I don’t mind being dead. That about sums it up. I never feared death, and my death wasn’t violent or problematic in a way that would disrupt my spirit. Death doesn’t lend itself to strong emotions for the most part. I died in my sleep so there wasn’t anything extreme enough to leave a mark. If I could, I would probably be bored.
Instead, I just exist. I think. About my life, my death. About religion and rebirth. I think the best way to describe death would be peaceful. There is no conflict, no tension. Just contentment, even among the most bitter of enemies. (You can be disrupted by the hate you felt at your death, but it’s never targeted. It just is.)
I regret that my sister will have to deal with my death, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. I miss her. I mis-
Something tugs at me, and I get the sensation of blurring. Eyes that I lost in death close, and I sleep for the first time in eternity.
It’s a strange motion, blinking. The eyelid (a strange body part) sliding down and up at high speeds. I savour it, the way my vision flickers ever so briefly. The feeling of expansion of my chest as I take in air automatically.
The world looks.. strange. More yellow than I remembered. Fuzzier. In death I had only my memories of sight to remember seeing by. It seems that reality doesn’t match fantasy. I seem to be.. in a workroom? A shed? It’s a small room. I’m sitting on the ground on a pile of towels. Just a few feet away is a man with… white hair? (Is my sight working properly?) He’s sitting in a chair, hunched over a desk, muttering.
I stand automatically, my body remembers movements better than I would have expected. Something is out of balance though and I fall over immediately.
The man behind me moves but my thoughts are distracted by the sight of my body. White fur and a short stubbed tail. Two hind legs. A dog? I look down at my front and see what are distinctly cat paws.
I’m a cat.
The cat doesn’t like Tobirama very much. He can’t figure out why, the cat used to like him just fine. Maybe the cat remembered dying (it’d been painless, just a shock of chakra to the brain). None the less, it hides on the opposite side of the room from him at all times, though it never tries to leave the room.
Each morning Tobirama brings some of his breakfast and some water to feed the cat with. It stares at him, grumpy in the way the cat never had been before. Tobirama makes sure to give it a check up everyday, to make sure it’s chakra is still flowing, to make sure that it’s heart is still beating and so on. The cat enjoys looking at his work, and throwing it off the table. It would probably annoy Tobirama if he wasn’t so excited by the fact that it worked.
Then Hashirama came to get him one day. Presumably because Father wanted something, but he got too distracted by the cat to actually say anything. Tobirama was busy enough working on refining the seal for a shinobi (who has far more chakra than a cat) that he didn’t care.
“Awww hello there! What’s your name?”
“Is that so?” Hashirama was speaking in that annoying way, much like one would a baby. It was a ridiculous, the whole point of talking to a baby was to teach it to talk, and using ‘baby talk’ would only teach it bad habits. On a cat it didn’t much matter though, Tobirama supposed.
“Tobi! What’s her name?”
“I don’t know,” Tobirama dismissed, glaring at the Koi symbol. Koi was supposed to be about transference. It was unbalancing the Mui symbol for equality that he would need to ensure that there was a soul of the right size. It hadn’t been a problem with the cat because he was summoning back a newly dead soul to the same body, but that wouldn’t be true for most situations. (Mom. Itama. Kawarama.)
“Tobi’s mean isn’t he? Oh yes he his, oh yes he is,” Hashirama said to the cat. Tobirama ignored him.
“What should I call you? You’re white so maybe Snow? Ouch! Okay, okay, not snow. Icy? White-y? Crystal?” Maybe if the Koi symbol was opposite the Mui symbol? Then they would get the right push-pull balance? That would mean an even sided seal instead of the seven sides he was currently using…
“Oh well if you say so. A more dignified name? How about Star? Is that dignified enough? Or Pearl? Jasmine? Firefly? Oh you like that one? Firefly it is!” Tobirama ignored Hashirama’s sounds of delight as the cat began to purr. “Hotaru. It’s not as pretty as you are, but I suppose it’s a pretty good name.”
Tobirama stared down at the new seal he’d mocked up. He’d forgotten that the Mushi symbol could only be used on odd sided seal. A defeated groan escaped his lips and his resisted bashing his head against the desk. Seals were great. Very useful. So annoying though.
“Oh! That’s right! Tobi, Father wants us to patrol tonight because Shin is sick and Aki’s wife is giving birth.”
“Haru’s giving birth - right now?!”
“Yeah, she’s already been at it for a few hours.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me!”
“You said you didn’t want to be disturbed.”
“But you-“ Haru giving birth was way more important that being on patrol duty. Tobirama wasn’t the sort to wince at an idea, but he hadn’t gotten to talk to Haru in a few days and if she died giving birth- There was nothing he could do about it now. With a deep breath he suppressed his frustration and put down his brush, tidying his papers for the next time he’d get the chance to work on them.
“Anyway, Father wants us. Like right now.”
“Of course,” Tobirama stood and moved to the door. Hashirama didn’t move from his spot playing with the cat. “Do you want to keep the cat? I need to keep checking up on it, but I have no use for a pet.” Hashirama often wasn’t as serious as he should be, and needed to pay more attention to what Father said. Tobirama could see his brother’s loneliness. Unlike Hashirama, Tobirama had no real need for human interaction. Tobirama wanted Hashirama (and Itama, and Kawarama, and Mom) to be safe, but he didn’t need to be with him all the time. Hashirama on the other hand needed people and playing and whatever it was that people did together. Maybe the cat would help.
“I- I don’t think Father would like that very much.”
“Then leave the cat here, but it’ll still belong to you. You’ll have to look after it and such.”
“Oh. I couldn’t, she’s yours.” Hashirama said, sounding very much like he wanted to say yes.
“No she isn’t. The cat was part of an experiment, the experiment is finished. All I need to do now is make sure it continues to work.”
“You experimented on her?!”
“It was either the cat or an enemy shinobi, and one of those things is a lot harder to keep track of.”
“Fine. Hotaru’s mine.” Hashirama pulled the cat into his arms and cuddled her for a moment before the cat’s hissing was loud and its claws were fully extended. Hashirama put the cat back down, looking sadly at the claw marks on his hand. “Mean kitty.”
Tobirama rolled his eyes.
Chapter 3: Madara - Part 1
Madara looked at Hashirama. Then at the cat. Then back at Hashirama.
“Why?” He finally asked, looking at the cat sitting on Hashirama’s shoulder.
“I wanted you to meet her! This is Hotaru, she’s a bit of a grumpy kitty.” Hashirama beamed and then turned to look at the cat, “Hotaru, this is Madara. He’s my friend so I want you to be nice to him.
Madara stifled a smile as the cat gave Hashirama a look. Then it jumped off Hashirama’s shoulder and stood on the side of the river.
“Mew.” The cat said, looking at Madara. “Mew mew mew mew.”
“Do you want to go meet Madara properly, is that it?” Hashirama asked the cat, looking ecstatic. The cat gave what was distinctly a nod. Madara feels an uncomfortable itch in his chest. This cat is acting weird. Cats are smart, they’re the patron animal of the Uchiha after all, but they aren’t usually… well. Only the summons tend to respond like this cat is.
Ignorant to Madara’s concerns, Hashirama’s picks the cat up and jumps across their unspoken barrier.
“Hello Hotaru, I am Madara.” Madara says formally, bowing as he would to a new summon. It’s better to be careful than regretful.
“Mew,” the cat says, sniffing at Madara and circling him slowly. Madara sits very carefully still. After a minute the cat walks into Madara’s lap and starts rubbing up against his chest, purring softly.
“She likes you!” Hashirama sounds unreasonably excited by the prospect. Madara pretends that he doesn’t feel honoured. Carefully, he lifts and hand and starts rubbing behind Hotaru’s ear, the purring increasing in volume until Madara can feel it vibrating through him.
Hashirama is quiet for long enough for Madara to look up in confusion. Hashirama looks a bit teary eyed.
“Stop being stupid and sit down,” Madara says, pretending that his voice is noticeably less aggressive than usual. “Where’d you get a cat anyway?”
“My brother had her hidden in a shed,” Hashirama says, sitting into seiza, still watching with rapt attention towards Hotaru.
“No wonder she was grumpy, I can’t imagine your brother was meeting Hotaru’s needs,” Madara says, thinking to Hashirama’s many references to his unnamed brother’s obsession with knowledge and tendency to forget the world.
They talk for a while about the world they someday wish to see. A safe place hidden away from the world where shinobi, regardless of clan, are welcome to live. All the while Hotaru sits on Madara’s legs, occasionally extending her claws when he does too long without petting her. At some point Hashirama looks at the cat for a long, long moment and Madara senses that he’s thinking something through.
“Maybe you should take Hotaru with you,” Hashirama says, sounding incredibly sad despite the soft conviction in his voice, “My father thinks that pets are a waste of food and she likes you more anyway.”
In less time than it took for Madara to process the words, Hotaru had leapt off his lap, howling.
“I think that Hotaru objects to that suggestion,” Madara says the his tone so dry it makes deserts seem damp.
“Oh,” Hashirama says, pretending it doesn’t matter to him despite the tears gathering in his eyes, “okay then.” What a idiot.
Tobirama can sense the speck of chakra in the shed that tell him that the cat is there. He’d been hoping that Hashirama would keep it away. It was too bad Hashirama had to spend so much time negotiating with other clans with their father. Frankly, Tobirama wasn’t sure why they bothered. No one wanted to help them destroy the Uchiha, the time could be better spent removing every hint that the Uchiha had ever existed from this planet.
(He hadn’t cried as he buried his best friend, and now he walks to the shed. Grave dirt still on his hands.)
He opens the door and immediately hears a thud.
The cat’s muzzle has specks of ink on it, and the ink jar is on the ground. How the cat managed to remove the cap escapes Tobirama’s understanding. The cat purrs, sounding supremely smug. (That had been expensive ink, Sage damn it.)
Hashirama isn’t even available to take the cat. He takes a deep breath, watching as the cat leaps into the ink and rolls around. He dodges smoothly as the cat runs towards him… and out the door.
Tobirama takes another deep breath, closing his eyes and prays for patience. If he kills the fucking cat then Hashirama will be upset and he’ll loose valuable data. Which means he has to catch the cat. He, Tobirama Senju, one of the strongest shinobi of this age, is going to chase down a cat. (If he asks for help he’ll get it, but then Father will hear of it.)
Tobirama doesn’t get it. How can a cat be so hard to catch? It’s covered in ink, which has a distinctly unnatural smell. It can’t have gotten that far… (And yet, he’s been looking for it for an hour and a half with no cat in sight.)
Hashirama does not tense up when he hears a distinctive chirping noise from outside the negotiation tent.
“Oh hello, who are you?” Hashirama hears the guard mutter. Hashirama takes a bracing breath and returns his attention to the Sarutobi clan head. She seems like an intelligent young woman… a little too interested in a marriage to strengthen their bonds perhaps… He’s almost glad he’s already promised to the Uzumaki Princess.
“Hey!” The guard yelps, followed by the sound of the tents canvas moving.
Hashirama works up the courage to look down, and sure enough. There’s Hotaru… rubbing what appears to be sealing ink onto his formal cloths. He glances up, hoping he can ignore her for now. Instead he finds Kazue Sarutobi and his father both looking at him intently. His father looks significantly less amused that Kazue.
“My apologies,” he says, trying to sound as regal as his father wants him to be, “carry on.”
Hotaru jumps onto the table. Covered in ink, leaves, and a significant amount of dirt. Then she sits. And Hashirama knows that there is no way she’s going to leave without bribery. Unfortunately he had thought Hotaru was safely in Tobirama’s shed and hadn’t brought any with him.
“And who is this?” Kazue says, smiling ever so slightly. Father looks ready to strangle Hotaru.
“…This is Hotaru… She’s my cat.” Hashirama says, swallowing down his fear. At worst Hotaru will have to become a wild cat. (At worst Father will kill her.)
Father doesn’t kill Hotaru. He’s not happy about her presence, but it seems the Sarutobi like cats. Hotaru makes a lot of friends. The Sarutobi agree to provide support against the Uchiha as long as the Senju support them against the Nezu clan attacks.
Tobirama has been sent to see who Hashirama meets when he disappears.
Tobirama is still annoyed about the damned cat, now living with Hashirama and constantly in the way when he sees who Hashirama has been meeting by the river. An icy feeling fills his chest.
The boy has dark, spiky hair and his chakra is the feverish feeling of anyone with a fire chakra type. The boy is almost certainly one of the Uchiha, and not even Hashirama could have missed it. Perhaps, if the Uchiha was a fool, he might not know that Hashirama is part of the Senju, since their appearance was less uniform than that of the Uchiha. It seemed unlikely though.
Each and every time Hashirama had disappeared he’d been at risk then. The Senju could’ve lost their heir, and the only living member with the wood release. What a fool Hashirama was!
“Ouch! Hotaru! What was that for!” Tobirama hears Hashirama say. He ignores it though. What could have possessed Hashirama to act in such a way? Had he not given Hashirama enough attention? They were both busy with their own responsibilities and Hashirama had never seemed unusually lonely. Perhaps Tobirama needed to invite him to spar together more? They already did so every couple of days, but he could cut down on the amount of time he spent visiting his cousins…
“Tobi-” Hashirama’s horrified voice reached Tobirama’s ears and he jerked back. Hashirama’s rapidly pailing face, and the cat sitting on the branch in front of Tobirama made it clear what had happened.
That damn cat .
Another chakra signature, one Tobirama had assumed was some smallish animal, grew to become another Uchiha. A young one, but a trained one.
“We have to go, your Uchiha has a partner!” Tobirama stood, preparing to run back to base before fighting could begin. Perhaps it would be better to engage and help reduce the number of Uchiha, but he doubted Hashirama would be able to fight to the full extent of his skill against a friend. Even if that friend had been trying to kill him, as evident by the backup.
Hashirama stands, frozen on the riverbank, the Uchiha and his backup on the other side. Tobirama grabs Hashirama by the collar of his shirt and yanks him back, forcing chakra into the movement (and almost hitting a tree when they go further than he expected). He can hear the Uchiha speaking in a low, rapid tone, but the blood is rushing in his ears too loud to listen.
Hashirama stumbles but pulls himself together and when Tobirama turns to run, Hashirama follows.
“Don’t tell Father!” Hashirama says, voice not nearly quiet enough. (Some part of Tobirama just wants those damned Uchiha to follow them. He’s strong, he can kill them. Kill them like they killed Itama.)
There’s a meow and then the cat is following too, leaping onto Hashirama’s shoulder and into his arms.
“I have to, he told me to report back to him!”
“Then lie to him!” Hashirama pleads. Tobirama’s head snaps back, looking at his older brother.
“I can’t ! You’ve been meeting with That Uchiha!” Something in Tobirama’s chest hurts, it takes a moment to place the feeling. It’s betrayal. How could Hashirama do this? How could he risk his life so needlessly. How could he put the whole clan in danger like this? “If I don’t tell Father then you’ll go again, and you’ll get killed!”
They run in silence for a time. The forest flashes by.
“If you lie, and tell Father that I wasn’t meeting anyone. Or tell him that we were interrupted, or something … I won’t go back. I won’t try to meet with Madara again, at least not until I’m Clan Head - and then Madara and I can negotiate peace!”
“You need a two sided agreed for peace,” Tobirama says, instead of answering Hashirama’s offer.
“Madara’s the oldest in his family too! And he’s as strong as me! So he’s got to be important!”
He’s split. If Tobirama tells Father, then he’ll set a trap. Hashirama will be at risk. Hashirama will hate him if his friend gets killed. If Father learns that Tobirama lied to him…
Father couldn’t kill Tobirama. Would never.
He might send Tobirama away, never to return again. On a suicide mission or as good as. Father’s idea of the Senju has no room for those who are not completely loyal to him.
(Tobirama hasn’t been Father’s since Kawarama’s death, when he blocked a strike aimed at Hashirama. And that’s the truth of the matter, Tobirama’s loyalty belongs to Hashirama, and Hashirama’s dream for the Senju first and foremost.)
When Madara (having been unable to convince Izuna to lie), Izuna, and Tajima arrive at the riverbank to wait, there’s no one there to meet them. They wait for hours, and return another time, but there’s no one there.
Tobirama thinks the cat might be changed by his actions on it. It’s been acting different since he revived it. It had been small things, how much it hated him, how it kept running away, and it’s troublemaking behaviour. It seemed smarter too though.
Curious (and in need of investigation.)
Hashirama sits quietly in his room, trying to think of how he’ll explain his actions to Madara when they someday meet again. Hotaru had been laying on his legs but she’d gotten up a minute ago.
Hotaru bumps her head against his hand and something pokes into his leg. When he looks down to pet her he sees, she’s holding a brush in her mouth.
“Thank you,” Hashirama says, giving and empty smile and placing the brush on his desk.
Hotaru chirps at him angrily so Hashirama gives her a cautious scratch behind the ear. She leaves again, ignoring him. (Tears gather in his eyes. Ignored! Alone! Without Madara or Hotaru! Life truly is suffering!)
Once again drifting off, Hashirama is surprised when Hotaru bumps against his hand once more, this time holding a bit of parchment between her teeth.
“What are you doing, Hotaru?” Hashirama asks, speaking in only a slightly silly voice, since Hotaru doesn’t seem to like it very much.
Hotaru opens her mouth and makes a series of weird noises as Hashirama puts the parchment on his desk. She continues to make a fuss for a few minutes but eventually settles down once Hashirama sits at his desk.
Sitting there, Hashirama decides to write a letter to Madara. Or rather, to himself, so he knows what to say to Madara.
When Hashirama wakes up the next morning the tear and ink stained parchment is missing, along with Hotaru.
“Hotaru?” Madara whispers. A bit of parchment drops into his hand and he instinctively drops it, fearing a sealing attack of some kind. Yet when it lands, he sees Hashirama’s handwriting. And tear marks.