This fic was inspired by and is dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attack and their families.
A/N: I'm so glad that I'm finally getting this one-shot out! It's probably my favorite of all the ones I've written so far. I got the idea for this story over a year and a half ago when that movie about what the fire fighters did during 9/11 (I can never remember the title) came out. You see, there are tons of Naruto fanfics out there and quite often they'll recount the Sand-Sound Invasion. There are so many different versions out there, but they all have one thing in common: All of them focus solely on the shinobi. While this makes sense, it still got me to thinking about what it must have been like for the civilians, who had no way to defend themselves. This one-shot will follow the story of one ANBU team and will show how one ANBU views what happens. For more details...Well, you'll just have to read the story, won't you? (grins) Please read, review, and enjoy! Ja ne!
--Note: The poem at the end is my own. Do not use it without permission.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Claimer: I do own Neko, Tori, Uma, and Ookami.
Warning: Somewhat graphic, but then that depends on your definition of graphic.
Screaming. Smoke. Blood. Ruble. Fire. Bodies.
The entire area looked like a war ground. And in fact, that's what it was. Bloodied bodies of shinobi and civilians alike littered the ground. Buildings in every direction were either consumed by fire or crushed to ruble. Thick smoke filled the air, clouding out the afternoon sun.
Amongst this war ground a single figure knelt, gasping for breath and trying to ignore the screams of panicking civilians around her as they ran to and fro without any real order. It was a female figure, and an ANBU by her outfit, especially the decorated mask that covered her face. The mask was shaped in resemblance to a cat, a neko, and when seen amongst the horror that filled the streets that day, it gave her an especially animalistic appearance.
The kunoichi, Neko as she was known by her fellow ANBU comrades, carefully tried to push herself up, using the still-intact wall behind her for support, but abruptly fell back to her knees when a sharp pain jolted through her leg.
With a slight grumble, Neko decided to just rest on her knees for the time being instead of getting up and then turned and surveyed the surrounding area with a wince. Like most of Konoha, it greatly resembled one of the devastating battle grounds from the Great Shinobi War. The main difference, however, was that the majority of the bodies lying around were that of innocent civilians rather than trained shinobi.
Though she tried not to, Neko couldn't help but let her eyes drift to a bloodied body lying not too far from where she kneeled. This one, however, wore the outfit of an ANBU member. A mask in the shape of a bird, a tori, lied only a few feet from him. Tori. He had been the first of Neko's squad to fall.
Neko turned away from the site, but didn't close her eyes, despite how much she wanted to. The shock of everything that had happened in just those last few hours hadn't quite caught up with her yet, though Neko knew that it would soon. And then the mourning would come. Mourning for those who were her comrades, her teammates...her friends. Mourning for those whom she had worked with for years...
"Yes!" Tori shouted exuberantly. "I'm so glad that that bastard of a daimyo is finally dead!"
The other three ANBU around him, two with black ANBU cloaks like Tori himself and the last with the beige cloak of an ANBU captain, chuckled at his antics. While Tori, like most ANBU, was mostly impassive when they were around others or on a mission, when the four of them were alone he usually let loose acted like himself. Tori was the known clown of the group, always cheering them all up.
Neko grinned at him from under her own black hood and, even though it couldn't be seen beneath her mask, all of those present sensed it.
"So true," Neko mused in reply to Tori's statement. It was a well known fact, even to others outside of their squad, that Neko held a deep hatred for anyone cocky or arrogant. The rich daimyo that they had been assigned to kill, and thus the mission that they had just finished, had fit that description to a T. Of course, this meant that Neko had greatly enjoyed herself.
Tori laughed merrily, lighting up the room with his almost child-like enthusiasm and bringing a smile to everyone's--including their usually emotionless captain's--faces.
Neko let out a small sigh and looked back over to Tori's body, respect lighting up in her eyes. She respected all of her squad, as they had worked together for nearly four years, but Tori's actions earlier that very day had cemented the respect that Neko had developed for the cheerful shinobi.
"No!" Tori snarled, parrying an Oto-nin's kunai with his own and therefore saving the civilian that the invading shinobi had been about to stab. Tori shoved the shinobi back and then lunged at him, giving the civilian enough time to escape and run off out of sight.
Neko and the rest of her ANBU squad had been dashing through the village, helping civilians to evacuate and dispatching any Oto-nin or Suna-nin that they came across, just as almost every other active shinobi in the village was doing, when they had come across the site of an Oto-nin attacking a defenseless civilian.
Naturally, Tori had acted first and immediately charged into the situation. Neko and the other two ANBU had had no time to help him though as eight more shinobi, all bearing the Oto symbol on their hitai-ate, suddenly dropped down and attacked. Fortunately, all of the Oto-nin had been about Chuunin level, and so were fairly easy to eliminate.
However, what none of the experienced ANBU saw was the Jounin Suna-nin crouching on a nearby rooftop, watching the exchange. As soon as Tori let his guard drop, just after he had checked and confirmed that the Oto-nin he had attacked was dead, the Suna-nin attacked, sending a flurry of kunai and shuriken towards Tori. Said shinobi quickly leapt out of the way of the incoming projectiles, though a few were still able to nick him and draw blood.
Tori narrowed his eyes and prepared to lunge forward, when the Suna-nin suddenly reached behind one of the crates in the entrance to an alleyway and pulled a little three year old girl out by the scruff of her torn and dirty dress. Looking around with wide eyes at the surrounding shinobi, the child trembled with absolute terror.
Upon seeing the child, Tori immediately froze. His weak spot was innocents, all of his ANBU squad knew, and it seemed that the Suna-nin had picked this up as well from Tori's earlier reaction to the Oto-nin. Tori's eyes narrowed and his whole body tensed, only just barely stopping himself from attacking the shinobi right there and then.
Tori was certainly aware of his one true weakness and, though he was always careful to hide it on missions, there wasn't anything that he could do now. He certainly couldn't attack the Suna-nin, as that would put the girl in danger. No, he couldn't do that; his nature was just too kind.
The Suna-nin smirked at Tori, noticing that his hostage ruse was working. When he did nothing else but continue to smirk however, all four of the ANBU immediately narrowed their eyes in suspicion while quickly running through options in their heads. Just as they were beginning to come up with a plan to get the child away from the shinobi--using ANBU hand signals to speak to each other--however, Neko caught a flicker of movement from the corner of her eye. Quickly whipping around, Neko turned just in time to see a second Suna Jounin stab his katana straight through an unsuspecting Tori's heart.
At this moment several things happened: Tori breathed in rasply before slumping forward, unmoving, the three remaining ANBU breathed in sharply with shock, the little girl shrieked loudly at the sight of so much blood, which was pouring from Tori's wound, and the Suna-nin carelessly tossed this child away, her position as a hostage having been fulfilled. She wouldn't survive the impact to the hard street at such a speed anyway. The remaining black cloaked ANBU member dashed forward however, and caught the child before she impacted with the ground, effectively shaking Neko and their ANBU captain out of their shock.
The second Suna Jounin, the one who had killed Tori, shook his katana slightly, causing Tori, whose eyes were already glazed with death, to fall face down onto the ground, blood pooling beneath him. The ANBU holding the child snarled in wordless rage before setting the child down gently so that she could scamper off out of sight. The ANBU straightened up then, their eyes glinting mercilessly from beneath their hood.
"Damn you," they hissed, their voice filled with anger, sadness, and loss. "Damn you bastards."
Neko sighed, once again turning away from Tori's corpse. Unfortunately, her gaze then landed on an arm sticking out from beneath the ruble of a nearby collapsed building. If one looked closely, they could see the metal arm guard still strapped onto the forearm, signifying that it belonged to the body of an ANBU. Neko flinched as memories began to swirl around in her mind once more.
"Damn you," the black hooded ANBU hissed, their voice filled with anger, sadness, and loss. "Damn you bastards."
The two Suna Jounin chuckled in reply, causing the ANBU's anger to soar to new heights. That definitely wasn't good, considering her already deteriorating mental state. Her. The ANBU's voice was definitely feminine and that, along with what could be seen of her figure beneath her black cloak, identified her as female, even though her face couldn't be seen from behind her horse, uma, shaped mask. Uma she was called, just as all ANBU are named for their masks. She was also Tori's girlfriend of two years, hence the anger.
With another wordless howl of rage, Uma lunged forward with a katana in each hand. Her anger at her lover's death had taken over her usually calm and relatively peaceful demeanor--after all, how peaceful can any shinobi really be, let alone an ANBU--causing her vision to narrow down to just the Suna Jounin who had killed Tori. Neko and their squad's captain moved to help her, but the first Suna-nin--the one who had held the little girl hostage--intercepted them.
It was two experienced ANBU against a single Jounin though, so Neko and her captain were easily able to take care of the shinobi. However, by the time they finished and looked back up at Uma and the second Suna-nin, it was already too late. Uma had allowed her rage to control her too much and was paying for it.
The Suna-nin was holding Uma at least five inches off the ground by her neck. Uma was desperately clawing at the hand that was enclosed around her airway, but it was no use.
Or so it seemed.
Finally starting to get really desperate, Uma brought her leg up abruptly, kicking the Suna-nin from beneath his chin and making his head jerk upwards with an audible snap. He was forced to drop the struggling kunoichi. The Suna Jounin growled, rubbing his chin, and spat out a glob of blood onto the pavement. He turned back to Uma, but she had taken advantage of the Jounin's distraction to rush over to Tori.
"Oh baby," she whispered, gently turning his body over into its back. She smoothed back his blood matted hair with a shaky hand. "I'm so sorry."
So absorbed was she in her lost boyfriend that Uma never even heard the Suna-nin coming up behind her, despite her ANBU training. Said Jounin was still annoyed about Uma's earlier kick and quickly pounced on the distracted kunoichi. Neko and the ANBU captain moved once more to help Uma, but, once again, were too late in their reaction.
The Suna-nin wasted no time gloating, unlike last time, and quickly grabbed Uma by the neck, hoisted her up, and threw her with all of his strength--which was quite a lot, considering the amount of bulk on his body--towards a nearby building. Uma was already too far into her grief and depression to retaliate or right herself and so went flying with enough momentum to smash through the wall of an already weakened building. Not a second after her impact, the entire building began to crumble and collapsed in on itself, killing Uma instantly.
All that could be seen was an arm sticking out from beneath the ruble, its ANBU arm guard still attached.
The death of Uma hit Neko hard. Kunoichi weren't as populous as shinobi so the fact that there had been two of them in a single ANBU squad was a very rare occurrence. Because of this the two of them had also become very close; like sisters almost. It had been nice to sometimes go out on the town with her, just the two of them. Being battle-hardened warriors, Neko and Uma never had much time for girl things though--or anything other than missions really--so they had cherished those few "girl's night out" that they did have greatly.
But now they never would again. Because Uma, Neko's closest female friend, was dead. Killed by that godforsaken Suna-nin.
With a vicious snarl, Neko slammed her fist into the wall behind her, causing some bits to shake loose. Neko's eyes followed their fall to the ground, but suddenly stopped, catching sight of another corpse of an ANBU among the many others that littered the ground.
This one was sitting slumped against a half collapsed wall not five feet from where Neko crouched. He, unlike Tori, still had his mask attached, covering his face. It depicted a wolf, an ookami, and along with the blood stained beige cloak still wrapped around his shoulders--Neko wasn't quite sure how, considering that it was nearly wrapped in half--, it made for a fearsome appearance. It was one that had made many an enemy freeze in their tracks before this day.
Ookami was their captain and a great shinobi whom had led their team through many a dangerous situation. It was common knowledge that Ookami was a powerful and well-respected shinobi, but what most didn't know was that he was also like an older brother to his entire squad. Neko could remember many a time when Ookami had helped them all through difficult situations outside of their shinobi lives...
Neko, still garbed in her full ANBU gear but without her mask, grunted slightly every time her bandaged knuckles impacted the tree before her. Growling under her breath, Neko began to slam her fists into the tree even harder, trying to take all of her frustration and anger out on it. So far, it wasn't working.
"What'd that poor tree do to you?" a voice asked from off the side.
Neko spun around and landed in a defensive crouched position, a kunai in either hand and inwardly cursing herself for focusing so much on the tree that she hadn't heard the person approaching. Her eyes glinted dangerously at the figure before her. Soon though, she realized who the person was. However, contrary to what one may have thought, this didn't calm her down in the least bit; if anything, it riled her up even more.
"Ookami," Neko snapped out. She was not in the mood to deal with anyone, let alone her squad captain. "What do you want?"
Ookami chuckled--an insufferable sound to Neko at that moment that made her want to hiss like her namesake--but didn't answer and instead just began to study Neko intently. The lack of answer annoyed Neko greatly and she stiffly turned on her heel and walked back towards that tree she had been mercilessly beating--if she really had been a cat, her fur would have been bristling.
Neko knelt before the now damaged tree that a bundle of her things were lying under. She reached out a hand to pick up her supply pouch, but as she did her knuckles brushed against the ground, causing her to hiss in pain and quickly retract her hand, cradling it against her chest.
In a second Ookami was by Neko's side, gripping her wrist tightly and staring intently at her hand. He sighed when he saw that the bandages around her hands were torn, soaked with blood, and had splinters sticking out from the flesh beneath. Without wasting another moment, Ookami quickly and firmly--and yet surprisingly gently--began to methodically pull out the splinters. Neko breathed in sharply from the abrupt stabbing pain, but made no sound of protest, knowing that if the splinters didn't come out soon her hands would probably become infected.
As soon as all of the splinters were out, Ookami began to unwrap the bandages around Neko's hand. Neko held back a wince as he did so--Ookami could tell from the way her muscles tensed--and let him continue without making a sound. As the ANBU captain finally finished the unwrapping not a minute later and let the bloodied and nearly shredded bandages fall to the ground, Neko's wound came into full view. Ookami sighed at the sight.
While beating the tree had released some of Neko's pent up frustrations, it also had really damaged her hands. It appeared that most of the skin around her knuckles had been torn off and was now an open wound. Already bruises were also beginning to form around her hands. Ookami ignored the bloody sight for the most part, having seen much worse wounds than abused hands during his career. Instead he pulled out his canteen of water and began let some pour out onto her hands, washing the blood and dirt away.
"You know," Ookami began as he pulled out some fresh bandages from his personal medical kit and began to carefully rewrap Neko's hands. "You really shouldn't attack a poor, innocent, defenseless tree like that. I think you just about killed it, not to mention the damage you've done to your own hands."
Neko stayed silent for a minute as her captain worked before finally replying. "I can't help it," she said quietly. "Sometimes it gets to be too much." She sighed. "I'm just so sick and tired of everyone looking down on me because I'm female! What does my gender have to do with my skill and dedication as a shinobi of this village?! You'd think that after two years of being an active ANBU they'd finally realize...!"
"True enough," Ookami sighed. "So many people are still so biased against kunoichi. It's just because being a shinobi was a male job for so long that it's almost become an inbred tradition. It's only been within the last century or so that kunoichi have started to come into existence." Ookami paused for a second to give Neko a flat look. "But that doesn't mean that you should take your frustrations out this way. One of these days you'll seriously damage your hands. Where will you be then, hmm?"
Neko grumbled under her breath, looking away from her captain. Ookami said nothing else as he finished bandaging her hand and began to repeat the same process with her other one. It was only a few minutes later when he finished and dropped her now clean hand back into her lap.
"Take proper care of those when you get home," Ookami instructed firmly. He rose to his feet and Neko mimicked his actions, standing before him with her hands crossed in front of her. "If they start to show any signs of infection, go straight to the hospital."
Neko nodded mutely, knowing better than to argue--and besides, it was for her own good. They stood there for a few more minutes in companionable silence before Ookami finally began to turn away.
"I'll see you tomorrow at the mission center," he said. Neko replied with a nod once more and watched as leaves swirled around Ookami before falling back to the ground with the ANBU captain nowhere in sight.
"See you tomorrow...Ookami-nii-san..." Neko whispered into the now empty space. Of course she'd never let him, or anyone else for that matter, know that she saw him as an older brother figure, but that didn't mean that she didn't still feel that way.
Neko let her head drop and closed her eyes against the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. Her captain, her brother, the only family she'd ever had--as she really did considered her squad her family, as close as they all were--was gone. Neko wouldn't claim that it was her fault, that wouldn't be true at all, but there must have been something that she could have done to prevent his death! If only she'd--!
But thinking about "what if" and "if only" wouldn't bring him back. No matter how much she wished, it wouldn't bring any of them back. The damage had already been done.
Ookami snarled as the building collapsed on top of Uma. Seeing two of his ANBU fall was two much for him and he snapped. Lunging forward faster than the two Suna Jounin could see, he attacked. Nearly silent, his katana came out of its sheath and slid through the neck of the nearest Suna-nin with a sickening squelch. Said shinobi's head went flying several feet, its eyes still wide with shock.
The second Suna-nin gasped before quickly falling into a defensive position. It was Neko who ran forward this time though, rushing past her captain in an effort to be the one to take payment for her two teammate's deaths.
Just a few feet before she reached the Suna-nin however, she disappeared. The Suna-nin's eyes widened and he desperately began swiveling his head around, trying to catch sight of the ANBU. He froze however when he heard a voice behind him whisper.
"Mokuton: Jukai Kōtan (Wood Style: Birth of Dense Woodland)."
Immediately following the whisper came the sound of the pavement cracking beneath the Suna-nin's feet. He looked down, eyes widening, just in time to see thick branches break through the ground, ensnaring him in their tight death grip as a tree continued to sprout forth from the ground, growing at an insane rate. When the tree finally stopped growing at the height of nearly eight feet, the Jounin was completely wrapped in wood, not even able to shift slightly against the tree.
Neko landed softly in front of this sight, smirking beneath her mask as she saw that her jutsu had done its job perfectly. The Suna-nin, on the other hand stared at the ANBU with wide eyes, terror evident on his face.
"How?!" he finally got out in a strangled voice. "The Shodaime Hokage is the only known shinobi to be able to use Mokuton techniques! This shouldn't be possibl--"
The shinobi's voice was abruptly cut off as the wood surrounded him once more, this time completely cutting him off from view. The tree then began to recede back into the ground, shrinking away. Once it was completely gone, there was nothing left but a few large cracks in the ground, the Suna-nin's body no where in sight.
Near silently Ookami landed next to Neko, his beige cloak fluttering. He cocked his head toward the shorter kunoichi, a silent reprimand hanging in the air. Neko grumbled slightly and looked away, knowing exactly what her captain was thinking.
The technique she had used, the Mokuton one, had been a bit over done. Neko could have easily used a small jutsu to kill the shinobi, or even have not used one at all, but she had been so caught up in her "revenge", if you will, that she had instead resorted to using one that ate up an extreme amount of chakra, leaving her substantially weaker than just moments before. Neko knew that this had been the wrong thing to do, but certainly wasn't going to say a word to Ookami about it.
"Come on," Ookami finally sighed after a minute of silence. "Let's get moving." Neko hesitated, glancing over to where Tori and Uma's bodies lay. "Don't worry," he continued. "A team will pick them up later after the invasion has been put down."
The two ANBU then continued through the streets, tense, but trying to push their emotions away. They both knew that they, as shinobi, were supposed to keep stoic and not let their emotions effect their job, but seeing two of their team, who had been with them for so many years, killed in front of them was testing even their strength. The two weren't sure if they could hold up until the end of the invasion.
Not two minutes after the ANBU had left the site of their battle, they came across one of the main streets of Konohagakure no Sato, one that was streaming with civilians trying to get away from the village, and thus the battle, as soon as possible. Ookami and Neko immediately began to take charge, organizing the running civilians as best they could and creating some semblance of order in the chaotic streets.
Seeing that two of the elite shinobi, one of them a captain, were there helped many of the people to relax. Just as the fleeing people began to become somewhat organized however, horror stuck again.
"Kaze no Yaiba (Blade of Wind)!" a loud, clear voice rang through the air. Immediately following, multiple invisible blades of air swept through the crowd, cutting down dozens upon dozens of civilians in a bloody massacre. Unfortunately, that was the better aspect of the attack. The worst?
Neko and Ookami were right in the path of the brutal jutsu.
There was nowhere to run and no time for them to dodge out of the way. Thinking quickly, Neko speedily began forming a handseals, collecting her chakra. After just a moment, she finished and called out, "Mokuton: Moku Jōheki (Wood Style: Wood Locking Wall)!"
Quickly a dome of wood rose up from the ground and covered the two ANBU, protecting them. The wood groaned from taking the brunt of the attack, but held strong. A moment later the shield lowered back down, revealing an untouched Ookami and Neko, though the latter was beginning to pant from exertion. She was really beginning to curse herself for using one of her more powerful techniques earlier to take out a single Jounin. She was paying for it now in the form of lack of chakra.
"Not bad, not bad at all," the same clear voice from before rang out. The owner of said voice stepped forward from behind a building, revealing themself to be an Oto kunoichi, Jounin level, probably, though possible higher. She wore a cruel smirk on her face as she marveled at all of the dead bodies and terror stricken civilians. She looked up at the two ANBU again, her smirk widening as she continued, "But not quite good enough."
Ookami quickly turned to Neko and formed a few quick signs in the hand language that all ANBU had to learn, telling her to evacuate all of the civilians from the area. Neko instantly obeyed, ushering everyone away as she watched her "brother" and the Oto-nin from the corner of her eye.
"This is what makes Konoha-nin so weak," the Oto kunoichi sneered as she watched this exchange. "They're always worrying about helping others and so they never even see the blade until it enters their back."
"Well you should worry about yourself right now," Ookami growled as he abruptly flashed in front of the kunoichi, thrusting his katana forward.
The Oto-nin quickly parried with her own blade and the two stayed locked blade against blade for a moment before leaping away and landing a few feet away from each other. As soon as the balls of their feet had touched the ground however, the two jumped at each other again, letting their blades clash once more.
The two continued for a while, moving at speeds so insane that even to Neko they were hard to see, and were barely even blurs to the civilians. Neko turned away from the fight for a moment to help a little boy, but that second was all that it took.
Moving even faster than she had been up to that point, the Oto kunoichi pulled out a kunai and threw it hard as she could. It landed straight in the calf of an unsuspecting Neko, burying itself nearly up to its hilt and making blood spray. Neko stumbled forward, caught in her unawares for one of the first times in her ANBU career. She slipped on the gravel beneath her feet and fell forward, hitting her head hard on a sharp rock. As she began to black out, the last thing that Neko heard was Ookami howling in rage as he lunged toward the Oto-nin.
Only about 30 seconds later Neko opened her eyes to see a still chaotic street. She quickly jumped to her feet, only to freeze as a sharp biting pain shot up her leg. She mentally cursed the Oto-nin for catching her off guard like that; Neko had thought that the kunoichi had been preoccupied with Ookami.
Neko quickly jumped to her feet, only to wince once more. Right, her leg. She would just have to ignore it for now though; so much was at stake right now. Neko then swiveled her head around, trying to spot her captain and the Oto-nin within the masses. She sighed, half in annoyance, half in relief, when she realized that the battle had moved away from the area, as was evident due to the path of destruction leading down a side street. Leaping to a rooftop, Neko began to follow the path.
After a minute of running at full speed--or at least as close to full speed as she could get--, Neko realized that the path was heading in the direction that she and Ookami had first come from--towards the place where Tori and Uma had died. With a near silent snarl, Neko pushed herself to go even faster and soon came upon a sickening scene.
Ookami and the Oto kunoichi were fighting in the middle of the street, both were covered in blood and dirt. Lying all around them were the bodies of dead civilians, most of them appearing to have been sliced apart--by wind no doubt. Many still-living people ran past, still trying to escape and paying little attention to the two battling shinobi, except when one of them went into the path of an attack--usually the kunoichi's as Ookami was being careful not to hurt any innocents--and was thus cut down. Rivers of blood streamed down the street and fires from all over the village lit the background.
It truly was a hellish scene.
Without a second thought Neko leapt from the roof she had been crouching on. She managed to land silently behind the preoccupied Oto kunoichi, though she couldn't hold back a large wince as her injured leg impacted the ground. She then began to quickly form a set of handseals.
With a whisper of, "Dokugiri (Poison Mist)," Neko finished the set of seals and blew out a breath of purplish smoke. Having heard the voice, the Oto-nin quickly whipped around, only to turn straight into a full face of the purple poison. She immediately began coughing, some blood splattering from her mouth and onto the street below. Using this opening, Ookami lunged forward from behind, slashing his katana at the hacking Oto kunoichi. Unfortunately, said kunoichi recovered just in time and leapt backwards to avoid what would have been a fatal blow.
Now faced with two ANBU and being poisoned with a deadly toxin, the Oto kunoichi was cornered. And just like any cornered animal, she immediately lashed out.
"Fuuton: Daitoppa (Wind Style: Great Breakthrough)!" she all but screamed, thrusting her hands forward. A brutal wave of near solid air crashed forward, straight toward Neko, who was the closest. Neko couldn't do anything but watch as it approached, having no time to dodge and no chakra to create another barrier--she was on the very edge of collapsing from chakra depletion as it was.
Just as she could have sworn that her life was beginning to flash before her eyes, something hit Neko in her side, shoving her out of the way, before flying back in to a wall with a sickening crack, having taken the brunt of the attack. Neko slowly stood back up from where she had fallen, blood flowing from the numerous lacerations all over her body from what little of the wind attack had hit her. She glanced over to where the Oto-nin had stood, only to see her lying on the pavement, lifeless. The poison had done its job. Then, ever so slowly, Neko turned to where the figure that had saved her from certain death lay propped up against a now half-destroyed wall.
With a sharp gasp, Neko saw that it had been Ookami, her captain and surrogate older brother, who had pushed her out of the way and thus sacrificed his life for her own. Neko sank to her knees, staring at the suddenly incredibly frightening blood splattered ookami mask that still covered the older ANBU's face.
Neko turned away from her captain, her face growing pale as nausea welled up in the pit of her stomach. She leaned over and began retching, though nothing came out. Neko was just starting to straighten back up, when a hand abruptly clapped over her shoulder. Neko whipped her head and around, surprised, and moved to reach for a kunai, but then relaxed.
Staring down at Neko with a worried expression was a man, probably a civilian by his state of dress, though even that was darkened and stained with soot, dirt, and blood. He couldn't have been more than 30 years old.
"Are you alright?" he asked, concerned, as he helped Neko to her feet.
Neko didn't reply at all, and in fact couldn't do anything but stand there--leaning heavily against the wall next to her--and stare in shock, taking the scene in. Why was this man taking the time to stop and help her? Why wasn't he just running past like the rest of the people streaming by? Now that she looked up however, Neko noticed that several of the passing people were throwing concerned look to her and mourning ones to the dead bodies--both those of civilians and shinobi.
Noticing Neko's state of shock--though guessing that it was from the shock of invasion, which it probably partly was--the man took action of his own and slipped Neko's arm over his shoulders, half supporting her. He then began to walk forward and Neko came out of her trance enough to begin to limp along side him. Neko's head was bowed and her hair covered her face--her mask had fallen off a while ago--, hiding her expression from view.
Everywhere Neko looked, she saw people helping one another. They carried the wounded, helped someone up when they tripped, stepped respectfully around the dead, and just simply supported one another, even through their rushed and panicked state. Truthfully, this all shocked Neko.
Throughout her life and experiences, Neko had thought that she had learned one truth that always applied: Humans were generally cruel and uncaring to one another, especially those that they didn't know and/or had no connection to. The term "survival of the fittest" fit the species perfectly. So why were they helping each other now, in a time of panic and death? Why?
Neko was effectively broken out of her reverie as she and the man helping her reached the outside of one of the camps that the evacuees were being taken to. The two moved along for another minute until they reached a temporary medical center. The man then helped Neko to lay down on one of the gurneys, medic-nin swarming around, just before Neko's vision began to narrow. Not ten seconds later Neko submitted to the gathering darkness, falling fully unconscious.
She never learned the man's name.
One week later, Neko stood within a large crowd, staring blankly ahead. Like everyone else there she was dressed completely in black. The only other color she was wearing was the off-white color of the bandages wrapped around her still-healing wounds. Ahead of the crowd, and the object that everyone was facing, was a casket with roses of all colors strewn over it. Inside of this casket lay the body of the Sandaime Hokage, who had given his life to stop the invasion and seal away the arms of Orochimaru, his own ex-student.
Standing just in front of the casket was an older man--his exact features were indistinguishable from Neko's distance--who was reading a list of names of the shinobi whom had died defending Konohagakure no Sato during the attack. Absently, Neko wondered which of the names were those of her now deceased teammates. She had never learnt their real names during the time that they worked together, something which she now regretted.
Neko looked around at the people around her, remembering the invasion and how everyone had worked together to help each other. Once the invasion was over, and the village left nearly in ruins, everyone had continued to help each other with the rebuilding. No one had asked for anything in return for their work and wealthy merchants and dirty beggars hand worked side by side without discrimination. This funeral was the first time in a week that anyone had taken a break.
What was it that made everyone help each other? Why did they band together in this time of need and yet leap at each other's throats at other times? What was it that made them do this?
'Perhaps,' Neko thought, shielding her eyes as she looked up at the afternoon sun. 'Perhaps there's still hope for us all.' A gentle smile graced her face--the first one in quite a while. 'In the Oto and Suna invasion we lost many lives, but we may just have found our humanity.'
What is it really?
Is it a mother's touch? A peer's encouraging words?
Is it kindness? Is it mercy?
Is it simply life itself?
Is it something we can really define at all?
Some would say that humanity is dark
That it is cruel and unforgiving
That it is twisted and selfish
After all, is it not humanity that built the darkest of the dungeons in the medieval era?
Is it not humanity that still rapes, steals, and murders to this day?
Some would say that humanity is all that has gone wrong in the world
But can we really define it as such?
Others, however, would say that humanity is somewhere in the middle
That it is not benevolent and compassionate,
But neither is it cold and heartless
Humanity is like a pendulum; it swings to both extremes, but it also always rests in the middle
Humanity creates civilizations and it destroys it
Humanity makes life and it kills it
And it always exists between life and death
Truly, humanity is what each and every person makes of it
There are those who act solely for their own gain
And there are those who selflessly sacrifice themselves for others
What will you do with your humanity?