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this one is definitely a romance

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Uzumaki Mito arrives in the middle of a crowd of very cheerful and equally (but less obviously) dangerous redheads.

Konoha is a little too obviously brand new, but they've decided to own it. The buildings that would have been half-painted by now are left bare to the eye - everybody can see they're made of the same uniform wood, the same wood that grows huge, towering and protective around their village. Half of the buildings look like they've been grown out of the ground like that, no nails or saws involved. That's because they have, of course.

("That's moronic," Madara says during their planning. "We're just advertising that we live in a giant tinderbox!"

Hashirama wonders if he's just compelled to point out the strengths of his clan at every possible occasion or if he's actually just forgotten that all the bloodlines with really strong fire affinities are on their side now.

"Well, there won't be many fire affinities-" he starts, and Madara gives him such an impossibly vile look he stops mid-sentence. What's he done to deserve that?

"It's practical," says Tobirama, with slightly less venom than Madara but no less flat, mulish insistence. "Hashirama's right, they're all wind and water affinities. And if there are going to be foreign shinobi in our village-"

"If you're so concerned they're a threat, don't invite them!"

That's absurd. "I'm marrying her, I can't just not invite her family-"

"- but since they're our allies we don't want to threaten them. But it's good to remind them that we could." Tobirama is still in full voice.

"If they're enemies, don't invite them - or invite them and kill them. If they're allies, don't threaten them," Madara complains, speaking like Tobirama is a slow two year old. Both of them ignore Hashirama. "It doesn't make sense."

Tobirama never did take well to that kind of condescension. "I'm not surprised," he murmurs coolly, "that you have no grasp of politics. No wonder your clan was at war with everyone."

Hashirama winces. Madara's eyes flash, and, more concerning, they flash red.

Izuna yanks on his brother's arm and hisses something to him. It takes a moment but the tension clears even though Tobirama is looking at the pair of them like he believes nothing less than a sacrifice to the death god will force Madara to figure out that nuance is a thing.

"Do what you like," spits Madara finally, after a silent, glowering argument with Izuna.

He says it like he is giving a concession and Izuna rolls his eyes. Hashirama sees his brother open his mouth and kicks him in the calf. Can't he even be gracious when he wins?

Tobirama shoots him a glare and snaps his jaw shut.

"Thank you," says Hashirama, beaming.

Madara looks at him, opens his mouth, falters, then snarls, "You are such an idiot," and storms out.

Hashirama closes his mouth.

Living in Konoha is very much like living in a tinderbox, but, ah ...probably not for the reasons Madara thinks.)

Eyes drift from this obvious example of the famed wood release in action straight to Hashirama's smile. He tries to make it as welcoming as possible, but the message is received. Tobirama is too dour to even be properly smug.

Hashirama knows the glance his brother shoots him. He loves his him but it would be nice, just once, if Tobirama trusted him with something other than just their lives.

Madara is nowhere to be found right now, although Hashirama has faith - well. No. Hashirama has hope - that he'll arrive.

Izuna is here at least, and he gives the impression that he's content and that their clans live in domestic bliss together. He's better at the political stuff than his brother.

Mito-sama is beautiful, which Hashirama supposes must be a good start in a marriage. He hopes he appears to similar advantage, but he kind of doubts it. She's sharp-eyed and has smooth unblemished skin and her hair is burnished and bloody red in the dying rays of the late winter sun. Her features are fine and she moves like she expects the crowd to part for her - and it does.

And she is coming for him.

Hashirama has never been so completely terrified in his life.

"Um," he says to his brother, and finds Tobirama's hand gripping his shoulder like a vise.

"Steady," murmurs Tobirama.

Hashirama shoots him a wild-eyed look. For a second he thinks of pointing out that Tobirama isn't the one who has to marry the woman, but then she's still approaching and she's right there and-

"-my brother, the Hokage," says Tobirama, and his friendly hand on Hashirama's shoulder squeezes tightly enough to bruise.

"Hi," says Hashirama, and then pauses stupidly. He gives Mito the very best smile he can summon. "Hi. I'm, yes, that's me-"

Next to him Tobirama heaves a sigh.

Mito covers her mouth with a fan, probably because it's not appropriate to laugh at your host.

Hashirama wonders for a wild and terrible moment if he can just fling his fancy hat at her and flee.

"Struck stupid by your beauty, I'm sure," someone is saying, and Izuna is right there, politely introduced as 'one of the leaders of a founding clan' right through Tobirama's clenched teeth.

"I think I saw my brother talking to Touka-san," he muses about ten seconds later when it seems clear Hashirama is too busy sweating through his clothes to contribute anything to the conversation they're having with his future wife.

It's a lie, because nobody is screaming and Hashirama can see plainly that Touka is trying her damnedest to be friendly to an Uzumaki who seems a little too interested in noodles several tables away, but Hashirama will take it and run with it.

"Right, I'd. I'll. I'm going to-"

"Go," hisses Tobirama, who is clearly thinking that Hashirama's reputation will be a lot easier to salvage without him actually being present.

Hashirama goes.

Maybe he can meet Mito again later and it won't be as public and they'll get along?

He can't help but feel like her laughing eyes are upon him as he stages a tactical retreat.


 

Madara is on the cliff, peering down at the village with narrow eyes. He's sitting with his back against a tree up there, one that Hashirama can still feel the lingering touch of his own chakra within. Madara's hands are curled around the one knee he has drawn up to his chin. Hashirama's glad to see he's not planted there armed to the teeth and ready to fend off an invasion, at least.

He is all alone up there, though, wearing his armour if only carrying a couple of weapons. It's so hard to get Madara out of his armour, even among his own family.

"Whew," declares Hashirama loudly, dropping down next to him. Madara doesn't twitch.

From here they can see the small festival thrown to celebrate Mito's arrival. It smells of frying meat and spices and Hashirama can hear the sounds of some enterprising kunoichi who has pulled out a stringed instrument. She's only average at it but there's an easy joy in her playing. It's good to hear.

The younger children made paper lanterns earlier, and in the low evening light the distant flicker of them burns in Madara's black eyes.

(It's a warm fire, a good fire. Hashirama thinks it looks homey there. It's not what Senjuu are supposed to think when they see red light flicker in an Uchiha's eyes. Hashirama's ...well, he's known for his optimism, but not always for his good sense.)

"I thought you'd stay up here for a while."

Madara makes a low murmuring sound, not quite a grunt. Then, after a long still moment, "Are you really going to carve your face on it?"

"Yes!" He grins, sparing one glance back at Madara before he looks back to his village. It's small and it's not quite finished, but it's the culmination of so much work, of so many daydreams and nightmares, he feels like he's looking at his own soul come sprawling up from the earth. And maybe Madara's, too; whatever else might happen, he knows he could never do it without him. "I'm going to watch over Konoha forever," Hashirama says firmly.

"With... with your head staring out of the mountainside?" Madara asks again.

He sounds like he thinks-

"That's stupid."

Yes, Hashirama thinks ruefully, sounding exactly like that's what he thinks.

"But just my eyes would be creepy," declares Hashirama blithely, and ignores the sudden, distinct feeling that he's missed Madara's point. "Are you coming down?"

"To meet Mito-sama?" There's an edge in Madara's voice that feels dangerous. Hashirama isn't quite sure why, but he hasn't come this far without trusting his instincts.

"Well... And also to have some food and listen to music and relax," Hashirama suggests gently, instead of pointing out that Madara is the leader of one of the founding clans and he does, actually, have to be there unless he's actually dying or maybe on fire.

Madara eyes him.

"Izuna seems like he's having fun," Hashirama says, ducking his head just a little to peer at Madara through his bangs. It's so openly manipulative it's come the full circle and become straightforward.

"I suppose," Madara says, and uncurls from his seat. His hair makes a distinctive hiss against his armour when he stretches. He flexes his hands like talons, like they're stiff from doing nothing for too long. He has hands like any ninja: deft, strong and nicked with scars all over. Most of those are old, and Hashirama thinks he could draw them from memory. "Are you coming?"

Hashirama blinks. "Yes," he says easily, grinning. There's always a good sort of feeling when Madara says things like that. Will you be there, are you coming, let's go. The answer is always yes, because Hashirama will probably go anywhere Madara's going. But it's so nice to feel a little bit like Madara wants him to.

It's just... they've been at odds so long. And now they're not. And every reminder makes Hashirama smile.

It's nice is all.

The little festival is more lively when they get closer. Madara seems surprised but not mad to see his own clan members out and about socialising (cautiously, as is apparently their way) with everyone else. There are some very young children indeed running around with painted faces and sticky fingers, under the semi-careful attention of one of the older Uchiha kids.

That child is eight years old, if Hashirama remembers rightly, and he's never been in a real fight. He's not due to start going on missions for months. Eight years old! It seems so unlikely. The thought lingers as he watches him race after a younger child to stop her from sticking her hand into a pot of frying oil. All together they can definitely do this - they can have a place where kids can be as old as that before they have to kill anybody. At least.

"Stop smiling at Kagami like that," says Madara, "you're going to upset him with your face." And he has the gall to click his tongue. Tsk, admonishing.

Hashirama touches his face. "Eh? My face? - That's so mean!" He gives a dramatic wail and he shoves his shoulder into Madara's side. It's not strong enough to move him, and when he connects it feels like shoving a wall, or a really big tree, something with roots or foundations buried deep in the earth.

Madara, predictably, shoves back. "It's not my fault your face scares children," he says loftily.

Hashirama squawks. "You -!"

"There you are," says Tobirama repressively, appearing out of nowhere. All the teasing drains out of Madara's body.

Hashirama smiles for his brother even as he mourns the easy atmosphere. Madara and Tobirama will learn. They will. They just need practice!

(And they're both really stubborn so they need lots of practice. But that's really all it is. Hashirama won't accept any alternatives.

Hashirama won't accept any alternatives.)

"Mito-sama has asked after both of you," Tobirama says pointedly. "I tried to tell her you weren't that much of an idiot most of the time, but-"

"What did you do?" Madara wonders. There's a surprising amount of good humour in his voice, and in response Tobirama's face darkens.

Hashirama's still not that sure what Madara has against the group from Whirlpool, but at least he's not mad. Or not mad yet, anyway. The night's young. And there's always time for Madara to lose his temper.

"Nothing!" Hashirama protests. Madara and Tobirama give him the same look, which is wrong on so many levels but somehow so, so satisfying; that his precious people can all be right here, disparaging him at the same time in the same wa- wait, no, that doesn't sound right.

He shelves the thought. "She's terrifying," he complains in a low voice.

And since Tobirama's the antithesis of sympathy, Hashirama turns his wobbling eyes on Madara hopefully.

Madara's lips curl, narrow and a little too pleased at Hashirama's expense - no, no sympathy there - and Tobirama rolls his eyes. He is impatient, though, so they do return to the centre of the celebration sooner rather than later. Mito and Izuna are talking with their heads bowed together.

"Hmm," says Madara, in a tone of surprise. Tobirama looks sideways at him and Hashirama dearly hopes this isn't the prelude to another argument.

"Ah," says Izuna, looking up with that pinpoint accuracy that seems to alert him any time his brother is around - like maybe he's a really sensitive, Madara-specific sensor. "My brother," he says, shooting Mito-sama a smile that's both friendly and sort of ...sweetly shy.

There's something to that look, Hashirama thinks, but he can't quite pick it.

Madara makes Tobirama look very charismatic, basically, with his narrowed eyes and his grim mouth. Mito's liable to think that he hates her, which Hashirama's sure isn't true. He knows that Madara reserves actual hate for a very few things - it's just that the sheer burning intensity with which he mildly dislikes things is really, really overwhelming.

His affection seems to run equally deep, although Hashirama has less experience with seeing it. He likes to think that he's one of the people Madara cares about. Sometimes he's not sure, and then sometimes he's really sure. It's a strange thing, trying to wrap his head around Madara. He feels like he could try to tease him apart forever and never really get anywhere.

This time Hashirama does better. He feels a little less terrified of Mito with her attention so diffused, and manages whole sentences that are coherent and arguably sensible. He asks about her clan, about living among the water and some of the less secretive aspects of sealing - he learns that it's a tradition of Uzumaki mothers to make moving origami for their children, little things like cranes that flap their wings with the application of a few tiny strokes of ink, or a paper flower that unfurls in sunlight.

It sounds sweet. Tobirama, unsurprisingly, is fascinated. He's less interested in the cute-children-with-moving-origami idea and more invested in the mechanical applications. And Mito isn't as closed-mouthed about those as most ninja would be - either it's not really a secret, or her clan has bigger surprises up their sleeves. Hashirama suspects the second one. Daunting.

She's still explaining something to Tobirama, and with the attention of their lovely guest diverted for the moment Hashirama relaxes a little. He is paying enough attention to his surroundings that he catches it out of the corner of his eye when Madara rolls his head on his neck, stretching against stiffness. His spine pops, just audible, and his eyelids flutter at the change in pressure. The move reveals a vulnerable strip of skin across his throat.

For a second Hashirama thinks he can see the blood there, the slow steady thump of it beneath the skin. It's really thin there, and pale, and the veins below Madara's skin always show up blue-dark where it's thinnest.

He swallows and there's a strange panicked voice in Hashirama's head that says maybe Madara shouldn't show such soft parts in front of a crowd of foreign ninja. It's - it's unwise. Unsafe. That's all. Somebody might take that thumping pulse, might free it to the open air, all red and slippery. And ...and he can't seem to take his eyes away from that strip of skin, at least not until Madara shifts position again and it's covered by his clothing and his hair.

And: "Oh," says Mito abruptly.

Hashirama twitches. "Hmm?" he blinks back to her, smiling on reflex.

Izuna's palm makes a smacking sound when it hits his forehead. After a moment he lets his hand slide down to cover his eyes. It remains there for a few long seconds, like he can't even look at them without - something. That's weird.

"What?"

Tobirama is giving Hashirama a resigned sort of look.

He's not quite sure what that means. He looks to Madara.

"I had no idea," says Mito, mostly to Madara. Had no idea about what? That Madara has a neck? That seems unlikely. Hashirama squints. "You must think I -" She stops. "If I'd known he was already married, I'd never-" Here she pauses. Then after a second of complete, awkward silence, she bows. It's not a very deep bow, but it's more than they're owed. "The situation here is not what I thought."

"We're not married," says Madara. His voice is very, very flat.

Hashirama blinks. What? Married to Madara? Him?

"Oh." Mito's eyebrows rise, like this is a bit astonishing. She snaps her fan open in front of her face again. "...you're sure?" she asks, like maybe they wouldn't be.

Tobirama makes a strangled noise.

Madara scowls fiercely. "Quite sure," he growls.

Hashirama's not sure why, but he feels a little offended. "Hey," he says reproachfully. "What's with that attitude? I'd be a great husband."

Everybody turns to stare at him. Izuna's eyebrows fly way, way up on his forehead, and Tobirama starts rubbing the bridge of his nose like he has a blossoming headache.

"Hypothetically," Hashirama adds. Because, well, obviously. "We're not married."

Madara gives him a look that contains so much concentrated venom Hashirama's astonished he doesn't drop dead on the spot. His brows furrow. After a second he's still alive, so he blinks guilelessly.

"What?"

"Hmm." Mito's eyes flick to Hashirama, and then back to Madara.

"You know, a marriage alliance would have solved a lot of problems early on," says Izuna thoughtfully, prompting another one of those unholy noises from Tobirama's throat.

(Is he choking? Should Hashirama check? He reaches - No, okay, he's not choking. Tobirama's trying to kill him with his eyeballs alone, but he's not choking.)

It is a long, awkward, and frankly confusing night.

Madara stalks off just as soon as Izuna will let him bow out. His hair seems extra bristly.


 

Later, the idea occurs to him: Maybe showing vulnerable parts like that means Madara trusts that Hashirama has his back? That idea makes him feel sort of golden and glowy, so he runs with it. That's nice.


 

That wasn't what was confusing about the night. But it is nice.


 

Mito-sama completely refuses to marry Hashirama.

Point blank.

"But why?" Hashirama wonders, and she gives him a look of deep, deep pity.

It's really embarrassing. It's also really concerning, because they do need the alliance with Whirlpool's seal masters.

In the end that doesn't seem to be too difficult a problem, though, because Izuna, Tobirama and Mito disappear for an evening with some advisors from Whirlpool, and when they reappear Mito is engaged to Izuna. Hashirama doesn't understand the details, but Izuna seems very smug.

Hashirama wishes him the joy of Uzumaki Mito, because she's honestly terrifying.

"Maybe Izuna-kun likes scary women?" he wonders thoughtfully, leaning back in his fancy chair with his sandals braced on his fancy desk. The general fanciness of his new office really doesn't change the fact of the sheer volume of paperwork inside it.

Hashirama's not interested in pointless paperwork, doesn't ask for it, wouldn't allow it really - so it's an unfortunate fact that every one of these reports is reasonably important and ought to be read over.

He has correspondence from the Daimyou, which is necessary; information from allied clans regarding the ongoing state of their alliances, which is obviously important considering they're all living - in the tinderbox! - together; scouting reports from the village boundaries and at least a hundred li further out, which are again pretty vital since their village is a threat to a lot of existing powers and needs vigilant protection; and reports on the internal politics, policies, building progress and developing systems inside the village. These last he gets a bit of leeway with because they're usually not immediately urgent, but that just means they pile up faster and, once avoided, are almost impossible to motivate himself toward.

"Scary-? Anija, you have no room to talk." Tobirama gives him murderous eyes over a report on the food storage seals the Uzumaki clan are working out for their warehouses. A well-supplied ninja village is a ninja village that can survive disruption to its supply lines, after all.

Their alliance with Whirlpool is important, so Hashirama's really glad Izuna's okay with marrying Mito. She's still terrifying, but she seems nicer in person, now that he's spent more time with her. Still, he can see why that might...

Wait, what?

"What? I don't like scary women." Hashirama hasn't been with that many women and he's certainly never been with a woman who was Mito's particular brand of terrifying, so he has no idea what Tobirama's talking about. He says as much. Then he blithely continues before Tobirama can get his mouth all the way open: "But I don't think Madara's happy that his brother's getting married for political reasons," he adds, frowning. "He really likes Izuna..."

They both know that's, ah, that's a bit of an understatement.

Madara likes Izuna possibly more than Madara likes breathing. His temper tantrums when his baby brother has so much as a sniffle have quickly become legendary. Half the village thinks it's so endearing that they give him all the leeway in the world for it.

(Hashirama belongs to that half, as it happens. There's a weird part of him that thinks it's as cute as newborn puppies when Madara turns into a sulky mess over his baby brother. It's just - it's sweet, okay? It's sweet. It's good.

Tobirama, obviously, belongs to the other half of the village.)

They are all fairly lucky that Izuna doesn't seem to have cottoned on. Yet. It's only a matter of time.

(Hashirama eyes Tobirama for a few moments and wonders what it would be like if they had that kind of relationship.

He thinks Tobirama would probably use that power for evil, or at least to force Hashirama to be more practical about things Tobirama deems necessary. Which would be bad, because then they probably wouldn't even have a village.)

Sometimes Hashirama feels faintly jealous of Izuna, and he's never quite sure why. It's not as though he wants to be Madara's brother. He just... sometimes it'd be nice to be so sure.

"I don't think he's mad because of that," says Tobirama slowly.

"Hmm. He sure seems out of sorts, though."

Tobirama stares at him. "Yes," he says, drawing the word out.

"Well, what else could it be?" he wonders.

Hashirama gets smacked in the face with a report on groundwater quality. "Hey!"

But Tobirama has already left, muttering under his breath. The door to Hashirama's fancy office bangs closed behind him.

Huh.

He still doesn't really understand what that's about even weeks later.

Izuna is almost alarmingly cheerful and Mito-sama seems like a well-sated cat, all purring smiles and sheathed claws, which is just as scary as it sounds.

Madara continues to stalk around the village like the outer edge of a hurricane, and for some reason he only gets fiercer and worse when he interacts with Hashirama.

Tobirama acts like Hashirama is the stupidest genius ever, but maddeningly will not tell him why.

He's told instead, several times, by several people - including Izuna, of all people - to 'Just go talk to Madara!'

He does, but it's like walking a minefield. The tinderbox has only gotten so much worse. Madara is sneering, resentful, disdainful, heart-breakingly cold; he is like a stepped-on cat with his fur on end.

Most of Hashirama's attempts to talk to him involve either Madara blowing up at him or Madara ignoring him completely. It's baffling. Its maddening.

It goes on for ages, too, and this behaviour is not becoming any more transparent to Hashirama over time. It's really not. It's just making him sort of restless. A little impatient. Increasingly, frustrated.

But he does receive one small epiphany of his own. It's been a long time coming. A long time. Like, possibly only a little less than a decade.

It occurs to Hashirama around midday and during a cup of tea he's supposed to be sharing with Tobirama, who is complaining about - he doesn't know, something Madara did. Will do. Keeps doing. All of the above. He's not sure.

"Hey," he interrupts.

Hashirama ignores the way Tobirama pauses and braces himself, like he's expecting a non-sequitur that will hurt his brain to hear.

"Hey... I really like Madara." He's oddly astonished. It makes perfect sense, though. He likes Madara. He really likes Madara.

"I know," says Tobirama, long-suffering.

Well, yes. Of course Hashirama's always liked him, but now when he says 'likes' he means it like a fourteen year old might, all red-faced and sweaty-palmed. He's not sure quite how to get that across.

Perplexed, he opens is mouth. "No, I mean -"

"-I know," says Tobirama.

"Oh." It's... ridiculous. Absurd. How...?

"I-"

"I don't need the details."

"But -"

"Drink your tea."

Hashirama closes his mouth. He drinks his tea. Tobirama breathes a small but heartfelt sigh of relief.

Then: "Do you think he -"

"Yes."

"Oh." This 'oh' is decidedly breathier. He sounds even younger and sillier. Twelve, maybe. Something inside his chest is wriggling like a happy puppy, and under that is a growing swell of anxiety. "Really?"

"He's not subtle," says Tobirama flatly.

"He seems really mad with me lately," Hashirama admits, rubbing his nose thoughtfully.

"...and subtlety apparently doesn't matter in the slightest, because you're an idiot."

What? Him?

"Ehh?" Hashirama makes a wounded sound.


 

As soon as Hashirama realises that, actually, maybe his feelings about Madara are not that platonic, he kind of... stops being able to function. He can hardly look at him without feeling like his heart's going a mile a minute and his mouth's dry and he's going to do something really stupid any second.

All of it can be traced back to how his brain nose dives into the gutter and stays there.

It doesn't even make sense. This revelation he's having, this horribly Madara-centred revelation, it isn't even sexual to start with. He wants Madara to want and like him. He wants to hoard moments of hard-won vulnerability, and he'll brave anything to see a sliver of softness come through on Madara's harsh face.

But all of a sudden he's not just aware of his maybe-inappropriately-intense friendship with Madara. Hashirama tumbles face-first into a definitely inappropriately-intense lust for Madara and stays there.

The view from the gutter is uncomfortable.

Madara makes him sweat.

He stares at Madara's hands and imagines putting his fingers in his mouth. He looks at his lips when he talks and thinks about sucking on his tongue. He wants to pull his hair and crush it to himself and breathe in all of the smoke-sweat-skin scents that linger in it.

Next time he sees Madara tilt his head and pop his spine like that, he stares at the thumping pulse and the strip of pale skin. He wants to put his mouth on it and drag his lips over the spot, feel the thump-thump against his own rapid breath.

He remembers watching him do that at their welcoming festival for the Whirlpool delegation. Maybe this is what Mito-sama saw, that first night. That... explains a lot about her response.

Hashirama wouldn't agree to marry somebody who looked at another man like this, either.


 

Hashirama is trying to chaperone, but Izuna and Mito are making it difficult. They seem perfectly content and do not even try to get away from him to besmirch each other's virtue.

The cherry blossoms are doing their brief, wild thing, and the peaceful couple are picnicking between them. The trees shower them with petals in every gust of wind, and the world is sweet-smelling, pink and white and surreal beneath their boughs.

They seem happy, despite all expectations to the contrary. Mito-sama is still pants-wettingly terrifying, and Izuna still seems to adore her.

Hashirama likes Mito. She has a heavy stare, deft hands, quiet steps. He thinks he likes her more because she's terrifying than in spite of it, and sometimes, in his reflective moments, he thinks they could have made a fair couple. It would not have been a heart-pounding, breathless romance, but it would have been - friendly, good, solid.

They'd have kept their heads, together. Mito would have been a steadying hand on Hashirama's reins.

She is plainly delighted by Izuna, or at least by his rapt attention to her.

Hashirama thinks she is delighted by Izuna in sort of the same way that cats are delighted by small feathered things.

The thing is, Izuna is a capable killer. Hashirama has seen him fight. He's not as good as Madara, not as good as Tobirama - but those are extremely unfair standards. He knows Izuna could trade blows with nearly anyone and still limp away.

Watching him with Mito still makes Hashirama think of a newborn calf, all soft and new and wobbly-kneed, with melting eyes and too much trust. In this metaphor, Mito is a fox in disguise, licking her lips and flicking her tail back and forth in hungry suspense.

(Admittedly, Hashirama has been exposed to Madara's opinion on the match, which is of course that Izuna is a grown man and he can make his own decisions, even if they are awful, no good, terrible ones.

Madara is not allowed to chaperone. For political reasons. The tinderbox situation.)

Still, Hashirama's happy they seem happy.

And then Izuna turns to him. "Figured it out, did you," he says finally. He goes still, eyes sliding away from Hashirama again, locked on Mito. She plucks a petal from his hair and he holds out his hand for it. Cute.

"Figured it out?" Hashirama repeats weakly, but he knows exactly what Izuna's getting at. You'd have to be blind not to see the way he's looking at Madara lately. Hashirama knows just... can't seem to help himself. Somehow. Whenever Madara is present, the full weight of Hashirama's attention falls upon him.

He is, as Tobirama would say, not subtle.

Izuna gives him a long, steady look.

Mito laughs, and no longer does him the courtesy of covering it up. She's plainly delighted. She pats his shoulder and shares a smile with Izuna. "Good," she declares, "because telling you 'no' was mortifying."

Hashirama is blushing, he knows he is. Their absurdly romantic picnic is, however, a sympathy-free zone.


 

(He does like Mito. He likes Mito and she is a brilliant, dangerous person, and he could definitely have grown close to her in that way over time.

But now -

"I want to see him happy," he whines quietly to Mito, only two weeks later. He is used to it now, feeling overwhelmed, feeling flooded. It is part of his identity, at least when he is among friends. It has crawled inside him and put down roots. Madara, Madara, Madara. Mito pats him gently on the head. "I want it so badly."

"Yes," she says, indulgent and unusually soft, "I know. You're very, very in love with him."

"No," he says sadly. Love is terrible. He feels hypoglycemic every time he looks at Madara's stupid face.

But she is heartless. "Yes.")


 

It's still about vulnerability and trust. And he still has Madara's back. (Always. Always.)

It's just that Hashirama's coming to realise that he also wants his front. And... and his sides! A lot of Madara, basically. Hashirama wants all of Madara, all the time.

("Were you always this incompetent around people you're attracted to?" Tobirama wants to know. He seems baffled.

Hashirama is baffled, and he can't even really protest Tobirama's harshness. It's accurate.)

Among the other things he is useless about, Hashirama wants badly to know what Madara sounds like when he has an orgasm. But he doesn't, so his brain just - makes it up. His brain makes it up and uses it to haunt him, for heaven's sakes.

Sometimes he is delighted to be haunted by that. Usually when he's alone.

(He indulges himself when he's alone, so much more than he does when Madara is actually there. That's when Hashirama's whole body lights up.

He wants to be touched so badly he aches with it. He's sensitive to any touch, any pressure.

He is fascinated by it, and he touches his own skin like he's never felt it before. Years upon years of hard fighting and savage war, and now - It's a crackle of lightning in his belly and he's dry-mouthed, alert, primed, nerves screaming. The roughness of his own fingertips makes him burn.)

And now he listens to Madara talk and his voice makes flashfire heat unfurl in his belly, prickling along his skin. He swallows. He inhales and his breath moves over his too-dry, cottony tongue. He follows Madara with his eyes and he sweats.

He feels like a drooling moron. Get a grip, he thinks, but he can barely concentrate on anything else when Madara's in the room.

He is an idiot besotted.

It gets so bad that the daimyou - the actual daimyou, to whom they are meant to be delivering the happy news of Izuna's wedding invitation, among their ongoing discussions - notices. He really does. It seems like he's not sure what he's noticing, because he appears to be under the impression that Hashirama is sick.

They're almost in private, in the way that one is when addressing a daimyou: sequestered in his receiving room and guarded by three samurai and one blank-faced ninja from an independent clan. And the man asks Hashirama if he's feeling well.

It's mortifying.

Hashirama deflects wildly, but the exchange draws attention to exactly the thing he does not need Madara's attention drawn to. He doesn't know what to do about his sudden overwhelming belly-flop into an oddly Madara-specific twitching hormonal haze.

Madara seems to think Hashirama's attention is on him because he's - embarrassed, or perhaps ashamed, of what Madara might do.

It's... ah, it's true, actually, that Madara has something of a reputation for abrupt and violent decisions. He doesn't have a lot of patience for politics. Or people. Politicians, as people who are invested in politics, are Right Out.

Madara, Hashirama thinks in an odd moment of clarity, knows that he is an enormous diplomatic inconvenience. Equally, he resents anybody who treats him as though this is the case. Hashirama can see it in his body language, in his eyes and on his tongue; Madara is defensive, and annoyed at himself for being defensive, and even more annoyed at Hashirama because he has not, actually, made a hash of it this time.

It's really not surprising that Madara is offended.

The surprising part is that Madara waits until they're away from the palace before whirling on him, eyes flashing and teeth bared. They're lucky it's late out, because people would be staring otherwise: two famous shinobi, allegedly allied, ready to throw down in the middle of a public street.

But the district is cold and chilly and dark, shops shut for the day and more or less deserted. The moon above leeches all the colour from the world.

Madara's kind of hot in black and white, too, and Hashirama would really like to get a grip for maybe ten seconds straight.

"It's not that at all," Hashirama protests.

"Then what?"

Hashirama would love to have something to say, but he thinks this feeling, this overwhelming, consuming desire, might actually be equally unwelcome. He is a terrible liar and he can't tell the truth - because the unfortunate truth is that if he thought Madara would touch him for it, would put his pale hands on Hashirama's skin, would submit to his attention, he'd probably murder the daimyou and his whole family in their beds without turning a hair. He's a ninja. He's done worse for less.

He's not sure it's a good idea to tell Madara that.

"I see," says Madara, and turns on his heel.

Hashirama grabs his sleeve. "No," he says, miserably. "Really. It's not that."

He has Madara's wrist instead, fingers sliding around the edge of his dark clothing. His skin is pale in the moonlight but warm to touch. There's a second where he thinks Madara might shove him away, but -

"You're a terrible liar," says Madara. It's not critical or accusing - just thoughtful. Speculative. His eyes drift down to where Hashirama's clinging to his sleeve. His brow furrows. "I don't understand," he says baldly, finally.

Hashirama hesitates. Well. Well. "I just – like looking," he says lamely. At you, he doesn't add, but it's implied. He cringes.

Madara's dark eyes do one long, slow blink.

"…ah?"

It's really obvious, he thinks. Hashirama is a terrible liar. His body isn't much different. He can feel himself flushing. His ears are tingling with the heat, his face feels the wrong temperature, his throat is tight.

He can see the moment Madara gets it, the minute expressions that flicker over his face.

Hashirama supposes he should be expecting the punch in the face, but it still hurts.

He isn't expecting it, though, and his head snaps back with the sudden force of it. He sways back on his heel for a second, raises one hand defensively, fingers flexing in the cool night air.

Madara knocks it aside like an afterthought, and there must be something, some part of Hashirama that lets him, because he'd never be able to otherwise, but -

What.

What.

Hashirama's brain revolts.

He's definitely being kissed. (Not that well, mind you, but it's happening.)

And that is definitely Madara's familiar, rough-skinned hand sliding along his jaw, shocking in its gentleness.

"You're a moron," mutters Madara, drawing away.

Hashirama stares at him, dazed and happy and excited. He's too shocked right now for that tugging, burning want to overcome him. "You kissed me!"

Madara makes the world's least impressed noise. In the moonlight it's hard to tell, but he's looking away, scowling at the street, and there's -

"Are you blushing?" Hashirama blurts.

He is! He's so pale, Hashirama can see it even in the limited light. He's making Madara blush, like, like - like - Hashirama doesn't have a simile, he doesn't have time for similes! His whole chest is filled with helium and he's going to float away or explode or something.

Madara turns on him, wide-eyed, furious and blushing even harder. "No," he says in a flat, hard, strained voice.

Hashirama reaches for him and reels him in by the icy metal of his armour. Madara doesn't unbend, doesn't unstiffen - but he also doesn't throw another punch, and that, Hashirama knows, speaks volumes.

He itches to pull him in closer, to get his hands on Madara's skin. He licks Madara's mouth and he can feel the tiny telling shift in his breath that puts his whole body on high alert.

He leans in, digs his fingers into Madara's hair. It's softer than he expects, slippery and silky, and it slides between his fingers. He thinks about how it might feel on his neck, on his chest and his belly and spilling heavily over his thighs. It's a fantasy he never knew to have before, but now he can feel the sweat breaking out on his own skin.

Madara pulls away.

Hashirama follows the movement of him unconsciously, helplessly, like a puppet drawn on taut strings.

Come back, he thinks. The hard armour and soft hair leave his grasp, and Madara is no longer breathing his air.

Madara looks at him for half a second, a flicker of something hot and promising from beneath a spill of spiky hair - and then it's gone, consumed in wariness, in knee-jerk resentment and uncertainty.

But it's there.

So - so Hashirama beams. It feels like he hasn't eaten in days: he's giddy, dizzy with it, heart racing and hands shaking. The rest will come later - probably. (Yes. Definitely. Hashirama will make sure of it.)

For now, this is good.