Under the Rabbit Moon

Part II


Recap:"Kawarama, don't make me think about this," Sakura whined, reaching up to cover her face with her hands. "It's weird!"

"No, what's weird is how you take care of everyone and no one really takes care of you. You deserve to have a boyfriend or someone to court you. Even if you don't age, they're all adults and-"

"What do you mean 'all adults?' Who else are you talking about?" Sakura hissed, reaching for the front of his shirt.

Kawarama rolled his eyes and then shook his head affectionally. "Mom, you know the whole village knows how Madara's younger brother adores you, right? Izuna has been in love with you since forever."

"He was a kid. It was a crush. It happens." She tried not to think back to the party, the conversation they had and the feelings she wrestled with.

"He's not grown out of it, and who says he needs to? Would it be so bad, to court an Uchiha?"

Sakura groaned and covered the rest of her face with her hands and charged forward, relying on memory to avoid running into anything. Kawarama was quick to stay on her heels.

"What about a Senju then? I've got two brother who aren't engaged."

"Don't even joke about something like that," Sakura said. Her voice was muffled from behind her fingers as she refused to remove her hands. They were close to the main Senju house where Hashirama lived with his brothers and invalid father.

The thought, the very idea, of Tobirama thinking of her positively was still something new for her. It had taken him so long to warm up to. And Hashirama was supposed to have married Mito. Sakura remembered her timeline from another world well enough to remember that bit of history. She didn't know what that would mean for this world, but Hashirama never struck her as…a….suitor.

"This is terrible idea to waste time on. Come on, today is a birthday dinner for Tobi."

"He let you call him that?" Kawarama joked.

"I call all of you whatever I damn well please. Shut up. We're going in," Sakura grumbled. On top of all her problems with the goddess inside of her, Sakura didn't want to have to worry about her love life of all things.


The Senju family home was as long as it was large, with plenty of wide open rooms that emptied out into inner courtyards were different flowering trees bloomed. It was traditional in style, but also held elements of ruggedness from where Kawarama and Hashirama let the wood grow on its own in the most natural manner.

"It's fish isn't it?" Sakura asked, smelling the dinner cooking in the kitchens from the entryway.

While it wasn't her favorite smell in the world, she remembered Tobirama mentioning that his favorite dish was fresh fish from the local rivers and resolved herself to not tease him for it for once. Hashirama had thought it a great thing for his brother to enjoy something from their new homeland, but Sakura and Kawarama, and secretly Madara and Izuna too, had all openly judged Tobirama for his bland pallet that couldn't even name a favorite side dish to pair with his fish.

'You're as bland as this fish. Where is the seasoning?' Izuna had once demanded at a shared dinner where it was Tobi's turn to provide the food. It had promptly unraveled into a debate about Uchiha tastes being too extreme and why salt was not a spice.

"You're not here for the food, you're here because you're family," Kawarama said, taking his shoes off and leaving them in a neat sort before stepping in. Sakura followed his example, trailing behind him as he walked through the familiar halls.

"That's why I can get away with saying some things others couldn't."

The youngest Senju brother glanced back over his shoulder and smirked at her. "Don't push it, mom."

Sakura couldn't hold back the smirk. "No promises."

Before they could reach the dining room where formal dinners were held, a voice called out to interrupt them. Sakura turned to look back first, but Kawarama just hiked his shoulders and waited for his eldest brother to catch up.

Hashirama smelled like wet soil and earth as he stepped into the hall from a room with all the doors pushed back to the inner courtyard. Sakura could see all the way outside where fresh earth sat black and glossy from its watering. A new transplant sat in the center of the upturned soil.

"You were gardening the old fashioned way," Sakura laughed, covering her mouth as mirth threatened to make her too inappropriate. She just thought it was funny how someone with the ability to grow a forest that earned him the whispered title of 'god of the forests' to do anything without his powerful jutsu. Instead of insta growing a tree, he was transplanting one.

"I like the work, it's relaxing. I've had need of something to put my hands to with my brain as busy as it's been," he laughed, wiping his hands on his hips. "I guess I'll need to wash up before I can join you."

"I take it Tobirama is home then," Sakura said.

"He should be. Mito and Itama arrived a few hours earlier and have been here this whole time, meeting with Senju elders about clan duties. I think it might be best if he take on clan headship after Tobirama. I can leave Tobirama the mantle of Hokage in a few years and just retire to the gardens to prune rose bushes in peace," Hashirama sighed.

"Oi, when did you decide this?" Kawarama squeaked, for lack of better word. His voice took an awful high pitch in the middle of his question and his eyes bugged comically wide.

"You're thinking of stepping down so soon?" Sakura murmured. "It hasn't even been a year."

He smiled and like always, the smile was soft as rose petals for her. "It'll be a year next month when Itama and Mito finally marry. They've saved and waited that extra bit of time to make the anniversary date that much more meaningful to them. Very soon the village will be more self sufficient than ever."

"That's not how villages work," Sakura said, brows furrowing. "They larger anything grows the more oversight usually is needed. Look at the countries and see how they are ruled with an iron fist to meet their population. The village will need you more than ever the more it grows, not less."

Sakura felt a part of her heart throb for the man who felt too much and cared too terribly for the people he was in charge of. When it was just the Senju, that was one thing, but now Hashirama felt responsible for an entire village full of different people and clans. His heart cared for everyone, and Sakura worried it would be too much for him.

In her world's history, Hashirama died from heart failure or old age. Stress put him in the grave, according to Tsunade. He hadn't lived what some considered a full life, and it was a hot topic of debate how someone so feared on the battlefield could die in their bed like that.

Hashirama was an idealist with enough charisma to make the impossible possible. He was softer and kinder with more good humor and childish wonder than even Naruto. Naruto might have been more suited to the political office only because of how hard his head was. Hashirama was soft all the way through and it scared Sakura the more she thought about it.

He must have seen something in her expression because he caught her eye and pouted playfully, just for her. "Most of our oversight is unnecessary and heavy handed. I don't like it," he complained.

"I know," Sakura sighed, walking over to stand by his side. "I'm sorry it's a lot to ask of you. You know you have family you can rely on, right? You don't have to retire just yet."

"You think it would be terrible for me to retire?" Hashirama asked, tone teasing. "I'd have so much more time to play with you."

Sakura made her voice go flat to match her unimpressed look. "You're a bit off your mark if you think I have the time and energy to play all day. You'd be retired by yourself."

"Also, you're barely nineteen. That's way to young to be retired," Kawarama huffed. "Even for us shinobi who have a life expectancy of half that, you're still too young to be complaining this much and talking about quitting. This whole mess is because of you after all, so see it through."

Sakura clicked her tongue at Kawarama. "The village is not a mess."

"It's his hot mess."

"Ka-wa-ra-ma," Hashirama whined with fake tears in his eyes. "Why are you so mean to your eldest brother? Did I not hold you enough as a child? Is that the reason you're so cold?"

The youngest Senju shared his flat expression with Sakura before turning swiftly on his heel and stalking off ahead of them to enter the dining room with Mito and Itama by himself. Sakura smiled fondly at his retreating back, already knowing well and good that Hashirama needed a little bit of attention and spoiling.

"It's not easy being Hokage. You're in charge of so many people and something like this has never been done before. Other countries are establishing their own villages to copy your plan you know."

Hashirama's shoulders slumped. "I know. It's one of the things they keep hounding me about. I don't want to engage in any confrontational business so soon after our founding, but some of the clan heads are nervous if we don't make a display of power."

"That's a silly thing for a ninja to do. We're more powerful when people don't know what we can do. What does Madara say?"

"He wants to intimidate. Tobirama wants to spy, and I just want to tend to my gardens." Hashirama wasn't much older than a boy, barely a man, but he looked old in ways that didn't have to do with his age. He was old in other ways. It made Sakura's heart hurt again. Hashirama felt like a bird she needed to hold against her chest and carry until it could fly again. It had been a while since they last spoke, but Sakura had always known that the mantle of Hokage hung a little heavier on Hashirama's shoulders.

No. It was equally heavy to both males, Madara was just a bit more rough and blunt with his worries. Hashirama absorbed all his worries. That was the difference between them while both were Hokage. Madara would be fine, and once it became his job too, Tobirama would be just as fine. Hashirama…

"What tree was it?"

Hashirama blinked as if the question was too complicated before realizing wheat she meant. "Let me show you. Come here real quick." He waved her back and led her to the edge of the inner courtyard's porch. If Sakura stood on the edge she was close enough to see the new tree that was really little better than a sapling.

"It's a plumb blossom! That's going to look lovely once it's large enough to flower."

He hummed in agreement. "It's too young to flower this season, and I think it might be a few years before we start seeing significant blooms, but I thought this courtyard needed some color. If the Senju have guest, it is likely they will be taken here at some point."

"Of course you would want to have something to show off to others," Sakura hummed absently. Her eyes drifted to all the other growing things in the ground and then found Hashirama's eyes fixed on her. "Show me all the rest," she quickly said, hoping if he had something to do he would stop watching her like that, like he could see through her to the things she wanted to keep hidden.

He extended his hand and led her across the stepping stones almost covered in moss to the koi pond. From there he pointed out several more projects before leading her past the stone lanterns to the semi detached tea room.

He gazed longingly at the humble little room with the rice screen doors and the tatami mat. "How terrible would it be of me to try and steal you away for a cup of tea while we wait for my younger brother on his birthday?"

"We don't have time. Your brother will be here soon." Sakura pat the arm he had used to support and lead her through the garden with. "We can have tea another day."

"When?"

Something about his voice made her pause.

"Hashirama?"

He deflated and looked away. The long curtain of his hair obscured his face from view. He was also a good head and a half taller than her, so it was impossible to see his face when he looked away from her so purposefully. Still, the tips of his ears peaked through his hair and Sakura saw how red they were.

"It's just…" he began and then struggled to find the next words. "It's only that we've had so many days where we could have, but I feel that whenever we see each other it's with others and it's a group event. I'm busy with the mantle and you have your healing, so we rarely ever get time to just…have tea together. What we do is important, I don't mean that it's not. I just…"

"No, I know what you're trying to say. I understand." Sakura pat his hand again."It's important we take some time for ourselves and not run ragged like we have."

"I know you say that now, and I agree with you, but we are always putting others first. Something is always going to be more important." He turned back to face her and his flushed expression smoothed over enough to manage a look of offense when he saw her pitying him with her eyes. "You're no different. You're worse than I am."

"Still doesn't mean I can't feel sorry for what's on your shoulders now. I am entitled to that much at least."

"I'm not a child you need to worry about anymore."

"Maybe you're not a child, but I'll never stop worrying about you. It's not because of age, it's because you're my family."

His smile wobbled, almost like he wasn't willing to let it show for her. Sakura reached up and poked the middle of his forehead and he huffed when she laughed.

"I got it, hey!" he exclaimed.

"You know you could just sneak out some times, right? That's what Madara does. He makes himself up like an old man and sneaks out to go hit on pretty young girls in bars."

"I don't believe you."

Sakura made her face as wide and open as possible. She bat her eyes playfully, the paragon of innocence for his viewing pleasure. "But it's the truth, honest," she exclaimed with breathy emphasis. It was enough to make him snicker and roll his eyes. "It's true, it's true. Believe me."

"I know he sneaks out, but he's too crafty to do it to find ladies to…woo in places of recreation and leisure."

"Crafty? What does that have to do with anything?" Sakura huffed. Hashirama nodded to the house behind them and turned her around to lead back across the stones.

"He'd know such behavior is more trouble than it is worth."

Sakura snorted, making the elder Senju glance down at her with a quirked brow. "That might be what you think. How do you know Madara or any of the other Uchiha think the same way? Kawarama warned me about this, how you brothers are terribly traditional in some matters."

"Traditional? What is so bad with that? Tradition is tradition for a reason!" he blustered.

Sakura hummed knowingly. "Compared to the Senju, I suppose the Uchiha would seem a bit more promiscuous. Heaven forbid they exchange a handful of words with another person who just so happens to be a woman. It doesn't need to mean anything more than that."

Hashirama was pink from his cheeks to his ears. "It's not so simple. There are rules of etiquette one must adhere to."

"Did you miss the part where I mentioned it was in a bar? People go to such establishments to get away from those very rules of etiquette you talk about so highly." Sakura shrugged. "Though for Madara it seemed he was more there to get away from the weight of the robes and less for the arms of a pretty girl."

Hashirama swallowed. "Would you begrudge him if that's what he had been there for?"

"That's not really any of my business," Sakura answered easily. She decided it was best to leave out the important detail that the pretty girl Madara had been flirting had been her. Mentioning it now would just ruin the rest of the conversation.

"You don't care who he sees?"

He helped her up the steps onto the porch and led her into the room that connect to the hallway they used to get to the room where Mito and the Senju brothers were waiting.

"Like I said," Sakura sighed. "It's not my business. I'm too busy for gossip."

"I meant it less in terms of gossip and more in terms of…" He coughed and tried again. "Madara is like us, in that you've known him since he was young. Do you not feel some melancholy to see him progressing to the next stage of life right in front of your eyes? It'll be a stage of his life where you can not so easily intrude."

"Oh."

Sakura hadn't thought of it like that. She had not even thought about Madara like that. He still felt like a kid when she talked with him and maybe that was because it was easier to think of him that way. He looked too much like the mad Uchiha who had stabbed her and helped kill her boys at the end of her life in another world. She had gotten over the shivers when she saw him from odd angles, the ones with wicked lighting making a mask of shadows across his features.

She wasn't afraid of Madara the adult and she was just happy with that fact. She hadn't really considered how she felt about Madara beyond that. The fact that he was the age where he should be settling down made her stomach drop a little. In her world's history he had never married but gone mad and done terrible things instead. But this world wasn't that world. Here, he might have a chance at a happier ending.

"I think I just want to see him happy," Sakura finally admitted, stoping in front of the door to the room where everyone else waited. "I'm not good at thinking about anything beyond that."

"You don't see him as a man then."

Sakura sigh. "Of course I do, he's not a child anymore."

Hashirama shifted nervous outside the door. "If it were me, would you not feel a little lonely if I were to become someone else's?"

Sakura smiled even though she didn't want to, because it felt like giving up something she didn't want to. She hadn't thought of herself as a precious person, but her boys were hers. She didn't want to give them up with a smile to just anyone. Of course she knew they were adults and they were their own persons to make decisions and build bridges with others. Rationally she knew better, but another part of her didn't want to admit it. Another part of her wanted to covet and keep all her boys close. She didn't want to know why her heart felt differently about Kawarama and Itama having romantic interests.

"I just want you all to be happy," Sakura said. With a final smile she pushed back the door and stepped in.

It hadn't been a surprise, but still somehow the look on Tobirama's face when he entered was one they all reveled in. Maybe it was the decorations or maybe the cheers when the door rolled back, or maybe it was the streamers they detonated and the confetti bombs they threw in front of his face as soon as he came into view.

"That better not have gotten in any of the food," he grumbled.

"Relax, brother," Hashirama cheered. "They're bringing the fish in as soon as you are seated. Come, the head of the table is yours tonight."

Sakura watched on with a soft smile from where she sat beside a frail but pleasant Butsuma Senju. He had recovered more of his vigor with time and therapy, but the years of exposure to such harmful toxins had aged him unfairly, and he looked more like a grandfather than a father to teenage sons.

Sakura cut the fish for Butsuma and helped him when his hands shook, sending healing chakra into what she could. Nerve damage repair was something she needed to study in greater detail she decided.

"Such a sweet girl," Butsuma chuckled, closing his eyes as she helped wipe away some of the food he had spilled onto the table. "You don't need to do that. They come in to clean for us."

And even though she was probably the same heigh when they sat side by side, he reached over to pat her head gently, hands light as feathers for as much strength he had left.

"You don't want to eat while it's still a mess, and it's really no trouble for me. Here, you should have more fish, it's good for you," Sakura said.

When she looked up she caught sight of Tobirama watching her. He nodded without words and Sakura felt the message as much as saw it. 'Thank you for helping my father.' The table was small. Nothing would have been missed if he said anything out loud to her.

"You have such thoughtful sons," Sakura said in soft cheer, fixing another section of fish for Butsuma.

"I do, I do," the Senju father cheered.

He was weathered and wrinkled, but when he smiled he smiled like a child and it wasn't hard to see where Hashirama got it from. It was such a stark contrast to the silver fox who had once tried to woo her with flowers and bad poetry so many years ago.

He chewed his fish thoughtfully and then he stared at her, as if seeing her for the first time. He blinked and then swallowed. "Are you my daughter yet?"

Sakura chuckled at the innocent question she was more than willing to answer, but across her and at the right hand of the head of the table Hashirama doubled over, coughing to the point of tears. Tobirama also choked on his shared a knowing look with her Itama and Kawarama just shook his head before his eyes hit the ceiling in a look Sakura recognized all too well.

Sakura took it all in stride. "I'm a close family friend, Butsuma san. Do you want more fish?"

"Fish, fish, fish," Butsuma whisper chanted shaking his hands in eagerness.

"Tobirama, you chose the main course well. The fish is excellent," Sakura said as she cut a new section of fish for his father.

His voice was flat in reply. "Are you sure you can say that? You've only had two bites."

"I don't need a lot to know such things." Sakura smiled as the chunk of fish came away. It was tender and tore easily with just a little pressure. "Here, Butsuma san."

Tobirama huffed, but reached for his cup to drink. "Don't neglect yourself at my party." It sounded more like an order and less than concern.

Kawarama looked like he wanted to groan. Mito caught his eye across the table and the two of them shared a look Sakura missed.

"So," Mito began. "How are your plans for the academy going, Tobirama? Do you need any more support from the Uzamaki clan?"

"I should hope not. Financially we are more than sufficient thanks to what you have already provided. Current concerns are with the curriculum."

Mito hummed encouragingly. "Yes, finding a curriculum that pleases everyone is a real challenge. If there's one thing I know it's the headache clan politics can be. Everyone wants things their own way. "

"It's not just clans that are an issue, but also the civilians. Too many of them are wary of the program."

Sakura paused. "You've already spoken with some of the merchant and guild families? Alone?"

"Yes. I have explained the plan for our academy starting in the fall at the earliest and next year in the spring at the latest."

This time several people at the table shared looks among themselves. Sakura tried to hide her grimace along with Itama and Kawarama but Mito didn't bother.

"You understand Tobirama san, that you only benefit when you have help from others, right?" Mito huffed. "Someone should have been there to smooth talks over with the merchants. Why didn't you have someone else there to talk?"

"Are you implying I am insufficient on my own?"

"Yes."

Sakura almost choked at Mito's brazenness while Kawarama looked on in equal parts fear and wonder. Beside her, Itama looked as it it was a great effort to hold back his proud smile. The tips of his ears were red too.

Tobirama glared sideways at Hashirama who also seemed unable to keep from grinning. "This is quite the birthday dinner. I feel…. so…. appreciated."

"Then that's good," Butsuma Senju interjected, reaching for a side dish to pull closer to his plate. He glanced up at his son and then used his own chopsticks to pick at the vegetables before adding them to his plate. "You would do well to learn some humility and not suffer from it's teachings. You all have strengths and weaknesses. You won't grow any more unless you know the difference."

Too many emotions flickered in an instant across his features as Tobirama searched for the words to say. Rarely, but not too rarely, Butsuma would appear to wake up and return to his old self, but only for brief periods. It had been a while since the last time.

"I'd be willing to help you speak with the merchant clans if you wanted to try easing some of their worries," Sakura offered when it looked like Tobirama was stuck with the words in his throat.

He blinked and looked away from his father to where she sat beside him and then nodded, straightening his slackened posture. "I would appreciate that."

"That might be wise seeing as how your water closets are the reason so many are here in the first place," Hashirama cheered, completely unaware of how his words came out sounding.

Sakura grinned, but it was a strained thing. "Yes, there is that…." She coughed and tried to regain her composure and forget about how well known she was among the civilian because of indoor plumbing. The toilets would not forget her so soon. "I did not come from a clan so I might understand some of the thoughts and feelings of the non shinobi groups a little better."

He blinked and looked away from his father to where she sat beside him and then nodded, straightening his slackened posture. "I would appreciate that."

"Oh, I had almost forgot you weren't from a clan," Mito exclaimed. "How did you end up becoming so skilled then?"

Sakura shrugged, knowing that the story of Kaguya didn't have a place in the explanation. She was strong on a godly level because of Kaguya's aid, but even before that she could crush mountains with her fists and beat life back into the dying…and that was all because of her and the hard work and training she went through under Tsunade and others.

"I had a mentor who took me on under her wing, and that's where I learned medical arts, but before that all my basic training was done in a mixed group environment with other children. Some were from clans and others were civilian born. After graduation we were promoted to mixed ability teams to grow under a sensei."

"I remember you mentioning this all," Tobirama said. He returned his attention to his fish as Mito asked further probing questions about where Sakura grew up and what sort of people she graduated with. Mito didn't ask about the teammates and Sakura was thankful she didn't have to address it at the table.

Before long the evening became night and the food dwindled with the light. Hashirama brought out sake and the party moved to the porch for late night drinks. Kawarama said he would take his father to bed and pass on drinks. Mito and Itama also confessed needing to leave before the night grew too late. Before they could take off Mito grabbed Kawarama by the arm and hissed something into his ear that made him groan.

"Not tonight," he said before ushering his father off.

Hashirama and Sakura both called their farewells from the porch but Tobirama just poured himself a drink and stared pointedly across the yard at anything but his younger brother and his wife to be. Sakura elbowed him lightly and it was enough to make him raise his head and nod goodbye.

"You know, it doesn't cost you anything to be a little nicer," she sighed.

Tobirama grumbled and downed his first cup. "Is that what you said when she chastised me during my own birthday meal?"

In light of an apology, Sakura poured his next cup and then filled one for his brother before finishing with one for herself. The moon was swelling and nearly full in the sky. More and more of the garden looked lined in silver as the clouds parted. Hashirama made a comment about going off to light the lanterns, but never actually got up. The three of them drank in the near dark, content with what little moonlight they had been given.

"Next week," Sakura promised, "we'll do this again."

"You sure you'll have enough free time for that? Aren't you someone important?" Tobirama teased, uncharacteristically teasing. Sakura saw color on his cheeks and suspected the drink was responsible for his loose lips.

"We're all important somebodies," Hashirama cheered. You're the clan head, I'm one of the Hokage, Sakura is the hospital's chief…it only makes sense we spend some more time together. Who else would we be so comfortable with. Anyone less in social standing would be too intimidated or stiff while our equals…"

"Headaches," Tobirama grunted.

"Mostly," Sakura agreed. "With a few exceptions."

"The Uchiha are headaches," Tobirama said.

Sakura sighed, "Still? It's been years since you were all children. It's such a shame. I think you and Izuna could make a dangerous friendship if you wanted to. Your both have traits the other lacks."

"Maybe that's because I see no merit in flouting about like a peacock."

Sakura snickered. "True, he may be a bit excessive and worry about things that don't matter, but you can't deny his silver tongue has been instrumental in securing some of the best trade deals and business arrangements for this village. He has a skill."

"He's still a peacock."

Sakura gave up and laughed, pouring another drink. "Fine, fine, then if we're going to be like that, you are the chicken, Tobi kun."

Sakura wasn't sure what he blushed for, the nickname or the way she shortened his name so cutely. His face was red, partly thanks to the drinks, and Sakura knew that when he looked at her he could see the same healthy flush of blood in her cheeks from a good couple of drinks.

"Why do you insist on insulting me so? What great wrong have I done to incur such treatment…on my birthday no less."

"You stabbed me in the heart."

"I said I was sorry. You don't need to mock me for the rest of my life for it."

"I'm not mocking you," Sakura laughed, glancing past his shoulder to where Hashirama was barely containing his own snickers. "It'a a compliment. You're-you ever seen a chicken? They always want to fight and they're super aggressive unless they're not bred to be docile and they're hella fast." Sakura poked his cheek playfully. "Zoom."

"You're drunk," he grumbled, watching her hand as it came towards his face for another poke but doing nothing else to discourage her teasings.

"Just a little happy, not drunk," Sakura chuckled. "Zoom, zoom." She poked his cheek again.

"I would not let anyone else get away with this, you know that right?"

Sakura slipped onto her elbows and then onto her back, laying down with one hand in the air, still just barely reaching his face. Her finger barely reached his cheek, slipping down instead to the corner of his lips and then his jaw.

"Zoom." Her voice was part dream when she laughed.

"I think someone would benefit from the guest rooms. Kawarama would be most upset to learn we let his mother go like this," Hashirama said as he climbed up to his feet. He padded softly around the pair and knelt next to Sakura. "Ready for bed?"

"Am I?" Sakura hummed, still dreamy and playful. "I haven't had that much to drink though."

"It could be you're just exhausted," Tobirama sighed, glancing upwards towards the stars like they had the answer. "You know you're overworked."

Sakura groaned but pushed away from Hashiram just enough to lean on Tobirama and kiss the side of his face. He went still but didn't pull away.

"Happy birthday Tobirama."

Sakura then reached back and found Hashirama there. He gathered her into his arms easily and she folded into his side. The brothers shared a knowing look over her head before Hashirama turned to take Sakura to a guest room reserved for her, leaving Tobirama to himself to ponder many things.

The white haired Senju glanced back up at the stars again, fingers feeling tingly at the tips until he reached up and traced the trail her finger had made on his cheek only moments earlier. His fingers were too thick and hard, but he could still remembered the sensation of her touch trailing from cheek to the lip to jaw. He sighed and reached to drink from the jug, forgoing his cup.

Hashirama carried Sakura to the back of the house where all their privet rooms were located, side by side by side. One had been left unclaimed in the middle for 'guests' but they never offered it to anyone but Sakura on the rare few times she stayed over. It wasn't exactly 'proper' for an unmarried lady to be under the roof of so many bachelors, but there had been several nights where she had to stay close to keep an eye on their father's health as his doctor…and that was always the story they went with even if it was a lie.

"It's been a while," Sakura sighed into Hashirama's shoulder as he closed the screen door behind them using the end of his heel.

When he chuckled she could feel it under her cheek. "It's been too long, I agree. Last time was because of revery though. I remember you drinking far more."

"Hey, I had a meeting with the Hyuga this morning, don't blame me for getting started early. How else do you expect me to put up with all their snobbery?"

"Whatever you did, it seems to have worked."

He knelt down beside the covers and moved to hold her in one arm while pulling back the blankets with the other. Sakura curled into him more before he managed to help her into bed and tuck her in. Without the warmth of his body heat, she found herself shivering.

"How would you know anything about that?" Sakura asked. "I only met with them today."

Hashirma's smile matched the twinkle in his eyes. "I only look like a buffoon. I have to be somewhat competent if I want to do any good as this village's leader." He brushed a stray hair out of her face, dragging the back of his fingers over the high point of her cheek. "I don't trust blindly."

Sakura managed a tired smile. "You're a dark horse, Hashirama."

He seemed to delight at the sounds of his name coming off her lips. "Why, because I have a few secrets? What would that make you, Sa-ku-ra?" He leaned in, shadow spreading over her.

Sakura was too tired to be weary. "Not a buffoon."

"No?"

He reached for her hair again and tugged ever so gently. Sakura felt a bolt of awareness wash through her when she saw it come away on his hand. It wasn't just a couple of hair strands, but a sizable chuck of pink that fell out at the roots. She looked up and his smile was gone, replaced with a hard look in his eyes she didn't recognize.

"What are you implying?" Sakura asked cautiously.

"You smell like rot."

Sakura swallowed and started to sit up. Hashirama moved back to let her, giving her enough space for the moonlight to fall between them.

"What does that mean?"

"Everyone smells like rot, like age. It's something I've ignored after so many years. People who are mortal, who grow and age all eventually die, and all have that smell to them. You were the only one who didn't smell like the others until just recently. Now this confirms my suspicions." He held up the strand of hair. "You're dying."

"No." The words came out fast and hard, but then Sakura saw the hair and felt her expression crumble. "No-no more than anyone else. I've stopped replacing my human cells with hers."

Hashirama's dark eyes wavered with worry. "What does that mean?"

There was a feeling of guilt in her gut that made her hold herself over the covers and look away. "I didn't age because I would replace my aged cells with new ones. I've stopped doing that, starting the normal aging process that everyone else goes through. It's not like I'll die right away. I'm just… mortal now. I'm human."

"Why?"

"Why not? You think I want to live forever, young and alone while all my family dies in their beds if they're lucky?"

He reached for her hand and she felt how she shivered only after he made contact with her skin. "I don't think you want that, but I also know that's not the real reason." His voice was soft enough to make her feel safe, but a guilt in her gut made her lower her eyes. "Sakura, why didn't you tell us?"

"I didn't want you to worry."

"I suspected as much, but there's more to this. I don't think this was exactly your choice." He touched her chin and she met his gaze with her own. "Am I wrong?"

The cave, the cave, the cave….

Kaguya's voice came loud and clear, louder and clearer than it had in a long time, but after that it went dead.

"I'm becoming her," Sakura admitted. "She would have been able to push me out if I kept using her powers and chakra. I was made out of more of her and less of me before I knew it and…and I'm sick because my body is having a hard time relying on what little remains of my humanity."

There was no light, but Sakura could have sworn she saw something like fire when Hashirama glared. "I thought she was safe. She's hurting you?"

"No, she can't help it, I don't think she can help herself any more than she already has. I was the one who consumed her, I was the one who started this and she…she did try and warn me. I don't trust her beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I know she doesn't want to hurt me. I feel her. She's distant now, but she doesn't want to hurt me at least."

"What does she want?"

THE CAVE!

Sakura winced at the ringing in her head and Hashirama caught her before she could double over.

"I don't know," she lied.

She felt herself pulled close to his chest and the warmth was there again. His hand came up to rub her back the way mothers would with their children. It almost startled Sakura how small she was in comparison to the eldest Senju. When did he grow up so much? He wasn't a boy anymore. He was a man she had to look up to, one that could carry her to bed, and one that hugged her when she shivered better than any coat.

"I don't want you dragged into this."

"Don't you dare think that."

Hashirama's voice was almost as hard as his eyes, and it almost frightened Sakura. Hashirama was soft and kind and silly. The man holding her was fierce and strong and large enough to fold her up in his arms. She almost didn't recognize him, but for as stern or harsh he seemed, Sakura could see it was rooted in concern for her and…fear for her safety. He was afraid.

She felt his arms tighten as his fingers kneaded into her back in soothing circles. "Don't think you can keep us out of this. If one of us was in need you wouldn't hesitate so don't you dare think we would do any less. You've stormed the gates of death for my brother. I would do the same if I could in a heartbeat."

"This is because of actions I took many years ago, it's my burden to bare, not yours."

"I want that burden. Anything on your shoulders," she shivered as his fingers traced the shape of her spine, "I want on mine. I won't let you struggle through this on your own, so don't ask it of me. I'm not going to lose you to anything."

Sakura felt so lost, listening to and feeling the touch of a man who used to be a boy she could pick up and tuck under her arm. She felt like she couldn't meet his eyes when he spoke to her in the dim of the bedroom, for fear of what she might find there. She had been so against letting either Hashirama or Madara learning about the cave for selfish reasons, but maybe that had been wrong of her.

"If I figure out what needs to be done, and once I know it is safe, I will ask for your help." Sakura glanced up, forcing herself to meet his eyes. "But not until I know for certain."

The intensity stayed a moment longer in his eyes before his whole form deflated. It was like a flame that had been put under a hood-suddenly the fire was gone with nothing to sustain its flame. He dropped his head onto her shoulder and het his arms go slack to encircle her waist.

"You make me feel like a boy again, I can't possibly stand up against you when you look at me like that," he chuckled into her neck.

"You seemed pretty heated yourself. When did you grow up so much?"

Hashirama turned his face upwards to stare at her from under her jaw. Before she knew what he was doing he pressed his lips to the underside of her throat and then pulled back to brush his lips across her cheek. "I've been a man for a while now. I'm glad you're finally noticing."

Sakura felt the heat of her face and knew she was red all over. The blush showed no mercy as it stoked a fire deep in her belly.

All she could manage was a meek squeak of his name before she pulled all the covers up over her body. She heard him laugh full and deep before wishing her a good sleep, and leaving the way he came.

"I will always come for you when you call on me, but just promise me you won't go anywhere on your own," he called back to her before closing the door behind him. Footsteps fading down the hall clued her in to his departure.

It was a while later when she pushed the blankets away and started up at the door to the hallway. Beyond her door there was another room where a boy wasn't a boy anymore, and she didn't know how she was supposed to feel about that, but she was sure the heat in her belly should have faded long ago.


AN:I'm just really enjoying Sakura's gradual realization that she's surrounded by beef cakes that want a piece of her.

It's been a while and I'm sorry this came so late. Funny story, I had most of this chapter finished a while back but my computer sort of almost died and I lost some of this story that wasn't backed up after they took my laptop in for repairs. I was without a means to write for a few days and then when I got it back there was a lot of stuff I needed to reinstall and put in so yeah, not a lot of fun.

School is out for the summer and I got to go to the local comic con (even though we don't call it that anymore) and yeah...things have been wild and crazy and fun. Summer doesn't mean break, exactly, since Im still super booked with travel plans and summer teaching gigs. I'll apologize now if the wait gets too bad.

I know from feedback that Tobirama is a strong favorite while his elder brother is pretty low on the appreciation list, (thank you for letting me know where you stand/what you think!) but I'm hoping I write him well enough to present him as an enticing prospect for Sakura. Yeah, he's a sweet teddy bear of a guy, but he's also the first Hokage and I don't completely buy the too-pure-for-this-world vibe they try to sell us when it comes to him. You're a political leader, you got some skeletons in your closet. So yeah, this Hashirama might have some 'dark horse' elements that I'm super exited to explore.

If you're enjoying this then chances are you might get a kick out of my agebent jonin Sakura sensei story Things We Lost in the Fire. Sakura has dogs and finds herself begrudgingly falling in love with a gaggle of kids. There's friendship but also romance and a little bit of drama from shady AF council members. Give it a check out if you don't mind.

Thank you for being patient and waiting and letting me know you're still reading! You guys are the best!

Please review and let me know what you thought please!