ezyl: (saving!)
m nemonica ([personal profile] ezyl) wrote in [community profile] narutobang_fic2010-09-01 06:26 am

day three. "Man of Dreams" [1/4]

Man of Dreams

---


They knew every inch of each other's bodies. They knew each other's bodies as well as they knew their own.

Each knew the other's skin, his eyes, his hair. Each knew the other's voice, what he sounded like when he murmured, what he sounded like when he screamed himself hoarse.

Each knew the other's sensitive spots. Each knew how to make the other sweat, how to make the other pant, how to make the other moan.

Each knew—as no one else in the world could know—how the other one moved. Each knew how the other's muscles flexed, slackened, tensed. Each knew the other at his very best, breathing hard, limbs trembling, every muscle moving and pulling, that unending and exhausting and intoxicating rhythm.

They knew how to respond to each other, how to move as one, how to compliment each other exactly. Perfectly.

They knew each other thoroughly, consummately, and intimately.

On the battlefield.

Only on the battlefield.

This is a discussion of their combat tactics.

Obviously.

It didn't mean anything else. One must know one's enemy; the better one knows one's enemy, the better one may fight him. If they hadn't known each other so well, neither would have survived as long as he did. It was a matter of survival. It was a matter of necessity, of life and death. In order to protect themselves and their clans, they had needed to have that knowledge of each other.

So was it really so strange that—

Oh, please, please, don't think of that, don't think about...

... Was it really so strange that, even now, even when they were allies, even when they hadn't fought each other in years...

Was it really so strange for Hashirama to still have that same obsession? Was it really so strange for that too, too intimate knowledge to rise up in his mind, with such alarming frequency, whenever the co-founder of his village was around, and whenever he wasn't around...?

And was it really so unusual if he woke up, night after night, from dreams about that body that he knew so well, too well? And was it so unusual if he woke up from those dreams hot and sweaty and sticky, just as if he had returned from a battle, only... different?

Was it so unnatural if he still found himself studying that body, because what's the point of knowing so much and not knowing everything? Was it so unnatural that he wanted to know everything, even if it had nothing to do with battle anymore, even if he could never use it for battle?

And was it so unacceptable, if, if he, if he... if he wanted, if he longed to put that knowledge to good use, because what's the point of knowing so much and never using it? Was it so unacceptable if he yearned to put it to some other purpose?

And then, and then, after all of that, was it so abominable if he wanted to, needed to, lusted to—

No. No. It was not. It was all perfectly...

Oh please why why why couldn't he get these thoughts out of his—

No. No, there was nothing wrong with it! They had been enemies! They had fought each other and fought each other and fought each other dozens and hundreds of times! Of course there would be some effect on the way Hashirama thought about him now! It was all perfectly normal! There. Was. Nothing. Nothing. Wrong. With. Him.

This is what Hashirama told himself, over and over. So he would remind himself as he sat, for minutes at a time, on bad days for hours at a time; so he would remind himself, just to keep himself from going crazy with horror and disgust and self-loathing (because wasn't it abominable, wasn't it abhorrent, wasn't it atrocious and appalling and nauseating).

So Hashirama told himself whenever he woke up in the middle of the night from another dream and found that in some half-doze, when he was aware of his body but not of his actions, that somehow his hand had drifted down to—

So Hashirama told himself whenever that man (on some rare, rare occasion) actually smiled, and something light and shivery and shimmery shot up from below his stomach and some rebellious delirious voice hissed that smile that SMILE I think I'm in

So Hashirama told himself whenever someone asked him when he would settle down and was it true he hadn't been with someone yet and he had to stop himself from saying of course he had been with someone, but how could any else's body compare to—

So Hashirama told himself whenever his enemy, his co-founder came up to him and said something and the words disappeared and all that was left was the mouth moving moving and all he wanted to do was lean towards that face and that mouth and—

This is what Hashirama told himself. Over and over. And over and over and over. They had been enemies. To ensure their own survival—and the survival of their families, their friends, their clans—they had needed to understand each other on a level far deeper than any normal human relationship.

It was all... perfectly... normal.

Therefore, due to the fact that each had needed to analyze the other's tactical procedures and combat capabilities, Hashirama now wanted to fuck Uchiha Madara six ways from Sunday.

... Somehow, when he looked at it that way, even Hashirama couldn't buy into his own reasoning.

---

Year Zero

The Year He Met Madara

---

It is a little-known fact that Hashirama founded Konoha not to save his allies from death on the battlefield, not to save his friends, or his family—but to save his enemy.

After all, as long as Hashirama lived, he would give everything he had to protect his allies, his friends, his family. He would give his own life. But how could he save his enemy, the man he was ordered to kill, the man who threatened the safety of Hashirama's own family, friends, allies? The only way to save him was by making him an ally as well.

Of course, there was always more than one enemy Hashirama had to consider. But anyone who has gotten this far should know damn well which one he worried about so much.

It didn't begin like that. When Madara first started showing up on the battlefield against Hashirama, he was just another one of many ninja, just a stranger with fiery eyes, so young, too young to be doing this in Hashirama's opinion (never mind that they were probably about the same age), one who might survive this encounter with Senju but would not survive many, for nobody ever did—their clan were just too strong, Hashirama was just too strong.

But then he kept showing up. And very soon and all too fast, he was not just another child thrust into a warrior's costume. And then Hashirama started hearing about this man, and he heard rumors and legends about this Uchiha, this Uchiha who was even more powerful than the others—a prodigy among a clan of prodigies—and at last he heard a name. Madara. Madara.

And he kept showing up. And fairly soon, when preparing for combat, Hashirama could no longer come up with a battle plan without specifically coming up with an anti-Madara plan. And from the way he fought, Hashirama soon realized that Madara was doing the same thing.

They weren't the only two involved in this rivalry. Naturally. Tobirama spent all his free time learning and mastering new Water Release techniques specifically to counter the Uchiha clan's Fire Release. The Uchiha clan took to razing all the plant life around their outposts specifically to make combat more difficult for the Senju clan's famed Wood Release user.

But through all that, it always felt like there was only the two of them. At least, it did to Hashirama. They reached a point where, whenever a battle began, neither would jump right in; they would scan the battlefield, searching for each other. And when their eyes inevitably locked, they would head straight for each other. Nothing else existed.

Once, someone tried to take advantage of this—someone attacked Madara while he was still making his way across the battlefield to begin the real fight. Hashirama was almost as surprised as Madara, but Madara turned and immediately attacked his assailant. For one crazy moment, Hashirama almost attacked the assailant, too. And he probably would have, if he hadn't noticed just in time that the assailant was Tobirama.

It was lucky that Madara was the one who was ambushed; if it had been Hashirama, he never would have noticed. After that, even when fighting each other, both remained aware of the possibility of outside opponents cutting into their dance.

He spent a long time wondering what that meant, that Madara had still been aware enough to notice an assailant, whereas Hashirama knew quite well he himself wouldn't have been. He eventually decided that this was simply due to the nature of the Sharingan; Madara must simply have better peripheral vision. It certainly wasn't that Madara didn't care about Hashirama as much as Hashirama cared about him.

... "Care"? Where had that come from?

That evening, Hashirama had barely been able to speak to his brother—not from anger, not from embarrassment, he just didn't know what. Even when Tobirama chided him for being so unaware on the battlefield that he hadn't taken advantage of the opening Tobirama had given him, he didn't say anything in return. What could he do? Scold Tobirama for attacking Madara? Scold his brother for attacking their enemy?

Hashirama and Madara never (really) spoke to each other. But before long Hashirama was sure Madara just... nodded, slightly, in recognition, sometimes, when their gazes locked. Then, one day, when they saw each other—Hashirama still remembered the day almost perfectly, it was cloudy, they were between two hills, they both had small squads, four-on-four, of course this was a day he'd remember—Madara let out a huge sigh, and, with exaggerated exasperation, shouted (to Hashirama, it could only have been to him), "What?! You again?"

What did that mean? Surely he wasn't that annoyed to see Hashirama again—well, sure, they were enemies (technically?), but why bother point it out, after so many battles? It had sounded like—like teasing. Like a joke, between old friends.

Hashirama couldn't sleep that night, trying to figure out what that meant.

Was it just mockery? Was this just his way of taunting opponents? But, no, that was just too... ridiculous. Surely Uchiha Madara was above such juvenile gibes. (At some point, Hashirama had built up an elaborate mental image of what Madara must really be like, outside of battle. He was as dignified, as courageous, as earnest as a human could be without ascending to godhood. And now, it seemed, he was the sort of man who could come to view his enemies as friends.)

It was after that little event that Hashirama had truly started to obsess over Madara. But obsession was only appropriate. He was Hashirama's eternal rival.

And then each had a mission where they were asked only to be escorts, to two warlords who were trying to hash out a peace treaty—one demanded Hashirama as a bodyguard, the other demanded Madara. And they had been expected to stand near each other... civilly. Without fighting. And at some point during the peace negotiations, they had spoken to each other. From what Hashirama could remember, it had been... a year, a year since he had first seen that stranger he came to know as Madara.

A whole year, and they had never once spoken.

"I'll... probably..." Hashirama had said (why had he spoken first, why was it so hard to say this, it had to be because Madara was his enemy that had to be it), "probably never have another opportunity to say this, so..."

Madara had looked at him, eyebrows slightly raised to indicate he was paying attention, meeting Hashirama's gaze calmly but suspiciously.

"I just wanted to say, that..." (why was he stumbling over this he probably looked like an idiot he was making a fool of himself in front of Madara why did he care so much about what Madara thought of him focus, focus...) "You're the strongest ninja I've ever known." (What? After all of that, that was it?!)

Madara had stared at him for another moment, but then a corner of his mouth had quirked up. "Except for yourself?" he'd said, just a bit bitterly (or praisingly?).

Hashirama had allowed himself to, just as slightly, smile back. (Had Madara just complimented him? Complimented him?) "You're the only one who's ever beaten me in battle." And he had beaten Madara as well, but the contests were always close.

"But it never seems to take." What was that? Resentment or compliment?

"No, I guess not..." And it had started descending into idle chatter. Madara had lost interest, looked away—staring at nothing with those (beautiful, beautiful) red eyes. (Since when had Hashirama thought Madara's eyes were beautiful? ... Or, rather, why had it taken him so long to notice?) He'd needed to say something else. He couldn't have let the conversation end with that. "It makes you wonder what it would take to... end all this, doesn't it?" And now he had Madara's attention again but he just looked confused; something else, say something else! "All these fights, this warfare... What will it take to stop it?"

Madara didn't answer for a moment. And when he did, flat, resigned: "One of us has to die."

He didn't know why he was so surprised at the answer—didn't he know it, too? "One of... you mean, you and me?"

"Of course." He smiled sardonically, looking away from Hashirama, staring at something in the distance. "Who else?"

"But why? Does it have to end that way?"

"How else? We would both give everything to protect our... our clans..." His smile faded slightly. For a moment, something close to despair crossed his face. "... Or to avenge them." (Hashirama was taken aback. Surely that could only mean—who had Madara lost...?) "As long as one of our clans exists, the other is in danger. One way or another, this has to end in annihilation."

"That can't be the only option." Madara couldn't be the kind of person who believed that there were no alternatives. "There has to be another way out. For both of us. All of us."

"And what way is that?" Madara glanced sideways at Hashirama, scowling. "We all move in together and form a big happy family and never fight again?" (Actually, why didn't that sound like a bad idea?) "There's no other way out, Senju. I never expected you to be such a romantic."

"Senju"? Just "Senju"? Not even an honorific, just "Senju"?And Hashirama suddenly wondered—did... did Madara even know his name? (Of course he did of course he did everyone in the ninja world knew Hashirama's name, and how could Madara of all people not know Hashirama's name when Hashirama knew his so very well?) And at the same time he kept thinking, why didn't that sound like a bad idea, what was wrong with Hashirama to think that sounded like a good idea? (That was the first time Hashirama had ever begun to think—still in a half-hearted way, but growing stronger—that there might something wrong with him, although he had certainly felt unease in the past, certainly been uncomfortable at some time or another, he'd never quite known why.) Maybe it was a good idea—but that was ridiculous, how would that work out anyway, did that even make any sense? Senju and Uchiha, together? Operating as one clan? How, how could they possibly? But wouldn't that fix everything? Hashirama wouldn't have to keep fighting Madara, and he wouldn't have to worry about his brother, every day, worry about his family, friends, allies, enemy... (And did Madara even know Hashirama's name?) And Hashirama had never expected him to be such a cynic. Who was it he had lost?

All he said in response was "Maybe."

The peace talks had broken down between the two warlords. Hashirama and Madara had been required to fight again.

A few weeks later, Hashirama had offered his own peace treaty to the Uchiha clan. It had, after all, been Madara's idea. In a way.

So why had Madara been so reluctant to take Hashirama's hand? To shake and officially end the warfare? Or had Hashirama just been too eager? Had he been too eager? Had he held on a bit too long, smiled a bit too wide? Had he...

It wasn't until after Konoha was formed that Hashirama realized that, even when the battles were over, he was still obsessed.

---

Year One

The Year He Founded Konoha

--

Never for a moment, during all the time he had spent coming up with his grand plan, persuading his own clan to go along with it, bargaining with the Uchiha clan, negotiating with the many other clans he hoped would help him—nowhere in all this had he thought about anything other than peace. He just wanted the wars to end. He just wanted to protect everyone he cared about. (And yes, he would now willingly admit that Madara was on that list; why not? Hashirama just cared about everyone, that's all. Not... not like that, that sounded too... arrogant, too self-aggrandizing, that way, but. He could be concerned for humanity in general, couldn't he?) He didn't think about anything other than that. Peace. Peace was his goal. Peace and harmony. Unity between Senju and Uchiha. Unity between Hashirama and Madara. (He didn't analyze his own motivation too deeply.) That was all he'd wanted.

And so he was completely thrown off balance when he heard that Madara suspected him of trying to take control of the Uchiha clan.

He hadn't been anywhere near the (recently almost-unified) Senju/Uchiha clan when he'd found out, either. He had been way northwest, near the mountainous regions, trying to talk another clan into joining this crazy village experiment—a branch of the Yamanaka clan, a branch which the Senju clan had allied with a few times in past years. At Madara's insistence, a couple of his own men had accompanied Hashirama and his band to their meeting with the Yamanaka clan. At first Hashirama had thought that was just Madara's way of trying to participate, saying that he supported this as well—that it was no longer just a Senju endeavor, but a joint Senju/Uchiha effort.

Of course, Madara himself still wasn't there. But Hashirama understood. He'd learned, soon after forming this alliance: Madara's younger brother had recently died. That was his excuse—no, that was his reason—for not joining Hashirama on his diplomatic missions to the other clans. Certainly, it wasn't that Madara wasn't as enthusiastic about the idea. Certainly, it wasn't that he would rather continue fighting than ally the Uchiha with the Senju clan. Certainly, it wasn't that Madara wanted to avoid Hashirama. Certainly, it wasn't that he didn't care enough to bother helping this plan succeed. It was that he was still in grieving, for his brother. That was fine. Hashirama had a brother, too. He understood. He knew how important a younger brother was, and he could only imagine what it would feel like to lose one. Madara could take all the time he needed.

(Hashirama wanted so badly for Madara to be not a reluctant follower, but an equal partner, that he was willing to accept any excuse that might explain Madara's apparent lack of enthusiasm except "he just doesn't like your idea.")

But in any case, in any case—for the first time, Madara had sent a couple of representatives from the Uchiha clan. Hashirama was thrilled. So thrilled that he didn't bother asking why Madara hadn't sent anyone before.

That was fine, he didn't need to ask; they told him anyway.

They were maybe a day out from the Yamanaka compound—at least, from where it was supposed to be, the last time Hashirama had heard. They were in a band of five: three Senju and two Uchiha ninja, the former uncomfortable with the latter (except for Hashirama) and the latter unwilling to speak to the former. Until they briefly split up. The other two Senju scouted ahead for enemy ninja. (Even though the Uchiha were much better scouts, the Senju insisted on going instead—despite the treaty, there wasn't a great deal of trust yet. Something Hashirama regretted.) And while the others were gone, leaving the Uchiha behind with Hashirama, they talked to him.

"We apologize for... following along like this, Senju-sama," one of them said, the elder of the two. Byakko, was that his name? "And for Madara's attitude."

Hashirama just smiled and said, "It's not a problem. There's nothing to apologize for." There wasn't. "I'm just glad to have the Uchiha clan's support." And he understood why Madara had been so, so... impolite wasn't the word, unfriendly wasn't the word. Maybe withdrawn. Or sullen—but understandably. He had, after all, lost his brother.

(Hashirama wanted so badly for Madara to be not a cold acquaintance, but a true friend, that he was willing to accept any excuse that might explain Madara's apparent lack of sociability except "he just doesn't like you.")

Byakko and his younger partner exchanged a glance. (Hashirama kind of wondered if the Uchiha somehow... said more, saw more than other people did, when they exchanged glances like that. Considering that they had those eyes.) "And we're glad to offer our support, Senju-sama," he said. "Which is why we are especially sorry for how Madara's taking this."

... That didn't make any sense. What was this that Madara was supposed to be taking? "What do you mean?"

Another glance between the two Uchiha; one time could mean anything, the second time meant they knew something he didn't and weren't sure whether they should share it. And so he lowered his voice and hardened his expression just enough to prove he meant business, and said, "What is it."

It is not highly recommended that one continue to beat around the bush when Senju Hashirama means business. Keep beating that bush and one may find oneself in battle against a tree.

(Not that Hashirama had so short a temper that he would actually fight two men just for hemming and hawing about some little point. But these two were from the Uchiha clan, and they didn't know that. It was likely that all they knew was that every time they'd seen him in battle, he'd had his serious face on; and that every time they'd seen him since proposing the treaty, he'd had his pleasant face on; and right now he had his serious face on.)

"We're... sure you know, that..." the younger of the two (Hiya?) began, glanced at his elder (third time), then back at Hashirama, cleared his throat, and continued, "that Madara didn't willingly agree to this alliance."

That wasn't just a slap to the face a punch in the gut a kick in the groin, it wasn't just a blow to the chest a stab in the back a knife in the heart, it was, that was... what?! (When he later thought about his reaction to that statement, Hashirama would be stunned at how badly he had been hurt; because what had Hiya said, only that Madara just didn't like his idea—and hell, hell, hadn't it been so obvious, how could he not have known that, that...) Madara hadn't willingly agreed to the alliance? (Madara had almost refused to shake Hashirama's hand.) Then... Madara thought it wouldn't succeed? (Madara thought only their deaths could end the warfare.) Then... Madara thought the whole idea was a bad one? (Madara thought Hashirama was a romantic, an idiot.) Then... Madara doesn't... (Madara just doesn't like Hashirama, why did that hurt more than everything else combined?)

But how, how, how could that even be possible, hadn't Madara responded to Hashirama's proposal saying that the Uchiha clan agreed to his idea, hadn't Madara himself arrived to discuss the treaty, hadn't Madara been cordial enough and accommodating enough (and hadn't Hashirama been cordial enough and accommodating enough?) through all the arrangements and with all the terms and hadn't Madara shaken his hand, hadn't he shaken his hand, even if he had hesitated and almost drawn his hand back and set his jaw and lowered his eyes and then let go as soon as possible hadn't he still shaken Hashirama's hand, agreed to it, willingly agreed to it, making this historic decision on behalf of his clan, agreeing to this not just for himself but for his allies, friends, family—hadn't he, hadn't he, how could he not have willingly agreed when so much was at stake as they both knew so well, how could he have why would he have agreed to such a plan, a plan like this, a plan this enormous, this tremendous, this revolutionary and visionary and far-fetched and romantic and impractical and impossible and absurd and ridiculous and moronic and insane and stupid stupid stupid what was wrong with Hashirama (and there it was, angrily so angrily, that question "what's wrong with me" that would grow in his mind like a parasite on a tree until it would choke the life out of its host and cause the mighty tree to fall) how could he have been so stupid to think that this would work and and—no, it would work it would work it had to work now that he had laid his own clan's safety (and the Uchiha clan's safety and Madara's safety) on the line for this he would make it work, it would be an end to the wars, Hashirama was risking everything on the hope that this plan would work, and why was he risking so much in the first place (because Madara had said "We all move in together and form a big happy family and never fight again") and this had to work and it WOULD work dammit it WOULD because nobody wanted these wars, the fact that so many clans had already signed on was proof of that, the world was ready for peace.

And that was why this plan had to work and would work, because everyone was so tired of fighting and everybody was ready for it to end and nobody wanted to die and nobody wanted to endanger their allies friends families and even the most battle-hardened had to hope for it to end and even the most jaded cynical cold even Madara had to hope for it to end but why didn't Madara why wouldn't Madara why couldn't he make Madara why why why didn't Madara—

"Why didn't Madara-sama agree?"

He sounded slightly puzzled, and maybe concerned. That was all that came out.

Senju Hashirama was a man, certainly, a man with his own emotions and opinions; but he was also a ninja, and a ninja is an entirely different creature from a man. A ninja isn't even a creature; it is a tool. A ninja does not feel and does not think. A man can have long painful bouts of internal turmoil and self-doubt, but the ninja will put on an appropriate mask for the occasion and go on, as if it hadn't just received a kick in the groin, a knife in the heart. A ninja does what it must.

And for the good of both the Senju and the Uchiha, and for the good of the other clans that Hashirama was slowly talking into joining in on this plan, he had to know why the future co-founder of this village objected to its very foundation.

"Oh, we don't know." Hiya shook his head, as if the whole situation disgusted him. "You'd think that, you know, after his brother... Well, if Madara was any kind of loving brother, you'd think that he'd want peace for the sake of Izuna's memory, if nothing else. Maybe it's true what they say about Madara and Izuna—"

"Hiya-kun!" Byakko snapped. "Don't talk about things you don't know anything about!"

Hiya mumbled some apology, and Hashirama was annoyed at the both of them. What? What was it "they" said about Madara and Izuna? (Who was Izuna, anyway, was that the name of Madara's younger brother? Hashirama should know this. What a thing for him to not know about Madara, the soon-to-be co-founder of their—yes, their—village.) He supposed he'd have to find out what "they" said some other time.

Byakko turned to Hashirama and bowed slightly. "I apologize for Hiya's insolence, Senju-sama."

"Don't worry about it." As much as Hashirama respected elders, sometimes they were too formal. "But, what about Madara-sama?" (Did he sound too eager?)

"He's just..." Byakko sighed. "As the leader of the Uchiha clan... well, you can understand, he hasn't been the leader for very long, he's probably still, ah... uncertain, in his role," (oh couldn't he just get to the point) "and he has... concerns."

Hashirama nodded patiently. (And stopped himself from snapping, "Oh, really? I had no idea.") "What kind of concerns?"

Something something something Hashirama couldn't remember all the other annoying little trivial words Byakko said to assure Hashirama that this wasn't the majority of the Uchiha clan's opinion and that he was sorry for such disrespect and that and this and that and these and those before he finally got to the point, and the point was all that Hashirama remembered, and would remember for all his life, and the point was "Madara is worried that you... well, your clan might have engineered all this as a way to... to take over the our clan."

The pain Hashirama had felt just moments earlier was nothing.

Nothing.

Compared to this.

Knowing that Madara thought...

And about Hashirama.

(The shock must have shown on his face; he may have been a ninja but he was also still a man. But he didn't remember anything they said to him after that. He somehow remembered learning that Byakko and Hiya had been sent along not so that Madara could show his support, not as a gesture of alliance—but so that Madara could spy upon Hashirama and ensure that he wasn't plotting against the Uchiha clan behind their backs.)

Hashirama would never—

He hadn't even considered

Through all of this, he had never even thought about—

He would never.

(Hashirama didn't get angry at Madara for trying to spy on him, because Hashirama didn't get mad at Madara. But, honestly, it would have been unreasonable, for Madara was truly doing the right thing. Defending his clan, doing what he had to do to defend his clan. Hashirama would have done the same, if he'd thought for a second that something threatened his clan. But oh it hurt that he thought Hashirama was a threat—he was, yes, he was, but...)

He would never. He would never.

And Madara thought, that he...?

What did Madara think of him?

Did, did Hashirama do something, had something he'd said, done, given Madara the impression that...? Madara was... was just thinking about his clan, Hashirama hadn't done enough to assure him that he... he would never...

What did Madara think of him?

What had Hashirama done wrong?

Hashirama wasn't fully there for the rest of the trip to the Yamanaka clan. Even when he was busy with his diplomatic duties, some part of his mind was being eaten at by this knowledge, the fact that Madara believed Hashirama was trying to take over the Uchiha clan, and he would never he would never but but but why didn't Madara know that, what had Hashirama done wrong...? It was always under the surface of his thoughts, so that when the Yamanaka clan (they were just so eager to join) said that they would be more than thrilled to ally with the Senju and Uchiha clans for this endeavor but the only concern they had was that they might be required to divulge the secrets of their clan's techniques, if they could just be assured that they wouldn't be—

He would never he would never he would NEVER he would never and he would make them understand that was the farthest thing from his thoughts, he would never he would never. It wasn't his intent to take over any of their clans, he didn't want to rule them he didn't want to subjugate them, he just wanted them to come together, he just wanted peace, all he wanted was peace, that was all, that was all that was all. He just wanted to save everyone. He wanted to save his allies and his friends and his family and his clan and the other clans and the whole world and his enemy. He didn't want to rule anything. He didn't want to control anyone.

He told them because he couldn't tell Madara. Madara wasn't here.

And somehow, he never found the words to tell Madara. How could Hashirama tell him, when he already believed...? He tried, of course he tried, but it never came out right. There was always something else he knew he had to say to Madara, something Hashirama had to tell him, but he never knew what... And he never figured it out. So he would tell the other clans, instead, on the diplomatic missions. That he would never try to take over their clans. He didn't want to control anyone.

And they believed him, and, eager to have peace and harmony in their lives just once, they joined him and joined him.

Madara never came along on any of these diplomatic missions. (He was in grieving, Hashirama reminded himself; he's still in grieving, Hashirama would explain to anyone who expressed skepticism or disapproval—and if Senju Hashirama didn't find fault in Madara's actions, how could anyone else?)

It wasn't until much later, much much later, that Hashirama would look back on this (this fright, this anguish, this obsession) and wonder why, why had it hurt him so much that Madara didn't trust him? Why should Madara trust him? They barely knew each other. (Didn't they? And here Hashirama felt like he knew Madara so well...) Why was so much of Hashirama's faith in this plan, his plan, invested in what Madara thought about it? It was true that Madara was the co-founder of this village and it was true that this was a joint Senju/Uchiha venture and so they were equals in this, but... but it was Hashirama's idea and he was the one going out and getting support and organizing the thing and was Madara really part of it at all, or was Hashirama just saying he was because he wanted him to be... No, no, no, Madara was part of this too, Hashirama certainly wasn't in this alone. They had shaken hands on it. Of course, Madara wasn't going out and getting support because his brother had just died, he was still in grieving, if he hadn't been—

And, once again, Hashirama would talk himself into forgetting that Madara hadn't willingly agreed to the alliance (yet how could he have unwillingly agreed?) and that he thought Hashirama was trying to take over the Uchiha clan. Why did he keep talking himself into ignoring that? Why was he so desperate for Madara to like his plan (and him?) that he was willing to repeatedly shove aside the truth?

But this self-analysis would come later, later, much later. Until then, Hashirama would keep trying to use the other clans he addressed to vicariously tell Madara that he would never, he would never, he only wanted the best for all the clans.

And the clans joined and joined.

When the time came for them to choose who would lead this new village of theirs, the two contenders were Hashirama and Madara. Hashirama would have been more than glad to share the leadership position. And said so. But... he said so like he was... embarrassed to say so. So quietly. (Only a leader could stand up to an entire village; Hashirama didn't consider himself their leader.) So they hadn't listened. The people wanted a vote, they wanted one leader.

Madara had never come along on any diplomatic missions. Madara, after all, had been in grieving. (Madara, after all, had not wanted anything to do with this new village.)

Hashirama had met with every single clan that would make up the new village. He had personally assured every one of them that he would never try to take over their clans and that he didn't want to control anyone.

And so a vote was held, and Hashirama—for not wanting to take over their clans and not wanting to control anyone—was named the first leader of their village. This meant that, for all practical purposes, he would be taking over their clans and controlling everyone.

The clans had rallied behind him. They had unified thanks to him, because of him. He was the glue holding them together.

So how could he say no? If he said no, it might shatter the fragile little bonds that had tentatively been constructed between these clans. He had to. For peace, he had to. For everyone he cared about, he had to. For his enemy, he had to.

Even if he could feel his enemy's (beautiful, so beautiful...) red eyes on his back, as he accepted the position. Even if he knew that those Uchiha eyes that said more, saw more than other people's eyes, would be saying, I knew it. He said he would never, but I knew he would, and he did.

Peace and harmony, peace and unity, unity between Senju and Uchiha, Hashirama and Madara—that was all he'd wanted, the only thing he'd wanted. Never for a moment had he wanted control over the other clans. He had wanted peace, not conquest. He had wanted love—love?—yes, love, like brotherhood, fellowship, basic human love—he had wanted love, not power.

He had been handed power. And he never got love.

(Meanwhile, Madara didn't believe in love, only power. He was never offered the power he wanted—instead he had love offered to him by the handfuls, but for that, he would never shake hands.)

What did Madara think of him now?

---

(Hashirama would never find this out, but when a spiral-masked man called Tobi claimed to be Madara, he would claim that Madara had left the village the moment Hashirama took power as Hokage.)

(Hashirama would never have understood why Madara would want to deny that he had ever been in Konoha while Hashirama was in power. He would have come up with his own theories, of course, all of which would have been very painful, and none of which would have been right.)

---

Year Two

Konoha's First Year

---

As soon as Hashirama had been named the leader of this new village, he went looking for Madara.

Not everyone was happy with him over this. In fact, pretty much nobody was, least of all his own clan. Tobirama (who didn't even like the Uchiha clan) tried several times to persuade Hashirama instead to come to the celebration that was being held for him in the Senju complex. (The clans—much to Hashirama's chagrin—had decided to live in separate, walled-off residential complexes. But Madara had voiced support for the "separate clans" idea, so how could Hashirama have objected? Now that he knew Madara wasn't exactly happy with the idea of the village, Hashirama was going to do whatever it took to make him happy.) So he told Tobirama and the several other cousins with him that he'd meet them at the complex later on, but there was somebody he needed to find, first.

"Madara-sama?" Tobirama guessed, sighing.

Pause. "Yes. How did you know..."

Another sigh, this one more pronounced. "You've probably spent more time trying to appease him than the rest of the clans combined. We've got the Uchiha clan's support. Who cares if their leader's a grump?"

Hashirama cared. But he didn't think he'd be able to explain why if he were asked for a reason. ("Because somehow it's my fault if he's unhappy." "Because I can't be content unless he is." "Because I want to see him smile." Where in the world were those reasons coming from?) So instead he ignored the question and just said again, insistently, "I'll catch up with you later, all right?"

Tobirama gave him a disapproving look, but... what could he say to him? His older brother, his clan's head, and now his village's leader? So he just smiled wryly and said, "Try not to start a war with him."

The last thing Hashirama wanted.

The Uchiha clan wasn't happy with him either, when he came to the gate of their complex and asked if he could speak with Madara. Even if they had agreed to join with the Senju clan in the creation of this village, they were still a very private bunch. But what could they say to him? The leader of the Senju clan and the leader of their village? So they reluctantly said that Madara should be on the cliff overlooking the village.

He was indeed. He was standing at the cliff's edge, arms crossed, staring (glaring?) out across the half-constructed village, completely still. Even though Madara wasn't in his battle armor, Hashirama could imagine that he was overlooking a battlefield, analyzing the layout, searching for the best tactical advantage. (The expression was so familiar on Madara that Hashirama didn't even think to be alarmed that he was currently directing that calculating look at his new village.) He apparently didn't notice Hashirama approaching, because he made no move to acknowledge his presence.

But when Hashirama was finally up alongside him, and said some little nonsense throwaway phrase of greeting (it was probably something stupid like "Hi" or "Nice view up here"), Madara still didn't so much as glance at him; and so it occurred to Hashirama that, of course, Madara had seen him coming the whole time, he was an Uchiha after all. He had just been ignoring Hashirama. (And why shouldn't he ignore him, Hashirama had wanted to create a village where everyone would be safe and equal, not a village where he would rule over all the participant clans, and yet that was what had happened. Of course Madara would distrust him after that, he had every reason in the world to be mad at him, to not want to speak to him... what could Hashirama possibly say to reconcile with Madara?)

"I didn't..." (for a brief moment Hashirama's voice stuck, he didn't know what to say, why was it so hard to speak to Madara, Hashirama never had this trouble with anyone else, but they had once been enemies, nemeses, that had to be why he was always so nervous around Madara—was it "nervous," then, was that what he was feeling?—he had to say something, speak, speak) "I didn't mean for... things to happen like this, you know."

"Is that so." Madara's tone wasn't exactly hostile, but it would be hard to describe it as anything else. (Hashirama chose to focus on the first point and ignore the latter.) He gestured at the village beneath them, and then tightly crossed his arms again. "It seem like things went perfectly according to your plan."

Hashirama decided not to insist that it was "our plan"; on some level, he knew he didn't want to hear Madara's response to that. "I meant the... getting-chosen-leader thing." Oh, didn't that sound brilliant.

"Really. It seems perfect for you." Not even Hashirama could pretend that Madara might have meant that as a compliment, much less as congratulations.

"I didn't ask to be named leader." How he hoped he didn't sound too petulant. Did he sound petulant? Or too whiny? Defensive?

"No. You just waltzed around to all the villages, smiled at a few people and made a few reassuring speeches, and let them do the rest."

Hashirama didn't point out that Madara could have done the same thing. He didn't want a fight. Besides, how could he criticize Madara, who hadn't accompanied Hashirama to the other clans because he had been in grieving for his brother? (Either that, or because he for some reason had not willingly agreed to the formation of the village, and Hashirama still didn't know what that meant and still wanted to know.) And then Hashirama wondered, awfully, if perhaps he had somehow, unknowingly, taken advantage of Madara's lack of involvement—if he had exploited the opportunity to gain rapport with the clans while Madara could not? Of course, Hashirama knew that he hadn't meant to do that, would never have dreamed of doing that, but Madara had no way of knowing that—how could Hashirama criticize Madara for not being involved, how could he find fault in him for blaming Hashirama?

"But I never meant to—" Hell, what could he possibly say to Madara? "I didn't want—I wasn't trying to become the leader! I never wanted that."

"I suppose it's easy to say you didn't want it after you've already got the position." Madara finally turned his head, just enough to shoot a dark glare at Hashirama.

Hashirama inwardly winced. Oh. He had known he'd end up saying something wrong. He had known it. Now Madara thought he didn't even appreciate having been entrusted with the sole leadership of an alliance of clans. It was so easy to say "I didn't want that," so easy to be ungrateful. "I don't mean that I don't think it's an honor, Madara-sama, of course I know it is—"

"And yet," Madara said, raising his voice slightly and continuing on as if Hashirama hadn't said a thing (why did he care whether or not Hashirama sounded grateful), "for all that you didn't want to be leader, you never said a thing while the village was making its choice."

Hashirama paused, for far too long. How did he respond to the truth? "No," he said. "I didn't."

"Then why," Madara turned to face Hashirama directly, meeting his gaze with his (absolutely beautiful) red eyes, "don't you appoint a leader who wants to lead?" Unspoken but implied, the question in those red Uchiha eyes that saw everything and said so much: why don't you appoint me leader?

Hashirama was amazed at how badly (desperately) he wanted to say yes. Not only to say that, but to say yes, yes, YES, please take over. Not only that, but if it would make you happy, you can do whatever you want, anything you want. Not only that, but I would love nothing more than to be led by you, give me your orders, give me your commands, and I will follow you to the ends of the earth—

(What what what what WHAT? Oh heavens what was wrong with him, oh hells what was wrong with him, even as these thoughts ran through his mind like a river through a splintered dam, some part of him was observing, silent and horrified and terrified and thinking what are these thoughts where did they come from what is wrong with me wrong with me wrong with me—)

Madara saw something in Hashirama's face that he didn't like (some part of his surprise, his fear?) and his expression grew more guarded.

(Hashirama could analyze himself later, Madara was waiting for an answer.)

He couldn't say yes, no matter how badly he wanted to. His wants weren't the priority—and neither were Madara's. The village's needs were greater than his own. "I can't do that."

"Why not?" It was a direct challenge. Angry sparks flared in Madara's eyes. (And suddenly Hashirama had an epiphany: when lovers told their beloveds, "You're even more beautiful when you're angry," they weren't just trying to calm them, it was completely true... where the hell had THAT come from what was WRONG with him?!)

Trying not to sound rattled (why did Madara's mere presence do this to him), he said, "I—we—the clans—all the clans..." he'd completely failed at not sounding rattled, "This is... such a fragile alliance already, between all these clans. None of them trust each other yet. Right now, the only thing holding them together is..." he couldn't say "me," he would never be that presumptuous, "... they've all agreed on one leader. That's the one unifying bond between them. I can't destroy that bond."

"How noble of you." Madara's voice dripped with poison, and his eyes said something completely different: what a beautiful excuse, no one could possibly criticize you for that. But it doesn't matter what you claim your original motivations were—now that you've taken power, now that you've got a taste for it, you're not letting go. Hashirama wished his eyes were half as expressive so he could actually explain himself to Madara. (Or perhaps he was searching for too much meaning in Madara's eyes; but he barely considered that possibility.) "What makes you so sure you're the people's savior?" In his eyes: why can't it be me?

What Hashirama wanted to say: I wish it were. "I don't want to lead our village," he said. "Our village wants me to lead it."

And somehow, Madara understood that. The rage went out of his eyes, and he grimaced, and silently sighed, but accepted it.

He accepted it.

And turned away from Hashirama again, and stared out over the village. "It's not our village, Senju-sama," he said. "It's yours."

A stab in the heart.

So many things he wanted to say: I'll share it; I made this village for you; my name is Hashirama, not Senju; why won't you look at me? (What was wrong with him?) But he waited, for Madara to say something else. And he did not.

And so, because he had to say something now, because he couldn't think of anything better, Hashirama finally asked the question he'd had for months. "I was told that you didn't... didn't 'willingly agree' to ally with my clan." He still remembered the exact phrase. "What does that mean? I'm sure you wouldn't have joined if you hadn't been in favor of the alliance. Right?" Oh, Hashirama hoped so. Actually, he hoped everything had been a big misunderstanding and that Madara had loved the idea all along. Ha, ha, ha. "You're the leader of your clan. If you'd really had misgivings, you wouldn't have decided on something you thought would endanger the Uchiha clan...?"

Madara slowly shook his head. "As the clan leader, I don't decide what the Uchiha clan does," he said. "The Uchiha clan decides what I do."

Didn't that sound familiar...?

Madara seemed to guess what Hashirama was thinking, because he smiled wryly. "It's funny, how rarely being the leader means making the decisions. Isn't it?" His voice turned bitter. "Enjoy it."

Enjoy it? Enjoy what? Rarely making decisions?

Hashirama didn't respond. He just stood alongside Madara, without saying a thing—and when they weren't speaking, just standing together like this, this felt... normal, actually, this felt fine. Maybe they could do this more often, maybe they could do this all the time.

It wasn't until long after Madara had left and headed back down to the village (without a word of farewell, not even so much as a grunt) that it hit Hashirama. For the first time, it really hit him.

"Enjoy it." Enjoy being the leader. Of everyone.

This village that he was staring at was his village. He was in charge of the entire village. He was responsible for every one of its lives.

And he was alone.

All alone.

---

It should be noted that Madara was not an enemy.

Of course, Hashirama never assumed he was.

Of course, everybody else did.

It should be noted that Madara, first and foremost and exclusively, was concerned with the well-being of his clan.

Of course, this meant he would do anything in his power for the Uchiha clan, no matter what the consequences were for himself or anyone in his way.

Of course, if Hashirama had not spoken to him on the cliff, that very afternoon Madara would have done his best to raze Konoha to the ground.

It should be noted that Madara let Konoha stand.

---

This is what Madara made of all of this:

He had knowingly let his clan sell itself into slavery.

At least, that was his fear. That was his deepest, strongest fear. A fear that could make his heartbeat double when he walked up to that Senju Hashirama, as if his heart were trying to run away as fast as it could and wanted his feet to get with the program. A fear that made his vision flicker, sharper-dimmer-sharper-dimmer, brighter-duller-brighter-duller, as his irises quivered, as his instincts fought to start his Sharingan spinning and his will fought to keep it still. A fear that kept him up at night, that woke him up at night, a dread that could only be calmed by staring at the moon, by trying not to think about it.

Yes, Uchiha Madara knew fear.

Hashirama terrified Madara. The way an indestructible shield terrified an unstoppable sword.

The Senju clan had been trying to destroy—not defeat, destroy—the Uchiha clan for years. And Hashirama had been their leader for quite some time. Why should Madara believe now that they'd made some sort of about-face? He saw no reason for it. It simply didn't make sense. Why now? Why did it take him this long to change his mind? Why did it take until after Madara had lost his brother?

If Hashirama had truly wanted peace, why hadn't he proposed it as soon as he'd become the leader of Senju?

(Because Madara had not given him the idea yet; but Madara did not know that.)

Madara had every reason to distrust Hashirama. He would have been a bad leader if he hadn't distrusted Hashirama.

But.

But.

But on a level he refused to acknowledge, that he knew existed and refused to acknowledge—

He wanted to trust Hashirama.

He wanted his clan to be safe here. He wanted to save his family from dying. He wanted to protect them, and if this, if this could protect them—

But he would have been a terrible leader if he had trusted Hashirama merely because he wanted him to be telling the truth.

However, Hashirama had allowed Madara to have something he hadn't had in... he didn't know how long. Something like a few years. Since he had started going blind. He had allowed Madara to have something so sweet and nostalgic that it burned the back of his throat and made him nauseous, his body had almost forgotten how to digest it.

Hope.

Because Madara had been willing to hope, he had allowed his clan to order him to agree to the truce. He hadn't had to. He could have resisted and resisted until his clan gave up on it. He could have resisted and resisted until his clan forced him to step down as clan leader. If he had been sure that his clan was selling itself into slavery under the Senju, he would have done just that. Better to be outcast than to hand his family over to the enemy.

He hoped he wouldn't live to regret it, he hoped he wouldn't.

Something about Hashirama inspired hope. He didn't inspire faith, but hope. Which made him all the more dangerous. Pretty words were nothing more than sounds on the wind; Madara wouldn't be able to believe that Hashirama was telling the truth until he saw the evidence with his own eyes. The most he could say for now was this: he hadn't seen any evidence against Hashirama.

And he'd seen that Hashirama understood. He knew what it was like to be a leader. To have to put his followers' good before his own good.

Not that Madara would ever admit he had seen this trait in Hashirama. Somewhere along the line, he had reached a point where it had become impossible for him to admit his own flaws. His clan needed someone flawless to lead it. He could not admit that he felt fear. He could not admit that he felt hope. He could not admit that he felt. Madara was unable even to apologize, except in backhanded comments about other people that only an astounding amount of mental gymnastics could reveal to be self-criticism. The closest he could come to saying "I am not perfect" was saying "I am perfect," but in a sarcastic tone. The closest he could come to responding to a comment like "You're the strongest ninja I've ever known" with something like "And you're the strongest I've ever known" was with a comment like "Except for yourself?" The only way he could confess that for all his strength on the battlefield he was powerless off of it was by saying "It's funny, how rarely being the leader means making the decisions. Isn't it?"

He just couldn't say those things.

But as long as there was hope. Oh, as long as there was hope for his family to be safe... As much, as much as Madara would have loved to avenge the suffering his clan had been given at the hands of the Senju, if this village could protect his clan, then Madara would protect this village.

He did not trust Hashirama. Especially not now, now that he had been chosen the leader of this village. But, he sounded as though he were telling the truth, when he said he had not wanted to be leader.

Madara would give him a chance, to prove that he meant what he said.

And he would hope he wasn't making a mistake.

(That was what Madara thought about Hashirama. As for how he felt about Hashirama... Madara was a ninja, and therefore, he did not allow himself to feel. And that is all that shall be said about that.)

---

"So how was he?" That was Tobirama speaking.

"What?" That was Hashirama.

Tobirama had been waiting for Hashirama outside the Senju complex. He looked relieved to see him. Inside the complex's walls, Hashirama could hear music. For a second, the music made him cross—why were they celebrating? What did they have to celebrate about, safe within the walls of their complex and isolated from the rest of the village? The fact that they had taken over—the fact that they had wrested all governing power away from the Uchiha clan, away from Madara (oh and away from the rest of the clans too, can't forget that), was that what they were celebrating?

He made himself calm down. The whole celebration was on Hashirama's behalf, wasn't it? He should be grateful.

"Madara. How's he dealing with this?" Dry laugh. "You don't look like you just crawled out of a battle..."

"Oh—no, it went fine." That might have been stretching the truth a little, but Hashirama didn't want Tobirama to think ill of Madara. "He offered his congratulations." Was that stretching it too far?

An incredulous laugh. "Him? Really?"

"Well, in his own way. You know how he is." Hashirama considered Madara too withdrawn to bother with frivolities like petty congratulations.

Tobirama considered Madara too proud to bother with niceties like friendly congratulations. "Yeah, I know. As long as he isn't planning on assassinating you..."

"Madara-sama wouldn't do that."

Shrug. "I don't know why you have so much faith in him..." (To be honest, the fact that Hashirama was being so diplomatic to Madara utterly baffled Tobirama. Sure, Madara was the leader of the Uchiha clan, but he was still Uchiha Madara. Sometimes, Tobirama felt, Hashirama was too much of a peace-mongering pacifist for his own good. Then again, he had managed to make this village happen, so...)

"I don't know why you don't."

"Hashirama, he spent I-don't-know-how-many battles trying to kill you."

"And? I spent those same battles trying to kill him." Albeit, Hashirama had to admit on some level, not trying very hard.

"Which is why he doesn't trust us. I'm just returning the favor." Tobirama placed a hand on Hashirama's shoulder before he could protest, and started gently steering him towards the gate into the complex. "C'mon. I know you're not a party guy, but they're throwing this one for you. You've gotta at least show up."

"I know, I know." Hashirama smiled, but in some part of his mind he was thinking about all the other things he had to do soon. He was responsible for the entire village, after all. He'd need to meet with each of the clans, one by one, discuss with them individually what they wanted out of this new village—hopefully someday they wouldn't all be divided up by clan, but, until then, this was necessary. Speaking of which, he needed to start working on a way to more fully integrate the village...

"I'm sure you'll be able to duck out before too long," Tobirama said. "Besides, it won't be too bad. I don't know how, but somebody managed to find some dancers and hire them to put on a show."

Oh. Dancers. Great. That had to mean—as it always did—a bunch of lithe, graceful, elegant young women, performing their moves for the pleasure of their eager audiences. For some odd reason, Hashirama had never found dancers all that entertaining.

But he did what he could to act as excited and interested in the performance as the rest of the audience. He knew he wasn't really as interested. He didn't know why he wasn't. He supposed he just... wasn't cultured enough. That was his only theory. He just didn't appreciate the fine performance art of dancing. He was an amateur sculptor, and he thought he'd like gardening if he ever had a little time and a little space to try it out, so he wasn't a completely uncultured brute, but somehow he just didn't like dance. However, this performance had been arranged for his benefit (and whatever Tobirama said, Hashirama suspected that he was the one who'd arranged it), and so he would pretend to enjoy it. Even if he never got what the appeal of it was to the other men in the audience.

It primarily was men; this party was basically being thrown by and for the shinobi of the Senju clan, not the Senju civilians; the clan had more male shinobi than they had kunoichi; and among the kunoichi who had come to this party, several drifted off together—doing girl things, probably—when the performance started; and most of those that remained watched with polite but fairly disinterested looks. Hashirama never thought to wonder why it seemed to be that, during performances by these twirling, gyrating, thinly-clad, gorgeous young women, most of the audiences seemed to be made up of men. Or to wonder why women, who were certainly capable of appreciating the arts, did not have nearly as much of an interest in the dancers.

(And thus, he never made the connection between the facts that the men enjoyed watching the dancers, the women didn't enjoy watching the dancers, and he himself didn't enjoy watching them. Why would he make such a connection? After all, the Senju clan, as a whole, did not discuss matters of lust openly. The men watched dancers because they knew what they liked, and they labeled dancers as "artistic" so that they wouldn't seem crude by admitting that their interest in the dancers was not quite so innocent as they pretended. The women knew why the men watched it and let them have their fun, because there's no harm in watching. The only reason Hashirama never figured it out was because watching the dancers didn't "do anything for him," so to speak, and since he didn't have any reason to suspect it was doing something for the other men that it wasn't doing for him... Well, he concluded that dance didn't attract him. He didn't suspect that he wasn't attracted to the dancers.)

The party went well enough. He was asked to make a speech, and so he made up one on the spot; about how this was an honor, but it did not mean that Hashirama was going to have absolute power over the village, much less that the Senju clan was; about how, if they wanted this village to survive, they would have to focus on unity, and cooperation; about how the most important thing to them all was going to have to be the good of the village, and furthermore, the good of the future of the village, and of its future generations (Hashirama wasn't sure where that part had come from, it had just popped into his head, but "future generations" meant "children" and Hashirama liked kids so he kept it in); and how, in his role as leader, he didn't want to be the one making the rules and deciding where this village would go, he wanted to be the glue holding the village together, helping it to cooperate, not taking strength and courage from his people, but giving his own strength and courage to the people; and finally, how... how... (red eyes and a self-deprecating smile flashed through his memory) how, as the village's leader, he would not be deciding what the village did—the village would decide what he did. He would be a symbol of the village's power. He would be its tool. He would be a ninja. Nothing else.

The speech was a great success—any speech that was sufficiently noble and highfaluting always was (especially when the speaker was sober and the audience was half drunk). Tobirama insisted that he repeat it to the rest of the village at large when they got around to formally founding this thing, you know, they don't even have a name for the village yet...

Hashirama knew. It was one of the things he wondered about—what were they going to name this thing. Through the rest of the celebration—which ended up lasting well into the night—Hashirama kept a running list in his head of all the things he'd have to start on tomorrow, when he got down to business. He needed a name for the village, and for the leadership office he had just taken.

For that matter, he needed to figure out how the name would be chosen. Would he set up a suggestion box in the middle of town and draw out a random name? Would he read out a list of potential names in front of the villagers and have them vote on their favorites? Would he have the clan leaders go to their clans for names, and then meet together to let the clan leaders decide which name to select? None of those really worked. The first was ridiculous, the second was overly complicated (merely voting Hashirama in as leader had been far more complicated than anyone had anticipated), and the third would just cause the clan leaders to fight amongst themselves. But he'd have to figure something out.

And then he'd have to get to work establishing himself as a leader, but not as a dictator. He supposed he'd need advisors of some sort—but what sort? Political, charismatic advisors, well-known and popular if not competent, the kinds that a daimyou had? Or capable, bitter, shrewd, tactical advisors, socially incompetent but martially triumphant, like a warlord had? Hashirama didn't know, the only thing he'd ever really led before was the Senju clan, and the clan was more like a big extended family than anything else.

Now there was a thought. Probably a bad one, but... Could he run a village like a family? "We all move in together and form a big happy family and never fight again." Madara had said that sarcastically, but, could Hashirama do that? Treat the entire village like his family?

These were the thoughts that ran through Hashirama's head throughout the party. Those and many others: the clans had just sort of plopped themselves in some plains in the middle of the Land of Fire, turned them into a forest and then a village, and called it home—what did they do if the daimyou of the Land of Fire objected to their presence? Did this mean they'd have to start paying the Land of Fire's taxes? Or would he view this as an act of war? If he sent one or two clans to forcibly evict them, they could take care of themselves—after all, the two most dangerous clans in the world were both in this village, and besides that there were many more clans with them—but what if he hired an army of clans to attack them? Also, how was this village going to get food? Would they buy it all? Get farmers to move in? And what would they do if one of the clans decided to back out of this arrangement and betray the others?

He fully participated in the party, of course. (Inasmuch as one could fully participating in a party while turning down drinks and hanging out near a wall. He didn't like parties. And he didn't like drinking. He especially didn't like drinking, or getting drunk, losing control, forgetting himself—so he never did.) However, he never stopped planning, because the next day he had to get to work. There were decisions to make, and before the decisions could be made there were meetings to have, and before the meetings could be had they had to be scheduled—how was Hashirama supposed to schedule meetings with all the clan leaders without a meeting in which a schedule could be set? Did he just swing by every complex, knock on the door, and ask who was home and what time was good? Was he supposed to be running his own errands or would he have to hire somebody to run them for him...

He kept thinking, planning, thinking, planning, through the party, into the night, until he finally escaped (the festivities could continue without him, most of the remaining party-goers were fairly drunk anyway) and hurried to bed. It had been—what with being chosen leader and that discussion with Madara and a wild celebratory party and all his new worries and thoughts and plans—a long, long day.

He drifted off with pieces and fragments of plans in his mind, all the things he had to do. He drifted off with pieces of a village in his mind and as he dreamed, tried to assemble the pieces into a family.

---

"Enemy." That word he kept hearing, over and over again. "Enemy. Enemy. Enemy." Until it became a rhythm, a pulse, a heartbeat. "E-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my" o-ver-and-o-ver-and-o-ver-and

He saw darkness and shadows and darkness. He saw beams of moving green light filtered through wavering leaves but he didn't see the leaves. He saw bursts of floating yellow embers drifting off roaring fires but he didn't see the fires. He saw pieces of warring bloody clans drifting into a forming family but he didn't see the family. He saw

e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my

a demonic fox, tearing across fields, tearing through forests, bloodlust in its bloody eyes. He saw countless tails, weaving, whipping back and forth. He saw red fox eyes. Red eyes. He saw

e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my

red eyes, beautiful, merciless. Wild black hair, black as shadows and darkness and shadows. Pale skin, a mouth, a sneer, a wicked smirk—and then parting lips, a challenge or an invitation.

e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my

He saw—he felt—pale skin, even more skin, face, arms, neck, legs... He heard a dark chuckle, and then he heard gasps, and he heard someone hiss his name, and he heard himself hiss someone's name. He heard the distant roar of a demonic fox.

e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my

He felt nails in his back and teeth in his shoulders and lips on his lips, and all sorts of other unimaginable things. He felt the sting of a blade and kicks and jabs and attack after attack and fire and fire and fire and it all felt so amazing and

e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-e-ne-my-E-NE-MY-E-NE-MY-E-NE-MY ENEMY, ENEMY, ENEMY MINE

and he woke up.

He was breathing heavily. His body was covered in sweat. His covers were twisted up around his legs and waist, and he was lying half off of his futon. It took him a moment, in fact, to remember where he was.

He was in his village. (The idea of it being "his" village still threw him for a loop.) Yes, his village. In his room. His temporary room in the Senju complex, where he would be staying until he received proper new living quarters, fitting for the leader of a village such as this. He was in his room, in the middle of the night, having just woken up from a dream about—

Oh hell oh hell oh hell oh HELL oh no no why

That skin that hair those eyes those eyes that was that was and in his dream he had shouted out that name he had shouted out for

Why was he—why, why was Madara in his dream? What was—Why was he... What the hell was wrong with—

Okay, okay, okay, okay... There was a logical reason, there was... no. No, there was no logical reason—because it was a dream. Dreams were messages, but they were not logical.

Hashirama believed that all dreams said something, something worth understanding. They were messages from something higher—specifically, from the Will of Fire. From Hashirama's ancestors, his friends, his family who had gone before him, from the Senju clan, perhaps from the Sage of the Six Paths himself. The Will of Fire guided him in all he did; it gave him the strength he needed in battle, the clarity of mind, to protect the people he loved and cared about.

And now it was trying to give him a message, that was all, that was all; so, what was it trying to tell him? Well, it was simply recapping the day—Hashirama had officially been selected as his village's leader today, and this had bothered Madara. The dream was an analysis of their current relationship. It was a battle. It was a flashback, to battle. All the dream meant was that, on some level, they were still in combat. That was it. That was all it meant.

Hashirama took a deep breath (just a dream), let it out (didn't mean a thing), and started trying to extract himself from the covers (just a dr—)

And then he felt the fabric twisted between his legs, felt a fantastic friction against something that shouldn't be able to feel friction like that, and at that point he couldn't keep denying the fact that he knew damn well that dream was not just a dream.

He had been having a dream about having... and he'd been having it with...

(What was wrong with him what was wrong with him what was WRONG with him oh please why why why were these thoughts in his head where had they come from why him why him why Madara why why why)

And that was how Hashirama had figured it out.

And all of the things that had happened before.

All of the thoughts that had floated through his mind and that he hadn't understood.

All of the things that he had once felt and would only come to analyze later—

(... "Care"? Where had that come from?)

(Why did he care so much about what Madara thought of him?)

(Since when had Hashirama thought Madara's eyes were beautiful?)

(Had Hashirama been too eager to shake Madara's hand?)

(Madara just doesn't like Hashirama, why did that hurt more than everything else combined?)

(There was always something else he knew he had to say to Madara, something Hashirama had to tell him, but he never knew what...)

("Because somehow it's my fault if he's unhappy." "Because I can't be content unless he is." "Because I want to see him smile." Where in the world were those reasons coming from?)

(Was it "nervous," then, was that what he was always feeling around Madara?)

(And suddenly Hashirama had an epiphany: when lovers told their beloveds, "You're even more beautiful when you're angry," they weren't just trying to calm them, it was completely true... where the hell had THAT come from what was WRONG with him?!)

(What what what what WHAT? Oh heavens what was wrong with him, oh hells what was wrong with him, even as these thoughts ran through his mind like a river through a splintered dam, some part of him was observing, silent and horrified and terrified and thinking what are these thoughts where did they come from what is wrong with me wrong with me wrong with me—)

Suddenly it all—

It wasn't until much later, much much later, that Hashirama would look back on this (this fright, this anguish, this obsession) and wonder why, why had it hurt him so much that Madara didn't trust him? Why should Madara trust him? They barely knew each other. (Didn't they? And here Hashirama felt like he knew Madara so well...)

—it all clicked—

No, no, no, Madara was part of this too, Hashirama certainly wasn't in this alone. They had shaken hands on it. Of course, Madara wasn't going out and getting support because his brother had just died, he was still in grieving, if he hadn't been—

—clicked into place.

And, once again, Hashirama would talk himself into forgetting that Madara hadn't willingly agreed to the alliance (yet how could he have unwillingly agreed?) and that he thought Hashirama was trying to take over the Uchiha clan. Why did he keep talking himself into ignoring that? Why was he so desperate for Madara to like his plan (and him?) that he was willing to repeatedly shove aside the truth?

But this self-analysis would come later, later, much later.

The self-analysis came.

In a single bright lucid dreamlike moment, he understood it. Why he was so, so, so

He wanted Madara, wanted Madara, so much, so badly that he had founded a village because of him, founded a village for him. He could not stop looking at him, he could not stop seeking him out, could not stop thinking about him, could not stop caring about him. He did not know how it had happened he had just been an enemy just another enemy just the one that kept coming back over and over and over the one with those beautiful exquisite hypnotic eyes that he could not get out of his head was this, was this what it had been all about, was this why he was so, so, so

There were no words there were no words, why he was so, so, so... obsessive defensive oversensitive so nervous so confused so terrified so, so, so

lovesick.

That

That was

it.

He was

He was in—

NO!

with—

NO!!

He was... with...

NO!!!

(And he screamed in his mind, trying to drown out his own thoughts with denial denial denial—)

No no no NO no no NO NO NO nononoNONONONONO NO NO NO NO no no NONOno no no NO NO NONONONONONONONONONO

(It was the least important thing in the world, at that moment. Absolutely the last thing on Hashirama's mind. You'd think it would be hard to ignore, but it wasn't, really.)

("It" being what was going on between his legs. He was still pretty well tangled up in his sheets, there was all sorts of friction, and considering the dream he just had, and considering that the memory of that face and those red red eyes was all but filling up his thoughts, at some point there had to be some sort of...)

No no NO he couldn't be he wouldn't be oh please, oh please, that couldn't be right, that couldn't be what it—

(... release.)

All conscious thought vanished. Everything vanished in a flash as bright and keen as omniscience and as sharp and draining as impotence. Everything vanished but

ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohenemyenemyenemymineohmymadaramadaramadaraMADARAenemymineloveyouloveyouloveyoumadaraloveyouforeverloveyoumadaraloveyou

He was left panting and sweating and fearing in a stunned, distant way that he might have said some of those words out loud.

Oh, please.

Please. No.

---

After all that, it would be very, very difficult for someone to remain in denial about their feelings.

Somehow, Hashirama found a way.

---

Hashirama got very little more sleep that night. He spent the remaining hours of the night thinking, and thinking, trying to figure out what that—that—dream could possibly mean. He couldn't deny that... something was wrong with him. But he would not, could not accept that he was just a...

There were no words for what Hashirama was seeing in himself, there were no explanations. Insanity, monstrosity, abomination, perversion. There were no words. The closest concept that Hashirama could even think of was "man of dreams."

And he. Was not. That.

He tried to justify it. And tried and tried. There had to be a reason for this, had to be, had to be—

He did not find an explanation that night. Nor for many more nights—nights filled with restless twisting in his sheets, with insomniac pacing in the dark, with more dreams of alarmingly similar content.

The explanation he invented for his feelings was not logical, nor even remotely accurate. But it was an explanation that he could use to maintain his own sense of reason, to comfort himself whenever he was hit by a sudden unexpected bout of (longing-love-lust, but he never called it that) of obsession. He used it whenever he had to quiet that ever-present and ever-growing parasite of a question, what's wrong with me wrong with me wrong with me?

And this was his explanation:

They knew every inch of each other's bodies. They knew each other's bodies as well as they knew their own.

Each knew the other's skin, his eyes, his hair. Each knew the other's voice, what he sounded like when he murmured, what he sounded like when he screamed himself hoarse...

---

Konoha, obviously, went through a great many changes after its founding. This even included changes to its perceptions of sex and sexuality. After all, some 60-odd years after the village's founding, the final selection for Yondaime Hokage came down to a choice between a snake-eyed genius whom everyone suspected of crossdressing and/or being queer, and a very young man about to father a child with a tomboyish immigrant jinchuuriki; as it happened, the snake-eyed genius lost the match, but if this indicates anything, it wasn't because of the rumors that he wore lacy underthings on his missions.

Less than two decades after that, an over-glorified crossdressing jutsu grew into a wild fad in Konoha, with the participants cheerfully performing as girls, boys, girls-on-girls, boys-on-boys, girls-with-boy-parts, boys-with-girl-parts, and countless other variations. It got a bit ridiculous, really.

But back when Konoha was founded, back when Hashirama lived, there was no such openness, no such information. The general public didn't even know what crossdressing was, much less mull over the acceptability of such a practice. The same went for anything else that they could have called "outside the norm."

This didn't mean, of course, that people who deviated from the sexual norm didn't exist. The Shodai Hokage Senju Hashirama himself was living (and unwilling) evidence of this. But on (rare) occasions when such concepts were addressed, they were not exactly approached in the most educated manner.

In short, nobody had ever heard of such a concept as "homosexuality." Nobody had stopped and considered that perhaps there were people who exclusively fell in love with people of the same sex—another phrase that didn't exist, "same sex." "Same sex" and "opposite sex," who thought like that? You had men and you had women, and men loved women and women loved men, and the sky was blue and the sun was bright and water was wet. There were no alternatives, the world didn't work that way.

The concept of people who didn't fit the norm was (very) rarely addressed directly, but certainly, different clans would have dealt with these people in different ways. The Uchiha clan, for example, was of the opinion that what their clansmen and clanswomen did with their privates was only important insofar as it related to their eventual offspring—as long as they didn't have (or risk having) children with anyone outside the clan, they were in the clear. Two same-sex cousins caught in bed together would cause less outrage than an Uchiha caught in bed with an opposite-sexed non-Uchiha, but an Uchiha and a non-Uchiha of the same sex would not be too scandalous since they couldn't procreate. True, they would be seen as weird; but, well, some people wore their shirts backwards and some people didn't eat any meat, and they were weird, too. Big deal. The most important thing was keeping it in the clan, making sure that any child of an Uchiha was only an Uchiha.

(As it so happened, Hashirama was also a vegetarian. But he didn't wear his shirts backwards.)

If the issue of homosexuality ever came up in the Senju clan, it had its own beliefs that could be used to address it. Specifically, the clan had a single concept, drawn from an old folk tale: the "man of dreams."

Despite the name, "man of dreams" is not something that any sane man would like to be called. In fact, a more accurate name might be something like "man with too elaborate sexual fantasies." The man of dreams was named for a fictional character of the same title. This character was a lustful man with an insatiable sexual appetite, a man who was so thoroughly obsessed with sex that he would do anything to get some, a man so obsessed that he could not even function healthily as a human being because his life was so consumed by lust... a man so desperately obsessed with sex that he would lust after anyone and anything, even a friend's beloved, even a sibling, even a child, even another man.

The man of dreams was a comical and a disgusting character. To be one was to be willing to bang anything on two legs. It was to be the lowest of the low, the most pitiful, pitiable pervert in the world.

And it was the ONLY concept the Senju clan had that offered any explanation for the possibility of one man falling in love with another.

Is it any wonder that Hashirama believed something was wrong with him?

---

In the end, it was agreed that, due to the fact that he had pretty much created the village, Hashirama should name it. He wasn't personally too fond of that plan, but, what could he do? He had decided that he would do whatever his village decided he should do, and his village had decided that he should decide on the village's name. He was beginning to intensely dislike politics.

He consulted with a great many people on the name—many of them, regrettably, in the Senju clan, but that was because he knew them personally and knew they would actually tell him what they thought. He also consulted with the heads of other clans. All of this happened around various other essential starting-up-a-crazy-village-experiment tasks, including fighting back would-be invaders who didn't expect the village to be as well-defended as it was, sending an envoy to the Land of Fire's daimyou to inform him that they came in peace, and reminding Tobirama for the hundredth time that they were allies with the Uchiha clan now and he couldn't go around badmouthing them in front of other Senju anymore, and yes, that included not saying anything about Madara.

But around all that, Hashirama somehow managed to come up with a name for the village that pretty much everyone agreed was all right. However, the title for the leadership position he had been given—the title he himself would wear—Hashirama chose to name it himself.

He consulted with a great many other people about name ideas, certainly. But before he made the announcement to the entire village, he consulted only one, final person about whose opinion he truly cared.

---

Madara gave Hashirama a cold look. "To what do I owe this honor, Senju-sama?"

To his credit and relief, Hashirama did not stutter, mumble, look at his feet, or forget what he was going to say. "I'm sure you know that I've been asked to name the village and its leadership position?" This was the first time he had spoken to Madara since the day they had talked on the cliff. They had passed each other a few times by chance out in public, but neither had looked the other in the eye—for entirely different reasons, Hashirama was sure. (He was equally sure that Madara had nevertheless gotten quite a good look at him whenever they'd passed. Sometimes he suspected the Sharingan could see anything, and since for some reason Madara never turned off his...)

"Of course." Madara crossed his arms and leaned against the outer wall of the Uchiha clan's complex. (He had not been willing to allow Hashirama inside the complex, and so he had met him outside.) "As flattered as I am that you'd come to me," he said dryly, "I'm afraid you wouldn't be very fond of any of my name suggestions."

(A split second debate raged in Hashirama's mind: should he smile, or laugh, or just not react? Was Madara being serious or was he joking? Madara almost never joked—was Madara joking, was he actually joking? What? But, but Madara did joke sometimes, what was the first thing he had ever said to Hashirama? "What?! You again?" Hashirama had never figured out what he'd been trying to do, if it had just been a taunt, or a joke, or... he decided it was a joke. But, even so, Madara almost never joked, as far as Hashirama knew, except for a handful of cases like that, cases that might have been friendly banter and might have been taunts or sarcasm, and one by necessity must respond differently to sarcasm than to banter—but had Madara even been making a joke? But there was a hint of a smirk, obviously it was a joke, but was he making a joke at Hashirama or with Hashirama? It was an important distinction, he would look pitiful if he laughed and Madara had been mocking him for visiting today; but Hashirama thought he saw something... guardedly inviting in Madara's—always beautiful—eyes; was he, perhaps, waiting to see how Hashirama reacted? Was this some kind of test? What would get him a passing grade? But he took that hint of an invitation at face value, and half-smiled in response to the joke, or what he hoped was a joke.)

All this in a fraction of a moment, in which Hashirama was barely conscious of the intense internal debate his mind had gone through before he smiled at Madara. (When other ninja villages sprang up in the future, and when Hashirama was called upon to be an ambassador to these other political bodies, he would seem to be a natural at establishing diplomatic relations with volatile, hostile opponents. Part of his skill, certainly, came from his natural charisma and leadership instincts, the traits which had allowed him to form the village; but just as much came from the practice in diplomacy he got at home, weighing the political and social ramifications of smiling at Uchiha Madara.)

Perhaps he was imagining it, but he thought Madara relaxed a bit when he smiled. Perhaps he was thinking that if Hashirama could take a lighthearted joke, he was an all right guy. (Perhaps Hashirama was just fantasizing and Madara's expression hadn't even changed.)

... Wait, what were they talking about? (He always lost focus around Madara, this was a problem.)

The name of the village. Right. Another split-second debate: did Hashirama respond to Madara's joke in kind, or just move on? He decided to move on. "I wanted to run the names by you before I made a final decision," he said. That sounded reasonable enough, didn't it? Not suspicious in the least? Hashirama thought so.

Madara, apparently, did not. "Why ask my opinion?" He didn't say it like he didn't consider his opinion worth asking, but like he was wary of Hashirama's motivation behind asking it.

Hashirama actually had a satisfactory answer planned, although it wasn't the first one that popped into his head. ("Because I'll feel bad forever if you dislike the village and the village's name." "Because I'm desperately seeking your approval in whatever way I can get it." "Because I like you. A lot.") "Because even though I'm the only one who was formally chosen as this village's leader, I'll be counting on you to act as a leader as well," Hashirama said. "The Senju and Uchiha clans together are the very foundation of this village. If I have a right to decide what the village is going to be named, then you, as the leader of the Uchiha clan, deserve that right just as much as I do."

Madara was openly taken aback. Very openly. His jaw actually dropped a bit (giving Hashirama a lovely view of his slightly parted lips, positioned just perfectly for Hashirama to lean in and stop thinking that stop thinking that, they had been enemies once that was all it was...), and his (beautiful) red eyes that said so much were wide open, asking the question his voice did not: are you SERIOUS?

But he quickly recovered, and his expression returned to a wary neutral; but even so, something in his face had changed. He looked a bit puzzled, a bit suspicious, but—more than anything else—he looked quite a bit pleased.

This thrilled Hashirama.

He was immediately deeply ashamed of himself for feeling so thrilled.

"All right, Senju-sama. Go ahead," Madara said, nodding his head regally, like an emperor giving a messenger permission to speak in his presence.

"For the name of the village, the best name I've got is Shinringakure no Sato." Village Hidden in the Forests.

Madara raised his eyebrows and glanced pointedly around him, at the many trees growing around (and even inside) the village. "A little obvious, isn't it?"

Well, yeah, it was. Hashirama refused to let himself feel embarrassed. "I've been consulting a village full of ninja, not poets," Hashirama pointed out (not too defensively, he hoped). "If this tells you anything, my next two best choices are Shinobi City, and Village of Hunks and Babes."

Madara let out a snort of laughter, and for a brief moment, his face lit up with a surprised smile. (Oh that smile that smile, Hashirama didn't think he'd ever seen Madara smile like that before, smile like he was actually happy, his entire face changed and it was beautiful—) "Village of what?"

"It was Tobirama's idea," Hashirama said. "And the Yamanaka clan's already endorsed it."

"Of course they have." Madara just shook his head, still grinning. (Was this what he was like among people he liked? ... Meaning, among people other than Hashirama?) "Have they talked the Nara clan into supporting it yet?"

The Nara...? It was true that the Yamanaka and Nara clans were growing into fast allies, but Hashirama hadn't known Madara had noticed. But of course, he was Madara, of course he'd noticed. "Not that I know of."

"Thank goodness." And with that, the cheer vanished from Madara's face, almost as if he realized he'd let it out by accident and had to bottle it up again. "So... Shinringakure no Sato? Why?"

"Uh, well..." Hashirama gestured around them, at the many trees growing around and inside the village. "A little obvious, isn't it?" He smiled wryly.

Madara didn't return it; Hashirama's smile faded. "You could have just as easily named it after the cliff," he said. The trees towered above the village, but the rocky cliffside towered above the trees. "Yes, this is a village in a forest. A forest that was grown through the use of your Wood Release, wasn't it?" His (beautiful, albeit scary) eyes locked on Hashirama's, almost accusatorially.

What had Hashirama done to offend him this time? "Yes. It was." He was starting to see the direction Madara was taking this.

"So, you're naming the village for yourself?" If anything, Madara's gaze became even more critical.

Hashirama did not flinch. But he came close. It helped that he'd been expecting Madara to draw that conclusion—which is one of the reasons he had wanted to inform him of the name before it was finalized. However, he hadn't expected Madara to be so openly confrontational about it. "I don't consider Wood Release to be my ability," he said.

Madara scowled. "Sure. And I don't consider these to be my eyes. They just happen to be in my eye sockets."

Was the sarcasm really necessary? "I meant... I'm the only known Wood Release user of this generation. But there have been others in the past."

"All of which were Senju, weren't they?"

No point in denying it—and Hashirama had been expecting Madara to pick up on that, anyway. "Yes."

"So, you're naming the village..."

"Partially in honor of my clan. Yes." Hashirama couldn't face Madara's increasingly disapproving glare anymore; he lowered his gaze. (Oh, now that was nice. Apparently, when with his own clan, Madara wore a rather loosely closed happi coat. Hashirama could see a significant percentage of his chest. He wished Madara would uncross his arms.) "But also because it does describe the village as a whole." Obviously.

Madara didn't reply for a moment, so Hashirama quickly added, "You see why I wanted to run this by you first?" Hopefully, that would please him—Hashirama knew this was a controversial name, and knew that it was biased towards his clan: Shinringakure no Sato, the Village HIdden in the Forests, the Village Created by the Senju Clan. He was acknowledging that. "If you don't approve, I'll change it."

"Oh, and you'll let the rest of the village get angry yet again at Uchiha Madara-sama, that unappeasable dissident, for throwing a hissy-fit over the name?" Apparently Madara was well aware of the kinds of things everyone else was saying about him.

(Hashirama hadn't known that Madara referred to himself as "sama." The part of his mind that kept pointing out how beautiful Madara's eyes were mentioned that, if anyone in the world deserved to stick "sama" to the end of his own name, Madara did.) "If you prefer, I could meet with the clan leaders without telling them why I'm reconsidering the name. I haven't even mentioned to anyone that I'm talking to you today." Not even Tobirama, because he was starting to get exasperated by how often Hashirama seemed to bring Madara up. He'd even joked that he was starting to think Hashirama was a bit obsessed with Madara. It was just a joke so far, but... Hashirama didn't want him to realize he was right.

"I can present your ideas without anyone having to know they came from you," he said. "Or, if I do that, will you accuse me of trying to steal credit for your ideas?"

Hashirama immediately wanted to take it back. He didn't know what in the world had come over him. He hadn't meant to say that, he really hadn't, why in the world would he criticize Madara? If Madara was mad for some reason, it was almost undoubtedly because of something else that Hashirama had done, intentionally or accidentally, that would get on Madara's nerves—Hashirama had no right to be annoyed if something he were doing ticked Madara off, considering all of the things he had done so far, forcing him into this alliance, traveling about to collect clans while he was still in grieving, taking the leadership position from him... If Madara had disliked him before, he certainly did after this, and Hashirama wouldn't blame him—

Madara snorted. "You just can't do anything right, can you, Senju-sama?"

Hashirama looked up at Madara's face in surprise, and discovered that he was smiling (sardonically). A fierce internal debate ensued; the verdict was that Madara was mocking himself. He was mocking his own tendency to criticize Hashirama. (At least he thought, he hoped that's what it was, oh please oh please.) Hashirama smiled wryly. "Not in your eyes, it seems." That statement hurt Hashirama more than his voice would betray.

They were both ninja, they were both accustomed to recognizing hidden meanings, to uncovering disguised intentions, to seeing underneath the underneath. Madara had said you cannot do anything right, underneath that was the meaning you just can't appease me, and underneath the underneath was yes, I know full well I'm just being difficult for the sake of being difficult.

"I have better sight than most people." Madara shook his head. "I don't know how you plan to handle running this village of yours, if you can't even figure out what to name it without help."

"I don't plan on running it without help, either." He hoped Madara would take the hint.

Madara didn't say anything for a moment. Instead, the smile faded from his face, and he just stared at Hashirama, as if he were sizing him up—or as if he were deciding how best to attack him. "What would you say if I told you that right now, my vote is with Village of Hunks and Babes?"

Verdict: his expression was as serious as it typically was, but with a comment like that, he had to be joking. Respond in kind. "I'd tell you that you're choosing a title that doesn't represent a majority of the village."

That got a laugh. Hashirama was on such a roll today. "I suppose you're right," he said, favoring Hashirama with a wicked smile. "But I guess not all of us can be born Uchiha."

Hashirama chose not to reply (which elicited another chuckle from Madara), mainly because he was worried he'd start agreeing and then he'd have to explain himself. "What's your second choice?"

"Konohagakure no Sato."

That had been fast. "Excuse me?" Village Hidden in the Leaves? Was Madara being serious this time? There was no reason to believe he wasn't, but... "It's not that different from Shinringakure no Sato, is it?"

Madara shrugged. "Your clan did build this village, didn't it?" Hashirama chose not to argue that the Uchiha clan had been in on it, Madara already knew where he stood on that issue. "I don't see why that shouldn't be acknowledged in some way in the name." He did remarkably well at not sounding grudging.

That wasn't exactly what Madara had been saying earlier—or had he? Hell, Hashirama didn't know, he supposed Madara had never exactly said "I don't want your clan to be referenced in the village's name." As long as Madara was half-satisfied, so was Hashirama. "Why the change, then?"

"I just think it's a bit of an improvement. Artistically speaking."

Hashirama nodded slowly. He didn't see what Madara was getting at, but. "I suppose Shinringakure no Sato isn't particularly poetic..."

"I'm not talking about poetics," Madara said. "I'm talking about symbols. Which would make a better insignia to represent the village: a leaf or a forest?"

"... What?"

"Senju-sama. How exactly does one take a forest and turn it into a symbol that isn't ridiculously complicated?" Madara asked. "I suppose the symbol could be made up of stylized kanji, but that's so generic. However, a leaf would be much easier to turn into an insignia."

Hashirama gave him an utterly blank look. "An insignia for what, exactly?"

Madara gave him an exasperated look. He knocked on the wall behind him. "Here, Senju-sama." Hashirama glanced at the wall; it was painted, over and over and over, with the red-and-white Uchiha fan. "Every clan has a symbol. Every nation has a symbol. If you think this village is a real organization rather than just a half-year multi-clan sleepover, how long do you plan on going without giving it a symbol? You can't even start issuing stationery without knowing what this village's symbol is going to be."

Stationery?! Why was Madara thinking about stationery? (Well, Hashirama supposed the Uchiha clan would by nature be visually-oriented...) But at the same time, he remembered the diplomatic squad he'd sent off to meet the daimyou of the Land of Fire, and the note he had sent along with them. He suddenly realized how plain the note had looked. Didn't every official document and imperial decree in the world come at least with some sort of fancy stamp at the top, indicating from where the document came? "I haven't had time to think about a symbol," Hashirama protested. "The village doesn't even have a name yet."

"Yes, I know. Call it Konohagakure no Sato and you've got your symbol. Get somebody to draw a nice-looking leaf and start printing flags." Madara shrugged, and somehow, it was like a bow: ta-da, my work here is done.

Hashirama almost opened his mouth to—to say something (to ask another question, to protest? Why does the symbol have to match the name, why does it have to be a leaf?) but stopped himself. Really, was there anything wrong with the name? As far as Hashirama was concerned, it was similar enough to Shinringakure no Sato that there was really no difference.

However, Madara liked this name.

Hashirama would do everything in his power to get this village named Konohagakure no Sato.

"All right," Hashirama said. "I'll put that one forward. Do you... want me to say it was your idea, or...?"

Madara shook his head. "I'd hate for your little selection committee to reject the idea just because it came from that unappeasable dissident Uchiha Madara-sama."

"I'm sure they wouldn't—"

"Is your brother going to be there?"

Hashirama paused. That was a good point. Tobirama probably would reject an idea if he knew it had come from Madara. And Tobirama likely wasn't the only one. "I'll say it was an anonymous suggestion, then?"

"Say you didn't catch the suggester's name. Anonymous suggestions are suspicious."

Hashirama quirked an eyebrow at Madara. He stared back expressionlessly, his (beautiful) eyes daring Hashirama to question his logic. "All right, then." If he said so.

"So is that all you wanted, Senju-sama?" Madara asked, as if Hashirama had been asking him whether he should have rice or noodles with lunch rather than choosing the name that this first-of-its-kind village would forevermore be called.

"Just one more thing," Hashirama said, hoping against hope that this wouldn't annoy Madara; miracle of miracles, it didn't. (Maybe, just maybe, he was starting to like—oh, shut up, of course he wasn't.)

"What?"

"The title for the leader of... Konohagakure no Sato." That name was all right, he thought. And Madara liked it.

"Well?"

Hashirama paused. For him, this name was much more personal than that of the village—it was the name that would describe him, and he had chosen it without consulting anyone else. Sharing it with Madara would be... difficult. He hadn't told anyone else the name yet, not even Tobirama.

But here he was. So... so. Here he was. "I've only really got one idea, so far," he said. "It's... kind of an unusual title," he added. "But, since the entire concept of this village is new, I figured there was no need to be restricted to the typical rules for this sort of thing," he continued. He paused. He waited to see if Madara wanted to say something.

He didn't.

"Hokage."

Madara didn't react. Hashirama wondered if he'd realized that he'd given the name. But then his eyebrows drew together in puzzlement, and he repeated, "Hokage? That's it?"

Wasn't that promising? "That's it." Fire Shadow.

Madara looked like he wanted to ask why, but then his gaze shifted, and he remained silent. Hashirama could almost see him analyzing the name in his head, trying to pick it apart as if he were picking apart an enemy's strategy based on their battle lines. Finally, when he was satisfied, he looked back up at Hashirama, and said, "Why?"

Hashirama hesitated. He knew Madara had to have drawn some conclusion of his own; he wish he knew what it was. "There's a few reasons." Three main ones, actually. "The obvious one is that we're in the Land of Fire. It just made sense acknowledge that," he said. "And the daimyou will probably approve. I think he'd be less likely to try to evict a village that acknowledges that their leader's authority is basically a shadow of his own authority." Hashirama might not be accustomed to thinking about things like official state-issued stationery yet, but he had a feeling that respecting the daimyou was a good diplomatic move. Just a hunch.

"And the other reason," Madara said, "is the Will of Fire?"

"Uh... yes. That's right." The Fire Shadow, living in the shadow of the guidance of the Will of Fire. Hashirama hadn't realized Madara even knew about the Will of Fire. It was... well, actually, Hashirama had invented the term himself, but he did so as a way to describe the Senju clan's beliefs: that the collective spirit and individual spirits of previous generations lived on with them and in them, guiding them, strengthening them... The belief was as old as humanity itself, as far as Hashirama or anybody else knew, but the actual name for it was his own. But he only used it among a few close friends and family in the Senju clan. Where did Madara get all his information? "Do... you, by any chance...?"

"I don't buy into your version of it, if that's what you're asking," Madara said disdainfully. "I don't believe in the Will of Fire."

"Oh." What else was there to say? "I see." He wondered what Madara did believe. How was it that Madara knew Hashirama's private name for the Senju beliefs but Hashirama didn't have a clue what Madara believed in?

"Well," Madara said. "I suppose it's a decent enough title for you to wear." And that was it. The title of Hokage had received Madara's verbal stamp of approval without, in fact, actually meeting his approval.

Hashirama almost said wait, almost said I'm not done yet, almost said give me another chance. But Madara had already approved of the name, more or less—what else could Hashirama say? It didn't matter to Madara whether or not Hashirama had a third reason behind the name.

(The third reason, the most important reason, the most private reason. This village was founded by two clans, not one: by the unification of the Senju and Uchiha clans. And so if it were to be named Konohagakure no Sato, Village Hidden in the Leaves, then the buildings, the structures, the geographical location—the security, the defense of the village—were named for the Senju clan. But. But the living embodiment of the village, meaning the ninja, the people, the human strength—the power, the offense of the village—would be named for the Uchiha clan.)

(And that "living embodiment" was the person chosen by the people of the village to represent them, the symbol of the village's power. That "living embodiment" would be the Hokage, Fire Shadow. Fire, for the flames of the Uchiha clan.)

(The "Hokage"—which, at this point, meant Senju Hashirama alone—was the man who stood in the shadow of the Uchiha clan's strength.)

(This was the name Hashirama had chosen to describe himself.)

(He never told Madara.)

That was it. It was a decent enough title for Hashirama to wear. That was, apparently, all Madara thought about the title of Hokage.

And then Madara added, almost as an afterthought, "But I hope you'll understand if I decide to change the name when I take office."

That startled Hashirama. "When," not "if." From anyone else, the statement would have been sheer arrogance.

But in Hashirama's mind, Madara was capable of no arrogance. From him, the statement was a promise. It was a decision. It was a demand to be given what was his right.

From the very start: Hashirama would have been more than glad to share the leadership position. Madara deserved to lead.

And Hashirama could feel Madara's eyes on him; the statement was a promise, a decision, a demand, and another test. He was waiting to see what Hashirama did. Hashirama was abruptly aware of the feel of his heartbeat in his chest, and of how fast it had suddenly become.

This, this was his first, last, only, and best chance to get on Madara's good side. No, not just that, but—but to prove to him that he wasn't... or rather, that he was... Screw it.

This was his chance to prove himself.

Hashirama grimaced. "Change the name? Don't tell me you're going to make us throw out all the stationery with 'From the Hokage's Office' at the top?" he said. "That's killing a lot of trees."

"I'm sure you can grow some replacements."

"Well, if you order me to."

He didn't need to say anything else.

They were both ninja, they were both accustomed seeing underneath the underneath. Hashirama had said I will do what you order me to, underneath that was the meaning you will be able to give me orders someday, and underneath the underneath was yes, you will be the next Hokage.

And oh Hashirama would have relinquished the office of Hokage a hundred times a thousand times over, just to receive that smile that smile that smile oh there were no words no words to describe that smile but for a moment the rest of the world ceased to exist and all that was left was

Madara.

---

Hashirama hated himself and he was happier than he had ever been in his life.

Oh yes oh yes Madara had smiled at him, he had laughed with him and he had smiled, he had smiled at him. It was, it was... amazing. He was just so... so beautiful, Hashirama couldn't get over it, he wished it had lasted longer, Madara had smiled at him and even his eyes his beautiful beautiful eyes had been happy and

Hashirama wanted to die. What was wrong with him?

He shouldn't, he couldn't... he shouldn't feel this way. Not about Madara. Not about...

He was his enemy. He was his enemy. He was the man that Hashirama had fought over and over and over, countless times. The one man he had always fought against and never defeated. He was an enemy, his enemy, his enemy... And now he wasn't anymore.

He should not feel this way.

But he did. And it was beautiful. To have received that smile from Madara, did that make it worth it? To know that he had said things that had made Madara smile, things that had made Madara laugh, things that had made Madara happy? Was that worth it, the pain, the shame, the obsession, the perversion?

Yes. Yes.

No.

Yes.

Nothing made it worth it.

It didn't matter—because something was already wrong with Hashirama.

And here he was, now, sitting twenty feet up in the air, sitting on a branch of a tree in one of the many parks he had spread liberally throughout the village, waiting for his heartbeat to slow back down and his face to cool back down, fighting the urge to smile like a fool or to cry like a fool. (To all outside observers, he was simply, peacefully sitting by himself, watching the clouds roll by. Senju Hashirama was a man; but he was also a ninja, and a ninja is an entirely different creature from a man. A man may want to smile and want to cry, but a ninja does not feel and does not think—a ninja puts on the appropriate mask for the occasion and goes on, as if it has no soul. A ninja does what it must.)

Yes, there was something wrong with Hashirama. He did not even know if it was something he could fight—but he was trying, he had to try. He was the leader of a village, now, the soon-to-be-Hokage of the soon-to-be-Konohagakure no Sato. He could not let himself be distracted by this, this...

Favoritism. This was nothing more than favoritism, wasn't it? He only just realized, he was naming this village based on what Madara told him to name it. Shinringakure, Konohagakure—there was no difference in Hashirama's mind, at least. But he hadn't even thought about it before he'd decided that he would do anything to get the village named whatever Madara wanted it to be named. What happened to doing whatever his village wanted him to do?

This, maybe, wasn't so important. (What was he talking about it was the name of the village but no, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that important.) But what about in the future? When there were more important decisions to make? Ones that could decide the path of the entire village? Hashirama couldn't just agree to whatever Madara wanted just because Madara wanted it.

And he didn't think he would, he really didn't. But. But. He didn't know. Because there was something wrong with him and he didn't know why, he didn't know what it would make him do. He had already underestimated how it would make him feel.

He had never estimated that just... just a smile, could make him feel so...

And then all of the sudden out of the blue, out of the clear blue beautiful sky, he remembered, something Madara had said: "I'm not talking about poetry, I'm talking about symbolism. Which would make a better insignia to represent our village: a forest or a leaf?"

He had said "our village."

Madara had said "our village."

Hashirama stared up in bafflement at the blazing blue sky for a long moment, unable to believe his own memory. Had Madara really said that? Why hadn't he noticed at the time? Could he be imagining it? But no, no, he was sure, he was sure, Madara had said...

Hashirama shut his eyes and leaned back against his tree and silently laughed, in relief and joy. (So much for being a ninja, so much for controlling his emotions.) It was Madara's village, too. This was Madara and Hashirama's village. Yes, yes, yes.

That day Madara had smiled at Hashirama and had laughed and had said "our village," and it would have been the happiest day of Hashirama's life, if he had not kept trying so hard to refuse to let himself be happy.

---

It should be noted that Madara never said "our village."

It should also be noted that one of the primary elements of a man of dreams is an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

---

The name of the village was officially declared the next day, at a meeting which all of the clan leaders attended.

And for once, it was all of the clan leaders. This was the first meeting that Madara came to. Nobody said a word about it as he came into the meeting room (just a vast empty chamber set up at the foot of the cliff) and silently took the seat that had been reserved for him for so many weeks.

As Hashirama spoke to the other clan leaders, Madara didn't react to a thing—not even to Hashirama's proposal of a change in their planned name, from Shinringakure no Sato to Konohagakure no Sato. (Hashirama did not present the change it as a suggestion. He presented it as a fact. Any questions?) In fact, his two bodyguards showed more interest in the proceedings than Madara himself did.

But he was paying attention. Hashirama knew he was. Even if he was slouched down in his seat, eyes staring vaguely and boredly at some random spot far off in the distance. After all, Madara did not need to look at something to see it.

Hashirama did not say where the idea for the name came from. Nobody asked. And the decision was almost official, and Hashirama asked if anybody had further questions or comments before he declared their village's name to be chosen.

Nobody was more surprised than Hashirama when Madara indicated that he wanted permission to speak—although there were quite a few other people in the room who came close, including Madara's own bodyguards. "Yes, Madara-sama?"

"I'd been led to believe that one of the contending names was Village of Hunks and Babes?" He had the most stoic face Hashirama had ever seen. "I take it this name has been removed from the list?"

Hashirama stared at him. (Along with the rest of the clan leaders.) He tried to match his stoicism and probably failed. "Unfortunately, yes. For some reason, not enough people were in favor of it."

Madara nodded thoughtfully. "A pity." His bodyguards were staring at him as if they'd suddenly discovered they'd lost the real Madara and had been following this guy by accident all day.

"Well, when you're in charge, you can call the village whatever you want."

He shouldn't have said that, he knew he shouldn't have said that, it was absolutely the wrong thing to say politically and especially in front of all the other clan leaders, and Hashirama could already feel Tobirama's baffled and suspicious glare on the back of his head.

Was the chuckle he got out of Madara worth it? Of course not.

But it sure as hell felt like it was worth it.

Otherwise, the naming of the village went without incident. When the names were made official—the village would hereafter be known as Konohagakure no Sato, and its leader would be known as the Hokage—there was great applause and cheering and celebration. Madara clapped politely and left as soon as courtesy allowed, taking his two bodyguards with him.

That was fine with Hashirama. Madara had been there. That was enough.

---

This is what Madara made of all of this:

Hashirama was trying his hardest to impress him, and he didn't trust one bit of it.

The fact that Hashirama was trying so hard either meant he was sincere about everything, absolutely everything—that he really had no plan to oppress Uchiha, that he really did want Madara to be his equal—or he was trying to get Madara to let his guard down so that he could thoroughly betray him later.

Madara was more than prepared to believe it was the latter.

Except for the fact that Hashirama had listened to him.

Madara had suggested the name Konohagakure no Sato on purpose. Because it did have almost the same meaning as Shinringakure no Sato. He hadn't known whether or not Hashirama would act like he thought it was a good idea, but since he did, Madara had expected things to turn out one of two ways: either he would never bring it up, name the village Shinringakure, and later tell Madara that after thinking about his suggestion he'd decided that he just didn't approve of Konohagakure, for one reason for another; or else he would randomly bring it up at the meeting as some name somebody had suggested to him, let the suggestion float in the air, and then let it die naturally when nobody supported it, and then Hashirama would be able to legitimately tell Madara that he'd suggested it and it hadn't gone anywhere. Madara had expected one or the other. The former would have suggested that Hashirama wasn't even putting an effort into acting like he considered Madara his equal, the latter would have suggested that Hashirama was putting some effort into the act but only when he knew he would get his way in the end.

So what did it mean that Hashirama had all but ordered the other clan leaders to go along with Madara's idea?

So what did it mean that Hashirama had, out of nowhere, in front of all the other clan leaders, all but announced that he had already selected Madara as the next leader of the village?

Maybe, when Hashirama spouted all that idealistic nonsense about peace and hope and teamwork and cooperation and alliances and love—maybe he actually believed in those ideals.

Madara didn't know what to make of all of that.

But for now, he supposed... he would assume Hashirama wasn't his enemy, after all.

---

"What in the world was that all about with Madara?" That was Tobirama speaking.

"What?" That was Hashirama.

"Earlier today, before the announcement and the speech to the village. During the meeting? What was all that?"

"Oh, that? It sounded to me like Madara-sama liked the name you suggested."

"That's not what I was talking about." Although Tobirama was scowling in that way that meant he was trying not to grin.

"What? I'm just saying, Madara-sama liked your name. What, that doesn't bother you, does it?"

Of course it bothered him. Which was why he was scowling even harder to prevent himself from laughing. "I don't think I like the name so much now."

"Well, it's a good thing we didn't go with it, then."

"Shut up."

Whatever Tobirama had been planning on asking—he didn't.

---

Time passed.

Hashirama didn't get rid of his feelings; but he got better at convincing himself that they weren't inappropriate.

---

Year Three

The Year Konoha Gained a Sister

---

Officially or not, within a year of the founding of Konoha, Madara was essentially the second in command. When Hashirama had multiple tasks he needed to attend to—such as a meeting with the Uzumaki clan (which wanted to ally with Konoha; but, for some reason, not join) and a meeting with the daimyou (who wanted to formalize the arrangement between the Land of Fire and Konoha: territory in return for military defense)—he himself would go to one and Madara, given all the rights and responsibilities of the Hokage, would go to the other. In this case, Hashirama was going to meet with the Uzumaki clan, while Madara would meet with the daimyou.

This wasn't because Hashirama was trying to foist his responsibilities onto somebody else (and he would never, never do that to Madara of all people), since he was more than willing to handle all responsibilities himself; and it wasn't because Madara was trying to worm his way into a position of power, the way some people seemed to believe.

Hashirama had been offering Madara opportunities to go on missions like this for months now. Madara had the choice of which ones he wanted to take on, and could refuse to take any he didn't wanted. But he never turned down an opportunity.

And Hashirama was completely giving Madara permission to do this—Madara was certainly not trying to take over Konoha while Hashirama wasn't paying attention. (Or, if he was, Hashirama supposed he was simply letting Madara get away with it... but no, no, Hashirama wasn't just being a pushover, all of this was his idea in the first place, wasn't it?)

In cases like this, Hashirama even gave Madara the choice of which mission he wished to take. It was Madara who had decided that he himself would visit the daimyou, and Hashirama would visit the Uzumaki clan. And it was little things like that which proved (at least to Hashirama) that Madara actually was working in the best interests of the village.

It was quite well known that the Senju clan and Uzumaki clan were closely allied, even though they so rarely interacted, considering how far away the Senju and Uzumaki clans were based from each other. (Actually, that might have been why they had managed to stay allied so long—no reason to fight. That, and some ancient common relative, but that might have been a myth.) So that was why Hashirama was going to the Uzumaki clan.

Now, it might seem suspicious that Madara was the one going to the daimyou, since that looked like a rather important mission. However, Hashirama knew better. Specifically, Hashirama knew that Madara despised the daimyou's guts, complained endlessly about him whenever he came up, and would like nothing more than to never deal with him again. The fact that he was trying to put up with the daimyou just went to show how much effort he was putting into the good of Konoha.

And if Madara was just going through all of this to set up an eventual takeover of the office of Hokage? He didn't need to go through half so much effort.

Of course, there were some naysayers, gossips, rumormongers. The ones who mistrusted Madara, the ones who thought Hashirama trusted him too much. But Hashirama tried not to listen to them, and as far as he could tell Madara just looked straight through his detractors, as if they were invisible.

Their system worked, so far. Konoha, young as it was, was already strong, and was showing promise of growing stronger. It was a thriving young village, held safely within the village walls, from which flew the new flags of Konoha. (And Hashirama had to say, they were some good-looking flags. A man named Koori from the Kagayaki clan had ultimately designed the symbol that would represent Konohagakure, a leaf with a spiral at the base. Now they needed to come up with a way for all of the citizens of Konoha to wear that symbol. The easiest thing would be to simply replace their various clan symbols with the Konoha leaf, but nobody was going to agree to that. Until then, Hashirama just supposed they'd have to haul flags all over the place.)

And so, proudly carrying along the Konoha flag, with three other ninja accompanying him (a Senju, an Uchiha, and Kagayaki Koori himself), Hashirama and party arrived at the designated meeting place, along the southeastern coast of the Land of Fire, where he and the Uzumaki representative would negotiate.

The first order of business was to find out why the Uzumaki clan wanted to ally with but not join Konohagakure, when so many clans had joined. Hashirama had even met with the Uzumaki when they were all getting organized, and the clan hadn't even considered joining Konoha—despite their close relationship with the Senju clan. Why?

The Uzumaki clan leader said, "We didn't want to endanger our clan by joining such an alliance until we knew that the experiment you were proposing could produce a stable village. I apologize if that sounds like we were using you as guinea pigs, but you understand. After a life of war, our suspicions were higher than our hopes."

That was all well and good, and fantastic if Konoha had allayed their suspicions and fulfilled their hopes. But if it had, then why wasn't the Uzumaki clan joining Konoha? Considering that Konoha itself was nothing more than an alliance of clans, wouldn't it make more sense for the Uzumaki clan to join that alliance as a full member, rather than just remain a single clan with an alliance to an alliance?

The Uzumaki clan leader said, "It would be if I represented the Uzumaki clan alone. However, I no longer speak for a single clan. Hokage-dono of Konohagakure no Sato in the Land of Fire—acting in my capacity as Uzukage of Uzushiogakure no Sato in the Land of Eddies, and drawing on the bonds between your Senju clan and my Uzumaki clan—I would like to ask for a formal alliance between our two hidden villages."

A hidden village? The Uzumaki clan had founded a hidden village?

The Uzumaki clan leader said, "Yes."

Hashirama informed him, with all due formality and decorum, that he thought that was pretty darn cool.

In retrospect, Hashirama figured it was probably quite a good thing that he had gone to meet with the Uzumaki clan, instead of Madara.

(Although he wished Madara had been there to hear the news.)

(But then, he always wished Madara was there.)

---

"Exactly how many delegates are you expecting from Uzushiogakure?" That was Madara, standing on the wrong side of the Hokage's desk and leaning back against it as he stared out the window at the rain. (They didn't have windows yet. Hashirama could do many things with Wood Release, but he couldn't create glass.)

And here was Hashirama, sitting at his desk with his back to the rain, trying to resist the urge to glance every once in a while at Madara's profile, because he was so close that if Hashirama leaned over slightly he could probably feel Madara's body heat, which is precisely why Hashirama didn't lean over—but did he ever want to. But he didn't. Which made up for the fact that he miserably failed at stopping himself from repeatedly glancing over at Madara.

Wait. What was the question? His attention had been on analyzing the point at which Madara's body made contact with Hashirama's desk. (It was completely a coincidence that the point happened to coincide with Madara's posterior.) He quickly glanced down at the papers at his desk and pretended he had been reading and hadn't heard Madara. "Huh?"

Hashirama couldn't hear anything over the patter of rain, but he could feel Madara's chest rise and fall with a sigh. (Maybe he really was sitting too close?) "The Uzushiogakure delegates," he repeated. "There can't be more than a dozen or so, right?" They were waiting for a diplomatic mission from Uzushiogakure to arrive, in order to write up a formal treaty between their two villages, and to begin official diplomatic relations, and so on and such forth. They were kind of making this up as they went along.

"I wouldn't think so," Hashirama said. "Maybe fifteen at most. Why?"

"I'm trying to figure out where to put them," Madara said. As if, for some reason, that was his duty rather than Hashirama's. Considering how many other duties had been delegated to Madara, it may as well have been. Madara's duties consisted of "whatever Hashirama specifically offered to let him do" and "whatever Madara thought somebody should do and didn't see somebody else doing already," a fact that bothered the people who disliked Madara. Finding some place for the delegates to stay probably fell into the latter category.

Madara raised his hand to point into the rain at something; Hashirama turned around in his seat to see what. "There," point, "is the Aburame clan, and over there," point, "is the forest where the Nara clan will be building their complex; there's a bit of empty land outside and to the east of their complexes. They can camp there."

For the life of him, Hashirama couldn't see what Madara was pointing at, but he knew where the Aburame and Nara clans were located. "Madara-sama, that will put them almost outside Konohagakure all together. We can't force our guests to camp there."

"Who's forcing them? They've got options, they can camp near the Inuzuka clan if they can stand the howling. You can ask them when they get here," Madara said. "If it's the 'camping' part you object to, why don't you Wood Release up a house for them?" That was the first time Hashirama had ever heard "Wood Release" used as a verb.

"That's not the point. I just don't see any reason to push our guests to the edge of civilization."

"Well, if you need a reason for that, I could come up with a list for you and have it at your desk in an hour, Hokage-sama."

(Madara had finally stopped referring to Hashirama by his last name. On the other hand, he no longer referred to him by his name at all. Only Madara could turn the act of calling Hashirama "Hokage-sama" into an act of disrespect.)

Hashirama frowned. "Madara-sama."

"What?" Madara gave Hashirama an innocent look. It was rather ruined by his (still beautiful) Sharingan eyes.

"What's wrong with letting them, say, stay in the Hokage Residence?" Besides the fact that they might be getting a little wet today, depending on which way the wind blew the rain, but he was sure he could find some rooms without windows...

"The closer they're based to the center of the village, the more damage they'll be able to do if they decide to betray us," Madara said. Heedless of Hashirama's (halfheartedly) disapproving glare, he added, "Reason number one why we should push them to the edge of civilization." Never mind that the Uzushio delegates were Konoha's allies.

Hashirama didn't know if Madara was joking or not. In this case, it could go either way. (Hashirama liked to believe he understood Madara's sense of humor better than most other people did. It was unbelievably subtle, delivered with a deadpan expression that betrayed nothing, and tended to sound highly insulting unless you realized it was sarcastic. The only way Hashirama knew for sure he even was joking was that sometimes he'd unleash his private brand of humor on some unsuspecting subordinates, and when they didn't react favorably, Madara would shoot an exasperated glance at Hashirama. The look seemed to say well, they didn't get it; did you? Hashirama didn't always get it either, but it was nice to think that Madara expected him to.) "I'm sure there's somewhere they can stay inside the village." Emphasis on inside. "What about the other clan complexes?"

"I sincerely doubt that there will be room enough in any of the complexes to accommodate a diplomatic squad of... what, ten to fifteen people?" Madara said. "Reason number two. Incidentally, how long a list do you need? Because I can think of three more reasons off the top of my head. If all you need is five, I can get to work on a written copy right now."

That confirmed it, Madara was joking. "Make it twenty and we'll talk," Hashirama said. (And was rewarded with a reluctant smile, which was all he'd really wanted.) "Aren't there a few unused buildings in your complex?"

Madara visibly bristled. "I refuse to let Uzumaki stay with my clan."

Hashirama hesitated before responding. Why was this such a big deal to Madara? It took him a moment to remember that, of course, Uchiha and Senju had been enemies, and Senju and Uzumaki had been allies, so, by extension... "The friend of my enemy is also my enemy." Hashirama wondered if that meant Madara still considered the Senju clan his enemy, and decided not to think about it. "Technically, any unused buildings are property of Konoha until a clan makes use of them," Hashirama said. "You don't get to decide what to do with them. Konoha does." (Politics. He was getting good at them, to his mingled pride and shame.)

The look Madara fixed Hashirama with might have killed a lesser man. "I am Konoha," he said. "I have the authority to say what happens to the buildings in my clan's complex, and there is only one person in this village who has the authority to override my decisions." He glared at Hashirama like he was daring him to use that authority.

To anyone else, the conversation would be turning into an obvious power play. To anyone, that is, but Hashirama, who let Madara get away with everything. Instead of asking some question like how do you think you're going to do that or why do you object so much to having the Uzumaki clan as guests or shouldn't you choose your fights more carefully or anything like that—he dropped his gaze. Bowing out. Surrendering the match to Madara. Nothing was spoken, but enough was said: you win, the Uzushiogakure delegates won't be the guests of the Uchiha complex.

On a level that only the most skilled shinobi could detect, without even having to look, Hashirama could sense the tension draining out of Madara's body. He tried not to think about how similar Madara's chakra had felt, just for a moment, to how it felt on the battlefield. And again he fought the urge to lean closer to him.

(In Madara's world, everything was a power play. Unless he was the uncontested master of the current conversation, he had to engage in little acts of one-upmanship, because as the Uchiha leader he couldn't admit to flaws. That included submissiveness. It was fortunate that Hashirama was a rather passive leader, happier to take orders than to give them. Whenever Madara pushed a little, Hashirama gave a little. And then Madara would stop pushing. He had asserted his position in this two-man hierarchy, and that was all he needed to do.)

"So, when are they going to get here, anyway?" Madara asked. (He didn't gloat over his triumphs.) He pushed himself off Hashirama's desk and leaned out into the rain, scanning the streets below.

Hashirama didn't have a clock in his office (he usually told the time by checking a compass for north, finding a sunny spot, and sprouting a plant to act as a sundial; on days like today, though...) but he had a feeling that the Uzushiogakure delegates were late. "Don't know," he said. "Maybe the rain delayed them? A bit?"

Madara didn't answer. Instead, he leaned further out the window, looked up, and after a moment, said, "There's rain for miles to the southeast." (What, could the Sharingan see everything? Hashirama thought that was the Byakugan's trick.) He drew back inside and wrung out his now wet hair over the floor. (Hashirama didn't say anything, he just watched it drip.) "Perfect," Madara grumbled. "Why would a little rain delay a ninja, anyway."

Great, Madara was getting in a bad mood. Hashirama hated to see him upset. "You didn't see anyone coming?" he asked.

"No. Nobody," Madara said, glancing out the window again.

"It'll be fine, Madara-sama. I'm sure they're only a little delayed."

Madara shot Hashirama an annoyed look, as if Hashirama's attempts to cheer him up were just irritating him. "Why should I care?" he asked, with a languid shrug. "They're wasting your time, not mine."

Hashirama hesitated. Right. "Sorry. You just seemed..." Actually, he didn't know what Madara seemed. He had seemed angry, but... Well, he still did, but...

"I'm not distracting you, am I, Hokage-sama?"

Distracting him? Distracting him from what? On some days, it seemed more like everything else was distracting him from Madara. ... Wait, that wasn't right. "No, of course not." He quickly turned his attention back to the documents on his desk. (Reports, reports, signature, signature, paperwork, paperwork. Who would have guessed leading a village of ninja would require so much paperwork? Maybe he was doing it wrong.)

"I could leave."

Oh, please no. "You're fine, Madara-sama." And then it occurred to him that perhaps Madara was trying to ask for permission to leave. Hashirama glanced at him. "But if you have other business you need to attend to, you can go, if you'd prefer?"

"I'll find something to do." Madara walked around to the front side of Hashirama's desk and headed for the door. "Let me know how the meeting goes."

He said it like he was giving an order to an underling, and he said it like he didn't even notice his own tone. Hashirama just smiled, amused. (He decided not to say "yes, sir," Madara might think he was being sarcastic.) "I'll do that."

Madara was almost to the door when it suddenly swung open. A mint-green and raspberry-pink blur rushed through, saying, "Sorry I'm la—"

She saw Madara, said something that sounded like "eek," and tried to stop her momentum; Madara took a step back and grabbed her by the shoulder. She came to a flustered stop, inches from Madara's face. "Um..."

Completely unfazed, Madara took a couple of steps back, and Hashirama finally got his first good look at the intruder: she had dark pink hair tied up in two buns with hair sticks, and her clothes—a narrow-sleeved mint-green kimono with a thin red obi—were rather soaked. Hashirama's first thought that between those buns (looked like cherries?) and her color scheme, she reminded him of ice cream. His second was that she must be miserable in those wet clothes. (He took no notice of how tightly her soaked garments clung to her body.)

She was staring at Madara as if he were the first fellow human she had ever seen. "Uh..."

"Can I help you?" Madara asked. He asked it as though he hoped he couldn't.

"Um! I'm... Are you... uh..." She cleared her throat. "H-Hokage-sama. Right?"

Hashirama couldn't see Madara's smile, but he could hear it in his voice. "Not yet." He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb, towards Hashirama. "I believe you're looking for him?"

"Oh! Right. I'm sorry, I..." She started to bow, took a hasty step back so her head wouldn't hit Madara, finally executed a bow properly, mumbled, "Excuse me," and hurried past him. She stopped in front of Hashirama, and said, "Hokage-sama, right?"

"That's right." He tried not to laugh at her, poor thing.

"Right," she said again, and nodded. "I apologize for such an unprofessional entrance. I was taken rather by... surprise, right?" She almost started to turn to glance back at Madara, but stopped herself, and faced forward again. "Hokage-sama, it is my honor to be allowed to speak to you today. My name is Uzumaki Mito. I am here on behalf of Uzushiogakure, to represent my village's interests before the comparable representative of Konohagakure's interests, in the hopes of reaching a mutually beneficial and satisfactory arrangement." It came out solemnly and regally enough, but with just enough over-preciseness so that it was clear she was new to such formal speaking. Mito waited, watching Hashirama, as if she had just given a performance and was holding back until she saw if her audience would clap.

(Behind her, Hashirama could see Madara smirk and silently applaud. He quickly looked away. And out of the corner of his eye he saw Madara's grin quickly disappear. As if he were disappointed Hashirama hadn't wanted to share the joke, he imagined.)

"I see," he said. "I'm glad you made it. Would you, uh... like to take a moment to dry off?"

"Yes, thank you, Hokage-sama." She performed a few hand seals, and a small tornado sprung up from her hands, swallowed her body for a moment, and then moved aside and spun beside her. She squinted at it in annoyance, as though she wasn't sure what to do with it now, and then sent it out a window. "Um. Excuse me."

Uh. Well. Hashirama was staring out the window to see if the tornado was about to go terrorize the village. He'd expected her to go to the bathroom and try to dry off. "That's... that's fine, Mito-san." Mito-san? Was that the right thing? Especially considering that she was a stronger ninja than he'd expected, if he could judge by that technique. He supposed Uzumaki-san would be more polite, but since he'd been expecting several other members of the Uzumaki clan to be here...

"A high-level technique," Madara murmured; Hashirama couldn't tell if his tone was supposed to express praise, envy, or suspicion. But rather than elaborate, he walked up alongside Mito and spoke to her. (She kept her eyes down, not looking at Madara.) "We'd been under the impression that there would be several people coming from your village. Were we mistaken?"

She started off addressing Madara, "No, we were delayed by the—" and then halfway through turned her attention back to Hashirama, "by the weather, right? I apologize for arriving so late, Hokage-sama. The road we were taking flooded, and our cart got stuck in the mud. They sent me ahead to act on behalf of the group while they stand guard over the cart until they can get it free. I apologize for the inconvenience."

"So we're speaking to a substitute ambassador?" Madara said, then glanced at Hashirama, smirking. "Perhaps she should be speaking to the substitute Hokage, then, don't you think?"

Madara, of course, was the closest thing to a "substitute Hokage" the village had. Hashirama half-grinned back at Madara. "That's all right, I wouldn't want to draw you from your other duties."

"They can wait." Madara moved back behind Hashirama's desk and leaned against one of the thin posts between the glassless windows. "I think I'd rather see how this meeting goes, actually."

Hashirama's immediate thought was that's going to shoot my concentration to hell. (As it happened, so was Mito's.) "Of course, you're always welcome." Hashirama's next thought was why am I complaining? He's probably a lot more interesting than the person I'm supposed to be talking to. (As it happened, so was Mito's.)

Hashirama gestured in front of his desk. "Please, feel free to take a seat."

Mito glanced at the two seats in front of Hashirama's desk as if she were afraid of choosing the wrong one, and then quickly claimed the one closer to her, scooted it a bit closer to the desk, and proceeded to compose herself so that you couldn't tell she'd ever had a moment of doubt. She really was new at this diplomacy thing. (Hashirama had behaved the exact same way the first time he'd met the daimyou.) "Thank you, Hokage-sama."

"So, you're here to negotiate the alliance between Konoha and Uzushio?" Hashirama asked.

Mito hesitated. "Actually, I was instructed not to start negotiations yet, right?" she said. "I was sent ahead primarily to inform you that, due to our party's delays, we would like to begin negotiations tomorrow. They also wished for me to ask you to prepare lodgings for eleven people."

"What a lucky coincidence," Madara said, giving Mito a mischievous smile. "We were just discussing likely places for your camp, and—" (Hashirama gave him a Look, and he smoothly changed tack) "—I believe the Hokage had some ideas he wanted to run by you. Hokage-sama?"

Just for that, Hashirama might ask her how she felt about a lovely couple of buildings inside the Uchiha complex. (Except, of course, he wouldn't do that to Madara.) "Yes. Of course."


next part >>