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O-Bon Appetite

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Izuna had never felt the same love of their Clan’s older traditions that his elder brother did, but Madara hated practicing alone, and Izuna loved Madara, and so a significant portion of Izuna’s free time was spent memorizing footwork. Izuna regret nothing that helped prevent Madara’s mooning over the Senju tree-man. That Madara’s favourite pass-time made Izuna more attractive to the ladies of the Uchiha Clan was just icing on the cake.

Attractive icing on a very pleasurable cake.

All that practice had given Izuna the second-best core control in the Clan among his generation. Only Madara was more skilled, at this point.

Aniki is never going to let me live this down.’ The thought came later, but not much later. After the white-haired bastard Senju had vanished in a way that even the sharingan could not track. After the Senju reappeared, and Izuna was wide open to his attack, and it was only Madara’s relentless coaching on the traditional forms that gave Izuna the skill and control needed to bend and twist out of the path of the blade aimed at his heart. After his war armour proved a hindrance, slowed him down, stiffened his torso. After the Senju’s sword thrust sank home, and the cheating bastard had a fraction of a second to realize that he had missed landing a killing blow.

I’m going to be practicing the old forms every day for the rest of forever and I’m not even going to complain about it!’ Spitting a fireball right into his opponent’s face, Izuna grit his teeth against the pain as the sword was yanked out of his side by the Senju’s hasty retreat. Slapping a handful of flame to the wound, cauterizing the rent flesh before too much blood could be lost, Izuna pulled back from the battlefield.

“Izuna-sama!” Hikaku caught the Clan Heir as he stumbled, cursing the Senju and their tricks. “You’re wounded, please fall back!”

“Not.” Jaw clenched and face pale, Izuna leaned on his clansman heavily. “Not without Aniki.”

They were still in the midst of battle, and Senju Tobirama was his enemy, and so Izuna tracked blue armour through the scrum. So Izuna saw it, when Tobirama reached Hashirama’s side, thankfully without killing any of Izuna’s Clansmen. Izuna saw it, when Madara noted Tobirama’s swift approach, sharingan eyes flickering over the blood on Tobirama’s sword and the scorch marks on blue armour. Izuna saw it, when his older brother realized that he was facing Hashirama and Tobirama together while Madara stood alone.

Izuna saw the agony of desperation as Madara split his attention, using Hashirama’s scolding of Tobirama to scan the battlefield. Hashirama had never taken Madara seriously as an opponent. Izuna would be more insulted by that if he did not know how much of his own power Madara held back when he fought the Senju leader. Izuna saw the relief on his brother’s face when Madara spotted them. Izuna saw the swiftly rising fury as Madara took in the way Hikaku needed to carry most of Izuna’s weight.

Even across the chaos of the battlefield, the blaze of Madara’s sharingan burned balefire bright.

The world went silent.

“Oh shit.” Izuna swallowed his further curses with a dry throat. The Uchiha had all looked up when the crash of a live battle was forcibly muffled.

Kanna shoved up under Izuna’s other arm as a brace, their assistance speeding Hikaku’s retreat as they all-but carried the wounded Clan Heir away. Everywhere there were Uchiha grabbing onto the nearest wounded clansmen, scooping up the fallen from where they lay. This was not the first time in living memory the Uchiha Clan had heard the world ring silent.

“Of all the things to inherit from Ryukyu-sama.” Hikaku cursed under his breath, long and fervent and emphatic as they raced to get out of range. “It had to be that.”

The unnatural silence broke under a tsunami of killing intent, a raging roar of wordless fury that drove the Senju vanguard to their knees. Some stragglers among the retreating Uchiha stumbled, but they had been expecting the blow and grimly pushed their shaking legs forward.

Izuna was able to see Tobirama stagger back, knees buckling. Hashirama was bringing his hands together, probably intending to trap or deflect. The man never directly attacked a retreating foe.

Izuna smirked, savagely amused. ‘Too little, too late, Senju.’

Madara breathed in.

Swept his arms out.

The world was drowned out by fire.

/…/

“Are you going to be alright?” Madara sat beside Izuna’s bed, his face lined with stress and worry.

“The blow missed his vitals.” Kanna assured their fretting brother-in-law. “He’ll be on bed rest for a bit, and I wouldn’t recommend allowing him into battle for several weeks. But he’ll heal completely if he can avoid doing anything too stupid.”

Izuna pouted from his place propped up on pillows. “Cruel wife.”

“Idiot husband.” Kanna replied blandly, flicking a finger against Izuna’s forehead. “You know that Senju you tend to fight has a longer reach than you.”

“Hn. He cheated.” Izuna sulked against his pillow hoard. He had been almost enjoying the competition too, but now… Izuna looked back to Madara. “Aniki? Does this mean I can kill the Senju next time?”

“… Hashirama sent another offer for a truce, and a plea to meet so we could discuss terms for a real treaty.” Holding up a hand to forestall any outbursts, Madara looked seriously at Izuna. “You could have died today, ototou. You could have died, and I can’t…”

Madara shook his head, unable to find the words he needed to articulate his feelings. Kanna bit their lip and touched Izuna’s shoulder gently. “Perhaps it’s for the best. Our resources have declined over these last few months. It’s not noticeable yet, but if it continues at this pace we’ll be rationing rice before this time next year.”

“And the Senju can just have the tree-man grow food if they come up short.” Izuna scowled, settling back with an offended huff. “So we see how far the Senju will take this ‘peace’ farce. The Clan won’t argue, not after the way Aniki ended the last battle.”

“Thank you.” Madara inclined his head. “I wouldn’t have accepted if you had true objections to this course of action.”

“Time to recoup our losses is always welcome, Madara-sama.” Hikaku’s candid statement was the first thing the bodyguard had said since taking up his post by the window. “But I wouldn’t trust them. If Senju Tobirama is so willing to act against his Clan Head and elder brother’s self-professed goals…”

“I know. But we need some breathing room.” Madara sighed and pushed his hair back. “I won’t ask you to believe in peace, just that you not be the first to break it. Let the truce stand for as long as possible and don’t instigate anything. Please.”

“I promise, Aniki.” With a cheerful smile, Izuna patted his brother’s hand. “I won’t even try to take revenge on the Senju snowman.”

“Izuna… it’s obvious to me that… that Senju Tobirama has shown his full willingness to break his elder brother’s given word to me.” Madara’s chakra filled the room, protective and heavy and warm. “If he moves against any Uchiha with hostile intent… consider my orders changed. Strike him down. Do not hold back.”

“Of course, Aniki!” Izuna chirped, not even trying to hide how happy he was with his new orders. This was the best result produced by a near death experience ever!

Izuna had permission to kill Tobirama now, and he would not even need to try and make it look accidental!

/…/

The first round of negotiations was not off to a good start.

YOU LOG-BRAINED LYING LACKWIT!” Madara roared, stomping away from the negotiation table. The Senju Clan head was scrambling back on his ass after being kicked halfway across the clearing when Madara’s temper snapped about three sentences into the opening statements. “KEEP OUR PROMISE? DO YOU EVEN BOTHER REMEMBERING WHAT THAT PROMISE WAS?

“Now, Madara, please calm down!” Hashirama looked shocked, hands up in an easy gesture. “We’ve been dreaming of peace since we were kids!”

“Yes! Peace was our dream, you fool!” Madara snarled, redirecting Tobirama’s attack at his back into a tree without breaking stride as he advanced on Hashirama. “Keeping our brothers alive was our promise, you addle minded termite!”

Aside from Tobirama, none of the Senju ninja were strong enough to contest against Madara, so they remained in place, held back from attacking the rest of the Uchiha party by Uzumaki Mito’s iron fan. The Uchiha, well used to their Clan Head’s volatile temper, had not even twitched from their places. Other than the knock to the head, Tobirama was unharmed, if possibly concussed. Kanna was thankful that Izuna was still confined to his bed. Their husband would have seized the opportunity to follow his new orders regarding Tobirama, and that would gave been the end of this truce attempt.

Kanna was one of the few who had married into the Clan of the current generation, and so they had made sure to be covered from head to toe for this meeting to maintain their anonymity. Not having been born into the Uchiha meant that Kanna was less likely to automatically go for the throat if one of the attending Senju breathed wrong. Uzumaki Mito was, like as not, present for much the same reason. Kanna was simply grateful that Hikaku had stone-cold control over his reflexes, despite his honest distain for the Senju.

They needed the time this truce would give them to replenish their stores and resources. Having their first negotiation meeting devolve into outright war would ruin that plan. Kanna half-hoped that Madara-sama managed to pull off a real peace treaty. If Izuna has been even a fiber less flexible their husband would have been struck down during the last battle.

Kanna never wanted to feel such fear ever again. Their father had been a wandering shinobi. Their mother they had never known, for all the woman must have had Uchiha blood for Kanna to possess their eyes as she did. Kanna’s father had died when they were six, and only their own natural talent for the ninja arts had kept them alive after the fact. Their life had been killing and lying and stealing until one day they had been a little too drunk to be safe, a little too tired to care about their own safety, and they had flirted with a pretty noble boy slumming it in a dockside bar.

That pretty noble boy had been Izuna, and the day he had barged into one of Kanna’s fights, helped them kill their enemies, and then proceeded to spend thirty minutes praising Kanna’s kenjutsu skills before spontaneously proposing marriage without even asking about their gender was one of Kanna’s fondest memories.

The face Izuna had made when Kanna actually accepted his off-hand proposal had been priceless. Even better than the way Madara had sputtered when Izuna introduced them. (Kanna had been tired, back then. So very tired. Even if Izuna had been a trap, at least it would all be over.)

Kanna had been surprised by how easily they had been accepted by the Clan. Apparently the Uchiha only married for love, even though they were far more indiscriminate when it came to pleasure and procreation. Which rather handily explained Kanna’s unknown ancestry.

Kami-sama, please let this work. Let the truce hold. At least long enough for the Uchiha Clan to recover their strength.

Kanna never wanted to see a future where their children starved.

/…/

Head ringing thanks to a high-speed collision with a tree, Tobirama winced as he stood back up. The world was spinning in a worrisome way. He did not try to attack Madara again, back turned to Tobirama or not. The first attack had been driven by instinct, a reflex born of seeing the Uchiha send his older brother flying.

The memory of how Madara had ended the last battle was a terrible one, and it haunted Tobirama’s nightmares. If Hashirama had failed to get the wood barrier up in time… Madara’s fire had charred the soil down to rock and ash and crazily fused lumps of glass. The flesh of the Senju Clan’s warriors would not have fared nearly so well.

The Uchiha forces had been in full bore retreat well before Madara had unleashed his final attack. The Uchiha had known in advance what Madara was capable of. They knew how much their Clan Head held back when battling Hashirama.

Now the Senju were aware of the same. It had rattled the Elders enough for them to relent and Hashirama had pushed through the idea of a peace treaty on equal grounds. Suddenly the Mokuton did not look like a surefire guarantee of the eventual Senju victory anymore.

Tobirama was irritated by their new lack of faith. Hashirama was just relieved to finally have the Clan’s tentative agreement to his peace treaty idea.

The flares in Madara’s chakra were now comforting. Tobirama had always thought them abrasive before, but now he could remember how the Uchiha Clan Head’s chakra had gone cold and still. Even while the world burned at his whim, Madara’s chakra had been frozen as the darkest parts of winter.

For all Madara was berating Hashirama with barbed accusations, the Uchiha’s chakra was scorching and in constant movement. None of that deadly chill in evidence, and Tobirama suppressed a sigh of relief.

Madara was just venting, like an angry teakettle. This was fine. This was manageable.

What had the Uchiha just said to make Hashirama squawk like that? Tobirama started paying attention to what the Uchiha was actually saying instead of tuning out the shouting to focus on the man’s chakra.

“Madara, calm down!” Hashirama backpedaled swiftly. “This isn’t helping us set up a truce!”

“A truce? Like I can trust the Senju to keep to a truce!” Madara barked a laugh, harsh and dismissive. “Your own brother doesn’t follow your edicts, Hashirama! What assurance could you possibly offer me that would stand up to the fact that your brother tried to kill mine?”

“Hey! Tobirama listens to me! Most of the time.” Hashirama winced and dodged another blow. “Tobirama knows I want peace! He wouldn’t, ack! Madara! Stop that!”

Tobirama felt like he was going to be sick. Hashirama had spoken often enough of his dream for Tobirama to know of it, yes. However, there had never been any actual orders given in regards to it. Not once had Hashirama made any sort of statement about not killing the Uchiha.

In the back of his mind, Tobirama had always assumed that the plan was to beat the Uchiha down and absorb them into the Senju once they were weakened enough. That was why… oh no.

THEN WHY DID HE STICK HIS SWORD THROUGH IZUNA’S CHEST?” Madara roared into Hashirama’s stunned face. “Why have the Senju spent the last two years raiding Uchiha lands? Only our lands? I have seen nothing from you but empty words while you wage a war that’s killing us!”

“No, but, I didn’t!” Hashirama had gone pale, scrambling for words. “Madara, listen to me, please! I didn’t. Is… is Izuna okay?”

Madara stared at Hashirama, his sharingan whirling and Tobirama wanted to yank his brother away. What was Hashirama thinking, looking into Madara’s eyes like that? Hashirama knew what an Uchiha could so with even a second of direct eye contact.

“… You’re a moss-brained moron and I should set you on fire.” With a disgusted snort Madara spun on his heel and stalked back to the negotiation table. “Izuna will live, no thanks to your brother. Tell me, did you even realize you needed to plan ahead to make even this much possible, or did you just twitter on about peace and expect it to magically happen without any actual efforts on your part?”

“Hey!” Pouting in full force, Hashirama scrambled after Madara, his hair tangled in wild knots and his clothing an unholy mess. “I didn’t see you doing anything either!”

“Any Uchiha raiding team sent into Senju territory is under orders to avoid destruction of property and any unnecessary casualties. Especially among children and civilians.” The Uchiha introduced as Hikaku stated flatly from his place at Madara’s right shoulder. “Attempts were to be made to take Senju prisoners if at all possible, especially those more closely related to the main branch. Specifically, Izuna-sama was under orders to take Senju Tobirama alive. Wounding was acceptable in dire circumstances, but dealing a permanently crippling or mortal injury was strongly discouraged for any reason less than life-threatening.”

“… Oh.” Hashirama looked stunned as he processed that.

“Given your brother’s attempt on Izuna’s life, I have since recanted those orders.” Mild as lily-water, Madara swept a hand out to indicate the scrolls scattered atop the table. “I suggest he refrain from trying again. He will not find Izuna nearly so easy to murder should we return to the battlefield. I suggest you treat this seriously, Hashirama. This is your last chance. Now, tell me what ridiculous demands your idiot Elders have sent you here with so I can tell you no.”

“Madara, you could at least try to be polite!” Hashirama slumped over the elaborate negotiation table he had grown straight out of the ground with a low whine of dismay. It was, Tobirama realized with no small amount of horror, the exact same way Hashirama responded to Mito’s lectures on ‘proper conduct befitting of a Clan Head’.

Still reeling from the revelation that Madara had issued long-standing, public orders for Tobirama to be taken alive, Tobirama found himself watching the Uchiha delegation with more curiosity than hostile suspicion for once. None of the Uchiha members were wearing their war armour, unlike most of the Senju. Only Mito and Hashirama were dressed in a manner befitting a diplomatic meeting. It left Tobirama feeling uncharacteristically bulky and cumbersome in his familiar blue plate. Especially compared to the Uchiha, who were light and lethally graceful in the minimal protection of ceremonial chest plate, kote, and suneate. If it came to a retreat the Uchiha would be able to outpace the Senju easily.

Although they had left off the armour, the Uchiha had added layers of cloth to compensate. One androgynous figure stood at Madara’s left hand with a hood pulled low over their hair and a cloth mask pulled up over their nose until only the band of skin surrounding dark, watchful eyes was visible. Gender was entirely indistinguishable, although Tobirama would guess male simply going by height. Even Madara was covered up to the neck, gloves on his hands and his ridiculous mass of hair hiding him even further. Honestly, Tobirama saw more skin exposed in battle against the Uchiha than he was seeing here at the negotiation table.

How unexpectedly retiring of them.

/…/

Time passed, as it was wont to do. Against all odds the truce held, and then continued to hold. Slowly edging closer to true peaceful relations. True to form, Hashirama started talking about his dream village again before a full year of nonaggression had gone by.

Madara was understandably hesitant. Now fully aware of his elder brother’s inability to recognize the need for forward planning, Tobirama quietly started drafting plans for construction and started making lists of what supplies would be needed in how much quantity.

Eventually, after nearly a full year of nagging, Hashirama got his way and serious discussions began to take place regarding where to build, and when, and which other Clans to invite to join them. Between the arguments and Madara’s tendency to hurl scrolls at Hashirama’s head to make a point, it was almost like being at war again. Tobirama did have to admit that Madara’s methods of bringing paperwork to Hashirama’s attention were effective methods. As in, somehow, between all the shouting and insulting name-calling, Madara actually managed to bully Hashirama into actually doing said paperwork.

Tobirama would suspect a genjutsu but he had already run through every dispelling trick he knew twice. It was real, and Mito appeared to the taking notes on Madara’s delivery. Tobirama feared for the future of the world if that unholy alliance ever actually came into being. Both Mito and Madara did not need any more bad influences in their lives.

“Huh. I would’ve expected more tree houses from a Senju design.” With a sly smirk, Izuna flicked the edge of the rough maps Tobirama had sketched out for each of the proposed Village locations. “Who would believe that the mighty Senju live down in the dirt with the rest of us poor mortals.”

“That’s nonsense.” Tobirama scowled, and as relieved as he was that Izuna had pulled off his impossible dodge so that this peaceful time was possible, sometimes Tobirama really wished he was still free to punch Izuna in the face at will without risking renewed hostilities with the Uchiha Clan. The peace was strong enough now that getting into a brawl would not signal a return to outright war, but. Diplomacy. Ech. “Go bother someone else, Uchiha.”

“Of course, of course.” Cackling at Tobirama’s annoyed glare, Izuna skipped off. One of the Uchiha who was always fully covered up and masked ambling along in his wake.

Forcibly relaxing his clenched teeth, Tobirama turned back to his drafting. After a moment of staring blankly at his plans Tobirama fought the urge to curse aloud. They could more than double the available living space by using Mokuton grown trees to build upwards, and if they made sure to add enough extra buildings for future expansion they would not have to worry about any of Hashirama’s children needing to express the Mokuton. The shinobi Clans would be fine in the trees, and it would give the merchants and farmers and tradesmen they hoped to lure in enough space to feel more comfortable with their new neighbours.

Security-wise, that meant the best choice for location would be the Naka river site. The mountains would break the worst of Fire Country’s monsoons, and the yearly burns would be easier to manage. Between the cliffs, the river, and the Uchiha there was little chance of a crown fire taking them by surprise.

Damn Izuna. Scowling at the newest plans and the ink splashed on his sleeve, Tobirama fumed. This was going to mean so much extra work.

Accursed Uchiha lightning bug kept making Tobirama’s life difficult even without trying to kill him.

/…/

Konohagakure no Sato was alight with glowing lanterns. The approach of O-Bon had seen more and more of the clay and paper covers lit up from within. Lights were strung from every level of the Village Hidden in the Leaves.

Tobirama looked out over the manifestation of his brother’s cherished dream and felt warm contentment grow in his chest. It had been a hard year, but the struggles to get here had been worth it.

Even dealing with Madara and his unfortunate effect on Hashirama was worth it.

/…/

“Are you insane?” Madara had scoffed when the subject of a Village Head had been brought up. “Do you know how much work it is to run a single Clan? And now you want to add running even more Clans to that? And dealing with civilians too? Not on your miserable life! I pity the fool tasked with managing Hashirama’s paperwork, because it’s certainly not going to be me.”

“… More paperwork?” Hashirama looked like someone had punched a kitten in front of him. “No one ever said anything about more paperwork. Can’t we share?”

Tobirama had resisted the urge to slam his head against the nearest reasonably solid flat surface and drafted a Village Charter that clarified the responsibilities of each Clan within the greater whole of the Village, the power of the Head Council, and the creation of non-Clan dependant management positions. The increased clamor for a declared leader had Madara sarcastically suggesting that they take turns, Hashirama taking him literally and enthusiastically agreeing to the idea, and Tobirama heroically resisting the urge to strangle them both while he figured out the logistics for that bit of nonsense.

“Each Clan Head will serve for seven years as the Village Head, proceeding in the order by which their Clan joined the Village.” Tobirama glowered at the gathered Clan Heads. Only a few of the smaller Clans had joined Konoha when Hashirama sent the invitations, but there were enough for the power plays to annoy Tobirama into a headache. “Any questions?”

“Yeah.” Izuna grinned, so very happy he was to further ruin Tobirama’s day. “Who gets to go first, Senju or Uchiha?”

“Not it.” Madara and Hashirama said in tandem, turning to give each other narrow eyed glares. The other Clan Heads watched incredulously as the two strongest ninja of their generation squabbled like unruly children. Tobirama’s head sank into his hands.

He gave up. This was apparently his life now. The only small comfort Tobirama had at this point was the knowledge that he would never be tapped as the Village Head.

/…/

“Enjoying yourself, Hokage-sama?” Tobirama smirked as Hashirama groaned at the reminder of his duties.

“Stop it, Tobi! We agreed that I get holy days off!” Poking his brother in the side, Hashirama pouted. “I can’t believe Madara won the coin toss.”

“Anija.” Tobirama sighed ruefully, too amused by his brother’s comical suffering to be offended by the so-called loss. “It was a bet. You always lose when you make bets. You know that. Madara knows that. Madara was probably counting on that. If you really wanted to win you should have asked Mito to call it for you. Or settled it by arm wrestling.”

It was a source of much amusement that Mito’s luck was as unnaturally good as Hashirama’s was unnaturally bad. The way Hashirama had wailed when Madara congratulated him on his ‘promotion’ was almost amusing enough for Tobirama to forgive the Uchiha for sticking the Senju with all the startup paperwork.

The smug asshole was probably still laughing at them.

Although given that the other Nations had recently started making noises about forming their own Hidden Villages perhaps it was better for Hashirama to represent them for now. Madara had gotten twitchy and paranoid as Tobirama himself at the news. Hashirama, of course, had been overjoyed to hear of the other Clans ‘following his dream’. Mito’s news that the Uzumaki were gathering the Clans of Wave together to found a similar Village of their own had mitigated some of their worry. With a head start, a strong foundation, and a loyal ally, Konohagakure had a confirmed position of strength for any future negotiations.

“Boo, you’re such a killjoy, Tobi.” Flapping his hand to wave Tobirama away, Hashirama grinned. “Let’s go see Madara! The Uchiha are the only ones we haven’t told about the plans for the big bonfire!”

“… Right.” So much for hoping Hashirama would spontaneously catch a clue about what a horrible idea this was. Or develop tact. Tobirama sighed in resignation to his fate and followed his over-excited brother through the Village. Hashirama had decided, in the name of Village Unity, to encourage some mingling. To help with that, an unusually large bonfire was being built up and would be lit to mark the last night of the festivities. Every Clan had gotten a personal visit from the Hokage in order to deliver their invitation.

The idea of inviting the Uchiha to mourn with the Senju, when so many of those gone on had been slain by the other Clan… Tobirama grimaced. He could only hope that Hashirama managed to escape without being lynched. Although at this point they could not avoid inviting the Uchiha without sending the wrong kind of message, damn politics to the darkest pit in yomi.

The one good thing about their strange mutual obsession was that neither Madara nor Hashirama had ever killed a member of the other Clan, so they were the least personally objectionable individuals to the opposing Clan on any level. None of the Uchiha had a grudge against Hashirama specifically, so they might even manage to survive this.

One could only hope.

/…/

This was Tobirama’s first in-person visit to the Uchiha Clan grounds since the construction had finished, and even before then his presence had been brief and limited. Hashirama, bring the one who had grown all of the home trees, knew his way around well enough to find the main festival grounds.

Having been notified of their goal by a message Tobirama sent her way, Mito caught up to the Senju brothers right outside the gates, accompanied by Touka. Both ladies were interested in seeing what the Uchiha Clan had made of their new compound. Tobirama was simply thankful for the assistance they offered in containing Hashirama’s enthusiasm, and the backup in case things with the Uchiha got nasty. As he had feared from the beginning, Mito got along far too well with Madara, and in this case it was a diplomatic boon not to be overlooked.

The first thing Tobirama noticed was that the compound’s gates were open. Certainly the compound walls were more to contain small children and keep out nosey civilians, but it was still odd. The second thing Tobirama noticed was that there were no guards. The third thing Tobirama noticed was the heat. Even in his simple, summer-weight clothing, Tobirama was sweating half-a-dozen steps into the Uchiha grounds.

“This way, Tobi!” Hashirama called cheerfully from where he had gone ahead while his brother lingered at the gates. “You too, Mito! Come on, come on!”

“… Might as well get this over with.” Tobirama muttered, not even caring that it was loud enough for Mito and Touka to hear. Touka laughed at her cousin’s moping and Mito just hid her amused smile behind her sleeve.

Hashirama rounded a large pillar, bounded through a decorative arch, shrieked in high-pitched, appalled shock, and froze mid-step. His momentum carried him straight into a face-first meeting with the ground.

Tobirama blinked, startled out of his sulk, exchanged a curious look with the ladies, and stepped around the prone, groaning body of his elder brother to see what was so shocking. All Tobirama could sense was the usual flares of Uchiha chakra, nothing stunning about that.

The scene resolved itself in snatches. Nearly blinding amounts of light, shining from lanterns ringing every platform and staircase, draped from every bough. A bonfire blazing brightly at each compass point, throwing off sweltering heat in addition to light. Multiple levels, platforms climbing the trees around them in giant rings centered on the main gathering grounds, each with their own share of open flames. Light, glinting from metal chains and coin-sized discs, shimmering on silk, glittering on multi-coloured beads made of glass and gemstones.

The Uchiha, all of them, from smallest babe in arms to the rare white haired elders, gathered in a great crowd. The Uchiha, stripped bare to the waist but for draping jewelry. The Uchiha, their pale skin exposed and shining in the light of the dancing flames.

“… Oh my.” Mito fanned herself slowly, her smile sly and her eyes shining with wicked glee. “This is…”

Tobirama realized he was gawking and forced his face back under control, although his eyes remained a little wide. The Uchiha had never been less than completely covered in Tobirama’s every interaction with them. Seeing this much moon pale skin on open display was doing things to Tobirama’s composure and higher thought processes.

“Hashirama! What are you rolling around on the ground for, you overgrown buffoon?” As if to deliberately destroy Tobirama’s treasured yet fragile concept of reality, Madara materialized out of the barely clothed crowd of his clansmen. Gold and black and red, silk and delicate jewelry bright against shimmering white skin.

Hashirama’s garbled reply made little sense. Tobirama’s mouth had gone dry, although he suspected that it was for a far different reason than Hashirama’s incoherence. The thick, waist-length mane that Madara usually let hang wild had been half tamed, drawn back from the Uchiha’s face into a partial phoenix tail strung with feathers and glinting chains and glittering beads. Large dark eyes were fully exposed, made larger by painted lines of black kohl. Sharp jaw and oddly delicate collarbones scandalously exposed to any who might think to look.

Prodding Hashirama’s ribs with a silk-slippered foot, Madara raised a thin brow when the Senju Head croaked a weak protest. “I’ve gone blind. It cannot be unseen…”

“Stop being a fool and tell me what you’re doing here.” Planting a heel in Hashirama’s gut when his friend just kept mumbling gloomily to himself, Madara rolled his eyes at the offended squeak that resulted and turned to the other Senju arrivals. “I assume you did have a reason for coming here?”

“Hashirama has a big party planned for the end of the festivities.” Touka was eyeing a flock of Uchiha kunoichi with open appreciation. “Every Clan is invited and encouraged to take part.”

“In the spirit of unity and cooperation we would be honored if the Uchiha would care to attended.” Mito added piously, doing her own share of eyeing. Madara seemed content to ignore the salacious leer being directed at his barely clad thighs by his best friend’s wife. “The bonfire will be lit two night hence. Will you be in attendance?”

With a shrug Madara stepped away from Hashirama. “I’m willing to play politics, but I make no promises, nor will I demand, for the attendance of my Clansmen.”

“Understandable.” Voice hoarse, Tobirama latched onto the first thought that occurred to him in an effort to distract himself from his unexpectedly strong physical reactions. “I’ve never seen attire like this before.”

“We wear it to honour our ancestors, as every Uchiha has done since the first son freed his mother from her cage.” The defensive snap to Madara’s voice was refreshingly familiar, and it was odd how this was what helped Tobirama reclaim his usual poise. The Uchiha huffed, tossing his hair back in agitation, and Tobirama’s clothes were far too constricting for comfort. “Not that you would know anything about our traditions, Senju.”

“No, but I would appreciate the chance to learn.” The frank honesty in Tobirama’s words made Madara blink, and Hashirama toppled back over with a startled squawk as Mito dropped him to clutch at her chest. Tobirama pointedly ignored his the antics of his relatives to focus on Madara. “Do you use crane feathers for the symbolism or the colours?”

Bemused, Madara blinked up at Tobirama like the younger Senju was something new and unusual. “… Mostly the symbolism as we learn of it and finds what suits us best. I wear Crane feathers. Izuna tends to favour Kingfisher feathers. However there are some, mostly the younger children, who simply choose what they like the look of.”

“Aniki! There you are!” In a display of his usual inconvenient timing, Izuna bounced over to his brother’s side. Frowning briefly at the Senju visitors, Izuna visibly put his desire to complain about their presence aside and grinned at Madara instead. “Come dance with me, Aniki!”

“Izuna, ack!” Stumbling after his brother, who had failed to wait for a response and simply started dragging him along by the wrist, Madara started laughing. “Brat! Why isn’t your wife minding you?”

The mention of Izuna being married was noted and filed away, but Izuna’s actual words went unheard. There was even less to the Uchiha outfit in the back, and Tobirama’s gaze had caught and locked on Madara’s lower back. There were dimples there, the small indents on either side of Madara’s spine perfectly spaced to cradle Tobirama’s thumbs if he were to grip Madara’s hips from behind.

Tobirama was surprised steam was not escaping from his ears. His blood felt like it should be boiling in his veins. Hashirama took one look at his little brother’s face and had a gibbering breakdown that mostly communicated his desire for a drink. Mito had progressed to outright cackling and Touka had scored the attention of the Uchiha ladies she had been admiring and was now pretending not to see her ridiculously overdramatic Clan Head.

The music swelled, something unfamiliar in melody but with a heavy, demanding beat. Madara and Izuna glanced at each other, grinned, and then they moved.

Tobirama promptly forgot how thinking worked.

/…/

“They’re good at this, aren’t they?” An amused voice managed to pull Tobirama out of the fog his brain had fallen into, at least enough to process language again. Speaking was still beyond him, and he still could not pull his eyes away from the sway of Madara’s hips, but at least he was not drooling brainlessly in a corner. The unknown voice laughed. “Madara-sama loves the dances, and practices every day. My husband is not so fond, but he does enjoy spending time with his brother doing something that makes him happy. They’ll spend most of the night out there trying to outdo each other, and they’ll dance every other member of the Clan into the ground.”

An inarticulate noise escaped Tobirama as Madara executed a fluid twist, every exposed inch rippling with a concert of flexing muscles, a smooth shift of weight spinning into a move that looked familiar. A blink cleared some of the stars from his eyes. That was the exact same movement Izuna had used to avoid the worst of the blow Tobirama had aimed to kill him with three years ago. A dance move had saved Izuna’s life.

… No wonder Tobirama had not been able to recognize the foundation of the Uchiha taijutsu style. Pity. He had been working up to asking Madara for the kata, but it seemed learning the Uchiha taijutsu was much more involved than Tobirama had previously imagined.

“I remember seeing the Uchiha dance for the first time. It was at my wedding and I imagine my face looked much like yours.” Managing to tear his eyes away from the hypnotic flex of Madara’s shoulders under the shifting veil of dark hair, Tobirama glanced to the side to take in his company. A tall woman with the lean muscles of an active kunoichi, dressed in the Uchiha fashion. White hair clipped short along the sides but allowed to grow long otherwise and braided back in many thin, bead decorated strands. Charcoal eyes returned the brief scrutiny before deliberately focusing back on the dancers. “This is not what people imagine when they think of the fearsome, demon-eyed Uchiha Clan, now is it?”

“No.” Unable to deny himself, Tobirama’s avid gaze sought Madara out again. The man was clever and passionate and loyal, and for all that he seemed to delight in causing Tobirama annoyance Madara had a thousand traits worthy of admiration that had slowly been revealed over the last few years as they worked together to build the Village. Tobirama had been willing to admit to appreciation, and had begun to entertain the thought of making advances. He had not anticipated getting a front row seat to Madara being overtly enticing. The world had gone completely mad. Still, politics and politeness both demanded Tobirama make small talk, and distracted or not multi-tasking was still one of his skills. “You married in? From which Clan?”

“Mm, yes I did. To Izuna.” It was till surprising to think of Izuna as married, especially to someone who was so visibly not Uchiha. It was also odd for the younger son to wed before the elder, and yet Madara was still obviously unmarried. “And I’m Clanless, actually. So far as I know, anyway. My father may have had a Clan, but I was too young when he died to remember something like that for all that I’ve got enough Uchiha blood from somewhere to have awakened their eyes.”

Tobirama’s head snapped around to stare at Izuna’s wife. The Clan Heir, marrying a Clanless outsider? It was an utterly alien concept. Even Hashirama, hapless dreamer that he was, had taken care to marry well. Maybe it was different for Bloodline Clans. Maybe it was enough, for an Uchiha, that this woman had the sharingan. Maybe for the Uchiha having the sharingan negated the stigma that came with being mission-born. Even still it was… a baffling concept.

The Uchiha were so strange.

“Surprised, are you? So was I.” Sharp teeth flashed in the firelight as she smirked. “The Uchiha… they don’t seem to care about the circumstances of birth. As long as I honour my husband with my love and loyalty it is as if I were born among them.”

“… I see.” Blinking, Tobirama shook his head. “Forgive me, Uchiha-san. I’ve been rude. I am Senju Tobirama. Might I know your name?”

“No need for apologies, Senju Tobirama. We’ve met more than once before.” Amused grey eyes flickered over to look Tobirama in the face. “I am Uchiha Kanna.”

“… Izuna’s bodyguard.” Tobirama fought the urge to wince in embarrassment. The constantly masked and hooded Uchiha who dogged Izuna’s heels relentlessly. Tobirama should have noticed the chakra signature, even with his distraction. “Forgive me, I thought you were a man.”

“Hm. Sometimes I am. It all depends.” A fluid shrug accompanied the odd comment, and Kanna turned her attention fully back to the dancers, effectively ending the conversation.

/…/

Kanna seemed to have taken it upon herself to monitor the visiting Senju party. A well and truly soused Hashirama was slumped in a corner, drowning his sorrows in sake and generally looking too traumatized by the sight of his best friend’s exposed chest to escape back to his own home. Unruffled as always, Mito was conversing with a constantly changing number of Uchiha who were not currently dancing. Being much closer to the bonfires, both Touka and Tobirama had rolled up their sleeves and loosened their obi. An action that may or may not have contributed to Hashirama’s second jug of sake emptying as quickly as it did.

“You’re going to overheat in that.” One of the dark eyed kunoichi pointed out to Touka with a giggle, tugging at the chest wrap that was still keeping the Senju lady modest despite the gaping collar of her robe. “You should change!”

“We wouldn’t dare assume.” Tobirama cut in before Touka could offer to take anything else off either of them. “Or risk causing insult.”

“Aw, I’m sure we could find something for you to wear.” Smirking, Kanna waved an idle hand. “What do you think, Madara-sama? Should we be good neighbours and save our poor Senju guests from heatstroke?”

“Hmph. The Senju are all built like damn trees. Anything casual we could lend them would probably be too small.” Madara looked Tobirama up and down, like a horse he was considering for purchase. There was heat in the intent gaze as Madara’s eyes lingered a few seconds longer than needed on Tobirama’s bare shoulders. “Still, I think we could find something more appropriate for them to wear. Especially if they insist on being a part of our festivities.”

With that Madara whispered something to Touka’s new lady friend, and the Uchiha kunoichi grinned like a fiend.

/…/

“Oh, this is much more comfortable.” Touka commented in relief as they walked back into the main Uchiha celebration.

“Mm, it is.” Inclining his head, Tobirama searched the crowd for Madara. “It’s interesting that the Uchiha accept others into their traditions so easily. I would have expected more objections to the idea of dressing Senju in their Clan’s ceremonial garb.”

“Funny how things work out, hm, little cousin?” Touka nudged Tobirama with a playful elbow, well aware of her cousin’s ongoing rivalry with Madara over Hashirama’s paperwork. “Now come on, we need to go this way so I can see the look on our esteemed Clan Head’s face when he sees our new outfits!”

/…/

Too horrified to scream, Hashirama gaped as Tobirama paused to talk to Mito. A cackling Touka slung her arm around her very helpful new Uchiha friend and started whispering into the giggling kunoichi’s ear. Mito just raised her brows at the both of them.

“Well now.” Tobirama turned just in time to catch the appreciation flash in dark eyes as Madara dragged his gaze up Tobirama’s body. “You do manage to clean up nicely, Senju.”

“If you say so.” The heat between them had nothing to do with the bonfires and Tobirama now had a very good feeling about where the night was leading them. “Your approval is appreciated.”

“Hmm.” The slow, wicked smile that curved Madara’s red-painted lips stole the breath from Tobirama’s lungs. “Do you dance, Senju?”

“Not nearly well enough to keep up with you.” Standing much too close for his intent to be mistaken, Tobirama watched Madara laugh with hooded eyes. “Although it has been an honour to watch you perform.”

“Ah, flattery. I profess, I did not think that a skill you would cultivate.” Tossing back dark hair, Madara smoldered up at Tobirama with a sharp grin. “Perhaps you can learn to keep up, Senju.”

“You know how quickly I learn, Uchiha.” A promise delivered like a threat, and the heat in Tobirama’s gut flared as Madara stroked at burning-warm palm over his chest.

“Enjoy the show then, Senju, if you are too shy to come play.” The swing in Madara’s hips was a taunt and an invitation both. One that Tobirama fully intended to take the sultry Uchiha up on.

The music swelled up again, and Tobirama’s senses were awash in firelight, his thoughts consumed by the way Madara’s body moved in the dance.

/…/

The fires had burned low and the false dawn was lightening the Eastern horizon by the time the last song ended. The crowd of revelers had thinned over the course of the night, but a good third of the Uchiha Clan had danced the moon to bed and were greeting the first glimmering of a new dawn with undimmed enthusiasm.

Tobirama had stayed even after Mito had dragged Hashirama off to sleep off his inebriation. Touka had disappeared with her new Uchiha friend barely an hour ago, but not before giving Tobirama a leering wink.

Which, to be fair, he had probably deserved. Madara had managed to tempt Tobirama out for a few of the simpler dances and getting to put his hands on Madara’s skin had done nothing for Tobirama’s fraying composure.

Proving the truth of Uchiha Kanna’s earlier words, Izuna and Madara had rarely left the dance floor for more than the few minutes it took to down a drink or stuff a few bites of food into their mouths. In yet more evidence of Uchiha insanity, Izuna and Madara were leaning on one another in obvious exhaustion but were still pouting as the musicians laughingly denied them another song and packed away their instruments.

“Kanna-chan~!” Caroling his wife’s name happily, Izuna stopped hanging off his brother to fling himself bodily into Kanna’s arms. It amused Tobirama to not that much like his brother, Izuna was built along compact lines, and his wife was noticeably several centimeters taller than the younger Uchiha. “I danced for you~ did you watch?”

“I watched.” Kanna responded fondly as her punch-drunk husband nuzzled his flushed face under her chin. “Time for bed now, husband mine.”

“Aw, best wife.” Izuna grinned gleefully, not at all put off by the sharp points the teeth exposed when Kanna returned his grin. “Are you gonna take care of me?”

“You Uchiha and your dancing.” Kanna huffed good-naturedly. Izuna squealed happily as he was tossed up over his wife’s shoulder. Kanna inclined her head respectfully to her Clan Head. “Brother-in-law, Tobirama-san. If you’ll excuse me, I have a husband to fuck cross-eyed.”

With a snort, Madara waved Kanna away. Tobirama blinked at the sight of his erstwhile rival cackling breathlessly as his wife strode away with purpose in her step.

“I’m gonna get ravaged!” Izuna crowed triumphantly, waggling his eyebrows in a way that was as salacious as it was ridiculous.

Madara stared after his brother with slight dismay. “… Sometimes I wonder where I went wrong with him. And then I remember that sometimes people are just born a little odd in the head.”

“Hm.” Recalling a lifetime of Hashirama being… himself, Tobirama inclined his head in agreement. He said nothing more, content to watch the expressions flicker across Madara’s face. Did the Uchiha know how much of his thoughts his face gave away? Perhaps that was why Madara scowled so much when he was outside the Uchiha Clan Compound. It certainly explained why Madara wore his hair draped over half his face.

“So. Have you learned enough to sate your curiosity, Senju?” Tilting a sly look up at Tobirama, the Uchiha Clan Head smirked, dark eyes gleaming in the low light. “Or do you have questions still?”

“It is evidence of your contradictory nature, Uchiha.” Tobirama responded dryly. “That I have learned so much about you and your Clan this night with only more unanswered questions to show for it.”

“Oh?” Eyes wide and deceptively innocent, Madara fluttered his lashes like a courtesan, amused mockery clear in his tone. “Do you mean to disparage my abilities as a host, Senju?”

“I mean to call you as you are.” With a snort, Tobirama rolled his eyes. “You are contrary, and frustrating, and delight in causing confusion, and I should not find that half as engaging as I do.”

“Well then. If you have questions for me, Senju Tobirama, perhaps you should voice them clearly instead of skulking about like a thief hoping to uncover gold. Unless…” Strong and calloused and radiating enough heat to scald, Madara pressed a hand to the skin over Tobirama’s heart. There was a challenge in half-lidded eyes and a sultry slant to the wicked smirk directed up at him. “Unless you are too much a coward to ask, for fear of unwanted answers.”

Senju Tobirama had been called many things over the years, some of those things truer than others, but rarely had he been accused of cowardice. Rarely had he been accused of avoiding a task simply because he disliked the idea of it. Intent on his goal, Tobirama trapped Madara’s hand under his own, and was unspeakably charmed by the glee that lit up the Uchiha’s usually dour features. Seized with reckless abandon, Tobirama dared to press a step closer into Madara’s space. “Well then, if that is the way you would have it, Madara… may I kiss you?”

Ink and onyx gave way to blood and rubies, blazing with shocked delight. How strange it was, after generations of blood feuds and furious battle, to look into the glow of a spinning sharingan without fear.

“You may.” Came Madara’s answer, rife with badly suppressed laughter even as his free hand reached up to pull Tobirama’s head down. Yielding to the pressure, Tobirama bowed down as Madara rose up. The Uchiha’s skin was still flushed from a night of exertion, his blood still running high and hot from dancing for hours without pause. Kanna had implied that dancing had an effect on the Uchiha, and Tobirama intended to take copious notes. “Mmm.”

Lush and sweetly yielding, Madara’s mouth opened to Tobirama’s soft assault even as strong, calloused hands held the taller man’s head still to kiss and be kissed. A dichotomy and a puzzle that sent a thrill though Tobirama’s blood with every new revelation. Madara was pressed full length against him, held close by the tight clasp of Tobirama’s arms. Skin on skin with only a few thin layers of silk still between them.

“Haa…” Madara’s lips were red and swollen when he pulled away undeterminable minutes later, eyes dark and wanting. A soft laugh, and Madara pressed into Tobirama’s hold, arching his spine shamelessly. “Hmm, are you planning on following me home, Senju?”

“Only if you wish me to.” Tobirama murmured, reluctantly setting Madara loose so he could lead the way. “And only if you call me Tobirama. This isn’t about old rivalries.”

“Ah. Something for the new lives we’re beginning here.” Madara smiled, a lopsided thing that sat oddly at home on elegant Uchiha features. Still smiling, Madara took Tobirama’s hand again. “I do wish to take you home with me, Tobirama.”

“Then I’ll walk you home, Madara.” Tobirama followed as Madara led the way through the grey light of pre-dawn. Wondering idly, in what small corner of his mind not currently consumed by desire now that he knew his interest was freely returned, what madness had infected him.

Climbing the stairs to his home set Madara’s hips swinging, the dimples on his lower back carving a little deeper. Mouth dry, Tobirama decided that for once thinking was overrated, and he needed to get his hands on Madara soon or he could not be held accountable for any acts of public indecency that resulted from this liaison.

=/=