When he’d been born, whiter than a cloud with fuzz the color of frost gracing his head, he was already a disappointment to his father. He was born ‘unnatural’ by the Senju’s standards but then when his eyes opened for the first time and nothing but red gazed up at his parents he became worse in Butsuma’s eyes. The moment his father saw red eyes in his second son’s face, no matter the medic’s explanation of albinism, he became an abomination to his father.
Because everyone knew those with red eyes were considered sacred to the Uchiha clan, the clan Butsuma loathed more than anything. Everyone knew that Uchiha would stop at nothing to capture anyone they found with red eyes. No one knew for certain what happened once the abducted were behind the Uchiha compound’s walls, there were rumors of both concubines and human sacrifice, but they all knew that the one who were taken were never seen again.
For Butsuma’s son to be born with a trait so prized by his despised enemies was an abomination on a personal level and a danger on a wider level. Only the deadly kiss of his mother’s kanzashi at Butsuma’s throat had kept Tobirama from death at his father’s hands. Not even Butsuma was willing to risk the wrath of a mother who was once called The Black Scourge.
To protect the clan and Tobirama himself, his mother gently wrapped bandages around his eyes to keep them concealed when outside their private quarters. The excuse given was that his eyes were incredibly sensitive to light. As his skin seemed to burn at the slightest touch of the sun, no one questioned the reasoning so only his immediate family knew of Tobirama’s red eyes.
Even with his eyes covered, Tobirama still learned to be a shinobi. He refused to be any more of a liability to his clan than his coloring made him. If some day an Uchiha was to discover his eyes, he would be strong enough to take on and defeat an army of Uchiha on his own.
He made certain that he could fight blind using his other four senses even if his chakra was sealed. He devoured everything he could about fuuinjutsu with an eye to becoming a master at seals, read everything he could get his hands on about chakra and jutsu theory, took up kenjutsu determined to become the best, he took up learning about chemicals and poisons, and anything he thought could be useful in protecting himself and his family he learned about and added to his arsenal.
He honed his natural sensor abilities to such a degree that he could sense the Uchiha clan far across the river and pinpoint individuals right down to their emotional states. The Uchiha as a rule all had chakra that Tobirama associated with heat in some fashion, fires and spices and sunlight, though some had a crackling edge that put him in mind of lightning and they all were in a constant state of strong emotions. Joy, excitement, intense love, fury, or grief emotions ran rampant and were never repressed.
One signature in particular always caught Tobirama’s attention. It was the strongest among the entire Uchiha clan and whenever he brushed against it, Tobirama was put in mind of nestling into a sheepskin rug beside a roaring fire that smelled of cloves. He often wanted to do more than brush against that chakra, wanted to sink into it and stay there but he knew better than to indulge himself.
He couldn’t help checking on that individual signature regularly until he knew it as well as he knew his brothers’ so when he sensed Hashirama by the river with that signature not long after Kawarama’s death, he almost panicked and ran for their father. But he was so used to sensing the emotional temperature of that Uchiha signature that the shimmering sunlight of innocent laughter in it held him in place.
Rather than running to alert Butsuma, Tobirama stood tense at his bedroom window and focused on his brother and the Uchiha signature that so fascinated him. Laughter and an exasperation Tobirama recognized as the same sort he felt when his older brother was being particularly ridiculous bubbled in the fluffy-fireside-spice chakra of the Uchiha. Hashirama bounced between eager amusement and the quicksilver pouting slumps Tobirama was used to witnessing when his brother was feeling excessively excited.
Slowly, as Hashirama eased into a contentment that had been missing since their mother’s death and the Uchiha wavered between fond exasperation, laughter, and childish offense, the tension seeped out of Tobirama. Whoever the Uchiha was, they clearly held no hostility or ill intent toward Hashirama and it was enough to soothe his worry so he could sit and work on seals while keeping his awareness stretched to his brother’s location just in case.
When his brother came home, Tobirama yanked him into his room quick as a snake and locked the door, placing silencing seals down to keep the conversation private. Then he glared at his brother and the wide eyed confusion he was displaying. “You spent all day with an Uchiha ?”
Hashirama’s expression went through a gamut of emotions, sliding through shock and fear and shame and insult before settling on guilt. “I have been for a while. I didn’t know he was an Uchiha at first! He was just a boy I met by the river where I went to cry for Kawarama. He was kind and sympathetic. I...I needed someone who understood, someone who didn’t have to pretend it didn’t hurt, Tobira.”
Tobirama allowed Hashirama to reach out, accepted the hand that pulled him in to a hug. He couldn’t be angry at Hashirama for befriending someone who didn’t scorn him for his grief, not after their father’s behavior.
“When he told me his clan name I did consider never meeting him again but...Tobira, he wants peace.” Hashirama whispered it, hope a dangerous thing in his voice. “He wants to have peace, to make it so no more children have to fight and die like Kawarama or his brothers.”
“Hashirama,” Tobirama sighed, not wanting to crush his optimistic brother’s hopes but unable to be anything but practical, “just because one Uchiha-”
“He’s the heir.”
That stopped Tobirama dead in his tracks. “What?”
“I’ve been meeting Uchiha Madara, Tajima’s eldest son and heir. The heir wants peace, Tobira. His father and ours would never even contemplate it but he wants peace, wants an alliance so strong we could create a place for like minded clans, a village to protect the children rather than sending them to war. Just like I do. I know it will take years and won’t be easy, we’d have to get more people to support us but when Madara and I become the head of our clans we’ll be able to meet for peace, to create a genuine treaty.”
Tobirama’s head spun. The Uchiha chakra that he was so intrigued by belonged to the heir of the clan. An heir that wished for peace as much as Hashirama did. Hashirama was already making plans for a treaty years away from becoming a viable possibility. “I...by the gods Hashirama only you would manage this sort of thing,” it came out a cranky huff as Tobirama slumped against his brother.
Hashirama laughed and hugged his brother a little closer. “Imagine it, Tobira, imagine seeing a world where children don’t have to become soldiers.”
“It’d be a bit difficult for me to see anything surrounded by Uchiha, Anija.” It was a dry quip followed by a sigh at Hashirama’s depressed droop. “Stop that.”
Hashirama shook his head. “No. One day I’ll find a way to give you the freedom you deserve.”
“Focus on creating your peace first. Create the foundation you can bargain from before trying to change an entire clan’s culture.” Tobirama poked his brother in the side. “You and your Uchiha friend need to be more cautious. If father gets suspicious he could have someone follow you and your friend’s clan could do the same. Lessen the frequency of your meetings, create a schedule that makes them random, and change the location you meet every time. You need a way to warn each other to stay away as well.”
Hashirama’s eyes were shining with excited joy. “You’ll help me?”
“Yes. Of course I will.” Tobirama rolled his eyes when he was tackled to the ground with a pleased squeal but he couldn’t help but hide a fond smile at his brother’s antics. “Idiot. We’ll work on plans after dinner.”
Hashirama just made a happy gurgle and made his brother laugh despite his concern over all the ways this new development could go wrong.
It didn’t go wrong.
Somehow, even through the traumatic loss of Itama by an Uchiha child-killing squad, Hashirama and Madara continued to meet and Tobirama kept his senses fixed on them yet never felt any flares of distrust or hatred. Anger, of course and often from Madara but it was always clean anger that either passed quickly or was clearly not directed at Hashirama.
By the time he was sixteen, Tobirama had stopped watching over the two for the purpose of protecting his brother. He still kept his senses focused on them but it became about soothing himself by brushing against Madara’s chakra. He should probably feel guilty about that, guilty about using the feeling of an unknowing person’s chakra to give himself comfort but he didn’t. It wasn’t as though he latched onto Madara’s chakra and fed on it or even pressed against it with his for very long. He only brushed against it now and then when he felt particularly stressed or upset.
Which meant he sought out Madara’s chakra after any time spent around his father or the clan in general so it became a daily routine but he refused to feel guilty about it.
Especially once Butsuma decided that he’d been ‘useless’ long enough and began sending him on stealth assassinations or courier jobs that were too dangerous for anyone else. He was half sure Butsuma sent him on so many high risk missions in the hope that he’d die during one. Tobirama had no intentions of indulging his father.
The dangerous missions resulted in a few interesting situations. One was that he gained a reputation . People began speaking in terror of the Ghost and ascribing supernatural abilities to him. It was a little amusing hearing people whimper that even glimpsing the Ghost was a death sentence, that he could walk through walls and had the command of demons to do his bidding. He’d only used one of his smaller snow leopard summons once after all.
The less superstitious among the shinobi clans took his appearance as a challenge to either capture or kill the Ghost, increasing the danger of every mission until each one became a near death experience and he was almost tempted to sneak by the Uchiha compound before returning home just to soak in the feeling of Madara’s chakra close to him. He didn’t give into the temptation but it was there.
Instead he threw himself into training more and gaining new skills. He experimented on wild animals and himself with iryo jutsu so that he could heal the injuries he acquired, and the added benefit of that was being able to heal others in his clan with more delicacy than Hashirama’s mokuton regeneration was capable of. He gained mastery over his first chakra nature to the point that he didn’t even need handsigns to manipulate water into whatever shape he wished. That transferred to other liquids and the day he realized he could manipulate blood within the body was a gruesome affair that saved his life.
Another situaton developed while he was on a mission in Iron Country, undercover among a troupe of circus performers. One of the acrobats had approached him about the bandage around his eyes. He gave a well used excuse about his light sensitivity, not a complete lie, and was promptly dragged out to the troupe’s favorite artisan in Iron Country where he was given a three quarter mask with dark mirrored glass lenses set into the eye holes.
For the first time he’d had his sight while on a mission, was able to walk around a market and see the wares, was able to assign faces to the chakra signatures around him. It was astounding and opened up the possibility that he could join his clan on the actual battlefield. He paid for several masks while he was in Iron Country with that in mind.
During the mission he learned to dance, something Butsuma always considered too frivolous to allow his sons to waste time on. The rest of the troupe, however, refused to allow him to be the only one among them who couldn’t dance and drilled him on the graceful movements until they were second nature. He took it a step beyond that when the fire dancers caught his attention.
There was something entrancing about flames that drew him and the idea of dancing with fire was irresistible. It reminded him of the heat from Uchiha chakra signatures, Madara’s in particular. Thinking of the Uchiha clan gave him the idea to experiment with liquid accelerants to find one that he could manipulate while alight.
Like everything else he chose to learn and experiment with, he threw himself into fire dancing with intense focus. By the time he returned home from the mission, Tobirama had found the perfect flammable liquid to use and the slightest spark of raiton gave him, primarily a suiton user, fire in his arsenal. A secret that could give him an edge should he ever need fire in a fight.
The masks created a stir among the Senju and Tobirama knew that he’d be walking into battle beside his brother next time they faced the Uchiha. He couldn’t regret it even as he saw that Hashirama feared for him. He knew that he could do good on the battlefield. Not only in defending their clan but he could disable members of the Uchiha without killing or permanently maiming them and make it look like he’d meant to kill. The fewer Uchiha who died beneath a Senju blade the better the chance Hashirama and Madara’s peace would become their reality one day.
He wondered how long it would take for that to come to pass.
It took another eight years, four past the deaths of Butsuma and Tajima, for Hashirama and Madara to convince their clans to take a chance on making peace but once they had, both men moved fast , including their most trusted in the initial talks. For Hashirama that meant Tobirama, Mito, and Touka. For Madara it meant Izuna, a kunoichi named Kikyo that had a reputation as feared as The Ghost’s, and a younger cousin named Hikaku that had been the one to sow the seeds in the clan’s mind that the Senju could be treated with.
It was a little odd for Tobirama to be so close to Madara’s chakra when he wasn’t in a battle fever. Odd and a little intoxicating to be so near the chakra that had fascinated and grounded him for most of his life. He kept his control, grateful that his mask gave him some concealment, and made sure none of the Uchiha so much as suspected he was anything but a cool head at the table even as he soaked in the fireside-spice and fluffy warmth that Madara radiated.
Izuna was, as always, a crackling storm of agitated energy that made Tobirama’s skin itch , Kikyo’s chakra was a simmering pot of something that tasted toxic to the foolish who might cross her, and Hikaku’s spoke of a sun warmed rock beside a rushing river, calm and comfortable.
It worked well to have Hikaku there to offset Izuna’s easy offense.
“Are you elders idiots ?” Izuna spat at Hashirama. “To suggest we seal our Sharingan? How much more insulting can you Senju get?”
Hashirama squawked and pulled the proposal close. “What?! When did Jura sneak that in?” He reached over and grabbed the brush right away and inked the line that had been added in out.
“What aside from that is so offensive to you, Izuna-san?” Mito’s voice was cool saltwater. “I am unaware of any intentional slights other than Elder Jura’s asinine attempt at being subversive.”
“That!” Izuna snarled, pointing at Tobirama even as his brother gave him a quelling glance.
“I am aware you find my existence offensive,” Tobirama drawled, “however this seems a bit excessive even from you.”
“Not you, though yes you are a living offense to decency, that thing on your face!”
Tobirama trailed a finger along the thin red line visible on his chin, confused. “It’s a seal tattoo nothing unusual.”
“Not that, are you being deliberately aggravating?! That damned mask you always wear!” Izuna’s hand shot out but before Tobirama had to dodge, Madara’s hand clamped around his brother’s wrist.
“Stop looking for a fight to pick,” Madara growled, “or I’ll be leaving you at home next time. You are an adult, act like it.”
“But-” Izuna flailed his free hand, “he’s hiding something.”
Tobirama tensed minutely, stress crawling up his spine. He hadn’t expected his mask to be a problem, so used to wearing it all the time.
“He’s protecting his eyes.” Touka spoke up for the first time, meeting Izuna’s gaze with a cold glare. “Tobirama has light sensitivity. I’m sure you wouldn’t demand someone else risk their eyesight for your comfort now would you? Not with how important eyes are to your clan.”
Izuna’s eyes nearly popped out of his head, a combination of fear because that glare was terrifying and shock mingled together to steal his voice.
“Of course we wouldn’t, but we were unaware of that.” Kikyo spoke smoothly. “And a mask conceals expressions. It implies dishonesty.”
Tobirama huffed and closed his eyes so he could lift a hand to the mask and take it off. He ignored his brother’s gobbling distress, keeping his eyes shut, and reached into one of his weapon pouches to pull out a bandage roll.
Madara caught his breath softly at the first sight of Tobirama Senju’s face exposed. The man was stunning. Sharp, almost vulpine features accented by that vertical line on his chin and two other crimson lines that curved over high cheekbones, pale white lashes fanned lightly against unblemished porcelain skin and Madara found himself almost wishing that those eyes would open so he could see the shape of the eyes and what color they were.
Caught up in the realization that Tobirama was beautiful, Madara couldn’t help but focus on strong, elegant pale fingers as they deftly wrapped the roll of bandages around his head to cover his eyes and keep them closed. His motions were smooth and practiced and made it very clear that this was something he did often as he secured the end of the bandages.
“You didn’t have to do that, Tobirama-sama.” Hikaku was the one who spoke. “But it’s kind of you to accommodate our paranoia.”
Madara saw his brother jump a little and guessed that Hikaku had goosed him for his behavior. “Yes, thank you, but in the future there’s no need for you to wear bandages in place of the mask. You should not make yourself vulnerable simply for the sake of our comfort.”
Tobirama’s lips curved in a smirk. “Who said I was vulnerable?”
Madara was struck by how ridiculously sexy that smirk was but he heard Senju Touka’s snicker.
“Don’t be mean, Touka, Tobirama.” Hashirama chided with a pout.
“I’m confused.” Hikaku looked at the knowing expressions of the Senju sitting at the treaty table.
“You’re not seriously going to try and convince me that he can fight as well blind as he can when he can see,” Izuna said incredulously.
Touka grinned savagely. “Why don’t you spar with him and see for yourself, pretty boy?”
“ Stop .” Hashirama’s voice had lost all the pouting and exasperation. “We are here to have a peace talk, not to get into a pissing contest.”
Tobirama relaxed as that got the meeting back on track and attention was taken off him and his eyes. He focused on helping Hashirama hammer out counters to both clans’ elders more objectionable suggestions but he was aware that every once and a while fluffy-fireside-spice chakra brushed against his senses almost deliberately, almost as if Madara was watching him.
Once they got moving it was only the matter of two months before Madara was sitting in Hashirama’s study to discuss the celebration planned for after the formal signing of the peace treaty.
“About your special clan members, Madara-”
“Not this again. Hashirama, I promise you that the Blessed are respected and nigh worshipped. They’re protected and indulged.” Madara sighed, rubbing his forehead.
“No, no I hear you. But I just...there are many ways to hurt, Madara.” Hashirama was grateful that he’d finally reached the point in this debate that Madara didn’t take immediate offense. “I understand that your Blessed are valued and brought in so your clan can protect them. I understand that no Uchiha would ever raise a hand to them. But they are still essentially abducted from their homes and families, families that never see or hear from them again. All the outside world knows is that they disappear into the Uchiha compound and are never seen again.”
Madara took a drink from his tea. “And?”
“How would you feel, Madara, if a group of people stronger than you suddenly snatched you away from your home and clan and brought you into an unfamiliar place full of strangers because they consider a physical trait you were born with sacred. You wouldn’t be hurt or abused but you would be scared and caged. A gilded cage is still a cage.”
Madara twitched. “I am aware, Hashirama, but it is not solely for the Blessed’s protection that we ‘cage’ them. It is for ours as well.”
“What do you mean?” Hashirama leaned in, expression intent.
“The Blessed are so valued, so revered by my clan that no Uchiha would ever raise a hand to one of the Blessed no matter the crime.” Madara studied the tea in his cup, expression dark with memory. “When I was eight, one of my cousins had his eyes stolen by one of the Blessed. She had been born to bloodline thieves, raised to use the gift of red eyes to one day entrap an Uchiha. My cousin attempted to woo her outside the compound, did not report her presence to the clan in an attempt to keep her free. He never suspected she hadn’t been ‘discovered’ by him but had been planted to take advantage of the clan’s adoration of the Blessed.”
Hashirama breathed in sharply. “I see. Yes, I see. Red eyes would be a significant advantage to any of the Uchiha’s enemies. You realize that we will have to find a better compromise for any clans who wish to join the village if they have red eyed members?”
Before Madara could respond Tobirama walked in and dropped the final version of the treaty in front of his brother, inclining his head in greeting to Madara. “I swear, Anija, if you even contemplate adding some frivolous suggestion now I will shave you bald. Mito would forgive me. It’s taken too long to get to a final version both elder councils don’t find inherently offensive and if I have to listen to Elder Jura’s asinine rhetoric one more time someone is dying .”
Hashirama lifted his hands in an unarmed gesture. “My word on it, Tobirama. No changes.”
Madara entertained himself and settled the unease Hashirama’s words had stirred up in him by sneaking glances at the way Tobirama’s mouth shaped around words and the seal lines from his concealed cheeks curled under his ears and along the underside of his jaw to meet at the point on his chin, other tendrils disappearing along his neck into the younger shinobi’s clothing. In the last couple of months he’d developed a bad habit of fantasizing about following those crimson lines beneath Tobirama’s clothes with his tongue. He wondered if he could convince Tobirama to indulge that fantasy once the peace was set and he could pursue him.
“If you haven’t been making ridiculous last moment suggestions, why was Madara’s chakra flaring?” Tobirama folded his arms across his chest. “I sensed it across the compound it was so intense.” And he hadn’t even been trying so that said something.
Reminded of the subject, Madara frowned down into his tea again.
“We were discussing the Uchiha’s Blessed.” Hashirama picked up his own tea, feeling the weight of his brother’s gaze even from behind the glass lenses. “And how best to find a happy middle ground between the Uchiha traditions and those clans with red eyed members who might wish to join the village.”
Tobirama almost whacked Hashirama with a scroll. He’d been adamant that Hashirama not do this until after peace was set and settled and the village built but of course his brother had disregarded that in favor of trying to neutralize the threat to Tobirama. “Perhaps you should wait for that discussion until after there is a village to join, Anija.”
Madara snorted lightly as Hashirama gave Tobirama an absolutely ridiculous, exaggerated pout.
“But Tobirama, what sort of village founder would I be if I didn’t plan ahead!”
Tobirama dearly wished he could remove his mask just to give his brother the full effect of his glare. “The same sort of founder who hasn’t even given consideration to taxes, laws, and infrastructure. The sort who ignores his paperwork until his little brother is forced to fix the mess of it as you have always done.”
Madara snorted into his tea in amusement as Hashirama wailed and flailed and pretended to be wounded to the core while Tobirama remained unmoved. The entertaining back and forth of the brothers helped to settle the unease the subject of the Blessed had stirred up in him until Tobirama stalked out like an insulted cat.
He caught Hashirama looking at him and cocked a brow. “What?”
“I was wondering what happened with your cousin and the woman who stole his eyes.” It was blunt but Hashirama knew that being delicate about it would just irritate his friend. “You said no Uchiha would harm one of your Blessed but I also know that no Uchiha would allow the Sharingan to be taken without going after the thief.”
Madara’s lip curved in a savage smile. “She might have been of the Blessed but her clan certainly wasn’t. I believe she’s living in Kumo with the orphans these days.”
Hashirama just raised his brows and nodded in understanding before returning to discussing the celebration.
Tobirama sat comfortably beside his brother as Hashirama laughed happily among the celebration of the signed treaty. All around them were Uchiha and Senju and he felt very little animosity, in fact the most prevalent emotion he could sense was relief with joy a close second. It was proof that Hashirama and Madara had been right. Both clans had been ready for peace.
It was a new experience to be among the Uchiha clan rather than observing their chakra from afar. The chakra of the Uchiha clan filled the celebration grounds with all heat and wild energy in contrast to the quiet earthy feel of his own clan that Tobirama was more accustomed to being surrounded by. And burning brightest of all, as always, was Madara’s chakra. The sensation of soft warmth and fireside-spice was stronger with Madara’s pleasure in the night’s events and it was headier to Tobirama’s senses than the sake that Hashirama was overindulging in.
A small spark of chakra caught Tobirama’s attention and he turned his head to see the Uchiha child that had managed to escape his minder and creep up behind the side of the head table where the Senju were sitting. The boy froze when he realized Tobirama was looking at him from behind his mask. It was a shorter mask he’d had commissioned after the first peace talk, a very narrow quarter mask that allowed his cheeks, nose and forehead to be seen rather than the three-quarters mask he usually wore that only exposed his face from the bottom lip down. It still kept his eyes securely concealed while allowing more of his facial expressions to been seen by the suspicious Uchiha among them.
He offered the boy a smile, aware of Madara’s attention being caught as he noticed the boy as well. “Hello.”
The child crept closer, edging away from the cooing Hashirama who’d turned to see who Tobirama was greeting. “Hi. You’re the one everybody called The White Demon right?”
Tobirama’s sharp hearing caught a few Uchiha making mortified sounds, clearly worried the boy might offend him, but he just nodded. “People do call me that. My name is Tobirama.”
“I’m Kagami,” the boy chirped.
“Kagami. Is there something you wanted?”
“I was wondering...” the boy shuffled his feet awkwardly.
“Yes?” Tobirama’s smile turned indulgent as he saw the glances at the mask. He could guess where this was heading and wasn’t surprised.
“How come you’re wearing that mask? Nobody else has one and some of the old people are calling it rude but you don’t seem rude so...why?”
Tobirama ignored the distressed gobbling of the ‘old’ people he suspected weren’t much older than he was. “I have sensitive eyes so I wear a mask with these lenses to protect them. Most of my masks are larger, they cover more of my face.”
“Why’s this one different?” Kagami moved closer to look at the mask, little fingers twitching as though they wanted to touch.
Tobirama bent and brought one of the boy’s hands to his mask so he could touch the cool ceramic material surrounding the lenses. “Kikyo-san informed me that members of your clan are uncomfortable when they can not see someone’s expressions so I had this mask made for when things are safe to allow more of my face to be seen.”
Kagami’s fingers trailed over the smooth mask and he beamed. “Cool.”
Tobirama felt someone else approaching and shifted to look at the woman who looked embarrassed and a bit frazzled.
“Kagami, you shouldn’t have snuck off to bother Tobirama-sama.”
“He’s no bother,” Tobirama kept his tone gentle, not wanting to upset the boy’s mother. “Children should be curious and ask questions so they can learn. I don’t mind answering his questions.”
“Yeah,” a Senju child piped up from the crowd, “Tobirama-sensei always answers anything any of us ask! Even the dumb questions!”
It got several Senju adults chuckling and Tobirama felt the Uchihas all relaxing further as Kagami’s mother smiled and pulled her son to her.
“Well, thank you for indulging his curiosity. But he still snuck away when I told him not to so he and I are going to go have a conversation about not disobeying orders.” She bowed shortly and scurried away, Kagami waving cheerfully goodbye.
Tobirama lifted his own hand to wave back, a slight smile still tilting the corners of his mouth up.
“You like children.” It was Hikaku, at the very end of the Uchiha side of the head table, who said that.
Tobirama turned his attention to him. “They’re easier to digest than fully mature human beings.” He ignored Hashirama’s wailing huff about bad jokes.
Hikaku grinned at him. “Sorry but I’ve already come to the conclusion that you don’t actually devour the bodies and souls of your enemies much less children. Aren’t we supposed to play nice?” He fluttered his lashes and drew a snort of amusement from Touka, much to Izuna’s displeasure as he’d been trying to get her attention all evening.
“You,” Tobirama said drily, “are not particularly nice though you put on a very good facade of it.”
Hikaku’s grin widened further. “I’m flattered. Come on, Tobirama-san, we are at peace now so do you like children?”
Hashirama, partially fueled by sake and partially fueled by the deep love and pride he held for his little brother, leaned on the table and met Hikaku’s eyes. “Tobira adores children. After I took the position as head of our clan, Tobirama took on overseeing the education of the clan’s children. Ran roughshod over the elder’s objections when he booted their former trainers out of their positions to replace them with kinder teachers and once a week he does the teaching himself.”
“He’s awesome!” A child’s voice crowed from the larger crowd below the head table.
“Yeah he listens and he’s so cool !” A second young voice chimed in.
“You ought to see him dance!” A third child bellowed from far in the back.
Hashirama brightened further. “That’s a marvelous idea!”
“Anija-” Tobirama began.
“Tobira you should do one of the special dances! It’s a special night.”
Tobiramam knew damned good and well his brother was just trying to get him to react and that Hashirama just wanted to see the Uchiha clan’s reaction. “I don’t think it’s exactly appropriate.”
Izuna leaned on the table, giving up on gaining Touka’s attention for the night and going back to his favorite pastime, poking at his rival. “What’s the matter, Senju? Afraid to embarrass yourself? Uchiha are known for their dancing skills after all.”
That was certainly true from what Tobirama had observed. As with everything the Uchiha did that involved celebrating life and living, they threw themselves into dancing with joyous abandon and grace. Compared to the majority of the Senju, for whom dancing had only recently come back into their lives, they absolutely were the better dancers. But Tobirama was not in the majority.
The goading started to get under his skin. “I certainly am not afraid.”
“Then since your big brother thinks you’re light on your feet, show off those twinkle toes.” Izuna smirked at the faint twitch of Tobirama’s jaw, a part normally concealed by the larger masks that was a perfect tell. “Unless your only grace is on the battlefield. You worried you’ll trip over yourself?”
“Hardly,” it came out a venomous hiss, “I am more than capable of matching any Uchiha on the dancefloor.”
Izuna lifted a brow. “Prove it.”
Madara almost stopped his brother’s prodding, almost , but he too was curious. Hashirama was clearly confident that Tobirama could dance and the Senju children were all hopping up and down in excitement and starting to call encouragement and pleas. He wanted to see the dance that had those children so excited and Hashirama looking...smug. Yes, that’s what the expression on his best friend’s face was, smugness.
Tobirama’s eyes narrowed behind the mask lenses and he felt a deep desire to punch Izuna in the face. But perhaps giving the irritating pain in the ass what he was aiming for was a better idea. It was clear that Izuna thought he was incapable of dancing, so to shut him and Hashirama up, Tobirama would show Izuna just how wrong he was.
A slow, wicked smirk began to curve Tobirama’s lips. “If you insist, who am I to argue.” He watched Izuna’s eyes widen and was pleased to note the way Izuna leaned back just a bit when he got to his feet. It was gratifying to know that he’d made enough of an impression that he could intimidate Izuna even fractionally.
He removed the formal outer robe before going over to the musicians. It left him in the simple pants and sleeveless tunic he wore under the robe. He likely could have danced in the robe but it was better not to risk the voluminous fabric catching the fire. That would just be embarrassing.
Madara had to swallow a whimper at the way Tobirama’s exposed arms flexed, the red ink of the tattoo seal standing out vibrantly against the pale skin, as he explained something to the musicians, gesturing to better demonstrate his point. Then he was watching the Senju saunter to a cleared section of the dance floor with lethally delicious grace. It was quite simply unfair how attractive Senju Tobirama was.
A child scampered over to hand Tobirama a metal canteen, receiving an affectionate ruffle of the hair before the child hurried back into the crowd.
Tobirama opened the canteen and as the musicians began to play a rhythmic beat, he drew the liquid within out with a simple gesture, winding thin ribbons of it around him as he began to dance.
Madara had to admit that Tobirama was a skilled dancer and the display of manipulating whatever was in the canteen around him was a statement of power. The light from the torches caught the liquid and made it glitter slightly. Then he sucked in a hard breath when Tobirama made a single handed seal and touched a spark of raiton to the liquid and it caught fire.
He was halfway to standing, worry over the flames now surrounding Tobirama moving him on instinct, before he realized Tobirama wasn’t burning. He was controlling the fire, manipulating it in rings and ribbons around him as he moved in complicated steps of the dance.
His throat felt tight as he watched Tobirama’s unearthly grace move among blaze he controlled, the flames painting the edges of his clouds and frost coloring with gold and amber. Twists, turns, delicate leaps, and flexible backbends were followed by the tongues of fire, twining around their master like overly affectionate cats. Without realizing it he activated his Sharingan, not wanting to miss anything.
The dark lenses of the narrow mask Tobirama wore reflected the red and gold of the inferno he manipulated, his lips curved in enjoyment of the way every Uchiha’s chakra stilled in astonishment. He glanced over at the head table and the sight of Madara staring at him, eyes gleaming with Sharingan, lips parted, something that was kin to wonder on his face, made him feel as though he’d swallowed some of the flames he was dancing with. He couldn’t help but brush against Madara’s chakra with his, curious, and only long practice over his self-control kept him from making a mistake in his dance.
Madara’s chakra was sizzling with hunger, the usual hearth fire roaring high and the spice growing thicker in sensual want. Oh. Oh . Tobirama hadn’t been expecting that. He’d never have so much as suspected that Madara could find him attractive much less want as much as Tobirama was sensing from him now.
It prompted Tobirama to change the tone of the dance just a shade into seduction and as he continued to dance, the beat increasing as he’d requested before beginning, he kept his hidden eyes on Madara, taking in his reactions to the dance. He watched the eternally gloved fingers curl as if trying to grasp what was not within reach and the Sharingan spin, memorizing Tobirama’s every movement, and his smile grew as the gasoline he manipulated burned off.
Madara’s mouth was dry as he took in every detail of Tobirama’s dance. The bends and twists seemed to take on a more liquid, almost beckoning air, the beautifully shaped mouth curved in some secret joy that Madara wanted to capture with his own. The music reached a crescendo as Tobirama went into a rapid spin and Madara’s breathing hitched as the fire spun out then up, almost brushing the lean, pale body. The flames rose above Tobirama’s head and formed a hawk that flew up and up and then burst like a firework into the air, spraying light and sparks that faded before falling to earth, the final note of music falling into silence.
Tobirama stood in that silence, arms high overhead, hands cupped toward the sky, barely breathing harder than before beginning the dance, shining like the moon in the gentle light of torches.
Then cheers erupted, breaking the moment as Madara blinked, deactivating his Sharingan and sinking fully back into his seat as his brother spluttered and flailed in disbelief. Feeling a bit breathless, he watched Tobirama lower his arms and began to walk back to the head table.
Madara was simply speechless. He’d known that Tobirama was beautiful, graceful, and deliciously deadly but that display had been the most incredible thing he’d ever seen. Not only the technical difficulty and objective beauty of fine, pale features bathed in fire tones but the way Tobirama had seemed to so delight in dancing with the flames. He’d been so relaxed and at home among them. It was as though the child of water and ice held a burning ember at his core that only truly lit up within the embrace of an inferno and it took already striking beauty into something more , something Madara wanted to see again and again.
It could have only been better if he could have seen all of Tobirama’s face, seen the emotions in the younger man’s eyes.
His attention still firmly fixed to Tobirama, Madara was able to watch the man swarmed by children, not only those of the Senju but the braver, bolder of the Uchiha children as well. All of them clamoring and asking questions. His heart took another hit when Tobirama didn’t brush them off but sank into an accommodating crouch to be on the children’s level and answered whatever questions they babbled at him until their parents scuttled in and reclaimed their offspring.
But even free of the clutches of the children, Tobirama’s return to the table was delayed. Uchiha after Uchiha kept catching his attention with compliments and curiosity and he paused every time to answer them. He even seemed to be as comfortable with the brief touch to a shoulder or arm to catch his attention as he’d been with the children. In fact if Madara wasn’t mistaken, Tobirama even leaned minutely into the tiny brushes.
He reached over and thumped Hashirama on the arm to catch his attention and growled softly so only his friend and perhaps Hashirama’s wife might hear, “Is your brother touch-starved ?” The idea that Tobirama may be starved of affection, of contact with those he loved and trusted offended Madara on every level.
“Mmm? Of course not.” Hashirama turned his attention more closely to his brother to suss out why Madara might think so. Then he smiled a bit. “Oh. No, that’s because of your clan’s chakra. Tobi’s a natural sensor.”
“And?” Madara prompted, huffing a little at the way Hashirama didn’t bother to keep his voice down, catching the entire head table’s attention.
“And he can identify individuals by their chakra, he’s so good he can even sense emotions when he’s focusing on someone. He always knew about us meeting at the river but he could feel you didn’t mean any harm so he kept the secret.” Hashirama’s grin was bright after dropping that bombshell. “He’s the one who helped figure out how we could keep meeting without our families finding out. Anyway, he’s always described chakra as a feel. Like mine, he used to joke that it was like being tackled by an overly affectionate tree in a breeze. He calls Mito a summer sea.”
“How does that explain-”
“He’s never fully described any of your clan’s chakra to me, not even yours, he views it as too private. But he has told me that most Uchiha have warm chakra and he likes being near it. You should ask him yourself if you want to know more.” Hashirama clucked his tongue.
“Fine,” Madara said above Izuna’s protests that he’s not a warm anything, “I will.”
Tobirama finally reached the table and could gather what the discussion was from Izuna’s complaints. He sat down and drawled. “I can confirm that you are not in any way warm, Izuna. You have lightning nature chakra, you’re a persistent, crackling itch.”
Madara tossed his head back and roared with laughter at the way his brother puffed up in offense and shook his chopsticks at Tobirama. He would definitely be asking Tobirama about how his own chakra felt to the Senju sensor in private at the earliest opportunity.
Tobirama stepped into the Uchiha compound a few weeks after the treaty celebration with several scrolls involving the next steps toward the village of Hashirama and Madara’s dreams. Almost immediately after the celebration both clans had been inundated by attacks from other clans who felt the treaty between Uchiha and Senju was a threat. It had left him unable to pursue Madara’s reaction to his fire dance, unable to decide if he’d like to risk dancing with that particular flame.
But finally the attacks were slowing and it allowed for time to better forge a full alliance and build toward the village. This first visit to the Uchiha compound would set the tone for future visits. He followed the young girl leading him to the formal office, the skinny mask in place for the Uchiha’s comfort, and felt only curiosity and amusement as his progress was occasionally halted by a child here and there still exclaiming over his dance at the celebration.
He was smiling by the time they reached the office and Madara bade him enter.
“Madara-sama.” He gave a respectful bow.
The Uchiha Clan Head snorted softly. “Leave the formality for in public and drop the honorific. Unless you’d like me to call you Tobirama-kun?”
Tobirama couldn’t quite keep the expression of distaste off his face, too used to the larger mask hiding his features, and Madara’s laugh slid down his spine warmly.
“Very well, Madara.” He walked over at the older man’s inviting gesture and settled into a comfortable seiza at the low table that held a pot of tea, daifuku, and paperwork.
“How has your clan faired against the attacks?” Madara asked, pouring a cup of tea for Tobirama.
“Well. The worst was the Hagoromo and the worst injury is well on the way to recovering. The Uchiha?” Tobirama took the cup with a murmur of thanks. A flicker of anger and stress on Madara’s face caught his attention though.
“The Hagoromo was the worst for us as well. They didn’t attack honorably as they did the Senju. Instead sending an assassin squad into the compound. Several of my people are recovering from grievous injuries but the worst...” Madara’s jaw ticked and flexed as he reined in his fury. “They attacked our youngest Blessed.”
Tobirama froze. “Children?”
“Three before the combat trained Blessed realized the shrine had been breached and struck the assassins down. They’re alive but it does not look-” Madara blinked in surprise when Tobirama set the teacup down with a sharp click and rose.
“Then the work toward the village can wait. I am the most skilled at iryo jutsu among the Senju,” and Tobirama knew the Uchiha healers weren’t anywhere near as practiced as Senju, “I can help.”
A tiny spark of hope that had been guttering as the Blessed children who’d been attacked grew worse flared to life again in Madara’s chest. He got to his feet, heart thudding harder in his chest at the determined, fierce set of Tobirama’s jaw. “Follow me.”
Tobirama was already picking through his knowledge of poisons the Hagoromo might have used to worsen whatever wounds they inflicted and what he might need from the Senju compound to counter those as he walked at Madara’s heels to a shrine. He was too focused on that to pay attention to the way several people who stopped to look at them looked with red eyes as they entered the shrine.
He only noticed when a nurse barred the way into a small room and demanded an explanation from Madara. He noticed because Madara didn’t growl or take the nurse’s head off with sharp words, instead he swallowed his impatience and answered with respect. Then Tobirama found himself pinned by eyes a deep crimson. Darker red than his own and with a distinct black pupil where his own pupil also looked red.
“You can heal the children?”
The skepticism was clear and Tobirama didn’t bother to offer useless platitudes. “I can try. You know nothing is certain with iryo jutsu, especially when much time has passed between the injury and treatment. But I’m the best at anything that doesn’t require regrowth.”
Those crimson eyes crept over his mask with curiosity but the nurse nodded. “Very well.” The nurse allowed them in and took them to a child that was laying with a terrifyingly sallow pallor interrupted by a faint flush of the face.
Tobirama knelt and placed a hand glowing green with healing jutsu on the child’s brow, sweeping his other over the tiny body, searching for the injury and any toxins. He found the injury, a deep gash over the ribs that had been healed but broken open again and again. A deeper scan found the cause and he hissed. “Hagoromo poisons. They’re made to interfere with iryo jutsu.” He lifted his hands from the tiny body, stopping the healing jutsu to bite his thumb call one of his summons.
The sleek cougar stretched and yawned. “You rang?”
“I need you to run to the Senju compound and get the Hagoromo antidote kit from my lab.” Tobirama’s serious tone had the cougar snapping to full attention and looking around, spotting the children laying on cots, too still and pale.
“They poisoned cubs ?!” The cougar buffed her head against Tobirama’s shoulder. “As quick as I can, kitten.” Then the cat was gone, stretching out in a swift run out of the shrine to the Senju compound.
“I thought your summons were snow leopards.” Madara said in faint confusion, reeling just a fraction from the fury even he could sense from Tobirama over the children’s conditions.
“My contract is with a cat enclave in Yuki no Kuni. It’s made up of several species of feline that prefer cold climates.” Tobirama answered him absently as he gently exposed the first child’s wound after cleaning his hands. He turned to the nurse. “I’ll need a basin. This has to be debrided. May I ask how you’d like to be addressed?”
“My name is Aki. You can call me anything you like if it helps the children.” The nurse then hurried to get everything necessary to debride the wound.
“What can I do?” Madara asked, hating to feel so helpless.
Tobirama almost snapped ‘pray’ at him but stifled it at the last moment. He understood helplessness, understood needing to do something to help those under his care. “We’ll need a lot of hot water. It’s fairly mundane but if you could keep a pot boiling?”
“Nothing is too mundane to help our children.” Madara rasped it out and went to the hearth after calling someone to ensure there would always be water to fill the pot he’d heat and watch.
Tobirama carefully debrided the wound of infection and used the supplies the Uchiha had on hand to make a poultice that would keep the infection from growing again over the wound, rebandaging it for now. Then he moved onto the next child, whose back was carved up, to repeat the process.
The last child made him want to go find every Hagoromo and rip their spines out. The tiny, tiny toddler lay frail and still and one of her eyes had been destroyed by a blade dragged down her face. Practically a baby and she’d been attacked thusly. He snarled, sounding very much like his summons, “Those who do this to children should be skinned, rolled in salt, and staked out in the Kaze sun for the vultures to pick apart.”
Madara couldn’t help but agree. He’d personally seen to the execution of his father’s child-killers that had remained once he’d become the head of the clan. Not that many had remained. The man so carefully tending to the wounded children in front of him had hunted as many of the Uchiha child-killers down on the battlefield like a cat hunted a frantic, wounded mouse, as though it was a personal mission. It likely had been, Madara remembered the day Hashirama had met him at the river with a fist rather than a hug, remembered the way his friend had broken down wailing over his youngest brother, Itama, being tormented and slaughtered by Uchiha child-killers.
With what Hashirama had said of Tobirama’s sensory abilities, Madara realized now that it was very likely that Tobirama had felt his baby brother’s death. He almost wished he could present Tobirama with the last of those squads to do with as he willed considering that.
It didn’t take long before the cougar returned with a large case she brought to Tobirama and things began moving much faster.
Tobirama used the herbs and chemical compounds within the case to create an antidote for each child and monitored them carefully until the iryo jutsu began to work properly in their tiny bodies. Then, beginning with the toddler, he delicately healed each wound until what remained was light pink scarring much less than would have been there if left to heal on their own. He made a salve that would help to further reduce the scarring. Not for aesthetics, though he knew that would matter to the children as they grew, but to prevent keloids from forming and too much scar tissue from pulling and causing pain.
He turned his head to look at Madara. “You said you have other injured clanmates?”
Madara was struck, again, by a great desire to see the eyes hidden by Tobirama’s mask. He wanted to look into the eyes of the man who not only had just saved three of their Blessed children but who was now asking to help more of his clan. He also rather wanted to go to his knees and kiss the hands that had just performed miracles. He knew he couldn’t have either of those thing but oh he wanted . It made his voice rough as he answered, “Yes. They’re in the main healing hall.”
“Do you have enough chakra left to heal more?” Aki asked, astounded from where the nurse was seeing to the disposal of old bandages and infected tissue.
“I do but I also intend to teach the Uchiha healers what I did. If the Hagoromo decide to remain a problem, your healers will need to know the poisons and antidotes and best techniques to deal with the injuries they inflict.” Tobirama brushed a gentle hand over one child’s brow as he rose again.
Madara swore that if any of the Uchiha Elders dared try to use Tobirama as an argument against a full alliance as they had been after this he’d bury them.
He led Tobirama to the main healing hall and watched him gather the Uchiha healers to teach them how to help their people against their new worst enemy.
When Izuna came up beside him he glanced over, lifting a brow in question.
“The Blessed children are awake. Akane’s mother was holding her and she was laughing at a paper butterfly.” Izuna’s arms were folded over his chest. “Laughing like she’d never been hurt.” The little toddler was one of Izuna’s favorites among the entire clan, she was so sweet and bright and happy. “She’s still weak from being so ill for so long but she’s-”
Madara laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Alive and happy and she’ll grow strong again. Hiro and Gou?”
“Not as happy. They want to be up and running and are being kept in bed by Aki and Gou’s parents but they’re vibrant.” Izuna studied Tobirama moving among the injured Uchiha and guide the healers in how to identify poison then create and apply the antidotes to it. He was seeing his rival with new eyes and glanced over at his brother before reaching up and gripping Madara’s wrist in a brotherly approval. “You let him get away from you and I’ll have to disown you.”
Madara blushed and spluttered, flailing. “W-who says I’m interested in chasing him? I-” His words died in his throat when he noticed Tobirama turning their way, head tilting and lips turned down faintly in a concern. Madara felt his face burning red at being the focus of that concern.
“Uh-huh, suuure you’re not at all interested.” Izuna drawled. “You’re just blushing because of blowing katon to boil water for a few hours.”
Madara growled and moved his hand to grip the back of Izuna’s tunic. “I think the koi pond has missed you.”
Tobirama watched in curiosity as a squawking Izuna was dragged out of the healing hall by Madara, whose face was flaming and chakra was flaring with mild irritation and something that Tobirama wanted to call bashfulness.
One of the healers chuckled. “Ah good, Madara-sama is feeling better if he’s dunking Izuna-sama in the pond for teasing him again.”
Tobirama blinked and turned toward the healer who’d spoken. “That’s...common?”
One of the Uchiha patients that was conscious snickered. “Try daily when things are good. I’m surprised Izuna-sama hasn’t grown gills by now.”
Several Uchiha laughed at that and Tobirama was reminded of just how unfettered the Uchiha were with their powerful emotions as the chakra in the hall rose in a warm wave of humor and relief. The heat settled into his bones and lingered even as he ran too close to chakra exhaustion healing the final patient.
He exited the hall and saw Madara sitting outside, playing ayatori with a child. It was a sight that touched a heart already inclined toward the Uchiha leader. The broad and powerfully muscled ‘madman’ that featured in the nightmares of allies and enemies alike, master of the Mangekyou Sharingan, most powerful katon user known bending to the whims and smiles of a child so small he could have cradled them in one arm. A quiet smile curved a mouth Tobirama most usually saw set in a serious line, furious scowl, or battle-fueled grin, eyes so often hard or burning in anger warm and gentle in affection. The head of wild black hair lowered to listen to the child like a great lion with his mane looking after a cub. It spoke to the part of Tobirama that held the safety and happiness of the children he knew above all, spoke to the protective, indulgent guardian he’d shaped himself into.
He waited until the child had the string figure fully on their hands to approach.
Madara ruffled the child’s dark hair. “It’s almost dinner time. You should go home Haru-chan.”
“Hai, Mada-shishou!” The child looked at Tobirama for a moment with dark Uchiha eyes before running off with a grin.
Madara stood, tucking his hands into his sleeves. “How are your chakra levels?”
Tobirama considered bluffing but quickly discarded that idea with the way the fluffy-fireside-spide of Madara’s chakra brushed against his. He knew that he was being felt out and Madara was a skilled enough sensor that he would know a lie for what it was. “A bit low. Nothing food and sleep won’t restore.”
Madara nodded. “Would you be willing to remain here overnight and have meals with us? We did not get to the scrolls you brought and it would be easier to do so tomorrow.”
Tobirama tilted his head, dipping his chin in a way that made it clear he was studying Madara, and the corners of his lips curved up slightly. “Looking after me, Madara?”
He watched the man puff up and unholy amusement stirred in his chest.
“You’re an ally, you’re the Senju Heir, the brother of my oldest friend, and you spent the day healing my clan members. I would be remiss in my responsibilities if I didn’t ensure you were well rested and fed before returning home. Especially with those Hagoromo bastards after both our clans!”
“Oh? Is that all?” Tobirama angled his body just a fraction into playful flirtation, stretching his frame out just enough to show off without being obvious. The way Madara’s eyes dropped to sweep the line of his body was gratifying. So was the awkward sputtering and the flush that crawled across Madara’s cheeks.
“W-what do you mean by that?” Madara’s hands twitched inside his folded sleeves. Dear gods he wanted to reach out and sweep a hand down Tobirama’s body, to stroke that sleek line of muscle and see if he could get the other man to purr.
The lift at the corners of his mouth spread until he was smiling in a sultry manner and Tobirama stepped closer, just close enough that he could feel Madara’s body heat through their clothes and his head was tilted down so that his mouth was right in the Uchiha’s eyeline. “I mean is responsibility the only reason you’re concerned for my welfare or do you perhaps have a deeper,” he lightly bit at his bottom lip and the way the midnight dark eyes’ pupils dilated told him that he was getting exactly the reaction he wanted, “ interest ?”
“Aniki! Get your ass to the dining hall!” Izuna bellowed across the courtyard, making Madara jump a little and Tobirama step back with a faint sigh.
“Ah well, a question for another time I suppose.” The irritation Tobiramam saw cast the way of the dining hall where Izuna was bellowing gave a nice boost to his ego. “I accept the invitation to stay. Thank you, Madara.”
“You’re welcome.” Madara muttered it, hiding a pout behind his hair and walking with Tobirama to the dining hall. He was going to throttle Izuna for that interruption. Damn his little brother’s awful timing.
Tobirama stirred from the guest room he’d been given, putting on his mask hasily, unsure why until he was halfway to the garden and felt churning in the fire of Madara’s chakra. He padded on bare feet to where he felt that disturbance, making noise enough to alert Madara to his presence.
He found the Uchiha Clan Head sitting on the edge of the engawa, staring into the night, kiseru in his hand but not being smoked. The fragrant tobacco curled up from the pipe into the night, swirling around Madara as Tobirama stopped beside him.
“May I join you?”
Madara glanced up and shifted in silent invitation even as his gaze went back to the unfocused point it had been on.
Tobirama lowered himself down and let the silence stretch and curl around them like the tobacco smoke. He used the opportunity to stretch his senses out and check on the children in the shrine, finding two of them with what felt like parental signatures nearby and one curled up with Aki.
“We bring the Blessed here for protection, give those who aren’t wedded to or children of Uchihas the shrine as home for safety .” Madara’s eyes flashed red for an instant. “But that safety wasn’t just violated. It was used as a trap by those Hagoromo bastards. It’s brought up a great deal of argument between the elders and the younger clan members over how we collect and protect the Blessed.”
Tobirama’s heart hitched a bit. He hadn’t expected this subject. He’d expected perhaps concern over the attack in general but not narrowed down to the red eyed Blessed of the Uchiha. He considered how to respond. He certainly had a vested interest in how the Uchiha treated their Blessed but he knew that it would be a betrayal of what he could build with Madara to answer in his personal interest.
He held out a hand and created a little bird of water in it, making the creature flit and cavort in the air. “What have your Blessed said on the subject?”
“They want more freedom of choice. To choose to be enshrined or to stand with us on the front lines. None of them have spoken of leaving when I asked each individual and made it clear that I would ensure they could leave if they wished. They don’t want to leave but they wish to stand before danger as any other adult in the clan. It’s...difficult to balance that with our need to guard the Blessed of Amaterasu.” Madara looked at the bowl of his pipe then brought it up to draw some smoke into his mouth, letting it roll around.
“Would you explain that? I understand they’re sacred to you but what does it mean that the red-eyed are Blessed of Amaterasu?” Tobirama reached out when he felt Madara’s chakra ripple with agitation, brushed his own chakra against the fire that threatened to consume Madara, soothing it with the calming water.
Madara’s shoulders eased and he shivered slightly at the sensation of cool water, mint tea, and a hint of frost like stepping out of an overly hot sauna into the first breath of winter. Pleasant and comforting. “Our patron goddess is Amaterasu, the gift of the Sharingan comes from her, the fires that burn within us and our hearths as well. She is the sun, the warmth of life and love. Her eyes burn with the red fire of the sun. Our Sharingan is gifted to those who love enough to wish to protect those we care for, a strength given and never to be taken for granted or misused. The red lasts only so long as we need it to remember or protect something precious. Those born with red eyes are touched by Amaterasu in the womb, chosen avatars she works her will through. But red eyes are...unique and the unique is often mistreated by those who don’t understand it.”
He took another puff on his pipe then blew out the smoke. “Akane, the toddler you healed today, her mother was found being beaten by the people of the village she was born in when she was only fourteen. Some of the Blessed were found starving or forced into slavery. Not all, many are very loved by their families and we do our best to...negotiate with the families to be allowed to bring the Blessed to the compound but we don’t accept a refusal.”
“Because that endangers your clan.” Tobirama nodded in understanding. “I see. But if they are Avatars of Amaterasu, do you think she would be content to be guarded and banked while the clan she chose to honor with a gift, a clan of beloveds, face death on the battlefield?”
Madara’s head jerked up and he turned it to look at Tobirama’s profile as he manipulated and played with the water bird. “That...had not occurred to me.”
The bird spun and became a snake that twined around Tobirama’s fingers. “It’s both kind and wise to bring your Blessed in to protect them from those who would hurt them for being different or use them to hurt the Uchiha but once among your clan, once part of it do they not deserve to be full members? To truly stand with you and guard you as you guard them? It is unspeakably painful to be left behind for your ‘protection’ when those you love are running toward a battle they may not return from, a battle you know your presence would make less devastating.”
“You sound as though you have experience with that.” Madara could feel the pain in Tobirama’s voice and it made him want to reach out and comfort, to soothe that pain away.
“I do. For many years I was left behind when Hashirama went to the front lines to fight, kept in the Senju compound despite being strong enough to fight. My missions were always solo courier or assassination missions at night or where I wouldn’t be seen by many. I was kept hidden until I found the mask maker.”
“Your eyesight is that sensitive?” Madara’s eyes trailed over the slim porcelain and glass that kept Tobirama’s eyes from view.
“I can fight blind nearly as well as I can with sight. I could have fought with the bandages but there was always the risk of them being cut off.” Tobirama let the water snake dissipate into mist that was blown away by a gentle night breeze. What he was about to do was a risk , was dangerous, but he didn’t want to hide from Madara. Wanted to hide nothing of himself from Madara. “It’s not my sight the masks protect though I am very sensitive to light.”
Madara watched as Tobirama lifted a hand and lifted the mask away and saw the closed lids and long frosty lashes against his cheeks for the second time. The small lantern he had casting a faint gold against the pale skin. Then those lashes lifted and he caught his breath as he met eyes the color of garnet.
“Oh.” Madara breathed it out, suddenly understanding Hashirama’s constant questions about the Blessed.
“My mother and brothers feared my eyes being seen and me being taken away. My father...” Tobirama’s lips twisted in distaste, “was more concerned over what Uchiha who might come after me might do to the clan. Negotiations would have never occurred to him.”
Madara winced understanding that. His own father would have been...less than pleased to know one of the Blessed had been born to the Senju. He lifted his hand, hesitating, then found a tendril of water curling around his wrist and pulling his hand close to touch. He trailed his fingers down a smooth cheek, following the red tattoo. Tobirama’s eyes were sharp, as vulpine as the rest of his features, and fit perfectly with the rest of his beauty.
“Light sensitivity,” he murmured, his hand sliding up to touch frosty white hair that was silky smooth. “Albinism.”
“Yes. I burn very easily if I don’t use sun oil and without the lenses or a specially inscribed happuri I wear in my lab bright light can cause damage to my eyes.” Tobirama’s eyelids drooped a little and he leaned into Madara’s hand. “Butsuma was not pleased but my mother made it clear his life was forfeit should he act on that displeasure.”
“I hope you don’t mind me saying but your father was an absolute bastard.” Madara was fascinated by Tobirama, by being allowed to touch Tobirama, by the Blessed red eyes.
“Why would I mind you speaking the truth?”
Madara blinked then laughed softly, his hand trailing down again until he was cupping Tobirama’s cheek. His thumb traced the end of the red line and considered the mask and the trust Tobirama gifted him by removing it. His thumb went down and brushed over the lips Madara had fantasized about for months.
Tobirama’s cheeks took on a faint flush and his lips parted at the touch. “I asked you a question before dinner.”
Madara’s eyes had caught on Tobirama’s mouth but he heard what the other man said clearly enough. “I’ve had a deeper interest since the first peace meeting when I saw your face. Then you went and made me more interested by being a sneaky, sarcastic, cranky, powerful, generous, clever little shit.”
A light of unholy amusement and satisfaction sparked in garnet eyes. “I’m relieved to hear that. Will you kiss me, Madara?”
That was all the invitation Madara needed to lean in and catch Tobirama’s mouth with his.
Heat curled in Tobirama’s belly, his skin almost tingling with the contact as Madara’s lips molded to his, learning their shape and allowing Tobirama to learn his. One hand slipped between them to grip Madara’s shoulder, holding on as the fireside-spice in Madara’s chakra threatened to overwhelm his senses.
Madara heard Tobirama groan softly and dropped his pipe so that his other hand could find a place at the base of the younger man’s spine and he deepened the kiss, nipping at his bottom lip and eagerly accepting the invitation when it parted from the upper to allow Madara’s tongue in.
By the time they pulled apart, Tobirama was breathing a little harder than normal, his eyes a bit glazed as he clung to Madara and Madara’s hand was fisted in the fabric of Tobirama’s yukata, his Sharingan active to memorize the sight of Tobirama flushed, with damp lips in the lantern light.
“By the eternal flame you’re gorgeous, Tobirama.” Madara growled it.
“I’m pleased you think so.” Tobirama said huskily. “As that means I’ll likely get more of those kisses.”
“I have every intention of kissing your brains out every opportunity I get, among other things.” The way Tobirama’s lips curved in a sultry smile made things a little uncomfortable for Madara below the belted robe he wore.
Madara laughed a bit and rested his brow against Tobirama’s. “Wicked thing.” He studied the beautiful jewel red eyes and ran his hand up and down Tobirama’s back. “Well, I suppose you’ll have to help me work out how to find a proper compromise between Uchiha custom and changing times for the village, won’t you clever one?” He understood that Tobirama would not wish to leave the Senju, not with the peace so fresh and the village to be built.
Tobirama relaxed further, realizing that Madara wasn’t about to try and ‘steal’ him into the Blessed shrine or expose him to the other Uchiha. “I believe I can be convinced to that end.”
Madara smiled and brushed a swift, chaste kiss against Tobirama’s lips before leaning back to pick up his now burned out pipe.
Tobirama settled his senses that were still burning a little from the kisses and lifted his face to the moonlight, smiling quietly feeling complete freedom and more on the horizon.