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yellow embers rode upon smoke clouds drifting to the stars, each burning flicker fizzling out before it could pass the canopy of trees lazily cloaking their destination. the smoke, however, filtered through the maze of dewy leaves and chipped bark until the moonlight greeted its sparse body. neither the embers nor the smoke could ever make it to the distant stars, and yet with every crackle of wood the failed journey of their predecessors were forgotten and new embers would ride the smoke to their inevitable demise.

her knees were pulled tightly to her chest, feet angling inwards and toes curling as the heat from the fire warmed them. the forest during this time of night was deathly quiet; only the snapping wood of their fire dared to penetrate the thick silence. even the crickets were unusually quiet, which would normally raise red flags but her body was too exhausted to stay vigilant. her loyalty was like a curse; she’d walked miles through the downpour of a summer storm, the humidity paling in comparison to the force of the rain, though both equally managing to leave her sticky and uncomfortable. though he kept walking, and so did she. under the ruthless blaze of the summer sun she flew through the forest, branches vibrating and leaves swaying in wake of her movement, and under the cool evening moon she’d skinned fish and through the misplaced strands of pink hair, watched for the movement of her enemies. he didn’t complain, so neither did she. the duration of their travels constantly tested her endurance, but her loyalty was like a curse, and wherever he went, she followed. that is what brought her here, exhaustedly watching the helpless plight of fire embers.

she wondered if she was similar. the physical proximity of her star wasn’t as distant, but its light was worlds away. if she was a fire ember, and he was her star, she’d fade into the nighttime breeze that caressed the tree leaves before she’d ever be able to embrace his light. the thought made her knees press a little tighter to her chest, her head bury a little deeper into her knees, and her eyes shift focus from the flames licking the night to the man sitting nearby; one leg extended outwards, the other elevated so his elbow could rest on his knee. his eyes were closed but he wasn’t sleeping, sleep never came to him so early in the night. if there wasn’t a fire, he might even blend in with the darkness of their surroundings, so easily fading from her sight, camouflaging into a background that even the moonlight couldn’t fully illuminate.

she knew that if she was a fire ember, he’d be her star. but she didn’t know what his star was, or if he even had one. if he was a fire ember, perhaps his dim light would separate from the rest, float out of the body of the smoke, and burn a path of its own, a path where the end wasn’t marked by the discouraging distance of an unreachable light, but marked whenever the ember’s light ceased to exist. her smile was pressed against her right knee, blocked from sight. he’d never been one to stay on the path commonly traveled, it was idiotic of her to ever think otherwise. despite this, she still wondered that in the uncommon possibility that he did have a star, what would it be.

“sasuke?” sakura’s chin rose, the beginning of his name having been muffled by her knees. she saw one of his eyes open and look in her direction. he had a habit of keeping his eye that posessed the rinnegan closed, so often times she’d only catch the gaze of one eye. if she caught the gaze of both, she knew something was amiss.

“what is it?” his voice suggested that he was on gaurd. perhaps he thought that she was calling to him because she sensed an enemy. his fingers twitched slightly, the line of his shoulders straightened, his lips tensed into a firm line, and the eyebrow that wasn’t shrouded by a blanket of thick hair grew taut with caution.

sakura shook her head first, the edges of her hair brushing by the soft angles of her jawline. “it’s not an enemy or anything. it’s just a silly question..” her words trailed off as her eyes did the same, returning to capture the motion of the ascending embers. his observant eye followed the direction of her dreamy gaze and settled on the same sight, little yellow sparks dancing through the fog of smoke until both disappeared in the thicket of leaves above them.

“what’s the question?” his form relaxed in the slightest of ways, his mouth resumed its usual subtle frown, its corners always dipping downwards ever so carefully, and his shoulders eased up a bit, but their line was still broad and ready at a moment’s notice.

sakura had often admired his readiness; during the old days when her hair could tickle her elbows and she wandered within the shadows of her teammates, sasuke’s preparedness to battle at any given second was one of his most handsome characteristics. these days, however, she found it more unsettling the way he wasn’t able to relax. she wanted to be a source of comfort to him, the warm body he could lean against after a strenuous day of labor, a safe space he could retreat to when the sun was too hot or the moon was too cold or even if everything in the world was just how it ought to be, but he still wanted to be within the presence of her scent. in short, she wanted to be his star.

“well..” she began, musing over how to articulate her question without sounding too odd. she pursed her lips slightly, her legs stretching out in-front of her so the soles of her feet could fully embrace the warm of the fire, her hands pressing palm-down on the ground while her head leaned back so she could peer at the stars through the gaps in the trees. “if you had something you wanted to reach, what would it be?”

“something i want to reach?” he reiterated. he was puzzled by the question, and once again his perceptive eye followed her line of sight up through the twists and turns of branches and leaves until he focused on the sprinkles of stars printed across the evening sky.

“mhm. kind of like, a desire. something you want to keep pushing towards even if you know that you might not make it.” sakura wanted to know what it was that could illuminate his darkest of nights, what could shine so bright that he’d fly to it even if his flame would fade in the process.

a few moments passed between them where nothing was said, only the crackling of fire broke the silence that had settled. “i don’t know. i thought it would be atoning for the sins i’ve committed during the war, but even then..”

sakura had been watching him since he began speaking. her eyelids lowered sympathetically, her expression softened tenderly as her head leaned a little to the right, and her heart ached with the desire to give him the world. a hue of orange reflected in the green of her eyes as she shifted closer to the fire, closer to him. the shadows of the twisting flames created patterns against her skin as she crawled on her hands and knees for a few paces until she was at arm’s length from him. she sat leaning on her hip, one hand on the ground balancing her, the other resting on her thigh so her fingers could play with the hem of her shorts as she thought.

“you still haven’t found it, right?” she looked him in the eye, an action that would normally have her heart in her throat and mind in the clouds. but in this moment, the both of them so far secluded from the world that even the crickets couldn’t find them, where their secret conversations could only be carried by a faint breeze, where both their forms were so gloriously decorated by the warmth of the fire before them, and the scattered dots of moonlight above them, where her green could pour into his sea of darkness, she wanted to remain frozen.

“no, not yet.” he sighed, his eye closing for less than a second but within those precious frames of time, he seemed vulnerable, and sakura wanted to dive right in, wanted to peel open his scars and understand his pain. but instead, she continued to watch him from a closeness that still seemed so far away. when his eye opened again he prompted her, “and you?”

“i want to reach you, sasuke.”

the flames had simmered down by now, in need of some stoking to keep them alive. the once passionate glow was now an insecure flicker that could only manage to brighten the space between their bodies. the embers were few and far between, but the ones that did manage to slip through the pieces of burnt wood were brighter than before and drifted upwards with the help of minimal smoke, carrying more than just a glance-worth of light, but light that may be able to actually navigate the maze of trees above.

“you don’t need to. i shouldn’t be a concern of yours.” he closed his eye but his brow furrowed as if he was concerned over his choice of words. his fingers curled into his palm, before tightening enough for the veins around his knuckles to raise against the skin. she could see the tension in his jaw as her eyes traveled along the sharp path of his jawline, and just as her gaze was traveling along the band of his thick eyelashes she looked away. his expression had told her enough, it always had, that she was foolish to ever think that she could be his light.

she wanted to apologize and return to her old spot several feet away from him. she wanted to end their conversation so that they could both get some rest and prepare for whatever lie ahead of them the next day, she didn’t want to deal with rejection. for years she’d chased after him, and for years he’d made her bleed from a wound that never seemed to heal properly. but her loyalty was like a curse, and she couldn’t turn away.

“you’re right…you shouldn’t be, and it’s foolish of me to think any differently.” her eyes lowered and stared at the stitch pattern on her shorts as his eye opened and fixed itself upon her. “but, i won’t let you go until you find it.”

she stood up from the ground then and walked the few paces to where she sat before before lowering herself back down to the ground. she dusted her hands off before stretching her arms up above her head, stretching her sore muscles. she wouldn’t let sasuke’s light fade no matter how far he strayed, even if his star wasn’t her, even if his star was lightyears away, she’d burn with a light so bright that it would keep him going. the fire now was barely burning above the charred wood and the embers had all been trapped between the pile of smoking wood. she laid herself down on the dirt, using her traveling pack to cushion her head.

it didn’t take her very long to drift off into sleep, she had been worn out from their travels that day. her eyes were closed and the strands of hair that had fallen onto her face floated with every breath she took, fluttering back down to her skin when her breathing softened. sasuke’s eye had watched the gradual digression of the fire, and through his periphery, watched her fall asleep.

“sakura..” he murmured despite her not being able to hear, “thank you.”

and as the fire receded into nothingness and their forms blended seamlessly into the background of the cool summer evening, the ember, burning a determined red, wove its way through the thicket of branches, gliding past the edges of the leaves, and emerged from the top of the canopy into the vast new world of the unfiltered sky.

and then, moments too soon, it vanished.