“Your brother has left.”
Tobirama stilled, his hand freezing, fingers barely grazing the green yunomi full of steaming tea. He tilted his head ever so slightly to the right and leaned back, tea untouched. “…left?”
Father regarded him thoughtfully, eyes dark and speculative. He pushed down the growing unease inside of him and refused to give in to the impulse to fidget. It was always uncomfortable; the way Father would stare at him sometimes. Usually, Anija was there to distract him from the heavy weight of those stares. “That is maybe not the right term. He has defected.”
Tobirama felt his mask of indifference slip, only for a second but a second too long. He dropped his gaze instantly. Something heavy and sickening uncurled in the pit of his stomach as he stared at his hands twisting in his lap, nails digging into his thighs, knuckles turning white. There was a noise in his head like rushing water, loud and deafening.
Defected? Was this still about all the incidents that piled up over the last months? Because of the Uchiha? Did Father honestly believe something this ridiculous?
Of course, Anija had had difficulties and was unhappy, clashing with Father, with the elders, with the clan. His soft spot for Uchiha Madara didn’t endear him to anyone. But despite all of that, all the discontent and resentment festering through their clan, through Anija, he still cared. He was the heir, their strongest hope in this war; he wouldn’t betray them.
Anija wouldn’t leave him behind.
Wouldn’t he though? You’re neither Kawarama nor Itama.
He barely suppressed a flinch when calloused fingers forced his chin up.
“You really didn’t know,” Father stated, almost sounding amused. “When did he stop valuing you?”
Tobirama couldn’t breathe.
“He did seem distant ever since that river incident, didn’t he? Holding such a petty grudge and still preaching about how we shouldn’t want to avenge every one of us that fell to an Uchiha blade.”
The tight lines around Tobirama’s mouth softened with surprise. It wasn't fully correct because Anija had started to withdraw from him after Itama's death although, it hadn't been really obvious at first - Tobirama himself hadn't realized when Anija's gaze had stopped seeking him out. In a way, Father was right. There might have been cracks before but the Nakano confrontation, Uchiha Madara, everything started to crumble after that, didn't it? Yet... Father would watch, of course. His contemplative gazes were always trailing Tobirama, but he hadn’t known that Father also observed.
“And the recent incidents upset him further.” Father’s gaze sharpened and the grip around his chin tightened painfully. He didn’t wince. “Do you think you did anything wrong, Tobirama?”
He remembered the crushing hatred in the Uchiha woman’s glare as they tore out her eyes. Remembered the little girl who had run herself through his blade in a moment of carelessness. The man who had come searching for them and ended up being ripped to pieces.
“…no,” he said and hoped that there was no bile coating his voice.
It hadn’t been the first time, after all. Father wanted to know the secrets of the sharingan, and Tobirama had long since lost count on how many eyes he had been presented with to examine. Sometimes attached to their owners, mostly not. He had, however, never stood by as Father tore out an Uchiha’s precious dōjutsu while keeping them subdued with a mortal threat to their child. Nor had he ever witnessed such a child kill itself rather than cause their parent any more humiliation.
But those had been Father’s orders. And those Uchiha had been the enemy trespassing Senju lands. What was Tobirama to do? The woman had been a shinobi, there wasn’t much that could have saved her, and she had killed their patrols – Setsuna and Anko, a sweet couple that would always spare some of their time for Tobirama; leaving little Haru an orphan. He had done what he could for the girl, even persuading Father to let her leave afterward; he couldn’t have known that she had other plans. And if he still couldn’t sleep without dreaming about a child impaling herself on his sword, a woman screaming herself mute - if he couldn't shake off Anija's face frozen in horror and disgust as he stared at him, kneeling in blood in front of dead bodies, two eyes in his palms – no one needed to know. Especially not Father.
The smile that unfolded on Father’s lips was pleased. He loosened his hold and let his thumb brush over Tobirama’s cheek, affection that had his breath stutter in confused shock, before Father leaned back, arms crossed over his chest. “You have always been the most obedient. Just like your mother,” he added like an afterthought. “She always supported me. Kami knows where Hashirama got his insolence from.”
Tobirama blinked, unsure how to respond to that. He couldn’t even remember what mother had looked like, and Anija…
“Regardless, you’re not to leave the compound until I allow it.”
He stiffened. “What?”
“You’re my heir now,” Father said. “As such, you need to learn a lot of things.”
Heir? What-? Tobirama’s head spun, too many thoughts trying to fit in at once. How could he be the heir now? Anija wasn’t dead! And he wasn’t… Tobirama wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t even that well liked in the clan! People whispered behind his back, made fun of him, thought his looks to be abominable albeit they wouldn’t utter such a thing where Father could hear and- he wasn’t Anija. Anija was their hope personified in the form of mokuton, who could handle people so easily, be charming and loving, and who was strong enough to make anyone feel safe. Who would accept him as Father's heir after having had a taste of Anija?
“And the elders have professed their concern that you might run off after Hashirama.”
“I would never betray our clan!” he said too loudly, bordering on insolent.
Father’s features darkened in displeasure. “So, you would choose the clan over Hashirama? Do not lie to me, boy.”
Tobirama opened his mouth, then closed it again, not able to get the words over his tongue. Father didn’t expect anything else.
“We can’t trust you. I’d rather keep you where I can see you.”
It made sense, of course, but- he had never done anything to harm their clan. Had always followed orders, protected whomever he could, never took Anija’s side in any of the arguments but had always been there to deescalate fights. How was this fair?! They couldn’t confine him indefinitely! He was needed outside in the battles. And he needed to find Anija. Talk sense into him. Get him back home, to their family, their clan, to Tobirama.
He tried another approach. “You yourself said that I’m the most obedient. Surely you can trust in your own judgement?”
Father smiled knowingly and Tobirama cursed himself for being so easy to read. “You love Hashirama the most, though. Loyalty lies with love.” A pause, then, slowly, consideringly, “I will trust you the day you bring me his head.”
His thighs were burning where his fingernails kept digging into the flesh. Nothing made sense. Anija was gone. The clan didn’t trust him. Father was upset enough to want Anija dead. Was this a nightmare? A genjutsu? It didn't make sense!
“You’re dismissed. Don’t leave the compound until I permit it. I will think about something as I cannot keep you off the battlefield forever.”
Tobirama didn’t even listen until the end before stumbling out of the room, his father’s burning gaze prompting him to basically run. His skin was itching uncomfortably, and his stomach was churning sickeningly, and he could feel panic rise in his throat in the form of vomit. He swallowed it, breathing heavily, blindly leaving that childhood home that felt too suffocating.
That night, he laid in Anija’s empty room, buried in Anija’s favorite blanket, wondering, unable to sleep, unwilling to cry while tracing that warm, familiar chakra signature on the other side of the Naka river.
A month later, Tobirama was sitting in front of Kawarama and Itama’s graves. His whole face was numb with pain and smeared with blood that meshed seamlessly into the new red markings he was sporting. He blinked away the tears catching in his eyelashes and focused on his erratic breathing.
Now, we won’t have to worry about you betraying the clan, Father had said while watching the mute stranger - white, almost translucent eyes suggested Hyūga - carve the final stripe into his chin, pupils dilated weirdly, making his eyes so, so dark, you may leave the compound as you please.
You may because you never can leave, was what he meant.
Tobirama hadn't bothered to lie that he never would have left. He was duty-bound to the clan but if Anija came back for him… Father knew. He should also have known that Anija wasn’t coming back.
Gaze catching at the red camellia and white chrysanthemums winding over his brothers' graves, he wondered, heart aching, gasping for air, whether Anija would have stayed for them or perhaps he might have taken them with him. They had shared an understanding on an emotional level, Anija, Kawarama and Itama; warm and charming and open, all of them. Tobirama had never been able to relate, always looking in on their easy laughter and shows of affection from the sides, content to simply watch even if he couldn't understand.
Maybe Anija would have listened to them after finding them in an unsavory situation before judging. Maybe he would have been more forgiving.
He certainly wouldn't have abandoned them.