Beta Reader: Lover of Stories 24
A knock is heard at the door, alerting the two of the house's three occupants of their visitor. One sits up in her bed, surprised, while the other leaps off his mattress, body tense. Quickly, they head to the door, opening it.
"Yo," says a silver-haired man, entering the house. "Nice to see you again, Sakura, Sasuke." He nods to both before looking around the hallway. "Naruto asleep as usual?"
"Yeah," Sakura replies, yawning sleepily. She stretches her arms, waking herself up properly.
"Hn," Sasuke replies at the same time. He runs a hand through his dark hair, staring apathetically at his visitor.
"So," the girl says, blinking her green eyes and shaking her head, causing pink hair to fly around, "What's the mission this time, Kakashi? Should I wake up Naruto?"
Kakashi shakes his head. "No, he isn't needed this time."
Surprised, the girl continues, "Oh, so it's just Sasuke and me this time?"
Kakashi shakes his head again. "No, Sakura."
Sasuke nods. "So, what am I doing?" Usually, the three of them work as a group, but it isn't too unusual for only two of them to be given a mission. If it is a solo, though, Sasuke is the one they called for.
"No, Sasuke," Kakashi says with a smile, his eyes crinkling. "This time, Sakura is the one needed."
Uzamaki Naruto hears the distant sound of an alarm ringing and rolls over, slapping his fist on a button. The sound stops and he sighs, content, falling back into the waves of sleep.
He had been dreaming of a beach filled with beautiful women and dangerous explosives. Sasuke had been—finally, after years of rivalry and contests—defeated, tied up, and rescued by Naruto.
Life is good. Snuggling into the warm blankets, he drifts back to that dream, to the praising agents who realized that he should be their boss.
The ringing starts again and with a muffled curse, he sits up in bed, ready to turn off the damn clock.
Only to pause when he notices the time.
"Eh?" He feels disoriented when he reads the time. "It's ten o'clock?"
No, it can't be. Sakura always tried to enforce a routine of waking up early on her two roommates, knocking on their doors, bribing, and then threatening them so they will get dressed and come downstairs for breakfast.
"This early? Sakura-chaaaan, we slept late last night and there are no missions."
"Naruto, we need to keep up the habit of waking up early. It's good for us and we won't be unprepared for the next mission."
"But…this is the only time we can sleep in!"
"Naruto, sleeping in will make you lazy!"
"I saw you trying to sleep in during yesterday's mission."
"…can't we wake up at eight at least?"
What's even odder, besides the time, was that he can't smell Sakura-chan's cooking.
This deserves investigation. Something must have happened to her.
Quickly, he slips out of bed and gets dressed. Stealthily, he sneaks downstairs and peeks into the kitchen.
"Dobe," Sasuke says, looking up from the newspaper. "What are you doing?"
Naruto notices the two plates filled with food on the table and breaths a sigh of relief. Sakura must have already cooked, then, and taken pity on him. They did arrive really late last night—or early today—as they managed to return at four in the morning.
"Where's Sakura-chan?" Naruto's voice comes out distorted as he starts eating.
"Mission," Sasuke replies, his voice monotone.
"What?" Naruto chokes out, gulping down a glass of milk. "A mission? This soon? Without us—"
Sasuke doesn't look up from the newspaper as he utters the word that will explain everything. "Kakashi."
"Oh, Kakashi took her…he wouldn't let her get hurt." Naruto sighs, relieved. "How long?"
"A week, maybe, and he didn't explain what she's doing. We won't be having any missions during this week either."
"Oh. A week," Naruto thinks out loud. "No waking up early, no duties, this means…"
His eyes twinkle mischievously as he grins, "Gaming week! I'm going to Kiba's, ok? Let's see who really is the gaming master!" Paintballs, video games….The things they could do are endless.
"See you later, teme!" With that, the golden blur disappears out of the house and Sasuke is left alone.
He calmly continues to read the newspaper and finish his breakfast, before getting up. Finally there is peace and quiet.
Time to get some quality training done.
When he returns later in the evening, the lights are off and the rooms feel cold. Something about the house is off—there is no food cooking, no angry yells at his coming in late, nothing.
Normally, Sakura would force Naruto to stay downstairs and wait until Sasuke has returned before starting dinner. They'd eat something she cooked—asking for more if it is good or leaving quickly if it is bad—while she chattered away happily, arguing with Naruto over something small.
It vaguely disappoints him to walk into the dark kitchen in the empty house.
Sasuke wakes up blinking, surprised that there are no scents floating in the air. He can't hear any noises of pain, sounds of someone falling, and he isn't sure if he's awake or still dreaming.
He's had dreams like this before—dreams where there is a dark, lonely, eternally silent house. Dreams where the floor is stained a dark red and the stench of death lingers when it should be long gone. The rooms are empty, their occupants gone, and the world is in a permanent twilight. He is alone again, just like he had been years ago, and remained so in the night when no barriers can keep out the nightmares that plague him.
The dreams stopped, though, for some time. While she was—
Oh. He sighs, slowly climbing out of the bed. This is no dream, not an illusion that is keeping him from reality. The house resembles that of his past because there is no one else in it. Naruto is having a gaming marathon at Kiba's and Sakura…
She is away, having a mission to complete.
It's funny how lonely that idea makes him, even more so than the nightmares ever do.
The kitchen is empty and he frowns at the sight. The lights are off and the pots are in perfect order, for once. There is nothing in the fridge that he likes; he faintly remembers that the groceries had to be bought yesterday—or is it today? There are things he could use to cook—he starts getting out some ingredients—but it has been years since he had last touched a pan.
Sakura had taken it on herself to do all the household duties: cooking, cleaning, stocking up on supplies. She claimed that neither of the boys could be trusted with those jobs. This was due to Sasuke and Naruto cooking at the same time, the day Naruto had the brilliant plan that they would surprise her with a home-cooked meal for her birthday.
"The dobe shouldn't have turned on the stove," Sasuke grimaces as he recalls the almost-fire that occurred.
His breakfast simmers in front of him and in a few minutes, it is done.
"Not that Sakura is much better at it," he smirks as he puts the food on a plate. She cleans sporadically and her cooking—well, to say the least, it improved over time.
The food is tasteless when he takes a bite and he remembers why he prefers Sakura's cooking in the first place. His meals are simple, good enough for anyone who doesn't care too much about taste. To put it simply, they are bland.
Sakura's, on the other hand, involve spices and all sorts of herbs. She experiments with different ingredients, creating exotic flavours and curious mixtures. Sometimes they taste horrible, but they always are interesting.
Throwing away the rest, Sasuke decides to go to a restaurant for the rest of his meals. Even if it is just to that ramen shop the dobe likes. He heads outside, leaving the kitchen behind.
The kitchen that is filled with memories of messy dishes, pink hair covered in flour, burnt food, and nervous smiles.
There is something strange about washing clothes, Sasuke decides as he puts his laundry in the washer. Every move he makes feels alien to him, as though it is his first time doing it, and he feels a nagging feeling of forgetting to do something.
That couldn't be true at all, considering he has done this many times before and every step is done perfectly.
He tosses in his pants as his eyes search for the detergent. Naruto has moved it again, placing it in an odd corner probably.
(Sasuke remembers doing this last week, in the same room and same way, except there was a laughing boy and a concerned girl there. The laughing boy kept teasing him, joking about how he was now a housewife and was going to fail at this. The concerned girl kept hovering, worried that something would go wrong.
He also remembers how after he did the laundry, she gave him a smile and thanked him for it with a hug.)
The house is oddly clean, he thinks as he walks past the living room to the stairs. Sakura is messier than the two boys combined, strewing papers and clothes in every room.
She explained her reasoning one day.
"I'll dust and vacuum, Sasuke-kun. I don't see the problem."
He stares pointedly at the sea that takes over the couch and she smiles weakly.
"Oh. That. Well…uh…"
"Can you really clean the house?"
"Of course! And I'll remember to clean that up too—"
"It's been there for a week."
"Oh," she frowns, "Really?"
"Sasuke-kun, it isn't a problem anyway." She tilts her head, smiling, "A little mess makes the place look lived-in. It's the difference between a house and a home."
If she were to see it now, it'd look like a house to her. As he heads outside for some training again—there is nothing else he can do except train—he drops a shirt on the couch.
Sasuke wanders through the halls, languidly as he has nothing better to do. There is no urgent mission, he's already trained enough, and there are no other pressing demands.
He has the time to read about foreign fighting styles, on using the hands and feet in different ways in order to destroy bodies. There are many methods in which he can use knives and guns, ropes and metal chains. He can finally learn about torture methods that are used to break the soul until secrets are revealed. If he wants, he can even fix the house so it looks the way he wants it to look.
Sakura and Naruto aren't around to disturb him and all those things he's wanted to do, he can now attempt. There is no one to distract him, no one asking him to do something ridiculous, and he doesn't quite like it.
It's a daily routine to wake up to Sakura tripping or breaking something, to hearing Naruto's laugher and then groans of pain as he is punched. It's normal for him to try to get to training by himself and then have Naruto challenge him. For Sakura to come and grab the two boys by their ears after their battle, her annoyance apparent as she scolds them for giving her even more work to do. Days are wasted because she wants to go on a picnic or shopping, and at night, when Sasuke should be sleeping, he ends up having to pick her up from her medical duties.
There's nothing going his way this week. He should be writing a report about their last mission. He should be training outside. He should be doing many things.
Instead he sits down in a chair (hers) and sighs, feeling lost.
Sasuke breathes out harshly, sitting up rapidly in his bed. His clothes are damp with sweat and the darkness disorients him for a moment before he realizes where he is.
It's just a nightmare, he thinks, sinking back into his bed. Just another half-truth, a mirage that never leaves.
The nightmares come more often, he realizes. Usually, he only has them once a month, a stark contrast to the three times this week. Maybe it's because when he wakes up, there is usually a concerned girl nearby.
Tonight, there isn't a Sakura holding is hand when he wakes up, her face hovering near his and filled with worry. A cool cloth doesn't cover his head and he can't hear quick footsteps moving from the bathroom to the kitchen to his room again. Hot milk isn't placed in his hands and he doesn't have to look at her coolly, mumbling, "Go to bed," while actually meaning, "Stay with me longer."
(She always understands the unspoken words and stays.)
There is no one but himself and his dreams this week.
He's awake again, in the early morning, and the sun is still asleep. The silver moon floats in the midnight sky and he isn't sure why he's not asleep.
Sasuke didn't have any nightmares, luckily, and there were no noises that he could hear. It is earlier than he normally woke up, two o'clock. The house is still silent, a dead being, and he wonders how much more he can take.
It's not really loneliness; he's used to being on his own. It's more like this house feels unnatural with its occupants missing and—
A noise comes in from outside and he realizes that's what woke him up. Silently, he creeps out of his room and pauses to notice where the noise is coming from. It's downstairs, by the front door, and the person causing it is not bothering to keep silent.
It's probably Naruto, Sasuke reasons. He hasn't seen the blond boy during the past week. The noise comes again and Sasuke slowly walks down the stairs, ready to open the door as Naruto had probably forgotten his keys.
As he approaches the front hallway, the door swings open and he sees a flash of pink.
"Sasuke-kun," a tired voice greets, one that he hasn't heard in a week. "Sorry…Sorry that I woke you." She gives a small smile, obviously exhausted, and sits down to take off her shoes.
"You didn't," he replies, watching her.
"Oh? That's…good. I think I'll…I think I'll go to bed now. We've spent the last week cracking…cracking this code. I think I've only gotten…hmm, how many? Oh…I got two hours of sleep each night." She gets up. "And…" Sakura starts to mumble incoherent phrases as she walks toward her bedroom. Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, she trips.
Sasuke's arms reach out automatically to grab her as she collapses. Cradling her body, he notices she's fast asleep. She really didn't get enough rest.
"…" He picks her up gently, taking her to her room.
Sakura is wrong, he thinks. A messy house doesn't make the house a 'home.' It just makes it a messy house. It doesn't do anything at all to make the place more comfortable.
Placing her unconscious body on her bed, he gives a small smile.
Now, the house is a home.
A/N: Yes. Horrible. I know. This is what happens when a muse attacks you, forces you to write several pages, and then leaves you before you're done.
Such a terrible birthday present, as well, for BlueGreenApples. I apologize.