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I was there at the edge of Never, of Once Been

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“Have you even been sleeping?” Hashirama asks, vaguely horrified.

Facedown on his brother’s beautifully tiled breakfast bar, Tobirama makes a dismissive sound. “There was a break in the case, and I couldn’t afford to waste time,” he says, and then scowls down at the neat swirls of tile that spread like leaves. “Not that it lasted.”

Hashirama sighs softly, and the sizzle of the pan on the stove goes quiet. A moment later, a plate bumps the top of Tobirama’s head, and Hashirama says sternly, “Eat something. Knowing you, you’ll be called away halfway through dinner, and I’d rather you eat now and leave early than skip another meal.”

With an effort, Tobirama forces his head up enough to squint at the plate, then makes a face. “What is it?” he asks, even as he takes the plate and the fork Hashirama hands him.

“Food,” Hashirama says cheerfully, and ignores Tobirama’s glare as the front door opens. Instead, he ducks around the edge of the kitchen, and there’s a bright, happy, “Kakuzu!” that’s immediately followed by the sound of a deep, enthusiastic kiss.

Tobirama rolls his eyes so hard they're in danger of rolling right out of his head, but at least they're not inflicting their ridiculousness on him, so that’s an improvement. He takes a bite of the mess of pasta and unidentifiable vegetables on his plate, then pauses in surprise and takes three more bites in quick succession. It’s not terrible, which means it’s much better than it looks.

“I see we have a guest,” Kakuzu says pointedly, a moment later. A pause, and then a quiet snort. “You have grout in your hair again.”

“I was putting together some murals for the street fair next month,” Hashirama agrees easily. “And Tobirama stopped by to see me.”

“To steal food, more like,” Kakuzu says dryly, but when he steps into the kitchen, his expression at least isn't hostile. “You know, if you feed strays they’re just going to keep coming back.”

Tobirama makes a rude sound, which is slightly less convincing with his mouth full, but dubious appearance aside, Hashirama’s cooking is as good as ever, and it’s been hours since the latte and bagel that served as his breakfast.

Kakuzu snorts, setting a travel mug in the sink. “You ask him to do your laundry, too?” he wants to know.

“Of course not,” Tobirama says, offended.

It’s slightly less than convincing when right over top of him, Hashirama says, “Oh! Tobirama, do you need me to? I have time this week, if it will help.”

Kakuzu’s raised brow says everything.

“I,” Tobirama says with all his remaining dignity, ignoring the tile marks that are probably pressed into his forehead, “have a service that collects it.”

Shaking his head, Kakuzu leans in to give Hashirama one more light kiss and steps back. “Mito's working late,” he says. “She said to leave her a plate in the fridge.”

Hashirama’s smile softens. “All right,” he agrees. “Go change, and I’ll have everything ready in about an hour.”

Tobirama watches Kakuzu vanish down the hall, then casts a look at his brother. “Street fair?” he asks. “A large one?”

Hashirama’s smile brightens. “Good-sized,” he confirms cheerfully, and goes to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of wine. He holds it up to Tobirama in offer, but Tobirama regretfully shakes his head; there’s still work waiting on his desk at the station, and the case is already convoluted enough. Being tipsy won't help anything. “I have a few stained-glass pieces I'm taking, and some of my potted plants. I might go through my pottery, too, and take whatever the gallery doesn’t want.”

Their father is probably recoiling with horror in his grave right now, Tobirama thinks, amused. The fact that his eldest son became an artist instead of a politician was a point of fury for him, and never more so than when Hashirama ended up successful. And in a three-way relationship with a business tycoon and a high-powered corporate attorney, even.

“Let me know if you need help setting up,” he says, because if this case isn't closed by next month, he’ll probably decide to swim to the islands of Uzushio and never come back.

Hashirama smiles at him, leaning forward to fold his arms against the countertop, and his expression is soft. “Thank you, Tobirama,” he says, and Tobirama looks at his handsome brother, so settled in his own skin, with a whole life he’s built around himself, at peace and so content, and—

He would claw his way out of his own skin if he had something like this, he thinks, and it’s more resigned than unsettled. Tobirama knows himself at this point, and he knows what he needs to stay sane. Not peace, but the chaos of a mystery. Not contentment, but a challenge. Not this neat, settled life, but something more dangerous, darker, more unpredictable.

Dropping his gaze to his plate, Tobirama takes another three bites, trying not to think about his cold, empty apartment across the city, and says, “You got rid of the crystals.”

Surprise flickers over Hashirama’s face, and he laughs a little sheepishly. “I moved them to my workshop,” he says. “There are too many to just put away somewhere, so I thought I’d use them in my art.”

That, at least, is heartening to hear. Tobirama raises a brow at his brother, and asks dryly, “You're no longer convinced of the healing resonance of amethyst? Astonishing. I’d thought you would be taken in by that gem shop for at least another six months.”

Hashirama frowns at him, offended, but when Tobirama remains unmoved he huffs and looks away. “It was brought to my attention,” he says, and that’s sheepish too, “that while it’s a pretty idea, there’s never been any actual evidence of stones working like that.”

“I know I told you that at least three times,” Tobirama says, annoyed, and looks at Kakuzu as he rounds the counter. “How did you convince him?”

Kakuzu snorts. “It wasn’t me,” he says dryly. “It was the psychic down in the Sakura District.”

Tobirama stares at him, and is almost certain he can feel his eye twitch.

“Yeah,” Kakuzu says dryly. “Exactly.”

Hashirama makes a face at both of them, even as he hands Kakuzu his glass of wine. “It’s not like that,” he says, offended. “Obito isn't a scammer like all the other psychics I've visited. He told me outright that the only restless spirit I needed help settling was my father’s, and the bastard was better off rotting in the between anyway.”

Tobirama’s brows practically touch his hairline. That is…not the best way to wring money out of people, certainly, and while it makes him slightly more inclined to at least appreciate the brazenness of this psychic, it’s still a ridiculous statement. “Let me guess,” he offers, dust-dry. “He instead offered to cleanse your aura and advised you on three new meditations he could teach you to align your chakras, as long as you signed up for classes.”

“Not at all,” Hashirama counters cheerfully. “We spent an hour talking about his garden, and he told me to stop paying for pretty rocks that didn’t do anything. And he signed up for one of my tiling classes.”

Tobirama blinks, then looks at Kakuzu for confirmation. To his surprise, Kakuzu rolls his eyes but nods, and says, “It was more like they spent three hours talking about goddamn plants, but yeah.”

Hashirama pulls a face at him. “He was growing tropicals, Kakuzu. I haven’t met anyone else in Konoha who could get them to root, let alone take off.”

“Besides you,” Kakuzu reminds him, and steals his wine entirely. “I’m going to catch up on my briefs. Let me know when to set the table.”

“All right.” Hashirama steals one more kiss, then watches him go with a faint smile before turning back to Tobirama. “Obito's very impressive. I got his card, if you want it. At the very least he’s good to talk to.”

Tobirama snorts. “Are you sure you didn’t wander into a therapist’s office by accident?” he asks.

Unimpressed, Hashirama plucks a square of cardstock off the fridge and waves it in Tobirama’s face. “His card,” he says firmly. “Take it, Tobirama.”

Tobirama scowls at him, but he knows his brother’s inability to drop anything he’s gotten into his head. Reluctantly, he accepts the card, flipping it upright to check the front, and—

It’s less showy than he expected. Plain white, with a phone number neatly printed in black ink, and the only decoration is a crow’s feather beneath the number. There’s writing on the back too, quite a bit more, and Tobirama flips it over, takes one look, and laughs.

No seances, no paranormal investigations, no parties, it reads. Anyone requesting these items will be punched in the face until repentant.

“See?” Hashirama says brightly. “I think you’ll get along just fine.”

Tobirama is about to retort that the last time Hashirama said that, it was about Madara and entirely false, but before he can, his phone rings. Izuna telling him there’s been another murder drives all other thoughts right out of his head, and he shoves the card into his wallet on his way out the door, then promptly forgets that it exists at all.



“I,” Izuna says blearily, “want to be a carpet in my next life.”

Tobirama snorts, though he barely has the energy to kick Izuna in the ankle from where he’s slumped in his chair. His eyes burn, and he rubs a hand over them, almost knocking his glasses off.

“Walked all over and full of filth?” he asks. “If those are the requirements, Uchiha, I think you’ve already achieved your dream.”

Izuna kicks him back, which leads to a brief but fierce struggle that ends in Tobirama pinning Izuna's ankles to the ground with both feet. Tobirama takes a moment to let Izuna bask in his smug victory, then reminds him, “It’s your turn to go for lunch, Uchiha,” and lets him up.

Groaning, Izuna pulls himself to his feet, leaning heavily on the desk, and waves a hand at him. “Well, it’s your turn to pay, Senju. Cough it up.”

Tobirama rolls his eyes, but pulls his wallet from his pocket and tosses it over. “We need to revisit the witness from the second murder,” he tells Izuna. “There were gaps in her story.”

“She’s eighty, it’s not like she’s the most reliable,” Izuna mutters. “And you can go in alone. She didn’t like me.”

“She’s sharper than you are,” Tobirama says ruthlessly, because it’s true. “And if you’re just going to be waiting in the car, you can make yourself useful and call the labs. We’re still waiting on results, and the chief gave us priority.”

“I know that,” Izuna says crossly, and then pauses, one brow arching. He draws a white card out from behind Tobirama’s bank card, holding it up with disbelief written across his face, and asks, “A psychic? Senju, do I need to have an intervention?”

Tobirama scowls, snatching the card out of his fingers. “My brother goes to him,” he bites out. “I was going to investigate him for fraud.”

Izuna sighs, like existence alongside Tobirama is a trial. “Of course you are,” he says, and steals forty dollars in cash before he tosses the wallet back. “If the chief comes by for an update while I'm gone, tell him I died.”

“You want me to tell your rabidly overprotective older brother that you died,” Tobirama says dryly. “As my partner.”

Izuna's smirk is sugar-sweet. “Exactly. And besides, it might distract Madara from the fact that our last lead turned into a dead end.”

That, Tobirama acknowledges with a grimace, is unfortunately true. It might even be worth it, honestly. Madara isn't going to be anywhere close to pleased that their murderer claimed another victim and left no apparent evidence behind.

“How about you actually die,” he suggests, and Izuna flips him off and heads for the elevator, sidestepping Hikaku as he leads one of the forensic techs towards Madara's office.

A potential break, maybe, Tobirama thinks, following Nagato's path closely. Or maybe more of the same, which so far has been nothing. Or, perhaps, Nagato found evidence of older murders similar to the ones happening now, and they can finally mark their perpetrator down as a serial killer, maybe get more detectives to work the case. He and Izuna haven’t made much headway so far, even with all the overtime they’ve been pulling to run down leads.

Flipping his wallet closed, Tobirama pauses, staring at the thin white card in his hand. A fraud, he thinks, faintly bitter, but—

The words on the back amuse him. Hashirama seems to like the man. And that doesn’t mean much, because Hashirama likes Madara, and Madara has the temperament of a tyrannosaur with a toothache, but he’s lees obviously bilking Hashirama out of his money than most apparent psychics seem to be.

Tobirama considers the address. It’s only about fifteen minutes from the station in light traffic, and Izuna will probably take his time coming back with lunch—Tobirama knows for a fact that he stops to flirt with Itama whenever he’s near Itama's nursery. Sparing twenty minutes when they're out of leads and have been for almost two weeks seems simple.

It’s possible that Tobirama hasn’t had nearly enough sleep in the past month, seeing as he’s actually considering this.

Hashirama’s words about what the psychic had said regarding their father stick in Tobirama’s mind, though. Hashirama doesn’t speak about their father with anyone, Tobirama included. Tobirama was the obedient son, growing up, where Hashirama was wild and reckless and drove their father mad. Even now, Tobirama isn’t quite sure whether it was something that should be considered abusive, but—they certainly never understood each other, or liked each other. But Hashirama is a kind person, and he would never say that.

For a stranger to take one look at him and know isn't a thing Tobirama can write off as someone doing a cold read, or even a hot one. Because Hashirama doesn’t leave those types of hints, not even where Tobirama can see them. If someone else read them off him, at the very least they're valuable for their observational skills.

Deliberately, Tobirama rises from his chair and collects his coat, still not entirely convinced he’s even doing this. It’s stupid, and Izuna will mock him forever, but—

Tobirama is out of other ideas, and he’s willing to take a chance on a conman in the hope that it will give them anything they can use to stop these murders.



“Leave my lemon tree alone, you little rat!” Obito hisses at the eldritch god perched on his windowsill.

The Juubi gives a soft, innocent mmrp, like she didn’t just strip all the leaves off Obito's favorite tree and take a big bite out of the lone lemon it’s managed to produce in the three years Obito's had it. Then, just like the cat she’s currently mimicking, she sits down with a thump, sticks one leg daintily above her head, and starts to clean her tail.

“I fucking hate you,” Obito growls, and slams the pot down on the sill next to her. “You’d better regrow that, or so help me I’m going to put you back in the canary cage and keep the TV off for a month.”

The Juubi freezes, and her purple eye slits open, staring at Obito like she’s checking how serious he is. Obito scowls at her, entirely willing to follow through, and the Juubi heaves a disgusted cat-sigh and sits up. Next to her, the lemon tree shivers, and like time is rewinding the lemon regrows, the leaves burst back out in full leafy splendor, and the wilting branches straighten.

Thank you,” Obito says aggressively, and leaves her to it. And, because he’s a sucker, he changes the channel to her favorite terrible soap opera on his way into the kitchen.

The sky outside the kitchen window is dark, heavy, and Obito gives it a dark look, scrubbing a hand over the scarred side of his face. Half of his body aches when it rains, and he’s already in a bad mood from his shouting match with a particularly stubborn siren who’d taken up residence in the river. He has a new client tomorrow, too, and that’s always a crapshoot. Not everyone is as happy to be shut down as his last visitor, and Obito gets the feeling that this one isn't going to be anything like Hashirama.

With a sigh, Obito pushes the kettle onto a burner, sets out his favorite smoky black tea and a cup, and then pauses. There’s a niggling instinct somewhere in the back of his head, telling him to put out two, and while Obito is usually more than happy to spite that little voice, this time he frowns and goes with it, setting up another cup of tea. White tea, this time, and Obito doesn’t even like white tea. Neither does the Juubi, for that matter.

The sound of the doorbell is a pretty good indication of why he needs a second cup.

Obito mutters a curse, entirely unwilling to deal with visitors right now, but he stalks across the room, shooting a look at the Juubi, who’s retreated to the couch and is watching her soaps avidly, purple eyes following the figures intently. There's a thin crack of red across her forehead, too, the barest slit to show that she’s opened her third eye, and Obito hisses at her. “Cat!” he insists. “You're a cat right now, put it away!”

The Juubi shoots him a miffed look, but her third eye closes, and the heavy thrum of dark power disappears from the living room.

Deeply irritated, Obito scowls at the back of her head, then undoes the chain and bolt and jerks the door. Open. “What?” he snaps, only to stop short.

The man on the other side of the door is tall, with shaggy white hair and an amused expression, one equally white brow arched. The air around him is cool, damp in a way that has nothing to do with the brewing rainstorm or its accompanying humidity, and just for a moment, Obito is entirely blinded by the glow of blue around him.

“Are you Obito?” the man asks, and holds up one of Obito's business cards. Rin gave them to him as a gag gift, but Obito will never let on to her that he loves them far more than he should.

That one, at least, is the card Obito gave Hashirama; he can still see the traces of browns and greens clinging to the paper where Hashirama touched it, even if they're faded. Obito liked Hashirama, far more than he likes most people, and that makes him hesitate. He takes another look at the man, and—

He and Hashirama look nothing at all alike, and their auras are different, too. But there's a thread of similarity in the gold wound through their beings, thin strands that bind them to Konoha like gossamer chains wrapped around their souls. Obito has to swallow at the sight of them, the strange, eerie feeling that folds itself around Obito and pulls uncomfortably, like scar tissue.

When he glances back, the Juubi is perched on the back of the couch, watching with wide, depthless violet eyes, unblinking and intent.

Whatever Hashirama and this man are, it disagrees with the Juubi's existence, is bound to protect the city as a whole. Just knowing that makes Obito take a breath, step back, and pull the door open wide.

“I'm Obito,” he says. “You're Hashirama’s brother? Come on, I’ve got some water going. You like white tea, right?”

There's a pause as the man regards him with narrowed eyes, but finally, he nods. Takes one step inside, precise, and says coolly, “I wasn’t aware Hashirama had mentioned me, but yes, I'm Tobirama Senju.”

“He didn’t,” Obito says flatly, and smirks at the look that earns him. “I know more about his plants than his family. How are his orchids doing?”

Tobirama’s expression twists for just a moment, and then he says with some resignation, “I have no idea. My brother has only let me touch his plants three times in our entire lives, and every time there was a casualty.”

Obito laughs, and he only met Hashirama for a few hours, but he can more than imagine the man’s passion for growing things turned to loud, insistent grief. “My condolences,” he says dryly. “You’ll excuse me if I keep you away from my garden, though. You can put your jacket on the hook, if you want.”

Tobirama does, and when he turns back, it’s a surprise to see a police badge handing around his neck on a long chain. Obito pauses, staring at it, and then warily lifts his gaze to Tobirama.

“If you’re here on official business,” he says, “I never took any money from your brother, and I don’t intend to if he ever comes back.”

“If you were cheating my brother,” Tobirama returns coolly, “it isn't me you would have to worry about. His partners are quite capable of removing anyone who might pose a threat to him.”

Obito had gotten that impression from the man who came to pick Hashirama up, dark and scowling and protective for all he had a touch of green curled up in his soul that felt like Hashirama. “He’s lucky,” he says quietly.

Tobirama’s expression twists, somewhere between distaste and longing, and he inclines his head. “He is.”

Deciding that’s more than enough mushiness, Obito turns on his heel and heads for the kitchen, where the burble of the kettle starting to whistle is coming clear. “Close the door behind you,” he calls back. “Sugar?”

There's a moment of silence, and then the click of the door closing, the quiet pad of footsteps following him. “Shouldn’t you know that, seeing as you already know my tea preferences?” Tobirama asks dryly.

Obito casts him a scowl. “That’s not how it works,” he says, which is decent cover for the fact that he doesn’t actually know how it works. “I'm not an encyclopedia, I just get feelings sometimes.”

“Like about our father,” Tobirama says quietly, just a touch darkly. It could be a threat, except he’s very careful not to let it be.

That was different. Hashirama had tendrils sunk into his aura, unfinished business that would never be finished, unresolved feelings that unspooled into the darkness of death. A man with regrets, on the other side, who didn’t quite want to move on but didn’t know why, because he still believed he was in the right.

“Yeah,” Obito lies, and pours the water. “Like that.”

There's a long moment, and then Tobirama says, “No sugar, thank you.”

Entirely relieved to change the subject, Obito adds the sugar, then pushes the cup across the counter. “So if you're not investigating me, what do you want?” he asks, turning to the fridge to get the milk. When she hears it open, the Juubi gives a chirp from the other room and leaps down, trotting in. The bell on her collar chimes as she sits down next to her bowl, looking up at Obito expectantly, and with a roll of his eye Obito adds milk to his tea, then leans down to tip some out of the mug and into her bowl. “I'm not adding sugar,” he warns her. “You’ll rot your teeth.”

The Juubi huffs, but leans down to test the temperature, and starts to delicately lap up the tea.

When Obito straightens, Tobirama is eyeing him curiously. “A pretty cat,” is all he says, though. “An Oriental Shorthair?”

“They're usually nice cats,” Obito mutters, and gives the Juubi a dark look. He likes this form more than when she decided she wanted to be a parrot for a month, but that’s a pretty low bar. “She’s an asshole, though.”

“She’s a cat,” Tobirama says dryly.

Obito gives up with a sigh. “Yeah, yeah. What exactly do you want with me, Officer?”

“Detective,” Tobirama corrects, and pauses, studying him carefully. Curls his fingers around his teacup, and then says, “There has never been any scientific proof of psychic abilities.”

There's also never been any proof of sirens, but that didn’t stop Mei from staking a claim on the river and making the entire crew of a trash barge throw themselves overboard to get to her, Obito thinks sourly. “So I've been told,” he mutters.

Tobirama pauses at that, like he wasn’t expecting agreement, but forges on. “I don’t care whether you pull your answers out of thin air or read them in people’s body language,” he says shortly. “I have a case that has been stagnating for weeks now, and if I can't find the culprit, more people will die. Are you open to consulting with the police?”

Entirely caught off guard, Obito freezes. He stares at Tobirama for a second, trying to make those words into something logical, something reasonable, and breathes in. Breathes out, presses a hand over his eye, and says, “What?”

Tobirama is unmoved. “I would be willing to invite a professional clown in to consult at the point,” he says. “Provided he could promise answers. If you can, I will make the case for paying you to the chief myself.”

“That’s…progressive of you,” Obito says slowly. Maybe a little dubiously, too. “Or desperate.”

The curve of Tobirama’s half-smile is wry. “Yes,” he agrees. “I’m well aware.”

Caught out for a response, Obito glances down at the Juubi to find her already looking back, head cocked. There's a thin flicker of red on her forehead, just a glimpse, and with a soft meow she springs up, catches the sleeve of Obito's sweater, and hauls herself up onto his shoulders, draping herself across the back of his neck like a scarf.

Message received, Obito thinks wryly.

“You keep my name out of the press,” he tells Tobirama. “No matter what. Not a single mention of me, or I’ll make sure you can never find a parking spot in the city ever again.”

That makes Tobirama raise a brow, but he inclines his head. “Agreed. My partner and the chief will have to know who you are, but I will keep your assistance as quiet as possible otherwise.”

That’s good enough. Obito lets out a careful breath, then nods. “All right,” he says. “I’ll do it.”

“Thank you,” Tobirama says precisely, and pushes away from the counter. “Do you have time to visit one of the crime scenes now?”

Obito frowns, and suddenly the fact that his lunch appointment with Genma got cancelled has a lot more meaning. With an irritated sigh, he glances at the clock above the sink and says, “Let me get my coat, and Datara's harness.”

Tobirama blinks, long and slow. “The cat,” he says with greatest displeasure, “is not coming with us.”

“If I leave her home, she’ll destroy the house,” Obito retorts, which is a truth, just not the truth. “She’s coming, so suck it up.”

Tobirama’s expression is all irritated resignation. “You had better be able to help, or I will write you up for fraud,” he says sourly, and stalks out to go start his car.

Obito rolls his eye at his back, but gets his coat and wrestles his pet eldritch god into her harness so they don’t break any leash laws while they’re out investigating a murder.



It may be a product of far too much exposure to the terrible television the Juubi is fond of, but Obito expects the crime scene to be an alley somewhere, or maybe a run-down apartment building with a flickering streetlamp outside. Because of that, it’s more of a surprise than it should be when Tobirama takes him to one of the solidly middle-class neighborhoods, perfectly average and unremarkable. The house they pull up in front of is neat, white, with a green lawn that’s precisely manicured and over-fertilized rose bushes lining the sidewalk. The only thing setting it apart from all the other houses on the street is the crime scene tape blocking the garage and the police car parked out front.

As soon as he shuts the car off, Tobirama slides out and approaches the squad car, leaning down to speak with the officers inside. A little wary, Obito gets out as well, but instead of joining Tobirama, he turns his attention to the house, studying it. Average, boring, but—

A twist of wind carries the overwhelming reek of old blood to Obito's nose, and it takes effort not to gag.

“Fuck,” he mutters, and on his shoulder the Juubi growls, low and steady like an engine. Her claws sink into the leather of Obito's jacket, not quite touching skin, but it’s clear that whatever is in the house has her on edge just as much as it does Obito.

“The crime scene team has already been through twice,” Tobirama says as he returns. “We’re free to go in.”

“Wonderful,” Obito mutters, but he ducks under the crime scene tape without waiting for Tobirama and heads up the short incline of the drive, making for the garage instead of the front door on a whim. Inside, the reek of blood is even stronger, and he raises a hand to cover his nose, but doesn’t stop. Heads up the stairs, down a long hall, and has the strangest, most unsettling feeling that he’s walked this exact path before. It’s familiar, even though it shouldn’t be, and Obito steps over a creaking floorboard that Tobirama hits, turns left into a small living room—

Stops, right at the edge of the carpet, and can't make himself take another step.

The warmth of a body behind him is a shock, prickling across Obito's nerves, but Tobirama doesn’t touch him. stops beside him instead, eyes on the deep stains on the carpet, and says, “There were three of them. A couple who had been married last year and their friend, all with ties to organized crime. We found them with black spears through their chests. I assume I don’t need to show you were.”

He doesn’t. The pale cream of the carpet shows the rust-brown of old blood clearly, and Obito swallows hard, unable to look away. “There were others, too,” he says, perfectly certain of it. “How many?”

For a moment, Tobirama is silent. Then he takes a breath, and says, “Two other killings with a similar MO. This is the most recent. We’ve been looking for indications that this is a serial killer, but if he was operating in the city previously, we never found his victims.”

Obito frowns, and puts a hand up to stroke the Juubi's soft fur. “How many people does this bastard have to kill before he’s officially a serial killer?” he asks harshly. “Ten? Twenty?”

Tobirama’s breath is too light to be a sigh, but still resigned. “The requirements are more complicated than simply the number of victims. This killer has been committing his crimes without any apparent pattern, and it’s difficult to be certain it’s even the same perpetrator.”

The flick of the Juubi's tail against Obito's throat makes the air shimmer, and he takes a breath. Watches the blood on the carpet turn a fresh, bright red, spread out like water across a channel, and merge. Then the image fades, and Obito swallows hard and says, “If they used this same layout at the other scenes, it’s the same person.”

“Layout?” Tobirama asks sharply, and looks from Obito to the stained carpet. “What layout?”

Obito grabs his shoulder, tugs him one step sideways until Tobirama is right behind him, and then raises his arm, pointing to the stain right across from them. “One big stain here, another here, another here.” He sketches out the lines of the triangle, perfectly evenly spaced. “Dots of blood, starting above the top point, and drawing out a circle right around the triangle. Whoever did this, he didn’t just want to kill. He wanted blood to draw out some kind of ritual.”

There's a long, long minute of frozen silence, and Tobirama spins on his heel. “Come,” he says shortly. “I'm taking you to the station. Can you identify a similar patter from crime scene photos?”

Obito hesitates. Glances back, and wonders if he would have seen the diagram without being here, without the Juubi on his shoulder. “Maybe,” he says cautiously. “The other scenes have been cleaned up already, right?”

Tobirama’s nod is curt. “It’s been four months since the first one, and two weeks since the last. All the victims have organized crime ties, so we wrote the first one off as a result of that. If there is a deeper meaning, though—” He stops, takes a breath, and says, “Thank you.”

Obito trades looks with the Juubi. She’s still bristling faintly, the thrum of her growl something Obito can feel more than see. When he touches the link between them, the surge of vicious, angry mine is almost deafening.

Very carefully, Obito doesn’t wince. “No problem,” he says. “Seeing as I'm one of the people who has to live in this city, I’d rather not have a mass murderer running around.”

Tobirama wrinkles his nose, just faintly. “Unless you have mob ties you aren’t mentioning, I think you’ll be fine,” he says dryly.

Obito grimaces. “Some people really don’t like psychics,” he points out. “Really really don’t like them. I’d rather not pin my chances of not getting murdered on this guy being okay I'm helping you.”

From the expression on Tobirama’s face, he hadn’t entirely expected that response. It makes him frown, and he offers, “I will make sure your identity is kept quiet, Obito. The killer won't get your name from us.”

He means it, Obito thinks, and smiles wryly. “Thanks,” he says, and—even if Tobirama was willing to drag him here, even if he’s seemed mostly willing to go along with Obito's claims to have seen things, he said all but outright that he doesn’t believe. There’s no use telling him that someone who can pull off a ritual like the one that happened here probably doesn’t need the media or the rumor mill to figure out Obito's name.

The Juubi's tail twitches against his throat, curls across his skin, and just for a moment she feels far heavier than she should, a grounding, comforting weight. Obito puts a hand up to touch her side, takes a breath, lets it out.

Message received, then. The Juubi isn't all that great at being comforting, but if Obito knows anything about her, it’s how possessive she is. Once already she’s kept him alive when by all rights circumstances should have killed him, and Obito's willing to believe that she hasn’t changed her mind about using him as her anchor in the physical world in the meantime.

A touch to his elbow is a surprise, makes him glance up to find Tobirama watching him. “I mean it,” he says quietly, but the look on his face makes Obito's breath tangle in his throat. “Obito, this will not be a death sentence.”

Obito rolls his eye, but looks back at the marks on the carpet one last time. “Not for me,” he says quietly, then shakes himself, scrubs a hand through his messy hair, and tells Tobirama, “Hands off. I don’t let anyone manhandle me before they’ve bought me dinner at least twice.”

“But you do after that?” Tobirama asks dryly, raising a brow at him. He leads the way out of the house, though, back into the dim light of the impending rainstorm, and opens the door of his car so Obito can slide in.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Obito retorts, letting the Juubi slide down off his shoulder to collapse in his lap. Apparently comfortable in her tangle of limbs, she flips her tail over her nose and settles in, and Obito sighs at her and does he seatbelt up as best he can without disturbing her.

Tobirama snorts softly, but takes the other seat and starts the engine. “Preferably,” he says, perfectly bland. “Seeing as by the end of this case I will likely have bought you multiple meals. I appreciate knowing what I'm getting into.”

“Don’t you have crime scene photos to scar me for life with?” Obito demands, refusing to give in to the flush he can feel threatening to climb up his cheeks. “Just shut up and drive.”

“I can still arrest you for fraud,” Tobirama shoots back.

“That is not actually a thing, fuck you.”

“I assure you that it is. Would you like me to show you the law?”

“No, wait, stop the car, I decided I only work for people who aren’t assholes.”

Tobirama smirks at him, and very deliberately locks the doors.

In Obito's lap, the Juubi is laughing at him. Obito groans and shoves her with an irritated finger, because that’s just typical.

He’s smiling a little as he does, though, and can't quite make himself stop.