He ran so fast that the world blurred around him; sweat dripped into his eyes, making them sting. He didn't dare look behind, but he knew that his jounin caretaker was right behind him, ready to grab him and pull him back to his dirty, dark little apartment, to keep him away from the fireworks that would shortly be exploding into the sky…

He wouldn't let him.

Naruto skidded to a stop, his smaller mass allowing him a quicker halt than the jounin. The man hurtled right past him, cursing as he saw the yellow hair of his mischievous charge go by. Naruto was wheeling as he skidded, wrenching into an ankle-breaker 180-degree turn. He shot off in the opposite direction, his still-trying-to-stop caretaker left far behind in a matter of seconds.

He dashed through the empty streets, fighting back the happy howl that bubbled up in his throat. It wasn't that he was scared to make noise – it was just that he'd need all his air to keep up this speed. He twitched as he heard the quick angry tromp-tromp-tromp that meant his caretaker was back on his trail. Naruto's mind kicked into an even higher buzz of activity as he glanced around himself frantically, trying to plot out an escape route.

He was nearly at the edge of the village, and one side of the street bordered a stretch of semi-forested land. The other side was all one long blank wall, smooth and featureless as an eggshell. Naruto had often hidden in the forests around Konoha, having a strange inner woods-sense that made him quite at ease in the wild. Once he got into the protective cover of the woods, the jounin could count on several hours of hard searching before they could get their hands on the boy – and usually that was because he had gotten hungry for ramen and come back to the city.

So, today he chose to leap the wall.

He swerved and took a short running start before leaping up to the top of the wall – an unremarkable feat for a boy used to fleeing jounin over Konoha's rooftops. He crouched for a short moment, regaining his balance; then he jumped into the wide-spread branches of a cherry tree standing several feet away.

He landed so softly he hardly made a rustle, perching on a wooden branch as easily as any woodland creature. He watched as the jounin came into view, and ran immediately for the woods.

Hah!

He was so pleased with his succesful ploy that he laughed aloud. And then nearly fell out of the tree as a young voice pierced the air:

"Why are you here?"

Naruto jerked around, catching himself with one hand as he stared down at a small girl who was, in turn, staring up at him. Naruto's sudden motion had caused a cascade of pale pink sakura blossoms, floating softly downward through the air. The two children peered at each other through a curtain of falling petals.

Blue eyes locked with silver.

Several answers raced through his mind. 'They're chasing me' or 'Well, they wouldn't think to look for me here…where is here…?' or 'Well, I was lost on the road of life…' flashed through his quicksilver mind, but in the end he only said the truth.

"I…I wanted to watch the fireworks…"

As if on cue, bursts of light erupted in the sky. Both children fell silent as they tilted their heads upwards, watching the fireworks. The last of the sakura blossoms fell softly to the floor.

"…That's my name," she said, pointing at the sky.

Naruto stared.

"I'm Hanabi. My name is Hanabi."

Naruto couldn't think of a nicer name.


come with me
in the twilight
of a summer night

-.hack/sign