by Melpomene Melancholica
WARNING: Possible spoilers, especially chapter 145 in the manga.
The blush that still painted the horizon was somewhat misleading----for one who had been locked up in some cavern for a few months, anyway. As was its habit on high summer evenings, the sun lingered late that day. A dark-haired jounin, only one among the fine shinobi loyal to the Village of the Leaf, brooded atop a tree branch in that forest practically entwined with his hometown. Watching the sun sink was almost a custom of his. It provided him a time alone—from teammates, from clients, from people in general----not because he hated the world or anything like that. Silent space was a simple necessity of his soul, a time to think, to feel... to recuperate.
That day, he had arrived from his week-long mission almost abstractedly. He had been eager to go home----mostly because it was home now and not just four walls slapped together, topped with a roof—but when he stepped through the village gates, a weird sort of feeling came gnawing at his insides.
That feeling vexed him. He couldn't understand what it was, and a high-achieving man such as himself didn't take well to such vague things. It wasn't worry—what was there to worry about? It just... was. Unsettlement. Plain and simple.
A week wasn't that long a time to be away from home; his missions ranged from lasting several hours to several months. Maybe it was because she was coming closer and closer to that time. Maybe it's because he was simply eager to see her.
Which was ridiculous. That tiny tightness in his chest? That... that restlessness? All because he missed her?
But he did, didn't he? He missed her.
He shrugged to himself in irritation, not even caring if anybody saw him wordlessly arguing with himself. (He was too fast to be ogled by passers-by, anyhow.) Of course, he missed her. Wasn't it human nature to gravitate toward status quo? And they'd been living together for over two years now, had known each other for more than a decade. He usually did miss her (though he was wrought to admit that) whenever he left town, but there was rarely this feeling.
Maybe he was just being stupid now, on top of being strange. It had to be the effects of being cloistered with Uzumaki Naruto, Rock Lee, Inuzuku Kiba, that dog Akamaru, and clawed critters run amok in a cramped, minuscule tent that was planted three feet from the edge of a sheer cliff being lambasted by a furiously stormy ocean, battered by raging thunderstorms for several nights running-----all to retrieve a tattered, stinky, puke-stained list.
It had to be that.
When his house came into view----it was unmistakable being the only inhabited one in that sector of the town---- his heart tripped. For one hideous quarter of a second, his body rose into that fevered pitch, hovered in that fork that demanded him to choose between an escape of desperation and a battle to the death. His eyes spun, whirred like blades, as they tried to see what cannot be seen... what even they cannot see.
It had to be that...
Then the moment passed; he started breathing again, and his eyes returned to their inactive color. She was probably out visiting Nara Shikamaru's wife, he thought. Yes, that had to be it. That's why the house was dark. She was out.
That had to be it.
See, he had gotten use to that, too. She usually came home before he did, even when it was her who had a mission. Their house was usually glowing with hearty incandescence (with firelight, during chilly winter nights) by this time. The air would be heady with the cooking's aroma, the kitchen bustling with activity. And she would be there, arms akimbo, as he came in, expecting a kiss, perhaps--- mostly his help to prepare their meals.
She hated dicing onions, see.
Among other things.
So he approached the dark, looming building that was his ancestral home without further ado. Even as a little orphan boy, his routine was to leap atop that ancient tree stooping painfully towards the loft on the third floor, balance his way on the bridging branch and unto one sturdy lintel. The gabled window there always yielded to his hand; he knew exactly where to push on the ebon pane to slide it aside. What possessed him to go through his front door, a path he usually reserved for guests, was a question he couldn't answer.
Fifteen years, was it? It was fifteen years ago when he discovered the folly of passing through those doors when he already had an inkling of what he would find from the corpses he saw on the streets, when a voice from within had already warned him not enter. He rarely passed through that door, or walked down that hallway to reach that room, even though there was zero chance he'd witness again the scene a boy of seven, home late from training, once beheld.
But that evening, he did pass through that passage once again.
And emerged in hell.
When he saw... Saw what he saw... Hot-white fury and searing-cold terror wrought themselves into a potent blade and stabbed him to sweet, lingering death right there and then at the threshold of that tragic clan's house.
Blinding grief, there was none of that yet. Pain? Exquisite pain, the kind beyond relief, would come late and stay late. Now, there was just emptiness, emptiness of thought and sanity, emptiness because the sheerness of terror and fury was base, animal-like.... pathetic. Fear fueled rage, fueled the innate drive for one's survival. Rage stifled fear, kept one from disintegrating into a helpless heap of stone-stiff meat ready for the pickings.
Move. Move! MOVE!
The stench of blood. The eternal echo of death screams. The gleam of steel striking to deliver the final cut. The shadowed visage of the executioner, the butcher that didn't think the effort was worth to gut a pathetic pig like him... him petrified, him disbelieving.
I'm... I'm so afraid!
Not anymore. He was no longer that weak, defenseless, brand-new orphan. And that butcher, that psychopath, that so-called prodigy was already dead.
Why did he feel so helpless then?
Because this death... these deaths...
They would be—were---- as good as his own!
A shudder ripped his frozen body asunder, cast his pieces unto the blood-soaked earth. He spewed out the burning contents of his stomach, spasmed at the force his body hurled them out, as if poisoned. Poison or not, his heart was relinquished from the death grip of that initial shock.
And he could breathe again. He could think again. He could see again. Smell, hear, feel beyond those hallucinations, that delusion. That delusion...
Yes. Yes! There was none of the metallic smell of fresh blood. There were none of those tortured cries.
She could be alive then.
She could be not real.
She was a specter then. A combination of all the phantoms that ever plagued his distorted existence.
She wasn't real.
He crawled to her, to her prostrate, motionless form. Like a worm. Hatefully, miserably. Clawing his way through that slickness that covered the floor. (Was that wetness on the floor even real? Was that trickle of blood that once crept past his face as he lay there with debilitating fear now a deluge to drown him?)
He crawled the way he told him to, still did what that person told him to.
No. He wasn't running away this time. He wasn't the foolish little brother who was so afraid. He was his own man now. And he had to know.
He had to know...
Because she cannot be real.
Almost now... The pads of his fingers were almost touching her, could almost feel her, could almost know. His insides coiled, coiled, coiled...tensed with such pressure that backlash would undoubtedly be inevitable, be unmistakably deadly.
And she was warm. She was warm. Her flesh moved rhythmically under his arm. Up. Down. Up. Down. She was...
She was alive.
He wept then. There could be no shame in that. He wept like a child, sniveled with explosive relief. Indeed, his heart would soon burst. Probably.... It would. It would burst.
She was alive!
He touched her face, soft and yielding under his fingers... her hair, pale and gray in that scanty light... her chest...
There. He could feel the vibrations from the core of her being, that steady, serene beat bounding with life.
He crawled closer and gently placed his head between her breasts, his ear against her thorax.
There it was... He could hear her heartbeat.
She was alive.
But then, what about...? He could be celebrating prematurely.
For a very brief moment, fear rived his being yet again. But he looked past that and calmly pulled himself into a sitting position. His adroit hands came to rest upon her belly... searching, searching... the way she taught him.
He smiled through the tears. Like an idiot. It was just a light tap, tiny, but he found what he sought. There.
A low rumbling laugh issued from his dry lips. It was a strange sound, an alien sound that had not been heard in that room for ages, one rarely produced by his throat.
An idiot. He was an idiot. She was fine. She was asleep. There was no blood. There was no gore. There was just that altar erected in memory of the Uchiha, the clan virtually exterminated by its most powerful seed. There were just those two (one-and-a-half?) relatively recent addition to the clan lying there on the floor.
His black eyes skittered to the side, to that rocking thing he had accidentally kicked into movement. It was a bucket; inside were the remains of gritty, soapy water and a dilapidated little sponge.
That idiot, he thought, shaking his head.
Spring cleaning—during summer. Sleeping----on the cold, hard floor.
She really was an idiot sometimes. And annoying. Did he mention annoying?
He sighed, ran a hand through his disheveled mop of black hair. He straightened, gathered her in his arms, made his way upstairs to their living quarters, and brought her to their room. Pulling out the coverlet while carrying her was a bit challenging even for him; he struggled for a bit. When she was safely tucked in bed, a pillow propped under her back to tilt her sideways a bit, he stripped and took a long, hot shower, contentedly thinking about nothing but how nice the water felt on his back.
Nearly an hour later, he joined her in bed and slipped into a deep, dreamless sleep.
~ 041804 2339hrs
Comments, complaints, etcetera would be much appreciated. Thank you. =)