AN: I've had this story going as an idea for over two years now, and as an actual project for almost as long. I've finally got it to a state in which I'm happy publishing it, and am taking the plunge.
This project was inspired by the album of the same name by Vienna Teng, and was conceived as an 'album-fic': Each chapter was inspired by a song from the album, in order. While I was listening to it, I found that it had a distinct narrative hidden in the lyrics; I felt that it was a great fit for these characters, so I ran with the idea.
During the course of this story, narrators will change and there will be time skips, often with little notice. I do this not in an effort to be frustrating, but rather to make reading the story more natural as a whole and as a fit to the original Warm Strangers. Changes will not be abrupt or completely unmarked—they will usually occur at chapter breaks—but will not be highlighted violently, as I have seen some authors do with parentheses in the middle of paragraphs.
I have sadly not expanded my knowledge of the Naruto universe much since my last story, so while this story tries to fit into the main universe, I will not claim that it is never AU.
I plan on updating the story every time I get three reviews or five days pass, whichever comes first.
Disclaimer: I am not Kishimoto Masashi, and as such I do not own any of the characters or other ideas contained herein. I can only lay claim to Nashi (my OC) and this plot.
Thanks for reading everyone, I hope you enjoy it. —CF
CHAPTER 1: FEATHER MOON
It had been a slow day for Kakashi Hatake's team of young shinobi. Training had been a series of three-way sparring matches, which left Naruto Uzumaki very much sore and bruised, Sakura Haruno tending to a few small injuries, and Sasuke Uchiha holding his nose in the air as if he hadn't been touched.
As Naruto went on about being hungry and what type of ramen he should eat that night, the sun was setting, turning the sky a vivid shade of red as the full moon became visible over the trees. "They say that eyes open to new sights in Konoha under the Feather Moon," the sensei mused, eye lingering on the orb in the sky. "The full moon that we have tonight is a Feather Moon," he continued, lowering his gaze. "Keep your eyes open." He smiled, closing his one visible eye.
Naruto was unable to make himself go home right away, choosing instead to walk around the town, soon ending up in the forest. He continued wandering aimlessly, taking in the sights and sounds all around him, until past nightfall. He wandered on even in the dark and soon came upon a narrow, shallow stream flowing slowly through a spot in the woods where he could see the sky. Sitting on the ground, he saw the reflection of the full moon glowing bright in the otherwise dark water in front of him. He remembered his teacher's words about tonight's supposed phenomenon and, taking them literally, he started focusing intently on every little detail around himself, expecting to see something that might only be visible once in a lifetime. Nothing seemed strange to him and, disappointed, he heaved a sigh and looked down. When he did so, he saw a tiny, individual pink flower, growing by his side; had he sat any further to his left, he would have crushed it. Standing as carefully as he knew how, he looked down, but saw that he had not sat upon any others like it. Looking at the flower as closely as the lonely light of the moon would allow, Naruto decided it was the same color as Sakura's hair. Thinking about Sakura made him happy.
Suddenly he realized that he didn't even know why. Sure she was pretty, but it wasn't like she was the only pretty girl in the village. She didn't even like him—not as if many people did. She would never have talked to Naruto if they weren't on the same team, so what made her so special to him? Naruto couldn't find an answer. He moved away from the flower, careful not to trample it, and crossed the stream. Here, to his surprise, he found another flower just like the one he had left a moment ago. This one, however, was much further from the stream, under trees. He found several more like this last one. Curious, he returned to the stream and meandered along it. The first flower was the only one next to it, as far as he could tell. Something about it stood out to him. It was like so many others of its kind, and yet it was the one that had made itself special. It was by the stream. He returned to that flower and sat next to it again, giving it a little more room this time. He looked at the flower and at the moon's reflection again. She's a good girl, even if she can be mean sometimes…a friend I want to have for a long time, I think.
Sakura sat in her window, looking out at the night. The moon shone bright above but it gave no hints as to what new sights it was supposed to be opening her eyes. There had been some strange gusts of wind earlier in the evening but they had mostly calmed down now, and were blowing gently toward her. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, taking in the fresh air that carried with it the lingering scent of the forest. Tonight it was as strong in Sakura's bedroom as it ever was in the woods. It was such a peaceful scent but at the same time one that spoke of so much life and vibrancy. Every plant and every creature was carried in it. They weaved together into a glorious tapestry of nature's design. Grander still was how the smell could seem to carry emotions in it. Some days it was triumphant, some days desolate, others content, furious, or confused. These emotions seemed to match the mood in and around Konoha. Sakura knew all this because tonight was not the first night she had spent at her window. This night was a certain first, though. She knew that the mood of the forest was one she had not smelt on its breath before. This night's breeze bore a perfume that she could only call wisdom. It was heavy, dark and ancient, much like a clever old man. It was pure and clean, like a child. It was mysterious, like the darkest part of the night. It was…Sakura kept leading herself in circles, trying to come up with a better word. The best name for it is 'wise,' after all. She let the smell envelope her, convinced that it would make her feel the wisdom of the forest.
Sakura tried to clear her mind to let in the wisdom, but certain images kept recurring. The most prominent one was her teammate Sasuke's face. He was the most handsome boy in all of Konoha; she was sure of that. It seemed all of the girls were in love with him. Yet he responded to none of them, especially not her. It always upset Sakura to be rejected by Sasuke. The more she thought about it, though, the more she couldn't understand why. There were plenty of good guys in and around Konoha, all of whom seemed to be more than ready for girlfriends and yet…all eyes were in one place. What was the point? Were they trying to make life miserable for everyone? Sakura saw this as cruel and convinced herself that she had to do something. But how? If I suddenly drop interest in Sasuke everyone's going to think that I've gone crazy. She inhaled deeply as she pondered this newest question.
Their teacher could be an idiot a lot of the time, this Sasuke knew. The 'Feather Moon'? Seriously? No one else had ever heard of such a thing. Kakashi had to have made it up. The last Uchiha refused to believe anything of the sort. So, needless to say, he wasn't about to try to make the tall tale true. After the long day with his team, he was training in his house when he heard a very strong wind pick up outside. The noise didn't bother him until it was accompanied by that of something beating against the wall. Finding it odd, he stepped out the back of the house and watched as trees were pushed this way and that by a gale that couldn't seem to make up its mind as to where it needed to be. We don't get wind like this often. He continued to watch nature as the storm raged about, transfixed for a reason he could never explain. The wind then stopped as suddenly as it had started and Sasuke felt himself drawn further outside. Gingerly sitting on the grass, he listened intently to the silence all around him. Soon, a solitary bird started singing. It was joined by others like it in a simple song from nature. He sat absorbed in the rhythm-less melody for much longer than he would ever admit. Soon, a bird moved from its perch in the trees and settled on Sasuke's house. The song seemed different now, almost as if…Sasuke couldn't find the word he was looking for. It had certainly severely changed in the few seconds it took for one bird to relocate itself. If something that simple can change the way a song sounds…there might never be a song like that one again. Now more appreciative of this concert that he alone was attending, he let the music fill him, noting how the song shifted each time a bird moved. Perhaps, if I listen from somewhere different, it will change. He stood up to sit closer to the trees.
As he did, he startled one of the birds. Terrified by the giant beast approaching it the delicate creature flew off, shrieking in terror. The others followed suit, trusting their frightened friend, and the music stopped. Slightly disappointed, Sasuke sat down on the grass again, enjoying the silence. The sudden retreat of the birds got him thinking. At first, it seemed strange to go from peaceful contentment to terror so quickly, but then, he realized that he knew someone who acted like the birds did. His teammate Sakura was always so happy whenever she was around just him, but as soon as Naruto stepped into the picture, she turned savage. He always rejected her coldly, and she acted like it had hurt her, but whenever Naruto fawned over her the way she did over Sasuke, Sakura would be even meaner to the blond than Sasuke himself was to her. Women. He would never understand them. Still, he lay there thinking about the song that only nature could ever sing and lay there until he felt his breath even and his body slide into sleep.
Naruto sat in his position, staring into the stream for a while longer; the night was old by the time he realized he had dozed off sitting there. Stretching, he stood up, checked to see that he hadn't trampled his little flower, and began walking back to town. Realizing that he was no longer sure where he was, he guessed as to which way to go, the moon now hidden behind the trees. He soon found himself near a cluster of buildings. Approaching, he saw that they were houses. As he wandered through them, he found it strange that he wasn't very familiar with this part of town. He was yet to understand why when he saw a single person lying on the ground out behind one of the houses. Not understanding why someone would want to sleep there, he quietly crept in closer. The sleeper was Sasuke, so Naruto knew that he was in what was once the Uchiha clan's part of Konoha. Naruto moved in closer, surprised by what he was seeing. With only the moonlight, Sasuke hardly looked like himself—there was something about him, Naruto thought, that was almost…angelic? Naruto shuddered at the thought of Sasuke as an angel; he was far from being one. Still, seeing him like this made the blond feel strange. He stood next to his teammate for longer than he should have but couldn't decide what made the sleeping boy so attention-worthy all of a sudden. He seemed so different from his normal self. Almost…
Naruto caught himself on that last thought, not wanting to let it enter his mind while Sasuke was still in there. Those two ideas did not belong together. Naruto began walking away, now very aware of his need to get home. He walked along, trying desperately to relieve his mind of such ideas. Unable to do so, he knew what he had to do when he got home. He sat down on the edge of his bed, like he always did. Distractions…His mind immediately fell to the flower he had seen earlier that evening, and the girl it reminded him of. Nothing. Disappointed and not to be outdone by his body, he tried again and again. Still nothing. Come on! He was frustrated now, and—after seven failed attempts—resolved to take care of things in the only way he knew how at the moment. Sasuke. Finally, sweet relief. Naruto knew that he was done sleeping for the night; he had to think about this. The one word he had forced out of his mind earlier came flooding back to him, assuring him that things weren't as bad as was making them. Beautiful. That was what Sasuke was…Naruto felt that his rival, the stuck-up Uchiha, was beautiful. Naruto kept thinking about the other boy. The more he thought, the more he liked what his mind showed him. For once, I think I get why all the girls want you, Sasuke. He was awake still and let thoughts about the pale boy fill him up. Rather than trouble him like before, they pleased him, warming his body. I…I think I've fallen in love with you, Sasuke.
Sasuke woke exactly once during the night. He heard the sound of footsteps, and leapt up just in time to see someone scampering off. Even in the dead of night, with the full moon above he had no trouble recognizing the orange blur dashing away from his house. What's that moron doing at my house in the middle of the night? He wanted to call out to his useless teammate but decided against it. Instead, he chose to watch the other boy leave until he was too far off to see. Turning back to his lying position, he scoffed at the idea of running around in someone else's backyard at this ungodly hour…only Naruto, he assured himself. Trying to resettle himself into the grass, he found himself unable; something was nagging at him now. Naruto had approached without waking Sasuke. That shouldn't have been possible; Sasuke was too alert for that. How was he so deeply asleep? It was unsettling; had it been an enemy shinobi rather than Naruto, he would be dead now. Unnerved, he stood up and moved quickly into his house. He lay in his bed but was still unable to return to sleep. Tossing and turning, he found his mind returning to the birds from that evening, in particular the one that had begun the sudden departure of the entire flock. It was blue with an orange underbelly; Sasuke could not recall having ever seen one like it before. Perhaps it wasn't native to this area; he couldn't be sure. As his mind rolled over the image of the bird it was suddenly overlain with that of Naruto fleeing just minutes before. It was strange how the colors of the little creature matched so perfectly with the blond's obnoxious jacket and those eyes which would be so easy to get lost in, if only he would stand still.
Sasuke stopped himself after the last thought, finding it abnormal. Naruto's eyes aren't that nice. Soon enough, he found himself picturing them again from the rare close glimpses he had been granted. Cursing himself for being susceptible to such emotions, Sasuke rolled over and tried to push the moron out of his mind, only to let a new image invade it. It was the red sky with the barely-visible moon that Kakashi had told them about earlier. He was now calling the perverted teacher every foul thing he could think, as he recounted how he had been correct. On no other night would Sasuke have sat outside listening to birds chirp when he could have been training. Also, because the idiot probably believed their teacher, it was only because of tonight that Naruto was in Sasuke's part of town, so it was only because of the night that Sasuke was suddenly transfixed by the idea of Naruto. That can't be the right word…What was that idiot doing around here, anyway? Sasuke puzzled, letting the images of Naruto's eyes fill the rest of him until he came to a conclusion that only the Feather Moon could bring: he wanted Naruto and there was nothing he could do about it. The more he thought about it, the less annoying and more endearing he found the blond's little idiosyncrasies. He knew this sudden change of heart wasn't good. It could ruin him…passions couldn't take away from his impending revenge. First things were first no matter how many seductive blonds were distracting him. Why is his pull on me this strong? I can't succumb to little emotions like…He cut himself before the last word, refusing to believe it. No. I may not like it, but…I want to protect him. I have to go without him. Tortured by everything crossing over itself, Sasuke slept, leaving further decisions for the morning.
Relieved but troubled, Sakura continued to breathe deep the smell of the forest and turned her eyes toward the moon. She felt herself smiling gently, enjoying the celestial orb's benevolent glow. She studied the dark and light parts of the nighttime guide, tracing out the legendary shapes. This way a man, that way a woman, this curve is a rabbit, and that one is a witch. She had heard stories for each of them but she knew that each one was just someone else's way of seeing things, just like the constellations that the stars carved out. Different people saw different shapes, which eventually spread to whole countries, reflecting on the different cultures of the world. Sakura went through a few of these in her mind, too, but she knew that there were many that she didn't know. She picked a region of the sky and began to seek out patterns that she could see on her own. As she detected a small number of pictures, a star began to shine rather brightly, and then moved across the sky. A shooting star! She stared at it intently as it made its brief trip across the heavens. Even after it came to a rest and disappeared, she stopped herself on its final position for several seconds so she wouldn't miss any of this phenomenon; this was her first time witnessing such a thing. Still excited, she bathed in the light of the moon, waiting for what would be nothing.
After some time she calmed down, understanding that there would be no further showings from the star. She returned to her deep breathing as she let her gaze wander back to its spot on the moon. Clearing her mind, Sakura soon found it filling itself with images again. Sasuke still tried to push his way in, but now he was not to be outdone by her other teammate, the knucklehead. He was smitten with her—not that anyone would count that for much credit to Sakura—and far more confident in his abilities than he should have been. He was a slacker, an idiot, and an attention hoarder, and no one liked him for it. Yet tonight, Sakura felt herself empathizing with him. She knew that she didn't enjoy being by himself, but she could hardly imagine the pain that must come from being virtually alone for your whole life. She tried to understand what things were like for him, and kept coming to one dreadful little conclusion that she tried to no avail to ferret away into the deepest corners of her mind, even as she went to sleep. He's going to have a rough life, tormented by disappointment and sadness. Naruto, I promise I will be there if you need me.
The next morning came too early for all three. They were all, as usual, earlier than their mysterious teacher, leaving plenty of time for them to linger around each other awkwardly. No one felt like talking that day; if you asked them, they might have told you that it felt like running into someone you'd had an uncomfortable dream about the night before. They stood around, gazing off into space, trying to avoid eye contact. It wasn't until the puff of smoke that signified Kakashi's arrival that the silence was broken. "Well I hope we all had eye-opening nights last night. I know I did." There was a chorus of quiet groans, followed by a chuckle from the masked man. "Now for today's training, we…" He went on, prattling about the exercise in no uncertain detail.
As the day carried on, they had to all work together a number of times, bringing forward all of the thoughts from the night before. Sasuke found his gaze lingering just a little too long on Naruto's eyes, and when the blond caught him he realized it pleasantly surprised him and made him blush. He fought not to let it show, though. What would Sasuke say if he knew? Sakura on the other hand found herself more able to concentrate. However, she felt an odd tension radiating from her two teammates. She couldn't place quite what it was, though.
At the end of the day, they went their separate ways. Sasuke was training at home again when he heard birds outside once more. He made himself go out and listen, but the beauty he had found the day before was gone now. He looked for the blue and orange bird but it wasn't around. Finding the song to be dull, he scoffed and returned to his solo training.
Sakura sat at her window again, breathing deep the perfume of the forest. Tonight, however, there was no feeling of wisdom. Rather, the forest breathed melancholy, and it only spread its mood to its lone witness.
Naruto made a beeline for his spot by the stream and, sure enough, there was a little flower, just like the night before. In the light of the day, however, it was more of purple than pink. He found more in the woods, and they too were purple; there were no pink ones to be found. He went back to the first and raised his foot to kick it. He stopped himself however, looked at the flower, and left for home.