AN: My new writing tool is my Japanese-English dictionary. I'll pick a pairing and flip to a page- and whatever that word is becomes the theme. Try it. It's fricking harder than it looks…

Today's word is: elbow (hiji). w00t.

Obon is the annual festival of the dead, and lanterns were traditionally set on bodies of water in honor of dead relatives. Google it.


Neji is the one leaving paths; Neji is the one wrestling angels and winning, the one keeping pace and heart in the maelstrom. Tenten would rather believe it's an optical illusion, rather swallow nails than admit it, but the truth is that Neji has always lived in spite of (insert fallacy, ruinment, or tragedy); it is Neji who has always kicked her while she is down over some lower incident, and it is always his self-centered smirk she sees in her head when she fails.

Neji's the king of id; he's the king in Tenten's mind, climbing over bodies to survive.

----

The river is pulsing, throbbing with hollow pinpricks of light; they morph into laughing trails, laughing at the tiny, fragile stars which teeter in the void above them. It's Obon night, and every lantern is laden with so much grief and well-wishing that it's a wonder they don't tip over. Tenten wonders about the ones that do, the ones who's little candles are plunged into the frigid water and extinguished; do those dead relatives wait in the lobby of the afterlife, waiting like inmates for mail day, watching their other dead comrades flit about over the greetings and love willed past earth on this night? What if they should wait there, until the party has died and the lights have faded, for contact with those they left behind; a word, a whisper drowned at the bottom of a mortal sea? Where's the justice in that?

But she thinks to herself, in that pre-censoring way, no; it's foolishness Tenten, just foolishness. And the moment she buries this thought securely into her viewpoint, she spots Neji on the other side of the river. He is placing a row of lanterns atop the murky water top, watching their central flames cast daring little imps of shadows across the water, and then one by one tipping them over.

-----

He walks her home one day without asking, and neither of them say a word; they pretend it's so natural, pretend that life is peachy and that they could care less about what's going on in the other's existence.

"Who do you say your prayers for?"

Neji stops dead in his tracks, face obscured behind collar and mask of boyish hatred; he looks skyward for a long while, errantly massaging his elbows.

"For myself." he replies, and then begins the long trek home. But Tenten does care; it's a poisonously sweet giving-way in her that needs no justification, no explanation in her mind.

She wants to tell him that her prayers are for him, too- but it wouldn't penetrate. Not now.

----

He sees her and she sees him, and there's nothing much to talk about until Neji wants to; but Tenten is used to the cakewalk, how Shinobi confess. They have to sway on their aching feet until they can no longer circle an issue, and finally collapse on the nearest shoulder. She can orbit a long, long time, waiting for him to weaken. Waiting for him.

But one perfumed night, it happens; she is leaning on his shoulder, though, their shoes in a row before where the river's muddy edge begins. They are watching summer fireworks, and the warm, pink crinkling of lights against the velvet sky is not lost upon either of them; they reflect in Neji's wide, white eyes something sleep-inducing and beautiful, and Tenten is again struck by the austere condition of this man in a boy's body. He is sleek and all things natural and shining; he is the animal who escapes, who eats the smaller creatures because he has to and finds joy in it because he can. Through half-lidded eyes, she watches the paranoid twitch of his animal tail, his bright eyes like live ashes; and she thinks that she has loved him all along not only for what he is, but what he is not- at least what he is not able to admit to himself.

Neji opens his mouth, once, twice; sets his face and then speaks into the crystalline night.

"I don't think prayers go anywhere.", he says tonelessly.

"They do," Tenten assures him; he reaches down and begins stroking her elbow in a slow, soft kind of way, the kind of way that crippled animals let you know they're ready to trust again, and acknowledge they're no longer the king of the lonely jungle.


PLEASE REVIEW. I am a sad, sad writer-person who needs acknowledgement and feedback to keep from killing stupid people. So please- for the sake of a stupid person, review.