This piece can be read as a companion piece to Transcendence. It is a prequel to a larger planned universe but can stand on its own.
warnings: mild descriptions of blood/violence, canon character deaths, mentioned Hashirama/Mito, unrequited Tobirama/Mito
river sweep away my memories of
children's things a young mother's love
— Werewolf, Cocorosie
He sees the world in swirls and currents, phosphorus-bright. Spars result in bursts of chemical reaction and the world is more vibrant when he closes his eyes.
As a child, he had been afraid to blink and glued himself to Hashirama. His brother made the world bearable for a sensitive, untrained sensor by drowning out other signatures like a tsunami of chakra. Whenever Hashirama lost his temper, Tobirama would tug pitifully at his brother's robe, begging with stilted syllables for him to stop blazing.
He is five when his father discovers his gift. For months, he is made to wander with a coarse strip of cloth tied around his eyes. And, for once, Butsuma's hands settle on his shoulders and the harsh pride in his voice focuses on him. Tobirama finds that it does not please him as much as he thought it would.
(After the second day, he no longer soaks the blindfold with tears of frustration.)
He learns that eddies form like dimples around those experiencing strong emotions. He learns that all living things have chakra and gains a newfound respect for fauna. He learns to distinguish between those who are kind to him in his temporary blindness and those who are not. He learns that well-loved possessions retain an echo of their owners, even if the owner is long gone. (His mother's comb pulses faintly with her warmth, and he spends several nights — never touching anything, for fear of ruining chakra imprints — in her room, sleeping amongst ricochets of her laugh with his head in the lap of her ghostly presence.)
He learns how someone's chakra melts into the air when they die, absorbed in a matter of seconds, as if they had never lived.
So Tobirama does not judge people by their covers — he judges them by their cores.
This is why he believes in Hashirama even more than Hashirama believes in himself. His brother glows with a purity that can't be faked.
A spike of fear stabs into his sternum, and the sting is so sharp that for a moment Tobirama thinks it is his own. His feet begin moving before he can manage a coherent thought.
This is impossible, like looking for a single star in the cloudless night sky, but he chases the elusive pinpoint source anyway. He has felt this chakra, slept with it curled around his elbows because his little brother had a bad dream, gagged on the same terror when Kawarama took a game of hide-and-ambush too far.
Except now the fear does not sag into relief. It is a long, long spear that continues to impale Tobirama even as he runs like he has never run before, and he can see his brother's chakra flicker in hiccoughs of panic before being extinguished like a candle in the wind.
Itama, he screams, though he will never recall whether the sound had made it out of his lungs or been trapped in them by grief.
The Uchiha clansmen with blood in their eyes and fans on their backs leave his corpse crumpled and still warm with heat from their storm of fire.
Too slow. He is too slow.
Her chakra takes his breath away. Currents in the air part for her as if she is a queen. When Mito moves, she does not glide like her daintier cousin, or tiptoe as if afraid to disturb the world, she strides and she belongs. The world welcomes her presence, carving pockets of spaces to make way for her contours.
(He is too busy admiring her with his eyes closed that he does not notice their mutual attraction.)
A month later, Mito and Hashirama announce their betrothal.
He has been to far more funerals than weddings, so no one blames him when he fumbles with the bridal bracelet, wrought in an eternal loop of vines and leaves. Not even Butsuma frowns.
"Steady on." The brightness of Hashirama's grin matches his chakra, and for the first time in his life Tobirama wants to turn away instead of being blinded.
His sword slips through skin and organ and life, and he knows before the blade leaves Izuna's body that the cut is fatal.
Shit shit shit.
He had miscalculated, run off the precariously-established cliff of their unspoken agreement.
It is a parley of sorts, except with steel and speed and on the battlefield. Izuna breaks his arm. (I could kill you.) He carves a shallow line from Izuna's ribs to his shoulder. (So could I, do you see? But we won't.) Izuna traps him in a genjutsu so grotesque he cannot sleep for two days, fearful of melting into his night terrors. (Will your brother act to end this war? Will you be able to convince him?) He almost drowns him with a waterfall. (Will yours?)
Their verbal communication is limited to battle-taunts and the shouting of technique names, grim threats, proud reveals of newly-developed jutsu. Their bodies speak for them, truthfully, without deceit — the push and pull of rivals who cannot be allies but crave truce, the back and forth of two men who despise war but know nothing except soldiering.
I fucked up, he thinks numbly, staring at his own reflection, Izuna's blood on his sword a rippling crimson mirror.
You fucked up, says Izuna's eyes, even as his mouth gurgles curses and hatred. The fragile, water-surface trust they'd built fight-by-fight is now roiling magma, peace sunk into its volcanic depths. In this moment Tobirama witnesses the fury of an Uchiha scorned, an Uchiha betrayed, and he cannot look away from the eruption and subsequent destruction.
Too fast. He had been too fast.
It takes him thirty years and his brother's death to conceptualise his dislike for Uchiha Madara, solidify intuition into something resembling words and rationality.
He'd grown up around his brazier of a brother and become so accustomed to his unique chakra that it was more home than any of the Senju camps had ever been.
Hashirama's chakra was grounded, anchored, and, if Tobirama was the poetic type, rooted. His brother had, from a young age, planted his feet firmly on a conviction and never wavered.
And Madara — well, his chakra was hungry. It ebbed and undulated, liquid fire, always seeking for new targets to burn.
That chakra had cleaved to his brother once, tenaciously and unconsciously, moored by proxy to the ideals of Konohagakure until one day the rope snapped.
It isn't that he had been destined to stumble from (or had he stepped off?) the cliff of sanity — Tobirama is not a fan of fatalism. It's just that people like him are more prone to it. He imagines the Uchiha like balloons, vibrant and buoyant in the right grip, but once the tenuous string broke or slipped from futile grasping hands, flying far too close to the sun and into inevitable blindness.
For weeks afterwards he dreams of red balloons dotting the Konoha sky as if the stars had mistaken day for night.
Maybe it was always meant to be this way, that they would leave the world as they came into it, Hashirama first, bright and loud, he second, colourless and muted. Their combined personalities had not been enough to avert war, to cease the violence and strife. The hat and robe had never felt right on him, and he had decided long ago he was only keeping them warm for Hiruzen.
He surveys the six assembled before him, searches their faces and finds the missing parts of himself and his brother, even in (especially in?) Uchiha Kagami.
The approaching enemies do not even bother masking their chakra, thundering closer and closer like a cavalry.
It is time for a new generation to try their hand at peace, a new group of youths with more dreams and fewer biases, stronger ties and weaker regrets.
"I will be the decoy."