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bite my tongue, bide my time

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The world before him shifted, transforming before his very eyes, showing him the true meaning of hell, a world where everything had gone wrong. His life's dream, the focus of his later years, had been nothing but the result of manipulation, a hand well-played by a creature much older than himself. He knew deceit, and yet he'd missed all of the warning signs, becoming willfully ignorant, blind to anything but the desire to build the perfect world, when the perfect world didn't exist, could never exist, not in his lifetime, not in the future. Tobirama had once told him that his chakra was foul, something unnatural, and he'd never once believed the man. Suddenly everything made sense. His chakra was foul—he was foul—and his own hatred made it so. A higher power, or some technique granted to him by the sharingan, allowed him a glimpse into the future, yet he wanted to deny the truth, deny every decision he would have made, every wrong he would have committed, whether by his own hand or by proxy. He'd destroyed lives—he would destroy lives—if everything continued on course, if every option presented itself. He would damn himself, allowing his foul chakra to infect the peaceful village he'd help found, the roots spreading to share the darkness with the rest of the world. Madara hated himself. He hated the future. He cursed his clan, his eyes, himself, until he felt small, reduced to just another mortal man, no longer a warrior, no longer a prodigy, but the dirt and muck beneath his sandals. And with the passing of the vision, half of his world went black, the vast, inky darkness a foreign thing. His clan members warned of blindness, but they'd never talked of the dark depths lurking over their shoulders, slowly rising, growing in time with their skills, advancing with the usage of their eyes. Something had happened—something had gone wrong—and he had nothing but the rain to comfort him, the cold droplets consoling him as they soaked him.

He looked down at his sword, his hand clenching the hilt so that his knuckles paled, so that his fingers ached, and he knew that was wrong, that panic had set in; panic had no place on the battlefield. Panic led to mistakes, and mistakes led to death. He wasn't ready to die—God, he wasn't ready to die—so he clung to that sword, to that moment, and dragged his wandering mind back to that godforsaken field, back to mud and trampled grass and the overwhelming stench of blood and sweat. Madara had half a world, but he had enough. That had to be enough. Metal met metal, his sword grinding against another blade, until he was locked in a battle of strength. Madara locked eyes with Hashirama, seeing the hesitation there, the hope that they would finally cease the war their families had started generations ago, long before they were born, the war that threatened the family they had left. Their battles ate away at their clans. Hashirama had lost so much, too much, while Madara selfishly clung to his only sibling, hoping, wishing, that war would spare him.

"Old friend," Hashirama tried, the words meant to awaken something in Madara, to lure the man from the edge. Madara knew he was the lesser man, knew that Hashirama spared him, time and time again, yet he insisted on fighting, seeking something he no longer understood. He remembered those days spent by the river, where they bathed in innocence, where they sought refuge in one another. "It's not too late. I won't give up on you. I still believe in our dream. Have you fallen so low? Is bloodshed all you truly seek? We can end this," Hashirama insisted, forcing Madara back.

Madara faltered, his right foot sinking deep into the mud. He still wanted that. He wanted to trigger the chain of events that would lead to Konohagakure, to a village hidden in the leaves. If he acted, he could save Izuna. He could spare lives lost in their current push, and in the final push. Was he truly so far gone that he could look his future in the proverbial face and follow that same damned path, where he succumbed to darkness brought about by years of war and a curse of hatred? He'd lost Izuna, his only brother, his closest family. He'd let parting words taint him. His brother had descended as well, both of them lost. Even in his last moments, Izuna had told Madara not to trust the Senju. He'd been wrong; they'd both been wrong. So many years lost. And all because of blindness. All because of Black Zetsu. That thought sobered him. The creature lurked in the shadows, waiting for the perfect target to present itself, waiting for a fool like him to fall so far.

Slowly, Madara lowered his blade, until it hung at his side, his grip loose. Hashirama stared at him with wide eyes, the shock written all over the man's tan face. Madara turned to his right, searching for Izuna, and he found his brother locked in a battle with the younger Senju, Tobirama. Madara saw everything in slow motion. His world shifted once more, twisting, twirling, folding in on itself. Tobirama flew at Izuna and there was no way to dodge. The man was fast, had always been fast, as if he were created solely to challenge the sharingan. Madara barely had time to call out his brother's name, and then blood blossomed from the gash across his brother's chest and gut. Izuna opened as if his body could no longer contain him. Madara dropped his blade and ran to his brother's side, his eyes burning with unshed tears. For some reason, he heard his father chastising him, reminding him that shinobi never cried, that men never cried, even under the worst conditions. He caught Izuna before the man could fall to the ground. On his knees, Madara cradled his brother in his arms, half hunched over the man, as if to shield him from all of the ugliness in the world. When Tobirama approached, blade raised to end them both, Madara looked up at him, his brokenness on display. Hashirama stood in the middle, voice harsh, though the words were lost. Around them, the battle continued, as if nothing had happened at all.

"Stay with me," Madara demanded, clutching Izuna to himself, one hand trying to apply pressure to the gaping wound. He wasn't a medic, so he had little to offer, just empty words. Izuna pressed shaky hands to his gut, trying to keep his insides from spilling out, to retain some form of dignity before he died. "It's not as bad as it looks," Madara lied, even though they both knew the words weren't true.

"Kill that Senju bastard. Don't you trust their lies. They try to deceive you," Izuna insisted, eyes alight with the fire of a man with only words left to give. Madara nodded, for he couldn't summon the words the man needed to hear. He'd seen that path. He'd seen a world plunged into more war. He knew there could be peace, but he felt the sting, the rising burn of hatred and the call for vengeance. He knew how easy it was to succumb to whispered words. "Your eye," Izuna whispered, reaching up with one bloody hand to touch Madara's left cheek. He could only imagine what his worthless left eye looked like without the sharingan.

"It doesn't matter. We need help. Hang on. I'll carry you all the way home, if I have to" Madara promised, prepared to stand. Hashirama stooped down in front of him, begging him to wait.

"I can find a medic. We have medics. Our home is closer. Let me right this wrong. There's still time," Hashirama said, speaking over Izuna's muttered curses and threats, promises to repay them back in kind. It struck Madara then that somewhere along the way, he'd lost his little brother to the curse of hatred. Izuna knew too much of their father and the propaganda spewed by the man and their fellow clan members. "Madara!"

"Let me die!" Izuna groaned in pain, hot tears flowing down pale cheeks. Madara rose, lifting Izuna along with him. Tobirama stood back, as if he hadn't tried to kill them both with one fatal strike.

"Take me to them."

The battles dissolved around them, their people still as the group crossed the battlefield. Seeing their clan heads together, weapons sheathed or lost, confused a great deal of the shinobi. At one point, both sides looked at one another for some explanation, one none of them really had. Madara heard the whispers first, the words breaking through the fog surrounding his mind, the fog creeping along the ground at their ankles. It would be a miserable day, given more time and rain. Madara had enough sense to shout at his people, to tell them to withdraw, even as Izuna spat hateful words. Hikaku took command, barking orders in the way that Madara should have, in the way that he could have, if his younger brother weren't bleeding out in his arms.

The journey took too long. Every battle they fought took place well away from their homes, meant to spare themselves the loss of civilians and their current way of life. Madara took note of the river they passed, looking unchanged from his childhood. The river acted as a landmark, something to divide their lands. And then he stepped onto Senju lands, and he felt as if any breeze would knock him over, sending him to the muddy ground. He shouldn't have been there, just as he shouldn't have seen the world prosper and burn, just as he shouldn't have lost the sight in his left eye.

"What if this is a trick? You'll be surrounded! Take me from here. Let me die within our walls," Izuna spoke, words heavy, though his tone showed the promise of death hovering over him. Madara scowled at him. "He struck me down!"

"If this is a trick, then I'll know I did all I could for you, and I'll die as I would have died, in a war we didn't need, one I never even wanted," Madara informed him, eyes locked on the path ahead, unable to meet Izuna's gaze. Izuna raised a hand to clutch at Madara's kimono, but the bloody hand slid away. "This war will go on when we are gone, an endless cycle of hatred, born of wrongs that we've forgotten."

"Father," Izuna began, cut off by the look Madara gave him. "You want peace with them," Izuna said, the thought infuriating. Madara nodded once.

"Do you mean that?" Tobirama was there, moving up from behind Madara to follow along beside him. Everything in Madara told him to strike the man down. Madara wasn't as strong as Hashirama, but he thought he could take Tobirama. Some part of him urged him to try, to spill more blood. Instead, Madara looked up from Izuna and looked to his right, finding Tobirama. "Do you truly want peace, even after this?"

"Did you think I would stoop so low as to seek an eye for an eye, blood for blood, body for body?"

"I did. That's always been the case between our clans. It's how we've lived for generations. Even now, Izuna calls for blood."

"I love him. He is all that I have left. If I lose him, I don't know if I'll ever recover, but I know that I'm tired. I have had enough. Becoming an avenger, I see nothing but the promise of a dark future."

The rest of the journey passed in silence, the only sound their sandals meeting mud puddles and wet grass. The Senju compound consisted of many homes surrounded by trees, trees meant to provide some coverage, a natural border for the bustling area. The place was quiet, though one lone child spotted their approach and shouted that the clan head had returned to them. The child was no older than five, and Madara wondered if he would be thrust onto the battlefield, fodder in the way that Kawarama and Itama had been. Izuna's groans grew softer, and Madara knew that numbness had set in, a terrible sign for the man. Was he even a man? He was young still, barely twenty years old, far too young to die. Madara had imagined his younger brother marrying, building a family, retiring from war, even though he knew, at the time, that very few ever lived to see such a thing as retirement. Men died on the battlefield.

"Get me a medic," Hashirama called, words shared with a group of women. The women scattered, all of them in search of a medic. The people they passed eyed Madara and Izuna, wary of the foreign shinobi, knowing well that the men didn't belong there. "This way," Hashirama encouraged them, bringing them all to a large home located in the middle of the compound. The place could have been a small village, with all of the homes and the tall trees shielding them.

"This is your home?" Madara ascended the two steps and followed Hashirama into the dark home. Seals activated around them, and candles came to light with their footfalls. Madara glanced at Tobirama, knowing that the man had been the one to activate the seals. So they lived together still. "I need a room with some space," Madara said, bypassing the living room Hashirama offered them.

"My room is this way," Tobirama said, no longer following but leading. Hashirama made a noise, one caught between disbelief and offense. The living room had been perfect for them, littered with furniture and bookcases and scrolls. It was clear men lived there, one of them clearly lacking the ability to clean up after himself. Madara suspected the clutter was due to Hashirama. "Is he still awake?"

"He certainly isn't dead," Madara frowned. Tobirama gathered a few blankets and laid them out on the floor to protect the tatami and offer some more cushioning. Madara kneeled and gently placed his brother atop the blankets. Izuna stared up at him, eyes unfocused. "It won't be long now," Madara promised, despite being unsure of the words.

"I'll be back," Hashirama said, disappearing into the house. Madara heard a door slam, followed by hurried footsteps. When Hashirama returned, he had a short woman with him. She took one look at the blood still oozing between Izuna's hands, a vain attempt at stopping the bleeding, then she shook her head. "Surely there's something you can do, Hanako!"

"Heal him," Madara demanded, going to rise in an attempt to intimidate her. Tobirama placed a hand on Madara's shoulder and squeezed, dragging Madara back from the edge. For a moment, Madara had wanted to wring the life from her. "Do something!"

"I can ease his pain."

"Then come closer, woman, and do it!"

As she worked, Madara placed a hand over one of Izuna's, their fingers slotted, and tried to keep the warmth in his brother's cold hands. Izuna had always had cold hands, but never as cold as they were then, never like ice. Hanako did what she could to help, first trying to administer herbs she'd mixed well with sake, then trying to heal what she could of the injury. She was able to remedy the worst of the inner damage, but the blood flowed so freely that there was little they could do to help. She spoke of eastern medicine and blood transfusions, but she gave him more herbs to try and help replenish the blood lost. Medics did what they could do, but medicine had yet to advance enough to save the lives they needed saved. Too many men died of preventable illnesses, then from battle wounds and infection. Madara wanted to save Izuna, but there was little he could do, even after the vision showing him a world in which he rebuilt a broken boy.

"It won't be long now," Hanako said, her voice soft. She looked to Hashirama, as if he would scold her, but he nodded and mumbled his thanks. Izuna had a chance, but the rate of survival made it as if he had no chance at all. Wait the night, Hanako had suggested. If he only survived the night, she followed. After she'd left the room, Madara took Izuna's left hand in his own.

"I'm so sorry," Hashirama began, cut off by Madara's bitter laugh. An apology, after so much, meant little to him. The apology wouldn't fix Izuna; an apology wouldn't stop the negativity slowly encompassing him. "You're welcome to stay as long as you need, right?" Hashirama looked to Tobirama, who had been relatively quiet since Hanako's departure. "Right?" Hashirama repeated himself, nervous laughter following.

"Yes. Of course. As long as you need," Tobirama ensured, though he sounded less than sincere. Madara shot him a withering look, which had him narrowing his eyes. Hashirama clapped his hands and grinned. "Why are you suddenly so happy? There is a man dying right in front of you."

"He's strong. There's no possible way this is the end for him. We've come together on this. This is the first step toward peace. When morning comes, you'll see," Hashirama said, seemingly the optimist. The sunlight wouldn't save Izuna. Nothing about a day change made any difference. Tobirama was right, though Madara loathed to admit it. "I'm going to gather the shinobi. Stay here with him." Hashirama patted Tobirama's shoulder, then he left the room.

"Call her back," Izuna managed to say, though his words were slightly slurred from the medicine. He grabbed Madara's hand with such strength that Madara wondered if Izuna meant to make that moment his last. "Take my eyes."

"Absolutely not. You're going to make it," Madara said, his voice firm, words leaving no room for argument. No one in their clan had ever performed an eye transplant and lived. First, the chakra network collapsed on itself, leading to blindness, and then the eyes rotted away. It wasn't the way to go. Neither of them needed the complications. "I'll be ostracized. We will be ostracized. You don't know what you're saying," Madara muttered, easing Izuna's grip on his hand.

"You have no use of your left eye," Izuna sighed, eyes moving to Madara's left eye. Tobirama seemed very aware of the conversation. Madara looked over at Tobirama, seeing the questions in the man's eyes, if not in the passive expression on that pale face. "Take mine. If not for me, then for the clan."

Madara hadn't thought of the clan, of what would happen when he finally let go, when Izuna finally passed. He had an empty home waiting for him, just as he had people depending on him. He suddenly realized the weight of loss, how he already felt crippled at the mere thought of going back to his clan with his brother's corpse. He looked down at Izuna, eyes lowering to their clasped hands. He saw a fresh droplet of blood fall onto the back of Izuna's hand, then another. Shinobi didn't cry; shinobi showed no emotion at all. Yet he crumbled, falling to pieces in front of both men, when all he wanted was to remain strong. Tobirama rose in one fluid motion and left the brothers, and Madara felt as if he were choking on his tears. His shoulders shook, body shuddering with every inhale, as if the act of breathing overwhelmed him. Izuna, even in his weakened state, comforted Madara.

"This should have been me," Madara whispered, voice heavy with despair. Izuna mumbled a few incoherent words, though Madara assumed they were reassurances, attempts at dragging him away from those thoughts. "What will I do without you?" Madara didn't expect an answer, so he only paused for a moment. "Do you remember the promise I made you when you first entered the war? I told you I would protect you. I've failed you," Madara continued, seeking something in his brother's sharingan.

"We were children. This is different," Izuna said, voice soft. Izuna coughed and blood dribbled from the corners of his mouth. "Don't make me beg you. Don't do that to me," Izuna sighed. The door to the room slid open and Tobirama stepped aside to allow Hanako entry. Tobirama closed the door behind himself, though he took no steps toward Izuna.

"I can perform the surgery," Hanako said, attracting their attention. Izuna's expression hardened, then he managed a nod. Madara looked between the two, an outburst ready, before Hanako held up her hands. "There's a risk. There's always a risk with this sort of thing," she tried to explain.

"You mean that we might waste away, that we'll lose our sight, then the infection will spread and claim our lives. I've heard this before. Spare me the details," Madara all but growled. Tobirama cleared his throat and Madara quietly simmered, knowing the gesture had been meant for him. "None of this leaves the room. Am I correct, Senju?"

"Hashirama would never let me hear the end of it, though he will scold us both for our recklessness. How certain are you that you can successfully perform this surgery? You've never encountered the sharingan," Tobirama stated, eyes narrowing on the woman.

"I may not be combat ready, but I am one of the best medics in this clan, if you remember," Hanako huffed, already going to Izuna's side. She kneeled down and placed her hands over Izuna's eyes, the green glow of her hands signaling the healing chakra.

"Do it now," Izuna scowled, shoving her assessing hands from his face. She opened her mouth to scold him, but Madara muttered at her and she reconsidered.

"This will be painful," she began to explain. Madara cut her off with a scoff. "Very well. You seem committed. If you will, lie down, Uchiha-san."

The whole operation took a little over an hour, an hour that seemed to stretch into days. Madara had known a world half-encased in darkness, but he knew colors again. He tried to sit up, but he fell back to the floor. His eyes ached, his head ached, so he closed his eyes and felt blindly for Izuna's hand. He held tightly to his brother's hand, listening to the man's quiet breaths. The surgery should have waited, but Izuna had always been one to get his way. Madara had spoiled him; their father had spoiled them both. When faced with his brother's death, Madara longed for their days spent bickering and scrapping, both of them acting more like heathens than proper children. Madara heard Tobirama and Hanako conversing, but he focused on the throbbing of his head, the pain radiating around his eyes. He cared little for the fact that he'd bared himself for an enemy, two enemies. Izuna always made him forget himself. When Hashirama finally returned, Madara sat by Izuna's side. His brother's eyes were closed, breathing slow and labored.

"How is he?" Hanako was long gone, so Hashirama spoke to Tobirama. Madara bristled, head jerking in their direction. Hashirama closed his mouth and moved further into the room, choosing a place at Madara's side. "Your clan was gone. Hikaku left this with my men," Hashirama said, handing a scroll to Madara. Madara recognized the scroll as belonging to his clan, the exterior a deep red, as red as the sharingan.

"He probably thinks me mad, and he would be right. Why else would I flee the battlefield with our sworn enemies, with the man who had, only moments before, struck my brother down?"

"In my defense, he was also attempting to strike me down. You can't possibly expect me to stand there and let him," Tobirama frowned. Hashirama laughed, a nervous broken thing that reeked of anxiety and the need to stop an argument before it had the chance to begin. "I do regret that it came to that."

"You don't regret a damn thing. If you had the opportunity again, you would do the very same. I remember that you intended to kill us both, before this fool stepped in," Madara muttered, one quick jerk of his head toward Hashirama. Hashirama stuttered, clearly offended at being called a fool. Tobirama frowned, also ignoring Hashirama. "If you intend to apologize, do it properly or don't bother at all. Why waste your breath?"

"I see," Tobirama said, eyes growing distant. For a minute, Madara believed he'd won, but Tobirama continued. "I apologize."

"Your sincerity amazes me, Senju."

"I have been told that my sincerity is renowned."

"Let's not start this now," Hashirama cut in, stopping a heated argument. Madara bit his tongue until he tasted blood, but he bit back the harsh retort he'd had planned. Tobirama looked just as happy about the interruption. "He will make it," Hashirama said, patting Madara's shoulder.

"And if he doesn't? Will you lay down your life in exchange for my forgiveness? Will you lose your brother as I've lost my brother? Will you murder him as he's murdered mine?" Madara turned to look at his old friend. That's what they were then, old friends.

"Anija," Tobirama interrupted them, the word accompanying Hashirama's shock. "You can't be entertaining the thought!" Hashirama smiled, his eyes closing, as if that would provide him the peace and strength he needed.

"If he doesn't, then I will lay down my life. If you will forgive my brother and aid him in seeking peace, I would gladly lay down my life for you. I can still imagine a world where no child sees the horror of war, where no child loses brothers or sisters, mother or father. Have you forgotten that world we built along the Naka River?" Hashirama's smile was small, very sad, expressing everything the man felt. Madara envied the way Hashirama bared his soul to every man, woman, and child, leading not with strength but with heart. Hashirama had such a big heart. And was it too late for Madara to have the same?

Madara stared down at his brother's pale face, at the bandages still wrapped around the young man's head, concealing the eyes from view. Countless times, Madara had tried to sell that world to Izuna, but Izuna was too much like their father, Tajima. He'd once thought that they shared one heart, one mind, and then Madara had met Hashirama, and together they built a fictional world where they had family names that no longer mattered, where they could lose themselves in the way that children lose themselves, in play, in battle, in rivalry. Madara had seen a world where he'd made mistake after mistake, and he knew he couldn't walk that same path, but oh how he wanted to succumb to the promise of retribution. How easy it would have been to take Izuna's words to heart, to push his people into battle after battle in some attempt to recover what was lost. He only had Izuna, but Hashirama had only had Kawarama, had only had Itama. Perhaps some higher power thought it fit to distribute loss and despair, to finally balance the scale. Hashirama still smiled at him, as if he hadn't asked Hashirama to commit seppuku. Madara thought of how he would watch the light extinguished in Hashirama's eyes, how the emptiness in his heart would be all encompassing. He didn't want that, not for himself, not for Hashirama, not even for Tobirama. In the end, he wasn't Izuna, never would be Izuna.

"Shut up, you fool," Madara mumbled, throwing a dark look at the man. Tobirama visibly relaxed, all of the anger, all of the fear, contained in those red eyes no longer present.

"I would have thought you'd be pleased with such an outcome," Tobirama spoke, voice terse. Madara bristled, eagerly rising to the bait. "Your brother seemed adamant about revenge."

"And you think I would be the same. Aren't you supposed to be some sort of prodigy, a genius? Perhaps you aren't as intelligent as people seem to think you are. Clearly he and I are two different people, just as you and your brother are two different people. You are simply joined by the curse of foolishness," Madara responded. Tobirama frowned, though he chose to remain silent. Hashirama looked back and forth between them, clearly unsure of what was happening between the two.

The sunset slowly fell away, replaced by night, and Izuna remained asleep, unmoving. Madara remained at his side, even after Hashirama had fallen asleep. Only Tobirama remained. Though the man's eyes were closed, Tobirama was awake and aware of his surroundings. Tobirama sat with his back to the wall, one leg stretched out before him, the other bent toward his chest. One forearm rested on his knee, he had his head tilted back to rest against the wall. He looked comfortable enough, much more comfortable than Madara, whose legs had fallen asleep, pins and needles turned to numbness. When Hashirama began to snore, Madara sighed and considered suffocating the man. Tobirama seemed to have the same idea, as Madara noticed the man twitch.

"Are you afraid I'll single handedly slaughter your clan?"

"You can't blame me for being cautious. Paranoia serves a purpose, after all."

"Ridiculous. If I wanted your life, you wouldn't be talking to me right now. Your corpse would be cooling next to your snoring brother."

"I don't think you could take me. You may be ruthless, but so am I. You remember he saved your life," Tobirama said, eyes briefly moving to Hashirama. Madara hummed, as if in agreement. He recalled the moment when Hashirama chose to shield him. "I'm awake for the very same reason you're still awake, and that isn't to keep watch over your brother," Tobirama noted.

"You can't blame me for being cautious. Doesn't paranoia serve a purpose?" Madara smirked at him, noticing the amusement in the subtle twitch of Tobirama's lips. They didn't trust one another, and maybe they never would. Life would continue.