A note: This, "The First Hour at the Carnival" and "Dragoneyes" are a three-part attempt to put some okayish buffer stories/worthwhile writing exercises in between my really old, somewhat cringey high school works and the upcoming pieces that I really care about.

Also, someone on tumblr whom I had previously never spoken to made this aesthetic/picture post of MadaTobi plus dragons, and I felt inspired to write something for it.

They knew he was coming. He heard their knowledge in the clattering stones that fell from above and hit his shoulders again and again throughout the day. It was in the wildlife's silence as he walked and the fear of the birds to take flight. The creatures were watching him come up, or at least their crawling little young were. The last real resistance to his arrival had been miles back and downhill, when the ground was only barely rising and mountain rocks mostly absent. He carried that one's tooth on his belt now. The young ones had surely seen the body and cried. What brother or uncle or aunt or theirs had he slain? They might tell him soon.

On the sixth night, he stopped early for the night and ranged around in circles for the scarce dry brush. His fire was blatant and obnoxious and the salmon he cooked must have been tempting curious carnivores for miles. Madara heard one single clap of a moving rock to his left and looked into the unbroken darkness in that direction and laughed. He focused his red eyes and saw the little creature crawling slowly away. Nearly as big as a gelding, he wagered, but so quiet. And soft-skinned. And a handsome shade of blue. Izuna would fancy something in that color.

The seventh day was when he promised Hashirama he would arrive at the mountaintop. His estimation rang true. By noon, he could see the peak of the mountain. From the distance valley, its top was sharp and its entire body dark, dark grey but for a splatter of white snow on the peak. The mountain was far away and citizens could casually ignore its menacing presence from that distance. Here he was, its highest point in view. From so many leagues away, no one could see that the highest point on the mountain bore an oval-shaped hole and that the rock surrounding that opening was free of snow and whip-scarred as a prisoner's back.

He'd crossed from the black mountainside up into the snowy peak region on the fifth day, but there was no need to wear the snow-stepping boots. His usual travel boots crunched on the snow, saying sshrkk with each step. Obnoxious, delightful. The creatures would hear him coming as though he were a drunk tavern girl singing and dancing his way up the mountain. They might have the presence of mind, at least a little bit of a connection in their basic animal brains, to realize regret. After days of his march up to their home and his promise to cut their hearts out, the little bitches could remember stealing the white bear and shrivel and bleed themselves empty.

"I hope you're all home today. I'm here to see the lady of the house," Madara called. He dragged his words a bit, so the echo wouldn't drown them but carry them. He heard his own absurd greeting three times, and on the fourth, it died. The air above and the dead mountain below him were voiceless and nothing moved.

"I'm here to cut your evil hearts out. I'm here to cut your children's hearts out." Finally Madara drew his sword. Slowly, shrilly. The unsheathing sounded like a heavy bird's screech. Finally he heard a lone bird rush out of hiding and flee the scene, flapping decidedly away from him. It made him grin. "I brought your kin's tooth with me. Come have a look, devils. Or I'll come in." He was speaking mostly in taunts, though. He was already coming in. He walked leisurely. His snow shoes were soaked through, but he felt no cold, not anymore.

The cave mouth grew larger and the long marks in the stone more apparent. There were several dozen of them with a variety of sizes and depths to the marks. Marks from adults with large feet and widely spaced talons. Little marks twisting around and hiding among the larger ones. Little dragons curling around their parents' feet and rushing home to safety.

On the exhale, he slammed his sword against a rock and it broke. The debris flew fast as arrows and hit the ground and more rocks and more scree. More rocks and dirt falling and scraped away, ending with a crash somewhere behind and below him.

"Are you dragons or rats? Come out and dance!" He moved forward to dance. No more slow sauntering. Madara walked straight ahead, past the last little ridge of snow on the mountain. He was in the shade of the cave opening and seeing spears of shadow line the ridged walls, pointing at him. He bared his own fangs at them.

If they were near the opening, they would have seen his eyes by now. Madara Uchiha had red eyes, dragon eyes, and he would make the creatures look at him and regret their destruction as he cut them open.

He crossed under the threshold of the cave and felt a heat emanating from inside that was thicker than a king's insulated castle. His eyes were focused now. Now he could see in the dark, and he saw one. Just one.

Blocking out nearly the whole path of the cave was a blue creature wearing a crown of multiple white horns. Its legs were striped in varying shades of white and pink from fresh and faded scars. It stood sideways to block the path with its whole body and bowed low to the ground as a prowling cat would. Its mouth was open and glinting javelin-tip teeth curved down dangerously from its jaw.

"Show me your fire," he said to it. He saw his own body reflected in the creature's wide eyes just next to its pupil, which shook and pulsed in the iris as though it fled his shadow. He saw the mouth opening and the head raising to strike immediately.

The light came first. There was orange light in a brief, tiny sun from the creature's mouth. It lit up the whole cave. The grey walls, the stains of constant smoke, and a hole in the ceiling were all instantly in his focus. And so was the inexplicable blue-and-white gem just behind the front legs of the large adult. He bit his tongue to keep from faltering or flinching. The moment passed and the sun leaped violently towards him. Madara raised his sword and opened his arms and accepted the fire.

The heat was instant and unparalleled. His vision filled up with thrashing red and orange and his body was ungodly hot. It soared over him, through him, around him—whooshed and hurled as it struck the floor and swirled out to climb the walls—and was so hot as to bring tears to his eyes and a quivering to his limbs. He laughed and it shot down his throat and into his stomach. It smothered him and he laughed and laughed.


His hair was whipping and thrashing behind him. His body was bending languidly towards the fire. More of this, always.

It stopped.

The light faded, but the heat remained glowing inside and around him. His hair and his armor felt supercharged with it. His sword and his steel chest-piece glowed like a new blacksmith's artwork. Now, he ought to have used the sword. He ought to have charged at the adult dragon and laughed at its fire and hacked away at its face or its legs. Instead he looked at the second creature in the cave that had caught his attention. It stopped his movements and made him stare.

"You're alive," he whispered. The cave strengthened his voice. Alive, alive, it whispered.

Tobirama walked forward towards him. The blue dragon moved its front legs to allow him an easier passage. Madara eyed the creature's movements with curiosity and a growing smile. He noted its own gaze, fixed on Tobirama's person and its head raised with a great amount of interest. Or concern, if it had thoughts to make that impression with.

Madara waited for Tobirama to come to him. He stopped several steps away. He looked just as he always had, in the vague and faraway glances Madara had cataloged of him over many years. Obstinately unchanging. A white-haired, dour old man from birth who obeyed the arm of the law as though it had a tight and luscious red collar around him. One fortnight ago, his elder brother, creator of the law, sent him with a party of men to attack the dragons that had chased his countrymen and burnt their farms to flat ash fields. Nine men returned, six of them wounded, and the tenth had been the dour white bear who walked at the side of Madara's only real friend. He had not returned at all.

Madara was on the path to Hashirama's keep before he had been sent for. Hashirama spilled his whole heart to him and sobbed on his shoulder and he couldn't begrudge the man a bit for it. Tobirama was his best friend's little brother. Madara knew everything about love for a younger brother. He offered to bring back the prince's bones and the head or heart of any dragon that he could carry on a mount with him back to Konoha as vengeance for the killing. They'd be buried at home and the prince's unwanted epithet white bear could finally be carved on his tombstone. But the head and heart he really sought was here still, very much attached and functional and frowning per usual.

"My brother sent you?" the white prince asked. "Of course he did." Madara waited for a sharp conclusion to the complaint but Tobirama went quiet.

"Something wrong with being rescued?" Madara scoffed back. "I came up her looking for any great big reptile hearts that were to be had. As vengeance for you. I can't believe you're still—"

Behind them, the blue dragon exhaled long and strong though its nose, making the noise of metal steam vents. The creature knew his language, he guessed, and knew the meaning of being offended. There was a brain with some moldy handbasket of social awareness underneath that nest of horns. It made him smirk a little.

Tobirama's frown deepened. Madara's smirk wore away. "I don't need rescuing. Hashirama oughtn't have wasted the manpower when Kumo is still leering at us from the east. You should be gathering men for the war front by now. All this time you've wasted, going on a mountain hike. Your squires deserve your master's badge more than you."

"Are you going to explain this nonsense to me?" Madara flicked his eyes up at the dragon so quaintly glaring at them. "Your brother's love for you sent me up here. And I expected to find your bones, if anything, and cut open the beast that killed you. How are you even alive? Is that thing your pet now?"

"As though you give a damn." Tobirama said, frowning. "If I'd died in that attack it wouldn't be your business to pick up my bones. You know that task would be for my brother."

Madara leaned a little closer. "As though I give a damn." he replied. "I lent my efforts to your brother because he's my best friend. A favor for him, not you. Now explain yourself." The motion of his hair falling over one shoulder caught Tobirama's eye; he tapped his fingers loudly on his sword's sheath in waiting for the prince to look back up at him.

The dragon began to move. Madara ignored the prince to look at the creature behind him. It was moving its body so that its head rather than its side would face them. It made to lie down, scraping rocks underfoot and under belly, and crossed its front legs.

Now that there was a visible in the gap of space it left, Madara's focused eyes could see smaller creatures behind it. Littler beasts the size of young colts with limp wings that dragged on the ground. They were handsome shades of blue, but for the largest that was a foggy, uneven grey. He could see from here that this one had more horns on its head and thicker ridges on the spine than the little blues.

"You ate one of them, didn't you?"

A dragon's spinal ridges, teeth and talons were art for a warrior's armor. The grey child's pieces were all too small to be trophies for any grown man, but could be fashioned into gifts or small accessories to other clothing. Izuna knew something about making those things. There was someone from the Hyuuga family who would trade wagonloads of gold for one piece.

"I did." He admitted. In his mind's eye he saw Tobirama in several immaculate outfits for political ceremony and lawmaking and assorted paperpushing horseshit. He wore fur of a polar bear but always declined dragon teeth.


His gaze dragged away from the beasts and back to Tobirama, only an arm's length away. He had clean white hair and slightly dusty clothes. His faceplate was gone. There was nothing else on him from which to extrapolate harm or distress or even hunger.

"Madara. You've eaten their flesh? Or drank their blood?"


"When was this? What did it look like?"

Tobirama's gaze was tightening. His attentiveness made Madara want to laugh..

"I killed a green one four days ago. I took a tooth with me, and I drank its blood. And I'll give it to my whole clan once I get back." Madara focused his eyes to let Tobirama see. Even before the focus truly tightened, he knew the red color had spread when he saw Tobirama's brows climbing up and his lips parting. "We've been idiots to never take their blood before. It makes you invulnerable to killing cold. And fire."

He spun the ink of his eyes, but Tobirama's awe had already shut down, like a spine neatly severed. His expression settled back into the distant and judicial almost-scowl. Madara felt mildly disappointed. "Now you. Explain yourself."

The prince visibly swallowed. "The green one you killed, he was a devil. A scourge to humans and his own kind, too. He tried to carry me off, but this one took me from that brute's hands. This one," and he inclined his head back to the blue with crossed legs and narrowed wolf eyes staring down at them, "is named Waterfall. She's no scourge to us. She would be an ally for us, if we swear not to harm her and her children."

The blue dame's young skittered over one limb and under the other and waggled their ungainly wings and bit at its toes, but it did not move. Madara felt like spitting at its feet. "This thing talks? And makes negotiations with you? Tobirama, for God's sake. It's a long walk, let's go. It'll take me ten minutes to behead it."

"No. She speaks in my mind. If you're so skeptical, I can prove it."

Maybe it was delusions of friendship with a monster that was making him excessively abrasive. Or not. "…Then do. I'd love to see."

"Waterfall says you ate fish last night. Her oldest could smell it when he went down to watch you earlier today."


"She says…she says she smells some scaly creature on you. In your hide, in your coats somewhere. You killed a…a red pond lizard? The sort with long legs. She says it still…ah, it still smells of the pond scum that it lived in. You didn't clean it well."

He kept his face in check and held Tobirama's eyes. Then he kept the movements of his hands in check, kept them slow and perhaps indifferent, as he reached into a small pocket of the coat that rested above his thigh. He nudged the clasp open and reached in and wrapped his fingers around a fat scaly body. He painted a smirk that spoke of being vaguely impressed onto his face and let it sit there as he lifted the little lizard body to show the prince and the dragon dame. The creature bobbed its head twice with an all too satisfied squint to its eyes.

"You're right," he said to both of them. He kept his face in position. Then, "Let's go home, prince. Your brother's waiting for you. If you walk out, will it try to stop you?"

"I see the miracle news of a talking dragon for an ally is going entirely unappreciated by your deaf damn ears," Tobirama spat. "You may have some idealized mercenary life, but I'm dealing with very real matters of war and walls and protecting my own countrymen and I'm staying here until I've finished. Take yourself back home and tell my brother I'm alive and safe. I'll return when I can."

Madara's smirk was no longer painted, or small. "I said, I don't give a damn. I'm taking you home with me." He was still holding the sword in his right hand. He lifted it slightly, brandishing the weapon and the bloodstains of its previous several kills for his cave-dwelling audience. In case the bear dared to turn up his rotten nose at him, Madara focused his eyes again and spun the three drops of ink inside them. He watched Tobirama fight to keep his face stony. "Come. With. Me."

He saw Tobirama at once with the regular eyesight of a man in the dark of a cave and with a dragon's dark-seeing eyes. Red filtered over every object in his vision and clawed outward through the air and dug into Tobirama's eyes, seeking the brain behind. He was no dragon himself. He would submit.

With the dragon's eyes he saw Tobirama bowing his head slightly, walking behind him, silently seating a horse behind him. Tobirama would pass from his care into the king's and return to his office and sentence traitors and show his faceplate to many more enemy soldiers. But that brief future-sight immediately was cut off by the steam-vent hissing of Waterfall.

Tobirama broke his gaze and turned back to look at Waterfall, now sitting on its hindquarters with one leg raised, like a hound. It stomped this foot down, but the sound of it was hardly audible against the hissing. The youngsters by its feet scattered and ran further back into the cave.

"I will not go, Madara." the prince said. He turned back and his neck and shoulders were twitching mightily as though an invisible hand were forcing him to bow his head. "I-I mean what I say. I'm…I-I'm negotiating. If I can give Waterfall and her kin terms that provide them safety, they'll fight for us. They'll eat only sheep. We'll be protected for years. Please. Don't." He was panting by now. Down at his thighs, his hands were twitching as the demands of Madara's eyes pulled at them too.

Tobirama's hands lost the battle and reared up to clutch at his throat. At the same time, the blue dragon's mouth tore open and it screamed.

The blue dragon pushed its head forward and Madara dove into a bowed battle stance; his arm heaved the sword up. Distance closed and the head expanded in his peripheral vision as it bullet-charged closer.

He saw himself in its pupil again. This time its breath pushed his hair back, even nudged it out of his eyes for him. It had teeth longer than his hand, but Madara's belt held a tooth as long as his arm. What challenge would this one be compared to the violent green rotting at the foot of the mountain? To the other half dozen whose corpses he had walked on and whose hides were nailed into his wall? The thing's mouth hovered a few arm's lengths above Tobirama's head and displayed a red mouth whose wet surfaces gleamed. But down the ribbed throat, no more fire.

"You know better than to shoot fire at me now, don't you, rat?" he asked it. "You'll burn him down to the bones and I'll be left standing. The next time you take a breath."

It dared to breathe smoke in his face. He shut his eyes against a long, ugly plume of it and wished that it were a human woman instead, to slap her arrogant face and watch her hit the dirty ground. But even if it lashed out physically, or rushed forward to clamp him in its mouth, the thrashing would scar the cave walls further and loose rocks from the ceiling and send debris, and soft human bodies, hurtling towards the walls. There was no more room to test the creature's patience.

"Be still, Waterfall! Stay behind me!" The prince lurched to one side and caught himself hard one one foot. He stood up to his full height with his back facing Madara and his open hands reaching towards the dragon dame and her red cavernous mouth.

Its feline pupils contracted into thin, stressed scars. The feet came swinging forward to propel the torso closer to the head and to the puny men that the head breathed on. Almost outside the sphere of his hearing, the young dragons squealed.

The beast's front legs hit the cave floor like dropped cannons crushing ice. Dust and debris fell onto the ground and the men's shoulders and hair, but they remained standing still. Madara felt the vibration up his spine and in his eye sockets. He crushed his body's tiny, thoughtless impulses to shake or stumble. The dame had longer teeth than the green he'd killed, and more of them. They were curved as befitted a predator that ripped flesh, crowded around each other in an arrangement the green hadn't shared, that his other half-dozen dragonback hides in his quarters a hundred leagues away hadn't shared. Layers of them, three layers and four and a little more, that would shame the arrowhead teeth of sharks.

The dragon's mouth was massive. There were soft scars inside the lips from the feet of its victims and from swords. Its tongue was mobile and quivering. The jaws opened wider and wider. The mouth could swallow men, horses, small ships. There was no fire, but its breath was heat from a forge. Madara began to sweat.

"He won't, Waterfall. He won't. He doesn't know you." Tobirama was saying. The shadow of its jaw over the prince engulfed his body and promised no escape if he moved.

"I swore on my life and I swear again! You know I speak the truth. Look at me, good mother. You know."

Madara's dragon eyes focused helplessly on the dame's animal pupils convulsing in her iris. The restraint and awareness that had been there before had burned away. He thought very briefly of calling to Tobirama, and of raising his sword to cut the dame's mouth or eyes. Though he was immune to its fire, his legs would never move as fast as the creature's fangs.

Tobirama stayed facing the open mouth. The blue and white of him was ringed by her mad red. "Madara, look at her. Put down your sword and promise to do her no harm." he hissed. "And do not call her a rat in front of me."

His hands were still raised to press the dame back and cut it off from the cave intruder. The teeth were poised to severe his puny hands; saliva was slapping onto the ground.

"Please set it down. I vouched for you. I said you were a friend." Sweat ran in the chinks of his armor. "Do not ruin this. We need her. Please."

The dragon's claws were curling in, squeezing dirt, as men would curl in their fists. He saw very briefly a young and irritating boy posing this same way in front of an irritated man with an ax. No one could forge courage from fool's bravado like Tobirama.

Madara acquiesced. "I believe you both. Mother dragon, I won't harm your children. He's right, that I don't know you. And whatever you believe, Tobirama's no liar." Finally he moved. He lowered his swordbearing hand and smoothly, easily, pushed the tip of it into stone. The near-familiar sound of rock crunching gave him some comfort.

The dragon's lips were sliding down over the gums. Hard ridges of scale over its eyes that fairly modeled pinched, angered brows were receding up into calmness again. Neither man moved. Further into the cave, one of the young dragons squealed and belched an opaque fireball the size of a cat.

"Absolutely not," Tobirama insisted to the thing's unheard voice. "Judge me by my blood and my eyes instead of words, if you will. That's right. Loyal since we were boys. Yes, since…yes."

Madara waited.

"Several. It won't be now, either. You don't have room to press me after that outburst, my lady."

Madara's brows pinched together and he waited.

Tobirama turned around. He wore sweat and naked relief on his face. Madara combed his memory for a day when he had seen this funny combination of emotions on the white bear's face. There was no precedent that he knew of. The prince took a step forward. Madara reached out to grab his shoulder in case he needed steadying.

"I just aged ten years from that," Tobirama said with a huff. He seemed to be looking at Madara's hair. "And you…it's like you never aged past fourteen. And you look like a homeless man. God, you're always behind my worst days."

Whatever the prince's perspective was, Madara laughed and let him have his moment in it. It was nothing more than a moment. Tobirama's face had calmed already; his trio of scars were smoothed out again.

Waterfall took a few steps backwards, and her swinging tail receded out of view. Madara and the dragon eyed each other. The grey dragon-child bounded forward and jerked to a dust-kicking halt by one warning twitch of its mother's biggest claw.

"Will you sit still long enough to listen to what I've done?" the prince asked. "There's much to tell. I hoped you would agree with me. And that you would be with me when I propose this to my brother."

The idea seemed less awful in his mind now that the dragon was sitting and waiting like a foxhound. "I am curious what 'plan' you and your friend worked out," he said. He couldn't fight the smirk. Not for the temperamental dragon's benefit. "You said trading protection for sheep? What else?"

"That'd be the plan if I were printing it in a storybook for infants," Tobirama scoffed and squinted his eyes for a brief second, which spoke of un-amused judgment but did amuse Madara. "I've been working on this for a long time." She and I met many months ago. Near the mist country, in winter. She was resting in a river after some men had attacked her. And we spoke."

Tobirama's story did not dwell in detail but in continuous facts that grew more and more incredible. She was in the river and Tobirama on a horse and his horse on the death's door. It collapsed of exhaustion the riverbank and Tobirama, thinking of death and war and his brother's sure hand and something unparalleled and tantalizing he saw in the choice he was about to make, offered the wounded dragon his horse to eat. The mare's spine crUNCHED in one clamp of the dragon's jaws and it disappeared in three.

When Tobirama spoke, she spoke back into his head and he heard her like he would his own thoughts. All dragons can do this, she said, as all humans can talk to dogs, but humans would rather not talk to dogs, she supposed. (Madara laughed.) Tobirama supposed that she led a difficult life, fending off humans—annoying, armed dogs—in whatever country she traveled. And there was, he supposed, a solution to that. They met another half-dozen times to discuss that solution. There were also a half-dozen mission declarations hidden in Hashirama's treasury giving him funds and equipment and alloted time away from the city for assignments and summits that Tobirama never attended. (Madara laughed louder.)

"The green dragon you killed at the base of the mountain was a bane even to his own kind," the prince explained. "He kills his own kind for sport, for revenge. Or boredom. He's hated in every country and coast there is. Waterfall told me that the old bastard was trying to court her. So I included him in the first terms of our trade. I would find a way to eliminate him. I couldn't do it alone. A platoon of my men probably couldn't alone. But you could."

Madara was busy appreciating and gave Tobirama a "hmm," and waited further.

"He'd been following Waterfall for half a year. When he came close, she made it known that she enjoyed eating human men in blue and white colors. Alive, of course. So he went and found her one. He dropped this specimen at her doorstep and waited at the base of the mountain for his lady love to meet him, as instructed. The fool waited there almost three days, and then another human walking by. And that was that."

"You used me, Tobirama," Madara murmured. He was rubbing idly at his chin and grinning.

"I wasn't aware that you'd drunk blood from them," Tobirama said, "but even if you hadn't, if you hadn't had that advantage to dragon fire, I was confident in your ability to win. My promise to Waterfall was built on that."

Tobirama had used him and put his life in the hands of multiple dragons due to trust in him, in his capacity as a warrior and a friend, and Madara struggled with where to put this knowledge. It would have to be sorted later, after they left for home, but Tobirama need not know that it affected him so. Madara asked after the final steps of the plan, the part that included civilian protection from and for a talking dragon.

"The rest rides on you and me both now." Tobirama announced. "When I return home, I'll make my case in front of the king and the decision is his. Before he makes final judgment, Waterfall is willing to plead her case further by flying over the war parties in the north and giving us their formations and numbers, and any pieces of their armor or horses that she can fit into her mouth."

"You've got some balls, you damn fiend." Madara grinned and showed his teeth. "God, you never change. You'll find ways to make men feel like their accomplishments aren't worth shit for the rest of your life."

"Tell Hashirama that when we get home."

One of the baby dragons had gotten past its mother's stern paw and slithered almost on its belly to just behind Tobirama. It was the grey one, the one with too many horns. Its side bumped up against Tobirama's lower back while its head hugged against his thigh, all the while staring at the armored intruder in its cave. A squeaking noise came out of its mouth that reminded Madara of a domesticated fox that Sasuke's little street rat friend owned.

The prince's fingers settled into spaces between the horns and found scales to rub against. The garbled squeaks stopped, the mouth closed and a heavy, vibrating noise touched the men's ears gently. The infant either purred or hummed.

"He is very interested in you. I think he likes your colors," Tobirama said. His mouth turned down into a slight frown. "The translation isn't so clear. He's just started to learn to speak."

Madara assumed the child hadn't been named or Tobirama would that seen it relevant to inform him of it. But the thing wasn't leaving. He reached absentmindedly at his thigh and grasped for the little red lizard in his pocket from before. His movement had the child's eyes bulging. Madara convulsed his arm a few times, feigning throwing motions as he would for dogs waiting to fetch, and each time the dragon child jerked. Its mouth was open like a dog, too. It would probably run after the damn lizard if he threw it.

"You want this?"

"Agggh," the child "said" with its nasty gargling voice. Tobirama's arms were crossed at his chest, waiting.

Madara tossed the lizard lightly up into the air and the child jumped forward and yanked it out of the air like a dog. It tossed the prize onto the ground immediately after. Once the carcass's limbs finished one weak bounce and flop on the ground, the child bit into it right there.

"Waterfall thanks you for your generosity," the prince informed him. "She requests that you do not call her a rat or threaten her young again."

"Granted," Madara replied. He watched the grey child bite off segments of the lizard and swallow it in neat installments. The sight quickly became boring so he addressed Tobirama instead. The prince looked expectantly at him. "Does anyone else know about your meetings? What you were doing?"

"I considered telling my brother. But it seemed too likely that he would object to the step where I let myself be captured."

"Mm, he would have thrown a fit or cried."

"Thrown a fit, then cried."

The grey dragon was leaning forward and snuffling around Madara's legs and belt. He pushed his knee slightly outward to nudge it away. But he was still laughing at the familiar idea of Hashirama sobbing on the ground and yanking on his little brother's leg because he was upset or happy or overwhelmed with brotherly love or whatever.

"Thank you for doing what I asked, just now," the prince said. Madara glanced up at him. His solid voice had faltered slightly and his arms remained crossed. "A lot of this was depending on you, on your swordsmanship and your judgment in front of a dragon. You were vital for this to work. I won't forget it."

Madara was a knight and bowed accordingly, but he kept his face blank and held Tobirama's gaze for the length of it. He said "you're welcome" or something close to it and without another beat went on with, "So when are you planning on coming back?"

Tobirama said maybe in a few hours, while he ran his knuckles along the spine of one of the littler blues that had come up sniffing after its sibling.

Another one came up and pushed the top of its head against Madara's limp hand. Tobirama's hands were on the other blue, but his mind wasn't there with it, and he would not look at Madara again. A third tiny blue dragon trotted past the two men without a glance. Madara caught the brief shine of turquoise glinting on its hide as it passed into sunlight.

"She's going to get fish for us," Tobirama said, inclining his head towards the departing beast. He didn't look up. Madara considered focusing his red eyes again, and asking Tobirama to speak further. There must have been a comment by that infant or by Waterfall; Tobirama cracked a grin and he had his older brother's face for a moment.

Above Tobirama's head was Waterfall, who watched Tobirama with half-lidded eyes, orange half-moons with cat's pupils. It outweighed twenty horses, it could erase twenty men with one swell of fire. Tobirama had seen this creature bleeding in a river and thought to befriend her.

The mother dragon's pupils crawled up from Tobirama to look a bit farther out, at Madara. Even without his own red-moon eyes, Madara had no fear of her. The prince was safely between them; without his knowing, Waterfall held Madara's eyes and nodded to him.

Thank you for reading! I am very open to writing critique. Structural, narrative flaws, dialogue or character flaws, inconsistencies, give it to me.

Things I attempted to do with this:

–Portraying characters' feelings/thoughts indirectly, mostly with Madara. He obstinately chooses to call Waterfall "it" despite knowing Tobirama telling him she's female, showing his totally uncaring attitude about befriending a monster that he usually kills and skins. (He slips up on this once at the end.)

–In that same vein, purposefully putting Madara's surface claims/thoughts that he finds Tobirama stuffy and annoying at odds with the fact that he knows him very well, has pleasant memories of him and definitely respects him.

–Writing Tobirama for the first time and keeping his reserved and judicial personality intact despite the fanfic drama of having dragon pets who occasionally freak out and threaten to eat his friends.

–Originally the idea was that Tobirama has had feelings for Madara on-and-off since they were young but never said anything and it somehow came out in conversation here while Tobirama's multiple dragon pals were surrounding them, but this never ended up happening because my writing time and motivation dropped to almost nil and I didn't care to tiptoe through a really difficult romantic(?) relationship. You can interpret Tobirama's "several times" comment to Waterfall being that Tobirama's had several chances in life to say something about his feelings to Madara but skipped them all, and he'll skip this one, too.

–PS Tobirama being called "the white bear" is just something carried over from a novel called "East" I enjoyed a long time ago wherein the protagonist called another character "the white bear" for a couple of reasons. In this verse, it's probably because Tobirama goes into battle and into legal meetings and into the market wearing a giant fur pelt.