Actions

Work Header

a crown of shadows and scorched leaves

Chapter Text

Tobirama was ten, and he hated talking to the door.

“Aneja?” he called. Yet there was no answer except for her restrained sobbing.

His sister was locked in the shed again, even though he tried to convince their father to stop punishing her like this over and over again. Ever since he caught her by the riverside a few days ago, Hashirama kept ignoring him. Treating him as if he didn’t exist even when he was by her side—both because of their father’s order and by his own initiative. She spent the last three days going around the village, never strayed far from their relatives’ watchful eyes, before she went to sleep in the shed.

Besides, Hashirama was not a shinobi. She didn’t understand that the clan’s interest must be placed above her personal whims. Collecting information from their enemies was the main duty of a ninja. That Uchiha boy must had the same thing in his mind, and he’s using Hashirama’s friendliness for his advantage.   

Damn that demon.

He only wanted to protect his sister, yet she treated him like he just committed a mistake. Hashirama was the one who sneaked out from their village to see the Uchiha boy, not him. He only followed her to prove his suspicion and ensure the safety of their clan. Although not a shinobi, his sister had an exceptional chakra and a talent better than average ninja. Better than him. His father said it would be dangerous if such talent like hers should fall into another clan’s hands.

Tomorrow, everything would be over. Everything should return to normal, and they would get valuable informations about the Uchiha clan.

Tobirama looked at a wrapped orange in his palm, then at the locked shed door. He heard something creaking and falling inside the room, telling him that Hashirama was rummaging through piles of old stuffs. He twisted the key, hearing the hinge creaked, followed by his sister’s cold response.

“Don’t enter.”

Tobirama remained, leaving the door opened a little so he could peek. Hashirama’s back was facing him, her hands were busy tidying up the place so she could sleep comfortably. He extended his hand inside.

“I brought you an orange.” No response. “You haven’t eaten anything since noon.”

“No need,” she answered bitterly. “Just go to sleep.”

He slowly dropped his arm. Tobirama didn’t expect her response would feel this painful. Hashirama never said anything that harsh to him before. Even when she was mad, her anger would disappear quickly. Yet her laughter had been absent for long. Why did Hashirama have to be so sad?

He kneeled by the doorstep. “I’ll just leave this orange here—”

A broken broom was thrown flippantly to the side. “Take it with you. I’m not hungry.”

Of course she was lying. Tobirama heard her stomach growling several times today. “You will fall sick tomorrow,” he insisted.

She still had her back facing him. “I never fall sick, remember?”

“Sis—”

“I said get out of here!” Hashirama finally turned her head at him, her face illuminated by the light of torch flaming outside the shed. There were gleaming trails on her cheeks. Anger disappeared from her face once she realized what she did. She quickly turned away, “I’m sorry, Tobirama… please leave me alone.”

He slipped the orange inside, then slowly closing the door before locking it again. He was about to stand until he heard her sobbing. So close.

“Kawarama and Itama are gone…” Her voice was muffled behind the wooden door. “I don’t want to lose you too.”

Tobirama bit his lip, speechless. He stared at the door, stunned. Briefly he was envious knowing how easy for Hashirama to cry and express her feelings…


 

 

Her pillow was shifting. Pulsing. Breathing.

Hashirama opened her eyes to the dimness of a room that wasn’t hers. She blinked numerous times before pushing herself awake. The pillow moved under her hand’s pressure, and she quickly recognized the muscled texture on the slope of the chest. Apparently she spent the night sleeping atop him.

Her right hand lingered above his skin, finding a place where her fingertips could feel the beating heart. Hashirama slipped her hair behind her ear, slowly descending, landing a chaste kiss on his beating heart.

“...Hashi.”

The call didn’t stop her. From the heart she moved towards his sternum, skipping the scars, her knees pushing her forward. Her borrowed kimono, untied, fell like a drape around them. The body below her shifted, his breathing rustled softly as he reached for her side. Hashirama grabbed his wrist, holding it next to his head above his scattered hair, and she smiled.

“Morning, beloved.”

Madara smirked. Hashirama kissed him deeply, leaving their exposed skin brushed against each other and their tongues met. The familiar warmth bloomed quickly between her legs, and she could tell he felt the same.

“Another?”

“Another.”

Madara turned her around like he did last night. He didn’t bother being gentle; his nails and teeth left red trails on her breasts. Their moans echoed once more in his room as he was inside her body.

The climax was reached and ended abruptly; too quick, too soon—but she realized the night couldn’t last forever. She didn’t close her eyes, focusing herself to her lover’s figure that was sheltered by the shadows, calling him voicelessly as her energy rushed into their dance—

If only, if only the sun would never rise…

“The rain hasn’t stopped,” Hashirama whispered a while later, almost running out of breath. She inched closer to Madara’s warmer body, whom immediately embraced and caressed her. “What time is it...?”

“The sun will rise soon.” He kissed the crown of her head, and yawned. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Huh, why?”

“You snored, by the way.” Madara stared at her deeply. “Oi, I’m just kidding…” he added, holding back his laughter once Hashirama rolled away from him, sulking.

Lightning struck, thunder rumbled, and the Hokage awoke.

How could she relax here, not knowing a single thing about her village’s condition? What kind of leader is she; forgetting the current state of her own people?     

Hashirama jolted awake, quickly tidying up her kimono. Her heart pounded fast, and her fingers were too shaky to tie her obi. Madara stood before her, touching her trembling hands.

“You can’t go out in this,” he whispered. His gaze calmed her down. “Wait a moment.” Then he left.

Hashirama couldn’t stay only to wait and do nothing. She couldn’t calm herself by walking around inside the bedroom, she slid the door a little, peeking into the dim hall. It’s a downpour outside. The air was dense, full of strange odor. Pure chakra. Did the bijuu return after she chased it away? No, no way. If that was happening, she would’ve known. Madara would have sensed it as well. How about the hospital after she left it last night? Is it safe? Are the sick ones safe staying there? Is—

Footsteps coming from the hall announced Madara’s return. She quickly grabbed the kimono he brought—not the kimono she was wearing last night; still a similar black kimono, only without any clan symbol. Once she was done changing, she walked into the nearest opening with heart full of worries.

The Hokage passed the yard with the Uchiha clan leader by her side. He shielded her from the rain using his paper umbrella and susano’o. They didn’t talk. Hashirama’s fists clenched so tightly until her nails pierced her palms. For a moment she saw curious faces peeked from behind the windows of mokuton houses, their inhabitants still hesitated to go out. So far not a single house damaged. Her steps splashed mud onto her clothes and stained her feet.

From afar, many people were seen gathering together in front of the Hokage office. Tobirama’s silver hair stood out in the crowd. Hashirama hastened her steps.

“Tobirama!”

“Aneja!” he called, his stern face immediately turned relieved. “Where were you—” His words stopped once he found Madara next to her, a susano’o covering their bodies. His eyes were locked at the borrowed kimono she was wearing.

Hashirama looked around the crowd. Everyone had weary expression on their faces, yet relieved. “How about the village…?”

Half of the crowd bowed their heads. “Our barns and fields are severely damaged, Hokage-sama. Half of our rice fields are almost ready to harvest, but they are also destroyed. Our only source of water is polluted.”

Hashirama could feel her heart sank to her stomach.

“We’ll starve.”


 

 

The rain stopped before midday.

Hashirama busied herself going around the village like she did last night. Collapsed tree trunks that struck by the wind last night were scattered all over the place. There were some heavy branches fell atop several roofs, although luckily beside the damaged roof tiles there were no heavily destroyed buildings. The protection shields she created last night only covered the southern part of their village. Meanwhile, her destroyed footholds were scattered here and there like giant boulders. Some of them fell on vegetable fields.

The people finally encouraged themselves to go out, cleaning their village from the mess and taking their wounded relatives to the hospital. The establishment was crowded by villagers. The healers were overwhelmed by the number of patients that kept coming.

“Hokage-sama.” A healer girl from Hyuuga clan held her arm once Hashirama came to check on their medicine supplies. There were dark circles under her active byakugan. She had to speak aloud above the cries of babies and children who suffered from the heat. “Would you help us for a moment? There are patients with broken bones who need help—oh, they are over here…”

Hashirama nodded before she finished her words. Most of the injured ones were outside their houses when a strong wind struck, sending broken branches and wooden planks to fly until they hit them. She wore her smile to help calming down the patients as she worked to repair their damaged tissues, bones, and muscles.

The Hyuuga girl found her again after the Hokage had healed the tenth patient's wounds, a little girl who kept a brave facade in front of her although her arm was strangely bent. She asked a permission to talk to her alone, so they left the ward. Her face was nervous.

“What’s wrong?” Hashirama sat down on a chair so their eyes were on the same level.

“Our medical supplies has depleted, Hokage-sama,” she answered quietly. She tidied the hair strands that escaped her hair tie. “I ran to Hyuuga residence, but even our personal stock is scarce. All of our medicinal herbs died last night.”

“Doesn’t your clan have a trading network?” Hashirama asked softly as she touched the girl’s thin shoulder. “You can buy the medicine elsewhere, right?”

“It’s… it’s been on stagnant for so long. Common merchants are afraid to travel because the roads are infested by bandits. They have swords and capable of using them too.”

“Your name…” Hashirama tried to remember. “Kyoko, isn’t it? I will try to do something, okay? Rest assured.”

The girl nodded, she smiled weakly. “Thank you, Hokage-sama.”

Tobirama showed up in front of her office at the same time she arrived. The bottom part of his kimono was stained with mud and his hair was dripping wet.    

Hashirama closed the meeting room door behind her. “Where were you…?”

“The upstream. Many kinds of fish dead and the water is no longer drinkable.” He took a deep breath, holding his chest. “I’ve asked people to take all the dead fishes from the river before they reach the lake. For a while we have to find another source of water. There is… a small river, in the east…”

“Did you dive?”

Tobirama shook his head, leaning his head onto the wall. His breath was heavy and short. “Just… got into the water.”

“Those are the same thing.” Hashirama pulled the nearest chair for him. “Have a rest here.” She sat down as well and sank her face into her palms. Without being asked, she relayed the situation in the hospital to her brother. Tobirama listened until she was done talking.

“The other clans have donated all of their medicines, but we need more.”

“Other villages around Konoha have suffered the impact of this bijuu before we do,” he explained. “We can’t ask for their help. The nearest big city is Daimyo Matsudaira’s seat.”

“We need food from the outside.” Hashirama was reminded of the report regarding damaged barns and fields. “Can we send him a letter...?”

“I doubt that, Sis. He’s known to be stingy. Even farmers are taxed too high.” Suddenly Tobirama sat upright. “Sis, go upstairs to the office. Madara is back.”


 

 

Madara had changed into his battle clothes, minus his armor. His scent smelled like rain.

“The bijuu runs further south,” he informed before Hashirama sat behind her desk. “I assume it won’t dare to return, but it’s better for us not to take more risks.”

Hashirama blinked. “You intend to hunt it…?”

“There is another village it destroyed. I have to stop it before it causes more destruction. It will be dangerous if it returns to find you.”

“Why me?”  

“You were the one who chased it away last night.” Madara inched towards the window, briefly glancing at the situation below. “Only your mokuton and my susano’o can hold it off. I will leave to find it soon.”

Hashirama brushed her palms together on her lap, wiping off sweat that had gathered. It would be easy to order him to hunt the bijuu, only one word she needed. Yet her heart was weighed by reluctance. The village was in crisis, and she needed Madara by her side. She knew she wouldn’t be fair acting that way; the choice was only the two of them, and she couldn’t leave the village.

“One week,” she said weakly. “Bring a small team with you; take some people from Inuzuka and Yamanaka clans.”

Madara frowned. “They will only slow me down. Myself is enough.”

“This is an order, Uchiha-san.” Hashirama lifted her chin, voicelessly implying for him to recognize her authority.

“If that is your wish, Hokage-sama,” Madara bowed for a moment, with an unreadable expression. “I am leaving in an hour.”

“Be careful,” she added, visibly concerned.

Once his figure disappeared through the doorstep, only then Hashirama realized her brother was standing at the office’s corner. His arms crossed on his chest. His wet hair clung on his temples.

“I thought you were sleeping in your office last night, but you weren’t here.” Tobirama left the wall, his gaze aimed to the floor. “You and Madara…”

Hashirama’s heart pounded faster. “...Yes?”

Silence followed. She waited until Tobirama voiced his mind, but it never happened.

Tobirama pulled the door open. He lingered on the doorstep, speaking in a heavy voice, “Now it’s clear to me where were you last night.”

Hashirama stood up. “It’s—”

The door was slammed shut.

She threw her back on her seat. Why does her brother act strangely around her lately?


 

 

In the following week, Konoha received two unexpected guests.

The first guest was a group consisted of a hundred people from a small village destroyed by the bijuu shortly after Hashirama chased it away.

“Please, we beg you,” pleaded the old man who led the villagers to Konoha, his forehead touching the ground in front of the Hokage. “Half of our people are dead, there is no house or shelter left, we don’t have food. You helped us fighting the bandits, so…” His voice trailed off.

Hashirama handed over a huge box full of medicinal concoctions to the nearest man, then kneeled. “Please, stand up. Our houses still stand strong. You, your relatives, and all your villagers may stay here temporarily.” She observed the other refugees who stood behind the man. Dozens of exhausted faces immediately gazed upon the ground. There were men carrying hoes and rakes with them. “The healthy ones can help us in our fields.”

“You…” The man raised his face, his eyes gleaming with hope. “You know how to restore the fields contaminated by the beast?”

“Oh, no… all shinobi clans here know how to do it—”

“Thank you!” He grasped her hands tightly. “Thank you so much!”    

However, at the end of the day Hashirama had to face Tobirama’s sour expression.

“I know you have good intention by taking them in, but where will they stay?” he desperately complained in the Hokage office after he delivered Konoha’s damaged farms and fields report. “Please don’t tell me you’re going to build more mokuton houses. You almost fainted when you built the emergency barrack for them.”

Hashirama turned the pages of the report, trying to understand the data served to her. Sadly her brain couldn’t process anything. ‘Almost fainted’ didn’t even describe how exhausted she was. When she returned to the office, her body shivered until she couldn't stand upright. She forced herself to chew dried fruits to regain half of her energy before Tobirama arrived.

“How about our food supplies?” Hashirama changed the topic, pulling the shortened candle closer to light her desk. “The bijuu didn’t kill wild animals, right?”

“They strayed from their habitats, and our hunters have to go further just to find a wild boar.” Tobirama sat down. Under the dim light, he was as exhausted as her. “If our rice fields are restored and harvested immediately, we can plant vegetables before winter comes…” Their conversation turned to the topic about food supplies.

Busying themselves by taking care the village and the refugees from neighboring village made the topic about her whereabouts during the storm as if being pushed away. In one side, Hashirama was relieved that they didn’t need to talk about it. But on the other side, she felt guilty for not being honest about her relationship with Madara.

She knew it well Tobirama was still disliking him.

The next morning, Hyuuga Kyoko, the girl she had helped a few days ago, shook her awake. The girl informed her about the arrival of the second guest.

“Forgive me for entering, Hokage-sama! Senju-san sent me… he said there is an important guest waiting for you at the gate—”

Without waiting for Kyoko to complete her sentence, Hashirama jolted awake, taking her haori and wearing it as she jumped through the window. Tobirama and Akimichi Chokichi were already at the eastern gate, with a small entourage that brought along a palanquin with a golden gilded roof.

It's impossible for Emperor Nobutada to return without notice, right?

Her guess was busted once Chokichi stepped aside, revealing a familiar, moustached thin man.

“Ukyo-san,” Hashirama greeted. “This is a very sudden visit.”

Ukyo ignored her. Instead he sniffed the air, his forehead furrowed seeing worn-out villagers running around carrying various equipments. They slowed down in front of the guest, secretly glancing at him to watch.

“Huh,” he scoffed as he put his hands on his waists. “Is it just me, or Konoha turns into a slum after the Emperor left…?”

“Ukyo-san, a bijuu passed our—”

“Bring them all to the inn,” Ukyo cut off Chokichi’s explanation, gesturing at the servants who carried his palanquin. Half of them were carrying heavy chests, which they pushed carefully.

Chokichi’s nostrils flared. Ukyo turned himself around, his gaze was upon Hashirama whom still retaining her smile. “Oh my, this is our Hokage!” he exclaimed mockingly, his arms lifted as if he was surprised. “Come on, escort me to the inn!”

“This is so sudden,” Hashirama said as they entered the market district. “If you had informed us beforehand, we might be able to welcome you better than this. I apologize for the mess.”

“Oh, isn’t this much better?” Ukyo said, impatient. “Now I can see what Konoha actually looked like. Good for my observation.” He twisted the tip of his moustache smugly.

“So what is the intention of your visit?”

Ukyo ignored her for the second time. Once they arrived at the inn, he asked for food and accomodation of the same quality as the ones they provided for Emperor Nobutada. Tobirama who followed them repeated his request flatly—Hashirama noticed her brother was holding his anger. Chokichi and him didn’t even stay for a chit chat. Only a pair of kunoichi served them. The situation was also different than the first time he came. This time no servant was standing out there distributing candies or kids crowding the streets. Everyone who lingered in front of the inn were driven away by the guest’s subordinates.

After one sudden meal course and plenty cups of sake, Ukyo finally spoke about his intention. “So,” he spoke, his body staggered forward and backward. “This beautiful lady will be a daimyo… eh, I mean, Hokage will share the same level as a daimyo. Matsudaira’s region will be split into two. He hates it of course, but who cares…” Ukyo’s pupils began to wander down from his companion’s face, and stopped on Hashirama’s breasts.

“Konoha has such great assets.”

Hashirama closed her eyes and counted to ten in her mind. The two kunoichi in the corner exchanged worried stares. The air quivered. One, two hair strands began to stick out from her neatly combed hair. Once Hashirama opened her eyes, Ukyo took a scroll out of his kimono, which he threw recklessly.

“Here. From the Emperor.” Ukyo turned to the corner. “You two, oi. You should follow me upstairs, yes? Yeah?” He leered at them. One girl quickly went up, while the other one cleaned up their finished meals.

“You don’t need to do this,” Hashirama whispered at the second girl, very softly that her lips were almost unmoved. “He’s drunk, he should be falling asleep soon.”

The girl stared at her in confusion. “We’re used to this,” she said as she piled up the bowls from the small table. “Every kunoichi is trained for this, Hokage-sama.”

Hashirama’s nails dug into the scroll as she watched the girl followed her friend upstairs. The scroll was similar to the one Madara brought several weeks ago when he was back from hunting. The official empire seal was stamped on its cover. Her eyes trailed down the beautiful, meandering handwriting on it, immortalizing Emperor Nobutada’s command for Ukyo to observe Konoha village’s assets and how much taxes they could manage to pay annually.

The further she read, the heavier her heart became. The tax Nobutada requested covered more than a half Matsudaira managed to pay after every rice harvest. With the condition of their village currently damaged by a bijuu, it would be impossible for them to pay that much in time...     

Her back weakened once she arrived at the end of the letter. Nobutada would only cut the amount if Hashirama agreed to fight the war against Tsuchinokuni and become a part of Hinokuni military. If the Hokage should refuse all the terms, the Emperor would use the way of…

“No need to answer that now,” Ukyo said suddenly, still downing another cup of sake. Hashirama forgot that he was still there. “Take it easy. I want to stay here too.” His body swayed as he tried to stand up. “Time to enjoy my first assets.”

After a mocking bow and another inappropriate glance towards her body, Ukyo staggered upstairs.


 

 

Her head was terribly dizzy. Not because she was drunk; Hashirama did not touch the sake during the dinner with Ukyo. Even the smell made her nauseated. His scroll was spread open on the table, away from the crumbs of grilled meat.

“It isn’t stated here how long he will stay.” Tobirama put his chopsticks down neatly on the plate. “It’s only written ‘until his duty is finished’. I suspect Nobutada appointed him as the Emperor’s ambassador for Konoha.”

“Disgusting,” the Hokage grunted. “He’s making me sick.”

Tobirama stared at her, hardly understanding what she meant.

“He treated the kunoichi as our  assets !” Hashirama pushed her plate away. The meat was left untouched. “If you had seen his face…”

She still had not forgotten the lessons she eavesdropped during her childhood. Touka laughed at her when she expressed her disgust. She said there were many little girls who complained about the same thing, but once a war is at stake a shinobi should do anything in their power to ensure their clan’s victory.

“Sis, the main asset of Konoha is its inhabitants,” Tobirama said slowly. “We have expertise in things common people don’t.”

“I don’t regard all of you as a resource that can be sucked dry and thrown away easily.” Hashirama combed her hair using her fingers. Her head throbbed. “Inform the village council to gather this morning, we will discuss this matter.” Once the scroll was taken away and their plates were carried to the kitchen, Hashirama placed her forehead on the cold surface of her desk, whispering to herself, “If only Madara was here…”

Ten clan leaders sat circling around the meeting table three hours later. Their faces didn’t show any sign of drowsiness although the sun hadn’t risen. After Hashirama finished explaining the current situation, everyone stood up to talk at the same time.

“What are we waiting for?”

“Finally!”

“My relatives are bored and keep asking when will we go to war again—”

“When can we start sending out recon? Oh, I can’t wait!”

“...Sis?”

The Hokage was stunned in her seat, clutching her armrests tightly. Even her brother and Izuna, who came to represent her brother, were not against the dominant opinion on the table. She finally tried to find support from Hyuuga Mori, but even the older man didn’t look at her. His voice hadn’t been heard since he entered the meeting room.

She waited until everyone had done expressing their reactions, and asked, “do you really wish for Konoha to fight in the war? This village isn’t built to gather military strength.” Her tone sounded like almost begging in the end. “It’s already enough for us to kill each other for dozens of generations; why should we continue to do it again?

Nara Shikana raised his eyebrows. “You don’t wish for us to spend the rest of our lives in the farms and rice fields, don’t you? Shinobi are born to kill.”

Hashirama was shocked.

Yamanaka Inoha skimmed the content of Emperor’s scroll. “Emperor Nobutada is willing to ask other regions to supply our needs as long as we fight against Tsuchinokuni.”

“The Emperor has samurai—”

“Samurai aren’t enough.”

Ukyo leaned against the doorframe, bowing briefly towards all the clan leaders. He looked well, unlike someone who was drunk all night long. His stare stopped at Izuna for a while before returning to the Hokage. “Good morning. I heard you are holding a meeting. I apologize for this sudden presence.” He took a chair from the corner of the room, and dragged it to the end of the table. Sitting without being offered.

“So, just like what I have mentioned before, the samurai aren’t enough to hold off Tsuchi. Their emperor built a ninja village, and they invade the borders swiftly. It takes a ninja to defeat a ninja.” Ukyo smirked. “Easy to understand, no?”

“Aburame clan agrees to go to war,” said Aburame Mamoru suddenly. He didn’t respond to Ukyo’s smile.

“Sarutobi clan agrees,” Sasuke followed.

Hashirama avoided the stare of those two clan leaders. “I will only agree if all clan leaders are willing to contribute their strength.” Her gaze observed all the council members who sat around the table, silently wishing there would be no one else speaking. However, her hope was crushed within seconds.

“We agree,” Chokichi spoke representing his trio.

“Inuzuka clan also agrees.”

“Shimura clan will contribute.” Shimura Keita looked fiery, full of confidence.

Hyuuga Mori nodded briefly, and spoke heavily, “Hyuuga agrees.”

Hashirama knew Mori was on her side regarding this. His approval felt like a hit on her ribs. Ukyo’s smile widened.

Only two people left to speak.

“Ukyo-san,” Izuna called. “What kind of rewards promised by the Emperor if we agree to go to war for him?”

“Everything Konoha needs,” Ukyo answered lightly. “Workers, money, food, clothes, medicines. I can write to His Majesty right now and request to him all of those things.”

Izuna tilted her head. “If that so, Uchiha clan also agrees.”

Madara would not agree. Madara would never agree. He would be wrathful and raging, leaving the meeting room immediately. But why is his sister against him? Why did Hashirama know nothing about this? Maybe if she had spared some time with her, Hashirama would be able to convince her…

Everything was too late now.

Tobirama stopped writing, staring at his sister with an unspoken question. Hashirama was silent, her eyes closed as she heard Tobirama’s voice.

“Senju clan agrees.”

“The vote is absolute, Lady Hokage.”

The Hokage nodded in silence. “Konoha will go to war.” Her tongue felt bitter, yet she ignored it. “But, as you can see, our village is currently damaged by a disaster. We will be really helped if His Majesty the Emperor is willing to send food and medicines immediately.”

“Not a problem,” Ukyo assured, standing so quickly that his chair almost toppled. “I will write in this very moment. Also requesting for the information gathered by the samurai.”

“By the way,” Shikana spoke after Ukyo had left the room, “we need a symbol. Konoha, I mean.”

Hashirama permitted the clan leaders to discuss their village symbol. Her breathing became heavy once again. After the meeting, she intended to rest in her office. However, she was awaited.

Three young shinobi stood nervously in front of her desk. From their appearances, Hashirama knew they were from Yamanaka, Inuzuka, and Uchiha clan respectively. The second young man had a bandaged little dog in his arms. They looked exhausted and sleep deprived.

“What do you need?”

The three of them exchanged glances, before the Uchiha spoke, “We chased the bijuu in the last week. With Madara-sama, I mean.”

Hashirama’s hands fell limp from the door knob. She almost forgotten about Madara. Her mind was filled by the refugee problem and village restoration.

“Where is Madara?” She crossed the office in long strides and sat on her chair. She couldn’t lose her composure in front of the three young shinobi. “Why is he not with you?”

“The bijuu attacked us once it noticed we were following it, Hokage-sama. We were separated from Madara-sama who used himself as bait. The last time we saw him, he lured the bijuu to the north.” The Inuzuka shinobi stopped for a while, glancing at the whimpering dog. “The bijuu is a fox.”

From a closer distance, their faces looked terribly pale. It was normal; not many people had faced a bijuu and lived to tell the tale. Hashirama sighed heavily.

“Thank you for the report. Please have some rest.”

For the rest of the day, she couldn’t stop thinking about Madara.


 

 

The river splashed,  calmly flowing between them.

Hashirama smiled towards her best friend across the water. The only best friend she had outside her family circle, and a best friend she held close in her heart.

A friend whom unfortunately was a part of her clan’s arch enemy. The demons.

None of these made sense. Madara was similar to every human she ever met. He had a pair of eyes and ears, a nose and a mouth. He also wished for peace like she did. What could possibly define him as a demon with all those traits he had?

Should she kill him for his origin? Just because of his family? Just because he was born in a system that obliged every children to bear arms and kill children of their enemy clans? Just because they could not choose to which family they wished to be born into?

Hashirama loved her father and brother, and she loved Madara. She didn’t want to choose, she didn’t want to be splitted between them. Why wouldn’t they stop killing each other? She and Madara had lost their siblings at war. Her father too. So did everyone in Senju and Uchiha clans. Why does everyone keep wanting to kill each other until one of them dies? Why?

Why?

The last memory she had about Kawarama was his odd grin. Kawarama was always proud every time he made any improvements in taijutsu and kenjutsu. He was the most enthusiastic in gaining their father’s recognition. He was the one who agreed the most with shinobi ideology about the honor of dying at war. Her father considered arming his children and sending them to war was an act of love.

What kind of parents told their children to kill each other, as if a human’s life worth nothing? Forcing children to fight adults, brainwashing them so they would willingly sacrifice their lives for someone else’s ambitions...

This rotten system has to stop!

“As usual,” Madara said, aloud so his voice would be heard above the sounds of water, “we skip stones as a greeting.”

Hashirama nodded. They put their hands in their pockets at the same time.

To cut this rotten chain of endless killing, Madara must survive. And she was determined to protect him in any way she could.

The two stones jumped on the water eight times before they fell on each other’s palm. The stone in her hand was carved with a message.

Run!

“Ah, I’m sorry, Hashirama!” he shouted from the other side. “I just remembered I have something else to do!”

The girl jolted. Gulping, she replied, “oh, yes! I also have an appointment so, see you later!”

However, before Hashirama managed to run into the forest, two shadows passed her. She stopped, turning her head to find her father and Tobirama standing on the water. Facing them were two people wearing similar dark clothes. One adult man, and one child. Both of them were armored.

“Uchiha Tajima,” her father greeted as he unsheathed his sword.

“Senju Butsuma,” the other man replied, “seems like we have the same idea.”

Hashirama’s arms and legs felt limp in an instant. The two children on the river exchanged greetings; it was clear that they had known each other. Met at war.  Sworn to spill blood.

“Stop!” she shouted, but they advanced to fight. Father against father, child against child. Each side possessed equal strength.

The two men backed off, reaching for their small knives and throwing them to their opponent’s child. The two children were still focused on fighting each other. They didn’t realize the sharp tips of the knives approaching them from above—

No, no, it wouldn’t happen. Tobirama would not follow her brothers!

“No!”

The stone in her hand flung towards Tajima’s knife. Another stone managed to fend off Butsuma’s kunai. Unfortunately, hers missed the target and the knife moved closer to her brother’s head—

Hashirama jumped forward, and her fingers moved on their own. They intertwined to form a snake seal. The chakra core in her belly pulsed, flooding her vessels with a warm, strong stream.

Her chakra was seething, restless, free— erupting.

The earth shook, and the riverbed fractured open. Square wooden pillars grew in a flash, standing tall and blocking the knife from reaching Tobirama. More pillars grew from the water, crossed with one another to separate both clans. Water and fishes splashed out to the river bank.

Hashirama landed in front of her family, and so did Madara. The boy glared.

“You…” He shook his head quickly and hissed, “I will not forgive you if anything happens to my sibling.”

“Neither will I,” she responded, only because it was the only thing she could say at this moment. Her heart pounded so fast. That was her first battle, and she had to face against her own friend.

She never wanted to be in this situation. She couldn’t choose to side with her blood family or her best friend.

“So, this is the reason,” Tajima said, a small scar on the corner of his lips made his tilted smirk looked strange, “why we haven’t seen your oldest son fought at war, Butsuma. You’re keeping him like a secret weapon.”

“Heh.” She heard the sound of a sword sliding back into its sheath, followed by Butsuma’s grip on her shoulder. “All this time I haven’t permitted  my daughter  to war.”

“Hashirama…” Madara whispered in shock, “you are a girl…?”

She didn’t answer him, yet she couldn’t look away. The tingling sensation from her erupted chakra hadn’t diminished. Her fingertips began to feel numb. Her vision trailed the surface of those strong, wooden pillars in front of her. It felt like a dream.

Mokuton, the wood element, was a legendary ninjutsu which supposedly appeared only once every a hundred years in Senju clan. A ninjutsu so impossible to learn, an immense strength able to subdue the bijuu. The elders stated that the ninjutsu can only be possessed by those who are worthy.

But why did it has to be her? She wasn’t a shinobi. She couldn’t even throw a shuriken properly, often missing her targets. There were dozens of maturer, more experienced shinobi…

“Understandable.” Tajima raised his chin. “How is it, Madara? Three against three should not be a problem.”

Madara’s gaze was locked on her. “No… Hashirama is way stronger than me.”

“Eeeehh? This girl is stronger than you?” The little kid behind him tilted her head.

Only then Hashirama recognized that the kid was a girl. A child that young, no older than Tobirama, sent to war by her own father…

“It’s true, Izuna. Even without her mokuton, she is already much stronger than me.” Madara closed his eyes. “Hashirama, seems like what we talked some time ago will never come true.”

“Madara, what are you talking about—”   

Once his eyes opened, for the first time the Senju girl stared right into a pair of sharingan. Flaming red, like the demon’s eyes the elders told to naughty children in her clan.

Now Hashirama realized where the epithet came from.

“We are only little children with empty dreams,” he continued, his fists clenched on his sides. “It was a joy talking about all those things with you, but it will never come true.”

“This is nothing like that…” Hashirama approached, holding herself close to the mokuton pillars. “Do you intend to forget about everything? All we have planned?”

Why did he talk this way? What’s in his mind?  Why do you walk away from me?

“The next time we see each other,” Madara stepped back without avoiding his gaze from her, “will be at war, Hashirama.”

Izuna cheered, “wow, Otou-sama! Look at his eyes!”

“Today isn’t a waste of time, after all…” Tajima sheathed his sword. “I’m waiting for your daughter in the battlefield, Butsuma…”

The three Uchiha retreated until they were swallowed by the forest's shadows. Their figures had disappeared from her senses when Hashirama realized her hand had slipped between the gap of her wooden pillars, trying to reach her friend. She tasted salt in her mouth, telling her that tears had flowed down her eyes towards her parted lips and teeth.

“Sis,” Tobirama pulled her sleeve, “let’s go home.”

It was unfair. Impossible. They just met and shared dreams. Then everything was gone in a blink of an eye. Maybe this was only a bad dream. Maybe if she went to the riverside tomorrow, Madara would be there waiting for her…

“The situation has changed.”

Hashirama raised her face. Her tears had dried without a trace. The village was visible at the end of the road, yet they stopped.

“Since you were born, I already knew you have an exceptional chakra. Strong and intense.” Butsuma crossed his arms. “Our clan’s rule is to forbid kunoichi from fighting on the frontline. But I can make an exception for you.”

Hashirama was silent, her heart pounding waiting for her father to reveal his intention.

“Starting from tomorrow, I will train you personally. Ninjutsu, taijutsu, kenjutsu; everything you need to learn, to fight. The blessing of mokuton cannot be wasted for nothing. Do you understand, Hashirama?”

Her eyes widened. It was everything she had wished for so long, so she could protect her brothers at war. But it came too late. When she had lost two brothers and a best friend. Even so, she nodded.

“I understand, Otou-sama.”

“Good. Now go home, both of you. I have to inform the elders about your mokuton.”

Hashirama’s shoulders slumped once her father went away. She dragged her feet towards the village, still too weak to talk. She had been waiting a long time to finally had the chance. Maybe she would still be able to make her father proud as a shinobi…

“...Sis. Aneja!”

She heard Tobirama calling for her, which she ignored until he informed, “you are bleeding.”

Hashirama looked at her exposed forearms. Flawless. Not a single scratch. Even her wet feet covered in sandals were doing fine. However, there was a trail of blood on her inner right thigh. Dripping onto the ground. She quickly realized that it wasn’t caused by physical injury.

“Tobirama,” she called him with a restrained voice, “please find Touka.”


 

 

A month passed.

A month had passed in a blink of an eye.

In one blink of an eye, Konoha had changed.

Pressure from Nobutada had forced Matsudaira to send extra food, medicine, and workers. The wilderness on the west side was deforested, gaining more land to be made into new settlement for non-ninja settlers. In one week, the new houses were built. The shinobi gathered remains of mokuton from the bijuu battle and turned them into the village’s outer walls. Hashirama’s new office was ready to be inhabited.  It was a three-story building circling around the front area of a cliff. The apartment included in the office had been expanded and filled with furnitures granted by Nobutada himself. There was a dining room, a small library, a balcony, and two extra bedrooms. The worker who designed the apartment stated that he intended to build it that way, imagining it would be inhabited by a family. Not just one person.

However, there was no word from Madara.

Even there were no news, findings, or any sighting about the bijuu fox found by the three young shinobi after two weeks. The reports sent by Konoha shinobi scattered across the empire found nothing so far.

In the end, Hashirama couldn’t hold it herself anymore. At the end of the day, she waited under the shadowy foliage near the road towards the Academy. Once Izuna’s figure left the building, she hurriedly approached her.

“My brother hasn’t returned yet,” she answered even before Hashirama opened her mouth. Izuna expressed it lightly, as if she was commenting on the current weather. “No need to worry. He must be wandering around right now.”  

“I can’t stop worrying,” Hashirama admitted softly, “and as a Hokage, I need to know his exact whereabout.”

“He likes to wander everywhere since a long time ago—” Izuna ouched; her thin sandal just stepped on a huge pebble. “He will come home soon. Back when Konoha was being constructed, he often wandered  by himself. Maybe burning forest somewhere.”

“So…” Hashirama led her to the turn towards village center. “You aren’t worried about him at all?”

“On the contrary, I am the one who's confused,” she replied, a playful smirk blooming on her face. “Hashi-san never bothered looking for him back then. But now, it’s been only two weeks and you’ve been worrying about him a lot.” Izuna’s hair framed her face once she turned at her. “You’re missing him, right?”

“E, eh?” Hashirama blinked, suddenly nervous. She panicked, quickly turning her back against the people on the street. “No—! I… I am the Hokage, I worry about everyone now, that’s why… that’s why…”

“I know what happened, though. Hashi-san slept in our house the night we had the storm, even you slept in—”

“Aaah!” She dragged Izuna away from the crowds, towards a footpath that led them to the Uchiha residence far from the village center. If anyone else should know, she wouldn’t be able to contain the embarrassment!

“I never heard much of my relatives talking lowly about Hashi-san or Senju clan anymore,” Izuna continued lightly, as if there was no interruption happened. “Konoha has been…” Her arms stretched, but her words stopped. She tidied her long bangs,  distancing herself from the Hokage.

“...Izuna?”

She turned, and her smile turned flat. “I was skeptical. I thought you would be just like what my family used to speak about Senju. That you only used my brother to win the war, to destroy and rip us out root and stem.”

Hashirama fell silent. She clutched her arm.

“I remember your face that day. On the river, more than a decade ago when we went to confront you. Your voice too.” For a moment she stopped. “The same voice when Hashi-san secretly tended my wounds. No kunoichi could fake their sorrow that way; crying and hurting with a voice so deeply in pain like you did. Even Tobirama said Hashi-san was never trained to be a kunoichi.” Izuna turned at her, hiding her hands behind her back. “I mean… if Hashi-san is willing and ready, I can help you to convince my family...”

“Ah…”

“Hashi-san is the only suitable person to be my brother’s wife. Not anyone else, not even fellow Uchiha.”

The wind came in to blow and play with their hairs, striking their clothes with dried leaves it carried. Shock froze all her movements. Hashirama blinked multiple times; her eyes teary.

“Izuna—”

“Ah, I’ve talked too much,” she cut her off as she turned her face away. “I’m not supposed to hold Hashi-san here for too long. Hokage must be really busy. Good afternoon.”

“Wai—”

Too late. Izuna had disappeared by the turn of the road. Her words kept haunting her for the rest of the day, causing her unable to focus.

She returned to work right away, putting official Hokage stamps to all the mission reports on her table. However, she only read the title without checking the rest of the reports. Since mission classification system had been implemented, Academy was opened, and Konoha officially became a part of the empire, mission requests were quickly piling up. The bandits who had been infesting the roads were never heard or seen anymore, the merchants and travelers could finally travel through the routes safely. Tobirama also formed an ANBU force to ensure Konoha’s internal security. She didn’t know what else their goals might be, but Hashirama trusted them. They reported directly to her, after all.

Her candle had shortened much, and her stamps missed further from their designated area . Nocturnal insects were buzzing, filling the air with their sounds, inviting her to sleep. But a mountain of documents piling on her desk didn’t seem to lessen in number…

“Hokage-sama.”

Hashirama jolted awake, wiping her lips. A figure of white masked ANBU was standing in front of her.

“Uchiha Madara is heading to Konoha.”

Her chair almost trampled from how fast she stood up. “Tell… tell all the ANBU to leave my office.”

“Is it alright?” The ANBU asked. “He seems furious.”

“It’s fine,” Hashirama convinced him. “Go now.”

“Understood, Hokage-sama.”

She listened to the roof creaking softly once the five ANBU sped away in unison. Hashirama took a new candle from the shelf, next to a box full of headbands with Konoha symbols carved on their newly forged plates. She merged the new candle with the old one, and placed them by the window. The candle fire that stood up straight suddenly swayed when another presence entered her office.

“Good evening, Madara.”

“What the hell is happening here?” he snapped, his voice was shaking from holding back anger. “I have gone for only a month and you have kneeled to the Emperor so easily?”

Hashirama glanced towards the reflection of Madara’s figure approaching on the window glass. His armor was nowhere to be seen. “And you have gone longer than the time limit I gave you. The other shinobi you took with you had went home accordingly. You better have a good reason for this, Uchiha-sama.”

“They were holding me back.” Madara swept his bangs away from the side of his face. “The fox could kill them. It’s better for them to retreat.”

“And the bijuu?”

“I’ve taken care of it.” Madara stared back at her from the reflection. “Look at me, Hashirama.”

They finally faced each other. One month in the wilderness had left a mark on Madara; the scent of pine forest and fresh soil on his body. He was less than a meter away from her, still within an arm’s reach.

“How about you?” Madara put his hands on his waists. “We built Konoha not to gather military strength. But you formed a relation with Nobutada when I wasn’t present, fighting a war against another country which also sends their children to war. Explain this.”   

Hashirama backed off until her waist bumped the edge of her desk. The intelligence report never mentioned anything about children. “...How did you know Iwa sends children to war?”

“I saw it myself.” He scoffed disparagingly. “What kind of Hokage who doesn’t know the kind of opponent her village will face?”

“You know I have many things to take care—”

“You’re not weak, Hashirama,” he insisted. “You don’t need the Emperor’s help.”

“You weren’t here. You didn’t see how much our people needed medicines and food immediately. Matsudaira wouldn’t help us—”

“You don’t need him!”

“We both don’t! But everyone else wants to run the missions and every other things we wished to stop, Madara! Everyone needs immediate help.” Hashirama lowered her voice. “I was the only one who didn’t want a war. Even our siblings agreed. I have to consider others’ opinion too in my decisions.” She was panting. Her entire exhaustion and mental burdens engulfed her once more. “Even the Emperor’s representative is still here… Nobutada hasn’t completely trusted us yet.”

“Leave him.” Somehow Madara ignored the fact about Izuna she just stated. “We have received enough supplies, what are you waiting for?”

Hashirama’s jaw dropped. She approached. “You’re not seriously telling me to betray the agreement with the Emperor, are you?”

“How many times I have to tell you—we don’t need him! Konoha can stand by itself, without being corrupted by the daimyo who keep forcing us to send children to war!”

“Madara, lower your voice,” she asked, “it’s late. Go home. I still have work to do…”

“What are these papers for?” Madara gestured with his chin.

“These? Mission reports. The daimyo are the clients—”

One sweep of a hand sent the papers flying. Scattered in the air, falling slowly on the clean and gleaming wooden floor. Shocked, Hashirama scolded him.

“Madara! Why—”

“Screw all those noblemen.” Madara hugged her tightly. “The two of us are enough to destroy all the samurai, all the Iwa shinobi… even the bijuu.”

Hashirama was stunned, her heart was pounding nervously. The fear that haunted her for the last few weeks turned into a yearning that fell upon her like a swift landslide. She quickly laid her head on his shoulder, for a moment she tightened their embrace, then backed away to peck him briefly on his lips.

For a while she stared at him from up and down, capturing every detail with her eyes. The  new scars on his skin. The makeshift repairs and tattered edges on his clothes. Hashirama’s palms squeezed his shoulders.

“I’m glad you are alright.”

In the blink of an eye, Madara kissed her again. As if he was thirsty, and hungry for her touch. The tenderness he possessed in their first night was gone. His grip on her arms left bruised blue marks. She reached for the belt on his waist as they had their lips locked on each other, letting his gunbai fall with a loud thud. Madara pushed and laid her on the desk; scattering her hair on its surface.

“Don’t leave me again,” Hashirama begged, as he busied himself to push her kimono past half her thighs. “Please stay. You can be my right hand.”

Madara’s fingers stopped working. “You don’t need two right hands. Your brother has filled the position for you. You don’t even listen to me.” His voice softened, although still filled with anger.

“I still have to listen to the opinions of our people.” Hashirama caressed his jaw. “You are not the only villager here.”

Madara stayed still, coldly. “Then what am I to you?” he challenged.

Hashirama’s mind was too cluttered to even think about the answer. Madara leaned himself closer to her until she could feel his breath warming her lips. If she took a deep breath, their bodies would touch.

She only knew that she wished for being in the Uchiha’s embrace.

Hashirama’s arms relaxed, falling from his face. “You are my best friend, Madara.”

“Only a friend?” He scoffed cynically, biting his right glove off. “Then I need to know how far our  friendship  really is, Senju Hashirama.”

His bare hand disappeared behind the folds of her kimono, and a second later Hashirama had to bite her lips to hold off her squeal from breaking the silence of night. She closed her eyes tightly, focusing herself to Madara’s fingers inside her. The next kiss was gentler, leaving a chance to let out her soft moans once in a while. She grabbed his clothes so tightly until it wrinkled.

She didn’t want to be torn between Hokage duties and her desire to be with Madara. She also didn’t Madara to leave again.

She wanted him to always be here—

“ANEJA!”

The voice shattered the spell that covered them. Madara immediately backed away, but still blocking the view of Hashirama’s body from the door as she fixed her kimono. Her thighs were still trembling.

Tobirama stood on the doorstep, hugging a few thick scrolls. Hashirama had never seen him so angry before. The door handle was fractured in his grip. His breath was so fast that she could see his chest rising up and down clearly. His chakra was spread around the room in a huge wave, making the other two shinobi protecting themselves with their own chakra.

Madara cursed under his breath. Hashirama’s arms were lifted to cover her view until the wave was dissipated. She stepped forward immediately, trying to calm her brother.

“Tobirama, this is—”

“You are engaged.”

The silence that followed after rang in her ears. The insects outside didn’t buzz anymore. The world slowed down in Hashirama’s eyes.

“You didn’t misheard me.” Tobirama read the silence. “You have been engaged since you were a child to Uzumaki clan.”

The image of a bald little boy surfaced on her memory.

“To Uzumaki Nobuo.”

A gust of wind caused her to turn away. The window behind her desk was opened wide.

Madara was gone.

“Please don’t go after him, Sis.” Tobirama crossed the room calmly, avoiding all the scattered papers. He put his scrolls on the shelves. “You should stop meeting him in secret.”

Hashirama’s lower lip trembled. “Why didn’t you tell me…?”

“Father forbade me.” Tobirama’s back was facing her. “I’ve broken my promise to our father—”

Hashirama couldn’t believe him. “How could you learn about this and father didn’t let me know? Why did father...” Her voice was restrained. “Since when have you known this?”

“It’s been a long time.”

“Why no one informed me about it? It should be… I…”

Tobirama stared at her coldly. “This is the tradition. You are the strongest in our clan.” For a moment he was silent. “Father wanted your children to strengthen our clan—”

“Clan again, clan again!” Hashirama roared in return. Her chakra was seething, ready to break free. “No one ever told me I have engaged! I will ask Ashina-san to terminate it!”

“You can’t.”

“Why can’t I?” Hashirama’s cheeks were wet. Her index finger was a centimeter away from picking up a fallen brush.

“Uzumaki clan had given us a lot of money,” Tobirama explained flatly, picking up all the mission report papers on the floor. “All the money you gave to the other clans, all of our money taken by the Emperor because you lost a gamble… our debt is piling. Uncle Joji has helped to arrange so we can pay them back regularly as long as your engagement continues.”

Hashirama fell on her knees. “So you intend to barter me as a debt payment, is that it?”

“It’s nothing like that, my position is difficult too—”

“Get out.”

Tobirama stayed still. “Listen to me—”

The only remaining family she had. The one she trusted with her life, the place she came to ask for help…

Betrayed her like this.

The one who was blessed by the strength of mokuton lifted her face, all her emotions brimming and forming into pure energy. “ Get out, Tobirama ,” she ordered with a voice layered by chakra. Papers scattered in the air. The floor and the walls fractured and cracked like they were clawed by an unseen bijuu.

The candle in the window died at once.


 

 

Tobirama closed the Hokage office door behind him, trembling from head to toe.

He shouldn't have done that. He shouldn’t let himself loose. His shock of finding his sister with Madara caused him to lose his cool, forgetting all the training he went through to be a shinobi. Now he had broken his own promise to his father.

He hated being stuck in this situation. No matter how hard he tried to solve all the complicated problems, Tobirama could not realize why he had caused everything to be much more complicated instead of solved.

Hashirama just didn’t understand. Their father engaged her to Nobuo for the good of their clan. The mokuton could not be wasted for nothing. The better the bloodline of her betrothed is, the better the chance her children would inherit the prowess.  A good thing for Senju clan and obviously would be a good thing for Konoha.

But Hashirama did not understand. And Madara kept blinding her. He didn’t know what she saw in that man…

Tobirama lingered. He stood far from the door, waiting. After a few minutes had passed, he encouraged himself to approach. He grabbed the door handle he fractured earlier.

“Aneja?” he called. However, there was no answer from the inside but her restrained sob.

He was twenty three, and Tobirama hated talking to the door.