“How could you, Tobirama?”
He’ll never show it, but the words hurt. They stab deep under his skin, needles he can never get away from, laced with the poison of Hashirama’s disappointment. It’s there in his eyes, the disbelief, the sadness, the guilt—because always, always Hashirama has taken everything upon himself, even—especially—when he shouldn’t.
But Tobirama will never, ever let his brother see just how much those words affect him. Hashirama can be good and kind and honorable, but that won't win them anything except more death in the long run. Maybe someday, his dreams will stand. Right now, however, their world is fractured and bleeding and dying around them, in its final throes. Hashirama is trying to lead them to a better existence, but with enemies at their throats and devastation at their backs, there is no time for that. Let Hashirama cling to hope and happiness and bright, warm dreams. Tobirama will be the practical and cold and ruthless one.
Someone has to be, after all.
He wonders, sometimes, if Hashirama forgets that Tobirama grew up in the same world as he did, if he overlooks the fact that Tobirama once held that dream of peace just as dear. Does he think he and Madara are the only ones who lost brothers, who grieved? Because Itama and Kawarama were his blood, too, and he loved them just as dearly as Hashirama did. He saw them buried, mourned alone and in silence because he was their father’s pride and not allowed to show weakness. And while Hashirama disappeared to skip rocks across the river in company of their enemy, Tobirama remained, the focus of Butsuma’s will. He became the soldier Hashirama wouldn’t, killed all the small bits of childishness that his brother clung to, and never once voiced a word of complaint.
Always, always Hashirama looks at Tobirama, sees the perfect shinobi their father wanted, and despairs.
Always, always he forgets that Tobirama became what he wouldn’t, couldn’t, and in doing so gave Hashirama as much freedom as he could.
“It was war,” he says now, and long practice keeps his tone even, almost flat. Let Hashirama think what he wants. Izuna was their enemy; if Tobirama hadn’t faced him, hadn’t stepped in front of this Uchiha whose only equal is Madara himself, dozens of Senju would have died. Tobirama has faced Izuna before, seen him fight countless times, and knows that Izuna at least wouldn’t have hesitated to kill. Because of that, Tobirama couldn’t, either.
“It was unnecessary!” Hashirama cries, and from the grief on his face one would think that it was his brother who had been struck with a mortal blow.
Tobirama thinks of asking him who he would have sacrificed in Izuna’s place, which of the Senju with whom they grew up he would have surrendered to Izuna’s blade. Tōka, perhaps, with her sharp tongue and sly smile? Kenshin, silent as a thief and self-appointed caretaker of any orphans? Takuma, everyone’s friend, always ready to lend an ear to troubles?
But Hashirama doesn’t think that way. He doesn’t weigh gains and losses like Tobirama does, but forges ahead on blind optimism, and though Tobirama loves his brother more than anything in existence, it makes him angry. Because Hashirama lives in a fantasy world where hoping for the best will make it so, while Tobirama is confined to reality, forced to face the hard choices his brother will never make. Maybe, someday, Hashirama will grow out of it, learn to see the truth of what peace will cost.
Somehow, though, Tobirama doubts it.
Hashirama is a dreamer. It’s both his greatest asset and his greatest weakness. He sees potentials, possibilities, and they're incredible—larger than life, the perfect future everyone reaches for, a goal to set one’s sights on and strive for through fire and flood and the very deepest despair.
Tobirama can't be that. He can't fathom it, can hardly even bring himself to believe the fantasies his brother spins of peace and prosperity and children running and laughing rather than learning how to kill. What his eyes see is what surrounds them now, the war and death and pain of a world tearing apart. Oh, Hashirama will always offer comfort and solace and encouraging words, will walk among their clan and try to raise the spirits of a people all but crushed by war, but Tobirama is the one who rations their food, takes or assigns dangerous missions because they earn the most, and sends shinobi out to die.
He wishes he could dream, could be like his brother. But for all his genius Tobirama can be nothing other than what he is, and he will have to learn to make that enough.
Taking a slow, careful breath, he forces himself to lift his chin, to meet Hashirama’s eyes squarely. The disappointment there is nearly enough to make him flinch, but he doesn’t allow himself to look away. “I don’t understand why you're so angry,” he says, which is mostly true, though not entirely. “I did what I had to.”
“You destroyed any chance we might have had of peace!” Hashirama rails, and this time Tobirama does flinch. You—pointed, piercing accusation, with only one culprit. “Madara will blame us all for Izuna’s death! He won't rest until he’s avenged him!”
Tobirama wonders bleakly, distantly, if Hashirama would ever do the same for him, were their positions reversed. But he already knows he wouldn’t; whether it’s because he’s more devoted to the idea of peace than Madara, or simply because Madara loves his brother more than Hashirama loves Tobirama—
Well. That part he doesn’t allow himself to dwell on.
“We are at war,” Tobirama repeats, trying to drive the information through his brother’s thick skull. “Brother, I know you and Madara were friends, but it has been years. The Uchiha Clan still opposes us; would you have us lay down our weapons and die? Would you let them raid our lands, kill whatever children they find, without striking back? That is foolishness.”
Hashirama rakes a hand through his hair, spins on his heel as though he can't bear to look at Tobirama for another second, and that hurts, too. “I know you, Tobirama,” he says, sharp with bitter frustration. “I know how fast you are. If you had wanted to, you could have turned your sword, injured Izuna instead of killing him. Why? Why, just this once, couldn’t you show a little mercy?”
When Hashirama faces Madara, they do not fight to kill. It’s glorified sparring, meant more to keep others from engaging them than anything. Perhaps those watching can't tell, but Tobirama has seen his brother fight seriously and can see the difference. There is no threat of death in those matches outside of ill luck or carelessness, and Tobirama wonders whether Hashirama has forgotten what it is to really fight, to give yourself over to instincts and the knowledge that one bare moment of hesitation will mean the end. He is a shinobi, trained and tested. In the midst of battle, with his opponent aiming to kill—Tobirama cannot do any less.
You know me? he thinks, and no matter how he tries to prevent it, his bitterness creeps in around the edges. Don’t make me laugh.
“Madara is one man,” he tries, even though he already knows it will be futile. “The clans are tired of war; there is still hope that—”
“It was Madara's dream too, Tobirama! Without him standing beside me it is practically meaningless!”
It feels like an impact, like a fist to the gut. Tobirama takes a step back before he can stop himself, breathless with the force of that blow, but Hashirama is too caught up in his emotions to notice. He turns, dark eyes wide, entreating Tobirama to understand. “He’s like a brother to me,” he says, nearly pleading. “Can't you understand? Peace was a dream we shared! To go forward without him—it will be empty. And now—now any chance of that is gone.”
Tobirama understands. He understands all too well. Had he turned his sword aside, had he been slower, Izuna would live, and Hashirama’s dream would still be intact. Of course, Izuna was Tobirama’s equal, and any hesitation would have meant Tobirama’s own death, but—
That is an acceptable loss, it seems.
It aches. It aches like his heart has been torn right out of him, to see the mingled despair and fury on his brother’s face. To look into brown eyes, usually so warm, and see only grief for what Tobirama has stolen from him. To see sorrow at the knowledge of a friend lost, even though Tobirama would have been killed had he acted any differently.
Madara is their enemy, but he will always be first in Hashirama’s regard.
Perhaps for the first time, Tobirama realizes just what that means for him personally.
(Perhaps he has always known, but simply never wanted to face that understanding.)
“I regret that my actions have caused you distress, Nii-sama” he manages, and it’s startling that his voice is still even, clear, no matter how formal and stilted the phrasing. He wants to choke on the words, but that will only make Hashirama look at him with that devastating regret in his eyes again.
(Or, perhaps worse, he won't look at Tobirama at all.)
Hashirama just waves a hand at him, looking away again. His face is creased with weariness, shoulders bowed. “Go away, Tobirama,” he says, and his voice is heavy with sorrow and fatigue in equal measure. “Just—leave me be, please.”
Tobirama bows to him, even though Hashirama doesn’t turn, but keeps his lips sealed on the desperate plea that wants to break loose.
Goodbye, Brother, he thinks, and only then does he realize what he’s planning.
Tobirama is not good with words. He never has been. Hashirama is the speaker, the politician, the noble lord who can inspire crowds with a few strung-together sentences. In contrast, Tobirama would rather shut himself away with his scrolls and seals and weapons, would subsist entirely on his own company if he had that choice. He’s always played his part as the lord’s second son, as his brother’s heir until Hashirama has children, but it doesn’t come naturally.
Even words on paper are hard, and Tobirama hesitates, seeking words more often than writing them, as he arduously pens a letter for his brother. It’s tempting to make it short and blunt, to get to the point in a single sentence and leave nothing else, but in this nothing can be left to chance.
He tries. As the sun sinks below the horizon and the shadows stretch across the room, he writes and crosses out and redrafts and finally, finally comes up with something he does not entirely hate.
Dear Hashirama, he chooses to start it, because that is the absolute truth even if his brother will see it as an empty pleasantry. A brief explanation of his disappearance, a reassurance that this is his own choice, and it is. There is nothing forcing Tobirama down this path, nothing making him do this.
(Nothing except the heartbreak in Hashirama’s eyes, and the way he can't so much as meet Tobirama’s gaze.)
The letter is long, and a great deal of it is meaningless repetition, which would normally drive Tobirama spare. It pads the page, though, gives it more volume, and if Tobirama knows his brother Hashirama will take that for sincerity. Not—not mistake it, because Tobirama is being sincere, in between the bits of inanities. But despite his claim, Hashirama doesn’t know Tobirama. He’s never truly tried. He does not know Tobirama’s dream for the future, because his own has always overwhelmed it; he does not know his fears, because Tobirama has never shared them. And a very large part of that falls on Tobirama’s shoulders, as he’s kept his brother at arm’s length, but—
But it was for Hashirama’s sake, most of it, and the rest was Tobirama’s natural reticence.
(He was jealous, once, when he learned that Hashirama was going to be wed to Mito. Not because he loved her, not because she was taking his brother away, but…Tobirama has always wanted a family. He’s very fond of children, loves teaching them and playing with them and simply sitting with them, seeing in their faces everything he was never allowed to be. And then Hashirama had had the makings of a family handed to him, already guaranteed, and he’d never, ever taken more time for it than he absolutely had to. Mito understands, because she’s a shinobi herself, because her father was the leader of the Uzumaki Clan, and she’s never blamed Hashirama for his inattention. But there's a faint loneliness in her eyes sometimes, one that Tobirama knows well.
It’s easy to love Hashirama. Easy to adore him. What’s harder is remembering that he’s always looking forward, always striding ahead, and that he has little time or attention to spare for those who can't keep up. And out of all the people Tobirama has met, only Madara ever could.)
I have put a price on the peace you dreamed of, he writes, and hopes that Hashirama will not blame himself. Even if he does, though, the deed will have been done, and he is not one to hold grudges. It is only fitting that I pay it.
It’s a small cost, in the end. The Senju will be better for it, if this can end or at least ease hostilities. And Tobirama loves his clan, has always been willing to do what is required to keep them safe. He would much rather risk himself than any of them, and this is the best way he can think of.
My only regret is that I will not see your dream come to be.
A lie, but a well-intentioned one, so Tobirama leaves it as it is. He has many regrets, many sorrows, but the greatest is that he cannot be the brother Hashirama has always deserved. Perhaps Itama would have managed it, had he survived. He had a soft heart, an easy smile, and followed Hashirama like a moon caught in a planet’s spin.
Tobirama supposes he will never know. Itama is nine years dead, killed by Uchiha shinobi—just another casualty in this long, pointless war.
As Tobirama himself will soon be.
He lays out the neat strokes of his name, then carefully folds the paper, seals it, and rises from his desk. For a moment, he hesitates, but…Tobirama is not a coward. He can be brave, though he would much rather be cunning. Gritting his teeth, he strips off his battle-stained armor and sets it carefully aside, then divests himself of every last one of his weapons. Even the happuri faceguard is removed, and he lays it carefully on the bed before he dresses in his rarely-worn off-duty clothes. They're musty from lack of use, creases from their folding prominent, but Tobirama smooths them with a grimace and tries to ignore that bit of untidiness.
Once, he heard a clan elder say that there is more bravery to be found in quiet resignation than great deeds. He hopes it’s true, because resignation is all he has right now.
A step out the door, letter in hand, and it’s the start of a new path. Tobirama takes a silent breath and forces himself to keep walking, forces himself not to falter as he strides down the hall and into the compound itself. His attire earns him several startled glances, especially so soon after a battle, but he ignores them and keeps moving.
His hair falls into his eyes without the faceguard to hold it back. It’s a little annoyance, in the scheme of things, but Tobirama can't quite remember the last time something irritated him more.
Tōka lives near the eastern wall, across a quiet courtyard, and his feet are soundless in the long grass as he makes his way across. She always insisted that since it’s attached to her home and she’s the only person nearby, it shouldn’t be hers to maintain, but given that she’s a high-ranking shinobi she rarely has the time. Tobirama has teased her about it several times, but she’s never asked one of the clan’s retainers to do it for her. She’s certainly as stubborn as Hashirama, for all that they're only second cousins.
Steeling himself, Tobirama steps up to her door and knocks politely. He doesn’t have to wait long; less than ten second later, Tōka is pulling the door open, still dressed in her armor but with her hair out of its intricate topknot. Her eyes widen slightly at the sight of him, then flicker over his loose kimono shirt, yellow sash, and simple blue pants. One brow lifts, and she drags her gaze back up, expression shading towards suspicious.
“Little cousin,” she drawls, propping one shoulder against the door and crossing her arms. “What a surprise. Is the world ending?”
It might very well be, at least where he is concerned, but Tobirama just gives her a faint smile. It comes out more pained than anything, and her other brow rises to join the first, worry overtaking the wariness. Before she can say anything, though—before his own courage can falter—Tobirama thrusts the letter towards her.
“If I don’t return in a week, can you give this to my brother?” he asks, more sharply than he intends to.
Cautiously, she takes it, tracing one long, pale finger over the seam. “I can,” she allows, though it’s clearly guarded. “You have a mission already?”
It’s a close enough assumption, so Tobirama nods. Tōka stares at him for another moment, frowning faintly, and then says, “I thought you’d already given me your farewell letters. Is this something special?”
Tobirama hesitates, not wanting to provide any information that could allow her or his brother to put the pieces together, should they look for him before the week is up. But he owes Tōka at least something, even if it isn’t the entirety of the truth. For as long as he can remember, she’s held his farewell letters, saved in case he fails to return from a mission or a battle, and he’s held hers. Beyond that, she’s his favorite of their relatives, and one of the few he would call a friend.
“Yes,” he says finally, though it’s reluctant. “If Brother asks for me, you may tell him I left, but…”
“He wouldn’t want you going out so soon after a battle, so keep it quiet until he says something,” Tōka finishes, because she understands him. Her darkly painted lips curve into a languid smile, and she offers him an equally lazy salute. “You know I love keeping secrets from the big dork. Count me in.”
Tobirama forces himself to smile at her, even though a faint twinge of guilt pulls at him. What would she say, if he told her the truth? How will she feel, having kept this from Hashirama, when the truth comes out?
“Thank you,” is all he says, offering her a grateful nod and then turning away.
Before he can take more than a step, though, Tōka has ducked around in front of him, expression far more gentle than her usual. She lifts a hand, brushing a few shaggy strands of silver hair from his face, and then says softly, “You should dress down more often. It suits you.”
This time, his smile comes more easily, and he catches her hand in his, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Thank you, Tōka,” he repeats, because there's little else he can give her.
With a chuckle, she pats him on the head, then steps back. “Any time, little cousin,” she returns, then waves and heads back inside, closing the door behind her.
Tobirama stares at the closed portal for a long moment, then shakes himself out of his fugue. A simple bound takes him up onto the roof of her house, and from there he leaps across to the wall and up it, then vaults over the far side to land lightly on the packed earth below. The sentries are moving, but they're heading away from him, and there's no one close enough to see him disappear into the trees. As a sensor, avoiding the traps in the forest is simple, and before the moon has even risen he’s moving quickly along the path.
The Uchiha Clan compound isn’t hidden, is hardly a secret given the number of times Senju have tracked patrols back there. Tobirama has few illusions that the Senju compound is any more secreted, but for once, it works in his favor. A little under half an hour to the river where Hashirama and Madara once met, then another half an hour from there to where the Uchiha live.
Tobirama isn’t a fool. He knows very well that even if he’s not killed on sight, he won't live more than a few seconds after being dragged before Madara. Not unless Madara is feeling cruel enough to resort to torture, but Tobirama is prepared for that as well. Tensions between their clans still run high, and with the death of the Clan Head’s brother it will only be worse, but…
Perhaps a life for a life will at least return things to normal. Perhaps killing him will satisfy Madara, because it was clear on the battlefield that Hashirama regretted Tobirama’s actions, and in this Tobirama acted alone. It was his fight, his jutsu, his sword-blow that felled Izuna. There's no need to drag anyone else into this, no need to take it out on the Senju when Tobirama is offering himself up to face the Uchiha’s justice.
His hair is in his eyes again. It’s still annoying.
Almost as annoying as the Uchiha patrol that starts following him from a distance the moment he crosses the river. Really, Tobirama thinks, irritated. How much success do they really think they’ll have, sneaking up on a sensor? And it’s hardly a secret that even among sensors Tobirama is in a league of his own. He can pinpoint the chakra of a single person from halfway across the continent; three mid-level shinobi ducking behind trees are hardly about to escape his notice.
He doesn’t stop, though, doesn’t so much as glance at them in acknowledgement. Part of it is pique, stung pride. Most of it, however, is the fear that if he does, if he looks back or wavers or even hesitates long enough to give them a sign that he sees them, he’ll stop. He’ll turn away from this path, go back to Senju lands and try to come to terms with Hashirama’s disappointment. Maybe he’ll manage it, and maybe he won't, but he knows that either way the shadow of it will hang over him for the rest of his days.
You destroyed any chance we might have had of peace!
Hashirama is an emotional man, more prone to cheer than anger, quick to regain his humor whenever he loses it. It’s possible he already regrets those words, that he spoke them only in the heat of the moment and doesn’t actually blame Tobirama for lost opportunities.
But it’s equally possible that those were his true thoughts, and that he simply has never lost enough control to speak them before.
Tobirama is the one with the temper, between them, even if it’s an icy sort. He’s usually the first to snap, while Hashirama laughs and jests and makes light of things. This evening was unusual, and that’s enough to make Tobirama suspect that Hashirama truly meant what he said.
It aches like stitches pulled, like the memory of a small grave in the afternoon sun, freshly filled with dirt. In landing that one blow, in doing as he’s always been taught, Tobirama lost his brother. Lost the warmth in Hashirama’s eyes, the brightness of his smile, the comfort of his hand on Tobirama’s shoulder. And…perhaps it was arrogance, perhaps it was pure blind willfulness, but Tobirama had conceitedly thought that such a thing could never happen, no matter how different he and Hashirama were. Even if he has never managed to be what Hashirama needs, he had assumed that, as brothers, there was nothing he could do to drive Hashirama away.
How painful it is, to be proven wrong.
It takes effort not to stumble, not to let his feet waver on the hard-packed earth of the road. Just for a moment Tobirama pauses, resting a hand on the trunk of a slender young oak, and allows his shoulders to bow, his head to fall. He thinks of Hashirama, the disappointment in his face. Thinks of Izuna, proud, stubborn Izuna, falling before his sword. Remembers the way Madara screamed, the hate in his eyes as he’d raced to his brother’s side.
For the first time since he left Hashirama’s presence, he thinks of what this will mean for him. Thinks of ending, of death, of dying at Madara's hand. He’s scared—only a fool wouldn’t be. Madara is going to kill him, he is going to die, and…
In doing so, he will pay the price for turning Madara against Hashirama like this. He will face justice for stealing Izuna’s life, far more immediately than he ever expected to. He will protect his clan, ease Hashirama’s grief, give everything he has for the dream Hashirama has always believed in so passionately.
His life has been good, what he has lived of it. There has been no peace, no rest, no escape from the constant cycle of bloodshed, but Tobirama has never known anything different. He regrets, now, that he will never see the world change, but is content to know that he goes to his death to lay the foundation Hashirama will build upon. It makes his looming mortality easier to bear.
A breath, slow and careful, and Tobirama pushes himself back upright. His hand lingers on the tree’s smooth bark, because the forest will always make him think of Hashirama before all else, and this is his private farewell. Then he opens his eyes, lifts his chin, and keeps walking.
To his left, one of the Uchiha scouts hurries ahead, likely going to warn the clan of his approach. That almost makes Tobirama waver again, but he fixes his gaze ahead and forces himself on. One way or another, this will be ending soon, and Tobirama has no preferences for how he will die. Whether Madara comes himself, or a squad takes his head and carries it back to Madara, or they simply drag him before the man in chains, Tobirama will still be dead at the end of it, so the method matters little to him.
He hopes, distantly, numbly, that Madara will not decide on torture. Tobirama has held out against such methods before, but that was always because he had a reason to. Torture simply for the sake of it, with the knowledge that no one is coming for him, that no one will even mark his absence until he is far past his breaking point—that is enough to leave him shaken.
In the tales, Tobirama thinks a little wry, marching to one’s death never seems to take quite this long, or contain quite this much uncertainty.
From ahead there's a sudden surge of chakra, a blur of impressions as a knot of shinobi take to the trees, using chakra to increase their speed. Tobirama looks up, following their progress, and can sense the two still tailing him tense. Careful to keep his body language open, unthreatening, Tobirama stops in the middle of the road, waiting until chakra-sense bleeds into more normal vision and he can see six shinobi in Uchiha colors marching down the road. Then, slow and deliberate, Tobirama raises his hands to show they're empty and carefully sinks to his knees in the dirt.
“I surrender,” he says clearly, and despite the situation still manages to take some amusement at the sight of every single Uchiha’s absolutely astonished expression.
There are footsteps, wary and hesitant, but Tobirama keeps his gaze on the ground before him. Then something hard taps his chin, and he allows the shaft of a pike to tip his head up, meeting furious dark eyes without wavering.
“It’s him,” the Uchiha says, somewhere between bewildered, savagely satisfied, and murderous. “Senju Tobirama, without a doubt.” The pike’s steel-capped butt knocks him under the jaw, painfully hard, and the man demands, “What are you doing here? What do you want?”
It takes all of Tobirama’s effort not to move, not to call up chakra or ready a jutsu or anything similar. Even without weapons, he’s fast and deadly, and not proving that to these fools goes against ever instinct he’s ever cultivated. But that’s not the point here; he hasn’t come to fight.
“I am responsible for the state of Uchiha Izuna,” he says, and is once again astonished that his voice doesn’t shake. “I would offer Uchiha Madara the satisfaction of taking my life in recompense for my actions, which I regret.”
The leader stares at him for a long moment before his mouth tightens. Without shifting his pike, he jerks his head, and the other Uchiha smoothly shift to surround them, weapons at the ready. One, a woman with a stark burn scar on the left side of her face, steps forward and grabs Tobirama’s arms. She wrenches them behind him, twisting so that his hands are forced against his elbows, and then starts wrapping them in ninja wire. Tobirama is reluctantly impressed by her thoroughness; practically any attempt at escape, or even any hard tug, will leave him cut to the bone and bleeding out.
As soon as she ties the wire off, two more Uchiha step forward to grab him by the shoulders and drag him to his feet. The scarred woman pats him down, brisk, thorough, and impersonal, and then steps back.
“He’s not carrying anything,” she says, sounding disconcerted. “Not even a kunai.”
Tobirama meets the leader’s startled stare, holding it without hesitation. Distantly, a corner of his mind that never quite shuts off contemplates the truth of the elder’s words, heard when he was just a child: all that is left in him is resignation now, not even a flicker of the shivery fear he felt just minutes ago. He is…accepting of his fate, prepared to face whatever Madara decides for him, and he sees the realization settle into the man before him, understanding flickering to life.
“I didn’t think Tobirama of the Senju could even feel regret, let alone act on it,” the man says, clearly testing him.
In any other situation, Tobirama might laugh. Do they think him an unfeeling caricature of a man, a golem made out of stone and killing intent? He’s as human as they are, and Tobirama has yet to meet a single man in all the world who is entirely without regret. As it is, though, he simply inclines his head, and moves without resisting when the pair of guards shove him forward. The woman takes up a position right on his heels, and the leader waves them forward, his mouth pulled into a tight, grim line.
“Let’s go,” he orders. “Lord Madara will be waiting.”