There’s snow beneath Izuna’s remains, white and soft as down and adorned with coils of steam. His chest is bare, still and halved by a deep cut from stem to stern. Beside Tajima’s boots, Madara can see the fruits of his struggle beneath his fingernails, the horror of his failure staining the kunai in their father’s hand red.
Madara draws a steadying breath as Tajima flips the kunai in his hand, the low rattle in his chest too quiet to drown out the sinister hiss as he sucks his teeth. Maybe, Madara thinks, Tajima had finally found a genjutsu that worked on him. He brings his hands unsteadily to his chin in a familiar seal.
“Kai,” he murmurs.
Nothing changes. His sharingan whirl to life, his mangekyo purposefully- perhaps unwisely- dormant.
He tries again.
Izuna is lying there still, a fresh bead of blood rolling down his cheek from the corner of his mouth. Madara swallows thickly, taking a tentative step forward. He feels small, afraid in a way he shouldn’t after two decades of walking wartorn earth.
Somehow, Tajima manages to look both disgusted and disaffected, his face a remorseless, plaster mask. His eyes stay narrow as they flick up and down Izuna’s body, the spitting image of his hawks’ in their cruelty.
He doesn’t have to ask his father what happened. The question dies on his tongue and leaves a sour taste in his mouth.
Even as a child, genjutsu had never worked on Madara. Tajima’s labors were fruitless, and though Madara had been a prodigy by most standards, his sharingan had been activated later than any of his brothers’, and his mangekyo, as far as Tajima knew, had hung just out of reach since then. If this was what it took, Izuna’s death was ultimately in the best interest of the clan.
When Madara’s composure cracks, a pattern unfamiliar to Tajima springs to life in his last son’s eyes, and he nearly cries out in relief.
Perhaps this had not been for naught, then, though Tajima had tortured Izuna for years in an attempt to awaken Madara’s mangekyo. It was such wasted energy, Tajima thought bitterly, all his merciless beatings and brandings and carelessness. Izuna had been such wasted potential, a waste of awareness and grace and even beauty at times.
It was not Tajima’s fault.
It had been Madara’s insolence, his stubborn refusal to succumb to their clans curse. Perhaps some of the blame lie in Tajima, that he could never get his hands on Butsuma’s oldest who Madara had so thoroughly adored as a child, that he had to use his own sons as fodder for Madara’s ferocity.
No, Tajima thinks, tossing his kunai aside in the snow, genjutsu had never worked on Madara.
Worse still, Madara was- and would likely always be- uncharacteristically compassionate for an Uchiha. Though he bore the pride of ferocity and loyalty, wept privately for his brothers and for his own insolence, could be merciless in battle- Madara was fundamentally kind in a way Tajima could never understand. He was truly his mother’s son, Azami’s spitting image with his wild hair and unpredictable temper and limitless comity.
Madara’s eyes were coal dark like hers, too, icy as the evening, and pride swells in Tajima’s chest, even as he sees steam rise from Madara’s shoulders in coils.
For all of that compassion, Madara was born gifted with something fiercer than any of his brothers, a violence belying him that frightened even Tajima.
“It’s taken us long enough,” Tajima says flatly, “Izuna would be so proud of you.”
Madara grits his teeth. He looks down at Izuna again, now that he’s closer, and bites his tongue to keep something down as it worms its way up through his stomach. He can’t tell if it’s bile or a poorly stifled sob.
“It’s what he would have wanted,” Tajima sighs, sounding exasperated. Madara watches, expression steely and grim, as Tajima cleans his knife on his sleeve, points his toe so he can roll Izuna’s head to the side with his foot. “He’ll be happy to die like this.”
There’s a raised row of cuts running from Tajima’s temple to his jaw, a microcosm of the suffering he’d inflicted upon Izuna.
“He’s-” Madara swallows around the crack in his voice, “He’s still alive, then?”
“Hm?” Tajima frowns, nudging Izuna with his foot again, loosing another dribble of blood from his slackened jaw. “To have died like this, then.” He spares a last, performatively morose glance at Izuna, and offers Madara his hand, blood cracking on his cold palm as he spreads his fingers in an invitation.
“Come here, Madara,” Tajima says softly, “Let me see.”
Madara stands still, his eyes dark, searching, and brimming with tears. Tajima clicks his tongue. Beneath them, Madara can hear blood spatter in the snow, Izuna’s outstretched hand grazing the side of his foot.
Tajima cradles Madara’s jaw in his hand, tilting his head from side to side and studying the pattern of his mangekyo. “He’s with your mother, now,” Tajima cooes, “That’s what you’d like for him, isn’t it? Isn’t it worth it to you, knowing he’s at peace, now?”
There’s a tense beat of silence, an instant of hesitation before Madara seizes Tajima’s wrist, his opposite hand connecting firmly with the underside of his elbow and popping it roughly out of place. Tajima makes a startled sound, first, and then howls, useless arms flailing as Madara drives him back into the earth.
He howls, unabashed, until Madara shatters his ribs with the heels of his palms, presses the air from his vulnerable lungs.
Madara is sure to drag Tajima a short distance away so the lapping flames of his funeral pyre can’t reach Izuna.