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so many stars (but they lead you so astray)

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“Gotten probed yet?” Madara asks snidely, instead of saying hello like a normal person.

Izuna rolls his eyes, shoving his glasses up his nose. “Have you?” he retorts. “You're the one with the boyfriend.”

In the room behind Madara, his brother’s white-haired significant annoyance lifts his head from some sheet of complicated equations as Madara splutters, arches one brow, and looks at Izuna.

“If he makes me sleep on the couch because he’s too embarrassed by you talking about sex to fuck, I'm going to put hair remover in your shampoo,” Tobirama says warningly.

Izuna groans, slapping a hand over his eyes until the bridge of his glasses digs into his nose. “No,” he says pitifully. “I don’t want that image, make it go away.”

“You’re the one who brought it up,” Tobirama retorts, unimpressed, and goes back to his calculations. Izuna's never been able to figure out what he actually does, but his money is on secret government research. Maybe trying to achieve lightspeed or something—Izuna is decent at math, but he’s never seen equations like that outside of theoretical physics.

“Nothing is up!” Madara snaps, yanking the laptop around so that Izuna can't see Tobirama anymore. Just Madara, red-faced and annoyed. Instantly, Izuna gives him his most innocent smile.

“Really?” he asks guilelessly. “Nothing? Are you sure?”

Madara bristles like a porcupine, red all the way to his collarbones. “So how’s your research going,” he says aggressively, and Izuna laughs, smothering it behind a hand.

“Good!” he says, because even if Madara doesn’t actually want to know, he walked right into this. “I’m heading for the border between Wind Country and River Country, since there were some reports of weird electromagnetic activity there that I want to look into. No one’s seen a UFO yet, but radio signals keep cutting out in random patches, and something blew out the windows in a farmer’s house last week, all at once.”

Madara frowns. “Blew out his windows?” he repeats, concern flickering across his face. “Is that safe to be near, Izuna?”

Izuna rolls his eyes again, but fondly this time. “I’m fine, Madara,” he says. “Can you imagine if this is actually a UFO? If it’s a spacecraft? I could have figured out the advanced warning signs to pinpoint extraterrestrial visitors!”

From off-camera, there’s a loud, pointed snort.

Izuna makes a face. “I don’t care if you work for the government and you're banging my brother,” he calls, loud enough that there’s no way Tobirama can miss it. “I’ll get to the truth someday! Hiding the aliens won't work forever, people are smarter than that!”

“Not you,” Tobirama retorts, and Izuna huffs in offense.

Anyway,” he says, because he’s not about to listen to a government paper-pusher. “I still have a few hours of driving, but I should make it to the campsite before midnight and have time to set up my equipment. There’s supposed to be a meteor shower tonight, too.”

“I can't believe this is what you're wasting your degree in astronomy on,” Madara says, looking pained.

“It’s valuable research,” Izuna says, offended. “Look, I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? I want to get back on the road.”

Madara grimaces, but just shakes his head. “Don’t crash the RV,” he says.

“Don’t let your boyfriend get too enthusiastic about the probing,” Izuna shoots back. “The rest of the police force laughs at you when you can't walk straight.”

Madara sputters loudly in offense, then reaches out and slams the laptop shut. Izuna laughs, leaning back, and takes his glasses off. Madara's not quite as easy to rile as he used to be, but he’s still fun to tease. Especially since Izuna doesn’t have to live with him and deal with the aftermath anymore. That’s all on Tobirama.

Stowing his laptop in its case, Izuna collects another bottle of water, picks out a bag of trail mix, and heads back towards the front of the RV. Outside, in the clear area around the rest stop, the stars are bright, and Izuna slides into his seat, then folds his arms against the steering wheel and leans forward to get a better look, smiling to himself. Madara can think what he likes about Izuna's work, but he loves this. It’s a hell of a lot better than a teaching position somewhere, or even a job as a gofer for some other scientist. This fits, in a way none of the other jobs Izuna tried ever did.

A flicker of light marks the path of a shooting star falling down across the horizon, bright and silver, and Izuna tracks its path, then lets out a breath. Right towards the edge of the desert he’s heading for, and Izuna's not superstitious—everything in the world can be explained by science, and just because he chases UFOs for a living doesn’t make that any less true—but he’s willing to take that as a good sign.

The rumble of the engine coming to life is a familiar sort of comfort, and Izuna pats the instrument panel, then turns on the lights and puts the RV in drive. The road through River Country is an easy one, wide and straight, and is more than ready to get to the strange zone of silence he’s been tracking reports about. It should be a nice, smooth drive, and then he can get to work.

 

 

The meteor shower is a good one, with shooting stars so thick and frequent that Izuna catches sight of dozens, even trying to mostly keep his eyes on the road. The road is mostly empty, cutting a route far around the city of Tani and its suburbs, and Izuna turns on some mellow music and lets himself ride the edge of excitement at the thought of what he’ll find at the border. There are only a handful of cars, and after an hour or so there aren’t any, just an empty road and the stars above.

And then, bobbing in the darkness, a light on the side of the highway.

Izuna frowns, taking his foot off the gas as his headlights pick up the shape of a person. Alone in the dark, and it’s almost midnight, far from anywhere.

It’s a little sketchy, but Izuna keeps a tazer in the door pocket and a can of pepper spray under each of the seats. Besides, he’s not an asshole, regardless of what Tobirama likes to say. He slows, pulling over a little as he brings the RV to a halt, and rolls his window down.

“Hey,” he calls. “Everything okay?”

The light pauses, then steadies. A moment later, the hitchhiker steps fully into the circle of light from Izuna's headlights, and Izuna has to do a double take.

It’s not just that he’s tall, broad-shouldered, and handsome. He’s also barefoot, wearing what Izuna is pretty sure are harem pants, with a loose white shirt that does impressive things for his chest. With an effort, Izuna hauls his eyes up to his face, and—

Hair. Long, shiny black hair, not the wild rat’s nest Madara has always sported, but perfectly combed and straight. There are wildflowers woven into it, and strands tangle with the long necklace he’s wearing, the crystal on it all but glowing in the low light.

Izuna is pretty sure this is what getting smacked in the head with a brick feels like.

“Hello!” the man says, and that smile is too welcoming for someone walking alone on a back-country highway at night. He pauses a foot from Izuna's window, still smiling, and asks, “I'm sorry to bother you, but do you happen to know where the closest town is?”

Izuna swallows, makes himself stop checking out the curve of muscle only half-hidden by the loose V-neck of that white shirt, and says, “Tani's the closest city, but it’s about two hours from here. There’s a rest stop about forty miles back, and a town about ten miles past that. Did you break down?”

The man laughs, and finally closes that last foot, apparently deciding Izuna isn't about to murder him. Or tie him up in the back of his RV or something. Not that Izuna wouldn’t—he’d just wait for an agreement first.

“A very kind woman dropped me off a few miles back,” he says in explanation. “But I was thinking I would try to reach a town before sleeping.”

Izuna doesn’t blame him; sleeping out here seems like an invitation to get murdered by a passing serial killer. “Well, I have room, if you want a ride,” he says, jerking a thumb at the passenger seat. “I'm heading for the White Desert campground for tonight, but I can take you into one of the border towns in the morning when I go to get supplies.”

It’s a sketchy offer. Izuna honestly wouldn’t be offended if the man laughed in his face and ran. But, instead, he smiles, soft and kind in a way that makes Izuna warm right down to the tips of his toes, and says, “Thank you. That’s very sweet of you.”

Izuna doesn’t flush, mostly because after a childhood of having Madara as an older brother he’s practically immune to embarrassment. “You’re welcome,” he says, and smiles back. “Any bags?”

The man shakes his head, then rounds the RV. A moment later the door opens and he pulls himself in, then inclines his head to Izuna like an aborted bow. “I'm Hashirama.”

“Uchiha Izuna,” Izuna says easily. “Watch out for the equipment in the back, it’s worth more than both our lives.”

Hashirama blinks, pulling back, and casts an alarmed look at the radio and sensing equipment stacked carefully behind the seats. “You put worth on lives?” he asks, sounding distressed, and Izuna would swear that the wildflowers in his hair bristle.

“What?” Izuna asks, bewildered. “I—no! Of course not! It’s just a saying.”

Relief flickers across Hashirama’s face, and he smiles again, like the sun breaking through the clouds. “Oh,” he says in relief. “Sorry, I don’t—metaphor is hard for me, sometimes.”

“Not a native speaker?” Izuna asks, because there's a trace of accent he can't quite place. Pulling back out onto the road, he casts a sideways glance at Hashirama, and is just in time to watch him brush his hair back behind his shoulder in an absent motion.

“No,” Hashirama says, and leans forward, looking out the windscreen. “The stars are so beautiful tonight, aren’t they?” Turns that smile on Izuna, like they're sharing a secret, and says, “You must have a beautiful view every night.”

Pleased, Izuna pats the door. “The best view,” he says. “Not as good as the one you just had, but I love it.” He casts another look at Hashirama, and can't stop himself from asking, “Are you hitching somewhere in particular?”

Hashirama laughs. “I'm trying to find someone,” he says easily. “My brother. He landed here a while ago, and we lost touch.”

Despite himself, Izuna feels a pang of sympathy. Madara drives him insane, always, but he can't imagine being separated from him like that. “My brother’s a police officer,” he offers. “He might be able to help, if he went missing somewhere in Fire Country. He’s got access to all the port records, if that’s where your brother’s boat landed.”

“Boat,” Hashirama repeats, and that tone is almost dubious for one half-second before he brightens again. “Yes! That would be wonderful, thank you.” He laughs, and there’s something like relief in his face. “Meeting you was a stroke of good luck, Izuna.”

Izuna is absolutely, definitely not looking at the column of his throat, the delicate line of the chain around his neck. Or the curve of his shoulders, broad beneath the fall of his hair.

He has flowers in his hair. Izuna never stood a chance, knowing that.

“I think I could say the same,” he says, a little roughly, and takes the exit towards the campground. “I—what brought your brother here? Looking for work?”

“Studying cultural differences,” Hashirama says, and laughs. “He’s a scientist, and a very good one. Almost too good, sometimes.” Something rueful pulls at his mouth before a moment. “I meant to come with him, but—family obligations got in the way.”

“Family can be the biggest pain,” Izuna mutters, thinking of his father. Dead, now, but there was a reason Madara moved out the day he turned eighteen, and took Izuna with him. he shakes off the thoughts, though, and casts Hashirama another look. “And what do you do?”

“I grow things,” Hashirama says proudly, “and I’m a…” He pauses, clearly searching for a word, and offers, “Community leader?”

Izuna wonders, for a brief moment, why someone like that is wandering down a River Country highway in the middle of the night, but before he can ask, Hashirama tips his head and says, “And you?”

Izuna is always ready to talk about his work. “I'm a scientist, too,” he says, pointing at the equipment in the back. “But I'm an astronomer. I'm looking into the occurrence of electromagnetic phenomenon as linked to the sighting of unidentified flying objects.”

“Unidentified flying objects?” Hashirama echoes, confused.

“UFOs,” Izuna clarifies cheerfully, because he knows how most people react, and it’s usually satisfying. “Potential alien spacecraft.”

There's a long, long moment of silence, and when Izuna glances over again, Hashirama is watching him with a strangely intense expression.

“Alien spacecraft,” he repeats. “You look for aliens?”

“The potential for other life out in the universe is fascinating,” Izuna says, a well-practiced defense. “There's so much space, and so many possibly habitable planets, so of course—”

“I’m very glad,” Hashirama says softly, still with that strange intensity, “that someone else believes there is life beyond this planet.” Then he pulls his legs up under him to sit cross-legged in his seat, closes his eyes, and rests his hands on his knees like he’s meditating.

Izuna has no idea what to do with that, and he stares at Hashirama for as long as he dares before he has to look back at the road. That’s…not the response he was expecting, but it’s a positive one. Maybe Hashirama is stoned, and that’s why his reactions are weird. Maybe he’s just weird in general; Izuna definitely can't throw stones in that department.

He focuses on getting them to the campsite and setting up for the night, since that’s easier than overthinking things. Hashirama only stirs once they’re parked, and he’s happy enough to sleep on the floor, even though Izuna offers him the bed.

Izuna stares at him for a long, long while as he drifts off, but he doesn’t come to any conclusions, and he finally drifts off in the early hours of the morning with the smell of wildflowers in his nose.

 

 

Izuna's never been a morning person, and usually he remembers to draw the curtains so the sun won't wake him up prematurely. Apparently he forgot this time, though, because he wakes to sunlight on his face, warm and bright and disgusting, and he groans, batting ineffectually at it.

Above him, there's a soft chuckle, and then a touch to his cheek. Something rustles, like plants in the wind. “Forgive me,” a low voice says, “but the first meal is ready.”

“Food?” Izuna asks blearily, and cracks open an eye.

Then he stops, and stares.

Hashirama smiles at him, but—he looks like someone took a marker to his face in the middle of the night, strange marking smeared across his cheeks and around his eyes. There’s a circle drawn on his forehead, too, and Izuna squints at it, then raises a hand and, without thinking about it, tries to wipe the mark away with his thumb.

All he feels is warm skin beneath his fingertip, and he pauses, trying to work out why that’s weird.

“Awake?” Hashirama asks, amused, and of course he’s a morning person. Only a flaw like that could make up for the fact that he looks like some sort of hippie god. “I hope you don’t mind that I relocated us in the night. I was hoping your brother could help me locate my brother soon, and you said he was a law officer in a neighboring country.”

Relocated. Relocated. It takes a moment for the word to register, but when it does Izuna yelps, jolting upright in a panic. “You drove my RV?” he demands, horrified. She’s sensitive. Izuna is the only one allowed to drive her.

Hashirama blinks at him, then tips his head. “Of course not,” he says, sounding faintly miffed. “I paid for another week in that space, and I locked the door. My ship is faster than land craft, though.”

Ship, Izuna thinks, dazed. He stares at Hashirama for a long moment, the strange marks on his face, and then turns his head, and—

Green. There's green everywhere, plant life climbing the walls so thickly Izuna can't see what’s behind them. It’s a relatively small room, though, with a floor of what looks like moss, and a curved doorway that leads out into a green-smothered hallway. There's even a window, and outside of it, there are stars.

“Ship,” Izuna repeats, and then snaps his gaze back to Hashirama. “Oh my god, you're an alien.”

“A Senju,” Hashirama agrees cheerfully, sinking down to sit on the foot of Izuna's bed with one leg bent beneath him. “My brother is one too, of course. There's reason to believe his ship malfunctioned during a sunspot event, though, and I've come to find him.”

“Oh wow,” Izuna says, and buries his face in his hands. “Oh wow, I was having indecent thoughts about an alien. This puts me on a whole other level. I'm so sorry to every UFO chaser I ever mocked about green space babes. I have regrets.”

Hashirama laughs, bright and warm, and reaches out to touch Izuna's elbow. “I'm flattered,” he says cheerfully. “And I would happily indulge, once we find Tobirama.”

What,” Izuna squawks, and—

Senju.

The pieces connect.

My brother’s boyfriend is an alien?” he demands. “He’s an alien? He keeps mocking my research, that asshole, I'm going to garrote him with his own tie—”

Hashirama cuts him off with a kiss, and he’s laughing when he pulls back. “That,” he says, “sounds exactly like Tobirama.”

Izuna swallows, licks his lips. Takes a breath, and reaches out to get a handful of Hashirama’s temptingly perfect white shirt. “You know what? If you kiss me again, I won't even care what a jerk he is.”

Hashirama’s laughter is a sweet thing, and he falls back to the bed, pulling Izuna right on top of him. “Hands-on research?” he asks, grinning.

Izuna very carefully doesn’t think about all the research Tobirama has probably been doing on Madara. It’s not like Madara's a great sample of the average population, anyway. If Tobirama ends up with a skewed data set, it’s his own fault.

“I think,” he says grandly, and gets his hands on that beautiful, warm chest, all soft skin and hard muscle, “that I can branch out into biology. Just this once.”

Hashirama laughs, and Izuna kisses it out of his mouth.