Legends say that the one who bathed in the blood of a thousand demons would become a demon themselves.
(How many does that make now, Senju Tobirama? How many have you killed? How many shrines desecrated? How many graves defiled? How many gods denounced? How many taboos defied?)
(If you gaze into the Abyss, the Abyss gazes back at you.)
Tobirama was tired. He had sacrificed so much for the dream Konohagakure represented. He had lost all of his brothers. Despite his best intentions, he had been the catalyst that brought disaster down more than once.
(Tobirama had led Butsuma to the river. Tobirama had slain Izuna. Tobirama had…)
His students were long gone, his enemies defeated, and Tobirama… was tired.
(Every year, it seemed like Konoha moved further and further away from Hashirama’s dream. Everything Tobirama did to try and fix the damage only seemed to make things worse and worse…)
… He was so tired. Each breath was a struggle. It had been a long war, a long life spent in battle after endless battle. Tobirama was tired of fighting, tired of the never-ending conflict no matter where he turned. Staring up at the sky as his lifeblood seeped into the ground, Tobirama dared to hope that the time had finally come for him to rest.
(Kawarama. Itama. Hashirama… Even Izuna, as much trouble as the Uchiha had caused. Izuna, who Tobirama had only ever known as an opponent in battle but had come to miss in the aftermath of his death. Izuna, and the three younger brothers Tobirama had never had the chance to meet, never heard named, only knew of because of a few over-emotional rants by a blind-drunk Madara.
… Madara, who had been fire and ferocity in a skin too small to hold the whole of his passions. Too bright, too alive to survive intact in the harshness of the world.
If only Hashirama had found the right words sooner. Izuna might have been more than Tobirama’s battle-met Uchiha foil, might have become a friend, a comrade, an oath-sworn brother. Tobirama and Madara might have, maybe, if only…
Perhaps in the Pure Lands, Tobirama would be able to apologize properly. Would have his words be heard and understood without misunderstanding. Would be able to show his heart and his regrets and his wishes without shame.)
A susurrus at the outer range of his hearing, silk ghosting over upturned earth, the soft pad of feet more felt than heard. A curious blankness in his chakra sense, like the void between stars. An absence only obvious in contrast to what was present. Unhurried approach. Black was beginning to edge in to cover his vision, but Tobirama fought his unresponsive body despite that.
(He could not leave an enemy alive to follow his students. He could not, he would not allow the future of the Village to die.)
“Ara… how uncivilized.” Utterly out of place in a white court kimono, red capped cranes taking flight from elaborately embroidered hems, a woman of unnatural beauty looked down at Tobirama’s collapsed, broken body in distain. Her skin was white as fresh fallen snow, not even a hint of flesh tones showing through the power. Her hair was black as ebony, a wild cascade of unbound midnight silk. Her lips were painted red as blood, red as the poppies she wore like a crown, red as the blaze of an Uchiha’s Sharingan in the midst of battle. Amusement was rife in her voice as she leaned over to examine Tobirama with ink-dark eyes. “What an unseemly display. Typical of a Senju. One cannot expect much better from the fruit of a jubokko union, no matter what you have crossbred yourselves with in the times hence.”
“… What are…” Tobirama choked, strangled by confusion and his failing body. She spoke nonsense, her dialect and accent from Fire Country but nearly too antique to understand. “What… do you want… with me?”
“If it were only this ones desires at play, this one would not be here, sapling.” A delicate huff, the elegant flick of a fan dismissing Tobirama’s questions. White hands tipped in red lacquered nails echoed in the red capped white feathers of the uchiwa she held like a weapon, like a threat. “It is not this ones wish to succour the jubokko seed, but this one also has eyes to see that which was, and is, and what this one shall not allow to be. This ones children have long been cursed, hated for the power that this ones love grants them. Even so, this ones children’s children continue to love, even in the face of mockery and contempt. This one is first before all other things a mother, who wishes to see this ones children find their hearts desire. Therefore this one will do what this one must, to ensure such comes to pass.”
There was anger in that too-perfect face, a deep abiding rage that wanted blood for blood, that recalled infants slain before they could leave the cradle and trust repaid with a knife in the ribs.
(For a moment, a single breathless moment, Tobirama could see Madara as he had been before the madness set in. The Madara from the riverbank, from Hashirama’s fondest memories. The Madara that Tobirama had caught glimpses and hints of on those rare occasions that Madara forgot to be angry, when Madara was exhausted or drunk enough to remember how to smile. A powerful heart too open, too exposed. Aching and bleeding from the wounds harsh reality revelled in leaving on such a tender, vulnerable target. Izuna’s death had snuffed that last spark of hope, but still Madara had struggled to bring life back from the ashes. For his Clan, for future generations, for those whose brothers still yet lived… Madara had tried.
Tobirama knew that his cold suspicions had played a part in Madara’s fall, but… Hashirama had been the tipping point. Hashirama had been the last one living that Madara had called ‘brother’… and Hashirama was ever careless with his brothers. Tobirama had long since grown indifferent to Hashirama’s unending series of small, thoughtless, careless slights. Madara had been far too fragile to bare up under such rough handling. After watching his brother’s deaths, after being abandoned by his Clan for those who had wielded the killing blades that had slain so many of their kin, Hashirama had been the last support Madara had trusted.
To have that trust betrayed, so casually, so carelessly, as Hashirama was wont to do with those he called family…
Madara’s sanity had crumbled, bled dry by a thousand-thousand paper cuts, and Tobirama’s heart had broken with him.
He understood, as much as he wished it otherwise. Oh Madara, how well Tobirama understood the pain that came with loving Hashirama. Tobirama understood the futility of loving someone who would never, could never, return his affections like for like. Hashirama’s love was not like those of other men. Shining and pure, Hashirama loved his dream, loved a perfect ideal, and there was no room left over for the messy, fallible creatures who gathered around him. Hashirama loved people as a faceless mass. Not as individuals, not as discrete selves who might have weaknesses and grudges and all too human pettiness. Anyone looking for a special place in Hashirama’s regard was doomed to disappointment and pain.
It was all to obvious in the way Mitama was smothered and overshadowed by his father. So very few saw Tobirama’s nephew as anything other than Hashirama’s son.
… So very few even knew Mitama’s name.
The worst part was how ignorant Hashirama was of the destruction he caused. Mito grew indifferent, shifting her focus towards nurturing her only son. Tobirama grew cold, devoting himself to duty. Madara went mad with grief, abandoned by the one person who could have saved him from his despair and rage. All that, and still Hashirama was blind, confused by their actions and their words as he asked ‘why’.
“Why aren’t you better than this?”
‘Why aren’t we more like you? Isn’t that what you really mean, elder brother?’
Ah, but Tobirama was tired of fighting battles he would never win…)
“Is that how it stands then?” All Tobirama could see was black and white and red. Black hair and white skin and red, red mouth. So hauntingly similar, so familiar, it only took the smallest bit of imagination to call up one of the carefully preserved memories hoarded by his jealous heart. Dark eyes locked on his own over deep cups of sake and plum wine, blazing with silent challenge and a black fire that Tobirama would happily burn in if given the chance. (If only, if only, if only… Would it have made a difference if Tobirama had been to one caught offering tears to the river currents on that long ago day? Maybe, maybe, maybe… but such petty envy was unbecoming of a dutiful younger brother.) All he had been able to offer was his silence on those nights when the moon had been full and the jugs quickly emptied. “This one must admit to surprise… but if the sapling wishes its heart to flower in full after all, then this one will bestow a blessing.”
The illusion was strong, far too strong for Tobirama to break as his heart skipped and slowed, the struggle to live a battle he was loosing with terrifying swiftness. Vision fading into deep shadows, only one image remaining shining and clear, more memory than sense. Tobirama felt his limbs weaken and chill. “… Ma… dara…”
“This ones children do not rest easy. They cry for this one to bring them justice for wrongs wrought. You denied this ones son a proper pyre, sapling, and so this one denies you your rest.” Black, white, red. Cold fingers and a burning mouth over his, a secret witching-hour fantasy made twisted and wrong. “You who flaunted death while still living, you who saw but did not act…”
Iron, char, opium. Heavy and clogging his throat, stopping his breath…
“This one will be watching.”
The River was dark and smooth, as if someone had poured fine ink over mirror-glass, more reflective than transparent. The fog lay heavy on the shores, thick as fresh-sheared wool, but still the mists parted, somehow, enough for Tobirama to see the opposite shore. Rank on rank of Senju crowded the other bank, Butsuma first amongst them, tall and strong and at ease in a way Tobirama had never seen his father be prior to his death. Hashirama pushed to the fore, waving wildly, mouth moving in excited words, the actual sounds lost to distance and muffling water.
Tobirama frowned, uneasy in the utter silence that surrounded him. The tiny boat moored to Tobirama’s side of the River was still, no lapping waves, no hush of wind. Not a single thing made noise even as Hashirama’s ever-more distant figure grew violently energetic, almost frantic in his attempt to communicate across the breadth of the water.
“Do not speak.” Moving was harder than it seemed it should be, but Tobirama managed to turn his head away from the far shore, eyes wide with shock. “Your last breath is not yet spent, Tobirama, so keep it behind your teeth for now.”
An unbearable pressure sat in the back of Tobirama’s throat, but Tobirama was long used to bearing unbearable things. Jaw locked, lips sealed tight, Tobirama dipped his chin in silent compliance.
“My brilliant boy, so quick and clever.” A sly, sharp smile and gleaming eyes filled with wicked secrets. Clan marks the same silver as her thick, wild mane of hair, Tobirama’s mother held out her hand. “Come with me, Tobirama, for there is much I could tell you, should you choose to remain.”
There was a deeper meaning to all of this than a simple vision, more than dead kin calling on a misty shoreline. Why had Mother appeared at Tobirama’s side rather than Father’s? Tobirama knew that the peace of the Pure Lands lay on the other side of the River. Curiosity had always been Tobirama’s defining trait. His drive to discover the answers stronger than his need to rest, Tobirama took his mother’s offered hand.
“Walk with me, Tobirama.” The fog rolled forward, hiding Hashirama’s shocked, pleading face from view as Tobirama allowed his mother to lead him by the hand like a child. He had missed her. More than Hashirama, and more dearly by far than Butsuma. Tobirama’s mother had understood him far better than any other, for Tobirama took after his mother in all things, not just his looks.
“I was born Hatake Kira, traded in marriage to the Senju Main Branch for the promise that the Senju child-killers would not target the Hatake cubs.” Blunt, to the point, and utterly shocking. Tobirama stared at his mother, appalled and off balance. A protest wedged behind his grit teeth. Kira glanced at her second-born son with a raised silver brow. “Do not pretend this is news to you, Tobirama. Did you think it a coincidence that it was only after I passed that Kawarama and Itama were sent out into battle? Did you see nothing odd in the Uchiha sacrificing tactical advantages to seek out your brothers? Did you not find it strange that you never heard mention of Uchiha Madara’s youngest three brothers taking to the field? That none among the Senju bragged of being the one to bring Tajima’s sons down? Consider it logically. I died, and your father ordered the hunting of enemy children once again. I died, and your father sent your brothers into easy reach of enemies who were grieving and desperate for vengeance.”
“What better way to stir the Senju to new heights of stalwart determination?”
“Itama asked how you could conscience making peace with those who had killed your kin. The height of irony, considering that it was your father’s actions which began the cycle of hatred for your generation. The sins of the father, are heavy indeed.”
“No, Tobirama, do not look at me like that. The Uchiha are as fiercely protective of their children as the Hatake are. Children under thirteen do not go into battle. Spying and sabotage on civilian or merchant targets, yes. Pitched battle against other shinobi? No. The Uchiha do what they can to ensure their children survive. Seven and ten are considered far too young for the front lines. A pity then that Kawarama and Itama were born to the Senju, who so often did not care.”
“Especially not those born to the Main House. Hashirama was far more like Butsuma than you ever realized, Tobirama, for they only differed in their goals. You and your younger brothers… ah, you would have been the pride of the Hatake had I lived a different life.”
“You wonder where I mean to go with this. There is so much you don’t know, Tobirama. About the Senju, for all you were born under their banner. About the Uchiha, for all you have studied them and admired their strength. There is what you know about the Curse of Hatred, but now I would have you know why. The Uchiha remember my son. Every hurt, every slight, every betrayal perfectly preserved. Still, despite that weakness they continue to love. To forgive even grievous injury, so long as sincere reparations are made. They choose to make themselves vulnerable with every bond they forge with another being.”
“You think young Uchiha Kagami transcended his Clan’s curse? No, Tobirama, young Kagami simply chose to love you rather than any of his kin. Do you not see the irony?”
“Power and Love are the legacy of the ninja. The Senju say that their love for the greater whole gives them power. The Uchiha seek power so that they might protect those whom they love. Strangest irony, I think, that such similar seeming principles could be so fundamentally different in execution and deeper meaning.”
“You have a choice, Tobirama, between power and love. You have a chance to find the joy and fulfillment I have always wished for you. The sun is locked on its path. The moon dances in and out of the light, sometimes the mirror of the sun, sometimes its faded companion. The stars, however much they are close kin to the sun, can only shine in its absence. The moon and the stars are far more equitable company.”
“I think, my son, that you will find the new path made available to you far more enjoyable than your last.”
Thunder boomed in the distance, and Kira’s head snapped up, her sharp white teeth bared in open threat. “Go, Tobirama! Go! Remember I love you, and go!”
Tobirama caught a glimpse of a man, tall and chalk-white, a crown of horns curving above a scowling face, before his mother’s hands found his back and shoved him through a screening stand of bamboo. Dutifully, Tobirama went forward instead of back, just as his mother had commanded him. However much he wished to assist his mother, Tobirama pressed on. Passing through clinging mist and following a narrow path through the stalks, barely wide enough for his shoulders to pass through without twisting.
He emerged at last, a moment and an eternity later, into a clearing. A ring of lantern plants, pitchers glowing from within as if their fruit had been replaced by candles. Two peach trees, young and green, pale blossoms bright against the heavy gloom of the bamboo thicket. A warm blaze in the hollow of linked roots, red and gold like a bed of embers.
An image that had haunted him for years. Questions and regrets and if I could have, what I should have, yet I might have. Wings broken, once glorious feathers dulled, a firebird reduced to ash and cinders. Ebon black and snow white and red, red blood.
A chance, Mother had said. A choice.
Power. Or love.
Tobirama gathered scattered sparks into his arms.
The many. Or the one.
Breathed out, embers burning, catching, spreading.
A heartbeat, loud in the silence.
Tobirama breathed in flame.
Dark wings filled the sky, stirring weak sparks into a bonfire.
Blood red eyes opened.
Tobirama woke to suffocation and darkness. Heavy, cramped, somehow thick darkness that sought to pin him down under its unrelenting weight. Reflex had Tobirama moving, fighting, struggling to shift his limbs free. Fingers curled, hooked into claws that dug into the walls of his prison. Walls that gave way, parted, slick and flexible and crumbling down.
Underground, Tobirama realized with sickening clarity. He was buried underground.
Digging and pushing, Tobirama tore himself free of the earth, the cool air soft against his skin after the harsh grit of stones.
The first grateful gulp of air caught on a mass lodged in his throat. Tobirama doubled over, retching into the mud by his upturned grave, torso heaving with effort as he fought for air.
Tobirama gagged. Spat. Breathed freely at last, eyes watering and one hand rubbing loose the cramps in his throat as he glared down at a sodden bundle of white feathers and black hair, clumped with clotted blood. Uncannily alike to an owl pellet, and disturbing in its implications as Tobirama recalled his strange waking dream walk along a misty riverbank with a woman who had been dead for decades. (Keep your last breath safe behind your teeth.) Ill at ease, Tobirama sat back on his heels, eyes sweeping over his surroundings with trained paranoia.
It was the hilltop clearing he had lain dying in, now carpeted in vibrant poppy flowers and lacking the bodies Tobirama remembered leaving laying about. A full moon hung directly overhead, pale light strong enough for red petals to burn against the backdrop of night. A cloudless sky, strung with stars. A perfect circle of bare earth, churned into mud near the center where Tobirama had struggled free. A gap in the loam, wide enough to see the hollowed out space where Tobirama had lain, and the slightly translucent skin of a split open lotus root large enough to contain a man.
Tobirama rubbed his aching throat again, trying to sooth the harsh pain as he stumbled to his feet.
His bare feet. Tobirama blinked grit and mulch from his eyes, noting with no small amount of dismay that he was completely nude, his armour and weapons and even his under clothes missing.
Uneasy, Tobirama wiped at the strange white ichor that clung to his skin with a grimace of disgust. He remembered being dead. Only now he was breathing, his heart beating, all evidence supporting the conclusion that Tobirama was alive.
Tobirama squinted at the horizon, thoughts churning. Slowly, almost unwillingly, Tobirama turned away from the distant point where Konoha stood. Instead, Tobirama faced a straight path towards the old Senju lands, where the graves of his mother and younger brothers lay. Where all the secrets Tobirama had kept from Hashirama were hidden.
It called to him, like the moon pulled on the ocean’s tides, like a flame running with the breeze. One last glance was cast towards Konohagakure, more farewell than longing, and Tobirama turned away, setting out with a determined stride, following the tug centered in his heart.
As he did, Tobirama gave all due consideration to the possibility that the old civilian fireside tales about shinobi being the children of demons might very well contain a grain of truth.
Passing over the Naka River, Tobirama took the desperately needed opportunity to rinse off the lingering traces of his grave. It was a relief to wash the taste of blood soaked flowers out of his mouth, and Tobirama relished the feeling of water sluicing over his skin.
Clean water. Clean skin. Simple things granted the greatest pleasures.
It was with great reluctance that Tobirama parted from the river waters, eyes and fingers tracing along the repeating pattern of red and white and silver curving delicately over his forearms in striped lines. Tobirama frowned, more thoughtful than upset over the loss of his body hair.
(The scales faded as the water dried, leaving only human skin behind. The stripes remained, reminding Tobirama of the tiger patterned butterfly koi Mito had imported from Uzu for Konoha’s water gardens.)
The old Senju compound had stood empty since the founding of Konoha. Empty, but not entirely abandoned, so it was easy for Tobirama to find clothing and shoes. A simple yukata and wicker sandals, but better than the nothing Tobirama had begun his night with. All the major caches of weapons and armour had been moved to the new compound in the Village. This place where Tobirama and his brothers had been born would fall into disrepair soon, once the last of those who had lived within its walls died off.
Shaking his head, Tobirama let his feet choose his path, somehow not at all surprised to stop before his younger brother’s graves. Hashirama had been buried in Konoha, as was fitting, but the rest of Tobirama’s family had been laid to rest here. His parent’s headstones were unchanged from Tobirama’s last visit, but Itama and Kawarama…
Both headstones were split in half, twin sapling rising from the cracks, slender branches heavy with buds ready to flower completely out of season. Roots balled up, dug in the earth only just deep enough to keep the young trees upright. A shallow cling, as if they were ready to be moved, as if they were prepared for such.
Tobirama blinked at his own thoughts and shook his head again, wondering at his wandering mind. Then, not really understanding why he needed to do so but obeying the instinct anyway, went looking for pots large enough to comfortably contain the root balls without damage.
Two large clay pots containing peach tree saplings sat against one wall of Tobirama’s old rooms where his private research had been conducted for so long. The security seals had been undisturbed and un-tampered with, untouched since his supposed death. That would change once people realized how little of his research Tobirama had left stored in Konoha, but it was safe enough to shelter here for the interim.
There were far more important things holding Tobirama’s attention.
Things like the warmth suffusing snow white skin. Things like the slow, deep breaths that sighed through blood red lips. Tobirama brushed back ebon black hair, feeling the soft pulse of a living heartbeat under his cautiously searching fingers.
“Madara.” Tobirama’s voice shook, incredulous, overwhelmed. Alone enough not to care what he let slip in the face of this unlooked for, unexpected second chance. “This is impossible. The dead don’t, they don’t…”
Sometimes though, like in the oldest stories, with supernatural intervention and the right conditions met, the dead very much did.
“… We’re alive.” Tobirama breathed, bowing down to touch his forehead to Madara’s brow, palm pressed protectively over the livid scar that was all that remained of Madara’s death wound. (Through the back. Hashirama had killed Madara from behind. Why…) The heart under Tobirama’s hand beat strong and steady and whole. “We’re both alive, Madara. You’re back. You’re back, you’re alive. I can… I can try again, I can… Maybe this time I can finally do right by you.”
Tobirama straightened up, his own pulse wild with the thrill of exhilaration. There was no time to waste, and much to do before the sun rose and this strange, impossible dream came to an end.
Armed with his emergency stash of seals and kunai, Tobirama used the anchor points he had set all around the Village and along the Naka River to teleport as close to the old Uchiha lands as he could, following his memory of Kagami’s directions from there. The houses were far more derelict than those of the old Senju compound, and Tobirama’s eyes narrowed in borrowed irritation as he recalled the shame and weariness and defeat that had lain heavy over the Uchiha deserters and Madara’s diehard loyalists both. How bad had it gotten, truly, before Hashirama had forced Madara’s submission to a truce? (Why was Tobirama so aggrieved over Hashirama’s actions now, when he had never cared before? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Madara should never have been forced to bow his head. Never. Tobirama should have done something. Should have…) Tobirama had not thought on it overmuch at the time, and never paid any attention to it in all the time afterwards spent integrating the Clans into the newly founded Village, but the Uchiha compound was a far more sorry sight than it should be, broken and abandoned.
Skirting the houses, Tobirama headed for the graves, expectant and wondering if maybe…
The carved characters of Izuna’s name caught the moonlight, gravestone splintered down the middle and yard overrun with blooming lantern plants. Stepping carefully, Tobirama ran questing fingers over broken stone, not quite certain what he expected to find. A smooth curve filled his hand, blood warm and glowing like embers in coal. Tobirama carefully lifted the egg from its nest of splintered stone, cradling the fragile shell with both palms.
It was just like an Uchiha to make things more difficult than they had to be.
Slicing his yukata off at knee length, Tobirama used the cut fabric to pad the bottom of the pot he had brought with him and carefully lowered the egg into the folds. With a sigh, Tobirama stood, pausing when his eyes caught on another splintered headstone. The name Asama was unfamiliar, but… Izuna had not been the only brother Madara had buried, he had only been the last.
“Izuna.” Tobirama looked down at the egg glowing sullenly at the bottom of the pot, and moved forward carefully, eyes sharp on the shadows for hints of ember-glow as he moved. A second egg was removed from its hiding place among broken stones. “You must be Asama, and if you are here then…”
There. Two more splintered grave markers. “Minowa and Adatara, hm? I supposed you’d both best come along.”
Inordinately cheered by the sight of the four eggs glowing like blown glass lanterns at the bottom of the pot, Tobirama left the graveyard. A whisper of wind through the trees turned his head, his expression thoughtful as Tobirama listened carefully. A slow nod, and Tobirama smirked. “That would work out for the best I think. Yes.”
Absently dropping a marker at the Compound gates, Tobirama teleported away.
It took another full night to gather supplies, and Tobirama slept most of the second day of his resurrection away in utter exhaustion, feeling wrung out and off balance even after he woke again. (Woke like everything was normal, like the dead had never risen, like myths and children’s stories had never come to life.) Tobirama spent the rest of the day watching Madara breathe. The sight calmed him, reassuring in a way his own continued existence was not. (At the very least, Tobirama was not the only one to have been rejected by death. At least Tobirama was in familiar company.)
On the third night of Tobirama’s second chance at life, he packed everything up and teleported away.
The mountain temple was old, and had long been abandoned in order to escape the conflicts of warring shinobi clans, but the stone walls and clay tile roofs had held up admirably under the weight of seasons. It took only a few hours work to install new doors and repair a few broken tiles.
Tobirama eyed the singed edges of Itama’s leaves with a worried frown. He called to mind his old workroom, trying to understand what could have caused burns of all things…
A square of sunlight, tracking across the wall. Passing over Itama’s pot, but not Kawarama’s. A headache, stinging pain in his eyes more acute than ever before as he watched over Madara in the bright afternoon daylight.
“Sunlight…” Tobirama tilted his head. “We don’t like the sun? Strange. You’re a tree, so you’d think… hm. What about moonlight then?”
Moonlight made them flower.
“This is ridiculous.” Tobirama crossed his arms with a frown, ears pinned back in irritation. “It’s not even the right season for peaches.”
Logic made no difference to the potted saplings. If anything, Tobirama’s confusion only encouraged them to bloom more vigorously.
“I don’t have to take this from you.” Tobirama tartly informed his brother’s trees, and spun smartly around on his heel, stalking inside to check on Madara and the Uchiha eggs.
Madara lay curled around the four melon-sized eggs Tobirama had retrieved from the Uchiha shrine, protective and gentle with the fragile shells even in deep slumber.
“I have the feeling you’ll wake up soon.” Tobirama mused aloud, eyeing the singed edges of Madara’s sleep robe and the ashes caught among the tangled nest of blankets. The occasional tongue of flame danced up the length of Madara’s hair, and the air smelled of smoke and cloves. “Please don’t take offense at being put in the fire pit when you wake, because in my defence you are currently on fire.”
Besides, it was a sacred fire pit meant for meditation and prayer. Tobirama had scrubbed it clean first and everything. It was a compliment and a sign of regard in addition to simply being the best practical choice. Madara could have a real bed when he stopped setting things on fire through skin contact. If Tobirama had actually wanted to be insulting he could just as easily have put Madara in the kitchen fire.
… Not that he would ever, but the point was that he could have.
Tobirama put the pots containing the peach saplings out in the courtyard the moment the sun finished setting on the fourth night. The largest branch of each young tree sported a single small peach fruit. With a smile, Tobirama watered the saplings and laughed when thin branches shook free the excess droplets.
Heading out into the garden, Tobirama took note of which bed of wild running vegetables could be salvaged and which ones would need to be cleared out entirely. It was an easy task, made easier by Tobirama’s vastly improved night vision. The smallest amount of light was enough to see clearly by, and Tobirama made the most of it as he explored the place he had chosen to go to ground in.
(A second chance, complete with new abilities. It was like being born anew. He was still Senju Tobirama, but he was also… someone new. Something new. Or perhaps just something very old. So old no one remembered it anymore… It would take some getting used to, for all it felt entirely too natural for Tobirama to be wearing this new-old skin.)
Passing by the trees an hour later, Tobirama stopped and stared. The peaches had tripled in size. Eyebrow raised, Tobirama gave them more water and went to check on Madara again.
The Uchiha had burned through his blanket, so Tobirama draped a new one over the nest. How Madara was managing to reduce his blankets to fine ash without damaging more than the very edges of his sleep robe was a mystery Tobirama was looking forward to answering when the Uchiha woke up at last.
The linked series of ponds that ran around the meditation gardens were more extensive than Tobirama assumed when he had first scouted the shrine as a potential safe house, and he lost track of time mapping them out. Still filled with koi and lotus fronds, the ponds were linked by a network of narrow streams designed to keep the water flowing with little net loss. The monks who had first designed the system had been clever about it. A flock of ducks was nesting in the far corner, and Tobirama made a note to steal a few ducklings when they hatched to domesticate for eggs and meat.
The night was nearly over by the time Tobirama had finished taking stock of the property, and he was rather pleased with his choice of refuge. The all-but-forgotten temple was a good place to hide away in until Tobirama could figure out what had happened to him, and to Madara. (And why every part of him screamed out in denial at the thought of going back to Konoha. Something about the idea of being surrounded by people was more than just off-putting, it felt like a threat, like a danger. Tobirama, for all the effort and time he had spent on building it… wanted nothing further to do with the Village.)
So many questions, and Tobirama was at a loss for answers. Where should he even begin looking?
The eastern horizon was turning green, and Tobirama shook his head, dismissing his confusion with an aggravated huff. He needed to get Itama and Kawarama’s trees inside before the sun rose.
Tobirama made his way back to the front courtyard and froze, eyes wide with surprise.
He had expected the peaches to grow, but not this much. Each fruit came up nearly to his hip, the saplings bent low by the weight of peaches half the size of a man.
Edging closer, Tobirama noted that Itama’s peach was larger than Kawarama’s by a small if noticeable margin. As he watched, the skin of the peaches rippled, shadows shifting as something within the fruits moved.
Tobirama hesitated, gaze moving from the easily bruised fruits to the ever-brighter horizon.
A glimmer as the sun edged up into dawn. A rip, a squelch, the scent of syrup thick in the morning air. The crackling roar of flames, fire and smoke escaping through every crack and door and window of the prayer chamber. Indignant howling as his younger brothers flopped down onto the un-swept paving stones. Naked, sticky, and covered in fruit pulp. The fierce scream of a rising falcon, both warning and invitation.
Itama and Kawarama were still children, still eleven and seven, just as they had been when they died all those years ago. His little brothers sat up, looking dazed and confused in the deflated remains of their peaches. Tobirama could relate, feeling rather flummoxed at this turn of events himself even as he remembered tearing his way free of a lotus root.
(A large part of Tobirama’s confusion stemmed from the sight of furry ears and tails. The tails and fuzzy ears were new.)
“SENJU!!” All three of them turned as Madara threw open the singed door and stomped out into the early dawn light. Naked but for a cloak made of feathers and his wealth of dark hair, Madara had a toddler on his hip and a small child a few years younger than Kawarama clinging to his hand. Izuna was in a similar state, eyes wide with shock as he followed his elder brother, hair loosed for once, still the young man Tobirama had brought down with speed and sword, and carrying a toddler identical to the one Madara held in his arms. All the Uchiha were naked, except for the feathers. Ignoring the fact that he had finally managed to incinerate his sleep robe, Madara glared at Tobirama. “What the hell have you done, Senju?”
Somehow, rather than looking ridiculous the way a naked, feathered man should, Madara managed to be fiercely regal. Tobirama blinked, striped tail ticking a slow beat by his ankles. “… You cannot seriously be blaming this on me.”
“Of course I can! I was dead! Very permanently dead!” Madara huffed, crossing the courtyard with quick strides. Somehow managing to rage up into Tobirama’s face and cuddle the children in his arms at the same time. It was impressive, if a bit louder than Tobirama preferred his conversations. “You’re the asshole with the zombie fetish!”
Rude. Tobirama frowned, ears laying back in offense. “I have never been sexually aroused by dead bodies.”
“That is not the point!” Madara looked shattered. Less angry as Tobirama had first assumed and more like Madara was desperately trying to deny reality lest it prove all his hopes false once again. The two small Uchiha wiggled free of Madara’s slackening grip, downy wings flapping for balance as they poked each other and eyed the Senju curiously. Talons caught the light as Madara flexed his now empty hands helplessly. “This is… is impossible. Senju… Tobirama, what have you done? You look… you look strange. And they – your brothers? And my brothers. You have to have done something, Tobirama!”
“… I made a choice. I chose to fix my mistakes. I chose… you, Madara.” Dark eyes were wide with surprise as Tobirama smiled gently and tucked wild black strands behind Madara’s ear with a lingering touch. The feathered points were new, and strange, and exciting. There was so much about their new existences for them to learn, so much about these new forms to explore, but first. “I know it took… probably too long, but… forgive me anyway? I should have made things right with your sooner. Waiting until after we both died was cowardly of me, but… I could never think of a way to fix what I had broken when I struck Izuna down. It took me… far too long to understand how much you held back until you couldn’t any longer.”
“Idiot Senju.” Ignoring the appalled chorus coming from their audience of younger brothers, Madara yanked Tobirama down into the first kiss they had walked through the valley of death to have.
“Now seriously.” Madara hissed in Tobirama’s ear once everyone was clean and clothed and had taken the time to examine their new limbs. “Tell me what the fuck you did.”