By Insomniac Owl
Chapter 6: Come Kindly
Coming back didn't hurt as much as he'd expected. Standing in the doorway with Orochimaru's car idling just past the sidewalk, Sasuke felt as if he were simply coming home. Nothing different.
Except, of course, that Itachi wasn't there.
The thought sent a flicker of pain through his mind, a flicker of guilt (for what he hadn't done), but he pushed it away to focus on the task at hand. The police had left things more or less as they'd found them, with the exception of a few items they'd taken for evidence - the picture that had been in Itachi lap when they'd found him, a glass, a bottle, a crumpled sticky note. Other than that, things were as they had been, the only difference being the boxes set out on the living room floor.
He'd been told Itachi had been looking at them when he died - or so they assumed, it wasn't for certain but neither was it difficult to guess - and a curious sensation swept through him at the sight of them, splayed out in a semi-circle on the floor. It was the feeling one got when one walked into a haunted house; that shiver down your spine. Not a week ago Itachi had sat there, flipping through photos of days long past, vacations long over, knowing the pills he'd swallowed were going to kill him.
Sasuke paused, brushing his hand over the back of the couch as he made his way around it. He seated himself in the semicircle of photos, careful not to disturb a single one, and began to look them over. There was a vacation their family had taken to Kyoto one year, another to the beach - it had been cold, so they hadn't stayed long, though, only an hour or so. And there was one just beside his knee of himself and Itachi in their backyard. Their mother had caught them off guard in that one; the younger Sasuke had a surprised expression on his face, and Itachi was in the middle of blowing a bubble through the plastic wand he held. He couldn't have been more than seven then, and Sasuke himself looked only three, maybe even two years old….
Giving himself a mental shake, Sasuke rose again, just as carefully, and made his way upstairs. He went into his own room first, admitting silently that he didn't want to go into Itachi's just yet. (Yes, he was a little afraid, a little hesitant, unsure of himself and what he would find and so he put it off just a little longer. He would go eventually - he had to, really.) His bed was unmade, as usual, and it looked the same as it had when he'd left it last week, rushing through on his way to slap a note on the door.
Sasuke winced at the memory (guilty, still).
Most of his clothing went into his backpack, along with his CDs and a few other things he felt he might need soon or that he wanted - a few books, a few pictures - and he cast one last glance around the space. Relatively clean, but that didn't matter. He would have what he wanted taken out later, along with some of Itachi's things, but the rest could be sold.
Somewhere downstairs a door shut, and Sasuke realized he could no longer hear Orochimaru's car idling outside.
"Are you coming in?" he called, hoisting his bag onto one shoulder.
"Should I not?"
Sasuke took one last look around before stepping out into the hallway, closing his door behind him. "No, it's fine," he replied, taking the stairs two at a time just the same.
Orochimaru was rummaging through the kitchen cupboards when he arrived, his back turned, but his head came around when he heard Sasuke's footsteps on the stairs.
"If you're looking for tea, it's in the third cabinet from the stove, right side," Sasuke told him, dropping his bag on the couch. Orochimaru smiled.
"You know me too well."
Sasuke gave a small smile of his own, glancing at the pictures still spread over the floor. After a moment's hesitation he knelt, and began sweeping them into a pile, which he then fitted back into the boxes. "He must have gotten these out not long after…" he murmured, not intending to finish the thought, but forcing it out anyway, "after he took the pills."
"I could pack up his things for you," Orochimaru said, turning from the stove. There was a kettle sitting on it now, and, just below it, the burner was beginning to glow a soft pink.
"No thanks; I'd rather do it," Sasuke answered. (Because, really, it would be too easy to hand off the job, forsake responsibility and the guilt he knew would come simply from stepping into Itachi's room, but he can't.)
"Any way I can help, then?"
Sasuke bit his lip, then shook his head. "Not really. Letting me stay with you is more than enough. And… you know, thanks for that. You didn't have to."
"Not at all; I could use the company," Orochimaru replied, taking two teacups from the cupboard just to the right of the stove. The burner was glowing cherry red now, and Sasuke could hear it hissing. "Besides," Orochimaru continued, setting the cups out and dropping a teabag into one, "it's not as if you have anyplace else to stay, is it? I'm happy to be of help, Sasuke; you don't need to pretend I'm doing you a favor."
"But you are!" Sasuke protested. Orochimaru snorted, waving one hand dismissively over his shoulder.
"Be quiet," he commanded, and Sasuke, lips curved in a slight smile, obeyed. "Now, what kind of tea do you want?"
"Green is fine."
When the water was hot Orochimaru poured them each a cupful, leaving the kettle to cool on the stove. He came to stand beside Sasuke, leaning against the couch as he handed the younger boy his cup. Sasuke blew on the surface, sending ripples dancing over it.
"You know," he said quietly after a while, "I really should thank you. Not just for letting me stay with you, but for being there."
Sasuke looked up at Orochimaru's tone. "What?" he asked. "Is that so surprising?"
Orochimaru shook his head, lips curving into a bitter smirk. "No, no… I suppose not. It's simply that I think you should be blaming me, at least partially, for all of this. It is my fault, after all - hardly deniable, Sasuke."
Sasuke frowned, looking to set his cup down as he did so. Finding no immediate surface, he bent and placed it on the floor instead. "What do you mean?" he asked, turning his full attention to Orochimaru. The older man's eyes were focused on his cup, twin golden shimmers on a surface fluid enough to erase any emotion Sasuke might have seen there. He didn't need to, however, as Orochimaru raised his eyes to his, setting the cup precariously on the sofa's arm.
"I know you were aware of Itachi's dislike for me, yet you disobeyed his wishes and kept our meetings, though you knew full well he disapproved."
Sasuke averted his eyes, wincing (yes, that's true, isn't it? And the truth hurts sometimes - especially if you've been cushioning yourself with lies for years and years. When you've been doing that, the truth seems like a very cruel thing indeed), but Orochimaru seemed not to notice.
"It seems," he continued, "that I served as the catalyst for your brother's suicide, doesn't it? And -" his voice rose a little when Sasuke made to object, "if not that, then at the very least I contributed to it. You said your fight was over your continued meetings, didn't you? And if I recall correctly, it was the very next day that Kisame came to tell you of Itachi's death."
"So if I hadn't come into the picture, it's entirely likely that Itachi would still be alive. Isn't that right?"
"You don't get it," Sasuke objected, ignoring the surprise that came over Orochimaru's face. His voice had come a little harsh, pressing itself from lips turned downward. "We… our relationship was going down before I ever met you. Maybe his killing himself was inevitable, but it… it wasn't entirely your fault. Maybe you helped it along, but you didn't cause it."
"And you know that for certain because…."
"Because I'm the one that caused it."
His fingers had tightened around the edge of the couch as he spoke, but now they relaxed, falling into his lap passively. Though his bangs had fallen into his eyes, he still saw Orochimaru's face - surprised, then soft.
But nothing more, because he knew it was the truth.
"I'm sorry, really, I am. But it doesn't do any good blaming yourself. You know that." Sasuke heard the breath he took then, a pause, to stall and find the right words (which were often so hard in coming, and it was important to get the right ones, too…. Ones that were true and that really meant something. It didn't do any good to tell the truth if it wasn't the right kind, after all; that's what politicians do. It's not that they lie, not exactly - though some certainly do - but instead they tell half-truths, or things which were true five years ago.)
(Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, if you please. I'm sick of hearing lies. I'm sick of lying to myself.)
Another breath. "I don't know what Itachi felt, or why he thought there was no other option open to him, but he didn't have to do what he did. And please, Sasuke, don't think you were the cause of it. He caused it; Itachi caused it. Not you."
Sasuke smirked, shaking his head and looking up a little. "You're going to have to come up with a better argument, but… thank you for telling the truth."
A hand at his shoulder, arm, pulling him into an embrace like the one they'd shared the Sunday before, when Orochimaru had been making American pancakes. When Sasuke hadn't known his brother was dead, when things had been a little more glossed. A little more false. He had thought it was such a wonderful thing to pretend he was alright (be a man, come on, men don't ask for help. No, men (Sasuke) just lie to themselves, pretending, faking it all, until things crash to the floor around them in a hopeless mess. Irreparable), and he had been right, right up until it had fallen around him.
"I've been so stupid," he murmured, eyes open. No more shielding. "It wouldn't be right ask for forgiveness…."
Orochimaru's thumb pushed up against the base of Sasuke's neck, a gentle movement. His eyes were on the boxes, neatly filled now, though they lay one no top of the other on the floor where Sasuke had left them, right where Itachi had left them. What is there to forgive?
"I could have done so much, but I just kept telling myself things would work out, that nothing was wrong…. I let things slip a little too far, you know? Itachi knew that, I think. He knew what I was doing unconsciously, and he tried to fix it." Sasuke pulled away, passing a hand over his eyes. "I kept turning him down. Looking back I can't even figure out why, because I knew there was something wrong, I could see us drifting farther and farther apart, but… I couldn't bring myself to do anything. I just kept… kept being stupid, and…." His halting, broken sentences wound to a close, hands burying themselves in his hair. Overcome.
No tears dripped through, though; he did not break completely. No. Things were healing. Very, very slowly, but they were. And eventually he would be left with nothing but memories, and lessons learned. He would never make these same mistakes again, no, oh no, they were too stupid, too dire, to be made a second time.
"I'm going to stop," he said, gathering himself and looking up. Orochimaru watched him patiently, seeming to understand the need to rid himself of what was inside. (Poisons named Guilt and Deceit - though you won't find those names on any periodical chart. You won't find them anywhere but inside a person. In their heart.)
"I'm going to stop lying, and pretending things are what they aren't. I'm going to stop all the things that helped me do it, too - the music, the drugs, the alcohol; everything. I'm going to stop ignoring things, and I'm going to go out and live." He paused. "Okay?"
(Will you be there make me keep those promises?)
Orochimaru smiled, picked up his tea again, and nodded. Just a little, but enough. "Of course. And the next time you do any one of those things, I promise to step in whether you want me to or not. Agreed?"
Solemn vows exchanged, Sasuke picked up his tea again, glancing toward the stairs. Itachi's room still waited, and he felt he could face it now. It could wait, however. He had all day ahead of him, until the end of the month, actually, and he wanted to talk. It felt good to get the poison out of his system (and he was clean, now, free of sin so to speak, for a little while). It felt good to confess things, and make them right again - as right as they could be, and he wanted more of that.
"The weather's gotten better," he said, smiling a little. Stupid small talk.
"Yes," Orochimaru said, mirroring the expression with a curve of his own lips, "it has. It will probably snow soon, though; it's certainly cold enough. I'm surprised we haven't gotten some already, actually." A mutual silence, both pairs of eyes fixed on the window. "It will be a nightmare driving you to school, though, won't it? All that traffic, and the snow won't make conditions any better."
Sasuke met that comment with a shrug, bringing his cup to his lips. "Yeah. I like the snow though."
They sat close, drinking tea and breathing in silence - the silence of a house in which tragedy has struck and been weathered. Survived, endured, triumphed over. More troubles would come, of course (though at the moment Sasuke was certain none could be so bad as the one he'd just cleansed himself of), and he would survive those too. He would not give in; he would be strong, and live, and be truthful with himself because that was all that seemed to matter just then. That might be a little strong, but nonetheless, he felt it. And Itachi… well, Itachi had made his choice. And something of what Orochimaru had said was true, after all, the bit about not being able to blame himself.
If he continued to do so it would only drag him down, and he didn't want that. He wanted to be able to live with nothing holding him back - not Itachi's memory (which would hold a spot in his mind always, he knew), not guilt over what had already passed, and certainly not himself.
Sasuke sighed a little, holding his empty teacup to soak up its warmth. He hoped he would be able to do everything. He had placed a lot on himself, after all - quit drugs, quit alcohol, quit lying, quit ignoring and feeling guilty for the past, and fix the present. He hoped, he wanted….
He inhaled silence, thickly.
(Help me live.)