On several more occasions, over the course of a few weeks, the two met. It was always coincidence on Madara's part. The river was where he hung around in his free time, the little girl was the one to seek him out. Just like Hashirama. The buffoon initiated their friendship, not him. In fact the two fools seemed like they would get along spectacularly.
While Madara felt odd when he thought about that assumption it wasn't like he purposely tried to keep them apart. It was by chance that they just haven't met yet.
After the first time teaching Sakura to skip stones, Hashirama had only come to the river once. During that meeting he informed him that his mother had passed on. That was the most likely reason for his perpetual absence. So if the brunette happened to come upon them it wouldn't matter. There was no reason for Madara to try to keep the young girl to himself.
That's why it meant nothing at all when he pressured Sakura to leave as he sensed his friend nearing them. He only thought she might be too tired to deal with the idiot. The fact that it was only near noon was irrelevant, she was small and lost energy more quickly. There was nothing else to it, thank you very much voice in his head that roared for him to hide her, hide her, hide her.
And maybe he was thinking that, but it was just for her protection. He'd found out through their numerous meetings that Sakura really was very clumsy. Countless times he'd been forced to catch her before she fell into the river. She didn't know how to water walk and she was so tiny, along with being impossible to sense. If she fell deep enough it could be hard to find her.
There were many more instances of intense clumsiness. The girl was a walking time bomb of disaster. He was very careful with her, watchful, but Hashirama wouldn't know this. The black haired boy swore that his friend didn't even know how to think before he acted. The four year old could accidentally fall on a kunai the other boy took out.
There was no need to chance this, so he sent her away again.
Hashirama, in all his grinning glory, came upon him with a plan for their day already in place. "Let's race to the cliff, Madara." There was no way he was going to be tricked again so he took off running. Thinking of new places he could meet with Sakura the whole way. A place where he hadn't taken the brunet before.
"That's cheating, Madaraaa!" He could hear Hashirama yelling after him. His competitive spirit was lit though and he wasn't slowing, not when he could hear the brunet gaining on him. Seeing the cliff ahead he judged the distance and decided to jump the rest of the way. He twisted his body mid lunge so that his feet faced the cliff.
When he connected, he attached himself with chakra and continued to run up the ledge. He was already cackling about his win when he reached the halfway point, but then Hashirama was suddenly besides him, looking as cool as a cucumber. The other boy's head turned to look at him. Giving him a sly smirk, the brunet rushed ahead of him.
"Damn you, Hashirama!" He heard laughing and then that ugly bowl cut popped out over the edge of the cliff.
"You're still a dirty cheat."
Like it wasn't anything he hadn't done before, pot calling the kettle black was what this was. As he reached the edge and jumped up onto the top of the mountainous area, he brought the heel of his foot down onto the idiot's head. "You left an opening you fool!" He shouted out in pain holding his head, but Madara allowed him no time to recover. He gave him a little shove off the cliff.
The black haired boy threw his arms up into the air. "I'm king of the mountain!" He felt a tug on his leg and that was all the warning he was given before he went flying off the cliff alongside his friend. He saw the wooden branch wrapped around his ankle as his body flipped around so he was falling head first. He really should have been on the watch for that, but he'd been in a celebratory mood.
Crossing his arms, he waited for the jolt he knew was about to occur. They'd done this for fun before and Madara hadn't enjoyed it. Hashirama called it bungee jumping and referred to him as scared when he'd said he hadn't wanted to hand his life over to a freakin' piece of wood. Though that one word had been enough to get him to concede and 'at least try it' as the brunet liked to say. Afterwards he'd puked, it hadn't been pretty.
He was used to it now and trusted Hashirama to stop the branch at the correct length for his brains to stay in his skull. The jolt happened right before his head hit. It stopped his fall but then dropped him. His skull knocked off the ground, just much more gently than a fall from the cliff would have. Madara got up rubbing at his head while growling at his friend. At least it hurt less than a rock to the forehead.
The brunet was hanging upside down from a branch just like he had been a second before, with a smug look on his face. "Who's the king of the mountain?" The branch brought Hashirama back to the top in a blink of an eye before he dispelled it.
Grumbling to himself, Madara climbed the cliff again at a slower pace. He was out of breath from having done the climb twice when he made it to the top. He was prepared to yell and show his demon face, but when he saw the other teen lying on his back, staring up at the sky in melancholy, he couldn't. No matter how much Hashirama tried to behave normally he was still recovering from the loss of his mother. His despondency wouldn't be as easily changed as it usually was.
Sitting down next to him, Madara stared out at the space they had declared to be their future village. "You know you don't have to pretend with me, right? I'm used to your depressed ass. If we are gonna be co-founders we need to be able to deal with each other."
Hashirama sat up and wiped at his suddenly leaking eyes. Slowly, Madara reached out and patted him on the back. In seconds the brunet was a sobbing mess. His tears seemed to go on forever, it was starting to get dark when he finally stopped.
"Th-thank you." His voice sounded hoarse and he probably needed water.
The black haired boy took note of this for when Sakura cried in front of him. The thought surprised him. Why was he thinking of ways to comfort the brat for things that may never even happen? He tried to shake the thought off on his way home after the two went their separate ways.
The next day, when the pink haired girl came to the river, he dragged her to an old play area of his and Izuna's. It was secluded and hard to get to. The entrance had overgrown vines covering it, requiring him to make a new opening. The hole in the vines was barely noticeable when he was finished. After they covered it back up with the torn away vines it would be perfect.
Sakura was a little nervous to go underneath those sharp saber tooth plants, but trusted her friend's judgment enough to do as he said. She slid through the opening, and when she was finally clear of it she was quite surprised with what waited for her on the other side. It was a clear expansive area with a single tree in the middle. From one of its branches hung a swing.
She squealed with delight as Madara crawled through the hole in the vines, dragging the cut pieces in behind him to fill it in. He wiped himself down as the little pink haired girl rushed forward to try out the swing his mother had made for him and his brothers. It was old and rickety but she obviously loved it, not even testing to see if it would hold her weight before she sat.
A warm feeling spread through his chest at the scene, happy for the old thing to get some use. Izuna had never liked it much, he seemed to have an issue with not having both his feet firmly planted on the ground. Madara felt very much the same way so the swing hadn't seen a lot of use even in its prime. The ones who used it most were his other younger brothers and they hadn't been around enough to fully appreciate its value.
The four year old looked as if she would finally give it the love his mother thought it deserved. She probably would have loved to have had a daughter. One like Sakura who was filled with so much joy and empty of hate. He swallowed the tightness in his throat that always seemed to accompany thoughts of his mom.
Moving forward, he grabbed the rope on either side of the little girl and gave her a little push. No matter how small, she was happy with the movement. "Do you like this spot?"
"Yes!" She giggled as he pushed her higher still.
"How about you come here for now on instead of the river?"
She tried to look behind her as best she could. "But Madara is at the river."
"I'm going to start coming here instead. You can come here whenever you want. If you need a safe place to stay during the night this is just as good as anywhere else."
Her head bobbed though she couldn't understand why she would want to stay in the woods instead of her bed. "Okay." She swung in silence for a little while, pumping her legs as Madara had already finished with pushing her. He came around her front, dodging her feet as he climbed up into the tree. "Does that mean no more skipping?"
He hesitated while grabbing for a low hanging branch. "…I might take you there again, but you can't hang around there alone. Understood?" He glared down at her daring her to question his authority. She didn't even notice his intensity, just agreeing to do as he said.
There was no way to describe how pleased that made him. He absolutely hated being defied on such matters. Izuna liked to say he had a controlling streak, he liked to say that he better damn well listen to him if he wanted to live to see another day. Challenging superiors on the battlefield got people killed. It was good to know Sakura wasn't going to pose a problem in this respect.
Things went on like that for a few short weeks. When Madara was back from the battlefield he would either hang out with Hashirama or Sakura. Mostly it was the latter as it wasn't very often that the brunet's schedule matched with his. On the other hand the pinkette had an enormous amount of free time and while he did spend a substantial amount of time with her, he disclosed very little to the girl.
They didn't actually talk much at all. It felt weird to hold a conversation with someone so much younger than him, mostly they just hung around one another silently. At times the girl would collect some flowers and show them off to him. In fact their little hide out seemed to be gaining some decoration here and there. For the most part he ignored it.
He felt as if he was taking care of a puppy, it was one of the main reasons he took her here. Since he'd been the one to discover her, he felt as if he had an obligation to at least make sure she stayed alive. Giving her a place to hide if necessary and checking on her well being was all this was. He had somehow gained a pet, she didn't quite seem human to him. She was too young and innocent for this world.
Things always had a tenancy to change though. He really shouldn't have been as surprised as he was.
Everything seemed to have gone still, there weren't even any crickets to fill the silence. Madara had to endure the quiet as he tried to process what his father had just told him. Hashirama was a Senju. They had just met the other day and nothing seemed out of place. Except Izuna, the little rat, had followed him. Always one to listen to their father.
He supposed he should just be glad it hadn't been a Sakura day that he'd been caught on. His brother hadn't attack Hashirama because he believed him to be too big of a threat. Which was true, the idiot was strong. Madara hadn't even been able to beat him in a fair fight. All he'd been able to accomplish was a mutual take down. He had no idea what the other boy would be capable of in a real fight but he was sure it wouldn't be good for them.
A Senju. He'd thought of that possibility before, hadn't he? It had seemed like an impossibility because Hashirama hadn't tried to take him out. Maybe he had known all along because he didn't feel surprised in the least. It was easier to believe him not to be a Senju than to feel he had betrayed his family in multiple ways. More than making friends outside the clan, he had befriended a Senju.
Wanted to create peace with a Senju. That sounded wonderful to him, but his father would never accept it. His father was actually, at that very moment, making plans to track and then kill Hashirama. He couldn't let that happen.
That night he carved words into stone.
In the morning he was jittery, hoping his father wouldn't figure out his plan. After Hashirama got away, he wouldn't think of any other outcome, his father would know he tipped him off. He was fine with that, he'd gotten quite used to the beatings, but that could only happen after his friend's escape. If discovered too soon it could result in the brunet's death. He'd been in life or death situations before, but that was his life on the line. Someone else dying by your error is far more intimidating.
Finally, it was time to go to the river. He trudged along, hoping Hashirama wouldn't show up. Escaping Tajima Uchiha wouldn't be an easy feat and he was worried about how he could help. When he arrived at the river he was so focused on his task that he didn't even notice Hashirama was acting just as strange as he was.
Usually his behavior would have sent alarm bells ringing but every bit of his attention was devoted to getting this stone to his friend. What he hadn't expected after the exchange was for the new rock to also have letters carved into it. Everything seemed too slide into place and he realized that the Senju must have had the same idea as the Uchiha.
They said their goodbyes, then turned their backs on one another and rushed away. Neither got far, their families jumped out and clashed weapons. Just as suddenly as the assault, the two older boys realized what their fathers were planning.
Butsuma's weapon shot out towards Izuna and Tajima's did the same to Tobirama. Madara didn't even really have a chance to be horrified, he reacted instinctively. Without any thought, he'd thrown his stone to knock the weapon off course. He noticed Hashirama had done the same when they faced off in front of their brothers.
"I don't care who you are, I won't forgive anyone who tries to hurt my brother!"
"And the same goes for me."
The little brothers looked on in shock while their elder brothers stared each other down. It was Madara who looked away first, too overcome by everything to even look Hashirama in the eye.
"What is it?"
"Maybe all those plans we made together…are just a pipedream of ours." It hurt to even say it, but it was the truth after all.
Hashirama's face tightened at his words. "Madara, what are you…"
With no other way to convey his sincerity and also to give his friend the respect he deserved as a fellow shinobi, Madara looked into brown eyes. "It might have been brief, but it was fun…Hashirama."
Tajima, who had been letting his son speak until now, spoke up. "Three against three. Madara, think we can take them?"
The one thing good about his father was that he thought about his odds before entering a fight. Not one to do anything when it would end badly. He didn't let his rage control him. It was always calculated decisions. "No, Hashirama is stronger than me. If we fight then we'll lose."
Izuna actually came out of his defensive position from the shock. "There's a kid stronger than you, Brother?"
Madara didn't answer, still keeping his eyes on the Senju in front of him. Tajima didn't acknowledge his younger boy either. "I see. Quite impressive. Let's retreat."
Finally able to break eye contact, Madara gave his last friendly farewell before turning away. "Later." He felt his resolve and despair for their parting come into being in an unintended way. His sharingan had activated. He wondered, if this was the way it happened, if he even wanted it at all. He needed to protect his brother though, and he'd fight the other boy to do it.
Hashirama couldn't believe what was happening. "Madara but you…haven't really given up on it, have you?" There was no way he could just let him leave like this! They were friends. "You have just gotten to the same point I-"
Madara never gave him the chance to finish. "You are Senju." Hashirama gasped behind him, surprised that he would be using his clan against him. He'd thought none of that would matter between them. "I truly wish it wasn't so. The Senju killed my brothers. And the Uchiha your brothers. That's why there is no need to show each other what's inside of us." He couldn't hide his horror at what was being said, couldn't stop it from progressing. "Our next meeting will likely be on the battlefield, Hashirama Senju. For I am Madara Uchiha."
When the other boy turned his head around, Hashirama jerked back in surprised. He'd never seen the sharingan in his friend's eyes before. It felt like a threat.
Madara was surprised not to have gotten a beating for warning Hashirama when they got back home. His father was too engrossed in the fact that he'd finally activated his sharingan. He chose to ignore how it happened. Izuna was just as excited, bouncing around him once their father had left them alone. He asked questions at lightning speed, desperate to know what having the doujutsu felt like.
His little brother was quite upset when he couldn't really explain it well. He wasn't good with words and Izuna was too impatient to give him time to come up with an accurate response. After a while his sibling finally gave up questioning him, realizing that he was not going to get any useful information from him. He walked off in a huff, reminding him of Sakura.
Thinking of the imp, he'd have to check on her. If by chance she had heard the commotion by the river she might be scared, or worse, try to go check on it. She was too curious and stupid for her own good.
His father seemed not to care about his sneaking off anymore, since he hadn't sent anyone after him when he left. He used his new sharingan to make sure of that, hypervigilant the whole way to their little hideout. Once he was sliding through the opening, he deactivated it so that Sakura wouldn't see.
That was unnecessary though. The girl wasn't there, but every time he came she was always here. Worry shot through him that she had gone to investigate and gotten kidnapped by the Senju. Or killed. No, it was best not to think like that. Hashirama wouldn't let that happen.
A stray thought wandered into his mind that Hashirama wasn't the one in control. At the moment his friend's father was and he seemed just as bad as his own. Killing a small pink haired child would mean nothing at all to him. Sakura was no one important in the grand scheme of things, her death wouldn't even faze that bastard.
There was no reason for it to faze him either though, was there? She was as good as a pet to him, not even as good as a ninneko the Uchiha were known for using. Except they were also known for avenging even their ninneko. If anyone thought they were going to get away with killing the little peasant girl they were dead wrong. No one touched what was an Uchiha's.
Before Madara knew it, he was rushing to the exit, ready to take on the whole fucking Senju clan if need be. Hashirama wouldn't get a free pass either if he had stood by and watched without doing anything to help the defenseless kid.
As he leaned down to push away the vines, they moved and there was Sakura. He was forced to move backwards, falling on his back as she crawled forward, pulling on the vines. She ended up seated between his legs, looking up at him in surprise.
"Madara? What wrong?"
He didn't know what to say, there was so much wrong. His brow crunched up as he thought about it all. Hashirama was a Senju, his father was a bully, and Izuna was sure to be poisoned by it all. So many things had gone wrong along the way. His brothers' deaths for one, which should have never happened. Not being able to mourn anyone because they had all died honorably, like shinobi are supposed to.
Even his mother, who wasn't a shinobi. His father didn't let him mourn her either. Everything in this world was messed up and wrong. There was so many ways he could answer that, yet all he found in the end was one cold hard truth.
"I lost a friend today."