He groans and disentangles himself from the sheets. They cling like the sticky hands of banshees, claw at his knees and neck, leave behind large gashes of sweat and salt—but no blood; he catches himself vaguely disappointed. He heaves them violently off, breathes heavily in the heady-scented night. The air is thick with things he cannot define or remember.

His room is dark and bruised purple in the corners; around sweep the shadows, janitors of the night that busily clean away the light. He exhales, runs his hand through his hair, over the sweat that slicks his forehead smooth. He looks at the bed in which he sits; the crumpled sheets and the no-one beside him. He touches the space that the no-one occupies. It is full and swelled with nothing. The air bites his fingertips, nips playfully. His hand withdraws.

Get up, the night speaks, a low crooning voice. He stands, bare feet slipping against cool floor.

Go, the night whispers, urges. He moves to the door, does not know what he is doing or where he is going, but knows he must obey. His hand reaches perfunctorily out, twists the doorknob.

Against his skin the night air throbs cold.

Tonight is a starry night, the night of Vincent and his romantic escapades with death. The night smells of van Gogh's oily paints and his straw hat, of a sliver of an ear gone to waste. He inhales deeply, breathes the deep scent of ancient mulberry trees and swirling winds, and the smell seeps through his bare skin, colors his cheeks grey. He pads down the balcony of the apartments, cold numb footsteps resounding like owls' wings.

He thinks. Rather, the night thinks for him, supplies him with memories to chew on; gives him the most bitter ones to swallow, like cough medicine that never works, only worsens and clogs the throat unpleasantly.

He thinks of faces. Faces with smiles, faces with frowns, faces with raised eyebrows and skeptical smirks, faces with blurred tears that make the face run, like wax dripping off a candle almost gone. A boy's face, a girl's face, a man's face, a woman's face; for a moment, he thinks he sees his own face, too.

He ponders each face, brows furrowed. Each face is attached to a name, but right now he cannot remember; he only sees the eyes and the mouth and the nose, not the word that embodies each.

Many of the faces he's seen born and seen die, and many of them he hasn't met before. He wonders who they are.

Who? he asks the night. The night is eerily silent and does not answer, broods above and around him like a great swatch of black cotton, a giant baby's cradle.

He is only child, after all.

He settles on a particularly young face, a particularly weathered face with dark lines harsh and crusted with the world, too familiar with it for his own good. An old soul encased in a child's body and dead hope.

Come to visit me tonight too, huh?

But he is glad that this boy has come to keep him company, because he needs it, as much as he tries to deny it. Because as much as he thinks he's strong enough to balance the world on his shoulders, his shoulders are beginning to sag, beginning to droop with the weight. As much as he struggles and shifts the weight from one side to the next, back and forth, one shoulder to the next—he is tired.

Very tired.

He sighs and out tumbles his breath, fogs his face. His eyes flutter close.

Very, very tired. He'd forgotten how so.

The silver-haired boy's face flickers distantly and he calls to it in his disillusioned dreams, through the bog of his responsibility that he pretends he is enough for but really isn't. Is he fooling anyone, he wonders? Probably not.

Just himself, solely himself; no more, no less.

One of these days I'll make you smile.

The boy's face only smirks, dry, and he cannot help but chuckle to himself at the skepticism he thought belonged only to the town elders.

You'll see, you'll see. One of these days. Just watch.

So the boy watches.

-

The day the fiery beast comes, the whole world is a furnace and the stench of fire purges the village in the wickedest sense perceived. Trees crackle and burn, like smoldering candles, and houses crumble under the oppressive heat, under the flaring of the beast's great nostrils.

One twitch of one tail brings the world falling, the buildings to their knees in a repentant prayer that will not be answered.

He sees red and jumping, looping crimson that leaps here and there, kills the man to his left in one moment and the woman to his right in another. He wonders just how long it will take until it gets him.

Sweat drips into his blue eyes and he blinks hard to clear the stinging away, his nose singing with ashes of the town and of souls. He tries to inhale but ends up in a bout of coughing.

And then he sees the boy out of the corner of his eye. He turns and gestures violently.

"Get out of here!" he hears himself shouting above the infinite crackle of flame, this masterpiece of fire he cannot possibly defeat. He can barely hear himself. The boy only stares and does not move, says a million things without saying one.

No.

"Go back! Get out of here!" he repeats as the beast roars, a deep rumbling roar that rumbles through his ribcage, drums against it marvelously. His bones might shatter; it's so loud and cavernous, this echoing thing of ages gone by.

And then the brown-haired girl with her soft healer's smile appears by the boy's side, tugging at his arm.

"Come on, we've got to go. Listen to sensei," she pleads softly.

Sensei.

He feels so old when she calls him that, and his dry lips barely crack a smile. But he remembers the monster before him. This is no time for counting grey hairs or wrinkles or thinking of younger, better days. This is a time for the fight.

He feels the chakra pulsing to his hands, rushing to warm them with the tinge of white-blue.

"Get away from here!" he yells again, hoarsely as the footsteps of the beast shake the ground in a self-contained earthquake, come ever nearer. "Wait back at the town for me!"

He turns to face the beast, knowing the boy is still there watching with old black eyes of cold fire, and suddenly he feels young again under the piercing gaze.

It's the boy that's old, not him.

He turns back around, frustrated, and waves angrily. "Listen to me! Both of you go back to the town and wait there. I'll be there after I finish this."

He suddenly spies the blood on the young girl's hands and it looks incongruous on her, guilty and lost, like gloves that do not fit. He wants to tell her to wash it off right now before it stains her fingertips, but knows that the deed is already done and there is no washing it off.

Blood does not belong on her hands but the red screams in triumphant defiance.

You never could do anything, could you? Never could protect her! Never could protect him!

Never could protect anyone!

He turns his back to the two children-adults to hide his shame, to feign his courage, turns to face the approaching, snarling beast with the glistening saliva crystallized into flame. He looks and finds that there is no one else on this vast burnt field—only himself and the boy and the girl.

Why is it so empty?

Gone are the trees and for a moment he cannot make out the town in the smoldering haze. For a moment he wonders if it was ever there at all. Was it? Had it ever been there to begin with?

The beast glides toward him on clawed paws, trots eagerly, panting plumes of smoke. It smiles in venom.

Get out of here! he screams, and this time the girl finally pleads so hard and long, the boy cannot refuse but leaves in a daze, blank. She leads him away, like a mother to a child, a shepherd to a sheep.

He watches them leave, relief and a sudden cold loneliness flooding through, untouched by the glorious seething blaze before him.

He is alone.

Facing this thing, this thing he knows he cannot defeat fully, ever. What will he do?

He sets his jaw and readies himself into a battle stance, and the blue chakra illuminates his hands; but the small glow of his hands is nothing compared to the flaring of the monstrous flame before him, a pitiful comparison. Beside this everything, he is nothing, never has been, anyways.

He sighs. But he must try, and that is a fact. He will not go without a fight, because, well—what choice does he have?

The boy is watching him.

He can still feel the old, cold gaze on his back, this boy who is older than he, and years younger, too. He thinks of the boy—what he might have been, what he could have been, what he should have been, but wasn't.

He could have been a child, but the chance is lost now, forever lost. What he'd do to bring the chance back, though. He smiles, bares his teeth naked at the beast who smiles in return—but a different smile, a larger, longer, deadlier smile.

The two of them smile together, and nothing could have been grander.

As he fights he thinks of the boy and the girl, and the other boy who is gone now but is precious just the same. As he flits and flows and bleeds and grins, he thinks of all the people he's ever met, wonders what would they think of me now?

He imagines himself a moth fluttering around a great bonfire, and he knows sooner or later, sooner or later—

The moth's wings will singe, sizzle, and the moth will come crumbling into the fire, burn and flare up in a short burst of flame, and the dust of the wings will be carried away in the wind and no one will ever know.

He imagines himself a father of a son with golden sunshine hair and wailing cries and beautiful blue eyes, and he knows sooner or later, that son will be without a father, and the dream will die with the moth.

-

Far away, the boy stumbles with the girl who cries silently to herself as she walks away from a man dying a glorious death. The boy does not cry, but is blind as death, moving only because the girl makes him. She pulls and he falls after her, and she catches him and sets him up again and it goes on and on and on, over rocks and shrubs and tree roots and all the way to the village, she gasps.

She looks around but no one is there, nothing but snapping branches and the charred, melting corpses of buildings, and she wonders where did everyone go they couldn't have all died I don't want to be alone God where is everyone?

Ashes fly in her eyes, but the boy does not blink, lets the ashes burn his eyes placidly and what is wrong with him?

She wants to scream right now but her throat is too sore and besides, no one is here to hear so why bother?

She thinks of the man up on the hill facing the glorious fire, dying a beautiful death without her. She wishes. The wish is hopeless, as is the boy.

Beside her the boy suddenly stirs and awakes from the grip of his nightmares, and the coldness returns to his eyes in place of the blankness, and she's not sure if she should feel better or worse. Instead, she feels nothing in her indecision, her unease. She removes her hand from his shoulder. He does not seem to notice.

He speaks. "What are you doing?"

She blinks. "What am I doing?"

What am I doing? she screams inside her own head because she doesn't have the courage or capacity to scream out loud. What am I doing? I'm doing everything you can't do, never will be able to do, because you're incredibly stupid like that and I want to hate you so bad and why do you have to be who you are, why can't I hate you for what you are? Why?

"Why?" he echoes her question without having the slightest intention; probably wouldn't even care even if he had known. "Why did you leave him?"

"Leave him?" she queries dumbly, her voice trembling only marginally, thank God.

Why do you think I left him you idiot? Because I had to, because I couldn't have not, don't you understand? Don't you understand anything? I left him for you, you, you, you, stupid selfish dumb self-absorbed goddamn idiot. You were always a bigger idiot than Obito, only you couldn't see it with that stupid wheel eye of yours in the way. At least he could see past it; you certainly can't. Blind! That's all you are!

"I'm going back," he says.

"Going back?" she repeats.

Going back? Goddamn going back? I didn't drag you all the way over here for you to go back, I dragged you over here to stay here, stay here! Why do you always have to try so hard to do things you know you can't? Why can't you just be yourself? Would it hurt to be helpless just this once and goddamn accept it?

"I'm going," he says flatly. "Stay here."

Stay here? Do you just expect me to be a good little girl and stand here while both of you kill yourselves? Stand here and do nothing and twiddle my thumbs? Stay here?

He sets off and for half a minute (she counts the seconds) she watches his back growing smaller in the distance and then suddenly she screams and it ripples through the flame, pierces eerily through.

"If you go back I'm going to kill myself!" she screams after him, and is strangely happy when she sees his back stiffen. He turns and faces her slowly, dramatically.

"I swear I'll do it!" she screeches, and God, what a relief it is to finally scream, inhale the ashes, the sweltering heat. She draws a kunai from the pouch on her right leg and holds it to her own throat. "I swear if you go I'll do it!"

Her hand won't stop trembling and he stares at her like she's crazy, like he hasn't a clue who she is. He takes a few faltering steps towards her and inside the child laughs with clear glee, brings the blade thrumming closer to her neck.

He comes close enough so she can see his red eye glowing like a coal in the swirling cinders. It is an ugly eye. Why she'd done it in the first place, she'd never understand what had she been thinking? God what was wrong with her?

He says coolly, calmly, "I don't believe you."

"Don't believe me?"

And for a moment she is struck with the incredulity of it all. He watches like a spectator through a magnifying glass. She feels like a cockroach.

"You don't believe me," she says again, running the words through her teeth slowly, sucking on them, her hand shaking all the while. His silence is the only confirmation he offers, but it is tangible enough for her to take a bite out of.

The blade sings happy and warm against her gut as she plunges it deep, great, go deeper damn it think of apple pie and lonely roads and Obito but not of the knife in your gut! It sticks there and sucks the life out like a leech. The pain is untouchable; she does not feel it, only smiles comfortingly to herself when she hears Kakashi—

"Shit!"

And then he is over her, the ugly wretched eye (she has a mind to rip it out again before she dies) casting a blurring shadow over her.

"Shit shit shit shit what the hell were you thinking you freaking idiot, goddamn it!" he curses, and she thinks it's the sweetest thing he's ever said to her, better than all that cryptic crap.

"Goddamn—hold on, don't die on me. I've got it under control, I'll just, I'll just—"

"It's—" she breathes. "Alright. I—said I'd kill myself, didn't I?" The child in her head is dancing like it never has before; such joy—where did it come from?

"Shut up, I don't want to hear—"

"Do you believe me now?" she interrupts suddenly, grips his hand tight like a vise, which surprises him.

"What the hell are you talking about?" he half-shouts at her but she only smiles.

"You do believe me now, right?"

"What the—YES, goddamn it, yes I believe you now would you SHUT THE HELL UP before—"

"Good," she breathes quietly. "Good."

All's well that ends well, she thinks and dies. The child inside stops dancing and dies, too, with a smile.

-

He stands grim with lips tight and barely blue, mask covering his face but not his shame. Rain is falling and it hisses with acid, into his eyes.

Hours have turned into months, and months have turned into seconds, and seconds into years and years into now and now into an eternity. He can't think straight, does not hear the words that should mean so much to him but mean nothing at all; the Sandaime's words are tragically lost, but the tragedy is unfelt.

Two coffins and that is all.

He smiles, full of hate.

--you were right but not really—


Also posted on my fanfiction account (see profile). Note: this is based off of theNaruto characters Yondaime, Kakashi, Rin, and Obito. Anyways...it was fun to write. C & C is greatly appreciated, yo.