, but Hashirama’s hopes for Konoha was to create a place where the shinobi looked after one another without worrying over such things as whether they needed to or not or whether it was their place or whether they were required to.

Everyone always has a reason for doing what they do, Inoue had told him, offhandedly and casual, in one of their conversations. Tobirama had spoken to her multiple times, as he found the Yamanaka’s study of the brain fascinating. Sometimes they ended up spending hours in her office looking over brain diagrams and illustrations of the scans their jutsu let them create. The easiest way to stop someone is to find out why.

Madara and Izuna were quite different, but in many aspects, they were the same. Perhaps it was his experience dealing with Madara and his emotional issues for months that had allowed Tobirama a new perspective. He knew now that both of the brothers more often than not only set loose barbs or insults as a form of defense when they felt threatened in some manner. He recognized the look in Izuna’s eyes from his brother’s; it was almost eerie how similar they were- he didn’t feel he could allow himself peace.

Looking back, he could see that his initial handling of Madara had been flawed. He had relied too heavily on reacting to what the man did and hadn’t attempted to figure out the why, even if only from an analytical perspective.

It would be very easy to manipulate people this way, he thought, and that was best saved for their enemies. It was something he was having to learn; Hashirama had always been so intuitively good at it that Tobirama was a bit impressed.

He truly did not have any point of context to imagine Izuna’s situation. He imagined being thrown forward from the era of warring clans to where he was now, wondering at how different he and everyone around him were. That version of himself thought Madara was better off dead. He wouldn’t have trusted an Uchiha as far as he could throw one. (Inaccurate, since he could throw one quite far, but it was an idiom.)

And Izuna had been killed by the Senju. What must he have been feeling?

He didn’t know if it was pity, sympathy, or guilt he felt. Even now, he could still vividly remember Izuna’s broken wailing and see Madara tearing his eyes out and clinging to his brother like they were children again. He had fixed his mistake, but if there was more he could do, he would do it.

He had no illusions of what he would be able to do; he knew Izuna wasn’t likely to be receptive to any friendliness on his part, but at times, family members and friends were too close to be objective. Sometimes, a person one didn’t particularly like could help more than others.

And perhaps it was a bad idea, when Izuna appeared with blazing red eyes in front of him as he walked down the street in the dead of night, to say yes, but if the Uchiha needed to work off his agitation and frustration, Tobirama was more than equipped to do that.

“Fight me,” he demanded, voice emotionless and cold.

“Training ground three,” Tobirama replied, expression guarded, and Izuna disappeared without another word.

He didn’t bring his armor, his sword, or anything but the kunai he wore, because they hardly needed a reminder of their fight the first time around. Izuna was waiting for him with a frown that he knew was not born of impatience, because he’d been half a step behind and the Uchiha had barely touched down before Tobirama arrived. Tobirama said nothing and let the other man lunge at him without needing to give the fight a verbal start.

And maybe there was something a bit exhilarating about it, because Izuna was no weaker than he had been in life and if anything seemed even stronger than before, and Tobirama did love a challenge. They fought with their fists and nothing more at first and it reminded him how challenging sparring with a Sharingan user could be. Before the hour was up flames were lining the treetops around them and glancing off into the open air as water collided with the fire closer to the ground and created a swath of hot steam around them.

It had been a long time since Tobirama had gotten the chance to fight with an equal outside of his brother.

Thunder rumbled overhead, their background music as they clashed in midair and readied attacks as soon as they landed on the grass, repeating the pattern over and over again. Izuna’s Sharingan whirled wildly with something like invigoration.

Lightning struck a few feet away, nearly rocking Tobirama off his feet. He hadn’t been expecting it, or the way Izuna was suddenly on him without warning, ramming into him with a handful of kunai in his fist and taking him to the ground with a hand on his throat. The invigoration was something more feral now.

It happened because, even with how much he had been letting loose, Tobirama had still been sparring when Izuna abruptly came at him with the intent to kill.

He sat on Tobirama’s chest, breathing heavily, staring at him with wide eyes and the kunai a mere centimeter from slicing his neck open. Tobirama laid there and didn’t move and stared back while trying to keep his surprise off his face. Izuna’s shoulders sagged, though he still stared at him looking startled, and he slowly pulled his kunai away, face unreadable.

“…excuse me,” he rasped after moments of silence, and he got off Tobirama and walked quickly away, leaving him lying there not knowing if he’d made things worse or not.


 

Izuna couldn’t believe he’d lost control as he had, and all due to something as silly as a bolt of lightning. All he knew was that he was there, fighting that frustrating Senju, and it was actually a bit fun, if he was being honest, finally getting a chance to vent his frustrations with the world, but there had been something fraught and menacing hounding the back of his mind even then that felt like anxiousness.

Then the bolt of lightning had struck down mere feet away, and he’d reacted without thinking- he had to go for the killing blow before his opponent did. He had to make sure he came away from that fight alive this time. He had to make sure Madara didn’t lose him twice.

He’d only slipped up for a moment. He’d realized what he was doing before he killed Tobirama. Even if he wouldn’t have been particularly torn up about killing the Senju, he knew he would have felt guilty anyway since they weren’t supposed to be fighting to the death and Madara would have been upset with him.

He felt like a wire that was strung too taut, frantically searching for relief but only growing closer to snapping in half.

He let out a sigh as he entered the Uchiha district. He needed to relax.

His eyes caught on movement in the dark. Squinting, he activated his Sharingan and raised an eyebrow when he found Kagami standing at the base of a small house, fiddling with something on the ground. Coming up behind him, he planted his hands on his hips and cocked his head to the side. “Kagami?”

The boy jumped a mile and let out an ‘eep’ as he spun around. “Izu!” he gasped, startled. He clung to the large paint brush dripping in red paint he’d been holding.

Izuna smiled. “What’re you doing?” he asked as he knelt down, glancing at the streaks of red paint on the building that only went up to waist-height. He could guess easily enough.

“Oh, um…well, my grandma really wants to paint the house red and Naori-nee said she would help me tomorrow, but tomorrow is my grandma’s birthday and she gets up really early and I really wanted to make it red before she sees it,” Kagami admitted, flushing as he grinned.

Izuna bit his lip and restrained a laugh. Naori would probably have a cow if she found out he’d snuck out of bed, went and found paint (he should probably find out where the child had gotten it in the first place) and attempted to paint a whole building by himself. “A worthy task,” he said, glancing at the second bucket beside the paint can that held two other brushes. He’d probably found it where the paint had been.

He patted the child on the head and picked up a brush for himself. “Why don’t I help you out? It’ll go much faster that way,” he suggested, tone light as he dipped his brush into the paint.

“Really?! Thank you! I’ll bring you cookies tomorrow,” Kagami told him with a smile so wide it looked like it hurt his cheeks to wear. “Miki-nee’s helping me make them.”

“Why don’t I come over and help you? Food always tastes the best just after it’s made.”

“Yes! Thank you, Izu-nii!” Kagami lunged forward and wrapped him in a hug, unintentionally smearing paint on his trousers (not that it mattered, since he would probably end up covered in paint after this anyway).

Izuna bit his lip as he ruffled Kagami’s hair and tried not to let his voice shake. “Of course. Red’s a good color, you know. Very fitting for an Uchiha house. Why don’t you handle the bottom and I’ll paint the top part? It’s good to have someone tall around.”

“You are really tall,” Kagami replied cheerfully, and of course, to a child like him, he was.

He dipped his brush again and attacked the wall of his home with renewed vigor.

Izuna painted there with him for almost two hours before he began to sputter out, walking with half-lidded eyes as his strokes became more tired, clearly struggling to stay awake as he tried to lift his brush. Smiling to himself, the elder gently took the brush from his hand and set it down, lifting the boy into his arms. He was already starting to snore by the time Izuna reached the front porch.

The house was small but homely. There was an elderly woman sleeping in one of the two bedrooms, and Izuna did his best to move silently and avoid waking her as he removed Kagami’s mantle- it had become downright filthy and covered in red paint- and found something more suitable to pull over his head before tucking him into bed. He retrieved a washcloth from the kitchen and wiped paint from his face and hands, knowing he would need a better bath the next day.

He knelt beside the bed and stared at Kagami’s slumbering face for a few minutes. Children always did manage to look peaceful, somehow, even during the most violent times.

His oldest little brother had looked different- more like Madara, with spiky rough hair and paler skin, but Kagami still reminded Izuna of him as he slept. He remembered the last time he’d gotten to hold Akira as they went to bed, the night before he lost him in battle. He had held onto Izuna’s hand the whole night and asked him not to leave him, because I’d really miss you, nii-chan.

Izuna gritted his teeth and ran a hand through his hair. That had been such a long time ago, when he himself was still a child.

He’d had to do it again and again and lose two more. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to believe peace was possible; he just felt like he couldn’t.

But he did want. He wanted to believe that this place where children weren’t dying was possible and true and good. He wanted to think that maybe he could have a life with his family where he didn’t have to constantly worry and wonder which one he was to lose next. He wanted to believe that the other clans felt the same way- that they’d finally tired of losing their young too- that they would stay together and use their numbers to protect their chance for utopia.

And maybe this was what that Senju bastard had meant. Maybe he could have a place here if he let himself have it. He didn’t know what that place was, but perhaps that was okay- perhaps he didn’t need to know yet.

He just had to let himself have it.

He wanted to let himself have it.

He wanted Madara to be happy, but Izuna realized that he didn’t want to do so for Madara, or his family, or anyone else. He thought that perhaps a more important route was required; even if Madara, and Hikaku, and Naori, and Kagami, and all the people he’d known in life were here, he didn’t want to do this for them.

He wanted- and needed- to do it for himself.

He leaned down and planted a kiss on Kagami’s forehead before rising and heading for the door. After all, he had a paint job to finish, and he couldn’t disappoint Kagami’s grandmother.

Chapter Text

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!”

Chapter Text

The fact that Mito was chanting fuinjutsu standards under her breath was mildly hilarious.

“Never cross layers one and three together,” the woman muttered, looking like she wanted to be pacing. “The juxtaposition of odd and even chakra points causes an explosion-”

“Normal people bite their nails or perhaps fidget when they’re nervous,” Madara suggested innocently, inwardly snickering when she turned to glare at him.

“I’m not nervous,” she retorted. He stared at her with a blank expression or a few moments. “Very well, I’m nervous. I don’t even know why. It’s just- it’s just Toka,” she said as she began to flush. “There’s just something about it all that’s nerve-wracking.”

“So there are things that crack your composure,” Madara said victoriously, practically beaming when she glared at him again.

“Just you watch,” she warned, “when you get married I’m going to mock you. You’re going to be pulling your hair out.”

“Good thing I’m never going to get married, then.”

A glint appeared in her eye. “Are you sure?”

Mildly unsettled, he stared at her as the grin fell off his face and his eyes narrowed. “…yes.”

She hummed as if she knew something he didn’t and smiled secretively. “Of course.”

“I’ve already told you-”

“Yes, yes, we know, that the Hokage couldn’t possibly want you naked and writhing in his bed,” the just arrived Izuna interrupted with an eye-roll, making Madara turn scarlet. “Honestly, aniki, you should just proposition him at the reception tonight and get it over with.”

“I do not know why you two are so stubborn and insist on making comments with no evidence stop laughing, you two,” Madara hissed, interrupting himself mid-sentence as they giggled at him. He huffed and turned away, stubbornly ignoring them. They were even worse together.

“He’s pouting now,” Izuna whispered, making him twitch.

Mito hummed. “He does that a lot.”

“Ooh. Striking,” Izuna said when Madara turned to glare at them again, accentuated by the kohl lining his eyelids- although the shimmery green on them wasn’t the most intimidating. “That was a good fashion choice.”

“It’s an Uzushio tradition,” Mito said, preening. “Each member of the bridal party wears an eyeliner and pigment such as this.” She’d chosen a pretty shade of mulberry for herself, a deep azure for Izuna, and lavender for Naori. “Traditionally only women have worn it, but you two do look quite spectacular.”

“Anything that accentuates the eyes looks amazing on any Uchiha,” Izuna said, pretending to be smug as he smiled and closed his eyes to show off the subtle sparkle his eyeshadow gave off.

Madara grumbled and looked up when he spotted the other bridal party walking towards them on the path that led to the area they’d chosen to perform the ceremony at. There were a few other Senju and others following both parties, including Hikaku and Inoue, but it was a small amount overall. More people would be at the reception afterwards.

Mito froze and started to blush when she saw Toka, adorned in her own wedding attire and her hair pulled into a ponytail rather than her usual bun. Tobirama, her own man of honor, walked alongside her as Hashirama led them towards the other group with a blinding grin.

Madara’s eyes fell on the Hokage and narrowed. He wore a black haori over a mint green kimono that was the exact same shade of eyeshadow he was wearing. He cut a glare at Mito, who only hid behind her kimono sleeve and smiled as she watched Toka approach them.

“Good morning! It’s a lovely day for a wedding, isn’t it?” Hashirama exclaimed when they met at where the path split, chipper. His eyes lingered on Madara in his formal attire a moment longer than necessary. They all had on a few extra layers underneath to combat the cold, but it didn’t take away from the image at all.

Toka moved to take one of Mito’s hands, trying to remain composed, and failed as a rosy hue began dusting over her face. “Are you ready?”

“Yes! Of- of course, I am,” Mito stammered, turning redder at her fumble. Madara smirked in amusement as he stepped into his place on her right, cutting an amused glance at Tobirama on Toka’s left; the Senju looked a bit amused by his usually unflappable cousin’s demeanor.

Hashirama smiled at them both before turning to lead them up the path. Madara glanced back at the rest of Toka’s attendants, curious to find a Nara he could have sworn he’d seen Naori hang around with and Tamaki, dressed in black like most of the men there. Miki, from the back of the line with the few other guests there, kept shooting her glances with a reddened face. He turned away with another smirk.

They reached the shrine and filed up the steps, taking places on the ground in neat rows as Mito and Toka stopped at the front. The wedding was a mish-mash of Senju, Uzumaki, and Uchiha traditions that had been absorbed into the event; Hashirama began reading from an Uzumaki marriage rite, setting out cups for the two to drink from that were carved with the Senju emblem around the rims.

The two turned to each other after they’d drunk to present their vows. Mito withdrew her comb from her sleeve, holding it with both hands, as a flush overtook her face.

“In Uzushio,” she began quietly, eyes drifting to her hands, “women who fell in love and chose to live truly with each other carved combs for each other, as they couldn’t be so obvious to give each other rings. However, in the same way, it represented their bond and a promise to stay together. When I first came to Konoha, I…didn’t believe that I would ever find the happiness I wanted, but everything changed for me when I met you. You mean more to me than anyone ever has, and I want to stay with you for the rest of my life. Please accept this.”

She gingerly held the comb out, having turned beet red. Toka stared at her in adoration for a moment until Hashirama reached over and nudged her and she jumped, flushing. “O-of course,” she said in a hushed tone, reaching out and taking the comb. She stared at it for a moment before lifting it to her hair and carefully inserting it into the base of her ponytail. “And, for you, ah…”

Mito glanced up at her curiously. Toka cleared her throat and reached into her own sleeve, pulling out a comb carved a bit less intricately and with a slightly darker wood but with no less effort put into it. Like Mito’s, it was painted with violets. Mito’s eyes went wide, startled.

“I know you’ve given up many things to stay with me. I’ll do whatever I can, for the rest of my life, to make sure that you’re happy, for better or for worse,” Toka said, resolutely ignoring her own blush.

Mito’s eyes started to look watery. She glanced quickly at Madara- who else could have told Toka what to do?- something appreciative in her gaze as a small smile settled on his lips. She placed the comb in her hair and savored in the feeling of cool spikes resting against her scalp, thinking of the times she’d seen them- rare as it had been- as a child, wishing she would one day get to experience the same thing, how long she’d spent thinking she never would.

Madara glanced at Hashirama. He was staring at the couple with a soft expression, eyes warm; he would have been happy for anyone, but seeing his cousin find her happiness made him feel giddy. “The rings, please?” he asked. Normally he would have had them, but Toka had told him Mito wanted one particularly Uchiha tradition very much.

All eyes turned to the aisle created by the guests sitting in two groups. A moment passed in silence. Madara raised an eyebrow.

“Kagami!” Miki whispered frantically from the back. “That means you!”

“Oh, right!” A dark head of curly hair popped up from behind Inoue’s back. Kagami stepped out from behind her with a cushion in hand and ran as quickly as he could without dislodging it, passing by the front row as they smirked to themselves and Izuna grinned at him.

“Sorry,” he said with a blush as he stopped before the brides, blushing heavily and holding up the cushion.

“At least you didn’t forget to bring them entirely,” Mito teased as she bent down, picking up Toka’s ring as Toka plucked up hers. She ruffled Kagami’s hair with a smile and he reddened even further, turning and running back down the aisle clinging to the cushion.

She straightened and held out her hand, her smile practically sparkling as Toka placed her own into her palm. She placed the ring on her finger and held out her own, watching Toka place her ring with a face that matched her hair.

“With the authority of the Hokage, I now pronounce you to be married,” Hashirama said, sounding delighted. “Brides, you may kiss.”

Toka turned to her with a shine in her eye. Warmth blossomed in Mito’s chest as she leaned in, cupping Mito’s face between her hands, and she grasped Toka’s waist as they pressed their lips together.

The guests and the Hokage began clapping, both Inoue and Naori calling out congratulatory yells, and Mito reached up to grasp one of Toka’s hands. “To the banquet hall, wife?”

Toka grinned down at her. “To the banquet hall, my dear wife.”


 

Tobirama’s face was stony as he stood up in between Toka and Hashirama, a glass of wine in hand, and it was mildly hilarious because Madara could see he clearly thought Hashirama more suited to this task. He could make a speech to shinobi on a battlefield well, but social situations- much more troublesome.

The banquet hall- the very same they used to welcome large foreign delegations, now filled with many Senju, a slightly smaller amount of Uchiha, and a few guests from other clans- went quiet as one of the men of honor from the bride’s table tapped a spoon against his glass. As was Tobirama’s nature, he kept his speech succinct and to the point, and Madara thought that was much better than if he were to try and make something long, drawn-out, and overly sappy that would end up looking awkward and ridiculous.

“A toast to you and your marriage, cousin,” he finished as he raised his glass. “I wish you and Mito a long and happy life together. May your pursuits be fruitful and blessed.”

The room erupted in quiet applause as they took their toast and Tobirama sat down, giving Hashirama a dull look when he elbowed him with a grin. The guests quieted again a few moments later as Madara stood up.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” he greeted, and paused to take a sip from his wine. That was everyone’s first warning. “Do I have a story to tell you.”

Beside him, Izuna giggled and quickly folded a hand over his mouth to suppress it.

“Oh, no,” Mito muttered.

“You may not be aware,” Madara continued, tossing his bangs out of his eyes with a flick of his head, “but, when these two first initiated their relationship, there was a certain incident that involved Mito knocking down my door at around…what was it, one in the morning?” He tapped his chin and Mito knew for a fact that he could remember correctly- he was just being a jester. “That was it, wasn’t it?”

He directed the question to her and thus everyone’s attention her. “Yes,” Mito mumbled, covering her eyes with her sleeve as Toka gave her an inquisitive glance.

Madara hummed. “Yes, one in the morning. A rapid knocking, you see. Could have awoken anyone.” He reached down with the hand fan everyone in Mito’s party carried and rapped it quickly against the table to demonstrate. “Of course, what do I find when I greet her? A woman inconsolable. Hair half out of her bun, kimono hastily tied, absolutely frazzled.”

Mito bit her lip and struggled not to let her shoulders shake. She could not believe Madara was telling this story. He was- utterly shameless. Despite the short-lived embarrassment it prompted, she couldn’t help but want to laugh.

“What could possibly ruffle Uzumaki Mito’s legendary composure? She had, by her own words, gone on a walk with her to-be wife, and it was…” He flicked open the fan and turned his face aside, closing his eyes as he pressed it against his cheek. “Amazing, Madara,” he said, mimicking the breathlessness of her tone. Mito let out a hysterical giggle at the same time as several guests did. He opened one eye, smirking, though his tone didn’t change. “She has such broad shoulders and beautiful hips and I want her to have me for brunch.”

Toka clapped a hand over her mouth in mirth, glancing at Mito, whose eyes had started to water as she quivered and tried not to laugh.

Hashirama…couldn’t help but stare, because while he knew it wasn’t wise to operate under stereotypes- and he wasn’t- but Madara made quite the image in his kohl and green (why didn’t he wear green more often? It complimented his skin beautifully-) and with his fan mimicking his friend- and he knew many men in the Senju who would never dare do something that seemed feminine. Madara didn’t seem to care.

“Thus, in case you ever happen upon a clearing by a pond in the forests with a few broken branches, an odd symbol carved into the bark of a tree, and an odd lack of fish, you can make a guess of your own as to what transpired there,” Madara finished with a smirk, raising his glass. “A toast to this joyous and exciting union. May you never part ways even into death.”

“May you never part ways even into death,” every single Uchiha in the room murmured as they took a sip of their drinks, startling the other guests and gaining a few confused looks.

Hands shaking, Mito raised her own and uncovered her face long enough to catch a glance of the watery-eyed grin Toka wore. She burst into a giggle fit as Madara sat down with a self-satisfied expression and not one person in the room could keep from snickering or smiling in amusement.

“A wonderful speech, aniki,” said Izuna as he stood up, somehow on his fourth glass of wine yet still not showing even a small sign of being tipsy. “And now for another tradition of ours. The first dance goes to the happy couple.” He gestured at Mito and Toka with his glass, smiling, and motioned for the band to start playing the first of their music.

The Uchiha in the room stood and began dragging tables away from the center of the room, assisted by the others when they understood why. Those behind the brides’ table stood and shuffled out into the crowd, letting Mito and Toka walk to the center of the floor as a slow tune began to float through the air.

Mito held out her hand with a sparkle in her eyes, pulling Toka close and setting a hand on her waist. They shared a smile as they began a slow circuit around the dance floor, in complete rhythm with each other, staring into each other’s eyes the whole time. It felt as if it were something out of one of the few fairytales Mito had found in the Uzumaki archives as a young girl, buried beneath scrolls and countless books about history and fuinjutsu, a few ill-kept stories that had been tossed into the bottoms of bins without care.

The music sped up to a moderate pace; they twirled and changed leads as Toka wound an arm around her waist and Mito moved to grasp her shoulder. “You like my shoulders, hm?” she teased in Mito’s ear, grinning cheekily as her wife’s face heated up.

“There is no part of you I don’t like,” she murmured. “In fact, I find I love it all very much.” She waited until they’d spun again and leaned her forehead against Toka’s, closing her eyes. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Toka whispered in reply, breath catching. “And I’m very glad right now I asked Madara to show me how to dance.” It had been…a little weird, leading Madara around the odd, large empty room the Uchiha seemed to keep for no purpose, but he was strangely forthcoming with it.

A giggle erupted from the Uzumaki. “I’ve told you he’s so much nicer than he seems.”

Standing among a few people in the crowd, Madara watched them dance with a smile. He had not seen Mito so uncontrollably giddy for so long. She was, perhaps, his first true friend after Hashirama, and he would let nothing ruin this moment for her.

“Wonderful, isn’t it?” Hashirama’s voice murmured into his ear, making him go rigid. “A happy day for everyone.”

Madara kept himself from jumping and swallowed. He hadn’t heard Hashirama approach or even noticed that he’d ended up in the same area of the room as him. “Yes,” he said, trying not to stutter, and he shivered when Hashirama placed a hand on his back- a motion he’d done a thousand times before, but this time lower than what seemed appropriate, just over his hips. It made a pleased sensation flow through him even though he knew he shouldn’t feel as such. Did Hashirama not even think about where he touched him? “I suppose you have a new cousin.”

He shifted, just slightly, to the left, but Hashirama seemed to follow him. It delighted Madara’s subconscious to have him so close but he knew he would act stupid if given the chance. His face was already heating up.

“I love gaining new family,” he told Madara with a grin, and the Uchiha cursed the fact that he was standing on the side he didn’t have any bangs to use to avoid looking at him. “Mito’s party looked dashing. You cut quite the figure, Madara.”

“Oh,” Madara muttered, feeling like he could hear his pulse beating in his neck. “Right.”

“Especially this,” Hashirama said, and Madara again cursed the total lack of boundaries the Senju had as he reached up and brushed the back of his fingers against Madara’s face. He was hardly remembering to breathe, now, and he could feel his flush spreading to his neck. “You look handsome in green. You should wear it more often.”

“Is that so,” Madara said distantly, wanting to permanently slide into the floor. He wondered if Hashirama realized that shade of green was the exact one he himself was wearing. He risked a glance at the man’s smiling face and immediately regretted it when his grin widened. “I, ah…”

He trailed off, not knowing where to go with his train of thought. Hashirama, however, was delighted. He hadn’t quite known what to expect when he’d thought to close in on Madara and voice what he’d been thinking for a few hours, but the man’s reaction seemed coy.

Madara had never spoken about anyone he liked, but Hashirama’s gut was telling him his interest lied in men rather than women.

Across the room, Kotori watched the Hokage stroke her former clan head’s face while he did his best to stare a hole into the floor, standing there with folded arms and a face that resembled a tomato. “Are you seeing this? Are you seeing this shit?” she hissed, flapping her hands in Madara’s direction like an angry parrot. “He’s flirting with him! He’s clearly flirting with him! How has he not noticed yet?”

“I’m in pain,” Futoshi muttered, slumped over in a chair. “Someone stab me and put me out of my misery.”

Hikaku watched Hashirama as he moved close enough he was practically breathing into Madara’s reddened ear and cringed. “I thought if Hashirama realized his feelings this would start moving along more quickly…”

Kotori groaned. “Someone please just tell him already.”

“It isn’t our place, Kotori…But I have been tempted.”

Izuna wandered the room, keeping one eye on the dance- he could mingle, but it was respectful to pay attention- and shuffling through the Senju in the crowd with a bit of awkwardness dogging his path. He still couldn’t make himself engage in- god forbid- small talk with any of them, complete strangers, and it was a bit suffocating to be in a room with so many at one time. A select few- including that man, what was his name? Kenichi?- eyed him as he passed and moved out of his way, so obviously avoiding him he had to try not to be offended.

His gaze caught on stark white hair in the room. He never thought he would feel relieved to see Tobirama, but at least he knew him.

“Tobirama,” he greeted, trying to look unbothered as he stopped near the table the man leaned against.

Tobirama glanced away from the newlyweds as if he wasn’t quite startled at his appearance, but hadn’t been expecting him to talk to him. “Izuna,” he greeted, with a politeness that was both weird and unnerving. “Enjoying the festivities?”

Izuna shrugged. He took a sip of his wine as he watched Mito and Toka dance. “Festivities are always enjoyable.”

He noticed Kenichi in the crowd, staring at something- or someone, probably- with a frown. Their eyes met and the man’s gaze narrowed into a glare. He turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Izuna pressed his lips together and decided to ignore it. A small crease formed in Tobirama’s brow as he stared at him, wondering what his sudden dissatisfaction was about.

“It’ll pick up in a few minutes,” Izuna said with fake cheer to avoid addressing it, draining his glass and twirling it by the stem. Tobirama stared at him for a moment more before deciding to simply nod and turn away, and they stood there in mutual silence that was at least more comfortable than wandering the room.

Izuna, who had the great fortune of being closest to the door, looked up when a flash of red caught his attention. A man entered, a mere few feet from him, standing out due to his shinobi attire in a room full of wedding-goers. Madara had already thought to warn him about any Uzumaki who thought to show up.

“Something you need, sir?” he purred with fake politeness, stepping into the man’s path and causing him to draw up with narrowed eyes. He looked Izuna up and down, from his blue eyeshadow to the small heel on his sandals.

“I’m here for my cousin,” he said, tone clipped and short. “Out of my way, abomination.”

All right, that’s uncalled for, Izuna thought crankily to himself, ignoring the way the word stung and reminded him of weary nights spent wondering if he was alive or not or simply a corpse that looked very convincing, and covering the feeling up with sarcasm.

Some of his distaste must have shown on his face, however, because Tobirama descended upon them a moment later with something disparaging on his face and in his voice. “There are no visits from any Uzushio shinobi scheduled,” he said, and to a stranger it wasn’t aimed at he might have sounded completely polite. It was a bit impressive how rude he could sound without sounding rude. “I’m afraid this is a private event.”

“Oh? The bride’s family isn’t welcome?” the man prodded, lips pressed into a thin line.

“Not if you don’t have an invitation.”

Hashirama had, by now, drifted to a blessed arm’s length away and was rambling about something to do with how much he liked the Uchiha’s ringbearer tradition when Madara noticed who his brother was standing beside. His eyes narrowed as his Sharingan flickered into view.

Hashirama paused when he noticed his sudden venomous stare. “Madara? What’s the matter?”

Madara, however, barely heard him for how livid he was as he started to stalk across the floor. A few people gulped and edged out of his way, gawking curiously after him and pitying whoever had earned his ire as Hashirama darted after him.

Kenjin,” he simpered as soon as he’d gotten close enough, smiling with an ominous red glow in his eyes. He knew the names of all Mito’s cousins and siblings now and wasn’t particularly happy with any of them. “How nice to see you again.”

The Uzumaki’s head whipped towards him as he gritted his teeth. “Uchiha, I have no plans of speaking to you-”

“Why, too busy trying to ruin what should be the happiest day of your cousin’s life, make a fool of yourself in front of a large crowd of people, and further paint those in your family as the callous, unfeeling, contemplable people you are?” Madara tittered, smile widening when the Uzumaki’s face erupted in scarlet. Izuna bit his lip to contain a grin and drifted back to watch while the Senju stood there with wide eyes and open mouths.

Seething, Kenjin lifted one hand, looking halfway ready to threaten him, and Tobirama tensed. “As if I need the words of some slovenly degenerate who opens himself to men-”

“What, are you afraid I’ll rub off on you?” Madara said with a tilt of his head, smirking. “As I apparently did to your cousin?” Behind him, Hashirama stared at him in surprise at his instant admission. Likes men indeed.

“Listen, Uzumaki,” Madara interrupted as the man opened his mouth again, his Mangekyo whirling into his eyes as he leaned forward and grabbed a handful of the man’s collar. He froze when he looked Madara in the eye, fully aware of just what he could do to him with just a glance. “You aren’t welcome here. Whatever you came to do, be assured that if you try to make trouble, if you do so much as harm a single petal on that woman’s decorations, the only incident that will unfold will be your mind shattering into a thousand little pieces as I break you. Do you understand?”

He said it all in a quiet tone, looking at Kenjin through half-closed green eyelids with such a surety he hardly needed any intent to make a threat, and Hashirama felt like the breath had left his body.

“U…understood,” the Uzumaki whispered, pale. Madara released him and he stumbled back, staring at the Uchiha shakily for a few seconds before turning and walking out, abandoning whatever he’d wanted to do. Tobirama watched him go with a frown and motioned to one of the Senju lounging near the border of the room to follow him; he was probably already being tailed by security anyway- he’d most likely claimed to want to congratulate his cousin to gain entry- but a little overkill didn’t hurt anyone.

“Well, he was nice,” Izuna said cheerily when the man had gone, folding his arms. “Just in time, too. You’re up, aniki.”

Not knowing what he meant by that, Hashirama watched Madara look at the dance floor with a smirk and merge into the guests again, still feeling a bit out of breath from that display he’d just seen. Madara was so much more than could be put into words, he thought- he was deadly, dangerous, like a gorgeous new naginata glittering in the sunlight that could slice anyone who touched it the wrong way into ribbons. Hashirama loved his friend’s kindness and the gentleness he could display, but something about the deadliness was breathtakingly exciting and made him want Madara even more.

On the dance floor, Toka led Mito towards the center as the music reached its end and spun her into a dip. She smiled as their guests clapped for them and leaned down to press a kiss against Mito’s lips before pulling her up. The redhead sent her a mischievous look with a familiar glitter in her eyes.

“Let me guess,” Toka chuckled. “You want to dance with Madara.”

“A little differently than last time,” Mito told her with a secretive smile, making her raise a curious eyebrow. She let go of Toka and gestured for her to retreat towards the brides’ table, stepping back and turning to meet a smirking Madara as he emerged from the guests and holding out her hands.

The band began to play a livelier tune. Madara set a hand on her waist and began leading her around the room, their steps clean and precise as if they were following a pattern to the smallest detail.

Unlike the last time they’d danced in public together, when Mito had taken the lead part of the time, she let him guide them around the room so she could focus on how she moved instead of where they were going. They both, after all, wanted the focus on her.

The music picked up and her steps became quicker. Madara spun her and she untied her sash as she went, letting him pull her outer kimono off once she’d stopped her rotation and cleanly hand it to a smiling Naori in the audience. They merged back together and began again, moving faster and removing her second kimono without stopping this time.

Mito twirled and tossed off the last of the most restricting of her clothing, leaving her in a shorter kimono that was easy to dance in and a shocking deep red. Madara guided her into a dip that left her leg hooked over his arm, completely bare and looking, to Toka, like it stretched for a mile.

Mito resumed her footwork again with a smile when she saw Toka watching, eyes trained on her legs as they moved. Madara kept pace with her, his movements no less impressive but less flashy than hers; the all-black attire he wore made her pop from head to toe as if she were a mere flash of red fluttering across the floor.

He led them to the center, in front of Toka, and Mito bent herself back and let her kimono fall suggestively from one shoulder, smiling at her wife with every sultry bone in her body. A few people in the crowd whooped and hollered encouragingly as Toka turned the color of her wine.

Grinning, Madara took her waist and led them into a fast circuit that would put everyone else’s attempts to good-natured shame, and they flew about the room with the grace of two falcons circling each other in the air. Mito threw herself into every move with the notion that Toka was watching, appreciating, thinking of running her hands under red fabric in a different kind of dance that would leave them both breathless.

Madara spun her into a final dip as the music came to a thunderous stop; the room erupted in applause and they gave each other a smile, panting as they straightened up.

“Impressive as ever, dear,” she murmured with an amused glance, leaning up- though she didn’t have to lean far, considering there was barely three inches between them- and pressing a kiss against his cheek.

He chuffed out a laugh as Toka came up to them, eyes sparkling. “I’m a lucky woman,” she said lowly, winding an arm around Mito’s waist. “You’ll have to continue teaching me so I can be worthy of your skill.”

The joke prompted a laugh from her wife. “Of course, darling.”

A slow, quiet tune began to drift from the violinists, prompting others to start drifting onto the floor and pairing up. Madara caught a glance of amusement on Mito’s face before a hand tapped him on the shoulder, and he spun around not expecting Hashirama to be standing there with a grin.

“You were incredible,” he said, tilting his head a fraction with an odd look in his eyes. “As always. I’m afraid I can’t keep up with that, but I can manage something slow, like this, hmm?” He chuckled when all Madara did was blink at him. “Dance with me?” he asked, holding out his hand.

Madara’s eyes widened. Hashirama had no partner to dance with, his mind theorized, so of course he was turning to his friend- but dancing with Hashirama. Oh. That might kill him.

“Of course he will,” Mito said cheerfully, giving him a shove that made him stumble towards Hashirama.

An expectant look appeared on the Hokage’s face. “Uh…right,” Madara muttered, not willing to disappoint him. He hesitantly took Hashirama’s hand as the man grinned over his shoulder at Toka, who winked at him before leading Mito away to dance on their own.

Hashirama grasped his hand and pulled him close- closer than even some of the actual couples on the floor- setting a hand on his waist before Madara could say anything. He swallowed the lump in his throat and placed his hand on Hashirama’s shoulder. At least with their height difference and his hair he could avoid looking at the man when they were this close.

“I’m happy to see people forming bonds like these,” he said, his breath hot on Madara’s ear and neck. His whole body felt warm; Madara wanted to wrap himself around it and absorb that warmth into his own skin.

Unable to think of anything to say in reply, Madara simply hummed and hoped Hashirama didn’t notice how flustered he was. Hashirama’s presence was as soothing and relaxing as ever and he had to physically stop himself from leaning his head on the man’s shoulder and closing his eyes. Whoever Hashirama chose to spend his life with, he thought, had to be the most fortunate being on the planet.

“Have you thought about it?” Hashirama murmured, and Madara couldn’t see his face and wasn’t sure what he was getting at. “A bond like that?”

It took Madara’s brain but a moment to comprehend. Was Hashirama curious about whether he was planning on getting married? Did he think Madara still needed more ties to the village? Did he think Madara should find someone to spend time with that wasn’t himself?

He realized he’d been drifting in silence for a minute and cleared his throat. “I…don’t know,” he mumbled, feeling frazzled. The music was so slow they were hardly moving, practically just swaying together, and he felt as if he were about to combust. Hashirama’s hand felt heavy on his lower back and the one grasping his hand felt like he wasn’t planning on letting go of it anytime soon when the song ended.

“I have,” Hashirama whispered, startling him. Madara hoped his body wasn’t as tense as he felt it was. “I think someone like that would have to be my best friend. Wouldn’t you?”

“I…” Madara was at a loss. The conversation felt out of nowhere, and he couldn’t fathom why Hashirama had switched from Madara’s marriage prospects to his own. “I suppose.”

The answer seemed to please Hashirama, if the way he felt him almost preen was any indication. It felt like they’d been dancing for an eternity. “I think you should think about it,” he breathed into Madara’s ear. “…carefully.”

If Madara was confused before, he was befuddled now. He couldn’t tell if Hashirama was just trying to make idle talk or if he was trying to give him advice. Did he think Madara was lonely and needed to find someone? Or that he needed help? He could manage on his own, despite what everyone seemed to think.

Hashirama pulled him closer, pressing them flush together. Madara tried not to choke on his own tongue. He was sure it was because others were coming onto the dance floor and leaving less room for everyone to move about, but it felt too close.

Hashirama’s index finger began tracing a circle into his back. He was fidgeting, probably, not thinking about it, but it made Madara want to collapse into a puddle on the floor. The entire situation was too intimate, too comfortable, too pacifying. Hashirama’s chakra was a warm concentrated mass that was sluggish from the cold and it made him feel lulled to focus on. He couldn’t help it and slowly ended up with the side of his face pressed against the man’s haori, listening to the sound of his breath as a long tendril of brown hair tickled his cheekbone.

It was both comforting and a slow torture, reminding him of how much he loved Hashirama and how much he wanted to feel this sensation every day- how much he wanted to get this close and be able to stay there. He was a bright light and Madara a moth, and he gravitated towards him even when they had been enemies.

He loved him so dearly, but he couldn’t have him. The universe was cruel in every iteration.

The arms wrapped around him and the body pressed against him made the rest of the world fall away, and it made him want to retreat into his own bubble again, or perhaps go fling himself off the Hokage Monument, or perhaps just sit down and work on the hideous knitting creation he’d made purposefully hideous for Izuna and ignore the urge to shed tears.

“All right, everybody!” Izuna boomed, leaping into the center of the dance floor and banging, of all things, a stick against a cow bell. He had enjoyed seeing his brother become so flustered due to Hashirama’s advances, but he could see it was staring to become too much- for now, at least.

Everyone in the vicinity startled, including Madara, who ripped himself away from Hashirama and jumped about half a foot in the air. “It’s time for our brides to get to the real fun of the evening and all of us get to the second reception. If you had a red tag on your invitation, that means you follow me,” he said with a charming smile, spinning around and banging the cow bell intermittently as he headed for the door.

“I…guess that means we follow him,” Madara muttered, glancing at Hashirama and looking away just as quickly. The peacefulness of the moment being broken was both a disappointment and a great relief.

“I suppose so,” Hashirama said with a sheepish smile, running a hand through his hair. “Where did he pick, anyway?”

“Hopefully not somewhere like the last time,” Madara grumbled, turning away to find some fresh air. “I’ll kill him if he did.”


 

Madara had a pleasantly airy feeling occupying his mind as he leaned against the bar, unworried about the morning considering he’d actually remembered to stay hydrated that evening and Mito had given him some sort of herbal pills that worked wonders on hangover symptoms. He was pacing himself, as he didn’t really want to go home blackout drunk and not remember anything.

“See? I told you I’d pick a nice place,” Izuna said from the stool beside him, smug. The bar was considerably nicer than the hovel he’d taken them to that Madara would never stop poking him about. “Going to get out there and socialize, Madara?”

“Hmph. Silence, nymph,” Madara grumbled as his brother snickered.

“You’re supposed to find a match after the party.”

“That’s just a saying,” Madara scolded him with a huff.

“Yes, yes, we all know. You aren’t going to find a match because you’re still too hung up on someone else,” Izuna said with a roll of his eyes, making Madara turn pink, just as Hashirama walked over and caught the tail end of his sentence with a raised eyebrow. He smiled. “Good evening, Hokage-sama. Looking to mingle?”

Madara about swallowed his own tongue and straightened, folding his arms tightly against his chest. “Hashirama,” he muttered in greeting, looking anywhere but Hashirama’s curious face.

“Madara. And no, not particularly,” Hashirama replied as he leaned against the bar beside Madara, much too close for the man’s peace of mind. He eyed the flush on Madara’s skin and the way he’d jumped at his secret almost being ‘discovered,’ wondering who on earth was letting the man stand there alone at the bar on an evening he was supposed to mingle with others. “What about you?”

“Oh, I think I’ll go find Hikaku and Naori,” Izuna said as he stood up, chuckling when Madara glared at him. “You two have fun.”

He waved without any further ado and walked off, leaving Madara swearing at him in his head. He huffed and pushed it from his mind, thinking it was silly to be unhappy about being alone with Hashirama- the Senju was just being…oddly close this evening.

It was probably the alcohol. Perhaps he’d had a few too many drinks. Now that he thought about it, Hashirama was probably the affectionate type when he drank.

Hashirama straightened and gestured at the bartender to bring them something to drink. He grinned down at Madara and reminded him, again, of how much being around Hashirama felt like being around the actual sun. “Having fun?”

Madara shrugged, reaching for the martini that was slid his way and taking a sip. It was sweet- almost too sweet, because by now the bartender knew his tastes. “I don’t have much use for being here.”

A chuckle rumbled in Hashirama’s chest. Madara tried not to focus on the sound of it. “You’re supposed to have fun. Have you not met anyone?”

The question was innocuous, and he probably didn’t meant what Madara thought he meant, but he found himself off caught off guard regardless. “No. Frankly, I’m a bit bored; I’d rather go home.” And he was; what was there to do with Izuna off doing whatever he was doing at the moment and Hashirama, who would probably go be the social butterfly he was and find a group to talk to? Socializing.

Hashirama eyed him speculatively. His earlier attempts had obviously had some kind of effect, he thought to himself, yet Madara still hadn’t picked up on what he was trying to infer. Had he been too subtle? Perhaps being more overt would work in his favor instead.

“Understandable,” he said, lowering his voice as he moved closer to lean on the bar again, leaning in so he could speak into Madara’s ear without anyone hearing. “We do live right across from each other. It wouldn’t be out of our way to go home together.”

He held his breath when the words had left his mouth, wondering how Madara would respond.

The Uchiha turned his head, just slightly, and gave him a confused stare. “Yes,” he said slowly, as if Hashirama was dull, “obviously. We can walk back together if you want.”

Hashirama stared blankly at him. Surely…surely he didn’t misinterpret that. The longer Madara stared uncomprehendingly at him, the more it became apparent that yes, he did misinterpret Hashirama asking him to let him take him home.

Had Hashirama somehow not been apparent enough all night long? Was Madara just that oblivious?

“All right,” he said at last, voice a bit distant to his own ears, “I’d rather go home too. Are you ready to leave?”

And, when they returned to the path leading into the Senju compound, standing in between their houses, Hashirama turned to his best friend with the most suggestive look he could muster and leaned in far too close to be platonic and spoke in a low tone that any other person would have blushed at. “You’re welcome to spend the night.”

And Madara simply stared at him, brow pulled together in confusion. “Why? I have a bed of my own.”

Hashirama despaired.


 

The nice, mild haze he’d been enjoying had faded by the time he got home. Madara shuffled upstairs, wondering in the back of his mind what had prompted Hashirama’s weird exchange outside, and counted the cats as he went; Hachi was asleep in a pot he’d left out on the kitchen counter, while Toba was laid out over his other sandals beneath the coatrack and Zunu was out on the coffee table upstairs.

He’d left his window open, as he was wont to do sometimes during the day- he didn’t have any possessions he was particularly attached to anyway, and there were none who would dare steal from him regardless, if they could even get past Mito’s wards- and his room was cold when he entered. Shivering, he quickly shut the window and searched out all his extra blankets- he liked cool weather, but no one liked being so bitterly cold they couldn’t sleep.

He settled in for the night and shut off his lamp, laying there in the darkness as moonlight shone in from the window.

The air had a bite to it, even with his blankets. With a grimace, he stimulated his chakra a bit until his room would start to heat up again, and glanced over at his nightstand. Almost hesitantly, he reached over to the drawer and pulled it open, withdrawing the haori he’d been given to wear when he’d lost his eyes. He’d realized he still had it when he had gone home after getting them back and had…neglected to return it. Hashirama must have had ten more just like it, and he hadn’t noticed or asked for it back, and it smelled of earth and spring and Hashirama himself.

He pulled it beneath the covers and draped it over himself, closing his eyes with a sigh. It wasn’t Hashirama, but it was comforting nonetheless.

He drifted into sleep, and into a familiar dream that involved wooden hands on Hashirama’s bedroom floor.


 

Hashirama stood outside a bit longer than he cared to admit and watched Madara’s window until the Uchiha appeared in it, taking only a minute or two to find extra blankets before going to sleep. Hashirama retreated inside before the other man’s lights had gone off, repelled by the cold, and sighed at his own uselessness.

He wished it could be his body Madara used for warmth as they curled up together under the covers. Hashirama had never liked the cold- it was bitter and unforgiving and made his chakra feel as if it had the slightest brittle quality to it- and he liked to imagine how warm Madara would feel, as a fire element who burned so bright, if he could chase the cold away with just a flare of his chakra. It would probably be hard to leave their bed in the morning.

His mind drifted as he slid into bed, thinking of the days they’d spent by the river in summer and the warmth of the sunset as Madara smiled at him and how it felt like sunshine breaking through the treetops to shine on Hashirama’s soul. Of how blissful it had been to have Madara in his arms and to finally get the man to just relax and let them be so close together. He didn’t know how he had ever managed, in that first life- had he realized how he felt too late and simply suffered for years in regrets and guilt? Had he lived out his whole, entire life without Madara, without ever realizing he’d loved him?

The idea of living his life without Madara was…frightening. Hashirama didn’t wish to give it too much thought.

He thought, instead, of that night, when he’d managed to bring a pretty blush to Madara’s skin that was even more apparent due to how pale he was, accentuated in the winter months when there was less sun. They’d been so close together, and Hashirama knew he felt something there; he wanted to get even closer.

He thought, instead, of being reminded how dangerous Madara could be, of how he was the only rival Hashirama had ever met, how even when they were fighting it felt as if they fit together like two pieces of a puzzle.

He imagined Madara taking his offer- how would he be? Would he smirk and lead Hashirama along with a taunt in his eyes? Would he become quiet and avert his eyes and silently lead him out?

His eyes were the best part. Hashirama imagined them looking at him with love and affection as he tugged Madara towards his room, imagined how warm they would look as Madara ran his hands over Hashirama’s body.

The image of Madara sliding down onto his thighs filled his mind; how he would smile as if he had a secret and pull Hashirama’s kimono from his shoulders and lean down to kiss him. How Hashirama would finally get to feel- to touch, every part of him that was barred from him as long as he was only Madara’s friend.

He ran his hands up the backs of Madara’s thighs, the hakama he’d been wearing gone, reveling in the warm skin beneath his palms. A mischievous pair of eyes stared down at him as Madara pulled his kimono off him and leaned down to bite his neck. It sent a jolt through him and he surged up, and the bed was suddenly gone from beneath them and replaced by the floor and he hardly even noticed. There was wood within reach and straining against the surface and curling around Madara’s thighs, drawing them open as a long tendril slivered up and wrapped around his abdomen and two others wound around his wrists to keep them down. There was greenery and wooden spikes extending from various points in the room and Madara only looked at him with excited, thrilled eyes. Sometimes, deep down, Hashirama had been afraid that whoever he ended up marrying would look at the plants that sprung to life without his direction and turn away from him.

Madara arched his back and took in a slow breath as a vine curled around his chest to tease one of his nipples, staring at Hashirama with half-lidded eyes and flexing his trapped feet to test the strength of his binds; he tilted his head, slowly, and let out a smile that looked knowing.

“Hashirama,” he whispered, and the man hovering over him paused and stared down at him, feeling as if he almost couldn’t continue forward, “I love you.”

Hashirama’s breath caught in his throat. How he wanted to hear Madara say that. He loved so deeply and so intensely and the only thing he wanted was to know those he loved felt the same.

I love you.

Hashirama jerked awake with a harsh breath, having not realized he’d fallen asleep. The bedframe he’d only recently installed was humming, pulsing with his chakra; he glanced around his dark, empty room, devoid of the lover he’d dreamt of, and let out a slow sigh.

He sat up and shuffled back until he could lean against the headboard, running a hand over his hair and trying to calm his racing heart. Just a dream, he thought, feeling a bit disappointed. A dream that had left him aroused and wishing Madara was in his bed with him.

He couldn’t get that image out of his head. He couldn’t stop thinking of Madara curling around him and whispering in his ear and letting Hashirama’s Mokuton touch him, so very trusting to let down his guard completely and let Hashirama have what they both wanted.

He was so very gone, Hashirama thought, sliding a hand beneath his robes. He didn’t think he could get over Madara if he wanted to. How could he ever be with anyone else, knowing he loved Madara so deeply? It didn’t matter if it was for the village, for politics, for an alliance- it was Madara or no one. He was so very gone.

He let his hand seep with warm chakra as he took ahold of his dick, thinking of Madara’s deft hands removing his clothes and the Uchiha’s teeth sinking into his flesh. He thought of how it would feel to let the man take him apart and make him wait; of how it would feel to have Madara writhing in pleasure in his lap with his head thrown back and Hashirama’s name on his lips.

A vaguely sticky sensation on his hand caught his attention. Puzzled, he glanced down at his erection and paused when he found it beginning to leak a clear, viscous substance with an orange tint. He had seen it before, occasionally, on the trees he grew, and thought the presence of tree sap was just a natural part of controlling nature, but apparently he could…spawn it from his chakra alone. He suspected he could produce it from any part of his body, but a flush overtook his cheeks when he realized how...racy it was to be able to do this. But he couldn’t deny it was convenient, at least, and kept him from chaffing in the cold as he let himself fall back into his fantasy, thinking of how that dream version of Madara hadn’t looked at the plants around them with fear or derision or confusion, and how the real Madara had only ever looked at his Mokuton with wonder or admiration or excitement.

Hashirama came too quickly for his tastes; he had never had ideas that excited him this much. He didn’t think he’d ever looked at anyone and wanted to do the things he wanted to do to Madara to them.

A pulse of chakra exploded from his body. The bedframe curled every which way, creaking as a tree formed in the wall behind him and plants sprung to life on the floor and across the doorway. Hashirama lay there panting, unaware of just what he’d done for a moment, before realizing an important detail: he didn’t exactly live alone.

“Anija?” Tobirama’s startled voice called through the door. He tried to open it, but the wood on the wall kept it bound shut. “Hashirama, open up.”

“O-one minute,” Hashirama called back with a stammer, frazzled. He yanked his robes shut and quickly tied them up again, sliding out of bed and pulling the blankets up to hide his mess. He couldn’t believe he lacked subtlety so badly and that he’d lost so much control.

He removed the plants over the door and slid it open, beet red as Tobirama stared at him with an alarmed expression. “S-sorry, Tobirama,” he muttered, unable to look his little brother in the eye. “I was, uh…”

Tobirama stared at him, still on alert, before freezing as his eyes drifted around the room. He examined the plants, and how they seemed to be growing outward from the bed, and paused, heat rising to his cheeks. “I see,” he uttered, and it made Hashirama cringe. “…apologies. Just…try to be more quiet,” he said with a grimace, wondering if Hashirama would take it too personally if he just moved out. Having both him and Madara so close by was ridiculous and he was going to strangle himself if he had to live through more incidents like this.

They were both startled by a rapid banging on the front door. “Oi, Senju!” a familiar voice hollered, and Hashirama’s red face got even redder. “What the fuck are you doing over here?”

Hashirama looked at Tobirama helplessly. He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “Well, go explain.”

Hashirama wrinkled his nose. “Mean,” he pouted under his breath as he passed him by, heading for the front door as Madara began knocking again.

He yanked it open just as the Uchiha was about to knock again. He looked ruffled head to toe, as if he’d been woken up. “U-uh, hello, Madara,” Hashirama stammered, smiling unconvincingly.

“Hashirama, what the hell?” Madara demanded, glancing past him as if to find something he was hiding. “What was with that chakra surge? Are you trying to wake up every sensor in the damned neighborhood?”

“Sorry,” Hashirama mumbled. He looked away from Madara’s eyes to his collarbone, which was a mistake, since his robe was loosely tied and left much of his chest bare. He gulped and turned his head away, trying not to think about the fact this was the man he’d been fantasizing about not five minutes before and how much Madara could make his chakra lash out if he put his mind to it- “I, uh…had a nightmare!” he exclaimed, plastering on a smile again and rubbing the back of his head. “Don’t worry! Everything’s fine, I’m sorry for waking you up.”

Madara eyed him suspiciously, clearly not believing him fully, and folded his arms. “Very well,” he said after a moment, staring at Hashirama’s twitchy expression. He seemed to be satisfied after a moment and his expression softened. “Are you all right?”

Hashirama tried not to choke. Madara was…concerned for him, and the softness in his gaze- “I-I’m fine, I just need to go back to sleep,” he stammered. “I’ll see you in the morning!”

Madara opened his mouth to respond and clamped it shut in surprise when Hashirama quickly closed the door. He seems bothered, he thought with a frown, turning to go back to his own home. He could have sworn that Hashirama was hiding something.

Perhaps he really had just had a nightmare, he thought. In that case, he would ask the man how he was again the next day. He knew how unsettling dreams could be.


 

“Are you all right?”

Hashirama jumped when Madara addressed him, not realizing for a moment what the man was referring to before realization hit and he smiled anxiously. “O-of course! That was just a fluke, ahah. I’m fine now.”

Madara raised an eyebrow at him for a moment before nodding. “If you say so,” he said, and set the clipboard in his grasp down on the stump beside the one he sat on. They had been going over standards for jounin sensei, ironing out what the first batch’s responsibilities would be, but Hashirama hadn’t been able to get much work done, glancing at Madara whenever he became distracted. The man was in nothing more than a training yukata with no sleeves and a pair of trousers that went to his knees, and it was odd sometimes to see him bare so much skin, but Hashirama loved it. Not only because he loved seeing any of Madara’s skin, especially the parts he normally couldn’t, but it showed that Madara really was comfortable where he was to go so unguarded.

“Want to spar?” Madara asked him with a challenging smirk, and something in Hashirama thrilled at the goading.

He stood with a grin and set his own clipboard down. They retreated to opposite ends of the clearing, a glitter in their eyes, with no weapons or armor to come between them.

Madara leapt at him first. Hashirama met him head-on, ducking beneath his first blow and coming up with a kick that might have taken someone’s head off if it connected. They blurred together as they fought, kicking up to a speed most of the village’s shinobi wouldn’t be able to match.

Madara couldn’t help but love their confrontations and how far Hashirama pushed him; no one else could exhaust him so completely and leave him panting and barely on his feet. Hashirama was reminded, again, why the dangerous part of Madara attracted him so as the Uchiha kept him on his toes and came close to hitting him just as often as Hashirama did to him, making a sense of fervent excitement bubble under his skin. The idea that any moment, Madara could pull out a trick or flash of skill to give himself the advantage and get ahead, leave Hashirama at his mercy, was enthralling.

Madara pushed off a tree and came flying at him. Hashirama leapt back behind a tree to avoid it, beaming when Madara’s strike nearly buckled it in half. Madara descended from the canopy above a moment later, coming close to getting in a strike on his collarbone that probably would have broken a few bones.

Hashirama leapt into a tree further above and dodged. Madara darted further into the forest and they began a match of surprise, trying to catch each other off guard as they used the trees to hide behind.

Madara landed on a tree branch hard enough to make it rattle and groan dangerously, glancing down at where Hashirama stood on the forest floor below. A smirk overtook his lips as his Sharingan spun lazily, a clear challenge on his face as he abruptly turned and pushed off, darting into the woods. Catch me if you can.

The game was on. Hashirama grinned to himself and clapped his hands together, summoning his chakra in one fell sweep that left a forest exploding from the ground at his feet, rolling outward and enveloping the woods already there. Madara was already at a disadvantage due to their surroundings, but there would be no hiding from Hashirama now.


 

Cheating bastard, Madara thought as a veritable wave of wood erupted behind him and swept out in every direction. He knew Hashirama could easily knock him unconscious at this point with his pollen, and he knew Hashirama knew that, and the fact that he wasn’t but probably knew exactly where Madara was, was his way of teasing him.

He picked up speed, intent on putting some distance between them, and did his best to suppress his chakra to the bare amount he needed to run. Hashirama may have created the forest, but he wasn’t the best sensor out there, despite his odd and uncanny ability to be so attuned with Madara’s chakra.

He paused when he reached a clearing and took a moment to search out Hashirama’s signature. He was taking his time, probably another way to taunt him, leisurely making his way towards Madara’s location.

The edge of the forest had to have been near. If Madara could at least exit it-

His train of thought came to a screeching halt as something dripped onto his nose. Frowning, he tilted his head back, removed his glove, and wiped it away with his thumb, staring at it in confusion before glancing up. One of the trees was curled over him, oozing a strange substance he’d never seen before. It was clear, like a gel, sticky but not so much it was cumbersome.

It also had the faintest sweet smell. Madara couldn’t help but be curious. He doubted it was poisonous, if it came from the Mokuton; he cautiously licked the drop from his thumb, pausing when a sweet sensation assaulted his taste buds.

He looked around for a closer tree and found one on ground level, oozing the same sap. That had to have been what it was. He drew his thumb along the bark and reigned in a larger sample, bringing it to his lips and delighting in the downright heavenly taste. It was even sweeter than honey.

He reached out again and took another taste, dousing his index and middle fingers and sucking them dry. Reaching for another, he let it ooze over his whole hand, inadvertently forgetting completely about his and Hashirama’s spar. Let it be said that he did have weaknesses, and sweet things were one of them.


 

Hashirama followed Madara’s chakra signature- calm, unconcerned, even mildly peaceful even though it was still shimmering from the excitement of their fight- through the forest until he’d closed in on his position. The spar had turned into a game, by then, a game of cat and mouse as they skulked around the forest stalking each other; of course, Madara was the superior sensor, but Hashirama’s awareness outdid even his due to the forest around them.

Madara didn’t seem to notice him- he must not have been kneading chakra, or he would have felt Hashirama coming from a mile away. At first Hashirama was confused as to why he was immobile, but he got his answer when he emerged from a denser part of the woods, standing in the shadow of a tree and freezing when he spotted his friend standing by a Mokuton tree.

He found his body frozen and couldn’t manage to make himself move or swallow the sudden lump in his throat- because Madara’s hand was ungloved, covered in Mokuton sap, and he was licking it up as if it were the sweetest honey.

Hashirama watched Madara’s tongue dart out of his mouth to lick at the sap coating his hand, sliding in between his thumb and index finger and dipping into the crease in the skin between them. It dripped from his hand in the most obscene way, reminding Hashirama of not seven hours earlier when the same substance had been dripping from his erection. He imagined Madara sucking that sap from his fingers instead; he imagined that deft-looking tongue teasing and pushing and imagined sealing his mouth over Madara’s so he could bat it into submission.

Madara still had yet to notice him standing in the trees, was still lapping that sap up like he was a hungry cat cleaning its claws, and Hashirama felt a bit like a voyeur but his body wasn’t responding to him. The coolness of the forest was gone and replaced by a sense that everything was much too warm; he could feel his heart racing as Madara let out a groan that sounded too much like the sounds he’d been making in Hashirama’s dream the night before, tilting his head to lick the underside of his hand and baring a tantalizing amount of skin on his neck. Hashirama wanted to press his lips against the other man’s jugular and feel his pulse start to race as he mouthed his neck and left bruises in his wake.

It was almost unbearable. Perhaps growing a whole forest to corner him had been a bad idea.

His chakra coiled and roots moved underfoot, sensing his intent even if he wasn’t consciously aware of it, converging on Madara almost before he had time to be startled. The Uchiha let out a curse when wood and vine emerged from the ground and wrapped around him, swift and unforgiving as it yanked him to the forest floor and pinned him.

He completely forgot about his previous- meal- and began to struggle, trying to pull his arms from the wood’s grasp. It proved unbending and too stubborn for him to break, since it had managed to trap his hands beside his head and his legs bent at such angles he could hardly find any momentum.

He quieted with a frustrated huff.

“All right, Senju, you win,” he called out, sounding out of breath as his limbs stilled. The teasing tone of his voice told Hashirama he thought he’d been ambushed- and he certainly had, just in a different way than he thought- and a bit of embarrassment coursed through him when he realized he’d lost control of his chakra for a moment in time.

He realized he was just standing there and berated himself, for his delayed reaction, and how much he was stuck on how pretty a picture Madara made with the Mokuton holding his legs apart.

“A-ah, sorry,” he breathed out with a nervous laugh, emerging from the shadow that felt like his hiding place and forming a hand sign as he released Madara’s binds.

Madara raised an eyebrow at him from the ground. “Why apologize?”

Hashirama stumbled over his words. There was no real reason to apologize if he had purposefully caught Madara to win the spar. “Uh, well-”

“And besides that,” Madara interrupted him, something mischievous in his expression, and Hashirama jerked to a stop as a warning flashed through his head, “you’re still too trusting.”

He leapt up as soon as the wood let him and lunged. Hashirama reacted on instinct and reached out to the tendrils still there on the surface, simultaneously leaping forward himself as they reached for Madara again.

He could tell his friend was just teasing him, rather than making an actual attempt to win, because he went down too easily for it; before he knew what happened they had landed in the grass and he was straddling Madara’s waist as his Mokuton pinned his limbs down once more, one hand on the man’s chest to keep him from writhing, although he just laid there unmoving.

Madara cast him a smirk. “At least you’re not getting complacent,” he goaded.

All Hashirama could focus on was the feeling of Madara’s ribcage beneath his thighs and the way he was spread out beneath him, completely at Hashirama’s mercy, wrists and ankles bound in wood, and the way he could rend the clothes from the man’s body with a flick of his wrist if he wanted to. It was just like his dream.

Madara shifted as Hashirama stared down at him, expression slightly vacant, and swallowed. Why is he so distracted? “Hashirama, your…” he muttered, barely audible, as his eyes darted to the side. He could feel his face heating up and he prayed Hashirama didn’t notice too much. All he could think of was how this scenario was the start to one of his wet dreams. “Are you…going to let me up?”

No, Hashirama’s mind supplied, not for another four hours, but aloud he jerked to awareness and back with a start. “A-ah, sorry,” he stammered, getting to his feet with a stumble as his roots and vines retracted. He extended his hand and helped Madara up, almost too bashful at his own actions to notice how the Uchiha refused to look directly at him. “I…zoned out.”

“Right,” Madara murmured, pretending to wipe sweat from his cheek to try and hide the scarlet color his face had turned. The action only brought attention to it.

Hashirama paused and squinted at him. His eyes were trained on the ground, anywhere but Hashirama. He’s blushing, he realized with a start, and the mischievous part of his mind lit up with glee as he examined the redness of Madara’s skin that reminded him of the night before. It wasn’t a one-off event, and he’d managed to create the same effect again.

Madara coughed into a fist before nodding in the direction of the village. “We should probably head back,” he suggested, still not looking Hashirama in the eye.

“Of course,” the Senju replied, now wearing a knowing grin. He purposefully moved closer as they started walking back, noting the way the blush on Madara’s face darkened despite the man’s efforts to look calm. The idea that his presence- even if Madara himself wasn’t aware of it- was making the Uchiha bashful delighted him.

He was sure of it now. Madara was a genius on the battlefield and a cunning man; however, he was also a very, very oblivious man- but Hashirama was having an effect on him.

This other man, whoever he was, was an unwise fellow. Hashirama had no guilt about inserting himself into the place he was leaving unoccupied.

Chapter Text

There was an oddly pensive look on Hikaku’s face as he stood on stage, looking out over the entirety of the Uchiha clan packed into their meeting hall. People were pressed into the pews and others stood along the back walls, while others still sat on the ground in front of the seating.

Madara himself sat on a cushion on the opposite side of the stage as the elders, unsure of why he was there instead of on the ground floor. Something about a ‘seat of honor’ or some other such silliness. He didn’t know why they thought he needed it; he wasn’t an elder, even if every Uchiha child he ran into had taken to calling him an uncle or older brother.

He watched Kotori, Hikaku’s other aid, speak with him in low tones as Naori organized the pages attached to a clipboard behind them; although, according to Naori, she did so much work she practically ran the clan with him, so aid was perhaps not the most accurate term.

Where’s Izuna? he thought as he glanced around; the seat beside him was empty. Surely his brother wasn’t going to be late to the first clan meeting after he’d been revived.

Then again, he’d once burst into a meeting, half an hour late, frazzled and covered in chicken feathers as Madara was in the middle of reiterating why meddling with the Yamanaka’s mind jutsu with the Sharingan was a spectacularly bad idea, so Madara wouldn’t put anything past him.

A flash of blue darted out of the corner of his eye as Izuna appeared in his seat. Madara raised a judgmental eyebrow at him and gained a cheeky smile in return. “I was busy.”

“I don’t want to know what with.”

Izuna snickered at him. Madara ignored him in favor of Hikaku and Kotori, who’d crossed to the center of the stage to gather everyone’s attention.

“Quiet down, please,” Hikaku called out, looking mildly amused as he raised a hand. Once the Uchiha had stopped murmuring to each other he raised his voice again. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why we called you here tonight.”

A suspicious grin appeared on Izuna’s face. Madara eyed him warily for a moment.

“We want to discuss a topic that’s weighed on each of our minds before, but hasn’t been spoken of in daylight,” Kotori continued where he’d left off, and an inkling of understanding began to worm its way into Madara’s mind. He- like many others in the room- had grown up with her, and had never seen a reason not to treat her as she was, but he remembered the disapproving looks his father had given her mother at her ‘behavior.’ It had been an open, unspoken of secret.

“We all remember the words of our parents, of an older generation that held to old ideals- but the point of the creation of this village is moving forward into a new age, and it occurred to me that the Uchiha should be an example of what this new age should look like,” Hikaku said, conveying nothing but confidence. It was perhaps the most charismatic Madara had ever seen him. “Our children, and the generation that will come after us, deserve better than what our predecessors gave to us. No child should feel ashamed because of who they are. Not because they like men…” Izuna raised his hand unprompted, making a few snicker in the audience. “Women-” Kotori turned and nudged Naori, who turned pink as a few women in the audience giggled under their breath. “Both,” Hikaku suggested, placing a hand against his chest. “Not because people perceive them as something they’re not.”

“The older Uchiha in this room remember when I was born,” Kotori said with a challenging look on her face, tilting her chin up. “I remember how you used to speak of me. Not all of you, but there were those who said how shameful it was that my mother let me run around ‘like a girl.’ You were convinced it was something to look away from and that I would grow out of it. I never did, obviously, because this is who I am, and it became something that others in the clan just put in the back of their minds and didn’t address.”

“My own mother was more secretive about me,” Hikaku picked up, drawing a few surprised glances. “I was born, as some of you might think, ‘as a girl,’ but I assure you I’ve always known that I am a man. My mother was forced to seek out resources in secret under the cover of night, spending much of her time worrying over what my life would look like- is that the way these things should be? Not in the society we’re trying to create. The Uchiha have always valued the spirit above all else and I truly believe this is an ideal we should share with the other citizens of Konoha.”

“Some of us were told we were trying to be men,” Kotori said, her lips twitching as if in remembrance of an old anger as she glanced behind her at Naori. “Or perhaps that it was a shame on our family to become like a woman. Our struggles weren’t always the same, but we have been intertwined.” A soft look came over Naori’s face as she gingerly took one of the other woman’s hands, sharing a long look with her. “The clan has become ever more accepting as we’ve settled into peace. That acceptance should encompass everyone.”

“I’m not here to apologize for not telling you,” Hikaku said as he moved forward, gesturing with the hand that held his clipboard. “Nor am I going to ask that you still follow me despite what I just told you. There should be no place for shame in the Uchiha any longer. I am who I am. I realize it won’t transpire overnight, but I ask that you all help Kotori and I walk forward as an example to the rest of Konoha.”

Kotori closed her eyes with something like satisfaction on her face. She had never tried to hide any part of who she was, but it still felt freeing to have pride in front of the entirety of her clan. Hikaku himself gazed out across the sea of faces before him- some wide-eyed, some smiling, some confused, some few of them disapproving- and knew the clan was not perfect, nor would everyone there be accepting, but if he reached even one person, he would be satisfied.

This had been his decision. He hadn’t been quite ready to tell someone, at the point in time when he ran into Madara in the hot springs, mostly because he’d been startled by the other man’s sudden appearance, but a sense of calm overshadowed any of his doubts; it had been his choice, and Kotori’s choice, and no one else’s.

Madara’s gaze settled on Miki, eyes shining with unshed tears as she stood beside one of her friends he vaguely recognized, a girl with her hair cut short who always went about in trousers and vests. They both looked like they were trying to contain themselves and their emotions. He was reminded, again, that he was untouchable, yet others in his clan weren’t. it was unnervingly humbling.

He and Izuna raised their hands simultaneously and began clapping, Izuna wearing a bright smile that looked a bit unsettling in its intensity. He leaned over to whisper in Madara’s ear. “He told me he’d be dancing at the bonfire this week. We all have some special decorations to wear.”

Madara raised an eyebrow. “Bonfire?”

“Been a while since we cut loose at one, hasn’t it?” Izuna beamed. Madara smirked slightly as he watched teenagers near the front of the room start to stand up and applaud, looking excited among themselves. Others in their twenties, some of whom were Kotori’s friends, followed suit. Not everyone in the room did, some of them whispering to each other, but he noted the occasional person who stood up when they realized just how many of their clan members were. The Uchiha valued, above all else, community, the concept of the clan itself, and even if there ended up being a select few malcontents Madara suspected any prejudice would meet opposition.

Personally, he could see no reason for that prejudice to exist; Hikaku was…Hikaku, and there was no logic in ignoring who Hikaku was.

“Our second topic of the evening,” Hikaku called out, turning and looking towards them, “we’ve regained a lost member through miraculous means. Izuna.”

Izuna stood from the floor and walked over to him with a faintly sheepish smile. “Sorry for dying,” he joked, making a titter spread through the rows closest to the stage. He glanced down at the rest of his clan and felt a wave of uncertainty flow through him. Countless faces looked at him with wonder, in awe, and some with a curiosity sparkling in their eyes.

It reminded him a bit of how it felt to walk through the village and feel others staring at him, wondering about his existence, but at least the Uchiha didn’t look disgusted. Even an escape from death meant nothing to them if it meant receiving a member of their family back.

“I thought Izzy-san was dead,” a small voice from the front said, riddled with confusion. The boy’s mother quickly hushed him.

“It’s all right,” Izuna told her, smile growing even more sheepish. At least, with everyone crammed into the building, he didn’t feel as though he was addressing as big a crowd as he actually was. “I was dead, and through an…accident, T- Senju Tobirama revived me through use of a separate jutsu. By accident. It wasn’t on purpose,” he emphasized, hoping no one would misinterpret, and paused when he realized he was rambling. “Which, he later corrected by reviving me in full through use of a classified dojutsu. Which is…gone now. That’s the end of it.”

“Eloquent,” Kotori whispered. Izuna did his best to glare at her out of the corner of his eye without letting his expression change as she smirked at him.

“Does that mean we’re having a celebration?” Futoshi yelled from one of the center rows, sounding excited.

Hikaku raised his hands and clapped. “A bonfire!” Almost every voice in the room cried out, prompting a series of hushed mutterings to erupt. “An event open to the public. Invite whoever you like- our gates will be open.”

“And we’re all going to dance,” Izuna said with a sweet and fake smile at Madara, who narrowed his eyes back. He knew that smile. That was a conniving smile.

He looked around the room and found several people smirking. Not all of them were looking at him, but they felt like they were smirking his direction. He twitched.


 

Madara was having a pleasant morning, both due to the exceptionally warm atmosphere outside during the cold season and the fact that he had a surprise for his brother. He was sure that Izuna was the most suited for Kagami’s genin team; their sensei needed to be someone who would suffer no harassment due to Kagami being younger than the other students. The younger man also just really needed a distraction so he would stop eyeing Madara’s personal life so closely.

He sat on the corner of his desk, one leg folded under him with the other dangling over the edge, turned towards the window where warm sunlight was streaming in as he went over their finalized reports in his lap and Hashirama worked at his own desk.

There were only five teams in their first batch of graduates, and one had been given to Tobirama while the rest were placed with a Yamanaka, a Hyuuga, and, surprisingly, another Uchiha- it seemed that another Senju had been a candidate, but Hashirama had chosen Naori over him.

“Do you approve?” Hashirama’s amused voice said from behind him, making him jump and scramble to keep the reports from falling from his lap. He turned and cast a mild glare over his shoulder as Hashirama beamed at him.

“You know I don’t like people standing behind me,” Madara grumbled, but let him step closer and peer over his shoulder. He looked back to the form in his grasp that had a greyscale photo of Naori at the top and three more beneath her, each of a kunoichi around the age of twelve. The merchant who owned the photo studio was more than happy to donate some of their older experiments to take shinobi identification photos with and promised that soon they would be in color. “What made you choose Naori over the other candidate?”

“Ah…Kenichi can just be a bit…stern,” Hashirama said with a sheepish-looking smile, rubbing his cheek. “He’s a good shinobi, but I think he’s still a bit stuck in old mindsets.”

“Hn.” Madara could have sworn he’d heard the name before, but he didn’t put much thought into it. His eyes roved over the three girls’ photos and the text below each one. One of them was a Nara, staring into the camera with a bored expression and a piece of wheat stuck in her mouth; one was an Uchiha with half her hair shaved off; the last was a member of the Kurama clan who was smiling at the camera and sitting ramrod straight as if about to be critiqued on every aspect of her posture. “They’re all genjutsu types anyway. Naori’s a better choice for that.”

“You’re right there.” A chuckle was his only warning before Hashirama was suddenly closer, a grin in his voice as he set a hand on Madara’s arm. “By the way, I noticed recently- it’s not that apparent from far away, but your hair’s become so curly.”

Madara opened his mouth to retort and nearly swallowed his own tongue when a hand carded through his hair. Hashirama swept a hand through it from his scalp to the end, immediately going back for another stroke. “It’s so soft,” he said, sounding surprised. He let his hand linger near Madara’s nape and curled his fingers in it, staring at the tiny coils and ringlets in the details of Madara’s mane.

Madara tried to speak but found he couldn’t. He could feel Hashirama’s hand near his neck, brushing against it even, and the room felt uncomfortably warm. The Uchiha kept such high-collared mantles for a reason; they went to great lengths to protect their vital areas, and he couldn’t remember the last time anyone but Izuna had touched him there. Had Hashirama done it when he’d first broken down in his house? He’d been distracted, then, but now all he could focus on was the sound of the man breathing behind him.

“Yes,” he managed to get out, feeling a bit disconnected from his own words. “I put…oil through it every week.”

“It shows,” Hashirama replied cheekily, moving to his side and grinning when he saw his reddening face. Feeling ornery, he lifted a hand and ran his fingers through Madara’s bangs, pulling them aside so he could see all of the man’s face. He stared at Hashirama with wide, startled eyes, but he didn’t look displeased, and the Hokage mentally preened in victory. “Does this mean you’re getting soft?”

Speechless, Madara stared at him for several moments before snapping his mouth shut and turning his face away. He couldn’t believe how easily Hashirama could destroy all of his composure with an innocent joke. “Tch. As if. You’re the soft one,” he muttered.

Hashirama’s grin took on a strange light. “Nothing about me is soft, Madara.”

Madara’s scrutiny jolted over to him again, even more startled, and he blinked a few times as he wondered at what that could have meant. Surely it wasn’t- well, what it sounded like. Had Hashirama even ever made an innuendo in his life? He was overthinking it; his fool brain was just overthinking it.

“Oh.” He cleared his throat and looked down, at the reports, trying to quell the dizzy feeling in his gut. It felt like two butterflies were having a fight in his abdomen. Just ignore it and act normally. “I, ah…” He swore inwardly. “I should…”

He’s flustered, Hashirama thought, leaning forward and placing a hand on the corner of the desk behind the other man and the other on the rim just ahead of his knee, under the guise of looking further at the forms sitting on his thighs. It was a bit fun, really, to make him lose his famous composure so messily.

“Tell the sensei their teams have been chosen,” Madara finished in a mumble, clearly trying to avoid looking at him.

“Are you all right? You seem lightheaded,” Hashirama said, eyeing him. He hadn’t leaned away, only seeming to shrink slightly on reflex, but he was ready to pull away if he was making the man uncomfortable. “Do you want me to go get you some water?”

“No, I… I’m fine.” Even with his stubborn crush making it difficult for him, Madara couldn’t bear to turn Hashirama away in any capacity or make it seem as if he didn’t want him near. “You can stay,” he mumbled, only half aware of what he was saying, unintentionally answering an unspoken question.

Hashirama smiled again, seeing the way Madara’s eyes drifted towards his hands and the crimson color of his cheekbones for what they were. The Uchiha probably thought he was just being friendly, he suspected, but he liked the closeness. He liked men, he found Hashirama attractive, and he liked him being near.

His gaze drifted to the desk Madara sat upon. He’d thought about it more than once; pouring Madara over one of them and making him grasp at the edges as he gasped for air. He’d thought about the desk in the Hokage’s office, such a large thing with so much room to work with. Hashirama wanted to lay Madara out on that desk, on his own robes, and watch him tangle his fingers in the Hokage’s attire beneath him as he arched his back.

It was utterly distracting to have the man so close yet so out of reach. “We should go out for lunch today,” he said, bringing his eyes back to Madara’s face. “Just you and me. A new restaurant opened down the street. Toka’s told me they have fantastic sukiyaki.”

“Right,” Madara murmured. “Won’t your brother be hungry?”

“He’s busy today,” Hashirama said with a smile. He had no idea what Tobirama was doing today.

Their voices had drifted into the hall; Tobirama stepped in through the open door with a dull expression, glancing at the way his brother had Madara boxed in on a desk and mentally sighing. Hashirama didn’t even have the decency to look even slightly abashed. “You two should go on and leave,” he said, and Hashirama didn’t even move as he looked over at him. Utterly shameless. “You’ll just be distracting here.”

He noted the way Madara’s hands were trembling slightly as they clutched the papers he had in hand and felt a bit pitying. Hashirama could be…a lot to deal with, and Tobirama was his brother. He couldn’t, and didn’t want, to imagine what being the subject of his…affections would be like. He grimaced to himself.

Hashirama drew up and Tobirama could see the small sigh of relief Madara took in. It was painful to see how much he liked the attention yet thought he couldn’t have it.

They were both absolutely ridiculous, and he was going to have an aneurism from being subjected to his brother’s flirting attempts if he kept this up.


 

“On a desk,” Tobirama said with a scowl, rubbing his temples. “He probably has some fetish about it. He cannot physically keep either of his hands off Madara for longer than ten minutes. I know he’s a physical person, but it’s ridiculous even by his standards. He was clearly hitting on him, yet Madara still has somehow not picked up on it. I don’t understand how either of them are the level of shinobi they are.”

“That’s rough,” Hikaku muttered from where he was half slumped onto the table, expression downcast. “I got a headache just from watching them in that restaurant we were in. What was it?”

“Something new, I’m not sure,” Naori mumbled. “Just popped up a few days ago.”

“That’s where they went for lunch,” Tobirama grumbled quietly. “At least they were out of the office.”

Naori grimaced. “They honest to god looked like a couple. I don’t understand how Hashirama can place his hand over Madara’s for almost ten minutes and he still doesn’t understand.”

“It’s so frustrating,” Hikaku sighed. “I need to unwind.”

“If unwind means what I think it means, count me in,” Izuna said from behind them as he approached the table, a smile on his face. He glanced over at Tobirama and nodded, feeling a bit uncertain. “Tobirama.”

Tobirama straightened in his seat- when had he started becoming so comfortable in the Uchiha bar?- and returned the nod. “Izuna,” he greeted as the man sat down between himself and Hikaku. It was odd seeing him in such a relaxed setting.

Izuna wasn’t sure what to say next, but he knew he didn’t want an awkward silence. “Has he asked for the strong stuff yet? I would think so, with how hard I hit you earlier,” he teased with a smirk.

Tobirama folded his arms on the tabletop and narrowed his eyes at him, fighting the corner of his mouth that wanted to curve upwards. “I got in a few strikes that were just as debilitating. You’ve no room to talk.”

Izuna’s smirk widened. “I think I have plenty of room to talk, seeing as I made you break one of the rules.” He was referring to Tobirama’s use of his Hiraishin to escape a rather large fire technique he’d unleashed, something he’d agreed not to use if Izuna didn’t use his Sharingan. Izuna was never letting him live it down.

Tobirama gave him a dry stare. Izuna turned away to hide the grin on his face. “Did you bring the good stuff, Naori?”

A tiny, self-satisfied smile appeared on the woman’s lips. She withdrew something from somewhere on her person and set it on the table. “I already prepared them.”

Tobirama raised an eyebrow. “Tobacco isn’t healthy on the lungs,” he said, taking the cigar she passed to him and examining it.

“Oh, this isn’t tobacco,” Hikaku chuckled. “It’s much better.”

He lit the end of his with a flick of his fingers and watched as it started to produce smoke. He took a short drag and breathed out serenely, closing his eyes. “If that doesn’t hit the spot.”

A crease formed in Tobirama’s brow as Naori and Izuna followed suit in sync. “It’s a…special… plant the Uchiha cultivate,” Naori told him, seeing his confusion, and sounding more relaxed than before as she smiled. “I ensure you it’s entirely harmless. I’ve never heard of anyone overdosing just smoking it. Most have rather tame reactions, but we know how to curb it if it doesn’t agree with you. It’s rather nice.”

One silver eyebrow raised. Izuna reached over with his cigar and used it to light Tobirama’s. “Try it out, Senju,” he said with a teasing sparkle in his eyes. “You really need to relax.”

Tobirama refrained from rolling his eyes at the man before raising the cigar to his lips. He had smoked before, but he hadn’t made a habit of it. A sense of calm spread over him. “Potent, isn’t it?”

However, like they’d told him, it was rather nice. But he wondered why they seemed hesitant to tell him what its name was.

“The potentest,” Hikaku said with a smile, eyes still closed, and the word sounded downright ridiculous passing his usually serious lips.

Izuna took a deck of cards from up his sleeves. Tobirama wondered just where Uchiha kept all these belongings when they seemed to have no pockets on their mantles. “Who wants to play a game?” he asked, a mischievous glint in his eyes as he shuffled the deck.

“I’m going to regret it later,” Naori murmured, looking like she already did, “but deal me in.”


 

The foundation of the bar felt as if it was rocking as its patrons shrieked in the dead of night. They were squished against the walls, waving their arms and cheering, some of them standing on tables and others on chairs. A few crouched behind the bar peering over it for a closer view.

A dolphin made of fire flexed in the air, batting at a narwhal made of water as it tried to spear it with its tusk. It dodged and slammed into the narwhal’s side, somehow keeping both their forms steady and nearly pushing it into the wall where several Uchiha screamed in terrified delight and ducked down.

The two struck out and switched positions, somehow getting completely turned around before rushing at each other rather recklessly. They slammed together and combusted, filling the room with scalding steam.

The bystanders yelled to each other in warning and streaked for the doors, holding their billowing sleeves over their heads and coughing as they made their way outside. Keeping ahold of each other, Hikaku and Naori stopped once they reached fresh air and wheezed, turning and looking for Tobirama and Izuna as they came stumbling towards them.

“See?” Izuna shrilled triumphantly, flapping one hand about.

“See what?” Tobirama demanded. “It was a tie!”

“All right, maybe so, but I won cards.”

Stopping to vomit into a bush, a drunk Uchiha nearly took his friend down with him. “That was fucking awesome,” he whispered. Several people around him murmured in agreement.

“All right, fine,” Tobirama gave in, folding his arms and scowling. “What would you have me do?”

Everything felt light and airy and a little bit hazy. It was a pleasant feeling.

Snickering, Izuna reached into his sleeve and pulled out a storage scroll- again, where were they keeping these things?- rolling it out and taking out a kabuki mask. “I know. You have to streak wearing this.”

“I am not streaking.”

“Fine. You can keep…” Izuna looked him up and down and grimaced. “Your pants. I’m being generous. You made a bet!” he insisted, waving the mask back and forth a little closer to Tobirama’s face than necessary.

Tobirama glared at him for a moment before unfolding his arms. “Fine,” he muttered, reaching for the sash on his yukata. Hikaku and Naori gasped as if shocked he’d agreed. They were both looking a bit unsteady, and a little bit too happy about basically everything anyone around them said or did.

Izuna looked giddy. “Yay!” he shrieked, then seemed to remember himself and clamped his mouth shut as red spread over his cheeks. The sensation disappeared as soon as it had appeared, and he held out the mask, taking Tobirama’s clothing for him.

A low chuckle rumbled in Hikaku’s throat. “You’re a wonderful specimen, Tobirama,” he teased, and Izuna and Naori joined his giggling when Tobirama flushed.

“Silence, degenerates,” he muttered, putting the mask on. “This is ridiculous.”

“I bet I can run faster,” Izuna goaded him.

“As if!”

Izuna took off. Tobirama burst into a sprint and quickly overtook him, listening to the sound of the Uchiha laughing behind him as he streaked away into the night. Trees and shrubbery passed him by and gave way to streets and buildings, and a few startled faces caught glances of him as he flew by, in mild disbelief.

He stopped when he realized he was on the road to his home, being suddenly reminded of his brother’s annoying existence. He traipsed towards the house and stalked its walls, not thinking to just enter, scowling when he found his brother’s window. The Hokage sat within at his desk, going over something with a pleasant expression on his face; Tobirama decided to stand there and wait until he noticed him, looming in the window with the moonlight casting an eerie glow over him.

Hashirama paused when he felt someone watching him and frowned. He turned and caught sight of Tobirama standing about an inch from his window and shrieked, flying out of his chair and making a small shrub burst from the ground from sheer surprise. “Tobirama! What are you-”

“Listen, Hashirama,” Tobirama snapped, tapping one finger against the window. “Do you know how I suffer? Do you know I have to share an office with you two?”

“What? I-” A furrow in his brow, Hashirama walked over to the window and tried to open it. Tobirama slammed it shut, radiating a scowl.

“No,” he said sternly, making Hashirama stare at him. “No.”

“Um…”

“You- just bend him over a desk, already, for Rikudou’s sake. Everyone can clearly see your…your…” He waved one hand to encompass Hashirama’s person and wrinkled his nose. “Sorry state.”

“My sorry s-”

“About Madara, you fool,” Tobirama yelled, making him cringe at his volume. “You love him, don’t you?”

“I mean…”

“Of course you do. Just…fuck him already, and put yourself out of your misery.”

Hashirama stared helplessly at him. “I’m trying,” he said with a pout. He squinted at Tobirama and wished he wasn’t wearing such an unsettling mask. It was creepy to look at, especially on his brother. “Are, are you drunk?”

“As if,” Tobirama muttered darkly at him, turning and stalking away. Hashirama stared after him and slowly reached out to open the window, halfway expecting the younger man to appear in a swath of darkness and screech at him not to again, but he was already gone before Hashirama could say anything.

By now the three Uchiha following him had hidden in a bush and their laughter had reached loud enough levels to wake Madara, who’d fallen asleep on his couch in the middle of knitting the monstrosity for Izuna and came awake with a jolt. Grimacing, he ran a hand over his face and glanced at the clock, noting the late hour before going to his door and opening it a fraction. He squinted into the darkness and slipped out, looking around for the source of the noise.

I swear, if they’re all drunk again, he thought with a twitch, zeroing in on the bush he could see shaking.

Still shaking the tendrils of sleep off, he didn’t notice the presence behind him until it had grasped his arm and spun him around. He shrieked at the sight of Tobirama in a downright disturbing mask and- no shirt?

“Madara,” the younger man said, a note of warning in his tone, “what are you wearing?”

Madara stared at him, puzzled, for a moment before going stock still. He’d fallen asleep in Hashirama’s haori. “Ah…I, uh…forgot to give it back?”

Tobirama gave him a long, unimpressed look that made him cringe. “You’re literally wearing his clothes,” he insisted, grasping the reddening Madara by the shoulders as his tone bordered on desperate. “What, do you think I don’t approve?” Madara stared at him in silent, speechless confusion. “You’re the only one who can handle how stupid he is. And vice versa. How can you be so blind-”

“I think that’s enough nip for the evening,” Izuna interrupted with a snicker, grabbing Tobirama’s arm out of nowhere and pulling him away as the Senju continued to rave.

Madara stared after them as they went plodding back down the road, retrieving a giggling Hikaku and Naori from the bushes, and shook his head. They were a walking disaster. He pulled Hashirama’s haori more tightly around him and retreated to his house to escape the cold, making a note to start something just as hideous as the sweater he was knitting for Izuna for all three of the others.


 

Tobirama closed his eyes and forgot to open them again sometime between when they were walking down the road to the Uchiha compound and when he realized he was laid out on a cushiony material, buried beneath a layer of warmth. He opened his eyes a fraction, some part of his mind still caught in a weary haze.

He was on a couch in an unfamiliar room while a fire crackled in the fire place, and someone had draped a thick navy-blue blanket over him and tucked it into the gaps between his legs and the cushions. A shape moved in his field of vision and he blinked, squinting as he made out Izuna standing over the other couch, where Hikaku and Naori had curled up together like a single mass of curly black hair.

Izuna looked at them with a smile that made the skin around his eyes crinkle. He draped the blanket over Hikaku, who had laid down partially on Naori with his head resting on her chest, and gently lifted Naori’s head to put a pillow in between it and the headrest.

Humming softly under his breath, the only awake Uchiha turned and walked over to the fireplace. He drew a small screen across the front that dimmed the light in the room and grabbed a candle holder on one of the end tables by the sofa. He used it to light his way towards a door in the room, most likely his own bedroom. He stopped by the couch on his way and leaned down to press a kiss against Naori’s forehead.

Tobirama let his eyes slide shut, feigning sleep, until he heard Izuna’s footsteps enter the other room. It was a small house, and he could hear the man shuffling around getting ready to sleep. He could hear the squeak of his mattress as he sank his weight onto it.

He thought of the kindness and fondness in the man’s expression as he made sure they would all be warm for the night; of how nimble fingers had worked to take care instead of kill. Even Tobirama, who occupied an odd space as his acquaintance.

He heard Izuna let out a sigh that sounded weary and murmur under his breath. “Goddammit.”

He was trying. He deserved peace of mind.

Tobirama remembered how his brother used to be the only one looking out for Madara; how he had almost slipped away on his own and ended his life when no one had been watching.

Izuna wasn’t alone like Madara had been, but the least Tobirama could do was watch. He would see this time.

Chapter Text

Abomination.

Unnatural.

He shouldn’t be here.

Izuna tried his best to ignore what Inoue called his intrusive thoughts and thought instead of the hilarious look on Tobirama’s face when he’d managed to throw the Senju into a pond. “You’re a Suiton user! You should like it,” he’d cackled as Tobirama emerged, glaring.

He slipped his hand into his pouch as he walked, feeling the piece of paper Madara had given to him. An Akimichi, a Shimura, and Kagami. He was going to get to be the one who brought them up as shinobi the right way, instead of as war fodder. He would have a place with them.

He paused when he spotted a familiar face rounding the corner. “What happened to you?” he asked, arching both eyebrows, genuinely curious. Kenichi’s face was covered in bruises. Or, more accurately, it looked like one giant bruise. He looked as if he’d run into a tree or stone wall or possibly had that giant dog Mito had taken to taking care of stomp on him.

An unpleasant glare appeared on the other man’s face. He drew up and visibly curtailed whatever he’d been about to say, though it still came out ruder than Izuna felt the situation called for. “That’s no business of yours, Uchiha. Keep your nose out of my business.”

“My, my, it was just a question,” Izuna said coyly, raising his hands in mock surrender. The other man’s forehead twitched. “Though with an attitude like that I’m not surprised someone punched you.”

“Watch your mouth,” Kenichi hissed at him, and Izuna smirked inwardly because he knew he must have hit a nerve. “I don’t need admonishing from a freak of nature like you.”

That made him bristle a bit. Izuna folded his arms and tried not to let his temper react too soon. He shouldn’t goad people like Kenichi, he knew, like Inoue had told him, it wasn’t worth it. “Freak of nature, a bit harsh, wouldn’t you say?” he said, trying to make his voice light but just sounding irritated.

“You were dead. Do you really think you aren’t something unnatural?” Kenichi snapped at him. “As far as I’m concerned, something like you can’t have a place here. Tobirama-sama could have chosen anyone- anyone- to bring back, yet he chose you.”

Izuna gritted his teeth. Just take the high road, a voice that sounded like Inoue and maybe a bit like his mother’s said in his mind. It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it.

“I don’t care what you think of me. Sounds like you’re just mad he brought an Uchiha back,” Izuna said, eyes narrowing into a glare. “If your dick’s so wet for the Senju, go spend time with them rather than standing here bothering me.”

He saw Kenichi seethe, a little, before his fist struck out and clocked Izuna in the nose. He stumbled out of sheer surprise and raised a hand to his face, biting down on his tongue and the urge to light Kenichi on fire as the man stormed away, stewing in anger. His eyes begged him to release them but he restrained himself. Just take the high road.

“I-Izuna-san!”

He looked around for whoever had called out to him and turned just in time to see a small woman running up to him, amethyst eyes wide in concern, before she reached up to his face and laid a glowing green hand over his nose. He jerked in surprise but repressed the urge to pull away. “Er-”

“I’m so sorry about Kenichi,” she rambled, looking humiliated and bowing her head as her hands hovered over his face. “I swear he doesn’t speak for any of the rest of the Senju! Even if he does feel that way, he was just- incredibly angry- there was an incident this morning and- I know that’s not an excuse, but-”

“Um,” Izuna interrupted her as his nose slid back into its proper place, not even noticing the blood that had coated his hand, “who are you again?”

“What? Oh, right!” She withdrew her hands so she could fully bow, placing them together in a sorrowful gesture. “I-I’m so sorry, I must have looked so strange running up to you in the street like that. I’m Senju Hitomi. I apologize for my clansman’s behavior.”

“It’s, uh…fine. Can you…maybe finish my nose, though? I have an event in a few days,” Izuna said, poking at his tender face. She looked up and jumped.

“Of course! Please, come sit down,” she said hurriedly, grabbing his sleeve and pulling him to the outdoor area of a teahouse. She sat him down and leaned over his face again, eyebrow furrowing in concentration. Her chakra had a pleasantly cool tinge to it that helped with any residual pain.

Now that he looked closer, he could have sworn he’d seen her before. The shoulder-length umber hair adorning her head made the purple of her eyes pop behind the rims of her glasses. He could faintly remember catching a glimpse of her on the battlefield a few times. “Thank you,” he said as she pulled her hands away, feeling his nose with the hand not covered in streaks of blood. He offered her a small smile. At least this Senju didn’t seem to be a bastard. “Good as new.”

A grin blossomed on her face. “You’re welcome, Izuna-san, it was the least I could do.”

“Just Izuna is fine,” he said, relaxing minutely. She had such a friendly face he couldn’t help but feel a bit more at ease around her than some of the other Senju. “Are you a medic nin?”

“And a jounin!” she returned chipperly, clasping her hands together. “I’ve gone on a few missions with Naori…san. Naori-san.” Her cheekbones gained the faintest tint of red. Izuna immediately noted it and smiled thoughtfully.

“Well, at least some of the Senju aren’t punchy,” he joked, waving one hand in a what can you do? gesture. “You should come to the Uchiha’s bonfire on Friday night.”

She paused. “Oh. Really? Isn’t it…only for Uchiha?”

“Not at all! Everyone’s welcome. Feel free to bring some Senju friends,” Izuna said with a smile. It was a good idea, to invite Senju, wasn’t it? It had to be a fine idea. It would be fine. “As long as they aren’t Kenichi.” That drew a laugh out of her; she could laugh at things, it seemed. “There will be plenty of beautiful dancers. Naori, Kotori…the cold doesn’t stop us from getting heated.” He winked and inwardly giggled at the way her eyes widened.

“Oh, well, uh, maybe I can…find time to swing by…” she mumbled. “It seems like it would be fun…”

“Of course it’ll be fun!” Izuna shouted, waving his hand again. “Alcohol, sweat, and naked flesh! What more can you ask for?” Hitomi’s eyes got even wider.

A perturbed voice from a mere few feet away interrupted his spiel. “Izuna?” Tobirama asked, sounding mildly befuddled. “What happened to your face?”

Izuna glanced away from Hitomi’s quietly excited expression and found the other Senju standing in the street, a scroll in his hand, holding it as if he’d been reading as he walked.

“Uh…” He realized he looked as if he’d eaten a pig raw and smiled sheepishly, trying to wipe at some of the blood on his chin and just smearing it more. “This? It’s nothing!”

Twitching, Tobirama placed a hand on the fence and swung himself over, walking up to him and narrowing his eyes as he examined Izuna’s face. He swallowed nervously at the sheer level of scrutiny on Tobirama’s unnerving face and averted his gaze, smile wavering. “Did someone break your nose?”

“It got better.”

Tobirama frowned. “Who did this?”

“Tobirama!” Both he and Tobirama flinched at the sudden rage in Hitomi’s voice. Izuna leaned back onto the table in startled surprise as she stomped up to Tobirama, glowering thunderously, voice hard and stern. It was such a stark switch that Izuna was left gaping a bit. “I’ve told you before that Kenichi doesn’t have good self-control. See what happens when you don’t listen to me? You should have assigned him to an integration program or disciplined him before this.”

Tobirama winced, actually leaning back away from her an inch or two. Izuna was fascinated. “I realize-”

“He punched him for no reason!” Hitomi insisted, throwing up her hands. “They were arguing a bit- an argument he started, I’ll have you know- but that’s no excuse!” She stepped closer and pointed her finger in his face, scowling. “Deal with him properly!”

“Of course, Hitomi, I’ll take care of it,” Tobirama gave in with a wince. Hitomi pulled away from him with a frown. He glanced over at Izuna and found him sitting on the table, chin in his hands, watching with a delighted look on his face, and twitched. Damned Uchiha.

“Good.” Hitomi nodded and turned to Izuna again, anger disappearing in lieu of a friendly smile. “I’m so sorry, again. I can go get you a towel-”

“I’m fine, I’m fine!” Izuna flapped his hands, struggling not to laugh. “Just show up on Friday and that’s good enough for me.”

“Ah.” It was like he’d flipped a switch; her face went pink again and she folded her arms, starting to chew on her thumbnail. “Of…of course. I’ll be there.” She exchanged a nervous smile with him and walked away, eyes going distant as she did. Izuna could take a guess at what she was imagining.

Biting his lip, he turned to Tobirama. The Senju watched him with a bland expression. “So…the great Senju Tobirama, cowed by a medic a full head shorter than him-”

“You are three inches shorter than I am. You have no room to talk.”

“-chastised like a child,” Izuna crowed, ignoring him.

Tobirama scowled and crossed his arms, most definitely not pouting. “That’s the woman that taught Hashirama medical ninjutsu. She does not trifle with injuries.”

“Really?” Feeling a sudden interest, Izuna sat up. “She taught Hashirama?”

“Someone had to. We’re not related, but she might as well be another cousin.” Tobirama grimaced a bit, as if thinking of how similarly Toka and Hitomi could chastise either him or his brother. It was hilarious for everyone but Hashirama whenever they did it to him. “What did you ask her to show up to?”

“The Uchiha bonfire!” Izuna exclaimed, grinning entirely too smugly for someone with blood covering their face as he preened. “We’re all going to dance.” A devilish smirk slithered onto his lips. “Including Madara.”

Tobirama’s eyebrow shot up. “I get the feeling you’re going to ensure that Hashirama is there.”

“What kind of a little brother would I be if I didn’t?”

“A normal one?”

Izuna stared at him for a moment before a pitying expression crossed his face. It made Tobirama feel a prickle of exasperation. “You poor, poor man,” he said, shaking his head, and Tobirama wasn’t sure if that felt more irksome or foreboding. “I’m going to teach you how to meddle.”


 

Tamaki had never had many possessions.

She had been younger at the time, but she still remembered living with the clan; they’d always been wealthy, but due to their wandering and the need to leave an encampment quickly if a threat arose, none of them had kept many personal items. A few other children in the clan had favorite kimonos, or perhaps combs, or small toys or objects that could be kept easily, but Tamaki preferred to have not much of anything at all. It was easier, that way, so she would never feel disappointed if she forgot or lost something.

Living in the village- in an actual house- provided more opportunity, but she still felt no need to buy much. She had simple needs: a few batches of clothes, her tantō and katana, and a good pair of sandals. However, there were…a few things she’d become attached to. A necklace carved in the shape of bird wings that Miki had given to her that wound around the bird head necklace the Uchiha had. “It’s, um, symbolic, y-you know? So we’ll…always be together.” The wrist bracers Toka had given her for her birthday. A hair tie Miki had given her that she’d worn every day since.

She fiddled with the necklace as she walked away from her front door, a churning in her stomach. Her father may have been distracted momentarily by the village-wide effort to retrieve Miki’s sensei, and the wedding of one of their clan head’s lieutenants afterward, but she knew he would confront her eventually, especially since she’d made no secret of being with Miki. Especially since she’d danced with Miki at Toka’s reception, wearing hakama and a haori like the men there instead of a pretty kimono like Miki had been wearing, and had just given her father a blank, challenging stare when she saw him glaring.

“Tamaki,” his voice called out from behind her, making her pause. She turned as he walked across the yard towards her, arms folded across his chest, a frown on his face as he examined her. She was dressed as any other day, in trousers and a sleeveless shirt with a rope around her waist, with a coat to combat winter. She knew he was thinking of her stubborn refusal to wear anything else, to make her attractive to a suitor, as even many kunoichi did. “Go back inside.”

“I have an engagement I need to get to. Can it wait?”

He scowled, even though she’d made a point to keep her tone polite. “Engagement? You mean going to see that Uchiha girl.”

Tamaki slowly folded her arms and forced her heart rate to slow down. Getting angry would only make him get angrier, she knew from experience. “She’s my girlfriend,” she said, and that was a rather new term, leaking into the shinobi’s vocabulary from civilians, and it felt good on her tongue.

“Listen, girl,” he began, his frown growing deeper. “I don’t care about this phase of yours, but there are certain things you must understand. You’re not to- to marry some Uchiha girl-”

“Why not? Toka got married to a woman,” Tamaki challenged, and took a small amount of enjoyment in the way he pursed his lips. He couldn’t argue with that. “And I’ll marry who I want.”

A few other Senju in the area, a more densely populated area of Senju housing, were starting to glance at them now. A few of the women were wincing, as if pitying her.

“You’ll marry who I choose,” Kenichi retorted. It was something he’d said before and he emphasized it again with a low, irritated sort of anger, as he was tired of saying it.

“No, I won’t,” Tamaki snapped, letting her voice grow louder. If her father really wanted to drag this out, she was going to make sure everyone heard it. “I’ll marry who I want, and I don’t need your permission. And who I want is Uchiha Miki. If you have a problem with it, you can go back to the warring clans era where you belong.”

The yard was dead silent as everyone there now blatantly stared at the drama unfolding. Tamaki glanced to the side with her eyes when she heard a small noise; Anya, a woman who’d taken care of her when she was a child and her mother had passed, was staring at them in horror with both hands folded over her mouth. Beside her, her own daughter looked oddly thrilled and fascinated.

Kenichi reared back, momentarily stunned, before his face twisted in anger. “You- you- you incorrigible child,” he breathed, shaking from head to toe. He took a menacing step towards her that made Anya suck in a sharp breath. It took only another to close the distance between them. “You do not speak that way to your father!”

He raised his hand to her. It was the first time he’d done so, but Tamaki had been expecting it regardless; her father was often stressed and dissatisfied with the events of his day since the village had been founded. Her heart may have been racing in apprehension but it was blocked out by the deafening rush of fury in her mind as she ducked under his swing.

She raised her fist and reared it back, watching his eyes widen in surprise at how easily she had dodged his blow before she slammed it into his face.

He flew back, across the yard, and slammed into their front door, taking it off its hinges. The first wall of their front room crumbled beneath his form, then the second, then his own bedroom wall. He crashed into a fourth, putting a dent in it as he crumbled to the floor.

The silence now was even more pronounced. Tamaki looked around and saw familiar faces around her, staring with open mouths and wide eyes. Some were too stunned to do anything; some looked horrified and dismayed.

She looked back at her father as he coughed and wheezed. Her anger was gone, and she just felt…pointedly sad. He was still stuck in an era gone by as everyone around him moved forward.

He looked up at her, one hand holding his bleeding face as it curled into a snarl. There was such a lividity in his eyes that it made her irritation rile again.

“If you like our house so much,” she spat, “you can have it all to yourself.”

She had everything she needed on her already.

She turned and stormed away from the yard, leaving her father in the wreckage.


 

Madara stared at the blonde Senju girl his student seemed to like so much as she left and glanced at the hole in her home, whose foremost feature was now the broken wood and shattered windows. Something hysterical bubbled up within him. The girl had knocked him through three whole walls and almost taken out another. At least Miki had good tastes.

His laughter broke the silence of the yard and made every head swivel to look at him. He laughed harder than he had in a long time, cackling so intensely it made him sway on his feet and move to rebalance himself. He wheezed out a breath and tried to quell himself but started guffawing again a mere moment later.

He stumbled over the edge of the roof he’d been standing on as he’d come to find Hashirama’s chakra signature and toppled over the side, laughing the entire time he tumbled into the bush near the house.

The house had belonged to Toka, who was still enjoying honeymoon bliss at Mito’s home and had asked Hashirama and Tobirama to pick up a few of her belongings and bring them there. They stood on the porch, staring at the incident in the yard, and they’d both gone tense when Kenichi raised his fist, ready to intervene before the girl had handled it herself. Hashirama wondered how a young kunoichi with such raw strength had gone unnoticed.

He whirled around when he heard Madara’s laughter and rubbed his forehead sheepishly when he spotted him on the roof and Tobirama gave him a dry stare. Then he went tumbling over the side and, even though he knew it would take an angry rhinoceros to do Madara damage, he ran over to make sure anyway.

“Madara!” he chastised, reaching into the bush and pulling his laughing friend out. There was a wide grin on his face and a sparkle in his eyes and it made Hashirama’s heart skip a beat. He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and kept his hands on Madara’s arms as he pulled him away from the house. “What are you doing here?”

“I-I came to f-find yo-ou,” Madara wheezed. Holding a hand to his gut, he took a few moments to calm himself, breathing deep breaths. “I- I had a- voucher- but this was- so much better.” He paused to giggle under his breath again, thinking of the stunned expression on Kenichi’s face just as Tamaki’s fist rammed into it. He wasn’t much familiar with the man himself, but he’d picked up on the fact that Izuna didn’t like him, and anyone Izuna didn’t like was worthy of amusement.

He was referring, of course, to the insane amount of vouchers and coupons that restaurants and venders tended to give the Hokage- and him, for some reason- that they often used to eat out.

Hashirama gazed at him as he laughed and couldn’t find it in him to chastise him. He looked so bright, his smile large enough to dazzle, and it made something joyous fill his chest. Even Tobirama’s expression had softened some as he restrained a small smirk and pointedly didn’t look as Kenichi dragged himself out of his house.

“You’re hurt,” Hashirama said, eyes drifting to the tears and cuts in Madara’s clothes the bush’s thorns had caused. He stepped closer than what was appropriate and set a glowing hand on Madara’s stomach, placing the other on his lower back. “Here.”

Madara had opened his mouth to respond but clamped it shut as he choked on his words. His laughter faded and his face began to turn red as Hashirama stood there, leaning close to him to look at a few small cuts on his shoulder. It felt entirely unnecessary. “You- you don’t have to-”

“Checking for thorns,” Hashirama told him with a smile. His chakra was spreading all over Madara’s body and it made him shiver. “Now that I think about it, you’re overdue for an exam, as well.”

“I’m…sure I don’t…need one.” His touch was as gentle and easy as ever but there was something…charged and intimate about it that Madara couldn’t grasp. He turned his eyes away and stood there with a vermillion face as Hashirama healed the cuts on his body. It felt like it took much longer than it should have.

Hashirama simply stood there staring at him, but looked up and let his chakra fade when they heard a rustling from Kenichi’s house. Madara took the opportunity to step away and cleared his throat, folding his arms and trying to appear normal. His body simply couldn’t stop betraying him whenever Hashirama came too close and it irked him to no end. The absence of Hashirama’s chakra folding around him felt cold and empty.

Tobirama just rubbed his forehead, because the Senju around them had taken to staring in fascination as their leader blatantly made a pass at the old Uchiha patriarch and he couldn’t find words for how ridiculous his brother was.

Madara glanced over at Kenichi as he stumbled from the rubble, took one look at his bloodied face, and lost it again.

Kenichi turned and glared at him as he laughed. They weren’t standing that far apart, and it took only a few unsteady steps to come closer. “What are you laughing at, Uchiha?” he hissed, blinking blood out of his eyes. His free hand clenched into a fist when Madara continued to laugh at him, obviously not taking him seriously. He went to step closer again and Hashirama stepped between them, expression solemn and serious.

“Kenichi,” he greeted with a small nod. “You should head to the hospital.”

“Bu- you-” Kenichi glanced between his stone-faced leader and the laughing Uchiha behind him, disbelieving. “He’s-”

Madara quieted some as Hashirama stared at him. “You’re quite injured,” he said, completely avoiding the question as if he hadn’t implied it at all.

“Wh- you’re just going to let him sit there and cackle at my expense?!”

“It may be inappropriate, but there are no village rules against laughter, Kenichi,” Hashirama told him serenely, making Madara shriek behind him.

Kenichi twitched, because he knew the other man knew he meant chastise Madara as his supposed friend rather than order him not to laugh as their kage.

A spasm developed in his brow as he looked at Madara again, who’d become unsteady on his feet and stumbled a bit, and moved to lean on Hashirama’s back as he wheezed, struggling for breath as he clung to Hashirama’s haori.

Very well,” Kenichi hissed. He could clearly see where his leader’s priorities were. He turned and stormed off, ignoring the limp in his step, all while Uchiha Madara laughed at him.

Hashirama calmly watched him go and glanced at the Senju still gawking from their porches. “It’s all right, everyone,” he called out. “Go back to your business.”

He took half a step forward and turned to catch Madara before he stumbled, wrapping an arm around him with a smile as the man let out another wheezing laugh into Hashirama’s shoulder. “Are you done?” he asked, his tone full of amusement.

Looking as if he was struggling to not grin, Madara pulled away from him and swept a hand over his ponytail to try and get it back under control. He was sure it was full of thorns by now.

“Come on, let’s go get something to eat,” Hashirama said, motioning to follow him, still with amusement in his voice and expression. He smiled as Madara fell into step beside him, his countenance more muted than before but still pleasant, and relished in the feeling of contentment it gave him. He imagined how much more contented he would feel when he was able to call the man beside him his lover.


 

Madara was still tugging at a particularly stubborn thorn several hours later, after they’d gone to lunch and spent some time sparring in the woods. Hashirama had wanted to check up on the girl he’d seen stomp out of the Senju compound, but Madara already knew she would head straight to Naori’s home. Naori herself had a spare bedroom empty in hopes that she wouldn’t have to use it but knowing she might if Tamaki’s father was as strict as she’d heard.

The sun had started to dip below the horizon, leaving an even colder bite on the air as they walked down the street towards the compound. Madara wondered if his mantle, full of various cuts and tears after their fight, was worth trying to save before deducing that it was probably less effort to simply make a new one.

“It’s rather cold, isn’t it?” Hashirama asked, glancing up at the sky. Madara thought that was rather obvious. Hashirama glanced over at him with a smile that felt pointed. “Want to take a dip in the springs before going home?”

Madara hummed affirmatively, because a hot bath did indeed sound very nice, and followed him as he turned down a side street. There was a hot spring close by, but Hashirama plotted a path past it, making Madara’s brow furrow in confusion as he followed him. A minute or two passed and he was about to ask where Hashirama was leading them before he abruptly turned down a street with trees hanging over it, beaming at Madara over his shoulder and walking towards a quaint little hot spring with a sign over the door with a green carnation painted onto it.

Madara shrugged to himself and followed the man inside. The man behind the counter nodded at him with an odd smile before going back to his newspaper. It was a bit strange, but not altogether very concerning.

He folded his mantle and trousers and placed them into one of the cubbies in the changing room, winding a towel around his waist and retreating into the springs before he could get a good look at Hashirama. He wasn’t too interested in finding out if he became even more flustered around the man when he was naked.

He could see why Hashirama liked the actual spring- it was shaded by dense trees overhead, lit by the lanterns by the door and steps leading into the water. He felt natural stone underfoot as he stepped inside and let out a pleased hiss as he sank into the water. The heat instantly chased away the cold. He moved himself to the second step so the water came up to his pectorals and closed his eyes, listening as Hashirama came through the curtain and walked towards the stairs, humming under his breath.

Unable to repress his curiosity, he peaked one eye open as Hashirama sat down. He glanced at him with a smile. “Why are you sitting over there? It’s warmer over here.”

He was right, technically, since there were more shadows on Madara’s side. “I’m fine,” Madara said, eyes flitting down to a bead of sweat dribbling down Hashirama’s collarbone. He watched it slowly slide down brown skin and disappear into the water and realized he was staring, averting his gaze and hoping that any flush Hashirama saw he would attribute to the heat.

“Oh, come now, come sit by me,” Hashirama coaxed, a grin in his voice. “We did come together.”

Madara responded by barely muttering under his breath. “I’m sure you don’t want to be-”

A vine wrapped around his ankle and yanked him across the step. “-Crowded-!” Madara yelped, flailing briefly and struggling to regain his balance as the vine slithered away from him. He heard Hashirama laughing and glared at him, at his shining smile and the sparkle in his eyes, and his irritation wavered in the face of it. “Idiot,” he mumbled, turning away so at least he wasn’t facing the man. They were hardly half an inch apart and it was making a flush spread over his whole body. He could feel the warmth of Hashirama’s thigh next to his, he could feel the water ripple as he laughed, and it was overpowering.

“I may be an idiot,” Hashirama joked, leaning back against the wall of the steps and hooking his arm over the side. “But you love me anyway.”

It was an innocent expression, but he said it as he folded his other arm over the step, over Madara’s shoulder, his hand trailing in the water beside it and boxing him in. Madara took a moment to take a deep breath and mustered his best glare, which came off as mildly pathetic compared to what he was usually capable of. “You’re too touchy with people.”

Hashirama’s grin widened and took on a weird gleam. “Am I? I don’t really notice.” He shrugged and closed his eyes, tilting his head back. “It’s better than being too stoic, though.”

His fingers landed on Madara’s shoulder. He tried not to jump and a lump lodged itself in his throat when they started tracing a circle pattern into his skin. He couldn’t even tell if Hashirama was doing it on purpose to jest or if he legitimately didn’t notice- or if he just thought it was normal.

The hot spring felt a bit too warm. He shifted his weight and tried not to squirm. Hashirama’s fingers curled around a strand of his hair and started to toy with it. Madara attempted to ignore the pleasant tingle it made spread up his back and neck and focused on a tree on the other side of the springs that extended out of the water and spread overhead.

Hashirama’s fingers brushed over a thorn as he was twirling the strand of hair in his grasp. “Get your hair wet,” he suggested, leaning in. “I’ll get these out for you.”

Madara gulped and froze for a moment, but he figured that would at least be better than sitting there in silence. He leaned down and turned his head, dipping his hair into the water, using both hands to push it down and let it soak for a minute.

Almost before he’d fully straightened, Hashirama threaded both sets of fingers in it and started rifling through for thorns. Madara closed his eyes and let out an uneven breath, turning to the side again to allow him to access all of it. At least, this way, he didn’t have to look at him or his glistening body that taunted him like a siren that knew he couldn’t have it.

Even if the entire situation was a bit…embarrassing, however, the feeling of Hashirama’s fingers carding through his hair was…nice. He closed his eyes and focused on it, on every pleasant tingle every tug on his scalp gave him, of every time Hashirama’s fingertips grazed his skin. It was enough to lull him into a state of relaxation.

He didn’t notice when Hashirama dropped the last thorn onto the tile and continued to stroke his hands through his hair, undoing every little tangle and moving up until his fingers were simply massaging Madara’s scalp. It was a pleasurable feeling, like every worry and stress he had being washed away. He leaned his head back into it and let out a quiet groan.

There was hot breath in his ear and he noted that Hashirama had gotten closer- much closer, half-aware of himself, still focused on the hand rubbing his scalp, as the other had disappeared, and there was a pleasant warmth around him that wasn’t coming from the water.

Madara blearily opened his eyes. It was all enough to almost put him to sleep. He blinked it away and paused, breath catching in his throat, when he realized Hashirama had a hand on his thigh, massaging it with the same rhythm as he was with his scalp, leaning in so close he was breathing into Madara’s ear and he could feel the man’s chest nearly touching his back.

Madara swallowed, slowly, and his lightheadedness was due to more than just the hot water. Hashirama’s breath was low and even and it was all strangely intimate, even for him, and perhaps, Madara thought, the hot steam in the air was making him a little lightheaded and a bit too familiar.

“We…we should probably get out soon,” he murmured, even though he really did not want to move.

Hashirama leaned over his shoulder so he could take a look at his face, having been hyper-fixated on every little sound his friend made, eyes keen as he watched him enjoy his ministrations, and smiled. “We could enjoy ourselves a little bit more,” he said, all too aware of how his hand was mere inches from Madara’s dick, with a note of suggestiveness in his voice. “If you catch my meaning.”

Madara’s eyebrows drew together. No, he absolutely did not catch Hashirama’s meaning. The Senju sighed to himself.

“No use putting off the walk just because it’s cold,” he said sensibly. Hashirama wanted to ram his head into a wall.

“Ah, I suppose you’re right,” he hummed, withdrawing his hands. He noted the way Madara’s eyes trailed after them, looking almost disappointed, and smiled to himself. “No use putting it off.”

Madara turned and reached for the towel he’d folded near the edge. Wringing out his hair before he rose, he stepped onto the tile and wrapped it around himself quickly so as to avoid getting cold. It still afforded Hashirama a pleasant view of his ass before it was hidden from view by deep green cloth.

He licked his lips as he watched Madara head for the door, moisture still clinging to the muscle of his back and arms, a warm flush to his skin. He let his eyes drift to toned calves and the flash of thigh he knew was firm to the touch he could see beneath the towel and wiped a bead of saliva from his lip before it dropped.

Madara himself tried not to think of the way he’d wanted to push Hashirama down on the spot where he sat, seat himself on the man’s thighs and have his way with him until his screams were filling the springs. This was the reason he should have known better, he thought. He simultaneously wanted to be as near as he possibly could but couldn’t seem to stop imagining all the things they could be doing instead that would be even more pleasurable.

They both sighed in frustration, for entirely different but related reasons, and began to pick up to go home.

Chapter Text

This was the most relaxed she’d ever felt since joining Konoha, Mito thought, as she lounged beneath the covers on her- their, now- mattress. A pleasant bit of light, relaxed and a subdued warm color, filtered in through the window from the street lamp that stood in front of the trees in her yard, casting a warm glow over them. There was nothing better than being able to go to sleep with Toka’s arm wrapped over her waist and the other woman’s breath warm on her neck.

Her eyes snapped open as a sort of sixth sense went off in her head. She sat up ramrod straight, jerking Toka from the light daze she’d been slumbering in.

“Mito?” she asked with a yawn, raising an eyebrow. “What is it?”

Mito let out a long, slow breath. “They’re naked together,” she breathed, the look in her eyes matching the frazzled quality of her hair. “I just know it.”

Toka rolled her eyes. “Do you want to know something amazing, princess?” she whispered, as if it was a secret, and reached out until she felt Mito’s hand. She pulled it to her lips and pressed a kiss to the knuckles. “So are we.”

Mito broke out of her staring and glanced down at her. She instantly burst into a giggle fit as Toka pulled her back under the covers, now fully awake and up for starting a round three for that night.


 

“Good morning, everyone!” Izuna shouted at the top of his lungs, dimly aware of the fact that was probably too loud but more aware of the fact that he had so much pent-up energy he was bouncing on the balls of his feet. He’d had something new the tea house owner called ‘coffee’ and he didn’t know why she’d given him a strange look when he had three of them, but he felt like he could hear colors. “Today we’re going to introduce ourselves! You, the one who looks grumpy, why don’t you start?”

He glanced down at the three ten-year-olds before him- well, two ten-year-olds and the nine-year-old Kagami- as they sat in an empty row of desks and stared at him.

The boy in the middle’s expression twisted into something like a glare. He couldn’t glare very well yet, being only ten, but Izuna could appreciate the effort. “I’m not-”

“Not you,” Izuna interrupted him, pointing at the heavier-set child to his right so quickly it made all of them jump. “You! You’ve got a stern face. You go!”

“Uh…” The boy glanced at his two classmates as if for help. Of course, they could offer him none, and just stared at him with equally helpless looks on their faces. “I’m Akimichi Torifu.”

He paused and didn’t go on. “And?” Izuna prompted.

“What else do you want to know, sensei?”

“Tell me about yourself! What are your dreams?”

“My dreams? Well…” Torifu frowned and glanced down at his desk, then looked up with a cute scowl and folded both hands into fists. “I want to become the strongest member of my clan and make sure none of my friends ever die!”

Great! What about you?” Izuna yelled, turning to the Shimura boy with such an intensity he leaned back and gulped before steeling himself.

“I’m Shimura Danzo. I want to become a strong shinobi worthy of the Shimura name,” he said, with such cute (in Izuna’s opinion) determination it made him want to grab the boy by the cheeks and coo.

Kagami elbowed the boy and looked at him with a pointed expression. The Shimura wavered for a moment before continuing on in a quieter voice.

“And, uh…I want to…to defeat Hiruzen,” he said.

Izuna perked up. “Hiruzen? Who is this?”

“He’s our classmate,” Kagami piped up, smiling when Izuna looked at him. Cutely. “He and Danzo spar sometimes.”

“And he always wins,” Danzo said with a scowl, sounding bitter. “And he’s always so smug about it!”

“So he’s a jerk then,” Izuna said, again with the intimidating intensity, placing his hands on the desk and leaning closer with widened eyes. Danzo glanced at Torifu, at Kagami, then at him, looking hesitant.

“Um…s-sometimes…”

Izuna slammed his hands down, making them all jump in surprise again. “So he’s your rival!” he yelled, gesturing wildly. “Your shinobi rival!”

“Uh, y-yes sir!”

“I have a rival,” Izuna began to ramble, leaning closer and holding up his index finger to gather the boy’s attention. “He thinks he’s hot shit too. Just because he can instantly teleport and he’s stronger in taijutsu than me. Hah! You should’ve seen the look on his face when I threw him into the lake again the other day! I’m stronger, you know- don’t let him lead you astray. He’s more untrustworthy than he looks. Even if he looks, ooh, well, very wel- never mind. Anyway…this Hiruzen kid is your rival, we’ll make you strong enough so you can beat the crap out of him!” He rocked back and clenched his hands into fists as a gleam entered his eyes. He paused to glance down at Danzo again. “Uh, nicely. In spars. Don’t just go beat him up all the time, okay?”

Danzo stared up at him with wide eyes. “Uh…y-yes, sensei!” he exclaimed after realizing he was being silent, snapping off a salute and looking much too stern for someone his age.

Izuna wheeled around to Kagami and smiled sweetly. “Your turn, Kagami.”

Even knowing everyone there already knew him, Kagami grinned, showing off the gap in his teeth. “I’m Uchiha Kagami! I wanna become the best genjutsu type ever!”

There was a loud bang as Izuna dropped to his knees in front of the desk and wrapped his arms around the boy, sniffling loudly. “You’re so adorable,” he said, looking near tears.

Danzo and the Akimichi stared. “Uh…”

Our first exercise!” The two startled when Izuna leapt up, Kagami nestled under one arm, and whirled around. “You know what we’re doing?”

They glanced at each other. “A…a test?” Torifu suggested, thinking it would make sense for a higher-ranked shinobi to test them to see if he really wanted to take them on.

“What? No! I’m never giving you guys up!” Izuna gushed, reaching over as fast as lightning and tossing Danzo over his shoulder, eliciting a small shriek of surprise from the boy. He grabbed the Akimichi under his other arm. “We’re gonna go have ramen!”

Danzo flailed his arms as he looked for something to hold onto. “Sensei, th-that doesn’t seem like a useful use of ti-”

“It’s time for team bonding, Danzo! Team bonding!

He burst into a fast sprint and left a trail of dust and the door flapping in his wake, leaving Kagami giggling and the other two screeching, and streaked past those coming out of one of the classrooms.

Madara stumbled back after nearly getting run over and stared down the hall as his brother disappeared to the sound of shrieking genin. A crease developed in his brow as he turned to look at where Izuna had come from.

“Are you sure that was a good idea?” Tobirama teased, sounding amused.

“He’s enthusiastic! That’s good,” Hashirama replied, though his smile was vaguely sheepish.

They stepped out of the way of the doorway as a teacher exited. Madara glanced up when he spotted Naori walking down the hall, looking pleased, followed by her own team. The Nara was just behind her, hands in her pockets and walking with a slight slouch, wearing a raggedy old jacket with stains over the Nara clan emblem and gnawing on a piece of wheat. The Uchiha came after her, having added some sort of painted-on markings on the shaved side of her head that looked like a demonic three-headed dog lashing out at something. Similar to the Nara girl, she looked like she’d rolled out of bed and put on whatever was within reach, including a mantle she had apparently cut open to make a coat out of and trousers with holes in the knees. The Kurama girl followed in the back, looking the most put-together out of any of them, with smartly tailored clothes that looked so new they were stiff and a tense smile.

“We’re going to train,” Naori said to Madara as she passed him, still smiling in that self-satisfied way.

He raised an eyebrow. “Not going to test them?”

Not pausing, Naori looked at him over her shoulder with a sudden smirk, her Sharingan glowing in her eyes. “I already did.”

Well, that was…unsettling. Madara stood there and stared at her as she walked away.

After a moment, Hashirama turned back to his brother and grinned. “See? Enthusiastic!”


 

He could hear the drums all the way from inside Naori’s house. The Uchiha had rolled out their instruments, which had been gathering dust since they hadn’t had the chance to use them in such a long time, and went and found everything from tambourines to wooden rattles to sticks they were banging against stones. The center of the compound, a large and open space, had been lined with carefully controlled fires to combat the cold of winter.

Madara carefully lined his eyes with the face paint Naori had used to paint feathers on the sides of his face, stems connected to the corners of his eyes. It was green, just like the ridiculous amount of feathers in his hair, which she and Izuna had tied up as high as they could manage to show off the neck covering he wore. They all wore them; thin leather died different colors with metal sewn into the back to protect their necks as they danced and keep it rigid.

Izuna leaned down beside him to look into the mirror on Naori’s vanity and carefully added another accent line to the leaves on his face. He wore similar attire as his brother, but with significantly more blue feathers where Madara had chosen black. “Ready to cut loose and have some fun?” he asked in a teasing voice, elbowing Madara’s bare shoulder.

Madara rolled his eyes and elbowed him back as he stood. “Are you able to ask that without sounding conniving?”

“Why, dear brother, what on earth would I be conniving about?”

Madara gave him a pointed stare as he wound a long scrap of fabric around his waist. He pulled on a loosely made haori that functioned more like a vest before a plain black yukata, tying the sash around his waist as he stood in front of the door. “You can try all you want to sound innocent. It’s never going to work.”

Izuna poked his tongue out at him as he exited the house. He was immediately assaulted by a sea of Uchiha in various states of undress outside, all wearing costumes they’d put their own flair to. He’d expected to see mostly the black, blood red, and navy-blue feathers their events were famous for, but, to his mild shock, everywhere he looked he could see grass green and lavender. They were intermingled with those wearing feathers they’d painted the color of berry wine and indigo, like Hikaku had.

“Black and white means they’re letting everyone else have the show for the evening,” Izuna said in his ear, a smile in his voice. “Where’s Hikaku?”

Madara’s eyes roved over the Uchiha running back and forth until he found the other man, standing with Kotori as a teenager with scruffy shoulder-length hair spoke to him. All three of them wore navy feathers they’d painted with white and gold. He watched Hikaku ruffle the young one’s hair and nodded in their direction. “Over there.”

Izuna shot him a smile as he started through the throng. “Be ready for your dance later!”

Madara imagined a pair of devil horns hovering over the other Uchiha’s head as he left. That smile was evil, and he should know.

He looked over at the two fires on the opposite side of the yard where the Uchiha were burning their…special cultivation and made sure to stay a good distance away. It had always affected him a little too greatly to ingest too much of. Instead, he accepted a glass of champagne from the serving platter of an Uchiha as he passed him by and headed towards the porch on Hikaku’s house where a few Uchiha had gathered as they waited for the festivities to start.

A heavy cloud of smoke rose into the air from the compound as others from the village approached. The gates had been set all the way open, and many Uchiha had, as instructed, invited their friends and acquaintances from other clans. Plenty of each were mingling with each other in the groups making their way there- including many Senju.

“I’m not really sure what to expect,” Hitomi admitted in a murmur, watching the Uchiha watching the gate let out loud cries as they welcomed a group of Inuzuka. They had obviously started to dip into the sake already. “I was just told there would be…”

Tobirama smirked. “Naked flesh?”

A blush took ahold of her face. “Be quiet, Tobirama.”

Hashirama laughed between them. “I’m sure they won’t be showing off that much skin. It is winter, after all.”

“Hey, look!” a voice near the gate whispered, as loudly as one could possibly whisper, as they were stepping through. “It’s that guy!”

A man beside her looked up from fiddling with a crate that stored alcohol. “What guy?”

“THAT guy!” the same woman, adorned with lavender-colored feathers, said, this time in a shout. “Hey, that guy!”

Tobirama jerked to a stop when he realized the duo was talking about him, looking confused when they converged on him with wide eyes. “You’re that guy!” the woman shrilled happily. “You know, that guy!”

“Oh!” her companion gasped. “The guy who brought Izuna back!”

“Yeah! Hey, I’ve been wanting to ask for…” The woman stumbled over her words and stopped with a frown. “Uh…how long have I…whatever, it doesn’t matter. I wanted to ask, were you born with those?” She pointed at his eyes, about an inch from his face, and he jerked back. “Are they from an experiment? They’re so-”

“Handsome,” the man interrupted her smugly, poking Tobirama’s left face marking as his face started to redden. “You’re a pretty handsome guy, Senju.”

“Cool!” the woman giggled, swaying dangerously, because the civilian word sounded silly on her own tongue.

“See? I told you, Daisuke, I fucking told you,” another man whined as he swayed over, grabbing Tobirama’s sleeve and giving it a weak shake. “He’s pretty!”

“Not pretty- I mean, pretty, but- striking!” a second woman insisted, popping up from behind the first. She, too, had lavender feathers in her hair, like several other women Hashirama had seen, and he wondered what the connection was. A third woman with blue and magenta feathers nudged herself between them to reach out and poke at Tobirama’s hair.

“I’ve never seen white hair before. You’re like a- a- what’s it called?”

“Izuna-sama’s falcon?”

“No, no, that dog that runs around in the woods a lot.”

“A wolf!”

“Yeah, that!”

Hashirama and Hitomi bit down on their mouths to keep from laughing. Tobirama, having gone beet red, stood there rigidly and glared at them, and their failure to do anything to extricate him.

“Come on, Senju!” the first man boomed, grabbing hold of one of Tobirama’s arms. The women with purple feathers grabbed his other one. “We’ll make sure you have a fun time tonight!”

“I don’t-”

“Inter-clan unity!” the first woman shouted as they pulled him away.

Hitomi started to giggle as Tobirama disappeared into the crowd. “Do you think we’re going to see him again?”

“Perhaps if his admirers let him loose long enough,” Hashirama replied, grinning.

They stopped at the edge of a circle the Uchiha seemed to have formed, leaving a large open area in the center of the compound. Hashirama took a glance around, letting his eyes slowly rove over the sea of feathered hair, looking for Madara; he felt a small bead of disappointment when he couldn’t seem to find him anywhere.

A hand tapped his elbow out of nowhere. He turned and found Hikaku standing beside him, smiling pleasantly in an array of multi-colored feathers. “The Uchiha appreciate the Hokage coming,” he said, an odd sparkle in his eye that Hashirama really couldn’t decipher.

“Of course!” he exclaimed, smiling a bit sheepishly as he glanced around again. “Although I confess to being a little, ah, lost.”

“Don’t worry. The opening ceremony is about to start.” Hikaku nodded to the open space, where two Uchiha in elaborate bird masks were taking up positions in the center of their makeshift dancefloor.

“Ceremony?”

“Watch.”

Hashirama followed his gaze. Everyone around them began to fall silent as the Uchiha manning the drums started a slow beat.

He watched, in a bit of fascination, as the two women in the center of the compound moved from their standing positions. They looked less as if they were taking steps and more as if they were flowing like water. Each of them made the same movements, long and winding, each with two small fans in their grasp, but in differing directions as they moved away from each other.

The drum beat became faster, but no less upbeat, as they reached the end of their space and turned to face each other again. They continued with jauntier movements, giving off the impression they were rather enjoying themselves and rather familiar with each other.

The music took a sudden, intense turn, losing its pleasant quality and taking on something stressful. Their movements lost the amicability, but not the familiarity, and the duo looked to be more involved with a fight with each other than a dance. Every movement was parried as if it was a blow about to connect or avoided, leaving them reaching out for the other but just out of reach. They almost looked to be legitimately fighting as the music became faster and it made some small amount of tension build in Hashirama’s gut, even though he knew it was only a performance.

The dancers reached opposite ends again and ran through a familiar set of hand signs. They aimed at each other, slanted towards the sky, and unleashed an impressive display of fire that made the outsiders in the crowd lean back. They cut off before it became too large and let it dissipate in the air as they met in the center again.

The drummers slammed their palms and sticks against their drums in unison as one of the dancers made a fatal strike against the other with her closed fan. The other fell to her knees, the fan flush against her side to simulate a striking stab, and curled back to make a perfect c against the ground with her body in an impressive show of flexibility.

The victorious dancer fell to her knees as well, posture slumping, somehow looking so despondent despite her face being covered it made Hashirama stare in pitying confusion. She leaned forward and draped herself over her partner, dragging her hands over the woman’s bare sides and wetting them with fresh red paint. She leaned back as the ‘killed’ woman leaned back forward, clearly mourning as she held the other, and dragged her paint-covered hands over the eyeholes of her mask, streaking it with crimson.

“This is about how forms of the Sharingan are acquired,” Hikaku whispered to him, sounding solemn. “The power is great. We have more than one story of Uchiha betraying each other for it. However, this represents all forms of loss…and how deeply they’re felt.”

Hashirama got the sense he was watching something private and not for his eyes as he watched the two dancers rise and finish their performance. It made him wonder how it felt, to be in a clan that had such an experience they all related to so profoundly, to have that experience be something so sorrowful.

He raised his hands to clap when the duo had stilled, as everyone around him did. He felt the mood was rather melancholy after that, but almost at the drop of a hat the music picked back up again and he heard the Uchiha start to let out whoops and hollers. He supposed it must not have been strange at all to them.

A group of Uchiha in masks, some carved and painted to look like animals, some demons, some strange things Hashirama couldn’t recognize, ran into the arena and formed a group. They each held a larger pair of fans, clearly able to be used in battle, and just small enough to be used in one hand. They leapt forward as one and began to dance to a rapid beat with quick, snapping movements that somehow looked as if each one was thinking on the fly as they moved in perfect sync with each other.

They jumped high, lunged far, and threw themselves and their entire bodies into their performance, exuding such an energy Hashirama was slightly stunned that this was apparently commonplace in the Uchiha. He saw not a single stoic expression around him; they were all smiling and laughing and cheering their fellows on.

The first group was replaced by a second, a group of women- all with the lavender feathers- that danced a different routine but had no less energy. Every time the dancers switched out they finished their performance by blowing fire into the sky, making the Uchiha onlookers scream in their favor. It was all raucous and infused with such vigor and zeal that Hashirama found himself losing himself in the excitement of it, grinning and cheering with the rest of the audience as the Uchiha put on their show.

The compound, by now, was incredibly warm, both due to how many people had packed into it and the constant jets of fire being released in addition to the bonfires. More and more clothes were flung into the air and onto houses and fences without care, proving his earlier notion of whether the Uchiha would show much skin or not wrong, and it brought his attention to an odd fact: every single Uchiha there was wearing an odd neck covering he hadn’t seen before.

“What are you all wearing on your necks?” he asked in Hikaku’s ear, a note of curiosity in his voice.

The other man smirked up at him. “You should ask Madara,” he said, and that confused Hashirama more because he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of his friend since he’d gotten there. “Just be sure not to touch them. Speaking of…”

He moved forward and let out a concentrated burst of fire that quieted his clansmen’s shouting. “Everyone!” he yelled, gesturing with one hand towards the largest house in the compound. “It’s time for a special performance by an esteemed member of the clan. Madara, if you would.”

Hashirama’s ears perked up. The Uchiha began clapping- a bit more subdued, though most of them still whistled and cheered in encouragement. Everyone around him was smiling with a warm look in their eyes; it was clear that Madara was the Uchiha’s darling, even if he didn’t know it.

A few people in the crowd parted as Madara emerged from the back, letting him through to the dance area. Hashirama already knew his friend liked men, but it made him feel a rush of excitement when he saw the green in Madara’s hair and on his face; he had guessed easily enough what the colors meant when he saw Izuna wearing green and Naori wearing purple.

And if there was one thing he knew, it was that Madara knew how to put on a show; he found himself smiling in excited anticipation as the man reached the center of the arena.

The fans Madara carried were as long as his arms, made of canvas dipped in black ink with the Uchiha fan on each side. He flicked them open, wearing a smirk so nonchalant it was as if he knew everyone there was already captivated, and Hashirama’s eyes caught on the light that glinted off the blades sewn into the ends.

He flowed into his first movement as if he had never been still at all. It at first seemed more like a kata, controlled and precise, yet it still felt as if it would have been a crime to be performed without music; he quickened his speed as he moved around the area available to him and struck a pose when the drums paused, exiting it into a twirl of movement that was suddenly partially obscured by a flash of black fabric. He stopped spinning and went still, each fan pointing in a different direction, and he had somehow thrown off his outer yukata without Hashirama ever seeing him move a hand to do it.

His throat closed when he realized what Madara was wearing from the waist up; that was, nothing, under the loose scrap of fabric that looked like a haori he had on. There were strips of leather and rope and small silver chains with tassels and ornaments on them bound around his arms, and he, too, wore a covering of some sort over his neck; it encased it in full, as well as part of his collarbone, with a deep red tassel that hung down just above his navel.

The audience started to let out hollers of appreciation as he moved again, his smile wide with self-satisfaction Hashirama well knew he had a right to. He himself felt bewitched as he watched Madara’s body move, oozing confidence and ease and a little bit of danger as he wielded his blades.

As if upon hearing an invisible signal, Madara’s performance took a notable…shift in tone. His movements became no slower, but longer, more fluid, as if he was taking the time to enjoy each one. He whirled with a spin and slammed both fans into the ground, taking to one knee to do so, and stood with a flourish as he tore one of the wraps around his waist off and tossed it aside to the cheers of the Uchiha in the crowd. A few others from the other clans not the most familiar with him gawked from their places in the crowd, while others didn’t know whether to join in or stay quiet in silent regard.

Madara turned to look at the crowd with such a devilish smirk it made Hashirama feel warm in his clothes. He set a hand on the handle of one of his fans and walked around it with winding, loose steps. Upon reaching the other side, he began slowly bending his knees, descending towards the cobblestone underfoot, rolling his head back and arching his back in a way that made the haori look like it was about to fall off. Those in the crowd let out a series of low-pitched whistles, and Hashirama couldn’t dare to join them as he had been before because he was too busy staring, frozen and wide-eyed.

Madara placed his hands on the ground next to him, lifted himself, and spun in one smooth motion that left him at least a yard from his fan and on his knees facing the complete opposite direction, much to the audience’s delight. He fisted a hand in his hair and dragged the other down his chest, closing his eyes and rolling his body in a way that was absolutely filthy. Hashirama could hear blood pounding in his ears.

Madara opened his eyes, then leaned forward and placed his hands on the ground, crawling forward until his chest met the stone and his hips remained in the air. There was a lump in Hashirama’s throat as the Uchiha ran his hands up the backs of his thighs, over the curve of his ass, taunting and teasing; the Hokage couldn’t help but imagine the times he’d had Madara in that exact position in his dreams.

Madara pushed himself up, still wearing that lascivious smirk, and performed the same spinning motion that this time left him getting to his feet. He returned to the space between his fans, moving with a grace that outmatched even his most skilled moments in their spars, and leaned down behind the one on the other side, treating the other half of the audience this time. He leaned over it and ran his hands slowly up the side facing them, as if it were a lover, looking amused by the tittering it provoked.

He stood and whirled around, placing part of his weight on the handle of the fan- which must have been sturdy, Hashirama distantly noted in the back of his mind, to support him- and sweeping his legs over it. He danced, then, like the dancers in the groups had, wild and full of energy, but instead keeping their focus on his body as he ran his hands over it. it must have been witchcraft he was using because Hashirama could not tear his eyes away for a single second.

A spin left the last wrap around his waist gone, leaving him in nothing but long strips covered in black feathers sewn together and attached to a band around his hips. There was one long extension that ran between his legs but the flesh of them was bare, leaving Hashirama’s mouth watering as he ran his eyes up them; a dark pair of shorts so tight and small they were more similar to underclothing was the only thing keeping Madara from being indecent.

Madara collapsed to the ground, a dramatic motion with his head thrown back and his body tense as if he was too overwhelmed by pleasure to stand anymore. He rolled onto his back and placed his hands on his abdomen, planting his heels on the ground and lifting and rolling his hips upward as if in time with a lover’s ministrations. The hollering got louder around him and Hashirama felt like he was overheating. He couldn’t stop staring at Madara’s bare chest, his uncovered thighs, at the tantalizingly small scraps of fabric over his body as he rocked his hips up over and over to the rhythm. He lost complete awareness of anything else around him and could only watch, mesmerized, as Madara raised himself from the ground and left his haori behind.

Someone jostled into him in the crowd, murmured an apology, and moved on; Hashirama didn’t notice for a moment, too busy watching Madara slither his way back to his fans. The blades seemed all the more apparent now that he had so little on. He leapt and spun on his heel and danced across the stone with them, sweat shining on his skin, grinning all the while and never doubting a single step.

He ended his performance with one fan pointing towards the sky, the other planted in the stone at his feet, unleashing a larger fireball than any one person had previously. It lit up the darkening sky and left the Uchiha screaming their appreciation as loud as their lungs could allow. Hashirama worked on swallowing the lump in his throat as his friend finished, looking to the crowd with a smirk as he panted from the exertion.

He stood and closed the fans, handing them to a woman dressed in oranges and yellows as he strode back towards the porch. Hashirama could see Izuna waiting there, Cheshire grin and all, having, at some point, lost most of his clothes as well.

“Hashirama? Are you listening?”

“W-what?” Hashirama stammered, looking away and finding Hikaku and Hitomi staring at him with raised eyebrows. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I said your name three times,” Hikaku said with a smile, looking amused. He waved a hand when Hashirama opened his mouth to apologize. “I think you’ll like this next event,” he said mischievously, and turned on his heel to step away before Hashirama could say anything. “You as well, Hitomi.”

Confused, the two Senju watched him walk away. “Right,” Hashirama muttered, shuffling his haori off. It was much too hot and he was sure his face was flushed by now. “Right.”


 

Madara hadn’t danced like that since he was younger and surrounded by the others in his age group as they danced under the night sky, around a bonfire built large enough to light the field they’d taken over, away from the prying eyes of their elders. It was an exhilarating feeling; one he’d almost forgotten after so long away from it- away from the Uchiha. He’d forgotten so many things about being with the clan.

“Good job, aniki,” Izuna greeted him when he stepped under the awning, smiling. He offered another glass of champagne that Madara took; he’d had more than one already. The younger took a drag of the cigar in his hand. “Have fun?”

Madara took a long gulp of his drink as he sank into a rocking chair near the railing covered in scraps of fabric people had taken off. “The most I’ve had in a while.”

He did like to put on a show. Usually it was in battle, but this was a medium even Hashirama could never counter him in.

Speaking of Hashirama…his mind focused on the man through the haze of euphoria that had come over him and he took in a deep breath. He wondered what it would be like to dance for that man. To ensure that his eyes never left Madara’s flesh; that his eyes were only for Madara’s body. Madara knew he could do it, if given the chance; that he could tantalize and hypnotize someone like he’d just done to that crowd.

There was a pleasant tingle in his nose as smoke from Izuna’s cigar floated over to him. Fortunately for the Uchiha, their shipments from Sora-ku had never had any marked interaction with alcohol. If anything, it just seemed to get them drunker.

“You look like you’re about to pounce on something,” Izuna commented, leaning against the wall of Hikaku’s house as he sat on the railing.

Madara hummed in reply and started to toy with the end of some fabric hanging off the railing with his bare foot. It was caught in his head, now; all he could envision was Hashirama’s eyes, wide and windblown, glued to his body as he flushed and stared. There were so many things Madara could do to him without ever touching him at all.

They sat in comfortable silence for several minutes as Uchiha hustled back and forth across the open space outside, fixing the cracks Madara had made with a few quick jutsu so no one would trip on them.

The sense of ecstasy and verve in Madara’s mind only continued to stir. He felt, then, that things were as close to perfect as they could be, without Hashirama to himself; he had his clan and his brother and his family, friends and a student, hope for a future he hadn’t seen the first time. There was a pleasant heat around him and a current on the air that felt electrified.

Things were good.

But still, his mind whispered to him that they could be better.

He was on his third glass when Hikaku shouted to be heard again. “All right, everyone! It’s time for some inter-clan unity,” he hollered, voice ringing with a knowing grin.

A cheer spread through the Uchiha as the rest of the guests looked around in confusion. Madara lifted himself to the railing and watched through half-lidded eyelids, a flush to his cheeks from the smoke and the drink and the heat, as the crowd split into groups, guided by the Uchiha, and chairs were dragged out into the public.

“Ohohoho,” Izuna laughed, throwing his head back. “I am so getting in on this.”

The zealous blanket wrapped around his mind made heat shoot through him when his eyes landed on Hashirama. He wore those silly striped hakama over a green kimono, as usual, sweat glistening on his skin as he smiled and spoke to someone in the crowd, no doubt one of several drinks he’d been given that night in his hand.

Things could be so much better, his mind hissed.

Madara inadvertently found himself slipping back into his fantasy. He imagined shoving Hashirama into one of those chairs and watching him sweat as he circled it, taunting him the entire time, and how red he would turn when Madara seated himself in his lap. He wanted that.

A smirk curled his lips, and before his brain knew what his feet were doing he’d pushed off the railing and started to walk across the yard, winding through the guests like a serpent converging on its target. The compound was hot and sizzling and much too full and he wanted that, and he was going to go get what he wanted.

“All right, pick someone out!” Hikaku yelled again, beaming at the startled confusion on their guests’ faces.

The first person to emerge was Naori. She walked across the dance area tugging Inoue by the wrist. The Yamanaka looked befuddled, but realization spread across her face when Naori lightly pushed her into one of the chairs. She began to turn crimson yet didn’t move.

The audience began whispering as the Uchiha’s intent became clear. Heads swiveled as they wondered who was going to get pulled out next, unsure of if they hoped for it to be themselves or hoped it wouldn’t be.

Kotori stepped out, leading Hitomi by the hand. The woman was as red as a tomato and looked frazzled, glasses askew, and she couldn’t stop staring at Kotori’s hips as she was led to a chair and sat down. several Senju let out tittering giggles.

There were other areas besides the main arena, now, that Uchiha were finding their unsuspecting partners in; a lucky member from each clan there was pulled into a chair and left to wait in flushed anticipation. Hikaku’s eyes fell on a Hyuuga man standing among a few of his clansmen, clothed in a plain yukata with lavender eyes and pale, pale skin, and he instantly knew who he wanted. He darted into the crowd with a smirk and caught the Hyuuga by the wrist, startling him, and raised an eyebrow. “Up for a dance?”

“Uh,” the man replied, an excellent example of the famous Hyuuga composure, as Hikaku tugged him to a chair and sat him down.

Hikaku took a few steps back and made a show of unbuttoning his mantle. “Ready?”

The man stared at him, slowly reddening. “…y…yes.”

Izuna descended on the few Shimura there- they’d probably been attracted by the noise level, if anything else- and extracted his prey before the man knew what happened. “Nice scar,” he purred, referring to the one across the man’s face. “Makes you look distinguished.”

“W-what?” he stammered, not out of embarrassment but due to the same reason he had on a purely flabbergasted expression on his face. His clan members were gaping at them as if stunned Izuna had dared.

“Don’t worry,” Izuna whispered as he circled to the back of the chair, setting his hands on the other man’s shoulders. “It’s not like it’ll hurt. We don’t do that for newcomers.”

“There’s one person here,” Hikaku yelled, making everyone go quiet, “that needs to be shown a good time. Hokage-sama?”

The yard was painfully silent as they waited for Hashirama to emerge. Startled, he looked around as if to be sure he’d really been singled out and waited there, a bit frozen. The others there started to edge away from him. “Uh?”

“There he is,” Hikaku continued, a snicker in his voice. Everyone, from the guests to those sitting in the chairs, was staring at him now, looking vastly amused. “And I think I know who can handle the job. Madara, where are you?”

“Right here,” a voice purred in Hashirama’s ear, making him yelp and jump as he whirled around. To his shock, he found Madara right behind him, having come out of nowhere, smirking at him from behind his bangs.

“Madara-?”

“Come on, Hashirama,” the Uchiha whispered, snagging his wrist as he turned them around and started to walk backwards, dragging him towards the only chair left empty in the center of the arena. His smirk became wider as Hashirama’s eyes did.

“Madara?” he breathed, five different sorts of questions in his tone.

Madara whirled when they were close enough and shoved him into the chair. Hashirama collapsed onto the wood and swallowed when he saw Madara staring at him as if he were his prey, mind racing a mile a minute as it struggled to come to terms with what he was about to experience. No doubt Madara had loosened up quite a bit if he was being so bold.

A slow tune began to play. Those with actual instruments put more effort into becoming synchronized as their dancers began to move. Hashirama gulped again when Madara walked towards him, dragging a hand across his shoulder as he moved around behind him. “We have to give everyone a show, don’t we?” he whispered into Hashirama’s ear. “Hokage-sama?”

Hashirama’s palms were sweating as he clung to the chair seat. “I…I suppose,” he uttered back, barely able to get it out. This was nothing like their usual dynamic. Their usual dynamic involved Madara having the awareness of a rock and the same ability to process intimate emotions.

Madara swung around to his front again and leaned down, one hand on the back of the chair. His eyes bored into Hashirama with a languid intensity that left him sitting there as tense as a board. He reached up and grabbed ahold of Hashirama’s chin, pulling his mouth open and setting his fingertips inside. “Bite down.”

Oh god. Hashirama didn’t know if he could handle this. He obeyed and bit down, tasting thin leather between his teeth as Madara pulled his hand away, leaving his glove in Hashirama’s mouth.

He dropped the other in Hashirama’s lap and turned away from him, fisting both hands in his hair as he rolled his body and hips. The Uchiha were all moving in perfect sync, adding their own flair to a routine that looked polished, circling around their chosen recipients like cats circling their meals. The Shimura had gone ramrod straight, slowly starting to blush, while Inoue sported a healthy one of her own but looked more than willing to be there. If anything, Hitomi was even more frazzled than before, mouth hanging open and strands of hair poking in random directions.

Hashirama tried to keep his gaze on Madara’s face but couldn’t help but look as the man danced for him. This was a wet dream he didn’t even know he wanted. He gazed at Madara’s abdominals as they flexed and his thighs as he dropped into a crouch, spreading them in a split that would have made Hashirama’s scream in protest.

With a secretive smile, Madara placed his hands on Hashirama’s knees and spread them as he moved in. Gulping, he leaned back against the chair as Madara came near, arching his back before they touched and dropping to his knees. He let himself fall back until he was on the ground, then got his feet under him and ran his hands down his body until they rested on his inner thighs. He rocked his hips up just like he had in his own dance, so close Hashirama could drop forward and be straddling him, looking at him with a smug smile that just screamed that he knew exactly what effect he was having on him. It all made Hashirama’s hands tremble with the urge to touch. He was right there and all he had to do was lean down-

Madara rolled back up and disappeared behind him again. Hashirama shuddered when he felt the man’s hands on his shoulders and his breath in his ear. It turned into a full-body shiver that wouldn’t stop when the hands ran down, across his chest, caressing his body. This was all too much to handle.

The hands disappeared. Hashirama barely got a hint of warning before Madara had swung a leg over his lap and sunk down, his back against Hashirama’s chest, letting his head rest against the Senju’s shoulder as he continued to lazily roll his hips.

Madara was grinning; he knew he was in control, and it was only making him get heavier. He reached back and snagged Hashirama’s hands. He planted them on his thighs, running them up and down the length of them, and his grin widened when he heard Hashirama’s breath hitch. He let go of them, pleased to find that they kept moving without his direction, and reached back until he could tangle his hands in the Shodaime’s hair.

Hashirama’s brain felt hot and fuzzy and as if it were about to leak out of his nose. He ran a trembling hand down Madara’s leg, feeling the curve of his calf, and let the other roam up to his bare stomach to run across. He felt his way up Madara’s chest and back up across his knee and up to his thigh again, feeling the inside of it with his palm, all too aware of just how close he was to what he wanted and only some vague notion of public decency reminding him of where they were. He ran the hand up Madara’s side instead and listened to him chuckle under his breath; Hashirama was doing exactly what he wanted and some part of him wondered at how easily Madara had been able to get him to do it.

Madara’s skin was flush against his mouth and he was three seconds from tasting it when the Uchiha stood up. A bit helplessly, he almost went to follow when he placed a hand against his chest and nailed him to the seat again. The disappointment coursing through him was quickly crushed when Madara slipped into his lap again, this time facing him.

His brain promptly stopped functioning. He sat there for a moment, stunned and immobile, as Madara smirked down at him and continued curling his body in a way that made everything feel too warm and constricting. Oh god. Madara. Madara. Madara. Madara.

Beautiful and intoxicating and everything Hashirama wanted, right here in his lap.

His hands were running up under the feathers, taking ahold of Madara’s ass, but the man was still keeping his lips tauntingly out of reach, one hand still in Hashirama’s hair as the other stroked his chest. He wanted to beg Madara to just slide it beneath his kimono already and let him feel his skin against his. He wanted to work his way up Madara’s pectorals with his mouth until he could bite into that enticing neck-

That neck that was still covered. Hashirama eyed the covering, wanting to strip it off with his teeth, wondering at why all the Uchiha hadn’t taken them off when everything else was free game.

Maybe it was the alcohol he’d ingested that made him numb to the outside world as he lifted one hand from Madara’s flesh and reached up, curious, so curious, as he placed his fingers against that leather collar. Later, he would remember hearing many other Uchiha’s rapid intakes of breath and a few gasps of surprise, as Madara looked down at him with half-lidded eyes and let him touch. Even later, he would feel no small amount of satisfaction in the fact he was the only one who ever had and the only one who ever would.

Madara lifted himself from his lap, leaving him bereft. He licked his lips, slowly, and stared down at him as if considering. Hashirama couldn’t make himself look away and watched his tongue as it ran over his bottom lip.

Madara reached up with both hands to the side of his neck. He unclasped the collar, to the sounds of Uchiha gasping and murmuring around him, and placed it into Hashirama’s hands. His brow furrowed in confusion, as he couldn’t help but feel he was missing the significance, and then Madara gave him a relaxed smirk and walked away.

Hashirama was left staring after him, wondering why Uchiha were glancing at him and giggling and wishing he wasn’t so confused.


 

Somehow, Madara’s brain didn’t register the fact that Hashirama would have no idea what him giving him his neck covering meant.

He wandered around the outskirts of the compound, inhaling champagne when it was given to him and unbearably pleased with himself, and ended up back at his house somewhere around midnight. It was only when sunlight was beating down on him through his window that he slowly came to, still in nothing but his dancewear and Hashirama’s haori that he’d managed to remember to pull over himself before going to sleep, groaning as his head started to pound.

“Fucking dammit,” he murmured as he pushed himself to his elbows, wincing at the sunlight assaulting his poor eyelids. Getting drunk was so fun in the moment, but so horrible the next day.

He shuffled out of bed and stumbled into the living room and into his bathroom. He had to pause and hold onto the counter for support as his stomach churned and his eyes burned. Grimacing, he looked up and glanced around for a washcloth, not feeling up to a bath but wanting to clean up.

He froze when he saw himself in the mirror. There wasn’t anything overtly strange…other than the fact that his collar was missing.

Panicking, he felt his neck as if his eyes were deceiving him and looked around frantically. Waking up not knowing where he’d left it- or who he’d given it to- it was worse than waking up after having sex with an unknown person. He had never let anyone touch that collar, not his mother, his Izuna, not anyone-

He froze.

Oh, god.

He’d…he’d given it to Hashirama.

He’d given it to Hashirama after dancing. In his lap. In front of the entire clan.

Oh, god.

He sank back against the wall of his bathroom and down to the floor. “Shit,” he breathed, eyes wide as he stared at his bathtub. A hint of his reflection stared back at him as if mocking his stupidity. “Shit.”

How could he have been so reckless and loose? He would have sooner had himself strip out of all his dancewear and underclothes and give those instead. Anything but his covering. He had basically declared-

“Shit,” he moaned to himself, pushing himself up and stumbling out the door. He traipsed downstairs in a hurried panic, sprinting out his door and down the path to the road and ignoring his headache as he ran towards Mito’s house. The sun was high- surely she would be awake by now.

He skidded to a stop at her door and started to bang on it. “Mito!” he hollered. “Mito, open up!”

Barely a moment passed by before Toka opened the door, looking ruffled and confused. “Madara?”

Madara let out a wordless cry of distress and wandered past her, noting the half-eaten breakfast on the table and mess of blankets on the couch in the back of his mind. “I screwed up,” he insisted when he saw Mito, sitting at her kitchen table with a furrow in her brow. “I screwed up.”

Mito pressed her lips together and let out a small sigh before she stood. She looked at Toka over his shoulder. Her wife raised an eyebrow and shrugged at her.

“Madara, it’s the middle of winter,” she said as she stood. “You’re wearing nothing.” She did not consider a pair of shorts that belonged in a lingerie shop and a bunch of feathers to be clothing.

“I screwed up,” he emphasized, curling his hands in his hair as she pulled him towards the couch. She gave him an unimpressed look when he refused to sit down. Unable to think of anything but the absolutely monumental way in which he’d screwed up, he looked at her with a helpless look in his eyes and a desperate expression. “Please help.”

Mito softened and sighed again. She pushed him onto the couch and wrapped one of the blankets around him. He hardly even noticed his own shivering as she did. “Is this about the lap dance you gave Hashirama?”

His head whipped around to stare at her, flabbergasted. “How did you-”

“We were watching,” Toka commented helpfully from where she was pouring herself a glass of orange juice. “With a crystal ball.”

Mito nodded, and all Madara could do was stare because he couldn’t even manage to be surprised that she had a crystal ball.

“I gave him my collar,” he said, his voice edging on desperate as he grabbed ahold of her sleeves. “Mito, I gave him my collar.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m guessing it has some significance in the Uchiha?”

“It- it means-” Madara resisted the urge to let his lip wobble like it used to when he was upset as a child. “Doing that is…it means I declared my love for him in front of everyone. I said that I trusted him enough to have my neck. To protect it and not to harm it when we’re…intimate and together. It means I love him more than anyone else and want to be with him forever.” His expression fell. “And that I want to fuck him.”

Toka stared at him from the kitchen counter as her orange juice overflowed.

“Do you want to fuck him?” Mito asked, just to be rhetorical, biting her lip as she smiled.

Madara bowed his head. “…desperately,” he mumbled.

Toka noticed her orange juice making a mess and tipped the carton back up. She stood there for a moment and stared at them, holding the half-empty container, as her eyes darted back and forth between Mito as she smiled and patted his hair and Madara as he sat there depressed.

After a minute of silence, she set the carton down and cleared her throat. “So…do you want some eggs?”

Chapter Text

“Ah! Hikaku!”

Hikaku knew exactly what Hashirama was going to question him about when he turned around. His thoughts were confirmed when he spun and saw the Hokage walking towards him, holding Madara’s choker carefully in his hands. He sighed at the headache he was surely about to induce and left Naori to clean up the last of the large leaves they’d used as fans the night before.

“Hokage-sama,” he greeted as neutrally as he could. He might as well see if the man had at least spoken to Madara yet. “What brings you by today?”

Hashirama’s eyes darted around the compound. Several Uchiha were giving him smirks as they cleaned up. Thinking back on what happened in the light of day brought a hot flush to his neck. “Ah, well,” he began, “I had some…questions. I also thought that Madara might…want this back.”

He held up the collar, just a bit, and Hikaku raised his hand. “I’m not permitted to touch that,” he said, face blank.

Hashirama’s brow creased. “You’re not?”

“No one is but Madara. And you.”

Hashirama frowned. Hikaku could see the mental gears turning in his head. “Because he gave it to me?” he questioned, glancing down at the collar’s gems.

“Correct.”

“Well, what does it mean, then?”

Hikaku mentally sighed. Of course Madara hadn’t spoken to him. “I can’t tell you that either,” he said, going on when Hashirama opened his mouth. “And neither should anyone else. That’s something Madara needs to do.”

Hashirama let out a light sigh. “So that’s why Izuna laughed at me,” he mumbled, half pouting and half exasperated. Hikaku felt some small tickle of amusement.

“Look, Hokage-sama,” he said, deciding to try and nudge the two forward. “Ask Madara about it when you see him. I assure you that, though I can’t tell you what it means, it’s very important, especially to him.”

Hashirama frowned at the choker, looking mildly concerned. At least Madara had fallen in love with someone kind, Hikaku thought, and not someone he would be obligated to cutting the hands off of if he mistreated the collar.


 

Just get it over with, Madara told himself as he stormed down the road towards his street. He would go, apologize, get it over with, and they would both forget about this. He was simply intoxicated; surely Hashirama would understand. Surely.

His throat closed up when he glanced up and saw Hashirama walking towards him. The man was distracted, staring at the collar in his hands with a thoughtful frown, and the sight of it made Madara’s heart race.

“Ah,” Hashirama said as he paused, glancing up in surprise. His eyes landed on Madara’s neck. “Madara.”

“Hashirama,” Madara mumbled, eyes on the ground. He cleared his throat, even though he didn’t need to, and tried to ignore the heat traveling up his ears. “I came to, uh…about the…bonfire…”

“Right,” Hashirama agreed, staring at him. Part of him wasn’t listening and instead stubbornly imagining Madara greeting him with a smirk instead of bashfulness, edging the man into the trees to murmur in his ear that he wanted another dance in private, being able to reach out and touch all the places he had last night. His own ears turned red at the reminder of what he’d done.

“I was, ah…very…very intoxicated, and had inhaled some- smoke-”

Madara wasn’t even looking him in the face. Hashirama cringed to himself, wondering if he was uncomfortable by his previous touch, and couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Madara’s intoxicated mind had seen an attractive man who was his friend and nothing wrong with having some…fun, and Hashirama had been the opposite of unwilling, but he obviously felt bad about it now. He’d hoped…well, it didn’t matter now.

“I apologize,” Madara mumbled. “I was…er…”

“It’s all right! Don’t worry about it!” Hashirama exclaimed, eager to get past the awkward moment when Madara so clearly wanted to. He plastered on a smile. “It’s…it’s fine.” It absolutely was not fine. “Did, um…”

He held up the collar. He saw Madara’s eyes widen slightly as he looked at it, and the man so desperately wanted to snatch it back from him it was almost painful. He knew that it was worth something- it was made of fine, dark leather, inlaid with white and red stitching around the edges and in the shape of feathers, and the missing space between the two red gems on the front had to be on purpose and waiting for a new stone. There was such care put into the detail it had to have great significance.

“N…no,” Madara stammered, nearly whimpering at his own inability to just reach out, take it, and forget the entire thing. Yet he couldn’t just ask for it back now that he’d given it. It would be paramount to retracting his feelings- and even though Hashirama had no idea what it meant, he did, the rest of the Uchiha did, and something in him just couldn’t bear to do it. He had been brought up to learn that giving away that collar was something far more important and weighty than giving someone a simple bauble, that it was an expression of the deepest sorts of feelings, and it was too serious to simply forget he’d done.

He had screwed himself over yet again. The possibility of him ever finding anyone other than Hashirama had been less than nothing anyway, but if, for the sake of the example, he did, he had no collar to bequeath to them. Now real life lined up with his feelings, and apparently the universe wanted to see him suffer.

A furrow developed in Hashirama’s brow. “But- don’t you want it back?”

Madara licked his lips as he glanced at the leather again. “…yes,” he admitted quietly.

“Then why-?”

“I can’t,” he blurted out, feeling more irritated with himself than Hashirama, turning away. “Just- just- just…take care of it,” he said, voice soft as he stared at the ground. He’d had that choker since he was a boy and he would probably never see it again now. He would have no collar to wear at the Uchiha gatherings now and everyone would see his naked neck and the pointed lack of a lover at his side. He gritted his teeth and whirled around to stalk away.

“Madara,” Hashirama called after him, but didn’t follow as he watched the man flee in concern. He was upset- that was obvious, and he felt horrible at being the one who’d caused it.

He looked at the choker in his hands. All the Uchiha had one, and apparently they couldn’t simply ask for them back after giving them away and now Madara would have to return to his clansmen and they would all probably know exactly what had happened even if Hashirama himself still didn’t fully know. Was it a cause for shame? Had he caused something horrible? Was the Uchiha clan going to be back to giving him sullen glares?

He looked up at where Madara had disappeared around the corner and wilted. Nothing felt right. He turned to return to his house and his bedroom and ended up gingerly folding the collar in a piece of cloth, setting it in the locked drawer on his desk, feeling guilty and as if he’d stolen something dear from Madara without meaning to the entire time.


 

Madara was avoiding him.

Hashirama tried to give the man his space, but the longer he sat there knowing Madara was upset the more upset he himself became. He decided to go find him and try and smooth things over, to at least try and regain some normalcy, and perhaps he’d be able to find out the meaning of that choker and a way to return it over time.

“Ah, Madara,” he said when he’d found the Uchiha in the market, and tried to ignore the wince Madara gave at his presence. “Want to go spar?”

Fighting was easy. Fighting was routine. Surely it would help get their minds off…this.

“I suppose,” Madara murmured, and began to follow him to the training grounds. Hashirama felt some small measure of relieved that he did.

Neither of them said anything, pretending that everything was normal and nothing had happened as they readied themselves and lunged at each other to start. Fighting with Madara was a familiar pattern to fall into. The Uchiha’s eyes became narrow as they fought, his expression becoming focused, and to Hashirama’s even greater relief he could feel something regular and normal replace the awkward tension in the air as they scrapped. So focused on that relief, he was, that he only paid half attention to the fight and didn’t notice when a smirk overtook Madara’s face.

Sparring made him feel as if the day was just any other, not the morning after he’d given the love of his life a lap dance, and Madara couldn’t help but feel grateful Hashirama wasn’t bringing it up. He lost himself in the fun of the fight and felt something ornery rise up in him when he noticed Hashirama’s divided attention.

He went for a strike against Hashirama’s chest and feinted, nailing the Senju with a kick to the abdomen and sending him flying into the air, and summoned his Susanoo in the same breath. Getting knocked through a few trees would wake the man up.

He saw Hashirama’s eyes go wide in surprise, and then the Susanoo’s arm had lashed out and slammed into his crossed arms and sent him flying. He catapulted through the air, over the treetops, and then he was out of sight.

Madara hovered there for a moment, frozen, and thought that he’d perhaps struck out harder than he’d meant to. A hysterical urge to laugh bubbled in his chest as he landed and pushed off to go after Hashirama. He heard the man slam into the ground and snickered as he ran through the trees.

Madara touched down where Hashirama had landed and gazed at the man in amusement when he saw him laying in the middle of a small field of cabbages, which were now ruined and strewn about due to the shinobi who’d made a crater upon impact. Hashirama groaned as he sat up, rubbing his head, and looked around with a sheepish wince. He was sure whatever farmer lived out here wouldn’t be happy to see what they’d done.

“Looks like you have a few things you need to patch up,” Madara sniggered.

Hashirama groaned. “Madara,” he said with another wince. “That was horrible.”

Madara tried to restrain a grin and held out his hand. Hashirama grasped it and rolled to his feet as Madara pulled him up. He dusted his training clothes off and looked around with another cringe. “I’ll ask Tobirama who lives out here,” he sighed. “And send some money for this later.”

Madara folded his arms with a smirk. “The great and powerful Hokage, ruining some poor farmer’s cabbage patch.”

A pout crossed Hashirama’s lips. “It was your fault!”

“It’s not my fault you couldn’t even block a little swipe from my Susanoo.”

“Well you-”

Hashirama was interrupted mid-sentence by someone from above, someone, Madara presumed, who had to be the owner of the field.

“Look at what you did!” an upset voice shrilled, making them startle in surprise. “My cabbages!”

“Uh-” Hashirama whirled and noted the short woman standing on one of the trees overhead, staring down at them with an upset expression. She had on a strange pointed hat and had purple markings on her face, along with weird charmed jewelry on her wrists and ankles. “I’m terribly sorry,” he called up to her.

“You humans are always doing this!” she shrieked. “You just bowl down everything in your path and don’t care about anyone else who lives here!”

Madara raised an eyebrow. “You’re human too,” he noted.

“I most certainly am not! I’m a witch!” she shouted, as if that explained anything. She pointed at them with fury making her face twist up and seethed. “You’ll pay for this!”

Hashirama raised his hands. “Please, we only-”

She lifted her hands towards the sky and lightning cracked in the clear sky overhead. Leaves from the nearby trees were yanked from their homes and wound themselves into weird dog-like beasts all around them, thrumming with a strange energy that set Madara on guard.

Several of them ran at him. He let loose a wall of flame that engulfed nearly all of the beasts on his side of the clearing, making them let out high-pitched yelps as they burned to a crisp.

“We don’t want to fight!” Hashirama yelled out, ducking under one as it leapt at him.

“You destroyed my cabbages!” the witch shrieked from somewhere nearby. The beasts were reforming out of their own ashes and doubling every time one went down and Madara busied himself with striking down the ones that neared him; they weren’t all that threatening on their own, but the sheer number was a bit overwhelming to deal with without being able to take them all out at once.

“I can replace them!”

“No! You dumb humans don’t know how to properly cultivate them,” the witch shrieked.

“They’re cabbages,” Madara called out, annoyed. “How much could they possibly be worth?”

“Oh!” Her howl made him wince just due to how screeching it was. “How important!”

A fine purple mist burst from the ground and swirled through the clearing. The entire thing was ridiculous, Madara thought, and if Hashirama would just let him finish it in one go, they would have no trouble.

The beasts themselves were more irritating than her. They held more weight than what their composition seemed to allow and stared at him with fire for pupils and he wondered just what this woman was that he’d never encountered before.

“Madara!”

Madara whirled when he heard Hashirama shout his name. No sooner had he done so that he saw a blur of brown and tan as the man dashed in front of him. His expression curled into a wince as he pitched forward, and Madara realized, with a start, he couldn’t catch himself.

Madara’s eyes went wide. He lunged forward and lowered himself so he could catch the other man on one shoulder, falling to his knees in the grass to ease his fall. “Hashirama!”

A groan slipped out of the Hokage’s throat. There was blood streaming from a wound on his right shoulder where an arrow had pierced his body. Madara could only see the shaft. He hadn’t seen the witch fire from any point and it had to have been poisoned, because Hashirama wasn’t responding to him.

Madara saw red. He whirled back towards where the witch had been standing and unleashed black hellfire on everything he could see, scorching the beasts and landscape and surrounding them all with a tornado of flame. Their shrieking filled his ears as his Mangekyo whirled around and around and around in fury, burning everything in a two-hundred foot radius to ashes.

He pulled the arm on Hashirama’s unstressed side over his shoulders and pushed off. There was a cave mere steps from where they’d been sparring, and it would be suitable to defend from any more of those creatures as his kage bunshin searched for ingredients for first aid.

It took him less than thirty seconds to reach it and slide Hashirama down to lean against the cave wall. He stripped the man’s yukata top off and tossed it onto a small boulder, swearing when he saw how deeply embedded the arrowhead was.

“That damned witch,” he hissed, unable to let go of his anger. It was the only thing distracting him from how Hashirama, invincible, more powerful than Madara could hope to be, was unconscious, hurt, and how terrifying it was to feel the man’s pulse quickening under his touch and his body heating up.

He sterilized a kunai with a hot burst of fire. Hashirama groaned in his sleep as he widened the wound, cursing his need to do so to get the arrowhead out. It was hooked in Hashirama’s muscle like a vice and he wanted to burn it until it was nothing but a tiny pile of oozing metal.

His first clone returned with a carved-out stone to boil water in as his second started to grind the small amount of herbs it had been able to find in the forest. He shrugged off his outer yukata and ripped it into strips, wrapping them around Hashirama’s shoulder and chest to serve as bandages as one of his bunshin spread the paste it had made onto another. He wasn’t skilled in the medical field, but most Uchiha knew a few emergency recipes; he layered the strip with paste coated onto it over the wound in Hashirama’s flesh and tied the makeshift bandages over it, hoping it would draw enough of the poison out for Hashirama’s body to combat it easier.

Taking a shuddering breath, Madara stood and walked back to the mouth of the cave to check and see if any trace of that witch or her guard dogs were around. He was half sure he’d burnt them all, but he hadn’t devoted too much of his attention to them when Hashirama had fainted into his arms.

He froze mid-step when he reached the entrance.

The forest around them was gone. Instead, he could see a beach stretching out from the cave mouth, where a cliff on the left cut it off and it ran out of sight to the right. He could see an island in the distance, covered by a fine mist that hung over the water.

“What the hell?” he breathed, activating his Sharingan again. “Release!”

Nothing happened. He tried to release the genjutsu again and looked around, looking for any sign of reality with his eyes, as something like panic grew in his gut. He took a step back and tried to ignore the pointedly ill sensation assaulting him. How had this happened?

A groan caught his attention. Madara whirled and nearly ran back to Hashirama, the only thing still familiar and sensible, and pulled back the bandages. The paste was stained with an ugly black liquid.

He switched it out for another strip and went back to pacing. Was this another of the witch’s tricks? Had she somehow cast a genjutsu that even his Sharingan couldn’t detect or break?

He stopped and paused to take a deep breath, running his hands through his hair as he looked back out the opening of the cave. It was all still there.

He didn’t know what to do.

The only thing he could do was do his best to ensure Hashirama woke up (of course he would wake up). He would decide what to do when he was no longer in danger. If Hashirama could just wake up and get back on his feet, Madara could deal with all this without losing his mind.

He was switching out the second strip of paste when a sudden bout of dizziness hit him. He at first thought it was from the exertion, and the fact he was still suffering through his hangover, but it continued to ail him after he’d fastened Hashirama’s bandages again and sat down. There was an odd stinging on the outside of his wrist that made a frown tug at his lips; he rolled up the sleeve of the thin yukata top he was left in and grimaced when he saw a small cut, no larger than three inches, running across his skin. It had started to leak puss as the same angry black liquid festered on the surface. When had he been grazed?

He tore off a strip of his other sleeve and ripped it in two, spreading a small amount of paste on one and wrapping the other around it and his wrist. It would have to do; he needed to keep most of the medicine for Hashirama.

He went to stand again and found his legs had gone a little too weak to do so. Taking a deep breath, he sat there for a few minutes, listening to his heart pound a little faster than before, waiting until the wave of nausea had passed. Hopefully, most of the poison was being drawn from his body.

He looked over at Hashirama. There was sweat on his forehead, and a crease had developed in his brow as he grimaced in his sleep. Madara could see a slight flush had spread across his skin from the point of impact, and the man’s breath had gone a bit shallower.

He couldn’t die. Madara couldn’t handle it. Not after he’d finally fixed his mistake- not before Hashirama got to see his dream flourish around him. Madara wouldn’t let it happen.

He watched Hashirama’s eyelids twitch, a bead of sweat running down his forehead, the way his lips tugged downwards as if he wanted to frown. There was a cold fear in the back of his mind and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Not Hashirama. Not him.

He scrubbed at his eyes when he realized they’d become damp and berated himself as he forced himself to stand. He ignored the soreness that hadn’t been there before and made himself start to move. He would have to deal with it. The only thing that mattered was making sure Hashirama didn’t die.

Madara couldn’t handle it if he did.

He sent his clones out to look for driftwood on the shore and wet a strip of cloth with the cooled water he’d set on the same boulder Hashirama’s yukata lay strewn across. A small sigh left Hashirama’s lips when he pressed it against his warm forehead. Madara swallowed, kneeling there beside him, and felt guilt course through him as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead. This had only happened because Hashirama had tried to shield him.

He refused to let anything more happen to him. He changed out the paste again; there was a tiny amount on the old scrap, but he used up the last of it to change the bandages again anyway.

He gently grasped Hashirama’s shoulders and moved him away from the wall. He didn’t make a sound as Madara moved him to lay on the ground, spread his yukata over him, and set about to starting a fire.

God, he felt horrible. His head felt like it was filled with pressure that made it hard to breathe, and he felt green at even the thought of going to find something to eat. One of his clones dispelled outside, making him grimace as he sat down, hoping his second would last long enough to make it back inside.

It managed to dump a pile of wood on the ground and arrange a line of stones around it before another wave of dizziness hit him and it disappeared in a puff of smoke. Groaning, he raised his fingers to his lips and summoned a smaller burst of fire than he tried for.

He let himself rest there for a long time. Hashirama was silent, never making a single noise, looking marginally more relaxed due to the coolness of the towel on his forehead. Every time Madara looked at him he felt a lump build in his throat.

This had never happened before. He had no idea what was going on inside Hashirama’s body, how severe it was, only that he still hadn’t woken up, he still had a fever, and it was driving him insane.

If only he’d been quicker. He knew he hadn’t drawn all the poison out. If only he’d seen the arrow in the first place and been able to avoid it. If only he’d burned that witch to a crisp in the first place instead of trying to speak to her.

The sun began to go down. Madara changed his position so he could see both Hashirama and the cave entrance and settled in to wait. His nerves became frayed as night fell, leaving the outside world covered in darkness, and he kneaded chakra to throw his senses out and stay on watch. He couldn’t allow anything or anyone to take him by surprise.

His mouth felt cottony and dry and there was an odd coolness on his skin even though he could feel himself sweating. Madara stubbornly ignored it, not letting himself drift to sleep despite how badly he wanted to.

The minutes ticked by until he knew he’d been sitting there for hours, only moving to re-dampen the cloth on Hashirama’s forehead and to check his pulse and temperature. He could see no change, even as the night veered closer to morning than evening.

The anxiousness in his mind wouldn’t let him calm down. All he could do was alternate between glancing at the entrance and Hashirama’s still expression; his still body; the shallow rise and fall of his chest. Something dripped off his chin and he realized his face was wet, and he wiped at the tears with a curse but couldn’t seem to make them stop.

“You idiot,” he whined, shuffling closer until he was sat beside Hashirama and reaching for his hand. It was warm in his grasp as he pressed his forehead against it. “Don’t die. You’re not allowed.”

There was no response. The cave was quiet around him and left him alone with only this thoughts for company. There was a markedly hollow quality to the lack of sound around him and it reminded him of years spent somewhere else. He didn’t want to be here.

He did not let himself sleep.

He sat there shivering, more due to his own sorry state than the coolness of the night, staring at Hashirama and mentally begging him to wake up. By the time the sun had begun to rise he was left with an all-over ache that hounded his every move and a slight lack of sensation where he’d been cut. Still, he was in better shape than Hashirama, so he considered it inconsequential.

It was cloudy out, and the sun rose from the direction behind the cave mouth regardless, so it was dark and shaded the entire morning. The gloomy atmosphere did nothing to help his state of mind. It occurred to him he could try and leave, to find someone who knew medicine, but he couldn’t leave Hashirama there alone and he didn’t think he had the strength to carry him anymore. He had no idea where they were or what could have been waiting for him outside.

Judging by how bright it had become outside, it was nearing noon when he noticed Hashirama begin to stir. He scurried over to kneel at the man’s side as he turned his head, frowning before his eyes started to creak open.

“Hashirama? Can you hear me?”

“Madara?” he asked, looking a bit confused. A sigh of relief wracked Madara’s body. He slumped where he sat, trying not to let his exhaustion show. “Where are we? The witch-?”

“I don’t know where she is,” Madara replied, unsure of just how to explain their current situation. “When you…fell unconscious, I took you to a cave to deal with the wound. I don’t…we seem to have…” Hashirama’s brow furrowed as he stared up at him. “Been…transported, somehow, to a different location.”

“Ah.” The furrow deepened. Hashirama frowned, his eyes becoming a bit more distant, and Madara felt his chakra spike. It was a small change, as it all felt sluggish, but it was better than how dormant it had been while he was unconscious. “Poison. It seems my body’s tried to cycle it out on its own. It shouldn’t take too long for me to deal with it.” His eyes focused again, and he squinted at him. “Are you all right? You look exhausted.”

His gaze roved over Madara’s skin, paler than usual, the way the dark areas under his eyes were more accentuated than they usually were, the tired look in his eyes, the blood smeared across his forehead. His eyes almost looked as if they were rimmed in red- as if he’d been crying- and was he shaking?

“I’m fine,” Madara said quickly, trying to compose himself. “You need to rest. Just…deal with the poison, and I’ll go find something to eat. Spike your chakra if anything happens.”

Hashirama opened his mouth to respond, to ask if he was really all right because he certainly did not look like he was, but Madara was already standing and walking towards the mouth of the cave. There was something in the way he walked, slightly more curled in on himself than usual, that made alarm bells go off in his head. How long had he been unconscious?

Madara let himself groan once he was outside and took a moment to stand there with a hand against his forehead. Slightly warm, but not a fever. At least the worst of his symptoms seemed to be the aching and tiredness.

Hashirama needed to conserve his strength and heal himself, first and foremost, he told himself. He’d already been the cause of his injury; there was no need to make the man worry over him when he was fine…or at least would be fine.

He withdrew a few kunai and climbed onto a rock overlooking the waters. They were clear, crystal-clear, in fact, and it was a bit off-putting. It was as if they’d never seen an ounce of human pollution, yet he’d seen plenty of driftwood and other odds and ends floating around.

The fish were even weirder. They were all bright orange, about the size of his forearm, and he could have sworn they looked just like salmon but for the color. They even had the same texture and shading on their scales. He only hoped they were edible.

It took him three tries to spear two to the rocks underfoot and retrieve them. He picked up a few sticks as he retreated to the cave, grimacing a bit at the fact he had to go back in.

Hashirama had pulled himself up to sit against the wall and pulled his yukata back on. His eyes were closed in concentration and Madara could feel his chakra thrumming in his body, no doubt dealing with whatever effects the poison had on him. He rammed the sticks into the ground and took out a kunai to gut the fish to cook.

He still couldn’t feel the area on his wrist that had been poisoned. He felt the urge to peel back his bandage and check it, but he resolved to do so when Hashirama was either asleep or too busy to notice.

A few minutes passed in silence. Hashirama opened his eyes when he smelled the fish cooking and smiled. “Ah, food,” he said in a light tone. Madara wondered if he was truly so chipper still or if he was trying to be upbeat about their situation. He watched Madara set the fish on a small rock to sizzle and raised an eyebrow. “Not hungry?”

Madara hid a grimace and shrugged. “I ate earlier,” he lied.

“Which reminds me. How long was I out?”

“Er…” Madara turned and squinted at the beach outside. “We…a few hours.” He didn’t notice Hashirama’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

Has he rested at all? the Senju wondered with a frown, getting a nagging feeling that he knew the answer already.

“You’re not hurt anywhere, are you?” he asked pointedly, watching for Madara’s reaction.

Madara resisted the urge to wince at the reminder and shrugged. “No.”

Hashirama’s eyes drifted to his sleeve. He’d torn the end off, obviously, and had to have used it for something, but the bandages he wore and the cloth that had been on his forehead were from the yukata Madara had been wearing over his current one.

“Well, I suppose we should go and look around.” Trying to sound casual, he reached for a fish and started to peel the meat off the stick Madara had roasted it on, watching how Madara moved through half-lidded eyes. If he was hurt, surely he would notice where. He could see no blood stains yet he could sense that something was off.

Madara glanced over at him with a frown. “Do you feel well enough for that?”

“Don’t worry. I’ve removed all the poison and healed the wound, I’m just a little sore,” Hashirama said as he smiled again, rubbing at his shoulder. “Walking around would probably help.”

Still looking a bit unsure, Madara nodded. They fell into silence again as Hashirama ate and soothed the soreness in his muscles, eyeing his companion when the other wasn’t looking.

Chapter Text

“What…is that?”

They’d been walking for only ten minutes, Madara trying to conceal his exhaustion and Hashirama watching him out of the corner of his eye, when they rounded the corner of part of a cliff and came to a stop when they saw the…contraption waiting for them. There were metal rods inlaid into the ground that appeared to be what it ran on, and they were built out over the ocean in such a way it looked too rickety to hold the giant…machine it was supposed to.

There were people there, people boarding the thing, a carriage made of steel with smoke rising from a pipe that stretched from its roof. Madara didn’t answer Hashirama, too busy staring.

“Oho! Someone from the human world, eh?” a voice exclaimed, making them look around for the source. Part of a wooden pole set in the path ahead of them shifted and changed colors and somehow, a bird as large as his arm was sat upon it, having been camouflaging itself.

Hashirama stared at it in surprise. “Human world?” he questioned, confused. “This is a different world?”

“An entirely different dimension, for your information,” it squawked at him, making something flip in Madara’s gut. The only other dimensions he’d ever heard of were the ones Kaguya used.

Hashirama frowned. It was clearly bending his mind just as much as Madara’s. “Would you be so kind as to tell us how to get back?” he asked politely, and Madara just let him do the talking. Diplomacy would probably get them farther than his methods and he was too tired to try.

“Oh, it’s not hard at all,” the bird said, making them perk up a bit. “Though it is rather difficult to get here. I wonder how you did.”

They glanced at each other. “There, uh…” Madara muttered. “There was a…witch…”

“Ah, witches are tricky,” the bird continued, as if that explained everything. “Anyway, take the train into the city. The boat that’ll take you to the exit is there. Don’t forget the toll, though.”

“Toll?”

“Your human money won’t work.” Both he and Hashirama frowned simultaneously. “You’ll have to exchange it. There’s also a toll to get on the train, but I’ll do you a favor and let it slide just this once if you got thrown over on accident.”

“Thank you so much!” Hashirama folded his hands together and bowed, feeling a bit relieved.

The bird squawked and waved one foot at him. “Just hurry up and get on already! It won’t wait forever. And remember,” it said, voice going grave, making them both pause. “Don’t try to take a ride without paying the toll. Unless you want something horrible to happen to you.”

They glanced at each other out of the corner of their eyes at the foreboding warning. Somehow, Madara got the feeling that “something horrible” absolutely would happen to them in this strange place if they broke the rule, and that it wasn’t just for show to scare people off from filching away with their money.


 

This thing was…unsettling. It was unsettling and odd and even Madara found it so, even if he wouldn’t admit it. The entire thing was made of metal, not wood like carriages, and it rocketed along the tracks built across the water at a frankly unnerving speed even for shinobi for the simple fact he wasn’t controlling it and didn’t know when it was going to stop.

Even worse was the inside. He shoved Hashirama into the only open seat he could see as soon as they stepped on, ignoring the frown and protest the man gave, and stood there as rigid as a statue as he listened with his senses. Hashirama was the one who’d been unconscious for almost a whole day, he reasoned, and he didn’t think he could relax in that seat in between the other passengers. All around him there was a strange not-chakra, an energy that felt like tasting something salty after only having sweets for years, and he could feel it bubbling in all the…beings, around him.

There were those who looked like animals yet walked on two feet and were as tall as him. Some didn’t look like anything humanoid at all; one figure sat draped beneath a cape, and he couldn’t see its face but he got the feeling there was nothing underneath. There were those who looked like humans yet he could tell they weren’t. There was a heavy sense of other pervading everything that made it clear as day.

He didn’t like any of this. It all made him just more anxious as the train, as he’d heard it called, flew through the air on those thin metal rods he’d seen holding it up and he tried not to feel nauseas again but the rocking was making him feel unstable. No, he did not like any of this at all.

The train rammed into something uneven on the tracks and the entire cabin jerked. Madara stumbled, feeling even worse, and would have fallen over if it weren’t for Hashirama’s arms winding around his waist and hips and pulling him down.

“No,” he said, voice firm as he frowned. “Come here.”

Madara sunk into his lap and shivered, not even willing to complain. Hashirama was the only thing familiar here, the only thing he could trust, the only source of actual chakra and warmth he could focus on without wanting to panic. He slumped into the man’s shoulder and reached blindly for the hand the man had settled on his knee after pulling him down, tangling their fingers together and breathing out with something like relief. At least Hashirama was there.

Hashirama’s arm tightened around him when he caught a few other passengers glancing at them. He had no idea how friendly most of them were, and it was disquieting to see so many oddities that couldn’t be explained around him. It made every alarm bell he’d ever learned to have ring in his head. Maybe it was cowardly, he thought, but at least he hadn’t been sent here alone. There was no one he’d rather be stuck in such a strange place with than Madara.

Madara, however, seemed exhausted, and Hashirama’s mind urged him to get them somewhere they could rest.

Hashirama was the only person here keeping him grounded, and Madara absolutely could not allow anything more to happen to him. He wasn’t letting him out of his sight.

Madara was the only one here giving him a line of sanity and calm, and Hashirama absolutely could not lose him or allow anything to happen when the Uchiha was so clearly almost dead on his feet. He wasn’t letting him out of his sight.


 

Somehow, the exact same bird was waiting for them on the other side.

“You’ll want to visit the exchange office to switch out that money,” it chirped, chipper and cheerful enough it made even Hashirama stare sheepishly at it. “It’s right down that way where the blue coins are!”

It pointed its claw to one of the cobblestone roads that branched off from the main one leading from the train dock. Wooden buildings that would have looked familiar and homely on their own were stacked on each other almost seven stories high, making the streets seem narrower than they were; lights and lines of lanterns ran between them, illuminating the evening, as pedestrians milled about. The buildings looked as if they were near toppling over yet somehow didn’t.

“Thank you,” Hashirama said with a tired smile, and stepped into the crowd with one hand threaded through Madara’s. Neither wanted to lose each other in the traffic for fear of losing each other permanently.

Madara understood what the bird meant by ‘blue coins’ when they had reached the end of that road, where it split off into a T-intersection, and he saw a building at the center of it with three large blue coin statues over the doorway. They were each larger than him and he couldn’t help but stare at them a bit.

Hashirama, a little bit more present than him, tugged him inside and took out his wallet preemptively. Madara withdrew his hand to look around for his own before realizing it had gotten lost at some point. He groaned. “I hate this place.”

Hashirama smiled and patted him on the shoulder. He stepped up to the counter and rang the bell that sat there. Behind it, they could see rows and rows of shelves in a room that looked larger than the building had appeared from outside, each of them piled high with boxes and scrolls and various types of paper.

A bird popped up from under the counter with a squawk, making them both jump. “Here to exchange money?” it warbled, tilting its head.

“Uh, yes…we are,” Hashirama replied, aborting saying sir or ma’am because he didn’t even know if the bird was a sir or ma’am.

“Well, put it there,” it squawked at him, tapping the counter with its beak. He dumped his wallet out and it stared at its contents, bug-eyed, deliberating and twitching a few times. “Human money, eh?”

“Yes. I hope that’s not a problem.”

“Well, let me count it.” It tapped its claw against the table, slow and quiet, and stared for a good long minute.

Madara was starting to feel his headache coming back. “Excuse me,” he murmured, leaning forward over the counter a bit to be heard, “do you have a restroom?”

“Right through there, hm,” the bird replied, pointing with its tail to a door to his left. The only other entryway in the place was the hall to the shelf room behind it and Madara hoped the rest of its place was just as simple.

He mumbled out something like a thanks and slipped through the door, keeping a heavy eye on Hashirama’s chakra. It was just a few feet apart, he thought, he could still hear that bird pecking at the desk, could still hear Hashirama shifting his weight around, and he just needed a minute to compose himself. He only needed a minute.

He was still half ignoring his ailments trying to convince himself nothing was awry when a wave of dizziness hit him that he couldn’t seem to power through. It began in the back of his head and spread to the rest of his body, making his legs feel weak, and in half a breath he was on the floor without knowing what happened. He slumped against the wall and bit down on a groan, panting as he tried to regain his strength, but the dizziness and lightheadedness it brought on made everything feel too bright and too unstable.

Footsteps thumped rapidly across the floor. Hashirama’s hands pressed into his shoulders as he lifted him to lean upright against the wall, frowning. “All right, where are you hurt?” he demanded, making Madara blink wearily at him. “I thought perhaps you were simply tired like you said, but I know something is wrong. Tell me now.”

Cringing, Madara hesitantly raised his injured hand. He could hardly say no in the face of Hashirama’s insistence. Hashirama yanked his sleeve up and untied his bandage.

The skin around his cut was an inflamed red, while the surface of the wound itself was a mottled purple with specks of grey. “For god’s sake, Madara,” Hashirama snapped, sounding so genuinely annoyed it made Madara cringe again.

“I…sorry,” he mumbled, not looking the Senju in the face as he laid a healing hand over his wrist.

Hashirama glanced at his face and softened. “Madara- come now, look at me. I’m sorry. It’s-” It’s all right, darling, was on his lips and he had to bite it back. “Look.” He reached over and pulled Madara’s face up, though he still refused to look him in the eye. “You should have told me. I could have healed this earlier. It wouldn’t have gotten better on its own- the poison just sits there and worsens.”

“Oh,” Madara muttered, feeling profoundly stupid. “I thought I was just-” He winced as Hashirama’s chakra pulled a tiny bullet of black liquid out of his skin. He was still a bit numb, but it stung where it touched him. “Just…tired. I haven’t…slept.”

“Slept? You mean…” Hashirama’s frown deepened. “When did we get here?”

It taxed Madara’s mind to even try to remember the time of day they’d entered the cave. “Sometime around yesterday afternoon,” he replied, ignorant of Hashirama’s hand tightening on his shoulder. “I think.”

“You think?” Hashirama watched in concern as his head started to droop again, relaxed by the chakra rolling over his arm. “You haven’t eaten, have you?”

“I felt too nauseous. I was…still hungover.” Madara winced when he felt a pulse of the weird not-chakra from someone in another part of the building. His mind felt raw, somehow, and Hashirama was the only thing that didn’t make him feel pained to focus on.

“Have you had any water or food in the last forty hours?”

“I forget,” Madara mumbled, making Hashirama let out a weary sigh.

“Which means you haven’t,” he said, letting his hand wrap around his wrist when the cut was fully closed as he continued to radiate medical chakra. He eyed the tired droop of Madara’s eyelids and the distant look in his eyes with another frown. “What’s the matter?”

A larger not-chakra signature out near the shore lashed out. It made his head feel like someone had poked it with an iron-hot needle. “I don’t like the chakra here,” he admitted, too tired to put up any pretense. “It’s been giving me a headache all day.”

Hashirama’s eyes narrowed. “All day? Why would you be sensing it all day?”

Madara closed his eyes for a brief moment. “I had to watch for anything approaching,” he said with a grimace, making Hashirama pause as his mind put things together.

“Are you telling me you’ve been trying to sense chakra non-stop since yesterday afternoon?”

Hashirama stared at him in disbelief. How long had he had it active? Twenty hours? More than twenty-five?

“I took a break,” Madara retorted, a bit defensive. “On…the train.” Truthfully, it hadn’t been by his choice; he’d almost fallen asleep as Hashirama held onto him and they huddled together in that unfamiliar space.

“Madara! Stop kneading chakra this instant. You need to rest,” Hashirama insisted, pressing a palm against his forehead. “I’m more than well enough to watch for myself.”

Madara stared at him for a moment before doing as he said. He let his mind relax and almost wanted to cry at the wave of relief it gave him, as if he’d undone something keeping that part of him taut and stressed. He wilted, and Hashirama pulled him closer to lean against his chest.

“You’re ridiculous,” he said, exasperated but fond as he stroked Madara’s hair.

“It was my fault you got hurt,” Madara muttered, closing his eyes as he listened to Hashirama’s heartbeat, strong and vivid and alive. “Don’t you know how- frightening that was?” He gritted his teeth and tried not to focus entirely too much on the sappy words he was vomiting out. “I’ve seen you take three swords through the gut and shrug it off like it was nothing. You- you weren’t- you weren’t waking up, and I didn’t know-” He paused to bury his face in Hashirama’s yukata, thinking of the cave when it had gone dark and how much he hated it, how much he hadn’t known that he hated it. “I didn’t know if you would.”

He remembered- how many years had it been after he’d left Konoha? Twenty?- walking the battlefields like a ghost, standing and staring at a great mess of broken wood and trees, staring at where he could see bloodied brown hair strewn across the ground, feeling as though what he was truly feeling in that moment was stuck beneath the surface clawing to get up as Zetsu whispered in his ear and told him it didn’t matter- only the plan mattered- only peace mattered- and he’d walked away, wondering how anyone had defeated that leviathan of a man even he couldn’t, wondering why Zetsu was telling him it was raining even though the skies were clear-

“You can’t die,” he insisted, voice breaking, desperate to make sure he knew just how important it was. “You can’t. I can’t handle it again.”

“Again?” Hashirama brow furrowed as he held him, confused. “But I thought you…”

“I used Izanagi-” Madara faltered, opening his eyes as he remembered- seeing Hashirama dead, seeing his body, seeing his lifeless eyes. “And- and I left, and-”

Hashirama’s dead, emotionless face.

His blood soaking the ground.

The swords through his heart.

“And I saw you.” Crying, now, but he couldn’t hear it. “After battle, and you were- you were gone-”

The way his neck had been cut open, had stopped bleeding,

The way he’d shoved the memory into the furthest reaches of his subconscious because it had all felt so wrong.

Was this how he’d made Hashirama feel?

“I cared, I cared,” Madara went on, weeping into the cloth beneath his face, “but Zetsu told me it didn’t matter- he said it was raining, but I was crying, and-”

“Zetsu?” Hashirama’s voice was feeble and shaky.

“The manifestation-”

“It had you?”

The question made Madara freeze. He knew that he’d left on his own- that he’d made that decision himself- and he’d spent so long thinking Zetsu was his will, and had such a short amount of time to dwell on it when it betrayed him, and he couldn’t help but think that even though he’d chosen to do the things he’d done, Zetsu had never been there to help him. He’d only wanted to manipulate Madara into what he needed and the entire time he’d been caught in the spider’s web without even realizing there was a spider.

“…yes,” he murmured dully. “Until I died.”

The color left Hashirama’s face as he sat there on his heels, holding him, staring at the wall as something very cold moved through him. He’d thought that Madara’s suffering had stopped when he had killed him in the first timeline, not continued on for years and years until the man died. How long had he spent with only that thing Hashirama had caught glimpses of as company?

He didn’t know what to do other than to pull Madara closer and hold him tighter. “I swear I won’t let it happen again,” he promised, ignoring the wavering of his own voice. “I swear. I told you it’s forever this time and I meant it. We’re going to stay together- I will not leave you alone, and I certainly won’t let that thing get ahold of you. I promise.”

Madara closed his eyes and tried to quell the trembling in his hands. There was nothing wrong, he told himself. Hashirama was here, breathing, alive, and he would never meet that battlefield the same way because Madara would be there. That horror he’d seen would never happen. “I won’t leave,” he said under his breath. “I won’t leave.” I’ll stay.

Forever.

Hashirama let his hand rest against the back of his head and smoothed a tangle out of his curls.

“I promise,” he whispered, and let them lapse into silence as he leaned against Hashirama’s collarbone. He did regret overtaxing himself, then, because he wanted nothing more than to tune into the man’s charka and let it lull him to sleep, even if the hand stroking through his hair now was more than enough to do it.


 

Madara was too tired and rundown to even stand. Hashirama felt a bit angry at himself that he hadn’t seen how bad it had gotten, and a bit of mild disbelief at how far Madara was willing to go to conceal his own discomfort and pain.

He needed to tell Hashirama when he needed help. Hashirama needed to know that Madara felt he could rely on him and ask for anything. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for him.

The bird informed him that the toll for the ferry was twice what he had after converting it, and again warned him not to try and hop on without paying. Hashirama emerged from that shop with Madara still asleep in his arms to search for a place to rent a room for the night and sent a clone to find them new clothes.

The clone spent upwards of twenty minutes wandering the streets, looking for a vendor that spoke his language, before happening upon a wheeled cart near a pond with an elderly woman behind it. “Looking for something to wear?” she tittered, seeing his torn yukata.

“Yes ma’am,” he replied with a smile. “And something for my companion, too.”

The strange little woman with unsettling sparkling blue eyes behind the cart let out a titter. “Oh, is this for that man I saw you carrying earlier?”

“Uh, yes, ma’am, yes it is,” Hashirama replied with a sheepish smile. He shifted uncomfortably when the glint in her eyes seemed to get a bit…wilder. He felt as if there was something a little powerful, a little dangerous, and a little secretive about her, even though she looked and felt like a normal average old woman.

“Ohohoho. I wonder what could have possibly tired him out? I remember the first days me and my Anna spent here,” the old woman went on, with such a random trajectory he couldn’t even follow her. “I’ll get you something that matches.”

“Uh…” She didn’t seem to be listening to him anymore, shuffling through the cabinets on her side of the cart and humming to herself. She rustled something that let loose a sudden puff of purple dust from the side of the cart and didn’t seem particularly bothered by it. He edged back half a step, just in case.

She popped back up with a smug smile and held out a pile of folded clothes. “It’s my shop special, half price for your first pair,” she said, still with that strange inkling she knew something he didn’t.

“Uh. Thank you,” he said, trying to smile again as he placed a pile of coins on her counter. He felt an odd warning in his head against touching her. “I appreciate it.”

He noted that the clothes she’d handed him did, indeed, match, though he didn’t know why she’d insisted on it; the hakama were both white, as well as each yukata, and the kimono in each set were decorated with a winding tree pattern in alternating colors of cherry red and forest green. Madara would look good in the red, he thought. 

“Have fun,” she said, grinning as if she knew he was going to do something illicit. Hashirama gulped and smiled at her as he walked away.


 

There was a strange quietness when he awoke that instantly put him on guard. He sat up and regretted it, as it made him feel so dizzy he felt like slumping back into bed again.

“Take it easy,” Hashirama said, placing his hands on Madara’s elbows. He sat on the edge of the bed beside him and his expression was full of quiet, gentle concern that made Madara feel a little bit better. “You aren’t going to feel at a hundred percent for a day or two.”

Grimacing, Madara beckoned his body to relax and winced as he rubbed his wrist. It still felt as if it stung, even though there was no wound. “Where are we?” he asked, glancing around the room. It was full of gaudy silver decorations over glaring yellow fabrics that made him stare in distaste. Absolutely no sense of style whatsoever.

“A hotel,” Hashirama replied, easing further onto the bed so he could sit beside him and wrap an arm around him. “Everyone I asked said it was the cheapest place here. Only one coin for an entire week.”

Madara cocked an eyebrow. “That sounds cheap.”

Hashirama’s smile became sheepish. Madara narrowed his eyes. “Well…that’s…probably because it’s a casino.”

“Oh, that’s much better. Swindling all their guests out of all their money under the guise of cheap rates. You haven’t gambled, have you?” Madara asked, eyes narrowing further.

“No! I wouldn’t leave you!”

“Well make sure you don’t. How much do we need for the toll, anyway?”

“About twice what we have now. Surely it won’t be too hard to build up. There seems to be a lot of…people who need errands around here,” Hashirama said as he reached for something on the edge of the mattress, frowning in something like befuddlement. “I sent a clone to get new clothes and someone asked me to dump a bucket of water. For some reason they didn’t want to touch it.”

Madara squinted at him. “So you did?”

“Well, it looked normal enough,” Hashirama replied as a light blush dusted his cheeks. He pulled a tray towards him that held a small covered bowl. “I had some soup brought up. They said it wouldn’t get cold as long as the cover stayed on.”

Everything here was strange, Madara thought, but the bowl was pleasantly warm when Hashirama handed it to him, so he wasn’t complaining. He slipped the cover off and reached for the spoon on the tray to take a sip of the broth. He paused as soon as it hit his tongue.

It…tasted sweet. Very familiarly sweet. Almost like…

“Is something the matter?” Hashirama asked, voice curious, as he stared at him from his spot barely an inch away. Madara was suddenly very aware of his presence and the arm wrapped around his back and the fact he was eating soup that tasted like the tree sap less than a foot away from the man who spawned it.

Turning a light pink, he tried to compose himself and act as if nothing was amiss. “No,” he shrugged. “It’s fine. It just…tastes like something I like to eat.”

Oblivious, Hashirama glanced at the bowl and then at the ceiling. “Hm. Maybe it’s part of this weird land’s abilities. Soup that tastes like your favorite food?”

“Probably,” Madara muttered, unwilling to address just what his “favorite food” was.

Hashirama let out a quiet hum as he sat there, watching Madara take another spoonful of soup, and he sounded more solemn than before when he spoke again. “Now that you’re awake, though, we need to talk.”

Madara froze with his spoon halfway to his mouth. He glanced at Hashirama out of the corner of his eye and wanted to cringe at his too-calm expression. “About what?” he asked suspiciously, setting his spoon into the bowl.

“About this,” Hashirama retorted, as if he couldn’t believe he didn’t know, gesturing at Madara’s body. He frowned, and Madara instantly felt guilty at causing the upset look in his eyes. “You taking so little care of yourself you end up collapsing. If there had been more poison, if I hadn’t have woken up so soon, you could have died. Do you think I want that?”

Madara looked away, wanting to sink into the mattress and down into the floor, and hid a wince. He didn’t want to think about Hashirama waking up in that cave, alone, with only his cold body for company. The cave would probably end up broken. “No,” he mumbled.

Hashirama placed his other hand on his shoulder, trying to coax him into looking at him, as his voice took on a softer tone. “You took care of me. I know you were only trying to do that, and that’s not what I’m upset about. I would do the same for you. What I need you to understand is you have to tell me when you need my help in return. You have to let me help you too. I’m the one who knows my limits best. Even if I hadn’t been strong enough to heal you, I could have known exactly when I was and kept an eye on it. You have to let me do things for you, Madara. There’s nothing you can’t ask of me.”

There was a bit of embarrassment creeping up towards his ears and he felt a bit chagrined at his own behavior. Madara nodded, unable to think of anything to say, mind stuck on the other man’s last words. There’s nothing you can’t ask of me.

There were some things. Things Madara wanted very much to ask.

“Promise me you’ll try,” Hashirama insisted.

Madara grimaced a bit at having to actually say it and let out a sigh. “I promise,” he muttered.

“Thank you,” Hashirama replied, voice still soft, before it took on a more cheerful tone. “But I don’t totally believe you, so we’re doing an exercise today!”

Caught off guard, Madara glanced up at him and found him beaming. “W-what?”

“You have to tell me about anything and everything that happens that hurts even a little bit. And I do mean everything.” Hashirama gave him a warning glance. “For example! If this happens-”

He reached out at the speed of light and pinched Madara’s cheek between his thumb and index finger. He yelped and jerked back, swatting at the Senju’s hand and using the other to steady his soup. “Hashirama!”

“You have to tell me about it,” Hashirama finished, smiling serenely. “Go ahead.”

Madara stared at him uncomprehendingly for almost five seconds before it clicked. He couldn’t believe Hashirama was making him do something so inane. Yet the longer the man smiled at him without saying a word the more it became apparent this was going to end up being something he got stubborn about.

Absolutely not pouting, he looked away at the wall. “Hashirama,” he said, voice barely above a mumble. “Some blithering fool pinched my cheek.”

“That’s horrible,” Hashirama said, voice full of fake sympathy, and smoothed a glowing thumb over the spot. “Feel better?”

This was stupid, absolutely stupid, and Madara glared at him to make sure he knew it. “Yes.”

Grinning, Hashirama turned and leaned against his shoulder to let him return to his food. “Good. Make sure you tell me everything,” he said in a sing-song voice. “Whether it’s stubbing your toe or getting a papercut. Don’t forget.”

Madara wondered if stabbing someone with a spoon was possible.


 

“Goddammit,” Madara hissed as he turned a page in the stack of papers written in an unfamiliar language he’d been given by a hotel worker to sort and felt a papercut slice open his thumb. He didn’t know what was going on- he was rarely clumsy, but for some reason, today of all days, every little mishap he could have possibly run into was happening.

Hashirama, from his end of the room, let out a quiet hum. It was pointed and expecting and a little bit amused.

Madara glared at his paper. “Hashirama,” he muttered. “I got another papercut.”

Hashirama got up and walked over to him, grinning the whole time. Gently, always so gently, he took Madara’s hand into his palm and covered the cut with glowing green chakra. It was ridiculous, overblown, so unnecessary, and… Madara…liked it.

It embarrassed him to admit even to himself. The entire ordeal was ridiculous, but Hashirama paying such attention to him, touching him so softly every time something happened, caring enough to heal even a tiny bruise from ramming his toe into a desk- taking care of him- he liked it. Something deep down felt giddy at the attention.

“There,” Hashirama told him with a smile, retracting his hands and retreating back towards the desk he’d been using, taking his warmth and light with him. Madara watched him go.

He’d gotten something in his eye earlier and Hashirama had held his face with both hands as he rinsed his eye with medical chakra. He’d begun to feel dizzy again and Hashirama had let him sit with his head on his shoulder, radiating a sense of calm that set him at ease; he’d started to get a headache and mumbled something out and Hashirama had been at his side instantly to give him relief.

Always close, so close, and Madara wished he would stay there. Everything felt a bit calmer now that he was getting accustomed to this odd place, but Hashirama was still the only thing that felt right.

He gave himself another tiny papercut, on purpose, just to get Hashirama to walk over to him again and smile at him again and hold his hand so softly again. He was a little embarrassed, but a papercut was a small price to pay for having Hashirama near.

In the back of his mind, his ornery side thought up other ways he could get Hashirama to come back over. It was entirely not the point of the “exercise,” he knew, but Hashirama would never know. Besides, he wouldn’t do something actually harmful.

His eyes alighted on the tea he’d left out to cool.

It was probably a very bad idea, but Madara couldn’t resist.

He couldn’t help it. Having Hashirama pay him this attention was so small, so inconsequential, about such little things, but it felt- it made him feel- good. Not to mention his mischievous side just very much wanted to needle the man a bit.

He wandered over to the mug of tea he’d left on the table by the window under the guise of taking a sip. He mentally grimaced at how hot it would feel, but grabbed the handle and took some into his mouth with no hesitation regardless. It burnt his tongue immediately and he coughed, swallowing half of it in his hurry to spit it back into his mug. God, that really was scalding.

“Madara,” Hashirama’s amused voice floated from the desk behind him, “I heard a strange noise. What happened?”

Madara turned around, already knowing the exact way to make it believable, and plastered on a scowl. “…I burnt my tongue,” he said, as if it pained him to admit it, glaring at Hashirama as he looked up from the papers he’d been sorting and smiled. The Senju got up from his seat and started walking over to him.

“Well, let me see,” he said, holding out a hand.

Madara almost froze and reconsidered. He opened his mouth before he could chicken out and stuck his tongue out.

There was an amused sparkle in Hashirama’s eyes as he pressed two glowing fingers to it. Madara repressed a shiver, wanting to retract it on instinct, but he did want some relief from the burning besides.

“This is why we test our tea before drinking it,” Hashirama teased him. Madara summoned a lackluster glare. He couldn’t retort with Hashirama healing his tongue, and-

And his fingers were rubbing it now, slow and firm, and he almost choked. Heat was rising to his face and Hashirama was watching him with an expression less amused and more focused and he wondered what on earth for. He glanced down at his tongue, thinking surely it was done by now, wondering why Hashirama was taking so long and feeling the urge to veer backwards.

“Now, now, let me finish,” Hashirama told him, stepping closer. Madara backed up half a step into the desk and almost yelped when Hashirama seized the tip of his tongue between his other hand’s index finger and thumb to hold it steady. He looked at Madara with darker eyes than before, making him feel nailed to his spot, looking so weirdly intense he had to wonder if he’d somehow burnt himself more badly than he thought. “Looks like you got your throat too.”

He released his tongue and hooked a thumb in his mouth, pulling it open without preamble. Madara did yelp that time, but the Senju seemed to either not notice or ignore it as he inserted his fingers into Madara’s mouth. A full-body shudder ran through him as they swept over his tongue again, leaking chakra into the roof of his mouth, pressing against his gums and the inside of his cheeks.

“Did you not know you had a sore here?” Hashirama asked him, cocking an eyebrow as his index finger hovered over a place on his gum that felt completely normal. “One of your teeth has a minor crack in it, too. Be sure to clean them every day.”

Madara let out a strangled mewl in response. Hashirama still had one thumb hooked over his teeth, two fingers massaging his gum, while the others rubbed a small circle into his cheek. He was starting to lose feeling in his knees.

He grasped at the edge of the table behind him for support, beet red, unable to say anything as Hashirama- it felt like he was groping his mouth, yet the only thing he was doing was healing pitifully small injuries he apparently hadn’t known about. Get it together, he told himself, a little desperately.

Hashirama pinched his bottom lip in his thumb and index finger and stared at it. He wasn’t saying anything, wasn’t even looking at him, and Madara was starting to forget how to breathe.

Hashirama dragged his eyes back up, changing the target of his stare, feeling something excited rouse in him when he saw the wide-eyed expression on Madara’s still reddening face. A pretty blush was spreading out from his nose and cheeks and even his neck was turning pink. His eyes were helplessly confused and embarrassed as Hashirama stared into them and he quickly averted them to the side, not even chastising him or swatting his hands away, so utterly flustered.

His mouth was right there for the taking. Hashirama could simply lean down, and-

“Uh…excuse me, messere?” a confused voice asked from the doorway, the same worker from before who’d given them their work, staring at them in palpable befuddlement and embarrassment as he held a pile of scrolls in his arms.

Not moving an inch, Hashirama looked over at him with a tranquil smile. There was no use letting the moment be interrupted. “Yes?”

“M…more papers…for you to fill out,” the man stammered, eyes flicking between them.

Hashirama moved one fingertip to rub a slow pattern into Madara’s tongue. He could have sworn he heard the Uchiha let out a whimper.

“I…have to show you how to stamp them,” the worker concluded, quite awkwardly as he averted his eyes.

Hashirama let out a tiny sigh of disappointment. Maybe his attraction would have been blatant enough if he spent fifteen minutes with his fingers in Madara’s mouth.

He glanced down at Madara again- his face was still the color of a tomato- and reluctantly pulled his fingers out. The Uchiha’s jaw trembled and closed partway, still hanging open as he stood there radiating bashfulness, and he stared at the floor as if it held the secrets to life.

“Be right back,” Hashirama told him, cheerful, and walked towards the door. Madara slowly raised a hand to cover his mouth and stared at him as he left, in a state of mild disbelief, watching the ends of Hashirama’s hair disappear around the corner and letting himself sag against the table.

Well…he’d gotten what he wanted, he supposed, as his knees gave out and he collapsed to the floor. He stared at the empty doorway and tried to calm his racing heart and ignore how flushed and warm his lips felt. He pressed his hand over his mouth harder as if to forget the embarrassment he’d just singlehandedly brought onto himself and closed his eyes. It…probably had been a stupid idea to ask someone as tactile as Hashirama to heal his tongue.

That was…the explanation for what had just happened.

Probably.


 

“Hashirama,” Madara mumbled when he saw the man again, which was barely twenty minutes later when they met in the hall. The Senju had a small bag in his hand that was most likely their payment. It was an odd job, and it was odd the hotel didn’t make their own workers do it, but he’d decided to stop trying to make anything here make sense.

“Madara,” Hashirama greeted him, grinning, as if nothing had transpired minutes before. “Feeling all right?”

Madara sniffed and refused to look at him as he walked past. “I’m fine. Let’s go find something else to do.”

He could feel Hashirama still grinning as he trotted after him. For some reason, the clothes he’d bought were matching. Madara couldn’t say he was upset by it, quite the opposite, but he did wonder if Hashirama had done it on purpose or not.

He stepped out of the hallway and into the main part of the casino. There were all sorts of strange games being played about the room, which was covered in the same vomit-inducing yellow and silver decorations. He wrinkled his nose as he started picking his way through the crowd.

Hashirama’s hand found his wrist in the crowd, and he didn’t quite stop him, but he was clearly trying to get his attention. “What do you think that is?” he asked, his tone curious.

Madara paused and followed his gaze. It was a bit difficult to focus on exactly what Hashirama meant, seeing as there were countless things he could have been referring to, but he finally noted the mid-sized table that what looked like a game of cards was being played at a few paces away. Hashirama did have a penchant for cards. “Probably their version of poker, or something like that,” he shrugged.

Hashirama turned and gave him a wheedling look. “One round?” he asked, hopeful, as his eyes went a bit rounder.

Madara narrowed his eyes. Hashirama stared dolefully at him, bottom lip starting to jut out in a pout, and he sighed. “Only one,” he warned, even as Hashirama’s pout disappeared in place of a grin.

“Yes!” He grabbed Madara’s arm and started darting through the crowd, being sure not to let anyone jostle him.

Madara rolled his eyes as they went and decided to entertain Hashirama’s habit for a few minutes at least. A few coin lost wouldn’t hurt them too badly, he supposed, and even if Hashirama was terrible at casino games he did have fun in them.

He stood behind the chair Hashirama slid into and watched as he asked to be dealt in for a round. As far as he could tell, the game was based completely on what cards the player had in their hand when they rolled the dice, in addition to what they rolled. The even numbers seemed to make them either draw cards or fold and the odd ones looked to make them place cards aside.

Hashirama made a small bet, exercising some wisdom, at least, of only two coins. Predictably, he lost horribly; his hand was full of a suit with a serpent head on it and he rolled two zeroes, which made everyone around the table hum in sympathy.

“Guess I’m not lucky today,” he said with a good-natured smile, starting to stand. Madara rolled his eyes again, wondering when, if ever, he was lucky.

“Hold it, messere,” the dealer purred. She was a turquoise-skinned woman with long purple nails and a glint in her eyes that Madara didn’t like. “Rolling two zeroes means you’ve got to roll again.”

A small crease developed in Hashirama’s brow. He glanced back at Madara, who thought for a moment before nodding. He sat back down and waited his turn.

His next roll was a mixture of serpents and rabbits with a two and four dice combo, which had the added effect of making him draw two more cards in addition to rolling again. Madara’s eyes slowly began to narrow as the game went on and Hashirama was drawn further in, not allowed to leave, as the one time he asked the dealer smiled and told him something as strangely ominous as what the bird had. “Oh, you really don’t want to leave without finishing the game.”

He could feel that strange energy on the air again, and his still-raw mind wanted to shiver and warned him away from breaking any type of contracts they made- he was sure that was what this was now, a contract, wrapped up in the façade of a simple game.

Several people around the table were sighing in disappointment when they reached the end of their money. Hashirama had lost his good mood, and didn’t look particularly embarrassed, only focused as he frowned at the dealer’s hands. Madara knew that, no matter how bad he was at games, he was still an intelligent man and had started to put his brain to work around the third bet; he was still a shinobi used to working out the mind games of his opponents. He was watching the game just as closely as Madara, following the moves just as closely as him, trying to learn the rules as completely as he could, and he still didn’t win once. He should have.

“Well, I suppose you’ll all have to bet something else,” the dealer said with a smile that oozed with fake politeness. The patrons glanced at each other in mutual suffering and grimaced.

“I s’ppose I’ll bet next Tuesday and Wednesday, if you’ll allow it,” one of them murmured, and that made no sense, but Madara didn’t try and decipher it.

A man to their left cringed. “I’ll bet Mari. I hate to lose her, but…”

What the patrons offered up was equally confusing and unsettling. They all seemed to be betting things of various importance to them, as they had no money, and the fact they were so willing told Madara they really didn’t want to end up losing the game.

“And what about you, messere?” the dealer asked, gazing at Hashirama.

Hashirama was quiet. Madara could sense him thinking, wondering what he could possibly put up, as they had nothing but the clothes on their backs, and he really doubted that clothes would cut it.

“Oh,” a louder voice said from a few yards away, drawing nearly every eye there to the side. “Newcomers! Carella, you should have informed me.”

A strange-looking man came into view. His skin was a muted orange, more dull than bright, and his face looked human but still a bit like the animal creatures that walked on two feet; he wore a gaudy garment of gold and silver and a large diamond ring on his right hand. Everyone around him made way for him as he walked over to the dealer and took the seat she offered him.

“I think this game should be special,” he said, with an unsettling smile, waving dismissively at the other patrons. “For the newcomers. Shoo, now.”

It wasn’t said in any kind of intimidating tone, but they still got up and left as quickly as they could without looking rude. Madara raised an eyebrow.

“I suppose you run this institution?” Hashirama asked, expression calm, his tone steady with politeness Madara knew was fake. He always sounded a little detached when he was hiding his thoughts and evaluating instead.

“I own it,” the man replied, smile taking on a smug tone. “I’m sensing you’re a figure of some importance where you’re from. A prime minister, perhaps?”

“He’s the Hokage,” Madara cut in, feeling vaguely annoyed at the subtle sense of dismissiveness he was feeling. “Of Konohagakure no Sato.” The owner’s eyes glanced over at him and looked him up and down. It was unnerving, though he didn’t know why.

“The Fire Shadow of the Village Hidden in the Leaves,” the dealer whispered to the owner, smile never wavering.

He raised an eyebrow. “Fire Shadow? Do you burn for the populace?”

Hashirama’s voice had gone cool. “I run the village administratively and protect it from threats.”

“Important, then!” The owner sounded praiseful, but it felt backhanded. “Now then, on the topic of your bet. Why don’t we make it more interesting? I’ll play a hand, you’ll play a hand, and whoever has the winning hand wins the game’s betting pool. I’ll even throw in the deed to the building.”

Hashirama had no interest in owning the casino; his attention lay on the fact that the owner was making it sound as if he was doing him a favor when they both knew he couldn’t back out and the other man controlled the rules anyway. “What would you ask of me?”

The owner’s eyes drifted to Madara again. “You have nothing to give me. Your friend here does, however. You serve this Hokage, do you not?”

“Yes,” Madara replied, suspicious, eyeing him.

“Then the bet will be your fealty. Lose, and you stay here and work for me.”

No,” Hashirama snapped, hand tightening on the armrest of his chair. He had begun to scowl, though his chakra wasn’t yet misbehaving, and Madara sent him a quick glance regardless.

“If you refuse to finish the game, I can’t be responsible for what happens to you. Those who back out of promises…don’t end up well here.” The man’s smile became razor-edged. “Most times they never leave.”

The ominous sense on the air was back again. Madara set a hand on Hashirama’s shoulder, making him glance up at him, and gave him a pointed glance. “Hashirama.”

Hashirama frowned up at him. Looking reluctant, he turned back to the table and took in a short breath. “All right.”

The owner clapped his hands together. “By all means, then! Your turn.”

Hashirama was still frowning as he reached for the stack of cards the previous dealer gave him. He drew five, the starting amount, and placed them face-up, having no need to hide them for a long game. He gave the dice a shake and tossed them to the table.

Madara winced. All even numbers on the cards, and two fours on the dice. From what he’d gathered during the game, Hashirama couldn’t have spun a worse hand if he’d tried.

From across the table, the owner reached for his own stack and put his cards down. Three odd numbers and a four.

He tossed the dice. They were both watching as they settled. Inevitably, they landed on an odd combination.

Hashirama narrowed his eyes. The owner smiled, smug and satisfied, and Madara knew he had to be cheating somehow. There was a burning sense of anger in his gut when he realized what losing meant- what he now had to do- and what doing that meant: leaving Hashirama’s side for any amount of time.

And now the ominous energy was focused on him, and he knew he was trapped between a boulder and a hard place.

Madara was livid, more livid than he could remember being in quite a long time, and he knew it showed on his face as he walked around the table with clenched fists and a glare. The attendants there all looked some measure of pitying. The owner smiled as he finally came to a stop in front of his chair.

“Do you swear fealty to me?” he asked, dripping with patronizing politeness. “Instead of this…” He waved his hands, as if speaking of something silly. “‘Hokage’ of yours?”

Madara gritted his teeth. He debated lighting the fool on fire for a brief moment. That strange sense of energy was still in the air, however, and he knew something would happen to Hashirama- and probably him, but mainly Hashirama- if he broke the rules of this game.

“Yes,” he managed to grit out, sounding as if he was having a tooth pulled. That was what it felt like, anyway.

The owner’s smile widened. He raised his hand and waved it, and there was a sudden weight around his neck that startled him.

His eyes widened. He had not just-

He lifted a hand and wrapped it around the thin black strap now around his neck. It matched the ones the attendants wore and had no buckle to take it off and it made him grit his teeth again. He could not stand anything being around his neck, let alone something so disgusting as anything that belonged to this being. It made his skin crawl and a shudder run up his back.

“Kneel,” the owner instructed, and waved his hand again when Madara stood there glaring at him. A force he could neither see nor feel- which was more disconcerting than anything else- yanked him off his feet and to his knees on the ground, and it made him even more livid. He reached out with one hand and lifted Madara’s chin, and he wanted so badly to cut the offending hand off but his body couldn’t move; he couldn’t make a move against him and his mind frantically ran over just what he’d agreed to.

The owner ran his index finger down his neck. Madara shivered in revulsion, not knowing whether he wanted to vomit or burn the entire place down. No one was allowed to touch his neck unless he said so. No one. He’d already given it away.

He would deny it, but he was shivering as the finger came to a stop on the collar. “Being my servant is not unpleasant,” he said, smugly, as if he was doing him a favor. “I think you’ll find you’ll enjoy it. Don’t you?”

“Bastard,” Madara spat.

The creature’s eyes flashed. “Is that any way to speak to your employer?” He closed his hand and Madara suddenly found his ability to breathe gone, his airway empty, and he choked for air as he grasped at the collar around his neck.

The sound of him struggling to breathe floated across the room, and the owner was ignorant of the rising energy from Hashirama’s end of the table as the attendants stared worriedly and began to back away.

Madara closed his eyes to try and concentrate but the collar would not budge and his lungs refused to cooperate. There was a mental block keeping him from striking out and his mind was quickly devolving into panic as he gasped for breath. It turned to the only other one there who could help and get him out of this when he couldn’t. “H-Hashirama,” he managed to gasp out, pleading, and the owner ignored it but he should not have.

The explosion of chakra from Hashirama’s side of the room knocked everyone off their feet. Madara fell back against the carpet of the stairs, not taking any damage due to already being on the floor, and gasped as air filled his lungs due to the owner and his concentration having been flung out of his chair.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded as he rolled to his feet, expression curled with rage. The attendants looked at it and winced, but they were far more afraid of the monstrous, strange energy they could feel rolling off the stranger in their midst.

Madara glanced up at Hashirama’s face and paled. It had gone cold and stony, his eyes hard and unfeeling, and there was such a rage on his chakra it made Madara quiver. It was terrifying. It was so very comforting.

“The meaning of this,” he said, slow, calm, utterly frightening, as his eyes glued the casino owner to his spot, “is that you railroad me, use veiled words and double meanings to lure patrons into games they can’t back out of, freely engage in trickery, and if that wasn’t bad enough, you have the arrogance to take more than just my money and whatever other worthless trinkets you want and try to take my friend from me as if he’s some bauble, and then, you have the gall to mistreat him right in front of me. I’ve lost my patience.”

He leaned forward, having stood from his seat, and tapped a nail against the table. The casino owner shrieked as it exploded into what must have been a thousand little pieces.

His chakra was radiating out, pushing furniture towards the edges of the room, making lighter pieces float as the support beams started to rattle. Madara looked up with wide eyes as he noticed the ceiling trembling, starting to crack, about to come down on them. The attendants were running from the room with screams on their lips.

The strange energy on the air cowered, withered, and snapped in two before dissipating. Hashirama’s body was glowing, pulsing with energy, and making wind start to whip around in the room as the windows shattered. Madara lifted an arm to cover his eyes instead of trying to squint into the storm.

There was a loud crash as the building collapsed. The very earth beneath them shook, and Madara cringed, bracing for the impact on instinct even though he knew Hashirama would let nothing touch him.

Four stories of hotel came crashing to the ground. Wood emerged from the floor and encased him, leaving him in darkness, and Madara flattened himself to the floor just because of the sheer amount of noise; it was deafening as stone and wood came down.

He heard it when the building was finally done for, and the noise continued onward as the remains settled and jostled about. The wood around him retracted and left him there, still leaning on the steps, the only part of the building still intact.

Hashirama leaned down and grasped the collar with both hands to snap it off his neck as if it was made of glass. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, leaning close to Madara’s ear. He pulled back and looked into his eyes with an unsettlingly cold look in his. “I’ll be right back.”

Madara simply sat there, a little dazed, staring at his back as he walked in the direction the casino owner had been. There was chakra rolling off him still and it had destroyed everything in its path like it was mere paper. Hashirama was less a man and more raw power shaped like one, he thought, and Madara couldn’t help but love him more than ever right then.

Hashirama reached down into a pile of rubble and yanked the casino owner out, holding him by the gaudy collar of his jacket. Quivering, he stared up at him with wide eyes, covered in dust, blood running down the side of his face from a wound on his head.

It was pathetic, Hashirama thought. This man had just been treating Madara as if he were a toy, an amusement to be played with, and as soon as someone more powerful than he opposed him he turned into a mess. He was arrogant and liked to put his foot down on others’ throats but couldn’t stand the same being done to him.

“I’m not going to kill you,” he said, voice low, a slight scowl on his face as the owner shivered in his grasp. “But consider this a lesson. If you abuse someone like that again, I will kill you. And that man…” His scowl deepened as he leaned closer, making the owner swallow thickly and shrink. His anger was still pulsing hot in his veins and Hashirama usually hated for it to happen, to know he was getting so furious he would have trouble controlling his temper, but right now he didn’t give it too much care. People like this needed to be taught a lesson. “That man is the love of my life. He is my dream. If you ever threaten him again, I’ll do worse than kill you.”

The owner blanched and nodded as rapidly as his bruised neck would allow. Hashirama dropped him, gave him one last disgusted look, and started to traipse back towards where Madara was still sitting immobile.

Madara hadn’t been able to hear a word Hashirama had said but he could see the owner shivering from yards away. His eyes became slightly glazed over as he watched, stared at Hashirama’s scowl, the hard lines of his body, the unyielding look in his eyes, the way he terrified that man so easily, and felt his body go warm.

Hashirama was…power. Madara, in that moment, felt a bit outmatched, because he didn’t think he would ever not feel helpless when it came to Hashirama. There was never a time when he couldn’t send Madara into a daze or make him shiver with excitement. He was closer to a god than Madara had become. In the back of his mind, hidden beneath his denial and agonizing, there was a wish that Madara was his. Madara would give anything to be able to say he was Hashirama’s.

“Let’s go,” Hashirama said, kneeling and reaching for him. Madara came back to himself and stared at him, still dazed, and hardly noticed when he was lifted from the ground. They left the rubble in a pitiful heap and headed for a different part of the city.


 

As it turned out, no one really liked the casino or its owner because several people who’d probably been talking to the attendants who’d fled were looking at Hashirama in awe and varying shades of amusement and gratefulness as he walked down the street. Madara caught sight of an old woman laughing her head off and decided not to mention it.

“No bed, but this feels much better, wouldn’t you say?” Hashirama asked him, smiling as if he hadn’t just demolished an entire place of business and left its owner crying. He sat down in the grass by a pond in a clearing surrounded by trees, just off the road, setting Madara in front of him so he could lean on his chest.

Madara chuckled under his breath and leaned back against Hashirama’s shoulder. “Until it rains, but I suppose.”

“We can find an awning to hide under,” Hashirama joked. He reached up and stroked a hand through Madara’s hair, wiping away a bit of dust that had fallen into it. His voice took on a quieter tone. “I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Madara shifted, uncomfortable at addressing the ordeal. He tried not to think about how weak he’d felt.

“But still. The Hokage gambling away his best jounin? Tobirama would strangle me,” Hashirama chuckled, voice coming out weaker than intended. “I guess I’ll stay away from cards for a while.”

Madara relaxed some and smirked. “We can play. I swear I’ll only take private embarrassing things from you.” And oh, were there ever some private things he wanted to take from Hashirama.

He felt Hashirama’s chest rumble as he laughed. “I don’t know if I want to do something as dangerous as that. Next thing you know I’ll be running across the Hokage Mountain in the nude.”

You’d be doing something in the nude, Madara thought, restraining himself. He sunk into Hashirama’s warmth and placed a hand on the wrist wrapped around him. “We’ll trade information then. See if you can get me to tell you my deepest darkest secrets,” he teased with another smirk.

“Oh? You have deep dark secrets you haven’t told me? Do tell.”

“Only if you win.” There was one secret, not dark, but still hidden in the deepest recesses of his mind that he wished he could say so easily as to give away in a poker game. He wished he could say it, period. “You’ll have to practice.”

“The problem with that is my clones are always just as bad as me and we end up all losing somehow,” Hashirama mumbled, as if he didn’t want to admit it. Madara burst into laughter and turned his head to the side so Hashirama wouldn’t see his mirth. “It’s not funny! I almost lost you in a card game!” Madara just laughed harder, closing his eyes to combat the way they watered.

Hashirama sat there, arm trembling as Madara’s abdomen did, and smiled as he listened to the Uchiha laugh. Everything was fine, even if they were still stuck in an odd alternate dimension full of weird sights and creatures, so long as Madara kept smiling like this.

He imagined raising a hand to cup Madara’s cheek and turning his face back, leaning down to capture his smile with his lips, and hoped, for his heart’s sake, he would get to experience it someday soon. Even if it came slowly, however, or perhaps never at all, everything would be fine- as long as Madara kept smiling at him like this.

Chapter Text

“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 glowe