Dying was nothing new to Uchiha Madara. He had done it before, and though the feeling of life slipping away from him was never pleasant (in fact it was rather horrifying), he at least knew what to expect. He wasn't filled with the customary uncertainty of the unknown that often comes with death, rather, he only wished that he didn't have to do it alone this time.
As if hearing his thoughts, the face of Senju Hashirama, his longtime rival and friend, appeared in his field of vision.
"Hashirama…?" Madara croaked.
The Senju kneeled to get a closer look at Madara, and the Uchiha was strangely reminded of the young boy with the stupid bowl cut from that first meeting, skipping stones on the riverside, so very long ago.
"Yeah," Hashirama said softly.
Madara gazed at him for a moment, content with looking at the kind features of his best friend. Despite his prowess in battle and the blood he had shed, Hashirama had always managed to retain an air of gentleness about him. The Uchiha envied it and admired it in turns.
Madara sighed, a great gust of air escaping his lungs in a whoosh. "We both have things we want so badly—dreams, aspirations—but never seem to get."
Hashirama straightened, a fierce look in his eyes. "No one ever said it would be an easy path! Besides, there's a limit to how much we can do while we're alive." He looked off into the distance, contemplating. "That's why we leave our hopes to the next generation… they'll carry out our dreams, even if we're not there to see it."
He had the sudden urge to laugh bitterly, but only a few weak chuckles were able to wheeze out through his dry and cracked lips. "As soft as ever… You always were the optimistic one."
The Uchiha sighed, suddenly feeling so, so tired. For perhaps the first time in his life, the fight had truly gone out of him.
"Maybe…" he started, then stopped for a moment, hating himself for what he was about to say, but knowing it needed to be said nonetheless.
"Maybe I should've gone that way too…" Madara finally admitted. "For my dream… is coming to an end. But yours… yours hasn't yet," he continued.
"…You were always rushing things," said Hashirama, a distant look in his eyes. He locked gazes with Madara, whose eyes were black as pitch. No sign of the Sharingan—he didn't have any chakra left.
"It was fine even if our dreams didn't come true right away," Hashirama said firmly. "The most important thing was to make sure we brought up a generation that would help us fulfill it."
"Then it might have been impossible for me from the start," he whispered hoarsely. "I always hated having people follow behind me," he finished with a wry smile.
Hashirama gave him a small, sad smile that Madara automatically hated. But Madara was old, Madara was tired, and he could only manage a small twitch of the fingers.
"Remember when we were children?" Hashirama reminisced. "You always said that as ninja, there's no telling when we die," he continued. "And if we ever found a way to stay that inevitability, we'd share it no matter what. We'd drink together over it, as brothers."
"But we're both dying now," Hashirama said ruefully, almost sheepishly. "So… all we can do is share a drink as comrades."
Madara felt his strength leaving him, but knew he had to get in the last word. "As comrades, huh? Well, if that's how it is, we will—"
But he could not finish, for the world had gone dark.
And so Madara surrendered to the embrace of sweet oblivion.
Madara opened his eyes.
"…The hell?" he muttered, sitting up and looking around before freezing.
The Rikudou Sennin sat in front of him on a throne in the sky, with a thunderous expression on his face. Coupled with the horns on his head and the cruel set of his mouth, he looked the very image of a vengeful god.
"Uchiha Madara," he boomed.
He didn't look happy, to say the least.
"I suppose you're going to feed my soul to the Shinigami, or something similarly unpleasant?" Madara hazarded.
"I should, you insolent child," he rumbled. The air around him began to take on a heavy, oppressing feeling.
Madara closed his eyes and nodded, awaiting his punishment. He had no plans left, no contingencies at this point. This was it for him.
"But," the sage said,"that is not what I will do."
The Uchiha appeared visibly startled. "Why?" he asked.
The sage considered the man in front of him for a moment. "They called you the Savior of this World,"he finally said. "They said you were the second coming of me. The Second Rikudou Sennin."
Madara let out a bitter laugh. "They did. I never lived up to the name, though. I was wrong in the end."
The sage looked interested. "Oh?"
He sighed at the sage's implied question, but decided to answer. It wasn't as if he had anything left to lose. "As skeptical as I am about the 'peace through love and shared bonds' thing, it seems to work, as Hashirama's ideals won, in the end."
"You seem unsure," the sage said.
"Of course I'm unsure!" Madara exclaimed, losing the tight control he normally had over his emotions in that moment. For his dream, his life's work, his ideals, they were all at stake, and he had no way to know the outcome, to know whether or not it was possible for true peace to happen.
The sage smiled grimly. "It seems you haven't learned much," he said.
"If only I had more time," Madara muttered. "I could do so much more for the world, for I have so much to offer—if only I had more time."
The Rikudou Sennin sat up from where he was previously languishing on his throne, a gleam of interest entering his cold, lavender-grey eyes. "More time, you say?"
The sage smiled. It was not a nice smile.
"I could grant you such a thing… for a price," said the sage.
"Anything," Madara said fervently. It wasn't as if he had anything left to give, at this point.
The sage looked surprised. "Are you sure?" he asked. "You haven't even heard the catch."
"Whatever the price is, it will not compare to the reward you are granting me, Sennin-sama," Madara intoned reverently, something like hope filling his heart.
The Rikudou Sennin's laughed, and the sound of his laughter shook the universe until at once everything and nothing became undone...
Uchiha Tajima paced in the hallway outside of the birthing room. To anyone but an Uchiha, he would have looked impassive, but any Uchiha worth their Sharingan saw the agitation in his movements, the slight shaking of his hands, and his imperceptible winces as another scream rang out from within the birthing room.
It was a long birth. Nozomi had been in there for the better part of eighteen hours, and if her pained wails were any indication, Madara was going to be as difficult in birth as he was in pregnancy.
The pregnancy itself was hard on Nozomi, the esteemed Lady of the Uchiha Clan. Their sensors said that little Madara had an unprecedented amount of chakra, which was also extremely potent in quality, and the strain of supporting the baby's developing system took its toll on Nozomi's body. Madara would be a strong boy—obviously he was a boy, with such promise even before he was born, he would make a strong and worthy heir for the Uchiha Clan. It was the boon that Tajima and Nozomi had been waiting for, as their three other sons had died in childhood.
Madara… Madara would survive. No, he would thrive. Tajima was sure of it.
But Nozomi's chances were uncertain at best.
His thoughts were interrupted when, along with a final, resounding shriek from Nozomi, the shrill cry of a baby rang throughout the birthing room. He burst into action, practically ripping the door from its hinges.
"Nozomi," he said fervently, desperately, taking in his beloved wife's deathly pale features.
She looked at him from where she was cradling the baby in her arms, and she said, "Tajima. It looks like our new daughter Madara is already full of surprises."
Tajima blanched in shock. "Daughter?" he asked with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
She hummed. "Yes. And look," she said as she waved him over. He walked over to his wife and gazed upon the features of his new daughter.
There, looking out at him from the face of a babe, was the red glow of the Sharingan.
She got Tajima's attention by gripping his sleeve with the hand that wasn't cradling the baby. "Take care of her, my love," she said.
And Uchiha Nozomi breathed her last, and Tajima felt an agonizing burning in his eyes, and he wept tears of blood.