Summary: On the fragility of contentment. Happy Halloween '06.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.
Sasuke woke alone. The space beside him on the bed was empty, still-warm, the sheet rumpled and tossed, strands of hair on the pillow. For a moment, blinded by the endless flood of morning light, he was seized by an attack of confusion, a numbing seiza, a sense of dawning terror that something was amiss.
It soon passed. He now remembered the mission, the early assignment he had been told of the day before. Of course. Naruto had gotten up earlier that morning, dressed, and left for work without waking him. That was all. He smiled. The memory of a lazy kiss tingled on his lips.
His bedroom was Venetian-blinded, blue-walled, the floor white-marbled. He sat up on the bed and swung his legs over the side, bridging the five-step distance to the window. It was a grey, overcast day, filmy, curdled-milk sky and a soft cool breeze breathing across the windowpane, moving the blind in ghostly tremors from the crack along the sill. The promise of rain hung in the chilled air like a whisper. It's a nice day, he thought suddenly. The thought provoked from deep inside him a sudden rending shudder, like a claw to the gut. Awakening.
He remembered then that it was a Wednesday, and on Wednesday mornings he had somewhere to be. Quietly, he dressed himself from clothes pulled out of the walk-in closet, opened the door and went into the hallway, down the winding stairs, and then he was out the door, passing between the rows of roses spreading their soft fragrance into the clean air. He left the big white house on the hill, and went into the village.
As he walked though the still-empty streets, he was struck by the same stray thought as before, It's a nice day. He couldn't understand its importance, and really, the day wasn't so nice, but grey and rather foggy, heavy with an undefined, ineffable sorrow. The nagging feeling of things going amiss returned in tenfold strength, causing his brows to furrow darkly, but before he could determine the source of his anxiety, he found that he had arrived at his destination.
Sakura was waiting for him at the entrance of the clinic. "Had a good week?" she asked pleasantly, taking his arm and leading him inside. It might be his imagination, but there seemed to be something strained in the set of her smile. He noted that, as usual, she was already scrubbed in and the OR table had been laid out. He climbed onto it, movements assured by routine.
"How have you been feeling?" she asked through the muffling surgical mask, moving the business end of the stethoscope. "Any significant changes I should know about?"
He shook his head, no.
"How – how is Naruto?" There it was again, the controlled tension. He shrugged noncommittally, finding it difficult to formulate words.
"Well, okay," Sakura said, nodding. "Ready to begin?"
The plastic mask was in place. He heard the hiss of the released gas, and tried to count backward from ten. The fog was dizzying, and then he was falling backward falling falling, the room was white the sky was black, silence inside, silence outside, a deep, bone-gnawing quiescence, nagging anxiety drained from the wrung-out flood plane leaving white and black. He waited for the brilliant flash of light, the blinding pain, but only got up to four before…
He woke for the second time that day, disoriented, on the small bed in the back of the clinic where he was always placed to recuperate post-procedure. The dopey fog-drunk glare of confusion had mostly dissipated, but it left behind a thin milky film, clouding his vision. The sense of disquiet from that morning – even the morning itself – had faded from his mind. Only the room was real, a part of him, the bed where he lay, his clammy hands clasping the sheets.
The curtain was drawn around his bed. Somewhere, a clock was ticking.
Suddenly, out of the thick silence, there came a jarring click-clack, high heels on solid tiled floor. He tried to turn his head to the side, was deterred by a wave of dizziness.
"How is he doing?" someone asked, a hushed, sexless voice he couldn't place.
There was a palpable pause. Then he heard Sakura's voice, all of a sudden irritable and oddly businesslike, saying, "Fine, as usual. It's not the first time, you know. Every week… how many times do I have to tell you…"
An inexplicable murmur began to seep up from the floorboards of his mind, a dull, hypnotic roar, whirring. He felt himself falling back into an engineered sleep, a conscious unconsciousness. The conversation beyond the partition came through as a muddle of words, indiscernible, slip-sliding beyond the edge of comprehension. The feeling was… strangely familiar.
He grasped the bed poles tightly, closed his eyes and tried hard to focus. "It's too risky, Sakura, it's not right, he…" the someone said, and then "…not acting like himself… figure out sooner or later… know what to do…" another stream of clipped, furious, incisory words, rapid-fire quick. They didn't register somehow, the irregular tilt, the blocky dip, the missing segues a jolting, haunting absence. The buffeted effort to understand exhausted him, calling up drowsiness.
Then, without announcement, a complete sentence hopskotched its way through the daze, clear and sharp: the faceless voice, saying, resignedly, "I never pegged you to be this cruel."
He tried to listen for Sakura's reply, but was disappointed to find the perforated blanket shading over his eyes again. "You… your way… I… mine." Then he fell asleep.
When he woke again, Sakura was in the room, propped up on a chair next to his bed. She smiled at him, again pleasant, and he had to wonder if he had perhaps imagined – had dreamed up the entire episode from earlier after all. His mind was clear now, not a lingering trace of the fog remaining. The procedure had gone well, he deduced.
"What time is it?" he asked. His voice was hoarse, groggy sounding.
"Three in the afternoon," she answered, examining his charts. "At least you aren't sleeping around the clock anymore, right?"
"I'm getting used to it," he said, sitting up and shaking his head experimentally.
"Everything seems to be in order," Sakura said. "I think we're just about done for this week. You can leave whenever you feel strong enough to walk."
They were. He did.
The streets outside was slick and wet; it appeared rain had fallen. The air was still cool and slightly misty, the breeze fluttery against his skin. It's a nice day, he thought to himself, and then nothing of it. On his way back, he stopped by a corner shop, bought two portions of fried rice, and then it was home, back to the big house on the hill – how he loved that house with its curving stairway and carved balustrade and serene white walls, loved the beautiful rose garden.
Once inside the safety of his bedroom again, he laid the take-out bags on the bedside table and sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. A glance at the clock told him it was five to four. Presently, the rain started up again; it poured and slackened, poured and slackened, as if the sky could not make up its mind. A mournful clatter drummed on the roof. Still, he waited. It's a nice day.
At ten to six, the door swung open. He looked up, still sitting on the bed, and saw Naruto enter, kicking off his shoes and shaking water out of his hair. His clothes were mud-splattered, clumps of weed sticking to the edges of his trousers. He smiled choppily, "Perfect weather to baby-sit a bunch of snotty brats in a forest."
Sasuke frowned. "I thought you had a mission."
"Did I say that?"
"Then I did. How was your day?"
"Fine. It was… it's a nice day." The words sounded even better spoken aloud; they poured into him a strange, exhilarating peace.
"Whatever you say," Naruto said, and leaned down to kiss him, still-smiling. The window blind moved with the ending gust of the storm, the obbligato of rain outside now lulled to tears along the glass. Swirl, eddy, shift, tremble, and finally dropping into stillness.
Sasuke woke alone. The space beside him on the bed was empty, still-warm, the sheet rumpled and tossed, strands of hair on the pillow. Naruto had again left before he woke. He grinned into his pillow, reaching for the memory of heat, allowing the flood of morning light to wash over him. It's a nice day, he thought without having to look out the window.
The day was very nice indeed, sunny and charmingly bright, the sky blue and infinite, scarcely a scrap of cloud shadow racing across its canvas. The roses swayed languidly in the wind, virgin blooms blushing and bedewed with lingering drops of rainwater. Sasuke walked through the perfumed air, through the wide open sky, down the lolling hill. A perfect day. Tall, sheer, and muted, it was a deep note that could not be heard, but felt.
It was a Thursday. He was always happiest on Thursdays, his mind light and vacuous, unburdened by the greyness of thoughts. On Thursdays, he went to the produce market and bought fresh vegetable and chopped meat and made his stir-fry specialty for lunch. Glorious, glorious Thursday. How strange it was to be alive, to be anything at all.
He was half-way down an aisle of stalls, steps jaunty, arms swinging, when someone knocked straight into him. He straightened his bearing and looked up, a mumbled apology ready on his lips, which died when he got a good look at the person he had collided with.
It was a boy, scrawny, fourteen at most. He had mousy brown hair, an astonishingly long green scarf bundled around his neck, and absolutely no feature Sasuke recognized. What had struck him as unusual was the look of pure venom marring the boy's bland face.
"Excuse me," he said, belatedly.
"It's you," mumbled the boy, eyes narrowing in challenge. "I can't believe they're still letting you walk around, murderer."
"I beg your pardon?"
One of the boy's companions, a red-headed girl, stepped forward and laid one warning hand on her friend's arm. "Don't, Konohamaru-kun. You'll get in trouble."
The third of the group, a short boy peering blearily through thick glasses, looked on in deep concern.
The angry boy – Konohamaru – shrugged off the girl's hold. To Sasuke, he growled, "You should be locked up. They should find a small, filthy cell and lock you up until you rot and the ceiling crashes down on your head. You should be dead, murderer. You killed…"
"That's enough, Konohamaru-kun," the girl cut in, panicked. "You're not allowed to talk about that. The Hokage…"
"Why the hell not?" Konohamaru snapped back. "You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. It's because of him that Naruto-niisan is dead. He killed him. He…"
The strange whirring had started up in his ears again, blossoming painfully from some deep recess of his mind, but he had no time to listen to it. He had swung out at Konohamaru before the boy had even completed his sentence, and caught him on his front teeth, knocking him backward. The collision caused two of his knuckles to split, drawing blood. The sight of it on his skin, the raw redness, sent something shattering within him, some small, fragile structure that had long been stowed away, like a fog pierced suddenly by a blade of sunlight.
He turned abruptly, and stumbled down the street, leaving behind the three teenagers, two confused, one bleeding and furious. They had already been blanked from his mind. The blood was all that mattered, the blood on his hand. It's a nice day, he repeated to himself. It's a nice day, a nice day. The words made no sense to him (had they ever?). The peace, the sense of contentment was gone, dissipated like a rent summer mist.
The big house on the hill loomed before him. Oddly enough, it did not look much like a house anymore. It was a structure of glass and steel and white paint, imposing, exuding a heatless terror. He felt no love for this place. Even the rose garden had been squeezed of life, the petals awkward and plastic-looking, the scent synthetic, artificial, leaving a chemical aftertaste.
He ascended the whirling stairs, his footsteps echoing loudly through the gusty halls. Floating, moonlike faces stared out at him on both sides, pressed up against materialized glass. He didn't stop to wonder what they were doing in his house (no, not house. It's not a house. It's a…). On he walked, nearly choking on the dustless, ventilated air.
He reached the door of his bedroom and pulled it open. The stark, impersonal appearance of the too-clean room didn't catch his attention; his eyes zeroed in on the bed, serrated with bars of golden sunlight. He hadn't stopped to make his bed that morning, that he knew, it was just as he'd left it. One side – the left side, his side – rumpled and tossed. The other…
The other side, a space large enough for a male adult, was smooth, un-slept-in.
The remnants of last night's dinner were still sitting on the bedside table – they had always been removed before, he realized suddenly, gone by the time he got back in the afternoon. One empty brown take-out bag lay crumpled at the foot of the lamp. The other: still wrapped and untouched.
(It's a nice day a nice day anicedaynicedayniceday…)
Blood on his hand. Not his own blood, but…
Sakura's voice floated up suddenly from the deep dark void, the words he hadn't caught but had always been there, lurking just under the surface. You grieve your way, and I will mine.
The day wasn't so nice anymore. The babble of white noise in his ears had subsided, and in its absence, everything crumbled beneath the terrible weight of silence. Slowly, as though weighed down with boulders, he went to the window and pushed the blind away. He raised the pane and climbed onto the sill, hanging for just an instant before letting himself fall.
The impact of his body meeting the pavement below was shattering. As his vision blurred, he thought he saw Naruto running frantically towards him, and roses, roses all around.