Uchiha Kanna’s face gets fuzzier and harder to remember with each passing day.
Madara would much rather remember his mother's smile than the mangled corpse they brought back to camp. The mass of flesh that had once been Shou was found not too far from her. They never found Takuto. Then again, he had only been three years old. There wouldn’t have been much to find.
Tajima has their remains buried. Numb, Madara watches as they throw dirt on top of the caskets.
It can’t be real. His mother would never speak to him in her soft voice ever again. Shou would never perfect his taijutsu. Takuto would never crawl into Madara’s futon again. It was only supposed to be a regular supply run, but their family has been halved in one fell swoop.
He knows that people die in war, but he never thought that anyone in his family would die. The main family is the best the Uchiha clan has to offer—an example to be followed. What hubris. They amount to little more than a cautionary tale.
Just the day before, their dinner table had been lively. Mother fussing over Takuto as he tried his best to use chopsticks on his own. Izuna gloating to Homura about how he had shown up a few elder clansmen with his fire jutsu. Father sipping his sake as Shou wheedled Madara for help with his training.
An unremarkable meal that they took for granted.
Dinner with the surviving family members is a sullen affair. The once blissfully content atmosphere has died down into quiet melancholia. Conversations are limited to brief exchanges of information. Jovial laughter becomes a rarity. For months, they sit in the same spots as when the table was full. No one wants to sit on the empty side of the table.
"Izuna, sit on my left," Tajima snaps one day. Izuna is clearly reluctant to sit in his mother's involuntarily vacated seat, but he knows better than to defy an order. He sits across from Madara and Homura moves to Izuna’s old spot beside Madara without needing to be told. Shou and Takuto’s spots are still empty, but the table is as balanced as it will get with Tajima seated at the head.
It is his way of telling his sons not to mind the ghosts at the table.
The war with the Senju starts to get particularly gruesome after Madara's eleventh birthday. The scouts don’t have any concrete answers for why the rival clan is suddenly more efficient and brutal, which is even more frightening. No matter how many times they change supply routes or how much they train, the Uchiha population steadily shrinks.
Madara and his brothers stick close together. Eating, sleeping, training—everything is a group activity. They understand that wandering off means death.
However, they are still individuals that require some level of privacy. The constant presence of others, even brothers, grates on them. They grow complacent. Before long, Madara spends time with Izuna or Homura, never both.
Homura excels in his studies, but Izuna is nearly as talented a warrior as Madara. While Izuna studies, Madara tries to help Homura catch up to their level. It takes some fine-tuning, but Homura’s taijutsu steadily improves. Unfortunately, they get into an argument when Homura’s ninjutsu hits a plateau. Madara doesn’t think much of it when they storm off in different directions.
They’re still well within Uchiha territory. The Senju have been rather quiet lately.
A few hours go by. Madara’s anger cools and he starts to feel guilty about what he said in the heat of the moment. Homura is doing his best. It’s unfair to ask him to improve on Madara’s schedule. He begins the search for Homura.
Strangely, Madara can’t find his brother anywhere. He checks the training grounds, their house, and the library. No one has seen him. It turns out that Homura is not the only Uchiha missing. Finished with his lessons for the day, Izuna comes upon Madara as panic begins to set in.
They notify Tajima and his council. Within minutes, the settlement is locked down and small search parties fan out. Madara and Izuna desperately search for Homura but find nothing. Several agonizing hours later, a search party finds the missing clansmen.
All the victims’ eye sockets are empty. Some have been beaten, but most have gashes or stab wounds. Homura is found in a pool of his own blood with a stab to the stomach. There aren’t any signs of a struggle. He must have been too exhausted from training to put up a decent fight.
The attackers were clearly after the Sharingan, but they only grabbed children and noncombatants—people that had yet to or might never have awakened their Sharingan. Due to cruelty or more misinformation, the perpetrators took the victims’ eyes before killing them.
"What fools. They should have done proper research," Tajima mocks the attackers, but says nothing else. His eyes are dead. The dinner table is balanced and Madara can’t keep food down for days.
Madara would like to keep constant watch over his last remaining brother, but Izuna has responsibilities that don’t include him. During Izuna’s lessons, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
In the beginning, he just uses it to train more. Complete exhaustion is the only way he gets a full night’s sleep anyway.
His father claims that Madara will work himself into an early grave if he doesn’t calm down, but he needs to keep moving. When he stops, he has time to think. If he thinks too much, he drowns in an abyss of guilt.
A frightening amount of time has been lost to the void already. A terrified Izuna usually shakes him out of his stupor, but Madara hates burdening him with this. He wishes it would just stop.
This mental fragility humiliates him. Plenty of other soldiers silently stare off into the distance for days on end, but he’s the heir to the clan. The main family is a shadow of what it once was, but their well-being and health are still a source of morale for the clan. They have a responsibility to withstand and emerge stronger from hardship. Crumpling under pressure is not an option.
One day, the memory of Homura’s lifeless face refuses to leave him be. Madara tries to outrun it. He keeps going until his leg muscles burn. It’s dangerous to be this far from camp, but he honestly doesn’t care. If he dies, he can finally apologize.
Finally, the darkness retreats and the sound of rushing water reminds him of his thirst. Far past caring about proper etiquette, he sticks his entire head in the river. It thankfully washes away the horrible visions and he emerges refreshed. Wet hair plastered to his face and his neck, his reflection reminds him of Homura.
Incensed by the betrayal, Madara grabs a rock and throws it at the river. It’s oddly satisfying. He throws another. This time, he puts some spin on it like he would a shuriken. The stone skips twice before sinking below the surface. He keeps it up until the sun sets. None of the rocks reach the shore on the other side.
Madara frequents the river whenever he has time. Skipping stones is a waste of time, but it’s soothing. It’s something monotonous to focus on and direct energy at. Something completely unrelated to shinobi lifestyle.
Another boy appears on Madara’s seventh trip to the river. He says his name is Hashirama and seems to think he can offer unsolicited advice, so Madara puts him in his place. Criticizing him with that wardrobe choice and cringe-worthy hairstyle? Madara thinks not.
He’s never seen someone with such profound mood swings, but Hashirama seems familiar somehow. A particularly warm smile strikes a chord inside Madara. For a moment, gold hair comes to mind, but it’s gone in an instant. Shrugging it off, he hears Hashirama spout some nonsense about being the superior stone skipper. Madara cannot abide such slander.
Coming to the river to skip stones seamlessly transitions to meeting up with Hashirama. He’s amusing in a goofy way and his taijutsu isn’t half bad. Furthermore, when they’re together, he’s just “Madara.” Not "Madara-sama," the disappointing heir to the clan that can’t seem to get it together after getting his brother killed. Not "Nii-san," the worrisome older brother on the cusp of succumbing to guilt. For the first time, Madara is an equal and a friend.
Madara enjoys the peaceful atmosphere and wonders if this is what it’s like to not be a soldier; to live without death looming behind every corner. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was how it always was, instead of a short getaway? He voices these taboo thoughts and Hashirama wholeheartedly agrees with him.
They make plans. They say they’ll end the fighting and build a village, so children won’t be sent to their deaths on the battlefield anymore.
It sounds too good to be true.
All too soon, reality comes crashing down upon them. Madara had a feeling that Hashirama was a Senju, but he chose to ignore the signs. The truth is harder to ignore when his father and Izuna cross swords with Senju Butsuma and Tobirama on top of the river he and Hashirama once found solace in.
It felt like a betrayal to his family’s memory when Madara carved a warning into a stone for Hashirama, but there is a slight feeling of vindication at the sight of the stone Hashirama carved for him. Still, Madara uses it to protect Izuna. If he had to choose between Izuna and Hashirama, Izuna would always win.
His vision blurs and everything bleeds red. Izuna excitedly announces the awakening of Madara’s Sharingan. Relieved that he awakened it without anything happening to Izuna, he bids Hashirama farewell.
It was nice to have a friend, but pointless fantasies are a distraction. War is real. Getting stronger is his first priority. Specifically, he needs to be stronger than Hashirama.
Madara silently thanks his former friend for the two parting gifts: a Sharingan and a goal to strive for.
When Tajima says that they’re going to the Hyūga settlement, Madara is suspicious. There’s no need for them to make the trip when the carrier falcons are completely fine. Unless...something is wrong with the treaty. Tajima chuckles when his sons begin strapping on their gear. “No, no. Go change into your best clothes. Both of you.”
Madara realizes what’s happening when he and Izuna are introduced to a girl. The head of the Hyūga clan sharply admonishes his daughter, “Kanai, greet our guests properly!”
Kanai quickly bows before retreating behind her caretaker. The dark shade of her kimono highlights her pale skin. Unblemished, tiny hands grip the caretaker’s kimono. Dark hair is pinned out of a round face. Lavender eyes sneak glances at Madara and Izuna from behind her human shield. Even without the knowledge that the branch families do most of the fighting for the Hyūga clan, it’s clear that she has never stepped foot outside the main family’s estate, let alone a battlefield.
She is utterly unremarkable.
Since Madara is unimpressed with her, Izuna is, as well. They quickly smooth the dissatisfaction out of their faces when Father sends a sharp glance in their direction, though.
After some stilted greetings, the three children are sent off to “play.” The silence is uncomfortable as they walk through the immaculate garden. It’s her family’s garden, but Kanai follows behind the two brothers as they wander aimlessly. Her caretaker follows at a safe distance to give the illusion that they’re alone, ostensibly so they can get to know each other.
It’s a waste of time. They don’t have anything in common. Kanai lives in the lap of luxury and has never had to kill someone, so the age gap between her and Uchiha warriors that learned to fight before they finished learning to read may as well be centuries instead of two or three years.
After about an hour of this nonsense, they’re called in for a meal. The Hyūga flaunt their wealth with numerous dishes and courses, but Madara couldn’t care less. The Uchiha are just as wealthy—they just don’t waste time on extravagance. However, he is willing to admit that the food is passable.
Kanai seems particularly fond of sweets. Only a sharp look from her father stops her from taking seconds of dessert. Cowed, she retreats into herself. A mild pout illustrates her immaturity.
If she’s going to become a bride of the Uchiha, she had better get used to going without. The war with the Senju has been picking up lately, so everyone has had to make sacrifices. One less daifuku will be the least of her worries soon enough.
Seated across from him, Kanai refuses to meet his eyes. In fact, she hasn’t made eye-contact with any Uchiha since they arrived. Smart.
Satisfaction that their reputation precedes them only amuses Madara for so long. He resists the urge to settle into a bored slouch, but Izuna gives in. Tajima notices Madara’s hasty nudge and the brothers blanch. Luckily, their father decides that he has tortured them enough and announces their departure.
Eager to escape Tajima’s silent censure, the boys attempt to turn towards the training grounds once they enter Uchiha territory. Unfortunately, a distinctly purposeful cough halts them in their tracks. Madara and Izuna reluctantly turn to face him. He says, “I know that marriage is the last thing on either of your minds, but remember that you have a responsibility to produce the next generation. If one of you were to have a son with Kanai, he would be a warrior unlike any other. Imagine it—a shinobi with both the Sharingan and the Byakugan.”
They understand how important carrying on the clan legacy is, but they would rather focus on more immediately pertinent matters, like training. In addition, Madara has a feeling that Kanai isn’t right for either him or Izuna. His mind frustratingly refuses to supply a concrete reason, but Madara stands by the feeling. Obediently, he and Izuna chorus, “Yes, Father.”
Seeing their indifferent compliance for what it is, Tajima sighs before dismissing them with a wave. “Go on, then.”
Ties with the Hyūga strain and break not too long after that initial Omiai. Something about supplying the Senju with aid of some kind. It doesn’t matter. Outsiders can’t ever be trusted.
The Uchiha don’t declare outright war on them (they don’t have the manpower or supplies to devote to a petty squabble), but Tajima never brings up the nearly completed marriage contract again. Luckily, he seems to shift all of his attention to the war with the Senju.
Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to save him.
Like a true warrior, he falls in battle. He takes Senju Butsuma with him in a literal blaze of glory. The fire ninjutsu torches most of the forest and quite a few enemy soldiers. Tobirama manages to put it out, but the water ninjutsu fails to drown out the wails of the dying. Any surviving Uchiha that were caught up in the blast are hastily escorted off the battlefield. Once the dust settles, Madara collects his father’s remains and calls for the stragglers to retreat.
Just as Madara is about to follow, he feels eyes on him. He’s nearly blind, but there’s only one person who would seek him out from the other side of the scorched forest clearing. Hashirama is mostly a blur, but he sounds as shell-shocked as Madara feels. “Madara! We can stop this now! No one else has to die!”
Tajima’s remaining skin is dry, crackly, and far too warm. The dead weight in Madara’s arms reminds him that time is of the essence. Once again, he turns his back on Hashirama and carries the former head of the Uchiha clan to his final resting place.
The clan elders summon him to their chambers before Tajima is even in the ground. They offer brief condolences, “We are terribly sorry for your loss, Madara-sama.”
Grief feels like a state of being by now. Tone placid, Madara replies, “Thank you.”
Madara tunes them out as they list his responsibilities as the new clan head. None of the information is new, so he takes the time to readjust to being able to see clearly again. He makes a note to ask Izuna how he’s faring.
One of the elders catches Madara’s attention, “In light of recent events, we’d like you to take a bride as soon as possible.”
Madara frowns. That’s not a part of the usual speech. “Aren’t there more pressing matters?”
A different elder answers him, “At present, you and Izuna-sama are the only remaining members of the main family. If something were to happen—”
“Nothing will happen.” He won’t let anything happen to Izuna.
“What makes you so sure?”
“Father was blind when he died. I am not.”
There’s an uncomfortable silence as the elders digest that information. It was an open-secret that Madara’s vision had been going, but they can’t deny that Madara’s eyes are much clearer than they have been in a long time. The truth of what transpired just before this meeting glares at them and they don’t have the courage to face it.
Madara refuses to feel guilty. Tajima wouldn’t have wanted his eyes to go to waste if his son could use them. Thanks to his sacrifice, neither Madara nor Izuna have to fear going blind ever again.
Everyone else will see that Madara made the right choice when he finally overpowers Hashirama.
A particularly stubborn elder ignores the elephant in the room and argues, “Uchiha without vision problems are killed everyday. Your word is insufficient.”
Madara is loathed to admit it, but the elder has a point. However, he just...doesn’t want to look for a bride. There’s a niggling feeling in the back of his mind telling him not to give in to the council’s demands. Besides, Uchiha Madara is no push-over. He curtly reasons, “The energy spent searching for a wife could be better spent on the battlefield subjugating the Senju. My heirs will survive longer if the war is over.”
“And if it doesn’t end in your lifetime? If time management is such a concern, then simply leave the search to us. We’ll find a suitable woman to carry on your line.”
They could argue about this all day. Tajima must be starting to rot by now. Madara can’t explain why the thought of the elders taking over the search doesn’t appeal to him, but he also has no desire to do it himself. He acquiesces to end the conversation. “Very well.”
Izuna disappears in a cloud of smoke with Tobirama, but Madara isn’t worried. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. Besides, he has his hands full with Hashirama.
“Madara, we don’t have to keep fighting! Just agree to a treaty—”
He swipes at Hashirama’s eyes with a kunai in reply. It doesn’t connect (it never does), but Hashirama backs off from the spot where Madara is literally rooted to the ground. The flesh of his legs cooks a bit when he torches the roots as Hashirama pleads, “Please, just listen!”
Madara listens, but not to Hashirama. A cry of pain from the smoke cloud alerts him that something is very wrong.
Leaving Hashirama behind, Madara makes a beeline for Izuna’s last known location. The smoke clears as he makes his way to the other side of the battlefield and Izuna stands eerily still with his back to Tobirama. Blood drips from the blade in Tobirama’s grip and Madara runs faster than he ever has.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
Izuna struggles to remain upright as Tobirama turns to finish him off. Madara pushes his legs as fast as he can, but he knows he’s not going to make it in time. “IZUNA!”
His breath catches in his throat as Tobirama’s blade arcs toward Izuna’s neck.
Some deity must hear his anguish and answer his plea because only divine providence could possibly stop Tobirama’s blade mid-slash. A flash of gold materializes just in time to protect Izuna and kicks Tobirama out of sight. Madara is so relieved that he can’t even be bothered to check where Tobirama lands.
His relief is short-lived because the being of light gathers Izuna into their arms and disappears. Keeping half of his attention on Izuna’s rapidly retreating chakra signature, Madara yells to the shocked Uchiha, “Everyone, fall back!”
Madara frantically runs through the forest after the last remaining member of his family. He tracks Izuna’s chakra signature to a cave in a mountainside. Izuna’s kidnapper isn’t even trying to keep their voice down as swears echo out the mouth of the cave. Cautiously, Madara enters the cave and approaches the voice.
The rapid flow of words becomes clearer the deeper he ventures. A feminine voice shouts, “Don’t you die on me! A lot of people are countin' on you, ya know!”
What could that possibly mean? Did she have some plans for Izuna? Madara grits his teeth, but continues his silent approach toward the faint glow around a corner.
Once she comes into view, he takes stock of the situation. Her back is to him. Izuna lay on the ground in front of her, groaning in pain. The cave is too narrow to use his gunbai or kama. If he throws a kunai, she might deflect it at Izuna. Approaching her from behind and slitting her throat is the only option.
“Come on, come on, come on! I don’t think you’re supposed to lose this much blood!” While her panicking distracts her, Madara sidles up behind her, kunai in hand. Before he is even an arm’s length away, something suddenly shoots out of her back. Caught by surprise, Madara is unable to dodge in time and the glowing mass pins him to the wall of the cave. It’s...an arm?
He tries to sever it with his kunai, but the weapon passes through it with little resistance. The solid grip holding him to the wall doesn’t even falter. Jagged edges grate against his back as he tries to dislodge the pulsing giant hand, but claws as sharp and long as kunai dig deep into the wall above his shoulders and under his armpits. Two more arms appear and plaster his to the wall, as well.
Not that it matters. He wouldn’t risk using ninjutsu in a cramped cave with a wounded Izuna. Before Madara can fully explore why this situation seems eerily familiar, his captor says, “Just sit tight ’til I’m done.”
Madara snarls, “What are you doing to Izuna?”
Without turning to look at him, she replies, “I’m tryin' to help him. So, just shut up for a bit.”
The gall of this woman is unacceptable. He asserts, “We don’t need your help—”
“The medics in your camp won’t be able to save him,” she states.
He doesn’t care for that all-knowing tone. “How would you know?”
“I just do.”
The answer is suspicious, to say the least. However, Madara is unable to get a second opinion on Izuna’s condition with them both being held captive. He curses under his breath.
Forced to stay still, Madara re-assesses the situation. A frighteningly large pool of blood coats the floor of the cave, but Izuna seems much better off than he did before. He has long since stopped groaning. A quick glance reveals that his face has gone slack and his skin isn’t as pallid. His breaths are still shallow, but he appears to have fallen asleep. Madara can’t see what the woman is doing, but she might actually be healing him.
The question is why.
They aren’t allies—quite the opposite if the tense atmosphere is anything to go by. However, he has carefully studied all of the other clans in the Land of Fire and none have abilities quite like hers. If anything, her chakra arms remind him of his Susanoo. “Who are you?”
Used to immediate responses, Madara grows more impatient with every second that passes in silence. Finally, she answers, “The name’s Uzumaki Naruto, ya know.”
Suddenly, that fateful day on patrol comes rushing back to him. A woman suddenly appearing before him in a flash of light. Identical chakra arms restraining him just as they are now. Blue eyes alight with mischief as she teased and treated him like a child. Talk of time-travel and golden hair swept aside to reveal the Uchiha symbol. A promise to meet again.
Initially, Madara waited. However, as years passed and tragedies mounted, he wrote the experience off as a strange dream or hallucination. Fantasies were a waste of time, but war was real. Eventually, he forgot it entirely.
But, Naruto really did come back for him.
Madara doesn’t remember her glowing this much, but he assumes that it must be a part of her power. Even tied back, her hair tumbles to the floor of the cave. Izuna’s blood coats some strands and sticks them together. Naruto is much smaller than he remembers, but his perspective has certainly changed in the nine years since he last saw her. After his height didn't pan out the way he had hoped, it's a relief that he is definitely taller.
He wants to see her face. To get her to look at him, he introduces himself, “Uchiha Madara.”
“I know,” she says without turning around. Her flat tone is quite a departure from the upbeat sing-song he remembers. Current circumstances aside, Naruto doesn’t seem to be enjoying their reunion at all. The stiff set of her back belies her anxiety.
A quick scan of the surrounding area reveals no enemy chakra signatures and the two of them are more than enough to protect Izuna if one were to approach, so what could possibly make her nervous? He gets his answer when she finishes healing Izuna.
Finally, Naruto turns to face him. Instead of the bright blue eyes he expected, stormy golden eyes meet his gaze. Madara doesn’t recall the Uzumaki having a dōjutsu, but her pupils are a peculiar cross shape. Nevertheless, the fear in her eyes is plain as day.
Normally, it pleases him when others are afraid of him. The strong naturally cow the weak. However, Naruto isn’t a weakling that had the misfortune to cross his path on a battlefield. Loathed as Madara is to admit it, she easily subdued him. She would have a much harder time of it in ideal combat conditions instead of a cramped cave, but the fact remains that she isn’t to be taken lightly either. Moreover, he doesn’t want her to be afraid of him.
“I’m gonna let you go now...but don’t attack me, ok?” The reluctance in her voice tells him how little she trusts that he won’t.
Madara attempts to reassure her, “I won’t.”
Naruto’s brow knits in confusion. Clearly, she hadn’t expected him to agree so easily. She cautiously stands and backs away from Izuna. The chakra hands holding Madara to the wall disappear and he immediately rushes to Izuna’s side. A quick inspection reveals that Naruto completely healed what should have been a mortal wound. There isn’t even a scar.
Utterly relieved, Madara carefully lifts Izuna off the ground and supports his weight. Izuna’s head rolls onto Madara’s shoulder, but he doesn’t wake up. Madara turns to thank Naruto, but she apparently used his inattention to escape.
No matter. They’ll be meeting again soon. Madara will make sure of it.