All Hail the Hokage
What do old soldiers do when the war ends?
For coincident. Timeline for this is Before The Bitterness. May be inaccurate canon-wise.
One. Starting with Mito.
There are surprises everyday.
It occurs to Hashirama that he's never seen a candid smile from Uzumaki Mito until about two days after she moves in the Senju compound, unusually frazzled at the logistics of the operation. She wears exhaustion like an accessory, almost as an afterthought and, even then, efficiently, picturesque still in unremarkable clothes and a simple knot in her hair. And it's there, a subtle quirking of the lips when she sees him, lighting up her tired face like a candle, and seems to say: really, is this for real? Really?
Furnishings and curtains and cloths, turning the soil for gardens, cooking in a lovely spacious kitchen – these are what Mito has to get used to, like notes of unfamiliar music, duties she'd never had time for, as a Jinchuuriki and a warbride, and she's delighted in a way she can't voice. Ledgers and market lists and a line of simple numbers for a house taking root. Deals she'd never had to negotiate: bedtime, chores and – a shock, for a girl who slept with a kunai under her pillow and a demon in her brain – children's use of weapons in the compound.
It's not at all hard to juxtapose it against the warrior Hashirama had known and respected – there's a familiar precision in the movement, the same quiet competence, only with these smiles – and a smattering of tenderness wells up inside him.
"Playing house," a voice interrupts the reverie and Madara is once again there, framed in the doorway of their home and his gaze finding Hashirama's, outwardly disdainful, glittering black. "And isn't this novel?"
It's possible he'd been there a while, a silent amused observer, he refuses to enter until invited – this the only concession he offers, that one place be sanctuary from his presence. Madara is always alone in his visits – when he delivers reports from reconnaissance strings reaching as far as heaven, for their eyes only, he would say – despite the women, despite fathers all but throwing their daughters at him, despite couples settling down left and right around their new village, Hashirama included.
Mito invites him in against her better judgement, with the serenity that defines her, into their home which smells nothing like a place Uchiha Madara should be in: wood and ink and crisp paper, herbs and grains and smoked meat. Madara's eyes flicker on the little weight she's gained since the armistice, their watchfulness yet unappeased by peacetime; on the strained set of her shoulders; on her stomach, trim and innocuous. He pats her on the cheek as he enters, seemingly unconsciously.
Hashirama lets it pass. Aristocracy may be stamped nigh-permanently on the Uchiha's face, and he may be of lofty status and strange charms, but Madara had his past in the lean tundra of war where, more often than not, children survived to adulthood in scrappy, contemptuous portions; his disposition inevitably has its inelegant, sharp, creepy edges.
But then, Madara takes his cup of tea with a care bordering on reverence, all his attention serenely, studiously attuned to the amber liquid. Hashirama does not recognize him then, the decaying madman in Senju folktales is all but invisible, and he sees instead a boy with gray eyes in a thin, pale face; his hands will have been those that crushed throats and landscapes in one movement, and yet, hesitation, and yet, such care.
Two. Tangling with Madara.
When Hashirama first saw Madara, one cold morning by the river where he would pan for fish, the younger boy – caught staring – startled like prey, before his face smoothed over ever so quickly, and defiance grounded his form to the riverstones, and he continued to stare gravely. There was no shock of recognition on his features, but there was a calculating heat in his eyes, as though he'd found a puzzle and an answer all at once. In the air between them, he deliberately drew a line, crossed it as it was meant to be crossed, and did away with distances. Eye to eye. Skin to skin. I mark you. Destinies dovetailed.
Weeks later, Hashirama would encounter him on a different battlefield, the banner of his clan declared high and clear in his red eyes, standing atop a pile of guttering embers with a bandolier upon his back, storms clouds gathering above as though gravitating to the elemental force of his will.
And later still, Hashirama would stand shoulder to shoulder with him, Konoha sprouting before their eyes, the trees behind and before and all around them shedding gold. Madara would walk a few steps forward and take in the sight of the village into him, vague resignation on his face and something else that was too calculated to be called hope, his thoughts undiscernable. And Hashirama would imagine him to be like that, for always, in his own life: undefinable and forefront.
In peacetime, when the world actually made sense, Madara made for an unusual character. Certainly the genius in their lot, magnetic to his clansmen, but capricious still. Kindness came to him only after an effort. Empathy seemed to have been retarded entirely.
A few years could mean a lifetime of difference – Hashirama himself remembered a time when honor was a code above all others, when laughter was allowed to float up and up and up, and small mistakes would not merit punishment as harsh as death, whereas Madara had never seen a world without war. Thrust into leadership too young, having had to sacrifice too much of himself for naught, the war nurtured something dark and pestilent in Madara.
Some nights, when Hashirama would see him prowling about Konoha, his bleeding-red eyes fixed on a point beyond the vista of Hashirama's understanding, Madara would carry it with him like an angry black shadow.
Some nights, they would encounter each other. Madara's face would soften in the firelight of Hashirama's torch – a courtesy, as if saying I'm here, I signify my presence in regard for you. Their pasts and desires intertwine as the branches interlacing above them, silhouettes dark against a starlit sky, and it would be awkward because what were they, exactly? but somehow, through dysfunction, they would manage to live around whatever the thing between them, a thing that sleep and glows and sparks like a low-burning fire.
Madara would leave him with angry surprises. All hail the Hokage, he would mouth some nights, absolutely unapologetic for dredging up sore points, before walking away. Some nights, it would be a genjustu, a nasty one, and yet, even as Hashirama shakes it off, he would see Madara regarding him with maddeningly calm amusement, a boyish grin with sharp teeth.
He is young, capricious still; Hashirama would show him again and again the sturdiness of wood, the constancy of earth, the perseverance of dreams, and he might grow out of it, become steadier with the tide of the years. So Hashirama hopes.
Three. Sleeping with Ghosts.
There are days Mito wakes up before the sunrise and perches on the small swing he's made in the garden, surrounded by unopened pale-yellow flowerbuds. Her eyes are closed against the cool still air and she's almost asleep except, when he follows her, she whispers names. They find their way to him, vowels and fissured consonants and snapshot pictures of barely-remembered faces – this is her girief and all he can do is go back over the threshold of their home, keep a pot of hot tea waiting and be ready to listen if she ever needs anyone, because there are no words.
A wayward phrase, a careless bout of nostalgia – they conjure a war on opposing sides: Uchiha caught in a tangle of spiked vines, Senju mad with genjutsu, bestial raids, nineteen women burnt alive in a backlash of demon chakra, smells of rot and sickness and funeral pyres – not every death had been accounted for, ghosts and widows and orphans still bayed for vengeance.
No one is exempt – Izuna is a word which makes Madara swallow any begotten humor like a cold stone and consequently regain that cavernous hollowness that bespoke truth of the horror folktales surrounding Madmadmadara.
It is the taut silence of truce. Grief was a deep, dark pool that held them liquidly adrift, blame and hatred such heavy weights, far above a scattering of pinpricks of white light. No words are to be ladled out to grate on raw nerves; all there was left to do was swim up, swim up, swim up.
Four. Building cradles.
One day, Hashirama would build a cradle for the first newborn of the village and he would run a hand over the grain, and take in the wood: amber-colored and sweet-smelling and sturdy against his fingers. He would be filled with love for the village then, when he looks out the window of his workshop as he finishes, taking in the spectral array of houses just starting to emerge from a fog made glittery by the rising sun. The fields in full flower. Vividly-colored petals still retaining their delicate perfume floating down the meandering streams. Scents of fruit from the open-air market in their district. The village would be a cornucopia the likes of which he'd never seen before and would never see after, and so beautiful, and so golden that if his mind were a balance, its heavy sweetness would tip the scales so hard, so fast, that the magnitude of sacrifices over the years would might as well cease to matter.
But once, on a night that will be forgotten, he'd stood in the middle of the primordial village, in the heart where they would gather the people together, stood at the apex, and pondered the wide empty expanse around him; beneath closed eyes, it was a sight littered with shed blood and unfathomable numbers of sloughed heroes, some – it seemed, sometimes – worth more than others, some worth more than the living. Thoughts, unchecked, uncharted, unfurled hatefully, and trees around him grew gnarled and ugly, branches curled with thorns and roots bled away rich lifeblood from the earth.
When he opened his eyes, Madara was there, looking vaguely vindicated. (It was fair, Hashirama supposes, that he be caught prowling the night as well. It only blew that mind that, ultimately, when the burden of memory is heaviest and the rage too unfamiliar, he was the dangerous one.)
I knew you couldn't be a saint forever, I knew. And Madara was suddenly behind him, mouth inches from his ear, sweeping a hand to present the entirety of Konoha, peacefully in slumber, sparsely illuminated by the first rays of dawn. There was a test and a challenge in his eyes. Was this worth all those corpses I burned myself? Was this worth my brother? Was this worth us and everything we had?
And Hashirama was punched anew at the depth by which Madara understood him, by the reminder that a long time ago, and even now, beneath the web of benevolence, they were almost the same, having the same currency of thought, and holding everything in living sight on the same balance.
Was it worth it? Madaraasked again, voice rougher with impatience, and it seemed they are together shot forward to some distant horizon of their making: a village not unlike the ones he fashioned in dreams and in woodwork, where the end goal was achieved and done with; the memory of the dead forgotten, put to rest, for sake of living; shinobi of their line sprung up, greater and greater still, enough to measure up to what has been lost; and peace, quiet and golden and overflowing.
I should hope so, Hashirama answered finally, truthfully, gratefully. Because such a vision could only be held up by the bones of two, as greatness could only be made in pairs in the pattern of their world, and – though it was a truth universally unacknowledged, and despite years of biting enmity and other things, only Madara could've forged the legend with him.
Not Tobirama. Not Mito. Madara.
Five. Leading a people.
Mito insists on documenting everything as though it would be worth remembering and even the most prosaic details are victim to her pedantic attention: the makeshift government like an unfinished house, with its odds and ends that seemed to trip everyone who came near; blueprints for walls and buildings and watchtowers, laid out by Tobirama, who knew best the geography of the surrounding lands; tallies of debts and demands and – gasp – taxes; Hashirama painstakingly writing their short list of alliances personal greetings for the wealth of birthdates and wedding anniversaries and in-clan celebrations, careful to evaluate every word for a trigger factor; Madara's deadpan off-the-record defamation of every supposedly-notable ninja clan from Sunagakure to Kirigakure to Uzushiogakure; Hashirama lamenting his thus-far deskjob; Hashirama retelling the eventful ambush on his only shinobi mission since the treaty, in which he fought an immortal with sewn-in hearts; Madara taking off to hunt said immortal down, his travelling cloak already fastened before Hashirama even finishes; Tobirama swamped with the village children, spirited little Sarutobi leading the pack and challenging his manhood; little Shimura Danzo tailing Madara around, intringued by the doujutsu, until the latter knocked him out, to everyone's consternation; Madara outstrategizing Tobirama, Madara impressing Mito with his cache of intellectual information from excessive travel, experience, and sharingan-stolen knowledge, Madara allocating resources so efficiently that Hashirama's mokuton threatens to be hurt; Tobirama discussing Impure World Resurection until it crossed the border into traumatizing and only Madara was left listening; Mito actually having semblance of achievement; a tabulation of all available ramen-stands within a ten-mile radius; the control of the animal population in Konoha; fighting clans; desertions; scrimmages at the border; misinformation of a coup almost leading to an all-Hyuuga massacre. The last of which Tobirama flinches at, and attempts to cushion by quipping, well, at least people will learn from our mistakes.
Crises are averted along alarmingly narrow margins, and his core group are constantly at odds with themselves and each other, and everything is still so laughably unstable.
Hashirama wraps an arm each around Mito and Madara – who regards it with a contempt so complete it's all Hashirama could do not to pull it back – and maybe he's kind of in love with these two people; he beams at Tobirama, encompasses the fledgling Konoha with his eyes, and it seems as though his entire body is laughing.
Well, at least the war is over. - Stars