Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. That copyright belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.
At six, he begins his shinobi training at the academy. They give the class homework on the first day. He isn't disappointed about it like most of his peers, though. An assignment means he will have an opportunity to show his talent. He will get top marks on it and, come report card time, his scores will be perfect, just like nii-san's. Father will be proud. He will tell him that he is indeed his son; he is a worthy Uchiha.
He carries a stack of parchment, a few troublesome scrolls that insist on unravelling on their own, a calligraphy brush, and a bottle of ink. He is carrying his supplies through a side room, one that is rarely used; a vestigial space in their sprawling home. One of the scrolls slips and unrolls, tripping up his bare feet, sending his supplies flying in a flurry of paper.
He feels foolish, that someone like him would slip up over something so pedestrian. An irritated and shamed blush creeps into his cheeks as he quickly collects his things, making certain that both scrolls are properly tied closed.
A sigh of relief shifts through his small frame when his things are back in order. No one will know about his klutzy episode. He will work extra hard on his stealth and footing from here on out.
He is about to continue on his way, when a cool wetness teases the tips of his toes. Looking down, he finds, to his utter dismay, the bottle of ink he had been carrying, broken and leaking on the hardwood floor.
His heart leaps once at the sight, the late afternoon sun giving the illusion of the ink being dark red, like blood on the floor of a dark room, moonlight casting shadows—
He shakes his head, logic sweeping in to dispel his dark vision. It is just ink, nothing so horrifying as a pool of blood on the floor of his family's home. Just ink. Ink that has had time to soak into the cracks and miniscule ridges of the wood; porous surfaces that, though sealed with lacquer, will absorb that dark liquid as a living tree does water.
It will stain.
Oh, no, no, no, no, no.
There will be no hiding this. But, even as he thinks that, he is scrambling for wet rags to attempt to erase it with.
The shadows in the room grow longer as he scrubs madly at the ink blot that mars the pristine floor. It is right in the middle, too. He won't even be able to cover it with something in hopes that no one will happen upon it for a time.
They will know.
No, no, no.
When his father comes home, he knows he will be done for. There are so many rules and unspoken understandings that he is violating with this little debacle... Heck, he probably isn't even supposed to be in this room.
Father will not yell at him; yelling is a display of uncontrolled emotion, hardly befitting a shinobi, let alone the head of Uchiha, therefore father never yells. And if he ever were to do so, it would be at someone far more significant than his youngest son.
But that doesn't mean Sasuke will feel any less chastised and ashamed. His father will give him that look, the one he only uses when he looks at Sasuke and most non-clan members—the inferiors. And he probably won't say a thing, except, "Clean it up," or, "Don't be so careless." One thing is certain: Sasuke will not be allowed in this room again.
Don't let him come home yet. Just a little while longer...please?
Footsteps sound outside the room. They are too soft to be father's but too careful to be mother's.
The door slides open smoothly, stopping before it collides with the frame, making the movement nearly silent; a quiet hiss of smooth wood against smooth wood.
With a quick, assessing look, Itachi surveys the scene in the room before him, and Sasuke knows his brother has already put it all together, from the likely cause of his spill to the reason his scrubbing of the floor is so frantic.
He disappears back out the door, silent as he came. For a moment, Sasuke's heart falls. Nii-san usually helps him in a tough bind.
An angry mental slap resounds in his mind. He is a shinobi now, or he will be soon...ish; he can't rely on his brother to bail him out every time he screws up. He isn't a baby; he can handle something like this himself.
A whispering movement comes from the open door. Itachi has returned, a bottle in hand.
It is. It is mother's hairspray.
What in the world...?
His errant hair is not his top priority at the moment.
Sasuke watches, confused, as Itachi sprays a liberal amount of the product on the glaring stain. After a few quick scrubs with a rag, the stain is beginning to fade, leaving just the pungent scent of the hair adhesive. A few minutes later and after a few extra sprays and lots of scrubbing, the only evidence of the puddle of ink is a faint darkening on the edges of the wood planks where the pool had covered. It is something that will easily be overlooked, even by one as observant as their father. A quick swipe of a water-laden rag to get rid of the sticky hairspray, and the job is complete. Crisis averted.
Itachi doesn't say anything about the little incident. He just collects the soiled rags and bottle of hairspray in one hand, while taking up Sasuke's parchment collection in the other. As he walks out the door, Sasuke's silent form trailing hesitantly after, he asks him how his first day at the academy was, what assignment they were given, and if Sasuke needs any help with it.
Their father doesn't ask any questions of him that day. He doesn't say a thing.
But, for once, that is a relief to Sasuke.
The ink stains fade from his memory almost as quickly as they did from the floor, not to be thought of for another two years.
At eight, he cries over the blood-stained floor. The same floor where he once dropped a bottle of ink and nii-san had helped him clean it up so that no one would know.
But it isn't like that anymore. Nii-san made those stains on the floor this time. And no matter how hard he tries to tell himself that it's just ink, not blood, just like that time...he knows that is not the case. Because the dark liquid is pouring from rent veins, not a smashed glass bottle. He can smell the copper in the puddles; placid lakes now, but once they flowed as raging rivers through enclosed channels, giving life to those he holds dear (he will not correct his thinking, to mention them in the past tense. They should still be in the present. They should be).
Why? Why did you do this, nii-san? Why did you hurt them? Why did you hurt me?
He can see the blood slowly creep over the nearly imperceptible ink stain from two years ago, undoing all of his relief at having the floor clean of that dark liquid and shattering his thoughts as he realizes that they will stay. Those marks will remain there forever, he knows. He won't be able to scrub them out. He couldn't even wash away ink blots; nii-san had to do that for him. He will never be able to wash away these marks, especially since nii-san will not help him clean them up this time.
His stomach turns and he feels as though he can vomit everything he as ever eaten in his entire life. He is reviled to even be touching this floor. This floor, where his parents' bodies lay,
leaking their life across dark hardwood, leaving stains, which he knows is not allowed in this room. But they are doing it all the same—staining the floor.
They shouldn't be doing that. They should not be lying there.
He needs them back. He needs them back with him. He can take father's disappointment and chastising. He will tolerate mother's coddling. If it will mean more time with them, he will do anything.
Just a little while longer...please?
But he knows they won't move. They won't return to life. Instead, they will continue to mar the floor with crimson dye. And come tomorrow, there will be more marks on the floor, from chalk to outline where their still bodies lay right now. And once they are taken away, they will never enter this house again, just as surely as he will never see it as home again; permanently stained—tainted—in his heart.
At twelve, he stands on the stained floor, a new hitae-ate on his forehead and hate in his heart. Afternoon sunlight creeps its way in, scuttling across the freshly swept floor in bright waves that flow in cadence with the restless trees outside, their shadows dimming and defining the intrusive rays.
One beam dances across the glaring memoir at the floor's centre, pausing and pirouetting there—dancing on their graves.
His previously listless face shifts into a seething glare, dark eyes shifting accusingly to the failing window coverings, damning them for allowing such a blasphemy through into this sepulchre within his home.
The rage ebbs marginally when one of those wandering streams of yellow light reflects off the plate of metal across his forehead, sending a white square of illumination down upon the dark stains at his feet.
He is a genin today. An actual shinobi now, not just a trainee, though he still has much to learn, he knows.
After taking his forehead protector from a smiling Iruka—"Congratulations, Sasuke. Do your best! I'm sure you'll make us proud."—and slowly plodding home, he found himself mindlessly wandering to the room he stands in now, a diehard loyalty and sense of duty forcing him to present himself to them; to show them that he is still working hard; he hasn't forgotten them; he will avenge them yet. He will.
I will. You just have to wait a little while longer. Just a little while longer...please?
He remains there, standing before the remnants of his parents' felled forms, staring at the stains so hard, he can almost see their bodies, gaping wounds painting the floor dark red, near black.
The floor is clean, freshly swept this very day. He sweeps it every week as part of his four-room cleaning regimen: his bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, and this room. The other rooms can rot and go to hell, for all he cares, but those four—especially this one—are kept clean.
But he does not wash this floor. He can scarcely bring himself to run the broom over those dark splotches; the thought of scrubbing at them, as he once had to clean up spilt ink on this very same floor, brings bile to rise in his throat. He cannot do it.
As such, when the dancing sunspots are replaced by swaying moonbeams, the floor is matte—unreflective. And the stains almost disappear in the dimness of the night.
At thirteen, he stares at the shadowed floor with an unreadable expression upon his face and a full pack upon his back, seeing ghosts of bodies long buried and a dripping blade long cleaned.
He is almost finished sweeping the floor for one final time before he leaves. The near pitch-black of the room helps him control the revulsion he feels at touching the dyed wood, even if it is by transference through the broom. He can scarcely see any difference in the tint of the naturally dark wood, even with the door wide open and a full moon invading the mausoleum darkness of this bare shrine.
There is a lot of dirt on the floor this time, and he supposes that is what has helped to further camouflage the dark signs of old death.
A stab of guilt flows down his spine and freezes between heart and lungs at the thought. He has been neglecting this room lately. Neglecting them. It has been months since he last swept and dusted in here. But there have been missions to perform and injuries to heal from. And the dobe and Sakura always want to go for ramen. And Kakashi has been training him in there, too. He has been busy. Too busy to play undertaker to an empty crypt.
Shame sinks its fangs in deep, drawing pain from the dark tomoes on his neck.
He will have to abandon this small duty for a time again. But he can justify this neglect. It is for them anyway. He will gain strength for them. He will finally be able to avenge them; redeem himself for being so weak—for letting them die.
Just a little while longer...please?
He will not return here until he has stained the ground with that man's blood the same way that man stained this floor with their parent's blood. He will not set foot in Konoha until then. There is no way he will be able to bring himself to face them—this room—if he fails again.
He shuts the door quietly, not to open it again for another four years.
At seventeen, he sits on the cold, dusty floor, eyes glazed over as he drinks himself into a stupor. He watches the nearly invisible stains like a man studying his artistic failure: he loathes the sight, but it has taken so much from him, he cannot force himself to destroy it or let it go.
"Do you see where we are, Naruto?" he asked, voice slurred and distant, a result of consuming the former contents of the bottle he held. "You see this?" His movement was uncoordinated as he gestured about him. "This is my house. My house. I own it. I am seventeen and I own my own house. And I own the house next to it and the one next to that. I own this entire area. And do you know why I own all of this property when I'm only seventeen?" A humourless, snorting laugh escaped him. "Because when I was eight, my brother killed our family but left me alive, making me the only person who the deeds could possibly fall to. And I have lived here, in my house, in my district, since I was eight, wallowing in my hatred for my brother. And you know what the funniest thing about it is? When I killed him, in all my righteous vengeance, I thought I was avenging my family; my proud, noble, upstanding family. But what I was really doing was killing the only person in my clan who had ever cared a thing about me, to avenge people who had been planning to destroy the village. I killed someone who willingly threw away his own way of life for my sake, so I could make him pay for killing people who deserved to die." His dark head shook slowly, eyes distant and flat as a rueful smile split his lips, accompanied by another insincere laugh. "That's... That's priceless, really." He sighed, face looking drawn and more tired than an old man's on his deathbed. "I hate this house," he whispered, voice rough from the drink he had consumed in far too short a time span. "I hate this entire place. Everything about it."
"Why don't you just move?" Naruto suggest, watching his best friend with apprehension, something he had never felt in regards to Sasuke. The other shinobi was...something he could not recognize, anymore. Not something broken; just something that simply wasn't anymore. "I'm sure you could find a nice place on the other side of town, or something."
He gave a barking laugh, but Naruto got the distinct feeling that it expressed pain more than anything. "Why do I stay here?" he repeated, voice condescending, but it was not directed at the blonde across from him. ""Hate me. Detest me. Run... Run away and cling to life. Survive in an unsightly way. And when you have the same eyes as mine, come before me."" His eyes were wistful and disturbingly bright when as he quoted those dark words, as though he drew comfort from them. "It's over, but it doesn't feel like it is. There's still blood on the floor downstairs, you know. Soaked into the floorboards. I was going to try to scrub it out once, but I started gagging at the thought of touching it. I thought of just tearing up the floor and replacing it, but then I would be stuck with the dilemma of what to do with the old boards. I couldn't just toss them away. Their blood is still in them. That would be like...throwing their bodies away." He shook his head, the movement ineffective in his drunken state. "Disrespectful. But, then again, they
don't really deserve any respect, do they? I mean, they were criminals. Terrible, terrible plans, they had." His eyes wandered over the room, blurred sight not really seeing his surroundings, but his sluggish memory filled in the gaps. "I should just get rid of it all. Let someone else deal with the blood. Right? I should just auction the property. Someone else can clean it up."
"Sure, Sasuke," Naruto answered quietly, unable to do much more than stare at the stranger slumped on the floor with empty sake carafes surrounding him. "Just sell the place. Then you won't have to think about it anymore. You won't have all of these things to remind you all the time."
His mind is made up in that moment, as he remembers the visit Naruto had made a few hours earlier. He stumbles to his feet, sake carafe dropping from fumbling fingers, cracking and leaking on the hardwood, darkening it with its moisture and plastering the motionless dust to the stains beneath.
A rueful smile twitches at slurring lips, as he takes in the sight. Let the dirt stay where it is, crusted over on their death bed—their execution chamber. Let his disgrace lay there with theirs.
At seventeen, he burns the entire district, using brother's gift to ensure only the buildings bearing uchiwa will be turned to ash and the rest of the village will be left untouched by the dark flames.
At seventeen, he leaves again, but this time with permission. Tsunade is reluctant to allow it, but when she looks at him, all she sees is a mourning drunkard in the making and she cannot say no.
And now he wanders. He does not know for how long, only that he is away from ashes (to ashes) of long-vacant buildings and dust (to dust) that cannot be swept away. And the stains are just grief-filled memories that only arise in a sober mind. Even those will fade soon enough. He just needs a little more time.
Just a little while longer...please?
Just long enough to forget the dusty bloodstains on his own hands and the unmarked grave he has never tended to.
Guttersnipe's Word: Well, I have no idea where that came from. I guess I was feeling particularly angsty when this rabid plot bunny bit me. Tell me what you thought. Please review. Thanks.