"what does this do?" he doesn't ask, doesn't stutter out from chapped child lips. there's something sharp and shiny in his not-yet-calloused hands, glinting with some sort of macabre charm in the flickering light of the under funded academy room. he's a little over three feet old, ready to take on the world and (lose) screaming.

his teacher sneers bare-toes-on-cracked-tiled-floors-in-winter cold, eyes critical and heavy with some indiscernible malignancy. naruto peeks up at him, blue eyes wider-than-the-sky-you-can't-help-falling-into, and shudders, realizing without knowing that they're all the more ominous for their abstrusity. "take it and move it." is all the teacher says, ushering him down the hall and the next child up the line.

his tanned child hands grasp the metal just a little too tightly as he stumbles down the worn walkway. he flinches. his nimble little fingers reflexively straighten out, forcing the sharp and shiny something to make its own precarious way to the tired old floor, but it's already too late. his hands hurt. he tries shaking them out, tries blowing on his slowly bloodying fingertips, but nothing he knows how to do helps, all his pathetic little attempts at palliation falling hopelessly, hopelessly short, like the last-bit-of-scab-binding-yourself-together arc of his shiny sharp something.

"what is this?" he doesn't ask, doesn't stutter out of a sob clogged mouth. there's no one there to hear his question, and even if there were, there still wouldn't be anyone to answer. he wants to run and hide and fly away, leave this anathema of steel and slowly crusting blood far, far behind him.

but he can't. even now, standing here with his newest precious something besmirched and tears wetting on his face and blood drying under his fingernails, he can hear the teacher say "take it and move it." he can also hear the way he says it, empathic and with a sort of commiseration naruto's sure has never been directed at him, but that's too much of a banality to not be considered extraneous at the moment, at this moment of blood and tears and fears because this was their first assignment as ninja, and he's already half sure he's ruined it, like still-raw-boiled-eggs or over-watered-ramen-cups, and it's messy and terrible and running all over fingers in a flavorless mess he knows he'll never be capable of fixing.

it's like the last song they play on that night, that night the village cheers and drinks while naruto huddles and sighs. soft blending notes reach up, up, up, their aspiration not to die but to soar off the sheets and into the hearts of the quieting townspeople, not chasing but shaming the tawdry ballads away and then away and then further away, so that there's more room for them to grow larger and louder than ever. naruto once dreamt of becoming them, wanted to jump out of his ragged child self and into the air, to drift not around or down but up, rising in a way the crusted autumn leaves couldn't.

the dreaming stopped, of course, when he was old enough to listen and hear what the wordless melody spoke of. there were no lyrics, no constraining metaphors to tie down and reign in, just whispered sentiments too not uncommon to not be heard, a caped yellow haired man standing tall saying "this is my story." it's the first time that night, the first time every night, that the revelry stops and the riotous nature of the throbbing throng, drunk with sake and victory quiets. "home." the song sings, but instead of heartbeats and smiles and dinner, steaming-hot-love-baked-in-a-calorie ready and waiting, it imbues the air with flat lines and blue lips and broken table legs, a set of china crushed what could have been yesterday or a thousand yesterdays before, and a raging something that never seems gone lurking about in the crushed aftermath.

he feels guilty and panicked and angry. his sharp new something is still laying on the floor, contumaciously red and crusting rather than silver and shining. naruto doesn't know what to do. every second he waits there, it seems like it's getting worse, as more and more of the sharp shiny steel gets covered by the slow drips of red that gather at and then fall from his fingertips.

his eyes are prickling. it's taking all of what he has to not cry when the teacher finally finishes doling out the supplies and starts to walk down the hall. The adult spares one look at him and opens his mouth, a hard line creasing in-between his eyes. "naruto!" he snaps, his voice, for all the duplicity trained into it, unable to make the name sound like anything other than the contumely it was. "pick that up and get back in line!"

naruto yelps out a nervous apology and thanks in one - "yes'r!" - before scrambling to get his fingers around the bloodied steel and then his body back where it was supposed to be, in its place. the girl behind him laughs a bit, the sound as derisive as screen-door-slamming-shut-old-lady-screaming-we're-closed!-as-he-walks-home-hungry-for-the-week. naruto blushes a little, the tips of his ears hot enough to burn from the ignominy of his situation: their first day of real ninja class and he'd already made a fool of himself!

his hands slip a bit on the slick metal of his shiny new something, but he does his best not to complain as the teacher herds them back into the classroom. this isn't something he wants his classmates to notice. being needy, being attention seeking, it's all ingrained into his psyche, an intrinsic part of what makes uzumaki naruto uzumaki naruto, but even he knows that now is not the time for it. the teacher's mien is more serious than usual, and he isn't sure if its the blood drying between his fingers or the pain that still sparks through his nervous system, but he's not oblivious enough to know that now isn't the time to not pay attention.

so he sits there, twitchy and restless, as the teacher goes on and on about how to hold their shiny new somethings so they don't make utter dimwits of themselves and end up all bloody like naruto. the boy in question just sulks, scratches at the dried blood with a little more ferociously than before, and thinks about paint balls and pin cushions. he makes a note to stop by the teacher's house one day (not too soon, he'd obviate the prank then, and naruto knows too much about retribution to make getting out of it easy).

it isn't until they're only a few minutes away from the end of class that naruto straightens up and pays attention. it's question time, and while that normally wouldn't have made a difference, it's the question that makes him sit up and take notice.

"so... what is this?" some pretty little civilian girl with bright hair tied in ribbons asks, holding up her own sharp and shiny new something for emphasis. naruto looks at her and thinks ripe-peaches-and-fresh-cream-hot-water-and-peeled-lids-i'm-in-love.

"they're called shuriken." the teacher says.

"what does it do?" the teacher doesn't-quite-flinch.

"they're for ninjas." he finally answers, voice too controlled to be hesitant but penitential all the same. "they're for protection against enemy ninja. so you can help do your part and protect the village."

there's an excited murmur at this, because they're all roughly three feet old, and being a hero sounds awfully appealing when you're just reaching the height of most doorknobs. naruto doesn't really want to say anything, because there are only, like, two minutes left of class, and he kind of really wants to get out of there. but everyone else seems like they're done asking things and he still kind of really wants to know. that's why he raises his hand and then just yells it out when the teaher refuses to acknowledge him.

"so then how come you're giving them to us now then! i cut myself on them! why are we going to cut other people with them!" naruto shouts out, dried flakes of blood flying off his fist when he pounds it against the table.

his teacher's eyes are phantasmagoric. they shift from this to that to so many other unnamable things as he opens his mouth and doesn't yet answer, but when he finally breathes it out, his tone is placid in its understated potency. "that's the ninja way." he answers. "that's the ninja motto."

"we do what we must because we can."