Testing out second person, because it's a cool style. Please excuse mistakes. Normal disclaimer applied. Neither of the two kids have names, mainly because their names don't matter.


You sit on the floor of an abandoned classroom in the Academy, with nothing to do to pass the time but to stare at your grimy hands and wait. Outside, explosions rock the ground at random intervals, but the Academy was well made, prepared to withstand as much as—or more than—the people inside. But even that isn't saying much.

Most of the beams that held up the ceiling have collapsed under the weight of the battle royal outside. The falling pieces of the building have crushed all of your classmates but one, and you know that the red that stains the floor now will stay with you and haunt you all the rest of your life. No amount of scrubbings will ever wash the crimson off of your hands, out from under your nails.

The boy huddled against your chest grasps your shirt with trembling hands, peering up at you with trusting eyes. Since the day you met him, you took care of him and helped him around the Academy and with his classes because it was your duty as upperclassmansempaineechan. Maybe he sees you as an older sister; maybe as a surrogate mother. Either way, he looks up to you. Knowing this, you clasp him more tightly to yourself and bow your head over his upturned face.

A boom echoes throughout the shattered classroom. You hear Uzumaki Naruto's loud cry of pain, and the anxious screams of the Godaime Hokage-sama—and a worried Hyuuga Hinata, though you don't know that. All you know is that Naruto-san's opponent—Pein? Is that it?—'s latest attack has loosened further the remaining beams that support the room's ceiling, and that it is falling onto you.

You bite your lip until it bleeds in an effort to keep from screaming—that would panic the boy in your arms, and if nothing else, you don't want to frighten him. You crawl forward over the bodies that litter the ground, hushing the child with soft, gentle tuneless humming you picked up from your mother before she died on a mission. He quiets, perhaps sensing the urgency of the situation.

The beam that narrowly misses you breaks in half over your Chuunin-sensei's body and knocks over a lamp on his desk. It shatters; the bodies of three classmates spontaneously burst into flame.

Now you feel panicked. The flames are spreading, and each time Naruto-san or his opponent makes an attack, the building shakes and the fire roars forward. You can feel the heat scorching your back; luckily, the boy is clutched to your chest. Desperately looking for an exit, you spot a tiny, narrow opening in the wall between the closed off door and the burning window. Your sensei always did say you had the sharpest eyes of your graduating class.

And this is a depressing thought. In a few weeks, you and your fellow classmates would have had a chance to become Genin. You would have been able to take a hitai-ate and tie it upon your forehead. But now you labour to draw enough breath in the smoky air, and you can hear the greedy sounds of the fire behind you.

And you and your classmates would have been proud to be shinobi, would have worn your hitai-ate with pride, because all you knew of being shinobi was the glory, the promise, the idea of being a loyal soldier.

No one ever told you about the pain that would come of it, because you were too young to understand and they thought they could wait just a little longer to tell you (when in reality it was just sensei who was so tired of losing his students that he couldn't bear to tell you).

No one ever told you about the fear, about the dread. They told you that you would die, because all shinobi know this, but you always thought of death as something vague, something that would take you gently. You didn't expect the flames that lick your skin now, that will consume you before you are even close to death.

When your parents were declared dead, all it meant to you was that they were gone and they weren't coming back. You never saw their bodies, because there wasn't much left of them, and Hokage-sama didn't want to scar you for life. How pointless now, because the tongues of flame that curl around you will definitely leave scars.

No one ever told you about this aspect of being shinobi, and now you must grit your teeth and bear it because this child depends on your ability to keep your cool now. You're not so sure if you want to be shinobi after all.

As you reach the crack in the wall, you can feel the blistering heat on your skin, burning your shirt off your back as you crawl. When you look at the wall, you see that the opening is just big enough to shove a small child through. With a sudden clarity, you know that you can't get out; that you're going to die.

Tears well up in your eyes, the way they haven't since your parents both died when you were six, and your hands clench, wanting something to hold onto as you die, as you burn. You want to wrap your arms around the whimpering boy and keep them there forever, to be together even unto death.

But that is selfish, and as a shinobi you can't afford to be selfish. You place a kiss—the kiss you always wished your mother had given you before she left—on his forehead before pushing him out the wall. You can just barely reach, and as you slump down into the flames, you can see the twinkle of the sunlight that shines down upon Naruto-san, the child you saved, and the ruins of the Academy.

There's no way for you to know that the child you saved will survive and grow up to be an average shinobi who will live an average life, and that he will marry an average civilian, with whom he will have many children, to whom he will repeat the story of a brave soul who saved him many, many years ago, whose name he never knew but who he remembers fondly up until the day he dies peacefully as a retired jounin, and that you'll never be publicly revered, and that your name will be carved into the memorial stone as just another poor student victim to Pein's wrath, but that you will be honoured by a family whose father was saved from a burning inferno one bright, sunny day. You don't know this. You can't know this. You will never know this.

But as you feel the flames envelop you, you stare up into the light blue sky—soratokumoskyandcloud—and know that you saved the boy who could have been your brother or your son, and you reflect that, really, this isn't a bad way to go.


the clouds are without

end

in the darkening sky


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