Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to Kirsdarkenvar
The Ghost and the Darkness
He was loath to admit that every moment spent in Naruto's apartment was always a trial; the dreary silence, the cleanser-like atmosphere. But worse, the despair and misery that clogged the lungs and coated the tongue. He was always grateful to leave, but the despair always seemed to ruin the rest of the day and kept him from sleeping.
Sarutobi grunted and berated himself for hesitating. Lifting a wrinkled hand, he knocked on the door, grimacing at how it echoed throughout the empty hall. No one lived on this floor, not since the attack of the Nine Tailed Fox Demon. Only one person lived here, and yet all signs pointed to vacancy.
When no one answered the door, which he never did- for more valid reasons, Sarutobi sighed and let himself in with his copy of the key, bracing himself for another depressing session with Yondaime's fading Legacy.
The apartment was spotless, as usual, since the child went over every surface daily with a mechanical fervor that always made him uneasy. He bypassed the living room altogether and headed for the bedroom, Naruto's dwelling. His eyes fell briefly on the heavy curtains that covered the window, catching a glimpse of the newspaper glued to the glass. The uneasiness increased. The newspaper hadn't been there last week.
"Naruto?" he called gently before opening the bedroom door. The door quickly met resistance and something tumbled with the sound of paper. Books.
Sarutobi squeezed through the door, knowing he would not receive any help. Besides, the room seemed almost unoccupied but for the books that lined the walls in neat orderly piles, perhaps sorted by title or author. Most of the books he had given to him when he found that he enjoyed- no- Naruto did not enjoy things.
His eyes fell on the wrinkle free bed and uncluttered dressers; the heavily draped window also sported newspaper. A sniff attracted his attention.
Naruto was crouched in a corner, pale and sickly, red-rimmed eyes and bony body. He was crouched over a manual, adorned in his favorite over-large sweater and dark gray pants. The hood to the sweater was pulled up, covering the child's pale lanky yellow hair. Pale eyelashes framed dull blue eyes, glassy and often filled with tears.
Whether he was aware of Sarutobi's presence would have been questionable, but Uzumaki always did his best to ignore the aging Hokage.
"Hello Naruto," he greeted, trying to draw the child out of his cocoon. The seven year old glanced up at him, then back down at the manual. He had stopped reading fiction all together since all the happy ever after's made him cry. The Hokage searched the page for a title and found one at the top.How to Problem Solve Quantum Mechanics
Whether Naruto understood what he was reading was curious, but he was never one to converse with others and had many phobias for that.
"Naruto?" he asked politely. "Why is there newspaper pages pasted to your windows?"
Uzumaki's eyes flickered to the window briefly before the broken voice whispered, "To keep them from watching." His shoulders hunched and tears filled his dull eyes. "They're always watching."
Sarutobi swallowed and slumped down on the bed. Was Naruto now showing signs of paranoid schizophrenia, or were the villagers actually spying on him?
Uzumaki Naruto was living a life Sarutobi would have killed to improve. Not once had he seen the youth smile, or show anything remotely close to joy or happiness. When Naruto had been an infant his caretakers rarely touched him or showed affection. Naruto did not understand those things, and as a result, did not like to be touched. By the time he could walk, he was mostly left alone, and had begun to venture out in the village. This quickly stopped when several angry villagers had beaten him. Naruto was a quick learner, and stopped coming out of his apartment during the day. He was quick to discover that people traveled less during the night and were often too busy to stare or wonder at a small boy. He had even started wearing the large gray sweater with the overbearing hood to hide his features. But there was only so much of Konoha to ogle, and when Naruto had discovered all the nooks and crannies of the village, he ventured out less and less.
Once, out of pure curiosity, Sarutobi had sent a small monkey to catalogue a day in the life of Uzumaki, and after hearing its contents, had decided that once a week, on a Sunday, he would spend time with Naruto. Naruto's day did not start by waking up in the morning, because apparently Naruto did not sleep at night. But around seven in the morning, Naruto would dig out cleaning supplies from under the kitchen sink and proceed to wipe down every surface in the apartment, starting with the counters and ending with the floors. The monkey had had been adamant about every surface, including the walls and ceilingThis, the monkey claimed, proceeded for five hours straight with no stops for drinks or even bathroom breaks. The almost absolute silence of the ordeal had almost driven the monkey mad. It had complained about Naruto's mechanical strokes as he scrubbed the same spot on the kitchen floor, eyes said to be vacant.
The whole ordeal smelled of some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, and it solved the mystery as to why Naruto's apartment made him feel like he was intruding upon perfection.
Next, the monkey claimed, Naruto would crouch in the shower for an hour and let the water beat upon his pale skin. The monkey claimed there was very little movement involved. The rest of the day was spent reading. At night, the boy would leave the apartment and slink along the quiet streets. Sometimes, the monkey said, he would cry and wander, others he would crouch behind dumpsters and watch people hurry by. He would do this for a few hours before slinking back home and rock in a corner, cry, or stare off into space. Oh, and occasionally, as if to spice things up, he would have moments where he would fall asleep only to jolt awake as if someone had sent several bolts of electricity through him. This would happen off and on throughout the night.
After three days of watching, the monkey had claimed that to preserve his own sanity, he had fled.
So when had Naruto eaten? He had asked, and the monkey had seemed thoughtful before stating that not once had he seen the boy eat. He then told him how skeletal the boy's body was.
"Have you eaten today?" Sarutobi asked, wondering if Naruto would reply. He provided Naruto with enough funds to live comfortably, but on further investigation found that most of it was usually spent on bleach and detergent.
"Yes Hokage," Naruto said in his deadpanned voice, and produced a candy bar wrapper from his pocket. He did not look at the Sandaime, who shook his head in chagrin.
"That's not enough for a growing boy Naruto. You need to eat three square meals for a healthy diet."
Naruto lifted his gaze and leveled it on the old man. His skin was sickly due to the lack of proper nutrients, his hair hung limp and lifeless, so much unlike his father's. Eyes were puffy and red-rimmed due to tears and insomnia. And of course, he looked like the poster child to one of those Help Feed Our Children ads.
No, Naruto was not enjoying life, and if he didn't find something to interest the boy, he feared…
Well, he wasn't sure what it was that he feared, but he knew that at least for once, he would like to see something other than despair or lifelessness in the boy's eyes. It was too sad- too unnatural. The eyes were still on him, perhaps waiting for him to say more, so he said what he usually said.
"Why don't we go out and get something to eat." It almost seemed routine to ask, and he waited for the usual cryptic reply.
"No, they will probly' poison me," and then he would stare at the walls- or in this case, return to the book.
Sarutobi was doing his best not to institutionalize Naruto, and hadn't yet gotten to the point where he had to threaten the child with it, but he realized he had just hit that point. Naruto's health was deteriorating and he could not- would not stand by and allow him to do these things to himself.
"You're leaving me with very little choices, my boy," he muttered, but Naruto seemed to have forgotten his presence again. Sarutobi sat for a time before sighing and getting to his feet. He pulled out a small packaged sandwich and stood before the crouching child who continued to ignore him. Crouching down before him, Sarutobi closed the book and placed the sandwich on top of it. He then took hold of Naruto's bony face, inwardly grimacing at how cold the flesh was. He knew Naruto hated to be touched, but he had an annoying habit of ignoring the pink elephant in the room, and this was the only way for him to catch Naruto's undivided attention. "Listen to me Naruto," he whispered and watched as the dull blue eyes drilled into his own. "I want you to eat this sandwich," he picked it up and held it in sight. "And I want you to eat all of it. Look at the sandwich Naruto," he said in his most authorative voice when Naruto only stared at him. The blue eyes flickered over to the sandwich but returned to his own. He hated using this voice on children, but it was the only one Naruto paid attention to. "I want you to start eating more. If you don't, I'm going to have to take measures you won't like. Do you understand?"
Naruto's eyes became glassy with unshed tears and Sarutobi's heart broke as they fell down the whiskered cheeks and on his fingers. How he hated threatening Naruto, especially when the child took all threats seriously, thanks to the potentially homicidal villagers.
"Don't cry," Sarutobi whispered and wiped the boy's cheeks with his fingers. "I don't want to make you sad Naruto. I just want you to be happy and well." He put the sandwich in Naruto's small bony hands and stood up. "I'll be back next week okay?"
Naruto's eyes had dropped to the sandwich that sat in his hands and made no reply. The Sandaime sighed and left the apartment with the taste of cleanser coating the back of his tongue.
It was three am, when Naruto dared to venture out of his apartment. Lately Konoha had been on edge for the last two months or so. It had something to do with a massacre of a clan; Naruto didn't read the papers, he only used them to cover his windows. There was laughter in his head, multi-voiced, some loud and deep, some breathy and feminine, and Naruto gave a bewildered start, flinching, eyes darting around. He didn't know what was so funny, but then, They laughed all the time. It wasn't nice laughter though, he wasn't sure if They were capable of niceness.
Naruto weaved in and out of the shadows, eyes darting at the apartments and shops that lined the streets. At any moment, he could be attacked by one of the villagers. Naruto rubbed his puffy eyes and headed for the park. It was his favorite place outside of his apartment, but only in the wee hours of the morning, for no one would be there. Naruto headed for one of the swings and sat down, his body feeling leaden. Making sure his head was down and hood covering most of his face, he allowed the swing to move.
Sasuke sat in the embrace of his blankets, body trembling in the silence; he would never get used to the deadness of the compound. Pained black eyes darted to the clock and saw that it was a quarter to three. He pulled the blankets over his head and shut his eyes tightly until they hurt. The images of his family, mother, father, cousins, aunt and uncles, all lying motionless on the ground kept running through his head. And HIM, him with his cold eyes, him with that frozen face. Sasuke choked on the memory, throwing off his blankets and jumping off the bed. He couldn't stand to be here anymore. Pulling off his pajamas, he donned a blue shirt and black pants, putting on his blue sandals. He ran from the compound, the silence that seemed never ending, and into the streets of Konoha.
He glanced about as he strolled, eyes falling on the occasional villager rushing home, or some older kid sneaking a cigarette. If they had a home and went, would their parents be waiting up for them?
Sasuke blinked rapidly and hurried along until he came to the village park and decided to enter. He passed the jungle gym bars and hovered near the sandbox, swooshing the sand with his foot, sniffing and telling himself it was because of the cold. Shinobi- or at least Shinobi to be- did not cry. Sasuke glanced up and noticed a small figure sitting on one of the swings. Sasuke squinted, trying to see in the dark, but all he could see was what looked like a white or grey hoodie. Vaguely curious, and wanting to take his mind off of dark matters, Sasuke moved from the sandbox and approached the unoccupied swing next to the kid. He saw the body stiffen, but the kid kept his or her head down, shoulders hunched as if against a cold wind
Sasuke sat down on the swing, but did not move, instead focusing on the Hokage monument. It wasn't near cold yet, it being near the end of September. This was near the time his father liked to sit out on the wide porch and smoke his pipe, and his mother would sip tea in her delicate cups.
Was it his fault? Was it something he did that made his brother kill everyone except him? Did he get on his nerves- or ask too much of him? Was that why his family had been taken away?
There was a whimpering sound, and his eyes blurred. Sasuke rubbed the tears away and sent an embarrassed sidelong glance at his silent neighbor, only to move on to a stare.
The other kid looked sick, like he should be in a hospital bed or something, and not outside exposed to the elements. Sasuke turned his eyes away and stared down at the wood chips on the ground. Even when he tried not to think, images of their bodies assaulted his mind, and the knowledge that he would never see them again. Ever.
Sasuke dropped his head in his hands and gave in to despair, sobbing as silently as he could, hot bitter tears leaking past his pale fists. He sat against the warm wind and let it run over his body, not caring that the other kid was there. Nothing mattered. But he knew without a doubt, that he wasn't going to return to the compound. He couldn't return there and not go crazy. He would sleep on the streets if he had to. He managed to stop weeping, though the tears still came, and once again glanced at his silent and hopefully oblivious neighbor. Once again he was left staring.
The other boy was crying as well, face twisted in a grimace of pain, tears streaking down shadowed cheeks. What was he crying for? Was he hurt, had escaped from a hospital only to realize his wounds were too much? Or was he crying because he was? He'd seen plenty of toddlers do that.
"You okay?" Sasuke whispered roughly, voice cracking. The other kid flinched and opened dripping blue eyes at him. There was so much pain in that one look. And fear. Lots of it.
Sasuke wiped his face with his hands and looked away from the kid, instead staring at the stars, sniffing all the while.
"Dunno what I'm going to do…" he whispered to himself. "Can't go back there. I can't." God he was so weak! Maybe Itachi hadn't killed him because he was so pathetic. So pathetic…
They were urging him to take the black haired boy home, something that was so out of the question, that he never bothered answering Them. The boy already frightened him in the way most villagers do, they made his skin crawl, and he was afraid that the kid was going to beat him up. But he hadn't. He'd just looked at him, and started crying. At first, he had thought that it was because he found his face grotesque, but the weeping had a quality he could understand. Despair and defeat. They had jumped on this, whispering to him, insinuating on what a good friend he would make, but he ignored Them. The villagers were never to be his friends; they were his tormentors, driving him to a slow grave. They would kill him, he was sure of this, for he had caught them watching him through his windows, mind you he couldn't see them, but he knew they were there. They were waiting for a moment's weakness. Perhaps this boy was sent here as a ploy, to get him. But he knew that was a lie even as he thought it; emotion like that was too hard to fabricate, especially in a young kid like himself
They were so eager, he was sure plans were running through Their heads; a head ache spawned, the kind that hurt his ears, his teeth, made his eyes feel like they were going to pop out, and he too was crying, crying because he knew They wouldn't let up unless he did as They commanded. Let someone into his only sanctuary. The Hokage was already out to get him, and now he was being forced into allowing a villager into his place. It was almost intolerable. He would have to clean everything extra hard now.
He must have been there with the other kid for a few hours, because he began to see a few early morning joggers move through the park. At this, the kid who hadn't said a word or moved stood up from the swing and began to leave.
"Where are you going?" Sasuke called after him, cringing out how pathetic he sounded and wishing at the same moment that he could wink out of existence. The boy froze and darted frightened eyes at him, to the joggers, to the brightening sky, then back to him. Straw colored hair slipped from the hood and hung over an eye.
" 'm going home," came the raspy reply.
Sasuke stared at him, wondering what his home was like, if his parents were frantic with worry that he had escaped the hospital and were now running about the village calling out his name.
"D-Do you want to come with me?" the boy's voice came again, shocking Sasuke out of his thoughts. Sasuke stared at him in disbelief, taking in his wide, frightened eyes, as if waiting for Sasuke to slap him or something. Maybe he was afraid of how mad his parents were going to be when he showed up at home, so he wanted another kid there to temper their rage? That made sense…
Sasuke shrugged as nonchalantly as he could manage and got up from the swing, then blinked in startlement as the kid began to quickly leave the park, at a pace that seemed almost close to running, his eyes darting about at the surroundings. Sasuke frowned but followed, then not liking walking behind someone, walked at his side. The other kid didn't seem to notice at first, preoccupied with shooting frightened glances at the few early birds that rose with the sun. The boy pulled the hood lower until it touched his lashes and bowed his head, and it came to Sasuke's understanding that this kid was scared of the villagers.
They kept on this way until the kid turned towards an unkempt apartment complex and came to a door marked 057. The key was placed in the lock and the boy quickly slipped inside. Sasuke prepared to go, annoyed that the strange kid didn't at least say thank you, when he noticed that the door was still open, and the kid was staring at him with his large dull blue eyes. It was very creepy, because there was only darkness behind him, with only parts of him peering at him, like a ghost from one of those scary stories.
Sasuke stared back.
The blond kid's eyes darted about the walkway before falling on him.
"Aren't you going to come in?" the voice was a ghost of a whisper. Sasuke's brow rose.
"Won't your parents be mad?"
The kid blinked at him rapidly, as if the question had blind-sighted him before a reply came.
"I don't have parents."
What a coincidence…
"You…You live alone?" Sasuke asked in disbelief and the blond kid nodded, and opened the door about an inch wider, and clearly expected Sasuke to slip through there. For a second Sasuke hesitated, then he slipped through the door, the blond moving behind the door, and entered the dark apartment as the door closed and locked behind him. A blast of cleanser hit his nose, and he was reminded of his kitchen when his mom used to have one of her psychotic cleaning moments, and he wondered if this kid had just moved in, because the place was spotless. It was so clean, Sasuke felt like he should hose himself down, outside, before stepping in here.
The kid moved around him, throwing furtive glances at him over his hunched shoulders before walking into a hallway across from the living room and opened a door. He slipped through it as well and shut the door.
And that was that. Sasuke stood in front of the door, staring at his spotless surroundings, the black couch on the spotless white carpet, the black drapes that covered the news papered windows. The- what?
Sasuke took off his sandals and placed them by the other kid's shoes, and moved across the soft carpet to the windows, moving the curtains aside to stare at the window. Yep. Yesterday's newspaper. Sasuke blinked several times, and then eyed the rest of the apartment nervously. Besides the couch, there was a black cabinet, and a small table that held a porcelain white lamp. That was it. The kitchen was the same, everything done in a spotless black and white. Sasuke ran a hand over the surface of the stove…not a lick of dust. Not even his mother had been this good.
The cleanser smell was giving him a head ache too. He rubbed his eyes and they felt swollen, no doubt from his shameful tears and pure exhaustion. There was a small creak behind him; Sasuke spun around, startling the blond kid, who jumped back and pulled the hood down over his face in pure reflex. Sasuke opened his mouth, not sure what to say to the jumpy kid, and decided to simply wait and see what the other boy would do. He watched as the kid smoothed the hood down over his head in a nervous gesture, thin fingers running over the fabric in what must be a comforting gesture.
"I-'' the boy darted nervous eyes at him. "I thought you might be tired. So I made up my bed for you."
Sasuke felt a wave of pain hit him, remembering that his mother used to make his bed for him, and he turned his head away, blinking away the tears. So weak…
"That's okay," he replied gruffly. "I'll sleep on the couch." He looked back at the blond kid, just in time to catch the wave of terror that washed over the kid's face, making his skin turn a ghostly white. The kid had to swallow several times before speaking again.
"It's…it's not safe out here," he whispered, eyes darting to the windows. "It's safer in there."
The boy moved quickly through the living room, and Sasuke followed, almost feeling scared now. The boy slipped through the door and waited for him to slip through as well before shutting it. Sasuke stared around at the room. Unlike the living room and kitchen, this room was full, full with books that lined the walls in neat piles, leaving an open space to a bed fluffed up with a thick black comforter and white pillows. Just seeing the bed made his shoulders sag, but he turned to stare at the blond. "Where are you going to sleep?"
The strange kid turned and stepped over to a corner surrounded by books, and in the middle was a small blanket and pillow. The kid sat down on the pillow and wrapped the blanket around his thin shoulders, which weren't that well hidden beneath the sweater. He sent nervous glances his way before picking up a nameless flimsy paperback and giving it his undivided attention. Sasuke shrugged and slipped under the comforter, wishing he had his pajamas, and deciding he would get them later on today.
Wait-what? He made it sound like he planned on staying here! He glanced at the other kid and saw that it seemed like the other had forgotten him completely.
"My name is Sasuke. Uchiha Sasuke."
The blond jumped in startlement and turned wide eyes on him. Had the kid actually forgotten him? He watched as he pulled the hood down over his face and smoothing it in a way that promised to be very annoying very soon before replying hesitantly.
To be continued
-Sasuke is seven
-Naruto is six
July 1st the Uchiha Clan was killed by Itachi. This is right before Sasuke's quest for power