He doesn't remember the first time he met Uzumaki Mito. They were probably toddlers when it happened. But he does remember the first time he really payed attention to her. He was on the island the Uzumaki clan called home, recouping while the Senju rebuilt part of their compound. The infection in his leg felt like fire, but it was coolness around his wound that woke him from his sleep.

"What are you doing?" he asked, eyeing the girl tracing symbols onto his skin.


Tobirama scowled and tried to sit up. The girl-Mito, he recognized once he could see her face-flicked him on the forehead. "They're medical seals. Now be quiet and let me work, Senju-san."

He settled back against the pillows and watched as Mito gathered more ink from the inkstone and traced two more intricate kanji on his knee. Her index finger gently tapped the spiral in the center of the design and she murmured, "Fuuin."

Pain erupted in his leg like nothing he'd felt before. Tobirama bit his lip and forced himself to endure, watching as the seal danced on his skin and sucked the infection like poison from his wound. Mito brought her hand to the open scroll in her lap and there the seal settled. With a deft flick of the wrist, she closed the scroll and placed it in her bag.

"You're going to bite through your lip if you're not careful," she said, shooting him an unimpressed look. "I don't want to have to bandage that as well."

She packed herbs into his wound and slathered it with poultice before re-bandaging it. It hurt, but at the same time, it made him feel better than he had in days. With a calculating eye, Tobirama looked from Mito, to the scroll, and back again. Sealing was a rare art, and the Uzumaki were particularly adept at it. The daughter of the clan head had been learning since she could hold a brush properly, or so said her older brother, Sora.

"Teach me sealing," he said.

Mito laughed in his face.

He persisted in asking every time she came to check up on him until she gave in. "You're going to be here for a month at least. This will give you something to do and keep you out of my father's hair."

Apparently being able to hold a brush correctly is all he needed to pass the basics of Uzumaki sealing, which baffled Tobirama. At least until Mito told him that there wasn't much of a method to the madness of fuuinjutsu. It was a lot of memorizing seals others had made, painting them over and over until the symbols were burned into part of his brain. "Then you try something new and if it works—that's wonderful. If not, you try something else until it does."

It frustrated his analytical mind to no end. Mito seemed to find great amusement in that fact, even when she was sent to fetch him from the libraries at one in the morning.

"You'll never learn if you keep trying to do it by patterns and not intuition, Tobirama," she said, gently closing the book he was reading. She grabbed his hand to pull him up out of his chair. "You need to stop thinking so much."

He protested that while crossing his arms over his chest, ignoring the way his hand suddenly felt cold without hers in it.

When he was fifteen, she came to the Senju land to deliver a message for her father. Unfortunately, this happened to be when he was fine-tuning the Hiraishin. Hashirama was talking with her in what had been Butsuma's office until three days before. Just as she asked what the symbol inked on the wall was, Tobirama crashed into it and landed in a heap on the floor.

Her laughter was almost as loud as his brother's.

Even though he scowled at the both of them, he couldn't help but think that it was good to see Hashirama smiling again. And there was something about Mito's smile that made his gut clench and his mouth go dry.

Shortly after the village was built, an envoy from Uzushio came to talk treaties with Hashirama. During a break in the proceedings, Tobirama caught Mito's eye and jerked his head towards the doors leading outside. She smiled behind her sleeve and nodded. He led her in silence to the training area, painfully aware of her eyes on his back. He shrugged off his haori and draped it over a low branch of one of the trees enclosing the space. His brother's handiwork, he noted. Behind him, Mito took note of the mud on the ground and pulled off her tabi.

"That's what you're worried about getting mud on?" The disdain in Tobirama's voice was more than audible.

Mito sniffed. "You have your quirks and I have mine. Now, are we going to spar or are we going to sit here all day talking about fashion?"

Almost before she had the last word out, Tobirama was rushing her. With a fierce grin, Mito stepped into his first strike, letting it glance her shoulder as she used it to get in close to his abdomen. As they traded blows back and forth, Tobirama could feel an answering grin spreading across his face. Sparring with her was wonderful. He couldn't even be mad when she placed a tag on him, depriving him of all feeling in his left arm.

Nearly an hour later, he finally had her pinned to a tree. They were both flushed with exertion, breathing hard. Sweat made their clothes stick to their skin, and Mito had red strands of hair plastered to her forehead. She laughed, light dancing in her eyes. "I'm not going to yield if that's what you're expecting."

Tobirama's gaze flickered from her eyes to her smirking lips. "And how do you expect to get out of this situation, Mito-sama?" he asked, tone mocking.

She shifted beneath his hands, her head angling up towards him. "Well," she murmured, voice quiet and throaty, "I could just—"

A throat being cleared interrupted them. Hashirama stood a little ways away, looking sheepish. "Sorry for intruding. But your brother would like to talk to you, Mito-san."

"Of course, Hashirama-sama." She ducked under Tobirama's arm and scampered away, grabbing her tabi as she went.

When she was out of sight, Tobirama shrugged his arms out of his sleeves and let the light breeze cool his heated skin. He was so lost in the sensation and the dull thudding of his heartbeat in his ears that he almost missed Hashirama's quiet, "I wish you had told me."

"Told you what?" he asked.

"That you were in love with her," he replied, ripping his forehead protector off his head. "Sora and his father wanted to marry her off to one of us as part of the alliance. Since I've spent more time with her, they thought it would be best if I was the one who married her."

Several things about Hashirama's tension during the meetings suddenly clicked into place in Tobirama's head. "And you're the firstborn and the head of our clan."

Hashirama frowned. The expression looked more tired than angry, and for a moment Tobirama wondered if there wasn't something he was missing. "I'm sure they would have been alright with her marrying you if they knew you loved each other."

That was it, then. Papers had already been signed and his brother was betrothed to the woman Tobirama was only just realizing he might have feelings for.

"You're the better choice," he said. "And I'm not in love with her, brother."

The words felt stale on his tongue.

He expected things to be awkward between them. In retrospect, he really shouldn't have. They both prized honor, duty, and family above all else. There was an unspoken understanding between them that they were going to do whatever it took for their respective villages to flourish and succeed. It eased away any strangeness that might have come from their interactions.

(Tobirama never mentioned the odd feeling in his chest when he saw Mito in her wedding kimono.)

Any feelings that grew as he came to know her better were shoved down and away from his thoughts. Mito was an ally and a friend—his sister-in-law. They worked together for the good of the village, even when it meant passing looks and messages behind Hashirama's back when certain factions starting causing trouble. He had no business harboring thoughts about what her skin would feel like under his fingertips.

When Madara left the village, Mito spent the night by her husband's side. The first time Madara attacked Konoha, she spent the night by Tobirama's side, wiping sweat from his brow. "Don't," she whispered fiercely from between clenched teeth. "Don't you dare follow him out there, Tobirama. You're injured and you have a fever so high it's a wonder you can even see straight."

He pushed away the arm that was trying to hold him down. "This will either kill his heart or kill the village, Mito. I can't stand for either."

"And I can't stand for you being a complete and utter fool!" She leaned her weight against him, forcing him back onto the futon. "If you ever loved me Tobirama, you will stay here and let me take care of you."

He stared up at her with wide eyes. They'd gone nearly two years without acknowledging the thing between them, and then she had the gall to use his feeling for her as a weapon. If it weren't for the fact that he was annoyed with her, he would've been impressed.

The second time Madara attacked, it was Hashirama who insisted Tobirama stay home. He spent the night sitting in Mito's room and watching her draw seal after seal onto practice scrolls. Her shoulders were tense and her grip on her brush imprecise. Knuckles white with tension, her hand moved jerkily over the paper. Once or twice, he thought of laying his hand over hers and telling her it would be alright. But Tobirama wasn't a liar and he had no intention of becoming one.

He didn't speak to Hashirama for three days after he came back battered and bruised, reporting that Madara had escaped his grasp once again.

It was due to storm the last time Madara decided to attack Konoha. Tobirama could smell it in the air as he walked to his brother's house, intending to sit with Mito as had become their custom. Only she wasn't there when he opened the door to her room. In her place was a note—"I'm sorry," it read in her messy scrawl.

Cursing, Tobirama rushed out of the building and sprinted towards where his brother was locked in battle with his one-time friend. When he was still a long way off, he could begin to feel the malevolent chakra that was the Kyuubi. It was choking in its intensity. For the first time, he found himself wishing that he wasn't a sensor. Maybe that would have helped him some as he tried to stay focused on finding Mito.

The Kyuubi's chakra warped and changed as Tobirama caught sight of the lashing tails above the treetops. The beast let out a great roar and then disappeared. It's chakra signature was muted and infinitely more angry than it had been a second ago. Dread wrapped its fingers around Tobirama's guts and squeezed tightly. He pushed himself just a little faster, heading for the faint trace of the Kyuubi's chakra, hoping that what he was thinking was wrong.

His feet hit the ground a few yards away from Mito. She was laying on the ground, trembling, her kimono open and falling to the sides of her body. On her stomach, angry black lines twisted and writhed, burning her skin with malevolent chakra. Tobirama felt nauseaous as he knelt next to her and eyed the seal. "Tell me what to do," he said.

Mito explained the seal to him, voice raspy with exhaustion. "I just need a few moments to get things under control for the seal to settle." She gave him a small smile, blood at the corners of her lips. "I would apologize, but I'm not sorry. I did what I had to do."

He couldn't hold that against her. But he could be angry at her when it took her more than a few moments to gain control of the chakra sealed within her. He carefully wrapped her back up in her kimono and carried her back to Konoha. A fever ravaged her body for days as she fought the beast within her. He stayed with her throughout all of it. Two days after the battle with Madara, she was lucid enough to ask after her husband.

"He's recovering," Tobirama said quietly. "It's over, now. Madara's dead."

Mito swallowed hard and nodded. "Good," she said thickly. "I need to ask a favor of you, Tobirama."

Another seal, she said. One he would have to draw on her. He carefully traced the symbols on her forehead and watched, rapt, as they lit up with red chakra and disappeared, only for a purple diamond to take its place. "It's a chakra storage seal," Mito explained as her eyes closed again. "It will make this easier until I can refine the seal containing him."

She kept the storage seal. And she finished the containment seal before she saw Hashirama again.

"What do you think you're doing?" Tobirama demanded more than asked as he strode into his brother's office. "Your wife hasn't seen you in more than a week. I have hardly seen you and I work with you everyday."

Hashirama stared at a thin manila folder on his desk and sighed. "I'm sorry. For that and for what I'm about to ask of you."

Tobirama stilled. That tone and those words could only mean something horrible.

His brother smiled at him, but it was a wry and brittle thing. "This is a medical report telling me I'm sterile. I can't give Mito any children. The doctor thinks it may be due to injury—" The idiot should've worn armor protecting his groin. "But there's no way to be certain. You know as well as I do how important it is to have heirs."

Even though life expectancy had increased dramatically in the years the villages had been around, no one had forgotten the times when one needed to have many children early in life. Beyond that, Mito was the wife of the Senju clan head. They needed an heir.

Tobirama sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face.

Mito lay against his side, fingers playing with the tie on his hakama. "He thinks this the only kindness he can give us, you know," she said. When he raised an eyebrow at her, she explained further. "He knows I still love you. I love him too, but in a different way than the way I feel about you. This gives us a way to be together that is both necessity and something we wouldn't have normally."

Tobirama laughed bitterly. "You will never be able to call me husband and my children will never call me father."

She stared up him, expression even and eyes clear. "And yet, you'll still come to my bed."

His fingertips traced a line from her jaw down her throat to where the collar of her kimono lay. "Yes," he whispered as she untied her obi. "Yes, I will."

For the first time, he let himself wonder what it would be like when his fingertips traced the length of her spine. Her lips pressed against his and he discovered that the ghost of a touch along her back made her shiver. The red strands of her hair felt like silk in his hands as he pressed her even closer to himself. His heart was heavy with the knowledge that this would be all he would get from the woman he loved. But he had his duty and he had her honor to protect.

He would content himself with this.