Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.
Rated T: Due to coarse language.
Sakura's parted lips suck the cut on the edge of her right index finger as she fumbles with the rusted latch on the less than formidable gate surrounding the neglected property she is about to visit – not trespass. Just to be clear.
But without Mikoto's tender dedication and keen appreciation for balance and aesthetics, the yard has run rampant for over a decade. Where there were once lush-petaled roses of white and red now lays a tangled, impenetrable mass of deadened vines and thorns, bare of any welcoming blooms.
With a lurching scrape of rusted metal on the cracked sidewalk leading up to the front porch, the gate stubbornly clinging upright by one tenacious hinge, Sakura maneuvers past the blockade that, in hindsight, would have been a lot less hassle just to hurdle over. Though the sky is swarming with ominous grays and a few barely there wisps of scraggly clouds, she knows it's little more than a ruse. The promise of rain is an empty one at this time of year, little more than a tease for those who enjoy the excuse to stay in and read a book or play online scrabble in lieu of venturing out into the world where one is forced to be, of all things, social.
Sakura had internally balked at her mother's unwanted suggestion of showing up at her old high school's Friday night football game. She didn't drive home from college for three hours just to go see her hometown school's lusterless attempt at claiming a win this late in the season. She had heard of her alma mater's depressing record, something she had foreseen after the team would inevitably lose so many key players after her class graduated. So no, she wasn't about to go pay money to awkwardly insert herself into the always crowded bleachers where she no longer technically fit in with the student section and would have to fend for herself among the attending parents and younger siblings of the players.
With her finger still in her mouth, Sakura eyes the thorn bush with contempt as she trudges up the cracked walkway, her boots crunching crisply over the curled, bone-dry leaves that have long since fallen from the barren maple tree playing sentry over the front yard. The concrete could use re-paving as it seems said sentry's roots have taken a liking to the unattended soil, stretching out in convoluted patterns in whatever direction meets its fancy. In some places, slabs of concrete bulge upward at hazardous angles, upset by the mound of earth being pushed up from beneath them. But Sakura sticks to the broken path, assuring no trace of footprints will follow her in the uncombed grass.
Of course, she knows if she was truly worried of leaving no trace of her coming and going, she would have chosen a time after the sun has set…or at least not have worn such a blindingly neon green hoodie for all the neighbors to spot. But alas, Sakura knows she doesn't have the cojones to brave this feat in the dark.
And really, she doesn't know what prompted this little venture into a past trying to be forgotten.
Morbid curiosity, perhaps?
A cheap thrill?
It is the season, after all, and Sakura is nothing more than a bored eighteen-year-old home from college for the weekend in order to pick up some heavier, winter-wear garments she hadn't the room to pack when first moving out of her family home.
Pulling the drawstrings of her sweatshirt tighter around her exposed throat, Sakura's eyes pass indifferently over the "for sale" sign standing rigidly at the foot of the stairs. The sight of it is something that had once put a bad taste in her mouth at the thought of a new family taking over a place where Sakura was once welcome. Some new little boy claiming Sasuke's old room for himself, never the wiser that that was once where Sakura had sprawled out on the floor, playing videogames against Sasuke or constructing entire cities out of his impressive LEGO sets. She had watched with disdain as the twittering, falsely happy real estate agents in their suits and ties or business casual skirts and blouses would lead tours of strangers up to the front door, beckoning them in with so many reiterations of how lovely the wood floors were and how the previous owners had such refined tastes and put soooo much time and care into their home.
At one point, the house did sell and remained in the ownership of a Mr. Danzo Shimura for all of a month. Sakura knew little about him at the time other than he seemed to be a stuffy old geezer on the city council. And he didn't seem too fond of animals. Barking at a young couple walking their easily excitable Labrador, Sakura had spied on the old man laying a thick diatribe on them to keep the dog away as it came up to give his shoes a sniff. He waved and thrust his cane at it until the dog owners swiftly moved on with their pet that was only looking to make a new friend. Sakura detested the old grouch on sight. It didn't help that he had bought up the Uchiha place, effectively eliminating all inclination Sakura had of ever visiting the house again.
However, his ownership was not to last. Sakura only heard through eavesdropping on her mother and her gossipy friends that the old man had seemingly been scared out of his newly acquisitioned property. He claimed it was infested with vermin – an outright lie, Sakura knew – but the women all said he was rather spooked when they saw him. Maybe he ran into something a little bigger than a mouse or two. Why else would he not be willing to simply hire an exterminator to keep such a lovely old home?
It didn't really matter to Sakura one way or the other what got the cantankerous man out of her friend's home – she was just glad he was gone. Alas, it only meant more parades of strangers going through the rooms and hallways, greedy eyes searching every nook and cranny, analyzing ever inch for its worth.
Eventually, Sakura's mother banned her from riding her bike over to the Uchiha residence after her sensitive daughter would repeatedly come home, caught between bawling her fists in rage and crying out in despair, getting so worked up she'd complain of stomach aches.
In a sense, even after the incident and even after Sasuke was moved away to a different town and enrolled in a new school, the old home was still hers.
Stepping up onto the wraparound porch, Sakura follows the white-washed planks to the back of the house, noting that the backyard is in a similar state of disarray. For whatever reason, the lawn would respond to no one's hand now that Mikoto is gone. No matter how much money the real estate agents pour into the goal of sprucing up the outside, the tulips never last more than a season and all the bushes have become little more than reedy, twisted limbs for catching litter riding on the wind. Frowning, she notes that the family's garden is nothing more than a dirt bed covered with fallen limbs from the overhanging branches of the neighboring property's trees peering over the fence. Brambles and what she sincerely hopes isn't poison ivy create a thick blanket over what once yielded carrots and snap peas.
And this is where Sakura's secret is kept.
Selecting a broken off stick from the yard, Sakura pokes at the unruly, dead mass of vegetation, swiping her boot across the garden plot in search of –
Her foot presses against the rock marking the earthen repository and she nudges it with enough force to flip it over. Smiling with self-satisfaction, she bends over to accept her treasure: the key to her friend's abandoned house.
Said owner has probably long since forgotten of its existence or how Sakura had followed him home one day because Itachi told them it was too cold to hang around outside and play and he had to go to the library to work on a project. She had curiously trailed after her crush as he led her around the back of the house and proceeded to fish something out from a shallow hole in his mother's vegetable garden.
And now, years later, she has still found use of Sasuke's hidden secret – now hers.
Of course, after Sasuke left, she still sometimes visited the house, being sure no nosy neighbors were watching as she unburied the key for a half hour or so whenever she was feeling really down that Sasuke could no longer play with her. He didn't even leave an address for her to mail letters to once he was whisked away by some obscure relative or another.
And though Sasuke was the center of her world in those days, she of course knew his family. The well-coiffed Mikoto who was the very embodiment of a super mom in her designer clothes she wore at some office job or another she spent her time at when not at home starting yet another renovation project or baking sweets that Sasuke resolutely stated he didn't care for even though Sakura knew he'd never dare say so to his mom's smiling, expectant face. This was fine with Sakura, more cookies for her. Sasuke's father wasn't too bad either, a bit stern and Sakura can't say she recalls ever seeing him smile, but she supposes that was just par for the course of being one of the good guys that had to take down all the baddies on a daily basis. She remembers Officer Uchiha coming in to speak to her class on career day and how Sasuke sat up straight and proud during his dad's presentation.
And then there was Sasuke's older brother…
Popping her back, Sakura relishes in a languid stretch to work out all the kinks before returning to the back porch where she slides the key into place – the first time she's used it in five years. Really, she had almost been expecting the backyard to have been completely re-landscaped at some point, removing the old garden and its precious secret.
Luckily for tonight, it hadn't.
The door opens without issue, not even a creak announces her intrusion into the stifled air of the old home. Sakura plods forward without hesitation across the travertine tiled floor in its dusty shades of greys and beiges. Without Mikoto's freshly baked cobblers or cakes, the kitchen holds little interest for Sakura. Even though she had spent a considerable deal of time (despite her mother banning her from returning to the Uchiha's) exploring the empty rooms, marking the discrepancies week by week as more of the family's belongings were cleared out, there was really only one room that ever held much significance in Sakura's opinion. Exiting the kitchen, her footsteps echoing in the stark hallway, she trails her fingertips along the pale yellow hallway, skipping over the door that leads down into the basement she knows offers little more than cobwebs and an unfinished floor.
In the front foyer she rounds the curve of the staircase whose rail she had imagined sliding down so many times before, but had yet to try due to all the manners drilled into her head by a strict mother and her own self-awareness that she probably lacks the grace to pull it off.
With the sun already setting, she's not left with much time to make her rounds. Unlike in childhood, half an hour or even an hour can trickle away in mere seconds. During her later years in elementary school and middle school, she'd often bring something to occupy her time with while she wandered aimlessly from room to room. Sometimes it'd be a magazine or her Game Boy, sometimes she even studied for tests, writing out flashcards and piling them around her in short stacks as she sat in the middle of the living room where there was a good amount of natural light.
She remembers her surprise at finding the electricity and water had been shut off. She was forced to return home early with a full bladder that day.
I treated this place like some sort of club house…
She's not sure if she should laugh at her younger self or feel ashamed.
But really, all she was trying to do was feel closer to Sasuke. Missing him never did get any easier even though he wasn't gone – not truly – not like his parents.
And not one person did Sakura ever share her secret with as for years on end she continued to pay a visit to the Uchiha home almost every week.
High school is when it all came to an end.
Sakura sighs to herself, the sound louder than she was expecting in a house without anything to dampen the volume.
Once Sakura became a freshman, her own life was filled with obligations to her volunteer hours with the candy stripers and student council meetings on top of all her course work. And she was beginning to fill foolish for still clinging onto the old place. One day it would eventually get new owners, right?
Shaking her head at her inner thoughts, Sakura troops up the stairs.
Just one more time…
That thought keeps repeating in her head as she reaches the top landing where the hallways branch to the east and west. Moving on autopilot, she turns to the right, passing by the bathroom, the home entertainment room, and at last: Sasuke's room. Something warm tingles in her eyes though she refuses to acknowledge it as she pushes the door inward on the bare floor and pale blue walls.
Her thoughts offer little in the way of actual coherence as she's confronted by the turbulent emotions crashing through her. From pained remembrance to fond nostalgia, this house, this room, holds it all. Still to this day she can picture the configuration of all the furniture arranged in Sasuke's room. The bed over in that corner, the bookshelves there with all the superhero action figures she giggled at, his TV stand against that wall…
Treading gently to the center of the room so as not to disturb the memories (though stirring up a considerable cloud of dust), Sakura stands transfixed while enjoying the view offered by the curtain-less window, though not truly taking in the scenery of the side yard and the houses beyond.
It's the view Sasuke had every day of his young life.
For the first time in a long, long while, Sakura clasps her hands together in silent prayer, wishing for Sasuke to be brought back into her life, or at the very least that he's happy wherever he is…Even if it means she can't be the one to bring him such happiness. With the shadows in the corners stretching out by the minute toward her little, isolated ring of light, Sakura continues to wish the deceased Uchiha peace.
She doesn't know how long she's a statue in the empty room, but at last her eyes part open to observe the street lights have been flicked on and the room is now considerably dark to the point that the open doorway of Sasuke's old closet is little more than an opaque rectangle of black, alluding to more depth than what the storage space has to offer.
I should be going.
She could go spend a couple hours at the coffee shop and read on her phone until an acceptable time to return home from the football game she supposedly went to. Casting a brief glance back into the room and acknowledging a strange sense of unfulfillment settling disappointedly in her chest, Sakura closes the door on the bedroom, shutting out what little light it sends into the gloomy hallway. Rubbing her arms at the noticeable drop in temperature, Sakura looks down the way to see that one of the windows toward the end of the house is cracked open by several inches. Frowning, she stalks toward it to push it closed, wondering if some careless salesperson had been touring through the home recently and left it open.
Even worse is the prospect of vagrants or teenage hooligans coming to vandalize the neglected property. Cautiously, she turns about to the nearest adjacent room, the very last room on this side of the house.
Her fingertips tingle with jittery nerves and before she knows it, Sakura is pushing the door inward on a room she has never set foot in. Other than the creepy basement that even the Uchihas had little use for other than to store holiday decorations, this room had always repelled Sakura away from its door. She just couldn't…
Sakura walks into the spacious room that is nearly identical to Sasuke's though she has no internalized blueprints as to how the space once looked when lived in. The door had always been closed when she came to play, whether Itachi was home or not, and Sasuke revered his brother so greatly that he would never intrude on his personal space without being invited in. His room is adorned with wallpaper unlike Sasuke's painted walls, lending it a more mature and somehow less personable quality. Sakura assumes it was mostly Mikoto's doing, but it makes Sakura wonder what Itachi was like.
Was he a neat freak like his always clean appearance made her believe, or was he a secret slob, more typical of his age? Did he play video games in here like his younger brother or did he stay up into the wee hours of the night studying for school and a bright future?
Of course there were speculations of all sorts surrounding the night Itachi murdered his family, save for his little brother. Some simply labeled him a psychopath that finally snapped, others said his family put too many expectations on his shoulders and he finally cracked under the pressure.
Were you unhappy?
Sakura doesn't know where she stands on the issue even now. At first, she was furious with him, outraged and befuddled over what could drive a child with such amazing parents to simply…
Do away with them.
By all outer appearances, Itachi had the perfect life, was the perfect son, perfect student, perfect athlete, perfect big brother. He was on the fast track to a successful life with everything a person could hope for. But now that she's older and has had some time to reflect on it, Sakura knows that looks can be deceiving and people can have separate identities when switching back and forth between the public eye and their private lives. Who knows what Itachi was like behind closed doors?
Maybe it just wasn't enough for him.
Or maybe he was insane.
Sakura walks deeper into the room, going up to the window to see what view Itachi had in comparison to his brother.
Not much different.
No, by all accounts, the brothers weren't all that different. Sure, Itachi was more reticent and poised, but that could be attributed to age. With enough time, Sasuke would have grown up just like him; he had already been Itachi's living shadow as it was.
Of course, Sasuke hates his brother now.
But Sakura can't quite say those words for herself with any sort of conviction. She doesn't hate Itachi. She doesn't understand him and she's certainly angry at him, but she can't bring herself to hate him.
And there's really no good reason for her more neutral stance other than how she recalls how much Sasuke once adored his older brother. Itachi was Sasuke's favorite person in the world up until that night, and with good reason.
"Alright, time to go," Sakura says aloud to herself, the sound of her strong voice managing to lighten the downtrodden atmosphere quickly enveloping her. Turning to depart, Sakura has to throw her arms out behind her to catch the window sill to prevent herself from falling on her rear. Instead, she manages to slide down the wall at a brisk speed to land with a thump, on the dusty floor.
Her pulse is quickened by the unbelievable sight of something that would normally be quite expected in a bedroom: a bed.
The only problem is that she's certain she would have noticed it if it was there when she first entered. How could she not? Pressed against the walls in the opposite corner of the room is a twin-sized bed looking as though it had just been made up with freshly laundered sheets and a comforter. The pillow is sleeved in a blue and white pin-striped pillowcase, inviting to any weary head.
But how had she not noticed it?
Approaching the bed slowly as though it's some kind of clawed beast that's only temporarily playing nice, Sakura runs her fingers across the edge of the covered mattress.
Not a speck of dust adheres to her skin.
While she never checked in on this room during the times when furniture and personal items were being moved out, Sakura had been certain that Itachi's things would have been taken out. Whether taken to auction or taken to the dump to dispose of any bad voodoo, she can't say.
So why is the bed the only thing left? Had it been set up by one of the real estate agents like a prop to give viewers an idea of what the space could be used for? But why only one bed? The rest of the house is starkly empty of any decorations.
And why Itachi's room? Surely they'd know the bad connotations it carries.
It's not exactly a selling point. It's almost as bad as the music room.
Still, maybe it had just recently been set up in the house for future tours and they had yet to add any more furnishings to the once grand home. She doesn't know what prompts her to do so, maybe just giddiness from the darkened, lonely house, but Sakura finds herself sitting down on the bed and then, of all things, leaning back to rest her head against the pillow.
Pretty good quality pillow.
Musing contentedly to herself, Sakura makes a mental check list of all the items she still needs to rummage for in her closet at home so she can be packed up and ready to get on the road back to school early Sunday morning. She'll need to spend the rest of Sunday doing her chemistry assignment since she forgot to bring home her textbook.
I'll get right on that…
But Sakura falls fast asleep.
The shout echoes in her head, but possesses an odd, distorted quality, as though her head is several feet under water , but she's still able to hear the shrieks of a child above the pool's surface. Groggily, she pushes back the sheets draping her form, the vague thought that she forgot to remove her shoes floating through her minimally alert mind.
What time is it?
Fumbling for the rubberized texture of her cellphone encased in its Stitch phone cover, she finds that it's spilled out from her pocket, forcing her hands to rove over the bed in the weak starlight filtering through the window. With mounting frustration, she heaves herself off the bed, ready to rip the sheets clean off the mattress and risk her phone tumbling to the floor, but at last her fingers graze one of Stitch's ears and she checks the time.
Sleep evaporates from Sakura's slouched shoulders like water in the desert, her eyes now bright and wide as she gapes at the incomprehensible numbers.
How did she manage to nap for more than three hours? She hadn't been that tired had she? It was quite strange she realizes now, the way she just seemed to drop off into slumber as soon as she sat down on the bed. Almost as if…
Almost as if under a spell?
She shakes her head, swiping her thumb across the screen to unlock her phone and access her texts, finding her mom has yet to put out a query as to where her wandering daughter could be so late. Although, Sakura supposes it is plausible that the football game could be ending right about now, give or take fifteen minutes. She has a little time to spare before her parents will be expecting her home. Just to cover her ass in case her mom is magically attuned to any local football coverage, she tells her that she's going to get some ice cream – a common part of any social outing Sakura takes part in. Her sweet tooth is legendary.
Treat yo self!
Smiling at the thought of going home and watching a few episodes of Parks and Recreation, Sakura nimbly slides off the edge of the bed, both surprised and annoyed with herself for being lured back to its plush embrace, and turns on the flashlight built into her phone. Waving the device around at arm's length in front of her, the beam illuminates the deep navy wallpaper with its off-white filigree designs repeated over and over again, only looking a little worse for wear due to time and dust. At last, the reflective gleam of the silver doorknob catches her eye and Sakura hesitates for little more than a second, the uncomfortable niggling question of whether or not she pulled the door closed behind her scratching at her anxiety. She doesn't remember doing it, doesn't know why she would feel compelled to close herself off even more in an already abandoned house. Privacy really isn't an issue here.
Swinging the door inward, she's caught between the doorway, her head peering out into the hallway and half her body still frozen inside Itachi's old room when she hears it again…
Sakura stops breathing, her jaw going slack as her ears twitch at the sound, primed to catch more. The fingers of her left hand unconsciously tighten around the doorknob as panic laces down her back, spiking through her legs as one of evolution's oldest quandaries now falls upon her: fight or flight? Upon waking, she had merely thought the odd voice she heard was from the vestiges of some confusing dream already slipping from her memory so she had merely brushed it aside from her concerns. But now…
It's in the house!
The voice is too loud and too clear to be coming from outside, despite Sakura's rational, more soothing thoughts trying to persuade her that it's just some neighborhood kids fooling around in the dark, probably playing hide and seek or riding their bikes in lazy donuts out in the road before their parents call them home. But she can't quite believe it; her heart won't let her fully appreciate how much nicer, how much safer that idea sounds – it's beating too frantically to concentrate.
But it did sound like a kid, she thinks as she takes a hesitant step out into the hallway, now fully exposed with her back to the open doorway of the bedroom. Logic spins the gears in Sakura's well-oiled brain. It could very likely be some little punk who had a similar idea as Sakura tonight. Maybe he wanted a good scare before Halloween or maybe he simply saw Sakura go in and never come out. If the latter is the case, she should definitely go search him out. It wouldn't do for some little kid to wet himself in a big, scary house like this because of her. Not to mention the trouble she'd get in if the kid's parents came looking for him and found her implicated in all this mess. Now latching onto the mild annoyance and her mother-like tendencies to protect (altogether a much better state of mind to be in than blind fear), Sakura begins walking down the hall, listening for the squeaks of floorboards to give her some hint of the other trespasser's location.
Another "Hey!" is called out and Sakura amusedly wonders if that's all the kid knows how to say. However, it sounds a bit more distant this time as though he's moving further away in the wrong direction, so Sakura picks up her pace, deciding to make her presence known as she opens her mouth to holler into the dark recesses of the empty house.
"Hey, kid! I'm back this – "
Sakura whirls around, unrestrained hair whipping across her face as she's startled by the sudden shout in such close proximity. Something rushes at her from the direction of Itachi's open room, a gust of unstoppable speed brushing by her legs with enough force that she stumbles in surprise, her arms waving around in both terror and in the attempt to correct her balance, causing the flashlight's beam to dance crazily in unhelpful directions.
But she doesn't need the pathetic light from her phone to see this.
"What. The. Fuck."
Her whisper is tinged with awe, but more so the overpowering sensation of horror mixed with disbelief. Just what was that thing? Even now, her eyes track its rapid dash around the turn at the end of the hall, its trampling footsteps receding into the distance.
It was a boy, but not.
Whatever it is, it has a strange skin condition. Pale arms and legs propelled the thing forward, but they glowed with a brilliance that was otherworldly, leaving imprints of afterglow on Sakura's closed eyelids even now. She couldn't catch much detail of the face in the mere second it took for him to jostle past her, but his head was dark. Black hair, perhaps?
As were his clothes; his body was dressed in either black or dark gray, lending excellent contrast to that eerie glow.
Inhaling a shaky breath, Sakura holds her arm out in front of herself, trying to mentally stretch the beam of light emitted from her phone, but to no avail. It accomplishes little more than producing deeper shadows outside the ring of light. She does her best to ignore the way her hand shakes as her fingernails dig into the soft rubber of the cellphone cover, likely leaving permanent dents.
While she doesn't waste much thought on it, perhaps it is flight that has won out after all among all her possible responses. Her feet propel her forward, no longer willing to allow the body to which they are attached to remain exposed and lame out in the open with whatever that is cavorting about at top speed. It means following the path that thing took only moments ago, but at this point that may not mean anything. It had come from directly behind her – from a room with only one access point. Which begs the question of how it managed to do that?
Cold sweat breaks out across Sakura's shoulders as she takes miniscule, faltering steps forward.
Was that thing in there the whole time I was sleeping?
The possibility leaves a sickly sweet taste in her mouth, causing her tongue to scrape repeatedly across the roof of her closed mouth in a bid to keep the impulse to vomit at bay. She hasn't the time for it, can't risk the vulnerability. With her eyes straining and narrowed, forcibly trying to pull in more light, she moves doggedly around the corner, heart caught in her throat as a warning prickles uncomfortably across her scalp.
She knows even before she raises the phone to eye level that something is stopped there in the middle of the front hallway. She doesn't know how she knows, but she can feel its presence with more confidence than she's ever felt before when taking an exam she spent days studying for.
For once, she finds herself wishing to be wrong. Oh-so wrong.
Sakura sucks in her cheeks, biting them to squelch the uncontrollable desire to scream until her lungs give out.
The little boy has his back to her, but he's not moving, as though mired where he stands. Sakura lowers her phone, its light unnecessary when the kid is already such a beacon within the dark dwellings. Her hands clench into fists as adrenaline and fear courses through her in a potent, desperate mix.
What the hell is it doing?
He doesn't move a muscle, doesn't seem aware of her presence, and a bubble of insane mirth wells up in her throat, nearly making her giggle as she imagines his head spinning around to pin her in his sights.
Yes, she's never watching another scary movie as long as she lives.
"I'm home!" the boy shouts out in welcome, his feet coming unglued from the floor as he steps away even further from Sakura, "Where is everyone?"
His voice is light and carefree, like any normal child bursting through the front door after a day at school. It's in contrast to the more pleading "Hey!" from before and Sakura clenches her jaw in confusion.
He walks quickly down the hallway on his glowing, bare feet, not sprinting like he had been when he nearly plowed her over in the other hall.
What am I doing?
Shaking her head at herself for even contemplating this kid – thing –whatever it is – Sakura warily edges along the hall, keeping close to the wall at her left in case the boy backtracks down the hall in another mad dash. When she reaches the top of the front staircase, she hesitates for a second, listening carefully to the sounds of the old house, but she catches nothing. Daring not to tempt fate any further, she silently descends the stairs, eyes focused on the door for fear she might catch sight of something particularly gruesome and chilling in the shadows at her periphery if she allows her eyes the liberty.
She trips at the exit as her foot finds air she wasn't expecting in place of solid purchase, forgetting the way the Uchiha family had installed a traditional genkan area in their otherwise modern, Victorian-style home. Her misstep causes her to fall forward, knees bending and hands flying out to catch the floor before her face can. Her phone flies across the wooden floor, skidding through a fine layer of dust, but thankfully landing flashlight side up so Sakura can easily find it.
Sakura stills in the darkness, back turned to the rest of the house and palm wrapped around her phone to conceal its light as she hesitates for any sign that something heard her ungraceful stumble and is about to give chase.
And she does hear something, but surely it's not after her.
It's the little boy again, calling out for his mom and dad, a tinge of irritation seeping into his repeated calls as nothing – to Sakura's gratefulness – answers his cries.
Rising off her knees, Sakura allows the first inklings of relief to register as she takes hold of the intricate handle on the front door and –
– Promptly retracts her hand from the offending piece of metal, bringing her abused fingers close to her chest in comfort.
And that's when the third shocking occurrence of the night is thrown in Sakura's face: the lights come back on. Lights that have not been on for more than ten years because the electricity had been shut off save for the handful of times a few persistent real estate agents tried and failed to throw a successful open house to cater to what little interest a few out-of-towners had in the old place. Lights that were no longer fixtures in the old Uchiha house. Lights Sakura knew had been packed up and distributed among relatives or sold off at auctions shortly after the funerals took place.
Lights whose place she had noted as empty when stepping into the old home of her childhood crush earlier that night.
But instead, there hangs the elaborate black chandelier over the front entrance with its European style, scalloped bobaches and efficient little bulbs mimicking candle flames. It attractively reflects its own light off the black, teardrop crystals dripping below it on beaded chains.
She can't hold it back at this point. Sakura screams.
Shuddering and quite nearly whimpering, she spins around to the door, stowing her phone away so both hands can grasp the doorknob and, with their combined strength, hopefully be enough to withstand the electrical current that had passed through it the first time.
But no shock zings through her fingertips and up to her elbows on her second try, no, instead, the light merely disappears, plunging Sakura into absolute darkness as she uselessly twists and tugs, turning savage as it refuses to give and even resorting to kicking uselessly at the bottom of the door, not caring if her shoes leave scuff marks on the home Mikoto had so reverently devoted herself to maintaining in pristine condition. She fiddles with the lock, ensuring she hadn't foolishly been attempting to leave through a barred door.
It's all to no avail. The doorknob doesn't turn; it doesn't even jiggle in its socket.
No. No. No. No. No.
Sakura thumps her fist in dismay against the unrelenting door, turning around and pressing her back to it as she sightlessly pulls out her phone and turns the flashlight app back on. Woefully, she notes her battery is less than fifty percent and swiftly draining thanks to constant use.
The back door.
The last thing she wants to do is go traipsing through the house in the pitch dark with that little boy wandering around – she refuses to acknowledge it as an apparition until she's safely back in her own home surrounded by her living, breathing parents.
Sasuke never said anything about ghosts haunting his house.
Of course, Sasuke had been a brave, reserved little boy, not inclined to indulge his friends with ghost stories that would lead to even more curiosity over his family and pleadings of invites to come play at his house. No, that wouldn't have been like him at all. Sasuke had probably never been the type of child to believe in ghosts or fear of monsters lurking beneath his bed.
Feeling sick to her stomach, Sakura momentarily ponders calling her mom. How embarrassing would it be to call home and beg her mother and father to come look for their college-aged daughter in the old Uchiha home? Then again, she could always just call to check-in…
Pulling up her contacts list, Sakura finds the entry for home and waits for the call to connect. How many times had she done this with Ino when walking back to her dorm late at night after studying at the library? It felt safe to have a familiar voice chattering in her ear as she traversed the walkways crisscrossing campus, and it was about the only means she had to deter any creeps or potential muggers by keeping up a lively conversation whilst periodically interjecting her location along the way.
She could just call her mom to tell her she's on her way back home right now, and yeah, the game had been great and blah blah blah.
Frantic, Sakura glances down at the screen, impatient for the dial tone to buzz. But it never does. Despite having perfect reception upon first entering the household, it seems to have gone out. Yet, nothing negative shows up in her signal strength icons. She should be able to put a call through from here, all signs are go, but it's not working. Nothing is connecting; certainly not the much needed voice of her mother.
Sakura grunts in frustration, too choked with fear to speak and not really wanting to be heard lest she attract any attention to herself. Shifting her stance, the edge of Sakura's boot lands on something soft though she knows the floor had been barren of any personal effects left from the Uchihas.
With morbid resignation, she lowers her phone to catch sight of the object under her foot, though she is loath to see anything the light has to offer. With air whistling through her nose in shaky puffs, Sakura bites her lower lip to stifle another scream. It's a shoe. A little boy's shoe.
It's identical to the kind her male classmates were required to wear as part of their uniform at the elementary school she attended. The one under her foot appears to have been haphazardly cast off, its partner in a similar state a few feet to Sakura's right. Swerving her light around herself in a half circle, Sakura swallows silently at the sight of two other pairs of shoes, both a man's and a woman's set of house slippers waiting for their owners just on the edge of the step up from the genkan.
Her lips tremble wordlessly, the light quivering in her unsteady hold as they illuminate the incriminating presence of the shoes.
This isn't happening. This isn't reeaaalll.
Her inner thoughts howl with want for those half-hearted words to be true, for this to all be some weird dream she'll soon wake up from and forget. For good measure, she pinches the skin of her forearm, dismally concluding that it hurts, though considerably less than attempting to hold the doorknob. Returning her flashlight back to its previous position, she inhales sharply upon seeing the shoes are no longer present.
Had she imagined them?
Is she losing her mind?
With her regret growing greater by the second for deciding to come here, Sakura moves cautiously past the front entrance, ignoring the open doorway to the living room where the Uchiha family liked to take their guests for tea and snacks back when they were still inclined to entertain. She doesn't want to acknowledge the darkened masses that may just be the matching couch and loveseat set or the low coffee table whose surface was typically adorned with a never touched arrangement of magazines and seasonally changed vase of flowers. Those things had long since been moved out of the house. They aren't there.
She passes by the staircase, her light strictly staying on the floorboards ahead of her shuffling feet, not the feet of that cherrywood end table where the homeowners liked to keep their car keys alongside a framed family photo. Nor the rectangular build of the grandfather clock that was surely a family heirloom unlike the much more cheaply mass-produced version Sakura's family kept in their living room.
Sakura stoutly refuses to see any of this. It's not there.
Maybe I'm not even really here.
Now wouldn't that be a laugh?
No, it would just be much more preferable.
Shivering as she reaches the rear limits of the house, Sakura turns into the kitchen, gutted of all its appliances and silverware, though the stove and fridge still remain like loyal guardians of the domain in which Mikoto once reigned supreme. Sakura can almost feel saddened at the sight of these outdated conveniences of modern living; how the Uchiha matriarch would cringe at having such an unfashionable kitchen. It would have already been redecorated at least once if not twice in the time since they had…departed. But sadness doesn't quite register on Sakura's scale of emotion right now. The back door is along the far wall, next to the fridge and as Sakura at last sees the end in sight, she passes by the attached room which the Uchiha reserved for special occasions and hosting dinner parties.
The lights snap on as do a cacophony of voices, some boisterous, some raised with an edge of irritation to be heard among the myriad of side conversations taking place.
And Sakura can only scream, her legs collapsing underneath her as she brings her hands up to her face, afraid to see. But see she must, she's masochistic that way, even when on the verge of pissing her pants.
With awkward, halting footsteps, Sakura forces herself to the open entrance of the dining room that had always been void of doors and was usually void of occupants. The bleak, overhead light is on, the one that had been installed after another one of the family's elegant, irreplaceable chandeliers had been distributed to some distant relative or another long ago. The room is warm with body heat and the jovial air of so many competing voices. And the dining table is back, swathed in its dreamy white, lace tablecloth that had Sakura envious as a child of all the tea parties Sasuke could have there. If he was a silly girl and was into that sort of thing, that is.
The hand-carved benches lining either side of the table that Sakura had always found odd and masculine in the place of individual chairs line either of the long sides of the table while the two high-backed, scarlet-cushioned seats sit opposite of each other on either end, their dark wooden frames gleaming even in this weak light. But the table is barren of cutlery or dishes, the benches empty of any occupants, yet still the raucous laughter of a small, family dinner party surrounds Sakura, encasing her in its liveliness and warmth.
It's a thin pretend for home though. A poor representation that nearly repels her from the doorway despite the few true to life details it preserves. And though her heart is racing, Sakura takes the plunge, the toes of her boot crossing the line from the tiled kitchen to the oriental rug covering the floor of the dining room – another possession long since passed on to kin or sold to strangers.
It's all it takes for the atmosphere in the room to suddenly shift, the voices, the other presences seemingly instantly alert to her appearance. Conversation drops, and for an instant, Sakura is left standing in an empty room, the silence nearly suffocating.
"Ah, you've joined us at last!"
"Where's your brother? You remembered to walk him home today, right?"
The voices resume, Sakura's head turning this way and that, attempting to follow the dialogue bouncing from one direction to the next.
"What's with that look?"
"Come sit down!"
"Is everything alright?"
"Did something happen?"
The clattering of tableware.
"Ita – !"
A shattered glass.
A chair being pushed back from the table.
"Son, why are you doing this?"
The overhead light shuts off, the autumn chill of the unheated house instantly returning though the scent of a lovingly prepared dinner still lingers in Sakura's nostrils, carrying the tantalizing aroma of warm, buttered rolls and some type of roast. Stiffly, she takes out her phone again, at this point no longer surprised when the table and benches have vanished from existence. The room is completely empty, just blank, white walls waiting for new owners to claim.
Sakura turns to leave, her head foggy and pulsing with the early warning signs of what's surely going to sprout into a migraine. She needs to get home.
But the little boy is back. Standing stock-still in the doorway, his eyes impossibly large and his mouth quivering open. Sakura nearly has a heart attack.
He's looking at her, but again, it's as though he doesn't see her. Like the guests, he seems to be interacting on a plane she still can't see – or at least, is only permitted short glimpses of.
But that's not what has Sakura gasping for air as she loses her clumsy grip on her phone and it falls to her feet.
Standing before her is Sasuke.
How did I not recognize him before?
Albeit, it's a much younger Sasuke, but still. He looks almost exactly like her memory has preserved him for all these years. She isn't very good at judging ages, but this looks like him back when he was around seven? Eight? He's still barefoot, still wearing dark clothes she perceives to be their old gym uniform, and he still has that unearthly luminescence about him. Unthinkingly, she reaches a hand out toward the young boy in the same instant his hand shoots up to clutch at his shirt, his neck wrenching away as though he's retching. Sakura steps forward, knowing she's out of her mind, but still compelled to offer some comfort to the young Sasuke.
"Sasuke," she murmurs quietly, trying to keep her tone gentle as she takes a step closer, but the boy doesn't react. Instead, he takes a few unsteady steps backward, dragging the back of his hand across his mouth, his eyes wide and unblinking, staring at where Sakura approximates the dining table to be. He won't look at her. Doesn't seem to hear her.
"Sasuke?" she tries again hesitantly.
""Itachi!" he wails, hands going up to clutch his hair in tight-fisted tufts, "Itachiiiii!"
He spins around hysterically, nearly tripping over his own feet as he flees from the scene, calling out for his brother and his parents the entire way.
And that's when it dawns on Sakura. She knows what's happening, or at least partly understands it. This house is replaying the memory of that night. The night that changed her friend's life forever.
But why? Why is she seeing this? Why her?
And why can she see Sasuke as if he's –
Some sort of ghost?
The question leaves her worried and frightened in entirely new ways.
Sasuke isn't dead. He can't be. The news would have reached her in some way, shape, or form no matter how hard Sasuke has tried to wipe away the connections to his past.
But I haven't seen him in years…
A lot could happen in the amount of time Sasuke had been gone from Konoha – had left and never looked back. Looking back is a sign of regret, and Sasuke is not one for regret, for weakness.
"I would go upstairs if I were you. To see it to its end."
Sakura jolts to her left, away from the light brush across her forearm, as though a hand had been gently placed there to gain her attention.
I know that voice…
She's practically shivering with fear, but still she turns her neck to the side, bleakly awaiting just one more thing of the unexpected variety to make her lose all of her marbles. There's not many left.
The command is made on a mere whisper of breath as a fragile, ethereal young man dissipates into the darkness, leaving Sakura truly all alone and practically blind until she scrambles around on the floor for her lost phone. Picking it up, she's off like a rocket, careening around empty hallways without fear of bumping her hip against table edges or accidentally knocking over a plant stand. Nothing interferes in her climb up the staircase and she miraculously avoids tripping across the naked floorboards. At the top landing she is forced to make a decision.
Listening intently, peering down one hallway and then the next, Sakura holds her breath, tuning into the darkness.
With eyes flashing open, Sakura races down the left hallway, toward what she remembers as the wing holding both Fugaku's home office and the master bedroom as well as a number of other rooms. Slowing down as she approaches the last set of doors, Sakura's hand reaches for the handle, fingers curled in displeasure at what she's about to bear witness to.
Something menacing lurks beyond the music room's doors, and it is only the knowledge that she is not the target that gives Sakura the strength to press them inward, just wide enough to permit passage of her hips as she slips through.
You wanted me here so here I am.
Sasuke is huddled on the floor, his small, glowing body trembling with sobs that slip out in pained, forced gasps as though fighting to hold them back between tightly clenched teeth.
"Why?" his voice is as deceptively delicate as spider's silk. He's shattered, but there's livid, rising anger simmering around the edges of those broken shards. Sakura's hand flutters to her open mouth as her eyes rove past Sasuke's sprawled out form to observe the two bodies collapsed on the floor. Similarly, their skin radiates a soft, subtle brilliance, significantly duller than their youngest son's, yet still prominent. Moonlight penetrates through the window at the fourth figure's back, throwing his features in shadow, but even his faint glow is not overpowered by the light.
"Why?" the younger Uchiha repeats again with more ferocity as he pulls himself up to his feet, shoulders rising and falling with the effort to control his ragged breathing.
Sakura moves to stand behind the young Sasuke, fixing his brother with a scowl.
He's different from the others. He's the only one that's been able to interact with me.
She doesn't know if that makes him a threat to her or not; all she knows is that this is a moment in Sasuke's life that no one else has ever been privy to, and she's not so certain she wants that honor.
"Stop this," she hisses at the man glowing softly within the shadows. She lifts a hand to place on Sasuke's shoulder without thinking, but it merely slips through with little more than air providing any form of resistance. Sasuke appears unperturbed by her gesture, his attention on his big brother, and the realization that Sasuke isn't truly present in any way brings both a confusing mix of disappointment and relief to Sakura.
How she misses him.
Tightening her fist, Sakura steps forward, politely moving around Sasuke as it just feels wrong to pass through him.
"Are you Itachi?" she asks boldly, body going rigid in anticipation for this being's answer. Even now she can't be certain about what exactly she's been confronted with – ghost, demonic entity, or something equally terrifying and unknown. She hadn't even believed in the possibility of such things less than five hours ago, and now she has to figure out how to deal with one. And make it out alive.
Sasuke's voice distracts her, her eyes flicking back over her shoulder as he howls his protests over something that wasn't said. His tiny, child's fists shake against his sides, tears still streaming down his cheeks, leaving tracks that are even brighter against his skin.
And that's when Sakura begins to speculate that something is in a sort of fixed state here – almost as if there's a recording being played over and over again. This thing that is Sasuke is oblivious to her presence in the house, yet reacts as though scripted, even when Itachi doesn't play his part. As for the other Uchiha brother…
Sakura slides her eyes over to the bright gaze of Itachi who has yet to speak. His eyelids close languidly and Sakura is startled as something animalistic is torn from Sasuke's throat as he gives chase out of the music room. When she turns back to the other occupants in the room, she finds the collapsed figures of Mikoto and Fugaku have dissipated as well, leaving her in an empty room as all the priceless furnishings from the gilded framed portraits to the baby grand piano have been swept away in the blink of an eye.
"Do you understand what you've seen here?" the same voice from downstairs in the dining room speaks again as Itachi walks forward at a sedate pace.
Raising her chin contemptuously, Sakura retorts, "You didn't answer my question."
A slight quirk of Itachi's lips surprises her. From what little part he had played in her memories, she couldn't place Itachi's sense of humor. He was a laconic, usually soft-spoken teenager. Intelligent, but not cocky. Of course, after the incident, could anyone truly say they had a solid grasp on Itachi's personality?
"So I didn't," he amends, "As to your question, I am."
Sakura nods, placated if only for the moment, "And as to yours, no, not exactly."
Sakura eyes the apparition with distrust as he steps closer, their feet nearly touching as he raises his hand, his fingers barely grazing across Sakura's cheek with near non-existent pressure.
"I don't have much time left on this plane. Already, I'm fading. You could barely feel that, couldn't you?"
Sakura shakes her head, finding her ability to speak to have temporarily gone missing.
"It was fortunate you returned here when you did, or I would not have been able to accomplish this."
"What do you mean? I still…I don't get what happened. This place is being haunted?"
"By a memory," he concedes, leaving Sakura with only more questions. Raising her eyebrows dubiously, Sakura waits expectantly for Itachi to continue.
He turns, taking a seat on one of the many window ledges that leaves the west-most wall composed of more glass than anything else. Sakura follows at a safe distance, opting not to sit so intimately near the Uchiha and instead choosing to stand with a view of one of the neighboring streets. The outside world is as it should be and Sakura watches with a sense of comforting familiarity as someone's house cat takes a sneaky helping out of the trash that had been deposited at the curb for tomorrow morning's pick-up. From what she can see and hear, the house appears to have returned to normal as well with Itachi remaining behind as the single aberration.
"I do not pretend to fully comprehend it myself, but it seems this house has in some way managed to absorb a bit of those who once dwelled within it. In a sense, it has developed a consciousness from the attachment it formed with my family."
"You're joking," Sakura replies flatly, irked by Itachi's deadpan expression to her disbelief.
"But how – I mean – " Sakura raises a hand to the back of her head, trying to puzzle out which questions take top priority.
"Are you part of it?" Sakura asks, her voice slowing down as she recognizes another possibility, "Or have you…Died?"
Itachi smiles weakly at her discomfort and Sakura is once again greeted with that old expression of gentleness, of patience. This is what's stood out in her memory the most over the years of this man. Even now she has to repeatedly remind herself that he's a murderer, that he's possibly unstable, that he's –
"I was killed not long ago."
Sakura's face contorts in a pained sort of surprise, her lips tugging downward as her eyes soften in acceptance.
She knows he's not fully good, but how can he be wholly bad either? This is the boy that Sasuke waited for in impatient delight to come pick him up after school and walk home together. This is the boy who attended every one of Sasuke's soccer games on the weekends as his only family support because their parents got caught up at work or were out of town on business trips. This was the boy who wordlessly fixed Sakura's bike without even being asked because the old, rusted chain finally snapped on her ride over to play with Sasuke.
Of course, looking at him now, Sakura can see the remnants of his youth have disappeared from the strong lines of his visage. He isn't the same boy but a man now. Yet, his eyes are still the same; even in this ghostly form they still hold the same compassionate light.
"I'm sorry," Sakura whispers, not knowing what to say, not knowing what's appropriate or what could even help someone in Itachi's place. Nothing seems to be enough.
"Do not feel bad for me, Sakura. I have brought this fate on myself and I do not wish for it to be undone," he looks out the window, seemingly distracted by the same cat Sakura had watched forage for its dinner.
"If only I could have spared my family from so much pain."
Sakura's lips part in a silent "o," surprised by such an admission. She yearns to ask about that night, to demand answers for why Itachi slaughtered his visiting family and then his parents, leaving his little brother to run out of the house in a frantic search for help while Itachi made his escape. What could make a child as promising and gifted as Itachi turn like that? And what had become of him in the years since?
Obviously, she has the conclusion to all of that right before her very eyes. Itachi has met his end. But how?
"Who killed you, Itachi?"
There's no beating around the bush with a question like that. There's no delicate way to put it.
"The person that I hoped would."
Sakura scrunches her eyebrows in confusion, wishing he would clarify but knowing he won't after an answer like that.
"I don't have much time," he says again solemnly, pressing his palm against the glass, leaving no smudges or fingerprints behind when he peels it away.
"You have something I left behind for Sasuke and I need it back. This house needs it back. It's unsettled without it."
"What could I possibly have that…" Sakura trails off, realization dawning on her, "Oh."
Itachi nods, "I left that key for Sasuke years and years ago so that he could let himself in during soccer season when I had practice."
"He usually just stayed to watch you," Sakura laughs softly, remembering how she'd occasionally tag along with Sasuke, walking what had seemed like ten miles back then, but was more like only one to get to the high school practice fields where they sat on the bleachers, Sasuke entranced by the skill level of the older boys, his brother especially, and Sakura whining of her boredom and trying to gain Sasuke's attention. She had been a little brat back then.
Itachi smiles at the memory, "Yes. I believe at one point he claimed he lost it, but I discovered it buried in Mother's garden while I was helping her."
Sakura shakes her head at Sasuke's antics, a sad, choking fondness gripping her heart. It had all been so easy back then. So pure and happy.
Digging her hand through the back pocket of her jeans, Sakura produces the key, handing it over to Itachi's open palm which is somehow substantial enough to bear its weight.
Ghosts. They operate by their own laws of physics.
"Thank you," Itachi says quietly, "I will ensure that Sasuke receives this. I think the memories in this house will finally rest in peace once he has some closure."
"I'm not sure Sasuke would ever return here, Itachi," Sakura remarks sadly. It was something she had long given up hoping for.
"Perhaps not. But having the option to certainly won't hurt. I think one day he may recognize that this is what he needs."
"And you?" Sakura asks, wondering what awaits for the Uchiha after his final objective is complete here on Earth.
"A long rest, I would hope," he replies wryly.
Looking at him now, Sakura can tell his presence is diminishing, his light waning so that his outlines and features are becoming fuzzy and undefined.
"You should be returning home soon," Itachi says, sliding off the window ledge to land nimbly on his feet. And as the two leave the music room, the door shutting softly behind them, Sakura finds a strange sense of surrealness settling over her as they walk side by side down the lighted hallway of the west wing, the floor polished, the rugs looking freshly vacuumed, and even a gorgeous ceramic vase displaying Mikoto's white roses are blooming on a decorative table. With a gentlemanly hand resting ever-so lightly at the small of her back, Itachi guides Sakura down the staircase to the front door where the chandelier gleams proudly overhead, wishing to send Sakura off in one final show of the house's former glory.
Longing fills Sakura's heart for the way things used to be, for this wonderful family to be back amongst the living rather than leaving behind just one single, forever changed survivor.
But it will never be the same again.
"This house has enjoyed your company over the years it's remained empty," Itachi explains kindly, his eyes scanning the surroundings of his childhood home one final time, everything from his memory intact, "It remembers you playing here."
A blush colors Sakura's cheeks for having been caught in her childhood break-ins. But perhaps they weren't so harmful after all. Perhaps they offered some comfort to the ghosts of this old house.
The door opens for the two of them without either lifting a finger and Sakura finds the porch light has been turned on though she worries it might draw the neighbors' attention.
Sakura turns to regard Itachi's rapidly disappearing figure. He's barely recognizable in the outside light where he's left to compete with the street lamps and the moon.
But his voice is still strong as he bows his head ever so slightly her way and issues one final, "Thank you, Sakura."
And just like that he's slipped away like smoke between fingers, never truly capable of being caught. An overwhelming sense of disorientation washes over her, filling her head like so many volumes of liquid as she feels her body pitch to the side, too confused to throw her arms out to cushion a painful fall.
But she finds such an action unnecessary as something cold and solid presses into her palm, her fingers tightening around its curved surface to allow her insides to settle in place. Gaining her balance, Sakura gasps at finding her hand enclosed around the doorknob to the back door of the Uchiha residence. Retracting her hand as though zapped by lightning, she takes several paces backward, turning to run down the steps to the backyard where she cranes her neck back to get a good look at the place, eyeing the darkened windows with suspicion. But everything seems in place, everything is normal.
With hairs raising on the back of her neck, Sakura sprints to the overgrown garden in the back corner of the fenced off property, foregoing the branch from earlier as she digs through the twisted mass of vines and dead leaves from several seasons past. Flipping over the rock she finds her shallow scrapes in the earth from before, but upon further digging, she uncovers nothing. The key is truly gone. Itachi took it with him, leaving Sakura without a good means of entering the old home again, not that she suspects she ever will.
No, this will be her last visit.
Leaning back on her haunches and wiping at the cold sweat collected on her brow that's beginning to mat her bangs, Sakura looks up at the sky, wondering where exactly she fits into it all. So little makes sense to her.
Heaving a sigh, feeling exhausted and frazzled beyond repair, Sakura pulls out her nearly dead phone and mentally prepares herself for a barrage of texts, each more hysterical than the last as her mother has surely already called the police on her tardy daughter.
She'll have the dogs out already sniffing for my scent.
But Sakura's resigned attitude to a good scolding is for naught as she falls backward on her butt, finding the time is only a few minutes after 7:30.
Even after powering off her phone and turning it back on, the screen tells her it's hours earlier than what she expected it to be. Opening her texts, she finds that the one she sent her mother about getting ice cream never went through; it's not even saved as a draft.
I never typed it.
Falling onto her back in disbelief, letting the cold yard numb her skin with the hopes of bringing some clarity into her muddled brain, Sakura focuses on the sound of her breathing. Somehow, time had stopped…Or had she been sent back in time…Or maybe she was in a parallel dimension…Or – Or –
Growling, Sakura thumps the ground with her fist, snapping up from her supine positon and getting to her feet. Who knows if she'll ever make sense of what just happened. All that's certain is that the key is no longer in her possession.
Sakura walks around to the front of the yard, unable to keep her eyes from straying to the darkened, impassive windows revealing nothing to her of the secrets locked away behind them. But at last her feet fall atop the split and weedy pathway up to the front porch and she declines opening the old gate marking the front property line of the Uchiha residence, instead getting a good running start to leap over the decorative arrowhead-like tips topping each post. From a safe distance out on the sidewalk, she fully turns to face her friend's old home, wondering if he'll return to it one day. But for now, the home sits quiet and lonely as Sakura turns down the street.
Maybe she'll go see that football game after all. Seven dollars is worth a little normalcy after what she's been through.
"No – Yes – Yes, I remembered to – Mom! Stop interrupting me!" Sakura huffs into her phone, trying to cradle it between her chin and shoulder as she eases one of her flimsy blouses onto a hanger. She has to do something to distract herself through the tedium of laundry or else she'd never get it done, but she's beginning to regret calling her mom for a little side chatter as she goes about the arduous process of folding and putting everything away. Her mom likes to dominate any conversation her daughter engages her in; of course, it's never on purpose, it just happens.
Sighing as her mother continues on her tirade without taking note of her daughter's protests, Sakura half listens to her mom's account of something involving driving and the neighborhood kids playing pranks and –
"Don't you think that's just awful, dear?" her mother's sorrowful tone snags Sakura's attention at the same time she bumps her forehead on the underside of the clothes bar in her closet.
Ouch! Stupid piece of crap…
Internally growling at the blouse whose fabric makes it near impossible to keep on her slick, plastic hangers, Sakura asks, "Wait, what was that?"
Exasperated, her mother rebukes her for not listening before continuing, "I said, isn't that awful about what happened to the Uchiha's old house?"
The shirt slides right through Sakura's fingers as she turns away from the closet, heartbeat picking up, "What happened? I haven't heard anything."
"Oh, no?" her mother asks with surprise, "Oh, well, it's quite terrible, dear. It happened over the weekend. Some rotten teenagers were probably messing around in there – they really ought to have put up some security cameras on a nice, old home like that – and well, the police estimate it must have happened around two in the morning so thankfully all the little trick-or-treaters were long in bed by then, but – "
"What. Happened." Sakura grits from between her clenched teeth, swiping an irritated hand down her face at her mother's propensity to babble around what should only be a thirty second story.
Extraneous details. Always with the extraneous details.
"Why, it burned down, darling," her mom replies earnestly as though surprised Sakura hasn't been following her logical story to its predictable conclusion.
"It burned down?" Sakura parrots weakly, finding herself sitting on the edge of the bed, her laundry a thing of the past.
"Yes," Mebuki goes on, "Oh, it was such a beautiful house. Never could understand why it never sold, or didn't stay sold for long…I remember how much time you spent over there when you were little. I always thought it was a little too far for you to be riding your bike by yourself at that age, but you know your father, he…"
Her mother's chatter fades into the background of Sakura's awareness as her shoulders slump in disbelief. She had just been there less than two weeks ago and now it's gone.
As the one-sided conversation switches topics in Sakura's ear, she silently allows her mother's prattle to go uninterrupted as she searches the internet for an article on the matter.
There has to be one…
And there is, though there's not much to it. Like her mother said, it happened late on Halloween night, technically the first of November. The Konoha police suspect arson and are in the midst of further investigation. Nothing was salvageable by the time fire trucks arrived at the scene.
Sakura's head imperceptibly shakes in disbelief.
That house had sat empty and unguarded for years without anyone messing with it, whether out of respect or superstition it's hard to say. And now, after all that Sakura had endured –
Like the key.
Had Itachi been successful in returning the key to his brother? Did Sasuke have a chance to go back and see his family home? Did it help? Did it –
And that's how Sakura arrives at her answer because surely only one person has the desire to see that old house demolished. Only one person would that house with all of its memories have even allowed to destroy it.
And Sakura frowns at this likely answer to the mystery the police have on their hands. Itachi is gone. The house is gone.
And Sasuke is very, very angry.
Author's Note: I had a good time writing this and hopefully it gets you all in the spirit for Halloween. The idea kind of took me by surprise shortly after watching The Others and while listening to "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men. Another relevant song to accompany this one-shot would be "Dearly Departed" by Shakey Graves if you're the type of reader who enjoys some complementary tunes to enhance the experience.
I realize some of this may seem really confusing and not everything seems fully explained or realized by Sakura, but no worries if you don't get it! It's supposed to have that kind of I'm-still-really-uncertain-but-I'm-going-to-accept-whatever-paranormal-thing-just-happened feel. I didn't want to over-explain the weird things going on in the Uchiha house because it would have slowed things down and could've made certain parts, particularly the conversation between Sakura and Itachi, very clunky and scripted. It seemed more natural to me if they didn't fully understand what's going on, though Itachi does have a better handle on it as a spirit about to move on to the afterlife.
My idea was that the house had retained some memory of the family with the massacre being the most prominent as it was the most devastating. The glowing apparition of Sasuke and his parents were more like projections of the house's memory rather than their actual ghosts (particularly considering Sasuke is still alive and thus a brighter projection as Sakura observed). This is also why the other family members dining at the Uchiha's house were only heard but not seen as their true ghosts were not attached to the house and were not as prominent in its memory. Perhaps it was more obvious that the house was trying to keep new families from moving in as it would not allow any new growth on the property and tended to let some sort of ghost-like activity scare away buyers.
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