The rainy season begins two days after the Aburame leave, having arranged to return in three months’ time for proper treaty negotiations –which will take place in more permanent lodgings suited to the changing seasons, which Uchiha and Senju will have to arrange between them– and the cooler air and steady susurrus wake Tobirama early. If he had the chakra, the liberty or the inclination, it would be a good day to train or else to teach younger kinsmen the finer nuances of water manipulation.
Instead he shuffles further under the sheets, huddling closer to Izuna who is as warm as ever; he will have to get another blanket out, to stave off the chill that the rains bring with them, and possibly also go back to lined kimono for a bit depending on how much warmer the weather becomes once the sun is high in the sky.
But that’s for later; one very nice thing about being Izuna’s concubine is not having to get up early in the morning. Closing his eyes again and basking in the heat of his wife’s body and chakra, Tobirama subsides back into sleep.
Tōnari shows up just after breakfast, no doubt to enjoy the significantly cooler weather and make the most of it before the rains stop; once summer begins in earnest she and the other snow leopards will stop visiting, returning only after autumn has turned the leaves and the days are less sultry. Kiso instantly dashes across the room to hug her, but Tobirama speaks up before the toddler can be corralled for storytime:
“Tōnari-ba, I have a few questions about the contract.”
“Of course, Tobira-cub,” she says comfortably. “Kiso-kit, I’ll join you once your keifu and I have talked.”
“Hn.” Kiso pouts, but nods grudgingly.
“Would you like me to tell you the story of the Heiress of Cats while Tōnari-san is busy, Kiso-kun?” Izuna asks, smiling over the pot of water she is heating for tea. “Or would you rather the tale of the Strong-Armed Princess? Or the Bespelled Toad?”
Tobirama’s never heard of any of these, but Kiso evidently has: “Toad!” the toddler says brightly.
“The Bespelled Toad it is then,” Izuna says warmly, pouring the hot water into the teapot and getting up with the tray. “Shall we sit on the engawa together?”
Kiso nods eagerly and dashes off, chanting “toad, toad, toad!” as he vanishes through the kitchen and around the side of the house; Izuna follows, leaving Tobirama to confront his leopard auntie without an audience.
“So what is it you’d like me to clarify, cub?”
Tobirama eyes her flatly. “Tōnari-ba, when were you going to tell me that the side-effects of signing onto the contract include purring?” He’s somewhat resigned to it now, but a warning would have been nice! If he’d known this was a possibility he wouldn’t have been so startled by it!
The leopard flicks an ear at him, perfectly sedate. “Given your mother purred, I would have thought you would have known to expect that, Tobira-cub.”
Tobirama falters. “I… that was her, not you and the others?” He was eight when she died, and while he has tried to keep those memories sharp, he knows he’s lost things. He could hardly avoid losing things.
“Oh cub.” Tōnari pads over and curls around him. “Yes, Kikuno-chan could purr. The teeth are hereditary –all Hatake have adult teeth like yours, more or less– but the purring is just summoners and occasionally those who are born to second-generation summoners. As a summoner your hearing and sense of smell are also sharper than the average Hatake, and as the child of a leopard summoner your body is also more flexible, which being signed onto the contract yourself increases further.”
“Teeth like mine, more or less?” Tobirama asks, digging his hands into her fur. His future children might also be able to purr?
“Teeth reflect the most recent summoning contract in a Hatake’s family line,” Tōnari replies promptly, rubbing her head against his chest; “mostly just the canine teeth on feline and canine contracts, because a summoner needs the other teeth to be human for dietary reasons; humans are not carnivores. But bear and boar summoning Hatake can have rather more varied dentition.” She makes a thoughtful sound in her chest. “Vocalisations are also much easier and more natural for children of summoners.”
Tobirama flinches slightly from the memories of how he’d had to deliberately silence the inquiring whines and playful chirps of childhood in the face of his father’s scorn and demands that he ‘speak respectfully or be silent.’
“I found out which Hatake line my wife, Kiso and Keigetsu-chan are descended from,” he says eventually.
“You finally asked Izuna-bi, did you?” Tōnari sounds approving. “Very amusing to hear that story from the other side, I can tell you.”
“You knew?” Knew and didn’t tell him? What else does she know that she deliberately hasn’t told him, and what has she omitted because she thought he knew already?
“I met a very charming half-Hatake clan elder on my wanderings around the compound,” the leopard tells him reproachfully; “I did tell you to get to know your new kin better, did I not?”
“You did.” She’s always encouraged him to find things out for himself; not doing so and then complaining that she didn’t tell him what he was missing out on is pure foolishness. The leopards are not human, but his summons have been around humanity for long enough to understand the generalities.
“Umeno-san is a delightful lady,” Tōnari continues haughtily, “and I first heard about the Tiger summoners’ cabbage-thief in-laws well before your mother was born; I didn’t realise they were Uchiha, but the story was very popular at Hatake clan gatherings once upon a time. Less so after Ishino-san died –pulling her tail was half the fun– but no doubt it’s a story they tell still.”
“I don’t think Umeno-san will want to see me,” Tobirama confesses quietly. He has after all murdered her son, granddaughters and most of her great-grandchildren.
“You are raising cubs of her line; of course she will want to see you,” Tōnari contradicts him firmly, whacking the back of his head with her lashing tail. “And Izuna-bi has already rubbed your face in the mud, so I don’t think her grandmother will see the need to do so again. Kiso-kun is doing very well in your care, and that is what matters, Tobira-cub.”
“If you say so, Tōnari-ba.”
“I do say so, Tobira-cub.”
Tobirama feels his lips twitch. “Well that’s me told.”
His leopard-aunt huffs smugly. “Any more questions, Tobira-cub?”
“Can you ask Kyōnari to visit? She doesn’t have to come when Kiso’s in the house; I’ve missed her.”
She rubs her jaw against his neck. “I’ll let her know, cub. Now you have fun with your wife while I go play with Kiso-kit.” With that she swiftly disentangles herself from him and trots outside around the engawa.
Getting to his feet, Tobirama instead cuts across his wife’s bedroom to where he can feel hers and Kiso’s chakra.
“… said the daimyo’s wife, I could have managed as a toad or a rabbit or even a racing yacht; at least I could have stayed in the palace. But as a tonkatsu! Terrible! Here one day, gobbled up the next! I was quite terrified; I was shaking in my breadcrumbs.”
Kiso is rocking and giggling, hands pressed against his mouth as Tobirama quietly opens the shōji. A cool wash of damp air flows over him, the edge of the engawa shiny with rain and the garden beyond it veiled and sodden.
“The princess gasped,” Izuna gasps theatrically, hand covering her mouth, “oh no, Kaa-san! Imagine if the sorcerer had failed and we had eaten you for dinner!” Her voice for the dialogue is a piping girlish soprano, quite unlike her usual speaking voice.
Kiso’s giggles intensify.
“Well we didn’t, the daimyo said,” Izuna goes on cheerfully, voice switching to gruff masculine tones, “so stop crying Tetsuko-hime. Then he took his wife’s hand, kissed her and said: I am glad you’re back, Shinjuko-san. And the daimyo’s wife said: I am never going to leave ever again! But I had a lot of fun while I was racing.”
“An’ they had a banquet!” Kiso exclaimes.
“Yes! A banquet to celebrate the daimyo’s wife’s safe return home. And Tetsuko-hime did not have to get married young at all,” Izuna continues. “In fact she became a cartographer and travelled the world!”
Kiso cheers, claps and then throws himself at Izuna for a hug. “Tank for ‘tory,” he mumbles into her neck.
Izuna kisses his forehead. “You are very welcome, Kiso-kun. Now look, Tōnari-san’s here to tell you more stories!”
Kiso releases Izuna and hurries over to flop on Tōnari instead. “’Tory?”
“Of course, Kiso-kit,” the leopard says warmly as Izuna takes the tea-tray and gets to her feet, catches Tobirama’s eye and steps through the shōji to join him in her bedroom. Tobirama closes the panels, then follows her back to the iori.
“So, what do Uchiha do at home during the rainy season?” He asks.
His wife smirks at him. “Read books, play music, tell stories, gamble,” the smirk widens into a grin, “conceive another child; you know, the usual.”
“I think we’d struggle to conceive another child,” Tobirama says dryly –she’s already over two months pregnant– “but I’m willing to give it my best effort.”
Izuna laughs. “This afternoon maybe, when Kiso’s out,” she suggests wickedly. “In the meantime, how about we do a little craft-work and talk about embarrassing things our siblings and cousins have done?”
Tobirama grins; maybe he can find out about the time Hikaku ran away from goats, now that the man himself is not here to stop Izuna from telling that story. “That sounds excellent.”
It turns out that most of what Uchiha do at home when it rains is socialising. But not the loud chatty socialising Tobirama knows –and honestly dreads– from home; instead people drift into the Amaterasu Residence with books, craft projects, mending jobs or even basic weapons and armour maintenance, settling around the iori and accepting tea and snacks. By the end of the first week he works out that the clan has some kind of visual signalling for when a house is ‘open’ for hosting such impromptu events, and two days later determines that –for the Amaterasu Residence and neighbouring properties at least– it involves a dull white rock in the stone lantern closest the front gate.
He suspects there are colours involved he cannot actually see, given the difficulty he had in distinguishing the rock from its surroundings; passing clansmen seem to not have that problem at all. However now the mystery is solved he can let the means lie for a little.
It’s not just people visiting the Amaterasu Residence; Izuna invites him along when she visits other people, which Tobirama accepts as much for the opportunity to wear one of his new painted kimono as to get to see the homes of clansmen she trusts.
So far he has visited her mentor Takao, who lives with his brother’s widow and her children; Hikaku and Yori, a few houses along from the Amaterasu Residence in the Yatagarasu Residence; and Midori’s parents, of whom one is a wire-smith and the other the clan’s maker of their patchwork-lined coats.
That visit to Minami-san –who is currently heavily pregnant– had involved Tobirama getting very caught up in learning about coat patterns and designs and hearing slightly different versions of the kami stories that Izuna had told him.
He’d actually really enjoyed that visit, particularly the part where Izuna spent the better part of an hour drawing and re-drawing his design idea with illusions until he decided he liked it, then properly drawn it out on washi with a fine brush and taken over the discussion of colours and shading with Minami-san. Tobirama had already specified which colours he wanted to be most evident in the design by that point, so the minutiae of the background and embroidery did not actually interest him.
What had been interesting is that the conversation had clarified that Uchiha called people who lacked their unusual perception of colour ‘bright-blind,’ which is apparently a reference to how the majority of those ‘extra’ colours were most easily perceptible in sunlight, both direct or diffuse. The shades are invisible in lamplight or firelight, although Izuna’s sun-lanterns are apparently the exception there.
Something about Minami-san’s scent bothered him though. He’s not sure what it was –his nose is sadly deadened without chakra– but the longer the afternoon had carried on the more unsettled he’d found himself and the more short-tempered he had wanted to be with their very gracious hostess. He’d managed to keep himself in check, but there’s still something about the woman that bothers him when he thinks back. He can’t work out what it could be; she’s delightfully sly, devoted to her craft and not remotely bothered about arguing with him despite his well-earned reputation as a murderer of Uchiha and her being both entirely civilian and at least seven months pregnant.
Considering she is making him a beautiful patchwork-lined coat no less fine than Izuna’s, he should really try to get to the bottom of that; yes, he is paying for the work out of his gratifyingly-restored savings, but that does not give him leave to be rude to the craftswoman.
In this time he also finishes reading ‘The Great Sage Of Evil’ –he really has to wonder where Izuna got the book from and why she owns it at all, all things considered– and also gets through ‘General Stands Above Me,’ which makes him question very strongly what the geisha who bought his fans for him thought of Izuna, given the themes involved. He’s mostly sure the geisha doesn’t know that Izuna is actually a woman, but with that in mind Izuna is cast as the prince of the story and well–
–Tobirama does his best to abandon that line of thought entirely, but it haunts him at odd moments. The book is entertainingly subversive and manages to be both uncomfortably relevant and entirely escapist on the same page, somehow. He’s probably going to end up reading it again.
June also brings the first of the visible changes to his wife’s body, as it reshapes itself to support her pregnancy. These initial changes are subtle, but Tobirama sees his wife naked daily and so has no difficulty tracking them. Three weeks of rain and mostly staying indoors –though on a few mornings when it is merely damp and misty he cajoles Izuna into sparring with shinai in the garden again– stretch surprisingly long, yet also strangely comfortable.
Watching his wife interacting comfortably with her kin is endlessly fascinating. She is bright and sociable yes –more so than he could ever achieve without feeling drained– but it is a very different kind of socialising to what he is used to. Some guests she simply sits with, working on that odd looping silk project or oiling her armour; for others she gets out her shamisen and tells stories, embellishing the narrative with rippling notes and strategic pauses. Other guests are met with paper games or packs of cards, complete with cheerful conversation about nothing in particular.
Twice there are evening drinking parties, which get loud and rowdy with laughter and very dubious singing. Tobirama probably would have minded those more if he hadn’t been tipsy himself for both of them.
He appreciates that Izuna does not expect him to be hospitable to her guests; her exact words were, ‘you are free to join in, or leave the shōji to your living room open and watch, or close them and ignore us entirely; whatever you are most comfortable with.’ Tobirama has therefore ignored some of the gatherings, eavesdropped on others while pretending to read and joined in with about half of them, settling in when he wants to and leaving when he decides he’s had enough.
Not once has anybody commented on a late arrival or early withdrawal, beyond that one time when his request to Izuna that they turn in early prompted her to kick out her dozen young warrior guests; the various teenagers’ departure was willing, but accompanied by much wolf-whistling and many cheerfully crude suggestions.
Her doing so had not been what Tobirama expected, but it would be untrue to say he had not appreciated it. Or to suggest that he had not very much enjoyed the rest of his evening.
He meets a lot of clansmen –including a lot of women and variously-aged children– most of whom are visiting because they don’t mind being in his general vicinity, or are curious about him personally or Senju generally. A lot of the warriors have questions about his uncle Tokonoma –what is his temperament? Does Tobirama think he is committed to the treaty process? All manner of very reasonable questions given the circumstances– and in answering those he learns more of the epithets the Uchiha have assigned to his kin.
Tokonoma-ji is referred to as ‘Jiyōfu,’ Earthshaker. Tobirama’s father is –was– ‘Ishigaki,’ the Stone Rampart. Or at least that’s the interpretation these warriors offer; it’s very likely that the mean-spirited pun is entirely deliberate, likening his father to a bratty child or an ever-hungry ghoul.
On a more amusing note, of his own former battlefield squad Chigi is ‘Steady-feet,’ Shurō is ‘Hammer-blade’ –he would like that– Koenma is ‘Three Ways’ –a reference to his varied range of elemental affinities no doubt– and Maki is, hilariously, ‘Hare’. He has no idea what kind of interaction could have led to his teenage ninjutsu all-rounder getting named for a leggy field-rabbit and rather desperately wants to know, because it’s bound to be a story worth re-telling.
Especially since it was Madara who identified Maki as such; if he does get to see his former subordinate sometime soon he will tease her over being known to the Conflagration as ‘Yato-chan’. If only because her reaction to hearing her nickname will doubtless be emphatic and entertaining.
It’s all startlingly amicable and unexpectedly enjoyable. He should have known it wouldn’t last.
“Izuna he murdered them and you went and fucking married him?!”
Tobirama is just grateful he was able to press Kiso on Shizuki to be hustled off to visit Umeno-baa-san –whom he has not even met yet– when he sensed the agitated, grieving chakra signatures blazing down the garden path. It means the toddler isn’t hearing this, isn’t being distressed by likely-beloved family members screaming in Izuna’s face.
Didn’t have to see this man lunge at and try to stab Tobirama with a sleeve-knife before Izuna disarmed him, calmly wrestled him to the floor and sat on him, the other Uchiha accompanying him all clumped in and near the genkan, watching with expressions and chakra ranging from flat blankness to angry betrayal.
“He killed Tou-san, killed my sisters –your cousins Izuna!– Katami and Kayami are dead and he murdered their children too and you’re fucking him?!”
Tobirama has not moved from where he is standing on the far side of the iori from the front hall, as still and as close to battle-calm as he can be without chakra. That wary readiness to dodge or flee is the only reason he does not flinch at the reminder of his having murdered children.
“How fucking dare you Izuna?!” The grieving man spits in her face, but Izuna barely blinks and does not flinch at all. “Why is he not dead?! He fucking murdered my sisters and their children! He murdered Kumami-ba and her kids too, and Taimi-ba and Tento-ji and their kids! The fuck?! He drowns my baby nephews and you doll him up in silks and decide you want him to stick his dick in you?!”
One of the Uchiha in the genkan winces.
“Is that what gets you hot cousin? Child-killers? Couldn’t you just have dragged home a Water pirate if you wanted a cold-blooded murderer on a leash?”
Izuna has not relented in her steady eye-contact with her loudly furious cousin. “I miss them all too, Katsuma-nii,” she says quietly as the man finally pauses to pant harshly for breath; “it’s not fair that I’m still here and they aren’t.”
Katsuma’s fury cracks down the middle, leaving only grief and hurt behind. “Why did you have to marry him Izuna,” he wails, tears welling up and streaking from the corners of his eyes as he clutches at his hair, “just why?”
“He is just one man, Katsuma-nii,” Izuna says simply after a pause, taking one of his hands in hers, saliva still dribbling down her face. “How would killing him ever make up for all those deaths? He is not worth all of them; one of them perhaps, but which loss would you choose to avenge, knowing it meant leaving the others with their deaths unanswered for?”
Katsuma screams, dragging his hands free to cover his face and twisting sideways, trying to curl up into a ball despite Izuna sitting firmly on his midsection. “But, but how?!”
“How what, Nii-san?” Izuna asks patiently once the first flurry of sobs has fully subsided, rubbing her cousin’s back.
“How can you let him touch you, knowing–” Katsuma gestures wildly, chokes, groans and flops back to the tatami, still shaking and weeping.
“How else am I going to extract the eight children he owes me?” Izuna asks, chakra steady and tone almost light. “Nobody will ever replace Kamitaki, Rutori, Kannin, Kenashi, Tadashi, Teshio, Rusha or Aso. But I am allowed to want to soothe the wounds to my heart their losses have caused.”
Katsuma laughs painfully, covering his face with his hands again. “Fucking ruthless, Izuna-bi.”
Tobirama rather has to concur. He felt his wife slide into the place she uses to talk to her father about mid-way through her cousin’s torrent of abuse, but he had not been expecting that.
Is that something she has said to her father?
“I took him because he was necessary to his clan’s function,” Izuna goes on calmly, “and I knew that without him they would soon be forced to come to terms. I refused to kill him because I wanted the moral high-ground, and made him my concubine because it was expedient for achieving my goals.”
“You love him, cousin,” Katsuma says bitterly, glaring venomously at her.
“Do you really think I planned to?”
His wife’s cousin sighs, going limp on the tatami. “No, I don’t,” he admits tiredly as he stares blindly at the ceiling, “but your taste in men is fucking deplorable, Izuna.”
“In this my brother and I regrettably take after our mother,” Izuna says blandly, making every Uchiha present cough or snort into hands or sleeves, incredulous horror briefly the most prominent emotion in the room. Tobirama can sympathise; though the loss of his wife and younger children has doubtless played a part in shaping Tajima into the man he is today, it will not have changed him that much. If Izuna’s parents’ marriage was a love-match, then her mother must truly have been blind to his less pleasant qualities.
“Dear kami why must you put that into my head?” Katsuma groans, covering his eyes.
“You barged into my home without even taking your sandals off, Katsuma-nii,” Izuna says, still deathly mild, “and tried to stab my concubine. My saving you from both the fuuinjutsu I put on him and the legal repercussions of such an assault, then being insulted for my pains, is not appreciated.”
“Fuck. I’m sorry, Izuna-bi; I won’t come back.”
Izuna rises to her feet, stepping back so one of the other Uchiha can give Katsuma a hand up. “Grieve and come to terms and I will let you visit Kiso-kun, but not before,” she says coolly, handing over the knife hilt-first. “He was here when you arrived; Tobirama-san bundled him out the back door before your anger could distress him.”
Katsuma sags, shamefaced and chakra aching as he sheathes the blade back into his sleeve. “Fuck.” He rubs his eyes with one hand, smearing the tears that are still dripping down his cheeks. “Fuck. Yeah. I’m going.” He turns towards the genkan; the Uchiha there press themselves against the walls so he can stumble past them and out into the garden.
Izuna turns to the rest of her audience. “Is there anybody else who has anything to say?”
Tobirama feels the collective flinch and takes several steps forward. “Lord-Wife.”
“Yes, Treasure?” She does not turn as he comes up behind her and presses a handkerchief into her hand.
“Remember to step back,” he reminds her gently.
His wife tilts her face towards the ceiling, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, then breaths out again, shoulders softening. “Thank you, Treasure,” she says quietly, tone warmer and chakra less sharp as she wipes her face.
The chakra of the others present slide in various disparate directions, but the general mood is of incredulity and hurt.
“Please, go and grieve,” Izuna says softly, turning back to her kin. “We cannot carry the past with us into the future we are trying to build; a future where we will not be targeted because of the mon we wear on our coats or the chakra we carry in our coils.”
“You deny us rightful vengeance?” Somebody at the back of the group asks.
Izuna looks their way; there is another general flinch. “I also deny the Senju their rightful vengeance,” she says quietly. “If you desire vengeance be sure to prepare your pyre first, so that we can lay you on it when the kin of the one you kill claim your life in turn.”
There is an uneasy pause, then two Uchiha at the back of the clump bow politely in tandem and see themselves out. This prompts a general exodus, and barely a minute later Tobirama is alone in the house with his wife.
She turns to him. “Tobirama.”
“Did you tell your father I owe you eight children?”
“No,” she shakes her head, then sighs; “it was an argument I considered. But it isn’t true, Tobirama. You owe me nothing.”
He swallows. “Really eight?” That’s twice as many as he’d been aware of. Yes, he had ambushed another trading group in February –that one in Tea Country– but, eight children?
“You would likely not consider Kamitaki-chan to be a child; she was almost fifteen, if not warrior-trained,” Izuna says quietly, “but Rutori-kun was twelve, Teshio-kun was eight and Rusha-kun was five.”
Seven is not exactly better than eight, and murdering civilians is still murdering civilians.
“Thank you,” he says quietly.
“For what, Treasure?”
“For wanting the moral high ground. For being expedient.” For her mercy, and her grace.
For loving me enough to stand firm in the face of angry, grieving kinsmen and defending me despite recognising my misdeeds.
“I just wanted the deaths to stop,” his wife says, hurt finally seeping into her chakra. “I, why do so many people miss that for that to happen, we have to stop killing as well?”
Tobirama reaches out and carefully draws her into a hug; she wraps her arms around his ribcage and buries her face in the side of his neck.
“Thank you for getting Kiso out,” she mumbles against his throat. Tobirama tugs her collar down so he can kiss the scars on the back of her neck.
“I had Shizuki take him to Umeno-san.”
“Good; that’s good.” She breathes, heart gradually settling out of battle-readiness. “Katsuma-nii won’t go to Umeno-baa while he’s like this; she’d wash his mouth out with soap for swearing all over the place.”
That is a very satisfying mental image; Tobirama takes a moment to linger on it.
“We could bathe,” he offers. It would properly wash the remains of the spit off his wife’s face –and he is going to remember Katsuma did that– and also be restful.
“I would like that, Treasure; it will give Kiso time to settle in and have fun with Umeno-baa too, so neither feels deprived when I go to fetch him back.”
The day after that unpleasantly personal encounter with Izuna’s cousin Katsuma, Izuna’s squad turn up on her doorstep with a mission. Not a serious mission, they hasten to assure him as they all pile into the genkan to get out of the rain, but still a mission and still important. Izuna needs to go over the border into Rain Country, having been invited to the wedding of the Rain Daimyo’s son, so will be away for this afternoon and most of tomorrow as well.
“Why isn’t Madara-nii going? He’s Outguard Heir and this is diplomatic,” Izuna asks upon emerging from the bath-house in her butterfly yukata. It’s her prayer day, making the timing of this mission doubly inconsiderate.
Takao-san sighs. “Because you’re more politic than he is,” he says bluntly, “and you’ve not actually retired from the Outguard yet.”
Ah, so this is once again Tajima making their lives difficult; Tobirama resolves more firmly to make the man very uncomfortable as soon as he can achieve it. He needs to give the matter more serious thought.
Izuna sighs. “He’s not going to get more politic unless he practices,” she grumbles. “Shikii-san, would you object to my gushing over how I and my concubine are now expecting? It gives me an excuse to be less visible in future months.”
“You cannot gush over how your sister is expecting?”
“That would be untrue,” Izuna says with surprising candour, “and also it’s not generally considered appropriate to talk about noble pregnancies until they actually come to fruition, or not. But the rules are more relaxed with concubines.”
“Won’t that create difficulties when you are later presenting your children as your brother’s heirs?”
“No,” Izuna replies easily, “because as my Nii-san is not married, then any of the children of his siblings are eligible to inherit the leadership of the Outguard after him; it is a matter of aptitude, not primogeniture, although the oldest child naturally gets the first shot at proving themselves and will not be set aside unless they genuinely lack aptitude.”
“So if you do have twins like Yori-san is threatening you with, you could pass one off as the child of the Uchiha Heiress and Senju Tobirama, and the other as Izuna and ‘his’ concubine’s.”
His wife grins. “Not that I would ever specify which child was which,” she says wickedly, “but such conclusions could easily be drawn.”
Tobirama sighs. “You have promised me a summer tea kimono and a light coat,” he reminds her, “as well as books I don’t already own.” He’s seen her casting a sharingan eye over his new shelves loaded with all the books he’d thought lost forever, sent to him by Anija in a moment of likely-never-to-be-repeated thoughtfulness.
Izuna leans in to kiss him. “As you wish, Treasure; and what would you like Kiso-kun? Sweets?”
Kiso considers this, chewing on his fingers from his perch on Tobirama’s hip. “Hn.”
“I will endeavour to find you a nice surprise gift then, darling boy.” She leans in to kiss the toddler’s hair. “I know you will behave yourself for your keifu, so I don’t need to ask, do I?”
“Hn!” Kiso’s chakra feels faintly pleased, but mostly he feels anxious; Tobirama is reminded that Izuna hasn’t taken any missions since becoming the toddler’s full-time guardian, and realises belatedly that it may actually have been on purpose. Possibly even arranged by Tajima himself, seeing as Kiso is one of his wife’s great-nephews. But whatever grace period they had been granted has ended, and so Izuna –having not actually retired as yet despite her pregnancy– is being called once more into service.
Izuna kisses Kiso again, this time on the tip of his nose. “How about I retire on Tanabata, Kiso-kun,” she offers warmly, “so that after that we can all be together and get ready for Keigetsu-chan coming to live with us.”
“Hn.” Tobirama can tell the toddler likes that idea.
“And you’ll keep my treasure company while I’m away, won’t you darling boy?”
Kiso nods firmly, then presses his face back into Tobirama’s shoulder.
“Then I shall dress and pack for attending a wedding,” Izuna says, leaning in to kiss Tobirama this time. He catches her under the chin with her free hand to draw the moment out, then releases her.
“Try not to flirt too hard with your fellow guests, Lord-Wife.”
She grins at him. “Do I therefore have permission to extol your many virtues and talents, concubine mine?”
Tobirama eyeballs her flatly; her grin remains firmly in place, smugly unrepentant. “Can I have my sword while you’re away?” He does not like the idea of being unarmed after Katsuma’s intrusion; without chakra he cannot hope to defend himself against a warrior, but against a regular clansman he has half a chance.
Izuna’s expression shifts into pained thoughtfulness. “I think a sword might be a provocation, Treasure,” she says apologetically, “especially in my absence. But I can lay hands on a sleeve-knife for you, at least.”
“I would very much appreciate it.” A knife is much better than nothing at all, and he can ask the leopards to stay close. Kyōnari has been visiting more lately, and she is by far the most stealthy of his summons.
“Is there anybody you would like to visit during the day?”
“To visit me, here?” Tobirama clarifies. He has no intention whatsoever of going visiting, not after yesterday.
He considers it. “If Madara-san is free, I would very much appreciate his presence.” He is not Izuna, but Tobirama doubts very much that any Uchiha will barge in and make a fuss with Madara present. And if they do, they will be very swiftly and firmly evicted.
“He will likely be free some of the time; our Lord-Father is focusing on his leadership training now we have the assurance of the ceasefire.”
Tobirama nods; that is more reassuring than his brother-in-law also being out of the compound. “I do not mind your talking about the generalities,” he decides, “but please withhold specifics.” A thought crosses his mind and he grins, “Unless you decide to reveal your enjoyment of wearing my lip-paint, Lord-Wife.”
Izuna theatrically fans herself with one hand. “Oh my, Treasure, so bold! How could I possibly resist?”
Tobirama lets his grin darken into a smirk, conscious of the toddler on his hip but not willing to let her challenge pass entirely unanswered.
“Well I shall dress, pack and pray, and then we’ll see if there’s time for you to give me a send-off,” his wife suggests brightly, leaning in for a quick, teasing brush of lips. “Kiso-kun, will you be staying with your keifu or would you like Takao-san to tell you a story while he’s here?”
“I know lots of stories about Izuna-bi,” the greying warrior says instantly, offering the toddler a smile as he peeks out at Izuna’s Squad. “They’re all true and some of them are very funny.”
“’Tory?” Kiso asks hopefully, taking his fingers out of his mouth.
“Well, let me take my sandals off and come in,” Takao says warmly, starting to do just that, “and then I can tell you all about the time Izuna-bi stole our client’s dinner.”
Kiso wriggles in Tobirama’s grip, prompting him to set the toddler down on the tatami; he’s tempted to stick around to hear this story for himself, but if his wife will be away for the next few days he does wish to give her a suitably stimulating send-off, so taking advantage of Kiso’s distraction is a wise choice.
Who knows, maybe if he offers to pack for her while she prays, Izuna will consent to being intimately kissed with lip-paint again, all the better to scandalise her fellow guests at the wedding she is attending with lurid and misleading admissions.
Izuna’s absence is quiet but tense; Kyōnari settles on the roof of the Amaterasu Residence, out of sight and reach of sticky toddler fingers but poised to fall upon anybody trespassing with malice in mind. Madara visits twice, for the afternoon of the first day while Kiso is out, then for part of the following morning to play with the toddler. Tobirama appreciates the company; Naka-Dragon and Hayami-chan’s presence is also steadying, reminding him he has witnesses if not necessarily backup.
Not that he strictly needs backup, given Izuna’s seal on him, but he would much prefer it not come to that. Yes it works, but he does not wish to test it against jutsu or multiple attackers.
It does not come to that; nobody at all enters the garden other than Madara, the two housekeepers and Kiso’s various babysitters either collecting him or dropping him off. Evening arrives on the second day without Izuna having returned, so Tobirama tucks Kiso up in bed, takes a few hours to read in the late evening sunshine –going over his fuuinjutsu notes in light of what little he has learned of sealing from Izuna, as she is providing him with many new ideas to theorise over– and then also goes to bed.
He wakes to near-darkness and his wife’s chakra presence beyond the fusuma.
“Treasure? Did I wake you?” drifts quietly through the carved transom panels.
It’s actually a rather comfortable temperature, so Tobirama gets up and crosses the room to open the fusuma. Izuna is sat by the iori in near-total darkness, just her sharingan visible; he can only tell she had made herself barley tea by the warm scent of it in the air.
“How was your mission, wife?”
“Long,” Izuna sighs; “tedious. I made my own fun, of course, but I would have much preferred to be at home. Those guests I am somewhat acquainted with teased me over being smitten, which I did not deny.” She slurps her tea.
“Come to bed, Izuna.”
He smiles fondly, knowing she can see it. “Yes wife, just to sleep; you need the rest.” Hopefully she will lie in tomorrow, or at least nap in the afternoon; being pregnant means she needs to rest regularly and well.
She finishes the tea and gets to her feet. “I’m coming.”
In which Robert Burns is ripped off, among others. Spot the shout-outs!
Tobirama opens his eyes to light, birdsong and an armful of wife and takes stock of his situation. First of all, he refuses to just cower in the house whenever Izuna isn't here. He did it this time yes, but he will not do so again. Yes, he has wronged many Uchiha, but closeting himself away from them will not improve matters. He needs to be seen, to do normal things like take walks and buy fish and visit acquaintances, or else his life here will be small indeed. He has committed to Izuna for the rest of his life, so he needs to start making an effort to integrate into her clan.
If they spit in his face, well they spit in his face. They will at least not be spitting in Izuna's face.
Izuna shifts in his arms, chakra sharpening slightly. "Hn?"
"Just thinking about what I'd like to do today," he murmurs, kissing her hair and letting his fury fade. Kiso will spend the afternoon being babysat by Midori-chan, so he needs to decide if he'd like to go out first thing while it's cooler and possibly take the toddler with him, or not risk the toddler witnessing the potentially hostile reception Tobirama is likely to receive. Izuna had told him the Uchiha Trading Branch would be coming back to the clan compound for Tanabata, but he hadn't actually realised until Katsuma barged in what that would mean.
The clan's warriors either tolerate him or avoid him; he hadn't expected confrontation to come from civilian clansmen, but maybe he should have done.
No wait; he did have problems early on, with the trapped bento boxes. It was just that Izuna dealt with the issue swiftly and apparently very finally, as there were no further attempts thereafter. However the Trading Branch weren't here for that and did not experience those many weeks of acclimatisation to his presence in the Diplomatic Quarters –or the shock of the assassination attempt– in which come to terms with him. They have simply come home to find the killer of their kin comfortably ensconced in one of the clan's finest houses, and have reacted accordingly.
"And what would you like to do today, Heart's Treasure?"
"I think," Tobirama decides, "I would like to visit Azumaya-ba. First thing after breakfast."
"In a pretty kimono?" Her voice is thick with sleep, but there's a hopeful note in her chakra that makes him smile and press another kiss to the top of her head.
"Just an everyday kimono I think, but I need practice with that hanging bow knot you showed me so I'll wear the bridge obi." He will wear the mulberry purple leno-weave with the wave-crest pattern, because that is his favourite and will contrast well with the figured damask.
"My treasure will look very fine," Izuna drawls, sensual heat fluttering in her chakra. Tobirama considers the light, calculates how long it will be until Kiso wakes for breakfast –not for a while yet– and decides that yes, there's time for this:
"Would my Lord-Wife indulge me with her body on this fine summer's morning?"
She tilts up her face to look at him; brown-black eyes blink languidly as she smiles. "I am entirely yours," she murmurs, shifting onto her back, "to enjoy as would please you best. Unless you would rather I do the pleasing?"
"No," Tobirama rumbles, reaching for the belt and ties holding her sleeping yukata closed, "I am in the mood for a little early-morning exertion today." He bends in to kiss her mouth, deep and deliciously messy. "What would please me," he murmurs darkly upon pausing for breath, "would be my brilliant, powerful wife completely yielding herself to me, so that I may savour her body at my leisure." He smirks, slow and wicked. "We will have to hope Kiso-kun does not wake early."
Since the rains began he has made good on his resolution to have sex with his wife in every accessible room of the house, so the only spaces left undesecrated are her study, the kitchen... and the tea-house in the garden.
The kitchen is not truly their space, being more the domain of Naka-Dragon and Hayami-chan, so he will leave it be. His wife's study is barred to him, so he will have to wait for her to make good on her own promises there. The tea-house and the garden more generally however… he has plans.
"Such a dreadful tease," his wife sighs as she goes lax on the futon beside him, "so cruel, threatening to leave me unsatisfied."
"I promise not to leave for my outing before bringing you to your peak, Izuna," Tobirama croons, kissing and nibbling at her throat as his hands roam lightly over her body inside her open sleepwear, "even if that means cornering you in your bedroom after breakfast and pinning you to those nice sturdy tansu, since apparently the fusuma won't take my weight."
She chuckles almost soundlessly, head tilted back of the pillow and chest shaking; smug at her reaction, Tobirama tugs his own sleeping yukata open and sets about making today a really good morning.
His wife is still laughing joyfully as she peaks, and he has long since joined her in her mirth by that point.
Azumaya-ba does not have her own house; Tobirama isn't sure why he's surprised by this. The Uchiha are a much larger clan than the Senju and their compound is far more compact, very little in the way of unused space between residences, gardens and variously farmed fields; it follows that they'd also share their homes with other relatives. He really should have expected this; he already knew Takao shared a house with his sister-in-law and her children.
It makes his visit a little awkward though, to arrive where Azumaya-ba lives and find the farmhouse is also home to her niece and nephew-in-law and their children, as well as another widowed niece-in-law and her children. Tobirama is greeted as 'O-Neko-san' by a gaggle of cheerful under-tens, several of whom are faintly familiar –though seeing as he's never sensed their chakra before he might be mistaken there– and endures the wary gaze and fearful chakra of the woman boiling long, thin branches in a large shallow trough over a fire.
Azumaya-ba thankfully emerges very swiftly; Tobirama is then introduced to Kanemi, the woman boiling branches –who is the widowed niece-in-law– Tae the niece and her husband Inasa, who is a blacksmith enjoying a few days off, before being firmly corralled and taken around to the orchard between this house and the neighbouring one, which is full of nashi trees and chickens.
It is of course raining, but Tobirama has his umbrella and also the new michiyuki raincoat Izuna bought for him, oiled silk in blue-grey with a large diagonal lattice pattern in blue-white. Very traditional Rain Country colours, she'd told him with a laugh; it is certainly proving a very good coat, protecting his kimono from mud splatters. It's a little difficult to manoeuvre an umbrella in an orchard populated by chickens, but he manages. He just has to not get caught in the trees or step on the birds.
Azumaya-ba, wearing a raincoat of her own and a wide-brimmed hat, props a short ladder against one of the pear trees and climbs up to examine the leaves. "I'm checking for caterpillars, Tobirama-kun," she says as he tilts his umbrella up enough to keep her in view; "they can be hard to find in the spring, but when it rains they like to retreat to the drier parts of the tree, making them easier to catch and remove."
"Why not just squash them?" Tobirama asks. Azumaya-ba laughs at him.
"The chickens will enjoy them, Tobirama-kun! That way they won't go to waste. Now tell me what brings you to my doorstep on this fine soggy morning." She throws down a caterpillar, causing a brief scuffle among the glossy black hens congregating around the base of the trunk.
"I feel I should better get to know my wife's kinsmen," he says, "and wondered if you could provide some introductions."
"Hn, does Izuna-bi know you're asking me?"
"No," Tobirama replies honestly, "but I have noticed how her presence tends to affect people's reactions." Izuna is Manifest Amaterasu Head, and thus the most powerful person within the clan despite Tajima leading their warriors. She is still in training –as far as he can deduce– but once her elders have pronounced her capable she will be de-facto Clan Head, with her father and later her brother managing the clan's military and diplomatic arm.
An odd division of power for a shinobi clan, but one that has doubtless grown from their unusual roots as an Imperial Ministry gone rogue.
The auntie cackles. "So true! Ah well then, I will happily make introductions for you. In the meantime, how about you fetch the other ladder and help me weed out the caterpillars?"
"I am not sure I can juggle an umbrella and a ladder, Ba-san."
"Good point; let me find you a hat."
Two hours of caterpillar-throwing wins him the eternal devotion of Azumaya-ba's hens; they follow him out of the orchard afterwards and a good way down the street before all but one of them go back to worm-hunting under the trees, awaiting his no-doubt-inevitable return. The older lady sniggers at him as that last hen marches after him, making soft self-absorbed chicken noises in between pecking at the road dust.
"My, my, what will your wife say about your young admirer?"
"Order her ritually slaughtered as a warning to others," Tobirama says blandly as they turn a corner, the inky hen at his heels making a short dash so as to keep up with the little patch of shelter provided by the back of his umbrella.
"Not going to plead for the life of the first member of your harem?" Azumaya-ba teases him.
"It is my wife's harem," Tobirama says firmly, making Azumaya-ba snort, "and the only individual in it is me."
"All rivals to be summarily done away with, I see how it is," the older woman cackles at him, then throws back her head and laughs louder when he smirks sinisterly at her.
They turn another corner, cross an intersection –Tobirama's feathery admirer still clucking along behind him– and head down a narrower, less-travelled path between two farms. Then as they turn into the yard of the left-hand farm a startlingly large black rooster rises from the edge of the vegetable patch where his harem are vigorously slaughtering the local pest population and wails, charging forwards.
Tobirama stands his ground, because showing weakness to poultry is never a good plan. His immobility prompts the rooster to stop, puff itself up and wail again for a startlingly loud and interminable moment.
The hen comes up beside him, comfortably under the shelter of the umbrella, and also ignores the male posturing taking place at knee-height.
Daring to glance over at the house, Tobirama sees a door open and somebody lean out, wave then dart back inside before reappearing again a few moments later in sandals and a wide-brimmed hat. "Azumaya-ba! Lovely to see you," the man says as he walks into reach, smiling warmly and shooing off the flouncing rooster, which squawks in offended outrage but does retreat back to its harem.
"And you much be Tobirama-sama," the man adds. Tobirama eyes him; he has the weathered skin and muscles of a farmer, but is on the more solidly-built end for an Uchiha. He's also decently tall, and meets Tobirama's eyes fearlessly.
"I'm Haruto. My wife's told me quite a bit about you," the man goes on amiably; "she was Izuna-bi's first Squad Leader, so she saw quite a lot of you those first few years."
This might well be the 'Haruto-ji' that was mentioned regarding the 'Naka-ba' that Izuna visited before her heart-to-heart with him; Sakuya-chan's parents. Tobirama racks his brain; the Squad Leader he remembers had the looks of a somewhat classically handsome man, but with Uchiha that apparently means very little. "Wields two swords, likes to banter?" He checks.
Uchiha Haruto beams at him. "That's my wife! She'll be delighted to be remembered; come inside and drink tea."
Well with an invitation like that, how can he refuse?
The chicken, thankfully, stays outside. It might even wander back to Azumaya-ba's orchard while he's out of sight.
Naka Two-Swords, as Haruto introduces his wife as, is even more ebullient than Tobirama remembers and utterly without anything resembling a grudge; in the first five minutes of forceful chatter he learns that she had to retire upon taking a disabling shoulder injury shortly before the daimyo-demanded ceasefire that he took advantage of to spend half a year in Uzushio, and is too glad at still being alive to take personally against the Senju warriors who were responsible for that.
"I'm alive, Tobirama-kun," she says earnestly, laugh-lines creasing the corners of her eyes and tone warm, "and that's everything that matters. So they were trying to kill me; it's not like I wasn't trying to kill them right back, so it'd be terribly hypocritical of me to hold it against them, wouldn't it?"
She's also pregnant; a few months further along than Izuna is by the look of things. He doesn't comment, but his host easily notices his glances at the curve of her abdomen through her working indigoes and rattles off a cheerful monologue over the brewing tea:
"I always wanted to be a warrior –my mother and aunt were both warriors before marrying– and since I had strong chakra and people to get me started, I was in basic training from eight and joined the Outguard at fourteen, as you do. I was a Squad Leader by nineteen, and when I was twenty-four I got Sukeari-kun on my Squad; he was sixteen then, but he's a grown-up Mentor now with a Squad of his own to guide. Anyway, having Sukeari-kun on my Squad for two years meant meeting his family, which of course included Haruto-san," she grins at her husband, "since he's Sukeari-kun's big brother. And he decided to court me and didn't expect me to retire and keep house for him, so I married him! Then Sakuya-chan came along two years later and I took a year off, which was just as well because Tajima-sama saddled me with Izuna-bi right about then, so I had time to slowly work up to peak fitness on easy missions." She grins, inviting him to share the joke: "You certainly kept things interesting though, Tobirama-kun."
"Not all of those encounters were intentional," Tobirama admits. His sensing range had not been as wide or precise then –if still respectably large– but when running missions solo or just with one other warrior, it had been sensible as a pre-teen to avoid Izuna's Squad whenever possible off the battlefield.
Unfortunately however there'd been a number of mission overlaps which retrospectively he suspects were orchestrated by clients at least half the time, and he had clashed with Izuna on numerous occasions, with varying degrees of success.
He'd also gone through a regrettable number of mission partners before finally being given Shurō, whose finely-tuned sense of when to retreat has kept him alive to this day.
"Ah well, missions," his host shrugs her left shoulder, the right one evidently a little too stiff for the movement to be fluidly comfortable, "it's what brings in the money. Anyway, Tajima-sama moved Izuna-bi when she was thirteen and life went on, if a little less interestingly without her commentary and your regular visits." She winks playfully at him as she passes him a cup of tea. "And then five years later I get my shoulder hacked open during a border skirmish and almost die, but manage not to lose the arm thanks to Yori-chan and her experimental chakra healing, so I take it as the sign it is and retire to teach kenjutsu and learn coopering from my Nee-san. And then a year later I'm pregnant again! Not at all expected, but very welcome; never thought I'd have another child after Sakuya-chan, what with choosing the battlefield over the kitchen, but I can't wait to meet them."
Sakuya-chan, sat across the iori with her father, is carefully embroidering a slightly worn indigo blanket with brightly-coloured flowers, dogs and other auspicious patterns by the light coming in through the open kitchen shōji.
"And of course, being retired from the field means more time for the finer things in life," Naka Two-Swords continues cheerfully, "like theatre! I'm helping arrange a production for Tanabata; several productions really, as with the trading Branch being home there's enough of us theatre-lovers to put on two separate full-length plays. We're doing 'Curse of the Black Pearl' again, of course, but I'm getting the impression the other one is going to be 'The Life of Biei-Fuji' so you might want to give it a miss, Tobirama-kun."
Yes, that is probably a very good idea; he doesn't want to see that. Especially not now.
"Don't worry, nobody's going to write a play about you and Izuna-bi until you're both dead. Well, won't publish it until then," Naka Two-Swords corrects herself scrupulously, "but I suspect people are already writing poetry. Izuna-bi potentially included; she's very musical."
"I noticed," Tobirama agrees dryly.
Azumaya-ba cackles from her seat on Sakuya's other side. "Won't publish until they're sure there's unlikely to be more action they might miss," she corrects wickedly, "so give it a decade or so; if you ask Izuna-bi nicely she might put out a veto."
Tobirama very much does not want to ever see a dramatisation of his abduction and subsequent experiences. Bad enough that it's probably already being written down for historical purposes, given that a suspension of the feud between their clans is almost unprecedented in all the centuries it's been going on; having it turned into entertainment leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
"Well, look on the bright side," Naka Two-Swords says, patting his shoulder, "no longer being in the field means Izuna-bi's going to have a lot more time for her own composing, and that should keep everybody entertained for a bit."
"You say that like any of what she writes is fit to be sung in public," Tobirama retorts dryly, cradling his teacup.
His host throws back her head and whoops with laughter.
"I assure you, Tobirama-sama," Haruto says from across the iori, eyes dancing as Naka Two-Swords continues to laugh uninhibitedly, "Izuna-bi has written a great many songs and even several plays, all perfectly suited for performing in public. 'The Secret Garden' is very popular with the clan's children, for instance, and there is no Uchiha anywhere who will argue that her Farewells are less than achingly, cathartically heartfelt."
"Farewells?" Tobirama asks cautiously.
"For singing after funerals," Sakuya pipes up abruptly; "to say goodbye, so our kin know it's okay to move on."
It is somehow unsurprising that in addition to desperately inappropriate love-songs, Izuna also writes laments. He is not so crass as to ask her to sing any of those for him, though.
"What's your favourite of Izuna-san's songs, Sakuya-chan?" He asks instead. The pre-teen pauses over her embroidery, frowning thoughtfully.
"I like 'I See Fire,'" she decides eventually.
"That's a rather sad song, don't you think Sakuya-chan?" Azumaya-ba asks.
The girl nods. "It's sad and hopeful and determined all at once," she says firmly, "and I like it. It's a good song: it's real."
"It is very real, kitten," Naka Two-Swords agrees quietly, "and it is a very good song. But I think what Ba-san means is that it's not restful."
"My favourite restful song is 'Green Grow The Rushes Oh,'" Sakuya-chan says, grinning mischievously.
Haruto laughs. "The sweetest hours I ever spent, were spent among the ladies, oh," he sings, voice rough but mostly tuneful.
"A mission song if ever there was one," Naka Two-Swords agrees, shaking her head. "But a sweet one and perfectly decent, for all that." She gets to her feet in an easy graceful movement. "Just let me grab my biwa, Tobirama-kun, and Sakuya-chan can sing it for you while I play."
It is indeed very sweet:
"Nothing but toil on every side, in every hour that passes, oh; what would be the life of man, if it were not for the ladies, oh? Green grow the rushes, oh; green grow the rushes, oh-oh-oh! The sweetest hours I ever spent, were spent among the ladies, oh." Sakuya-chan's voice is high and thin but clear, and the song is a slow one that leaves plenty of space for the biwa's melody.
Azumaya-ba's voice shakes a little, but is much stronger. "Worldly men may riches chase; riches still outpace them, oh; and though at last they catch them fast, their hearts cannot enjoy them all. Green grow the rushes, oh; green grow the rushes, oh-oh-oh! The sweetest hours I ever spent, were spent among the ladies, oh."
"But give me a quiet hour or two," Haruto sings with a smile, "my arms around my lover, oh; and worldly cares and worldly men, may chase the wind without me, oh! Green grow the rushes, oh-oh-oh; green grow the rushes, oh! The sweetest hours I ever spent; were spent among the ladies, oh."
Naka Two-Swords voice is clearest and strongest, showing off vocal training and also considerable practice: "You so great you sneer at this; you're naught but foolish duckies oh! The wisest man the world did see; he dearly loved the ladies, oh. Green grow the rushes, oh; green grow the rushes, oh-oh-oh! The sweetest hours I ever spent, were spent among the ladies, oh."
The last ripple of notes fades away as his host quiets the biwa strings.
"That is a restful song, Sakuya-chan," Tobirama concedes, "and very pretty." Also very definitely a song that has been sung for both geisha and noblewomen and on multiple occasions, if he is any judge of his wife.
The girl looks pleadingly at her mother. "Can you play it again? So Tobirama-nii-san can sing along this time?"
Naka Two-Swords hums noncommittally, glancing at Tobirama; Sakuya-chan instantly turns wide, hopeful eyes on him.
"How about you sing and I join in for the choruses," he concedes; it's not like it's a terrible or embarrassing song, after all, and it will pass the time.
By the time Naka Two-Swords is willing to let him escape Tobirama has been coaxed into discussing his recent reading –in which he has it confirmed that, classical literature or not, 'The Great Sage of Evil' is not popular among Uchiha– and leaves with a pair of new novels as well as several recommendations, including for 'The Chronicle of Enki Palace' which he has the first two volumes of already, so does not need to be given.
'Crane Startles Kunlun' is one he's heard of –it's by the same author of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and that book has been a classic for centuries– but the second one, subtitled 'the tale of Minglan,' is unfamiliar. Possibly because it was written for a female audience, so nobody ever thought to mention its existence to him; Naka Two-Swords described it as political court drama, not so different to 'General Stands Above Me' except that 'General Stands Above Me' is a comedy as much as a political drama.
As distinct from 'Enki Palace,' which is a harem drama. The differences are a matter of scale, dictating the reach of the players involved. However they're all classics, many hundreds of years old and reprinted regularly, so even if he decides he doesn't like them he will still be able to talk to people about them, or even read commentaries if he decides he wants to know more about the settings and subtext.
It's a little odd to be reading books older than the Elemental Nations, stories that have outlasted the empire that preceded it. There's nothing really left of those times except the stories, the occasional ancient settlement –towering buildings of exotic yet hardwearing materials looming far above the treeline, usually deserted due to their sheer impracticality and lack of amenities– and the vaccines and laboratory-made materials that past medics and chemists put so much effort and care into preserving the production methods of.
Unfortunately, stepping outside the house reveals that Azumaya-ba's enamoured chicken has not wandered off or –as he had hoped– forgotten its newfound fixation with him. It having stopped raining only means there are now more people moving around the compound to see him walking home with a determined black hen strutting at his heels, Azumaya-ba cackling into her sleeve beside him.
By the time they get back to the Amaterasu Residence Tobirama is thinking vindictively of oyakodon and rain is spotting once more; he arrives to find Izuna and Kiso in the garden. The toddler immediately runs up to him to hug his legs, then pauses and draws back as he notices the attendant poultry.
"Cluck-cluck?" He asks, leaning sideways to try and see more of the crow-feathered bird currently pecking at the dust behind Tobirama's ankles.
"Yes Kiso-kun," Tobirama agrees, the childish sweetness of the epithet softening his irritation, "it's one of Azumaya-ba's chickens."
Kiso looks up at him, then at Azumaya-ba, then back at the chicken. "Why cluck-cluck here?" he asks curiously.
"Is that Ganko-chan?" Izuna asks, wandering closer.
"It is indeed, Izuna-bi," Azumaya-ba says gleefully; "she's taken a shine to Tobirama-kun."
The hen being named 'Stubborn' is not promising.
"How does a chicken get a name like that?"
"By firmly turning her beak up at every last rooster in the compound," Azumaya-ba says, voice wobbling slightly with glee, "and also showing up in my garden at less than two months old then refusing to leave. Until now."
Tobirama turns to his wife. "I was thinking we could have oyakodon," he suggests hopefully.
Izuna laughs. "You want to turn poor Ganko-chan into donburi? What did she ever do to you?"
"She's been following me around all morning!"
His wife shakes her head at him, eyes dancing with suppressed laughter. "Now now, murder just because she thinks you're the sexiest thing on two legs is a bit excessive; how about we put her to work in the garden instead? She can eat the caterpillars and provide breakfast eggs while admiring you from afar."
"You think this is funny," he accuses.
"Hilarious," his wife agrees with aplomb, "because chicken drama is very entertaining. We had a young rooster once that refused to court hens; it only had eyes for the fancy chrysanthemums in Tsunimi-ji's garden. Five days of wailing and prancing in front of a flowerbed of crimson rangiku, trying to win them over with freshly-caught insects in between assaulting any gardeners who got to close, before Shizue-ba lost her patience with his stupidity and turned him into hotpot." Her eyes drop back to Ganko the hen. "Maybe he and Ganko-chan are siblings; evidently she likes white rather than red though. Did you feed her? If you did then you're never getting rid of her; bringing food is how roosters do courting."
Tobirama covers his face with his free hand as Azumaya-ba erupts into cackling again. "I was just throwing caterpillars off Ba-san's pear trees! None of the other hens cared!"
"Well Ganko-chan does, so congratulations you have a devoted chicken concubine," Izuna says blandly. "We can sort her out a crate under the edge of the engawa in the kitchen at night and she can keep the caterpillars down in the garden."
"No oyakodon?" Tobirama asks, pouting.
"You just want to be able to tell people I eat my romantic rivals, don't you?"
"The thought never crossed my mind," Tobirama lies flatly, sulking under his umbrella. His wife laughs at him.
The rain trails off again in the afternoon, so Tobirama spends most of it on the engawa, enjoying the breeze, the intermittent sunshine and the luxurious freedom of taking notes on his own writing desk with his own brush and inkstone. Izuna catches up on her own correspondence in between idly plucking at her shamisen, present and sharing tea and snacks with him but not demanding anything serious in the way of interaction. It's restful; Tobirama can almost ignore the quiet clucking of Ganko-chicken as she explores the garden and feasts upon insect pests.
It's… interesting perhaps, that the words the Uchiha use for chickens are not the words the Senju use. He was taught that a chicken is 'tori,' but the vassals call the birds 'kake' –cluckers– which is also the word Kiso used, doubled in typical childish fashion. But Azumaya-ba calls her birds 'usubedori' –alluding to the mortar for grinding grains and the chickens' inevitable vicinity to it in their search of scraps to steal– and Izuna used 'niwadori,' literally 'garden birds'.
At least 'ondori' for the roosters seems to be universal, and Izuna also used 'mendori' –hen– when speaking of the rooster's refusal to court anything other than scarlet flowers, but still. That their clans are so different that even livestock are referred to with different words, then that is not particularly promising for the treaty negotiations. There will be all manner of misunderstandings, which will bog down the proceedings and set off accidental trip-ups and delays of every possible kind.
Setting his notes aside, he reaches for the higher-quality paper. Izuna added it to his living room –as she persists in calling it, and Tobirama feels inclined to do likewise– a few days after his other belongings were delivered, and while he hasn't used any of the fine, sturdy washi for anything yet, he has a few ideas.
His calligraphy is solid, and he's learned a lot of new characters lately; has been using them all meticulously in his notes, even. It would be nice to do a hanging scroll for his living room; several scrolls perhaps, so he can swap them regularly as the seasons change.
He might try some ink paintings as well, but that is a more long-term idea; he is by no means the artist Izuna is.
But if he is to create a calligraphy hanging scroll, it becomes a matter of what to write. And he is not entirely sure there.
Unless he writes 'niwadori.'
Tobirama frowns vaguely at that thought. Why chicken, and why the Uchiha word for it? He'd have to check with Izuna what the characters used are. There are several sections in the Uchiha Legal Code relating to livestock and the rules for keeping it, but nowhere is the word 'bird' used. Instead there are specific references to uzura –quail– and to 'tōmaru,' which he'd found completely opaque as a word and had to ask Izuna about.
Tōmaru, it had turned out, are the type of chicken the Uchiha keep. Tobirama hadn't realised there were types; surely chickens are just, well, chickens?
That had been a fun conversation actually, as his wife had fetched a bunch of art prints and showed him several fancy chicken breeds, one of which had truly ridiculous tail feathers and basically existed purely to be decorative.
But again, why 'chicken'?
Tobirama breathes, eyes drooping closed as his mind turns the thought over quietly.
Garden bird; garden fowl, more accurately. But Izuna's kami stories revealed that roosters are associated with Amaterasu, no doubt due to their tendency to wake with –and scream at– the sun, and their cries are supposed to protect against evil forces.
The chickens may go where they wish; if one wandered from the compound, nobody would stop it. But they all stay here because the food is here, they are protected from predators and also very possibly because here is all they have ever known. If there is no need to go elsewhere, why would they? Here is comfortable and these birds have not been wild for a very, very long time.
He is not his wife's garden rooster any more than he is her jessed hawk. And yet a certain similarity of circumstances remains.
Not just 'chicken,' perhaps; Tobirama picks up his inkstick. How was the name of the long-tailed breed written? If he is to be a fancy chicken he may as well include a sly reference to his fine draping silks and increasingly long hair while he is at it, and he knows there's a white type. Better to own the joke than to be the butt of it.
Izuna, predictably, thinks his topic choice for his first calligraphy project is hilarious. She even offers to buy him a fine white rooster-damask kimono come autumn, with a nice long draping hem, suitably mid-length sleeves and an even longer obi. Once she finally stops laughing, that is.
Tobirama does not say that he is against such a thing. Maybe he should have said it, but it would have been a lie: he thinks an onagadori outfit would be an extremely amusing thing to own and wear.
"Sing me a song, Izuna," Tobirama asks after Kiso has been tucked up in bed that evening.
His wife eyes him, warm and faintly mischievous. "Any particular song? Or do I get to choose?"
Tobirama thinks about it, idly straightening his sleeves. "A koto song," he decides eventually, "and something that's true, not just a tease." It can be a tease as well, but he'd like it to be sincere rather than just his wife messing with him.
"Hn." His wife's eyes go distant. "Give me some time to set up, Treasure."
The shamisen goes away and the koto comes out, but Izuna does not immediately start singing; instead her fingers move over the strings, playing scraps of melody then pausing and starting again, occasionally simply hovering over the strings and bridges and twitching as though playing in her mind. Tobirama watches as his wife's lips move soundlessly, brow furrowed.
Is she adapting a tune she's only ever heard before, only caught snatches of in passing? Or is this a spontaneous composition? Tobirama waits patiently, squashing his curiosity but allowing his anticipation to rise. Izuna has never been disappointing, either as an opponent or as a spouse, so he is sure this will meet the standards she has set.
Then she purses her lips and whistles a slow melody, high and clear like a flute, and Tobirama focuses completely on the present as more notes ripple into being under her fingertips.
"There is something that I see, in the way you look at me," his wife sings, slow and soft at the higher end of her range, "there's a smile, there's a truth in your eyes; in an unexpected way, on this unexpected day; could it be this is where I belong? You were first in my heart all along." She smiles, meeting his eyes. "No more mystery: it is finally clear to me, you're the home my heart searched for so long. You were first in my heart all along."
Oh, he asked her for truth, but this? This terrible, beautiful vulnerability, this aching openness? This is all Izuna.
So much, given so freely you are almost tricked into believing it isn't anything of consequence at all, lulled into barely glancing beneath the surface.
"There were times I ran to hide, afraid to show the other side; alone in the night without you; but now I know just who you are, and I know you hold my heart! Finally this is where I belong; you were first in my heart all along."
She means every word and it hurts, but in a wild and desperately hopeful way, like the burn in his lungs after a thrilling hunt or the first successful completion of a difficult jutsu.
"No more mystery: it is finally clear to me: you're the home my heart searched for so long; you were first in my heart all along." She shifts to a purely instrumental section, the melody clear but with added riffs and clever changes in key.
"Again and again I am filled with emotion; your heartbeat thunders in my breast; and I am filled with the sweetest emotion, as I look into your precious face…" Her eyes meet his again and she smiles; the warmth, the knowing steals his breath, leaving him dizzy, hot and entirely unable to articulate any further thoughts as she repeats the refrain was last time and then ends the song.
Tobirama stares at her, blinking stupidly and head empty of anything more complex than feeling.
His wife watches him for an interminable instant, then moves her koto aside. "Come to bed with me, husband?"
"Yes," he agrees instantly, then remembers something important: "not your husband yet."
"Not yet," Izuna concedes, nodding as she gets to her feet –Tobirama also rises hurriedly– "but still my treasure and my equal."
He wraps his arms around her and kisses her; he wants to feel her chakra against his, wants to feel her pleasure and her peak, not just sense it–
"Soon, I promise," she murmurs against his lips and Tobirama is utterly, blissfully lost.
He surrenders himself to Izuna's ministrations without another thought.
By the time Izuna's next prayer-day comes around the rains have long since stopped entirely, the hydrangeas are in full bloom and it is suffocatingly hot. Tobirama wakes before the sun –too early, but sleeping any longer would be actively uncomfortable– and enjoys the cool water waiting on his wash stand before dressing in his pink striped jōfu. It's far too early to eat, but he can enjoy the garden for an hour or so and get some reading done before the temperature and humidity rise to the point he does not want to touch things. Even breathing is uncomfortable; it is like sitting in a bathhouse thick with steam, cool enough to breathe but still thick enough to feel a little like choking.
Maybe once he adapts to the heat a little he will be comfortable in the silks again, but right now his body is vehemently protesting his 'refusal' to regulate his internal temperature with chakra and he is sweating disgustingly from late morning to early evening, drinking all the cool fluids he can get his hands on to stave off heat exhaustion.
Kiso-kun finds his daytime languid sprawling on the blessedly shady engawa on the north side of the stumpy east wing of the Amaterasu Residence utterly baffling, but seems to accept it without a qualm given that Tobirama is being very consistent about it.
Izuna is not usually up quite this early though; Tobirama sits up under the willow shading the koi pond and smiles at her. "Lord-Wife."
"You are not enjoying the summer at all, are you." It is not a question. Tobirama still answers:
"I am unused to experiencing the heat without chakra."
Izuna sits next to him, smoothing the purple kimono with the bottle-gourd print over her knees. "You are suffering, and I am the only person who can change that."
"Yes." It is the truth, and Izuna appreciates the truth in a way Anija never has, not really.
"Very well then." His wife takes a deep breath. "During the day only for now, Treasure; I do not think I will be able to sleep otherwise."
"That is fair." It is not inherently fair, but Tobirama can recognise Izuna might well struggle to sleep knowing he is able to wield chakra while she is unconscious, even with the seal on his back. If he had been stuck in here rather than in the Diplomatic Quarters for those first two months, he doubts he would have slept at all; Izuna's chakra has changed since she imprisoned him and her scent off the battlefield is very different, and that is very a large part of why he is able to be so comfortable around her.
His chakra meanwhile has not changed and, as he has recently discovered, Izuna's memory is far less forgiving than his. Tobirama stays still as his wife's fingertips skim up the back of his neck… and further up over his scalp.
So there is a seal hidden under his hair, along with the more visible one across his spine. He wonders idly what it looks like, what its exact mechanisms of function are and whether it is as dangerous as the one covering the small of his back. He already has a kami keeping watch over his behaviour; hopefully there is not another one regulating his chakra.
"You will not be able to use chakra externally, beyond the very small amount needed for water-walking," Izuna tells him as she lightly scratches the back of his head, "and I ask that you do not attempt fuuinjutsu, as my father will seize the opportunity to have me deny you your notes along with ink and chakra. But this should hopefully be enough; let me know if it is not."
The cool trickle under his skin is such a relief; Tobirama sighs happily, basking for a moment in the glorious comfort abruptly returned to him, then turns and pulls his wife in for a kiss.
"Thank you; it is perfectly sufficient." He will not be able to drag the humidity out of a room, as he usually does at this time of year to reduce the oppressiveness of the heat, but he will at least be able to cool himself down.
"I am glad; if it isn't enough we can come up with a cooling fuuinjutsu."
"Can we do that anyway?" Tobirama asks hopefully; the idea is already capturing his imagination.
"Of course we can, Treasure."
Breakfast has mushrooms in. Tobirama wouldn't comment on it, except that yesterday's lunch of cold soba was also served with mushrooms –admittedly different mushrooms– and thinking back, there have been mushrooms twice or even thrice daily for well over a week now.
He picks up a piece of mushroom between his chopsticks and turns towards Izuna. "Lord-Wife?"
She looks up at him over her own bowl. "Hn?"
"Are you craving mushrooms?" They previously featured no more or less than any other secondary ingredient –excepting fish– but now they have become a staple.
His wife pulls a face. "Yes," she says grumpily, "but I can't work out which mushrooms. Or what combination; this is very nice" –she flashes a small smile at Naka-Dragon– "and it helps, but it's not right." She sighs. "Not mushroomy enough."
"My mother used to make mushroom soup," Tobirama muses, eating his own bit of mushroom. It was good, too; probably a Hatake recipe, seeing as no other kinsman has ever been able to reproduce it to Hashirama's satisfaction. It's Anija's favourite food; Tobirama never made it very often, because it's a lot of work and some of the mushrooms are fairly rare. He knows where Haha's old mushroom patches all are, of course, but Kawarama was always better at mushroom dancing than he is; they grow more reluctantly for Tobirama and less bountifully.
Izuna's chakra quivers with wistful interest. "Mushroom soup?" She asks hopefully. "Umeno-baa used to make wonderful mushroom soup; not so much nowadays." She bites her lower lip. "Oh no," she adds, expression ruefully self-aware, "I'm craving Umeno-baa's mushroom soup."
"Well my mother's soup won't be quite like your grandmother's," Tobirama concedes, "but if you give me leave to use the kitchen and tell me who to talk to about mushrooms, I can make you mushroom soup, Lord-Wife."
Izuna's chakra yearns, even as her face remains thoughtful. Tobirama hides his smirk behind another mouthful of breakfast and waits patiently for her to fold. He wants to make her mushroom soup. It's something he can do for her, and he can see already that it's something she will sincerely appreciate.
Between them Kiso is eagerly eating his own meal, but the way he watches them over the edge of his bowl, jaw working as he chews, betrays the toddler's interest in the discussion. If Tobirama does go out he will doubtless have to take Kiso along with him, even though it means the toddler might miss the weekly mixed babysitting session; it depends very much on whether the little boy finds mushroom talk boring or not.
"I don't see why not," his wife says eventually, "but I can't guarantee Umeno-baa will have time for you, Treasure."
"If she does not, I am happy to be assigned a minder –or a squad of them– to visit my own mushroom patches," Tobirama offers. Considering he has personally murdered one of Umeno-san's sons, several grandchildren and many of her great-grandchildren, she has every right to choose not to see him. But he wants to make mushroom soup for Izuna, so he has to try.
His wife nods. "I am sure somebody will volunteer for that, though it might mean charging you whatever mushrooms do not go into the soup for their time."
Fair enough. "I shall change and then head out." Now he has chakra to regulate his body temperature he will be comfortable in one of his silk kimono, and can wear a nice obi to show his respect for his prospective host.
Kiso swallows his last mouthful of katameshi. "Kiso visit Umeno-baa wif Keifu?"
"You sure you don't want to spend the morning with Yari-chan and the others?" Izuna asks. "Your keifu's just going to be talking to Umeno-baa and maybe going for a walk."
"Wan' go wif Keifu," Kiso insists firmly, pouting.
"Well then, we'd better get ready, hadn't we?" Tobirama says, conceding. There's no point arguing with the toddler about it, and he can always carry Kiso if it turns out to be a bit more of a walk than those little legs can manage.
Tobirama has miscalculated. He had expected his wife's half-Hatake grandmother to look Uchiha, as her children had.
Umeno-san does not look Uchiha. Her skin is a lighter gold than his mother's was and her hair more wild and less curly –and is more platinum blond in shade than the silver-white his mother had– and she is shorter –he thinks– and her eye-shape is rounder, but beyond that…
She even smells Hatake; not quite like his mother did, but close enough. He has enough chakra now for proper scenting and Umeno-san smells like lightning strikes, spring growth and slightly of tiger along with the usual Uchiha fire-and-incense scent; kaya wood this time.
It hurts. Like it hurts that she is looking at him like that, face studiously blank but chakra bitter and aching, the laugh-lines neatly carved around her eyes and mouth indicating that the furrow between her brows is not her usual expression at all.
Now he can scent Kiso properly he knows the toddler also has that faint tang of ozone, barely a whisper but enough to indicate an untapped Elemental Affinity. Otherwise he is almost entirely Uchiha in scent –other than the slight edge of tiger fur– but he suspects Keigetsu would match Umeno-san –and Kawarama– in smelling like new shoots forcing their way through the leaf-litter, like life and swift growth with a chaser of large predator.
"What brings you to my door, spouse of my granddaughter?"
Well, she's not spitting in his face; Tobirama will take it. He bows: "I wish to make mushroom soup for my wife, and was informed that Umeno-san is who I should speak to in seeking appropriate ingredients."
Her chakra tightens, a muscle in her cheek twitching. "And if I say I cannot help you?"
Tobirama bows again. "Then I will request an escort to accompany me to my mother's old mushroom patches, and do my best to please my Lord-Wife with what I find there." There probably won't be much, but it will be something; last time he made mushroom soup was for Hashirama's twentieth birthday eighteen months ago, and he's not convinced the mushrooms will have recovered after so short an interval. Not for him.
His mushroom dancing has never been as good as Kawarama's.
Umeno-san sniffs. "Did you ever bother to learn to dance for the mushrooms?"
Tobirama breathes. "My mother died when I was eight," he says shortly, "but I learned everything she taught me until then, to the best of my ability. I do not have a talent for mushroom-dancing, but I am capable." He has no knack for Lightning Release at all; Haha taught him to dance using pure chakra rather than the faintly electrified steps she herself used and taught to Kawarama. He doesn't know if his offerings make the slightest difference to the mushrooms, but mushroom dancing is one of the few things he has from his mother so he is not about to stop doing it.
"Hn." Umeno-san's chakra swirls consideringly as her eyes drop to Kiso, who is clutching at Tobirama's obi cords and looking from him to Umeno-san and back again, thumb stuck in his mouth and radiating wary confusion. "I am not as mobile as I used to be," she announces abruptly, "and none of my younger kin who live in the compound have shown any interest in mushroom dancing." She smiles at Kiso, suddenly soft and kind. "Would you like to learn to dance for the mushrooms, Kiso-bō?"
Kiso looks up at Tobirama, who offers an encouraging smile. "I think you would be very good at mushroom dancing, Kiso-kun." He's the right age to start learning, and now Tobirama is assured a little more liberty in moving around Uchiha land he could feasibly take his small charge on regular walks into the woodlands. Provided Umeno-san is willing to allow him anywhere near her mushroom patches, that is.
The toddler leans closer into Tobirama's leg, removing his thumb from his mouth just long enough to say, "Dance wif Keifu."
Umeno-san's chakra recoils, but her pain and grief show only in the brief deepening of the crease between her white-gold eyebrows. "Well, first we shall see if dancing is necessary today; which mushrooms do you need for your soup, Tobirama-san?"
"Shii mushroom, beech mushroom, king oyster mushroom, slippery mushroom, golden oyster mushroom, grape-wine cap, horse mushroom, tree-ear, mountain piglets, purple tips, woodland chicken, sponge morel and of course dancing mushroom," Tobirama recites; he thinks those are the ones currently in season. "Pine mushroom if you have any dried from last autumn; bag mushrooms, enoki and flat mushrooms if you have growing sheds." His mother's flat mushroom and bag mushroom sheds are something the vassals have kept up, mostly because both types grow very well on straw. Her enoki sheds however had some trick to them the clan were unable to reproduce in the winter after she died, so were dismantled.
The soup recipe is seasonal, changing according to what is available, but the flavour itself does not change that much; possibly because so many different mushrooms go into making it. Of course it's not just mushrooms, but the other ingredients will hopefully be more easily sourced; he's smelled shiso, yuzu, kudzu starch and karashi in the kitchen at the Amaterasu Residence and bamboo shoots are fairly ubiquitous, as are the common seasonings, but myoga, burdock and konjac he is probably going to have to ask about.
His prompt recital seems to mollify Umeno-san slightly, her chakra smoothing out and the tightness in her shoulders fading. "I have mushroom barns and a few nearby patches," she concedes, "which you may harvest from today, as well as some dried stores."
Tobirama bows. "I am very grateful to Umeno-san."
"You may harvest mushrooms, and help Kiso-bō with his dancing," she continues, tone firm, "and I will let you use my kitchen to make soup for Izuna-chan." Unsaid but clearly implied is that Umeno-san wishes to try Haha's soup, and whether she lets him near her rarer and more remote mushroom patches will depend very much on his culinary performance.
"Many thanks to Umeno-san for her kindness." Tobirama has never been one to back down from a challenge.
Mushroom dancing is both utterly simple and subtly complex. It is simple in that the basic chakra exercise is something a toddler can do –provided the toddler has a Lightning affinity– and the steps are very child-friendly, being more of an uneven drunken stagger than a formal dance, and thus achievable even for those new to walking and therefore unpractised in the rigours of balancing on two feet.
It is subtle in that different forms suit different types of mushroom best, and there is a careful balance to walk in terms of how much to dance. Too much can be as bad as too little, and dancing in the wrong place is effort to little effect.
Admittedly not much effort, but Tobirama honestly struggles too much at mushroom dancing to be willing to waste his attentions. Kawarama, being exponentially more gifted at it, was far less concerned about precision.
Kiso, having a Lightning affinity, does not take very long to grasp the basic exercise and is soon tottering around on slightly electric tiptoes, giggling as he spirals, bounces and stamps. Tobirama claps as he sways drunkenly, singing the very silly mushroom song that Haha had sung for him when he was starting out, so he would have something to dance to.
It's actually a very useful song –it's all about identifying mushrooms and offers clues as to which steps work best for which type– but the terminology is fanciful and ridiculous and the chorus is that particular flavour of inane that echoes in your mind for the rest of eternity. It's also a very long song; Tobirama suspects there are more verses he doesn't know, seeing as his mother had focused on teaching him to distinguish the local edible mushrooms from the similar-looking toxic ones rather than trying to teach him all of them.
Kiso is already joining in the chorus, chanting "Dance! Dance! Dance the muss-room dance! Happy hans an' zappy feet! Dance! Dance! Dance!" with a delighted open-mouthed smile on his face, so gleeful that Tobirama can't keep himself from smiling back. It's wonderful to do this with someone else again, even though it hurts as well. But it's a good pain; a sharp, hopeful ache that carries the promise of growth.
This little copse of trees behind the shrine is very clearly curated for maximum mushroom variety, with its stumps and fallen logs as well as a wide range of different tree species growing, all of them with mushrooms emerging from either around the roots or up the side of the trunk. Tobirama has already lifted up Kiso so he could kick the tree-trunks after the mushrooms were harvested –which the toddler did with great glee– and now they are meandering around the entire shady copse under Umeno-san's watchful eye.
Watchful yet fond as her gaze lingers on her great-grandson; Tobirama hopes she will reveal dried mushrooms to go with the fresh ones he has been able to gather, as he does not quite have the desired variety for properly flavourful soup. Many good mushrooms, yes, but what makes Hatake soup different is the complexity and depth of flavour. This selection along with what is in the barns is rather obviously curated for more mainstream tastes.
They will make a nice soup. But it won't be a proper soup.
Kiso finally decides he's had enough of dancing for a little while and flops face-down on the grass; Tobirama sits on the ground next to him, head tilted back to look at the bright blue sky between the leaves. "That was fun, wasn't it Kiso-kun?"
"Hn!" The toddler rolls on his side and nods energetically, then crawls into Tobirama's lap and flops against his chest; Tobirama strokes the short, silky hair sticking up every-which-way like an unruly halo and breathes, enjoying Kiso's scent, his joy and the other smells of summer and the outdoors.
He looks up warily as Umeno-san approaches, but merely she sits on the ground out of arm's reach and pours cups of cold tea for both of them, so Tobirama accepts the truce and encourages Kiso to drink. It's still mid-morning, but summer is very hot and the day will only get hotter.
Umeno-san doesn't say anything right away, preferring to nurse her own drink. Tobirama focuses on coaxing Kiso into finishing his tea, then lets the boy snuggle against him as they both settle, heart-rates slowing as they listen to the birdsong, the droning of the roosters and the variously distant noises of the clan at work.
It's starting to sound homely. Like his rooms in the Amaterasu Residence feel homely, especially now he has his books and scrolls and notes in them and all the other little things he'd put aside over the years. His mother's inkstone, winter coat and her leopard netsuke, the pine bonsai Hashirama gave him for his seventeenth birthday, the calligraphy wall-scrolls Baa-san has gifted to him over the years, one of Tōka's ink paintings; precious things.
He's even got his dragon flute, tucked in with his mother's old kimono and several other things which were not previously his but that he will not draw attention to because Anija will have smuggled them in on purpose. Little things, but precious: the whalebone octopus that Baa-san often displayed in her rooms, a carved brush-stand that is very clearly Tokonoma-ji's handiwork, several plain blunt hardwood hairpins that feel like his other aunts, a new pair of covers for the large floor cushions he commissioned for his leopards back when he first moved into his own home.
Tobirama appreciates the gifts, accepting the implied well-wishes and hopes for future meetings in the spirit they are intended.
He still doesn't know which relative killed his father; it wasn't Baa-san, Tokonoma-ji or Hashirama, but that is a fairly short list. So many left to choose from, but while it is expected that he wish to avenge his father's murder, he is disinclined to untangle the exact sequence of events when neither Anija nor Tokonoma-ji seem particularly concerned.
His father's death likely saved the Senju; one life lost is not so large a price to pay as all that, even when that one life was his father's.
Kiso shifts in his lap; Tobirama glances down at hopeful deep grey eyes.
"You want to do more dancing?" Kiso nods emphatically. Tobirama hums, glancing at Umeno-san. "We'd have to ask your Obaa-san if she knows anywhere else we can dance for mushrooms; too much dancing in one place can be bad."
Kiso instantly squirms around to face Umeno-san. "More dance, Baa-chan?" He asks plaintively. "Pease?"
Umeno-san gives Tobirama a brief reproving glare –she knows exactly what he's just done but Tobirama doesn't care; this is entirely up to her so she can be the one disappointing Kiso– then turns her attention to the toddler:
"You like mushroom dancing then, Kiso-chan?"
She smiles at his enthusiasm. "Well then, let us go looking for somewhere else in need of our attention, shall we?"
Kiso bounds to his feat, jittering eagerly in place as Tobirama also rises; not the outcome he'd expected, but certainly one he appreciates.
"We'll be going up the hill," Umeno-san continues, "so make sure you stay close and ask Tobirama-san to carry you if you get tired. You want to be fresh for the dancing after all!"
Kiso, who had started to look mulish at the prospect of getting tired this early in the day, instantly turns all eagerness again at the reminder that there will be more dancing once they reach their mysterious destination. Tobirama is just grateful he had the forethought to bring the child-carrier along in his bag.
Kiso is shockingly energetic for a toddler who has spent days at a time snuggled against Tobirama's side and refusing to move, running back and forth under the trees and 'ambushing' him out of the bushes as Tobirama walks in step with Umeno-san on their way up the wooded hillside.
They don't seem to be going directly to anywhere, but they have already passed two small mushroom patches that Kiso was delighted to dance on –with Umeno-san this time, who showed him specific steps for each mushroom in question– as well as various small clearings where Tobirama has been able to cut, pick or dig up other ingredients with a borrowed kunai. Most of the trees here are the same thick-stumped, many-trunked coppicing as he saw on the western side of the compound, so presumably the rest of the Uchiha lands are also like this. Well, away from the river boundary with the Senju at least; those trees are large and spreading, so evidently it is considered unsafe to clear and coppice there.
The few uncoppiced trees he's seen up here so far have mushrooms growing up them, or else are fruit or nut trees which are trimmed in other ways.
It's slightly less sticky up here in the woods, but it's still hot. Tobirama's very grateful for both his restored access to chakra –however limited– and his new kimono. The ruddy purple masculine summer-weight silk with its crashing-wave pattern is very comfortable, even when tied by a full-width damask obi with a musubi that hangs most of the way to the backs of his knees. Izuna took the time during the rainy season to show him a range of less restrictive ways to drape a kimono for informal occasions, and while some of those styles were possibly too informal –he doesn't generally want to show that much chest– he can now move much more freely than before.
Watching his wife change her entire image simply by changing how her kimono is worn was also very revealing in how she is able to coax so many people into talking to her and vanish into a crowd afterwards; a few small adjustments in her appearance and the demure maiden becomes a flirtatious shop-girl, a hardworking farmer's daughter, a geisha… or a prostitute.
All without actually changing her kimono; Tobirama now has a whole new method of signalling his mood and intended daily activities, as well as a very fun new way to flirt. However the useful part was how to wear a kimono so that you can stride up a hill without the garment sliding off your shoulders or impeding your movement.
"Aaarrrrr!" Kiso ambushes him from behind a tree again; Tobirama obligingly staggers dramatically.
"Oh no, I am being savaged by a wild beast!"
Kiso giggles madly, smacking his face against Tobirama's thigh. "Om nom nom!"
"Oh no, I'm dead!" Tobirama slumps into a tree for several seconds, then swoops down with a tickle counter-attack then sends the toddler zooming away up the path, still chortling. Tobirama straightens up again and continues walking, politely ignoring Umeno-san's conflictedly swirling chakra.
"You are very conscientious with Kiso-bō, Tobirama-san."
He glances at her. "He reminds me a great deal of my own younger brothers, Umeno-san."
"I was unaware you had younger siblings, Tobirama-san."
"They both died when I was a child, Umeno-san."
"My apologies, Tobirama-san." She does not ask who killed them; Tobirama does not volunteer the information either. He honestly doesn't know which Uchiha killed Itama –or if they are still alive– as his sensing wasn't anywhere near as good then as it is now. It was Itama dying that prompted him to get better; that loss had proved beyond all doubt that his range had been not good enough.
They continue on a little while longer, then Kiso ambushes Tobirama again –from behind a rocky outcrop too small to conceal him completely even if his giggles were not giving him away– and Umeno-san decrees that they are to change direction for a bit.
Once the sun has almost completed its crawl to the highest point in the sky, Tobirama leaves his hard-earned mushrooms in Umeno-san's kitchen and heads home to the Amaterasu Residence for lunch. After the meal he will put the toddler down for his nap, then head out again to cook the soup. There are enough mushrooms and other ingredients for two batches, so he will do one batch of the quick soup for this evening, and also make a mushroom daishi in preparation for slow soup, which he will continue making tomorrow morning. It is going to be hot work, hours spent in a kitchen at the height of summer, but Izuna is absolutely worth the effort. He is already looking forward to her delight at being given food he has cooked for her and not even the prospect of more hours of being needled by Umeno-san can dampen his determination.
"So how was your morning?" Izuna asks after they have had quick stand-up washes and settled by the unlit iori; Kiso immediately launches into an enthusiastic description of 'muss-room dance!' and all the many, many things he has done and learned today. Tobirama lets the childish babble wash over him and soothe the tightness in his shoulders.
Umeno-san has every right to not like him. He can accept being disliked. She is not trying to talk him down to Kiso, or even to try and separate him from her great-grandson, which is something she could have chosen to attempt. She could also have chosen to not help him at all with the mushrooms, which he would have accepted. But she did allow him to gather some of the mushrooms she tends, and spent the day watching him with Kiso in between attempting stilted conversation and doing a little dancing of her own with the toddler out in the woods.
But no matter the stark differences in physical scent her chakra is so very like his mother's was, and that makes the pain rising from her skin like a stinging cloud all the more difficult to ignore. He has hurt Umeno-san, who is distant kin to him –likely significantly less distant on the Hatake side than Izuna's thirteen generations removed from the Senju main line via Kabema– and his presence causes her pain, but she refuses to turn him away despite that.
For her great-grandson and granddaughter's sakes perhaps, but it is still something she is doing and deeds have always meant far more to him than words.
Kiso babbles throughout the meal, then starts yawning a little while after finishing; Tobirama therefore carries the toddler away to his futon and sits beside the boy until he drops off. Then he washes his face again and decides to also take a break before visiting Umeno-san; he does not know how early she eats or if she also naps after the midday meal, so it would be polite to let a little time pass before returning to start the soup.
Izuna is waiting for him on the north-eastern engawa with a pot of tea. "And how was your morning, Shikii-kun?"
"Tense," Tobirama admits easily, accepting his cup of tea and sprawling comfortably over the cool boards. "You grandmother was very considerate, but she –quite understandably– does not enjoy my company."
His wife nods, chakra melancholy. "You are very dear to me," she says quietly. Tobirama shifts closer so he can wrap an arm around her. Since the rains stopped he has been reluctant to touch or be touched, being already far too hot and unable to regulate it, but now he has a little chakra access he is comfortable enough to cuddle again. Izuna shifting closer in response to his unspoken invitation makes it clear she has missed the casual intimacy.
"And you to me, my heart," he assures her. "I am not hurt by her reticence; she made more of an effort than I expected her to and I am very grateful to her for it. She has also insisted I use her kitchen for my cooking, so I will not be displacing Hayami-chan this afternoon."
"So I will not get to watch you cook mushroom soup?"
Tobirama chuckles at his wife's faux-woeful expression, lightly kissing her. "It will be a surprise, Lord-Wife. Allow me to serve you in this?"
"If it pleases you to do so, Tobirama."
"It does." It truly does, and he is very grateful for her trust in him, that she is prepared to allow this. He also appreciates deeply that she doesn't try to advise him on ways to 'fix' what is broken between himself and Umeno-san; does not try to justify or dismiss the rupture either. She simply listens and accepts, and that is incredibly precious to him.
"Then I shall spend the afternoon in with Kiso and Kei-chan," his wife says easily, reminding him that yes, this afternoon is one of the days when Izuna now takes Kei for a few hours. She has set up a regular schedule of afternoons for that: they have her both on days when Kiso is being babysat and when he is in, so he too can adjust.
Tobirama kisses her again. "Thank you, Izuna."
She sets down her teacup safely at the very edge of arm's reach . "Oh my treasure," she murmurs, tenderly cradling his jaw in one hand, "I would not deny you anything within my means to give."
Tobirama also carefully moves his teacup to beside hers where it will not get jostled. "It is very warm right now," he murmurs, caressing her throat; "might my wife lie down with me for a little while, then join me in the bathhouse to freshen up afterwards?"
Izuna easily catches the implied invitation for physical intimacy, smiling knowingly at him from under lowered lashes. "That sounds most amenable to me, Treasure," she agrees softly; "I place myself in your hands."
Tobirama kisses her again, slow and tender; despite his now having chakra, the stifling heat means it is only possible to take such things slowly, but this part of the engawa is sheltered on all sides by various vegetation and the only other person in sensing range right now is Kiso, asleep on his futon. They do not need to rush and there is nobody who might see them.
There is a giddy joy in this freedom, that he can undress his wife on the engawa of their home and coax pleasure into fruition between them. That he can enjoy this moment in the assurance of privacy and intimacy. That he can kiss the now-unmistakeable curve of her abdomen beneath which their child –their child– is growing.
He loves Izuna so much it hurts.
When Tobirama agreed to cook in Umeno-san's kitchen, he did so in the knowledge that she lives with Izuna's aunt Asuka-san and Asuka-san's daughter Shige-chan, who cook for Tajima and Izuna's brothers in the Clan Hall. He did not realise that at this time of year she also has in her house a range of other Trading Branch kin.
Half of whom are not here this year. Because he personally has killed them.
Katsuma thankfully is not here –staying with his in-laws apparently– but he cannot avoid meeting Umeno-san's oldest daughter Hiromi or her husband Yukito, which leads to profoundly uncomfortable introductions to those of Hiromi's children who are currently in the house: Hiromi's eldest Terumi and her husband Teishi, her third child Kinji who is seventeen and back from the Sailing Circuit alongside his uncle Karifuri, and her youngest Mineo, who is very recently fourteen.
There are also Terumi and Teishi's children: Tamaki, Ishimi and Tsuka, aged seven, five and fourteen months respectively. Tobirama manages to excuse himself to the kitchen before Tamaki-kun can make good on his offer to find any other relatives hanging around; he would flee the building entirely, but that would be breaking his promise to Umeno-san and he doesn't want to do that.
Especially since he would also lose the mushrooms.
Thankfully none of the adults want anything to do with him, so once he is settled in the kitchen, kneeling awkwardly in front of the low stove and chopping the ingredients into the pans, he is entirely undisturbed. Umeno-san sits on the engawa above him, drinking tea and watching in silence at he cooks; that is unsettling, but Tobirama has practice at ignoring judgemental eyes.
He focuses on starting the quick soup base, then the mushroom daishi for tomorrow's slow soup, then on preparing the various quick soup ingredients in order of how long they will take to cook. Umeno-san has laid out a handful of dried pine mushrooms for him to use; he makes sure to thank her before setting them to soak. The mushrooms themselves will go in tomorrow's meal, but the soaking water will be added to tonight's quick soup to enhance the flavours.
Tobirama allows himself to become engrossed in the process of scrubbing, soaking, chopping and mashing in between the regular stirring and occasional seasoning; even so-called 'quick soup' takes several hours, and different mushrooms have to be added at different points in the process, according to how much cooking they need to be safe to eat. And to have the correct texture, of course; mushroom soup should be enjoyable, not merely edible.
Slowly but surely the smell filling the sticky air begins to take on the required qualities; Tobirama stirs patiently, carefully drains the mushroom soaking water into the pan and then adds the next round of ingredients once the soup starts simmering again.
The smell brings back memories of standing on a stool so as to be the right height to stir the soup on the stove in the standing kitchen in his mother's house as a child, meticulously taking care that nothing sticks to the bottom of the soup pan and sneaking peeks at his mother chopping the other ingredients one at a time and adding them to the pot, humming to herself and patting him on the head with a smile every time their eyes meet.
"Baa-tan soup?" Asks a high voice from the open kitchen doors.
"No, this is my mother's soup," Tobirama corrects absently, sniffing judiciously and adding the thinly-sliced konjac corm to the soup; it has soaked enough and the other ingredients are all at the right stage.
"Smell like Baa-tan soup," the childish voice insists; "Baa-tan, wan' soup!"
Tobirama looks up to see a boy of possibly three folding his arms huffily in the open doorway. "That's no way to talk to your grandmother, young man," he says sharply as he stirs, mind full of how Sunami-baa would react to being addressed so rudely.
The boy flinches. "Sorry, Baa-tan." A pause. "Why smell like Baa-tan soup?"
"Tobirama-san's mother was a Hatake, like my father was," Umeno-san says mildly, "but from a different summoning lineage. So he is making Hatake mushroom soup, but it's not quite the same as mine."
"Family soup!" The little boy declares gleefully, pattering closer to peer into the pans on the stove.
"I'm making it for Izuna-san," Tobirama says, stirring the soup and checking the daishi in the other pan.
"She is my wife and I want her to enjoy my mother's soup."
A pause. "Tobirama-ji-tan," the boy says decisively, making Umeno-san's chakra contract sharply and Tobirama almost fumble his stirring spoon, "Can I have some soup? Please?"
"It's not ready yet," Tobirama replies instantly, still stirring and trying to get over the ache of being addressed thusly. Yes, he has made enough soup to provide generous portions for a grown warrior and four hungry little boys –or four warriors, or three warriors, an elder and a toddler– but Izuna apparently eats enough for two even when not pregnant. He doesn't want to share the soup out any further.
"Izuna-san is pregnant, Kazuo-kun," Umeno-san says disapprovingly, "like your mother is; no stealing her soup!"
"Sorry Baa-tan, sorry Ji-tan," Kazuo-kun mumbles grudgingly, wandering away and climbing up onto the engawa, leaving his sandals lying in the dust by the sink. "I won' steal Izuna-ba's soup." His chakra presence, however small, is very perceptively sulking now.
"I am sure your father will make mushroom soup tomorrow if you ask nicely, Kazuo-kun," Umeno-san offers consolingly. "He makes a very good mushroom soup, does your father."
"Baa-tan ask?" The little boy cajoles hopefully, making the elder chuckle.
"Oh, you think I should ask my grandson to come over and make mushroom soup for all the family?"
"Ye! Tou-san make Baa-tan soup for Baa-tan!" There's a faint thud of impact on the boards from the excitedly bouncing small child, a thump as the boy lands back in the kitchen, a scuffle of sandals being slipped on again and then Kazuo-kun is off out of the door, presumably to demand his father cook mushroom soup for the whole family.
Tobirama has an uncomfortable suspicion that Kazuo's father might well be Katsuma.
Next's week's chapter will be an interlude, following in the style of Unchained.
Kazuo-kun does not return, which is another point towards Tobirama's theory of his father being Katsuma. However that is something that can, will and must wait; the soup is what matters. The daishi is eventually finished and he sets it aside in a stone jar to cool, then the last of the quick soup ingredients and herbs are added and not very much time later the soup is done.
It will stay warm a while and be easy to reheat later, so he will be able to carry it back to the Amaterasu Residence in a crock-pot. First however Umeno-san wants to sample it, if only to be assured that he hasn't wasted good mushrooms on mediocre soup.
Her enjoyment or otherwise of the soup will have no effect whatsoever on Tobirama serving it to Izuna; he's smelled it, tasted it and it is exactly right for a summer soup. This is about thanking Unemo-san for letting him use her kitchen this afternoon and also to prove to her –insofar as he is able– that the soup is a proper Hatake mushroom soup and he wasn't lying to her.
Not that he would ever lie about his mother's soup to Izuna's grandmother, but Umeno-san has no reason at all to trust his honesty so he can restrain himself from pointing that out.
He is careful to make sure her sample bowl has a bit of each ingredient and plenty of the thick broth; he may not have made it for her and he may tell himself that her opinion is irrelevant, but the truth is that he does want Umeno-san to approve of his soup, to pronounce it as properly Hatake. He barely knows anything about his mother's clan and to have one of the few things he does have acknowledged by an Elder would be… appreciated.
Not necessary, but he would like it to happen. Especially if that would mean gaining access to more mushrooms. He does enjoy the soup and while he perhaps would not make it for himself with any particular frequency under normal circumstances, Izuna is craving it and he wants to be able to satisfy her in this. After all, it is unlikely that one round of soup will be enough to silence the craving completely.
Tobirama does his best to hide his apprehension as Umeno-san sips from the bowl, but depending on how much scent training she has his blank affect may do him no good at all.
"Hn." Tobirama has heard at least twenty-five variations on that sound since being abducted; he does not react.
"Very rich and pleasantly seasoned," Umeno-san pronounces eventually; "rather stronger than I am used to, yet nonetheless very definitely a Hatake soup." She eyes him. "Your Leopards have already introduced themselves."
"They have laid a Claim on Kiso-kun," Tobirama feels compelled to add.
Umeno-san's eyebrow ticks up briefly. "Well that will be interesting, I'm sure," she concedes tartly, "but the afternoon is getting on and it will soon be time for the evening meal. Remember to take your daishi and other ingredients with you."
So now he has proved himself he is no longer welcome; or, more likely, Umeno-san wishes the kitchen to be free so her grandson can be summoned to begin making soup for tomorrow. "My thanks for the use of your kitchen, Umeno-san."
"Nonsense; I asked, not you. Don't worry about borrowing dishes; Hayami-chan or Naka-Dragon can bring them back later."
Tobirama bows. "Good evening, Umeno-san."
"Good evening, Tobirama-san. Do bring Kiso-kun over tomorrow morning to play with his cousins."
"I will do so, Umeno-san."
As Tobirama serves the soup Izuna is taking deep, steady breaths through her nose, her chakra rippling and blooming like it does when he is touching her; the sound she makes around her first mouthful is definitely a bedroom noise.
Tobirama smirks, keeping his eyes on the smaller bowl with the watered broth he is sorting out for Kiso; the toddler is unlikely to appreciate the strong, complex flavour of the soup, so he is doing as his mother did when feeding Itama and thinning it with boiled water.
His wife's blatant appreciation is very gratifying. She's not making any more sounds –which is probably for the best given Kiso's presence– but she's rocking back and forth very slightly and savouring every mouthful with a deliberation he's only ever seen her use with daifuku.
Handing Kiso the specially-prepared bowl of less potent soup, Tobirama serves himself and sits down on the tatami at right-angles to his wife, all the better to savour her reactions. Not that he needs to look in order to admire the blissful shivering in her chakra.
Kiso pokes his own soup warily, tastes it then digs in enthusiastically; evidently enough about it is familiar for him to enjoy the combination of textures and savouries, slightly lightened by the ginger-lily and salted with finely sliced konjac.
Tobirama settles in to enjoy his own soup, relishing the fact that he can eat slowly because there is no Hashirama here to steal all the seconds right out of the pan if he's not right there to fight for his fair share. Being able to fully savour the textures and flavours is a wonderful gift; he might make mushroom soup more often on principle if it's going to be like this. It's not like Izuna will object, especially if her cravings continue.
His mother used to make soup regularly; she made other dishes too, things which unlike the soup, he's not really cooked since she died –can barely remember at all– because they weren't anybody's particular favourite. There was a game dumpling and some kind of pancake with dried berries in, maybe? If he could smell them again he'd remember them better.
Slowly eating the soup, surrounded by its scent and listening to the sound of Kiso enthusiastically chewing his serving –and Izuna's ecstatic little hums– brings back those early memories with terrifying clarity. The scent of the wood polish Haha favoured, the curtains and wall hangings in geometric patterns of grey, dull green, deep scarlet and rusty orange, the lively tunes she played and the dances that went with them; the words she used that he has never heard from any other kinsman's mouth.
Tobirama quickly wipes his eyes. "I'm just remembering my mother, Kiso-kun."
Kiso nods solemnly. "Keifu misses."
"Yes, I do," Tobirama agrees softly, "but I am also glad I can make her soup and remember her. She would want me to be happy."
Kiso snuggles against his side. "Miss Haha."
Tobirama's heart clenches at the reminder of his responsibility for that absence. "Did she cook you anything special, that you could eat in her memory?"
Kiso ponders this as Tobirama serves himself more soup, refilling Izuna's bowl as well. His wife's quick but very heartfelt kiss says his soup is exactly what she was craving and she is enjoying it immensely.
"Oyaki," his almost-son declares eventually.
Tobirama has unfortunately never heard of oyaki before. "Well then, we will ask your Baa-san for the recipe tomorrow and see if we can make them later, shall we?" It will be something they can do together now he has been granted kitchen access, and even if he repeatedly fails to produce the desired item those failures will probably still be edible. And doubtless his efforts will be entertaining to a toddler.
The promise of oyaki unfortunately fills Kiso with eager energy despite it being bedtime; with no leopards to babysit for him, Tobirama tells three different bedtime stories and is then rescued by Izuna, who removes him firmly to the iori while 'suggesting' he drink some tea to wet his throat –the tea is already waiting for him– and then settles on the floor next to Kiso's futon and sings the toddler to sleep.
Tobirama suspects Izuna may be cheating ever so slightly with genjutsu –aural genjutsu specifically, not something he'd ever thought Izuna might have in her repertoire but he already knew his perspective of her was distressingly narrower than reality– but by this point he's just grateful for her intervention. Sitting up with Kiso and telling story after story until the sun actually set and the boy eventually nodded off was not particularly appealing, thank you.
She starts with the kitten's lullaby, which he still thinks is a deceptively innocuous name for a song about a cat with nine of everything it should only have one, two or at most four of, and eighty-one of those things it should maybe have a dozen or so of. Then she sings a song about trees and the uses of the different woods –which he was not expecting from an Uchiha; his ignorance showing again– which has a strong, even beat that suggests it might be a work song, but sung slowly enough to be slightly soporific.
Her last song is… not at all child appropriate, but for entirely different reasons to usual. It's about a man getting executed for a crime he didn't commit, because at the time of the murder he'd been committing adultery with his best friend's wife and refuses to incriminate her. Tobirama doesn't think this song is about a real event –it sounds too much like a ghost story– but his wife's voice singing it is soft and plaintive, all-to-easily conjuring the imagery of the story being told:
"…in a long black veil; she visits my grave, when the night winds wail. Nobody knows, lover; nobody sees. Nobody knows but me."
That is the last song; Kiso, already half-asleep when she started this spectacularly unsuitable piece of music, is perceptively unconscious by the time she finishes. Tobirama finishes his tea as Izuna leaves his bedroom and carefully slides the fusuma closed behind her.
"Where did that one come from?"
His wife smirks at him. "Not fond of ghost stories about how bad decisions can catch up with you at the worst possible moment?"
"Not as lullabies for toddlers."
She shrugs, unrepentant. "He won't understand all the nuances until he's older; I know I certainly didn't."
So this is a song Izuna was exposed to while fairly young; well that does at least partly explain her choosing it as a lullaby then. "You have a really odd musical repertoire." Tobirama knows he's not particularly musical –he can carry a tune but he's not passionate about music like some of his kinsmen are– but that almost every single one of Izuna's songs is entirely new to him is not usual. There are a few familiar ones, but those are songs he's heard from musicians in the street and sung by variously-drunk civilians dozens of times.
"You dislike it?"
"I did not say that." She's dissembling. Tobirama sets down his empty teacup. "Do you not want to tell me why you know so many songs I've never heard before?"
"I mean, I wrote a lot of them, so that you don't know them isn't so surprising," his wife replies placidly, "but some of them were picked up in places you've probably never taken missions in, and the tree song is a bit of a favourite in-clan."
How ironic; he settles again in the face of Izuna's easy truths. "You like deniably inappropriate songs as much as explicitly inappropriate ones."
She grins as she settles on the tatami beside him. "It's fun to play dumb when people try to take me to task over them; what impropriety? The song is perfectly decent! Such dirty minds some people have…" she flutters her eyelashes at him.
Tobirama snorts despite himself, leaning in to rest his forehead against hers; her breath tastes like mushrooms and ginger. "Oh, so it's my fault for reading into things?"
"Your feelings about my choice of lullaby are indeed your fault," his wife says primly, chakra bubbling with amusement. "I have no control over them whatsoever."
Her smug smirk is too much to let slide; Tobirama prods her lightly in the ribs, making her squirm and bat at his hand and there's a brief, half-hearted poking war that ends with Tobirama flat on his back on the tatami, his wife straddling him and pinning his wrists to the floor. He could probably wrestle his way free if he wanted to –neither of them are using chakra yet– but Tobirama doesn't want to. Having Izuna sprawled over him, slim, strong fingers absently caressing the tender skin of his inner wrists, the firm curve of her abdomen pressing against his stomach, is all acutely pleasant.
"So what are you planning on doing with the spoils of your triumph, oh victorious one?" He drawls, moving one foot so he can rub his ankle against her calf and flexing his fingers to make the muscles in his wrists shift in her grip.
"I would like my treasure to come to bed with me and cuddle me," Izuna says frankly, "so that I can enjoy the scent and feel of his skin against mine."
Now that he can regulate his body temperature enough to not die of heatstroke, that sounds utterly delightful. "I am extremely amenable," Tobirama informs her blandly.
His wife leans down to kiss him, releasing his wrists; Tobirama instantly wraps his arms around her, running his hands over the fine gauze of her kimono. "Will you carry me to bed and undress me then, Shikii-kun?" She asks huskily when they both finally pause for breath, sprawled bonelessly on top of him and her hands playing with his hair.
Tobirama wants, abruptly and unexpectedly. He'd not even been able to think about sex with how hot he has been before today, but now he has enough chakra under his skin his body is working properly once more, now he can feel Izuna's heartbeat pounding against his ribcage –can feel the desire coiling in her chakra as it slides over his– and he's hot all over again for another reason entirely.
"Would I be allowed to do more than just cuddle you, my heart?" He asks as he strokes a hand down her spine, because if he doesn't ask she can't make a decision. "Might I touch? Might I kiss?"
"I have missed your embrace very much this past week, beloved," Izuna murmurs against his throat, "and lovely though it was to dally with you at noon, it wasn't enough."
"Let me carry you to bed then, Lord-Wife," he teases, wrapping his arms around her more firmly and sitting up, then rising to his feet. Izuna has carried him several times; to carry her instead is… stimulating.
"And undress me," Izuna adds, tone comfortably smug.
"And undress you, and wash you, and attentively ravish you," Tobirama agrees, nipping at the back of her neck and making her shiver against him, "then fall asleep with you in my arms."
"Yes to all of those," his wife agrees, her breath hot against his neck and her body thrillingly pliant in his arms.
It might actually be past sunset when he finally gets to sleep, but Tobirama does not begrudge that in the slightest.
The next week passes much more swiftly than the one before; being physically comfortable enables Tobirama to do far more, while also reducing his awareness of the passage of time. He learns that oyaki are a type of dumpling made with fermented buckwheat dough and that Kiso's mother had never told anybody the exact proportions of the seasonings she used, although the fillings themselves tended to vary with the seasons. He also learns that working with fermented dough takes practice, for all that Kiso seems to enjoys his various failures as much as his successes.
Izuna also enjoys them, especially if they involve mushrooms; she is well and truly craving and Tobirama can't help but find it profoundly satisfying that what she hungers for is something only he is able to make for her. That Izuna is now comfortable enough to ask him if he will make her something with mushrooms in, so that he can say yes to her. So many memories of his mother are resurfacing in the face of these culinary demands, and bittersweet though they are Tobirama can't help but cherish them. Izuna appreciates him, his cooking is eagerly received and the bliss that radiates from his wife as she eats the food he has prepared for her makes him feel warm in a way no amount of sunshine has ever achieved.
Or any amount of winter blankets and affectionate leopards.
He visits Naka Two-Swords again, takes tea at dawn in the garden tea-house with his wife –wearing the new autumn-leaf-gold summer tea kimono she bought for him while on a half-day mission– and tries to ignore the besotted chicken now pecking amongst the flowerbeds and occasionally following him around the garden. He reads –now that he can regulate his body temperature, so holding books and scrolls is not sweaty and uncomfortable– and makes more braided cords. He also writes a letter to Baasan, taking care to mention as many mundane and domestic things as possible to reassure her that he is comfortable and well cared-for.
He does not speak of Izuna's progressing pregnancy; his wife has indicated that it is not a done thing, and he does not want to discomfort her. It is pleasant, in a way, that the changes of her body and appetites are a private thing, to be kept strictly within the clan. It is not yet possible to see the difference past Izuna's summer kimono, but in bed at night Tobirama can feel the difference in her breasts and in her abdomen; even during the day he can smell them in her scent and sense how her chakra is gradually shifting in its circulation, greater concentrations pooling low in her gut.
It is wonderful and fascinating, if also slightly disconcerting. Pregnancy has risks –Tobirama knows this far too well– and while Izuna is a brilliant and able warrior, she is not trained for this battlefield. She knows her own body and her health, yes, but it is the medics and her elder kinswomen she turns to for guidance.
Which is where they are today, while Kiso is with Moreya-jiisan for the morning; nothing is specifically wrong –or at least Tobirama doesn't think there is– but Izuna is meticulous about regular check-ups, which given Yori has been threatening her with twins is definitely wise.
Tobirama is sitting in the main part of the healing hall while the medic examines his wife behind the privacy screens when Minami-san the coat-maker walks in the front door, very heavily pregnant and leaning slightly on a tall, broad-shouldered teenager in indigoes.
"Ah, Tobirama-sama! Your coat is coming along well," the craftswoman says, absently rubbing the small of her back. "This is Kitamata-kun, my eldest. Kitamata-kun, this is Tobirama-sama of Amaterasu."
"Tobirama-sama." The teenager bows, giving Tobirama a brief view of a tightly-secured topknot, then turns his attention back to his mother. "Okaa-san, do you want to sit while we wait for Yū-san?" going by the calluses on his hands, the burn scars and the billowing scent of charcoal and iron, Kitamata-san is as much a smith as his father is.
"Is there a stool? My knees," Minami-san says apologetically. Tobirama gets to his feet and reaches up to remove a stool from the top of the cabinet just across the room.
"Thank you, Tobirama-sama!" She smiles warmly as her son takes the stool off him, her breath and scent reaching him past her son's for the first time.
Strain. Sickness. Like Haha-ue –what killed Haha-ue–
"Tobirama-sama are you well?"
Tobirama sways, suddenly aware of a strong, unfamiliar hand under his elbow and deep blue eyes watching him attentively from within a cloud of iron and charcoal overlaid on fire and –star anise again? No, not quite– fennel. "You should sit down, Tobirama-sama," Kitamata-san says, tone conveying both concern and utter implacable certainty.
Yes, he should.
"Treasure?!" Izuna calls again from behind the screen, more sharply this time.
"I'm not hurt," he replies automatically; yes, he should sit down. He lets Kitamata-san steer him back to his zabuton.
Minami-san smells like his mother had; this is why he found being around her so upsetting. This is what his dulled nose had been unable to tell him.
He has to say something.
The door at the far end of the hall opening and an older woman walking briskly inside provides him an opening. "Ah, Minami-san; no, don't get up! I'll come to you," the slightly greying but very spry Uchiha –who much be Yū-san– says, closing the door behind her and joining them. "I'm sure Tobirama-sama won't mind moving?"
"Minami-san has too-high blood pressure," Tobirama blurts out.
Yū-san pauses, chakra sharpening as she glances down at him.
"Her scent, it is faintly sour," Tobirama barrels on, "and I've smelled this before; if untreated it can be–" he swallows, fear and pain and grief abruptly thick in his mind's nose "–it can cause seizures." And prolonged loss of consciousness. And death.
"You have obstetric training, Tobirama-sama?" Yū-san's tone makes it clear how very unlikely she finds this.
"Not really," Tobirama admits, "but I know what hypertension smells like. My mother had it, in her last pregnancy." He hadn't known what he was smelling then, and his mother had been oblivious to it; it is extremely hard to perceive one's own scent. She had died, and the baby with her. Part of him wants to stand, to loom physically so these women take him seriously, but he knows that will be taken as a threat so he stays sitting, fingers tightly fisted in his sleeves. They have to listen.
His mother might not have died if he'd known then what he was smelling.
Ōka-ba had listened to his incoherent rambling afterwards, comforted him through his self-recriminations and later co-opted him to identify other cases early enough to prevent death; the Senju have a chemical test now that works with a urine sample, but Tobirama had been instrumental in determining which indicator would only pick up this specific condition.
"Childbed seizures; you're sure?" Yori demands, coming out from behind the screen.
Tobirama nods, making firm eye-contact with the young medic and terribly, terribly grateful to be taken seriously. "Yes: my aunt is a medic and once she realised I could smell the condition she enlisted me in identifying it in her patients and later in developing a test for it."
Yori nods sharply. "A preventative dose of magnesium salts won't do Minami-san any harm, Yū-san," the medic adds conciliatorily to the older woman as Izuna steps quietly out from behind the other end of the screen, "and there are other tests we can perform in the meantime to confirm matters."
The midwife still does not look best pleased to have been told her business by a man and a teenager, but Yori seems to have smoothed over the initial offense and follows up by swiftly extracting him, then corralling him outside; Izuna follows.
"Thank you for speaking up," Yori says quietly once they are well out of earshot; "I'll be sure to keep a close eye on Minami-san; better to induce a premature birth than to lose mother and unborn to childbed seizures."
"Ōka-ba said first pregnancies and twins make high blood pressure and complications more likely," Tobirama admits, "along with being an older mother." He is abruptly and acutely worried for Izuna. She is not older as Minami is, but this is her first pregnancy and twins are likely.
"I will keep an eye on Minami-san," Yori repeats steadily, "and we will both keep an eye on Izuna-bi, and that will be more than enough."
Izuna steps forwards and Tobirama gratefully wraps his arms around her, heedless to the burning sunshine or that they are standing in the middle of the healing hall's front path.
"And for now I can assure you that Izuna-bi is in excellent health," Yori continues, tone now brisk and confident, "and that twins remain very likely indeed, but there's no sense in confirming that before we get to the six-month mark. Now off home with you both while I see to Minami-san." She turns around and heads back indoors, shoulders set and chakra determined.
"Ready to leave, Treasure?" Izuna does not let go of him or so much as loosen her grip. Tobirama takes several more moments to breathe her scent in, reassuring himself that no, there is not so much as a hint of that warning sourness here, before leaning back to make eye-contact:
"Now I am."
She lets go; he does likewise, but catches her hand. Her smile makes it clear she doesn't mind in the slightest.
"Let's go home then; you were going to explain the water table and how springs work to me," Izuna reminds him, lightly squeezing his fingers.
"Yes, I was." It had come up when Izuna had showed him a map of the entire Uchiha property, marked with contours and many other features, and seeing the springs marked had led Tobirama to theorise about the underlying geology.
He's hoping that once he's explained the basic principles and his hypotheses about the specific local geology Izuna will be interested in taking him to see some of the springs for himself, so they can look at the rocks and work out whether he's right.
It is Tanabata tomorrow, the day that Izuna retires, so of course her father sends her off on another day-long mission the moment she finishes her weekly prayers. Of course he does. Izuna rolls her eyes and sighs but kisses him goodbye on the doorstep, kissing Keigetsu-chan goodbye as well –they always have her on mornings on Izuna's prayer-day now– before vanishing out of his sensory range with her Squad at her heels.
At least this is the last time this will happen.
Tobirama still makes a mental note to be especially shameless when Izuna keeps her promise to let him debauch her in her father's hearing. He's not sure when he'll get that opportunity, but it can't hurt to direct a prayer to Izuna's kami for a suitable moment to arise soon.
Today the clan is busy making preparations for tomorrow's festival, lanterns and paper streamers and cooking, groups practicing music and dancing and other performances all over the compound, so Tobirama makes himself useful after midday by offering to babysit some children in the Amaterasu Residence's garden. He ends up with a passel of three- and four-year-old boys, not old enough to help but too big to be willing to be carried around while their mothers and sisters work. Kagutsuchi-kun, Minakata-kun, Tekari-kun and, unexpectedly, little Kazuo-kun; Umeno-san dropped the three-year-old off, leading Tobirama to suspect his parents probably don't know which relative their son's care has been handed on to while they are preoccupied.
That is however not his problem; his problem is a handful of little boys all older than two and younger than five running around the garden, all full of energy and excited for tomorrow's festival. They keep him very busy –and he is going to ask Izuna to put a fuuinjutsu perimeter around the pond– but it's actually pretty fun. They're all small enough not to care that he was born Senju and he's been babysitter for all the older boys before, so not one of them is even slightly wary of him.
Tobirama therefore spends the afternoon being climbed on, wrestled with, chased, doing the chasing and occasionally meting out discipline when the oldest boys forget themselves and are cruel to or careless of the youngest.
It never takes more than a firm reminder; they are all good, well-behaved boys, however excitable. They do all manage to exhaust themselves rather sooner than he expected them to though, after which it is time to wash hands and faces, then sprawl on the engawa with drinks and sing songs or listen while Tobirama tells stories.
He tells the wisteria tree story seven times, then desperately switches to a story about a time he had chased Izuna –fruitlessly– over rooftops and through alleyways for half a day back when they were teenagers. It hurts less now than it had even a year ago, so he is able to dramatise and add humour to his abject failure to catch his long-term rival. His audience are very appreciative, so he ends up telling the whole story again over snacks. And then a third time, now with gleeful interjections from the listening little boys.
After that he suggests they sing, and gets to test his memory of Izuna's more decent offerings, as well as the various songs he had heard at the impromptu festival celebrating the beginning of the ceasefire and the variously inane things his wife sings for Kiso. The 'where has my comb gone' song proves a universal favourite, as is the song about the layabout pirates and the list of things they've never done. His charges have new verses there, presumably created by their own parents and other babysitting relatives.
Kagutsuchi-kun also turns out to know the 'pay me my money now' song that Izuna had reportedly started a riot with, which he is delighted to teach the rest of them. When various siblings and grandparents finally come to pick the boys up for dinner they are all vigorously –if not very tunefully– singing:
"Pay me! Pay me! Pay me my money now! Pay me or go to jail! Pay me my money now!"
Kagutsuchi-kun is still singing when he leaves last, his father joining in for the verse on, "If I was Daimyo of Tea, there'd be crates of ryō just for me," as they walk out the garden gate. Izuna isn't back yet, but Tobirama's not exactly surprised there; she's most likely to have caved to her mentor's insistence she eat well and sleep properly rather than hurrying back to the clan late in the evening, so is more likely to arrive sometime tomorrow.
"Shall we wash hands for dinner, Kiso-kun?" He asks the toddler. "Then afterwards you can show me your Tanabata kimono."
He has already been shown it twice in as many days, but Kiso is unlikely to object to a third opportunity to show off his very beautiful painted festival kimono. It is clearly a family heirloom, with a medium blue background speckled with shooting stars and a colourful design of a young man in Uchiha formalwear drinking ritual sake cups with a calico cat in intricate jūnihitoe and a fancy headdress across the entire back and sleeves, various other cats in court dress standing as witnesses. The front of the kimono shows the young man fleeing on the right sleeve and the many-layered cat giving chase across the left chest and sleeve; the cat thankfully only has the usual number of limbs and eyes.
"Es!" Kiso very blatantly adores the unlined silk outfit, which was no doubt worn by his older siblings before him and possibly his parents as well. Kiso not even being three yet, the outfit is tied simply with cords rather than an obi, so there will be nothing obstructing the pattern once he is wearing it. It's a stunningly expensive piece of work for a small child's kimono, but doubtless it will go on being worn for generations to come so the clan will be getting their money's-worth out of it.
Who knows, it could already be old enough to have covered its costs several times over; Tobirama honestly can't tell.
"Hands first, then dinner and after that the kimono," he reminds his small charge, who nods firmly then tries to drag him into the bathhouse faster.
Tobirama wakes early, to tiny enthusiastic hands patting at his shoulders and Kiso's piping voice in his ears.
"Keifu? Keifu! Keifu, it Tanabata Keifu!"
He blinks and rolls over, grabbing the toddler –Kiso squeaks– and settling the boy on his chest. "Yes, it's Tanabata," he agrees blearily, stroking his son's hair, "and the festival doesn't start until later, Kiso."
The boy pouts. "But Keifu–"
Tobirama ruffles that soft, spiky hair and smirks when his son squeaks again. "Naka-Dragon's not even here yet, baby boy," he points out; "come snuggle with your keifu for a bit, hn?"
Kiso pouts at him. "Wan' to get up, Keifu!"
"Oh, fine then." Tobirama rolls to his feet in a swift, economical movement, steadying the toddler against his chest –Kiso squeaks a third time– and pushing loose curls out of his eyes with his free hand. "We'll wash, and you can run around the garden while I comb my hair, then I'll get some buns out of the pantry and we'll go for a walk." There's always food to hand in the Amaterasu Residence, ostensibly for Izuna but anybody can snack if they need to. One dumpling won't ruin Kiso's appetite and a bit of running around in the woods will hopefully cool the boy's enthusiasm enough that he'll want to nap after breakfast.
"Kiso hep Keifu wif hair?"
"Not today, baby boy," Tobirama says as he carries his son out of the bedroom and towards the bathhouse; "we want to be ready quickly for our walk, don't we?" He is much more practiced at combing and arranging his long and increasingly firm curls these days and Umeno-san has deigned to teach him a few new styles, but it is definitely not something he would entrust to anyone save Izuna when speed is of essence. Especially not now he is braiding up the sides to grant himself some protection from Kei-chan's grasping baby fingers.
"Yes, you can help me comb my hair tomorrow," Tobirama agrees fondly as he adjusts the water temperature gauge before stripping them both out of their nemaki for the showers. "Now be a good boy and get yourself nice and clean to face the day; remember to wash behind your ears and between your toes!"
His son does dutifully scrub himself thoroughly with soap and wash-cloth though, and Tobirama kisses him on the forehead while helping him dry off. "That's my good boy. Now let's go get dressed for the woods."
Kiso is still eagerly energetic at breakfast, rocking as he eats his bowl of katameshi, so once they have both eaten Tobirama changes into his own festival yukata –and it is his own festival yukata with the koi-and-ripple print, as delivered by Hashirama– helps Kiso to change into his beautiful unlined festival kimono and sets out to see what has been set up so far, both of them in geta and Tobirama keeping a firm grip of the toddler's hand.
He is not the only person out and about, thankfully: there are a few other parents with lavishly-dressed small children, quite a number of unaccompanied older children in bright festival kimono and a scattering of game and food stands already set up in the most trafficked areas of the compound as well as several storytellers. Tobirama leans against a tree in the shade as a short distance away Kiso sits on a mat to listen to –and see the illusory images of– the story of 'How the Uchiha were signed onto the Cat Contract,' the storyteller having supposedly been inspired by Kiso's kimono design. There is something about the wording there that niggles, but even this early it's fairly hot and Tobirama doesn't want to think about anything in particular.
Later on as the festival picks up he will have to keep his wits about him; he has perceptible chakra now, which carries the risk of setting off any of the clan's warriors entirely by accident if he should stray into their sensory range while they are distracted. If Izuna were here he would ask if she could cool him down with fuuinjutsu and have her increase the restrictions on his chakra, but she's not here and so he –and everybody else– will just have to cope.
Which for him will involve staying alert to anybody panicking, so he can dodge in time to prevent them from injuring themselves on the fuuinjutsu protecting him.
"You're up early, brother-in-law."
Tobirama turns to face Madara and waves a hand in the direction of the storyteller and his enraptured audience. "Kiso-kun was very keen to join the festivities."
Madara chuckles as he idly smoothes a hand down his own yukata, which is printed with roosters and clouds. "Ah, I should have guessed; do you want to come and help me with the hawks? I do exhibition flights on festival days in the mornings."
Tobirama glances back at the storyteller and his toddler charge sat amongst the audience.
"It's fine to leave Kiso-kun here," Madara assures him; "he won't be expecting you to wait –all the little ones run wild during festivals– and if he wants to find you an adult will bring him to you."
That is very different to what Tobirama is used to; he hesitates a moment longer, but the storyteller chooses this moment to make eye-contact with him and wink –as his audience gasps at the illusion of a many-pillared palace floating in the air– so he decides to take that as permission and assurance. "Very well then. Will you be flying Bijō or Izanami today?"
"Oh, both, certainly," Madara says happily, setting out along a side-road as Tobirama falls in step beside him, "but Bijō first, as she usually performs well on a leash when she can see I have treats to hand for her. Then once the older children have finished their chores and come to watch I'll get Izanami out for a quick flight over the fields and a maybe-hunt if there's anything hiding there. Might not be –most of the wildlife flees for the woods well before the festival begins properly at noon– but usually there's a pheasant or two."
"You do the exhibitions in the mornings because that's before it gets too loud to thoroughly scare everything off," Tobirama notes.
"Oh yes," Madara agrees cheerfully; "after noon there'll be children running around with drums and naruko and all manner of noisemakers; won't be any game for five miles around. But first thing there's generally something for Izanami to hunt, which is what it's all about. Maybe this year one of the older children will decide they want to apprentice to Hiuchi-san, so he can start thinking about retiring in a decade or two."
"Will Moreya-jiisan be joining in your exhibition?" Tobirama asks curiously. Madara shrugs.
"He might? Depends how he's feeling this morning; he has good days and less good days."
Given Moreya-jiisan's age and the admitted-to injuries, that makes sense. "So am I to be your prop, or do you need me to do anything in particular for this?"
"I just need some help with carrying everything; I don't like calling on Hiuchi-san at festivals, it feels presumptuous," Madara explains earnestly. "And if you can help me make sure the children are all keeping at a safe distance and not plotting mischief while I fly my ladies, that would be wonderful. There's always somebody determined to maim themselves."
Truer words were never spoken; Tobirama has been dragging pre-teens and teens out of potentially-lethal harm for half a lifetime now. Anija may be the most frequent repeat offender –being able to regenerate damage makes him careless– but he's far from the only idiot Tobirama has saved from certain maiming over the years.
"Do you know when Izuna-san is due back?" He asks.
His brother-in-law smiles sympathetically. "Before noon, barring any unexpected delays."
Well, that is something at least. She will return in time to enjoy the main part of the festivities.
This overlaps with the last two chapters of Unchained, as well as the first four of Bondage.
"But, but I'm the Clan Heir!"
His uncle meets his eyes steadily, unusually sombre in pinstriped hakama and kataginu over a deep charcoal kimono, white tabi and zōri on his feet. "You were my brother's heir, Hashirama-kun," Tokonoma-ji says calmly, "but you are not mine. You did not step up to lead the clan after my brother's death, as was your right; you did not offer me Challenge when I assumed command. Do you do so now, Hashirama-kun?"
Hashirama reels. That's not what he meant! But, but he is stronger than Tokonoma-ji! Maybe not as experienced but definitely stronger, and he's much stronger than Tōka is! And he's been arguing for peace for years, which Tōka hasn't. Why isn't he his uncle's heir? He's the best choice!
Next to her father, Tōka sets her fists on her hips, glaring at him. "Oh, so you won't Challenge your father when his choices will kill the clan within the week, but when it's my father you'll Challenge just because he's not inviting you along to the peace talks he arranged?" She demands acidly. "Is that it? You'll only make a fuss when it's something you want to do, not for the unpleasant necessities?"
Hashirama flinches. "It's not like that!" It isn't! Like he's, like it's selfish to want peace!
Tōka raises a neatly shaped eyebrow at him, expression and demeanour communicating how profoundly unimpressed she is. "Oh, isn't it? Where were you when we were writing to the Uchiha begging them not to take matters to the daimyo? Where were you when we were reworking our budget to account for having half-a-dozen fewer major earners and no longer having any income from an entire class of high-earning missions? Where were you when we were negotiating for Tōma-kun's release?" She folds her arms across her chest, shaking out the long hanging sleeves of the furisode he hasn't seen her wearing since her coming-of-age.
"I was mourning!"
His cousin's expression turns ugly, chakra hardening into jagged spikes. "You think we weren't? The clan doesn't wait on your convenience, Hashirama-san; the things that need doing have priority over personal feelings, and always will!"
"Daughter," Tokonoma-ji says quellingly; Tōka subsides, closing her mouth and turning to bow to her father:
"My apologies, Otou-sama."
His uncle nods, accepting the apology, then turns his eyes back to Hashirama: "I am leaving now to negotiate restitution to Uchiha Izuna Denka for the assault on her spouse by my late brother, which the Aburame clan have kindly agreed to mediate for us. This will likely take several days; if you do intend to Challenge me for leadership, I request that you wait until those negotiations are over." With that he turns to leave, Yagura and Zōden flanking him in identical kamishimo, and Tōka and Baasan falling in behind them in their bright kimono.
Hashirama stares after them, hurt and betrayal layered over the unease squirming restlessly in his stomach, then turns abruptly towards the Clan Hall. Maybe talking to Mito will clarify what's going on here.
Noon finds Hashirama in Mito's garden, contemplating the little tobira-bush as he goes over his wife's words over and over again. His feelings keep changing, so he keeps going back to the beginning and trying to pin down more details and consequences to better understand what has happened that he missed.
Mito had known about his no longer being Clan Heir; had known it the moment Tōka stood next to Tokonoma-ji at the announcement of Otou-san's death. She'd thought he'd known too and hadn't minded, seeing as he'd not pushed to get involved in what Tokonoma-ji was doing or to take over the duties of Clan Head.
Hashirama hadn't even thought about it. He'd been too busy reeling from Rika-ba telling him Father had been murdered to take the next step and realise that meant he could be Clan Head now, and Tokonoma-ji taking charge of the situation had been a welcome relief. It had meant he could mourn and struggle with the fact his father had been murdered by a kinsman, yet that murder had actually helped the clan. That had been hard. Murder shouldn't ever be the right thing to do, and he still holds it wasn't good, but given the time limit maybe there weren't any better options?
Maybe. It still wasn't a good thing.
Mito had a lot of other things to say too. Some of them rather pointy things, like asking why he wanted to be Clan Head at all when he very clearly didn't want to have anything to do with the responsibilities involved, such as the mission distribution and the intelligence sorting and the letter-writing to clients. Hashirama had tried to say he wasn't any good at those things, and his lovely wife had instantly countered by pointing out that if he wasn't good at those things, why did he want to take on responsibilities where those things would be required of him? He'd tried to say that as Clan Head he could delegate, but Mito had cut him off at the knees by pointing out that if he wasn't going to step up and carry out any of the duties of Headship, why did he think he deserved the associated privileges?
That was when he'd decided to retreat into her garden and think things over.
He'd initially tried to point out that as strongest warrior he should be leading the clan, but Mito had rolled her eyes and pointed out he's been strongest warrior in the clan since he was fifteen and had he been capable of leading the clan at fifteen? Which, no he hadn't. His wife is right; being the Senju's strongest warrior doesn't make him the best at doing the clan paperwork which his father was always busy with.
No: before Izuna abducted him it had mostly been Tobirama doing the clan paperwork. Didn't that mean Tobi had been the better candidate for Clan Heir?
If so, had Izuna known that? Had that been one of her reasons for abducting his little brother in the first place? Yes, Tōka-nee had said Izuna wanted peace, but she evidently wants peace that favours her clan and if she thought Tobi was the person with the skills for doing Clan Head things –which he was seeing as Father had needed to spend weeks redoing everything– then removing him from the Senju would obviously benefit the Uchiha.
Hashirama doesn't want to admit it, but if Tobi were still here while they were negotiating peace, it would be Tobi doing the paperwork. And he wouldn't think anything of it, because Tobi was always doing the paperwork for Otou-san. That's… it shouldn't have been Tobi doing the paperwork, when Tobi wasn't Clan Head or Clan Heir. Yes, Otou-san was busy and did have many duties, but so did Tobi! And if Tobi was really that good at the clan paperwork and letter-writing and mission-arranging, then shouldn't he have been Clan Heir rather than Hashirama, even if he wasn't strongest?
He doesn't like these thoughts. He'd thought he'd already faced up to all the ways he was taking advantage of his little brother and now it turns out there are more things he hadn't even thought about. He's a worse brother than he'd realised, taking advantage of Tobi like that! He keeps thinking he's found all the ways he wasn't as good a nii-san as he should be but more keep on surfacing!
Tokonoma-ji is Clan Head now, but because Otou-san was murdered it should be Hashirama as Clan Head. And Tokonoma-ji knew that but he'd still taken over himself. Which says that Ji-san doesn't think Hashirama would be any good at being Clan Head, even though the first thing Tokonoma-ji had done upon becoming Clan Head was write to the Uchiha about a ceasefire.
Hashirama stares moodily at the tobira-bush; his uncle thinks he'd be a bad Clan Head. That hurts.
It hurts a lot because looking back, Hashirama hasn't been very diligent about his lessons or doing the paperwork or any of that. He's always tried to avoid it because it's boring and he's bad at it –except the annual budgeting, he's good at the numbers and it doesn't take all that long– and it always got done anyway, so surely he doesn't need to be the person doing it?But if he was leading a squad of warriors in the field and his second-in-command kept offloading his responsibilities on somebody else on the basis that the 'somebody else' was better at them, Hashirama would demote his second-in-command and promote the other person.
Because they were doing the work, so they should get the position.
Hashirama sags; he was a bad Clan Heir. Really bad, but nobody ever pointed it out because Tobirama was making sure the work all got done and done well.
Well, Tobi did complain about him not doing the paperwork, but Hashirama had shrugged it off because Tobi was always complaining about him not doing enough but nothing bad had ever happened due to him not doing the paperwork, so Hashirama had assumed it didn't matter and was just Tobi complaining to complain.
Except then Tobi hadn't been there anymore and the paperwork hadn't got done, and Otou-san had needed to do it and Tokonoma-ji and lots of other people got dragged in to get it done, and it had taken them all ages longer than his brother had needed.
Tokonoma-ji thinks Hashirama is going to Challenge him, and Tōka does too. Hashirama did think about Challenging Ji-san right when Ji-san said he couldn't come to the peace talks, but then Tōka shouted at him and now Hashirama feels dirty inside for even thinking about it. She's right; why does he feel it's okay to Challenge his uncle over this when he refused to Challenge his father, even though his father tried to kill Tobi? Why is it different when it's his uncle, even though his uncle is actually doing things Hashirama wants to happen? He should be happy! They're finally getting peace!
Is it because it's not happening the way he wanted it to? Because it's not him negotiating it with Madara, like he's always dreamed would happen when they had both proved they were the strongest and were leading their respective clans? Is that all it is? It's better to have peace earlier! It's better that Madara has somehow convinced his father to agree to peace talks and Tokonoma-ji is willing to negotiate as well!
Is he really just upset because it's not him making the decisions?
Hashirama covers his face with his hands and whimpers; he's a terrible person!
Tōka trudges into the house, shedding her sandals in the genkan and not bothering with slippers as she enters the kitchen and slumps on one of the dining chairs, not caring how her poor posture affects her kimono. Today was hot and doing everything in layers of lined silk was stifling. And she is going to have to do it all again tomorrow and the day after, at the very least.
Her mother sets a glass of cold tea on the table; Tōka gratefully sips it, eyes closed and trying to ignore the annoying flapping sleeves of her furisode. She's worn this awful outfit all day but it did help the negotiations go smoothly, which is what matters. She felt like she was dying for most of it –being Earth Natured lets her stave off heat stroke but does not help her feel cooler and for the first time in her life she desperately wants to own a fan– but it wasn't obvious and she wasn't required to do anything except watch.
Five of them on the Senju side, while on the Uchiha side there were only Tajima and Madara; Madara at least got to pour tea, which on their side of the room was done by Obaasan.
She sits in silence as her mother bustles around the kitchen, sipping her drink and enjoying the quiet. Then her father announces himself in the genkan –Kaa-san is putting off moving into the Clan Hall for as long as possible, so Tou-san has to put the paperwork away before coming home– and she shuffles herself upright; her parents will doubtless want to discuss the negotiations over the evening meal and she needs to participate.
"Husband," her mother says warmly as her father steps into the kitchen, still in his stiff new formalwear with the winged shoulders.
"Ika-ko," her father says, eyes soft as her mother serves the meal. Tōka's never really questioned the endearment, but after two months stuck in close-quarters with Izuna and Tobirama's developing relationship, she's both curious and very strongly disinclined to ask why her father calls her mother 'Lady Cuttlefish'.
Her mother waits until they have both started eating before asking: "So what are the Uchiha demanding of us in exchange for their setting aside Izuna-san's grievance?"
Tōka's eyes drop to her food; she has finally met Uchiha Tajima –an honour she would happily have foregone– and despite all the formal dancing around and nitpicking over terms and exact terminology, his demand –Izuna's demand– for what the Senju must pay in restitution for the assault on Tobirama's person is deceptively, insidiously simple:
The clan must provide her cousin with a dowry 'as befits the son of a Clan Head, which reflects his value to the Senju.'
"Uchiha-sama requires our clan provide Tobirama-kun with a dowry," her father says, "which will be fully and solely his, goods for his home and funds and perishables valued and listed in the Uchiha accounts under his name, in a quantity solely at our discretion but that should reflect how greatly we value him."
Her mother nods, instantly grasping the layers of implication. "Too small a dowry and Tobira-kun will feel even more rejected, while also suffering from limited means," she murmurs, "yet too large and we bankrupt the clan, consigning our most vulnerable kinsmen to starvation."
"A delicate line to walk," her father agrees, "and no matter what we choose to give, we will find ourselves in straitened circumstances; we have lost our best strategist and several of our largest earners, and the abrupt change in clan leadership will also cause certain clients to withold custom until they are reassured that our command structure remains stable. To properly provide for my nephew we will have to indebt ourselves and hope that both this year's and next year's rice harvests are large enough to pay back what we owe." He sighs. "And that is assuming a lack of war-related expenses."
"Uchiha-sama wishing to ensure we have many reasons to come to terms with him in ending the feud," her mother agrees darkly, "and still more to not fight him too hard on terms, in case he decides to be offended and refuse it."
"Well, we can start by sorting through what we have that can feasibly be given to Tobirama," Tōka says firmly, "then after that start thinking about money. All his books have to be worth something and I'm pretty sure they didn't get sold." There wasn't anything in the accounts to indicate such; she went through them with her father while negotiating for Tōma's return. Much as she hates to recognise it, the Uchiha demanding they pay for him in rice was a relief; they have rice. They don't have much cash, especially not with Tōma now being banned from warrior pursuits so Tajima can't use that as an excuse to kill him later.
"No; Hashirama made off with them, along with all his clothes," Her mother agrees thoughtfully, "and I am sure we can set aside things like tea-sets and ink-stones and such, valuable and useful things, to be given to him. Honoured mother-in-law may also be able to speak to her sisters about Uzumaki goods, particularly those that are rare this far inland, for us to purchase at cost and then have valued for sale on his behalf."
"He would appreciate us handing over any of his mother's things as well," Tōka reminds her parents, "if people still have them. I'm sure if we ask around the clan everybody will be able to contribute something, either for him to keep or to be sold on his behalf for funds, and once we've sorted that out we can see how much needs to be added, to make it up to whatever you think is appropriate, Tou-san." She has no idea what kind of money they are talking about; arranging a dowry is not something that's ever been remotely necessary for her to learn. It's not something the Senju do, particularly, although she knows her mother had a dowry from her clan when she married Tou-san and that he paid a bride-price for her.
"A good thought, Tōka-chan," her father agrees, eyes far away. "I am sure my honoured mother is already plotting what of her dowry she is willing to hand on; I will visit her after dinner to discuss matters."
Tōka takes another mouthful of fried rice, deeply grateful that tomorrow's negotiations are only in the afternoon. Yes, running up to the river in the noon sunshine is going to be dire, but she will only have to spend half a day wearing stifling silks and silly sleeves as she sits decoratively in the plain wooden pavilion Hashirama grew for the negotiations, wearing a politely blank face as her father engages in formal pleasantries with Tajima, Obaasan acting as backup as they argue specifics and timings and hopefully set a date both for the handing over of her little cousin's dowry and for negotiations to begin for a proper formal peace treaty.
The clan is going to need that treaty by the time they've properly settled Tobirama with goods and funds that accurately reflect how valuable he is to them. They need it already, but further impoverishment will make it all the more urgent; they're not going to be able to afford armour, under-armour, swords, new clothing or even so much as new kunai at this rate.
How they're going to earn money when they have lost all their assassins and can't risk accepting campaigns is still very much in question; Tōka really doesn't know what they're going to do there. The small everyday missions for minor merchants and villages will enable them to scrape by and not starve, but she's not really looking forward to eating nothing but rice, egg, greens and tofu for the next two years.
If they'll even be able to afford tofu… all things considered, it's sadly unlikely. Maybe there'll be another winter mission where somebody gets paid in freshly-killed large game?
"No." Hashirama's tone is flat and his posture mulish, yet with that implacably outraged edge that says getting him to bend will take divine intervention.
"Nephew," her father says warningly.
"No! Tobi's things are, they're his things! We shouldn't be making out they're ours to count towards what the clan owes him!"
Actually Hashi has a point there; Tōka glances at her father as he stills, considering this. "You believe we should hand over his personal property separately."
Hashirama nods firmly. "Along with all his money," her cousin says, tone taking on that commanding edge that always surfaces when he's absolutely sure he's right; "he earned that money, Ji-san! The clan already took a cut; what's left is his. It's wrong to claim otherwise, just because Otou-sama declared him dead. His money is his and so are his books and clothes and other things, and trying to use them to make it up to him for what Otou-sama did isn't right."
Tōka winces internally; her cousin is entirely correct, unfortunately. The thing is, Tobirama's sunk a lot of money into books over the years, so their value is fairly significant, and he also didn't spend his earnings to the degree that most other warriors do –he wasn't interested in ephemeral luxuries like fine foods or theatre or in distractions like gambling or alcohol or prostitutes– so extracting his savings from the clan's main fund is going to hurt.
But it is the right thing to do. Those things do belong to Tobirama, so he should receive them regardless of dowry. After all, if he'd eloped he'd have taken all those things with him.
Her father sighs. "Hashirama, doing that will make matters even harder and more expensive for our clan."
Sensing weakness, her cousin pulls out the shiny doe eyes. "I promise I will do everything I can to help everybody pull through this, Ji-san."
"Then you can pack up all your brother's things for delivery," her father says dryly, "and put some serious thought into how we can get hold of additional funds without either compromising the ceasefire or getting entangled in somebody else's war, Hashirama; money doesn't grow on trees and right now we can't afford to take on missions that might cost us in equipment or lives."
"Money might not grow on trees, Honoured Uncle," Mito says, coming up behind her husband, "but certain types of wood are highly valued. If my husband could acquire some seeds or small pieces to work from..?"
Hashirama perks up like a hunting dog given a scent. Tōka's sure Mito already has schemes lined up for where and how they could sell that wood, or else she wouldn't be suggesting it. Hopefully the profit margin is generous enough for this to count as a get-rich-quick scheme; the clan could use a few of those.
"Acquiring samples is a job for lower-ranking warriors," Tōka's father says firmly, "as they are less likely to draw untoward attention to themselves. You know your brother's property, Hashirama; you make sure it is all packed up to return to him. I will talk to my mother about luxury hardwoods and see about arranging some courier missions accordingly."
Hashirama bows deeply, radiating delight. "Yes Ji-san; thank you, Ji-san. I'll start at once!" He ducks down to kiss his wife, then dashes back into her wing of the Clan Hall to set about keeping his promise. Mito lingers.
"I have a range of younger and more mobile connections in Uzushio than my honoured grandmother-in-law," she says in response to her Clan Head's inquiring nod, "and certain of them would enjoy the challenge this presents, as well as the opportunities for creative problem-solving."
Tōka guesses that's polite-speech for 'I am related to a bunch of hell-raisers who would love an excuse to rob a few annoying enemies blind and have somewhere out of the country to fence the goods to.'
"I will not be held responsible for the consequences of your friends' and kin's choices, Mito-san," her father says lightly, "but I will gladly barter for goods with our coastal kin. Good timber for boats is something we can certainly offer, although our rice stores are currently somewhat depleted."
Mito inclines her head, smiling faintly. "I will write to my cousins and see what they say." She vanishes back into the building, closing the door behind her.
"That didn't go terribly," Tōka offers into the quiet that follows, broken only by distant birdsong and the muffled thumps of Hashirama being energetic indoors.
"Hashi-kun has a good heart, for all his complete unsuitability to politics and leadership," her father replies mildly.
"You think we should consult him more often," Tōka deduces as they turn back towards the set of rooms her father has claimed as the new main office. The room her uncle died in is still being cleaned and aired, but is probably going to end up being used for storage, or else as a guest space.
"He wasn't wrong that it would not have made a good impression on Izuna Denka to present her with her spouse's property and claim it was ours to give," her father agrees, "which we should have considered; his moral high-horse saved us from an unfortunate loss of face."
"Might have been a trap," Tōka points out grumpily; retrospectively it seems rather likely. This whole dowry mess is just riddled with ways they could get things horribly wrong. Traps and political implications they have no experience with, so don't see until they trip over them.
"Which we have now avoided," her father continues calmly, "and Mito-san's suggestion of exploiting the timber market is not only a good one, it is something Hashirama can provide personally. It will do him good to bear the cost of his morals rather than letting the price fall on others." He pauses. "But no letting him sneak off to gamble, Tōka-chan; I don't care how good he is at cheating when he has a specific goal in mind, he's terrible at allaying suspicion and always ends up losing half his winnings in throwing others off. And it would look disrespectful, given the ongoing negotiations."
"I'll tell him," Tōka promises; Hashirama loses consistently and terribly when playing for fun –his luck is frankly appalling– but he's also rather unnervingly good at reading his fellow gamblers when there's something he genuinely cares about on the line, as well as at cheating people blind without quite looking like he's cheating them.
Hashirama's admitted freely to her before now that he doesn't mind losing at regular gambling because it makes people like him, which is so very Hashirama she did in fact hit him for saying it. He laughed at her though, which says he knew she was frustrated because she's seen him clean out a casino while playing the fool –with a few other kinsmen helping out on the side as props– but never does it unless it's actually required for a mission.
Tobirama's much better at card-counting and the technical practicalities of beating the odds, but Hashirama's the one who can get people to utterly dismiss him as a threat, which is a very neat trick for such a powerful shinobi. If it wasn't his go-to strategy for all things political and complicated that he doesn't want to put more than the absolute minimum of effort into, she wouldn't have made a point of replacing him as Senju Heir; as it is she feels he'll do better in an advisory and supporting role. He'll have more freedom to act as he pleases, and his choices will reflect less harshly on the rest of the clan.
However that still leaves her to do the heavy lifting. Sighing, Tōka falls in behind her father; there's always more to do, but at least she feels like they're making progress now.
The relentless rain rattles steadily on the roof overhead, a steady rhythm filling Rinzōma's ears as he carefully sorts through all the crates and baskets of carefully-packaged junk filling half the upstairs rooms of his house.
The house he had shared with his parents and brother when he was a toddler, but then his father had died on the battlefield when he was four –Rinzōma honestly barely remembers him– his mother's luck ran out last autumn when she had the misfortune to run into an Uchiha sensor while carrying out a sabotage mission against somebody else entirely and now Kyōzōma is dead too, brutally crushed by an Uchiha battlefield technique the assassin had never been trained to withstand. While attempting to kill Tobirama-kun in his sleep.
Rinzōma isn't sure he'll ever be able to forgive his brother for that. He was the clan's youngest assassin and also the most promisingly gifted; he had refusal rights and had chosen not to exercise them, despite knowing that it had been an assassination mission into the Uchiha Compound that had been the death of Aunt Benibana eleven years ago.
No Senju has come home from an assassination mission in Uchiha territory in eighty years. And his brother still chose to take it. Though part of Rinzōma has to wonder how much of that was Kyōzōma thinking he could break that eighty-year streak and how much was wanting to protect Tōma-kun, who while old enough for the field certainly hadn't been old enough for that, no matter what Aunt Ajisai's brother had thought.
Tōma-kun did finally come home breathing, after an extortionate ransom in good rice was paid and with the weight of being barred from the field ever after so that Uchiha Tajima cannot contrive a way to kill him later, but Kyōzoma did not.
So here Rinzōma is, in the house he was raised in that now echoes with unwanted silence, sorting through a lifetime –several lifetimes in truth; some of these trophies are older than he is– of stolen goods that were either too recognisable, too valuable or too potentially useful to fence, looking for things he can contribute towards Tobirama-kun's dowry. And, as he browses, planning how to suggest to Aunt Ajisai that she move in with him, both to fill the space and also to ensure nobody suggests that, as a single man with no family and no sweetheart he is planning to marry, he should properly be living in a smaller house.
He's probably going to be contributing a lot to that dowry, but he doesn't begrudge it. It's not like he's using any of this and better it profit the clan than sit here mouldering until an enterprising mouse manages to get in and rip it all up for bedding. Some of it will probably get sold to the Uzumaki through Sunami-obaasan –the more distinctive items in particular– but the rest will be valued and then added directly to Tobirama's dowry, for him to dispose of or find a use for.
So far he's found and set aside a rack of beautiful swords –how his mother kept those out of the clan armoury he's not sure, maybe they're distinctive or famous– a surprising number of scroll paintings and calligraphy works by famous artists and monks, a full dozen carefully boxed tea bowls all in a cabinet together with certifications of provenance –some of those had made him wince at how tricky selling them on was going to be– a tansu of kimono he'd not even realised were here that he's going to have to sort through because he suspects they're as much costumes worn by past curse-brokers as trophies, an entire cabinet full of aesthetic okimono suitable for displaying during a tea ceremony, a lot of netsuke –had an ancestor been a collector? Stranger things have happened– and, right at the back in a sandalwood chest that is a prestige piece in its own right, a glamorous oiran's wardrobe in pseudo-courtly finery from over a century back.
It seems his mother's family lore of a great-great-grandfather stealing himself a wife –and getting paid to do so by a wealthy merchant who wished to spite a fellow wealthy merchant who fancied himself in love with the oiran in question– is not entirely fanciful. Who knew.
There's also a range of musical instruments, fancy horse tack, lacquerware boxes of various types and sizes, inrō, incense bowls and tea ceremony accessories, vases, rare art prints, beautiful inlayed calligraphy brushes, jewellery, various types of dolls, brocaded obi and a box full of carved incensewood, horn and ivory fans, most of which are either prominently marked with family crests or are limited editions commemorating specific events, making them almost unsaleable.
Some of these things taking up space in his house –like the steel-grey pearl the size of a child's fist– are extremely valuable in monetary terms, but were impossible to fence at the time because they are too distinctive and only have value in a niche market where everybody knows everybody else. Quiet a lot of the art falls into this category, but will do well in the dowry because nobody is going to ask an Uchiha where they got a particular ink painting by a venerated master, even though that painting mysteriously vanished from a wealthy merchant's tokonoma a decade or more ago.
"In here." Maki showed up on his doorstep two days after the funerals, the warrior humbling herself to the thief in pursuit of a career change that will let her continue to put food on the table despite the very likely peace treaty between the Senju and Uchiha clans. It had not been a hard choice; Maki already has some practice in masking her chakra from being on Tobirama's battle-squad and Rinzōma had been aware even then that the clan would need all the income they could get, to make up for the loss of so many high-earning shinobi.
It has never been the warriors that bring in the most money; the real income is in assassination, theft, sabotage, espionage and the other more discreet disciplines. Warriors are flashy and very good advertising, but the cost of maintaining armour, weapons and fitness –and the ever-present risk of injury– eats up most of what income they bring in, and the rest is spent on supporting their families, along with the families of closely-related dead warriors.
She's good, honestly; no pride to wear down, a talent for blending in and a wide repertoire of utility jutsu rather than a fondness for flashy techniques that are useless off a battlefield and generally inconvenient on it too. He's training up his baby cousins already, but an older student will be ready to help shoulder the workload much sooner than six-year-old Tenka and two-year-old Hyōka will, while also freeing up some of his time to do more teaching.
He should probably ask if Tōma's interested too; a thief doesn't need to carry a sword.
Maki sidles nimbly between the closely-packed boxes and furniture, leaning in to peer over his shoulder at his latest find. "Is that a cut gemstone go set?"
"Yes," Rinzōma sighs, closing the two boxes of outrageously tacky and excessively costly Go stones and passing them back to her over his shoulder, then carefully picking up the go board, which was carved from a massive quartz geode. Some people really do have far too much money and absolutely no taste. "We'll carry this down and set it to be valued; if the worst comes to the worst we can sell it to a gem carver for raw materials."
"It would be a service to humanity," Maki mutters, but does set the boxes on top of the baskets of other assorted higher-value and probably not too traceable items he's set aside so far and carry them out of the room.
Rinzōma grabs the carrying case of famous ink paintings on his way past; even if the Uchiha can't sell them, Tobirama will at least be able to enjoy them.
Yagura sets down another armful of elderly scrolls on the desk beside the desk Tokyōma-kun is reading at on this stifling summer afternoon; these scrolls would be thick with dust if the clan archives had not been Sealed against dust by some practical long-ago Uzumaki bride. Tokonoma-sama's son is currently scouring the archives for details of the Senju's previous dealings with the Fire Daimyo –any Fire Daimyo– so that when the time for the negotiations with the Uchiha comes around in the autumn the clan will not find themselves caught between obligations.
It is practical, intelligent and refreshingly clear-sighted; Tokyōma-kun has really grown as a person since Mito-san took him on as a student, taking to her lectures on the scientific method and critical thinking like a bird to flight and applying them to absolutely everything. There are, inevitably, mistakes –this is a skill like any other and there are always missteps when turning your hand to something new– but the underlying determination is heartening to see.
Yagura has not seen Tokyōma-kun this pleased to be learning since Ōka-sama deemed him to 'lack the required nerves' for chakra healing. That week had been… it had been a bad week, and Yagura had honestly appreciated Tokyōma-kun's shaky but repeated attempts to contradict his aunt, to try and offer alternatives despite both Yagura and his sister knowing what was coming.
That was three years ago. Tsuwabuki still lights incense for Fuji-chan, mute at three years old and inclined to stare vacantly into space rather than play with other children; Tokyōma-kun had tried to argue that Tobirama had turned out fine, but the other medics had been adamant: Tobirama is half-Hatake and Fuji-chan was entirely Senju.
Yagura had invited the teenager to the funeral, then watched as Tokyōma-kun retreated to the pharmacy, hands and tongue trembling more than they ever had before. He'd tried to impress on the younger warriors that it is dishonourable to bully those not training for the battlefield, but there he is one voice speaking against many.
Or he was, until recently.
Yagura catches one scroll that tries to make an escape; Tokyōma-kun looks up from his reading. "What this time?"
Yagura divides the pile into three sections; one containing the two large scrolls, the other two mixes of smaller ones. "Tax records," he taps the large scrolls, "Records of missions commissioned by the Fire Daimyo" –even now they keep those listed separately– "and official copies of amendments to laws that the clan are subject to." So far as Yagura is aware, that last category is not something Butsuma kept up with; Yagura is honestly unsure if Horōma-sama –his father– kept up with it either. It is however a very sensible precaution to take, and one Tokonoma-sama is likely to reinstate once they manage to work out when those records stop, thereby revealing how far back they will have to go in the Daimyo's Archives and how much they will have to spend commissioning official copies of legal documents.
"Tax records first," Tokyōma says firmly, absently wiping his brow, "then the legal amendments. I need to ask Otou-sama about the Senju's original treaty with the Daimyo; I really hope it's not in the archives somewhere."
Yagura winces; he hopes so too. They are very definitely going to need that document for the upcoming treaty proceedings, but its contents are a matter for the Senju Head only and Yagura's never even seen it, let alone read it.
Hopefully it didn't get lost during one of the clan's unstable periods; that would be a disaster.
Well, not a complete disaster, but they'd have to go to the capital and request a copy of it, and that would hardly be discreet. It would also prompt other people to read the damn thing, which might bring to light further violations of protocol the clan is currently unaware they are committing. At best.
However, that's not entirely relevant to why he agreed to scour the archives for Tokyōma-kun today, when it's hot and humid and the archives are the last place any sane person would want to be. It being so suffocatingly close now the rains have ended, most people have moved their working hours to the early morning and late evening; something Tokyōma-kun cannot do, as he needs the bright daylight for his reading. There is therefore nobody within earshot, and few of the clan's sensors are as attuned to mood as Tobirama. Those that do all lack his range.
Tobirama, who is no longer here and will never return.
"Yes, Yagura-san?" The teenager glances up from the newly-opened scroll of tax records, scrawling an incomprehensible note on a scrap sheet of paper.
"Have you considered apprenticing yourself to your mother?"
Tokyōma-kun stills. "N-n-no, Yagura-san, why would I?"
Yagura does not accuse. He does not remind the young man who has abruptly twisted around to face him that Yagura all-but-collided with him in the hallway of the Clan Hall when Yagura was on his way to carry out his self-assigned assassination of Senju Butsuma. Does not point out that Tokyōma-kun was regularly strong-armed into making tea for his now-late uncle, on the basis that, 'he may as well do something useful for once.'
These things do not need to be said.
"Your mother is a very able kunoichi despite her physical weakness," Yagura says calmly. "Because of it, in fact; she has made it her weapon. You have her fine mind as much as her more delicate constitution; I am sure you could make good use of her teachings." Sumi-san is a Kurama and therefore an illusionist, but she is also a very able poisoner. Her extensive teachings on what can safely be eaten and what cannot make that much very clear, at least to those who care to pay attention.
"I am learning from Mito-san."
"A man may have more than one teacher."
"I believe she is also finding her family's various pressing commitments a little burdensome," Yagura continues, careful to keep his tone gentle. "When did you last eat at home, Tokyōma-kun?"
The teenager's brow crinkles in thought. "Yest– no, the day befo– last week?" He does not seem too sure of the answer himself.
"She may not be Senju but she is still your mother," Yagura says, "and she experienced much of life in the wider world before marrying your father." An emotional appeal and a practical one as well, so Tokyōma-kun can choose which one he prefers to heed.
Tokyōma-kun rolls his eyes, shoulders finally settling again. "Fine, Yagura-san; I will wrap up early and have dinner with Kaa-san today, since it will make you stop nagging me."
Yagura hopes that he will also talk to his mother; it is not like Sumi-san will care that Tokyōma-kun was the one to do most of the work in killing Butsuma. And Tokyōma-kun does need to talk to someone about his first kill, for his own sake. "Please give her my best."
Tokyōma stares at him for a brief moment, then sighs. "As you say, Yagura-san."
And we return to Tobirama's Tanabata adventures!
Izuna enters Tobirama's sensing range exactly as Madara is flying Izanami, at which point Tobirama is not only keeping in line two-dozen pre-teens with a firm glare but also balancing Kiso on his hip. His relief therefore stays internal; he will have to wait for her to find him, rather than leaving immediately to greet her. It would entirely ruin the effect of his glare if he were to run off at this point; discipline should be modelled, not just demanded.
The hunt is thankfully completed without a hitch, the goshawk ably pouncing upon a pigeon and decisively emptying the nearby fields of any further game, and then Tobirama is able to tidy up and take the dead bird away, leaving Madara to coo over his beloved hawk while feeding her fresh entrails in between answering questions from his enraptured audience. The man is obviously well practiced at keeping people out of savaging range and Izanami is, for all her bloodlust and innate wildness, supremely confident in her safety when tied to Madara's wrist by her jesses, so it's very unlikely there will be any incidents. The tricky moment is when the goshawk is in flight, driven by the thrill of the hunt and wholly ruled by instinct.
There's a lot more festival preparation ongoing as he walks to the back gate of the Amaterasu Residence with Kiso, paper decorations hanging from buildings and suspended over paved roadways by fine cords, food stalls set out at regular intervals, musicians practicing and a group of Uchiha dressed in Water Country sailing garb –a mix of bright and well-worn independent –or pirate– dress and the crisp uniforms of various merchant companies and a few of the daimyo's navy– reciting some kind of sketch together. Tobirama's not sure if the naval uniforms are the real thing or sharingan-precise copies and sets the question aside for later; Naka Two-Swords will be delighted to tell him, either way.
He and Kiso arrive in the kitchen to put away the bird just as Izuna is emerging from the bathhouse, which is absolutely perfect timing; enthusiastic greeting kisses are duly exchanged, and upon stepping indoors Kiso is provided with a new toy –a brightly-painted wooden horse– which distracts him completely, sending him running out into the garden again to play.
Tobirama takes advantage to kiss his wife again, more at length this time.
"I have gifts for you too, Shikii-kun," Izuna tells him eventually with a laugh, leaning into him with her bathing yukata all askew to reveal her left shoulder and the back of her neck.
"So it's not you who are my gift?" Tobirama asks playfully, dotting kisses over pale, scarred skin. "Is my lovely wife not here for my enjoyment?"
"Oh, always," Izuna replies, half tease and half dazzling sincerity, "but I found some pretty things I thought you might enjoy owning and using while carrying out this particular mission –which was in fact not something anybody else in the Outguard could have managed as well as I did and is important to the clan– as well as a book I don't believe you've read. Whether it will interest you I don't know, but if not I'm sure it will find an audience somewhere in-clan."
"I'd rather unwrap you first, my heart."
"With Kiso in the garden, liable to remember at any moment that there's a festival on and dash in to demand we head out at once?" Izuna laughs at his put-upon pout. "Don't worry Treasure: there will be plenty of time for unwrapping later, and our little boy is likely to need an early bedtime after all the day's excitement."
Tobirama makes a show of sighing heavily but does straighten up and step back, catching her hands in his. "So what will you be wearing to the festival, my heart?"
"A festival yukata, of course! Green, resist-printed with morning glories in white and golden yellow, and my fish-patterned obi."
"I'm sure you'll look very fine in it," Tobirama says easily, enjoying the feeling of her hands in his and the softness of her skin under his fingertips.
"My treasure will not release me so I can change?" his wife inquires archly.
"Your treasure would much rather do the undressing himself, so that you can then be dressed in kisses as much as in linen and cotton," Tobirama replies, smirking unrepentantly.
"The man I carried off to father my children is such a flirt," Izuna laments, freeing one hand so as to rest it dramatically against her forehead. "Dreadful. Terrible. He thinks he can talk me out of my clothes whenever it suits him and ravish me at his leisure."
"Does my wife not want to be kissed today?" Tobirama presses coaxingly; he can see in her face and feel in her body and chakra that she is entirely willing, as well as very much interested. But if she says no, he will accept that. However she hasn't said 'no' yet.
"Oh, I do very much want to be kissed," Izuna assures him with a grin; "kisses are lucky at Tanabata! But I was hoping you'd be up for kissing me out and about during the festival, Shikii-kun; we'll be far from the only couple doing so and there'll be no shortage of alleyways and shrubbery to duck into, especially once evening sets in."
"Kisses are lucky?" Tobirama asks, to give himself a little thinking time.
His wife gently frees her other hand and steps behind her screen to change. "Oh yes; Tanabata is the festival of reunions and parting to meet anew," she answers him from out of sight as she opens her tansu, "and it's traditional to exchange kisses, as a kiss at Tanabata means reuniting at Tanabata again in a year's time to kiss each-other once more. My Lord-Father and I will be opening the festival together at noon and there will be formal kisses exchanged, and then it will be a free-for-all of food, entertainment, dancing, drinking and more kissing until tomorrow's sunrise."
"How shockingly decadent."
"I assure you that that most of it is perfectly decent! Until the younger children have gone to bed, at least." That is much as Tobirama had expected; the passions of the Uchiha clan run deep.
"So I should take care to kiss you assiduously today, so that you will always come back to me?" Tobirama teases, knocking lightly on the wooden screen; it's a beautiful thing, only slightly shorter in height than he is with six well-proportioned hinged panels, beautifully painted with a sakura tree in full bloom at one end and a flowering magnolia at the other, the twisting branches almost meeting in the middle and the gilt background artfully scattered with falling petals. A brief, ephemeral instant captured forever in brightly realistic spring colours, from the fine blush of the blossoms to the textured twisting greys of the tree bark and a smattering of spring bulbs offering vividly coloured splashes along the lower edge.
"Oh yes, very definitely," Izuna answers him cheerfully as behind the screen fabrics rustle, "and please extend a modest fraction of that largesse to anybody else who asks; a kiss means they want to see you again next Tanabata, after all."
As opposed to wanting him dead in a ditch well before then; Tobirama doubts there will be many kiss requests from anybody older than twelve. However dragging Izuna into some barely-private alleyway for something a little more vigorously intimate does appeal, especially since doing so will fall under the wider clan's perception of normal.
And if he should happen to do so within sight and earshot of his esteemed father-in-law, well there's no real reason why he shouldn't.
As threatened, the midday opening of the festival begins with kissing. Izuna being at the centre of attention with her father, older brother and aunt, Tobirama's first kiss exchange is with Kiso; his next one is with Izuna's squad-mate Akira, who hunts him down along with a pack of other young warriors who have all very transparently been dared to ask the Drowning Breath for a Tanabata kiss.
Tobirama goes along with it; it can't hurt. The general mood around him does seem to soften after all nine teenagers have been duly kissed, and he is haphazardly included in various small children's attempts to get kisses from everybody.
It takes Izuna a while to make her way back to him –she is clearly an extremely popular target– but once she has and he has kissed her too, they join the rest of the clan in scattering towards the food stalls, games and other events being arranged for the afternoon and evening.
Their first stop is a food stall –almost everything is fried or grilled and what little isn't comes out of peculiar wooden structures Izuna calls 'steaming towers'– and then, armed with oyaki, tsukune and a great many taiyaki made with the Uchiha's usual batter mix of millet and buckwheat flour, they make their way to the stage set up in the square facing the shrine.
Just the two of them; as soon as Kiso has an oyaki in each hand he vanishes, which would be more worrying if Tobirama hadn't already been assured it was both normal and expected. He reminds himself that the toddler does know where they're going to be for the next few hours, and that Izuna did put that perimeter fuuinjutsu around the pond before they left today, so nobody is going to fall into it unsupervised.
It had been Naka Two-Swords' suggestion they watch a play first, as the second showing will be of the life of Biei-Fuji and Tobirama will happily avoid that one. It's going to be very hot, sitting around in the middle of the day watching a production likely to last a couple of hours, but Tobirama is far from the only person to have brought an umbrella to shelter under and there are some large canvases tied with ropes pitched over the stage and parts of the square like flying tents, which provide additional shade to those who arrive in time to secure seating under them.
The process of sitting and settling in before the show starts is punctuated by more greetings and well-wishes and kisses, along with quite a few swaps. The reason behind the bounty of taiyaki becomes clear as Izuna exchanges over half of them for snacks they do not have, resulting in a far more varied haul for them to eat as the chattering settles down and Naka Two-Swords swaggers up onto the stage to announce the play.
'The Curse of the Black Pearl' turns out to be a love story entangled with a horror story, featuring a daring and somewhat genre-savvy heroine, a handsome, determined but significantly less brilliant hero, a reluctantly helpful pirate on nobody's side except his own –who also seems to have all the best lines– and a large background cast of naval officers, sailors, pirates and piratical cursed zombies. Fun for all the family, indeed; the illusions employed by the actors are gloriously macabre and the plot is a delight with its constant double-crossing between factions and the spontaneous appearance of key bits of information at natural pauses in the action.
It's also shockingly funny. Tobirama suspects the play would not have carried on so far into the afternoon if the cast hadn't had to keep stopping for the laughter to die down again, but then again they seemed to gleefully play to their audience and make a point of provoking as much laughter as possible. It isn't like anybody was on a schedule, and the short breaks between acts are well-timed and not too long.
It ends with the escape of the reluctantly helpful pirate and the engagement of the heroic couple, and then the cast lead everybody in a rousing chorus of the song that threaded its way through the entire play:
"Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!"
A truly startling number of people have apparently memorised it from the various snippets sung on stage up until this point, mostly in the background; Tobirama barely remembers a quarter of the lines, but even the pre-teens are cheerfully singing about being, "rascals and scoundrels and villains and knaves!" as they clap along.
Quite a lot of those words are authentic Water Country mid-caste sailing dialect, as indeed was much of the dialogue in the play; Tobirama recognised quite a bit of it from his time in Uzushio, but most of the insults are new to him and he's not entirely sure what some of them even mean. Not, of course, that ignorance is going to discourage anybody here from using those words…
"What would you like to see next, Treasure?" Izuna asks, leaning into him as they join the general exodus and accept fresh cold ama-cha poured their cups by a clanswomen managing a kettle large enough to fit a toddler into and serving people from several large jugs of chilled tea. There were children with jugs of tea moving through the audience throughout the performance, keeping everybody hydrated, but Tobirama feels he could do with a little more to stave off a potential headache.
"How about you show me the sights?" Tobirama asks, leaning in for a quick kiss before taking another sip of his tea. "You know what's going on here after all, not me."
His wife chuckles as they continue along the path, half carried along by the crowds. "Well, what would you like to see? Musicians? Dancing? Singing? The weaving contests? Or would you like to see if we can find a reasonably discreet corner to make our own fun in?"
Tobirama lowers his voice slightly, but keeps his tone idly conversational. "Do you know where my esteemed father-in-law might be?"
"Yes," Izuna replies after a pause, "I do know. Is this in the interests of avoiding him, Treasure?" Her tone makes it clear she doesn't think that's it at all.
"I was thinking," Tobirama continues, still light and mild, "that I owe him a bad turn for sending you off on missions at no notice on your prayer days. Twice."
"What did you have in mind, Treasure?" His wife does not seem particularly opposed to the idea, which says more than enough about her relationship with her father.
Tobirama had initially considered bringing forward the 'have sex in Tajima's hearing' plan, but on second thought that's best kept for when the man can't just casually wander out of earshot. "What's he doing exactly?"
"Chatting," Izuna says, shrugging one shoulder. "Possibly playing board games with his friends; it's the one day of the year when there really is no work whatsoever, so he'll be socialising. Might take some time with his great-nieces and great-nephews too; he's actually very doting when the child in question isn't yet old enough to start asking awkward questions."
"Hm." That limits the options in some ways, but also opens up new possibilities. "Do you know where Shirushi-san is?"
"I do." A little more caution in her tone this time, but that's perfectly fair; Shirushi-san has been nothing but kind to him, and does genuinely care for Kiso despite not having the time to raise him full-time in her home.
"Do you think she'd object to my babysitting Kei-chan for some of the afternoon?" If Tajima is genuinely fond of little children in small doses, then being the person holding the cute great-niece will force the man to recognise him as a person and not just as a bargaining piece.
Tobirama rather doubts they will ever be on friendly speaking terms, but having Tajima recognise him as more than just a faceless obstacle will give him the space to advocate for further freedoms. Such as potentially walking to the nearest town or visiting his kin someday after peace has been achieved; as Outguard Head, his esteemed father-in-law has the power to veto –or permit– such things.
"I do not think she will object for even a single second, Treasure," Izuna says with a grin. "Let's go get the baby so you can make my father uncomfortable by doting on Kei-chan in his peripheral vision."
"It'll be a nice break before dinner and those various evening activities you've promised me."
"Yes, a rest in the shade now will mean we're still fresh after Kiso's been put to bed," Izuna agrees, faintly teasing. "I seem to remember being promised more kisses, after all."
"There will be many more kisses before tomorrow's sunrise, I promise," Tobirama assures her, leaning in to nuzzle her ear. "So many kisses."
"I will hold you to that, Treasure."
Tajima is sitting in an ume orchard with a lot of other presumably-middle-aged Uchiha with warrior-trained chakra, who are playing various strategy games and idly making conversation. There are also a number of young children scattered around outside the orchard, some watching the games over the fence as others play independently in the grass, all very clearly left here on the basis that they are nominally supervised.
His arrival was by no means discreet –several warriors were already looking in his direction when Izuna led the way into the orchard– but by the time his wife has produced a blanket for them to sit on, the bag of baby supplies and Tobirama's oak-leaf print umbrella from her sleeve seals and then joined one of the card games on the far side of the little field, everybody's chakra seems to have settled properly.
He is still being watched, but it feels casual and intermittent. Tobirama ignores the feeling of wary eyes and cuddles the five-month-old infant against his chest, rocking slightly and humming a tune to encourage Kei-chan to make the transition from sleepy to sleeping. The casual exchange of kisses with her fellow players before Izuna is dealt in rather confirms that the Uchiha really do see it as completely normal and not worth commenting on –at Tanabata at least– so Tobirama lets his own attention wander a little as the baby in his arms gradually settles.
Tajima is a little way away, not the closest but also not the most distant, playing Go with a tall Uchiha with greying hair and a warrior's poise, chatting idly over the goban as they take it in turns to place stones. That one is vaguely familiar, but Tobirama will have to wait until later for that particular introduction. Instead he continues cooing over Kei as his eyes drift across the wider orchard, keeping his chakra soft and diffuse as he tries to match confusingly similar faces to no less confusingly similar chakra signatures.
At least favourite hairstyles seem to be reasonably consistent both in and out of armour and tattoos do not change.
Two of the men he recognises from the day Izuna went to confront the Senju over the assassination attempt; The Inari Head and the Kōjin Head, Uchiha Miune and Uchiha Iwasaku respectively. They are not sitting together; Miune is one of Izuna's opponents at cards, while Iwasaku is playing –and losing at– Go against a solidly-built woman in a subdued and matronly yukata. Izuna's other fellow card-players are a man with a surprisingly strong sailor's accent and a woman –he assumes, given the decorative hairpins and small tattoos under her eyes– whose chakra is vaguely familiar.
Also in the orchard are: an older man sitting with his leg at an angle that suggests a badly-healed injury, a teenage girl with a forehead tattoo, and a man and woman Tobirama can only tentatively identify as 'adult warriors'. Other than Kei-chan, the teenager is the youngest person present actually in the orchard; this is a surprisingly restful corner of the compound, despite the childish shrieking floating on the air and the snatches of music drifting over nearby buildings.
The teenager is ignoring him in that very pointed way that says she knows exactly where he is and is refusing to acknowledge his existence, while half the other adults are far more subtle but not significantly less wary; the other half are actually genuinely ignoring him, which suggests they know rather more about –or at least have significantly more faith in– Izuna's fuuinjutsu that the first half.
Tobirama could not hurt these people if he wanted to. Even with a sword in hand, he would not be able to strike at them.
Kei-chan finally drifts off to sleep; Tobirama settles her more comfortably in the crook of his left arm and fishes out the book Izuna added to the bag of baby supplies; he would like to watch the games, but given the tension it would probably be best to delay that a bit. Plus he has a feeling that being self-contained will bother his esteemed father-in-law rather more than 'spying' would.
The book is a new one, entirely new as he's never seen it before: it is titled Natural Mineral Pigments and Their Usage, a study, and the author's art-name indicates they are a native to Earth Country. Resting the book on his thigh, Tobirama opens the cover and settles in to read the introduction; yes, this really does promise to be fascinating.
"Tobirama-san, my grandfather would like to speak with you."
Tobirama glances up from his reading upon realising somebody has approached him, the words registering only afterwards. The teenager is standing near enough for her words to be conversational, but carefully out of arms' reach. Her tattoo is a small, neat thing, a stylised flame above her right eye that subtly encourages an observer to focus there rather than on her centre of mass, driving an attacker onto the point of her sword. Subtle and clever; to refocus on her chin –as is considered wisest when facing an Uchiha– an attacker's gaze will pass over her eye, ensnaring them in her sharingan.
This teenage warrior of course does not have her sharingan active at present, but she is most certainly employing the clan's defensive battlemask of aggressive blandness.
Tobirama sets a slip of paper into the book, slides it into the baby bag and gets to his feet, taking care not to jostle Kei too much. "And who might you be, Uchiha-san?" He is very sure this person is not somebody he should politely address as 'sama,' not when he has met all the Lineage Heads already and she is not old enough to be any of their wives.
The teenager bows minimally. "Sakurajima of the Uchiha clan, Tobirama of Amaterasu. My honoured grandfather is Asane of the Uchiha."
Properly and formally this warrior should be calling him 'Tobirama-sama' then; Tobirama decides to ignore the insult. Correcting huffy teenagers is not the act of somebody secure in their position and authority. "Please introduce me then, Sakurajima-kun." He will follow Izuna's example and address young warriors as 'kun' regardless of gender.
The teenager bristles warily, but retreats back to the game table where the older man with the stiff leg was previously playing against the man Tobirama does not know the name of or even vaguely recognise. That man has moved around now and is loitering under a nearby tree while eating yōkan, still chatting to the older man. The conversation pauses as Sakurajima leads Tobirama over:
"Ojiisan, Tobirama of Amaterasu. Tobirama-sama, Asane of the Uchiha clan."
So she does use the appropriate address when she knows her grandfather can hear her. Tobirama bows politely, mindful of the infant cradled against his heart:
The seated man waves a hand at him. "No, no; none of that, Tobirama-sama, I'm just a tatami maker. Please, sit and play a round of Go with me." The affable tone does nothing to hide the hawk-sharpness of his chakra; this is not a friendly invitation.
But it is nonetheless an invitation.
Tobirama sits on the mat on the near side of the goban, with his prospective opponent on a low stool opposite him, and eyes the two bowls of stones set on the table between them. Should he choose black and take the initiative, or white and play defensively?
Whichever one he chooses his opponent has the advantage of age and experience, as well as the less tangible advantage of being Uchiha and therefore more skilled in reading patterns and likely outcomes. He has learned during his imprisonment that not all of that depends on the sharingan; much of it is inherent, laying a foundation for the bloodline gift to build upon. Tobirama may have consistently matched Izuna in the field until his capture, but that was on chakra reserves, brute strength, stamina and excellent reflexes; her strengths have always been speed, agility, greater awareness of the wider field and a knack for near-lethal surprises.
Her capturing him was proof of greater tactical skill and awareness, which have held true throughout his imprisonment in both her influence over her clansmen and her clashes with her father. He has never thought to suggest his wife play Go with him; perhaps he should ask.
Later. Currently he has a game to play against Asane-san; he takes the bowl of black stones, seeing as his only possible advantage here is initiative and he is unlikely to hold onto that for very long. Yes, he has read the journal of a Go-loving ancestor from the Senju archives multiple times and remembers all the various strategies shown, but he is aware there are more ju and styles of play than the ones Senju Buttōma considered enjoyable enough to describe in detail.
But there is rather more at stake here than the outcome of a round of Go; he doesn't yet know why Asane-san chose to invite him to play in the first place. He will have to keep his wits about him while also doing his best to play well.
Izuna has listened to him, conversed with him, piqued him and repeatedly proven that she does genuinely want the best for him, but since his capture she has not truly challenged him intellectually. Morally yes, repeatedly; challenged his assumptions and also his emotional control, and they have played a range of paper games during the rainy season. But this kind of intellectual strategic challenge is something she has thus far refrained from, probably entirely on purpose.
Time to find out where he stands, then.
"Do you have longer-term plans, Tobirama-san?"
Tobirama frowns at the game unfolding between them, aware that he is doing rather poorly but struggling to recover ground. "I am putting off long-term planning until the outcome of the prospective peace-talks has been determined, Asane-san; what will be within my means will change considerably depending on whether Tajima-sama and Tokonoma-ji are able to find an agreeable middle ground between them."
"True," Asane concedes, tone and chakra still smoothly amiable, "but surely there are things you intend to do regardless?"
"Obviously," Tobirama agrees, setting down his Go stone; it strengthens his position, if not by much. "But if peace proves too challenging to arrange, then my wife will likely be returning to the field as soon as she is able, in which case I will be required to take on a larger portion of the childcare." He has no illusions that Izuna will stay retired if peace is not achieved; she will head out into the field the moment she is physically capable of it, all the better to secure victory for the Uchiha so that her children never have to lose innocence and siblings to the feud.
It is what he was trying to achieve for the Senju, before his abduction.
"You would not prefer her to do otherwise?"
"I like children," Tobirama says flatly as Asane places his own Go stone, changing the board once more, "and I have no illusions as to my wife's goals; she will have peace for our children, and if my kin refuse to collaborate, well that is their choice and the consequences of such intransigence are their responsibility. We have both done all within our respective power to bring both parties to the bargaining table, but neither one of us has the authority to negotiate; we must trust that those with that power will act in good faith on our respective kin's behalf, to bring about a solution that will prevent further deaths."
There are many places where he could place his next stone, but he can see traps waiting all over the board, ready to close their jaws over him should he take that step. Yes, he could capture a few stones, but doing so would lead him to lose more. He could pass, but that would simply provide Asane with further opportunities to press his advantage.
Better to take a small victory than to stand by as defeat overwhelms him; Tobirama places another stone and picks up the three captured ones to set aside. Asane-san placing his own stone and picking up five of Tobirama's was entirely expected, but better than giving up on that section of the board and losing it entirely.
"So what kinds of things are you intending to do regardless?" Asane both sounds and feels genuinely interested, so Tobirama answers as he tries to puzzle out what move he should make next:
"More mushroom-hunting, hopefully, and more discussions of fuuinjutsu theory. My wife's background there is very different to what I'm used to, so it's very interesting trying to reconcile the approaches and working out how such different methods can produce a comparable result." Although Tobirama is starting to suspect that the method itself is actually less important than its coherence.
Mito will be appalled. He's rather looking forward to telling her. Hopefully in person, so he can see and hear her outraged reaction for himself.
"I am all in favour of more mushroom-hunting, Treasure," Izuna says, settling on the mat next to him and resting her head on his left shoulder so she can peer down at Kei-chan. "Your soup is divine and so were the mushroom gyōza. The oyaki were also amazing, experimental or not."
"You're craving mushrooms with a fervour to put the most truffle-mad wild boar to shame," Tobirama says dryly, placing his stone on the board and sighing as Asane instantly places his own stone somewhere completely different. He will have to contemplate the board again and see what he has missed.
"It's hardly my fault that all my unborn wants to eat is mushrooms, mushrooms and more mushrooms," his wife says agreeably. "If it was pickles, well that would be different."
"Why would it be different, Lord-Wife?"
"Because," Tajima says from further to Tobirama's left, making him almost drop the Go stone he's holding, "when Hitomi-san was expecting Izuna-kun, she ate umeboshi and beni shōga with everything."
"I remember that," Asane says with a chuckle; "Akagi-san was worried she'd dig so deep into the clan stores they'd have to set aside extra ume for pickling come summer, meaning there'd be less umeshū the following year."
"Not even born and already monopolising the umeshū," Tobirama teases, prompting a wave of cheerful laughter and taking the retaliatory poke to his ribs with good grace. "My mother told me I made her crave pork buns," he says as a peace offering; "dragged a few of my uncles and aunts out on a boar hunt while three months pregnant, much to my grandmother's dismay." His mother and grandmother notably never mentioned what his father had thought of this particular escapade; Tobirama suspects it happened while Otousama was on a mission, and his other relatives conspired to ensure he never found out.
"Oh my, what a terror," Asame says warmly, shaking his head as Tobirama finally sets down his stone. The older man then sets down his own stone and picks up six –six!– of Tobirama's, making him groan as the pattern he had missed forming becomes inescapably clear.
Izuna shifts, sitting more upright so as to pay attention to the goban, and Tobirama feels her chakra twinge in amused dismay. "Tell me, don't spare my ego," he requests dryly, one hand half-covering his face as he screams internally at the inevitable defeat staring up from the board.
"Asane-ji is very good at Go," Izuna says conciliatorily, "but Treasure… for all your tactical acumen, you are not particularly practiced in strategy."
Tobirama sighs grumpily. "I did ask," he reminds himself. His wife kisses him on the cheek.
"In your defence, Treasure: Senju Butsuma never demonstrated any particular grasp of long-term strategic planning either, that I noticed."
So this is something that is taught within the Uchiha clan and that his education has lacked entirely, leaving him to grasp for it by instinct and implication. "How do the Uchiha define strategy then, as different to tactics?" He has always heard them spoken of in the same breath, the difference mainly a matter of scale.
"I will begin a step removed, if you don't mind," Izuna says as he straightens, picks up another Go stone and tries determinedly to see if there is anything left for him to salvage.
"Go ahead, Lord-Wife."
"First there are your goals; goals come first. What is it you wish to achieve? Regardless of your current situation, regardless of your enemy, what is your desired outcome? Articulating that is the first step to victory, as having a clear goal enables you to ensure all strategic decisions are made in the pursuit of that goal," Izuna begins, resting her chin back on his shoulder and wrapping her right arm around his waist. "Strategy is the overall plan for achieving the desired goal through all available means, martial or not; tactics are specifically the actions taken to achieve the strategy, enacted in the short-term to fulfil clearly-defined intermediate steps. For instance: my goal is peace. My opening strategy was your decisive removal from the field, as that would place your clan at a major long-term disadvantage and hopefully lead them to desire a corresponding reduction in hostilities. My tactics however involved a decent amount of fuuinjutsu research and experimentation, then communicating with my squad and my cousin once the fuuinjutsu was complete, so as to ensure my abduction of you would not critically disrupt the wider battlefield while also granting me leverage to use against you and the time to pressure you into complying without interruption."
That all makes sense, but looking back Tobirama can see that he has never actually looked beyond the generic strategies of 'improve my own strength' and 'increase the clan's efficiency,' both of which served his father's higher goal of… Tobirama has no idea, honestly. Wipe out the Uchiha? Survive another year? He's never really thought about it, being too intent on the next mission, the next task, the next problem preventing him from achieving a desired tactical outcome.
Anija had goals –peace– but lacked strategy entirely, so was trying to achieve peace on a tactical level without ever defining a clear overall path. Step one of Hashi's peace plan in fact appeared to be 'get the Uchiha clan on board' which… even Tobirama can see that's not a starting point. That's actually a goal in itself, or at least an intermediate strategic step. Something to work towards rather than a jumping-off point.
He, Tobirama, did not actually have a clearly-defined goal in this game of Go. He did not set out to deliberately hold certain areas of the grid, nor did he have specific ju in mind for doing so. He was simply trying to counter his opponent's apparent efforts, and in doing so allowed himself to be led around by the nose for the first part of the game, leaving him in a very weak position that he is now attempting to defend.
"The Senju Clan don't play much Go, I take it?" Asane asks mildly as Tobirama tries to find a place to put his stone that will not lead him to lose ground even as he advances.
"I play more than most," Tobirama protests, then realises revealing even that much while Tajima is listening is definitely unwise. "Among my peers at least," he amends; "however I've not read as much about the game as I would like to, as books on the subject would have been a frivolous expense." As opposed to the books on geology, botany, water management and erosion, which have advanced his understanding of his Element –and therefore improved his jutsu usage– as well as granting him greater facility in the field in other ways.
"I can lend you a few classic texts, Tobirama-san," Asane says with a twitch of his lips, "so long as you promise to grant me more games in future. Your style is very refreshing."
"If Asane-san wishes to amuse himself repeatedly crushing a lowly beginner then I am delighted to entertain him," Tobirama snaps sarcastically, most of his mind on the utter disaster of the game before him, then twitches as his opponent bursts out laughing.
"I did not know what to think when Izuna-kun brought you into the clan, Tobirama-san," Asane says frankly once he has recovered his composure, idly rubbing his bad leg, "but I think that now I see a little of her intentions. As a Go player you have promise; please do not give up on yourself."
"Well, it will give me something to do that is not dependent on the outcome of the peace proceedings," Tobirama concedes warily, not entirely sure how to take such a suggestion. "However I am passing on my turn, as I do not see a way to not make my predicament worse for myself."
"Then we shall end the game here, Tobirama-san," Asane says generously before smirking across the board in a way that is entirely wicked. "A Tanabata kiss for an old man, Tobirama-san, Izuna-kun?"
Izuna laughs, gets up and leans over the goban to peck the man on the cheek; Tobirama stiffly does likewise, then shifts Kei in his arms so the elder can press a gentle kiss to the infant's forehead.
"I will send the books your way tomorrow, Tobirama-san; I look forward to our next game."
"I am sure it will be interesting," Tobirama deflects; Asane has given him much to think about. As has his wife; he has never heard of tactics and strategy discussed in this manner before, and wants to take a little time to mull over the difference.
Possibly borrow a few books on the subject as well, if she will lend them to him.
After escaping the plum orchard –with the baby, despite Tajima's subtle attempts to take Kei-chan off their hands– Izuna leads him around a range of minor musical performances and theatrical skits aimed at children, then to some better-hidden indoor performances for older audiences. They find Shirushi-san at one of these and hand off the increasingly fractious infant; Kei-chan is hungry. Hungry but quiet; Tobirama finds the silent, miserable shivering intensely worrying, considering how loud she had become upon soiling herself an hour previously.
It's definitely his fault she's like that. At least she is being fed now.
As the sun slides into late afternoon they find more food and end up watching a fire-shaping competition in a shady north-facing courtyard between taller buildings, fluttering birds and delicate butterflies in many shades of red and gold winging their way through the air as the contestants try to outdo each-other in skill and subtlety. All these people are from the Trading Branch –now he is more practiced in distinguishing between Uchiha he can read the slight difference in their presence and chakra afforded by the lack of dedicated offensive training– and their efforts are as delightfully artful as they are lacking in military value.
But they don't care about that. The Uchiha do not train their Element purely for combat; they train it because to be Uchiha is to wield fire, on the field or off it. Every Uchiha then chooses for themselves what they will do with it, and all pursuits are welcomed equally.
He cannot manipulate water, not with the trickle of chakra Izuna has afforded him that will not stray beyond his skin, but if he could, would he be able to do this? Would he be able to shape frivolous beauty with nothing but chakra and his will? Or has his focus on strength wielded with precision denied him the option of such delicate loveliness? Some of those here are working with truly negligible chakra pools, and their work is all the more detailed for it.
Nobody here expresses the slightest desire to kiss him or be kissed, which is honestly a relief. They all kiss Izuna, of course; her they want to see again next year.
Kiso finds them after the third competition when there's a break for a proper dinner, climbing into Tobirama's lap and hiding his face against Tobirama's shoulder.
He strokes the toddler's unruly hair and mouths thanks to the teenager of indeterminate gender loitering by the entrance to the courtyard to check that Kiso has reached the right people; the fist-tap to the chest by said teenager is not the recognition he was expecting, but they're gone again before he can catch their eye to question it.
He turns his attention to the boy on his lap instead. "Tired, Kiso-kit?"
"Think you can eat something before sleeping? I don't want you to wake up hungry later."
"Hn." Tobirama takes that as a maybe; hopefully the people who went for food will return before Kiso drops off.
They do not; Kiso is very grumpy to be woken, even for meatballs and oyaki, but he does eat a meal's-worth of festival food before flopping back against Tobirama's chest and instantly sinking deeply back into sleep, complete with adorable baby snores.
"Did he actually wake up? Or was he sleep-eating?" The teenager who brought the food asks bemusedly, passing Izuna another tray of daifuku.
Tobirama hesitates; as proven by Izuna's sleep-talking, it is possible to extract a surprising degree of interaction from somebody who is only semi-conscious at best.
"I don't know," he admits, "but he ate, and that's the important part."
"We should take him home and tuck him up in bed," Izuna notes after swallowing her current mouthful of daifuku.
"I'm not keen on leaving him alone," Tobirama says, not sure what alternatives he has but unwilling to just leave the toddler alone.
"Tajima-sama might babysit," an older woman –Asuka, her name is Asuka and she is Izuna's aunt, Shige-chan's mother whom he has heard spoken of repeatedly before today– comments. "He likes little children; it's when they get into the 'why' phase that he loses his patience for them."
Despite Izuna have already said as much earlier, Tobirama cannot picture Tajima with a toddler at all. And yet, the man has presumably helped raise five children, three of them to adulthood and near-adulthood.
Asuka chuckles. "Oh, what a face Tobirama-san! Don't worry, I'll see to it; hand over my great-nephew, would you?"
Tobirama obediently hands Kiso over. "Thank you, Asuka-san."
"It's no trouble." She leans in and pecks his cheek. "Now you keep Izuna-kun entertained until dawn, won't you?" Her wink is wicked.
"I'll do my best," Tobirama promises dryly, letting his gaze slide over to Izuna, who is now arguing with a person clutching a bottle of shōchū; evidently they do not want to heat-treat it so that his wife can drink the lot and not feel left out as the party gets rowdier.
Asuka follows his gaze and sniggers. "Go rescue our kin from Izuna-kun, won't you Tobirama-san?"
Getting to his feet, Tobirama wanders across to where Izuna is arguing dramatically, hands waving. "Lord-Wife."
"Shikii-kun! Tomoe-san won't share the shōchū with me," she whines, slumping against his chest and wrapping her arms around his neck. "It's not fair, I was going to burn the alcohol off first!"
Tobirama kisses her hair. "Of course you were," he agrees mildly, "but now Kiso-kun's asleep I believe I promised you more kisses."
His wife's chakra bubbles in anticipation as she peeks up at him. "So you did; shall we go for a walk then?"
"I'd enjoy it," Tobirama agrees, voice dark and rich. "Show me around a little more, my heart?" He's sure Izuna will know just the place for him to make good on this morning's promises.
He wants to cover her in kisses, all of her skin under that floral yukata from the scars on the nape of her neck down over the subtly pregnant curve of her belly to her muscled calves, and all the places in between.
His wife smiles at him, eyes dark and welcoming. "As you wish."
By the time Tobirama has kissed his wife to both their satisfaction –and given her all the other things she breathlessly pleaded for as she trembled in his arms– the sun is getting very low in the sky and the music drifting on the air has changed. These are dancing tunes; not the bright, lively and lyrical tunes of the dances with set steps that he has seen in passing earlier in the day, but heart-quick beats that hark back to the kitsune wedding party. He's not sure he wants to know if thse ones have lyrics, or what those lyrics might be.
"Fire dancing?" He asks, straightening his wife's collar and retying her obi as she does the same for him.
"Mn-hn," she agrees languidly, smoothing the crumpled cotton of his yukata into something vaguely decent. "Want to go find a rooftop we can watch from?"
"View's best from off the ground; can see the patterns properly."
"Lead on then, my heart," Tobirama says, taking her hand in his. His wife leans in for another kiss, sweet and slow, then turns and leads him out of the alleyway they've monopolised for the past hour or so.
It wasn't the first alleyway they'd found, or even the seventh; Izuna had been right that there are a great many couples taking a moment together outdoors at Tanabata. Some of the younger ones had not even cared that there were other couples further down the same little passageway doing likewise.
Tobirama is not quite that shameless; they'd found somewhere halfway-private eventually.
There is still food being served, even at this late hour, but it is all very clearly sakana and the drinks on offer are mostly alcoholic. Izuna heat-treats and then cools a dish of shōchū for herself, which she drinks with gleeful relish, but then switches back to cool ama-cha. Tobirama avoids the alcohol entirely; he's not entirely sure he'd be able to burn it off and this is not the time to be experimenting. He does however join his wife in washing hands at a pump and then snacking on a bit of everything on offer on their way to finding a suitable roof.
Said roof is, of course, somebody's house; Tobirama's just grateful he can use his trickle of chakra to make the jumps and muffle his landings so as not to knock any tiles loose on his way up. There are already a handful of people making themselves at home on the roof-ridge with drinks and more food, but they all greet Izuna with cheerful waves and quick kisses, not remotely concerned by his presence, which is nice.
The view is, as promised, excellent: there's a large open square in front of this residence and it is packed with Uchiha, dancing together in complex patterns to thundering drum-beats, sharingan flashing and breathing fire in bursts and sequences that have to be tightly coordinated.
From ground level this would look like mad chaos, but from up here he can see the cohesion and synchrony, easily sixty warriors all using their bloodline to predict each-others' actions and using that awareness to either evade or join in each pattern, making the changes ripple out across the mass of dancers and reflect back again, some contained, others consuming the entire group.
It is beautiful. It would be impossible without the sharingan allowing each participant to track the intentions of their surrounding kin. Tobirama watches the ever-shifting patterns playing out beneath him with utter fascination, letting the music dictate his heartbeat.
The music finally changes and the mass of dancers instantly form up in smaller groups then start throwing each-other. Again, Tobirama can see a pattern in who is thrown and in what direction and how the crowd shifts to allow those airborne to either be caught safely or make their own landings; something he'd not been able to see from ground level at the wedding party. Flashing sharingan make it clear none of this is planned; every shift is spontaneous, but the concatenation of predictions and awareness of trajectories means that all involved are able to move easily with the changes, never caught unawares.
"Will you be joining in, Izuna?" He asks eventually, pitching his voice beneath the roar of cheering and whooping and the accompanying music rising from beneath them.
"Maybe later," his wife concedes, slumped against him and nibbling on yet another daifuku. "Right now I'm enjoying getting to watch the show rather than being the show."
"Fair." He wraps his left arm around her waist and leans a little in return, so that they are propping each-other up. "Are you planning on staying up until dawn?"
"I considered it," Izuna concedes, "but I'm more tired that usually am at this hour, so I think I will be turning in a bit after sunset. Pregnancy's not without its downsides, it seems."
"It's extra work," Tobirama agrees, "which is something to take into account." If she'd been comfortable staying up he would not have tried to dissuade her –after all she knows herself best– but admitting she's tiring gives him an opening he's perfectly willing to exploit.
"So it is," his wife agrees coyly, finishing her daifuku, "and it's not as though I have been resting all that much of late, what with yesterday's mission and today's various indulgences."
"I am always delighted to indulge my wife," Tobirama teases, leaning in for another kiss. "And myself," he adds as Izuna drags him back down for more.
"Don't fall off the roof!"
Tobirama makes an obscene gesture in the general direction of the mocking warning without letting up in the kissing, which prompts a chorus of cheerful hooting and laughter from their probably-adult audience.
"If we tumble off the roof it's going to be on purpose," Izuna says teasingly, pulling back to take a breath; "there's some nicely concealing shrubbery down there in the garden."
"My Lord-Wife is insatiable," Tobirama teases back, resting his forehead against hers and lifting her hand to his lips so he can kiss the last smears of rice flour from the daifuku off her fingertips.
"Well you see, my concubine is so provocative, so brilliant, so willing and their attentions are so exquisitely pleasurable that I really can't resist," Izuna murmurs, her breath hot against his ear and neck. "I yearn for their touch; my flesh is tingling in anticipation."
"Tease," Tobirama accuses, feeling hot for reasons that have nothing to do with it being a sticky summer evening not long after the solstice.
"Is it teasing when there's honestly nothing I'd like better than to be carried home and lay down on the grass in the garden together, relishing the cool and the scent of the evening as we take our time over each-other's bodies?" His wife asks, her whisper light and idle in blatant contrast to the deep, steady heat of her chakra.
Tobirama shudders; yes, he's not made a secret of his desire to pleasure his wife outside in the garden, but during the day it's not exactly private given passers-by and Kiso being around. Now though, in the twilight as the sun sinks over the horizon and the air is finally cooling enough to be refreshing–
"Don't you want to lay me out naked on the grass?"
Tobirama leans in and very pointedly nips her throat, holding the contact and making her gasp and squirm under his teeth.
"Tease," he reiterates, pulling back to make heated eye-contact.
His wife's face is unrepentant as she fans herself with one hand. "Oh but Treasure, I'm feeling a little tired," she says, eyes bright and dark. "Won't you carry me home?"
There is a gleeful chorus of "ooooh!" from their small audience; somebody is munching loudly on senbei while spectating.
"I am ever at your service, Lord-Wife," Tobirama says flatly, then leans forwards to gather his confounding wife into his arms before getting to his feet, reinforcing himself slightly with chakra and walking over to the side of the roof away from the dancing before jumping directly down to the ground.
"And," he adds darkly as he walks swiftly around the bulk of the festivities towards the Amaterasu Residence, "I am absolutely going to lay you out naked on the grass, so long as you do something to make sure we don't both get eaten alive by the mosquitoes." Insect bites are not remotely enjoyable. He has no doubt he has already been slightly nibbled on, what with being outdoors all day, but that does not mean he is prepared to provide a feast for the mosquitoes as well as for his wife.
Izuna giggles. "Very doable, I promise," she assures him.
"Then I shall thoroughly enjoy taking my time over your naked body in full sight of the garden path and the front of the house." The garden is not clearly visible from the road, but they will very certainly be easily heard. Should anybody happen to pass by, given the late hour and that the festival is focused elsewhere.
"So commanding, so authoritative," his wife teases, shifting in his arms and nibbling on his ear.
"My Lord-Wife is granting me the opportunity to conquer her," Tobirama rumbles as he bounds easily over the fence surrounding the Amaterasu Residence. "Who am I to deny myself such a victory?"
"You are glorious in your triumph, beloved," Izuna laughs as he strips her out of her clothing, then tosses his own garments aside as well, "but you've got to catch me first!"
She doesn't run particularly fast, but it's increasingly dark and neither of them are wearing anything so it takes Tobirama a little while to corner her well enough to pounce and tumble her over on the grass. "Oh no," she gasps in between giggles, "I'm going to be ravished."
"Oh yes," Tobirama retorts in between kisses, running his hands all over her warm, faintly scarred skin. "You are going to be ruthlessly ravished and I am thoroughly looking forward to carrying your limp, trembling body into my bed afterwards; there's no toddler to worry about tonight, after all."
"Shikii-kun wishes to wash me and lay me out on his sheets, all the better to pleasure himself within my sleeping body later," Izuna teases. "He wishes to coax me to peak so that I wake breathless and trembling with his sword fully sheathed within me, dreams blending into reali–" Her words break off as Tobirama silences her with another vigorous kiss, hands roaming to caress more intimately sensitive places.
"Now it's my turn to tease," He informs her smugly as she gasps for breath, "but first the mosquitoes, Izuna." Yes, he can drop his skin temperature with chakra to the point the mosquitoes ignore him, but if he does that Izuna will doubtless complain about cold hands ruining the mood.
"Oh yes, the mosquitoes." His wife flops onto her back, absently biting her lip, then presses her hands together before drawing them apart again; the shiver of chakra goes right through him and all the way to the boundary fence. "There; it'll give out at dawn but until then all bloodsucking insects are everybody else's problem."
"Excellent." His concerns addressed, Tobirama sets about keeping his promises. All of his promises.
Tobirama wakes late on the morning after Tanabata as Izuna lurches off the futon, her chakra swirling queasily, and dashes out to the toilet to throw up bile. Tobirama follows her, holding her hair out of her face as she retches miserably for several excruciatingly long minutes, then passes her the cup of warm water Naka-Dragon worriedly gives him.
"I think," Izuna says weakly, face greyish and clammy as she sips the water and swills her mouth out, "that I will avoid fried foods in future." Her chakra is still roiling unsteadily; Tobirama suspects she might have gut ache on top of feeling queasy, but all of yesterday's unhealthy foods are firmly in her small intestine so cannot be thrown up. She will have to suffer through this and wait for her innards to settle. Or not.
"Is there anything specific you'd like to eat?" Tobirama asks, conscious of Naka-Dragon hovering within earshot in the kitchen.
"Just okayu, please; no egg." Tobirama glances back at Naka-Dragon, who nods firmly and immediately sets about preparing rice porridge in addition to the usual breakfast foods, setting up a steamer for the fish and putting away the frying pan.
"Shall we take a bath while Naka-Dragon cooks?" Tobirama suggests. He knows that vomiting makes him feel disgusting and also slightly chilled, so hot water is always an improvement.
"Yes, that sounds good," Izuna agrees, drinking the last of the warm water. "Hn, Naka-Dragon? Could you poach Tobirama-san's fish today, rather than frying it?"
"Of course Izuna-sama, it's no trouble." She's already setting it up, not that Izuna can see that. Tobirama should have realised Izuna will be sensitive to frying smells for a while yet; not that it matters when poached fish is no less delicious than fried.
"Would you like me to help with your hair?" He asks. He's watched his wife wash her hair enough times now to know what she uses and what she likes.
"That would be wonderful, Treasure."
Tobirama presses a quick kiss to the back of her neck. "Then it will be my pleasure to assist you in this, my heart."
After eating her mildly seasoned rice porridge Izuna changes from her bathing yukata into a fine wool kimono dyed deep red, its only decoration some heavy geometric cream, purple, black and gold embroidery around the shoulders and collar, along the relatively narrow cuffs and also the lower hem, which is shorter than average and shows her ankles clearly. Tobirama's never seen a garment like it; they certainly don't make or sell anything like that in Fire.
It looks pleasantly light, but also a bit more substantial than the gauzy silks and fine linens she's been wearing lately; suitable for a day when she is feeling a little unwell. Because despite the hot bath and the slow consumption of her okayu, Izuna still looks a bit under the weather.
"Still feeling uncomfortable?"
"I should not," his wife says pensively, "have eaten all those fried things."
Evidently not, but there's nothing to be done about that now.
"I am just going to sit indoors with a blanket and not move," his wife decides. "You can do whatever pleases you best, Treasure; my Lord-Father probably won't bring Kiso-kun back unless he decides to make a big fuss, so we are unlikely to see him until after he gets back from Midori-chan babysitting him this afternoon."
"I will continue reading my new book then," Tobirama decides.
"Would my treasure also like the rest of his gift?" Izuna inquires, eyes managing to sparkle slightly despite her poor colour. His wife really does like gift-giving for its own sake; Tobirama plays along, widening his eyes pleadingly and adopting an eager posture that makes her chakra ripple in amusement.
"I will happily accept whatever it pleases my Lord-Wife to give me."
Izuna produces a plain wooden box from her sleeve-seals with a flourish; he really has to work out where that seal is. He's checked her clothing repeatedly –and really putting it in all her kimono would be a waste– but he's also checked her skin and really has no idea where it could be. Yes, a massive work can be compressed down to a few lines, but he's seen none of those except on her face, and how can a necklace provide a pocket anyway? "Behold, a gift!" she says brightly, setting it down in front of him. Tobirama picks it up; the stamp on the top and the kanji on the side announce to the world the pottery this gift has come from: a fairly well-known one not far from the border with Hot Water, one of about a dozen that all make similarly distinctive pieces from the local clay and have a common decorative style.
Opening the box reveals a set of six yunomi, tall everyday teacups glazed bluish green with a galloping horse painted on each in white with black detailing above neat little heart-shaped cut-outs that reveal the cups' layered structure.
It is a gift that is both generous and intensely thoughtful: Uchiha yunomi tend to be rather thin-sided, which for a clan of Fire-natured people is no trouble at all but has caused Tobirama a few issues. In that he has to be careful to put his cup down while it cools if he wants to avoid burning his fingers. These lovely layered cups will keep his hands from burning regardless of the temperature of the tea and are completely beautiful besides; six may seem like a lot, but that too is a promise of a future when he personally can entertain guests.
"These are very useful and very pleasing to look at," Tobirama says, turning the one in his hands this way and that so he can admire the slight crackling of the glaze. "Might I make tea?"
Izuna waves a hand that encompasses the swept iori, the neatly-stacked firewood and the sand bucket. "Go ahead, Treasure; want me to light it once you've done the setting?"
"That would be practical." Izuna can do with a flick of the fingers what would otherwise take him some time with flints and kindling; he can do a basic fire-starting jutsu despite his very strong Water affinity, but it requires both forming the handsigns and the ability to externally shape chakra, which he currently lacks.
In the compromise between good light and reasonable coolness, they end up sitting in Tobirama's living room: east- and south-facing and therefore bright, but with a large tsuitate screen blocking the open south-facing shōji and the east-facing ones also fully open to allow for a cross-breeze, the space is both bright and decently comfortable.
His two rooms have fusuma in a rather different style to the rest of the house, but the various tsuitate scattered around are different again, a range of sizes and styles that likely appealed to whoever originally commissioned them, which gives the Amaterasu Residence a surprisingly lived-in feel to it.
This particular screen has a large print very carefully pasted onto it showing a view of the famous lotus-ponds of Rain Country's capital, countless pinkish-white flowers emerging from between the carpet of round leaves over the water's surface. The pond takes up the entire lower half of the tsuitate, angled perspective making it seem as though they are sitting at the water's edge or on a boat, with elegant bridges in the background connecting artificial islets forested in aesthetically sculpted trees, swathes of white morning mist providing a clear backdrop to the greenery and above it a morning sky dappled with rosy clouds.
It is very restful to look at, all cool shades in contrast to the rather warmer-toned décor of the fusuma panels.
His living room faces east and south, so it gets the morning light and brightest sunshine until noon, after which the shadow of the genkan falls across the engawa. This makes the room unexpectedly comfortable –with a little chakra– even now it is the height of summer, where in contrast Izuna's study takes the brunt of the afternoon sunshine.
His rooms may well be less comfortable in winter, and Izuna's more so. But that is simply how it is and cannot be helped.
The paintings on the fusuma and the wall panels separating the fusuma from the shōji leading into the entrance hall have a spring and autumnal theme; cool for the height of summer, but also warming for the depths of winter. There is a maple tree, low branches covered in ruddy leaves entangled with flowering bush clover and white chrysanthemums; there are pinks and bellflowers and fujibakama strewn with vibrantly yellow ginko leaves; and even a persimmon tree, laden with golden fruit on mostly bare branches with flowering kudzu wrapped artfully around them, yellow valerian and more chrysanthemums –red and orange this time– growing underneath along with another plant with tiny blue flowers, swaying pampas grass cleverly included here and there in the backgrounds. All seven autumn grasses along with chrysanthemums and seasonal trees, vibrantly inked with a background of gold leaf for contrast and brightness.
And those are just the autumnal panels over the fusuma and adjoining wall; the outer walls between the shōji are panelled with deep pink peonies and pale narcissi under trailing wisteria; primroses and dandelions beneath a glorious blooming star magnolia wrapped in honeysuckle thick with white and golden flowers; and a tachibana tree in full blossom wrapped in chocolate vine, evergreen leaves and pale flowers trailing down from on high with cheerful thistles in the background with a coy scattering of drifting cherry blossoms in the foreground, hinting at a tree that is not present at all but might be there, just out of sight behind the pillars holding up the roof or the gilding of the panels' background.
The wide transom panels above the fusuma and shōji are carved with flocks of cranes and flurries of plover over waves and between stylised clouds; auspicious and generic, with bold outlines that let the light in throughout the day and allow voices to carry well indoors despite the very solid fusuma. The ceiling above him is coffered, each recessed square panel painted with a bird in flight against a gilt background. The room's tokonoma is placed in the north-eastern corner, between the fusuma and the shōji leading to the eastern engawa; cunning, as while it is possible to sit without giving your back to any of the shōji, to do so means the fusuma are not in your line of sight.
The advantage remains with the host, regardless of the expectation to give an honoured guest the seat which has its back to the tokonoma. At present the tokonoma contains his fancy chicken calligraphy scroll, his gifted vase supporting a large pinkish clematis flower and a feathery frond of grass, and Obaasan's whalebone squid on the adjacent staggered shelving along with some of his books.
His other hanging scrolls and decorative things from his former home are neatly stored in the discreet adjacent jibukuro, the doors of which are also painted with flowers –golden safflowers and purple fritillaries– and gilded to match the rest of the room. Behind the realistically painted panels is a fitted rack for scrolls to be stored in, a set of variously shallow drawers with moveable internal partitions for keeping okimono of different sizes in and even a section for stands and mountings, so that a plate or a fan can be stood up to display its design to best effect and an ink painting can be lightly stitched onto silk for ease of hanging.
Currently the only furniture in this palatial room apart from the tsuitate blocking the southern shōji are the large floor cushions for his leopards –with the new whirlpool-print canvas covers in several shades of blue that were a discreet gift from his family– the low round table with a teapot and his new cups on it and the two zabuton he and Izuna are sitting on, the rest hidden away in the furodana above the shelves.
Even the koshi panels at the lower edge of the shōji –to keep the washi from getting wet or damaged– are gilded and painted with flowers on the inside: blue-purple gentians, bright white gardenias, flowering mint and five different orchids.
Tobirama has only once seen a room this fine before, and it was the grand drawing room of a Buddhist temple; the main reception room for honoured guests. And now this is the room he lives in. It still feels too extravagant for him to live in, but doubtless there are equally exquisite –and even more so–rooms elsewhere in the compound. Indeed, some of the Amaterasu Residence's other rooms could easily be considered 'more elegant,' in detailing and complexity of design at least.
Along with his bedroom, which is hardly less fine than his living room with a similarly floral theme and, seeing as its only shōji faces east, has a spring and summer theme. It is decorated with pools and flowing water filled with many types of irises, reeds, lotuses and other water-growing plants under hanging willow tangled with morning glory and trumpet vine, along with a 'meadow' section containing a broad range of spring and summer flowers beyond the usual symbolic and charismatic ones such as grace his living room. More orchids, for instance, as well as blue-hooded aconite, tall angelica, bright corydalis, frilly fennel, bamboo in various colours, golden pheasant's eye anemones, finely detailed wild parsley, tangling false anemone, toad lily, milkwort, a few different azaleas and various other ferns and grasses, clumped and scattered across the wall panels and fusuma in a refreshingly naturalistic fashion.
Rather amusingly, all the shade-loving plants are along the koshi panels of the shōji and the adjacent wall panels, facing into the room and therefore perpetually shaded.
The room itself is also longer than his living room –the full width of a tatami mat longer, as large as the iori room at the centre of the house– and has a wall with no openings in at all, mounted against which are shelves for the rest of his books, his tansu and his wash-basin and mirror, all partitioned off by a four-piece folding screen with an elegant design of cranes at one end and giant tortoises at the other. The main features of the rest of the space are the futons –currently airing over the edge of the engawa– Kiso's basket of toys and Tobirama's braiding stand.
Unlike the birds of the living room, the coffered ceiling panels of the bedroom are all painted a deep, brilliant blue with gilded stars arrayed in actual constellation patterns; Tobirama's fairly sure a specific day of the year is being referenced there, but to find out he'd have to ask. The transom panels between ceiling and walls are each carved with a procession of zodiac animals gambolling amongst clouds and stars, with a concealed cat lurking somewhere different on each one.
There is so much space that he sometimes feels like he is rattling around in it like a seed in a pod, but it is also restful to have an excess of elbow room. To have that huge bedroom be entirely for his own use –well for Kiso as well– rather than shared. The only rooms this big in the Senju clan hall are the main hall where his father hosts important clients and the indoor training room; the hallways are narrower and the various bedrooms and offices smaller.
In fact, his childhood bedroom in the clan hall –shared with Hashirama until his brother abandoned him following his revelation to their father of the clandestine meetings with Madara– was no larger than the tatami room in the diplomatic quarters, but with solid walls and windows in the outer wall rather than sliding panels granting access to an adjacent space.
They'd all four of them slept in that room, until four became three, then two, and then Anija moved his belongings elsewhere leaving Tobirama alone.
His current living space may be many times larger than that bedroom was, but it has never felt as empty or as lonely. It is his space, entirely his, and Izuna will happily join him in it whenever he invites her to do so. She is here right now, sipping tea from one of the cups she has bought for him, blanket folded roughly around her middle and that odd looped-silk project in its bag beside her; a project which is getting unexpectedly large.
He'll have to ask her what it is sometime. But not now; now he is going to read and enjoy the space, the company, the scents carried inside on the breeze and the distant birdsong.
By the time Kiso returns in the mid-afternoon Izuna has recovered much more of her usual colour –such as it is given her natural pallor– and moved from her craft project to a discussion of room-cooling fuuinjutsu and how various effects might be achieved. She sketches various designs in basic ink, documenting ideas and potential processes, then has him fetch a bowl from the kitchen which she sets in the middle of his living room floor and writes 'condensation' in the bottom in kanji, then casually adds a touch of chakra to the ink.
You can't do that with just ink, in Tobirama's experience. Yet Izuna's laughing reminder that the Uchiha make the best ink is proven accurate: the chakra is contained, spontaneously shaped and the seal flares swiftly into life, filling the bowl with half a finger of water and dramatically lightening the air around them.
"Hn, more chakra would probably pull more water out of the air," Izuna deduces, writing a few more notes. "Have to be careful with that one; drying the air too much is a bad idea, you can give people nosebleeds like that."
Tobirama picks up the bowl and looks into the water it contains: no seal and no trace of ink; it has utterly consumed itself after burning itself out. He drinks the water, because why not.
"So, a feeding seal alongside a condensing seal, for prolonged low-level chakra flow to ensure continuous but minor effect for maximum long-term comfort," Izuna mutters, thin brush swiftly scrawling tiny and surprisingly neat characters down the edge of her page. "Rechargeable, of course."
Tobirama senses Kiso hurtling down the garden path and sets the bowl on the table, then gets up and opens the shōji into the front hall so he can greet the toddler.
"Keifu!" The boy barely pauses long enough to kick off his sandals before throwing himself into Tobirama's arms. He is wearing red and yellow striped jinbei rather than yesterday's festival kimono; evidently Tajima acquired a change of clothes from somewhere. That outfit could easily have been worn by Madara or Saburō when they were Kiso's size.
Tobirama catches the toddler easily, then spins around with his arms firm around Kiso's upper body, making the little boy squeal delightedly as his feet fly. "How's my darling boy?" He asks after stopping again, sliding a hand under Kiso's behind to better support his weight.
He also ignores very firmly that the person accompanying Kiso to the door was not Midori, but Tajima.
"Good!" The toddler exclaims brightly, leaning back in Tobirama's arms to beam up into his face. "Fed Jii-tama's fish! Jii-tama has flower walls, like Keifu!"
Tobirama would have expected the Outguard Hall to have walls more like Izuna's bedroom and the rest of the house, sprawling palaces on golden clouds connected by bridges, complete with many varied gardens and sumptuously-clad inhabitants wandering around them, forced perspective spreading the view from the bottom of each panel all the way to the top with occasional recognisably inhuman kami scattered here and there, admiring flowers, performing with musical instruments or playing games in pavilions.
"Oh really?" Is what he says though. "Did you see any particular flowers you liked, Kiso-kun?"
"Hn!" The toddler slumps forwards, resting his forehead on Tobirama's shoulder. "Camellias," he enunciates carefully, "wif pheasants!"
"That sounds very pretty," Tobirama agrees; he suspects the 'pheasants' were phoenixes, as Uchiha seem to prefer depicting them more like golden pheasants than like peacocks.
"Wan' show Keifu," Kiso mumbles. Tobirama kisses his hair.
"Another day? It's dinnertime."
"Goodnight, Kiso-kun," Tajima says from the genkan, tone jarringly fond. "I enjoyed your visit today; perhaps you can visit again sometime soon?"
"I see no reason why not," Izuna says absently, her voice carrying easily through the open shōji.
"Hn." Kiso squirms around and waves at the Outguard Head, who smiles –it looks wrong– and waves back before saying his other goodbyes:
"Now you have retired there will be time for more Lineage lessons, daughter." He nods shortly at Tobirama. "Son-in-law."
"Honoured Father-in-law," Tobirama replies coolly as Izuna offers a distracted agreement from the living room. Tajima's lips twitch briefly into something more smirk-like –which looks far more at home on his face than the smile did– and he sees himself out of the door, closing it behind him.
"Let's go tell Izuna-san about your day," Tobirama says quietly, "and then wash our hands for dinner."
After Tanabata and Izuna's retirement from the Outguard, the rhythm of Tobirama's life shifts again. Now, in addition to Kiso being babysat out of the house for half a day every day –morning or afternoon, depending on which half of the week it is– and Kei being looked after in the house for three afternoons a week, Izuna now has lessons with her father two mornings a week and other lessons with her aunt Ohabari two different mornings a week. This means that in the half of the week when Kiso is babysat in the mornings Tobirama is left entirely to his own devices two mornings out of three, but after the first day of reading and braiding cords and procrastinating while arguing internally with himself, he takes the opportunity to leave the Amaterasu Residence and talk to people, making it a new habit and taking Kiso with him on those days when the toddler is being babysat in the afternoons. He can't leave the toddler in the Amaterasu Residence; yes, Naka-Dragon is there in the mornings, but caring for Kiso is his responsibility and it would be inconsiderate to offload it when he has no other specific duties to fulfil.
He starts with Naka Two-Swords, to find out more about the pirate play she acted in at Tanabata, but as time passes and the Trading Branch all set out again for their yearly rounds he starts wandering further afield. Hopefully by next year they will have become a little more accustomed to the idea of his being here, but if not he will have to continue to exercise discretion.
Over the next week and a half he visits Asane-san to pick up the promised Go books and ends up sitting on the back engawa of the small town-house the man shares with his Outguard granddaughter, being lectured on what goes into making tatami. On another day he manages to find the Uchiha's kilns again and has a long and very enjoyable chat with the potter as Kiso is entertained by one of the man's apprentices, muddy to the armpits and utterly delighted at being allowed to 'help' throw bowls on the wheel.
The potter is not Uchiha, but he is courting a clanswomen and his brother is recently married; pottery is a fairly new investment for the Uchiha then, but one that the clan are taking very seriously. Tobirama visits the potters again a few days later to see the quartet of tea cups decorated with Kiso's tiny handprints on the outside be glazed and go into the kiln for firing, then come out a few hours later and be eventually wrapped up in a furoshiki, complete with a little certificate of provenance and listing 'Uchiha Kiso' as having 'assisted the craftsman'.
It's a completely unnecessary indulgence yet also utterly delightful. Kiso eagerly presents his gift to Izuna before dinner, who makes all manner of delighted noises over it and asserts she will serve thin tea in them next time she hosts a ceremony.
Tobirama also visits the fish-farm again, offers his assistance in picking mulberry leaves when a large household all come down with food poisoning and the silkworm-tenders are short-staffed, is dragooned by Umeno-san into carrying her up the hill behind the Uchiha compound to some of her more remote mushroom patches so they can be harvested and danced on properly –twice– and then Naka Two-Swords also drags him along to help pick the last of the ume. The unripe plums for umeshū have already been harvested, so now it is time to pick the ripe ones to be salted.
It all passes the time and feeds his sense of achievement; after so long trapped indoors unable to contribute to his upkeep, it feels good to know that he is not simply leeching off his wife. It's hardly steady employment but he is helping and that's something.
Then, a fortnight after Tanabata, Midori-chan does not arrive to take Kiso out for babysitting just after lunch. Instead Kamui, the teenage warrior who was part of Madara's squad when Izuna went to return the bodies of the assassins to the Senju, shows up at the garden gate to let them know that Minami-san is having her baby –babies; she is having twins– and Midori-chan is busy helping her older sisters around the house.
"Naka-Coatmaker gave me this for Tobirama-sama," she adds as Kiso clings to Izuna's obi cords, thumb firmly in his mouth and perceptively discomforted by this abrupt failure of routine. The indigo bundle she produces from her shoulder bag is very clearly an Uchiha coat, complete with large two-tone uchiwa printed on the visible section of upper back. Tobirama accepts it on autopilot, lets his wife offer the pleasantries and coaxes Kiso into letting himself be carried indoors; it doesn't take much effort.
Minami-san, who smelled so damningly like his mother had before she died, is giving birth. Is having twins. He wants to rush over there and offer his assistance. He wants to have Kyōnari take an urgent message to Ōka-ba so she will drop whatever she's doing and come over to help. He wants to run away up into the woods. He wants to hide under his futon, as though that will make his unpleasant emotional turmoil go away.
Kiso is breathing in short bursts and his face is going blotchy; Tobirama remembers abruptly that small children are acutely empathetic.
"It's okay, Kiso," he murmurs, giving the toddler a firm hug and kissing his hair. "I'm just surprised. Minami-san is having two babies, not just one! Midori-chan is going to be a Nee-san!" He bounces in the genkan as he slips off his geta and into his slippers then removes Kiso's sandals as well, hoping the movement will distract his son from bursting into tears.
"Midori-nee is Nee-chan," Kiso complains, voice thick and wobbly.
"So she is; can you help me remember who her younger siblings are? There's Jōnen-kun, and um…" Tobirama trails off leadingly as he steps up inside the house.
"Tekka-kun," Kiso mumbles, sticking his thumb back into his mouth.
"Oh, yes Tekari-kun! And itty-bitty Kinu-chan is smallest. Well, she was smallest; there are going to be two new smaller siblings. Imagine having five younger siblings," Tobirama rattles on, forcing the light, airy words past his teeth.
"Midori-nee has big siblings too."
"I know Kitamata-san is the oldest, but what are the others called?" Tobirama asks. He's fairly sure one of them is a Naka –given Kamui's mention of a 'Naka-Coatmaker'– but has no idea what any others might be called.
"Shina-nee an' Naka-nee," Kiso says, sticking his thumb back into his mouth the moment he's finished talking. He is settling though, which is a relief.
"Three older siblings and five younger ones. I think that's quite a lot of siblings to have, don't you Kiso-kun?" nine children in total; how Minami-san makes time for them all given she is also a professional craftswoman is a total mystery. Then again, she's only had to make time for seven thus far; Tobirama however can't imagine being able to keep up with the needs of seven children. Running around after two little brothers was already more than he could cope with.
Then again, he was eight then and Minami is a grown woman. It's certainly easier caring for Kiso and Kei-chan now than it was for Tama and Wara. Being older helps, as he now has much more of idea of what to do, and is more confident in his abilities than he was as a child.
Kei-chan; it is the day when he and Izuna bring her over to the Amaterasu Residence while Kiso is out. "I know Midori-chan is busy looking after her mother, so would you like to spend the day with your Baa-san?" Tobirama suggests. "You could pick mushrooms for Izuna-san together."
Kiso perks up. "Muss-room dance with Baa-chan?" He bounces in Tobirama's arms, taking his thumb out of his mouth to wave his hands around. "Dance! Muss-room dance!"
"Let's go walk to Obaa-san's house then, shall we?" Tobirama says, setting the folded coat down by the fusuma leading to his bedroom and profoundly grateful that Kiso has not dissolved into unhappy screaming in response to this unexpected change in routine. "I am sure she'll be very grateful for your help."
Kiso nods firmly. "Hn!"
"Let's put our sandals back on then and head out. Do you think I will need my umbrella to keep the sun off?"
Kiso ponders this as Tobirama slips the tiny pair of geta onto the toddler's feet and then steps into his own larger pair. "Umbella," the toddler asserts firmly, wriggling demandingly.
Tobirama sets the boy on his own two feet and picks up the umbrella; Kiso reaches up to grab at his free hand.
"All ready?" Tobirama checks. "Then off we go; to Obaasan's house!"
After gently disentangling himself from Kiso at Umeno-san's house, Tobirama has very little calm left. He therefore takes himself back to the Amaterasu Residence, apologises to Izuna for not being able to help out with Kei-chan today –Izuna eyes him sympathetically, assures him it's fine and hugs him tightly– and then buries himself in 'Sight, Visualisation and the Subjectivity of Perception' because right now he needs a major distraction.
The pleasingly hefty tome is, as suspected, utterly engrossing; he only very vaguely notices Izuna joining him in his living room, setting a pot of tea and one of his horse-yunomi on the table he's reading at, then sprawling on her back over one of the leopard cushions with Kei asleep on her chest.
He does drink the tea though; the first cup when he gets up to fetch the kanji dictionary –there are a lot of new words here that he's not encountered in the legal code– and the second when a cloud briefly passes over the sun, dimming the room and reminding him that yes, he does have a cup of tea poured.
The third cup he drinks when Izuna gets up to greet whoever it is that just came down the path, Kei-chan left curled up on one of the cushions; it's not a familiar chakra signature and it is whirling with all kinds of emotions Tobirama doesn't want to think about right now.
"Wire-master Ikoma-san! Is Minami-san well?"
"Very well now, Izuna-bi!" Tobirama breathes a shallow sigh of relief, briefly closing his eyes. Minami-san is fine. His mother's death has not been replayed, regardless of whether his intervention helped or not.
"Oh, already?" Izuna's voice is bright and congratulatory, but there is relief in her chakra as well.
"Yes! Another daughter and son! I am greatly blessed."
"Two healthy children! Ikoma-san how wonderful; my congratulations to you both!"
"And it is thanks to your spouse's words to the medics, Izuna-bi," Ikoma-san says more softly, chakra utterly earnest, "so I would beg your permission to thank him personally, if I may."
Oh. Oh no Tobirama did not do this to be thanked! But it's too late, Izuna is hn-ing agreement and Ikoma-san is stepping into the house, crossing the polished wooden floor of the front hall –Izuna, very sensibly, only puts down tatami in there when hosting a large gathering– and pausing at the half-open shōji to Tobirama's right.
Tobirama ignores him, both because that is polite and also because he doesn't know what to say.
Then Ikoma-san knocks politely on the edge of the shōji frame, announcing his presence without offering an interruption. Caught by propriety and social conventions, Tobirama looks up from his book.
The man in the doorway, shorter than his wife but easily as broad through the shoulders as his much-taller son despite that, offers him a polite bow. "Tobirama-sama, I am Ikoma of the Uchiha clan. Might we speak?"
Tobirama decides that actually he'd rather have this conversation in the hall, where he can at least retreat back into his living room if necessary. "Of course," he agrees, carefully getting up and walking over to the shōji, stepping back into his slippers as he leaves the matting. Ikoma politely moves aside to grant him room, then turns and bows again, much more deeply, and begins the excruciating process of thanking Tobirama for something he'd done entirely for his own peace of mind.
Tobirama does his best to demur and claim thanks are not necessary, but Ikoma-san proves infuriatingly adept at deflecting his 'modesty' and in the end it is only possible to end the whole production by pointing out that they are family now –distant in-laws at most but still family– so of course he would do such a thing for Minami-san. This makes Ikoma-san laugh, but it does at least stop the bowing. However it also leads to his being called 'Tobirama-kun' and fiercely hugged, so he suspects Ikoma still won there, somehow.
Izuna did not help him at all, which is terribly unfair. He tells her as much once Ikoma-san has left, having been coerced into promising to visit Minami-san in a week's time to meet the twins.
"But Treasure!" His wife says, eyes dancing merrily, "Ikoma-san only wished to thank you! How could you ask me to be so cruel as to deny him the opportunity to express his gratitude for your contributions to the clan?"
Tobirama opens his mouth to object, realises he can't do that without denying that he did contribute something to the clan in talking about hypertension to Yū-san and Yori and settles for glaring at Izuna instead.
His wife's glee softens into something tender. "Tobirama. Treasure. Your contributions to the clan have value. Please allow us the freedom to acknowledge that value, and appreciate the one who is graciously permitting us to learn from their experience."
Tobirama feels his face redden and drops his gaze. He is not used to people thanking him for the obvious. Surely everybody contributes to the clan every day?
He says as much to Izuna, who walks closer and hugs him. "Of course they do, Treasure. But that does not mean their contributions should not be praised, or that they should not be thanked. Everybody's contributions should be recognised and affirmed."
If he is being thanked because everybody gets thanked, that is slightly less uncomfortable. It is not that Ikoma-san had somehow expected him not to share his knowledge and experience, but that the Uchiha feel such necessities should be explicitly recognised. It is a change, but Tobirama is sure he can learn to live with it if he makes an effort.
"Well in that case," he concedes. Izuna kisses him.
"Just so, Treasure. Shall we go back to keeping Kei-chan company?"
"I don't mind if you bring your shamisen through," Tobirama says, conscious that his wife has been silently doing nothing at all for the past however-long. Several hours at least; he doesn't think he's seen her do so little before ever.
"I won't disturb your reading?"
"I probably won't even hear it," Tobirama admits candidly. "The book is very engrossing." It's also providing a great deal of very interesting context for Uchiha assault styles and how they use their bloodline, which means he is probably going to end up re-reading the entire thing several times then dipping into various chapters as he tries to articulate his thoughts in notes later.
His wife chuckles, taking his hands in hers and resting her forehead against his. "Well, in that case I shall entertain myself with impunity."
It is only when Kiso returns after dinner and demands to see 'coat!' that Tobirama remembers being given it at all. A little rude perhaps, but he had more pressing matters on his mind.
He does however want to take his time admiring it, so he carries it out onto the western engawa outside Izuna's music room and unfolds it.
The outside is quilted in a ripple-and-wave pattern, complex and impossibly regular; the texture it creates in the indigo cotton is strangely soothing. Tobirama would admire it for longer, but Kiso is bouncing impatiently at his elbow and does need to go to bed sometime soon.
Opening the front –revealing the subtle loops and ties tucked between the outer layer and the lining– and folding back the front panels, Tobirama sits back to study the design as Kiso drops to his hands and knees and crawls around to get a closer view from one side.
Covering the back, taking up all the space between lower shoulder and upper thigh, is Ame-no-Tajikarao-no-kami, hefting a straw rope across a dark rock larger than he is, revealing behind it only a sliver of the entrance to the Ama-no-Iwato, the cave that Amaterasu-Ōmikami hid herself in and Ame-no-Uzume coaxed her out of by dancing upon an upturned washtub and making all the other kami laugh. The god is wearing red patterned armour –a clever use of a section of a painted kimono– which is lined with fur, and a coat tied with a wide obi over the armour along with a cape, both of which are brightly yet harmoniously patterned. He has a very long sword strapped across his back and his hair and beard are short but wild; his facial expression shows clear strain but also triumph.
Even the rock is patterned; a subtle damask almost like wood-grain common across the subtly graded shades of deep grey, adding depth and shape to the image.
On the coat's front panels, half the size of the minor kami on the back and facing away from each-other while the coat is open, are Ama-no-Uzume dancing on the washtub, several colourful kimono layers scattered on the ground around her, and Amaterasu-Ōmikami in front of the Yata-no-Kagami, which is entirely cloth-of-gold and surrounded with fiery swirls, also in gold.
Ama-no-Uzume is barefoot with a flower wreath askew on her head, her sleeves bound up with tasuki to reveal her lower arms and her remaining kimono layers all very crooked, revealing a considerable slice of chest and red hakama under them. She is also grinning wickedly, expression full of the delighted glee of a perfectly-executed scheme.
The realism is faintly unnerving in embroidery; Tobirama turns away and takes a longer look at Amaterasu-Ōmikami. The outer layer of the sun goddess's jūnihitoe is bright white with the outlines rendered in gold, with reds, oranges and more gold peeking out in layers at her sleeve-cuffs and in her long train. Her sash is red and her head ornament shaped like the rising sun is gold, the only hint of cooler colours on her person the five jade magatama of her necklace. The colour on this panel comes from the surroundings, flowering mountain grasses and tall bamboo patchworked and daintily embroidered all around the sun goddess with a crowd of other gods crowding along the lower edge, all seen only from behind so impossible to identify specifically.
Ama-no-Uzume's panel on the other hand is earth and barren rock, brightened by the patterns of the strewn kimono, several roosters and a markedly larger crowd of deities in variously coloured armour and subdued jūnihitoe. Not that it's possible to see much jūnihitoe when the women all have their hair hanging loose down their backs; evidently it's traditional to portray kami in the old Imperial style.
Tobirama follows the pointing finger; sure enough, half-hidden in the stumpy trees behind Amaterasu-Ōmikami are some golden pheasants. Well, they're possibly meant to be phoenixes given the un-pheasant-like crests, but they look more like pheasants than any other real bird.
"So there are; what other animals can you see, Kiso-kun?"
Kiso bends over the coat, searching every visible surface and demanding the sleeves be turned inside-out for further perusal. He finds the roosters, several crickets, a handful of bats and a fairly wide range of birds, the latter all in the sleeves which are dappled with the colours of a dawn sky through clouds and generously filled with birds. Most of them are dainty embroidered silhouettes flying in formation, but a few here and there are actually patchworked in.
The idea of wearing something this beautiful is rather daunting, but Izuna and Madara have both worn their coats on the battlefield. Regularly. Tobirama knows for a fact he has stabbed through Izuna's coat more than once. He feels a little guilty to have so damaged a work of art, despite not knowing at the time that it even existed.
The coat is a bit heavy for summer though, so he has a bit of time to get used to treating this work of art so casually.
"Keifu coat boo-fi-tul!" Kiso declares, yawning.
"Yes, it is beautiful," Tobirama agrees, "and I shall enjoy wearing it once the weather turns. But now it is bedtime for little boys."
"Want to look at coat more!"
"My coat will still be here tomorrow, Kiso-kit," Tobirama says firmly, scooping up the toddler. "Let's go wash for bed and I'll tell you a story."
Four days later Tajima shows up at the Amaterasu Residence at breakfast with a letter for Tobirama –which has presumably passed muster as being insufficiently seditious to be worth confiscating– and to inform Izuna that, as future Homeguard Head and being very recently retired from the Outguard, he and his sister –Ohabari-san, the current Homeguard Head– have decided she can inspect the newly-finished buildings down by the river on both of their behalf.
Tobirama keeps track of the conversation as he reads his letter. It's nominally from Koenma –his script and his knowledge of kanji, courtesy of his Uzumaki mother– but he can see all of his former squad's fingerprints in the wording and the implications, as well as in the ink; this is Maki's homemade walnut ink rather than anything bought. Superficially it's a list of what everybody's been getting up to, all persons' involved referred to by nickname and degree of relation, but there's a wealth of details between the lines.
Maki –code-named 'ink-maker'– has apprenticed herself to 'your second cousin via Monma-jiji,' which seeing as Kyōzoma is recently dead and Tōma is thirteen, has to be Rinzōma. Rinzōma is a thief; a highly capable thief, as it happens, and one of the clan's most reliable earners, so Maki apprenticing herself to him is not so much of a surprise. His former teenage ninjutsu all-rounder is vassal-born and very focused on where her next meal –and all of the coming winter's meals– are going to come from. It's a good match-up skills-wise too; Maki's hardworking, her reserves are not particularly large and her stealth is decent, so she will be field-capable in her new specialty before too long and both she and the wider clan will benefit greatly from having two professional thieves able to accept commissions.
Chigi and Shurō –'followers one and two,' order undetermined– are helping 'your scary cousin' –Tōka, has to be– with 'the building project,' Hashirama having been given 'other responsibilities'. Tobirama guesses that his anija has been banned from helping build the pavilion the negotiations will be held in because he would try to grow it in order to save time, and the traces of his chakra left in such constructs would make the Uchiha uncomfortable.
Never mind that, from what Tobirama now knows of Uchiha culture and crafting generally, actually taking the time to build something properly shows greater respect and commitment than throwing up a shelter with chakra in a handful of seconds. Anija's never been particularly interested in subtleties like that though, so it's a good thing he's been assigned other work. No less important, of course; possibly more important in the medium-term, if it is what he thinks it is and Hashirama is engaging in some technically legal but socially frowned-upon income acquisition.
Slightly more interestingly, 'your medic cousin' –Keika; technically his half-sister, but given Obaasan said she renounced their father she is only his cousin now, legally– has finally noticed she is being pined after her and has 'taken steps'. Tobirama isn't sure if that means she and Yagura are officially courting or if the chain-whip user has been sent on his way to nurse his broken heart and try to recover, but either way it's good that Keika has finally taken matters into her own hands. Yagura very clearly wasn't ever going to.
Mito is pregnant; visibly pregnant in fact, and going by the implications here, is probably going to be having the baby about a month before Izuna has hers. Then again, if Izuna does have twins then she might give birth earlier, so best not to speculate there. It's still a bit early to tell for sure, even if his wife allows him to check for himself with chakra.
He does snort at Koenma referring to Mito as 'the chain-wielding terror' though.
"… inspect the buildings on both sides of the river?"
Tobirama pauses in his perusal of Koenma's stiff kanji to blatantly eavesdrop; he's caught the generalities of what everybody mentioned is doing, and his former subordinate's signature is suitably Uzumaki-impenetrable that nobody will be able to deduce what his name sounds like just from reading the kanji.
If his honoured father-in-law didn't want him to hear this discussion, it would not be taking place in Amaterasu Residence.
"The agreement was for both clans to collaborate on the building project, daughter," Tajima says, a smirk lurking fondly in the corners of his mouth. "We divided the construction efforts according to which side of the river they were being built on, but for goodwill's sake both buildings will be thoroughly inspected by both clans, so all can be familiar with the interiors and assured of the quality of the craftsmanship."
So Tajima turned this into yet another one-upmanship exercise; well, that really does explain why Anija wasn't allowed within ten miles of the project. Tokonoma-ji likely entrusted it to Tōka, alongside several vassals with construction experience and possibly a hired civilian specialist as well; the only building in the compound with moveable partitions is the Clan Hall and while the clan knows how to curate them, Tobirama's not sure there's anybody who has the skills to recreate them.
That will have been more money spent that the clan can't really afford, yet they also cannot afford not to make a grand show of their dedication to the peace process. Which also explains why Anija is being sent off to do technically-legal and very deniable things in other countries, hopefully with a partner to remind him to be discreet; the Senju desperately need the income.
Moreya-jiisan arrives at this point to take Kiso off for his morning babysitting; the toddler demands hugs and kisses from Tajima as well as from Tobirama and Izuna, and gets them.
"Well then," Izuna says once Kiso is out of earshot –but Moreya-jiisan probably isn't yet– "seeing as it is the will of both the Homeguard Head and the Outguard Head, I would be delighted to inspect the halls down by the southern border on their behalf. I think I will take my concubine and make a morning of it."
"That's not particularly professional, Izuna-kun."
"I'm not a warrior anymore, Tousan." Izuna raises a mischievous eyebrow. "And as Amaterasu Head, who is going to stop me? He's contained."
'He' in this instance being Tobirama.
"There is a Squad on guard at the building site that I would appreciate your collaborating with," Tajima continues rather than attempting to argue. "You will be leaving clan grounds after all."
"Of course; this is a formal occasion," Izuna agrees instantly. "We will be sure to dress appropriately."
"I am sure you will represent the clan with your usual decorum and eye for detail," the Outguard Head says with enviable blandness. Izuna rolls her eyes at him.
"You're needling me on purpose; stop it."
"I have to entertain myself somehow, daughter." Tajima bows, his smirk wickedly feline and abruptly enhancing his resemblance to his daughter. "Have a good morning down by the river; I look forward to your report this afternoon." He then sees himself out.
"Treasure, do you want to–"
"Yes," Tobirama interrupts instantly; according to his letter Chigi, Shurō and Tōka will all be down by the river, along with no doubt various other kin, and he very much wants to see them. Even though 'formal' means he will have to pick a visiting kimono with a long draping obi and be seen wearing them. It's no hardship; he's fairly sure the entire Uchiha clan has seen him in sumptuous silks by now, though his relatives might well flinch at the sheer extravagance of his new wardrobe.
"Well then, let's both get changed and enlist a pair of strapping warriors to carry us," Izuna says, her smirk both terribly familiar and newly unsettling for being the same as was on her father's face only seconds ago. "We can hardly run all that way in our best visiting wear, after all."
Tobirama decides to wear the purple visiting kimono with the silvery net patterns and the realistic embroidered fish, along with the long onion-leaf-blue obi with the tachibana print and pink sections featuring flowers from the four seasons, birds and kaoi shells. Yes, it's lined, but this is a semi-formal occasion and he is actually visiting people outside the Uchiha clan, technically, so he should make an effort to show off how much money and care Izuna is putting into dressing him. The silver-grey obi cords he picks do very much bring the outfit together.
He also redoes his hair, with his wisteria purple hair-cords, more braids and a more elaborate topknot, and adds the lacquered comb with the mother-of-pearl arrowhead leaf and plum blossom inlay. He also picks up his folding fan; disturbing dramatic imagery on the inner side or not, he is going to need one if he is going out and about dressed like this. Though he can probably convince Izuna to bring an umbrella to keep the sun at bay.
As though summoned by his thoughts, his wife knocks lightly on the outside of his fusuma. "Treasure?"
"Remember to bring tabi for indoors; I'm packing guest slippers, in case they aren't provided."
A good thought; Tajima only said the buildings were finished, not that they were furnished. "Will I need a coat?"
"Yes, definitely; we're both going to be carried through the woods and we will not want our very fine kimono getting snagged on a branch."
"The oiled silk coat?"
"It's light and long, so yes."
Good; he would have worn the new Uchiha coat if Izuna had insisted, but he doesn't want to wrestle his fairly wide sleeves into those narrow cuffs and it's also rather heavy for a sunny morning in July.
As he catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror he is briefly acutely aware of his appearance and that his warrior kin will be seeing him dressed as frivolously as a civilian court dandy, but he instantly and viciously quashes the snide voice of shame. He is no less a warrior for being bound, no less a man for wearing the finely painted and embroidered silks appropriate for his new station and he is comfortable dressed thusly. He likes wearing smooth silks and fine linens; they are soothing on his skin and he enjoys the effect they have on his wife.
He has nothing to be ashamed of in matters of dress, and his relationship with his wife is not anybody's business but their own.
But now they need to head out, because it is an hour's run down to the border and they need to be back in time for lunch. Tobirama hesitates for a moment, then grabs his violet wrist-bag and tucks a few towels, a furoshiki and his writing case into it; Izuna will probably not need him to join in with both inspections, so maybe there will be time for him to write a few short letters that will not be passing through other hands before reaching his kin.
The visiting kimono Izuna has picked is one he's seen before, blue-green summer-weight gauze damasked with peacock feathers and painted with imperial orange rangiku chrysanthemums, waving reeds in eggshell cream, yellow, pink and white orchids of various shapes and species, and pink, orange and white hibiscus, all with hinted-at foliage shaded in a slightly darker green than the background and embroidered with a dainty profusion of little butterflies.
The obi however is unfamiliar: rich imperial orange with irregular watery swirls resist-printed all along it in natural cream and embroidered at regular intervals with little clusters of maple leaves, pinks and fruiting grape vine in gold, white, murasaki purple and willow green, fastened with white obi cords. The box-bow shows off the embroidery very well, and the metallic gleam of the gold thread draws attention to the tiny gold-leaf stars printed on the collar and sleeve-cuffs of her blue-white silk nagajuban.
Most people would assume the stars were only on the visible parts of the nagajuban; Tobirama knows better. In the sunshine it will be possible to see those glimmering metal stars through the gauze of the outer kimono, a smug statement of wealth and opulence.
She has also done up her hair in a voluminous style secured with pretty pins and a comb, metal chimes tinkling surprisingly tunefully as she moves, and is holding a rigid fan with a blue monochrome print of a flock of swans in flight over a misty lake.
She looks the very image of propriety, from the top of her head to her golden silk tabi. It's such a lie that Tobirama almost wants to ask her to bring the 'peony pavilion' fan instead, so his kin won't be caught unawares.
"Ready to go, Treasure?" She asks with a smile.
"I've got tabi, a fan, some hand-towels and a wrapping cloth, just in case," Tobirama says, not mentioning the writing case, "and I'm hoping you're going to bring an umbrella along in those sleeve-seals of yours."
"An umbrella would be an excellent idea; shall I bring your oak-leaf print one, so you can keep it if you decide to stay outside while I'm inspecting the interiors?"
"I'd like that," Tobirama admits. It gives him more time to potentially talk to his kin in, which is very much welcome.
"So, umbrella and put on our zori and respective coats," Izuna murmurs as she turns towards the genkan, "plus guest slippers to carry. Then we shall be off to find somebody off-duty to give us a lift down to the new guest-house by the river."
The 'somebody off-duty' turns out to be a pair of siblings who introduce themselves as Kanmuri and Sanshū, most easily differentiated by their tattoos: Kanmuri has stylised characters at their temples, and Sanshū has swirls that could be clouds or water running down both sides of their jaw. Given the equally light tenor voices, they could be any gender; Tobirama only knows they're not twins because Sanshū calls Kamnuri 'Aniki'.
Which might lull one into thinking Kanmuri is a man, were it not for the fact that Tobirama has spent half a lifetime hearing Madara refer to Izuna as male; clearly in the Outguard everybody is addressed as male, especially when not. The tattoos make it slightly more probable that one –or both– of them is female, but he's hardly able to ask. It would be rude, especially when accepting to carry himself and Izuna down to the southern border of Uchiha lands involves both of them essentially being put back on duty.
It is terribly undignified to be carried like baggage, but there is sadly nothing Tobirama can do about it; at least Izuna is also being carried, more in deference to the heat of the day and the need to travel swiftly than anything else. However the warrior carrying him on their back has a startlingly steady gait, legs moving swiftly but torso barely moving at all as they descend the subtle incline towards the southern bend of the river, and head held absolutely steady.
Is this odd running style taught, to better ensure clarity of vision with the sharingan, or does it come naturally as a result of the higher dependence on eyesight? Tobirama is bizarrely reminded of chickens and how their heads stay completely level regardless of how they walk or are carried, bodies wobbling with every step but skull a seemingly fixed point in mid-air.
As piggyback rides go it's relatively dignified. Nothing at all like being carted around by Anija like a sack of rice.
About ten minutes into the run Tobirama decides Sanshū is probably male based on the scent of their sweat, and this is a case of tattoos being 'mostly' for women rather than 'only' for women. He also starts to pay more attention to the ongoing conversation, because an hour is a long time.
"More training, mostly," Kanmuri says, keeping their eyes on the path ahead, such as it is; "extra training for existing specialisations is being offered, as well as lots of introductions to specialisations Tajima-sama thinks we need more people taking up. Oh, and longer missions abroad are being offered to lower-ranking Squads, now that there's less risk of being ambushed and we're not all needed closer to home. Haku-nii is off in Demon Country with his Squad because their High Priestess sent a letter to Tajima-sama and he decided it was a good opportunity to send people rather than just a written reply."
"We're renewing ties?" Izuna asks, clearly interested. "That's good to hear; their washi is some of the best for talismans."
"Yeah, and they're one of our best customers for ink," Sanshū agrees, ducking down low under a trailing branch so Tobirama won't get hit. "My treasure's on the Deep West circuit, they go through every year and the High Priestess's people always buy all the highest grade ink; at a premium too!"
"And how is Chimaki-san?"
"Doing really well! Doesn't want to retire from the trading circuit though, so I'm going to have to decide if I'm going to follow them or if the once-a-year relationship we've got right now is enough. I mean, right now it is enough, but if we decide we want children it's not fair to whichever parent's got the child or to the child, being so far away from their other parent all year, so."
"That's a way off yet though, I should think?" Izuna points out comfortingly. "And things are really changing with the clan right now; who knows what we'll be doing this time next year!"
"That's true," Sanshū agrees, sounding a little less despondent about his –their?– prospects. "Everything's changed so much since New Year! Who knows what will have happened by the time Tanabata comes around again!"
"What about you, Kanmuri? Though I see the thing with Toyo-kun didn't work out."
"Not even slightly," Sanshū sniggers. Kanmuri swipes at him; the blow lands because there's a tree to their right preventing Tobirama's current steed from dodging. "Ow! Niisan is so mean to me!"
"You have it coming," Kanmuri says blandly, "and no, Izuna-bi, it didn't work out. We're still friends though, so it wasn't a total loss. I'm sure I'll find the right person eventually."
Tobirama wonders who 'Toyo-kun' might be and whether they're male or female. Are they Outguard, where 'kun' could be anybody, or a civilian clansman?
"And I'm glad that you've found your Treasure, Izuna-bi, even if he is the Drowning Breath," Kanmuri continues with barely a pause. "And that he seems to appreciate you properly."
"Oh I feel very appreciated," Izuna replies instantly, prompting both warriors to cackle in unison.
"Behold, my cunning scheme for a comfortable home life," Tobirama interjects dryly, prompting more loud laughter.
"You look very fine all dressed up in silks, Tobirama-sama," Kanmuri manages eventually, "but I'd wager my sword you're no more resigned to being a house-cat for the rest of your life than you were when Izuna-bi first threw you over her shoulder and dragged you into the Diplomatic Quarters."
"My treasure is not a tame leopard," Izuna says, eyes bright and secretive.
"Captive, but not tame," Kanmuri agrees, eyes shrewd as they briefly glance back at him. "Watch yourself, Izuna-bi; wouldn't do to have your face eaten."
"I'm flattered you think I could manage that while bound as tightly as I am," Tobirama replies.
"If anybody could wiggle out of Izuna's fuuinjutsu, it would be you," Sanshū says matter-of-factly. "You're the smartest enemy the clan's had in, oh, decades."
"That is definitely flattery."
"Ask Tajima-sama if you don't believe me," Sanshū says cheerfully, shifting his grip slightly; "it's him who said it first."
"Eavesdropping again Sanshū? You'll get caught and assigned rock-picking, and your squad will cremate your body on your next mission to hide that they strangled you," Izuna teases.
"I have already been punished for this particular offense, thank you," Sanshū says, all faux-offended dignity, then sniggers when Izuna bursts out laughing.
Tobirama meanwhile is trying to process this new and unexpected perspective on his esteemed father-in-law. He has not at any point had the impression the man thought highly of him in any manner whatsoever; mostly Tajima seems resigned to him as an unfortunate side-effect of Izuna's scheme for peace that the Outguard Head's best efforts have been unable to prevent her from pushing forwards.
Tajima must have been being sarcastic and Sanshū missed it, or else doing down the Senju and using Tobirama as a convenient prop. That makes far more sense than the man actually praising him.
The run stops before the buildings appear through the trees, but not long after the sounds of hammering and steady singing start to drift into Tobirama's ears. Kanmuri and Sanshū slow to a careful stop, set him and Izuna on their feet then politely turn around so they can straighten their outfits and ensure their obi are still properly secured. Then it is a matter of walking along the now-clear path, keeping his arms close so the sleeves of his silk overcoat don't catch on the underbrush, until they pass the treeline and out into the sun; Izuna immediately pauses to produce and put up the umbrella. He's grateful for it, as the sun is bright and hot. He does now have access to enough chakra to protect his skin that way, but he'd also prefer not to needlessly spook their escort.
The first thing he sees are the roofs, tall and wide and neatly tiled in glossy black. The second thing are the white-plastered walls of the two nearest buildings inside the desultory fence, one clearly a bathhouse from how its windows have only kōshi shutters without paper coverings and is markedly smaller than the building behind it.
Well, in front of it seeing as this is clearly the back of the complex. The other plastered wall has papered katabiki-shōji, leading Tobirama to suspect it is a kitchen. Quite a few Uchiha town-house buildings have shōji-style sliding panels as windows in a kitchen wall, provided that wall faces more than just a narrow passage and opposite wall. As they walk closer Tobirama realises that the buildings –all five of them, four large and the smaller bathhouse– are connected by a broad shared engawa, the two nearer large buildings sharing a roof that comfortably overshadows the wide surrounding walkway, the two more distant buildings attractively staggered, but still adjacent with the roof edges touching so that it is possible to walk all the way around all the buildings without once emerging from under the eaves.
The style is beautiful: perfectly proportioned with visible timbers all in rosy cypress –like almost all of the fancier Uchiha residences– and white-plastered walls alternating with smooth rows of papered shōji. Indeed, most of the walls facing the western entrance to this miniature compound are smoothly plastered, the only exception a section of wall half-hidden behind an overlapping building and the nearer side of the building containing the kitchen. There are oblique views from the uniformly shōji-panelled southern sides of the two buildings that share their roof –now to his left– to satisfy shinobi paranoia, but it is subtly and tastefully done.
Access up onto the engawa is also limited: there were steps beside the bathhouse, presumably to offer a discreet back entry to the kitchen for deliveries, but here facing the wide open gateway to the compound the two visible sets of steps are both through the space laid out for a garden, which is currently no more than pegged outlines of dyed cords and a few large but aesthetic rocks. Both sets of stairs are in the open area surrounded on three sides by engawa; the two houses on the left in line, the central house which is so staggered back from the end of the left-hand houses that the meeting point of their respective engawa is covered by an additional narrow arch, and the right-hand house which sits opposite the left-hand ones, not quite centred over the gap between them, and overlapping with the back house by half its width.
The result is a central almost-courtyard which is private and will doubtless soon have a garden, adjacent to the larger garden immediately in front of the main entrance that currently only exists as charted curving paths. He can clearly see the shape of it, although he doesn't know what will be planted there.
It takes Tobirama a few moments to spot the Uchiha at work, despite being able to sense them; two are on the engawa between the central and right-hand house, busily staining boards, another steps up into view under the arch connecting the left-hand houses to the central one –doubtless up a concealed set of steps– and a fourth emerges from between the two left-hand buildings to wave.
"Izuna-sama? Are you doing the inspections then?"
"I am!" Izuna calls back. "Where's the patrol my Lord-Father was so particular as to order me to cooperate with?"
There's a general laugh from all four craftspeople present, two more heads emerging from between partially-open shōji to join in.
"They're down by the bridge, Izuna-bi!" An older woman's voice calls cheerfully. "Keeping the Senju off our land until they get word it's time for inspections."
"And are the guest houses ready to be inspected?" Izuna asks.
"Oh yes," one of the men staining boards assures her. "Don't mind us, Izuna-sama; Satoshi's plotting the gardens, Hayato's checking the pipework in the kitchen and bath-house, Ninotō and I are making spare rain-shutters and I don't know what those two slackers over there indoors are getting up to, probably drinking tea."
There's a fresh round of laughter and one of 'those two slackers' gestures rudely at him. "All the shōji tracks are properly smoothed and freshly waxed, Izuna-sama," the same older woman's voice from earlier assures them, "and all the tatami have been laid out, with spares stored in the usual places."
"I take it the shoe cupboards are under the edge of the engawa then?" Izuna asks. There's a pause, then three different people swear the air blue. Tobirama does his best to conceal his amusement behind a blank affect, then gives up and gets his fan out to hide behind instead.
This is very funny.
"Enough! Ninotō, you run up and see about getting shoe cupboards and guest slippers," the man who'd taken the lead in assuring Izuna everything was fine says firmly. "They'll go on the engawa, Izuna-sama; one for each of the residences I should think."
"I did bring some spare slippers with me, seeing as I wasn't sure 'furnished' meant 'ready to receive guests'," Izuna says with a cheery grin, "but only a few sizes so there won't be enough for everybody."
Ninotō meanwhile jumps down off the engawa –in bare feet, Tobirama notes– grabs a pair of straw sandals from under the raised floor, ties them on then hurries through the garden and past them, only picking up speed to a chakra-enhanced run once he is outside the boundary fence.
"Better than nothing, Izuna-sama," the man presumably in charge says with a sigh, scratching his beard.
"On the upside, maybe the Senju have also forgotten about guest slippers," Izuna offers.
"We can only hope," a different woman's voice says dryly.
As promised, there is a bridge over the river now: a grand and somewhat impractical bridge with a high arch, of the sort generally seen in the approaches to temples and in noble pleasure gardens. It looks extremely aesthetic, surrounded as it is by natural woodland and the river flowing beneath it, but Tobirama gets the faint impression of humour from it as well; this is an exceptionally unnecessary bridge, given that all negotiating parties are shinobi, but a bridge existing at all shows a degree of commitment and goodwill.
So there is a bridge. A very attractive bridge. In the middle of nowhere, without a road leading to or from it. It's absurd.
Tobirama wonders whose idea it was.
There are also people standing on both sides of the river; a standard Uchiha squad of five on the near side and a matching group of five armoured Senju on the far side. Very familiar Senju: Chigi and Shurō along with Tōka as promised, and also Kamoi and Hajitomi from Tōka's battlefield squad. Tobirama guesses they were two of those who got their legs broken by Hikaku, seeing as those with broken backs will likely only now be coming off bed rest and Ōka-ba will not be willing to let them out of her sight until she is assured they are suitably fit to not accidentally re-damage themselves by over-estimating their abilities.
It is a relief to see them all looking so well.
One of the Uchiha turns as they approach, bowing to Izuna. "Izuna-sama! You are performing the inspections?"
"Indeed I am, Toyofutsu-san." Tobirama wonders if this is the same 'Toyo-kun' as Kanmuri reportedly dated at some point. "I brought my concubine along, I trust that won't be an issue?"
"Of course not, Izuna-sama." Toyofutsu turns to Tobirama and performs a rather more perfunctory bow. "Tobirama-dono."
The implication here is that Toyofutsu is a Lineage Heir, as the difference in rank between concubines and Lineage Heirs is distinctly fuzzy: a concubine outranks their spouse's children –heirs included– but does not necessarily outrank the heirs of other Lineage Heads. However, a concubine also doesn't exactly not outrank other Lineage Heirs either, and the matter is made more complicated by Izuna being Amaterasu Head –the Uchiha Clan's most prestigious Lineage– and 'Manifest' on top of that.
Using 'dono' is therefore both face-saving and practical, as it bypasses the whole mess with the assurance of respectful high-ranking equality.
"Toyofutsu-dono." Tobirama bows back.
"Would you cross the bridge on my behalf, Toyofutsu-san," Izuna asks, voice taking on a formal cadence and pitched to carry, "and inquire whether the honoured Senju wish to inspect the guest houses on our land first, or would prefer that we begin by examining the meeting hall they have built on the land of Kurahashi-daimyo?"
Toyofutsu bows again, more formally measured this time. "At your command, Izuna Denka." He takes several steps back, holding the bow, then straightens and turns to walk up the bridge.
On the far side of the river and easily within direct speaking distance, Tōka strides over to her side of the bridge and also climbs it.
It is both somewhat ridiculous and oddly apt for this discussion to take place at the highest point of a completely unnecessary bridge between their two clans' respective lands. The discussion itself however takes place in lowered voices; Tobirama sharpens his hearing with chakra to catch his cousin's words:
"We would of course be most honoured to have Uchiha Izuna Denka inspect the meeting hall we have built for the peace talks. Will Uchiha Izuna Denka also be inspecting the bridge?"
"Who built the bridge?" He asks quietly. One of the warriors makes eye-contact:
"The Fatal Flower suggested a bridge would be a polite gesture to the Aburame, and offered to supply timber and labour seeing as such a thing was not specified in the existing arrangements. Squad Mentor Issei, having made a personal study of bridges, was appointed by Tajima-sama to discuss the matter, and created the design which was then carried out to his precise specifications by Senju carpenters."
Uchiha Issei is likely the one with the sense of humour, then. Though seeing as Tōka will have approved the design –possibly even picked it out of several offered– this is as much her commentary on the peace process as Issei-san's.
"Thank you, ah..?"
The warrior bows briefly. "Yakushi of Yomotsu-shikome, Tobirama-sama."
"My thanks, Yakushi-san."
The warrior nods, his attention remaining mostly on the Senju standing around on the far side of the river; going by how Shurō is leaning closer to Chigi, Tobirama suspects he's been noticed. A little slow, but then again he is wearing a painted purple hanging-sleeve kimono and carrying a paper umbrella to shade himself from the sun, and none of his former battle-squad have ever seen him in anything other than armour, under-armour or a simple yukata before. The umbrella he's shading himself under does not particularly change the colour of his hair, being blue, but the angle could easily have obscured his head from sight, making him only identifiable by sensors at this distance.
Chigi's not a bad sensor at close range though, so he was likely the one who recognised Tobirama first. Other than Tōka, that is.
Tōka will have seen the fine kimono and the umbrella and just known.
As Toyofutsu descends from the bridge to inform Izuna that the Senju have invited her to inspect their contribution to the peace process first, Tobirama realises that he doesn't know what the seal on him will do if he tries to leave Uchiha territory.
"Lord-Wife?" He asks once Toyofutsu has finished, "Will I be accompanying you?"
He hopes the answer is 'yes' but it is not guaranteed.
"You will have to stay within arm's reach, which will be enforced," Izuna tells him quietly as Toyofutsu politely pretends he can't hear a word, "but I would appreciate your company, Tobirama-san."
He is being offered options. He can stay here and talk across the river while Izuna takes the Squad to inspect the hall the peace talks will –hopefully– take place in, or he can join her in the inspection. Either way there will be kinsmen for him to talk to, but if he chooses to accompany his wife he will also have the opportunity to hug his kin.
He wants to go with Izuna, even if that means having to stay within arm's reach of her. He wants to hug Chigi and Shurō and Tōka, and everybody else he hasn't seen for half a year. He wants to breathe in their scent and be reassured they are well, given he still doesn't know whose legs and backs were broken by Hikaku and whether they are recovering well.
He might even welcome one of Anija's suffocating tackle-hugs if his brother was anywhere near here; probably for the best that he isn't, as Tobirama would likely end up on his back in the dust and he likes this kimono. Also he would feel bad for the laundresses having to deal with any stains resulting from his brother's exuberance.
"It would please me to join you, Lord-Wife."
Izuna's smile is soft and infinitely understanding. "Then let us cross the bridge and see what your kin have built, shall we?"
It's a very short walk to the hall, which is visible through the bamboo and sparse trees even from the Uchiha side of the river, but Shurō still finds time to live dangerously:
"Looking very fancy, Tobirama-sama."
"I can and will kill you with my fan, Shurō," Tobirama replies, light and perfectly even. "Tōka-nee will assure her father that it was a tragic accident and everybody else will get on with their lives."
Shurō snorts. "Fair enough, Tobirama-sama." His shoulders settle though, which is telling.
"If you desperately need a tragic and deniable accident, do let me know Tobirama-san," Izuna says, light and airy without once looking at Shurō. "I know all kinds of interesting people and some of them aren't even Uchiha; doubly deniable!"
"I'll bear that in mind, Lord-Wife," Tobirama replies fondly, patting her hand where it's tucked over his wrist. He is holding the umbrella, and Izuna is shoulder-to-shoulder with him so as to make the most of the shade.
"And here we are, Izuna Denka," Tōka says, turning around and stepping aside to wave at the building. "Shall we walk around the outside first, or would you like to begin with the inside?"
"The outside I think, Tōka-san," Izuna replies comfortably. "But first please introduce me to your kin here whose hard work I will be admiring."
His cousin jogs off to fetch the relevant craftspeople from the workshop area set up off around the back of the building and Izuna immediately turns to face him. "If you really must commit murder, Tobirama-san, please don't ruin your nice fan; you have a sleeve-knife for that."
Tobirama does in fact have a sleeve-knife. He's been wearing it ever since she gave it to him following Katsuma's invasion of the Amaterasu Residence, not even thinking about putting it on under his kimono in the mornings.
"You gave him a sleeve-knife?" One of the Uchiha warriors asks, tone incredulous.
"What kind of noble would I be if I did not provide my spouse with a weapon of last resort?" Izuna demands as she glances towards them, expression arch. "If I were a samurai, my spouse would be expected to commit suicide before allowing themselves to fall into enemy hands," she adds, turning back to Tobirama, "but seeing as I am shinobi nobility, Treasure, I expect you to pretend to beg for your life, stab your assailants in the groin then slit their throats at your leisure. It's traditional."
"Noted, Lord-Wife," Tobirama replies blandly as Kamoi and Hajitomi both wince; he is profoundly reassured now he knows that nobody is going to try and take his knife away.
"Couldn't you have given him a utility knife?" The same warrior as made the initial complaint asks plaintively.
"What, and force him to sharpen it every other week while lacking the assurance the blade will cut skin without applying considerable force, Fushimi-kun?" Izuna asks, bringing up her fan so as to half-hide her theatrically scandalised expression. "How can I possibly expect him to defend our future children if I don't arm him as befits his station?"
Squad Leader Toyofutsu, standing behind Izuna, rolls his eyes in a distinctly put-upon fashion while keeping his face otherwise professionally blank, chakra full of fond exasperation; Tobirama gets the very strong impression that he and Izuna are childhood friends.
"Do I get sharpened hairpins as well?" Tobirama asks, drawing his wife's attention back to him.
"I can arrange some accessories with concealed blades if that would please you, Treasure," his wife says, eyes smiling hopefully over the upper edge of her swan-painted fan. "And a nice steel-ribbed tessen, if you have set your heart on someday committing murder with one."
"It's like you want him to murder you in your bed, Izuna-sama," Toyofutsu says dryly.
"He's exceedingly fun to tussle with and always has been," Izuna retorts without missing a beat, her eyes still on Tobirama as she gently waves her own fan, "and I have not the slightest intention of denying myself the pleasure."
Chigi snorts, shoulders shaking as he turns to look at the trees, his chakra betraying relief. Tobirama can sense his other kin within hearing range thinking hard, their focus and slight confusion clear in their chakra.
Tōka returns before anybody can pick up the conversation again though, accompanied by a dozen vassals of various ages and an Uzumaki. A familiar Uzumaki:
"Tobirama-kun!" Aunt Keimi says cheerfully, waving a burn-scarred hand. "Thought I'd come make sure the rumours really are all outrageous fabrications."
"How goes the scoring there, Keimi-ba?" He asks, well aware he's setting himself up for some kind of Uzumaki joke.
"I've settled a lot of bets so far, but Senkō-chan will be terribly disappointed to hear that Izuna Denka does not, in fact, have a harem of pretty ladies that you have been added to," Keimi-ba teases him, "although she and Tetsumi-chan will be delighted to hear that you are well-dressed enough for several lovely ladies!"
"Thank you, Keimi-ba," Tobirama replies, dry as dust. She is technically one of Baasan's many, many nieces –his grandmother has six sisters and only one does not have children– but all those women insisted on him calling them 'aunt' when he visited. Though he did not actually spend very much time with any of them, or with their children closer in age to him either, given his focus on his studies.
"Izuna Denka," Tōka says, seizing control of the conversation, "allow me to present Uzumaki Keimi, my honoured grandmother's niece and a journeyman glassmaker."
Keimi-ba turns to Izuna, kneels and bows very low, peasant to imperial nobility, as do all the other vassals. "Izuna Denka."
"Oh, none of that please or we'll be here all day," Izuna says promptly, making her own small bow, "'sama' is perfectly adequate and no kneeling is necessary. I am always delighted to meet those who are kin to my spouse, and with such unusual skills! We do not see many glassmakers this far inland."
Keimi-ba gets up off the floor, dusting off her knees as everybody else also stands up slightly more slowly. "A pleasure to meet Izuna-sama!" She bows again, this time standing. "Our Senju kin requested my clan's assistance in fitting glass windows to the front of the meeting hall and I was honoured with the contract. I have every faith that Izuna-sama will not be disappointed in my work!"
Tōka then introduces Satoshi-san the kōshi maker and his apprentice Kobushi-kun, Un-san the roofer, Tadami-san the plasterer, Takeru-san the tatami maker, Katsuya-san and Eiji-san, who are both joiners, and Kaba-san, Takeshi-san and Enoki-san, who are simply labourers. She then introduces the warriors making up her guard patrol, which prompts Toyofutsu to step forwards and do likewise; in addition to Squad Leader Toyofutsu, Yakushi-san the polite and Fushimi-san the complainer there are Naka-san and Enichi-san.
Naka-san has tattoos; Tobirama will wait on finding out what this Naka's nickname is until later. He's somewhat undecided whether he's willing to chance a guess as to which it might be before asking properly; that tattoo is rather distinctive.
It is a very lovely building that Tōka has overseen the construction of; rustic yes, but consciously and deliberately so, in a way that emulates the most fashionable of chashitsu. A very clever choice indeed as it makes a virtue of the plainness and the simplicity of the building, turning the fixed wooden walls and kake-shōji into a design feature rather than a sad indication of poverty and lack of sophistication. The building is well-proportioned, the kōshi over the windows and forming the side doors are elegantly put together and feature a subtle wave pattern, the plaster over the upper half of the walls is smooth and uniform and the woodwork is all extremely even.
Izuna praises the external features extensively, picking out particular details that make each of the craftspeople involved feel seen and appreciated, and then it is time to venture indoors.
Tōka leads them through the front door facing the bridge, leaving both warrior squads outside along with most of the vassals. The Senju, like the Uchiha, have indeed forgotten shoe cupboards for the genkan; Izuna produces slippers without comment, making it out to be something she felt that she, as inspector, had to provide, which was very politely face-saving.
Or would have been, had she not brought Tōka's green slippers with the cobweb resist-print along with the plain guest pairs.
Indoors it is just Tōka –in green slippers– Izuna, Takeru-san the tatami maker, Satoshi-san the kōshi maker, Tobirama and Naka-san, whose feet had fitted the last remaining pair of slippers better than Toyofutsu's. This Naka-san's tattoos are somewhat unnerving, being an additional pair of sharingan eyes above each thin eyebrow. The secondary 'eyes' change the entire look of their face, not at all helped by the high topknot elongating their silhouette, lulling an onlooker's gaze further up the bridge of their nose than is really wise.
Izuna duly examines the –very plain but very fine– indoor furnishings of the main room, with particular attention to the tatami and the exposed beams of both the main structure and the tokonoma, then engages his cousin in a brief but very thoughtful conversation concerning the room's fairly large central sunken hearth –currently concealed under a flooring panel, as is the case in the chashitsu in the garden of the Amaterasu Residence– and the various changes that will have to be made to hosting as the weather turns. Such as, for instance, the need for tsuitate and byōbu to block drafts, and who will be responsible for supplying them, as well as who will be providing the charcoal for the fires.
It is decided that the Uchiha will supply charcoal and the Senju will provide screens, both fixed and folding. Then Tōka leads the little party on a tour of the identical preparation rooms at each end of the building, perfect mirror images of each-other in terms of both furnishings and fittings. Here the discussion turns to light and lanterns, but the eventual decision is that each clan will have a designated preparation room for their usage, which they may furnish as they see fit during the peace talks.
Everything is very civil and very practical. Tobirama tunes most of it out, his wife's hand resting firmly on his wrist, turning to admire the view of the riverside visible across the hall and through the glass window panes on either side of the main entrance. It's not the most aesthetic view perhaps, what with the straggly underbrush between the remaining trees, but that could easily be cleared away and some mossy rocks and more aesthetic low-growing plants substituted.
"Deep thoughts, Treasure?"
"Just thinking on how the view out of the hall could be slightly improved," Tobirama replies easily, turning to smile at Izuna. "After all, while the focus should indeed be on the negotiations, a harmonious backdrop aids such things."
His cousin also turns to glance out of the windows, her eyes skimming over the polite détente by the genkan to the riverside beyond. "I see your point, cousin," she agrees ruefully. "I'll talk to my mother about it; she has a good eye for aesthetics."
"Well then, I believe I have seen everything there is to see of the meeting hall and feel able to speak of it cogently and positively to my Lord-Father," Izuna says briskly, "so let us adjourn outside for a short break by the riverside, Treasure, and grant our current hosts the space to decide amongst themselves who will be accompanying us to inspect the guest houses."
"Izuna Denka brought daifuku?" Naka-san asks mildly, making Tobirama flick open his fan so as to conceal his smirk behind it.
"Daifuku and mushroom dumplings," Tobirama's delightful wife says with irrepressible cheer. "And a flask of cold ama-cha, it being such a hot day, as well as utensils for making tea."
"Well then less us adjourn outside, Lord-Wife," Tobirama agrees; "might I invite some of my kin to join us?"
"I see no reason to deny them the pleasure of your company, Treasure," Izuna says mildly, "although joining us will mean they cannot participate in Tōka-san's decision-making."
"I'm sure there won't be an issue there," Tōka says equally blandly; Tobirama rather agrees. Who will go and who will not is Tōka's choice and hers alone, as senior warrior on site and also the one to whom this entire building project has clearly been entrusted. However she will likely take the time to discuss the matter with Hajitomi and Kamoi, them being close to her and their perspectives being trusted.
That will leave Chigi and Shurō free to join him for tea, which Tobirama fully intends to make the most of. Keimi-ba will likely insist on making herself at home as well, but that can't be helped.
Izuna packed Kiso's tea bowls, so they are what Tobirama makes the usucha in and what he drinks out of himself. However there are only four of them, so Shurō and Izuna both get plainer tea bowls as spectators while he, Keimi-ba, Chigi and Un-san use the ones with the toddler hand-prints under the glaze.
Tobirama is looking forward to telling his son that he used the teacups today. The post-tea conversation with Keimi-ba is a little tricky, but hopefully he is not about to get ambushed by Uzumaki trying to rescue him. He cannot be rescued, and would rather not see anybody die in a misguided and well-meaning attempt to achieve such. But that is a problem for another day; right now Izuna is taking Tōka and Kamoi around the guest houses with the relevant Uchiha craftspeople, shadowed by Toyofutsu, as the other Uchiha loiter in the not-yet-garden with the remaining Senju warriors.
And Tobirama, who decided to stay outside and talk some more to Chigi and Shurō; Hajitomi is also here, but he seems to be trying to stay on guard. And struggling somewhat; Tobirama suspects that some of Izuna's fuuinjutsu protections cover significantly more than just the Uchiha Compound.
Shurō isn't bothering; he's looking around with open curiosity, unease mostly covered by interest. Chigi isn't even bothering to do that much; he's looking at Tobirama.
"Yes?" Tobirama asks, spinning the umbrella resting against his shoulder. He shouldn't fidget, but Chigi is looking at him with that vague expression of concern he gets when Tobirama mentions something he did as a child that Chigi would never let his own children do at that age. Like taking solo missions over a day's travel away aged eight.
"Marriage shouldn't involve one person keeping the other in a cage, Tobirama-sama."
Tobirama raises an eyebrow. "You say that like we haven't regularly seen wives who couldn't leave if they wanted to while on missions, Chigi."
Chigi squirms. "I, yes, but! That's not how it is for shinobi!"
"Because we can enforce our boundaries," Tobirama reminds him. "Which, at present, I am unable to do. I can argue for them –and have been doing so, I promise Chigi– and I can make requests, but if my spouse says 'no' then I just have to accept that." He smiles at his former subordinate, trying to make it reassuring. "Izuna-san is both attentive and very responsible, don't worry."
"You're not a pet to be kept in a cage, Tobirama-sama!"
"And neither were those many other wives we have seen decorating their husband's households," Tobirama repeats sharply, "and yet, they were no more able to leave than I am, not if they wished to live well, and they saw nothing out of the ordinary in such an arrangement. Let it be, Chigi; it is what it is and there is only living with it now." He would rather talk about something different. "What's Koenma getting up to?"
"He's been press-ganged for his reading skills and is helping Tokyōma-kun ransack the archives," Chigi says, clearly less than happy to be diverted but prepared to go along with it. "Mostly sorting texts by type; I think Tokyōma-kun wants to decisively separate out the records from the instructional scrolls."
"That would be practical," Tobirama agrees; yes, some of the jutsu texts are not particularly informative, but it's still irritating to open what you thought was a scroll on how to perform a chakra technique and discover it's actually a mission report or a misleadingly-named work of sensationalist fiction.
When people die, any document that nobody has space for yet is deemed to contain sensitive information goes into the clan's archives. Warriors who come up with new techniques are also supposed to ensure there will be archived instructions of them should they die, but Tobirama –like most warriors– kept those at home and heavily coded, arguing they were still 'in development'. Which is allowed, of course. He had planned to create a blood-locked code that would dissolve after his death, revealing his final notes to those keyed into them, but that hasn't happened yet and now all his notes are stored in his rooms in the Amaterasu Residence, along with his books.
If his father had gone through his things at any point after his presumed death, his notes would have all been filed in the Archive in the hopes of somebody someday managing to crack his codes. That they weren't can only be due to Anija making off with all his scrolls, possibly claiming that Mito wanted them for fuuinjutsu reasons.
Nobody but Anija would have just sent him all those coded notes along with his books, never thinking of the potential consequences for the clan.
"And Maki?" He knows she's apprenticed herself to Rinzōma –that much was in the letter– but he wants details. How is she holding up? What are her longer-term plans? Is she going through a more intense food-hoarding phase, which is always a sign that she's worried about the near future?
"Running errands mostly; little things that need doing but most other people don't have the time for and that the younger ones lack the experience to do quickly," Chigi says, tone slightly dismissive. Which actually means that Maki has already proven herself capable enough to start running missions alongside Rinzōma, petty thefts and minor sabotages that need to be entirely deniable. From what Tobirama has seen of the profession, there is no interaction whatsoever between client and shinobi: the client leaves their request at a specific shrine along with a sum of money, and the shinobi taking up the mission performs the requested task to the degree they feel the client has paid for.
A sabotage to a rival craftsman which was paid in a handful of brass coins will only be a roof leak or some damage to his property by 'wild animals;' a sabotage paid for with a golden ryō will involve damaged tools, cracked roof beams, stolen or destroyed supplies and sudden illness afflicting the entire household. Some clients are apparently very specific; one time Rinzōma brought a cat and her kittens across half of Fire Country because the client specified that they wanted their enemy's cat had to 'go missing' and never be seen again, dead or alive.
That particular cat, a friendly calico who likes to wave at passing clansmen from her preferred perch on a roof-ridge, has set up shop in one of the clan's barns and is an excellent mouser; Tobirama can understand why a client would want it removed, even without the additional superstitions surrounding cats.
"I'm glad she's keeping busy and earning well." Thievery is a career with better long-term prospects for women as well, as the pressure to retire is far less. As Nara-ba demonstrated, working throughout her marriage even before being widowed and keeping her sons well-fed and well-equipped despite Kisoma-ji's death while they were still very small, right up until she died on a mission last year, older than many warriors ever manage to be.
"I'm back on caravan guarding after this," Shurō volunteers.
"Keep an eye out for books for me?" Tobirama asks, enjoying how the well-worn request makes the older warrior smile.
"If you give me money to buy them, sure." It is the usual reply; Shurō is not a fluent reader by any means, but he has a strong visual memory and knows the titles Tobirama owns already, so is generally able to bring back related texts with a little help from whichever bookseller he is patronising.
For himself Shurō buys shunga prints; Tobirama wonders whether he's leaving his collection to anybody in particular in his will or whether he's secretly looking forward to all the clan's younger warriors setting up a very serious tournament with it as the prize after he dies, to determine who gets to keep it.
Chigi buys toys for his children and occasionally other domestic things for his wife and their household, depending on what's been broken recently and what is wearing out. Three small children, two of them boys, are fairly hard on the furnishings despite generally not meaning to be.
"Talk to Anija, I'm sure he'll stand you the money; I'll pay you back afterwards."
Shurō nods agreeably, clearly pleased to have this mundanity reaffirmed. "Anything in particular you're looking for this time, Tobirama-sama?"
"Springs, please." Tobirama holds his fan out flat and clearly traces the 'izumi' character on it with one finger, so Shurō can have an idea of shape. The older warrior watches attentively, then nods.
"I'll see what I can find, Tobirama-sama," he grins, "and I'll be sure to charge Hashirama-san for my time."
Tobirama laughs; first Shurō, then Chigi, then several of the Uchiha pretending not to eavesdrop also join in. "Don't over charge him," Tobirama warns a little breathlessly, "or Mito-nee will get involved and that will be that."
"I'll keep that in mind, thanks Tobirama-sama."
Tobirama then turns to the nearest Uchiha, who happens to be Naka-san. "Do you have a preferred form of address, Naka-san?" He asks.
They nod, the tattooed eyes on their forehead shifting as they raise an eyebrow at him. "Naka Four-Eyes, Tobirama-sama."
"Very apt," Tobirama agrees blandly, not surprised that such a distinguishing characteristic has dictated their nickname, "and also very unnerving."
Naka Four-Eyes grins, bright and suddenly mischievous. "I'll have to see about introducing you to Naka-Spider, Tobirama-sama."
Tobirama feels a pang of foreboding. "I am guessing Naka-Spider's tattoos are significantly more unsettling than yours are?"
Naka Four-Eyes grins, raising a finger to tap their face over the cheekbone, both beside the ear and closer to the nose, and then to their forehead just above the inner edge of their eyebrow; "eight eyes rather than just four, Tobirama-sama."
"Thanks, I hate it," Tobirama deadpans, stealing the expression his wife had used when Madara had brought over a stack of mission reports with the message that their father wanted her conclusions the following morning. All of the Uchiha snort, several of them quickly covering their mouths with their hands.
"That was real?" Chigi asks abruptly. "I ran away from an Uchiha with eight eyes on a mission once; I thought it was a genjutsu or some dreadful fever-dream."
Naka Four-Eyes cackles.
"Naka-Spider was their mentor when they were starting out," Yakushi says, tone longsuffering. "As you can see, they made an impression."
"Should have let them mentor Izuna-bi," Toyofutsu mutters quietly; "I'm sure that would have been better than Takao."
"Takao's great," Enichi retorts firmly, "and Naka-Spider was Izuna-bi's mentor with wire anyway."
"Was it 'spider' for the wire and they got the eyes to play into it?" Tobirama asks abruptly; he has a feel for Uchiha humour now and this seems plausible.
"They had a different nickname once," Yakushi says blandly, "but they decided they didn't like it, so went about changing it in the most dramatic and unsettling way possible."
"What was it? It can't have been as bad as Naka-Ninefingers," Enichi says, looking interested.
"Nine fingers?" Tobirama asks, already having an inkling of where that nickname might have originated.
"'Shinobi wire is not a toy, children,'" Toyofutsu says, audibly quoting in dry, faintly sharp tones, "'you will pay attention to what you are doing and exercise care while training, no fancy flourishes, or else you will end up like Naka-Ninefingers.'"
"Who chopped their own little finger off by accident while messing around and didn't notice until rather later, because good wire is that sharp," Enichi concludes with relish.
"And never managed to find the missing finger, which means something probably ate it while they weren't looking," Fushimi adds with ghoulish glee. "Possibly a chicken."
"I am telling that story to my kids," Chigi says, delighted and disgusted in equal measure, "to go with all the 'Tou-san's kunai are not toys' stories."
"Ninefingers is about your age, Tobirama-sama," Enichi says; "they works in stores now, seeing as losing a finger forced them to drop out of Outguard training. I think the mentors drag them out to show off their scars to every year's new recruits, along with Tanigawa-sensei the rope-maker, who had an accident with firework powder when they were a new recruit and lost half their foot."
"Object lessons indeed," Tobirama says, doing his best to keep a straight face. The prospect of being kept alive as an object lesson if you did ever happen to be that foolish likely has as effective a dampening effect on youthful idiocy as seeing the injuries themselves; nobody likes the idea of their mistakes being remembered.
"Got any stupid training stories, Tobirama-sama?" Enichi asks hopefully.
Tobirama hums. "Well, there was that time Anija was a little bit careless and accidentally grew a thornbush behind him as well as a sapling in front of him," he shared wickedly, "and then retreated into the thornbush."
It's a very old story –Anija was barely thirteen then, still learning to use Wood Release effectively– but it makes everybody laugh, which is the point.
Izuna's right, their clans need to be shown how they're all the same; all people who laugh and love and do really stupid things from time to time. Otherwise, even if they get peace, how will peace be preserved?
An interlude, so we're going back a bit.
Homusubi watches Izuna leave, the Drowning Breath bound and biddable at her side with a baby cradled against his chest. He wouldn't have believed it without seeing it, but apparently Tajima's sharp-eyed wild-child has tamed the Senju she caught and carried home. Watching the killer of so many kin get paraded around the clan compound like a performing bear is extremely satisfying, if also a bit insensitive. But then again, that's Izuna for you; all her father's sharp edges, wielded by a hand gentle enough to make anybody's eyes cross wondering where she got that from.
"Oh, he's got your measure all right, Tajima-kun!" Karifuri sniggers, taking full advantage of the familiarity afforded him by being the Outguard Head's older brother-in-law. "Brought little Kei-chan along then wouldn't let you cuddle, Izuna-bi aiding and abetting; whatcha do to piss her off this time?"
"Sent her off on a mission yesterday, when he agreed she'd be retiring today," Senior Lieutenant Tsuyoshi says mildly, flicking a prematurely grey strand of hair out of his face.
"That was fucking stupid, 'Jima," Armour-smith Tarumae says flatly, looking up from her game of Go against Miune, who is putting up a better fight than Iwasaku managed earlier. "Senju boy's got leopard blood and leopards are Cat-kin; he'll hold a grudge until the end of time and make your life hell with a smile while denying it's to spite you, even if Izuna-bi lets it go tomorrow." Like she generally does; sharp as death as she can be, Izuna refuses to hold grudges. She says holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die of it. Izuna's never been one for seething silently if she's in the mood to retaliate, nor the sort to delay vengeance if it can be carried out instantly.
"Speaking from experience, Tarumae?" Karifuri asks wickedly, then hurriedly catches the Go stone flicked at his face.
"There was that one time," Squad Mentor Tsukiyo says dryly, lips twitching as her friend and age-mate glares at her.
"I apologised to Momo-san for that!" Tarumae snaps, jabbing a finger.
"She did stop knocking your teacups off the shelves eventually," Iwasaku agrees with aplomb. Tarumae hisses at him and snaps down another Go stone; Miune winces across the goban, trying to salvage more than Iwasaku was allowed to.
Tajima doesn't answer any of them; he's watching Asane-san. Asane-san was Tajima's Mentor, back before Tajima was Outguard Head; the man's been retired for longer than Izuna's been alive, but he's no less sharp for that.
Asane-san's taking his time over the Go game he was playing against the Drowning Breath, examining all the ways the Senju was losing with a leisurely eye. Homusubi wanders a little closer; it's a poorly-played board, all unfinished gambits and a critical lack of long-term planning sabotaging the Senju's play. Typical Senju, for all that the Drowning Breath has the quickest hand and most dangerous mind out of all those still living; they only match the Uchiha through sheer brute force, which cannot be brought to bear on the Go board.
"What am I missing, Mentor?" Tajima asks, tone dry but fond as he nods to Tsuyoshi, who begins putting the stones on the board between them back into their bowls, their game completed.
"Try not to antagonise your son-in-law too much, Tajima-sama," Asane-san says mildly, smiling knowingly at the Outguard Head. "He's green still but he's a quick learner; not afraid to give ground in order to reach his objective, either."
A sore loser, Homusubi interprets; that he knew already. Though the Drowning Breath doesn't seem to consider Izuna's victory and capture of him to count as 'losing' exactly; probably because he's enjoying himself enough in her bed to consider it as coming out ahead regardless of the bindings around his chakra and soul.
He's not seen the seals for himself, but Izuna's nothing if not ruthlessly efficient in achieving her goals, no matter how peculiar her methods can look at times. To keep the Drowning Breath in her bed he needs to be bound well enough for Tajima to agree he's not going to cause trouble, and the Outguard Head's standards are unrelentingly high; Izuna knows this, and that her father doesn't make exceptions. She wanted a Senju concubine and she's got one; the Drowning Breath isn't going anywhere, not now and not ever.
After enough time he might forget he ever wanted to.
"Hn." Tajima stands and walks closer, leaning over to study the board more closely. Asane-san smiles, small and secretive:
"You learn a lot from a man when you play Go, Tajima-sama."
"A game, Homusubi?" Tsuyoshi asks idly from behind him.
"Why not?" It will pass the time, and now the Drowning Breath is gone he's not feeling his neck prickle at the man's chakra, smooth and deceptive as undertow.
Keika picks her moment carefully and corners Yagura by the well at the back of the Clan Hall; she has much more free time now the clan's warriors aren't constantly skirmishing with the Uchiha, so she served tea to Tokonoma-ji, using up the last of the water in the kitchen without replacing it, then waited for her uncle's new right hand to come out to refill the jars so he can make tea for Tokyōma-kun.
"Yagura." She uses no honorifics; she's noticed something lately, now her workload has lessened and she's no longer devoting every spare moment to preparing for the next wave of dying kinsmen to be dragged back from the brink, and wants to find out if she's right.
Her uncle's new Right Hand freezes briefly, then ducks his head politely. "O-Keika-san."
He does not make eye contact, and there is a hint more colour around his ears and cheekbones than there was before he realised she was there. So maybe there is something to Sōka-chan's teasing after all.
Keika knows she's not pretty; Hashirama has more of their mother's looks than she does, has the softness of her jaw and cheekbones, the smoothness of her hair, the warmth of her smile, the gentle amber of her eyes. Instead Keika has Butsuma's squarer jaw and sharply protruding cheekbones, Butsuma's black eyes and –if she is honest with herself– much of his temper. But that temper is shared with Ōka-ba, so Keika minds it less than the unfortunate nature of her face. It would be a handsome enough face on a man, but she is not a man.
She was born with her mother's golden hair, but as she aged it reddened so now it is the colour of a fiery sunset rather than a soft dawn. It makes her look more like Ōka-ba, whose hair is as much red as brown, and who also has Keika's square jaw although her features are softer. It helps to know that the severity of her features and the width of her jaw both come from the grandfather she never got to meet; most of her other aunts and uncles take very much after Obaasan in looks, even though only Tanka-ba has hair in true Uzumaki scarlet.
And yet here is Yagura, who apparently believes her to be more pleasant to look at than any of her sweeter-faced cousins. It's rather unlikely.
That's not what she ambushed him here for though.
"It wasn't Shitomi-san who killed Butsuma-san, was it." She does not ask; she knows it wasn't Shitomi, who probably never had an original thought in his life and never questioned the duty laid before him. Butsuma could have ordered Shitomi's nieces killed and he'd have found some way to justify it, like he justified his sons' deaths on the battlefield far too young.
Butsuma was not a role model to be emulated in the treatment of one's children; most of the clan do actually recognise that. Shitomi however would only have raised a blade against his clan head if violently hallucinating, which the state of the room afterwards did not support as a theory. Nor did the testing of his blood, to see if more poisons than the obvious had been used on him.
Yagura stays still, the large water jar from the clan hall's kitchen resting against his hip, his eyes on the cracked, overgrown flagstones around the well and pump as though they are the most interesting thing in the world. Which is answer enough.
"I thought as much; you did it, and you had help," Keika says, resting her hands on her hips, "otherwise it wouldn't have been anywhere near as tidy. No, I'm not asking who; I disowned him, he was going to get the clan killed and I don't care. But you did it; what were you expecting to get out of it?" She's genuinely curious, because Yagura definitely wasn't conspiring with Tokonoma-ji, so the best he could have hoped for was getting executed for murder. He used his own signature weapon on Shitomi, for Buddha's sake!
"My sister's life," Yagura says quietly, setting the water jar down on the ground and finally looking her in the eye. "My nephews' lives. Your life. A future for the Senju beyond a mass grave and a footnote in the Daimyo's records."
"Nothing for yourself."
"I do not mind dying, O-Keika-san. Not if it means those dear to me will live."
"You count me as one of those dear to you?"
Yagura's eyes instantly drop to the water jar, shoulders tensing; he does not answer, which is also an answer.
"Yagura, look at me." He straightens, eyes focusing somewhere in the vicinity of her chin; it will have to do. "I don't understand why." Why her? Why has he not said anything?
The warrior swallows. "O-Keika-san is… most admirable, in her dedication to her principles," he mutters unevenly, "and, and, very beautiful." That last admission is barely a whisper.
"Yagura I wear either plain medical gear or my mother's old kimono, none of which suit me. I am not beautiful." Yes, her general shape is not so different from her mother's, but she is a full head shorter; the clothes therefore to not drape as flatteringly and they do not suit her colouring. Yes she is fashionably lacking in curves, but she is by no means slender; she is as stocky as her farmer grandmother was, her mother's mother who married a warrior of the main family however removed from the ruling line.
She is a medic, not the wife of a clan head who will spend his earnings on fine and flattering silks to enhance her loveliness. But her mother's kimono are good quality and should not be wasted, so she wears them.
"O-Keika-san is beautiful," Yagura insists mulishly, eyes still fixed on her chin; no, her mouth. "Fine clothing does not confer beauty."
Part of her wants to laugh. Another part is pointing out that she's very unlikely to get a better offer than this, because a man who thinks a woman looks delightful even when dressed in formless medical scrubs is definitely in love.
Yagura is kind. He is kind to Tokyōma-kun and always has been, despite the uncertainty of her teenage cousin's status; he is also kind to medics and vassals and widows and orphans. She has not thought of marriage until now –has not had the time or the energy– but she would like to marry a kind man.
Her lips twitch into a smile; Keika watches Yagura swallow nervously, the knot in his throat bobbing.
"If that is how you feel, Yagura," she says, light and ever so slightly playful as she lingers over his name, "why have you never said anything? Do you not want to do more than admire me from afar?"
"I–" Yagura drags his eyes up to meet hers "–O-Keika-san? You, I?"
"Please speak clearly, Yagura." She is definitely teasing now, Keika recognises internally, but she can't quite bring herself to stop. This is who she is; she's not going to change that.
Her flustered suitor takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders. "O-Keika-san," he says determinedly, holding her gaze, "I would be most honoured if you would permit me to court you."
"You have my permission," Keika agrees lightly, rather charmed that he managed to actually get the words out, "but please drop the 'O'; I would rather be addressed by name by those close to me."
"Keika-san?" Yagura manages, looking distinctly desperate to maintain some degree of mannerly recognition despite it being far more usual in-clan to drop honorifics altogether.
Keika can't help grinning at his hunted expression. "You know, the only person in-clan that Butsuma consistently called 'san' was my mother. And only after he married her." According to Ōka-ba, at least.
Yagura blushes vibrant scarlet from hairline to collarbones and covers his face with both hands. Keika laughs, feeling lighter than she has in years. Oh, he's adorable and she never noticed before now. She'll have to start making up for lost time.
"You should probably fill up the water jar, Yagura-san," she teases, "My cousin still does not have his tea."
The warrior glares at her, rueful, flustered and softly wondering, but does pick up the jar and set it under the pump, then work the handle to bring up the water. Keika watches him for a little while, seeing that effortless but well-restrained strength in a new light for the first time, then steps closer.
"Can I help Keika-san?" Yagura asks, pausing to push some loose hair out of his face.
"Come by the Healing Hall later, Yagura-san?" She asks, feeling suddenly a little shy. "We could eat dinner together."
He blinks at her, eyes so wide and dazed she almost reaches out to check him for a concussion. "Yes! I will!" He manages after a slightly long pause. "Have a good afternoon, Keika-san!"
"I will," Keika agrees, then gives in to mischief and leans in to quickly kiss his cheek as he bends down to pick up the full jar. She times it perfectly; Yagura stares at her for several seconds, then hauls the full jar up into his arms and retreats at speed back to the door of the kitchen garden, his ears still bright pink.
He is adorable. Keika returns to the Healing Hall with a spring in her step and a surprisingly light heart; it seems that the ceasefire has brought her something good after all, in the midst of all the losses.
Tōka had been there when this was decided, but evidently she'd been too worn down by the negotiation process to properly process what it meant. But now the rains are over and the clan needs to get on with their half of the building project.
"No we will not have Hashirama grow the hall!" she snaps, slamming her palm down on the table and interrupting the ongoing disagreement. "For one, it's cheap, for two, it's disrespectful to host shinobi guests in a chakra construct when we legally designate those as 'temporary dwellings' and three, Aburame kikaichū eat chakra. Expecting them to host in a building that is made with chakra would be taken as a ploy to distract them." Never mind that it would put the Uchiha Clan's backs up, expecting them to put themselves at ease while surrounded by her blockhead cousin's chakra.
She is very grateful to her little brother, for finding out the 'temporary dwellings' detail.
"So we build it the slow way," Tousan says, quelling all possible protest. "So next is the matter of design."
"As a building intended for hosting noble guests, it needs to have shōji and fusuma," Obaasan says firmly, "and tatami for sitting on."
"Which is all very well to say," Kaasan points out, "but is there anybody in the clan capable of making shōji, let alone fusuma? Not just the panels, but the fittings so they stand straight and move smoothly?"
There is a pause.
"Hire somebody," Yagura says firmly. "We can at least make the tatami, though we will have to buy more silk for the trimmings."
"So we have a tatami maker," Tōka picks up, nodding gratefully at Yagura for his suggestion, "and we hire a shōji craftsman. But what about the building's actual shape and design? Because we have to make a good impression, but we also should try to play our strengths or else our work is going to look tacky and cheap."
"I will carve the ranma to go over the partitions," Tousan says; "Hashirama's experimental foray into growing various luxury woods is going well, so we can afford to buy finer hardwoods for the internal fittings."
"I don't think we can hope to compete with the Uchiha in terms of internal decoration," Tōka admits ruefully, remembering the fabulously intricate fusuma of the Diplomatic Quarters, intended for the admiration of guests as much as the distraction of prisoners, "but if we go in the opposite direction, maybe?" Simplicity would be more easily achieved.
"Fashionably rustic?" Kaasan suggests. "Like those little tea huts nobles have in their grand gardens."
Tōka has seen quite a few of those; they ape the homes of farmers and fishermen, but with larger windows and entirely free of the clutter of habitation. "A tea hall, then? With several entrances, so as not to get into the sticky matter of precedence and also ensure that nobody feels slighted over not getting the seat of honour." She turns over one of the scraps of paper on the desk and sketches out a rectangle, adds doors on both the narrow ends and on one of the sides. "A central door for the Aburame, who are technically hosting as mediators, facing a large tokonoma so they get the seat of honour. Then doors on each side for Uchiha and Senju, so despite each side having a door at their back it's a guarded door." She adds internal partitions. "Two reception areas as well, for washing and preparing tea and storing food and whatever else."
Kaasan takes the sketch off her and moves it into the middle of the table, so everybody can see it.
"Unconventional," Obaasan states, "but it will let the clan play their strengths; most of the external walls can be fixed with large windows in, and we will only need fittings for moveable panels in a few places. Three at most: for the divisions between the main hall and the waiting areas, and for the front entrance." She adds a little square by the doorway on the long side of the rectangle; a genkan.
"And a suitably large overhanging roof, to protect the kake-shōji and katabiki-shōji, seeing as we'll have to fit them with washi rather than cotton or silk gauze," Tokyōma adds.
"The Uzumaki could supply us with float glass, clear or frosted," Obaasan suggests.
Everybody pauses to consider this.
"Glass makes it trickier to use a stove, doesn't it?" Tōka asks. She's never inhabited a building with glass windows herself, but she listened to Tobirama talking at length about his stay in Uzushio, where they use quite a lot of glass.
"Reduces privacy as well, if it's clear," Kaasan muses, "but it is also very fashionable."
"If we were building a residence, I would agree that glass was an excellent idea," Tousan decides eventually, "but we are building a negotiation hall, so offering a view of the outside is somewhat pointless."
"They would cut out the noise from the river though," Tōka points out. "We're going to have to build fairly close after all, and we should probably add a bridge in deference to the fact that it's entirely possible not everybody the Aburame bring with them will be shinobi trained."
"Us or the Uchiha? It's their land and they are technically hosting," her little brother counters.
"I will write and ask if the Uchiha will be building a bridge," Tousan says firmly, quelling the argument before it can get off the ground; Tōka narrows her eyes at Tokyōma, who sticks his tongue out at her. "But if we want glass katabiki-shōji for the front wall, we will have to hire an Uzumaki as well as a local craftsman; glass shōji require metal fittings, for their weight."
"I have a niece who is a glazier," Obaasan says firmly; "don't worry about that side of things, I will arrange it."
"So," Tōka summarises, taking her sketch back, "half-height glass windows on either side of the genkan, which will have shōji connecting to the main building and be bracketed by walls, and half-height paper windows bracketing a large tokonoma along the hall's back wall, and fusuma at either end leading to matching antechambers."
"How will the antechambers be furnished?" Kaasan asks. "More teahouse style?"
"That does seem wise," Tousan agrees. "Plain walls, half-height windows with paper panels and a kōshi door, the raised floor starting a little way inside, to create a space for shoes."
"Kōshi lattice over the outside of the glass and paper windows as well, for a uniform look?" Tokyōma suggests.
"A good thought," Obaasan agrees, "and tatami only in the main hall; we will have to provide guest slippers for using in the antechambers."
Tōka remembers her slippers left behind in the Diplomatic Quarters, but does not mention them; for all she knows they have been handed on to somebody else or burned by Izuna in a fit of pique. Actually that's last one's unlikely, but she probably isn't going to get them back either way.
"Boards for the external walls?" She asks.
"Boards and plaster, I think; exclusively plaster on the internal walls between the pillars, but boards outside up to the window-line and plaster above it," Tousan decides. "We're trying to lean into the rustic look, so we should commit."
"So a fancy kumiko design on the kōshi, rather than the usual straight battens?" Kaasan asks. "We should probably pick something auspicious."
"The clan has enough capable woodworkers to see to that, although the trick will be ensuring that everything matches," Tousan muses. "So, the question that remains is: cedar or cypress?"
"Cedar grows faster," Tōka says flatly, "and the trees are bigger. We're going to have to cut down a lot of mature trees for this, so let's at least pick ones that will recover quickly without Hashirama having to do more than get the seeds started." More prosaically, a lot of the Uchiha compound is built from cypress –the Diplomatic Quarters included– so she'd rather avoid it. Yes the scent of hinoki is pleasant and the wood is highly rot-resistant, but it now has uncomfortable connotations for her.
Tobirama's sense of smell is even better than hers; she hopes this isn't giving him problems too.
"Sugi it is then," her father agrees. "Tōka, will you supervise this?"
"Of course, Otousan." Because it is her design, partly her idea, and more prosaically because since becoming Clan Heir she is now one of the few people who can tell Hashirama 'no' and have it stick. Because her blockhead cousin will want to get involved in this, and be pouty when she tells him he can't because his chakra is undiplomatic.
Hashi will have to settle for carrying a quarter of the clan's current income on his broad shoulders, with their new commercial plantation of tamanu trees for the Uzumaki ship-builders and camphor laurel for incense and medicine. The south end of the compound now smells pervasively of camphor, but the process for extracting it from wood chippings is simple and the money is good, especially since they are leaving the local market alone entirely and selling mostly to merchants in Rain, to be traded into Earth and Wind or further west.
Tōka is trying not to think what the Uzumaki are going to do with their ship-building boom. That's not her business. On an entirely unrelated note, she doesn't like Water Country pirates at all and they have everything coming to them, the ones who are actually young bored nobility raiding the coastline for fun in particular.
"Best to start right away," Kaasan counsels her; "you can measure out the foundation and uproot the trees that are in the way, and with the river being high from the rains you can judge how far back from the bank is sensible. We want the building to last, after all." With all the effort and money they're sinking into it, it had better last.
"Who should I take for this part?" Tōka asks. Construction is very much not her field.
"Kazuya-san; I'll introduce you," Yagura offers, standing. "I'd suggest somebody with a feel for Earth as well, but you have that."
Her elemental ninjutsu is passable, yes; she mostly uses it for sensing vibrations underfoot, as Uchiha genjutsu do not mask those. Possibly because they're unaware of them; she's not about to mention it and lose her advantage though.
Chigi lets himself be dragged along in Tobirama's wake as his former commander leaves the shiny new meeting hall at his wife's side, wearing a kimono fancier than Chigi's ever seen on any client's wife or mistress, tied with an obi that hangs to his calves like he's a maiko not a blooded warrior.
Shurō might have let the pretty gauzy silks fool him, but Chigi knows better; Tobirama has a whisper of chakra moving under his skin and he's put on muscle since he was taken captive. He may have married Izuna to keep Tōka alive, but the way he moves and how he looks at his captor says he's enjoying himself far more than a prisoner ought.
As a husband himself, Chigi can accept that being married to somebody you love is highly enjoyable. It's just a surprise to find out that Izuna is what Tobirama is into; Chigi hadn't thought his squad leader liked anybody that much.
The interesting thing is that his commander looks at home in the sumptuous silks, elaborately braided hair knotted high on his head, a furled fan in his hand and shaded by a pretty blue paper umbrella. It reminds Chigi of the leopards, sprawled sleepily over the floor cushions in Tobirama's old house, permitting the façade of domestication because being fed and pampered is comfortable, but no less utterly wild than when running through the snow on the hunt.
No less likely to claw your face off on a whim, either.
Arriving at the water's edge with a good view of the bridge, Izuna produces a blanket out of nowhere, then a rolled-up tatami and a box. Tobirama evidently recognises the box, as he unfurls his fan in order to eyeball his wife judgementally over the top of it.
Izuna smiles, utterly impervious. "I thought you might like to host for a less scornful audience, Takara."
She keeps calling the commander that; calling him precious and calling him property in the same breath. It seems strangely well-received though; Tobirama's expression lightens, the fan is flicked closed again and threaded through his obi cords, the umbrella is handed off to Izuna and Chigi's commander settles himself gracefully on the tatami, flicking the hanging tails of his obi as he sits with a well-practiced movement so they trail behind him across the blanket without creasing.
Tobirama then looks up to meet his eyes with a small but demanding smile, glancing onwards to Keimi-san and then to Shurō and Un-san, who is here mainly because she's Maki's aunt and Maki is desperate for details of how their commander is doing. "Please sit," he says, tone polite and utterly unyielding, "and I will serve tea."
They sit as Tobirama unpacks the box, revealing tea utensils; this is a formal tea then. However there is no brazier, and after filling the iron pot Tobirama casually hands it to his wife, who obligingly heats it between her hands as he sets out plates with daifuku, then individual tea bowls. Thankfully Keimi-san recognised what was going on and settled in the position of first guest, otherwise they'd all be sunk in the depths of ignorance; Chigi has never done more than watch tea ceremonies before, and that was only twice, on different bodyguarding missions several years apart.
The plates are glazed white with olivine green rims and undersides, and the small tea bowls Tobirama confidently and comfortably whisks the thin tea in have black glazed insides and rims contrasting olivine green outsides, each bowl with a subtle and irregular carved pattern on the outside that the glaze has settled into. The tea is handed out, one bowl at a time, and as Chigi accepts his he realises it is not a carving in the side of his cup but a small child's hand, imprinted in the clay while it was soft, the thicker glaze filling the indentation highlighting the lines of the palm and the delicate whorls of the skin over the fingers.
The other side of his cup has two more subtle indents, one round, the other a cluster, doubtless the thumb and fingertips of this child's other hand as they picked up the bowl. Such a whimsical and intensely personal decoration for formal tea-ware; Chigi wonders how old these bowls are, and whether the child who decorated them so earnestly and artlessly is even still alive.
Maybe he will take his children to a potter while the negotiations are ongoing, and commission everyday teacups marked with the imprints of their hands under the glaze. Tiny handprints that will not fade, a precious memory preserved for as long as the cups last.
It is very fancy tea. The daifuku is comfortingly mundane in comparison, if with a slightly unusual flavour in the coating around the anko filling. Then once the ceremony is over Keimi-san opens up conversation:
"Perhaps you could stay here while Izuna-sama escorts Tōka-san around the guest house the Uchiha have built, Tobirama-kun; it would be good to catch up properly and everybody back on Uzushio is very keen to hear how you're getting on."
Tobirama smiles, but he also shakes his head. "Perhaps you could come over the bridge to the Uchiha side, Keimi-ba, and we could talk there instead."
"Why not on this side, Tobira-kun?" Keimi-san asks, smile fond but eyes sharp and shrewd. Chigi would like to know the answer to that as well.
"Off Uchiha land I can't leave my wife's reach, Keimi-ba."
He says it so simply, so lightly, as though it's not an indication of how tightly Izuna has leashed him; how unrelentingly harsh the fuuinjutsu binding him is, that he cannot leave his wife regardless of whether he wants to or not. Chigi realises he has clenched his teeth and deliberately loosens his jaw; raging will not help his commander.
The Uzumaki glassmaker turns to smile at Izuna, who is indeed sitting within arm's reach of Tobirama, but so casually Chigi hadn't really noticed it. That is not how you're supposed to sit for a tea ceremony, he remembers belatedly, even if only thin tea is being served.
"Surely you can agree he'd be safe with us, Izuna-sama? It's not like he's going to run off."
Izuna meets the redhead's gaze with an unyielding smile. "That would be neglecting my duty to him, Keimi-san; I cannot guarantee his safety off Uchiha land. The Uchiha and the Senju are not at peace, and so Tobirama-san is as much a prisoner of war as he is my spouse; I cannot relinquish him to his kin without risking the Senju would then choose to turn away from the peace process."
Keimi-san does not follow that leading comment, focusing instead on an earlier point that Izuna had neatly skimmed over:
"You married a prisoner of war, Izuna-sama? And are keeping him as such?"
"I could only marry him because he is a prisoner of war, Keimi-san," Izuna says mildly. "I took him prisoner for that very reason, and under clan law I cannot release him without facing severe penalties."
"But he's here, off Uchiha land," Shurō points out.
Izuna smiles, sly as any leopard with blood on their whiskers. "And he cannot leave my reach, Shurō-san."
"Surely you can grant a little flexibility, Izuna-sama," Keimi-san persists.
"Oba-san, no," Tobirama interrupts before Izuna can reply; "I don't particularly want my Lord-Wife fiddling with the fuuinjutsu she is binding me with."
"Not even to loosen the noose, Tobira-kun?"
"No." Tobirama is adamant, tone and chakra in complete accord. "It's not Containment or even Binding, Keimi-ba; Izuna is an Invocation Master."
That means nothing at all to Chigi, but Keimi-san goes grey. "Tobira-kun, nephew, surely not?"
"Did Obaasan not tell you?" Tobirama's smirk is tired and lopsided. "She has seen them. She did not think much of my chances. As they are at present I can do much; I would not gamble that against my odds of a longer leash."
'Them,' not 'it;' multiple seals, and in a style even an Uzumaki considers dangerous. Tobirama is well and truly stuck then. No wonder he is behaving himself so placidly; all he can do is wait and enjoy the benefits offered him by his marriage, while hoping for greater freedoms granted at some nebulous point in the future.
"You are so determined to bring the Senju to account that you would harness a god?" Keimi-san whispers, no longer grey but still pale and strained around the edges. Izuna recoils.
"Keimi-san, one does not bind a kami; not ever, not if one wishes to go on living."
"You are an Invocation Master, Izuna-sama; do not argue semantics with me!"
"Semantics matter, Keimi-san," Izuna retorts, fingers flexing over the handle of the swan-printed round fan in her lap, "especially in fuuinjutsu! And I say: one does not harness a kami. Safer to saddle the sea and bridle the wind, and who knows where that would take you?"
"And yet you use the power of the divine in your seals."
"I do not use," Izuna repeats, slightly testy: "I request; I entreaty; and occasionally I align myself with the kami in question, shaping the seal to suit the preferences of the one whose assistance I seek rather than to my own desires. I do not think of what I want, but rather of what could be given." She smiles, eyes hard and lips sharp. "Uchiha are priests before we are warriors, Keimi-san; we are practiced in the ways of kami. So many of my kin would not wear their prayers on their faces were it not so."
Chigi cares not at all that the Uchiha are priests; karma is yet to strike him down for killing them, after all. It does not change the fact that Izuna has entangled a god in her bindings on Tobirama, then bound him to her through mortal laws for good measure.
"Those are seals?" Tobirama asks, turning to examine Naka-san's sharingan tattoos more attentively.
"Some of them could possibly be considered such," Izuna concedes, "but as I said, they are prayers first and foremost. That the kami invoked do in fact answer those prayers says more about the sincerity of the requests than the potency of the ink or any binding inherent in the design."
Tobirama turns back to his wife, reaching out and tracing his fingers along the magatama necklace snaking across her face, under her left eye, up the bridge of her nose and over the other eyebrow. "Is this a prayer, then?"
"It's several different things," Izuna says lightly, smiling at her concubine. "Firstly it's Amaterasu's necklace, which as you know was a highly contentious piece of jewellery."
"Susano-o birthed five gods from it," Tobirama says with the confidence of one who has already studied for this test and scored very highly on it too.
"He did indeed! Ame-no-Oshihomimi, Ame-no-Hohi, Amatsuhikone, Ikutsuhikone, and Kumano-no-Kusubi," Izuna says cheerfully. "Which incidentally set off the whole sibling spat that led to the 'hide in a cave' thing Amaterasu did later."
"Context," Tobirama muses, smirking fondly. "What else is it, Lord-Wife?"
"Secondly, it does indeed have a few additional effects," Izuna admits, "because none of you warriors ever looked at my eyes but you did look at the tattoo."
"That is how you kept on snaring me with genjutsu, isn't it," Tobirama says with a sigh, shoulders sagging. "I should have guessed; creating affinity between the magatama of the tattoo and the ones on your sharingan?"
Chigi also feels slightly stupid; Izuna's genjutsu prowess was always a little baffling with how persistently she was able to deceive people despite none of them ever looking her in the eye. Finding out that it was fuuinjutsu-enhanced is somewhat terrifying in retrospect.
"A good guess! Not the full effect, obviously," Izuna concedes with a smile, "but it did give me an edge."
"And what else?" Tobirama asks. "I know there's more; that's only one effect and you said 'a few'."
She laughs. "Leave me some secrets, Takara!"
"I will have to tease them out of you later then," Tobirama muses, visibly looking forward to it already.
"Maybe," Izuna demurs, lifting up her fan so as to smirk at Tobirama over the top of it, the paper curve covering her mouth and nose but not hiding the gleeful creases in the corners of her eyes. "Or maybe my spouse could guess what other properties my tattoo could have, based on what he already knows."
Tobirama is instantly distracted by the puzzle; that much hasn't changed, clearly. He stares into the middle distance, absently fanning himself, as Izuna packs away the tea things, then lets himself be coaxed up onto his feet so she can pack up the tatami and blanket as well.
Chigi also puts his sandals back on and stands, as does Keimi-san; Izuna has given them a lot to think about.
"Is it to do with the kami who were birthed from the necklace? Do they impart specific properties upon it?" Tobirama asks as Izuna puts up the umbrella again and they set out towards the bridge, where the other Uchiha are waiting with Tōka and the rest of their thrown-together patrol group. No vassals, but then again that's kind-of expected.
"That's a very good guess," Izuna says, which is not a 'no' but also not a 'yes' either. "It does in fact let me do some interesting things with bears, but only if there are bears already."
Chigi has no idea what the previously mentioned kami have to do with bears and is honestly afraid to ask. Even though his commander is laughing and leaning in to kiss his wife's cheek; Izuna has already proven to be extremely bad for his peace of mind and he honestly understood less than half that conversation about gods and seals. Enough to be wary of even trying to rescue Tobirama, even with Uzumaki assistance.
"Is there a rice effect?" Case in point; Chigi has no idea what Tobirama's talking about right now.
"Well you do keep asking where I keep my mochi…"
Tobirama laughs again; well, at least Chigi can assure Maki and Koenma that their commander is happy, despite the distinctly unfavourable circumstances. That's something.
He also has Un-san to help him answer all of Maki's inevitable questions, which is a relief. Shurō has never been one for subtleties.
Tobirama is helping Kiso into today's chosen outfit –a cheery yellow jinbei set printed with wind bells that is too big for him– when Izuna shoves the fusuma open and dashes in, wearing just a loosely tied linen juban.
"Treasure, Treasure!" She grabs his hand, awed delight pouring off her chakra, and presses it against her rounded stomach. Tobirama experiences a moment of incredulous hope –is it– and under his hand something flutters.
"See! Baby!" Izuna says, eyes shining and grinning so widely her eyes are almost creased shut.
Tobirama sinks carefully to his knees and rests his cheek against his wife's abdomen, closing his eyes and focusing on the tiny movements he can now feel much more clearly. This is Izuna's child moving; their child.
"Baby?" Kiso asks, reaching out to tentatively pat at Izuna's stomach. Tobirama takes Kiso's hand and presses it where he can feel the baby moving.
"Yes, it's Izuna-san's baby; can you feel it kicking?"
Kiso screws up his face in concentration, then his eyes go wide. "Hn!"
"Your baby too, Treasure," Izuna says fondly, stroking Tobirama's hair. "I couldn't have done it without you."
Tobirama snorts, sitting back on his heels to smile up at his wife. "Our baby, then."
Kiso is now up on tiptoe, pressing his ear against Izuna's lower abdomen, utterly fascinated. "Ba-tan pwomise Kiso be nii-tan," he says eventually, leaning back to meet Izuna's eyes. "Ba-tan not mean Kei-tan?"
"Oh, darling boy," Izuna kneels, hugging the toddler. "I meant Keigetsu-chan, Kiso-kun; our beautiful strong katsura girl. But now I am having a baby as well, so you will their nii-chan as well." Tomorrow they are not looking after Kei in the afternoon; the infant has a medical check-up and some vaccinations due, which have already been postponed once due to poor physical health and concerns about complications from her early experiences.
Tobirama feels very guilty and very responsible, but he is grateful that Keigetsu is now healthy enough for those essential immunisations.
Kiso ponders Izuna statement, then nods firmly. "Kiso be nii-tan twice." He bounces. "Ba-tan like Kiso jinbei?"
"You look very fine, sweetheart," Izuna assures him warmly, kissing his cheek, "Aso-kun would be very cross to see you wearing his favourite outfit, but we won't tell him, hn?"
Kiso giggles into his hands and flees the bedroom, still giggling. Tobirama remembers that Aso was one of Kiso's older cousins and his heart aches.
All these ghosts of his own making that he must learn to live with, because there is no escaping them. Perhaps time will grant him enough comfort that each reminder is no longer a stab between the ribs?
Tobirama gets to his feet, lifting his wife to hers as he does so, and leans in to kiss her. "Nothing new, my heart. What are you wearing today?"
"Well I have the morning off, seeing as I was doing the official visit on my Lord-Father's behalf the day before yesterday and today he is discussing my report and recommendations with Oba-san, so I thought we could visit Minami-san together," Izuna says. "We did promise after all."
"It can't have been a week since she gave birth," Tobirama protests weakly.
"It's been six days, and even if it is twins this time," Izuna counters, tucking a loose lock of hair back behind his ear, "she asked for you to visit, so it's only polite to be prompt."
Tobirama sags to the inevitable. "Very well then, we shall dress up and then head over once Kiso has been caught."
His wife kisses him lightly. "We can keep it brief, if you'd prefer."
There is a strong gusty breeze today and dark clouds moving swiftly across the sky, so it's no trouble to wear his beautiful patchwork-lined coat on his visit to Minami-san. Yes, dealing with the sleeves of his red summer visiting kimono with the autumn grasses and fireflies is a little challenging until Izuna shows him the trick of it –wrapping the hanging sleeve around his arm so they don't get crushed in the narrower coat-sleeves– but since he is visiting in-clan he can wear a shorter obi, so he picks the shibori-patterned murasaki purple one and ties it with the golden obi cords. Rich purple is an autumnal colour and it will be autumn soon, so he is fashionably anticipating the change in seasons.
Would be very appreciative were it to arrive a little early, in fact.
He takes his folding fan as well, because indoors he will need it; out of the wind it is still very close and humid. The painting on the inside may be sadly tragic, but on the outside is a sailing ship in full sail cutting through white-topped waves, all painted in shades of blue, which he doesn't mind showing off at all.
Izuna is wearing a daylily-yellow leno-weave visiting kimono embroidered with pale seashells, bright seaweed and black and white plover, her obi the dull green temari-embroidered one he hasn't seen her wear in a while, tied with the iris purple obi cords he made for her. The overall effect is very floral and feminine, made lovelier by his knowing that golden yellow, green and purple are some of her favourite colours.
"Off we go then!" His wife says cheerfully, collecting her umbrella from the genkan as they step out, Kiso bouncing and swinging with one hand in each of theirs. In this wind Tobirama feels a hat would be wiser, but the moratorium on allowing Senju concubines to make hats seems to extend to allowing them to keep hats, so he's not going to ask. They will walk down the road with an umbrella each and the toddler between them, all the way to Minami-san's house.
They're halfway there when a cloudburst opens overhead, heavy rain rattling over the umbrellas as Kiso squeaks and tries to climb up Tobirama's coat, necessitating some stabilisation before the toddler can be settled comfortably on his hip. All around them clansmen dash for shelter –or at least for hats and coats– and children whoop and twirl under the downpour, soaked through in their light summer clothing.
"Not dancing in the rain today, Kiso-kun?" Izuna asks lightly.
"We visiting, Ba-tan," Kiso says witheringly. Izuna laughs and leans in to kiss his hair, tilting her umbrella behind her so the water streaming off it misses her clothing.
"So we are kitten." She straightens, grin wide and unselfconscious. "Let us continue then!" She rests her hand in the bend of Tobirama's elbow, the arm steadying Kiso, and they continue on, taking smaller steps so as not to throw up mud and taking care to angle the umbrellas so they don't accidentally tip rain down the backs of their coats.
It's abruptly cooler and his new coat is much more comfortable all of a sudden; Tobirama breathes in the scent of wet earth and blooming plants as they navigate the paths between the smaller farmhouses and workshops nearest the river. None of them have storm-shutters up despite the gusty rain, but most have summer shōji of woven reeds or fine bamboo sudare in the place of paper-windowed panels, granting shade without blocking out all the light and not requiring protection from sudden summer showers.
All the houses here look similar, built in the same style and very similar in size, but Tobirama recognises the right building by its orientation relative to the other nearby structures, the trees in the orchard beside it and the vibrant vegetable garden, all the plants swaying under the force of the raindrops and the larger shrubs sheltering clumps of churring quail.
They don't walk in through the garden though; that's the back of the house. The front door faces directly onto the roughly cobbled track between the buildings, an elegant hemp-leaf kōshi design with no backing opening onto a small genkan with shelves piled high with variously tiny sandals, a step leading up to the raised floor of the inside of the house and a sudare-shōji blocking the view of the indoors.
Not that he needs to see indoors to hear the high-pitched voices of rambunctious small children playing, a steady song being sung and an earnest debate that does not seem to have moved into being an argument just yet. This house is significantly smaller than the Amaterasu Residence, yet has a great many more people in it: along with her husband and many children, Minami-san also lives with her mother. One of her sisters also lives in the neighbouring property with her own children, easily within shouting range.
Announcing themselves in the genkan prompts a commotion: seven-year-old Jōnen-kun is first to the door, sliding it all the way open with an over-enthusiastic shove that makes the panel thump lightly against the end of the groove and bounce back, grinning widely even as three-year-old Tekari-kun catches up and ducks under his arm to drag Kiso out of his sandals and into the house.
Fifteen-year-old Tateshina, caught rising from her loom as the door thudded open, arrives at a more sedate pace as the toddlers dash past her and she bows as she softly welcomes them indoors:
"Izuna-sama, Tobirama-sama, welcome; Okaa-san will be pleased to see you both."
Minami-san is not immediately visible; Tobirama assumes she is in the south-facing workroom, possibly with Naka-Coatmaker, whom he has not yet met. In the central room of the house, which runs from the genkan on the western side all the way through to the open side of the east-facing kitchen, there are only the two little boys now building enthusiastically with a set of variously-shaped wooden blocks, eighteen-month-old Kinu-chan sitting on the room's only tatami with some battered dolls and chewing an ivory animal as Midori sits next to her with a mending basket, singing quietly, Tateshina's loom on the far side of the iori and a kneeling desk with scrap paper half-covered in careful characters, which is evidently what Jōnen was doing before dashing to open the door; sure enough, the seven-year-old has ink-stains on his fingers.
Ikoma and Kitamata are evidently at the forge, working. That is proof enough that Minami-san is recovering well, although Fushimi-san not organising the children into chores is perhaps a better indicator; Minami-san's mother is rather formidable, vastly more so that the warrior who shares her name that he met while Izuna was examining the buildings by the southern bend of the river.
"She and the twins are doing well then, Shina-chan?"
"Tou-san's already picked a name for the boy!" Jōnen says eagerly. "He checked with Hikaku-sama first and everything!"
"Picking a name already? That's a good sign," Izuna says warmly. "Can you tell me what it is or is it a secret?"
Tobirama's more curious why Ikoma-san would ask Hikaku about names.
"It's Hijiri!" Jōnen says brightly. Izuna's chakra twinges, pain running sharply through it then draining slowly away as her smile never falters.
"That's a lovely name and very different to everybody else's, so it's not at all confusing."
Jōnen nods energetically. "All our names are different! Well Naka's isn't but she's the only Naka at home!"
"Your parents have put a lot of thought and care into your names," Izuna agrees solemnly, "but remember it's rude to point it out when other people's parents have been less obviously attentive."
Jōnen nods, then huffs as his sister puts her hand on his shoulder and steers him back towards his calligraphy practice. "You're wearing your new coat, Nii-sama!" He says, twisting around even as he obediently crosses the floor. "Do you like it?"
"I think it's marvellous; your mother is incredibly talented," Tobirama tells him.
"Kaa-san is the best," the boy agrees smugly, then sits back down at his desk and picks up his brush. Tateshina watches him for an instant longer, until he moves his paper and begins a new kanji, before closing the door to the genkan behind them and ushering them into the closest of the two south-facing rooms: Minami-san's workroom.
Through the paper-lined shōji separating this room from the main room, this space is entirely filled with tatami and there are many tansu lining the walls, full of scrolls and silks and jars of dyestuffs. In the middle of the room are Minami-san and a stocky girl teetering on the edge of puberty –likely Naka-Coatmaker– along with a reed basket containing two tiny infants snuggled together like kittens, a square of silk gauze draped over the top to keep the insects out and plenty of soft blankets underneath so the babies don't chill, even in this summer weather.
They are so, so tiny. Tobirama could probably balance one of them on one hand.
"Tobirama-kun!" Minami-san says brightly, standing as Naka-Coatmaker looks up from the silk patchwork in her lap, "come and sit down so you can meet the two adorable new additions to the family."
Tobirama sits; the room is full of the scents of baby skin, milk and Minami-san's good health. Yes, Ikoma-san had come to say as much and thank him, but this–
Minami-san removes the silk and hands him the tiny naked infant girl; cradled in his hands she looks even smaller. In the basket the boy stirs and whimpers, bereft; Minami-san tucks him into the front of her yukata.
Tobirama lifts the tiny nameless girl closer to his face –sleeping so trustingly in his hands– and breathes in her scent. She's still too young to have her own chakra, so all he can smell is the soft, subtle scent of infant and mother's milk, blending with the more obvious scent of Minami-san's chakra.
Her skin is so soft. She is so delicate. Not one of his aunties has ever let him hold his baby cousins when they were this small; Hashirama's thoughtless exuberance and his own loud and occasionally violent objections to it thoroughly put all of them off entrusting fragile infants to either of them. Once they were a few months old Tobirama generally had a chance, but he honestly wasn't often around and never had the time for babysitting. Too many other duties.
"What was your mother's name, Tobirama-kun?" Minami-san asks idly as Izuna settles next to Naka-chan and sets about admiring the girl's handiwork.
"Kikuno; Hatake Kikuno," Tobirama says distantly, mostly focused on the unbelievable softness of the fluffy baby hair against his cheek and nose. "Written 'chrysanthemum field'; Hatake women's names usually end with the 'field' character."
"A lovely name for a lovely lady," his host says warmly. Tobirama blinks, looking up at her.
"Did you ever encounter my mother, Minami-san?" It seems unlikely.
"She must have been a remarkable woman, to raise a son like you Tobirama-kun."
Tobirama must have something in his eye; an eyelash or something. Of course he's not crying.
He's got nothing to cry about. Nothing at all.
After lunch, when Kiso is off being babysat by Naka-Scallion and Izuna is in her study with the shōji open, poring over the latest intimidating stack of documents her father wants her to draw conclusions from in between writing letters, Tobirama abruptly sets aside the book he is reading –a comprehensive guide to Go strategy, featuring diagrams of all the known ju– and wonders what on earth he's doing.
He's been living day-to-day, or at most week-to-week, but in the long term that really isn't good enough. This isn't just a temporary interlude; this is the rest of his life. He's married to Izuna even if he's not strictly speaking her husband, he's already halfway integrated into the Uchiha clan –when was the last time he got lost trying to go somewhere specific in the compound? Longer ago than he's comfortable thinking about– and before the year turns he is going to be holding a child that shares his blood in a more immediate way than Kiso or Keigetsu.
He needs goals. He needs a strategy.
Well, goals that encompass the Senju are perhaps a little beyond his scope, but he can support Izuna's goal there; she wants peace and he can continue supporting that as and when the opportunity arises. For himself…
Well. He wants a successful marriage, like Tokonoma-ji and Sumi-ba have. Wants a spouse whom he can confide in and be confided in by, whom he can support confidently and be supported by in turn; wants a partner who listens to him and takes his feelings into account. Izuna seems to be open to that, she's been confiding in him and listening to him when he wants to talk about things, so he just has to… keep going, there.
Talk about things that are more personal, and offer to listen to her on personal things too.
But what does he want for himself?
He wants… he wants to be a good father. He's doing his best with Kiso and Kei-chan, but sometimes it feels like walking over sand dunes, unsteady and likely to give way at any moment, sending him tumbling down to land on his face with grit in his eyes.
He could talk to Haruto about fatherhood, maybe? He and Naka Two-Swords seem to have raised a very happy and steady child in Sakuya-chan. He could maybe talk to Ikoma-san as well, seeing as the man has an entire household full of children rather than Haruto's single daughter and second child on the way. He's used to caring for Kiso now, but adding Kei-chan full-time and another baby –or even babies– before the end of the year suddenly feels very immediate and rather intimidating.
How did his mother manage it, raising the four of them all alone?
Well. It's evidently possible. People have been raising children since the dawn of time, so as long as he's careful and kind he probably won't do worse than most people manage to.
But what else does he want? Being a good father is a personal goal, but parenting is a collaborative activity when there're two of you and he's not doing this alone. He's doing it with Izuna, who has made it very clear she's looking forward to being a mother and seems to know what she's doing with both Kiso and Kei-chan. Madara will doubtless also be involved in some fashion once the children are old enough, seeing as Izuna's offspring will be his heirs unless he also marries and reproduces.
Tobirama knows he wants to learn new things. He's always wanted to learn things, honestly; mostly things that would help him improve his understanding of the world and refine his ability to use chakra. But now there's no battlefield tomorrow –there will likely never be another battlefield ever again, even though he can't bear to give up his kata and strength exercises– and no missions to complete, so his desire to learn is turning in new directions.
The book on eyesight and how it works clarified a lot of things he'd never really thought to question about how the eye and the brain interact, things that he has seen in his own kin growing up. In Uchiha many of these things may be more pronounced, but the underlying processes are identical. He's planning on reading the book again and taking more notes, to see what his now-enhanced understanding lets him take away from the text.
The books on colour chemistry are also fascinating, never mind all the uses for pigments that the authors mention. He'd been aware of indicators and their value in chemistry, but never connected that to the fact they could be used to detect –and even neutralise– poisons. And Izuna is always willing to indulge him in fuuinjutsu theory, as well as increasingly willing to let him join in with a little experimentation.
Is that enough? A lifetime of matrimony, fatherhood and scholarly pursuits? Is that truly all he wants out of life?
Well, it doesn't have to be a lifetime; as the children grow they will need less of his attention. In twenty years time –and he is now shockingly likely to be still alive in twenty years time– he can always revisit his goals, as then he might well have more time to pursue other things in.
Satisfied with his conclusions, Tobirama returns to his reading; he wants to feel he is improving his play, even though he is very unlikely to ever defeat Asane-san at Go.
The following afternoon, while Kiso is out with Midori-chan, Tobirama approaches Izuna with a question that's been in the back of his mind since the outing down to the southern border:
"How does a person fight with a hand-fan?" Madara's gunbai is technically a fan, but it's almost as tall as he is and wielded as a combination of shield and bludgeon.
"Well, there're two –actually three– different kinds of hand-fan that can be wielded as weapons," Izuna explains instantly, smiling as she gestures. "There are folding fans, gunsen and tessen; rigid fans, gunbai; and also iron clubs shaped to look like furled folding fans, which are also classified as tessen. Gunsen are regular folding fans but with the ribs made out of metal, generally bronze or brass, and with thin iron plates over the outer spokes. They're light and strong, generally with oiled paper covering the spokes, and usually plain or simply decorated with the owner's mon. They're used like regular fans, for cooling off on hot days, but made of metal so as to be more hard-wearing. They can also be used for signalling and identification, seeing as nobody goes around with full-size banners anymore.
"Tessen are different: the outer plates on a tessen are genuine armour, and they may also have sharpened steel ribs. They are weapons with associated fighting styles and should be treated as such; useful for deflecting projectiles and for defending oneself from attacks at close range, as they are strong enough to parry and deflect a sword with and are perfectly serviceable for bludgeoning even when not sharp enough to slice people open."
Tobirama tries to imagine the practicalities of cutting somebody open with a fan. He suspects it would require moves such as those used by dancers; using a furled tessen like a kunai for deflecting blows makes much more sense.
"Gunbai are rigid fans, generally made from solid wood or iron, and sometimes from wood with iron plates riveted over the top," Izuna continues, "but usually not as large as Madara-nii favours. They're for deflecting blows and also for signalling troop movements, usually; Nii-san deciding to have one custom-made to use as a club and shield is mostly a response to your brother's tendency to arm his tree-tendrils and occasionally throw weapons at him."
"So when you offered to buy me a fan, you were offering me a tessen." A folding steel fan.
"If you would like one I will see about approaching a blade-smith who is willing to work with you to ensure the fan fits your hand properly and you can grip it appropriately both when furled and when open," Izuna says, "although it may take me a few tries; not all of the knife-makers make tessen. I may have to turn to a shuriken-maker instead; I'm not entirely sure how the various disciplines divide this kind of intermediate work."
And, she does not say but Tobirama hears anyway, a capable smith may nonetheless choose to refuse the commission on the basis that they do not wish to work with him.
"But even if I cannot get you a tessen immediately, I am sure a gunsen could be acquired; those do not require a steel-smith and it would be a good place to start, as you could get used to the weight and size while also being able to commission some prints to cover it with," his wife continues thoughtfully. "The clan has quite a few artists; you could always get a plain covering, of course, but a print will better disguise the fan's true purpose and the eventual tessen would be the same size as the gunsen."
"The clan has print-makers beyond those who decorate the coat-linings?" Tobirama has seen a bit of the print-work involved in making the coats of those clansmen who are not high-ranking enough to merit Minami-san's magnificent patchwork; prints and stencils are in fact the vast majority of what the master coat-maker does with her time, despite the patchwork being her specialty.
"Oh yes," Izuna agrees, "many of them are however related to the coat-makers; lots of artists in the Toyotama Lineage, which is what Minami-san was born into. The Uchiha can only support so many people involved in the making and maintenance of the clan coats, but there is a larger market for paintings and prints: to go on tsuitate and fusuma, to be attached to fans, print collections for the Trading Branch to sell, paper dolls for children to play with, to adorn shrines, as book illustrations and so on." She pauses. "Now the clan is investing in kimono-making and pottery there are even more avenues down which an artist may choose to specialise, and many of them are cheerfully doing so."
"So there will be existing prints I could peruse first, before deciding if I want to commission one specially." Tobirama is disinclined to make serious purchases right now, seeing as the Senju will be paying Izuna her demanded recompense in a week's time; it is likely to be as much in goods as in cash, seeing as luxury goods are high value and can be foregone at need. He is expecting a good number of tea bowls, clothes chests, furisode and similar status symbols to be included; swords are less likely but still possible. It depends what everyone is willing to part with in terms of heirlooms and goods squirreled away to sell when lean times come.
"If that's what you'd like to do, Treasure."
Tobirama opens his mouth to ask if they could wander out and do that now, then pauses as he notices they have guests coming in the garden gate. Izuna also glances towards the genkan, raising an eyebrow as her chakra swirls with curiosity.
"So what brings my little brother here after so many weeks of dedicated avoidance?" She muses, shuffling closer to the iori and refilling the iron kettle, then hanging it on the suspended hook over the banked fire to boil.
Saburō? Tobirama hadn't recognised him, but then again his sensing is much more coherent now so it follows that the people he had only had a vague awareness of before would feel different now he has accessible chakra to draw on. He had recognised the other visitor though; it is Kamui, who delivered his coat and the news of Minami giving birth.
Tobirama does however has a good idea of why his younger brother-in-law has been avoiding the Amaterasu Residence; given he was likely blamed by his father for Tōka's escape, his carelessness with confidential information giving her the details she needed to choose a day when those capable of outmatching her speed were out of the compound, it follows that he would choose to avoid the compound's other Senju entirely thereafter.
Tobirama was after all right there and witness to his failure. A failure Saburō has doubtless been extensively punished for.
The two teenagers announce themselves in the genkan, pause then step into the front hall in guest slippers, both of them in working indigo; training together, perhaps? Or maybe they are on the same Squad; Kamui looks rather older than Saburō, so might be his sempai.
"Izuna-sama." Kamui bows, deep but precise; this is a formal visit then. Izuna offers a seated bow in return. "I come with a petition."
"Come, sit," Izuna says, gesturing at the zabuton and the tatami around the iori, "and speak."
The two teenagers choose to sit on cushions rather than join them on the tatami; Tobirama suspects that is partially a desire to stay out of arm's reach. Izuna brews and serves tea in guest cups, which is duly accepted, then Kamui bows again before stiffening her spine and making her plea:
"Izuna-sama, I request restitution for the deaths of my aunts Taimi and Yoimi, my uncle Tento and my cousins Teshio and Rusha, on behalf of my cousins Takomi, Naka-Three and Sayomi. They are housed and clothed and their caretaker is loving, but Nakani-ba has three children of her own already and cannot be expected to provide the opportunities that you can offer them."
Izuna's chakra swirls with sorrow. "You do not ask for yourself, Kamui-kun?"
Kamui's chakra spasms. "Money for clothing, books and toys, personalised teaching and apprenticeships will all make my cousins' lives better, Izuna-sama," she grits out, "but it cannot give me back my parents or my younger brother and sister. I ask for them, not for me."
Some of those names are unhappily familiar; Kamui is demanding restitution from Izuna for the loss of kin that Tobirama has killed. Because Izuna has taken him as her concubine, and in doing so has taken his debts to the Uchiha clan upon herself.
How many times has she done this already while he was still in the Diplomatic Quarters? How many more will come forward as they realise that his wife is serious about integrating him into the wider clan?
Tobirama cradles his teacup in both hands, staring into its depths as though they hold the secrets of the Sage, as Izuna gently coaxes Kamui into agreeing to allow Izuna to pay for a personal suit of armour once she has finished growing, so her cousins can be reassured that she is well-protected in the field, along with a much finer sword.
Practical, useful things that will not crush this grieving teenager's fragile pride.
Tobirama wishes very much that he'd thought to question his father's orders before being dragged from the battlefield by Izuna. Wishes that he'd given his leopards' very vocal misgivings more thought, rather than focusing on trying to make sure no other clansman heard them. But it is too late for that now and he has to live with the consequences of his choices, however politely phrased –or not– the reminders may be.
Kamui leaves as soon as the details of her desired compensation have been hammered out, written down and signed, taking a copy to be filed in the Uchiha clan's archives, but Saburō lingers.
"More tea, otōto?" Izuna offers.
"Thank you, Nee-chan." Saburō accepts the thin-sided yunomi and holds it in both hands, staring into its depths as though he too seeks the secrets of the Sage there. Izuna does not rush him, instead pouring more tea for herself and Tobirama, then tidying the documents brought out of her study and closing up her writing desk.
"Nee-chan, did the Fatal Flower's escape help you?" the teenager asks eventually.
"Saburō, not once have I ever hoped for you to come to harm," Izuna says quietly, "but there are times when failure can be less damaging than success, if only your pride can bear it."
"You wanted me to fail? You picked me because you thought I'd fail?"
"No!" Izuna leans forward and grabs her little brother's wrist. "I picked you because I trust you, Tengu-bō. I knew you would do your duty by my concubine and my prisoner, and not stand by and allow them to come to harm. Am I pleased that Senju Tōka took advantage of your goodwill? No, not at all, although of all the ways for you to learn this lesson this is perhaps the kindest. I do however firmly believe she would have escaped regardless, if possibly a little later."
"Isn't that undermining Otou-sama, Nee-chan?" Saburō mumbles, shaking his wrist gently until his sister releases him and sits up again.
"Have my actions harmed the Uchiha Clan, otōto?"
The teenager frowns. "Nooo," he concedes after a pause.
"Otou-sama leads and guards the Uchiha Clan; his every action is made to safeguard the Uchiha Clan," Izuna says, lifting her teacup to take a sip. "So long as my own actions also safeguard the Uchiha Clan Otou-sama will not punish me for them, even when they are not actions he would have chosen himself."
That is a very neat sidestep of Saburō's original question, to which the answer is most certainly that yes, Izuna is undermining her Lord-Father and so does so regularly. Which everybody above a certain age who has seen them argue is doubtless well aware of.
"You were not punished for Tōka-san's escape, Tengu-bō," Izuna adds softly as her younger brother continues to frown; "her leaving was authorised by the Cats, and Otou-sama directed his displeasure accordingly. You were punished for revealing to her the details of the movements of your fellow Outguard."
"Which she then used to escape," Saburō points out.
"Even if she hadn't used it to escape, you would have been punished for speaking so the moment I or any other clansman discovered your failing," Izuna replies steadily. "Such laxness harms the clan and you know it does, Saburō."
The teenager slumps. "Yes, Nee-chan. Sorry, Nee-chan."
"You know better now and will not fail to measure your words again," Izuna says, tone warm but firm, "and your punishment is over, so the matter is closed." She makes eye contact. "Or at least, I hope it is closed?"
Saburō nods quickly. "Mentor Ikoma-san explained things," he mumbles, "and I'm sorry, Nee-chan."
"Forgiven, Tengu-bō." Izuna takes another sip of her tea. "How are you liking the Outguard, otōto?"
Saburō side-eyes Tobirama and gifts his sister with a suspicious squint, but does then allow himself to be drawn into a conversation which very pointedly includes only the first names of his Squad members and no specific dates or locations; the teenager is clearly trying to prove that he has indeed learned his lesson in information security.
From there the conversation wanders into 'Lineage lessons' and a whole lot of words which are individually familiar but make absolutely no sense whatsoever in context. Tobirama assumes from the general gist of the conversation that they are talking about the contents of the lessons Tajima is giving to both them and Madara –which they are clearly at different levels of competence in– regarding leadership and associated matters, but that the lessons have their own impenetrable code is not something he was expecting. Why would you do that? It seems counter-intuitive.
As the sun drifts lower in the sky Saburō's shoulders soften and his chakra eases, until the point when he states he should probably leave and finally turns to acknowledge Tobirama.
"Tobirama-san. I am glad for my sister's sake to see that you are well."
Well clearly it's not just Izuna who has inherited her father's knife-sharp tongue.
"Saburō-kun," Tobirama replies precisely. "I have every faith that in future you will be fully mindful of the loyalties of your audience, conflicting as they might be." Which is all he is prepared to say there.
His younger brother-in-law nods, eyes narrowed behind his fringe. "I am sure we will be seeing each-other more often in future." With that he makes the rest of his goodbyes and departs.
"I am sure you will be forgiven in time, Treasure," Izuna says wryly once they are alone again, "but he needs to get used to you first."
Saburō is only fourteen; Tobirama is sure there will be plenty of time for improving family relationships over the coming years, peace or no peace. Time does not stop for anything or anyone.
The morning after Saburō and Kamui's visit Tobirama wakes early to find a familiar white cat grooming herself by the bedroom's closed fusuma. It is one thing for a cat to let themselves into a room, but letting themselves in then closing the doors behind them is… a bit much, for a regular cat.
Then again, this cat is responsible for the death of his uncle Chirinma, making it a summons and therefore far more dangerous than any ordinary cat. In Tobirama's arms his wife stirs in response to his sudden tension and twists around, blinking at the small intruder.
The cat purrs, rises and stretches, her unusually long body indicating a possible source for her name, then minces across the tatami and steps fussily onto the futon to press herself against Izuna's face.
"Yes, yes, you have my undying gratitude for your most excellent advice," his wife croons fondly, scratching the cat behind the ears as her face is vigorously scent-marked. "Surely I would have been lost without the wisdom of Cats, as would so many generations of my ancestors."
"Quite," says the cat smugly, her tail waving in satisfaction. "Is your mate keeping you well-fed, or is he only good for breeding?"
Tobirama sits up and glares down at the impudent feline, fiercely offended.
"Oh he is satisfying my cravings most ably, Udon-chan!" Izuna replies easily. "All the mushrooms my heart desires, prepared deliciously every day."
The cat sniffs. "He's not hunting for you? Kittens need meat to grow strong."
"Are you offering to supervise a hunting trip, Udon-chan?" Izuna asks lazily, scratching the snobbish feline under the chin. "I've never seen him use a bow, so it would probably be snares and throwing knives or possibly a spear."
"I know how to use a hunting bow," Tobirama interjects firmly, "and I would be honoured to hunt for you, Lord-Wife, if the seals will stretch that far." It is one thing to go mushroom-hunting with Umeno-san, but quite another to set out into Uchiha territory with actual weapons and the intent to kill. Killing animals with the intent to eat them, but it is still killing and not simply harvesting. So many ways that could go terribly wrong for him, with few or no witnesses while out beyond the clan compound and surrounding fields.
His wife flops onto her back to smile up at him. "You'd probably have to take somebody, so as to make sure you stick to the game trails and don't accidentally cross paths with the charcoal burners or blunder across somebody else's hunt," she says comfortably as Udon the cat steps up onto her ribcage and curls up, closing her eyes. "But if it would please you to go hunting it can easily be arranged."
He told Izuna that he wanted to hunt for her, back when she bared her soul to him and revealed both the depth of her regard for him and the steadfastness of her principles. Now she is offering to allow him to do just that.
"It would please me very much to hunt for my wife," he tells her, lying back down again and bending over her face so as to kiss her on the mouth, mindful of the purring cat occupying much of her chest. "There are a few of my mother's recipes I haven't tried yet, and it is late enough in the season for deer now." It is the first day of August, the month of falling leaves, and in less than two weeks Obon will begin. While the does will still be nursing their fawns right now, this is the perfect time of year to be hunting newly-matured bucks, young and incautious and wandering far from their home ranges.
"Hn, it sounds like this morning while I am studying with my father and Kiso is with Midori-chan, my treasure will be up in the woods looking for deer," Izuna murmurs against his lips, wrapping an arm across his shoulders and pulling him closer so as to kiss him more deeply.
"Probably be away for the afternoon as well," he warns, smoothing wayward spikes of hair back from her face.
"Can't rush a hunt," she agrees softly, leaning up to lightly nip the tip of his nose, "I know, Treasure. Let Kiso know over breakfast and I'm sure everything will be fine."
Tobirama glances quickly over at Kiso –fast asleep– up at the carved ranma letting in the dim morning light –still at least an hour until the toddler is likely to wake– then lifts the white cat off his wife's chest –Udon yowls but permits the indignity– so he can untie her nightshirt and pull her into his arms, his hands caressing her revealed skin with firm purpose.
"My spouse is seducing me this fine summer's morning?" Izuna asks a little breathlessly, head rolling back on the pillow as her back arches and her hips rock up to meet him.
"Yes," Tobirama confirms, kneeing her legs apart and nibbling at her throat as he unties his own nightshirt. "Don't want my wife to feel neglected in my absence."
"Nothing at all to do with ensuring I look smug and sore during my Lineage lessons with my Lord-Father?"
Point; he needs to put a bit more effort in for the effects to linger beyond bathing and eating breakfast. "A happy coincidence," Tobirama rumbles, enjoying how his wife shudders as he firmly presses his way inside her. "I want my beloved to feel cherished."
Izuna drapes an arm around his neck, her other hand gripping his bicep. "I have never," she murmurs heatedly, "felt less than cherished in your arms, Tobirama."
"Even when I was trying to kill you?" Tobirama teases her, flattered and delighted and trying not to let it show too much. The cat is now perched on top of one of his tansu, pointedly ignoring them, but it's a cat –summons or not– so Tobirama doesn't particularly care that Udon is getting a show. He's sure she's seen worse.
"I have always had no less than your full attention," his wife teases back, her teeth scraping over his collarbone and startling him into bucking against –and into– her. "Hn! Lovely vigorous husband."
"Not your husband yet," Tobirama reminds her, picking up the pace a little.
"But no less lovely and vigorous for that," Izuna insists, voice hitching as she presses herself up against him.
"How could I possibly give my delectable wife less than my best efforts?"
"Oh Treasure," his wife's eyes are dark and she smells delicious as she grins artlessly up at him, "I enjoy all your efforts, rest assured."
What can Tobirama do or say to that, except try to press her beyond words?
Hunting up in the mountains above the Uchiha compound is soothing, even though he is wearing indigoes for safety's sake rather than his own clothes and has Izuna's mentor Takao pacing tirelessly a body-length behind his right shoulder, chakra dampened almost to nothing and feet soundless, armed with a bow slung across his back and a knife tucked into his belt.
Tobirama has a borrowed bow –Izuna's bow, which has a heavier draw than he'd expected if still within his ability to bend– and his own hunting knife –which had been his mother's; he almost cried when Izuna casually handed it back to him, clean and oiled and recently sharpened– and the ever-present sleeve-knife for surprising assassins with, but nothing else beyond his wits and what little chakra Izuna has permitted to flow under his skin. It makes the hunt more challenging; it makes it more exhilarating.
Here he is, hunting with a senior Uchiha warrior shadowing him more to reassure the rest of the clan that he's not getting up to mischief than to offer him any kind of actual help, no Leopards to help him track or corner his prey and limited weapons and chakra to bring his quarry down with.
He is going to kill a deer for his wife, but he's going to have to be smart about it.
The hardest part, however, will be finding one.
Two days after his successful hunt, on Izuna's next prayer-day, Tobirama leaves Kiso playing in the garden after breakfast and heads out towards the craft district, wearing his pink-striped jōfu with the greenfinch obi and grass-green obi cords. Yesterday morning, while he was cooking and preserving the venison, an Uchiha smith had stopped by the back door to express a willingness to make him a gunsen and a tessen. Examining his hands and measuring them out against her own, Naeba-san has promised him the gunsen would be ready in the next day or so –although the tessen will obviously take longer– and given him the dimensions so he can start looking into paper mountings.
He will get paper prints for the gunsen, seeing as it is not intended for use as a weapon, but he is pondering maybe getting a silk mounting for the tessen. Of course the advantage of paper is that if he ends up using the tessen he can just replace the blood-spattered print afterwards, but silk is stronger and can be reinforced with chakra, even though it will require careful cleaning after use.
Naeba-san the shuriken-smith gave him a list of names of clansmen who make fan-prints professionally, along with general instructions for finding their workshops, while also 'idly' commenting that there are a number of Uchiha who draw and paint recreationally, warriors as well as civilians. Tobirama had thanked her dryly, well aware that there is a good chance that none of those print-making Uchiha will want to deal with him despite the certainty of being paid for their trouble. If he must resort to amateur work he will probably ask Izuna, although that carries the very real risk of her hiding a risqué visual joke in the design. Which might be worth doing eventually, once he feels comfortable enough to have both fan and joke within view of others.
First on the list is Naka-Two, whose name is vaguely familiar. He can't quite place it right now, but he's sure it will come to him; he knows a lot more Uchiha names than he can put to faces at the moment, his wife talking rather freely about her kin and those other Uchiha willing to put up with his company doing likewise. It's a large clan; he's not expected to remember everybody. In fact nobody is expected to remember everybody, which is part of why leadership of the Uchiha is split between warriors and civilians, and then further into Lineages: that way no single person is expected to remember the needs and grievances of everybody within the clan.
It's still fairly early, but despite Izuna very meticulously setting this day of the week aside as a rest day, doing so is not a clan-wide practice but a personal choice. Everybody else is treating this as a day like any other, although Tobirama has noticed that all the workshops close up once a ten-day, so it seems to be that the civilian side of the clan do take scheduled rest-days. Fewer of them than Izuna does, but no less clearly-defined and potentially legally reinforced.
Those days are the first of the month, the eleventh of the month and the twenty-first of the month; the first day of each jun. The first day of each sekki, the seasonal changes, are also half-days off work –at least– but those tend to be marked by visits to the clan's large shrine and associated socialising rather than rest per se, especially since many of the seasonal days coincide with other festivals.
The first day of the month was the day he went hunting, and the change of season –the first day of autumn– will be on the seventh, which is the day after Izuna will have received her promised restitution from the Senju for his attempted murder. A new start for the new season, then a week later there will be Obon and a week after that, as the heat truly begins to fade, the peace treaty negotiations will begin.
Naka-Two's house is a two-storey town-house facing one of the main cobbled roads running north-south through the middle of the compound; the house itself faces east and Tobirama comes at it from behind, walking up the narrower and less-trafficked path marking the end of the gardens where they border a field of millet. Unlike Minami-san's –admittedly larger– garden however, this one has no quail: simply a storehouse acting as a boundary to wall off the path at the end, low-lying and sturdy shrubs and paving stones filling most of the space between the garden gate and the back of the house and a large number of troughs full of annual plants attached to the boundary fences at various heights, as well as a large trellis over the middle of the garden with several different vines climbing over it, both for shade and for fruit. Tobirama identifies a melon, a squash and a kiwi vine, little net bags hanging from hooks at various points to support the heavier fruits.
Mostly however this garden is full of children: a boy of maybe nine, a boy and girl who both look to be about five and a toddler girl, all wearing jinbei and playing with woven grass toys. There is also a gangling teenager in a checked yellow jōfu tied with a half-width woven obi decorated with a complex indigo and white pattern, hair pinned up lopsidedly on the back of her head as she works her way around the troughs with a watering can, regularly passing between the playing children to fetch more water from the pump by the back door.
Tobirama leans on the gate and watches for several minutes, enjoying the opportunity to observe without being watched in turn. Then the younger boy pulls the younger girl's hair, the older boy wades in to end the budding fight and the toddler notices him, sticking a hand in her mouth as she wanders closer to stare at him.
The quarrel firmly broken up, the older boy looks around for the toddler. "Nee-san, there's a guest!" He calls, also noticing Tobirama.
The teenage girl turns and walks towards the gate; her skin is rather more tanned than the average Uchiha, her jaw is squarer and her eyes are unfocused and hazy as she looks in the general direction of Tobirama's shoulder rather than at his face.
She's blind. Tobirama never expected to meet a blind Uchiha.
"Are you here to see Naka-ba?" The teenager asks, voice harsh and irritable.
"Yes, I wanted to ask about fan-prints," Tobirama replies, doing his best not to stare and biting down his questions. This is not the time.
"You go around the front door for business," the teenager retorts irritably, casually picking up the toddler and kissing the top of her head. "Everybody knows that."
"It's Tobirama-sama, Nee-chan," the older boy says matter-of-factly from further inside the garden, still standing over the two younger children who are now also staring warily at him; "he probably doesn't know."
The blind teenager sighs and points northwards. "Up the path to the end of the row, turn east between the top house and the weaving barn on the corner and then south down the road; we're the sixth front from the top on this side. It might only be her apprentices in the front of the workshop but Ba-san is in."
"Thank you very much," Tobirama says, not commenting on her brusque tone; she might just sound like that and he's honestly heard far too much 'you should be less harsh, Tobira-kun' from different aunties to ever inflict it on others. The teenager hns, turns her back and puts the toddler down, the interaction over; Tobirama steps away from the gate and heads further up the path.
The middle girl had also been darker-skinned and rounder-faced, but the toddler and the two boys had more standard Uchiha looks; the teenager had also referred to Naka-Two as 'aunt', so maybe two families sharing a home? Or several warriors' spouses sharing, to ensure consistent childcare and mutual support? He's remembered now where he's heard 'Naka-Two' before: she is married to Haruto's younger brother Sukeari, who is a mentor in the Outguard.
Letting himself in the front door of the workshop, it's a woman vaguely his own age who walks over to greet him; there's also a pre-teen pinning up prints on lines near a small press and a woman in a matronly summer kimono carving a wood-block, an infant tied to her chest, who must be Naka-Two.
Naka-Two looks up sharply, sets her woodworking tools aside and stands. "Higashi-chan, the press."
The woman stops mid-greeting, stilling in confusion before bowing in apology and retreating back towards the pre-teen, removing the block from the press and setting it down beside a sink, presumably for cleaning.
Naka-Two stands in front of him, chin high and hands on hips. "Please leave, Tobirama-sama," she says firmly.
Naka-Two. Naka-Ni. Naka-Ni-ba, not Nakani-ba; this is the woman caring for Kamui's cousins. Takomi and Naka-Three and Sayomi: the three girls in the back garden whom he has personally orphaned, the oldest of whom is blind.
Tobirama bows wordlessly and sees himself out. It seems he will have to try one of those other print-makers rather than commissioning work from Haruto's sister-in-law.
He is grateful that Kiso was not with him for this. The toddler would have found it very upsetting.
The Aburame return a few days before the handover of the agreed restitution is due to take place, ten of them in identical pearl-grey silk coats with deep pockets and high collars. In addition to Shisaki, Shibun and Shijō, whom Tobirama met over tea, there are Shīka, Shino, Shishū and Shiori, who made up the Senju half of the initial mediating group, now joined by Aburame Shijin their Clan Head along with Kyōshi and Shao, presumably junior clansmen going by the absence of the 'shi' character in their names, although Kyōshi's grey hair suggests they are no less a respected elder than Shisaku.
It is very clear that this negotiation is being taken extremely seriously, for it to be hosted and overseen by the Aburame Clan Head. Tobirama sincerely hopes this will prompt Tajima to be less overtly ruthless than his evident preference, but he's not got particularly high hopes of that. Tajima will do as he believes is best for the Uchiha, as ever.
Izuna hosts their kuge guests in the Amaterasu Residence while Kiso is spending the afternoon with Naka-Scallion, serving tea and light snacks with the help of Hayami-chan and playing her koto. Tobirama helps for the first hour or so, offering inconsequential conversation and allowing a degree of light interrogation over his living conditions and general welfare, but then he retreats back to his own living room for some quiet and the freedom of reading away from nosy shinobi nobility and their equally nosy insect partners.
The two kikaichū he later detaches from his kimono collar he traps under an upturned teacup; the chakra-eating insects are relatively short-lived, but that does not mean he is willing to permit ongoing espionage for however long that may be. Izuna's improved insect-screen seal tucked under his zabuton for good measure, he settles into reading 'The Chronicle of Enki Palace'. 'Crane Startles Kunlun' had been… interesting, in that he can see it is an early work in the long literary tradition to which many more modern novels belong, and having read it he can also see more clearly how 'The Great Sage Of Evil' is a subversion of the genre.
'The Chronicle of Enki Palace' is in some ways more interesting, because it's a new genre –well, new to him at least– and an interesting fictional riff on the pillow-books he read in Uzushio. Read for the politics specifically; if he re-read them now as a married man he suspects his focus would be slightly different.
So far the story is a murder mystery and a very compelling one, as the charmingly ruthless protagonist Lady Wei infiltrating the Imperial palace is realistically flawed –as are indeed all the other characters– and every individual has their own agenda, most of which are as yet unknown or merely assumed. Given that he has another entire volume of this story waiting on his shelf and Naka Two-Swords assured him she has a further three for when he gets that far, he is unlikely to run short of reading material any time soon.
He's grateful when their guests finally leave, and feeling gracious enough by then to lift up the teacup so the bugs can fly out after their owners without making a fuss to his Lord-Wife. If it comes to it he can always use this instance of excessive nosiness as something to bargain with, in exchange for something he wants put on the agenda for the peace treaty.
Tobirama has sent several letters containing his notes on professions the Senju might investigate that would not terminally antagonise any of their neighbours –the craftsmen in the neighbouring town as much as the Uchiha– to Baasan, and with Izuna's permission he's even had a letter sent to Uzushio –specifically to Kei-sensei– which, even though Tajima read it first, did not get censored or edited before being sealed and handed over to the hired messenger.
He is going to have to get more into the habit of writing letters. He will not be able to go anywhere until the peace treaty is finalised and even after that he will not be able to take missions, so he needs to keep up communication with family and acquaintances in other ways. Which would admittedly be easier if more of his kin were literate in more than the very basics of katakana –in the case of most of his warrior kin– or hiragana –those of his female kin who are not medics.
Having to keep in mind that none of his kin are likely to know the many new kanji he has added to his repertoire since his imprisonment is frustrating, especially when most of what he wants to talk about involves those characters. A letter written in kanji can be both longer and more detailed than one written in katakana or hiragana while using less paper, but Tobirama can accomodate the necessity if he must. It's just inefficient.
Well, he could talk about the books he's been reading; Tōka would probably enjoy 'The Great Sage Of Evil,' and how the political and the personal intertwine would make it educational as well as entertaining, considering she's Heir now. She would also enjoy the glorious awkwardness of the story's climax, and not be particularly bothered by all the necromancy.
Tobirama gets out his writing desk and sets about grinding some ink; seeing as the peace negotiations are due to begin soon his cousin will likely welcome a letter from him, no matter how inconsequential. Her reply is likely to involve teasing him over 'wasting paper' on such inanities, even though he fully intends to sneak in enough details of the day-to-day to reassure her that he's managing very well. He didn't get to have a proper conversation with her during the building inspections, and she's evidently been a bit too busy for letter-writing. Or possibly just couldn't think of anything to say; well he will try and model that, in the hope that she will reciprocate. Even a paper-wasting list of daily happenings would be reassuring to receive, as conformation that those things are happening even in his absence.
It's Izuna with a tray. "Come in, Lord-Wife."
She makes her way across the tatami and rests the tray on the table, exchanging the empty teapot on the coiled iron stand for the fresh one on her tray and setting out a dish of senbei. "Naka-Scallion tells me that Kiso-kun has been made off with by my Lord-Father, so we have the house to ourselves tonight."
"My honoured father-in-law seems to have perfected the art of doing helpful things in the most irritating way possible," Tobirama notes, setting his brush on its stand and pouring tea for both of them.
His wife snickers. "It's the way he never asks, isn't it?"
"That too." Tobirama takes one of the senbei; evidently Tajima is aware that they will both be tired after their efforts to be properly hospitable to complete strangers, but rather than ask he has simply made a unilateral decision and had somebody else inform them of his choice after the fact. Being Outguard Head means that nobody can step in to prevent this, especially not when Kiso is not only Tajima's great-nephew but Izuna's ward, affording the man grandparent privileges on top of everything else.
If the man had asked, Tobirama might have agreed. However right now he just feels more determined to do something spiteful in the near future, as payback for the high-handed assumptions and depriving him of toddler cuddles after a long and tiring afternoon.
"Will my beloved concubine permit me to console him in this trying time?" Izuna asks, fluttering her eyelashes at him with theatrical winsomeness.
"What kind of consolation did my Lord-Wife have in mind?" Tobirama asks, already anticipating the likely sexual nature of her suggestion.
"Would my treasure like to be kissed before dinner?"
Tobirama smirks. "I would very much enjoy being kissed by my charming flirt of a wife, especially if she happens to be in the mood for kissing more than just my face."
"I am eminently persuadable," Izuna chirps, picking up her teacup and finishing the tea before shuffling closer to him and reaching for his obi cords. Tobirama packs up his writing desk and mostly-finished letter as his wife takes her time untying his various belts, pressing slow, messy kisses to his throat and jaw. Once he has tidied paper and ink away she turns her attention to his hands, then opens his kimono to lavish attention on his chest and shoulders.
It is exceedingly pleasant to be gently but firmly pinned to the tatami and attentively ravished by his eager wife. He will be sure to fully express his appreciation after dinner, when it is time for them to retire to bed.
Tobirama wakes abruptly in the cool dim early hours, feeling disorientated and vaguely threatened for no reason he can pinpoint. He has no chakra –it is the middle of the night and Izuna is asleep– but he's not felt like this since the immediate aftermath of the assassins.
Izuna, curled up beside him with her face pressing into the pillow, is breathing deeply, oblivious of his turmoil for once. Except… he can't feel her usual strong chakra. Carefully sliding a hand down her back, Tobirama tries to get a feel for why.
Ah. Her chakra has pooled; a little early maybe, but that's fairly normal for multiple births. She's almost certainly having twins then. Was this what woke him, the sudden lessening of his wife's chakra presence in order to support her unborn, making the fearful instinctive part of his hindbrain think she had left him to sleep alone?
No. No, what woke him is that Madara is wandering slowly around the eastern side of the engawa, chakra disconcertingly flat. Tobirama tracks his progress around the stumpy unused east wing to the back of the kitchen, then his unhurried about-face and return. This is not normal. Not remotely.
Madara sleepwalks; Izuna said as much. Is the man sleepwalking around the outside of the Amaterasu Residence? Why? And can Tobirama somehow get him to stop?
He crawls off the futon and shuffles across the tatami to the shōji, sliding one open. He gets a split-second view of his brother-in-law ambling down the engawa –in his nightshirt with sharingan glowing in the gloom, why– then the seal on his back flashes with sudden heat and his chakra returns in a chilly wash.
Tobirama throws himself backwards into shunshin –the downward sword-stroke embeds itself deeply into the threshold and tatami– but his chakra cuts out again in the next instant, leaving him to trip over the edge of the futon, topple backwards and land on his ass on top of Izuna's legs, jerking her into abrupt wakefulness.
"Shikii? Nii-san? What–"
In the doorway Madara sways, sharingan snuffed out, staggers back a step then collapses forwards onto the boards in a heap, body and chakra shuddering.
"Nii-chan?" Izuna asks again, voice small and wobbly. The sword embedded in the open doorway is clearly visible even to Tobirama's unenhanced sight; to his wife's keener gaze it must be even more unforgivingly recognisable.
"I'm sorry imōto," Madara chokes out, curling up into what is now clearly a prostrate bow, "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm so sorry–"
Izuna crawls out of the sheets across the tatami, carefully pulling the sword out and setting it well out of the way on one of Tobirama's shelves before edging out to where Madara is having his unsettlingly contained emotional breakdown just beyond the open shōji. Tobirama knows Uchiha now; loud outbursts that blow up and blow over are considered indicative of healthy processing. That is not what is going on here.
"You were sleepwalking, weren't you Nii-chan?" Izuna murmurs, lifting the loose braid that has flopped forwards over Madara's shoulder and smoothing it down his back; her brother flinches violently. "You didn't mean to do it."
Tobirama could have gone his entire life without learning that 'sleepwalking' covered things like coming at people with a sword and been perfectly happy. He now feels far less safe; how can they be sure Madara won't do this again sometime?! Possibly when Kiso is here, even? No, this time he didn't try to actually open the shōji by himself but the man still armed himself and got out of his own home somehow so that was purely luck, or at best some quirk of Izuna's security!
"Meaning doesn't –I still did it Ii-chan!" Madara bangs his forehead on the boards, shoulders trembling. "I won't do it again, Ii-chan, I swear, even if–"
"No." Izuna's tone is suddenly steely, as though she knows what her brother is offering. "No, Nii-chan! Never that. I know you're not Tou-san, 'Dara-nii; don't leave me, not like this."
Tobirama is abruptly and sinkingly certain that 'leave' in this instance is a euphemism and that his wife and her brother are currently hip-deep in unpleasant family history. He tries to sit still and not remind either of them that they have an audience.
"But what else can I do?" Madara finally allows himself to be dragged up from dogeza, shrinking in on himself with his forehead resting on his sister's shoulder as she finger-combs his hair in a way that is clearly intended to be soothing, possibly as much for her as for him. Tobirama is reminded again that until Izuna moved out, these two siblings had shared a futon all their lives. "It's not like I can just stop sleepwalking. If I could I would." His voice is thick, but it still cracks twice before he gets to the end of that admission and Tobirama can smell his tears even without chakra. Along with the self-loathing.
"Saburō's not home tonight, is he."
"No. But that's not fair to him."
Izuna sighs. "Shikii, do you mind my spending the rest of the night in my room with my brother?"
"I don't think I'm going to sleep at all without you there for quite some time," Tobirama admits flatly. The tatami, doorframe and possibly also the floor of his bedroom are all going to need replacing from where Madara's sword cut into them. He was just attacked by somebody who was asleep. The seal on his back recognised it as an attack even, seeing as he was given back access to his chakra for the split-second needed to evade harm despite Izuna's restrictions.
Izuna sighs again as her brother continues to sob near-soundlessly against her shoulder. "Nii-chan, I'm going to bind your chakra; that way the field is vaguely level. Treasure, you may join us or not, and I'll call a Cat in either way so that if 'Dara-nii tries anything they can squish it, and once the weather turns we can invite your Leopards to also stand a guard."
"Acceptable." He would put good odds on Kyōnari over a sleepwalker, even when that sleepwalker is Madara.
"Hn." Madara seems to find those terms more than acceptable as well; good.
"I'll sort this out in the morning, Nii-chan, I promise," Izuna murmurs into her brother's hair. Madara hacks up something that might be a laugh.
"You always fix everything, Ii-chan; 'm a terrible brother, making you pick up after me."
"Shush, 'Dara," Izuna croons, hauling her brother upright through sheer brute force; Tobirama's libido chooses this moment to make an appearance, purely to let him know that the fact his wife can casually manhandle her older brother even without chakra is the hottest thing he's seen all week. Possibly all month.
She doesn't turn towards the bedroom though, but along the engawa. "You may as well cut through," Tobirama says, deciding to nip this considerate but impractical notion in the bud, "it's faster."
"Yes I'm sure, hurry up; I'd prefer this not turn into a public spectacle, thank you." He tries to stomp down on his lust as Izuna drags her unresisting older brother through his bedroom, past the iori and into her own room, but it resists him with impudent ease. Sighing, Tobirama closes the shōji as far as possible given the damage to the lower track, leaves the sword where it is and grabs his yukata off the end of the byōbu, so he can hang it over Izuna's screen and wear it to the bathroom in the morning.
It's hot enough at night now that he and Izuna are wearing unlined linen juban rather than nemaki at the moment, and while that's fine for sleeping in he doesn't particularly want to be seen walking around the house in one by Naka-Dragon. Yes, Madara's getting an eyeful, but that's his fault for sleepwalking over here when he should be in his own bed and it's not like he's wearing much more.
Izuna's sheets are clean on today –yesterday by now, maybe– but getting them all into bed with Madara still mid-meltdown is awkward and it being some horrendous hour of the night only does so much to blunt that. Izuna thankfully takes charge of sleeping arrangements and they end up with Madara curled up under his sister's chin as she hugs him, Tobirama sprawled along her back with his face pressed against the back of her neck. He's sure that by the time morning comes they'll be all tangled up in some new and embarrassing manner, but that's tomorrow's problem. Thankfully the whole production is not remotely sexy, so his desire is comprehensively dampened by it.
Right now Tobirama wants to rest, and the watchful pair of dark-furred cats that leapt up from under the edge of the iori and followed him into the bedroom to settle on top of Izuna's tansu as they passed through the main room help more than he was expecting them to. Especially with the scent of Madara's tears still leaving a bitter taste in the air.
Tobirama purrs himself to sleep, because he frankly needs the soothing. If it helps his wife and her brother sleep as well, so much the better. They need all the sleep they can get when they're putting off their problems until the morning.
He wakes sprawled across the pillows, curled around his wife's back; she's sitting up against him, Madara's head in her lap, and singing slowly as she strokes her brother's hair and upper back with one hand. Her other hand is resting on Tobirama's thigh just above his knee, the grip comforting.
"Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark; and may there be no sorrow of farewell, when I embark; when I embark! When I embark; may there be no sorrow of farewell, when I embark. For though from out the bounds of Time and Space, the tide may bear me far; I hope to meet my pilot face to face, when I have crossed the shoal. When I have crossed the shoal! When I have crossed the shoal; I hope to meet my pilot face to face, when I have crossed the shoal."
Madara's fingers are wrapped tightly around the ties of Izuna's juban; she probably can't extricate herself without tearing it, and the lack of accessible chakra makes it even more challenging. Izuna hums for a little while, then starts the song again from the beginning:
"Sunset and evening star, and one clear call to me; and may there be no roaring at the shoal, when I put out to sea. When I put out to sea! When I put out to sea, and may there be no roaring at the shoal, when I put out to sea; but such a tide as moving seems asleep, too full for sound or foam, when that which drew from out the boundless deep, turns again home. Turns again home! Turns again home; that which drew from out the boundless deep, turns again home."
"Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark; and may there be no sorrow of farewell, when I embark; when I embark! When I embark; may there be no sorrow of farewell, when I embark. For though from out the bounds of Time and Space, the tide may bear me far; I hope to see my pilot face to face, when I have crossed the shoal. When I have crossed the shoal! When I have crossed the shoal; I hope to see my pilot face to face, when I have crossed the shoal. When I have crossed the shoal! When I have crossed the shoal; I hope to see my pilot face to face, when I have crossed the shoal."
"That's not a song about sailing," Tobirama points out quietly, forehead resting against Madara's shoulder. The metaphors are a little unusual, but he's spent enough time with Uzumaki to know what all those words mean and can grasp the sentiment behind them.
"No, it's not," his wife agrees quietly. "But it rings true despite that."
That is a song about dying, the hope for a peaceful death and the reaching beyond it to grasp the guiding hand of the divine. It aches, a bittersweet pain that is half-grief, half-longing.
"Did you write it?"
"It's adapted from a poem," his wife murmurs, not quite answering his question. "I fiddled it rather."
So yes she did write it, ostensibly, although the original concept is not hers. "Why that song?"
"It's what I want for my brother," his wife says quietly. "A gentle ending and a long enough life before it that the departure is not bitter with sorrow, along with the hope that he shall find a new path beyond it."
"Is that what your kami promised you?"
"A gentle ending after a long life?" She sounds amused. "Not even slightly. A guiding hand, firm support through my sorrows and a clear course to the end were what I was promised, along with the assurance of joyful rest beyond it, and that's plenty."
"A pilot you will see after the final crossing," Tobirama murmurs, grasping more clearly the promise of that line.
"Yes. But that time is not here yet, so there is much to do."
"So what is your plan for your brother's sleepwalking habit?" Tobirama asks, aware that Madara is now awake and listening.
"It is as embarrassing as a little sister scheme should be," Izuna says primly, tugging on her brother's braid, "but I am confident that it will work very well indeed, at least until you find a nice partner to settle down and share your futon with, Nii-chan."
Madara stays sprawled limply over Izuna's lap, but his ears and the back of his neck flush pink.
"Oh?" Tobirama asks, interested. Evidently his wife is balancing her deep and genuine concern against the natural sibling desire for vengeance over the fright her brother has given her and has found a comfortable middle ground.
"My Nii-chan," Izuna says gleefully, "is going to get a nice big cuddle pillow, which I will put fuuinjutsu on so it feels like a person. Probably like me, seeing as it is me he's so fixated on. Scent and blood-heat and heartbeat as well as chakra feel, probably; that should be enough to fool his sleeping brain that I've not abandoned him." Her grin is toothy and vindictive. "I will be sure to give it a face and one of my nightshirts to wear as well."
Tobirama sniggers at the mental image painted; Madara's chakra takes on a distinctly pained cast, which is frankly an improvement on the earlier gloom.
"You are an affliction, imōto," he grumbles, letting go of her and shuffling himself over so he's lying on his back over her legs to pout up at her face, red lines pressed into his cheek and jaw from the folds of her juban.
"You deserve me," Izuna retorts, sickly-sweet. "Now let me unbind your chakra and have a think how we're going to explain to the joiners why the bedroom shōji of my concubine's room looks like somebody tried to break in for some nefarious purpose."
Madara covers his face with both hands, ears going redder. "I hate you, Ii-chan," he whines, muffled chakra squirming with how embarrassed he is.
"If you're very good I will lie and say that you tripped over while sleepwalking with your sword," Izuna says, tone making it very clear there will be a hefty price for this mercy as her hands work and her brother's chakra ripples, expanding beyond his skin like a flash-fire then receding again to its usual controlled burn, "but I am going to make it clear to the entire clan what my solution to this particular problem is, because I really do not want you invading my private time with Tobirama ever again unless there's an actual emergency, Madara."
Madara rolls off Izuna's legs entirely to face-plant on the futon, limbs sprawled like an ungainly corpse. "Hn."
"I'm so glad you agree with me, Nii-chan. Be grateful the sheets have been changed since the last time we had sex in here."
Madara groans loudly and slaps his hands over his ears, then staggers to his feet and out of the bedroom fusuma towards the bathhouse. Tobirama sits up, enjoying the distinctly smug flavour to his wife's chakra.
"I'm going to put more security on the house as well, Treasure," Izuna promises quietly, leaning back to rest her head on his shoulder as he wraps his arms around her waist. "I want you to be able to sleep confidently."
"Thank you." He's not sure how much it will help, but he does appreciate it. Having people come at him with a sword while he's asleep in bed is not his idea of fun, and this is the second time it's happened in less than half a year.
song is 'Crossing the Bar' by The Longest Johns.
First thing the next morning Izuna makes a trip to the medics; her chakra pooling early is not a bad thing in itself, but it is something to keep an eye on. Especially since it all but confirms she is carrying twins.
Kiso is returned right after breakfast, just in time to miss Madara leaving to plead his case to the joiners; Tobirama is grateful to not have to be involved in that. He has decidedly mixed feelings about last night that he needs to unpick at his own speed –and some careful questions to put to his wife at the same time– so not having to negotiate for the repairs or deflect attention from the actual sequence of events is a relief.
It helps that Kiso is very keen to cuddle today rather than run around with his toys; Tobirama suspects Tajima has said something that has prompted this clinginess, but decides it's better by far not to make an issue of it. Instead he borrows one of Izuna's illustrated books of nonsense poetry –he has no idea where she got them from but they're completely hilarious– and reads it aloud to the toddler, relishing the wide-eyed wonder and occasional heated objections.
It makes for a very enjoyable morning. Then in the afternoon they have Kei-chan while Kiso is out with Midori-chan, and that is very comfortable as well. Partly because by midday clouds are gathering overhead; the downpour hits after a few hours of ominous thundery rumbles and the rest of the afternoon is delightfully cool, the rain lasting long enough to enact a significant reduction in temperature rather than steaming into vapour less than an hour after the clouds finish emptying themselves.
It's a good day. That Izuna spends the afternoon assembling the decoy pillow –a combination of embroidery project and fuuinjutsu– and laughingly demanding Tobirama comment on how good a likeness to her the stitched features on the limbless effigy are goes a long way to soothing the remnants of last night's nerves. The face is minimal but artistically styled: eyebrows sharp, nose barely hinted at and mouth not much more than a single stitched line but eyelashes individually sewn, clearly conveying that this is a face but not really attempting anything approaching realism. It works unexpectedly well considering her evident unfamiliarity with the new medium.
She also discusses ways to refine the Amaterasu Residence's security to account for sleepwalkers, which proves a very interesting mental exercise. Tobirama's not sure that any specific conclusions have been reached by dinnertime, but they've certainly considered a good number of different possibilities for testing.
Testing will of course be somewhat challenging, but Izuna is right that the first and most important test is the efficacy of the decoy. Tobirama's only contribution there is in testing whether Izuna has managed to get the scent right, which she has, and entertaining the baby in the brief interval she is awake for.
He suspects that his wife already had these decoy seals in her back pocket; laying false trails and turning rolled-up bedding into alibis seems like something she will already have extensive practice in, and the lengths she goes to ensure apparent realism uphold this hypothesis. Izuna is gleefully evasive when he tries to pursue this line of questioning, which is confirmation enough.
It is only when putting Kiso to bed in the early evening that Tobirama realises the floor, shōji threshold and tatami mat in his room have all been replaced while he was distracted by fuuinjutsu debates. He's not sure if he's grateful or unnerved by having entirely missed it happening; he decides Izuna was probably trying to be considerate, but the lack of evidence of last night's near-miss is somehow more unnerving. Or would have been had his wife not spent the entire afternoon working on a mitigation strategy; it's still a little disconcerting as it is.
There's a tabby cat napping on top of his tansu. Tobirama is irritatingly grateful for its presence.
"Izuna?" He says after the toddler has been settled halfway to dreamland and he has shut the fusuma behind him.
His wife looks up from her life-size decoy doll, now 'dressed' in one of her nemaki with the sleeves inside-out and secured on the inside by the belt. "Yes, Treasure?"
"Next time there are repairs, I'd like to be aware that they are happening." Yes, she was trying to be considerate, but the lack of awareness is somehow worse than the lack of control.
Izuna nods. "I'm sorry Tobirama, I thought you'd prefer not to be reminded; I'll ask next time."
"Thank you." This is not the first high-handed decision made in a misguided attempt to make him more comfortable, but at least they are new mistakes each time; she listens to him. Which, considering Tajima as parent and role-model, is markedly better than it might be.
Actually, any instance of not emulating her father really does need to be encouraged; Tobirama walks over to sit next to her and leans in for a kiss. His wife eagerly reciprocates, fingers threading through his hair as he wraps an arm around her waist and gently pushes her down to the tatami.
They're both still dressed, if breathing heavily and distinctly dishevelled, when Madara cautiously announces himself in the genkan.
"So punctual," Tobirama complains quietly, forehead resting against his wife's as he tries to carve out space in his mind for something other than resentful disappointment at the interruption.
"Timely arrival, timely departure?" Izuna murmurs back, tone both plaintive and vaguely hopeful, before raising her voice: "We're both decent, Nii-san!"
"You say that like your decency standards aren't dramatically different from anybody else's decency standards, Ii-chan," Madara says ruefully, sliding open the fusuma of the genkan and promptly slapping a hand over his eyes with a theatrical groan. "And I am proven correct yet again."
"Nobody's naked, Nii-chan," Izuna says reproachfully, tugging at the front panel of her kimono so it gapes less. "Now get in here and admire my solution to your sleepwalking problem."
Madara sighs longsufferingly, but does step inside and close the fusuma behind him before cautiously peeking between his fingers.
"Behold!" Izuna says grandly, picking up the deceptively silly-looking body pillow and holding it out to him upright, a limbless torso with the attached head embroidered with a sleeping expression, wide black loops of silk ribbon neatly stitched to its scalp in a vague mock-up of her own wild hair. "Meet your imo-makura."
Madara's hand drops from his face as he stares imploringly at the ceiling, chakra wobbling precariously between hilarity and mortification. Tobirama has to agree that 'little sister pillow' is a delightfully embarrassing name for the effigy and fully approves.
"Must you, Ii-chan?"
"Yes, I really must," Izuna agrees brightly. "Now hug Imo-chan and tell me how she holds up to scrutiny."
Madara sags theatrically, but does step forwards to cautiously take the life-sized pillow-doll from his sister. The way his eyebrows fly up upon contact say he's noticed its unnervingly realistic weight and possibly the way it seems to breathe as well.
"It has… a heartbeat?" Madara cautiously hugs 'Imo-chan,' then holds it out at arm's length again with a slightly disturbed frown. "Imōto, this does not feel like it's stuffed with hemp fibre."
"I love you very much Nii-chan but I never, ever want you joining me in bed with Tobirama ever again," Izuna says sweetly. "This may be ridiculously excessive but I want it to work first time."
Madara is red in the face by the end of this mild reminder of last night's disaster, and gamely hugs the effigy again.
Tobirama finds the way it mimics his wife's chakra signature a tad unnerving, especially since right now his wife has less of a chakra signature than the pillow does due to her pregnancy. That she can achieve that much with fuuinjutsu is however impressive.
"It smells like you, imōto," Madara admits quietly after a few seconds, "and the weight is… right, I suppose. Other than the missing limbs."
"If you want to give it limbs that's your problem; I thought limbless would be less creepy overall, as it looks less like you're unhealthily obsessed with me and more like I am teasing you by giving you a life-sized cuddly kokeshi doll."
Madara flushes and cringes at the same time. "Point."
"But you are unhealthily obsessed with me, Nii-chan," Izuna continues mildly, "so I'd be grateful if you talked to Moreya-jii-chan or somebody about why it is that your sleeping mind won't believe I'm safe unless you're actually holding onto me. Or talk to an altar if that's easier; something, please, Nii-chan. Because Tobirama's not going anywhere and if you try to hurt him again I will have to actually do something about it rather than pretend it didn't happen."
Madara flinches this time; Tobirama is abruptly reminded of the legal code and the laws that protect non-warrior clansmen from warriors. Madara attempting harm while sleepwalking is not covered specifically by the legal code, although there are other laws covering 'harm done while not in one's right mind,' which come close. Either way there should be some kind of punishment due, or at least restitution, which his wife seems to be channelling into 'embarrass and harry my brother until self-improvement is achieved.'
It might work. It would never work on Anija, but with Madara it feels like there's a better than even chance of success.
"And you owe Tobirama," Izuna adds firmly.
Madara nods, as though this is both fair and expected. "Let me know if you ever want to spar, Tobirama-san. Or anything else."
"I will," Tobirama manages, suddenly intensely curious what it would be like to spar with Madara. He knows Izuna spars with her brother –or did until she retired from the Outguard at least– and he is nominally his wife's equal on the battlefield, so he should be able to more or less match the Conflagration on the sparring field where the stakes are lower.
He wants to find out where he stands there. Especially since he might get to use live steel for such a spar.
"It really does feel like you, Izuna," Madara admits after a pause.
"It's actually tied to me as well; as long as I'm in good health it will feel like it does now," Izuna says easily. "I thought knowing that would help you trust it a bit more."
Madara's shoulders soften slightly. "That does help; thank you imōto."
"Good. Now shoo; I want to take Tobirama to bed."
Madara makes himself scarce, pillow-effigy slung over his shoulder.
"S you're taking me to bed, are you?" Tobirama asks once they're alone once more. Not that he objects in the slightest.
His wife shrugs. "Or we could go back to what we were doing before my brother interrupted us."
Tobirama moves forwards to catch his wife around the waist so he can pick her up and spin her around. "A very fine idea," he concedes, setting her feet back on the floor, "but I'd actually rather like to lay you out on a bed and take my time over you there; futons are comfier than tatami." He pauses. "Your futon, if I may; I'm not sure Kiso's properly asleep yet."
"I'd like that."
Tobirama grins. "Your futon it is then, Lord-Wife."
"How closely is the pillow-doll tied to your health?" Tobirama asks the next morning in the bath-house.
"Not very closely at all," Izuna admits frankly, reaching for the soap. "So long as I'm alive it'll all keep going as though nothing's wrong. But I can deliberately sever the conscious connection, which will make the heartbeat cut out along with the breathing. The chakra signature will only cut out if my chakra gets sealed by a third party, and I don't actually need access to my chakra to set off the alarm part."
Either of those stopping would prompt her brother to panic and investigate very thoroughly the moment he notices; a pair of very clever failsafes. "Is there anything in particular going on today beyond your lesson with your aunt?"
"A few clan vassals are visiting in preparation for tomorrow; valuation specialists," his wife tells him, taking his flannel to scrub his back for him. "They'll be hosted in the Diplomatic Quarters and will probably be eating with my Lord-Father, but are otherwise likely to keep to themselves."
"I thought your clan didn't have vassals."
"We don't have many," Izuna concedes, "and none of them are here on our oldest and original holding, but we do own more land that this and some of that land is inhabited. We just don't advertise that, for obvious reasons."
"That's fair." Though Tobirama's unsure how the Uchiha can have valuation specialists as vassals. Do they own the freehold for an auction house? The Uchiha are not subject to any of the Daimyo's laws on their own land, which would allow for a wider range of wares than regular auction houses generally have available. "Am I allowed to meet them?"
"I won't stop you," Izuna says, amusement trembling faintly in what of her subdued and contained chakra he can sense in the light of day, "but be aware that they might choose to avoid you, and that interacting with them might cause my father to claim your interference in the process and lower the accorded value correspondingly."
Tobirama makes a face as he turns to scrub her back in turn; that would be entirely in character for Tajima. "Will they be staying long?"
"Several days at least, Treasure; I doubt they'll get everything properly valued tomorrow unless your clan decides to hand over more cash than goods."
Which is indeed very unlikely. "I would like to meet them before they leave," he decides.
"I will let my Lord-Father know." So that if such a meeting doesn't happen, Tobirama will know who to blame. "Also, Obon is in a week. Some of the clan do celebrate it, mostly those with recent out-clan ancestors, so I'm going to ask around and see who would be willing to let you join in with their celebrations." She tilts her head back to smile at him. "I'm sure there'll be somebody, Treasure; you don't have that many personal enemies in-clan."
"My wife's optimism is noted." In Tobirama's experience animosity does not have to be personal to be vehemently sincere.
Izuna laughs softly, turning to take the flannel from him and kiss him on the mouth. "Have a little faith, Treasure," she murmurs, "in yourself as much as in me and my kin. You've not made a terrible showing of yourself in the past months, have you? And why should anyone begrudge you the desire to ensure your dead stay at rest?"
Ah, pragmatism. "Very well then, Lord-Wife, I shall do my best."
Tobirama spends the morning with Azumaya-ba, Kiso running around with her younger nieces and nephews as she enlists his help with various gardening jobs and domestic repairs requiring a strong grip, or at least a second pair of hands. It's soothing to just do and to be able to enjoy the fruits of his labours, as well as be able to talk inconsequentially about Izuna's pregnancy, Kiso's ongoing development –the toddler seems to be picking up new words every day despite not being able to reliably pronounce all of them– and listen in turn to what Azumaya-ba's wider family are all getting up to.
Tobirama glances down at the six-year-old tugging on his kimono skirt, not moving his hands from where they are steadying the ladder Azumaya-ba is standing on. "Yes?"
"Hoshio-kun says you gots teeth like my tou-san, O-Neko-san!" The little boy –whose name he can't for the life of him remember– says earnestly, sticking two fingers in his mouth and pulling his lips apart. "Thee?"
Where there should have been a single normal blunt human canine tooth are instead two thin and very pointy incisors, in both the upper and lower jaw. "You have cat teeth, do you?" Tobirama asks, not sure if he's delighted, baffled or unnerved.
"Yesh!" The boy gazes hopefully up at him, still hanging off his kimono with his free hand. "Fow me your teef, O-Neko-than?"
Tobirama obligingly grimaces for several seconds, revealing his teeth right back to his pre-molars. He does not have an extra canine tooth, but all of his teeth bar the front incisors are distinctly pointier than human normal.
"Fo cool!" The six-year-old lets go of Tobirama's clothes and also takes his other hand out of his mouth so as to wave both arms enthusiastically. "O-Neko-san your teeth are so cool!"
"Do your other siblings have cat teeth?" Tobiram asks, unable to help himself.
The little boy nods eagerly. "Yes! We all got them because Tou-san's a Cat summoner and so is Obaasan and Ojiisan was too so we all gots the Cat teeth even though we don't got Cat sense. Tou-san says that's Kaa-san's fault for being her Otou-san's daughter, but like he thinks it's funny."
"Don't have Cat sense, Iwate-kun," Azumaya-ba corrects fussily from where she is carefully patching the top of a shōji. "Your father may be an unrepentant ruffian but that does not mean you have to sound like one."
Iwate-kun tilts his head and blinks in a distinctly feline manner. "Do Cats only like ruffians, Azumaya-baa?"
"Cats find ruffians amusing," Azumaya-ba replies without missing a beat. "They like all kinds of other sorts of people as well; Torao-kun in the Outguard is not a ruffian, for instance."
"What's Cat sense, Azumaya-ba, that we don't got– don't have it?"
"I have no idea kitten; don't worry about it, I have it on Cat authority that Madara-sama and Izuna-bi doesn't have Cat sense either, and neither does your uncle Tsuyoshi."
The boy nods philosophically, accepting this pronunciation. "I'm not a Cat, so I s'pose I don't need Cat sense."
"That's the spirit, Iwate-kun. How are your reading lessons going?"
The conversation turns to katakana and kanji and poetry as Azumaya-ba descends from the ladder and chivvies him over to another damaged shōji, but Tobirama remembers those baby fangs and Iwate-kun's matter-of-fact attitude to them. Evidently the cats have left their mark on a good number of Uchiha over the generations, for nobody to think anything of extra teeth.
Kiso is being babysat in the morning of the day that the Senju will be giving his wife her demanded restitution for the assassination attempt on him, so Tobirama has the first half of the day entirely to himself. He wouldn't usually –usually Izuna would be free all day and spend most of it with him– but today is not a normal day at all.
He hasn't actually asked his wife what it is she is extorting from his kin. He's half-certain this is as much about placating her father and following Clan Law to the letter as it is about satisfying her own sense of justice, all the better to lull her own kin into believing that, with the Senju placed at such a strong disadvantage, they will get the best possible terms for the upcoming peace treaty. Izuna hasn't really given him the impression that she's interested in whatever ends up being handed over either, beyond it meeting some unspoken standard that will prompt her father to put it in writing that he will make no mention of the assault to the Fire Daimyo, ever.
Tobirama assumes that whatever gets handed over to buy that assurance will be valued and then sold, the money going into the Uchiha Clan's coffers. Hopefully to fund future peaceful business schemes, but maybe Tajima will decide he can afford to outfit even the clan's orphans in higher-quality armour as well.
Izuna left right after breakfast, escorting Kiso to Naka-Scallion on the way rather than waiting for her to come and fetch him, dressed in a deep murasaki leno-weave tomesode embroidered on the water-blue pattern section of the skirt with waving riverweed in horsetail green and dainty fish in shades of eggshell cream and ivory gold; fish which, on closer inspection, are in fact skeletal. It's very striking and also slightly unnerving, the light and dark grey cormorant damask obi tied in a fancy knot and secured with the sappanwood purple obi cords he made for her combining with the kimono to create a mature yet slightly whimsical overall picture.
It suits his wife very well. Hopefully whoever is responsible for the handover will manage to avoid being struck dumb by the sheer status embodied in that 'simple' summer tomesode.
Not being in the mood to read or braid, Tobirama takes himself off to Asane-san's house for a few games of Go. Yes, he will inevitably lose, but he knows many more ju now and has a much better idea of how to pace himself and build a solid defence, so the game will last longer and he will lose less miserably. Asane-san's teaching games are also extremely enjoyable, and the older man is always willing to talk about other things while playing.
Last time it was the Elemental Nations' various monasteries and which ones are connected to each-other, which ones have overt rivalries with each-other, which ones pointedly ignore each-other and what the fiercely-held theological differences between their various orders are. Tobirama had been fascinated –almost to the point of his play suffering from his distraction– and after the game was over he had hurried home to get out one of the maps his wife had given him, so as to properly visualise all the details and take notes while the memory was still fresh.
Carefully tying his bridge-and-willow damask obi around his concubine-blue visiting kimono with the boats and securing everything in place with some blue-white obi cords he made himself, Tobirama decides he is rather looking forward to finding out what topic Asane will pick this time.
Utterly engrossed in the discussion of grain crops, how they vary by region and cultural background and how this affects perceived national wealth, Tobirama doesn't notice noon creeping up on him until Naka-Scallion arrives at the door with a damp and very grumpy Kiso, who is not amused by there being no food for him to eat right this moment. Asane-san's sesame-seed senbei work as a temporary distraction, but the toddler needs something more substantial so Tobirama hurriedly says his goodbyes, agrees to come back tomorrow morning and then balances Kiso on his hip and heads back to the Amaterasu Residence.
Kiso munches on the senbei and sniffles grumpily the entire way, despite Tobirama doing his best to coax the three-year-old into a better mood.
"Here we are," Tobirama says with determined lightness as they get back to the house, slipping out of his geta in the genkan and removing Kiso's shoes as well. "Let's go wash our hands for lunch, shall we?"
Tobirama glances down at the toddler on his hip, who is now pouting thunderously. "No clean hands means no lunch, Kiso."
Sighing, Tobirama walks through the house and resigns himself to furious toddler screaming once they get to the sink; it seems it's going to be one of those days. And when he has Kei-chan in the afternoon as well, and no sign yet of whether Izuna will return in time to help him.
Kiso sulks for a full two minutes after being given his mushroom onigiri, glaring and refusing to touch them, until Tobirama sneakily reaches for one of them and the toddler instantly snatches his plate away, completely outraged at this betrayal and abruptly remembering his appetite. The meal is then swiftly devoured and followed up by a small bowl of shiruko; Izuna arrives just as Kiso is finishing off his dessert.
"No! Mine!" The toddler declares, hunching over the bowl and glaring at her. Izuna instantly turns to Naka-Dragon and puts on an exaggeratedly pleading pout, folding her hands in a begging gesture.
"When you've eaten your lunch, Izuna-sama," the clanswoman says firmly, chakra amused as she goes along with the show.
"An' wash hans first," Kiso adds, the little hypocrite.
"I'm going, I'm going!" Izuna laughs, bouncing cheerfully out to the sink. When she returns Naka-Dragon hands her a bowl of cold udon noodles, along with a smaller bowl of miso soup with mushrooms cooked with venison stock. Izuna promptly pours the soup over the noodles, then sets about eating the lot with cheerful relish.
Kiso finishes his warm anko paste and wanders over to sit next to Tobirama, thumb in his mouth and other hand gripping Tobirama's obi cords; evidently he has been forgiven. Tobirama drinks the cup of chilled barley tea Naka-Dragon supplied him with and decides he needs to have a talk with the babysitters sometime soon to find out what exactly is going on there. Yes, Kiso coming home fractious once could just be him, but this is not the first time.
Hopefully it's just a normal case of children being children and not something more serious that will require him to brave the Uchiha's in-clan court system. Yes, he's read about it enough in the clan legal code to have a good idea of how it works, but in his experience these things are never as clear-cut as they purport to be.
"So, do you want the good news, the unexpected news or the less-good news?" Izuna asks after she's finished her first course and Naka-Dragon has handed her a bowl of shiruko with a side-dish of umeboshi.
"Unexpected, good and then less-good," Tobirama decides, one arm wrapped loosely around Kiso's shoulders.
"Well, the unexpected news is that your clan have sent you a box of wedding presents separate from the restitution, which after cursory examination have been handed over to me and are even now waiting in the front hall behind us," his wife says, grinning as Kiso instantly turns to look at the closed shōji separating the iori from the front hall. "I feel like several members of my family are somehow insulted by your kin's commitment to our relationship, so whenever your brother and his wife get around to having children I suspect they will be getting gifts from a cross-section of my more closely-related kinsmen."
Tobirama smirks; seeing as Mito is pregnant right now that promises to be hilarious. He's already looking forward to hearing about the fallout of that particular surprise, as Anija will doubtless misinterpret things and need Mito to straighten him out again.
"The good news is that the Senju Clan have apparently decided this is the perfect moment to offload all manner of expensive but inconvenient-to-fence goods along with the usual prestige gifts that exist to change hands regularly, so my father has absolutely no grounds whatsoever for complaining to the daimyo and he knows it," Izuna continues gleefully, "but the less-good news is that valuing it all is going to take a while, so everything's stalled while that happens and my father tries to argue with the Aburame that the inconvenience diminishes the value."
How very typical of Tajima.
"However note that he's arguing with the Aburame," Izuna continues, "who feel this is a perfectly acceptable showing from the Senju even without full value having been accorded yet, so the restitution has been deemed preliminarily acceptable even though the final numbers are still pending. So if you want to go down to the riverside and host tea nodate for your relatives while my father's quibbling with Shijin-sama, the Aburame are perfectly willing to chaperon that."
"Have tea wif Keifu Baa-tan?" Kiso asks instantly, removing his thumb from his mouth as he looks from Izuna's face to Tobirama's. "Wan' have tea wif Keifu Baa-tan!"
"Do you want to draw an invitation for Sunami-obaa-san, Kiso-kun?" Izuna asks lightly. "It would have to be in two weeks time; your keifu's obaasan celebrates Obon next week, and inviting for this week is very short-notice when she has to travel all the way here."
Tobirama suspects that Baasan would drop everything to come and have a picnic with Kiso on Izuna's prayer-day, but he also recognises that this is a teaching moment so he lets it be.
"Invite Baa-tan," Kiso confirms, nodding his head and slumping against Tobirama's hip. "Have oyaki an' mochi an' amacha."
"Something for you to do this afternoon then," Izuna says comfortably. "I will get out paper and wax crayons for you, and then you can tell me what to write on it."
"Kiso draw for Keifu too!"
"Of course; your keifu needs more art for his tokonoma!"
Tobirama doesn't think he'll have many opportunities to display a toddler's haphazard art, but Kiso is so utterly enraptured by the possibility that he can't find it in him to refuse. "I would be delighted to display any art you give me, musuko."
Kiso settled on the engawa outside Tobirama's living room with many sheets of sturdy hemp paper and a box of variously stubby wax crayons, Izuna quietly leads Tobirama back indoors and silently presents him with a middling sized wooden chest she removes from just inside her study.
"My treasure's wedding gifts from his kin," she murmurs softly, eyes bright, "and now I shall go fetch Kei-chan." She leans in to kiss him. "Enjoy unpacking your gifts; you've got at least half an hour before Kiso decides he wants admiration."
"Many thanks to my unspeakably devious wife." The chest can comfortably be lifted and held by one person, not being wider than his shoulders.
She grins toothily at him, not bothering to hide it behind her fan. "Would you like me as much as you do if I were less devious? I don't think you would."
"You would not be Izuna were you less than scheming," Tobirama concedes, leaning in for his own kiss. "Now go fetch the baby before Shirushi-san decides you aren't coming today." Not that he believes that would happen, but it still makes his wife chuckle and bounce lightly out of the door. Tobirama then sets the elegantly carved box down on the floor, sits himself on a cushion and sets about investigating its contents, half an eye on Kiso who is just visible through the two sets of open shōji.
The box doesn't have a key, but it is locked; nominally at least. Anybody with a wisp of chakra and modicum of chakra control could flick the mechanism open, but it makes Tobirama smile to press his fingers against the edges of the chest and flick the interlocking wedges down, like in those puzzle-boxes that Tokonoma-ji makes sometimes. This is the simplest design –there is not even a specific order to open the catches in– but seeing as it will have been opened for Tajima, Tobirama doesn't mind that. The lock is just to ensure the lid doesn't open while it's being moved.
The inside of the chest is full to the top with rough packages, mostly wrapped in twisted straw or bark cloth rather than washi or silk. A small deception, no doubt deliberate to thwart Tajima's determination to critically impoverish the Senju; these small details suggest his scheme is working, when in truth bark cloth is what the clan have always used for the truly precious things, the things which are kept not because of their monetary value but because they have history.
Most of the trees this far inland are not the best for bark cloth, but there are a few species that work well and the clan keeps an eye on them, harvesting them at large enough intervals to not damage them. Tobirama doesn't know how to make it himself –always so many other things to do– but it's one of the few clan crafts that's accorded value, with a small stipend for the craftswomen even in seasons where the craft is not possible.
The contents of this chest all fall along that theme; precious things, but more for their meaning than their substance. Here is a wall-hanging of bark-cloth painted with the swirling characters of a blessing among oak leaves; here is one of Maki's elk-horn hairpins, the one she stabbed Izuna through the hand with that time. Tobirama smirks; that's a good memory, and given what he now knows about the sharingan he knows that if he wears this pin, his wife will instantly recognise it.
She'll probably laugh. That was a surprisingly good fight and nobody got seriously hurt beyond the hole right through Izuna's hand, which managed to miss the artery.
A pair of carved stone lion-dogs, each about the size of his hand and smooth from age; they had belonged to his great-grandmother once, and to her grandmother before her. Tobirama has only ever seen them displayed in Ōka-ba's tokonoma, and now she has given them to him. A vase shaped like a squat cylinder turned on its side, intended for displaying a single bloom or blossoming branch, decorated with a circular floral pattern in cream against a brown background under the cracked glaze; he's not sure where this came from but Yuta-ba used to put plum blossoms in it every spring. Two-dozen variously-sized storage bags made of thick, costly silk damask –probably the remains of long-defunct obi or kimono– for keeping treasures and tea utensils in when they're not being displayed or used, which have definitely come from Obaasan.
A cheerfully garish teapot painted with a basket-weave pattern and leaves and berries in green, blue, yellow and red with black outlines, along with a single sencha cup with the same basket-weave pattern on the outside and leaf sprays on the inside; Tobirama carefully sets them down then pulls a handkerchief out of his sleeve to press against his face as he breathes. He's not sure if he's worried about laughing or crying right now; it could be either when Anija has just sent him the last survivors of what used to be a favourite tea set. Anija's favourite tea set, specifically; there had at one point been six cups. Once. Anija does better with heavier everyday cups, as they're less likely to fall over when he collides with the fittings.
The rest of the box contains newer things. A quartet of small square lacquered trays, each with a different leaf shape carved lightly in the wood under the lacquer, a set of towels with an Uzumaki wave-pattern edge, a graded set of ink brushes that can only be from Mito, a square box full of camphor nodules to protect his clothing from moths –thoughtful but also very pungent– and a cherry-bark tea caddy that is suspiciously heavy when he tries to lift it.
His family would not give him tea.
Inside the caddy is a rag-wrapped ball of earth with a slightly squashed wisteria seedling sprouting out the top of it, a note scrawled with Anija's terrible handwriting shoved in next to it:
It missed you.
Tobirama carefully moves his box of treasures into his bedroom, closes the fusuma behind him, buries his face in his pillow and cries in earnest.
Then he drops off the eastern engawa in bare feet and plants the seedling in the middle of low-lying garden between his bedroom shōji and the fence, swapping the stone lantern that had previously been central with a narrow stone pillar from nearer to the fence.
The wisteria will hopefully enjoy climbing up the pillar in what is left of the summer, and next year he can build a trellis for it to sprawl over. Tobirama is very willing to cheat ruthlessly to get this tiny scrap of home to take root here, so he can wake up to it every morning. He's not Anija who can make trees grow in a moment, but surely a little chakra won't do it any harm? It's not a mushroom, but he can still dance for it and pray it grows strong.
Eyeing the new layout of the garden from the edge of the engawa, Tobirama walks across the clover again to move the lantern into a slightly more aesthetic position. With a bit of luck he can play this off as a purely whimsical rearrangement and have nobody notice the wisteria until it's established, then claim he likes it and doesn't want it removed.
Underhanded perhaps, but 'my brother gave me a tree and I want to grow it in the garden' is less likely to go down well. There was enough of a fuss over his pine bonsai, despite it not carrying so much as a flicker of his brother's chakra and being firmly confined to its pot.
Tobirama quickly jumps back onto the engawa, wipes his feet with a cloth and hurries back indoors. "In here, Kiso!" He says, opening the fusuma to the living room. The toddler blinks at him from the engawa, then settled back into drawing; just a momentary insecurity then.
Izuna should be back in a moment with Kei-chan; Tobirama closes the fusuma and also his bedroom's shōji then heads to the kitchen, both to wash his hands –and his feet– and to fill a kettle with water so as to make tea for his wife. He'll use Anija's ridiculous teapot; that should make her smile. He can also tell her the story of the variously tragic and senseless demises of the missing pieces of this particular tea-set, which she will doubtless find very amusing.
Upon returning with little Kei-chan Izuna takes a moment to change into her red silk gauze kimono with the bush clover resist-print, although she keeps the grey cormorant damask obi despite it being perhaps a little much for a day spent inside and in the garden. It does look very fine though; Tobirama hands the infant back to her and then also changes out of his concubine-blue visiting kimono with the boats into his mulberry purple-brown leno-weave kimono with the crashing-wave pattern, tying it with the kudzu-green soft obi with the fletching damask.
It's a comfortably masculine outfit, and while Tobirama is caring less and less as time passes about the nature of the sumptuary signalling inherent to being a concubine, it is nice to dress more simply on occasion. Like this he does not have to keep an eye on sleeves or trailing obi knots or any of that, which is one less thing to potentially mess up, given the many other demands being made of him. Such as when he has a lap full of toddler demanding he admire abstract crayon art.
Well, crayon art that looks abstract to him; Kiso is very insistent about what he has drawn being very specific things.
"Your keifu could label them, Kiso-bō," Izuna says brightly after Tobirama has had to confess he sadly could not recognise the spider, the portrait of Obaasan, the cat or the mushrooms, "and put your name on them, so everybody will know you drew them!"
Tobirama gratefully reaches for his writing case; using his smallest brush to add descriptions will prevent Kiso from being upset with him later if he happens to forget what each of these is meant to be.
"So what characters is your name written with, Kiso-bō?" Tobirama asks once he has ink ready.
Kiso looks at Izuna.
"'Ki' as in tree, for our adorable little shrub-boy," Izuna says mischievously, reaching out to poke the toddler in the ribs, "and 'so' as in formerly or before."
Tobirama carefully writes that down. "Did you used to be a bush then, Kiso-bō, before you were a boy?"
"Nooo," Kiso says, giggling.
"This is the real reason Kiso-bō can grow kumquats behind his ears," Izuna teases; "he's secretly a little sapling!"
"Should we pour water over you, to make you grow?" Tobirama asks with a broad grin, neatly adding Kiso's name to each of the drawings along with a brief description and the date. These might well end up getting burnt eventually, but if they do keep them longer than a few weeks or months then it's good to know exactly when they were done.
"Es!" Kiso says, bouncing on the tatami. "Water me!"
Izuna laughs. "Well then, let's go outside with a watering can, shall we?"
"Water for Kei-tan too?" Kiso asks, eyes wide and innocent but chakra mischievous.
"Kei-chan hasn't asked to be watered, miscreant!" Izuna replies, leaning over to prod him again. Kiso dodges; Izuna rises menacingly to her feet and gives chase to the happily squeaking toddler, leaving Tobirama sat at his writing desk with a sleeping infant in his lap.
"I love my wife very much but sometimes she's completely ridiculous," he informs Kei-chan as he sets Kiso's art aside to dry and washes his brush. "Let's get my desk tidied up and then go watch her and Kiso be silly in the garden, shall we?"
Kei-chan doesn't answer, being asleep. Tobirama likes talking to her regardless; it feels natural and Izuna does it as well, so it doesn't give him even the smallest pang of self-consciousness. Kei-chan seems to sleep better for it too, which is all the more reason to do so.
Tobirama's afternoon is a glorious riot of chasing Kiso around the garden, finally getting to walk the toddler over the pond to feel the koi nibbling on his toes, sprawling under the shade of a tree purring with both children asleep on top of him and listening to Izuna recite nonsense poetry from one of her books, occasionally actually singing the words with her shamisen as accompaniment. Even Ganko-chan the chicken coming to join them can't dampen his enjoyment. The chicken may still be clearly enamoured, but her primary focus is still food so she does not try to smother him with attention.
It's only after Kei-chan has been taken home and Kiso has eaten dinner and fallen asleep almost the moment he is settled on his futon that Tobirama remembers his concerns about the goods Tajima has extorted from the Senju in the name of recompense for the harm done to him.
His wife looks up from her looping silk project, which is starting to look like it might be nearly finished. "Yes, Treasure?"
"What is your Lord-Father going to do with the restitution he has demanded from the Senju?"
Izuna blinks at him. "Nothing, Treasure; it's not his to spend."
That is actually a relief. "What are you going to spend it on then, Lord-Wife?" Peaceful investments, hopefully; he has significantly more faith in his wife's commitment to demilitarisation than in her father's.
Izuna sets her craft project down in her lap. "Tobirama, why do you think I'm going to spend it?"
Tobirama frowns. "You demanded all those goods and are having them valued, but don't intend to use them? Are you just going to let them moulder in storage? Give them away? Burn them?" None of those options are exactly good, considering how doing so will imply she does not value the apology they represent.
"Treasure, look at me." Tobirama does so. His wife feels intensely serious. "Tobirama, beloved; those things are for you. You are the wronged party here; I demanded restitution on your behalf, not my own."
Tobirama feels his throat dry. "You, for me?" He manages weakly. "Did they know?"
"Yes, Treasure; I told my Lord-Father that what I wanted the Senju Clan to give me as restitution for the harm offered to my concubine was a dowry that reflected your value to them."
Tobirama opens his mouth, closes it, picks up his cup and sips his lukewarm tea to try and fill the moment. His wife is still watching him. A dowry? For him? As a spouse, for him to use in the standard fashion, presumably. As restitution and technically hush money, so the daimyo never hears of the attempt on his life.
"And I suppose Tajima was delighted by the opportunity to drive my kin into the trap of choosing between impoverishment and dishonour?" He manages eventually.
Izuna nods. "He did find the prospect very satisfying, yes, which was the guarantee I needed that he would not sabotage the process. It has also prompted him to see the peace process generally in a more favourable light, so I have hope that with both of us and Madara all doing our best to argue for a degree of equity, we may yet get a treaty that nobody finds too objectionable."
"Will Tajima allow you to do that?"
Izuna frowns. "He had better; this is our future as much as his, more ours even. We're the ones who'll be wrestling with the problems if the treaty isn't well thought-out or overtly favours one side more than the other."
Tobirama's mind is still lurching in confusion from the revelation that the varied and valuable selection of goods the Senju Clan has just parted with in order to ensure they don't get reported to the Daimyo for attacking a noble's spouse is all for him. That, once valued, he will have to choose what he wishes to bring into the Amaterasu Residence for regular use, what he wants sold for cash and what he wants to keep as assurance against future hardships.
"You want me to have a dowry," he says, refilling both their teacups then refilling the iron kettle from the water jar and hanging it back over the banked fire.
"I do very much want to lavish you with gifts and keep you in the style to which you are gradually becoming accustomed," his wife says frankly, "but you want to not be dependent on me for everything, and that is completely fair. If anything were to happen to me the care of my children would fall to Madara-nii, as my closest kin in our Lineage, but he would not be required to offer you more than the provision offered to any widower, which is not very much at all, and underage children would not be able to support you. You're probably never going to be allowed to be a warrior again and there is no guarantee you would be able to live off the proceeds of a craft when many of my kin would shun you for various reasons, and really when marrying into another clan a person should have a dowry. So I am taking advantage of this opportunity to ensure you get one."
That is a lot to take in. Tobirama sips his tea to fill the moment.
"If you die bearing the children currently in your womb I think my esteemed father-in-law will slit my throat and add me to your funeral pyre," he points out. Which, it has to be said, is a thing that has happened to concubines before. Just the once –and to a later Sarutobi concubine not Senju Kabema– but the fact remains that there is precedent.
"Yes, that is a possibility," Izuna admits regretfully, "but I am hoping that by the time it comes for me to give birth we're far along enough in the peace process for my father to not kick up a stink if I say I'd like a Senju midwife present along with an Uchiha one. I mean, if I ask that the clan's midwives will all be completely outraged at me, but the only person's agreement I actually need is my father's, because letting a Senju medic near a pregnant clanswoman is a security issue." And thus, she does not need to say, at the discretion of the Outguard Head.
"I would feel much more calm about the whole business if Ōka-ba could be here to supervise," Tobirama confesses, feeling something inside him unknot at his wife's admission. "Not that I don't think the midwives here are capable! It's just, well, I know Oba-san."
"You do, and she knew your mother," Izuna agrees, "which is also a factor here. Having a midwife who is not familiar with historic issues on both sides of the family tree can present difficulties, which is what I would couch it as. At the very least my future daughters will need that information for their own health and wellbeing."
Tobirama doesn't want to think about the possible health problems his currently-theoretical daughters might someday have when bearing their own children; he's struggling enough with what's going on this week.
However those theoretical issues are going to haunt him. He needs to talk to Umeno-san about how Hatake genetics combine with Uchiha ones, and also look into Senju Kabema's children and what their health was like. Though he has no idea how to do that; will it be mingled in the oral tradition that he is gradually hearing more of, the songs and poems immortalising notorious Uchiha and their achievements, or are there physical documents somewhere that he can read?
Given Izuna's startlingly coherent grasp of Imperial history, there probably are physical documents going back a long way in the clan's archives. However the likelihood of his being permitted to view them is miserably slim. Maybe he will eventually be allowed to request that others search the archives for him, but that's honestly very limiting when he can't peruse the shelves and see for himself what's there.
Well, it's something to work on and not really urgent right now. Umeno-san is right there after all; he can ask her first.
Wait a moment.
"My esteemed father-in-law is trying to devalue my dowry?!"
Izuna laughs, the sound barely audible as she shakes with her sleeve pressed against her mouth. "He is trying, Treasure," she agrees eventually, voice wobbly with mirth, "but the Aburame are thwarting him most ably and Nii-san is making sure the vassals know that he, as Outguard Heir, would be sadly disappointed should he discover later on that his sister's spouse's dowry had been undervalued."
"And smart subordinates tremble in their sandals at the prospect of Uchiha Madara being disappointed in their performance," Tobirama concludes, feeling vaguely vindicated. It is a nice feeling to be able to also spite Tajima in this, if only by proxy.
"Indeed, Treasure; he has something of a reputation."
Tobirama snorts at the sheer scale of that understatement. "There are probably daimyo who are somewhat concerned about the day your brother takes over leadership of the Uchiha Clan. Your Lord-Father at least has the established reputation of being a measured and pragmatic man." Which Madara does not.
Uchiha Madara, the Conflagration, has a history of immolating everything and everybody that resists him enough to get noticed as an obstacle. He tries not to think of the joke –which is only a joke because his kin are terrified of it actually happening and trying to play it off– that the only thing that could stop Madara from burning the world to ashes would be divine intervention. He knows the older man better now; his brother-in-law has more restraint that that, no matter how unhinged he acts on the battlefield.
"And yet he still squeaks and blushes when I tease him," Izuna says, tone and chakra both achingly fond. "The reputation serves its purpose; it will give him breathing room once he takes up the role."
That is true. Tōka rather needs to build such a reputation for herself, now that she is Senju Heir; it is all very well to be capable, but to be respected one also needs to be somewhat feared.
"So it is you who needs to start thinking what you would like to spend your dowry on, or invest it in," his wife concludes, picking up her silk project again. "Take your time; selling some of those things is going to take a while."
Tobirama goes to fetch his writing desk, mind already spinning with ideas. He will be able to afford so many new books –a little frivolous perhaps but books are an investment– and also he will have extremely sturdy excuses for asking more about trade and Uchiha crafting. Having funds to invest also means more Uchiha might decide they want to talk to him, as surely it would be for the best for those freshly-acquired funds to be productively engaged within the clan…
He can talk to Asane-san about it tomorrow morning, when he heads over to play Go again and finish asking about grain crops. He could ask about cash crops too; those tend to be fairly regional and it's always good to know where the markets are and what affects price.
Two days later the valuation of his dowry is still incomplete; last night Madara stopped by to regale them with renditions of the arguments taking place between the three vassal specialists concerning certain specific items, which was entertaining but also somewhat educational on the nature of the disagreements holding up the process. Tobirama has an idea of how to move matters along there, which he is going to present to the Aburame this morning while his wife is at her lessons with her aunt and Kiso is with Moreya-jii-san.
He did use his wife's great-uncle as a sounding board for this idea when he came to collect Kiso, and the man agreed it sounded very practical, so Tobirama is going for it. He is sure that, as hosts for the treaty negotiations, the Aburame would also like things to progress rather than stall miserably for weeks on end.
Yesterday Kiso's invitation to Baa-san for a picnic after Obon was delivered via crow, along with a longer letter from him suggesting weekly informal tea with different relatives down by the riverside with an Aburame chaperon. He's not had replies back yet, but he's sure they'll arrive today or tomorrow at the very latest. Obon starts in half a week so the clan will be busy setting things up for that, but not that busy when there have been markedly fewer deaths than normal this year, given the lack of serious conflict since spring.
Although it has to be said that there have been markedly more dead senior warriors this year. Most of them at Izuna's hand, in his defence.
Tobirama wears his yellow tomesode embroidered with reeds and plover and his bridge-and-willow damask obi for this visit to the Aburame, although the 'visit' is more a matter of approaching the pair of chitin-smelling shinobi in their dark glasses and pale grey silk coats, standing outside a large barn with actual walls where the valuation process is evidently taking place. He can hear raised voices coming from inside; the arguments have begun again already.
"Good morning Aburame-dono," he says, politely pretending he can't hear the distorted swearing drifting through the wooden panels behind them. Both Aburame nod at him; he thinks these two are Shishū and Shijō, but he can't say he's certain when there's so little of their faces visible and distinguishing between Aburame by scent is as challenging an exercise in futility as distinguishing between Uchiha used to be. Tobirama has mostly been working off height, hairstyle, apparent age and facial hair, but these two Aburame in particular are near-identical in that respect, regarding what is visible above a high coat-collar at least.
The Aburame on the left –Shijō possibly– nods politely at him. "Uchiha-dono."
"Might Aburame Shijin-sama be available?"
A single beetle detaches itself from the Aburame on the right who might be Shishū, taking determined flight and quickly vanishing. "We will inquire."
Tobirama hums, nods and waits. The Aburame also wait.
A small chakra signature sidles up behind him. "O-Neko-san?"
"Hello Hoshio-kun." Azumaya-ba has a great many great-nieces and great-nephews; Hoshio is the oldest of her late nephew Hyōno's four. Hyōno's not been dead a year yet; Tobirama is mostly just grateful it wasn't a Senju who did it. Some Earth Country shinobi and a landslide had been the responsible party, apparently.
The ten-year-old peers around him at the Aburame. "What're you doing, O-Neko-san?"
"I'm arranging a meeting with Aburame-sama."
Hoshio considers this, keeping Tobirama between himself and the two strangers. "Why?"
"I want to talk to him."
"But why, O-Neko-san?"
Tobirama looks down at Hoshio's upturned face and wide, innocent eyes. "That is my business, and Aburame-sama's."
Hoshio's eyes drop. "Sorry O-Neko-san."
Tobirama ruffles his hair. "It's good to be curious about the world, Hoshio-kun. But other people may not appreciate you being curious about things they consider private."
"Aburame-sama will meet you in front of the Uchiha's main shrine, Uchiha-dono," Aburame possibly-Shishū says blandly.
"Thank you, Aburame-dono; I wish you both a comfortable day." That's not far to walk and lets him avoid the Outguard Hall, which is always a plus.
"Thank you, Uchiha-dono."
Unfortunately Tajima is there with Aburame Shijin by the shrine when Tobirama arrives, both sitting on a blanket under one of the tachibana trees with a tea tray. Hoshio takes one look at the Outguard Head and vanishes down an alleyway; Tobirama is not remotely surprised to be abandoned, so walks closer without hesitation.
Tobirama bows precisely. "Esteemed father-in-law. Aburame-sama."
Aburame Shijin catches at least half of his implications there, going by the slight change in pitch of the background hum of his kikaichū. Tajima catches all of them –possibly along with some extras Tobirama didn't mean to show– and breaks out in smirking satisfaction.
"Come and sit down, Tobirama-san," the Outguard Head invites.
Tobirama sits, conscious that the only Uchiha within sight of this impromptu outdoor tea party are all very studiously completing other work. Nobody is looking this way, nobody is any closer than they can avoid; the closest living beings are the chickens pecking about under the other tachibana trees, their preteen minder perched on a fence a good distance away and busily working with a drop spindle.
He accepts a yunomi of umecha, savouring the refreshing sourness; it is already rather warm and the clear sky overhead means it is only going to get hotter.
"What was it you wished to ask, Uchiha-san?" Aburame Shijin inquires politely, sipping his own umeboshi tea.
"I have noticed that the valuation process has stalled over disagreements on the nature of value," Tobirama says carefully, not looking at Tajima, "and, as the party most directly affected by those decisions, wondered whether Aburame-sama would appreciate my thoughts."
The Aburame Clan Head makes a small encouraging hum, harmonising with his hive.
"Firstly, I feel it would be quicker to log all of the suggested values for the contentious items, then determine how large a percentage of the value of the whole dowry that would be at minimal value, then at maximum value," Tobirama continues, feeling confident in the mathematical soundness of this part of his plan, "and then decide whether the minimum value is acceptable as restitution. If it is then matters can proceed with the Senju, using on the paperwork a theoretical median point between the two extremes that reflects the likelihood of receiving the higher price; better to undervalue something and do better out of the sale than expected than to overvalue and make a loss."
"A good thought," Aburame Shijin says pleasantly.
"Also," Tobirama continues firmly, "once the initial valuation is set I can peruse the items myself; resale value is irrelevant if I decide I wish to use an item, and thus precise valuation can focus on those items I wish to see disposed of. I am not in a hurry or indeed in pressing need of funds; if they believe they can find discerning customers for certain items, customers that would be prepared to pay a price closer to the upper end of the range, then I would be willing to wait for that. Providing of course that they can prove that the return I receive would be higher than selling elsewhere, despite their taking a commission for their effort." That is just good business sense, and Tobirama is grateful to Yuta-ba and Kishimi-ba for instilling the basics in him while he was reworking the clan's budgeting system to reduce cash-flow problems.
"Practical," Tajima muses, fingertips drumming lightly against the rim of his cup.
"Uchiha-san has expressed a willingness to compromise," Aburame Shijin says, "and I believe his point is both fair and appropriate. Uchiha-dono, your thoughts?"
"It will put an end to the arguing," Tajima says dryly, "and once the minimum value is established I can make a decision on my daughter's behalf. Matters pertaining to the disposition or disposal of those goods are then Tobirama-san's business, as my daughter has indicated he may do with them as he sees fit." His lips twitch. "Once the papers are signed I will introduce you to our valuation specialists, son-in-law."
That feels like a threat; Tobirama refuses to flinch. "My thanks to my esteemed father-in-law."
Tajima chuckles. "Well then Aburame-dono, we should go and ensure the relevant parties are made aware of their marching orders." He finishes his tea and sets the cup down firmly next to the pot; the Aburame Head is much more considered in emptying his cup and more gentle in putting it down.
"Thank you for your thoughts, Uchiha-san," Aburame Shijin says calmly.
"Do take the tea tray back to the Hall, son-in-law," Tajima adds. Tobirama tries not bristle overtly, but is not positive he has succeeded.
He does take the tray back though, if only to spare Shige-chan the trip to fetch it.
That afternoon Izuna finally finishes her looped silk project, which results in a trip to the river to wash it and then the assembly of a very large wooden frame to hang it on to dry. Except that Izuna somehow suspends the project in the middle of the frame rather than draping it over the top, threading the points of the border on fine cord wrapped around the pegs set in the frame to reveal a massive gauzy square of fabric patterned with waves, leaves and flowers right the way across it.
"What is it?" He asks, realising abruptly that this silken masterpiece is as large across as he is tall.
"It's a shawl, Treasure," Izuna tells him, leaning the frame against the engawa so the project can dry.
"Yes," –Tobirama can see now that this is intended as a light garment to fold several times and wrap around the shoulders– "but I meant, what is this technique called?" It's not weaving, although it does resemble it at a distance; there is no weft and warp, only a single thread acting as both.
"Oh; this is knitting, Treasure. Lace knitting specifically, with the holes; you can knit without holes as well, it's good for fitted garments."
Knitting? "Like winter socks?" Tobirama peers dubiously at the shawl, but yes the loops do look rather like the ones in woollen socks. If with a much finer thread and a pattern of holes; more holes than thread in a lot of places, honestly.
"Like winter socks," his wife agrees, her grin audible. "But socks are fairly dull as knitting projects go, so I like to ring the changes."
"I have never seen you wear anything like this before," Tobirama points out suspiciously, "or anybody else here either."
"This is my first silk project; wool is much easier to knit, stretching as it does, and those shawls see more use in cooler weather. They're also generally smaller; this is my first time making something this large."
"Your first time using silk and you decide to make something larger than you ever have before?" A challenging medium and an ambitious design, both at once?
Izuna laughs. "Nobody's ever questioned my daring, Treasure!"
"Only your sense," Tobirama retorts, amused despite himself. It is indeed a very Izuna thing to do; it's how she regularly managed to outwit him in the field, those ambitious leaps in unexpected directions, not consistently successful but always bouncing back just out of reach. "Do you knit socks on little loops then?" The shawl started on a large loop, then got moved to a smaller one. He's never seen socks being made, only bought them for winter campaigns –they are more durable than felt tabi, if also much more expensive– so their manufacture is a mystery to him.
"Little loops or small needles, yes," Izuna agrees. "When the weather gets colder I can teach you, if you like; being able to knit your own socks is a useful skill."
"I'll keep it in mind," Tobirama promises, turning to eye the shawl again. "Did you make this with a particular occasion in mind?"
His wife's chakra, contained though it is to support her pregnancy, flutters noticeably. "Not a specifically planned occasion, no," she hedges; "I started it after my coming-of-age ceremony in January, mostly because I wanted to have a silk lace shawl should an occasion arise where I could wear one."
Tobirama has a feeling there is a specific event she would like to wear this creamy white silk shawl on. An occasion such as, for instance, her own wedding; a bride is supposed to wear an undyed head-covering of some kind.
He doesn't prod further; he knows that's a sensitive subject. Instead he catches Kiso before the toddler can poke the drying shawl with sticky hands:
"No touching, Kiso-kit; it's just been washed and your hands haven't." He has no idea where the sticky came from this time, but sticky hands seem to be one of the constants of toddlerhood.
Kiso wipes his hands on his jinbei trousers, pats at his palms and then pouts up at Tobirama. "Can touch if wash hans?"
"No Kiso-bō, not while it's drying," Izuna interjects. "But when it's dry, yes you can sit down with clean hands and touch it."
Kiso accepts this, losing interest in the shawl now he knows he won't get to touch it any time soon and running off across the garden with his wooden horse.
"So what are you going to do now you've finished it?" Tobirama asks, settling back against the edge of the engawa.
"Bask in the euphoria of finishing it for a bit," Izuna says promptly, "then probably start another one. A smaller one," she adds when he raises an eyebrow at her, "and probably fine wool rather than silk."
"A hundred grams of wool may only be enough to make a pair of sturdy socks, but the same weight in a single fine-spun ply makes a surprisingly large shawl."
"I will take your word for it." Tobirama knows nothing about wool beyond the price of the socks needed for mission in Earth or Lightning in any season other than high summer. It is slightly cheaper to buy socks in Earth or Lightning than in Fire, but by that point you may well have already lost half a toe to frostbite and not noticed. Also, now that he thinks about it, the wool to knit socks with was quite dramatically cheaper than the socks themselves.
Which makes sense; with spun wool you are only paying for the spinner's labour along with the farmer's care, while with socks you add on the cost of the knitter's time and skill.
"Anything in particular you would like to do with the afternoon, Treasure?"
Tobirama thinks about it, then remembers his thought concerning dancing for his wisteria seedling. "There's a science experiment I'd like to try," he admits.
"Oh?" Izuna looks –and feels– interested, which is a promising starting point.
"I'm sure you know about dancing for mushrooms from Umeno-san," he begins, "which barely takes any chakra –less than water-walking does in fact– but does require Lightning affinity."
"Yes, I do know," his wife agrees, leaning into him with a sigh, "and I am regrettably incapable of it, alas."
"I am as well," Tobirama confesses; "too strongly Water Natured. But my mother did teach me to do it with pure chakra, and she claimed that helped a little."
"I never saw any conclusive evidence for it myself," Tobirama admits, "but now I am wondering if undifferentiated chakra diffused into the ground like that might affect the vegetation as much as the mushrooms directly. Mushrooms like lightning, but plants certainly don't; maybe a little encouragement with pure chakra can affect plants? Or maybe they like Water chakra or Earth chakra best?" He is terribly curious about what this experiment might reveal, but a little unsure how to go about it. It's hardly Anija's mokuton –Tobirama would be surprised if after a week he even managed to induce the grass grow a little higher– but it would be interesting and satisfy his curiosity.
Izuna taps her chin pensively. "So what you need is a crop field that you can designate specific sections of for specific chakra infusions, but a crop that isn't going to get too tall for you to dance over or through. Beans, maybe? Then the rest of the field can be you 'control sample' and also you'll get an idea of how far the effect spreads."
That is an excellent idea. Unfortunately: "But who is going to let me do chakra experimentation in a crop field when the clan's food security could be affected?"
"Good point," Izuna concedes; "it will have to be hemp then, despite it getting so tall; the second planting wasn't that long ago and I can effectively buy a field's worth of crop early, so any damages to it are then my loss. I do not believe you are likely to destroy an entire harvest with a little infused chakra, but if the chakra lingers in the fibre after harvesting I may well have to do a little experimentation myself."
That is a fascinating thought. He's never noticed lingering chakra in mushrooms, but then again Lightning is inherently transient, fading the swiftest from direct sensing, leaving in its wake burns and the scent of ozone that are no less clear than chakra signs but are not actual Lightning. Water and Earth do linger longest, so the likelihood of one or the other leaving a trace behind in a harvested plant is the highest.
He's not sure how pure chakra would affect things; he will have to find out.
"So who are you going to ask?"
"One of the smaller families who grow hemp as a cash crop to supplement other income, rather than one who grows it for their own use," Izuna replies. "That way they get the money they were hoping for anyway, just a bit earlier than expected, and nobody's livelihood is interrupted. If there's no appreciable difference it'll get spun and woven with everything else, but if there is some chakra staining I'll have to arrange to get it retched and so on separately, which will cost me something. And I'll probably have to commission a specific person to spin it too, but that's no hassle really."
"When can we do this?" Tobirama asks, hoping he doesn't sound too eager. Getting to do a proper experiment means he doesn't have to risk his wisteria sapling to untested theories.
His wife smirks at him, which says he was possibly not as good at hiding his excitement as he might have been. "Now, if you like," she says, still smirking mischievously; "but probably best to wear linen if you're planning on dancing through a field."
"I will go and change," Tobirama says, poking his wife in the ribs, "and you can catch Kiso and find out if he wants to come along with us or stay here with Hayami-chan." The younger woman is in the kitchen right now, but earlier she was refreshing the water in the vases and changing some of the flowers.
"Oh no, oh woe," Izuna deadpans, resting the back of her hand against her forehead and tipping her head back. "My hard-hearted spouse wishes me to run around after a toddler and get grass stains and muck on my lovely kimono. So cruel!"
She's wearing the reed resist-print green gauze kimono and the half-width crayfish green and purple butterfly-print obi; clothing perfectly suited to wearing around the garden. Tobirama rolls his eyes at the spurious drama, feeling his lips twitch into a smirk of his own. "I can help you get it muddy later if you really want to give the laundresses something to gossip about," he offers dryly.
Izuna drops the theatrics instantly and grins at him. "I'll think about it, Shikii." She leans in for a kiss, then bounces off through the shrubbery in pursuit of the toddler.
Tobirama, ruefully aware of the smile he is failing to suppress, heads indoors to change.
Standing well back from the field edge in his pink striped jōju and a borrowed hat –umbrellas being impractical for dancing with– Tobirama watches as his wife talks to the owners of this particular field. The couple feel vaguely amenable to the idea of selling their field of sprouting hemp to Izuna as-seen at last year's price, but it's likely that the practicalities of what that will involve are being thoroughly discussed before being agreed upon. Not that Tobirama is in any particular hurry, but knowing they are generally in favour means he can't help but feel vaguely impatient for them to just agree already. But evidently there are forms to be followed here, so he waits.
Masao-san and his wife Tsuta-san make bamboo baskets; the hemp is a traditional sideline because every other human generation the bamboo all dies off, at which point the proceeds from turning the yearly two seasons of hemp crop from this small field into fabric, cord or paper will keep the family afloat until their livelihood grows back.
Since the bamboo is not flowering this year, they will not particularly mind if Tobirama accidentally makes the entire field's worth unusable, so long as they still get paid for it. However, as the ongoing discussion proves, this basic agreement still needs fully clarifying; what words Tobirama has caught suggest that the talking is about who will be responsible for the ongoing care for the field.
Obviously, if Izuna is paying them for the mature hemp now, she wants them to continue to care for the field. Because that is what she is paying them for. But his wife is calmly allowing the conversation to meander, patient in the face of this nit-picking, so maybe there is something else going on under the surface here. Something other than their genuinely wanting the money, yet also not wanting to have anything to do with Tobirama personally.
He will ask Izuna once these negotiations over. She will tell him, and then he will know.
He turns; it's Naeba-san, wearing trousers tied just below the knees, a thick leather apron and not much else. "Naeba-smith."
She presents him with a flat-woven wicker box about as long as his forearm from wrist to elbow. "Your tessen, complete with a plain paper backing. Normally I'd ask you to take it out and try it, so I can make sure it is fully up to standard, but circumstances being what they are Izuna-bi will have to watch you put it through its paces and show me later."
Duly warned, Tobirama takes the box and removes the lid, but does not reach for the gleaming steel inside. Beautiful grey-blue steel with faint rippling lines on the upper portion of the visible slat leading up to the glittering silver edge that is as thin as the edge of his sleeve-knife, despite being barely a thumb's-width wide.
He cut his finger testing the edge of his sleeve-knife and didn't even notice until the blood was welling up. He could no doubt slit somebody's throat with this fan and only have them realise when the blood-loss began to make them dizzy.
"It's beautiful; my compliments to the craftswoman," he says warmly, fitting the lid back in place and sliding the box through his obi.
"Have you picked a fan-print for this and the gunsen?"
"Yes, Hinokizuka-san was very helpful."
Naeba-san does not comment on his patronising the second name on her list rather than the first. "Did you pick some of her existing designs or commission new ones?"
"She had a very amusing outer print of a cat stalking a koi for the gunsen," Tobirama says, not mentioning that the vividly coloured inner print he picked depicts what he was assured is a genuine historical battle between the Senju and Uchiha where one of the Senju was a mokuton user. That he is fighting an Uchiha who is halfway through a transformation into a dragon would seem utterly fantastical, except that it's not that much more unlikely than Madara's incredibly destructive black fire and his and Izuna's improbably large Susano-o chakra-construct armour. Or Hikaku's ridiculously unfair ability to break absolutely everything.
It's a nice piece of art, although he is going to make cautious inquiries as to which Lineage it is that can turn into dragons. He's not heard of a Ryūjin Lineage, although there is a Toyotama and she is Ryūjin's daughter… is that enough of a connection?
"And your plans for the tessen?"
"I originally thought silk would be good," Tobirama admits, "but Hinokizuka-san convinced me I'd be better picking something I didn't feel obliged to wash, and to keep spares on hand in case of accidents." Whether actual accidents or carefully-orchestrated ones happening to other people was not specified.
"Some auspicious animal monochromes, for maximum inoffensiveness." He has a rooster, a bush-warbler against a full moon, a turtle, a bat and a tiger, and has been promised a snow leopard at half-cost if he will convince one of his summons to sit for the artist once the weather changes. It probably won't be a hard sell; his summons are very vain and are always smugly delighted to be admired.
The price was a little high, but it wasn't clear whether that was because the quality of Uchiha work can command such or because he was paying a little over the usual for having the poor taste to be born Senju. Hinokizuka-san did not seem to find him distasteful –her chakra was neutral, leaning into enthusiasm when discussing her work– so he let it lie. He might ask Izuna later about the usual price-range for high-quality fan prints, so as to be certain one way or the other.
"It's weighted exactly the same as the gunsen, as is traditional, so you can practice without cutting your sleeves off," Naeba-san says, chakra faintly teasing, "and be sure to give me a full accounting when you get around to using it."
"When, not if?"
The shuriken-smith waves a hand at Izuna, who has a faintly triumphant feel that says she's managed to coax the field-owners around to giving her what she wanted. "It's Izuna-bi," she says; "you will get an opportunity to use the tessen. Whether it's thwarted admirers trying to assassinate you or humiliated noble husbands wanting revenge for her 'intimacies' with their wives and daughters, there'll be somebody coming at you with violence in mind when she finally manages to browbeat Tajima-sama into letting her take you to court. And even if she goes as a woman with you as a man, there'll still be all manner of shinobi-related difficulties to consider."
"It's truly that inevitable?"
"Izuna-bi can be delayed," Naeba-san warns him seriously, "but she's incredibly hard to stop. She wants to take you to court? She will succeed eventually. Everybody else just gets to decide how gracious they're going to be about it, or else how silly they're going to look when she sidesteps them."
"I am duly cautioned," Tobirama says, offering her a faintly humorous bow of gratitude.
"Oh, like you need a warning when you're as bad as she is," Naeba-san says with a sudden grin, lightly punching his shoulder. "This is just so you don't take Tajima-sama's mean-spirited miserliness too seriously; if we do get peace like Izuna-bi is angling for he'll probably step down inside the next five years, and then you'll only have Madara to worry about."
Madara, who would give his sister the moon and all the stars if he could. The possibility of a trip to court –of multiple trips to court– abruptly approaches certainty, if perhaps not in the immediate future.
As does the likelihood of seriously reduced restrictions even without this particular peace treaty succeeding; Tobirama remembers Izuna's initial words to him, of the certainty of peace if her brother and his were in charge of their respective clans. Anija's probably never going to be Clan Head now, but if peace fell through and Tajima died next year, Tōkonoma-ji would absolutely offer a truce before the body was even cold.
Because with all the senior warriors the Senju have lost this year, they will be at a disadvantage against the Uchiha for a good long while. Tokonoma-ji will likely call off most hostilities against the Uchiha even if true peace falls through, but there is no guarantee that Tajima will do likewise when he knows he has the upper hand. Not when he has the means to decisively end the threat the Senju offer to his clan or at least drastically reduce that threat for several generations, even though doing so would not truly end the feud.
"Something to look forward to," is all he says to Naeba-san though.