Cleaning Day

A Naruto Fanfic by Gemini

A/N: This is my first attempt at a Naruto fanfic. Lessee…warnings, warnings. Some spoilers, not many. Purists might try to flog me with wet noodles, but I will protect myself with the shield of CREATIVE CHOICE! Ahem. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story. There's some slight Sakura/Sasuke.

Before we begin, a cultural note: In Japan (and I know Naruto isn't set in Japan), New Year's is a very important time of year. People do something called osoji, which is basically like Spring Cleaning, to "purify", and get a clean start for the New Year. This is a very brief explanation, but you get the idea. Okay, now on to the story!

Cleaning Day

"Sakuraaaaa!" Naruto whined unhappily as he shifted the heavy box of cleaning supplies into a more comfortable position. "Why do we have to go to that creep's house?"

Sakura stopped walking and turned to glare at her teammate. "It's the end of the year, today is the day when you clean house." she said irritably as though the answer was obvious. The bag of groceries she was carrying in one hand and the broom in the other prevented her from smacking him upside the head, although she was tempted.

"Yeah, but why do we have to go clean Sasuke's house? What about my place? Or yours?" Naruto asked, his tone petulant.

"You idiot. Your apartment is beyond help and my mom doesn't trust anyone but herself to clean our house. She's very, very particular about how things are done and she always kicks me and my dad out on cleaning day. So, by process of elimination, we're going to go help Sasuke clean."

"What about Kakashi-sensei?" He still wouldn't give up.

"I asked him yesterday and he said his apartment didn't need to be cleaned." Sakura replied. "Now quit whining, we're almost there!" She turned and pointed the end of the broom she was clutching at his head in a threatening manner. She couldn't smack him, but she could do some damage with the broom.

She didn't have to worry about silencing him any further because at that moment they entered the Uchiha section of the village. Nearly ten years after the massacre and the entire area was still deserted. Sasuke had inherited everything but he hadn't sold off any of it or made any effort to revitalize the area. There had been some minor repairs done after Orochimaru's attack on the village, but other than that, it was empty and ghostly. Windows and doors were boarded up and all the signs had been taken down. There were gouges in the wood where kunai had landed and, although she was certain her imagination was playing tricks on her, she almost swore that there was the faintest smell of blood in the air.

"Damn, no wonder he's so moody all the time." Naruto observed as they hurried through the deserted area. "He lives in a freakin' ghost town."

"Shut up." Sakura hissed. "Show some respect, why don't you?"

"It's creepy." Naruto muttered.

Inner Sakura agreed mightily, but Sakura would never admit that to Naruto. Instead, she concentrated on checking her reflection in a puddle of water. She looked a little like a cleaning lady, what with her baggy old clothes and kerchief over her hair. She made a face at her reflection and then stepped into the puddle, annoyed. She made a mental note not to worry about such things and to concentrate on finding Sasuke's house, instead.

"We're here, Naruto." She said a few minutes later, stopping in front of one of the larger houses in the neighborhood, the only one that showed any signs of life: the family symbol, the stylized Uchiha fan, was freshly painted on the front gate and the windows weren't boarded up.

Shoving her nervousness aside, Sakura knocked on the gate loudly.

She had to knock on it twice more before a sleepy, disheveled Sasuke threw open the gate, annoyance plain on his face. "What!" he growled.

Sakura swallowed nervously. Damn! He was even cute in the morning!

"Um, good morning Sasuke!" she greeted him brightly.

"Sakura?" Sasuke's eyebrows drew together in confusion. He looked around her and saw Naruto standing slightly off to the side, with a box full of cleaning items, looking disgruntled. "What's going on?"

"It's the last day of the year and we've come to help you clean!" Sakura said, brandishing her broom to prove her point.

"Clean?" Sasuke now looked confused. "You came here to clean? And Naruto, too?"

"I didn't want to! She made me!" Naruto said grumpily.

"Huh?" Clearly, Sasuke wasn't a morning person.

"I even brought some things for breakfast! If you show me where your kitchen is, I'll make us something to eat before we begin!" Sakura said, pushing past Sasuke, not waiting for him to invite her in.

"Uh, it's through the foyer and to your right." Sasuke managed. Sakura smiled at him and disappeared down the hallway with her broom and bag of groceries. He turned back to look at Naruto. "Is she really serious about cleaning?" he asked, puzzled.

Naruto shrugged. "I guess. She made me carry all this stuff." He showed Sasuke all the strange and mysterious cleaning implements and solutions in his box. "She seemed pretty serious."

They were both puzzling over the box's content when a shriek from Sakura sent them barreling towards the kitchen.

"What? What's wrong?" Sasuke gasped as he and Naruto wheeled into the room.

Sakura was standing in the middle of the kitchen, a look of horror on her face. "This kitchen is filthy! Don't you ever clean it?" she asked Sasuke in shock.

The two boys looked around the room and realized that she was right to be horrified. There was a month's worth of dishes piled in the sink, dirty pots left to molder on the stove, and bags of trash sat all around the kitchen, some of them open, their contents over flowing.

"Well, er…I don't have time…" Sasuke began, looking red-faced and embarrassed.

"Ugh. Sasuke, this is even worse than my kitchen!" Naruto said with a shake of his head.

"Listen, I didn't ask you to…" Sasuke began angrily.

"Never mind. Here's what I'm going to do." Sakura said stridently, shutting them both up. "Sasuke, you go put on something you can get messy in. Naruto, you start taking the trash out. I'll wash the dishes. As soon as this room is clean, I'll make us all breakfast. Am I clear?" She stood with her hands on her hips, her expression daring either of them to protest.

"Yes ma'am!" They both exclaimed at the same time. Sasuke immediately disappeared, ostensibly going to change his clothes while Naruto hefted the first two bags of trash.

An hour and a half later, Sakura had the entire kitchen spotless and was putting the final touches on breakfast. "Sasuke! Naruto! Breakfast is ready!" She yelled, feeling rather foolishly like someone's mother.

The two boys came into the kitchen, bickering as usual. Their fighting had annoyed Sakura to the point that she had sent them to tidy the outside of the house forty-five minutes earlier. She doubted they had gotten any thing done. From the looks of it, all they had done was fight.

"What are we eating? It smells good!" Naruto asked, plunking himself down at the table.

Sasuke sat down at the opposite end of the table, surprise on his face as he looked around his newly clean kitchen.

"Miso soup, rice and grilled fish." Sakura replied as she deftly flipped the last of the fish off the small grill and onto a serving platter.

Sasuke's eyes landed on Sakura, who still had her back to both of the boys while she scooped rice from the rice maker into a bowl. It all looked so...cozy and homey. Like it used to look before his parents died, when his mother had puttered around the kitchen, slipping him snacks and singing. He felt a lump in his throat and looked away from Sakura.

"All right! Here you go!" Sakura put the bowl of rice and plate of fish onto the table, and turned to grab two bowls of steaming miso soup, which she placed in front of each boy. Sasuke was about to open his mouth to thank her when she slipped another plate in front of him. Tomatoes. She had grilled him tomatoes. He shut his mouth and looked down at the plate in wonder.

"I noticed you had a lot of tomatoes in your fridge, Sasuke." She said, a light blush staining her cheeks. "So, I made you some grilled tomatoes to go with your breakfast."

"Hey! Don't I get any?" Naruto whined, looking wounded.

"I made you an extra fish, quit complaining!" She flicked a stray grain of rice at his forehead, grinning when it hit him right between the eyes. "Now shut up and eat!"

She plunked her own bowl of soup down and sat in between the two boys.

Naruto already had his mouth full, but that didn't stop him from complimenting Sakura's cooking. At least, that's what she thought he was doing.

"Gross, Naruto, you're spitting rice all over me! Swallow and then talk!" She said in irritation as she poured soy sauce into her soup.

Sasuke speared a piece of grilled tomato and chewed it thoughtfully. It was good. The entire breakfast was good. "I didn't know you could cook." He murmured quietly. "It's good."

Sakura's face turned pink. "It's nothing, really…just basic stuff." She stammered.

"All I can do is pour hot water into cup ramen." Naruto said in between bites of food.

"And all I can do is make rice balls." Sasuke said, taking a piece of fish and popping it into his mouth. "It's impressive."

Sakura continued to blush and ate little of her breakfast. When it became clear that she wasn't going to finish it, Naruto asked if he could and she let him.

Clearing her throat, she finished scraping the last of her breakfast onto his plate and then went to the sink. "Finish up and leave me your dishes. I'll wash them." She said, turning on the taps and filling the sink with hot, soapy water. "Naruto, when you're done, go take the tatami mats out of the foyer and living room and shake them out."

He stuffed the last of the food into his mouth and made a few protests, which she ignored. She grabbed his plates and shoved him out of the room with threats ringing in his ears. "The idiot." She muttered, dumping his dishes in the sink.

Sasuke rose from his seat and handed her his plates. "Thank you for breakfast, it really was good." He said quietly.

Her blush deepened. "You're welcome."

"What do you want me to do?" He leaned against the counter and waited for her instructions. Even though it was his house, he didn't mind letting her take the helm, after all, he had never done a New Year's cleaning.

"Well, you can take your futon and air it out, then start the laundry. I'm sure you wouldn't want Naruto to do that." She almost giggled at the thought. "He would probably starch your underwear or something." She said with a grin.

Sasuke looked slightly alarmed at the idea. "Good point. What are you going to do?"

"I'll finish up here and then go dust and sweep out all the rooms." She replied cheerily.

"Just don't break anything." He said with a small, wry smile. "I should go tell Naruto that, too."

She felt slightly relieved that he didn't seem to have any reservations about them being in his house. "Okay! I'm almost done, and then I'll go start in the foyer."

He nodded and stood up straight, getting as far as the doorway before he paused and looked back at her. She was sloshing water around and humming under her breath. "Sakura?" She stopped humming and turned her head to look at him.

"Yes?"

"Thank you." He murmured.

Before she could formulate a reply, he was gone.

"Achoo!" Sakura, despite her face mask, sneezed for the fourth time. "Blah!" She muttered, swiping at a cobwebbed corner of the sitting room. "When was the last time he dusted?" She sniffled and moved to open up the sliding doors that led outside, to a small rock garden and walkway that wrapped around the entire house. No doubt the garden had been pretty once, but no one had bothered to rake the stones in a very long time. Weeds and tufts of grass grew in unattractive clumps, ruining the austere lines.

She sneezed again and decided to take a break, hoping that the clean air outside would help.

Although it was almost January, the day was mild and clear; pleasant enough, so she found herself leaning against the wall and staring up at the cloudless blue sky, thinking about Sasuke, as usual. It was eerily quiet, except for the sounds of Naruto and Sasuke squabbling in the back, where the former had taken the floor mats to be aired and the latter was hanging up his wet laundry. She shook her head and smiled. The sound of those two fighting was comfortable and broke the gloom that threatened to overtake the house.

She stood up straight and stretched, psyching herself up to finish the dusting. But as she turned to go back into the sitting room, a door at the end of the walkway caught her eye. She hadn't been in that room yet. She frowned, thinking of the rooms she had seen so far, kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, dining room, sitting room…all the basics were covered. So what was this room?

Curious, she went to the door and ran a finger over the Uchiha fan design painted on it. The paint was faded by the sun and peeling off the wood in places. 'Sasuke should re-paint this.' She thought as her hand drifted down to the handle and slid the door open.

Dust motes danced in the weak light that streamed into the room; Sakura found herself staring into a training hall. On the far wall, metal weapons dulled with years of dust glinted faintly in what little sunlight that had managed to penetrate the shadows of the room. She saw kunai and metal fans and swords all neatly hung together in groups, patiently waiting for someone to use them. As she became used to the gloom, her eyes detected a large stain in the center of the room, a dark patch on the worn wooden boards that no amount of scrubbing had been able to completely obliterate.

She sucked in a breath and felt her face go pale. It was here. This was the place where Sasuke's childhood had abruptly ended, where he had watched helplessly as his brother murdered his parents. This was where the madness had begun. Sakura stepped into the room, irresistibly drawn to the stain, wanting to find answers in its abstract patterns of death. Why had Uchiha Itachi killed his entire clan? Why, after showing no pity towards his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, had he spared his brother?

She knelt beside it and pressed a finger to the stained wood, wishing the answers would come to her so that she could help Sasuke.

Naruto she didn't have to worry about. He was a simple guy whose loyalties and motivations were clear-cut. His only goal in life was to become the Hokage and to be acknowledged by the village he protected. He would sooner cut off his own arm than betray the village and his painstakingly acquired friends.

Sasuke…all he wanted was to kill his brother. He had already proven once that he was willing to do almost anything to further his goal, and although Naruto and the others had brought him back safely from Orochimaru's clutches, Sakura, like many of the shinobi in Konoha, wondered if he would leave again. She felt the familiar sting of tears in her eyes. How many times had she cried over Sasuke? Too many to count.

All she wanted was to ease his burden a little, but now, looking at the dark stain, she could almost begin to understand why he was so driven to avenge his family. He walked past those empty buildings every day, lived in this empty house and no doubt, he remembered the people who had lived there, the people who had called out greetings to him every morning as he left for school, the people who slipped him candy and fussed over him, the people he called family. Everyday, he lived with their loss. Tears dripped from her face and hit the floor, darkening the blood stain until it looked almost fresh.

Sakura had lost a grandmother before she was born and a cat when she was ten, but she had no idea what it felt like to lose everything in one night, to be betrayed by someone she admired. How could she help Sasuke when she couldn't even begin to comprehend the pain he must live with every day of his life?

"I've never been able to get the floor clean." Sasuke's monotone broke into her thoughts, making her jump. Guiltily, she looked up at him, feeling as though she had violated some unspoken rule, even though he hadn't forbidden her from this room.

"I…um…" She stood up and wiped her hands nervously on her pants, trying to come up with something, anything to say. But she couldn't, there was nothing to say.

He cocked his head and studied her for a long moment. "Are you crying?" He asked, sounding faintly surprised.

"The dust…" She offered weakly, swiping the offending tears off her face.

He didn't look as though he believed her, but he wasn't about to press the point.

"Naruto has finished shaking out the floor mats. Have you finished sweeping?"

"Everywhere except the sitting room. I'm almost finished and then I'll start in here. It could use a good dusting and maybe I'll have time to polish… " She babbled as she tried to slide past him. He grabbed her arm, halting her progress.

"You don't need to clean this room. I prefer it this way." He said quietly.

She looked up at him, her eyes a little puffy from crying. "Why?" The question was more than just about preference. She was asking a lot of things, all of her questions packed into one word.

He frowned slightly and looked over the room. "I have only two goals, to kill Itachi and to restore my clan." He said, his eyes on the blood stain. "Once I've dealt with my brother, then I'll be able to…" he paused and cleared his throat, faltering for a moment before speaking up again. "Then I'll be able to use this room again. Maybe someday I'll train in here with my own children, like my father and I used to."

Sakura felt the tears she had been fighting well up in her eyes again. She couldn't even begin to comprehend his pain, but maybe…maybe she could help him heal. Before she could stop herself, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly, pressing her face into the cloth of his shirt. He smelled like dust, sweat and laundry soap. He made a surprised sound, but didn't push her away, much to her relief.

"I don't understand how you feel," she whispered into his chest, "I can't. But…you're not alone, Sasuke. I'm here and even that idiot Naruto and Kakashi-sensei are here for you, too. We're not a family, exactly…but in a way we are."

"Sakura…" Sasuke managed to choke out.

"I want to see you use this room again, Sasuke." She said, nearly sobbing in relief when she felt his arms go around her and tentatively return the embrace.

"Oi! Where is everyone? I need some help with these stupid floor mats!" Naruto's irritated voice drifted towards them from the house. Sakura and Sasuke sprang apart as though pulled by invisible threads.

She took a moment to swipe away the tears still lingering on her face with the hem of her shirt before calling out to her friend. "I'll be right there, Naruto!" She managed a single step towards the door before Sasuke stopped her again by grasping her hand.

"Sakura, I…" he began hesitantly.

She squeezed his hand and smiled sweetly at him, but didn't let him finish. "I know. Now, come on, Naruto needs help." Sakura pulled him with her as she went to where Naruto was caterwauling and complaining about Sasuke's uncooperative floor mats.

With Sakura's and Sasuke's help, the floor mats were quickly dispatched. The three stood back and surveyed their handiwork with quiet satisfaction. The house fairly sparkled. Sasuke, in a rare moment of congenial generosity, offered to treat his unexpected housecleaners to ramen, which Naruto loudly accepted on his and Sakura's behalf.

"What do you want for the new year, Sakura?" Naruto asked his friend and teammate as he happily slurped his noodles at Ichiraku later that evening.

Sakura tapped her lips thoughtfully with her chopsticks. "World peace?" she replied wryly after a moment.

"No way! We'd be out of business. We'd all have to become…farmers or something." Naruto exclaimed, looking mildly horrified at the idea of an agrarian lifestyle.

She laughed and tossed a wadded up napkin at him. "I was kidding you idiot!"

He caught the napkin and tossed it back at her. She ducked and the napkin ball ended up in an un-amused Sasuke's bowl of ramen.

"Sorry, Sasuke!" Sakura squeaked, plucking the napkin out of his bowl with her chopsticks. He frowned down at his violated meal and didn't respond.

"Hey, Sasuke, what do you want for this year?" Naruto, oblivious as usual, asked.

Sakura froze and eyed her dark haired companion nervously. Naruto's artless question had the potential to ruin the fragile peace the three had built that day.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow at his friends, his face otherwise expressionless. "World peace." He replied quietly.

Both Sakura and Naruto stared at him in silence for a long moment, unsure how to interpret his response. Then he smirked. The three of them burst into laughter, their friendship cemented in laughter and ramen.

A/N: I wonder what their wishes were? Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my first foray into Naruto fandom. I'm working without a Beta reader, so if I've made any mistakes, please let me know.