He grabs her hand and holds it in his own and it's just them no one else, the world consists of this sunset and the feeling of connection that comes with skin against skin and the warmth spreading from crown to toe. She leans into him and breathes freely, eyes on the sky, legs dangling over the edge of the dock they sit on. The sun is a fiery orb sinking down into the water, bleeding out red blood and orange paint and yellow light and the pink of a newborn's skin.

A seagull screams in the distance.

"Forever," she breathes, and leans up to press her lips against his neck.

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

a rose for her casket

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

"Get busy living, or get busy dying."

x

The sky is the color of dead ash when she walks out of school, and she pauses to stare at it half-way down the steps, heedless of the crowd of anxious people parting around her and bumping her shoulders. The books in her arms feel heavier; something unknown rises in her throat; foreboding. A group of running girls smashes into her back, she lurches forward and drops her history notebook. One of them turns around and blurts out a "Sorry!" before turning back to her friends to laugh. They all hop into a beat-up looking black car and speed away. She watches them with dull green eyes until they are a speck in the distance. The crowd behind her has decreased into a thin trickle, only the stragglers are left behind.

Someone stops on the steps. Her notebook is handed to her. "Looks like rain."

She smiles and accepts it. "Yeah. Thanks, Sasuke."

He nods shortly. "Ready to go?"

She glances up at the sky again, at the crawling silver clouds, the way the color fades to pure black in the distance, the white streak of lightening that brightens everything for a flash miles away, the chilling rumble of oncoming thunder, oncoming storms, oncoming--

"Sakura?"

She looks at him.

"Ready?" he asks again, dark eyebrows raised in question.

Sakura nods even though in her head she is screaming no.

x

x

x

"The devil's voice is sweet to hear."

x

At dusk there is knock on the front door and Sakura is left wondering why the doorbell was ignored. Her mother answers it and gasps softly in surprise before politely apologizing; Sakura cranes her neck over the arm of the couch so that she can see a slice of their visitor through the railing, and all she catches is a curtain of long black hair and a glint of gold eyes.

Her mother asks, "Oh, are you the new neighbor down the block?"

"Yes, I just thought I would introduce myself," comes his voice, slick with smooth intelligence. He puts out his hand. It is pale with long pianist fingers. "I am Orochimaru."

"Pleasure to meet you," her mother answers in a daze, staring at him as she numbly grasps that pale hand and shakes it.

"The pleasure is all mine. This is quite a lovely neighborhood."

Sakura furrows her brow and sits up so that she can see Orochimaru's full figure. He's tall and lean and imposing in his gray suit, with hair like a river of ink and eyes the color of honey, and his skin is the soft white of new snow. She thinks he looks at her for a second, but she can't be sure.

"Oh," her mother says. "Did you meet everyone yet?"

"I'm afraid not." He laughs softly, and it sounds like liquid condescendence. Sakura's fingers curl. "I've only had the time to talk with the Uzumaki family and a single Uchiha."

Her mother smiles dreamily.

Orochimaru continues, "The Uzumaki family was very friendly. Their son, I hear, is an acquaintance of your daughter. I heard the same thing from the Uchiha boy."

"My... daughter." Sakura's mother blinks. "Oh! Right, my daughter. Sakura. Where is she? Sakura! Come here!"

Sakura takes a deep breath and stands. She clears her throat. "I'm right here Mom." She walks over to stand beside her mother.

Orochimaru smiles at her, a tight strained smile with closed lips. "Hello," he says.

"... Hi," Sakura answers, studying him, surveying his face, finding it as seamless as an egg.

Orochimaru turns to her mother again. "Well, once again, it was a pleasure. But I really must be going. There are many more houses I must visit."

She blinks. "Houses... right."

He smiles another chilling, closed-off smile, gives a short nod, and turns to leave. "I hope to see you again some time," he calls over his shoulder as he makes his way down the driveway.

Sakura's mother shuts the door and turns to her daughter. "What a nice man," she says.

Sakura shakes her head. "Yeah. Nice."

A crash of thunder booms outside; it starts to rain.

x

x

x

"Only enemies speak the truth; friends and lovers lie endlessly, caught in the web of duty."

x

The next day is Saturday and she meets up with Sasuke and Naruto at the mall. The weather outside is soggy; there's a perpetual drizzle and lining of gray clouds hanging in the sky. They run from Sasuke's car to the entrance and still end up a little damp; Naruto laughs and shakes his shaggy head of blond hair, spraying tiny droplets on both his friends. Sasuke shoves him in the shoulder and smirks as Sakura sputters. They venture further into the mall; Naruto and Sasuke roll their eyes every time she stops to stare into store windows.

They're on line at the pretzel stand when Sakura says, "That Orochimaru guy seems like a total creep."

Naruto shudders. "I know! He was eyeing my mom like she was candy or something. It was gross." He stops to laugh. "And Sasuke got to meet him all by himself."

Sasuke shrugs a little. His parents had been at work until late at night and his older brother won't be back from medical school for another few days. Orochimaru had been a little odd, and yeah, made him a little paranoid, but it was merely a phantom paranoia; he can't even remember why he felt it.

"Well I don't like him," Sakura states firmly. The people in front of them finish ordering and the three friends move up accordingly. "There's something off about-- Oh, I'll just have a large lemonade. Thanks."

Naruto moves up to order next. Sakura pays for her lemonade and goes back to stand with Sasuke, who is not ordering anything. He glances at her.

"What?" she asks, taking a tentative sip of her drink. His eyes-- dark and vast and capturing-- have always unnerved her.

He shakes his head.

"Sasuke? What is it?"

His focuses on something across the sprawling mall as he mutters, "I just... I've been getting a... bad feeling lately."

"Really?" Sakura asks, feigning surprise. She looks down at her red straw and adjusts it, she presses down on the plastic cover, she wipes a bead of condensation off the side of the cup, anything to avoid his eyes, anything to forget about the twisting numbness overtaking her stomach the past few days.

"Yeah." He shakes his head again, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Forget it. It's stupid."

She is spared the duty of answering when Naruto comes bounding over with his food and drink and suggests sitting down at the food court for a little while.

Sakura dutifully ignores the feeling of Sasuke's eyes on her the rest of the afternoon.

x

x

x

"The trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool."

x

"Are you sure?" Sakura is asking on the phone a week later, voice troubled. "Maybe he just forgot--"

"No," Sasuke interrupts her. "He wasn't in school for three days this week, and I haven't talked to him since. I knocked on his front door because no one was answering the phone, but no one was home. It's just weird."

She bites her lip and sits up on her bed to look out the window, where the sky is darkening with clouds again. It had been a rainy week. "Maybe he just went somewhere with his family."

"You think Naruto would go without telling us?"

She shrugs and doesn't answer despite knowing he can't see her. There is silence on the phone, an uneasy silence that only fuels the sickness bubbling in her stomach.

Sasuke continues, "Besides, their car's still in the driveway."

"Maybe..." She trails off and runs a hand through her hair to push it out of her face. She glances outside again, sees the beginnings of a dreary downpour, and closes her blinds. "Okay. That is weird--"

Sakura hears a door slam somewhere in Sasuke's house. His father's home.

He sighs. "I should go," he says with masked reluctance.

"Alright." Sakura swallows. "Bye."

Click.

She lies back on her bed and drops her phone beside her, where it lands on the bedspread with a dull sound. She wonders where Naruto is. She'd been texting Hinata since yesterday without a response too, and the Hyuuga's live right next door to the Uzumaki's, whose only other neighbor is the new Orochimaru. This unnerves her. The feeling, the one that has been festering like poison in her stomach since last week, grows and envelopes her insides until she tastes the ghost of nausea in her mouth. A knot sits in her throat like an unwelcome visitor, an unwanted stranger like the one all the way down the block, with his jeweled eyes and thin smile, with his worldly air and dark sophistication.

(i am orochimaru)

"Sakura! Dinner!"

(this is quite a lovely neighborhood)

"Sakura!"

She blinks. "Coming!" she calls back, fumbling with her cell phone.

(what a nice man)

The text message she sends Sasuke reads:

hey meet me at the station at 7. we need to talk.

She heads downstairs for dinner.

x

x

x

"Fiction is the truth inside the lie."

x

The abandoned gas station is one of those old, sad structures that sit in every town; neglect and time have tattooed it with graffiti and dirt and broken windows. This has been their secret clubhouse since elementary school. It's a five minute walk from the end of their block and off the main road. The station's parking lot is a small one; Sakura walks across it now, glancing at the approaching sunset uneasily over her shoulder. She rubs her arm and moves the plywood board from the doorway, stepping inside and walking immediately to one of the beanbags in the corner.

Dust floats up into the air as she lands heavily on it. She smiles fondly and thinks back to the days when her and her two best friends were eight and pure and invincible.

The plywood board is moved again from the outside; Sasuke steps inside, a dark silhouette in the pool of dying sunlight.

"Hi," Sakura says, smiling, as he moves the makeshift door back into place. They are enveloped in prison-like dusk. Beams of pale light streak across the room from where they peek out between unevenly boarded windows. Dust swims in the heavy air like fairy magic. Sakura fumbles with the flashlight she brought, laughs nervously, and sighs when it flickers on dimly.

"Should've brought more batteries," she mutters, pointing the light in her face and inspecting it. Sasuke finds an overturned bucket and takes a seat after wiping the cobwebs off with his shirt sleeve. There is silence for a minute, still and tense.

"So?" Sasuke asks. Sakura shines the light in his face; he blinks; Sakura moves the light away because she cannot face his eyes.

"Right," she answers. She steadies herself, steels herself. "It... About Naruto..."

"Yeah?" he presses.

"I don't like making stupid assumptions, but," she pauses momentarily, "I haven't heard from Hinata lately either, and... well. I don't know." It made more sense in her head, in her gut. "They both live near each other, and that new neighbor is pretty creepy..."

The beams of remaining sunlight die slowly. A fly buzzes loudly somewhere in the room; wind whips outside with a heavy moaning drone.

Sasuke takes his time in answering. Sakura wonders whether it is because he is considering her idea or if he just cannot comprehend her sudden insanity.

"I think," he says slowly, "it's too soon to make that sort of assumption."

She closes her eyes. "I know, I know," she replies. "I'm not saying anything... definitively, but I just think the timing is weird. You know?"

This time he answers without hesitation. "Yes."

"And I just got such a bad feeling from Orochimaru. A really, really bad feeling. I told my mom and dad about the Hyuuga's, and Naruto's family, and they just... dismissed it. I don't... I... I can't even--"

"Sakura," he says firmly, silencing her with a single word as usual. She looks up as he leans forward. His eyes flash in the dark.

(The flashlight trembles in her hand.)

"We'll figure this out."

x

When Sakura is safe back at home, Sasuke pauses in front of his own house, for a good considerate five minutes, and then makes his decision and keeps on walking. He crosses the street, careful not to keep the usually warm but currently vacant Uzumaki house, lonely and blank especially at night, in his line of vision. He reaches the house after his best friend's. The streetlight in front of the house is dim, flickering pale orange on the cracked cement, an eery spotlight that creates more shadows than illumination.

There are no lights on inside, no car in the driveway no mailbox no welcome mat no ounce of personality to be found. A chill tingles his spine; he rolls his shoulders and shakes his head to get his wet bangs out of his face; the rain started coming down heavy on their way home.

Here we go, he thinks.

He walks up to the front door and knocks. He waits, and waits, and is about to turn around when it opens to reveal the person he still considers a stranger. Orochimaru stands there, filling the doorway in a charcoal suit that makes his pale white features all the more startling.

"Ah, hello Sasuke," he says, smiling.

Sasuke eyes the necklace on Orochimaru's neck and looks back up with a blank face.

"Can I help you with something?" he is asked.

He wipes the bangs off his face again, cold rainwater running over his skin and flattening his hair. "I was just wondering if you'd seen the Uzumaki's around lately."

"No, I'm sorry to say I haven't." Orochimaru gives him a thin closed-lipped smile. "Why, has something happened to them?"

Sasuke keeps his poker face, he has to. "... No, I don't think so."

"Well thank goodness for that." This time the smile is open, full of white teeth, sharp canines, too sharp, too long, too lethal, oh god what is the red staining the tips, why didn't he believe Sakura, his chest clenches, his head pounds, why didn't he believe her? "That would be just awful. They were such... sweet people."

His heart skips a beat.

(This must be a nightmare, this doesn't happen in the real world.)

He nods shortly and turns to leave, slowly, like he would when threatened by a hungry predator in the wilderness.

Orochimaru's glinting amber eyes follow his back as he makes his way across the street.

"Goodbye," the snake calls. "I hope we get to speak again sometime soon."

Sasuke does not answer, and slams his front door closed behind him.

x

x

x

"We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones."

x

Sakura's cell phone is ringing. The screen reads sasuke.

She picks up. "Hello?"

"That son of a bitch," is her immediate reply. "That fucking--"

"Whoa, slow down," Sakura urges, eyes widening. "What happened?"

"I talked to Orochimaru," Sasuke spits, voice angrier than she's ever heard. "He was wearing Naruto's necklace."

"What?"

"The necklace he got from his grandma a few years ago! The one he never takes off, that sick fuck was wearing it."

Sakura's eyes grow strained and wet, the room spins, she is forced to sit down on the edge of her bed. "Oh, oh my god," she rubs a hand over her mouth.

"There's another thing," Sasuke says, quietly. "He... I saw his teeth. It probably sounds insane, but it looked like there was blood on them."

"Stop it," Sakura practically whispers; the tears begin to roll out, hot and fat and steady. "You're scaring me."

Sasuke lets out a breath. "I... Shit," he says, and the words come out muffled like he is passing his hand over his mouth. "Now that I'm saying it, it's like I made the whole thing up in my head or something."

"Did you?" Sakura asks, hopeful, swiping at the wetness on her eyes and cheeks and chin. Please tell me you did, she thinks, gripping the phone like a lifeline. Please tell me you made it up.

"No."

"Okay," she says; more tears leak out, aftershocks. She steadies herself. When her heart finally slows down, she continues, "Okay. You need to tell your dad."

"What? Are you crazy?"

Yes, she thinks.

"No," she says slowly. "But he's the police chief, and if anyone can do something about this, it's probably him."

"Fine," Sasuke answers grudgingly. "Just don't get your hopes up. Fuck, I hate this."

"I know," she sobs. "But it's all we can..."

Sakura trails off there and bites back a real sob as she tries in vain to blink away the tears. She closes her eyes and pretends it isn't real. The world goes black around her, but she can still hear Sasuke's voice.

"Go to sleep," he says.

Click.

She does.

x

x

x

"It's better to be good than evil, but one achieves goodness at a terrific cost."

x

Sakura is woken Sunday morning by the dull vibrating of her cellphone, made loud by the hard wood of the dresser it sits on.

Vrooooooom, it chimes, jumping and sliding along the wood. Vroooooom... Vroooooom... Vrooo--

She blinks her eyes rapidly and picks it up, swinging her legs out from under the covers and setting her bare feet on the carpet. A wave of vertigo passes in her head, making the room spin and dip and blur, and then it is gone.

Blinking again, she answers hoarsely. "Hello?" She glances at her digital clock. It reads five-thirteen. The sky outside is still dark. She clears her throat. "Hello?" she repeats, clear-voiced but worn out.

All that meets her is breathing, heavy and labored and daunting. She swallows thickly, and slowly, impaired by the sudden immobility of her arms and the way her head feels as though it is filled with sawdust, she pulls the phone from her ear to look at the screen, which reads:

sasuke home

Something indescribable grips her heart like an eternal vice, squeezing and throbbing and hurting until it feels as though it will explode.

(she pictures it her heart bursting dying of pure unadulterated fright everything fading to black)

"S-sasuke?" she whispers, not daring to make her voice any louder. "H... Hello?"

The breathing cuts off with a choking, laughing sort of sound (her heart leaps high into her throat, like bile) and the line goes dead.

What the hell was that ohmygod ohmygod what happened?

CALL, her mind screams against the judgement of her newfound fragile hummingbird's heart.

With trembling fingers, she dials Sasuke's cell number. She leaves her phone on speaker, as if the feel of it when putting it to her ear will only make it all the more real.

"Please, for the love of god, answer," she mutters numbly. She reaches forward in the dark of her room, quick as to not touch the floor longer that she has to--

(don't look under the bed)

-- and fumbles for the chain on her lamp. Her fingers catch it and pull and the room is filled with pale yellow light.

On the fourth ring he picks up.

"Sasuke?" she whispers hesitantly, hoping with all her hope that the breathing from before, still echoing in her mind, will not be her only answer again. She threads her fingers through her hair and clutches to the pale pink locks like a life-preserver. "Sasuke, is that you? Is everything okay? Someone from your house--"

"They're dead."

Sakura jumps as his graveyard voice fills her room and bounces off the walls dully, dead and uncomprehending. The grip on her heart tightens unbearably then loosens and falls away; she cannot even feel her toes anymore, with how cold she has become.

"What?" she responds, breathlessly.

"They're dead," he repeats, voice trembling. "My parents and my brother, they're dead. It... Orochimaru. It was him, he knocked on our door and my mom let him in and he just... I saw. He killed them. He's a... a..."

Sakura swallows the lump in her throat again. She wonders if it is her heart trying to escape its fate and wonders if she can join it.

"He's wearing their wedding rings now, and Itachi's watch, for his little collection," Sasuke adds. His voice is getting louder. He pauses. "He, you won't believe me but I have to tell you, I have to, he grabbed them, and b-broke their necks with his bare hands, and he... he bit them and--"

"Stop it," Sakura suddenly shouts. "Shut up! I don't want to hear anymore, it's not true! It was a nightmare, Sasuke, okay, things like that don't happen!"

"You really think I don't know what I saw? Their blood is still on my shirt, Sakura! I can still hear their screams! Tell me that's from a nightmare!"

Sasuke pauses, for one terrible, black moment, and then lets out a shaky breath; Sakura wonders if he is crying. She has never seen his tears before.

"Okay," she says smoothly, voice attempting to be comforting but wavering in force. "It's alright. You're alright."

"No," he mutters. "No, I'm not."

She feels the tears rise behind her eyes and stubbornly holds them in because this is her time to be strong.

"W-where are you now? Are you safe?"

"No one is safe here," he mutters, as if a thought to himself. "I... Fuck. He b-bit me. Then he left."

Sakura muffles her hysterical scream against her hand. She realizes the trembling in her friend's voice is not only mental pain but physical suffering. "We have to call the police," she says, not addressing the issue.

"My father is-- was the police," he replies.

Sakura starts to cry. "Where are you?" she asks softly.

"At t-the station." He sucks in air through his teeth and curses softly. "It-- shit-- it hurts so much. Where he bit me. I can't even... even..."

Thump.

"Sasuke?" No answer. "Sasuke, can you hear me? Are you alright? Sasuke? Sasuke!"

All she can hear is his erratic breathing and nightmarish mumbles.

Her heart is in her throat again.

x

x

x

"The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted."

x

Sakura's tears have dried up. She knows this because she feels death making its nest in her stomach and as much as she wants to sob right now her eyes stay mockingly dry.

Her mother is talking to her father in the kitchen. It's a grim Wednesday morning. Sakura burrows deeper into the couch cushions, legs folded, arms wrapped securely around herself. The television is on, spewing make-believe at her, but she keeps her eyes looking out the window. She cannot see Orochimaru's house; it's at the very other end of the block. But she can feel it.

"It's just so tragic," her mother is saying. "Who could've done that? And that poor boy, still in the hospital. It's terrible."

Her father, a man of few words, sighs deeply and wisely.

Sakura turns the volume of the television up without removing her eyes from the window. She had kept quiet about Orochimaru to the cops, when they came with their notepads and flashing lights and authority. She told them, he called me, told me what happened and where he was, no he didn't say who did it, now please can I leave I want to go I have to see him.

The Uchiha's left their house in body bags. Sakura was on the sidewalk talking to her uniformed officer when they were taken out, each of the three indistinguishable from the others. Orochimaru was on his porch. She saw him smile before he went back inside.

An ambulance had taken Sasuke away from the station unconscious. Sakura had been to see him, and learned that comatose patients looked at lot like the dead ones, and that the doctors didn't know what the hell they were talking about when they said "It's just shock" in a rushed confused sort of way. There were no bite marks on Sasuke's neck, but Sakura saw the mark, His mark, three sinister black comas resting in a circle like a coiled viper, the color of shadow on his pale skin.

"I didn't know Sasuke had a tattoo," her mother had commented weakly.

"Yeah," Sakura said.

I'm going to kill Orochimaru, she now thinks calmly. I'm going to end him and make him suffer like he has made them suffer.

She gets up and closes the blinds.

x

x

x

"The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them."

x

He wakes up on Monday of the next week. Sakura skips school to go and see him. Her father drives her to the hospital and tells her to call him when she's ready to leave.

When she gets to Sasuke's room, she hesitates outside the door, a still ill-positioned mannequin amidst all the rushing and chatter of doctors and nurses and harried visitors. She takes a deep breath. Her lungs fill with hospital air, disinfectant and sickness and death.

A gurney rushes past; it is surrounded by shouting doctors compressing a wound on a middle-aged man's chest, blood leaking through white cotton to stain white plastic gloves. Gloves like the ones her doctor used to blow up like a balloon to make her forget her fear of shots. One of the female doctors brushes against her shoulder and Sakura feels the world slow down as she stares at the beads of sweat running down her neck.

"Clear the way!" the doctor screams as the world speeds up again, even though they are already well down the hall from Sakura. The procession goes through some doors and the chaos is lost.

Sakura turns back to the door and opens it.

Sasuke is sitting up, but her eyes first find purchase on the two suited men by the foot of his bed. They are unfamiliar and one is holding a notepad. They turn to look at her and she pauses and the only interruption in the sudden silence is the click of the door as it shuts.

"No more questions," Sasuke finally mutters.

Sakura slowly makes her way to his side, not moving her eyes from the two men; she finally notices the badges hooked on their belts.

The one with the notepad opens his mouth as if to disagree, but the other man, young and gray-haired and smiling, interrupts, saying, "Of course. We'll come back another time."

The one with the notepad sighs and falls into his own kind smile. "Thank you for your cooperation," he says.

They leave.

"They worked for my father," Sasuke mutters deadly.

"Oh." Sakura shifts uncomfortably and sits down on a chair by the bed. She looks down at the floor. "... Look, Sasuke, I'm so sorry--"

"Sakura." He coughs. "You didn't tell them everything, did you?"

She stares at his face wearily. "The cops?" she finally says. "I didn't tell them about Orochimaru, if that's what you're asking."

He nods shortly, eyes blank and unfocused on the bedsheets. Sakura takes note of the room because it hurts her to look at him. The blinds are closed. Everything is empty of true color. There is a sympathy card on the small bedside table from her mother.

"I'm going to kill him."

Sakura looks away from the card. "What?"

"I don't know how or when but I'm going to kill him."

"They're starting to suspect him," she says quietly. "More people on our block keep going missing without a trace. The police are looking into it, but he's too... meticulous."

Sasuke closes his eyes and leans back against his pillows. His hand drifts over the base of his neck, where the mark rests; it peeks out darkly from the underneath the collar of his hospital-issued clothes.

"He's a vampire," Sakura says.

"I know," Sasuke mutters.

"A vampire," she whispers, shaking her head in disbelief. She looks at where Sasuke's hand covers the mark. "Does that mean...?"

"I don't know what it means. I don't care. All I care about right now is killing him."

She nods, wringing her hands in her lap.

"I'm scared," she finally admits, voice small and shaky.

Sasuke looks at her and some of the feeling bleeds back into his eyes. His hand tenses on his neck.

"Tonight," he says.

x

x

x

"Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not on the subconscious level where savage things grow."

x

Sakura is sitting on the edge of her bed and staring at her window even though the curtains are closed. She gets up and goes to her dresser, and changes into jeans and sneakers and a baggy sweatshirt. Next she stares at her small wooden jewlery box and bites her bottom lip, considering.

She opens it, pulls out her crucifix, and fastens it around her neck. The cross feels heavy where it hangs.

She grabs her flashlight with its fresh batteries and creeps down the stairs slowly, avoiding the creeks. She goes out from her back door into the twilight.

The walk to the station feels longer than usual, but she reaches it just as night falls, clicking the flashlight on after she puts the plywood door back in place, finding Sasuke sitting on the beanbag chair.

"Hi," she says nervously. His hospital clothes are gone; replaced by an outfit too normal for tonight.

He stands up. "Are you ready?" he asks.

"Wait, let's just talk about this first. I mean, we're... killing someone, we should--"

"That thing is not human. He killed Naruto. He killed my family. Our whole block is dying because of him. Don't pretend he's human."

"That's not what I meant," she snaps, hand tensing around the flashlight, making the beam of yellow light tremble. "Just, how are we going to do this? We're not... this isn't like the movies. We don't have a wooden stake or holy water and we don't know what we're going into."

"I know," he mutters. He sinks back into the beanbag chair and rubs his temples. Then he reaches into the pocket of sweatshirt and pulls something out; Sakura points the flashlight at it and gasps softly as the handgun glints in his hand.

"Your father's?" she asks, swallowing, cold realization seeping in through her pores. A weapon makes it all the more real, she thinks.

"Yeah." He stares at it in his hands. "I don't know if it'll work but it's better than going in empty-handed."

Sakura nods numbly. The hummingbird's heart has taken residence in her body again, fluttering faster than she can comprehend, a big swollen throbbing knot in her chest.

"I think," Sasuke says slowly, "I think it would be better if you didn't come."

"What?"

He looks up at her in the darkening room. "You... there's only one gun. And there's no guarantee that we'll even be able to kill him."

"So you can go in there and risk your life, and I can't?" She steps forward, making her words more poignant with hand gestures. "What, Sasuke? Is it because I'm a girl? Is it because you think I'm, I'm weak or something?"

"Listen," he says. "Unlike you, I have nothing left to lose."

She lets out an angry puff of air. "So is this a suicide mission?"

"No," he replies quickly. Sakura tries to study his face but the lack of light won't let her; she doubts it would do any good if she could see him anyway. He continues. "I don't want to die, but I don't have anything to leave behind if I do. Just--"

"Wait a second. What about me Sasuke? I don't count?"

"That's not what I mean!"

"Well you aren't really making any sense right now, okay! Just man up and tell me why you think I'm not worthy enough to help you!"

"I don't want you to die!"

Sakura's anger withers up. She slumps and feels her eyes grow hot, feels the pressure build behind them. "Look, Sasuke... I'm sorry--"

"Whatever," he mutters.

"I'm still coming," she says firmly.

Sasuke doesn't say anything.

Sakura walks over to him and points the flashlight at him. "Open your mouth," she orders feebly.

"What?" He squints his eyes against the brightness in his face. "Why?"

"I have to make sure..." She trails off.

Sasuke's hand snakes up to the base of his neck again. "You think I'm like him?"

"It's not personal, I just want make sure."

"Fine," he mutters, and complies, and Sakura does not see any elongated canines or indications of evil. She moves the flashlight off his face.

"Convinced?" he asks, his hand falling back down to his side.

"For now," she smiles faintly and almost surprises herself. The smile falls off her face, and she clears her throat uncomfortably as silence nestles in-between them like a chasm.

After a few minutes, she lifts her gaze again. "Do you remember that promise we made when we were little?"

(when blind faith was a reality rather than a rarity)

She lifts her hand; he lifts his; they join.

"Forever," they both whisper.

x

The sidewalk they're on is deserted. It's imperfections are cloaked with night.

Sakura suddenly pauses, staring down at the barely-there outline of concrete, and Sasuke takes a couple more steps before he realizes she has stopped.

"Come on," he says with urgency.

"What if he's already been in my house? What if my parents--"

Sasuke walks back over to her. "Who were the last people to disappear?" he asks.

Her green eyes glow cat-like in the dark. They zero in on his face, wide with a mixture of emotions so rich they are difficult to look into. "That old couple. The ones that lived a few houses over from you."

Sasuke nods. "Your family is fine. He's methodical. He has a pattern, and he's working his way down the block. Your house would be last."

Her hand passes over her stomach. She gives a grim smile. "I might throw up," she says.

"Let's go," Sasuke murmurs, and they continue walking.

x

x

x

"...Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."

x

"Knock on his door," Sasuke tells her. "I'll sneak in through the back."

"Wait, isn't it better--"

"No." He shakes his head; his eyes are hard to see in the dark, but appear pleading. "Just... If one of us gets caught. It's better."

She bites her lip. "Fine."

"Just distract him for a minute or two." He runs a hand through his hair and glances at the house a few yards away. It looms over them ominously.

"Fine," she repeats.

He nods and goes to step out from behind the tree they hide behind, hand in his pocket with the gun; Sakura lifts her hand up as if to grab his arm, but lets it drop.

"Sasuke," she says. He turns back around, pale-faced, a moon in the dark.

She throws her arms around his shoulders. He tenses, but gradually slumps against her, the best response she will get.

Sakura pulls away.

"Good luck."

"I don't think it's luck I need," Sasuke says, and walks away.

x

She had thought making her way to the door would make her feel very much like those prisoners on death row as they make their final march towards a needle full of drugs and blank eternity, but instead it is more like a deeper level of the dread she felt as a child when her mother called her over after she did something warranting punishment.

I am brave, she thinks. I am strong.

The breath she lets out when she reaches the door is a shuddering one. It vibrates because of the quivering heart that has made its place in her lower throat.

(i am brave i am strong)

The door is wooden and finely polished, a glare from the streetlight rests against its paneling. Glowing under this pale strip of light is a brass knocker-- some animal head with open, large-set jaws and vicious teeth and big soulless eyes roaring around the heavy ring in its mouth. Her fingers flinch away when she reaches her hand towards it, but then she narrows her eyes and wraps them back around the ring tightly.

(i am brave i am strong)

She knocks three times.

She waits, but there is no sound.

"Come on," she mutters, knocking with her fist this time. The wood is harsh on her knuckles.

No answer. She waits another minute, rocking back on her heels in earnestness, feels her nerves recoil as a car glides past on the street and disturbs an old puddle, which jumps in a small black wave before settling again.

She knocks. "Come on," she urges. "Come one come on come on."

She keeps knocking, keeps knocking, keeps knocking, she sees the faces of neighbors flash behind her eyes, of Hinata and Naruto and Sasuke's family and that older woman that used to babysit her and that elderly man that brought them their paper when it was delivered to the end of their driveway. She thinks of empty homes. She thinks of blood and bodies piled in a basement. She thinks of gold eyes and white skin and a voice very much like a devil dressed in fine clothing. Her knocking gets harder.

"Open the damn door!" she finally shouts. "I know you're in there, I know what you did, open the damn door!"

Knock knock knock knock knock knock knock--

"I know what you are!" she screams, sobbing dryly.

Knock knock knock knock--

Her knuckles feel broken and bruised and sore.

"Open it!"

Knock knock--

She stops, heart hammering, banging, in her chest and making her shake. "Dammit!" she cries, punching the door and taking a stumbling step back.

(its not fair its not fair why is this happening)

The door creaks open with the force of her hit. A slice of the inside, black with the lack of light, appears.

It, she thinks, It wasn't locked.

When she regains control of her breathing, she steps forward and plunges herself into the dark. The floorboards creek as she does. The sound echoes in the silence.

"Fuck," she whispers softly. She takes one more step forward. It moves with the slowness of dread. Hesitance.

A hand latches onto her shoulder.

She shrieks and pulls and twists and thrashes out in the darkness--

(sharp teeth trace the map of her veins on her neck, cold lips curved back in a grimacing smile)

(the slim gold eyes of a snake twinkle out of the corner of her fading vision)

-- and faints.

x

x

x

"The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there... and still on your feet."

x

The first sound that greets her ears is the deep mortal beating of her own heart, slow and sluggish and barely there.

Her eyes open groggily; confusion swirls in her mind like mist in heavy wind. As the blurriness of her vision gradually fades and the room falls into focus, she comes to cold realization and listens as her pulse rate multiplies.

The only light in the room is a dim bulb hanging from the low ceiling. Water drips from its ceiling, stains spread over the walls, dust lines the floor like a carpet. Sakura sits up, her body screams in protest, and scans her surroundings. She groans and blinks and clears the haziness.

A basement, she finally decides when she sees the long flight of steep stairs leading to a door shrouded in shadow.

A spider suddenly scurries across her lap. She shouts and jumps to the left, hitting her shoulder into one of the colorless walls, shaking it away. She realizes she can't move her hands; she pulls with her wrists and feels the rough brush of coarse rope and wants to scream.

A dark chuckle sounds from across the room, in the opposite corner. She holds her breath and trembles and bites her lip.

Orochimaru steps out smiling, and yes, she can see his deadly teeth, and yes, she can see all the familiar jewelry decorating his body like a shrine, and oh god, she can see him dragging her unconscious friend on the floor by his shirt collar.

He drops Sasuke by her feet and stands over her.

"You two have made quite the mess," he says.

Sakura stares down at Sasuke's closed eyes and wishes she could be where he is. Orochimaru squats down gracefully in his shining black shoes and black business suit and glaring red tie. He looks down at Sasuke too.

Then he looks up at Sakura and cocks his head.

She breathes shakily through her nose and glances at his face as fright fills her up. His skin is so pale that she can see a network of veins through the skin, a mockery of human life. Purple splotches rest under his eyes like bruises. His lips, when open the tiniest bit, reveal the sharpness of his fangs.

He suddenly looks very ugly.

She spits in his face. "Monster," she says hatefully.

He laughs as the saliva drips down his cheek.

"Child," he says, running his tie over his face like a tissue, "You have no idea."

Sasuke moans lowly and shifts. Dark bangs fall over his face and the mark on his neck comes into clear view.

"Why did you do that to him?" Sakura suddenly shouts, as Orochimaru stands up in one fluid motion.

The storybook monster glances at the swirling black on Sasuke's neck and grins a grim smirk. "I was merely... sharing the wealth." He shakes his head. "But my act of kindness has apparently gone unappreciated."

"But," she says, staring down mournfully at her friend. The small moment of bravado has left her feeling empty and fragile. "What will it do to him?"

"You will find that out in due time," Orochimaru murmurs. He puts one knee down by Sasuke, and hums lightly.

"Wake up," he commands, but Sasuke's eyes remain closed. Orochimaru backhands him across the face calmly; Sakura screams.

Sasuke opens his eyes; they are dull and black. "Sakura?" he whispers, then moans and rubs a hand over his reddening cheek.

Sakura feels the threat of tears pool behind her eyes.

(why why why whywhywhywhy)

"Thank you for joining the living again, Mister Uchiha," Orochimaru intones laughingly. Clarity bleeds back into Sasuke's eyes; he moves to sit up, but Orochimaru stands and quickly digs his patent leather foot into his ribs. Sasuke lets out a harsh breath of air between his teeth as he falls back down.

Sakura bites back a dry sob by digging her teeth into her bottom lip and clenching her eyes shut.

(i am brave i am strong)

When she opens them again Orochimaru is holding the silver handgun between the tips of his thumb and index finger, as if it is repulsive to him.

"And what," he asks mockingly, bringing himself back down to Sasuke's eye level again, "were you planning to accomplish with this, Mister Uchiha?"

Sakura's hands tense against their bindings.

Sasuke does not answer, merely glaring at the man-- no, monster, monster's-- face with a dark vengeful kind of hatred. Orochimaru sneers, and in a blur of movement, smashes the butt of the gun against Sasuke's exposed jaw with inhuman force.

Sasuke's face whips to the side, he slumps down and his hand tenderly goes to touch at the reddened spot but pulls back. He coughs. Spots of dark blood land in the dust on the floor. Orochimaru smiles, lifts up the gun, and bends it in half with his bare hands, throwing the now useless, twisted scrap metal at Sakura's feet.

"Mortals and their toys," he murmurs. "True weapons are not wrought in a factory."

Sasuke spits out more blood.

Sakura feels her stomach grow queasy, and has to look away before she vomits. Orochimaru moves over towards her friend and delivers a new kick to his back, and another to his already hurt side. Sasuke skids across the floor with the sheer force, eyes clenched closed in pain, lips closed tightly to no doubt hold back the cries of anguish.

Sakura vomits; it burns her throat. She stares numbly at Sasuke --as he curls into himself on the floor, dust whiting his clothes and already pale skin, a crimson trail of blood trickling from the corner of his mouth-- and moves away from the puddle of stomach-waste at her side.

"Tsk." Orochimaru stares at her in disgust. "Filth filled with more filth."

Her hands ball into fists; she finally looks him in the eye and meets something more wise and ancient and incomprehensible than she can ever hope to grasp. Her insides wilt with the feeling of it.

"Yes," Orochimaru says, as if hearing her thoughts. "Yes, I have lived among you for quite a long time. I have lived hundreds of your lives, and will live hundreds more."

She fights against the rope on her wrists. "Leech," she seethes between clenched teeth.

"I must eat as you must eat." He walks forward, leans down, and swipes his finger against a small droplet of Sasuke's redred blood, smearing it against the floor. He brings the tip of the finger to his mouth; his tongue comes out to taste it. "What is so wrong about that?"

An odd feeling overcomes her; a pleasant warmth fills her toes to the crown of her head; she feels lighter than air. She stares, entranced, into his whirlpool gold eyes, feels the fear leave her, feels the room grow brighter, and thinks that this man is rather pleasant, that he is kind and intelligent and reasonable. "N-noth--" she begins, but Sasuke coughs wetly from across the room and the spell is broken instantly. Her heart grows stone cold once more.

"Stop it," she whispers frantically, throwing her eyes down to the stained floor, breaths spasming. "Stop it."

He laughs truly this time, filled with eons of darkness and sin and ringing with death. Sakura feels the goosebumps rise along her spine and then the rest of her skin. The dim lightbulb flickers ominously. Sasuke coughs again and attempts to shift.

"Yes," Orochimaru murmurs. His teeth flash as he smiles devilishly. "This will be quite the finale."

Sakura does not cry. She stares at Orochimaru's shined shoes and blinks slowly. "I'm not afraid to die," she says coldly and loudly.

"Bitter words." Orochimaru licks his lips. "But rest assured, death is inevitable."

"The only one dying here is you."

Sakura's eyes widen; Sasuke is standing up, supported by the water-stained wall. He lifts his other hand to swipe at the blood on his face and glares dangerously through his bangs.

Orochimaru laughs again. "No, Mister Uchiha," he replies, "It's solely your lovely friend that will mark her final resting place here. And, I am happy to say, she will perish by your hand alone." He laughs, golden eyes twinkling in dark mirth.

"Is that not the perfect ending to your little story? You will end her on my command and-- should you not be utterly consumed by your own madness-- you shall live long after the last rose on her casket has withered!"

Sasuke's eyes narrow. He stands up fully-- unstable-- and then takes one step forward. "You're really... really fucked up, you know that? I would never--"

"Oh, but you won't have a choice." And Orochimaru moves, quicker than their eyes can catch, in the form of a shadow, a formless black slip of mist across the room, and is behind Sasuke, gripping him by the back of his neck, and Sakura is shouting--

(let him go LET HIM GO LET HIM GO YOU ANIMAL)

--and hissing against the black mark on his skin.

Sasuke's eyes widen, and Sakura calls his name hoarsely as they turn red, red as the blood on the floor, and as the black markings swirl hotly over his skin and rest there blackly, consuming him like dark flames, as he struggles and screams and she has never heard a sound so terrible.

Orochimaru laughs through it all, dropping Sasuke on the floor gracelessly and turning to face Sakura.

"Every master needs an apprentice," he intones. Sasuke grates out reluctant screams in the background.

(monster monster monster)

"N-no," she whispers, staring wide-eyed at the boy she has known for so long as he writhes on the floor.

(i loved him i loved him i loved him)

(she can't feel the heartbeat slow or fast anymore)

(i am brave i am strong)

"Sasuke!" she screams, stumbling forward in an awkward half-crawl on her knees. Her face hits the dusty ground. She gets back up again and continues, ignoring the black pitiless chuckles of the thing behind her, and she finally reaches her friend's side as he thrashes against the stone floor. "Sasuke!"

His hands reach up and thread through his unkempt blue-black strands of hair, gripping and ripping as he clenches his eyes and teeth. "G... get.. a-away!" he grates out in intervals, panting harshly through his teeth. The black marks tattoo him like intricate scars.

"No," she shouts back, yanking harshly against the rope on her wrists. "No, I can't I won't, I'm... I'm..."

Sasuke goes completely and deathly still in one heart-stopping moment.

"Sasuke?" She swallows the tears. "Sasuke?"

Orochimaru silently leans down next to her to speak into her ear: "He is finally alive."

Blood red eyes burst open and meet the dimly lit basement.

Sakura winces as she feels the tears begin to slide down her face like river-water through a burst dam.

"Welcome," Orochimaru says next. Sasuke does not move. Does not even blink. His back remains prone against the cement of the floor, arms loose at his sides, face upturned toward the ceiling.

Sakura falls back onto her knees and sobs.

"Kill the girl," Orochimaru murmurs around his fangs, "And you shall be whole."

Sakura shakes her head and chokes on her unsteady breathing. She lets out one miserable moan and falls silent once more.

Sasuke gets up slowly, eyes darting around the small space as if seeing things for the first time. His gaze locks onto her and he moves.

Sakura gasps as he lunges towards her, thinking, he's going to kill me, he's going to kill me, oh, oh god, whywhywhy, his arms stretches towards her neck, fingers curling, and she whispers his name, a word lost by the heat of the moment, burned up and falling away like soot in the wind--

--and he pauses, eyes flashing black for a heartbeat before they glow red again, and mouths something, and she wonders if that will be his last human moment and despairs because of it, and he is moving again, hand reaching towards her white neck with impossible speed, but he says, "It's time to end this,", and--

--his hand grabs the chain around her neck and pulls, and the crucifix snaps off, she gasps and leans forward as it breaks around her neck, and it begins to glow white between his fingers, a ball of righteous fire, and he turns around so fast, too fast--

--and he presses the shimmering cross against Orochimaru's sneering face, right between the bewitching gold eyes, and Sakura watches as the snow-white skin grays and darkens and falls away into ash where the crucifix presses into it, and listens as Orochimaru screams a wail of a wraith, a screeching of darkness so deep that the ground trembles,--

--"No, you cannot kill me I am the ancient one I was here before the stars winked and before the trees stood I am a necessity to this world, you breathe me in every second, I am rooted in the earth, I am in your every heartbeat, I walk in the shadow behind you, I am, I am, I am--"

--and this goes on and on and on for minutes--

--until the monster is a mere pile of dust on the floor.

Sakura sobs. "Sasuke," she breathes through her clogged nose.

The marks recede back to the seal at the base of his neck; he turns to her and she watches as the blood drains from his eyes until they are black as abyss once more.

"Sakura," he mumbles, collapsing.

"It's over."

x

x

x

"God is cruel. Sometimes he makes you live."

x

The graveyard is gray in the twilight and moist with the drizzle leaking slowly and lazily from the open crack of sky.

They stand in front of three crumbling tombstones.

"We're alive," she murmurs.

"Yeah," he says, hand ghosting over the base of his neck. "Alive."

They stay there and soak up the rain until the red sun rises.

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

all italicized quotes at beginning of each section from Steven King, because i'm lazy like that.
happy halloween. i wrote this because of the recent obsession with romantic, humanized vampires. the scary ones are more fun.

thanks for reading!

x

-PM-