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bite my tongue, bide my time

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Emerging from the shrine, Madara saw the remaining members of his clan, all of them beaten and bloody but armed. He saw civilians armed with broken pipes and large rocks, while the shinobi carried kunai and swords. Once they realized that Izuna wasn't coming back, they dropped their weapons; one by one, objects hit the dirt. From where he stood, Tobirama at his side, he heard people softly crying and saw young children clinging to legs. They were rough, all of them, but beaten, not broken. Madara had a moment where something curled in his stomach. He knew he was at another defining moment, one hinging on his following decision. Would he forgive them? Could he forgive them? He felt drained, practically lifeless before them, and as he looked at their faces, he lost a little bit more of himself. He'd wanted peace, and that desire had ruined them. Meant to right wrongs that had yet to happen, he'd simply created chaos where none should have existed. For some reason, he found himself turning, his body moving without thought. He searched Tobirama's face for an answer to his dilemma, as if Tobirama would have the solution. He didn't, of course, but Madara wasted awkward seconds staring into the man's eyes, taking in the red lines on pale flesh. Tobirama couldn't help him, not anymore. He was on his own again.

Madara took in the burning homes, flames still licking at wood and foundation, then he saw the bodies strewn across the ground, sticking out of open doors, hanging out of broken windows. They were his, all of them. He'd trusted Izuna, and he regretted the decision. Faced with the same choices again, he would have let Izuna die. As it was, he'd made an error, just as his clan members had made errors. He had to forgive them—there was no other choice, except to abandon them, and he knew that would be a mistake. Okimoto made his way to the front of the congregation and bowed to Madara, the first of many to sink so low. They bent not at the waist, sinking instead to their knees before him. They apologized in a way the clan understood, in a way Madara understood. Tobirama rested a hand atop Madara's left shoulder, as if finally passing the answer along to him. Forgive. And he did.

"Get up and stop groveling. Have some damn pride."

The people remained on the ground for a few minutes, and then they rose, one by one, as if they hadn't been begging for forgiveness. The coup had succeeded, but the power had poisoned them; in the end, they lost. Slowly, the group separated, all of them on a mission to look for survivors and extinguish the fires. Tobirama volunteered to help with the largest of the fires, so Madara chose to look for survivors amongst the smoking remains. In total, they found twenty-seven survivors, some trapped beneath rubble, others still barricaded in homes. Many of the survivors were children, though relatives swept in to claim them. One little girl remained. She had the bottom of her purple yukata clasped in her hands, and she turned around in little circles, her eyes searching for someone who would never return. Eventually she started to cry, and she wiped snot and tears over the left arm of her once beautiful yukata. Tobirama stood next to Madara, both of them observing the little girl, neither one knowing what to do. No one came to claim the child; in fact, clan members seemed to overlook her entirely.

"We don't really have an orphanage. Clan members usually step forward to care for the orphans," Madara said, watching as the child bent down to curl around her knees. "Someone must know her." He sounded desperate and he hated it, but she was so young, younger than Kagami. What was he supposed to do with her? Madara sighed, then he took the first step toward her; surprisingly, Tobirama followed.

"Do you recall your lack of delicacy? Now would be a good time to give it another chance," Tobirama mumbled, keeping his voice low to avoid alerting the child of their approach. The little girl looked up at them, tears still pouring from her sharingan eyes. "I see," Tobirama frowned, nodding toward her, as if Madara could have missed the red eyes. As they grew closer, they both saw the smudges of blood still on her cheeks. "It's a traumatic event, like loss, that activates the sharingan, isn't it?"

"Yes, she likely saw her family die. What the hell am I supposed to do with her? I'm no parental figure," Madara gruffly replied.

"Well don't expect me to do anything. This is your clan," Tobirama huffed. Madara glared at him, then they were standing before the girl, both men completely lost.

Madara thought of the way he'd handled Kagami, so he sank to a knee before the girl and used his thumb to wipe the trails of tears from her face. When he touched her, she quieted, her big eyes focused entirely on him. She had two tomoe in each eye. She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her yukata again, then she threw herself forward, crashing into Madara's chest. She had her little arms around him, and he felt her shaking. He didn't know what to say to her, not then. He'd just lost Izuna, and he didn't have it in him to spin lies for her. The pain she felt would always be with her in some form, cold, bitter memories that would follow her for the rest of her life. The sharingan never let them forget. Instead, Tobirama placed a hand on her back.

"What's your name?" The girl pulled back and stared up at him, likely thinking of him as an outsider. Tobirama considered repeating the question, but the little girl mumbled something he couldn't catch. When Tobirama looked at Madara, the man shrugged. Neither of them had heard the name.

"Speak up," Madara commanded her, his voice soft but still authoritative. The girl whipped her head around to look at him, then she burst into tears all over again. Madara tried patting her back, but she wouldn't stop crying. Frustrated, Madara activated his sharingan, fully intending to knock her out, but Tobirama had the nerve to strike the back of his head. He growled at the man. "What was that for?"

"You can't use that on her. Try holding her. Anija likes that," Tobirama said, the last words so quiet that Madara strained to hear them. Slowly, Madara wound his arms around the girl. It took time, but her sobs turned to quiet hiccups. "Now what's your name?"

"Naori," the girl said, the response delayed. As an afterthought, she held up three fingers. "I'm this many," she continued, as if the information was incredibly important for them. Madara grimaced and Tobirama narrowed his eyes. Neither of them wanted to ask the girl about her family, but she hadn't stopped talking. "Where's dad?"

"Well, Senju, where is her father?" Madara easily threw the man into the conversation, passing the responsibility off onto him. When Tobirama gave him an unimpressed look, Madara tried to think of something, something he would have wanted to hear. "We'll find him together," Madara suggested, already scooping Naori up into his arms. The girl smiled at him and he quickly looked away.

"It seems you can handle children after all," Tobirama remarked, the beginnings of a smile on his own face. Madara copied the man's unimpressed stare, and the rest of their journey passed in silence.

"Naori! Naori!" A man ran out of a home, frantically looking in every possible direction. He tugged at his dark brown hair, his desperation written in the way he turned to go back into the house. Madara called out for him to stop and the man froze, horror on his face. His gaze quickly shifted to the girl in Madara's arms. "Naori!"

"Dad!" Naori squirmed around until Madara let her down, then the little girl raced to her father's open arms. He saw her sharingan and the man hugged her even tighter. None of them needed to ask.

"How can I ever repay you?" The man made to bow, then he remembered the child in his arms.

"She's lucky she didn't pass out from the drain associated with activating the sharingan. She's a peculiar child. She'll grow into a fine kunoichi," Madara said, giving the man a pointed look. The man frowned, clearly confused. "If you want to repay me, repay me by training that girl. If you can't, ask elder Okimoto for assistance."

"Uh, yes! Of course. Yes. Training," the man quickly agreed. Tobirama seemed amused by the man's nervous behavior, so Madara rolled his eyes and motioned for the man to leave. "Thank you," the man quickly added, trying for a clumsy, partial bow. Once the man was out of sight, Tobirama chuckled.

"You haven't grown attached?"

"You're trying my patience."

"Ah, forgive me," Tobirama said, not meaning the apology. They walked together in silence until they reached the broken remains of Madara's home. Madara stood outside and looked at the broken windows, the way the side wall had been blown down. Someone had put a fire out there, likely Tobirama. "You should talk to someone," Tobirama spoke, his voice low again.

"And what should I say, that I'm devastated, that I've lost twoof the people most precious to me, one not to death but an evil creature born of an evil woman? What should I say, Tobirama?" Madara turned his head to look at the man. He usually avoided using the man's name, an attempt at keeping distance between them, taking the humanity out of the man. "We're shinobi. We endure."

"At times, the burden a man carries becomes impossible to handle alone. We are shinobi, yes, and we do endure, but we are men first."

"I can handle my own burden very well."

"I'm not asking you to talk to me. Kami knows I can't help you with all of your glaring faults and issues."

"Hn. It's as if you want me to kill you."

Madara took the first steps toward the home; without hesitation, Tobirama followed. The floorboards groaned under their weight, threatening to collapse. Tobirama caught Madara's right elbow, stopping him from stepping into a hole. Sunlight filtered into the home through a large hole in the roof, but shadows still clung to the interior, to corners and doorways from walls that still stood. Madara remembered running through the home, chasing after his younger brother. Tajima had hated when they acted like actual children, but he allowed them to act as they wanted to act indoors, away from the eyes of the clan. Madara and Izuna still had a wall in the back hall where their father used to measure their height. Madara went there first, searching for the lines and numbers carved into the wood. He didn't care that Tobirama followed him, that he, too, saw the height chart. They hadn't used it in years. There was no point. They weren't children anymore. Madara reached out to brush gloved fingers over the etched numbers. He closed his eyes and exhaled through his nose.

"We need privacy. Can you manage that?"

"We need a room that's whole and I can place the seals."

"This way. The roof is better in the back. There's a bathroom."

The door was partially open, so Madara pushed it the rest of the way open. The ceiling looked fine and the floorboards didn't groan, so he entered the room and waited for Tobirama to do the same, then he closed the door. While Tobirama placed seals, Madara took a seat on the edge of the large bathtub. He waited for the flares of chakra to end, signifying the end of the process. Tobirama stood there for a moment, clearly checking over his seal work, then he turned to Madara, quietly waiting for the man to speak. Meanwhile, Madara waited for Tobirama to sit down. Finally, Madara pointed to a spot on the edge of the tub and Tobirama accepted the silent demand. They sat there, both of them uncomfortable, until Madara cleared his throat. He didn't know where to begin, whether the words made any difference or not. He'd imagined telling Hashirama, not Tobirama, but the man had proven trustworthy by fighting with him. At one time, he'd wanted to trust everything to Izuna, and he was glad that he hadn't.

"The day you injured Izuna, the day he almost died, I saw something," Madara began, brows pinched. He leaned forward until he could rest his forearms atop his legs. Staring at the far wall didn't make the confession any easier, but he couldn't bring himself to look at Tobirama. "Izuna gave me his eyes because I lost sight in one of mine. I'm still not sure what exactly happened, what I triggered, but I saw," Madara stopped, pausing to run his hands over his face, "something."

"You're being incredibly vague. What did you see?"

"It sounds impossible."

"Something changed," Tobirama said, taking the lead. Suddenly, he focused on the far wall. He avoided the gaze directed at him. He never thought he'd be locked in a bathroom with Madara, attempting to have some heart-to-heart conversation. They were failing, and he wasn't surprised. Neither of them shared emotions very well, despite the fact that they felt deeply. "You were trying to kill anija, and then you chose to trust him. What followed could have been written off as desperation—you wanted to save Izuna's life—but you made a life-altering decision in the blink of an eye, and you stood up in front of your clan and demanded they follow you. You changed. Hashirama may not be suspicious, or even curious, but I am, so what did you see?"

"I saw my life, more than my life, and I didn't like what I saw. The same creature, Black Zetsu, would have poisoned me, like he poisoned Izuna. I would have made a long series of bad decisions, and the results would have been felt in all of the nations for generations. I have a responsibility to change that future, and I thought I could. By chasing peace, by forcefully leading my clan down the same road, I thought I could save everyone and everything." Madara looked down at his gloved hands, then he clenched his fists. He chanced a look at Tobirama, but the man seemed deep in thought. "I may have made things worse."

"You had a vision," Tobirama concluded, earning an exasperated sigh from Madara and a harsh yes. Tobirama brushed off the response and continued. "What can Zetsu do?"

"If we let them go, they'll bring war to our doorstep. We aren't ready for it. We won't be ready for it," Madara replied. "He needs the rinnegan. It's not a myth. He's going to try and force Izuna to manifest the rinnegan. To do that, he's going to come for Hashirama."

"What's the purpose?"

"Izuna is going to need his cells. Izuna may not be the ideal candidate, but we share the same blood. With Hashirama's cells, I'm sure he'll trigger the rinnegan."

"Something of importance is on that tablet. Do you know what it says?"

"I don't, but it can't be good."

"We'll need to multitask. We need to start construction of the village. It's become a defensive maneuver now. Meanwhile, we'll have to track and scout. We can't lose them," Tobirama said aloud, constructing plans with every word. "You mentioned an evil woman. You couldn't be talking about the origins of chakra. Those are children's tales."

"And if I am?" Madara looked at him with such a serious expression that he began to wonder if the man had some sort of head injury somewhere along the way. Tobirama reached out and began checking Madara's head until Madara shoved him away. "I'm not injured, you fool!"

"You sound mad," Tobirama stated, leaving no room for argument. "For the sake of this discussion, let's say that I believe you. What would a goddess have to do with that Zetsu creature?"

"Everything."

By the end of the discussion, Tobirama was more than ready to go home. He couldn't deny the inhuman creature, Black Zetsu, but he hadn't seen a moon goddess, he hadn't seen the sage. Madara looked at him, waiting for some acknowledgement of the words, but he had no idea what to say to the man. He reached out again, except he placed his palm against Madara's forehead. Madara's skin was warm, not hot, though his face reddened from the rise in blood pressure, obviously related to the constant twitch of his right eye.

"I don't have a fever! I'm not delirious! Honestly," he growled, the last word a harsh whisper to himself. Tobirama reluctantly removed his palm from Madara's head to avoid an incoming slap. "I trusted you enough to tell you this crucial information, and you think checking for a fever is what you should do? I should have confessed to Hashirama. You're useless."

As Madara ranted, Tobirama tuned him out, focused instead on the chakra signatures approaching the home. He counted five, though four of them quickly dispersed, a sign of a shunshin. Madara seemed oblivious, so Tobirama nodded along to the words, all the while focused on the lone person approaching the home. He recognized the chakra signature, the strong, steady warmth he associated with Hashirama. When Madara finally noticed, he quickly turned to look at the door, his sharingan active, eyes alight with the beginnings of frustration, until he recognized too. He turned to Tobirama, knowing that Tobirama had been aware for much longer than him, knowing the man had purposely left him in the dark. Without prompting, Tobirama removed the seals and opened the door to the room. Hashirama stood there, one fist in the air, poised for a knock. Hashirama looked around Tobirama, eyes searching the bathroom until he spotted Madara.

"Why are you both in the bathroom?" Hashirama looked between them, head tipped slightly to the side, as if he were a curious pet rather than a human being. When Madara and Tobirama looked at one another for a response, Hashirama came to a conclusion on his own. "So you finally confessed," Hashirama smiled, his pleased expression somehow destroying Madara.

"That is not what this is!"

"I would never confess to him." Madara looked at Tobirama, clearly offended, while Hashirama stepped forward and clapped Tobirama on the back in congratulations. "Stop. Anija," Tobirama tried, his voice lost underneath Hashirama's boisterous laughter.

"What the hell is wrong with me, Senju?" Madara frowned at Tobirama, daring the man to say something negative about him. Instead, Hashirama stepped around Tobirama and almost crushed Madara in a hug. They fell back into the tub in a tangle of limbs. "Get off of me!"

"I don't think now is the time for this," Tobirama cut in, the words like a slap to Hashirama. The man suddenly stopped squeezing Madara and moved away, leaving him in the tub. Madara tried to move, but he was caught at an awkward angle. Tobirama grabbed the front of his armor and hauled Madara out of the tub in one fluid motion. Hashirama made a show of dusting him off.

"It isn't the time. You're right. When you didn't send a message, I thought the worst, so I came to help. I left Touka in charge of the shinobi," Hashirama informed them both, suddenly too serious for Madara's liking. "I'm sorry, Madara. I'm so sorry," Hashirama tried to comfort him, one hand resting atop Madara's right shoulder.

Sorry came with sincerity, and the sentiment soothed Madara more than he wanted to admit. Tobirama allowed the two to have a moment; he left the room to them and went to wait near the front door, as if the ruined home and open doors allowed for true privacy. Madara waited for Hashirama to remove the hand on his shoulder, but the man pulled him into another crushing hug. Madara lightly patted Hashirama's back, giving into the man in the way he'd been doing lately. When Hashirama took a step back, he turned and motioned for Madara to follow him out to meet Tobirama. Together, they exited the home. As soon as they were out, the home groaned and another section of the roof collapsed. Sighing, Madara turned his back to the home, in a way that he'd turned his back on Izuna. They needed a miracle, and he'd lost faith in them.