An unimpressed Sharingan glares at the uninvited guest in Madara’s lair. “Boy, why have you brought this brat here?”
Obito impudently ignores him and rifles through his belongings. Not intimidated in the slightest, the ankle-biter scales Madara’s throne and reaches for his hair. He swats the grubby hands away and tries again, “Boy, you’d best answer me…”
Unfortunately, only the obnoxious child is interested in talking. Worse yet, Madara seems to have inadvertently opened the floodgates. She barely pauses to breathe in between inane questions. “You’re the oldest person I’ve ever seen! How old are you? ‘Cuz you look ancient, ya know. How do you still have this much hair when you’re so old? You’re really pale, too. How long have you been down here? Will I be staying down here, too? Do you like ramen? What’s your favorite flavor?”
Madara’s patience thins with each passing second. Luckily for her, Obito decides to intervene before Madara makes her regret attempting to brush aside the hair obscuring the right side of his face. Again.
Radiating amusement through that ridiculous mask of his, Obito hauls the child off of his chair. He maneuvers her to stand in front of Madara and shares the worst news in a long time, “Gramps, meet your new roommate, Uzumaki Naruto.”
Naruto waves and chirps, “Hi, gramps!”
Last he knew, the Uzumaki were known for their red hair, not blonde. Then again, that was before the destruction of Uzushiogakure. The remaining stragglers probably had to make do with whoever would have them to avoid extinction. All the same, Madara already transplanted his Rinnegan into another, so he has no use for her. He hisses, “I refuse.”
Obito has the gall to scoff as he gently nudges Naruto away from them. She scurries out of sight. Madara listens for the sound of something valuable breaking, but Obito draws his attention back.“You’ll get lonely without someone to keep you company.”
It’s Madara’s turn to scoff. “Just who do you think you’re talking to?”
“A stubborn, old man,” he retorts. Madara’s eye narrows but Obito continues unbothered, “She needs someone to look after her while I infiltrate that group in Amegakure. I’ll come back for her once I have a good foothold.”
“Take care of your stray yourself. I have no patience for children,” Madara argues.
“Trust me, I’m aware of that. However, you might change your mind since she’s the jinchūriki for the Kyūbi,” Obito trails off as Madara senses a presence alarmingly close behind him. He must be losing his touch if Naruto managed to climb the back of the stone chair and get close enough to grab a handful of spiky white hair without him noticing. Madara leans just out of her reach and she doggedly follows him. When she inevitably falls from her perch and over the top of the chair, Obito catches her.
He adjusts his hold and balances her on a hip. Naruto freezes as if stunned before throwing her arms around Obito’s neck. The desperate way she latches onto him disgusts Madara. Obito pats her back and insists, "We need her for the plan, don’t we? Think of how much trouble this saves us down the road!”
It’s tough to argue that point, but Madara brings up a different concern, “And what of Konoha? Surely, they didn’t let you just walk away with her.”
Through the eye hole in the mask, Obito’s Mangekyo swirls. He preens, “No worries on that front since I’ve been getting better with Kamui. No one will come looking for her here, and I doubt she wants to go back after how they treated her. Look on the bright side: you’ve got a new audience for those stories you like to tell over and over again. When you get tired of that, well, you’re almost ready to kick the bucket anyway, right?”
If Madara was physically capable of putting the insolent boy in his place, he would. Unfortunately, he must settle for a threat, “I’ll remember that tone once you’ve revived me, child.”
Unconcerned, Obito shrugs a shoulder and walks back to his disrupted belongings. He gently lowers Naruto to the ground and holds an oversized shirt up to her chest. Obito mumbles something before calling out, “I have to go and get her some clothes. Could you entertain Naruto for a bit?”
Madara will do no such thing, but Obito activates Kamui and teleports elsewhere before he can say as much. The next thing he knows, Naruto is climbing into his lap and looking at him expectantly. She grins. “I like stories.”
Madara sighs like he never has before.
Surprisingly, Naruto doesn’t make a break for it as soon as Obito leaves for Amegakure. Not that Madara would have tried all that hard to stop her.
Once the stream of questions runs dry, Naruto is quite content to make herself at home. Redecorating seems to be her primary objective. There isn’t much furniture and even less that can be moved, but Naruto insists that the bed is in the wrong location. “Here is no good, ya know.”
Ignoring her only makes her more insistent, so he asks, “And why is that?”
“It’s not close enough to your chair.”
Naruto is obnoxious enough during her waking hours, he doesn’t need her snoring in his ear, too. “It doesn’t need to be.”
“You sleep there, dontcha? Don’t families sleep close together?”
The question dumbfounds Madara. She’s only been here a few days and she already considers them family? How desperate. To discourage the thought, he decrees, “The bed stays where it is.”
Naruto harrumphs and flops back onto the bed. However, that isn’t the end of it. After the sixth time they have the same argument in two days, Madara relents.
He glares as Naruto recruits Tobi to help drag the bed closer to his throne. The sound of it scraping across the ground is an aural assault and the two fools happily comply when he hisses, “Hurry it up!”
Finally beside his chair, Naruto climbs on top of the bed. The sneer on Madara’s face doesn’t even put a dent in Naruto’s enthusiasm when she shouts, “Slumber party!”
Tobi, the traitor, asks, “What’s a slumber party?”
Naruto stops jumping on the bed to explain, “I’ve never been to one, but when the other kids were talkin’ 'bout it, it sounded like a party where you’re not supposed to sleep.”
Intrigued, Tobi asks,“What do you do, then?”
She shrugs, “Have fun?”
“I like fun!”
Naruto grins as she pats the bed and beckons Tobi to jump with her. To Madara’s annoyance, they begin shouting and jumping on the bed in tandem. Their merriment devolves into rough-housing because there aren’t enough pillows to have a pillow fight, supposedly.
Honestly, it’s strange how quickly Naruto adapts to living in Madara’s lair. Aren’t children supposed to fear dark caves? Furthermore, what kind of company was she keeping in Konoha? Madara recalls Obito mentioning some mistreatment, but that doesn’t suffice as an explanation for her oddities.
Naruto gets along far too well with Tobi for Madara’s taste. Individually, they’re manageable. Together, they’re a menace. Her penchant for pranks and Tobi’s tendency to sass make for an awful combination. She wasn’t particularly well-behaved to begin with, but her disobedience spikes with Tobi at her side.
Where Obito got annoyed with Tobi and White Zetsu’s quirks, Naruto acts as if their behavior is normal. Perhaps, it’s because she’s a child and hasn’t seen much of the world, but they don’t frighten her in the slightest. Naruto seems to enjoy fielding all of their inane questions; even the ones about poop.
Well, Madara never agreed to raise her. If Obito planned to use her for anything before she served her purpose, covert operations are off the table. It’s doubtful that Naruto could even keep a low profile in a boisterous crowd at this point.
Whatever time is left over after training with Tobi and White Zetsu, Naruto spends it talking to Madara. He tried to pretend that he was asleep the first few times, but she just filled the silence until he caved and snapped at her.
Naruto already forced Madara to sit through her unabridged life story—as much as she knew, anyway—so she made it her mission to learn everything there was to know about him. Though she didn’t sit still while he recounted his life for her, she surprisingly retained the information when quizzed. Thus, she should already know the answer when she asks, “How come you never smile?”
Lecturing her never achieves the desired result, so he asks a question to make her think critically, “What is there to make me smile?”
Naruto rolls onto her back and sits up on the bed while she considers how to respond. Eventually, she asks, “What would make you happy?”
Madara can already tell where this conversation is heading. He swiftly dashes any hope she may have of trying to endear herself to him when he says, “What would make me happy is far outside your range of abilities.”
Her pout indicates that he guessed her intentions correctly.
Madara wakes to the sound of giggling. For a moment, he forgets that it’s been decades since he has lived with his brothers—since they were among the living. He half expects to wake up in his childhood home, but opening his eyes reveals the same cave he has been living in since he defected from Konoha. With a practiced ease, he lets go of his disappointment and focuses on finding the source of the laughter.
There is little joy to be had in this cave, so the inhabitants make their own fun. Naruto and Tobi’s idea of fun often conflicts with Madara’s schedule: sleep and wait. Thus, it is an immediate concern that they are engaging in mischief outside his field of vision.
Just when he is about to yell at them, Naruto and Tobi rush towards his throne. Due to the difference in height and gait, the box they’re carrying slips out of their grasp. It nearly hits the ground, but they manage to save it in time. Simultaneously, they breathe a sigh of relief before shouting, “Happy Birthday, Madara!”
Madara blinks, unimpressed.
Naruto gestures to the box and asks, “Want some cake? We got it just for you, ya know!”
“I don’t eat,” he bluntly states. The tree provides him with all he needs, but they risked capture for something as asinine as a birthday cake. Tobi would be able to escape with relative ease, but Madara has endured far too much of Naruto’s presence just for her to be dragged back to Konoha.
“Is that why ya don’t poop?”
Madara doesn’t dignify that with a reply. Dismayed, Naruto looks to Tobi and says, “I guess we’ll have to eat...”
In reply to Naruto’s pointed look at his face, Tobi states the obvious, “I don’t have a mouth!”
In the end, Naruto eats the entire cake by herself. Despite the size and density of it, she forces the whole thing down in one sitting because she’s “eating for all three of them.” She whines about stomach pains for hours but, the next day, she has the gall to say, “I could go for some more cake, ya know.”
There’s something heavy on him. It’s leaking, too.
Madara opens his eyes to find Naruto sprawled on his lap. Drool from her gaping mouth drips onto his leg. It’s a wonder he managed to stay asleep with how loud she snores.
His first instinct is to shove her off. However, the tight grip she has on his robe ensures he will have a tough time shaking her off. Furthermore, he doesn’t want to hear her whining if he follows through with the thought. Sighing, Madara shifts her around so she isn’t cutting off blood flow to his legs.
When he wakes again, his lap is vacant and his throne feels oddly cold.
“...what is this?” Madara turns the lumpy sack Naruto shoved into his hands over several times. It looks like an old robe with some leaves stuffed in it. Based on the mostly healed scars on her hands, she sewed it shut herself.
She proudly states, “A cushion! You’re always sitting in your chair and it’s not comfortable at all, ya know.”
“No one asked you to sit in it,” Madara says while leaning forward to slide it behind his back. He shifts into a comfortable position. The cushion offers little lumbar support, but he supposes it’s better than nothing.
Naruto bounces on the balls of her feet. “So?! Do ya like it?!”
Feeling generous, Madara replies, “It will do.”
Naruto beams at him like he sung her praise. “You’re welcome! If ya want another one, lemme know!”
He huffs, “I expect better workmanship on the next one.”
Peacefully dying in his sleep doesn’t suit Madara. He remains awake as the gentle light calls out to him. It advances upon him because he will not go quietly. Madara lives for the fight, no matter how hopeless.
Naruto cries for him. He hadn’t thought there was anyone left who would be sad to see him go, but she clings to him and begs him not to die. If everything goes according to plan, Naruto will be long gone by the time he walks the Earth again, so he doesn’t tell her that she’s wasting her tears.
Their time together was always meant to be short, but Madara finds himself wishing they had a little more time. Seven pillows cushion his chair, but the eighth still lay half-finished on the corner of her bed. Madara had just grown used to her intrusion in his chair. She was looking forward to spending her birthday with him, of all people. It was just a few weeks away, but Madara wouldn’t make it that long.
Madara never allowed Naruto to hug him before, but he’s too tired to fight her off now. Her hold is a bit too tight and her tears soak his cloak, but he figures that this isn’t the worst way to die. He doesn’t remember the last time someone embraced him. Perhaps, Izuna? Maybe Hashirama?
Naruto stiffens when he affectionately pats her head. Madara can’t feel his face, but he would spare a smile for her if he could. As he breathes his last breath for the second time, he wonders if she’ll appear in his endless dream.
The last thing Madara remembers before making impact with the ground is Black Zetsu’s betrayal. The left side of his chest still burns from where the snake ran him through and he can barely move after having the tailed beasts ripped from him. It’s a wonder he’s still alive at all.
Hashirama’s chakra signature approaches from the right at a sedate pace, but a maelstrom quickly overtakes him and reaches Madara first. “Oh no ya don’t! You think I’m just gonna let you die again?!”
Madara’s bones creak when the incandescent being swoops him into an embrace. Warm chakra floods into him and knits his flesh back together. Finally, he recognizes the foolish child that intruded on his self-imposed solitude. He rasps, “Naruto...”
“I’m still mad at you, ya know,” she says as her grip tightens. “For everything. But you’re not allowed to die until you’re done apologizing.”
Madara simply huffs in reply while she revives him. The plan failed, but it seems he still has some work to do. Naruto supports all of his weight as Hashirama’s approach slows to an uncertain crawl. Within minutes, Madara is no longer knocking on death’s door, but he still feels frustratingly weak. Despite having a similar experience, Naruto seems much better off. Damn Uzumaki genes.
Naruto has grown quite a bit since he last saw her. The fact that she reached adolescence at all means that Obito got too attached to her. The Kyūbi had already been sealed in the Gedo Statue by the time he arrived on the scene, but Obito must have preserved her body somehow. While Madara is thankful she survived the catastrophe that became of the plan, that doesn’t mean he’ll let her get away with anything. With far more strength than the rasp before, he protests, “NO.”
His protests fall on deaf ears, as usual. Hooking an arm under his knees and supporting his back, Naruto hefts Madara into her arms as she retorts, “I’m not gonna drop you, ya know.”
“That is not the issue here and you know it,” he hisses as he tries to wriggle out of her hold.
Of course, Hashirama picks that moment to intervene. “Madara?”
Naruto immediately backs them away from Hashirama and the crowd gathering behind him. Distinctly unkindly, she asks, “Where’s Obito?”
A tired voice calls from somewhere behind Hashirama, “Over here.”
Another arm shoots out from Naruto’s back and grabs Obito by the head. Kakashi jolts when Obito’s weight is suddenly removed from his shoulder. The chakra arm roughly yanks him towards Naruto and Madara. She states to Obito, “You have a lot of apologizing to do, too.”
Obito’s sigh is muffled by the hand holding him aloft. “That’s fair.”
Naruto begins to walk away with her burdens. Just as Madara is wondering where she plans on going with two war criminals, one of the resurrected Hokage calls out, “Naruto, wait!”
Madara’s head bobs with how abruptly she stops. “What, Dad ?”
The venom in her tone surprises Madara, but not her father. That’s not to say that Namikaze Minato is pleased by it, though. “Well...Aren’t you coming back to Konoha?”
In preparation for an argument, possibly a physical one, Naruto releases her hold on Obito’s head. Her grip on Madara tightens as she sneers, “Why would I?”
“Now that the war is over, you can live there in peace! Cooperating with us against Kaguya is sure to earn you at least a partial pardon—”
“Partial ?” Naruto shakes her head, “Even if they gave me a full pardon, I wouldn’t go back there! I’m a member of the Akatsuki through and through, ya know!”
Completely disregarding his daughter’s loyalties, Namikaze asks, “Where will you go, then?”
Naruto screws her face in thought. A smile stretches across her face when a thought comes to her, “We’re gonna start our own village! Just me, Madara and Obito!”
Namikaze’s tone is patronizingly sweet, “A village needs more than three—”
“Then we’ll get more,” Naruto callously interrupts. She shocks Madara with a threat to her father, “Ya plannin on stoppin me? I’ll do more than punch ya this time.”
With his hands held up in a placating gesture, Namikaze tries to reason, “Naruto, honey—”
“Don’t call me that. I appreciate you healin me, but that doesn’t mean I forgive ya,” she states. With a pointed look at the assembled Edo Tensei and Konoha ninjas, she finishes, “Any of ya.”
Namikaze opens his mouth to continue the argument, but Tobirama cuts in, “I don’t care where you go, but Madara needs to die with the rest of us. He doesn’t belong in this era—”
“No.” Naruto’s chakra spikes threateningly. Madara feels like a toy being fought over, but he’s infinitely pleased that Tobirama is struck speechless. If Naruto was able to take on Kaguya, Tobirama shouldn’t be an issue. Tobirama’s responding chakra spike fills Madara with glee.
Unfortunately, Hashirama cuts in, “Let’s just calm down. There’s no need to resort to violence. Tobirama, Naruto, enough.”
To Madara’s disappointment, they both heed Hashirama’s words. Albeit, reluctantly. With a clap, Hashirama continues, “Great! We’ll set aside this argument until after the eternal genjutsu has been broken. Now, Sasuke if you could...”
Sasuke is nowhere to be seen. Taking advantage of the distraction, Naruto absconds with Madara and Obito.
Naruto kicks her legs excitedly while she exclaims, “Now we can be together forever!”
“Joy,” Madara says from across their table. There is no need to shout when they live in such a small house, but he’s well used to what Naruto considers a normal speaking voice. Their fledgling village is still in the planning stages, but the other ninja villages reluctantly agreed to leave them alone after she held the entire world hostage. He doubts they’ll keep their word for long, but the treaty-signing earlier today has her in a good mood. Well, an even better mood than usual.
“I got really powerful while you were takin' a dirt nap, ya know,” she says before slurping up her cup ramen.
Sadly, it's the only thing they can afford at the moment. His first meal in decades is, unfortunately, cheap ramen. Madara sips from his cup with far less enthusiasm before asking, “Oh?”
“Yep. So powerful that I can sense other people’s emotions.”
Eyes narrowed, Madara wonders where she’s going with this.
Naruto grins as she finishes, “You were sooo happy to see me again!”