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bite my tongue, bide my time

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Reparations. Madara looked up from the scroll to meet Tobirama's eyes. They sat in Madara's home again, tucked away in the back office, because the Senju refused to see him, as if his presence would incite violence and mayhem. Madara dropped the open scroll onto his low table and gathered one he'd prepared. He practically threw it at Tobirama, and he didn't care that the man sighed and made a show of retrieving the scroll from the floor. Madara had let the elders of the clan gather their own demands, all of them trying to stir trouble with the other clan. He knew they walked a fine line, but he thought it fair that the Senju discuss trivial matters, such as the return of a work horse that had been stolen during a raid. The family didn't care about the horse. They complained to complain, to waste time better spent on planning Konohagakure.

"You can't be serious," Tobirama said, eyes scanning over the list of demands. "'The return of seventeen apples, in whole, or an even amount in a citrus fruit'?" Tobirama judged him, and he smirked, daring the man to test him. Tobirama continued reading, then he finally closed the scroll and dumped it atop the other scroll. Reparations had become a joke between the two.

Hashirama would have appreciated the demands, but the man had a clan meeting to attend, just another attempt at swaying the elders. Tobirama took a rice ball from the plate in the center of the table. The man stared at the rice ball for a few moments, so Madara sighed and took a bite of his own food, proving that the food hadn't been poisoned. Why Tobirama thought Madara would go through the trouble was beyond him. Madara had better things to do with his time. The two paused the conversation to finish their rice balls, then they sipped their tea. For a change, the tea was still warm and tasted like the honey Madara had added to the cups. Tobirama took more sugar in his tea than Madara did, but both preferred the taste of the tea itself over the sweetener.

The doors that led to the engawa were open, letting in a cool breeze. It was midday and the sun was shining, so the home had been warm and stuffy. Izuna had gone out with Hikaku, preferring that rather than sharing space with Tobirama. Madara couldn't blame the man. Madara would have preferred Hashirama, but he could do nothing about the man sitting before him. At least Tobirama had shown up on time, actually prepared for the meeting. After they finished their tea, Madara produced a list from amongst his papers. The clans came with their own allies and both men meant to offer the same peace to the allied clans. They both intended to draw other clans into the planned village. Madara didn't like the Hyuga, but he knew the clan came along with the Senju. Madara looked over the list, eyes scanning over the clans, some small, some large.

"We're allied with the Yamanaka, the Nara, and the Akimichi. They're closer to one another, and they've excluded themselves from taking a hard stance against your clan. We also had a contract with the Shimura clan, at one time. It's a small clan."

"We've allied with the Inuzuka, the Hatake, and the Hyuga. We are on good terms with the Sarutobi clan. Is the Hyuga clan going to be a problem?"

"Not if they keep their mouths shut. We've fought before. There's hostility there. We disagree with the house system, mainly that they seal branch members. We find it barbaric and insulting."

"Your clan divides sharingan from non-sharingan," Tobirama reminded him, seeming judgmental. Madara rolled his eyes. He couldn't hide his own exasperation. Of course Tobirama wouldn't understand. "Have you tried getting along, for the sake of peace?"

"I'm not saying my clan is better, although it is clearly better. I'll be overhauling the divisive system to have equality in the clan. I'd prefer it if the Hyuga did the same, but they're stubborn and infected with a superiority complex that's been a problem likely since its founding," Madara shrugged, offering another rice ball to Tobirama. The man declined, so Madara ate another.

"I can't imagine why your clans don't get along," Tobirama said, words reeking of sarcasm. Madara chuckled. "We don't get along with the Shimura clan. They've assassinated a few of our members, but we have nothing against the Yamanaka, Nara, and Akimichi. They're relatively well respected. What about the Hatake and the Inuzuka?"

"The Hatake clan is small, but powerful. Very talented," Madara noted, nodding in approval. He thought about the Inuzuka and resisted the urge to wrinkle his nose. The clan was loud, brash, and animalistic at the best of times. "We don't dislike the Inuzuka clan, but we have the neko contract and the summons hate ninken. They're very," Madara paused, trying to find the word he wanted, "wild, if you understand. Aren't they matriarchal?"

"Yes, and the clan head is also young. She's a prodigy, apparently." Madara chose not to respond, so Tobirama smirked. The expression had Madara momentarily flustered. "Tsubaki is nineteen," Tobirama said, watching the doubt cross Madara's features. "I think she could take you."

"I'm not interested in finding out. We should have a meeting with the clan heads soon. Did you have a time or place in mind?"

"We could meet in a few days. They would have time to plan, and we could ask the Nara to host the meeting. They are known for being rational, and I doubt our clans would want others wandering around our lands."

Madara could picture the reaction to the Hyuga clan head stepping onto Uchiha land and he found himself chuckling. Tobirama seemed to understand why, though the man didn't join in. With their tea and rice balls gone, Madara watched Tobirama make some notes on the reparation scroll, just clan names and snippets of thoughts. Looking at Tobirama, Madara envied his organization, even his penmanship. Tobirama raised his eyes and caught Madara staring, but Madara simply arched a brow at the man.

"May I help you with something?" Tobirama paused his writing and waited for a response.

"You really don't mind that Hashirama is leading this cause? You know how he is. You should have stayed to make sure he wouldn't make a fool of himself," Madara said, shrugging his shoulders. Tobirama frowned, hesitant to admit that the thought of Hashirama taking a stand by himself left him feeling uneasy. "He practically pushed you out of the door, didn't he?"

"He encouraged me to come on his behalf. I didn't want to leave him to the elders, but there are important matters to discuss and this meeting needed to happen."

"Hm. Let's go then," Madara announced, already getting to his feet. He left the cups and plates on the low table and stretched his arms above his head. "Come on. Our meeting has finished and you haven't received word from Hashirama. Let's make sure this meeting goes in our favor."

"You won't behave yourself. Hashirama might know you better, but I'm no fool. You'll only make things worse. Sit down," Tobirama said, pointing to Madara's zabuton. Madara smiled, a devious expression so out of place. He opened his mouth to speak, but Tobirama held up a hand. "I get it. You're a tyrant. This requires a delicacy that you lack."

"Tyrant? As if you would be any better. Are you coming with me or should I just storm your village and demand to see the elders? I think my way would include casualties, since I lack delicacy."

"Are you going to threaten my clan?"

"Of course not. That's insane. I am just suggesting some might be injured, gravely injured."

"Fine. You will listen to me when we enter my lands and you will refrain from interrupting. Do we have an agreement?"

"We're wasting time," Madara sighed, motioning for Tobirama to stand.

The journey took a little over an hour, since Tobirama delayed them both. In the light of day, the small village looked half deserted. Madara saw few people mingling, going from home to home or shop to shop. The Senju had a great deal of shinobi, but even more civilians. Hashirama had said that there were fewer births, thanks to women seeking men from other clans. They moved freely between the Senju clan and the allied clans. Most Uchiha remained in the clan. If someone married into another clan, no active sharingan could be outside of the clan. Madara knew of a couple that had to give their oldest son to relatives still within the clan. The sharingan was closely guarded, had been long before Madara's time, and would continue to be long after he passed away. Dojutsu theft was serious, mostly among people from Lightning and Water.

Madara toyed with the idea for a moment before he spoke. "Have you considered arranged marriages to keep the line going?" Tobirama didn't say anything, so Madara frowned. "Hashirama mentioned the number of available shinobi has dropped. Arranged marriages would keep the bloodline going and the name strong. My father implemented it before I was born and it helped boost our numbers."

"Some families still arrange marriages, but I don't think we need to be so strict. The elders want an arranged marriage for anija. Wood release has never been recorded before, so they want him to start a family and pass his teachings onto his children." Tobirama didn't seem to like the idea, for his eyes narrowed at the mention of wood release. Madara had the strongest sharingan in his clan. He'd surpassed his father at a young age. Madara understood the clan pushing for arranged marriages again because they wanted the power.

"And you?"

"What about me?"

"You know exactly what I mean."

They passed into the village before Tobirama had the chance to speak, but Madara knew the expression on Tobirama's face meant that the question wasn't lost. Some clan members on the roads gawked at them, eyes darting back and forth between Tobirama and Madara. The staring eventually had Madara grumbling to himself about the lack of manners, even though he knew his own clan members still gawked at the Senju when they visited. Tobirama led Madara to a modest home near the edge of the village. From the road, Madara heard the loud voices from inside of the home. Madara took a step to enter the home, but Tobirama put a hand on his chest to stop him. Madara stared down at the hand until Tobirama pulled back.

"The elders aren't interested in my personal life, and I prefer it. Anija doesn't have that luxury. He's soft-hearted, always has been, and these discussions get heated. They try to intimidate him. He might be soft-hearted, but he's very determined and he believes in doing the right thing. In here, we can't help him. It would make him seem weak. Keep quiet," Tobirama said, nodding toward the house, where the raised voices continued, the argument still heated. Madara stared at the home, then he scowled. "Delicacy," Tobirama reminded him.

"Fine. We don't need him looking weak. Someone might challenge him for his position as clan head," Madara answered, clearly displeased. Tobirama nodded, then led the way into the home. The whole place went silent, then the arguing started anew. Voices overlapped. All of the words jumbled. "Is this your typical council meeting? This must be new-age leadership at its finest" Madara said, trying to hurry Tobirama along.

"Enough!"

Tobirama stopped outside of a pair of sliding doors, so Madara stood beside him. Madara had never heard Hashirama sound so angry. The man had bellowed and the elders went silent, a single cough the only sign that there was life in the room. Madara reached out to open the shoji doors, but Tobirama shook his head and held up a hand. Murmurs started, but the disagreements quickly faded to the background.

"I am ashamed of your behavior. We finally have a chance at peace and you're all so quick to dismiss it. None of you are fit enough to be on the battlefield or you would understand how wonderful this opportunity is. I am tired of the killing. I want better for this clan. There will be no reparations. There will be no strings attached to this peace offering. I am still head of this clan. Have faith in me," Hashirama said, his last words a plea.

"Butsuma would frown on this. The Uchiha extend an olive branch only to beat us down with it," one elder responded. Tobirama flared his chakra, announcing his presence. One by one, the council members responded by flaring their own chakra. Tobirama opened the doors and stepped into the formal dining room, while Madara lingered in the doorway. "You led him into your home? You must have lost your mind!"

"How did the meeting go?" Hashirama completely ignored the elder, as did Tobirama, so Madara simply entered into the room and slid the doors closed behind him. There were spare zabuton at the table, so Tobirama and Madara sat down next to each other. Murmuring followed.

"We'll be contacting our allies. We need to reach out to the Nara clan to see if they will host a gathering," Tobirama said, voice slightly raised to overtake the whispered conversations between council members. "How is your meeting going?"

"Splendid!" Hashirama grinned and Madara couldn't help but snort, as rude and uncharacteristic as it was. Hashirama blinked at him a few times, then the grin softened. "How are you, old friend?"

"Friend?"

"He spent years trying to kill you!"

"I didn't succeed," Madara said, as if that were enough for the old men at the table. Hashirama chuckled and ruffled his own hair, a nervous habit from his childhood. "Continue your meeting. Pretend I'm not even here."

"Tobirama, please speak sense to this boy. Surely you don't agree with this. Surely you can't forgive the Uchiha for cutting down your brothers."

Madara turned to gauge Tobirama's expression, but the man seemed especially icy. He couldn't find anything telling on the man's face, though he had a feeling Tobirama was caught between agreeing or disagreeing. Madara couldn't alter the past. He wasn't a time traveler. He wasn't a god. He did regret many things, such as turning his back on Hashirama and following along blindly. He was a born leader. He should have chosen independence sooner. More lives might have been saved. Though he couldn't restore the fallen Senju, he decided he needed to say something on the matter. Tobirama wasn't as sold on peace. Madara saw that. They were still at a stalemate, waiting for the inevitable betrayal. Madara told himself he would be better, do better, and implement changes, but old wounds collected and soured negotiations.

"We could exchange formal apologies, but the peace should speak for itself; after all, none of you are truly sorry for the lives you've taken. We can all decide to move forward, or we can assemble in spring to continue cutting one another down," Madara interrupted. Tobirama looked in his direction and he tried his best not to smile. Moments into the meeting and he'd already gone back on their agreement for silence.

"That is a little harsh, Madara, but I agree that those are the two options," Hashirama said, taking a moment to look around at the disgruntled faces. "You've had grandchildren, some of you great grandchildren. What kind of world do you want for them? Do you want to bury them?"

"There comes a time when enough is enough. This is that time," Tobirama finally said, his words causing some shoulders to fall. Of course they respected Tobirama more. Madara found that insulting, but Hashirama seemed content to let things go.

"I will agree to this on the condition that we accept the marriage proposal from the Uzumaki clan." One man spoke and the other three nodded along, finding some satisfaction in the exchange.

"Marriage proposal?" Madara couldn't help himself. Hashirama sighed, his shoulders slumped. Madara quickly shifted his attention to Tobirama. "I thought your clan didn't rely on arranged marriages," Madara frowned.

"If that's what this will take, then it's done. In spring, I will marry Mito," Hashirama said, effectively ending the meeting. One by one, the elders bowed and retreated, all of them looking quite satisfied. Madara narrowed his eyes at them, leaking a little killing intent to get them moving along. "It's alright, you two. It's a small price for peace," Hashirama smiled.

"It's your happiness, and it matters a great deal," Tobirama spoke, also unhappy with the arrangement. "We don't have arranged marriages. We aren't the type for it. You promised you wouldn't let them bully you into this and you've failed, anija."

Tobirama leveled Hashirama with such a sharp look that Madara almost felt sorry for the man. But he agreed with Tobirama. He didn't know if he could suffer through an arranged marriage for the rest of his life just for the good of his clan. He was selfish in that way. Hashirama stared down at the table, eyes narrowed in thought. He'd taken Tobirama's words to heart. Madara saw the hurt buried in the man's eyes. He was likely disappointed, crushed, that he'd given away his romantic freedom for the greater good. Hashirama truly was a wonderful man. He deserved happiness. Madara toyed with the idea of remaining silent, but he'd always been opinionated and forward. Hashirama always had a part of him, and he liked to think he had a part of Hashirama too.

"You don't have to do this, Hashirama. I'm sure there are other options. You bend to them when you should be firm. You're a good man. Don't sacrifice that part of yourself for the future," Madara finally said, earning a small smile from the man. Beside him, Tobirama nodded once, enough for an agreement. Hashirama chose silence; he chose to hide behind that smile. Madara couldn't push him anymore, not then. Though they won, Madara felt as if they'd lost.

They stayed together for the remainder of the warm afternoon. Hashirama alternated between fanning himself with papers and drafting formal letters to allied clan heads, while Tobirama read over the completed letters and edited accordingly. Madara borrowed paper to write his own letters. He had little he wanted to say to the clan heads, but he borrowed some of the colorful ideas from Hashirama. He couldn't speak of brighter futures in the way that Hashirama did, but he tried. As the afternoon heat gave way to cooler winds, Madara finished his last letter and gathered his papers. He thought that Tobirama would volunteer to walk him back, if only to scold him and bicker with him about his behaviour, but Hashirama offered to walk with Madara.

"I'll send the letters. Don't take too long," Tobirama said, dismissing the both of them. Madara opened his mouth to argue with the man, but Hashirama took his arm and dragged him from the dining room. Madara glared over his shoulder, but Tobirama missed the expression.

"Stop manhandling me. I can walk on my own," Madara huffed, tearing his arm from Hashirama's grasp. The man simply linked arms, the smooth move so quick that Madara had no time to dodge. They walked through the small village that way, and they both pretended they couldn't hear the whispered conversations. "They think we're together. Let go of me. Let go!"

"No they don't. You're overreacting. Look! They're smiling at us! That's good, Madara!"

"They're laughing at us!"

"Or are they laughing with us?"

"You're impossible," Madara muttered, eyes anywhere but on Hashirama's smiling face. As soon as they left the village, Hashirama released the hold on his arm, and he made a show of stuffing his gloved hands into his pockets. It was a lazy way to hold himself, but he had no one to impress. They slowed their pace so that they walked side-by-side. Madara took a deep breath and broached the subject from the council meeting. "Who is Mito?"

"Ah," Hashirama responded, knowing that he hadn't responded at all. "The Senju and Uzumaki are distant relatives. The clans separated many years ago, long before me. This is supposed to strengthen ties between our clans. Mito is," Hashirama paused, "she is extraordinary. She's the second daughter of the clan head."

Madara pictured a woman with brown hair and brown eyes, her expression severe. The second child mattered less than the first child, often used in arranged marriages for political gains. Hashirama spoke at length about Uzushiogakure, the large shinobi village in Whirlpool. The largest clan, the Uzumaki clan, was renowned for fuinjutsu and large chakra reserves, making them fine shinobi. There were constant conflicts with shinobi from the Land of Water though, and with the beginnings of a large shinobi village on one of the large islands in Water, Uzushio sought help from the mainland. They wanted help from the Senju clan.

The journey to the Land of Whirlpools was a nightmare. Only experienced captains took their ships near the place. Madara had heard that the whirlpools could be manipulated, large and small, all tied to the security of the hidden village. He had heard tales of a city of gold, where the inhabitants bathed in the blood of their enemies. Madara had never met anyone from Uzushio, but that story had stayed with him. People from distant lands always seemed uncultured or barbaric in stories, more beast than human being, but he knew there were truths somewhere in the stories. Hashirama meant to marry one of them.

"You've met her?"

"No. Tobirama has. I sent a team to the coast to meet her. He wanted to learn more about fuinjutsu, so she taught him. He said she was strict and merciless, but she was brilliant. Her chakra felt like the sea."

"I thought you would marry out of love, not necessity."

"I might have," Hashirama said, appearing wistful. The expression was quickly masked, replaced by a smile. "I used to think I'd end up with you," Hashirama laughed. Madara tripped over an exposed tree root, making himself look like a fool. Embarrassed, Madara shook off Hashirama's help. "I spent years of my childhood with you. It wouldn't have been so hard to see it."

Madara didn't know what to say. He avoided looking in Hashirama's direction because the man had a nasty habit of reading him. He found it poetic that they would walk into the sunset with one another, which only left him feeling half-sick, caught between disgust and an emotion he would rather not identify. Hashirama had been his first true friend outside of the clan. They'd wasted afternoons at the river, sometimes swimming, sometimes lazing about. Madara closed his eyes and saw the last time they'd spoken to one another, the time he'd chosen his family over his friendship. To his left, Hashirama remained uncharacteristically quiet. Madara wondered if Hashirama had feelings for him, if they meant to discuss it right then, so he opened and closed his mouth several times, questions dying on his tongue. He hadn't asked himself if he'd had feelings for Hashirama. They'd managed to get along. Hashirama accepted Madara, faults and all. With peace, there could have been more, there should have been more. Something had died before it ever had the chance to live.

"Is this some confession then?"

Madara knew he sounded angry, but he was angry, angry that his choices, his decisions, had been stolen from him. Hashirama rested a hand on his shoulder and the two stopped. They were several feet from the river. Madara could see the flowing water through the trees and shrubbery. Years ago, they might have been there. As it was, Madara glared at the river in the way he couldn't glare at Hashirama. He waited for words, because Hashirama always knew what to say, even at the worst of times. Instead, Hashirama stood in front of him, leaned in, and pressed their foreheads together. Their breath mingled in what little space remained between them. Hashirama slipped a hand beneath Madara's hair to grasp the back of his neck, rooting them both to that spot. Where had the fighting gone? He wanted bloodshed again, if only because he understood it. He craved familiarity. He thought that Hashirama would kiss him, but the man simply smiled and held onto him.

Maybe he could have loved him.