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What I'm Selling Ain't Cheap (Context Is Everything)

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It hadn’t been all that hard to convince Madara to come along on this little road trip. Actually it had been embarrassingly easy. The only thing Hashirama had to say was Tobirama’s name and his ass was up off the couch, feet halfway to the car.

“Visit your hot little brother? I’m in.” It wasn’t like he had anything better planned for his weekend off.

“That is so gross,” Hashirama protested. “Can’t you just say you’d like to see him because you guys are friends or something?”

“But we’re not friends. He’s hot but he hates me.” Madara tossed his hair to hide the way his lips turned down at that. He may not be the most likeable person in the world but he usually managed to win over the people he set out to impress, even if he had to steamroll over their protests with sheer stubbornness. So far his efforts hadn’t gained him much ground with Tobirama. It seemed he may have finally found someone more stubborn than himself. It was just his rotten luck that he found that to be Tobirama most attractive quality.

Shaking his head, Hashirama let that pass without comment. “So that means you’re in to drive up there with me, right? I want to surprise him with a visit but driving by myself for three hours is so boring.”

“Buy me lunch,” Madara bartered. “And you’re not allowed any more than three pee stops. And you’re not allowed to follow me in to the bathroom when I go!”

Hashirama accepted his conditions, sniggering at the last bit but thankfully saying nothing on the subject. He really must not have wanted to drive alone if he was passing on the opportunity to make fun of Madara’s inability to pee with anyone standing behind him.

The journey itself wasn’t nearly as bad as it had the potential to be. As dearly as he cared for his best friend, Hashirama was usually a nightmare to be trapped in a car with for several hours at a time.  But for once he behaved and didn’t beg for extra bathroom breaks or try to convince Madara that they should pull over to visit some of the local attractions they passed along the way. This time it was only the traffic jam they hit when they were merely a few blocks away from the university dorms that managed to sour his mood. By the time they had finally arrived and climbed up three flights of stairs only to learn that Tobirama wasn’t even home, Madara was fit to spew fire in his irritation.

“Well where the fuck is the bastard?” he demanded of the roommate who answered the door. Madara watched curiously as the guy looked back and forth down the hall, clearly checking to make sure they were alone before answering.

“He’s usually in the library around this time. That’s where he meets you.”

Before either of them had a chance to ask what the hell that meant the guy was slipping back in the room and snapping the door shut in their faces. Hashirama excitedly pulled on Madara’s shirt sleeve and led him away quickly, probably recognizing the rising temper in his expression.

It took asking three different students for directions to find their way to the free library on campus. One person sent them to the wrong building, the second was so high she probably didn’t understand what planet she was on, but the third barely looked up from the notes she was pouring over as she pointed to the right and blandly told them just to follow the road for a kilometer or so. Their luck finally began to turn around for the better when they found a parking spot almost right next to the entrance. Madara calmed down enough that he could probably restrain himself from screaming in a library, though he did flare back up a little when Hashirama patted his shoulder in patronizing congratulations.

Once inside, however, they realized they might still need more directions.

“Uh, excuse me?” Hashirama darted over to whisper softly at the closest people to them, a young couple wearing matching shirts with their school crest on the back. “We’re looking for someone; can you help us? Perhaps you’ve seen him.”

“What’s he look like?” the girl asked. Madara rolled his eyes. Obviously Hashirama was about to explain that. Could someone this stupid really help them?

“Ah, he’s an albino? White hair and white skin and really pretty red eyes!”

“Oh him.” The guy nodded his head in understanding, mouth curling up in to a sly smirk. “Yeah I know where to find him. Come on, we were heading over to that section anyway.”

Hashirama beamed his thanks while Madara narrowed his eyes suspiciously. It was just such an odd tone the guy had spoken in, the innuendo heavy in his voice. It was clear what he seemed to be suggesting even though the very idea of it was just plain ridiculous.

Still, they seemed to know where Tobirama was so he would follow along despite the oddity and just observe for now. He kept his silence as they all trekked around endless stacks of books on more subjects than he cared to think about – partly because most of those subjects were either over his head or would have bored him to tears. The library appeared to be broken up in to three major sections and they actually had to go down a small set of stairs to reach the lower level before finally the pair of students guiding them came to a stop, the girl waving her hand at a pale figure hunched over at a table across the room.

“Well, there he is.” She eyed them both up and down judgingly. “You guys have got some expensive taste.” Her companion groaned softly as one does when recalling a particularly pleasant memory.

“Oh man, he asks a lot of money but he’s so worth it.”

“I’ll take your word for it. I’m not in to that sort of thing myself.”

The two of them wandered off to bicker with each other in quiet murmurs, debating the morals of…something. Paying Tobirama for something? Again it was clear what they were implying but the very thought of such things had all the muscles in Madara’s back tightening with stress. He looked over to see the same tension in Hashirama, meeting his friend’s eye for a moment before shrugging and gesturing forward.

“He’s your brother,” he grumbled, refusing to be the one to disturb the beast.

“It looks like he’s sleeping on his books over there but Tobi wouldn’t do that, would he?” Hashirama twisted his hands together worriedly. “This is a public place. He wouldn’t be so unsafe as to fall asleep in a public place, right?”

Madara didn’t answer. The closer they got the more clear it became that yes Tobirama would indeed fall asleep in a public place. He looked so angelic that it almost gave him the impression of being posed, his arms curled for his head to perch on them just so, the perfect angle for his hair to fall gently across his eyes without fully obscuring them. It was a good look on him, much improved from the usual angry expression he typically directed at Madara.

Although that was pretty hot too.

Upon reaching his table they could see that he had textbooks on four different subjects spread out around them. Madara picked one up, turning it over to read the title. Was Tobirama even taking any classes on biology this semester? He could have sworn this semester was entirely given over to advanced chemistry courses but it was possible that he was wrong. It was a rare occurrence but it did happen sometimes.

“Should we wake him up?” Hashirama asked, bending down to get a better look at his brother’s face.

“Well he shouldn’t be sleeping here. He’ll have a terrible crick in his neck when he wakes. And what if someone had come along and decided to take his things? Of course you wake him up!” Madara rolled his eyes and reached out to shake Tobirama’s shoulder.

The muffled words that slithered out from between his arms sounded like he was haggling with someone over a price and his nose wrinkled in displeasure but he didn’t even come close to waking. Madara shook him harder, watching his head loll back and forth like a rag doll without stirring. It reminded him of his own days in college when he got so tired he nearly fell asleep on his feet walking from one class to another. One time he had gotten out of bed and walked all the way to the cafeteria without even waking up.

Knowing from experience how little sleep Tobirama must be getting didn’t change the fact that he really should be sleeping in his bed instead of hunched over a library table, though.

“Wakey wakey little brother,” Hashirama crooned, grinning mischievously as he shoved one finger in his mouth and then stuck in right in to Tobirama’s ear, still glistening with spit. “Wet willy!”

Tobirama came awake instantly, cutting through the silence with sulphurous cursing and promises of terrible retribution. His eyes were wild, the white sclera turned red with lack of proper sleep, and Hashirama winced when they turned on him.

“Surprise!” he cried weakly. Tobirama glared.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Visiting! Remember last month when I said I really wanted to see what your dorms look like?”

“I didn’t think you would barge in like this to inspect them. They’re just dorms, Anija, not much different from when you went to school.” Tobirama rolled his eyes because, really, it had only been a couple years since Hashirama graduated university as well. The memories shouldn’t have faded enough for him to be curious.

Zoning out of their conversation, Madara let his eyes wander back to the papers spread across the table. It looked like Tobirama was working on about five different projects all at the same time and the very thought made him cringe. If he tried to do that himself his brain would have physically melted and leaked out his ears. And he hadn’t been going through something as complicated as the weird science courses Tobirama was taking!

All science was weird to Madara. Give him the cold hard facts of the law any day; science was for the CSIs, not the beat cops.

Tobirama berated his sibling for showing up without notice as he packed up his things, protectively shielding the papers he was writing so neither of them could take a closer look than they already had. One of them just looked like a sheet torn out of a notebook listing names and strings of numbers but that was shoved out of sight fastest of all.

Still not paying attention while Tobirama continued to lecture his brother – unnecessarily, they had only been trying to do a nice thing and surprise him with some friendly company – Madara let his eyes scan around the rest of the library without any real interest in what he was looking at. Books and studying had never been his thing, really, not unless they were cheap adventure novels full of mystery and intrigue. Those he had full boxes of hidden away in his closet at home. It was a series of detective novels he’d read as a child that first got him interested in becoming the police officer he was today.

Just as they reached the staircase that would bring them back up to the exit Madara’s attention snagged on a pair of young girls sitting nearby. One of them was watched them over the top of her phone, both thumbs tickitty-tacking away on the screen, and her eyes had that knowing look in them that one gets when one is watching someone else do something forbidden. Madara had the distinct impression he had just become the subject of some new gossip and it made him scowl.

The girl looked away quickly enough when she saw that he had noticed her but the damage had already been done; Madara’s imagination was already running ahead of him.

Hashirama spent the walk back to the parking lot whining and begging his brother for forgiveness, which Tobirama held out on until they stopped at the closest fast food place where he scammed Hashirama for a free meal. After that he seemed perfectly happy to see them. He even smiled a little as he listened to an account of how happy Mito had been to receive the birthday present he had mailed down to her. It was a relief to see that his stressful studies hadn’t entirely depleted him of human emotions. 

“Well, this is my dorm,” he said when they finally made their way back to his building and up all three flights of stairs. “Is it as fascinating as you’d hoped it would be?”

“It, ah, sure is a room with a bed in it.” Hashirama tilted his head to the side, visibly thinking hard as he tried to come up with some positive spin to put on the dismal room they had all been crowded in to. Tobirama scoffed and dropped his backpack at the foot of the bed.

“Now is not the time to be kind, Anija. It’s a hole. But it’s somewhere to sleep and that’s really all I need.”

He shooed them back out and they all congregated in the kitchen area he shared with two other young men, one of whom was in the same program but a year ahead. The guy who had answered the door when they first got here appeared to have left. None of them bothered to care where when it meant they had the place to themselves for a while. Hashirama began to rifle through the cupboards to see if he could rustle up something to cook for dinner later while Madara sat at the table and looked a little bit closer at the one they had come here to see.

Tobirama looked back at him, unamused.

“Did you really miss me that much, Uchiha, that you need to do a thirty-point inspection and memorize me all over again?” He sneered and Madara narrowed his eyes.

“For your information I was making certain you looked healthy.”

“My question still stands.”

“Oh for–!” Pausing to control his temper, he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I would never hear the end of Hashirama’s whining if you collapsed for some reason so far from home.”

It had absolutely nothing at all to do with how devastated he himself would be. Nothing. He would swear it in court.

He would also be charged for obstruction of justice by lying to a judge but no one had to know that.

Tobirama opened his mouth to say something that probably would have been snarky and cutting and way too attractive for Madara’s poor heart to handle. He was cut off by a trio of heavy knocks on the front door follow by two staccato taps. Interestingly, the sound made Tobirama stiffen and lunge out of his chair, wrenching the door open but only just enough that he could shove his head out in to the hall to whisper frantically at whoever was there.

Sharing a wordless look of agreement, Hashirama and Madara both moved towards the door as soundlessly as they could and strained their ears to listen in to whatever it was Tobirama so clearly didn’t want them to hear.

“But I really need you,” someone was saying.

“Not now,” Tobirama hissed. “I can’t do that when my brother is here!”

“Well, what if you come to my place? Look, I’m desperate–”

“I said no!”

Frozen in place, the two eavesdroppers looked at each other with naked horror written across their features. Madara felt his heart crumbling in his chest as all the evidence he had ignored earlier was proven indisputably true right in front of him.

Apparently the old saying was true. It really was always the quiet ones.

It only took a couple more firm scoldings before the would-be customer in the hallway finally gave up and left. Tobirama was shaking his head when he closed the door but he went absolutely still when he turned to see that his two guests had snuck up on him. His eyes flickered back and forth between them a few times and then he crossed his arms, eyes dropping to the side in shame.

“How much of that did you hear?” he asked.

“All of it!”

Madara side-eyed his friend but didn’t correct him. They’d obviously missed a few things at the beginning but they heard enough to know what was going on.

“So you know then.” Tobirama’s shoulders lifted, his body curling in to itself defensively, and they could see his fists ball themselves in to tight fists when Hashirama suddenly gave vent to a wounded howl.

“How could you brother? I won’t believe it!”

“I…I don’t have to explain myself to you…”

“But you have to live with it yourself,” Madara snarled, pouring all the disgust he felt in to his voice.

Face turning more and more red by the second, Tobirama snapped. “Alright fine! Yes! It’s true! I’ve been…selling a part of myself. It’s good money!”

“Oh Tobi, I would have helped you with money,” Hashirama sobbed. Tobirama shook his head.

“No. You set so much money aside for Ita and Kawa. I promised that I wouldn’t be a burden but…it’s more expensive to live here than I thought it would be. Sometimes I need things that my budget just doesn’t have room for. So I…I put out word that I was willing…”

Unable to even look at him, Hashirama spun around to bury his face in Madara’s shoulder. His sobs made them both wince with the way they cracked and waved, broken noises he only made when he was truly upset about something. Madara wrapped one arm around the man’s shoulders and closed his own eyes. It was always hard to accept that someone you thought you knew had turned out to be capable of things you could never have imagined. To discover something like this about the person he’d long had feelings for was devastating.

Tobirama winced at both of their reactions, wilting.

“I hoped you would never find out,” he said quietly, shame all but dripping from him. Hashirama took a trembling breath in and lifted his head, still not meeting anyone’s eyes, body still curled under Madara’s supportive arm.

“You sold yourself,” he exclaimed. “I just can’t believe…”

“It’s…it’s all there.” Tobirama pointed back towards his room. “In the bag. I have to keep it all with me so no one finds any of it or the university will kick me out.”

Hashirama and Madara paused and looked at each other in confusion. What could possibly be in the backpack that would be proof of what he’d been doing? Hashirama shook his head in denial but Madara let him go and headed for the bedroom, morbidly curious. Every instinct was telling him to probe deeper and his Captain had told him several times that it was his instincts that made him such a good cop.

The backpack was a lot heavier than he expected it to be for only having a few binders in it. They must have been a lot more full than he realized. Ignoring the way Hashirama was covering his face with both hands – and peeking out through the cracks between his fingers – Madara dragged the whole thing out in to the kitchen and plonked it down on the table. He saw Tobirama turn away with his head bowed and it only fired his curiosity more, spawning weird thoughts in his head as he tried to guess what he might find inside.

A list of customers? Sex toys? Photographic evidence?

Instead all that fell out when he turned the whole thing upside down was the same papers he had seen spread out in the library when they first arrived. Oddly enough, Tobirama made a wounded noise when they came in to view.

“Well,” he grumbled. “There it is. All of it.”

“There is…what?”

“My shame. Ugh. Honestly I’m just as disgusted with myself as I am with every person who pays me to do this shit.” He gestured vaguely to the papers and Madara frowned, more confused than ever.

“I don’t get it. It’s just…homework.”

Hashirama peeked over the tips of his fingers with a hopeful gleam in his eyes. At the same time Tobirama threw his hands in the air with all the dramatic flair of a man confessing he had three days to live.

“Yes! Homework! Other people’s homework! I would rather die than pay someone else to write my papers for me but the lows these people will stoop to–! Although I can’t say any better; I’m the one that gets paid to write them.” A snort of disgust escaped him, one finger flicking carelessly at the closest assignment. Now that he was closer and it wasn’t being hidden by a protective arm, Madara could see that the name across the top was not one he recognized.

“Writing papers for other people,” he breathed. “You’re selling your brain.” Tobirama looked him in the eye at last.

“Obviously. Why? What did you think I meant?”

“Well…it’s just…you said that you were ‘selling a part of yourself’ to make money. And we thought…”

His words drifted off uncomfortably until the only sound left in the room was Hashirama setting one hand against the center of his chest and heaving a sigh of relief that could have blown over a small building.

“Thank god. I thought you were whoring yourself out!”

“YOU WHAT!?”

Tobirama’s scream froze the room. Madara dropped his face in to his hands with despair as his best friend covered his mouth too late to stop the words from coming out. Fuming, Tobirama marched over to take his brother by the collar threateningly.

“I may not have as many morals as the average person should,” he growled in Hashirama’s face. “But I would never lower myself to selling my body for chump change! I have some pride, brother!”

“Too much sometimes,” Madara mumbled under his breath, careful not to be overheard.

“You really thought–? Ugh. Get out. Just get out.” Tobirama shoved Hashirama away from himself and turned away from them in disgust. His brother let out a piteous whine, tugging on the backs of his sleeves when he tried to walk away.

“Oh come on, Tobi. You didn’t hear the things people kept saying! And the way they said them! It was only a logical conclusion!”

“Please, you wouldn’t know logical if it bit you on the nose!”

Hashirama flustered uselessly in a circle, spouting vowels and syllables like a fountain without managing to connect any of them in to proper sentences. With his hands clutched together in pleading fashion and big brown eyes open wide he looked like just like a dog that knew it had done wrong, pathetically begging for its human’s forgiveness.

Actually that was a pretty good comparison. Hashirama might be the older brother but Tobirama was definitely the alpha male in the house whenever he came home, prone to walking all over his siblings without really noticing he was doing so.

Unsurprisingly, with his hackles up from being offended in such a manner, his tendency to run roughshod over other people came out again. Madara squeaked in surprise when Tobirama’s fingers closed around his arm and he found himself being dragged across the kitchen against his will. As they retreated towards the bedroom Tobirama spoke loud enough for his voice to carry over their shoulders, each word snapping out with a sharp attitude.

“Come on, I’m not wasting my time hanging around with people who can think such disgusting things about me.”

A moment later they were barricaded in the tiny little hole he called his bedroom where there was barely enough floor space for both of them to stand up together. Madara held his breath while Tobirama shuffled around him, one foot digging around for something under the bed. He tried to tell himself to be strong, not to break under the pressure, but the words spilled out of him the second Tobirama met his eye again.

“I kind of thought the same thing,” he blurted. Then he winced and prepared himself to get thrown out as well.

“Well I figured that,” Tobirama said.

With a perfunctory roll of his eyes, suspiciously much calmer that he had been just a moment ago, he flopped down on the mattress and reached underneath to retrieve a second backpack that was just as full as the other one had been. When he opened it up the first thing Madara noticed was that everything inside had his own name scrawled neatly in the top right corner. Apparently he liked to keep his own school work separate from the contraband. Madara wished he didn’t find that quite so endearing.

“So…you’re not mad?” he ventured. Tobirama snorted.

“No. I just have a lot of homework and that seemed like a good way to get rid of him fast. He was right. I know how people talk about me so it was indeed only logical for you to assume from the given context.”

“Uh…right. What am I still doing here then?”

Tobirama hummed distractedly, alright shifting his concentration to the work at hand. “My room is freezing cold right now. We’re waiting for the heating system to get fixed before winter hits.”

“Okay. So I’m here to…?”

“Be my personal space heater, duh.”

He didn’t even look up from his book when he reached out and hauled Madara down on to the bed with him, pushing and shoving until he had Madara all propped up in the corner and then shuffling over to squeeze up against him like a human sized hot water bottle.

It took a few minutes of sitting in silence before Madara realized that this was it, this was what he was expected to do for the next couple of hours. Outside the door he could hear Hashirama crying to be let in. At his side Tobirama was scratching away with a mechanical pencil, tiny frown lines of concentration already forming between his brows, and the sight was just adorable enough that Madara could feel himself giving in already. If all he had to do was sit still to keep the other man warm then he could put his head back and nap for a while, if nothing else.

So far this trip had been nothing like he expected it to be and yet he might go so far as to say it was the best university experience he’d ever had in his life. Spending a few hours cuddled up next to the guy he had a crush on? Getting one up on Hashirama and dooming his friend to roam campus alone until Tobirama deigned to surface from his studies?

All in all, that didn’t sound like too bad of a time to him.