The lanterns swung gently in a soft breeze; it was not enough
to cool the men and women gathered together in the streets of Konoha. The community was bound by a whimsical connection, a
frail bond that glowed in their hearts like the lights hung from tree to tree. The drums beat; it was a deep sound that rolled
as it pulsed through the soles of the feet, up and up—it caused a tremble in the cavity of their chests. The flutes,
high and melodic, followed the procession of drums. The young men and women had their hair tied back with bandanas adorned
with a calligraphic “Konoha” that faded behind the red sun of Japan. Like the headbands that worked to
keep sweat from the players’ eyes, matching yukata were white as the long-melted snows. As tradition dictated,
the uniforms went down to the waist for both sexes, and were adorned with a simple geometric design
They’re exactly like all the other villages’ stupid yukata.
The shorts, too, were commonly seen all over Japan. The
only difference between Konoha and the other villages was the color of the shorts; it was a deep green that spoke of trees
and the leaves that would fall in different shades all over the roads.
Leaves everywhere once fall’s here. But until then, it was only Natsumatsuri, the Summer Festival.
Naruto smiled. Fall’ll be here in a little.
“Why bother with any of this, Naruto?” the bored,
barely annoyed question was more of an insult than not. It was a question that hinted subtly at stupidity and complete lack
of common sense. Naruto ignored the jibe, as he’d decided earlier that at least one of his nights off would be pleasant.
“Those games are rigged; you can’t really win anything without losing a fortune.”
Naruto laughed loudly, which surprised the gaggle of girls
before them into excited giggles. They chattered in hissed voices about something neither boy caught, but Naruto was certain
the subject was cast in an unfavorable light. “I know, I know.” he drawled in an imitation of his adopted father.
“If they weren’t, I woulda nailed a bigger fish than this tiny thing!” he grumbled with his eyes on the
plastic bag of water. It held the tiny gold and red fish that swam frantically into its prison-like walls. Annoyed with the
catch, Naruto drawled, “Shikamaru, what d’ya think boiled goldfish tastes like?” the long-haired boy started
in confusion, and a slightly disgusted look covered his normal boredom. “It’ll take at least two weeks for it
to be big enough for even miso soup. . .” Naruto moaned, and looked back into the street.
The procession of flutes had ambled by, and the lighted
paper float before him now was the same size as a car. It was tall enough to need telephone wires moved by men who balanced
perilously on platforms disguised into the scenery. It had no large, central figure like the others, and it wasn’t particularly
detailed. Naruto narrowed his eyes in bewilderment. The lighted float was only scenery, Naruto saw. In front of the tall, winding trees there was a wooden platform. That, like all the other floats, was propped
on wheels and pushed by several men. Some were on the sides of the float, and more pushed from behind. On the platform stood
three people dressed in bright kimono, not yukata, Naruto swiftly realized. They danced an intricate pattern,
silent, but they portrayed some unknown myth as kagura actors might. Two were masked demons who fought the similarly
masked samurai as though they weren’t tired at all. That alone surprised the small blond, and his respect for the performers
rose a notch. If they’ve been dancing for two hours with no shifts, that’d be somethin’!
“Naruto...exactly what are you planning?” the
tall, lean young man demanded. His jet black hair was pulled in a warrior’s tight topknot at the back of his head, like
the samurai of old. If those samurai modeled their hair after Musashi, that is, Naruto noted with some amusement. His
friend never cared for modern styles, with his fishnet shirt and pullover jacket. Not that I should criticize Shikamaru...
Naruto grinned devilishly, but remained silent; by the time
Shikamaru’s words reached him, he was already gone. The dance wove around the stage in choreographed simplicity, and
thanks to the graceful motions as well as the mysterious moonlight, the actors were beautiful. Something about those three
spoke of a feminine grace that Naruto could hardly leave be. Girls like to be teased, don’t they?
It wasn’t difficult to get past the barriers on the
street sides; those were there simply to tell onlookers where to stand, not to physically bar anyone from entering.
So Naruto easily jumped the ropes, and sprung into an animal-like crouch just before he leapt onto the stage as he grinned
wildly. Much to his glee, the high school girls screamed in voices pitched an octave too high for rage, and laughter sparkled
in their voices. So they aren’t kagura actors after all, Naruto mused. Thought as much.
“Ladies, consider your night of dull tedium at its
end,” Naruto drawled, a cheerful grin on his face as he pulled out his chopsticks. Naruto had swiped the plastic chopsticks
from the ramen stand. And unlike most of his classmates, he was capable enough to block against metal blades. Just in time,
he grinned, for my special technique. The taller of the demons attacked him with her sword. Her real
sword. Oh shit...
“Get off our stage!” she hissed, meaning full-well
to force him. Naruto, more amused than cowed, dodged. “You’re ruining our performance.”
The crowd, on the other hand, disagreed. A relapse from
the norm was something even geezers enjoyed once in a while, and short boys with spiky blonde hair fit the bill nicely. Especially
when they fought two demons and a samurai with chopsticks stolen from the ramen shop. “I think your audience disagrees
with you, girls,”
With a snarl, the girl lunged. Hmm. I don’t think
she’s joking...Naruto laughed and rolled under the samurai’s attack. The tall girl’s momentum
forced her to drop her sword and protect her face. Naruto was amused to find that unlike a warrior of the past, she didn’t
know how to roll without piercing...something. Something like her side...hmm. Naruto winced at the thought.
The girl yelped in surprise, and her comrades, who had prepared
a double-attack from his left and right, had to drop their weapons and fall, too. Maybe the masks hinder their eyesight
too much, but damn. Can’t they work together better than that?
Naruto stood and turned to look at the girls. The three
moaned quietly from their mess of tangled limbs, and Naruto chuckled. While kimono are damn impressive, there are
reasons why warriors don’t wear them, he thought to himself.
He bowed, and just before he took his leave, another sword
pressed into the small of his back, which effectively stopped him cold. “Don’t move,” a deep, smooth voice
bade him, and Naruto recalled momentarily an old ninja film with that exact line in it. What happened to that guy? he
thought nervously, and tried to stop the oncoming images of decapitated farmers that infiltrated his brain. Uh-oh...I’m
Eyes lowered in defeat, Naruto mournfully eyed Shikamaru
whose expression was somewhere between choked laughter and something that might have been worry. Maybe, he thought.
The audience was more bemused than either of the youths, and several of the men in charge were on their way over to make sure
that things progressed as planned. Naruto had hoped to be gone before they got there; now I’ve got to help with clean
up. If I survive this encounter, that is, he thought ruefully.
“What do you think you’re doing, coming up here?”
the low, entirely too cool voice continued, a rich baritone that spoke its way into the hearts of many young women.
His was the voice of the old samurai. The same heroes who lived in Naruto’s memory from old, grainy movies. Movies featuring
blind men catching a wedding band on the tip of a katana...Naruto shook his head to clear it. The way this young man phrased
things was captivating, and the subtle intonation on words made Naruto want to close his eyes. He wanted to believe that he
honestly was as worthless as everyone would have him believe. “You think you’re better than these girls?”
he asked in a loud, carrying voice everyone heard easily over the flutes as they faded around the corner.
Hurt, annoyed that someone would take his pranks so seriously,
Naruto couldn’t help the vicious snort that came from his mouth. It was as loud as the other boy’s voice. “No!
When’d I ever say that?” he snarled, and his blue eyes flashed ominously in the dim lights the lanterns provided.
Somehow Naruto felt the cold smile from behind, and once
more he felt the alien desire to hide. “Good.” There was humor hidden within those silky tones, a promise to be
fulfilled and a dark hint of revenge he had no right to take. For a moment the pressure in the small of his back intensified.
Naruto knew he’d be bruised by morning, but it was over quickly. Soon,
he felt another sort of pressure on his hips, just at his sides—
—and a sudden cool breeze on his legs that he really
shouldn’t have felt.
Naruto’s eyes narrowed to almost invisible slits.
What a bastard...The crowd around them seemed to blink in unison and then the laughter started, quiet, but there. There
were far too many people Naruto knew for them not to. More than the bruise, that stung. Naruto had been publicly humiliated
at the sight of his own prank.
“Hey, Naruto! Nice boxers!” the catcalls began,
starting with some girl from homeroom he couldn’t remember the name of. Inu? Aiyu? Her long blonde hair was definitely
memorable, and the sharp blue eyes marked her as foreign as himself in many ways, but not nearly as despised. She had the
brains to make up for it, and a family name besides. Yamanaka...something-or-other. Teachers’ favorite, head of Kendo
at their school, and a confirmed Naruto-hater. Naruto’s thoughts were on other matters, however, like, how the hell
can I get this to end?
With the sword removed from close proximity, Naruto whirled
around, his chopsticks brandished and face a flaming scarlet any tomato would envy. “Oi! What was that supposed to mean?!”
he demanded, and prepared himself to launch into a tirade this town had never known. The words died on his lips, however,
when he found another demon-clothed person behind him, mask pushed lazily to the side to see. Eyes of a deep black that earned
the midnight sky’s envy, and a small smirk that spoke of confidence, money, and power. Beautiful, wealthy, and more
pure-blooded than the town they lived in.
The young man—boy, really, and about my age if
I ain’t wrong—snorted. His mouth quirked upwards, and amusement glinted in those cold eyes. “Teaching
you a lesson in manners,” he replied smoothly, as cool as the winter winds above the mountains.
“And who are you to teach me anything?”
Naruto asked sharply. He tried to keep the anger in his voice, but it was useless now; the best he could hope for was to come
off as a stupid, ignorant brat to this samurai-like kid with the classic beauty of gods. Or demons, the spiteful side
of Naruto argued.
Naruto smirked, reading the hints beneath those two words.
“So you think you’re a hero, do ya?” he taunted, lips twitched into a careless smile better fit on a fox-spirit
than himself. After all, a smile is the best way to bear one’s teeth in today’s world, and I have very sharp
teeth. He brought his left hand up as if to salute the other boy, but stopped short, hand clenched into a fist with the
thumb curled slightly. He opened his mouth a bit, and bit deep into the hardened skin of his thumb. Blood started to flow,
bitter and salty.
Uchiha stared in dazed shock for only a moment, but that
was all the time Naruto needed. He quickly lunged forward, and took Sasuke’s swordless hand. He lifted it up, and forced
their fingers into a firmer grip, and squeezed once as Sasuke stared.
“Uzumaki Naruto. Remember me.” The handshake
complete, he let Sasuke’s hand drop.
Once the shock wore off, Sasuke shook his head—a pitying
gesture of helpless amusement. He laughed, and turned around slowly, purposefully ignoring the blood that dripped off his
fingers, and raised his forehand in farewell. But he didn’t look at Naruto.
Arrogant son of a bitch, Naruto thought to himself, and made to jump off the stage as well, when he remembered,
...my pants...before sprawling headfirst into the street.