Tobirama inhaled softly at the call and eased open heavy eyes. He felt warm and comfortable, in no real rush to wake up—again. His slowly returning chakra fluttered and stretched in a strange hitching manner that made him squint, but after a moment his chakra sense came back clear and strong.
The hand buried in his hair flexed and tightened for a moment, drawing a disgruntled grunt to his lips. It relaxed in the next moment, freeing the strands, only to have nimble hands tug and pull on his locks. If Tobirama hadn’t been laying on his good arm he would’ve smacked the hand away. Instead, he shook his head to try to dislodge the annoyance. A chuckle sounded over him as the man finally focused on his immediate surroundings.
Tsunade was kneeling in front of him, watching him closely as he roused from his nap. She smiled and straightened. “Good. Guests will be arriving soon. I thought you might want to make yourself presentable.”
The leg Tobirama had been laying on moved and shook as its owner shifted and brought life back into his body. He took that as his cue to leverage himself upright once more, stretching his own still-functional limbs. “I wouldn’t have to do that if you didn’t drug me,” he grumbled. Kagami snickered at his side.
Tsunade rolled her eyes before rising to her feet again. “It was your medicine. I didn’t drug you.”
“You put it in my tea. My tea.” He’d known it was there, having reflexively checked for poisons and drugs, but the dark and challenging look his niece had leveled at him made him drink it anyway.
“It was a pain killer. Kami forbid I care if you’re comfortable or not.” The woman propped a hand on her waist. “And what makes you think I was the one who drugged you?”
Tobirama was about to capitalize on the fact that she did agree that he was drugged, but the nature of the question drew his gaze to where Shizune was doing some last-minute cleaning and straightening in the sitting room. Sensing their attention, Tsunade’s apprentice turned to face them. The smile she gave them was suddenly suspicious and duplicitous. Tobirama deadpanned to himself.
Right. Of course. She was Tsuna-chan’s apprentice.
“I have lunch almost done,” Shizune reported. “I’ll start the drinks soon once guests start arriving.”
Tobirama nodded in gratitude. With watchful and stubborn eyes on him, he hadn’t been able to make clones or do anything around the house. He’d only been allowed to summon Mari and Airi once and that was only after he argued that they were family and would be concerned for their health and wellbeing. His litter mother and sister had yet to let him or Naruto leave the house proper.
This meant Shizune was a blessing in how she easily stepped into his household even as Tsunade dove into the village to wrestle with politics after everything that had happened. Tobirama had pretty much been bed-bound for the past week, regaining his strength and health with an irate Tsunade’s help. It ruffled his sense of independence and pride to be coddled so and have his attempts at being sufficient sabotaged by drugged tea and good food, but he reluctantly appreciated their care.
As it was, Tobirama had to learn secondhand of all the fallout to occur after he, Kakashi, and Tenzo had raided Root headquarters.
Choza, Shikaku, and Inoichi had taken a grip of the Hidden Leaf Village with the Uchiha at their backs. From the way Tsunade had spoken, it had been ridiculously easy. Token resistance had come from Saru’s guards as well as Koharu and Homura, but it seemed as if any active shinobi had faltered and obeyed when incensed Akimichi, Yamanaka, Nara, or Uchiha shinobi confronted them and commanded them to halt their activities in the name of their clan heads.
For two entire days, the village had its gates shut and operations ground to a halt. Approved clan shinobi patrolled the rooftops and walls of the village, keeping everyone indoors or outside the village entirely.
According to Kakashi, the other clans had thrown their lot in with the rebelling four once envoys had been sent to their clan heads explaining what was going on. The Aburame especially had joined the coup with zeal. Tenzo had explained that a good number of Aburame children had been released from Root and the noble clan was more animated than usual.
Kakashi and Tenzo were still debating which was more frightening: a Nara or Aburame out for blood.
With the iron grip on the village and the clans moving in concert to set things right, things moved very quickly. Tsunade had only just returned back to the clan compound for a whole night’s rest after five days of rushing around the village. His niece told him that Inoichi personally oversaw Hiruzen’s, Koharu’s, and Homura’s stay in T&I while Shikaku disappeared into his own shadows to run the village like a puppeteer commanded his puppets. Choza and his clan were the face of the rebellion, meeting with the other approved shinobi, running food and supplies to the civilians, and quartering any of their shinobi that were trying to return from missions only to be met with closed gates.
It had been determined that Hiruzen, Koharu, and Homura were innocent of Danzo’s attack on the village, so they escaped charges of treason and the immediate death sentencing. Tobirama had breathed a small sigh of relief when Tsunade’s slug summons had informed him of such. Still, it was an opportunity to see his plan through, and he formally brought Naruto’s case to Fugaku with the request to press charges.
The trial had been all but a show.
Tobirama had been thorough in his work these past few months. His shadows clones had been snooping in repositories and archives and offices almost that entire time, gathering evidence taller than he stood. Even though it was the Civilian Council’s responsibility to oversee the trial and determine their guilt or innocence, there was no remaining unbiased. Not with Tobirama’s name stamped on those damning papers and not with Fugaku personally overseeing each and every meeting.
Koharu and Homura had been found guilty with conspiracy against the village.
It made Tobirama’s stomach turn to know that this charge was only given because the Civilian Council still saw Naruto as a weapon and tool to the village; hence the pair’s mistreatment of the child being slapped with a charge that was only one step down from blatant treason. Their sentencing was to be carried out in the Konoha prison and their names struck from every record in Konoha. They were to be forgotten, their smear on Konoha’s past and present to be cleared and swept under the rug.
Saru had been found guilty of gross child abuse, child abandonment, child neglect, and accessory to conspiracy against the village.
Tobirama wonders if Saru would’ve also been charged with conspiracy against the village if the Civilian Council hadn’t decided that being Hokage and leader of the village meant that it was, by definition, impossible to directly and knowingly do malicious work against the village. He personally disagrees with that: he’d been faced with leadership and developmental direction that conflicted with the original purpose and intent of the village, but perhaps from a civilian point of view Hiruzen hadn’t done that. Tobirama wasn’t sure. But the Civilian Council couldn’t disagree that Hiruzen had failed Naruto, he was the only adult in the village permitted to visit and interact with Naruto, a directive that the man himself had signed.
Fugaku had mused once in the middle of the night when he’d visited to tell Tobirama the verdict of the trial, that Hiruzen had seemed at peace during the Civilian Council’s examination of him. Even when his punishment was to never again leave the village, to never enter any administrative building, to never interact or attempt to interact with anyone from outside the village, and, for the next five years, not leave the Sarutobi clan compound.
It was also during this portion of the trial that the emergency Clan Council meeting that had been held in Tobirama’s own home had come to show its results.
The Sarutobi clan had lost its seat on the Clan Council for these next five years and could attempt to petition the Clan Council to have their seat restored after that time had passed. There had been a law made during Hiruzen’s time that if both the Civilian and Clan Councils agreed on the revocation of a civilian or shinobi clan seat, it was to be done. Tobirama didn’t want to punish an entire clan for Hiruzen’s mistakes and doings and he’d said as much during the meeting. The time limit on the Sarutobi clan’s seat revocation had resulted from his protest. Only then had he put his agreement in with the other clan heads.
It bothered him slightly that the completion and fruition of his plans to remove his former students from power had occurred without him being present. He’d imagined he’d have to be present in the courtroom to argue for Naruto’s case and show the Civilian Council that his former students were guilty and should be punished, but instead his allies and the other clan heads had done the work for him and Naruto. Tobirama’s work had been taken out of his hands swiftly and decisively. It was a novel experience.
“Time to come back, sensei.”
Tobirama grunted, unwilling to exit his thoughts. He hadn’t been able to do anything for over a week now. Unable to leave his clan compound to ensure he wasn’t being deceived or to see with his own eyes that the village was recovering without his help. It felt wrong for him not to be buried in the work of restoring and protecting the village.
But from what the others had told him, life and commerce had started up once more, the forceful change beginning to settle into the bones of the village.
Kagami’s whining, jaw-cracking yawn finally drew his attention. “Did you nap as well?” he asked, slightly incredulous.
“Oh, so that’s what it takes, hm?” The Uchiha rubbed sleepily at his eyes. “You looked so comfortable and how was I supposed to move with you laying on me like that?”
Tobirama tsked. “You were the one to insist after you ‘cleaned up’ my futon.”
The smirk he got was entirely unrepentant and self-aware. “I couldn’t let my crippled and hurting sensei try to hop up the stairs or sleep on unforgiving tatami,” he explained with false innocence. As if he didn’t have ulterior motives. Tobirama narrowed his eyes. Kagami’s lips twitched. “What if my dear sensei got hurt even more? I could never live with myself.” He squinted harder. Kagami smiled wider.
“What’s going on?” The pair of men turned to see Naruto trotting into the room, his hair wet with the bath he’d apparently just taken and Tobirama’s fur mantle clutched tight in his arms. Airi dogged his heels, tilting her head up in order to reach the boy’s hair. Naruto didn’t flinch or seem to acknowledge that the snow leopard was grooming him.
The pair had been inseparable since Tobirama had summoned them. His litter sister had soothed his sprout’s cries and begging for forgiveness upon catching sight of the silver fur on her shoulder. She was fully healed and recovered, but Airi’s fur showed where she’d taken a wound. The Senju had ached at the sight of his litter sister and sprout coming together in tears and exclamations, but Mari had sat beside him in silence, grounding him in his spot so the younger pair could have their time. Seeing them cry and calm down and eventually cling to one another, Tobirama wondered if they day would come when Airi would offer Naruto her clan summoning scroll. Airi wasn’t a mother or mentor to Naruto in the same way Mari was to Tobirama, but the bond was still there.
Tsunade snorted as she made to leave the room. “They’re being an old married couple. Don’t worry about it, sprout.”
Naruto frowned, looking baffled. His hand lifted distractedly, pushing Airi’s insistent tongue away. “Married? Ji-chan, you’re married?!” Kagami and Airi burst out laughing and even Shizune’s shoulders were shaking. Tobirama hated everyone.
He was just managing to calm Naruto down from his hysterics over not being invited to Tobirama’s wedding when Tenzo and Kakashi slipped into the house behind Mari. The pair of teens had spent the night in an unoccupied Senju home, one that Tenzo was beginning to stay at with more frequency.
Mari purred in greeting as she padded over to him, trailing her eyes and nose from his head to his toes. He tolerated the brusque lick she gave to the side of his head before settling in her spot at his back. Kakashi, upon hearing the partial conversation, cocked his head to the side. “If Senju-sama and Uchiha-san are married, does that mean Uchiha-san is actually Senju-san?” he mused out loud and Tenzo smacked a hand to the back of his head, making the cub whine like a child.
The pair of ex-Root shinobi had taken to hunkering down in the Senju compound after the raid. From an objective point of view, it made sense. They were there in an unsanctioned attack on the village and had their hands in personally fighting their supposed comrades and freeing kidnapped children. The targets on their backs had grown substantially in size and the barrier around the Senju compound offered a large sense of security and safety. At first, in between Tobirama’s many naps, it had felt like the pair were hiding out in the clan house Tenzo was slowly but surely laying claim to, but with each day they ventured into Tobirama’s home and gardens with growing frequency. He’d found Kakashi half-buried under the kotatsu on numerous occasions now and had felt Tenzo lingering around the Ancestor Tree.
He wondered if Tenzo would accept his or Tsunade’s offer to claim him in the name of the Senju clan so his branch may grow. Or if the half-grown sprout would fully move into the clan compound. Sometimes Tobirama wanted to push and talk about it, but he had restrained himself thus far. He wouldn’t make his cousin uncomfortable for the sake of making himself comfortable.
His eye was twitching by the time his sprout asked questions about family names and traditional marriage procedures and what would happen if he and Kagami were married. The boy eventually fell into a contemplative silence, arms crossed over his tiny chest and his face screwed up in concentration. He hadn’t expected his morning to go like this: to wake up, have breakfast, pray at his family shrine, fall into a drugged nap, and wake up to being absolutely harassed.
Such is life apparently.
The Senju sensed Tsunade guiding the first of his guests into the compound and set about making sure everything was ready. The kotatsu as pushed into the corner of the room and a large assortment of pillows were scattered in a perfect circle. Trays with waiting cups were placed in front of each cluster of pillows.
In accordance to his stated informality in his invitations, Tobirama had opted for a loosely belted bright blue kimono shirt over a mesh shirt and gray hakama. His nephew had insisted he wear a pale yellow long-sleeved haori, which was the closest thing to orange Tobirama would ever allow in his wardrobe. He wore it draped over his shoulders instead of properly putting his arms through the garment. As it was, he’d only put his casted left arm through his mesh shirt and tucked the limb to his chest.
He’d debated undoing his bandages, but decided not to. He was in his own home with his returned sprout at his side. Bearing the signs of his injuries would be a source of pride instead of shame.
The only thing he was missing was…
Tobirama raised an eyebrow as he watched Naruto adjust his fur mantle on his own shoulders. “Sprout?” The child lifted his head and looked at him with wide and guileless blue eyes. Tobirama smiled slightly, recognizing the familiar feeling of his heart softening. “Am I going to wear my fur today?”
The open expression turned into a watery-eyed pout in half a second, making him chuckle. It didn’t surprise him. His nephew was being very clingy when it came to his fur mantle lately. Tobirama couldn’t blame the child. That fur was something of a security blanket for him as well, though one he hadn’t held onto for dear life in quite some time. It was simply his, a part of his identity.
“No?” Naruto answered in a high-pitched uncertain tone. His hands held the fur tighter.
Airi, catching on, put her chin on Naruto’s shoulder and gave Tobirama equally pleading eyes. “The kitten needs fur, bocchan.”
Mari chuckled lowly, her tail rising and flicking in amusement. “It is important to keep a kitten warm.”
Harassed. He was being ganged up on and harassed. Still. The man would never have it in his heart to truly deny his boy. “As you wish.” Naruto sagged in relief, sighing loudly. “But maybe we should look into getting you a fur for yourself.”
He stiffened again. “I can’t have this one?” he asked plaintively.
Tobirama hummed, trying to figure out the best words to let his sprout down with. “I am willing to share,” he started, “but I would like it back eventually. It was a gift from my mother, you see. Angora rabbit fur from the Land of Snow.”
Naruto’s eyes blew wide open. “Oooh. That’s really far, believe it.”
He nodded in agreeance. “Indeed, it is. But my mother went to the trouble of getting it as a present to celebrate my colors.”
Blond eyebrows furrowed. “’Cause your clan didn’t like how you looked?”
“Yes. My mother wanted me to have something to make a statement; to show that I was proud of my appearance. That fur is very dear to me.”
Naruto shrunk in place and pet the fur carefully. “Sorry I ruined it.”
Tobirama huffed and shook his head. The small tears in the fur from where his nephew had clung to it even as he was pulled from Tobirama’s unresponsive body was barely anything. Hardly even the worst damage. There was the time Izuna had burned a good portion of it and Tobirama had painstakingly woven new fur into the snipped and sheered strands to preserve its volume and thickness. After that incident, he’d carefully stitched preservation and strengthening seals into the underside of the mantle. It was a testament to Naruto’s panicked strength that he’d even managed to damage the fur mantle in the first place. “You are not the first to damage it, sprout. That fur has been cleaned and repaired many times over the years. I wear it even in battle and on missions after all.”
“And you’re sure I can wear it?” The fur was a large piece to begin with. On Tobirama’s adult body it made his shoulders look wider and gave the illusion that he had a ruff that could bristle. On Naruto’s tiny body, it looked like a half-cape he was happily drowning in. Tobirama had to fix a new clip to the front of the mantle so it would remain on small shoulders.
“Of course. We’ll discuss furs later, however.” The door to his home was sliding open, Tenzo greeting the first of his guests.
Kagami shifted where he was seated on Tobirama’s left, sitting where Tobirama’s sleeves laid empty due to his injured arm and hand. The Senju wondered if his former student was aware that he was shielding him. “You should feel lucky, kid. Sensei never let any of us wear his mantle. Looks like he’s gotten soft in his old age.” The Uchiha laid a hand on Mari’s head and scratched behind her ear, making his litter mother purr.
Tobirama looked at him sideways. “You’re almost as old as me now, Kagami. I wouldn’t speak so quickly.” He turned his eyes to the entrance of the sitting room as his guests arrived. “Hyuga-sama, welcome to my home.”
Hiashi Hyuga bowed his head while his daughter and nephew bowed from the waist. “Thank you for the gracious invitation, Niidaime-sama. Uchiha-san, Uzumaki-san, hello.”
Kagami waved and mumbled a greeting while Naruto bowed from the waist too, chirping a greeting to Hinata and Neji. “Please be at ease in my home. You’re the first to arrive.” He waved to the arrangement of sitting pillows before finally turning his gaze to the younger children. Neji was very pointedly still and quiet, visibly not giving anything away even as his chakra swirled tightly with anxiety. Hinata, however, was glancing from where she was tugging fretfully at her fingertips and then back to him. “Hinata-chan, Neji-kun, come. Let me see you.” It was a breach in protocol, one he could sense the Hiashi didn’t approve of, but the looks of relief and concern on the little Hyugas’ faces didn’t let Tobirama care all too much.
“T-To…Senju-sama,” Hinata stuttered, glancing over her shoulder to her father with a wince. “Are y-you okay?” Her hands reached out and up to him, before halting and returning to their nervous tugging at her chest. Neji was silent at her side, but he could see the hidden tinge of fear and worry on his face.
That wouldn’t do. “This is an informal lunch, you two,” he reminded them. “I will take no offense to you using my given name. And yes, I’m okay. My niece and her apprentice have been looking after me and ensuring I’m healing.”
Tension eased out of their shoulder’s and tiny bodies as they spoke. “That’s good to hear,” Neji murmured.
Hinata turned to Naruto. “And you, N-Naruto-kun? You’re okay?”
His nephew beamed, bouncing where he sat on Tobirama’s right side. “Yeah! Ji-chan and I are doing good. Just been lazy around the house, believe it. I’ve missed you and the others!”
Tobirama wanted to give the children a chance to speak to one another and thus deliberately turned back to Hiashi and engaged him in conversation, asking after his clan and wife. Kagami joined in, seeking updates on the village in this current time.
The next family to arrive were the Uchihas. Fugaku nodded to Hiashi genially, which was returned with equal aplomb while Sasuke and Itachi moved to greet Tobirama and the other children. Tobirama wondered if the rivalry between the two dojutsu clans was still present today as he watched to two clan heads interact. Itachi’s chakra had immediately reached for his own upon seeing him, burrowing into his cold-water chakra with confidence and relief that shined in his dark eyes.
“Shisui says he’s sorry he can’t come,” Itachi informed him, glancing between Tobirama and Kagami, who twitched ever-so-slightly in guilt. “but he volunteered to watch the new children and they’re rather attached to him.”
“He is always welcome here whenever he has time. I’m aware that you and he might have other demands on your time,” Tobirama excused easily.
Fugaku zeroed in on Kagami. “Kagami-san, the elders have been asking after you.”
Tobirama felt his eye twitch again as he sensed more than saw the change in his former student. The smile on Kagami’s face was sharp. “It’s nice to see you too, Fugaku-kun.” Tobirama had no way to jab at him with his elbow, so he settled for spiking a concentration of his chakra at Kagami and hissing lowly. Kagami grimaced and looked away, clearing his throat. “I mean, I appreciate you telling me, Fugaku-sama. I apologize for any inconvenience my absence has caused you and the clan.”
The rising irritation in Fugaku smoothed back out into placid alertness. “Apology accepted. I’d also like to inform you that you are exempt from any clan duties until I say otherwise.” Kagami glanced back at the man who was his current clan head. “Should you have questions or concerns about your place in village or clan, I would expect you to seek me out. My home is open to you.” Tobirama withheld the reflex to tilt his head and scrutinize Fugaku. To the more formal clans, that was about as understanding and forgiving as one in their position could be around one another, if not more so than was permitted. Fugaku had just openly given one of his clansmen a free pass and forgiveness for ignoring the Uchiha clan and hiding out in the Senju compound.
Hiashi and Tobirama shared a look before collectively starting a conversation about taijutsu, giving the Uchiha men the illusion of privacy to save face.
Kagami was frozen for a moment before placing both hands on his thighs and bowing deeply. “You’re too kind, Fugaku-sama. I’ll endeavor to honor your kindness and our clan.”
Fugaku nodded tightly. “See that you do.” From the corner of his eye, Tobirama saw the clan head relax ever-so-slightly. “Welcome home, Kagami-san. You’ve been dearly missed.”
The conversation and atmosphere carried on smoothly for a few minutes after that. Even when Shizune kicked Kakashi out of the kitchen and the cub flopped onto his own cushion, who tried to stir trouble in the room only for Itachi to meet him word for word with grace, diplomacy, and amusement.
But then the door to his house was audibly slammed open and a young voice howled, “I’M HOME!”
An older woman barked, “Brat! You can’t just do that it’s not—”
Tobirama huffed and called back, “Welcome home!” Kiba’s laugh carried down the hall and so did his running footsteps, which he growled at. “Kiba!” he snapped and those footsteps slowed. The Inuzuka boy peeked sheepishly around the door frame and the man glared mildly at the boy. “One of these days you will remember my rules, pup.”
Kiba smiled and galloped over, his eyes glittering happily as he threw his arms around Tobirama’s ducked shoulders. “Sorry, ji-chan! I was just really excited to see you again. Ma said you were really hurt and that you blew up the village!”
The child’s mother stepped into view, her lips curled into a snarl. At her side was a young girl. She was about Itachi’s age if Tobirama had to guess. Her chakra reserves were what he would expect of a genin, though, as compared to Itachi’s near-jonin levels. At their heels were four dogs, one full grown ninken that stood on the Inuzuka matriarch’s right with poise and strength. This was also the same dog who often tailed Kiba when the boy came to visit Tobirama. The other three were puppies that shied and wiggled behind the younger girl. “Kiba,” the mother bit out, but Tobirama waved a staying hand.
“Strange,” Tobirama as he straightened once Kiba let him go from his hug. “How can we still be in the village if I, as you say, blew it up.”
The dog kin wrinkled his nose. “You know what I mean. Hey, Naruto! I heard you got kidnapped!”
Tobirama scoffed at the utter lack of tact and pointedly ignored his nephew finally breaking protocol to tackle Kiba to the ground. The Inuzuka matriarch had very solidly face-palmed at her son’s words. She looked at him with stressed eyes. “Niidaime-sama, I’m sorry I’m still trying to teach him.”
“There’s no need to apologize, I’m familiar with your son. Forgive me for not rising. I’m Tobirama Senju. Behind me is my litter mother, Mari. It’s a pleasure to finally meet Kiba’s mother.”
The woman smirked. “You’re a polite one. It’s a wonder you have sent my kid packing yet. Call me Tsume. This is my partner Korumaru.” The ninken who must have had a recent wolf ancestor nodded, his lone remaining golden eye meeting his before deferring to Mari.
“Well met,” the canine stated quietly. Tobirama waited a moment, looking down and to his side to Mari, who was watching the ninken closely. Airi chirped softly to her mother, wondering if these canines were okay in their summoners home, but she was ignored.
Mari eventually closed her eyes once more. “Well met indeed,” she agreed. Tobirama wasn’t completely aware of what that interaction had entailed, but Kuromaru smiled and wagged his tail, relaxing.
Tsume, who had also waited with him to see how their companions would welcome each other, nodded decisively. “Good. Seems like you and me will get along better than some of my kin do with Uchiha’s and their cats.”
The young girl at her side wrinkled her nose and nodded in agreement before glancing over her shoulder to the Uchihas in question. “At least I got a good Uchiha.” She faced him once more and Tobirama noticed she had a calmer and more placid appearance and chakra than her mother and brother. “I’m Hana. I’m Kiba’s older sister and heir to the Inuzuka clan. These are my companions, Ginmaru, Kemurimaru, and Hamaru. They are the Haimaru brothers.” The small puppies crowded together behind their human’s feet, nervous but curious.
Ah, Inuzuka casualness. There were many things wrong with an heir introducing themselves when their clan head was with them, but he was familiar with how the Inuzuka generally acted. It never failed to make Tobirama switch mental gears. “You may call me Tobirama. This is my heir and nephew, Naruto Uzumaki.” He nodded to where Kiba and Naruto were still wrestling across the floor, cheered on by Airi. He and Hana sighed in exasperation while Tsume facepalmed. “As for your son,” he glanced back to Tsume just as Kiba put Naruto in a head lock and bit his yowling nephew’s ear, “I can appreciate his spirit and energy.”
Tsume laughed and grinned widely. “You are really are the politic type. Thanks for looking after him. It’s nice to have him out of my hair.” Tobirama blinked and tilted his head, examining the woman closer. She caught on and frowned at him. “What? There something on my face?”
“Not at all. I apologize.” Tobirama blinked before swallowing. “You simply remind me of my cousin, Touka Senju.”
The man expected to have to explain who is cousin was and what attributes he saw in another clanwoman. He expected to have to summarize his legend of a cousin with a few paltry words. He didn’t expect recognition and joy to flash in sharp eyes and a laugh to erupt from Tsume. “I don’t think I’ve ever been given a kinder compliment!”
It was only an entire lifetime of keeping an even expression that kept Tobirama from spluttering in surprise. Instead, he raised an eyebrow. “You know of my cousin?”
Tsume smirked and crossed her arms. “Any kunoichi worth their blade knows who Touka Senju was. She’s our ideal here in Konoha, who we look to for aspiration. It’s who I’m teaching my daughter to be like.” Hana smiled up at her mother as she ran her nails through her ponytail. “What a kunoichi. One day I’d like to go out with a blade in my hand…”
“…and my enemy’s blood on my lips.” An honest and heartfelt smile spread across Tobirama’s face as Touka’s favorite saying was spoken of decades after her passing. “I had no idea she is honored today,” he admitted quietly.
Kagami’s hand came to rest on his shoulder, squeezing tightly. His beloved cousin had passed not too long before Hashirama had. Privately, Tobirama had thought that Touka’s death defending their border’s from Kumo shinobi had been the real kicker in Hashirama’s final spiral into depression and into giving up the will to live. With Madara dead, war looming, Hashirama had been under so much pressure. No matter what Tobirama had tried, he hadn’t been able to help or save his brother during the very first battle of the First Shinobi War.
Touka had been a spitfire of a woman, Tobirama’s older sister in all but blood. When the Senju clan would’ve had her set back to a more gendered role, she’d taken up her father’s naginata and hunted down her mother’s murderers. When she was faced with the infamous Uchiha sharingan, she’d turned right around and made herself a genjutsu specialist. She’d been so good at genjutsu she’d earned herself the name of “The Sharingan-less Uchiha”. With her skill in blade and genjutsu, she’d once been looked upon with the same fear and terror that Tobirama had been subject to his whole life. It had only drawn them closer together over the years.
When she’d died, dying with her blade in hand and blood on her lips, Tobirama had felt it clear across the Land of Fire and he’d grieved. Touka had been his sister, strong like the earth under their feet and full of life like the forest they lived in. She was never one to be quiet and demur. He knew, that if Touka could know that kunoichi of present day aspired to be like her, she’d be so smug and proud.
Tsume, unknowing of his somber thoughts, beamed. “Us kunoichi are pretty close-knit and tight-lipped in the village. We don’t like to let men try to dictate us.” Tsunade raised her cup and the women shared a look. “We teach each other skills and talents unique to us. Touka Senju is an icon and legend to us among some others.”
Tobirama felt a purr tickle and push up his throat. Tsume looked startled when his words came out muffled and garbled by the sound, but he physically could not keep himself from purring. “I’m so happy to hear this. Touka would be proud to have influenced and helped so many other women break the mold and find their blades as kunoichi. You yourself remind me so much of her, so I know she lives on.”
A bright flush bloomed under the red clan marks on the woman’s cheeks. A roguish smile only emphasized that fact. “Careful, Tobirama. Flattery gets you nowhere, but you’re getting somewhere.” This time it was easy to drop his smile and make his face blank. His slow blink and raised eyebrow conveyed just how little he valued what she’d said. The Inuzuka woman laughed and, of all things, looked to Kagami. “You keep an eye on this one. I don’t think he knows what’s up.”
His student heaved a sigh and took his hand back from Tobirama’s shoulder. “He never has,” he grumbled, which only confused Tobirama further.
“Sounds like that’s something you need to fix. Hiashi, you bastard! What have you been up to?” And with that, the force of nature that is Tsume turned and stalked away. Hana rolled her eyes at her mother and brother but broke away, heading towards Itachi.
Tobirama frowned at Kagami. The man rolled his eyes and reached up to run his hand through his curls. “Don’t worry, sensei. I’ve got your back.”
Yes, he knew that, but in what exactly did Kagami have his back for?
The sigh that left the Hyuuga was large and long. The sigh that left the Hyuga was the most expression he’d seen from the man yet. “Tsume, you haven’t changed.”
Fugaku and Hiashi called their children back to them, disapproving of the brawl going on. Tsume was resigned and embarrassed as she scruffed her son and carried him over to the trio of pillows she’d selected to Hiashi’s left. Tobirama was amused by it all as he helped Naruto readjust his clothes.
His next guests quietly arrived as Naruto was retying his belt, grumping at Kiba for ruining the knot he’d tied. “Welcome,” Tobirama greeted the hooded trio. “Aburame-sama, may you and yours be at home in my home. If it is too bright, please let me know. I can close the doors and fetch candles.”
The Aburame clan head gave a barely perceptible nod, the afternoon light from the open garden doors glinting off his dark glasses. “We accept your welcome. Why? Because you seem familiar with our clan.”
Tobirama gestured to his own face. “The light and sun can get to me as well,” he admitted. “If I may introduce my clan. You’ve already met my niece, Tsunade Senju, and my cousin, Tenzo. This is my heir, Naruto Uzumaki,” his nephew waved a hand and smiled cheerily, “And you may call me Tobirama for this meeting.”
The Aburame man tilted his head. “This is logical as it was stated in your invitation that this was an informal meeting.” He nodded. “In return, you may call me Shibi, though I would request the -san suffix from you and -sama from your heir.” Pale fingers peaked out from the ends of his long sleeves, gesturing to the two children at his side. The youngest and shortest was addressed first. “Meet my son and heir, Shino, and my cousin and ward, Torune.” Finally, Shibi bowed his head as conventional protocol dictated. “The Aburame are welcomed by the Senju.”
Tsume scoffed from where she sat cross-legged. “You’re as long-winded as ever, Shibi. I’m surprised you even came.”
Shibi turned towards the woman. “I did come. Why? I was invited.”
Hiashi waved a hand. “You could’ve still turned down the invitation. She means why you accepted the invitation.”
The heavily coated man made to cross the room, heading for Hiashi’s right side. “Ah. Curiosity.” Tsume chortled while Hiashi held up a hand to Shibi, which the Aburame took and squeezed in welcome.
Tobirama watched this from the corner of his eyes. His gaze was instead focused on the pair of Aburame children that stood a few feet away from him, watching him silently behind thick dark lenses. He was patient enough to wait them out, but he did greet them. “Aburame-san,” to Shino. “Aburame-kun,” to Torune. The Aburame clan were notoriously formal, like the Hyuga and Uchiha, but with their own rules and procedures. Tobirama would be the first to admit he wasn’t terribly familiar with the clan other than their capabilities on the battle field and in reconnaissance, but he knew and respected them enough to err on the side of caution rather than risk offending the future clan head and the older cousin he still held the hand of.
The pair of children chorused a quiet, “Senju-sama,” before going quiet and watchful once more.
Naruto shifted uneasily as the staring contest dragged on. The Senju was banking on his sprout’s impatience and curiosity to start this conversation. Naruto didn’t disappoint. “Hey, it’s rude to stare, believe it,” he finally drawled, his eyes narrowed and his tone rude. Were he to address Shibi in such a way, Tobirama would’ve corrected him and apologized, but since he was speaking to his agemates, Tobirama let him be. “If you’re gonna say something, say it.” Tobirama ignored the pointed looks he was getting from the other clan heads.
The smaller one, Shino, who seemed to be closer to Naruto in terms of age, lifted a hand to the high collar that obscured the lower half of his face. “I chose not to speak. Why? I wasn’t sure how Senju-sama would receive me.”
Tobirama raised an eyebrow. He hadn’t been around many Aburame children, so he didn’t know if being well-spoken and deliberate was the usual for them.
Torune rolled his shoulders in a shrug. He wasn’t wearing a hood like the father and son duo. Instead, he wore a coiled scarf over the top of his long-sleeved coat as well as a goggled-cowl. “Shino hadn’t spoken, so I stayed quiet.” Tobirama wondered silently if that was an inner-clan rule: that one couldn’t speak until their superior did.
Naruto huffed. “Ne, you don’t need to be so stuffy. Ji-chan said this is just supis…su-pos-st to be a lunch. Casual ‘n all that. ‘Sides, don’t worry ‘bout makin’ Ji-chan mad. He’s cool.”
Kagami snickered beside him before leaning over. “You hear that?” he whispered. “You’re a ‘cool’ old man.”
He tilted his head so he could speak just as quietly back. “You’re only a few years younger than me.” Kagami rolled his eyes, but seemed pleased and amused with himself.
Tobirama turned his eyes back to the Aburame children as Shino nodded decisively. “If what you say is true then,” Shino tilted his head so he could look directly as Tobirama, “Thank you for returning my brother to me.”
Well, he hadn’t been expecting that. “You’re welcome,” he replied. “Though I’m afraid I don’t deserve your gratitude.” He glanced to Torune. “I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you before.”
It was with the most bland and flat voice that Torune informed him, “Danzo had taken me into Root.” All conversation around the room silenced as the hot topic of the time was spoken of. “I was there the night you stormed the headquarters. Tenzo-senpai came for me and the other initiates and protected us from the cave-in.”
Tobirama winced and tucked his chin down. “I apologize for putting you in danger like that.”
Torune shrugged. “Appreciated, but I don’t really care. Why? I’m back with my clan now and with Shino.”
He could see the way Shino’s hand tightened around Torune’s. “So I thank you. Why? Because Danzo took Torune-nii-san from me and you killed Danzo.”
So that’s why Shino had thought he might offend him. He’d killed Danzo, his former student, and judging by the way the Aburame heir’s chakra was unconsciously clinging and leaning towards Torune, he knew the value of a bond, and a bond that had been severed. The child had the desperate edge—a fear—of losing something he loved. It was something Shino and Naruto had in common. “You need not fear my censure,” he assured the small child. “My former student had committed a great many wrongs and it was past time someone ensured he paid for them. As his sensei, I had a duty to see to that.” He smiled softly, looking between the pair. “If by seeing that justice was done, that I set something right, then I am happy. I hope you two grow well together.” Shino didn’t give any visible sign and Torune only hummed, but both of their chakra’s lightened and flared in satisfaction. “Perhaps after lunch, Naruto and the others can show you to the gardens. So long as you don’t take all of the population, you may help yourselves to whatever insects you find.”
Shino tellingly brightened at this and thanked him verbally. With that, the pair of children returned to Shibi’s side.
The last of his guests arrived together as was their usual.
Choji lead the charge, running straight from the gate to the Senju compound, to the front door, and into the sitting room. The boy’s eyes found Naruto and didn’t waver until he’d tackled the blond to the ground. Naruto squawked in surprise, but readily clung back.
“You’re okay,” Choji sniffled and Naruto’s chakra popped in distress and sadness. He squeaked as Choji squeezed him tighter. “I’m so happy you’re okay.”
Tobirama watched as Naruto strained to move in order to tuck his chin into Choji’s shoulder. “I missed you, believe it,” Naruto rasped. “We’re okay. We’re okay, I promise.”
He’d gotten the story from Naruto not too long ago: of how Danzo had taken him. Apparently there had been a knock at Torifu’s door while Mina and Toichi had been on a larder run for a last-minute dessert. Shikamaru, who had inexplicably invited himself to their sleepover, Choji, and Naruto had been doing a puzzle in the living room of Torifu’s house while the old man had gone to answer the door. Naruto remembered there being a loud bad word from Torifu before he shouted at someone to leave. And then there’d been a loud crashing sound and someone yelling in pain and then Naruto had smelled blood, a lot of blood.
Masked figures had stormed the house and into the living room where the children were. Naruto had admitted that things were blurry after that. He remembered Shikamaru raising his voice and yanking him and Choji into a corner, Danzo coming through the door, and Choji trying to attack Danzo, to protect them. But then Danzo had tapped his forehead with a finger, making the Akimichi boy collapse. After that, Danzo had pulled the bandages from his eye and forced Naruto to look at his stolen sharingan.
So Tobirama could understand Choji’s desperation to see and hold Naruto. They hadn’t seen each other since that night almost a week ago.
He sighed quietly, mourning their trauma, when he saw Hinata bolt forward, ignoring her father’s hissed call. Pale eyes were shining with tears as she touched shaky hands to Choji’s and Naruto’s shoulders. The pair turned towards her, took in her slowly crumbling face, and dragged the girl into their hug too. Kiba whined from across the room, curling in on himself, and Tobirama was about to encourage him to come closer, when Tsume put her hand on her son’s back, and pushed him. He needed no other encouragement, rushing to join the hug.
Three of their friends had been attacked and one taken. It was little wonder they needed to hold onto one another. Some, however, were more restrained. Neji sat trembling by Hiashi, refusing to acknowledge his uncle glancing at him. Sasuke was squeezing his hands tightly, tugged to Itachi’s side. The older brother had tilted his head to rest his cheek on his little brother’s head. His chakra was tight and moving slowly, weighed by grief and fear.
Tobirama carefully and slowly reached to envelope the three children in his chakra. Itachi’s eyes slid shut as he overtook their shared chakra to hold him and Neji’s shaking slowly eased, the tension melting slightly from his body. Fugaku and Hiashi startled, being close enough to the children to sense what he was doing, but he only met their gazes evenly and refused to take back his chakra. He wouldn’t be cowed or shamed out of comforting children.
The huddle of four children was beginning to relax when the rest of Choji’s entourage finally reached them, followed by Tsunade and Tenzo. Choza sighed when he caught sight of his son and nodded in greeting to Tobirama. Without another word he went to the three sets of pillows between Kakashi and Fugaku, dropping heavily.
When Tobirama caught sight of Shikaku, he felt a tiny bit of humor return to him. “Nara-sama, it appears you’ve picked up a parasite,” he jested.
Naras always looked weary and exhausted, but the clan head looked as if he’d discovered sleep and rest was troublesome and was doing everything he could to avoid it. Tobirama felt tired just looking at the man. Unlike the rest of the clan heads, he had arrived in his jonin gear, with an extra attachment to his vest.
Shikamaru was clinging tightly to his father’s chest—of his own strength because Shikaku wasn’t holding him—and glaring mightily up at his father, never wavering for a moment. It was hilarious to see.
Shikaku blinked slowly, but smiled quicker. He looked down at his irate son with amusement. “It appears I have. He’s too troublesome to remove.”
Kiba burst out laughing. “What the hell, Shika! What did your dad do?”
The answer came in a raised and viciously angry voice. One that should’ve been impossible to come from such a tiny person, let alone a tiny Nara. “He won’t sleep!” Shikamaru spat and Shikaku grimaced, lifting a hand to scratch the back of his head.
“Eh. I’ve been busy.”
“You need to sleep!”
Ino trotted past her father and uncle, totting two other children by their hands. She scowled up at her agemate. “You’re so loud, Shikamaru!”
“Sleeeeeep!” the tiny Nara hissed.
Tenten and Lee shot past Ino, diving for the hug pile with incoherent shouts. Tobirama had to lean to the side in order to avoid flailing arms and legs possibly hitting his healing ribs and back. Mari shifted her head and shoulders enough to brace him. Tobirama murmured his thanks. He heard Kakashi chuckle from the other side of Kagami. “Those are all his kids,” the cub gleefully told Kagami. “They follow him around everywhere. He’s practically adopted them.”
Tobirama whipped his head around and glared at Kakashi, who was still laughing as Ino ran and jumped on the pile with a happy screech. “I have not.”
“You’re a lying liar who lies.”
Kagami heaved a great big sigh. “Looks like Torifu and I have been replaced.” Tobirama gave him a deadpanned look, catching his meaning. Once upon a time Kagami had dogged his heals, dragging Saru into it, and eventually the other four as well. Now it was the current generation’s children that were constantly under foot.
But he currently wasn’t in the mood to argue about his supposed adoption of clan children. Didn’t they understand that he was trying to keep peace in the village, not start a civil war?
The Senju tsked before turning his attention to where Shikaku was carefully settling onto his pillow without disturbing his clingy, furious son. “Shikamaru,” he called and got no response, so he tried again. “Shikamaru, I might be able to help you.”
Reddened narrowed eyes finally moved from his father and settled on him. “How?”
Tobirama privately thought that he should try to put Shikamaru down for a nap. It was very obvious that he needed one, but he had a suspicion that Shikamaru would only nap when his father did. Instead of answering out loud, he lifted his good hand and beckoned the boy to come closer.
Amidst the adults greeting each other and the children catching up, Shikamaru reluctantly relaxed his grip on his father and set his feet on the ground. He then marched over to Tobirama and glared at him expectantly. He had to bite his tongue against teasing the boy and instead leaned down to whisper in his ear. After a moment, Shikamaru nodded and trotted down the hall to the kitchen. Shikaku gave him a curious look, but shrugged.
Tobirama traded pleasantries with the various children and adults for a few minutes, allowing time for Shizune and Shikamaru to finish in the kitchen. When he sensed them both exit the room, he cleared his throat to draw attention. “I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to accept my invitation to have lunch with me,” he started, looking the various clan head in the eyes. “I’m aware of how precious all of your time is in the wake of recent events. You do me a service and honor by being here on such short notice.” All the clan heads showed varying degrees of stress and exhaustion, Choza, Shikaku, and Inoichi most of all. They’d been at the center of the unrest right along side him, if not more so given that he’d been recovering the past few days while they continued to wrestle with the village. He gestured his good hand to the sitting room entrance as Shizune and a half-dozen of her clones entered bearing trays laden with fresh food. “My niece’s dedicated apprentice, Shizune Kato, has put together a feast for all of you. Please enjoy and leave behind your worries and concerns for the time being.”
Various thanks and pleased exclamations went up around the room from clan heads and children alike.
He motioned Lee and Tenten to sit beside him for lunch and murmured thanks to one of Shizune’s clones as she set a tray in front of him. The original Shizune personally served her master first and foremost.
Shikamaru carefully set his father’s tray of tea in front of him, sat on his heels, and stared expectantly—challengingly—up at the man. Shikaku had a wry smile on his face as he slowly and deliberately sat back and waved at the tea. His son’s face twisted in a look of displeasure before he reached for the tea kettle and poured a cup of tea as well as a second one when Shikaku pushed a cup in his direction. The boy’s jerky and stiff motions would make any trained maiko or geisha wince. Just seeing it made the classically-trained Senju clan heir and clan head in Tobirama want to take Shikamaru’s hands to guide him through the correct movements, but he had to remind himself that this wasn’t the Nara heir’s event to host nor was this a true tea ceremony.
He accepted the tea Kagami poured for him and pretended to not see Shikaku’s pointed look as he breathed in the aroma of chamomile and lemon balm, which nearly overwrote the more bitter smell of magnolia bark. Only Shikaku’s and now Shikamaru’s tea smelled as such: everyone else’s were traditional matcha green tea. If the pair of Naras were still awake by the time this lunch was over the Senju would be very impressed, that was his own personal blend to force himself to sleep during a consuming, obsessive research bender.
Tobirama sipped his green tea before carefully nudging Naruto’s hand, murmuring a reminder to slow down his eating. Naruto paused before smiling sheepishly. When he turned back to his food it was with obvious slowness and care.
As lunch progressed, Tobirama couldn’t help but feel his sense of pride and satisfaction surge and rise. In his very home he now had all shinobi clan heads and their heirs, his own heir, niece, and cousin. And the atmosphere was relaxed and easy. Some of the most powerful and influential people currently in Konoha were readily discussing missions of past and present, training techniques, troubles from running a clan and their own personal estates, and so on and so forth. Clans were speaking and engaging with one another that at one point in his life, would rather exchange weapons and lives than words. Hinata and Sasuke were quietly discussing something, gesturing to their eyes. Kakashi was trading barbs with Tsume. Shino and Kiba were having what looked to be a heated and passionate argument if Kiba’s flailing arms and Shino’s shifting hands were anything to go by.
This peace, this accord, was not his own doing. Tobirama wouldn’t dare to even think to claim that honor. No, this was the work of decades of concessions and forgiveness. Years of shedding blood in the defense of each other and trusting one another to watch their backs.
Tobirama didn’t physically look back at the family shrine behind him, but the image of his brother and Madara came to mind. He looked upon the Uchiha clan head and his sons having lunch in the Senju clan head home, to the Ino-Shika-Cho families at ease and receptive to other clans, to the Hyuga clan listening to the words and opinions of others.
During his time as Hokage or as brother to the Hokage, Tobirama hadn’t been able to really see it. He’s been so buried in work and so busy addressing metaphorical—and sometimes literal—fires around the budding village. It was only now that he was out of office, constrained to his home by his injuries, surrounded by clans he’d once thought of tenuous allies who would turn against him at first chance that he finally, finally began to understand.
This peace his brother had been desperately reaching for.
Tobirama took a deep breath and let it out slowly, sitting back and observing the room.
Naruto tugged on his sleeve, demanding he side with him in an argument he was having with Ino and a bemused Inoichi. His chest felt too tight as his little sprout, his amazing, bright, warm little sprout so easily and casually reached for him. His most precious treasure who was gaining weight and color and health and friends and love.
The present and future sat before him and he wasn’t the one orchestrating them for the sake of his brother’s dream. He was a part of them.
For the longest time, peace was something he’d work to achieve and make for other people, the people of his village, his family. Never for himself. It never occurred to him that he could have peace as well.
If this was his peace; then he owed all his gratitude to his anija and Madara. To Naruto. To the people around him who helped and supported the very same dream of peace a young pair of boys used to hope and laugh about on the banks of a tiny river.
If this was his peace, then it was the greatest gift he’d ever been given.