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I made a promise to him, didn’t I? To go back on it now would make me a liar, and I’d rather not listen to him cry about it later. Displeased, a woman in sparkling gold and white fabric drummed her finger against the table top and aimed a deep scowl at said man. His lively, brown eyes met hers, urging her on. It was time to act, she could almost hear him say. This angered her even more. Not like she wasn’t going to. But does it have to be so … embarrassing. She huffed a sigh and tensely lifted a finger into the air. “If I may, there is another that I wish to nominate.”

She was accredited without appall. Standing, the stiff woman cleared her throat and spoke with self-control as she had practiced earlier on. “I, Kururi of the Uzumaki clan, wish to nominate Uchiha Madara as a candidate for the position of Hokage.” Already she could feel heat spread to her pale face.

An elder of the Shimura clan scoffed, forcing Kururi to crinkle her nose in disgust; a look that didn’t suit her. “Preposterous is such a claim.” He laughed in spite of her. “A member of the Uchiha as leader of our peaceful village. Have you gone daft girl?”

Hashirama stood to her aid. “Allow her a chance to speak. She means no ill intentions by doing so.” If he had known that she’d have to undergo such mockery, Hashirama would have never asked Kururi to do this.

“Might I remind the council that it was because of the Uchiha that we almost didn’t make it to this point,” Shimura Tomohisa spat in revolt. “Should this be allowed, and Madara become Hokage, the village will be in ruin before it ever has a name.” His eyes flared at Kururi. “Furthermore, young Uzumaki, as a member of an eminent clan such as your own, to waste a proposal on an Uchiha is unfortunate for your people.”

The bright, red haired woman had to bite her tongue to refrain from chewing into him. If there was anything she took pride in, it was her clan. To hear the fool utter nonsense about them – especially about her – ticked her off.

Alas, she couldn’t do much about it and practiced the deep breathing exorcises her sister taught her, not caring who saw. Once she was content, Kururi opened her painted lips to speak. “Times have changed, surely even you can see that. This village was established to unify clans; all of them. What hope does it have if even one of us has doubts about it’s future? Might I remind you, Elder, that this village you adopted as your own was the dream of both Lord Hashirama of the Senju and Lord Madara of the Uchiha, and by such I believe Madara should have the chance to run as leader of the village too. It’s his right after all; a respect that you should do well to give him for providing you this peaceful village.”

“And furthermore,” she continued. “It was by unfortunate events that I, as a woman, gained the title of Head of Clan. My father bestowed this title on me at his death bed in hopes that I could ensure the safety of the second branch. I fought like hell in that war to get here, and I am still standing. Believe it when I say that no matter who the leader is, I will keep his wish.”

The room was silent. Having said all she needed to, Kururi pressed her kimono beneath her legs and sat down. She waited with baited breath for someone to speak, and when someone did, she was shocked to see the same, narrow-minded elder concur with her.

“Hashirama, your response.”

“I honestly agree,” he responded almost immediately. “Please allow both Madara and I to campaign for the title. It would be an honor.” To stress his point, Hashirama dropped into a bow.

An elder of the Mitokado clan tapped his knuckles on the table, gaining the attention of the room. “Allow us time to debate this further. We shall have the answer in the morning. But, in the meantime … Hashirama … Madara … the two of you should sign a blank note in agreement to their nominations. Failure to do so will mean exclusion from the title.”

“With the topic of Hokage underway,” Tomohisa mentioned curtly. “Hashirama, you may take the floor. I believe you put in a proposal for adequate shinobi attire. The council will hear it.”

Frankly, the red haired woman stopped listening after this. She had already heard the proposal once before. Though, it was the gentle laugh of Uzumaki Kirino that gained her attention.

“Something you feel like sharing with me?”

Her younger sibling pressed against her side and snickered again; her warm breath fanned across Kururi’s ear as she whispered. “Not to concern you, but a lot of eyes are on you this morning, sister.” Her fingers tugged in jest at the soft, red laces that fell down the Leader’s back.

Kururi huffed a sigh and nudged her aside. “It can’t be helped. The old man hates me, simple as that. A woman as Head of Clan is frowned upon in some nations apparently.”

Agreeing with a nod, Kirino leaned in close again. “I seriously don’t oppose your claim, but it’s not the Elder that I am referring to.” Her bright eyes flicked over to the person in question – sure enough he was still gawking. “Look to your left, seated across the table from us.”

Kururi didn’t have to look in order to know who Kirino was talking about – Madara. She witnessed him come in and sit next to Hashirama before the meeting began. What she didn’t know was why he was interested in her; it concerned her a little.

“I’m jealous,” Kirino chided with a pout.

Kururi rolled her eyes. “It means nothing. Madara is not one to court, so don’t gibber on it.”

“He’s a male … he has needs. If he’s staring at you, Chieftain, then his interest in you is more than nothing.”

“You can tell that just from looking?”

Kirino laughed again. Her sister’s pale face was red with embarrassment. “No … I just simply know men a little better than you do.”

“Wench,” Kururi snorted. She gave Kirino a playful glare, urging the woman to stick out her tongue in retaliation.

“Uzumaki Kururi,” the annoyed voice of Tomohisa snapped. “Is there something the second branch would like to augment to the proposal?”

Kururi matched the scowl on his worn and wrinkled face. “We have nothing further to say.”

The meeting seemed to drag on after this, extending further on into the afternoon than Kururi would have liked. By the time it was over, she was beyond irritated, wanting nothing more than to go home and rest. However, with business left unfinished, she couldn’t.

“Shall I be expecting you back at the compound within the hour?”

“Yes … defiantly yes.” Kururi held back a yawn and clutched the blank note in her hand; it was a responsibility she didn’t want to deal with right now, but she had to. Looking up at her sister, she forced a smile. “Please have Atsuko prepare me a late lunch in the meantime. I’ll be home once I talk with Hashirama about this annotation on the rock face.”

Kirino lowered her eyes. “Very well, but I’m advising you not to forget your duties to the clan. It was you who after all nominated Madara-sama. The blame will fall on your head if the safety of the clan is not ensured.”

“If this is your way of telling me to keep the note then don’t concern yourself about it. I am the clan leader; I’ll figure out something,” Kururi retorted. Her eyes focused on the floor.

But, for the sake of the clan I know she’s right. It would be simple; toss the blank note. Kururi heaved a sigh in defeat. “I made a promise to the cry baby that I’d see this through, and I plan to. Sorry, but I’ll find another way.”

“I trust you, sister. Just reassuring myself,” Kirino admitted. She waved and turned on her balls of her feet, walking from the table and out of sight.

Kururi was left alone with her thoughts for a few minutes. All they did was serve to further her annoyance; she disliked the Elders and their old ways. Snorting in disgust, she began to chuckle. Her fingers moved to the bridge of her nose where she pinched hard to contain the fit of rage she felt breaking the surface of her usually peaceful nature. Those damn fools. None of this is ever going to work if they can’t let go of their anger. Our clans will suffer … my clan will peri–

In shock of her own words, Kururi drew her fist and hit the table top with such a force that it shook her to the core. She hissed in pain, but lifted her arm, battering it again. The final time she went to do it, a familiar chakra signature flared nearby, making her shutter. Kururi puckered her brow and glanced around the room, noticing Madara and Izuna hadn’t left yet. They seemed to be deep in conversation about something, until she lost her composure. In embarrassment, she turned her eyes to the floor and moved towards the exit.

Madara had somehow got in front of her – probably while Kururi was adjusting her setta sandals – as Izuna took up the back. Her blue eyes sized up the man leading; an intimidating man if seen up close. The woman shuttered again and tucked her slender arms against herself. It was strange to feel her heart pound so loudly in her chest, almost like being so close to Madara again was making her feel nervous. Kururi ignored it and spared a questioning glance at Izuna, who merely smiled. Frankly, the action made her skin crawl, but she smiled back regardless.

Without sudden warning, however, Madara halted before the doorway. Kururi peddled back to avoid colliding into him, an action that left her flustered against the chest of his younger brother.

“My apologies Izuna. I’m very sorry.” Her words met deaf ears.

Izuna took her shoulders and kept her locked against him. “Be still now.” His warm breath fanned out against her skin.

Kururi felt abnormally scared; an icy chakra encased her. What’s this wickedness? She panicked, but her legs refused to move. It felt like her limbs were stuck in molasses. Is this a Genjutsu? “S-Stop this. Whatever you have done to me, remove it.” Her voice cracked a bit, yet it still held a bite.

“She bares fangs against us.” Izuna chuckled at this – how cute. It was the first time he had ever felt her chakra waver so much. The sway his brother had on her was impressive. He slid his arms over her shoulders. The woman quietly told him to stop, but he ignored her command and took the ornate hair sticks from her bun, allowing her braids to come loose and fall down her back. Frankly, Izuna wasn’t sure why she wore her hair in such a way – it seemed childish to him – but her younger sister wore them too, in a much simpler design; in tails down the front of her shoulders.

Kururi felt her blood begin to simmer. She was not in the mood to repeat herself. If this wasn’t an illusion, then it was simply a product of overwhelming chakra. Forcing herself to calm down, Kururi increased her own and released her body from the invisible restraints that locked her down. Without a second thought, she curled her fingers and struck at him with her nails drawn.

However, long before she made contact, Madara stopped her, and yanked Kururi towards him. A frightened cry escaped her lips. He took her against him and clutched her arms tightly.

“I don’t think it would be wise for you to do that again,” he spoke firmly. His voice was deep and cold.

Again, the woman froze up, too afraid to move. Her body felt heavy as stone, descending into the depths of his blood, red eyes. By some means, Kururi found her voice. “I’m sorry Madara. I wasn’t considering the repercussions. Let me go.”

He pulled her closer and smoothly declared, “I can sense your chakra trembling.”

“I’m scared of how strange you’re acting right now. This chakra around you is enveloping me,” Kururi admitted.

“Feels sickly sweet, doesn’t it?” Madara closed the gap between them and placed his lips over her own. The first thing he noticed was how warm she felt; her heat was comforting. The second, satisfied him. Kururi was shaken, but gradually pressed her mouth harder against his. It wasn’t difficult to loosen her lips enough to slip his tongue in. She allowed him with a content sigh. Like he remembered, Kururi tasted delightful.

This wasn’t the first time Madara had kissed her; the first time was as young adults on the battlefield. She wasn’t so willing to taste him back then, and even less willing to speak to him after he bit her shoulder and sucked in her chakra. He was aware of her strange skill, and oddly found her taste to be somewhat welcoming. It was amusing to see how much she pined for him, now that war and death was in the past. Madara always felt Kururi held a strange attraction to him; she turned red whenever he addressed her and often shied away from his touch. Frankly, it was no surprise to him how easy she was to control once his mouth was on hers.

Bringing her closer, Madara all but gently pressed her tiny body against his own. Kururi let out a whine in protest and stiffened up, but he ignored it, releasing one of her arms to bury his fingers into her long, interwoven hair. With a quick tug, he angled her head to his liking and sank further into the kiss. His tongue overwhelmed her own, forcing her to keep up.

Kururi did pretty well in doing so, clutching his robes in haste to keep from toppling over. She sighed through her nose. This wasn’t so bad; a little strange. It brought chills to her body – a wave of excitement that tingled in the pit of her stomach. Lost in the pleasure of it, she barely knew Izuna was still behind her until she felt a sharp pain in her neck. It could have only been him, because Madara was too engaged with her tongue and lips to care. However, the second she cried out in discomfort as the pressure grew, she knew Madara was only acting as a distraction for whatever Izuna was trying to do. It didn’t take her long to figure out what, as her body began to feel heavy with exhaustion.

Izuna was sucking out her chakra. Her eyes flew open wide in panic and she began to resist. Kururi bucked forward with her hips, but with Madara in front of her, all she managed to do was pull a delightful moan from him. In another reality, she might have enjoyed this – succumbing to whatever pleasure Madara would give her – but this was not the case. With all her strength, Kururi parted from the man in front of her, breaking the threadlike line of saliva that connected them, and shoved her elbow into Izuna, knocking him off her. She peddled back until she was a respectable distance away from them and panted in exhaustion.

“Why did you bite me, Izuna?”

Said man ignored her question and touched his lips. “Is this what you meant by unique, brother?”

“It’s a forte of hers,” Madara began. “A skill only known by members of her clan; the ability to heal through consumption of chakra.”

Kururi curled her nose in disgust. True to his claim, she was already starting to recover, but slowly. “Are you serious? All this – she was referring to the kiss – just to … to–

“Flavor your chakra,” Izuna finished. He bobbed his head in agreement. The sad truth was he simply grew curious. “But then, I can’t speak for my brother.”

This took her off guard. Kururi wanted to ask what he meant, but a warm, earthy feeling suddenly enveloped her. She glanced at the door just as Hashirama entered. The wicked chakra from before was immediately oppressed.

“Hashi … what are you doing here?”

The cheerful man smiled at her. “I didn’t see you leave yet, so I came back to check on you.” Frankly, she looked pale to him. It concerned him, but sure that he already knew the reason, he didn’t ask. For a brief second his smile faded as he turned to Madara.

“Is everything okay, old friend?”

Madara bobbed his head. “No cause for alarm. Though someone does look a bit tired.”

“Nothing escapes you,” Kururi jested with a laugh. “Please forgive me, Hashi … but I’ll be heading back to the compound for a rest.”

“Another time then,” Hashirama mentioned, referring to their talk. He watched her leave the room quickly, and shot a brief look at his dark haired friend.

Madara was grinning, and honestly, it concerned Hashirama.

Chapter Text

“I know it’s not my place to ask … but how exactly did this happen to you?”

Kirino – being curious – was referring to the abrasion on her sister’s fair skin. It was an eye sore. She rubbed her finger over it, gauging the impressions until Kururi swiped at her. Serious as it was, she couldn’t help it. Her sister was a feverish mess and for some reason it intrigued her. Then again, it’s very unbecoming of her to act so helpless. She was anything but, in her opinion.

Kururi was tactful, even though her moods changed on a whim. She was also a skilled kunoichi, able to stand toe to toe with even Madara; which is why Kirino thought it was surprising to hear that she yielded to him so easily. Unless, she thought. Maybe she knew.

“Do you plan to answer my question, or continue to pout like a scolded brat?”  

Kururi met her eyes in the reflection of the mirror she sat in front of. Her lip curled up into a scowl. “Don’t ridicule me. What’s more, I already told you what happened.”

“Then maybe I should rephrase my question,” Kirino said. She pulled a brush through her sister’s soft, damp hair – the knots were nearly out. “Capable as you are … why let them treat you like they did? Am I to believe that you’ve gone weak.”

“You know that I haven’t. I just don’t exactly know how to explain it. Their actions were baseless, and I let my guard down because … well because I liked the feeling of having Madara covet me.”

The youngest chuckled. “And you said he wasn’t one to court. I warned you; maybe not in those words, but I did.”

“Easy there, baka.” Kururi rolled up her eyes in annoyance. “You have no idea how absurd that sounds. Not once in the many years I’ve known him have I seen him take interest in another person.”

“That’s because you’re not looking with your eyes,” Kirino professed. She drummed the brush against the back of her head to emphasize her point. “Your mind is your strongest ally, but sometimes you overthink things. Take now for instance. You keep telling yourself that Ma-kun doesn’t have an interest in you, and the more you do, the more you believe it. Doesn’t mean that you’re wrong, but there’s something going on between the two of you.”

This made Kururi doubt herself. She always pondered every option; the good and the bad. It could be that along the way she forced herself to ignore the obvious chemistry between Madara and herself. It was him that initiated the kiss with her. In fact, he did it the previous time too. Still, that didn’t excuse the way he treated her this morning. No man, no matter how much Kururi fancied them, would ever manipulate her. Not even Madara Uchiha.

Huffing in annoyance, she curled her arms beneath her chest and glared at the abrasion on her neck. “Even if there is, I just can’t excuse the fact he let Izuna bite me. Marks like this just don’t fade on us.”

“I don’t blame you, but honestly … was it that bad?”

Kururi snorted. “You say such unusual things sometimes.” Taking a minute to reflect on it, she agreed that it was indeed bad. “It hurt horribly, so yes.” Not even Kirino could change her mind about this. Madara was the only person – besides Izuna – to have consumed her chakra. It was a dire situation and even then, she hated it.

“What's more, it feels weird. It reminds me of drowning,” she added quietly. “Fighting to resurface, but I can’t. The current only pulls me further along until I haven’t the strength to move. I feel almost helpless this way.”

“Why not just let go. It might not be so bad given the right cir– ”

Kururi interrupted her. “Don’t say it … just don’t.”

She frankly didn’t want to think about it. Her mind was still not set on what to do. All she knew was that the next time she saw Madara she was going to chew him out for what he did. Betrayed; that was the only word she could think of to define how she felt right now. To even consider letting him use her again made her blood pump harder, keen to beat the hell out of him. Kururi didn’t even know she was clutching her fingers into a fist until Kirino brought her out of her thoughts by yanking her hair.

She whined in protect, shooting the woman a fiery glare. “The hell was that for?”

Fat tears poured from her sister’s round, colorless eyes. “Your chakra is scary when you get mad. It’s making me nervous.”

“Sorry,” Kururi said with embarrassment. Again, she didn’t realize she had been doing it. She did her deep breathing exorcises and waited for Kirino to resume her previous task before stopping them.

Quietness fell over them for a small amount of time until an unrelated thought came to Kirino. She chuckled softly. “If I remember accurately, it was Ma-kun who stole your first kiss.”

Kururi puckered her brow. “We were barely adults back then. I was so unexperienced.” That was a random thing to say.

“That should have been the moment you knew,” Kirino stated with a laugh. She drummed the brush against her sister’s head again. “You may be smart, but sometimes you’re pretty dense. It could be the reason Ma-kun teases you so.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” Kururi ignored the fact she just called her slow and rolled her eyes. “And since when did you start nicknaming him that? You’ve said it three times now.”

Kirino grinned deliberately. “Since the moment I knew you were in love with him.”

In hindsight, the moment she said this, she should have expected retaliation from her sister, but Kirino being too slow to react was caught in a headlock. She waved her arms frantically, crying as Kururi flicked her head over and over. Luckily for her, a sudden rap at the door made her stop.

“My lady,” called out a gentle voice. “Sorry to disturb you, but Lord Hashirama is here. He wishes to speak with you privately.”

Hashirama!? What could he want? Kururi wondered if his unexpected visit had something to do with earlier. It was possible, which is why she was unsure about letting him in. “Can it wait until tomorrow? It’s sort of late.”

“He said it was urgent. I’m very sorry.”

Kururi huffed in annoyance. She was curious, therefore she decided to see him. “Take him to my workroom. I’ll speak with him there.” She could hear the housemaid retreat down the hallway, and took a moment to make herself look presentable. The wrap she wore was pulled up to her neck and snugly tied to prevent the mark from being seen.

Arising, she said her goodnights and left Kirino alone, unhurriedly walking to her private workroom were Hashirama was patently waiting. Entering, she saw him peering at her pressed flowers. Each one was cased in glass and framed on the wall; a hobby of hers she quite loved.

“Pretty, are they not?”

Hashirama turned and smiled at her. “Exceedingly … but do they stay like this forever?”

“Sadly, no. Eventually their color fades,” Kururi retorted. She watched Hashirama for a brief second, appreciating her work, then deeply sighed. “It’s late, Hashi.”

“Sorry, Kururi. I couldn’t put it off much longer.”

She hummed in wonder. “Have a seat then. Make yourself comfortable.”

“I won’t be long,” he stated. “I’m very busy as of late, but I wanted to stop by and check up on you. Earlier you seemed upset.”

So I was right. He did notice. Kururi masked her uneasiness with a laugh. “Is that all? I’m fine, really. Please don’t worry about my problems.” She took another deep breath. “I’m relieved though. I honestly thought the worst.”

Hashirama puckered a brow. He didn’t buy her front, but he also couldn’t do anything about it either.

She misinterpreted his curious look. “I thought you came here to say that you regretted our decision to nominate Madara.”

His brown eyes widened in shock. “No. Of course not – what would make her say that? I do believe in all honesty that Madara deserves the title of Hokage, but that’s not why I came here to see you. The issue does involve him, though.”

Again, the scarlet haired woman hummed. She motioned for him to continue, intent to hear.

“He’s smitten with you. It’s not a serious matter, but I worry he will make it one. Sometimes he comes off a little possessive,” Hashirama stated all at once. Frankly, he didn’t know how to address it. This seemed to be the only way.

“And you know this how?”

“I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”

Kururi scoffed at this. “What do you suggest I do then? Cover my face?”

She was playing the fool; Hashirama knew. He gave her a stern look. “Keep in mind that you are the only female he’s ever shared his life with. It wouldn’t surprise me if now he’s wanting you as just that.”

I doubt that. To keep from arguing with him, Kururi agreed. She frankly didn’t want to think about it anymore. A change in subject was the only solution. “Busy you say. Has it to do with the upcoming election?”

Hashirama took the bait, huffing a sigh of annoyance. “I just want a minute to relax, but Tobirama won’t let me. He would have signed the blank note for me if I had not; he’s too serious about all this.”

“Blank note?”

“The balloting note,” he confirmed. “It’s the paper the council gave you to have Madara sign, since you nominated him. I assumed that was what held you earlier.”

Kururi remembered – only she left in a hurry before she got him to sign it. A dark, foreboding cloud hung over her head. “I completely forgot.” She must have tossed it somewhere as soon as she got back; her desk probably. Hurrying over to it, she set aside clan documents and other unimportant papers, looking for it. A humorous laugh from Hashirama briefly tore her eyes away from the task.

“Hashi, this is serious. The note has to be signed and given to the Elders by morning or else Madara won’t be allowed to run,” she said nervously. “They will assume he declined the offer.” Her mind was racing, but thankfully she found it.

Clutching the note in her hand, she darted towards the bright eyed man. “Please, as a favor. Can you take this to Madara tonight?”

He frowned. Honestly, he would have, but he couldn’t. “I have plan to meet with Tobirama in the morning. He has documents he wants me to look over before the meeting. I’m sorry, Kururi.”

I’ll have to go, she thought. But it’s late. He’s probably in bed. There weren’t many options for her to choose from. Kururi would have to go and wake him up. She couldn’t imagine what kind of foul mood he’d be in.

“At best,” Hashirama interrupted, putting his large hand over her shoulder. “I can keep the council from making their decision at first light, but that is all. I’ll have to reschedule with my brother, but for you, I don’t mind.”

Kururi sighed in relief. “Thank you, Hashi. Let’s be honest though, you agreed because you don’t want to do any work.”

“Am I that obvious?”

She nodded. “I won’t tell. You’re doing me a favor after all.”

His hand squeezed her shoulder; all jokes aside. “You are family. For that I cannot help but to worry about you.”

“Go home and rest, Hashi. I’ll be fine,” Kururi assured him with a fake smile.

She certainly hoped so, but a bad feeling told her otherwise. Why not let go? How bad could it be to have love? She wanted to know.              

Chapter Text

The next morning Kururi rushed to the main house and urged the caretaker to wake Madara. He was already up, but far too busy to speak with her. She was grateful for this and left the blank note in the capable hands of his retainer while she waited impatiently by the front door for her to return.

Not sure how long Hashirama bought her, Kururi was relieved to see that Madara made this duty an urgency and signed the note. She expected a rude comment, passed between him to her regarding her negligence, however, she was given none. The young retainer passed the scroll back to her, wished her a good morning, and let her be on her way. Kururi, taken by surprise, returned to her main house to get properly dressed, then headed over to the tower.

By noon time, the elders had come to an agreement. Kururi was standing in a crowd at the base of the tower when they announced it. She was relieved to hear that Madara was permitted to run. The two founders stood together, looking out over the village and its people. She was for once in tears, watching them stand as equals. It took a while, but now peace was more than just a thought, dreamed up by three orphaned children. Kururi wiped her damp eyes and slunk back into the crowd.

She had every intention of returning home, but a bitter, dark chakra suddenly covered her, bringing this notion to a standstill. Kururi knew that it could only be one of two people and refrained from visibly shivering as said person moved to stand by her side. She never quite understood why, but the Uchiha had such hostile chakra; it felt like hands of ice taking ahold of her.

“Izuna … please. Try and hold back a little.” If she was uncomfortable, she was sure the villagers with little to no chakra control were too.

He did as requested and easily concealed his signature. “My apologies. I forget sometimes.”

“It’s alright; sometimes I do too. Habit is hard to break when you’ve been taught something completely different all your life,” she explained softly.

Izuna knew just what she was implying. Even so, it was hard for him pull off, since he was an Uchiha. He felt like the people of the village were isolating his clan. Flaunting his power was just a means of protecting himself; survival of the fittest. She had to realize what he was aiming to do, right? Maybe not, seeing as though she just chastised him.

A frown marred his face, but he chose not to say anything. Instead, he glanced up at Madara, as if his brother might be able to support him with this issue. How would he handle it? An alternate route opened up to him.

“If I may ask … why are you not with the council? I assumed you’d be up there.”

Kururi felt her face heat up. She knew that he was attempting to rile her up; obviously he knew why. “Neither of them need my support. I’ve done all I can.”

She was being honest; Izuna could hear it in her voice. What she didn’t realize was how wrong she was. The fact that Kururi was so unsure about her role made him feel like she was insignificant. However, his brother thought otherwise. Izuna couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Why did Madara like her so much?

“I believe this is the first time I’ve seen you with your hair down,” Izuna mentioned, baiting her. She didn’t look so much like an adolescent like this.

Kururi puckered her brow. “Yes … well you took my hair sticks yesterday, so I had nothing to use.”

He nearly smirked at this. She was too easy. “Madara offered me an opportunity and I took it, but if you wish, I can return to you the inheritances I took. They are at the compound.”

She did want them back, however she wasn’t sure about going alone with Izuna. Thinking back to what she promised Hashirama, she decided to agree, only if he accepted her proposal.

“I’d like my sister to accompany us. She is rather fond of the Uchiha. I believe she may like someone in your clan.”

It mattered not to Izuna, but he agreed in any case. A mock smile lifted his lips. “That’s ironic, considering that you too like an Uchiha. You stare at my brother with a fondness beyond friendship. Some would think it’s a weakness.”

“Who do you watch with such eyes?”

Izuna puckered his brow. He wasn’t sure there was someone he actually liked. Not that he was incapable of love; he just wasn’t interested in it right now.

“That doesn’t matter, Kururi.” It really didn’t, not while his mind was engaged with something else. But maybe after this. “Come on. Lets get your sister, and I will accompany you both.”


 

Like he suggested, Izuna lead the two back to his clan’s main house. He bade Kirino to rest in the back yard as he took Kururi to the work room his brother often resided in. Leaving her a moment, he moved around to the back of Madara’s desk and retrieved her hair sticks.

She used the time to look around Madara’s work space, intrigued by the naturalness of it. He kept the walls mostly bare, with the exception of a few weapons Kururi was sure he still had use for. She could see nothing that really stood out to her; nothing that yelled tyrant like she had expected.

“This is alarming,” she uttered.

Izuna was taken back. “You imagined something different?”

“Less principles,” she admitted. “But, I’m not going to cry about it. At his core, Madara is still human.” Her fingers traced softly over the clan’s crest.

“In a sense, you’re right. He is human … but sometimes his actions share no compassion. It’s for the sake of our people that he be made a devil in the eyes of others,” Izuna explained, while moving closer to her.

He offered back her hair sticks and forlornly added, “At least that’s how he wanted it to be. A certain woman has stolen his thoughts, and even I dare think his intensions for the clan have changed.”

“I don’t think that at all when I look at what all he’s done,” Kururi rebutted. “He does everything he can for his people. Some may see it as cruelty – his actions – but he’s just doing what’s best for his clan.”

Izuna gave her a gentle smile, “How noble of you, to speak of my brother in such a way.” Maybe he was wrong to assume so little of her. Even so, he needed to be sure. Words could only assure him for so long.

“Can I ask you of something?”

Kururi nodded in agreement. “You may ask me whatever you like, Izuna.”

“Are you certain that you believe Madara can become the leader of this new village? You spoke up for him against the council. But do you actually believe that he has a shot?”

“Hashirama does … but I do not. I was honest when I said that times have changed, but for Madara, they have not.” She never wanted to give him false hope; it was cruel of Hashirama to ask this of her. Dread filled her as she thought it over. “I just want the best for him … I’m sorry.”

Izuna was strangely pleased by her answer. “I assumed as much.” He already knew that Hashirama thought highly of Madara; this was no surprise to him. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for him; Madara deserves this. Still, am I wrong to assume a small part of the reason you agreed was because of love?”

“I … I don’t know how to answer that.”

“A simple yes or no,” Izuna said blatantly. He was uneasy with the fact that she couldn’t yet give an honest answer.

Sink or swim? Every possible route was circling around to this. She wasn’t certain, because she assumed her feelings for Madara were nothing more than desire.

Kururi placed her fingers over her heart; it wasn’t beating out of her chest in any cliché way. She feared her belief was true. “I don’t think what I feel for your brother is love, and this hold I have over him isn’t either.”

“Since when did you think you were intitled to speak for him?”

She cringed at this. Honestly, it made her a little angry. He too had no right; he was a hypocrite for scolding her. “This conversation is over. We obviously can’t fathom his feelings, so we don’t need to argue over it.”

Izuna agreed, despite his conflicting thoughts. He felt that if anyone knew his brother – truly – it was him. Madara would never lie to him, and he surely wouldn’t have come to him in the first place if he felt like he could handle the situation. Izuna wanted so bad to spoil their scheme, but he honestly felt like his brother should do it.

“Speak with him,” he implored. “You won’t listen to reason, so at least ask him yourself. That’s all I’ll say about it.”

Kururi curled her hands into a fist. She was so tired of this roundabout; it made her sick. All she wanted to do was forget about the whole ordeal, but nearly everyone she spoke to was filling her head with false information. Even so, she knew what Izuna had said was the truth.

She needed to speak to Madara in person.

“Convey to him that I’d like to meet. Tonight will be fine,” she uttered in defeat.

Izuna gently smiled, “Leave it to me.”

Kururi so wanted this to be over. She just hoped her desire for Madara wouldn’t blindside her to the truth.