the dream carrier.
The sky is barren, and deep.
He has windy hair and cloudy eyes, and the world around him is a fixture of mud and dust.
Those eyes are hard and stone-cold, they peer into the distance like a set of man's eyes, bespectacled onto the frame of a wiry boy. Or perhaps, he is not a boy? In fact, as we ponder this question, what is he, exactly?
It is simple. The answer is simple. The question is divided in two.
Is he the carrier? Or is he the catcher?
Her knees are scuffed and dirtied, peering from behind the neatly ironed and pressed dress she wore. Her hair is tied above her hair in a pretty bow, the strands are colored pink like fresco.
They sit side by side in this barren bowl of dirt and dust. The ground is brown, the sky is alight with blue, a long white cloud strings along the horizon like a rope, tethering into the dull sun that poises above the horizon.
She smiles. Her eyes are so pretty, and they are bright, bright, bright as if someone had replaced them with mirrors.
"Naruto." She says, and he remembers the way her gummy pink mouth moves as she says it, and the way her eyes are glistening.
A SMALL FACT ABOUT HARUNO SAKURA:
She didn't deserve the way she died.
the attributes of summer. the last human stranger. a seven-sided die, and the unbeatable odds.
Naruto does not remember how he died.
He does not question it, nor does he try to deny that he did. He just wishes he knew why.
Contrary to popular belief, he does not carry a scythe, nor does he wear a black cloak unless it is particularly chilly. His features are not skeletal, his touch is not the icy touch of death's foretelling. He can't float in the air, and does not have bony bat wings that spread from his back.
He is small. Puny. Shrimpy.
Naruto does not know when he died, but he has the appearance of a skin-and-boned adolescent with a mop of straw colored hair askew atop his head.
He pushes his hands close to his mouth, cupping them. A flicker stretches into life, the tapered fiery ends are lapped in the wind. Smoke arises from the cigarette that hangs from his mouth.
He sits on top of a small farmer's shed in a field laden with pumpkins not too far from the
Kumo border, the sky is stretched above him in an array of dying colors.
The smoke piles into the sky.
Eddies and whorls swim in the air.
The Kumo ninja, sprawled on this corpse and blood ridden field—their spirits lay in his lap, and sits on the roof.
This is the summer of war.
He dies once, lives a good lifetime, but serves for an eternity.
Naruto tries to save Jiraiya.
The boy is grinning cheekily, his eyes are creased from laughter. But the war weighs heavy on his shoulders. He is Gennin, but it is war. Now, he is Chuunin going on Jounin, thirteen going on twenty three.
The lines are painted on his face, his arm slung around a girl of equal age, but not equal bust.
She smiles, but looks drawn-out. Fragile. Forced.
They are children among war. War among children. They fight, their country fights, their lives are lost somewhere in the process. There is no ultimatum.
They will die. It is just a matter of who is sacrificed, and who is saved.
Sakura (Sakura, you must understand, is his last tie to what he once was, and what he has lost) is looking at him questioningly. She is seventeen, but at the moment she likes to thing that she is much more mature than that.
Naruto feels guilt wrenching in his gut. Even now, as he visits her before it happens (time is of no consequence for someone who lives for eternity) he can still see her blood spattered face.
She didn't deserve it.
Sakura tips her head back. "Hello," She says coolly, but no hint of cruelty in her questioning voice.
In his stick-figured body, face splattered with dirt and maybe some blood, she does not recognize him. His hair is dulled, his skin is the color of the sadness. But his eyes…his eyes are gleaming and iridescent, shiny as if they were oceans. They light his face up like the sun lights the sky.
"Hi." He intones.
"Who might you be?" She kneels, smoothes her skirt out as she does so, and brushes back a stray lock of rose colored hair.
She waits his answer, her eyes are lit, her smile is large and her lips are pink, framed by her bangs.
Her face was also this beautiful, when it was split into jagged, bloody lines.
Naruto watches from behind the face of his disguise—his disguise of normality, his disguise as just another in a faceless, nameless crowd—as Jiraiya aids orphans from the war.
Their names are Nagoto and Konan, their faces are smudged with dirt, grime, and blood.
They are the faces of this war, the faces of the many orphaned children that are stuck in a war torn land.
Their feet are scuffed, hands roughed, and cold-faced. But they are children, you can see it in their eyes.
Naruto pulls the younger form of Jiraiya aside before he intiates first contact with the orphans.
"Don't." He says quietly. "By assisting them you'll only make it worse."
Jiraiya looks bewildered by his words. The newly minted Jounin was in the midst of his first taste of war, the salty and bitter aftertaste was fresh on his tongue and he didn't understand the mechanics.
"What?" He looks a bit indignant by Naruto's words.
Jiraiya does not understand that by helping these orphans out, by playing the savior, is essentially the same as feeding ducks in a pond. Once Jiraiya stops throwing bread, they won't remember how to catch their own food. And soon, they will rely on Jiraiya for more bread, but he will be gone. Gone, back in his scorned home village.
So Jiraiya shrugs him off, and, fate unfolds before the hands of death.
Naruto looks on, expressionless.
With wings made of feathers and glue,
I fly with my hands stretched open,
Fully knowing, that I'll come tumbling down
Itachi looks at him through hooded eyes, the ground beneath his cheek is icy cold.
Naruto's hands are bones compared to his, the weight of the muscle and tissue and strength held in the same hand of brittle bones and skin is a contrast.
"Naruto," He says conversationally, black hair falling in their eyes as they wait for the last stop on the train to the end. "do you carry the dreams of our people?"
It is a roar, a loud cry of smoke that pillars into the sky.
It is a train that cries and screeches to a stop in front of them. The train to the end, the train to hell.
His eyes are closing. "Or do you catch them, and steal them from us?"
The birth of the sky,
was made of many colors,
and many tears,
Ino cries, her sobs wrack her weakened body as she holds the body in her arms closer.
Tears dribble on her chin, as she holds the small, fragile body to her chest.
The child is silent. Cold, and breathless.
She is alone, the nurse is in the corridor, leaving her alone with her baby. Stillborn. The fluffy hair atop its head is smoothed back, eyes are closed, hands are limp. It was eight months old, and looks and feels like a normal baby. But it lacks the sole ingredient, the soul puff of breath that is lost on this small human. Life.
The blonde woman wails into the newly pealed morning, and does not—can not—notice the figure that accompanies her in the room.
Naruto leans out of the open window, the child in his arms opens its curious blue eyes, and breathes. His eyes soften as the child plays with his finger, as they wait for the train together.
The year is of his nineteenth.
As a redundancy in human life, war blossoms on the edges of everyone's view.
Rations are being handed out, energy is being devoted to making supplies. Civilians are warned to stay indoors. Chuunin that usually slack off on guard duty are suddenly alert, tense and wired nerves make them shiver and nervous, scared of what is to come.
Jounin and ANBU clean their swords, reminiscing of the days that were blood ridden and hidden in their childhoods, in one of Konoha's older wars. And now, looking into the future that rushes towards them.
The air is chilly like the beginnings of spring, the wind a benign presence.
They are more worried about the war brewing on the horizon then the wind lapping at their coats.
Naruto has his hood pulled over his face, but his eyes glow underneath the hood. He waits, nothing more than a shadow, on the looming gates of Konoha.
Beneath him, a scene unfolds.
"Do you think Sasuke will be there?" Sakura asks him quietly.
Her eyes, even with strews of pink hair blowing in her face, depict her hope. One hand clutches the ends of her shawl, pulled over her head in an attempt to block the howling wind.
Naruto can see himself turn away, see himself push his hands into his pocket and look up at an empty sky.
From above them, he can't hear or see much of what his younger self and Sakura are saying, but he remembers well.
He won't answer her.
That night, he will dream of howling winds, and Sasuke some distance away from him, staring sightlessly into the sky.
Sasuke, as it turned to be, was there.
The two were faced side by side.
Six ruptured tails grew like molten fire from his back, twisting like long whips of lava.
His features were distorted and darkened, Sasuke's eyes bled red, Sharingan etched into his pupils, burning them, destroying them.
That day, both of them died.
One would go to hell, one would stay with the living.
Both would suffer for eternity.
"The worst crimes," Jiraiya said one day, he was chewing the back of a slender stick of wheat, the large head of the plant was bouncing as he walked. He kicked a pebble beneath his sandal.
Naruto watched him with rapt attention, he was young, they had begun their journey, and
Naruto was certain that Jiraiya's words of wisdom would be told in this moment.
And he was right.
"The worst crimes," Jiraiya began again, "Are the ones committed in war."
His eyes followed passed the wheat fields, past the golden sky, towards something that
Naruto couldn't see, couldn't follow.
"Why's that?" Feigning ignorance, feigning curiosity and interest, Naruto pulled his hands behind his head and kicked his legs as he walked.
But he knew.
In war, anything is forgiven. In war, one country will celebrate its win and its victory over the others, they will celebrate the rape of another land, bleeding another country dry, destroying pillars of human life, creating orphans and family less wives. The other, will nurse its broken spirit and never fully recover.
A great leader will seal a terrible demon into his young son.
And never regret it.
(or perhaps he does, but Naruto will never truly know)
So, the young, adolescent version of himself scrunches his nose in immaturity and naïveté, looks at his mentor and says, "You look sad when you say that."
Jiraiya blinks, and looks back at him with a bit of surprise. It soon evens into something, a different look, a solemn look. "Do I?"
Naruto only shrugs.
(when Naruto goes to fight his own war, he will realize exactly what Jiraiya meant, and exactly what he will have to live with for the rest of his life)