But I AM Madara! – And So They Meet
A/N: Has it really been three months already? I'm really, really sorry that it took me that long and I will ty to update more regularly like I used to.
And I can't believe that my story got over 300 reviews! Thanks a lot, you are awesome people :)
Also a big thanks to o0 LIN 0o who translated one of my Naruto fics, 'The Least Uchiha-like Uchiha' into Chinese.
Last but certainly not least, I would also like to thank all the people who provided me with tips and helpful comments (I think it's the same but whatever) in regards to this story's future plot. (I suppose it's time to get myself a notebook for this story's various plot bunnies and future plot ideas.)
I'm sorry that I couldn't answer to each of you individually but I really didn't have a lot of time on my hands .
Also, I've closed the poll because I think that the end result is pretty much obvious, the majority has voted for 'yes', meaning that yes, Hashirama and Izuna, perhaps even more, go to the future/ present.
But a lot of people who were against this have sent me a PM or left me a review, telling me helpfully why exactly it might not be the best idea and I have to agree because it's not like I can disagree with such logic.
Seeing as, despite the end result, even you, the readers, have clearly divided opinions, I will choose the golden mean (thank to those who have proposed that) and at a given point of time in the story, split the story up, one featuring the time-travelling Hashirama, Izuna and co and the other just involving Madara in the present, like it's now.
I'm aware that updates will get slower for each version whenever I'm occupied with writing the other and I was reluctant at first but now I think it's the best solution I can think of. It will probably help me in my writing progress if I have an alternate version I can work on whenever I hit writer's block for the other and vice versa, seeing as they are still sort of in the same setting.
Okay, just one last thing before this already terribly long A/N is at its end, I'll have to warn you that this chapter might be a bit…off because I've been writing this chapter on and off for the past three months, often with huge breaks in between so I'm wholly aware that it might be a little bit difficult to read. I apologize for that but I didn't want to keep you waiting even longer by rewriting the whole thing.
Anyways, on to the story.
"What you're proposing is idiotic!" an elder Uchiha woman roared, arms gesturing wildly.
"Idiotic?" the man, whose proposal had been questioned, snarled, eyes gleaming with barely concealed anger. "Woman, what do you know about politics?"
When he saw how she remained silent, he continued, not even bothering to hide his smug grin, "I thought so. It's the best thing we can choose to do right now, considering the circumstances."
"It's too risky," another Uchiha hissed. "Are you even aware of the possible outcomes if your great plan fails? They would be disastrous."
"Why do you assume that anything at all will even backfire?" the man from before challenged. "Do you doubt the clan's ability to control the situation that much? Is there anyone sitting here who has even a shred of clan pride?" he asked, addressing the group sitting at a long table as a whole.
Immediately, protests of outrage could be heard throughout the entire hall which was located underground in one of the many secret hideouts of the Uchiha clan. It only grew silent when the hand of the clan head hit the table loudly.
"I," Fugaku began, after he had gotten his clan's attention, "was under the impression that we have met to discuss what we should do about our latest addition to our clan, not argue and give petty snide remarks like some immature brats."
Some had the decency to look ashamed. If Fugaku hadn't undergone that very tiring procedure of a clan meeting many times before, he'd have probably buried his face in his hands in sheer exasperation. In other meetings the clan members had at least shared a common goal - to take over the village successfully. However, right now the aims of each member of the Uchiha clan were all over the place. Some wanted to inform the village of the true identity of their latest member in order to be allowed to execute him. Those Uchiha believed him too unstable to be trusted, a danger for not only the village but also their clan. That he had attacked the clan head and several other Uchiha officers with his Mangekyo Sharingan only seemed to prove it.
In addition, they would perhaps be able to make the village trust the clan more by relaying such sensitive information to them, instead of keeping it a secret and doing things on their own without the village's knowledge which the council and Hokage would have most likely expected from them. It would get those people off the clan's back for a while and in the best case scenario improve the relationship between the clan and the village again so that the coup wouldn't be necessary anymore.
However, the latter one, which an overly enthusiastic young Uchiha had voiced out, had been dismissed immediately. Life didn't work that way. The clan was too deeply involved to just back down again. No, it was too late to reconsider the clan's options, not to mention that the village would never have a change of heart regarding the Uchiha clan. The seeds of mistrust had been sowed for far too long, dating back to the times of the thrice damned Nidaime Hokage, Senju Tobirama, who had founded the KMPF and put the Uchiha clan in charge of it, making them unable to partake in any political matters whatsoever.
Then there was also the other side that said that keeping Madara's identity a secret and that to continue their plan of using him as the clan's spy would be the best choice. They believed the boy to only harbor a grudge against the village alone, a grudge which the clan could easily use to make the boy join their cause. It wouldn't even be a question of skills anymore as Uchiha Madara, who was arguably one of the strongest shinobi the clan had ever brought forth, would undoubtedly fulfill his role well. That was if Madara would even listen to them.
All of this, however, could be easily proven wrong seeing as they all assumed that Madara was, in fact, well, Madara. If he truly was who everyone assumed he was, then the question of how it was possible that he was still alive immediately came to mind, in the body of an 13 years old no less. But then again, if all the tales of Madara were to be believed, there was apparently little that that man wasn't capable of.
Still, what they were doing was mere speculation at best as whatever the boy had to say on that matter, once he woke up, could easily undo whatever it was they had agreed on. Not that it had stopped his fellow clan members from arguing fervently. Many of them were frustrated and most of them hadn't had a good chance to let off steam for quite a while so it was this shocking revelation that incited the flaring of many tempers during today's clan meeting. It was understandable but still no excuse for his clan to act like a bunch of particularly petty Academy students.
"I believe that we have now finished discussing all the possible solutions there are to this problem and that what we're doing right now is to only argue about their likeliness of success. I propose that we should discuss the latter once the boy has awoken, seeing as none of the things which you've proposed would work without having the consent of the boy."
"What if he refuses?" one of the police officers who had been present during Madara's investigation asked. "I don't really want to know what is going to happen if he is after our guts. I mean, as far as I can tell, there were quite a lot of reports which weren't all that sure about his sanity or lack thereof. And from what I can tell, trying to fight him won't go down without any sacrifices. Really, we shouldn't wait until he's awake and ready to do whatever is up in that sick mind of his. Let's just kill him!"
This was met by several cries of agreement. Fugaku didn't even bother to resist the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. Now, everything just started all over AGAIN.
"He's still weakened by the drugs we have given him. No one's in a state fit to even fight a child after one has taken one of those. And I doubt that even Madara has built up a resistance to those," the police officer, Fusao, argued.
"Well, Madara should be also dead and buried, if we go after common sense. But if you haven't noticed it yet, he's in one of our cells in a child's body. So do you believe it to be more plausible for him to be in a child's boy than for him being able to resist those drugs' effect?"
"Tsk, why is he in a child's body to begin with?"
"Shouldn't we also deal with the question whether he's involved with that Kyuubi incident seven years ago?"
"If he is, then his head should be really chopped off. It's because of that damn fox, that everyone trusts us as much as they would a bunch of Iwa spies. Not to mention, the amount of people who have died during the Kyuubi's attack."
"Hey, speaking of the Kyuubi, haven't you heard of that one prank the fox brat had pulled off? The one where he has painted the Hokage monument. I heard he has done that with the help of Madara."
"It's true," another Uchiha confirmed. "Saw it with my own eyes. What is Madara up to, getting all close with the Uzumaki?"
"Oh shit, you don't think that he'll set the Kyuubi free again and try to destroy the village?"
"Well, at least we wouldn't have to worry about taking over the village anymore," a young, female Uchiha remarked dryly.
"That's not the time for jokes, Shina!" another Uchiha exclaimed angrily.
"He can't do anything right now anyway, down in his cell, not to mention destroying the village. I still say that we should kill him before it's too late. What's been said about the Kyuubi only reinforces this," Fusao said.
"Has anyone even thought about the possibility of that boy not being Uchiha Madara?" Uchiha Mikoto asked. Despite her not even raising her voice, everyone seemed to have heard her and quieted. It wasn't often that the clan head's wife decided to say something in the clan meetings. Fugaku raised his eyebrows. Trust is wife to know what to do when the rest of the clan was about to dissolve in sheer pandemonium.
Usually, he wouldn't say anything either for the most part, listening to what the rest of the clan had to say before taking the final decision.
"He has the Mangekyo Sharingan, what more proof do you need?" a particular brave or dense Uchiha, whichever way one decided to look at it, said.
Her usually soft eyes sharpened and for a short moment Fugaku couldn't help but pity the poor sod.
"We all know that our bloodline's secrets are highly desired and that there are some people out there who would stop at nothing to get what they want. Maybe that boy is a result of those people's ruthless actions. In addition, the memories the police officers and my husband could see before they all fell under his genjutsu are not valiant enough to confirm his existence."
"Some of them were rather unexpected and not something people could just make up that easily. Not much is known of Madara's life, especially of his childhood, but none of the records ever said that Madara was friend with Hashirama Senju of all people. The thought alone is so absurd that we can be sure that he is the real deal," the Uchiha whose name slipped Fugaku's mind at the moment bravely continued to argue.
"Or maybe that is what those people are trying to lead us to believe," she replied softly, never raising her voice. "Nevertheless, my point stands. We shouldn't get ourselves so worked up over things when it's not even proven if they are true or false. We should take further actions once the boy has awoken. Killing him now, as some of you have suggested, would still not answer any questions. Questions which unsettle me and having them answered would benefit all of us. With his death, I fear, our only key to those answers would be gone."
Although, some still looked very much in the mood to argue further, they kept their mouths shut. His wife had that sort of effect on people and him throwing them his dirtiest look did the rest. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, everyone seemed to be more or less content with the agreement which they had decided on or at least they pretended to.
Maybe, they could finally call it a day now until the boy has awakened. His headache had grown to the size of the Hokage monument and never before had the promise of rest sounded more appealing. He was still recovering from the aftereffects of that strange genjutsu he had been inflicted with and having to endure the torture known as the clan meeting didn't particularly help his healing process. Especially considering the fact that his clan members had that frustrating tendency to repeat the same things over and over again.
Fugaku was just about to voice out this thought when suddenly the entrance to the secret meeting hall was opened and an anxious-looking Uchiha entered the hall hastily. He did not even bother to go through the formalities of making a report but instead dropped the bomb without any forethought, still breathing heavily from his effort of delivering the disastrous news as fast as possible,
"Uchiha Madara has awoken."
All hell broke loose.
And this time Fugaku wasn't sure whether the combined efforts of his wife and him could manage to calm everyone down again.
"It's sort of quiet," Naruto noted, frowning slightly.
Shin too was frowning but it was for different reasons. What were the Uchiha up to? While it wasn't entailed in the mission he was assigned to, it would be useful to keep an eye open on the clan which Danzo-sama seemed to be incredibly wary of. Well, he was wary of nearly everything but for whatever reason, Danzo-sama particularly mistrusted the clan known for its Sharingan. He wasn't in the know of that particular affair so he could only make guesses regarding this Uchiha issue as none of the ROOT would so much as utter something about their missions, not even to their fellow ROOTs.
It was tiresome, to say the least. But Danzo-sama must have his reasons for not confiding him in.
His head whipped to the origin of the voice, body tensing ever so slightly, his hand inches away from his pocket filled with kunai. It wouldn't do to be careless.
When he spotted an elder Uchiha approaching him, Shin relaxed to the extent that one wouldn't pick up any sights of tension. "Uchiha-san," he addressed him, bowing.
If you enter territory which wasn't your own, treat the ones owing it with respect, except, of course, if it was your mission to assassinate said owner. Shin was still amazed at the fact that the rules book each child had been handed to once they were part of the ROOT possessed even a shred of humor, however dry it was.
The Uchiha frowned but didn't seem to be inclined to react violently to their intrusion. It wasn't like they were doing anything illegal after all.
"What are you doing?"
For a short moment, Shin considered the pros and cons of saying the truth and came to the conclusion that it wouldn't hurt to be truthful.
"We're here to visit Uchiha Madara."
Judging from the man's expression which had become hostile all of a sudden, it apparently did.
"Why would you want to visit him?" the man questioned, eyes narrowed.
Luckily, he still made no move to attack.
"Naruto-kun would like to visit his friend," Shin replied calmly, choosing to ignore the sudden hostility coming from the Uchiha. He trusted his gut instinct to tell him when he had no other option but to strike.
The Uchiha's eyes which had been on Shin the whole time went to poor Naruto who was currently at a loss for the situation they were currently in.
The Uchiha's eyes widened when he saw who was meant with 'Naruto-kun'.
"You!" he spat. As sudden as he had turned hostile, he became once again calm. Shin recalled having read a report detailing the effects the requirement of unlocking the Sharingan has on the Uchiha's brain. Apparently, he had found valid proofs for several of its theories now.
"Both of you leave," the Uchiha ordered. "Right now, it's not safe to be here. We have reasons to believe that a missing nin has intruded the compound."
That explained the lack of people roaming the compound. However, from what he had learned of reading people's body language in the ROOT, he could tell that it wasn't the whole truth.
"Shouldn't you inform someone of this?" Shin asked carefully. "As far as I know, the ANBU is responsible for eliminating those sorts of threats to village safety."
"We, the Uchiha clan, and the Konoha's Military force are more than enough to deal with them. Now, get out!"
For a moment, Shin was tempted to stay nevertheless and search for Madara. After all, he could deal with a missing nin, if there was even one. But the presence of Naruto hindered him from doing that reckless. Not to mention that Danzo would do something t hi which didn't bear too much thinking. Danzo-sama had allowed him some free reign for the span of this mission but Shin wasn't entirely sure if an inspection of the Uchiha clan stretched it a bit too far.
Shin bowed slightly before he replied, "Yes, we will go now. I appreciate that you informed us of this threat."
"I don't want to go!" Naruto yelled angrily, his expression stubborn. "I want to search for Madara. That old geezer can't tell us what to do and if an enemy comes, we can just kick his ass!"
Shin was inclined to agree but he knew better. "Naruto," he said in what he hoped was a soothing voice, "we have no right to trespass on other people's home without their permission. I'm sure we'll be able to meet him again after all has been dealt with."
Naruto still looked unconvinced so Shin just nodded to the Uchiha for the last time and started to leave. He didn't have to wait for long as he could soon hear the steps of Naruto following him hastily.
"Hey! Why do you just go away?" Even without turning around to face Naruto, he knew that the blond must be scowling. "We could have totally go and search for Madara anyway. I've been in the compound a lot, you know, and no one's ever noticed me!"
This raised Shin's eyebrows but he chose to not question Naruto on this matter, instead he said, "You're right."
His mind was like a leaf in the storm or at least that was what Sai liked to poetically describe his habit of constantly changing his mind. Shin would regret that, he just knew, if he were to leave now. And what if whatever transpired right now was of utmost importance? Danzo-sama would skin him alive if he just let that perfect opportunity to gather information slip through his hands.
Of course, the best thing would be for him to leave his next meeting with Danzo-sama unscathed, no matter, what he chose to do, but one needed to be a miracle-maker to accomplish that.
Naruto stopped dead in his tracks, mouth slightly opened, and his angry blabbering cut short.
Shin turned around now, a faint smile on his lips. "Naruto," he said in a slightly patronizing tone. "I'm a ninja and you're an aspiring one. It's all about stealth and so on. It's not exactly clever to keep defy the Uchiha in their own territory."
Closing his eyes, he got to his knees, touching the ground with the palm of his hand. No one was in their immediate vicinity. Good.
"Naruto," he addressed the blond, whose head perked up in excitement, knowing that whatever was about to follow would be awesome. "You mentioned something about being good at sneaking around the Uchiha compound earlier. Care to show me some of those skills?"
What little doubt he had about continuing this so-called 'operation' was quickly squashed when he saw how Naruto's face brightened. At least, the boy would enjoy himself, Shin thought dryly to himself.
Everything went according to plan but Shin knew from experience that when it did it was very likely that soon enough the shit would hit the fan and of course, he wasn't disappointed.
Uchiha Itachi, he mentally noted as he observed the boy before him, who had showed up out of nowhere, wearing the ANBU uniform bare the mask. Shin briefly went through everything he had ever read and been told about the Uchiha, only to come to the frustrating realization that the Uchiha heir would win in nearly all fight scenarios he had drawn up in his mind. Time to change tactics. He forced his body to relax and sheepishly scratched the back of his head.
"Ah, hello, Itachi-san. Nice to meet you."
Obviously, Itachi didn't seem to share the same sentiment. "What are you doing here?" he asked coldly, his eyes becoming even harder when his gaze fixed on Naruto. "I am sure that one of the clan members must have impressed the severity of the situation on you. It's not safe for people to be here."
It was no use to lie to an Uchiha so chuckling nervously, Shin admitted, "Hai, there was one who kindly informed us about the danger but you know how it is, we still wanted to visit someone from the clan. We're worried that something might have happened to him."
"Who is that person you would like to meet? I can arrange a meeting between you in a safer place or at least inform you of his wellbeing if I have knowledge of it."
"That's very generous of you," Shin said. Dammit, there went his chance to investigate. "It's Madara."
Shin knew that as soon as the name slipped from his mouth, he would come to regret it as apparently saying this name was some sort of Uchiha taboo and therefor a bad idea. For only a split second, he could feel the faint spike of killing intention coming from Itachi, although it was gone as fast as it had come. Judging by Naruto's lack of fear, the blond had probably not even notice the sudden change of the Uchiha's mood.
"Uchiha Madara, our latest addition to the clan, I presume," Itachi inquired, although it didn't seem like he was asking, his gaze drifting to Naruto once again. He seemed to have come to some sort of realization as his eyes widened very slightly before he redirected his attention back to Shin.
"I see…" Itachi said his face as blank as a mask. Shin could now understand to a degree the anger and frustration Danzo-sama felt at not being able to make Itachi his weapon. The Uchiha heir would have fitted right in their ranks. "As it happens I was on my way to Madara too. If you wish to, you can accompany me."
Shin blinked. That had gone better than he had possibly hoped for it to go. But he wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. Exchanging looks with Naruto, he nodded his consent. "Lead the way, Itachi-san."
There was something off about the situation but Shin was certain that Itachi wouldn't do anything to them. He may know about Naruto's true identity thus being aware of the fact that Naruto was not to be harmed under threat of death and to his knowledge there was no possible way for Itachi to know that he was part of the ROOT either. They were safe for now.
Itachi might had something in mind, oh, he definitely had something in mind about them in regards to whatever he planned during their visit to Madara but he was fine playing along for now.
Patience, Shin told himself. It was something his instructors told him that he had always lacked. Like so many other things, they had managed to drill it into him in the end, more or less, anyway.
As Shin mused about that, he did not notice how Itachi once again watched Naruto with sharp eyes, cold and calculating.
"You're going away, again?" his little brother asked, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.
"Training," Hashirama muttered as he put on his shoes. "As the clan heir, I've got to get stronger, you know that." It's been a week now, Hashirama thought to himself, Izuna should be back by now.
He had been on a mission three days ago but it had luckily turned out to be a relatively easy one and he had been able to return yesterday evening.
After a mission, no matter how easy it had been, Hashirama would normally just take a day off, spending the time relaxing and talking with other clan members. When his father was nearby, not being occupied with other things, he'd begrudgingly trained a bit, though it was clear that his heart was not into it.
That was probably the reason why Tobirama wondered why today, he even bothered to go out into the woods to train. His little brother was such a mother hen sometimes.
"That's what I've been wondering about for a while now. But you never really answered my question. Why the sudden change?" Tobirama questioned, red eyes narrowed.
Hashirama sighed as he sat up, preparing to leave. "What do you mean by sudden? It's been dawning on me for a while now but I kept being hesitant. And well, one day I thought I should finally do something about it and that's what happened," he explained, shrugging.
"If that's all, I'd like to go now. See you later."
He was aware that his explanation wasn't one at all but really he had never been that good at making excuses and right now, he couldn't be bothered.
Before he could slide open the fusuma, he felt his brother's hand grabbing his shoulder, stopping him from going any further. Turning his head around, he met the solemn gaze of Tobirama.
"Allow me to accompany you, brother. I think that I would benefit greatly if I were able to participate in your training."
Hashirama grimaced as he shrugged off Tobirama's hand. "It's nothing against you, Tobi but I would rather be alone in the woods while training. It makes me relax and I think that's what I need right now."
"Did something happen during the mission?" Tobirama inquired sharply, his eyes quickly looking over Hashirama's body for any injuries.
For crying out loud… "No, it has nothing to do with the mission. I'm just doing it on a whim." Another heavy sigh escaped his lips. To say that his attempts at easing his brother's worry were poor would be an understatement.
"It's hard to explain but you would do me a great favor if you would just let me go alone," Hashirama once again tried.
"Brother, is there any reason why you insist on going out alone today?" Tobirama asked warily.
"No, there's not," Hashirama denied perhaps a bit too fervently. "I mean… look, I would have refused you on any other time of day too. Those times I go out to the woods, it means I'm just alone out there. No clan, no enemies, no burden. I can be just me, Hashirama, for a short while. Forget about anything. I think I need that to go on doing what I'm supposed to do, okay?"
He wasn't even lying as he looked straight in his brother's eye which was probably the only reason why he didn't feel like some whiny liar. Before he had met any Uchiha there on the riverbank, that had been the reason for him to go to the woods, away from his clan's judging eyes.
"I see," Tobirama said quietly. "I never knew that you felt that way."
It took all of his willpower not to grimace. Really, while he was usually all open for it, right now a heart-to-heart talk with his brother was the last thing he needed right now. "It's nothing to be worried about. Everyone has a way to cope with…everything. That's just the way I do."
This time, he didn't allow his brother to stop in any way and in a blink of an eye, he was out of the makeshift house, down on the path to the woods. Winking, he shouted, "Later!"
The last thing he saw of his brother was the rolling of his eyes. Mentally patting himself on his shoulder, Hashirama raced down the path, all the while chuckling quietly to himself.
"You've been waiting for a long time?" Hashirama asked when he had finished climbing up the cliff, slightly out of breath.
"An hour," said Izuna, who, Hashirama noted, wore a simple black kimono like his brother used to. It felt good that Izuna had started to trust him to the extent that he'd go meet up with him unarmed, despite knowing who he was.
Grinning, he settled himself next to Izuna. "Sooo," he began, drawing out the vowel, "anything new about Madara?"
Izuna's eyes were focused on the forest which spread before him. "As far as I know, the Uchiha clan has received no letter from any enemy clans who tried to use Madara as a bargain."
"So him being a bargain is probably out," Hashirama concluded. Well, he hadn't really expected that possibility to be real anyway.
"Have you heard anything from your allied clans?" Izuna asked, for the first time turning his head to Hashirama to truly face him.
He shook his head begrudgingly. "I'm afraid not. Nothing about any clan keeping the Uchiha clan heir captive. I even read through my father's parchments but there was not so much as a word about him. Well, at least the ones that I could understand anyway."
There hadn't been much to read, if a message wasn't delivered personally but through other means of transport like birds, his father usually tended to burn them after he had read them. The rest he stored in scrolls, putting security seals on them.
Luckily, Hashirama shared the same blood as him, one of the requirements for breaking the seals and even more fortunately, he happened to be betrothed to a very skilled Uzumaki who was more than happy to show him one or two tricks about Fuinjutsu. All of it was to no avail though.
There were still some scrolls he hadn't read as they were written in some sort of secret code and it had taken way too long to even descript the first one. He couldn't recall a time where he had been more tensed, looking out for any sounds telling him that someone approached as he had been in his father's room, reading scrolls, while his father had been away on a meeting with a leader of a clan which habited a neighbor area half a day's travel away. His brother had been also occupied with a mission. It had been the perfect time and incredible enough, no one had noticed that something had ben amiss. Or if someone did, no words of his actions had reached his father's ears.
If they had, he would probably not be sitting next to Izuna. The thought made Hashirama gulp.
It still didn't stop Hashirama from feeling guilty and sick for the following days before he was once again sent on a mission, his father probably believing him to have gone stir-crazy without any possibility to let off steam in battle. Many of his relative actually faced such a problem which would excuse his father for being led to believe that.
When battle calmed your nerves more than being at home, eating with your immediate family, you usually knew that you would have become used, sometimes even to battle, to these war-filled times. If one grew up, sucking on a wooden kunai as a toddler, wielding weapons as soon as one could walk, it was inevitable that the battle would become part of your blood, a part of your existence.
Even for Hashirama whose greatest dream was to end all of this futile bloodshed, it was hard to imagine how exactly such a time of real peace would look like. Maybe, he'd never grow accustomed to that peace, a part of him forever feeling restless, itching for fights and blood. Whenever his thoughts would stray to that topic, he'd firmly tell himself that it was for as much the sake of his fellow ninja as it was for the sake of the next generation who would hopefully never have to yearn for bloodshed because they wouldn't need to grow up in times of war, being blissfully unaware of its terrors.
"That doesn't have to mean anything," Izuna said harshly, breaking Hashirama out of his thoughts. "Maybe this message was too important to be conveyed through written message. It could have been delivered by a messenger."
Hashirama nodded absently in agreement. With the Senju being such a mighty and highly influential clan, there were a lot of people who wanted an audience with the Senju clan head. Quite a lot of the messengers were Senju's spies being discreetly disguised as clients to inform his father of who-knew-what during those so-called audiences.
It was a very likely possibility and he might not have even notice due to the nature of those meetings. If only he could figure out a way for his father to confide him in. His father was more willing to share clan-relevant information than he had been before but most of the times he still preferred to keep the clan heir in the dark. 'Did he not trust me?' was the thought which often lingered in the corner of Hashirama's mind whenever it became apparent that there was something that his father didn't tell him.
He also wasn't sure if he could simply wait until his father felt like telling him. Who knew what could have happened during that span of time. Hashirama frowned.
"I'm at my wits' end. Do you have any idea how I can make my father tell me about it without drawing suspicion to myself? And what if my father doesn't know anything at all? Imagine how weird that would look," he told the Uchiha, slightly shivering at the implications.
Izuna looked at him long and hard. "I do have to agree that you don't seem to be very well-versed in the arts of subtlety." His tone seemed to suggest that he was putting it mildly.
Hashirama would feel slightly offended if he hadn't known that it was the truth. His little brother reminded him more often than not that he was always so painfully honest, especially if one considered their profession. Well, it hadn't gotten himself killed yet so he wasn't really willing to change such a vital aspect of him.
"Well, do you have any ideas?" the Senju eventually asked.
"No, I don't," came the reply. "I don't know your father well enough to give you any advice."
"Great, we've reached a dead-end." Hashirama sighed as he let himself wholly fall to the ground.
Izuna glared at the Senju lying next to him. "So you've already given up?"
"Of course not but right now we have no clue what we should do next. It can't be helped so we should just to back to what we did before and wait for some hint which will put us back on track."
Taking a deep breath, Izuna unclenched his fists, barely noticing how deep his nails had dug into his flesh. "It feels like we're absolutely dong nothing. No, It doesn't feel like it, it's the same as doing nothing. What good is that so-called alliance, if it doesn't help me at all to find Madara?"
At that point he had stood up, glaring at Hashirama who had also stood up because he felt uncomfortable being glared down.
"You wouldn't have known then that any information about Madara was apparently not put down in any written from," Hashirama responded calmly in the face of Izuna's anger.
"So what?" Izuna spat, anger and desperation making his eyes turn red. "How the hell is that supposed to help me? You're just as useless as I've thought. I should have never risked becoming your ally and coming to those meetings. You obviously don't give a crap about Ma-"
"Be quiet," Hashirama growled.
That shut Izuna up, though it was more out of shock than fear. The Uchiha stared boggle-eyed at the dark-haired boy before him, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that the ever relaxed, calm and easy-going Hashirama was currently pissed off. Despite the short time he had known the Senju boy, something told him that on the rare occurrence that Hashirama was angry, it was best to keep quiet. Maybe that something were his surviving instincts.
As sudden as the Senju had turned angry, he calmed down, expelling his anger with a drawn out sigh.
"Sorry about that," Hashirama apologized, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. It did little to ease the Uchiha's wariness.
"I don't really like to get angry but what you've just said, well, really pissed me off. I'm pretty sure anyone would have felt angry, hearing that crap you've been sputtering."
Before Izuna could even so much as open his mouth in protest, Hashirama had already gone on.
"I mean I can understand that you're really worried about your brother, I would be too and I am worried about Madara because he's my best friend. But what did you expect? That we'd suddenly have all the information thrown at us, once we put all our grudges aside and team up?"
Izuna remained silent, eyes dark and looking at the ground. By all appearances, he looked like a sullen child being chided.
That mental image brought a grin to Hashirama's face.
"They may be little steps but they are steps nevertheless. I know it's frustrating but that's the only thing we can do now. Just be patient and all will be good in the end."
"You're overly optimistic. Again," Izuna added, but it lacked any venom. He sounded mostly tired, all of his aggression drained out.
"Well, I haven't been disappointed yet," Hashirama countered brightly, relieved that they were finally back to talking like, well, they usually did.
"There's always a first time," Izuna argued, a smile tucking at his lips.
"The first time, huh." Hashirama's eyes twinkled mischievously as he saw Izuna's pale face redden, apparently having understood the innuendo just fine.
Hashirama whistled in something akin to awe. He hadn't expected for it to really work. "Wow, you already know about that? At your age, I had no clue." Which had led to some very embarrassing situations he didn't particular feel like remembering again.
"Father told us early on because of the kekkei genkai," Izuna explained in a hushed tone, still looking down , his face showing no apparent signs of turning into any color which didn't resemble a tomato.
Messing around with Izuna was just as fun as messing around with his little brother, Hashirama thought fondly, resisting the urge to ruffle the boy's hair like he did with Tobi, a gesture which had never failed to annoy the white-haired boy even further.
"Ah, I see." His grin threatened to split his face in half.
Izuna looked at him wearily. "How the hell can people stand you? I barely know you and I already have to resist the urge to gauge out your eyeball with a rusty kunai."
"Well, unlike you, the people that I know don't show worrying homicidal tendencies."
Either Izuna didn't know what to say and had decided to end their banter or he was just fed up with Hashirama's continued idiocy, it could be both too. Either way, he turned to leave.
"I have to go now. Father will get suspicious if I'm away for too long. He's been keeping a close eye on me ever since…Madara's been missing," Izuna told him, his expression dark.
"Are you sure that you're not being followed then?" Hashirama asked, glancing around worriedly as though he expected to see Uchiha jump out of nowhere any moment.
With a wave of his hand, Izuna dismissed his worries. "My father wouldn't go that far. Not yet, anyway. I just have to be careful when exactly I choose to leave and what excuse I use. I will manage that just fine," he reassure Hashirama who nodded in relief.
"Alright then. How about meeting in a week then?" Hashirama suggested, frowning as he did so.
The way they arranged their meeting was inconvenient. What if there was something which needed both of their immediate attention and only one of them knew? They would have no way to communicate with each other outside of their meetings and meeting up with each other too often would only draw unwanted suspicion on both sides.
Izuna seemed to think along similar lines as he said, "How about we try to find way for us to exchange information whenever we want until the next meeting? I'm sure there's some jutsu out there which allows us to do that."
Hashirama nodded in agreement but some doubt still lingered. If there was such a jutsu, why would no one used it? Of course, it might be a secret jutsu belonging to some clan they did not know of. Then their chance of discovering and mastering it would be slim.
Hashirama shook his head to clear his thoughts. He shouldn't give up before he even tried.
"Well, then until next week," Hashirama said, waving.
And just like before, Izuna only nodded before he was gone again.
Sighing for no reason other than that he just felt like doing it, he too made his way to leave, never noticing the red eyes which followed him all the way back home.
Madara's head jerked up at the voices drifting down to him. It seemed like some people were arguing with each other.
Shisui must have noticed the commotion too as he stood up, rigid and tensed.
"Well, that's a really pathetic attempt at bailing you out," Shisui joked, the hardness in his eyes belying any lightheartedness.
Madara, too, stood up, only for him to fall back to the ground, when his legs swayed and then finally gave away.
"I don't know anyone who would do that," Madara told him, rubbing the sore back of his head. Damn whatever it was they had pumped him with.
Before Shisui could respond, however, the door slammed open and a boy about his age, an Uchiha by the looks of it, entered the room with a purposeful stride, Naruto and another boy with grey hair and also about his age in tow.
"Itachi!" Shisui exclaimed, surprised.
So that was Itachi, Sasuke's brother, Madara thought as he observed the other Uchiha, interested. He could already tell that he was not to be trifled with.
The silence which they lapsed into was immediately broken when Naruto shot forward, shouting, "Madara! Why're you here?"
"What are you doing here?" Madara asked, echoing the question. The blond had no business here and he angrily glared at the passive-looking Uchiha who was apparently responsible for dragging the brat into this whole mess.
"That is what I'd like to know too," Shisui declared, crossing his arms and giving Itachi a questioning look. "The guards were also supposed not to let anyone in."
"It's not the guards' fault. I forced them to let me enter," Itachi explained.
"Ah, I see," Shisui said, frowning at the boys standing behind Itachi. "Why would you take them along? Civilian children shouldn't be involved in clan business."
"They wanted to see Madara. "
"Yeah, but that's still no reason to bring them along. You're a genius, Itachi, but I can't see anything brilliant in that," Shisui replied, wondering what the hell Itachi was planning because he never did something without any reason.
"Shisui, believe me if I say that I do know what I'm doing," Itachi tried to reassure his best friend who still didn't look very convinced.
"You make it sound like I'm some worried girlfriend, even though it's pretty clear who out of the two of us is the girly one," Shisui countered because if Itachi wanted to confuse the hell out of him, he could play along.
There were times in which Itachi truly appreciated Shisui's behavior which always seemed to be out of the norm, this wasn't one of them.
In the silence which ensued, Naruto wondered out loudly, "Is it a bad time to ask if Madara can come eat Ramen?"
A/N: As always, I greatly appreciate any kind of feedback.
I also wish you a belated merry Christmas and a happy new year :)