It's a Nanny's Job
Chapter twenty one: How I Got These Scars
When Sasuke's wife divorces him, and leaves him their kids, it's up to him to find a nanny. But nobody's right for the job. Except for this blonde, who refuses to leave his property until he gets the job. What's Sasuke to do?
The worst moments of Naruto's life were the moments after that show ended. The world shrunk around him, until the only things that remained were him and that TV- now showing some nameless infomercial. It seemed as if the TV was mocking him with its trivialness so soon after his world had collapsed. Breathing was a challenge, not helped by the sparse desert his throat had become.
Those moments only got worse when Sasuke burst through the door. Naruto's world, which so far had been at a stand-still, started moving again- except it was so fast Naruto could now hardly catch his breath.
He saw the furious grimace upon Sasuke's countenance, the clenched fists, the disheveled hair. He saw the door slam, his quick stride toward him, a fist fly- but it all happened so fast that his mind couldn't catch up.
And so when Sasuke's fist flew towards him, he found no time to move. It connected, and he went flying straight off the couch and into the coffee table.
Naruto was out before Sasuke could get a word in edgewise.
"I saw that interview."
Neji didn't bother to turn around, instead staring into his coffee cup, idly tracing the edges with his forefingers. He had sat in this coffee shop since the interview, waiting for something to happen. Anything to break the black cloud grasping his heart.
As it turned out, Hinata would be the one to break that cloud- or perhaps she had come to make it worse. The tone she was using as she sat opposite him was not too reassuring.
"You did?" he replied, though it was unnecessary.
She nodded, a glare upon her face. It was an unusual expression for her: Neji wanted to reach out and erase it from her visage, like a blackboard. "Why would you do that?"
I didn't reply. Instead, I held her gaze defiantly in hopes that she would simply leave in exasperation. She did not- I had taught her better than that. "You are going to be fired, you know."
I nodded, slowly. I hadn't been thinking. The moment I had hung up on Naruto, my mind had taken a backseat to my pride. I needed that story, and I was going to get it one way or another. So what if it didn't come from the horse's mouth? I knew most of the story- what could it hurt to fill in the blank spots, if it would further my career?
Turns out it could hurt a lot. If anyone found out about my interview's fill-in's, I would be fired on the spot. Forever would I be shamed, walking down the street. Forever would I be thrown from job interviews. Forever would I live with this mistake over my head.
A hand, pale as my own and yet delicate as a flower, grasped mine. Startled, I realized I had stopped tracing the rim of my cup and instead had started scratching at the surface of the table. My hand relaxed beneath Hinata's, and I lifted his eyes to meet hers. "I know." I looked down once more, ashamed to be looking at such a gentle creature, when I had potentially ruined my own life- and that of my friend's- just a few hours ago.
Hinata continued rubbing my hand in silence.
Naruto awoke slowly, as he always did, except in this instance his cheek throbbed with a vengeance. He lifted a hand to poke at it, and drew it away with a wince. Honestly, he didn't know how poking a bruise would make it feel better.
The next item to grace his awareness was the smell of something baking. Something that smelt suspiciously like chocolate chip cookies.
Naruto opened his eyes. And immediately closed them afterwards when he realized just exactly who was standing above him.
Sasuke sighed. "Naruto."
Naruto closed his eyes tighter, turning his head into the soft fibers of the couch.
"Naruto." Sasuke knelt before the couch, frowning. "Naruto, get up." Sasuke lifted a hand to smack at the cushion next to Naruto's head. Naruto flinched, turning his head to open one soulful blue eye. "Naruto…" Sasuke sighed the name, tasting it. He slumped onto the floor in a sitting position, resting his neck on the cushion so that he could peer at Naruto's one eye with one of his own. "Naruto, I need an explanation."
Naruto moved around to settle on his stomach, crossing his forearms to settle his chin on them. "What would you like to know?" he whispered.
Miles away, the same subject was being breached. "What really happened that night, Neji?"
Neji let out a short, watery laugh. "Truly?"
Hinata only smiled.
Neji shook his head. "I- I can't even begin to explain. You had to know Naruto, back then, to… understand my thought process that night." He leaned back, taking a contemplative sip of his hours-cold beverage. "Naruto back then wasn't the Naruto you know now. Naruto back then was strange. Quiet, withdrawn."
He tilted his head, falling back into memories. "Usually." he corrected himself, "Usually he was that way. I do believe it was because of his mother's influence that he acted that way, because around his father he was just as he is now. Happy, energetic, without a care. With a little effort I befriended him, and he became that way around me."
Hinata was still smiling, albeit hesitantly. It was as if she expected a grand murder scheme to unfold before her, a-la her cousin. "You were close?"
"He was my best friend, during my childhood at least. I still wish I hadn't lost contact with him, or done… What I did today." He rubbed at his forehead wearily, "I just needed that story. It came up in the office a while ago, and I mentioned that I knew him. It snowballed." He continued to rub at his forehead, creating a pink spot that quickly darkened with every rub, "I never meant to let it go this far. I never meant to hurt him- I just wanted to get the story out. Nobody really understood what had happened, and if it came from him, then-"
"But he refused." Hinata supplied, gently grabbing her cousin's hand and placing it on the tabletop once more.
Neji nodded. "I got angry, then. That story would've gotten me my promotion, it would've helped him put the past behind him. And when I told the managers that I had the story, and then Naruto wouldn't come to the interview, I had to be the one up there."
"But you were angry."
"I didn't know everything." he hissed, banging his fist upon the tabletop, "I didn't know everything, so I just told them what they wanted to hear. I told them what I had assumed had happened, all those years ago."
Hinata's face suddenly turned angry- her features looked almost demonic, the change was so sudden from her normal gentle demeanor, "How could you do that to Naruto?"
Neji's hand returned to its place upon his forehead, rubbing angrily, self-deprecatingly. "I was angry." was the only answer he could give.
"What does Neji have to do with this?" Sasuke growled.
Naruto gave him a strange look. "Neji was my best friend, during my childhood. Before I went to the- the asylum."
Sasuke allowed Naruto to lie his head upon his outstretched forearm. "So that part was true?"
Naruto nodded, slowly. "That place holds some of my best and worst memories…" He grinned, and Sasuke pulled an incredulous face as he felt the expression upon his arm. "I met Gaara there."
A few moments of silence passed, Naruto reminiscing, Sasuke simply letting him. "Gaara?"
Naruto turned his face towards Sasuke for a moment. "The friend who knocked some sense into me." Sasuke let out a silent 'oh.' "But the reason I went into that place isn't because I was schizophrenic. It's because I had a little bit of a fascination with… um… with fire."
Sasuke's eyes widened, and Naruto turned his face away again, staring at the far wall as he explained. "What Neji failed to say was that the reason I was so withdrawn was because my mother was afraid to let me out of the house. Or even into the house, really. They discovered my little fascination early, when I decided to play with some fire from the fireplace.
"After that my parents kept matches, lighters, and anything that could potentially spark a fire away from my five-year-old stature. I pulled a chair over to the hiding-spot and started a small drapery fire. After that everything fire-hazard left the house, and my mom stayed home full-time to keep an eye on me.
"Then I met Neji, the kid across the street. Of course, being the kid that had to sneak out to get some sunshine, it was difficult to make friends with him. He never found out what the problem was, and we became great friends.
And then, the night I turned eleven, something happened."
"You need to do something, Neji."
Neji scoffed from his place face-down on the table. Un-Hyuuga-like, but then again, the whole night had been unlike them. Hinata never glared, he was never unruffled, and yet here they were: Hinata scowling at him, demanding things that he simply couldn't do, and him slumped over, practically having a break-down. "What do you propose, Hinata?"
Hinata leaned forward, and if Neji hadn't known her most of his life he might have felt threatened by her demeanor. "I propose that you make things right."
Before Neji could reply, Hinata had gotten up and left. Neji sighed and returned to his previous activity of rubbing at his forehead.
"I can't explain that night exactly, it was so long ago. All I know is that… my Dad must have thought that I had gotten over my Pyromania, because he had bought candles and a lighter for the cake that night." Naruto looked at Sasuke, tears beginning to well in his eyes as he spoke of the one night that had changed his entire life, "Sasuke, it's hard to describe how I felt looking at that lighter. After so many years of being kept away from- from the one thing that sated my hunger, my- my addiction… It was like a starved man being offered a meal."
Naruto curled into himself further, not even realizing how many tears were now trailing down his face as he shook. "My eyes, they couldn't keep away from that lighter. I watched that lighter go from my father's hand, to the table, to my mother's hand. I wasn't even listening when they started arguing- I can't tell you what it was about. Only that it was probably abou- about me."
Naruto hastily wiped at his tear-stained face when Sasuke turned to him, finally able to face him. "You don't have to keep going, Naruto." he said firmly, though there was a slight hitch in his voice that he'd never admit to. He lifted a hand to stroke through his- what? Employee's? Boyfriend's? Friend's? –blond strands, a dull yellow now to match the mood.
A few minutes passed as Naruto's quiet sobs dulled to hiccups, and then the occasional stray tear. "You need to know."
Sasuke placed a hesitant kiss upon Naruto's brow. "What happened next?"
Naruto grasped Sasuke's hand as he continued. "I only knew them eleven years, but I thought they were happy. They always seemed happy, behind closed doors, when I wasn't being… strange. But somehow that argument escalated so much that before I knew it, blows were being exchanged. At least from my mom. When she saw that he wasn't fighting back, she ran to the kitchen, which is where I was hiding.
"Beneath the table, I saw everything. She grabbed a knife and swiped at him with it- he tried to grab her arm but somehow she ended up cutting him. They were both screaming at each other, my dad screaming that we didn't need the candles, that she should just calm down, and my mom… She wasn't in her right mind. She wasn't making any sense, and so when she tried to cut my dad again he ran.
"I was so scared that I stayed beneath that table until the screams died down. After that, though, mom went looking for me. Because somehow, I had gotten ahold of that lighter, I was holding it up in front of me like a beacon. She found me so easily…"
The tears started flowing again, and Naruto gasped, crushing Sasuke's hand against his chest. "Sasuke, that wasn't my mom! It was like some crazed monster had come after me! She was muttering nonsense, talking about how I was a demon, how had she birthed such a- a monster. She thought I was a demon that she had to kill. She wanted to kill me, Sasuke, her own son!"
Naruto was practically screaming now, red in the face, and Sasuke hurriedly pulled him into a hug. "Naruto! Naruto, stop!"
Naruto ripped himself from Sasuke, shaking his head vehemently. "No, I have to. You're the first… the first I've told this to. I have to say this." He took a few deep breaths, arms wrapped around his own waist. "Sasuke, she… She gave me these." He released his waist with one hand and traced each scar upon his face, slowly. "She scarred me. She pulled me from beneath that table, screaming at me, "Demon, demon," and she took that knife and she cut me. And I was yelling at her in pain, trying to get her to snap out of it. I was telling her I was sorry, that I was sorry she didn't want me, that I'd leave if it'd make her happy… She paused for just a second, and I thought I might have seen my mom back. The mom that held me and read to me and loved me. I took that opportunity to run."
Naruto's expression morphed into what may have been a grin, under any other circumstance. "I couldn't run from her. She caught up. She hit me, she bit me… I remembered the lighter. That damn lighter that started the whole thing. I lit it, right before her face, and she let me go. It's like she was just as amazed as I was by it. She couldn't keep her eyes off of that flame. And then… Then she lunged for it, and we were- we were fighting, and I was trying to keep that damn flame away from her- the next thing I knew the drapes were on fire.
"After that it was a blur. That little fire grew and grew, and it was like we were both frozen, uncaring of our own safety. Because that fire… it was beautiful. Magnificent… I don't remember much else besides that… I woke up just ten minutes later, not even having realized I had passed out. I was outside, Neji was holding me, talking to the firemen.
"My mom died that night. So did my dad. The rest… is just as Neji told it, minus the schizophrenic part." Naruto's mouth lifted in the parody of a smile as he finished, and Sasuke couldn't help but sigh. An imaginary weight was lifted from his shoulders; one he hadn't even known had existed.
Minutes passed by that felt like hours, and Naruto leaned back into Sasuke's arms, spent. Sasuke let out a shaky breath, kissing Naruto's forehead once more. "Thank you." he murmured.
Neji had a purpose in entering his office building: to make things right between his friend and him- to make the story right. If his superiors had bothered to check the history, unlike him, they would know he had beefed up the story.
What was the harm in correcting himself, now?
He turned. "Mr. Hatake." Neji smiled, a small part of his heart warming. "I have something to tell you."
I thank you all so much for staying with me this far. It was extremely difficult to get this chapter out, and as you may have noticed, it is very short and wordy. I feel as if there are only a few more chapters left, and I hope that some of you will stay after this one to finish it.
As you may have noticed, part of the reason I was having so much trouble writing this one out is because of the whole schizophrenia thing last chapter. This story has taken on a mind of its own, and in the interest of it not lasting another thirty chapters, I have gone another route. Hopefully you like it. Neji really isn't such a bad guy.
Until next time.