ezyl: (penguin smell n___n)
m nemonica ([personal profile] ezyl) wrote in [community profile] narutobang_fic2010-09-01 06:52 am

day three. "Man of Dreams" [3/4]


"Hey, Hashirama."

"Mm. Yeah?" Hashirama was trying to read a report, from a team that had been hired to escort and guard a shipment of silver in a neighboring nation. Who was this team, anyway? "What?" Tobirama was bothering him. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to take him up on his offer of lunch. (Then again, Hashirama expected that if he hadn't agreed, Tobirama would have found an excuse to go to the Hokage Residence and breathe down Madara's neck the rest of the day.)

"You're working too hard, you know."

Hashirama laughted shortly. Tobirama was right. He wasn't even at the office; but Hashirama wasn't going to overwork Madara just because he himself was having a day off. (Hashirama was a workaholic anyway. He would probably be doing this even if it weren't Madara subbing for him. Although that did give him some added motivation.) "I'm just reading a few reports."

Tobirama raised an eyebrow at the towering stack of papers at Hashirama's elbow, battling Hashirama's lunch for table space. The papers were winning.

"It's fine, Tobirama. I'd just have to do it later anyway." Who was this report from? He'd assigned a Yamanaka to the mission, who'd promised to find a few teammates. The signature on the report wasn't the Yamanaka clan symbol. Or any other clan symbol. It was three random kanji stuck together.

"That's the idea of a day off, Hashirama," Tobirama said. "You do the work later." Hashirama continued trying to ignore him.

It wasn't very easy when Tobirama started pulling his hair. "Tobirama!" Hashirama jerked his hair out of Tobirama's hand, slapped down the report on the table (a decisive victory for the papers against the lunch), and glared at his brother. "What."

"When's the last time you cut your hair?"

"About a month ago," Hashirama lied. Now that he thought of it, about a year ago.

"You've got split ends." Tobirama pinched up a few strands of Hashirama's hair.

Hashirama swatted his hand away again. "I didn't think you cared so much about how my hair looks," he said testily. But Hashirama cared. Did he really have split ends?

"It means you haven't cut your hair in a while," Tobirama said. One of his pet peeves. "Weren't you going to do that?"

"It's not going to kill me," Hashirama said, exasperated.

"It might." Tobirama tugged on his hair again, but let go before Hashirama had a chance to knock his hand away. "What's been keeping you? I thought you said you'd cut it twice a month."

"Once every two months." Honestly, twice a month?

"You haven't been doing that, either. Why not?"

Hashirama shrugged and picked up his report again. Because he was too busy? Because he was always going to get around to it but never did? Because he had more important priorities? Because...

He ignored the question. "Do you recognize this, uh... symbol?"

Tobirama gave him an annoyed look. But he glanced at the... whatever written at the bottom of the report. Then looked closer. "Huh."

"That's not a clan, is it?" Hashirama thought he knew all the clans in Konoha. He should, he was Hokage. He'd recruited them all.

"Don't think so..." Tobirama frowned. "How's that even pronounced?"

"Inoshikachou?"

Tobirama shrugged. "Maybe? I dunno."

"I'll go look it up tomorrow," Hashirama said, setting the report aside.

Luckily, Tobirama didn't bring up Hashirama's hair again. (But he thought he would get his hair cut anyway. Well, not cut, but. Just trim the ends off a tiny bit. If he did have split ends. He was the Hokage, he could have long hair if he wanted but he couldn't represent his village while looking like a slob. ...Plus, he liked his hair.)

He had an actual reason why he just... wasn't cutting his hair. Allowing it to grow a little bit. (Since he had last cut his hair, it had grown half a foot longer.) But it wasn't exactly a reason he could share with Tobirama. It wasn't exactly a reason he could share with himself.

(He hoped Madara hadn't noticed his split ends.)

---

It should be noted that the rest of the day passed uneventfully.

No radical new policies were put in place, no old policies were abolished.

No wars started.

Nothing exploded.

Madara did his job perfectly well, without stepping out of bounds at all, and he didn't even gloat about it.

So there.

On some level, Hashirama felt vindicated.

---

Hashirama had planned to wait... a couple of months, perhaps, until he made his announcement. So that it wouldn't look like he had rushed.

Somewhere in there, they caught the Three-Tailed Giant Turtle. Madara did it almost entirely himself. Hashirama was there, but he'd tell anyone who asked that Madara did almost the whole thing. (In fact, this may not have been true. But Hashirama was eager to give the credit and Madara was eager to take it, so the truth is irrelevant.)

There were the requisite celebrations. Hashirama and Madara both ducked out of as many as possible.

It was after the celebrations died down that Madara said he wanted to cash in on that day off he had stored up. He didn't give a reason why. He didn't need to.

That was when everything came crashing down.

---

"Mito tried to ask me out yesterday," Madara said idly, staring out the window at the clear blue sky.

Hashirama's heart plummeted, until he noted the "tried to" and it shot right back up. "Oh... Really?"

"I said no, of course."

"Why's that?"

A pause. Madara shrugged. "No interest."

"Oh...? Why not?"

Still staring at the sky, Madara slightly narrowed his gaze. "Are you going to make me say it?"

Hashirama had no idea what he was talking about. Actually, that was a lie. Actually, he had a very good idea. Actually, it was a very bad idea, but he hoped it was right, but he wasn't going to say—

Hashirama stared at him, and took a deep breath. "What... what are you... talking about?"

It took a long, long moment for Madara to speak again. Finally, he smiled ruefully. "Did you ever wonder," he said, "why I spend so much time in this office with you, Hashirama?"

He couldn't breathe.

And then, Madara turned his eyes on Hashirama—his eyes as red as love.

And then, Hashirama woke up.

He jolted upright, staring blindly into the dark, jaw slack with shock.

And then he screamed in frustration and despair.

---

What was the point when everything had gone too far?

---

This wasn't the first dream Hashirama had had about Madara. It wasn't the second. It probably wasn't the hundredth dream, although he didn't remember them all and he didn't keep count.

This wasn't the first night Hashirama had sat up shivering and ashamed and wondering what was wrong with him wrong with him wrong with him. He had no idea how much sleep he had lost over his dreams of Madara, trying to tell himself that he wasn't sick deluded perverted.

Every dream was a message from the Will of Fire. Every dream he had about Madara (almost invariably dreams about certain things being stuck in places where they had no business going) was a dream trying to tell him something. He refused to believe that the Will of Fire had been trying to tell him that, that he was in—that he wanted to—with Madara, of all people. Every night that he had a dream like this, he would sit up or pace around or splash cold water on his face until he convinced himself that the Will of Fire was trying to make some kind of metaphorical comment about Hashirama and Madara's prior relationship as battlefield opponents. He never tried to figure out how, exactly, that make any sense at all.

However. This was the first dream he'd had like this.

It wasn't vague action and touch and heat. It was something human and social and peaceful. It wasn't a dream. It was almost reality.

And Madara had almost said, that he...

(And maybe it was just that how Hashirama felt had changed, maybe that was why the dream was so different. What had Hashirama known about Madara when he had first dreamed about him? He had known that Madara was beautiful and that Madara was a powerful ninja and that Madara was suspicious of Hashirama. What did he know about him now? He knew that Madara had his brother's eyes and that Madara maybe-possibly-probably liked long hair and that Madara was over-related to his family and that Madara thought Hashirama was under-related to his family and that Madara kept hawks and that Madara had a sense of humor that almost nobody got; and that Madara would only admit he had flaws if it were possibly to misinterpret what he was saying and that Madara did more to help Konoha than anybody else did but only when nobody knew he was doing it; and that Madara respected Hashirama; and he knew what made Madara happy and he knew what made Madara angry and he knew how Madara felt about war and trust and family; and he knew a thousand more things and a million more things and more things than he could possibly recall but still things he would never forget. Whatever Hashirama had felt for Madara at the start of things, it wasn't what he felt now. He might never understand Madara completely, but now, now, he knew Madara. And oh he was more beautiful than ever before. What Hashirama felt now was something more.)

Hashirama's typical denials didn't hold up to this new dream. What were his usual little claims?

It didn't mean anything, it wasn't a literal dream, it didn't mean Hashirama felt anything for Madara...

But what if Madara felt something for Hashirama?

(Something in his stomach shivered at the thought.)

Hashirama didn't have any sort of improper emotions, true it was some kind of obsession but not a bad one for a ninja, it was just a holdover from their history of rivalry...

But what if Madara did have some kind of emotions, not just an obsession but something else?

(Something in his heart throbbed at the thought.)

It was just warfare. It was just survival. It was just tactics. It was just strategy. That was what this was, the result of battle.

But what if it didn't have to be?

(Something in his throat caught at the thought.)

What if Madara, what if Madara wanted something else, what if Hashirama simply didn't know yet?

And that is why his denials no longer worked. Because Hashirama had hope.

So, so, what did the dream mean? What could it mean? The Will of Fire was trying to tell Hashirama something, something—he'd thought first that maybe it was just trying to tell him what was in his mind, trying to burn off his protective shield of denial. Well, it had done that.

He was in

no no no why why why

He was in love.

With Madara.

Senju Hashirama was in love with Uchiha Madara. And he wanted to fuck him six ways from Sunday.

(Were those mutually inclusive? In Hashirama's mind, love and lust were like thunder and lightning: they were different things but you never had one without the other.)

But why had the Will of Fire chosen this way to tell Hashirama? Why hadn't it given him a dream of himself confessing his love to Madara? Why the other way around?

There was only one reason he could imagine.

Maybe all these years the Will of Fire hadn't been trying to tell him what he was feeling? Maybe it had been trying to tell him how Madara felt?

This wasn't the first dream he'd had about Madara, this wasn't the first night a dream had kept him awake.

This was the first dream that had made him think Madara might feel the same.

And sure, why not? Didn't they spend all their time together? Didn't Madara joke around with him, when as far as Hashirama could tell he didn't around anyone else? Hashirama loved to make Madara smile, maybe Madara was trying to make him smile? Didn't Madara do little favors for Hashirama that he never even told him about? Hashirama did all sorts of things for Madara's sake that Madara never found out about, maybe Madara did the same for Hashirama?

His mind raced through his memories, careening from event to event, gazing upon scenes with new eyes, re-interpreting them as befit his new theory (or his new wish). What did it mean when Madara tracked him down at lunch to sit with him and discuss some political issues that could easily wait until after lunch? What did it mean when Madara praised him behind his back, admitting he respected him, but never to his face? What had it meant when Madara had insisted letting Hashirama have a day off from work? What had it meant when Madara had gotten so furious when he'd thought Hashirama had been admiring Mito's body the first time she had come to Konoha? Anything was up and available for reinterpretation.

On some level, he sat back in horror as he observed his own mental work. As his mind stretched from memory to memory, like branches chasing sunlight, a question followed along and poisoned his progress, like a parasite burrowing through branches: what is wrong with me wrong with me wrong with me...

And even as his hope branched out and up, the parasite spread.

---

Hashirama got no more sleep that night.

He lived in the Hokage Residence now, all alone. Alone except for what felt like a thousand guards stationed at all times, two of which had come in to checked up on him when they heard him scream. He had assured them it was a bad dream. Just a bad dream.

He'd gone to bed less than an hour before midnight. He had woken up a little past two. By dawn, he was exhausted and he never wanted to fall asleep again.

By dawn, the post-dream stupor had faded and been entirely replaced by shame. (But that hope was still there, still growing, so fast, so glorious.) By dawn, he had also dunked his head in a sink of cold water three times—not that it was necessary, but because that was the only thing he could think of to do. By dawn, his dread of having to see Madara that day had become so overpowering he almost wanted to flee the Hokage Residence and take refuge in the Senju complex, just so that Madara couldn't see him (and somehow magically guess what Hashirama was thinking about, of course he would) when he came into work that day.

Shortly after dawn, he remembered that Madara had told him yesterday that he was taking a day off.

After spending an hour trying to talk himself out of it, he left notice that he'd be back shortly and headed for the Uchiha complex.

He had to see Madara.

---

So what was the answer: why had the Will of Fire chosen this way to tell Hashirama? Why had it given him a dream of Madara confessing his love to Hashirama?

He only asked the question because he already knew the answer.

Which was why he dreaded talking to Madara. Which was why he had to talk to Madara.

Because, because... maybe Madara... maybe he also...

And that was why he refused to hate himself yet. He still had hope, still had hope. (A hope infested with a parasite, what's wrong with you, ready to destroy him from the inside out, but hope all the same.) In Hashirama's dream, Madara had asked, did you ever wonder why I spend so much time in this office with you, Hashirama? (Oh he said his name he said his name why hadn't that been real?) Well, what was the answer? Why did he spend so much time in Hashirama's office? And why wasn't he courting anyone, when he so obviously could? How could Hashirama have ended up feeling like this when Madara hadn't? They had gone through the same fights, the same battles. Hashirama had decided: he couldn't be alone in this. He couldn't.

He couldn't.

And so...

Who cared if he was sick, if he was insane, if he was a man of dreams, if he was the most pitiful pitiable pervert in the world—who cared, if Madara loved him? If Madara loved him, then he was perfect. If Madara loved him, then he was the happiest man in the world. If Madara loved him, then nothing else mattered.

He had to find out.

"I haven't seen him around, Hokage-sama," said one of the two Uchiha guards at the entrance to the complex. Nearly all the Uchiha guards were used to Hashirama's frequent visits to ask for Madara, but he was clearly puzzled that Hashirama was here so early in the morning. "I'm sure Madara will be at the Hokage Residence soon, though."

Hashirama shook his head. "Madara-sama said he was taking the day off."

"Oh. Really?" The guard shrugged helplessly. "Well, I don't know where he is."

The other guard said, "Wait, I think I saw him on the way here. He was having breakfast with a girl."

Devastation.

"Should we go get him for you, Hokage-sama?"

Devastation.

"Hokage-sama? Are you..."

"Wh... oh. N-no, I mean... no. You don't... no, don't bother him. Just... leave him, I was just... checking."

"Are... are you sure? You could leave a message for..."

"No. I mean... yes—I mean—just... leave him. Leave him alone."

---

"What're you doing here? You need a clock. Do you know what time it... You look like a wreck!" That was Tobirama.

"I'm not... feeling... right. I don't..." And that was Hashirama.

"What happened? Did something happen? Hey, don't just stand there, get in here. Sit down. What's wrong?" They were in the Senju complex.

"I'm not... It's not... I'm fine. I just... I think I got sick with something or... something." They were in Tobirama's house.

"You look it. Hashirama, what are you even doing up? You look like Madara just got finished with you."

Jolt. "How...?"

"You know. Like you... just had a battle or something." Pause. "He didn't do something. Did he?"

"No. No. No, never. Of course not. Don't blame him, he didn't... he'd never."

"Hashirama." Cold. "What's going on. Does it have to do with Madara. Tell me. What is it."

"It's nothing. Tobirama, I'm just, I just... I came down with something, I didn't want to go back to the Hokage Residence, that's all, I just... I can't... handle today, I needed to come here, that's all."

"Hashirama, what are you not telling me? What—"

"Tobirama!" Hot. "Leave Madara-sama out of it!"

Silence. "Fine." Silence. "You didn't leave him running things at the Hokage Residence, did you?"

"It's his day off."

"What?"

"Don't bother him."

"Then who's in charge..."

"Tobirama. Could you? Today?"

"Me?" Pause. "That's, I, but... I guess, I mean, I dunno what I'm supposed to do, I've never... You and Madara have always run everything..."

Wince. Whydidhehavetokeepsayinghisname

"Okay! Okay, I'll do it. I'll get someone to explain it. And you'll stay here? Get some rest?"

Nod. Weak.

"Good. Good. I don't think I've ever seen you like this before. You look awful. Do you want me to send a medic?"

"No." Weak.

"O... kay, if you say so... I'll get somebody to come by and check up on you around lunchtime, all right?"

Nod.

"Okay. You want me to help you to my room?"

"No."

"Okay. You know where it is. I'd better get going, who knows what'll happen if somebody goes looking for you in your office and nobody's there. Get better soon, okay?"

Nod.

Never.

And all he heard the entire conversation was a buzzing in his ears, that parasite of a question what is wrong with me whatiswrongwithmewrongwithme

And it ate at him and ate at him.

And it left nothing behind.

---

What now?

Was this it?

He tried to deny it, tried to pretend it wasn't true, tried to convince himself that he was normal.

This is what he tried to tell himself, over and over, that it was nothing, that they were enemies, that they had needed to know each other inside and out on the battlefield and somehow, somehow, somehow, all of this tied back to that. Somehow, all of this was nothing, all of this was just his mind reacting, his heart reacting, to the battles, just an extension of that. Nothing more. He tried to tell himself that as he sat in Tobirama's bedroom in the dark, for minutes, for hours; he tried to tell himself that, 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).

He tried to tell himself that it meant nothing when 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 help his dream out, to grope himself as he murmured madaramadaramadarailoveyouloveyouloveyou

He tried to tell himself that it meant nothing when 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 love oh please I want you I want you Madara I love you I love you

He tried to tell himself that it meant nothing when 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 Madara's, beautiful Madara, with his hair and his skin and his smile and his eyes his eyes that he loved so much his beautiful beautiful eyes

He tried to tell himself that it meant nothing when 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 kiss Madara and wrap his arms around him and pull him in closer and just kiss him and kiss him and feel him and taste him and hold him and love him

He shut his eyes and swallowed a sob.

He couldn't stop the thoughts. He couldn't stop himself.

So this was what it was like, to be in love.

So this was what it was like, to be a man of dreams.

Hashirama had always thought it would be different. He'd thought that love was supposed to be something warm and soft and bright, something that dried your tears, held you close, something that even at its worst and most lonely would be bittersweet, with enough sweet to make the bitter tolerable. He'd thought that a man of dreams would be too far gone in his own delusions to know what he was, too perversely delighted in his own fantasies to care what people thought about him.

Yet here was Hashirama, in Tobirama's bathroom and staring at himself. The mirror almost violently threw his own face back at him, forced him to stare into his own eyes, to know himself and his own monstrosity. Love, it turned out, was something cold and hard and dark, merciless and distant, and the taste it left behind was bittersour.

Just to see what it felt like, he met his own gaze (that was the hardest part) and forced himself to hiss the words (that was the hardest part).

"I love Uchiha Madara."

He could see the shame in his own eyes.

The bittersour taste the words left was so strong, he had to clap a hand over his mouth and choke back the bile and another sob. He felt sick. He felt sick. He was sick.

So this was what it was like, to be lovesick.

---

Four hours had passed when somebody knocked on the door.

"Hello?" That was Hashirama.

"Hokage-sama." That was Kagayaki Koori, the man who had designed the leaf symbol to represent Konoha. Nobody remembered he'd done that, but when the remembered him at all that was what they remembered him for. He bowed. "I'm glad to see you're well enough to be up and about. Tobirama-san told me you might be asleep." Pause. "You really don't look well, you know."

"I know." What was Hashirama wearing, anyway? Probably whatever clothes he'd thrown on to go to the Uchiha complex. Whatever. "Did Tobirama want anything, or am I just supposed to prove I'm alive?"

"That's about it, sir," Koori said. "Tobirama-san also wants you to know that if you get hungry you're free to eat anything from his kitchen."

"Thanks," he said. "Oh, and, Koori-san... tell me, how's Tobirama doing? Is he handling things well?"

"Yessir, he's doing well enough," Koori said. "Today hasn't been a busy day, so we've been doing most of the work for him. He keeps asking what we're doing."

"That's fine. Tell him to keep up the good work."

"Yessir, Hokage-sama."

Hashirama shut the door.

Senju Hashirama was a man; 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. It is a job, a duty, a function it must execute. A man can be breaking down inside, shattered to the core by the realization of his own perversion, but a ninja does not show that—a ninja puts on the appropriate mask for the occasion and goes on, as if it is impenetrable. A ninja does what it must.

However, as soon as the door was shut, Hashirama broke again. He turned around, leaned against the door, and sank to the floor.

And stayed there for a long, long time.

---

"What's wrong with me."

In the past thirty hours—since yesterday morning when everything had been all right—Hashirama had slept two hours.

The two in which he had dreamed.

His eyes in the mirror were bloodshot and puffy.

"What's wrong with me."

Hashirama had only been here, in the dark in Tobirama's house, for a morning—it felt so much longer, infinitely longer.

He had not eaten in over sixteen hours.

The face that glared back at him from the mirror was haggard and hateful.

And then he was screaming into the mirror.

"What is WRONG WITH YOU! I never asked for this! I never wanted this! I never did anything wrong! Is this a test? Am I supposed to be able to get rid of this? What am I supposed to do?! What did I do to deserve THIS!"

Was it because he had never mastered the Shinobi Rules, was it because he had never been able to completely kill his emotions on missions? Was it because he believed that love could save the world? Was this what happened when you went into combat against an enemy and you hadn't managed to shut your heart down?

Was it because he hadn't been around enough girls when he was growing up? Or had he been around too many? Was it because sometimes he caught himself looking too closely at other men when he was at a hot springs? Was this backlash from refusing to join in with other guys who tried to peek at girls while they were bathing, or who liked to read dirty magazines? Was it because he'd masturbated too few times when he was younger? Or too many?

Was it punishment for something he had done and forgotten? Was it punishment for the crimes of an ancestor passed down to him through the Will of Fire? Was it an internal trial that all ninja secretly went through and he was just the only one who had failed?

Crash.

"What is wrong with you."

Smash.

"WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!"

When he came to his senses, the sink and the ground were covered with tiny glass fragments. The wooden wall over the sink had ruptured and sprung forth gnarled branches.

Hashirama was breathing heavily, and his knuckles were bleeding.

He still didn't know what was wrong with him.

But he was going to fight it. He was going to fight it until it broke.

Even though that meant breaking himself.

---

Another four hours had passed when somebody knocked on the door.

"Hel—Madara?!"

Fury flared in Madara's gaze. Something shivered from Hashirama's stomach all the way up to his heart.

Madara Madara Madara, what was he doing here oh heavens oh hells what did he want why was he here, did he know maybe he knew how did he know everything—

"Senju." If Madara ever tried to speak while using his Great Fireball technique, tried to speak while breathing fire, that is what is voice would sound like.

What did Hashirama look like right now? He was wearing the same clothes he'd worn to visit the Uchiha complex, just a happi coat and pants, but the coat was disheveled and barely belted and the pants were wrinkled and probably sagging too low, and his hair wasn't combed and wasn't parted and half of it was hanging in his face, and his eyes were bloodshot and puffy from exhaustion and crying, and his knuckles were all cut up and he probably had bits of glass and leaves all over him, and he was slouching and gawking and he looked like a moron why did Madara have to see him like this? Why did he care how Madara saw him? They were both ninja, they had seen each other in worse conditions—

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Madara demanded.

Hashirama gawked some more. What? How did he—he did know, that was the only explanation. But how did he...? How long had he... had he figured it out today? That was the only way he could have... What did Hashirama say, what could he say, did he tell Madara he didn't know what was wrong with him or did he plead for help in getting rid of this or beg forgiveness for bringing Madara into it—

"Senju!"

"What!"

"What were you thinking?" Madara narrowed his eyes (why did they why did they have to be so beautiful, it was like staring into the sun and Hashirama felt like crying from the sight). "Maybe you can't help it if you're so deathly ill you just have to take a day off, but to call on that... on your... your so-called brother to fill in for you?!"

Hashirama just stared. He had no idea what this was about. Not a single clue. "What?"

"Why didn't you call me!"

A hopeful, broken voice from somewhere deep inside Hashirama sobbed out he wanted me to call him, he wanted me to call him, maybe he, maybe he... And then it gave up.

"What?" Hashirama said again. And just as Madara was about to continue his raging, something clicked back on in his mind (oh wait he's talking about the Hokage Residence) and he hastily pulled himself together, and reminded himself that he was a ninja he was a ninja and that ninja do not feel. "It was your day off, I didn't want you to have to—"

"So what?!"

"I... I heard that you were spending the day with some... girl..."

"So?!" Madara jabbed an accusatory finger towards Hashirama. "Don't you have some day-care set up in the Hokage Residence? I could have left her there!"

Once again, he had no idea what Madara was talking about.

"Or I could have found someone else to look after her!" Madara said. "I'm the leader of the Uchiha clan, Senju, just because I try to help out in the complex when I get a chance doesn't mean there is nobody in the entire complex I could order to babysit a seven-year-old cousin!"

Wait. The... the girl he'd been eating breakfast with, was...? "You were... baby... sitting?"

"It doesn't matter! It isn't like I couldn't find an opportunity to spend more time with her if I wanted to, she is probably my... my brother's..." He took a sharp breath. For a moment, Hashirama saw a pain in Madara's eyes that made him ashamed that he himself had ever thought he knew what suffering was. When Madara continued, his voice was ragged with rage (or something else). "Why didn't you call me, Senju."

"I'm... sorry, Madara-sama, I thought that... today was your day off, so I..."

"I can take a day off any time. That isn't the priority! What's most important is that somebody who knows what they're doing be in charge of Konoha. If you aren't in that office, Senju, then the only other person who deserves to be in there is Uchiha Madara-sama!"

"I... yes, I know that, I'm sorry, I wasn't... I don't feel well today, Madara-sama, I just wasn't thinking straight."

"Is that your excuse?" Madara scowled. "What kind of a ninja are you? The sixth time I fought you and the first time I defeated you, I was running a fever so high I thought that might be my last battle. My baby brother successfully completed twenty-seven missions blind before he died in combat. You hardly even look sick. You think I'll believe you're so infirm you'd just toss responsibility for the entire village to that other Senju?"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking."

Madara glared at him, for a long moment. Studying him. With that dark, calculating look he reserved for his enemies in battle, when he was trying to determine their tactics based on their facial expressions alone. When he was trying to figure out how to tear them apart. "I don't know, either."

He turned and left.

Hashirama shut the door, and sank to the ground against it, stunned.

Hashirama's thoughts, in order of appearance:

How am I going to get Madara to forgive me?

Wait. Madara wasn't courting somebody, Madara's still free?

... Is that all that matters to me? Why aren't I wondering how he got into the Senju complex?

Hashirama laughed at himself. It turned into a sob.

He couldn't keep doing this. He couldn't keep torturing himself.

He couldn't keep dreaming about Madara.

---

Hashirama had already decided to fight this thing, to fight against being a man of dreams; if he thought that should change just because he thought Madara was single after all, then that just went to show how badly he was messed up.

So here he was, pacing back and forth in Tobirama's dark living room, trying to think his way through this and out of this.

So what if Madara wasn't accounted for? So what if Hashirama didn't know if he happened to be courting someone or not? So what if he didn't know why Madara spent so much time in the Hokage's office? What was Hashirama going to do about it? Just keep fantasizing over him, like the man of dreams he was? Forget his duties and shirk his responsibilities, grieve whenever something woke him from his fantasies, lose himself in his day dreams and wet dreams?

He couldn't do that anymore. Hashirama had a village to lead. There were people counting on him, there were the hopes of previous generations calling to him through the Will of Fire, there were the fates of future generations resting on his shoulders. As the Hokage, what he did now would affect the village's children, and the world's grandchildren.

What he did as the Hokage could alter the world's destiny. And he was terrified.

When could he afford to pine for Madara?

He was helping define Konoha's role in the world, helping it become something that would last forever. He had to determine how it would interact with the Land of Fire, how it would interact with other nations, how it would interact with the other hidden villages that were springing forth. He had to decide what kind of missions they would take, what kind they wouldn't, how they would take them, from whom they would take them, why they would take them. He had to teach Konoha's clans to think of themselves as part of one village, and then teach the village how to think of itself as a family.

How could he do that if he was spending all of his time watching Madara out of the corner of his eyes? Thinking about what Madara thought of him? Trying to make Madara like him?

No good would come of it. Someday, he would make a mistake and it would be disastrous, something like handing a map of the entire village to a spy. He could yearn and lust for Madara for the rest of his wretched life, and he would never get him—and Konoha would struggle and fall from neglect.

... But, what if he did get him?

Hashirama almost paused his pacing, but went on. No. It wouldn't happen. It would never happen. Madara didn't care about him.

... But why did Madara seek him out so often?

Because they led the village together, that was all, that was all. If Madara had the slightest clue how Hashirama felt, he would despise him.

... But what if he felt the same?

So what if he did?! What good would it do! It would be impossible for them to act on it, it wasn't like they could, could court each other, there was nothing they could do, there was no way it would work.

... But what if they found a way—

Hashirama stopped himself. He actually froze, stopping dead in the middle of the room. What if, what if, what if— He was just dreaming again. He was just fantasizing. Like the man of dreams he was.

Even when he told himself it wouldn't work even when he told himself he had to quit even when he told himself to stop he couldn't, he couldn't, he couldn't get Madara out of his head. He was fighting against himself and he was losing.

But he had to get Madara out of his head. He had to stop himself from dreaming. For his own good, for the good of the village... and for Madara's good.

He started pacing again, faster. He couldn't stand this anymore. He had to do something—now—whatever it took to get this out of his head. Anything. Anything—

He stopped again. Staring through the dark at the gloomy doorway into Tobirama's kitchen.

Anything.

He walked into the kitchen.

He almost never drank. He didn't like the taste, and he hated the feeling—he hated to loosen up, to lose control, to forget himself.

But he was also a ninja, and ninja did not have opinions, did not have emotions. A ninja did what it must. A ninja fulfilled its duty, using whatever tools were necessary.

So he told himself: he had no choice.

He prowled through the kitchen, opening cabinet doors at random. This was a stupid idea, a destructive idea, but it was the only one he had. Somehow, somehow, he had to get rid of these stupid fantasies. Everyone said alcohol was supposed to make you relax, make you forget your problems, at least for a bit—and that was all he needed, to forget Madara. At least for a little bit. He had heard you don't dream when you're drunk.

There. Four bottles of sake, all on one shelf. He grabbed one, read the label, couldn't make any sense of it. He didn't even know how much he was supposed to drink. He'd just down the whole thing. Whatever it took.

He twisted the cap off, tried to forget how much he hated this, and gulped down the drink like he was dying of thirst.

---

Who the fuck needed Madara, anyway?!?

Who the hell... who the fuck needed him? He was just one lousy, miserable little fucking... whateverthefuck! He was just an Uchiha. Uchiha burned down trees. Fucking burned them down. To the ground. All the time. Hashirama seen it. He'd seen it. With his own eyes. Hashirama liked trees, dammit.

Who the hell was Madara, anyway? Just some pretty guy. There were lots of pretty guys! Fuck, Hashirama was a pretty guys! Guy. He had pretty hair, right? He liked his hair. He was going to look at his pretty hair to prove that it was pretty. Right now. With his own eyes.

What the fuck is the mirror still broken dammit what the hell.

Those Uchiha all looked the same anyway. All the same. Madara was a fuck of a lot prettier than the rest of them but he still looked just like the rest of them. 'Cause they were all fucking related like crazy. Madara probably had like forty half-nieces that he was screwing, anyway. Like, together. And that stupid seven-year-old one, too. Yeah. Hah. Which, that, if that one was, shouldn't it be a niece-niece, so, shouldn't it be a... not a cousin, but a... um... And that stupid seven-year-old one! And Hashirama didn't blame them. Madara was fucking gorgeous. Hell, if Madara was his half-niece, he'd want to screw him, too!

Wait. Wait. Madara wasn't the half-niece, Madara was the... he was the guy with the... the fucking... half... yeah.

What the fuck was a half-niece?

Why was it so fucking dark in here?! Hashirama was tripping over his own feet and... yeah! What?

Hashirama didn't even like Madara! He never liked Madara. He was just stupid, and and, and... and he was annoying, yeah, he was annoying. And he was wily. Like an Uchiha. Because of his eyes. Those were. Those were some, fucking. Those were gorgeous eyes.

Wait! No!

Damn that wily Uchiha! What the hell was this, like a genjutsu or whateverthefuck? How the fuck did he do that. He wasn't even here and he had this, this, genjutsu that made... the gorgeous eyes, and... he wasn't even here!

Or was he? ... Aw, fuck.

See, see, that's the problem with genjutsu. You cannot tell when there is one. You, you can't—you cannot—fucking—tell. There's no way. That's, that's what makes it work. And that, is why, you never look an Uchiha in the eye. Ever. 'Cause then they'll... yeah. Oh fuck, maybe that's what Hashirama did wrong. He shouldn't have looked in his eyes. Even though they are fucking gorgeous.

Okay, you know what? If Hashirama still thought Madara's eyes were gorgeous, then, obviously, he was not drunk enough.

Hey.

Why was the sake gone?

He didn't drink the whole thing, did he? Did somebody else drink the... fuck.

Were there more in the kitchen? Where was the kitchen.

Who the fuck put a closet where the kitchen was?!

Oh. Here.

How do you get the cap off of this thing?

Oh. There.

What was he doing, again? There was the, the mirror and the... there was a genjutsu, and... Oh. Right.

Who the fuck needed Uchiha Madara?!

After a bottle and a half of sake, Shodai Hokage Senju Hashirama finally passed out in his brother's living room. He'd left the first bottle in a random closet; he spilled the rest of the second bottle all over, shortly before joining it on the floor in an inebriated sleep.

He didn't dream.

When Tobirama arrived home, he had absolutely no idea what to make of this.

---

"It seemed like a good idea at the time." That was Hashirama, mumbling into the toilet bowl.

"I'm sure it did." And that was Tobirama, holding Hashirama's hair back. "What I want to know is why you thought getting blotto was the best way to deal with being sick."

"Getting what?"

Tobirama paused. "You don't even know what that means." He sounded amazed. "Hashirama, you're not a drinker."

"Yeah."

And then he threw up again.

---

This is what Tobirama made of all of this:

He didn't know what it was, but something had happened to Hashirama the day before. He'd said he was sick, and okay, maybe Tobirama would have bought that, anybody could be sick—but why in the world had he downed two bottles of sake? (Okay, based on the very large damp patch in the living room, it was actually probably less than that, and thank goodness; however much he had ended up drinking, it was way too much.) When Hashirama had recovered somewhat, he'd offered some weak explanation that he'd heard something about using sake as a painkiller, and he'd had a headache. That was either the dumbest cover story Tobirama had ever heard, or else Hashirama was the most alcohol-ignorant person in the world, to think that getting drunk would cure a headache. But as ignorant as he knew Hashirama was on the subject (he didn't even know what "blotto" meant?), he at least knew all the negative side-effects of alcohol. Whenever Tobirama tried to talk him into having a casual drink, he would list all these side-effects off the top of his head as the reasons why he was going to refuse. It just didn't make sense.

Tobirama wasn't angry at him. He was too baffled. Hashirama, his older brother, do something like this? The guy who turned down drinks as consistently and decidedly as if he thought they were poisoned? The guy who refused to eat meat, and who got a mournful look in his eye whenever he passed a tree stump? The guy who had asked the Uchiha clan to join up with their clan to create a village? Hashirama was the most pacifistic, puritanical man Tobirama knew.

This wasn't like his brother at all. Tobirama just couldn't hold him accountable. He couldn't blame him for destroying his mirror. He couldn't blame him for destroying part of his bathroom wall with his Wood Release. He couldn't blame him for knocking over half the contents of his closet, and leaving behind an empty sake bottle. He couldn't blame him for ruining three tatami mats in the living room, which now reeked of alcohol. He couldn't blame him for drinking until he passed out, for throwing up twice (once in the hall and once in the toilet), for having to spend the next day at Tobirama's house again while he recovered from his hangover.

How could he blame Hashirama for things he would never, ever do?

Tobirama didn't know what had happened. He couldn't even begin to imagine what had caused Hashirama to act like this. All he knew was that, somehow, this had to do with Madara.

He didn't know what Madara had to do with this, but he was involved. And didn't that just figure. Tobirama didn't trust Madara. He didn't deserve trust. He was the leader of the Uchiha clan, of all people, how could he be trusted? Tobirama didn't know why Hashirama trusted him so much, but as much as he had faith in his older brother's judgment, in this case he thought Hashirama's trust was ill-founded. Everyone could tell (well, Tobirama could tell) that the only reason Madara even condescended to speaking to Hashirama was because he wanted his job. He wanted to take over Konoha, and then probably tear it apart.

So why did Hashirama trust him?

Fine, fine, Tobirama knew that Hashirama was probably the most zealous peace-monger in the world. How he ended up that way, Tobirama would never know. They'd both grown up in the same clan, on the same battlefields, and sure, while Tobirama supported peace inasmuch as it would help protect his family, he couldn't understand why it was like... like Hashirama was desperate even to save his enemies' lives. Tobirama didn't get that. But he knew that whatever the reason was, that was what Hashirama was like. So of course it made sense that he'd want to reach out to the Uchiha clan in the same way.

But there was so much more to it than that. He didn't just extend the hand of friendship to the Uchiha clan, he seemed hellbent on making sure they shook just as enthusiastically as he did. And not even the entire Uchiha clan—mainly Madara.

Fine, fine, so Hashirama liked Madara. For some inexplicable reason. Hashirama was usually pretty level-headed (albeit idealistic), and usually had good taste in friends (not that Madara could even be called that), so Tobirama supposed he'd have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But this was different. Madara had done something, something, Tobirama didn't even know what, and it had hurt Hashirama. And Hashirama wasn't even holding him accountable. How could he not blame Madara for whatever it was he had done?

Tobirama had been skeptical enough of Madara before. After this, he would tolerate Madara for as long as Hashirama did—but he would never trust him again.

And he would never discover that Madara had not done anything at all.

---

This is what Madara made of all of this:

He was losing.

He was not in Konoha because he believed in peace or love or saving the world. He was in the village for the sake of his clan. His clan, which needed him, relied on him, looked up to him. His was the only voice in Konoha that represented the desires of the Uchiha clan.

And he was failing his clan.

Bad enough that he hadn't been chosen as the first leader of this village—although, he had to admit (and had admitted long ago) that technically it was more fitting that Senju Hashirama be the first leader. He had created this village, after all. And as much as Madara would have liked to have that role, he understood perfectly well why he did not. Although he didn't understand why they couldn't have been co-leaders... But that was another matter.

The more important matter, right now, was the fact that his clan still needed him. And he was failing it.

If there were to be any leader for Konoha that treated the Uchiha clan fairly, it couldn't be a leader from the Senju clan. As hard as Hashirama was trying to act all nice and welcoming, only a few years earlier he had made a living out of slaughtering Madara's family. How could he claim to lead them without bias? As long as a Senju was in power, no matter how hard he tried, the Uchiha clan would never be treated entirely fairly. There was no way Hashirama actually held no ill-will toward Madara's clan. There was no way he actually held no ill-will toward Madara.

And he was beginning to realize that he was a fool for ever thinking that Hashirama might be the hero he so claimed to be.

He had said—never in words, but in countless looks, countless gestures, countless underneath-the-underneath hidden comments—that he wanted Madara to be his equal. That even if he had been the first leader, Madara was supposed to have just as much authority. And that when he chose a second leader, Madara would be the leader. He may never have "said" it, but he had said it, over and over. Wasn't that why he allowed—asked—wanted Madara to perform almost all of the same duties he did? Wasn't that why Madara knew as much about the village as Hashirama did? Every secret the village had was a secret shared with Madara. Since there was no other explanation for the preferential treatment, Madara could only come to one conclusion: Hashirama was making sure that, when the time came, Madara would be prepared to take his place as the leader of the village.

And when he did, he had planned on repaying the favor Hashirama had done the Uchiha clan. Even if Madara himself didn't give half a care about the Senju clan, he would treat them fairly, in return for Hashirama's efforts to treat the Uchiha clan fairly. Madara may have intensely detested the Senju clan, but he knew better than to dishonor a clan that his clan was allied with—and, furthermore, a clan on whose good graces his clan had relied. He would treat them with respect. It was only fitting.

But apparently that hadn't been Hashirama's plan after all.

What else could explain this? After being so ridiculously polite and helpful and inviting to Madara, the first time he had a minor crisis, the most minor of crises, just a stupid stomach bug or whatever that had been—who did he call upon to lead the village? When he was not there to actually supervise his substitute, in whose hands did he trust the office of Hokage?

Not the man he had supposedly been training to take the position. His "brother." Another Senju. A Senju.

After all his pretty words and his promises and his preaching—after spending the past few years saying that he was cooperative, that he wanted to get along with everyone, no matter their clan... when the situation was desperate, not even Hashirama would trust an Uchiha.

So what did that mean, what did his treatment of Madara up until now translate into? Hashirama had always been polite enough to him, far more polite than any other Senju, more polite than Madara would have expected out of him, considering their relationship—but it never came off as genuine. It was always an awkward, self-conscious, stilted politeness. Artificial. A lie.

Madara had been in denial for too long. He had known this and refused to acknowledge this: that the way Hashirama treated him was not the same as the way Hashirama felt. Madara could read everything about him in a glance, every nuance of his facial expression, his body language... he could read everything except for his dark, dead eyes. Hashirama was not an Uchiha. His eyes did not speak.

But Madara understood those eyes well enough to know that what Hashirama said and did and what Hashirama felt were very different things, at least in regard to Madara himself. But why the perpetual deceit? What was he hiding from Madara?

He had allowed himself to ignore Hashirama's behavior so far. After his initial skepticism, he'd allowed himself to be swept up by the optimism and the airy promises—peace and safety for his family, a whole village of protection backing up the Uchiha clan. He was a fool for it. He should have stayed more skeptical. He should have demanded to know what Hashirama was concealing from him.

And what he feared was that Hashirama was concealing treachery. He did not mean to treat the Uchiha clan equally—they were, and always would be, the Senju clan's enemies. And he was treating Madara so well to keep him from realizing that. He didn't plan on actually sharing power. He didn't plan on naming Madara the next Hokage.

Madara hoped that he was wrong. He prayed that he was wrong. He prayed that he hadn't knowingly led his clan into subjugation under Senju—and hadn't he known, hadn't he tried to talk them out of this alliance?! But until they received proof, Madara would not be able to convince them that they were in danger. Even if he convinced them now, he might not be able to save them. Konoha was already strong, and getting stronger. He didn't know what it would take for a clan so entrenched in Konoha's foundations to uproot itself and escape.

So he had no choice but to wait. Before he could even consider acting, he needed to see proof with his own eyes that Hashirama intended on deceiving and double-crossing Madara.

And when he did, he planned on repaying Hashirama's favor. In return for Hashirama's efforts to betray the Uchiha clan, Madara would betray the Senju clan.

---

This is what Hashirama made of all of this:

His head hurt.

A lot.

But it had worked, if only briefly—it had let him forget Madara. It had let him forget himself.

However, it wasn't a permanent solution. And how effective a leader could he be, if this was his only way of handling his problems?

He knew what he needed to do.

And it was the most painful thing he could imagine. He had gone so far as to create a village for the sake of this one man, but, if he was going to protect this village...

He had to get Madara out of his life.

He couldn't keep dragging Madara along to everything he did. He couldn't keep calling him up at random, giving him special missions, trying to bribe him into liking Hashirama better. He had to eliminate Madara's presence in his life.

And it would be painful, extraordinarily painful. But it had to be done.

It was all for the best.

---

"Hokage-sama." Madara just marched into Hashirama's office, without asking, like he owned the place.

Hashirama instinctively tensed. Why so abrupt, what did he want? It took him a moment to remember that was how Madara always came into the office. Hashirama had just never noticed before because (sick pervert that he was) he'd always welcomed the company.

But it was too late, Madara had already noticed Hashirama's wariness. He slowed and stopped in the middle of the room, farther back than he would ever normally stand. "Something wrong?" Suspicion.

"Uh..." Hashirama had to force himself to look at Madara—and then he had to force himself to look away again, as his stomach lurched, his heart lurched. (It hurt, oh he wanted him why must he want him why couldn't he have him what was wrong with—) "No. No. Of—" why did it have to be so hard to talk around Madara— "course not."

Madara said nothing.

(Hashirama was on the verge of breaking into sobs like a heartbroken little girl, this was the first he'd seen of Madara since, since—)

Madara said, "Hmm."

Say something, say something—what did he say? Oh he wanted to say something nice, he wanted to say something to make Madara like him, he wanted to say something to make Madara stay—but he couldn't, he couldn't, he knew he couldn't do that because it was wrong. So what did he say—something neutral, something professional, something unemotional, untainted by love untainted by lust. He couldn't let himself keep getting sucked in sucked into Madara's presence...

"Can I help you." Neutral enough? Neutral enough. Please let it be.

A moment of silence. "I'm here to report on yesterday's events," Madara finally said. "Since I filled in for your duties."

Had he really? Hashirama supposed he must have—two days ago Tobirama had done it but yesterday Hashirama had been recovering from that hangover and Tobirama had stayed home with him...

His mood lifted a bit. If Madara needed to report what had gone on yesterday, then Hashirama could listen to him speak, could just listen to him, for a few minutes, nothing more, he could spend a little time with his beloved—

His mood crashed back down. What was wrong with him. He couldn't let himself do that, couldn't just indulge in this, this, disgusting...

He had to refuse. For his own sake. "Just write me up a summary." For the village's sake. "You can drop it off later." For Madara's sake. He had to refuse.

(He had to remind himself of why he was refusing as he refused, or he wouldn't have been able to do it. He hadn't been able to look at Madara.)

A longer moment of silence. "Really, Hokage-sama?" His voice was so cold.

"I'm sure you have other duties to attend to." Yes. Yes, he did. Hashirama couldn't force Madara to cater to his every whim when he should be doing something productive.

"Fine." Cold and hard. Hashirama fought the urge to say something conciliatory—forgive me, like me, love me, oh please—no.

He didn't look up until the door shut behind Madara.

He'd never imagined it would be so hard.

He wasn't even sure what "it" was.

Controlling himself? Not looking at Madara? Fighting the urge to cry? Finding the right words for neutrality?

No.

"It" was being a ninja. "It" was shutting down his emotions, doing what he had to do. Hashirama was a man, true, but the kind of man he was was a man of dreams. But he was also a ninja, and a ninja does not feel, does not lust, does not hurt. A ninja does what it must. A ninja cannot be persuaded by emotions.

Hashirama had thought, his entire life, that he was a ninja.

Maybe not.

---

What Hashirama didn't realize until after Madara had left his office: as the conversation had progressed, Hashirama had slowly curled into himself, shoulders hunched, chin lowered, spine bending, as if he were trying to put as much thick flesh and solid bone as he could between Madara and his heart.

What Hashirama didn't realize at all: as the conversation had progressed, Hashirama had slowly grown more stoic, voice hardened, sentences clipped, eyes unwelcoming; as if he were trying to put as much haughty contempt and arrogant disdain as he could between himself and Madara's heart.

But Madara noticed.

---

And Hashirama saw Madara less and less.

And less.

---

Year Five

The Year Madara Died

---

Time was ticking down.

Hashirama had planned on waiting just a few months before making the announcement. Just so that it wouldn't look like he had rushed.

That didn't happen.

Nearly a year had passed since the daimyou had asked him to choose a successor. They were approaching Konoha's third anniversary (and somewhere in there was the fifth anniversary since Hashirama had first seen Madara), and the daimyou was running out of patience. He had given Hashirama a limit, an ultimatum: by the end of Konoha's third year. By its birthday, you must have a successor.

He was running out of time.

---

"How's the selection process going, right?" Mito asked.

Hashirama hesitated for a long moment before answering. "Oh, it's... going." He shrugged. "I don't want to rush into it..." He didn't want to talk about it.

She frowned at him, squinting suspiciously, but didn't press it. "I see," she said. "So... how's he doing, right?"

"Who?"

She paused. "Madara-sama." Of course.

Of course.

Hashirama wasn't proud of it—but this was how he coped. He couldn't be with Madara. He couldn't even be anywhere near Madara, really. He didn't trust himself to do that. But at the very least he could talk about him, couldn't he?

And Mito was the only person he could talk about him with, without receiving any sort of scorn. Tobirama always seemed so... worried when he brought up Madara, for some reason. Hell, he knew the reason why, he knew why. The other shinobi that Hashirama worked with didn't like it much either. He was sure he knew that reason, too: they had to be suspicious. They were starting to wonder. That was what he thought. That was what he felt. That was the only explanation, that they were starting to think, "Why does Senju Hashirama spend so much time talking about... Perhaps he's...?"

Hashirama tried not to talk about Madara.

But he could, at least, with Mito. Sure, he knew that she was over Madara, and he himself was... in recovery. But unlike everyone else in the village, it seemed, they both actually admired him. They could discuss him freely.

"I haven't seen a lot of him lately, actually."

"Really?" Mito seemed disappointed. "You don't have any news about what he's been up to?"

Well, what did Hashirama share? The list of missions he knew Madara had been on lately? The names of the kunoichi he had heard admiring him from afar? The fact that he no longer directly came to Hashirama when he had news—much to Hashirama's mingled pain and relief—but instead sent whatever random messenger he could track down at the time, anything from a trainee ninja to one of Hashirama's own bodyguards?

"I saw him down by the lake a few days ago," he said, almost embarrassed at himself for choosing this of all anecdotes to share. He told himself he only chose it because he knew this one would be the one Mito most cared to hear. A glance at her face confirmed this; her eyes were bright with interest. And then Hashirama looked down at his food again. (They weren't getting a lot of eating done, were they? It was another diplomatic lunch. His soup was cold. Mito's fish probably was, too, but Hashirama didn't know if that would even affect the flavor. Sushi was served cold, maybe cooked fish could be too.)

"Oh?" Mito said. "What was he doing?"

"I don't know," Hashirama said. "Probably nothing. He was just..." He shrugged. "Staring out over the water."

Mito didn't say anything, so Hashirama attempted to elaborate. "Like he was searching for something. Or trying to remember."

He couldn't see Mito's face, but he could tell—from her shadows, from the movement of her clothes—that she had nodded slowly. (A ninja had to be able to pick up on these things.) "Reminiscing?" she offered.

"Yeah, I guess that was it." What else could he say, what else? "He... looked very... grand, out there." He shouldn't be saying this he shouldn't be, but, who else could he say it to?

"I'm sure." Mito, at least, didn't sound skeptical of Hashirama's meaning, or amused by his choice in words. "Doesn't he always, right?"

Hashirama chuckled. "Yeah, I guess he does."

"What else would you expect from the most beautiful man in Konoha?"

What, indeed.

"I don't think he did much else out there." Wow, this was a lame story. "Just looking out at the lake. Watching the sunset."

He figured that would be the kind of detail Mito would appreciate, and he was right. He could see her, out of the corner of his eye, leaning forward slightly, waiting for more. "Oh?"

Hashirama nodded. And that was all he could think of to say, without saying too much. What else could he say? It was just a simple scene, but... "It just... struck me, somehow."

"How so?"

What did he say, what did he... "He looked so beautiful."

He'd said it. And it hurt so much to say. Even now. Even now, he still couldn't get Madara out of his mind entirely.

And Mito just nodded in agreement. She understood. She didn't criticize, didn't question. She understood entirely.

"He does, right?" She almost sounded mournful. But, of course, she didn't really. Why would she?

They didn't say much else.

But it was nice to be understood by someone else. It was nice to know that someone else could see the world the way they did.

Hashirama had said what he needed to say. As insignificant as that anecdote had been—it hardly even qualified as an anecdote—it was what Hashirama had needed to get out. Please, see the same Madara he had seen, please, see Madara the same way. Please don't leave Hashirama alone in his interpretation. What Madara was doing or saying wasn't as important as the things like that, the moments when he stood alone on the edge of a lake, the color of the sunset in his eyes, the color of his eyes in the sunset.

Hashirama wasn't proud, but this was how he coped.

(As it happened, so did Mito.)

---

Of course, everybody today knows who he chose. His little brother. Senju Tobirama.

He didn't want to.

Of course he didn't. He wanted to choose his co-founder, his perfect enemy, his eternal rival, his nemesis, his counterpart. Of course.

But he didn't.

It would be the worst mistake he'd make in his life.

---

Hashirama tried to find somebody else to choose as Hokage. He really did. But his mind kept coming back to Madara. As it always did.

Who else? Who else could possibly run Konoha? Madara knew the village inside and out—even if he denied that he had truly had any part in founding it, he had been involved with the whole process, more than anybody else had. He knew everything about Konoha. And he had done well enough in the duties Hashirama had given him, hadn't he? Exceedingly well. Better than Hashirama himself, at times.

And excluding Hashirama himself, Madara was without a doubt the strongest ninja in Konoha, perhaps in the world. (Hashirama thought he was, at least.) Madara had never lost a battle—except to Hashirama, but since Hashirama was hardly a candidate for Nidaime Hokage that didn't matter. Konoha needed a powerful leader, to lend his strength to the village, to fight for it, and who could do that better than Uchiha Madara?

Besides, besides, didn't Hashirama... owe it to him, to choose him? Madara ran the Uchiha clan, it only made sense that if the Senju clan had a representative running Konoha first, then the Uchiha clan should go next.

And in any case, it was only right, considering that Madara hadn't even really wanted to be part of Konoha in the first place. Hashirama was in debt to him for agreeing to form the village. Since Madara had already shown an interest in being named as the next Hokage, this was the least Hashirama could do to pay him back. Wasn't it?

Plus, what would Madara think of Hashirama then, if he named him as his successor? What kind of message would that send, to say, "Someday I am going to step down from this position, and when I do, I am entrusting you with Konoha's leadership"? He knew that Madara still regarded him with distrust, still gazed at him as though... as though there was something in Hashirama's eyes he didn't like. It was possible, he supposed, that even after all these years, Madara still feared that Hashirama had been trying to take over his clan. This would destroy his doubts forever, wouldn't it? This would get rid of the only reason Madara had for disliking him, wouldn't it? And then maybe Madara could actually look at him like a friend, couldn't he?

... But...

What kind of a reason was that to choose a Hokage?

What was wrong with Hashirama.

He was not a fool. He was not a lovesick child. He may have been a man of dreams, but at least now he was lucid dreaming and knew that reality had nothing to do with his fantasies.

He could not choose the leader of a village—a military village—a highly dangerous, armed military village—based on the fact that his heart would just go all aflutter if he delivered the news and received a smile.

That

is not

how to choose a Hokage.

And Hashirama knew that. He knew that.

Besides... he knew (or thought he knew) what people would say if he chose Madara.

"Favoritism."

It was favoritism to choose Madara. Hashirama knew better than anyone else could—wouldn't he just be choosing Madara because of his eyes, his smile? Because of Hashirama's dreams? Pure, blatant favoritism.

And it would be so, so obvious. He had tried, he had tried, he had tried to act like he didn't think that much about Madara, he had tried to act like he thought of him as any other shinobi, and maybe he had succeeded, maybe he hadn't—but even if he had, even if they didn't suspect anything, what if they started to? "Why did Hokage-sama choose Madara-san, anyway?" "That's a good question. I'd never really noticed, but he does give Madara-san a lot of preferential treatment, doesn't he..."

What if the village figured it out?

What if Madara figured it out?

Oh, if he gave Hashirama dark looks now, if he gave him suspicious looks already, how would he look at Hashirama if he knew that he'd won the title of Nidaime Hokage because Hashirama couldn't control his wet dreams? And he would figure it out, Hashirama was sure he would figure it out.

Madara was brilliant, after all; he had proven that on the battlefield, and he had proven it again in the work he did in Konoha. He had already begun treating Hashirama even more skeptically, lately—since Hashirama's own revelation. Perhaps he was starting to figure out what Hashirama had only just figured out about himself. Perhaps he had been figuring it out all along, and Hashirama hadn't even noticed.

So here is Hashirama, in his office. Sending increasingly formal responses to each of the daimyou's increasingly peeved queries. Saying he needed just a little more time, just a little more, a little more, more. When he isn't giving orders, reading reports, signing orders, he is pacing, wondering, panicking. When he is giving orders, reading reports, signing orders, always in the back of his mind, he is thinking, thinking.

Here is Hashirama, lying awake at night, or pacing in the dark, lost. Telling himself that Madara could make a wonderful Hokage, that he would be better than any other man in the village. Telling himself that he is only telling himself that Madara's the best because he wants it to be true. Knowing that his view of Madara is as far from objective as it could possibly be. Knowing that he will never know whether the Madara of his dreams is the Madara of reality.

He wanted to choose Madara. More than anything else in the world, he wanted to choose Madara.

That was why he couldn't.

---

Tobirama asked daily, why should today be any different? "So, made the Hokage choice official yet?"

Hashirama shot him a dark look, then turned his attention back to the mission report he was trying to read. As if he wasn't distracted enough already. "Congratulations on your successful mission," he said, pointedly ignoring the question. "Holding back twenty assassins is an impressive feat. Particularly considering the environment." Tobirama and Sarutobi Sasuke had been sent to escort the Land of Rivers daimyou to a meeting with the Land of Wind daimyou, which meant Tobirama had needed to use his water techniques against a large group of enemies in the desert. Apparently, he had done quite well. "Although, considering that you were in the presence of a daimyou, I think you could have found a more dignified way to deal with the assassins than flinging feces at them?"

Tobirama raised his hands defensively. "Hey, don't look at me, Sasuke-san's the one with the monkey summons."

Sure, but Hashirama wouldn't have been surprised if Tobirama had encouraged him.

"And don't change the topic. How soon are you going to name the Nidaime? We need another excuse to have a party around here, you know." He grinned wickedly. "Are you actually going to join in properly this time, prude?"

"I hope not." If he did, it would mean that he'd rather not remember what had happened that day. "I think I'm partied out for the next few years, thanks."

Tobirama laughed. "Hashirama, you were by yourself, it was less than two bottles, and that was months ago. You can afford to show up to the celebration in honor of your own successor," he said. "So when's it going to be?"

Hashirama sighed heavily, running his fingers through his hair. (And catching on knots. His hair was too long. He knew he should cut it, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to.) "As soon as I figure out who it's going to be."

"You mean you don't know?" Tobirama raised his eyebrows. "Really? I thought you were just... well, taking your time on the announcement so it wouldn't look like you hadn't thought it over? Or finishing writing your speech or something?" He seemed genuinely baffled.

Hashirama shook his head.

"Huh. I thought you were choosing Uchiha Madara." He said it like it was a given fact.

Hashirama flinched like he'd been slapped. "I never said that!" Don't panic calm down. Deep breath. "Why... do you say that?"

"Uh. Well, because..." (What was up with Hashirama? It was probably the stress of the selection process, but... Tobirama hadn't expected this. He'd thought the actual decision had been made weeks, months ago. Everybody did. Heck, he and Sasuke had spent the entire trip home from the Land of Wind trying to imagine what it was going to be like taking orders from Madara and cracking jokes about how the Hokage robes would compliment his eyes. What was Hashirama expecting Tobirama to say? It wasn't like he needed to list Madara's merits, Hashirama of all people knew them already.) "Everyone knows you... like the guy a lot, right?"

(Because that was the most important thing, in Tobirama's mind. In the Senju clan, at least, leaders were chosen based on whom the previous leader liked the most. Shouldn't the Hokage choose his successor the same way?)

Unsurprisingly, Tobirama's words struck terror into Hashirama's heart. Was it that obvious, what he thought of Madara? Everyone knew? How much did they "know" and how much did they just suspect? Before he could stop and think over the statement, he blurted out, "Actually I'm considering several options."

"Oh?" Tobirama tried to chuckle, but he looked puzzled. "Well... good." (In Hashirama's mind: "Why does he look so puzzled? Was I not convincing enough? Did I say something wrong, is he figuring out what I'm really thinking...?" In Tobirama's mind: "Why is he beating around the bush? Everybody knows it's going to be Madara.")

"Tobirama, what do you think of Madara-sama?" Because Hashirama could not think about Madara, not without confusing dream with reality, not without losing his mind. He was desperate now. He needed somebody else to tell him what to think. Somebody, anybody. He had never realized before how alone he was in his mind.

"Me?" Tobirama stared blankly at Hashirama. "Uh..."

He would never know that his answer would forever change Konoha's future.

"I guess I've never really liked him all that much. But I know how highly you think of him, so..."

What Tobirama left unsaid: so, maybe I should change my opinion of him.

What Hashirama thought he heard: so, maybe you should change your opinion of him.

That ended everything. No matter how desperately he wanted to, Hashirama would not name Madara the Nidaime Hokage.

So who was he going to choose? Hell, who could he choose? That had been his only option. There was nobody in the world like Madara.

Hashirama had tried. He honestly couldn't think of anybody else who'd had any experience running the village, much less who was nearly as powerful as Madara. Hashirama had never even let anybody else be a substitute Hokage for a day...

... Except for Tobirama. Hadn't Tobirama covered for him, once?

And, and, come to think of it, Tobirama was pretty strong, wasn't he? He could use Water Release in the middle of the desert, that alone said something, didn't it? He was strong. Sure he... wasn't exactly Madara, but... but wasn't that a good thing?

Hashirama couldn't choose him, he was his own brother, but, but, but... but... well, why not? Why not?! Hashirama had no other options! Tobirama was competent, and he wasn't Madara. That was enough! At least for now. Just so that Hashirama would have an option.

Of course it wasn't a done deal, but, just to toss the possibility out, he said, "How would you feel about being the next Hokage?"

Tobirama stared at him. For a long, long moment. He cleared his throat. "Me? I..." He shrugged helplessly. "I... sure, yeah. If you wanted me to be...?"

Hashirama nodded, with much more decisiveness than he felt. "Good." Good.

Yeah, Hashirama didn't even know what had just happened. He... thought he had just made Tobirama a candidate, but... But wait, had that... sounded too official? He wasn't saying he was choosing Tobirama, he just...

Tobirama looked rather stunned. Hashirama felt rather stunned. So he said, "I'd better get back to... uh... work." Right, like he was going to be able to focus on a mission report.

"Yeah, I'll let you do that. I'll, uh... see you later, then." He left Hashirama's office, without another word.

That was the last time he asked how soon Hashirama would be choosing the Nidaime Hokage.

---

And in the end...

He couldn't think of anybody else. Nobody. Whenever he tried to think of anybody at all, the only person who came to mind was Madara. He was the only possibility Hashirama's mind would accept.

Which meant that the only candidates for Nidaime Hokage were Uchiha Madara (by virtue of being Madara), and Senju Tobirama (by virtue of being not Madara).

It was the most difficult choice of Hashirama's life.

But anyone who has gotten this far should know damn well how this one ends.

With Hashirama feeling, more than anything else, terrified. Terrified of accusations. Of having the villagers accuse him of favoritism toward Madara, of having them start to wonder what it meant. Of Madara figuring it out. Of being seen as nothing more than a man of dreams.

And so, after all his concerns about doing the right thing for Konoha, Hashirama did not choose the Nidaime Hokage based on merit. He chose him based on fear of personal scandal.

Nobody said the Shodai was flawless.

Actually, quite a few people did. They were extraordinarily wrong.

When the daimyou's patience was just about to snap, Hashirama finally sent him a letter, informing him that he had selected his successor, and would announce him publicly the next morning in Konohagakure. He spent the rest of the day feeling hollow and terrified and jittery. All he could think about was how Madara's eyes would look when he heard the news. But it was too late to reconsider. He couldn't. He couldn't. And he feared he would see that face in his dreams that night.

Well into the afternoon but long before evening, Hashirama finally gave up trying to continue work, snuck somebody's bottle of sake out of the Hokage Residence's break room, told the guards who'd have the night shift that he didn't want to be bothered until morning, locked himself in his room, and got smashed.

He meant to drink about half the bottle. He downed the whole thing. Luckily, unlike his first experiment with alcoholic self-medication, he didn't black out. He just conked out.

This time around, he wasn't quite as drunk. Consequently, he wasn't quite as hung over the next morning. Being a ninja, he was completely capable of hiding his discomfort as he stood before his village in the bright, bright sunlight (thank goodness for the wide hat that went with his Hokage robes), and announced the name of the Nidaime Hokage. Being a ninja, he was easily able to resist the urge to flinch when his eardrums were attacked by a village's worth of startled gasps, confused murmurs, and exuberant cheers.

Being a ninja, he was just barely able to make his queasy way into his office, lock the door, lay his head down on his desk, and quietly cry into his arms.

He didn't even know why he was crying.

Maybe he'd just stay in there the whole day. The village didn't need him today, it could go bother Tobirama if it wanted something. He'd just wait for the day to be over. He'd barely woken up and he was already exhausted.

So. He'd stay in his office, door locked. Feeling nauseous and drained and miserable. He'd done his part. He'd done what he had to do.

He was finished.

He had been in his office for less than an hour when his door was broken down by Uchiha Madara.

---

Hashirama barely had time to sit up before Madara was towering over him, teeth bared, Mangekyou on, and snarling, "This—is—FAVORITISM!"

What? What? For a moment, a horror-stricken moment, Hashirama was sure that he had given the wrong name—that when he had been called upon to name the Nidaime Hokage, he had opened his mouth and without even thinking without even hearing had named Madara instead of Tobirama, and Madara had figured out what it meant, figured it out too fast...

And then he realized what Madara meant. Oh. Oh, no. What had he done?

He sat in a cold, wretched silence, not even reacting except to occasionally wince, as Madara verbally tore him a new one. As follows.

"How dare you, Senju Hashirama! Who the hell do you think you are, treating Uchiha Madara-sama like this?! Like you think I'm your clan's obedient lapdog! You don't know who you're dealing with! I am the leader of the strongest clan in the world! I am the reason your ludicrous little village is still standing! I am the reason why it exists in the first place! And this is how you treat me?! And—and—you—GO TO HELL!

"You promised, Senju! You promised that I would be next! That is the only reason I am still here! Because you promised that I would be the next Hokage. I have a clan to look out for! A clan that I am actually related to, something I'm sure you know nothing about! I care more about my clan than you've cared about anything in your life—and you! You use that against me?! You heartless traitor, you said you were fighting for peace! You thought love would save the world! This is why only those with power will ever win in the world. This is why love will never triumph! Because people like you exist, Senju, you... monstrosity! You choose your brother?! Your own BROTHER!

"And you expect me to believe that you ever meant anything you said to me! Anything about peace? And, and hope and teamwork? And cooperation, and alliances and, and love and—and—bullshit! I can't believe that I was a big enough idiot to ever trust you. I am never making that mistake again, Senju! You can count on that!

"I mean, you... choosing your fucking brother for Hokage! How is he qualified?! Maybe you didn't notice but I have been running this village of yours for three years! What does that other Senju that qualifies him to lead this village? Other than the fact that he is related to you?! And you aren't even fucking related! And you have the gall to look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about. Do you think I'm a moron, Senju?! Do you think I can't see you for what you are?! I am an Uchiha! I know what I see! You aren't even half a decade into this wretched village and already it's, it's... rotten with corruption and nepotism, and it's because of you!

"And I almost believed in you! I almost trusted you, Senju. I almost thought that you were going to, that, that you could actually... I cannot believe myself. I am a complete... failure.

"Since when could an Uchiha trust a Senju?! Never. It has never been that way, and it never WILL be that way. Thanks a lot for a lot of NOTHING, Senju! Thank you for the lies, and the manipulation, and thank you for the enslavement, and—you! You have enslaved my clan, did you know that?! Of course you did. You are going to kill my clan and that is EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANTED ALL ALONG! DON'T YOU LOOK AT ME LIKE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT! I CAN'T BELIEVE I BELIEVED IN YOU! Damn you, Senju, you're just—just—I... I don't even know! After everything you said how could you do this?!

"Everybody knew I was going to be the Nidaime Hokage, and we had a deal! And you promised me, Senju! You PROMISED me! How could you go back on that?!

"I don't know why I had any faith in you. After all of the, all of my—Senju, do you know how many of my family members you've killed?! Not just your clan, but you, Senju! You have slaughtered us—how could I even think about trusting you?! You are a monster. You're lower than a monster, you're a demon! It's no wonder you can capture the tailed beasts, you're more closely related to them than you are to your own clan! At least some Senju have honor! At least some of them admit to their enemies that they're enemies! All a demon knows is malice and, and vengeance and malevolence and sadism and TREACHERY!

"I thought that you were better than that. I thought that you were better than ME, Senju! And I was wrong.

"Fuck you, Senju! When you die, I hope that your fate will be to suffer all the pain that you've inflicted on me, my clan, and every future generation that will ever be born to the Uchiha clan. If it hurts you even a thousandth of that amount, you will not know peace until the world ends. And maybe then you'll realize what you've done. I don't believe you. I cannot believe what you did.

"What was the point of it all? What was the point of pretending that you would choose me?! Everything you said, everything you did, just—everything about you said that it was going to be me! It was going to be this Uchiha Madara-sama that you chose as the Nidaime Hokage. And you LIED.

"Why?! Why did you go through all that?! Just to make it hurt more when you revealed your true colors?! Or did you think that it would make me forgive you now? Did you think I'd reconsider hating you? Or that I'd think, 'Oh! Maybe he has his reasons?!' Well you guessed wrong. I am not a fool, Senju! I may have trusted in you once, but I am not stupid enough to fall for it twice!

"I've seen who you really are, Senju. And I'll never forgive you for it."

That was not his entire speech. That was the first four and a half minutes. That was just how far he got before he had to stop and take a breath—Hashirama honestly didn't remember him stopping at all to breathe before then.

Madara hadn't needed to say anything beyond his first sentence. As soon as Hashirama had figured out what it meant, everything else became irrelevant. There was nothing Madara could say to make Hashirama feel worse than he already did.

He was a monster.

From the beginning, over and over, to every clan, a thousand times over, he had sworn: 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.

And what had he done? What had he done? Bad enough that he had accepted this leadership position, but what had he done then? He had betrayed the Uchiha clan, the clan with which he had founded this village. He hadn't wanted the Senju clan to take over that, he never had, and then—and then, he had chosen his brother as the Nidaime Hokage?

What was wrong with him?

What kind of precedent had he set? Had he just turned his own clan into the sole ruling class of Konoha? Would there never be a Hokage outside of the Senju clan? Would there never be a Hokage from the Uchiha clan?

Hashirama could have chosen one. He could have done that today—he could have ensured that the Nidaime Hokage would have been an Uchiha. But Tobirama—would Tobirama ever choose an Uchiha as his successor? Never. Would anyone that Tobirama chose ever choose an Uchiha? Hashirama could have chosen one. And he hadn't.

And had he really, had he really promised to Madara that he would be the next Hokage, he didn't remember making that promise, he thought he would have remembered if he had, but maybe he did hell there were times where he knew that if Madara had asked him to he would have promised and how could he have done this to Madara?

Madara was still raging, somehow growing even more contemptuous with every sentence. Hashirama bore it all with a cold, wretched silence, because he knew everything Madara said was true.

And suddenly Madara stopped, moved to a wall so quickly it was almost as though he had teleported aside, and turned so he could see (or defend himself against) both Hashirama's desk and the office doorway at the same time. Somehow, even with his back to the door, Madara had noticed Tobirama coming in before Hashirama did.

Tobirama tensed, watching Madara warily. Madara glared at both Tobirama and Hashirama, his gaze darting back and forth, his Mangekyou Sharingan slowly spinning. His (beautiful, beautiful) eyes were bright with sheer hatred—and there was no other word for it, Hashirama could no longer pretend it was anything else. He couldn't tell himself that he was misinterpreting Madara's looks, he couldn't ignore the obvious. Uchiha Madara hated him.

He had a hard, calculating look in his eyes, like he was flipping a coin in his mind, and if it had come up heads he would have gone down in history as the first person make an assassination attempt on two Kage at once.

Instead, he left, without saying a word. He carefully slid past Tobirama so that not even their clothes would touch as he exited. And he was gone, muttering under his breath all the way.

Tobirama turned to watch him go, shook his head, and then picked up Hashirama's office door and tried to prop it back into place. "I heard that coming all the way up the stairs," he said. He stepped back from the door, satisfied that it would stay. "You must have the patience of the Sage to put up with... hey, are you all right?"

Couldn't Tobirama let him sob into his arms again in peace? Or slit his throat or something? He didn't say anything. He couldn't speak.

Tobirama walked up to the desk, grabbed a chair, and pulled it behind the desk so he could sit down next to Hashirama. After a moment, he asked, reluctantly, "Having regrets?"

Yes. Yes. Oh, yes, he was.

But what could he say? He couldn't have regrets. From the moment Madara had come into the room screaming "favoritism!" he had been thinking, oh, please, is there any way out of this?

There wasn't. This was the most important announcement Hashirama had ever made to Konoha. What would it have said about him if he now went, "Oh, sorry, never mind, I guess it'll be Madara after all"? Even if he did do that, it would dangerously undermine Madara's authority. So: Hashirama didn't name Madara as Hokage, but then he came by Hashirama's office, had a hissy-fit, and Hashirama changed his mind just like that? That would make Hashirama—the Shodai Hokage—look like a weak-willed waffler who could be persuaded to change his mind on any issue by any jerk's temper tantrum, and Madara—the Nidaime Hokage—would look like a hot-tempered spoiled brat who got his way by shouting and whining until he won. All of this would make both the Shodai and the Nidaime look very, very bad. In the eyes of their villagers (who looked up to them) and in the eyes of other ninja villages. It would harm the internal unity and harm the international image of Konoha for... who knew how long? Possibly as long as Madara was Hokage. Possibly even longer.

It was too late. No matter what the consequences would be of Hashirama's having chosen Tobirama as Hokage, they would have to be borne. Hashirama wasn't allowed to change his mind.

Besides. What kind of a brother would he have been? If he had named Tobirama as his successor, and then said, "Oh, sorry, never mind, I guess I don't trust you enough to let you run Konoha"? And for that reason—not for politics, but for family—he couldn't even privately share his fears with his brother. What would that do to Tobirama, if he went into the office of Hokage thinking that his big brother didn't have faith in him? If he went in knowing that the only reason he was chosen was because Hashirama hadn't wanted to choose Madara—Madara, who was truly the best and only choice for the job? Hell, being the Hokage was a hard enough job as it was, Tobirama had to know that he had Hashirama's full support.

Tobirama was the one reliable confidant Hashirama had in his life. On everything except for his feelings about Madara. Now, he would never have the possibility of sharing those thoughts.

So he shook his head. "No," he said. "No, of course I don't have any regrets." He couldn't look at Tobirama. "I just... I wish Madara-sama hadn't reacted like that. That's all."

"Yeah..." Tobirama sighed. "Was he this sore a loser when you were named Hokage?"

"No, not really." Not at all. He certainly hadn't screamed at Hashirama. He'd barely even spoken to him. (He did hate him, after all.) But, then again, he had thought then that he might still be selected to lead Konoha next.

"Ah, well..." Tobirama scooted closer to Hashirama and slung an arm over his shoulder. "He'll get over it, right?"

No, he wouldn't. He never would.

"Anyway, Sasuke-san told me that my party's starting at four and if I'm not there on time, they're throwing away all my snacks. And they're going to have grilled eel." Tobirama loved grilled eel.

"Well then, I guess you could afford to be fashionably late." Hashirama knew Tobirama loved grilled eel. Hashirama didn't eat meat.

Tobirama snorted. "If you show up on time, I'll save some for you." Tobirama knew Hashirama didn't eat meat. "Really, Hashirama. I'm going to be there, you should be there too. At least for a little bit? This is a big deal for me, you know."

"I know, I know." Hashirama didn't like parties, but... "All right. I'll be there." He didn't want to celebrate. But he needed some way to forget today had happened.

"Great! I'll try not to let you get too bored. It's going to be at the Sarutobi complex, but if things go right it'll involve half the other complexes by sundown."

"Oh, really?"

"Hey, it'll be easy. Sasuke-san's got a plan. The Sarutobi complex is next to the Akimichi complex, if they keep the snacks near the front gate that'll automatically lure them in, and once we get the Akimichi clan we'll have the Nara clan by default, and the Nara clan will bring in the Yamanaka clan, and since the Nara clan's way on the far side of the village they'll be picking up other people as they head to join the party..."

This was the kind of tactical planning that was making Konoha the strongest military force in the world. At least nobody would mind if Hashirama was hung over in the morning. He'd be in good company.

"Try to get there early, all right?" Tobirama said, standing to go.

"Sure."

"And try to go easy on the drinks, all right?" A few months ago, that would have been a joke. Now, there was a hint of concern in Tobirama's voice.

"Sure. Don't worry about me."

A pause. "All right." And he headed for the door—well, what was left of it. "I'd stay longer, but they're already getting me to work. I don't believe it. I'm supposed to write a letter to the daimyou! I don't even remember his name!" He awkwardly pulled the door open. "But we can talk at the party, right?"

"Yeah. See you then."

"Right." Tobirama left, and carefully pulled the door shut.

(Tobirama had actually come in to try to find some way to ask Hashirama why he had been chosen. But when he'd seen the look on his face... well. It wasn't a good time.)

Tobirama left, to get to work.

Hashirama replaced his door with a solid wall of wooden vines, and buried his head in his arms.

---

The party actually went pretty well.

In fact, in the estimation of most of the party-goers, it was probably the best fucking party Konokakagake had ever fucking had. ...Kononakahure. Konokanakane. Fuck. Hey, hey, what... what the hell is the name of this place, anyway?! What? Oh, okay! To Coconut-kagura! YEAH!

It was a pretty damn great party. No, no, seriously. Seriously. Even the damn Shodai-sama got wasted. Didn't even know the guy drank. It was, it was like... whoa. There he is. Shodai-sama. He's wasted. Somebody asked him if he could still use that, that Wood Releasy thingy when he's drunk, and he said sure, and he showed everyone.

And he made a cactus, man. It was a... it was a fucking cactus. Like... like with the, the spikes and everything. It was a fucking cactus. In the middle of the Sarutobi complex. Fuck, it's probably still there. Is it still there? Huh. Wonder what happened to it. Maybe it was in the Inuzuka complex.

Hashirama had no idea how many drinks he had that evening. They came in the, the little cup, whateverthefuck, things, right? Like sake comes in. And they were fucking everywhere. It was great. They were, they were everywhere. And, and then, and when Tobirama asked him, how many drinks he had? He went, hey, what the hell! He had no fucking idea! They were tiny, right? He could have a bajillion and it'd be, it'd be, you know, nothing.

He never had enough to drink. He never had enough, because he never forgot what he had done to Madara. But he certainly tried his hardest.

Various things Hashirama did during the party:

Approach any Uchiha who had defied Madara's orders to stay in the complex and had come to the party anyway (or, any person who looked vaguely like an Uchiha) and insist in the most heartfelt manner possible that Madara would have been a great Hokage—no, no, really, he really really would have—but, he wasn't a Hokage, but... but he would have been a great one. ... Just saying.

Get into a heated debate with a branch family Hyuuga about whether or not a "bloodline limit" could, in fact, be literally transferred via blood, a debate which would have ended with them slitting their palms and drinking each other's blood in an attempt to turn into the world's first men to have both Wood Release and an ocular kekkei genkai, if someone from the Shimura family hadn't passed by and pointed out that was the dumbest idea ever.

Ask a member of the Yamanaka clan if he did, indeed, have pretty hair (he was assured he did), and in return was asked if the Yamanaka had pretty hair (he assured him that he did), and after five minutes of enthusiastically agreeing about how many pretty men their village had, they passed a joint resolution declaring that henceforth the village formerly known as Kakuna-matata would be called the Village of Hunks and Babes and Hunks. It was declared by a Hokage so that made it fucking official. They wrote it on a paper and everything.

Spend another fifteen minutes spreading the news to the other partygoers and discovering that some of them took issue with the name, and then amend it to Village of Hunks and Babes and Hunks and Dogs and Bugs and Sake and Ino-Shika-Chou and Lots of Trees and Monkeys and People and Madara. Upon further reflection, Hashirama realized that this excluded Madara from being either a hunk or a hunk, at which point he promptly withdrew his support for the name change. Which was fine, because everybody had forgotten what name change he was talking about, and nobody could read the scrawling on the paper anyway. Except for the meticulously drawn leaf symbol at the top. That made it stationery.

Hashirama didn't have any fun. But he did have a lot of drinks, which, really, was all he'd been looking for.

Around midnight, Tobirama finally told Hashirama that he'd had enough partying, and he should go back to Tobirama's place and sleep it off. (The Senju complex was surprisingly quiet, despite the festivities in the rest of the village; that was mainly because they were all outside of the complex, partying.) Hashirama asked Tobirama how many drinks he'd had. Tobirama tried to remember, failed, and said he could order Hashirama to go home anyway, he was Hokage now. Hashirama said that he'd been Hokage first, so he had more authority. Tobirama said that he was the newer Hokage. Hashirama said that he was older than Tobirama. Tobirama said that he was taller than Hashirama. Hashirama would have disagreed, but Tobirama stood on his toes, and Hashirama tried to match that feat but couldn't keep his balance, so he had to surrender the point. Tobirama sent him home.

Well, fine. When he got there, Hashirama would just get into Tobirama's sake.

---

"Hokage-dono." That was... who the fuck was that?

Hashirama stopped unsteadily, squinting at the blurry figure standing before the gate into the Senju complex. He didn't recognize him. Her. Him. Her? Her. Him? Huh?

Maybe he could just ignore... it. He set his jaw, looked at the ground, and tried to weave his way past the obstacle. It grabbed his shirt. "Hokage-dono!"

He shook the hand off. "What the fuck d'you want?" he mumbled, turning to squint at the person. "Oh. Uh... Mito-chan." Wait, that wasn't right. "San? Sama? Uh. Uzumaki-dono. Hi." Wow, he was dizzy. "What the fuck d'you want?"

Mito squinted at his face, frowning. "You're drunk, right?" It wasn't a question, it was a statement. Wait. How did that work?

He pointed vaguely at her head. "You have very big cherries in your hair." That, he thought, was a brilliant comeback. He turned around to head into the complex.

This time, Mito grabbed his arm. Wow, she had a strong grip. "Hashirama-dono. I need to talk to you. Now."

He thought about that. He... didn't know why he was thinking about it, but... "But I'm drunk," he protested.

"You're not too drunk to answer a few questions, right?"

He tried again. "But I'm in mourning."

"What?"

"I don't know!" He finally gave up and turned around to face her again. And this time, he managed notice her expression. She looked furious. Okay, he'd keep that in mind, she was mad at him today. Fuck, everybody was mad at him today. (If by "everybody" he meant "Madara and himself," but right now, those were the only two people who really mattered to him.) "What... what is it?"

"You picked your brother?"

Picked him for what? Oh. Why did she have to remind him? "Yeah."

"You picked your brother!"

"Yeah?" What scattered mental facilities he had were slowly rallying to help him cope with this unexpected challenger, and it occurred to him that Mito was looking for an explanation. He did the best he could. "Look. I, uh, I, uh... I know it's a... a surprise, or, something, but... I, uh, thought long and hard about this, and, and he really was the best candidate, for..." That actually came out pretty well. It came out so well because that was the same justification he'd used on himself every time he'd been about to back out of naming his brother.

But apparently, it wasn't good enough. (Either that or he was too drunk to present it convincingly; more likely, both.)

"You were going to pick Madara-sama!"

He winced inside. (He winced outside, too.) "I... I never said that. 'Snot like I... not like I... promised him, or... whateverthefuck..."

"You may not have said it but everybody knew you were going to, right? Everybody knew it and you didn't! Why?"

To that, he had no answer, so he fell back on his self-justifications. "Look, it—it was a tough... a really tough decision, but—"

"But what? Madara-sama was the best man for the job, hands down. No contest! I thought you knew that, you always talk about what a great man he is and how much you admire him and, and..." She inhaled sharply. "And I thought, 'Great! Great, right?! So he's going to choose him!' And then you don't choose him?"

"I don't talk about him that much..." Sure, like he was fooling anybody.

"Why didn't you choose Madara-sama?"

"Well... Well, I..." He trailed off, because he'd promptly forgot where he was going with that. He then remembered: he'd had no idea where he was going.

"Well?"

"Well, he was—he was, he was one of the top candidates. All right? It, it was, really... it was really, really fucking close. And he was a top candidate. But, Tobirama, he was just the best man for the job, okay?"

"Why?" Mito snapped, taking a step closer to Hashirama, and he automatically took an unsteady step back. "What in the world does Tobirama-san have that Uchiha Madara-sama does not?"

Hashirama took way too long to answer. He had no answer. The only, single, solitary, pitiful excuse he could call up was, "The ability to... get disappointed without throwing a temper tantrum?"

He knew immediately that that was the wrong thing to say. He could tell from the fury in her face and the bright gleam in her eyes. Also, from the fact that she hit him with a gust of wind that knocked him on his back.

Although he hadn't needed that clue. What was he doing? Mocking Madara's anger? His tantrum was entirely justified, Hashirama knew that perfectly well.

"What were you expecting?!" Mito demanded, screaming at Hashirama from twenty feet away. (That was a pretty good Wind Release technique, whatever the hell it was.) "After what you did to that poor man! And you think he has a temper problem, right?! If I were in his shoes, I would be furious!"

Hashirama actually managed to get back on his feet on the second try. "Okay, I'm sorry, I'm... I was... it was a, just a joke, or... or something..."

"A joke? You're joking about what you did to him? I don't believe you, you—" She stomped a few feet closer, as if she was considering attacking Hashirama again, and then stopped and decided to continue yelling instead. "And you think he has a temper problem! Do you know who's got the problem around here?"

"Yeah." He did, he did, he knew that.

"What?"

Wrong answer, try again. "Who?" As if he needed her to tell him, he had the problem, didn't he?

"You! And do you know what your problem is?!"

What's wrong with you?

That was it.

"Oh, please fucking enlighten me!" he snapped. "I've been—I've been trying to figure that one out for YEARS!"

She hesitated. "What?"

"What's wrong with me! What's wrong with me! What the fuck is wrong with me! YOU tell ME, Mito-ch—san! I have been trying to figure it out for, for fucking, whateverthefuck I don't know how long I have been trying to figure it out! I have been trying to figure it out for years and you know what? You know what?! I don't know what! You, you fucking, tell me what's wrong with me!"

"I—"

"You know what?" Hashirama went on, marching toward her in a nearly straight line. He was too furious for this to end well and too drunk to give a damn. "You know what my problem is? I'll tell you what my problem is, fuck it! My problem is, my problem is Madara is too damn Madara for my own good, all right?! My problem is I don't know how to fucking wake up. I'm a fucking man of dreams!"

He had said it. He was spent. He had nothing more to say. He would never have anything else to say again.

Mito stared at him. And then narrowed her eyes and scrunched up her face in a scowl. "What the hell does that even mean?!"

Oh. Um. Well. If she didn't understand, it was too late for her to find out, because Hashirama was spent and would never have anything else to say again. He shrugged helplessly.

"So... so what, you think you're some kind of a... visionary, right? Dreaming of some grand new world order?" From the tone of Mito's voice, Hashirama got the feeling that she didn't approve. Evidently, she had never heard the phrase "man of dreams" before. He shrugged again.

"Of course that's what you'd think of yourself. Everybody wants to think the best of themselves, right? Nobody wants to think anything bad about themselves, they'll do whatever it takes to deny it." (Oh, did Hashirama understand that.) "You probably don't even KNOW what your real problem is! Do you?"

A third shrug. He had nothing to say.

"You are jealous of Madara-sama."

Hashirama stared at Mito like a moron, struggling to process that. Jealous? He had never even considered that. Jealous, of Madara? Oh, wouldn't that be a simple solution, wouldn't that be a beautiful solution, if he could say that he was, if he could fling himself at Madara's feet and tell him he was so sorry but he had just been jealous of him... But why in the world would Hashirama be jealous of Madara? (Okay, maybe he had something to say after all.) "What?!"

"You heard me, Hashirama-dono! Madara-sama is twice the man you will ever be and you know it, right? If it weren't for the fact that you were the one running all around the continent trying to talk clans into joining Konohagakure no Sato, getting your name out there where everyone would know you, while he was dealing with the death of his poor little brother, he would have been the Shodai and you know it! You couldn't be better than him as a ninja and so you had to bring him down as a politician!"

Hashirama was self-aware enough to know that he was drunk enough to be convinced of just about anything. However, he didn't buy that for a second. "Wh... I... that's... that's just..."

"That's it, isn't it? You might go around giving lip service to him, praising him to high heaven, but then when it's time for you to make a decision that actually matters, you stab him in the back."

Hashirama flinched as if he were the one being stabbed. "That's not—"

"Isn't it?" Mito jabbed a finger in his chest, almost knocking him off-balance. "Then you explain it! Why do you smile and nod along whenever anybody says anything admiring about Madara-sama, but then you don't do him any favors? You're in a better position to help him out than anyone else in the world! You're the damn Hokage, right?! But no! You won't! And it's because you're jealous of him, even if you don't admit it! It's because he was supposed to be your arch-rival or some ridiculous thing like that and he was catching up to you too fast! If you hadn't decided out of nowhere to make this peace treaty and start up a village with the Uchiha clan, he would have kicked you and your entire clan from here to the moon and—"

"Is THAT what you think?!" Hashirama screamed, right in Mito's face. She didn't even blink. "You think! You think I—I founded this...this ENTIRE fucking village, as some great conspiracy against MADARA-SAMA?! You think THAT'S what this is all about?!"

"I didn't say that!" she screamed back, just as loud. "But if YOU'RE going to admit it, then—"

"You've got NO IDEA how I feel about—M-Madara..." Why had his throat caught? Maybe it was the screaming, maybe his throat was going hoarse... Calm down, deep breath, calm down...

Neither one of them could speak, for a moment. Hashirama seemed to be choked up on something and Mito seemed to have something in her eyes. Hashirama tried to focus. Tried to think of something to say. For once in his life, leaving aside what he thought of himself—leaving aside whether he thought he was a lunatic or a pervert or something completely different—leaving Hashirama himself completely out of his opinions... how did he feel about Madara?

When he spoke, his mind was more clear than it had been all day. Than it had been for longer than he could remember. (Of course, considering the current condition of his brain, he couldn't remember very far, but...) "There is nobody. In the whole world. Who wants to see Madara-sama succeed as much as I do. There is... there is nothing I would not sacrifice if I thought it would make him happy. Nothing. Yes, he was my rival—and I was proud to say that I could fight at his level. And, if he surpassed me, it wouldn't reflect on me at all—it would just prove how great he was. I've never envied him. I only... I only want the best for him."

Mito was crying by then, her eyes squeezed shut. The absurdity of it suddenly struck Hashirama: why was she crying because Madara hadn't become Hokage? What difference did it make to her? It wasn't like she had any personal business with Madara... or...

No. No, it did matter, it... She cared about Madara just as much as Hashirama did, didn't she?

Mito took a deep, shuddering breath, and whispered, "That's... how you really feel about him?"

"Yeah." Oh, hell, did they feel the same way about him? "Yeah, it... it is."

She nodded. She finally opened her eyes, and looked up at Hashirama. "Then why the hell isn't he the Nidaime Hokage?!"

"Wh...! I... You just—YOU KNOW WHAT?!"

A screaming match ensued. The combatants were two feet away from each other. You wouldn't know that to hear them.

The conversation just went downhill from there.

---

It was amazing how a fight could sober one up.

"Fight" in more than one sense of the word. Most of it was a verbal battle, but a fair number of emphatic statements were punctuated with ninjutsu. (Mito wasn't nearly as strong as Hashirama, but Hashirama was too drunk to see straight, so it all evened out.) As a ninja, Hashirama had acquired at least some skill in resisting the debilitating effects of a mind-addling poison when in the heat of battle, and that's pretty much exactly what alcohol is.

He wasn't going to escape the hangover, but he was able to think vaguely rationally again. And sooner or later it occurred to him, quite reasonably, to wonder, what the hell were they fighting over, anyway?

(Around that time, he was busy shouting, "How can you say you know Madara-sama?! How can you... You've never even seen him in battle! Much less fought him!" Mito was busy retorting, "Do you think it's all about battles? Is that all life is to you? Just—just, fight fight fight, all the time, right? You're just a weapon!" The battle raged on even as Hashirama was processing its purpose. You can't lower your arms in the middle of a battlefield just because you've forgotten the cause for which you're fighting. Although the world might have been a little bit better if more people did.)

They were fighting over Madara. But... why were they fighting over Madara? That was terribly vague, "fighting over Madara." What did that mean?

("I'm a fucking ninja and so is Madara-sama! That's what, it's what defines his life! How can you say you know him, and, and, without knowing anything about that part of him!")

Well, he could be mistaken, but it seemed to him like the conversation (such as it was) had devolved into an I Like Madara More Than You Do contest.

How in the world had that happened? What did it matter which of them liked Madara more? Why did they care? It wasn't as though he even liked either of them

Oh.

("Or maybe that's just what defines life to you, oh Hokage-dono, did you consider that?! Madara-sama has a life outside the battlefield! He's a human being, too!")

He was hit with an awful epiphany.

Madara was the only thing they had in common, wasn't he? Whenever they were together, he was the only thing they talked about. The reason they talked with each other in the first place was because they could talk about Madara freely. They could praise him in front of each other without fear of being judged. He was the one shared interest, the only similarity between them. They both worshipped Madara. They both thought he was powerful and brilliant and beautiful.

("Of course he's a human, but he's also! A! Ninja!")

They were getting married to each other because they were both in love with Madara.

("What, are ninja and humans different creatures?! You're a ninja too, Hashirama-san! Or are you trying to say something about yourself?!")

He wondered if Mito had any idea.

("Fine! You, you think you know him so fucking well off the battlefield? What the hell do you know about him that I don't, Mito-chan? What have you figured out about him, from a, from a, a handful of diplomatic missions where you barely even spoke to him?! What—can you—have possibly seen in him that I don't see almost every fucking day at work?")

He wondered what would happen if he told her.

("So it's about work again, right? You don't even know how to relate to people outside of being a ninja, do you! Madara-sama's got a life outside of that, even if you don't! He's got a family!")

What were they doing to themselves?

("The hell? He's not even married!")

("He's got his clan!")

To each other?

("I've got a clan! You're about to marry into my clan!")

("And what's so special about your clan?")

("What—It's related to your clan!")

What the hell were they fighting over, anyway?

("But the Uchiha clan respects family! You know that! And Madara-sama had a little brother!")

("So what?! I've got a little brother!")

("Why are you bringing Tobirama-san into this? We're talking about Madara-sama!")

And the conversation continued to go downhill.

("I didn't bring him into this, you did!")

("No I didn't!")

("Yes you did!")

Or, more like, it ran out of hill to go down, and just fell off a cliff.

---

They ran out of energy about half past one in the morning.

Mito collapsed to her knees in middle of the street, buried her face in her hands, and began quietly sobbing.

Hashirama collapsed to his knees at the edge of the street, buried his face in some shrubs, and began quietly puking.

Their upcoming marriage would last until Hashirama's death some thirty-odd years later. Anyone who looked at them would describe them as the very image of a perfect couple, and anyone who asked them would be assured that they were very happy together, of course they were. They would both live long enough to become grandparents, and after Hashirama's death, Mito would always say that he had been a wonderful, wonderful husband.

In over thirty years of marriage, they would never discuss anything that had happened the night after Tobirama was chosen Nidaime Hokage.

---

He didn't see Madara again for days.

Madara had retreated into the Uchiha complex, and had issued strict orders to all the guards that nobody was to be allowed inside the complex, for any reason, up to and including that Senju and his supposed brother.

Hashirama didn't push it. He didn't want a confrontation, they didn't need a confrontation. Tobirama wanted to push it, but when they were both sober again they agreed that Hashirama (as the older, more experienced, and taller Hokage) had final word on all decisions, at least until he formally transferred power to Tobirama.

Plus, Hashirama had his own issues to deal with.

He spent the better part of the day after that party recovering from his hangover in Tobirama's house. Tobirama (who had a bit of a hangover of his own, although it wasn't nearly so bad) filled in for him at the Hokage Residence. He explained to anybody who wanted to know that he had asked for permission to act alone as Hokage that day, just to start to get used to it, no of course there was nothing wrong with Hashirama. The day after that, Hashirama was back in his office, dealing with a slew of new messages that needed responses, most of them to do with the Nidaime Hokage selection . (Only one message never reached him, a notice from the Land of Rice Fields that the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox had changed its course: although it had been heading east, toward the Land of Lightning, it had turned south and was on the verge of crossing the border into the Land of Fire. The message arrived by hawk at the Hokage Residence; although nobody saw Madara leave the Uchiha complex, somehow, he was the only person to ever see the message. Which was a waste, really, since he already knew about the Kyuubi's movements.)

And that day, Mito visited him.

When she came in, she only glanced up long enough to see if Hashirama was there; the moment their gazes met, she dropped hers. "May I...?"

Oh. Hashirama didn't know what he going to say to her. He didn't even remember everything he'd said to her that night. "Please. Come in," he said, standing up.

She shuffled reluctantly into the room, eyes on the ground. Hell, what could he say to her? After the way he had acted. "Uzumaki-dono, I..."

"Hokage-dono—" She cut herself off. "Oh. You..."

"Sorry. Go ahead."

She looked like she wished he'd gone first. (If he'd had any idea what to say, maybe he would have.) "Hokage-dono, I wanted..." She suddenly stopped, and bowed deeply. "I sincerely apologize for my actions two nights ago. My behavior was... was..."

"Completely unacceptable?" Hashirama offered. She looked up at him in shock, he grimaced at himself. "No, I'm sorry, I don't mean you, I mean... I was. You aren't the one who should be apologizing. There is no excuse for the way I treated you, and I apologize for my actions." Should he bow, too? But the desk was in his way.

"Oh, no, it's... it's fine, I mean, you were... inebriated at the time—"

"I shouldn't have been, that doesn't change the things I said—"

"You were at a celebration in support of your brother and it was past midnight, right? I should have known better than to bother you—"

"The way I spoke to you would have been wrong at any time—"

"But I was wrong in the first place to question your judgment—"

"If nobody questioned my judgment, I would become a tyrant."

Mito looked taken aback, but then she barely smiled, and it was more like a grimace. "Wise words, Hokage-dono."

"I wish my actions were half as wise."

"Well..." She seemed to have no more to say than that.

After a moment, she turned to leave. Hashirama sat down again, feeling unexpectedly let down by the exchange. Mito stopped at the door (or, rather, the folding screen temporarily serving as one), and said, "Hashirama-san?"

If she was calling him that, then she was speaking to him not as the Uzumaki ambassador to Konohagakure, but as his future wife. "Yes, Mito-san?"

"Please pass on my... congratulations, to your brother." She sounded like she was on the verge of tears.

Hashirama didn't look up at her. "I'll do that."

"Thank you."

He was informed later that day that Uzumaki Mito had started the return journey to Uzushiogakure no Sato, in order to report to the Uzukage and to prepare to attend the inauguration of the Nidaime Hokage.

And he survived. For the next five days, he survived. Madara remained hidden, Tobirama familiarized himself with how the village was run, the daimyou sent a letter to Tobirama congratulating him on his appointment and a letter to Hashirama praising him for his wise selection (but what did the daimyou know, he had inherited his position when his elder brother had died), and Hashirama existed as well as he could in the shadow of his betrayal of Madara. Konoha was adjusting itself to this announcement, already learning how to look to Tobirama as one of its leaders, already forgetting that Madara had ever been the presumed successor. For Hashirama, nothing changed. And a week had passed since Tobirama's selection.

Then the Uchiha clan exploded.

Within an hour: Madara snapped, appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of the Senju complex, declared his undying wrath and enmity toward the Senju clan, appeared almost simultaneously in the Uchiha complex, tried to incite his fellow clansmen to revolt, failed, was declared a power-greedy fratricidal lunatic, found himself hastily disowned by his own clan, appeared moments later at the Hokage Residence to throw his forehead protector in the dirt and declare that he would wreak vengeance both for and on the Uchiha clan, and wildly dashed off to the north.

Where he promptly captured the Nine-Freaking-Tailed Demon Fox.

---

"We should have stormed the complex and stopped him a week ago!" That was Tobirama.

No words. That was Hashirama.

"We could have prevented this. If there had been any signs that he'd been about to run, we could have arrested him right then. If we'd slapped a blindfold over him, he'd have been helpless. And now he's got the damn Kyuubi! And you know where he's headed next, he's going to be coming right back here with it—Hashirama! Are you even listening?"

Hashirama was pulling out his armor. The uniform he'd worn in battle, before Konoha. He hadn't worn it since he and Madara had shaken hands and formalized their alliance. For a while, he'd thought that maybe he'd never need to wear it again.

"Why didn't we stop him, Hashirama?" Tobirama demanded. "We knew something was wrong! When a guy as meddlesome as Madara goes into hiding for a week, he's up to something! You know that! I know that! Why didn't you acknowledge it?!"

Hashirama wasn't answering, he was putting on his armor and searching for his other weapons. He had a big sword stockpile. Meaning both "a big stockpile of swords" and "a stockpile of big swords." He may as well bring all of them, he didn't know what to expect. He pulled out a blank scroll and a brush, and started sealing away the swords for summoning later. (He was using seals developed by the Uzumaki clan, he realized. Mito... she hadn't heard yet, had she?)

"He was a traitor in the making, from the very start!" Tobirama followed Hashirama down the hall as he headed to another storage room. He had another scroll there, with more seals from the Uzumaki clan; it had been prepared to help tame the Kyuubi. How fortunate. "You gave him too much power, even though it was obvious that wouldn't satisfy him! You should have insisted he step down as Uchiha clan leader before joining Konoha, the rest of the Uchiha clan would have agreed to that, we could have gotten him out of the way at the very beginning! Why did you trust him?"

There it was. Hashirama lifted up the scroll—it was almost too big for him to get his arms around. That made for two huge scrolls he'd be hauling all the way across the Land of Fire. Was it possible to seal a sealing scroll inside another scroll? He could add the bigger one to the scroll holding his swords...

"Everything he said was about how much he was against having the Uchiha clan work in Konoha! Or about how he thought he'd be a better leader!" Tobirama said, clearly forgetting all the times when Madara said nothing of the sort. "And even if he hadn't said anything, all you'd need to do was look at him! Did you just never take a good look at him?! All you'd need to do is take one glance at those ugly eyes—"

The supplies Hashirama had been collecting fell to the ground with clatters and thumps. His hands were at the collar of Tobirama's shirt, twisted in the fabric. His eyes were inches from Tobirama's. "Never talk about Madara-sama like that again," he hissed. "If you want to blame somebody, blame me. I'm responsible for everything that has happened. I will take all of the blame, and I will not say a word, because I deserve all of it. But if I ever hear you talk about Madara-sama like that again..."

He slowly loosened his grip on Tobirama's shirt and let go. Tobirama stared at him, stunned speechless. Hashirama knew he'd overreacted. He wasn't going to apologize now. He crouched down and started recollecting his fallen supplies. Why were his hands trembling?

Tobirama hesitated a moment, then crouched down beside him, more subdued now. More careful. "What are we going to do?"

"I'm doing it." He wrapped a protective cloth around his scroll (with all his weapons and the second scroll sealed inside), tied a ribbon to each end, and slung it over his shoulder.

"You're not going after him alone." It was a statement, not a question.

"You have to stay here to protect Konoha in case I can't stop him." It was an order, not a statement.

"But he's got control of the Kyuubi, you can't—"

"I'll bring the Hyuuga with the longest radius of sight, and one half of whatever pair of Yamanaka have the strongest mental bond. If I lose, the Hyuuga will inform the Yamanaka, who will report the news to his partner in Konoha, so you'll know as soon as possible." What else could he bring? He had a really big shuriken hidden somewhere around here, probably packed in one of the crates that filled the room. He'd have to find it fast.

"Hashirama..."

"I'm the only person in the world who's ever defeated Madara-sama in battle." And he wouldn't let that change.

Tobirama sighed quietly, and resigned himself to simply watching as Hashirama continued his preparations. "What're you going to do if he burns up the scroll with all your stuff still inside it?"

Hashirama paused, struck by the complete and utter mundanity of the question. Back when the Senju clan had been fighting the Uchiha clan, the Uchiha had gotten into the habit of starting off their battles by immediately targeting any Senju carrying summoning scrolls and shooting Fire Release techniques at them, incinerating the scrolls and whatever they were intended to summon. That had lasted until the Senju clan had stopped using summoning scrolls, and instead sent kamikaze bunshins into battle carrying massive scrolls stuffed full of fire-activated exploding tags. And then the Uchiha clan had countered, and the Senju clan had countered...

Was that all it amounted to? All those years, everything Hashirama had tried to do—had it all lead back to where it had started? Just another battle with that stranger with the fiery eyes, that prodigy among a clan of prodigies? After all he had done, had nothing changed?

His armor suddenly felt very heavy.

He took a deep breath, he couldn't lose his composure. "The scroll uses special seals," he explained, still looking for that big shuriken. "Blood- or fire-activated. If the scroll catches fire, everything in the scroll will be summoned. I wouldn't lose any of the weapons; it'd just get a lot harder to carry them. So I should be fine against any fire techniques but the..." he waved a hand vaguely, "black, writhey stuff." They'd never learned the name for it.

Tobirama nodded. "Madara eventually stopped using that one, didn't he?" he asked, and then quickly self-corrected, "Madara-sama."

"Yeah. It made his eyes bleed."

"Hmm." Tobirama moved a bit closer to Hashirama, looking over his shoulder as he searched a box filled primarily with what seemed to be shredded packing paper. "How do you get a summoning technique to work without blood?"

"You'd have to ask an Uzumaki." Hashirama finally found his shuriken—so that's what the shredded paper had been trying to keep padded—and set off looking for a cord to strap it to his back.

Tobirama didn't say anything while Hashirama searched. But after he'd gotten the shuriken on and was wondering what else he might need, Tobirama blurted out, "Are you sure you're up to this?"

Hashirama stared at him. "Up to what?"

"You're going after Madara. Sama," he said. "When you find him, what are you going to do?"

Don't make him think about it. "Whatever I have to." He didn't want to think about it.

"What does that mean? Hashirama, what are you going to do?"

He took a long moment to answer. "I'll probably have to fight him."

"Then what?" Tobirama demanded.

Hashirama shrugged. (The Shuriken pressed hard against his back.) "What else is there?"

"What, you're going to throw punches for half an hour, ask the Hyuuga which of you won, and go home?" Tobirama crossed his arms. "Hashirama, what are you going to do? Really?"

"Get Madara-sama to come back, if I can." He knew Tobirama wouldn't approve of that—and on some level he knew he was just dreaming—so he added, "More likely, I'll incapacitate and capture him."

"And what if you can't do that?"

Hashirama said nothing. Tobirama stared at him expectantly. "Tobirama, don't make me say it."

"How are you going to be able to do it if you can't even say it?" Tobirama asked, exasperated. "I know you, you know better than this! You can't think that everything's going to somehow turn out okay if you just pretend that there's nothing to worry about! That's not how reality works. I shouldn't have to tell you this. This isn't some nightmare that goes away if you shut your eyes—"

No no no no no no no NO NO NO NO NO NO NONONONONO

He was not

He was NOT

He was not going to be a man of dreams anymore.

"I'll murder him," he snapped, his voice trembling. "If I have to, I'll kill him with my bare hands. I'll watch as his last breath leaves his body, I'll watch as the blood leaves his face, I'll watch as—" As the light leaves his eyes. Suddenly Hashirama could see it. Madara's face as his life fled him, as the color drained from his lips, as the fire went out in his eyes, leaving something cold and empty and still.

Hashirama couldn't breathe.

Tobirama didn't say anything for a moment. And neither did Hashirama. He didn't know how long the silence went on until Tobirama walked up to him, carefully. So carefully. Tobirama was treating him like he was about to break. "Hey. Hey, Hashirama. Are you...?" He put his hand on Hashirama's arm. "Are you sure you can...?"

Hashirama shut his eyes and took a shaky breath. He couldn't stop seeing Madara's eyes. Please, please, don't start crying. "Nobody else can." Those eyes, the light fading... "I... pray I won't have to."

Oh please, all you collective ancestors, you who gave Hashirama his Will of Fire, you who guide him in everything he does, you who speak to him through his dreams, through methods only you know—this can't be the way you meant for it to end, this can't be what it was all heading for, can it?

He opened his eyes again—maybe, maybe he wouldn't have to see Madara with his eyes open—and whispered, "If I don't come back—" he swallowed thickly, "I leave my Will of Fire to you." He hoped Tobirama would be able to listen to it better than he had.

Tobirama nodded silently. He was probably the only person in the world who truly understood what Hashirama meant by that.

Hashirama pulled his arm from Tobirama's hand, and left the storage room. "I'm going to the Yamanaka and Hyuuga complexes. Start the preparations to defend the village from a tailed beast attack. And inform the Uzumaki clan of what's happened and ask that they send someone to assist if we get the opportunity to seal the Kyuubi."

"All right." Tobirama followed him. "Hashirama... good luck."

"You too, Tobirama. Konoha is in your care now."

---

Hashirama didn't cry until he and his back-up were well outside of Konohagakure. His eyes were dry by the time they heard the Kyuubi's distant roar and he went on ahead alone. They were dry when he stood atop a Wood Release-created tree and stared across a forest at the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, with a single man riding arrogantly atop its head, waiting. As awful, as audacious, as grim as a human could be without ascending to godhood.

Madara glared across the divide with beautiful, beautiful red hatred.

And let out a huge sigh, and, with exaggerated exasperation, shouted, "What?! You again?"

Hashirama grinned fiercely. "Until the bitter end," he shouted back, "enemy mine!"

And they charged forward, trees sprouting and rocketing upward and leading onward just as fast as the Kyuubi tore trees down in its stampede forward. Just like it used to be, in battle after battle—eyes locked, heading straight for each other. Nothing else existed.

They fell into the rhythm of the dance as easily as if they had never stopped, as if it hadn't been years since the last time. Of course they did.

After all, 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.

In every way that mattered.

---

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

"Madara!" He was answered only by the Kyuubi's howl. "Madaraaa! Listen to me! It isn't too late! This doesn't have to be a war!" Jaws snapped at him; the trunk of a massive tree blocked the teeth, and splintered. "I don't want you to die here! Neither of us has to die! Come home, Madara!"

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

"Konoha was never my home!" Desperately, Hashirama tried to track the source of the voice. Weaving from moving branch to branch, from growing trunk to trunk, trying to get into the air faster than the ground shattered and fell beneath them all. "I told you the first time you ever spoke to me: to end this warfare, one of us has to die! Wake up, Senju! We were destined to hate each other! This is how it was always going to be!"

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.

Standing above the trees, standing before the battlefield ruins and the Kyuubi, the scroll he would use to seal the tailed beast unrolled before him—Hashirama stared up at Madara, all but floating in the sky, silhouetted against the moon.

He was the most beautiful man in the world.

"This was never the inevitable end! We didn't have to hate each other!" Hashirama shouted at the silhouette. "I am awake! And I still love you!"

Madara's only answer was the roar of a demonic fox.

---

Hashirama never saw Madara's corpse. He never saw his lifeless form, his still chest, his pallid cheeks. He never saw his cold lips. He never saw his vacant eyes. That was the only blessing he had that day.

Regardless, Madara's corpse would haunt his dreams for decades.

After the battle, he was in shock. He was in shock when the Hyuuga and Yamanaka who had been backing him up came up to him, to move him away from the battlefield for his own safety, in case the Kyuubi escaped; it was trapped in a living cage made by Wood Release trees, locked shut with an immense scroll of Uzumaki seals.

He was in shock when Tobirama showed up with what seemed like half the village, to do what they could to reinforce the Kyuubi's seals until an Uzumaki arrived, and to search for whatever was left of Madara.

He was in shock as he was treated for his injuries, and led to a tent and told to get some sleep. He didn't sleep.

He was in shock the next day as he told the clan leaders who had come to the battlefield what had happened. He told it as distantly and as plainly and as wistfully as if the story were some terrible old folk tale he'd learned as a child.

He was in shock when someone looked at the cliff and waterfall and lake that had been formed in the battle, didn't recognize it and didn't realize it was a new addition to the landscape, and asked Hashirama what this valley was, and he answered, "The end."

He was in shock when he managed to track down Tobirama, pull him aside for a moment, and ask him in innocent, dazed confusion, "Where's Madara-sama?"

He was in shock when Tobirama told him that maybe he should go back to his tent and try to sleep a bit more. He still didn't sleep.

He was in shock when his tent flap flew open and Mito rushed inside, and in a second was sitting beside him, looking at his injuries, feeling his face, feeling his chest, trying not to cry. He sat upright and looked at her, not feeling anything.

He was in shock when she said, "Oh, Hashirama-san, I-I just got here, I just saw the Kyuubi, they haven't told me anything yet, I just got here... What happened? How is he? He's still recovering, right? Is he hurt too badly?"

He was in shock when he looked her in the eyes, not feeling anything, and said, "I killed Madara-sama."

And that

is when he broke.

---

There was no fight this time. There was no I'm Mourning Madara More Than You Are contest.

They were each too inconsolable to even attempt to comfort the other; they were each too forlorn to even consider turning away the other's company; and so they clung to each other, in desperation, arms around backs, hand clasped in hand, grieving together.

After a long, miserable silence, Hashirama was the first to finally speak. "We can call off the engagement, if you want."

Mito didn't believe she'd heard him right. "What?!" She drew back, staring into Hashirama's face. "Hashirama-san, what are you talking about? Why would I...?"

She had never before seen such a hopeless look in anyone's eyes. "If you hate me even half as much as I hate myself now..."

"Hashirama-san, don't even say that." She embraced him even more tightly, squeezing her eyes shut, resting her head on his shoulder, pulling his onto hers. She whispered, "I don't hate you, right? Of course I don't hate you." It was nearly true.

"I'm sorry..." She could barely hear him.

She should have said something like "don't be sorry," or "you did what you had to do," or "you didn't do anything wrong." Instead, she said, "So am I."

---

As the days passed and it became apparent that no insentient container would be able to hold the Kyuubi for long, Mito volunteered to turn herself into a living vessel for its imprisonment.

This astonished everyone. Quite a few people shot surreptitious glances at Hashirama. Surely, he wouldn't let his bride-to-be do something so... so suicidal?

Hashirama said nothing. He watched the events unfold with a blank face and with eyes that suggested he found everything he saw to be vaguely saddening. Which was about normal for him, these days.

The procedure was long, complicated, and painful. Hashirama helped out with the entire process; if it weren't for him, it never would have succeeded. Some of the more immature spectators tried to make jokes about him getting a sneak peak of what he'd be seeing on his wedding night (since Mito was naked, of course), but the jokes died. It was quite clear that Hashirama didn't care in the slightest about the body beneath him. He only cared about making sure that the sealing was successful and that Mito came out of it alive and well.

When it succeeded, Mito was declared an angel. She had to be, to give up her body—her life—to a demon, for the sake of everyone else's safety. Sure, she had the perfect chakra for containing the Kyuubi, and even if she didn't often go into battle she was well-known as a powerful kunoichi, so it was only natural that, if anybody be chosen, it be her... But, to volunteer. So bravely. So selflessly. She truly was an angel.

And it was true that she was all that, but those, Hashirama thought, weren't the primary reasons why she had volunteered.

Madara had been the first, last, and only person to control the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox. With the help of a large enough force, tailed beasts could be diverted from their route—or, as of recent times, captured. But they couldn't be controlled. And yet, that was what Madara had done. Everyone camped out in this valley had heard the full account of the battle, and everyone found it equally amazing: Madara had been able to order the Kyuubi around like it was a common summon. In their minds, the Kyuubi would forever after be associated with Uchiha Madara.

That was why Mito had volunteered. Now, something that had once been part of Madara—if not literally, then at least in spirit—would always be a part of her.

Hashirama had feared he might be... jealous, or something like that. But he wasn't. He just distantly considered himself lucky. He was going to be married to someone who contained something that had once been part of Madara.

(Everyone would come to say that Hashirama and Mito were a perfect couple, that there couldn't have been a marriage between a man and a woman more well-suited to each other. They were right, but not at all for the reasons they thought they were.)

It wasn't until long after the sealing was over that Hashirama realized something.

He had felt nothing when he'd seen Mito naked.

He'd felt nothing for her, nothing for her body.

He didn't fantasize about it, didn't dream about it, didn't obsess over it.

He had seen his bride-to-be completely and utterly exposed, and he felt nothing.

He was more relieved than words could tell.

He knew, unquestionably, that he was a man of dreams. He expected he always would be.

But, he could control himself.

---

Because there was no body, all that was buried in Madara's grave was a small box of personal effects. There had been a debate, before the funeral, about whether or not Madara's tossed-aside forehead protector should be added to the grave. Hashirama had said that he would allow the Uchiha clan to do whatever they wanted with the forehead protector. (If they had buried it, that would have been appropriate; if they had chosen not to... well, Hashirama could have kept it. But he would not ask for it. What right did he have...) They chose to bury it.

The only reason Hashirama didn't give a eulogy at Madara's funeral was because he had killed him. What right did he have to speak about the life of the man whose death he had caused?

Uchiha Byakko spoke. (In light of Madara's death, the Uchiha clan had graciously decided to forget that they had disowned him.) Byakko had known Madara since his birth, had even helped train him. He was speaking to a mourning audience consisting almost entirely of Uchiha clan members, he was speaking of many things that only the clan had ever known about Madara.

Hashirama was there, of course, of course. Mito was there. The leaders of most of the other clans were there. The Uchiha clan had probably assumed that they were simply trying to be good diplomats. Some of them might have resented Hashirama—killing Madara and then showing up at his funeral. But they didn't turn him out.

Hashirama and Mito cried harder than any of the Uchiha. Mito, motionlessly, lips tight, eyes bright with tears. Hashirama, shoulders shaking, jaw and fists clenched, eyes shut tight in a futile attempt to keep his tears from falling.

Byakko's eulogy didn't come close to doing Madara justice.

It took three days for somebody to convince Hashirama leave Madara's empty grave.

---

Year Six

The Year He Mourned Madara

---

A fact that Hashirama barely remembered but that was still hiding somewhere in his unconscious, a detail he had skimmed over in that scroll he had read in the Uchiha complex: the traditional mourning period for an Uchiha, after losing a beloved one—a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse, a lover—was five hundred days.

Hashirama never stopped and wondered why it made sense to him to hold off on his and Mito's wedding until almost a year and a half after Madara's death.

On some level, he felt like he would be sick if he tried any sooner. (As it happened, so did she.)

---

"I'm sorry, I'm... I have no idea what's wrong." That was Mito's husband.

"It's fine, I'm sure this, probably, happens to a lot of people..." And that was Hashirama's wife. "Here, uh, let me try something..."

She tried something.

Hashirama yelped and jerked away from her hand.

"I'm sorry! Did I hurt you?"

"Uh, n-no, no! Sorry. I'm just, ah... not used to somebody else touching me there."

"Oh, no, don't worry about it, I understand exactly what you mean, right...?"

Wait.

They realized what they had just said, glanced at each other in shock, and quickly looked away.

Hashirama was mortified with himself. Had he really just said "somebody else"?

Oh, smooth. He was fairly certain that you don't admit to your newlywed bride on your wedding night that you masturbate. He thought, that's it, I have now convinced my new spouse forever that I am a creep. (As it happened, so did Mito.)

(At least Mito wasn't concerned that her new spouse might think she was a man of dreams.)

After that, they couldn't even look at each other anymore without wincing in embarrassment. Here they were, newly married, sitting on separate corners at the foot of what was supposed to be their wedding bed, and they couldn't even look at each other—much less touch each other.

"Hoka—er... Hashirama?" There was an audible gap after his name, a blank waiting for an honorific.

"Yes... Mito?" How long would it take for that gap to fill?

"Maybe we should, uh, try turning off the light, right?"

"That's a good idea. Let's... let's do that..."

They turned off the lights. They tried again.

And it did not feel right. Hashirama didn't have a clue what to do, how to do it—there was not even an option to "do what feels right," nothing felt right. This body was not right, it didn't feel right. It was narrow in the wrong places and wide in the wrong places, it was rounded in the wrong places and smooth in the wrong places, it was the wrong kind of slender and the wrong kind of soft, it was made of air and water. He needed fire. He needed that bond forged on the battlefield. He needed...

Mito drew back first. They tried to apologize at the same time. They tried to tell each other that there was no need to apologize. They settled on a friendly hug and a nervous laugh. They felt humiliated.

"Do you... know what we should do, right?" Mito asked.

"What?" Hashirama found himself dreading the possibilities.

"We should confuse everybody." Mito stood up. "Let's go get something to eat, right?"

"Go...?" Hashirama squinted at the clock sitting on the windowsill. (A wedding gift from Tobirama, who was annoyed that Hashirama never seemed to have a clock.) "It's after one in the morning, isn't it?"

"That's why it will confuse everybody." Mito started getting dressed, tossing on a random kimono and pants (wait, was she borrowing some of Hashirama's clothes?) and a much simpler obi. "We could just stay here the rest of the night, not doing anything," (she skipped past the phrase so quickly that it barely sounded like a double entendre), "or we could go do something more interesting. Right?"

"I guess, but..." Hashirama was quickly trying to get back in his own clothes. "What would people say about us?"

Why aren't they spending the night together, why aren't they doing what newlyweds do? Are they not interested in each other, are they interested in someone else? Why did they grieve so long for Madara, why...?

Mito turned on the lights, dispelling the dreamlike accusations. She had an eager shine in her eyes that Hashirama hadn't seen since... since nearly a year and a half ago. "Let's find out."

Hashirama stared at her. Then smiled. "All right. Why not?"

After all, they agreed, who said that everybody had to celebrate their wedding night the same way? It was a momentous occasion, and after the grand official ceremony for the benefit of their clans and their villages and their daimyou and their nations, why shouldn't they be allowed to have their private ceremony however they chose?

The only place they found that was serving any food at so late an hour was a gambling den that had somehow sprung up in the civilian quarters, and which was quite well-stocked with sushi, sake, and poker. Hashirama, who didn't eat meat, stuck with the sake and poker.

He only got a little bit ridiculously drunk.

He lost every poker round and 8,300 ryou.

Oh whateverthefuck he didn't need that money anyway. Didn't need it.

Fuck.

Mito, who'd stuck to a little sushi, a little less sake, and had never held a hand of cards in her life, decided it looked easy enough and tried to help her new husband win some of that money back.

She did much better than him.

She actually won three hands.

And she only lost 1,900 ryou.

They had a lot of fun, as it turned out. (Well, except for the moment where Hashirama started mumbling about how this whole card thing would be a lot easier for Madara, he'd be able to see through any fucking poker face no problem... that brought them down a moment. But the moment passed. Over the years, Mito would learn that Hashirama only brought Madara up when he was drunk—and he always brought Madara up when he was drunk.) Yes. They had fun. Between the food, the drinks, and the bad gambling, they went home almost 11,000 ryou poorer, sure—but that money had come from wedding gifts and they'd received much more cash than that, they'd gotten to spend a few hours doing something relaxing and stupid and irresponsible, and they had more than succeeded in their goal of absolutely baffling everyone.

And they learned some very important things about each other.

Mito learned that Hashirama rarely drank, but when he did he drank hard; and he was always an obnoxious drunk, but in the right context he could be a very fun obnoxious drunk; and no matter what his state of mind was, he always at least made an effort to be a gentleman. (This was excluding the night after Tobirama had been named Nidaime Hokage, but they always excluded that night anyway.)

Hashirama learned that Mito had a tendency to squint and frown when she was concentrating, confused, annoyed, or just didn't have anything better to do with her face; and she slipped into the speech and mannerisms of a noblewoman whenever the subject of politics came up but never at any other time; and she was only dignified until she got to know you, at which point she turned into a dedicated, clever, enthusiastic, and incorrigible trickster.

They both learned that neither of them was any good at gambling, but Hashirama was considerably worse.

Hashirama never would fall in love with Mito. But they would manage to become best friends.

---


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