“Konoha's what,” Kakuzu says dangerously.
The bounty officer raises a brow at him, entirely unperturbed. “Konoha's Shodai. Apparently he’s back from the dead,” she says with a shrug, marking down Kakuzu’s most recent catch and turning away to get the money. “Or he was never actually dead to begin with? I heard both. Or, well, I heard he took a sixty-year nap, actually. Wish I could do that.”
Kakuzu leans over the desk, snatches the money out of her hands, and doesn’t even bother to count it before he shoves it into his pocket. “I won't be needing this,” he says curtly, tossing the flyer for the next potential bounty back on the counter.
“What?” the woman asks, caught off guard. “But it’s higher than normal! I thought—”
The door closes on her words, and Kakuzu leaps for the closest tree as soon as he’s out of the building, cursing under his breath. Sixty damn years of looking, of crossing every inch of the continent a thousand times, and somehow the noble Senju Hashirama thinks it’s just fine to go waltzing into Konoha like he was never gone at all, ignoring the fact that Kakuzu is on the other side of the country chasing ghosts and rumors of Mokuton.
He slams a fist into the trunk of the next tree he lands in, mutters another curse on idiots with no common decency, and picks up a run, flashing between branches as fast as his feet will carry him as he heads for Konoha at last.
The guard at the gate yelps and recoils at the sight of him, but Kakuzu slams his old Konoha hitai-ate down on the desk in front of him and keeps moving, not about to give a damn that he probably looks like he got dragged through half of Fire Country on his face. He hasn’t had time to stop, to eat, to bathe, and he’s going to take it out on Hashirama’s idiot hide the moment they're face to face again.
Kakuzu’s only hit Konoha once since the first time he gave up on finding Hashirama in its boundaries, and the village is vastly different than he remembers. Similar enough to find his way through, though, especially with the curled-bright beacon of Hashirama’s chakra leading him, a dragon sleeping in the midst of tangled roots. The feeling of it is like wrapping himself in a familiar blanket, and Kakuzu’s breath rasps out of his lungs, shakes, but he clings to his anger as he stalks through the streets.
Hashirama left. Hashirama left or was taken and Kakuzu has wasted a huge chunk of his life trying everything to find him again, to hunt down a lover who vanished in the middle of a sunny day and never came back.
He hadn’t been feeling well beforehand, Kakuzu knows, remembers with an almost painful sort of clarity. His battle with Madara had left him tired in a way it shouldn’t have, sleeping more, the wound on his chest from Madara's bite slow to heal in a way that didn’t usually happen. Kakuzu hadn’t been worried, but he’d kept a closer eye on Hashirama than usual, thought that when he went out and Tobirama said he was taking a nap that it was fine, but—
Hashirama had vanished, and Kakuzu had left Konoha to find him when searching the village for clues proved fruitless. It wasn’t a decision Hashirama would have approved of, but Hashirama was gone and Kakuzu didn’t care worth a damn what he might have thought or not.
Not now. Not anymore. The coiled dragon of Hashirama’s chakra is wrapped around Konoha as a whole, and Kakuzu breathes it in, closes his eyes, and thinks not dead, you ass, not dead even as he slams though the gate of an unfamiliar house and strides up the walk. The door opens under his hand—of course it does, when has Hashirama ever cared about basic security or even logic—and he lets himself in without hesitation.
Hashirama’s power has already seeped into the walls here, though he can't have been present for more than a few days, and Kakuzu wants to be distracted by it, wants to dig his fingers into the wood and just feel it hum under his touch. The real thing is ahead of him, though, and Kakuzu is ragged right down to his soul, the bitter grief of having found Hashirama despite every fucking odd pitting them against each other only to lose him again still harsh in his chest. He swallows hard, takes the stairs two at a time as he heads up to the second floor, and breathes in the sense of green and life that always coils around Hashirama’s everything.
The third door from the end of the hall is standing open, just a crack, and Kakuzu stares at it as he nears, curls his fingers into fists, and tries to think what he’ll say. Three days of travel, three days trying to decide, and there are a hundred thousand options fighting for space in Kakuzu’s throat. No way to pick just one, no telling which will come out first, but he pushes the door open the rest of the way with one gentle touch and steps into the doorway.
It’s a bedroom, full of light and a warm breeze, green shadows where roses climb the walls. Hashirama is seated beside the bed, which is occupied—a boy, Kakuzu thinks, though he can hardly spare the figure a glance. All his attention is kept for Hashirama, broad-shouldered and vivid and warm, and Kakuzu’s breath shakes out of his lungs in a trembling gust.
Dark eyes settle on him, widen. Something like relief flickers over Hashirama’s face, and he rises to his feet in one graceful motion, hands already reaching out. “Kakuzu,” he says, bright, happy. “They told me you left the village, and I was so worried—”
“You were worried?” Kakuzu says, ragged. “You damned idiot, I looked everywhere for you. You were gone, and Madara had done something to you, and—”
“Madara's been dealt with,” Hashirama says, and his face is still soft, but there's steel in his eyes, something as dark and heavy as arctic waters. His gaze flickers to the boy on the bed—teenager, Kakuzu thinks, an Uchiha, heavily scarred in a way that makes even him wince—then turns back to Kakuzu, and he smiles, just a little. “He thought he could twist one of Konoha's shinobi, but he always underestimated them.”
He always underestimated you, Kakuzu doesn’t say, even though it’s true. Everyone underestimates Hashirama’s charisma, his pull. Like he’s gravity, and the rest of the world is caught in his influence, unable to get away. Kakuzu should have killed him, should have never returned to Konoha after escaping Taki, but…he hadn’t been able to resist. The memory of Hashirama’s face, of his chakra, of his steady defense of his village—Kakuzu hadn’t been able to put it out of mind, especially contrasted to Taki's betrayal.
He still can't escape, even sixty years later.
“Did Madara have you?” he demands, taking a step forward.
Hashirama hesitates, then shakes his head, his mouth twisting. “I don’t know what happened,” he says softly. “One moment I was going to sleep, and then a boy with Mokuton was telling me I’d turned into a tree. I didn’t—I didn’t have any idea that could happen.”
Kakuzu puts a hand up, covers his eyes, digs his fingernails into his hairline. Damn. Damn, damn, damn. Hashirama’s chakra had that reaction, when Tobirama tested it, didn’t it? Exhaustion turned the subject into a tree, and Madara must have done something to Hashirama during their fight, poisoned him or exhausted him to a level his body couldn’t recover from, and he lost control, or his power protected him from death by changing him, or—
“I thought,” he says, rough, like a confession, “that Madara took you.”
Sixty years with that fear in the back of his mind, with the memory of Madara's obsession, the way he fixated on Hashirama, and Kakuzu has had so many terrible thoughts over the years, but that was always one of the worst.
Hands close over his elbows, not tight, just there, and Hashirama says gently, “I'm sorry, Kakuzu. I'm sorry for everything.”
Don’t be, Kakuzu wants to say, but he doesn’t. Pulls Hashirama to him instead, wrapping an arm around the back of his neck, and breathes out, rough and maybe a little angry. “I'm going to beat you black and blue,” he says, because I missed you won't make it off his tongue.
Hashirama laughs, because of course he does. “Not in front of Obito,” he says, and Kakuzu can feel the smile against his shoulder. “I think he’s already seen enough traumatizing images for one lifetime.”
Kakuzu can't imagine that seeing a tree turn into the Shodai Hokage was anything less than mind-bending. “Your face is always traumatizing,” he retorts, but casts one more look at the sleeping boy and pulls Hashirama out of the room. They raised Tsunade together; he remembers both how deeply children sleep and how easy it is to wake them.
Hashirama’s smile is bittersweet. “Madara had a seal on his heart,” he says sadly. “And he arranged all of Obito's accidents, hurt him so badly—I thought…”
His thing about children as soldiers, Kakuzu knows. He’s always hoped that Madara shared it even after Madara deserted Konoha, but Kakuzu is of the opinion that it’s blind optimism at this point. Madara is a madman. Was a madman, by the sound of it, and that’s one of the best things Kakuzu has ever heard.
“You saved him,” he says, as close to comforting as he’ll come, and Hashirama laughs, pulling Kakuzu into a tight hug. It’s overwhelming, almost painful after so long without even knowing if Hashirama was alive, and Kakuzu breathes in the smell of him, the heat and warmth and dragon-bright chakra, tells himself he tolerates the hold but still doesn’t even attempt to pull away.
“I missed you,” Hashirama says softly, right in his ear.
A raw sound tears itself from Kakuzu’s throat, and he cups the back of Hashirama’s head, holds him close, and doesn’t say a word.