So this is dedicated to SasuNaruFreak13 because you're amazing and your reviews make my face hurt from smiling and just—GUH. You make me all 'uwah~' Like seriously :'DD so much love to you my lovely~~~
Paper Lantern Sailboat
In a ninja village, Tourou Nagashi was always such a sight to see. Everyone in the village, for even if they hadn't lost someone this year to the shinobi way of life, everyone had certainly lost someone precious once, gathered by water's edge to float their paper lanterns. Coastal villages let their tall geta sink into the moist sand as they crouched alongside an outlet, close to the ocean, all dressed in their traditional best. Their dead were sure to rest in peace, making their way down the short water way and setting sail straight into the sea while those left behind, watched them go. They disappeared under the rise of the waves as nature took them back.
Humans came from the water and thus, in death, their bodies, signified by the pearly white lanterns, had to be returned to the sea.
In Konoha, the villagers collected at the edge of the river behind the training grounds. They carried their paper lanterns to the water and let them go. The river's current was slow so the lanterns always stayed put for a while, bumping and nudging against one another and it always seemed as though they were waiting until the last candle had been lit, until the last lantern began to glow, to start their journey. Together.
They glided peacefully between the rocks and over the tiny rapids while the villagers watched, tear marked eyes worrying after them. Could this river really take them all the way back to the sea?
Some didn't think so. But there was nothing more they could do. If they didn't the souls would be trapped inside the village.
It was a warm night in late July when four ninja made their way down to that river side. Tourou Nagashi had already passed last month and they had attended in their yukata and geta, groomed and neat. But tonight they wore t shirts and shorts, a summer qipao dress, the skins of a jounin ninja attire. The small group was strangely free of their Konoha forehead protectors but one still wore his family crest heavy between his shoulders. In his hands he carefully held a plain, white paper lantern.
To his left, a blonde haired boy stood, his usually playful features solemn and straight, staring out at the dark rippling water. On the right, the only female shifted her weight, holding her hands behind her back, sea foam green eyes lowered to the first boy's hands. His head fell forward a little and when she reached to tuck a long lock of his midnight hair behind his ear, he let her without a word.
Behind them, a masked man, lacking his heavy jacket and thick protective gloves tonight, stepped forward, settling a heavy hand on the raven's shoulder, dark eyes soft and sympathetic.
"Let's start, ne."
Sasuke rolled his shoulders, drawing a long breath and at his elbow, Naruto struck a match and then waited, liquid blues studying the other boy's face before he received a short nod and leaned in to light the small candle inside the lantern.
"Hn, don't set the paper on fire, Dobe," mumbled Sasuke half-heartedly and the two young ninja snorted a soft laugh together at the out of place insult. Sakura leaned in to watch the wick catch alight and Kakashi looked in over Sasuke's head, hand still on his shoulder.
When the lantern was lit, they moved back and Sasuke stepped forward, moving to where the water lapped up into his sandals and then crouched down, holding the orange glow in his hands over the river.
The others followed him forward after a moment, realizing that Sasuke wasn't letting the lantern float yet. Or couldn't let it float yet.
"Sasuke kun, it's okay. They'd be happy you're doing this. It'll be good for you too," called Sakura gently, bobbing down and touching the Uchiha's arm. This time he flinched at her touch but when he looked to her he didn't look angry. She smiled at him sadly; taking in the way Sasuke was fighting to keep his expression smooth, how his eyes didn't quite meet hers making him look almost lost. It was a terrible kind of thing to see on the face of her beloved Uchiha Sasuke. Usually so stoic and strong.
But she could understand why right now he couldn't be the cool and mysterious boy all the girls went wild for.
Sakura squeezed his arm slightly.
"You said you've never done this for them, but I promise it's the right thing to do. There's nothing wrong with letting go, Sasuke kun." At this, the raven's eyes snapped up, narrowing nastily- a clear 'letting go?' and Sakura drew a deep breath through her nose, drawing her hand back. Kakashi leaned into the scene, blocking Sasuke's stare.
"Sasuke, letting go doesn't mean forgetting." And this seemed to soothe the Uchiha. His mouth softened as his sensei smiled through his mask; an understanding between them. "It'll float. Just put it in the water and…" Kakashi looked out to the river, something distant in his gaze. "… let it go."
The boy swallowed thickly and then moved his hands stiffly as though he'd held the position for much longer than the few minutes. He laid the lantern carefully atop the river's surface but held it there, his fingers sinking into the chilly water where he held it against the current that didn't fight for it; allowed him to keep the lantern still until he was ready. He said nothing for a long while and then parted his lips to mouth 'I can't' silently.
Naruto, who had been quiet since lighting the candle, dropped down next to Sasuke and dipped a hand into the water, coming to shadow Sasuke's. The raven's eyes widened at the contact and he licked his lips nervously, turning sharply to face Naruto, searching for an answer while trying to decide whether he should be angry at the boy for touching him so casually. But the blonde was calm, he stared back at Sasuke with strong blues and a look Sasuke had rarely seen on the blonde. In the back of his mind, the raven noted how unusual this was and how unnerving it should be. But somewhere inside him, Naruto, who smelt earthy and comforting so close to him, eased a painful tension.
Which was stupid because Naruto had been so ridiculous about this whole thing when they had discussed it weeks back.
'Is just one lantern ok for all of them? Shouldn't we get more? Why are we doing it on Sasuke's birthday? We shoulda done it with all the others. How come you never did this for them earlier, Teme?'
But then he'd been so quiet tonight.
Sasuke breathed a laugh, observing how his and Naruto's skin tones clashed beneath the water's surface; even paler against the backdrop of the black riverbed beneath.
It really was unexpected, this kind of contact. But Sasuke knew that Naruto understood how he was feeling to an extent. Not the pain of letting go, Naruto had never known any family to lose, but the fear of being alone. Sasuke remembered how he'd always found the way Naruto clung to Iruka when they were students- even when he was being scolded, annoying and never knew why he so craved any kind of attention from the man. But the young Uchiha was just as pathetic, keeping the ghosts of his family around because he too was terrified of being truly alone.
"Sasuke," Naruto said and there was something so much more in the call of his name when it passed through Naruto's lips that Sasuke shivered and his heart began to race. The blonde's fingers were working in between Sasuke's under the water, loosening his tight grip on the 'feet' of the lantern little by little. The Uchiha was speechless, suddenly wide eyed as he watched it happen, his heart swelling painfully in his chest.
And then, all at once, he'd let go of the lantern and it was bobbing up and down on the ripples in the water made by Naruto, his fingers still intertwined with Sasuke's, pulling their hands out. As though nature itself understood what had just happened, a light night breeze picked up and caught inside the light, paper lantern, pushing it into the current.
"Ah—" began Sasuke but couldn't finish, suddenly very aware of how tight Naruto was holding his hand, of Kakashi's grip returning to his shoulder and holding back the forward motion of Sasuke's body as he leaned after the lantern.
"I promise—" he started in a dry whisper, not know where he was going, why he was speaking, but was cut short anyway when Sakura rose abruptly, hastily hooking her fingers into the backs of her sandals and tossing them aside before stumbling into the river that swallowed her into its dark depths as she went.
"Oi, Sakura chan, what are you doing!"
"Sakura! You shouldn't be in the river while we're-"
"UCHIHA SAAAN!" shouted Sakura when she got waist deep, bracing her legs against the swifter current, shattering the quiet night air with her voice. "I PROMISE TO LOOK AFTER SASUKE KUN!" She bent at the waist, clutching her belly, eyes clenched closed as she screamed down the river.
"Stop…" whispered Sasuke
"I REALLY LIKE SASUKE KUN AND I WANT TO PROTECT HIM. SO PLEASE GO AND- AHH!" She slipped and went under the black water.
"SAKURA CHAN!" Naruto let go of Sasuke and jumped into the river, grabbing for Sakura's flailing arm and hauling her up. "Are you alright, Sakura chan?" The girl spluttered, steadying herself as she clung to Naruto, flipping her soaking hair out of her face and tried to continue what she was saying while spitting up water. Naruto held tight to her and then looked to Sasuke at the river's edge and back to the disappearing ball of light down the river.
"Oi, Dobe. Don't…"
He filled his lungs.
"MIKOTO SAN! FUGAKU SAAAAAAAN! I PROMISE TO LOOK AFTER YOUR SON TOO!"
"AH-! Stop it, Usuratonkachi! And don't use first names!" Sasuke staggered to his feet and into the shallows.
"I ACTUALLY LIKE HIM TOO SO JUST LEAVE IT TO ME! I'LL LOOK AFTER HIM FOR SUUUUURE!" Screeched Naruto, cupping his mouth with the hand that Sakura wasn't holding.
"STOP IT, NARUTO! YOU IDIOT!"
"SASUKE KUN IS SAFE WITH US!"
Sasuke watched in horror as his two teammates kept yelling their promises and confessions down the river til their voices cracked and turned hoarse, even as Sasuke screamed at them to stop.
"WE BOTH LOVE SASUKE KUN, SO LET US TAKE CARE OF HIM FROM NOW ON!"
"PLEASE BE AT PEACE AND JUST LEAVE THIS BASTARD TO US!"
"STOP IT!" Over and over. "DON'T YELL! DON'T SAY ANYTHING!"
By the time the three fell silent, angry tears were streaming down Sasuke's face. When Sakura and Naruto came out of the river they were both in tears too, faces bright red even in the nighttime gloom.
"You're not Uchiha Sasuke for a second," snarled the blonde wetly as he reached roughly for Sasuke's neck and dragged him into a hard hug. Sasuke struggled, wanting nothing more than to run and hide from everything that had just happened, but Naruto was almost crushing him; that calm and gentle boy lost to the river. Sasuke was soaked to the skin in no time. Sakura joined the embrace, her arms around both Sasuke and Naruto's waists, her face pressing against their shoulders. They whimpered and sniffed noisily together and the Uchiha had never been more mortified in his life.
Kakashi sighed and watched the three stuck together in a wet, teary mess.
"Let me go…" ground out Sasuke from Naruto's shoulder, his voice somewhere between a sob and a growl. Both Sakura and Naruto simply tightened their arms.
'No way, not ever.'
And then Sasuke DIDN'T leave the village because people love him.