"Izuna-san!" Hashirama sweeps into the room, hands together with a delighted smile on his face, and Izuna despairs. "I've been looking everywhere for you." Nothing in his countenance changes when he speaks, but even so, Izuna is quite certain he hasn't imagined the vaguely threatening edge to his voice. Izuna stands from his place on his knees, tucked away in the furthermost corner of the archives, hidden by several rows of dusty shelves, the least likely place he would ever be and the one he'd truly hoped Hashirama wouldn't find him.
"Hokage-sama," he sighs.
"Just Hashirama is fine!" he insists for the thousandth time.
"Of course. Did you need something?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. Tonight, I'd like you to accompany me on an urgent mission." Hashirama's expression spells trouble. Izuna has learned enough from watching his brother, who, for all he claims to find Hashirama's antics tiring, endlessly indulges him. Izuna is not his brother.
"Are you asking, or assigning?" he asks, voice flat.
"Oh, Izuna, come now! Your brother is out of town, aren't you bored?"
"Not that bored."
Hashirama gives him the puppy-dog eyes that always work on Madara, and Izuna is, unfortunately, reminded of his brother's increasingly insistent desire for the two of them to get to know each other a little better. One night won't kill him.
"Excellent!" Hashirama exclaims. "Meet me outside of the inn just down the road this evening, casual attire."
Izuna is already regretting his decision.
"This is not an urgent mission," Izuna hisses, seated stiffly beside Hashirama, who has ordered yet another bottle of sake—the man's tolerance is downright alarming—and settled himself at the dice table table a little too comfortably for Izuna's liking. Hashirama tuts at him and waves away his concerns.
"You sound just like Tobirama, Izuna-san," he admonishes.
"That's not funny."
"Just like him," Hashirama marvels. "It's uncanny, really—"
"It's almost as if he's here with me—"
"Okay , okay, I get it, fine. We'll stay for one game."
"Ahh, Izuna. I see you're still naive, that's just not quite how this game works."
"Well, that's how it works tonight." There's a gleam in Hashirama's eyes that promises Izuna no peace whatsoever.
Roughly two and a half hours later, Izuna has settled at Hashirama's side with his face buried in his hands, unable to watch as Hashirama gambles away the last of their budget for next year's New Year celebration.
"This shouldn't be possible," Izuna groans, words muffled by his palms.
"Trust me," Hashirama's voice possesses an air of manic certainty, and Izuna wonders how their esteemed Hokage has managed to keep the extent of his self-delusion such a secret, "I almost have it. Everyone loses just before they win big, Izuna-san, trust me—"
"Hashirama." Izuna brings his fists down on the table hard enough to startle everyone who shares it. "You don't win big. You just lose. Constantly and badly. Look at what you're doing—" He cuts himself off when he notices the look on Hashirama's face. "What is it? Is there something—"
"You called me Hashirama." He looks so sincerely and genuinely touched, Izuna wants to smack him.
"Can you please focus?"
"Of course, of course," he nods vehemently, rubbing his hands together, "I've got a bet to win." Izuna's stomach sinks
"A bet! That man over there bet me I couldn't—"
Though Izuna could have, by now, predicted as much, he is still somehow astonished when Hashirama's luck does not improve at any point during the night until eventually, he cannot stand to see him lose even one more cent. It's far too pathetic to witness the strongest shinobi of their time and leader of their village—not to mention, the only person to ever truly capture Madara's attentions—reduced to such dire straits. Izuna tells himself it's not sympathy, this is simply bad for morale. The people shouldn't see their Hokage quite so pathetic as he is now.
Unfortunately, nothing he tells himself keeps him from feeling reluctantly warmed by the way Hashirama lights up when he steps in and takes the dice from his hands.
"You must be a good luck charm, Izuna!" Hashirama gushes, half-hanging off him as they make their way into the Uchiha home, because Izuna damn well isn't dragging him all the way to the Senju property at this time of night. He can sleep in Madara's bed.
"It would seem that way," Izuna grouses, voice coloured by sarcasm Hashirama ignores completely.
"This is the first time I've actually won my money back." He looks starry-eyed as he says it, and Izuna drops him by the irori, flushed and sprawled happily across the floor while Izuna lights it with a small katon.
"I won your money back. And you're not supposed to be gambling with village funds, anyway. Pretty sure that's embezzlement."
"Ah, your brother doesn't mind." Hashirama waves his hand in the air dismissively, Izuna smacks it back down, he feels he's earned it.
"I mind. I'm pretty sure your brother would mind."
"Your brother makes you sound so sweet, Izuna-san," Hashirama sighs. "But you've been cruel to me all night!"
"Didn't I just keep you from gambling away half the village's coffers? I think that counts as a favour."
In the end, Hashirama drags him out twice more, and the village ends the week wealthier than it began it. Something tells Izuna their good fortune won't last once Hashirama is, once again, left to his own devices, but he drags Hashirama out of the gambling house while they're still ahead so they can burn a little if Izuna's hard-won cash on a good meal and sweet wine in the meantime.
On the fourth night, Izuna puts his foot down.
"Come on," Hashirama wheedles, "aren't you having fun?"
"No. If you want to do something together, we can spar." Honestly, it's something he's wanted to try for a while. He rarely got to face Hashirama in battle and he's more than a little eager to test his metal against him. Hashirama has been so hellbent on gambling, Izuna doesn't realize he's played straight into his hand until his face lights up at the suggestion.
"I would love that," he agrees effusively, "so sweet of you to finally ask to spend some time together, Izuna!"
"That's really not what I—"
"Your brother will be so pleased!" Unfortunately, that's true. Izuna grins, reluctantly swayed more by how it will please Madara to see them get along than by Hashirama's relentlessly upbeat attitude. If they're doing this, they might as well make a game of it.
"We can make a bet and see just how deep your bad luck runs." For once, Izuna's excitement mirrors Hashirama's at the prospects, which makes it only natural that this is where his own luck runs dry.
Hashirama doesn't wipe the floor with him, but Izuna has gotten used to tight matches with Tobirama and Madara, and there's a definite gulf between he and Hashirama that he's no longer used to. Over the last couple of hours, it's become clear to him that they'll have to do this more often, until he's found a way to close it.
Hashirama is lying back, basking in the sun, and Izuna collapses face-down next to him, arms splayed wide while he catches his breath and allows the burn running under his skin to ease.
"You fight less like Madara than I expected," Hashirama remarks
"You and Tobirama as well."
"Tobirama and I differ in abilities." True enough. Izuna groans as he rolls onto his back, blocking out the sun with his arm flung over his face.
"Madara and I had to try and best each other with the same, so there was little left but style to set us apart. We relied on surprise."
"That does make sense," Hashirama smiles. "Your brother is…difficult to predict."
"You manage it better than most," Izuna admits. "Better than I do, sometimes."
"Hardly," Hashirama scoffs. "Only when he lets me, really." The saccharine smile that Izuna catches out of the corner of his eye colours Hashirama's cheeks makes him want to die.
"He's always been too soft for you," Izuna sighs.
"Perhaps, but look where it's led us." Hashirama tilts his head to the side, nodding towards the village. "Not so bad, is it?"
"No," Izuna allows, "not so bad. I will admit I was skeptical, but without you, the village would not stand. I understand little of how you manage it, but you've made my brother happier than I've ever seen him." Hashirama says nothing, and when Izuna looks up at him, wondering if he's made a misstep somehow, Hashirama appears to be on the verge of biting through his lip, trying not to cry.
"Come here, Izuna." Izuna can already hear the tears in his voice and when he stands with the intention of getting far away and fast, Hashirama's mokuton catches his ankle and he finds himself being strong-armed into a hug whether he likes it or not.
Izuna fully intends to drink Hashirama under the table the next time they're out, regenerative cells or none, but it seems that's easier said than done.
"Izuna-san, your cheeks are so pink!"
"Shut up, Senju," Izuna grumbles.
In the morning, Hashirama is far too chipper while Izuna remains hunched over the other side of the Hokage's desk, cursing every bastard shinobi who writes with such small characters they make his head ache, though Hashirama's complete inability to exist in any state even resembling quiet is even worse.
When Madara and Tobirama return, looking only slightly worse for wear—if also more than a little disgruntled—Izuna is immediately relieved.
"Brother, thank the gods. Silence your husband, I beg." Madara's expression holds little sympathy, and becomes downright sickening in its affection when Hashirama launches himself at him, kissing him with far too much enthusiasm to be decent when both he and Tobirama are stood in the same room. When he looks to the younger Senju, he finds an eerily familiar expression staring back at him, and immediately reconsiders his attitude. Perhaps Hashirama was right. The thought makes him shudder.
"We've had a wonderful week, haven't we, Izuna?" Hashirama beams, still clinging to Madara.
"We managed to double our budget for the New Year's festival, even after Hashirama had lost most of it over a game of dice."
"Hashirama, again—" Tobirama doesn't get far.
"Izuna is a wonderful good luck charm," Hashirama interrupts, grinning ear to ear.
"I'll bet," Madara replies, amused. "How likely is it that you'll hold on to those extra winnings until the New Year rolls around, do you think?" Madara grins, clear in his skepticism, and Hashirama doesn't look the least bit shamed.
"One day, my luck will turn. You must learn to have faith, my love."
"Alright." Izuna pushes back from the desk and stands. "I've paid my dues for this week, I'm going—"
"No!" Hashirama steps away from his brother and blocks his path. "You can't leave now, we've all only just become friends. We have to celebrate." Izuna looks to Tobirama, half-hoping for another voice of reason, and immediately wants to slap himself.
"I would not say—"
"Tobirama, we're celebrating," Hashirama repeats, with charmingly threatening emphasis. Tobirama sighs deeply in a way that speaks to having tired of this particular argument long again.
"Fine. We're celebrating."
"It seems Hashirama wore you out, brother." Madara sits next to him at the table full of half-empty plates of food as they watch the two Senju across the room, Tobirama trying to pry Hashirama away from yet another game of dice before he can lose them their hard-earned winnings.
"I wouldn't say that." Izuna folds his arms and lets himself lean into his brother's shoulder, only slightly. "Though I certainly see how well suited you are to each other. I can't imagine he ever bores you." Izuna looks up and watches the uncharacteristic way his brother's face softens as he watches the man he loves, their esteemed Hokage, pleading with his younger brother for just one more game.
Now that Hashirama has discovered Izuna's utility as a good luck charm, he knows there will be little escaping more trips to the gambling house, but to see his brother as happy as he is, after all the suffering they've seen each other, leaves Izuna feeling that it is, perhaps, a burden worth bearing.