An odd thing to be sure, that the purposeful, politely clear sound of shinobi sandals hitting his windowsill causes Tobirama's lips to twist into an unexpected smile before he can suppress it entirely.
His face is carefully neutral and staring down at the day's pile of paperwork when Uchiha Kagami leaps lightly into his office, backlit by the early afternoon sun - his own blatant, casual smile widening as he approaches the Senju's desk.
"Mission completed," he announces mildly, and Tobirama finally deigns look up at the Uchiha, sharp red eyes narrowing not at Kagami's scroll-bearing outstretched left hand, but at the heavily bandaged right, which hangs limply at the younger man's side.
"There were complications," Kagami shrugs as Tobirama takes the scroll from his good hand. "Just the average shinobi-turned bandits-turned worm fodder. There was no harm done to the client or his wares - he thanked me profusely when we arrived safely at our destination, and swore he'd ask for me by name if he ever required Konoha's services again."
His face twists with rueful humor. "Too bad half the time he'd accidentally switch up my name with one of his four cats he insisted on traveling with."
Kagami's dark eyes spark with mirth as they meet Tobirama's. "So if you ever get a request specifically for a Jōnin Mittens, Dewdrop, Snowflake, or Fluffball-" he grimaces suddenly.
"Wait - Koharu already calls me 'Jōnin Fluffball'..."
"Your arm?" Tobirama demands, concern overriding the unique mixture of amusement and exasperation he's come to associate with his former subordinates.
If the Senju did not know the man quite so well, he might miss the slight coloring that dusts Kagami's pale cheeks.
"Those complications? When I counted the bodies after... it turns out there were fourteen of them."
The scroll suddenly crumples in Tobirama's fist.
"Which wouldn't have been so bad," the Uchiha continues, unaware of the fate of his mission report, "If I hadn't been trying to protect the near-hysterical elderly merchant, who kept flailing around the damn wagon attempting to literally herd his unconcerned cats to safety."
Kagami sighs. "If I'd been alone and impatient, I could have called down lightning and scorched the earth; no finesse, but it would have solved the issue. As it was..."
The grin he offers Tobirama is obviously meant to be reassuring, though it's laced with some mysterious regret.
"Well, the end of it is, the merchant, his wares and his spoiled little beasts were saved and safely delivered, the mission completed, fourteen over-confident under-trained fools joined the afterlife, and I just spent an hour at the hospital having a medic carefully remove over a dozen metal slivers of various lengths from my arm because I'd abused a good blade for too long with my lightning and it shattered on the makeshift armor of the second-to-last bandit."
Kagami runs his good hand through his messy hair. "I should be relieved they only flew into my arm and the face of my opponent - if I'd blinded myself because of my own stupidity, I'd certainly be deafened soon enough as well by yours and my Clan Head's gentle admonitions."
Ignoring the harmless barb, Tobirama's eyes narrow again at the younger man's self-abasement.
"You adored that sword, and maintained it well - it's kept a special place in your armory for years. You are not to blame for the misfortune of its breaking."
Kagami sighs again, allowing his posture to shift into a casual slouch. "I know that - logically. I'm just angry at myself that I didn't notice any flaws developing, the blade weakening under the strain I put it through - until it was too late."
His good hand slips into his weapons pouch, producing from it a simple hilt with perhaps half-a-hand's length of blade still attached, ending in finely jagged ruin.
"Well," Kagami says resignedly, staring down at the remnant, "There's nothing to be done now but to mount this on my wall as a thanks and remembrance for its loyal service."
He snorts and shakes his head lightly as he tucks the broken blade away again and straightens. "As if you hadn't proof enough that I'm gifted with far too much foolish sentiment."
"Don't concern yourself," Tobirama says drolly, eyes furtively flickering again to Kagami's bandaged arm. "I'm certain that I am cold and unfeeling enough for the both of us."
Bright, startled laughter fills the office, and the Senju's lips twitch again into a slight smile.
"I'm glad you've returned, Kagami." The warm words slip out before he can stop them.
"Eh?" The Uchiha tilts his head, dazzling smile still gracing his face. "What, is there some A-rank backlog again? I was hoping to get a nap in first..."
"No, it's just-" mouth and mind stall as Kagami blinks at him inquisitively.
"I'm glad you've returned," Tobirama repeats, silently damning his twisted tongue and the heat rising in his face.
Kagami takes mercy on him, uninjured hand reaching out across the desk to lightly grasp the Senju's shoulder- the brief, not unwelcome touch of a trusted... comrade.
There are very few people Tobirama would allow so close.
"And I am glad to be home," Kagami says with soft sincerity, before pulling away to inhale deeply as he allows himself a full-body stretch.
"But if you or the Lords Hokage have no urgent need of me," he yawns, and the smile he offers after is bone-tired, "I'd really like to pursue that nap."
"Of course," Tobirama says with a dismissive but not uncaring wave, "Good-"
Sunlight still fills the room, casting soft prismatic colors on the office walls where it shines through the large hunk of Uzushio sea glass Tobirama keeps as a paperweight.
The exhausted Uchiha is already half out the window, but he turns again to offer a final grin and swift wave of his own.
"Good afternoon, Tobirama."
And with that, the Senju is left alone again with his thoughts and paperwork.
Daylight is an hours passed memory when Tobirama finally arrives at his home, built as far from the bustle of the village as he dared without Hashirama whining about the distance between them.
He heads directly to a warded storage room and an aged weapons chest that waits within. Among other things, inside it is a large, yellowed scroll emblazoned with a rather nasty protective seal, supposedly designed by his grandmother's grandmother, that only a drop of his Senju blood allows him to disable unharmed.
The scroll obligingly unrolls across the floor of the storage room, and the true object of Tobirama's search comes into view; he carefully lifts the unusual, seemingly bladeless hilt from its resting place.
An idea has been subtly, slowly infusing his brain for most of the day, through his meetings and paperwork and deft avoidance of his sulking brother seeking a sympathetic ear for some superficial insult his husband had snapped at him.
Tobirama leans back against a wall as he turns the hilt over in hands, and reaches out with his senses for the presence of a familiar chakra signature.
Kagami is right where Tobirama expects him, still sleeping off his latest mission in his apartment back toward the center of the village.
An unusual choice for an Uchiha shinobi, to forsake his clan's compound for a small space in a Jōnin residential building, but then, hasn't Kagami been an uncommon specimen for all the time Tobirama has known him?
It's been years since the unlikely team he'd gathered together had been officially disbanded with the thanks of the Hokages, and while their bonds of kinship, forged in blood and shared pain, have remained strong, Tobirama's former subordinates have moved on to the next phase of their lives and service to the village.
Saru has his duties as the soon-to-be succeeding son of a Clan Head, and his courtship of the perpetually unimpressed Biwako to contend with, the general awkwardness of which is only matched by Homura and Koharu's years of dancing around each other.
Torifu is already happily wed, a beautiful, simple and, needless to say, well-catered event that all the members of the former Team Tobirama had been privileged to attend a few months previous.
Danzō has thrown himself into the thorny inner workings of Konoha's politics, though he can occasionally be found in one of Tobirama's restricted libraries or laboratories, and Saru can still usually goad him into a spar - intentionally or not.
All this, of course, when they are not further honing their skills as Leaf shinobi, or away on generally high-ranking missions.
Tobirama sighs, running a free hand through his silver hair and watching disturbed dust motes dance in the room's lantern-light.
Hashirama, Mito, and Madara are the public faces of Konohagakure and the Heads of their respective clans within, enduring all the responsibilities that come with such positions, as well as the upbringing of Tobirama's tiny blonde cataclysm of a niece.
With Tōka and Izuna caught up in their own continuous, self-perpetuating drama and an exasperated Hikaku running damage control - it is Kagami, of all people, that has become the constant, strangely not-unwelcome presence at Tobirama's side.
It isn't as though Tobirama hasn't, somewhat masochistically, tried to push the younger man away- casually sharing some of his darker thoughts on experimentation or gruesome ideas for jutsus simply to gauge the Uchiha's reaction.
Where Tobirama knows his elder brother would be appalled, Madara possibly enraged, and others simply disgusted, Kagami is thoughtful.
He offers not emotion-driven lectures on morality, but logical, reasoned queries that Tobirama, in his eagerness as a creator, has, admittedly, some slight tendency to overlook: Is this technique truly for the good of the village, or merely a boon to your own ego? What will future repercussions to the shinobi world be? If this jutsu were to fall into less responsible hands than your own, what would result?
Regarding the subject of live, unwilling human experimentation, Kagami will, occasionally, calmly appeal to his rarer, more tender mercies, and Tobirama can normally find no good reason not to acquiesce.
On a personal level, Kagami's honest concern for him lacks the suffocating quality that often accompanies Hashirama's. The Uchiha, when he is not away on missions himself, simply seems to know after years of familiarity when Tobirama is truly at his limit, over-stressed, over-worked and under-fed, and will firmly send the Senju out of his own office for brief respite while he temporarily assumes leadership over things, and Tobirama, bogglingly enough to those closest to him, allows it, trusting in Kagami's competency.
They have, barring the village founders, become perhaps the unlikeliest of comrades, of... friends in the entirety of Konoha.
Tobirama stretches with a low groan as he rises to his feet, placing the resealed scroll back into its trunk and resetting the wards.
And if his friend has need of a worthy sword, the Senju thinks, smiling slightly to himself as he exits the room, strange, bladeless hilt still in hand, well-
It will be Tobirama's honor to provide him one.
The next morning finds Tobirama unusually anxious as he finishes dressing, his clothing more suited for physical exertion than office work; when he'd awoken just after dawn, Kagami's familiar spark of chakra was already heading toward the training grounds.
Tobirama has never had the talent for choosing well-received gifts for other people (he still remembers seven year old Hashirama's shriek and subsequent flailing when he'd discovered his birthday present from his younger brother trying to slither its way back to freedom), but he is certain that this eminently more practical and less... reptilian venture will prove a greater success.
He locks his house behind him and prepares to use the Hiraishin to leap to the mark he'd placed on the Uchiha long ago.
The mounting anticipation of Kagami's reaction is making him nearly giddy.
Tobirama shakes his head in self-disgust, focuses on his target, and reaches.
He lands lightly in the tall grass a few feet from the Uchiha shinobi, who falls out of his kata, wipes his hair off of his sweaty forehead with his unbandaged arm, and offers a sincere, "Good morning!"
Unable to wait another moment, and without a prepared presentation, Tobirama simply steps forward, unwrapping his parcel as he does so, and says brusquely, "I have something for you."
He observes carefully as Kagami takes in the strange, bladeless hilt, his dark eyes narrowing in slight bewilderment - then widening in shock as he gapes up at his companion.
"The Raijin no Ken?!" Kagami's eyes fall again to the object resting in Tobirama's hand as he takes an unwitting half-step back. "This - this is a legendary Senju blade!"
There is no derision, no disgust fueled by Uchiha pride that inspires the younger man's reaction; Kagami's chakra crackles with the certainty of his unworthiness to even approach such a weapon.
It sets Tobirama's teeth on edge.
Kagami was born for the battlefield - an orphaned bastard begrudgingly kept alive by his clan after his mother died when he was three.
His father, who fell to the Senju before he could hear his son's first cry, had left a legacy- to the legitimate daughter his wife had borne years earlier. They'd mostly pretended such a disgraceful blemish did not exist.
Kagami, his only saving grace being born a full-blooded Uchiha and possible future wielder of the Sharingan, grew up knowing well his future place in the world - a living shield between death and someone more worthy of retaining breath.
After the village's founding, when Tobirama had begun assembling his collection of subordinates, Hashirama and Madara were both firm that he include an Uchiha, and the elders of that clan had offered up a barely-literate, curly-haired sacrifice complete with a well-honed saccharine smile and without any true sense of self-worth.
Despite all that has passed in the years since then, Kagami having eagerly immersed himself in the opportunities presented as Tobirama's disciple, coming to the slow understanding of his own value and proving that worth, having it acknowledged by the fledgling village, the younger man still has moments when he doubts his merit.
"It is a weapon that gathers more dust with each passing year," Tobirama corrects blandly, stifling his righteous indignation at the world in general on the Uchiha's behalf. "What good is it if it is not being wielded for the sake of the village?"
Kagami continues to gawp at him.
Tobirama pinches the bridge of his nose with a muted sigh. This is not how he'd imagined this encounter would go.
"You need a worthy blade, and Konoha needs you at your strongest. The Sword of the Thunder God was meant to be wielded by a proficient user of the Lightning Style, and I can think of no one in this village more suitable than you."
Kagami's cheeks again color slightly, but he does not dip his head to shy away disbelievingly at the praise as he once would.
"Besides," Tobirama says with a casual shrug, glancing around with mostly fictitious disapproval, "This training area has become flagrantly overgrown. It could do with some pruning, I think."
There is a frisson of warmth in his chest when this earns him a huff from the Uchiha, a twitch of lips attempting to stall a smile, and a glimmer of reluctant amusement from dark eyes.
"Subtle," Kagami murmurs, "as always."
A steadying breath and he steps forward through dew-drenched grass toward the weapon still proffered by Tobirama's outstretched hand.
Kagami looks up at him again; there is more confidence now than hesitance, but still - "You're certain?"
A solemn nod is all that's needed, and Kagami's fingertips lightly brush his palm as the hilt of the Raijin no Ken is lifted from the Senju's hand into that of an Uchiha.
Kagami turns and steps carefully away from Tobirama, allowing his posture to shift into a practiced stance, weapon wielded and ready for use.
It takes a moment for Kagami's chakra to acclimate, to focus, but then -
A satisfied smirk crosses Tobirama's face as the sword's golden blade flashes to life, thrumming with all its devastating potential after decades of disuse.
Kagami laughs, a startled, delighted thing, as he carefully brandishes the energy blade before him, and he half-turns to Tobirama with a smile that rivals the brightness of the weapon.
"I -," The Uchiha swallows hard, but that doesn't diminish the sheer joy on his face.
Kagami inclines his head slightly, chakra radiating his sincere gratitude, before meeting Tobirama's eyes evenly.
"I shall strive to be a worthy steward."
Tobirama is certain that he will.
Dark eyes that still hold his own crinkle with impish mirth.
"Care to join me in a bit of dutiful morning horticulture?"
And Tobirama does.
The next month passes in a whirl, with all the preparation for Mito's annual diplomatic trip to Uzushio with little Tsunade. Tōka and Izuna are serving as their chief bodyguards, with Hikaku following along, ostensibly to play peace-maker if needed, though rumor has it he's been exchanging frequent letters with an Uzumaki shinobi he'd met the year before.
Between dealing with Madara's dark sulking and Hashirama's overdramatic pouting during the absence of their spouse and daughter, in addition to countless village-related minutia, Tobirama shamefully does not notice that Kagami has departed for another mission (with two comrades this time), until a familiar pair of sandals light again on the windowsill of his office.
Kagami waves away his attempt at an apology for this ignorance.
"There were, of course, complications, but we managed to complete the mission in nearly half the estimated time," he says, "Thanks to the use of a certain legendary blade."
The fond, grateful smile the Uchiha bestows on him ignites bright flames of pleasure within Tobirama's chest, but he merely accepts Kagami's mission scroll with a gruff, "It performed to your satisfaction then?"
Kagami nods, watching as his scroll joins the small pile on the edge of Tobirama's desk.
"An exceedingly practical gift - it truly outshines any other weapon I've wielded."
Tobirama glances back up from his work, intending to offer up mild offense at the poor joke - just as Kagami's right hand, entirely functional again, if bearing a new collection of half-healed scars, lands lightly on his shoulder, reminiscent of their last encounter in Tobirama's office.
"I was glad to have it for this mission," Kagami confides in a low murmur, "And I remain humbled that you consider me the best candidate for its use. Thank you, Tobirama."
Before his throat can tighten overmuch, Tobirama simply nods and growls out, "Get some rest, Kagami."
Then the Uchiha is gone - but the warmth residing deep in the Senju's chest remains.
The low burn of satisfaction lasts until nearly noon of the next day, sustaining Tobirama through a mountain range of paperwork and a meeting with cantankerous representatives of three separate clans - until he feels two very familiar and aggravated chakra signatures charging up the stairs of the administration building, their destination obvious.
Tobirama has time enough to conjure his most withering scowl before Uchiha Madara, eyes wild and unkempt mane bristling like an antagonized feline, bursts into his office without the slightest pretense of propriety.
"Exactly who in the hell do you think you are, Senju?!" Madara demands, practically frothing as he approaches Tobirama's desk.
Tobirama fluidly rises to his feet, wary red eyes narrowing. The Uchiha Clan Head has been in his office less than five seconds and his patience for the man's dramatics has already evaporated.
"This is absolutely unacceptable! You believe you can just blatantly lay claim to the fool after enticing him with a pretty bauble, you smug, self-important pri-" Madara is cut off by Hashirama slapping a hand over his mouth, ignoring the muffled snarling that continues to issue from underneath as he, panting and sweat-soaked, addresses his younger brother.
"Sorry, Tobi, sorry!" Hashirama says, beaming his best Please, please don't maim each other smile. "I'm certain there's simply been some harmless misunderstanding..."
"Misunderstanding," Tobirama repeats tonelessly from behind his desk as his brother trails off.
Madara crosses his arms and unleashes a loud, still-suppressed snort of disbelief.
"Y-yes... I know how greatly you cherish your privacy in all things, little brother," Hashirama says, smile wobbling off his face as his eyes widen plaintively and fill with the tears of one terribly betrayed.
"But... you couldn't even bring yourself to tell me of your engagement?"
Tobirama's left eyelid twitches.
Words croak from his suddenly dust-dry throat.
Madara yanks himself free of Hashirama's clinging hands and growls over the other man's sniffles, "I knew it! Senju, you moron, this is not some romantic fairy story! Your degenerate brother has-
A tendril swiftly branches out from Tobirama's wooden desk, wrapping itself securely around the Uchiha Head's mouth before Madara can lay bare his accusation.
Tobirama has not known such a mixture of raging, impotent irritation and stark confusion since the time a drunken Izuna had sincerely tried to convey to him an important message from a daimyo using only squirrel noises.
He pinches the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to calm his temper, taking a deep breath and trying to will the blood vessels in his head to stop throbbing so insistently.
The fingers of his right hand twitch, subconsciously seeking the kunai bearing the Hiraishin mark he keeps well-hidden in his garments as three Senju elders attempt to barge into his already cramped office.
The leader, a petite woman, her white hair pulled tight into a flawless bun, ignores Madara's muffled grunt of surprised protest as she storms in front of the Uchiha to glare up over her glasses at the sensor.
She is, usually, one of the more level-headed of the self-appointed advisors to the leaders of the village, and one of the few that Tobirama will even deign to acknowledge.
"Elder Kīchigo," Tobirama greets as diplomatically as he is able, considering the pounding headache threatening to evict his eyes from his skull.
"Explain to me," she demands evenly, amber eyes sparking with outrage, "how it is a treasured weapon of the Senju has lately made its way into the hands of an Uchiha."
Tobirama catches the thinly veiled revulsion in the word, and the way Madara's eyes narrow behind the woman in response as he continues to struggle against his persistent, now leafing gag.
"Uchiha Kagami's sword was shattered during the completion of a recent mission," Tobirama manages carefully, anticipating an interruption or possible explosion at any second.
"Kagami is the most proficient user of the Lightning Style that I am acquainted with," he continues, ignoring the faint hmph! of pride that escapes from Madara, "as well as a loyal comrade who has proven worthy of my trust."
Hashirama's strange, slight squeak of delight is also ignored.
"Therefore, I took the liberty of bestowing a dust collecting and mostly forgotten Senju relic upon the Konoha shinobi who is most capable of putting it to use for the betterment of the village."
There is blessed silence for a moment, until -
"You expect us to believe such an innocuous explanation?" One of Kīchigo's followers, a balding man who has barely made it through the doorway, fixes Tobirama with an irritated scowl. "We have all heard the rumors, which we'd hoped were merely that, of your disgraceful dalliance with that young Uchiha bast-"
A snarl from the at last unbridled Madara sends the elder shrinking completely back out into the hall with his fellow.
"Take care how you address Uchiha Kagami in my presence," Tobirama's mild tone holds no less threat than Madara's growl of outrage. "The man has devoted himself to the well-being of all those loyal to Konoha."
Kīchigo sighs, pushing her glasses up her nose.
"I will not deny Jōnin Uchiha's dedication to the village," she allows, in obvious attempt to placate Madara and himself, "but Tobirama, you must not forget the duties to your clan you have so long postponed."
Tobirama bristles, knowing exactly where this conversation is heading.
"For years we have begged you to choose an acceptable bride from whichever clan you would; even an Uchiha woman of noble blood would suffice to produce your heir, and you respond by flaunting this-"
The elder swallows hard.
"This... Kagami in our faces!"
The slight outburst seems to drain Kīchigo of her fire, and she stares up at Tobirama in an eerily similar fashion that he himself would a specimen of insect he'd never seen before.
"Or perhaps," she begins slowly, with something akin to dawning horror, "It is the unlikeliest of the rumors that is the truth: You gifted the Raijin no Ken to a titleless, bastard, Uchiha shinobi-"
Her eyes widen and the final words are a despairing whisper, "To make public the truth of your... love match."
The room falls as silent as an abandoned tomb.
Even Madara, who had obviously been working himself up to furiously defend his clansman, now stares at his husband's younger brother in voiceless shock.
Hashirama, meanwhile, seems overcome with some joyous internal victory, but his triumphant eyes, like all others of the unwelcome occupants of the office, are too heavy for the suddenly breathless Tobirama to bear.
He reaches for the kunai.
Accurately performing the Hiraishin requires intense concentration, pinpoint focus from the user - and even then, Tobirama will admit to no one how many times he's nearly concussed himself on tree trunks, or been glad he'd learned early in life how to swim.
So he really shouldn't be surprised then, for all the directions his thoughts are flying, that instead of retaining some dignity and landing gracefully beside the mark he'd reached out for, Tobirama seemingly appears out of the ether and plops directly down on top of his target, knocking the wind out of himself and a startled Uchiha Kagami.
A startled shinobi is a very dangerous shinobi, and there is a tense second for Tobirama to take in the instant crackle of forced electricity around them, the way red eyes all but scream death up into his own, before the well-trained warrior's wariness bleeds almost instantly away into genuine pleasure.
Impish eyes, now returned to their usual onyx black, seem to spark with amusement as Kagami manages lightly, despite the unexpected weight on his chest, "Good afternoon. May I ask what horror is nipping at your heels?"
Tobirama grunts and flops over into the grass at Kagami's side. "That would be my... your... our-" He makes a casual sweeping gesture with his right hand, as though the trees that shade them are somehow to blame.
"Ah," Kagami inhales deeply, replenishing his lungs as he stretches in his spot of grass, where he'd obviously been enjoying comfortable respite. "Fleeing our revered betters, are you?"
Which would explain why the Uchiha is spending his precious free time enjoying the solitude of this particularly secluded section of riverbank.
Tobirama closes his eyes, allowing the soothing constant murmur of the water to wash over him a moment before replying, "I assume the Uchiha elders are applying as much calm and rational thought to the situation as their Senju counterparts."
A snort to his left.
"Actually," Kagami says, light amusement still coloring his tone, "I haven't seen the wise ones so speechlessly befuddled since Lady Mito made public her intention to wed both the Senju and Uchiha Heads."
Tobirama, had his own clan elders been any indication, would have expected anger, revulsion, outrage - he rolls to his side to further question Kagami, only to find the younger man already in a similar position, soft query leaving his tongue as his eyes, good humor diminished, meet Tobirama's.
"How long have I been your whore?"
There is no accusation in Kagami's tone, but neither is there levity. The question warrants a sincere answer.
"To the best of my recollection," Tobirama says slowly, "Those base rumors began shortly after you became my subordinate, though they receded over the years until..."
"Until our team was disbanded and I began to associate with you freely, in a non-official capacity," Kagami finishes for him, frustration coloring his words, "The only logical reason, of course, being I'd become hopelessly entranced by your... person."
"You loathed me." Tobirama says dryly as Kagami's lips twist and he dips his head in embarrassed remembrance.
"In the beginning - almost as much as you did those elders who'd seen fit to sacrifice a seemingly disposable young Uchiha shinobi to my authority. Between that and your obvious paranoia that I'd simply kill you when I felt you'd become a great enough nuisance, it's frankly astonishing that our relationship has evolved to become..."
He hesitates there, not knowing quite how to finish.
Kagami looks back up at him and his smile is wry. "Well. That is the question of the day, isn't it?"
They lay together in silence for a moment, the afternoon's gentle wind rustling the leaves overhead as the river burbles steadily nearby.
"Many of my nosier kin are baffled as to why the Senju heir would gift his... plaything something suitable more to sweeten a match of noble blood," Kagami says softly, idly plucking at the fluff of one of a small group of dandelions next to his elbow. "Since, presumably, you are already enjoying the benefits of whatever you might desire of me."
Kagami huffs slightly, not looking at Tobirama as he abruptly sits up and sends dandelion seed fluttering into the air around them.
"The entire thing is ridiculous, and it's getting worse - on my way here I passed a cluster of old biddies vigorously debating whether or not you and I had actually made a love match. Voices were raised and I think there were wagers being cast." Kagami shakes his head in disbelief.
The casually spoken words resound deafeningly in Tobirama's ears.
A love match.
Ill-timed birdsong twitters overhead.
Kagami grins up at him, bright, clever and, if Tobirama's familiarity with the Uchiha has taught him anything, entirely false.
"Fortunately, I believe I've sorted out a solution that will work in your favor."
"And what might that be?" Tobirama asks as he sits up to face the other man, mouth suddenly dry.
"How long have you been hounded to wed, eh? Years upon years of lectures of duty and bloodlines and heirs and honor - like constant burs in your flesh. Now you can put all that to rest."
When Tobirama only blinks at him, the Uchiha continues, "Make a deal, a bargain, an iron-clad agreement with your elders - hell, have them sign in blood if you wish."
Tobirama feels as though every dandelion in Konoha is caught in his throat. "For what purpose?"
Kagami's smirk is a predator's triumphant grin, though it does not meet his eyes.
"In exchange for never again so much as mentioning the topic of marriage in your hearing, you will heed their wisdom in return," Kagami pauses to pull a carefully wrapped parcel from a hidden fold inside his shirt.
There is only one thing it could possibly be.
Dread prickles across Tobirama's skin as Kagami solemnly unwraps the Raijin no Ken and holds it out to him in some perverse reenactment of the scene at the training ground weeks ago.
"Take back your priceless ancestral weapon," comes the quiet demand, "Tell them you now see how unworthy I am to wield it, how unwise it was for you to bestow it upon me. Vow to cast your shameful Uchiha slattern off like the dust on your sandals - and you are free."
Tobirama swallows hard and refrains from rolling his eyes.
Trust an Uchiha to think of the most dramatic solution possible.
He clears his throat. "Ah, and here I thought you were going to propose something completely ridiculous."
Kagami's scowl is more honest than his smile, but the hand proffering the sword does not waver. "Oh? Ridiculous like this wedding hysteria that's infected both our clans?"
"And almost as imbecilic," Tobirama does not break eye contact with the Uchiha as he absently plucks a stray leaf from his disheveled hair. "I will not be bullied by fools and rumor-mongers into betraying a friend."
Kagami's irritation evaporates, replaced with a raw sort of desperation.
"Don't you see that I would be harming a... friend by allowing this madness to continue? Who knows what damage this is doing to your reputat-"
"I should be more concerned that apparently it is more acceptable to our clans for me to fuck my subordinate in open secret than have you stand as an equal at my side in public," Tobirama manages to curb his snarl, but just barely.
"That is the point I'm trying to make!" Kagami drops the hilt into his lap, freeing both hands to gesticulate.
"We are not equals, Lord Tobirama, and if you continue to ignore that, to let this issue fester and further provoke the outrage of your elders, they will eventually hound you into resenting-" the Uchiha throws his hands up. "Whatever this relationship is between us!"
There is silence as Kagami's head drops, unruly bangs shielding his face from Tobirama's scrutiny as he runs grasping fingers through his dark hair, clearly attempting to calm himself.
"As odd... as unlikely as it is..." Kagami slowly lifts his head, just the hint of crimson receding into black. "Don't you know, renowned sensor of the Leaf, my friend... that you have become dear to me?"
Of course Tobirama has known of Kagami's vague... interest in him, but has always dismissed it as a temporary bit of intrigue, despite its constancy over the past few years. Now to hear it spoken aloud, and with such undeniable sincerity...
Kagami continues, his voice unbearably soft yet unwaveringly steady as they hold each others' gaze.
"I never want you to look at me... and regret."
Tobirama's heart pounding in his ears drowns out everything else, even the unbothered rush of the river.
Tobirama is honest enough with himself to know that if he severs ties with the man before him, every fleeting stolen glance from now on will be tinged with regret, with if only, with what might we have accomplished together.
He has been prepared to privately mourn the loss of Kagami to the violence that plagues their world for years now - to instead forsake all interaction with the man but still have him nearby, able to feel the Uchiha's presence? His pain, joys and sorrows?
An exercise in flagellation Tobirama is reluctant to put himself through, only...
Though Kagami frets over his reputation, can he suspend his selfishness a moment to consider what harm this absurdity is doing to the man before him?
The rumors, both the vile insinuations from years earlier and these new ridiculous assumptions of impending marriage, can only be damaging Kagami's chances of finding a worthy partner, someone as young and bright and lovely as he is, to create a family with.
Is the bitter enjoyment of flaunting the disapproval of so many of their kin worth the sacrifice of Kagami's future happiness?
How dare Tobirama presume to call himself this man's friend.
Regardless of his better intentions, what plops out of his fool mouth next is the far too casual musing, "If you married me - you would become Lord Kagami."
Even the nearby birds cease their chirping at that, and Tobirama silently damns his brother's bubble-headedness for its occasional ill-timed influence upon his words.
Kagami blinks at him.
Then topples back over into the grass, hands covering his face, emitting a low noise of such distress that it will be no surprise should vultures begin to circle overhead.
Tobirama waits, the burn he can feel overtaking his fair skin for once not to be blamed entirely on the sun, until Kagami composes himself, sitting up and glaring at the Senju.
"And you called my proposition ridiculous?" The Uchiha shakes his head. "If that even was a proposition. I'm starting to lose track of the multitude in this farcical morass..."
"If I followed your instructions for how to deal with this situation, would there be any benefit at all to you resulting from it?" Tobirama demands.
Kagami's mouth flaps again for a moment before he shrugs lightly.
"Other than stopping your elders from killing me in my sleep? None that I can think of," he admits.
Tobirama huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. "And if we followed my suggestion?"
"What, of having me become Lord Kagami?" the man says, very nearly mocking, "I'd have to live in constant paranoia of vengeful wizened Senju, and my elders would..."
Kagami's eyes widen as he trails off, and something like victory hisses in the back of Tobirama's mind.
"Would what?" He purrs, and the dark look Kagami shoots him is a blatant insult, for all the Uchiha is too polite to give voice to it.
"My elders," Kagami grits out through clenched teeth, "Would be befuddled as all hell, but delighted that a lowly bastard such as myself had made such a fine, mis-matched match with your noble ass."
He shakes his head. "They would, as one, believe you to be the village's greatest fool."
As though Tobirama gives a damn.
"So you're saying that our marriage would be beneficial for Senju-Uchiha relations?"
Kagami gawps at him again, and a flicker of guilt passes through the older man.
"I know that you are trying to protect me, Kagami, and though I believe it misguided, I am thankful," Tobirama says quietly, summoning his courage for the words that come next. "And because moments ago you were brave enough to confess that you find me dear, I shall offer up a hidden truth of my own."
He takes a deep breath as Kagami holds his gaze, the Uchiha's expression one of perplexed expectation.
"There is no one, within the walls of Konoha or beyond, should I be forced to select a mate this very instant, that I would choose over you."
Tobirama is no charismatic speaker, able to win hearts and minds as easily as his statesman elder brother, but he puts every bit of sincerity he possesses into his next words.
"I am grateful for what we have been to each other... but, should we part ways here, I know for certain that I will forever regret not knowing what we might have become together."
Kagami's eyes shine like moonlight upon a calm sea.
"I - I would have the same regrets," he croaks, "But-"
"If your next words have anything to do with 'elders', 'duty', or some drivel about how you are unworthy to be my partner, the river fish will soon have an unexpected guest," Tobirama threatens.
Kagami's laugh is a broken thing, though laced with hesitant hope and reluctant joy, as he wipes his eyes and then throws up his hands as if in surrender to the absurdity that is his life.
"Fine, fine, stubborn Senju! Of course you would be my first choice as well!"
A silver eyebrow raises. "'First'? You've contemplated... additional options?"
Before self-doubt can rear its poisonous head, Kagami reaches out, taking Tobirama's unresisting hand into one that bears fresh pink scars, and offering a roguish grin.
"Torifu is an excellent cook," he explains, "And a warm sleeping companion on cold winter missions. But alas, it seems he's already spoken for."
Tobirama's growl is cut short by the shock of Kagami leaning forward on his knees and gently pressing their foreheads together.
"Even ignoring our differences in status, they will try to drive us apart - especially since I cannot provide you an all-important heir," Kagami murmurs, "So be certain, Tobirama. That is all I ask."
"I am." Tobirama closes his eyes and reaches up to run his free hand gently though the Uchiha's wild hair, marveling at its softness.
They have never before dared such intimacy with each other - it would seem confession is good for more than just the soul.
Tobirama clears his throat as they reluctantly part, save for his fingers that remain lightly entwined with Kagami's.
"I don't know that you've noticed, but our village is led by a group of people whose... unconventional relationship has caused more than a little frothing and fainting among its stunned detractors. My already celebrating brother, and Mito, when she returns from Uzushio, will certainly support our... union."
The word feels strange in his mouth, but not unpleasantly so.
"Though it would seem Madara believes I have somehow ensnared you, heart, mind and body, with - what was it? My 'pretty bauble'."
Kagami rises to feet, looking personally offended.
"Really? Has my esteemed Head of Clan somehow forgotten that I am twenty instead of two? 'Pretty bauble' indeed... perhaps he'd care to test it against his precious gunbai..."
The Uchiha's disgruntled pacing and low grumbling at the slight against his new sword is oddly endearing. As Tobirama makes to stand as well he plucks the hilt of the Raijin no Ken from the grass where it had earlier fallen from Kagami's lap.
"Please believe," he says as the younger man stops short in front of him, "That when I gave this to you, it was without intentions of seduction, or of tricking you into marriage."
"Of course," Kagami says almost wearily as he steps closer, eyes falling to the weapon in Tobirama's hand. "You meant it only as a practical gift for your friend who'd lost his sword."
Relief bleeds through Tobirama like a soothing balm. "Yes, I did. You and I know that truth."
Gently, he takes Kagami's scarred hand and places it on the hilt, covering both with his own.
"May I re-present it to you now, in hopes you will receive it as a symbol of our 'absolutely unacceptable' intent to wed?"
Kagami laughs, bright and daring as his free hand comes up to caress Tobirama's crimson-slashed cheek.
"Ah, dearest," he says, light and entirely sincere, "Of course I will."
They chuckle together before Tobirama releases his intended, and Kagami tucks the weapon safely away again.
"What I would like to know," Tobirama says as they turn together to watch the water rushing by, "Is how exactly this rumor started in the first place."
"I must proclaim my innocence," Kagami says with mock solemnity, "As I am not one to go about vulgarly brandishing my sword as a public spectacle in the marketplace."
Displaying the maturity of his years, Tobirama snickers softly as Kagami continues.
"The only Leaf shinobi who have actually seen me use the Raijin no Ken are the Nara and the Hatake who were my assigned comrades on my last mission out of the village."
"Ah," Tobirama deduces dryly, "So it would seem likely that our 'relationship' began as so many others have before it - with drunken innuendo in a poorly-lit shinobi bar."
When Kagami blinks at him, he explains, "My great-grandfather once made a quickly shattered alliance with the Hatake. I would imagine some stories of the blade and its capability for destruction have been passed to the following generations."
"So they saw me with it and assumed..." Kagami huffs and shakes his head just as Tobirama turns his own in the direction of the village, eyes narrowing slightly.
"It would have been found out eventually. But speaking of Hatake..." he takes a step to face the oncoming and frantic little chakra signature barreling their way.
"Did you ask your student to meet you here by the river?"
Behind him he hears the Uchiha stifle what would be a fruitless denial that the persistent six year old he'd fished from the swollen river last spring is his student at all.
"No, I did not." Kagami steps beside him, chakra prickling with concern. "Is something the matter?"
Tobirama only has time to shrug before a panting Hatake Sakumo, legs and feet spattered with mud, and shaggy silver hair adorned with various vegetation, leaps out of the underbrush into their secluded hideaway.
He slumps over, hands on his knees as he tries to catch his breath.
"Sakumo!" Kagami strides forward, placing a gentle hand on the little boy's shoulder. "What-"
"You have to hide, Sensei!" Sakumo insists between gasps, "I've just heard - Lord Madara is going to marry you off!"
Kagami stills. "Is that so."
The boy's head bobs emphatically, eyes as wide as the Senju has ever seen them.
"Yes, sir! To a hideous blood-eyed ogre!"
Sakumo jumps as the normally stoic Tobirama practically howls with startled laughter, his arms wrapping around his belly as it becomes his turn to enjoy red-faced breathlessness.
"Oh, gods," Kagami murmurs weakly, "It's spreading."
The Uchiha takes a steadying breath. "Sakumo - where did you hear this... news?"
"Dan!" the little boy exclaims with all the confidence of one who has received word directly from a divine oracle.
"Well," Kagami says tiredly as Tobirama's snickers trail off, "Dan is mistaken. I am in no danger of becoming the spouse of an ogre."
"Really?" Sakumo squeaks, relief clear in his face, "You don't have to get married and leave the village?"
Kagami looks to Tobirama, who nods his assent.
They have to start sowing the truth somewhere.
"I have no plans to leave Konoha," Kagami assures gently as Tobirama steps beside him, "However-"
He reaches out, and twines his fingers lightly with the Senju's again. "I do intend to marry."
Sakumo blinks first at his sensei, then at the interlaced hands in front of his nose, then up at Tobirama's suspiciously blood-red eyes.
"Oh," he says meekly, his own eyes dropping to his sandals, embarrassment palpable. "Well... Lord Tobirama is better than an actual ogre, anyway."
Kagami clears his throat. "Aren't you supposed to be in class, Sakumo? I'm fairly certain the Academy has not yet dismissed for the day."
The little Hatake bows dramatically. "I'm sorry, Sensei! When the bell rang for lunch, I had to try and find you!"
He sniffs pointedly. "It just took a little longer than I thought it would!"
A soft smile spreads across Kagami's face, and Tobirama can tell he's been deeply touched by Sakumo's heroic, if unnecessary, attempt to save his self-proclaimed sensei from the dreadful fate of ogre-matrimony.
Sakumo's stomach unleashes a timely rumble.
"Well," Kagami says lightly, "Your cause was noble, I'll grant. The least I could do would be to buy us all a quick lunch before I escort you back to the Academy."
The sheepish boy smiles a bit at that.
"Thank you, Kagami-sensei."
Scant moments later, the unlikely trio sets off down the beaten path that leads back to the village proper.
Sakumo, all worries of losing his sensei seemingly put at ease, wonders aloud what happens when a bolt of lightning meets the sea. While Kagami patiently explains, obviously not for the first time, about conductors and charge dispersal to the boy trotting at his ankles, Tobirama takes a moment for himself to reflect on the day's whirlwind of events.
He never imagined this morning that he would be betrothed by the afternoon, much less to someone he cares for, and who cares for him in return.
The people in their lives that truly matter (even, he begrudgingly allows, Madara, once they set the blustering Uchiha Head straight) will support this union, this love match, he has no doubt. However...
Logically (some would say pessimistically), he knows that Kagami's feelings for him may indeed at last change, his own heart might yet betray him, and that the average life of a shinobi, even during this odd time of relative peace, is short, violent; there is a significant chance they may both perish before their bond is even legally affirmed, but for now-
Kagami's fingers casually brush against his own again as they walk the path side by side.
For now... Tobirama will dare to indulge in his own joy, to share in the brazen happiness that burns bright throughout the chakra of his chosen partner, as he and Kagami head toward their future.