ezyl: (mizukawa)
m nemonica ([personal profile] ezyl) wrote in [community profile] narutobang_fic2010-09-01 06:54 am

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


Mito was right. Everybody was confused.

Some of the rumors they heard people spreading about them, or else heard from reliable sources like Kagayaki Koori:

Maybe they just got finished really, really fast?

Maybe there's some sort of Uzumaki clan tradition that says they can't have their wedding night on the night of their wedding?

Maybe (among those who knew of the seal) there was some kind of problem, something that had to do with the Kyuubi?

Maybe they hadn't agreed on... er... a "position"?

Maybe they'd already been "together" before they married, and so they didn't need a wedding night?

Maybe Hashirama just, you know, couldn't perform?

That one would have been hilarious if it hadn't been basically true.

He would get over it eventually. He would get used to it. Enough to perform, enough to produce a child, but just barely. It always felt wrong.

Mito enjoyed it more. Even so, she always turned off the lights, shut her eyes.

And if either of them ever accidentally murmured someone else's name, the other never mentioned it.

---

(Over time, Hashirama reached the point where he could think about Madara... and then go on. Or, just not think about him at all. Not for long, never for long, but for long enough.)

(But pressure builds over time. Sometimes he had to let it out. Sometimes he had to tell Tobirama—who was now the acting Hokage—that he'd be taking the next day off, and go home, and grab a bottle of sake, and leave a note for Mito saying that he needed some private time that evening, and lock himself in the guest room, and drink himself into oblivion.)

(He was not alcoholic. Not at all. He drank very rarely—every couple of months, or every couple of weeks. He didn't even enjoy drinking. He just... had to, from time to time. When sometimes there was no other way to forget. When it was the only way to get rid of everything. Just for a little bit. Just for a few hours. Just for one night.)

(The worst part was the descent, when he was drunk enough that things stopped making sense but not drunk enough to forget.)

(That was always the worst part.)

Come back come back come back COME BACK COME BACK COME BACK

Dammit didn't you know I never meant for you to leave?! Don't you know that all I wanted was to keep you forever?! Why did you do this to me, damn you, why did you do this to yourself? All I did was love you, damn you, and I still love you, I still love you, what did you do to yourself?

What did I do to you? What did I do to myself? Why did I do this to you? Why didn't I say something, how was I supposed to know, how was I supposed to know?

I will do anything, anything, anything for you, my love. I founded this village, for you. I changed the world, for you. You never knew, but this is your village, your village, your village. I will do everything for it. I will love it as I could not love you, I will care for it as I could not care for you, I will protect it as I could not protect you. I will live for your village. I will die for your village. As I could not live and die for you.

Won't you come back to me? Not even to me—come back for my wife's sake, come back for your clan, come back for your village, for your world. Anything, anything, come back for anything at all, just don't, please, oh, please, please, don't leave me, without you. How can you be gone? How can you be... I don't understand.

How can the world go on without you?

(But after long enough... He would forget. He would forget that the world went on.)

(Sometimes, there was no other way to forget.)

---

And then sometimes, for a bit, he wouldn't even remember what he was trying to forget.

He never forgot for a lot of time, but some.

---

On Konoha's third birthday, Madara had given it two gifts: the Kyuubi, and a broken Hokage.

Konoha was now four and a half years old.

Somewhere in all of this, they caught the other tailed beasts.

Go Konoha.

Woohoo.

Yay.

Hashirama attended a great many of the celebrations, got blind drunk, found his way home, and passed out. The other celebrations he avoided, so that he could get blind drunk and pass out privately.

He didn't live in the Hokage Residence anymore, since Tobirama occupied it now. He and Mito had a very nice house. So Hashirama was always polite enough to pass out in the guest room so that Mito could sleep in the master bedroom in peace.

And meanwhile, the rest of the world grew.

---

There were nine hidden villages: Konoha, Uzushio, Iwa, Kiri, Kusa, Kaze, Ame, Taki, and Kuro. Leaf, Whirling Tides, Stone, Mist, Grass, Wind, Rain, Waterfall, and Cloud. Nine villages. And nine tailed beasts. All of which were currently in Konoha, trapped in pots, barrels, and Mito. And Konoha would rather get rid of them all. (Except Mito. They didn't really like the Kyuubi, but they'd rather keep Mito.) And the other villages were starting to get annoyed at Konoha for holding onto the tailed beasts, they were starting to get suspicious.

Nine beasts, nine villages. Eight beasts Konoha wanted to get rid of, eight villages envious of Konoha's beasts. Worked out splendidly, at least as far as Hashirama was concerned. And one of his diplomatic goals was sharing the power, not keeping it centralized in Konoha—because he didn't want to save the world, to stop war, through intimidation, through power—he wanted to do it through love. How could he prove that by keeping all the power to himself? To Konoha, that is. Not... not specifically to himself.

It wasn't like Hashirama had some sort of... guilt, whenever he had some authority someone else didn't have. It wasn't like Hashirama was scared to hold onto power at the expense of someone else. It wasn't like he was so afraid of misusing his authority that he had all but retired as Hokage, handing over as much authority as possible to Tobirama, and now barely allowed himself to serve as an advisor. It wasn't like he couldn't make a decision without having to think about what had happened the last time he'd had to make a large choice.

These days, the only ideas he shared were ideas that, in one way or another, would take power away from him. But it wasn't because he was afraid.

Who was he kidding? Hashirama was not allowing himself to delude himself anymore. He was terrified that he might do to someone else what he had done to Madara. There. That's it.

But this was a good idea, wasn't it? Giving one beast to each village. Even if it happened to help ease Hashirama's self-loathing paranoia, it was also good for the villages, right? Konoha had no more power than anyone else. Nobody had more power than anyone else. Everyone was equal. Which was all good.

So why in the world was everybody mad now? Hashirama had tried to do the right thing, with Tobirama's approval he'd gone to all the other villages personally and handed over the tailed beasts, he'd even included scrolls describing all the seals, how they worked, even how to seal a tailed beast in a human if it became absolutely necessary. Instruction manuals, free of charge.

They were arguing about who got which beast and why. They were asking why Konoha wouldn't show them the container for the Kyuubi and why it wouldn't explain what it was hiding. They were trying to trade beasts. They were trying to force their beasts into people, and people were dying, and they were blaming Konoha.

What the hell were these people thinking?

They were killing themselves, and they were on the verge of killing each other. That wasn't what Hashirama had wanted. What was he supposed to do now?

He didn't know. Tobirama didn't know, either. Handing out the beasts had been Hashirama's idea, Tobirama pointed out, shouldn't he come up with something? How mature, Tobirama. Is that how you're going to handle all crises? If Iwagakure invades Konohagakure, are you going to sit back and let the Tsuchikage handle it because it was his idea? If the Kyuubi kills your sister-in-law and escapes, are you going to sit in your office while it rampages because it was the Kyuubi's idea?

Hashirama actually said that to his brother. Pretty much exactly like that. Tobirama was dumbstruck. Hashirama was horrified with himself, too.

He was under a lot of pressure. More than he'd realized.

That was his excuse, at least.

On some level, on a level he knew existed and sometimes even listened to, he kept thinking, I shouldn't have chosen him, I shouldn't have, it should have been—everything would have been all right if it had been—oh why, why, why, why can't I stop thinking that, stop thinking that, stop thinking—

He never said this.

The whole world was going insane and it was all Hashirama's fault.

The world was about to self-destruct and it was all Hashirama's fault.

In his effort to end war—in his effort to get peace through love—he had set up all the ingredients for a ninja free-for-all.

He had founded Konoha in hopes of preventing war, and then when the other nations adopted the village system, he'd thought, great, great, less war, right? No more war? All the warring clans were together in villages, and so they'd have no reason to fight. Right? And then catching the tailed beasts had all been to prevent bloodshed, to stop the random tailed beast attacks, and since that worried the other nations he'd spread them out so they'd have no reason to worry...

And now this. Now, this.

Hashirama did not end war. Here was one looming, here was one about to start. He did not end war.

He just organized it. He refined it. Warfare was now strategic, warfare was calculable. It wasn't clan-on-clan, it was twenty-clans-on-twenty-clans. With brand-new weapons that could do more damage than any human—heck, than any clan—could do alone.

Weapons that Hashirama had supplied to the villages.

Who was to blame for the current state of the world?

Why... the other villages, of course. They were the ones who were on the verge of attacking each other all of the sudden.

Really! What were these people thinking?

---

An example of the things Hashirama had to put up with:

"I'm very sorry, Hokage-dono, but I am afraid we cannot do that." That was the Nidaime Mizukage (Hashirama had never even met the first one). He was saying that Kirigakure would not agree to a treaty with Konohagakure, that they would form no alliance. Hashirama was hoping that, even with the current state of affairs, if he got as many villages as possible to join an alliance, everything would be okay. However, that only worked when people agreed to an alliance.

And after Hashirama had given Kiri the Sanbi, too.

He didn't know what to say to that. He had been in the Land of Water for almost a week, trying to reach the Mizukage, telling him about Hashirama's hopes for the future and for a peaceful world. Desperate to get through to him. He'd volunteered to go around to all the villages, try to talk to the leaders, try to ease tensions, lower hostilities. He was Hashirama of the Senju Clan of the Forest, the Shodai Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato, he was still given some respect, even by people who didn't like him. He was an ideal diplomat. Perhaps, perhaps, they would listen to him?

The Mizukage didn't. The Mizukage was a stone wall. He kept his voice low, he remained seated in the meeting room, he never moved. His feet were covered, his hands were gloved, his hair was completely concealed by his hat—his face was utterly hidden by a white porcelain mask, like Kiri's hunter-nin but with only a single eye slit. He looked like something had broken him. He tensed whenever Hashirama came into the room; his bodyguards shifted to a more alert position, as if they expected an attack. And he always gave off an aura of hatred, as if, for some reason, he couldn't stand Hashirama.

Hashirama just stared at the Mizukage, dumbfounded. Why wouldn't he agree to an alliance? It was just a "we're not going to attack you for no reason" alliance, why wouldn't he agree? "I'm..." Hashirama swallowed, trying to think of something to say. "I... I'm sorry, I don't understand..."

The Mizukage stayed silent. (As if staring at him in disbelief.) "Kirigakure no Sato will not ally with your village," he finally said, as though he thought Hashirama didn't understand what he was saying, not why. His voice was so quiet. Hashirama was afraid to speak too much in the Mizukage's presence, for fear of talking over him.

He still didn't get it. "Why?" He wasn't trying to be rude, but—

"Are you challenging my authority?" the Mizukage murmured. It was the sharpest murmur Hashirama had ever heard. Hashirama opened his mouth to respond (no of course he wasn't challenging him) but he held back just a moment to make sure he wasn't going to talk over the Mizukage, and ended up standing there, idiotic, with his mouth hanging open, as the Mizukage went on. "Just because you happen to be some big famous killer—sorry, ninja, and just because you may have happened to be the first person to found a hidden village," (Hashirama wanted so badly to cut in but he would not he would wait), "that doesn't mean you, Shodai-dono, are the only person in the world who is capable of deciding how a village should be run. Frankly, I—and I speak for my village—I am not very fond of the way you have been managing your village. Handing out beasts willy-nilly, for example—as grateful as we are for your gift." He didn't sound it. "Kiri would have kept such power. I know you are quite the proponent of the theory that love will save the world, but the problem is, if you share your power with any village that asks for it, your plan will only work as long as the people you give power to are also in favor of maintaining peace by love. The only way you can get a world ruled by love is if nobody wants to use power. And that will never happen."

Was he done? He was done. What Hashirama should have replied with was but that's my goal, to persuade everyone else to want love more than power. Why don't you help me reach that goal? Why don't you help turn the tide? But instead, he said, "I didn't found Konoha alone."

The Mizukage didn't miss a beat. As though he'd expected Hashirama to say that and prepared. "Really. And who do you think was helping you?" he asked. Hashirama almost spoke but waited. "It was Uchiha Madara-sama, wasn't it?" Hashirama felt it was safe to nod. "Yes, and what happened to him? For three years, you used him and his power, until you had to announce a successor—the whole world thought you were choosing him, you know. And then? You turned him down, ran him out, hunted him down, and ground him out." The Mizukage fell silent. But, Hashirama could not answer. "Excuse me for not trusting in you, Senju."

Hashirama recoiled hard, he hoped it didn't show physically. How did the Mizukage know? How did he know just the right thing to say, to break him?

That was the end of any diplomatic discourse. There was nothing Hashirama could say now. Madara's ghost was glaring at him through the Mizukage's eyehole. All Hashirama wanted to do was fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness. He had to fight to stay on his feet.

The Mizukage let out a sigh, a cold, hollow hiss that didn't quite escape his mask. "How very professional of you. Resisting the urge to attack me." Thin and low as his voice was, he almost sounded triumphant. "You will forgive me if I don't find myself inclined to ally with your village as long as you are leading it."

"I'm not leading it," Hashirama protested. "I'm only Konoha's diplomat now. The Nidaime Hokage is the real leader."

"And your 'brother' is even worse than you." It was the most complimentary thing the Mizukage ever said about Hashirama.

(It should be noted that the Uchiha were not the only ones to look at the Shodai and Nidaime Hokage and think they didn't look very related.)

That was the end. Hashirama had used up everything. He left. He just—he had nothing else to do, there was nothing else he could... He left. There was—there was nothing else—he just, left.

There was nothing else he could say.

He should have said—or he shouldn't have said—he should have—when he'd had the chance, he should have—when he'd had the chance, before everything had gone wrong, he should have—when he'd had the chance, before everything had gone wrong, before he had ruined...

Oh, Madara.

Madara, Madara, Madara...

What would he have done, somehow... somehow, Hashirama knew, Hashirama knew, somehow, Madara, Madara would have know, he would have known what to say, if, if before Hashirama had ruined everything, if he had chosen...

Oh, why, why, why, why, why...

This, this was what Hashirama had to put up with, dealing with the other villages, again and again. Here he was, alone in the Land of Water, making his way home from a failed diplomatic mission. Out in the cold cold night, trying to start a campfire, settling into a tent, shivering himself to sleep. None of that was half as terrible as his failure.

The Land of Water cared about power more than love.

Welcome to the real world: the shiny ideals on which Konoha was founded didn't exist outside of Konoha. They didn't exist outside of Hashirama's dreams.

---

"I am not dead." That was Madara.

"Actually, you are. I'm sorry." And that was Hashirama. "That's how I know this is a dream."

Madara rolled his (even now, still beautiful) eyes. "Does this look like a dream to you, Senju?" He spread his arms, gesturing about him.

Hashirama looked around. The "sky," such as it was, was a pitch black void, and all he could see were blank, white, square pillars, scattered about, jutting up at random heights, descending into the darkness below. "Well, it looks pretty realistic..." he said thoughtfully, crouching down to examine the shadows cast on the surface of his pillar. "But you're still dead. So this is a dream."

Madara threw up his hands. "Fine. Have it your way. Believe it's a dream if you want." He sat down on his own pillar and crossed his legs, glaring critically down at Hashirama. Under his breath, he muttered, "It's not like I've got time to argue, I've only got until you wake up crying."

Hashirama was mildly offended by the suggestion that Madara thought he'd start crying, although (even now) it was difficult—impossible—for him to actually get angry at Madara. "So, if I'm going to wake up, then this is a dream."

"I never said that," Madara said, and before Hashirama could respond, he snapped, "Oh, drop it already! There's more important matters to deal with, Senju. I'm here to pass on my Will of Fire."

Hashirama opened his mouth to say something. And stopped. And tried again. And stopped. Now he knew he was dreaming. "But, that's... Madara, you don't even believe in the Will of Fire."

"I don't believe in love, either. That doesn't mean it isn't real, does it?"

Hashirama sensed there was something terribly contradictory in that statement; but since he was dreaming, dream logic applied, and he let it slide. "You're... you're not passing it on to me, are you?"

"Why else would I be here?"

Hashirama stared. Madara glared.

"Why?"

Madara's jaw clenched, and he gave Hashirama a look as though he wished he could come back from the grave just to strangle him. "Because you're the only person I can trust."

Hashirama continued to stare. "But... why?"

Madara sighed heavily. As if it greatly pained him, he said, "Because, Senju. You're the only person who cared about me enough for me to trust you with it."

Hashirama stared a little bit more. "You knew that I...?"

"I know now, don't I?" Madara uncrossed his legs and jumped off his pillar, landing on Hashirama's. "So, the Will of Fire. Will you take mine?"

"I... of course, Madara, anything—"

"Fine." Madara marched up to Hashirama, placed his hands on his shoulders (a chill shot up his spine), and stared into his eyes (he willed his knees not to give out). "My clan has nobody to protect it," he said. "There are no living Uchiha who can do what I did for them. There is nobody alive who can be their champion." The look in Madara's eyes said and you robbed them of that.

The look in Hashirama's eyes (since this was not only a dream, but a lucid dream, and he could make his eyes as expressive as he wanted) said and I will never forgive myself for it. Madara's glare softened a bit.

"You, Senju," Madara said, "have to take care of my clan. You've got to stand up for them when nobody else will, and remember to treat them fairly even if everyone else forgets them. As a Hokage, you've got more say in what happens to them than anyone else; and the Sage knows your... 'brother' won't do anything for Uchiha."

Hashirama nodded slowly, never breaking eye contact with Madara. "But... how do you want me to do that?"

"Treat my clan the way you would treat your own family."

(Now, where had those butterflies come from and what were they doing in Hashirama's stomach.) "Madara, I don't know what to... It's, it's an honor, but I... I don't know how I could possibly—"

"You managed to convince my clan that the best thing they could do for their future was form an alliance with their worst enemies. If you could convince them of that, you can convince anyone of anything." Madara finally took his hands off Hashirama's shoulders, took a few steps back, and surreptitiously wiped his hands off on his pants.

Hashirama just shook his head. "I don't get it, Madara. You've never trusted me in your life. Why would you start now?" Besides the fact that "in your life" didn't really apply anymore.

Madara glanced sideways at the audience as if saying can you believe the things I have to explain to this moron. Considering that this was a dream, Hashirama was the audience, and since Hashirama was also the moron having things explained to him, he felt duly insulted. (Dream logic operated about the same way as dream perspectives; they made perfect sense as long as nobody expected them to make any sense at all.)

"Because," Madara said, "you founded Konoha because you wanted to make sure you'd never had to choose between sparing me and protecting your clan. You only agreed to be Hokage because you were worried that if you agreed to let me be Hokage instead like you wanted, it would cause the alliance to break down and we'd all be fighting again. You named the village Konohagakure no Sato because it was my idea. You called yourself Hokage because you wanted to honor my clan. Pretty much everything you've done in your life worth noting has been either because you wanted to help everybody in general, or just me in particular. I've got every reason in the world to trust you, don't I?"

Hashirama tried not to cringe horribly at himself after every sentence. He looked down; he couldn't meet Madara's gaze. (And yet, he somehow still saw Madara's eyes. Dream perspectives.)

"Don't I?"

Hashirama smiled wryly. "I guess so." He forced himself to look up again. "But... then, why didn't you trust me?"

For once, Madara wasn't glaring at Hashirama. His (beautiful) eyes didn't have any hatred, or distrust, or suspicion, or anger. He just looked sad. "Because I never knew any of that."

He never...?

What if he had known?

(Hashirama couldn't speak. He didn't know if this was an effect of the dream, or if there was something in his throat, or...)

"I never even considered it. It isn't the kind of thing that crosses your mind. Not about your worst enemy," Madara said. "It's ironic—isn't it, Senju? I'm sure you wanted the best for me, but in the end, you treated me worse than anyone else you knew."

(Now he knew; he was just choked up.)

"I could have been the best ally you had. I could have been your closest friend in the world. If we had worked together from the start, maybe we could have done it. Achieved world peace. Ended warfare forever." Madara shrugged. "Now where are we? I'm dead. You're alone. War is coming. And sooner or later, the rift between us is going to tear the ninja world in two."

Hashirama had no idea what that meant, but he didn't doubt that it was true, oh hell, he didn't doubt it for a second.

"I'm sure you would have liked for us to be allies, wouldn't you?" The anger was back in Madara's eyes. "But you didn't let that happen, Senju."

What had he done?

His legs finally gave out, and he fell to his knees, speechless.

What was wrong with him?

Somehow, Madara heard that question: what was wrong with him? (Dream logic.) "Who told you there was anything wrong with you?" Madara asked, smirking. He crouched down in front of Hashirama, put one hand on his right shoulder, and leaned in to whisper into his left ear: "The first time you spoke to me, I told you that you're a romantic. Didn't I?"

Hashirama nodded weakly. (He could feel Madara's breath brush his ear, Madara's hair brush his face.)

"And that's what you are," Madara said. "You always believed that love is the true key to peace." (He could feel Madara's hair brush his lips, Madara's lips brush his ear...) "Why didn't you act on it?"

Hashirama woke up.

Crying.

---

Hashirama believed that all dreams said something, something worth understanding. They were messages from the Will of Fire. From Hashirama's ancestors, his friends, his family who had gone before him, from the Senju clan, perhaps from the Sage of the Six Paths himself... now, perhaps even from Madara. The Will of Fire guided him in all he did.

And it had been trying to tell him something for years.

He was in love. He should have acted on it. He should have admitted it, at least. At least to himself, he should have admitted it.

Everything good that Hashirama had done in his life, had been because of love. Hadn't he protected his clan for love? Hadn't he founded Konoha for love?

And the single worst decision he had ever made in his life—passing over Madara as Hokage—had been because he'd been trying to deny his love.

Why had he tried to deny it?

---

Where was he.

He was sitting up, in the cold, alone.

Where was he. The Land of Water.

Tent. Heading home. By himself. Campfire outside. In the cold.

Where was Madara.

Where...

Hashirama stepped outside his tent. Orienting himself. Waking himself.

In the black of the smoke of a midnight fire. In the cold of the moon and the heat of the inferno. Black deeper than the darkness of the sky, a black that chokes out starlight. Roiling and coiling and drifting and twirling and always burning burning black. The smoke smothering, sucking the oxygen, the air, the life out of Hashirama. The blackness suffocating him in an inescapable, irresistible heat. The smoke coming from that all-concealing, all-revealing, all-consuming, all-seeing fire.

And that fire was Madara's soul, heart, and blood. You could smell it in his words, you could see it in his beautiful beautiful eyes, you could feel it in his skin, his face, his lips...

It took Hashirama a moment—tear-blinded and sleep-dazed as he was—it took him a moment to realize that his campfire was cold and dark and had been so for hours.

But he had seen something, half-dreaming, he had seen something...

Fire.

The Will of Fire—

Madara's—

Guided Hashirama, in everything he did.

For the rest of the night, Hashirama sat outside, in the cold, alone.

Behind his eyes, he watched a fire burn in his mind.

It was the fire that had once burned in Madara's eyes. His soul. His Will of Fire.

This wasn't the first time Hashirama had cried for Madara. Nor the last. Not by a long shot, in either direction.

However, this was the hottest his tears had ever flowed. With Madara's Will of Fire, burning behind his eyes.

Why hadn't he acted on it?

He knew that love was the only way to peace. Why hadn't he acted on it?

Why had he tried to deny it?

Why had he let himself destroy... destroy Madara, destroy Konoha's future, destroy—

Why had he denied it?!

What was wrong with—

Who told you there was anything wrong with you?

He shut his eyes. Hot tears slid down his cold cheeks.

He didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve Madara's Will of Fire.

He would just have to make himself worthy.

Treat my clan the way you would treat your own family.

He could—could he? He couldn't—he could, he would do that.

We all move in together and form a big happy family and never fight again.

Madara had said that... how long ago, five, over five years ago? Said that like it was a bad thing. But he had told him that he was a romantic, too. Who told Hashirama there was anything wrong with that?

He would. He would. He would treat Madara's clan like Hashirama's own family. He would protect them as Madara could not.

Hashirama had created a village for Madara, he had challenged the world order for Madara.

He would protect that village, for Madara. He would change the world, for Madara.

"I promise," he whispered (into the cold night air, his breath clouding like smoke from a midnight fire, like he could start breathing fire), "I will live for our clans. For our village. For our world. And I will die for them."

As he could not live and die for Madara.

Behind his eyes, Madara's soul, Madara's Will of Fire burned on. Guiding him.

---

On the other hand, perhaps it was just a dream. Just the nonsense nighttime babble of the mind. Hashirama believed that all dreams came from the Will of Fire; but, on the other hand, Hashirama didn't know what caused dreams. He knew nothing about firing neurons of flowing neurotransmitters, about rapid eye movement or sleep cycles, about the pendunculopontine nucleus or its pontine tegmentum. He didn't even know about nocturnal penile tumescence, which could have cleared up quite a bit of his confusion. Perhaps everything was just a projection from his unconscious mind. Or just mental static that his brain tried to make sense of. Or the aftereffects of the brain's natural nightly clean-up and filing process. Or a tangle of memories synthesized into something half-original.

Perhaps the dream was nothing more than a chemical reaction. Perhaps the Will of Fire had nothing to do with it.

Perhaps the Will of Fire didn't even exist.

But perhaps it did. Perhaps his dreams were, indeed, messages from the Will of Fire, as he believed, as he had always and would always. But who's to say that he understood the messages? He had taken this one literally. Was he, then, supposed to literally interpret the dream in which Madara had almost confessed something to Hashirama? Was he supposed to literally interpret the dream where they were somehow simultaneously making war and making love? If that were the case, then that meant the Will of Fire had been trying its hardest to convince Hashirama that Madara was in love with him.

Perhaps he was. Or perhaps the dreams were meant to tell Hashirama something else. And perhaps this one meant something other than the literal, as well. Perhaps it was not saying that Madara, personally, wanted Hashirama to carry on his Will of Fire. Perhaps this was just the Will of Fire's way of trying to get Hashirama to pay attention again; and if the only way the Will of Fire could get its message across was by using Madara's face, perhaps it had settled on that.

Perhaps the dream was indeed from Madara. His ghost, consumed by the Uchiha curse, that cry for vengeance. Trying to sabotage Hashirama.

Perhaps Madara had not come into Hashirama's dreams. Perhaps he had not left behind a ghost at all. Perhaps he hadn't even died. He might have still been somewhere; perhaps he was in hiding, in waiting, masked and murderous, impatient and resentful, being eaten at alive by that curse.

Perhaps Madara was, simply, dead, and gone, forever.

There are so many uncertainties, with dreams.

In this case, there is only one certainty: that Hashirama never considered the uncertainties.

He believed—he wanted to believe—he believed, he knew that had truly been Madara's ghost. He knew he had Madara's Will of Fire.

Because he wanted it to be true.

Incidentally, there is more than one way to be a "man of dreams."

---

Who said there was anything wrong with that?

---

"I didn't expect to see you again so soon, Hokage-dono." That was the Nidaime Mizukage, who thought only idiots believed that love would save the world, and who thought it took an especially stubborn idiot to keep on believing after seeing what lovingly spreading the tailed beasts around had done for world politics.

"I haven't given up." And that was the stubborn idiot who believed more than ever that love could fix everything; and if it didn't fix everything, then dammit, you weren't spreading enough love yet.

"Back for another battle?" There was a hint of sardonicism in the Mizukage's voice that was almost familiar. But he kept his voice low, and Hashirama couldn't place it.

He waited a moment, to be sure the Mizukage wasn't going to say more. "I don't want to fight you," he said. "Not here and now, and not on a battlefield in a few years."

He hesitated, waiting for the Mizukage to speak. The Mizukage hesitated, waiting for Hashirama to continue. When neither did, the Mizukage let out a single, short, soft laugh. "You think you have a few years," he murmured. "What was it you wanted, Hokage-dono?"

Hashirama told the Mizukage what he should have told him yesterday.

"I wanted to protect the world," he said. Before the Mizukage could interrupt, he went on, he would say what he had to say this time. "I didn't found Konoha to save my allies from death on the battlefield. Not to save my friends, or my family. I did it to save my enemy." He was saying things he'd never said before and would never say again. But they were things he needed to say—Konoha and Kiri needed to become allies, and this was the only way. Besides, besides, he had Madara's Will of Fire with him, he could feel Madara there with him, telling him what to do. "As long as I live, I will give everything to save the people close to me. But there was no way to save an enemy, the man I was ordered to kill and who threatened my allies' safety. Except by making him an ally as well."

And he told him. He told the Mizukage, that never for a moment, during all the effort to found Konoha, had he thought about anything but peace. He just wanted the wars to end. He just wanted to protect everyone he cared about. Peace was his goal. Peace and harmony. Unity between all the clans, unity between everyone. That was all he'd wanted. He didn't want to take over anyone's clan or village, he didn't want to rule anyone, he didn't want to subjugate anyone. He just wanted everyone to come together. He just wanted peace. He wanted to save everyone. His clan, his village, the world. His enemy.

He told the Mizukage this. He told him that that was his goal, to get everyone to work together, to come together as one. To persuade them that love, not power, would bring peace—and if everyone believed that love would bring peace, then nobody would have anything to fear from each other, and it would, it would succeed. But it wouldn't, couldn't work if not everybody joined in on it.

Hashirama's goal was world peace. Would the Mizukage and Kirigakure help him reach that goal? Would they help him turn the tide?

"No." It was not a whisper, it was a snarl. The Mizukage's gloved hands were clenched tightly. "I will not." It was not a murmur, it was a growl.

Hashirama waited for him to continue; he didn't wait long.

"There is no love between Kirigakure and your village. And there never will be," the Mizukage said. And then recovered his temper. (Why had he lost it?) "I'm... sorry you had to come so far, Hokage-dono." He sounded more like he was sorry Hashirama had come at all. "But I'm afraid that Kirigakure has absolutely no need for an alliance with your village. We are fully self-sufficient—unlike you, apparently. We don't wished to be dragged in to aid you in your wars."

"I'm not interested in starting any wars, Mizukage-dono. My objective is peace."

"War is coming. You will be at war in a few months at the most, whether you want it or not," the Mizukage said. "How do you think you can prevent war between villages when you can't even keep your own village stable?"

That was it. The Mizukage was a wall. Hashirama had done his best—saying everything he could think of to say. But even with the Will of Fire—with Madara...

"Thank you for your time," Hashirama said.

"I have been more than generous with it," the Mizukage said.

Hashirama returned home.

The Mizukage didn't trust him. Would never trust him. Because he couldn't keep war out of Konoha.

Because he hadn't been able to avoid fighting Madara. Because he had killed Madara.

As it turned out, the Mizukage was entirely right about Konoha being at war within a few months.

On the second anniversary of Madara's death—to the very day—Kiri and Kumo mounted a joint attack on the Land of Fire. The Mizukage had been after war all along.

And sooner or later, the rift between us is going to tear the ninja world in two.

That was what Madara had meant. Wasn't it?

War had begun.

---

He had promised.

He had promised Madara—to treat his clan fairly, to treat Madara's family like his own family.

And he would do that.

Even around war, he would do that.

And he was doing that.

When Byakko came to him on behalf of the Uchiha clan and said that they wanted some, some kind of—memorial, some kind of monument, to remember Madara—Hashirama had immediately agreed. He was the one who suggested it be a statue; he sculpted as a hobby sometimes, so it was the first thing he thought up. (Although he had never before tried to sculpt Madara, and never, ever would. Hashirama did strange, abstract things; he couldn't do Madara justice. But he still thought a statue was a good idea.) He was the one who suggested it be at the Valley of the End. He wasn't the one who suggested it be ridiculously huge, but he had enthusiastically approved of the idea.

Hashirama wasn't the one who suggested a statue of himself go up as well, and he hadn't liked the idea. That one had been Tobirama's idea. The way Tobirama saw it, there was no reason to commemorate Madara, who had been nothing but a sullen, stubborn, scheming lowlife during his entire stint in Konoha. (Although Tobirama had enough common sense not to say this out loud anywhere near Hashirama.) If they were going to commemorate anything at all, make it the battle. Not the traitor.

Hashirama didn't like that idea. He told anyone who cared to hear that he didn't like that idea. He told some people who didn't care. He especially told the Uchiha clan—which did care—and which understood that there wasn't much Hashirama could do about the situation now. He had handed complete leadership of the village over to Tobirama; Hashirama was little more than second-in-command, now, and he did not wield as much power as Madara had wielded as second-in-command. (To many people's surprise. They had thought that the selection of Hashirama's successor was a symbolic thing, for now—that the message was "Tobirama shall become acting Hokage in the event of my death and/or incapacitation," not "Tobirama shall become acting Hokage immediately, and I shall step down for him." What most people didn't know was, Hashirama had originally planned on going with the former. It was his battle with Madara that had changed things; he had returned to Konohagakure feeling incapacitated. Or dead. And so Tobirama had become acting Hokage.)

That meant Tobirama had final say on everything. Hashirama was still treated like a Hokage, but his decisions were only valid insofar as they didn't conflict with Tobirama's. They both had executive power, but only Tobirama had veto power. And he was more than ready to use it on this whole memorial thing if there were not going to be a statue of Hashirama, too.

(It wasn't that Tobirama was turning into some kind of unreasonable dictator. And it wasn't that he had any kind of vendetta against the Uchiha clan. He didn't like the Uchiha clan, but he always tried to treat them fairly anyway. He was simly reacting to what he saw as Hashirama's unreasonably lenient attitude toward the Uchiha—the attitude that had allowed the Madara incident to happen.)

So there was nothing Hashirama could do, as he told the Uchiha clan. They could accept the monument as Tobirama wanted it, or not at all. They went with Tobirama's orders.

The monument was actually built by members of the Uchiha clan. As could be seen by anyone who looked at it. Who else but an Uchiha could design the statues as such perfect replicas of the men they represented?

After eighty years of abuse from the waterfall and the weather, the details would fade, the careful touches would erode, to the point where the statues just looked like hasty approximations, rough carvings with smooth features. But when they were first constructed... looking at Madara's statue, you could see every strand of hair. You could see every stitch of clothing. You could even see his fingerprints.

Hashirama's statue, however, looked about the same the day it was made as it would look some eighty years later. They had obeyed Tobirama's order, they had made two statues. Tobirama had never said they had to make the statues equal quality.

For some odd reason, Tobirama was quite annoyed when he saw the final result. Hashirama couldn't imagine whyever that might be so. Why, he and the Uchiha clan were just thrilled with the statues. Especially Madara's.

---

And All Following Years

The Years He Lost Count Of

---

It was entirely possible that the only reason Hashirama and Mito had a child was to confuse the people who thought Hashirama couldn't.

Well, that was the joke, at least. In truth, Hashirama wanted kids. Mito was also fine with having a child, but Hashirama really, really wanted kids. He liked kids. So much so that he even managed to train himself to be able to sleep with Mito (not—not just sleep with Mito but, uh, "sleep" with Mito) without completely failing in the middle, having to excuse himself, and locking himself in the bathroom for an hour while Mito sat outside and played Go against the Kyuubi. (At least, that's what she claimed to be doing. Hashirama would have believed she was just playing against herself, if it weren't for the fact that she lost so often.)

But he got past that. He could do his duty, he could make it all the way to the end without shuddering, without pulling back, without whispering the wrong name (often, and even then he was pretty sure Mito didn't hear him). He couldn't imagine why anyone would do this for any reason other than reproduction. Some man of dreams he was, huh?

He was relieved when he found out Mito was finally pregnant. (As it happened, so was Mito.)

He would have liked to have more than one kid. Heck, he would have been happy with ten kids. He really liked kids. Fortunately for Mito, the possibility of another nine children never came up.

It was about halfway through her ninth and a half month of pregnancy that they concluded that there was a problem. Luckily, they figured it out before she gave birth.

That killed the possibility of more children. It was too risky. At least Hashirama had one. One child, whom he and Mito could both love.

For all the other children he wanted but could never have, he would substitute the village.

---

Mito eventually fell in love with Hashirama. They were already the best of friends, and they had a beautiful child, and maybe the sex wasn't great but the sex wasn't that important. She fell in love with him.

For all the same reasons, Hashirama would have fallen in love if he could have. He couldn't. However, he was able to eventually convince himself that he had.

The only experience he'd had with the real thing, he nearly convinced himself had been just a dream.

Nearly, but not quite entirely.

---

And years passed, and years passed, and years passed.

The war stubbornly refused to end. (The Mizukage was a bloodthirsty monster. Either that, or he had a personal grudge against Konoha.) At least now Hashirama had a legitimate excuse to get wasted from time to time. Sometimes Tobirama joined him. And sometimes even Sarutobi Sasuke joined.

(Hashirama preferred drinking by himself.)

Sasuke got married and had a kid. Or, more accurately, Sasuke created a kid and got married just in time for the kid to be born. Tobirama never stopped teasing him about it. Sasuke never minded. (In truth, they weren't too sure who had created the kid. Tobirama had broken up with the woman right before she'd gotten involved with Sasuke, and that had been nine months before Hiruzen's birth. Really, Hiruzen didn't look much like Sasuke or Tobirama. On the other hand, Tobirama didn't look much like his own family. But Hiruzen, oddly enough, had darkish skin and darkish hair, like Hashirama. Sometimes genetics worked in odd ways, sometimes people looked more like their uncles than like their fathers. And sometimes they didn't look like any of their relatives at all. These things happen.)

Tobirama organized the village. Hashirama had discovered, during his time as Hokage, that he had a special talent for diplomacy; Tobirama discovered he had a similar power for bureaucracy. He organized the village, he established the Konoha Military Police Force, he created ANBU, he started a school system, he initiated exams to promote genin to chuunin. (That was a feat of genius, setting up the Chuunin Exams during an international war. And they went surprisingly well.)

Hashirama fought on Konoha's behalf. It was the same as it had been, how many years ago? As it had been before Konoha had existed. Except that now he wasn't just fighting to survive the present, or to avenge the past; he was fighting to defend the future. Fighting for the Will of Fire. And he fought all sorts of ninja. One which stuck out was a freak covered in stitches from Takigakure. That had been a surprisingly close battle. But, not close enough. There was only one person in the world who could defeat Hashirama—and he was gone. Hashirama was an indestructible shield, without an unstoppable sword to balance him out.

Konoha grew; even in war it grew, it flourished. It wasn't perfect, but it was something solid something stable something real. Not an idea, not an experiment, not a vain hope. It was real.

It was flawed. But it was beautiful.

---

There were days that Hashirama sometimes thought he was still alive.

Days when he woke up alone to another burning dawn, and stared out the window at the red sunrise sky, and in a half-dream daze believed that he was staring at Madara's irises. Days when he passed some pale-skinned black-haired man marching through Konoha's streets with head held high, and had to do a double-take before he realized it was just another Uchiha, just another of the endless identical cousins. Days when the heat haze played tricks on his eyes, and he could swear he actually saw Madara—his face, his (beautiful, beautiful) red eyes, his untamable hair—actually saw him, on top of some building, or hidden in the trees, or balanced on a telephone pole, or around the corner in an alley, or perched on the roof of the Hokage Residence, or watching from afar atop the cliff. These visions were as ephemeral as the phantom of a lover, and as welcome as the mirage of an oasis.

But the images always darted away, and all Hashirama was left with was long, bright days and cold, silent nights.

In the days, the very heat of Konoha reminded him of Madara, as well. It was always a dry heat, a heat that turned leaves brittle and grass yellow, that turned sweat into salt. Surviving Konoha in the height of summer was like surviving battle with Madara, he who burned and burned through obstacles and opponents alike.

And in the nights, the cold reminded him. However, the cold was not something present; it was a void, an emptiness. An absence. A death. Bereft of that midnight fire, that ever-present smoke dissipated forever...

Hashirama preferred the days.

It was on days like that—the days that brought up the most memories—that Hashirama would more and more often be found outside of Konoha, with the governance of the village in the hands of his brother, so that he could go to the Valley of the End. He'd take off his armor and stand under the waterfall as long as he could bear it, as long as he could go without drowning, just cooling himself down, trying to escape the heat, trying to forget that the last time he had heard the rush of the waterfall had been when Madara died.

And then he would climb on top of his own statue, stare across the river at Madara's—and scream, scream at him, beg him to come home.

Of course, he never did.

---

But over time, he could forget.

Never forget. But, it was enough to go on. He could go on for days at a time without (consciously) thinking about Madara.

Although he never entirely left his mind. He was always there, somewhere. His Will of Fire was always with Hashirama. (Or so Hashirama believed until he died.)

However, life could go on without Madara.

---

Hashirama held up a photograph. "Which one of you did this?"

Sarutobi Sasuke looked as innocent as he could. "Wasn't me," he said. "Must've been To—er, Hokage-sa—uhh, Nidaime Hokage-sama."

"Really."

"Oh, I think I'm needed for an important... mission... thing. Gotta go." He went.

And here Hashirama had thought lying in wait for Sasuke when he went to pick up his kid would be a guaranteed way to trap him. Apparently, actually staying long enough to retrieve his kid wasn't among his top priorities.

Hiruzen walked up to Hashirama. He'd just gotten out of school. "Hi, Habirama-sama." (He still couldn't get Hashirama's and Tobirama's names straight.) "Dad said he'd pick me up today. Is he here?"

Hashirama considered telling him he'd just missed Sasuke before deciding to abandon him for the afternoon, but he wasn't mean. (That might have been something... he might have done...) "I think I'm picking you up today, Hiruzen-kun."

"Really?" Hiruzen sighed loudly. "Is it just Dad that's in trouble this time, or is it Toshirama-sama too?"

He was a bright kid.

---

Hashirama held up a photograph. "Which one of you did this?"

Tobirama looked as innocent as he could. In his Hokage garb, he almost pulled it off. "Wasn't me," he said. "Must've been Sasuke-san."

"Funny, he said the same thing."

"Oh. Really?" Tobirama presented Hashirama with a display of wide-eyed shock. "Well. There must be an impostor."

"An impostor."

"Looks like it."

"In the Land of Water."

"Strangest thing."

"Uh-huh."

Tobirama maintained a pretty good poker face. He was getting good at this.

Hashirama was better. But, today? He'd settle for a stalemate. "Fine," he said. "By the way, you're baby-sitting today."

Hiruzen took that as his cue to come in. "Hi, Toshirama-sama," he said, grinning like he knew full well how much of an inconvenience he was going to be. "Can you help me learn that big firebally move?"

Hiruzen seemed to be dead-set on learning every move in the world. Currently, he was looking for somebody to teach him the Uchiha clan's signature technique. Unfortunately, only the Uchiha clan knew the Uchiha big firebally technique, and they didn't teach it to outsiders.

And Tobirama? He certainly didn't know any big firebally moves. Tobirama specialized in big waterfally moves.

Tobirama gave Hashirama a deeply wounded look. "That's not fair."

"Your partner-in-crime abandoned him. He's your responsibility now." Hashirama smiled innocently. "Have fun."

---

A photograph was posted that afternoon in the Hokage Residence's break room. It was a picture of a bridge in the Land of Water, a nation with which the Land of Fire was currently at war. It was a sturdy stone bridge, with high stone parapets on both sides.

Painted on the parapet, in enormous black characters of varying thickness, was "SARUTOBIRAMA WERE HERE." Beneath it was a sloppily-painted Konoha leaf, with a bit too elaborate a spiral.

Taped beneath the photograph was a handwritten note, stating: "As proud as I am to see that the brave forces of Konoha are capable of penetrating so deeply into enemy territory without meeting opposition, I suggest that you don't squander this considerable tactical advantage by showing it off to our enemies."

As amusing as everyone found the note, they had difficulty imagining that Hashirama had written it—even though he was the only person it could have plausibly been. It was lightly teasing, sure (well, probably), but with the right tone, it could be read as something, much more... viciously sarcastic. Derisive. But that wasn't Hashirama's style.

(And if anybody had asked, Hashirama would have agreed that he hadn't sounded like himself. For one thing, he wouldn't typically refer to the Land of Water as "enemy territory" or the Mist ninja as "our enemies." He did not acknowledge them as enemies—he had been against this war, was still against this war, and even if they were opponents they were not enemies.)

(He wondered if, perhaps, someone else had been inspiring him to write that letter. Someone with a wry smirk and red, red eyes. And if it were his inspiration? Well, then, that was fine. For he could do no wrong.)

When asked where Hashirama had gotten the photograph, he said it had been sent to him by the Nidaime Mizukage. And then waited for that to sink in.

The next time ninja from Konoha made it to that bridge, they reported that the paint had mostly faded. All that was left were the words "TOBI" and "HERE" and a small oval spiral.

---

The Last Year

The Year He Joined Madara

---

History went on.

Tobirama never married. On the other hand, he spent so much time with Sarutobi Sasuke that people started to jokingly wonder how long it would take before Sasuke's wife realized he was cheating on her. Tobirama responded to such jokes by putting on an offended expression and saying, "What are you talking about? Sasuke-san would never cheat on me."

Hashirama always wondered how Tobirama could let those jokes go by so easily. If anyone had said the same things about himself and Madara... Hashirama supposed such jokes must hurt more when you knew there was some truth to them.

(What Hashirama didn't know was that, for a little bit, back when Madara had been the presumed successor to the title of Hokage, some people had made similar cracks, not because they thought there was any truth to them but because that was just what people did. But Madara had overheard one once, and he'd given the speaker such a revolted, livid glare that the jokes had stopped right then. Such jokes hurt more when you knew there was no truth to them.)

It was no surprise when Tobirama took on a team of students to train, and ensured that one of them was Sasuke's kid, Hiruzen. Whenever Tobirama had a mission, he asked that Hashirama train Hiruzen in his place until he got back. Hiruzen was a pretty bright kid. And Hashirama liked kids. So why not?

And Hashirama's own "family" grew. Perhaps he only fathered one child; but in his mission to treat the Uchiha clan like his own family, it became his family. And if one clan was, then the other clans would become so, too. And if they were all a part of Hashirama's family then they were all a part of each other's families. Which basically made all of Konoha one family. Through the Will of Fire (so Hashirama believed—and so he preached), they were all connected to each other. They were all part of each other.

Which, as far as Hashirama was concerned, was just dandy.

(Tobirama informed Hashirama that he thought his whole "village-wide family" thing was just so cute. Really, it was adorable. Hashirama gave him a dark look and asked how his husband was doing.)

He had finally succeeded.

"We all move in together and form a big happy family and never fight again."

He had to thank Madara for the idea. And he had to thank Madara for its success.

(He tended to attribute everything good that had ever happened in his life to Madara. For some reason.)

And history went on.

Hashirama would pass on his fighting abilities to Hiruzen, his brother's best friend's son.

He would pass on his Will of Fire to the entire village, his true family.

(He would pass on his bloodline limit to Yamato, but he never knew about that.)

And he would pass on his personality to his child and his grandchildren: his ability to hope for a better world and to fight for it, his moral fortitude to pursue the power of Hokage and then use it completely selflessly, the strength of will to deny his love until it was far too late to obtain it, his tendency to deal with grief and heartbreak by abandoning his duties and getting wasted, and his inability to gamble.

And history would repeat itself.

And history went on.

---

Hashirama stood atop his statue, staring across at Madara's.

It looked just like him. Except for the fact that it was made out of stone. And there was no soul in its eyes.

Hashirama didn't speak; but he was thinking. It made no difference, either way—Madara couldn't hear him.

Hello, Madara.

Below, three other ninja stood waiting. One of Tobirama's recent policies: squads of four, nobody could go alone. People had worried the number might be a jinx, so far, it seemed more to put a jinx on Konoha's enemies, so apparently the policy was a good one.

They were waiting. You didn't question your Hokage if he wanted to stop at the Valley of the End. They didn't need to hurry to their mission, anyway. They could wait.

Hello, Madara. The only answer was the roar of the waterfall. I think this is the last time I'll be here.

He wasn't sure why he felt that. It was just something he knew. He could feel it. Maybe it was some sort of ninja instinct. Maybe it was a warning from the Will of Fire. (Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

It was like something was closing in on him, had been closing in on him for years. Ever since the war began. No. Ever since Tobirama had taken office. No. Ever since Mito had sealed the Kyuubi inside herself. No.

Ever since Madara had died.

Yes. Ever since then. Something had been closing in on him.

The end.

So here he was. At the Valley of the End. Ready to face it.

This is the last time I'll be here. He could almost imagine that Madara was listening. Madara. I did what I could for our village. And I did what I could for your clan. I'd like to think that you'd be happy, if you could see everything I've done for you.

The statue didn't change.

But I don't think you would be.

The statue didn't respond.

"I'm sorry," Hashirama murmured. He couldn't even hear himself over the waterfall. It made no difference, either way. "I love you."

After the forthcoming battle, the other three ninja would find a note on top of Hashirama's statue.

Nobody would think it was a suicide note. They would consider it, and discard the possibility. Certainly, the Shodai Hokage would never...

Tell my family that I love them.

Give all my weapons to my brother and all my other property to my wife. Give my necklace to my granddaughter.

Tell my village that I'm still with them in the Will of Fire, and I'll never leave them. Tell them that they were always a part of me, and I will always be a part of them.

Don't try to avenge my death, because vengeance will never lead to peace.

Scatter my ashes at the Valley of the End.

All his requests would be honored.

Except for the last. Tobirama would insist Hashirama be buried in Konoha. (To Orochimaru, Danzou, and Yamato's good fortune, and fifty-nine dead babies' misfortune.) Tobirama would never be able to say why, and he would feel vaguely guilty about it forever, but for some reason he could not allow his elder brother to be laid to rest in the Valley of the End.

(On some level, he knew, he knew, it was because that was where Madara died. On some level, he knew, he knew, he didn't want his brother to be with Madara in death. On some level, he knew, he knew, he was protecting his brother from Madara, because Hashirama didn't know how to protect himself.)

By then, it would be too late for Hashirama to find out.

---

Hashirama could still feel him. He knew—he knew—Madara was still with him.

He had his Will of Fire, after all. He had Madara's will to carry out. And he was, wasn't he? Carrying out Madara's will, that is. He was unifying the village, strengthening the village... What made him the most sick was the fact that he hadn't been able to prevent war. But what could he have done? He had done what he could. Or he had tried. Perhaps he had not done enough, perhaps he had failed to try something, perhaps...

(And thinking like that was why Hashirama still drank.)

But he had Madara's Will of Fire. Calling him, guiding him, helping him, like the collective will of all those who had come before Hashirama—the expectations of the past. And sometimes... sometimes, he could almost hear him. Sometimes, he could feel him.

Sometimes during the war, in the middle of battle, he could sense his presence—as if he were somewhere nearby, just beyond the next tree, watching, calculating, deciding how to move, what to do, stoic warrior that he was, always watching, always there, and Hashirama always seemed to feel his presence just in time to find some enemy, to engage in combat—as if Madara were trying to warn Hashirama, trying to guide him with his presence.

Sometimes when he traveled, when he acted as a diplomat, when he met with the Kage of other villages, he felt like Madara was there—he felt his presence, for example, when he visited with the Nidaime Mizukage, when he offered Kirigakure no Sato the Three-Tailed Giant Turtle—and again, when Hashirama was hoping for a treaty, and had to listen, downhearted, as the Mizukage informed him, voice low, face hidden by a mask, that there was no love between Kirigakure and Konohagakure, and that they would never be allies in his lifetime—as Hashirama struggled there, trying to find the words to reason, to persuade, he felt Madara there, his presence as strong as the Mizukage's own.

Sometimes even in the most personal moments, such as when Mito had given birth to their only child—as she writhed in pain, struggling to push one life out of her and into the world, and hold another life in and safely caged, as Hashirama stood over her, helping her as best he could, trying to keep the tailed beast controlled, fearing for her and for their child and for the seal and for the Kyuubi, as three ANBU medic-nin (dog mask, hawk mask, snail mask, Hashirama was so distracted he never even got their names) took care of the birth, isolated in a cave where no one else knew where they were—he had felt Madara then as well, as if he were watching, as if he were waiting, as if he were helping—and when he mentioned it later, Mito said she had felt him, too, most strongly in the moment she had looked upon their baby's face for the first time (held out to her by one of the ANBU—the one in the snail mask?) she had felt him then, as if he were standing right beside her.

Sometimes when Hashirama visited the Valley of the End, when he stood upon his own statue to stare across at Madara's, he felt as though maybe the statue had been alive a moment ago, as though maybe the spirit of the man it represented had stood upon it, stared across the water at Hashirama's statue the same way Hashirama stared back now, and had only fled just in time to avoid detection, but had left behind some disturbance, some warmth, some scent, some presence—and Hashirama felt it, he always did, and he almost thought then that if he spoke, Madara would hear him, would come out, would come back, would answer...

It was a comfort, feeling Madara like that, feeling him everywhere. Hashirama knew—he knew—that Madara was watching. His Will of Fire was now Hashirama's, and if he felt Madara's spirit most strongly in the moments when he was undergoing the greatest trials, it was because those were the moments when he most needed Madara.

His presence gave Hashirama the strength he needed—the strength and skill to return from every battle triumphant. The strength and patience to continue hoping for peace between all the villages. The strength and courage to endure the most hellish moments in his life and come out the better for them. The strength and determination to go on without Madara.

---

So was it really so strange, really so unusual, really so unnatural, if he felt Madara most strongly in those moments of greatest adversity? After all, they had met and bonded on the battlefield. The thread that bound them together had been spun in rivalry, tied in combat.

And Madara would always be with him in those moments, when they were most in sync.

After all, when they were on the battlefield, only on the battlefield...

They had known how to respond to each other, how to move as one, how to compliment each other. Perfectly.

Each had known—as no one else in the world could know—how the other one moved. Each had known how the other's muscles pulled, strained, trembled. Each had known the other at his very best, breathing hard, limbs shaking, muscles aching, that unending and exhausting and intoxicating rhythm, the dance of battle that existed for them alone.

Each had known the other's skin, his hair, his eyes. Each had known how to make the other murmur, how to make the other moan, how to make the other scream himself hoarse. Each had known the sound of the other's breathing as well as he knew his own.

They had known each other thoroughly, consummately, and intimately.

They had known each other as well as they knew themselves.

On the battlefield.

And it was on the battlefield most frequently that Hashirama could feel his spirit. Was that really so unnatural?

And at the end...

In battle, low clouds hanging in the sky, two squads of four, one of Konoha, one of Kiri (just like that day, that one day, that first day Madara had spoken to him), was it really so strange, if...

And then as the battle progressed and he found himself losing, and it was as though that one—that masked ninja knew his every move that masked ninja understood him intimately, and Hashirama found himself slipping into that old dance in response, was it really so strange if...

And as he found himself losing, losing as the battle progressed, losing—and as he tried to see his enemy's eyes and thought he saw a flash of hateful, beautiful red (just like that stranger with fiery eyes, so young, too young), just before the masked ninja reached out and got his fingers tangled in his hair and pulled him down to his hands, down to his knees, was it really so strange if...

Oh, please, please, let it be, let him be...

... Was it really so strange that, even now, even at his end, even when it was impossible...

(He closed his eyes, felt the sting of a blade and kicks and jabs and attack after attack and fire and fire and fire and it all felt so amazing and)

(He closed his eyes, he too would join the Will of Fire, he too would join Madara)

Was it really so strange for Hashirama to feel as though he were closer to Madara than he had ever been in life?

Was it really so strange for Hashirama to still have that same obsession?

---

The End

---

A bonus for those who suffered through the rest of this.

Man of Dreams: the Omake

or

Happy-Happy Sunny-Sunny Rabu-Rabu Super Sexy Lovetimes

A TOUCHING TALE!

From the editor: "A masterwork of literature, it is a beautiful story of the triumph of love over adversity. It brings up biting questions of morality, and subtly muses upon the state of our world and its social norms. But at its heart, it is a touching tale, capable of moving readers of all ages, chronicling the heart-moving emotional journey of two dudes who are totally in love."

RAVE REVIEWS!

"Oh, yes, I suppose it has a developed story arc. It possesses a beginning, middle, and ending. It is indeed a well-structured story." —Sai

"It was kinda weird! I think it was funny!" —Konohamaru

"Whatever." —Shikamaru

"I am honored and bessed to have been one of the first to have an opportunity to read this work. Truly, this is a masterpiece of literature. The likes of this shall not be seen for another hundred thousand years, at best. It is accessible enough to be understood and beloved by many, and yet has enough depth to provoke deep analysis for generations to come. Reading this story is truly like getting a glimpse into the mind of a god of art. When do I get paid for this review?" —Kakuzu

"What is this crap?! I could write way better than this!" —Jiraiya

"What is this crap?! I could write way better than this!" —Naruto

"Who wrote this. I will murder the author." —Madara

AND NOW, PRESENTING...

THE OMAKE!!

Once upon a time there was a dude called Hashirama and another dude called Madara and they were in love and it was great. Even though they were both dudes and that kinda freaked Hashirama out. He got over it because that's how the power of love works. Better than two years in therapy. No lie.

They weren't always in love. At the start of things Madara kind of hated Hashirama's guts, because he's a bit of a prick like that. However, Hashirama pretty much thought Madara was the sex from the start, and as far as he's concerned lust equals love so for all intents and purposes he was in love from the start.

So Hashirama decided to make this village with Madara because he was just so freaked that Madara might die or something if Hashirama kept having to fight him. (The author has neglected to mention that Hashirama and Madara were on opposite sides of a war. Actually on opposite sides of a lot of wars. Hence why Madara hated Hashirama.) Madara was totally suspicious of Hashirama's motives because who wouldn't be? The dudes were enemies and Madara didn't know Hashirama thought he was the sex, so he thought Hashirama was gonna backstab him or something like that.

Which is totally what he thought happened when Hashirama got elected leader of this new village, so he went "Dude, you jerk, I'm gonna run off and like destroy your village or something, 'cause you were planning on backstabbing me."

So Hashirama went "Wait! I never meant to do that! I didn't know I was gonna get elected. And I never wanted to backstab you, I just think you're the sex. Love me?"

Madara did not go "Holy noodles, I love you too! Let us now go find another way to 'backstab' each other if you catch my drift wink wink nudge nudge." Because he's a bit of a jerk. He actually went "That's a little weird dude, I mean I don't even like you. But I guess you're not gonna backstab me if you think I'm the sex, so I guess I'll hang around a while and make sure you don't mess up this village." So he hung around and made sure Hashirama didn't mess up that village.

And after a while he went "Dude, this Hashirama guy is like super nice to me. And since I am a jerk and I have an ego the size of the Ten-Tails—I mean the moon, I think it's totally hot when people worship the ground I walk on." So he totally fell in love with Hashirama because it was like, hey, he could get fawned on 24/7. And Hashirama was all like super excited because it was like, hey, he could fawn on Madara 24/7. Everybody's happy.

So then Madara went "Dude so wanna move in together so we can do sexy sexy things like all the time." And Hashirama went "Dude how 'bout we do one better and get married." And then Madara went "Dude that's not even legal." And then Hashirama went "Dude I rule this village, I could totally make it legal." And then Madara went "Dude that'd just be weird. Let's just live in sin, sin is sexier." So they moved in together and lived in sexy sexy sin. But Hashirama gave Madara his super fancy necklace and pretended it was like a marriage necklace or something because that made him feel better. And Madara totally wore it because that thing was worth like a fortune, so Madara was basically wearing a fortune on a string around his throat, and seriously, folks, it doesn't get much more hot than that.

Meanwhile there was a babe named Mito and she went "I was gonna marry Hashirama, but his bro Tobirama is totally more the bomb." So she married Tobirama and everybody was happy forever except Izuna who died before the story started, the end.

PS Okay so maybe Izuna actually is happy but he's still dead.

The End, for real this time.

Seriously, you've suffered enough.


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