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A Reasonable Choice

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1.

The first time Madara meets her, he doesn't realize she is a girl. Bowl-cut, wearing a boy's haori and a pair of loose-fitting shorts that fall just above the knees, Madara thinks she is a boy about his age. It's only when he takes a closer look at her that he figures out the truth.

"You're...you're a girl?"

She's squatting in the dirt, grinning up at him through sweaty bangs, when Madara sputters and stares at her, goggle-eyed and incredulous.

"Damn right I'm a girl!" she says. "You didn't notice?"

He rearranges his face into something like apathy, shrugging and palming a rock. "I don't like hanging out with girls," he says. She pushes into his face, yelling.

"I can definitely beat you, even if I'm a girl."

"Ha," Madara says, standing.

"I'd like to see you try."

 

*****

 

As it turns out, the girl is some sort of freak, out-running and out-punching him with consummate ease. She's stronger and faster and climbs up to the top of the tree before he could even catch his footing, laughing and showing off in front of him.

"Well I'm better at molding chakra than you," he says, because he's embarrassed and mad and she just stares up at the sky, hands behind her head, and shrugging.

"You're just mad because I'm better than you."

"Shut up," Madara says, but he's grinning. The day is nice and warm.

 

*****

 

It probably isn't the smartest thing, becoming friends with someone who is likely an enemy shinobi. At first he's merely curious about her in a detached, clinical sort of way, because she is a girl and girls don't run or fight or kick each other in the shins. But then he talks to her and he forgets that she is a girl, she's just another kid just like him.

"Why are you watching me pee?" he snaps, after he catches Hashi peeking at him, giggling a little and hiding behind a tree.

"I just wanted to see if you can aim!" Hashi says, and she ducks and dodges the ball of dirt Madara chucks at her, retaliating by hurling a ball of mud in his general direction.

It irritates him a little, how good she is at a lot of things. Her taijutsu is good, she's fast and brave and her chakra reserves are incredibly strong, even if her control has something left to be desired. She's a natural fighter, something that even a boy like him can appreciate.

"Doesn't anybody miss you?" Madara says, but Hashi shrugs, chewing on a leaf and looking at the clouds.

"They think I'm pulling flowers," Hashi says, and before Madara opens his mouth to tell her it's gathering flowers, he realizes pulling is probably the right word and quietly lets it go.

 

*****

 

One day, he finds her by the river, crying. They had sent her youngest brother into battle. He did not survive.

"I'm sorry," Madara says, and Hashi sniffs beside him miserably.

"How are your parents?" Madara asks, quietly. Hashi shrugs.

"My father says he died a noble death," Hashi says.

"And your mother?"

"My mother is dead," Hashi says. Madara nods, then tosses a stone.

 

*****

 

2.

He stares out into the charred earth and silently takes stock of the damage: a Senju banner waves obscenely above them as Uchiha bodies are littered on the ground.

She is still stronger than him. Even now she has the upper hand, her figure a distant wavering silhouette behind a curtain of thick black smoke.

The Kyuubi roars. Madara leaps, jumping onto the Kyuubi's back while the Uchiha army storms behind him. In front, she claps her hands and calls out the names of jutsus Madara can barely hear, and the earth splits beneath him in an eruption of growing trees: there is a violent thrust of growth and expansion, leaves bursting like fireworks and obscuring his field of vision. She counters and the curtain of her hair catches the wind like banners, and when she goes for a killing blow, Madara barely notices, not until Izuna shouts a number of obscenities and just barely pushes Madara out of the way.

 

*****

 

She is the leader of her clan, something entirely unheard of in a world dominated by men. So when their clans come to a truce, Madara almost takes it for granted that their suspension of hostilities would be solidified by a political marriage, a foundation on which they could build their village.

"Wait, what?" she says, and then she starts laughing. Madara stares at her, confused.

"I'm serious," Madara says. "The union of the Senju and the Uchiha. But if you're worried that we will subjugate your clan--"

"No no no," Hashi says. She wipes tears from her eyes, wheezing. "We build our village on a foundation of trust and mutual respect. There is no 'marriage' involved in it."

"I see," Madara says, but he is doubtful.

She is smart enough and shrewd enough to realize marriage is a tool not to be squandered carelessly, and Madara watches her, how her hair moves against the long line of her neck as she looks out into the horizon. "That doesn't bother you?" Madara asks, because he had assumed that something like that actually would.

"There are no love matches," Hashi says. She leans back on her hands, thoughtfully. "I just hope Tobirama is the one who gets matched up, first."

 

*****

 


There is much to do to build a village. Though their clans had joined and a tentative peace had been reached, there still was the matter of the warring countries that had employed them, as well as the fact that a family of shinobi had no other useful skills. "No one knows how to farm?" Hashi says.

They stare mournfully at the terraces of rice, the rows of slender green leaves beset with the starting rot.

Madara kicks a potato plant with the toe of his foot, the leafy stems wilting and browning at the sides. He activates his sharingan, peering into the dirt.

"They are too close together," Madara says. He closes his eyes, lets his sharingan regress back to the normal iris, before opening them again. "The roots are not given enough room to grow."

"I see," Hashi says. She sighs, mournfully.

Shinobi are well-suited for hard labor. Backs bent, they push the bulbs of potato roots into the dirt while others dig perfect rows, lined and scraped by weapons repurposed as gardening tools. "Can we not slaughter animals?" Madara says. "Find a wild herd of goats and take the meat?"

"And whose herd are we going to steal?" Hashi says. "Madara. How did you feed your people, before?"

"We pillaged," Madara says. Hashi makes a sound that almost sounds like frustration, but Madara tosses a potato bulb, sniffing. "Really, Hashirama. The simplest thing would be to raid the nearest enemy enclave and take what we need. We have the strength in numbers for this."

"So you would jeopardize the peace for a few bags of rice?"

"It was a hypothetical," Madara says. "And what did you do? Don't tell me you grew your own crops," Madara says. "You Senju are as hapless as we are."

"If only there were farmers you could spy on," Hashi says. "You could use your sharingan to copy their techniques."

"You think we haven't tried?"

"Well your fields do look better than ours."

"Hm, that is true," Madara says. "And unlike yours, we have managed to grow something."

"Except that everything is wilting," Hashi says. Madara rolls his eyes, magnificently.

"Details."


*****

 

Two clans used to roaming, trading weapons skills and warrior tasks for food and bags of rice. They pitched tents made of animal hides and huddled around communal fires, warming their hands and trading stories of war.

Wood grows. Thin stems turn to twisting vines and then thick trucks of trees, and Hashi conjures timber from thin air, forests of oak and birch, molding chakra like plumes of exhaled breath.

She is the only one of her bloodline limit, and the impracticality of building houses for everyone in the village rears its head when she nearly collapses after creating the hundredth wooden house, stumbling over the woody platform.

"Idiot," Madara says. Hashi smiles a sickly little smile and Madara hefts her forward, taking her full weight against his shoulder. "Your chakra is nearly spent. If this were a battle you would be dead, by now."

He watches her sleep. Her face is pale and her breathing is shallow under the thin blanket. Madara watches over her, frowning, before coming to a decision.

She is resting her head on the table when Madara drops the bag of coins beside her, the loud thud startling her upright. "What's this?" Hashi says. Madara shrugs, elegantly.

"War reparations," Madara says. "It is a portion of what we were paid. Consider it a gift. The Uchiha are happy to give it."

"I don't understand," Hashi says, and Madara rolls his eyes.

"Money," Madara says. "We have no skill in farming and we have no skill in craft. Other than metal work - which is useless, by the way, who would buy weapons besides other shinobi clans? - we have nothing. With this we can purchase what we need. Hire contractors," Madara says. "Surely there are civilians we can bring into the fold."

"Civilians," Hashi says.

"Farmers," Madara says. "Fishermen. Craftsmen. People who could benefit from our protection."

"Of course," Hashi says. Her face splits into a grin. "Madara, you are a genius! Do you know of any such clans?"

"I know of plenty," Madara says, sniffing, before adding,

"Who do you think we've looted, before?"


*****

 

There are still enemies despite their truce, and in the winter of their first year, Madara and Hashi go out to negotiate.

The ice begins to crack. Madara crosses the river quickly but Hashi loses her footing. The ice breaks. She crashes into the icy waters.

Madara throws down his battlefan and runs, diving head-first into the water. The water is cold and dark and the weight of his armor slows down his movements, the heavy cloth of his undershirt ballooning around him. Sharingan active, he sees her and grabs her by the arm, yanking her up and swimming violently upwards, chakra coiling and springing him upwards like a just-shot arrow. He crests the surface and gasps, pulling Hashi up beside him.

Boots squelch as Madara tugs and drags her body onto the shore. Her face is pale and her skin is cold. Dark hair sticks to her neck and face and her eyes are closed. Pale.

"Oi!" Madara says. He pounds on Hashi's ribs, pulling off the water-soaked pieces of armor and throwing them on the ground. "Oi!"

She coughs until she's coughing up water, water dribbling down her mouth and chin.

"Idiot," Madara says, and he hefts his friend forward.

There is a cave near the river. Outside, the sky is turning dark and even with his sharingan activated, Madara isn't sure they're not surrounded by enemies, just waiting for a signal fire. He rubs his arm and looks back at Hashi, whose legs are curled up to her chest and who is shivering, pathetically.

"Here," Madara says, and he pulls off his shirt, moving gingerly to tug off her wet clothes.

"What are you doing?"

"We can't start a fire," Madara says. Her skin is cold and Madara nearly recoils when he presses his chest to the cold skin of her back. "We are surrounded by enemies and a fire would only alert them to our position. If only someone weren't idiotic enough to walk out into a river--"

"--it looked safe," Hashi says.

"--Into a river with fifty pounds of armor on, and did I mention that you're an idiot? You don't know how to swim."

"I thought that we could cross," she says, and that damn stupid optimism makes Madara grit his teeth. He presses her closer, rubbing her arms.

She is still shivering. Madara thinks a moment, then concentrates his chakra at that same warm spot in his chest, as if he were to perform a katon and breathe fire. He doesn't, though, letting the heat build and build until Madara is sweating and Hashi relaxes into the warmth.

"How come you're not saying anything?" Hashi says, after a few tense moments, and Madara glares at her and spits out the small fireball he had been forcing back down his windpipe.

"Oh," she says, and Madara glowers, letting his chakra build back up again.

They return to the village three days late. "Sister!" Tobirama says, and Madara watches as he runs and catches her, holding close. "When you didn't come back we were so worried. We thought you didn't survive!"

"Of course I did," Hashi says. She grins. "Madara was always with me."

Madara is far enough away that he can't hear Tobirama say, That's exactly what made me worry, but his sharingan is sharp enough that he can easily pick out the words.

"If I wanted to kill her," Madara says, loudly enough for all the Senju and Uchiha standing around them to turn and look, "I would not have to stoop so low as to wait for her to be alone."

Tobirama jerks forward. "Teme--"

"Brother, please." Hashi puts a hand on her brother's arm, stepping in front of him.

"Thank you, Madara-sama, for agreeing to accompany me," she says, and the honorific unnerves him.

"Of course," Madara says.

He thought that they were friends.

 

******

 

He hears second-hand about Tobirama's newest scheme: a block of houses intended for the Uchiha at the furthest quarter from the village center. Many Uchiha had agreed to move there, despite Madara's angry warnings.

"They are herding us into a corner, as if we were their sheep. It is unfair," Madara says. The other Uchiha frown at him.

"We all have to do our part for the stability of this village. You need to get over yourself, and do your part as well."

He loses his temper. "You're blind!" he says. "You're fools to believe you can trust them. Don't walk away from me!" he says, while the younger generation rolls their eyes.

 

*****

 

"I don't see the problem with low-income housing," Hashi says.

She is sitting on top of her desk. Not behind it, like a proper lady would, but squarely on the desktop, legs folded in front of her and loudly crunching an apple. Madara glares and paces and wrings his hands.

"The poorest among us happen to be Uchiha," Hashi says. "I only want to help them."

"We are poor because of your war reparations," Madara says, and he sees Hashi's face fall a bit, before he amends, "It's not you I'm angry at. It's your brother. He is the one behind all of this."

"You're being paranoid," Hashi says. He feels himself go white with quiet rage when she leans forward, touching his arm.

"Tell me what's really the matter."

He looks at her a moment, then looks at his hands.

"The young ones no longer listen to me," Madara says. "I'm trying my best, but they do not listen."

"Well, you know, maybe you need to smile more," she says, helpfully. Madara glares at her.

"I do not see the point," Madara says.

"It's encouraging harmony," Hashi says, and she smiles at him, showing him. "No one will have confidence in you if you always have a sour face."

"You're an idiot," Madara tells her bluntly, and leaves. Hashi laughs.

"Remember to smile!" Hashi calls out behind him.

 

*****

 

Friendship does not come easily to Madara, who looks at his allies with thinly veiled contempt. Even among the Uchiha, Madara is held with suspicion, hushed whispers of traitor and monster coming at the heel's of Izuna's death.

"It must be lonely," Hashi says one day, and it almost startles him - almost, except Madara is used to Hashi's sort of nonsense, and he doesn't feel like pretending to care.

"Lonely?" Madara echoes, and she nods, looking back at him, warm brown eyes reading everything. "What makes you think that I am lonely?"

"Because I know you," Hashi says, and she gives that same smile that makes Madara want to tear his hair and kick things. "You isolate yourself. You do not sit with the others. Even among the Uchiha they speak of your strength, but no one speaks of you as their comrade."

"Because I am their leader."

"Because you cordon yourself off," Hashi says.

Madara turns and looks out into the center of the village square. There, Hashi had sprung timbers and built houses for their would-be villagers, Senju and Uchiha and refugees of war, alike. "It must be hard, everyone accusing you of stealing Izuna's eyes like that--"

"Don't," Madara says. Hashi claps him on the shoulder and smiles.

"You are a good brother," Hashi says. And then her face is serious. Sad. "If I have one regret, it's that we took him away from you."

"Tch." Madara pushes her hand away. "You were always much too soft."

"Better soft than bone-headed, right?"

"Who are you calling bone-headed?"

In the sunlight, Hashi laughs. Madara grins, despite himself.

 

*****

 

One day, she asks his advice on potential suitors.

There are no love matches. Madara leans with his body pressed into the ledge of the window frame, watching as Hashi pours over papers of would-be suitors, the mind-stealers of the Yamanaka and the forest warriors of the Nara.

"What do you think about him?" Hashi says, and she shows him the profile.

"Rumors say he is not very honorable," Madara says.

"Then what about this?" Hashi says.

"He is the bastard son of a fractured family," Madara says. "What else?"

Hashi frowns and shuffles through her papers, loudly.

"This one is the head of the Inuzaka--"

"A clan of mongrels and dog walkers, you can do better," Madara says. Hashi frowns.

"Well what about the Aburame...?"

"Pray your house does not become infested, their jutsus require insects," Madara says. "What else?"

"The Hyuuga?" Hashi says.

"That weak-watered dojutsu? I take great offense to that," Madara says.

"Well obviously no one is good enough for you," Hashi says. Madara sniffs, loftily.

"I think your brother and I can actually agree on that point," Madara says. He looks out the window. "You should just marry me and be done with it."

Behind him, Hashi laughs. "Madara. I cannot marry you anymore than I can marry Tobirama! Besides, marriage is a tool," Hashi says. "We must save it to broker political alliances. What if your clan needed to negotiate with someone else's?"

"And if I told you it would be to protect my clan's interests?" Madara says. He looks back at Hashi, who is lowering her papers slowly.

"...Are you asking me?" Hashi says.

Madara looks at her. She is dressed as any woman of her time did, with a loose-flowing robe and a small pendant around her neck. Her hair is long, flowing down the curve of her neck and shoulders like unadorned silk. There are callouses marring the palms of her hands.

"The Uchiha are important," Madara says. He doesn't look at her. "I would do anything to protect my clan."

"You needn't worry," Hashi says. She rises, touches Madara on the shoulder.

"We already have an alliance between us," Hashi says. "Marriage can only be done once. I have Tobirama, but you are the only one left in your house. You mustn't waste it," Hashi says. Madara rises, beside her.

"No," Madara says. "I suppose I should not."

 

*****

 

3.

He is fighting again in the plainlands: Hashi paces, agonized, as word of Madara's latest exploits reach the heart of the council.

"It is to be expected." Tobirama says. Hashi wrings her hands while her brother stares at her, as if in rebuke. "Uchiha Madara is a rabid dog. That he chooses now to rampage against the neighboring clans is not a great surprise."

"He has his reasons," Hashi says, but Tobirama looks at her stonily. "The Hyuuga were making threats against us. He probably went out to negotiate--"

"By eyeballing them into tiny little pieces. Yes, Sister, that is exactly how we should negotiate."

Hashi grimaces. She holds her head in her hands.

Hours pass. There is a sound, the flap of the tent being pushed open, and Hashi turns to see Madara limping forward.

"Madara," Hashi says.

Madara looks up. His clothes are wet. Strands of long hair stick to his back and face.

And then his legs buckle. Hashi rushes forward, taking his weight against her shoulder.

"Dammit, Hashirama--"

"You're injured," Hashi says. She wraps an arm around his back. "Let me help you."

Madara scowls. She leans him against her shoulder, helping him inside. "I'm not even going to ask what it was you were doing," Hashi says.

"I was taking action," Madara says. He winces, limping carefully and sitting at the edge of the bed. "While others waste their words and pray for a solution, I went and I found another way."

"Did you kill anyone?" Hashi says.

"What do you think?"

"I think I shouldn't ask," Hashi says, and she leans Madara forward.

There is a deep gash just to the left of Madara's breast plate, where a sword or spear had managed to make its way through a crack in the armor. Madara watches her the way a dangerous but wounded animal would, with slitted eyes and chakra simmering just beneath the surface. "I'm going to remove your breast plate," Hashi says, and she gingerly approaches him, one hand carefully pressing against Madara's shoulder.

First there is the breast plate, which is dented and scratched. The red paint is chipping in small flakes, and when Hashi removes the arm guards, she can see the distressed places in the leather under-coverings, shallow cuts and frayed ends from where sharp objects had pierced through the metal.

"Raise your arms," Hashi says. With difficulty she pulls off Madara's plate armor and winces when she sees it, the slow spread of dark blood seeping through the fabric of Madara's shirt; he's holding the wound with one tight fist, thin red smears of it dripping against his hand.

"I need to take off your shirt," Hashi says, and she watches as Madara braces himself, tensing slightly as she tugs at the fabric. The shitagi is damp with blood and rain and sweat, and Madara grunts as she pulls it off, the clots in the wound opening, slightly.

"Let me see," Hashi says. Madara scowls, fist pressed against the wound. She gently covers his hand. "I won't hurt you, I promise."

"I am fine," Madara says.

"You're not fine. You're bleeding into the furniture."

Madara glares. Slowly, Hashi unwraps the soiled bandages covering Madara's wounds.

The gash is long and jagged, sliced hard against the side of Madara's ribs and the meat of his back. But it isn't deep, and it doesn't reach any vital organs. Slowly, Hashi lets her fingers map the grain of Madara's skin, feeling currents of chakra flowing like water over bumps of stones.

Madara's muscles are tense. She can see it in how he clenches and unclenches the muscle of his jaw, the strap muscles of his neck tightening with the contact. His hair is matted, sticking to the damp skin of his throat and collarbones, and there is a sharp smell of rain and sweat, which is more pungent when she pushes back the wet tangle of Madara's hair, exposing the line of his neck and back.

"It's not like you to get so injured," Hashi says. She plies a layer of chakra on Madara's wounds, remembering how her mother used to heal her when she was younger: cool hands pressed on scraped knees and bruised egos, a necessary technique when faced with older, more experienced men. "What happened to your Susanoo?"

"I didn't use it," Madara says.

"Why?"

"I decided not to."

Hashi frowns.

There is only so much reading between the lines she can do, but judging from the latest quarrel - unkind words from Madara's own kinsmen, vicious rumors that Madara had willingly stolen his brother's eyes - she can understand why Madara had gone without it. He fought as if he had something to prove.

"You should have used it," Hashi says. Madara glances up at her, frowning. "I don't like it when you get hurt."

Madara sneers. "Because it makes more work for you?" Madara says.

Hashi's jaw tightened. "Because you're my friend, and I don't like seeing you in pain."

Madara says nothing. Hashi frowns, focusing her attention on the shallow scrapes that peppered Madara's side and flank, the bruises along his collarbone and the boot-shaped welt on his ribs. She moves closer to him, molding her chakra to the shape of Madara's body, whose chakra is disordered and chaotic, electric pinpricks of a thousand tiny silver blades.

Madara leans close, and Hashi lets her hand slide across the ridges of his abdomen, concentrating on a particularly vicious blow to the solar plexus. His chakra is tortured and violent, swirling in turbulent eddies, and Hashi lets her hands guide them to a soothing warmth, feeling the tension in Madara's body lessen and slack, until he is physically leaning against her.

"No one touches me like this," Madara says, quietly. "Perhaps my mother, once, when I was a child. But no one has ever sat this close to me, since."

"You don't use healing jutsus in your clan?" Hashi says.

"This is different," Madara says. "I have lost everything, and yet you've stayed by my side," Madara says. Red eyes flick upward, unfocused. "Why would you do that? Why waste your time, caring for someone like me?"

Hashi looks at him. His shoulders are hunched. There are deep shadows under the creases of Madara's eyes.

No one trusts Uchiha Madara. Not the Senju, who look at him with veiled contempt. And not even the Uchiha, whom Madara had sworn to protect. Hashi had seen it herself, in how his kinsmen looked at Madara with slanted eyes, and how the Uchiha of the village openly jeered at him. She looks at Madara, and at the callouses of his hands, and understands that he has nothing and no one. And suddenly, irrationally, she is filled with a quiet rage.

"Who hurt you?" Hashi says.

"It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me," Hashi says, and a shadow falls over Madara's eyes.

"Why are you like that?" Madara says. "Why do you have to care?"

"Because you're my friend," Hashi says again.

"Friend," Madara says. "What exactly is a 'friend'? You toss that term around so easily. Everyone is a friend to Senju Hashirama. Even her enemies are her friends."

"Why are you angry?" Hashi says, and Madara reaches for her with a sudden, savage motion, grasping her by the nape of her neck and pulling her forward.

"Idiot Senju," Madara says, and the words are ragged. Harsh. "You are more to me than just a friend. Without you, my life has no meaning. You know not the depths of my feelings for you."

Fingers dig into the back of Hashi's scalp. Dark eyes stare deep into hers, unblinking.

"I feel the same way," Hashi says, and she searches the face that is only a finger's breadth away. "You're my family. You're another brother to me."

The words hang, low-lying clouds of a distant fog. She feels the hand behind her neck drop.

"Of course," Madara says, and Hashi can't see his eyes.

 

*****


Rain lashes against the fur-lined flaps of the tent, and with each gust of wind Madara can see how the darkness of the sky is juxtaposed against the warm orange glow of the fire: dark trees, leaves whipping violently off thin branches, the storm raged in harsh torrents of horizontal rain.

"It is cold," Hashi had said, a few hours earlier, and Madara had glanced behind his shoulder, frowning as she unrolled the sleeping mats matter-of-factly. "You're still wounded. We should share our bed to conserve our warmth. Unless you're uncomfortable with that sort of thing?"

"No," Madara said, and then amended, "I'm not," and he laid down next to her.

Now Madara watches as the shadows move violently against the fabric of the tent, keeping a measured distance between their bodies and trying to fall asleep. Gingerly, he palms the crest of his ribs, tracing what would have been the jagged edge of scars were it not for Hashi's expert healing. There is nothing, just a thin line of pink translucent skin, smooth and pale snaking across his body like an arabesque. Though his wounds are healed, there is a dull pain at the seat of his chest, hurt and loneliness like a nagging ache: if he were a brave man, he would drag his fingers into the silk of Hashi's hair and pull her forward, lips finding the tender curve of her neck and jaw.

But he is not a brave man, and the confession had fallen in the face of her good intentions. He watches as she sleeps, the slow rise and fall of her breathing under the blanket, the feel of warm skin like the shadows of trees. Reflexively, he thinks of Izuna and how he had stood vigil in his bedroom in the days before his death, and he feels the same ache.

The pain in his heart is like cracking glass, but Hashi sighs in her sleep, and pulls him closer.

 

*****

 

5.

Uzumaki Makoto is as handsome as the stories say, and even Hashi can appreciate the sturdiness of the other man's build: he is a good match. A good man from a good family, and a clan whose commitment to peace had, until recently, been second to none.

She turns him down. He accepts her rejection gracefully, bowing slightly and turning toward the door.

"What did you do?" Tobirama wails, and Hashi is fairly sure she has never seen her brother quite this distraught. "Sister, he was a perfect match! I've been brokering this arrangement for months now, how could you throw that away?"

"If they were that perfect, why don't you marry them?" Hashi says, and Tobirama snaps.

"Because the clan head has no daughters," Tobirama says. Hashi rolls her eyes.

Something is bothering her, but she can't quite put her finger on it. She sits in the study beside her room and looks out the window. Usually Madara would be here, and she would dissect her problems and hear his opinions on them. They disagreed, usually, but sometimes just voicing them aloud helped her come up with a better solution. "Where is Madara, anyway?" Hashi says. Tobirama shrugs.

"He has been gone," Tobirama says. "Randomly waging war with the neighboring clans. He's been doing the work of fifty men. He'll get himself killed, if we're lucky."

"Tobirama." Hashi says.

"Perhaps the Nine Tails he's always riding around on will eat him," Tobirama says. Hashi rises.

"I've had enough," she says, and she ushers him out the door.

 

*****

 

She runs into him four weeks later, injured and weakened from his latest campaign.

"Madara," Hashi says, but he's already leaving again. "What are you doing?"

"The Hyuuga pose a serious threat," Madara says. "I'm headed out there to deal with them."

"But didn't you just get back?" Hashi says. The whole thing is out of character for him - even as war-hungry as he is, Madara usually stayed a few nights between missions to rest.

"I need to leave," Madara is saying now, and he's moving quickly past the gates. Hashi watches him, mystified.

A few more weeks pass. She's sitting in her room, brushing her hair and getting ready for bed, when she sees him: injured and half delirious, dragging himself into the courtyard.

"Madara," she says, and he looks up, and from the look on his face she knows he probably didn't mean to come here, he was just too injured and distracted to realize where he was going. His eyes are wide when he grabs the wound on his left side, then runs the other direction.

"Dammit," Hashi says. She pulls the window open and jumps outside.

Madara is running. He rockets down the hill, toward the forest just outside the compound. There are bushes and dense foliage, and Madara is too weak and injured to negotiate it. Feet pound as he makes a hard turn right into a steep hill toward the ravine, but Hashi is faster. She gives chase, catching up to him and tackling him by the ankles.

Madara lets out a startled noise, then pitches forward, slamming his shoulder onto the ground.

"What's going on?" Hashi says. He tries to get up but she wrestles him back down, straddling him onto his chest. She pushes his chest down.

"Woman, get off me," Madara says. Hashi glares at him.

"Not until you tell me what the hell you think you're doing," Hashi says. "Tobirama says you're trying to get yourself killed! And you look awful," Hashi says. "When was the last time you slept?"

"You are seriously asking me this now?" Madara says, and Hashi realizes she is still straddling him. She reddens but she musters her resolve.

"I'm not getting off unless you promise you're not going to run away from me," Hashi says.

"Of all the idiotic--"

"Promise me," Hashi says. Madara huffs.

"Fine," he says, and she steps off him. She helps him sit upright, favoring his wounded side.

 

*****

 

"I've just been in a bad mood recently, I don't really know why," Madara says. He's sitting next to Hashi on the hill overlooking the village. Only a few lights are on in the houses below them: most people are asleep. "It helps me if I'm doing something productive. Helps me clear my head."

"...by rampaging against the neighboring clans?" Hashi says.

"Why not?" Madara says. Hashi grins and smacks his arm.

There is a comfortable silence. It is a nice night, warm with a slight breeze. Hashi tucks back a strand of hair behind her ear and looks upward, at the stars and the thin streaks of clouds against the inky skyline. "I turned down the Uzumaki," Hashi says, and Madara tilts his head, surprised.

"I just didn't feel it," Hashi says. She plucks a blade of grass and twirls it between her fingers. "Tobirama was angry. The Uzumaki clan would have been a fantastic ally."

"It is their loss," Madara says. "But I thought you said it was a good match."

"It was," Hashi says. Madara frowns. She twirls the blade of grass a little before opening her fingers; it catches the current, flying away. "Can I ask you something? And you'll promise you'll tell me the truth?" Hashi says.

"It depends on what you're going to ask," Madara says. Hashi looks at her hands.

"Were you serious, before? When you suggested that we marry?"

"I--" Madara's jaw tightens. "It was in jest," Madara says. "I was never serious."

"Well, because if you were..." She looks down, tucking another strand of hair behind her ear, "I might be inclined to entertain it. For political stability," Hashi says. Madara cracks his knuckles, frowning.

"I would be a terrible match," Madara says, finally. "As much as I'd like to think it would help us, I have fallen out of favor. The Senju do not trust me and the Uchiha no longer consider me a part of their clan. It would undermine your authority," Madara says. He glances up at her then looks at his hands.

"All I know how to do is fight," Madara says, quietly. "It would be political suicide."

He isn't looking at her. His hands are clenched into fists, and the muscles of his neck are taut. Battle-ready. Hashi leans back and looks upward again, at the moon and the black swath of sky.

"Then...what if it wasn't for politics?" Hashi says. Madara glances back at her, and she sees it: a flash of surprise, before returning to that same disaffected expression.

"What are you suggesting?" he asks.

"Nothing," Hashi says, and she leans against him. "It was just a hypothetical."

And he doesn't move when she takes his hand.

 

******

 

6.

The sky is blue. Funny: though he has the strongest eyes of all the dojutsu clans, he's never really noticed. Not the blue of the sky, or how the clouds drift like soft tufts of pulled cotton, or how warm the sun feels on his skin.

Hashi is in a meeting, cooped up with a small coterie of mostly Senju advisors and the token Uchiha representative, some half-blind elder who would offer nothing except gracious acquiescence. Normally it would incense him, not being invited to their stupid little meeting, but Madara is in a good mood and he can't wait for her to be finished. There is no one by the river and he knows how much she likes sunny days.

"What are you plotting?" someone says, and Madara turns to see Tobirama stalking behind him. Madara's good mood fades.

"It is none of your concern," Madara says.

"I know you're up to something, you've been wandering and smirking to yourself all day. You don't have me fooled. I'll protect the village from you. Even if it costs me my life," Tobirama says.

Madara looks at him. Tobirama does not have the chakra his sister has, but Madara can feel it coiling, battle-ready and about to strike. His mouth stretches into a slow smile.

"Well. If you are so interested," Madara begins, and his eyes glitter. "Perhaps I should just tell you...."

 

*****

 

"I forbid it!" Tobirama says.

Hashi looks up as her brother bursts into her room, eyes wild and stomping toward her, angrily.

"Forbid what?" Hashi says.

"Madara," Tobirama says. "Marriage."

He manages to calm himself, string together a few coherent words: "What the hell were you thinking?" Tobirama says.

"He told you," Hashi says.

"Yes he told me, he was smirking and gloating all about it," Tobirama says. "He's going to marry you all over the place, evidently, and dammit, sister, if he so much as even touches you--"

"It's all right," Hashi says. "I agreed to it."

"You cannot be serious," Tobirama says. He sinks into the chair, dejected.

"The Uzumaki was perfect," Tobirama laments. "Polite. Talented. Humble. But now you're marrying him," Tobirama says. "That half-crazed degenerate! Father would be spinning in his grave," Tobirama says. "He tricked you, didn't he?"

"Tobirama!"

"He probably genjutsu'd you into agreeing," Tobirama says. "Let me feel your chakra, sister. Maybe he's disturbed its flow--"

She shoves chakra into his chest. "Agh!" Tobirama says.

"Stop that!" Hashi says.

"Sister," Tobirama says. "You could have killed me."

"Just go home," Hashi says. "This is happening. You just need to deal with it."

"If he hurts you, I'll kill him, I swear it."

"Go home," Hashi says, and she pushes him out the door.

 

*****

 

That night, Hashi gives word of her decision to the council.

"Uchiha Madara is someone not to be trusted," Hashi says. "He stole the eyes from his brother and betrayed the rest of his kin. Is that not what you've said?

"He would make a formidable enemy. I alone could stop him, but at too large a price. There would be casualties. Our village...the very land surrounding us...could be razed to the ground.

"And yet...if he were to be my husband...."

They stare at her. Hashi smiles.

"Marriage is a political tool, one that I do not intend to waste," Hashi says. "Uchiha Madara is a dog unchained, listening to nothing and no one. It is true; he wants to marry me to gain access to the Hokage's seat. He wants access and influence on my power. And I will make him believe that he has that.

"There are no love matches," Hashi says. She smiles again. "I do this for the good of our village, and for the sake of the Senju clan."

Tobirama stares. "Nee-san..."

The advisors nod, silently.

 


******

 

Madara is watching. He doesn't say anything, but Hashi can see the unease settle in the lines of his face. She hugs him tight, wrapping her arms around him.

"I hated having to say all that," Hashi says. She leans her chin on his shoulder, quietly. "Are you okay?"

"As long as it worked." Madara glances back at her, then frowns. "What did you mean back there, when you said 'there are no love matches'?"

"Oh, well I thought if I said that, it would be extra convincing," Hashi says. Madara is still frowning. Hashi smiles.

"Madara, I love you," she says, and she hugs him. "None of that stuff I said is true."

"Tch." Madara scoffs, glaring. Hashi smiles.

"There is one thing that perplexes me," Madara says. Hashi gives him a squeeze and pulls back.

"What's that?" Hashi says. Madara doesn't look at her.

"That night you healed me in the tent. I told you my feelings, and you rejected me."

"Oh, that?" Hashi cuddles against his chest. "I just assumed the blood loss made you woozy and emotional."

Madara stares at her disbelievingly.

 

******

 

7.

They are preparing for the wedding, but Madara refuses to go to the barber. "Why?" Hashi says. Madara glares.

"I do not allow sharp objects near my face," Madara says.

"He's a barber, and you're completely unkempt. You need to smarten yourself up before the wedding," Hashi says. Madara scowls.

"My hair is fine," Madara says. "Woman. Stop grabbing my hair, you're pulling too hard."

"You've got split ends," Hashi says. "You look terrible. Let me cut it, at least," Hashi says.

"I can do it myself."

"Yes, and everything will be uneven and you'll look even worse." She forces him in front of a mirror, scissors in her hand.

He has a sour look on his face but he obliges, probably because he's sick of arguing but also because Hashi could use her mokuton to bind his arms and legs to the chair in front of her.

Snip snip snip. Pieces of hair waft to the floor.

"How many kids do you think we'll have?" Hashi asks. "Do you think they'll be all boys? Do you want boys or girls?"

"It does not matter," Madara says. His eyes are closed. "Either, or."

Hashi tugs at a particularly unruly lock of hair, then smiles to herself when she notices just how relaxed Madara is, even when a pair of sharp and probably deadly scissor blades are snipping close to his head. She lets her fingers massage into his scalp, affectionately.

"Well which one would you prefer?" Hashi says. "Would you rather have a boy or a girl, first?"

"I suppose a boy would make things simpler," Madara says.

"How's that?"

"The eldest boy can protect the other siblings," he says.

She pinches his ear. Madara winces.

"Well you are an obvious exception," Madara says. Hashi smiles.

"What do you think we'll be doing ten years from now?" Hashi says.

"Well you will still be Hokage. Obviously," Madara says.

"Well what about you?"

"I will be standing beside you."

"Good answer," Hashi says, and Madara smiles.

She shows him the mirror. His hair looks pretty much the same, except neater and not as wild.

"This looks terrible," Madara says, and Hashi rolls her eyes.

 

******

 

There are no Uchiha present at the wedding; there are hardly any Senju either, just Tobirama and a handful of advisors who watch on, quietly. Hashi is glowing and Madara seems oddly happy, though it is firmly self-contained. When they kiss it's with the giddy nervousness of school children, and Tobirama just wants to slap the both of them.

He's glad his sister is happy. Though he wishes she were with someone else.

 

*****

 

8.

The night is quiet. Around them, candlelight flickers, and pale moonlight filters through the slats of the blinds on the window. They've consummated their marriage a few hours earlier, and now she curls up beside him and leans her head against his chest. She knows her proximity might be a comfort to him, and she doesn't move when he rests his arm around her waist.

"Madara?"

"Hm?"

She presses a soft kiss to his collarbone and wraps her arms around him. "I'm glad you're my husband," Hashi says.

Madara smiles. They kiss and make love again, and afterwards he reaches out a hand, then draws a soft curve down the side of her face.

She has chosen him over the village, and in return, he is staying. She knows, as much as she knows the sound of her own breathing, how deeply he loves, and how easily he can be hurt.

Now he's asleep, and quietly she leans her head against his chest and relishes the steady rise and fall of his breathing. She presses a soft kiss to his jaw, before nestling close, closing her eyes and draping her body against his.