A/N: These were originally posted on LJ, so you might have read them there. The document is called "Senjuice" on my update list, just so you know what kind of blatant clan favoritism you're getting into here. It took me a year to come to the realization that it's hard to write about the Uchiha without smashing one's head against what made them and their village like that...imagine! :)

Oldest ones first, five in total. They have no relation to one another, so there's no continuity at all.

Warnings: mild violence, and given the Senju clan's natural opponents, some mild psychological fuckery, a little sexuality too, but overall pretty PG-13.

Pairings: mostly gen, but mentions of Hashirama/Madara and Hashirama/Mito.

Enjoy!


I. Tobirama


When Tobirama is nine he entertains himself by making faces at Uchiha Izuna across the daimyo's negotiation table when his brother isn't looking. Izuna, who is about the same age, seems to find this extremely classy. When Madara catches his little brother crossing his eyes and sticking his tongue out in return, he cuffs him over the head and snaps at Hashirama to control his "vermin." Hashirama is offended by this, although Tobirama is quick to state that he doesn't mind being called vermin because as far as he's concerned rats are the height of awesome. Izuna supports this opinion and the next time they're forced to sit through a meeting they occupy themselves by sneaking off and trying to summon some rats. They manage to materialize a few earthworms before Izuna starts to cry and says he doesn't want to make a summoning contract with earthworms because they look stupid. Tobirama informs him that he looks stupid, Izuna cries harder, and eventually Hashirama comes out and makes Izuna an apple to console him. When Madara sees the apple things get incinerated, but Tobirama does manage to get in a few insults before they're forced to leave.

When he's eleven they're somehow caught in the same raid, and in the midst of the fray Izuna ends up making his first kill. Tobirama is the one to hold his hair back as he retches into a trench, and afterwards, to pass him a couple of oranges so he doesn't get scurvy and die from whatever godforsaken diseases are sweeping the Uchiha camp at that time of year. Izuna gets all weepy at this, but holds it in check for the duration of the battle, by the end of which, Tobirama is a little disturbed to see, he has killed at least fourteen men during a stint as his brother's backup.

At thirteen Tobirama is asked to name a partner when he's sent out on recon work. He finds himself unable to do it. He walks a few miles out of camp and sets himself up for the night watch, at the juncture of the forest where he knows a few different clan territories intersect, and tries to act surprised when Izuna climbs up into the tree next to him. Some shoulder-punching takes place, Izuna acts like a goddamn woman and sniffles a little, and before he gets what's going on they're dividing up recon duties and taking stock of one another's rations like fucking allies. When Izuna, being terminally senseless, comments blithely on this, Tobirama pushes him out of the tree. He hits him back with a nasty genjutsu, and they sulk all the way through the rest of the watch.

At sixteen Tobirama figures out that it's his aim in life to get Izuna completely shitfaced, because the lunatic has some kind of theory that genjutsu functions best when the senses are unclouded and hence is as teetotal as a monk. He wheedles, which doesn't work, blackmails him, which works even less since he's slightly intimidated by all the people Izuna hangs out with, and finally dunks him in a barrel of rainwater, which sort of works in that it's at least immensely satisfying. He orders Izuna a topper of ale at some kind of civilian dive. Izuna downs the thing and gets the sort of expression common to people experiencing moments of religious catharsis. Before the night is out his friend has proven exactly how adept the sharingan is at copying tavern dances, composed a tearful and metered epiphany to Hashirama's perfectly straight hair, and, if his cousin Toka's rhapsodizing the next morning is anything to go by, lost his virginity. This last is done long before Tobirama has come anywhere near clearing the same hurdle himself, so he doesn't speak to Izuna for a week.

Between the bulwarks of their two warring clans they batter at each other and pummel holes in the fence between their lives and eventually carve out a sort of niche. Izuna in one of his moments of hideously awkward insight points out that it would have been easier if they were lovers, and after Tobirama's done with the whole dude, why are you such a fucking creep routine he decides he kind of agrees; lovers propelled by passion would have long since run away, or at least spoken out loud time, place, need to see you again. Lovers had their dictionaries of the acceptable and the profane. Friends had nothing, really; there was nothing grand to be made of kinda want you to take a look at this new technique, been a while since I've beat your ass, we could maybe spar more often if your brother weren't such a dickhead. There were always cleanly delineated boundaries. Sometimes Tobirama thinks he doesn't have a word for what exactly they are, or why he's ended up being in the position of being able to tell when Izuna's upset about something, even though as the years have slipped by he's abandoned the crybaby shtick for a perpetual, ethereal smile which is just as if not more annoying than the tears. No words, either, to explain how angry he gets when Izuna suddenly and abruptly drops off the face of the planet for about three years in a row and then reappears across a castle moat when they're nineteen, sporting a pinwheel in his fancy eyes and saying stupid, disorienting things like didn't want you to die for this.

But at twenty-one years old, standing in front of a forest of cremation pyres Hashirama blistered his own hands to make, Tobirama thinks he might be able to guess at the right word after all. In the hours before the mass funeral he rolls the sleeves of his yukata up and punches the corpse lightly on the shoulder, trying not to think of the tearless eyes under those bandages. When he sets the pyre alight he's not worried about what he'll say to the Uchiha afterwards, or the hell of a lecture he's about to get from Hashirama, or even how he's going to get through the rest of his life alone in that niche between the fighting clans.

It's a brother's prerogative to light the final fire, so does he just that, and sets the boundary aflame.


II. Hashirama


a.

Whenever the Senju made camp near a large town Hashirama was taken to the marketplace, where he would stand atop a barrel and produce bushel after bushel of squash, carrots, potatoes, sometimes out-of-season fruit for a few extra pieces of silver. He became good at smiling because the servants carrying baskets for their women liked him best when he smiled, and this meant more pieces of silver in the cup at the end of the day. The third year he did this some older boys from the enclave took him behind the gutter and neatly snapped his wrist, saying things like women's work and no job for a shinobi. After this he asked the trees to come out of the ground faster, with enough speed to break a boy's jaw when one caught him in the throat, and the women stopped taking him to the marketplace and gave him to the men in red armor.

The first time Hashirama gored an enemy with a mokuton blade he was seven years old. He placed his hand on the heart of the tree and felt an agony that cored him to the bone, a screaming consciousness that made him draw back in shock. Standing in the dirt with the blood splattering his sandals like something vomiting he put his arms around the warm tree trunk and cried, not understanding the tree's pain but feeling it like his own. An uncomfortable itching sensation in his throat, a a hard knot in his chest. He would not have understood the concept of atonement at that age, but in service of whatever it was that led him to the fields behind the enclave at night he made cherry trees burst into full flower, spring along the blood-spattered battlefield, until he was knee-deep in white petals and could no longer see the red dirt under his feet. He still felt the tree's agony like a terrible song in his bones.

"It is wrong to compel a living thing to battle," he said one day, and the clan head cuffed him across the mouth for his insolence until he grew himself a nimbus of thorns, stabbing the man with countless small pinpricks and then letting the roses grow next to his face, unfurling slowly like flags of challenge. Someone said "let him be, he's only a boy" and so he kept growing as the trees did, swinging his feet in their branches and pressing his forehead against their bark after battles, as if he could earn their forgiveness by aping the act of prayer.

By the spring of his fifteenth year he had left a swathe of impromptu forests all the way across the Fire Country. A white grove of birches that, in later years, his wife would raze to the ground during her time as the first jinchuuriki, a copse of beeches framing a waterfall that would eventually adorn the base of two giant statues. Apple trees and peach trees that drew travelers from around the world, where daimyo would spread embroidered blankets for their wives over the decaying bones of the dead, and sometimes the wind in the leaves would still stir the scent of blood in the trees' roots.

As if on a pilgrimage Hashirama built his offerings, atoning always for the way the technique had perverted the fact of life, and in later years Konoha's children would learn of the places the Shodaime had made, smile in the shade of the silent trees, and tell one another that they were lucky to live in a place of such beauty.


b.

One night Hashirama wakes up to the sight of his father lacing his boots with one hand, a tallow candle in the other. The sack next to his feet is too large for the night patrol and he has no weaponry, but Hashirama is four years old and the only thing he can think to do is clumsily bow his head. His father looks at him for a long moment. Then he bows back, holding Hashirama's eyes with his own for a few slow and uncomfortable seconds, before ducking under the tent flap and going out onto the dull violet moor with the tallow candle flickering, a buoy on the ocean ferrying his father out of sight. In the morning his mother slams her head against the ground in front of her clan's elders and begs their forgiveness; her husband took her future and their next week's provisions and left her only their baby son, worth next to nothing in wartime, but she will do her best to repay the clan in his stead.

Hashirama learns the word deserter before he learns there is any other kind of man. He thinks all boys have fathers who are deserters and is punched in the mouth losing two of his twelve teeth for suggesting this to one of the older boys on the patrol. When he learns this isn't true, that in fact there are boys whose fathers show them how to grip kunai and see to it that their ration packages are larger than most, something he didn't know was broken seems to hurt for the first time inside him. He goes out on the moor himself, thinking perhaps that he'll still find a tallow candle burning. It's one night before the patrol finds him crouched in the lee of a rock, blue-lipped and frostbitten.

He knows at that moment that when he enters the chasm of war he must emerge on the other side forged into a hero. To thinking of becoming the alternative—becoming the deserter—is more than he can bear.

At thirteen he meets another scrawny teenager skimming cream off the tops of milk barrels in the Senju storehouses. Years of wartime have taught Hashirama what starvation looks like and the other boy wears it like he's never known it could be worn, ghoul-thin cheeks and feral eyes almost beautiful in their angular glittering madness. I'll sound the alarm, he warns, knowing even as he says it that it's an empty threat. The boy comes closer to him and sets his fingers against his face. Tenderness scares him badly, as it only scares children who don't understand it, but he realizes the boy is only testing his rounded cheeks, the pad of fat at his chin. A sneer distorts the bizarre features. Then the boy spits in his face, shoulders the satchel with his tins of cream, and walks away across the purple moor. Violet smoke distorting his edges, a mirage that never existed.

Years again before he faces Uchiha Madara. The other boy now wears a horrible smile as if his mouth is an unnatural gash across his face. After the fight Hashirama looks down at him sneering in the dirt at his feet. Foot-long splinters of wood skewering his wrists to the mud below their sandals, long-slanting sunlight turning those terrifying eyes to liquid, and something inside his own chest melts and burns and grows as warmly golden as the heart of an egg.

He loses his mind. He falls in love with the demented sincerity that is the only way he knows how to live; since his father left the tent for the dusky moor and single tallow candle he has never been able to turn his back on a single feeling, and for the fifteen years of his life he has thought of this as his greatest virtue. He spends night patrols in a dreamlike trance. He leaves provisions he makes for Madara until his chakra is bone-dry. He spends nights writing aimless words in the dirt floor of his tent and thinks about pale fingers pulling his hair, winding viciously as if to sink tangles into its smoothness. It's only years later, when the pommel of his sword sticks straight from between the ribs he could have mapped, once, with his fingertips—that he understands how drastically he has failed to understand anything at all about love.

It seems then that the sun is a heart that has been ripped from the sky and the whole universe continues as if it doesn't understand that its center is missing. The world lurches and reels like a somnambulist and slowly Hashirama pulls things together again, makes timbers for his village and grows and grows and grows; he tells himself the way he tells his troops that Madara was nothing he should have ever wanted. He tells himself and doesn't wait for the lesson to take root.

What he wants, ultimately, is only to be a good man with a good family in a good village. The good village is made, now, built on the bones of his dead friend, and one morning he looks up at the slender and disapproving Uzushiogakure ambassador across his conference table and realizes there has always been a woman with whom he can make a good family, one who saved his life and his village and might save the rest of him, too, if she is willing.

His wedding is louder than his marriage, which propels itself forward on Mito's unassuming and steely grasp over his household and carefully impersonal discussions of seals, chakra structures, things he has no interest in but listens to nonetheless. Mito is a few degrees shy of the society women he's met in the civilian cities and he likes her all the more for it; the fact that she consistently has ink stains under her fingernails and ties her hair in a way that does not flatter her because it is easiest, the fact that despite these things she is effortless in her elegance. He's never had a woman before and the novelty is palatable enough that when his baby daughter is born with red hair, he is able to tell his wife she looks like her and be glad of it.

He feels the sapling growing in his heart on days when he skims cream off the top of a saucer for his daughter, or assesses the healthy fat of her cheeks. It's not a sapling at first, just a nameless sprig of something better off lost.

Greenery finds roots. One night Hashirama stands in his garden with the loamy mud soft under his feet and the cloying scent of Mito's sweet william full in the air as the plants die under the howling rainstorm, the vicious disorderliness of nature. He feels as if his being has been struck down to the bone the sapling cleaving his heart in two as it grows. There is that part of him that strains and strains for the darkness even as he ties stakes and saves his wife's flowers—even as the rain soaks him he chokes in the night as if grasping at tendrils of dark hair and closes his eyes against the terrible ecstasy of destruction. He realizes then that it doesn't matter that Madara has gone; what he loved in him was some deeper, more deplorable thing in Hashirama himself, and that thing will never die, that thing will unfurl tendrils around his heart. Black flowers, or white so terrible it sears the soft places of his spirit that he tried so hard to cultivate, that thing keeps growing, strangling him with its hoary roots.

That is the night Madara comes back to him.

"I'll sound the alarm," he says. There are cool and terrifying eyes on his. A direct gaze. Starvation. Hashirama keeps saying it as he feels the other man's thin wrists tensile under his fingers; his wife sleeping in the next room as he drips water from the outside and trucks the storm back into their clean bright house. He keeps saying it. He keeps saying it and by the time Madara has left, the proof of his aliveness branded into Hashirama's skin, he already knows what he will do.

He can't take a lantern or he will risk being seen from the village, which grows in its halo of lights from below the grey fog of rain covering their hillside. There is no need to take provisions that he can grow himself.

He lights his tallow candle from the light he finds burning in his daughter's room and feels the dark tree in his heart pulse towards the tiny light, as if it needs only this much to grow. As he shades the candle with his hand his daughter sits bolt upright. Red hair flame-soft in the night. He freezes on her threshhold and looks at her and waits for her to call out; but she is four and she is a tired child and she knows nothing of dark trees and desires that were born before she was. His heart hammers like a death-knell in his throat.

The knowledge is deadly and certain: he will never be rid of that dark tree. Its seeds were adrift in his blood from the moment his father broke his heart. And Hashirama knows that his daughter will grow up fighting an endless battle against that dark tree, and that all their descendants until the end of the line will carry that darkness until it has grown like a cancer and crumbled the house of Senju to nothing more than legends. In nearly a century a golden-haired woman will take refuge in its branches for the darkest years of her life, forsaking her village; later than that still the last of the dynasty will waste his life in pursuit of an avenger. They will all find it in different ways but they will climb, higher and higher into the black leaves and the bark like the skin of long-dead animals, and one day each of them will disappear into the terrible inferno of the sun at the end. Trees are destined to be consumed in fire and he was consumed; it was never two men who met in that long-ago storehouse; it was only fire and life, and in him the battle was fought. In him life lost.

Hashirama looks at his daughter and he wants to tell her all of this, but most of all he wants to tell her to be a heroine in spite of it and against it. To be a good woman in a good village, and to tell her that for years he did it; he did become—

The little girl doesn't understand anything. Ultimately she has been taught to honor her father. Before he leaves she bows her head, clumsily, and when he bows back his eyes are filled with tears. He slides the door shut behind him.

The deserter takes his tallow candle in his hand, seizes the black branches that prick blood from his palms, and begins to climb.


III. Mito


a.

Mito trains with the kyuubi for three hours before dawn because it's the only time her husband has to help her. He brings her matcha in a ceramic cup and they sit on the edge of a resting platform thatched with straw, her legs tucked up, his dangling, both watching the steam rising in stepped movements. It's bitter tea and doesn't taste right; it helps you wake up, he says, my nursemaid used to make it for me when I had the morning watch. She can imagine him small and steady-eyed standing watch at the old Senju enclave in the forest. Drinking down the secondhand memory with the taste she finishes the cup and shakes out the tea leaves for luck. She warms up in one of his old wraparound shirts and discards it when she's broken into a light sweat. He directs her to the far end of the field and tells her to split boulders until she has exhausted her chakra and is forced to use the fox's; she knows the drill.

It was Uchiha Izuna who had first spoken of the missing sense. At the time he had already completed his penultimate and most famous sacrifice and his own training took place at the same time hers does now, three hours before dawn because he had needed the extra time. They had both been ambassadors then in the tense months before peacetime, herself sent to the Lightning Country daimyo on behalf of the Senju, him, on behalf of the Uchiha. Both of them had stayed in the same inn and on the fourth night they had eaten dinner together at one of the meal tents that were the hallmarks of the Kumo settlement. She remembers that he had stayed silent and waiting until she began eating, and then scooped up the mutton stew with his black bread as deftly as a native.

"I don't mind if you ask questions," he had said. "You don't need to be formal, Senju-san."

"My name is Uzumaki," she'd replied.

He'd smiled; he kept his smiles close then, not aiming them at anyone. "Not for long."

It was a thing to be documented. Even sightless, he navigated the mountain bazaars with their fragmented-glass mobiles and packets of unlabelled loose-leaf teas, and by touch bought her a heavy woven wrap done in textured and itchy wool. He had presented it to her with the carelessly impersonal grace of a courtier.

Good, calls Hashirama now, as her back begins to bend and her lips draw back, the familiar snarl already rattling her teeth. Draw it out slowly. I'm behind you, I'm behind you.

He puts his palm up with the suppression seal on it and she feels his chakra like a light at her back. The kyuubi smooths its tongue over the tendrils he sends out.

"No, I don't miss it anymore," Izuna had said. "Fighting is goal-driven. There is more than one way to reach a destination. It can be done even with a missing sense."

In the mountains they'd both worn veils over their mouths; he'd worn one over his entire face to keep out the snow that found its way everywhere. Unbinding her hair in the night she'd found infinitesimal bits of ice welded to the seal tags. They'd picked up the habit of carrying the long staves the mountain shinobi used to divine avalanches before they occurred. In gradations they learned to measure the starling heat of sunlight on the rocks and by the end of their trip took their walks about twenty-seven minutes after sunset, when the day was at its coolest and the night its warmest.

"Do you understand?" he had asked her then. "Sight is not the sense you use to find your bearings."

Now she lets the kyuubi's chakra out like unfurling a rope until Hashirama is shouting with the strain of it, call it back, that's too much, and she too rocks like a seagoing vessel losing its way. She can barely find her bearings and then she collapses, gathering it all back into herself and gripping a punching pole for support. Her husband's hand is on her back, shh, shh, we'll try again in a while. You're doing so well, you should be proud of yourself—

Izuna had told her everything without a trace of resentment, so plainly and clearly that she had completely misunderstood what he meant when he spoke of the missing sense. Now, shaking in cold sweat in her husband's arms, she thinks she knows, as she avoids her own revulsion in the face of Hashirama's pitying eyes. The feeling as at any moment the kyuubi's chakra swims in her veins, a dark and glittering approximation of adrenaline. During the day she senses it in acupuncturist pinpricks. Wears it in her hair smoke-scented and pungent, renews it like a marriage vow every time she repaints the seal on her stomach.

Sometimes when she remembers it she is the one blinded and navigating that Lightning country marketplace, the scent of the chilies and lemons to ward off the evil eye strong in her own nostrils as she stumbles, reaching for the dirty stall dividers to right herself and avoiding the softness of a pitying hand. In the three hours before dawn she too fights on the tilting gyroscope the world has become, wanting so desperately to steady herself, to serve as her own support, tasting failure like granules of ice between her teeth. In losing the sense of control over her own body she has lost everything, and she wonders if it was something he had already known—or if, with some alien sense he had gained in the last days, it was something he had tried to prevent her from knowing, until the time came to make the sacrifice herself.


b.

The first time she realizes she's poisoned her husband's tea she goes out of her kitchen, past the darkened winter garden and down the cobblestones in bare feet, out to the edge of the woods until she can't see the house he built. When she throws the tea out it glitters once, feral, and then vanishes spattering on the leaves. In the darkness the sound of her breathing is not her own. Night tangles in her fingers like dark untamed hair, bristles against the bare skin under her yukata.

When she opens the door again Hashirama is sitting on the floor with his back against the desk and his chair halfway across the room. He seems to be examining a small bonsai in front of him. She knows from long days in the Senju encampment before her marriage that he could and often would sit on the floorboards for hours on end, drafting or growing or eating or simply relaxing cross-legged, hands folded in his lap, fixing her with his polite gaze. After truce he had grown chairs and felt ill at ease in them; she thinks sometimes that this more than anything was what the wars had taken from her: a husband who could sit in his chair in his home with his wife and truly believe that was where he belonged.

"Your tea—" she says, and he looks up, startled. It used to seem to her that a smile that was used so often would quickly become insincere, but his never does.

"Quite honestly, I forgot about the tea entirely," he says. "Come and sit. Look—these leaves are actually flowers, small green ones. I thought you might like to see them."

She leans against him for all of five minutes, warming herself against the bulk of his shoulder and the soft undyed cloth he wears in his own house. In the kitchen she takes the satchet of tea out of the stone basin they use for garbage and opens it to find the bulb of hemlock freshly boiled.

Hashirama had grown the wood for the house but built it himself, refusing to use the technique for something he stated every other man in the village would do with his own hands. At that time he had still been in mourning for Uchiha Madara and worn his grief not on his shoulder or kimono but everywhere else. Thin lines had appeared almost overnight on the side of his mouth. Bracketing his smiles in place, as though happiness were something to be held apart from ordinary reality. She had hated Uchiha Madara more than she ever had after seeing those lines, more than when she had woken after the kyuubi battle and felt his chakra twining luxuriantly inside her mind, sharply distinct from the kyuubi's own. When she had placed her fingers together in preliminary seals and insinuated herself carefully into her subconscious he had been there, as unobtrusive and yet alarming as he had been in real life. As she'd shaken with misery and terror in the dirt he'd knelt in front of her and taken her cheek in his own hand. It was barely larger than her own.

"If you had learned your genjutsu as thoroughly as you learned seals, you would have known this would happen," he'd murmured. "You should have broken my genjutsu before being so eager to take foreign objects into yourself."

As he spoke his mouth had quirked as though he was almost sorry; this, she knew from watching, was more dangerous than if he had openly showed his malice. She'd begged him to kill her and he'd only stroked her hair gently until she cried herself to sleep in her own mind and so woke up in the real world, her hands petting at her head with a manic rhythm that was not her own.

He'd used her body as his own many times since then. There was a night when it was her sweat in the bedclothes and her hair clinging wetly to her back but not her hands that dug into Hashirama's shoulderblades coldly and viciously, calculated to imbue the act of pleasure with that of pain. Not her hips, either, that arced up to meet his the way she hadn't known they should. She had thought Hashirama would know then, but he'd only kissed her long and lazy and looked flushingly pleased with himself afterwards. The soundless voice in her mind had seemed sated. When she opened her mouth to cry out Madara's chakra had clamped it shut, sealing it around the edges and unleashing blood at the tip of her tongue.

A seal expert knew from the beginning that her body belonged to the world outside it and the world inside it and itself meant very little at all, and she had prepared for the eventuality in the vague way all scholars prepared for experimental failure. Sometimes she was able to keep her own hands solely her own and she went about her day writing reams of paper full of field reports and blueprints solely because she could, if she wanted; there was no dull red chakra in her veins and her own body felt as light and free as a paper crane. She had thought she could go through the rest of her life like this. Staving off onslaughts from inside and out, and one day banishing Uchiha Madara's ghost from their lives flawlessly, if she could only study a little longer—work a little harder—

Uzumaki Mito stands staring at the hemlock bulb in her husband's tea. She has no memory of cutting it in half to let the juices flow, or of sealing the teapot's lid shut to allow the poison to settle in between the jasmine and ginger and other flavors that taste like home. She has no memory of it, but the coolly vicious chakra in her hands remembers, as she holds the bulb between her fingers.

She goes back outside to sit with her husband as he grows her a small bonsai tree in a house he built. She breathes in the scent of the undyed cotton wool as if it is oxygen that can save her life; she feels the unremarkable muscles under his unremarkable skin and fixes her gaze on his unremarkable face and it seems to her that her body is always destined to be filled, whether with the kyuubi's chakra or Uchiha Madara's or the hopeless queasily tender love she has for her husband, no less invasive, no less weakening. She wonders what it would have been like if she had been able to fill herself only with things of her own choosing. At any rate it is too late: one day the last shred of her control will snap, her own hands will move to the will of the phantom puppeteer in her mind, unravel the thread that holds her Konoha life together. One day she will finish the hemlock in her husband's tea, the knife in his back. One weak timber as his horse rides over the bridge. It takes so little to end a life. A pair of hands and a shadow of chakra. She doesn't know whether it will be in five years or fifty, but she knows. One day.

Mito hides her eyes in Hashirama's sleeve. She doesn't see it, but she feels one hand come up, unbidden, and snap a branch from the tiny bonsai tree. Sap running down her fingers, smooth and thin as blood.


~end