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a symbol of subjugation

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ARC ONE: WILD FIRE, HEARTH FIRE

Tobirama lifted his head, brows creasing into a frown.

He had always been peripherally aware of that particular chakra signature – akin to a shrine’s constantly-burning flame that needed no fuel, bright like an unending life force – but it had been much further away than this, nearer the desolate Mountain’s Graveyard in the far north than to any populated area. But he could feel it right now close to the strip of land that separate the Senju’s lands from the Uchiha’s.

Lips pressing together, Tobirama headed out of his labs at the very edge of the Senju’s main compound. The backyard here was a plot of untouched ground, and when he pressed two fingers into the dirt, the world sparked into far sharper clarity than it would anywhere else in the area.

(This was one of the main reasons why he had chosen this spot for his labs.)

The signature was moving. If Tobirama was being fanciful, he would say that the creature it belonged to was taking a stroll through the heavy forests that separated settlements in the Land of Fire from each other. If he wasn’t, well—

Wait. There was another signature, far weaker and flickering. Embers licking the edges of falling ash. He knew it far better than he would have liked.

Tobirama slowly rose to his feet. He rolled his shoulders back, one after the other, and headed back inside. His body took him towards the corner of his desk where he had shoved a bunch of scrolls after he had gotten bored of reading them. It was a matter of seconds for him to sift through them to pick up what he wanted. He brought the papers close to his face.

The samurai of the Land of Iron have recently unified under a single banner: Oda Nobunaga has proclaimed himself Daimyo after defeating the last of his enemies three months ago, during what is already named the Battle of Nagashino. Reports of the battle credit the victory more to the infighting between long-term enemies and uneasy allies Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin than to Oda’s own military might or brilliance.

Placing the paper down, Tobirama sighed. It likely wouldn’t work; it hadn’t for Takeda and Uesugi, and they were far from the first to ally with a long-time enemy against a bigger threat. But with the roaring chakra signature filling the back of his mind, Tobirama wondered if there was a chance.

A possibility.

His eyes slid towards the centre of his desk, to the sketches of the seals he had been working on. The Hiraishin was meant to counter the Sharingan, but its development was still in the middle stages, not even ready enough for experimentation. Nowhere near complete even with the help of Mito and all of the scrolls on sealing she had brought with her from Uzushio. Once it worked – and he was sure it would, given enough time – there was a high chance that he could kill the Uchiha’s clan heir with it and thus cripple the clan for months or even years.

And that would hopefully be enough of a catalyst for Madara to take the hand that Hashirama had always held out before every battle. The Uchiha wouldn’t be as unreasonable as to fight a war they were clearly losing, after all.

Tobirama flattened his hands on top of the smooth, mukuton-grown wood of his desk, thinking.

Staying here to work on the Hiraishin would lead him down a single path, comfortably predictable until Izuna’s death, at which point it would fade off into the fog of the unknown. Heading out of his lab and the compound to chase the two signatures he could still feel would lead him to a fork in the road, with both paths dark from the start.

He had never prioritised comfort.

Grabbing his sketches, Tobirama shoved them into the drawers built underneath the desk. He pushed the reports from the Land of Iron on top, covering them, so that Hashirama wouldn’t see Tobirama’s plans on the off-chance that he barged in here to pull him out for inconsequential things like food or sleep.

(It wasn’t that he wanted to hide things from his older brother, but Hashirama would want to know what he was working on, and Tobirama knew from long experience that trying to explain sealing theory to him was just an exercise in exhaustion, taking more out of him than explanations in general did.)

The spare set of armour he kept in the corner of his labs was heavier than the one he usually wore to battle, but that could be an advantage. Strapping the metal chest plate into place, he made one last sped-up walkthrough of the last few hours he had spent in the lab in his head to make sure that he really had left nothing out, and he headed out.

A wave towards the head guard at the gates – Hakuhiko, third cousin twice removed on Tobirama’s mother’s side – with three fingers held up, then he was heading into the forest, jumping from branch to branch as he headed towards the smaller chakra signature.

Izuna had stopped a few minutes ago, likely taking his rest at the foot of the cliffs near the Naka River. Which happened to be a few hundred metres directly below the overwhelmingly huge chakra signature that had also decided to stop in the area.

Tobirama ran a little faster, mixing slaps of his sandals against tree trunks with shunshin and kawarimi whenever he could. A foolish waste of chakra, perhaps, but…

If Izuna died, it had to be by Tobirama’s hand; had to be because Tobirama had finally bested him after six years of fighting and pulled the Senju ahead of the stalemate it had been locked into with the Uchiha. It would be insulting to Tobirama if Izuna ended up dying not because of battle, but because he was sense-blind enough to stumble upon a huge chakra beast without even noticing.

After twenty minutes, water reached his senses, a cool rush of chakra that soothed his heated nerves by its very presence. Tobirama inhaled and threw his senses outwards. Izuna’s signature flared to life in his mind.

Dammit, the Uchiha couldn’t make anything easy, could he?

Dropping down to the ground, he took a running leap into the river, sinking within the depths with barely a sound. A small suiton jutsu that created a bubble of air around his head later, Tobirama was being carried westwards by the current.

Only a few metres away, now. Tobirama threw himself sideways, moved through familiar hand signs, and yanked himself out of the river along with a water dragon.

“Senju—”

He barely had time to notice Izuna’s eyes shifting from black to red before he wrapped a hand around the other man’s arm, and moved into shunshin.

Quiet,” Tobirama hissed. He carefully avoided looking at the Sharingan – this far away, it wouldn’t work on him, but it was habit by now – instead pointing towards the burning heat of the creature’s chakra signature that wanted to tear through his nerves even through the soothing calm of water. “Look.”

They were on top of one of the tallest trees in the area, but it still barely reached the middle of the cliff. But they didn’t need to be at the top – even Tobirama could see the flickering orange flames that nearly eclipsed the sun. Izuna, with his Sharingan, likely could see even the edges of the chakra flames.

“Holy motherfucking—” Izuna breathed. The Sharingan’s chakra, heavy and corrosive like gangrene, scraped over Tobirama’s nerves. “What the fuck is that?”

Good; Izuna had no idea what it was, either. That put them on an even keel with regards to knowledge of the new threat.

“I don’t know,” Tobirama said. “But I have a proposition.”

“You—” This close, he could hear the rattling breath Izuna took. “You rose out of the water like a goddamned mouryou waiting to eat my corpse, there’s a bakemono right over there, and— and you’re talking about propositions?”

Tobirama blinked. Then, realising that his hair was plastered onto his face because of the water, he impatiently wicked all of it away, and turned to squint at Izuna.

The other man’s cheeks and lips were pale, far too much to be accounted for by an Uchiha’s colouring. There was a faint scent of blood around him, and it came from beneath the arm he had wrapped around the bottom of his ribs. His other arm was, for some reason, clutched around a heavy scroll instead. He seemed to be swaying a little on his feet.

Well, that explained why Tobirama hadn’t gotten a katon in his face the moment the shunshin had faded.

Reaching out, Tobirama grabbed his hand. Izuna snarled at him, but Tobirama pushed that aside and, with another shunshin, moved them to the bottom of the tree. He let go immediately, taking a step back.

Izuna listed to the side, but straightened immediately. Tobirama rolled his eyes, reaching for his sword. Strangely enough, Izuna took the arm away from his wound instead of letting go of the scroll, and Tobirama shelved that away to think about later as he shoved his own sword into Izuna’s hand, dislodging the kunai that the Uchiha had grabbed. Then he pushed the wrist down until the sheathed blade slammed into the ground.

“A cane,” he explained. It was technically an insult to the blade, but Tobirama was a shinobi, not a samurai. “You seem to need one.”

“What—” Izuna started. After a moment, he let out another breath before he sat down, legs sprawled wide apart. “You know what, I have no idea what the fuck is going on, and I’m too fucking tired to figure it out.”

“I have a proposition,” Tobirama repeated patiently.

“Is that proposition killing me?” Tobirama shook his head. “Feeding me to that giant bakemono over there?” Another shake. “Offering me up as a tribute?”

“Are you always this dramatic away from the battlefield?” Tobirama asked, mystified despite himself. Izuna had always seemed so poised and cold whenever he appeared opposite Tobirama on the battlefield. Then again, they had probably spoken more to each other in the past five minutes than they had in six years.

Izuna made a sound remarkably like a kettle going off. “I’m dramatic? You literally— you just—” his teeth clicked together. “Are you always like this off the battlefield? Actually, don’t answer; I don’t want to know. I just want this conversation to be over.”

Looking thoughtfully at Izuna’s blurry figure on the ground – seated, stance wide open – Tobirama took a leaf from his older brother’s book and gambled. He dropped to his knees and reached out.

Immediately, Izuna yelped, trying to pull away, but Tobirama had always been faster – Izuna had greater reserves and raw power – and slapped his hand over the place where he could smell the blood before Izuna’s kunai could cross the last inches to slice open his throat.

Medical ninjutsu wasn’t his specialty, but it was Hashirama’s, and Hashirama – with Mito’s efforts – had convinced the clan a year or so ago to ensure that every single person with any talent at chakra control could do some of it. So, it might not be the most refined healing that could be done – the scar left would be rather horrid – but Izuna wouldn’t bleed out before the conversation was over.

“You—” Metal clacked against small rocks as Izuna’s kunai-holding hand fell to the ground. “Senju, what the fuck?”

“I have a proposition,” Tobirama said for the third time. “You don’t seem inclined to listen to me. This is an incentive.” Which meant that he should heal the internal bleeding as well. He did so.

“Did you forget that I’m an Uchiha?” Izuna asked, sounding incredulous.

“If you were not an Uchiha, I would not be here,” Tobirama said, wondering if battlefields graced with Izuna intelligence because he seemed remarkably bereft of it right now. “We would not even know each other.”

“That was a— I—” Izuna took a deep breath. He dragged a hand over his face. “Okay. I’m listening. To your proposition.”

Leaning back, Tobirama let his hand drop back to his side. A brief brush of his fingers against the ground confirmed what the air had already said: Izuna’s concession was sincere. Which was a relief, because Tobirama wasn’t quite sure what else he could do to make Izuna listen.

He hadn’t even reached the fork in the road, and everything was already dark.

There was one more clear step he could take, however.

“You saw the creature,” Tobirama said. “It has never come this way before, and it doesn’t seem inclined to leave. There is also no guarantee that either of our clans would be able to go against it if it decides to attack us.” A breath, and he kept his gaze above Izuna’s head. “The civil war in the Land of Iron has recently ended. During the war, two long-term enemies formed an alliance to fight against the bigger threat.”

Silence. Izuna let out a long, low breath. “Takeda and Uesugi lost against Oda,” he said. Hah, so Izuna had been keeping up with the politics of far-off countries as well; that was a surprise. “But correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying that the Senju and Uchiha should ally to defeat that big monster.”

Had he been unclear? “Yes. There are many precedents throughout history of enemies allying with each other against a bigger threat.”

“Okay,” Izuna said, rubbing a hand over his face again. There were streaks of red all over his cheeks and jaw. “Let’s say it works, what happens then?”

“A temporary alliance is still an alliance,” Tobirama pointed out.

“You’re saying,” Izuna said slowly, “that this giant monster can lead us to peace.”

“The attempt to defeat the monster will give the Senju and Uchiha a chance to work together,” Tobirama corrected. “Right now, peace is nothing but an abstract concept because no one of either clan have ever worked together before.” Save, perhaps, for Hashirama and Madara. “Standing side-by-side, fighting against a bigger threat, will make the idea of peace more concrete.”

“Hah,” Izuna said. “I thought you hated the Uchiha?”

Tobirama fell silent, thinking. Dehumanising the enemy is a common tactic, he could say, but it was too obvious an avoidance of the question. Your clan murdered my younger brothers, and my older brother defined his dream of peace as the prevention of such deaths; so, I would work for that for the sake of no Senju ever going through the pain we had. That would be giving away too much.

Ever since my brother became clan head, Senju children have disappeared from the battlefield. But I have never seen an Uchiha child on it. That wasn’t an answer, either, though it was closer to it.

“Senju?”

“If I hated your clan,” Tobirama said, carefully enunciating each word as they came to his mind, “I would’ve ignored you to cut down as many Uchiha as I could whenever our clans met on the battlefield.”

“That would just end up with more Senju dead,” Izuna said, sounding remarkably calm.

“Hatred is irrational,” Tobirama pointed out. “If I truly hated your clan, Uchiha, I would’ve taken those deaths as fuel for further bloodshed for the sake of revenge.” That was what Father had done, after all. “And I would’ve pushed myself to be even faster and stronger so that I kill more Uchiha than you would Senju.”

“So,” Izuna said, “I should accept that you don’t hate my clan because you haven’t massacred us?”

“No,” Tobirama said. “Because I haven’t tried.” He tilted his head to the side. “And I would prefer to not try.”

“I’d have thought that the destruction of the Uchiha would be something you’d be happy about.”

“That’s foolish,” Tobirama said, frowning because he had genuinely thought Izuna smarter than this. “There is absolutely no way to completely destroy a clan, not unless you kill every single person, down to the last civilian member and infant. And that is impossible, because members of a shinobi clan will always be out on one mission or another.

“And,” he held up the hand not touching the ground, “leaving even a single member alive would lead to revenge and a cycle of bloodshed that will eventually spark into another war.” He took a breath. “Furthermore, if the Senju storm the Uchiha compound to slaughter infants and children and civilians, all of the other clans would rise up against us in fear that we would do the same to them.”

“I have never,” Izuna said, “realised that you talk in paragraphs and not sentences, Senju.”

“A line of logic must be fully explained for comprehension to be certain.”

“Hah,” Izuna said again. Tobirama was starting to get a sense that Izuna made that sound to think aloud, which was very strange for a shinobi. “But you’ve always tried your best to kill me.”

“You do the same,” Tobirama shot back. “Besides…” Well, he had already spoken so much, so he might as well. “The Senju and Uchiha have been at a stalemate for years. Killing you would turn to tide to our favour, and make peace a more acceptable option—”

He cut himself off, because Izuna was laughing. His chakra said that it wasn’t mirth, not the kind that made Hashirama roar loud enough to scare birds in the trees, but more of triumph and horror and a deep-rending grief that made absolutely no sense when mixed together.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Stalemate,” Izuna choked out. “Nii-san is going to be so happy. You think we’re at a stalemate.”

“Uchiha—”

“Fuck, this makes so much sense,” Izuna said, rubbing a hand over his face. “So much fucking sense. I didn’t think it had worked. I thought there was no way it would’ve worked, but it did, and now everything makes so much sense.”

Tobirama stared. He decided to give Izuna some time to collect himself, and settled to sit cross-legged on the forest ground. Once Izuna’s figure stopped blurring so much, Tobirama leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Explain.”

Izuna didn’t reply for long moments. Tobirama kept his eyes on the spot over the other man’s head, and fought to not shudder as the corrosive chakra of the Sharingan ran over his body.

“Nii-san’s going to kill me,” Izuna muttered. “But…” He finally let go of the scroll in his arms, putting it down and unrolling it. It was a storage scroll, and, as Tobirama watched, Izuna broke the seal and slammed his hand on top of the ink. Then Izuna leaned back, beckoning, and Tobirama couldn’t resist leaning forward even though he could smell what Izuna’s precious cargo had been.

Rice, buckwheat, and soybeans in heavy canvas bags. Tea leaves, in smaller ones. Huge dried bonito, each fish longer than a man’s arm. Sheets upon sheets of dried kelp, so many of them tied together with strings that the green looked solid instead of translucent. Ceramic jars with red paper covering the top, scentless but recognisable nonetheless: salt.

“For our winter stores,” Izuna said, voice no louder than a whisper. He huffed a quiet laugh. “Well, we’ll have winter stores once I get this home.”

The words struck Tobirama as hard as Father’s backhand. If he wasn’t already seated, he would’ve fallen.

(When Tobirama was between the ages of six and fourteen, he had gone two weeks of every year without food except for what he could scavenge from the forest. It had been part of his training; Father had explained that sometimes missions would run for far longer than the rations carried could provide for, and, as part of the main house, he wasn’t allowed to fail a single mission. Even when his stomach was eating itself, even when he was so dizzied by hunger that his eyes were entirely useless and even his chakra sense went haywire, he still had to train and think and succeed.

Though Tobirama was grateful to Father for putting him through that training – it was useful – he still… Well, after Father died and Hashirama took over as clan head and told Tobirama that the training was no longer necessary, Tobirama nearly turned the tables on his brother and cried all over him.)

This very morning, Tobirama recalled dully, Hashirama had complained about always having rice and fish and miso for breakfast. If this was all that the Uchiha had for winter, then they would have it for every meal. Would they even have three meals? How many of them were there? How many people were these supplies supposed to feed?

And they didn’t have an end date. They had to fight and go on the battlefield without knowing if they would ever—

“Only Nii-san wears armour to battle,” Izuna continued. “Everyone else’s have been sold, and his only remained because we…” He trailed off into another dark, mirthless chuckle.

Because we were trying to fool you, Tobirama completed for him. Because we didn’t want you to know.

Izuna hadn’t known that the deception would work. And it shouldn’t have, because the Senju should have known. Tobirama’s eyes were terrible but everyone else’s worked; they should have noticed the dwindling number of armoured Uchiha. They should have— he cut off the line of thought. Hissed out a breath through his teeth.

“Surely peace is a better option, then,” Tobirama said.

“Is it?” Izuna asked. He was already sealing the foodstuffs – the provisions meant to feed his entire clan for a whole season – back into the scroll. “You’re supposed to be a genius, Senju.”

Tobirama opened his mouth. Closed it. “Explain, Uchiha.”

He didn’t need to see to know Izuna was rolling his eyes. “Consider how this looks,” Izuna said, now seated with knees drawn up and his wrists resting on top of them. “The Senju proposes peace at the height of their power. The Uchiha, already losing, don’t have the resources to match the Senju. If the Senju provides us with food and armour, the Uchiha must become subordinate, because we’re now relying on you for survival.”

His chakra spiked with mocking humour. “Is that what you think of as peace, Senju? Over at the Uchiha compound, we call that subjugation by the most powerful.”

Tobirama had never thought about that. He had considered various possibilities to make his brother’s dream come true, and he had gotten frustrated at the Uchiha’s recalcitrance in taking up the multiple offers of peace over the last two years because he couldn’t understand why.

He had been operating under erroneous premises. The Uchiha had been fighting at a disadvantage, and had been doing so long enough that all of their foodstores had run out, and they had done it skilfully enough that the Senju hadn’t noticed. It was…

Something Tobirama could respect. Which was a rather terrifying thought: he might be used to respecting Madara and Izuna – reluctantly, and out of the lack of choice given all of the evidence presented to him – but not the entire clan. For most parts, they resembled faceless hordes in his mind more than they did humans, but now…

This wasn’t what he had expected when he’d left the lab. Tobirama resisted the urge to dig his knuckles into his eyes.

“You’re telling me,” he said once his thoughts had calmed down enough to be put into words, “that the Uchiha have always rejected peace not because you are balanced in power to the Senju, but because you aren’t.”

Izuna barked a laugh. “Senju,” he said, “you came here to me, fresh and combat-ready, while I am injured and damned near chakra exhaustion.”

It had taken Izuna an incredibly long time before he would listen to Tobirama speak. And when he did, it was because he didn’t have a choice: if he tried to escape, Tobirama could easily chase him down. Not to mention the huge chakra beast that was still a few hundred metres away from where they were seated.

Then Tobirama had healed him. Considering the new perspective that Izuna had shown him, that meant that Izuna had absolutely no choice but to listen to Tobirama, because now he was in his debt. It didn’t matter whatsoever that Tobirama wasn’t thinking of it as saving his life – he just wanted Izuna to listen to him without being distracted by the possibility of bleeding out – because Izuna saw it as owing him. And Izuna still owed him, because listening to Tobirama wasn’t nearly enough to repay him for his life.

There was a possibility that Tobirama could leverage on that to wrangle some form of peace based on the life debt. He tossed out the idea immediately; that went against everything Izuna had just said and showed him.

“Say something,” Izuna said. Tobirama ignored him.

When Itama was alive, Tobirama had commented to him and Hashirama that adults were stupid because they couldn’t keep to a peace pact. He had been trying to figure out the answer why they couldn’t, why the Uchiha continued fighting this war when there seemed no benefit for both sides to continue.

Now he had it: there needed to be a balance. Like yin and yang, both sides holding equal power.

He had figured it out. No— Izuna had given him the answer, handed it to him even though it might put him and his clan at an even greater disadvantage.

“Senju—”

“If I stabbed myself in exactly the same spot as your injury when I first came to you,” Tobirama cut him off, “would you have been more amenable to listening to me?”

“Wait, what?” Tobirama opened his mouth, but Izuna made a motion of his hand. “No, I don’t mean to repeat. I mean, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“You made our current situation into a metaphor for the circumstances of our clans,” Tobirama pointed out. “So, if I had come to you and realised you were injured, and injured myself exactly the same way, would that be the balance that you seek?”

Izuna opened his mouth. Closed it. “If that had actually happened, I would’ve thought you to be absolutely crazy and we’d probably both have died.” They wouldn’t, because Tobirama would’ve healed them both, but Izuna flapped his hand. “But if we’re taking it as a metaphorical stabbing, then yeah, it would work.” He paused. “You’re not thinking about crippling your clan, are you?”

Maybe Izuna wasn’t deficient in intelligence out of the battlefield. “That’s exactly what I’m thinking about.”

What?”

“A person,” Tobirama clarified. “If food and armour won’t work, because then the Uchiha would owe the Senju, then the Senju would have to cripple themselves by giving the Uchiha a person.” He frowned, urging his thoughts to move faster. “That person would have to be given away in such a way that the Senju admits their inferiority, so it’s not just crippling themselves, but raising the Uchiha as well.”

“Are you talking about giving a human being like they’re— like they’re livestock?”

“The Uchiha has been acknowledged by the daimyo as a noble clan, right?” Tobirama demanded.

“Well, yeah, but—”

“Fostering won’t work, because there’s no one young and high-ranking enough that their loss would cripple the Senju significantly enough.” If Hashirama and Mito had a child, that child could serve in that role. But Tobirama wouldn’t do that even if the child existed; he wouldn’t do that to his brother, his sister, and his (currently hypothetical) niece or nephew. He took a deep breath.

“Do the Uchiha keep slaves?”

“No! We have vassals, but their bond is temporary until their debts are paid because we don’t make debts carry over a generation— wait, wait, Senju, what the fuck are you talking about?”

Confusion. There was so much of it whirling in Izuna’s chakra that it was nearly enough to make Tobirama dizzy.

Hashirama had always said that this was his bad habit: he got so caught up with his own thought processes that he forgot to explain to people how he reached his conclusions. Most of the time, Tobirama didn’t see why he should even try slowing down, because if people were too slow, it wasn’t really his problem.

(Children were an exception. They lacked experience and their brains had not finished developing, which meant that Tobirama was obliged to slow down for their sake.)

Now it was. He couldn’t make this work without Izuna’s agreement.

“The war carries on because there isn’t a balance of power for peace to be an option,” Tobirama said. After Izuna nodded, he continued, “It seems that there is only one possible solution: the Senju must choose a symbol to subjugate itself to the Uchiha to balance out the scales. That symbol must be powerful enough that their loss would lessen the Senju’s power and heighten the Uchiha’s, and high-ranking enough that, once they go into the Uchiha clan and take on a much more subordinate role, it would serve as the Senju’s declaration of at least one form of inferiority.”

“Oh,” Izuna breathed.

“For that role,” Tobirama exhaled, “I volunteer myself.”

“You’re saying,” Izuna choked out, “you’re saying that you, the Senju’s clan heir, would become our slave, so that my clan would agree to peace.”

“The Uchiha don’t keep slaves,” Tobirama frowned. “You just said that.”

“That’s not the—” Izuna spluttered. He rubbed a hand over his face. “Do you have no pride?”

“Of course I do,” Tobirama said. “This won’t work if I don’t.” Izuna was gaping at him, so he tried to explain. “I am proposing to be a symbol of subjugation. Being subjugated is part of the deal. Without pride, that can’t—”

Izuna screamed. It was a remarkably restrained one, mostly muffled by the hands shoved over his mouth, but it was unmistakeably a scream.

“I’d think this is a genjutsu if I didn’t know that my imagination isn’t good enough to come up with something like this,” Izuna muttered to himself. He took a long, shuddering breath. “Let me get this very clear, Senju: you’re saying that you would enslave yourself to us for the sake of peace.”

“You said,” Tobirama said, keeping hold of his patience by force, “the Uchihas don’t keep slaves!”

“Vassal, then!” Izuna hissed back. “You’d become our vassal?”

“Would that work to make the Senju seem inferior?” Tobirama asked.

“No,” Izuna sighed. “Because we take vassals according to their individual faults and crimes. Mostly that of owing us a lot of money.”

Now Tobirama felt like screaming. “What would work, then?” he demanded.

Izuna opened his mouth. Closed it. He groaned and buried his face in his hands. “Nii-san is going to kill me,” he muttered. “He’s going to drown me and then burn me with Amaterasu for seven days straight and I would deserve it and I should’ve just let myself bleed out or something, because only the gods will save me from him and they wouldn’t even bother—”

“Uchiha!”

“Fine!” Izuna lowered his hands. “Fine, goddammit! There’s only one position that can fit.” He mumbled something too low to be heard.

Tobirama huffed out an annoyed breath. “Uchiha—” he said again.

“A concubine!” Izuna blurted out. “If you need to be a— a symbol of subjugation, like you put it, you can only be a concubine!”

Oh. Hm. That could work. Tobirama didn’t think of it before because concubines tended to be women, and he was a man. But the laws did allow for men to be concubines – the Senju clan head three generations before had had one of those, in fact – and female concubines were always from a lower social class. If the woman was of equal status, she would be a wife. With a man, well…

Irrelevant. The important fact was this: if the Senju presented him as a concubine for one of the Uchiha, it would be an acknowledgement of their social inferiority. It really could work.

But— “Why would Madara kill you for telling me that?” he asked, curious despite himself.

“Because you’re a clan heir,” Izuna said, practically pulling on his own hair. “It would be too insulting to the Senju if you’re the concubine to anyone but the Uchiha clan head.”

Tobirama blinked. “The Uchihas are a noble clan, the Senju aren’t,” he reminded. “I can just be your concubine instead.” He actually had a proper conversation with Izuna, for one thing. Which was more than he could say about his non-existent relationship with Madara.

Izuna made that teakettle sound again. “We have been a noble clan for less than one generation,” he said, sounding strangled. “We’ve been at war with the Senju for centuries; the noble title means shit because being at war kind of implies social equality. Your clan just hasn’t petitioned the daimyo for noble status, that’s all.”

True enough, Tobirama thought. In fact, Father had wanted to do it after the Uchiha had, but Mito had delayed him until he died, and then Hashirama had promptly forbidden mentioning the idea ever again.

Come to think of it, Tobirama had never understood why. But that wasn’t important right now.

“Would Madara be agreeable?”

“Nii-san really wants peace,” Izuna sighed. “I’ll have to talk to him about it. If he doesn’t kill me the moment I tell him about this, that is.”

“Is fratricide such a common occurrence within the Uchiha?”

“Figure of speech,” Izuna groaned into his hands. He wouldn’t be able to see Tobirama, but he stifled the twitch of his mouth anyway. “It’s a figure of speech.”

He probably shouldn’t make fun of Izuna like this. He tilted his head, refocusing. “If I give you a chakra infusion, will that upset the balance of power?”

Izuna was staring at him again. Tobirama fought down another shudder. He really needed to get rid of that instinctive reaction towards the feel of the Sharingan’s chakra brushing over him if he was going to live within the Uchiha compound with a whole clan of people with the dojutsu.

“Why,” Izuna said, “would you do that?”

Tobirama shrugged. “I expended a lot of effort in speaking to you and we actually managed to make headway into forming a feasible plan,” he explained. “I’d rather not have it go to waste if you end up dead before you reach your compound.” Especially with the monstrous chakra right there along his route.

Another moment of silence. “Yeah,” Izuna said. “Sure. Why not.” For some reason, he sounded extremely resigned.

Dismissing Izuna’s reaction, Tobirama reached out a hand. He stripped his own chakra of its own water affinity before letting it sink into the tenketsu point on Izuna’s chest. When Izuna’s signature had grown from a candleflame with a steady wick to a small hearth fire – nothing near the inferno that it usually was, but sufficient enough to get him home even if he met with trouble – Tobirama pulled away.

“A week,” Izuna said suddenly. “Give me a week. Even if Nii-san doesn’t agree to this plan, I’ll inform you.”

That was far more than Tobirama had expected; he thought he’d have to wait until the next time the Uchiha and the Senju skirmished with each other before he would hear of news. “Alright,” he said. He hesitated for a moment. “I look forward to it.”

It was half-true: he did anticipate the potential ending of the war with some delight, but having to move out of the Senju compound into the Uchiha… he quashed the emotions ruthlessly. He came up with the idea. He would do what needed to be done.

“You are…” Izuna started. After a moment, he shook his head. “Never mind. I’ll see you.” Then, before Tobirama could speak, he rose to his feet and leaped up into the trees.

Tobirama tracked him with a hand on the ground. When he felt Izuna approach the collection of thrumming, fiery heat that was the Uchiha compound, he rocked forward and up to his feet. Then he jumped up the tree, moving from branch to branch until he reached the top.

The monstrous chakra beast was still there, the orange flames of its body buzzing sharply at Tobirama’s senses. Tobirama looked at it for a long moment. He didn’t know what the beast was doing here, and he should probably try to figure it out, but…

But its presence had allowed him to meet Izuna; had allowed for this conversation and a path with an illuminated destination that very much resembled peace. And for all that Tobirama knew he lacked objectivity with some matters, he knew how to give credit where it was due.

“Thank you,” he whispered into the wind.

Deliberately turning away, he made for home. Just as he reached the compound’s gates, he felt the monstrous chakra signature move away.

Back in the direction of the Mountains’ Graveyard.

It really seemed to have been taking a stroll, after all.