People wear masks for a number of different reasons; to protect themselves, to conceal, to intimidate, to hide, to protect loved ones.

ANBU masks conceal the user's identity. When one donned the mask, they discarded their emotions, their hesitation, and their humanity. Their masks were a wall between themselves and the horror. The masks also ensured anonymity. No one could seek revenge or harm family members, because the ANBU were all the same when they wore a mask. And most importantly, it hid their tears. Behind the mask, emotions still rages, humanity still ruled. But the mask hid it all. After all, ANBU weren't supposed to be human. That's why their masks were in the shape of animals. Animals killed to survive, and felt no guilt for their deed.

Kakashi wore a mask too. Letting one eye show, he still allows himself to be human, allowed others to see him. But behind the mask Kakashi's lips twitched and warped, only letting some things pass to his eyes. Kakashi allowed himself the luxury of being human, but still hid behind his mask. His pain, his hurt, his guilt, his anger, his love, his joy; Kakashi hid them all, held them, treasured them. Yes, Kakashi allowed him self to be human, but he didn't have to tell anyone else.

Sasuke had a mask too, though not in a physical sense. Sasuke froze the warmth inside, locking himself away in his perpetually white world. He permitted the ice to freeze his, ignoring all those who tried to chip away the layers. He allowed no one into his frozen world, where he was all but dead to the world. Yet deep inside Sasuke a coal smoldered. Nearly killed by the icy drive of revenge, it stubbornly persisted, permitting Sasuke to unknowingly keep a dim purchase on humanity. Inside Uchiha Sasuke, Rookie of the Year, the Last Uchiha, wielder of the Sharingan, the Avenger, was a broken little boy. Invisible tears run down Sasuke's face every moment of everyday, warm upon his frozen mask. And the people come up to him, "You're so great, Sasuke-sama!" and he's reminded of Itachi. Then he remembers Itachi's face, steadily growing darker, as he forces a path through the hordes of admirers, and he thinks he may understand. Because sometimes, on those days when it all seems like too much, he feels like killing them all too. And that scares him.

Hyuuga Neji, like Sasuke, had no physical mask. He wore his alternate personality like a cloak; using it to cover him self, embrace him. Bitter hatred and righteous anger boiled beneath the painfully polite exterior. But somehow, Neji let go of his mask, let it fall; let the waterlogged fabric slide over his shoulders. And suddenly- he was free! Only to once again don the cloak of shame, the mark of imprisonment. He was a caged bird, destined to fly, locked and clipped, but to stubborn to die.

Believe it or not, Jiraiya and Tsunade have near-identical masks. Be it friend, student, loved one, or sibling, they had each lost important people. Every sentient moment images creep inside their skulls, guilt and sorrow wrack their frames. Women were Jiraiya's escape, gambling Tsunade's. But it was never enough. Overpowering grief always came, silent sobs reduced the legendary pair to an elderly duo who had seen too much of the world. Thinking hurt, anytime they would think, they felt stabs of pain. And yet people wonder why they drank so much. To those two, life is like a sea, and they floated anchorless until a blond rock found them, tying them firmly to reality once more.

Uzumaki Naruto was a mask. His entire being was simply a cover for the Kyuubi. But even barring the demon, Naruto still wore his mask. No one would suspect it, no one knew. At every harsh word, Naruto smiled; at every violent kick, he laughed. Anything done to him he simply shrugged off like water. His happy demeanor never failed.

With every smile, he scowled; with every laugh, he spilled blood. Every god-forsaken thing in his life was a warped version of some twisted reality. An impenetrable shield of constant joy kept it all at bay, holding everything in, smiling and playing the fool. Inside his innumerable layers, Naruto screamed and writhed in anguish, tears coursing down scarred cheeks. The Kyuubi watches, pityingly, not even demons could do that to a child. But Naruto stands back up with a smile, laughing it all away.

The cavern that forms his mind, where Kyuubi dwells in solitary glory, is shown to be a sewer-like environment. Pipes are leaking and water is slowly rising to flood the dank passageways. Naruto has always been portrayed as waterproof, shaking off troubles like a dog would water. What if… he was porous instead? The water vanishes to soon to notice, and is stored away where it can never escape. But water is known to be the one resource that can escape any container, work free of any bind. And his subdued emotions will drown him if he continues to absorb them.

Even inside himself, Naruto keeps his mask firmly in place, just another layer on his unbreakable, undetectable mask.

Funny, it seems they made him into the monster they all feared he was. For beneath the layers of shields and masks, a primal power, possessing no demonic taint, screams in rage; once more earning the Kyuubi's pity.

Uzumaki Naruto lost his humanity long ago, before he even knew the Fox existed.

Just a short piece I did a long time ago and only got around to now. Reviews/feedback much appreciated. Hm... I'm putting up a lot of short pieces lately.

Adios, SoraAzami