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The Uchiha have been losing the war against the Senju for years.

They’ve fought against it with everything they have, feral and fierce, spitting and clawing, raging against the apparent will of the world. They will not give up or give in, not go easily or quietly. If the night wants to take them they will burn the very stars from the sky before they fall.

If they must die, they will die with bared teeth and bloodied eyes, lungs filled with smoke on a battlefield so charred nothing will ever grow in it again.

Izuna sees this every day, in the eyes of his kin—who would (and will) follow him to all their deaths.

He sees it when he looks in the mirror.

That commitment, that dedication—it’s been there his whole life, ever since he was old enough to understand what he was willing to die for.

For years, every fight they have been pushed back a hair.

A thread.

A step.

Each time the end looms, nearer and nearer, a storm cloud on the horizon, a knife at their collective throat.

To say that Izuna doesn’t mind this would be a lie. He doesn’t want to die like this, doesn’t want his family to die like this. He’s accepted it for so long though—this deadline to their existence.

Dreams, ambitions, fantasies; all have fallen to the wayside, thrown away to embrace the irrefutable fact that one day, sooner with every sunrise, he and everyone he loves will die.

He longs for Madara’s rants on days like these, when his thoughts grow dark and his hopes grow dim.

Peace is a strange and impossible idea and the Senju an ally that he could never imagine himself trusting, but it had been something, at least.

Listening to Madara talk about the world as he wanted it, the world as he knew it could be.

More than far flung talk of peace though, he misses his brother. All his brothers, but the others have been dead for so long they’re far gone memories now. Missed dearly, loved still—but Madara.

Madara he’d lost old enough that he’ll never be a blurred smile and half-forgotten words, with only the lingering emotions to recognize them as belonging to family.

Madara he will remember for the rest of his days, but Madara will never be just a memory.

“Izuna-sama!”

Izuna jolts as the door to his room snaps open, knocking over the tea he’d sat by his leg an hour ago, long since cold. Hikaku stands in the doorway, dressed in light patrol armor and wide-eyed, breathing fast.

“Senju Tobirama was spotted by one of our border scouts.” He says as soon as he spots Izuna, urgency in every word. “He’s alone and heading southeast.”

Hikaku doesn’t emphasize “east” when he says it, but he doesn’t need to. Every Uchiha knows very well the danger of Senju Tobirama near a large body of water and Izuna better than anyone.

Regardless, Izuna jumps to his feet and harnesses his sword before Hikaku even finishes speaking.

Senju Tobirama alone.

Izuna’s heart pounds, blood rushing through his ears.

He starts to head for the door (Senju Tobirama is alone) but Hikaku blocks him, glaring when he tries to protest. His cousin herds him back to the mannequin where his armor is stored and begins strapping him in. Izuna settles after a few moments.

Time was of the essence, but trying to fight Senju Tobirama unprepared was nothing but a death sentence. And if he’s fighting to capture instead of kill…that will be a great deal harder indeed.

Tobirama will not come easily. Izuna knows that with absolute certainty. Resolve, the kind that brings down empires and mountains alike, solidifies within him. 

“Details?” He barely hears his own question, feeling at once removed from the moment and like he'd never been more aware of his heartbeat, the flow of his blood. What he does hear doesn’t sound quite right—breathy and terse, his voice muted as though spoken at a distance.

Hikaku’s answer, however, is clear as day.

“Covered in blood but doesn’t seem wounded, visibly exhausted. He seems to be heading for the Uzumaki.” He stops then, jarringly, biting off words.

It’s odd, odd enough that Izuna looks down at where Hikaku is strapping on Izuna's second leg guard. His cousin's brow was furrowed, his mouth half open like he was unsure of what he was trying to say, or if he should say anything at all.

Izuna frowns.

The part of him that’s the clan head and the part that has never stopped missing Madara, they would do anything to get his brother back…they make him want to snap, tell Hikaku to get over himself and spit out any other information he has. Everything about Tobirama alone and unguarded is important to Izuna.

The part that sees Hikaku’s eyes—not innocent but young—when his cousin looks back up at him makes him ask instead.

Ever since Taijama died and he became clan head with Hikaku as his second, it’s been hard to remember that Hikaku is four years younger than him, barely into the double digits. Children have fought and died in battle for years—he had fought and nearly died when he was younger than Hikaku.

And Izuna isn’t a child anymore, had barely counted when he was but…sixteen had seemed much older before he was made clan head. Twelve had seemed much older when he was the twelve year old on the field, Sharigan spinning, hands stained with blood.

Both their years seem shorter now, with the immensity of their tasks and responsibilities, in the face of all they must do and all those they must protect.

“Hikaku?” He asks, instead of dwelling further on those thoughts, the kind that cast shadows in his mind and form cold dread in his heart. He has enough trouble without letting himself feed and grow them, sink into the despair that reaches for him with creeping, clawed fingers every night he tries to sleep and morning he’s forced to wake.

“One of the patrol said it looked like he was…fleeing.” Hikaku answers, unusually hesitant. The last word comes out like it fits strangely in his mouth, his tongue unfamiliar with the idea it’s sharing.

“Tobirama?” Izuna asks, confused. He doesn’t question the truth of Hikaku’s words though—his cousin would never tell him something he believed false. Not when it came to Tobirama. “Fleeing what?”

Hikaku shrugs, seeming just as at loss as Izuna.

“He was headed away from the Senju compound,” he adds. The implication of the words is clear, as is his own disbelief at the idea.

Izuna understands the feeling. Tobirama—while fast, stupidly fast—was not the type to just run away, whether in battle or from his duties. If Tobirama was running, from the Senju compound no less, there had to be a reason. And whatever could make Senju Tobirama run from kith and kin had to be terrible indeed.

Hikaku finishes with his armor and Izuna heads out into the hall, dashing for the closest exit, the whisper quiet sound of Hikaku’s steps just behind him. It’s reassuring, having someone at his back. It had always been, but more now in the last few years than ever.

Before it had been a given, the way the world worked.

Now it’s a blessing, though never quite enough, never what he wanted.

It's still dark when they make it out into the courtyard in front of the head house, sunrise an hour or so off. The rest of Hikaku's patrol group lingers around the benches near the koi pond. Ninja don't stand at attention, Izuna isn't a daimyo and they aren't his guards, but he can read readiness in their posture and the tenseness of their faces. 

They all know how important capturing Tobirama is to Izuna, even if they don't understand why.

Izuna can’t imagine why Tobirama would run—Tobirama who had fought him so fiercely for years, whose loyalty to Hashirama seemed to edge more toward devoutness than simple familial allegiance, who had always seemed to doubt peace as much as Izuna himself.

Who, he thinks, dark and bitter and envious, has everything.

Izuna knows little about Tobirama beyond the way he fights, but he’s never doubted his commitment to his clan, to his brother.

And he’d like to find out the reason for his flight—Tobirama was important to him, was the reason he would one day (sooner every moment) die—but there is a far greater reason he’s been hoping to catch the Senju off guard for years.

Because Madara might be gone—might be forever lost to Izuna and his clan—but there’s no place in the world a ninja could hide from Senju Tobirama.

And Izuna knows—as immediately and naturally as his hands on his sword and fire in his throat—there’s no place in the world that he wouldn’t follow him.

To get Madara back, he would do anything.

 

 

 

Betrayal-scolding-anger-sword-blood-satisfaction-loss-resentment-loneliness-terror-loneliness-terror-loneliness-terror-loneliness-terror-loneliness-terror-loneliness terror lonelinessterror.

Tobirama isn’t running away from home.

Running away from home was for civilians in bad situations. People who slept in blankets of bruises, with empty bellies and emptier futures. People with no one and nothing but pain and the promise of more.

He’s simply…not going to return to the compound.

Indefinitely.

He sighs, landing on one of the thicker branches in the surrounding trees, steady footed despite the wet surface. It’s such a relief to stop that he lets himself lean against the trunk then slump down to sit on the sodden surface when his knees start to protest. It’s not comfortable but he’s too tired to care, and already soaked through from the rain besides. His entire body aches—muscles burning and limbs quivering, lungs more like holes in his chest than organs. A little more water won’t hurt in the long run.

And the long run is really all he has left, at this point, though he has no idea how much longer he really can run.

This is the first break he’s had in two days—he’d pushed himself during his last mission and had barely made it back to the compound when Butsuma had called for him before dawn. Their subsequent…conversation and his following frantic run had only worn him further down.

None of his physical pains hurt that much really, not in comparison to the uneasy, nauseous swirling dread that’s been slowing spreading through him—stomach to chest to heart, a disgusting and miserable emotional cocktail.

He shakes his head, forcefully dismissing the thought.

He’s a shinobi, he should be better than this.

And if he also dismisses the memory of Touka last month, her arms briefly pinned before she flipped them and knocked the air out of him, the way she had smiled and said, “You might be strong little cousin, but you’re still a kid.” Well. She wasn’t here to punch him for the way he’s treating himself or his disobedience.

Even if she was here, at this point she’d have a far better reason to—

He cuts that thought off as well, focusing instead on the trees around him.

He’s never been this far south—the Senju lands being rather far northwest in Fire Country and the Uchiha’s land bordering them on the south. Typically, since his water affinity had shown itself, if he was assigned long range work at all it was to the north or directly to the east—the closer to the coast and the less likely to be attacked by Uchiha ninja the better.

Oddly colored beaches, picturesque coves, underwater caves—he’d seen those many times. These southern forests, however, were…strange.

Amidst the familiar oaks and maples stand thin trees, their limbs skinny and close to the trunk, thick with needles. Stranger still were the crooked ones with white bark, splotched with black and brown, too thin to carry his weight.

They register unpleasantly in his brain, familiar as it is with different thickets, colors and scents; a constant reminder of unfamiliar territory, that he’s far from home and vulnerable.

A gust of wind rushes by, rattling the leaves around him and throwing raindrops into his face with stinging force. He winces a little, the numbness from the cold not enough to dull the hurt.

The temperature is another reminder, this one that winter is dangerously close.

He dreads the coming cold. Fire Country rarely experienced true, biting freezes but it’s already cold enough that his breath fogs before him in thin, curling wisps. And with his exhaustion, lack of supplies and the gradual descent into winter…

It will only get worse.

Tobirama shifts his weight, grimacing as his wet clothes drag unpleasantly against his skin. It was miserable but at least he could blame the shivering on that, rather than his own uneasiness. It's undignified, shaking like a child after their first kill.

Not that there would be anyone around to see it without him noticing. Something that bears only vague resemblance to a smile settles on his face, brought forth from heartache rather than happiness.

Or that anyone intending on finding him would just look at him. Not if they were a Senju.

Hashirama should know he’s gone by now. He would’ve had time at this point, to go to meet with their father, to…to find Butsuma, to read the scroll and see what Butsuma had planned.

To realize what Tobirama had done.

The idiot is probably trying not to cry.

He can picture it easily enough after almost a decade and a half of watching Hashirama’s eyes well up and lips jut out, rain clouds practically forming over his head whenever he’s in a mood.

The image brings an actual smile to his own face, tugging his mouth up at the corners.

Hashirama, no matter his age, had always been Hashirama.

Except…Hashirama is going to be sad this time, not just pouting or playing. The reminder kills the warm surge of fond amusement like a candle in a hurricane.

Hashirama is going to be sad, because their father is dead and Tobirama is gone.

And then, the knowledge that Tobirama had been avoiding all the hours he’d run, pushing himself till his lungs were burning and exhaustion shot his control, his feet leaving craters on the tree trunks, the way they hadn’t since he was a child.

And then, Hashirama is going to be mad.

Because their father is dead.

And Tobirama killed him.

 

Tobirama closes his eyes, breathing in deeply.

It would be easier if he could regret it. Not that it would make Hashirama or the clan more merciful. Not that regret would make him less a traitor.

Less a kin-slayer.

But he should feel regret, he knows. He had committed a crime, against his clan and against his family. Against his last brother.

Instead he just feels empty, a void in the place where the regret should lie.

He killed his own father just hours ago, and when he thinks of it he feels nothing but the ache of his muscles and a longing for home.

If he could regret killing Butsuma he could face the clan—knowing he had done wrong, knowing he deserved punishment.

But all his regret is for the clan.

For Hashirama who will lead it now, who wants peace so fiercely but who is not fully ready to take charge, who was never meant to lead alone. Tobirama was always supposed to be there for him.

For Touka, who he was supposed to train with later today, who’d always thought the best of him no matter the people that whispered about his appearance or attitude. People who would be feeling awfully proud of themselves in a short while.

He regrets the consequences, regrets that he must leave his family, regrets that they must deal with the absence of their leader. Regrets that, even with good intentions, he has weakened them.

With the clan head gone, power shifts; with two strong fighters gone, battles grow harder.

But…all the same.

He cannot regret the action itself.

Shinobi were not honorable—they were killers and thieves, back stabbers and liars.

Those were the demands of their lives—what was necessary for their survival, the survival of family and clan. Evils still, he would not argue their moral purity or superiority, for they had none. But necessary ones—killing before you could be killed, stealing before you could be stolen from.

The world was not a kind place, and so shinobi were not kind people.

But they were humans still, capable of mercy and understanding, self-control and remorse. You had to be careful about it—because those were all things that could so easily lead to a slit throat—but they were possible.

Tobirama had learned that from his mother, her kind eyes and sword calloused hands; from Hashirama’s desire for peace and unrelenting strength.

And he couldn’t regret killing his father, not when the alternative was to let the man make a mockery of his mother’s memory and a monster of his brother. Not when Butsuma had valued his own ill-thought out greed more than the lives of their clan.

He can sense Hashirama in the compound still, the good earth, deep roots of his chakra, solid, steady and achingly familiar. His brother is strong, stronger than their father or their enemies, stronger than he or Izuna. Hashirama is a sun amongst torches, a redwood amidst saplings—bigger and brighter than all the world around him.

But more than just strength, Hashirama is his brother.

Tobirama would know him on his deathbed, blind, deaf and dumb, know him as instantly as he does now even if they stayed apart for the rest of their lives, just as he knew him on every dark, stormy night of their childhood, after every funeral and battle, in the chaos of devastating fights and numbness of heart-breaking losses.

Hashirama has always been there, steady and true, the point around which he orbited, the center of his world no matter the distance between them. Every death had only piled his importance higher and higher.

Hashirama is all that he has left of three brothers, a mother and the memory of the man their father had once been; an entire family condensed into one doe-eyed dreamer.

He’s everything.

And right now, he’s furious.

Unable to stop himself, Tobirama flinches back at the feeling of rage, biting and cruel, that flares in his brother’s chakra. Emotions are usually hard to discern with his sensing, only recognizable with great focus, or if they’re particularly strong and he knows the person well.

Both are true of Hashirama, and he feels like an attack dog straining at his leash, biting and pulling, ready for blood the instant he’s let free.

Tobirama’s fists clench at his sides, digging his nails into his palms until it stings. It hurts, feeling his brother’s anger at him.

He’s known death and pain and loss all his life, but… it’s one thing to lose a brother to the grave—horrible and hurting, a pain he bears every day.

It’s different this time.

Worse.

Knowing that he’s lost Hashirama by his own hand, his own actions.

His brother still walks and talks, but Hashirama is no longer his.

Hashirama’s chakra flares again, even fiercer than before.

Tobirama draws a deep breath, and forces his senses back, making himself ignore the beacon of grief, power and anger in the man he was once allowed to call brother.

The call of home, hearth and family.

The aching emptiness in his own chest.

Tobirama stands once his senses are reasonably withdrawn. His knees almost give out as soon as he's up, knocking together like he’s on a ship in stormy seas, thrown back and forth at the behest of nature. He braces himself against the trunk till his legs feel like they can hold him again.

He has only the vaguest sentiment of something that could be called a plan, flimsy enough that too much thought could break it. He needs it though. It’s the only thing he has left.

A plan held together by dim hope and enough distance that he could believe in it for a few days.

Tobirama heaves out a gusty sigh and kicks off his perch, heading east.

And perhaps he feels even more hollowed out and empty afterward, like he’s naught but bones and the cold air that blows through them, but it doesn’t matter.

He has a long way to go.

 

 

Chapter Text

A breeze blows in through the open window and Hashirama takes a deep breath of the dawn air. It settles within him, chilly and sharp, comforting in its crispness. It’s out of place here in his father’s personal war room—which even now stinks of ink, smoke and bad memories if he closes his eyes.

Ill-fitting as it may be it’s more welcome than the metallic tang of blood that hangs heavy and putrid in the air.

Hashirama looks down at his father’s body. He wonders if he’s supposed to cry, even considering his and Butsuma’s differences. He’s miserable but in a soft way, distant and dusty. None of the burning, watering eyes he remembers from previous losses. Mostly, he just feels tired.

He hasn’t lost a parent in over a decade.

He remembers being sad when his mother died—like the ground had fled his feet, like the sun had lost its shine—and that’s…well, that’s not what this feels like now.

Butsuma was always the clan head, the general, the strict teacher and then, perhaps, the father. An afterthought, performed in his spare seconds of time.

It wasn’t an approach that had bred familial love in any of his sons, Hashirama even less than his brothers.

He’d argued with Butsuma his entire life—how long he should train, how he should behave, what he should believe. The topics had increased in seriousness over time and ash filled graves.

The last few months, however, had been an entirely different level.

Since Hashirama was now unquestionably an adult at 17—rather than just old enough to fight in wars and risk his life—Butsuma had grown…tense under the pressure of time and succession. Bloodier tactics, harsher orders, more questionable missions—his father had never been kind by any stretch of the word but before he’d been a man, not a monster.

Hashirama wasn’t so sure about that anymore.

The first few arguments they had after his birthday had made him glad he’d never had much cause to love his father—it would’ve torn him apart to fight with his mother in such a way. Butsuma was a different story.

Still, that doesn’t mean he’d wanted the man dead.

And, until just an hour ago, he’d thought Tobirama felt the same. Hell, Tobirama got along with Butsuma much better than he did. If either of them were to be assumed to have killed their father, Hashirama—the clan heir who wanted peace, waiting to inherit from a war hawk—was a much better bet than the dutiful second son.

Hashirama frowns, chewing on his lip. It’s an old habit and a bad one but he’s too distracted to stop himself.

Of course, he’s never really understood Tobirama. People generally came easily to him but that had never been true of his last brother.

Sometimes, when he thinks about that, he catches himself wishing it had been Tobirama that died, instead of Kawarama or Itama.

It’s a terrible and cruel thing to think, to feel but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true in those moments. He wants the desire gone—wants it cured like the sickness it is, cut from him like a gangrenous limb. Because he loves Tobirama, he does—his biggest little brother, quick-witted, sharp tongued, smart enough for ten men but paranoid enough for twenty.

Perhaps it wouldn’t make him feel so dirty, so rotten if it was for some pure motivation—if he wished it because part of him wanted their younger brothers to have lived longer, wanted Kawarama or Itama to have had just a few more years. They died so young.

He doesn’t think Tobirama would begrudge him that. Honestly, he’s half certain that his brother would completely understand.

Years ago, in the early days after their deaths, they’d talked about it. They’d sat at the side of the river as Hashirama skipped stones and spoken about how much they each wished they could switch places with their little brothers.

He wants that to be the reason, though it turns his stomach to try to justify wishing Tobirama away, even if just to himself.

It’s worse still, because that’s not why—the wish never comes in those moments when he smells Itama’s favorite tea or catches a glimpse of the first tree Kawarama fell out of; those moments when he misses them both so fiercely it feels like his chest has cracked open and his heart has spilled out.

It’s just because he’s never managed to understand Tobirama the way he did their other brothers, and sometimes…sometimes he just wishes things were easier.

He loves Tobirama, who is endlessly curious and passionate, protective and logical—who is so bright it sometimes burns to look him in the eyes.

But Tobirama was dedicated to the war, to this pointless fighting, to slaughtering each other just because it’s all they could remember and surely that meant it was better to keep killing each other than be the first to concede, to be the last one hit rather than the last one punching.

It’s unfair, he knows, to judge his brother so harshly for something so many of their clansmen do, for something so many people in the world do. People who have experienced nothing but war and resentment and can’t bring themselves believe in anything more than killing before they’re killed themselves.

Hashirama isn’t a saint, he understands.

But… he’d expected better of Tobirama when they were kids, had thought that maybe someone else could believe in peace as he did.

And then Tobirama had grown up and all the little pieces of their mother started to fade from him—he smiled less, teased harsher, trained more and more and more.

Within a few years of Itama’s death Hashirama could see Butsuma looking at him through Tobirama’s eyes sometimes—cold and cruel. But better than Butsuma would ever be.

Worse.

Hashirama loves his brother, but within him he sees so much potential for pain and bloodshed and yet more years of war. Or, worse yet, the end of the war.

Not because of peace, but because every Uchiha would be dead.

Tobirama is smart, after all.

More than smart enough to win a war.


Though…Hashirama is beginning to think he might be wrong about that. Tobirama might not be that smart after all. And he definitely wasn’t as similar to Butsuma as Hashirama had previously thought, either.

Tobirama is still alive for one (fuck, he’d better be alive), which is a…rather large difference.

“Hashirama?” Touka calls as she enters the room, interrupting his thoughts.

He looks up from the spill of blood around Butsuma, grateful for the distraction. Whether grieving the loss or not there’s nothing to be gained from staring at corpses.

He learned that long ago.

Touka doesn’t spare a glance at Butsuma’s body. She hadn’t when he’d sent for her earlier, nor when he’d asked her to check with the perimeter guards. Her continued silence says more about her thoughts than any words she could have spoken.

She’d never thought very highly of their late clan head either, after all.

“No one knows anything?” He asks, out of obligation rather than curiosity. He already knows what she’ll say.

If anyone had noticed last night’s events neither he nor Touka would’ve slept through the night. Hashirama had only discovered him half an hour ago, just before dawn.

And so he’s been standing here, trying not to look at the bloody remains of his family, for twenty-seven minutes.

“Of course not. And before you ask: no. There’s no trail either, because it’s Tobirama,” Touka stresses, knowing that Hashirama won’t need more of an explanation than that.

Tobirama was a damn good tracker. If he didn’t want to be found…well, Hashirama might as well be an only child.

“He’s out of my sensing range too,” she grumbles the last part, glaring at nothing. Touka was their best sensor after Tobirama himself. If he was already out of her range there was no point in asking any of the other sensors in the clan.

Hashirama winces at the idea of notifying the clan.

He’s been trying to avoid thinking deeply about breaking the news to them—the clan head dead, the second in line by all appearances a traitor. But they won’t be able to hide it for much longer—Butsuma was not a withdrawn leader and most of the clan knew Tobirama had been due to return from his mission over the night.

He was rarely late.

“So,” Touka asks, leaning against the wall next to him, close enough that her shoulder brushes against his arm. It’s reassuring and familiar, but it hurts a little, a small and bruising ache pressing against his heart—Tobirama had always done that, not really the hugging type. He might never do it again.

She lets the word hang in the air for a long moment, before: “What the fuck are we going to do?”

Hashirama doesn’t bother holding back his sigh.

He wishes he knew what to do. Half of him wants to admit that to her but…It’s the kind of thing Butsuma always scolded him for saying. Weakness and doubt were to be banished or hidden, never revealed to others whether enemy or ally.

An enemy would use it to cut your throat.

An ally would doubt the leader’s strength, would grow over ambitious enough to rebel or scared enough to cast doubt upon the leader’s authority.

Hashirama doesn’t doubt Touka’s loyalty, but it feels cruel to let her know the depth of his uncertainty. He’s the clan head now, he’s their chief line of defense, the one with the answers to their problems. He’s supposed to make the hard decisions. And…

In a way, she’s already lost Tobirama today. Blood aside he was just as much her little brother as Hashirama’s.

How harsh, how mean it would be then, to admit he sees no way of getting their brother back to them. To admit that Tobirama could just be gone.

Touka hums before he can figure out how to respond, taking his silence as answer enough.

“You have no idea, do you?” She asks, voice a little too amused for someone standing just a few arm lengths away from their uncle’s corpse.

He lets his head tilt back into the wall with a gentle thunk.

“None.”

Touka snorts out a laugh then tugs him up from the wall and across the floor toward where Butsuma’s body lay. Mercifully, she pushes him toward Butsuma’s desk before he has to decide how he feels about touching his father’s corpse. The desk is an old and vast wooden thing, heavier than a grown man and about as long.

“I’ll check to see if there’s anything on him that could explain…any of this,” she waves a hand vaguely over the blood splatter, the body and one of Tobirama’s swords, abandoned on the ground.

“You check his desk and if there’s nothing there we’ll look in Tobirama’s room.”

Hashirama nods, feeling all at once indescribably grateful and like the ten-year-old he’d once been, watching Touka return from her first real mission. She’d looked older and more mature then, at thirteen with a split lip and a chunk of her hair ripped out, than he’s ever felt.

Touka, for all that he’s been able to best her in a fight for years, has always been strong in a way he cannot begin to understand.

Hashirama looks through Butsuma’s desk—there are a few scrolls and loose papers on top of it, but he moves on from them quickly enough. Butsuma would never leave anything of importance out. The drawers hold a great deal more content wise—mission reports and less sensitive intel, all divided up in storage seals carved, neat and tiny, in the wood—but nothing that immediately seems linked to the situation at hand.

And there must be something that explains Tobirama killing Butsuma, because his brother had his cold moments, but he wouldn’t just murder their father for no reason.

Tobirama might be capable of some terrible things, but Hashirama knows steady and sure, straight down to his bones that this isn’t one of them.

He’s stops himself from dwelling on that thought, the way it feels like a lie, several times as he searches.

Instead, he focuses on the way it feels vaguely illicit to look through Butsuma’s desk, even knowing that his father lay dead on the floor a few steps away. It makes nerves flutter in his stomach, like he’s going to be caught and punished with extra training or dull missions for intruding the way he had years before.

Disappointingly though, his search turns up nothing of value or even noteworthy at all, just the relatively typical documentation clan heads handled that wasn’t dangerous or important enough to burn. It’s disappointing but not surprising, since Butsuma would have disposed of anything that could be incriminating or vulnerable if it got outside of his own hands.

Hashirama looks over the last of the newer papers again—a letter from just over a week ago, filled with dry talk about possible trade with one of the small sub-clans of the Uzumaki for the squid ink used in some of the less common clan sigils—before he gives up and looks over to where Touka had crouched down at Butsuma’s side to search him.

She’d rolled him over at some point. It’s a weird and vaguely unpleasant thought, that Butsuma can now just be casually flipped over. Hashirama puts it out of his mind.

“Nothing in his desk,” he tells her, moving to stand at her side. “If there’s nothing on him or in Tobi’s room then he probably destroyed it.”

There’s another possibility of course—there could just be nothing.

Tobirama could have just…snapped, just killed their father for no reason. It could be that there’s no scroll or letter or anything else, nothing sealed away with whatever rancidness that could drive Tobirama to such an inconceivable action.

He could have just…done it.

That’s something else Hashirama would rather not think about.

Touka hums distractedly, not looking away from one of Butsuma’s palms. After a few more seconds she waves him to bend down and look closer, which he does.

There’s blood on it, like Butsuma had cut open his hand grabbing the blade of a sword. Not surprising.

Tobirama was stronger than their father, but even he would have had trouble killing Butsuma. He wouldn’t have gone down easy, even unarmed and surprised.

Hashirama frowns, looking up at Touka. He can’t see anything special about the cut.

“What?” He asks, not sure where she’s going with this.

Touka shakes her head, pointing carefully at the edges. “It’s smeared here, see? And it’s too thick to have been from Tobirama’s sword. But,” Touka pauses then, moving to gesture at the area the hand had rested before she’d moved the body over.

“There’s no blood here. It had to have smeared on something that he held since his hand didn’t relax enough for the palm to touch the floor.”

Hashirama hums.

“So there is something to look for,” he mutters, quietly but full of relief. He’d thought so, he’d wanted so desperately for it to be so but…shamefully, part of it had doubted it until this moment.

Touka looks up sharply at him, scowling and looking very much like she wished humans could properly growl.

“Of course there is,” she insists, glaring as she stands.

Hashirama feels his face soften a bit as he gets to his feet as well. She’d always loved Tobirama best, even when they were all young and Kawarama and Itama had still been alive, mischievous and sweet. It makes sense that she would take a slight against Tobirama especially hard right now.

“I know, it’s just-” he starts to say but Touka doesn’t let him finish, frowning even harsher. The red of her lipstick makes the imposing expression even more so.

“No, you don’t understand. I know Tobirama isn’t all puppies and kittens, and he can be an asshole but he would not do this over nothing. We both know that.” She stops and stares at him then, the weight of her gaze heavy and hard.

Waiting.

He nods, which is apparently what she’d wanted because her face eases out then, losing most of its tenseness but none of its seriousness.

We,” Touka emphasizes, pointing from her chest to Hashirama’s, “both know that. Anybody in the clan who’s ever thought he was too weird or quiet? All those people that used to talk about him being cursed? They don’t know that.”

Hashirama stares at her, wide eyed, because she’s right.

If the clan thought he was just covering for Tobirama’s actions, that he would excuse betrayal just because it was done by his brother…Butsuma’s old guard would stage a coup. Most of the clan would side with them—Hashirama was well liked but his ideas were foreign. They could reluctantly accept peace, but peace and his consent to his brother murdering their father for no apparent reason?

That was too much to ask of them even if it wasn’t true.

Worse, if the belief that Tobirama was a traitor spread then it might never be safe for his brother to come home if they do find him.

Touka pats him sharply on the cheek, jolting him out of his thoughts. She gestures at his expression then, seeing the awareness and light dread he now feels.

She nods, the corners of her mouth quirking up even as her eyes darken. “There you go. If this shit gets out before we know what happened then we need to sound as sure as possible that Tobi is not a traitor, or the clan will decide for us.”

Their walk to Tobirama’s room passes in an odd, lopsided silence, the weight of it heavier to bear with their centerpiece missing.


It had been odd to look through Butsuma’s desk but riffling through his brother’s things is far worse. Hashirama had never really cared about Butsuma’s privacy or invading it either way, but Tobirama mattered to him in a way their father never had, so he respected his privacy.

Up to a point, anyway. He was an older brother after all.

Without Tobirama to fill the space with candlelight and the sound of turning pages the room feels cold and empty, even with the warm flicker of fairy light to guide them.

It’s tidy still—the blankets on Tobirama’s futon pulled straight and nearly wrinkle free, scrolls and books neatly lined on their shelves, his armor half cleaned on its rack. His face guard is the only thing Hashirama can see out of place, sat next to a cloth at the foot of the futon, mostly polished.

Touka’s eyes catch on it as well. “He was cleaning that when Butsuma called for him,” she says, with such absolute certainty he can’t help but agree.

Hashirama can picture it, too. He’s seen Tobirama care for his gear many times before and the image of his brother wiping grit from his armor and sharpening his swords is long burned into his mind.

Tobirama was meticulous in all things—training, seals, strategy. The way he cared for his weapons was an extension of that, everything cleaned to a shine, not a flaw in sight, always perfectly in place.

That attitude is why Hashirama frowns when his eyes land on the sword rack against the wall, lifting the lantern to see it better. Tobirama didn’t keep many swords, he’d never been too attached to his own weapons, so he’d always discarded those unfit to repair.

And there should only be two swords there now—Tobirama’s kō-wakizashi lay next to Butsuma’s body, blood drying on its blade. His ō-wakizashi was likely at his side, wherever that may be.

Which left Kawarama and Itama’s old swords to hang in the rack, kept pristinely polished as one of Tobirama’s rare sentimentalities.

Except there were three, their shadows fuzzy against the wall but their number unmistakable.

Hashirama moves past Touka to get a closer look, stomach sinking at the idea of Tobirama alone, without even a sword. He wouldn’t really be unarmed—water vapor itself was a weapon in his hands—but a sword on the back of a sixteen year old could end fights before they started.

Once he gets closer he sees that’s not the case though—Kawarama and Itama’s old swords hang sheathed, as they’d been for years. And beside them Tobirama’s ko-wakizahi, looking perfectly clean in its own sheath.

The same sword that still lay next to Butsuma’s body.

The shadow though, now that he can see it better, looks…wrong. Too thin and short, as well as missing its hilt.

Hashirama reaches out to touch it and it wavers, the image distorting around his fingers as he makes contact with the “sword.”

Paper, not metal.

He smiles, feeling like a light had turned on in his chest, a welcome change from the heavy sickness he’d felt at Butsuma’s side.

Tobirama had a plan alright, he always did.

“Touka, come look at this,” he waves her over and points from the sheath to the shadow. “He left a genjutsu.”

Her eyes jump between them for a moment before she smiles as well, relief damn near dripping from her. He’d whine at her for her hypocrisy—calling him out on his worries when she’d her own but, well. Her faith in Tobirama didn’t mean she didn’t want answers as much as he did.

Touka quickly dispels it, grabbing the thin, tightly wound scroll it had concealed, jammed in the top of the sheath. She unrolls it slowly, careful of the paper catching on its creases, not wanting it to tear.

That done, Hashirama lifts the lantern so they can both see.

After the first few lines, his stomach turns. By the end of the letter the light is shaking on the paper, his hand clutching it quivering with rage.

How dare he.

How dare Butsuma plan to betray his mother’s people. Plan to sacrifice so many in their clan. Plan to murder children and pretend it was deserved. War had always sickened him, but there was a difference between battle and slaughter at least, even Hashirama could recognize that.

Tobirama had apparently felt the same, judging by Butsuma’s cooling corpse.

Touka makes a noise then, something lower and rougher than should come out of her throat, perhaps out of any human being. It sounds, Hashirama reflects, watching her face twist in ire, exactly like he feels.

Disgusted and angry. Angry beyond words, angry enough it doesn’t feel like he should be able to fit it inside of him, the emotion too large to contain.

“He was going to make a Pact over this,” he mutters. There’s no other reason Butsuma would write down such incriminating things and the essence of his chakra imbued through the words is clear enough that even Hashirama can sense it. It’s not the kind of thing that could be faked. “He thought a massacre was more important than our peoples’ lives.”

He’s never really understood the war the way other people did—had never felt the burn of they’ve wronged us, they’ve killed ours that motivated his clansmen to keep fighting and dying and losing their loved ones.

But this. This is far beyond anything he’d ever thought his father was capable of.

“Ugh, that rotten bastard. If he wasn’t dead I would kill him myself,” Touka says, sneering. She rolls the scroll back up and holds it out to Hashirama, gentle despite her anger. It wouldn’t do to damage their proof after all, not with how badly the clan would take this.

“Gladly,” Hashirama agrees, reluctantly taking it. He doesn’t want to touch it, not now that he knows the ugly truths it contained. He and Butsuma had never seen eye to eye but he’d always thought he was the problem.

He’d given Butsuma the benefit of the doubt, had thought he was just trying to do his best for the clan in the only way he knew how. Hashirama doubts that now, doubts all the things his father had said over the years.

Anyone who could betray an ally as close as the Uzumaki so he could slaughter children and sacrifice kin, all in the name of winning something as petty as a war…that wasn’t a man worth listening to.

He clutches the scroll in his hand, fighting the urge to squeeze it the way he would Butsuma’s throat. It feels a little like he’s boiling inside, with the rage and horror nothing but war has ever managed to provoke in him.

This is why he wants to change the world. Ninja aren’t noble, their work isn’t pretty but the end of the war would be a step in the right direction, a step toward survival.

Peace, as much as this world can know it.

And now that he holds the future in his hands, now that he has the chance to make things right.

Now all he needs is Tobirama at his side to see it with him.

Chapter Text

Hashirama has never really liked working with the council.

Touka knows that, even though he would never admit it aloud, even though he’s perfectly pleasant to them—she knows. Her cousin is a people person through and through, the kind that could make friends with a rabid dog if given half a chance. If it was up to Hashirama, he would get along with them fantastically.

It was not.

By and large, the council were Butsuma’s people and they were proud of it. Many of them had little interest in becoming Hashirama’s, no matter the inevitability of it if they managed to outlive his father.

Which, as of today, they had.

Touka leans back in her chair, rolling her shoulders and letting her eyes roam the room. The long years of urgent missions at odd times leave much of the council looking wide awake despite the early hour, even more so after Butsuma’s bloodied scroll is passed to them for their inspection. It had gone to the elders first, so they could begin to discuss its contents with Hashirama. Now, it was nearing completion of its circuit through the normal council members.

She'd watched many of them as they'd read it, curious about their reactions. Most were shocked—Butsuma was not known for his mercy or kindness, but he had always been a careful leader. Rarer were those with no visible reaction to the news at all. Even now she can’t quite tell whether they were suppressing their reactions or just don’t believe the proof they’ve been given.

The idea grates at her pride, though she can’t blame them for it. She wouldn’t have believed all of this yesterday—Tobirama killing Butsuma, Tobirama leaving them and Butsuma’s plan, as idiotic as it was foul. It's all such a strange break from the way things should be. It doesn't feel real to her yet, no matter how obvious Tobirama's absence has been at her side this morning, no matter how solid Butsuma's corpse was under her hands.

Regardless of her feelings, only one council member has responded with outright, hostile denial. Hashirama, because he believes in the betterment of people, is still trying to reason Touma out of that mindset.

That was his way, much as Touka can’t even begin to understand it.

Hashirama had always been the type to forgive and forget—the insults, the disapproval, the rejection. Even now he still wants to include people that have turned him away, wants to change their minds about peace, wants them to be able to adapt and accept it. She’d seen him at it many times over the last few years, having tea with one of the elders or councilors in the gardens or on their porch, attempting broaden their minds, to share the light he saw in the future with them.

It was hopeful of him. Kind.

Frankly, Touka had always considered it naive.

The council was, by and large, made up of people who had actively supported Butsuma--or at least had before this morning. All of them surviving mentors and old friends, former team commanders and the like. People that had influenced him and been influenced by him, people that had shaped him and in turn been shaped by him as well. People that had never been very impressed by Hashirama and his ideas for the future.

Some of whom were proving very...resistant to the idea that their clan head had been killed to keep the clan safe, to keep him from forcing them into a battle they weren’t prepared to fight.

A battle that, as a best cause scenario, would have been a pyrrhic victory.

At its worst, a communal suicide mission.

“We need to go after Tobirama,” Hashirama insists, his voice steady and far more patient than Touka would’ve been in his place. “We need to bring him home.”

She’s lost count of how many times he’s said that over the past half-hour, each time in different words but always with the same meaning—Tobirama had betrayed Butsuma but stayed loyal to the clan as a whole. As the new clan head, Hashirama was forgiving him for his actions as was his right.

It's an odd situation for a clan as large and old as the Senju, especially with their tradition of hereditary inheritance of clan leadership, since such pardons were usually involved in power disputes over succession. There was, however, a history of it among civilians and other clans—of pardoning assassins and traitors who'd acted for the good of the people, or to install a new ruling body.

So far, the council has refused to see it that way. 

“He is a kin-slayer and a traitor,” Touma growls his own repetition back at Hashirama, his single massive fist clenched tight on the edge of the table. “He’s not welcome here!”

Another elder—Niko, their previous ritualist and sage—nods at his words, her face pinched tight. “He shouldn’t be allowed back into the clan.”

Touka frowns, unable to fully suppress her displeasure.

Touma’s reaction isn’t unexpected—he’s younger than the other two elders, had been forced to retire early when his arm had nearly taken his life along with it. Where most people grew soft and lazy with inactivity, he had only grown bitter. He had always been an ardent and unwavering supporter of the war, rather than just resigned to it the way much of the clan was. So ignoring the nuance of facts and thinking only of absolutes—that was very characteristic of him. However, seeing Niko side with him...

Hashirama stiffens at her side, apparently in agreement. “Niko-san?”

The old woman seemed neutral earlier, as Hashirama explained what little they knew about the events of the night, if visibly grieved over Butsuma’s death and shocked by the news of his plans.

Now, Niko sneers at the implied question. The expression crinkles up her wrinkled face in a mean way that her wet cheeks and bloodshot eyes do nothing to soften.

“I respect Tobirama-sama’s skill and loyalty to the clan but I have always said the omens foretold this,” she says, voice still croaky from her earlier tears. "If he comes back something terrible will happen."

Touka resists the urge to roll her eyes, though barely.

Niko was typically one of the less problematic councilors—having been the clan’s dedicated ritualist for most of her life, she’d stopped combat training young and thankfully recognized her opinion on battles as being worth little merit. Still, the pompous way she often spoke of her visions and her communications with “the signs” had always grated on Touka’s nerves.

Especially when it came to her so-called predictions about Tobirama, which Niko had purported loudly and often just after his birth—professing that his coloring and status made him an ill omen for the future of the clan. After Itama and Kawarama’s births she’d stopped for a time, though when they’d died she had continued her words, if quieter and in darker corners.

Enough people were skeptical of divination—as it was rarely practiced and even more rarely accurate—that she had never caused real problems, especially once it became clear that Tobirama was second in strength only to Hashirama, but still.

Such words were not easily forgotten or forgiven.

Admittedly, Touka had never bothered to try either of them.

She’s apparently not the only one remembering that history, because Hashirama is staring at Niko now, stone-faced in a way she’s seen him only a handful of times.

“Niko-san,” he says, so softly and gently that it raises the hair on the back of Touka’s neck. It’s easy to forget that Hashirama, with his silliness and mood swings, is stronger than most people could even dream of being.

And, by the looks on the councilors' faces, they’re feeling that reminder the same as her.

The low murmurings in the room fall into a hush, the air electric and heavy.

Hashirama continues. “I appreciate your work and the years you have served our clan. That does not mean I approve of the way you’ve spoken of my brother, nor that I will banish him on the whim of nothing but bones and smoke.”

Niko balks in her seat, visibly cowed. 

It gives Touka a firm pulse of satisfaction, flickering and warm, to see Niko scolded for her aspersions against Tobirama, which had all too often gone ignored rather than silenced.

Hashirama makes to continue, the room hanging on his words. “Tobirama—”

Touma snorts, cutting through the tension Hashirama had created. The other councilors turn to look at him, save Niko who simply stares down at the table. Touka frowns, watching Touma stand from his chair. Her muscles tense at the look on his face, the way he glares at Hashirama.

It would be unreasonable for Touma to attack Hashirama at any point, especially now. Still, she leans in Hashirama’s direction, hand reaching toward the blade strapped at her thigh, readying herself.

Touma had never been known for his reasoning, after all.

“Ignoring the advice of your elders already?” He taunts more than asks, shaking his head. The movement pulls at the burn scars on his neck and jaw, which seems to make him even angrier. “Not that I didn’t expect this to happen. You’ve never cared about the good of the clan.”

Hashirama stills completely at her side, freezing in the middle of a breath. Touka reaches out and grabs his wrist under the table, digging her nails in as soon as she makes contact.

They can’t afford to do this the wrong way, not with all that’s at stake in this meeting—Hashirama’s leadership, the unity of the clan and Tobirama’s place in it. They must be calm, they must be controlled--and they must not physically assault Touma, no matter how tempting.

A long moment passes with no sound but her heart pounding in her ears and, with only the slightest of hitches, Hashirama lets out a shaky breath.

It’s not subtle and the council would surely notice, but it was politically an improvement over him leaping the table to get at Touma. Touka can’t really fault Hashirama for it but it’s neither the time nor the place.

There’s a sigh from Hashirama’s other side, the last elder finally speaking up.

“Advice? What advice could you even give?” Kana asks, her voice pitched high in its incredulous-ness. “And what do you know of leading? You’ve never thought farther than the end of your own sword.”

Touka doesn’t snort but it’s a close thing. The sentiment is apparently shared by some of the council since there’s a scatter of chuckles from the edges of the room. Touma glowers back, nearly snarling at Kana.

That was a not so secret sore spot of his—despite long years spent in battle he’d never been granted any authoritative position. Back in the day, even Butsuma had been able to tell that he was too brash and short-sighted in the midst of combat to lead anyone.

Touka frowns. Oh how times changed.

“I know that you can’t win a war with pardons,” Touma blusters back, his scarred face ruddy from embarrassment and rage. “I know that he wants us to give the Uchiha our bellies and backs. I will not let him ignore the sacrifices of those we’ve lost.” He growls out the last words with such passion that Touka sees several of the council start to nod along.

Hashirama’s arm had relaxed in her grip when Kana had spoken up—obviously trusting that their aunt would take their side—but he tenses again now. His stress matches the nervous churning of Touka's stomach, sickly hot and heavy like she'd swallowed a stone.

Kana scoffs, planting her elbows on the table and lacing her fingers together, body language screaming out just how impressed she wasn’t by Touma's statement.

“Oh, so we should just exchange pounds of flesh? My nephew should have let my brother work against one of our closest allies, all so we could attack the Uchiha compound?”

Yes!” Touma spits back, nearly shouting. “We could’ve won the war but that rat was too weak to accept the cost of victory!”

Touka’s hand clenches around Hashirama’s wrist again, this time for her sake rather than his.

Tobirama is many things—chief among them a ruthless force on the battlefield, loyal to others even when it goes against his better judgement, and achingly, painfully fond of the future he saw in children. 

He knows well the cost of victory and even more when it comes too steeply.

Her voice escapes before she decides to speak. “You call him weak for being faithful to an ally? Weak for not wanting us to needlessly run to our deaths?”

That’s what would happen, she wants to scream at him and bites her tongue before that too can make it out of her throat. Attacking a fortified area in unknown territory, even with the assistance of a rogue Uzumaki sub-clan?

It was suicide, no more or less.

Touma wheels on her, the muscles of his jaw flexing as he stares into her eyes. He’s a large man as well as being a skilled fighter—nearly four heads taller than her and a great deal broader at the shoulders, still thick with muscle despite his retirement. By all rights, Touma should be intimidating.

He seems very small to her now though, somehow.

Something about the look in his eyes maybe, the way they shine so bright with senseless rage. Perhaps the heaving of his chest—as if he’s barely containing himself from wordless screaming.

It’s hard to feel scared of a man who loses himself so easily.

His next words do nothing to change her mind. “We are ninja, our purpose is to fight. And if that means dying then we die for our people, for our clan.” 

Something warm presses over her hand and Touka nearly jumps before she realizes it’s just Hashirama, his palm settling over where her nails have dug tiny slits into his arm.

“Our purpose is to die and slaughter? To kill children in their beds?” Hashirama asks, his voice soft and quiet but the tone he spoke with stronger than the finest steel.

Touma doesn’t take the implied warning, merely sneers at him. He leans forward and puts his weight on the table, the wide sprawl of his fingers spreading across the wood grain.

“They are Uchiha,” he says, rough and low. “They are not children.”

Hashirama’s hand tightens on top of hers. “They are both.”

Touma shakes his head and scowls, face twisting in repulsion. “Your father kept us strong—he knew what had to be done.” He clenches his hand on the table top, scarred knuckles shifting and bulging. “You already make us weaker, with your childish dreams and ideas—and you’ll make us accept a traitor? Make us take in someone we should hunt down instead?” Touma demands, loud and sharp.

And then, softer and heavier, more a promise than a statement: “Your brother should be dead, not pardoned.”

The muscles in Hashirama’s arm tense and jump in her grip and Touka curses, clutching tighter to his wrist.

Hashirama could slaughter Touma one on one—and doubtless the man was aware of that. He might even be counting on it.

Hashirama is well liked and his position as the next head had been acknowledged since his birth. They know him, know that he is good and fair to them, know that he would be a kind leader even for all his power.

The clan not only accepted that he would lead but expected it.

But he was already different than Butsuma, his ideas new and uncertain—few people knew what to think of the peace he desired with their greatest enemy, of the unity he spoke of them one day achieving. It would be all too easy to sway most of the clan from his side—not for lack of loyalty, really, but from lack of belief.

They would follow Hashirama in peace, but to accept a man who would put his traitor brother over them, who would attack elders rather than listen to them—that was asking too much.

If the people became convinced that Hashirama didn’t deserve their loyalty—then the question was not if there would be a coup, but when.

Caught up in her thoughts, Touka doesn’t notice the way Hashirama relaxes at first, not until a loud creaking groan sounds across the room. She jolts, eyes focusing in on Touma at the source of the noise.

Unbidden, the corner of her mouth ticks up into a smile and she at last lets Hashirama’s arm go, hissing silently at moving her stiff limbs.

The table has sprouted roots, some as slim as her fingers and others as thick as her biceps, all winding their way up Touma’s arm. The man tries to pull back, cursing, and some of the tendrils snap but even more of them grow into the others’ places, spiraling all the way to the man’s neck and then holding there.

They clench around his throat, flexing like fingers on the hilt of a sword.

Ready. Waiting.

It's not only a threat toward Touma but a statement to the clan, to the council. A statement of power, of character, of self control in the face of challenges. 

Touka, much as she normally hates to admit it, is impressed. The council seems to agree, as the hush that's fallen over the room is anticipatory rather than fearful, waiting and not wary. No one moves to intervene as Hashirama stands from his chair, his muted footsteps the only sound in the room save for Touma's struggling.

As he circles the table toward Touma the roots creep higher, wrapping around the man’s open mouth to the back of his head, gagging him. His eyes bulge at that, flickering around the room in panic for a few seconds before he latches onto the sight of Hashirama’s form.

Touka follows after her cousin, watching Touma track them across the room.

Hashirama pauses in front of the man, staring thoughtfully at him.

He hums.

Without the table in the way, Touka can see that there are roots around Touma’s legs as well, shackling them to the floor. His knees quiver slightly—though she can’t tell whether it’s a further sign of struggle or an indication of distress. Either way, the roots extend to twine around them, securing Touma even more in place.

A long, silent moment passes as Hashirama looks at him before, finally, he shakes his head and turns to the side.

“Niko-san, I know you’ve retired but as this matter is still a secret, could you assist me in contacting the Uzumaki’s temple?” He asks, smiling pleasantly, the order under the question clear.

The woman nods and stands from the table, moving far faster than Touka would’ve expected for such an elderly civilian. She hobbles over to stand by the door, looking anxious to be as far away from Touma and the chance of her receiving the same treatment as was possible.

Hashirama doesn't notice her nerves, turning to address the remaining members of the council. “I trust you all know this, but no one is to discuss this till I have informed the clan myself. And Chiharu-san?”

One of the councilors, a woman with a shaved head and a deep slash across her neck, fully jumps from her chair when she’s addressed. It takes her only a moment to gather herself and then she stands properly and bows, the gesture noticeably deeper than she'd made it when Hashirama had entered the room at the beginning of the meeting.

“Yes, Hashirama-sama?”

“Arrange for a guard rotation on my father’s study. No one is to look into the room.”

“Of course, Hashirama-sama!”

Hashirama nods back at her, grinning wide and eyes bright. It’s the same expression he gets whenever his garden produces a particularly impressive vegetable. Touka finds it at once very odd to see it on his face now and completely typical of her cousin.

"Meeting dismissed."

There's an almost palpable release of tension at the words, as the entire room relaxes and breathes again. Touka snorts, shaking her head in something vaguely like awe. Unbelievable. 

Hashirama waves Niko to head out the door and makes to follow, Touka taking up the rear, before he pauses halfway over the threshold. He looks back into the room over his shoulder. “No one disturb Touma-san. I need to speak with him later.”

Touka slides the door shut behind her to the sound of Kana beginning to cackle and can’t quite resist the urge to smile herself.

Chapter Text

For a long time, Tobirama runs.

His worn body hates it, legs fighting against collapse with every jolt of force from landing and pushing himself back into the air. Still, over time the forest thins around him—trees growing farther apart, their trunks reedier. The few older ones, set apart from the rest, bear scars, blackened bark and nubs of branches that had once been sturdy and strong; there was a fire here, years gone now.

The hole the flames had once torn into the forest sends him to the ground after a while longer, the young trees and younger saplings beginning to fill the void too fragile to support his weight. The ground is more barren as well, the underbrush sparse and unhealthy, grass growing in patchy and yellow.

It is...unpleasant. All life flows with chakra in some small amount and Tobirama, raised in an old, flourishing forest and around people well-trained in the use of their chakra, feels the lack greatly. The absence does, however, make one thing abundantly clear.

Someone is following him.

Their presence prickles at the back of his neck. It’s an odd sensation, with how numb he is from the cold, but unmistakable. There’s a smokiness and heat to the chakra signatures that is unmistakably Uchiha, as well as a spark to one of them that nearly hums in his senses, like lightning in a bottle.

Izuna.

Sensing came naturally to Tobirama—he was born with a certain knowledge of the world that was intrinsically tied to him. As much as Touka had teased him for nosiness when they were children, it was harder for him to ignore such things than acknowledge them.

It had taken years of practice for him to be able to suppress it, to get rid of the layer of chakra he saw over living things by default—to be able to look at Hashirama without seeing the blaze within his brother, like the birthing of a star; to untie Touka’s dark eyes and pointed chin from the feeling of deep caves and tall mountains.

Sensing was second nature to most ninja that learned it—a tool, a back up to verify what their eyes and ears had already told them. For Tobirama, it was just as instinctual as seeing and hearing, a phantom limb that trailed its fingers over the world around him and painted it with lights.

He knows Izuna’s chakra well—from his and Hashirama’s many clashes with the Uchiha heir come clan head, and the long hours of practice he’d put himself through years ago, to be able to identify Tajima and his last son, done at Butsuma’s behest.

The things he had once done for his father, unquestioningly and faithfully.

Despite its source and motivation, the knowledge is proving its value now—Izuna and the smoke trail of Uchiha with him are closing in.

Tobirama glances up to the sky, trying to see the position of the sun. Threads of light pierce through the holes and cracks within the clouds, outlining the edges with painful intensity so it's risen at least. Still, the lumpy shroud of rain clouds, now producing barely a drizzle, obscures the sun’s position.

The light gives the forest an almost dreamy quality, the sky mingled bright and dull, and the ground shadowed save for speckled spots of sunlight, thrown across the ground like paint splatters—it is pretty and timeless looking, which doesn’t help him much.

Dawn must have come and gone, certainly, based on the light and Hashirama’s flare of temper—as his brother was never up earlier than that without a mission—but that’s all the information he has to go off of.

They must be a good distance from the Uchiha’s lands though—putting his pursuers well out of range of backup.

Not that they would need it, fighting him as he is now.

Tobirama frowns, or at least tries to. He can’t feel his face well enough to tell if it moves or not. It’s grating to imagine himself so weak, but in this moment it’s only the truth.

Considering his exhaustion, he’s half surprised he’s still moving at all. He’s been vaguely dreading every step and jump for a while now, certain that he’ll push off a tree only for his knees to buckle beneath him, or he’ll collapse on a branch instead of landing, falling to the ground like an uncoordinated child.

He takes a brief stock of his limbs, the aches and pains, the shakiness in his fingers and the twitching he can feel in his leg muscles. And, over it all, a faint numbness from the cold, making all the other sensations strange and fuzzy.

If he falls... he’s not entirely sure that he’d be capable of standing back up.

And wouldn’t that be an anticlimactic way to die, with all the effort he’s just put into staying alive recently. Fleeing the compound and running across what feels like half of Fire Country by now, only to die falling from a tree like a civilian or drowning on his back in the rain.

Regardless, there’s no way he could reach the Uzumaki in time to seek shelter with them—the coast is far off still, even farther accounting for his decreased traveling speed. And that’s assuming they’ll help him in the first place; his mother had been part of one of the old families and, even if he’d been born a Senju, the Uzumaki valued family very highly—but if Hashirama and the elders contacted their temple, informed them of Tobirama’s betrayal...

Well, the Uzumaki valued loyalty even higher than relation.

He grits his teeth, shoving down the hope he hadn’t quite been able to crush as he’d left, the longing for his crime to have been seen and acquitted.

That hope was the reason he’d left the scroll, the Pact Butsuma had wanted him to take to the Uzumaki, even certain as he’d been that it would amount to nothing. He’d wanted some way to explain the circumstances of his actions, in the vain hope that Hashirama and Touka would understand, even if they didn’t forgive him.

Judging by the feel of Hashirama’s chakra earlier—roiling and hissing, like acid in his senses—they hadn’t found it. Or, more likely as they were both more than capable when the need arose, they had found it.

They just hadn’t cared.

Tobirama shakes his head, the movement throwing off droplets of water the rain quickly replaces. He has bigger, more immediate problems than his brother and his clan.

The Uchiha will kill him when they catch him, he has little doubt about that. They’d been at a disadvantage in the war since Tajima died two years ago, if not even earlier than that, and both sides knew it. Izuna was strong, but he was no match for Tobirama and Hashirama at once. The Uchiha knew that as well as he did, so Tobirama was swarmed whenever Hashirama and Izuna fought, the other Uchiha intent on keeping him from interfering with the battle between the Senju's heir and the Uchiha's young head.

Those fights, nothing more than distractions, made up much of his kill count. Izuna and his group would gladly kill him in recompense for that.

Tobirama focuses back on the chakra signatures for a moment—still closing. They can’t be much more than half an hour behind, either. At most, he has forty minutes and however long his tired body will hold up against Izuna left till he’s killed.

Except...except that in his condition as of now, he would be just as easy to capture as he would be to kill.

Neither of their clans took prisoners often—they simply weren’t valuable enough to bother with the risk. The war was too important for one captured ninja’s life to sway it in any way, and there was little information that could be gathered from torture, the common clan ninja didn’t know anything worth trying to extract.

But Tobirama was Butsuma’s second son and Hashirama’s only surviving brother. He was valuable, more so than anyone else the Uchiha could take. He would make a great hostage—or at least, he would have up till yesterday.

Tobirama smiles a little at the thought, amusing in its grimness. In one fell swoop he’d managed to almost completely devalue himself as leverage over his clan, though it does him little good now.

The Senju didn’t communicate with the Uchiha—no matter how much his former clan wanted him dead, they would never tell the Uchiha of his betrayal, never admit to such a weakness.

When Izuna catches him, if he decides not to immediately kill Tobirama, the Uchiha will presume he still has value—try to torture information out of him and notify the Senju of his capture.

And the Senju, much as everyone save Hashirama did not want to talk with their longtime enemies, might not be able to resist.

Perhaps they would ignore the news—not believing them, or simply not caring. Tobirama would burn and bleed and rot with Izuna, dead in all ways but physically.

And that, grim as it was, would be the favorable option—for if the Senju did take him back, through force or diplomacy, he would have to see Hashirama.

He would have to see how much his brother hated him now, have to watch as Hashirama proclaimed him unworthy of their shared blood and legacy, unworthy of being his brother.

Hashirama would denounce him, and Tobirama would be alone.

Dying would be a kinder fate.

And if Izuna catches up to him as he is now—tired and worn, all but unable to fight—there’s a reasonable chance that he’ll be captured rather than killed.

Tobirama stretches out his senses, reaching back for the flickers of the Uchiha and forward into the odd emptiness of the half-dead forest, looking. A break in the trees, some sort of clearing somewhere to rest, to ready himself—ah.

Tobirama pushes forward, driving himself harder, now that he has a goal. A plan.

It’s a grim choice and one he’d certainly never expected to make in a circumstance such as this, but it’s his only option now.

He managed to survive sixteen years of war with a target painted on his back.

Certainly trying to die has to be easier than that?

 

 

 

Hikaku’s lungs burn, the muscles of his legs pulsing along with his heartbeat.

He’s flanking Izuna, running just behind him and to his right, close at hand but out of the way. The other three from his patrol group are fanned out behind them, silent but for the rain that falls on their armor.

None of them seem to be nearly as badly off as he is.

The past few hours have been a stark reminder of all the reasons he’s looking forward to puberty and its promise of longer legs. If he survives that long, anyway.

Still, his discomfort is minor, not important enough to alert Izuna about. He casts his eyes to the side, looking from the trees ahead to Izuna’s tense back. Not that his cousin would hear him if he tried.

They’ve been following Tobirama’s trail for just over five hours, gradually catching up to the man.

Izuna hasn’t spoken since they left the compound.

Hikaku can’t see his eyes from his position behind the older boy, but he has no doubt that Izuna has his Sharingan active, has since they first caught the tracks.

There’s no other reason for him to be so stiff, his head hasn’t moved from its position the entire time they’re run, locked forward and watching the Senju’s path through the woods. Uchiha weren't generally thought of as being adept trackers, but the Sharingan’s eye for detail was more than sufficient when one knew what to look for; scuffed areas on bark, bits of mud smeared on branches, bent and broken twigs.

Hikaku can see some of the signs with his own eyes now that some sunlight has managed to slip through the clouds, but Izuna’s use of their bloodline makes the process of tracking much faster than it would normally be.

Though, the whole thing is rather...strange.

Everything Hikaku knows about Tobirama comes from others—the man is something of a living ghost story, talk of him spread around camps and over bar tops; death on two feet, pale as a corpse, sensing more piercing than any Hyuuga’s eyes.

There’s no good reason for such a man to leave such an obvious trail behind him. The idea makes Hikaku’s stomach roil, the hair on the nape of his neck rising. If this is a trap, it’s a good one.

He loses sight of Izuna for a moment, his armored back disappearing as he drops, now running along the ground rather than through the trees.

Hikaku frowns, though his cousin’s reasoning quickly comes to light.

The forest between one step and the next turns...dead around them, the somewhat ragged winter foliage exchanged for black, branch-less spires, stuck out of the black-stained dirt and mud at odd angles, as though bones from a massive, half-buried corpse. His next draw of breath is rank, the air putrid, reeking of dead and rotting things.

It’s not natural, not right and he has to bite his tongue to stop himself from calling out to Izuna, knowing nothing he could say would stop the man.

He knows, there’s no way he couldn’t know—he just doesn’t care.

For years now Izuna has been quietly obsessed with Senju Tobirama and his sensing, speaking of the man with a low voice that breaks and dark eyes that burn. More than anything in the world, Izuna wants to find Madara and believes that Tobirama is the only one who can.

He used to speak fervently of his plans for capturing the man and while he’d eventually grown quiet, Hikaku is certain that Izuna still feels the same way, he just no longer shares it with the rest of the clan, not even Hikaku himself. He’d never spoken against Izuna, but it was clear that the man could tell even Hikaku didn’t understand him.

In front of him, Izuna veers sharply to the side.

Hikaku, younger and slower, doesn’t follow fast enough. His feet slide in the sooty mud as he tries and fails to turn.

The ground explodes beneath him.

Force pushes him up into the air, the groundbreaking and bulging underneath where he’d been as a flare of heat rises from where he’d stood, biting and bright.

Something hard catches him in the stomach, dragging him forward. They crash into the ground, half-turned from the plume of blue-white fire that burns boldly for a moment before fading out.

Izuna’s jaw presses against his skull as his cousin scans the area, his weight half pressing Hikaku into the soft ground for a long moment before he slowly stands, watching. Hikaku activates his own Sharingan and mirrors the action, turning slightly to cover a wider angle.

They’re in a clearing now, the scant surviving trees they’d run through cut off in a semi-circle at least as large as the Uchiha compound, the ground seared dark and studded with petrified tree stumps.

It takes less than a second for him to take it all in, but another fire bursts out of the ground, Kasho—the most senior ninja of his patrol group—retreating from the explosion, the edge of the blast sending him skidding across the mud, cursing but not visibly hurt.

Izuna flares his chakra and lets go of his shoulder, stepping toward the center of the clearing, voice low and growling.

“He’s trapped the grounds!”

Hikaku looks down, cursing himself for not doing so earlier when his eyes immediately catching on small symbols—thin and delicately drawn, nearly invisible in the muddy ground.

Seals.

Something whistles through the air and Hikaku glances up, Izuna dragging him out of the way of the cloud of kunai piercing deep into the place they’d been. Hikaku eyes the edge of the clearing where they’d come from, watching for movement. There’s an impact behind them, the whoosh of something appearing suddenly in the air. Hikaku drops to the ground, and Izuna spins in front of him, drawing his sword.

Metal grating against itself shrieks above his head, and Hikaku rolls out of the way, just in time for a heavy kick to glance off the meat of his thigh, instead of his solar plexus. It’s a hard hit though, and he grunts, pull himself up from the mud.

The man disengages with Izuna in the same moment, retreating to regain his footing as Hikaku draws his sword and settles at Izuna’s side.

Senju Tobirama, stone-faced and splattered with mud, stares back at them, carefully not meeting either of their eyes.

His posture shifts slightly as the rest of the patrol circles around him behind him. The movement makes Hikaku’s heart lurch in his chest, pounding with ready and danger.

But the man only takes a single, slow step forward. Izuna, not to be outdone mirrors the movement. “Senju. You’re looking awfully tired there, aren’t you?”

“Uchiha. Perhaps you’ll have a fighting chance this time, then.”

Izuna scoffs, fingers flexing on his sword. “You aren’t your brother, Tobirama. Hikaku could probably take you right now.”

Senju raises an eyebrow, red eyes turning to glance Hikaku. He fights the urge to freeze and curses his cousin for drawing the man’s attention to him, however fleeting it may be. There’s nothing inherently dangerous about Tobirama’s eyes—nothing like the Sharingan, despite the similarity in color—but he still relaxes a little when the man looks away from him, relieved despite himself. 

“He looks awfully young for you to be leading him to his death,” Senju observes. Hikaku stiffens, either surprise or offense making his heart pound louder in his ears.

Izuna snorts and shakes his head. “Hikaku is quite strong for his age," He says, tone almost friendly. And then, in something that was only just not a snarl, "I would’ve kept him off the front lines for a few more years if your clan hadn’t tried to kill all my brothers.” He moves forward again, rolling his shoulders as he closes the space between himself and the Senju, almost sauntering.

It’s a little assuring to see Izuna acting that way—the casual, not-quite-cockiness of his attitude long familiar to Hikaku. A pleasant comfort now, with death standing so close before them.

Those red eyes, just the right shade of wrong, follow his cousin’s movements closely as Senju speaks again. “Tried? That implies we weren’t successful.”

Izuna bristles at the mockery, breath hitching, the pace of his steps stuttering for a moment before he recovers and continues.

The Senju just stares at him.

It’s natural and sensible—Izuna is the greatest threat to him here, even more so than the other Uchiha at his back. But still, something about it feels off. Too assured, too satisfied; like he’s not just watching, but waiting.

Hikaku’s eyes catch on the ground just in front of Izuna’s feet, the lines drawn there that his stupid cousin, too caught up in whatever game he thinks he’s playing, has missed. His breath catches in his throat for a moment before his voice breaks its way out of his throat.

Stop-

And he's too late, because he's always too late.

The ground flashes and cracks open underneath Izuna’s feet, dark shapes erupting from the soft earth, and forcing Hikaku and the others to retreat away to the edge of the clearing. The stone spears—each at least twice or thrice his height—chase them back into the bony shelter of tree cover, even as Izuna begins to fight the Senju in earnest once more.

They linger there, undeniably antsy at leaving their clan head alone with one of the few men capable of killing him, but also nervous of the residual effects of the seal Tobirama had activated. The ground, as if sensing that feeling, shifts again, a wave-like motion more fitting for water than earth. The pillars, naught but ankle high, raise threateningly when any of them step too close and, eventually, they back away.

Hikaku looks out toward the center of the muddy field. There's a particularly loud clashing of metal that makes his heart jump in his chest. Izuna is out there, concealed by a ring of stone, but still alive. For now.

He’s too young for this shit.

“Well, that isn’t good.”

Someone snorts behind him, followed by the muffled thud of fabric impacting fabric with a decent amount of force and then a whine. “Ow! Kotone!”

“If you don’t want to be punched, don’t be an idiot.”

Hikaku closes his eyes and takes a deep, calming breath that does nothing for him. They are too old for that kind of shit.

“Sadao, be serious. Kotone, stop punching your sister.”

Kasho, however, is his very favorite cousin.

“I am taking this perfectly seriously, thank you. But really, it doesn't matter--there’s no way Senju could take Izuna-sama down like that,” Kotone says, her tone on the last word so heavily distasteful that Hikaku can feel her sneering without looking at her.

That?” Kasho asks, distracted from attempting to appease the twins.  “What do you mean, what’s that about him?”

Sadao picks up where her sister left off, tilting her head to the side as she speaks. Her bangs, for once, don't follow the movement, plastered to her forehead by the rain. “Really? He’s exhausted. He won’t win against Izuna-sama in his condition.”

Privately, Hikaku agrees, though he’s well aware that Izuna’s fights against Tobirama are never that simple, not with his cousins' ever-present extra motive.

A bright flare of fire shoots into the sky above the rock ring, followed by a small cloud of steam. Hikaku’s feet step forward before his brain catches up with the action. He scowls down at the stone spears raising in front of him but forces himself to turn back and face his clan members.

Kotone nods her head toward the ring and the field of spikes. “I haven’t been on many battlefields at the same time as him, but that’s sure as fuck not how he usually fights.”

Kasho frowns, looking thoughtful. “He is usually more mobile. And,” he turns to look at Hikaku then, face troubled. “He hasn’t used many jutsu, has he?”

Hikaku shakes his head and starts to card a hand through his hair before seeing the mud caking it and thinking better of the action. “I couldn’t see much,” he admits, “but he only seems to be using them defensively. He’s been mostly relying on the seals he laid for us.”

Kasho crosses his arms, expression grim. “That’s not the way he fights,” he confirms, so sure not even Kotone tries to question him. He’s the only one who had been battle ready for Tobirama’s entire career—they’ll take him at his word. “Something is wrong.”

Sadao hums, oddly cheerful sounding for the current atmosphere. Hikaku watches her tap a finger to her lips a few times, appearing to contemplate the words. She clicks her tongue loudly, drawing Kasho and Kotone’s attention as well.

“We already knew that though,” she says, before Kotone can interrupt. “He’s never run full tilt from the Senju compound through our lands either. So, why does it matter what’s wrong with him? Izuna-sama will kill him and that will be it.”

“Izuna won’t kill him,” Hikaku says, before he can stop himself. “He needs him.”

Three pairs of dark eyes turn on him, all of them curious, some more open than others.

Kotone, expression dangerously calm, speaks before the others get a chance. “Why? It’s Tobirama—he’s damn near as strong as his brother. If he was dead we might actually have a chance of winning this war!”

The hurt in her eyes is familiar. Hikaku has known it himself too many times, standing by gravesides and vacated sickbeds. She and Sadao, he remembers, used to have an older brother.

He sighs and looks away, eyeing the flickering flashes of fire that peek out over the top of the stone ring every once in a while.

Kotone, thankfully, doesn’t push him to answer quickly, seemingly content to wait for once.

Izuna had never told him not to tell people—in fact, Izuna's plan hadn't even started out as a secret. Izuna had told people himself, had only stopped when Tajima died and his commitment to finding Madara had called into question his fitness to be clan head. He hadn't lost hope in the idea though, merely shuffled it backward, hushing down his own goals to focus on those of the clan.

Get Senju Tobirama to find my brother. If anyone can, it’s him. It had never been elaborate, could scarcely even be called a plan, but...Izuna used to whisper it to him at night sometimes, before.

Before time passed and Tajima died and Izuna went from a boy to a man one day and never looked back.

Hikaku misses before, no matter that he still loves the person his cousin was forced to grow into. Izuna is meaner and more driven these days, sharp corners and hard edges worn into places he’d once been bright and soft. It happened to every ninja soon enough, but it had always seemed worse for Izuna.

It’s most of the reason he’s never tried to dissuade Izuna from his old plan, no matter its nonsense, no matter the trouble it will inevitably lead to. He has so little left. How could Hikaku take more?

“Tobirama,” he starts, turning to fully face them, “is the most powerful known sensor in the world. Izuna wants to capture him so he can force him to track down Madara.” He watches for their reactons—half ready for scorn or dismissal at the mention of Madara's name.

Kasho's face crinkles, but it's thankfully into a lopsided expression of remembrance and pity. The man might never have been particularly close to Izuna but he was old enough to recall the talk from years ago, the people that had wondered if Izuna was fit to remain as clan heir and later, after Tajima had died, if it would be safe for him to be clan head. So Izuna had stopped mentioning Madara except to Hikaku, the rumors had died down and he had proven himself to be a worthy leader.

Still, the older generations remembered the doubts about Izuna's stability, his sanity well enough.

The same cannot be said for the twins. “Who-” Kotone starts to ask but a distant, strained shout cuts her off. Hikaku jolts, looking back toward the field. It's faint and pained but undoubtedly Izuna's voice.

“-any of you gonna help me hold him down? Or are you just waiting for him to get free and kill me?”

Hikaku breaks through the treeline in an instant, dashing for Izuna’s voice.

The stone spires are gone, the ground once more solid beneath his feet, but at this point he’s not sure they would have stopped him much longer anyway.

Chapter Text

The rain picks up somewhere between Izuna removing his knee from Tobirama’s spine and his legs giving out when he tries to stand. He hits the ground hard, wet mud presses into his hair and his face, cool and unpleasantly tacky.

Off to the side, one of the Uchiha snorts.

The realization that he’s too tired to move his head and glare at them should grate—weak, pathetic—but it doesn’t. The offense feels...distant, dulled by the weight of worries more important than pride and presentation. Tobirama looks out at the burned ground and the dead trees, dragging in breaths that are more water than air.

He wonders what the Uchiha will do with him—if they’ll pick him up and slit his throat, or leave him here on the ground breathing water. If they’ll watch him drown.

That thought, too, doesn’t bother him.

It would be one of his better options—less painful than torture or being taken back to his clan. Falling in a battle against Izuna would have been preferable, for all that it would have hurt his pride, but...there were worse ways to die than drowning.

There would be novelty in it for them as well—his own element turned against him, one of the Uchiha’s greatest enemies killed through their inaction rather than action. And no Uchiha had ever drowned a Senju before. Hashirama had given them more than enough chances, all those times he’d sat by himself at the river throwing stones, driving Tobirama to this, his early grave.

A foot digs in underneath his hip and rolls him onto his back. Immediately, rain begins pelting directly over his face. Tobirama closes his eyes against the drops. He’ll die faster this way.

He wonders at the reasoning for it, as it’s certainly not mercy.

“We put all this work into catching him, we can’t just let him drown.” Izuna’s voice comes from his side, near his shoulder. Tobirama’s heartbeat stutters for one breath, then two because he hadn’t sensed him and he realizes, with sudden and intense awareness how helpless he is in this moment, and it is far worse than knowing that he’s about to die.

He tries to tense his muscles, to push himself up off the ground because if they won’t kill him then he’ll make them do it but—his arms are heavy and his legs are heavier and he is trapped as much in his body as he could be in the sturdiest cage, the weight of his exhaustion pinning him down.

He is helpless. He hates it.

“Set him up for me,” Izuna orders, and hands grab at Tobirama, pulling him upright. His limp body refuses to maintain the position and a few of the Uchiha grumble when he slumps forward over his legs.

The new position eliminates the possibility of drowning, he notes. Not a good thing for once, considering that his alternatives are likely worse.

A finger hooks underneath his chin and Tobirama grits his teeth but lets it happen, lifting his head when it pulls up. He opens his eyes. Izuna’s face—mud-streaked and smirking—is alarmingly close. His Sharingan spin slowly, almost sedately. There is something predatory about it, like a wild cat staring down a wounded bird. “Looking a bit rough there, Senju.”

Tobirama stares, wordlessly, at his forehead. Izuna registers in his sensing now, the physical contact bringing his chakra roaring to life in front of Tobirama. His presence is strange, none of the aggression or leased hostility he normally emits in battles.

He is...focused on something. Determined.

“Oh, the silent treatment?” Izuna tuts, leaning in closer. His breath brushes against Tobirama’s face, unnaturally hot. “That’s how you want to play this?”

Tobirama releases the tension in his jaw, forcing his body to relax. Izuna watches him as he does, eyeing Tobirama’s own dirty face, the scrapes and cuts he has from their fight and his mad dash through the woods. He presses his fingers against Tobirama’s pulse

He smiles.

There’s something...off about the expression, even to Tobirama, with his tired eyes and unfamiliarity with Izuna off the battlefield.

“You know,” Izuna says, voice lacking the taunting edge he’d had before, “I’ve been trying to catch you for years now.” He starts to continue but pauses and frowns, turning to the side. “How long has it been, Hikaku? Five years?”

Someone must nod outside of Tobirama’s sight because there’s no response but Izuna’s expression crinkles, something like sadness and wonder stirred into each other.

“Five years…,” he mutters, so quietly Tobirama only just hears it. Izuna shakes his head then, wet hair swaying slightly. “You had other brothers, didn’t you Senju? Other than that big oaf?”

Tobirama doesn’t answer and Izuna sighs, pulling back from his face. “I was only asking to be polite, Senju. I know that you did. Younger ones, right? Two of them.”

Unease curls in his stomach, but Tobirama doesn’t let himself react. Still, Izuna’s mouth curls into something too rueful to be a smirk, like he knows exactly what Tobirama is holding back. “Yes, yes, I know. ‘Uchiha dog, how dare you speak of them!’,” he growls out, the imitation deeper than Tobirama’s own voice. He drops it before he continues, tone notably more solemn. “But they aren’t what I want to talk to you about, not really.”

Thunder cracks in the distance and Tobirama follows suit. He frowns.

“Talk, Uchiha?”

Izuna’s eyes brighten in his peripheral, Sharingan spinning faster. “Yes, talk. I have a question and a request, one you are...” He pauses for a moment, pursing his lips and squinting. Tobirama had seen Touka make that face many times, and it’s odd to see it here and now, on this particular man’s face. “Shall we say, uniquely qualified for.”

His tone makes it quite clear that his request is, in fact, not a request.

Tobirama bristles, even as the background murmur of dread and anticipation dulls slightly within him, quieting for the first time since he began laying traps.

“And why would I do something for you?”

Izuna leans back in. “Because I could do something for you in return,” he says.

It’s not, Tobirama notices, a threat, despite the so-called “request” Izuna had mentioned a moment ago. It doesn’t even seem to be a lie. Despite his better judgment and his instincts and everything in him that tells him when something is wrong, when something is dangerous—and that this is very much both—he asks:

“What?”

Izuna backs away once more, standing straight. Satisfied, it seems, by Tobirama’s intrigue, by his apparent willingness to listen. Tobirama tries to raise his head to follow, to look up at the man’s face, but his neck refuses to cooperate.

Izuna sighs when he realizes Tobirama genuinely can’t move. “You aren’t doing too well there, Senju.”

Tobirama snorts, not bothering with a more eloquent response—it’s the truth. Fighting it would only make him look more pathetic, not less. It was one thing to push limits, to grow and become more than before. It was another to ignore them or be ignorant of them. The first was oft ambitious or courageous; the second was always stupid and dangerous.

Izuna must signal again because hands grasp Tobirama’s shoulders, pulling him upright and holding him there. That done and with his eyes once more fixed just off of meeting Izuna’s Sharingan, Tobirama repeats himself.

“What do you want?”

“I was never meant to be the clan head,” Izuna starts, and there’s a heaviness to the way he says it that prevents Tobirama from interrupting the non-sequitur. “I was the youngest of my father’s sons. The fifth.”

Tobirama’s brow furrows. Izuna, seeing his expression, laughs.

It’s not a pleasant sound—rough and broken like it was being dragged out of his throat, like it hurt. One of the hands on Tobirama’s shoulder twitches in the smallest of flinches. Surprise, he thinks, and for a good reason.

“You see the problem then,” Izuna says. It isn’t a question.

And that too, is the truth, because Tobirama does.

The Senju and the Uchiha only ever really talked on the battlefield—shouts and curses and promises, all coated in blood. Still, being a ninja was about gathering knowledge, whether or not the person possessing it wanted you to have it—often especially if they didn’t want you to have it. Thus, Tobirama knew the names of all of Tajima’s sons.

Kou, the eldest. Dead before Hashirama had been old enough to fight.

Kuro, the second son, the third to die.

Togakushi, Izuna’s youngest older brother. Hunted down by a squad of Senju, because the world was a dark place filled with dark things, and even children weren’t spared from it.

Izuna, the fourth. Izuna, the final.

Tobirama doesn’t question the Uchiha clan head’s sanity aloud, though Izuna apparently doesn’t need him to. He smirks, but it’s without either levity or smugness; only a sort of dark, lukewarm dread, like Tobirama’s reaction had confirmed something he hadn’t wanted to believe.

“Ah yes, that look. He’s crazy, isn’t he? Lost all his brothers and then lost it himself, poor thing.” Izuna says the words with overblown sweetness, too strong to be honest. “It’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to say about your clan head, but who could blame them? I’m the only one that remembers Madara, so I’m the one that’s wrong.” He shrugs, the action full of faux carelessness that contrasts heavily with his grave expression.

The other hand on Tobirama’s shoulder clenches. A new voice speaks up with it, unfamiliar and out of sight. Its closeness makes the hair on the back of his neck raise, but he doesn’t have the energy to even twitch away from it.

“Izuna, I—” Izuna waves a hand, cutting him off.

“Don’t worry Hikaku, I trust your sense of discretion,” Izuna says. “No, it’s my own fault. I should have known better, should have been more careful about what I said.” He shakes his head and the muscles in his jaw flex and bulge with words bitten off and unsaid before he seems to compose himself and he turns back to face Tobirama. “It doesn’t matter if you believe me. I don’t need you to. The only thing I want from you is for you to locate a chakra signature for me.”

Tobirama raises an eyebrow. “The chakra of your imaginary brother?” He doesn’t bother hiding the dubiousness in his voice—Izuna seemed interested in keeping him alive, regardless of his actions; and even if the Uchiha did take it as an insult…

Well, then he’d get what he wanted.

(He doesn’t want to die, not really.

But he needs to.

He’s not sure whether that’s better or worse.)

Izuna nods. “That would be the one, yes.”

“Ignoring the impossibility of finding something that does not exist,” Tobirama sees Izuna’s eyes narrow at that and feels a pulse of satisfaction; the Uchiha had spent the last hour thoroughly ruining what scraps of a plan he had made, and it was nice to return the favor in some way. “Why would I do this? What can you do for me?”

Izuna stares at him rather than answer. “You would do this because you’re my prisoner.” He steps forward, so close Tobirama has to close his eyes to avoid looking into Izuna’s. “You will do this because you have no choice.”

Something in Tobirama relaxes at that threat; the normality of it, a firmness returning to the ground, a reality returning to the world.

It should not be reassuring to be reminded that he was at another’s mercy but—

His conversation with Izuna, up till now, had been so damn strange, just like his flight from Senju land, just like Butsuma’s turning.

Recently, the world had twisted around him somehow, without Tobirama even noticing. Things were happening that should not be, should never be.

It was nice, in the face of that, to be reminded of a constant: the hatred between Uchiha and Senju.

“I have something you want—for your brother, for your clan.” Izuna says. Oddly, it doesn’t sound like he’s attempting to persuade him. It sounds like a fact, like he’s is perfectly confident in his offer.

Tobirama’s stomach sinks, even as his mind races with possibility. “What?”

Not his freedom, certainly. For your brother, and for your clan—that implied that he was bargaining with something beyond Tobirama’s release, something greater. Money, supplies and even closely guarded clan techniques wouldn’t warrant such absolute confidence. But what would?

He doesn’t know of anything else the Uchiha could give but his freedom, and certainly nothing that clan or Hashirama would want badly enough for Izuna to be so sure—

Hashirama.

Want.

Oh.

“Peace,” he and Izuna say as one, his a whisper and the Uchiha’s akin to a pronouncement. Their shared timing makes Izuna smirk. “Your brain seems to be working then, even if your legs aren’t.”

Tobirama stares back, blank-faced.

Part of him wants to respond with a quip—a pity you cannot say the same— but the rest of him is focused on what exactly peace means. For him. For the clan. For Hashirama.

“What are you proposing?” Hashirama wants peace. More than he wants to lead the clan, or be strong, or to have Tobirama back, he knows that Hashirama wants peace. And it would not bring back the man their father had been, or their brothers, mother, countless cousins and acquaintances and friends but—

There’s little Tobirama could do for his brother in his current position.

He’s exhausted and as good as exiled, almost certainly already branded a traitor; he’s not optimistic about his future prospects either—if he survives this encounter, he’s throwing himself on the mercy of the Uzumaki. If he dies there, he will be worthless.

If he lives, he will be a refugee, without status or resources. If he ever has anything to give his brother in that position, Hashirama surely wouldn’t accept it.

Except, perhaps, this.

“My brother wanted peace with your clan. If we can retrieve him, we will be able to sway our council into giving in and signing a treaty. If we cannot,” and Izuna pauses there, visibly drawing a breath before he shoots Tobirama a wry look. “If we cannot locate him, I will appeal to them. Your brother would prevent your father from slaughtering us, yes?”

Tobirama doesn’t allow himself to flinch. Hot blood on his skin, the scroll in his hand as heavy as a mountain—

“Correct.” There was no need to explain the details of his current position, nothing to be gained from even further complicating this situation. It’s easier to say because it’s the truth—Hashirama will prevent any Senju from attacking the Uchiha, even if Butsuma himself no longer poses a problem.

Izuna assesses him for a long, dragging moment but eventually nods. “Good. If Hashirama seizes control of the Senju and prevents your clan from attacking mine, then I can pressure dissidents into agreeing to the peace.”

Tobirama shoots him a skeptical look. Izuna snorts. “We know we’re losing the war, Senju. It’s not a secret—regardless of whether or not we find Madara, peace is our best chance at survival.” Despite his supposed acceptance of the possibility of failure, mention of it makes his face go grim.

Tobirama shares the sentiment, though for a different reason.

There’s nothing about Izuna’s behavior that seems...unhinged, and that bothers him. The man’s apparent sanity only makes his belief in his delusion stranger, enough that it calls into question the integrity of the Senju’s information about the Uchiha head family.

Perhaps this Madara was a bastard child, unclaimed and unknown, even within his own clan? Tobirama had seen people driven by grief and denial, and Izuna doesn’t fit the image of either—he hadn’t fought against Tobirama’s rejection of his brother’s existence, doesn’t completely dismiss the possibility that he’s wrong.

There might be something to this.

...Or he’s so exhausted the rambling of a madman has started to make sense.

“Well?”

Tobirama forces himself to sit up straight. Izuna extends a hand to him, and his eyes flicker from the man’s face to the proffered limb and back, thinking.

It had been a betrayal to kill his father, no matter his intentions. But he had done it—for his kin who wouldn’t die in an ill-planned assault; for his brother who wouldn’t stand to inherit even more slaughter; for little children with black hair and black eyes and living, beating hearts.

It’s a betrayal to flee his clan the way he is—to shy away from the consequences of his actions like Butsuma was nothing more than another faceless civilian mark. But he can’t bring himself to stop, can’t bring himself to face Hashirama and Touka and officially, truly lose them both.

It would be a betrayal to work with the Uchiha, generations old enemy that they are. But—he is already as good as dead, and he can die as easily after fruitless weeks of scouring the countryside with a madman as he can right at this moment. There is no risk to his clan in this, no risk to anyone but him. He will either die, or he will achieve something, will help Hashirama in the last way he can.

And...if the last day has proven anything, it’s that he’s willing to make bad decisions.

Tobirama grabs Izuna’s hand, lets him pull him up off the ground, legs trembling but holding his weight. Chakra tingles underneath Izuna’s skin where they touch.

Izuna smiles up at him, expression at once satisfied and partially reserved. He opens his mouth and it moves but Tobirama can’t hear any noise coming from it. Izuna's face scrunches up, confusion dawning on his own face.

Tobirama frowns and starts to let go of his hand, wonders what kind of trap this could be but—

A bright, radiating light kicks up in the center of the clearing, like a settling star, and the trees, the scattered Uchiha, Izuna, and his own arm disappear in the blinding radiance of it, inexorable and overwhelming.

Tobirama clenches his eyes shut, tries to tug his arm back toward him but Izuna holds on and, in the next breath, Tobirama is glad of it because then something vast and wrong is pushing into his brain, cracking him open and forcing its way in.

It’s a forest fire against his senses, a lingering lightning bolt—numbing and burning and searing, but coming closer and growing larger. It’s not electric—not sparks and strikes the way Izuna is, but heat and fire, interwoven with power that is far beyond anything he knows, beyond anything he’d ever imagined.

Nothing can burn his sensing but this hurts in impossible ways and he can’t withdraw from it, can’t move or speak or breathe as it grabs at the net of his sensing, an inspecting supernova. A thrum begins to resonate through him, popping his ears and shaking his bones, limbs going numb.

Hair rises on his arms and the back of his neck, reality losing definition with the all-encompassing presence of something that should not be.

There’s a shout from somewhere, and he cannot tell if it is close or far because this thing is everywhere around him, suffocating and hot and the something latches onto him and tugs—

All the pinpricks of chakra around him—Izuna and his people, distant animals and plants, his own—fade.

It is dark and quiet. Izuna’s hand is gone, no longer clutching onto his. Eventually, between moments that blur together and slip from his grasp like so much sand, Tobirama passes out.

Chapter Text

The world, Hikaku has known for nearly as long as he can remember, is a strange place. No one had ever told him that, but no one had ever needed to.

It was obvious: summons and chakra natures and even the origins of chakra itself were all inexplicable beyond the thin veil of magic that cast over the world. Magic that brought with it such a span of impossibilities that many people simply accepted any oddity among them, excusing it as just another facet of the world they lived in.

Magic made things possible that should not be, and people were so used to that they didn’t bother to question, so sure that they already knew the answer, vague though it was.

That was one of the reasons Hikaku had always listened to Izuna, the way he spoke of a lost brother, a hole in the world where there had once been not only something but someone. Because if there could be demons in the dark corners, monsters that slipped quietly between the planes, souls that needed no body—surely there was room enough in magic for an absence that had once been a man?

Izuna knew too much about ‘Madara’ for him to be a figment of his imagination—insanity and trauma didn’t create tea preferences or favorite foods or stories of youthful mishaps. It wasn’t just childish fancy and fondness for his favorite cousin that had made Hikaku believe Izuna all those years ago.

Of all the impossible things that happened every day—why not this?

Why not a man, taken from the memories of all but the one who would miss him most?

Despite this, Hikaku stands in the ruined field they’d chased Tobirama to, staring at the empty space where his cousin should be, at the jagged cracks of baked earth where there had been thick mud half an hour before and cannot believe.

He can’t believe the light and the heat that had appeared, like a star setting down among them; can’t believe the power that he had felt, greater than any battlefield he’s been on; most of all he cannot believe that Izuna could be gone.

The newly dried ground cracks next to him.

Hikaku looks up at the noise, straightening when he meets Kasho’s dark eyes and grim face. Another pair of gritty cracking sounds—the earth betraying otherwise silent feet— heralds Sadao’s arrival, half a beat before Kotone’s. Their faces are equally grim, and its only for sheer virtue of it having no further to go that Hikaku’s stomach doesn’t drop.

“Report,” he says, though he can guess roughly how they’ll answer. He’d known even before he sent them out to scout once they could all move and see again (one minute and twenty-three seconds too late)—three directions, equidistant to each other, gradually looping in a spiral to make sure they covered as much ground as they could as thoroughly as they could.

Searching wouldn’t help and they wouldn’t find anything, but he sent them anyway.

“No tracks other than ours and Senju’s,” Kasho says, his tone neutral despite his tense expression.

The twins both nod at that assessment, though neither looks pleased by it. Sadao picks up the rest of the report. “Judging by how suddenly it arrived I’m assuming that...whatever that thing is it doesn’t travel in any way we can trace.”

Hikaku doesn’t sigh, though he wants to.

He’d thought much the same.

“With what it did to the clearing,” he gestures to the blackened ground at their feet and the baked earth spread around them in an area larger than most battlefields, “if it did, we wouldn’t be able to miss it.”

This time they all nod, silent and ready. Watching.

Hikaku—who is not the strongest after Izuna, or meant to be high up the chain to inherit headship, or any other of many, many things, who is only the second because Izuna trusts him—pauses.

He thinks.

That-that thing had simply appeared. No signs of its coming, no warning. He can’t speak to if it had disappeared as easily, not with how long he’d been disoriented, but it was fair to assume it could. There could be no way for them to find out where it had went or how to follow.

It was possible that there was not even a reason to—possible that it hadn’t taken Izuna, possible that his cousin is in front of him right now, incinerated beyond ash, nothing but burned ground and memory. Hikaku pushes that thought away.

“Search the clearing,” he decides, staring off to its edge, to the spires of black structures that cannot quite be called trees.

He can’t quite feel the intense wrongness of this place any more, but he remembers it from when they’d arrived.

Rot and...displacement, like they shouldn’t be here.

Like something wanted them gone.

That has to mean something, he knows.

He needs it to mean something.

“There must be something here, something about this area—if that thing only attacked because of an opportunity, it would have gotten all of us.” Hikaku says, with a degree of confidence that he doesn’t quite feel. “If it only wanted Senju or Izuna it could have done so before now. This place is the only new factor.” It’s logical, what he’s saying. It makes sense and he thinks it could be true, but it’s still an assumption, which makes him uneasy. Nervous.

And-

And it relies on prescribing logic and common sense onto something that might not be capable of either, giving the credit of thought and pre-meditation to something that could be nothing more than a sentient ball of fire.

The others seem to believe him though, as they mutter quiet assents and spread themselves out over the edges of the clearing. Or, perhaps, they’re just feeling merciful enough to humor him.

If that’s the case, he hopes the feeling holds.

The is clearing quite large, after all.

 

 

It takes them four hours.

Four hours, while Izuna is missing or dead or any other number of things that Hikaku knows about or has done himself, but would rather not think of in the context of his cousin. Four hours to search the clearing, to find a sign.

Four hours when it should have taken four seconds.

Hikaku knocks a clod of dirt off the stone circle they’d unearthed, careful not to touch. In other circumstances, he might be amused that he’s standing in almost the exact same place he’d been when the others had returned from scouting, just to the side of the burned circle where Izuna disappeared.

Not this time.

His lack of amusement aside, the circle is...interesting. It’s large—massive even, as such things go, its diameter easily as long as Kasho is tall and then half again. Kasho, who stood a full head and shoulders over almost everyone in the clan.

And every last inch of it is covered in seals.

Hikaku activates his Sharingan, carefully surveying the entire slab, committing it all to memory. One seal, rather, not many. Or perhaps a seal this complicated qualifies as multiple seals by itself?

He’s largely unfamiliar with sealing but there are distinct shapes within it, linked by spiraling rings that span the entire circumference. The bands recur at regular spacing towards the middle, connecting other seals and layering over more. It’s elaborate and intricate and nearly enough to give him a headache once he’s done processing it with his Sharingan.

Despite his lack of knowledge, part of Hikaku, underneath all the worry, is impressed.

Kotone affirms the feeling.

“This is amazing work,” she comments. She’s kneeling on the ground in front of them, leaning dangerously far in other the thing. Hikaku has warned her back several times already, not wanting to risk anything else happening today, and she always pulls back but then, gradually, ends up in the same position she started in.

“Kotone,” Kasho’s deep voice cautions from Hikaku’s side. “Careful.”

She leans back but doesn’t respond otherwise, murmuring things under her breath that Hikaku can barely hear. “...none of the components are contradictory, they all interlock and function properly…This area,” she says, louder and while waving a spread hand over almost a quarter of the circle, “contains seals related to the elements—water creation, air flow, heat generation.” Kotone shakes her head. “But what’s the point of using them all together?”

What does it do?

Hikaku frowns and wishes he knew, wishes he had any way of figuring it out himself. He’d never studied seals much, at least beyond the basic idea of recognizing the ones that were meant to explode. He doubts it would matter if he had more experience though, as Kotone is the closest thing they have to a sealing master in the clan, and even her knowledge came from a small collection of scrolls and what little trial and error she’d been willing to risk over the years.

Sadao snorts as she passes behind Hikaku, continuing her pacing laps around the seal. “Nerd,” she taunts, without venom.

“Bitch,” Kotone interrupts her muttering to respond, not looking away from the ground. For whatever reason, the comment makes Sadao smile. She walks the rest of the way around the seal one last time and comes to a halt at Hikaku’s side.

(Hikaku—whose only close relatives left are Izuna, his grandfather and his aunt—will never understand siblings.)

For a long while that’s all they do—Kasho, Hikaku and Sadao standing, watching Kotone circle the slab on her knees, not daring to touch but looking over it as best she can without doing so. Eventually, she makes it all the way around the seal and comes back to report.

“In addition to the elemental seals there are others that I think,” she stresses, aiming a hard look at Hikaku, “might relate to the compression of space, or possibly the creation of space.” Sadao lifts up her hand, mouth opening, but Kotone cuts her off before she can speak, a knowing look on her face. Sadao sniffs in response, pointedly unbothered.

“I think this because the basis is the same as storage seals but there’s so much more detail, so many more connecting vertices and associative layers, that it’s hard to isolate one part of it enough to understand what it does.” She shrugs and huffs, frustrated. “Basically—this thing is a mess. An amazing, masterwork of sealing technique, yes. But, it’s also a mess.”

Hikaku frowns. “There’s no way to tell what it could have done to Izuna?”

And Senju, he adds, though only to himself.

The others would likely not understand that addition, not understand that, while Izuna is his priority, his cousin would never forgive him for forgetting about Tobirama. Not when he’d spent half a decade waiting for a chance to capture the bastard.

Kotone shakes her head, grimacing. “There are so many parts integrated together within it that I can’t really say. There isn’t anything about it that seems like it’s designed to kill at least,” she offers. Her tone isn’t reassuring. “But I don’t know what it could have actually done instead,” Kotone finishes.

Without her voice filling the space the clearing is almost eerily silent. There aren’t any animal sounds to fill the quiet, no birds or bugs or hungry rustling in the plant life. The wind blows but it’s odd without the filter of a true forest, an unceasing sputtering roar that nips at their hair and clothes.

Hikaku makes vague note of the uneasiness around him, more focused on grappling with his own uncertainty about what action to take.

They can’t just leave Izuna, if there’s any chance that he’s alive.

More than just abandonment of their clan head—treason—that would be as good as returning to the compound and announcing their forfeiture of the war entirely. They’re already losing ground in the war, even with Izuna.

Without him...

They would lose, brutal and bloody and fast. It’s not an option, clearly, but damn if Hikaku knows what to do instead.

“We could go to the Uzumaki.”

As one, three heads turn to look at Sadao.

Hikaku, focused as he is, doesn’t know what expressions are on Kotone and Kasho’s face, but he’s sure they are equally shocked as his. Sadao merely holds her chin up, unbending in the face of their scrutiny. “One of their sealing masters would easily be able to decipher whatever this means.”

Kotone shakes her head, physically disagreeing with the idea before verbal protest even leaves her lips. “No! They’re allied with the Senju, they’d kill us and the clan wouldn’t even know what happened he-”

Sadao sets her jaw, holding a hand up in front of her sister’s face. Miraculously, Kotone quiets. Sadao turns, looking at Hikaku with uncharacteristic seriousness. “The Uzumaki have never attacked us or assisted the Senju in battle against us—they are also allied with some of our allies,” she says, in a voice that’s almost pleading.

Hikaku wants to reject the idea, wants to dismiss it as quickly as Kotone had but, more than that, he wants Izuna back—for his sake and his cousin’s, but for the clan more than anything.

He opens his mouth, not yet sure what words will come out, but tenses, his head snapping to one side of the clearing. Chakra. Five signatures, powerful but human at least, and what had his day become that such a simple thing was such a relief?

It doesn’t last, not when the group emerges from the trees and he catches sight of them.

“Well,” says the woman at the front, her head cocking to the side. Hikaku doesn’t recognize her but hair that red means only one thing, and he’s not sure whether their luck has taken a sudden turn for the better or only grown worse. The long, glistening blades of the multi-headed spear on her back make it difficult to decide. “What an odd place to find so many Uchiha.”