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The Bathhouse

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“Brother,” Tobirama’s eyes lowered into red slits, “focus.”

Hashirama turned his head to follow the cluster of children tripping over each other, their hands flailing about trying to catch a small, red ball. The corner of his mouth jerked when one of the boys dove too far and a cloud of dust swelled around where his face landed. 

“I am being very observational.” the boy’s face lifted to reveal a dirt layer thick enough to be a mask, “ Very observational.

The tanness of his face split with a burning white smile when Tobirama canted his head, eyes accusing. His little brother’s jaw clenched but the soft fat of his cheeks had yet to be carved by puberty and only made his scowl more adorable, Hashirama mused. He glanced over to the children once more and then his eyes flickered back over the blue plates fastened to Tobirama’s chest. The deep ocean blue of the kusazuri draping over his brother’s pants made Hashirama picture a thundering waterfall. It looked heavy, like Tobirama would dragged and drowned under the pressure of the metal waterfall.

“It’s not often you and I are sent out together. This is brotherly bonding time! Tobirama!” Hashirama swept his arms wide, gesturing to the comely wood houses, the soft and blossoming trees, and the leisurely pace the village people walked--they had nowhere to be, no need to run, no need to fight. “Missions like these aren’t handed out to us often! This is an opportunity, I say, an opportunity to relaaaaaaaaax.”

Tobirama’s stiff brow twitched at Hashirama’s tone, like the twitch of a snow fox’s tail. Too cute , Hashirama could only hope that the day he voiced his thoughts into being, his baby brother would be feeling especially merciful. His lip jutted into a pout when Tobirama swiftly turned away from him and continued walking. Hardly walking with that stone-hard gait, really he could only see his brother pushing to be the warrior his father molded them to be. No doubt any civilians who looked would see that fierce, unyielding warrior. It was bitter, the feeling that seeped deep into Hashirama’s gut. Bitter and black and weary.

“Oh Tobirama, haven’t you heard that one famous proverb-- Don’t look at me like that! I know proverbs… It goes…The...Ah! ‘Tension is who you think you should be; Relaxation is who you are!’”

He grinned at the exasperation in Tobirama’s face, he would be a fool as long as it warded away the weight that plagued his young frame.

“I see your attempt at wisdom and I acknowledge it. However, I believe that proverb applies to people other than us.” At that, Tobirama stared pointedly over Hashirama’s raised arms, “‘Distrust and caution are the parents of security.’ Relaxation as a Shinobi comes from our caution.”

Hashirama gripped the strands of his hair and pulled at the scalp, his face scrunched and beseeching towards the heavens. The noise that grappled its way up his throat was nothing short of a strangled cat, “Tobirama! How am I supposed to fulfill my older brotherly duties if you keep undermining the sage wisdom I am imparting onto you!”

With a truly pitiful moan, Hashirama descended into an even more pitiful slump. A dark miasma settled over his shoulders and his eyes stared dejectedly at a small dirt patch. An infinitely interesting dirt patch, he could definitely grow some wonderful flowers in that dirt patch. Camellia, violets, tulips, sunflowers… Hashirama waited patiently for his brother to give up and concede to his own antics. He was not disappointed when an indulgent sigh puffed out from his right side. 

“We must not completely lose ourselves, brother. This is still a mission and we have to remain vigilant for any clues on Matsu-hime’s whereabouts,” Tobirama’s lips pursed, “However… Perhaps visiting the dango shop we passed earlier might lead to a fruitful bout of information.” 

Hashirama straightened and smiled.

 


 

“I don’t see how such an esteemed member of the court was stupid enough to go wandering around the woods. Honestly, how did he even get into the court with such ideas! Ah yes, let me go take a wonderful stroll in the woods where I will be completely vulnerable to any wayward strangers and attacks. Really, are we sure that he was kidnapped? I wouldn’t be surprised if we found him in a ditch somewhere with a couple sake bott--”

Madara clicked his tongue in irritation, “Izuna. This is unnecessary. We are not here to provide a commentary on Takenaga-sama’s mental ability nor his propensity for alcohol. We were hired by our very esteemed Lord to retrieve a member of his court. Nothing more, nothing less.”

His little brother grumbled petulantly, subconsciously jutting out his fat bottom lip. If they weren’t on a special mission from the Daimyo, Madara was sure that Izuna would be making plenty of dust clouds from scuffing his sandals on the ground. He has to learn to deal with the tedious parts of missions, there is more to being a Shinobi than carving through enemies, Madara grit his teeth.

The trees overhead were thick with leaves, with only small spots of sunlight filtering through the gaps. It had been a while since they first found the first sign Takenaga had taken this path. A tattered cloth hanging from the spindly ends of a branch. No blood. No signs of struggle. But a very distinct scent of alcohol. As much as Madara would deny it, it seems highly likely that Takenaga had gone on a drunken stumble through the woods. He has heard from his clansmen about missions where they were sent to track a lost person, only to find the person they were sent to find passed out and filled with enough sake to supply a bar. The desperate people who hired the Uchiha had done so with hysteria, as if their cousin or what-not had been kidnapped by demons of the night. Really, with all the alcohol he’s seen these nobles consume, it's a wonder there isn’t already a special staff section designated to dragging back their drunk employers.

Madara stopped in his tracks for a moment, a small flicker of white in his vision had him surge chakra into his eyes. Izuna, seeing his sharingan, froze and activated his as well. Their stalled figures paused to hear the small rustles in the leaves around them. For a few moments, the only movement that came from them were baby puffs of air exiting the boys’ nostrils. It lasted until Madara let a twitch into his fingers, gesturing forwards. Both of them moved in tandem, limbs melting through the air around them as their bodies moved fluidly through the woods. 

“What was it?”

Madara’s dark brows pulled together and the skin around his eyes tightened, “I’m not certain. It was small… and white.”

Izuna’s eyes bugged, and his head snapped towards where his brother was darting through the underbrush, “Small and white?! We’re giving chase to a fucking rabbit!”

“Language!” his lips drew back to bare his teeth, a look reminiscent of a snarling predator, “Since we came here there haven’t been any sightings of animals. Rabbit or not, there is something different in the air here, Izuna. Besides, I could almost swear that whatever it was, it was not a rabbit.”

He can picture the pursed lips his brother makes when confronted by something he cannot quite comprehend. It’s quite a bad habit, really, too childish for a Shinobi ... Madara never bothers to reprimand him. There’s a small sigh coming from his Izuna’s location beside him. “Whatever you say, brother. No time to waste, I suppose.” another huff of air, a smirk, Madara can imagine on his brother, “Let’s go track ourselves a noble, shall we?”

 


 

Slabs of cement jutted out from the dirt in the clearing, its smooth sides speckled with chipped patches, sloped and curved into overhead arches. Washes of bright colors were painted onto each slab, a few bright, blood red, others a lush green, and rarely, a lake blue. On a few there were characters scattered on the cement pieces, and if approached closely, the roughness of brush strokes were made visible. These enormous ruins spanned far into the distance. 

Hashirama frowned. “How strange… We went in the direction the shop people told us, but they failed to mention all--” he flapped his hands about the scene, “--this.”

His brother stepped forward to stand at his side. The setting sun shone orange behind his head, blessing the edges of his features with a glow. From this angle, Tobirama’s silver hair turns golden. A cool wind blows by and his hair ruffles like feathers. Something in the wind taunts his nose, and he tilts his head, “Hashirama... It smells like food.”

Hashirama can feel the way he stiffens, carefree looseness melting out his frame. Food means human activity, and human activity means there is someone near, and being a Shinobi means that someone being near is… Dangerous. An atmosphere of cautious silence envelopes the two of them. As much as Hashirama liked to complain and gallivant around, he’d rather rip his own heart out than put Tobirama in danger for his foolishness. For someone like himself, an older brother, isn’t he meant to take care of his younger siblings? Civilians do, he’s seen them. Concerned brothers gently patching up the knees of little children, picking baby brothers up to swing them around, laughing as they pretend they’re flying. It’s how it’s meant to be. But Hashirama has never worn the responsibility of older brother as well as he wished, like an infant wielding an ōdachi. 

Immature, absent-minded, childish. Isn’t he a child though? Hashirama could scream those words until his throat grew coarse and bloody, but his clansmen wouldn’t understand. Tobirama should have been the older brother, the heir. He knows when their father’s eyes darken after Hashirama's outbursts about peace, he wishes for that. Sage knows that Hashirama has let this thought plague him as well, but it’s bitter and wretched and his body knows it too from the way it chills and his skin prickles. Tobirama is not the eldest; He knows from the way he curls his body towards Hashirama’s shadow when anxious, the way the rigid line of his shoulders slopes down when Hashirama stands beside him. He just wishes he could do more, but it’s hard to be an older brother as a Shinobi . Tender baby-fat pads Hashirama’s muscles still, and he knows he is too young to be a proper older brother in the way a Shinobi needs him to be. But it will only be on his death day that Tobirama’s sword first meets another’s without Hashirama by his side. 

His callouses settle comfortably on the kunai in his palm, eyes darkened from nut-brown to almost black. They meet Tobirama’s own bright red eyes and their heads nod in sync. Tobirama has always had the better nose and he guides the both of them closer to the smell. Their footsteps are quiet, their breath silent, and they creep behind the stone erections. The scent is coming like tidal waves now, his brain imagines flashes of glazed chicken glinting honey in the sunlight, vegetable shoots so green he can tell of its crispness… It’s the beginnings of hunger, Hashirama can tell. The dango wasn’t enough then, and it’s a shame because he had hoped to avoid fighting whilst his stomach attempted to fight itself. He chews on his lip instead, connecting its plumpness to the tender skin of a juicy dumpling. Please just be the princess. Hashirama knows that stumbling upon Matsu-hime somehow roasting chicken in the middle of abandoned ruins when she was supposedly kidnapped by Uchiha would be a cause for concern… But the sooner they get back, the sooner he can whisk Tobirama away to the compound, so he wishes anyway.

Tobi’s hand flicks into formations: “Estimate. Five meters. Two chakra signatures. Shinobi. Not hostile.” 

Hashirama feels himself wilt until Tobirama’s brows furrow. “Chakra nature …” Pale hands hesitate, “fire.” he signs. Fire nature is common in fire country, the heated weather corresponding to the residents’ chakra running hotter than other countries. It’s not as common in the Senju clan, their own clansmen are often earth or water natured. While the Senju are rarely fire-natured, the clan entirely of fire chakra users would be… The Uchiha , his father hissed. Hashirama can already feel his own wet blood flooding through him and his heart is beating fast to keep up; there are phantom blades whistling through the air. 

The white wisps of hair on his brother’s nape are already standing. There is hot steam wafting behind the cement they are crouched by, and Hashirama feels moisture condense on his skin as one wisp of smoke gently teases him. Two shinobi, fire-natured, and possibly from the Uchiha clan. The neighboring Lord is likely to have hired Uchiha to steal the princess, and Hashirama wishes suspicions like these weren’t always so accurate but it’s all clicking together. There’s no way to avoid confrontation, especially when Matsu-hime’s chakra signature is still missing, and from the small shake of Tobirama’s head, she’s not anywhere near. These are her rumored whereabouts and there’s Uchiha shinobi around. Tobirama is already making hand signals to move forward and Hashirama can’t help but admire his cool-headedness. Tobirama will cut them down without remorse and Hashirama knows a Shinobi should be comforted; he feels scorching bile bubbling up in his throat.

Tobi’s index finger stalls in the air, already to the last second of a count of three, and Hashirama’s legs bend and tense for their pounce. The finger snaps down, and legs pulsing with chakra, they spring over the wall. Red lanterns rush by as he descends, and his eyes widen. There’s no grass for his feet to crunch when he lands because it’s all turned into packed dirt. Air messily rushes into him as he wrangles through an inhale and lets forth a burst of pure chakra trying to dispel the illusion. But the scenery doesn’t melt and this must be a new technique because there’s no way for a lush clearing of mossy ruins to turn into a vibrant, unblemished, and empty… town street. His head slashes through the air, frantically looking for some kind of culprit but the street preserves it’s deathly stillness. Hashirama’s head takes one final wild twist to the left and he meets eyes. They are wide and unblinking. Their eyelids pulled back far enough for the whites to completely surround the iris. An iris that is blood red, not a dark garnet like Tobi’s. And in that pool of blood is a dark circle swimming lazily through its depths. 

A Sharingan glares back at him.