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Soulmate Story Collection

Chapter Text

When they made eye contact for the first time, Kakashi had watched her left eye slowly change from gray to green so that it matched the fresh spring color of her right eye. As many had said, it must have had no sensation, seeing as she hadn’t reacted at all. Kakashi said nothing about it, only passed the girl and kept walking down the street without speaking to her as he had intended to.

He had wanted to meet his new students before they knew who he was. He hadn’t wanted to know that one of them was his soulmate. She was twelve years old to his twenty-six and he felt a little like a dirty old man. It was true that not all soulmate relationships were romantic ones but he still felt…there wasn’t a proper word for it. He felt like he might taint her.

When he met her officially the next day as the sensei of Team 7, the halls had still been buzzing with the news that Haruno Sakura had found her soulmate – but didn’t know who it was. Her situation was almost unheard of. How could she not know when she should have seen her soulmates eye change color as well? Sakura could not even remember when exactly the change had happened, much to her woe.

Kakashi said nothing when they met. They had passed each other on the street as strangers. She had barely given him a glance, had not even seemed to take note of him as more than a fellow shinobi of Konoha, and when she said nothing as well he concluded that the incident hadn’t stuck in her mind. He was glad. He was determined to keep it that way. She was twelve and full of innocence and he planned on keeping her as far away from his jaded darkness as possible.

Years passed and Kakashi lost his three students. One betrayed them, one left them, and Kakashi hid himself away from the budding flower that haunted his sweetest dreams. Many would say that he was neglectful of the only girl on his team. He would admit that they were right. What he would not admit was how she terrified him. How he woke in the night trembling from nightmares and wanting nothing more than to feel her warm chakra nearby. Or hear her voice cheerfully going on about all the silly little things that young people consider important. He would never admit how much he had started to rely on a girl that he tried so hard to ignore. He didn’t want Sakura to know him. He didn’t want his shadows to reach out and wrap around her pale, soft fingers or darken her bright green eyes.

He didn’t see her for two years, but when he did she had changed in ways he could not have imagined. Gone was the softness and the innocence. In their place was strength and fire. At sixteen years old, Sakura was well on her way to becoming a beautiful woman who would rock the foundation of the shinobi world. Kakashi found himself pulled back in, staying by her side if only to bask in the light she shined upon the world. Even if she didn’t mean to be, even if she didn’t realize it then, she became the rock that Kakashi clung to.

War waged and waned, and Konoha prospered in the peace that came after. Years passed and Kakashi watched her fulfill all the promises of her childhood by growing in to the type of women all little girls aspire to be. She was beauty and grace, strength and spirit, intelligence and warmth. Yet through it all, the smallest shadow of sadness remained in her. For Sakura had two green eyes and no soulmate in sight. Naruto had gained his second blue eye the day that Hinata had finally looked at him dead on. Watching their eyes correct themselves had the girl fainting from pure shock – or pure happiness. No one could tell. Many of their childhood friends had found their soulmates during the war or childhood. Kakashi watched Sakura as she longed to know where her other half was and did nothing.

After so long, what was he supposed to say? Even if, as the years went by, his feelings of friendship blossomed in to something deeper, he still couldn’t find it in himself to admit the truth. In the end, the decision was taken out of his hands.

Being named Hokage came with a lot of perks and a lot of downsides. Some would consider being allowed to live in the Hokage Manor a perk. Kakashi had always thought of it as a downside. His apartment was lonely enough, what would he do with all that extra empty space in an entire manor? It had taken them four years but finally the counsel and his own former students had bullied him in to making the move. Sakura and Naruto even showed up to help him move – just to make sure he actually did it of course. They didn’t seem to trust that he would do it on his own.

It wasn’t the first time the two had been inside his dingy apartment but it was the first time they had been inside longer than it took to drag him off his couch and out for some horrid bout of socialization. They were understandably curious, poking their noses in to every crevice and corner, trying to dredge up a little bit of gossip about the ever mysterious Hatake Kakashi. Naruto eyeballed every book that he pulled off the bookcase, packing them each in a box at his feet and scowling at how boring they all were. Kakashi felt no need to tell the boy that half of those book covers were fake and actually contained sappy romance novels instead of jutsu manuals.

Sakura, on the other hand, had gone straight for his bedroom claiming she would help him fold clothes. He figured if she wanted to fold his boring, completely un-embarrassing underwear than she was welcome to; less work for him. He entirely forgot what other damning items his bedroom contained.

When the pink haired young woman came out of the bedroom with what looked like a picture frame in hand, he still didn’t make the connection. He only raised an eyebrow while his hands continued to pull barely used dishes from his cupboards. She held the frame up, showing the only picture he had of Team Minato, his own genin team.

“Your left eye. It was green.” Her voice was shaken and quiet.

Kakashi hands carefully set the plate he held in the box, then went still. He fought the urge to touch the scar that ran down one side of his face. She was right of course. His left eye had been green, right up until the day when an enemy had put a blade straight through the socket and the mangled organ had been replaced with a lost friend’s Sharingan. And when Naruto had rebuilt his eye during the war it had grown back matching his other. No one had questioned it until today, something he was rather surprised about. He’d never mentioned to a single soul that he knew who his soulmate was, not in all the years between then and now.

“I remembered you,” Sakura declared. Behind her, Naruto looked back and forth between them with confusion. “I remembered seeing you the day before we met our new sensei. I looked you right in the eye. And when I got home I had two green eyes instead of green and gray. You have two gray eyes Kakashi. But you used to have a green left eye!” With no small amount of force, the picture frame was thrown at his chest. Kakashi turned and caught it reflexively. This was the only picture he had of these three precious people, after all, and even in his current deer-in-headlights panicked state his hands moved to save such an invaluable item.

“What are you talking about Sakura-chan?” Naruto came closer, abandoning the bookshelf. Sakura narrowed her eyes at her silver haired Hokage as she answered.

“Don’t you remember Naruto?” she asked. “My left eye was gray back when we were in the academy. Then one day it wasn’t. The day before we became Team 7, I got my second green eye.”

Comprehension dawned on Naruto’s face and he nodded, “Mm! Mm! I remember now!”

“I never knew when it happened. But I know I saw you that day, Kakashi. And no one remembers what color your left eye was before you lost it. I never made the connection. I never thought to ask. Did you…” Sakura trailed off, unsure how to word what she wanted to say. Kakashi understood anyway. She was asking if he had made the connection, if he could offer her the missing piece of herself that she had been searching for all these years.

Kakashi’s fingers tightened on the frame in his hands, then set it down on the counter behind himself. He drew a slow breath in, fighting against the tightness in his chest, and let it back out slowly.

“Naruto, could you give us a moment alone?” he requested. The blond pointed an accusing finger at him.

“Are you really her soulmate Kaka-sensei!?” he demanded. Kakashi scowled.

“Whether I am or not is none of your business.” His own finger pointed at the door. “I’d appreciate some privacy for this conversation. Go.”

Naruto narrowed his eyes and grumbled under his breath. It took insisting a few more times, but eventually he did leave. His glare never faded. He seemed to be daring the older man to even think of hurting their teammate and promising pain in the case that he did. When they were finally alone, Kakashi let his gaze drift back to the woman a few feet away from him.

Sakura’s hands were clenched in to fists and her jaw was set. He could almost hear the mental pep talk she was surely giving herself, getting ready to take any kind of news. Another deep breath did absolutely nothing to calm his nerves but he went ahead and started talking anyway.

“You did see me that day. I remember it too. I remember looking in to the eyes of a little girl and watching one of them fade from gray to green. I remember thinking ‘that’s impossible’. And you just walked on by without saying a thing. And I let you.” He couldn’t make himself meet her gaze. He focused on her bare feet, watching her toes curl against the linoleum.

“Then it’s true,” he heard her whisper. “You’re really my soulmate?”

He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. No words seemed adequate. He settled for nodding and rubbing the back of his neck, bracing himself for the storm that was about to crash in to him.

He was incredibly shocked when the crash came in a form he had never considered. Instinctually, he groaned at the press of warm lips against his own, wonderful even through the mask. His arms automatically came up to wrap around Sakura’s waist, pulling her closer and holding her tightly to his chest. She pressed her lips more firmly against his for a brief moment before slowly pulling away to leave them both panting a bit. Kakashi swallowed thickly and made a garbled noise of protest, wanting her to come back. He had a few seconds to bask in the moment before, just as suddenly as the kiss, a fist planted itself in his gut.

“You IDIOT!” There it was. “You ABSOLUTE MORON!” That’s what he thought her first reaction would have been. “How could you keep this from me!?” Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes though she didn’t let them fall. Kakashi whimpered, half out of pain and half out of a very sensible fear of her strength and what she might do with it next.

“You were twelve,” he mumbled. “I was twenty-six. It felt…wrong.” Sakura eyed him, fist still clenched.

“Alright,” she ground out between her teeth. “I’ll give you that. But what about after? It’s been years Kakashi! I’ve already been an adult for years! And still you said nothing! Why!?”

In the face of her demands his mind went blank and he blurted out the only thing he could think of, the truth. “I just – I honestly thought you’d be better off without me, you know?” Sakura gaped at him and his eyes drifted slightly to the side in shame. “I wanted you to find happiness.” He waited in silence for the yelling to start again. When a fist thumped down on the top of his head he was surprised by how comparatively gentle it was.

“Better off without my soulmate? Better off without my perfect other half?” Sakura sounded more resigned than angry now. “Kakashi you are the stupidest, most idiotic, empty-headed, thoughtless, dim-witted bonehead that I have ever met.”

“Probably,” he sighed miserably. A finger lifted his chin, forcing his eyes to meet hers again.

“And I fell in love with you when I was nineteen,” she finished softly. It was Kakashi’s turn to gape.

“You didn’t even know we were soulmates!”

She smiled and said, “No, I didn’t. But I loved you anyway.”

With that, she kissed him once more. Unable to come up with any sort of protest, Kakashi kissed her back, holding her even tighter than before. He had spent years trying to protect her without realizing the one fact that should have been most obvious.

Haruno Sakura needed no one’s protection.

Chapter Text

Strangely, what surprised him the most was that it took them this long to discover it. They had known each other since that day by the riverside long ago, when Hashirama and Madara’s budding friendship had come to a halt on the order of their fathers. They had crossed each other in battle countless times, although usually they had battled each other’s sibling. For god’s sake they had both helped to build a village and run it for years side by side with Hashirama.

And only now did they actually touch for the first time. Only now did they discover that they were soul mates.

Tobirama inspected the handprint on his bicep that had not been there a moment ago. The mark of where his soulmate first touched him would never fade. It would decorate his skin for the rest of his life, marking him as one who had found their perfect compliment. He was fascinated to see that the fingertips, if one looked closely enough, even included the whorls and lines of Madara’s fingerprints. He was also pleased by the rich red color. It matched the markings on his face. When he looked over, Madara was staring at the freshly blossomed mark as well with shock in his expression.

They had been training together – another first. Usually Tobirama trained with his brother or his cousin Touka. The sleeveless top he wore for training bared more skin than he had probably ever shown to Uchiha Madara before. When he thought about it, it made sense. They didn’t have much interaction outside of work, where he typically wore formal robes or battle armor, depending on the day’s duties. When Madara had grabbed his arm in an attempt to start their spar by throwing him, it had felt like a lightning bolt went straight through him.

“Is that what I think it is?” Madara’s voice came out slightly high pitched, making the corners of Tobirama’s mouth twitch up.

“A soul mark, yes,” he agreed. The older man’s eye twitched.

“That…seems unlikely.” When Tobirama did nothing more than smirk harder and raise an eyebrow, Madara scowled. “We’ve been at peace for years! How could we never have touched?”

Tobirama shrugged and pointed out, “We both wear gloves, usually. And neither of us are inclined towards public nudity, so there weren’t a lot of chances I suppose.” He took pleasure in Madara’s spluttering and the red spreading across those aristocratic cheekbones. His companion harrumphed moodily.

“Well it still seems unlikely,” he insisted. “Did you feel anything? I didn’t feel anything.”

With a roll of his eyes, Tobirama reached out and grasped Madara’s shirt. Employing the speed he was famous for, he barely gave Madara time to squeak before he had lifted the shirt and pressed his palm to the other man’s chest, directly over his heart. It was gratifying to watch him twitch as, presumably, the same lightning sensation frazzled along his nerves. When he pulled his palm away an imprint of his hand remained, this one colored in blue.

Madara stared at the mark, his mouth working with no words coming out. His gaze shifted from Tobirama to the soul mark and back again several times before he lifted his own hand to trace it gently, almost reverently. Then he swallowed thickly.

“I see,” he murmured quietly. Finally his eyes held Tobirama’s own. “Soul mates, eh?”

“So it would seem.” Tobirama crossed his arms and waited. Madara was an unpredictable sort of person and he was still a bit wary of a negative reaction. Surprisingly, the man only nodded his head slowly.

“Well,” he said a bit distantly. “At least the clan elders won’t be bothering me about heirs anymore. I can’t see you carrying any children for me.”

After a beat of surprise, Tobirama burst out laughing. Madara later told him that it was the first time he had heard him laugh. It was also the moment that he fell in love.

Chapter Text

Kakashi lay on his stomach, limbs sprawled at whatever angle they happened to land in when he had flopped down a half hour ago. His muscles were slowly melting in to the mattress until he was sure that he’d never be able to move again. In all the years he’d spent on the battlefield he had never dreamed he’d be able to feel so content – so happy.

Fingers traced patterns on his back that he could not see but knew what they were without thinking. A gentle smile touched his lips and he sighed without opening his eyes. A pair of lips pressed a kiss to his mid back in response.

“If you get any more relaxed you’ll turn in to a puddle,” Tenzou’s voice drifted over him.

“Maa, I apologize for nothing,” he murmured back. Tenzou chuckled.

“I never said it was a bad thing. You deserve a little relaxation.”

The younger man’s fingers never ceased their exploration, following along the lines of the tattoo that had brought them together. Kakashi’s soul mark was larger than most people’s. The great apple tree stretched from his lower back almost to the tips of his shoulders and the branches almost wrapped around both his sides. The first time they had kissed, luscious red fruit had appeared in amongst the leaves. As apple trees were often used to represent love and generosity, Kakashi often wondered how he didn’t realize that his mark was meant for Tenzou until only a few years ago.

With a hum he turned his head and made a soft noise. He was rewarded with another kiss, this one against his exposed cheek. He dropped his face back in to the pillow and let his smile widen. Even before they had realized they were paired the two men had known each other better than anyone else. Tenzou could read his wishes in the smallest movements and sounds. Knew what he was feeling even when he wore a mask to hide his face.

When Tenzou sat back to where he had been, straddled across the backs of Kakashi’s thighs, his fingers resumed tracing the branches of the apple tree before him. Kakashi could feel the muscles twitching minutely in the legs that bracketed his own and he knew that Tenzou’s mark would be pressed up against his skin in this position. The white wolf with a lightning bolt caught between its teeth would be running towards the top of his calf. He promised himself that he would trace the mark with his tongue later.

Much later. When he felt like moving. Right now he was content to stay where he was.

Chapter Text

There was a saying which proclaimed that one should never meet their heroes. Kakashi reflected that this was true. Travelling back in time had been an incredible experience and meeting titans of the shinobi world such as Hashirama and Madara had been awe-inspiring at first. Then he had gotten to know them. Boy, had he ever been disillusioned after that.

Hashirama he met first. The older man had found him only hours after his time-jump, dazedly wandering through the forest near the Senju compound. He and his brother were the only two people who knew his true origins and they had adopted him as a Senju almost immediately after hearing his story. It was nice to have brothers after more than a decade of no family at all. However, as he had mentioned, one should never get to know one’s heroes.

Hashirama was almost as obnoxiously cheerful as Gai, with the same propensity towards spontaneous tears and a disturbing habit of becoming theatrically depressed at the slightest provocation. It took a lot of energy to spend large amounts of time around him, although Kakashi was used to it somewhat from overexposure to Gai. Tobirama he got along with a lot better. They shared a level of intellect and a love of quiet spaces filled with books.

That didn’t mean that Tobirama was without his strange quirks which Kakashi could have gone without. His new silver-haired brother often got entirely too in to his research and didn’t like taking “no” for an answer when he wanted a volunteer to test something out on. One memorable incident had left Kakashi with a cat’s tail for a week. It was an experience he was not in a hurry to repeat. After that he had learned to steer clear whenever the inventing gleam showed up in Tobirama’s ruby eyes.

Madara, however, was the one that he was most unprepared for. When he thought about Uchiha Madara, the first image his brain used to come up with had usually been a typical Uchiha face in the midst of manic, evil laughter. The reality was a man who tried very hard to cover his innate dorkiness by always being grumpy. It worked on most people, who were absolutely terrified of him. It did not work on Kakashi. Kakashi was the master of seeing underneath the underneath. And underneath Madara’s ever present temper tantrum was the beating heart of a giant dork.

The man was a sucker for small children. You’d never know it, as most were too frightened by his appearance to approach him, but Uchiha Madara would be the first one to sit down and let a child braid his hair with flowers. In fact, Kakashi had once caught him in the middle of just that and the teasing still hadn’t stopped.

He was also a closet bookworm. Tobirama was infamous for his love of learning and research but Madara was the one with a bookshelf full of novels that he read in bed every night – and would go on about the plotlines for, given half the chance. The first time Kakashi had whipped out his book in front of Madara the older man had actually derailed his yelling in favor of trying to see what he was reading. When he’d finally caught wind that it was “filthy, horrendous deviancy” it had become his mission to try to steer Kakashi towards so-called better reading material. They were usually adventure novels because, well, nerd.

His dorkiness was obvious in the way he doodled on every copy of every report that was not actually going to be filed, the way he wore hair in front of one side of his face because it wasn’t his ‘good side’, and the fact that Kakashi had once surprised him at home and seen him wearing pajama pants with little cartoon dogs on them. No matter how much the man had insisted they were a present from Hashirama, the fact remained that he had kept them and worn them.

Disillusioned as he was, Kakashi found it really hard to be afraid of a man who made an ick face every time someone put pickles on his sandwich. Which meant that he was free to tease him. It quickly became his favorite pastime to tease Madara at every opportunity that presented itself. Which is how he came to be doing what he was: fleeing from a riled up, flustered dork whose hair was standing on end from all the shouting he was doing.

Kakashi laughed as he sprinted up the side of the Hokage tower and flung himself through the window for the office of their newly elected village leader. Expecting Hashirama, he instead found Tobirama at the desk, who looked startled and confused when Kakashi threw himself down, dragging the man’s chair backwards to barricade himself in the corner. Confusion turned to exasperation when Madara stormed in through the same window a moment later.

“Kakashi, what have you done to him this time?” The suffering was obvious in Tobirama’s voice. Still, he didn’t get up from the chair to leave his little brother to Madara’s clutches. The silver haired man in the corner chortled.

“All I did was offer him more peanuts,” he protested as innocently as he could.

Madara clenched his fists and bellowed, “You were throwing them at my head!”

The angelic face Kakashi tried to make was mostly wasted behind the mask he wore. Tobirama heaved a sigh and rubbed at his temple. Dealing with the antics of these two was never easy and somehow it usually fell to him to break them apart. Wondering why Hashirama had ever insisted that they get to know each other better, the second Senju brother eyed Madara with a look that dared him to move from that spot and then rolled his chair away from the corner.

“Kakashi, if you love me as a brother like you say you do, then you will do me a favor. You will leave Madara alone.” A strategic flare of the chakra that was feared by any who faced him in battle had the younger man bolting out of the corner and sidling up next to Madara, pressing against him in an ostentatious display of good behavior.

“Maa, leave him alone? How could I leave my favorite Uchiha-?”

“Kakashi!”

“I’ll stop bothering him!” Kakashi yelped when that oppressive chakra flared again. He wasn’t hailed as a genius for nothing; he knew when to cut his losses.

Madara raised an eyebrow at the man still plastered to his side, although more for protection than humor now. It boggled his mind how different all three of the Senju brothers were. There was very little in common between any of their personalities. Not nothing, of course, but little. He shook his head in wonder.

“How is that you are related to this buffoon?” he asked absent-mindedly. He really wasn’t expecting the response.

“He’s adopted,” the Senju growled. Madara paused, both eyebrows shooting up for his hairline.

“You’re not serious?” he asked, looking between them.

Kakashi shrugged and stepped away with his hands immediately seeking his pockets as Tobirama said mildly, trying to cover his angry misspeak, “I thought you knew that Madara.”

The head of the Uchiha clan shook his head in bewilderment, looking to Kakashi for clarification. The younger man’s visible eye turned up in his signature smile.

“Yup. I was born in the Hatake clan, actually.” He shrugged again as if this wasn’t mind-bending news. It explained absolutely everything about the difference between ‘brothers’; it explained the man’s obsession with dogs; it even explained his fanatical loyalty to anyone he saw as a part of his ‘pack’ so to say.

“Well I’ll be,” he murmured under his breath.

“Well if that’s all wrapped up I’ll just be going then.” Hoping for a quick getaway, Kakashi strolled casually for the door. He had managed to make it in to the hallway when Madara caught up to him, glaring as if offended that he’d left without him.

They walked together in silence, weaving their way throughout the tower. Kakashi let his companion chew over this new information in peace. It wasn’t all that surprising that he hadn’t guessed. Kakashi’s hair color matched Tobirama’s closely enough that most people swallowed the fiction whole without bothering to wonder why no one had ever heard of the third Senju brother until just a few years ago. He wondered if, after how close they had all become, Madara might be offended that he’d never been told this secret. He wondered how Madara would react to finding out the Big Secret: that he wasn’t actually supposed to exist in this time.

Nothing was said as they stepped out on to the public streets and, without discussion, headed towards the Uchiha compound. They passed the academy still in construction, skirted the park with children playing, and avoided the marketplace with vendors hollering out their wares. It wasn’t until they were cutting through an empty training field that Madara hummed to himself.

“Hatake Kakashi,” he murmured, trying the name out loud.

Kakashi stopped dead in his tracks. Something deep inside him was singing, calling out in rapturous joy the likes of which he’d never experienced before. It felt like lightning dancing inside him, like fire running through his veins, like floating on air. It felt like every cliché in every romance he’d ever read. Madara stopped and looked back at him enquiringly.

Kakashi did the only thing he could think of. He retaliated in kind.

“Uchiha Madara,” he mumbled, watching Madara stiffen as his eyes blew wide in shock.

How often does one call someone by their full name? Not often. Kakashi figured it was reasonable that Madara had never happened to be present when Kakashi used his full title. Still, it was a bit jarring to discover that the man you had been teasing for the past few years was actually your soulmate.

As the sensations in his body slowly faded away, Kakashi became aware of the faintest pulling sensation in his chest, like something had a hook in him and was reeling him in very gently. It was pulling him towards Madara. As the older man seemed to slowly recover from his own shocking experience, Kakashi caught his eye.

“I was not expecting that,” he admitted. Madara, to his amusement, blushed.

“I was hoping for it,” he confessed. Kakashi smiled. When he pulled down his mask, Madara’s blush deepened. And when he kissed the man for the first time he could feel the heat of it.

There was a saying which proclaimed that one should never meet their heroes. Kakashi decided that he could be convinced otherwise.

Chapter Text

The day of Neji’s sixth birthday was unremarkable compared to most others of the Hyuga clan. He wasn’t a part of the head family so the celebration wasn’t large. In fact, the only reason he’d had a formal celebration at all was because his father was twin of the clan Head himself.

Neji had been born at three pm on the third of July. So, on that day and at nearly that time his close family gathered around him and rolled up the sleeves of the formal kimono he had dressed himself in with father’s help. Neji found himself excited in a muted kind of way. Every child in the world was excited for their sixth birthday. On this day, at the time of your birth, the first words that your soulmate would speak to you would appear on your arm. Neji rather hoped that the brand would read ‘cousin’, the first word that little Hinata had ever said to him. Hinata was pretty but that wasn’t why it mattered. Even at six years old Neji could tell that he was stronger than her. His clan deserved someone strong as their Head and if he was destined to be paired with Hinata then he could be that person. And only then could he abolish the tradition of the Hyuga Curse Mark.

With all eyes in the room trained on his arms, Neji held them out straight as the clock chimed three times. At first nothing happened, then slowly golden letters began to bloom. They started off blurry and mushed together. It took a few seconds for them to shift and spread until they had settled to form only one word. It was, disappointingly, not the word that he had hoped for. It read ‘troublesome’.

Frowning at first, Neji wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or not. That didn’t seem like a very encouraging message for a first meeting. He was further disheartened when his uncle made a derisive noise to his left.

“I suppose that makes it easy to tell which clan your match is in,” Hiashi sneered in a manner that made his disapproval obvious. Neji fought back a scowl. It wouldn’t do to disrespect the Head of his clan right to the man’s face.

As frustrating as it was than none of the adults would elaborate on that comment, Neji stayed quiet. The rest of the small celebration was rather quiet and conversation mostly turned towards speculations about what Lady Hinata’s soul brand would show when she turned six next year. When dinner was finished and Neji returned to his rooms along with his father, the young boy decided that it must not matter. He was branch family and thus lived only to serve the main family. If the Head of the clan did not approve of the one who was supposed to be his soul mate, it was within the man’s power to deny the match and choose one he found more palatable.

The day that Neji received his soul brand he realized the true extent of the cage that held him.

----

The day of Neji’s twenty-sixth birthday was a rather loud affair. With people like Naruto and Lee in his group of friends it was a wonder he had managed to talk them out of their terrible bar hopping idea. Still, the evening had been more pleasant than he imagined, full of good food and well wishes and all the people he cared for the most gathered all together.

A hand running down his arm caused Neji to turn away from the spectacle that Lee was making while trying to convince Ten Ten to dance with him. The acrobatics she employed to avoid his grasp were rather humorous. When he looked up it was in to the face of Nara Shikamaru, who graced him with a lazy smile.

“Enjoying yourself?” the younger man asked. Neji nodded once, reaching over to entwine their fingers.

“It isn’t too terrible,” he allowed in as haughty a voice as he could manage. His playful pretension earned him a chuckle as they both thought back to how difficult a child he had been. Their meeting had been neither smooth nor romantic. He had all but rejected his other half right from the start and it had been a long journey to get where they were now. The words ‘you’re in my way’ would forever rebuke him, written in gold.

“If His Birthday Highness isn’t satisfied, I could tell everyone to go home?” Shikamaru offered with mock-seriousness. Neji huffed.

“Troublesome,” he muttered and hid a grin. Shikamaru laughed and bumped their shoulders together.

As difficult as their road to happiness had been, it had been more than worth it. Neji would forever be grateful for his partner’s patience and perseverance. What he had done to deserve someone so wonderful was beyond him. Some day he hoped to find the words to tell the other man just how indebted he was to him for the love that they now shared.

Because with Shikamaru at his side, Neji was free.

Chapter Text

Hashirama sometimes dreamed of war. Not the war that played on the news on television all the time, men and women firing automatic weapons at each other in far off places. No, Hashirama dreamed of chaotic warring states in a world where men and women molded the elements with only their hands. He dreamed of child soldiers and kunai and a family that looked like his but different, angrier, deadlier. Most often, however, he dreamed of a person. Sometimes he was a boy with messy black hair, a wild smile, and dreams of peace to protect their loved ones. Other times he was a man broken by hatred and betrayal, bathed in blood and screaming while they clashed their swords against each other.

Hashirama had never mentioned the dreams to anyone before. He knew what they were, of course. Hashirama dreamed of his soulmate and the life they had lived in a previous incarnation. Sometimes in the privacy of his room he tried to call on his chakra the way he had been able to in that life. It never worked quite the same but he could feel the energy simmering just below his skin and that was enough for him to believe that it had all been real.

One month before his sixteenth birthday, the first day of a new school year, Hashirama stepped in to his new homeroom class with a smile on his face. He wasn’t particularly good in school but his naturally cheerful disposition ensured that he always had friends to lean on everywhere he went. As he headed towards the back to sit next to someone he knew, a shoulder bumped in to his.

“Watch it,” someone growled at him.

“Sorry, sorry!” he replied, turning to see who was there. The moment he laid eyes on the boy it was as if all the air had been sucked from his lungs.

Wild black hair framed a face that he had known since his earliest memories. Dark eyes looked back at him with the same surprise he currently felt. Thin brows, a straight nose, and a rounded chin formed the handsomest face he had ever seen. Hashirama felt a wide smile blooming across his own.

“Hi, I’m Hashirama,” he said quietly. The boy blinked and nodded slowly.

“Madara,” he answered shortly. He jumped when Hashirama put a hand on his shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze.

“Let’s have a happier ending than the last time, ok?”

Madara’s smirk is just as he remembers it from his dreams. The past had been hard and full of hurt. Somehow he just knows that this future will be better.

Chapter Text

Tobirama tugged fitfully on the hair that brushed the tips of his ears, a habit he had developed during his eighteenth year when his body had frozen in time and it had stopped growing. If asked how old he was now, Tobirama would answer that he was still eighteen. He had been the same age for fifteen years and whenever he tugged on the hair above his ear it was a surefire sign that something was bothering him. Sometimes it was annoyance over whatever his brother had done this time. Sometimes it was nerves because one of their patrols should have been home three days ago. Right now it was restlessness over having to wait for something he should have been a part of.

Next to him, Hashirama eyed the hair-tugging and smiled, though he said nothing. Hashirama had spent only two years at the age of eighteen before he had begun to age again, though he hadn’t actually met his soulmate until a few years after that. Tobirama often envied him. It must be nice to have someone the way that his brother had Mito, someone to welcome him home and hold him close at night. Tobirama had been waiting for his someone for a long time now. Sometimes he was sure he would never find them, not even if he someday, finally, began to age again. He was aware that re-aging could mean one of two things: either your soulmate had also reached eighteen years old or it meant that they had died before that age.

As his fingers tugged on his locks one more, Hashirama finally turned to him and reached out, stilling his pale hand with a large tanned one and lowering it back to his side.

“Everything will be fine, little brother,” the Hokage tried to comfort him. Tobirama sighed and crossed his arms.

“I should have been here for the last months of their training,” he grumbled for what may have been the hundredth time. He was still wearing the clothes he had been wearing when he arrived in the village only hours before. Travel dust clung to every crevice on his body and he couldn’t wait to bathe.

“I needed you in the Land of Lightning,” Hashirama reiterated from a conversation they’d already had. “It was a delicate situation and I needed someone capable of diplomacy. I love Madara like family but he’s not the best at being diplomatic when he disagrees with something.”

Tobirama huffed and muttered, “I didn’t even get the chance to see them before everything started. I haven’t wished any of them good luck.” Hashirama shook his head, smiling once again.

“They know you wish them the best,” was all he offered. Tobirama sighed again.

His two genin teams had grown so much since he had first began their training. Today they were to take the jōnin selection exam for the first time and he was certain that almost all of them would pass. Danzo, perhaps, he would hope was held back. There were certain ideals that the boy held which weren’t the healthiest and he hoped to work on them more before the boy was declared fully independent. Hiruzen and Kagami, on the other hand, were the two he was most certain of. If either of them weren’t chosen as jōnin he would be demanding explanations from someone.

The exams were private, unlike the chūnin selections. As their teacher he should have been allowed to spectate but he had arrived too late. All he could do now was wait here until the six young students he had trained came out to tell him their news. He didn’t notice that his hand had returned to his hair until Hashirama caught it with his own again. He gave his brother an exasperated look when he didn’t let go, then raised an eyebrow when he noticed the older man’s sudden scrutiny.

“What?” he growled. Hashirama tilted his head like a curious puppy.

“Brother...has your hair grown?” The hand holding his let go so that it could poke at his white locks.

Tobirama stared at him like he had lost his mind before batting the hand away and snapping, “Don’t be ridiculous. It hasn’t grown since the day I turned eighteen.” He frowned when his brother didn’t stop staring, only leaned in to inspect him closer.

“I’m serious, Tobirama. It looks longer!”

“You’ve never been serious a day in your life,” he murmured absently even as he gripped some of his fringe and pulled it down, eyeing it critically. Was it longer? Heedless of how ridiculous he would look if someone were to walk in right then, he pulled the hair as straight as possible so that it pressed up against his face, gauging it against where he knew it should have ended. His heart skipped a beat when he realized that Hashirama was right. “It is longer,” he breathed. “My hair is growing.”

The two brothers looked at each other, both with their eyebrows raised in surprise. Tobirama had been alive for 36 years and only now did he begin re-aging. Had his soulmate come of age?

“Do you know anyone who turned eighteen recently?” Hashirama asked as that ridiculously too-large smile of his spread across his face. Tobirama swallowed while he eyes widened in alarm.

“Two of my students,” he whispered. “Two of them had birthdays while I was away.”

He was suddenly finding it difficult to draw breath. Hashirama gripped his shoulder bracingly as he stared in to space and tried to process what this meant. Tobirama had been waiting for his soulmate for a very long time. The idea that he might finally find them was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. He found himself unprepared. He had no idea how to romance someone or how to date. He had no idea how to navigate the traps and pitfalls of a relationship. His only example was his brother and Mito and he was sure that their relationship was not the norm. Hashirama was the most powerful man in all the five elemental lands, yet Mito had the man eating out of her palm and bowing at her feet.

The prospect that it might be one of his students also contributed largely to his sudden anxiety. Only one of the two that had had a birthday was female. The possibility of Koharu as the one he was destined to be with was…not pleasant to say the least. He was fond of her as a student but he was sure they could not make each other happy romantically. Calming himself with deep breaths, Tobirama told himself that all he could do at the moment was wait and see.

It was yet another hour until the final participant had completed their task for the final exam. Hashirama left him alone and he used that time to calm himself. No one outside of the competition knew what the tasks were and he was looking forward to hearing what they had all been asked to do to prove their worth as elite shinobi. When finally the door opened and young men and women began to file out of the enclosed testing area, Tobirama’s hand automatically sought the hair above his ear again, tugging fitfully without noticing.

The first of his students that appeared was Hiruzen, who headed towards him with a proud grin. Tobirama offered a small smile of his own.

“Well done,” he said, not needing to hear the words to know that one of his most skilled has passed. Hiruzen bowed respectfully.

“It’s all thanks to you, sensei. We wouldn’t have made it anywhere near as far as we did without you.”

“Damn right!” Torifu stepped up beside his friend with a smile just as proud and his ever-present bag of snacks in one hand. “Sensei, check it out! We’re jōnin now!”

“Yes, I see that,” Tobirama indulged him while some of the others wormed their way through the crowd.

He looked up as Danzo arrived, just in time to hear the disgruntled young man growl, “Something’s different about you.” It wasn’t that surprising. Trust Danzo, of them all, to notice right away. He’d always had extremely keen eyes, able to notice small details at a glance. “Your hair, it’s longer.” Before he could respond Torifu scoffed.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Sensei’s hair can’t grow.” He rolled his eyes but Koharu, appearing between them, pinched his arm.

“It could if his soulmate reached eighteen,” she reminded him. They all stopped and gave her a significant look. Koharu cleared her throat and took a deep breath before meeting her sensei’s eyes. It was with a large amount of relief on both sides that they came to the same conclusion: they were not each other’s soulmates. Though they were both of age, there was no pull between them. Koharu sagged with relief. Tobirama did so internally, though he refrained from being obvious about it, and shook his head to inform the others of the good news. It was best to keep their relationship as student and sensei. They would never be closer than that.

The crowd parted to their left and two bodies stumbled in to their small corner gathering. Kagami leaned on Homura with his eyes closed, fanning himself. Homura was bent over taking large gulps of air. The pair of them looked as if they had released a fire jutsu in a broom closet while still standing inside it.

“Alright, jōnin promotion or not, I would not recommend pissing off Proctor Ogawa. That was close.” Kagami straightened up and looked around, frowning when he noticed his teammates staring at him. “What? I didn’t mean to.” Most of them shook their head. Koharu grinned in a feral manner.

“Guess what Kagami? Sensei started re-aging,” she cooed. “Didn’t you just have a birthday?”

Kagami shrugged and said, “Yeah a couple months ago but I don’t see what that has to do with Sensei. Although, congrats sensei! Did you find them yet?” He looked over finally, making eye contact with Tobirama for the first time.

It felt a bit like someone reaching down in to his very core, gripping his soul itself, and pulling hard in one direction. That direction being Kagami. They stared at each other in surprise. Tobirama wondered why he hadn’t even considered this. Probably because Kagami was male and soulmate pairings between two of the same gender simply weren’t as common. They happened of course but it was believed by many that soulmates were supposed to be genetically matched for the perfect offspring. Tobirama had always secretly thought that was utter horseshit. Soulmates were for love.

And his soulmate was his student.

“I think I just did,” he heard someone say. It sounded like his own voice but he couldn’t remember speaking.

“I knew it!” Koharu crowed while the others around them gaped in surprise. Kagami and Tobirama continued to stare at one another in silence until Torifu took one of their arms each in his massive, meaty hands.

“This should be private, guys, give them a minute alone!” With that, Tobirama found himself and his soulmate shoved in to one of the empty rooms off of the meeting area that was still full of people.

The door slammed behind them and he found himself alone with Uchiha Kagami, the soulmate he had been waiting for all his life. He had no idea what to say. Or do. He stared in wonder, taking in everything about Kagami that he noticed a million times before but couldn’t help noticing again.

Like almost everyone in his clan, Kagami had inky black hair and matching eyes. His locks were slightly curly and bounced when he ran. Tobirama happened to know that if he ruffled the young man’s hair the locks would jump back in to place like gently coiled springs. He had the same finely-cut features as anyone from his heritage could expect, although his eyes were gentler than most. He was of average height, standing several inches below Tobirama, just enough that he could bend and tuck his head under the elder’s chin. Tobirama swallowed and looked away, picturing it.

“Are you disappointed, sensei?” the young man’s quiet voice made his head snap back around.

“Disappointed?” he repeated, stunned. “No. Just very surprised.” A thought came to him and he tugged at the hair that had started everything. “Are you?”

Kagami shook his head vehemently and exclaimed, “Not at all! It’s – ah – well. Promise you won’t laugh?” Tobirama nodded once. “I’ve sort of had a crush on you ever since I hit puberty. I used to pretend that you were my soulmate just waiting for me to grow up. The fact that you actually are is…wow.”

Tobirama stared at him, even more unsure of what to say now. Kagami offered him a sheepish grin and a shrug, entirely unrepentant in the face of his dreams coming true. The Senju wasn’t sure what to do with knowing that someone had thought of him that way. He’d never seen himself as particularly desirable. His looks were usually described as ‘strange’ and his personality as ‘cold’. Apparently the universe really did know what it was doing, pairing him with the one person who had ever seen any sort of romantic worth in him.

“I’m not entirely sure what to do now,” he finally admitted in a quiet voice. It was a hard thing to admit. He was used to being the sensei, the leader. Now he would need to learn to see Kagami as a partner instead, an equal in all things. When Kagami smiled he noticed for some reason how attractive it was. He’d never noticed that before.

“Well, I’ve got something we could try,” the Uchiha said. Tobirama made a curious sound.

Instead of answering, Kagami quickly covered the small distance between them and surprised him by landing a kiss directly on his lips, slowing his momentum just in time for the gesture to be soft and tender rather than a spontaneous head butt. When the younger man pulled away Tobirama stared at him with saucer-wide eyes, his brain completely shutting down. To his horror he could feel a magnificent blush rising on his cheeks. He hadn’t blushed since going through puberty at the age of twelve, when he’d discovered his brother’s stash of magazines.

“Oh my god, sensei!” Kagami squealed upon seeing his blush.

“Don’t kiss me and call me sensei!” Tobirama growled, as usual resorting to anger to cover his emotions. Long used to him, Kagami grinned and leaned in for a second kiss. Tobirama made a soft noise of surprise but he managed to kiss back this time, drawing it out until Kagami was the one making noises in the back of his throat. This time when they parted they were both flushed. It was only partly from embarrassment.

Kagami cleared his throat and asked, “So what do I call you then?” in a voice that was strangely husky. Tobirama shifted his weight, feeling strange.

“By my name, of course.” His former student hummed contemplatively. Then he grinned darkly.

“I always called you Tobirama in my dreams,” he said. The Senju gaped, stuttering through a few half sentences of gibberish as he tried to think of a way to respond. He’d never imagined that he would be so flustered by all this. Then, of course, his traitor mouth had to open again without his permission.

“What else did you dream about?”

By the glint in Kagami’s eye, he was sure he would regret that question.

Chapter Text

When Kakashi was younger he had a soulmate. He knew because he could feel their emotions the way he was supposed to. Not always; it was only the extreme emotions that bled through the tenuous connection. He could feel when they were very angry or very happy. It bothered him that they were often very sad. If he’d known who it was back then, he would have found them and made whatever had hurt them go away. Even at a young age Kakashi had been strong.

Throughout some of his childhood Kakashi had noticed a pattern. His soulmate often felt anger or fear at the same time that he did. He wondered then if it might have something to do with them being so in sync with each other or if it was only coincidence that the events of their days matched up so well. It was just strange that every time he got in to an argument with Obito they also felt angry and every time Rin started flirting with him they also felt annoyed. It never occurred to him that perhaps they might be experiencing the same emotions because they were experiencing the same events together.

On the day he lost Obito, Kakashi had felt the boy’s pain. He had woken from his blow to the head to feel it rippling through his mind, making him grit his teeth to bite back the screams. When his eyes fell upon Obito it had all come crashing down on him. His soulmate had been there in front of him all this time and he had never known. And now his soulmate lay dying, crushed and bleeding under a boulder that had been meant for him. When the cave continued to collapse Kakashi had pulled Rin to safety and the two of them escaped together, but Kakashi had felt Obito’s pain for a long time afterwards. It had taken him over an hour to die. Kakashi had wished he could die in his place.

In the months that followed Kakashi’s emotions were all over the place. He felt like he was going out of his head, unable to concentrate, feeling strange things at strange times. It was as if his brain were creating the ghosts of emotions that Obito should be feeling as a strange method of coping with the loss of a soulmate he had never gotten to be with. He felt himself slipping more and more until things culminated during the mission that cost him Rin. As he stared in to her eyes, his arm through her chest, his emotions were so intense and varied that he couldn’t process them all. He felt despair, confusion, helplessness, rage. As she whispered his name and fell backwards, already dead, Kakashi’s mind overloaded and for a while he blacked out. When he came to the enemy were no more and he lay surrounded by blood and corpses.

As if that short-circuit had finally jolted the echoes of emotions from him, all Kakashi felt after that was numb. He felt empty inside and out. Things worsened a year later when he lost Minato-sensei. Everything and everyone that had ever been able to evoke emotion from him had slipped through his fingers one by one, leaving him to go on alone with a dead heart.

Life wasn’t happy when he could feel nothing, but in some ways it was easier. It was easier to do his job when he didn’t care. It was easier to end a life when he didn’t feel. It was easier to withstand torture when he couldn’t hurt. When he felt anything it was muted, quiet. He would be a little annoyed when his plans went wrong. He would be a little worried when his ANBU comrades were in danger. They were, after all, his responsibility and he had made it a personal mission to keep as many soldiers alive as possible. So that they could continue to fight for the village of course.

Meeting his genin team was like ripping a bandage off of a wound that had never closed. Kakashi looked at his three little students and saw the faces that were frozen in a photograph by his bedside. Being around them brought emotions back to him that he had thought were beyond his reach forever. He began to feel again. It was painful. It was also very worth it. Even after Sasuke betrayed them and left the village, having Naruto and Sakura in his life was like having a pair of suns that he could warm himself by when the days got cold and lonely.

As the fourth shinobi war crested and broke its waves of fear across the shinobi nations, Kakashi realized that he felt something that he had not felt since he had lost his soulmate. He felt love. He loved his students and he loved his friends. He would do anything – give anything – to keep them alive. As he marched to battle at the head of the Third Division he vowed to do everything he could to protect the few that he had left.

As the skirmishes wore on and he joined Naruto in battle against the one who called himself Tobi, Kakashi felt a strange mix of the numbness from his younger years and the newer, warmer emotions that he had rediscovered. Flashes of anger and despair confused him but there was little time to be distracted. Not when the final prize of this battle was the fate of the world itself.

And then the mask fell away and Kakashi could not have described how he felt, not with an entire dictionary full of words. As pain and hurt and confusion tore through him, paralyzing his body, he could see Obito wince. Obito, who should be dead. Obito who was trying to destroy the world. Obito, who looked at him and he could feel the anger building up and flooding the connection he had thought broken years ago.

They clashed. They fought the way they used to, bringing all of their jutsu and skill to bear. Except this time Kakashi found that his heart simply wasn’t in it. He had no desire to defeat Obito, only to stop him from putting his insane plans in to action. It was his reluctance that doomed them.

Kakashi was smart. He could put things together from the clues given to him. He could tell that Obito, unlike him, had never realized who his true soulmate was. Rin’s death had caused them both pain and emptied both of their hearts, and Kakashi had spent the rest of his life feeling things only faintly, not strongly enough for it to be felt by the other. It seemed that the discovery of Kakashi having been his soulmate, not their other teammate, was not being handled well.

A revived Uchiha Madara was terrifying. Otsutsuki Kaguya was beautiful and terrifying. The Infinite Tsukuyomi was beyond all comprehension. Still Kakashi forced his tired body and weeping mind to fight on. His chest felt like it was on a rollercoaster as at first it seemed that Obito was dead again, then he was alive to help them fight. Then he was hopping dimensions with Sakura. Then finally, for the first time since they were twelve years old, Kakashi and Obito stood side by side, fighting together towards a common goal.

When the bone spear pierced Obito’s body, Kakashi felt it in his own. He watched the man he should have lived a life with crumble to ash, his heart crumbling with him. Obito’s last words were for Naruto, not him, and somehow that was what hurt the most. Though they had reconciled in the end, it seemed that he had truly never meant anything special to his other half.

Or so he thought. He could barely react as the still warm ashes of his soulmate suddenly began to emit a familiar chakra and he found himself in a limbo state similar to the one he had met his father in, on the day he had nearly died. There, he and Obito were able to have the final words that there hadn’t been time for before. Kakashi felt his soulmate’s chakra flooding through his system as, for the last time, he wielded his borrowed Sharingan. It was an incredible sensation. For just that one short moment in time they were completely one with each other.

Yet, like all of the other good things in Kakashi’s life, it ended too soon. Obito was passing on and he told Kakashi not to hurry. They were able to say their final goodbyes as friends. It was better than their last parting, which he was thankful for, but still he mourned for what they could have had.

As he watched Obito fade from his sight and felt his chakra fade from his body, Kakashi felt a strange dichotomy within himself. He felt hollower and lonelier than ever before in his life. His soulmate was truly gone this time and circumstances had stolen what happiness should have been theirs. Yet, he also felt light, open, free. In the end Obito had forgiven him. In the end he still had friends and precious students. His life would go on without an epic tale of passion. He would never experience the fulfillment that he read about in his romance novels. But that did not mean that it would be empty. It wasn’t everything, but it was enough. And when he finally lay his head down to rest he knew Obito was waiting for him. They would have the rest of eternity to spend together.

Chapter Text

Sai was born with a red string around his wrist. Almost all babies were. The string was supposed to lead you to your soulmate, to that one person who you were meant to be with. Sai did not remember his parents or his earliest years. The first memory that Sai could recall was the day that he untied the string. When the knot came undone the thread leading out of the room ceased to be visible, leaving only a short length of string dangling from his hand. He placed it in his bedside table and resolved to forget about it. He was a member of ROOT and this was no place for soulmates. Emotions and desires did not belong here.

For a few years it worked and Sai did not think at all about that red string or the fact that his perfect match was somewhere out there, unable to find him. He served under Danzo in the organization, following orders without question or feeling. It took until he was sixteen for things to change. It took meeting Naruto Uzumaki.

Naruto had a way about him that made you believe in things, made you feel things. After only a few months of knowing Naruto, Sai began to think about the string that he had hid away from himself. If he tied it back on what would he find at the other end? Could there really still be a match out there for someone like him? After all the things he had done he was inclined to believe he didn’t deserve them.

With doubt in his heart, Sai put things off for a long time. He reasoned with himself each time that he was only being practical. He needed to help Naruto search for Sasuke, there was little time to spend on his own agenda. He needed to serve Konoha in the war to save shinobi kind, that wouldn’t be a good environment to meet someone in. He needed to help support Kakashi-sensei, now Hokage-sama, as he sought to calm the world after the upheaval caused by the war and usher in a new era of peace.

Years went by and Sai made up excuse after excuse until finally he admitted to himself what was really going on. He was afraid. Tying that string on his wrist and following the thread to the other end was a huge risk for someone like him. What if he had been broken by ROOT? What if he wasn’t capable of loving his soulmate the way he was supposed to? He was terrified that they wouldn’t understand and he would lose them before they even had a chance to begin their journey together.

Once again it took Naruto Uzumaki to get him going.

“Don’t be stupid,” were the exact words that the tactless blond had used, Sakura nodding beside him. “They’re your soulmate, of course they’ll understand! Of course they’ll want you!” With that said, Sai had been marched straight in to his sparse bedroom where he opened his bedside drawer and observed the treasure inside. The red color of the string had never faded, staying as bright and bold as the day he was born. Plucking it from its dark resting place Sai held it up in front of his eyes, wondering if it had been this long when he was a child. Did the string grow with him to fit whatever size he grew to be?

“Get on with it!” Sakura huffed, having no patience for his philosophical wonderings. “Here, gimme.” Without further ado the pink haired woman had grabbed his wrist and tied the string around it with an intricate knot. As soon as it settled in to place Sai could see the thread that led from his wrist out the window, leading him away through the village and possibly beyond. It would be visible only to him and whoever waited at the other end.

The ex-ANBU frowned in uncertainty. Should he follow it now? Should he wait for his soulmate to find him? Perhaps there was a book in the library that might tell him the protocols of a situation like this.

“Come on! Let’s follow it!” Sai looked up in slight alarm as Naruto and Sakura both grabbed arm, turning him about and dragging him through his tiny apartment.

“But it doesn’t go this way,” he protested faintly. His two teammates stopped and stared at him. “Should we be doing this? Am I supposed to follow it? Maybe I should go to the library…”

Naruto groaned and declared, “No libraries! No books! Where does it go?”

Reluctantly, Sai pointed out where the thread was leading him. The three of them turned around as one unit and headed back through his bedroom, climbing out the window and down the fire escape. As unsure as he was about this whole thing, he found that he was glad to have such strong bonds as he did with Naruto and Sakura. He was grateful not to be doing this alone.

Following his string took them on a meandering journey through back alleys and side streets, showing them a side of Konoha none of them had taken the time to explore before. Sakura told him it was a good sign that the string spent so much time wandering through the village. It increased the chances that his soulmate was here instead of somewhere in another village. If that were the case then he would have needed to request leave to try and go find them.

Eventually the thread led him to a building. More specifically, a hotel. Ignoring the girl at the desk despite her polite greeting, the trio followed the trail all the way up to the third floor. There, they found themselves standing outside of room 316. Sai stared at the wooden barrier before him, his heart beating wildly. On the other side of this door was his soulmate. On the other side of this door was hope. He was not so distracted, however, to miss the significant look that passed between his two companions. He offered them what he hoped was a curious face.

“What is it?” he asked. Naruto rubbed the back of his head.

“That’s Sasuke’s room,” the blond informed him. “He’s back for a while. Checking in with Kakashi-sensei, you know? I wonder why your soulmate is visiting Sasuke.”

Sakura gave her friend an incredulous look as she muttered, “You are such an idiot.” Then she turned back to encourage Sai to knock on the door.

With his stomach in his throat, he did so. A deep voice called from inside, asking them to wait. Sai looked down and fiddled with the string on his wrist, running a finger along it and trying to imagine what his person would look like. Would they be tall? Short? Thin? Muscled? He tried to think of what he might prefer but such preferences had been beaten out of him at a young age. He wondered if they would mind that.

When the door opened, Sai slowly looked up from his wrist to see Uchiha Sasuke standing in the doorway. It wasn’t so surprising. It was, after all, his hotel room. What was surprising was that the string around Sai’s wrist ran along the ground to connect directly to the one tied around Sasuke’s wrist. The Uchiha followed where he was looking and his eyes widened in shock.

“You!” Sasuke exclaimed. He didn’t sound happy, although he didn’t sound upset either. He mostly just sounded surprised, like he had never considered this outcome.

“Holy crap your soulmate is Sasuke!?” Naruto’s voice boomed right next to his ear.

“Such an idiot,” Sakura mourned. “Did you really not see it coming? You told him it was Sasuke’s room!”

Sai eyed the man in front of him with a critical eye and found himself not at all disappointed. Once he thought about it, it actually made a great deal of sense. He couldn’t think of a single person he could relate to more. Sasuke was every bit as broken as he was; they would understand each other very well.

With happy feelings blossoming inside him, Sai put on the most sincere smile that he could muster.

”Hello, soulmate.”

Chapter Text

Iruka giggled as he squirmed farther back in to the branches of the tree he had settled in. He knew from experience that this spot was excellent for hiding from his angry elders and right now he really needed a place to hide. He’d set off a smoke bomb in class because Nobuyuki-sensei had been extra boring that day. Once he’d escaped the classroom it had naturally followed that the twelve year old pulled as many pranks as he could around town before someone figured out it was him. Getting chased was fun. It meant that the grown-ups had to pay attention to him, even if just for a little while. Iruka liked making them search for him. Making them go through so much effort was the best part.

A rustle of leaves only a few trees to the south had him stifling his giggles behind a hand, hiding the wide grin on his face. No one had ever found him in this hiding spot and he was sure they wouldn’t now. He didn’t know what had made the hole in the tree but the way the branches grew meant that it was completely invisible unless you knew it was there. His small body was the perfect size for curling up in to it and disappearing while the adults went whizzing by, muttering angrily to themselves about whatever prank he had most recently pulled.

His smug thoughts were broken when a hand suddenly reached through his leafy cover, pulling aside the branches to reveal the mask of an ANBU agent. He gaped up at them in consternation. A grinning mask with painted streaks depicting a stylized dog stared back at him. Behind the mask, someone huffed irritably, then the hand not holding branches aside reached in to his hidey hole and grasped him by the scruff of the neck.

Iruka squawked indignantly as he was hauled out and held up in the air like a doll. Flailing his limbs did absolutely nothing to loosen the iron hold on him, so he went still and settled for crossing his arms and glaring. The ANBU chuckled but said nothing. It wasn’t a deep and scary laugh as one might expect of the demons that parents used to scare children in to good behavior. It was soft and slightly higher than was typical of a grown man. It made Iruka stop and take a good look at his captor.

The uniform was tight and minimal, showcasing the scrawny limbs and elongated torso of someone in the midst of a growth spurt they hadn’t fully completed yet. Messy hair spilled in every direction possible, swaying with the slight breeze and obscuring the edges of their mask. Under the armor flexed the muscles of someone who trained hard every day and had done so for a long time. One thing stuck in Iruka’s mind: this was not the body of an adult. His captor could not be much older than himself! Of course, as soon as curiosity took hold of his mind, his mouth followed behind at a mile a minute.

“You’re ANBU! How old are you? You can’t be older than me by much! I’m Iruka. I’m twelve. How did you get to ANBU so young? Will you teach me? You must know lots of cool tricks! I like playing tricks! Why don’t you say anything? Are you shy, ANBU-san? It’s okay, I’ll be your friend! How did you find me? Wait I know! You’re a dog so did you smell me?”

His flow of questions stopped at last when a gloved finger was pressed against his lips. He hadn’t registered how still the other boy was until he had suddenly moved and it succeeded in startling him in to silence. That was when he noticed how the finger against his lips was trembling.

Slowly, the older boy set him on his feet so they stood facing each other on the thick tree branch a dozen feet above the ground. Iruka watched as his captor lifted the hand that had held him to remove the porcelain dog mask. He gasped in delight as it was lowered. He’d heard that ANBU were never supposed to remove their disguise. Then he groaned in exasperation when he saw that there was another mask underneath, this one formed of black spandex. One dark eye was staring at him in wonder, its twin held closed almost as if by the scar that ran through it. He’d been right in his estimation of age. The boy that was awkwardly clearing his throat couldn’t be more than a few years above him.

His entire world was then turned upside down by the softly spoken words, “Hello Iruka. My name is Kakashi.”

He watched, fascinated, as the world around him lit up with color. It looked as though beams of every color imaginable were spilling from the older boy’s mouth with each word, streaking away to find their places in the forest scenery. He remembered his parents, before they had died, telling him stories of the day they had met. They had told him he would know his soulmate the moment he met them because they would put color in to Iruka’s world. He hadn’t known what ‘colors’ were. He’d had no idea they were this beautiful.

“Wow,” he whispered, watching the beams of color trailing off in to the air. His gaze snapped back to the eye that was watching him carefully. “A soulmate. I’ve got a soulmate! Hi Kakashi!” Then he leapt forward to throw his arms around the boy, who caught him with a surprised grunt. He felt a hand hesitantly cradle the back of his head where it pressed in to the ANBU’s chest plate.

“Yeah. Hi.” Kakashi, he decided, was slightly awkward. That was okay, though. Kakashi was his soulmate and Iruka already knew that he would love him with his entire tiny heart.

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The first time Karin met Suigetsu, she decided straight away that he must be her enemy. The red ink of his name on her left wrist seemed to mock her as she watched him through the glass of his holding tank. His body was only half formed inside the water, causing him to ripple and blur while he spoke with Orochimaru. He was boastful and loud – two things she had never appreciated. Karin was more used to the quiet, to being forgotten in a corner until her skills were needed. Suigetsu, it seemed, was the type of person to force people to remember him by getting right up in their faces.

She showed her contempt of him by taking part in the experiments Orochimaru performed on the young man. She told herself that she didn’t like the way he smelled of the ocean no matter how long they kept him locked up in the eastern hideout. She told herself that his white hair and lavender eyes were an ugly combination and his sharp teeth weren’t attractive at all. She was destined to be an enemy to this loudmouth and she made sure that he knew it, especially when he finally learned her name and she saw him glance at his own left wrist.

The first time Karin met Sasuke, she absolutely knew that he was her soulmate. He was cool and ruthless, strong and handsome, and she knew with a certainty that his name in red on her right wrist must mean love. Although Sasuke never showed her his own wrists she was sure that her name must be written there. It had to be. Sasuke was every girl’s dream but it was her that was marked to be with him.

She showed him her love by following his orders and joining his team when he asked it of her. Sasuke played hard to get quite well but it never deterred her in her quest to finally earn his favor. Her theory was that Sasuke must have two girl’s names on his wrist and was withholding judgment on which one she was. She therefore put all of her time and energy in to convincing him that she was the most perfect match for him. Karin told herself that she loved his favorite foods. She told herself that the strange choppy cut of his hair was endearing, not at all awkward-looking. She told herself she wasn’t afraid of him, whispered it in the back of her mind when he looked at her with cold, indifferent eyes.

The months the three of them spent together with Jugo as Team Taka (and later Team Hebi) could only be described as surreal. Karin had spent years under the thumb of Orochimaru, slowly learning to build herself up despite the way that snake man sought to hold her mind and spirit down. She had self-confidence and self-respect, finally, after a childhood of being used and thrown away like trash. So Karin told herself that throwing away her own desires to always be what Sasuke needed was just her being a good soulmate. She told herself that every time he ignored her he was just playing hard to get. She told herself that the way Suigetsu watched her with rolling eyes and scornful words didn’t hurt. She would win her soulmate in the end. Sasuke would make her happy!

Karin became so good at willingly pulling the wool over her own eyes that the day Sasuke betrayed her, she could say she truly never saw it coming. The blade of lightning through her chest hurt more than just physically. It felt as if Sasuke had pierced her soul, her dreams. In one bloody gesture he had torn apart the illusions she had blinded herself with and left her with nothing but regrets.

The shock of it lasted through her healing and her journey to the Leaf Village to be their prisoner. When her stupor finally started to lift Karin was sitting in a cell in the Interrogation Department, staring at the names written across her wrists in red. With a gentle finger she traced the name she had always scorned, following the vein that ran underneath, connected directly to her heart. Perhaps Suigetsu deserved more thought. It was possible she had been wrong.

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Hana loved her work more than absolutely everything. Working with animals was her true calling and she could not imagine a more fulfilling vocation. Every day she brought joy and health to the lives of dogs, cats, rabbits, and any number of other small animals. Her specialty, however, was in dogs and she felt no guilt about having a soft spot for them. She was an Inuzuka after all.

She was, however, slightly embarrassed to have a favorite client. She would allow her bonded companion to bite whoever pointed it out but Hana might have dressed a little nicer than usual today after seeing who her last appointment was. Hatake Kakashi was half the reason her clinic stayed in business. With eight dogs to take care of it was rare for a full month to pass by without him booking an appointment for one thing or another. Hana adored every single one of his dogs. She also happened to adore him as well. It was hard not to considering the older man was nothing more than an oversized puppy.

Getting through the day was hard when the one appointment she was excited about getting to was scheduled for the very end of her shift. The hours seemed to drag until her lunch break and then continued to drag afterward. Finally, as she was finishing up some paperwork about the operation from last week, Hana’s nose twitched. She smiled as a familiar scent wafted in from the waiting room. It seemed that Kakashi had arrived with Bull.

Not wanting to seem overeager, Hana waited until her assistant came to let her know that they were here before standing and making her way out of her tiny office. Kakashi was sitting on the floor with his legs splayed out. Bull sat in between his knees, attempting to bathe his owners face with sloppy kisses from a slobbery wet tongue while Kakashi guarded his face with his hands and laughed. Hana took a moment to enjoy the sight in silence, allowing the man a moment to enjoy himself. Not many people were aware of her friendship with Kakashi as the two of them generally ran in different social circles. He seemed to like it that way, though, as it made her clinic one of the few places that he could let go of things and just be himself.

When Bull lifted one paw and started to push against Kakashi’s shoulder, almost toppling the poor man, Hana finally alerted them to her presence. Not that they hadn’t known she was there before. Kakashi’s sense of smell was on par with her own.

“Is that my favorite bulldog? Who’s a good boy, Bull? Who’s a good boy?” The gigantic canine immediately abandoned his owner in favor of turning to her with a deep booming woof, tongue lolling out as he grinned happily. Hana smiled and rubbed at his floppy ears. On the floor, Kakashi lowered his hands at last to peek up at her. He was wearing a grin of his own.

“Thank you,” he said meekly, obviously holding in a laugh. She shook her head in mock disapproval.

“You’re supposed to be the boss, Hatake. How can you let him corner you like that?” She tutted as she turned and walked away, Bull following at her heels and Kakashi scrambling to do the same.

His footfalls made no noise but she could hear him right behind her as he said, “Hmm, and I suppose you never let Natsuki boss you around.” Hana chose not to answer him, ignoring the way her wolfhound companion huffed amusedly as they entered the room. Instead she gathered her implements and got straight to Bull’s checkup while Kakashi collapsed in to his favorite chair in the corner. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted the way he seemed to curl slightly inward like a dog might if it were injured. She made a note not to let him get away without his own checkup.

Bull was in today to get treated for an irregularity in his breathing. She had to commend her friend for noticing something that most people might not and for being concerned enough to bring the dog in. After a few tests she determined it to be an allergic reaction to a certain kind of plant, found only in the Land of Rivers. Seeing as the Copy Ninja and his summons had just spent two weeks in that area for a mission it was easy to see where he might have come in contact with it. She prescribed him a special shampoo to wash out his fur with and an easy-to-swallow diet until the swelling in his airways went down.

Then she turned to her friend.

“Alright, your turn,” she announced in the same tone she used to make her younger brother sit up straight and do as he was told. Kakashi blinked up at her with as innocent an expression as he could manage with his face mostly covered. It was surprisingly effective. She still knew better.

“My turn? I can’t imagine what you’re –”

“Kakashi I can smell blood and it isn’t Bull’s,” she interrupted him. “Not to mention the way you’re favoring your right side. You’re injured and avoiding the hospital. As usual.”

His eyes drifted slightly off to the side, a sure sign he was hiding something, as he murmured, “It isn’t a big deal Hana, it’ll heal on its own.” When she continued to stare him down silently he widened his eye. “I promise if it gets infected I’ll get it looked at?” Hana snorted in time with Natsuki.

“No you won’t,” she disagreed. “Now get on the table.” Kakashi avoided hospitals like the plague because he had trust issues. But he trusted her and he had let her fix him up on her exam table numerous times before. Her medical jutsu were aimed towards animal anatomy so there was only so much she could do but she would do it in a heartbeat if it meant he would accept some kind of treatment.

“Really, I think I’ll be okay,” Kakashi hedged again. She eyed him suspiciously.

“You’re being cagey,” she pointed out. “What is it about the wound that you don’t want me to see?”

Hana was absolutely fascinated to watch a blush spread out across the top of Kakashi’s mask. They had been friends for a number of years now and she could only remember seeing him blush maybe once before. He raised a hand to rub at the nape of his neck uncomfortably.

“It’s – haha – why would you – no I – it’s not – uhm!” He stammered through a few more disconnected words while Hana looked on, more and more intrigued by the second, until finally he drooped his head like a puppy and mumbled something very quietly. His entire face was so red she was worried he might overheat.

“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that,” she said without mercy.

“I said it’s on my ass! I got a kunai in my ass!” His hands both clamped down on his mouth and horror filled his eyes as he registered that he had just shouted that, probably loud enough for the receptionist girls to hear. Hana bit down on both of her lips and tried – really she did – not to laugh.

It didn’t work. Kakashi’s pouting only made her laugh even harder until tears streamed down her cheeks. Bull and Natsuki, curled up together on the dog bed in the corner, had their heads buried in the soft material. Muffled canine chuckles could still be heard though.

By the time Hana finally managed to pull herself together her belly had started to hurt from the laughter. A few chuckles continued to escape as she used the collar of her white medical jacket to wipe the tears from her face. She couldn’t remember the last time she laughed like that. She didn’t even feel bad. Kakashi had been sitting on the floor earlier so obviously it wasn’t too bad, although she had seen the man walk home on a leg broken in two places. Still. A kunai in the ass. That was funny! She patted the exam table with one hand and tried for an apologetic face.

“Okay, I’m sorry Kakashi. But you should still get that looked at.” She gave him a mischievous look. “I promise I won’t tell anyone that I saw your tushy.”

Kakashi did rise from his chair, blush not entirely gone, but he still looked hesitant. His hand tugged at the hem of his vest in an adorable display of bashfulness. She knew better than a lot of people that Kakashi didn’t cover up to look mysterious or cool. He covered as much of himself as possible because he was shy.

“It’s…not just that,” her friend mumbled even as he allowed her to lead him to the exam table by the arm. She raised an eyebrow. “It’s right next to my soul mark. That’s really private, you know?”

Comprehension dawned on her and Hana gave him arm a sympathetic squeeze. She did know. Most people kept their soul marks private until they thought they had found the person it was meant for. Hana was one of those people herself, although hers presented a common problem: it was too generalized. The vague outline of what appeared to be a litter of pups on her ribs could be absolutely anyone in her clan. For her to see Kakashi’s mark was an extremely intimate thing but Hana was of the opinion that health came before comfort zones.

“It is private,” she agreed, “but the wound needs to be cared for. You know that. I’ll try not to look too closely. I could get you something to hold over it?”

Kakashi mumbled under his breath that he was still going to have to show her his ass but he did reach slowly for the button of his pants. Hana smiled and fetched him a towel. How many girls in this village would give their right lung just to be able to see Hatake Kakashi bent over her medical table with his ass hanging out? Probably a good three quarters of them.

She tried not to smile as Kakashi faced away and slowly pulled the waist of his pants down, bringing his underwear down at the same time to reveal the palest bottom she had ever seen. His skin was almost as white as his hair and the hard-earned muscles in his butt had her wiping away a tiny bit of drool. Fighting to remain professional, she turned her eyes towards the ceiling until Kakashi had placed the towel over himself and then forced her gaze towards the wounded area.

It looked as though he had barely dodged a flying kunai instead of being stabbed with it as she had assumed. The cut was about an inch long and it wasn’t so deep that had to worry about hidden debris inside. However, it was obviously a couple days old and had not been properly cared for. Kakashi held still as she cleaned out the wound and stitched the two edges together. She knew only one basic healing jutsu that was safe to use on humans and it did little more than lower the inflammation around the area but she could see his muscles relaxing as her chakra seeped away the pain.

When she had done all that she could Hana taped a bandage over the cut. If she spent a little bit more time than necessary making sure that the adhesive tape was properly applied, that was her own business. Kakashi had a fine ass and she had no qualms with taking her opportunities as they came. When she could draw it out no longer Hana couldn’t resist a little teasing.

“All done, Kakashi. Shame. I was having fun.” She accompanied her bold words with a friendly pat on the cloth covered side of his ass, not quite prepared for the severity of his reaction.

Kakashi yelped and jumped almost a foot off the ground, half turning around to look at her in shock. Then he realized that turning around would expose certain other parts of him and he yelped again, both hands going forward to shield himself and snapping back around to face the table. The back of his neck was almost the exact shade of the clan markings on Hana’s face.

“Hana!” he protested, voice cracking in embarrassment. Hana was not paying attention. She was staring at the soul mark suddenly revealed to her, the towel having dropped in his haste to cover himself. The muscles in his lower back jumped under her touch when she pressed a hand in to him to stop him from moving. “What are you doing!?”

“Kakashi, how closely have you looked at your soul mark?” she asked in a faint voice.

“It’s on my butt, I can’t really see it. I know it’s a dog.” He was refusing to look at her but his voice carried faint traces of curiosity. “Why?”

“Because that’s my dog!”

“I – what?” That got his attention, encouraging him to actually turn his head and peer over his own shoulder as if he could see what she was talking about. “What do you mean?”

Hana found it difficult to breathe as she answered, “I mean that your soul mark is a very detailed picture of Natsuki! With a bow on her head and everything!” His eyes met hers over his shoulder and they blinked at each other for a few seconds.

“Can I put my pants back on?” he asked plaintively. One quick giggle escaped against her will but she nodded. Kakashi pulled his garments back in to place and turned around fully only when he was comfortably covered up. He shifted his weight from side to side, rubbing the back of his head, before at last asking shyly, “Can I ask what yours is?”

Hana didn’t even hesitate to pull open her coat and lift her shirt just far enough to reveal the vague mark that had frustrated her since she was old enough to know what it was for. Kakashi studied it in silence for a long time. She could see his eyes slowly rotating to look at each of the almost shapeless blobs, all of them a slightly different color and size.

“Those are my ninken.”

“What?” Hana struggled to see over the folds of her shirt without exposing the entirety of her chest. “Show me.”

Kakashi pointed to each of the shapes, naming his ninken one by one. By the time he was done, she wondered how she could have missed it. The colors and size matched each of his dogs and some of them were even identifiable by breed if you looked hard enough. Hana lifted her eyes and stared at Kakashi, who stared back. She couldn’t seem to find the words to say anything. Kakashi had been one of her closest friends for years, so how could she never have given the idea any thought? How many years had she had a crush on him without even considering that he might be her soulmate? It was all too common for people to marry within their clan; she’d thought she was going to be one of them.

Hana almost swallowed her tongue in surprise when Kakashi suddenly stepped forward and kissed her. He wasn’t a man normally comfortable with physical contact, preferring to stay covered and safely inside his personal bubble. She was therefore doubly surprise when she discovered that he was a good kisser, even through the barrier of a mask. When they parted she barely held in a protest.

“Sorry I was just, uh, happy?” Kakashi mumbled, his eyes falling to the floor while he rubbed his head. He was just so shy. Hana wondered how everyone always got the impression that he was just being cool and suave. He was the most adorably awkward person she had ever met.

And he was her soulmate. She wanted to squeal.

Instead of responding to his unnecessary apology, Hana reeled him in for a second kiss. He made a delicious noise in the back of his throat and she felt one of his gloved hands winding in to her hair to cradle the back of her head. She was suddenly glad that his appointment had been the last of the day because surely she wouldn’t have been able to get anything else done after this discovery.

“Oi! Break it up you two!” a growling voice complained from the corner of the room. “We don’t want to see that!”

Hana and Kakashi both looked over to see Bull and Natsuki staring at them with suffering expressions. Before her companion could say anything Hana scoffed and said, “Then don’t look.” Then she kissed him again, ignoring the howling from across the room. They would have to get used to it, after all.

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A gentle breeze ruffled the spiky locks on Madara’s head as he walked through the forest, scuffing his heels with every step. His father was being stupid and Izuna was being annoying. He was glad to get away for a few hours of peace, even gladder that he had a friend waiting for him that wouldn’t want to talk about how ‘evil’ their rival clan, the Senju, were. Madara had heard quite enough about the Senju for one day, thank you very much.

Scratching an itch on his chest, he looked up at the sky to check the position on the sun. It was almost noon which meant that his friend Hashirama should be waiting at the river by now. Normally Madara was the first to arrive to their meeting place but today he’d been held back by listening to his crotchety old man go on and on about rivalry and old forgotten insults. As if Madara cared. What his foolish parent failed to see was that if they wanted the Senju to stop killing their clan members, the best way to do that was to make peace with them. If there was peace the killings would stop. He hated that no one in his clan wanted to listen to his ideas.

It was with relief that Madara stepped out of the trees to see the happily burbling river and the boy standing on the other side of it. Hashirama waved and jogged out on to the water, skipping stone held tightly in his fist. He had no idea what clan the clumsy boy was from and it worked out better that way. It left the two of them free to dream of peace together without worrying about whether or not they would be expected to fight one day instead.

“Madara! I found the perfect stone! I bet I beat you today!” Between one step and the next Hashirama suddenly pitched forward as he tripped over his own feet, arms flailing while he tried not to stumble in to the river. The stone he was holding flew out of his grasp and disappeared under the water with a soft plunk. Madara rolled his eyes when Hashirama’s whole body slumped in sadness.

“Idiot,” he muttered, trying not to show how amused he was. Just because he considered the brunette his best friend didn’t mean he had to go all soft or anything.

Hashirama pouted and shuffled over to him on the bank, toes digging through the rocks there in an effort to turn over another good one. It only took a couple of kicks before he was entirely absorbed in his new task, momentary depression forgotten. He was smiling once again when he looked up and opened his mouth but the expression froze on his face, morphing in to something else.

“Madara, you’re glowing!” he chirped. Madara frowned and looked down at his chest. He slid a finger under the collar of his shirt and peered down inside.

As his friend had said, a soft glow was emanating from the small tattoo on his chest, the one meant to lead him to his soul mate. The swirling design had always been red before. Right now it was lit up with white light that shone through his clothing just enough for Hashirama to notice. Madara stared at his tattoo in confusion. He had been meeting with Hashirama for months now and it had never reacted before. So why was it lighting up now?

The only thing he could think of was that there must be someone else nearby, someone that he couldn’t see. With narrow eyes, Madara looked up and began to scan their surroundings. Even concentrating as hard as he could, he could sense no one. At first he saw nothing as well until – there! He froze in place when a spot of white moved among the branches of a tree on the opposite side of the river. Slowly, almost shyly, a small face peered around the trunk. He couldn’t see them very well. They were too far away and still half hidden behind the tree. But they were looking directly at him in a manner that told him that he’d only seen them because they let themselves be seen.

“We’re not alone, Hashirama,” Madara muttered out of the corner of his mouth. His friend stopped staring at the glow beneath his shirt, instead frowning in the direction he was looking.

“Not alone? But I don’t sense anyone. Unless – Tobirama?” Hashirama called out the name like he was taking a shot in the dark and hoping to hit the target. It was obvious he had guessed right when the face in the tree rolled their eyes and shifted, dropping down in to full view. “Tobirama!”

It was a boy only a couple of years younger than himself. He had white hair and extremely pale skin. His eyes were a deep red and his mouth set in to a curious frown, which he directed first to the brunette boy approaching his with wide open arms. He neatly side stepped the incoming hug, forcing Hashirama to catch himself before colliding spectacularly with a nearby boulder.

“Tobirama!” Hashirama cried again. “What are you doing here?” The boy switched his blank gaze to Madara, who only then noticed the most important thing about this newcomer: there was a faint glow shining through his sleeveless shirt, limning the upper edges of it with white light.

“Father asked me to follow you. He’s getting suspicious.” Both of his white eyebrows rose towards his hairline and a sarcastic expression settled on to his face. “He’ll be happy to hear that you’re spending some very boring days training alone by the river.”

Hashirama scrunched his face up in confusion as he said, “But I’m not alone. Madara’s here so – ooooh! I get it! You’re the best brother ever, Tobirama!” He tried for a hug again only for Tobirama to sidestep him a second time. Then he looked over at Madara, still on the far bank of the river.

“You are Uchiha Madara,” he said. Madara blinked in surprise at the same time that Hashirama did.

“I never told Hashirama my clan name,” he mused. “How did you know it?” The boy scoffed.

“I have eyes and they work,” was the scornful reply. Hashirama gave a whining protest about mean brothers that went ignored. “My name is Senju Tobirama.”

Madara felt his limbs stiffen. He had suspected, of course, that his river friend might be from the one clan his own hated more than all others. He had hoped not. Apparently his hopes were in vain. Both of the brothers were watching him closely to see how he would react but Madara took his time to mull this information over. On the one hand, loyalty to his clan demanded that he denounce these two boys and attack them. On the other hand, neither of them had ever caused him any harm and all signs pointed to one of them being his soulmate.

That thought brought all others to a halt. His soulmate was a Senju. Instead of feeling horrified Madara was filled with a sudden hope. This was the answer to his problems, handed right to him on a silver platter! His clan venerated the bonds of love over all other things and his soulmate was a Senju. He could use this to end the fighting! Surely his parents would not force him to fight the one he was fated to be with? A wolfish grin spread slowly across his face and Madara took the first few steps out on to the water, plans already forming in his mind. The younger boy walked out to meet him. To Madara’s delight, he looked far from afraid.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Madara told the boy with a surprising amount of sincerity. Tobirama smirked and held out his hand.

When they grasped each other for the first time, the light show that triggered from their chests was like something out of legends. Madara had never seen a bond-meeting with so much potential. Thoughts of advantages and plots fell away from his mind as he watched the flares of brilliant white and gold. Suddenly, he was excited to fall in love.

 

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Madara hated to admit when the elders were right. The wizened old windbags were a thorn in his young side and he enjoyed proving them wrong on every possible occasion. This time, however, he had to admit that they were entirely correct. Not that he had to let them know that.

As the heir to the Uchiha main house Madara was subject to lessons from the clan elders at least once a week. The lessons were different from his usual training in weapons, speed, espionage, and all the exciting parts of being a shinobi. These were instead meant to pass on the wisdom and life lessons of those who came before him, that he might use their example to lead their family in to a brighter future. Madara was of the personal opinion that they just wanted someone to drone at who couldn’t run away.

This week’s lesson had been about maintaining relations between clans that they were allied with and how to phrase his speech more diplomatically. It was a skill he struggled with. As they were wont to do, the group of old fogeys had managed to get themselves off on to a few tangents and, somehow, they ended up discussing soul bonds.

Soul bonds were common knowledge; every child knew they existed even if not every child always found theirs. Madara had always looked forward to meeting his, eager to meet the person whose soul had been bound to his through multiple incarnations. It was said that one soul would not reincarnate until their bond pair was ready to do so as well, so that they might meet and fall in love again. A bond pair was always fated to love again, no matter if they wore new faces and new names. Their souls would always recognized each other.

“Not everyone has a bond however.” Elder Tamiko’s voice was broken and warbling with age and the set of her mouth was full of pity for the idea. “Those that have no bond feel no connection to any other. They are the younger souls that have seen fewer incarnations, still searching for that perfect match. Ideally, you would have been a new soul. It is preferable for a political marriage.” Here her mouth turned up in a slightly softer expression as she told him, “But those that do have a match, know it. There is a feeling, a pull, deep in your chest. It is the feeling of your soul reaching out, desperately searching for its other half.”

Elder Tamiko shared a secret glance with her husband, seated beside her, as Madara considered her words. He hated to admit it but she was right. Many a night he had lain awake in his bed, trying to determine which direction his soulmate was in. Most often he fancied that the pull came from the east. It took a great deal of willpower to swallow his pride and ask for their help but this was something too important to leave things to chance.

“How will I know that I’ve found them?” he asked begrudgingly. The eyes of every old fogey in the room focused on him with smiles that he couldn’t help but feel were laced with light poison.

“When you look in to their eyes my boy,” Elder Tamiko leaned towards him with a secretive look, “you’ll just know.”

Madara really hated it when they were right.

A year after that he had met a boy on a riverbank who went by the name of Hashirama. Hashirama had terrible hair and a disposition that flipped from puppy-like enthusiasm to melodramatic depression at the drop of a hat. The two of them built a friendship on shared dreams of peace and it felt good to have someone he connected to on levels he’d never been able to with anyone in his own clan. Life was pleasant that summer, filled with laughter and bright ideas for the future.

That is, until the day Izuna followed him to see where his big brother kept disappearing to for hours at a time. His sibling had run straight to his father, who was immediately suspicious. Madara didn’t want to betray his friend but he had no choice in obeying his father when the man made clear his intentions. So the next time he went to meet Hashirama, Madara tried to warn the boy, tried to make him run.

When the stone that skipped across the river in to his hand bore a similar message as his own, he knew his life was about to change. It was the manner of the change that he did not suspect. As his father and brother burst from the trees, so did Hashirama’s. The four enemies settled on the surface of the river, staring each other down, and Madara looked up to assess the two that opposed his family.

Butsuma he had seen before. The man was a brute savage with no more feeling in his heart than a stone. He turned his gaze to the other. The boy beside him was slight and young. His hair was white like fresh snow and his eyes –

Madara felt faint as his entire world appeared to rearrange itself. Those eyes. They were as red as any Sharingan with pupils in place of tomoe. Looking at them from across the river, just as his elder had told him he would, Madara knew. This was his soulmate, the other half of himself, the one he was meant to be with. He was a Senju.

Izuna identified the boy as Tobirama and Madara scored the name in to the silence of his heart. When he and Hashirama leapt in front of the blades of their families he tried to catch the eye of the youngest Senju. The boy stared past him, over his shoulder, and did not even attempt to meet his gaze. Desperate to go and avoid any bloodshed, Madara told his father the one thing that would make him leave – that Hashirama was stronger than himself. It was a thing he would never have admitted. To obviously admit to being the lesser – and of a Senju at that – was entirely against his personality. Yet his father had never paid enough attention to him to take note of that sort of thing. He took it as fact and Madara got what he wanted.

Sort of.

He had wanted to know who his soul was bonded to and now he did. Now all he wanted was to run away and hide until things made sense. How could they love with so much hate between their clans? How could they be together with so much distance between them? Travelling back to his family compound, his brother and father’s angry mutters piercing his ears, Madara reflected that the events of today had only increased his desire for peace. Subtly, his dreams shifted. Before he had wanted a world where he could protect his little brother. Now his vision of the future had changed to add the figure of a small pale boy standing at his side with nothing to keep them apart.

-----

Years passed before Madara saw the boy again. When they did meet, it was on the battlefield. In the moments between trading blows with Hashirama he snuck glances behind the brunette to where their younger siblings were locked in a similar battle. That gangly young boy had grown in to a fine young man. He was seventeen now to Madara’s nineteen and he commanded the field like the force of nature he was. The armor he wore was blue with fur around his shoulders. His white hair was held back by a happuri-style face protector, allowing glimpses of the three lines of red he now had tattooed on to his skin. It was hard to see the exact shape of him under the thick plates of armor but he was tall and lean and as fast as the wind over the desert. He was the most beautiful creature Madara had ever seen.

The clash between their clans that day ended in a draw. As their father’s traded insults Hashirama tried to catch his gaze. Instead of indulging the boy he had once been friends with, Madara turned his attention instead to Tobirama. The young man stood with his feet apart and his arms crossed, chin held high. It seemed a natural pose for him. His red eyes swept slowly back and forth, yet never did they meet with Madara’s, much to his displeasure. They parted ways, both sides carting their dead kin, and he seethed inside. The years had done nothing but drive the two clans farther and farther apart. He wanted peace. But he had yet to think of a way to achieve that.

Only when he had laid his head down on his pillow that night did it come to him. His father was old. His sword arm had been slowed by time just as much as Senju Butsuma’s had. Their time was ending. Which meant that soon it would be time for the next generation to take over. Within a few years he would be head of the Uchiha Clan and Hashirama would take his place as the head of the Senju Clan. He knew very well that Hashirama would not have given up on peace, it simply wasn’t his way. When the time came, Hashirama would be the one to hold out the olive branch both of their clans so desperately needed. Madara intended to take it.

-----

That time came even sooner than he had anticipated. It was only three years later when Madara’s father succumbed to a sickness he had picked up on a mission, passing away quietly in the night rather than bloody and angry on a battlefield. Some in the clan whispered how wasted his death had been. Madara was of the opinion that it was all the same. Death was death; no matter how it had happened his father was gone from this world, leaving him as the head of the Uchiha clan.

Only one year after that saw Senju Butsuma’s fall in battle. Ironically, not a single Uchiha was present. He had fallen in a skirmish with the Shimura clan to the north. When next the Uchiha and Senju faced each other on the battlefield, Hashirama held out his hand. Smiling, Madara took it. He ignored the rumbling of discontent from the elder’s in his ranks and relished in the cheers of the younger clansmen instead.

“Perhaps our wild dreams of a peaceful village might not be so out of reach,” Hashirama said to him over the noise. Madara smirked in agreement as his old friend spread his arms wide. “Let there be peace between the heads of our two clans! Let the rest follow our example and lay down their arms!”

Madara didn’t bother looking over when Izuna stepped up beside him. He was busy watching Tobirama as he came to stand next to his own brother, warily eyeing the one he had met in battle countless times before.

“Good thing too,” Izuna was saying with a grin while they shook hands. “I know that look in your eye, Senju. You’ve got something up your sleeve today. I rather think this is the day you might have finally beaten me.”

“Doubtless,” was all Tobirama said. He was cocky and gruff and Madara was already in love. He had been for years.

He held out a hand to the one he had been dreaming of since that day by the river, waiting while the pale man turned to inspect it. Then he looked up and at long last, though it had taken many years, their eyes met for the very first time. Tobirama’s eyes widened in astonishment as both of their chests began to emit brilliant light, drawing the attention of every person present from both clans. Shocked exclamations rang out from all around them. Madara held tighter to the hand in his grasp and began to laugh. He laughed loud and long, until he could feel Tobirama glaring at him.

“Finally,” he declared. His soulmate raised a confused eyebrow. “I’ve been waiting for you for years, you dunderhead. Took you long enough.” The dumbfounded expression on the younger man’s face was almost worth the years it had taken to get them here. The truest rewards, however, were still to come.

The moment they meet eyes for the first time

Chapter Text

The night air was cold in Kumogakure. The common tongue called it the Village Hidden in the Clouds and it was easy to tell why. The after-dark hours brought with them a thick fog that obscured everything more than a few feet in front of one’s nose. Only a native of the land could successfully navigate Kumogakure’s treacherous landscape in the darkness.

Hinata was not a native of this village. What she was, was terrified. Cloud shinobi had made their first attempt at kidnapping her when she was three years old. Her father had saved her then and she had thought that he was the strongest shinobi in the entire world, that he would protect her from everything forever. Now she was nine years old and her father had been away on a mission, resulting in a successful second attempt. A thick leather band had been placed around her eyes, tight enough that she could not lift the lids to uncover her developing byakugan. She didn’t see the fog. She couldn’t tell that it was night. She had no idea where she was except for the name of the village, overheard from a careless guard.

The cage they carried her in was wooden and uncomfortable. Her knees were full of splinters from kneeling on the floor of it, tossed about at every sharp change of direction. Hinata sniffed and huddled farther in to a corner, humming quietly under her breath. It was a song she had never heard out loud but it was one that never failed to bring her comfort. She had only completed two bars of the soothing melody when, deep in her mind, another voice rose in harmony with her own. Across the vast distance between them, her soulmate reached out to comfort her in the only way they could.

It was her soulmate that had first taught her this tune. Hinata had no idea who they were or where they might be. The only connection she had was a voice in her head and the only time she heard their voice was when they sang. Hearing them now in the back of her mind kept her calm enough that her sobs were quieted. She had tried to beg for freedom for the first few days of the journey. All her pleas had earned her was a few slaps around the mouth and the withholding of food or water. Hinata’s stomach growled as she thought about how empty it was. Trying to ignore the feeling, she risked humming just a little longer, desperately hoping no one heard her.

Her song cut off when her bearers came to a sudden stop, jerking her off balance and causing her to tumble across the cage. A few tears gathered in her eyes, unable to fall, and she tried hard not to whimper in pain. Her father always told her she needed to be braver, stronger, better. It was just hard to be brave when she was so frightened. She’d never felt so alone in her life.

“Is that her? Bring her here!” The voice that spoke came from her right side. It was androgynous and angry, growling and snapping at her bearers to move faster. Hinata found herself being bodily dragged from her mobile prison and carried a short distance. When they put her down her knees tried to buckle, swollen from staying bent for days on end. The floor under her feet was cold, rough stone. A thick hand held her upright, forcing her to stand and eliciting another unwanted whimper.

“Pluck up girly, the Raikage’s away right now. You get to live at least until he comes back.” More tears gathered and more pain flared through her legs as Hinata felt herself being led away.

They walked for a long time. Doors opened and closed, footsteps passed them, and voices jeered from near and afar. The floor never changed from stone, although in some places it was smooth and others it wasn’t. When at last she heard keys rattling and the man holding her left arm muttered “Here we are,” they were in a place where the stone was at its roughest. Hinata gasped as she stumbled forward, a hand having shoved her hard between the shoulder blades. Mocking laughter trailed away as her captors left. She heard a cell door close, then silence.

The Hyuga heiress stood alone, blind and confused, terrified and in pain, unsure of where she was or how long she had left to live. Once more a single whimper escaped where the tears could not as she held her hands out in to the empty space around her. Her feet shuffled as she inched forward, searching for a wall, a bed, the door, anything. After a few minutes her fingertips brushed up against what felt like a dirt wall. She followed it until she came to a corner where dirt wall met with metal bars. There, she slid down to the floor, hugged her arms around herself, and began to hum.

The soft melody of her favorite song echoed slightly, rebounding back to her from the corners of where ever she was. It gave the impression of several voices singing with her, which is why it took a moment for her to realize that someone really was. Somewhere close to her right a soft voice lifted, singing the notes instead of humming them. Hinata went quiet with wonder as the voice drifted closer to her. It was pleasing to listen to, surely, but her wonder came from the fact that she could also hear it inside of her mind.

She startled when a hand gently stroked her dirty hair.

“Hello, precious one,” she heard someone say. “I’m so happy to meet you. What’s your name?” Hinata reached up shyly to touch the other girl’s wrist.

“H-Hinata,” she whispered shyly. A pretty little laugh graced her ears.

“Well then, hello Hinata. My name is Yuriko. Don’t you worry, I’ll make sure we’re not here for long. For now, let’s get that contraption off of your head!”

Hinata sat still as hands fiddled with the locking mechanism that she couldn’t see to undo for herself. It took a few minutes before finally it gave way and the leather band loosened. When it was pulled off of her she blinked in to the dim light, taking in her surroundings. They were in a large room with metal bars breaking two of the walls up into separate cells. Just on the other side of the bars of her own cell sat a pretty girl about her own age with long hair a deep shade of blue and eyes the color of the sky. When she smiled it revealed that one of her front teeth had fallen out and was in the process of re-growing.

“You have such pretty eyes!” Yuriko chirped. Hinata felt the heat rising in her face and poked the ends of her fingers together shyly.

“Th-thank you!” she murmured, staring at her feet. Her gaze rose back up with Yuriko reached over and placed her hand over Hinata’s own.

“When we’re free, let’s never be apart!” she said.

Hinata smiled and nodded. That sounded wonderful to her.

Chapter Text

Obito was pretty sure his compass was broken. It wasn’t that it moved too much. Surely someone coming and going during their day would make the needle flip back and forth while they travelled from home to school or work. No, Obito’s problem was that his compass didn’t move enough. Only once every few months it would change direction. His needle would point east for four months before flipping to west for three. Then it would point south-west for a few before changing again and so on and so forth. It had been doing this ever since he was five years old and more than a few of his classmates made fun of him for it, especially as they moved in to their high school years. They liked to say that he had no soulmate. Sometimes Obito believed them.

It was hard not to, after all. Obito was an orphan being raised by a distant relative who had absolutely no interest in him. He was a hyperactive boy with low grades and his only friends were the old ladies at the old folks home where he volunteered. He had an odd propensity for wearing orange and was never seen without a pair of thick goggles on his head. At sixteen years old, Obito had started to agree with the people who teased him. Who would want a loser like him as their soulmate?

Walking home from Konoha High, Obito kicked at the stones on the sidewalk beneath him, wondering if Uncle Madara would even notice if he didn’t come home. The man spent so much time with his head in his work it was a wonder he usually remembered to feed his ward. Obito lifted his right arm and tapped a finger on the compass implanted in his wrist. It was pointing in the same direction he was walking, due west. That was a little strange considering that it had only stayed at its previous direction, south-west, for two weeks. Before that it had pointed south for four months.

There were people standing on the sidewalk, chatting and lurking outside one of the houses, but he walked right past them without raising his head. He mused that perhaps the needle was going to start moving gradually faster until it reached the point that it simply spun in endless circles. The thought had only just finished when suddenly it did, in fact, move again. As he watched the compass slowly slid around until it was pointing directly behind him. Obito stopped walking, flabbergasted. It had never moved quite like that before. Usually the changes in direction took hours, the needle slowly crawling from one cardinal direction to another.

Fascinated, Obito wondered if he could make it do it again by retracing his steps. Turning around he headed back up the sidewalk the way he had just come. As he passed by the people chatting on the pavement again, the needle slowly shifted in his wrist, pointing directly at the spot they were standing on.

Now, Obito had thought his compass broken for so many years that he could almost be forgiven for being so slow in this instance. It took walking past those people two more times before he realized what this must mean. When he did, his head snapped up with such force that his neck gave a painful twinge. He ignored it in favor of staring hard at the people there on the sidewalk.

An enormously tall man with long white hair was talking to, of all people, Obito’s sociology teacher Namikaze Minato. His blonde teacher was smiling while one of his arms wrapped around the shoulders of a grumpy looking teenager. The teen’s hair was white and unruly and his face was buried in the unseasonal green scarf around his neck. His dark eyes were glaring at the ground and his arm were folded across his chest, short sleeves showing off the definition of his biceps. Obito stared some more while his ears finally tuned in to the conversation.

“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad!” Namikaze-san was saying, humor in his voice. The teenager snorted.

“Oh come on, Kakashi! I thought you liked travelling with me! I introduced you to so many girls!” The tall man was obviously using a wheedling tone to cover up his amusement. The teen, Kakashi apparently, glared up at him. Despite the younger being quite tall he still had to crane his head to meet his elder’s eyes.

“You’re the one that likes girls you pervert!” he declared. Both of the adults laughed.

“Ah, Kakashi,” Namikaze-san coughed delicately, arm tightening its grip. “I think you’re forgetting that we both know you have one of Jiraiya-sensei’s novels in your back pocket.”

Obito watched the young man huff and bury his face deeper in to his scarf, muttering indistinctly under his breath. He didn’t seem to enjoy the teasing he was obviously receiving. Obito wondered what about the book in his back pocket made him a pervert. How could a book make someone a pervert? He was distracted from wondering when the one he was watching suddenly raised his eyes and looked right at him. Pale eyebrows furrowed in a petulant frown.

“Did you need something?” the young man asked him. “Or did you want to walk by three more times?” Obito spluttered a bit, incredibly nervous.

“It’s – my compass was being weird, sorry!” He could feel his face warming up as all three of them looked at him curiously.

After a beat of surprise, his sociology teacher smiled welcomingly. “Obito! I didn’t see you there. What were you saying about your compass?” Obito swallowed nervously, eyes flicking between his teacher and the teen wrapped under his arm.

“Uh, it usually doesn’t move. Like, only once every few months? But it keeps pointing at where you guys are standing and…I just thought…I could go. If you want?” He felt a little like shrinking in to himself. Hope had filled him when the idea first occurred but now he was starting to rethink himself. The boy across from him was tall, well built, and gorgeous. Obito was small and plain and scrawny. What would this guy want with him? Even if they were…

He squawked in surprise when the huge man suddenly bounded over and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him closer to their little gathering. His right arm was pulled up and stretched out, then turned over to display the compass in his wrist. As he had said, the needle was pointing directly at this Kakashi guy.

“Only moves once every few months, eh?” The one who grabbed him chuckled good-naturedly. “Almost as if it’s been following someone that travels to a new location every few months.” Obito had never thought of that. He wondered how he could have never thought of that. It would explain why the changes in direction took hours to complete. Plane rides. Car rides.

Kakashi stared at the compass for a few more seconds before uncrossing his arms and holding up his own. His needle was pointing straight at Obito. With a contemplative hum the boy walked slowly in a full circle around their little group, eyes on his own wrist the whole time. Obito wished he could see what the other’s compass was doing but the giant man still had a hand on his arm. Finally he came to a stop in right in front of Obito and held his gaze, face still buried in his scarf. Just above its edge a tiny flush of pink peeked out.

“Hi,” the boy mumbled. “My name’s Kakashi.”

“O-Obito,” he replied nervously.

“It looks like we’re soulmates.” The teen ignored the way both of the adults with him suddenly set off in to paroxysms of joy, cheering and whooping. Obito felt his jaw drop.

“A soulmate…wow. I’ve really got a soulmate? You – you really want me?” Something was expanding in his chest and, if he wasn’t mistaken, it felt like genuine happiness. It felt like possibilities. Dark eyes widened in surprise.

“Why wouldn’t I want you?” That one question, so innocently asked, absolutely broke him down. With a strangled sob Obito threw his arms around Kakashi and held on to him for dear life. He couldn’t answer his confused questions, only cried even harder when strong arms wrapped around him and pulled him closer. He couldn’t remember ever being so happy before.

Kakashi, he learned later, was an orphan just like him. His godfather was the monstrously tall man named Jiraiya. Jiraiya was an author and the two of them had travelled all over while he searched for inspiration for his writing, moving to a different location every few months or whenever the wanderlust took them. Since Kakashi was getting in to his last years of high school they had decided he should come live with an old family friend so he could stay with him while he went through college.

“Come on inside, this is your home too now of course,” Namikaze-san had said to him, unable to understand why he had immediately started to cry again. For most of his life, Obito had believed his compass was broken. He had thought he would spend his life alone and unwanted. Now, he finally had a place where he was wanted. He finally had a place where he belonged.

Chapter Text

Sakura met Itachi once when she was very young. She hadn’t meant to get lost in the woods, especially when her parents had told her time and time again not to go off on her own. But the other children had been teasing her about her forehead again and Sakura had wanted to get away from them. She had been crying when someone dropped out of the trees and landed right in front of her, startling her in to giving out a high pitched screech.

The boy had his ANBU mask clipped to his belt and a somber expression his face. He looked like he was just getting in to his adolescent years. When their eyes had met, all of the color in the world around them slowly started to fade until all she was left with was shades of grey. The boy looked just as startled as she felt.

“Hello there, what’s your name?” he had asked. She gave him a confused smile.

“Sakura.” Her head tilted to the side. “Where did all the colors go?”

“That’s a pretty name. My name is Itachi.” He frowned. “Didn’t your parents tell you about the colors?”

She shook her head, looking around at all the flowers, and said, “No. They don’t tell me anything. Papa says I’m too young to understand.” She was almost glad that none of the flowers had any color anymore. At least now she wouldn’t have to worry about which ones looked good with her hair and which ones didn’t. They all looked mostly the same to her now. The ANBU boy sighed, looking suddenly sad. He bent down and picked a flower, slowly leaning over to place it in her hand.

“I’m so sorry Sakura,” he told her in a quiet voice. “I’m so sorry that this doesn’t change anything.” She hadn’t known what he meant at the time and he left before she could demand an explanation of him.

The next morning there was panic in the village as the Uchiha compound was discovered, bodies littered everywhere. Uchiha Itachi had gone mad, people said. He slaughtered his entire clan except for his younger brother. Sakura heard the whispers and curled up in her bed to cry. Her parents had explained to her last night about the colors. Itachi was her soulmate. Itachi was a murderer.

Sakura put a lot of effort in to becoming a shinobi after that. She wanted to be the kind of person who was strong enough to protect others, to prevent what had happened that day from happening again. She wanted no other little girls to go through the pain she had.

Itachi’s younger brother was Sasuke, that cool boy in her class that everyone loved. Sakura convinced herself that she loved him too. Not because he had a winning personality or a gentle disposition – he had neither of those things. Sakura wanted to be with Sasuke because he was both the farthest thing from Itachi and the closest thing to Itachi. He was her soulmate’s brother yet she liked to think that they were entirely dissimilar. She promised herself that she would follow Sasuke to the ends of the earth and back and prove that soulmates weren’t everything.

Sakura met Itachi again when she was sixteen years old, only months away from turning seventeen. She had indeed devoted much of her life to chasing Sasuke. Only this time it had led her to a battle between brothers, a titanic clash between powerhouses that she could only stand back and observe with awe. The jutsu used were on a scale she hadn’t seen before. This was the power of the Uchiha clan that she had never had the privilege to witness.

From afar she watched Sasuke and Itachi crash in to each other again and again. Blood spilled from both of them and she was torn between whose life to hope for. She had spent years nurturing a bond with Sasuke and yet her heart still beat for Itachi in some small, forgotten way. She felt as frightened as she had that day in the woods so long ago.

As far back from the battle as she was, Sakura never saw the killing blow. She never saw the light fading from dark Uchiha eyes. What she did see was color bleeding back in to her world. The trees were as green as she remembered and the sky was a stunning shade of blue. The strands of her hair that swayed in front of her eyes were a light bubblegum shade of pink that she had almost entirely forgotten. The world around her lit up with beauty – and Sakura began to cry.

Chapter Text

He is exhausted and dirty and one jutsu away from chakra exhaustion when he finds the body. It lays face-up at the curve of the river which runs from a waterfall only a short distance outside of Konoha. It’s obvious that the young man has gone down the falls. It’s even more obvious that he had been the victim of an attack before doing so.

The sockets where his eyes should be are bloody and empty, lids falling concave inwards. His dark hair fans out in the water that is gently rocking him against the shoreline, a curly halo of ink. By his face it would be obvious that he is an Uchiha even if Kakashi had never heard of Shisui. They have never met directly but tales of the fair-minded smiling Uchiha have reached him even behind his porcelain mask.

He thinks the boy dead at first, feels anger that a Konoha shinobi died so close to home with no one there to help him. That is, until he stumbles closer on knees weak from a three day journey with no rest. The sound of his feet crunching on the gravel is loud compared to the silence and suddenly the body twitches. The head lolls slowly to the side, unable to see him, and the lips part with no sound. Kakashi falls to his knees beside the boy, reaching in to the water to grasp his clothing and pull him out as gently as he can.

“Shisui, right? Can you hear me, Shisui?” he asks. The boy mumbles and attempts to reach out. It’s surprising that he is alive right now. It’s downright impressive that he can move at all. Kakashi removes the mask of the Hound to reveal the Konoha headband tied on underneath. He usually doesn’t wear it while in ANBU dress but his current level of exhaustion means he needs to be sure the Sharingan will stay closed.

“I’m a Konoha shinobi,” he reassures, grasping Shisui’s sleeve covered arm and lifting that wet hand up to the headband he wears. Shisui’s fingers trace the stylized leaf symbol. When he recognizes it by touch he lets out a desperate sob and his fingers drag downward to clutch at Kakashi’s face.

Immediately both of them freeze. It’s been a long day for both of them, to use the biggest understatement possible, but not even near death can ruin the peaceful, beautiful moment when you finally find your soulmate. Kakashi runs his hand up the arm under his grip to press against the hand on his face. His throat is tight and every organ inside his chest hurts like fire.

“It’s going to be alright Shisui. I’ll bring you home. I’ll keep you safe.” The boy whimpers as Kakashi worms tired arms under his body and lifts. He cradles Shisui to his chest and has a quick mental talk with his limbs. Now is not the time to give up or give out. If ever before he has needed his body to push onward, it is now. His knees scream as they bear the weight of two but they hold solid while he races through the treetops.

“Please…Danzo…my people…” Kakashi holds him closer so that Shisui can choke out his story in fitful whispers. Kakashi learns of a plot to erase the entire Uchiha clan, to cleanse them from the village entirely in an attempt to prevent an unstoppable coup. He tries to run faster.

In the end, Kakashi does not make it in time to save the Uchiha clan. He does make it to the village in time to save the life of his soulmate. It is only after the teen has been taken from his arms and carted away for emergency surgery that he realizes he never gave his own name. Shisui had trusted him not knowing who he was, only what he was. He stands staring at the doors to the surgery bay until the effects of adrenaline wear away. Darkness creeps in at the edges of his vision and Kakashi passes out with the worried shouts of the receptionist in his ear.

He wakes up in a soft bed eight days later and the nurses are excited to tell him the news. Shisui’s story has spread throughout the village like wildfire. Danzo is under house arrest for coercing Itachi to commit the crime that the Sandaime had not truly given his approval for. Itachi has been found and returned to the village, currently held in an interrogation cell. The villagers view him with varied opinions. Some see him as a monster. Some believe him a poor misguided child who was only following orders. Kakashi’s interest lies with the fact that Itachi returned bearing one of Shisui’s eyes, held in safekeeping. The other has been retrieved from Danzo’s disgusting arm. Upon learning that Shisui regained consciousness two days before he demands to know where he can find the boy.

Shisui still has bandages around his face when Kakashi steps in to the room. He turns his head upon sensing someone there, tilting it bird-like to the side in a silent question. Kakashi makes sure that every footfall is audible as he slowly approaches the bed.

“I hear you’re feeling better,” he says in place of a greeting. It’s astonishing to watch the younger boy’s face light up just for hearing his voice.

“Kakashi! You’re awake! They wouldn’t let me visit you.” He reaches out a hand. Kakashi hesitates only briefly before taking it, slipping Shisui’s fingers in to his palm and wrapping them up in a tight hold. It feels like safety and protection.

“How did you know who I am?” he asks. The nurse had said that the returned eyes would take a little while longer to heal back in to place. Surely he can’t see through the bandages?

Shisui’s smile is open and honest and it’s the warmest look he’s ever been given. “The doctors told me who brought me to the hospital. They told me you were in pretty bad condition yourself.” He lifts his other hand, reaching across his body and feeling along Kakashi’s arm and up until he cups his cheek gently. “Thank you for taking care of me.” Kakashi’s smile is a little unsteady and he’s glad, for a moment, that he remains unseen.

“Of course,” he whispers, turning his face until his lips are pressed against Shisui’s palm. “Always.” The hand holding his tightens its grip. It feels like possibilities.

Chapter Text

It took a while for Zabuza to put two and two together. He had seen the marks appearing and fading on his body, had gotten used to them shortly before he had met the boy. He thought little of them until the pattern was made clear by a spontaneous stop at a cheap hot springs.

He paid as little attention to Haku as possible normally. The boy was an extension of his blade, nothing more. That changed when he saw the bruises on his torso, marks of the hard training he was committed to doing every day. Zabuza plotted each one, unable to believe his eyes. They matched the marks on himself perfectly. Every bruise and cut, every scar. They all lined up exactly with his own which could only mean one thing.

Later, after leaving Haku to bath alone and giving himself time to think, he joined his ward in their rooms for dinner. The silence stretched at first as he tried to think of what to say. Haku seemed oblivious to his tension at first, picking at his meal delicately and with his usual calm air of contentment. When their plates were half cleared Zabuza cleared his throat, fiddling with the blade sheathed at his hip.

“Haku, I want to show you something,” he growled. He couldn’t help but be gruff. He was not an expert at defining his own emotions and it was easier to snap and snarl than it was to look too closely at his own heart. Haku smiled up at him.

“Oh course, Zabuza,” he answered obediently. Zabuza frowned. He would need to address that later. What he had discovered changed things between them.

“Hold out your hand.” His blunt demand was complied with without question. Haku raised his hand and held it out over the table between them. Zabuza held his own large hand right next to it. His other brought up the blade he had been playing with, drawing it slowly across his knuckles. Blood welled up and ran down between his fingers, dripping in to the food. At the same time a line of red bloomed across Haku’s knuckles to match. The boy marveled at his newest mark. As soon as the significance of this phenomena occurred to him he looked up at his guardian with wonder in his eyes.

Zabuza retracted his hand and took a deep breath. With difficulty he said, “When we met, you told me you were only an instrument of my will. You asked me to think of you as a weapon to keep at my side and use only as I see fit.”

“Yes, Zabuza,” Haku breathed. Zabuza drew his brows together sternly.

“That is no longer the case,” he declared. “This makes things different. You are more than my will. You are –” He struggled to find what he wanted to say. Innocent eyes peered up at him, the eyes of a boy that barely seemed to understand the massive power he wielded, but wielded it anyway on the command of the one he had given his life to. “You are my partner,” he decided at last.

He thought Haku was going to cry for a few moments and prayed against it. Crying wasn’t something he was equipped to handle. Softness simply wasn’t his way. Somehow he had managed to earn himself a soulmate who not only understood that but accepted him for it, just the way he was. He’d never done anything in his life to earn the loyalty of this small person, nor his love. A part of him felt guilty that it had so easily been handed to him even still.

“M-may I hug you, Zabuza?” the questioned startled him. He had told Haku the day they met not to expect affection from him and they boy had respected that boundary. Outside of sparring they rarely even sat close to each other. The corner of his mouth twitched upwards.

“Maybe just this once,” he acceded. Haku’s joyful expression as he flung his small body across Zabuza’s lap absolutely did not fill him with warmth. Or – so he tried to tell himself.

Chapter Text

Having one eye that matched your soulmate’s was strange when one was born with a dōjutsu. It acted the same as a byakugan eye would; her vision was the same through both eyes when activated and the abilities were never compromised. What was strange was seeing the pupil-less eyes of her family and clan mates, then looking in to the mirror and being startled by the dual dark rings on the white orb that sat in her right eye socket. Whoever he soulmate was their iris was only a few shades lighter than their pupil. Hanabi had lived her entire young life inside the Hyuga compound, so the idea of pupils being normal was entirely foreign to her. When she had started to realize she was different, she had at first thought that her soulmate was a freak.

It wasn’t until one evening when the Hokage came to speak to her father that she realized others might have pupils too. The man’s eyes had scared her at first. The dark beady centers seemed to focus on her much too pointedly, pinning her in place. Her father had reprimanded her for being afraid but the Hokage only laughed and invited her to have a closer look.

Little four year old Hanabi had held her hands behind her back and leaned close to the old man bent over before her, inspecting him with an air of seriousness attainable only by a Hyuga.

“You have eyes like one of mine,” she informed him, as if he couldn’t see that for himself. “That means my soulmate will have funny eyes like you. Do you know who my soulmate is, Hokage-sama?”

The old man had only chuckled once more and told her to be patient, that there were more people than she realized with eyes like his. Her father had allowed her outside the compound for the first time shortly after that and she had been shocked to see how true that was. Her soulmate wasn’t a freak. It was her clan that was special! No one else seemed to have eyes quite the same as the Hyuga.

That would definitely make finding her soulmate harder than she had thought at first.

When Hanabi was eight she entered the Academy. She’d heard that in the past special children were allowed to enter early and wished that were still true. She had been training hard since she learned to walk and was fairly sure she could toss around any one of her classmates. She got the chance to test that theory almost right away when she entered the almost empty classroom to see two boys picking on a girl couched in the corner. They were jeering and pulling her bright orange pigtails.

Neither of the boys saw Hanabi’s fist coming but they certainly felt it if the way they wheezed and fell down between the desks was any indication. Hanabi scoffed at them and turned to the girl, still huddled with her head between her knees.

“Did they hurt you?” she asked. If the girl was injured she was obviously still in good enough shape to walk to a medic herself. Hanabi just wanted to know if she should hit the two boys a second time. She wasn’t a big fan of weak people herself but if there was one lesson she had managed to pick up from watching her older sister it was that picking on those who were weaker than you was cruel and pointless. She may have lost much of her respect for Hinata but that didn’t mean she would let someone bully her.

The orange-haired girl sniffed and lifted her head, wiping at her face with the back of one fist. When she looked up, Hanabi had only a few seconds to register that one of the girls eyes was a pale flat lavender before it slowly faded away to become a matching set of dark pupils. She gaped in an undignified manner, at first more surprised than happy. The spell was broken when the girl scrambled to her feet and threw her thin arms around Hanabi’s neck.

“I found you! I found you!” she was shouting. Hanabi slowly raised her arms and held on until the hug was over. For some reason the only thing she could think of was that her eyes would be matching now. Which meant that she would no longer be carrying around a piece of her soulmate with her.

“My name is Hanabi,” she said. “What’s yours?”

“Moegi,” was the answer. Hanabi pulled her soulmate back in to her arms.

“I see. Moegi. Stay close to me always, Moegi.”

The girl gave her a quick startled look before squealing and snuggling in to her. Hanabi only smiled and thought so this is what it feels like to be whole.

Chapter Text

“What are you doing now, un?”

Silence reigned in the office in answer to the question. Outside the wind picked up and sand battered against the window pane in a rapid staccato pattern. The shadows of evening were held at bay by three different lamps, one of which burned brightly on the desk of the Kazekage.

“Didn’t you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you.” Gaara didn’t even bother to lift his eyes from the document in front of him as he answered shortly. This seemed to annoy the one who was, in turn, trying to distract him from his work.

“Hey, come on! I asked nicely and everything! Stop ignoring me!”

Gaara dipped his brush in to a nearby inkwell before returning it to the scroll to his right. It danced across the parchment leaving graceful sweeps of calligraphy in its wake. Though he had no eye for beauty, he had always taken a quiet pride in his calligraphy. It was one of the few things that he was truly good at and he genuinely enjoyed practicing the art; he found it calming.

“I’m so bored!”

“Perhaps it would entertain you to leave, then.”

Kankuro had once informed him that he was the master of unintended burns. He had also used the word sarcasm although Gaara still wasn’t sure he truly understood how sarcasm worked. The nuances of human interactions and societal niceties continued to linger just out of his reach of comprehension. Going by the offense on the face of his…’companion’, he had just managed to do something like that again although he wasn’t sure how. What was insulting about suggesting that someone leave a boring situation to find an entertaining one?

A pale hand made a swipe for the paperwork on his desk. Gaara didn’t even try to stop it, knowing exactly what would happen. As he had expected, the spectral arm went right through his scrolls and reports, even through his own arm as well, leaving nothing disturbed even by an inch. He blinked up at the incorporeal form that hovered next to him.

“Shut up!”

“But I did not say anything,” he protested. Deidara huffed.

“I’m so bored. I hate being dead!”

Gaara frowned and returned to his work. It was lucky that only he could see the dead soul that followed him around. Some of the man’s comments about Temari’s wardrobe would have had his sister in fits.

Chapter Text

Kakashi honestly thought that when he reached eighteen years old he would continue to age. It wasn’t that he thought his soulmate was older than him. It was that he truly believed there could be no one out there for him. Surely he was too broken? Too bitter? Too stained? Surely the universe wouldn’t be cruel enough to bind anyone to him for the rest of their lives?

It was therefore a very large surprise when, at 3:26 PM on September 15th the year he turned eighteen, Kakashi stopped aging. He was training alone, hiding out from Gai, when he felt it happen. It was the oddest sensation of his internal body clock suddenly pausing, as if his entire being were holding its breath. His stance wobbled, ruining his kata, as it hit him. Then the only thing he could think of was: what poor soul was waiting just to be disappointed by him?

Every year that passed after that saddened him more and more. One by one most of his friends met their soulmates and began to age as they should. It seemed as if the only ones who didn’t were Gai, who Kakashi thought might stay eternally young, and Tenzou, who Kakashi had at one point thought would be his own soulmate. They would have at least been broken together, diving in to the shadows of ANBU with hands held tight. He watched all of his friends grow steadily older, each year making him crawl further and further in to his shell. He felt he couldn’t relate to their happiness.

Six months before Kakashi’s thirty-second birthday found him no older than his eighteenth. He had gained a few scars but not a single age line. Some in the village had jokingly theorized that he was, in fact, Gai’s soulmate and the two of them would live forever due to the Power of Youth. On his good days he managed to laugh about it. On his bad days he tried not to cry.

This particular day had Kakashi in the apartment of one of his students. Sakura had insisted that she wished to celebrate her birthday privately with only the people she was closest to here with her. Naruto and Ino were in the living room debating the merits of having a private party vs a public one. Kakashi stood in the kitchen helping his ex-student gather the food. He had been the first person she asked to come to her small little gathering because she knew he would understand her wishes. She didn’t want to have everyone she knew watch her react when she stopped aging. Mostly she didn’t want to see the disappointment of all the people hoping to be the soulmate of the next female sannin.

“-but I think you’re going to have to do something about that secretary of yours because when I tried to drop some files off to you yesterday she almost wouldn’t let me in. She asked if I had an appointment! I never needed an appointment to see shishou and I certainly don’t need one to see you!”

Kakashi smiled behind his mask at the indignation in her voice while making a mental note to have that talk with his secretary. He’d already told her that the members of Team 7 were priority number one, that they were to be allowed in to see him even if he were in the middle of a meeting with the daimyo himself. He had been quietly looking for a new secretary for a few weeks already, though, so it was almost a wasted effort.

“And don’t get me started on the council! How do you deal with them every day?” She cast him a glance over her shoulder that was half exasperated and half admiring. Kakashi rolled his eyes.

“They walk a little softer around me,” he admitted. “I think some of them subscribe to the belief that I’m going to live forever so they don’t want to cross me too much. Not when they know I can hound them in to their graves.” She snorted out a laugh and handed him a large bowl. He set it on the table, glancing in as it passed under his nose and feeling his mouth watered at the sight of the rice mix inside. Kakashi could cook as well as the next guy but someone else’s cooking always tasted better.

“Hound them. That was a horrible pun Hokage-sama.” Her fond expression told him she had enjoyed it nonetheless. Even if he hadn’t really meant to make a pun and wasn’t sure whether she was referring to his old ANBU code name or his infamy as a dog lover.

He was just opening his mouth to reply when he was interrupted by Naruto bounding in to the kitchen with both arms waving madly in the air. Ino followed close behind him trying her best to look uninterested and only partially succeeding. She did manage to catch the swinging door before it could leave a large hole in the plaster of Sakura’s kitchen wall.

“It's almost time right? Right? You said it was soon!” Naruto skidded on the linoleum floor, smashing his hip in to the countertop, but the blow didn’t even seem to register with him. It certainly didn’t slow him down any. He kept going until he was right up in Sakura’s face. “Are you ready Sakura-chan!?”

Sakura pushed him off of her and grumbled, “Don’t be so loud, idiot. I can hear you just fine.” Ino picked her way around the pair of them and perched herself demurely on the countertop.

“He’s right, though,” the blonde said. “It’s almost time Forehead. You ready?” Sakura nodded.

“I think so. I heard it feels weird to stop aging.” They all pointedly avoided looking at Kakashi, making him roll his eyes exasperatedly.

“I wouldn’t know,” Ino chipped in instead. “Ten Ten said it felt like pausing a movie and then losing the remote.” All three of the younger kids laughed. Kakashi smiled to himself indulgently and fiddled with the food on the table, rearranging all the bowls and platters one inch to the left. He wasn’t sure how to feel knowing that the kids he had helped raise now had the chance to grow older than him. It didn’t seem fair but at the same time he wanted all the best things in life for them. He hoped Sakura would find her soulmate quickly.

Naruto bounced eagerly on the balls of his feet, bright blue eyes training on the clock. The kitchen was silent as they all watched the seconds hand tick its way around, collectively counting the last few seconds in their heads. As the clock stuck 6:31 PM Naruto and Ino whipped their heads around to stare hard at Sakura, who was still staring at the clock.

“Well!?” they demanded in one shout. Sakura shrugged, confused.

“I didn’t feel anything,” she mumbled. For a heartbeat no one said anything.

“I did,” Kakashi whispered. All eyes turned on him suddenly. His eyes were closed as the last tremors trickled down his spine. Restarting the aging process felt much like someone had removed a rubber band from around a limb and sensation was flooding back in to it. Except the sensation was generalized around his entire body.

When it was over he opened his eyes but didn’t look up from the floor. The feeling had struck him at exactly the same moment that Sakura had turned eighteen and he was both excited and terrified to find out if that meant what he thought it did. He was excited because there was a chance that he finally had a special someone of it his own, someone to love and cherish and spoil with gifts. He was terrified to see what she thought of the potential match. What if he had been right in his youth and Sakura was just the poor sod stuck with him, miserable and disappointed? He found that he couldn’t make himself raise his head, too worried that it was true.

Sakura made no noise when she moved, she was too well trained for that, but he saw her little feet appear in front of his and tensed. He watched her hands lift and, for a moment, wondered if it would be better to let her hit him or to block. He didn’t expect for her to gently place her fingers under his chin and lift it until his gaze met her own.

Sensations wracked him again as their eyes connected. He could feel the way his soul recognized hers, reaching out to connect them together. From listening to others he knew that the tugging in his chest would never go away. It would be there for the rest of their lives, always pointing him in whatever direction she was in, leading the two halves of their whole back together again. Sakura seemed to be having trouble catching her breath from the experience.

“Kakashi?” she whispered, making him swallow thickly. Had her voice always sounded like that? It was the sweetest music.

“Forehead? Is he…?” Ino was leaning so far forward she was in danger of falling off the counter. She and Naruto looked ready to burst if they didn’t get some answers. Sakura leaned in to Kakashi’s chest, smiling when he circled her with his arms without a single thought.

“My soulmate,” Sakura breathed just before their lips connected.

The other two in the room were cheering and whooping but Kakashi could barely hear them. All of his concentration was on the woman in his arms and the incredible lightness in his head. It appeared that he had been worried for nothing. If the tongue that had just brushed against his own was any indication, Sakura seemed fairly happy with the match.

Chapter Text

Kisame wrote in his journal a lot. Posing as Tobi, he was able to spend a lot of time around the other Akatsuki members without anyone taking much notice of him. One of the things that this pseudo-invisibility had shown him was that in every spare moment he had, Kisame wrote in his journal.

Obito hadn’t so much as opened his own journal in years, not since the day he met Rin. He remembered hearing her gush about how her soulmate had drawn her pictures even before they could write and vowing never to open his own again. He hadn’t wanted anyone else’s words, only hers. Now, a lifetime later, he was still dedicating everything he had to a girl who hadn’t even loved him. Not that her lack of love in any way invalidated his own of course. Just because he knew they could never be together didn’t mean he couldn’t love her from afar. Right?

Scowling, Obito watched Kisame’s pen scratching painstakingly at the page in front of him. He wasn’t sure why it was suddenly bothering him now, after all these years, when it never had before. Why was he wondering what his own journal might contain? Why could he suddenly think of nothing but whether or not his soulmate had continued to reach out to him over the years?

It took another three weeks and four more times catching Kisame with pen in hand before Obito capitulated, although it took several days for him to locate it. He had left it behind when he did the same to Konoha and he was amazed to discover that his possessions still remained untouched in the abandoned Uchiha district. He’d been given his journal at birth, as everyone was, and it had started to show the years. The blank white cover was yellowed with age, one corner curling up and creased from being shoved in to a space it didn’t fit in.

Obito stood in the bedroom he had slept in as a child and cradled the book gently in his hands, feeling nostalgia fill him up. He had been happy here, once. It had simply never occurred to him in all the years he had spent planning the world’s destruction that, perhaps, he could have sought a different happiness within these pages. After all, wasn’t this journal supposed to lead him to his soulmate? And wasn’t his soulmate supposed to be the one person who would always love him? The one he was fated to love in return? He had spent so many years chasing Rin’s ghost, closing his eyes and running forward blindly. The idea that it had all been for nothing was almost beyond comprehension.

It took quite a bit of courage for Obito to slide one finger under the yellowed cover and flip it open to a random spot. His jaded heart thudded painfully in his chest when he saw messy writing scrawling across the page.

Do you think I got it wrong? Probably. I get a lot of things wrong. I’m not that smart but I’m strong so I think it’s their own fault for drawing a weapon but not pointing it in the right direction. Me being the weapon, if you didn't get that.

The paragraph was all on its own, like a thought that someone had to write down before they forget or a bit of conversation taken out of context. A few lines below was another disjointed paragraph.

He was in a lot of pain and it was going to take him hours to die. They’re angry at me for killing him but wasn’t that a mercy? Is it so hard to believe that someone like me understands the concept of mercy? Well, perhaps I didn’t want to listen to him screaming and moaning. It was a mercy to me too.

Obito breathed slowly, flipping through the pages. There was years’ worth of writing inside. His soulmate obviously used the journal as a place to keep thoughts that they could say to no one else. He wondered what they thought of his failure to write anything back. That is, until he found an entry addressing that tucked somewhere close to the front.

You never write back. Are you dead? I figure it’s one of three reasons. Either you’re dead, you lost your journal, or you can see me writing but you don’t like me. That’s fine. A lot of people don’t like me. But you’re my soulmate, I guess, and would have liked to meet you anyway. I don’t think anyone will love me if you don’t. That sounds pretty lonely. You’re probably dead though. Which figures. Mei says all the time that I’m too much of a beast for anyone to love. She’s probably right.

His already broken heart crumbled just a little bit more. He couldn’t help it. Somewhere out in the world there was someone who had been reaching out to him for years and he had been ignoring them, eyes focused only on a girl who had never even looked in his direction. Obito frowned and flipped to the latest entries. There weren’t very many pages left before the book would wipe itself clean, ready for new entries to connect the space between them. As he watched, fresh words appeared. His soulmate was writing to him at this very moment!

-because Leader is gone again. Now that Itachi is dead I don’t know who he thinks he’s going to partner me with. I don’t even know why he thinks we need partners in the first place. I’m fine on my own. I always have been.

More words were forming but Obito didn’t see them as he slammed the journal closed. He stared at the aged cover with his one eye wide. Could it be? The idea seemed impossible. He swallowed hard and braced himself, then slowly opened the journal once more to peek at the very first page.

Hello. My name is Kisame.

There was a lot of space between that first entry and the next, a pattern that followed for the first few pages. Kisame had left him space to reply, had called out to him to do so, tried to wheedle a response from him in the early entries. It was easy to see when he stopped trying. The entries became less conversational, less questions, and more about simply a sharing of thoughts without expecting anything in return.

Obito’s hands shook but he didn’t drop the journal. He cast about the dust covered room for something to write with. A few pens stood upright in a cup on his old desk but he figured they would have dried out by now. Finally he spotted a pencil and grabbed it up. Then stopped. What in the name of the Sage of Six Paths was he supposed to say? Sorry that I’ve ignored you your whole life?

Taking a deep breath, Obito returned to the latest pages and put the pencil to the paper, watching Kisame’s spiky writing continue to jump and skitter. It wasn’t graceful writing, but then, neither was his own.

Hello Kisame

The two words wrote themselves with little thought from him. Kisame’s writing, only an inch above his own, suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. He waited with baited breath, half afraid of what the response would be.

Well look who decided to show up.

Obito chuckled a little in relief, sitting down on the rickety chair beside him and setting his journal on the desk. It didn’t occur to him that it was the first real laugh he had let out in years. He was too preoccupied.

My apologies. I have only just now recovered my journal.

He didn’t notice the smile on his face as he watched spiky letters spread out at a hurried pace. Kisame had so many questions and obviously couldn’t decide which to ask first. He could picture the blue-skinned hulk of a man hunched over in a chair, pen flickering as he tried to write faster and dark hair falling across his forehead.

As he wrote back and forth, partaking in the first honest conversation he’d ever had with his soulmate, the pain that had gathered in his chest over the past decade and more slowly drained away. His tense shoulders relaxed and his lungs felt as if they could draw breath properly. Uchiha Obito sat in the house he was raised in, in the village he had loved, and in the course of one afternoon he learned to live again while thoughts of the Infinite Tsukuyomi faded away. Perhaps this world had something in it to live for after all.

Chapter Text

Tobirama spent a lot of time staring moodily at his wrist when no one was watching. There was an ongoing debate within his clan over whether his brand had caused his personality or his personality was to blame for his brand. No one could ever say for sure. All he knew was that he had been born with the age he would meet his soulmate burned in to his skin, just like the rest of the population, but his was different than anyone else’s. His brand told him he would somehow not meet his soulmate until he was 110 years old. 110 years old.

 The first thing that always angered him about this was the fact that he was going to be alone for over a hundred years. The second thing was that, after living that long, it was likely that he would keel over the moment they met. The third thing that made him angry, the thing he never mentioned to anyone and hoped they never thought of it themselves because it was embarrassing: if he wasn’t going to meet his soulmate until he was over a hundred, did that mean he would never lose his virginity? Was it even possible to still have sex at that age? Would they be the same age as him? Would they be way younger than him and not want that sort of relationship?

 Tobirama snorted and shuffled further down on the couch he was lounging on. He was supposed to be writing out the results of his latest jutsu experiment. Instead he was moping about his wrist again – only free to do so because Hashirama and Mito were training right now. He dared not mope with Mito living with them now. Her ideas of ways to cheer him up were scary at best. Horrifying at worst. He might be a twenty-three year old adult and the second strongest shinobi in the Senju clan but that didn’t stop him from stepping lightly around his brother’s wife.

 With a slow unhappy sigh Tobirama decided he might as well return to his work. Staring gloomily wasn’t going to make his number change so he should probably actually get something done. That way it would be less obvious what he had really spent his time alone doing. As he reached for his pen, however, what he saw from the corner of his eye made him freeze and stare in equal parts wonder and horror.

 His number was moving.

 Where previously he had been branded with the number 110 in thick bold font, the digits were now slowly ticking backwards like a timer counting down. Tobirama didn’t so much as draw a breath, holding himself perfectly still as he watched the number shrink smaller and smaller. His lungs were burning by the time it finally stopped, ending on 24. The first breath he drew felt more like gasping, floundering, like trying to breathe for the very first time.

 He distantly registered the sounds of his family returning home but was unable to react. Hashirama called out his name a few times until the two of them came in to the room and saw him staring at his arm with an unreadable expression.

 “Tobirama?” his brother took a few cautious steps towards him. “What’s wrong?” He and his wife both jumped when Tobirama’s head shot up and they saw the wild look in his eyes.

 “My brand,” was all he managed to say, shoving his arm out at them with no further explanation. Mito grabbed his wrist to hold it still so they could see what he was talking about. When she saw it her jaw dropped open. Hashirama made a noise typically only heard from the mouths of children under five years old.

 “It changed! Your brand changed! Oh my god!” With arms flailing in every direction, Hashirama spun about the room spouting exclamations of shock. Mito, at the very least, kept her head. Her thumb passed over the spot where there had once been a third digit. There was now nothing but skin. Not a trace of ink or even a bit of redness remained.

 “How did this happen?” she asked him.

 Tobirama stared up at her helplessly. “I don’t know,” he admitted. Across the room, Hashirama went quiet. When even Tobirama had nary a guess, it wasn’t usually a good thing.

 Although time passed and the three of them tossed around several theories, no answers were to be had that day. In fact, it took almost a full year for him to discover the reason for the change in his brand. In that time Hashirama had finally made peace with Madara and construction of the village of their dreams was underway.

 The day that changed Tobirama’s life was the day the two clans finally immigrated to the spot where they would hopefully spend the rest of their lives in peace. All the clan members still living in the war camps that had sustained them for generations made the journey to what had recently been christened Konoha – and he was one of the ones tasked with organizing the influx of citizens. Since he had helped design the layout of each district it was easy enough to direct newcomers to the proper areas for each clan and their many branches.

 He was standing outside of the Uchiha district helping Madara give directions to a suspiciously glaring old woman when a loud voice called out over the noise of the crowded street.

 “BAKASHI!”

 Tobirama’s head whipped around to spot the source of the disturbance. Peripherally he noted that all the members of the Uchiha clan were ignoring the noise and some of them had developed indulgent expressions on their faces. What he saw was two men who appeared to be around his own age range chasing each other across the roofs of several half-finished houses. One of them had silver hair and a cloth mask covering most of his features. He appeared to be fleeing from a man with black hair and painful looking scars on the right side of his face. The silver haired one executed a graceful front flip over the wall of the last building in its row, landing in the street and immediately diving behind Madara for cover. The black haired man skidded to a stop in front of Madara, who crossed his arms and stared him down with a raised eyebrow.

 “That’s not fair, you can’t always hide behind him!” the scarred man raged. “Get back over here and let me kick your ass!” The silver haired man popped his head over the Uchiha clan head’s shoulder only to thumb his nose at the one who had chased him. Tobirama blinked, utterly bewildered.

 “Who…?” he couldn’t even begin to form the question. Madara rolled his eyes and jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

 “This would be my soulmate, Hatake Kakashi,” he announced in a flat voice. Kakashi’s eye turned upwards in what he surmised must be a smile and saluted him with two fingers.  “That one there is Uchiha Obito. The two of them are…unique in their…circumstances.”

 Kakashi huffed a laugh. “That’s one way to put it Dara-chan.”

 Tobirama wasn’t sure whether he was more bewildered by the fact that Madara actually allowed that diminutive form of his name to slip past without comment or the fact that tiny spots of pink appeared on his cheeks when it was said. Deciding that he really didn’t want any details about the uptight man’s sex life, Tobirama turned to this new Uchiha, who stood with his fists clenched and eye narrowed, glaring at his escaped quarry.

 “Obito, was it? Welcome to Konoha.” He tried for politeness. Obito scoffed.

 “Welcome yourself, I got here first!” the young man looked over at him and Tobirama noticed for the first time how his left eye was covered with a dark eye patch, blending in with his inky hair.

 “I beg your pardon?”

 He was further pole-axed when the man’s entire demeanor suddenly flipped from anger to awe. His one visible eye widened and an almost blank look of surprise bloomed when there had only moments ago been a frown. His clenched hands fell loose as his whole being froze with what appeared to be stunned disbelief.

“You! You’re…oh my god you’re Senju Tobirama, you’re…you’re my…” he couldn’t seem to finish his sentence.

 Tobirama could feel his head slowly tilting to the side, dragged down by the weight of his confusion. The man named Kakashi was sniggering behind his hand and Madara looked like he was only moments away from sprouting flames out of his ears.

 “Don’t fawn over him! He’s a Senju! Have some Uchiha pride you useless-!” The clan head cut himself off, almost inarticulate with rage. Obito spared him a haughty look.

 “Oh stuff it, gramps!” Madara’s eye twitched, Kakashi was almost seizing from holding in his laughter, and Tobirama had never been so bewildered in all of his days. He’d never heard anyone speak so disrespectfully to this titan of a warrior. He hadn’t thought anyone would survive doing so.

 Finally he managed to say, “Ah, you know me I presume?”

 “Don't expect him to remember you when he hasn't met you yet,” Kakashi managed to puff out between bursts of laughter. “You’re such an idiot! He doesn’t even know where we’re from!” As if there were something inherently amusing about their origins, this set him off again. He had to clutch on to Madara to stop himself from falling over. His laughter seemed to irritate Obito, who glared briefly before turning back to Tobirama and holding a hand out eagerly. The scars on his face pulled back when he smiled. Tobirama found himself thinking that it would be interesting to trace them. He wondered what their texture would be under his fingertips.

 “Just forget that then. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Uchiha Obito, as the old windbag said.” He ignored Madara’s protesting noises. Tobirama hesitated.

 “Well, as I said, welcome to Konoha,” he murmured, then reached out to take the offered hand. He was wholly unprepared for the moment their skin touched. It felt like something clicked inside of him, slotting in to place to fill a gaping hole he had previously been unaware of. The brand on his wrist grew warm, glowing through the cuffs of his shirt in a way he had seen a few times before.

 The last time he had seen it was the day Hashirama had met Mito.

 Obito and Tobirama stared at each other in silence, still connected by their clasped hands, as the light from their wrists faded away. The Senju felt strangely aware of the one he was touching. He felt like, if he concentrated hard enough, he could learn all of the secrets hidden away behind those scars. He felt like he’d been waiting for this moment his entire life. Now that it had come he found he had no idea what to do.

 Eventually the two of them realized that they were still standing in the street holding hands and staring at each other without saying a word. They both quickly dropped their arms and looked away, Tobirama glaring at the citizens around them to make them turn away. Off to the side Kakashi and Madara were both sporting rather smug looks, something that appeared to rub Obito the wrong way.

 “Either of you got something to say?” he growled, one fist coming up so he could shake it at them threateningly. Kakashi shrugged as he slung a casual arm around Madara’s waist.

 “I’m happy for you Obito,” Kakashi said. “I am, however, going to enjoy watching you explain to him where we come from.”

 By the cringe that this comment elicited and the wary glance his way, Tobirama surmised that there must be quite an interesting story there.

 He was right. Much – very much – later that evening he sat stunned with things like ‘time travel’ and ‘born in the future’ running through his mind. The description of the Infinite Tsukuyomi he had been given was both terrifying and awe-inspiring. Knowing that the Edo Tensei he himself had invented had been used in such a disgusting manner put his emotions through trials he had never experienced before.

 He finally understood why his brand had changed, however. Obito and Kakashi had been born long after Tobirama himself was supposed to die. The ‘how’ of their trip in to the past was still being looked in to, even a year after they had arrived. After most of the heavy truths had been admitted, Madara and Kakashi left to allow them some time to talk privately. Tobirama sat on a bench in his newly grown garden, eyes on the stars above him, mind on the warmth of the man at his side. Obito was a jaded and broken man who was slowly finding his way back to the person he had once been.

 When Tobirama lifted a hand and traced the scars on his partner’s face he discovered them to be softer than he’d imagined. They molded under his touch, shifting where he pressed them. He wondered if the man underneath them might be the same, if he could be reshaped in to someone who was not ruled by pain and anger. Looking in to the bright eye that watched him but said nothing, he decided he was willing to find out. He had spent enough time brooding about wanting this. If he had to fight to keep it, he would.

Chapter Text

The second his blade slides in to Izuna’s chest he realizes his error. How he never realized it before is beyond him, with all the times they have battled. There is no mistaking it now. As his sword cuts through armor and flesh and organs, pain unlike anything he has ever felt blossoms in his own torso. He gasps for breath while the other man meets his eyes, both horrified as the realization hits them at the same time. They go down together.

Madara’s enraged shout barely registers over the sound of ringing in his ears. Tobirama struggles to reach across the small distance between them, his hand scrabbling in the dirt and trailing through the blood oozing from Izuna’s wounds. Wounds that he himself inflicted.

“Get away from him!” Madara growls, pulling his brother in to his arms. Tobirama makes a noise of protest as the pain that wracks through Izuna’s body at the movement crashes down over him as well. His eyes roll wildly, searching.

“Brother,” he calls out weakly. Hashirama appears at his side in an instant, worried. The whole battlefield saw the blow that brought down his opponent. No one saw any reason for him to fall as well. He clutches at his brother’s pauldrons and chokes out, “Heal him.”

From the corner of his eye he sees Madara pause, stunned at his request. Izuna’s blood trickles out from a bloody smile. Hashirama stops searching for injuries to blink at him in bemusement.

“Heal who? Are you alright?”

“Heal him. Please.” Tobirama closes his eyes against the pain. It isn’t his pain but it is pain that he inflicted and that makes it harder to bear. “He’s hurting,” he manages to whisper, then clenches his teeth. His stomach is rebelling against the sensations and his vision is blurring. He and Izuna bear up under the pain in silence but it’s a close call for both of them. This feels like dying. If he allows Izuna to leave it will end in death, he knows.

It’s a good thing his brother is a healer.

Without pausing to ask silly questions like ‘why’ Hashirama darts over to where the Uchiha brothers are holding each other only a few feet away. Hashirama has always been a good brother this way, always willing to do as he requests without fully understand the reason he asks. Madara eyes him with suspicion but even this god of destruction can recognize the green tinge of healing chakra being offered to him. He allows Hashirama to press hands in to the weeping wound in Izuna’s chest.

Relief so thick it borders on ecstasy spreads through them both. Tobirama gasps and presses a hand to where he almost expects there to be a hole in his own armor. There isn’t, but he holds his hand there anyway. His eyes close and he gasps through the feeling of a wound that isn’t his slowly closing.

“By the Sage, they’re soulmates!” He’s not sure who it is that says it first but suddenly almost everyone in both of their clans is exclaiming how they never saw this coming. When he feels less like throwing up Tobirama lolls his head to the side and opens his eyes. Izuna is looking back at him. He looks grateful, an expression Tobirama isn’t used to seeing in the eyes of anyone not a child.

When the pain is manageable he sits up, fingers scraping against the rocks and the grit. Izuna’s palms clench. When Hashirama allows the healing chakra to fade away he can tell that the job isn’t done. Long years watching his brother learn to heal others, however, gives him the experience to know that this is a hurt that will take more than one session to heal. A dirty battlefield is not the place to continue treatment.

The head of the Senju clan sits back on his heels and, with a hopeful expression, holds out his hand to the head of Uchiha clan. Madara tilts his head, arms tightening around the brother he could have lost if not for the universe having the good sense to connect two people’s souls. Izuna murmurs encouragingly, eyes still on the one whose blade had pierced him.

Shinobi of both clans begin to cheer when the two shake hands, sealing peace between them at long last. Tobirama cheers in his heart, his gaze locked with the man whose pain still throbs in his chest. Izuna smiles again. Tobirama smiles with him.

Chapter Text

A lot of books and television shows liked to romanticize the moment when two soulmates meet. It was true that the moment was supposed to be a wonderful thing and that it was only upon meeting one’s soulmate that it become possible for a person to speak. What Yamato found ridiculous was the way the moment was presented in the romance genre. He was really sick of movies that presented it as if gaining the ability to do something automatically meant that you carried the knowledge of how to do it.

He may have just been bitter about his speech therapy not going well today.

Yamato was scowling when he entered the dark apartment. It melted from his face, however, when he caught sight of the young man seated on his couch. Sai had his legs folded underneath him with his sketch book in his lap. Today’s medium appeared to be chalk judging by the range of colored pieces spread out on the coffee table. The pale artist was making tiny marks on the page with a piece of green chalk, his hand as sure and steady as it always was.

A smile grew to replace the scowl as he walked over and started moving art supplies to make room for himself to sit down as well. Sai would have come to speech therapy with him – if he had any interest in learning to speak. Sign language was a universally understood language and it was silent so it worked better for people in their line of work. Besides, he had told Yamato, he only had one word he would ever need to learn and it had been easy enough to master.

One peek over a pale shoulder and Yamato’s smile grew so wide that it almost took over his whole face. Both of them were depicted sitting in a tree with the hanging boughs shielding them from the rest of the world, enjoying a private moment together. To show his gratitude, Yamato leaned over and pressed a chaste kiss to Sai’s cheek. Sai looked up at him for the first time since he had arrived home, affection only just shining through in the too-well trained stillness of his face.

“Yamato,” Sai murmured in his stilted voice. It was the most beautiful sound in the world.

Chapter Text

When it first appeared Iruka’s initial thought was “I’m too young to die”. It might have been a silly thought but it was excusable because he was only eleven years old and he had woken up to find an echo of the mark of the ANBU riding on his shoulder. The idea of his soulmate being in ANBU was terrifying enough. Even more terrifying was the idea that they must be quite a bit older than him. ANBU was the place of the most elite and darkened shinobi; they were the beasts that fed the nightmares of small children, the shadows that struck fear in to the hearts of the most hardened warriors. It was not a place for young ones. And his soulmate had just joined up.

It was only a few months later that Iruka lost his parents in the Nine-tails attack. He had pressed his hand to the echo on his shoulder, desperate for someone strong to come help him. Whoever it was that had originally gotten the tattoo should have felt it going warm inside their skin. They should have answered his call. The only one that came was a slim ANBU with silver hair who tossed him over their shoulders and wordlessly bore him away despite his protests. Iruka’s young mind didn’t want to be rational. He didn’t want to admit that even though they would feel the warmth they would have no idea where the call was coming from.

The experience of losing one’s parents was not an experience that usually helped someone think rationally. Iruka was very bitter for a long time afterwards.

It took two years and a lot of long talks with the Sandaime before Iruka straightened up his act and realized that it wasn’t his soulmate’s fault that his parents had died. It was the Nine-tails that had killed them, not the inaction of someone who couldn’t have known where he was. It wasn’t even the fault of the person who took him away. Bringing a child to safety was a priority over assisting two fully capable shinobi. Iruka vowed to work hard and find his place in the village, to serve his parents’ memories by doing his best for Konoha.

Upon letting go of his anger Iruka then developed a new obsession: he wanted to find his soulmate. There were a limited number of options. The village could only have so many ANBU, after all. The problem was catching them and seeing if they reacted when he touched his echo. He could have gotten a tattoo of his own and shown it off to try and bring them to him through word of mouth. He was still a little young though and he had no idea what kind of tattoo he would want to permanently etch in to his skin. Besides, how hard could it be to catch an ANBU?

The answer to that was very. Iruka was, in the words of his teacher, a tricky little shit. He was good at traps and running and hiding. He was good at defensive stuff. What he was not, was a tracker. Or an infiltrator. He was nowhere near sneaky enough to get close to a member of the black ops. Not to say that it stopped him from trying.

The most common place to find an ANBU was when they were guarding the Hokage. It wasn’t as if they were easy to spot but at least you always knew they were there – somewhere. Iruka spent a lot of time drinking tea and playing shogi with Lord Hiruzen while his eyes roamed the shadows, equal parts suspicious and hopeful.

The first ANBU he tried to catch reverse-tracked him, surprised him from behind, and knocked him out with a single blow. He woke up to a lecture and a bad headache.

The second ANBU he found led him in circles for a full three hours before he realized that they knew he was following them and were playing a game to mess with his head. He scowled and shouted, stomping his foot, and the woman had the audacity to laugh at him before disappearing in a puff of smoke. Turned out he’d been following a clone the whole time.

The third ANBU Iruka tried to catch had picked him up by the scruff of the neck and dangled him off the side of the Hokage Monument, hundreds of feet in the air. The interrogation he had gone through that day was embarrassing. He had both been forced to spill his reason for following them and been laughed at. A prick in the arm that he never even felt rendered him unconscious while the ANBU was still laughing. He woke up to another lecture although this time without a headache.

He became the butt of their jokes for a bit after that. Iruka spotted ANBU absolutely everywhere as they tried to entice ‘the child’ in to chasing them. He was smart enough to realize that they were making fun of him though and for a while he gave up on trying. He came to recognize some of the masks and memorize which ones he had encountered. Only a few never tried to engage him.

It was around that time that the rumors started to reach his ears, two pieces of information that drove him to distraction. He started to hear that there was another child in ANBU. He hadn’t even known there had been one before. That news floored him as he realized there was a potential for his soulmate to be close to his own age. He also started to hear about the Friend Killer, the broken ANBU who was too young to already be so lost to the darkness.

Putting clues together, Iruka surmised that the Friend Killer was one of ones who had never tried to get him to chase them. He was one of the silent figures who embodied their mask, slipping through the darkness and wearing it like a well-fitted cloak, the ones who guarded the Hokage without letting a child see them. Iruka, however, had not entirely let the habit of being a tricky little shit fall to the wayside. Despite the terrible moniker his comrades had bestowed on him, the Friend Killer had all the makings of being the one Iruka was looking for. He wanted to meet them.

And he knew just how to do it.

Step number one was to respond to the teasing that still happened from time to time. The first time he acted surprised and gave chase to the ANBU who let him see them, they were so surprised in return he almost actually caught them. After a quickly muffled chortle and the employment of a rather hasty Body Flicker the ANBU led him on a merry chase for an hour before he lost them somewhere around Training Ground 3.

Suddenly ANBU showed up everywhere he went again. He spent a couple of weeks chasing them before finally one of them caught him instead, hoping to tease him a bit before knocking him out as had been done before. Instead, Iruka surprised his captor with a plea for help. The man bearing a badger mask was so thrown off by his idea they almost dropped him. Then they laughed for a few minutes while he dangled in the air, bristling with indignation.

“Even if he isn’t who you’re looking for, that little shit deserves to think you are. Maybe it’ll knock some humanity in to him.” The voice behind the badger mask seemed to rumble up from the deepest part of his torso and Iruka grinned at making someone so gruff laugh so hard. Now that he knew it wasn’t at him.

“So you’ll help?” he asked brightly. The ANBU put him down on the roof they were on top of, patting his shoulder with a hand the size of a dinner plate. His knees almost buckled.

“I can guarantee you kid, we’ll all help.”

The next thing Iruka knew he had ANBU swooping in to his bedroom window late at night to discuss the best way to trap one of their own and present him as a gift to a young genin. In between training with his team and running D-rank mission, Iruka became the quietest little celebrity that their village had ever seen. They all had advice and helpful hints. One of them informed him that the one he was after had no idea about it as he didn’t engage with his comrades and hadn’t heard any of the recent gossip. He was given so many suggestions for ways to trap his quarry that he spent weeks trying to decide which one to go with.

In the end the decision was taken out of his hand when a fox masked ANBU dropped in to his room, scooped him up, and flitted off in to the night with him on her back. Iruka knew it might be stupid to trust them all so blindly but he still let out a whoop as they flew above the village, wind throwing his loose hair every which way.

Their brief flight ended in the middle of the arena typically used for the chūnin exams. Iruka could see a perimeter of shadows even deeper than the actual darkness that nighttime cast over the seating areas. He’d never seen so many ANBU in one place. Only moments later three figures touch down ten feet in front of him, the two on the sides restraining the one in the middle. Iruka blinked in surprise at seeing the slim ANBU with silver hair, the one who had rescued him from the battlefield on the night his parents died. He was squirmed and grumbling, uttering threats in an attempt to get away from the two holding him in place.

“I hear you’ve got a birthday coming up soon,” the woman with the fox mask said to him. “We all chipped in and got you something!” Iruka giggled.

“Let go of me you idiots!” The silver haired ANBU was demanding. He stumbled a bit when his two captors shoved him forward but didn’t try to run. By the way his mask turned side to side, he could also see the ring of hidden assassins that had him hemmed in. Iruka took a couple of steps toward him.

“Hi there. My name’s Iruka.” He waved, feeling a bit silly.

“What do you want, kid?” The older boy asked. His arms folded in front across his chest plate impatiently. One of his comrades smacked his shoulder for his tone but said nothing.

Iruka took a steadying breath before squaring his shoulders and marching forward a little farther. He stopped when he was face to face with the one the villagers called Friend Killer and looked up in to the eyes of a mask painted like a Hound. This mask was, inherently, no scarier than all the others. It was who stood behind it that people feared. Iruka found himself mostly just curious.

“I wanted to check something,” he said in a clear voice. Maybe someone smarter than him would have something momentous to say but Iruka didn’t often waste his time trying to be momentous or impressive.

So without further ado he lifted the sleeve of his t-shirt, tried not to react to the interested head tilt from the silver haired ANBU, and pressed his hand on to the echo he had just revealed. As it always did, the translucent red mark felt warm under his fingers. Every person inside the silent stadium, hidden and not, watched with baited breath as the other boy’s hand whipped up to grab at his own shoulder, fingers pressing in to the tattoo that marked him as a member of the black ops.

“It is him!” the woman with the Fox mask cried triumphantly. “You’re his soulmate!”

“Yes,” the Hound said, rubbing at his tattoo. Iruka couldn’t make his fingers unclench even though he knew he was making the mark burn. The one who had punched the Hound threw their hands up in the air.

“You knew!?”

“Of course I knew!” the boy huffed. “He called me the night of the Kyuubi attack.” He paused and looked over at Iruka, his mask tilting to the side in question. “You really didn’t realize that I was responding to you?”

Iruka mouthed soundlessly at first before blurting, “No! I thought it was just some random…you knew this whole time! How could you never came and talked to me?” He watched the mask turn side to side as the one who was evidently his asshole of a soulmate looked around at the people listening in on their conversation.

“This isn’t the place to talk about this,” the other boy said, stepping forward to take Iruka’s elbow in a light grip.

There was a jerking sensation in his gut and a blur of color before his eyes, then suddenly they were somewhere else. Iruka had never learned the Body Flicker and he hadn’t known you could drag someone along for the ride like that. His stomach churning, he decided to take that jutsu off of his list of ones he wanted to learn. It was not comfortable.

When he was able to concentrate on his surroundings he noted that they were in an unfamiliar apartment. They had arrived in the kitchen but he could see a futon rolled up in the corner as if someone slept in here instead of the bedroom that was surely only just down the hall. The room was meticulously clean, he could see that even in the dark, but it was almost barren. There were no decorations and no personal items.

Movement drew his eye and he looked over to see the one who brought him here stepping back and lifting a hand to his mask. Iruka watched, wide-eyed, as it was removed to reveal the identity of his soulmate for the first time. Then his breath caught in his throat. He knew this boy! They’d never met personally but the whole village knew who Hatake Kakashi was. And he suddenly felt incredibly dumb for not realizing who this was because who else was around his age with silver hair and good enough to be inducted in to the most elite fighting force there was?

“Look I’m sorry, I thought you knew who I was and, uh, what I was. Am. What I am.” Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. Iruka frowned.

“Well I didn’t!” he said. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

“I didn’t know that,” Kakashi mumbled, looking at his feet. “I thought you knew it was me during the Kyuubi attack. Then you never said anything so I figured you didn’t want me? I didn’t blame you, to be honest. I wouldn’t want me either.” He seemed to be unable to look anywhere close to Iruka’s face so he likely missed the flabbergasted expression that he was wearing.

Iruka’s shoulders drooped as he mumbled, “Oh.” Kakashi just nodded his head a little awkwardly.

There was silence in the room as they both shuffled their feet. Iruka felt a little bit stupid and a little bit guilty. His soulmate had known who he was this whole time but thought he hadn’t wanted him? The rumors about the ‘Friend Killer’ suddenly made a lot more sense. They said he was reckless with his own life and seemed cut off from those around him. Iruka supposed he’d act that way too if he thought his soulmate didn’t want him.

“I’m sorry,” he managed to say eventually. “I don’t, um, not want you. I mean that I do want you! I know that people call you Friend Killer but I don’t think you’d really do that and it would be great to, uh, spend time with you. And get to know you? Would that be alright? Because, well, yeah I was a little scared when I got my echo but I’ve really wanted to meet you and – oh!”

The rest of whatever he was going to ramble on about was choked back when he suddenly found arms around him. His face was pressed in to a solid chest as Kakashi hugged him almost too tightly. Iruka was so stunned at first that he didn’t react, then slowly he raised his arms and hugged the older boy back.

“I’d like that,” Kakashi mumbled above his head. Iruka smiled. He knew Kakashi was older than him and they might not have much in common but he also knew that it wouldn’t matter. He would love every flaw and imperfection that Kakashi had to offer just as much as he would love his good qualities. When the arms holding him shifted so a hand could press against his echo, he smiled in contentment. This was where he belonged. This was the person he belonged to.

Iruka was sixteen the first time they kissed. He backed Kakashi in to a corner and tried hard to ignore the laughter against his lips.

He was nineteen the first time they made love. He was honestly surprised Kakashi had held out that long. He was even more surprised when it was sweet and slow and everything a first time should be. He got a tattoo the next morning and watched an echo of the kanji for both their names print itself across Kakashi’s skin.

He was twenty-two when they got married in a quiet ceremony in the garden of the old Hatake home, the same place that Kakashi’s parents got married. They both wore the colors of each other’s clans and he couldn’t remember ever being happier than that day.

Iruka was twenty-seven the first time Kakashi died, although he didn’t find out until hours after. He was eighty-three when Kakashi died the second time. He closed his eyes and laid his head down, and Iruka had been eighty-three when they found him beside his husband.

Chapter Text

When she was young Ten Ten was happy. She remembered her parents mostly in flashes of sensation. Her mother was the smell of baking bread and her father was the weight of a hand ruffling her hair. The accident that took them happened so long ago that she could only remember pieces of it. She remembered the terror and confusion, the way her civilian father’s hand had shook while he tried to wield a kunai. The starkest memory was the sudden pain that flared in her chest, driving her to her knees. It’s the last memory that still haunts her.

The doctors had told her it wasn’t a medical condition the way she thought of it. It was most likely a form of PTSD flashbacks. The older she got the more often she felt the pains. They had a tendency to strike at the strangest times. Sometimes in the shower, sometimes in class. Often she woke up to the pain in the middle of the night. Ten Ten wondered if her soulmate felt the pain or if was really just all in her head the way the medi-nin thought it was.

As she went through the academy, all of her teachers told Ten Ten that she would never make it as a ninja if she had a condition that could drive her to her knees at any given moment. She scowled at them and said, “Watch me”.

It took years of hard work and harder training but Ten Ten managed to achieve her dream. She became a kunoichi with her own personal style. But more important than that she learned to conquer her pain. The flashes of agony never stopped coming and she never had any warning when they would hit but she had trained to be able to withstand them, to ride through them without any outward sign of the pain she felt inside.

When she was seventeen years old Ten Ten was happy. Life had been good to her for the most part. She had a great team and a wonderful group of friends. Evil things might be on the horizon for the village and the world but she still found the time to stop and enjoy the little things.

Life changed when one of her comrades died, the sensei of some of her friends. Ten Ten wasn’t part of the mission to track down the culprits but she was there to comfort them when all was said and done. The loss of their sensei was a harsh blow. As she listened to their story and what they had gone through, however, she realized that it might not only be their sensei that had been lost.

They described to her the method by which Asuma had died and the man that had killed him, the ritual that ended with a spear through the heart. The idea occurred to her then but was frantically dismissed. It seemed impossible almost. But then days and weeks began to roll by without a single attack of pain. In fact, she felt nothing at all where she should normally be able to feel all the daily aches and pains that her soulmate experiences: stubbed toes, a close call with a kunai, a new bruise, anything. The absence of pain held against the description of that evil man’s attack began to fill her mind.

It took three months before she admitted to herself what seemed so farfetched. The man who had killed Asuma had been her soulmate. The pains she had felt all her life were not a form of PTSD, they were the sensation of her soulmate stabbing himself through the heart in a twisted ritual of death. It hurt in a way she had never known. It hurt like possibilities being taken from her, like heights she would never reach, like a goal she would never see completed. Ten Ten’s soulmate was dead at the hands of her good friends before she ever got the chance to meet him.

More than that, he had been the one that had killed her parents. He had been the one to take what was most precious to her. They were doomed from the start, she realized when this at long last occurred to her. She could never have loved him.

She never told anyone, not wanting to change the way her friend’s saw her. But in private she mourned the things that should have been hers. There were times when the unfairness of it all choked her lungs like a squeezing band of almost unbearable pain. Yet, Ten Ten had spent years training for just this kind of thing. She was a strong kunoichi and a strong person. She had fought through pain before and she would continue to fight through this pain too.

She had to.

Chapter Text

Shikamaru was still riding the high of breaking the genjutsu, still feeling pretty smart for tricking such a worthy opponent. And there’s no doubt she’s worthy. He’s already marked her as someone who must be very good at shogi.

But as he catches her in the grip of his Shadow Strangle Jutsu and plants a fist in her gut, something changes. Or more accurately: he can feel something changing. He was bruised and battered, his limbs aching with fatigue from the trials of their mission. But as he remains pressed against her, even if only through the cotton of her shirt, he can feel that tiredness falling away. He can feel the soreness of his bruises fading and he knows the few scrapes he’d picked up will be healing over on their own.

Tayuya’s eye are locked on the marks he knows were on his face, watching them disappear with growing horror. That same horror raged through Shikamaru at the same time. How could it be her? How could an enemy turn out to be the soulmate he was bound to? It was like he was in some cliché teenage romance novel and this was the big plot twist.

“Don’t think this makes a difference!” Tayuya growled at him. He sighed. This was all just so troublesome!

Moments later Tayuya was swept away from in front of him by what appeared to be a wind jutsu that came out of nowhere. Shikamaru turned to see, of all people, Temari of the Sand Village. Apparently she had been called in to help back him up. Things escalated after that even though Shikamaru took a backseat through most of the action. He’d done plenty already and if Temari wanted to show off he wasn’t going to exert himself.

It didn’t take too long before his new ally had his opponent unconscious and buried under the mess that was left over after cutting off the tops of every tree in a mile radius. While Temari stopped to take a breather and gloat a bit, Shikamaru found his eyes trained on Tayuya. Her curse mark had retreated, taking away the horns and returning her skin to its usual pallor. In repose he supposed she could be called beautiful. Not that he would know about such things. He was much more interested in wondering whether or not he was going to be expected to carry the unconscious woman back to the village.

Turns out he did have to. Temari gave some crap about it not being a ‘woman’s job’. Shikamaru kept his opinions about the stupidity of that to himself.

Upon reaching the village and handing over his defeated opponent, Shikamaru’s attention was immediately diverted to waiting for news about his injured comrades. He didn’t think about Tayuya for a couple of days, not until he was called upon by the Hokage for questioning. When he entered the room and found her sitting there, conscious but bound and eyeing him warily, he hadn’t expected to feel his heart thump inside his chest. He sighed.

This was all going to be much too much trouble for a guy who just wanted to watch the clouds.

Chapter Text

A small bell somewhere out of sight chimed delicately when he pushed the door open. Deidara had never been here before but he had more than one friend who swore that he would love it. Seeing as his last hairdresser had banned him from ever entering the premises again he figured now was as good a time as any to try the infamous Uchiha salon. He hoped that this new place wasn’t picky about people setting off firecrackers.

His first impression was that it was very clean. Everything was in its place and the floor was meticulously clear of any debris except for where a young woman was receiving a trim. The décor was pleasant without being brash, although he preferred louder colors himself. It didn’t look too bad in here. The working hairdressers even appeared competent.

He made his way over to the reception desk, where someone with long hair pulled in to a low ponytail was bent over a scheduling book, and rapped his knuckles on the counter. When the employee lifted their head he was forced to make a poor recovery from pulling a shocked face. This man was gorgeous! His black hair nearly matched his eyes, which were framed with long sooty lashes and set above pronounced tear troughs. His nose was delicate and his mouth almost dainty. It was a face that looked only moments away from raising a thin eyebrow at you. Deidara nearly choked on his tongue trying to speak.

“I just need a wash and a trim, un.” He scowled when his voice came out sounding defensive. “Looking for a new hairdresser. The last place was full of idiots.”

He had to bite down on the inside of his cheek when the gorgeous employee behind the desk really did raise an eyebrow. The black haired man looked up at Deidara’s blonde nest and simply studied him in silence for a minute. He scowled again, feeling self-conscious. Just as he was about to open his mouth and say something offensive he was cut off.

“You would be Deidara, I presume. Kisame told me that he had convinced you to come here.” That voice! It was low and smooth. The really attractive part, however, was the quiet confidence hiding there. Deidara fought back a swoon and grunted inelegantly.

“He wasn’t much help in the convincing but whatever,” he said. “Can we get this going or not?”

His question was met with a single nod before the man stood up from behind the desk and led him towards one of the chairs at the wash station. Deidara took a seat where indicated, flopping down facing away from a pristine ceramic sink and leaning his neck on the edge. The employee washed his hair in silence, long fingers massaging various products in to his scalp in such a manner that he was hard pressed to hold in a few moans.  The last hairdresser he had used had been brusque and rough during this step and he’d always worried about having his precious hair pulled out.

After he was properly washed and conditioned Deidara allowed himself to be led to a seat in front of a large mirror. He straightened his back so a dark cape could be settled round his neck before slumping back down in to his usual posture. Then his chair was turned so the man from the desk could run fingers through his hair, no expression on his face but with a contemplative look in his eye. Deidara waited in silence, feeling almost as if he were auditioning for something. After a while the silence started to get to him. He had always hated long bouts without talking.

“So,” he said awkwardly. “I guess you would be the ‘friend’ Kisame has here then. Obviously. You got a name?” Fingers paused in the act of running through his damp locks and the man’s dark eyes fixed on his, making him gulp.

“Itachi,” the man said. Deidara nodded. Itachi held his head still so that he could continue deliberating over the hair he was going to cut.

Deidara was a little relieved when his chair was spun about again so that he faced the mirror. Those eyes were super intense and he felt stripped bare under their gaze. His hands came out from under his cape to fiddle with each other as he watched his hair being inspected from yet another angle. It went on for several more minutes before he grew frustrated.

“You’re just doing a trim, un! What’s the big deal? Is there something wrong with my hair?” Anyone who claimed he was pouting would receive a very loud rebuttal and a punch to the face. He did have to stop himself from crossing his arms though. Itachi met his eyes in the mirror and hesitated from the briefest of moments before replying.

“No, it’s fine.”

Deidara could almost have believed him – almost – if he hadn’t flinched at the sudden burn on the back of his right hand. He looked down to see the three words which had just been spoken to him standing out against his skin in stark black letters. Both men stared at the writing as it slowly faded away. They met each other’s gaze again, stunned, and silence ruled at first.

“You lied!” Deidara burst out. “You said my hair was fine but you lied! What’s wrong with my hair, eh?”

One dark eyebrow rose up as Itachi bluntly told him, “It’s shapeless. I could so much more with it. Something that would better suit your face.”

“I don’t like high maintenance stuff so nothing fancy, you hear?” He’d always liked his hair, it was a nice color and naturally soft and silky, but that didn’t mean he liked spending the time to actually do anything with it. Itachi nodded.

“Trust me,” he said.

Deidara looked down at his hand, at the spot where the words had appeared, and mumbled a quiet, “Yeah.”

He let Itachi work without paying much attention, his mind on other things. Things like the fact that he had just found his soulmate working at Uchiha Fab Cuts, of all places. He managed to zone out entirely as scissors snipped away a few inches, a blow drier whirred next to his ear, and fingers tugged a layer up and away, sculpting and shaping. At long last a hand squeezed his shoulder to get his attention. When he looked up he had to blink to check and see if it was really him.

Most of his hair had been left down, falling only a few inches past his shoulders now. Some of it had been pulled up in to a high ponytail that fell wide and covered the back of his head. He also had a large section of fringe hanging down one side of his face that, if he tilted just right, he could use to hide one eye in a mysterious cool-guy way. As he admired the style and how low effort it would be to maintain, a thin blue headband slid down over the top of his head. He blinked and looked over his shoulder at Itachi.

“To match your eyes,” Itachi explained. Deidara blinked at him.

“Well?’ he demanded. “What do you think? I look fine now?” He waited while the other man gave him a deliberate once over.

“Nope. I think you look awful.” Itachi, it appeared, was the master of deadpan. Deidara had less than a second to bristle before his left arm flared up with a sudden burn. He freed more of his limb from the protective cape to reveal words scrawled on his skin just above his elbow. They said ‘I think you look awful’ in dark letters, giving him just enough time to grin before fading away. The grin was still in place when he ripped the cape off of his own neck and leapt from the chair.

“Yeah, I think you look awful too!” he crowed. Itachi made a tiny little jump and pressed a hand against his hip but he wasn’t able to look.

He was a bit busy with an armful of Deidara, enthusiastic kisses raining across his face.

Chapter Text

Ten Ten smirked as she watched her teammate gasp for air. Neji liked to think he was sooooo much better than everyone else; she always enjoyed those moments when his stamina gave out before hers. Times like now when they had spent the last two hours fleeing from other teams in the Forest of Death. She’d heard that the chūnin exams could be tough but she never thought that they would have to survive five days on their own in here!

Lee’s ridiculous unitard came in handy for once as it blended in perfectly with the leaves providing them with cover, making him almost the perfect lookout. Almost, because she was painfully aware of his habit of announcing everything at the top of his voice. Ten Ten loved her two boys but there were days when she begged the gods to tell her why she had been teamed up with such weirdos.

“I believe that the coast is clear!” Lee announced, turning to her with a brilliant smile and an enthusiastic thumbs up. She nodded once.

“Good. For a while there it was touch and go. Just because they say that deaths can happen doesn’t mean we should all be trying to kill each other. That’s not the point of this exam!” She huffed while sliding her back down the trunk of the tree. Finally able to draw breath without wheezing, Neji alighted in front of her on the branch.

As he brushed lint from his clothes he muttered, “Not everyone is concerned with what is polite, Ten Ten.” The light sneer in his voice made her roll her eyes.

“Whatever,” she said. “I’m just glad we have a moment to ourselves.”

The other two were still nodding when a quiet voice just above her head said, “Not quite.”

Ten Ten leapt away from the trunk with a shriek, landing beside Neji while Lee dashed over to stand in front of them and drop in to a defensive stance. They looked up to see a team of three other genin all huddled on thinner branches only a few feet up. She recognized them as being part of the Rookie 9 that had been nominated for the exams even though they had only been genin a few months. One of them was a girl related somehow to Neji. One of them was a loud boy from the Inuzuka clan. The third was the one who had spoken, a young boy from the Aburame clan, his face hidden behind sunglasses and a high collar.

“Hinata! What do you think you’re doing?” Neji sounded personally insulted by his relative’s presence, as if she had done something wrong simply by being there. The girl above them stuttered and ducked her head.

“Leave her alone,” the Inuzuka growled. “We were here first.”

“We are hiding as well. Why? It’s because there are many teams who are trying–” the Aburame was cut off when the Inuzuka jumped in again.

“There’s teams out there just trying to kill everyone! Even teams that don’t need our scroll!” The loud boy didn’t react at all when a small white puppy poked its head out from inside his jacket, although Ten Ten started a bit in surprise at the teeny bark it gave.

Lee rose from his defensive stance and gave the three other genin a thumbs up as he said, “Then we are happy to share our tree with you! After all, us ninja of the Leaf must stick together!”

“Lee! Don’t be an idiot!” Neji crossed his arms as he spoke. “This is a competition. Cooperating with them has no benefit for us.” Ten Ten rolled her eyes.

“It also does us no harm. We’re all just trying to survive right now.” She waved the three others down. “Just ignore him; come join us!”

The girl whom Neji had called Hinata looked like she might faint but the other two leapt down right away. Lee and Ten Ten greeted them all while Neji huffed and activated his Byakugan, looking off in to the surrounding forest to check for enemies. It turned out that their groups had the same scroll, meaning there was really no reason to attack each other, so the two teams lounged about together while hiding from potential enemies.

Ten Ten had been trying to bring the Hyuga girl out of her shell for ten minutes when it happened. They had been sitting close to the Aburame boy, who had only added a few comments to the conversation. He seemed well-spoken and thoughtful, although his teammates had a tendency of cutting him off. As she leaned forward, Ten Ten’s hand had slipped on the bark of the tree. She lost her balance and, with a shriek, toppled headlong in to midair. She was extending her arms to try and catch herself on a branch when her fall came to an abrupt halt before it ever really got started. That wasn’t the strange part though.

The strange part was the fact that warmth was suddenly spreading throughout her body in waves, rippling out from the hand wrapped around her ankle. She knew with absolutely certainty without even needing to look that Aburame Shino was the one that had caught her. Which was odd because she couldn’t remember anyone introducing her to him for her to know that his given name was Shino. Dangling upside down, she tucked her chin in to look up and see that he was staring down at her, motionless, arm extended to hold her weight.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” the Inuzuka boy demanded. “Pull her back up!”

Leaves and twigs brushed her face as she found herself moving in reverse, back up to where she had been sitting before. Extra pairs of hands helped lift her up and she found herself face to face with the one who had caught her. She couldn’t see through the glasses but she could see the color slowly creeping its way up his cheeks.

“Hi,” she breathed, feeling just a little swept away. She wouldn’t have expected to find her soulmate here, of all places, in the Forest of Death. She had a vague thought that she hoped the fall hadn’t messed up her hair.

“Hello,” Shino replied. No other words were needed, really.

She smiled at him, ignoring for the moment the worried fluttering of the other four genin. Gai-sensei liked to go on about the Springtime of Youth and the Magic of Love, telling her that she would understand what he meant one day when it happened to her. Well, here it was. It was happening now. And as Shino slowly lowered his sunglasses and a shy smile peeked out above the collar of his jacket, she thought that she definitely understood.

Chapter Text

Sunset painted the room incredible colors through the open window. With the curtains pulled back his walls were lit up with lines of fire and glowing embers, fitting decoration for the head of the Uchiha clan. Fugaku, however, was not paying attention to the splendor of the fall evening that was gracing him with its beauty. His attention was instead on his arm. The sleeve of his yukata was pulled back to bare the pale skin underneath where black letters were crawling down from his elbow towards his wrist.

The letters were written in the graceful hand of his soulmate, asking him a question of no real import. It was not a message that would benefit the clan or help with a mission. Yet Fugaku cherished the words anyway, as he cherished every word his soulmate had ever seen fit to write to him.

When the message faded away he took up his brush and dipped it in a nearby pot of ink. Light strokes decorated his arm with dark words of his own, a slightly whimsical reply to the question asked. He allowed the ink to sit for a moment, giving the intended recipient time to read it, before taking up a nearby towel to wipe clean the evidence of their communication. The towel was then folded so that the stains were hidden and placed back on the corner of his desk.

He quickly drew his sleeve down as the door opened and his wife entered the room, carrying a tea service. She said nothing as she set it down and prepared a cup of chai for him. He nodded his thanks to her and gestured for her to remove the tray. When she moved to do as he wished, he saw her eyes catch on the folded towel. Too late he realized that he had put it back facing the wrong way, a damning mistake in a clan of people who trained to notice every small detail. Mikoto met his eyes with a blank expression and for a moment in time they shared a silence filled with many unsaid things.

Just as he thought he could take it no more, Mikoto turned and swept out of the room, knuckles white around the tray that she carried. Fugaku sighed as the door closed with a snap and rubbed at his temples. He knew when he married her that no words had ever appeared on Mikoto’s skin. A light tickling sensation prompted him to push his sleeve back up to see more writing, a humorous rebuttal to his whimsical answer.

As the head of the clan it was his duty to marry a proper wife and produce proper heirs. The life he lived was structured and rigid. But Fugaku was smart enough to find the small bits of freedom. The clan could make him marry and the clan could keep him busy. But the clan could not take the love from his heart or the words from his arm. He reached for his ink.

--

Across the village, in another compound, Hiashi watched thin brushstrokes paint words across his arm.

I wish I could taste the laughter upon your lips.

Chapter Text

It was incredibly obvious to Kakashi from a very young age that his soulmate must be from the Inuzuka clan. Once he realized that most people couldn’t smell things the way he did or hear as well as he could, he quickly determined that this must be the skill he had been gained through his soulmate bond. Everyone had some trait or talent from their soulmate. His appeared to be heightened senses and the only clan he knew of that had that trait was the Inuzuka.

This posed a problem for Kakashi because there were tons of Inuzuka. He’d had four in his class during the one year he spent at the academy and none of them had been siblings. It was one of the largest clans in Konoha and it might take him a while to figure out who it was. Especially because it was impossible to tell what trait he might have given to his soulmate. The matter was even further complicated by the fact that some bond traits didn’t manifest for years. His neighbor had only found his soulmate at twenty-seven when he had suddenly started walking different at the same time that one of his friends received an injury which left them with a permanent limp. Soul traits were complex.

By the time Kakashi was thirteen years old he had seen more battlefields than many people twice his age and he had long since stopped wondering about his soulmate. Life had already thrown its fair share of hardships at him. He had a dead father, a dead teammate, and an eye that wasn’t his. He spent most of his days caught between being paralyzed in to uselessness with guilt and being motivated to try and live the life that had been taken from Obito. He really had no time to think about it.

Today was a guilt day. Kakashi had already been at the memorial stone for three hours by the time Rin found him. The somber set of her mouth was a silent rebuke that made him look away, back down to his lap where his hands fiddled with a set of orange goggles.

“Obito wouldn’t want you to beat yourself up like this,” Rin said softly. “He was…he was good like that.”

Kakashi nodded his head, pretending he hadn’t heard the catch in her voice. When she put a hand on his shoulder he replaced the goggles to where he had taken them from on top of the memorial stone. Then he stood up and allowed Rin to lead him away, neither of them putting forth much effort to speak to each other. He had promised to protect her, and he did try hard to do so, but Obito’s death had broken them apart just as much as it had brought them together. Rin’s crush on him had faded, for which he was grateful, but now when they were together there were long silences where they both heard the echo of a missing voice.

Unable to stand the silence today, Kakashi asked quietly, “Where are we going?”

“To the Inuzuka compound,” Rin said. “One of my friends has been at home sick for the last few weeks. I wanted to wish her well and I thought you might like to play with the dogs.” Kakashi blinked at her. It wasn’t really a surprise that she had thought of it. Rin was a very thoughtful person after all. It continued to surprise him, though, when people did nice things for him. Even Rin, who would never leave a friend behind.

The Inuzuka compound was as overrun with bodies as it usually was. People of every age, shinobi and civilian, moved every which way towards all sorts of tasks. Following at the heels of most of them were dogs of every size, color, and breed. Despite how down he was feeling Kakashi was hard pressed to stop himself from trying to pet every single dog. Rin was fully aware of his weakness for canines and was obviously exploiting that fact to cheer him up. Tricky girl. He supposed he should do something nice for her to say thank you for putting up with him so well lately.

With the promise of visiting the new-born litters after a quick visit, Kakashi docilely followed his teammate to a house on the eastern outskirts of the compound. It was the house of the current clan head, if he remembered correctly. This was confirmed when a heavily pregnant Tsume opened the door, greeting Rin with a wide toothy smile. When she caught sight of Kakashi, however, her face froze. Kakashi was used to all sorts of negative reactions to his presence – he’d been the subject of heckling and scorn since that one fateful mission of his father’s – but this didn’t seem to be quite the same thing. Tsume looked as if he had shocked her, staring at him in silence, then she looked dumbfounded for a single heartbeat before a huge smile broke out on her face.

“Well, well, well,” she said in her rough voice. “Hatake Kakashi, huh? Come on in. You guys are here to see Hana, right? She’s upstairs in her room.” With no further explanation for why she was acting so strangely, Tsume waved the two of them in to the house, pointing them towards the stairs to the upper floor. Kakashi frowned at her as he passed, getting nothing in return but a pleased grin.

The hallway up the stairs was decorated with pictures documenting the growth of a girl about his age. New frames had been hung but remained empty and he supposed they would soon be filled with pictures of the coming baby. Assuming the girl in the pictures was the one they were here to visit, Kakashi noted that he had met her before. He had helped out her genin team once when they had just barely graduated from the academy. He remembered her being polite but firm in dealing with her teammates and she had been the only one of three who hadn’t sneered at him for being an ‘over-achiever’.

Rin walked ahead of him and turned in to a bedroom about halfway down the hall. He followed her in to see pale blue walls, a messy desk with two dogs napping underneath it, and the girl he had seen in the pictures huddled on a futon in the corner. Rin hurried over to sit next to her friend.

“Hey Hana, how are you feeling?” she asked. “I heard you were sick so we came to cheer you up!”

The girl looked up from the book she’d been holding, squinting at them with one eye shut and looking as if she might fall over at any moment.

“Is that…oh Rin! You didn’t have to come all this way.” She accepted a short hug despite her protests before continuing, “I’m not really sick. We think the trait from my soulmate has just manifested and it’s…taking a bit of getting used to. I’m so dizzy.” Hana put a hand to her head as she swayed a little from side to side. Rin steadied her with a hand on her shoulder.

Feeling awkward, Kakashi moseyed over to where the dogs were sprawled on top of a worn dog bed. One raised its head at his approach and began to wag its tail. He settled on the floor and began to pet the dog, barely listening as the two girls continued talking.

“But that’s good that you can tell what it is.” Rin was saying. “So many people go their whole lives not knowing if something they’re good at could simply be their bond trait. I wish I knew. You’re so lucky!

“I’ll feel luckier when I can keep both of my eyes open without wanting to vomit,” Hana replied ruefully. They both chuckled and Rin patted her back.

Then she perked up and said, “You should talk to Kakashi about that! He knows what that’s like, don’t you Kakashi? He’s going through something really similar.”

Hana tilted her head and regarded Kakashi curiously with the one eye she was holding open. Kakashi looked up from petting the dogs to give his teammate a disapproving scowl and grumbled, “That’s private.” She scowled right back and shook a finger at him.

“Don’t be like that!” she reprimanded him. “Your comrade needs help and it won’t kill you to talk to someone other than me and sensei.”

Their brief staring content ended with Kakashi huffing and turning his head away, glaring down at the two dogs still contentedly wagging theirs tails. He didn’t want to talk to anyone about Obito’s eye. Part of him didn’t want to tell anyone about the lowest point of his entire young life, when he had let down his comrades and gotten his friend killed. Another part of him wanted to keep what memories he did have to himself as if telling people about Obito would somehow cheapen those memories. Still, Rin was scary when she wanted something, especially if she thought that something would be good for him.

“Fine,” he said quietly without turning back. It would be easier to talk if he didn’t have to look at anyone or – more importantly – see how they looked at him.

“Is that why you have one eye covered? Because you get dizzy if you open it?” Hana sounded relieved to hear someone else was experiencing the same thing.

Kakashi shut her down right away. “The circumstances are different. My eye is special and it’s…difficult to use.” He didn’t count on the stubborn spirit of the Inuzuka clan.

“But you do get dizzy?” Hana asked, ignoring his not very subtle fuck-off vibes. “Does it make you nauseous? I get really nauseous sometimes and sometimes it’s worse than others. It seems to be connected to how much chakra I’m using so I’ve been staying home and trying not to use any chakra.”

Kakashi sighed and he reluctantly went on, “The nausea is psychosomatic for me. I mostly get headaches and if I overuse it then I experience chakra exhaustion twice as fast as I used to.” He could almost feel Rin’s eyes boring in to the back of his head. She was a great medic in training and any time he even alluded to the state of his health her attention was razor sharp. Luckily, he wasn’t saying anything she didn’t already know.

“Huh. I guess it’s not the same then,” Hana said. “Does yours look funny though?” At that, Kakashi actually turned his head to raise his eyebrow at her.

“What do you mean by look funny?”

“Well when I open my left eye everything looks sort of red and I see things like they’re moving in slow motion.” She paused to think. “No, not slow motion. It would be more accurate to say that I see things faster than they are actually happening. It would be great for training if I could stop feeling so sick all the time and actually use it.”

Kakashi was staring at her, his hidden mouth gaping wide open. As his silence stretched both of the girls gave him slightly worried looks. Tsume’s dumbfounded face came to mind and he had a sneaking suspicion what she might have just realized upon seeing him. Finally he cleared his throat and tried to speak, tension keeping his body perfectly still.

“You said it looks red? Do you mean everything is that color or it is more like you’re seeing normal colors through red tinted glass?” He watched Hana very closely while she tilted her head to one side.

“The second one,” she said. He swallowed.

“Do you find yourself noticing even more detail with that eye open?”

Hana frowned, surprised. “Yeah, actually. Now that you mention it, I do see a lot more detail in things that I probably didn’t notice before.”

“Oh,” Kakashi breathed. It came out embarrassingly high pitched, catching the attention of both Hana and Rin. They both raised their eyebrows and gave him questioning looks. It took him a minute and clearing his throat a second time before he could say, “Sounds a lot like you’re using a Sharingan. And your body is just adjusting to it.”

With the look that Rin gave him he could tell she understood what he meant right away. She looked stunned for a brief moment before cracking a wide smile and throwing both hands in the air, crowing triumphantly, “YES! That’s amazing!”

Hana, on the other hand, was looking between the both of them and demanding an explanation. She didn’t seem to pick up on the significance of only experiencing Sharingan vision out of one eye. Perhaps she hadn’t heard the story yet. Kakashi did spend a lot of time trying to keep the rumors quiet. It was a bigger battle advantage if no one saw it coming.

“Rin!” Hana protested when the other girl threw her arms around her. “What on earth is so exciting about this?” Kakashi took a steadying breath as his teammate answered.

“Because! Because! Oh!” Rin let out a squeal before finally the words came pouring out. “It means that you and Kakashi are soulmates! You started to get ‘sick’ around the same time that Kakashi got the Sharingan! And it’s the same eye! My friends are soulmates I’m so happy!”

Hana whipped her head about to stare at Kakashi, who stared back helplessly. Rin kicked her feet in joy before leaping off the futon to go find Tsume and confirm the good news. Alone, the newly matched soulmates continued to stare at each other in silence. Kakashi had no idea what to say. He’d always known he was matched to an Inuzuka, of course, but it had been so many years since he had stopped even wondering who they were. He hadn’t felt like he was at a point in his life where he should be searching for them. Now here she was and he was startled by how relieved he felt, how peaceful. As if a weight had lifted off his shoulders. He was amazed to realize how much he wanted to drop his head in to her lap and let her run her fingers through his hair.

“So,” her voice made him jump. “What trait did you get from me, then?” she asked.

“Enhanced senses,” he replied simply. She nodded.

“All of them or…?”

“Just hearing and smell. Useful though.”

She nodded again and they fell silent. Downstairs, the bark of Tsume’s laughter was mixing in with Rin’s garbled excited words. The dogs were shifting around on their bedding, tails wagging so hard they were slapping against the legs of the desk. Hana slipped off the bedding to come sit next to him, reaching out a hand for her dogs to nuzzle happily against.

She squeaked when Kakashi leaned in to her, burying his face in her neck and wrapping his arms around her as tightly as he dared. To be honest it startled him just as much as her. He hadn’t meant to do it; he’d just moved on instinct. Just when he went to pull away, however, she lifted her arms to hug him back. She smiled when he melted in to her embrace.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

He felt Hana turn her head to look at the top of his as she said, “What for?”

“For existing.” He couldn’t explain it right now. He hadn’t realized just how much he needed her until suddenly there she was. He wouldn’t have thought so, but he was glad to find her now. A small hand patted the back of his head, stroking his hair as he’d been imagining her doing.

She didn’t say anything in reply because she didn’t have time. Rin and Tsume appeared in the doorway and resumed squealing about how cute a picture they made all huddled together on the floor. As they separated, however, they caught each other’s eye. When he saw the expression on Hana’s face he knew. She was happy to have him too.

Chapter Text

“How exactly would an entire forest disappear overnight?” Tobirama’s tone was heavy with skepticism and Izuna rolled his eyes at him.

“Well obviously it can’t but that’s not the point!” Izuna said. “It was a genjutsu. They believed that the entire forest was suddenly gone and that’s what was important at the time.” He crossed his arms and nodded once as if his words had ended the discussion. Tobirama raised an eyebrow.

“How could they believe such a stupid thing, though?” he asked. “It’s not believable at all, not feasible.”

The two Uchiha present both sighed in exasperation while the two spectating Senju simply smiled and shook their heads. Madara stood close to Hashirama and Touka, who were both stretched out on the grass next to the picnic basket that they had all been eating from earlier. Their Hokage had hunted them all down one by one and insisted that they take a break. He enjoyed having his most precious people all together for a meal. He always seemed to conveniently forget that his most precious people were, to a man, argumentative stubborn idiots.

“It was a genjutsu Tobirama! I could make the sky purple and they would swallow it!” Izuna had sort of brought it upon himself this time by boasting about his success during a recent mission.

“The sky is not purple,” Tobirama said. Izuna growled.

“GEN-JU-TSU!” the man shouted. “What about this are you not getting? You know what it’s like to be caught in a genjutsu; you know how they mess with your mind!”

Tobirama lifted an eyebrow and said, “I do not.”

“And you kn– huh?” Izuna cut off in the middle of starting a rant to make a noise of confusion. “You don’t what?”

“I don’t know what it’s like to be caught in a genjutsu,” Tobirama clarified. “I’ve never experienced it.” Izuna gaped at him like a fish for a few beats before promptly turning red with frustration.

“What do mean you’ve never experienced it!? There’s no way I would believe that you have never been in a genjutsu before! Our clans were at war for years before we made peace. You’ve fought dozens of Uchiha – sparred with dozens more – you can’t tell me not a single one of them ever tried to use a genjutsu on you! That’s half of the Sharingan’s specialty!” Izuna seemed only moments away from stomping his foot.

Tobirama, however, tilted his head in that vaguely superior way of his as he said, “I’m a sensor. I can tell when another’s chakra is touching my own. I have had many attempt genjutsu but I’ve always been able to counter it right away.” He shrugged as if this weren’t extremely annoying to someone whose clan used genjutsu so heavily.

“That’s stupid!” Izuna screeched. It was his usual go-to when he couldn’t come up with a witty rebuttal fast enough. “Fine! Let’s go, right now! I’ll put you in a genjutsu!” His Sharingan spun to life right as Tobirama narrowed and averted his eyes.

You’re stupid if you think I’m letting you, of all people, do anything of the sort. Bloody Uchiha and their bloody eyes! Get away from me!”

For a few minutes the two grown men could have been mistaken for children as one dodged the other’s attempts to catch him and force him to stand still. The rest of them watched with varying reactions, none stepping in to help either side. For one of them this kind of behavior was depressingly typical but for the other it was rather amusing to watch him throw dignity out the window to scramble out of reach of grabby fingers. After a while however Touka felt the need to step in – if for no other reason than she enjoyed ruining Izuna’s fun.

“You know, there’s another solution here,” she called loud enough for the bickering pair to hear her. “What if I put you in a genjutsu, Tobes? You can trust me, right?” Tobirama paused in the act of swatting away Izuna’s fingers.

“Barely,” he grumbled, still dodging backwards.

“I promise not to show you anything mean! I’ll make it something nice!” She grinned as she rose to her feet, wiping grass blades off her clothing. Izuna stopped to watch the process, very interested in the places her hands touched. Tobirama whapped him on the back on the head while his cousin strolled over.

He furrowed his brows and said, “If you’ve decided to help him play tricks on me you know very well that I can break out of whatever trap you try to lay.”

“Are you doubting my word, little cousin?” Touka asked, her face freezing in to a dangerous smile. Tobirama snorted but wisely said nothing. “Good. Then hold still and let me put you in a genjutsu.” Privately, Tobirama started having doubts about the wisdom of agreeing to this right then. He still said nothing however as she went through a rapid set of hand signs and then –

The room was bright. It was an incredible day for such an event. The open window let in the slightest of breezes and the sunshine turned the drab blue color of the walls to something almost dreamy. He had never felt more anxious for something and yet he was also strangely calm.

“Tobirama-san?” he turned his head to the nurse approaching him, looking eagerly down at the bundle of yellow blankets in her arms. “Would you like to hold her?”

He took the bundle from her with the utmost care, turning back one edge of blanket to reveal a tiny face peering up at him. The baby’s face was scrunched and red as they fussed, tiny little toothless mouth opening and closing while they determined whether or not to begin wailing. Two of the tiniest hands he had ever seen waved aimlessly, one attempting to clench in to a fist. Holding the child in one arm, he brought his other up and slid one finger in to the palm of that clenching hand. Immediately it closed around his finger, barely able to cover up to the first knuckle.

“Congratulations, Tobirama-san,” the nurse said to him. “You’re a father.”

He was unable to reply. The child held on to him as he stared down at that tiny, perfect face. His daughter. This was his daughter. He had waited for nine long months and she was finally here, a child of his own. She looked just like him.

“Kai.”

The bright and happy hospital room faded away at a word from him, replaced with an open field at midday, the sun hiding behind the clouds. Tobirama stood perfectly still and said nothing, looked at no one.

“Is he…is he crying?” Izuna asked from somewhere close to him. He raised a hand to his face to discover that yes, he was crying. Tears were dripping slowly from the corners of his eyes, trickling down his cheeks to catch at the corners of his mouth. He could taste the salt like he’d gone swimming in the ocean and then licked his lips. Tobirama couldn’t remember ever crying. He had as a baby, of course. But as far back as his childhood he had always been good at holding his emotions inside. His emotions were often overwhelmingly strong yet he found it easier to show nothing. Now, the feeling of tears was foreign and unwanted.

Hands on his cheeks startled him. He focused his eyes to see Touka gently swiping under his eyes with her thumbs, an apologetic look on her face.

“Why are you crying?” she asked, more gentle than he had ever seen her. “It was supposed to be a happy moment.” He squeezed his eyes closed, feeling more tears fall with the motion, and tried hard to disappear within himself. It was embarrassing, crying in front of these people.

“Because you showed me something that I cannot have,” he choked out, wincing when even his voice sounded watery.

Hashirama and Madara’s chakras were spiking, over by where they still stood next to the picnic basket. He couldn’t help picking up on the anxiety of it but was too flustered to even care about looking too deeply in to it. He had no idea how he was supposed to make the crying stop. He was mortified when his breath hitched and he let out a tiny little hiccup, knocking a few more tears loose.

“Whaaaa? What did you show him?” Izuna demanded. He was bouncing his weight back and forth between his feet and there was an anxious expression on his face. He obviously wanted to help somehow but just as obviously wasn’t sure what to do.

“He wanted something nice!” Touka snapped defensively, all gentleness gone from her voice. “So I made up a scene of his child being born. That’s happy!”

Tobirama sighed and mumbled, “Yes, but with my proclivities it is something that I will never have.”

While he took another deep breath he heard the Uchiha asking what ‘proclivities’ meant and Touka explaining to the younger man. By Izuna’s stunned expression, he hadn’t known that Tobirama preferred men. By Touka’s guilty expression, she’d forgotten as well. It wasn’t something he advertised usually. Not because he was ashamed of himself but because he was a private person and felt that the only person who needed to know was someone he had a possible interest in.

He didn’t say so out loud but the worst part had been knowing it wasn’t real. Even despite the pull of her chakra trying to trick his brain in to believing the scene she had woven for him, he had still known the whole time that it was false. He’d never told anyone how much he wanted a child of his own because it seemed pointless to say. He would never father a son or daughter and he disliked the idea of asking a woman to bear the child and then give it up. Not to mention that he had always dreamed of raising a child with a partner and he did not have one. He knew he had a soulmate somewhere but Tobirama was aware that not everyone found their match. He had dated in the past but he was a hard man to live with and the few relationships he started had not ended well.

“Tobirama?” he turned at the sound of his brother’s voice. Hashirama had appeared at his side, cautious yet strangely contained expression on his face. “I don’t mean to be insensitive but I think I may have something that will…cheer you up? Possibly?”

He reluctantly raised his eyes to look where Hashirama was indicating. He was certainly not expecting to see Madara standing a few feet away wiping his own wet cheeks. For a moment he thought his brother was trying to cheer him up by offering to let him mock the Uchiha. Then he noticed the color of the tears.

“Madara!?” Izuna’s screech cause them all to flinch. “What are you crying for? You don’t even – holy shit are those Sympathies? They are! Those are Sympathies! You’ve never had them before! Holy shit!”

Madara gave up on trying to stem the flow of pearly white tears in favor of growling and reaching out to swat his brother in the face. Tobirama stared openly at the opalescent Sympathies, the tears that only fell when one’s soulmate was crying. Had Madara truly never had them before? He himself had only experienced it a few times. He met the other man’s gaze.

“I told him you hadn’t cried since you were a baby,” Hashirama was saying cheerfully. “Apparently he thought he didn’t have a soulmate. Shame on you, brother, making him lonely.” His grin belied the playful rebuke.

Tobirama frowned and ushered both brother and cousin out of his way, gingerly stepping over to where Madara was standing. The other frowned and turned his head, scrubbing at his cheeks with the back of his hand. Tobirama touched his own cheek curiously. The tears seemed to be slowing. His eyes felt red and puffy and his throat felt a little too tight. He wondered if his face was splotchy the way Hashirama’s was when he cried.

He cleared his throat to capture Madara’s attention and tilted his head. Madara nodded silently and they both walked away, side by side, to find somewhere more private to speak. Hashirama in particular could be heard commiserating that he wanted to hear all about their happy ending. Tobirama wasn’t so sure that he was going to get one. After all, Madara had never been shy about calling him annoying or cold-hearted or any other number of disparaging terms. If the decision were left solely to the Uchiha he was sure they would end up being one of those matches that did not end up bonding. And Tobirama knew that no matter what he personally felt about it he would honor whatever Madara wished to do. He had many years of experience keeping his feelings to himself. Once more wouldn’t kill him.

The two of them ended up simply strolling through the forest that hemmed in the row of training grounds, wandering aimlessly as they both searched for something to say. Tobirama had many things in mind that he would like to ask but he wasn’t sure what Madara would be willing to answer. The silence continued as they meandering through the trees, making their own paths through the untouched loam. Madara was the one to break it.

“Hashirama was correct,” he started. “I have believed all my life that I was without a soulmate. I have no idea if I experienced Sympathies as an infant; it wasn’t something I ever thought to ask my father. For as long as I can remember I have waited and received nothing for my patience.” He did not turn his head but Tobirama still looked away in shame. “Please understand that I am asking this with no intention to antagonize but with honest curiosity. Why are you so…emotionless?”

“I am not emotionless,” Tobirama answered with a sigh. “I am controlled. I feel things but I do not express them well.” He swallowed and refused to look anywhere but forward as he continued, not wanting to see how the other man reacted to his words. “I have what is known as autism. The one who was clan doctor while we were growing up liked to label me as ‘high functioning’ and promised my father she could ‘cure me’ but it was a load of crock. Someone with autism is not diseased and they do not need a cure. I’m not broken. I simply react to certain things differently.”

Madara’s chakra was spiking and Tobirama deliberately pulled his own closer to himself so as not to pick up on any emotions while he continued.

“I spent much of my childhood thinking I was wrong somehow because of that woman. It’s always been difficult for me to express myself in a coherent manner and when I tried I was demonized so I learned from an early age to keep my feelings and thoughts to myself. I don’t cry because that control that I forced upon myself is difficult to unlearn.” He clenched his jaw to hold more words in. That was probably the most he had ever spoken to Madara with neither anger nor insult.

The Uchiha was silent as they continued walking, ostensibly either thinking about what he had said or wondering why the universe had given him a broken soulmate. Tobirama frowned and silently rebuked himself. He had stopped seeing himself as broken years ago, had just asserted that he was not. Calling himself such a derogatory term now was backward progress. Still, he couldn’t help but worry as they walked on and on, nothing in his ears but the crunch of dry leaves.

“I am, again, not trying to antagonize,” Madara said eventually. “I was under the impression that autism meant someone who did not speak.” Tobirama rolled his eyes.

“Misconception,” he grumbled. “There are many with autism who are non-verbal. And there are many who communicate just fine. Autism manifests differently in each person. That woman called me ‘high functioning’ as if I were somehow less valid than someone without autism just because of the way I communicated. I hated the term. I hated the way she compared me to what she considered normal.”

“Ah.”

Silence fell yet again. Tobirama had never felt more awkward in his life. Truthfully, he hadn’t explained that he had autism to anyone since before he was ten years old. The only people still living who knew were Hashirama and the old crone who had first diagnosed him, somehow still alive although age had taken most of her mobility from her. Not even Touka knew. He wondered if Madara were petty enough to tell others, to mock him for something beyond his control.

“I don’t know how to ask this question.”

Tobirama blinked and finally turned to look at the man beside him. Madara had his brows furrowed in a thoughtful manner as he puzzled through how to word something without giving offense. The idea of Madara attempting diplomacy made him smile just the tiniest bit.

“If you word it poorly I will not mind,” he said.

“Has having autism changed any other part of you? Does it determine any other of your…behaviors isn’t truly the word I want but I can’t think of another way to put it.” Madara looked at him hesitantly, as if wondering if he’d asked correctly. Tobirama met his eye briefly but shyly looking away again. It was incredibly strange to be discussing himself so openly like this.

“I do certain things that others might not,” he admitted. “Do you know what stimming means?”

Madara nodded and said, “Stimulating, yes? Doing something to achieve a certain sensation?”

“Yes that would be the general idea,” Tobirama agreed, warmth in his chest. “For example I chose to add a fur collar to the armor I wear because I find the sensation of it particularly calming.”

“Is that why you pull at it when you’re overstressed?”

“I’m…surprised you noticed that, but yes.”

Tobirama listened to Madara’s contemplative hum and fought back the smile that wanted to grow larger. With every moment and each question his hope grew stronger. Hope that his soulmate might be willing to even contemplate a bond had him nearly giddy. Not that it showed. For a few minutes neither of them spoke again, both of them thinking over what had been shared. Tobirama glanced sideways when Madara stopped walking, halting with him.

“I get angry when I don’t understand things,” the Uchiha said slowly. “Not understanding something makes me feel stupid, incapable, and I have always avoided things I don’t know well. People especially. I have never understood you. I was always baffled by how little emotion you display yet how easily you are angered. You seem to care for nothing and yet jump to the defense of injustices faster than your brother even. If you would be willing to be patient with my questions, I would be willing to ask them.”

Madara looked up to catch his gaze and Tobirama nodded, words caught in his throat. The corners of Madara’s mouth curled up ever so slightly in response.

“I understand you much better knowing what I do,” he said, his tone strange formal. “It must have been hard to share those things with me and I hope you understand that I appreciate you sharing them. I look forward to getting to know you better.”

After a beat of silence Tobirama glowed, the biggest smile he had shown in years spreading across his face and exposing his pearly white teeth. The expression squinted his eyes nearly closed and he felt his head tilting to the side the way it always had on the rare occasion he truly smiled, a personal quirk very few had ever witnessed. He relished in the shock that splashed across Madara’s features.

“Happy,” he murmured, reverting to an old habit. Since he’d never been good at expressing what he was feeling, for many years he had simply announced it to avoid confusion. He’d trained himself out of it but the whirling in his mind had stifled his tongue and thickened his throat. He was suddenly incredibly excited for the future.

Madara barked out a laugh. “I’m glad to hear it.”

It wasn’t quite the happy ending that Hashirama had been hoping to witness. But it was a beginning filled with wonderful possibilities and Tobirama was more than satisfied with that.

Chapter Text

Senju Hashirama was eighteen years old. Senju Hashirama had been eighteen years old for a very long time. So long, in fact, he was a world-wide phenomenon. He held the world record for oldest eighteen year old. He had been interviewed on talk shows in more than one country, written articles for magazines, and at one point ran a blog for other people who had been eighteen for longer than the average time.

Nowadays Hashirama mostly kept to himself. Due to the passage of time marching on without his explicit permission, he had watched his family and friends all grow old without him. He had stayed young and waited as they all died one by one, leaving him to watch the next generation catch up and surpass him as well. His own granddaughter, the final product of a brief unhappy attempt at marriage, was quite a few years older than him by now. Tsunade was the one person that he enjoyed spending time with anymore. She was always the one to search him out when he fell off the map on another research trip in some obscure part of the world. Research had been his (sort of) younger brother’s passion and he always felt closer to Tobirama’s memory when he was chasing vague rumors about new procedures and advancements in medicine.

Tsunade had also followed in his footsteps in to the medical field. It was her fault that he was out in public today; she had arranged for him to speak at a conference about his experience with an experimental operation that he had performed a month ago. He had already turned down several interviews on the subject and hoped that the interest in him, personally, would die down now that he was finally speaking publicly about it. Hashirama was a naturally cheerful person but even he could only take so many years of watching those he cared about wither away before his eyes. After this conference he fully intended to take that trip to Botswana like he had been meaning to and talk to no one for a long time.

As Hashirama answered the last question from the audience he stepped away from the podium to thunderous applause, a reluctant smile tugging at his mouth. No matter how reclusive he had grown over the years he still always appreciated it when people respected his work. He was a walking contradiction: the people person who was wary of getting close to people. He shook his head at himself while he left the auditorium, not bothering to listen as the next speaker was introduced.

The hallways were mostly empty. Tsunade was likely glued to her seat back inside, already listening to the new speaker with rapt attention. She was often lazy, his granddaughter, but never when it came to their craft. The only other bodies in the hallway besides him were three people who looked to be in their late teens, peeking through the cracks of the door that would take you in to the opposite side of the room he had just left. He raised an amused eyebrow and snuck up behind the three, peeking over the tops of their bent heads to see what they were looking at. Nothing particularly interesting was happening beyond the door. They were probably spying on a seminar they hadn’t been able to get tickets for.

“Oh shoot,” the only girl of the three muttered. “I think he’s gone already. I can’t see him anywhere.”

The boy whose head she was leaning on grumbled, “He probably felt you staring at him and got creeped out. Can we go?”

“No! This could be my only chance to meet him!” The girl pressed harder on the light hair under her fingers, pushing herself even closer to the crack in the door. “Oh please don’t be gone, please don’t be gone!”

“What’s so special about this guy anyway?” The third teenager spoke up, scratching at his messy black hair. “There’s tons of doctor’s. What’s so great about him?”

“How many times–?” The girl cut herself off with a huff, then answered in an exasperated tone, “Doctor Senju is only the most incredible doctor to ever have lived! Medicine as we know it today exists almost solely thanks to him and his granddaughter. He’s the whole reason I’m studying to become a doctor!”

Behind the trio, standing close to the opposite wall, Hashirama grinned delightedly and placed his hands on his hips. They’d been spying to try to catch a glimpse of him?

“How flattering!” he cooed happily. The three teenagers squawked in fright and whipped around. Neither of the boys reacted much further but it was obvious the girl recognized him. She promptly turned beet red and clutched both hands to the sides of her face.

“Doctor Senju! Oh my god!” She gaped at him in horror, obviously embarrassed to have been caught gushing about him. Hashirama chuckled.

“Good afternoon you three,” he said cheerfully. “Didn’t get tickets?”

The girl’s hands slid from her face to wring each other in front of her chest while she bowed frantically, the red on her face only getting worse as it spread out to the tips of her ears.

“Oh god!” She paused to flutter her hands through the air. “Oh my god it’s really you! Holy crow! Doctor Senju I – I’m such a big fan of all your work! You’re so incredible and inspiring and I can’t believe I’m meeting you! It’s really you! Guys look! Look, he’s smiling at me!” She turned to shake the boy standing on her right, who looking barely interested in what was happening. When Hashirama looked over at the boy he had to pause and blink a few times because he looked so much like Tobirama, white hair falling in spikes around a flat, disinterested expression, sharp cheek bones and a sharp chin. Other than a light scar on his eye the resemblance was so uncanny he had to look away.

His gaze fell on the other boy instead. He was standing sideways, almost curled in on himself, so that Hashirama could only see him in profile. His black hair was even more unruly than the other boy’s although slightly shorter. His chin looked rounded and he was only just above average height. Hashirama tilted his head to the side as he noticed the boy watching him from the corner of an eye then looking quickly away.

“Hello,” he said, wiggling his fingers in a friendly wave. The boy turned his head away even more. Hashirama dropped his hand and pouted sadly. “Was it something I said? I didn’t even say much!” Before he could slump in to the overdramatic sad fits he had never grown out of, the girl turned to see what he was looking at. When she spotted her dark haired companion she rolled her eyes.

“Obito!” she hissed “Just because he’s a doctor doesn’t mean he’s going to judge you! You’re being impolite! I’m so sorry, he’s just really shy about his–”

“Rin,” the white haired boy drawled. “Leave him be.”

Hashirama tried to smile at the boy again but to no avail. He appeared to want to be left alone, so he instead turned his attention back to the girl that had been spying in the auditorium just for a chance to meet him. He really was incredibly flattered. He also found that he had just a tiny bit more energy for social interaction left in him.

“I was about to go find some lunch if the three of you would like to join me,” he offered. “I’m always happy to encourage young people interested in the medical field!”

If he’d thought the girl was red before it was only because he hadn’t yet experienced what she looked like when excited. She looked like she was trying very hard to hold in a bout of excited shouting. Hashirama tried not to laugh when a tiny high pitched squeal escaped and was promptly smothered, followed by frantic nodding. He waved an arm asking them to follow then turned and headed towards the exit. He sure hoped they weren’t in the mood for anything fancy because he had a bad craving for greasy burgers and over-salted fries.

Hashirama chatted politely with the boy who looked so much like his brother as they walked, giving the girl Rin time to calm down and collect herself. She was fine by the time they reached the closest fast food joint and joined the conversation while they all sat down in a booth, their plastic trays barely fitting on the small table. Hashirama noticed that the black haired boy was still hiding himself, keeping his head tucked down as he ate and barely murmuring a word when the white haired boy, Kakashi, spoke to him.

He let it go for a while but as he gathered the detritus of his incredibly unhealthy lunch he couldn’t help but feel bad. Rin had said the boy was shy about something and didn’t want to be judged, yet he felt that he was the least likely person on earth to judge anyone for anything. Rin had turned out to be wonderfully intelligent and they had already traded contact information. Next time he travelled to the area he was certain he would be seeing her again. Which, from the way she spoke of her two best friends, likely meant that he would see them as well. The last thing he wanted was for this boy to feel alienated in any way.

“Hello over there,” he finally addressed the boy directly. “I haven’t heard much from you! Rin tells me you all go to the same university. What courses are you taking?” He waited eagerly as the other two also turned to the boy, who twitched and slumped so low his hair almost dripped in to the remains of ketchup on his tray.

“Biomedical engineering,” a quiet voice muttered from beneath a dark fringe. Hashirama lit up like Christmas.

“Now there’s a field I want to put more work in to! Biomedical engineering! A fascinating branch of science, you know, barely existed as a concept when I was born.” He smiled widely, although he wasn’t sure the boy could see it. “What got you interested in it?”

“I want to fix me.”

Hashirama blinked, stunned, and then said, “Fix you? Why would you say you need to be fixed?”

Slowly the bowed head rose until the hair parted and he could see a glittering dark eye peeking up at him shyly. Then as the light of the restaurant fell on the boy’s face he saw for the first time why he had been hiding. Thick twisted scars pulled one side of his face outward, circling upwards in a strange spiral pattern. His second eye was covered by a patch and the twist of his mouth said he was either in pain or just painfully embarrassed. Possibly both.

“I thought it would be faster to build my own body parts than wait for my name to come up on waiting lists.” The boy was obviously having trouble meeting his eyes but he held on anyway. “So far I’ve been right.”

Hashirama couldn’t help it. His face broke out in to a huge smile.

“Well aren’t you beautiful!” he blurted. All three teenagers stared at him with varying degrees of shocked surprise.

“Excuse me?” the boy breathed.

“What did you say your name was?”

“O-Obito…”

Hashirama beamed and leaned forward. “Obito. A beautiful name for a beautiful boy.” Obito blinked and drew his brows down.

“Are you making fun of me? I know what I look like! I was in an accident, okay? It’s not like I look this way because of a disease! It was a car accident and a whole bunch of my organs are failing and that’s not my fault–”

“Woah!” Hashirama cut him off, holding up both hands and still smiling. “I wasn’t making fun of you! I meant it!” As quickly as it had filled him the fight seemed to drain out of Obito, who looked even more confused than ever.

“You…meant it?” he said, disbelief heavy in his voice. Hashirama leaned even further forward.

“Of course! The shape of your face, the color of your eye, those cheekbones. So beautiful! You have such nice shoulders and your hair! So shiny! I’ll admit I’m a sucker for dark hair.” His smile turned gentle as he watched tears gathering in Obito’s visible eye. “Oh, I apologize. I didn’t mean to make you cry. Is it really so strange?”

Obito wiped hurriedly at his face. Kakashi nudged him with a shoulder and held out a few napkins. The white haired boy looked like he was trying to hold on to his disinterested face but concern was bleeding through. Rin looked like she wished she were close enough to hug him.

“Obito used to be a popular boy in high school,” she murmured.

Obito sniffed as he said, “Until the accident. But you really…you really…?”

“I’m sure your friend has told you,” Hashirama said, “but I have been alive for a very long time. I’ve seen all the ups and downs of humanity. When you’ve been around as long as I have you learn that all people are beautiful. There’s no such thing as an ugly person, only an ugly soul.” This earned him a smile from all three of the friends. Hashirama shrugged off the gratitude in Rin’s eyes; it cost him nothing to be a decent human being after all. He wished more people would see that.

With a few more quiet words he gathered them all up and they left the restaurant. He noticed some of the patrons were starting to eye their table and he didn’t think Obito would be very comfortable with becoming the subject of gossip. It would be better to bring them all somewhere more private. They ended up strolling through a nearby park, walking along a short nature trail. Obito took the time they spent getting there to clear the tears from his face and accept that hug from Rin. Kakashi hovered over both of them, guarding without seeming to guard. It warmed Hashirama’s heart to see such solid friendships.

As he walked slightly ahead to give the trio their privacy, Hashirama tried not to listen in on their conversation. Instead he looked around at the trees and thought that Tsunade would hate it here. She had never been a fan of nature, more a child of the urban jungle. He, on the other hand, had always had a soft spot for flora, trees in particular. Someday he was going to live in a house surrounded by trees with no one else around for miles.

“Thank you.” He turned at Obito’s voice and saw that the young man was smiling now and a tiny line of red was splashed across both cheeks. Hashirama thought he looked adorable. “I think you’re crazy, but thank you.”

“Anyone who looks at you and doesn’t see your beauty is missing out,” he said. “I hope you see yourself that way too.”

“It’s…been hard lately,” Obito sighed. “I turned eighteen a few months ago and I don’t think I stopped aging. I know people say it’s hard to tell but I just know I didn’t. Which means that I already have a soulmate out there waiting for me and I’m worried that when we meet they’ll be…”

“Disappointed?”

Obito looked down and muttered, “Horrified.” Hashirama frowned.

“They would be stupid not to want you,” he said.

“Well, I won’t know until I find them I suppose.”

Hashirama opened his mouth as he reached out to lay a consoling hand on the boy’s shoulder. As soon as his fingers brushed against the boy’s exposed neck, however, he stopped in shock. Electricity sparked from the point where their skin made contact and rushed down his spine, tingling along every nerve in his body. Obito’s one visible eye widened as the same sensations shot through him as well. They both stared at each other in silence while Kakashi and Rin gave them curious looks.

“Well that didn’t take long,” Obito breathed. Hashirama stared some more.

“You’re…you’re my…” Now he was the one with tears filling up his vision. “I have a…you…oh!” Unable to complete anything close to a coherent sentence, Hashirama gave in to the tears and threw his arms around Obito, pulling him close and sobbing in to his shoulder. Obito held tightly to his waist, nervous chuckles slipping past his lips. Kakashi and Rin’s curious murmurs went ignored.

“Are you alright?”

“You’re my soulmate,” Hashirama blubbered. In the back of his mind he could hear his long-deceased brother’s voice, gently mocking him for his emotional display.

“Seems like it,” Obito said. “And you’re alright with that?”

Hashirama stood up, pulling away only far enough to look down in to the other’s eyes. The tears on his face did not detract anything from the wonder filling his expression.

“I have waited for you for generations. Over a hundred years I’ve been on this earth with no one to call me their own. If anyone even thinks of suggesting that you weren’t worth the wait I will show them the meaning of meatball surgery.” He growled the last two words, memories of performing surgery in medical tents during the first world war playing in his head.

Far from seeming put off, Obito blushed and grinned, murmuring a simple, “Oh.”

Hashirama grabbed fistfuls of Obito’s shirt and reeled him in, planting his lips square over the other’s and attempting to bring all his scattered romantic skills to bear. By the tiny noise that faded away in to a quiet moan he thought he didn’t do too badly.

When they pulled apart Obito was panting and smiling like it was going out of style. The scars on his face pulled and stretched but he smiled bigger anyway. Hashirama wondered which of their smiles was bigger. Surely he’d never experienced happiness like this before?

Off to the side Kakashi and Rin were practically going wild. Rin was shaking her friend and screaming excitedly at the top of her lungs. Kakashi’s jaw was hanging somewhere close to the ground and he looked to be having quite a bit of trouble picking it back up. Hashirama had enough time to remember that they had both mentioned that their eighteenth birthdays were later this year and wonder if maybe they didn’t have a surprise of their own coming up.

Then Obito shyly pulled on his lapel and he happily went back for a second kiss.

--

Later that night he called Tsunade in her hotel room to thank her for bringing him to this conference. She asked if he hadn’t been drinking. Then she hung up on him when he told her he was drunk on love. He only shrugged and settled back down on to Obito’s couch, returning his arm to around the boy’s shoulders. He would tell her the good news tomorrow. And possibly ask her to look in to some organ donor options. He had more important things to worry about than Botswana now, after all.

Chapter Text

With a gasp, Kagami snatched his head back and whirled around, hiding behind the tree he had been spying around. That time had been much too close for comfort. The one he had been watching had almost spotted him, in which case he would surely have died from sheer mortification. Getting caught was possibly the worst thing that could happen to him.

It wasn’t his fault that Lord Tobirama was hot, okay?

Kagami closed his eyes and listened to the man in the clearing behind him, picking up the slightest sounds of movement as Tobirama went through a set of katas. He could picture it perfectly even without seeing it, those incredible muscles shifting underneath pale white skin. How the man spent so much time outside and yet remained without a tan was a mystery. He could picture the way sweat would bead on a high brow, trickling down past temple and cheek to drip from a narrow jawline.

He shuddered as his mental image started going through some very suggestive poses and quickly tried to clear his thoughts. Hoping it was safe, Kagami very slowly twisted and poked his head out again. He had chosen his hiding place well. His dark hair helped to blend in to the shadows of the bushes he was crouched among and it would be nearly impossible to spot him without already knowing he was there. This afforded him the perfect opportunity to spy on Tobirama while the Senju trained by himself under the hot afternoon sun.

Summer was in full swing and yet there had been fewer missions to go around lately. The training fields were always crowded with people trying to work out some energy or frustration. Kagami, however, had noticed the consistent absence of a certain white haired man. Three weeks of searching had led him to where he was now: hiding in a bush and wiping drool with his sleeve. He had admired Tobirama from afar from the moment he had seen him. They had never actually met, though, and it was mostly his own fault. The moment he so much as thought of the older man his tongue tied itself in to knots and his feet forgot how to walk. Tobirama was, without doubt, the hottest thing on two legs to ever walk through Fire Country. Kagami was only one of the poor unfortunate souls to think so.

The worst part was the hope. It was well-known in the village that Tobirama’s destined soulmate was an Uchiha. The proof was there for the world to see, the Sharingan pattern in the man’s left eye. It didn’t actually function as a Sharingan but the tomoe swirled in time with his heartbeat, instilling fear in any who were present to watch them rotate faster and faster in a show of bloodlust. Kagami’s favorite daydream was finding out that it was really meant for him.

He did, after all, have one eye that was permanently red. It should have been an obvious sign that his dreams were all true. That is, if he wasn’t aware of the complications that happened during his birth which messed with some of the chakra points in his eyes. They had both been permanently red for the first few months of his life. The doctors had been able to fix one of his eyes but not the other. So the chances of his actually being the one Tobirama was destined for weren’t quite as high as he’d like them to be.

“Did you need something?”

A smooth baritone voice shocked Kagami out of his musings, bringing him back to the present. He let out an involuntary squeak and then slapped both hands across his mouth. Tobirama had halted his katas while he had been lost in his head. The older man had his back to him but his head turned to the side.

“Come out. Now.”

Powerless against that voice, Kagami stumbled to his feet and slowly shuffled out of the bushes. In his excitement over finally having a chance to watch his secret crush he had entirely forgotten about Tobirama’s abilities as a sensor. Of course the man had known he was there the whole time. How embarrassing! He kept his head bowed as he slowly made his way out in to the light, just far enough that it was obvious he was following orders. Then he stopped and fiddled his fingers together. He could feel sharp eyes on his form, assessing him and dismissing him as a threat. He nearly jumped when Tobirama spoke again.

“Would you care to explain why you were watching me?” the older man asked in a firm tone. He said almost everything in a firm tone. Kagami nearly whimpered, locking his knees to keep them from trembling.

“Ah…no, not really,” he mumbled under his breath.

“It was not a request.”

Cheeks burning, Kagami ducked his head even more as he answered, “I’m sorry Lord Senju. You’re just…I think you’re really cool. And strong. I just wanted to watch you train.” His fingers pulled at each other while he wondered if it was possible to die from having too much blood in your face. Surely all that blood was needed elsewhere? His morbid wonderings ground to all a halt when a smooth chuckle brushed past his ear. He stared at his feet with wide eyes, wondering if he was hallucinating.

“Kagami, was it?” he heard Tobirama say.

At that, his head shot up. Tobirama knew his name? It seemed impossible that someone like that would take the time to learn the name of a nobody like him.

The moment their eyes met Kagami received a second shock, possibly the biggest shock he had ever received in his life. As soon as they locked gazes he watched the tomoe fade from Tobirama’s left eye and the red color shift to a lighter shade, leaving him with two beautifully matched eyes. As it happened the expression on Tobirama’s face shifted from vaguely amused to utterly surprised as, presumably, his own eyes changed as well. They stared at one another in silence for a long time. Kagami was unable to move under the weight of his crush’s gaze and the implications of what he had just witnessed. He’d dreamed about it of course, but to have it come true felt…well it felt too good to be true.

He jumped slightly when a hand suddenly gripped his chin, holding him in place. Then he shivered when a thumb slowly swiped along his jaw, pressing down against his throat when he swallowed nervously.

“Your name is Kagami, is it not?” Tobirama asked him.

“Uh huh,” was all he managed to say in reply, a breathy noise of agreement more than actual words.

“It would appear that we are soulmates.” Tobirama smirked slightly when Kagami swallowed again, harder this time. “Perhaps it’s a good thing you find me ‘cool’.”

Kagami closed his eyes in chagrin. Of course he had made a fool of himself already! Making a fool of himself what somewhat of his specialty. Now he was going to have to convince the other man to accept him and how was he supposed to do that when there was no reason to…to…what was that pressure on his lips? It lifted away immediately and he cracked his eyes open to see Tobirama’s face only an inch away from his own.

“Did you just kiss me!?” he exclaimed.

“Obviously not well if you need to question it,” Tobirama said with a smirk. “Let’s try that again, shall we?”

Before he could say anything Tobirama had leaned down and was kissing him a second time. Kagami wondered briefly if he had died and gone to heaven. Then he decided it didn’t matter and kissed back with a small moan. Sage, was there anything this man wasn’t good at? Even if it hadn’t been his first kiss he was sure it would have been his best. Everything was perfect, from the tender pressure against his lips to the guiding hand sliding along his chin to circle around and cup the back of his head. If it was possible for a human being to physically melt, Kagami would be doing so right at this moment.

When they parted he keened in protest. Then the blood returned to his face in yet another raging blush as Tobirama chuckled at him.

“Enthusiastic I see,” the older man quipped. “Good.”

“Is this real?” Kagami whispered, almost afraid that he was going to wake up any moment now. He watched a single white eyebrow rise up in response.

“I should hope so. I’ve been waiting for you for quite long enough.” The hand on the back of his head slowly slid down his spine until it rested in the small of his back. Kagami found himself being pulled up against a solid body; a very solid body that was still warm from training. He whimpered a little and buried his face his soulmate’s chest. “And I’m very glad to have found you.”

When Tobirama’s other arm wound around him and hugged him tightly, Kagami smiled and closed his eyes. Getting caught was possibly the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Chapter Text

The first time she saw the footprints was when she was twelve. It was her first C-rank mission and Lord Bee was leading them along the border between the Lands of Wind and Rain when she spotted them, causing her to stumble and almost fall. Small yellow footprints that almost blended in to the sand made a trail heading south. Karui stopped to look at them, to admire their shape. There was no telling who had left them or what their loyalties had been. No matter how much she wished she could follow them she knew that it was impossible. She was weeks away from home and the prints could be anywhere up to a week old, since that was the longest the soul trails were visible for.

“Yo yo, why are you stoppin’? If some one comes we might be caught then, yeah!”

Karui reluctantly pulled her eyes away and rolled them in exasperation. “That was a terrible rhyme, sensei.” She made no mention of what she had seen as she moved to follow the others. As it was only visible to her, it was an easy secret to keep.

The image of those tiny yellow footprints, however, stayed in Karui’s mind for years. She dreamed sometimes of following them to find open arms awaiting her, wrapping around her until she felt like she finally had someone who loved her. It was always a quasi-disappointment to wake up and see only her teammates around her. She loved Omoi and Samui like siblings and having Lord Killer Bee as a sensei was truly an honor. Sometimes, however, it felt lonely to know that they all had families to go home to. Having aged out of the orphanage by default when she became a genin, Karui longed to find her soulmate if for no other reason than to have somewhere to belong.

She found them again when she was fifteen, running for a time along the same road she was taking through the hills around the Waterfall Village. When Omoi asked what had made her smile so suddenly she told him she had pictured him falling over a waterfall. Omoi, of course, extrapolated her false imaginings and somehow ended up worrying over whether he could be eaten alive by mosquitoes. It was easier to let him work himself up than explain. She didn’t want to listen to whatever weird worries he would come up with for her. She just wanted to dream in peace.

It was when she was barely past seventeen that she first found out that she was different; in a way she had never heard of before. Her mission had taken her in to the Land of Fire and she was being extremely cautious not to be seen be any patrols. Despite how much it slowed her journey it was in her best interest to run on the ground. It was a well-known fact that Leaf ninjas preferred to travel among the tree tops. Her hope was that they would be paying less attention to the ground and therefore be less likely to spot her. It was going well until she spotted something that made her throw stealth right out the window.

Little yellow footprints plodded along the main road. By their form she could tell that whoever they were, they had been in no great hurry. What brought the world crashing down around her was what showed up at the end of the trail: pink footsteps. Karui stared at the dual sets of footprints, entirely uncertain if she should check for a genjutsu or not. How could there be two? What the hell was that supposed to mean?

Frantic, Karui followed them. They both took a few running steps then made what looked like jumps. She calculated possible trajectories and found where both had landed among the trees. Both trails headed southwest and it appeared that they were travelling together. They ran side by side for as long as she tracked them. When Karui forced herself to stop, to think, she found tears on her face. She told herself that they were tears of confusion or anger. She told herself they were absolutely not because she was afraid of being left behind, left out. Was she destined to two people who didn’t know about her? Was she destined to two people who wouldn’t need her? On the verge of having a fit of Omoi proportions Karui threw herself in the opposite direction, racing back in the direction of home. Her mission was complete but her heart was a mess. She wanted nothing more than the safety and comfort of the Land of Lightning.

Only a few months after that saw her sensei captured and Karui was travelling back towards the Land of Fire, this time flanked by her two best friends. With the current crisis going on the last thing she had time for was worrying about her strange soulmate situation. All of her concentration was taken up by the need for revenge against whoever had hurt one of her few precious people.

The Raikage had sent them to the Land of Fire to speak with the Hokage and gather any intel available on Uchiha Sasuke, the one who had taken Killer Bee. There were no words for her shock when they arrived to discover a crater where once had been a beautiful village. As they were led by survivors through the wreckage she couldn’t help but sympathize. She may not have any special love for the ninja of the Leaf but she would wish this kind of devastation only on her worst enemies. Even then…this was too far. She could only imagine the death toll, both shinobi and civilian.

While Samui went in search of the Hokage – or acting Hokage, their leader was apparently comatose – Karui and her other teammate went in search of someone who could give them any other information, the personal kind of stuff that came from growing up with someone before the betrayal.

She was not prepared to find little pink footprints crisscrossing the area.

Karui’s eyes widened when she noticed them. At first she had taken them for blood. Lord knew there was enough destruction around her to warrant a bit of blood on the ground. But when she looked closer she realized that it was multiple soul trails all overlapping each other as her soulmate travelled back and forth across the same ground. Since a soul trail was only visible for up to a week after the person had passed through this meant that her soulmate had spent a lot of time in the Leaf Village since the attack.

Ignoring Omoi’s protests, Karui set off trying to figure out where the trails led. Maybe her soulmate knew Sasuke! It would be like killing two birds with one stone and efficiency was a good thing in a shinobi. At least, that was how she justified it to herself. After several false starts and quite a few backtracks, Karui followed one set of prints that led around a small body of water. She wasn’t sure if the pond had been there before the sudden change in topography but she was glad for the smooth shoreline that the trail followed along. They had been walking for a few minutes when they heard voices up ahead discussing, of all things, Uchiha Sasuke. Remembering her original mission, Karui perked her ears and hurried.

“-planning to dispatch tracking ninja to go after him!” a feminine voice was saying. The two of them came around a bend in the trail just in time to see a black haired boy making a surprised expression.

“What, really?” the boy said. “He didn’t mention that Sasuke-”

Her sword was drawn and pointed at the trio she found there before she had even thought about it.

“Go on, keep talking. Tell us all about this Sasuke. You–” Her voice faltered when she caught something out of the corner of her eye. Little pink footprints leading right up to a girl with pretty pink hair, the one whose face Karui was pointing her sword at. She gaped at the other girl in astonishment while the others around them frowned in confusion.

“What’s wrong?” Omoi asked quietly.

“She’s…footprints…I…” Words wouldn’t come to her. It was incredible to think that she had found her soulmate. One of her soulmates, apparently. The thought was like a bucket of ice water down her spine. This girl had already met whoever it was that left behind the yellow prints and Karui had no way of knowing what their relationship was to each other. Squaring her jaw, Karui pulled herself together and repeated, “Tell us all about this Sasuke. You seem to be such good friends.”

It devolved in to a fight almost immediately. The boy in orange attacked and she and Omoi defended. The short scuffle ended with the two of them jumping back, landing a safe distance away on the surface of the water.

By the time the conversation was over as well their entire outlook on the mission had been changed. Sensei might still be alive! The one called Naruto had named himself as a jinchūriki and offered to help. As they allowed him to lead them away Karui heard a small gasp from behind them.

“Footprints…” she heard the pink haired girl say. “Hey, wait!”

Karui didn’t look back. She pushed off in to the air and followed Naruto somewhere that he could speak to them without his friends. As it turned out, he wouldn’t give them any new information on the Uchiha. Karui was tempted to take him up on his offer to take her anger out on him, but she was still rather flustered from before. She screamed and ranted and waved her hands, but she didn’t hit him. When Samui found them it was a relief to have an excuse to leave.

When they set off the next day to bring the information on their target to the Raikage, Karui’s mind was still in a whirl. She had spent her whole life wishing for somewhere to belong and the second she finds the possibility to have that what does she do? She runs away. Wonderful. Way to go, self! Her frustration with her own cowardice made her quieter than usual while they made their way to the Land of Iron, to meet up with Ay and his attendants. When they did meet with him, Cee rebuked her team leader immediately.

“Samui you’ve been tailed! Show yourselves, you Hidden Leaf dogs!”

From behind a nearby outcropping of rock came a small group of four shinobi. Naruto and the Copy Ninja were both immediately recognizable. The brunette man wasn’t familiar to her but that pink haired one was. Naruto had called her Sakura. Sakura was staring at Karui with a determined expression that made her face flush. She mentally blamed it on the cold weather and lowered her eyes.

Naruto’s supplication was astonishing – to ask such a thing of the Raikage! It was unheard of! Karui didn’t say much, only called the boy a fool. And he was a fool, thinking they would spare Sasuke’s life after what he had done. When the Raikage and his party turned to leave she caught sight of Sakura watching her. Her determination was still so openly displayed on her face, mixed in with wonder and affection. Karui wondered if it was really her the other girl felt those things for or if she was thinking of her lost teammate, the one whose life they were begging for. She thought it was telling that Sakura didn’t try to stop her this time, didn’t even speak to her.

The building where the conference was being held was built inside of a giant cave that looked like nothing so much as a great gaping maw. Karui cringed and hunched her shoulder as the shade of the mountains fell over her. As they entered the building and waited for the leader of the Land of Iron to greet them, she saw Cee turned to the Raikage with a frown.

“We are still being tailed, my Lord. One of those Leaf dogs got here before us,” she heard him murmur. The Raikage harrumphed but said nothing. He didn’t have the time to respond; a middle-aged samurai came in to the room just then to welcome them. As the samurai indicated for them to follow him to the conference rooms, movement caught Karui’s eyes.

The one who had followed them was Sakura. She was standing behind one of the massive stone pillars which decorated the hall and beckoning for Karui to come over. Wary but too curious to resist, Karui did so. Samui and Omoi went on ahead, never even noticing her reluctant departure. She stopped a few feet away and crossed her arms defensively across her chest. Before she could demand an explanation Sakura beamed and dashed out from behind the pillar. Karui eeped when her wrist was grabbed and she found herself suddenly being dragged off down another hallway.

“Wha-? What do you think you’re-? Where are you taking me?” It was shameful how little resistance she put up. Then again, she had heard some stories about the Hokage’s apprentice and her inhuman strength. Non-resistance was probably the wisest course of action when Haruno Sakura had a grip on your wrist.

The two of them burst in to an unmarked room without knocking, startling the three people inside. Karui didn’t recognize any of them. She did, however, noticed the yellow footprints scattered all throughout the room.

“Temari! I found her! I found her! Look!” As she babbled excitedly, Sakura pointed to the floor. A blonde girl sitting up against the far wall raised both eyebrows as she looked down. Then she suddenly leapt out of her seat like it had caught fire.

“You did find her!”

Karui was incredibly confused when the blonde came dashing over to beam at her, just like Sakura was. They both held on to one of her arms each and smiled and laughed. She really had no idea what to do. She was almost glad for the distraction of someone knocking on the door, announcing the arrival of the final Kage.

“Temari,” the redheaded young man in the corner spoke as he rose to his feet. “You will need to come with us.”

The blonde wrinkled her nose and swore under her breath, then turned to Sakura and said, “Don’t you dare let her leave! You’d better both still be here when the conference is done!” Then she was out the door with the two others than had been in the room when they entered, leaving her alone with Sakura once again.

“Was that…?” she started to ask a question, then realized she had no idea how to ask it – or even really what it was she wanted to ask. It felt like the last few days had flown past her at hyper speed, leaving her a little stunned. Sakura brought her back to earth with fingers winding in between her own.

“That was Temari, our other soulmate,” she said. Karui stared at her with wide eyes.

“Our other soulmate,” she repeated. “So, you see two soul trails too!?”

Sakura giggled as she replied, “Of course, silly! Temari and I have both found your footprints before, as well as each other’s. We met a few years ago when we took our first chūnin exams. That was…well it was a rough start!” She laughed awkwardly in a way that made it obvious there was a good story there. “But things are okay now and we’ve been really anxious to find you. And now we have! And we can all be together!”

Karui stared at Sakura some more, taking in her happy smile while those words rang inside her head. We can all be together. She had always dreamed of finding her soulmate because she’d always been alone. Now she had two people who wanted her? Two people she belonged to? Karui would deny the tears in her eyes to anyone who dared point them out, but that didn’t stop her from scrubbing at them with the back of a hand.

“Together,” she mumbled. “Sounds good.” Sakura drew her over to the bench that Temari had been sitting on before.

“We can wait here for them,” she suggested. “Until the conference is over.”

Karui looked in to her soulmate’s green eyes and said, “Yeah. Then we can all be together.”

Chapter Text

Madara saw how often he looked at his wrist; that bastard. He watched Tobirama when the idiot thought no one was looking, how his eyes would fall to his wrist and he would bring his other hand up to draw a thumb across the mark there.

It was disgusting. It was shameful. It was less than Izuna had deserved. Madara scowled as he watched the Senju trace each letter with care, his own clan name in black ink. He was very aware that murderous waste of space had no idea who the writing was meant for, just as Izuna had never had the chance to discover who his writing was for. It wasn’t until he had worked side by side with the Senju, saw his signature on form after form, that he realized. Only then had he looked at the bastard’s wrist and seen it for what it was.

His brother’s handwriting on the hand that had murdered him.

Each time he watched the somber longing fall over the pale disgusting face, Madara couldn’t help but feel a surge of vicious satisfaction. He cherished the knowledge that Tobirama would spend the rest of his days alone and wondering, always waiting. It was his only recompense for a lost brother: knowing that the one who killed him would find his end unsatisfied and despairing.

Because he knew that Tobirama did not remember his last words to Izuna. He knew Tobirama did not remember Izuna’s last words to him either. Angrily muttering each other’s names in the heat of battle, sealing their fate with blade and blood. Tobirama had no clue that he had killed his own soulmate.

Madara certainly wasn’t going to tell him.

Chapter Text

“I beg your pardon?”

Despite the civility of his phrasing, Fugaku’s tone was anything but polite. The clanless buffoon across the room gulped and clutched the file he was holding a little tighter, his knuckles turning white. Fugaku narrowed his eyes only when the boy finally looked in to them, reminding him that they could turn red at any moment if he should wish them to.

“I-I’m very sorry, Uchiha-sama! I didn’t verify the results myself. I was only told to deliver them to you! If you have any concerns I would be more than happy to take them to my boss!” The poor idiot’s voice was cracking under the strain of his fear. Fugaku sneered and the boy trembled.

“Give me those papers,” he snapped. The folder was almost thrown in his face and the boy escaped the room with relief obvious in every cell of his body.

Alone now, Fugaku looked down at the file he was holding, wondering if he should even bother looking inside. Surely there had been a mistake. He had checked the records just likely everyone else did when he came of age and every two years after that. If his soulmate was here in the village, he would have found a file with fingerprints matching his own. Even immigrants had their prints taken and added to the records. How could he have missed this when he had only gone through them two months ago?

He knew that the Prints and Identification Office was undergoing renovations. Each and every file was being put in to an upgraded computer system to make running searches easier. Which meant that each file was being checked as it was entered in to the database. Fugaku had a lot of responsibilities these days learning to take his place as Clan Head within the next couple of years, he didn’t have much time to himself. He supposed there might be the smallest chance that those who did have time to themselves might have found something he had overlooked. Flipping open the folder in his hand, he perused the papers within – then froze. Here was his answer, the reason he had never found this file.

Name: Hiashi
Clan affiliation: Hyuga
Status: Unmarried, Unmatched

Fugaku felt his spine stiffening as he looked at the face in the photograph before him. He had never checked the Hyuga archives, hadn’t even bothered. There hadn’t been a match between their clans in generations and he hadn’t felt it was even worth the effort. Yet here was a Hyuga who supposedly had fingerprints that matched his own, the mark of soulmates. Even more daunting: he knew this man. This was the one who was set to be the next Head of the Hyuga Clan. They had met dozens of times – sneered down their noses at each other dozens of times.

Fugaku sighed as he slipped the file under his arm and strode out of the room. This is was going to be awkward.

Gaining entry to the Hyuga compound as an Uchiha was not a pleasant process. Eyes followed his every step, openly suspicious of his intentions. Two Hyuga jōnin escorted him down the main street towards the meeting hall and he was very aware that a single wrong move would provoke them to attack. He thought back to the one time he had ever seen a Hyuga enter his own clan compound and admitted that the woman had been brave and incredibly poised if this is what it had felt like.

When he entered the hall he found three men kneeling on cushions at the far end of the room. They did not bother to rise for him, only continued to drink their tea. Two of the men were identical, twins who resembled each other down to the last hair. The only difference that separated them was the bandages wound around the brow of one of them, hiding away the clan’s traditional curse mark. The third man was their father and current Clan Head. Fugaku grit his teeth and bowed once to encompass all three. The gesture surprised them so much that all three of them actually put down their tea.

“I would prefer to speak to you in private, Hiashi-san.” He made his voice as firm as possible. He might be willing to dent his pride enough to bow for the sake of good relations but that didn’t mean he was willing to allow these men to cow him. He may have entered the lion’s den but he was tiger himself.

“Anything you have to say to me, you can say in front of my family,” the twin with the bindings replied. Fugaku scowled.

“You are not your brother, Hizashi,” he ground out. “I was not speaking to you. This is a private matter.” He said this last bit to the person he had come to speak with.

Hiashi lifted one eyebrow and contemplated him in silence. Fugaku stood still and bore his consideration without argument. At last the man nodded once and rose smoothly to his feet. He swept away to the corner of the room where they might speak in quiet voices yet still be observed. Fugaku chaffed at the lack of privacy but respected the compromise.

When they faced each other he took a moment to observe Hiashi. Dark hair fell straight as a pin all the way down his back in the traditional style of his clan. Pale lavender eyes stared at him, hard as steel, set above a straight nose and thin lips. He was not the usual definition of beautiful and yet Fugaku could admit that he had always been drawn to this look.

“What is it you wish to speak to me about?” Hiashi asked. Fugaku lifted the folder he had brought with him.

“The records have been rechecked and a match had been found between our clans. You and I, it appears, are soulmates.” He allowed a moment for that to sink in, enjoying the way those large eyes grew even wider with surprise. “For accuracy’s sake I must enquire as to whether the fingerprints you provided to Identification were your own?”

Hiashi frowned but it had none of its usual vitriol as he replied in a faint voice, “Yes of course they were.” He took the file and flipped it open, reading through the results with a faint look of awe dawning in his eyes. When he looked up there was the smallest of smiles playing around his lips.

“The elders are not going to be happy with this,” Fugaku felt obliged to point out. “We will both be expected to lead our respective clans and produce heirs.” He was surprised to see the Hyuga’s tiny smile cautiously grow.

“I’m sure we can work something out,” Hiashi said.

Fugaku slowly smiled back. Yes, he thought, I’m sure we can.

Chapter Text

He had never understood why that one girl from Konoha stared at him the way she did. Not until today.

Gaara had been born with Shukaku inside him, the one-tailed bijuu. Such was the nature of his seal that if he had ever fallen asleep Shukaku would take over his body and run rampant. While there had been times during his – admittedly shameful – past that he had allowed this to happen freely, for the most part Gaara had always preferred to remain in control. Which meant, of course, that he did not sleep. A civilian would never have been able to do it. It required constant chakra flow to stay awake for months, years at a time. But then, a civilian would not have been able to contain the One Tail either.

Since Gaara did not sleep it followed naturally that he did not dream. He had never experienced it although he had often wondered what it might be like. He was therefore both nervous and excited when his sister came to him with medicine for the sickness he had contracted and told him it should help him sleep.

“I do not sleep, Temari,” he said in the quiet way he had settled in to. People seemed to accept him more easily now that he spoke softly, calmly. They didn’t seem afraid that he would harm them at the slightest provocation the way he might have when he was younger.

“What, still?” Temari seemed surprised. It had, after all, been a few years since the bijuu had been removed from him. Gaara tilted his head to the side.

“Yes. I have never needed sleep before. Now that I am Kazekage I find it very beneficial to spend the night working uninterrupted.” It worked out very well. It freed his daylight hours so he could spend them doing other things. He involved himself in as many projects as possible to make up for his misspent youth and if he didn’t use the night to finish his piles of paperwork then he wouldn’t have time for half as many projects.

Temari shook her head as she said, “You’re not a machine Gaara.” He nodded once. She had told him this before. “Well, anyway, this will probably do you three times as much good then. Give yourself time to recover while you’re sick. If you want to go back to your usual habits afterwards I can’t stop you. I can tell you that I think it’s stupid though. Siblings rights.” Her smile softened the blow and let him know she was teasing. He’d gotten better at spotting when she was just teasing.

“Will it help me get better in time for your wedding?” he asked. “I will go regardless but I would prefer to make a good impression.”

“It’s simple cold medicine, Gaara.” Temari handed over the bottle and he eyed it curiously. “But yes, it should help you get better in time for the wedding. You’ll probably feel better in a couple of days and the wedding isn’t for another few weeks.”

Temari didn’t leave his office until he had packed up his work and allowed her to escort him to his barely used quarters. He normally only returned here to refresh himself and changed his clothing. Today he changed in to the pajamas she had bought for him that he had never worn before and crawled in to the bed he had never lain on before. The medicine was bitter and tasted nothing like oranges, despite what the packaging said. When he laid his head down on the pillow he felt very…strange.

His head felt like it was floating, detached from his body. The rest of him felt heavy and he seemed to be sinking down in to the soft mattress below him. When he closed his eyes it felt as if he were drifting along a river. It was the most comforting feeling he had ever experienced.

The girl that suddenly appeared before him was familiar; it was the girl that stared at him so strangely whenever he visited Konoha. She was pretty, he noted in a distant sort of way. He’d never seen her with her hair out of the twin buns that she usually kept it in. It was longer than he would have thought, cascading in waves down to her mid-back, swaying from side to side as she threw her head back in laughter. Her velvet brown eyes sparkled with humor and Gaara wondered if he had ever thought of someone as ‘pretty’ before.

If he recalled correctly her name was TenTen. She was one of Naruto’s friends, only a year older than himself. He couldn’t remember much else about her. The only people he knew well from their village were Naruto and Kakashi, the two people he had spent the most time with. Naruto because the other young man was his first friend and Kakashi because they attended Kage conferences together. Tsunade had usually been too busy drinking during the conferences to speak about personal things.

His vision of the girl widened to include the room she was in. He could see others that he recognized but could not name, classmates of Naruto. They all appeared to be in a restaurant, eating and having fun together as he had heard friends were wont to do. Personally, Gaara had never found the need for idle socialization. He spent time with his family at meals and the rest of his time was devoted to his work as Kazekage. Yet he found himself wishing he could be a part of the scene before him. They all looked so happy. He wondered who had made the girl TenTen laugh, if he might be able to make her laugh as well. He wasn’t particularly funny. At least, not when he meant to be. Kankuro laughed at him all the time even when he wasn’t sure why.

When the scene began to fade Gaara tried hard to hold on to it. She was so pretty; he wanted to keep watching her. He had the strangest sensation of blooming, of coming up out of water. Then his eyes opened and sunlight was streaming in through the window. Which was odd because he had only just closed his eyes and it had been a mere few hours after dark.

He was just sitting up in when the door opened and Temari stepped in.

“Oh good, you’re up,” she said. “I was just coming to wake you. We were starting to get worried.”

“Wake me? Worried?” The groggy sound of his voice was strange to his own ears. He coughed a couple of times to clear it away.

“It’s well past noon,” Temari told him.

Gaara blinked at her, unable to comprehend that. How could it be past noon? It had just been evening! That was impossible! Clutching the covers in his fists he asked, “How can that be? What’s happened? When I closed my eyes it was ten o’clock! And when I opened them…” He broke off, staring in confusion. Temari came over to sit next to him.

“You slept, that’s what happened,” she said in a soothing voice. “When you sleep you’re not aware of time passing. You just rest. And dream.” He frowned.

“I…believe I did dream.”

“That’s a good thing.” She patted him on the knee. “But you’ll have to get up now before the council throws a fit. They’re already thinking of who to nominate for the next Kazekage if case you never wake up.” Her eyes rolled toward the ceiling and he smiled. Temari had no patience for the council.

Gaara spent the rest of that day continuously checking the time to make sure it was passing as normal. Losing such a large amount of time, having it just disappear like that, had made him very uncomfortable. Yet, that was not the only thing that occupied his mind.

When Kankuro joined him for dinner he asked, “Kankuro, what are dreams for?” His brother paused with his chopsticks halfway up to his painted mouth.

“Eh? For? I suppose that depends on what you were dreaming about.”

“If it was a dream about a person?” He picked at his own food, moving it around the plate absently. Kankuro took a large bite and chewed it while eyeing him contemplatively.

“If you have a dream about a specific person it usually means they’re your soulmate. You knew that though, right? Everybody does it, sees their soulmate in their dreams.”

Gaara nearly dropped his chopsticks. “S-soulmate?”

“Yeah,” Kankuro said. “If your soulmate is awake while you’re sleeping you can see what they’re doing. You, uh, didn’t know that?”

Gaara shook his head and Kankuro rubbed the base of his hairline, looking slightly put off. It was easy to forget that the Kazekage didn’t know certain things, not having any normal interactions growing up. Gaara hummed and stared unseeing at his plate. So that TenTen girl was his soulmate. He mulled this over in his head, looking at it from all angles. Kankuro almost choked on his food when he suddenly smiled widely.

“Kankuro, I have a soulmate!” he announced proudly. His brother coughed, thumping his own chest to clear his airways.

“Good for you,” he wheezed. “That’s awesome.”

Gaara nodded. It was pretty awesome, him having a soulmate. He couldn’t wait until they travelled to Konoha. He wanted to speak to this TenTen. Perhaps this was the reason that she watched him so closely at every opportunity? Obviously she slept every night like most people. It was likely that she dreamt of him every night, since he never slept. He hoped that she would be amenable to cultivating a closer relationship.

--

Waiting the three more weeks until it was time for his sister’s wedding was strangely difficult. Gaara had caved after a week and asked Temari for more of the substance that had put him to sleep. He wanted to see if he would dream again. It would be worth it, he thought, even at the cost of the disorientation of time loss. Unfortunately she had refused him. Apparently taking medication when it wasn’t necessary was bad for his health. He’d never been so disappointed to be free of the common cold.

The trip to the Land of Fire was much slower than normal, bogged down as they were by the large retinue it was necessary to bring with them. Having the sister of the Kazekage marry and immigrate to another Hidden Village required quite a bit more pomp and ceremony than Gaara was used to. He preferred quiet, private functions attended only by those he was close to. He chafed at the need to walk slowly instead of being able to simply fly through the treetops as they normally did. Temari walked with him, attempting an image of serenity yet achieving an impression of internalized panic.

It was a relief to finally walk through the gates of Konoha and be greeted by Kakashi in his formal robes. Gaara returned the greeting with as few words as possible, his concentration scattered while he searched the faces of the welcoming crowd. When he finally spotted the one he was looking for she had already turned away, leaving the area with a couple of friends.

It was easy to politely excuse himself and step away from gathering. Kakashi waved him off with a slyly understanding smile while offering to see to the accommodations of his retinue. Gaara wondered if Kakashi knew of the potential match between him and one of Konoha’s citizens. He didn’t stick around to ask, however. Instead he slipped quietly away, trying not to draw attention to himself. It was harder to do that nowadays, now that people weren’t actively trying to pretend he didn’t exist. Luckily most people’s attention was on the bride-to-be today so he managed to find himself alone when he caught up to the girl and her two friends.

“Pardon me,” he called out. The trio ahead stopped and looked back.

“Oh, wow, Gaara!” How he had missed Sakura was beyond him. Her pink hair should have been distinctive enough to identify her, yet she had failed to catch his attention. The other girl, Ino he thought, nudged TenTen with a suggestive waggle of her eyebrows.

“Hello Sakura,” he said. “If you don’t mind, I would like to speak to your friend alone for a moment. That is…if I may speak to you, TenTen?” His face felt warm for some reason when he realized he should probably have spoken directly to her.

TenTen looked surprised but she still eagerly waved her friends away. He couldn’t help but notice that her hair was different today. Her traditional buns had a braid of hair dangling from each that merged with each other in the center and flowed down her back. It passed across his mind that she still looked very pretty, that she would likely look pretty no matter how she wore her hair. When she turned to him and smiled the warmth in his face spread down his neck. He wondered if perhaps he had caught another cold.

“What was it you wanted to talk to me about, Kazekage-sama?” TenTen asked him.

“Just Gaara is fine,” he told her first. Then he realized he hadn’t planned what he would say. All that time waiting to see her and he hadn’t thought of a single thing to say when he did. They looked at one another in awkward silence until he suddenly blurted, “I dreamt of you!”

TenTen looked surprised, then she smiled and told him shyly, “I dream of you all the time.”

“I have never dreamed before. But Temari helped me sleep and I saw you. Kankuro says that means we are soulmates. I…didn’t know that.” His words came in scattered, choppy sentences and he found himself very nervous. TenTen was looking at him with wonder in her eyes.

“I knew you couldn’t sleep so I figured you didn’t know,” she admitted. “Um…now that you do know, what…um…do you want to…uh…” She trailed off with reddening cheeks, clasping her hands in front of her.

“Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?” Gaara asked quietly.

“Dinner?” TenTen’s eyes widened. “With the Kazekage? Wha-what do you wear when you’re having dinner with the Kazekage?” He had a feeling that her question was more for herself than for him, going by how dazed she looked. He smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging manner.

“Yes. I hope we can get to know each other better.”

Snapping out of her daze, TenTen regarded him in a considering manner. Her cheeks were still a bit pink but she seemed to have collected herself enough to nod decisively and give him a confident grin. Gaara was startled when she reached out and hooked an arm through his before setting off in the direction she had been heading before with her two friends.

“Right, you want to get to know me? Here’s how you get to know me. Training!” TenTen turned her head to give him the widest grin that would fit on her face. “How’s your taijutsu?”

Feeling like the wind had been stolen from his lungs, Gaara rasped, “I’m willing to learn more.”

Her smile grew brighter and he found it even harder to breathe. He could understand now why she stared at him so much. He thought he could happily spend the rest of his life staring back.

Chapter Text

The cliché of it bothered him more than it probably should have. Of course it had to be a coffee shop where they found each other again.

He was ordering a coffee from Itachi, who looked about as thrilled to be working here as he usually did, and poking fun at his best friend’s misfortune at being stuck in a job in the worst coffee chain in the city. It was extra fun because Itachi couldn’t snap back at him with sarcastic vitriol when he was on shift. That was when the hand touched his elbow.

“Zabuza! Zabuza!” He felt like he knew the voice even though he was sure he’d never heard it in this lifetime. Sure enough, when he turned around there he was.

Haku was unchanged by the generations between their first meeting and this one. His hair was still long and dark, looking like a waterfall of silk framing a face of porcelain. His features were still feminine enough that he could pass for either gender without question. Zabuza drank him in like a glass of water after three days in the desert.

“Found you Zabuza!” Haku smiled as he reached out and took one of Zabuza’s hand in both of his own. “Looks like I’m almost as old as you this time. Isn’t that strange!”

“Yeah…” He murmured, further words escaping him for the moment. He was almost twenty five now and he’d been wondering about it lately. It was usually within the next few years that they met, although it was usually him that found Haku. He’d never seen Haku so close to his own age though. His chest tightened with raw emotion; he’d never seen Haku live past fifteen at the most.

“Being grown up is weird!” Haku said with a smile, crinkling his nose while he laughed at himself. Zabuza took a shaky breath before using his free arm to drawn the younger man in to his chest.

“I swear I’ll protect you this time,” he murmured.

Haku returned his hug with enthusiasm, decorum and the people around them forgotten in the excitement of their reunion. A tiny face nuzzled in to his shirt right above where his heart was thundering against his ribs. He held tighter. This time, he promised himself, this time they would have a life together. This time they would get the chance they had been denied with each and every reincarnation.

“I know you will Zabuza,” Haku said. “Because you love me!”

Zabuza was not a man who cried easily and he would deny the wetness on his cheeks to his dying day.

“I do, Haku.”

Chapter Text

The first time they meet they are enemies. His hair is long and hers is short; he is a fan of explosives and she is a medical ninja with fists of destruction. The moment he lays eyes on her he knows they are soulmates. This knowledge means absolutely nothing to him. He doesn’t know her and he doesn’t want her. She is in the way of his art and he has no compunctions about trying to blow her up. When he reaches his end in that life she is not even on his mind.

The second time they meet it has been 100 years and he has reincarnated twice already. She is buying clothing at the store he stops in to. She looks up when he bumps in to her, nods at his apology, and goes back to what she was doing. She doesn’t know who he is. Distantly he had known to expect this. That he remembers her is a sure sign that she will not remember him. It’s still a little jarring. He’s a good person in this life, a travelling salesman who’s done little wrong and never been caught on the wrong side of the law. Still he walks away without speaking to her. They don’t meet again in that life.

The third time they meet he’s not sure how many years have passed. He was raised on the streets and never learned to read. He has no idea what the date is, barely knows what city he is in. He does know her face, though, when she stops in to the corner store only moments before he was about to rob it. The gun stays in his pocket while he watches the way she walks. He follows her in to the parking lot but he can’t bring himself to do anything more than watch in silence as she gets in her car and drives away. He is not a good person this time. He is rough and directionless, so much wasted space. They meet a second time in that life, very briefly. His hair is short and hers is long. He has risen from the ashes of his poor beginning and made something of himself. He spends three years tracking her down only to watch her from afar for an hour before leaving. She continues her date with her husband, unaware.

The fourth time they meet he touches her on the arm. She listens while he explains in his brash, unrefined way that he recognizes her, that they are soulmates. She smiles and falls in to his arms like a puzzle piece that he’s been missing for too long. They only have eight years together before sickness takes him but she is there at his bedside near the end and he thinks she must remember him now.

The fifth time they meet it takes him all of ten seconds to realize that she does not, in fact, remember him. That they have not met enough times yet. He sits with her all night at the festival and they dance to music, eat ice cream, anything she wants. And at the end of the night she doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t tell her. He walks away and doesn’t look back. It hurts too much to look in her eyes and know that she has forgotten every moment they shared, every burning touch. The lack of love in those eyes threatens to ruin him and he leaves before she has the chance.

The sixth time them meet lasts only two minutes. He opens his eyes and she is wrist deep in his blood. He tries to hold on, to breathe. He’s not sure how it happened. Explosives had been his specialty before and they were again now. But it all went wrong and then it all went dark. He goes with her screams in his ear.

The seventh time they meet as children. They live down the road from each other and he grows up knowing better than to say something. He grows up the class outcast, too interested in science and which chemicals will go boom. She grows up the class princess, spending more time with her makeup than her books. She never forgets to make time for him and he never forgets to hurt the ones that hurt her. He sends her to college and then university. He walks her to her first job interview. He walks her down the aisle when she gets married. He stays and stays but never speaks. When they are old and gray and her husband is gone she asks him why he never married. He tells her he never loved anyone but her. And she smiles and calls him a good friend.

The eighth time they meet he hates her. This time he comes from money and privilege. He owns a progressive art studio and his creations are sought after the world over. It is his art that brings her to him. She comes from money too and he hates the person she has grown in to. She is arrogant and entitled. She demands and expects. He turns her away and refuses her commission. This is not the person she was meant to be. He will not love her like this. He doesn’t even try.

The ninth time they meet she pursues him. This is his twenty-third reincarnation and a lot of time has passed. The world has changed and technology has improved. Alongside that, fashion has changed as well. They are rival fashion designers and it amuses him to compare all their past selves to this one. Knowing what he does of his previous reincarnations, he’s sure he would be horrified to see himself like this. He’s sure she would be too. It surprises him when she begins to warm up to him. It startles him when she asks for a date. It shocks him when she ask for a second. In all the times they have met she has never seemed so interested. On their honeymoon years later in a pod-hotel deep beneath the sea, he asks her what drew her to him for that first date. She tells him she felt connected to him, as if called to him somehow. He keeps his silence and smiles. Maybe…

The tenth time they meet on a starship bound for another sector. It is 3000 years after the first time they met and humanity is expanding in to the universe. He steps on board and as they are introducing him to the rest of the crew he hears his name shouted from across the flight deck.

“Deidara!” He turns just in time to catch her in his arms. Pink locks of hair are held back by her holo-gear, displaying her beautiful green eyes for him to grin at.

“Sakura,” he says calmly, belying the frantic beating of his heart.

“I remember you,” she says, running a gentle hand down his cheek.

He says nothing back, only pulls her in for a kiss as generations and centuries and missed opportunities fall off of him like forgotten dust. She remembers him. And she loves him. He is home.

Chapter Text

His brother had asked him once what it felt like to fight with only half of your chakra. Itachi had compared it to reaching a closed door made of glass. You could see what was there on the other side, you could feel it, but no matter what you did you could not reach it. And yet it wasn’t nearly as annoying as his brother seemed to think it was. How can you miss something that you’ve never had? Sasuke had been lucky enough to meet his soulmate the first year he joined the academy. Itachi, however, had yet to meet his own and therefore had never unlocked the other half of the chakra that should have been available to him. He had never seemed to need it. Having only half of his chakra had not stopped him from becoming the youngest captain ANBU had ever seen.

How much chakra he had available to him was the farthest thing from his mind today, however. Today he was on the hunt. Itachi had noticed that every time he picked his brother up from school there were two chakra signatures that followed him around. He’d been worried at first; one of them was the demon fox container, Uzumaki Naruto. Then he had learned that his brother had made friends with Naruto, who turned out to be a sweet boy who desperately needed a friend, so he decided not to worry about that one. The second follower remained a mystery.

A mystery that he was going to solve today. Threats against his little brother were not allowed and not taken lightly.

Itachi blended seamlessly in to the shadows as he moved through the trees, as silent as the breeze that tousled his hair. He flitted from branch to branch, locked on to the mystery chakra signature and moving in fast. Whoever they were, they were stationary just beyond the border of the training field his brother and the fox container were both using. They had said something about target practice and headed out. Itachi had been planning to enjoy his day off at home alone. The moment he noticed that second chakra following the two boys, however, he had headed out straight away. He was going to find them today and warn them. Any harm done to his brother would be returned threefold upon them.

When the signature was just below him Itachi stopped, activating his Sharingan and looking down. He could see the form of a young girl hiding amateurishly behind a tree. She appeared to be staring at the two boys training, making no move to join them, only observe. He frowned and dropped silently behind her, taking in more information.

She looked to be about the same age as Sasuke. She had short, dark hair and a slim build. Her fur lined jacket held no clan markings but the holster on her thigh marked her as a fellow student in the academy. As he watched, she clutched both hands in front of herself.

“Please work hard, Naruto-kun,” he heard her whisper. At that, his eyebrow rose up. So it wasn’t his brother she was following after all, it was the fox container? Interesting.

“Oi,” he called softly to get her attention. He had to be certain after all.

At the sound of his voice the girl squeaked and whipped around, obviously startled and embarrassed to have been caught. When she took in the sight of his ANBU uniform she looked even more frightened. Then they met each other’s eyes. For a split second there was terror as she registered his active Sharingan, swirling lazily in both eyes. Then she was gaping as presumably she felt the same strange feeling that he did. It was like a key unlocking something in the very depths of his soul and that which had been trapped inside came rushing out, flooding him with energy the likes of which he had never known.

“H-h-hello,” the girl whispered. Itachi deactivated his Sharingan, hoping that would make her feel more at ease.

“Hello. My name is Itachi. You must be the Hyuga heiress.” He knew of the two main branch sisters from the Hyuga family, although he had never met either of them, and he was aware that the older of the two was in Sasuke’s class. He was surprised to see her shake her head.

“Oh n-no,” Hinata said. “Not anymore. My younger sister is being trained to be become clan head now. I was too weak. Hanabi is much stronger.”

Itachi frowned. He very much doubted that anyone who came from the main branch of the Hyuga clan could be anything less than incredibly powerful. Untrained and unsure of herself, however, he could tell she was those things. Which absolutely would not do. No soulmate of his was going to go through life thinking she was weak and unworthy.

She looked surprised when he reached out a saying and asked her, “Come with me.” When she took his hand, however, hers was steady in his grip and he saw the smothered spark of fire relight in her eyes. He led her from the area to a clearing in the forest where he liked to train by himself. There they made a promise to grow stronger together, to always be more than other’s expected of them. There, they tamed the freshly unlocked oceans of chakra that they hadn’t had before.

Years later when Hanabi was officially named the heir to the Hyuga main branch, Hiashi mentioned to Hinata that this meant she would need to be marked with the Hyuga Curse Seal. Her response was, in so many words, “I’d like to see you try.” Itachi nearly burst from pride. Truly she had blossomed in to the most beautiful flower in the garden of Konoha.

Chapter Text

There wasn’t a day that went by in the last few years that Madara did not envy his brother. Izuna was blessed with one soul mark, only one, and it was very clear what it was. The naginata that ran down his brother’s arm, handle patterned with flowers, could not have more obviously been a tribute to the crazy woman Touka. Touka was a simple creature whose biggest passion in life was the thrill of battle. Her passion was easy to interpret, as was his own brother’s love for family, manifesting itself as a pair of clasped hands on the bottom of Touka’s left foot.

It was most common for someone to have only one soul mark, advising them in advance what their soulmate’s truest passion would be. It was rarer for a person to manifest two but it was possible. Hashirama had two, a blade on one palm and a heart on the other. Most people’s soul marks developed early on in life while their soulmate grew and realized who they are as a person. In both of these respects Madara was unique, unheard of. He had multiple soul marks, many more than two, and they continued to appear as he grew older.

By the time the Senju and Uchiha had made peace and built a village together, Madara was twenty nine and bore a total of fourteen soul marks. He had been delighted as a ten year old to discover a rather lovely sword on his forearm. He was startled a couple of years later to discover a white feline shape on his hip devoid of any other details. At the base of his spine there grew a tree with reaching branches, appearing when he was fifteen. At eighteen he acquired a pair of hands making the Inu hand sign. Now at twenty-seven he had a second sword on the opposite forearm, a beaker, what looked like a stylized wave of water, no less than four different books, a row of children’s shadows all holding hands, and a small clutch of blueberries, of all things.

The most recent soul mark had only shown up a fortnight ago. He had awakened to find a tongue of flame with a leaf in its center decorating the base of his neck. Rather than smile – because it was obvious that this was a representation of the newly coined Will of Fire, which meant his soulmate must reside in Konoha – Madara had scowled instead. What the bloody hell was wrong with his soulmate? Could they not pick something? Were they so flighty that their interests changed every few years?

Just thinking about it continued to put him in a foul mood, even now. He had accompanied his brother to spar on the training grounds at the eastern edge of the village, hoping to burn off some of his frustration. Instead he found himself sitting on a tree stump and scowling jealously at Izuna while he sparred with Tobirama. Hashirama had been entertaining himself working on fine-tuning a new Wood Style jutsu, but upon noticing his best friend’s gloom he abandoned the effort to come over and be as annoying as possible. Or possibly to attempt to make him feel better. It was amazing how often those two things coincided.

“Are you sure you won’t tell me what’s wrong?” Hashirama asked him, grinning widely and bumping their shoulders together. Madara sneered and pushed him back in the opposite direction, then he stood up and stomped off to walk along the perimeter of the training grounds. He felt restless but was reluctant to leave. He hadn’t felt comfortable leaving Izuna and Tobirama alone ever since the incident when the blasted Senju had almost killed his brother.

Hashirama trotted along behind him, gathering flowers from the tree vines and weaving a crown as they walked. Madara kept a watch on him from the corner of his eye. There was no way he was wearing that floral idiocy when it was finished. Just let Hashirama try.

He stopped walking when his eyes fell upon a blueberry bush. His nose wrinkled and his hand twitched to reach down and trace the small picture on the back of his ankle. It was an easy compulsion to resist, though, so instead he knelt down and tugged some of the berries off their stems.

“Blueberries!” Hashirama exclaimed, hurrying to his side to look at his spoils. “You should give those to Tobirama!” Madara looked at his friend like he had grown a third limb.

“Why on earth would I give them to Tobirama?” he asked.

Hashirama beamed. “Because they’re his favorite of course! He loves blueberries!” Madara blinked at him while his ankle seemed to tingle from where it was hidden by his wrappings.

“Does he?” he murmured quietly. The small indigo berries rolled across his palm as he tilted his hand absently from side to side.

“Yes,” Hashirama said. “The last time I found blueberries I took a whole basket full of them home and he was so pleased he wasn’t even mad that I got home two days later than I should have been!” He stopped and seemed to think for a moment. “Actually, I still haven’t told him that the elders rejected the idea of him training children from other clans again. Maybe I should take some myself to soften the blow later.” With that the leader of their village knelt down and began to strip the bush of its fruit, flower crown cocked rakishly on his own head. Madara was blinking again.

“He wants to train children from other clans?” he asked. That was the first he had heard of this.

Hashirama had procured a small bag from who-knows-where in his robes. He spoke while he filled it bit by bit. “Tobirama adores children and he really likes teaching. He’s good at it too! You wouldn’t think so but he’s very patient when he’s teaching someone. But he doesn’t think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the peace between clans if he only trains Senju children. He wants to build a team of kids from different clans and see how well all their strengths and weaknesses can be melded together, played off each other. The elders think he’s crazy.” He stood up and grinned childishly to himself as he pinched his little baggie closed.

“So he’s…invested in the village then?” Madara asked carefully. “I thought peace between the clans was your dream, not his.” Hashirama looked surprised.

“Tobirama worked even harder to build the village than I did! He’s always wanted peace too, he just never thought it was possible. Now that we have the village – well. It was him I was thinking about when I came up with the Will of Fire. I truly believe he would die to protect any person in this village. That’s just who he is. Despite what people think, my brother is a very passionate person.”

Hashirama turned to continue walking, eyes peeled for another treat-laden bush. Madara went after slowly, his mind racing. Why he was even considering what he was considering was beyond him. The very idea of it was ludicrous. But what if it were true? He couldn’t take the risk of not knowing.

“I’ve never heard Tobirama described as ‘passionate’ before,” he hedged, trying to encourage his friend to continue talking about the man without seeming to. Hashirama, of course, was more than happen to continue babbling. He was very good at babbling. Occasionally it was even useful.

“He is though!” Hashirama said. “He’s not very open with people that aren’t in his inner circle, but once you get close to him he’s incredibly warm and he would do absolutely anything for you. And it’s not just people! He’s passionate about so many things! When he loves someone or something, he loves with his whole heart. Like his research and his jutsu – and his summons! You’d think we had feline siblings the way he takes care of them!”

The crazy idea was starting to sound less and less crazy, which of course was the craziest part of all. All of the marks on his body were swirling before his mind’s eye like a checklist, ticking themselves off one by one as his friend made mention of them. He had always thought of his soulmate as frivolous, skipping from passion to passion and leaving behind the remnants of their obsessions as empty marks on his skin. Yet, what if the opposite were true? What if his soulmate were simply collecting more interests, gathering more things to include in their overflowing love for life and all its intricacies?

And who better to gift him with the mark of a cresting wave than the most famous Water jutsu user in all of Fire country? Who better to mark him with the hand sign Inu, commonly associated with Water release, than the man who created new jutsu in his spare time? Who better to stamp him with an image of a beaker than the most prolific scientist in their little fledgling village? And who else would brand him with books than the man who had a bigger library than the actual Konoha Library? Madara had seen inside Tobirama’s home only once and he hadn’t moved past the door, waiting impatiently for Hashirama to leave with him, but he had seen enough to know that nearly every available wall was covered with bookshelves.

There was only one thing that he still needed to know in order to confirm his wild suspicions. And he had no idea how to ask without informing Hashirama what he was thinking of. If he was wrong he did not want his friend to know that he had considered the more-possible-by-the-minute possibility. He was still considering how to phrase the question when Hashirama turned to him with a brilliant smile.

“I don’t see any more blueberries so I’m going to take these home and cool them,” he said. “I’ll tell Tobi tonight about the elders being stupid and then I’ll make him feel better with chilled berries.” He waved and Madara lifted a lazy hand as the brunet leapt off towards home.

Turning, he peeked out through the trees separating him from the training field, noting that Izuna and Tobirama seemed to be close to ending their spar. They were well matched in skill as long as the Senju did not employ his hiraishin speed, but Izuna also had less stamina. If it came down to a tie between them Tobirama was usually able to win simply by outlasting the younger man. His brother’s face was drenched in sweat and he was obviously heaving for breath. In contrast, Tobirama’s movements were as smooth as they had been at the beginning of the spar and he breathed no more heavily than light exercise might merit. It was therefore unsurprising when Izuna was pinned less than a minute later, tapping out against his opponent’s arm to signal his surrender.

Their voices were muffled by distance as the two of them spoke lightly afterwards. Madara watched from afar, taking note of how relaxed their body language was and how one corner of the Senju’s mouth actually quirked up infinitesimally at one point. He wondered when the two of them had become friends and how he hadn’t seen it. Izuna, it seemed, had forgiven his near death experience.

When Madara slipped out of the trees and walked towards them he noticed Tobirama’s face sliding back in to perfect neutrality, the way he always saw it. Hashirama’s word played in his mind and he wondered if maybe the man would ever smile around him, if they could learn to accept each other and become close. This morning the very idea would have made him laugh incredulously. Now it sounded strangely nice.

“Brother,” Izuna greeted him happily, still trying to regulate his breathing. “We were just finished. Will you walk with us?”

“Actually I wished to speak with Tobirama–” he looked to the man in question “–if that is alright?”

If he was surprised by the request it didn’t show. Tobirama nodded and gestured for Izuna to go on without him. Izuna waved to them both and set off at a light jog which had petered out in to a brisk walk by the time he reach the path beyond the chain link safety barrier. Madara shook his head and made a mental note to do stamina building exercises with his brother. Then he turned to the one he had questions for.

Only, the questions wouldn’t come. The problem was the same as if was with Hashirama – if he was wrong he didn’t want this man to know he had considered it. It would be mortifying, especially considering how coldly he had treated him up until now. The silence stretched as they stared at each other, his brain scrambling to find the right words. When they didn’t come he knew he had to say something and he leapt on to the first excuse that came to mind.

“I want you to teach me a water jutsu.” He barely hid his wince as Tobirama lifted one eyebrow. Nervousness made him continue speaking, spilling half-truths and word vomit. “Our younglings often practice clan jutsu within the compound and I’m getting tired of the property damage. Knowing a water jutsu would make putting the fire out a lot quicker.”

Tobirama tilted his head to one side and his eyes seemed to stare in to the middle distance. Madara scowled defensively. Even if he was lying he didn’t want to be called out on it. He was surprised when the other man noticed his expression and made a placating gesture.

“I am trying to think of which to suggest,” he explained. “Many of them would not be suited to you.”

Madara opened his mouth to speak but stopped, fascinated as he watched Tobirama’s eyes light up and his expression settle in to something gentler than he had ever seen as the man ostensibly slipped in to teacher persona.

“Your nature is fire, which is directly against the nature of the jutsu you are trying to learn,” Tobirama said. “This would make a great deal of them difficult for you and counterproductive in the situation you wish to use it for. Are there many open bodies of water in your clan compound? I haven’t been inside since it was built.” He was kind enough not to mention that he had not gone within because most Uchiha would look at him with suspicion if he went there.

“Ah, bodies of water?” Madara asked.

“Rain barrels, water troughs, wells, that sort of thing.”

He gave it some thought. “I don’t think so. Most of our water comes from the plumbing system which Hashirama never got around to telling me the origins of. Quite clever, that.”

“Thank you. Hmm. Without open water available it will be harder for you. I know a few jutsu I believe you could learn even without having water as your nature but I would need to train you with moving the water first.”

Madara listened, he really did, but after the other man stopped talking all he said was, “Wait, you created the plumbing system?”

“I drew up the plans for it,” the Senju admitted. Madara wondered why he was even surprised. Who else could have come up with something so brilliant, so intricate yet simple? He had not had indoor plumbing when he had lived in the rough encampment before they built the village. Now he couldn’t imagine life without it. Hot showers were a luxury he had never experienced but had quickly grown addicted to.

He watched the other man make a circular motion with his hand and, without even weaving a hand sign, was able to procure a small globe of water in his palm. It was the mark of a truly powerful shinobi who could manipulate their element without a single hand sign.

“It would be best if you started by learning to shape the element in its pure form. From there it will be easier for you to learn a functional jutsu and call the water to you from your surroundings such as plants or even the air if the day is foggy.” He sat down cross-legged on the grass and gestured for Madara to do the same. “If you would, the first step would be to infuse this with your chakra.” Madara reached out and pressed his hand within the sphere of liquid, allowing his chakra to seep out and fuse with the water.

Two hours later he had gained an appreciation for every person who learned jutsu outside of their given natures. It was incredibly difficult to manipulate an element he did not connect with. He found himself quite surprised with how patient Tobirama was. He was not overtly encouraging but he never once complained when Madara ruined the water sphere, simply gathered a new one and tried to phrase his instructions in a more helpful manner. It was hard work but Madara had succeeded in learning to move the water around him at will. When he infused it with his chakra he was able to use that as a point of communication, a conduit for his will, and he was able to make the water dance and sway drunkenly through the air. It wasn’t nearly as graceful as Tobirama’s skill with it but he still felt it was a great accomplishment. He was oddly proud of himself for it.

“I believe that is enough for today,” Tobirama eventually spoke up. “It’s getting late. If you wish, I have time tomorrow that I could spend showing you how to pull the water from your surroundings. That would be the next step you need to master.”

“I lied,” he burst out, stopping the other man’s movements. “I didn’t need to learn a water jutsu.” Tobirama narrowed his eyes, the calm gentle look slipping off his face and quickly morphing in to a familiar expression of ire.

“Then what, pray tell, was the point of wasting my time in such a manner?”

Madara let his eyes fall to the side as he gathered the courage that had failed him earlier.

“I was trying to ask you something else and could not find the words. I was trying to ask…” he sighed and forced himself to make eye contact, drawing himself up and calling upon the ingrained Uchiha arrogance that was usually so good at projecting. “I wanted to ask what your soul mark is.”

“That is a very private question.” Tobirama’s eyes narrowed even more. “What reason could you possibly have for wanting to know?”

Madara stared back at him, false arrogance creating a buffer to hide the writhing in his stomach. After so much time thinking about it he had realized that there really was no way to ask without giving the real reason. Saying he thought it was someone else wouldn’t work; he would have simply sent them instead. If he wanted to know he would need to bite the bullet. He took a deep breath.

“I had a conversation with your brother today which led me to believe that we might be soulmates.” The words were heavy on his tongue. “I wished to see your mark to confirm the theory.”

Obviously that was not what the Senju had been expecting. Tobirama blinked at him, his narrowed eyes widening in shock. Then he looked away and his entire body seemed to pause, as if he wanted to think that through fully before reacting one way or another. Madara supposed that was a good sign, that he wasn’t being rejected outright. He tried his best to wait patiently while the genius sat in front of him considered what he had said. It was hard. Patience had never been his strongest suit and he was especially bad at waiting when the subject matter was important to him. That he might have found his soulmate was very important.

Finally Tobirama took a slow breath in and made eye contact with him again. There was hesitance in his face but no disgust or anger.

“If we are?” he asked. Madara fought not to squirm under that gaze.

“Then I would be interested in getting to know you better.” Again, it was a half-truth. He would be interested in getting to know Tobirama better if they did turn out to be soulmates. But what he truly hoped was for them to bond. He hoped that they would get along well and fall in love. There was absolutely no way he was saying that out loud, however. Courage would only take him so far and he drew the line at stupidity. A good shinobi never showed their vulnerabilities, after all.

Tobirama nodded and shifted in order to rise to his feet. Curious, Madara followed suit.

“You’ll pardon me if this seems forward but to show you my soul mark I would need to remove my shirt.” Tobirama didn’t wait for an answer. He was turning away and reaching for the hem of his shirt before he was even finished his sentence. Madara was not prepared for what he discovered underneath that loose fabric.

The mark was huge. It covered the entirety of that pale back, curling over the top of his shoulders and stretching all the way down to brush along his waistline. It nearly wrapped around both of his sides as well. A set of beautifully detailed wings were depicted, patterned in black and white and golden brown. The feathers almost seemed to ruffle with every shift of the muscles they decorated. He would have looked like an angel from a children’s story if Madara had not immediately recognized the design on those wings.

“That pattern,” he said quietly. “I know it. It’s from the first hawk I ever tamed.” At his words Tobirama spun around and looked at him in amazement.

“Hawk?” he asked in a surprisingly faint voice. Madara nodded.

“I enjoy hawking in my spare time. It’s not something I talk about often because it’s not an activity that I’ve found many people are interested in. But it is my favorite pastime.” He felt a little awkward as he tried not to stare at Tobirama’s exposed chest. He’d never seen the other man without a shirt on before. It appeared he had been missing out.

Tobirama fiddled with the shirt in his hands, twisting the material in his fingers as he asked, “And your mark? I have always wondered what might represent me. What does yours look like?”

“Which one?” Madara snorted.

“Ah, pardon?”

“Senju, I’ve got fourteen blasted marks from you. I’m a walking canvas. And it’s your fault.” His words might have sounded upset but they were softened by the smile that was fighting its way on to his face. He tried to stop it with limited success. The shock in the other man’s face was just too amusing.

Fourteen!?

Later, Madara would blame it on the high of finally finding the one he had been looking for all his life. It was the lone excuse that could explain why his mouth suddenly spouted what could only be described as flirtatious drivel.

“Mm. And if you’re very nice to me perhaps I’ll even let you try to find them all.”

Realizing what he had said, Madara turned to walk away, leaving the impression of confidence when truly he was mortified by his own words. What had gotten in to him, he would love to know. Still, it was satisfying that he managed to get almost entirely across the field before Tobirama managed to pick up his jaw and chase after him. He heard his name being called but did not respond at first; he was still waiting for his blush to wane. Finally the younger man caught up to him and they walked side by side.

“Soulmates,” Tobirama murmured quietly to himself. From the corner of his eye, Madara could see a vaguely pleased expression. “Thank you. For approaching me. This promises to be…interesting.” Madara laughed because that was the biggest understatement he had ever heard in his life.

“Interesting indeed.” He shook his head. “If we don’t manage to kill each other we still have to fend off each other’s family. Are you sure this is going to be worth it?”

“Hmph. I should think you were used to dealing with Hashirama by now,” Tobirama countered.

“And you, Izuna.” He thought about how relaxed and open they had both been while training together, how they were walking with a careful amount of space between them now. “Are you sure you don’t want to run for the hills now?”

Tobirama gave him a strange look that did odd things to his stomach.

“Not until I’ve found those fourteen marks,” he said with a wink.

Madara was still standing there spluttering when Tobirama’s laughter faded down the path.

Chapter Text

Tobirama was infamous for many things. All of Fire country knew him for his stoicism and ruthless nature. Stories about his prowess in battle had spread through all of the five elemental nations. The one thing he was most famous for, however, was that none knew what he looked like. If you were unlucky enough to face him in battle then you were going to die, it was as simple as that. No one could truly claim that they had ever seen him outside of the battlefield. He was a secretive man who existed as a shadow, a ghoul that haunted the nightmares of shinobi of every caliber.

No one knew why Senju Tobirama was kept so secret. When not involved in battle he appeared to stay within his clan’s hidden compound – appeared to. Since no one could say for sure what he looked like no one could ever say for sure whether he travelled or not. He might appear in a group of Senju facing you in battle and you would never know until your entire squad had fallen.

It took until the Uchiha and Senju clans finally made peace that the identity of Tobirama was revealed. Many were astounded to discover that the pale man with one eye covered who always faced off against Izuna was in fact the infamous Tobirama. When Madara and Hashirama shook hands and agreed to make peace between them, to build a village together and foster peace with as many clans as possible, they also rekindled a long lost friendship by introducing their younger brothers. When Hashirama cheerfully bopped a hand off of the white haired man’s bicep and declared, “This is my younger brother, Tobirama!” Madara had nearly had an apoplectic fit. He was outraged at having been duped by the oldest trick in the book: hiding in plain sight.

He was further enraged to note that the infamous Senju refused to look him in the eye. As time passed and their clans interacted more and more while the village was under construction, it became known that Senju Tobirama would look no Uchiha in the eye. He spoke to their foreheads or their cheeks, sometimes to the air just above their shoulders. It was incredibly insulting. Yet, when the matter was brought before Hashirama the jovial man would only smile secretively and say that his brother had his reasons.

The mystery was enough to snag Madara’s mind, catching at his attention the way rough skin will catch on silk. It pricked at him, returning to his mind at odd times. He began to watch the man more and more until it developed in to an obsession not just with his rude habits but with the man himself. He was an all-around mysterious fellow and Madara had always loved a good puzzle.

One of the more obvious mysteries about him was that he always had his left eye covered. Madara had seen him uncover it in battle once but he had pulled the cloth back over it by the time he turned his face back to where Madara could see him. No one knew what was under the cloth or why he kept it on. Madara wondered if he was trying to hide whether he still had his soulmate’s eye or not. Others wondered if his eye had been lost in battle at some point and he was hiding the hideously disfigured empty socket. Many rumors grew around it, each more wild than the last.

On the other hand one of the more subtle mysteries was what, exactly, he spent his time doing. Tobirama stuck his nose in to almost every bureaucratic department of the newly formed village, dropping a suggestion here or offering advice there. He always seemed to be doing paperwork yet nothing ever seemed to have his name on it. And when he was not at the Tower he appeared to vanish off the face of the earth. Madara never found him when he visited Hashirama’s home, nor did he ever see him while walking through the Senju compound. He had tried to follow the man on a few occasions only to be given the slip time and time again. It was infuriating yet it kept him coming back for more.

It wasn’t until a full year had passed that Madara fully realized what it was that drew him to the other man. It wasn’t his air of mystery and it wasn’t his intelligence. It wasn’t the way he made smart remarks in that dry wit of his then slipped away before anyone realized he had made a joke at their expense. These were all things that he admired, of course, but they were not the source of the obsession. No. Instead it was his eyes. It was the fact that his one uncovered eye was a solid ruby red which perfectly matched Madara’s left eye. He was obsessed with the possibility.

It was probably what led to him being so angry all of the time. Which did not help the situation when Hashirama saw fit to send the both of them on a mission together. They had been spitting and snapping at each other for the last four days until even Touka got tired of it. She and Hikaku had taken to retreating to a safe distance whenever either one of them opened their mouths.

Madara was almost glad when they encountered larger enemy numbers than they had been expecting. It gave him a much needed chance to blow off some steam. He threw himself in among the enemy with his weapon raised, lips peeled back from his teeth in a ferocious snarl that gave pause to any who dared face him. Out of obsessive habit, part of him kept track of Tobirama from the corner of his eye. Even as he mowed down the first few ranks of pitifully weak resistance he kept tabs on Tobirama’s path, weaving gracefully from one opponent to the next, cutting each down with ruthlessly efficient skill. Even if he were not strangely fixated with this man he would still admire his skill in battle, the way he almost seemed to dance around his blade.

Things took a turn for south so fast that at first he didn’t realize that the battle had shifted. One moment the four of them were almost cleaning the floor with the group they faced. The next an entirely new group had sprung up out of nowhere, filling the air with jutsu and blades until he was trying to look in every direction at once. The Sharingan in his right eye activated with little thought only seconds before Touka went down, foot entangled in an earth jutsu that threw her to the ground. With his eye active and recording, what happened next was forever engraved in his memory.

Tobirama practically howled his cousin’s name, his normally stoic face washing over with the kind of fierce rage that one usually only saw in a protective Uchiha. He reached under his faceplate and tore away the fabric covering his left eye. And Madara’s heart stopped inside his chest because that was a Sharingan in Tobirama’s left eye, an active whirling Sharingan that was spinning so fast he half expected it to melt in to a Mangekyo pattern.

He was barely able to continue defending himself in his own engagement, too entranced by watching Tobirama slash a path to his fallen kin, ripping his opponents apart with even more speed and precision than before. Each cut of his blade was precise and each flow of muscle crisp, no movement wasted.

The fight was over within minutes after that. Tobirama stood over Touka like some guardian out of legend, hacking down anyone stupid enough to come close to him. Madara and Hikaku cleaned up the fringes of the battle, herding their prey inwards to the slaughter. It was brutal and effective and the wild bloodthirsty parts of him approved wholeheartedly. The blood was still pounding through his veins as he watched Tobirama free Touka from the earth and help her up, looking her over with his sharp left eye. She waved him off and stamped her foot a few times to prove she was fine.

Hikaku gave Madara a very long sideways look which he ignored.

“What the bloody hell Senju!?” he snapped. “You’ve been hiding a Sharingan under there this entire time?” Tobirama glanced in his direction but, typically, kept their eyes from meeting directly.

“It has been with me since birth, before you get any stupid ideas about me stealing it.”

Madara huffed and crossed his arms. “Do you think you are the first person outside of our clan to have an Uchiha soulmate? Theft did not cross my mind. You hiding it, however, that did cross my mind. How dare you!?”

That earned him reactions from all three of his companions, each eerily similar to the others. Touka and her cousin both looked at him as he had said something colossally stupid and Hikaku seemed only moments away from dropping his face in to his hand. He glared shortly at his clansman, daring him to make a comment.

“I beg your pardon,” Tobirama growled, “but how is it at all your business?”

“This…this is why you refuse to meet our eyes! Why you hid yourself away all these years! You deny one of my clansman their soulmate! As if you have a right to decide that all on your own!” The rage inside him was only partly altruistic, the righteous anger of a clan Head on behalf of his shunted kin. The other part of it was hurt over the ashes of possibilities, the crumbling of hopes he dreamt of in private. In was painfully obvious that Tobirama did not want his soulmate. He’d had every opportunity to try to find them. If he wanted them he would have taken it.

“What do I want with a soulmate who does not want me?” Tobirama snarled at him. Madara actually stopped short to gape at him. “No one in your clan has ever had a single good thing to say to me. Why should I give up such an incredible advantage in battle? What would I get in return? Slower reflexes and disappointment.”

Madara stomped over until they were chest to chest, poking his finger in to a dented breastplate while he said, “Who are you to assume they do not want you? Have you tried? Have you asked? They are your soulmate! How could they not!?”

“Why do you care?” Tobirama’s eyes were twitching as if he were fighting with himself to keep his gaze off center, to keep his scowl directed at the empty air.

“Is it because you’ve got one red eye?” Touka chipped it, her tone lightly mocking.

Madara’s jaw snapped shut as an almost echoing silence descended upon them all, his single Sharingan deactivating in his shock. Despite it still being midafternoon, he could swear he heard a cricket somewhere. Tobirama’s eyebrows were so high on his forehead they had disappeared under his faceplate. Hikaku had given in to his urges and was holding his face with one palm. Touka simply looked smug, the harpy. Madara wondered briefly how many people would miss him if he went in to hiding for a few years. At least until everyone present had forgotten that this conversation ever happened.

“You have one red eye?” Tobirama broke the silence after a long time, his words hesitating and his voice low.

“I do.” Madara answered reluctantly, then hastily added, “Not that it probably connects to you. Unlikely.”

“Yes, unlikely.” He did not sound mocking like his cousin had. He sounded speculative. That was always a dangerous state for him to be in.

They were still standing extremely close together, he suddenly noticed. Toe to toe with their torsos all but squashed up against each other. He should step back. Proximity was only making this situation even more awkward than he had already accomplished.

He was given no warning. Just as his muscles tensed to take him a step back, Tobirama’s eyes suddenly slid over and their gazes met for the first time. His breath hitched as he watched the whirling Sharingan fade away, the tomoe disappearing to leave only a flat ruby red to match his other eye. The other man stared openly as his own left eye obviously changed from red to black. And he stared right back, his mind taking off in leaps and bounds as more than a year’s worth of obsession and wondering and wanting suddenly crashed down upon him, leaving him breathless.

His body reacted without any conscious thought, reaching out and yanking the younger man forward to crash their lips together. His thoughts rushed about in chaotic disorder, the word 'soulmate' blaring through his mind over and over until it nearly blotted out the rest of his senses. Then they went entirely blank as Tobirama leaned in and kissed him back, nipping fiercely at his lips and pulling viciously at his hair. He had no control over the small moan that slid from his throat.

They broke apart gasping, fists holding each other tight and unable to let go.

“How…how dare you just assume you were unwanted,” he murmured weakly. Tobirama scowled.

“And all your vitriol in the past was, what, hopeful flirting?”

“I have a vitriolic personality and I suggest you get used to it,” Madara snapped. “You were the one who wasted so much time. We could have discovered this quite some time ago if you hadn’t been so selfish, making decisions on your own!”

He continued on, spitting fire and brimstone and releasing all of his pent up frustration in a maelstrom of waspish lecturing. He chose to ignore the way Hikaku was rolling tired eyes in the corner of his vision. If he wanted to be grumpy about this he felt he had every right to. His lecture was cut short, however, when Tobirama jerked him forward in to another kiss that nearly melted his bones.

“Are you quite finished?” he asked afterwards. Madara nodded wordlessly. “Good. We should head back to the village. Since someone has taken away my largest battle advantage I’ll need to increase my training to make up for it.”

Madara gave some thought to protesting. In the end, though, he decided to cut his losses. He had found the other half of himself and solved the mystery of Senju Tobirama all in a single day. Perhaps it would be better to quit while he was ahead – especially as it seemed that their discovery hadn’t appeared to put the other man off, per se. He seemed delightfully amenable.

He therefore nodded and forced his hands to release Tobirama’s silver hair, stepping away and straightening his clothes with as much dignity as he could muster. Touka’s snickering told him that it wasn't very much.

True to his word, Tobirama headed straight for the training grounds when they returned home three days later. If Madara followed him and sat to the side staring openly, at least now he had an excuse.

Chapter Text

Kisame was beautiful in the ocean. Obito had thought this to himself many times before and yet it always seemed to catch him unaware, pulling the breath from his chest and squeezing his heart until each beat pounded in his ears. Tonight was no different.

The hidden alcove they were in was lit only by the moon, whose light reflected on the water and shimmered on Kisame’s broad shoulders. His soulmate stood waist deep, water lapping at his sides as he stood still and tilted his head back, gazing silently up at the stars. Obito watched him for a while, simply taking in his rough-hewn beauty. The night air around them was cool and silent; not even a cricket or seabird disturbed their perfect solitude.

Looking was only good for so long, however, and soon enough Obito found his feet moving across the sand until they dipped in to the ocean. He waded out step by step until the sound of his passage made Kisame turn to look at him.

Obito smiled and reached out his hand – his left hand of course, burning hot with proximity. The tops of his fingers were patterned and splashed with color in a manner that looked crooked and uneven. That is, they looked that way until Kisame reached back and slotted his own fingers in to the spaces between Obito’s. Kisame’s fingers completed the pattern, like two puzzle pieces coming together to reveal an image only they could make. Fire and water crashed together where their hands connected, both of their natures entwined together in a harmony that echoed the harmony in their hearts.

Kisame’s grip tightened and pulled him through the water until he was fitted against the taller man’s side, wrapped up in a thickly muscled arm. Obito smiled and raised his head, watching Kisame as his soulmate returned to watching the stars.

He wouldn’t trade these quiet moments for anything.

Chapter Text

Learning to sleep after the One-Tails was extracted from him was a larger relief than Gaara could ever have imagined. Being able to lay his head down and rest without worrying about letting loose a violent monster was already relaxing enough. Being allowed to accomplish hours of sleep at a time? Being able to rest his body and mind, to recharge each and every night? Gaara had never felt so healthy and energized in his entire life. And that wasn’t even the best part.

The best part was the dreams. Always before, in the rare moments he allowed Shukaku full control, his dreams had an indistinct hazy quality about them. He saw blurred figures moving about and heard muffled voices speaking. Now that he was able to truly fall asleep he had the opportunity to discover something that should have been his many years ago: his soulmate.

The first night that he dreamed of Hatake Kakashi he hadn’t know what to make of it. He was aware of what it meant but not aware of what to do with that information. Obviously Kakashi knew that they were soulmates and had never said a thing. Was it because he wasn’t wanted? Was he too much of a monster even for the person who shared his soul? The next time they met he had been sure to catch Kakashi alone and ask about it. He’d been incredibly surprised by the older man’s sweet but awkward proposal that they try to get to know one another properly. Turned out he was wanted after all.

Their relationship was strange. They spent as much time together as official visits would allow, standing close, sharing stories and secrets, but never touching. Gaara understood that the difference in their ages made his soulmate wary of allowing them to follow certain paths and all he could do was be patient and allow himself to grow. Then of course there was the fact that Gaara was the Kazekage of the Sand Village and Kakashi had gone on to become the Hokage of the Leaf. Both were tied irrevocably to their respective homes. It was difficult to be together with so much distance keeping them apart. They were forced to settle for letters most of the time to carry on their conversations. Gaara treasured every word written to him and he waited anxiously for every dream, every stolen glimpse of his other half.

He was especially looking forward to tonight. Kakashi had been going to bed earlier than him lately, the proposals from his council keeping him at his desk long after his distant partner had fallen in to slumber. He hadn’t dreamt of his soulmate in over a week and he was glad to be going to bed at a decent time tonight. Letters could only satisfy him for so long. He wanted to see Kakashi, to check that he looked well, that he was resting enough and he was alright. Gaara had always preferred to confirm things with his own eyes.

It didn’t take very long for him to fall asleep and sink in to a dream. The office of the Hokage came in to view almost immediately and Gaara unconsciously relaxed to see Kakashi standing next to his desk, looking out the window. He was wearing his vest with Rokudaime Hokage stitched on the back in bright red kanji and it was a relief to see how well-rested and tranquil he appeared. Naruto was in the room with him chattering away while Shikamaru stood sorting some documents on the desk.

“You’re really sure I’m ready, Kakashi-sensei?” Naruto was saying. Kakashi turned to give his student an encouraging thumbs up.

“Of course,” he said. “If nothing else I’m very certain that I’m ready to retire.”

Shikamaru looked up from the desk with a furrowed brow and said, “That’s fine and all but this vacation you’re going on once you step down…are you sure you want to go to Suna?”

“Very sure,” Kakashi said, nodding decisively.

“Why Suna, sensei?” Naruto asked. “I thought you hated the heat.”

Gaara watched Kakashi turned back to the window, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled softly to himself. He had seen the smile underneath only once but he could still picture it perfectly.

“Something very important.” Kakashi replied quietly. “Something I think I’m finally ready to explore.”

As Naruto and Shikamaru gave him strange looks of incomprehension, Gaara smiled in his sleep. Kakashi was coming to see him. He couldn’t wait.

Chapter Text

A lot of people had told him throughout his childhood that he was the most excitable Nara they had ever known. Shikamaru generally replied to this with a scowl and a muttered, “Troublesome.” He could never make them understand. It wasn’t him that was excitable. It was his soulmate!

Shikamaru was a pretty calm guy himself; even as a baby he had never cried much. It was his soulmate that was the excitable one. He was frequently bombarded by dramatic mood swings through the link he shared with this unknown person. At any point in the day he could suddenly have his mood take a turn for the worse, anger or sadness filling him until the frown showed on his face. More frequently he would suddenly find himself upbeat or excited even when there wasn’t anything happening that should make his heart race so. In the middle of a boring lecture he would suddenly be grinning and tamping down the urge to let out a girlish squeal. It was typical behavior of a soul-bond, even if his soulmate seemed to be much more excitable than most.

Things mellowed out a bit as he and his other half grew older. He hoped it was because they were learning to control their emotions better and not because life was beating them down. He had no idea who or where they were but he hoped that they were leading a good life. Since he still experienced more fits of random happiness than anything else he assumed it was a safe bet that they were.

 Considering what a genius he usually was, Shikamaru was actually a little embarrassed about how long it took him to figure out who his soulmate really was. The fact that she had been right there in front of him the whole time was particularly shameful, he thought. He really should have picked up on the clues; they were so obvious! His only excuse was that in times of joy or stress he could be forgiven for not noticing his partner’s feelings when they blended so well with his own. Otherwise he would have picked up on the fact that they were reacting to the exact same things at the exact same time – and had been doing so for almost their entire lives.

It took until the day Kakashi-sensei was officially inaugurated as the sixth Hokage for him to finally put everything together and even then it was kind of an accident. The entire village had been celebrating the change of leadership and the party had gone on long in to the night. Shinobi and civilians rubbed elbows and danced side by side, spilling the joy out on to the streets to dance under the stars. Shikamaru and most of his friends had managed to find seats in one of the bars that had sprung up during the reconstruction of the village and most of them were fairly deep in their cups. Laughter and loud voices rang through his ears while a few dishes of sake kept him mellow. All in all it was one of the best nights he could remember in his life. Everyone was happy.

He had spent the entire day with this strangely fierce ball of pride sitting in his chest, sometimes so intense he could barely speak, and he wondered what his soulmate was thinking of to make them so proud. Their village? Their family? It was a nice feeling, though, so he didn’t think too hard about it. It flitted in and out through his thoughts as it waxed and waned. Right now it was drifting out again as he shifted to avoid getting smacked in the face by a flying bottle. Raucous laughter exploded from down the table where Naruto and Ino were having a chugging contest.

“Five hundred yen on Ino!” He heard Choji call out.

“No way!” Kiba’s voice answered from somewhere out of sight. “Naruto’s got that fox inside him; that pretty much counts as two people right?” Shikamaru shook his head at his friend’s alcohol-fueled logic but said nothing about it.

“But have you seen Ino drink!?”

Shikamaru’s snort of laughter was cut short when he was jostled from the other side. He looked over to see Sakura and Hinata squeezing farther in to the booth, making room for a group of people to pass by their table. One figure in the group stopped to say hello to them and he recognized Kakashi-sensei under his new, formal robes.

“Sensei!” Sakura greeted her old teacher with a wide, loose grin. “Or should I say Hokage-sama now?” Kakashi shook his head and patted her on the shoulder while Shikamaru felt that knot of pride in his chest swell up again. It pushed at his ribs and he was startled to feel a sting behind his eyes.

“Ah, whatever you call me, could you drop the –sama?” Kakashi asked plaintively. Sakura giggled.

She was obviously just about to say something else when someone at the table next to theirs scoffed loudly and slammed their mug down with a thunk that was audible even over the revelry around them. They looked over to see a middle-aged shinobi with thinning brown hair and a crooked nose. His cheeks were flushed with alcohol and his face was pinched in a sneer.

Hokage-sama,” the man slurred mockingly. “You ain’t good for nuthin’. Just like yer daddy.”

In the few meager seconds after the stranger’s statement several things happened at once. Kakashi, surprisingly, did nothing more than lift an eyebrow. Shikamaru felt ice rush through his veins before his entire body flushed with a fiery rage the likes of which he wasn’t sure he’d ever felt before, causing his hands to fist and his jaw to clench. Beside him, Sakura stood from her seat with doom dripping from her every pore.

“SHANNARO!” She screeched. “What did you just say you flaccid worm!?”

“Maa, Sakura. It’s alright, calm down.” Kakashi did his best to hold his student back as she swung her fists wildly, obliterating part of a chair that was unlucky enough to be within range. Shikamaru found himself rooting her on.

“How dare you say that about my sensei!” Sakura was yelling. “He’s more than twice the man you are! Coward! Fight me! I said fight me! Are you afraid of a little girl!?”

As she scrambled to fight her way through several glasses of shochu and the arms retraining her, Shikamaru slowly gathered his wits about him and put together what had just happened. A comment like that normally wouldn’t have him so fired up. His reaction should have been similar to Kakashi’s, cool and not really that bothered. Yet he had found himself filled with unspeakable protective rage at exactly the same moment as Sakura. His eyes widened as he watched her flail and kick, more clues falling in to place in his foggy brain. The pride he had felt all day; of course Sakura would be proud to see her first sensei accept the title of Hokage!

Sakura at first remained oblivious to the revelations dawning on him. It was hard to miss the moment she felt something through their link, however. The awe that was slowly seeping through him touched her face and calmed her anger. The man who had made the disparaging comment about Kakashi continued to cower under his table even as her arms fell down to her sides and she looked around in confusion, likely wondering why she felt so calm and happy. Shikamaru swallowed as he stood and picked his way through the wreckage towards her.

“I’ll take her outside if that’s okay with you,” he mumbled to his new leader. Kakashi smiled at him.

“Ah, of course. She needs to cool off a bit, I think.”

Sakura looked a little dazed as he took her arm and led her away. They stumbled out of the bar together and joined the press of bodies moving through the streets. Banners waved and lights flashed in senseless patterns above their heads as Shikamaru tried to keep them moving in the right direction. Sakura simply followed along.

It was only when they had gotten a few streets away, almost to the block where they would find her apartment, that she finally seemed to come back to life. She dug in her heels and hauled Shikamaru over in to the nearest quiet spot she could find – a narrow alley behind Ino’s favorite shoe store.

“What are we doing, Shika?” Sakura demanded in an unsteady voice. “Why did you make me leave?”

He didn’t answer at first. He was too busy staring at her, admiring the shape of her lips as they formed words in her sweet, sweet voice. He’d always thought she was pretty. Hell, back in the academy he used to daydream about finding out she was his soulmate! A fresh wave of giddy awe went through him as he realized he had just been handed one of his childhood dreams. He felt like the luckiest guy in the world.

“Shika?” she called his name again, brow furrowing in confusion. He smiled and wriggled his hand where they were still holding each other until he managed to lace their fingers together.

“I’m an idiot,” he said. She blinked.

“What? Shika you’re a genius. What are you talking about it?”

“You’ve been right here this whole time. Right in front of my eyes.” His free hand came up to gently caress the side of her face. “How did I not see?”

Sakura stiffened in surprise and he could feel the edges of her shock. It only made his smile wider.

“Shikamaru…?” she whispered his name, sounding more and more confused by the minute yet he noticed that she was doing nothing to pull away from his touch.

“Sakura I think we’re soulmates,” he blurted. He barely covered a wince. That had come out sounding a lot more awkward and a lot less suave then he had hoped for. She didn’t seem to mind. The edges of her shock became a flat blade, tearing through him and leaving his breathless. Just being able to see the emotions play out on her features at the same time as he could feel them inside had him so happy he wanted to laugh.

He watched as his ever growing joy began to take her over, sweeping through her veins and growing her smile until it matched his own. “Shika!” He had less than a second to brace himself before suddenly he had an armful of beautiful woman. He caught her and held her tightly, unsure if the giddiness inside him was his or hers. Maybe a bit of both. Sakura nuzzled in to his neck and he felt the dampness of her skin, guessing correctly that she was crying with joy, laughing with pure emotion.

He almost protested when she pulled away but she cut him off with a kiss. Shikamaru closed his eyes and sank in to the sensation, wishing he could capture this moment and remember it forever.

“My soulmate,” Sakura whispered against his lips. He only grinned again. “Ah, sorry to bring you on the rollercoaster with me. I hope you don’t mind my mood swings!” He drew her in as close to his body as he could and stole a second kiss.

“I wish I could feel your every emotion,” he said to her. “Don’t apologize for being who you are. You’re amazing. You’re perfect. I…I can’t believe you’re mine.”

He could feel how his words affected her, sharing the warmth between them. He hoped he could make her feel that way for the rest of their lives.

Chapter Text

As a member of the Nara clan, Shikamaru was under certain pressures that no one else was. From the time he was old enough to understand what a soulmate was he was encouraged to try his hardest to find them. It wasn’t that other people didn’t care about soulmates, although many people never found theirs and lived perfectly full lives without them. But being from the Nara clan was different.

A Nara without a shadow was no Nara at all.

Shikamaru was only six years old and yet already he was being forced in to extra training at home. He would start the academy soon and his grandfather had insisted that the faster he graduated, the faster he would get out on missions, travelling the world in search of the person who would give him his shadow. Shikamaru thought they had it all backwards. Shouldn’t they be worrying more about finding the person they were meant to spend their lives with? What if he didn’t think he was ready for that yet? He was only six years old. He still thought kissing was gross. What did he know about being together forever?

Escaping when his grandfather was distracted wasn’t the smartest thing he had ever done. He would certainly catch hell for it later and his father would catch double that for conspiring to help him. But Shikamaru decided that a couple of hours to himself to just run about the village and be nothing but a normal six year old was worth the trouble he would get in.

He felt free of worries for the moment as he cut across a line of rooftops, making wild leaps that would have his old grandfather in apoplectic fits. He and his elder hadn’t gotten along very well since that time Shikamaru had suggested that living his life without a shadow wasn’t really a big deal. Every other ninja managed just fine so it wasn’t like he would be devastated without it; he just wouldn’t be able to learn any shadow-style jutsu. He’d almost been disowned for that comment.

The sky above him was such a beautiful blue and the few clouds there were had a cotton fluffiness that never failed to make him smile. Shikamaru made his way to his favorite park on the south side of the village, the farthest he could get from the clan compound. When he got there he was delighted to see no one else around. This way there was no one to tell him to stop being lazy as he lay back in the grass at the top of his favorite hill, folding his arms under his head to watch the clouds drift by.

He had only been there for ten minutes or so when suddenly the branches of the tree above him began to rustle. He looked up just in time for a large colorful blur to drop down on top of him with a tiny cry of dismay.

“Oomf!” All the breath in his body was knocked clean out of him and a sharp elbow caught him in the stomach. The form on top of him wriggled and flailed until Shikamaru managed to shove it off of himself.

“Sorry! I’m real sorry!” A voice was saying. Small hands fluttered about trying to figure out if he was okay. Shikamaru pushed them aside and sat up, rubbing his stomach.

He mumbled that it was fine and looked up, startled by the incredible brightness of the person looking back. It was a boy about his own age with hair the color of sunshine and a shirt so orange it gave him fruit cravings. He also had a huge smile once he saw that his accidental cushion was alright.

“Hi! I’m Naruto!” the boy greeted him in a loud voice. Shikamaru waved a little.

“I’m Shikamaru. Why were you up in the tree?”

“I like climbing!”

“Troublesome.”

Shaking his head, he watched Naruto run back to the tree and scramble up in to the lower branches again. His legs were just a little too short to do it with any amount of grace but he reached his former perch a dozen feet up by sheer determination. Then he looked down with a wide grin.

“Climbing is fun! I pretend I’m a tree too and I pretend I’m tall and I have a shadow that covers everyone in the whole village!” He looked really proud of his imaginings. “It’ll be great to have a shadow someday.”

“You already have a shadow,” Shikamaru pointed out. The boy frowned.

“Nuh-uh! Don’t make fun of me just because you have a shadow!”

Shikamaru put his hands on his hips and shook his head. This boy was weird. And blind, apparently.

“I don’t have a shadow,” he called up. “But you do!”

He watched in bemusement as Naruto twisted his way back down through the branches he had just taken the time to climb up. When he reached the lowest one he hung on with his hands and leapt ungracefully for the ground, landing right next to Shikamaru. Then he huffed.

“Haven’t got a shadow! You do!” He insisted, poking Shikamaru in the chest. They glared at each other with all the fury their six year old bodies could muster until a thought occurred to both of them at the same time: to check.

Both boys looked down at their feet and cried out with surprise. Starting under their shoes and pointing off in the same direction were two shadows, dark after-images of themselves drawn by the sun above them. They looked back up at each other and Shikamaru knew instantly what this meant. He was from the Nara clan after all, a clan of geniuses.

“I think this makes us soul mates,” he said quietly. Naruto gaped at him.

“Really? You mean I’ve got a soulmate?” His face split in to a huge grin again. “That’s awesome! What do we do now? How do you be soulmates?”

“Uh…” Shikamaru blinked, his mind racing. “I think it means we’ll be best friends forever? Dad says I’ll understand more when I’m older.”

For a moment he thought Naruto might start to cry. Then the other boy surprised him with a hug that was more like a tackle. They tumbled over on to the grass where he had been laying down before, arms tangled around each other.

“Does that mean I don’t have to be alone anymore?” Naruto asked quietly. Shikamaru didn’t know why someone as bright as Naruto would ever be left alone but he knew the answer without even having to think about it.

“Yeah,” he said. “You’ll never be alone again. I promise.”

Chapter Text

In a twist of fate that he doesn’t come to appreciate until a few years later, Tobirama was the first to see Hashirama’s mark. Spending one’s birthday on a battlefield was nothing new and Hashirama hadn’t complained when he woke that morning covered in cold dew and colder leaves, marching through the dawn towards the trap they were looking to spring. Surprising the squad from the Shimura clan who had been hoping to surprise them gave their soldiers enough of an edge that the battle was surprisingly quick.

It had also made his brother cocky. Hashirama had leapt in to the fray with wild swings of his blade that made Tobirama despair as he chased after the older boy, guarding his back and removing anyone who sought to strike him from behind. When he heard Hashirama cry out in pain his worry was overlaid with a thick layer of exasperation. By the time he was able to get his brother off the field and locate a med-kit he was already halfway through a lecture about being more careful. Hashirama curled his head inwards and muttered apologies over and over while Tobirama rolled his eyes.

“You’re going to get yourself killed,” he grumbled. “Don’t make me lose you too, brother. You’re not old enough to die yet.” Hashirama shook off his gloom and instead graced him with a wide smile.

“I am officially sixteen today! I’m not young anymore!”

Tobirama resisted the urge to smack his face in to his own palm. “Turning sixteen does not mean you are suddenly an adult. Now quit squirming and let me clean your wound.”

Hashirama obediently removed his shirt to provide access to his arm. The skin had been flayed open by the cruelly spiked tips of a cat-o-nine-tails. Tobirama had never seen one of them used in battle before and he wished he could have watched that person training with it. It seemed like it would be an incredibly difficult thing to use during a fight and he would have loved a chance to study the mechanics of it.

All thought about possible weapons and the difficulties of their use flew out of his head, however, when the rag he was using to wipe away the blood uncovered a different color then should have been found there. His frown deepened when the dark, almost blackish red came away to reveal a lighter red underneath, entwined with a brown even deeper than Hashirama’s natural skin tone. Hashirama asked what was wrong but he shushed the older boy, wetting his rag with the canteen at his hip and cleaning the arm more thoroughly.

What he found was a tattoo-like mark that had not existed that morning. Lines of brown and red twisted around each other to form the shape of a stylized leaf. He blinked in wonderment, tracing it with his fingertip.

“Brother look,” he said quietly. Hashirama lifted his arm to see what the fuss was about. Then his jaw dropped.

“My soul mark! I got my soul mark!” He traced the tattoo as well, reverence in his eyes and a grin on his lips. “Amazing. It’s so beautiful!”

Tobirama was inclined to agree. He had seen some rather boring soul marks and some needlessly complicated ones as well. The one on his brother’s arm was beautiful in its simplicity while still remaining interesting and it was honestly the nicest he had ever seen. He could only hope his own would be as pleasant when he finally turned sixteen as well.

Hashirama insisted that he bind the wound without covering the fresh mark, obviously wanting to look at it some more. Tobirama did his best and soon enough the flayed skin was safely hidden under several layers of bandages, soul mark proudly displayed just above the white cloth. He helped his brother to his feet and the two of them rejoined the rest of the clansmen, assisting with the other wounded and checking the bodies of the fallen to ensure their enemies were truly dead.

Tobirama honestly didn’t give much thought to his brother’s soul mark after that, rarely thought of it except on the rare occasion when he wore sleeves short enough for the brand to peek out. It certainly wasn’t on his mind when he woke three years later on his own birthday, disoriented and unsure how many days he had lain unconscious. He was instead thinking of the scolding he would get for allowing his enemies to get so far inside his defenses, no matter that he had been outnumbered and still managed to successfully assassinate the target. His father would scold him anyway.

Through the haze of chakra exhaustion, Tobirama didn’t even think to check himself for a mark until well in to the evening. Not until he had built a fire and collapsed next to it in the far recesses of a cave he had used for shelter many times before. With a good sleep tonight he would be rested enough to make it home by late the next day.

When it occurred to him that today was his birthday, unless he had slept through the date entirely, he sat up as swiftly as his tired body would allow. He began pulling at his shirt and twisting around, trying to spot anything new on his skin. His torso turned up nothing so he reached for his trousers instead, thinking it might have appeared on his legs or hips. His fingers fumbled at the button because of the gloves he was wearing and he pulled them off with an irritated noise – then froze. His left palm was decorated by twisting lines of brown and red. He shook his head, unsure if the exhaustion was causing him to see strange things. When he opened his eyes again, however, it was still there. A stylized leaf that exactly matched the one he had years ago discovered on Hashirama’s arm.

He stared at his palm for a very long time. His thoughts leapt and jumbled, tumbling over each other until even he couldn’t tell what he felt about this. He lifted his opposite hand and traced the mark in the same way he had once traced Hashirama’s, wondering how he would react knowing that the one his soul mark had bound him to was his own brother.

Ice made its way down his spine as he considered that. Hashirama could have any number of reactions. Tobirama could care less what anyone else thought but Hashirama – his brother’s opinion had always been the only one that mattered to him. His brother had always been the only person he ever truly connected with. And he had watched the older boy, now a young man, as he searched diligently for his soulmate these last three years. Would it break his heart to know just who was waiting for him? As exhaustion finally crept up upon him, tugging him down in to the darkness of sleep, Tobirama silently vowed to keep this a secret. He couldn’t lose Hashirama. He would rather hurt him than break him.

Keeping his secret, however, turned out to be harder than he anticipated. He had thought he would just wear gloves whenever he was not alone. That had been questioned immediately by both surviving members of his family as well as his cousin Touka. Hashirama had thought he was hiding an injury and nearly tore both of his gloves off. It also quickly became obvious how difficult it was to complete his more delicate experiments when his fingers were covered in leather or cloth. He solved the second problem by switching to fingerless gloves. The first he did his best to ignore. He left their questions unanswered until eventually they were forced to just accept that he had decided to pick up the habit of wearing gloves.

Not that it was forgotten about by any means. Hashirama in particular liked to spring a question or two on him at random, hoping he would slip up and reveal the reason behind his new fashion choices. Tobirama simply couldn’t bear to tell him.

In the years that followed Tobirama stayed as close to Hashirama as he dared. He took up his position guarding his brother’s back both in battle and in life and asked for no more than that. He stood silent as he watched the older man smile his way through life, becoming clan leader and seeking to make peace with the Uchiha. He knew very well that Hashirama was convinced that Madara must be his soulmate and he taught himself not to flinch whenever the subject was raised.

The day his secret finally came to light was no special day at all. There was no special occasion or dramatic reveal. He wasn’t even awake to see what Hashirama’s first reaction was.

He had fallen asleep after working for too many hours in a row, determined to make the Kage Bunshin jutsu work. It was nearly completed but the clones simply weren’t hardy enough for his liking. After working late in to the night he had fallen asleep at the desk in his lab. When he woke a few hours later he opened his bleary eyes to see the walls of his bedroom around him. That was nothing new. Hashirama had carried him to bed after he’d fallen asleep many times before.

What was new was the soft sensation of something tracing across the palm of his left hand. Groggy and still half-asleep, he lifted his head to see Hashirama sitting next to him, his hair haloed in sunlight. The older man was looking down at his lap where one of his hands was cradling Tobirama’s left, the other tracing shapes in his palm. As his exhausted brain slowly came back in to focus he realized what was wrong with that picture.

His gloves were gone. His palm was bare.

Hashirama must have noticed him waking up because he clamped his fingers around Tobirama’s wrist in a vice-like grip only half a moment before he tried to pull it away. He gave some thought to trying to fight to get it back but thought better of it. So instead he lay still and waited with lead in his chest, breathing shallowly to stem the rising tide of panic.

“You started wearing gloves just after your sixteenth birthday,” Hashirama said, his voice subdued. “I remember that I thought you had been hurt and you were trying to hide it. And then afterwards I thought maybe you were hiding the scars.” Tobirama could feel the way his hand was trembling in the older man’s hold. His body wanted to tremble too. “I wasn’t thinking about that last night. I just wanted you to sleep comfortably. So I took off your armor and your gloves and…and there it was.”

“Hashirama…”

“You hid this from me.” He flinched as brown eyes turned to look at him accusingly. “Why?”

He swallowed hard, trying to force his voice to work. “I was afraid,” he admitted. Hashirama’s eyes widened.

“You? Of what?”

“I can’t lose you,” Tobirama said, his voice a quiet whisper. His brother looked as if he’d just seen a ghost and it had slapped him in the face.

“You thought…” Hashirama looked down at the hand in his lap. “You were afraid of what I would think. I understand that. Still, it’s been five years Tobirama. How could you just stand by and let me search for my soulmate? How could you stay silent when you’ve known about this the whole time?”

I can’t lose you.” He didn’t know how else to put his fears in to words.

Because Hashirama was looking at it from the wrong perspective. He was asking the wrong questions. How could Tobirama have taken a chance on losing what was most important to him? How could he have said something when it might have ended with him being asked to leave? How could he chance seeing disgust in the eyes of the one he loved above all others?

When he said nothing more, Hashirama looked back to him. As their eyes met the older man seemed to read his fears in his expression. His face softened and he finally let go of Tobirama’s hand, leaning over to instead use his own to cup the side of his brother’s face.

“You could never lose me,” Hashirama said. “You are more precious to me than the whole world.”

“You’re not upset? We’re brothers. People will…talk.”

Hashirama gave a soft snort. “Have I ever cared for what people think?”

“I suppose not,” Tobirama allowed. Slowly, hesitantly, he let himself smile. The weight in his chest lifted and he felt almost as if he were breathing for the first time in years. The tension he had stopped paying attention to a long time ago seeped its way out of him until he was left feeling almost boneless with relief.

The sudden weightlessness combined with the lack of sleep had his head swimming. He sank even farther in to the mattress that he was still sprawled out upon and closed his eyes. Above him he heard Hashirama chuckle a bit. Weight shifting on the bed before a soft kiss was pressed to the center of his forehead. He cracked one eye back open to watch Hashirama lay down beside him.

“Neither of us slept much,” the older man said. “I suppose you don’t mind if I just rest here with you?”

Tobirama shook his head, trying not to let his smile grow. And when a strong arm pulled him closer to rest his head on the older man’s chest, he didn’t mind that either.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 - Madara/Tobirama - The one where the first touch leaves a mark

He’s got one of Madara’s knees up on the counter, both hands on his hips, and a good rhythm going when the door bursts open. Hashirama and Izuna spill in to the room at almost exactly the same moment that Madara spills in to his hand, dragging him behind in a mutually mortifying orgasm that’s still so good. It’s always good with them.

When he can open his eyes he does to find both of their brothers staring at them with horror written across their faces. Mouths hang open, eyes are blown wide, and Madara is the first to start screeching.

“HOW DID YOU NOT SENSE THEM COMING?”

“He was too busy trying to come himself!” Izuna blurts the crass response out on sheer instinct. Then when he realizes what he’s said he screams and throws both hands over his eyes. “Ew, ew, ew, ew! What did I just say!? What did I just see!?”

Tobirama can’t move no matter how much he wants to. His dignity is covered only by virtue of still being buried hip-deep inside of Madara, who is covered only because of the items stacked on the countertop between them and their respective siblings. Their clothing is on the other side of the room. If he pulls away his mess will be left to run down the inside of Madara’s thighs. He can’t move but he doesn’t want to stay like this.

Hashirama is the one to spot the marks.

“Are those soul marks!? ARE YOU TWO SOUL MATES? OH MY GOD!” Their village leader looks more like a child as he points insistently at the handprint wrapped around Tobirama’s bicep then shifts it to point at Madara’s chest. Madara huffs, bringing his own hand up to cover the mark.

“Get. Out.” The words are growled from between grinding teeth. Hashirama does not take the hint.

“Oh my god they’re soulmates!” He’s got a hold on a traumatized Izuna now and is shaking him back and forth in excitement. “Soulmates!”

Tobirama drops his head in between Madara’s shoulder blades in despair. How is this his life?

 

Chapter 11 - Suigetsu/Karin - The one where you have a name on each wrist

“Oh I’m sorry, could you say that again?” Suigetsu grinned mockingly and held a hand up to cup around his ear. “I don’t think I heard you very well the first time.”

Karin grit her teeth but repeated it anyway, “I said I think you’re my soulmate you big jerk!” He chuckled at her and put both hands on his hips, affecting a triumphant pose.

“Well, well, well. Look who’s lowering them self to my level!” Suigetsu shook his head. “And here I thought you said, what was it? Cold day in hell? Something like that?”

Karin stomped her foot and gave vent to a very loud frustrated noise. If he was going to be this difficult about it, why had she even bothered? Who needed a soulmate anyway? Tossing her hair over her shoulder, Karin whipped around and tried to storm away. She didn’t need to stand here and take this! Her progress was halted when a hand snatched her wrist and jerked her back, making her cry out as she fell back in to a solid chest.

“I never said I disagreed,” Suigetsu murmured smoothly in her ear. Karin blushed. “What about Sa-su-ke?” He drew the name out teasingly, trying to hide how he really felt about it, but Karin could hear the shaky confidence behind those words and it melted the annoyance right out of her.

“Why would I ever want to be with a jerk like Sasuke when I could have a jerk like you?”

The surprise on his face was almost as delicious as the kiss.

 

Chapter 17 - Kakashi/Shisui - The one where you know them by touch

Morning had become Kakashi’s favorite time of day. If anyone asked he would have told them it was night; sweaty nights in the dark when the air was saturated with gasps and begging. He would have winked and told the story of The Night of Five Times for the hundredth time. Because then the asker would groan in disgust and turn away and he would be free to keep his precious memories to himself, a sweet private paradise to revel in on the missions that kept him away from home.

He wasn’t embarrassed. The truth was that he could not have put in to words why he enjoyed mornings so much. There wasn’t a proper way to describe the feeling of waking up with Shisui still asleep on his chest. There didn’t exist a metaphor for the beauty of dawn’s first light brushing across those high cheekbones, creating shadows beneath his nose and the furrow of his brow while Shisui murmured in his sleep. Vocabulary could not express the pleasant ache in his chest that occurred each time he watched those beautiful eyes flutter open and greet him with a sleepy smile.

The whole world knew the feeling of touching your soulmate and reaffirming your bond. No one but the two of them knew their bond though. That belonged to them and no other.

Somehow, Shisui seemed to know. Kakashi had never told him how much peace he had found in their slow morning kisses but Shisui always gave him a knowing smile when he spoke of their nights. Kakashi didn’t mind. He had always been bad with words. He was lucky to love someone who could read him so well.

He was lucky to love someone who made him so happy. 

 

Chapter 22 - Kisame/Obito - The one where you have a journal that connects you

“You’re pretty fucked up.”

Obito rolled his eyes and leaned back in his chair as he replied quietly, “Yes, I’m rather aware of that.” Kisame eyed him speculatively.

“I guess I can see why you did it though,” he said. Obito blinked. “I mean, if you loved her then I can see why you put the journal away and didn’t look at it. The rest is crazy. You’re crazy.”

“Thank you for that,” Obito ground out, sarcasm and bitterness heavy in his voice. They had gotten along so well through their journal communication. He’d thought it would finally be okay to reveal himself but if this was the response then he regretted it.

“You’re mine though.” Kisame’s words brought him up short a second time in less than two minutes. “And I suppose I don’t mind a bit of crazy. I would appreciate it if you didn’t destroy the world though. It would be hard to spend time together if you destroyed the world.”

Obito stared at him incredulously. Kisame smirked, triumphant at having stunned him in to silence. When Kisame leaned down and graced him with a first kiss he still said nothing. Only continued to stare. In his mind, world domination had already been put on hold.

 

Chapter 24 - Tobirama/Izuna - The one where you feel each other's pain

If you had asked him even just six months ago if he had thought any of this possible Izuna would have sent you to be checked for insanity. The idea that anyone in the Senju clan was his soulmate would have been scoffed at. The idea that Tobirama could be the one he was destined for would have garnered outright hysterical laughter.

Yet here he was now with his bottom planted between Tobirama’s knees and his head tilted back to rest on the man’s shoulders. Fingers were carding through his long hair, free of its usual ponytail, and his eyes were closed while he enjoyed the sensation. His own hands were occupied with trapping the remaining one of Tobirama’s and pressing it against his stomach, tracing senseless patterns on his calloused palm.

They couldn’t spend time together like this when Madara was around. Izuna liked the time he spent around the Senju compound better. Hashirama wasn’t a very attentive chaperone, not like the way Madara spent every moment hovering over them with suspicious eyes. Hashirama liked to turn his eyes up to the clouds and pretend not to see as they slipped away in to the forest to steal quiet moments just like this one. Izuna couldn’t wait until construction of the village began. Madara couldn’t say anything if he built a home with his own soulmate, away from his boorish clan and his brother’s overprotective ways.

He loved his people, he really did. But some of them were still so hardheaded over the idea that he was matched with a Senju.

Soft lips – so much softer than he could have imagined – placed a gentle kiss on the arch of his neck. Izuna grinned but kept his eyes closed. As he’d known he would, Tobirama followed the kiss with languorous nips and nuzzles up and down the column of his throat, trying harder to get his attention. Finally he turned his head and Tobirama diverted the kisses to his mouth.

Sage, he couldn’t wait until they had their own home. Privacy and comfortable bed, was there any better dream for the future?

 

Chapter 28 - Shikamaru/Tayuya - The one where you heal each other

Five years was a long time to wait.

That’s not to say that they hadn’t seen each other in five years. They saw each other all the time. The trouble was that cold iron bars kept them separated each time. That hadn’t stopped Shikamaru from visiting Tayuya more and more as time went on, their conversations growing longer and longer as they got to know one another.

Now he was watching her blink rapidly, heading tilted back to let the sun shine on her face after so long in the darkness. He had grudgingly admitted she was beautiful the first time they met. Now he can’t imagine that there could anyone in the world more beautiful than her. He had told her so each time they stood close, her holding his hand through the bars of her cell to heal whatever wounds his latest mission had given him.

Tayuya brought her head down and smirked at him, her eyes still squinting against the sunlight she wasn’t used to.

“Are you going to take me home or what?” she demanded. Shikamaru smiled even as he rolled his eyes.

“Troublesome, but I suppose so,” he replied.

He wouldn’t say it out loud but he liked that she called it home.

 

Chapter 32 - Kakashi/Hana - The one where you share a trait with your soulmate

It didn’t take long for the rumors the spread, for the horror stories to reach the ears of nearly everyone in the five great nations. Parents frightened their children in to good behavior and shinobi encouraged each other to train harder, all of them whispering of the same thing.

Rumor told of a pair of demons. They walked through shadows in silence. They could smell your fear and legend had it they could see you even in the dark. They were never apart, always hunting together. To face the pair of them was certain death – if you even had time to face them. They were one of the deadliest duos to ever come out of Konoha and genin everywhere prayed to never encounter them.

In the dark of night, hidden beneath the covers of their bed, Kakashi and Hana told each other the latest horror stories that each had heard at the tavern that night.

“Can you believe the Kumo ninja have actually named us?” Hana giggled. “The Twin Demons! They make us sound related!”

Kakashi pulled her closer to taste that laughter for himself. If the ones who feared them could only see how wrong they were. Kakashi had almost become a demon once. But it was Hana that kept him human.

 

Chapter 39 - Gaara/TenTen - The one where you dream of each other

Sleeping was still a strange experience for Gaara. No matter how many times he allowed himself to fall in to that restful darkness he would never get used to losing so many hours of the night at once. Especially when it felt as if no time had passed at all.

He had, however, discovered other uses for his bed that were infinitely more interesting than sleeping – not to mention more pleasant. Gaara was happy to spend hours at a time simply lying next to his slumbering wife, admiring her face or stroking her silken hair. TenTen made such interesting expressions while she dreamed and even though she often teased him that he should let her dream of him doing something more interesting than staring at her, he simply couldn’t make himself look away most nights. She was fascinating to him in a way no human ever had been.

His favorite thing was watching her wake, as she was doing now. TenTen stretched and hummed, her face scrunching as she returned to consciousness after only a few short hours. Gaara watched with his heart beating rapidly in his chest, full of emotions he still had trouble believing were his own. He wondered if this was how everyone else felt or if it was stronger for him, someone who had gone most of his childhood feeling nothing but rage and pain.

TenTen rolled over and opened her eyes, a warm smile parting her lips as she caught sight of him there next to her. Gaara felt his heart skip a beat. It was hard to remember the pains of his life with his wife here before him. It was hard to remember that anything had ever hurt him when just the sight of her filled him with so much happiness.  

 

Chapter 40 - Zabuza/Haku - The one where you remember your past lives

Today was important. Today was the most important day in his entire life. Of course, Zabuza thought so at this time every year – but that was because it was true every year.

Every year that Haku lived to see his birthday was important and heart wrenching and damn it he’s not crying okay?

Zabuza furiously wiped his cheeks before anyone could see him, tucked away in the corner the way he always was at these gatherings. Haku was the social butterfly, not him, but he would suffer this many people in their home once a year because it made his soulmate happy. Zabuza would do anything to make Haku happy.

He watched as the younger man threw his head back and laughed at something his friend from work had said, tracing the shape of that smile with his eyes and admiring the way it lit up his entire face.

“Happy fortieth birthday, Haku,” he murmured under his breath.

As if hearing him over the din in the kitchen, Haku looked over at him right at that moment. For someone who had never grown to be older than fifteen before he wore his age well. It showed only in the lines around his eyes, wrinkles deepened by laughing too hard, enjoying life too fully. It brought a smile to Zabuza’s face as well to see that happiness.

He had sworn he would protect this man. And for once, finally after so many life times, he had kept his promise.

Chapter Text

Genma scrunched his nose as Asuma’s cigarette waved a little too close to his face. He didn’t want to be the guy that told his friends what they could do to their own bodies but that didn’t mean Asuma had to shove it down his throat too. Waving a hand to clear the smoke away, he turned back to the bickering between Aoba and Iwashi.

They had been arguing almost since the moment they arrived and it was getting harder and harder to keep his mouth shut. He would have loved to tell them that they were one of the reasons he was glad to be a Blank. He refrained only because he thought it might make their arguing worse somehow. It was times like these that he wondered what the origins were behind the marks that branded over 90% of the populace – and why fate even bothered to match two people who so obviously did not belong together. Aoba and Iwashi made each other miserable yet still they stayed together. Why? Because they had matching tattoos? Genma had a tattoo that matched every other ANBU in the village. Didn’t mean he wanted to be with any of them.

He was saved from his morose mental ramblings when someone tapped his shoulder from behind. He looked around and found Raidou there, jerking his head towards the exit in a silent question. Genma grinned and climbed over the back of the bench to escape the establishment at his best friend’s side. He would much rather go anywhere with Raidou than stay here with the rest of his friends.

The two of them stayed mostly silent as they hopped across the rooftops, waving at the patrols they passed, until finally they touched down on top of Raidou’s building and sprawled out across the terracotta tiles. Genma tucked his arms up behind his head and listened to the rattling of the senbon in his mouth as he flicked it rhythmically against his teeth.

“How long were they at it this time?” Raidou asked eventually, his eyes turned up to the stars. Genma didn’t even have to ask to know he was referring to Iwashi and Aoba. Their bickering was famous.

“Almost since we got there,” he replied. “I’ll never understand why they stay together. It’s not like they make each other happy.” He saw Raidou shrug out of the corner of his eye.

“They’re soulmates. How many people are there that would walk away from that?”

Genma sighed. “Not as many as there should be. I mean I get it – I think. I don’t know what it’s like to meet that one person fate has chosen for you and I never will. But I do know what it’s like to be in a relationship where you’re unhappy and I know how much happier I was once I got out of that relationship.”

“You think soulmates can just…walk away from each other?” Raidou asked, raising himself up on to his elbows to look over and Genma.

“Why not? It’s a choice isn’t it?” Genma brought his arms out from under his head to gesture up at the empty sky above them. “Just because you and this other random person were both born with the same symbol on your wrist doesn’t mean you’re going to love them. Maybe they’re a dick. Maybe they like hurting fluffy bunnies or something, I don’t know. And what if you never even meet them? You haven’t met yours yet; are you just going to spend your entire life alone if you never do?”

Raidou stared at him with wide eyes, listening to him rant without saying anything. Genma had a lot of opinions about soulmates that he tried hard to keep to himself. Most people didn’t want to hear that their ‘fated love’ might be bullshit. He’d managed to get through a lot of years without talking about this with his best friend, always changing the subject if it came up, but tonight he found he was just in the right spot. He’d had just enough alcohol to mellow him out in to that drifting, uncaring headspace that he’d been told made him too honest for his own good. So he kept talking, not giving much thought to what Raidou might think of what he was saying.

“Loving someone is…it should be a choice. You shouldn’t feel like you have to love a specific person just because of the mark on their wrist. If they don’t make you happy you should find the person that does. Soulmates are great and all but it just doesn’t work like that all of the time. What about polygamists? What about the crotchety folk who hate the world and don’t ever want to fall in love because ‘ew people’? It’s just not possible for every single person in the world to perfectly match up with one other person. AND, even if they did, how would they all find each other!? It’s a big world! You can’t meet everyone!”

“You’ve…thought about this a lot,” Raidou murmured tentatively. Genma snorted.

“Well I haven’t got a soulmate and I spent a lot of time being upset about it when I was a kid,” he said. “The older I got the more I realized that it just meant I was freer than other people. I can love who I want and no one says a damn thing about who it is. The only problem is…”

Raidou sat all the way up, his eyed locked on Genma’s form almost like he couldn’t bear to look away.

“Is?”

“Well the only problem is that I fell in love with someone who does have a soulmate and you still want to find them. Pretty stupid on my part but I chose to love you. You are everything I would want to spend the rest of my life with. Not because some mark says so but because that’s how I feel.” Genma shrugged and let his arms sprawl out across the clay tiles underneath him.

ME!?” Genma shot upright when Raidou shouted, suddenly realizing what he had just said. “You’re in love with ME!?”

“Fuck! Uh, no? Shit!” Genma brought a hand up to smack himself in the face – only to pierce his own palm instead with the senbon still clutched between his teeth. “Ow!” He stared at his hand, blood welling and dripping down past his pinky finger. He felt vaguely betrayed but he wasn’t sure if it was because of his hand, his senbon, or his stupid idiotic mouth.

Raidou shuffled about in his peripheral vision and Genma felt his shoulders tensing, preparing for the worst. He really hadn’t meant to confess his hidden feelings but now that he had he may as well face the consequences. He could take the rejection. Of course he could. He was a grown ass man – a special jōnin for god’s sake. He absolutely did not have the urge to run away and hide.

“Are you alright? Here, let me see.”

He was startled to have his hand pulled over so Raidou could inspect the tiny wound. Neither of them said anything as the scarred man pulled a roll of bandages from his vest, wiping the blood away and slowly wrapping his palm. He swallowed hard with every layer of gauze until finally Raidou gently tied it off, smoothing the cloth down with an idle thumb.

“You’re…really in love with me?” he asked, still holding Genma’s hand.

“Ah, yeah. It’s okay if you don’t – um – I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” Genma’s free hand poked at the roof underneath him, fidgeting nervously.

“I always thought I was strange,” Raidou murmured, “falling in love with someone who wasn’t my soulmate; someone who wasn’t anyone’s soulmate. I thought ‘I shouldn’t ever tell him, he would never feel the same’. But you do.” He looked up in to Genma’s stunned face, a shy flush rising underneath the uneven burn marks on his cheeks.

It took a solid minute of staring before his brain kicked in to gear and Genma realized that Raidou was waiting for him to make the first move. A wicked grin flashed across his face as he leaned in and pressed their mouths together in a wild, frantic kiss. Years of pent up emotions poured from one to the other and back again, their hands gripped tightly between them.

Genma nipped at Raidou’s lip, making the other man gasp and shudder and duck his head down. He shuffled closer to swing his leg over top of his friend’s, kissing the top of messy brown hair then bending down to peck at a roughly stubbled cheek.

“I have been waiting way too long to do that,” he announced. Raidou chuckled lowly.

“Are you gonna remember doing it in the morning? You taste like sake.”

“Maybe I would remember better if there were something there to jog my memory in the morning?” Genma suggested with a leer. “Say, maybe, you? All wrapped around me, sweaty sheets twisted around your hips, the early light of dawn-”

“You sound like one of Hatake’s smut novels,” Raidou cut him off.

Genma threw his head back and laughed.

“Well if you don’t want to listen to me sound like a smut novel maybe we just go back to my place and act one out. What do you say?”

“I say your pickup lines are horrible.” Raidou was grinning even while he shook his head. “But I don’t say no.”

If you asked Genma he would tell you he was happy to be a Blank. If you asked Raidou he would only shrug and grin. He was just happy with the choices they made.  

Chapter Text

We have your soulmate. If you want him returned you will bring us ten million yen.

This message was the first that had ever appeared on Madara’s arm. He stared at it, frozen, trying to decide which reaction felt most pressing. On the one hand he really should panic because it appeared as though his soulmate was in trouble and may require help. He had no idea where in the world they might be but that didn’t stop him from flaring his chakra dangerously. On the other hand he wanted to leap for joy in an undignified way because this was proof that he did, in fact, have a soulmate and it gave him his first ever clue to their identity. They were male, apparently.

As he normally did when he experienced anything close to resembling feelings he went to Hashirama first. His friend jerked in surprise when he burst through the door, knocking over a pile of paperwork he happened to know had taken two hours to organize. Hashirama stared at the fluttering reports like he might burst in to tears.

“Hashirama my arm!” he exclaims, distracting the other man and getting to the point in one sentence. Hashirama blinked up at him with a pout before turning his eyes to the appendage held out towards him. Then he gasped.

“You got a message from your soulmate? Oh Madara, congratulations! Finally!”

“Did you even read it you imbecile?”

“What? Oh. Um……WHAT!?” Hashirama leapt out of his chair, scattering even more papers. Madara threw both of his hands up in the air, matching his friend’s indignant panic with a frantic scowl.

“I know!” he shouted.

The both of them fluttered about in a way the public never saw them, two idiots who should never have been allowed to classify themselves as adults. Madara brought his arm back down and stared at the words, stroking them until they finally began to fade. Hashirama paced around the edges of the room and muttered to himself about going to help this man, upset that they had no real way to find him. Except that they did!

Madara dove for the brush Hashirama had abandoned on his desk, nearly dropping it in his haste to write upon his own skin. His strokes were messy and inconsistent where they were usually neat and precise. He blamed it on the shock he had recently suffered. Hashirama paused in his rambling to watch him, face lighting up.

“I didn’t even think of that!” he said. Madara ignored him as he watched his message sink down beneath the surface, rereading it as it disappeared to find its way to his soulmate.

Tell me where to bring the money.

He wanted to demand to know where his soulmate was but he had dealt with this kind of thing before. The method of communication made it more than obvious that his soulmate was still alive and he knew better than to make demands. He still couldn’t quite bring himself to appear cowed though, evident in the way he did not phrase his question as a request. He stared at his skin, waiting for another message to appear.

And waited…and waited…and waited…

Madara had begun to twitch by the time black letters finally appeared after a full ten minutes and Hashirama paused in trying to calm him down to point them out. He held his arm up for both of them to read:

Ignore the previous. The idiots are dead.

Hashirama and Madara looked at each other in bewilderment. The panic that had been welling up dispersed, replaced instantly by confusion. He wondered if he should infer from this that his soulmate was a fellow shinobi or if they might instead be a person of high status, kidnapped for ransom before being rescued by guards of some sort. He had a brush in hand, poised to ask questions, when he paused. He wasn’t really sure if he even wanted to write.

After all, whoever this was had never written to him before. He had tried to make contact several times in his youth and not once had he received a reply. Where he used to assume that his soulmate had died prematurely now he wondered if perhaps they didn’t want him. Either for personal reasons or because, if they were a person of high status as he supposed, they may have tried to avoid him because they knew they wouldn’t be able to be with him. Arranged marriages were fairly common within the aristocracy. Honestly, the possibilities were endless.

His friend hovered around him with a confused and worried face as he slowly put the brush back down without writing anything. Madara didn’t put much effort in to explaining himself, only murmured enough words to get Hashirama to leave him in peace. Then he left. He felt like being alone for a while to figure out how to react to what had happened and how he wanted to proceed.

He mostly stayed at home for the next few days – and he would slit the throat of anyone who dared suggest he was moping – until Hashirama sent words that the delegation they had sent to the newly formed Kumogakure had returned. He left for the Hokage Tower right away, knowing full well that if he were not present that his friend would forget to tell him most of the important details. He wasn’t happy that the delegation had been led by Tobirama. Dealing with that arrogant Senju would certainly do nothing to help the bad mood he had been wallowing in ever since his first writing had appeared on his arm.

Tobirama was still dusty and travel-stained, leaning against the wall when Madara strode in to the room and looking as if he could use a good night’s sleep. He was also, notably, alone. His delegation had included three others, each a minor member of a different clan. They called themselves the Ino-Shika-Cho trio, which Madara had always found insufferably whimsical, and he asked first thing where they were. They should have been here to give their own reports as well.

“Dead,” Tobirama grunted shortly, passing a hand wearingly down his face.

“What?” Hashirama exclaimed. “What happened?”

“We were attacked in the rooms that the Raikage provide for us. They hit me with a sedative. From a distance. While I was already asleep.” Tobirama sighed. “My team were slaughtered in their beds and I was taken, although my would-be kidnappers were stupid enough not to suppress my chakra. Can you believe they were going to try to ransom me?”

With his eyes still closed and his head slowly tilted back to rest against the wall, he didn’t see the way Madara and Hashirama both stiffened, looking at him with rapt attention.

“Ransom you?” Madara asked in a tone much more faint and gentle than he had ever used before when speaking with this man. Tobirama seemed not to notice. He didn’t even open his eyes as he snorted in derision.

“Yes,” he said. “They wrote a message to my soulmate, of all people. The writing woke me and I killed them, of course. Well, I killed most of them. I kept one alive and left him with the Raikage as a gift. He was sufficiently embarrassed that such a thing could happen right under his nose and get past his security. Needless to say, there will be peace with Kumogakure. At least for now.”

He appeared to either not notice the silence that followed his account or simply not care to question it. His head had finally touched the wall and he looked ready to fall asleep right then. Hashirama and Madara shared a look, an entire conversation happening without a single word spoken between them. Madara knew his old friend was silently urging him to say something and he was just as quietly protesting that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to. What if he were wrong? Coincidence seemed a bit far-fetched but it could happen.

His hand came up reflexively to catch the small object that suddenly came flying at his head. When he looked he saw that he was holding a calligraphy brush, just enough ink on the bristles that it could be thrown without splattering across his clothing. He scowled at Hashirama who smiled back, smug for having thought of it first.

Tobirama didn’t have much of his skin bared in the armor he was still wearing. Madara’s only options were to use his hand or doodle on his own face. His small, nearly forgotten inner child sort of wanted to see Tobirama with a streak of black down the middle of his nose but he managed to resist. Instead he drew the brush across the back of his left hand, a random streak with no elegance or purpose other than to make a mark and test his theory.

He wasn’t sure if his heart sped up or paused entirely when a matching streak showed up, stark against the pale skin of Tobirama’s hand. The tired man evidently felt the warmth of the letters on his skin because he roused himself enough to frown and look down, blinking at the mark with a single eyebrow raised in bewilderment.

“Ah, brother?” Hashirama caught his attention. “You might want to look at Madara’s hand as well.”

With an expression that absolutely screamed ‘I’m too tired for this’ Tobirama did as he was bidden. He swung his gaze around to find Madara with hand and brush still raised, staring for a few seconds as it slowly sank in what he was seeing.

Madara couldn’t say he knew Tobirama well enough to have predicted exactly how he would react but he could say for sure that he had not expected the deep blush that spread across his nose. He’d never seen the younger Senju blush before; it was a fascinating sight. He looked as if he were less leaning on the wall now and more using it to stop from falling over in shock.

“Is that-? Did you-?” He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of Madara’s hand so the Uchiha solved any questions he had by making a second mark. Tobirama looked at his own hand to see the first streak fading, replaced immediately by a replica of the one Madara had just drawn on himself. “Oh…” was all he said.

Hashirama clapped his hands together once, causing both of the others to jump slightly. “Well!” he said. “You two would probably like a moment alone to talk about this.” Despite his words, he didn’t seem in a hurry to go anywhere.

“I wrote to you,” Madara growled, unable to hold in his words any longer. “Many times as a child. Why did you never respond?”

“Ah…” Tobirama’s face morphed in to the most unique mix of incredibly embarrassed and incredibly annoyed. As he usually did, he went with annoyed as the reaction of choice. A scowl fell over his features and he opened his mouth to respond – only to be cut off by Hashirama.

“Well how old were you? You know, Tobi didn’t learn to read until he was almost fifteen. That’s why he reads so much now!” Their Hokage beamed, not at all phased by the look of betrayal from his brother.

“Hashirama!” Tobirama protested.

Madara raised his eyebrows in surprise. Then he furrowed them back down. “And after that? I’d already written to you. You knew I was trying to make contact. What about all the years since then, when you could have written to me yourself?”

Interestingly, the blush still lingering on those pale cheeks increased, spreading and darkening as red eyes fall to the side to avoid his own. He was half exasperated and half grateful when it was Hashirama who answered him once again, this time with what could only be called a shit-eating grin.

“Probably because he didn’t want to know just in case it wasn’t the one he wanted it to be,” Hashirama said. Tobirama’s head snapped up.

“Don’t you dare!” he hissed. Hashirama’s grin widened.

“He had a crush and it was so cute!”

“Brother!” Tobirama pushed away from the wall, reaching out to do something; hit his brother, throw a jutsu at him, tackle him and cover his mouth, the world would never know. Hashirama managed to dart just far enough away from those grasping fingers and give himself enough time to blurt out another of his sibling’s secrets.

“He thought you were really pretty!”

Tobirama froze, half leaning over the desk, and gave his brother a horrified look. Madara choked on his tongue in shocked disbelief.

“I beg your pardon?” he demanded.

“Shut up!” Tobirama half-shouted. “I was an adolescent!”

“That would hold if you weren’t still soooo in love with him!” Hashirama teased.

Hashirama!” the younger man’s voice was nearly a screech this time.

Madara’s head was reeling and he suddenly felt the need to sit down somewhere. He watched Tobirama chase his brother around the desk, growling obscenities and threats while Hashirama tried desperately to stay just out of reach. Eventually Hashirama made his escape out the window and Tobirama followed after him, leaving the head of the Uchiha clan alone in the office of the Hokage feeling very faint.

“Tobirama is…in love with me?”

It took a while to pull himself together and go after the other two. It wasn’t hard, really. He followed the booming sounds and the concussive blasts of chakra towards one of the training fields specifically set aside for the more powerful fighters in the village to vent their destructive tendencies.

When he arrived he found Hashirama wailing for mercy, hunkered down under a thick shield of wood with Tobirama coming up with new and interesting ways to manipulate water to cut through it. The ground was torn up and several trees had been decimated and Madara reflected that out of all the people in the village no one threw a temper tantrum quite like the three of them. He wouldn’t even try to deny that he reacted much the same to his own frustrations. Izuna usually tended more towards sulking and Touka usually just plotted revenge. Mito he preferred not to think about. He and the two quibbling siblings, however, usually tended towards property destruction.

He didn’t feel any need to announce himself since he knew Tobirama would sense his chakra so Madara simply settled back on to his heels and waited until the man who was apparently his soulmate finally decided to allow his brother to live. His attacks ceased, leaving him huffing for breath at having expended so much chakra while already so exhausted. He still gave one last kick to the nearly decimated wooden dome before storming away – in the opposite direction of Madara. Madara scowled and hurried after him, leaving Hashirama to slink away and lick his wounds alone.

He caught up with the younger man as he was opening the front door to his home.

“What?” Tobirama snapped, whipping around to growl at him.

“Have you truly been in love with me since you were a teenager?” he asked. He got a scowl in return.

“Did you only follow to mock me? Because I have better things to do than stand here–”

“Oh would you just-ugh!” Madara gave up before he had even finished his sentence. Frustrated and knowing that neither of them was good at communicating without misunderstanding each other, he did the only thing he could think of that might shut the man up.

He grabbed Tobirama by the front of his armor and pulled him in, planting a rather rough kiss right on his lips. Tobirama groaned like he hadn’t been expecting it but definitely appreciated the idea. Madara really only meant it as a way to shut him up. He didn’t expect to actually find himself sinking in to it, stepping a bit closer and cupping the back of a pale neck. He felt hesitant hands bunching in his hair and hummed approvingly. Tobirama shivering in his hold in response was also unexpected.

“We should perhaps not be doing this in the street,” he murmured against the other man’s lips.

Tobirama didn’t say anything. He reeled him back in for another kiss, stumbling backwards to bring them both inside the home and allow the door to swing shut behind them. Madara pushed him up against a wall, biting at his lips and then soothing them with gentle passes of his tongue. Tobirama tried to buck up in to him, growling when his armor kept them separated just enough that he couldn’t. Madara chuckled in the back of his throat.

“Eager,” he purred. Tobirama harrumphed.

“Shut up,” he said. He lacked his usual poison, breathless as he was.

“You didn’t answer my question.” Madara leaned in and laid a trail of kisses slowly up the column of Tobirama’s neck. He felt the younger man swallow harshly under his ministrations. “Have you truly been in love with me for so long?”

Tobirama grunted, his head tilting instinctively to give him more access. “Yes,” he admitted quietly. Madara rewarded him with a gentle bite.

“Hm, flattering. Another question? Why on earth did you not learn to read until you were fifteen?” Even as he spoke he marveled that any of this was happening. This morning he had been under the impression they had hated each other. He wondered where in between realizing this was his soulmate and now he had decided that he approved of the match. Not that it truly mattered. Now that he’d had a taste he found himself instantly addicted. Was it like this for all soulmates? An instant click?

“Ahh…” Tobirama sighed as Madara sucked gently just beneath his ear. “Um…what? Oh you…reading. Didn’t bother. Too focused on training. Do – do that again…”

He wanted to laugh because only Tobirama would be so focused on training that he simply didn’t bother with books until adolescence and then fall absolutely in love with reading and research. He didn’t laugh though because he was much too busy nibbling on an ear and tracing the shell of it with his tongue. Making Tobirama squirm was just so new and fascinating. It had absolutely nothing to do with how good he tasted or how right it felt. Nothing at all. He would swear to it.

“Don’t think I’ve forgiven you for ignoring me for the past twenty-some years,” he murmured in to the ear under his attention.

“Ah…sorry…?” Tobirama was, understandably, entirely too distracted to actually be sorry. That didn’t stop Madara from tutting at him in disapproval and nipping him sharply.

“Hmph,” he said. “You’re going to be.”

By the end of the night he had extracted a much more heartfelt apology. Tobirama still didn’t mean it though. He hadn’t exactly hated his punishment.

Chapter Text

She wasn’t very old when she realized what was happening. When five-year-old Sakura pattered over to her parents and told them that her soulmate must be eating beef they were overjoyed. Many people didn’t have a soulmate and it was considered extremely lucky for those that did. Sakura just wished hers would eat more sugary things. She liked candy and apple sauce and juice. Her soulmate liked to eat beef and fish and pork. She wasn’t so sure that they would be able to agree on anything if they didn’t even like the same foods.

As the years went by Sakura developed a love for fish that she hadn’t had as a toddler. Having it on her lips so often had her craving it, always requesting it for dinner when her opinion was asked. She came to appreciate the days when she could lick the taste of garlic shrimp off her lips in the middle of an academy lecture. Sometimes while on the playground with her friends she would suck on her bottom lip obsessively, chasing the flavor of teriyaki.

There were downsides of course. It was horrible trying to eat her lunch and having her peanut butter sandwich try to mesh with the taste of hard boiled eggs. She tried not to lick her lips whenever her soulmate ate super spicy curry; she was only a fan of the milder spices herself and she knew if she gave in to habit and licked her lips she would spend the next thirty minutes trying to chew the heat off her tongue. She always gave in. It was always horrible.

Sakura was sixteen now and damn annoyed. She was on a diet, did her soulmate not get that? He’d been eating chocolate for the past three days and now she had been stuck with the taste of a sugary glaze on her lips as if she were eating dango. She did not need these cravings, damn it! She was hoping to lose a few more pounds and that simply wouldn’t happen if her soulmate kept eating sweet things and tempting her to fall off the wagon.

Thus was her frustration when Kakashi and Naruto wanted to stop in a dango shop just inside the town they would be staying in for the night. Well, Naruto wanted to and Kakashi wanted Naruto to shut up. Her sensei wasn’t a big fan of sweets but he did enjoy his peace and quiet, which right now would only be achieved by caving to Naruto’s demands for dango. Sakura was fuming with annoyance as she and her teammate made their way inside, Kakashi slipping off to book them a couple rooms at a nearby inn. She wondered why none of her important people were supporting her personal endeavors. Was it too much to ask that they help her stay away from sugar and bad carbs for just a few more weeks? She didn’t think so.

It was with a sigh that she warily eyed the large plate of delicious, sticky treats that was set on the table before her. Always happy to share with his friends, Naruto had insisted that she order some as well. He’d even paid for them. Sakura felt despair as her fingers played with the sticks, each bearing three different colored dumplings. She was going to give in, she knew she was, but that didn’t mean she would need to feel good about it.

The first bite was almost heavenly, she admitted to herself. She had been sticking to vegetables and low-sugar fruit for nearly a month now and her taste buds virtually sang as that delicious thick glaze slid over her tongue. Was there any sweeter treat than dango?

“Finally!” A gruff voice burst out from the table next to theirs. Sakura looked over curiously – and froze. The two men at the next table were wearing Akatsuki robes! One of them wore a large hat with strips of white silk hanging from the brim, obscuring his identity. The one that she could see was a huge man, muscles rippling under his blue-gray skin and dark blue hair standing nearly straight up under the slashed headband of a Mist Village missing nin.

A quick glance to the side showed Sakura that Naruto hadn’t even noticed their neighbors. Before she could catch his attention the one who sat with his back to her spoke up in a smooth voice.

“What is it?” he asked. He sounded vaguely familiar, though she couldn’t place why.

“I’ve been shoving sweets in my face for days trying to get my soulmate to eat something good! I think the stupid girly’s been on a diet of all things. She’s been eating nothing but rabbit food for weeks!” The large man viciously tore in to the last dango on the stick he held. “I finally gave her a craving she couldn’t ignore! She just ate some dango!”

Sakura blinked, looking down at the stick dripping glaze on to her fingers.

“You always say ‘she’. How do you know it’s a woman?” the smooth-voiced one asked.

“Easy. I like girlies.” The big one shrugged. “Why would my soulmate be a man if I’m not attracted to them?”

“You think too simply.”

“And you complicate everything.”

Sakura swallowed and rested her sweets on her plate. Naruto remained oblivious, munching away without a care in the world. It had to be a coincidence, right? It couldn’t possibly be her. There was no way she was soulmates with a member of the Akatsuki!

Determined to prove herself right – and maybe gain a little peace of mind as well – Sakura dug through the pouch on her hip, fingers sorting through each item by touch until she found the one she wanted. The ration bar she extracted was probably at least ten years old. It was a running joke among the jōnin to never ask how old your ration bars were because they were probably still eating the original ones made when the village was founded. Sakura detested them as much as the next person but they were packed with just enough nutrients to keep you healthy with no extraneous additives. They were the perfect health food even if they tasted like wet cardboard rolled in ash with a drizzle of three day old gravy.

With her eyes trained on the large man at the next table, unconsciously memorizing his unique shark-like features, she unwrapped her bar and made sure Naruto was still distracted by his meal. Then she raised it to her lips and took a bite, deliberately smothering the disgusting taste all around her mouth.

“Ugh!” She froze at the same time that the large man did. “What the hell, Girly!?”

“Gone back to sensible foods, has she?”

“I went through all the trouble of convincing her to eat something good and just when I think she’s giving in – what the hell did she just eat?” His tongue hung out for a brief moment in an exaggerated face of disgust. Then he realized this wasn’t helping; he should keep his tongue away from his lips if he didn’t want to keep tasting it.

“Well?” his companion seemed slightly amused at his predicament, though it was hard to tell through the flat tone.

“I don’t know what that was but if she takes another bite of it I am eating nothing but sugar until she gets the point!”

Sakura lowered the ration bar, swallowing with some difficulty. Only one more step to test, one more step and she would have convinced herself of the opposite of what she had been trying to convince herself. Reluctantly, cringing, she reached for her dango. She plucked one of the dumplings off its sewer, took a deep breath and closed her eyes, then popped the whole thing in her mouth.

With her eyes closed she chewed as fast as she could, licking the sweet syrup from her fingers. When she heard a startled but pleased noise she winced, cracking one eyelid open to see her target grinning. His teeth were all pointy and sharp looking. In the very back of her mind she noted that it was kind of attractive.

“There you go! Back on track! I dunno what happened there but she’s gone back to the dango again.” He nodded to himself in satisfaction. “Good choice, Girly.”

“These updates on your soulmate’s eating habits are riveting, I assure you,” his companion drawled.

Her soulmate rolled his eyes and before he even opened his mouth she knew they were about to start bickering. It was obviously from the expression on his face that he was slightly offended by that comment. Sakura, however, wasn’t able to listen in on their little spat.

“Naruto, Sakura,” a quiet voice hailed both of their attentions. They both turned their heads to see that Kakashi-sensei had slipped in to the shop without either of them noticing. He was sitting on the opposite bench from her, beside Naruto, and his gaze was trained on the same spot hers had just been. “I want you to stay quiet Naruto but do you know who that is at the next table?”

“Kakashi-sensei,” Sakura whispered. He met her eyes, his eyebrow raising at the slightly worried look on her face. “I think that big one is my soulmate.”

His eyebrow lifted even higher and his hand shot out to cover Naruto’s mouth just in time to muffle the incredulous shout from the boy’s mouth. She and her teacher held each other’s gazes for a long time, speaking without words. She watched the calculating look fade away to be replaced with what she might almost call sympathy – strange from a man who so rarely showed his emotions.

“That changes things, doesn’t it?” he said to her softly. Sakura wanted to hug him for being so understanding. She didn’t. She respected her old teammate’s boundaries. So instead she simply nodded and looked back over to see her large blue-skinned soulmate jabbing one finger against the wooden tabletop as he made some point or other.

“Gah!” Naruto gasped in a breath as he finally managed to pull Kakashi’s hand away from his face. “But doesn’t Itachi travel with that guy? I’ve seen him before! I’d swear he’s the guy who’s partnered up with Itachi!”

“Two birds, one stone,” Kakashi murmured, the corners of his eye crinkling in a smile that Sakura didn’t need to see in order to know that it wasn’t friendly at all.

The fight, when they ambushed the pair in a dark alley, was short but brutal. Itachi didn’t put up nearly as much of a fight as he was capable of when he noticed that their main focus was on securing his partner’s capture instead. His Sharingan eyes took in the way Sakura was looking at the large man and, curious, allowed himself to be restrained. In the way that he always did, Naruto immediately busted out with his trusty Talk-no-Jutsu. He pleaded with Itachi for the reasons behind his actions and begged for his help to bring Sasuke back home. Sakura would have been amazed that he actually seemed to be succeeding if she weren’t so distracted by the tall muscle-bound man beside him.

“You didn’t seem to like the taste of my ration bar,” she said with as much confidence as she could muster. “So if you give us any trouble you can be sure we’ll both be having them for dinner.” His eyes widened as her meaning settled over him. Then his mouth split in a sharp grin, teeth glinting in the low light.

“Hello Girly,” he said. “You’re a pretty one, though you could use a little more meat on your bones. The name’s Kisame; you?”

“Sakura,” she breathed, entirely unaware of the enraptured expression she wore, falling in love from the very first word.

Team 7 abandoned the rather inconsequential mission in favor of bringing their prisoners back to the village. No one thought it was strange that Kisame made no effort to free himself. Indeed, he seemed happy to follow where ever Sakura wished to lead him.

Chapter Text

“Hey. Hey! I’m talking to you! Uzumaki!”

Karin ignored the voice that trailed after her, slipping through the crowds with ease. She didn’t want to talk to that loser. She just wanted to get to her next class. Namikaze-sensei would have a fit if she was late for calculus again and she had no intention of sitting through her third detention this month.

“Uzumaki I swear, just wait a fucking minute, will you?”

She ground her teeth and wondered why Suigetsu just would not take the hint. She knew he couldn’t have anything pleasant to say. The majority of their interactions consisted of him making fun of her for hoping Uchiha Sasuke was her soulmate, just like so many other girls in their high school did. Four years of classes together and she had never even had a single decent conversation with the sharp-toothed idiot. Part of that was due to him being an annoying brat. Part of it was her irritation over his refusal to call her by anything but ‘Uzumaki’. Today was the day she snapped.

“I have a name you know!” She screeching over the swirling masses of younger students. “Maybe if you used it I would listen to you, you cretin!” It was a testament to how common their arguments were that not a single head turned to see what the ruckus was.

“Fine then! Uzumaki Karin! Would you just fucking slow down? I need to talk to you!”

She hadn’t really meant to stop except it had suddenly becoming difficult to walk, what with the lightening running through her limbs and the sharp throbbing in her chest. Her entire being felt as if she were simultaneously freezing and thawing, contracting and relaxing, until the world faded from reality and all she was aware of was Suigetsu, finally shoving his way through the crowds to stand by her side and glare with those burning violet eyes.

“Finally! Jeez all I wanted to talk about was that project that Yuhi-sensei assigned for World History. You’re the only other person in the class without a partner so we’re kind of stuck with each other, y’know.” He rolled his eyes. Karin stared at him.

“You…I’m…stuck with you…” She repeated him in a daze, utterly distracted by the arch of his neck and the pull in her heart.

“Yeah, yeah, I wasn’t thrilled either, okay?” He hitched his backpack further on to his shoulder then stuck one hand on his hip. “So? We kind of have to work together. We should set up a time to actually work.”

“Hozuki Suigetsu.” She said his name back, trying to make her voice as steady as possible while still reeling from the impact of what had just happened to her.

He froze in place as soon as she said it, eyes widening and limbs trembling. Karin stared, waiting to see what his reaction would be, if he would handle this any better than her. She felt achingly divided. She wanted to fall in to him; her soulmate, finally a soulmate. She wanted to run from him; he was going to refuse her, surely he wanted nothing to do with her. Karin stood poised on the balls of her feet. Her own parents hadn’t wanted her, had left her at the orphanage at the tender age of two. Why should he be any different?

“Uh…wow.” Suigetsu blinked, still unmoving. “I really wasn’t expecting that.” They stared at each other while the halls slowly emptied, student filtering in the classrooms for their next period. Then he grinned. “I really should have used your name earlier, huh?”

“Ugh!” Karin swung her bag off her shoulder and bashed it in to his. “That’s all you have to say? What kind of soulmate are you anyway?” Suigetsu only laughed and caught her arm, pulling her forward until she was pressed against his body.

“Sorry, sorry, let me try again?”

When he kissed her Karin had the faint drifting thought that Namikaze-sensei was going to give her detention again. She decided she didn’t care though as her arms wrapped around Suigetsu’s shoulders and pulled him down for a better angle. They could expel her for all she gave a shit. Suigetsu wanted her. Her soulmate wanted her. This moment was worth it.

Now all they had to do was learn to get along properly but there would be plenty of time for that. She was stuck with him now, after all.

Chapter Text

Shikamaru was born with an ANBU tattoo. His parents had worried even as they knew that they could do nothing about it. They wondered if it was worth trying to keep Shikamaru away from the members of the Black Ops division or if maybe they should try to introduce them early on in life. Perhaps meeting his soulmate would encourage that person to leave ANBU and they could both live a happy, quiet life here in the village.

As the years went by, however, it became increasingly obvious that it didn’t matter one way or the other what they did. Shikamaru grew in to a boy, then a teenager, then a man. Never once did he ever indicate that he had any idea who his soulmate might be.

If the echo on his shoulder had faded away he would have known that his soulmate had died but it never did. Shikamaru had come up with endless possibilities over the years for why he had never found them. They ranged from the mundane (retired out of the village by now) to the dramatic (they were locked in a prison somewhere, unable to come home) and even some absolutely ridiculous ones. Shikamaru spent a lot of time looking up at the clouds, wondering where in the world his other half could possibly be, whether or not they were looking for him too.

He was looking up at the clouds today as well but not the way he used to. In his youth he had hidden himself away on grassy hills, letting the breeze ruffle his hair and cast his dreams in to the endless blue sky. Nowadays Shikamaru watched the sky through the windows of the Hokage Tower, stealing brief moments for himself while he waited for his village leader to look over whatever paperwork he had brought this time. Today the heavens were studded with rainclouds, bulbous black puffs that he imagined coming from the mouth of an angry dragon.

“Where did that proposal from the Mizukage get to?”

He looked away from the window when he heard Kakashi muttering to himself, fingers dancing among the piles of paper scattered across his desk. Shikamaru smiled a little and walked over, reaching underneath a certain pile and pulling out the needed document.

“Ah! You always know where my stuff is,” Kakashi said, eyes crinkled in a hidden smile.

“No offense, Hokage-sama,” Shikamaru murmured, “but some days I’m not sure you remember where you put your own head.” Kakashi only laughed and took the paper from him.

“Maa, maa, I don’t know what I’d do without you!”

He had been about to turn back to the window but something made him stop; something made him take a long hard look at the man who led their village. He had never seen his Hokage with anyone before. With the issue of his own soulmate constantly in the back of his mind, Shikamaru had become curious over the years about others’ situations as well and how they dealt with it. Kakashi was a very private person. Shikamaru wondered if he would even answer any questions put to him.

“Nnh, Hokage-sama, can I ask you something personal?” he ventured. Kakashi’s eyes flickered up to look at him, then returned to the papers in his hand. He continued to read as he spoke.

“Only if you drop the formality.”

“Ah, yes. Of course.” Shikamaru frowned and paused to think, not quite squirming as he wondered how to phrase his question. “Did you ever find your soulmate, Kakashi?” he asked eventually. That got the Hokage’s attention. The older man didn’t quite look at him but he was obviously no longer looking at the words on the page in front of him.

“No, I did not,” Kakashi said quietly. Shikamaru tilted his head.

 “Did you look?”

Kakashi turned to him with both eyebrows raised and he realized he sounded a little accusatory. His hands waved nervously in front of him while he tried to backtrack a little.

“Uh, what I mean is, I’ve tried to look for mine. But I haven’t found them. I was just wondering if you had thought of something I hadn’t.” When Kakashi’s eyebrows came back down to a less offended level he breathed a sigh of relief.

“I’m not sure what to tell you Shikamaru,” Kakashi said. “The only thing I never tried was getting a new tattoo and advertising it in the village. I considered it, of course. It’s a fairly common way to find each other. But I was in ANBU for a lot of years and I didn’t want to have any marks on me that could lead someone to my soulmate if I were captured.”

“And after you left ANBU?” Shikamaru asked.

“It’s something you might have already run in to yourself, the reason that the top shinobi in the village are usually wary of trying that method. Being strong means that there are people who want to use you for something, be it political gain or social or economic or any other reason. All it would take is a glimpse at my tattoo and a day to get it done on themselves. I might have had several people come to me and claim to be my soulmate.” Kakashi shrugged. “I didn’t want that.”

Shikamaru hummed contemplatively. He hadn’t thought about someone trying to falsify an echo. Of course, the easiest way to solve that problem would be to get yet another tattoo but he could understand how there were some people who didn’t really want to cover their bodies in ink just to prove a point.

“Still,” he said, “it seems like it would work. Get a small tattoo, quietly ask around, maybe get your friends to keep their eye out without mentioning who they’re asking for.”

Kakashi nodded, looking thoughtful, but didn’t say anything else and the subject was dropped. Kakashi went back to reading the proposal from Mei-sama and Shikamaru took one last look at the rainclouds hovering over the village before turning away to go work on the other projects he was supposed to be attending to. Being the Hokage’s assistant was troublesome but he had matured in to a responsible young adult who worked much harder than he would have believed himself capable of at ten years old.

Shikamaru woke the next morning with a chain around his wrist. Not an actual chain, of course, but an echo of a tattoo that someone else had marked their body with. It was actually rather beautiful. The chain was delicate and woven with purple anemone flowers, offsetting the silver links in a beautiful contrast of hard and soft. He traced the curving lines of the beautiful art repeatedly as he went about his morning routine, pulling down the sleeves of his mesh undershirt with great reluctance when it was time to leave the house.

He was absentmindedly rubbing his opposite thumb over the newly marked wrist when he entered the Hokage’s office to see Kakashi slumped in his chair, elbows on the desk and head in his heads. The older man looked somehow even paler than usual and his headband was missing, leaving his hair to fly away in every which direction.

“You don’t look good,” he noted. Kakashi grunted lowly.

“Gai convinced me to drink sake with him last night. I think I’m dying.”

“I see.” Shikamaru chuckled, trying to keep the volume of it low. “Well no one stopped me on my way here to ask if I heard about such-and-such last night, so I assume you didn’t do anything too stupid. You and Gai-sensei get up to some…strange antics.”

Kakashi looked a little grumpy when he finally raised his head, his eyes squinting at Shikamaru as if the hangover was all his fault. “That depends on what you consider ‘stupid’. Your questions yesterday put ideas in my head and evidently I have no impulse control when I’m four bottles of sake down the drain.” He lifted one arm to wave it vaguely in his assistant’s direction. “I got a tattoo. I don’t even remember getting it but it was there when I woke up, still bleeding a little because apparently drunk me doesn’t remember proper ink care.” His eyes rolled, stopping when he winced in pain.

Shikamaru stared at him with wide, blinking eyes. Warning signals and flashing lights were going off in his brain and he had to try very hard to make words come out in a coherent fashion when he tried to speak.

“You – a tattoo, sir? Of what?” He didn’t expect Kakashi to look away sheepishly, one hand awkwardly rubbing at the opposite wrist.

“It’s a little sappy,” Kakashi said. “I might not remember getting it but I can certainly tell what it’s supposed to mean. If you don’t mind, I’d rather keep it to myself.”

“Does it…does it look like this, by any chance?” Shikamaru asked, tugging up his mesh sleeve. As soon as Kakashi’s eyes fell on his echo, he knew. It was obvious what the answer was and he could honestly say he had never seen this coming.

His soulmate was Hatake Kakashi. The man that he had spent most of his time with for the past four years was the one he had been searching for all his life, the one that had marked him before he’d even been born. Kakashi seemed in a daze as he stumbled out of his chair and came cautiously towards the younger ninja. He said nothing until they were face to face, his fingers reaching out and stopping just short of Shikamaru’s wrist.

“Do you know the language of flowers?” he asked, his voice nearly a whisper. Shikamaru shook his head. That was Ino’s expertise, not his. Kakashi swallowed. “Anemone flowers have two meanings. Fading hope and a feeling of being forsaken. I’ve been alone…a very long time. But they also symbolize anticipation. No matter how many years went by I still wished – hoped – that someday I would find them. Find…you.”

His dark eyes rose to meet Shikamaru’s own, and the Nara stared back with parted lips.

“And the chain?” he asked. He saw the mask before him twitch in a brief smile.

“I may have been, ah, slightly melodramatic in insisting that I was ‘forever chained to my village’ but that I would more than happily ‘chain myself to my soulmate’ when I found them.” Kakashi shrugged as his cheeks flushed. “I’m not a very sophisticated drunk.”

Shikamaru couldn’t help it. He began to laugh. He had pictured finding his soulmate so many times and in the end it wasn’t what he had imagined at all. He couldn’t find it in him to be disappointed though, not when things made so much sense. Kakashi was one of the few people he had ever met that could be called his intellectual equal. They had fallen in to conversation and ignored their work so many times because they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, much to many people’s surprise. Not to mention, the man was fairly easy on the eyes. Shikamaru had admitted that to himself a long time ago.

Kakashi didn’t seem to mind his laughter. He simply stood and watched with a strangely longing look in his eye. When Shikamaru managed to calm down, chuckles still slipping out, he realized that the older man was waiting to see what he thought of their match. Kakashi was a cautious person, he wasn’t the type to make a move forward unless he was certain that it would be well received.

“Do you play shogi, Kakashi?” he asked.

“I do.” His Hokage nodded. “It’s been a while but I used to enjoy playing with the Third sometimes.”

“Would you like to join my family for dinner tonight? We could play a few times. I’d like to see what your style is.” Shikamaru knew very well that neither of them were the type to leap right in to things. It wouldn’t make Kakashi comfortable and Shikamaru was still fairly young. There would be plenty of getting-to-know-each-other before there were any thoughts of spending their lives together the way most soulmates did.

Kakashi cleared his throat. “I would like that,” he said.

Shikamaru looked down at the echo encircling his wrist, tracing it for perhaps the hundredth time that morning.

“Yeah. I’d like that too.”

Chapter Text

It had been there all her life, sitting in the corner of her vision or pacing the walls of whatever room she was in. It looked like a lynx, although how she knew that she couldn’t have said. Konan had never seen a real lynx in her life. No one but her could see this one and it had a habit of laying down in public walkways for people to stroll right through its incorporeal body. Konan usually had the impression that the lynx was exasperated with her for some reason, though she wasn’t sure why. It liked to dash enthusiastically through doorways when it saw she was leaving a room, taking off in one direction only to circle back and glare disapprovingly at her when she turned the other way.

Konan was twenty-five when she decided that enough was enough. She had a good job and a good amount of money in the bank. Her boss agreed almost thoughtlessly when she put in for vacation time and Konan felt no guilt over how vague she was when discussing how long she would be gone for.

The lynx was waiting for her at the door when she left her apartment the next morning, backpack in hand. She paused to lock the door and then turned to the animal, a brilliant vision of gold and white that only grew more translucent with time.

“Well?” she demanded. “Which way?”

Seemingly delighted – and not a little relieved that it was finally getting its way – the lynx bounded off in a generally northern direction. Konan followed.

The next few weeks were a strange journey for her. Her destination was unknown and the direction of her travel was entirely at the whim of a creature which might very well be a figment of her imagination. When she was young she hadn’t ever dared to ask anyone at the orphanage whether they saw creatures too, but she knew that no one ever saw her lynx but her. Either way it seemed to be taking her in a northerly direction, occasionally tracking a little east. She travelled mostly by foot, sometimes hitching a ride with someone on the longer stretches of highway. She stayed in hostels and hotels, bedding down for the night with one hand off to the side, reaching for iridescent fur but never quite touching.

When she got where she was going she didn’t know it at first. She had slept in a hotel the night before, affording her the chance to shower and change in to fresh clothing. She felt ready to go, to move, to discover. But she knew that something felt different the moment she stepped on to the streets of whatever city they had wandered in to.

Her lynx seemed full of barely contained energy, rushing ahead of her in leaps and bounds and circling back as if to ask why she wasn’t hurrying as well. It gave her an anxious feeling as if she were about to miss something. It made her walk faster and faster until she was jogging through the streets, dodging cars and lurching around pedestrians in a bid to get to wherever she needed to be. Her lynx dashed straight through the crowds, staying just within her sight and urging her on.

It was nearly noon when it happened and Konan was exhausted after running for hours non-stop, the unfounded worry in her chest not letting her slow even for a minute. She thought nothing of it when they turned down in to an abandoned subway station, racing down the steps two and three at a time. Her lynx ran only a few feet in front of her until they came tearing around a corner to see the almost empty train platform. Then it burst forward and she witnessed the single most incredible sight she had ever seen, one she would never forget.

There was only one other person on the platform: a man with messy red hair and a large suitcase at his feet. As she turned the corner she saw, to her astonishment, a shining maned fox leap away from the man’s feet and rush out to meet her lynx companion. The stranger gave a low cry and reached out in surprise. He could see the fox, he was trying to call it back. Konan watched the two ethereal spirits race headlong towards each other until they crashed together in a brilliant explosion of light, wisps of white and gold and red drifting through the air. When she blinked the spots out of her vision her lynx was gone, along with the stranger’s maned fox. Neither were anywhere in sight and she somehow knew deep inside of herself that she would never see her guide again.

She looked to the red-head, taking in the muted surprise on his face as he looked around the empty platform. When his eyes fell on her he seemed awed, almost reverent. She stood still and let him come towards her, strangely aware of how sweaty and rumpled she must be. So much for that shower.

“My soulmate,” the man murmured when he made his way to her. “I knew you would find me some day. The damn fox never tried to lead me anywhere, I knew it must be you that finds me.” Konan furrowed her brows.

“Is that what it was for?” It was strange not to feel sad to lose the spirit that had been with her all her life. But she felt so complete now, more content the closer this person stood. She had heard of soulmates, of course; almost everyone had one. But she hadn’t known that her guide was meant to show her the way to hers. If she had she would have followed it sooner!

“My name is Sasori,” the man introduced himself. “I’m a puppeteer and a carpenter. And I’m very pleased to meet you.”

She took a deep breathe in, feeling oddly calm considering all that had happened. “Konan,” she said. “My name is Konan. I work for a law firm.” She wasn’t sure why he felt the need to introduce himself with his job but figured it was polite to follow suit. Perhaps he was just very proud of his line of work.

Sasori looked her up and down, taking in the purple hair that had fallen out of its bun, the origami flower she had made out of a hotel notepad and pinned to her head, and the way she was still breathing too heavily from all the running. Just before she was about to be slightly offended by his silent staring his face spread in to a warm but slightly manic smile.

“I would love to make a puppet of you like this,” he said. “You’re beautiful. You should be immortalized.”

This Sasori, she decided, was a very odd man. But he was her soulmate and he thought she was beautiful enough to be immortalized even when she looked as awful as she surely did right now. So she smiled and held out her hand to him.

“That’s flattering. Tell me about your puppets.”

By the look he gave her she surmised she had asked the right question. Sasori was more than happy to tell her all about his beloved creations. He took her hand and led her to the bench he had been standing next to when she arrived. Then they sat together and talked – and talked and talked and talked. About his life, hers, his dreams, her aspirations. When the train that Sasori had been waiting for arrived they let it pass them by without even a thought for where he had been going.

They had found each other. They were right where they needed to be.

Chapter Text

It was bright here. She had expected that, for some reason, but she hadn’t expected the way that the brightness didn’t seem to affect her eyes. She appeared to be in a place which both was and was not her home. It was her home because she could feel the rightness of that statement in her very bones and the thought of being anywhere else simply didn’t make sense. It was not her home because she knew this building had been destroyed when Pein attacked the village, so many decades ago.

It was similar to the way that she both was and was not herself. She was herself because this face had looked back at her from the mirror all her life, those eyes, that hair, those cheeks, that chin. She was not herself because the last time she had looked in the mirror that hair had been grey and those cheeks had been wrinkled. Now as she caught her own reflection in the glass of the window she could see black curls framing a face smoothed out to how she had looked in her late twenties, the way she had looked the last time she had seen –

The door opened. Kurenai realized she had been standing outside the home and staring, not even moving, for a long time. Now she looked up to see who was coming out to greet her. Perhaps they would tell her where she was and why she couldn’t seem to break this strangely peaceful genjutsu.

Her eyes welled up with tears immediately as they fell upon Asuma. He smiled softly at her, perfectly preserved as she remembered him from all those years ago. His beard was just as pointed and scraggly, his hair just as dark and in need of a comb. His vest was smudged and a lit cigarette puffed a thin line of smoke up from between his lips. With a low cry, Kurenai rushed up the walk and threw herself in to his arms.

“Hey there, it’s alright now,” he said to her. She cried out again as his voice rushed over her like soft soothing waves. She had missed him. Oh she had missed him!

“How?” she whispered, breathing in the half-forgotten scent of ash and bad cologne. She’d always told him to pick a better cologne but he always said he liked this one. She’d bought so many bottles of it after he died just to smell him on her wrists.

Asuma cupped the back of her head and stroked her hair, holding her closely to his chest.

“I told you, I knew the moment we met that we were soulmates.” She pulled back to look at him and he grinned. “Here’s your proof. You’re here, aren’t you?”

“But where is ‘here’?”

“Heaven.” He shrugged. Kurenai looked around, noting the haziness along the edges of the buildings around her, the world slowly modifying itself as it added her memories to his to build them a world in which they could live out the rest of forever together.

Then she laughed. Kurenai tilted her head back and laughed for no reason other than that she was filled with such soul-shaking joy that it couldn’t be borne in silence. Asuma held her until she could breathe again and then he drank the laughter from her lips.

“We have a lot to catch up on, don’t we?” he said. “Tell me, our child…?”

“A daughter. Mirai. She looks so much like you, Asuma.” Kurenai’s eyes filled with tears again as she thought of the daughter she had left behind in the world of the living.

“You’ll have to tell me all about but first I have something to say to you.” Asuma smiled at her in a way that would have made the whole world fall away had she not already reached her eternal rest.

“Asuma?”

“Welcome home, love.”

Chapter Text

He didn’t really notice at first what was happening and no matter what his brother said it wasn’t because he was an unobservant, distractible idiot. It was because he was nervous. It wasn’t every day that you travelled to another land to meet your future bride. Their union was going to cement their alliance with Uzushiogakure, bonding the Senju clan to the Uzumaki clan forever. It was supposed to be a happy occasion but Hashirama found himself worried and covering it up by acting even more hyper and silly than usual.

What if he and his bride didn’t get along? What if their personalities didn’t work well together or she was demanding and mean? What if she hated his family and tried to make him spend less time with his brother? What if he didn’t find her attractive in the least and found it difficult to make attempts to produce an heir for his bloodline? Tobirama certainly wouldn’t be producing any heirs anytime soon, not when he was sneaking off at night to snuggle up to a certain Uchiha.

With these worries bowing his head it took almost two days of their journey for him to notice the world around him. When he did it took about an hour of squinting at the trees that passed him by, knowing that something looked different but unsure exactly what it was, to figure it out. When it came to him he stopped walking, causing the clan elder directly behind him to walk right in to his back. He barely noticed the dusty, scolding voice.

“Brother?” Tobirama leapt down from the trees he had been hopping through, avoiding the inane chatter of their procession. “Is everything alright?”

“The colors, they’re different.” Hashirama marveled at the bush to his left. It wasn’t a significant difference, not yet. But that was definitely not a shade he had ever experienced before. His brain automatically catalogued it as red even though he’d seen these flowers before it had always seemed a faded pinkish-grey.

Tobirama perked up. “The colors? Are they getting brighter?” Hashirama nodded frantically, ignoring the murmuring of those who had stopped to watch him as he knelt and reached out to touch the flowering bush. Even the green was more vibrant, a wonderful earthy color.

“I’ve never seen them like this,” he breathed.

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Tobirama said gently, kneeling at his side. Hashirama gave him a sly smile, momentarily distracted. Touka was going to pitch a fit when she found out that he’d just won their bet. What else would have Tobirama slipping in to the Uchiha compound so often other than the lure of a soulmate? His smile faded as quickly as it had come.

“I wish I didn’t have to get married,” he said. “I wish I could find them and bring them home and be happy, like you are.” He caught the slight blush on his brother’s cheeks and rolled his eyes. “Oh come on, you don’t think I’ve noticed how much happier you’ve been lately? I might be an oaf but I’m not stupid.”

The younger man harrumphed and stood up, walking away. Hashirama caressed the bush one last time, picking a single red flower before he stood too and continued leading their procession towards Uzushiogakure. He would press it and keep it and perhaps someday he would see its true shade again.

It took six more days to reach their destination and with each one the world around Hashirama bloomed in more and more beautiful clarity. The constant grey coating he had lived with his entire life fell away until the colors were so sharp they almost brought tears to his eyes with their beauty. They lifted his heart even as he felt it withering inside his chest. With every day it seemed more and more likely that his soulmate lived in the Land of the Eddies and he wondered if he would have to meet them, only to be forced to walk away from them. He dreaded the journey home when he would have to watch the colors slowly fade away again, step by step.

He was slightly cheered by the beauty of Uzushiogakure itself. The city was a marvel just for its architecture but the gardens were incredible as well. Even if he hadn’t been able to see the colors with the brightness he did right then he still would have be in awe of the flora this city grew on every street corner. He knew his sibling was looking forward to the seals knowledge that could be gained here but he himself was excited to ask if they could bring home some seeds. He hoped some of these plants would grow in his own country.

The village leader greeted him in the main plaza, in full view of the gathered crowds. Hashirama and his clansmen bowed to him and received the same honor in return. Then the aged gentleman swept his arm to one side.

“Senju Hashirama,” he said in a resonant voice, “may I present to you the flower of my house, the jewel of our village. My daughter and your bride, Uzumaki Mito.”

The formal guard parted to allow a tall woman to pass between them, her chin held defiantly high and her eyes narrowed in a sharp expression. When she and Hashirama laid eye upon each other, however, both of them froze in place, staring in rapturous wonder. Hashirama had never seen a red so brilliant as her hair, nor a face so beautiful as hers. She put all else in this poor world to shame, shining so brightly he half hoped she might blind him that he would never have to look at anything else ever again. She seemed to give off a strange, effervescent glow that captivated him instantly.

Mito recovered first, a small secretive smile stealing across her perfectly painted lips. She came towards him, each step a study in elegance and grace, and curtsied only exactly deep enough to show him the proper amount of respect, not a hair deeper.

“Husband,” she greeted him. Hashirama nearly choked on his tongue. Her voice!

“H-hi! I’m Hashirama!” He gave her a little wave with wiggling fingers, resisting the urge to cringe when he heard Tobirama smack a palm to his own face with despair. “You are…exquisite,” he couldn’t stop himself from saying. Her smile widened in to a pleased expression.

“And you are honest,” she replied. “How refreshing. Father, marry us.”

The village leader sputtered and gave her an incredulous look.

“Mito, my flower, the ceremony is not for another week,” he protested, backed up by the muttering of the elders of both clans. She sniffed delicately.

“You will marry us today. Now.” When he continued to splutter she gave him a sharp look that softened when she turned it upon Hashirama. One small hand appeared from the folds of her elaborate kimono to touch the edges of the Senju’s jaw. “I’ve found my soulmate and I don’t wish to wait a week. Marry us.”

Hashirama fought not to swoon as her feet. She was a delicate flower forged with a core of steel. She was magnificent! From the look on her face she seemed to know he felt that way and approved of his reaction immensely.

While her father collected himself and haltingly began the sermon for a traditional marriage by their customs, Hashirama took both of Mito’s hands in his own, staring in to her eyes with childlike wonder. She would be beautiful even without color, he decided, even if she were all grey or only black and white. Still, he was sad for every person who would never experience her true splendor. He was glad, too, that she would travel to his home with him so they could experience those colors together.

Chapter Text

Tenzou didn’t have a lot of friends. Actually that statement was misleading. Really Tenzou only had one friend but Kakashi-senpai was busy quite often with the solo missions assigned to him that the rest of the team didn’t get to go on. When that happened Tenzou was usually left alone. He had only joined ANBU a few weeks ago and so far he didn’t quite fit in as well as he would like to. Growing up in ROOT had stunted his social skills and his ability to connect with fellow human beings. Kakashi-senpai helped when he could but he wasn’t that great at it himself, to be frank.

To help himself get more acquainted with the ins and outs of social interactions Tenzou had started taking D-rank missions around the village on his days off. It wasn’t as if helping to plant a field or chasing after a cat gave him a bunch of trouble. He found he enjoyed speaking to the civilians that he did most of these chores for. Most of them seemed to think he was just another fourteen year old genin and he kind of liked the normal feeling that gave him.

Today’s task was to paint a fence and Tenzou had spent the first hour of his mission simply chatting with the old woman who had hired him. She was wonderfully friendly, chittering on about how her husband used to paint the fence every year and she had tried to keep up since he died but she was getting a little old to do it herself now. Tenzou had been painting for somewhat over two hours and he was coated head to toe in little dots of blue paint that kept flicking off his brush. He was also wearing the biggest smile he could remember wearing in a long time because this was fun. Getting messy was fun.

“You missed a spot,” a familiar voice told him from just over his shoulder.

“Senpai!” Tenzou whirled around to see his only friend standing there, his ANBU gear a little dirty but free of blood and his mask clipped on to his belt. Another boy about his own age stood next to him, bringing both hands up to cover his mouth as he took in the sight of his blue-coated front.

“Alright, I take it back. You didn’t miss a spot, you just got the wrong one instead. You know you’re supposed to be painting the fence, not yourself, right?” Kakashi tilted his masked face while the dark-haired boy next to him muffled his giggles. Tenzou just smiled.

“I’m having fun senpai, don’t be mean!”

Kakashi shook his head and his one visible eye crinkled in that way that usually meant he was smiling. The other boy leaned forward and flicked his fingers against a rather large splotch of blue paint in Tenzou’s hair.

“Well I think the color suit’s you,” he teased. Tenzou blushed. “Hi there. My name is Shisui, what’s yours?”

“Uh…” he looked to Kakashi, still a bit hesitant at using his chosen name. “Tenzou. My name is Tenzou now.” Then he winced a little because he hadn’t meant to add that last bit. Shisui looked intrigued.

“You mean you had a different name before?”

“No, I didn’t have any name before, I just had a code name.” Tenzou blinked in astonishment. He hadn’t meant to say that either! What was wrong with him? Kakashi was giving him a considering look, eye narrowing to look at him in a way that made him feel like he was being sized up for something.

Shisui cocked his head. “Why wouldn’t you have a real name?”

“Because I was a member of ROOT and Danzo-sama said I didn’t need a name to do my job!” Tenzou squeaked and brought a hand up to clap it over his mouth and shut himself up. Out of habit, he used his right hand – the hand still holding a dripping paintbrush. He managed to close his eyes less than a second before the bristles hit his forehead with a loud slop.

He couldn’t see but he could certainly hear the two other boys howling with laughter. Wet paint slid down his face and the paintbrush made a squelching noise as he pulled it away. He stood stock still until a hand carefully took the brush from him and another swiped his saturated bangs off of his face and gently cleaned paint away from his eyes. He stayed as still as possible so none would get rubbed in.

A soft wet cloth was dabbed at his face before someone encouraged him to open his eyes. When he did he saw Shisui there with a grin, holding a rag in one hand and his canteen bottle in the other.

“You alright?” he asked. Tenzou nodded slowly, absolutely mortified to have embarrassed himself like that. Some trained assassin he was, throwing paint in his own face!

“Aw, don’t feel bad,” Shisui said. “Jeez, you look awful!” Both Kakashi and Tenzou gave the dark-haired boy a look that said really?  He flushed a bit. “Uh, I didn’t mean to say that. I meant to say you looked fine. I’m not sure why that slipped out.”

Kakashi was giving them both that contemplative look again, a sly expression slowly creeping over his face, hidden away from them by his convenient mask. He watched the awkward fumbling of his two cute kohai’s for a few moments, basking in their adolescent squirming, then chuckled. He grabbed the canteen from Shisui and pretended to occupy himself with screwing its cap back on.

“Be nice, Shisui. Say it like you mean it this time!”

“Ah, right!” Shisui gave him a startled look then turned back to Tenzou. “You look a right mess!” His face immediately shined a brilliant red. “I didn’t mean to say that, I swear!” Kakashi set off in to laughter again, ignoring Tenzou’s tiny but heated glaring.

“Senpai! What’s so funny?”

“You mean you haven’t notice?” Kakashi said in that teasing, I-know-something-you-don’t-know kind of way. Both younger boys scowled at him.

“Noticed what?” Tenzou asked reluctantly. Kakashi smirked.

“Neither of you seem to be able to lie to the other.”

Shisui and Tenzou stared at him. Then their heads whipped around to stare at each other.  Each thought back over the last couple of minutes, realizing that they had indeed been spouting truths when they had meant to instead tell a polite lie. Then they stood blinking at each other in awe as the implications of what that meant slowly dawned on them both.

Tenzou squealed when Shisui threw arms around him and drew him in to a tight hug. “Shisui! I’m covered in paint! You’re getting dirty!”

“Who cares!?” Shisui crowed. “I’ve got a soulmate!”

“I…yeah.” Unable to think of how to respond, Tenzou found himself returning the embrace. He was surprised by how good it felt, how warm and comforting it was to stand here hugging another person. He wondered if Shisui was the type to hug often because that sounded – well it sounded really nice.

He buried his face in Shisui’s neck and closed his eyes. His only friend, Kakashi-senpai, was here with him. And now he had found his soulmate too. He still had quite a lot of fence left to paint but he didn’t care how long it took. At the end of the day Tenzou was sure he would still be smiling this much.

If this was what true happiness felt like he couldn’t wait to spend the rest of his life with Shisui.

Chapter Text

“You’re always such a reckless idiot, do you know that?” Kiba growled, anger and worry equally obvious in his voice. Naruto winced, half for the scolding and half for the pain, and did his best to look at least sort of sorry. It was hard when he had a hole through his sternum doing its best to leak out all the blood in his idiotic body before Kurama could heal him.

“Better me than you, ‘ttebayo,” he managed to mumble.

Kiba gave him a flat look before going back to his task of trying to staunch the flow of blood.  Sakura was somewhere out of sight. He had called for her a half dozen times already and could only hope that she would show up soon. He was no medic, no matter how much he wished he was at the moment. Naruto coughed, bringing up a thick red froth, and Kiba swallowed harshly.

“Come on, man. You can’t bite it on a stupid mission like this. Just hold on a little longer okay?”

“You didn’t get hurt did you?”

“Are you kidding me?” Kiba shouted. “You jumped in front of that last attack like an idiot. I’ve got a couple of broken ribs maybe but you…you’re such a reckless idiot!”

“You already said that.” Naruto gave him a weak grin, his eyes half lidded and sleepy looking.

Kiba scanned the clearing for any sign of Sakura again. Things were looking worse and worse by the minute and he was starting to think that not even the fox inside his friend would be able to save him this time. Life without this stupid ball of sunshine was not a thought he was willing to entertain. He was in the middle of vowing to himself that he would do whatever it took to keep that from happening when the strangest sense of euphoria came over him, forcing him to stillness.

He fought with the sensation for a moment, struggling to clear his mind. He was distantly aware that something important was happening and that it was rather urgent but the sense of that urgency escaped him. It was like he had become detached from his body, floating in perfect contentedness where pain and worry did not exist.

Though it took a minute or two he finally managed to shake the lassitude away just in time to see Naruto’s eyes sliding shut, a satisfied smile just barely lingering on his lips. Kiba snarled and leaned down over the other teen, pressing his hands to that gaping wound and forcing raw chakra in to him in the hopes that it would help.

“Oh no you don’t,” he growled. “Naruto! What did you do?”

“I thought…I just thought…” Naruto’s voice sounded weak and thready, so unlike himself. “I wished I could take your pain away…you know…?” Kiba stared at him with wide eyes, feeling himself start to tremble. There was no way, right? Naruto sighed, breathing only two more words as he slipped out of consciousness, “Like soulmates…”

Kiba’s heart stuttered in his chest as a scream choked his throat, a half-born noise of terror and rage. Because it was just like Naruto to accidentally find his soulmate while bleeding out from a chest wound and not even really realize it. His chakra flared wildly, waxing and waning as he tried to pour more and more of it into his friend – his soulmate. There was no way he was letting the idiot die here, not when he had just realized they’d been right in front of each other this whole time. Naruto was going to live to get his ass kicked for being so stupid.

So wrapped up in his fear and anxiety and rapidly increasing temper, Kiba never even felt someone approaching until suddenly Sakura was there, kneeling on the opposite side of Naruto’s prone form and pushing his hands away. Her own were already glowing with healing chakra while her voice snapped out rapid instructions for him. He listened instinctively, moved to obey without thought.

“Kiba.”

He looked up to see Sakura staring at him. Only then did he realize that tears were streaming from his eyes, raining down on his shaking hands as he handed over a roll of bandages.

“He’s going to be okay, Kiba,” she said softly.

The bandages fell from his hand, landing softly in her lap and he dropped back on his heels and simply sat there. She gave him a small smile before turning back to her task, seeming as unconcerned by it as a mountain by a breeze.

Kiba scrubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand, fighting with his body to remember how to breathe properly. With Naruto unconscious the pain in his ribs had returned but he couldn’t find it in him to be bothered. The pain was good. It was a sharp contrast to the euphoric state that Naruto’s touch had given him before, a reminder of what he had discovered.

Sakura had said he would be okay and Kiba trusted she was telling him the truth. Naruto would heal as he always did, bounce right back like usual.

Then Kiba was going to shove his head up his own ass for making him worry. Maybe afterwards he would point out that they were soulmates. If he was feeling generous.

Chapter Text

Sasori hated that stupid piece of clay. He’d been born with it clenched in his fist the same as everybody else had and he hadn’t hated it then. No, he had learned to hate it in the orphanage. He learned to hate it when his life was darkness and misery and that stupid lump of clay would mold itself into a boy caught mid-run, a child leaping for joy, always colored with happy shades of fun, excitement, amusement. Whoever his soulmate was they were having the time of their life and here he was, stuck in some dark hole with a Matron who hated him and fellow children who mocked him for sleeping with a doll.

So yes, Sasori hated that stupid lump of clay. He never understood why he couldn’t simply leave it behind. He should have shoved it in a closet somewhere, hidden it under the floorboards like so many other angry orphans. Instead it sat at his bedside. When he turned eighteen and aged out, Sasori found himself a crappy job and a dirt-cheap apartment and set his lump of clay at his bedside. Lately it had begun to take on the shapes of small bags or little clocks. What those two things had in common he had no clue but they still appeared in shades of amusement and excitement. He still hated it.

There were days he would come home to find his clay shaped like a reaching hand, colored for longing and wistfulness. On his own worst days the clay would shape itself in to a smiling face and assume the colors of comfort. He supposed that, somewhere, his soulmate must be seeing his own emotions and trying to comfort him in what small ways they could. He would only ever scowl. What did they know of sadness, this happy person who had never gone a full day without producing the colors of joy?

He was twenty-one years old when Sasori found himself somehow mixed up with the wrong side of the law.

His shitty job earned him shitty pay and he could afford very little other than groceries. But for the last three weeks he had been working overtime, picking up shifts for a coworker who had gone on vacation. Today he had just a little bit extra money and he knew just what he wanted to do with it: put it in the bank! There was nothing better than knowing he had money in the bank, in that savings account that sometimes almost closed by default because it had been empty for too long. He was excited to finally have something to put in it and hoped he would have enough money to not need to touch it for at least a few months.

Sasori had deposited his precious extra money and was making his way through the atrium when an explosion went off, rocking the ground beneath his feet and sending him tumbling to the floor.

The next thing he knew he was being used as a hostage, long blonde hair obscuring his vision as someone wrapped their arm around his neck and leaned over him to shout at the tellers. Hysterically, his mind noted that this person had a rather pleasant voice. He was terrified when they decided to take him along to use as a human shield, insurance so the cops won’t follow them. Sasori was a human being and the police wouldn’t shoot if he was in the line of fire. But he was also a good-for-nothing nobody and they weren’t going to put much effort in to finding him. Sasori wondered if his captors knew just how lucky they were to choose the perfect hostage.

They released him inside their van, allowed him to scuttle back in to one corner and huddle there to watch them with terrified eyes. He was flabbergasted to see that the blonde one who had captured him was no older than himself. He was grinning widely, tossing a plastic wrapped package back and forth. One of the other ones waved their hands in the air frantically.

“Deidara! Stop playing with that!” the girl snapped. The blonde young man laughed derisively.

“It’s fine, right? I’m the expert on making things go boom and, believe me, I have no interest in going boom myself.” He tossed the package up in the air, catching it with the same hand. “This isn’t even armed anyway.”

Sasori brought his knees up closer to the rest of his body, just hoping that they would continue to ignore him and wondering if this ragtag bunch of idiots even had a plan for what they were going to do with him. That Deidara guy seemed like the loose cannon type, the one who would make things up as he going along. They probably hadn’t even planned on taking a hostage.

His supposition was proved correct when they arrived at an abandoned building turned hideout to be greeted by a giant man with gills tattooed on the sides of his neck and more piercings than should really be necessary. He was also wearing a dark scowl as they all piled out of the van.

“What the fuck? Deidara can you not control yourself? You took a fucking hostage! And you brought him back here with you!?” The man’s voice was a harsh growl and he seemed like he really wanted to take a huge bite out of the blonde guy with those over-sharp teeth that flashed inside his mouth. The only thing that appeared to be holding him back was the hand on his leg, another man languishing on a nearby couch, calmly watching television while his arm reached out to absentmindedly stroke down Sharp Tooth’s calf.

“Screw you, un!” Deidara glared but wasted no energy defending himself, only looked away to finally pay attention to the person whose life he had just turned upside down. “Hm. What to do with you now.”

Sasori was honestly starting to worry about his own brain because the only thing that flashed across his mind right then was that he hoped he would get home in time for his next shift. Missing shifts meant losing money and he did not work that hard just to use up his precious savings the very next month because these idiots kept him from making enough to cover his bills.

More people wandered their way in to the room and soon Sasori found himself on the edge of what looked like a large family debate, his fate being the subject in discussion. There was only one woman in the whole group and she looked more harried than any of the rest of them. Sasori couldn’t tell if it was the one with the orange hair who was in change or if it was the one wearing a weird orange mask but orange was definitely the color of leadership here. Eventually those two seemed to come to the decision that Deidara brought them the problem (he really didn’t appreciate being referred to as a problem) so Deidara should be the one to take care of him (like he was some sort of pet).

He managed to hold his tongue as he was led away by a grumbling blond. The building they were in appeared to be an old warehouse of some kind, repurposed in to a base for nefarious purposes. The hallways were short and complicated and he lost track of how many turns they took before he found himself closed in to a messy bedroom, standing awkwardly by the door while Deidara flopped on the bed.

“Make yourself at home, un,” Deidara offered magnanimously. Sasori blinked and looked around.

There were posters on the wall and strange tools on a desk in the corner. Bits of wire and tubing and things he didn’t know how to properly identify sat in organized containers, at direct odds with the state of chaos the rest of the room was in. Clothes hung out of a short dresser shoved against the far wall and gathered in piles on the floor. The top of the dresser was completely cleared off but for a familiar lump of clay, currently shaped like a cat sniffing its surroundings and shaded with the colors of curiosity and caution.

Sasori stopped dead, staring at the clay which seemed to call for him, beckoning to him on a frequency only he could hear. As he watched the cat disappeared, replaced instead with a wooden doll standing stiffly upright and fading in to the color of shock. Impossible. Deidara hadn’t been paying very much attention to him but his head shot up when Sasori moved forward, hand reaching out to touch the clay.

“Hey!” the blond shouted. “Don’t touch that!”

“But it’s mine!”

“Are you stupid? That’s mine!”

“No, I mean–” Sasori fumbled for words, Deidara’s hand pressed to his chest to keep him at a respectable distance. “I mean that it’s for me. It represents me. I mean that I think I’m your–”

“Soulmate,” Deidara finished for him.

The two of them stood there staring at each other, Deidara blinking owlishly before squinting at him like he thought he might be lying. Sasori only stared back in wonder.

“You think you’re my soulmate.” For a moment Sasori feared the other might not believe him, then suddenly Deidara’s face lit up with a brilliant smile. “That’s so cool, un! What’s your name? Where are you from? Do you wanna stay?”

“Stay?”

“Yeah, stay here with us. The Akatsuki’s great. They picked me up off the streets when I was really little and they let me blow stuff up all the time. It’s awesome!”

He was being offered a home, he realized, a place to come home to and people to belong with. Sasori thought about his shitty apartment and his shitty job, alone in some shitty corner of their broken city. He looked around the room, seeing Deidara’s poorly kept but high quality things. Then he looked at the lump of clay, hesitant but hopeful. When he smiled he watched it light up with the colors of peace and happiness, taking on the shape of a tiny little house. A home.

“That sounds nice,” he said.

Deidara threw one arm around his shoulders and started talking a mile a minute about how they could find out what he’s good at and what he liked to do so that he could contribute to the Akatsuki in whatever way made him happy.

Sasori let him talk, the smile on his face feeling new and foreign, and made a mental note that he would need to stop by the apartment and pick up his stupid lump of clay. He couldn’t imagine being without it, just as he suddenly couldn’t imagine being without Deidara.

Chapter Text

They called it the Finder’s Festival, the only day each year that a person was able to find their soulmate. Each village held a festival on this night; wars were set aside and differences forgotten for this one day while people all over the nations sought out the other half of themselves.

Madara had faithfully attended each and every occurrence of the festival since he was first old enough to understand what it was. He could remember toddling between the legs of the adults, hand in hand with his twin, Obito, giggling at the blue light that hovered just over his right shoulder. He remembered that it was only two years after that when Obito had said his own light was moving, rushing ahead. Madara had chased it with him, unable to see it because it wasn’t his own but happy to run with him anyway. At the end of their chase they had found a pretty little girl with purple markings on her cheeks and a smile just for Obito.

His twin was gone now and his soulmate as well. Madara still came to the festival though, alone but hopeful. He wanted that joy, that feeling of completeness that Obito had tried time and again to describe to him, always in different words. Every year he made sure to dress with care to look his best for the moment he would meet the person he was meant to be with.

And every year he spent the night wandering through the crowds, a deep blue wisp of light perched calmly on his shoulders. That the wisp was there meant his soulmate was still alive somewhere. That it never moved or tried to lead him somewhere meant that whoever it was they were nowhere near him. Each time the festival ended at midnight and Madara returned to his lonely empty home, the hope inside him eroded just a little bit more and a little bit more.

He had tried travelling. He was a shinobi of Konoha, one of the best they had, so it wasn’t really difficult to plan to be near another village when that time of year came around. He had spent one night in Kiri, another in Iwa. He had spent one year wandering through the small villages along the borders of Fire Country, staying only long enough to note that his wisp was not moving before running to the next one.

Every year he thought to himself, “This is it. This is the year. I will meet my soulmate tonight.” Every year he was disappointed.

Madara was wearing a new yukata tonight. He hadn’t bought himself anything new in a long time but it seemed like the right time to splurge. It wasn’t like he didn’t have the money. But the blue color of it had caught his eye, almost a perfect match to the color of his little wisp, and he hadn’t been able to resist. His long mane of hair had taken hours to brush and he had needed the help of a clone to secure it in to a high tail near the crown of his head. In his own opinion he looked damn good as he wandered through the town’s main square.

There were booths set up where newly matched soulmates could sit together once they met and have refreshments brought to them. There were games for folk to play as the night wore on. Madara ignored each of these. He spotted Asuma and Kurenai, some of his classmates from years ago when they had all gone through the academy together. They had been matched even back then but he still saw them at the festival each year, celebrating the love that was still strong between them.

A light tinkling noise just beside his ear made him frown and turn around. It sounded like tiny bells. He didn’t see anything and made to shrug and walk away when he noticed – his wisp was gone! Frantic, his head swung from side to side in search of it. It couldn’t be gone!

He stopped when his eyes spotted it, dancing and weaving through the air a few feet ahead of him. It was moving! It was moving! Madara had never felt an exhilaration quite like he did now as he rushed forward, reaching out as if he might be able to catch the tiny blue light between his fingers. Strangers moved out of his way with gentle smiles as he ran faster and faster, his wisp staying always just a few feet ahead. It led him out of the square and towards where the Hokage Tower rose above the other rooftops, marking the very center of the village.

He grinned as he raced along, weaving through crowds where he could and using chakra to leap over top of them when he couldn’t. He had nearly reached the Tower when the small light he was following veered off ever so slightly, taking him towards the large building right next door and causing a knot of worry to grow in Madara’s gut. This was the hospital. His soulmate was in the hospital? He prayed they were only a doctor or visiting an injured friend.

His hopes were dashed when the wisp bounced and tinkled its way towards the emergency rooms. Madara’s progress was halted by a pair of ANBU barring his way.

“You can’t go in Uchiha-san,” the one with the rat mask said. Madara growled.

“But my wisp…” He trailed off. It wasn’t necessary to finish his sentence anyway, everyone knew what it went when a person was trying to follow their wisp. The two guards gave each other a long look.

“Just opening the door and peeking in wouldn’t hurt,” the bear mask murmured. “You know the Captain always leaves the village this time of year. He fought tooth and nail against coming back. Maybe…”

Madara was nearly gasping with gratitude as Rat turned to him with a stern finger. “Just one look, okay?” He nodded frantically. He could take these two idiots in less than a heartbeat if he really wanted to but it was always better to do things with permission rather than get in trouble for his temper again. He watched his wisp flutter about right at the crack between the two doors, feeling as eager himself to see inside.

Rat pushed the door open and Madara lunged around him, his eyes following the blue wisp so intently that he almost missed the activity inside. Attendants rushed two and fro while four medics sat in seiza on the corners of a massive seal. In the center of that seal lay the focus of their attention, a man Madara knew of quite well. Hatake Kakashi had been the teammate of his twin brother and was the subject of quite a lot of dark gossip. Kakashi was still wearing the remnants of his ANBU armor, what little of it had not been crushed in what must have been a massive attack. His form was coated in blood from head to toe, soaking the scraps of mask that clung stubbornly to his face and dyeing his silver hair in to a parody of an Uzumaki’s coloring.

Madara felt the tension in his gut coil and clench as he watched his wisp dart around the heads of the medics. Above Kakashi’s chest there floated a bright red light, a wisp of his own. It moved sluggishly towards Madara’s until they met and danced, butting up against each other in the motions of a bonding ritual that Madara had only read about before, never seen.

He had pictured meeting his soulmate a hundred times over but never had he pictured it like this. Every year he had dressed himself up and waited in the town square, picturing the kind of happy discovery that he saw happening around him time and time again. He never would have thought it would be like this instead, watching his soulmate bleed out while their wisps danced and the medics screamed. He didn’t even realize he was heaving until Bear pulled him back and roughly shoved his head over top of a convenient potted plant just in time for him to bring up the small dinner he had eaten.

“He’s dying,” he choked out once he was able, wiping his mouth with the back of one hand.

“He’ll pull through,” Rat said, sounding much too confident for the carnage they had just witnessed. “The Captain is strong. He’s made it through worse.”

Madara had seen worse on the battlefield, had done worse to others himself. Yet in this moment he couldn’t imagine it. In this moment nothing in the world could possibly seem worse than what was going on just on the other side of those two innocuous wooden doors. The two guards saw where his eyes were drawn and shifted their stances, their body language making it clear that he was not welcome to take a second look.

When he became aware of the wobbling of his knees he realized that perhaps it would be a good idea to simply do what was asked of him and stay out of the way. He stumbled to the benches that lined the hall and tried not to collapse too obviously. Then he settled in, his mind already digging trenches and setting up a perimeter. He was going to stay here until Kakashi’s fate was decided one way or another. There was absolutely no way he could stand to leave without knowing if his soulmate were going to live or not. Rat and Bear resumed their silent guard and he was glad that neither of them tried to convince him to leave. It would have been a pointless fight.

It was over an hour before the medics slowly staggered out of the room, their success written in the tired but triumphant smiles on their faces, the faces of people who had saved a life today. Madara blocked their way, demanded news, and was met with suspicious glares until Rat spoke up quietly.

“It’s the Captain’s soulmate.”

Four words and the expressions on each face changed drastically. The three women cooed and one of them reached out towards him in a sympathetic manner. He managed to avoid their touch with a dangerous scowl while the male medic simply shook his head.

“Hatake-san is being taken to recovery right now,” the man said. “I will have someone notify you when it’s okay to visit him.”

There was no question as to whether he would still be here or not and Madara was glad. Of course he would still be here. Where else could he possibly wish to go? Madara was not exactly unknown to the people of this village so he wasn’t surprised when the medic didn’t ask for his name before herding his coworkers off down the hall. The two ANBU guards flickered away to guard their fallen teammate, wherever he might be now. Madara sank back down to the bench. He felt deflated, like a balloon with all the air let out right when it was supposed to bring joy. It was an apt metaphor for how his day had gone so far.

The hours seemed to crawl by as slowly as they possibly could. The festival started at midnight and it would end again at midnight, but at that moment it was barely past noon and Madara was sitting there in his new, spotless yukata waiting for a man who only a short while ago was bleeding to death on the emergency room floor. It wasn’t how he usually spent this day. The conscience buried deep inside of him was happy to note that there didn’t seem to be anyone else here today. The emergency room was quiet, free of patients other than a few civilians, each with their partner by their side, and one small child with a broken leg being fussed over by both parents. A small part of him was happy for them all that they had their partners with them. He was not, however, an inherently good person and that part of him was very small. The rest of him was jealous.

Alone without its partner, his blue light flittered around the edges of the room, trying hard to convince him to follow to where his soulmate would be. Not doing so was probably the hardest thing he’d ever done but he managed, keeping himself in his seat by willpower alone.

He was about ready to breathe fire in his impatience by the time a terrified looking young genin came to fetch him. The young boy informed him that visitors for Hatake Kakashi could now see him in room 316, then he fled as if all the demons of hell were snapping at his heels. Madara spared him no thought as he immediately headed for the stairs.

The halls blurred around him as he flew through them until he was standing outside of room 316, a tuft of white hair all that was visible through the tiny window in the door. He turned the handle and let himself inside, standing in the doorway as he took in the sight before him.

The first thing he noticed, of course, was the little red wisp that jangled and bounced, rushing towards him with the happy tinkling sound of little bells and so much more energy than before. His own wisp rushed to meet it, twirling about each other in midair until the sound of their bells harmonized in to a single sound. Despite the tightness in his chest it put a smile on his face as he looked down at the young man in the bed. They’d given Kakashi a medical mask to replace his usual one and if it weren’t for the bandages covering most of his torso he could have been sleeping. Madara had never seen him without his headband before. In its absence his silver hair fell around his face in soft waves that made the Uchiha’s fingers itch to touch.

Madara pulled up an uncomfortable plastic chair and settled in to it to wait. Patience had never been his strong suit but he would wait here for as long as was necessary.

--

Kakashi regained consciousness to a throbbing in his chest. Which was a small miracle, he thought, because he’d thought he wouldn’t wake at all and to be honest he was just glad that it wasn’t a headache this time. He usually woke to a head pounding with chakra exhaustion after being injured so having the pain move somewhere else was at the very least an interesting change of pace.

It took a bit to convince his eyes to open. He might not be chakra exhausted but he did appear to be pretty deep in the drugs, if the stuffed cotton feeling in his limbs was anything to go by. His first impression was that he was in the hospital but that wasn’t exactly surprising. His second impression was that it must be late in the day. The window in the room allowed gold and orange light to paint the ceiling above him in ever shifting patterns, hinting at the beginning of sunset.

What he couldn’t explain was the soft sound of tinkling bells just outside of his field of vision. Kakashi avoided moving his head and allowed only his eyes to roll to one side, trying to find the source of the noise. What he found nearly stopped his heart.

He’d know Uchiha Madara for years, took classes at the academy with him, spent years on the same genin team as the man’s twin, heard the rumors of his growing prowess in battle. He’d wondered sometimes over the years why Madara didn’t join ANBU but they hadn’t spoken since Obito’s funeral when they were both twelve so he hadn’t asked. Now Madara was sitting at his bedside with his hands cupped in front of him, smiling softly at the two wisps that were dancing with each other in his palms. Each synchronized move of the two wisps elicited a quiet tinkling and a happy little twitch of Madara’s lips.

Kakashi had spent his entire life avoiding the Finder’s Festival, right from the year he had made his first kill and his wisp had turned red like the blood that covered his hands. It was the year his father had died and Kakashi had found the body. It was the year he had sworn off emotions and promised himself that he would be the perfect shinobi. He had only seemed to become more blood soaked with each year that passed and the red color of his wisp seemed to mock him for it. He was a monster, a taint. He didn’t deserve a soulmate and he honestly believed that in finding his he would disappoint them, ruin them somehow.

Yet, there was Madara, quietly watching the bonding dance with no fear and no sadness. He looked happy.

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”

Kakashi blinked when Madara spoke, his eyes darting around to room to see who the other man was talking to. When his eyes returned to Madara he was met with two black eyes looking directly at him. Under that gaze, he found he had no idea what to say. He nodded.

“Before we say anything else you should know that the moment you are healthy I am dragging you out to one of the training grounds so I can beat you right back in to a hospital bed.” Madara’s light tone was at complete odds with the fire in his eyes. “You’ve avoided me quite long enough and I will not stand for any more of that.”

“Uh…” Kakashi floundered for something to say and still came up blank.

“However, just so you don’t get the wrong impression-“ Madara’s features softened and Kakashi’s mouth went dry “-I am happy to find you. Would you like to hold them?”

“I…yes.” He didn’t realize until he said it but he did. He did want to hold them. He’d been running away from this his whole life and now that it had caught up to him in his sleep he found…he didn’t mind.

His body didn’t seem to want to respond enough for him to hold out his arm so instead Kakashi rolled his hand over so it lay palm up on the bed. Madara leaned forward and laid his own cupped hands on top of Kakashi’s, making his skin tingle at the contact, then slowly worked his hands out from underneath to leave the two wisps jingling away just above Kakashi’s skin. They were beautiful, he noted. He’d never thought of his wisp as beautiful. He’d always seen it as a bad omen.

“So-” Madara began, only for Kakashi to quickly cut him off.

“I’m sorry.” He met Madara’s startled eyes, then quickly looked away. “I’m really sorry.”

“We’ll have plenty of time to talk about it later.” There was a subtle hint of ‘or else’ under Madara’s words but instead of being scared Kakashi was fighting back a grin. “So. There is…something…”

They may not have been very close but Kakashi knew enough about Madara to know that he was not usually the type for hesitating. Whatever it was he wanted to say it must have been very important to him. With that in mind, Kakashi waited patiently for him to gather his thoughts, his eyes tracing the shape of his soulmate’s face and taking in his appearance for the first time. He was all dressed up for the festival, wearing a yukata that matched the color of his dark blue wisp. His typically unruly hair was calmed and pulled back in to a high tail that fell down his back and pooled between him and the chair he sat on. He looked nice, very nice.

Madara cleared his throat and Kakashi returned his eyes to the other man’s face, rapt with attention and very startled to see a bit of color on those high cheekbones.

“There is something I wanted to do when I found my soulmate and you’ve made me wait so I think it’s only fair that you don’t – that you allow me this. Yes?” He was speaking just fast enough to make it obvious that he was nervous all of a sudden.

Kakashi nodded wordlessly. That sounded fair, he supposed, and he had to admit that the way the other man was acting had him curious. He was not at all prepared for Madara to lean forward and kiss him, warm lips molding perfectly against his own through the thin hospital mask he hadn’t even registered he was wearing. Now he was cursing it in the back of his mind.

So surprised was Kakashi that he couldn’t stop the small groan that escaped him. He thought maybe he could blame it on the drugs but the way he arched up in to the other man, trying fruitlessly to get closer, that was all him. The kiss shattered his defenses, leaving him reeling and he was barely able to stop from making a piteous whine of protest when Madara pulled away. He wanted to demand that he come back to finish what he had started and damn the fact that he was in a hospital bed barely able to move. Madara seemed to read what he was thinking on his face because the Uchiha chuckled lowly, the sound of it going straight down Kakashi’s spine.

“Consider that an incentive for getting better,” he murmured. Kakashi gurgled a bit before proper words would form.

“Wha- but you said you were just gonna put me right back in here!”

Madara straightened, cupping a hand under the wisps that were still dancing in the air, forgotten in the excitement. “Yes, I am. But if you’re good maybe I’ll kiss it better afterwards.” He gave Kakashi a slow, deliberate wink that had him melting back in to the bed, absolutely unable to hold himself up.

That was pretty good motivation, Kakashi admitted. His punishment promised to be fierce and painful but the promised rewards were sounding more and more worth it. As he looked up in to Madara’s smile, Kakashi thought that if he gave himself the space to, he would probably regret all the years he had wasted when they could have had this a long time ago. Instead, he forced himself to look forwards. His soulmate was Uchiha Madara and if the beginning was any indication of the rest of their lives then Kakashi couldn’t wait to get there.

Chapter Text

When he was little Hashirama had endured a lot of teasing from his age mates in the Senju clan as he was first experimenting with what would become his signature jutsu style. One of the rare people lucky enough to be blessed with a soul tree and he invented Wood Style to use in battle? The other children his age had thought it was hilarious and very pathetic, like he was trying too hard to be found. They often accused him of showing off.

Hashirama paid them no mind. He was a dreamer through and through with no time for petty teasing. He dreamed of peace between his best friend’s clan and his own. He dreamed of a village where he would keep his only remaining brother safe. He dreamed of finding his soulmate and he dreamed of falling wildly in love.

Life, however, had a way of being cruel to those who least deserved it. It took many years of strife and heartbreak before his dreams of peace and a village came to be. His little brother remained safe but it took only a few years for his best friend to betray what they had fought for together and force his hand in to battle. When he went to his own death only a handful of years later the thing that made Hashirama most bitter was the fact that he had never found his soulmate. He had married and sired children but the love he had for his wife had been a muted thing, secondary, fleeting. He had loved her for the interim, a way to pass the time until he found the one he was meant to be with.

But he had never found them. Time had passed him by, become years and decades. The tattoo of a tree in the palm of his hand changed with each season and every spring that came with the blooming of blank white blossoms left another stone in his heart. Hashirama passed from this world tired and feeling alone despite the wife that held his hands in his last moments.

He didn’t remember his time in the Pure Lands but he knew that he had died. It was, therefore, quite the shock to step out of a wooden coffin to find himself having been resurrected. He looked to his right to find his brother by his side, cracks in his face and the sclera of his eyes turned black. He scowled at his sibling.

“What did I tell you about this jutsu?” he scolded. “Now look at what’s happened. It’s been turned back on us!” Tobirama looked only a breath away from sticking out his tongue but settled for a glare.

“Oh relax, brother. It’s my jutsu. Of course I know how to counter it!”

The younger man – could he still be called younger? They were both dead after all – went through a simple series of hand signs, which Hashirama repeated very carefully. There was a cry of dismay from behind them which they both ignored in favor of the bright light which encased them and the strangest feeling of being rebuilt from the ground up.

When the light faded Hashirama looked to his brother again. The sclera of his eyes had faded back to white, the cracks were gone from his face, and he seemed to have gone backwards in age. He looked somewhere in his mid-thirties instead of creeping up on sixty as he had been when Hashirama had passed away. He himself felt much more spry than he should have and he guessed that he had also somehow gone backwards in time. Or forwards? Maybe both?

He took a look around himself, trying to get his bearings. They were definitely in Konoha, on the roof of the chūnin exam stadium. None of the faces around him looked familiar until Tobirama identified the aged gentleman in front of them as his old student Hiruzen, which meant that they had indeed been resurrected after quite a bit of time had passed. Hiruzen had gotten old!

The story came out that the student of Tobirama’s student had betrayed his village and had enacted a plan to bring it to ruin. Hashirama sort of took that as a personal offense. He had built this village, thank you, and he was hardly going to sit by and allow it to be destroyed. How dare this tiny worm think to use the founders of this beautiful place to ruin it? He took a childlike glee in running that bastard’s face right in to the ground and wrapping him up in thick, thorny vines.

It took a little time, after that, to get acclimated to life in this innovative, modernized version of the village he knew and loved. He and his brother were given the best housing that was readily available and each were assigned a guide to answer their questions and help them explore this new world.

Hiruzen, he decided, had a sense of humor. It showed in his choice of the people he assigned to the Senju brothers.

Tobirama’s guide was quite probably the only other person in the village who had the same silver colored hair as he did. He would have liked to see if they had the same face as well but Hatake Kakashi wore a mask at all times. The two of them were strangely well matched, both intelligent men who enjoyed silence and books rather than inane chatter or social gatherings.

His own guide was almost like Hiruzen was laughing at him from afar. Tenzou, who insisted he had no clan name, had admitted with an endearing blush on his face that he was the only person in history other than Hashirama himself who was able to use Wood Style jutsu. He refused to say how he had learned it no matter how many times he was asked and was very shy about using it in front of its creator. He seemed to think Hashirama would judge him or be angry or some such nonsense.

Tenzou was the delight of Hashirama’s days. He requested the man’s company even when he truly had no need for him simply to enjoy their wonderful conversations. The man was around the age Hashirama had somehow reverted to. He was calm and collected for the most part, shy and modest. He was also incredibly cute. His large almond eyes were so earnest and so easy to get lost in. His hair, when the wind ruffled it, seemed to call out for Hashirama to run his fingers through it. His smile, which came more and more frequently the more time they spent together, was powerful enough to stop Hashirama’s heart in his chest.

Hashirama was in love. A truer, deeper love than he had ever felt for Mito. He reveled in it. Tobirama tried to tease him for how love struck he was but Hashirama would only look pointedly at Kakashi, lounging yet again in the corner of Tobirama’s work space. At that point his brother would usually shut up and return to his research, trying very hard to pretend he wasn’t flustered. Hashirama would look over and find Kakashi watching him, his eye crinkled in a conspiratorial smile.

It took eight months after being reborn for the first spring to come around. They had arrived in the summer and so caught up in Tenzou was he that Hashirama didn’t even notice the spring equinox passing him by. It wasn’t until Tobirama came to him and quietly showed him the pink blossoms in his palm that he realized he hadn’t given a single thought to his soul tree in weeks. When his brother left to go find Kakashi, Hashirama finally looked at the fist he had made while they spoke, wanting to wait until he was alone to look. He knew what he hoped would be there but what if it wasn’t?

It didn’t matter, he decided. If his soul tree was unchanged he would continue to love Tenzou – and love him he did. He hadn’t said as much yet but he knew what was in his own heart. Hashirama slowly relaxed his fingers, uncurling them one by one. Then he gasped, feeling his heart soar.

Pretty pink petals bloomed in his palm, stretching out across the skin underneath each finger. Tears pricked his eyes as he traced down the brown trunk with his opposite hand, more relieved than he had been in either of his lifetimes, more happy than he had known was possible. There was no doubt in his mind who this mark was for. It could be no one but Tenzou. Filled with excitement and eager to speak to the man that he was certain was his soulmate, Hashirama hurried from his home and headed towards Tenzou’s apartment.

The brunet man opened his front door with a hesitant, hopeful smile. He was cradling one of his hands to his chest and Hashirama beamed upon seeing him, reaching immediately for the hand he was holding so close to himself.

When he turned it over he was delighted to see pink petals upon tanned skin that was almost as dark as his own. Tenzou blushed but did not protest when Hashirama pulled him close.

“I had always dreamed of finding my soulmate someday,” he murmured. “You were certainly worth the wait.”

He brushed their noses together simply for the sheer pleasure of hearing Tenzou’s quiet laughter. Then he ducked in close to taste that laughter upon his lips. It tasted sweet, like happiness and dreams come true.

Chapter Text

Usually it was all but impossible to tell if two people were soulmates unless one asked. For others, however, it was endearingly easy to tell.

The couple across from her definitely fell in to the second category. Sakura kicked her swing back and forth gently as she watched them. Neither of them spoke as they came to a stop on the path not far from the swing set but the silver haired one nodded as if answering a question and gestured to a nearby bench. His black haired companion stumped over on his crutches, prosthetic leg hanging loose at an awkward angle.

The black haired one lowered himself to the bench without help, exhaustion written in every line of his horribly scarred face. The silver haired one – much too young looking to have hair that color - knelt at his feet to fiddle with the prosthetic, adjusting something she couldn’t see. What she could see was how the sitting one’s grimace faded away in to what looked like a reluctant laugh, though no words had passed between them. The kneeling one smiled fondly and waggled his head back and forth. He looked like he was making some sort of point but his lips weren’t moving.

They were communicating inside their heads, passing their voices back and forth directly in to each other’s minds as only soulmates could. Sakura watched with rapt attention. She had spoken silently to her own soulmate a few times, though she didn’t know where they were, and she could only hope that someday she would find them and be as in sync as this couple in front of her so obviously was.

Once the prosthetic leg had been refitted in to the correct position the silver haired one sat on the bench next to his partner, cuddling up in to his side with a soft smile. Then they simply sat and stared in to each other’s eyes. Occasionally an expression would flit across one face or another, reacting to something the other had thought.

Sakura was distracted from the sight by the arrival of two of her friend’s. Naruto claimed the swing next to her while Sasuke look around to see what she was staring at so intently. He made a little surprised hum when he saw the two men.

“Huh. Haven’t seen them in a while.”

Sakura blinked and looked round. “Do you know them?” she asked, a little too excited to hear about a pair of strangers she had never even met. Sasuke nodded.

“The one with the crutches is my cousin Obito. Bad car accident when he was about our age. The other one is his soulmate Kakashi.” He paused, tilting his head. “The universe really knew what it was doing with those two.”

“What do you mean?”

“Obito was born deaf. Kakashi was born a mute. Kakashi’s voice is the only one that Obito will ever hear and Obito is the only one Kakashi can truly speak to. My mom says that sometimes Kakashi will listen to music and play it for Obito in his mind.”

Sakura thought she might cry but she said nothing as Sasuke continued.

“They both know sign language but Kakashi usually speak for them both since Obito’s hands are busy with the crutches. I don’t know much sign language so I don’t talk to them a lot, even when they do make it to the odd family dinner. But I asked him once if he minded Obito’s scars and he said something like ‘Why should I mind? He is beautiful always.’ I dunno they’re just…made for each other.”

“Soulmates are like that, dumbass,” Naruto commented from his swing. Sasuke growled and went over to punch him.

Sakura ignored them both and looked back to the men on the bench, just in time to see them both break out in breathtaking smiles and Kakashi curl down to kiss his partner. Obito leaned in to it and Sakura suddenly realized what it was about these two that had first drawn her eye.

It was how comfortable they were, how confidant and assured. Obito was missing one of his legs, wearing a replacement made from synthetic materials, and half of his face was twisted beyond all recognition. Yet he stood as straight as anyone else, asked for affection from his partner without no fear of whether or not he would receive it. He was comfortable in who he was and not hesitant in his love at all. And Kakashi, bless his heart, he looked at Obito like he was the whole world.

Sakura watched as the pair of them finally stood up again, Obito making his way along on crutches and Kakashi walking casually at his side, hands in his pockets. Her eyes followed them until they were out the park and out of her sight but they stayed in her mind for a long time afterwards.

Someday, she promised herself, she would have a love like Kakashi and Obito.

Kakashi and Obito smiling at each other while Sakura looks on in awe

Chapter Text

Turning sixteen was a big deal – for everyone. Turning sixteen meant establishing a connection with your soulmate, able to hear their thoughts for the first time. If you were the first to turn sixteen then you would get to listen to them when they accidentally projected but you wouldn’t be able to speak back until they reached the same age and developed their own connection.

Kakashi was turning sixteen tonight. The fifteenth of September was almost over and he was sitting at home, alone, curled up on the futon that he dragged in to the kitchen every night. It felt less lonely when he wasn’t locked inside a cold bedroom. Tonight he hoped he would feel just a little less lonely as his mind reached out for the first time to the one he would spend the rest of his life with.

He was nervous in a way most people wouldn’t think he could be, given his reputation for being cold-hearted. He was worried about who would be on the other end. Would it be someone from another village? Would it be an enemy he had already met and fought with, someone that circumstances would forever keep him apart from? There was an entire genre of movies and bad novels surrounding the idea of destined soulmates kept apart by fate yet longing for each other across their private connection.

(Kakashi would know, he had seen them all, read them all, soaked in the love stories like a sponge soaking up water.)

He wrapped his arms around his bent knees and watched the clock tick slowly through the final minute. In thirty seconds he would know – sort of. Maybe. There was a chance he would be the first to connect and his soulmate might not be projecting right now.

The moment the second hand reached the top of the clock, and he officially had been alive for sixteen years, it was like a radio turning up inside his head.

‘-e in let me in let me in let me in let me in-’

Kakashi’s one visible eye twitched. That voice sounded much too familiar and it perfectly matched the chakra signature that had been prowling restlessly around his apartment building for the last hour. It had stopped just outside his door ten minutes ago and Kakashi felt a little lightheaded as he struggled to his feet to go open it.

He had barely twisted the door handle when it burst open from the other side and he was bowled over by a large green blur. When the world right itself again he found himself splayed out on his back with Might Gai kneeling over him on all fours, wide excited grin splitting his face. His hair was oddly messy, not quite as bowl-shaped as usual. Kakashi wondered if they had ever been this close to each other outside of a spar before and how he had never noticed how much bigger Gai was than him. They were close in height yet Gai had much more mass than he did.

“ETERNAL RIVAL!”

Kakashi grunted, too surprised for actual words.

“Now we will truly be rivals for all of eternity!”

And now he sighed, his natural sassiness overriding the shock. “I don’t think that’s the point of soulmates, Gai.”

“True.” The other boy looked at him with his smile softening in to something small and private. “We will also be soulmates for all of eternity and if I do not love you more than anyone else in this world then I shall give you one hundred kisses every day.” He spoke without his usual volume yet lost none of the intensity.

Kakashi gaped at him, unsure of how to respond.

‘My birthday was a long time ago, silly genius. I’ve been waiting for this so don’t you ruin it for me!’

He hadn’t even had time to consider that. Gai’s birthday was the first of January where Kakashi’s was midway through September. He wondered how this excitable young man had kept such a thing to himself for so long.

(He didn’t bother wondering why. Kakashi knew himself well enough to admit that he was a flighty person, as likely to run as he was to accept things and wait patiently for his own birthday.)

‘Maa…can you…hear me?’

‘As clear as day, rival!’

‘If I kiss you will you promise to never call me rival when we talk this way?’

He wasn’t sure his heart was fully prepared to withstand the fondness of the look on Gai’s face as he responded, ‘Of course, dearest Kakashi.’

He allowed the slightly older boy to pull his mask down without a fight, gave him a moment to stare in wonder, then sat up just far enough to press their lips together.

It made sense, he thought. A beautiful, puzzle-pieces-fitting-seamlessly-together kind of sense. Gai had always been there for him, right from the start. It was Gai that picked him up when he had fallen to his lowest points. It was Gai that he went to, to celebrate his highest joys. And it was Gai that he wanted to spend every moment of the rest of his days with.

Rivals. Soulmates. It didn’t matter to him. As long as they were together.

Chapter Text

Neither of them could remember the first time they met in their dreams. Madara was only two years old and Tobirama had come in to the world only hours before, strangely silent and colorless. Mostly they ignored each other. Tobirama stared thoughtlessly at the soothing colors around them while Madara contemplated the complexities of his toes.

By the time Tobirama was three and Madara was five they had exchanged names and built an incredible world inside their own private dreamscape. The sky was green and the grass was blue. Buildings taller than mountains rose in the distance and they laughed together as they played in a purple ocean. It was here in this incorporeal world that Tobirama took his first steps, learned his first words. It was here that he made his first friend, the boy that greeted him with a smile every time he fell asleep. Little Madara puffed his chest out proudly every time Tobirama squealed and ran to greet him with a hug, wondering how it was possible to have so much love for such a small person.

When Madara was eight years old he made his first kill and a strangely solemn six year old Tobirama held him as he wept. They spent their dream that night wandering through the jungles that Tobirama had created, with wild branches and twisting trunks, some with eyes and others with multi-colored leaves. Of the two of them the younger seemed to have the wilder imagination. Madara vowed that he would kill as many people as it took to protect his innocent little friend and let his imagination keep growing.

When Tobirama turned nine and Madara eleven neither of them could be called innocent anymore. Their conversations often turned to the art of war and they spent many nights holding hands in their dreams as they shared the pain of losing their brothers. Madara told Tobirama of a friend he had made in the waking world, a stupid boy with a bad haircut who taught him to skip rocks on the Naka River. Tobirama was silent and thoughtful, saying nothing more that night until he pressed himself in Madara’s side with a quiet “good morning” before disappearing from their dreamscape. Madara’s hand traced the air where the other boy’s form had been only moments ago, missing him already.

It was only hours later that his life changed forever. The afternoon sun was hot above his head and Hashirama was sulking at something Madara had said when the leaves across the river parted to reveal a small boy. He was skinny and underfed yet the muscles in his arms spoke of hours spent on the training field. His skin was ice-white and his hair the same, making the red of his solemn eyes stand out like bloody stars.

“Tobirama!”

Madara and Hashirama both looked at each other in surprise, having called out the boy’s name at the same time.

“How do you know my soulmate!?” he demanded.

“How do you know my brother!?” Hashirama cried, almost over top of him.

The two of them continued to stare at each other in bewilderment as Tobirama silently picked his way across the river. When he made it to the shore where they were standing he walked right up to Madara and slid thin arms around his waist, burying a tiny head in his chest. Madara looked down at him in awe, dropping the skipping stones he had been holding in favor of enfolding this boy in his embrace.

“Tobirama…” he whispered, unable to believe he was really here. “All this time, you’ve been this close? I can’t believe I know your brother!” Tobirama’s head nodded and his familiar voice graced Madara’s ears for the first time outside of a dream.

“You talked about your new friend last night so I followed brother here today.” He pulled away a little bit and fixed Madara with a single raised brow. “You’re an Uchiha, aren’t you?” Madara swallowed harshly at the question. They had deliberately never exchanged last names. If they had never met before then it was almost certain their clans were at war and they had agreed that they didn’t want that to taint their bond.

“I am. And…you?”

“Ah crap,” Hashirama said from beside them, smacking his forehead with one hand. “Tobi, your soulmate is an Uchiha!? Dad’s gonna lose his mind!”

“That’s very interesting, you idiot, but it doesn’t answer my question.” Madara gave his friend a stink eye but the expression melted away in to an adoring smile when Tobirama squirmed in his arms to get his attention. Beautiful bright red eyes looked up at him and for a moment he almost didn’t hear the boy speaking, so lost was he in staring at them.

“We’re from the Senju clan,” Tobirama told him.

When the words did manage to sink in Madara felt his spine stiffen. “That complicates things,” he said faintly.

Hashirama slumped his shoulders, sitting down on the riverbank and curling around his knees as if he were the one affected by this. Madara remembered bonding with him over how much they both loved their younger siblings, how they would both do anything to protect them and see them happy.

They had talked about peace. They had shared a vision for the future in which their clans could put down arms and work together, maybe even build a village with some of the other warring clans. Peace would spread across the land and never again would a brother have to watch his younger sibling die. Never again would soulmates be kept apart by family loyalties.

“But we’ll find a way,” he murmured determinedly after some time. He smiled as he looked back down in to his precious soulmate’s eyes; he had been dreaming of these eyes every night for his entire life and he wanted to keep dreaming of them every night for the rest of it. “We’ll find a way! We’ll make peace! Now that I know where you are I won’t let anything keep us apart.”

Tobirama narrowed his eyes in that thoughtful way he had, like he was chewing over something in his mind. In the end he tucked his head under Madara chin again, obviously relishing in their first actual physical contact.

“You’re almost as over dramatic as Hashirama.”

Hashirama called him mean and Madara started shouting about how offensive that comparison was but Tobirama only smiled and closed his eyes. He agreed with Madara of course. He wouldn’t let anything keep them apart.

Chapter Text

There is a young man that lives in the apartment next to his. He’s a few years older than Kakashi, though he’s never held that over the younger’s head. He is bright and kind and Kakashi would give his life for the other in a heartbeat.

It takes him until he is seventeen to discover that they are soulmates. He’d been wishing it were true since he was five years old. Minato has a smile that can lift his heart from even the darkest of the places that it falls to. He has strong arms that give the best of hugs. And he has a mind quick enough to keep up with someone three years younger yet somehow going through the same college course. They had attended high school together as well after Kakashi skipped a few grades, his mind too far advanced for his age mates.

Kakashi is never far from Minato’s side, worshipping silently as his friend dates the occasional girl yet never any boys. He’s waiting for the day his power manifests to tell him that this perfect creature cannot possibly belong to him, dreading it more and more as he falls deeper and deeper in love.

A week after his seventeenth birthday he is hanging out with Minato when his friend gets a call. Some distant relative has passed away and the funeral will be held in a week, on the other side of the country. He’ll need to fly out in the next few days, leaving Kakashi behind. It will be the first time they have been separated for more than a day since Kakashi was seven years old but he doesn’t allow his disappointment to show. Minato was not close to the one who passed but it would still be disrespectful to make this about himself.

“I’ll text you when you I get there, okay?” Minato says when Kakashi drops him off at the airport half a week later. He nods, smiling, glad his friend knows that he will worry.

“Tell the pilot not to fly too fast; he’s carrying precious cargo.”

Minato calls him adorable and gives him a one-armed hug before turning and striding away. Kakashi feels like he’s watching his heart walk away from him and for some reason he can’t shake a strange feeling of foreboding. He has the strangest notion that Minato leaving is going to change his life irrevocably and the darkness that lurks inside him swells up, poisoning his mind with frantic, inescapable thoughts.

He’s going to die, Kakashi thinks. He’s never going to come back. I’ve lost him.

He wishes he couldn’t see so many guards standing around, their gazes sharp as they eyed the crowd suspiciously. If they weren’t there Kakashi would have hurried after Minato, ticket or no ticket, and begged him to stay. As it is, all he can do is turn and go home, a pit of dread hanging heavy in his stomach.

It takes two days for him to figure out why Minato leaving will change him. It takes walking home alone with dark thoughts distracting him from his surroundings and getting held at gunpoint by a desperate man on an abandoned side street. It takes fearing for his life and the nervous twitch of a trigger finger. It takes Minato putting hundreds of miles between them. These are the things that it takes for Kakashi to hold out both hands and gather lightning at his fingertips, searing the man in front of him so badly that he will have surely scars for a lifetime.

He calls the police and his knees are too weak to flee the scene. They find him kneeling on the pavement with jolts of electricity jumping between his fingers, panic in his eyes. They bring him in and he gives his statement sitting in a room with the only officer he is willing to allow close to himself, one who has the power to heal herself. In the end they let him go home but the story makes the news.

Minato is home by noon the next day, sweat dripping from his forehead and worry radiant on his face.

“Kakashi?” he calls, letting himself in to the younger boy’s apartment. “Kakashi it’s me!”

“Minato?” At the sound of his friend’s voice, so small and so scared, he hurries down the hall to the tiny, cramped bedroom. “Go away!” Kakashi cries, pressing himself up against the opposite wall with his hands behind his back. “Go away, I don’t want to hurt you!” Minato smiles.

“You could never hurt me,” he says. Kakashi shakes his head vehemently.

“I didn’t mean to Mina, I really didn’t! I didn’t mean to burn him!”

“I know, Kakashi.”

He moves to step closer but Kakashi stops him with a shout.

“No! Stay there! I…I really don’t want to hurt you. I don’t know how to control it.”

“Like I said, you could never hurt me,” Minato insisted. “Do you want to know something? I saw you on the news just this morning and I was so worried for you. So worried, in fact, that I reacted without thinking. I just stood up and left, went outside and started running. I thought to myself ‘Kakashi will need me’ and I just…ran.” Kakashi furrows his brows and tilts his head.

“You can’t run all the way across the country in less than half a day, Mina,” he protests. Minato arches one eyebrow at him.

“And yet I did. I’ve never run so fast in my life. I don’t think anybody has ever run so fast before.”

Kakashi scoffs, his entire body still taut with tension. “That’s impossible Mina.”

“Not if that’s my power,” Minato points out. Kakashi looks at him with wide eyes. “Strange, don’t you think, that you would discover your power only when I’m gone and that I would do that same?” He steps forward again but Kakashi seems stunned in to silence and says nothing to stop him this time. “And very strange that the closer I got to home the slower I was able to run? Show me your hands, Kakashi.”

“My hands?” Kakashi’s voice is faint but he does as he is asked, looking startled to see completely normal hands held out in front of himself. “But…but they wouldn’t stop, Mina. The lightning wouldn’t stop.”

Minato reaches out and slides his own fingers in between Kakashi’s, smiling.

“Of course it’s stopped,” he says. “I’m here now.”

“You mean…” Kakashi can’t bring himself to say it so Minato steps close until their noses are nearly touching and says it for him.

“Because we’re soulmates.” He smiles at the sharp breath Kakashi takes in. “I always wondered why my power never showed up. But it never had a chance to; you’ve been right here all this time.”

“Mina,” Kakashi whispers. It’s just his silly childhood nickname and nothing else but Minato can hear the raw emotion behind it and he wonders how long Kakashi has been in love with him without him noticing.

He’s powerless to stop himself from closing that last inch that separates them and taking the younger teen’s mouth in a kiss, tracing his lips with a hot tongue and groaning at the fireworks going off in his head. This feels so right, so very meant to be. He feels a little stupid for not realizing what has been right here in front of him the whole time. Kakashi, evidently, was much closer to it than him but not even the pale genius figured out the truth.

They are soulmates, two beings whose souls resonate so perfectly that their powers are cancelled out when they are close together.

“You’re not disappointed?” Kakashi murmurs when Minato takes a moment to try to catch his breath, to calm his madly racing heart.

“Why would I be disappointed?” He asks incredulously. Kakashi shrugs.

“It’s good that you cancel out my power,” the younger points out. “I can’t hurt anybody as long as I have you with me and that’s a good thing. But your power is something you would probably enjoy. You could be having fun with it if not for me.” Minato shakes his head and kisses the corner of Kakashi’s mouth.

“The only time that I will ever need to run that fast is to make my way back to your side,” he says.

Kakashi looks so touched that he doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. Minato rests their foreheads together and gives him all the time he needs to collect his wayward emotions. He promises silently to both himself and his newly discovered soulmate that he will spend the rest of his life giving Kakashi whatever he needs.

Chapter Text

Naruto never touched his soul mark. He had no idea why everyone always thought they were such amazing things when his only brought to him the same negative emotions he already felt in his daily life. When Naruto touched his soul mark he was bombarded with sadness, loneliness, anger. The older he got the more intense those emotions became until they transformed in to rage, hatred, even bloodlust.

So Naruto learned not to touch the mark in the crook of his arm, only brushing past it when he had to clean himself or by accident. He picked himself out a nice jacket and tried to wear it as often as possible, even inside his own sad apartment. He lamented that his soulmate seemed to have had a life similar to his own, broken from the beginning with no one to help them heal, and he wished often that he could offer comfort even as he knew it would be next to impossible to find them.

He was twelve when things started to change, shortly after the chūnin exams which began the downfall of his own team. As Naruto watched his best friend get darker and darker by the day he noticed that each time he brushed against his soul mark the emotions he received were getting lighter and lighter. It was such a strange thing that by the time he had left his village with Jiraiya he had begun a new ritual of deliberately pressing his finger to his mark each night before bed just to feel the slowly calming emotions from the other end of the connection.

Somewhere out there, his soulmate was finally healing. And Naruto was glad.

It took two and a half years before he made it back home, only to be told that his fellow jinchūriki Gaara of the Sand had been kidnapped and was about to become a sacrifice for the Akatsuki. Naruto, of course, rushed off to help his friend the moment he was given permission to.

It was a long journey to Suna and when they arrived they found a dying Kankuro. Feeling on edge, he sought comfort by pushing up his sleeve and running a thumb over his soul mark – only to flinch away as he received the sensation of incredible pain. Wherever they were, his soulmate must have been injured as well. Naruto swallowed, a sense of foreboding filling him and making him even more restless.

He felt it the moment Gaara died. Naruto’s world shifted under his feet as his arm burned and he watched his soul mark begin to fade. Not even Konoha’s number one knuckle head ninja could fail to see the coincidence that his soulmate would die right then. For the first time in his life, Naruto wished he was just a little bit dumber, that he couldn’t put two and two together. He wished he didn’t know that he had failed his mission, that he had failed his soulmate, before he even got a chance to try.

Rage and pain and lost opportunities made him reckless and Naruto saw red the moment he laid eyes on Gaara’s corpse, so casually defiled by the Akatsuki member using him as a bench. Naruto chased the man out of the cave and let Kakashi-sensei tear his arms off with the new form of his Sharingan.

He felt hollow afterwards. Killing the ones who had killed Gaara did not bring his poor soulmate back to life because no matter how much he wished to, he couldn’t give their lives in exchange.

But Lady Chiyo could.

Later he would remember her sacrifice with tears of gratitude in his eyes but right at that moment all Naruto could feel was ecstatic as he watched Gaara’s eyes flutter open to meet his own. He glanced down at his arm to see the faded soul mark reappearing and knew without a doubt that he had been correct. Gaara was his soulmate. He brushed at the mark and felt confusion, relief, happiness, longing, bashfulness, gratitude; an overwhelming cocktail that his friend did not seem to be processing very well until Naruto knelt down and took his hand.

He could see the mark at the base of the other’s palm and he smiled as he drew Gaara’s other hand over and encouraged him to touch it. The redhead’s eyes widened.

“Naruto…?” Gaara’s black-rimmed eyes were wide as they stared up at him. “What is this?”

“Can you feel it Gaara? Can you feel how happy I am?”

Naruto smiled so wide that it squeezed his eyes shut and he began to laugh, pure joy bubbling up until it spilled out from between his lips.

“You had us worried half to death y’know! I’m really glad you’re okay!” When he looked, Gaara was watching him with an awed expression, fingers still pressed to his mark and seemingly unwilling to let go. “And…I’m really glad you’re my soulmate!”

He paid no attention to the gasps that came from the large group of people surrounding them. He was too busy smiling and laughing and throwing himself down to wrap Gaara in a tight hug. It took a long moment of hesitation before he felt the other returning the hug.

With his arms around Gaara’s neck he reached out and pressed his soul mark. Then he buried his face in Gaara’s hair and smiled, feeling the rising tides of emotion filling them both: happiness, belonging, love.  

 

Chapter Text

As a toddler Tobirama hadn’t understood why the world was so bright, so overwhelming. He hadn’t understood why no one else seemed affected. By the time he was three he understood that he was a sensor and that this was both a blessing and a curse.

True sensors were rare and the Senju clan were blessed to have one born in their midst. Tobirama had the ability to feel chakra in nearly all living things, differentiate them from each other, and assess the strength of each signature. As he grew older he developed the even rarer ability to sense emotions from those chakra signatures if he concentrated hard enough. He was the strongest sensor ever to be born in Fire Country, able to feel a single individual four days travel away.

On the other hand, sensors were in a way cursed as well. Each true sensor was born with a soulmate, a perfect other half that existed to help them deal with the overwhelming sensations that constantly bombarded them. The touch of one’s soulmate would ground a sensor, help them deal with the overload of information and help them process it to even greater effect than they would be able to achieve on their own. Everything comes with a price, however, and the price of ‘true love’ was that in finding them, a sensor was forever bound. If rejected a sensor’s chakra system had a way of overloading, burning itself out until they passed away in overwhelming agony.

Tobirama had hoped to never find his soulmate. He had gotten very used to the world being too bright around him, used to the headaches and the tension in his shoulders from not being able to stop receiving so much information. He thought it was better just to go on like that rather than surrender his fate in to the hands of someone who may not even want him.

He was lucky to survive twenty-one years without finding out that his soulmate had been in front of him the entire time. Madara had never viewed him as more than Hashirama’s younger brother, the nuisance who faced Izuna on the battlefield whenever their two clans clashed. Tobirama, in return, saw Madara as nothing more than the one who had stolen away his brother’s time and affection only to give back nothing but pain. In short, they didn’t have very high regard for each other. Not even when Madara finally agreed to peace and the building of their dream village did either give any special thought to the other.

It wasn’t until the Uchiha clan finally migrated to Konoha that things changed. The Senju had been living there for quite some time already as their head of clan used his unique jutsu to create homes, offices, playscapes, a school, a hospital, everything imaginable that a village could possibly need. Day by day he grew his dreams from seed to reality. Tobirama watched it happen with a smile on his face which faded only when Madara stood across from him, Hashirama between them with wide, pleading eyes.

“We’re at peace,” his brother insisted. “The two of you need to learn to get along. Madara, Izuna has agreed to be polite with Tobirama, why can’t you do the same?”

“All the times he attempted to take my brother’s life are not so easily forgotten,” Madara huffed, arms crossed. “Izuna has always been more forgiving than I.”

“If you are truly my friend, Madara, you will try to get along with him. For my sake. At the very least you two can pretend to make peace to set an example for others!” Hashirama turned the full dose of his famous puppy eyes on his old friend and Madara gave him a disgusted look. Then he capitulated because even big bad Uchiha’s could not stand against prolonged exposure to Hashirama’s puppy eyes.

The younger Senju brother eyed the hand that was reluctantly held out towards him for a moment, almost considering not taking it. There wouldn’t be many that would blame him for being suspicious of ulterior motives. It wasn’t worth the dramatics of a refusal though so he reached out his own hand and clasped Madara’s.

And the world went quiet.

Tobirama’s eyes went wide and unfocused, breathless at the sudden peace within him. He felt weightless, calm. His mind felt so blissfully clear and sharp that he thought he would have been able to solve any problem handed to him right in that moment.

It took a couple full minutes for him to realize that he had simply been standing there swaying on the spot, his hand crushingly tight around Madara’s. The Uchiha was staring at him with trepidation while his brother called his name, his voice heavy with concern. By the look in Madara’s eye he knew that something had just happened between them, though he didn’t seem to know exactly what. As soon as it registered in Tobirama’s brain what it was, he was filled with dread.

So this is how I die, he thought.

“Brother? What’s wrong?” Hashirama hovered near him, hands out and fluttering as if he wanted to help but wasn’t sure how to.

“Everything went…quiet,” Tobirama said distantly. “I can see. Feel. It’s all…very sharp.” He wasn’t sure he had better words for it at the moment. His brother broke out in to a massive grin that Tobirama wasn’t sure the situation warranted.

“That means Madara is your soulmate! You’ve found your match, brother! That’s incredible!”

Madara didn’t seem to think so. In fact, he looked rather repulsed. He snatched his hand back with obvious intent and Tobirama grunted, doubling over in pain.

“Tobirama!” His brother reached out to steady him while he grit his teeth together. If before he had lived in discomfort then what he felt now was agony. It felt like microscopic knives tearing him open from the inside out.

“I’m fine, shut up,” he gasped out. The last thing he wanted was to look weak, no matter that it was the truth at the moment. Madara watched him but did nothing. Hashirama helped him stand straight again, wincing when he momentarily scrunched his face at another wave of pain.

“You’re not fine,” his brother refuted him. “You’re…oh. Madara, how could you!”

“How could I what? I’ve done nothing.”

“You’ll kill him!”

Tobirama wanted to tell them both to shut up. If this was how he was going to die then he wanted to do so in peace. He could barely keep his eyes open but he managed to see the way Madara was looking at him, like his death wasn’t necessarily considered a bad thing. Then the Uchiha looked over at Hashirama to see how horrified he was, the terror in his face at the prospect of watching his only remaining brother die in his arms.

Madara lived to protect his own little brother, even Tobirama knew that. Perhaps it was seeing himself in Hashirama’s shoes that moved him to mercy or pity or whatever it might have been which inspired him to relent. He made sure to show his reluctance, however, by rolling his eyes and sighing.

“Whatever,” he mumbled, stepping forward to take hold of Tobirama’s wrist.

The pain didn’t exactly go away but it lessoned to the point that he was capable of hiding it. Tobirama smoothed his face and forced his shoulders to lower until he appeared calm and relaxed. He and the older man held each other’s eyes and Tobirama knew without a doubt that Madara had only saved his life for the sake of his brother.

It wasn’t a true acceptance but it wasn’t a true rejection either. Madara accepted that they were soulmates but did not accept him as a partner and it left Tobirama in a strange state of limbo he’d never heard of before. He did not die but he lived in constant pain, even worse than before he had discovered who his supposed ‘perfect other half’ was. He made sure no one knew, not even Hashirama. He presented himself to the world as calmly as he ever had. After all, he had plenty of years of practice holding in the pain.

He existed in this half state for several years, the agony only lessening on the rare occasions Madara deigned to sit close enough that their skin brushed. He was able to mitigate it somewhat by carving chakra suppression seals in to a pair of iron bands that he wore around his wrists. It didn’t stop the pain and he could wear them nowhere but inside the village, but it blocked the copious information from the chakra networks around him and made it easier to bear.

There was one thing about his situation, however, that nothing could make easier to bear. The thing about finding one’s perfect other half was that the knowledge of this was never far from one’s mind. Tobirama’s thoughts were constantly circling back to the possibilities, the what if’s. He paid extra attention to Madara now, almost without meaning to, and he hated that he began to notice things. He hated noticing the pleasing shape of Madara’s eyes, the caring manner in which he spoke of his sibling, the proud way he fought against slander towards his clan. Tobirama hated himself for running his eyes down the other’s long legs or remembering how it had felt to hold his hand.

Most of all, Tobirama hated himself for falling in love. It was all too obvious that Madara did not truly want him and never would, that he had been granted only a slower death instead of a quick one. Chronic pain had a way of wearing on a body and Tobirama was certain that there had never been a pain like his own. If he were anyone else he would have ceased to function.

On the fourth anniversary of Hashirama being named Hokage, Tobirama slipped away from the celebrations and in to the public gardens. It was quiet here, peaceful, yet not quiet enough. Tobirama slid one of his carved arm bands out from the pocket of his yukata, sliding it on to his wrist and closing his eyes as the brilliant star of the gathered villagers sipped away from him. He sighed in relief and slumped on to a nearby bench. He would have gone home hours ago if it weren’t for his brother.

Hashirama had been trying to get him to ‘lighten up’ the entire evening, a difficult task with Madara trailing along at the man’s other side, smug expression firmly settled on his features. Tobirama did his best to avoid his soulmate when possible. Those two were making that impossible to do tonight.

With his senses blocked out he could feel no one approaching. He did not feel the two signatures approaching from the east. And he did not feel the smaller one approaching from the north. He was entirely surprised to open his eyes and find the pale lavender of a Hyuga’s staring up at him from only inches away.

He stiffened, leaning away with a frown to take in the sight of the young girl before him. She wore a brown yukata with a splash of pretty pink flowers across the sleeves. Her long hair was tied back loosely and she was looking back at him with slight confusion.

“You didn’t feel me coming, Senju-sama?” she asked. He lifted his wrist.

“Chakra suppression seals,” he said shortly. “I feel nothing.”

“Oh.” The look in the girl’s eyes was wistful, slightly jealous. “I wish I could feel nothing. I-I wanted to ask you...some advice, Senju-sama.”

He tilted his head. “You’re a sensor,” he surmised. She nodded.

“I am. And the whole village knows you’re a sensor too. Can you…can you help me?”

Without answering right away, Tobirama reached in to his pocket and pulled out the twin to the cuff he wore on his wrist. The girl’s eyes latched on to it greedily and she nearly cried when he slid it on to her wrist.

He watched with a great deal of understanding as she closed her eyes, tension slowly draining out of her as her face went slack with the bliss of silence. He allowed her as long as she needed to recover, to open her eyes and meet his again with a slightly sheepish expression. Then he waved away her profuse thanks.

“Keep it. I can make another. Is that the help you wished for?”

“Actually, I had hoped Senju-sama might provide me with advice?” She looked at him hopefully and Tobirama lifted an eyebrow.

“My advice to you as a sensor would be not to go looking for your soulmate,” he said. She stared and he sighed softly. “Perhaps you would be luckier than I; perhaps your soulmate will want you. But it’s a calculated risk. Are you willing to place your life in to the hands of another? I was not. And I was right to try not to.”

“You mean-?” Dainty little hands flew up in front of a dainty little mouth. “Are you dying Senju-sama!?”

Tobirama shrugged. “My situation is rather unique and it will take me quite a lot longer than it should, but yes. I will die.”

“Does it hurt?” She sounded terrified but Tobirama believed in telling children the truth. He nodded and she was silent for a long while before asking very quietly, “Can I see?”

“See?” How does one see pain, he wondered. Then he understood when she blinked her large, pale eyes. “Ah. We would need to remove these again in order to do that,” he said, tapping at the bracelet he wore.

“Right!” She slipped hers off right away, swaying as information rushed in and flooded her senses again. Tobirama steadied her even as he slipped his own off. It could be quite a disorienting experience the first few times and it never stopped feeling unpleasant. He himself didn’t bother to concentrate on sorting any of the input. There were too many signatures all gathered in one place for him to make out individuals from the harsh bright blur.

When she had collected herself, he sat still as veins bulged out along her temple. She blinked, obviously not very skilled at using her clan’s dōjutsu yet, then gasped as he apparently came in to focus.

“So much pain…Senju-sama I’ve never seen anything like it. I…I don’t want to feel like that. I’m scared!” Her dōjutsu faded as tears gathered and Tobirama slid both of their bracelets back on before reaching out to brush at her hair without thinking. Many might call him cold-hearted but if there one thing he couldn’t abide it was a crying child.

“Hush, you won’t feel this,” he assured her. “As I said, my situation is rather unique. I promise you will not live with this pain. It’s alright.” He dabbed at her eyes with the corners of his sleeves, unprepared for her next words.

“Do you love them?”

“I – what?” He froze, arms extended and palms framing her tiny face.

“Your soulmate. If you’re dying then that means they rejected you. Do you love them?”

Tobirama’s arms fell back in to his lap and he sat there, stunned. No one had ever asked him that before. In four years no one had ever thought to ask him how he felt about the man who had turned him away – no one but a child who feared the same fate.

“I do,” he admitted in an uneven voice. “God help me but I do.”

The girl gave him a sympathetic look, looking a little startled at how shaken he was. For a moment all Tobirama could do was stare back at her helplessly. He did love Madara. And it hurt. It hurt almost as much as the pain that coursed through his veins every moment of every day. And it was just as likely to go on hurting until the day he bowed under the pressure and laid down to his final rest.

“Senju-sama? Are you okay?” His tiny companion poked at his knee, concerned. He shook his head wordlessly.

“Keep the bracelet, little one,” he mumbled. “And good luck.”

With that, he rose and hurried away.

He did not stay long enough to see his companion walk around a wall of tall bushes and nearly run in to the Hokage and his best friend, both standing frozen in place with their jaws hanging somewhere around their knees.

After the headache inducing festival and the whirlwind of emotions kicked up by his encounter with that little girl, Tobirama holed himself up at home for the next few days. He wore his bracelet and shut out the world, locking himself in his lab where he could neither feel nor hear if anyone came knocking. He didn’t really get much done, he never did these days, but puttering away at his experiments was one of the few comforts he had.

On the fifth day he fell asleep at his workbench, face pressed in to a book about the human nervous system. He woke to excruciating pain running down his spine and, thinking himself alone, cried out when he tried to sit up.

“Shit, fuck!” His forehead slammed back down on to the work surface while his hands clenched uselessly where they were wrapped around his head. A pained whine escaped him only for his ears to redden a moment later when he heard someone speak from across the room.

“Tobirama!” That was definitely Hashirama’s voice. “Are you okay?” Footsteps hurried over to him and Tobirama drew in a long breath through his nose, forcing himself under control and slowly sitting up as if his spine weren’t currently shattering itself underneath the skin.

“I’m fine,” he said, grinding out the words. “What are you doing here?”

“We wanted to talk to you but you haven’t been answering your door so I got worried.” Hashirama wring his hands together. “I…uh…I already replaced your door, I promise! You were asleep for a long time.”

Tobirama blinked sluggishly at his brother. “You broke my door?” he asked. Then, “Wait, who is ‘we’?”

Hashirama waved vaguely across the room and he very carefully turned around to see Madara looking rather uncomfortable, making himself as small as possible in a chair across the room and staring determinedly at the floor. He looked back to his brother and gave him a flat stare.

“The village had better be burning down around your ears because if you’ve broken in to my home toting him along behind you for something that isn’t life threatening then I swear, brother or no brother, I will feed you your own teeth. Individually.”

Hashirama stared at him in flabbergasted horror but Tobirama was more interested in the considering look he could see the other man wearing out of the corner of his eye. Strange. He set that aside in his mind and went back to glaring at his only remaining sibling, trying to impress upon him the doom that was about to be unleashed if this intrusion wasn’t for something important.

After a minute Hashirama shook himself and put his hands on his hips, affecting a stern look.

“Life threatening? It is life threatening! It’s threatening your life!” The older man leaned down to get in his face but Tobirama carefully wheeled his chair backwards to get away.

“What are you going on about?” he snapped. “I’m sleeping in my own laboratory. There’s nothing threatening my life right now.”

“You told that little girl you were dying!”

What!?” Tobirama’s eyes widened. “Were you…you were there. You were listening. You were eavesdropping on my conversation.” He bit off every fragmented sentence like he hated the taste of it – and he did. He hated that his privacy had been violated in such a manner. Hashirama looked a little guilty but nodded.

“We didn’t really mean to. I was looking for you and we found you when that girl startled you. I thought it was really strange that you hadn’t sensed her coming. I thought you would have sensed us coming. And then…”

Tobirama could feel himself shaking, so many repressed emotions threatening to come spilling over the edges. “And then you stood there, hiding from sight, and listened to a private conversation that you were not intended to hear.” It was a hard struggle to keep a lid on himself. He rose from his chair, forcing his spine to straighten to his full height and holding the worktable beside him with a white-knuckled grip. “Get out, both of you. Now.”

“Tobirama! You’re dying!”

“And?” he said, watching the older man’s jaw snap shit in bewilderment at his answer. “What of it? It cannot be changed and therefore is pointless to talk about. I told you to get out, why are you still here?”

“I can’t just sit back and watch you die!”

“Well you’ll have to!” he burst at last. “There is nothing you can do! Nothing I can do! Without a soulmate who accepts them a sensor will die, that is a fact of life! Be grateful you had this much extra time! Now GET OUT!”

He let go of the workbench to reach for something – anything – to throw at his sibling, hoping to chase him away with violence. His body chose that moment to send him a fresh wave of pain, more intense than he had ever felt before. With a startled cry his knees buckled underneath him and he tumbled to the ground, gasping for air. Hashirama fell next to him and Tobirama hung his head in shame, hands fisting on the floor.

“Make him go,” he pleaded quietly. Not quietly enough.

“You want me gone,” Madara’s voice said from much too close. He cracked open his eyes to see the other man’s feet only a meter away. “Tell me something. Are you truly in love with me?”

There was something about the way he spoke that Tobirama could not put his finger on, distracted as he was. He didn’t sound as arrogant or as mocking as he usually would have. Not that Tobirama had the energy for a verbal spar today. All he had in him was a sigh.

“Yes,” he said shortly. That one word felt like surrendering himself to the devil, signing over his soul and giving the Shinigami permission to do as he wanted. Madara knelt down in his peripheral vision, murmuring something to Hashirama that he didn’t bother to listen to.

“Then you are just as stupid as I am.”

A large hand reached out in front of Tobirama’s face and down to lay itself over his balled fist. The sensation that followed afterward was vaguely familiar: he had only experienced it once before in his entire life.

The world went perfectly quiet and the tempest inside his body dissipated to nothing in an instant. Without the pain that had been holding him down for the past four years he felt weightless. A peace the likes of which he had never known settled down around him and, dazed, he began to fall forward. Two sets of arms caught him but one set easily relinquished their hold as the other pulled him back against a solid chest.

Tobirama stared in to the middle distance and blinked rapidly, trying to comprehend the lack of pain. He felt as if something were missing until he felt a tug on his wrist and the chakra suppression band was pulled off of him. Then suddenly the world existed in perfect clarity. He could feel…everything. In perfect, precise detail. Which meant he could feel the chakra signature of the one who held him and how self-consciously hesitant it was.

He looked up in to Madara’s unreadable face with no idea of what to say, at first.

“You hated me,” he said softly. Madara scoffed.

“Even I’m allowed to change my mind on occasion,” he said. Then he shifted awkwardly. “I may not be in love but I find you…interesting. You could have used your pain to cause me guilt. You could have used it to garner sympathy. You could lashed out in anger. You could even have given up and hurried your death to escape to the seemingly inevitable end. You did none of these things. What you did do was show kindness to a child you owed nothing and suffered in silence rather than cause trouble for others.” Madara looked away. “I admire the strength it took to do what you have been doing.” It looked like it cost him a little of his pride to say it and Tobirama wanted to smirk.

He would have, too, if he could remember how to make any expression but an awed one. It was an entirely unique experience to feel overwhelmed by nothing but his own emotions and he had no idea how to deal with it. So he simply closed his eyes and breathed, soft inhales in and out. Madara’s scent filled his nostrils and his chakra enveloped Tobirama like a cloak, soothing and strangely calm. The older man might not be in love with him but he accepted him and, for now, that was more than enough.

“Tobirama?” he heard his brother call in a worried voice. “Are you okay?”

“Yes. Yes I’m fine.”

And for the first time in his life he meant it. He felt good.

He opened his eyes again and looked up at Madara once more. The future felt pretty good too.   

Chapter Text

He was in the middle of a meeting of the village’s clan heads when it happened, a bright flash of light and the cracking, rending sound of space and time being torn apart. Every person in the room leapt away from the source, assuming battle stances and bringing to hand the weapons that they weren’t technically supposed to have on them during these meetings.

When the light cleared they were all left blinking in confusion. Why hadn’t Tobirama gotten out of the way like the rest of them had? He was standing in the center of the room, looking around with no more than a mildly curious expression. Something was off, however. Tobirama had come to the conference in formal robes, just as the rest of them had. So how was he now wearing nothing more than casual dark pants and a short sleeved yukata top, mesh undershirt peeking out from beneath?

“Fascinating,” Tobirama murmured.

“Rather,” an identical voice answered from one corner of the room. “I hadn’t thought it worked.”

Heads whipped around to see a second Tobirama. This one was obviously the original, he was dressed the same as before and he was standing in front of his brother, guarding the Hokage like a good sibling should. He didn’t look at all distressed by having a copy of himself staring him right in the face however. It’s possible he was used to it as the creator of the Kage Bunshin which had immediately been forbidden upon its conception.

But where did this one come from? The only man in the room who knew how to work this jutsu had been standing in front of them all and outlaying the itinerary of their discussions that day. If he had made any hand signs everyone in the room would have seen it. He was fast but not that fast.

Both Tobiramas hummed as the original stepped forward to walk around the copy, inspecting him from all angles. “It was an instant process for you?”

“It was. I certainly hope you kept your notes on this,” the copy replied.

“Of course. Do I ever dispose of my notes?”

“No. True. You say you believed this to be a failure?”

“There was no indication of success. I thought the clone to have dispersed sometime during the journey. I had many speculations as to why the memories were never returned to me.”

“Shall I disperse now?”

“I have other questions first.”

Heads whipped back and forth, from speaker to speaker, as the rest of the gathering watched Tobirama converse with himself as though this were an everyday occurrence. It was Madara who ran out of patience first – not that this was such a large surprise. Madara was rather notorious for his lack of patience, even more so around the younger Senju brother.

“Enough!” the head of the Uchiha clan snapped. “What the hell is going on?” Both Tobirama’s turned to give him a long-suffering look.

“This experiment is integral to the future of shinobi-kind as we know it and I will thank you to keep your unwanted nose out of things that are above your cognitive abilities,” the original scolded him. Madara bristled.

“You say that about every one of your damned experiments and how many of them have been deemed too dangerous to use?”

Tobirama huffed and both he and his double crossed their arms. “You always get louder when you understand less.” They both smirked. “Not an attractive trait, Uchiha, but very telling.”

Madara growled and his fingers curled in to claws as he stepped forward to attempt thrashing the impertinent Senju. Luckily for the furniture and everyone else in the room, Hashirama stepped in to stop him before he got too far.

“I think it would be best to postpone the meeting until this new matter has been dealt with,” their Hokage said to the room at large. “Shall we reconvene tomorrow at nine o’clock?” He plastered on his most diplomatic smile and utilized his most reasonable tone, the combination that usually tricked people in to believing he really was a responsible adult that was capable of running an entire village without the dramatics of a five year old.

It was obvious that the other clan heads had no desire to leave. They were curious to see what would happen and hear an explanation as to why this copy had appeared so suddenly and spectacularly in to the middle of their conference. But they did as they were bidden to anyway and allowed themselves to be herded out of the room, throwing strange looks over their shoulders at the two identical men standing in identical stances.

Once Hashirama closed the door behind the Nara representative, however, he bound across the room towards his brother with an excitable grin.

“Cool, Tobi!” He declared with unmitigated glee. “So where did he come from?”

“The past, actually,” Tobirama answered. His copy nodded.

“It was an experiment trying to modify the hiraishin seal I use for my teleportation,” the second Tobirama explained. “I was attempting to go faster, break the limits of time. I set a seal upon myself and attempted to summon myself forward in time. I was not expecting to go so far forward, however. How long has it been exactly?”

“Six months,” the original answered.

The clone looked down at his wrist, at the bold ink that depicted the number 25 on his skin. “Still of the same age then. And have you…?” The original Tobirama shook his head.

“No, I’ve not found them yet.”

“Ah.”

“Hold on!” Hashirama waved his hands around while Madara strolled over to settle at his side. He hadn’t left with the others but no one had actually expected him to. “You mean to say that you sent yourself forward in time!?”

Both Tobiramas shook their heads while the original answered. “A clone of myself. If I had sent my actual self forward I would have disappeared, brother.”

“I…oh. That’s true, isn’t it?” Hashirama scratched at his head. “So, this means the experiment was a success then? You’ve actually invented time travel?”

“Yes and no. It did not work as intended. I would require much more experimentation in order to feel safe allowing actual people to try this but I stopped the research because it was heading in to a dangerous area. Time travel, brother. Even if I could make it work, imagine the implications if my research were stolen? It’s an area far safer left alone.” He stopped when Madara snorted.

“It’s unlike you to actually think of how your actions will affect others,” Madara sneered. “Are you sure you’re feeling well, bastard?”

“Madara!” Hashirama pouted at his friend. “Be nice! But you’re right, Tobi. I didn’t think of that. So…now that he’s here…what are you going to do?”

Tobirama shrugged. “We spoke while you were clearing the room. I’ve asked all the questions I need to. Unless you have more to ask yourself, I shall allow him to disperse. It’s good to know that I succeeded where I had thought I failed. Unfortunately I am still of the opinion that this topic is far too dangerous to delve in to.”

“I doubt I have any questions that you didn’t already ask except…” He hesitated as he looked to the copy of his brother. “What did it feel like? Time travel?” The copy shrugged.

“I felt the same as any other teleportation I have done. Perhaps the pulling sensation was a bit more intense. But it was nearly instantaneous and I was unaware at first that I had gone so far forward. I was only meant to jump a few seconds, minutes at most.” The two Tobiramas hummed and gave each other a look of disappointment. “It was meant for use in battle and it’s regrettable that it cannot be used so.”

“Oh.” Hashirama looked a little disappointed at the anticlimactic answer. “Then, no I suppose I don’t have any more questions.”

The clone nodded, then simply stood there for a minute, blinking and looking confused. The original Tobirama tilted his head while his copy make the release seal several times, each with no result. Finally he said, “I cannot seem to disperse.”

“Explain,” Tobirama demanded.

“You are aware, from the memories of previous clones, that there is a sensation to dispersal. The feeling of the chakra leaving your body, returning to it’s original.” He waited for his creator to nod before continuing. “That sensation is not happening. The release seal is attempting to throw my chakra but it has nowhere to go. Perhaps because you are not, in fact, my original creator. You are you, of course, but you are a future version of yourself.”

“And therefore a different person, yes, I see your point. Fascinating.” Tobirama leaned in close, inspecting the mirror image of his own face. “If you are unable to disperse, I wonder if you are permanent. Can you expend and recover chakra like a normal human? Can you take a wound without disappearing? Can you bleed and heal?”

“We should return to the lab and test this,” the copy exclaimed, an excited gleam in his eye.

“Absolutely.”

They both turned for the door, almost startled to see the other two men were still in the room.

“Is there two Tobi’s now?” Hashirama asked faintly. “Forever?

“Kami save us all, tell me it isn’t true,” Madara groaned. Both Tobiramas sighed.

“Perhaps with two of us we’ll finally have enough brainpower to figure out what your problem is, Uchiha,” they grumbled at the same time.

Then they looked at each other with a slight smirk and the original moved to pat his clone proudly on the arm. The moment he touched the clone’s skin, however, the room was lit up with light for the second time. It emanated from the matching marks on both of their wrists, the bold ink that announced to the world that Senju Tobirama would be 25 years old when he met his soulmate.

The light was a sign that one had indeed found their soulmate. Yet, all Tobirama had done was touch his own shadow clone, one created months ago. One which now was unable to dispel itself. The two of them stared at each other, then at the ink that was slowly turning red on their wrists, both of their minds racing.

“And here I thought you could not possibly get any more narcissistic,” Madara said.

“Wha-?” Hashirama looked extremely confused.

“He’s his own soulmate. His soulmate is himself.” Madara snorted in disgust. “Is that not the most narcissistic thing you’ve ever heard?”

Both Tobiramas continued to blink at each other, questions and theories running rampant through their minds. After a few minutes, though, they both came to the same conclusion: who else would be able to keep up with Tobirama but himself? No one else’s mind could match his own; no one else’s speed could match his own; no one else seemed to understand his obsessions or moods. It made sense.

And it seemed as if this moment were fated. If his soulmate was himself then this moment had been preordained, he was always meant to make a miscalculation which would send a shadow clone to the future and strand it there. Which opened up an entire new world of possibilities about fate and destiny and, more importantly, time loops.

“Lab?” his copy asked excitedly.

“Lab,” Tobirama replied.

He would worry about the opinions of others later – or never. He’d never cared about what others thought of him before and he certainly wasn’t about to start now. He was much too preoccupied with the world that was opening up before his eyes. The things he could do with two of himself. The experiments, the projects, the tests, the advancements.

First thing, however, he needed to discover how hardy this clone was, how permanent. They would need to test chakra capacity, ability, speed, whether he could be injured and heal on his own, whether he was fully human to an ocular dōjutsu.

Actually, he amended mentally as the two of them disappeared with a flicker, the first thing he needed to do was give his clone a name. They couldn’t both be Tobirama.

Chapter Text

Kakashi was aware that many people were under the impression that he did not like sweet things, and also that it was mostly his fault for telling them as much. The truth of the matter was that he very rarely craved sweet things because he got his fill of them so often from his soulmate. The bond they shared was constantly flooding his mouth with the taste of chocolate or dumplings or strawberry Pocky. Kakashi got to enjoy all the flavor and none of the calories and he kind of enjoyed the way it worked out. His metabolism wasn’t half as active as most people thought it to be just by looking at how skinny he always was.

At the moment Kakashi was lying on his back with his arms tucked up behind his head, licking his lips under the mask that hid them to enjoy the flavor of the candy his soulmate was currently tucking in to. He was supposed to be watching over Naruto as the eleven year old played by the river and if asked he would protest that he was. He just wasn’t paying as close attention as he could have been. Naruto had learned how to water-walk from his father three years ago and if he fell in the river at this point then Kakashi thought it was more likely to be on purpose than by accident.

“Kakashi-nii! Look what I found!”

He looked away from the clouds to see his young charge running up the hill towards him, something in his hand glinting in the sunlight. Naruto stumbled to a halt in front of him and grinned his overwide Uzumaki grin, the one that always reminded Kakashi of the boy’s mother. Then he held out his treasure with a hint of pride.

“I found it in the weeds!”

“Ah, one of your dad’s kunai! Good find, Naru-chan.” Kakashi’s eyes turned up in a smile as he ruffled the young boy’s hair. “Let’s go show him!”

Naruto let out a whoop and dashed off towards the Hokage tower. Kakashi hauled himself upright and followed at a more sedate pace. Sometimes he tried to imagine what his life would have been like if he hadn’t had Minato and Naruto. It was likely that he would have fallen in to the darkest pits of personal hell, swimming in self-hatred over the things he had done. He thanked kami every day that Minato had not decided to sacrifice himself to save the village the night his wife had died.

The nine-tails had escaped in the moment of her death and Minato had admitted a long time ago that he gave some serious thought to sealing half of the demon fox’s chakra within himself using the Reaper Death Seal. Kakashi would forever be grateful (and feel slightly guilty for it) that he had instead sealed the entirety of the beast within his newborn son.

He wasn’t entirely certain what his life would have been like without the two sunshine blonds in it but he was certain that he didn’t want to ever find out. Many people in the village had started calling him Naruto’s second father because of how much time he spent with the Namikaze family. Kakashi pretended he didn’t hear them – pretended that it didn’t make him preen every time they said it. He loved Naruto like the boy really was his own son. And he loved Minato more than he had ever found the courage to say. Still, that didn’t mean he was going to force himself in to their lives in a role he had no business filling.

His charge beat him to the Tower, unsurprisingly, and had already crawled over the desk to fling himself in to the Hokage’s lap by the time Kakashi walked in to the office. Kakashi licked the taste of chocolate off of his lips and grinned, wondering how fast his friend had had to move to hide away the treats he wasn’t supposed to have at his desk.

“Dad! Guess what we found!” Naruto shoved the rusted, muddy kunai under his father’s nose. Minato leaned back and crossed his eyes trying to see it. Then he grinned.

“Ah.” He chuckled. “Picking up your old man’s trash, eh Naruto?” His son laughed and Kakashi shook his head.

“Would you like to join us for lunch? You seem hungry.” He smiled calmly under Minato’s suspicious look.

“I don’t know how you do that,” the older man grumbled, “but yes, of course. I would never pass up an opportunity to have lunch with my two favorite guys!” He waited for Naruto to hop off his lap before standing and shrugging out of his haori.

Kakashi tilted his head curiously. “You don’t know how I do what?”

“I don’t know how you always know when I’m hungry,” his friend said. Kakashi lifted one eyebrow.

“Because you start snacking on sweets when you get hungry.” His statement received a half-hearted attempt at an affronted look.

“Wha-! Who said I was snacking on sweets?”

“You were just eating chocolate…”

Minato gaped at him, then whined, “How did you know that? Can you smell it?” In return, Kakashi gave him a look that questioned whether or not all of his faculties were still working.

“Smell it? I don’t need to smell it when I can taste it!”

You what!?”

The haori fell from his fingers two inches too early, missing its hangar and slumping in to a pile on the ground. Minato didn’t seem to notice or care. He stared at Kakashi with his eyes bugging out of his head while the younger man looked back at him in utter confusion.

“What are you getting so upset about?” he asked. Minato twitched.

“What do you mean you can taste it? Kakashi that would make you my soulmate!”

“Well…yes. Probably because we are soulmates. Always have been?” 

“We, uh, we what now?”

Kakashi rocked back on his heels, ignoring the way Naruto’s head back bounced back and forth between them like he was watching a tennis match. “You didn’t know that?”

“You did!?” Minato countered. Kakashi huffed.

“Of course I did! I can see what you’re eating! We’re together all the time! Do you mean to tell me that you never put two and two together?” He’d known since he was a child, for kami’s sake! How could this man not know that his soulmate had been right there in front of him this entire time when Kakashi had figured it out almost two full decades ago?

Minato flailed wordlessly for a few moments, too overwhelmed to make the words go. Then he gave vent to a strange wordless shriek. “No! I didn’t know! How could you have known this entire time and not said anything?”

“I thought you knew, obviously!” Kakashi’s exasperation was punctuated by Naruto’s snort, drawing both of their attentions to the boy.

“Dad’s pretty loud. If he knew, wouldn’t he have said something? He’d be talking about it all the time.” It said something that Naruto, of all people, would call his father loud. Kakashi hummed and crossed his arms contemplatively.

“I suppose you’re right,” he admitted. “I guess I just thought that it was one of those things you just don’t talk about, you know?”

“Why wouldn’t dad want you to talk about it?”

“Well, I mean, he loved your mom, right?” Kakashi shrugged. “He doesn’t love me. At least, not like that. Which means that even though we’re soulmates our relationship is platonic. So really we’re just very close friends. I figured he was avoiding the subject to spare my feelings or something like that.”

The Hokage’s jaw seemed to drop lower and lower with each sentence he spoke until all of the shock building up in his expression began to leak out as disconnected half sentences. “I don’t-? You’re my-? We’re just-? You think-? But you-? Guh.” Finally he deflated with a large exhalation of breath. “Can we just go to lunch?” he asked faintly.

Kakashi shrugged and led them out, feeling uncomfortable. He’d had no idea that Minato had no idea. That the older man was just realizing their situation now left them both in an uncomfortable position, especially since Kakashi may have given him just a little bit too much information on his side of the equation.

The three of them were painfully quiet all through their meal at the ramen stand. Kakashi kept his head down and refrained from looking at the man he had long since considered his best friend. There might be ten years between them but neither spent half as much time with anyone else as they did with each other. Kakashi spent so much time at the Namikaze household that Minato had joked more than once that he should just move in and have done with it.

And there had been times when Kakashi had seriously considered the offer. It would be nice, after all, not to go home to an empty apartment. There was always only one thing holding him back: that was the house where Minato had loved Kushina, the house in which he still loved Kushina. Her memory lingered in the very walls and Kakashi knew that he did not belong there. Not when his heart longed to take his place at the other man’s side – not when Minato did not want the same.

He felt more out of place than ever as the three of them headed back there after lunch, Minato sending a clone back to the office to continue chipping away at the never ending mountains of paperwork still waiting for him. Naruto headed straight to his bedroom at a look from his father, leaving them alone in the living room. Kakashi stood next to the couch with his hands deep in his pockets and his shoulders up around his ears like he was trying to tuck in to himself and be as small as possible. He hadn’t felt unwelcome in this home since Rin and Obito’s deaths, when he was young and scared and hurting, wondering if his sensei would blame him for things he had no control over. Now he hesitated to sit, feeling like he should ask for permission to make sure it was allowed.

“So…” Minato stood with his weight on one foot, his face still covered in the bewildered expression he had worn since they left the Hokage Tower. “I’m having trouble wrapping my head around a couple things here. We’re soulmates.”

“Mhm.” Kakashi nodded, trying to shove his hands even deeper in to his pockets.

“And you’ve known about this for how long, did you say?”

“I figured it out a couple of years after you were assigned as my sensei. We usually ate the same thing when we had meals together so it took a while.” He shrugged and looked at the wall as he spoke. “Then when Obito and Rin were put on the team we started going on missions and I could see you eating while I was on watch. Every time you ate I could taste whatever was in your hand. It wasn’t a hard leap.”

“I never even considered…” Minato ran a hand through his hair. “I would apologize for being so dumb this entire time except you mentioned you thought that I had known?”

With a small nod, Kakashi said, “Yes, I did.”

“And you thought that I just didn’t want to talk about it?”

“Yes.” He held his breath, praying the older man would spare him the indignity of a confession. His hopes were dashed by the pink rising in Minato’s cheeks.

“Because you thought I was trying to spare your, ah, feelings.” The blond cleared his throat, looking as awkward as he always did when trying to talk about emotions. “What exactly are you feelings?”

Kakashi looked down at his feet and shrugged, saying nothing.

“That’s not an answer.”

“Well I don’t want to answer.”

“Kakashi do you…I don’t know how to ask this…”

“Yes.”

Minato blinked, pausing with his hand half raised. “What?”

Kakashi sighed and turned his head to one side. “What you were trying to ask? Yes.” Minato stared at him, utterly still, until he seemed to flutter with his entire body, dancing back and forth between the balls of his feet.

“Oh my god you’re in love with me.”

“Okay, yeah, let’s just say it out loud then! That’ll make me feel better!” Kakashi glared at the spot of floor his eyes were trained on, annoyed but unwilling to look up.

“Since when!?”

“Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters!”

“A long time. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does!”

“Doesn’t!”

“Okay stop!” Minato held his hands up, palm out, and closed his eyes for a moment. “This isn’t getting us anywhere. Just…Kakashi, you’re really in love with me? You’ve really had feelings for me and not said anything because you thought I…you thought I would just prefer to sweep it all under the rug?”

Kakashi looked up at last, only to cringe and look away again, unable to stand the sight of those big blue eyes. “You loved Kushina very much,” he said quietly. “I would never dishonor her memory like that and I would never push myself on you like that. I understand that you don’t see me the same way. I thought you knew how I felt but never addressed it because it was kinder. We could both pretend it wasn’t there; you would never have to outright reject me.” He twitched when Minato took a few steps closer, instinctually trying to back away only to find an armchair blocking his way.

“Oh Kakashi,” Minato said, reaching out to take gentle hold of the younger man’s elbow. “I did love Kushina. But that doesn’t mean I have no room in my heart for anyone else. I’m allowed to fall in love again. And your feelings in no way dishonor her memory.”

“Do you have some sort of medical condition that forces you to be kind about everything?” His companion might be awkward about dealing with emotions but Kakashi was prickly. His first reaction was usually to snark and snap until people backed off. It was a defense mechanism that usually ended up with him being alone. Luckily the Hokage had many years of practice dealing with him.

“Did you really think I would want you to suffer in silence?”

“Quit being so dramatic.”

“Kakashi,” Minato quieted him with only his name spoken in a firm tone. Kakashi looked up and, this time, managed to hold that heavy gaze. He held still as a tan hand took hold of his chin. “Many people go their entire lives without ever finding their soulmates. I can’t believe I’ve had mine sitting right under my nose for almost half my life and didn’t even know it.”

The younger man continued to say nothing. He wasn’t sure there was anything for him to say anyway. This entire conversation was mortifying and he wished he could just go. He didn’t expect anything good to come of it. Surely their relationship would be strained after this and he wondered if it would take a long time before things went back to a semblance of normal.

When Minato shuffled a little closer again Kakashi tried once more to step back. His ankle thudded against the armchair behind him and he stumbled. His backward momentum was halted when Minato used the grip on his elbow to pull him forward, straight in to a solid chest and holding him there as the hand on his chin raised his face a little higher. He made a low noise of protest but Minato only smiled softly and shook his head, refusing to let him go.

“Silly man.”

Kakashi opened his mouth to say something and then choked the words back because suddenly they were kissing, lips pressed together in a slow, sweet embrace that stole the breath from his lungs. He groaned in surprise, body melting forwards and eyes falling shut. Minato caught him, the hand at his elbow winding around his waist and holding him tightly while the other tangled in his hair. The kiss was chaste, barely more than chapped lips pressed against each other with slow, almost hesitant motions, but it burned through him like wildfire, purifying, reducing him to cinders and leaving him newborn in the ashes.

He was left too stunned to move when Minato finally pulled away, separating them by a mere couple of inches. The older man smiled at him and leaned forward again until their foreheads rested brow to brow.

“Wha-” Kakashi started to ask, cutting himself off with a blush when his voice cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again, “What was that?”

“It’s like I said,” Minato chuckled, “I have room in my heart for more than one person. You are my best friend, Kakashi. And my soulmate. What reason could I possibly have to turn you away?”

“But you don’t…you…” Kakashi floundered, trying to make his stuttering brain work. “But why did you kiss me? You don’t feel that way.”

“Oh? And how do you know that?” Minato asked with a grin, his eyes bright and warm.

Kakashi huffed. “You certainly didn’t seem very receptive earlier,” he said. His half-hearted annoyance went ignored and Minato cooed and pressed a second kiss to the corner of his mouth.

“Well pardon me for being in shock Mister Keeps-It-All-Inside.” One more kiss to the opposite corner of Kakashi’s mouth, then he straightened with a slightly more serious smile. “I want this. I want us. I’m so sorry you had to wait this long for me to get a clue but I promise to do whatever I can to make it up to you.”

“Can you check my neck for me? I think I have whiplash.”

“You can’t just let me have this one nice moment?” Minato slumped, rolling his eyes yet unable to entirely hide the fondness in his expression. “You don’t have a single romantic bone in your body.”

His exaggerated despair and Kakashi’s answering smile were both cut off by a loud victory cry from the doorway and the small orange blur that suddenly bolted in to the room. Naruto plowed in to them from the side, latching one arm around either waist while his head fell back to let out another crow of triumph.

“That means Kakashi-nii really will be my other dad!” the boy shouted. “That’s so cool, ‘ttebayo!”

Minato laughed, his cheeks turning pink again. “Who called Kakashi your other dad?”

“Uh, everyone?” his son replied. “Where have you been?”

“Oh. I...well that’s…oh.” Minato’s blush deepened but he looked pleased and Kakashi had to turn his head to hide his own darkening cheeks.

“So now we can be a family for real, right?” Naruto asked, his eyes wide and shining, his smile bright. Minato chuckled and pulled both his son and his soulmate in for a tight group hug.

“Of course,” he murmured. “Of course we’re a family.”

With his face tucked in to the older man’s neck, Kakashi smiled. He had spent a long time being so close and yet so far from where he really wanted to be. Now he had been handed everything he could ever possibly have wanted and he couldn’t describe the feelings - the sensations - in his chest. All he could think was that happiness tasted sweeter than any of the candies that Minato so loved to eat.

Chapter Text

One might think that Itachi was a cold person, aloof and unfeeling. One might look at him and pity the person who had been matched to someone who obviously felt so very little. One would, however, be horribly wrong.

He had never cared very much for what other people thought. What was important to him was what his loved one’s thought, whether or not they happy. What was important to him was the steady rhythm in his ear as he rested his head upon Naruto’s chest, lulled by the gentle rise and fall of the younger man’s breathing.

Naruto was sprawled across the sheets, all four limbs spread out and his head falling to one side, lips parted for soft breaths to whisper in and out. Itachi had managed to catch the blankets and hold them fast only after Naruto had kicked them down to wrap around their hips. Now he lay curled in to his partner’s side, eyes closed and a gentle smile on his face as he listened to the heart that beat a steady tattoo against Naruto’s ribcage.

The rhythm of his heartbeat was echoed inside Itachi’s chest, keeping perfect time as all soulmate’s did, and Itachi had found time and time again that there was nothing in this world that could bring him peace quite like listening to Naruto’s heartbeat. It reminded him that he forever had a place that he belonged. It reminded him that he forever had a place where he was loved. It reminded him of all the good things in this world that he fought for, day after day.

It was times like now, when Naruto fell asleep before him and he lay awake listening to the way they beat together like drums, that he loved the best. The night was perfect and silent around them but for the crickets that could be heard through the open window. The breeze which lifted the curtains cooled the summer sweat on his skin. And all that Itachi could think about was how much he loved his soulmate.

He loved Naruto with a passion, with a fire, with a scream and a shout and a willingness to tear the world down if only to see his lover smile. He loved Naruto quietly in the recesses of his soul and loudly in the firing neurons of his never-quiet mind. He loved Naruto through all the ups and downs that came with being soul-matched to a jinchūriki and thanked the gods every day that they had found each other.

One might think Itachi a cold person. But all one had to do was see the way he looked at Naruto and one would know how wrong that was.  

Chapter Text

There was something he was supposed to be doing, he thought distractedly. There was somewhere he was supposed to be today but surely it could not be half as important as the work in front of him. He had no desire to abandon his project when he was so close to getting it right.

His reluctance to move may have had something to do with the fact that he had been awake for three days straight, two and a half of which had been spent locked up in his personal laboratory. He liked it in here. It was calming, soothing, quiet. His brother had built his laboratory specially for him, with reinforced walls to hem in any scientific oopsies and tinted windows ordered all the way from Wind Country to keep the sun’s rays away from his more delicate experiments. Most importantly, he liked his laboratory because there were no people in it.

Tobirama scrubbed at his face with one hand, feeling the stubble catch on his palm, and refocused his eyes on the scroll in front of him. He’d been fiddling with the seal he was attempted to create for weeks now and he was so close to getting it to work that he could practically taste it. With this he would fly – almost literally. The body flicker was so flawed; it frustrated him with its pitiful limitations. Once this seal was completed, if it worked the way he intended it to, he would be able to move faster, go farther, fight better. Just the thought of the things he could accomplish made him giddy.

When he blinked again he realized that his hands had been moving without him really paying attention, continuing to work on autopilot as his overtired mind drifted away from the task at hand. He looked down at what he had created, tilting his head to see from different angles. Then his eyebrows rose in to his hairline. It was perfect. It had to work.

So caught up in his work was he that Tobirama didn’t even feel the approaching chakra signatures until the door suddenly swung outwards and he looked around to see Hashirama striding in with that disappointed look on his face that said Tobirama had gotten too caught up in his work and missed something important again. In the corner of his eye he noticed a woman following along behind but after noting rather peripherally that she was incredibly beautiful, he dismissed her. This was excellent. His brother had come at just the right time.

Hashirama opened his mouth to say something – probably something scolding – but Tobirama cut him off, shoving the scroll at the older man’s chest with wide eyes.

“Take this,” he demanded. Hashirama jerked to a stop, reflexively taking what was being handed to him.

“Uh…”

“Now go away.” Tobirama made a shooing motion with his hand.

Hashirama scowled. Obviously he had come here for something but Tobirama had no time for that. Didn’t his brother see that this was important?

“Go!”

“I am…so sorry,” Hashirama sighed, turning to the red-haired woman with him. “But it’ll be quicker to get his attention if we just humor him for a minute.”

Looking more intrigued by the scroll than anything else, the woman followed along as Hashirama went back out the way that he had come. Tobirama watched the door close behind them and then sat very still, marking time in his head and mentally keeping tabs on his brother as he walked farther and farther away from the laboratory. Once that familiar signature had reached a good distance he brought his hands together in an unfamiliar set of seals.

The world melted, blending together in to a plane of pure white for a single instant. Then he felt something reach down in to him and take hold to pull him forward through space and time and suddenly he was standing in another room in another building.

Hashirama gaped at him, the scroll falling from his hands. Tobirama caught it with a triumphant smirk. It had worked! His free hand raked through his hair, likely causing it to stand on end, and he stood as straight as his aching back would allow. The hiraishin was finally completed. Weeks of effort and he held in his hands the very thing which would change the fate of the clan wars. He was still riding high on the wave of triumph when he looked up to smirk at his brother – only to stop at the pointed look he was receiving.

“What?” he asked in bewilderment. “It worked.” Hashirama sighed at him.

“How you can be so observant on the battlefield and yet so blind when you’re doing your experiments…” the older man shook his head then turned to his female companion. “He’s not always like this, I swear. He just…he loves his work.”

Fascinating,” the woman responded, although her words were not directed to Hashirama. “Did you create this yourself?”

“Yes.” Tobirama took a moment at last to wonder why she was here and it finally came to him.

Hashirama had been sending letters back and forth with the Uzumaki clan for months now discussing the possibility of a political alliance through marriage. His bride was supposed to arrive today. Which, Tobirama realized, is what he was supposed to be doing instead of creating seals. This must be her. She would make any man a happy wife, he mused, if looks alone were the requirements. Her hair was the same vivid red as the marking on his own face, caught up in to two buns with paper seals dangling from each. Her face was aristocratic, delicate yet fierce, and there was a penetrating shrewdness in her liquid black eyes.

“Attractive and intelligent, a most pleasing combination.” The corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly. “You look as if you’ve had an eventful night, so I suppose I won’t hold your current lack of observational skills against you.”

“Brother,” Hashirama whined with a despairing look. Tobirama raised an eyebrow, wondering what the both of them were talking about. He was perfectly observant, thank you. Hashirama leaned over and hissed, “I didn’t lead her to you, she led me!”

“And how would she do that?” Tobirama asked mildly. Both his brother and the Uzumaki woman gave him long looks, Hashirama’s eyes flickering down to the floor. Tobirama followed their gazes. “I…oh.”

“’Oh’ indeed,” the woman said with an indulgent sort of amusement in her voice.

Now that he was looking he could see that the floor was decorated with dainty red footprints which stretched in a trail from the door towards the center of the room, ending right where the beautiful woman before him stood. His brain might have been weary but it was still functional enough to extrapolate from there: upon arriving in the clan compound, this woman had seen his own footprints – invisible to all others – and followed them to his laboratory.

He imagined that he must not have made a stellar first impression then. He probably looked a bit like a mad scientist with his messy hair, three day stubble, and too-wide tired eyes. He’d caught his own reflection before in times like this and the first word that usually came to mind was ‘deranged’. Add to that the fact that his first words were to send his visitors away without proper explanation and Tobirama felt rueful, perhaps even a bit contrite.

Only after all of that had sunk in to his mind did it occur to him to be excited. His soulmate! If he could see the colored footsteps, that made this woman his soulmate! His head snapped back up with a stunned expression which earned a laugh from both of his observers.

“Your brother tell me your name is Tobirama. I am Uzumaki Mito. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The intelligence in her eyes was only complimented by the undertones of steel in her voice. This woman was no pushover, he could tell that already. He very much approved.

“Mito.” He rolled the name off his tongue, tasting the bittersweetness of it. “I’m sure it will be more of a pleasure after I’ve showered. And slept. And shaved.”

“That can wait. Tell me about this seal. You created it yourself! What resources did you use? Which vectors does it draw from? I can see the base element but what inspired you to choose that? It’s so unexpected.”

Hashirama blinked in bewilderment, already unable to follow the conversation. Tobirama, however, was watching Mito ask her questions with warmth gathering in his chest. So she was interested in seals as well? Incredible. He’d known soulmates were supposed to be inherently compatible and yet he’d never been able to picture anyone who would be so obviously perfect for him even when they barely knew each other.

“Ah well,” Hashirama murmured to himself as Tobirama and Mito lost themselves in discussing things well above his head. “It’s still a political marriage if she marries the second heir.” He watched the two of them talk and smiled to himself. He could only hope that when he found his own soulmate, they would accept all of him so readily as well.  

Chapter Text

Sometimes Kisame couldn’t help but wonder if his soulmate might be a little stupid. Alright, that was slightly unfair. Maybe not stupid but certainly sometimes he thought whoever it was must be confused. He enjoyed their strange conversations, conducted entirely in the form of disjointed images, and he liked that they were so in tune that he could usually tell the intent behind each image.

The only problem that ever cropped up was when he tried to tell his partner about himself. It wasn’t really safe to say anything about his life but he could certainly describe his looks. He usually used an image of a shark. His clan was unique in their strangely shark-like appearances and one wouldn’t be wrong to say that he shared a number of traits with the aquatic predators. Yet, every time he would receive in return the image of a dolphin. And behind that image he could sense the intent of “name”, and he couldn’t fathom what message they were trying to send. He was a shark, not a dolphin.

He had tried to send an image of his own face once when they were both younger. It had appeared warped and strange. He had asked his mother, only a year before she died, why he couldn’t send his soulmate a picture of himself. She had laughed.

“Because you don’t see yourself as a picture,” she told him, poking thick fingers in to the deep blue locks on his head. “You see yourself as a concept, as an emotion, as a feeling. Who you are could never be conveyed in just one image. You can only send the things that you see, not the things that you feel.”

Young Kisame had huffed and swatted her hand away, annoyed at the flowery words from someone not usually given to embellishments.

Many years later, closing in on his thirtieth year, and Kisame had long since given up trying to tell his soulmate what he looked like. It was an exercise in frustration and he was in too good of a mood to ruin it doing something he knew to be pointless. He was standing on the border of his fellow Akatsuki member’s home village, looking down at the houses below. Surely the nine-tails jinchūriki was here and their task would be completed soon. Kisame was eager to move their plans forward, to see this new perfect world that they were building. He was certain he would be able to find his soulmate in a perfect world.

Normally Kisame tried not to give away his location to anyone – and that included the person who was linked to him mentally. He led a dangerous life and there was no telling who could get hurt in the crossfire or who would betray him unexpectedly. Today he felt close enough to his goal to be daring, to let a little information slip. He looked over to the gates standing tall and proud in the wall he and his partner were currently perched upon, sending an image of the leaf symbol carved therein.

He was startled to receive the same image back with such a strong feeling of love that he gently swayed on the spot. There was such an intent of deep, abiding loyalty in that response and right away the possibility occurred to him with a muted sort of horror that his soulmate might very well live here.

Next to him, Itachi was silent as he scanned his red eyes over the place he had once called home. Kisame used that silence to send an image of Konoha as he saw it right then, infusing the message with curiosity, with a question. In return, his soulmate sent him an image of a schoolyard, of children playing underneath a window that led to an empty classroom. There was a tree in the yard with a swing tied to one branch and Kisame could almost picture the shadow of someone sitting on that swing as he read the intent behind the image: a beckoning, come to me.

“Where’s your Academy?” he rumbled. Breaking from his reverie, Itachi gave him a questioning look but Kisame only gestured at the village before them impatiently.

“It’s there,” his partner replied, lifting a hand to point. “Not far from the Hokage Tower.”

“Right. We’re going there.”

“What?”

Kisame didn’t wait for an answer. He kicked off the border wall in one powerful leap, sending him sailing over the outer rim of buildings. After a minute he sensed Itachi following, likely curious to see why he wanted to go somewhere so unlikely to house their target. The thought of the boy they were meant to be finding was so far from Kisame’s mind at that point he might have nearly forgotten he was even on a mission at all. He was focused entirely on the prospect of finally meeting his soulmate.

His cloak, he knew, was a giant neon sign hanging off his shoulders. He kept to the shadows as he dropped down beside the main building of the Academy and crept along the wall. Children dashed to and fro in the yard, playing at games and screeching with abandon the way children do. Adults dotted the yard here and there keeping an eye on their charges.

Small, sunken eyes scanned the yard until Kisame’s gaze fell upon a certain tree, one which had a swing tied to its thickest branch. Upon the swing sat a young man with his brown hair pulled up in to a ponytail and an old scar punctuating the skin across his nose. His face was turned up for the sunlight to filter down through the leaves and fall upon his tanned skin as his eyes seemed to dart here and there. He was incredibly handsome, Kisame noticed with a strangely warm sensation gathering in his chest. Not even the puffy vest of the Konoha uniform could hide his broad shoulders or his muscled torso.

Hesitantly, Kisame sent an image of the man on the swing across his mental connection. He was pleased beyond words when that same man stiffened and his head jerked down, turning immediately to look in the direction of where Kisame was peering out from the shadows. He sent the image a second time, infusing it with the same intent of beckoning as the other had before.

He was barely aware of Itachi grumbling behind him and slinking away as the tanned stranger rose from the swing and hurried in his direction. Kisame stepped back, anxious and eager all at once and trying not to show it. He was concentrating on standing still when the man who he was certain was his soulmate slipped in to the shadows with him, stopping only a few feet away. They stared at each other in absolute bewilderment, each wondering what to say.

“Um, hello,” the other man began in a voice worn by years of yelling at fledgling ninjas. “We should…introduce ourselves? My name is Iruka.”

“Iruka!” Kisame tossed his head back and laughed without thinking. “So that’s why you kept sending me an image of a dolphin!” Iruka blinked at him, then smiled bashfully.

“Yes. That would be why. And your name?” he asked.

“Kisame. My name is Kisame.”

“Kisame.” Iruka chewed his lips for a moment before suddenly breaking in to a brilliant smile. “Hello there, Kisame! It’s nice to finally meet you!”

He stared at that smile, the ball of warmth in his chest growing larger and larger until it encroached upon the knot of guilt in his gut. Iruka; he seemed like a nice guy. He was handsome, instantly friendly, and he was the first person who had been genuinely happy to see Kisame since his own mother had passed away. He hated to think what this man would do when he found out his soulmate was a member of what was technically known as a terrorist organization.

“Your cloak…”

He stiffened, giving Iruka a startled look for having nearly read his thoughts.

“What about it?” he hedged.

“I’ve heard about that pattern on it. That’s an Akatsuki cloak.” His eyes were filling up with an incredible sadness and Kisame drew in a slow breath, unable to describe what that expression was doing to him. He suddenly felt the need to do something he had never done before: repent.

“It is,” he murmured quietly in response.

Iruka simply stood still and looked at him, held his gaze for a long, silent minute. In that minute Kisame felt as though he were being judged and was surprised to discover he was nervous about the final verdict. Finally the other man sighed.

“I am glad to meet you Kisame. But I am loyal to Konoha.” He looked torn and it ripped in to Kisame in an unfamiliar way. Iruka rocked back on his heels and, thinking he was preparing to leave, Kisame panicked and blurted out the first thought that crossed his mind.

“Wait, uh, I could be.”

“Could be…what?” Iruka paused, shifting his weight back again. Kisame scrunched his nose.

“Alright I don’t think I could be loyal to Konoha per se but…I could be loyal to you.”

Even more surprising was to find that he meant it. He realized suddenly that he really could be, that he was, somewhere inside himself, considering leaving his cloak behind and surrendering himself to a village not his own all for the sake of a man he had only just met.

But had they really only just met? He had known Iruka’s presence inside his mind for his entire life; even if he hadn’t had a name or a face until today he still knew him. Iruka was the single constant in his life, the one person that had never let him down and the one dream that had never died. He had joined the Akatsuki when he became disillusioned with the world around him, attracted by the idea of a perfect world and the perfect happiness he would find therein.

Now here before him stood another opportunity for perfect happiness and he was smart enough to recognize that he had a choice, that this was a turning point. And as the smile slowly bloomed on Iruka’s face again he knew that the decision had already been made – because he knew he would do anything to keep seeing that smile.

“Could you now?” Iruka asked in a low voice. Kisame stepped closer, his lips pulling up in to a smirk.

“I could. I could be very loyal to you.”

“Well I certainly won’t discourage you.”

His hands were tugging at the clasps of his cloak before he even registered that they had moved. The black and red material slid from his shoulders to gather in a puddle upon the dusty ground behind him and Kisame took another step forward – a step away from the Akatsuki, a step towards Iruka.

His soulmate welcome him with a smile and soft embrace that made him feel as if he were the smaller of them even though he stood well over a head taller. His soulmate could fit tucked under his chin yet for all his shorter stature he did not give the impression of weakness or helplessness.

Kisame smiled and it felt like he was relearning the expression entirely. It certainly wasn’t going to be so easy, he knew that. He was a criminal, a wanted S-rank missing-nin. There would certainly be a trial, jail time, something. He spared a fleeting thought for Itachi and wondered if he would report Kisame’s defection to the Leader.

Whatever the recompense, he was ready to face it. Truly the wild tales he had never believed about soulmates were truer than he could ever have imagined. He had only just met his and already he knew he would spend the rest of his life fighting to stay by Iruka’s side. He already knew that this was where he was meant to be. If only he hadn’t wasted so much time by trying to avoid telling the other more about his life.

As it turned out, Iruka had been the smart one all along.

Chapter Text

The night air felt cool against his skin and Deidara closed his eyes, breathing deeply and allowing his smile to widen. He was having fun – Deidara adored having fun. The Sand Village wouldn’t know what hit them until it was too late. He had already taken out a fair number of insignificant worms by showing them the magnificence of his art and he couldn’t wait until the entire village was swallowed in the smoking wreckage of his masterpieces.

The clay bird that carried him swooped down, diving faster and faster towards the ground until he leapt from its back and landed gracefully on the top of the tallest tower around. Here is where he would plant the biggest bomb and just the thought of it already had him grinning with excitement.

“Infiltration complete,” he murmured to himself as he rose from a crouched position – only to jerk to a stop when he looked up and met eyes with the young man standing over him.

It wasn’t the surprise of seeing anyone there, although he hadn’t expected such a quick response. It wasn’t that it was only one person when Deidara knew very well that entire teams had failed to stop him before. It wasn’t that this was obviously the jinchūriki that they had obviously come here in search of, the one he should be attacking at this very moment. It wasn’t even that the young man was attractive, although he truly was, almost heart-stoppingly so.

Rather, what made him pause was the sudden burning on his arm in a specific spot that could only mean one thing. Deidara looked down to see the timer which glowed beneath his skin and saw that it had stopped. The numbers had paused in their upward climb, blinking at him almost mockingly, and he knew exactly what that meant. There were only two things that could stop the numbers from their count and since he had not died…

The young man in front of him also checked his timer with a stunned expression and he looked back at up at the same time that Deidara did. “You are my soulmate?” he asked. Deidara gave an involuntary shiver; that voice!

“Looks like it,” he replied faintly. They both stared for a few moments before the one across from him set his shoulders as if expecting a fight.

“This is as far as you go,” he said. His voice was a strange mixture of confidence and wavering uncertainty. Deidara snorted and crossed his arms, rolling his eyes as well for good measure.

“Oh please,” he grumbled. “As if I could fight you now! You’re my soulmate, un!” He shook his head, a little disgusted with how this had ended. “This isn’t fair! I was gonna get to blow stuff up! Show off my art!”

The boy in front of his shifted uneasily and asked, “Your art?” Deidara grinned.

“True art is an explosion!”

“I…see. I did not know that. Perhaps you would show me?”

“You – really?”

Deidara stood there awkwardly, blinking in surprise. He was a big fan of his own art, of course, but he couldn’t remember the last time someone had actually seemed interested in it without him having to brag and shove it in their faces. It was felt a little strange to have someone ask to see.

His soulmate nodded. “Perhaps in a better environment? I would not wish for any of the citizens to be harmed.”

“Huh. I guess you worry about stuff like that.”

“I am the Kazekage,” the other pointed out. “It is my duty to worry about my people.”

“Hmph. What’s your name, un?”

“I am known as Gaara.”

“It’s nice to meet you Gaara. I guess. The name’s Deidara and, uh, this is a little awkward but my partner is kind of waiting for me to attack the village. He’s probably getting a little impatient out there.” Deidara gave a nonchalant shrug.

He had really only joined the Akatsuki because they had seen the usefulness of his art, if not the splendor of it. He’d always wanted someone to appreciate his art, someone who saw the same beauty in it that he did. Now here was his soulmate – his actual soulmate, he had found them – showing an interest in the one thing he had always been most passionate about. It seemed as if the universe knew what it was doing after all.

Gaara frowned at his words and the expression was almost unbearably cute.

“Then he will have to be stopped,” he said in a quiet, determined voice. His expression cleared a bit until he looked almost hesitant again. “Perhaps afterwards, you might show me your art then?”

“Uh…yeah why not?”

Deidara was no goody two shoes. He wasn’t about to go soft, you hear? But he saw nothing wrong with changing up a couple habits to spend a little time with his soulmate, with the one person who was supposed to be made perfectly and especially for him. He felt no guilt for leaving the Akatsuki high and dry. He’d never much liked any of them anyway and it seemed that a new, better opportunity had just been offered. Deidara intended to take it.

Chapter Text

If someone asked, it would be hard to describe the way it felt when one’s soulmate was in danger. It was almost like a tingling sensation in the back of your head, as if someone had reached within your skull and run their finger against your inner thoughts. It was similar to the way that one could sense eyes that stared, the way a lie could be detected through a mere gut feeling.

Luckily no one would ever actually need to ask since everyone in the world experienced the sensation at one time or another. Sakura was grateful that she would never need to try and explain the sensation or describe it because she was sure she would never be able to find the words to express it properly. She was not grateful, however, that she was forced to experience it so often. She was happy that she and her other half had so much on common but there were certain downsides to having a shinobi soulmate.

Downsides like the frequency with which the back of her head tingled and caused worry to flood her chest as it was doing right now. Sakura ducked under the blade aiming for her neck, rolling to the side and sparing a half second to sweep the battlefield with her eyes.

Shikamaru had his back to a tree, his hands together in a familiar seal and Ino at his side with a hand on the back of his head. Shikamaru’s shadow had a hold of Choji, whipping his expanded form back and forth like way they had done during the war. It was one of their more funny-looking formations yet Sakura could not deny its effectiveness.

The only thing she had against it was how vulnerable it left both her soulmate and her best friend. Surely Ino could sense the man standing a dozen meters away but what she couldn’t sense was the way his arm pulled back, aiming for her and her partner.

Sakura could see him, however, and she wasn’t about to let some random asshole take away her most precious people. “SHANNARO!” It took less than a thought to reinforce her fist with chakra and slam in in to the earth beneath her feet at the correct angle. Her own opponent shrieked with fright, backpedaling to a safer distance. The ground split with an ominous tearing sound, the crack running outwards until the one aiming for her soulmate was knocked off balance with a cry of surprise.

His body stumbled forward and disappeared in to the chasm she had created, taking with him the sense that her soulmate was in immediate danger. Sakura smirked. Good riddance.

After that things blurred together the way they frequently did during battle. Sakura ducked and weaved, swung and hit and kicked and bit. She shattered bones and collapsed organs, toppled trees and even beheaded a man. When the battle was over she stood amid clouds of dust and smoke that danced in the breeze, the silence around her eerie in the aftermath of so much screaming.

The back of her mind gave a tingle, a warning sign, and her head whipped around as chakra automatically charged in to her hands.

But it was only Ino, her delicate hand laying a hefty swat to the back of Shikamaru’s head as she berated him for something Sakura couldn’t hear from this distance. The pinkette sighed with relief, grinning as she hopped across the wreckage she had created to make her way over to the pair. Choji stood to one side with a wry smile, patient in the face of an argument he’d probably heard a hundred times before.

“You missed one today, Ino-pig,” Sakura taunted as she drew close. Her friend stopped mid-rant to shoot her a glare.

Sakura turned away from her, kneeling down until she was level with Shikamaru. The moment the battle was over he had plonked backwards on to his bottom, his natural laziness rearing its head as soon as the danger had passed. He smiled welcomingly as Sakura leaned in to place a soft kiss on his lips, both of them ignoring his blonde teammate as she began to screech at them for not listening to her.

“Alright?” Shikamaru asked her quietly.

“I’m fine,” she replied. “You almost weren’t.”

She knew that he would know what she meant. And indeed he gave her a grateful look before reaching up to tuck a strand of bright but dirty hair behind one of her ears.

“Good thing you were here then.” He smiled and she couldn’t resist kissing him a second time.

“I’ll always be here.”

Chapter Text

Shinobi the world over clashed with each other for an endless amount of reasons. Some fought for money, some for honor. Some slaked their bloodlust and some sought vengeance. There were many reasons for the clans that stalked the elemental nations to disagree with each other but there would always be one thing that each and every one of them would agree on without question: a person’s Scrawl was sacred. To use someone’s Scrawl against them was to sink lower than the lowest murderer. To mock a Scrawl was the height of boorishness.

It followed, then, that most people were fairly protective of their Scrawl, hiding them away whenever the natural placement allowed. Uchiha Madara was one such person. His had developed high on his chest. Were it on the left breast it would have sat directly over his heart but instead it had appeared on his right side. He kept it covered, not only to keep it from the prying eyes of others, but to keep anyone from learning the truth of it: Madara’s Scrawl was smudged.

He’d never seen the likes of it before, never even heard of it happening. The writing that was so clear on everyone else was smudged on his own skin, like water had been dripped in the ink and a thumb passed over the letters to make them run together. The smudging was so bad that he could not read it. He had no idea what name his soulmate bore.

That changed, however, in the year he turned thirteen years old. It was hardly luck that he was alone when it happened; Madara had been spending as much time as possible alone ever since he had discovered that his river friend was a Senju. He had liked Hashirama, liked his innocence and the carefree way he treated Madara. He didn’t have to be a clan heir around that big goof, all he ever needed to be was himself. But now that his father knew there was no chance that their friendship could continue. Madara wanted peace as much as Hashirama did but he also knew that there was no going against Tajima’s orders. He was still sulking over all of this months later, alone in the forest on the fringes of the Uchiha compound, when he felt the strangest sensation in his chest.

It felt like something were crawling and shifting under his skin. His first thought was that of the Aburame clan and the multitude of strange things they could do with their kikaichu. He thought he could be forgiven, then, for the way his entire body flailed as he tore at his shirt in an effort to get to the affected area – though he was still very thankful that no one was around to witness it.

There were no kikaichu under his skin when he finally clawed his way out of his clothes. His jaw dropped in shock at where he had always had little more than a smudge of unreadable ink. There was a name there now! A perfectly readable name! His heart thundered while he stared blindly for a few moments, just admiring the perfect clarity of each letter. Then his brain finally caught up to his eyes and he took in the word that was stamped across his skin, revealing to him the name of the person whom he was destined to fall in love with.

It read: “Tobirama”.

Madara felt an inky black cloud settle around his heart, a weight in his chest that threatened to pull him off the branch he was perched upon and send him crashing down to fall amongst the ruins of his every hope and dream.

He couldn’t be soulmates with Tobirama! Not if it was the same Tobirama that he had already met, in any case. He was a Senju, not to mention a snotty little brat who always had some new trick up his sleeve that he showed no mercy in using against Izuna. Madara had never noticed Tobirama on the battlefields until after that day by the river when he had jumped in to defend his brother.

As that moment had been the one in which he had activated his Sharingan for the first time, Madara remembered that first image perfectly. He remembered that Tobirama’s shirt had been too big for him as though he were playing in his big brother’s clothing. His hair had been strangely uneven, likely shorn off with the blade of a kunai for one reason or another. His face had seemed strangely familiar, although he hadn’t been able to place it. The next time he had seen the younger boy he had tattooed three red lines on his face, giving him an angular look even with the lingering softness of baby fat. Against his own will, Madara had noted then that it was a rather good look for him.

With a groan, the young Uchiha pulled at his hair with both hands, frustrated. Why did he have to be marked with something so difficult? His father would never allow him to pursue this even if he wanted to. And Madara wasn’t even sure if he wanted to! He wished that he had never met Hashirama by the river last year. His life would have been easier if he hadn’t.

-

No matter how hard he tried not to, Madara noticed Tobirama after that. His eyes were drawn to the younger boy every time he appeared in one of their clashes with the Senju clan. He watched with rapt attention as the boy grew in to a gangly teenager, strangely soft and small until he reached fifteen, at which point he began to shoot up like a weed and his entire form broadened and thickened until one day Madara looked and saw a man standing before him. He tried not to be too obvious about the way his mouth went dry and his palms suddenly became clammy.

That was the day that Madara knew with absolute certainty that he had to accept Hashirama’s continuous offers of peace. His father would never accept them of course – but his father was slowing as age crept up on him. As much as he felt like scum for wishing for the death of a family members, Tajima had never been a good father. He had barely even been a good clan leader, constantly hungering for more war, more revenge, more death.

Something had to be done, of course, and he was going to have to do it himself. The next time he met Hashirama on the battlefield he shied a rock at the other’s face. To anyone else it would look like an attack, an attempt to distract his opponent, but the moment Hashirama caught the rock and his eyes widened at the perfect smooth shape of it Madara knew his old friend had gotten his message.

They met on the riverbank that evening, the same place that they used to all those years ago. Hashirama nearly bowled him over trying to hug him and Madara only just dodged his efforts. The moment he said he wanted peace Hashirama started crying great thick tears of happiness and it took almost half an hour to get him to stop sobbing and attempting more hugs. The effort of evading them took up so much of his concentration that he failed to notice they were not alone until he looked up at the tree line and spotted Tobirama standing there, arms folded and features drawn in to an expression of disapproval. He was so startled he forgot he was wrestling Hashirama away and, with a yelp, found himself tackled on to his back for the tightest hug he had even been misfortunate enough to receive.

“Get off me you over-grown fool!”

“You said you wanted peace! I’m so happy Madara!”

“Well I didn’t say I wanted cuddles, so off!”

Hashirama laughed as he rolled to the side and sat up. Once upright, he spotted his brother and it was like a second sun coming out to shine over the first.

“Tobirama! Guess what! Guess what!” The big man-child was up and dancing on the spot in a flash, only to deflate when his brother responded in a flat tone.

“Madara wants peace. Yes, I heard.”

The Uchiha in question pushed himself carefully to his feet. It hadn’t occurred to him until just now but he wondered if Tobirama’s Scrawl had been a smudge too, if he had discovered the name of his soulmate only after they had been forced farther apart or if he had known all along. He supposed now at least he might have a passing chance for an opportunity to ask – if this even was the correct Tobirama. He wasn’t the only one in the world bearing that name, after all.

Hashirama blathered on about unity and rainbows – or something of the like, Madara wasn’t really listening – while Tobirama’s eyes slid over to Madara and stayed there. His gaze was piercing, like thin little senbon stabbing in to the Uchiha heir with all the force of an ire he wasn’t sure whether or not he’d earned. What had he even done to this man? Other than be born in to an enemy clan. That, he thought, was certainly enough to breed instant hatred in many people.

With a sigh, he turned to quiet his friend, reining in the excessive enthusiasm so that they could get back to the point.

“My father does not want peace,” he pointed out when he could finally be heard. “Whatever plans we make will be for nothing while he still lives. So you’re going to have to pretend that you know what the word patience means.” He was startled to hear a snort of amusement from Tobirama, who looked away when Madara glanced over at him.

“You can’t convince him at all?” Hashirama whined.

“I’ve tried many times over the years but there is no getting through to him. He is buried in his hatred and he has no wish to stop this stupid war. No matter how many lives it costs us.” He shook his head. “He’s not going to live forever though. And I would like to have as many members of my clan at least sympathetic to the idea of peace as I can by the time I stand at the head of it.”

The weight of Tobirama’s silent gaze was heavier than he could have imagined it would be. The younger said nothing and yet Madara could feel those eyes on himself, weighing, judging. He wondered how he measured up yet refrained from asking and Tobirama offered nothing, not adding to their conversation, just silently watching from the opposite riverbank.

Madara left after a while but it was not their only meeting. After so long apart it was surprisingly easy to strike up a friendship with Hashirama once more. The party was dampened a little by Tobirama’s frequent presence, however. Madara found himself looking forward to the times when the younger man would tag along as much as he dreaded them for their awkwardness. Tobirama never said anything, never even came close to them. He perched himself in a tree on the far side of the river from their usual meeting spot and simply hovered watchfully. Madara couldn’t decide if he followed his elder sibling like this all the time or if it was just that the man didn’t trust him personally, even after so many peaceful talks.

-

It took two more years before Madara’s father fell in battle. It was a death that seemed a fitting end for the life he had led: when the rest of his squadron refused to push so far in to enemy territory, Tajima went alone across Senju lands and was cut down by a passing patrol. He died alone trying to stoke the flames of a fading war no one else wanted to keep fighting.

Upon receiving a hawk announcing his death from Hashirama he immediately declared his intention to make peace with their rival clan – and was met with resounding approval. He was not the only Uchiha tired of war, tired of death and loss and the aching despair of having nothing left but fading memories. He sent the hawk back with an overture of peace, which he later was told caused Hashirama to burst in to an absolute flood of tears.

It was only a matter of cooperation and planning after that and before either of them knew it they were standing on the cliff they had sat upon as children, looking down over the village they had always dreamed of building. There had been some talk lately of choosing a single leader for the village and the whispers that reached his ears said that the choice would likely be between the two of them. If he were to be honest, Madara would have liked the position. For too many years he had been all but helpless to improve the living conditions of those in his care and he would have liked the opportunity to do so now. On the other hand he trusted Hashirama to do the same and to listen to any suggestion he might have.

The only thing Madara could have possibly wished for that he did not already have was Tobirama.

He woke every day with his fingers clutched to his chest over the name of the one who was supposed to be destined for him. No matter how many times he attempted conversation or some small gesture of goodwill, Tobirama’s opinion of him never seemed to change. The younger man looked at him with a blank expression no matter what he did and it was discouraging, to say the least. It was lonely.

The subject returned to his mind often. This was his soulmate; of course it was on his mind. In the short time since the village had finally finished conduction and most of the clans had gathered, he had managed to keep quiet about it. Today, standing with his best friend and looking out at all they had wrought together, he finally brought it up.

“Is there a specific reason your brother hates me?”

Hashirama looked over at him with a befuddled expression. “What?”

“Your brother,” Madara repeated, catching a leaf on the wind and twirling it between his fingers. “He hates me and I’ve never figured out why exactly. I was never actually trying to kill you, I’ve been as kind as possible to him, yet he still looks at me like an unfavorable selection of droppings.”

“Tobes doesn’t hate you!”

“He – Tobes? Does he know you call him by that ridiculous nickname?”

“Ah, yeah, he hates it.” Hashirama scratched at one ear sheepishly. “I should really stop that.”

Madara sighed. “You’re an idiot to anger to him,” he said, to which Hashirama began to laugh.

“Tobes calls me an idiot either way!”

“I thought you said you were going to quit calling him that! And you didn’t answer my question!”

“Oh! Um, I don’t know? I mean, I don’t think he hates you at all! Or at least he’s never said anything about it to me. But I have a more important question! We should come up with a name for the village! We can’t just keep calling it ‘The Village’, right?” Hashirama beamed at him, then turned his goofy, too wide grin outwards to smile down at the houses far below. Madara narrowed his eyes.

“This is important,” he growled. Hashirama turned his head to grin at him again and the Uchiha knew his friend would talk no more of his brother until Madara had pandered to his strange whims. He fiddled with the leaf in his hand, twirling it again before raising it to contemplate the village through the hole in its center. “Maybe…Konohagakure?”

It was pure whim that made him say it and he did not expect Hashirama’s odd blubbering reaction nor the voice that suddenly spoke up from behind him.

“Poetic.”

Madara whipped around so fast he nearly lost his footing, his widened eyes falling on the form of the man approaching them from the direction they had climbed up themselves earlier. Tobirama wore no armor today, leaving him all in black. It highlighted the paleness of his natural colors and, as had happened more and more often as the years went by, Madara felt his mouth going dry. The younger man held his eye for a prolonged second before easily looking away, back to his brother.

“The Feudal Lords will be here soon for the conference,” he said. “You should be preparing to meet them.” Hashirama made that little startled noise he did when he’d forgotten something.

“Oh! You’re right I should! Excuse me.” With a quick smile his friend turned to hurry away. As he reached his brother the younger man turned his head to glare at the brunet.  

“He’s right, you know.”

Hashirama paused in his steps, blinking. “Who’s right?”

“I would appreciate it if you stopped mangling my name in such a ridiculous manner. Stop calling me Tobes when you think I can’t hear you.” He glared, his brother pouted, and Madara prayed for the earth to swallow him whole.

As Hashirama once again turned and walked away, Madara whipped around to face the open air beyond the cliff face, hoping to hide his mortification. Obviously Tobirama had heard their earlier conversation, which meant that he had heard Madara’s question. He wondered if there was anywhere in the village he could hide that the sensor wouldn’t be able to find him – at least until he had patched up the fraying edges of his pride.

The crunch of gravel at his back told him that instead of leaving with his brother Tobirama was coming closer. Madara twitched but refrained from moving so much as a muscle until he could see the other in his peripheral vision. Then he peeked sideways to find Tobirama staring out over the village as his sibling had, face held in a hesitant, thoughtful expression.

Madara waited, watching his companion from the corner of one eye, yet neither of them spoke. They stood next to each other in complete silence until the Uchiha could take it no longer. He sighed heavily and crossed his arms as he set his gaze very firmly on the air above Tobirama’s shoulder.

“I was only asking because my Scrawl bears the name Tobirama.” He watched the younger man twitch but did not look up to see his face yet. “I’ve always thought that it was meant to be you and yet you’ve always seemed…”

“You said nothing because you believed I hated you and therefore doubted that I was, indeed, your soulmate.”

“Yes.” He noticed that the Senju hadn’t denied anything. Emboldened by this, taking for granted that he had been right all along, he found the courage for a question he’d been wondering about since he was a child. “Was your Scrawl a smudge too at first?”

“A smudge? I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“As though someone had drawn their fingers through wet ink. The name was unreadable until I my thirteenth year and then one day it just…became clear. It was a few months after that day by the river; I felt a strange sensation under my skin and when I checked, the name ‘Tobirama’ was perfectly legible.”

The man in question stared at him with wide eyes and parted lips, seemingly stunned in to silence. Madara drew his brows down to cover the slight embarrassment that rose up and cleared his throat.

“I suppose not, then,” he muttered.

Once more they both stood quiet, each working their way through different thoughts. Madara had thought that he would finally have a reason for why the name on his chest had been unreadable for much of his childhood when he at last confirmed who his soulmate truly was. He was reasonably certain that this was the Tobirama he was meant for and yet it looked as though he had no answers either.

Or, at least, his companion seemed not quite ready to process certain things. He was still staring at Madara with his eyes slowly widening more and more until his expression could only be described as awed. While the older man wasn’t sure what about his strange Scrawl would warrant awe, he certainly wasn’t going to discourage anyone from looking at him in such a manner. Especially not the one he had been trying to ingratiate himself with for years now.

When Tobirama eventually pulled himself together he did it with as much grace as he did everything else. His expression cleared and he gave vent to a small, toneless hum as he looked away, his eyes looking down below the cliff.

“My Scrawl bears the name ‘Madara’ and it always has,” he said quietly. Madara felt his heart leap straight in to his throat, barely able to stay still as the other continued. “I was always afraid to ask what yours was. I feared it might say Yuuka.” Madara’s face twisted in confusion.

“That’s a woman’s name. Who the hell is Yuuka?”

“I was.”

Madara’s staring was nowhere near as restrained as Tobirama’s. His mouth gaped open and his eyes nearly bugged out of his skull – until he realized exactly how rude he was being and his jaw snapped shut with an audible click. Tobirama swung his head around to glare directly in to Madara’s eyes.

Was. That name is dead. As is Yuuka. I am Tobirama.” When Madara did nothing more than nod slowly, still reeling with confusion, Tobirama lifted both of his hands to scrub at his face, his voice muffled by his thin fingers as he continued to speak. “I chose the name Tobirama only a few months before that day at the river. I cut my hair and stole my brother’s clothing and I offered to fight anyone who still wished to call me Yuuka because I knew I was a boy, no matter that I had been born with a girl’s body. But it felt…strange. It felt odd to answer to a new name, like it didn’t fit yet.”

The younger man lowered his hand at last, looking down and speaking to his palms. “A few months after that day I wrote that dead, unwanted name on every empty page of a brand new notebook. Then I burned them one by one, imagining that I was burning her memory from the world. The next morning Hashirama woke me and he called my name and I realized…that I was Tobirama. It finally felt right. I finally felt right.”

“Oh.” Madara could think of no other response. Tobirama snorted.

“Take your time, Uchiha.”

“Shut up! It’s surprising, okay!”

“Just surprising?”

Very surprising? Fascinating? I never considered this as the reason, alright? I’m just amazed by how much sense it makes.”

His companion looked up, startled. “How much sense it makes?”

“If you’re just going to repeat everything I say then don’t bother, you’re not contributing to the conversation.” Madara sniffed haughtily but didn’t bother to hold the expression. He was too excited. “It does make sense! My Scrawl must have changed the moment you realized you truly felt like yourself. It was smudged before because you had the wrong name! And the moment it changed was the moment you accepted the right one! Don’t you find that fascinating?”

“Well yes, but…Madara you do understand that-”

“Yes I understand what you’re telling me. You can’t have imagined I would mind?”

“The possibility crossed my mind that you would perhaps find it concerning.”

Madara scoffed. “Quit hiding behind big words and say you were worried.” Then his face softened in to a smile, his body weight shifting to lean closer to the younger man. “You’re a man. I’ve always known that. Obviously I have questions and we’ll have more than one conversation about this but I don’t mind. If you’ve paid even the slightest bit of attention then you’ll already know that I’ve been in love with you for ages now. I’d much prefer to put the drama on hold and get to the kissing and the big dramatic ‘I’ve finally found you’ moment.” He raised a single eyebrow and seemingly against his will Tobirama began to laugh.

“I don’t do dramatic,” he protested.

“You’re more dramatic than your brother,” Madara insisted. “You’re just quieter about it.”

Tobirama laughed again, looking at him sideways when he took a step closer. “You think you have me all figured out now, hm?”

“I already knew all the most important things about you. Now, are you going to kiss me or not?”

Madara did get his kiss but it was a rather short one. It turned out Tobirama had never kissed anyone before and was rather adorably shy about it. The moment he started blushing Madara laughed, causing him to storm off back towards the village. The older man was smiling even as he chased after his irritated soulmate, completely unperturbed to already be having their first fight. It had taken him more than twenty years but he finally had everything he had ever wanted in his life.

Chapter Text

To be perfectly honest, Sakura sort of hated the catch-all excuse of ‘because we’re soulmates’. She didn’t like that so many people used it to explain away so many things just because they didn’t want to take the time to actually look in to the deeper reasons for why things happened, what decisions led to that event, or even what the resulting repercussions would be. More than that, Sakura didn’t like that even if someone did take the time to look in to all of that and drag it all out in to the light, it could still be summed up by simply saying ‘because we’re soulmates’.

This might have been why she spent so long denying her own soulmate when she finally found him. When she met the reanimated Senju Hashirama during the Fourth Great Shinobi War, she definitely had not expected to look in to him, down in to the very depths of who he was as a person to see his very soul shining brightly within. She also hadn’t expected her own soul to reach out to his and bring him back to life! She absolutely refused to accept that he had come back to life simply because his soul had bonded with her own. The ‘almighty power of soulmates’ was her least favorite trope in those stupid romcom movies Ino always tried to force her to watch and she was not going to take being a victim herself of such absurdity.

In her mind there had to be some sort of medical reason. Her theories mostly revolved around the regenerative properties of the Mokuton and quite possibly how it interacted with Edo Tensei. In the months after the war, Sakura subjected her newly alive-again soulmate to endless tests and experiments. She explored his DNA more thoroughly than anyone’s had ever been explored before, constantly frustrated to come up without answers.

For his part, Hashirama seemed less thrilled to have been given a second chance at life than one might expect – although she definitely understood why when he told her. He knew very little about this new world he had been reborn in to. The technologies of this new Konoha were foreign and slightly alarming to him. After having been levelled and rebuilt, none of the buildings or streets were the same. Not even the people were the same; all of the people Hashirama had known and loved had passed on years ago but for one remaining grandchild. As thrilled as he was to have finally discovered his soulmate, Hashirama was lonely in this new world. And Sakura could see it.

Day after day she forced herself to look away from the cracks that marred the light shining inside of him. They resembled the patterns of shattered glass, the golden brilliance of his soul shimmering through them as if to say ‘here I am, I am broken but still here, please look at me’. Much the same as the way Hashirama willing came to her again and again and again, allowing her to poke him with needles and takes samples of whatever she liked, all for the chance to smile hopefully at her and make a bit of conversation as she worked. She could see all the small damages his soul had taken and she very much wished she couldn’t. What could someone like her do for someone like him? Her, with her big forehead and her civilian heritage and her tendency to always get left behind. Sakura had long been used to being forgotten by the men and the boys in her life, surely it was only a matter of time before this man forgot her too.

Yet a man like Hashirama was hard to ignore, and for more reasons than just his overwhelming physical presence. He was tall and broad and stunningly gorgeous but those were not the traits which gave her pause and caused her to catch herself staring almost longingly time and time again.

Hashirama was bright in the same manner that Naruto was, though in a more mature way. He was a naturally upbeat person, always trying to make her smile or laugh or simply take a moment to appreciate some small moment in her day. He was also much smarter than the history books ever mentioned. His brother was the venerated genius, which usually caused his own rather impressive mind to be looked over. As humble as he was, though, he didn’t really care. He was kind and generous and an absolute terror to spar with, where he even showed a very satisfying respect for her own skills. He was everything she could have ever wanted in a partner.

And it took her three stupid years to appreciate him. Somewhere in between taking a blood sample and asking him to demonstrate his Mokuton when exposed to certain stresses, Hashirama had absently noted how tired she looked and offered to bring her lunch so she would be able to enjoy her break here in the privacy of her labs. When she accepted, somewhat surprised, she hadn’t expected him to bring a lunch of his own and stay. She didn’t expect him to regale her with stories of his younger years in the days before Konoha had even been built. She didn’t expect to enjoy his company so much she hesitantly asked him to stay for lunch the next day as well.

Before she knew it they were taking extended lunches in teahouses and cafes, meeting in the park on weekends to feeds the pond ducks, strolling arm in arm through the marketplace as she sought the perfect present for Ino’s birthday. Her research and her experiments fell slowly to the wayside, bit by bit, until one day she realized she hadn’t set foot in that lab for several days and had little interest in doing so.

What did she care for why he was here? Wouldn’t it be better to just accept that he was and enjoy their time together? His presence filled her life in a way no one else had before. He made her happy the way her father made her mother happy, the way Sai made Ino happy. After so long of closing her eyes and refusing to see what was in front of her, Sakura finally stopped to wonder why she couldn’t just let herself accept the happiness being offered to her so freely.

Three years after Hashirama was reborn, three years after she looked in to him and bound their souls together, Sakura looked again – really looked. She could hardly imagine that anyone else could ever have a soul more beautiful than Senju Hashirama’s: the rich golden color of it, the brilliant shine, and the way she could feel its warmth whenever she stood close. And now that she had finally allowed herself to look she saw something new. The thin cracks that had shadowed the light were closing, the edges melting together and leaving fewer and fewer each day.

In a moment of bravery, Sakura told him about the healing cracks. Instead of seeming surprised or even mildly interested, Hashirama only laughed like she had stated the obvious.

“But of course they’re healing,” he said to her. “That is the power of soulmates, is it not? To heal one another’s souls.”

“I suppose.” Sakura replied slowly. She had rather deliberately not thought too hard on what soulmates were supposed to do for each other while she’d been busy trying to disprove…she couldn’t exactly remember what she had been trying to prove or disprove.

“Besides, how could they not? After all, that is the very first thing that you and I discovered we had in common.”

“What do you mean?”

Hashirama reached out and stroked one finger down the line of her jaw, more bold then he had ever been before. The touch was almost intimate compared to the careful distance he usually maintained, ever conscious to respect her boundaries and allow her to always be the one to come closer. When he spoke his tone was soft yet firmly confident.

“You are a healer, Sakura. As am I. And I do not mean the jutsu that we use or the chakra we expend. We are the people that will stay when all others have turned away. We are the people that will listen when all others have closed their ears. We are the ones that hold firm when all others have given in. We are the healers, the ones who will offer comfort to a friend or help to an overburdened old women. We protect others. We help them. And we heal them. Under such kind light as that which shines every time I see your beautiful smile, what else could I do but heal?”

Tears filled her eyes and Sakura blinked rapidly to chase them away. The strangely archaic cadences of his speech only made his words more touching, in her opinion. The way he spoke always seemed to her to carry the weight of words well-thought out and these words in particular he seemed to have given quite a bit of thought to.

“That is also not to say that I am disparaging your abilities as a medical shinobi, and a prodigious one at that.” Hashirama’s eye twinkled. “Trained by my own kin and with such incredible natural talents, how could you not be?” Sakura gave a watery giggle.

“Stop, stop!” She cried softly. “I can only take so many compliments!”

“Ah, I could shower you with compliments from sunrise to sunset and never run out of things to say, my beautiful blossom.”

Sakura blushed fiercely, turning her head to hide her smile. Her expression dimmed quickly, however. “How can you say such nice things about me after the way I’ve treated you? You…are my soulmate.” It was the first time she had admitted it out loud and she was surprised by the wat the words tasted so sweet. “But I pushed you away and I treated you like some science experiment and – why are you laughing?”

“Forgive me, I pray, I don’t mean to laugh.” Despite his words, another chuckle escape before Hashirama calmed himself enough to smile and go on. “I received worse treatment from my own brother when the mood for his experiments took him. Always for the greater good, he insisted, and he did mean well. It isn’t evil to seek answers, Sakura. It isn’t bad to want an explanation before you trust in something.”

“I trust you,” Sakura blurted. Only once she had spoken did she realize she meant it wholeheartedly. Hashirama looked pleased.

“I wonder if you would allow me to say something rather bold,” he asked, such sweet hesitance in his face. Sakura tilted her head to one side, curious.

“Of course,” she told him. “You can tell me anything you like.”

She was startled to see the faintest hint of color rise to paint itself across his tanned cheeks. Hashirama reached out with both of his hands to grasp her own, sliding his fingers under hers ever so gently to hold them as though each were a delicate, precious jewel.

“I find myself quite in love with you, Sakura. Even if I could not see the bright beauty of your soul I would wish to have no other. If you would allow me, I would spend the rest of my days devoted only to your happiness.” She had always thought his face so open, yet right then she realized she had been missing out. His expression was more earnest than she had ever seen before, so warm and soft and kind. She could see the love he professed right there in his eyes, ready for the taking if she were so inclined.

“Oh Hashirama,” she breathed. “I don’t know what to say to that.” His fingers tightened around hers just the slightest bit.

“Say yes,” he suggested. It wasn’t a command, he would never command her emotions. He was such a good man.

“Yes,” she whispered, almost helpless to give him any answer but that one. “I don’t feel as if I’ll ever deserve you but yes!”

The look on his face when she fell against his chest was one of unadulterated awe. His smile was like sunlight blooming through a week’s worth of rainy day clouds and it warmed her right down to her very bones, filling her with such light feelings she thought she might have floated away if not for the strong arms that wrapped around her. With her hands now free, she gripped the front of his yukata to pull herself ever closer.

He smelled earthen, of growing things. His chest was like a solid wall of muscle and his arms softened steel bands. Sakura had been a self-sufficient woman since the day Tsunade taught her the trick to channeling her chakra through her arms; she could and had taken on the most dangerous people this broken world had to offer. She needed no one’s protection. That did not stop her from reveling in just how safe she felt inside her soulmate’s embrace. She knew instinctively that he would protect her, not just from physical hurts, but from emotional ones as well. Here she was safe. Here she would always be wanted, always be loved.

“My dear Sakura,” Hashirama whispered in her ear, “you deserve the world and all the good things in it.”

Flushing again with delighted pleasure, Sakura lifted her head to trace his handsome face with her eyes. Now that she had allowed herself to look she wondered how she had managed not to for so long. He was more than handsome, he was beautiful – inside and out. She could hardly believe that he belonged to her.

It seemed only natural for her to lean forwards and press a chaste kiss to his lips. Hashirama hummed, a delighted little noise, and held her tighter while tilting his head for a better angle with which to deepen the kiss. Sakura was lost immediately, lightheaded and dizzy with the rush of sensations flooding through her. She could hardly believe how right this felt. It was like puzzle pieces falling in to place, a riddle solved after three years of searching for an answer that had been right there in front of her all this time.

Hashirama kissed her until she happily conceded to the idea of never breathing properly again, so utterly filled with happiness that she rarely recognized herself. When they pulled apart she nearly squinted her eyes against the brilliance shining from deep within him and tears filled her eyes when he described to her what he saw of her own soul.

Cracked and bruised and broken it had been, riddled with the gaping chasms of personal hurts. But those breaks were healing just as his own were. Day by day the wounds upon both of their souls had been healing for quite some time already as each spent more and more happy time in each other’s presence. Hashirama and Sakura were healing each other, healing together. And as he had said, it was more than just because they were soulmates. Hashirama and Sakura were born healers; they could hardly do anything less than they were meant to.  

Chapter Text

Although he would rather let his younger sibling shave him bald then admit it, Itachi had always been rather anxious about meeting his soulmate. There were speculations that the Meters were a product of generations long ago, back in olden times when carrying hidden weapons was typical and being a ninja was a common profession. Back then it would have been useful to know how dangerous one’s soulmate was; it might have actually helped you find them. Nowadays the Meters were largely superfluous, only helpful if one by chance happened to stumble across one’s soulmate and touch them.

For people like Itachi, however, the Meter had another purpose: worrying him sick whenever he let himself think about things too deeply. It sat upon his right wrist, a half-moon broken in to four colored sections. Most people that he met had their thick black needle pointing firmly somewhere in the green quadrant. He had seen a few that pointed in the middling yellow range, whose soulmates often turned out to be police officers or military personnel. He had even met one person whose needle pointed to the orange quadrant and when the truth of his home life had finally come out the entire town had been in an uproar.

Itachi’s Meter, however, was unlike any he’d seen before. The needle on his wrist pointed firmly towards the red quadrant. Whoever his soulmate was they were a very dangerous person indeed. Itachi often wondered how he registered for his other half; as the CEO of Uchiha Incorporated he didn’t imagine he could be seen as very dangerous at all. Certainly he was trained in several martial arts, but that was more of a personal hobby than an intention to hurt someone.

Finding one’s soulmate was not actually very common anymore. Enough so that when Itachi did meet his, he couldn’t decide whether to be more shocked at the fact of the meeting or the method.

Being the CEO made every personal moment in his life a public one, much to his chagrin, and his thirty-second birthday was no different. The party his younger brother had arranged for him was tasteful but he would have much preferred to celebrate quietly at home instead of in the massive office from which he ran the family company. Despite the terror of the moment when a gang of men with automatic weapons burst in to crash the party, Itachi could not stop himself from sending his brother the driest ‘I-told-you-so’ face in his repertoire.

That look melted away to be replaced with complete and utter shock as a petite woman with bright pink hair dropped down through his ceiling tiles right on top of the one pointing a gun in his face. With seeming ease she locked her thighs around his neck, twisted, and rolled away leaving a dead man behind her. Itachi could do no more than sit huddled behind his desk beside Sasuke and watch as this tiny slip of a thing systematically took out each and every one of the assailants without earning so much as a scratch.

Stupidly, despite the shock of the events going on around him, Itachi could not take his eyes from the woman. Her distractingly beautiful face remained impassive even as she disarmed a man twice her size and drove the butt of his own gun in to the base of his skull. Party-goers screamed and scattered every which way each time one of the masked intruders moved yet his pink-haired savior appeared perfectly calm, rolling backwards over the snack table to avoid a wild punch and kicking her opponent between the eyes as she went.

As abruptly as the action had started, it was all over. Suddenly the room was left utterly quiet, the rich and terrified all huddled along the edges of the room, several large muscle-bound terrorists unconscious or dead on the floor, and one petite woman casually brushing her hair out of her eyes, examining the cuff of her sleeve and grimacing at a tear in the material. With a huff, her eyes swung over to where Itachi and Sasuke were both still crouched behind his large desk. As the elder rose slowly to his feet with as much composure as he could her gaze swept over him from head to toe, a considering look on her face. Itachi felt almost as though he were being judged and he wondered if he had been found wanting.

“You have some pretty important people after your head, you know,” she said, the first words she had spoken since entering the room. Itachi raised a single eyebrow.

“That is not news to me,” he replied. She snorted, shaking a bit of broken glass off of her boot before stepping over in his direction.

“Well lucky for you you’ve also got some important people looking out for that pretty head of yours as well. Sorry to break up your party”–she really didn’t sound very sorry–“but you’ll have to come with me, Uchiha-san.” With one hip cocked and the slightly tilt to her head, pink hair swaying like a sheet of candy floss around her face, she looked nothing like the deadly fighting machine of only a moment ago.

In all his life, Itachi had never been so instantly intrigued by a person.

“To follow you would seem the best course of action,” he conceded, tugging his clothes in to place in an effort to further compose himself. He’d just watched three men die and several others be rendered violently unconscious; he should not be fighting back a flush of attraction. To his side, Sasuke was looking at him as though he’d gone crazy.

“You can’t just go running off with some stranger!” his brother protested. The girl smirked.

“Why Sasuke, how rude!” She gave a simpering pout so false it was laughable. “How can you possibly call me a stranger? Don’t you recognize your old classmate?”

Three heartbeats of silence passed while Sasuke stared at the woman, confusion written on his features as he obviously wracked his brain to try and come up with where he could have possibly met someone so dangerous before. The moment it clicked was obvious when his jaw dropped. “Sakura!?”

“The one and the only. Now, Uchiha-san, if you would?” She directed her second statement to the one she had been paid to come here and protect, beckoning Itachi towards her and completely dismissing his younger brother.

“If memory serves,” Itachi said as he picked his way towards her, “’Sakura’ was the name of the girl in high school who had an obsession with my little brother.” The woman chuckled.

“Yes, well. Let’s just say I’ve moved on to bigger and better things.”

Itachi hummed as he drew abreast of her. Shaking her head in amusement at his efforts to seem unaffected by everything that was happening, she reached out to tug his tie in to place for him. His hand came up in reflex, attempting to block her motion using one of the moves he practiced so often in the dojo. The moment his fingers curled around his wrist they both stopped moving, staring at each other in wonderment.

“Much better things, it would seem,” she breathed for only him to hear.

He found he could hardly respond at first. His soulmate! He knew it the moment their skin touched, this woman before him was his soulmate! He could hardly believe that they had found each other; even less believable that he had watched her kill three would-be attackers within the first five minutes of meeting.

Sakura recovered first. She stepped away from him with a sharp smirk but soft eyes, heading for the exit. The partygoers that he had forgotten all about, still braced along the edges of the room, scrambled to get out of her way as she reached the door.

“Coming?” she called over her shoulder. Once corner of Itachi’s mouth quirked up ever so slightly.

“Oh yes,” he answered in a low voice. “I believe I will follow wherever you wish to lead me.”

Chapter Text

“CHANGE BACK!”

A loud screech and a hiss follow the shout, then laughter shortly after. The figure in the tree heaves a sigh and doesn’t bother to open his eyes. He’s been having such a good nap and he refuses to disturb it unless his students actually find him and bother him personally.

“Sensei!”

Which, it appears, they intend to do. Tobirama lets a low rumble of displeasure shake the branch his large feline form is stretched out on, warning the younger pair coming toward him that it had better be good or they’ll see their training doubled on the morrow. Neither of them heed the warning.

“Sensei! Kagami is being stupid again!”

“It’s not stupid!”

“Did you really think Aiki-san was your soulmate? She’s twice as old as sensei!”

“Sensei’s not all that much older than us!”

Two teenagers land on the branch near the trunk of the tree, bickering between each other as they stick their feet to the bark with chakra and walk towards him. Tobirama opens one red eye to glare at them for disturbing his rest and when Torifu catches sight of his expression the lad stops walking to cringe. They’re both young adults now but that doesn’t stop them from fearing their teacher’s displeasure. Tobirama might be only eight years older than their nineteen but he’s been considered an adult and an expert in many fields since he was less than half their age. His displeasure is not something to be taken lightly.

His tail flicks with annoyance as Kagami continues to babble in Torifu’s ear, wanting nothing so much as to go back to his nap. It’s hardly the first time that Kagami has decided to disturb random villagers with his silly habit and it’s unlikely this will be the last. He’s long since given up interfering on the young lad’s behalf, choosing instead to leave him to the mercy of whoever the latest victim is.

“It’s not stupid! Sensei, tell him it’s not stupid!” Kagami turns wide eyes on him, his expression wounded and open. Tobirama huffs. To tell anyone anything he would need to shift back to human form and he’s feeling much too lazy to do that.

“It really is,” Torifu insists. His expansive chest puffs out as he lifts a finger to make his point. “I mean, sure, if you demand every person you meet to change their form then someday you’re statistically likely to find the right person. You’ll demand they change, they’ll be forced to, and voila! Soulmate! Except then your first impression is that of an annoying, demanding brat and I don’t think that would be a great way to start off your relationship, do you?”

“But Torifu, it’s foolproof!”

“It’s rude!”

Tobirama turns his head, laying his fluffy ears flat against his skull as he tries hard to block them out. He loves them, he really does, but he would much prefer them to go away right now. His chakra levels still aren’t recovered from that mission he’d only just gotten back from two days ago. He shouldn’t be back to training yet but, even if he vehemently denies it, he has a soft spot for his students. Taking them to the public training areas was meant to allow them to go through the exercises he set for them while also allowing him the time to rest. There are others training on the grounds below that could answer any technical questions they have.

Instead Kagami is up to his usual antics, sneaking up behind unsuspecting victims and demanding them to change their forms on the off chance they might be his soulmate. Tobirama would roll his eyes if he hadn’t frequently been tempted to follow the same pattern when he was younger. He didn’t do it, of course. He has much more dignity than that. But he was tempted.

“Sensei you don’t think its stupid do you?” Kagami entreats him. Tobirama ignores him, eyes staying closed and not even bothering to turn his head back to the bickering pair. He can hear the little sigh of annoyance that earns him and, were he in human form, it would have made him smile slightly.

“He can’t talk in animal form, Kagami,” Torifu points out.

“Oh come on sensei! Talk to me!” It takes extra chakra control for him to dance his weight back and forth but still he does it because Kagami is the type that is always moving. “I hate it when you ignore us like this! So mean, sensei!”

Tobirama pointedly allows himself to yawn, tongue curling and eyes not even bothering to flutter. Torifu laughs.

“Let him sleep.”

“No! I want him to change back and answer me!” Kagami hops around to another branch so he can press his face right up close to the older man’s furred one. “Why won’t you change sensei? Everyone else says it’s stupid but you don’t think so do you? Do you sensei? Hey, come on!”

“He’s not gonna do it, Kagami,” his companion chortles. Kagami scrunches up his nose.

“Sensei! Change back!”

Tobirama feels the pull in his gut and his eyes snap open, a startled yowl escaping him in the split second before his fur recedes and he is suddenly and forcefully stuffed back in to human form. So unprepared for the change is he that, with a yelp, he overbalances and plummets out of the tree. His landing is far from graceful; it’s probably the least graceful landing he’s suffered since he first learned how to tree-walk. He sprawls in the dirt, a tiny cloud of dust rising around him, while the handful of shinobi gathered in the public training area stare at him in wonder.

Warmth rises under his collar as everyone stares at him, dazed and spread out in a most undignified position. The sensation of being forced to change form has been described to him endless times by Hashirama yet, even though he’s still fairly young himself, he’s long since given up on experiencing it for himself. The only one able to force someone to change is their soulmate and over the years he’s managed to convince himself that he’ll never find his. It’s a big world, after all, and most of the new people he meets don’t survive to the next morning.

Slowly, with many eyes still upon him, his head tilts back to look up in to the canopy above. Torifu and Kagami stare back down at him with twin expressions of utter shock. His eyes lock with the Uchiha’s, who looks almost as if he is too scared to move.

“He doesn’t look too happy,” Torifu whispers out the side of his mouth. Kagami gulps and Tobirama narrows his eyes.

“Kagami,” he starts in a warning tone.

That’s as far as he gets. With a small squeak of fear, Kagami shifts to his own animal form. The he darts away, a tiny red fox flitting between the treetops. Tobirama scrambles to his feet and launches himself after the younger lad.

“Kagami!” he roars. “Get back here!”

Instead of listening the idiot hurls himself away at an angle, trying to use his smaller size to shake Tobirama’s pursuit by heading through gaps and places that he can’t fit. It doesn’t work, of course. The older man can follow him by sense alone and he always manages to get ahead of him when he cannot simply follow.

The pair of them cover nearly two miles of empty forest before Tobirama realizes he has the power to stop Kagami – provided the younger is quick enough to catch himself from the inevitable fall that will result. Keeping his hands at the ready in case he needs to flicker over and catch the other himself, Tobirama smirks.

“Kagami,” he drawls, his voice starting out almost singsong only to crack like a whip as calls, “chance back!”

A satisfactory yelp meets his ears as Kagami finds himself suddenly human just as he heads for a small gap that his little fox body would have only just fit through. Instead of having to catch him, Tobirama is treated to the sight of Kagami stuck between two branches, his skinny nineteen year old body wedged tightly between rough bark on both sides. The older of the two feels no guilt in stopping to enjoy the sight for a moment, smirking. Then he chuckles, hopping around so he can talk to the other face to face rather than speaking to his rump

“Perhaps next time you’ll listen when I ask you to stop.”

“Uhm, a little help?” Kagami’s whine is edged with the tones of defeat and dread.

“Are you going to stay still and listen?”

“Are you going to hit me?”

Rocking back on his heels in surprise, Tobirama blinks rapidly while exclaiming, “Why on earth would I hit you?” He’s more than startled to see Kagami break out in a mortified flush and drop his gaze as he suddenly begins to babble, body still wriggling in an attempt to get free.

“Okay so it wouldn’t be like you to hit me but I guess I was just scared because I was worried that you’d be disappointed. You’re amazing sensei, everyone knows that, and you deserve an amazing soulmate but you got me instead! I’m really sorry! I didn’t know, I promise! You can pretend it didn’t happen if you like, I would understand.” Tobirama opens his mouth to speak, only for Kagami to continue to bulldoze right over him, voice rising in pitch as he panics a little bit more with each word. “I was just afraid of your reaction. I didn’t want you to keep looking at me and show me how disappointed you were because – well because I always dreamed of finding my soulmate and being happy. And anyone would be happy to be you’re soulmate! But I’m just me!”

“For kami’s sake,” Tobirama grumbles under his breath, stomping down the branch he’s standing upon. Kagami blathers on and on – right up until Tobirama snatches a fistful of his hair, wrenches his head around for the right angle, and plants a kiss right on his still moving lips.

The younger man falls silent only after a startled moan, the one arm that isn’t trapped reaching over to fist in Tobirama’s shirt. He sucks in air desperately through his nose as Tobirama ravages his mouth without mercy, glad to force an end to the idiotic drivel the younger had been spouting. He releases Kagami only when he feels the other go lax under his hold, body languid and melting in the pleasure of the kiss.

“Just you indeed,” he grumbles. “Are you or are you not happy to find your soulmate after all the fuss you’ve kicked up about it in the past?” Kagami stares up at him, dazed.

“I’m very happy.”

“Then for sage’s sake what on earth inspired you to think I wouldn’t be?” The only response he gets is a gaping mouth as the other stares at him, dumbfounded. “What absolute nonsense.”

Kagami continues to stare at him silently as Tobirama stomps over to brace his back against the tree and use both legs to shift the branch trapping his soulmate in place. The younger has just enough time to squirm free before his foot slips and the tree snaps defiantly back in to place. Both of them stare at each other wordlessly, one nervous and the other heavily exasperated.

“Thanks…” Kagami murmurs, rubbing at his hair awkwardly.

With a sigh and another roll of his eyes, Tobirama takes hold of the younger man’s shirt and drags him in until their faces are nose to nose. “I did not spend the better part of a decade training you for you to think so little of yourself. Fur and fang, Kagami, you don’t get to tell me what I do and don’t deserve! I’d all but given up on finding my soulmate and the moment I discover you’ve been right here under my nose this whole time you tell me I should give up on you? Hogwash!”

“Sorry!”

“Don’t be sorry! Be…happy!”

“Well you don’t look happy!”

“Well I am!”

The two stare at each other with matching frowns – until Kagami wavers and bursts in to laughter. Tobirama shifts, his frown subsiding as embarrassment creeps in. Perhaps he is acting just a bit ridiculous, shouting about being happy with such an angry look on his face. He’s never been very good at expressing himself, especially not in his human form.

By the time his companion finally calms down it occurs to Tobirama, at last, what is happening. He’s found his soulmate. He is holding his soulmate in his arms and it’s not a stranger. It’s someone he knows, someone he cares about. The possibility never occurred to him. The picture he’d had in his mind was that of meeting a perfect stranger and trying to decide if it was worth getting to know them or not. In all honestly the idea has never enthused him very much. This…he likes this much more.

“Are you through with being an idiot?” he asks once Kagami is quiet once more.

“Wha-! Don’t be mean, sensei!” Kagami pouts, tilting his head back to look up at Tobirama and then pausing when he notices their faces are still quite close. The older man smirks.

“If you wish for me to kiss you again you will refrain from calling me ‘sensei’ from now on,” he drawls. The younger flushes.

“Right.”

Kagami does not call him sensei again.

-

(A very worried Torifu finds them later, comfortably ensconced in one of the trees growing just behind Tobirama’s house. The large white feline flicks its tail idly as he naps in a perfect patch of sunshine, curled protectively around the small red fox tucked into his side. Torifu stays just long enough to hear the loud rumble of a leopard’s purr before dashing away again with a smile.)

Chapter Text

The fact that most humans seemed to think of the merfolk as consisting of only dainty, beautiful women was a constant source of annoyance for Kisame. He was neither dainty nor a woman and he’d never met a single member of any race who would ever call him beautiful. The skin of his upper body was light blue while the scales of his shark-like tail were a deep navy, a stark contrast to the white underbelly. He came from a line of Folk who had not yet evolved out of the gills that split both sides of his neck nor the razor sharp teeth that lined his mouth. The best description he could hope for was fierce.

Humans, he had long since decided, were all ignorant, stupid, and boring. Kisame had never met a human who could hold his interest for longer than the time it took him to decide whether they looked tasty or not. As he watched the shadow of a boat drift across the surface of the sea only a few feet above his head, Kisame licked his prominent teeth and grinned, hoping this one would be a tasty one.

Strangely, however, he found his curiosity piqued. It was rare to see a boat so small this far out to sea. It had been years since Kisame had encountered a boat that wasn’t teeming with dozens of humans, all armed to the teeth with various sharp things that bit in to his side as he attempted to draw one of them down for a meal. The small wooden tub above him didn’t look like it could hold more than a small handful, perhaps not even that many. How could such a tiny craft have survived this far out?

It wasn’t often that Kisame found himself curious to explore anything human but he only shrugged and followed his instincts, rising slowly to the surface a few good feet away. His clear inner eyelids stayed closed as he held his outer ones open wide, on the lookout for the slightest sign of danger. No paddles or oars broached the water, though the boat was rocking gently from side to side, and he wondered if it was in fact empty.

With a few flicks of his powerful tail he poked his head above the surface, just far enough to take a peek. His shoulders relaxed and his teeth came out in a mean-looking grin when he still saw nothing. It appeared he was correct – looked like no one was home. More confident now, Kisame swam over to the boat. Boorish they might be but humans were also clever bastards who crafted all sorts of tools an underwater creature had no other access to. Some merfolk made their nests around human-inhabited islands and traded for them with pearls and fish but Kisame had never been that social.

Things took a turn almost quicker than he could process. Wrapping his fingers around the edge of the boat, Kisame hauled his upper half out of the water to peek inside. He had a single split second to register the sight of shocked green eyes before a wild battle cry blistered his ears and a small fist impacted his face with surprising strength.

Kisame’s head reeled back and the force of the motion sent him flopping back down in to the water. What the hell was that!?

He surfaced again immediately, several feet away. An average-sized pink-haired human was staring back at him with eyes the most interesting shade of green he’d ever seen. It wasn’t her eyes that fascinated him, however. Instead of cowering like many of the humans he had met, or even turning away with a look of horror or disgust, this human was staring at him with her head held high, her spine up straight, and a looked of hunger in her eyes. Not the hunger for food or treasure. He couldn’t define this hunger.

“I’d apologize but it’s your own fault for startling me,” she declared in a strident voice. Kisame blinked, then he tossed his head back with a bark of laughter.

“What are you doing so far out to sea, Girlie?”

“None of your business Fish Boy.”

“Oh, you’ve got a little spunk in you, don’t you?”

With a chuckle and a few swishes of his tail Kisame drifted in lazy circles around her, drawing closer with each rotation. She raised one of her eyebrows and kept her gaze steady on his face.

“I didn’t hurt you did I?” she asked. He took a moment before answering, a little startled at the concern in her voice.

“It would take a lot more than that to hurt me,” he said. “What makes you think a tiny little hit like that would be any sort of bother?” She rolled her eyes.

“Ugh, just the same as any man on land. So arrogant! Your face is all blue; it already looks bruised.”

Kisame cocked his head to one side. “All of me is blue,” he pointed out.

“No I mean around your eye, the parts that’s really dark.” When he continued to look at her in bewilderment, the girl huffed. “Here, see?”

Reaching in to the thick red jacket she wore, the girl produced a round brass pocket watch and held it out. The top was flat, about the size of her palm, and buffed to such a perfect shine that Kisame was able to see his own reflection in it. He was startled to see that she was right: the area around his eye was now a deeper shade of blue than the rest of his skin.

He was already in the middle of his own confusion when suddenly the pink-haired human let out a piercing exclamation of shock, dropping the pocket watch down in to the bottom of the boat in favor of staring at the back of her hand. The area between her second and third knuckles was colored in, the skin dyed a shade of blue that looked as though it would match the new mark upon his own face.

“That’s impossible!” She cried. Kisame drifted closer, hanging his arms over the bow just out of her reach.

“What’s impossible?”

“Do you know what this is?” she demanded, holding up her marked hand and using the other to indicate the blue coloring. “It’s a soul mark! But that’s…it’s…”

“Impossible?” he finished for her with a grin. She nodded violently.

“Yes! Impossible! I can’t be soulmates with a fish!”

Kisame jerked his head up, offended. “I’m not a fish! What’s this nonsense about soulmates?” The girl shook her head, bringing her hand closer to cradle it.

“It’s a human thing,” she said. “They’re supposed to lead us to our true love, the one we’re meant to be with. The moment we touch our soulmate for the first time it leaves a mark on both parties. But…this mark wasn’t here before, not until I hit you. And you’ve got a mark. Do merfolk even have soulmates?”

“Not that I’ve ever heard of.” Kisame hummed, tail lazily trailing through the water and causing the boat to turn. “What’s your name, Girlie?” She regarded him with an unreadable expression for a long moment before answering, long enough he almost thought she intended not to.

“Sakura.”

“It’s been interesting meeting you Sakura. Enjoy your floating.”

With that Kisame slid back down in to the sea, her protests roaring in his ears. His laughter escaped him as tiny bubbles of air rising to the surface but he knew she would never notice them. She was too busy cursing him up and down, from one sea to another.

By her language and the clothes she wore – well, he knew a pirate when he saw one. Her boat was just the right size for an emergency vessel typically stored on a large ship. His brief peek inside had revealed why she wasn’t rowing herself: no oars. He’d witnessed enough mutinies to recognize what had happened to her. To be set afloat surrounded by water and yet not be able to drink any of it was truly one of the cruelest ways for a crew to overthrow their captain.

He couldn’t say he understood why they would do that. She obviously had spirit and a bigger streak of bravery in her than almost any pirate he had ever met. She seemed the type that men would go to war for in a heartbeat.

She had certainly intrigued him, although he would never admit it out loud.

It didn’t take long for night to fall and Kisame waited patiently, just far enough under the surface of the water that he could watch the small vessel without being seen himself. He waited for darkness and then waited some more, until he was sure the little spitfire would be asleep. A quick cautious peek told him he was right.

Sakura the stranded pirate slept right through her own rescue. She lay wrapped in her jacket, tossing fitfully as her empty stomach cramped and begged for water, while Kisame snuck an arm inside her boat and liberated a length of rope. She dreamed of feasts and rich red wine as a gruff blue merman towed her silently towards the closest island, several hours away.

Theirs had been a quick first meeting and certainly not the smoothest.

It would definitely not be the last, Kisame decided, fingers tracing the new mark around his eye as he watched her drift peacefully in to harbor.

Chapter Text

It was months before Tobirama ever even knew that Kakashi was also one of the rare few blessed with a soul tree. His reticent companion had a habit of keeping nearly his entire body covered at all times and that included the fingerless gloves that he was never seen without. The only parts of him that Tobirama saw with any regularity were the dexterous fingers that weaved the most graceful seals he’d ever seen and the right eye which was the only uncovered section of his face.

Even that much, however, was enough to draw Tobirama’s eye. Kakashi’s hair intrigued him because it was just that single shade off from his own that made it silver and he found himself admiring the color more often than was likely socially acceptable. The bulky vests that had become standard uniform sometime in the last fifty years could not hide his long, lean body, the type of body Tobirama had always found incredibly distracting. And no amount of clothing could cover up that blade-sharp brain of his. His eye might appear lazy but his mind was as never-resting as Tobirama’s own.

After Kakashi was assigned to be his guide they settled very quickly in to a mutually beneficial pattern. It was easy to fall back on the life-long habit of retreating in to his laboratory once one was set aside for him and it was pleasing to have Kakashi there with him most days. The older man (and wasn’t it baffling to be fifty years dead and somehow still younger) would lounge in his quiet corner, reading a book and pretending he wasn’t hiding from that loud green person who followed him around. Tobirama went about his research and experiments, basking in the kind of silent company he had always preferred, taking advantage of Kakashi’s intellect whenever he needed a sounding board for his more complicated ideas.

Those same experiments were what showed him the potential for something he had already begun to crave, even after such a short amount of time. Kakashi wasn’t above being playful when the mood took him and Tobirama, strangely, found it more endearing then annoying – even when that playfulness ended with a beaker of questionable substances spilling over the table and soaking in to Kakashi’s plated gloves.

Kakashi seemed more amused than worried, even as Tobirama grabbed his wrists and pulled him towards the lab sink, peeling his gloves off as they went. Purple solution swirled down the drain while one pale man washed the other’s hands, thumb very carefully not pausing to stroke the pretty tree tattooed on the palm he was holding.

“Do you wear your gloves to cover it?” he asked later, giving no context and trusting Kakashi to be smart enough to know what he was referring to.

“I wear gloves for the same reason anyone else does,” Kakashi responded, wiggling all ten fingers in a lady-like fashion. “Protecting the goods is priority number one.”

Tobirama snorted, covering his smile by burying it in the paper he was supposed to be reading.

Love was something he had no experience with, having never found it in his first life. He’d lived sixty years alone and upon his resurrection he had fully expected to spend decades more the same way. The morning that he woke and recognized the slowly growing feeling in his chest for what it was he very nearly panicked. How was one supposed to act when in love? What exactly was one supposed to say? Do? His brother, of course, would have been the one to go to with questions. His brother, however, picked up on things long before he plucked up the courage to say anything. It took all the fun out of teasing Hashirama about that man Tenzou when all it did was open up the way for Hashirama to tease him back about Kakashi.

Hope, too, was unfamiliar to him, as was longing. As time went by and Kakashi continued to show up to sit quietly in his work space, long after it was no longer his duty to do so, Tobirama found hope and longing growing in his chest with each day that passed. He had seen the mark on Kakashi’s hand but was it meant for him? They got along so well it seemed impossible that it wasn’t but he was never a man to leave things to chance. It was against his nature to be so hasty as to say something before he was 1oo% sure. That didn’t stop him from wanting.

Three full turning of the seasons had crawled by since the day the Senju brothers were given new life before Tobirama found his answer. He waited impatiently for the spring equinox, marking each day on the calendar as they passed slowly, until finally he woke one morning with his hand clutched tightly, almost afraid to look. And when he did…

When he did it was as though he’d been reborn for a third time. Gravity had no pull to keep him down to earth while his heart soared at the sight of pretty pink blossoms blooming across his palm, decorating the undersides of each of his fingers. He felt almost as though he himself had bloomed under the light of Kakashi’s quiet presence in his life.

Hashirama was the first to know, of course. His brother’s startled face said that he hadn’t even noticed the date, which was just like him, but he was quick to offer his congratulations while his eyes immediately began filling with tears of joy. Tobirama escaped just in time to avoid the incoming hug.

He could have gone looking for Kakashi but he felt no need to do so. It was nearly inevitable that the other man would show up in his comfy spot across the room as soon as Tobirama settled in to continue his research from the night before. Indeed, as soon as he had sat down suddenly there was an extra body in the room that hadn’t been there a moment ago. Tense with a hope he really wasn’t used to, he peeked out of the corner of his eye to see Kakashi lounging, his one eye intense as he focused his gaze on the former Hokage.

“I don’t suppose-“ he started to say, not really sure how he was going to end the sentence. He didn’t need to, it turned out. He got only that far before Kakashi cut him off.

“Yes.” The older man smirked at him as he drew a steadying breath, feeling almost as though the world were spinning too fast.

“May I see?” he asked.

Kakashi sauntered over to him, tugging at the clasp on his glove as he walked. When he presented his palm Tobirama smiled and turned over his own. They matched perfectly. Twin tattoos with great reaching branches filled with pink petals, the sign of one who had found their soulmate.

It didn’t surprise him that Kakashi was the first to act; that playfulness of his spoke to a certain amount of bold self-confidence that came in rather handy right at that moment. One pale hand reached out for another and Tobirama looked up at the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with – only to stare in wide-eyed wonder at the face revealed to him for the very first time. Kakashi’s mask hung loose around his neck, revealed a wicked smile full of sharp teeth and obvious intentions.

Their first kiss was short because Tobirama forgot to breathe. Their second kiss was longer because he’d gotten ahold of Kakashi and he refused to let go.

Chapter Text

The first time Kakashi came in contact with Naruto the boy was a newborn child, orphaned less than an hour after birth. Standing next to the sensei he had come to see as a father figure, Kakashi held Naruto close to his chest as he surveyed the pools of blood, allowing the child to suck on his finger in lieu of any other way to keep him quiet. The night was dark, his mood was darker, and no hint of a connection rang through him. He was glad, years later, that this moment was not the one in which he found his soulmate.

The first time Kakashi’s skin brushed Sakura’s she was a child of three lost in the crowd. Her eyes were red with tears, her face scrunched up, and her lungs were giving all they had to let the world know how afraid she was. Kakashi was seventeen and mired in his own mistakes but even someone as cold as him could not be so heartless. He took her fingers in his own and led her around until he found a frantic pair of parents that scooped her up in to loving arms. His heart was heavy with jealousy for the things he no longer had and years later he was glad that this, too, was not the moment in which he found his soulmate.

The first time Kakashi touched Sasuke’s skin he was covered in blood, in shock from witnessing a more traumatic incident than any child deserved to. His eyes were wide and his body shaking. Kakashi could only look at him and see himself in the kid. He’d been there, the whole finding your parent bloody on the floor thing, though Sasuke had had the package bundle of also finding out his brother was the killer. It was the morning after and no one had done anything with the child yet so Kakashi picked him up and carried him away, cradling the back of his neck as he lay limp and unresponsive. The sun was bright but his eyes were full of shadows and he was so, so glad years later that this moment was not the one which found him his soulmate.

That moment came years later, when the ice around his heart had settled in so thick that the Sandaime forced him out of ANBU and asked him to test just one more team of genin. Kakashi wanted to help the last living piece of his beloved sensei. He wanted to give the lone Uchiha a fighting chance. He wanted to protect that bubblegum girl who watched the world through rose-tinted glass. He just didn’t think he was able to.

At least, he didn’t think so until their very first lesson. Passing them had been on their own merit and no matter what anyone said it happened before the moment which changed his life. It was only after Naruto had escape from the ropes which tied him to that post, after he had lunged for his newly assigned sensei, after Sakura and Sasuke had rolled their eyes and reached out to pry him off.

That was the moment that all four of them were connected for the very first time. The bond forged and Kakashi felt them in a way he’d never expected to feel anyone. Sight and sound and sensation rushed in to him from three different sources even after all three of them jumped apart in shock. He watched the children in front of him reel with the input and that was when it hit him. His soulmate was not a lover that would whisper sweet empty nothings and pretend to be the only thing he needed in life. His soulmate was a unit – his soulmate was a family. After so long alone he finally had a family again.

They could feel it, of course, that moment when the ice cracked and shattered, leaving Kakashi exposed for the first time since he was a child of an age with them. His knees buckled and Kakashi hit the ground with tears already falling from his eyes. But that was okay. They caught him.

These are mine he thought, and happiness and satisfaction echoed back to him from three different places. He could feel Naruto’s fears and Sasuke’s pain and Sakura’s desperate wantings. He’d never felt anything so beautiful before. Their four souls resonated until he could hardly stand the joy of it and he wrapped all three of his new students up, holding them all close in a way that said he would never let them go again.

He was glad, years later, that this was the moment in which he had found his soulmates.  

Chapter Text

“If you think for even one moment that I am going to let you walk out of here without a fight then you have another thing coming to you, you egotistical moron!”

Kisame let his footsteps slow to a stop, turning to look over his shoulder and allowing himself to take her in the way he never let himself. He’d never have another chance to after all.

Mei pulled off the Kiri uniform in a way no one else could. It should have been just as bulky on her figure as it was on his but instead it only accented her tiny waistline. What he wouldn’t give to wrap his oversized hands around that waist of hers. He’d bet that he could hold all of her at once. Her hair was down, loose from the half-topknot she usually wore, and the auburn tresses flowed around her like the bloody mist their village was nicknamed for. Her hip was cocked, both hands fisted in anger, and her one visible eye was hot with indignation. She looked like the kind of fire he wouldn’t mind burning himself on.

“Mei-chan,” he drawled teasingly. “Why ever would you wish to fight little old me?”

“You’re not leaving, Kisame. I won’t let you.”

With a frown, he stepped around to fully face her. Her eyes flickered to the slash he’d put through his headband only an hour before then returned to his face, filled with even more determination. When he drew himself up to his full height she didn’t even flinch. She’d known him too long, won too many spars against him to be truly afraid.

“I hardly see how that’s any of your business,” he bit out. His tone was falsely light but layered underneath with the no-nonsense conviction for his actions that he was well known for. His words only appeared to increase her outrage.

“None of my business? Of course it’s my business!” She stepped out of the doorway she’d half-hidden herself in, slowly approaching him in the dark hallway. “It’s more my business than anyone else’s where you go and what you do. Just because you’re a stubborn headed idiot and refuse to acknowledge it does not mean that I will let you throw it all away!”

“Either make sense or go away. I have places to be, tonight.”

Mei snarled as she reached him, pressing her body right up against his chest to get her face as close to his as possible. He could smell her from this close, that natural perfume that clung to her hair and always made his head spin a little. He hated it, hated that she had any sort of pull on him when she shouldn’t.

“I’m hardly going to let my own soulmate betray our village – betray me! How dare you, Kisame! I trusted you like I thought I couldn’t trust anyone else in this godforsaken place. I thought I could count on you! You know what the plan was! Mizukage! Change! Progress! We were going to fix this mess!”

“Yes, yes, I know your plans,” he said, unmoving in the face of her outburst. “Fix the village. Hmph. At this point is there anything left worth saving? There isn’t. This place will never change, I understand that now. I don’t want to fix the village Mei, I want to fix the world.”

“Well we have to start somewhere!” She raised a fist to beat on his chest and he caught it in his hand, lowering his face to speak directly in to hers.

“And if you’re so worried about your soulmate betraying you then go yell at them, not me.”

“I am yelling at my soulmate!”

The scowl dropped from his features so fast she almost missed it in a single blink. Kisame stared down at the woman in front of him with wide blinking eyes and a gaping mouth, almost too stunned to respond. Mei looked back up at him in confusion.

“What did you just say?” he demanded after almost a full minute of silence. Mei huffed.

“I said that I am yelling at my soulmate, you fool!”

“No you’re not,” he insisted. “You’re yelling at me!”

“Because you’re my soulmate! You can deny it all you like, shark-boy, but it doesn’t change reality. We are soulmates and if you think I’m letting one more man walk the wrong direction down the aisle I swear-!”

Kisame cut her off with a snort. “My soul mark is a mountain. What could that possibly have to do with you?” He jerked in surprise when Mei wrenched her hand from his grip only to thump him over the head rather hard with her fist.

“I’ve seen your soul mark and you are such an idiot. It’s not a mountain! It’s a volcano! And seeing as my soul mark is a shark and I am the only living user of Lava Style Justu I don’t think it takes a lot of brain power to put it all together, do you?”

She pressed her face up close to his again and, for a moment, all he did was stare at her in silence once again. The image of the mark on his arm danced in front of his eyes and – by the sea she was right. A volcano.

The next moment Mei let out a startled shriek and was muffled immediately by his lips as he closed the scant few inches between them in a violent kiss, reaching forward to wrap his hands around her waist the way he’d wanted to since they were children just figuring out the differences between boys and girls. Mei was an intelligent woman, however. She was fully capable of adapting to swift changes in the situation around her. When Kisame lifted her off of her feet she did nothing but wrap her arms around his shoulder and kiss him back every bit as fiercely. One couldn’t spend a lifetime spitting fire without learning how to channel it in to one’s personality as well.

“I’d say that changes things, wouldn’t you?” Kisame growled in to her mouth.

“You’re the biggest fool this village has ever seen,” Mei told him. “But you are mine and I will not let you go without a fight, damn it! I plan on actually getting to wear a wedding ring at some point! I refuse to let you ruin that for me!” Kisame huffed out a short laugh.

“Who said anything about leaving?” he replied as innocently as he could. “It looks like there's something in this hopeless village worth saving after all.”

Chapter Text

When he figured it out after so many years Iruka was angry. His soulmate laughed about it of course because he always did think these kinds of things were funny. Iruka did not. It was just confusing. Confounding. The biggest mystery he’d been trying to figure out since he was a child when he first noticed the pattern. How could there be so many signs that his soulmate was in the same village and yet he’d never touched a single doorknob? A strange thing to notice, possibly, but once he did it stuck out like a sore thumb.

More than half the people in the village could see the color of the doorway which led to the room where shinobi came to sign for new missions. Iruka had heard many people describe it as dark brown wood with a faded brass knob. To him both looked like different shades of grey. It wasn’t that he couldn’t imagine the colors because he could. He had seen colors before in many varied places around town and each new discovery was a thrill that raced up and down his spine like lightning. But what he had never seen the color of was a doorknob and it boggled his mind. How could someone touch so many things yet never open a door?

One of the things which kept Iruka sane was his classroom. Most people would say it was because the Academy was his safe harbor and he found himself at his happiest when surrounded by his beloved children. Those people would be only half right. What he liked best about his classroom was actually the colors. The walls, the ancient posters, even some of the books were visible to him in brilliant color. A handful of the desks, as well. They existed as light brown islands in a sea of muted white and grey. Iruka liked his classroom because it was easy to tell that his soulmate had spent time in here and he liked to imagine them attending lessons the same way he had, a small body sitting behind one of those light brown desks and flipping through one of the bright blue textbooks.

Random other things around the village showed color for him: a single table inside an old café, every stool at the ramen stand, random books in his favorite book store, handrails and patches of brick in dark alleyways. Iruka would visit a friend in the hospital only to realize that the blankets on the bed were a soft blue. He would visit another and notice the faded yellow sheets. He could see the mission room where he worked after school in minute detail, every desk and wall lit up like his soulmate had gone around and run their hands over everything. There were times he suspected that rather than the idea that they visited frequently enough to touch so many things over time because he could never understand how they would do so without ever touching the blasted doorknob.

The most common thing for Iruka to see in color were trees – for whatever reason. He was hard pressed to find a tree in Konoha which did not register in leafy shades of green and rich browns. Fall was his favorite time of year, when the greens would turns to a kaleidoscope of reds and oranges and yellows and purples. He liked to see them carpet the earth until color stretched as far as his eyes could see.

As a child he had reasoned that it would be easy to find his soulmate because their clothes would bloom with color. You can’t help touching what you’re wearing after all. His theory held until one day when he got lost in a crowd and a kind man knelt in front of him, offering to lead him back to his parents. The man’s clothes showed up green and blue and white, small red triangles running around one sleeve. After that he took notice of what he hadn’t before: that weird kid who wore a jumpsuit everywhere showed up in green, though his necktie stayed grey. His neighbor Rin flounced through life with a new color for her shirts every day but never for her shorts. Over the years people came in and out of Iruka’s life, sometimes in color and sometimes in grey, and he realized his theory had been wrong.

Even years later he couldn’t help but be a little bit annoyed when he thought back to the day when he finally figured it all out. His whole day had gone wrong from the moment he woke up to realize his alarm had failed to go off. His students had been rambunctious, Anko had stolen his lunch again, and he’d had to chase a sleeping Hatake Kakashi out of three different trees in the school yard. If the man wanted to nap he should just go home!

By the time Iruka arrived to his shift in the mission room he had very little patience left and a vein in his forehead ticked ominously when a young genin told him the Hokage wished to see him in her office. He stomped his way to the upper floors of the Hokage Tower and when he stood in front of Tsunade’s desk there was nearly a visible cloud of steam above his head. She only smiled at him in faint amusement, entirely unbothered by one of his infamous moods.

“Iruka-sensei I’m afraid I’m going to need you to play scribe to someone for a little while today,” she told him. The corners of his mouth turned down and his head tilted to one side in question.

“Scribe? Forgive me my lady but you have dozens off off-duty shinobi at your disposal and I’m supposed to be working the Mission Desk right now. Why me?”

He didn’t at all like the frozen look of her smile. “I’ve just had one of my jōnin come back with important intel. It needs to be recorded but he also managed to shatter his right hand on the way home; I’ve seen him make attempts at writing with his left hand, it’s even more illegible than usual. Yours, on the other hand, is perfectly neat. I need you to record what intelligence he managed to gather and copy it in triplicate for the council meeting tomorrow.” Tsunade smiled wider and it was a strained thing, pulled at the edges in all the wrong ways. Iruka narrowed his eyes.

“My writing is no neater than any of those in the cipher department,” he pointed out. “And they would likely have the clearance this kind of thing should have. I don’t. So…?”

“Do you enjoy thinking yourself clever?” His Hokage asked him, dropping the smile and replacing it with a frustrated look instead. He shrugged.

“I might not be very clever but I’m also not stupid. You’re not telling me something.”

Tsunade made a sound of disgust as she yanked open one of her desk drawers and pulled out a ceramic bottle. Iruka scrunched his nose at the sight of her sake but said nothing. He was impertinent but not so impertinent that he would tell the Hokage what she could and couldn’t do.

“Fine. He’s wounded and grumpy and hopped up on meds. We need to get this information out of him as soon as possible but he’s being difficult so we need someone to deal with him who won’t take any of his bullshit. You’re good at dealing with children, Iruka-sensei, and Kakashi is nothing more than an overgrown child.” She paused to throw back a mouthful of sake, stress obvious in every line of her body. “My hope is that he won’t find you a threat and will therefore speak to you where he hasn’t spoken to anyone else. If we can find him, that is.”

“You may wish to try the schoolyard. He’s been napping in the trees there all day.”

He sat still under the very long, tired look that she gave him, raising an eyebrow but offering no comfort. He was feeling bitchy too. Tsunade turned away and hollered for her ANBU guards to go check the Academy grounds for Hatake Kakashi and bring him to her at once.

Ten minutes later her guards retuned, one of them popping his head in the door to say that Kakashi would be arriving any moment. Iruka watched them close the door and wondered why they didn’t just leave it open if they knew someone was coming. He got his answer when a large mass of blue and green thumped against the window right behind the Hokage’s desk, wiggling it open with a small bit of trouble and then tumbling in with a low curse.

Kakashi stood but did not straighten, keeping his shoulders hunched inward slightly. His right hand was trapped in a cast and held at a protective angle close to his chest. His one visible eye was glazed and Iruka sighed at having to deal with someone ‘hopped up on meds’ as Tsunade had put it. He would have wondered why she didn’t just heal the injury but Hatake was famous for injuring himself so badly that even this world famous healer threw up her hands in frustration. This did not bode well for his poor mood.

“Brat! Are you incapable of using the door?” Tsunade growled as Kakashi slunk around her desk. Iruka blinked, pulled from his internal musing.

“Don’t like doors,” Kakashi mumbled as he made his way over to the couch sitting along one wall. Two of the cushions and the back of it were a horrible mustard yellow. Kakashi sat down on the third cushion and Iruka felt his heart skip several beats at once as he watched it light up, fading in like a developing photograph until it was the same ugly shade of the rest of the couch.

And that was when Iruka realized the answer had been much too obvious this entire time. He understood why so many things in the village had color and yet he’d never seen a doorknob that wasn’t grey. He understood why every tree in Konoha showed up in his spectrum.

Because Hatake Kakashi was his soulmate, the man infamous for never using a door where there existed a window and who spent his recovery time between frequent injuries napping in tress around the village. Iruka’s bad day compounded with the frustration of his discovery as he watched Kakashi curl up on the couch, hazy eyes sweeping each corner of the room like he expected to be attacked any minute. The poor man was high on pain killers and Iruka did not care.

“HOW?” he demanded, startling both Tsunade and Kakashi with his sudden outburst. “We’ve been living in the same village this entire time! We’ve crossed paths thousands of – UGH! Just how!?”

Kakashi barely managed to dodge the paperweight Iruka threw at his head before storming out. Tsunade watched the chūnin go, baffled and a little worried. Then her attention was turned back to her injured jōnin when he began to coo and turn the paperweight around and around in his hands.

“Did you know this is red?” he asked her dazedly. “I didn’t know it was red! Pretty!” Tsunade’s jaw dropped so low she nearly dislocated it.

Later – much later – Iruka would apologize and explain himself and he would of course feel very bad for the way he behaved. Kakashi would laugh it off and make a comment that earned him a swat up the side of the head. The two of them would blush and talk circles around each other until Iruka gave in first and kissed Kakashi with all the pent up emotions he had been waiting to unleash on his elusive soulmate.

All of that would have to wait, however, until his temper cooled down and Kakashi wasn’t drugged to the point where he didn’t even realize he’d just found his other half.

It wasn’t the meet cute Iruka always pictured but even he had to admit it was just so very them.

Chapter Text

She doesn’t so much find it as she does go looking for it. The memory of where it sits is crystal clear in her mind when she wakes that morning even though she has never set eyes on it before. Or, she hasn’t in this life. Sakura has lived so many lives before and the knowledge of that comes seeping in one morning. She remembers her lives but she doesn’t remember living them.

And that is why she keeps it, why she adds to it, why she hides it. Sakura will always know but never remember and it’s important to her that she never forgets.

The hole it is buried in is made of rock and stone, carved out of a hillside which used to be a mountain. The world has shifted and cracked and grown back together countless times since she made this hole but each time she buries it and comes back to it again the world keeps it safe for her like a priceless secret.

The journal is thick and bound with leathers so fine they would fetch a fortune on today’s market. Nowadays there are no materials that are not synthetic and fully recyclable and she wonders that her fellow man seems to have forgotten that leather was once made from the skin of an animal. The part of her that doesn’t remember feels her own skin crawling for having to touch the bindings. The part of her that knows presses forward, digs in gentle fingers and opens the cover to the very first page.

In every life she has had wonderfully neat hand writing and for this she is thankful as she sits by the stream that gurgles nearby and begins to read her own story. The story of Sakura and Kakashi.

-

They were going to take him away from me. That is what I want myself to remember. They were going to take him away from me and I could not let that happen. Kakashi is everything to me. He is my entire existence and if there were no more him in this world then surely there would be no more of me. Bring me witches and wars and angry queens, I couldn’t care less for their false might. Nothing will tear us apart.

We did it in the night, took ourselves away when the moon was hidden and found the old crone whom folks say can speak to the old magics. I told her I would pay any price to be forever bound to my love and she listened – oh did she listen. I felt it the moment she reached in to my soul and I could see in her eyes that she knew the truth of my words. There has never been a love like my love for Kakashi. There never will be again.

When she tied a knot between my soul and his she declared us bonded and she told me my price: we were doomed to live again and again and always forget but always remember. It sounded a boon to me, not a price. I will never forget her words. I record them now so that I may always remember:

“I gave you a doom, child, and that was your price. A doom is but a destiny and I see not why such a pure love should ever see anything but a happy destiny.”

-

I found him on the battlefields. He offered me water and when I took his hand I felt as though I had known him all my life. For days we could not take our eyes from each other and when his company left I abandoned mine to travel with him. We have been inseparable ever since.

Our wedding was a month ago and only two days later I awoke and remembered. I looked for the woman and I found the remains of her cottage, crumbled by the passing decades. I sent prayers for her soul and left flowers on her doorstep in thanks. I have found my Kakashi and we are together as we should be. I owe her my love and my life and my soul. I shall not forget.

-

He’s been right here in front of me for years and now that I remember I feel so stupid! A little angry too. He says he remembered years ago but he was born so much older than me in this life that it sealed his lips. My poor Kakashi, so silent and patient. I will make the rest of his years worth the wait.

He began as my sensei, my very first mentor in the art of killing. He was a very poor sensei but he remains a very good man, the exact same soul that he always has been. I regret all the years I spent chasing and reaching for the wrong one. That other (I will not sully this book with his name) did not deserve me. He was not perfect for me. Not like my Kakashi.

-

I found him and I lost him! How cruel can the world be? To give me the memories of what should have been mine – what will always be mine – but to keep him from my sight, it’s the worst punishment I could imagine.

I remember his eyes from across the room. A poor man travelling in search of work admiring the fine clothes of me and my friends. I could read his jealousy and his hunger, how his belly must have ached for food and his spirit for peace, but still he bowed his head and looked away when I said that his stares displeased me. A perfect gentleman.

I woke the next morning with the memories in my mind and I knew that I had to find him – but he was nowhere to be found. I searched as far as the surrounding cities in vain. He was already gone and I’m so afraid that I will never find him again.

Kakashi, my love, the very reason that my soul still beats and shines on this earth, I will find you. I swear. These feet will never rest until they stand in front of you. This heart will not love again until you hold me in your arms. I will find you.

-

Well, I found him. A lifetime later. Turns out we’re a pair of overdramatic idiots who wandered in circles around each other until we both died. This time is simpler. I want myself to read this and remember that sometimes it is simple and easy. We were born on the same day, almost as though our souls could not bear to be separated any longer than they had been. He lived down the street from me, went to the same school with me. My perfect Kakashi. We’ve never been apart a whole day in our lives and I don’t think I could ever stand to be.

He is reading over my shoulder and laughing. You’ll excuse me. I want to go listen to that sound.

-

I want to reach in to my past life and throttle myself. Sometimes it’s easy? Well sometimes it’s a bloody mess! Sometimes you have to fight for every memory: to get it and to keep it!

There is war again. It seems these lands will always be at war no matter how many times we make the weapons bigger. I didn’t meet him until he was bleeding under my hands but the moment I saw him I knew who he was. My soulmate. My true love. I gave half of my soul to this man so that we would never be separated and now I have to remind him who I am every time we sit in the same room.

It was the impact against his skull, they tell me. It affected his long term and short term memory. He remembers if I tell him but as soon as I slip out of the room the memories fade away again. Some days are good. Some days he greets me by name and he cries when he sees me. Others it is as though I am a stranger to him and I sit for hours telling him our story over and over again.

May the gods have mercy. Either help him to remember or let me forget.

-

The world is changing all around me, technology advancing faster than humanity could have ever dreamed, but one thing remains the same as it always has: I still love Kakashi. I would march straight back to the Dark Ages when humans still crawled across the earth in those strange metal “automobile” contraptions just for one more day in his arms.

It was him that found me this time; that’s never happened before. He tells me he searched through seven different colonies before he found me. In the past we would have called them countries and it’s strange to know that but not remember why. The search, he says, took him four years. But it was worth it in the end. The moment I met his eyes across the room I knew him. I could feel my soul calling out to him and I leapt in to his arms before I even remembered his name.

I can’t believe I forgot how it felt to be so complete. Being with Kakashi is all I need and I have no idea how I made it through so many years of such a paltry existence. Every time I touch his skin it feels like he can still wield the lightning that he used to; I can feel it sparking under my fingertips. Every time we kiss my entire being sings with it. We belong together. We always have and we always will. I have never regretted for a single moment binding myself to this man. May our love last for eternity.

-

There are other entries of course. She had skipped quite a few of them. Thousands of years have passed since the first incarnation of her poor tired soul had sought the power of a witch to save her from being separated from her one true love. Each and every life has brought her here to this place to dig this ancient book from its rest and add a new story to its pages.

Sakura smiles and she runs her fingers over the yellowed, aging fibers. Paper was made of trees, if she remembers her history lessons correctly, and it baffles her mind how it was possible to take something so grand and solid as wood and reduce it to something so thin and soft. Truly the barbaric ages of the past were also full of incredible inventions. She is eternally grateful to her past life for leaving behind the writing utensil she holds in her hand now. She’s never written with anything not digital before but the letters come out the same, bolstered as they are by the memories welling up inside of her.

It doesn’t take long to leave behind her message and when she is finished she seals the book back within its cradle inside the rock, ancient seals still thrumming with a power the world has long forgotten. This rock had once been part of a mountain. When one of her lives had lived in the militant village nearby it had been a steep cliff carved with many stern effigies. None of that exists now. Sakura smiles with sweet nostalgia that does not belong to this life as she looks around and notes all the ways that the landscape had changed.

“Sakura?” a voice calls from a short way away. “Are you finished?”

“Yes! I’m coming!”

Picking her way across the rocks, Sakura hurries over to where the other half of her soul is waiting. Kakashi holds out his hand with a smile and she can feel her heart thrum. It is the same smile that she fell in love with all those centuries ago, the same hidden mischief and warm caring heart. Due to a machinery accident when he was young he even bears a similar scar across his left eye as one of his previous incarnations did.

He has never regretted their bonding, of that she is sure. It is worth it each and every time to live again just to find each other’s arms once more. Sakura returns Kakashi’s smile as she falls in to step beside him, returning to the hov-bot they had used to glide here from the colony they grew up in, miles away.

Behind her she leaves her final words, never to be seen by another person’s eyes but always to remain in her heart.

-

This may very well be the last time I write in this journal.

Humanity has grown so much and we have finally found that which we always sought: the secret to immortality. Kakashi and I will live forever, hand in hand, hearts beating as one. We will watch the ages pass the way all our previous lives have always dreamed of: together.

I am happy. I wish I could reach back in time and whisper in my own ear; I am happy. This is how we were always meant to be. This is what we dreamed of when we first found that old woman. I owe her so very much.

The world is different. I can hardly believe some of the things that I see in my memories. Me destroying the earth with a single blow of my fist? Such things should be fairytales but I did it. Kakashi wielding the earth’s weather with his fingers? It should be mere fantasy but he did that too.

The only question that humanity has never found an answer for: what happens to us when we die? Do our souls go to some higher plane? I would not know, despite the many times I have died. My soul has always been tied to Kakashi’s and so it has never had an opportunity to pass on. And I do not care. I could not have taken the chance that there would be no afterlife in which to hold him. Forever would be empty without him.

I look forward to the endless days ahead. We will never age. Nor will our children, should we ever be chosen to add to the population. We shall never tire of life so long as we have one another, no matter what comes in the future. I will likely never have a need to add more between these pages but I know that I will come back sometimes between the decades to look over our past and remember how long we waited for these moments never-ending.

Farewell to waiting. I go now to endless happiness.

Chapter Text

The thing about living in a place called Fire Country is that one very quickly grows tired of the irony of the frequent forest fires which blazed through the surrounding areas. As a young snarky child Tobirama had always wondered why his parents never bothered to move away to somewhere better, somewhere safer. It wasn’t until he had grown up and gone away to university in another city that he understood. One can’t help falling in love with home, no matter what flaws you find there.

He’d been lucky in life to have never been personally affected by the fires which sometimes touched the edges of the little village he lived in. No, his personal heartbreaks came from another source. Konoha was a mostly quiet place which appeared almost to hold its breath in the wake of the tragedies which happened over a decade ago, when a rare sickness had spread throughout the population and caused deaths by the dozens. Tobirama had lost two of his three brothers as well as his mother. His father had been broken by it all, withdrawing into himself until most days it seemed as though only Tobirama and his eldest brother Hashirama were left in their sprawling family home.

Leaving for university had been healthy for him, a three-year window of breathing space to finally put the past behind himself. Coming home had been inevitable however. Tobirama didn’t think he could ever live very far from his older brother. He was twenty two years old now and although he most often chose to close himself up in his own wing of their large house, he felt at peace knowing that Hashirama was safe inside the same walls when he went to bed at night.

Life was good for the most part – a little lonely, but good. He’d been very happy for his brother when the older man found his soulmate just last year, an occasion marked by a sudden explosion of flowers from the man’s hand the moment he brushed skin with Uzumaki Mito for the first time. It had been amusing to watch but it had also pushed the thought to the front of his mind that he had yet to find his own soulmate. He was still fairly young, still plenty of time ahead of himself, but Tobirama had never been fond of waiting. He was good at it, was capable of being much more patient than any of the rest of his family ever had been, but that didn’t mean he liked it. He liked having things done sooner rather than later and this was something that was rather important.

People might think him cold because of his typical lack of expression but really Tobirama had a lot of love to give and no one around to give it to.

Four months after his twenty-second birthday the young Senju found himself chased out of the house by his only remaining sibling and told not to come back for at least an hour. It was, he knew, an attempt to force him to go be social somewhere. Unfortunately for the other Tobirama had no such inclinations; he was lonely and anxious for his soul mate but he also had a marked dislike for small talk with strangers.

To be perfectly honest, Tobirama had high hopes that his Power would manifest itself in the same spectacular manner that Hashirama’s had so that he would be able to identify his soulmate without having to go through the trial of greeting every new stranger that he came across. He had taken an elective course in university studying what little science was understood about the Powers each person developed upon meeting their soulmate for the first time. It was something that had always fascinated him – and part of him thought that if he could understand the science of it he might be able to do something about it: hurry the process, reverse engineer it to bring him to his partner, something. He was well aware that his standoffish personality meant finding his soulmate was likely his only chance at ever falling in love.

Unfortunately his studies had been disappointing in that department. A great deal of their discussions had centered around the possible answers to why certain people developed certain Powers. While it would have been interesting to find out why his brother had been given the ability to create flowers at will instead of something more useful, it wasn’t what he had been hoping for. He’d been hoping for a way to find love, a faster way than just waiting patiently for the universe to do its thing.

Since he knew very well that Hashirama would annoy him back out of the house if he did try to go back before the designated hour was up, Tobirama headed towards a nearby park instead. Luckily there were very few people out today. A mother was pushing her son on the swing set, a lone man was walking his dog around the circular path, and two teenagers were heavily involved in each other’s tonsils at the far side of the large lawn. The grass in the park was yellow and parched from the rising summer heat and not enough rain. The trees were wilted and crisp, reminding him that the news had been full of fire risk warnings again this morning. His eyes drifted back to the mother by the swings, cigarette drooping loosely between her lips, watching her carefully.

With a huff he dropped his eyes, pulling out his phone and slumping down on to a nearby bench. He’d been extremely lucky to get in to the course he wanted in university, a very specific branch of biology that only accepted so many students per year, but his shiny degree did little to help him when there were no jobs to be had in his field around here. Konoha didn’t exactly have a bustling scientific community out. Coming from such an old family they would never be short on money but Tobirama wanted to do more with himself than live off his family’s charity. He wanted to make something of himself, to spend money that he had earned with his own two hands. None of the job websites he was scrolling through, however, had any openings. If he wanted a job in this town the best he was going to get was the title of Fry Cook.

If he had his way he would get a position at the Hatake Research Institute, the small branch building next to their local hospital which rumor said had been given funding recently for all sorts of interesting projects. Trouble was that it was a small institute with no job openings. He would probably have to wait for one of the old geezers working there to drop dead before anyone even looked his way. It was starting to look like if he truly wanted a job in the field he had studied he would either need to move away from home or make a two hour commute to work every day.

Neither of those options sounded appealing to him. Sometimes it sucked to live in a small town.

Tobirama’s concentration was broken by a rough bark and he looked up from his phone to scowl at the little pug that was yapping at his feet. The thing looked as though it were telling him off for something and it took a great deal of willpower not to stick out his tongue childishly. Honestly. He wasn’t even doing anything.

“Ah sorry! Pakkun, stop that!”

He looked up to see the man at the other end of the leash, tugging on it and murmuring scolding words to his pet. Tobirama blinked. He hadn’t been able to tell from a distance earlier but the man was gorgeous. His light hair was spiky but floppy, falling over his eyes yet not quite managing to cover the scar that ran through one of them. His pink lips turned down in a strangely attractive frown as he reprimanded the very unapologetic pug. ‘Pakkun’ continued to yap at Tobirama’s toes until his owner bent down and picked him up.

“I’m really sorry,” the other man said. “Pakkun’s just a grumpy old fart. I promise he won’t bite.”

“That’s quite alright, he wasn’t causing any harm.” Tobirama paused, wondering what to say. He really was no good at small talk but he didn’t want to let this vision leave. Luck, it seemed, was on his side suddenly, for the man smiled and shuffled the dog in to one arm to hold out his other hand.

“I’m Kakashi,” he declared, eyes turning up in an adorable smile.

Tobirama reached out with a quiet, “It’s nice to meet you.”

Their hands met and he was pleased by the tight grip of the other’s fingers. Then the moment was marred by the slight grimace that took over Kakashi’s features. Tobirama dropped their hands at the same time the other did.

“Your hand is wet,” the other man. He sounded as though he were trying to point it out politely and not sound grossed out. Tobirama frowned.

“On the contrary, it’s your hand that’s wet.” His palm had been bone dry until he touched the stranger. He wouldn’t have dared to hold his phone with wet hands, he knew better than that. Hashirama ruined cellphones all the time by checking text messages in the middle of doing dishes without bothering to dry his hands first.

Kakashi took a step back from him, opening his mouth to give some kind of retort. Then he paused as he looked down at his hand. It was dripping, small droplets forming in the center of his palm to run down each finger. Tobirama blinked and looked down at his own appendage, startled to see that it was doing the exact same thing. When he held it up perpendicular to the ground, a small pool of water gathered in the palm and dribbled down over the sides.

The two men looked at each other in disbelief, Kakashi’s head tilting slightly to one side while Pakkun strained his neck to try and sniff the hand not holding him.

“I…I didn’t have a Power this morning,” the other man mumbled. “My hand’s never done this before.”

“Neither has mine,” Tobirama admitted. He hesitated before adding, “I’ve never heard of two people having the exact same Power.”

“Me neither.”

Both of them stared in silence, neither sure what to say for a few long moments. It hit Kakashi first. Between one second and the next his eyes widened and he rocked back on his heels in shock, throat bobbing like he was trying to speak around a lump that had suddenly appeared there.

“Holy shit you’re my soulmate…you’re my soulmate!”

Tobirama nodded slowly as it hit him too, feeling faint. As much as he had been hoping to simply stumble across his soulmate by accident he hadn’t truly expected it – certainly he hadn’t expected to find him just by sitting down in the park for a while. He wondered if they would have found each other if the little pug Pakkun hadn’t taken exception to him for some reason.

He’d been looking forward to this moment since he was young and now that it was here Tobirama was a little embarrassed by his inability to react like a functioning human being. His body didn’t seem to want to do more than simply stand there like an idiot, one arm hanging uselessly by his side while the other hovered motionlessly in the air, palm still turned upright and continuing to produce water. He should probably try to stop doing that. With a bit of concentration and a furrowed brow he managed to make his hand stop pooling liquid, the tiny puddle already gathered draining away droplet by droplet.

Then he jumped a little when another pale hand touched his, looking up to see Kakashi gazing back at him in wonder. Pakkun was gone, presumably somewhere on the ground now.

“You never told me your name,” the other man breathed, damp fingers clamping down around his own.

“Tobirama.”

He watched Kakashi mouth the name to himself silently then lick his lips as though to taste the syllables of it on them. It was just a quick flash of a tiny pink tongue yet for some reason Tobirama felt heat rise to his cheeks and he had to look away quickly. When he turned back Kakashi was smiling the most brilliant smile he’d ever seen on someone other than his older brother.

Although he would deny it to his dying day and insist that the very notion was cheesy and overly sappy, in the back of his mind Tobirama would always know that the moment he saw that smile he was already in love. He’d never seen anything quite so beautiful before.

Whatever he said next he had no memory of. Before he knew it he had led Kakashi back to his house and Pakkun was sniffing around the living room as he introduced his new partner to Hashirama. At some point they had woven their fingers together and he was strangely reluctant to let go so that the other two men could shake hands, trading enthusiastic greetings that he didn’t listen to. He was too distracted by the sound of his soulmate’s voice and the shapes his lips made as he spoke.

He did pay attention, however, when Hashirama gleefully asked them to demonstrate their matching Powers, jokingly proclaiming that they should register with the city as volunteer firefighters. Tobirama stuck his hand over the kitchen sink and concentrated, giving birth to a small stream of water. With practice he could probably create a tiny river all at once. His brother’s idea might have merit if he could figure out how to do that. If he couldn’t do what he wanted with his fancy degree then he might as well do something else useful – like help fight the fires that might spring up again any day now.

Confusion reigned, however, when Kakashi held his hand over the sink as well only to have his palm burst forth with flowers instead of water.

“What the hell?” Kakashi looked down at the peony in his hand, eyebrows nearly reaching his hairline. “I’m not crazy right? It was water before?” He looked to Tobirama for confirmation, who nodded.

“I saw it too,” he agreed.

“That’s so cool!” Hashirama crowed, undeterred. “He matches both of us!”

Tobirama blinked, something clicking in to place as his mind made a twisting leap of logic. He reached out and brushed his fingers against the back of Kakashi’s hand – and suddenly the flowers turned to water, burbling out from his skin like a backyard fountain.  

“How!?” Kakashi demanded. Tobirama grinned, fascinated.

“Your Power isn’t the same as mine,” he said. “It’s the same as the last person you touched. Your Power is to copy the Power of others!”

Without thinking he went off on a tangent about the possible scientific explanation for that and how it would work, the formation of DNA and the ‘memory’ of Kakashi’s cells. Hashirama groaned and the sound made him realize he was probably being boring again, going on about science and biology and all of the research he’d always wanted to do on the subject. His jaw snapped shut with a small click, cutting off the flow of words. Kakashi made a quiet noise of protest.

“Wha-? Don’t stop there!” He tugged on their entwined hands, making Tobirama wonder when they had woven their fingers back together again. “You were on to something good there! The idea that my DNA has a rapid-adaptation mutation is fascinating! I’d love to bring you over to the Institute some time and set you free with all the equipment. Some of those studies you mentioned have incredible merit!”

Tobirama blinked. Then stared. Then blinked again. He’d never met anyone outside of his university classes who wasn’t instantly bored when he started talking about these things.

“Institute?” he asked. Kakashi nodded with a wide grin.

“The Hatake Research Institute? By the hospital? I guess I didn’t get a chance to mention my full name, Hatake Kakashi. Technically I haven’t inherited anything yet but my dad’s pretty much retired and I run most things around the place anyway.” He paused to tilt his head questioningly. “I don’t suppose I could talk you in to a visit? If I could bribe you in to joining the team we’d love to have someone with your kind of mind.”

Hashirama guffawed, head thrown back and both hands holding his stomach, while Tobirama found himself stunned into immobility not for the first time that day.

“Bribe him!?” Hashirama boomed out another laugh. “He’s been salivating over your Institute for years. You’ll have to force him to go home every day!”

“Oh.” Kakashi took a good look at the transcendent expression on Tobirama’s face, then affected a very smug look. “You’re just getting all sorts of good news today, aren’t you?”

Tobirama didn’t have the words to reply and so he didn’t even try to speak. He’d never been the best at expressing himself verbally anyway. Instead he simply leaned forward and pressed their lips together in a frantic first kiss, fisting one hand in the front of Kakashi’s shirt like the other man was all that was holding him to the earth. Kakashi gave a quiet moan of approval and slid his own hands around Tobirama’s hips.

Neither of them heard Hashirama gagging and telling them to take it elsewhere. Nor did either of them notice the older man giving up and leaving, giving them a little time to themselves. What they did notice was how complete they felt to be in each other’s arms – and the slow seeping of water through clothing as each of them lost control of their newly discovered Power, soaking their shirts and entirely ruining the moment.

Chapter Text

He’d been hidden for so long that he’d almost forgotten what it was to speak with other people. He heard their voices of course when he went to spy on the different major villages across the lands, staying always in the shadows, but it had been so long since someone spoke to him that at times he wondered if he had faded away to become a true ghost. It had been so long since he last spoke he wondered at times if his voice would still work or if he would even remember how to form the words.

The world bowed before him once. When he was young shinobi everywhere would flee at his name: Uchiha Madara. But the years had turned, marching by unforgivingly until he lived to watch his own name pass in to legend and fantasy. He’d heard some people speculate that he never truly existed at all, that he was just some sort of made up boogey man, and it rankled. It also rankled to know that the rumors of his leaving the village were blown way out of proportion.

He never betrayed his village, no matter what the history books said. There had been no final battle at The Valley of The End. The statues of himself and Hashirama had been built to commemorate the end of the war between their clans, to immortalize the moment they both swore their names to the peace treaty. They were not meant as a reminder of some epic final clash between two estranged friends. When he left the village Hashirama did not hunt him down like some animal being called to heel.

Sometimes, Madara wished he had. He’d left because he could stand it no longer, watching all those around him grow old while he remained forever young, stuck at 20 years of age while his best friend and all his age mates in the clan grew up and had children of their own, hip-high before he could blink. It came to a point where it was too painful knowing that he was going to watch each and every one of them die. He’d left in the night, leaving his position as Clan Head to another, and Hashirama had done nothing to stop him. The last he had seen of his friend had been a sad frown watching him from the village gates as he left behind everything they had built together.

There were times he wanted to go back, of course. There were also times the madness of isolation crept in and filled his mind with strange plans. Surely he had been chosen? His body and mind remained twenty years of age even as his soul quickly crept up on its one hundredth year; he must have been meant to do something with this strange immortality. He couldn’t still be waiting for his soulmate after all. The very idea that he could still be waiting after all this time was ludicrous.

It was the madness which brought to him the Eye of the Moon plan. Madara wanted to fix the world, to find a place of perfection where all would have happiness and rest, the two things he most desired in the world. Madara wanted to go home – he wanted to know where home was.

His plans were mostly in his head, of course. Isolation does strange things to a person’s mind and for all that he was considered more of a man that most when he’d been younger, Madara was no less human than anyone else. He saw things that were not there, strange white beings called Zetsu that he imagined carrying out his bidding and bringing him nonsense information. He was following one of these incorporeal white beings through the tunnels he haunted when he came upon the children. One of them he recognized as an Uchiha, a distant relative from a clan he had long ago abandoned. This child’s body was crushed on one side by what looked like a cave-in. Of the other two children Madara dismissed the girl to stare at the small silver boy. His head was wrapped in bandages, covering one eye, and his face was covered by a dark cloth mask. The only part of his face left visible was his one uninjured eye, now leaking tears of frustration and grief. There was just something about him…

“No matter what the village says, I think you’re a great jōnin,” he heard the crushed boy say. None of them could be more than twelve, perhaps thirteen. If Madara remembered correctly ‘jōnin’ was a prestigious rank and it was quite impressive that the silver boy had achieved it at such a young age.

He crept a little closer, his body and chakra melding with the shadows and the rock around them as naturally as breathing. So many years of practice had him doing it without thinking as he strained his ears, oddly curious about these three brats he had never seen before. Their headbands denoted them as Leaf shinobi, though he could already tell that by the presence of an Uchiha.

“Take the entire eye and transplant my Sharingan in to Kakashi’s left eye.”

Madara twitched, two different reactions swirling inside of him. The stronger reaction should have been to the Uchiha boy’s statement about having a Sharingan transplanted in to someone not of the clan bloodline. It should have enraged him – and some small part of him in the back of his mind was indeed indignant at the very idea.

Yet, instead of anger, Madara felt a strange calm settling over him. He found that all he could do was stare at the young lad before him with the shiny silver hair and mouth the name ‘Kakashi’ to himself. It was a very pleasant name, in his opinion.

The girl he had dismissed earlier began the process right away. He could have stopped it if he were so inclined but found himself strangely reluctant to do so. He wanted to see how this played out. Something told him that this was meant to happen; something in him wanted to see what this Kakashi would do with a Sharingan. And so he stayed perfectly still as the girl’s hands lit up with iryo chakra, hovering first over the Uchiha’s eye while the silver boy tore open the bandaging around his own.

Once the eye was implanted Madara watched Kakashi kneel down and murmur a few words to his dying friend before suddenly he was bursting in to action, exploding through the roof of the cavern that the small cave-in had created. Madara crept through the shadows, easily avoiding detection by the little girl as her attention stayed on her fallen companion. His head popped out in to the sunlight and he watched with rapt attention as Kakashi faced down the one who had hurt his friends. The silver boy’s face was filled with dark determination while he made a few quick hand seals, raw lightening flickering to life around his hand.

Madara’s heart thrummed inside his chest as he watched the boy fly towards his opponent, moving almost faster than the naked eye could follow. His hand punched through his opponent’s chest with a spray of singed blood and Madara caught his breath as he thought to himself, ‘Magnificent’.

When the silver boy returned to the cave Madara did too, creeping inside to blink at the boy trapped below. This Uchiha meant nothing to him but he obviously was quite precious to that Kakashi boy. Madara had never met him before but for some reason he felt he wanted to do something for him, something to make him happy. He couldn’t have said what it was about the younger boy that drew him so but didn’t waste any time questioning it. The years had not worn well over him and by now he was accustomed to following strange impulses.

Only moments after Kakashi pulled the girl out of the cave Madara fell upon the boy left behind. They believed themselves to be sacrificing their companion, leaving him to die, and Madara aimed to change that; it was all he could think of that he could give to the silver boy. The Uchiha struggled and gasped when he felt Madara’s touch, shuddering when he felt the brush of his chakra. Madara had always been told his chakra had a strange, heavy feel to it and he wondered if it was uncomfortable to this one’s injuries. Not that he cared, really.

They burst out of the cave just in time. Kakashi stood protectively before his other teammate, lightning in his hand once more as he faced off against several new foes. The skeletal bones which surrounded Madara clutched the younger Uchiha’s form carefully, cradling him in one large palm as all other eyes in the clearing turned to face him. Madara met Kakashi’s gaze, delighting in the surprised awe in the expression that looked back at him. Then he looked at the group of men attacking, Stone ninja from the Land of Earth. Madara sneered at them. They dared to attack the pretty silver boy? When he had only just taken an interest in him and decided to protect him? They would pay for such stupid insolence.

Each of them screamed but Madara never so much as flinched, safe within his Susanoo and watching as one by one they were struck down by a sword limned in purple flame. When all but the three Leaf shinobi lay silent and still, Madara laid his prize gently at Kakashi’s feet, an offering. He let Susanoo evaporate in to the air as he watched their reactions.

“Obito!”

Both Kakashi and the girl cried out the boy’s name, rushing to his side. The girl began to cry when she saw that he was still alive, her hands jumping to life with bright green chakra like they had before.

Kakashi stood at her side, watching Madara with careful eyes. The eternal twenty year old approved of his suspicion, glad to see that his survival instincts were as strong as his battle skills.

“Who are you?” Kakashi called. “Why did you save him?”

Madara tilted his head, words springing up in his throat even as his mind wondered if he would remember how to use them. Did he remember how to speak? How to part his lips and curl his tongue, how to strum on his vocal chords and match the sounds he could hear in his memories? The silver boy watched him expectantly and Madara decided that perhaps he could work without the words for now.

He was pleased by Kakashi’s gasp when he flickered closer, a thoughtless shunshin that brought him right up close to the younger lad’s face. His eyes were wide, taking in as many details about this boy as possible, and he made a passing attempt at a smile though he couldn’t recall the last time he’d managed one. To his glee, Kakashi did not scramble away. Instead he held his ground and frowned at Madara, the visible half of his face settling in to an annoyed scowl.

“I asked who you are,” the silver boy growled. “We’re grateful for the help, for saving Obito. But I asked you a question!”

“Kakashi! I can’t heal him by myself! We need sensei; we need to get back to the village. Fast!”

Madara frowned as Kakashi’s attention was diverted from himself. That wasn’t what he wanted. His nose wrinkled as he scrunched his face up in disapproval. He watched Kakashi pull an oddly shaped kunai out of his holster and toss it lightly at a nearby tree; he wasn’t sure what that was supposed to accomplish but didn’t care.

What he cared about was having this boy’s attention back on himself. He still had no idea why he found the lad so fascinating or what drew him in but it mattered little to him. Reasons were boring. He needed no reason to reach out and grasp Kakashi’s shoulder other than that he wanted to.

Both of them gasped as a soul-deep shiver ran through them, echoing out through their bodies from that one point of contact. Madara felt his very soul reach out, blindly grasping for this boy in front of him as his inner thoughts clamored with a sudden wild refrain of mine, mine, belongs to me, mine, only mine. It had been so long since he gave up on the idea that at first the true cause never ever occurred to him. All he understood was the instinctive knowledge that this boy was his and he very much intended to keep him.

Madara was startled when suddenly a large body flickered in to existence right between them, a tall blond man with bright blue eyes that stared suspiciously in to Madara’s own as he pushed Kakashi behind himself. Rage filled him at being separated, his lips pulling back and a snarl ripping out of his throat, the first sound he had made in so very long.

“Mine!” he growled, his throat turning the word rusty and deep from too many years of disuse. The blond man affected a defensive position.

“Who are you?” The stranger demanded. “I thought I had met every Uchiha of fighting age.”

Mine!” Madara snarled again, his Susanoo flickering to life around him again. “My Kakashi. Give him back.”

Kunai sprang up in to the blond man’s hands, the same odd shape as the one the silver boy had tossed before, and Madara could see a strange seal inked on to the handle of each one. His Sharingan spun, memorizing and analyzing, noting the subtle twitches of muscle which predicted which way his opponent intended to move.

The fight was over before it began, however. The other man had only just tightened his grip in a sure sign he was about to attack when a small hand tugged at his elbow, halting his movement. They both looked down to see Kakashi there, grip firm on the blond’s sleeve even as his eyes fixated on Madara’s face, awed expression obvious even around the mask and lingering bandages. His weight was shifted forward on to his toes as if he could barely hold himself back.

“Sensei wait,” Kakashi murmured. “Don’t hurt him.”

Madara watched the younger lad dodge around his senior and reached out, fingers stretching until Kakashi shyly reached out as well and took them in his own. He tried to keep his tug gentle, not too harsh, but Kakashi still ended up impacting his side with a light thump before Madara wrapped him up tightly inside the ghostly remains of the flickering Susanoo. His murmur of “Mine…” was muffled when he nuzzled in to silver hair.

“Kakashi do you know this man?” the blond asked worriedly. Behind him, the little girl was sneaking peeks at what was going on as she continued to heal her injured friend.

“I think he’s my soulmate,” Kakashi murmured, wriggling around to get enough room so that he could look up and study Madara’s face.

“Oh!”

Madara ignored the reactions of the others, staring down at the precious bundle in his arms. His soulmate. It hadn’t truly connected yet but now that it did it was all too obvious. That feeling when they first touched, it could mean nothing else. He had found his soulmate! He had found the thing that he’d been waiting for all this time, his reason for living, someone to call home. The two of them stared at each other in peaceful silence until Kakashi tilted his head, brows furrowing. His implanted Sharingan was still active, tomoe spinning lazily and encouraging Madara’s own to release the Mangekyo form, Susanoo fading for the second time.

“How old are you?” he asked suddenly. “You look a lot older than me.” Madara had to clear his throat before he could answer, suppressing the urge to squirm at the vibrations in his throat.

“Twenty.”

Kakashi narrowed his eyes. “How long have you been twenty?”

“I don’t know.” Madara answered truthfully. “A long time. You’re from Konohagakure, I see. How old is the village now?”

“Something close to a hundred years old?”

“Then I am something close to one hundred years old myself.” He smirked when both Kakashi and his blond sensei blinked at him in surprise.

“Who are you?” the other man demanded.

“Uchiha Madara.”

The silence which greeted his statement was threaded through with heavy disbelief. Madara waited impatiently for some kind of response, equal parts confused and smug when at first all he received were awed stares. At least, he chose to translate them as awed. They could just as well have been blank with indecision on how to react to someone declaring themselves under the name of a man who should have been decades dead. There had been a time when shinobi everywhere threw down their weapons at just the whisper of his name on the battlefield. He wrapped himself in that knowledge, those memories, as he waited.

“You must be really old then.” Kakashi tilted his head to the other side while Madara squawked indignantly.

“I’m twenty!”

“You’ve been twenty a really long time though.”

“Well how old are you then?”

“I’m thirteen. Today.”

“Well I – happy birthday – I’m no more than seven years older than you!”

Kakashi’s eyes turned up in a half-hidden smile, pushing farther in to Madara’s arms even as he continued to sass him. “Which makes you old.”

“I am not old!” Madara screeched. His arms tightened around his soulmate, instinctively gentle where the rest of him was coiled like steel springs.

“Senile old pervert! Too old for me!” Despite the mean words, Kakashi was laughing. From the corner of his eye Madara could see the rest of the lad’s companions staring at him in wonder and it made him wonder himself if it was such a rare thing to see. The thought made him sad, that his soulmate might not have had a happy life even with how few years he had lived so far. Then the words sank in and he made a second squawk.

“It’s not like that!”

It really wasn’t, no matter how pretty he thought Kakashi was or how much he wanted nothing more than to stand here forever, just holding him. It wasn’t truly a romantic thought. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps when Kakashi was older Madara would see him differently but for now his only thought was precious and mine, belongs to me. He had been without center or purpose for so long he thought to himself that he couldn’t be held responsible for anything that happened to someone who tried to take Kakashi away from him now.

Losing his younger brothers one by one had turned him in to a rather possessive and protective individual. His arms stayed tight when he felt his prize wriggling around, trying to pull away. He frowned at Kakashi, displeased by the very notion of separation. Didn’t he understand that Madara was never letting him go again?

“We need to take Obito home,” Kakashi said quietly. “He’ll die.” A small way behind him, the brunette girl looked up.

“He’s right sensei. We have to go now.”

“Right. I have a marker near the west gates. I can take us all. Rin, is Obito stable enough to travel like that?” The girl nodded and Kakashi wriggled again as his sensei eyed the two of them warily. The man’s voice held a low warning when he spoke again, “I’m not leaving my student behind.”

Madara scowled. His throat was so very sore but he spoke again anyway. “Mine.” The blonde sighed.

“Then I guess you’ll just have to come along with us.”

Kakashi settled in his arms briefly, looking up at him with a faint line of pink dusted just underneath his upturned eyes, evidence of a pleased expression. Madara smiled back down at him. This time when Kakashi squirmed Madara let him free, keeping one hand around his thin, pale wrist and allowing himself to be led over to where the others were gathered.

He wasn’t sure what the blonde meant by ‘marker’, though he suspected it was something similar to Tobirama’s hiraishin, a memory buried so long ago he was almost impressed with himself for pulling it up now. It didn’t matter though. It was obvious that some sort of instantaneous travel was able to occur and Madara found himself excited, looking forward to something the way he hadn’t in longer than he could remember.

When they reached their destination he would be back in Konoha; he would be able to see what had blossomed from the seeds he and Hashirama had planted together. He would be with his soulmate and, once Kakashi reached twenty years of age himself, Madara would finally grow older together with the one who would always be most precious to him.

He would be home. And he would never leave home again.

Chapter Text

For years the only time they were close together was when their clans met in battle. Madara thought, under the circumstances, he could be forgiven for not noticing. His soulmate tended to stay unnaturally calm during battle barring the flickers of irritation that touched them when something didn’t quite go the way they wanted it to. It was perfectly acceptable that Madara wouldn’t guess his soulmate to be part of the fighting, just that they happened to live somewhere close to the border between the Uchiha and Senju lands.

When the thought did finally occur to him, it was perhaps a little less forgivable that his first assumption featured Hashirama as his soulmate. It only made sense to him at the time: the one person outside of his clan that he had ever connected with must be the one he was destined to be bonded to. He had no physical or romantic attraction to his old friend but he supposed that meant that their soulmate bond was to be one of friendship. That didn’t seem so bad to him.

Fate, however, rarely paid any attention to the expectations of mortals when making her plans. After a long grueling battle Madara agreed to peace for two reasons. First, to save Izuna’s life despite his protests by allowing Hashirama to heal him. Second, because he was tired of resisting his friend and thought it high time they settle this unspoken business between them.

Only, it turned out that none of their business was unspoken because Hashirama was not his soulmate. The first time they met as clan Heads to officially discuss peace he was introduced to Hashirama’s wife, forced to listen to the idiot prattle on about their bond and how her emotions had helped him keep his head on so many occasions. It was like a cold slap in the face and it had been difficult keeping his emotions from showing in his expression. Thankfully no one had commented on the way he had twitched and shifted for the rest of the meeting, fighting back the disappointment and embarrassment. Likely no one had dared to comment because on the opposite side of the pavilion, in the midst of his own delegation Senju Tobirama had been just as restless for whatever reason. No one dared scold their enemy for fear of drawing attention to their ally as well.

It had been so long since Madara had quietly assumed Hashirama to be his soulmate that for a while he walked through his days feeling slightly off-center, not quite sure what to do with himself. Izuna worried that he was getting sick and Hashirama commented during their meetings that he seemed distracted. For his part, Madara both dreaded their meetings and couldn’t wait for them. His soulmate was undoubtedly a Senju yet he had no idea which one. The peace talks were always attended by the same group of people and none of them seemed to pay him any special attention outside of the expected suspicion. Tobirama did have a habit of tracking him with those wine-red eyes of his yet he saw his own brother doing the same, keeping a close watch of any Senju that dared make more motion than it took to breathe. Tension was high and they were all trained shinobi.

He wondered frequently what his own emotions felt like to his supposedly destined other half. One never felt overwhelmed by one’s soulmate’s emotions. It was like hearing something in another room. He could identify the strange calm that surrounded this mystery person at all times but he never felt that same calm himself. He felt flickers of anger and a muted longing, deep sadness and the occasional flash of amusement. Although he was a tad ashamed to admit it, he imagined that most of the feelings they received in turn from him were probably irritation and impatience.

By the time a peace treaty had been drawn and signed Madara was almost ready to go through the Senju delegation one by one and demand answers. The only thing that held him back was pride. If his soulmate did not wish to reveal themselves to him then he certainly wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of chasing after them like a sad puppy. He focused his energy on helping Hashirama keep the peace as the two clans began the emigration from their ancestral lands to where their new homes would be built.

Although it would be the work of mere moments for Hashirama to raise the framework for a few houses, his brother managed to convince him that he could not simply pop them out of the ground willy-nilly. The village layout needed to be planned. And so Madara ended up living in a tent with the rest of them, clothing spilling out of stacked storage trunks and the rest of his possessions existing as no more than a heap of innocuous scrolls.

He’d been rather surprised when Tobirama had offered to teach any willing members of his clan how to seal physical objects within storage scrolls. Lacking the Senju’s close relationship with the Uzumaki sealing masters, that skill was not one known to them. It had been the saving grace of many as they carried all of their worldly possessions in one trip with ease and stored them quite neatly in out of the way corners and small boxes, to be safely retrieved later with no consequence. Of course, he’d made sure to watch Tobirama carefully as he interacted with the Uchiha who agreed to learn from him. To his surprise, the younger man had barely seemed bothered, speaking calmly and almost politely. Madara wanted to accept it at face value but his natural suspicion had him wondering what hidden motives he wasn’t seeing.

Suspicion only took him so far, however. The more time he was forced to spend in Tobirama’s presence the closer he grew to reluctantly admitting that he wasn’t all that bad. He had twice the brains his brother did and lots of practice keeping a good balance between grounding Hashirama and letting him fly free. Watching the two siblings interact was like watching a dance that only Tobirama knew how to lead. Madara went home some days with a strange urge to pull Izuna in to his arms for a tight hug.

Not that he ever actually did. The one time he had tried Izuna had looked at him askance and made noise about sending for the healers if he wasn’t feeling well. It had entirely ruined his good mood and left him in a terrible snit for the rest of the night. Izuna, at least, had seemed satisfied that he was back to normal.

Watching the Senju brothers dance around each other with their strange, off-beat harmony also gave Madara a chance to observe other qualities that he tried very hard not to like about Tobirama – tried and failed. He liked the quiet of his voice, the way he preferred not to shout but was not afraid to do so if someone angered him. He liked the way Tobirama’s thoughts were never selfish; his suggestions always had to do with what would be good for the village, for the people, for the children, with never a mention of any personal goals. He liked the way he could see a spark of fire burning in those sharp eyes of his, even when perfectly calm, which said that he was always thinking, his head never lost in the clouds to useless daydreaming.

When the day passed which marked three full months that the Senju and Uchiha clans had lived together in harmony, Madara realized that he almost considered Tobirama a friend. Or rather, the closest thing to a friend he was capable of outside of Hashirama. He wasn’t much of a people person and he’d never made a secret of it.

That strange almost-friendship is what made him offer to seek the younger man out when Hashirama mentioned he’d been missing for several hours. They had almost agreed upon where all the basic infrastructure of village would be built, there were only a few questions left that they needed answering before Hashirama could begin raising frameworks. As second heir of the Senju clan and a rather integral member of Hashirama’s advisory council, Tobirama should have been present. That no one seemed to be able to find him was odd. It wasn’t like him to miss meetings.

Madara certainly wasn’t the only one to offer to aid in the search but he was the only one to do so smartly. When he figured that no one was going about the task in any sort of logical manner he was correct and managed to find Tobirama in the very first place he looked for him: his tent.

What he did not expect was to find him asleep in the early afternoon. Madara stood in the entrance to the younger man’s sleeping quarters, peeking back out from under the canvas flap which made the door and wondering if he should perhaps have Hashirama go inside to wake him. Then he shook his head. Fetching the other man would only take more time, not to mention make him look like a child who couldn’t do things himself. With a huff, Madara dropped the flap and stepped inside.

Tobirama had obviously been working on something. Paperwork was spread out across the camp desk that he knelt at, crumpled underneath him now as he slumped forward and sprawled over top of them. His face was peaceful in a way Madara had never seen it. It was a subtle difference between relaxation and the careful blankness he maintained when awake but it made him look like an entirely different person. One might almost say he looked softer, although one would do well to say that out of range of his hearing. A brush drooped from the fingers of one hand which Madara carefully removed and set aside before hesitantly kneeling down next to him. He found he hadn’t the heart to wake him too abruptly.

He would deny to the end of his days that there existed a part of him reluctant to wake him at all and disturb his peace. Madara knew as well as anyone that Tobirama worked twice as hard as everyone else.

“Tobirama?” he called, not too loud. The other man hummed and twitched, then settled back in to his dreams. “Tobirama…”

One of the arms the Senju’s head had fallen upon stirred, straightening a bit as though to reach for something. His fingers flexed, spreading open before closing in to a loose fist again. His lips parted in a murmur and it occurred to Madara to wonder whether Tobirama could sense him there. If he did why was he so unbothered? Should Madara’s mere presence not have woken him by now?

“Oi, wake up.”

As they say, the third time’s the charm. He watched with an amused half-grin as Tobirama’s eyes fluttered open. They roamed lazily around the room until they landed on him, hazy with lingering sleep. It was a surprise when all he did was smile sleepily and release a contented sigh. Madara raised one eyebrow.

In the back of his mind he could feel a slow dawning sensation, in that set-aside room of his consciousness where he felt the emotions of his soulmate. There was a lazy happiness there much like a cat napping in a patch of sunlight. He paid it as little attention to it as he usually did these days.

“Good, you’re up. You’re missing the meeting.”

He had a split second to recognize the confused downturn of Tobirama’s brow before suddenly the younger man shot straight upright. At the same time shock rang like brass bells inside his head. He watched Tobirama’s eyes widen and the slightest trace of pink stain the tips of his pale ears just as a vicious streak of embarrassment shot through his mind, passed to him from his soulmate.

Suddenly, Madara was paying close attention.

“My apologies, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” Tobirama cleared his throat, awkward for perhaps the first time since he was a teenager. “The meeting. Right. I hope I haven’t kept everyone waiting long.”

“A while,” Madara replied vaguely, concentrating on the sensory input from his hidden bond-pair. While he watched Tobirama stand and turn away, pink splashed across the back of his neck, he could feel the embarrassment in his mind turn to downright mortification mixed with a longing disappointment. He found himself wanting to know very badly what the other longed for, what had disappointed him. Was he disappointed to see Madara there instead of whatever had lingered from slumber?

“I’ll only be a moment,” Tobirama muttered. “There are some papers here I need.”

“What were you dreaming about?”

Tobirama fumbled the scroll he was rolling up, dropping it and catching it again before he could lose his place. He shot Madara a heated look as the feeling of embarrassment climbed higher. One would never think him embarrassed, though, with that scowl on his face.

“Don’t ask strange questions!”

He seemed actually flustered. Madara wondered fleetingly how many people would faint in shock just to see him at this moment, sleep still tugging at his eyelids and ears glowing in the afternoon shadows, twitching as he pulled his clothing straight and shuffled around his guest to leave the tent. Watching Tobirama storm off, Madara lingered. He stood still and watched Tobirama weave through the sea of tents before giving up and taking to the trees, the emotions in the back of his head fading as the younger man got farther and farther away from him.

That was when it finally sank in. He’d found his soulmate. Senju Tobirama was his soulmate. He was glad that the other was far enough away to partially dull the connection as he felt himself bowled over by a mass of conflicting emotions. A part of him was incredibly disappointed with himself for ever even considering that it could be Hashirama. Part of him was patting himself on the back with satisfaction at having finally gotten the answer that had been so close and yet so far for a long time now.  Yet another part of him was shyly pleased and reluctantly glad that it had taken him this long to figure things out. He knew himself well enough to admit that it was best that he got to know Tobirama before discovering their connection.

One part of him, however, was terrified. While the two of them didn’t fight nearly as much as one might think they would, Tobirama didn’t exactly swoon at Madara’s feet when he walked by. They got along reasonably well – well enough that Madara would almost say he was a friend! – but he had no idea what the other’s opinion of him actually was. For all he knew, Tobirama could just be treating him kindly to be polite for his brother’s sake.

Shaking his head, Madara furrowed his brows and stepped off with a purpose to head after the other. There was no use letting such thoughts take root. If Tobirama didn’t actually like him then Madara would just have to wear him down. They were soulmates; he wasn’t about to be denied his other half just because said other half was a prickly little shit. He had no idea yet whether their bond was meant to be romantic or platonic and he wouldn’t know until the two of them could talk about this. And they would definitely talk about this. There was no way he would let Tobirama squirm away from something so important.

By the time he reached the meeting place Tobirama appeared to have composed himself, outwardly appearing as though nothing at all were amiss. Finally paying attention to the emotions in the back of his mind, however, told Madara that the closer he got to the frost-headed idiot the stronger he could sense feelings of nervousness and the longing that so intrigued him. He could also feel the strangest sensation, like a cotton blanket pressing down on all of these feelings. He ignored Hashirama greeting him twice before he figured out what it was: Tobirama was trying to smother his own emotions, probably in the hope that Madara wouldn’t notice them.

“Madaraaaa!” Hashirama’s whine finally broke through his concentration and Madara realized he’d been staring intently at Tobirama with narrowed eyes.

“What?” he snapped.

“Stop looking at Tobirama like you want to eat him or something. If you’re hungry I brought snacks-”

“Brother!”

“Right!” Hashirama beamed at his sibling before turning back to shake a stern finger at his best friend. “You were the one complaining about the meeting being held up. So pay attention now!”

Scowling, he complied.

The meeting didn’t take nearly as long as he thought it would but it still felt like forever. His eyes seemed drawn to Tobirama like magnets, sliding back over to stare at him every time he let his concentration slip. As if sensing each moment of weakness, that was invariably the moment when Hashirama would ask for his input on something. It kept him focused but did not stop him from noticing the way Tobirama had angled his body as though ready to bolt the moment he was set free from this discussion. 

Madara, of course, had no intention of letting him do so. Tobirama had a habit of not caring what he was ‘allowed’ to do, however. The instant it was clear that everything was settled, that Hashirama had been given the final go-ahead by all advisors to begin construction, Tobirama simply flickered and disappeared. He hadn’t resorted to his hiraishin which meant it must have been a simple shunshin, therefore he likely hadn’t gone far.

What Tobirama sometimes forget was that one did not need to be a true sensor to have the basic ability of finding nearby chakra signatures. All it took was a few moments concentration before Madara turned his head west and stomped off in that direction. He watched Hashirama trotting ahead of him, happily chattering out loud to himself about what he wanted to build first, and grinned. What a perfect cover. Tobirama would obviously sense his chakra signature coming but if he assumed Madara was only walking with Hashirama then he would be less likely to bolt again.

Avoiding Hashirama’s notice was the easiest thing he’d ever done. His friend had his head stuck firmly in near the moon, off in his own little fantasy world. Madara stayed a few paces behind him and kept his concentration on making sure Tobirama’s signature didn’t move.

As Hashirama passed by the tents used to house the food stores Madara ducked in to one, hurrying around the stacks of crates to confront a startled Tobirama who was making a concentrated effort not to appear startled. It only mostly worked. Madara crossed his arms and fixed the younger man with an irritated look. As usual, Tobirama immediately went on the defensive and gave him an irritated look of his own.

“Did you need something?” he demanded. Madara huffed.

“It was only too obvious that I wished to speak with you; you only make yourself look like a coward by running away.”

“I’m a busy man, Uchiha.”

“Yes, that’s why you’re lurking in the food stores.”

They glared at each other, each trying to will the other in to submission with their eyes alone. It took a long time, but eventually Tobirama sighed and shifted, settling his weight back on to one foot and trying to appear casual. Madara could feel the anxiety rolling through him and something that felt strangely close to fear.

“What do you want?” His tone was one Madara had come to recognize, the tone he used when he wasn’t truly trying to push someone away but didn’t understand how to sound any softer. It almost made him smile as he took another step closer.

“You never answered my question earlier. What were you dreaming about?”

Tobirama made an incredulous face, shoulder dropping in shock. “That’s what you chased me down for? It’s none of your business!” He lurched back when Madara took another step closer, backing away until he brushed against the wall of the tent. Madara hemmed the other man in with his own bulk.

“Isn’t it?” The older man did nothing to hide the uncharacteristic softness of his expression as he lifted one hand to gently touch Tobirama’s jaw. “I think soulmates have the right to be curious about each other, don’t you?”

He hadn’t quite been sure what reaction to expect but if he’d had to guess he would have thought Tobirama to be a little relieved, maybe even exasperated it had taken him this long to figure out. There was no way he was the first to see it, not with his volatile personality shining like an irritable beacon and him with no filter between what he felt and what he said. So he very much expected his other half to know he was his other half and, considering his personality, to be very tired of waiting.

The shock present on Tobirama’s face wasn’t quite what he expected, though what really threw him was the lance of fear that he could sense. What on earth could Tobirama have to fear?

“You know? When did you figure it out?” He didn’t sound like he was about to start scolding Madara for taking so long. Instead he sounded as though he hadn’t had enough time to prepare for something and that room in the back of Madara’s mind was filling slowly with dread. The Uchiha frowned.

“That doesn’t matter.” He was reluctant to admit that it was only hours ago that things had come together for him. “What matters is that I know and I get the feeling that you wish I didn’t. Come to think of it, if you already knew you could have said something and the fact that you didn’t would also imply you didn’t want me to know. What gives, Senju?”

“Oh don’t act all hurt, as though you’re excited about this or something.” Tobirama glared, batting Madara’s frozen hand away from his face.

“I…beg your pardon?”

He was so dumbfounded he very nearly let himself be shoved to the side, catching Tobirama’s wrist at the last second and standing his ground. They were standing so close he would only need to duck his head and they could be kissing.

Madara shook himself mentally, wondering where that thought had come from.

“You’ve known about this for some time, no doubt. And you’ve been deliberately keeping your silence in the hopes that I wouldn’t discover you. Why?” He jerked his head back a little when Tobirama snarled at him.

“You made no secret of your distaste for me. I’m a Senju. Should I have stopped you in the middle of battle and declared my intentions? Of course not! You would have taken my head off just for suggesting it.” His words almost made Madara wince as it became obvious that he’d known for far longer than the older man had assumed.

“We’ve been at peace for months, living side by side and sharing space for months!”

“Well I-” The corners of Tobirama’s mouth tilted down and he turned his head away, looking at Madara from the corner of his eye in a way he had come to understand meant that Tobirama was embarrassed and trying not to show it. “I don’t hear you singing my praises exactly. My intention was to mention it only after I was certain that you no longer…ah…” Even without his sneak peek in to the man’s feelings, Madara could read his face: the deeper his embarrassment, the deeper he frowned.

“Until I no longer what?” he demanded impatiently.

Tobirama snorted but still did not look at him straight. “Until you no longer wished to eviscerate me for simply existing. You’re not quiet about your distaste for the members of my clan – nor me specifically.”

He understood then. Tobirama hadn’t said anything because he was under the impression that Madara still disliked him. For all his genius he hadn’t figured out that Madara saw him as the closest thing to friendship he was capable of. Unexpectedly, the idea that he knew something Tobirama didn’t sent a swell of petty pride through him. It didn’t happen often, although he wouldn’t be caught dead admitting that.

There were a lot of ways he could have reacted to this realization. He could have mocked Tobirama, as most people would assume him to do. It was certainly the action which would come most naturally. He could have lorded it over him that for just this one thing he was the smarter of the two. He could have pretended offense or even openly agreed, were he so inclined towards pointless cruelty.

No matter what the general opinion of him was, however, he was not a pointlessly cruel man. He had no desire to drive the one before him even farther away, especially now that he finally understood that current of dread and fear. The fear of rejection.

Tobirama twitched when Madara raised his hand to brush against the pale man’s jaw once more, narrowing his eyes but not pulling away.

“Does it feel like I hate you?” he asked quietly. Tobirama blinked.

“What?”

“You can feel my emotions just as much as I can feel yours. Do you feel hatred? Anger? Distaste?”

Instead of answering, the other turned his head away just a fraction more. Madara smiled at his embarrassment, his fingers growing bold enough to trace the jaw they were touching, grazing past his ear to fiddle with the ends of silky white strands of hair.

“I don’t hate you, Tobirama. I haven’t hated you for a while now. I would almost call you a friend but I don’t feel for you what I do for Hashirama. It’s different.” The blossoming disbelief in his head was amusing, though a little sad.

“Bullshit,” Tobirama protested, voice quiet.

“Hmph. I am many uncomplimentary things, Senju, but I am not a liar.” Madara shrugged in a self-deprecating way. “I’ve never been good at showing that I care. You’ll have Izuna to commiserate that with.”

Tobirama was staring at him as though any moment now he might start laughing and say it was just a joke. Although none of the wary hope he was feeling could be seen on his face, Madara could sense it. He wanted to offer more reassuring words but didn’t have any to give. This wasn’t his forte. Part of him wanted to press his fingers farther in to the hair he was playing with, cup the back of Tobirama’s head and stroke the back of his neck, but that seemed like a terribly intimate thing to do. He wasn’t even sure where the urge to do so had come from.

“So. You never answered my question.” He grinned when Tobirama rolled his eyes.

“Not this again.”

“What were you dreaming about?”

Likely no one but him had ever seen the shy expression that blossomed over the Senju’s face then: a light pink color on the tips of his ears and eyes skittering away and back, away and back, unable to hold his gaze for long. Madara waited, uncharacteristically patient and strangely endeared by the hesitance he’d never witnessed before.

Tobirama twisted his mouth and swallowed, staring intently at the air above Madara’s shoulder as he finally answered in a quiet voice, “You.”

“Me?” Madara blinked, stunned. “You were…oh.” He understood, suddenly, what had happened before in the tent. To awaken from a dream and see the subject of that dream standing there, of course it had taken him a moment to realize that he was back in reality. It would also explain why the presence of his chakra hadn’t awakened him. Madara thought of the soft, happy smile he’d been given, looking up at him fondly, dare he say almost lovingly.

And that was an option he hadn’t even considered.

“You can get away from me any time now,” Tobirama growled, gruff in an attempt to hide what Madara could feel anyway.

“You don’t really want me to though.” He grinned when the other man’s eyes narrowed.

“Screw off, Uchiha.”

“No.” The grin stretched as his fingers followed the path he had been thinking of earlier, threading in to colorless hair and cupping the back of a pale neck. “I think I’d rather stay here.”

Tobirama attempted to huff at him but he appeared to be having difficulty keeping air in his lungs all of a sudden, aborting the action before it even started. “What do you think you’re doing?” Surely he hadn’t meant to sound so breathy.

“Not a clue,” Madara admitted. “I’m sort of making it up as I go along.”

“Sounds like you.”

“It usually works out in my favor,” he pointed out. Tobirama gave him an unimpressed look that was only slightly marred by his pink ears.

“Pray tell what favor you have to gain from…from…whatever it is your doing right now.”

“Your hair is a lot softer than I would have thought.”

“Utterly fascinating. Also irrelevant.”

Madara laughed at the other’s dry tone. “Don’t be so cantankerous.”

“Oh that’s rich, coming from you!” Tobirama squirmed as though he might try to get away and Madara shifted his weight closer, displeased at the mere thought of it.

“Tobirama…” The younger again stilled at the murmur of his name.

“Get away from me,” he said. Madara had never heard anyone say something they so obviously didn’t mean.

“How long have you known we’re soulmates?”

“I already told you that it doesn’t matter.”

Madara ducked his head, the fringe of Tobirama’s hair mingling with his own in a way that might have seemed symbolic were he the sort of person who thought of those types of things. When he spoke again it was barely more than a whisper, softer than most would assume him capable of. “Then how long have you known that you wanted our bond to be a romantic one?”

Tobirama stared at him, lips parting but no words coming out. The two of them hung in suspended silence for several heartbeats, both waiting for the other to move. Madara was the first to give in, breathing out slowly as he realized the urge that was clambering up the base of his spine; he wanted it too. His soulmate was Senju Tobirama and the idea of a romantic bond between them was…nice. Appealing. A happy thought.

He didn’t really plan to kiss Tobirama, not consciously. It seemed as though one moment they were separated and the next they weren’t, lips just barely brushing and eyes fluttering closed. He distantly heard someone make a choked noise of surprise but he honestly wasn’t sure which one of them it came from. Either way it went ignored.

Madara raised his free hand, tracing up Tobirama’s side and around his back to pull him even closer. He felt one of the younger man’s hands grip his arm, the other pressed flat against his chest, not pushing but simply resting against his frantically beating heart. He hummed his approval, his delighted surprise at how right this felt. Now that it was happening he felt a little slow at not having realized it before or recognized how well they would fit together. Luckily he was well practiced in ignoring things he didn’t wish to remember about himself.

Instead he focused on the scent of the man in his arms, the wild taste on his tongue as he nipped at chapped lips, the musical groan in his ears as he deepened the kiss. Tobirama pressed in to him and Madara nearly felt as though he were swimming in all the emotions he could feel rolling off the younger man. The giddy relief and disbelieving happiness had his head spinning. The faint traces of arousal made his knees weak. But what truly sent a shiver through him and tightened his arms just a little bit more was the cresting wave of affection that swelled higher and higher with each passing moment, as though Tobirama had been holding it back and only just now released it, at long last allowed himself to feel what he had been trying to hide.

Only when they slowly pulled apart did Madara realize how closely they had entwined themselves. His hand was almost irrevocably tangled in Tobirama’s hair and the fingers on his chest had fisted in his clothing as though to hold him in place. Not that he had any intention of moving.

They were both breathing a little heavily and Madara felt a little smug to see Tobirama having troubles forcing his eyes to open again, looking like he was still stuck up in the clouds a little.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” the Senju murmured.

“Neither was I, to be honest.” Their eyes met and Madara tilted his head in a considering manner. “I suppose I can understand why you wouldn’t say something. Although I can’t say I enjoy knowing that I was deliberately left in the dark, it did work out for the best this way. I’m…glad I got the chance to know you better as a person before thinking of you as a soulmate.”

“That you aren’t raving and threatening violence against my person is enough for me,” Tobirama murmured, the corner of his mouth pulling up ever so slightly. Madara chuckled.

“I’m sure we’ll get back to that at some point.”

Tobirama pursed his lips and gave him a flat look but Madara did nothing but chuckle again. He felt incredibly light, oddly free, and he found himself looking forward to the future for new reasons. Reasons such as ‘I’ve found my soulmate’ and ‘when the hell did I fall in love and why didn’t I notice?’.

It was a given that sooner or later they would fall back in to their natural patterns. Both of them were proud and prickly people so it went without saying that theirs promised to be a hell of a ride. Yet Madara couldn’t find it in himself to have any regrets; on the contrary, he already couldn’t wait.

Still smiling, he leaned forward to kiss the budding frown from Tobirama’s mouth, reveling in the younger man’s pleased hum and the delightful emotions still swirling inside of him. It took a moment for him to recognize it because he’d never experienced it before. He had felt contentment and he had felt happiness. Now with his other half finally in his arms, Madara was amused to find that the village he had helped to build had actually served its purpose: he felt peace.

Chapter Text

Tayuya wasn’t really much of a singer. She was woman enough to admit that she sounded like a terrified dying chicken whenever she tried. She considered herself lucky that, for the most part, her soulmate didn’t seem too inclined towards bursting in to song either. They did have a habit of humming short tunes under their breath, thereby forcing her to hum along as well, but that wasn’t nearly as bad as the way Jirobo’s soulmate had him constantly belting out terrible pop songs about searching for love. She considered herself lucky in that respect.

Today was a humming day, it seemed. As much as she usually found it endearing this just wasn’t the right time for her to be humming loudly.

She’d been sent out on a mission, one that required silence. Tayuya didn’t much like working for Orochimaru but she also didn’t really have many other options. After abandoning her village she couldn’t exactly waltz home and expect a grand welcome with open arms. Eking a life as a bandit sounded both dull and unprofitable. She didn’t have anywhere else to go even if she thought she could get away from the snake man’s clutches.

Her only option at the moment was to keep her mouth shut and do as she was told. And today she was trying to do just that. The mission she’d been sent on was to track down Uchiha Itachi, the man Orochimaru had been partnered with in the Akatsuki. Why her ‘master’ coveted this person was beyond her. She’d heard rumors of Itachi’s power and it was obvious to her who would win in an all-out battle. As though sneaking up on someone like that wasn’t bad enough, Itachi was travelling with a new partner now.

While she hadn’t caught a glimpse of him yet, Tayuya had heard quite a bit about Hoshigake Kisame. He was rumored to a bloodthirsty brute of a man, just the kind of guy she enjoyed kicking down and showing who was boss. She bowed to no one if she could help it.

Usually when one was on a stealth mission tracking two such dangerous people, one would try to stay as quiet as possible. And she was – trying, that is. Her frustration stemmed from the fact that today her soulmate seemed to be in a particularly good mood. She’d been unable to stop herself from humming snatches of random tunes for the last hour, forced to bury her mouth in the scarf she’d wrapped around her neck to muffle the sound.

Still, it seemed dangerous to take the chance. It would be better – safer – if she waited for a time when she wasn’t being forced to make so much noise. Perhaps she should tail her target from a distance and try again later. Her feet shifted underneath her, legs coiling to propel her off the branch she’d been sitting on for the last half hour, when movement in the corner of her eye stopped her. Tayuya hunkered down on her perch, hiding her body behind boughs of leaves and tightening the scarf around her lips as the opening bars to a half familiar stanza escaped her, then cut off only half finished.

“That is utterly ridiculous,” she heard someone say. A deep rumbling laugh answered.

“You really need to lighten up, you know. Always so doom and gloom. Try looking on the brighter side of things!”

“I fail to see any sort of bright side about this.”

“It’s a nice day out?”

“Utterly ridiculous.”

Tayuya’s eyes widened when she peeked around the trunk to find the man she’d been searching for casually strolling along the path below her. His companion was a massive man with blue hair and tiny yellow eyes and muscles to die for. It took a few shakes of her head to force her gaze away from those arms, exposed by the long black cloak which flapped open, pushed to one side by a light breeze.

The man she assumed to be Kisame chuckled and lifted his face to the sunlight streaming through the branches, eyes closed yet still smiling. Itachi looked away with a sour face but Kisame only gave a small bored yawn before beginning to hum quietly to himself.

And so did Tayuya. Her already wide eyes threatened to pop right out as she found herself forced to hum along to the exact same tune as the massive man passing underneath her hiding spot.

She only got to hum a handful of notes before she realized that her chin had lifted, slipping her mouth free of the scarf and projecting her voice in to the air around her. She stopped humming at the same time that Kisame did – also at the same time that the two men stopped walking. Both of them glanced up, Kisame’s eyes looking directly in to her own, and Tayuya could only think one thing.

Joining the Akatsuki seemed like the only safe option to get out of her current servitude. All those clichés about perfect soulmates suddenly felt a lot more true.

Chapter Text

They met because of some sort of rehabilitation program her distant relative had come up with – or so she understood. Stupid Uzumaki Naruto insisted that almost all the criminals taken in to custody at the end of the Fourth Great War be given a chance at redemption. Karin rather thought she’d passed redemption a long time ago but she certainly wasn’t about to say no to the chance of escaping jail time. She’d had quite enough of being chained down and locked away.

Apparently part of the program mandated that those who participate be reintegrated in to the society they had the least connection to, in an effort to create a fresh start. Karin had little to no connection with Suna, having only been there a couple of times, and she was given little say in being shipped off to the middle of the desert at the height of summer. If she were in the habit of being honest with herself, Karin might have admitted that she was glad to be going somewhere she might be even a little bit free of her shadowed past. Too bad she wasn’t in that habit.

Some might consider it an honor to be greeted by the Kazekage himself upon arriving in the village. She knew exactly why he was here, however. Gaara of the Sand was here in official capacity to take custody of the ex-con coming to live in his domain. How nice of him.

What she didn’t expect was for him to announce that he was taking personal responsibility for her. His siblings didn’t seem too thrilled with the idea either.

“Is that wise?” the puppeteer asked hesitantly.

“Naruto offered me a second chance when I needed it,” the Kazekage said in his raspy voice. “I feel it’s only right that I give the same chance to anyone he feels is worthy.”

Karin wasn’t sure what shocked her more: that everyone else simply accepted the idea that easily or that someone had called her worthy. There were few people in this world who would call her worthy of anything – except worthy of a good swift kick perhaps, as Suigetsu might say. The offer was more than she had expected though, more than she knew anyone in her situation could hope for, so she said not a word against it and remained silent as she shook the Kazekage’s hand.

It took less than a day for the younger man – he was younger than her, how was that fair!? – to convince Karin to call him by his given name. She’d never been much of a fan of formality so that suited her just fine.

On the other hand, it took three full days for the first dream to come.

There wasn’t nearly the detail that all the mushy romance films promised. The world seemed dark and close, too close, like she was drowning at the bottom of a thick black sea. No light existed but for the sickly yellow glow that came from herself. Only she wasn’t herself, she was someone else. There was hatred in her, rage and anger and fear and so much loneliness she thought surely any moment she would split apart at the seams with it.

She woke panting and shaking, terrified of herself in a way she’d never been before. Something deep inside her knew that this was no ordinary dream, that it was a memory of the one her soul had been connected to since birth. The knowledge make her more sad than she knew she was capable of being. The sheer violence of the emotions she had felt from them was devastating and a great deal of it had been turned inwards. She could hardly believe that someone out there had ever felt like that.

It took several hours to shake off the cobwebs of her nightmare. She was silent as she was escorted to breakfast with Gaara and his suspicious siblings, not speaking a single word all throughout the meal. She followed the Kazekage to his office and sat upon a bench by the window, surrounded by the books she had asked for to amuse herself yet not reading any of them. She couldn’t seem to concentrate.

Gaara noticed, of course. Even after such a short time she had come to realize that Gaara had a habit of noticing the smallest details. He was the sort of young man who read the fine print of a document and picked up on all the petty little things that someone was trying to sneak by him. He was the type to really listen when a person was speaking, watching their expression and their body language and listening for the nuances in their voice. He didn’t always understand but he did always notice.

Upon seeing the strange mood that Karin was in that morning, Gaara declared himself tired of paperwork and announced his intention to check up on the reconstruction of the local hospital. She followed the one who held her proverbial leash without question, wandering after him under the watchful eye of everyone they passed. It seemed odd to her that the leader of their village was allowed to go about without any guards but it wasn’t something she was going to bring up. The absence of any other people permanently eyeing her with distrust worked out in her favor, after all.

The hospital was a strange mix of perfectly organized medical staff and messy disorganized construction. Gaara led them through a few sections, speaking with the heads of different projects and quietly answering questions from adoring citizens.

Karin crossed her arms and pretended to huff. She’d never seen someone so universally adored except perhaps Naruto. During her time serving under Orochimaru she had seen her fair share of fanatic followers. She’d seen people trapped by circumstance, serving against their will. And she’d seen people like herself, acknowledging power but following only because of a lack of anywhere else to go. It occurred to her to wonder if this is what the younger man had intended for her to see when he decided to rehabilitate her himself.

Probably not. He didn’t seem the manipulative sort.

What truly changed her day was when they entered the pediatric ward. Children of all different ages sat cozied in their beds, sick and wounded and yet happier than she had ever been at their age. They greeted the sight of their leader with smiles and exclamations of joy, some climbing out of their beds to come gather at his feet. It was disgustingly heartwarming and more effort went in to pretending she wasn’t affected than Karin really felt was warranted.

Incredibly, she was less upset when that effort failed than she thought she would be. Upon seeing the longing way she eyed the children around her, Gaara took her back the next day. And then the next. For a solid week he made it a part of their daily routine to stop by the pediatric ward of the hospital where Karin sat surrounded by children, interacting little but watching them enjoy the childhood that she had never been able to.

A day later she had another dream – a dream of childhood. It was not innocent.

She dreamed of blood and screaming, pain over her left temple. The air around her was obscured with a moving barrier but her vision was too hazy to see what it was made of. Just beyond the barrier she could see the form of an adult man slumped and dying. Something in her knew that this man was simultaneously the most important man in her world and her worst enemy. No one will ever love me, she heard herself thinking. So I must only love myself.

When she sat upright in her bed there were tears upon her face and a heavy weight in her chest that threatened to pull her under the water when she stumbled to the bathroom and slipped in to a hot bath. She’d never given much thought to her soulmate or the life that they had lived while she’d been suffering. It never occurred to her that, somewhere out there, they might have been suffering too. It occurred to her now as she soaked in the water, avoiding the beginning of her day, lifting one arm in to the air above her to gaze upon the teeth marks which littered her skin.

To shy away from what she was had never been her style. She had been nothing more than a tool for most of her life – pretty much all her life – and it showed in the marks that covered her from neck to toe. Karin had decided at a young age to own those marks, refusing to shy away from wearing revealing clothing. She presented herself with the confidence of someone with flawless skin. Hadn’t she just as much right to be beautiful as the next girl?

Her arm slipped back under the water with a soft ripple. What would her soulmate think of them? Would they see them as flaws? Honorable battle wounds? Just another scar earned in the senseless war between villages?

And why had she only begun to dream now? They said that most people only began to dream when they met their soulmate for the first time. She’d been exposed to so many new people since coming to Suna. It might be nearly impossible to pinpoint who she was bonded with unless her dreams gave her more details. Karin stood from her bath with a heavy sigh, eyes avoiding the mirror as she wrapped herself in a towel and gave in to the morning.

Gaara appeared to pick up on her mood easily, somehow managing to get through his office work in record time and have them on their way to the shopping district before noon had arrived. His words were perfectly calm as he said something about finding a suitable birthday present for his sister and yet Karin felt as though his motives lay in a different direction. Every time she was in the slightest funk this man always seemed to pick up on it and do something to help her out of it. It was the strangest thing. It was also strangely touching.

Karin couldn’t remember the last time she had gone shopping even just for necessities, let alone just a leisurely trip to the market on the off chance they might come up with some good gift ideas. She felt oddly light as she flitted from stall to stall, enthralled with the unique merchandise sold here in the desert. If she’d known Suna sold silks like these she would never have dressed herself in such inferior fabrics!

When Gaara stopped her to suggest they head back for something to eat, Karin realized three things. The first was that it had been hours already. She and the Kazekage of the Sand had spent hours doing nothing but freely walking through the marketplace, peering in to this stall or that, picking up an item here or there, and watching the entertainment found on random corners, tossing coins to each one they passed. In the end they hadn’t even gotten a present for his chief advisor and eldest sibling.

The second thing she realized was that for a very short while she had been happy, utterly carefree. Not once during those hours had she thought of her past or the strange memories being passed to her in her sleep. All she had focused on was the new discoveries waiting around every corner, brashly calling out each new find to her calm and passive escort. Gaara was like the steady center to the whirlwind she kicked up through the marketplace.

The third thing which Karin realized, the thing which furrowed her brow in serious contemplation, was that he really didn’t have to do any of this. She wondered why someone like him would take so much time out of their day simply to cater to the volatile moods of someone like her. She was a criminal and him the leader of a village. Shouldn’t he look down on her? Gaara never seemed to look down on anyone, to her confusion.

It took four days for the next dream to come to her. During that time she was allowed to visit the hospital each day, finding her own small corner of hope in watching over these tiny lives. Her knees nearly buckled with shock when Gaara enquired as to whether she might consider working with them as part of her rehabilitation. She could hardly believe that she would be trusted with the village’s children, their most precious commodity. Despite her shock, though, she was quick to jump on the idea. She could do good. She could do something that was hers.

When the dream did come it was nothing like the ones before. She dreamed of a rising sun in the shape of a boy. The boy was so bright she could hardly stand to look and yet felt compelled to anyway, as though her only chance for a future lay in his hands. It was like finding salvation in human form and knowing that it had come for her bearing a forgiveness she had forgotten that she even needed.

Upon waking the next morning she was crying not for her soulmate but for herself, full of too many conflicting emotions. She wanted to rage against the world – and for a short while she did. Karin shrieked out her frustration, fluttering her legs under the sheets and throwing her pillows against the wall. When finally she calmed it was only to gather one of her pillows back to her chest and weep in to the soft cotton covering. She was glad that her soulmate had found a path back to the light but where was her salvation? Why did it always seem like she was the one left behind in the darkness?

As he always did, Gaara read her mood easily. She wasn’t that surprised at this point when he took them away from his office after only a short while. What did surprise her was when he led her to a private training field, an enclosed area of sand and packed dirt, a few scrubby trees along one wall and target posts set up along another.

“If you would like to express yourself I will not take it as an act of aggression,” he told her. Karin stared, for a few moments stunned in to immobility.

Then she turned away from him as she flew to pieces.

Golden chains burst from her back as she bent forward and screamed as loud as she could, whipping the air in a physical manifestation of her tempestuous emotions. Why her? Why could she never catch a god damned break? And why did she have to be happy for some person she couldn’t remember meeting? It wasn’t fair! She wanted to be happy too! She wanted forgiveness too! Had she not gone through enough by now?

When shrieking no longer felt satisfying, Karin allowed her chakra chains to lash out around her at random, tearing at the earth and reaching for the clouds as though to pull them down on her own head. Her feet stomped and her fists waved and, strangely, it made her feel better. It took perhaps a bit longer than it should have for her to return to a rational state but it felt so good to just let it all out. She wondered how Gaara had known that this is what she had needed. Did he know why? She even found a small part of herself wondering what he thought of her display.

A quick peek showed that he was an unmoved as always, standing stolidly in the corner with his eyes trained steadily on her. Karin panted from the exertion but made no move to do anything else, unable to break eye contact. Instead of feeling trapped by his unwavering gaze she felt grounded, like she were borrowing his steadiness. More than that, she felt for perhaps the first time since she was a child that she was not alone.

It was beyond anything she had ever experienced and she didn’t know how to handle it, how to react to something so positive and open. She had wanted salvation. Was this it?

Karin fell to her knees, letting her legs splay to either side and sinking farther down until her bottom touched the ground. The powerful golden chains in the air around her dissolved in to glittering dust as the tears came again. She covered her face with both hands as quiet footsteps approached, stopping right next to her shoulder. Gaara took the time to collect his thoughts before speaking.

“I like to come here when I need to…let off some steam.” It was hard to imagine someone as composed as him needing to let off some steam. “I find it a good place to remind myself that the earth does not care for our anger. See the way it already heals itself?”

Lifting her head, Karin blinked around, immediately seeing what he was talking about. The shifting sands of the desert had already filled in the places where her chains had dug deep, covering the evidence of her outburst with so little thought.

“Well someone should care when we’re angry!” she insisted, returning her eyes to his and pretending very hard that she wasn’t merely seeking the stability that he seemed to offer so freely. Gaara tilted his head in a bird-like manner, in that way of his that said he thought he had to answer to some human behavior but wasn’t quite sure.

“That is why we should care for each other, is it not?”

She found herself staring at him again. He always seemed to know just what she needed and, even more incredibly, he almost seemed eager to give it. Karin made a wan expression, tired by her emotions and wanting nothing more than to curl up in his quiet office for the rest of the day.

“Why do you bother with me?” she asked. “There’s other people that you could have passed this burden to. Why deal with me yourself?” That no one else would have wanted her went unsaid. In response, he knelt down beside her, hesitantly reaching out one hand.

“I do not sleep often; a habit left over from my time as the One-Tail jinchūriki. I have slept only three times since you arrived in my village and only once did I dream. I…dreamed of being eaten. So many faceless jaws tearing at my skin and drinking of my chakra. I begged them to stop and still they took.” Karin couldn’t have moved if she wanted to, staying as still as a statue under the hand which brushed against the marks on her skin. “Uzumaki Naruto gave me a second chance to become a better person. I wanted to give you the same because I think everyone deserves that chance. That you turned out to be my soulmate is merely extra incentive. I bother because I wish for you to be happy.”

Just like that her tears changed. They became less of a mourning and more of an expression of relief. Karin felt as though the weight of the world had been pushing her down for so long without her noticing and now suddenly it had lifted.

Gaara of the Sand, Fifth Kazekage of Sunagakure, was her soulmate. He had seen the same darkness that she had and he had climbed back out of it, had earned every bloody step of his own redemption. And he had offered t