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The war ends with both of them slipping away while the dust settles. Not together, no. Sasuke only intends to run into whatever direction Naruto won't go looking for him and discovers that Madara isn't as dead as he tries to make anyone believe. As he first stumbles over him, Sasuke wonders if he's obliged to kill him. Yet, he decides, his chances are better with Madara alive and at his side than not.

"I lost too much family already," Sasuke finally says after the third day they spent together. It's the only explanation he offers.

He's surprised that's enough for his ancestor. A pleasant change compared how he had to justify himself for he single step he took in the last years.

Madara get himself Shinobi gear from somewhere and they let civilians think they're brothers.

Strange that it works, but one look in the mirror tells him that he's not seventeen anymore. He looks older. Still no beard, because generations of Kanton users have burned away his chances of ever growing facial hair. But since the barkeepers hand him sake without looking at him funny, Sasuke doesn't complain.

Instead he spends his days in Madara's orbit. Or they in each others, he gets the feeling that his ancestor is just as reluctant to leave him behind as he is.

The road goes on, they travel from village to village without a clear destination in mind. Sometimes they spend the nights in the woods and discuss whatever rumours they heard about the Shinobi Alliance, but that's it.

They don't talk much. At least not to each other.

Sasuke communicates in grunts, even to the people they meet on the road, but he knows when politeness opens a door here and there. Mostly by older women, who hand him extra servings, a fruit or slip him medicine and band aids. It's a scam, but since Madara is doing a similar thing with old men, playing the role of a lost, desperate but dutiful son, the old geezers warm up to him.

The story is always the same. It always starts with "Ah, you remind me of my son."

Sasuke is so stupidly glad that Madara doesn't feel guilty about using these old couples a little. It's not as if they're stealing something. They always offers to unload carriages, do repairs in the house or do some minor healing work on aching joints.

All in all, it's an almost peaceful life.

It's difficult to remember when he last felt like this. He has never gone without fire and desperation burning beneath his skin.


-


It's months later. They're still pretending to be civilians, walking at a leisure pace and keep a low profile. Madara has made a habit out of it to keep track of what the Kages are doing, but it's seem to be more of a hobby than actual interest.

"There's nothing what I can do right now anyway," he shrugs, when Sasuke comments on hit one day. "Most of the Bjuu are sealed away, thanks to you. I want to do the same with the Hachibi and the Kyuubi one day as well, but until then we have years."

"Decades probably," Sasuke murmurs. "Killer B and Naruto are the most stable Jinchuuriki out of the entire lot. It's only going to get interesting once their lifespan ends."

It raises the genuine question what the Hidden Villages are going to do, when that problem comes up. Better relationships between host and demon sounds good, but in the fox' position Sasuke would want freedom. He can't believe that the Kyuubi will stand back and let itself be resealed for another lifetime.

"It leaves us with nothing to do." Madara smirks at him.

Until now he has been lying on his back, arms folded behind his head. A week ago they've settled into a remote hut after deciding that the heavy snows are not worth trudging through, when they've nothing to go anywhere in the first place. Sasuke expects sparring sessions ahead. They're nearly done with fortifying the hut against wind and weather, and trading clan stories is something they've done for the past year already.

It was a good way to learn each other. Learn all about the pains and the joys they suffered. Often alone, especially after certain events that shaped their life.

Sasuke has asked about the Clan. How it was before Konoha was founded. Answers, not so differently than what Sasuke knew. Asks about historic events and how accurate they are. Asks about places, battles, food and famous people.

Madara in return wants to be told about Orochimaru. About the system and its flaws. About anything he might've missed.

It's not easy sometimes, but they're honest with each other.

In a silent agreement they stay away from their brothers. That is a wound in their hearts that hurts too much.

Though Sasuke learns Izuna's name and confesses in return that he doesn't know how to proceed. Itachi is still dead. Sasuke still wants justice, but most of the people involved are dead. Their clan has been forgotten. Sacrificed. Tales about the Sharingan will fall into obscurity. Madara hums and says nothing, but by now Sasuke knows him well enough to hear the gears turning slowly in his clansman's head. There's no plan. Not even an idea, but it goes unsaid that they'll support each other. That they'll will not discard what's important to the other.

Sasuke blames the fact that no one else gets what being an Uchiha truly means.

After a while Sasuke throws the question at Madara.

His clansman grins and beneath the features a calm young man with a dry humour and wild hair flickers something.

Strength. Fire. Blood.

It's mesmerizing and Sasuke has trouble looking away.


-


It has to be Madara who bridges the distance and if Sasuke is honest, he has no recollection of the last two minutes. But his ancestor is on top of him, his lips are tingling and pleasure is hammering through his veins.

But it's strange. He is warm, cold, nervous and comforted at the same time.

Madara bends down to steal another kiss. Probably notices Sasuke's dazed expression, because he backs away a little.

He asks, "Are you alright?"

The question carries a current of doubt, a fear if Madara misjudged the situation though there was little to get wrong when Sasuke pulled the other man on top of him.

"I have never...," Sasuke takes a deep breath, trapped between want and years of loneliness.

Thanks to the past months Madara comprehends without needing more prompting.

"Is it your first time?" He wants to know. There is no judgement in his voice. Nothing that indicates disapproval. It is not unknown for strong Shinobi to have a lack of experience when it comes to intimacy.

From what he has learned, Sasuke had little reason to trust anyone in the last years.

Madara wraps his arms tighter around the younger man.

He feels protective, possessive. For Sasuke is the last thing in this world that is worth defending, in his eyes.

Though, the answer he gets surprises him.

"I have never been with someone I have cared about," Sasuke finally says. His fingers tremble sightly as he puts his calloused fingers on Madara's cheek.

Slowly, Sasuke pulls Madara closer again. The act costs him as much strength as admitting his vulnerability before.

Madara's expression softens and runs one hand through Sasuke's hair.

"Me neither."