For all their celebrated eccentricity and brilliance with seals, Tobirama thinks yet again as he shuffles the pile of paperwork on his desk with more force than is necessary, the Uzumaki certainly have an unfortunate sense of timing.
It's been barely a month since the monstrous battle that claimed the lives of the Heads of both the Senju and the Uchiha, and in the midst of the tense calm in the immediate aftermath as their inheritors adjusted to their new roles, Hashirama, freshly possessed by the idea that this could be the start of true peace between the clans, had received notice from the father of his intended bride, Uzumaki Mito, that his presence was urgently needed to sort through some forgotten technicality of their marriage arrangement.
Tobirama had volunteered to diplomatically tend to the issue in his brother's stead, but the letter had explicitly demanded that Hashirama himself journey to the Land of Whirlpools to resolve the matter.
And so, with obvious reluctance on both their parts, Hashirama had hesitantly left his hopes for continued calm and their clan's well-being in the hands of his younger brother, and departed from Fire Country with his entourage. Tōka, assigning herself as Hashirama's personal guard, had punched Tobirama in the shoulder as she'd passed through the gate of the compound, and proclaimed that she would be rather displeased with him if she returned safely home only to find Senju land (and all of her lovingly hoarded possessions) a smouldering heap.
Tobirama had scowled then at the implication of his inability to maintain this fragile yet uncannily weighty peace with their bitter enemies, and the expression had not left his face as he'd swiftly decreed that his non-shinobi kin were not to leave the relative safety of the compound without express approval, and that no Senju was authorized any interaction with any Uchiha unless an unexpected, ill-fated encounter became a matter of life or death.
He yawns and allows himself a spine-popping stretch as he stares down at another poorly scribbled ledger.
Hashirama is now set to return before the week's end, when he can resume command over half of this odd stalemate between himself and his childhood... acquaintance, and Tobirama can admit, if only to himself, that he will feel a bit of relief to return the seat of power to his brother, and not bear the fate of the entire clan on his shoulders alone.
Of course, the mildly comforting thought has only just passed though his mind when there's a barely polite rap on the door to his study before one of the shinobi assigned today to guard the main gate barges inside, and with the slightest respectful tilt of his head declares, "There's been an incident."
The scowl returns.
When Tobirama arrives at the main entrance to the Senju compound, there is already a growing crowd forming around five bright little chakra signatures. He determinedly makes his way thorough the throng of busybodies until he finds himself in the center that encompasses five young boys, four Senju, and one-
"Lord Tobirama!" comes a congested crow from the eldest of the group, his obviously broken nose packed with bloodied cloth. "Look what we caught!"
Beaming with all the fierce pride of a hunter victorious over a monstrous beast, he shoves the considerably smaller dark-haired boy beside him, hands bound, eyes covered with a dirty bandana, and what can be seen of the pale face even more bruised and bloody than his captor's, to his knees in front of the Senju heir.
The blindfold is unceremoniously yanked away, and Tobirama finds himself staring down into the swollen, dark eyes of a scrawny Uchiha child who cannot possibly be more than six years old.
The boy blinks painfully in the harsh sunlight, and the sensor can pinpoint the exact instant the child realizes who it is he's been dragged before - the spike of terror could probably be felt in Lightning Country.
"He's a spy!" Declares the Senju boy with the broken nose, and his comrades chirp in enthusiastic affirmative - all save one. The youngest boy present (the Uchiha excluded), who shows no signs of being involved in a recent skirmish, is looking uncomfortably away from the scene, his conflicted chakra churning with obvious guilt.
"A spy," Tobirama repeats slowly, ignoring the unsettled murmurs of the adults around him. "That is indeed a heavy accusation to make. One that, if proven true, leads to even weightier consequences."
The Uchiha child at his feet is trembling so hard that his clenched teeth are chattering with fear.
"Do you deny this charge, boy?" Tobirama demands, still even in tone but with the crushing insistence of a falling boulder, and is unsurprised when the only response from the Uchiha is to swallow hard and lower his blood and dust spattered head to stare down at the dirt he's been shoved into. The boy has doubtless already been well trained to hold his tongue in the presence of an enemy. Tobirama can snarl all he likes, but it is unlikely to earn him even the child's name.
He sighs heavily out through his nostrils. "So be it. You give me no choice but to pronounce judgement upon you, spy of the Uchi-"
"He's not a spy!" The youngest Senju boy, a closer cousin to Tōka than himself, has finally given in to his conscience, stepping forward between his temporary Clan Head and the terrified little captive, fists clenched and jaw determinedly set, ignoring the hisses of dismay and insistent demands for silence from his friends behind him.
"He's not," the boy repeats firmly, meeting Tobirama's narrowed eyes with unwavering resolution. "He... he saved my life."
The instant erruption of shocked and disbelieving mutters from the crowd is cut short as Tobirama raises his hand, commanding silence.
There are subdued whimpers and groans of disbelief from the other Senju boys as Tobirama allows the bravest of them a moment to gather his thoughts.
"We were really, really bored, Lord Tobirama, so we snuck out of the compound-"
Against strict instruction not to do so.
"- but we weren't planning to be gone long, or go very far... until we found the bear tracks... that we followed down to the river..."
One of the natural borders between Senju and Uchiha territory that they were explicitly told to stay away from.
Tobirama's left eyelid twitches.
"Do I dare assume you found your quarry?"
Naoki's determined brown eyes fall from from his at last, and a healthy amount of sheepishness colors the boy's tone when he replies, "Actually, sir... he found us. Specifically, me." The tips of his ears begin to color as his words speed up, tongue trying to force the uncomfortable truth out as fast as possible.
"While the others ran and hid in the bushes, I tried to get away by climbing a tree, but-" Naoki coughs and his eyes briefly return to his superior as he fails to ask nonchalantly, "Lord Tobirama, did you know that bears are really good at climbing trees?"
Tobirama's response consists of a single raised silver eyebrow.
Naoki gulps and his gaze falls to his own feet. "Anyway, I started screa-, uh, yelling, at the bear, but it just kept coming up the tree after me- and then all of a sudden there was this enormous fireball that appeared out of nowhere." He sounds reluctantly impressed.
"It wasn't that big," grumbles the Senju boy with the bloody nose, "and it didn't even hurt the stupid bear."
"Yeah," Naoki shoots back over his shoulder, "but it scared it away and stopped it from eating me, which was more than you guys did!"
Before an argument can break out among the children, Tobirama again raises an authoritative hand for silence.
"Allow me to conjecture what happened after the mysterious fireball appeared," he says, dry as kindling. "With the bear fled, you climbed down out of your tree and stumbled upon your rescuer, who, doubtless being a rashly curious child such as yourself, presumably came running to investigate the source of your ruckus."
Tobirama's eyes narrow at the Senju children and his voice sharpens. "Upon discovering that it was a vile Uchiha, smaller than any of you, you all miraculously found your missing courage, and to thank him for saving your skins, beat him bloody, bound him, and dragged him back here expecting heroes' praise for your brave actions that have endangered the fragile peace between our clans, and put the life of every Senju at risk."
The growling emphasis has its intended effect - as one the boys pale with guilty realization and seem to shrink closer to the dirt under their feet. Tobirama can hear a few soft apologies and even the start of a bit of poorly suppressed sniffling.
"Stupid brats," comes a dark murmur from a member of the crowd surrounding them. "Should have just killed the little bastard and left him for the bear to dispose of."
"And if it didn't? We'd have that paranoid Uchiha show up on our doorstep armed with entirely justified suspicions and his damned gunbai," another voice tuts. "It's shameful our own children have acted so foolishly."
"What will you do now, my lord?"
The crowd parts to allow a wizened old woman to step forward, her cataract blurred eyes squinting from Tobirama down to the trembling little captive at his feet. Her mouth twists as if she's suddenly smelled something foul, and Tobirama recalls that this elder, an advisor of his late father, had years earlier lost both her sons to Uchiha Katon.
"Despite the boys' obvious disregard for the current state of affairs, this one was still trespassing on Senju land when the incident took place," she sniffs. "Such a transgression should not be easily overlooked."
The low murmuring from the Senju surrounding them starts up again.
"Just send the brat back to Madara," a tired voice calls out. "We don't need any trouble while our Clan Head is away."
"Have you all become such weaklings, hiding behind the Mokuton like base cowards?" The elder demands, nostrils flaring in outrage. "We are Senju! With or without Hashirama, we must never allow one foothold be given to the damned Uchiha!"
"And what would you have me do with the child?" Tobirama asks quietly, eyes narrowed and arms folded over his chest.
There is nothing remotely pleasant in the crone's face as she peers down at the frightened child for a long moment. "Hmm... perhaps I am being too harsh; after all, this boy did save four of our own little fools."
She looks back to Tobirama with all the cloyingly sweet imitation of a benevolent old granny, save for the malice that poisons her smile.
"Yes, yes I agree- send the child back to the Uchiha whelp, my lord. Along with our sincere thanks."
Icy cold lances through Tobirama's innards at what he infers in the witch's final hiss.
His skill with explosive seals is widely known; she intends for him to turn the helpless little Uchiha into an unknowing bomb, to use them both to set the gears of war into motion once again.
Several members of the surrounding crowd also pick up on that implication, and there are some angry, defiant murmurs, but no one takes a stand outright against the cruel proposition as the elder waits for a response, clearly expecting him to acquiesce .
Tobirama takes a steadying breath, attempting to calm the furious thoughts racing through his mind. This is a test of leadership he had hoped to avoid.
He thinks of Hashirama, of their father, and how oppositely they would react to such a situation.
He looks down at the shamed and sheepish Senju boys before him, barely as old as his own little brothers had been when they'd had the hollow honor of dying for their clan at Uchiha hands. Would they all see even their next year should violence return to the land?
Decision made, Tobirama allows a fierce smile of his own to overtake his mouth, baring teeth.
"An excellent suggestion," he purrs, watching the old woman's face swell like a smug toad. "I will see to the child's return myself; however, in hopes of sparing us all further pain, the only thanks Uchiha Madara will receive from me will be in verbal form... and possibly a fruit basket."
Relieved laughter breaks out at his declaration, and before his departed father's advisor can convert her red-faced rage into incoherent shrieking, Tobirama unceremoniously grabs the filthy Uchiha child by the collar, ignores the startled squeak that results, and disappears from the now dispersing remnants of the crowd, making for home and his haven-like study with all speed.
Tobirama deposits the boy, who wobbles on unsteady feet upon release, on the wooden floor of his office, commanding "Stay" as sternly as one would to an unruly pup. He receives only a confused blink in acknowledgement of the order as he steps out of the room and toward the kitchen to collect a basin of water and clean linen cloths.
To return the child in his current condition is certain to stoke Madara's ire, if the Uchiha's newest Head will even deign respond to Tobirama's summons.
The Senju conjures a clone, assigning it the task of selecting one of the least valued river rocks from his personal collection and sending it by falcon to the Uchiha compound, a wordless message he has long known Hashirama uses whenever he deems it necessary to meet at the river with the prickly Uchiha he'd made a strangely resilient bond with years ago.
A part of Tobirama's mind is already calculating how to repay his raptor-enthusiast relation for the loss of one of their messenger birds, should it find Madara in an ornery mood, as he returns again to the study with supplies in hand.
Even the most disciplined shinobi has a breaking point, and for this little Uchiha child, it seems to have arrived with the innocuous bowl of water Tobirama is carrying.
The boy's bruised eyes widen as far as they are able, and with a despairing cry he falls again to his knees, head bowed and shaking with terror.
"Please, please, Lord Senju," tears fall from dark eyes to mingle with the mucous and blood already smeared across the boy's face as he implores his captor. "Please use a blade instead, I'm so afraid of drowning-"
Small, horrified hands slap too late over lips that have treacherously betrayed this weakness to the enemy, no doubt sealing his inescapable fate.
Tobirama stands statue-still as the child trembles before him. The Senju heir has slain young Uchiha shinobi on the battlefield almost swallowed up by armor left to them by their fallen fathers or elder brothers, but none yet so small and helpless as the boy at his feet.
The pointless, intrusive thought, He's not even as old as Itama was- is pushed aside as he struggles to find the proper words.
Tobirama cannot tell the boy with any truth that death will not come at his hand. If he returns the child to Madara, if Hashirama's dream of peace dies and someday they meet again during a clash between their clans, Tobirama cannot even honestly assure the child that a Suiton jutsu will not bring about his demise.
"I would prefer not to be the cause of any further death," he settles on at last, for this is a truth. "Much less that of a child who has aided my foolish kin."
Said child blinks tearfully up him with a loud, phlegmy sniffle of surprise. "Y-you're not going to..."
"As I said, I plan to return you to your Head of Clan alive," Tobirama reasserts calmly, kneeling upon the floor himself as he places the washrag in the bowl of warm water and then wrings it out slightly. "This is for your wounds."
The boy stares at him in uncomprehending shock, so, with a resigned sigh, Tobirama gently blots the rag against the the broken, filthy little face until he is eventually satisfied with its cleanliness, then holds one green-glowing hand over the swollen eyes and purple nose, the viciously split lip, until those too are mended to his satisfaction and he pulls away and rises again to his feet.
"Oh," the boy says at last, then takes a few experimental sniffs and pokes gingerly at his healed face before blinking up at Tobirama again and squeaking out a completely befuddled "Thank you?".
"You're welcome," the Senju says, absently cleaning up the slight mess from the impromptu care session before walking over to the ornate bookcase that Hashirama had proudly presented to him several birthdays ago and selecting a large, well-worn and heavily illustrated tome on the subject of the Land of Whirlpools.
The Uchiha child gapes as it is pressed into his hands.
"Can you entertain yourself for a while?"
"Yes, sir," the boy nods before his face twists as though he's second-guessing his politeness to an enemy shinobi, but he settles himself on the floor without protest and begins to quietly turn pages as Tobirama seats himself again at his desk and tries to focus on the paperwork he'd abandoned earlier.
It is no easy task.
What if Madara ignores his summons?
Should Tobirama dare risk sending the child back across the river under his own power, to perhaps weave a tale that might incur the wrath of the opposing clan?
Or should Tobirama simply walk right up the path to the entrance of the Uchiha compound, hand in hand with the little boy, and hope they are all too struck with shock to respond negatively?
The child turns another crisp page, and Tobirama mentally berates himself and forces his attention back to less fanciful topics.
Nearly two hours pass in this manner, the atmosphere in the office now more slightly awkward than critically tense, as Tobirama's stack of paperwork shrinks steadily and the Uchiha boy slowly, carefully, pages through his book. More than once, Tobirama feels bursts of inquisitive puzzlement coming from the child, but the boy remains silent, doubtless unwilling to dare risking his captor's fragile mercy shattering under the strain of unsolicited questions.
Both dark and silver heads look up as a peregrine falcon suddenly flutters at the windowsill, glaring fiercely first at the little boy, then at the Senju shinobi before dropping its burden and taking flight once more.
Tobirama cautiously approaches the offering, a scrap of paper tied around the river rock he'd sent to Madara earlier. There is only one word of reply, written in sharp, begrudging scrawl: Sunset.
Tobirama arrives first at the river, warily anticipating the approach of Madara's chakra signature from the Uchiha side as he sets the small boy on his feet upon the sandy shore; for the sake of being expeditious, he'd carefully transported the unresisting child once again by the back of the shirt for the journey.
After Tobirama had explained they were to meet with the Uchiha Head, and that time was of the essence as the sun was already sinking low in the sky, the boy's dark eyes had widened, and with an audible gulp he'd submitted to Tobirama's carrying of him as meekly as a kitten to its exasperated mother.
Tobirama tenses as Madara appears on the opposite bank, his dark eyes narrowing with suspicion, but not surprise at the presence of the Senju sensor. Tobirama has an instant to irritably wonder if his elder brother had gone so far as to let the Uchiha Head know he would be out of the country for a while, as though they were considerate neighbors and not the inheritors of two of the most blood-soaked clans in shinobi history, before Madara's eyes widen almost comically as they fall on Tobirama's small companion.
Tobirama does not spare breath to sigh out his vexation at the Uchiha Head's squawk and predictable scan of the child with his Sharingan; Madara will find nothing awry. The Senju launches into a thorough, even-toned recounting of the day's events as the Uchiha child fidgets uncomfortably beside him.
Madara's Sharingan fades, and his face smooths itself into something unreadable as he listens silently, arms folded over his chest, though Tobirama can detect mild flickers of righteous indignation sparking from the man when he arrives at the part about the Senju children capturing the "spy" that had saved them.
"And so I would return the boy to you," Tobirama finishes, "In hopes of maintaining this fragile peace between our people."
Unbidden, the image of Itama, smiling and kind flashes through his mind, and Tobirama allows himself an inaudible sigh at last before adding, "However... the child has, though unwittingly, provided a great service to my clan. In light of that, I would rather not spare his life simply to deliver him to the waiting arms of death from his outraged kinsmen."
Madara meets his gaze for the first time, the Uchiha blinking as though he's just witnessed phenomenon completely unexpected, before his expression turns distant and contemplative.
"My father would have made an example of Kagami," he says at last, softly and almost to himself. "One as public and as gruesome as deemed necessary to dissuade any other Uchiha child from thoughtlessly acting in similar, foolish fashion."
Madara's fierce dark eyes find the boy again and he snaps, "Kagami! To me!"
As though compelled, the boy leaps away from Tobirama, lightly splashing through the shallow water before falling to his knees before his Clan Head on the opposite bank, bowing in perfect imitation of seasoned elder shinobi.
"Is all the Senju says true? You have aided our greatest enemies?"
Tobirama can hear the boy's gulp from across the river, but Kagami's response, though full of trepidation, is remarkably steady and clear.
"Yes, Lord Madara."
"And do you regret your actions?" Madara demands in a terrible voice.
There is a weighty pause then, before Kagami replies, hesitantly, but entirely innocent of defiance, "They- they were ungrateful, mostly, but-" the boy dares raise his head slightly to face his master.
"I don't know of any kids that really deserve to be eaten alive by a bear, my lord." The small head bows quickly again before muttering, "Even if they are a cowardly bunch of Senju brats."
The tension slowly bleeds out of the atmosphere at that declaration, and is gone completely when Madara huffs out something more like a weary laugh than a noise of any offense before running a hand over his face and through his wild mane of hair.
"Brats indeed. Rise, Kagami."
The boy clambers to his feet, blinking up in surprise as his Clan Head drops a firm hand on his thin shoulder.
"You have saved four young Senju from possible maiming or demise. In doing so, you have incurred from our enemies a significant debt," Madara says, and though his words address Kagami, his eyes are hard on the other shinobi, as though daring Tobirama to dispute the truth of this.
Tobirama only dips his head slightly in concession, and a small, relieved smile flickers across the Uchiha leader's tired face as his hand moves to briefly tousle the boy's dark curls.
Kagami, clearly confused but so obviously pleased at the praise from his Head of Clan, practically radiates with pride as his overgrown bangs fall down over his eyes and his cheeks redden as he finds sudden interest in the river-worn pebbles at his feet.
"This could lead to something greater..." Madara muses low, thoughts obviously turning far from the darkening riverbank, before offering his own sharp nod of acknowledgment to Tobirama.
"My thanks, Senju, for returning this child safely to us. I will pardon him his thoughtless act of goodwill, and ensure he is protected from those who might take offense to it."
Madara's words are as sincere as Kagami's bright joy, and when Tobirama responds to them with a final silent nod, the Clan Head turns away to start again toward the Uchiha compound, the little boy trotting happily at his side.
Neither look back before disappearing into the thick forest, and it is with great relief that Tobirama leaves the river to return, alone, to his own home.
Peace will not be broken on his watch.
Hashirama returns to Fire Country starry-eyed and practically floating from his time spent with the Uzumaki princess, and Tobirama endures his brother's enthusiastic embrace as they reunite in their family's lush garden for only a moment before freeing himself and beginning his report on the state of their clan, starting with expenses accrued in the Head's absence.
Hashirama sighs dramatically, flopping down on a simple wooden stool he'd probably fashioned himself.
"Can't that wait, Tobirama?" he asks, cheerful expression fading a bit. "I heard there was an incident with the Uchiha while I was away- something about a bear?"
Of course any news about the Uchiha would supersede the importance of anything to do with their own clan. With only the slightest bit of teeth grinding, Tobirama switches topics, offering his brother almost word-for-word the concise account he'd given Madara several days previously.
Senju Hashirama, one of the most feared shinobi in the known world, sits with eyes wide and mouth agape as Tobirama speaks, in almost perfect imitation of a child listening to the thrilling conclusion of an unbelievable and spellbinding ancient story woven by an aged master of tales.
"You took him back - little Kagami."
"You delivered him to Madara without anything... violent occurring."
"You amicably returned an Uchiha child to his clan after you'd publicly denounced the actions of the Senju boys who'd attacked him, and personally seen to his injuries."
Tobirama groans aloud. "What about this is so difficult for you to grasp, brother?"
The Senju Head is saved from explaining himself by the screech of a falcon overhead, followed by Hashirama's yelp of surprise as another paper-wrapped river rock bounces with perfect precision off his skull and into the grass beside him.
Watching the messenger disappear with another wild cry into the late afternoon sun, Tobirama can't help but wonder if the creature is actually a temperamental summons of the Uchiha leader, or simply a normal bird that has, perhaps by osmosis, acquired traits similar to Madara's charming personality.
Rubbing his forehead, Hashirama retrieves the message and unfolds it at he settles again on his stool.
There is no sound but the wind rustling through the trees as Tobirama waits, less and less patiently, for his brother to finish reading.
Just as the words form to snidely inquire if Hashirama requires the aid of an interpreter, his brother's eyes, wide and full of disbelief, appear from over the top of the paper.
"He... he wants- Madara, that is- he... wants..."
Tobirama takes a step forward in concern in the same instant his brother leaps up, knocking over his wooden stool and booming loud enough to shake mountains, "PEACE TALKS!"
Before he can retreat with any dignity intact, Tobirama finds himself again imprisoned in the embrace of his brother, feet dangling over the grass as Hashirama, the great oaf, twirls them around the garden like some drunken fool enraptured by his beautiful new bride.
Tobirama's sharp tongue is well-filled with acid and ready to strike when Hashirama looks up at him with tears trailing freely down his face. "I'm so proud of you, little brother!"
Fight and flight both instantly seeped out of him at the utterly heartfelt declaration, Tobirama can only gape as his brother lowers him gently again to the ground. "What?"
Hashirama beams through his tears, keeping a brawny hand on each of his younger brother's shoulders as he explains.
"Your merciful act of goodwill to the little Uchiha boy! It seems to have been the tipping point in convincing Madara to step once more onto the path to peace! He wants to meet soon, on neutral ground, to discuss conditions for a possible alliance!"
Hashirama twirls again, by himself, thankfully, this time, clutching the worn paper to his bosom as though it were a flowery love note written in the yearning hand of his beloved.
Despite the oddly pleasant warmth suffusing him at his elder brother's praise, Tobirama can't help but shake his head.
"Young Kagami is more to credit - his actions have indebted us to his clan, and I cannot claim any personal responsibility for Madara's change of heart when you have been undauntedly chipping away at him for years, brother."
"The elders wished for you to kill the child, yes?" Hashirama's smile turns a bit wry. "To use Kagami as an unknowing weapon against his own people and remind the Uchiha that we Senju are as merciless and immoveable as stone, casting the first volley to launch us all back into another generation of war?"
He shrugs. "It's what father would have done."
Heat races up Tobirama's spine and burns across his face as his fists tighten imperceptibly at his sides.
"I am not an unthinking manifestation of Butsuma's will!" The snarl cuts off abruptly as a tan, calloused hand cups his crimson-slashed cheek, and Hashirama smiles at him with a fond softness that Tobirama had not been aware he'd missed until this moment.
"No, little brother. You are so much more." Hashirama swallows tightly. "I'm sorry I seem to have lately forgotten that."
Tobirama can only blink, mind unusually clouded as his brother pulls away and clears his throat. With another bright smile, Hashirama states his intention to reply to his childhood friend at once before turning and striding briskly toward their house.
Tobirama remains alone in the garden until the arrival of stars in the night sky.
Only a few short weeks later, after multiple meetings have been attended by high-ranking members of the Senju and Uchiha, old slights unearthed by elders to inspire fresh arguments, and both Hashirama and Madara having worn the begrudging hospitality of the Nara, Yamanaka and Akimichi collectively thin, the paperwork is finished, and plans are made for the first peaceful open gathering for any willing members of the tentatively allied clans.
They meet, fittingly, at the river, a few dozen brave and curious souls from both clans, all watching from their respective sides as Hashirama and Madara greet each other in the middle of the calm water. The Uchiha leader's somber outstretched hand is brushed aside by his Senju counterpart as Hashirama pulls the man into a brotherly embrace.
Madara, thankfully, at least this once responds with tolerance, if not good humor, and with the tension broken, Senju and Uchiha slowly begin to intermingle.
Tōka, dressed to kill metaphorically today, already has two Uchiha kunoichi spellbound by the time Tobirama notices little Kagami beginning to make his way through the throng to the water's edge, where some other children have already gathered to play.
The little boy catches his eye, and offers the Senju a small smile and uncertain wave.
Tobirama waves politely back just as Hashirama descends on the boy with the speed of some bizarrely ebullient predator, heaping mostly blubbered commendations upon the shocked "pure Uchiha child" who immediately blushes like an over-ripened tomato at the stream of puffy praise pouring from the Senju Head.
Madara, chakra prickling with amusement, casually sidles up next to Tobirama to observe the ridiculousness for himself.
"He's ruining your reputation, you know."
Tobirama cannot deny the truth of the words, but bristles with offense on Hashirama's behalf all the same.
"Brother can be... overly enthusiastic regarding matters he deems important." It's not quite a defense.
Madara snorts, "That has hardly escaped my notice- but I was referring to Kagami."
They boy in question is currently attempting to creep by obvious degrees away from the boisterous man beside him while still somehow maintaining an air of deference to the Senju Head. He's not making any significant progress.
"Yes," Madara nods. "When he returned home, having miraculously escaped the clutches of Senju Tobirama almost entirely unscathed, the boy became something of an instant celebrity among the children."
Some slight, indefinable disappointment washes through Tobirama, though of course such a thing was to be expected - the little boy gaining greater regard in the eyes of his peers for exaggerated tales of bravely facing their monstrous enemy alone and subsequently receiving praise from the Uchiha Clan Head himself for his actions.
Tobirama had, a bit foolishly, hoped the child that had acted quickly to save the witless Senju boys from peril of their own making might have had a bit more integrity than that.
"He's become the clan's youngest and perhaps most vocal advocate of peace between our people," Madara divulges with a slight shake of his head. "Mostly by using himself as a prime example that you are not the heartless ogre you are believed to be, what with sparing his life, admonishing his attackers, and healing his wounds with your own hand."
Tobirama's jaw drops slightly before he protests, "I merely wanted to maintain the recession of violence between our clans... and treat the child fairly, in light of what he'd done for the Senju."
"In my admittedly limited knowledge of the creatures," Madara says, favoring him with a raised eyebrow, "Ogres are not known for their benevolent acts of fairness. At any rate, the boy has instilled doubt in many children who believed that was all there was to the red-eyed Senju."
His face darkens slightly as he turns again to focus on Hashirama's antics. "Those that have not been... directly affected by our feud, at least."
A heavy sort of weariness hovers over the two shinobi for a moment before Tobirama clears his throat and gestures at his brother's still-trapped prey.
"Do you think we should help the boy?"
Before Madara can respond, Kagami's salvation arrives in the form of young Naoki, who tugs the little Uchiha by his sleeve away from the Senju Head, offering some paper thin and only barely polite excuse before dragging Kagami with him down to the river to play.
Kagami does not protest his rescue, Naoki's negative role in what Tobirama mentally refers to as the "Bear Incident" apparently forgiven as they begin to splash at each other between friendly shouts of mock outrage in the sun-dappled shallows of the lazy river.
Years from now, this may become a story for Kagami and Naoki's descendants to giggle over as the ridiculous way their ancestors inadvertently drove their clans closer to peace.
"I hope..." Madara dares aloud, but does not finish his thought as they watch the Senju and Uchiha children play together without fear, though Tobirama believes he has some idea of what audacious schemes may be spinning in the man's dark head.
Tobirama smiles slightly, taking in the scene. It's peaceful, even counting the exuberant shrieks of the soaked-through children, and, for just a moment, he allows himself to hope as well.
Perhaps, once those gathered have begun to return to their homes, he should leave a large fish on the riverbank as an offering before he departs... just in case.