“We can take a drink now as old war buddies…”
“War buddies…I suppose that’s fine.”
The darkness around him made him wonder if tales of the afterlife were just lies, like most other myths, and if souls simply spent their time sitting in an inkwell of nothingness. Surely no one who fell victim to Edo Tensei would ever want to go back if this was their heaven.
But he probably wasn’t in heaven, was he? Was this purgatory? Or Hell? He would have expected some amount of torture if it were Hell.
“We can take a drink now as old war buddies…”
The words kept bothering him as he sat- lay? Stood? He couldn’t tell- there in the darkness. His dream had died out, but Hashirama’s continued to thrive. After everything, he sat there and smiled down at him and told him they were old war buddies. He was still infuriating. He wondered if somewhere down the line there had been something he should have done differently, some component of the plan that could have been a pivotal point, if things could have ended in his favor.
No…that boy was too much like Hashirama. He’d gone up against the goddess. Some part of Madara told him he would have won no matter what. And why wouldn’t he? Madara was a relic of the past- he was part of the new world that would carry on Hashirama’s dream. There had been a time when it had been their dream.
Had his dream ever really been his dream at all, or just a cog in the machine of someone else’s machinations? He was at the end of his life now- the true end of it- and all he could feel was an aching emptiness. He thought the one inside him was worse than the gaping void around him that would drive lesser people insane. Perhaps this was his punishment after all.
He was tired. That much was certain. He was tired of futile efforts, of failure, and deep down he was just tired of living.
“We can take a drink now as old war buddies…”
The words echoed again as if they were taunting him. Maybe it was part of the punishment, to hear Hashirama say that over and over, but part of him, to his shame, found it comforting. They hadn’t said anything so overt, but their reconciliation had set something at ease that had been in turmoil for a long time. He hadn’t had to say anything, he hadn’t had to say he was sorry, it was simply offered to him.
(But deep down, he was sorry.)
And above all, he was so tired. He’d thought death would give him a release from it; he was finally ready to be dead- but he couldn’t even remember what being dead had been like the first time, and this alternative was just as tiring. Was the universe playing a practical joke on him? Keeping him from death as recompense?
He just wanted to die.
And then he woke up.
Sunlight shone in through his window through the curtains, casting uneven slants of light over his face. He lay there in an unfamiliar bed that felt strangely familiar, in an unfamiliar room that looked strangely familiar, staring at a ceiling that was unfamiliar and familiar. At first he could do little more than what he was; his mind felt dead. But as sounds from the outside world started to drift inside- the chirp of morning birds, the hammering of workers from far off, the occasional snippet of conversation- he came back to himself.
Madara leapt off the bed so quickly he nearly sent himself to the floor. He’d been expecting the reflexes he’d had as a Reanimation, yet his body seemed to be moving slower. More than that, he could feel his heart hammering away in his chest. He yanked at the plain black yukata that clothed his body and pulled it apart to look at himself; there was nothing strange or awry with his torso, no sign of Hashirama’s cells, not even some of the scars he’d acquired later in life.
He activated his Sharingan and looked around. There was nothing amiss- yet he appeared to be completely alive.
It was then he recognized where he was.
No, he thought, doubting his sanity. Was this part of Purgatory? Had he retreated into an illusion of his own mind’s making? Was it even real?
He stepped slowly to the window and looked out. The Uchiha settlement- their first compound in Konoha, still being built- stared back at him. Half-built buildings littered the ground below while Uchiha carried supplies back and forth and emerged from tents.
This isn’t possible, he thought, stepping back from the window. This wasn’t Purgatory. This was Hell.
He tripped on the blanket he’d dislodged from his bed- he remembered, now, this was just around when they’d started to use bedframes instead to keep the cold away- and landed on the ground with his back to the wall. Breathing heavily, he brought his hands up to stare at and clenched them both into fists. This was a hallucination. It wasn’t real. Even the Sage couldn’t have done this, and there was no reason to try. Madara had wanted to die. He couldn’t be back here, back when he and Hashirama were still-
Someone knocked on the door. “Madara-sama?” an Uchiha called through it. “Is everything all right? You’re usually up giving orders by now.”
“Leave me be,” Madara snapped with more heat than he meant to. He couldn’t handle someone coming in trying to get him to- to get him to do whatever it was they wanted him to do right now.
The Uchiha didn’t answer. He felt his presence leave, no doubt very perplexed at his leader’s behavior.
This isn’t possible, he thought to himself again, running his hands through his hair. Why, after what he’d done, was he being denied death?
He pushed himself up and quelled the shaking in his hands, turning until he found the wardrobe in the room and throwing it open. He clothed himself and left the house after cloaking himself as rapidly as he could, refusing to look at any of the Uchiha as he left the compound.
Outside was even worse. There were buildings spread across the area they’d sanctioned for the village, under the barren Hokage Mountain, that poked and prodded at feelings of familiarity that he didn’t want to have. This village hadn’t been his village for a long time.
He turned and fled from the civilization. Though he was cloaked, he paid little heed to concealing his movements, walking quickly through the forest and leaving clear tracks in his wake.
How is this possible?
He shouldn’t have been there. Maybe God had looked down on his soul and decided the best torture would be reliving his life, over and over, and reliving all his failures.
His feet took him to a place he’d stood many times; on the top of the mountain, staring down at the village below. When was the last time he’d been there?
This can’t be real, he thought, taking out a kunai. Time travel? It hadn’t been achieved by any ninja.
He drove the kunai into his bicep, barely even registering the pain it induced. His blood spurted from the wound and ran down his sleeve; he watched it pool in the crook of his elbow and drip to the ground. He felt pain. He bled. He had to be real.
Tobirama and the Yondaime’s jutsu popped into his head. All the things he’d been able to achieve with the power he’d held so briefly. If a god or some impish creature outside the realm of human knowledge had done this, or perhaps some cosmic accident in the universe…
He realized he’d dropped the kunai when it went tumbling over the edge of the cliff. He grimaced and hoped it didn’t land on anyone. Unless it skewered Tobirama in the foot.
Madara lifted his head and breathed deeply as the wind blew on his face. He became aware of the rest of his weapons, sitting sharp and ready in the pouch on his thigh, that would so easily drain him dry of his life. If this was some hell made just for him, he could escape it now and embrace death as he was meant to. He considered the urge for longer than he cared to admit.
The quietness around him calmed him from his previous manic. He looked down at the village again, and wondered what he was supposed to do- when his previous goals had been meant to end in its destruction. He had no goal now; no dream.
But he was tired.
Any effort he could make was ultimately pointless and hopeless. He was a shinobi without a purpose and he’d been denied even rest. He didn’t know what to do.
He’d asked his mother one such question when he was barely three, before she had been taken from them, asked her what to do when he didn’t know what to do; “Nothing,” she’d told him with a smile. “Do nothing. Wait.”
Time passed him by and left him unaware of how long he stood there for. A sense of hopeless acceptance settled upon him- even if none of this was real, it was his reality now.
“Madara!” A voice called out from behind him. Considering he felt as if he’d just said farewell to Hashirama not half an hour ago, it didn’t startle him as much as he thought it would. “Madara!”
The tiredness was in his bones. He didn’t bother turning around or greeting Hashirama as he ran up to his place on the monument. He steeled himself and turned around, forgetting about the wound on his arm. “What is it, Hashirama?”
“I was looking for you!” the Senju leader began with a blinding grin. He was still so naïve. He thought Madara was his friend- that he could never hurt him. That he was going to be at his side forever. “Why did-” He paused when he noticed Madara’s stab wound and frowned. “What on earth is that from?”
Madara froze and berated himself for being idiotic. “Nothing,” he said, folding his arms. “It’s fine. It was just an accident.”
“Well here, let me heal it-” Hashirama began, reaching out with one hand.
Madara tensed and took half a step back. Hashirama paused and looked at him with a frown; he’d never denied healing before. “I said it was fine. Don’t you have better things to be doing?”
Flinching at the sudden hostility, Hashirama retracted his hand but wasn’t deterred. “You’re bleeding! Don’t be silly, I have plenty of time to take a minute to heal your injury. Madara, what’s the matter? You’re acting strange.”
Oh, god. He was staring at Madara with the eyes. Big, round, pleading, pitiful eyes. He winced and looked away. “I’m fine,” he insisted again. Goddammit, just act normal. “I’m just…not feeling well.”
“In that case, I could take a look at you-”
“That isn’t necessary. I just need some rest. I’ll bandage this back at the- the compound.”
Hashirama frowned at him, obviously wanting to argue, but relented. “All right,” he acquiesced. “But tell me if you feel worse, all right? Send someone to fetch me and I’ll give you a check-up.”
The lesser-known skill of the Shodaime’s: the fact that he was a medical ninja, which somehow just fed his complex about helping people. “All right,” Madara said, even though he had no intentions of doing such a thing. He took that opportunity to walk away as fast as he could without looking like he wanted to run away. The whole time he was within Hashirama’s range of sight he could feel the future Hokage’s eyes on his back. He gritted his teeth and ignored the feeling.
However, it wasn’t as if he’d lied. He’d been awake for what couldn’t have been two hours and he already wanted to crawl back into bed. That spelt weakness, he knew, but this body was human.
Yet somehow he’d never felt this tired even when he was alive.
Hikaku was waiting for him when he came back. “Madara-sama,” he said with a respectful nod, holding a clipboard in hand and meeting Madara at the gate. If he remembered correctly, the man had been the closest thing he’d had to a right-hand man, even if some of his tasks had amounted to being an errand chaser. “I have some acquisitions for your approval-”
“Just deal with it and sign my name where it needs it,” Madara said, tone short as he moved past the man. He turned and looked after him with a frown.
“Are you sure, Madara-sama?” Hikaku knew something was off. Even when Madara hadn’t read every single form, he’d skimmed the stack and gotten the gist of what it said.
“You have good judgment, don’t you?” Madara prodded, giving his clan member an irritated glance and walking away. Hikaku stared after him with the frown still in place. “Do not bother me for the rest of the day.”
The house meant for the clan head was larger than the rest and situated right in the midst of the compound. Already he felt as if every Uchiha had their eyes on him, as if they were all watching and judging. Even in the privacy of the house he felt stifled and boxed in, constantly aware of their presence all around him and of how empty the house itself felt. He thought he’d once thought of this as home, but it just felt like a wooden cage now.
It didn’t occur to him that he could try and salvage the relationship with his clan now, or that his sudden reclusive behavior would just make them wary of him. All he wanted was to be alone.
He retreated to his bedroom- the only room in the place that felt as if it had a sense of familiarity- and stood in the doorway gazing at the mess of blankets and some clothes he’d dislodged in his hurry to get out. A potted plant had also fallen from the windowsill, though it had thankfully not broken.
After shutting and locking the door, he stood there, not knowing what to do, thinking of the worried expression on Hashirama’s face, and drifted past the items on the floor. He sat down on his mattress and folded his hands; he watched a bird land in the branches of the tree outside his window, then let his gaze drift to the clouds. Could he not have even been sent back to before Izuna had died? The things his brother would say if he could see Madara now.
He let himself sag back against the wall. The air was quiet and still, but he knew that beyond the four walls around him there was a world he was going to have to deal with.
“We can take a drink now as old war buddies…”
I wish you’d killed me at the Valley, he thought, bitterly. I wish it had ended there.
He eventually slid down and curled up on the bare mattress, watching the bird as it arranged sticks and grass in its nest. Hikaku heeded his request and didn’t bother him again, and the day passed him by, until he’d fallen into fitful bouts of sleep and night had fallen. Never once did the hopeless feeling leave him.