He was at the far west border of Wind country when the commotion caught the edge of his passive range. He paused to assess it, tucking his scarf more securely about his face, cloak flapping a bit in the wind. Skirmishes weren’t unusual; the desert clans competed more fiercely for resources than any clan in Fire country did and he’d very much prefer not to get caught in it. They’re not supposed to know he’s there in the first place.
This one wasn’t a battle though; too many chakra signatures swarming after one target, eight on one. Escaped prisoner maybe? This far out, valuable hostage seemed more likely. Ballsy of them to think fleeing the country would help. Except no, he frowned in concentration, brow furrowing, that wasn’t the signature of an adult, that was the still developing coils of a shinobi child—
Later, Tobirama will justify this decision; will say that he was preemptively ending a possible threat to his own clan, will say that garnering the gratitude of the Uchiha would further his brother’s dream of peace, will have a thousand and one excuses that might, might measure up to scrutiny. But in that moment, before he’d even finished registering the mist/fire/feathers of Uchiha chakra amidst the green/prickly/windswept of their captors the only thought that went through his mind was; a child was stolen from their family. Unacceptable.
He has surprise on his side and he intends to use it. He keeps half his focus on his targets and the other on staying low to the sand while he circles around, circles closer. They’d nabbed their little runaway but they hadn’t seemed to stop long enough to indicate they’d restrained them properly. Being so near the border must have made them reckless.
They were moving fast. He was faster.
The first two never see him coming, they go down with kunai in the base of their skulls and it’s enough of an opening for him to dart forward and snatch up the dark-haired boy currently giving his captor a hard time. That one collapses with a kunai under his ear. The boy whimpered and clutched at his arm.
With fifty pounds of small child tucked under one arm, Tobirama grabbed for his Raijin no Ken. He couldn’t afford to stick to kunai thusly hampered. It would be annoying.
Foes four and five have a bit of caution in the face of a lightning blade but they clearly have no idea how quickly lightning moves through air. In seconds he reduces their swords to so much charred slag and them with it. Foes six, seven, and eight attempt a hasty retreat in the face of a more skilled opponent but he won’t let them, can’t let them, if there were more of them then he didn’t want them to have any warning.
One of the three was forming familiar handsigns, “Kuchiyose—”
Tobirama lunged forward. Number six went down nearly bisected. Number seven tries to get a hold of his cloak only to lose his hand, then his life. Number eight—
Number eight manages to finish his jutsu.
He grit his teeth, glaring at the empty space. A reverse summons was tiring; the man didn’t have the strength to do it twice in short order by the feel of his chakra but he’d probably recover enough to send a messenger by tomorrow at least. That’s more time and warning then he’d prefer they have—
The little Uchiha boy trying to wriggle out of his grip redirected his attention neatly.
Tobirama set him down gently and backed away until he was out of immediate arm's reach.
The little Uchiha boy eyed him warily from his place in the sand; he was badly sunburned, scraped, and the blood smeared around his mouth said he’d bite at the first opportunity. Tobirama allowed himself a brief second of intense exasperation at putting himself in this predicament before shoving that aside in favor of more important matters. They couldn’t stay here long, they had a day at best, but if he didn’t make himself seem trustworthy then he’d be just another captor.
Carefully, keeping his hands where the boy can see them and his cloak open, he lowered himself to the sand, trying to seem less threatening. He winced inwardly as the little boy just shuffled backwards; seeming harmless probably wasn’t going to happen after slaughtering seven men in a row.
He let the boy take his time observing him, conscious all the while of time ticking down. He was just a little thing, he noted with carefully restrained anger, all big dark eyes and dark curly hair and chubby cheeks. He was so, so glad he’d gotten the kid away from them, whoever they were.
Their silent stalemate was broken when the boy brought his hand up and cradled his jaw, curling into himself.
“Did you hurt your teeth biting them?” He asked, modulating his tone into something gentler.
After half a moment more of wary staring the boy nodded, breath hitching when Tobirama shifted.
Here goes nothing. “I know some healing jutsu. May I take a look at it?”
“You’re not gonna hurt me?” The boy asked, uncurling the slightest bit.
“I can’t promise that,” he said, regretfully, “if you’ve broken a tooth I may need to pull it.” If that was the case, it was lucky the boy was young enough for it to more likely be a milk tooth than not.
The boy promptly curled back up again, “I don’t have a broken tooth!”
“Is it your gums then?”
A reluctant nod.
Better, he supposed. He cast around for a different topic when inspiration struck.
“The nearest water source is two miles south-east, would it be alright if we went there? I could treat your injuries a lot easier if I had water to spare.” Tobirama patiently refrained from moving while the boy mulled that over, he needed to feel like he had a choice in matters.
“They’re gonna come back, aren’t they?” The boy said, solemn and perceptive, “They always come back when I escape.”
“That is a possibility,” Tobirama agreed, “It would be better if we weren’t here when they did.”
The boy gave him what he probably thought was a sharp stare but just came across as hurt and suspicious, “Just to the watering hole?”
Tobirama tried for honesty, “I do want to return you to your home.”
The boy went most of the way back into his defensive curl, and it said very sad things that he wasn’t trying to run away. “But you’re a Senju! It says so on your armor! Mama said Senju are bad!”
Tobirama once again lamented putting himself in this situation. Time to be clever.
“Ah, but I’m a shinobi aren’t I?”
“Yeah,” the little Uchiha said slowly.
“And shinobi view oathbreaking as being very bad, yes?”
The boy perked up a bit, “Mama says oathbreakers can be worse than enemies. She says at least most enemies can be counted on to have loyalties.”
Smart woman, Tobirama thought. “So as a shinobi, if I swear to bring you home then I’d absolutely have to no matter what, yes?”
The boy stuck his bottom lip out as he contemplated that. “We should drink on it,” he said at last, “You’re supposed to seal important deals with a drink.”
Couldn’t argue with that logic, he supposed. “I have some water left in my canteen.”
By the time they get to the watering hole Tobirama has learned the name of his new traveling companion— “I’m Kagami!”— as well as the nature of the shinobi he just made enemies with. Kagami faithfully parroted everything he’d seen and heard while in their grasp with the careful rhythm of someone still learning how to give reports.
“They said I was going to make their clan great. That they deserved greatness.” Kagami said solemnly as Tobirama gently wiped sand, and blood, and dried tears from his little round face with a damp cloth.
“How strange,” Tobirama mused, “If they were out to snatch bloodlines you’d think they’d start with the Wind country clans instead of traipsing two countries over.” Then he cursed himself for saying that out loud in front of little Kagami.
Kagami looked very distressed, “I think they already were!” He tugged on Tobirama’s sleeve. “They snatch you up with a biiiig pelican and fly in circles until it’s tired, so your family can’t find you and they said apparently lots of clans in Wind need specialized training to use their bloodlines so they wanted something a little more bio-logi-cal and—”
“Calm, Kagami,” Tobirama gripped those little shoulders in lieu of covering his mouth, “I understand. When we get back to Fire I’ll be informing both your Clan Head, and mine, and we’ll figure out what to do from there. Okay?”
Kagami nodded unhappily. He cheered up quickly enough once Tobirama set to work healing his rather nasty sunburn and multitude of scrapes. He even managed a small smile once his gums no longer hurt.
With one last assessing look to make sure he’d gotten ever injury, he unsealed another headscarf and wound it around Kagami’s head, face and neck. “It’s to keep the sun off,” he explained, “It doesn’t do much good to heal your sunburns if you’re just going to get crispy again in ten minutes.”
“Oh.” Kagami rubbed his eyes. “That makes sense.”
Kagami was quiet as Tobirama refilled his canteens. He kept nervously glancing at the sky so Tobirama wordlessly held his cloak open and let him scooch under.
He looked down at the lump that was little Kagami pressed against his side and quietly exhaled a careful sigh.
It was the work of moments to refill all three of his canteens and seal the extra in a storage scroll for lighter travel. He pulled out a map of Wind country and laid it on the ground; it was dotted with markings he made of each watering hole that he had sensed so far, the true purpose of his being in the desert in the first place.
The lump pressed to his side shifted as Kagami peeked out from his hiding place.
“What are you looking for?” The little Uchiha asked.
“Planning our route,” he explained, “We have to go from waterhole to waterhole. It’s too dangerous otherwise.”
“Oh,” Kagami squinted at the map, “How far’s the next one?”
Tobirama hummed thoughtfully, “Next one is about twenty miles north-east, the one after that is ten miles straight east. If we hurry we can probably make it before evening chill sets in.” He’d have to push himself, thirty miles in the desert on foot was no joke, but there was something to be said for avoiding flying summons. He could probably race through the night as well but he’d already forgone sleep last night in favor of moving away from a roving shinobi squad. Not to mention, Kagami wouldn’t know how to thermoregulate himself with his chakra yet; they’d need to stop for a proper camp.
“That’s a lot,” Kagami peeked up at him, eyes bright with worry.
Tobirama smirked. “Don’t you worry Kagami. I think you’ll find I’m very fast.”
They do, in fact, make it before evening chill sets in. Just barely.
Tobirama leads them slightly away from the small oasis; people and animals alike congregate at water sources so any shinobi worth their salt would know not to camp directly next to one if they valued their skin. A doton shapes the sand into a low, hollow, sandstone dune facing east, just tall and long enough that he can sit mostly straight and stretch his legs out. A bit of sand moved about and it looked like a natural part of the landscape from most sides.
Kagami was certainly happy enough to be out of the worst of the wind. He curled up on top of Tobirama and munched a ration bar, shivering under the cloak. He makes a relieved noise when Tobirama unseals a blanket and drapes it over them both.
Tobirama allows himself a moment to just breathe.
“Tobi?” Kagami whispers.
“Your armor’s really hard.”
Tobirama grimaced. After a seconds contemplation he ushered Kagami up to unbuckle his breastplate and stick it down by his feet. Kagami burrowed into his stomach with a content sigh, curling up into a little ball.
He closed his own eyes, preparing to fall into a meditative doze. He didn’t want to take any chances of being caught unawares with a potential ambush hovering like bad weather on the horizon in their future.
Tobirama doesn’t sigh but it’s a near thing. “Yes, Kagami?”
“I’m still cold.” Somehow, the boy manages to curl up even tighter.
“Alright. Just a moment.” Tobirama closes his eyes again. This time, instead of meditation, he employs a chakra-and-breathing pattern he’d picked up from a Fire Temple monk years ago. Slowly, his body temperature rises and Kagami uncurls. Within minutes the little Uchiha is sound asleep.
Tobirama returns to his meditation and settles in to wait.
Kagami is a pleasant traveling companion, for all that he’s extremely displeased about being carried but equally terrified of being out in the open. For the first day and a half all he does is burrow beneath his cloak and sleep, too exhausted and worn for anything more. When there are tears, Tobirama politely says nothing and ensures Kagami stays hydrated.
Tobirama crosses the desert in silence.
The western half of Wind country is sparsely populated, practically no-man’s land, with too little water sources to warrant much interest from the various clans who prefer to cluster in the east and north where Wind abuts wetter countries. It’s easy enough to understand why Kagami’s kidnappers, these Kurosawa clan shinobi, had felt it was safe enough to land and let their Summons rest. It was just everyone’s capricious fortune that they’d crossed his path that day, for good and ill.
“Tobi,” Kagami tentatively tugged at his cloak when they stopped for a brief rest and meal, “how do you know you’re going the right way?”
Tobirama eyed the miserable child huddled into his side, “As long as I can see the sun, I’ll always know where east is.”
Kagami fidgeted, “What if you can’t see the sun? How will you know then?”
Ah. Tobirama thought he understood the issue now. Underneath the cloak Kagami had no way of orienting himself, and even out from under it there was just endless sand and sky. A child of trees and dense forests, he wasn’t used to navigating by the sun, but by landmarks and carved sigils in tree bark.
Luckily, this issue at least had an easy fix. Tobirama rummaged in his pockets until he found what he was looking for; a traveler’s compass.
“Here,” he said, pressing it into Kagami’s little hands. “See that arrow?” Kagami nodded. “That’s north. When you face east, north is to the left. Understand? As long as north is to the left of us you know we’re going home.”
“Oh,” Kagami said, clutching the compass, “Oh!” Kagami beamed at him. “Thank you Tobi! I knew you were good!”
“Oh, you did, did you?” Tobirama was reluctantly amused despite himself. Children could be so easy to please sometimes.
“Mhm!” Kagami nodded decisively. “You have trustworthy eyes.”
That startled him. He had trustworthy what?
“Do you really think so?” He asked, only slightly incredulous.
“Mhm!” Kagami nodded again, “Cause they’re red! Red’s a good color for eyes.”
Tobirama opened his mouth to furiously refute any inherent trustworthiness of red eyes when sudden realization hit and he closed his mouth. Kagami was an Uchiha. Outside of outliers like himself, the Uchiha clan was, well, the main source of red eyes in the Land of the Fire. While the logic was childish, which shouldn’t have been a surprise given its source, from an Uchiha’s perspective it wasn’t exactly unsound.
And was he not a red-eyed person who meant Kagami no ill will?
“That really shouldn’t be your go-to measure of safety.” He settled on at last. “Just because I’m nice to you doesn’t mean every red-eyed non-Uchiha will be.” He almost added something about being more careful but even he could tell that would be beyond tactless considering the situation they were in.
“I dunno,” Kagami said dubiously, “seems to be working for me so far.”
Tobirama peered down at his little charge blankly. “You’re pretty cheeky for such a little thing.”
Kagami puffed his cheeks out in annoyance, “That’s what Mama always says.”
“The more I hear about your mother,” Tobirama told him seriously, “the more I’m convinced of her keen intelligence.”
That made Kagami smile.
It felt like a victory.
The third day saw the end of their grace period.
Tobirama’s sensing range is gargantuan even when passive, so he picked it up the instant they appeared within his range on the back of a large pelican summons.
He picked up the pace; they were still a good distance out and with luck and a good head start they’d make it to the canyons before long.
“Tobi?” Came the immediate anxious query from Kagami, lifting his head from his shoulder. “What’s going on, where are we going?”
“We’re about to have company.” Tobirama explained, terse with exertion and grim intent. “There’s a canyon up ahead. We’re going for cover.”
Kagami whines and frantically tries to muffle it with his hands, curling up tight in Tobirama’s arms and peering over his shoulder to scan the sky with a desperate terror that makes Tobirama ache in sympathy. He shoves that feeling aside, now is most certainly not the time for useless pity, getting them both home alive and preferably in one piece is a much more constructive use of his time right now.
He lunges into the shadow of the canyon just as a giant pelican becomes visible in the sky. Given he has no actual idea of the visual prowess of even the average pelican he assumes he’s already been seen. Then again, unless the Kurosawa who got away was also a sensor — which he highly doubts — and, considering that the enemy could only say for sure that he had red eyes under his cloak and scarf, and beige was standard in Wind Country… it could also be likely that the Kurosawa were flagging down every lone nomad in the hopes of finding the right one and this encounter was an unfortunate process of elimination. But that would hardly be of any comfort to his little stray; misfortune was still misfortune however it reached you so it still needed to be dealt with.
It was a dangerous decision to lead their pursuers into the canyon, it was unfamiliar ground for both of them and the Kurosawa had the advantage of an aerial view.
Which is precisely what Tobirama is counting on.
He casts his senses out, sharpening them and sharpening them until the very water in the air, what amount he can detect in the oppressive dry heat, resonates against his chakra and a map unfurls in his mind’s eye like rivers of delicate mist.
“Hold on to me, Kagami,” and saying such he brought his hands together in a rapid series of signs and a clone split off and continued running, then he threw himself at the nearest rock wall, a doton opening a tunnel through and up, and up, until it opened on the other side, all the way at the top. A shelf of rock jutted out the top, and it’s this that Tobirama runs under, practically bent in half so Kagami was more laying on him than clinging to him.
Kagami who had his breastplate in a deathgrip, “Don’t look down, don’t look down, down look down…”
They made it to the end of the cliff before Tobirama skidded to a halt, sliding down the cliff face to an outcropping several feet down in the shadow of the upper shelf. He set his little stray on his lap and unclipped his canteen, taking sips in between measured, deep breaths.
“What’s happening?” Kagami asked, drawing the folds of Tobirama’s cloak back around him. “Did they see us?”
“I’m not certain,” Tobirama murmured, “but we’re not taking any chances. If they were close enough for me to see them it’s best to assume they were close enough to see us.”
Kagami tilted his head, little brows furrowed, “Shouldn’t it be the other way around? If they were close enough to see them, but not close enough to see us?”
He shook his head, “I don’t have an Uchiha’s keen sight. And you shouldn’t merely assume you’re out of someone’s range of vision just because you’re confident in your own. That’s a bad habit that will get you killed.”
“Oh,” Kagami hunched his shoulders at the unspoken reprimand, “What are we waiting for? Are they gonna go away if they can’t find us?”
Tobirama let his eyes slid to half-mast, concentrating hard on the bonfire that was the summon. “They definitely know someone’s here. They took the bait and followed the clone.” It was an eight-man squad like last time, one bright star of appreciable strength while the rest were in the ‘middling’ range that most shinobi fell in.
Oh, the corner of his mouth curled, there’s the runaway.
He tracked them as his clone lead them on a merry chase through the narrow canyon corridors, throwing itself headlong into the twists and turns heedless of direction. The clone seemed to hit a dead end as it suddenly halted and fluttered around in circles.
He laid a hand on the back of his stray’s neck when the boy opened his mouth to no doubt ask another question. “They found the clone, they’ve got it cornered—” The clone flared from an activated jutsu and the pelican faltered, dipping below the level Tobirama was crouched at, suggesting it was now within the canyon. The clone flared again—
—An explosion rent the silence like summer thunder.
Tobirama hissed sharply as the memory of fire and burning sandstone shrapnel struck him. Apparently, what he’d taken for fluttering was actually his clone painting explosion seals in a narrow corridor. It’d brought the pelican low with a stream of water sharp enough to cut, then the explosion seals had raced up and out and blasted large segments of sandstone inward. The summons was assuredly dead.
“Are they gone?” Kagami whispered, dark eyes wide.
“They should be,” Tobirama nodded, he didn’t feel any flickers of chakra coming from that direction anyway.
Kagami bit his lip, “But how do you know?” His eyes widened even further. “What if they’re still there? What if they’re just—”
“Kagami, I’m a Sensor,” Tobirama interrupted; patience, he needed to remember patience, the scars upon Kagami’s psyche wouldn’t ease in just a few days. “Trust me, they are gone.”
Kagami chewed his lip, nose scrunched in disbelief.
“Can I see?” he asked.
“I wanna see,” Kagami said, chin lifted mulishly, “I won’t believe you if I don’t see.”
Tobirama blinked, baffled, “Kagami, it was an explosion. Don’t you think you’ve picked up enough nightmares for now?”
“I don’t care, I wanna see!” Kagami crossed his arms, lower lip jutting out dangerously.
Tobirama was torn; on the one hand, sticking around when they could be making tracks was just stupidity at it’s finest. On the other hand, Kagami needed to feel safe after everything he’d been through and being assured that their pursuers were absolutely, undoubtedly dead would go a long way to helping that.
“Please?” Kagami asked.
Tobirama scowled, debating fiercely with himself. He… would prefer not to cause the boy any further trauma, which the sight of mangled bodies would cause. But for all that he rescued him, Kagami’s cooperation hinged on the fact that Tobirama continued to prove he was a trustworthy adult. If they were of the same Clan this would be a different matter, Tobirama could just say no and that would be the end of it. That they weren’t Clan meant Tobirama only had the authority any adult had over a child not their own, nor given to their care; which is to say none at all.
“I don’t think—” Tobirama tried.
Kagami buried his face in his chest. “Pretty please?”
Tobirama exhaled a careful sigh.
“A quick peek,” he allowed.
The carnage was exactly as bad as he suspected.
Not from the bodies, no. They were mostly buried save for the pools of congealing blood that had literally been squished out of them. Rather, it was the large Summons that proved the grisliest sight.
Kagami gulped, eyes wide and face pale, “Okay. I believe you now, I believe you now! ”
With a sigh he set Kagami down, rolling his eyes when the boy pulled the scarf over his eyes. Not actually immature enough to say I told you so to seven year olds, especially traumatized seven year olds, he just pet the boy’s head in lieu of saying anything.
Spotting one body that was somewhat uncovered he left the boy to his huddle and went to go inspect it. Kagami yelped and scurried after him, clutching a double handful of his cloak. Tobirama paid him no mind as he poked a senbon into various pockets, what pockets that survived, looking for anything.
“Why are you doing that?” Kagami whined, tugging at his cloak, “That’s creepy.”
“Knowledge can obtained through many means,” Tobirama cut the body’s armor off, “field stripping is one of them.” Under the armor is where people usually kept the interesting bits; hidden storage seals and scrolls and the like.
Sure enough, a hidden strap under the shirt at the base of the spine yielded a summoning scroll.
Tobirama unrolled it, inspecting the most recent names. Two were crossed out in the middle of a bunch of living summoners.
Seemed Pelican Summons were a Clan phenomena rather than a single skilled shinobi phenomena. That said things about their fighting style but not truly enough at the same time. At the very least he could expect similarities that he could capitalize on later.
He pocketed the scroll and scooped Kagami up.
“Let’s go. We’ll make camp on the other side of the canyon.”
“We aren’t leaving?” Kagami wrapped himself under Tobirama’s cloak, as seemed to be his habit, fretting silently.
“It’s getting late. It’s unlikely they have another summons of that size roaming around, and unless they have trackers they won’t know that this one’s been downed.” Tobirama retraced his route up the cliff, reorienting to head east.
“Remember when I said I’m a Sensor? Trust me when I say I will feel anything approaching.”
Kagami was quiet for a moment.
“Are you really sure?” He turned big eyes upward to gaze pleadingly at Tobirama.
Tobirama suppressed a sigh.
“Remember when you said you believed me? Let’s go back to that.”
The canyon marked the boundary between desolate west Wind Country and slightly less desolate east Wind Country. Oases were more abundant here, and traveling between water sources was less like an arduous journey with only faint hope and more like very lengthy hopscotch. If you had the range to find water that is.
Twice, Tobirama had to sooth a panicked Kagami when he swerved around nomadic Wind shinobi.
The smaller shinobi clans in Wind tended to be nomadic, wandering from oasis to oasis, often ferrying merchant goods. The larger springs and underground reservoirs were reserved for the cities and larger Clans who had the manpower to defend them.
Unfortunately, the culture of Wind Country was lost on a sulky seven year old who was entirely fed up with bland field rations and had too little appreciation for why they couldn’t visit those cities to get different food. Like the fact that they weren’t supposed to know Tobirama was there at all on pain of death.
Even if they really did need to stock up again; Tobirama hadn’t packed rations with two in mind and he was already having to reduce his own intake to ensure his little charge didn’t go hungry.
One of Wind’s defenses against intruders was their fierce hoarding of any knowledge of the water routes; no outsider was to know anything. It ensured any ignorant attacker dried up in the desert and was never heard from again. It also meant the Clans could charge merchants through the nose if they wanted their wares escorted through the country.
One of those merchants was Tobirama’s client.
“Kagami, we’re almost out of Wind. I swear I’ll do some hunting once we hit River Country,” This was the third time he’s had to repeat himself and each time his patience frayed a little more.
“Why can’t we hunt now?” Kagami demanded, bottom lip poking out in a pudgy scowl.
“And what would we hunt?” He rebutted, tired frustration leaking into his tone. “Scorpions, spiders? The odd desert dog? Any water large enough to host fish is surrounded by dense population, cattle of any kind are closely kept track off and also require going near populations. It’s only a couple more days, just, hold on until then.”
That lower lip was starting to wobble dangerously.
Tobirama hurriedly cast around for a distraction.
“How far along are you with chakra exercises?” There, that was common ground, right?
Kagami was startled out of his pout by the question. He sucked his lip into his mouth and chewed on it, mulling it over.
“Not very,” he confessed. “Mama taught me the breathing exercises and the leaf sticking, but she said it was okay to take our time. That I didn’t have to worry about it for a while yet.” His little face was very solemn.
Tobirama softened, just a little. Longer training time was a logical result of keeping children off the battlefield as long as possible and it was honestly gratifying to see however inconvenient little Kagami must find it in his present circumstances. When Tobirama was seven he’d already had a kill count under his belt and more nightmares than he could count. As little respect as Tobirama usually afforded Uchiha Madara he did hold him in some regard for putting his foot down about child soldiers.
“That’s alright, your mother couldn’t have known this would happen,” Tobirama did his best to assure him. It wasn’t wrong to let children be children; by all rights Kagami should have been safe in his own Compound.
“Let’s start with Tree Walking, shall we?” He attempted a smile.
Kagami looked dubious, “But there aren’t any trees?” He looked around as if to emphasize that lack.
“I suppose I’ll just have to valiantly substitute,” he said, mock solemnly.
That got him a smile.
“Here, put your hand on my breastplate. Now what you do…”
As a reward for tolerating the last of the field ration bars, and for succeeding in finally sticking to a surface with chakra, the first thing Tobirama did upon entering River Country was teach Kagami how to fish with senbon.
You could do it one of two ways; you could tie ninja wire to one end and throw it or you could stand in the shallows and stab as fast as you could. You could catch fish bare handed if you really wanted to, but fish were slippery and it was an exercise in frustration at best.
Kagami had great fun learning to chuck senbon.
He didn’t hit much but he had fun all the same. He crowed about his one successful hit for the rest of the night.
He fell asleep later still clutching the stick it was roasted it on.
Tobirama gladly ate the rest of their catch. The lack of food had been making him sick.
Now that Kagami could stick on with chakra Tobirama transferred him to his back, little hands on his shoulder plates and knees braced against the plating wrapped around his hips. Kagami gleefully buried his face in Tobirama’s fur collar, utterly oblivious to the fact that people who normally tried that tended to leave with less body parts. He was so glad no one could see this, his family would never let him live it down and he’d be forced to make an attempt on their lives to get some peace.
Tobirama kept a very close watch on Kagami’s chakra. The instant it dipped to half he pulled him off and around to the front no matter how much the boy whined about not being tired. He knew from experience that trying to carry children on his back in armor tended to result in bruises from the edges digging in if they weren’t using chakra to stick in ways they couldn’t without.
Having his hands free came in very handy since the Kurosawa seemed to have wised up.
The next squad to catch up to them were far more stealth oriented, with their chakra pressed low to blend into their surroundings. Enough to catch a Sensor off guard if they were distracted by, say, the child they were carting around. They immediately reverse summoned a pelican chick and Tobirama cursed. So much for their anonymity.
It was only a four man squad but he didn’t dare stick around all the same. He bolted.
Tobirama was the fastest shinobi in Fire Country, and in several other Elemental Countries besides, the only way they could catch up on foot was if he were already half-dead. Even the weight of Kagami didn’t slow him down; well, not appreciably. Lugging fifty plus pounds around was still fifty plus pounds, it got wearisome after a while.
He left the Kurosawa in his dust but they weren’t the real danger.
A puff of smoke was his only warning before bright stars of chakra burst into being in his awareness as three enormous pelicans dove down from the sky and he threw himself down and forward in a roll to escape being scooped up. Kagami shrieked, clenching his arms around Tobirama’s neck in a deathgrip. Tobirama wheezed briefly at the sudden loss of air but he was too busy rolling to dodge another pelican to do much about it.
He rolled to his feet, putting a burst of speed to get some distance.
He cursed the Kurosawa and their damn pelicans, cursed River Country for being mostly flatland on this side, cursed himself for putting himself in this position, and finally cursed his brother for good measure. Cursing Hashirama usually made him feel better.
He stood in the epicenter of circling birds, trapped. Trying to run saw a pelican dive bombing; failing to run encouraged the Kurosawa squads —three four-man squads— to get in close. Kagami was whimpering into Tobirama’s collarbone, hot tears soaking his shirt.
His gaze flicked about restlessly, cataloguing positions, angles, ideas— the river!
“Kagami, trust me,” Tobirama breathed, chin ducked into the boy’s unruly curls to hide his mouth.
Kagami tightened his grip in response.
Carefully, oh so carefully, he began to feign true weariness. Letting himself lag the slightest bit when a pelican dived too close, letting the Kurosawa circle near, let himself be surrounded. He crossed his arms around Kagami as tight as he dared, completing the physical circuit, fingertips of his left hand aligned with the tenketsu points on his right bicep.
A deep careful breath; his chakra was a living livewire in his coils, lashing and hungry. He let it seek the ground through his feet, jaw tight with concentration, keeping the current alive in the midst of its elemental opposite.
Closer, closer, Kagami was openly sobbing in fear from how close he was letting them. Thirty feet, twenty five, twenty— now!
The finger on his tenketsu point jerked up and so did the lightning underground, crackling and loud and lethal. It’s true that lightning seeks the easiest path to ground itself but it’s also true that lightning starts from the ground up more often than not. Twelve charred men had barely hit the ground before he was bolting as fast as he’s ever run, leaping and rolling and jumping back to his feet when a screaming pelican dived too close.
The world was a blur around him. The river growing before his eyes.
He leaped in just as a pelican swooped behind them.
Kagami was still shaking in his arms.
They made into the river, just barely. Tobirama wove air bubbles around their heads, letting the current carry them down to the river bottom, barring the occasional need to redirect them around rocks. It was a steep river, reminiscent of the Nakano’s cliff like sides. Easy enough to burrow a hole in the rocky wall with a doton and trace seals around the edge with a glowing finger to fill it with air and keep water out.
He and Kagami had spent a tense hour watching beaks dip into the river, searching for them. Luckily, the pelicans followed the most obvious logic and assumed they were traveling with the current.
The westward current.
He breathed a sigh of relief when they took the red herring.
“That should throw them off for a bit,” he commented, petting Kagami’s hair when he just jammed his face further under his chin.
“I’m cold,” Kagami huffed, “Can you teach me that thing you did before?”
Tobirama tried to recall the angle of the sun, and fails. He’s tired enough not to care anymore.
“Certainly,” he said. Quietly, he admits to himself that he is probably in as much need of a distraction as little Kagami. He doesn’t like being trapped even when it’s by his choice. “You said your mother taught you breathing exercises?”
“Uh-huh,” Kagami nodded, “For katons. Lotta lung-work in fire jutsus.”
“Indeed; and that never changes.”
Kagami grumbled a bit at the idea of having to do breathing exercises for the rest of forever, that’s not fair. “Do you have to do breathing exercises for suitons too?”
“I’m afraid not, it’s all in the mouth.” Rather, the basics included spitting exercises and they were uniformly awful and undignified. And if you tried to skip them your first Water Bullet might explode in your face because you couldn’t get any distance with it.
Not that Tobirama would know.
“Not that it’s all that wise to try breathing around a mouthful of water anyway.” Tobirama continued, “You’d choke on it.”
Kagami’s little face scrunched in confusion, “But what about—”
“Kagami, did you want to learn to warm yourself or not?” He gently cut across; rude he knew but they couldn’t actually linger here all day.
Kagami pouted but nodded gamely enough.
He sighed, “I promise I’ll try to answer all your questions later.”
That cheered him up.
The technique itself was easy enough; a meditative adaption of the inhale to gather heat in preparation of exhaling it as fire, only instead of letting it pressurize in your core you let natural chakra circulation processes carry the heat through your coils. Simple thermoregulation that had saved Tobirama’s extremities, if not his life, more than once during harsh winters.
So of course Kagami, more accustomed to gathering heat for an external application, promptly inhaled too hard and choked when there was no pushback of chakra pressure in his diaphragm. He ended up uncontrollably coughing fire all over the place which shouldn’t have been possible with a simple breathing exercise.
Tobirama was very singed by the time a very sheepish Kagami managed to calm down. Because of course he panicked at the sight of fire and worked himself up into a tizzy.
“Gentle inhales. Steady exhales.” He gritted, holding onto patience with grim determination. Kagami was not at fault but he didn’t have any good associations with fire getting blown at him, especially by Uchiha.
“Sorry, sorry!” Kagami wiped at a soot stain on his breastplate and stared in dismay when the lacquer flaked off at his touch. “Um.”
“It’s fine.” Tobirama exhaled and let his annoyance go with it. Teaching from frustration only harmed the student; one should expect hiccups in the course of learning, it was the point of learning after all.
He checked the water again; was the light shining through the water getting dimmer? Regardless, they’d lingered long enough, they needed to get moving before the summons either wised up or more squads caught up to them. Actually, speaking off…
Kagami made an inquisitive noise when he shifted and pulled the Pelican Scroll out his pocket. Unrolling the bottom confirmed his suspicions; four more names had been crossed out, only three more to go.
“You’d think there’d be more summoners,” He mused. Only the nine? Why care so much for the scroll then? Of the, he grimaced a bit, twenty-seven Kurosawa he killed only six were summoners, maybe the clan wasn’t as summoning oriented as he first thought. He paused, glancing at the little stray still in his lap, unless it was a recent acquisition.
He scowled harder; twenty-seven was a decent loss for a midsize clan, which the Kurosawa had to be, at least, to support the size of their squads, continuing the pursuit was definitely personal now. Hashirama always did say his tendency to go for the lethal option first would get him in deep trouble one day.
Tobirama sent a mental middle finger in his brother’s direction. His idiot brother sometimes forgot that not everybody was an overpowered log who can restrain assailants with a wave of their hand. And he definitely wasn’t going to practice anything as foolish as mercy when there was a child in the line of fire. He did want to get out of this in one piece eventually.
Thoughts for later he decided, scooping his stray up.
“Come on, little dragon. Practice on the way.”
“Wait, we’re going back into the water?” Kagami yelped, automatically tightening his grip, well used to being carted around by now.
“Hold your breath,” He said, and plunged them into the cold, grunting when the force of the current strained his ability to cling to the hard ground with chakra. He clapped his hands around Kagami, as if in prayer, and thrust them forward, fingertips leading. The force of his chakra pressure created a wedge shaped bubble around them, providing some much needed relief from the river and allowing them to breathe.
“Whoa,” Kagami gasped, eyes wide with wonder, head turning every which way. He slid down with a wet thump, reaching out a hand to clutch Tobirama’s pant leg. “I can walk now,” he said very seriously.
“That’s fine, just keep practising,” the walk would be good for Kagami anyway, “we’ll be going for as long as there’s still light to see by.”
They walked in a strange hush, the water a dull, muffled roar around them as the current tumbled and crashed and raged around them, only broken by the sound of Kagami figuring out how to breathe contrary to his training and the occasional fiery coughing fit. It was cold under the river despite the heat of late summer, Kagami had plenty of incentive to master the technique quickly.
“Hey,” Kagami said later when they stopped for the night in another doton-and-seals hidey-hole, “you called me a dragon.”
“Aren’t you?” Tobirama arched a brow, letting the amusement show on his face. “You certainly breathe another fire to qualify.”
“I do not!” Kagami pouted. Then he hiccuped a smattering of sparks. He flushed bright red and peeked up at Tobirama, as if hoping he hadn’t seen that. He ducked his head when Tobirama just smirked at him.
“I almost got it,” he insisted.
Tobirama carded a hand through his curls, “I believe you.”
By the next day Tobirama judged they’d spent enough time under the river; slow going as it was it was effective at losing their tails.
This side of River Country, nearer to Fire, was densely wooded. Not the towering magnificence of proper Fire trees but a respectable forest all the same. Perfect for letting a little shinobi test his Tree Walking on the intended target while Tobirama prepared dinner.
Both of them were fairly starving; you couldn’t cook fish under the river and they’d been under and using chakra for a day and a half.
Tobirama made sure to cook a lot of fish; it was a three day shot from here to Uchiha territory and he wasn’t planning to stop for anything less than urgent necessities. Storage scrolls would keep what they didn’t eat tonight relatively fresh, if they get hungry they can eat on the move. Twice now the Kurosawa had tracked them down, the third time might be their last.
“Tobi! Tobi, look!”
He craned his neck back to see Kagami standing upside down on a tree branch looking like a very strange, very pleased fruit.
“Very good,” he smiled in acknowledgement, “and no more cracks in my armor now, yes?”
The face Kagami made was gratifyingly sulky.
“I said I was sorry! And you said it was okay!”
There were hair-fine cracks splattering the front of his breastplate from when Kagami was figuring out how much chakra he needed to stick to a surface, and scorch marks from coughing up fire all over him. He’d heard children could be casually destructive but this is the first time he’s ever experienced it for himself. He can’t say he entirely appreciates it.
“I said it couldn’t be helped. That’s not the same thing,” Tobirama pointed out. “Now come down from there, the food’s ready.”
Once served, Kagami scooched up against Tobirama’s side like he hadn’t since those first days in the desert.
Kagami was quiet for a long moment.
“Can I call you sensei?”
Tobirama was taken aback, “I don’t think that’d be very fair to you in the long run.”
“Why not?” Kagami asked, peeking up with wide, hopeful eyes.
“Because—”we’re probably not going to see each other again until you’ve been deemed old enough for a battlefield “—this isn’t a permanent arrangement, Kagami. I don’t think your mother would like it if you associated with a Senju.” Especially not him, the bloodthirsty ghost of the battlefields.
“Oh.” Kagami bit his fish despondently, “But you’re like a sensei.”
“It can’t be helped,” he said lamely, unable to think of anything better.
“I miss Mama,” he whispered, curling tighter against Tobirama’s side.
“I know,” he sighed, “I’m going to get you home. I swear.”
It was an exhausting three days for both of them.
The shadow of a pelican summons had crossed their path two days ago, and two more had shown up since. Tobirama was going as fast as he dared but even he had to admit the sporadic food and sleep of the last two weeks had done no favors for his stamina. The creep of true exhaustion was making itself known.
Thank the Sage and all his children that Fire Country forests were untenable for large bird summons.
Uchiha territory was within his Sensory range at last, an agitated horde of mist/fire/feathers revolving around Madara, the most agitated bonfire of them all. There was a break in the trees up ahead, where a wide public road ran through the woods and around Uchiha territory. If ever there was a spot to squeeze a giant bird in, that would be it.
The world narrowed down with desperate focus.
His surroundings became a blur as he pulled out one more iota of speed. Feet braced against the bark of the trunk, muscles tensing and releasing as he launched himself across the gap, hand going to his belt. The shadow of a pelican as it swooped down, beak gaping open. Kagami screamed, high and shrill, as the leathery membrane of the lower beak folded under them, the hard upper lip coming down inexorably.
The Raijin no Ken activated with an electric crackle and carved through the membrane with all the force of Tobirama’s momentum behind it.
They land in Uchiha territory in a splash of blood and harsh avian screaming behind them.
There’s a patrol being attracted by all the ungodly noise, Tobirama orients in their direction automatically. The sooner Kagami was in his kinsmen’s arms the sooner he can do something...final about their pursuers.
He’s going to treasure the looks on the Uchiha’s faces for as long as he lives, that’s for sure. He’s sure he makes quite a sight, scorched and bloody and wielding the Raijin as he is, little Kagami held in one arm. Regardless, he doesn’t give them time to react. There is no time.
Tobirama shoves Kagami into the nearest Uchiha’s arms and backs away.
“Run!” He orders. “Run and don’t look back! They’re still on my tail!”
He doesn’t bother waiting for a response, he all but throws himself back into the open, skidding onto the road.
“Come to me, you bastards,” he breathes, “I’ve got what you’re looking for right here.”
Three giant pelicans land around him, each unloading half a dozen shinobi.
He bares his teeth at them. He’s ready.
Madara feels the world crash when a patrol bursts through the gates with a bloody child; their missing child.
“Madara-sama!” Hikaku shouts, cradling little Kagami carefully.
“Hikaku— wha—?” The sharingan reveals no injuries, the blood was all surface splatter. “How?”
Hikaku looks him in the eye, “Senju Tobirama just ambushed us, shoved the kid in my arms and told us to run because there were pursuers to be dealt with. Your guess is as good as mine. Ow!”
Kagami dug his teeth into Hikaku’s arm until he let go, he tried to bolt for the gates only for Madara to snag his collar.
“Let me go! Tobi needs help!”
Madara did not actually know what to do with screaming, angry children. He defaulted. “That Senju is the last person who needs help as far as I’m concerned. He can take care of himself. You’re the one covered in blood, brat!”
Kagami didn’t like that.
He inhaled sharply, hiccuped oddly, then exhaled a stream of bright fire at Madara’s feet. Madara had no choice but to let go if he wanted to escape burns. Kagami gave him a teary, defiant glare.
“Tobi needs help,” Kagami insisted again, chin lifted stubbornly.
Hikaku gave Madara a meaningful look.
They were interrupted as Uchiha Yanoka swooped down on her son with a teary cry. “Kagami! My baby! You’re here, you’re here,” she fell to her knees, cradling her son close and peppering kisses on his little face. “My baby, you came back to me,” she cried.
“Mama, you gotta make him listen!” Kagami squirmed in her grip. “Tobi needs help! He’s all alone out there and there’s so many of them, Mama! He needs help!”
“Who—?” She asked confusedly.
“Senju Tobirama,” Hikaku answered grimly.
“He rescued me!” Kagami shouted, thoroughly fed up, “And he needs! Help! Now!”
Yanoka’s face went blank, then determined. In one smooth movement she snatched Hikaku’s spear and deposited her son back in his arms. She pivoted on her heel and was out the gates just as quickly.
“Wait! You don’t even... know where he is,” Hikaku trailed off lamely, then yelped when Kagami bit him again.
“No,” Madara said, “but you do. Gather your squad back up, we’re going after her.”
“What about—?” Hikaku jostled the yowling wildcat cleverly disguised as an Uchiha child in his arms meaningfully.
Madara regarded the kid thoughtfully, “Give him to Izuna,” he said at last. “If there are pursuers still we don’t want them getting a second crack at him. Or any of our children.” He finished darkly.
They catch up in time to see Yanoka throw Hikaku’s spear through the chest of the last standing summons, and see Senju Tobirama decapitate the last enemy before swaying and collapsing to his knees, vomiting blood.
The whole stretch of road is awash with blood and water and mud, corpses of shinobi scattered about with the giant pelicans being an ominous punctuation point. There is clear damage to the surrounding trees, like enormous blades had scored them. There are craters dotting the ground, big and small, from dotons, from hits, from bodies impacting. Some of them hard enough they never moved out of them.
Yanoka hooked her arms under the Senju’s and dragged him to a relatively clear, if muddy, spot. She laid his head on her lap, regretfully eying the blood that soaked him from his own wounds.
“You brought my baby back to me,” she said, voice thick with grateful tears. It wasn’t a question.
Madara moved purposefully to her side; gazing down at one of his Clan’s greatest enemies. Tobirama glanced at him and dismissed him just as quickly to his irritation, focusing on Yanoka.
“I did,” he agreed. He grimaced and clamped a hand on his thigh, trying to stem the flow of blood. There was a lot of blood.
“I don’t know healing,” Yanoka said, regret clear. Nevertheless, her hand found it’s way to the slash in his abdomen where his armor broke and pressed firmly.
“That’s fine,” Tobirama grunted, “I’m too tired to heal myself anyway.”
“You’re going to die, Senju.” Madara interjected, glaring hard and suspicious, “Die defending an Uchiha at that. Why.”
Tobirama rolled his eyes at him.
“I’m dying because I value children more than my own life. And because I hate slavers more than any feud.” He corrected, expression hard and unyielding. He jammed an elbow under him and levered himself up slightly, reaching for his pocket.
Madara instinctively reached for kunai and hastily stopped himself when Tobirama presented him with a Summoning Scroll. The judging expression on his enemy’s face said he very much saw that, and he wasn’t best impressed. Madara unrolled the scroll to avoid looking at him only to go still.
“What is this.” He said flatly.
“The Pelican Summoning Scroll.” The obviously was unspoken but loud all the same.
Madara turned the scroll around and Yanoka gasped. Every single name was crossed out. Tobirama smirked.
Madara presented it to Yanoka who took it with shaking hands, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks at undeniable proof that she’d never need fear her child being snatched from the Compound again. Then a fury overtook her expression and she set the Summoning Scroll on fire with prejudice, flinging it away when Tobirama jerked in alarm at the fire.
“Thank you, Senju-san,” she said stiffly, with great emotion, “I owe you a debt I can never repay.”
“The Uchiha clan owes you a debt,” Madara corrected. He flushed under Tobirama and Yanoka’s twin arched brows of disbelief. What, he wasn’t going to be completely churlish to someone dying for his kinsmen’s sake! What did they take him for?
“Sir?” Hikaku drew near, hovering uncertainly, “All the bodies have been processed, save for…” He trailed off uncomfortably, his meaning obvious.
A sly look crossed Tobirama’s face like a swift shadow, there and gone without a trace.
“Uchiha-san,” he turned to Yanoka to make it obvious who he was addressing, “my sword, please give it Kagami. It’s a bit much for him now, but I think he’ll grow into it well. I can’t think of anyone else I’d give it to in this moment.”
Yanoka went blank with surprise and Hikaku spluttered. Madara didn’t feel much better.
“The Raijin no Ken?”
“Yes,” Tobirama confirmed with a sigh, going slack on her lap, grip easing on his thigh as consciousness became harder to hold on to.
Madara would almost have been fooled if he didn’t spy the glint of triumph. Like a sharingan snapshot, the future seemed to unfurl before his eyes like a ray of light.
Tobirama knew his body would be looted, respectfully maybe but still, before he was even cold. By telling Yanoka to give the sword to her son, he was effectively removing a legendary weapon from their grasp by the ironic means of giving it to them. Because Yanoka would see it done come hell or high water. And few people would be disrespectful enough to seriously consider removing an artifact bequeathed to a child by the person who was dying for said child.
Not only would Kagami cry if someone tried to take the only object he has to remember his rescuer by, but Yanoka would probably kill them.
Even if it was her own Clan Head.
Perhaps especially if it was her own Clan Head.
And that’s not even going into how the Senju Clan would react.
Madara felt repulsed by this future with every fiber of his body. No Senju was going to cause such dissension in his ranks, and certainly not this particular bastard! He wouldn’t let him have the satisfaction! Never damnit!
‘Can’t think of anyone else he’d give it to’ his entire ass!
“Hikaku!” Madara barked, “Ready a stretcher! We don’t repay our debts by letting people die, you hear me!”
Hikaku stared at him for a long moment, “...Yes, Madara-sama.”
“Well?” He demanded. “Get moving!”
“Madara-sama?” Yanoka blinked disbelievingly, “What, what changed your mind?”
Madara scowled, “Never you mind.”
Tobirama didn’t expect to wake.
He didn’t expect a lot of things when he lost consciousness on the road surrounded by Uchiha, to be perfectly honest. Or at least didn’t think he’d be aware of himself as a discrete being enough to form expectations. Nonetheless, the unmistakable ceiling of an infirmary was practically taunting him with its unexpectedness.
He was...hazy still; too low on blood and too high on painkillers to have a proper measure of his surroundings.
“It’s about time you woke,” Madara complained from somewhere near but out of Tobirama’s field of vision. He turned his head weakly; Madara was sitting at his bedside in one of those uncomfortable chairs that seemed part and parcel with any sickroom. Madara gave him a stink eye, “My whole Clan’s in an uproar because of you! Kagami is nattering to anyone who will listen about how you rescued him and the whole journey to get here, and Hikaku is telling anyone who asks how you told an entire squad to escape in the face of a force that outnumbered them, and Yanoka is crying on anyone who mentions it about how you tried to bequeath you’re stupid, fucking, lightshow of a blade to her son! What the everloving hell, Senju!”
Tobirama stared for a long moment.
Madara buried his face in his hands, “You were dying in her lap. Kagami’s mother.”
“And finally!” Madara popped back up, practically spitting fire, “I, being the honorable Clan Head that I am, contacted your brother, because we can hardly keep you prisoner as things stand, and he tried to push for peace talks! That fucking opportunistic bastard! ”
Yeah, Tobirama thought fuzzily, that sounded like his brother alright.
“Izuna is actually considering it, the filthy traitor!” Madara seemed to be on a roll at this point. He didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps not care, that his audience wasn’t yet at the mental capacity to respond.
“Why are you telling me all this?” Tobirama asked when he could finally get a word in edgewise.
Madara scowled thunderously, “Because Kagami won’t stop pestering me about letting you be his sensei ‘forever and ever’ instead of until we give you back. Because you took a perfectly respectful Uchiha child and turned him into a fire-breathing brat. Because Yanoka no longer walks around like she’s dead inside. Because my kinsmen no longer look at the sky in fear of the next kidnapper out for their children. Because maybe I’m considering it too. Take your damn pick.”
It wasn’t often Tobirama was stunned speechless, it was in fact so rare that he had to spend a moment marveling at it too.
“I thought all Uchiha were fire-breathing brats?” Was what came tumbling out of his mouth instead of something more meaningful like, say, all it took was me nearly dying to convince you when all of Hashirama’s pleas fell on deaf ears? Or, Izuna can change his mind? Since when?
On second thought, maybe he picked the best option after all.
Madara didn’t seem to think so if the way he slapped a palm to his face was any indication. Just as he was puffing up for another tirade a polite knock came from the door before it was eagerly burst open and a little body zoomed inside and clambered up on the bed.
“Tobi!” Kagami cheered, gleefully burrowing into Tobirama’s side. “You’re awake!”
Tobirama mentally thanked whatever medic tended him for the fact that he wasn’t in agony from that maneuver. He should send them a fruit basket, or offer to slay their enemies— wait, their enemies were probably Senju. A fruit basket would be adequate.
“I apologize, Madara-sama, Senju-san,” Yanoka spoke from the doorway, looking the opposite of sorry. “Kagami got impatient.”
“Oh sure,” Madara grumbled, “Kagami got impatient.”
Yanoka gave him a look of perfect innocence. “How could I deny my son the chance to see his rescuer alive and well, Madara-sama? I haven’t the heart to say no.”
Madara glared suspiciously but kept his mouth shut.
A little hand patting his face neatly redirected Tobirama’s attention.
“Tobi?” Kagami peered down at him, little face scrunched in a frown. “Are you gonna be okay?”
Was he going to be okay? He lived where he expected to die. He returned a stolen child to his family. Madara was listening to Hashirama natter about possible peace talks instead of ignoring him. Hell, Izuna was considering listening. Plus, it looked like Yanoka was well on her way to giving Madara an aneurysm. Things were better than okay.
“Yes,” Tobirama smiled, or tried to at least. “I’m going to be okay.”
“Good,” Kagami nodded decisively, flopping down to curl up on him. “I’d be mad if you weren’t.”
Tobirama just laughed.